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    Friday, May 24, 2024

    Birthing babies: Mother’s Day tales of lives in the balance

    Amee Wilson and Levi Dargan in the L+M NICU. (Courtesy of William Hanrahan/L+M Hospital)
    Amee Wilson and Levi Dargan in the L+M NICU. (Courtesy of William Hanrahan/L+M Hospital)
    Amee Wilson and Levi Dargan in the L+M NICU. (Courtesy of William Hanrahan/L+M Hospital)
    Amee Wilson talks about her experieinces with the pregnancies of her two sons Friday, May 3, 2024, while at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital before spending time with her youngest son, who was still in the hospital. Wilson’s sons both had to spend time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Kristen and Tyler Hittner, of Richmond, R.I., pose with their children, Hudson, 2, and Harlow, 10 weeks, at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London Thursday, May 9, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    New London ― Amee Wilson’s son, Levi Dargan, turned 3 weeks old Friday.

    His mother expects to take him home from Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in about a week.

    Weighing 3 pounds, 10 ounces when delivered by Cesarean section, Levi has spent his short life in L+M’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, which is equipped to deliver and care for babies born prematurely or with serious medical conditions.

    “He lost 10 ounces the first week, which is normal,” Wilson, 30, of Groton, said during a May 3 interview at L+M. “He’s back up to his birth weight. He should be coming home at 35 weeks.” The average pregnancy is 40 weeks.

    Before he can be released from the hospital, Levi will have to weigh at least 4 pounds, Wilson said, big enough to be fitted for an infant’s car seat.

    Wilson, a medical assistant at Hartford HealthCare’s Ayer Neuroscience Institute in Mystic, started nursing Levi the day of the interview. She said his ability to take a bottle will be another condition of his release.

    L+M admitted Wilson on April 2 when her water broke. Anemic, she remained in the hospital through Levi’s delivery. Since then, she’s traveled back to L+M every day to visit him. Mother’s Day would be no exception, she said.

    Wilson has been through this sort of thing before.

    Her 6-year-old son, Troy Dargan, delivered at L+M via an emergency C-section at the end of a full-term pregnancy, spent three weeks in NICUs.

    With his blood sugar level dangerously low, he was transferred from the L+M unit to the Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital NICU, one of two Level IV units in the state (Hartford Hospital is the other). There, he received glucose through a peripherally inserted central catheter, or PICC line, in his arm.

    NICU levels range from I to IV, based on their capabilities. Level IV units, typically found in regional hospitals, provide the highest level of care.

    Every year, about 6,000 babies are delivered at Yale New Haven Hospital with more than 900 of them requiring admission to the NICU in the children’s hospital, which is part of the main hospital, according to the Yale School of Medicine website.

    L+M’s NICU, the only Level III unit in eastern Connecticut, has 14 beds, including a dozen Isolettes, or incubators, that provide newborns with controlled temperature, humidity and oxygen levels. About 200 newborns were admitted to the unit last year, nearly 17% of the roughly 1,200 born annually at the hospital.

    On average, the unit’s daily census is about five newborns.

    Weighing 5 pounds, 13 ounces at birth, Troy Dargan needed time in the NICU to grow, Wilson said. Lacking the energy to eat, he initially had to be fed through a tube in his nose.

    Born Oct. 18, 2017, at L+M, Troy went home 19 days later.

    Having babies whose first contact with the world outside the womb has been an NICU has been “eye-opening,” Wilson said.

    “It’s definitely been a life-changing experience,” she said. “The first time was really scary for me. Going home every day without my son was very depressing. When I was commuting every day to New Haven, I’d spend a big part of the day there.”

    “When I learned Levi would be in the NICU, I was upset,” she said. “I thought it would be different this time, that I would be able to take him home. When my water broke (28 weeks into her pregnancy), I knew I’d be in the NICU.

    “I wouldn’t say it was easier the second time, but I knew what to expect,” she said. “I know Levi’s going home. He just needs to grow.”

    At home, the boys’ father, Dominic Dargan, and Wilson’s stepdaughter, 10-year-old Anayiah Dargan, are eagerly waiting for Levi to join the family.

    “They keep asking, ‘How many days until he comes home?’” Wilson said, referring to her other children.

    ∎ ∎ ∎

    Kristen Hittner, 31, of Richmond, R.I., also became a mother for the second time 10 weeks ago, giving birth to daughter Harlow on Feb. 23 at L+M. Neither of Hittner’s deliveries involved the NICU.

    “I worked that Thursday, then went into labor at midnight,” Hittner, a clinical nursing coordinator at Westerly Hospital, said last week of her recent pregnancy. “She was born at 10 a.m. Friday.”

    Her first pregnancy, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, was somewhat difficult, with her son Hudson’s induced delivery on Sept. 15, 2021, requiring the use of forceps.

    After Hudson’s birth, Hittner said, she felt especially isolated due to COVID restrictions, which limited her access to resources.

    “I struggled postpartum,” she said. “Now, I go to a breastfeeding support group. It’s been very comforting to connect with other new moms. It’s been good for my mental health.”

    “The camaraderie of new moms is invaluable to me,” Hittner said.

    At home, Hittner benefits from help provided by her husband Tyler, 33, a standup comedian, and the availability of Tyler’s parents, who live with them.

    Hudson cried when Harlow first came home, Hittner said, but has adjusted to sharing the spotlight.

    “I think he was in shock,” Tyler said.

    The Hittners were looking forward to the family’s best Mother’s Day yet.

    “I always dreamed about being a mom,” Hittner said. “It’s my biggest accomplishment, the thing I’m proudest of next to graduating from nursing school and getting married.”

    b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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