When her water broke on Sept. 1, just more than 20 weeks into her pregnancy, Alicia Ames feared her baby would not make it.
Doctors delivered a grim prognosis to Alicia and her husband, Daniel Ames, telling them most women deliver within 48 hours after an early membrane rupture. At 20 weeks, Alicia’s baby girl likely would not survive such an early birth.
The Cambridge, Ill., couple started planning for the worst. They called family, activated their church prayer chain and contacted a funeral home.
“It was devastating news,” said Daniel, 28. “But it was the reality of the situation.”
But Alicia and her baby girl, Noelle, somehow managed to defeat the odds stacked against them. Alicia, 27, made it to the important 23-week mark without going into labor and, at that point, was able to check into University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, which has a neonatal intensive care unit to handle premature infants.
Alicia spent months under the care of UI doctors and Noelle was born Nov. 24, near the 33-week gestation mark, weighing 4 pounds, 13 ounces. She continues to improve in the NICU.
“Compared to where we were, where we had little to no hope, to be where we are now, it has been absolutely … miraculous,” Daniel said.
While it’s not unheard of for mothers to deliver babies that recover and go on to a healthy life after a mother’s water breaks so early in a pregnancy, it’s not a given that things will turn out well, said Dr. Jane Brumbaugh, a UI neonatologist caring for Noelle. About five percent to 10 percent of pregnancies experience preterm or early rupture of the membranes, she said.
“Alicia definitely beat the odds there in terms of how long she remained pregnant after the early rupture,” Brumbaugh said. “We expect (Noelle) to make a recovery and live a full life.”
At her 20-week ultrasound on Aug. 31, doctors commented on how well the baby was doing, Alicia said.
But less than 24 hours later, Alicia awoke at 3 a.m., leaking fluid. She and Daniel rushed to the emergency room of their Quad Cities hospital, where doctors said her water had broken. But despite the prognosis, Alicia did not deliver the baby in the following days.
Her local doctors were going to refer her to UI Hospitals and Clinics at the 23-week mark, when Alicia again woke up experiencing leaking on Sept. 14. It was close enough to the important 23-week date that she was admitted to the UI hospital. Her due date was Jan. 13, but UI doctors scheduled a C-section for Dec. 3.
Doctors monitored her condition, treated her with medication meant to prolong the pregnancy and Alicia waited. Occasional bleeding and small contractions made this time a roller coaster, the couple said. A whiteboard in Alicia’s hospital room counted down the days.
“It just kept me going, just seeing the days go down and down and down,” Alicia said.
Several times after her water broke, it seemed Alicia was in labor and doctors told her “this is it,” only to have it be a false alarm. But on Nov. 24, her labor did seem to be ramping up, and doctors were concerned about a possible placental abruption. They performed a C-section.
Daniel made it just in time from Illinois, where he was back home working as a registered nurse and caring for their 2-year-old daughter, Hannah, to see baby Noelle arrive.
Alicia was released from the hospital shortly after the birth, after spending 75 days there as a patient, but she remains in Iowa City at the Ronald McDonald House while Noelle is in the NICU, so she can visit daily. It’s expected the baby will remain in the hospital until close to her original due date.
“We just feel like the prayers have gotten us a long way and our faith has gotten us a long way in this situation,” Alicia said. “We consider it a miracle that she’s here. That’s she’s doing so well so far.”