Overwhelming, Unconditional Love

One Mom’s Journey to UC Medical Center’s NICU and BeyondBraylon as a newborn in the UC Medical Center Level III NICU

At 28 weeks pregnant and plans to deliver her baby in three months at The Christ Hospital, Jennifer (“Jenny”) Essex was not prepared for her OB-GYN to say, “We’re going to send you to UC Medical Center today.” Jenny had been on bed rest, but her blood pressure was continuing to rise to a dangerous degree. With physicians who specialize in high-risk pregnancies, maternal-fetal medicine specialists and the area’s only level III neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), UC Medical Center would be the best equipped to treat Jenny and her infant. Still, the level of risk she was facing had not quite hit home. As Jenny so eloquently put it, “No one plans on having complications when they’re pregnant. They envision a healthy pregnancy, delivery and baby. When the unexpected happens, it can be shocking.”

After checking in at UC Medical Center, Jenny was monitored closely and had blood drawn every two hours. Sleep eluded her. She could feel her feisty son kick repeatedly as if to tell her he wanted out. An early introduction to the world seemed inevitable for her son. Anxiety filled Jenny.

Each day felt fragile, as if active labor could begin at any moment. Jenny knew that the longer her son remained inside her uterus, the better his chances were for survival. On her fifth day at the hospital, Jenny slipped into a deep sleep. She said her and her baby, “Both went downhill pretty quickly.” That’s when her slumber came to an abrupt end. A flood of doctors began filling her room. And that’s when she knew, “This is really happening.”Braylon-NICU-IMG_2061

Dr. James Van Hook, Executive Vice-Chair, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, explained that Jenny’s blood pressure was putting her and her son at such high risk that they would have to deliver the baby immediately in order to save him and Jenny. Dr. Van Hook prepped her for a vaginal delivery but an emergency C-section could not be avoided. Before she could even lay eyes on him, her son Braylon was whisked away to the NICU where he was placed in an incubator and provided continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy to help him breathe. It was a traumatic experience for her and her husband Rico, “You don’t plan on not seeing your baby after he’s born.” But her doctors had to act fast in order to save her son and time was of the essence.

It wasn’t until she was released from the hospital that Jenny was able to meet her son Braylon for the first time. And that’s when it hit her, Jenny said, “A feeling of overwhelming love,” came over her. “They say you don’t really know what unconditional love is until you have a child and that’s what happened–my heart was filled with unconditional love the first time I met him.”

For the next 11 weeks, the Essex’s would spend all day, every day in the NICU. At first, they could only look at Braylon through the glass shield of his incubator. Braylon-NICU-IMG_2059But with time, they could hold his tiny fragile hands with their finger and eventually hold him against their chests, skin to skin, for longer, more frequent periods. Jenny said, “He was so tiny, he fit right inside my shirt.” With deep emotion she recalled, “Holding him gave my heart the feeling of completeness that I didn’t even know was missing.”

The Essex’s nerves were calmed by the attentive nurses who looked after Braylon. Jenny said, “The nurses were loving, in an honest way. They explained everything and informed and educated us. They also encouraged us to take breaks and we were comforted knowing he was getting the care he needed when we couldn’t be there.”

After spending nearly three months in the NICU, Jenny and her husband anxiously awaited taking their son home. Gaining weight was the key to his discharge and he had only two more ounces to gain before he could leave the hospital. Finally, at 11pm one night when Braylon was weighed, the Essex’s got the green light for their son to be discharged. Jenny said, “We called our entire family at midnight and woke them up because we were so overjoyed! It was, by far, one of the happiest and best days we’ve ever experienced. It was pure happiness and relief. We were finally going home as a family!”

Braylon, age 5

Braylon now; 5 and thriving!

Now five years later, with kindergarten just around the corner, Braylon is right on target and generally quite healthy. Jenny believes Braylon’s feistiness is what helped him survive and grow into the active 5-year-old he is today. Recently, on Braylon’s fifth birthday, his proud grandfather wrote an endearing note to Dr. Van Hook thanking him for the excellent care he provided his daughter and grandson at UC Medical Center.

The Essex’s visit to UC Medical Center turned out to be the best unexpected trip of their lives. What started as a frightening, traumatic emergency visit, ended with them (and their families) encouraging friends to seek care there. Jenny said, “If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t hesitate to come to UC Medical Center.” Today, Jenny dreams of mentoring other families in similar situations and helping them through their stress just as she had been comforted and mentored by veteran NICU families when Braylon was born.

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