An Unexpected Early Delivery
When Brent and Renee Garber were expecting their second child, they never thought it would mean facing one of the greatest challenges of their lives. Two years prior, they welcomed their first daughter Lucy, and that pregnancy could only be described as healthy.
In fact, 25 weeks into the second pregnancy, Renee had no reason to suspect anything was out of the ordinary. The family decided to travel to New Jersey from North Carolina to visit family for Christmas. Settled in with Renee’s parents, they attended a baby shower for a close family friend and joined her folks for the night. But soon after going to bed, Renee didn’t feel right.
She was feeling so sick that she and Brent decided to go to the hospital.
It was just the beginning. Renee stayed at the hospital for five days and was then discharged. “We had hoped to make it home for Christmas but couldn’t. Fortunately, Santa was willing to wait to visit Lucy until we got home on the 26th,” said Brent.
But within a few hours, Renee was back at the hospital with bleeding. Then, just 20 minutes after arriving, their second baby girl, Caroline, was delivered via C-section and whisked off to the neonatal intensive care unit. She weighed 1 lb. 12 oz, with a gestational age of 25 weeks and three days.
“We weren’t prepared, we were away from home, away from our doctor. And we had another child to worry about, too.”
Most medical professionals consider 24 weeks to be right on the edge of viability for a pregnancy. In general, the survival rate for babies born so early is only 50%. “The neonatologists we worked with were clear that it was going to be a big challenge,” Brent explained.
Three days after she was born, Renee and Brent had their baby girl christened in the NICU. Caroline was baptized by the same priest who had married the couple years before, an unexpected and welcome consequence to being near Renee’s family and friends.
Caroline Comes Out Fighting
From the beginning, baby Caroline was a fighter. A miracle baby. She defied the doctors’ odds even when they advised the Garbers that the progress would be “three steps forward, two steps back.”
Those first days weren’t easy for Caroline or her family. Brent says, “When you’re in a risky situation, you cling to the numbers – we wanted to know the odds for everything, looking for some comfort.” He even started a spreadsheet to keep track of Caroline’s progress, marking her transfusions and milestones, waiting for that “magic” number of five pounds when she could be discharged.
Aside from bouts of apnea and bradycardia, both common in preterm babies, Caroline made progress every day. Renee found solace in updating their CaringBridge website with posts in Caroline’s voice:
Good afternoon world,
I’ve had a great weekend – yesterday my big sister Lucy came up to the hospital to see me! Friday night I was moved to the “step down” room because I am doing so well, and this room has windows. The windows are high up the walls, but Daddy was able to hold Lucy while Mommy opened the shades, so we got to say hi! Lucy was very excited to see my “bed” and bottle, and she told Daddy that he should bring me home. Soon!
This morning my Nana and Pop Pop came for my 11:00am feeding because Mommy, Daddy, and Lucy went to see Sesame Street Live. Nana held me and I drank most of my bottle for her. I now get to try the bottle 4 times a day. I’ve also been practicing nursing, and we’re making progress… slowly but surely. This morning I weighed 3 lb 14.6 oz at my morning weigh in; I am busting out of all my clothes I am getting so big!
We also had a surprise visit from my eye doctor this morning. He checked my eyes and told Nana and Pop Pop that he is SO impressed by how good they look for a “25 week-er” like me. They are still developing, but so far so good. I handled the check up fairly well, and Nana held me afterwards which calmed me even more.
Oh, and we realized there may be some confusion over my name. Just in case you weren’t sure – it’s Caroline with a long i sound, just like the song “Sweet Caroline” 🙂
Caroline’s fragile state meant the whole family had to stay in New Jersey, and no one knew exactly for how long. Brent had to make a trip back down to North Carolina to prepare their house to be unoccupied for an indefinite period, something he felt was a surreal experience.
Parenting Lucy was a challenge, too. Her life was uprooted while Caroline was in the neonatal intensive care unit. Brent and Renee comforted Lucy when she told him she didn’t know where home was. Being just two, she couldn’t process all of the changes in her life as a result of Caroline’s complicated birth. She couldn’t even visit her sister until Caroline had been in the NICU for seven weeks. But the family found ways to stick together, and having Renee’s parents close by was a tremendous help.
On the employment front, Caroline’s early arrival meant that Renee had to leave her job as a teacher. Brent’s job required a lot of travel, and he had been looking for a new job; he got the news in January that BCBSNC was offering him a full-time position. Unsure what to do, he explained his family’s situation and the company told him to take the time he needed with his family before beginning employment.
Connecting With Families, and Finding the March of Dimes
The Garbers found themselves also learning and connecting with the other parents in the NICU. But as baby Caroline continued to improve, sometimes those relationships proved difficult. “NICU families naturally built relationships as we went through this experience together, but we always had such good news to share,” Brent says, “and not everyone had that kind of story. It was hard to tell other parents that Caroline was doing great when their kids were struggling.”
Seventy-two days after she was born, Caroline was allowed to come home from the hospital to start her life with her family, though still in New Jersey. 5 weeks later, on Easter weekend 2014, Brent was able to bring his family back home to North Carolina
Understanding just how fortunate they were was part of what piqued Brent’s interest in the March of Dimes. While they didn’t directly utilize the March of Dimes following Caroline’s birth, the family became very aware of just how much need is out there. The March of Dimes organization doesn’t just give money to assist families in crisis, it contributes to research to prevent and treat preterm birth. In Renee’s case – as in many others — there were no indications as to why Caroline came so early.
Brent reflects on his experience and the March of Dimes connection: “There are a lot of great causes out there, but March of Dimes is one of the causes that’s there to help when a child comes into your family – it should be the most wonderful time of your life, but for some parents it comes with potentially devastating news. March of Dimes is dedicated to prevention and support, tackling the challenges from every angle. We know how much their work means to all families, especially those that aren’t as fortunate as we are.
Here at BCBSNC, March of Dimes is one of our longest-standing charity partners. For over ten years, we have sponsored March of Dimes and their primary fundraiser, the March for Babies. This year we will have company teams in the Triangle, Winston-Salem and Fayetteville raising money in the annual walk-a-thon. March of Dimes does amazing work in our communities, supporting families like the Garbers and funding urgent research to end premature births.
Today, Caroline is a smiling little ball of sunshine. She is quickly adjusting to the world around her, and her family and doctors are extremely hopeful. We want to thank the Garber family for sharing their story with us, and taking time to get some beautiful pictures.
To learn more about what the March of Dimes can do you can visit their website.
To learn about the Garber’s story, you can visit their CaringBridge site.