Community Birth Stories – Kelsey Vagnoni NICU Stay

I got pregnant with my first child in January 2015. I sailed through my first 6 months of pregnancy.  On June 27 2015 everything changed.  I remember that day like it was yesterday.  I woke up early to paint the nursery.  I was getting everything ready when I got a phone call.  It was the kind of phone call you will never forget.  There had been a car accident.  They were working on my brother.  My mom was in the car.  I needed to come to the hospital right away.

Over the next few hours I would learn that my brother was in a coma in the ICU, and my mother passed away.  There is never a good time or a good way to lose your mom, but losing her so suddenly while my own body was creating a life was especially devastating.  I didn’t know how to be a mother without my mother.  I spent the next couple of weeks dividing my time between being there for my brother and planning my mother’s funeral.  I returned to work at my full time job as a physical therapist, but spent every weekend in Delaware at the hospital.  His coma lasted for nearly 7 weeks.  Eventually the physical and emotional strain caught up to me, and I ended up in the hospital myself with pre-term labor at 32 weeks.  The contractions were stopped with medication, but I was no longer able to exercise and had to modify my work activities. 

My son arrived right on time on October 1st – his due date.  He was my silver lining.  He was my reason to keep moving forward.  He was somehow going to make everything ok again for myself and my family.  My labor was long and difficult.  After 25 hours of contractions and nearly 4 hours of pushing, it became obvious that something wasn’t right.  He had shoulder dystocia – which essentially means that his shoulders were not able to fit through my pelvis.  Suddenly my hospital room was filled with a doctor from every infant specialty.  There was a team of people ready to work on him the second he was born.  It took three people and a vacuum to get him out, but none of that mattered because he was here and he was healthy….or so it seemed.

On his second day of life he started having seizures.  He was transferred to the NICU at Children’s Hospital in DC.  I was a complete mess – obviously emotionally but also physically.  It felt like my right SI joint had been dislocated and I was unable to fully bear weight on my right leg.  My girls parts were stitched up and swollen.  You know it’s bad when your doctor and at least 3 nurses said something along the lines of “oh your poor vagina”.  They tell you to go home and rest, but I had to travel to/from DC every day sitting on a boppy pillow in the car, limping my way through the parking garage and around the hospital, and dragging along my bag of tricks I needed just to go to the bathroom.  But I learned very quickly that is just what mother’s do.

By his third day of life, he had more tests than most people have in a lifetime – spinal tap, head CT scan, brain ultrasound, brain MRI, a 48 hour EEG, and several rounds of bloodwork. It was a Wednesday when the neurology team came to talk to us.  My son had a stroke during delivery which was causing the seizures.  I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer.  Thankfully it was mild and his potential deficits were manageable – right sided weakness and coordination issues, and possible visual deficits.  He would be delayed and would need therapy, but he should live a normal life.  It turns out he was the opposite of delayed.  He met all of his milestones ahead of schedule.  He was discharged from PT and OT by his first birthday.  He is a perfectly healthy, surprisingly very athletic, amazing little boy.  I can’t help but think my mom had something to do with it.

In a lot of ways, he recovered much more quickly than I did.  Here I was – a physical therapist who specializes in spine and pelvic injuries and I couldn’t fix myself.  Even with knowing how to manage inflammation, what exercises to do, and correct posture and body mechanics…I still could barely walk weeks after delivery.  Thankfully my friend who is a physical therapist came over with her portable table a few times and put me back together.  This gave me an idea – isn’t this a service that a lot of pregnant and postpartum women need?  Someone who specializes in these unique types of issues and who can bring the treatment to them.  I had no idea how to start a business but I learned.  Before losing my mom, I don’t think I would’ve been brave enough to quit my secure income job and take a leap.  I learned that life is short – and spending more time with both my son and my patients was more important than punching a time clock.  In May 2015 I became the owner of Personalized Physical Therapy.  It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.