On April 22, Keri Barcellos-Putt gave birth to her daughter Dahlia at only 28 weeks. Her baby was moved to the NICU, where she will remain for at least another month, so the postpartum period has been difficult. But the mom found unexpected hope through a special aspect of motherhood: breastfeeding.
Two weeks ago, Keri sent a powerful photo of herself nursing her preemie for the very first time to the Facebook page, Breastfeeding Mama Talk. Founder Kristy Kemp posted the photo on the page, where it is resonating with thousands of parents across the social media sphere -- with over 37,000 likes and nearly 2000 comments.
The viral photo shows Dahlia breastfeeding at four weeks old -- when she would have reached 32 weeks gestation. "They told me she wouldn't be able to until 34-36 weeks gestation," Keri wrote in the photo caption, adding, "She's proving everyone wrong!"
As the mom explains in the Facebook photo caption, Dahlia's journey into the world has involved a lot of challenges. Keri told The Huffington Post that she learned she was pregnant with her third child around Halloween 2015. Things were going smoothly until Christmas Day, when she "had a large bleed," and after spending a day in the emergency room, undergoing blood tests and an ultrasound, she was diagnosed with a subchorionic hematoma.
"I continued to bleed, but doctors were not concerned because these tend to resolve without complication," she recalled. At her 18-week ultrasound, the hematoma appeared to have resolved, and Keri learned she was expecting a girl. But at only 21 weeks along, her water broke -- a condition known as preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM). The situation was looking grim.
"At that point, the midwife that gave me the news discussed with me my options: come in the next day and take meds to put me in labor and say goodbye to my baby, or stay at home and wait until I go into labor naturally and say goodbye then," Keri told HuffPost, noting that her hospital did not think her unborn baby would be viable until 24 weeks.
"Statistics show that PPROM patients don't typically last very long after rupture without going into labor, so the likelihood of me making it to 24 weeks were nil," the mom added. Though doctors can't definitively say what caused Keri's PPROM, some people believe there is a correlation between that condition and subchorionic hematoma. Ultimately, Keri chose to take her chances and continue the pregnancy.
"I did my own research and found a PPROM regimen that I followed to a T," the mom explained. "On the first day of spring, they agreed to admit me for the duration of the pregnancy. I received two rounds of steroids to assist in lung development and two rounds of magnesium for neuro-protection." After two weeks of bedrest at home and five weeks in the hospital, Keri gave birth to Dahlia via emergency C-section due to placental abruption at 28 weeks. The baby weighed two pounds, five ounces.
The battle didn't end there, but so far her daughter has been surpassing expectations. "They had warned me that Dahlia may not make it and that if she did, her lungs would likely be extremely underdeveloped," Keri said. "I had prepared myself for all possible outcomes, but to my surprise, her lungs were perfect for her gestation."
The baby was placed on CPAP and then a nasal cannula and has so far has shown great progress, with no eye problems or brain bleeds -- common concerns for micro-preemies, the mom explained.
"She just turned 1 month old and we have another 1.5 to 2 months ahead of us in the NICU, but she is exceeding all expectations," Keri told HuffPost. "Her prognosis is great. She might hit milestones a little later than term babies, but she should catch up in no time."
Keri, her husband Derrick and their sons Draven and Deagan are all rooting for Dahlia and doing what they can to support her progress. For the mom, an important part of that support is breastfeeding.
"I knew it could only benefit her, so I pushed for it," Keri said. "On the four-week anniversary of her birth, I was allowed to put Dahlia to my breast for the first time and she did great."
The breastfeeding success has been a major victory for the mom. "Throughout this whole process I've blamed myself and felt like my body failed Dahlia, so although everything is still out of my hands, I feel like I have some control over her nutrition," Keri explained.
"I pump and plan to breastfeed because I owe it to her and it has helped me to redeem myself in a sense. I missed out on half of my pregnancy, and breastfeeding is a way for me to bond and feel needed by her," she added.
Thrilled with her success and wanting to share her positive experience, Keri sent her photo and story to Breastfeeding Mama Talk. "I had no idea it would blow up the way it did, but the reactions have been so positive."
Keri hopes her experience can raise awareness about PPROM and inspire other parents in similar circumstances. To learn more about Dahlia's story and PPROM, visit their GoFundMe page.