How Mother’s Intuition Saved my Son’s Life
Even after many fruitless doctor visits, my maternal instinct told me to not give up
When our second son was born, he appeared perfectly healthy. He was 10 days early but still a hefty 9 pounds, 6 ounces. We brought him home after one night in the hospital and all seemed well. He was calmer than our first born out of the gate but I assumed calmer parenting influenced this.. He was also newborn sleepy, of course, but babies sleep all the time, right?
Within a few days of being home, something began to nag in the back of my mind. He was simply too sleepy. He rarely had any periods of alert wakefulness (as newborns do) and didn’t even reliably wake to eat. When he did rouse to eat or when I’d wake him, he’d often fall asleep while feeding after a few minutes. On a couple of occasions, his breathing also seemed labored. Since it was intermittent, my husband didn’t pick up on this. Nor did my mom who was staying with us at the time and helping in whatever way she could.
I took him to our family doctor several times and expressed my concerns. He was eating enough (somehow) to maintain his birth weight so there was no flag there. But because I was concerned with his breathing, the doctor requested a chest x-ray which came back normal. By this point, he was about a week old and I felt at a loss. People kept reassuring me that this was normal for newborns but, in my heart, I knew something was wrong.
When he was 8 days old, I touched his head as he slept and immediately noticed he felt warm to the touch. I didn’t waste a lot of time and headed to the emergency department. I hoped they’d take a fever in a newborn seriously. It was like the world stopped when we arrived. He was triaged immediately.
The attending doctor began to give him a thorough exam and while he had his diaper off, our little guy peed. I saw the arc through the air. With lightning-fast reflexes, the doctor caught his pee in a cup. I was shocked to see it was turbid - undetectable in those absorbent diapers. The situation suddenly felt quite grave.
In very short order, they performed a urine culture and bloodwork. Finally, a diagnosis came in - he had an extremely severe urinary tract infection and there were concerns it had also infected his kidneys and bloodstream. He was immediately admitted and that meant I was staying too. Since the source of the infection was unknown, we were put in an isolation ward that felt a little like a bunker. All I wanted to do was be home with our baby, enjoying his newborn deliciousness but this wasn’t to be for now.
That first night was particularly tough. His bloodwork came back indicating his platelet count was dangerously low so they asked for permission to give him a blood transfusion. My first instinct was to give him my blood. There was comfort in that. We’d basically been the same person until a week before. For reasons that must be painfully obvious to any healthcare practitioner, the answer was ‘no’. I gave my blessing, of course, and he received the much-need platelets. Aside from the stress of the transfusion and the extreme worry about our baby, I was also very anxious about being away from our older son. He wouldn’t understand what was going on but knew I was where I was most needed.
Following the transfusion, our little guy was placed on two intravenous antibiotics that were administered at specific intervals, several of which fell in the middle of the night. The nurses were wonderful but sleep was hard to come by. The following few days were a blur, there seemed to be oodles of tests including ultrasounds and x-rays of his pelvic area. At last, the culprit was identified. Our amazing bundle of joy had an under-developed bladder such that the urine flowed down (as it should) but also up towards his kidneys causing the infection. The antibiotics were meant to deal with the infection but obviously wouldn’t remedy the anatomical issue.
As the days passed, he began to feed more strongly and show signs of extended alertness. A team of doctors came to speak to me several times a day and I could see their demeanor shift as he began to turn a corner. My husband visited daily but it wasn’t until we moved to a private room in a normal ward that my mom and other son were also able to visit. I was overjoyed to see them both.
On day 10, we were finally given the green light to go home. Our son was placed on a prophylactic antibiotic to prevent another infection and we were told his bladder would likely repair itself as he grew. He was to stay on antibiotics until that time. Luckily it happened around the 9-month mark.
When I look back at photos of him from those early days, it saddens me to know he was in quiet distress. Thankfully he’s now a robust and active kid with no recollection of that time. I have to pay credit to mother’s intuition for not letting this go. It’s an incredibly powerful feeling; In part, it’s experience but in part, it’s also connection. It’s best described as a strange moment of clarity where you just know something. Embrace it.