Callum’s Birth Story

Isaiah 41:17-20 When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive. I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together, that they may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.

A tree is just a tree unless it grows in a wasteland, then it becomes something quite miraculous; a sign of something greater, someone greater. I believe that every life is a miracle, but sometimes it takes an impossible situation to see the Hand behind it. My wasteland of a womb was supposed to be uninhabitable for human life, but Callum grew and flourished there in the desert. Let us all see and know, let us consider and understand together that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created him.

Well, Callum’s birth story is not what I was expecting at all, but it’s not my birth story is it? It’s his birth story and he definitely made it his own. I was scheduled to have Callum’s fourth and last intrauterine blood transfusion on Wednesday, September 13th. This meant that I had to be at the hospital early on Monday the 11th to have my blood drawn. They always drew my blood a couple days before the IUT to make sure the donor blood matched my antibodies. I left at around 2 am that Monday morning for Atlanta and prayed that I would beat hurricane Irma there. Well, it was a tropical storm by that point but I still did not want to be caught in the storm on the interstate. I barely gave any thought to what I packed, expecting to only be there for three nights at the most. Oh, how I wish I had packed for a birth and for weeks of post partum life, breastfeeding and a long stay in the Ronald McDonald House! At least I grabbed Cal’s diaper bag at the last minute. I got to the hospital that morning and everything felt a bit weird and tense. All the schools were closed because of the storm and Dr. Trevett’s office was closing at 12:00. I was scared that the blood bank would have trouble getting the blood in time if the storm was really bad. I also worried that something would happen and Dr. Trevett wouldn’t be able to make it to the hospital Wednesday morning for the IUT.

Dr. Trevett did an ultrasound to check on Callum and he seemed really subdued compared to his normal active self. His MoM was 1.85 but Dr. Trevett didn’t see any signs of hydrops or distress. MCA scans aren’t usually accurate anyway after the second IUT because the baby’s blood is actually adult donor blood, which flows differently. Dr. Trevett thought Callum would be fine until the transfusion on Wednesday.

I drove to our friends’ house and you guys, there were no cars on the interstate, in Atlanta, in the middle of a weekday. I felt like I was on the Walking Dead. Super eerie. A couple hours after I arrived at their house the power went out and didn’t come back on for days.

I realized then that I hadn’t been feeling Callum move very much. Dr. Trevett had told me earlier that day that if Callum slowed down at all I should come in and they would keep me on the monitors until the IUT. I debated whether I should go in or not. I really didn’t want to get out on the roads in the storm so I checked Cal’s heartbeat with my doppler and it sounded normal. He was moving every now and then, but his movements were way more inconsistent and sluggish than usual. We played board games by candlelight and ate curry that night, which was fun, but I worried and monitored Callum’s movements, going back and forth about whether I should go in or not. It seemed like every time I decided to go in for monitoring, he would kick and I would change my mind. I was also having pretty regular contractions but ignored them since that is normal for me, especially in the third trimester.

That night I hardly slept because I barely felt my boy move. The next day my contractions picked up and I started timing them. They were coming consistently, every six minutes. I still didn’t go in because Callum was moving just enough to keep me from panicking and the contractions never got closer than six minutes apart. Wednesday morning I got up in the pitch black that is 4 am with no electricity and got ready in the darkness. I loaded the car up using my phone flashlight to see and drove to the hospital through the dark streets that were usually lit by street lights. Lots of trees and branches were down and traffic lights were out. The brightly lit hospital was such a relief when I got there. Dr. Trevett was there ready for the transfusion (he always made my heart feel steady) and the blood was being checked in. It was the one and only time I went in for an IUT all by myself. My husband Josh had to work and my mom was keeping Nora and my boys back in Alabama and I had insisted that I would be ok by myself.

I changed into the hospital gown and got hooked up to the monitors and waited for Dr. Trevett to get the OR ready for the procedure. The monitors picked up my contractions right away. I noticed pretty quickly that the baby’s heart rate seemed to be slowing down a lot after my contractions. After one especially big dip, the nurse came rushing in and told me to lay on my side while she paged Dr. Trevett. Her voice sounded urgent and he was there calling for an ultrasound before I knew it. They brought in a portable ultrasound machine and Dr. Trevett scanned Callum looking for signs of distress or hydrops. He said everything looked fine and Callum even passed the biophysical profile almost right away. Dr. Trevett decided to watch the baby’s heart rate for a few minutes and then he would decide what to do. He told me that the baby might have to be delivered if he was showing more signs of distress. I couldn’t believe they were seriously considering delivery. I was only 34 weeks and I was all alone and I just was not prepared to give birth right then. I woke Josh up with a text saying the baby MIGHT possibly be born that day and for him to start packing a bag just in case. Right then I had a hard contraction and as the contraction eased, Callum’s heart rate just plummeted. Dr. Trevett and the nurse both came running in and Dr. Trevett said the baby was coming out. He explained that Callum was definitely showing signs of distress and was telling us that he needed to be born as soon as possible. The IUT procedure does come with risks and it would be really unwise to do an IUT on a baby who was already in distress. If he did, chances were high that Callum would have to be delivered by crash c-section and would not be in good shape. I asked if I could be induced but he said that there was no way Callum would be able to handle the whole labor and delivery process if he wasn’t even handling these contractions well. Induction would also most likely end with a crash c-section. Thankfully my OB, Dr. Howard, was the doctor on call that morning so he was paged. I quickly got one last picture of my pregnant belly. My last bump picture ever.

The anesthesiologist was there before I knew it inserting my epidural. I felt REALLY floaty after that but still needed to send out a few texts to family and my best friend to let them know what was happening. It felt like my fingers were in wet cement and it felt like a tremendous effort to type out each letter. My texts were hilariously short and to the point. My friend Shelly was completely caught off guard by this text I sent her-


I was a little scared and I was really sad that Josh couldn’t be there for the birth (it’s about a four hour drive) but overall I felt a deep sense of peace and excitement going into that operating room. You know that Christmas Eve feeling from childhood when you know you are so close to opening your presents? That intense sense of anticipation and joy…that’s how I have felt right before each of my babies was born, besides Lucy of course. Even though Callum’s birth was very different from the births of my other four children, that magical sense of joy and excitement was still there. One of the nurses took pictures with my phone for me and the c-section was completely painless. I still was in shock that they were delivering my baby right then! They asked if I wanted to watch him being born (blood doesn’t bother me at all) and I said absolutely!

*WARNING- Semi-graphic pictures ahead*

They lowered the curtain between me and the doctors and then they pulled my miracle baby out and he was beautiful!

I was flooded with gratitude and relief to know my baby was alive and out of my body. Even though it was my body that had grown and nourished my son for months, it was also my own body that had worked so hard to destroy him. It felt amazing to finally get him out of there! It took a little while for Callum to cry but he finally did and it felt really unnatural for him to not be on my chest where I could comfort him. I couldn’t even see him.

They worked on him for a few minutes getting him stabilized, and they drew blood to see if he needed a blood transfusion. His apgars were 8 and 9 which was better than I had expected. He had some trouble breathing so they put him on a CPAP machine to help him breathe.

I finally got to see my son and he was perfect. Callum Joseph Thomas, born at 34 weeks 4 days, weighed 6lbs 6oz and was 18.5 inches long.

They whisked him off to the NICU and then I was alone with no baby and no husband, which was really weird. But the peace and the joy of having a living baby still lingered like a warm scent. They took me to the recovery area and that was kind of emotional for me. All the women who were brought to recovery had their babies with them and their husbands were there too. The babies cried and everyone congratulated each other and I laid there all alone in the corner wondering what was happening to my baby. A doctor came to update me on how Callum was doing. His hematocrit was 18, hemoglobin was 6 and cord bilirubin was 5. This meant that he was very anemic and his bilirubin was very high, which is what we were kind of expecting. They immediately put him on phototherapy lights, started an infusion of IVIG and started his blood transfusion. They were able to use the blood they had prepared for the IUT for Callum’s blood transfusion. I’m so glad the doctor took an aggressive approach treating Callum’s HDN (hemolytic disease of the newborn) because it prevented the need for an exchange transfusion and they were able to keep Callum’s bilirubin below brain damage levels.

Three of Dr. Trevett’s nurses came up to see me, which was so sweet and encouraging. They had all worked so hard to help get Callum here alive and I appreciate each one of them so much. They congratulated me and asked how he was doing. It was nice to finally have visitors and to be congratulated on my new baby like the other women in recovery (even if it wasn’t my husband or family members.) I cannot praise Georgia Perinatal Consultants enough for the amazing care they provided during my pregnancy. They went out of their way to make sure I was comfortable and Callum was safe. I often had to schedule ultrasounds last minute duringmy pregnancyand I was only willing to see Dr. Trevett but they always worked me in. If you are pregnant and dealing with isoimmunization and are in Georgia, Alabama or surrounding areas, I strongly recommend using Dr. Trevett at Georgia Perinatal Consultants. Anyway, I was finally taken to my room after that and I got settled in. The nurse told me that my epidural would stay in and I wasn’t allowed to eat or get out of bed for 12 hours post surgery. This meant that I wasn’t allowed to go see my new baby for 12 hours after birth. Of all the 19 days that Callum was in the NICU, those first 12 hours apart from him were by far the hardest emotionally. My whole being ached to hold him and be with him. It vaguely reminded me of when Lucy was born and she was taken away and I was left absolutely empty in that hospital bed. Except this time my heart was full of joy and gratitude and everyone who walked in the room congratulated me. Iknew my separation from Callum was temporary but I still ached for him. One of the nurses brought me a picture of Callum in the NICU and I clung to that picture and looked at it constantly. It was such a comfort to me.

Josh finally arrived and we tried to decide whether he should go see Callum in the NICU or wait until I could see him and both go meet him together. I really wanted to see the look on Josh’s face when he saw his son for the first time, but in the end he just couldn’t wait. He wanted to meet his boy and I wanted him to check on Callum so he went down to the NICU without me and met his son. I will always mourn the fact that I didn’t get to watch Josh meet his son for the first time. He came back to my room gushing about Callum and we marveled that our baby was here alive. I watched the clock and counted down the minutes until I was finally allowed to get out of bed and go see my baby boy. Josh wheeled me down to the NICU late that night and I finally got a closer look at my beautiful little Callum.

Despite being almost 6 weeks early and being hooked up to breathing support and lots of different monitors, IVIG, etc. Callum looked healthy and perfect and I was filled with awe. Over the following days our family members trickled in from Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina to meet our miracle boy who they all had been praying for for months. Callum had three rounds of IVIG, two days on CPAP, several days of phototherapy lights, and two blood transfusions before being released from the NICU 19 days after he was born.

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Dr. Trevett holding his namesake on discharge day

 

We brought Callum home from the hospital on October 2nd, about three weeks before his due date. He had one more blood transfusion at about six weeks old and was released from hematology at two and a half months. He is perfectly healthy with no lingering effects from the antibodies that tried to kill him in the womb. His brothers and his sister are obsessed with him and he has brought so much joy to our family.

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In 2013 after we lost Lucy we went on to lose our two “rainbow babies” in early miscarriages; Jude in July and Pax in October. We named our third lost baby Pax because it meant “peace” and we were trusting God to fill us with peace even in our pain and devastation. I realized when I brought Callum home from Atlanta that in the end, I brought home my two living rainbow babies in July (Nora in 2015) and October (Callum in 2017), the same two months we lost Jude and Pax. I also realized that Callum’s name means “peace” just like Pax. God redeemed so much pain with these two miracle babies I got to bring home from the hospital. As I was finishing up this blog post today I decided to look back in my journal from October of 2013 when I lost my third baby in eight months and I found on that page, the exact verses that I started this blog post with, Isaiah 41:17-20. I praise God for writing such a remarkable story for my life and for using our pain and suffering to create something beautiful. I encourage those of you who are still waiting for your miracle and for your redemption not to give up hope. Keep clinging to hope, keep waiting in faith. God will give you the strength to continue and one day you will have your own story of healing and redemption to share with others.

Isaiah 40:31 Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.

Thank you, God, for our Callum Joseph Thomas and for the many amazing people who had a hand in bringing him here safely. He is our tangible reminder of your love and your faithfulness.

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All Clear

Well, we went in for Callum’s seventh blood transfusion on the Friday before Thanksgiving and ended up leaving the hospital without one! When we arrived that morning for the transfusion they inserted his IV and had his blood drawn to check his levels and we were happy to find out that his levels had gone up just a little bit on their own! His hematocrit and hemoglobin the Monday before had been 25.7 and 9.1 and on Friday they were 26.6 and 9.3. It was the first time in his life that he had brought his counts up without a blood transfusion so we were elated.

His hematologist checked his blood for my antibodies and it came back completely negative! I was surprised by how emotional I felt when he told me Callum’s antibody screen was negative. My baby was finally free from my dangerous antibodies for the first time in his life. He can now make his own blood and it won’t ever be destroyed by my antibodies again. It has been a long hard road to get my boy to safety. We did it! They removed his IV and sent us home without a transfusion.

We came back a few days later to check his counts one more time right before Thanksgiving and his numbers had BARELY gone up. His hemoglobin was the same (9.3) but his hematocrit had gone up from 26.6 to 27 so we were cleared to leave the state and visit family in South Carolina for Thanksgiving. We had such a great Thanksgiving with everybody. Callum’s Grandparents got to hold him for the first time and his SC aunts and uncles got to hold him for the first time without monitors and wires attached to him.

Yesterday I drove the hour to Children’s of Alabama for the last time to have Callum’s blood checked by the hematologist. His levels had gone up again on their own! His hematocrit was up from 27 to 28.4 and his hemoglobin was up from 9.3 to 9.6. We were officially released from hematology and we never have to check his counts again!! Thank you God, for this amazing gift.

Driving home from the hospital for the last time with my healthy boy in his car seat was redemptive and beautiful but bittersweet. This is how Lucy’s story should have ended. If she had been given the right monitoring and treatment like Nora and Callum, then I would have driven home one day in 2013 with my healthy baby girl in her car seat and our lives would have been completely different. Our family would be intact, our hearts would not be irreparably broken. Nora would grow up with a sister. Liam and Asher’s childhoods would not be marred by this tragedy. So many shoulds and woulds, and though I rejoiced that we were done, my grief noose tightened just a bit as I drove home with my healthy rainbow boy. But I also think about the other babies who might not be alive if it weren’t for Lucy and this blog. How many other lives would be devastated by tragedy if Lucy had lived? I’m reminded of a song I heard one day while driving to Atlanta for an ultrasound. It’s by Judah and the Lion and the lyrics bring me to tears every time I hear it.

And I’d take it all back, take it all back, take it all back just to have you.

Just typing the words makes me tear up. The words surge all the way down into this deep part of my soul, the part that still desperately wants to save my daughter. I think about the question, “Would I take it all back just to have my baby Lucy?” My mother heart would do anything to have my daughter back, to keep her alive. I would take it all back just to have her. But I also know that I couldn’t possibly make that choice knowing now what her life and her death have meant for other families. I am comforted knowing that God is in control of every little detail of my life and Lucy’s life and I don’t have to make these impossible, hypothetical decisions. But I still feel a deep ache knowing that Lucy’s story could have ended like Callum’s and the treatment that could have saved her was out there all along. Even with such angst in my heart about what happened to Lucy, I am flooded with relief and joy and gratitude knowing that Callum’s story will end differently.