Sara Haynes shares her courageous birth story in honor of Prematurity Awareness Day

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Sara is a friend of mine with a beautiful heart. She has three children (one who is due very soon!) I want to share her amazing story of premature birth in honor of Prematurity Awareness Day. This story is one of about one hundred that will be featured in my upcoming book, Precious Infants – Courageous Stories of Premature Birth.

When my husband & I found out that we were expecting for the first time, we were overjoyed! Pregnancy & childbirth were supposed to be medically routine as far as I knew. No one in our families had ever experienced issues or complications. I didn’t know much about being pregnant & thought perhaps it was normal to have the strange symptoms.

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The swelling started in all the normal places: hands, feet, face. I was barely out of my first trimester. The headaches, racing thoughts & light sensitivity began soon after. The OBGYN said that you can’t have preeclampsia until the third trimester….don’t worry about your sudden weight gain! I was working a lot at the time, and so was my husband. We were so tired by the end of the day, so all of these things just made sense…until one day when my Dad asked me to go to the CVS and test my blood pressure.

My Dad is a surgeon and knew what was wrong from the first high blood pressure reading. The doctor’s office told me it was too early to get sick, so I was to just head back to work and take blood pressure medicine. My parents talked with me about my diet modification, activity levels & stressful conditions at work. I followed all the rules & one day while sitting at my desk at the Cullman County Department of Human resources, my blood pressure just kept creeping higher & higher. I walked out & was admitted to the hospital within hours.

Ideally, they would be able to keep me stable for another two weeks before they discussed “taking the baby”. The NICU team met with my husband and me and cautioned us about what would happen when our precious baby was born, what she would look like, what medical issues we could anticipate. Clara & I lasted for less than 4 days. I don’t remember much about those four days. I remember screaming from the pain I felt in every part of my body. I remember the headaches. And I remember my father, in-laws & husband leaning over my bed, watching monitors, praying for healing. I remember feeling helpless, praying that God would spare the life of my child & asking the nurse “Barbie” if I was going to die. I felt God’s hands on me & felt assured of his plan for the life of my precious child.

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Clara Alice was born at 29 weeks by emergency C-section on June 27th, 2010. She was by all accounts the most beautiful child God had ever created & quite tiny at 2 lbs. 13 oz., 10.5 inches long. She looked like a miniature version of her father but with my eyes. The doctors said that she wouldn’t be able to cry….she came out screaming!

When they took her to the NICU I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest. They took away a piece on me. It took a period of days before I was well enough to visit the NICU. If you have never been to a NICU it is a terrifying place. Clara was closest to the nurse’s station, naked except for a diaper & an assortment of breathing & heart support cords & IVs. She jumped periodically due to underdeveloped nerves. Clara looked like a skinny baby bird. You could see every bone in her body.

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The NICU staff let us hold her hand or actually she would just grip one finger at a time. Her hands were so small. It took what felt like an eternity for us to be able to hold & kiss her. I was terrified to touch her. Clara appeared to be so fragile. My husband held her first. Her whole body fit in one hand. I will never forget he kissed her on the forehead. He was her first kiss. When I finally was able to touch her and feel her against my chest I fell in love all over again. She finally felt like my child.

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Over a 6 week period we had so many ups & downs in the NICU. She went from being critically ill to strong. She learned to eat through a feeding tube & eventually a bottle. Clara struggled to digest food & use the bathroom. One day they told us we were going to go home soon. All we had to do was spend the night in the hospital with her to prove that we could take care of her.

The NICU had a lovely parent’s overnight room. We spent a mostly sleepless night worried about if we could handle our special child. The doctors told us it could be years until she caught up with her peers & she may never be “normal”. Exhausted & excited we left the hospital with our sweet baby, now at a robust 4 lbs. 5 oz. Clara looked so tiny in her car seat, covered in a blanket. She was discharged from the hospital on August 6th, 2010, the birthday of her Great-Grandmother Clara, for whom she was named. That day, I felt blessed to finally introduce her to the family who had loved & prayed for her for so many weeks. Everyone was so excited to meet our special miracle.

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I was finally able to nurse her & take care of her all on my own. Clara never quite understood that she no longer lived in the NICU. Every night she was bathed, checked & seen by the physicians after 10 PM. I don’t think that she slept until age 3. But by 2 years old she was able to interact with her peers & seemed to be developmentally “on par with her peers”.

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Clara may still be small & has physical scars from the NICU. But she is so strong! She is bold, unapologetic & proud of who she is. Clara is also one of the most caring, compassionate, witty, intelligent children created. We praise GOD every day for the blessing of her life: for the second chance at life that I received on June 27th. I praise God for giving my physicians & the hospital staff the knowledge to care for us. And I praise God for the strength he gave my husband & family.

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Now as my husband & I prepare for the delivery of our third living child I love to listen to Clara as she shares tidbits of wisdom from her short life. She is almost 4.5 years old. Clara reminds baby “ducky”, her nickname for baby brother #2, that he will be a big strong boy! She sits in my lap & giggles when he moves. She calls her baby brothers big, fat babies & tells them of how she remembers when God gave her, “a very teeny tinny baby” to Mommy & Daddy in the hospital. And she giggles with her sweet smile that I prayed for so long to see in the NICU all those years ago.

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