Lights! Camera! Action! If this were a movie, I was playing the lead role – a damsel in distress. I was certainly in distress. There weren’t any cameras but there were bright lights and a lot of action; unfortunately, this wasn’t a movie. It was reality and things were about to get really REAL. With doctors bursting in the room shouting orders in their native tongue, an oxygen mask being firmly planted on my face, and being quickly rolled out of the room, I knew that this was it. I was having my baby at 26 WEEKS. I WASN’T READY!
Pause. Before I get into this NICU story, let’s talk about how I arrived at this point. One year earlier, I had married my husband Dwight and because of another bout of fibroids I was told that I would need another surgery to remove them to increase my chances of pregnancy. After six months, it wasn’t happening naturally. Fortunately, God had other plans and the day I went to do my blood work for the surgery, I found out that I was pregnant. As excited as I was about having my first child, the pregnancy wasn’t ideal. I bled (heavy spotting) consistently for about 4-5 months, frequently passed huge clots of blood at work, at home, and even once standing in the checkout line at the grocery store. Imagine being in the checkout line and notice you’re standing in a puddle of blood. I even miscarried a twin. I had to be hooked up to an IV for dehydration and spent another day in the hospital with a degenerating fibroid whose pain was worse than any contraction. Again, this wasn’t an easy pregnancy.
As I approached six months, it seems like things were finally turning the corner. So, when I woke up on August 27, 2016 and noticed fresh red blood, I knew something was immediately wrong.
Back to the operating room, I looked around frantically for my husband; but, he was nowhere in sight. Sign this, sign that, get a verbal consent! All I heard was doctors and nurses shouting at me. The anesthesiologist mumbled something and hours later I woke up surrounded by my husband and friends. But where was my baby? See, in the midst of the commotion in my hospital room I heard that my baby’s heartbeat had dropped off the monitor several times and they needed to perform an emergency c-section. My placenta had abrupted. When I didn’t see my baby, I feared the worst. We didn’t know our baby’s gender because we wanted it to be a surprise. I felt relief when I heard that HE was in the NICU. They wheeled me to him and I cried. He was 1 lb and 12 oz. We didn’t know if he would survive.
Over the next few days we learned a lot. We didn’t have anything prepared – not even a name. We began to look up words that reminded us of him. “Strength” is what resonated. Amari means strength in Yoruba. Over the next 118 days in the hospital (102 in the NICU and 16 in the Hospital for Sick Children), Amari proved just how strong he was. We were right with him reading to him, singing to him, holding him, and speaking life into him. I went to the hospital every single one of those 118 days and sat for hours. I researched and became familiar with terms like bradycardia and oxygen desaturation. I asked questions profusely to the neonatal team.
While Amari was getting stronger in the NICU, I was getting weaker. It would be a nearly a month before I could hold my baby for the first time. My milk wasn’t coming in well and I felt horrible because the one thing my baby needed most from me, I couldn’t fully supply. Imagine not being able to hold your baby or even hear him cry because of the feeding tube in his throat. My emotions were a wreck. While Amari was in the NICU, he would have several blood transfusions and other tests to determine the impact of his micro prematurity. His lungs weren’t strong at all because they had only given me the steroid shot moments before the c-section to strengthen his lungs and there is usually at least a 48 – hour waiting period. Over time, things got better. Amari got bigger and stronger. Because his care wasn’t critical anymore, and he only needed oxygen and help with his swallowing we were transferred to a rehabilitative hospital for sick children. Although, we were excited to be leaving the NICU this still wasn’t home. At this place he had support from physical and occupational therapists who were able to get him to swallow correctly. We were starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Throughout our baby’s stay in the hospital, we would lay our hands on him every single day to pray. By journaling, I drew strength from being able to see his progress day to day. There were days that I cried for hours even while I was holding him; however, my baby needed my energy and was drawing strength from my touch. I knew my baby needed me to show up and be strong for him and he was giving me strength too.
Two days before Christmas 2016, we got the news we had been waiting to hear – Amari was coming home. What an awesome Christmas present. Nearly four months after his birth my sweet baby boy would be home. He would remain on oxygen for a few more months and even today his chronic lung disease has turned into often severe asthma; but, he has come a mighty long way.
I am amazed at how Amari’s strength made us all stronger. Today, he is a rambunctious highly opinionated THREEnager who loves giving commands, big hugs, sweet kisses, and watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. We are grateful for our 26 week, 1 lb 12 oz miracle, Amari Kingston Russell.
*I would like to dedicate this blog to the committed NICU team at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC who oversaw Amari’s care. I would also like to dedicate this to my other NICU baby, Adam Lamar Russell, who only survived a day in the NICU before becoming an angel baby on April 18, 2019.
About the Author
Chanceé Lundy Russell is married to Dwight R. Russell and is the mother of a brilliant toddler, Amari Kingston Russell. By day, she is the co-owner of Nspiregreen LLC a boutique planning and engineering consultancy in Washington, DC that specializes in environmental, transportation, and community planning solutions. She is also the founder of Destination Liberation Inc. a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, exposing, and empowering young black girls through international travel. Lastly, she is the author of the anthology “It’s Just High School: Inspiring Reflections of the Beauty, Pain, and Pressure of High School Life.” Chanceé is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. In her down time you can catch her riding a bike on a nearby trail, curled up with a good book, or laughing hysterically with family and friends.