Christmas in the NICU

Megan and Halle in the NICU

One Hundred and Three Days.

That’s how long my youngest daughter, Halle Diem, spent in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Children’s Hospital beginning last December.

I can’t tell you how devastating it was to spend the holidays in a hospital room wondering if my precious baby would ever make it home. To open gifts with my two older children in the NICU lobby instead of in the warmth of our living room.

To wonder each and every minute if things would suddenly take a turn for the worst.

24 Weeks

My pregnancy with Halle seemed normal from an outside perspective. I passed check-ups with flying colours. My doctor had no cause for concern.

But I felt in my gut that something was wrong. I took myself to the emergency room on more than one occasion looking for answers. Time and time again, tests came back normal. I tried to brush off my nagging intuition.

So I wasn’t entirely surprised when my water broke in a shopping mall at only 23 weeks and 6 days of gestation… But I was terrified. I lay crying on the floor as someone dialed 911 for me. I knew it was far too early for this baby to arrive.

At only 24 weeks gestation she was considered a micro preemie. She came into this world weighing only 1.8 pounds and measuring 12.5 inches long. Her skin was almost translucent, too delicate to touch.

Life in the NICU

Halle spent her first months in a state-of-the-art incubatorHalle spent her first months in a state-of-the-art incubator, a piece of neonatal technology that best mimics the environment of a mother’s womb.

Her condition varied from day to day. We were warned things might get worse before they got better, and they did. On December 29, I received a call that Halle was no longer taking in any oxygen on her own.

I raced to the hospital, frantically calling my husband and telling him this might be our last chance to see our baby girl alive. I asked the NICU nurse to tell me if Halle was dying. All she could tell me, tears in her eyes, was that things didn’t look good.

Thankfully Halle defied odds once again. She had to be placed on a more intense ventilator known as the Jet, but she survived. I went 19 days without holding my newborn daughter after that. They were the longest days of my life.

Through the worst of it, our amazing neonatal nurses rallied around my family. I felt so supported and cared for. The staff at Children’s Hospital are truly incomparable.

I lived in the NICU after that episode. I no longer felt comfortable leaving the hospital, constantly fearing Halle would suddenly go into respiratory failure again. I was heartbroken to spend so much time away from my older children.

The Power of Music

Megan, Halle and Karina during a Music Therapy session.One of the most uplifting parts of the NICU experience on those dark days was the introduction of music therapy in Halle’s care. An amazing woman named Karina would visit us three times a week to play songs for her.

I was so skeptical at first – and self conscious! I wasn’t used to singing anywhere but in my own shower. But Karina immediately put me at ease with her calm demeanour and clear knowledge of the needs of NICU babies. The transformation was remarkable.

Halle’s stats always improved when Karina was in the room. My husband and I began taking turns singing and humming for her… And I still sing some of those songs at home to this day!

Home For the Holidays

Being a NICU mom isn’t easy. Spending my holidays last year cooped up in a hospital room felt absolutely devastating. I wanted to be anywhere else in the world, and I wanted my baby to be with me.

So I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be celebrating at home with Halle and the rest of our family this year. I’m looking forward to the decorating, the food, and most of all the togetherness.

Unfortunately, I know other families won’t be so lucky. They’ll be worried sick about their child and missing their loved ones at the hospital this year.

Halle and Megan are home for the holidays this yearI hope that you will consider a special gift to the Children’s Health Foundation this holiday season. Your donation can help fund life-saving equipment and important initiatives like the Music Therapy Program at Children’s Hospital. Your gift will help improve health outcomes for our littlest loved ones.

By giving to CHF today you'll ensure families like mine can celebrate together for years to come.

Happy holidays to you and yours!

With sincere appreciation,

Megan Phan 

Micro Preemie Mama