My Birth Story: Coco’s Early Arrival

Tessa Stephenson, Portland, Oregon

I was admitted to the hospital at 28 and one-half weeks for high blood pressure. What was meant to be a 48-hour observation period turned into a scary discussion of a premature baby and the rest of my pregnancy on hospitalized bed rest. Colette Leimomi Stephenson was born on January 1, 2016, at 31 weeks. She was born via emergency cesarean—about as far from my birth plan as possible. My husband was in the operating room with me, holding my hand. The obstetrician was cracking jokes and trying to lighten the mood. I was visualizing my healthy baby, safe in my arms. Coco was two pounds, 15 ounces when she was born and needed a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to breath. I wasn’t able to hold her right away, or look into her eyes, or feel her skin on my skin.

As soon as I was able to go back to my room, the incredible team of nurses helped me use a hospital grade breast pump. I saw a few drops of colostrum and instantly had a new mission. I pumped every two to three hours. As I recovered and became stronger, I was wheeled into Coco’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) room to do kangaroo care and hold her close to me. I pumped and pumped and pumped. Eventually, I was discharged and moved from the labor and delivery wing to the NICU. Coco snuggled on my chest all day long, except for when I would stop to pump or her father would come from work. He would instantly change into a hospital gown so that he could hold our little love on his chest. Skin to skin helped us bond, and I don’t think we’ve ever felt more like a family than we did in those moments.

Coco had my breast milk exclusively in the NICU. I pumped like it was my job, and she took it through a nasogastric (NG) tube until she was strong enough to try a bottle. The lactation team came to the NICU and helped us learn the basics of a good latch. But Coco’s mouth was still too small and she couldn’t get the hang of it. I was devastated.

We spent six weeks in the NICU, and when she was 37 weeks gestation and five and one-half pounds, Coco came home. On our discharge day, we were presented with a giant cooler of frozen breast milk—my frozen breast milk. I had pumped it all.

We went back to the hospital weekly for lactation appointments. The women who helped us changed our outlook and our whole breastfeeding relationship. Three months after her birth, Coco latched and didn’t stop! She began to transfer more and more milk, and I started to feel more and more confident. With her nursing, I was able to donate all of the extra breast milk—over 2,000 ounces—to local mothers in need.

Now Coco is a spirited and healthy 10 and one-half month old and the brightest joy of my life. She is breastfeeding like a champion, and we have no plans of stopping.


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