Prematurity Awareness Month: one family’s story


November 17, 2016

Now 8, Owen began his life in the NICU, where his parents found support during his first months.


My husband and I were absolutely ecstatic when we learned we were having our first child. As many new soon-to-be moms, I immediately began planning my maternity leave. Our due date was very close to Thanksgiving, so as a working mom, I was thrilled because I knew that I could wrap my time off of work around the holiday season.

I decided to receive prenatal care through Vanderbilt nurse-midwives.  The midwives were very caring and made me feel comfortable with my choice of a natural childbirth. Although I had a couple of “hiccups” during my first and second trimesters (diagnosed with pregnancy-related hypothyroidism and a low-lying placenta), I felt good and was awaiting the arrival of our son.

I didn’t have to wait very long. On Sept. 3, 2008, our son was born. I woke up in the middle of the night and was rushed to Vanderbilt University Medical Center because my placenta ruptured. It was such a shock! My husband and I didn’t even have a name for him yet.

We agreed to name him Owen, which means “little fighter.” We prayed for him to be one.

Owen’s weighed 3 pounds, 1 ounce, and was 16 inches long when he was born. He seemed like the tiniest and most fragile thing in the world. I was scared and intimidated by all of the tubes, attachments, monitors and sounds, but I quickly learned what all of those sounds and tubes meant and how they helped Owen survive.

I was very grateful to our “primary nurse,” who was able to explain procedures that Owen needed and encouraged family participation at a level where my husband and I felt most comfortable.

The staff of the Monroe Carell Junior Children’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit staff was very supportive; I was an overwhelmed, exhausted and emotional mess. My husband’s parents lived in Chattanooga and mine, in Ohio. I had limited family support, and I felt all alone. Although it was obvious that we were not the only family going through this NICU experience, it sure felt like it.

I remember the NICU staff encouraged me to attend the weekly support group, but I didn’t feel ready. I was still scared and extremely emotional. After two weeks, I went and it was good.  It was nice to know that I was not alone — that other parents just like me were going through a similar experience.

Owen was in the NICU for 60 days. During those two months, he changed rooms seven times before being transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit for his final week. This is where my husband and I learned to partner with Owen’s NICU team.

We learned when rounds occurred and the value of our input as parents. Owen experienced feeding issues, bradycardia and apnea.  As part of the team, I was involved in the decision-making process and demonstrated confidence in caring for our son.  In fact, on day 58, the NICU attending physician asked if I thought Owen was ready to go home. It felt great to be able to say “yes” and explain why.

Owen is now 8, is in the second grade and was recently accepted into the Metro Nashville Public Schools Gifted and Talented Program. He has a younger sister, Mia. My husband and I are very thankful and appreciative of the outstanding care and compassion that Owen received during his NICU stay.

This post was written by Belinda Hotchkiss, a mother of one of our Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt NICU graduates and director of Family Voices of Tennessee in Nashville, Tenn.