Felicity’s Story: “I can’t emphasize enough the feeling of panic about realizing how you are absolutely stranded.”
Since starting A Warm Embrace, we’ve heard so many stories from families who have had to experience the unexpected journey out of the East Kootenay with a newborn who needed NICU care.
Felicity’s is one of them:
I went to bed on the evening of September 20 feeling very pregnant, but otherwise completely normal. My due date was November 1 so I’d just started to consider planning for the realities of going into labor in approximately 5 weeks. I slept peacefully until I woke up thinking I really had to pee. I got up thinking it was strange that I felt wet, but decided with the extent of my pregnancy it was maybe just that I hadn’t woken in time to use the bathroom. I checked my phone and saw that it was exactly 12am. I was so tired that I tried to go back to sleep while avoiding the wet area on my bed, until a part of me realized this was something I should go get checked out.
I was living with my parents at the time, but so in denial that my water had broken that I only half heartedly tried to wake them. I figured I’d be back in twenty minutes or so, so it didn’t really matter. I was so convinced it was probably nothing that I changed into sweatpants and didn’t even pack my phone charger, before driving myself the seven minutes to the Fernie emergency room.
I casually told the nurse that I thought maybe my water had broken and I just wanted to make sure everything was ok.
Everything got very real, very fast.
The test to confirm the fluid was amniotic fluid came back astoundingly positive. My doctor was at the hospital in a shockingly short amount of time and within minutes I was hooked up to IV antibiotics. They told me the sac had ruptured and my son was at risk for infection. At that point I called my mom, who was confused to find out I was even at the hospital and frantically rushed to be there with me. I thought okay, this is scary, but I’d had a friend of mine with a premature baby delivered at Cranbrook and her experience was good. It would be okay. Cranbrook was only an hour away, and my mom and dad could visit. I had friends in the area who could support me too.
I will never forget the moment of shock I felt when I was told my pregnancy wasn’t advanced enough to go to Cranbrook and that I would be sent to Vancouver, Kelowna, or Kamloops instead. They told me Cranbrook is only equipped to take babies 35 weeks and over. I was almost exactly 34 weeks.
My doctor, Dr. Case, seemed fairly panicked. I don’t think I realized the enormity of the situation, as she told me in no uncertain terms “you can’t have the baby here, you can’t. Cranbrook would be better, you can’t have it here”. She was on the phone for what seemed like hours with the other hospitals trying to get me a bed and transport. When she came in and told me I would be taken by ambulance at 8am to the Sparwood Airport to take a medical plane to Kelowna General Hospital, I couldn’t believe it. Kelowna!?! I thought, I don’t know anyone in Kelowna. How will my mom come to see me? I’d never even been there before. I asked if I could please go to Calgary because at least it was somewhere I had friends and was more realistic for my parents to come, but I was told that wasn’t an option.
My mom went home to pack a small bag for me, then slept a few hours beside me in a hospital room. I’m not sure I slept. I was so scared and in shock about what I was facing that I started to go into full survival mode.
The attendants were so kind as the stretcher was wheeled in for me that I did at least feel safe and more okay with the idea of starting my journey. The nurse handed me a box of Kleenex and a gravol in case I need it for the flight. I waved goodbye to my mum and that was it. I was ready to face my journey alone.
The ambulance ride was smooth and I was in good spirits talking with the kind paramedic. At the airport I felt very cared for being loaded onto the plane along with another patient. It wasn’t until before takeoff, as I looked out the window that the exhaustion hit me. I gripped my Kleenex box as a life saver and fell asleep until landed.
Being wheeled through the Kelowna hospital felt so strange and exposed. I was brought to a room with lots of curtained off beds where I waited to be seen. My IV was changed, after having caused me a great deal of pain. I was taken to my room, and ended up staying there for 2 full days before my active labor began.
My mom paid for a plane ticket to be there with me in Kelowna and arrived just hours after got there. I felt guilty knowing she’d just paid the huge cost and now had no one to lean on during her hard days with me. We were both in a city where we knew no one. I spent those 2 days in full trauma mode absolutely terrified of what was happening and praying it would be over soon.
My son was finally born on the afternoon of September 25th. I felt immense relief that our saga might be over, but little did I know it was just the beginning.
He was born healthy and a good size, but had a funny heart rhythm concern they wanted to monitor and some jaundice. We were told that meant he would have to stay in the Kelowna NICU until his due date of November 1. The nurses tried to get me to go to a bed arranged for me at special housing near the hospital but I resisted until they found a space available in the NICU where I could stay and sleep near my son. It was a fold out chair with a curtain separating the room next to me.
My mom stayed for a few days until we decided I would be okay if she were to go back home.
For the next 3.5 weeks I lived in that windowless room next to my son. I showered in the public bathroom and discovered one friend I knew in the area who visited twice to do some laundry and bring me snacks. The nurses in Kelowna were incredible and I will always be thankful for them for caring for me as much as they cared for my son during our unexpected stay.
The stress escalated when I realized I had to think about how I was going to get home. The doctor told me they would be comfortable releasing my son before his due date provided his health remained stable and there were no longer any concerns. Great, I thought, the weather is still decent, my mom can make the drive to Kelowna to get us.
That plan came to a crashing halt when I was told that I could not drive that distance with a newborn. Their necks are too weak to be safe that long in a car seat so I could only travel a maximum of 1-2 hours.
Being told that was like a slap in the face. I felt so stranded and alone, and all I wanted to be able to do was get home.
The thought of flying commercial with a newborn alone, by myself, was one of the most terrifying things I could imagine. I tried to do everything I could to find another way, but unfortunately at that time Angel Flights did not have a pressurized cabin and could not take newborns. They were my last option before I had to accept my situation.
Fortunately, I was in a position where I could apply for funding through Hope Air to cover the cost of my flight home, but I still couldn’t believe at what I was about to have to do.
I was extremely sleep deprived.
I’d just been in the hospital for close to four weeks, and in that time I hadn’t even been allowed to walk my son out of the room.
Now, I was expected to take two commercial flights, followed by a 100km drive back home.
The nurses brought me bags for the clothes and items my son had accumulated during our stay. A friend found a baby carrier that I didn’t even know how to put on. I was ready.
One of the NICU moms drove us to the airport so that I didn’t have to worry about my lack of car seat. I got my son in the baby carrier. She drove off, and I was left with my son and our bags.
“I can do this,” I thought.
I flew from Kelowna to Vancouver, then Vancouver to Cranbrook. I was so nervous about my baby’s ears popping that I tried to get him to nurse, but also wanted to keep him in the carrier if he was sleeping. I was still nursing but had a bottle packed because we were struggling with latching still and I wanted to make sure his feeding times were effective. It was such a long journey, and I ended up being so stressed about not pumping, but I didn’t have time and got so sore. I didn’t eat, despite being starving, because all I could focus on was making sure I was taking care of this four week old infant. It was completely overwhelming and I felt so out of my depth the entire time, but we finally did make it to Cranbrook at midnight.
My parents picked us up. My dad was so nervous about getting us home safe that he drove so slowly. The journey took well over an hour, maybe closer to 2. I wasn’t able to sleep the entire time because I was so anxious about protecting my newborn’s neck by supporting his head.
Finally, we made it home. I put him in the bassinet beside my bed and exhaled for the first time since leaving four weeks ago.
A Warm Embrace is raising $1.8 million for a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in East Kootenay Regional Hospital to bring care for more of our tiniest patients and their families closer to home. Donate today!