Caring for baby Carter
A Manchester family learned that it takes a village to raise and care for a preemie
Photo by Kendal J. Bush
Lauren Martone awoke at 2 a.m. with the most horrible back pain. Six months pregnant, she had been experiencing minor to moderate aching in her lower back for a few days, enough so that she reached out to her obstetrician two days earlier. Physical therapy was recommended. This pain was far worse, though, like nothing she had experienced before.
She tried heat, an exercise ball, walking around, rubbing the area – anything that might alleviate the pain. “I got on all fours at one point, with my husband rubbing my back. No relief,” said Martone. “We discussed calling the doctor, but I didn’t want to be that pregnant girl that can’t handle back pain…there was no way, no thought in either of our heads that labor was even a possibility.”
It would be three hours before she would finally call her doctor, and minutes after that she went into the bathroom and saw she was bleeding. Immediately, Martone called the doctor back and was quickly on her way to the hospital – it was only on that icy, late-March morning in 2014 that she realized her baby, who was due nearly three months later on June 22, was on his way. The Manchester couple made their way to Southern New Hampshire Regional Medical Center, not quite ready for what was to come.
Immediately, a urine specimen was collected — it is standard practice to drug test all prematurely laboring mothers — and then Martone was hooked up to monitors. She was given a round of steroid shots for her baby’s lungs and magnesium was started for his brain.
“Let me tell you, magnesium like that is nasty. The incredible head rush, so hot, and the nausea…I’m shuddering thinking about it,” Martone said. Because she was only 26 weeks and four days along, her contractions couldn’t be picked up on the monitor; however, she was already 6 centimeters dilated and labor was steadily increasing. The decision was made that the baby — their son Carter — would be born right then and there. There was no possibility at that point of transporting Martone and her husband, Chris, to Dartmouth by ambulance or DHART bus — and due to the icy conditions, a helicopter transport was not an option either.
“Dr. Karen Maynard, the doctor on call, truly helped save my life and Carter’s that morning,” said Martone. “She did everything in her ability stop my labor, make me stable enough to transport to Dartmouth.” Once the decision was made for the delivery, Dr. Maynard called Dr. Melissa Martinez-Adorno, Martone’s regular obstetrician, who came in directly.
“Carter was breech, so if we tired to vaginally deliver, we would have risked breaking his neck,” said Martone. A ‘classic’ C-section would be performed, which would not allow her to give birth vaginally in the future. “It wasn’t a hard decision, but a heartbreaking, dream-shattering one.”
Because Martone had a spinal, her husband, Chris, was able to be present for the delivery, and at one point told her that her insides were as beautiful as her out. Medical staff praised Chris’ strong stomach and ability to stay calm in the midst of so many unexpected experiences.
Martone said, “The entire time I was panicking. My husband is a calm, cool, we-will-deal-with-it type of guy. I am a planner, fairly high strung, very emotional.” As a pharmaceutical sales rep, with a speaker lunch and dinner booked that day, she was also freaking out about having hundreds of dollars of food waiting at a restaurant and an event in the works, while in the middle of a highly unanticipated labor and sudden C-section. Her husband called her boss to apprise him of the situation. Martone was stunned that what had been a perfect pregnancy had so quickly changed — and she was sick as could be from the magnesium.
Shortly after, both doctors delivered Carter, who arrived at 8:10 a.m., three months early, at 2 lbs. 7 oz., and a mere 13 inches long. He was brought over to Lauren, already intubated and placed inside a zip-lock gallon-size bag for warmth.
“I was able to see him for one second and then he was gone. They brought him into my room one last time before leaving for Dartmouth.” By now, she could barely see him with all the wires in his isolette. Carter was taken by DHART bus to the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth (CHaD) by what Martone calls “an incredible team,” leaving her behind determined to follow him by the next day.
“He had a 70 percent chance of survival,” Martone said. “We were warned the road would be long. The first 48 hours were critical, and then if we made it, the first two weeks.”
Carter with mom Lauren at 1 week old while he was being cared for at Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock.
If Lauren Martone was stunned before giving birth, she said she and Chris were basically numb in the days after. “We both ‘dealt’ with what needed to be dealt with. It was horrible. I mean, we had a dog, jobs, a house, lives here in Southern New Hampshire; how the heck was all of this going to work?” she said.
It worked because of what she calls “our village.” “In situations like this, your village comes forward and walks with you, hand in hand. Not just your everyday people, but the people who have silently loved you all along,” said Martone. “That and I discovered the power of true prayer, not just for Carter, but for my healing and for Chris’s well-being. The love was amazing.”
After her discharge the next day, the couple went home and packed, not knowing how long they’d be gone. They arrived at David’s House, a community house on the grounds of Dartmouth, with private rooms, shared bathrooms, a community kitchen, living space and outdoor areas that provide a real sense of home. “The organization also meets with families on a weekly basis to provide a safe place to talk, for support,” said Martone. “We were so scared, but so incredibly thankful for this.”
Their village included their families; her mom, who Martone says gave up her life to be there; her best friends, who donated hotel points to allow her mom to be available nearby for anything they needed; her brother, who came every Wednesday; and Chris’s parents, who came every weekend and spent Easter Saturday with them.
“His mother literally transported an entire Easter dinner, tablecloth and everything for us to have in the café area of the hospital.” One of Martone’s best friends moved into their Manchester home to care for their dog. There were texts, phone calls, Facebook messages — which humbled the couple, so appreciative of the love and support they received from so many.
Then there were the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurses — “These women stood by my side, mothered Carter when I couldn’t, wiped my tears, hugged me tight, helped me heal from a C-section, taught me to be a preemie mom, resuscitated my baby, coached me through endless pumping, shared their lives with me, allowed me to grieve, to be angry. Angels, all of them,” said Martone.
She says the doctors and other support staff – nutritionists, lactation, social workers, residents and fellows – all took an active care role for their entire family. “We were educated so we could make strong, intelligent medical decisions for Carter. I think I left with a nursing degree,” jokes Martone.
And then there were the amazing families that also had preemies or children with other pediatric health issues – along with strangers that donated money to help the Martones with insurance deductibles and bills, gas cards, restaurant gift cards and more. “The support, our village, incredible, indescribable.”
Carter was in the hospital for 75 days, beginning with CHaD. While tiny, he was considered a fighter, a “big boy” from the start, Martone said. “He was the smallest, most alien-looking little human I had ever laid eyes on,” she said. “This was not my birth plan, not a baby I would have! It took me holding Carter a couple of days into his NICU life for me to really feel towards him, finally allow myself to fall in love with him.”
For the first two weeks, Chris was able to stay with Lauren, but then he had to return to work. Fortunately, he could work Sunday through Thursday and spent Friday and Saturday in Lebanon. Martone was not alone, though; her mom was there with her.
Carter was on a breathing machine called NipV during his early days, since his lungs were so undeveloped. It took a while for him to acquire the skill to breathe and grow on his own. “The fact that Carter was on minimal oxygen was huge for a preemie so young,” said Martone. “Long periods of oxygen can do damage to both the eyes and brain, two places that preemies are already susceptible to problems.”
Carter at about 7 weeks. He would be in the hospital for 75 days, first at Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock in Lebanon, and later at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester.
He also had a picc line and umbilical line at first, which allowed quick access to his inside as well as administration of liquids, medicine and whatever he might need to stay alive. “We had one serious scare, one early morning phone call that Carter wasn’t well,” said Martone. “They thought he contracted a staph infection, so he was put on antibiotics immediately.” They weren’t allowed to see him, and it was horrific as they waited it out.
“Not knowing if our son would make it was the worst feeling ever – a kick in the gut you could never prepare for,” said Martone. Carter received a blood transfusion and perked up as promised. Positive changes continued and he needed less help breathing – and soon the Martones could make a move closer to home at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester at the end of April.
“I was so incredibly afraid to make the transition,” Martone said. CHaD was all they had known, and they would be leaving the busy NICU for a “womb-like” suite at CMC. “It ended up being one of our best decisions. I made more nurse-friends and became more comfortable. So comfortable, in fact, that I go back often to visit and am part of the Special Care Nursery’s Parent Advisory Council.”
Martone says that the CMC set-up is incredibly unique – they were able to keep the same neonatologists and be involved in all of Carter’s day-to-day care too. They were able to have more visitors now that Carter was doing so well. And finally, on June 3, Carter was able to come home with his parents.
Looking back, this all feels like just another chapter in their family’s life, “a speed bump,” said Martone. “But at the time, it felt like it would never end.”
She struggled with why this had happened to them, with postpartum depression and PTSD. She felt like she had failed herself and Carter – that her body gave up on her and her hopes and dreams had been shattered. She was assured there was a light at the end of the tunnel, but at the time, it certainly didn’t seem so. As Carter improved, it got easier, and she began to celebrate milestones: his first bath, the first time he wore clothes, the first time he had no tubes on his face – these were their joys, and every step toward home made their life easier. And there was their village.
Today, Martone says, “Carter is beyond amazing! He’s a thriving, healthy, almost-15-month-old toddler. “He has no delay in fine motor or language, but is delayed in gross motor. There’s complete hope that he’ll catch up. At 29 pounds, mom says he’s a big boy – and finally showing signs of movement. “We are over the moon with him!”
What she’s come out of their experience with is this: “Prematurity happens. To anyone.” Having a premature baby hadn’t even been a thought in her mind when she became pregnant – and she didn’t know anyone that had experienced what they were going through. She was surprised by the compassion of strangers – and how many people reached out from all over the country through groups on Facebook.
“Women who truly understood what I was going through and ended up becoming cyber friends and providing the most incredible wisdom, love and support,” said Martone. The medical community and professionals impressed them each day – and were so inclusive of the Martones in their decisions and care.
Lauren Martone says that the recovery process is long — and overcoming obstacles can be challenging. Carter’s premature birth affected every single aspect of their lives — mostly for the better, although it didn’t always seem that way. It’s important to understand that even when a baby is finally able to come home, it doesn’t mean the love and support isn’t as necessary as it was before. There’s no quick return to this new normal life.
“I think the best support comes from being there. Space given to grieve. Although we weren’t grieving a death of our child, I was grieving the loss of my pregnancy and plans and dreams being shattered. I think it’s important for more education to be out there. Plus for women going through the NICU and grieving, it helps to hear, this happens, you will survive,” said Martone. She and Chris feel blessed; they know that not all others have an outcome like theirs.
“Carter is so, so lucky to be so healthy,” she said. “We continue to pray for all the current preemies and NICU families.”
Pamme Boutselis is a N.H.-based writer, a content director at Southern New Hampshire University and a serial volunteer. Follow her at www.pammeboutselis.com or on Twitter @pammeb.