“Hi there, I’m Kheri Monks, a preemie mom coach, and advocate, I am married to a fine man called Justin Monks and we are blessed with a beautiful daughter called Gem Elle Monks born on Monday, July 3, 2016, and here’s my birth story.
We got pregnant quick! My husband, Justin, and I didn’t waste any time and were blessed to conceive a month after we got married. I know my body pretty well and have always been on target when that time of the month came around. The 2 apps I used in tracking my cycle and ovulation times never failed me either. So, it was no surprise when the second pregnancy test came back positive. You can say because it’s my first pregnancy I sorted proper health care very early – at week 2 I was already talking to the doctors. I wanted to make sure I did whatever I could to make my pregnancy, labor, and birth to be as smooth as possible.
All I wanted to do is have a natural water birth. I went to a birth center that encourages and specializes in natural childbirths. They do not handle high-risk pregnancies. So, I was the perfect candidate to become a patient there…right? Wrong!!! Even though my blood work looked good and had no issues with blood pressure I had something going that the papers didn’t pick up on.
Our pregnancy went from being super easy with no issues to my body swelling up early at the end of my second trimester. We asked why was I swelling before the last trimester and were told that’s normal. I never thought it was normal. All of the preparation like seeing a prenatal chiropractor and weekly 3-hour natural birth classes (with my husband) was not used when the delivery time came.
We were 29 weeks into our pregnancy and the day was perfect. It was a Sunday. During dinner, I told Justin my stomach was bugging me so I went to the bathroom. After getting in there I suddenly felt pain under my chest and headache. It was hard to breathe and hurt to speak. I couldn’t call out to my husband for help, so I banged on the wall until he came running. He found me laying on the floor in distress. After walking me to the bed, he convinced me to go to the emergency room. I was calling on the name of Jesus as we drove 25 minutes to a hospital that was not in my birth plan. As soon as we got there they checked my blood pressure and the big number was in the 220s. I was close to having a stroke or seizure, but we rebuked all of the negative words spoken against my health. I was diagnosed with two life-threatening issues, HELLP Syndrome and preeclampsia. They told us that I and our daughter will die soon if I didn’t have an emergency c-section. Don’t forget we were planning a natural childbirth, so a c-section and epidural were not in the equation. I was freaked out so much that my body wouldn’t stop shaking. I just knew they were all overreacting because our daughter was kicking like normal. I tried to reason and bargain with the doctors and nurses to let me stay pregnant with my firstborn. This is the child we prayed for and named before she was even conceived. I remember asking God, “how to do this?” “How to get through this?”
At 2:36am Monday morning we gave birth to Gem Elle Monks after arriving at the hospital late Sunday night. She weighed 1lb 11oz and 12in. Hearing her cry was everything to me. I asked if she would be alright and no one would answer me. They gave me such “sorry” eyes. I guess they can’t answer that especially if they are basing the answer on what the eyes can see instead of faith. They called her a “tiny little thing” and let me look at her for 3 seconds before hooking her up to multiple wires. My husband prayed for us and I knew that the spirit of God was upon me, because in that time of calamity I found a peace that only He can provide. He provided peace through my husband. I still remember the comfort of my husband’s hand tightly holding mine as I squeezed his. We were only a few months into our marriage and faced a storm no one can prepare for. Justin let me know that it was going to be okay and it’s all in God’s hands. We took a picture with his wedding ring around her skeleton-like leg and then they rushed me to the ICU and Gem to the NICU. That was day 1 of 80 days in the NICU without our daughter ever being kissed by the sun outdoors.
We had more bad days than good ones in the NICU. It’s an emotional rollercoaster for any parent. Some days we’d think Gem was doing well, and then they would tell us the opposite. We had no one to tell us in advance that it was a possibility of us having a preterm baby and what to expect. I don’t think we would’ve been prepared for the NICU anyway. We are heavy prayers and believers in the healing spirit of Christ. We knew we had a long road ahead of us and we needed the strength of God to pull us through. We became closer to Him through this and to each other. We prayed over Gem every time we went into her room. We’d close her door and get on each side of her incubator to hold her and each other while praying. Our daughter needed so much medical assistance during her first few months here. Prayer and believing God’s word applies to our lives is what we trusted.
Since having a premature baby I’ve found myself wanting to help other moms. We couldn’t be at the hospital all of the time so we did things to help ease our minds. We Face-timed Gem with the nurses. We called the NICU every 3 hours to check on her. Every day she was there we took a picture of her to remind us today of how far she’s come. And I am big on breastfeeding, so I pumped a bunch of milk. And let me add that Gem has been doing excellent and I contribute my breast milk to her prime development. Even doctors have noted that they can tell breast milk has helped her develop into the bright and healthy 3-year-old she is today.
If you’re a preemie or NICU parent just know that you are strong enough to be in that situation. It’s amazing how God uses situations to make you grow. Now, we are the March of Dimes Ambassador Family here in Louisiana. Thank God our story can give you hope through yours. Remember how God brought you through yesterday’s challenges. He’s the same God that will bring you and your family through the NICU and beyond! God bless you for reading this.
[READ also: BMD couple’s corner: Justin and Kheri Monks’ beautiful love story will make you believe in love at first sight]
Side note: there are so many little things that can set a NICU mom off. I shared a post about me crying my eyes out some time ago on my Instagram page that went viral, because a nurse was the first person to dress my daughter, Gem. It took Gem almost a month to be able to wear a preemie onesie. I was excited about dressing her for the first time. That opportunity was taken away from me, but not in a malicious way. The nurse was trying to surprise us, but she didn’t realize that I was looking forward to the day that I could put some clothes on our soon to be one-month-old micro-preemie at that time. It was bad enough that I wasn’t the first person to hold her. So, from that day forward (after my hissy fit) Gem’s nurses checked with me before dressing her. Being a preemie parent comes with many first moments that we do not get due to our NICU journey.
NICU moms, I encourage you to voice your needs as a mother to your little one’s care team. If you want to bathe your preemie every night they get wiped down then tell the nurse. If you want to breastfeed your child for every feeding, then tell the nurse. If you want to close the door to your baby’s room and pray, then tell the nurse you need some private time with your baby. Now, I’m not saying that just because you voice your wants that they will honor it. But, I can guarantee they will have more respect for you as a NICU parent. They see that you are serious about being a mother to your baby while they are living outside of your home. Let me give another example of another time I had to make them understand who’s the mama! The first time Gem had to have a blood transfusion I was not notified. I went to the NICU to visit her like I normally would do and they would not let me go to the back. That scared me and I can’t explain the feeling. I was thinking, “What in the world could be going on now…just a couple hours ago they said she was having a “good day so far.” They were completing the procedure….needless to say, I had a hissy fit. I told them the moment y’all decided to do this was when they should have notified my husband and me. To do a procedure on our child and we not be able to pray before, was not in our plan. God worked it out for us and she did improve, but she needed another transfusion. This time they notified us and I claimed the blood they put in her body was the Blood of JESUS. She never had another transfusion after my husband and I prayed over our Gem. Anyway…I’m rambling. Just make sure they chart all of your desires as a mother. It is not weird for you to desire something most parents take for granted who haven’t been in a similar situation. You can look forward to (after washing your hands) changing their sheets, diapers, brushing hair….all of those simple things. I’m not saying I enjoy changing Gem’s 2-year-old pampers now, but back then in the NICU I was all the way there front in line to change her. Today, I’m like daddy can change her.”
Check out some before and after photos of Gem below;
Photo credit: Instagram.com/beautyiskherim