“I always wanted to be a mom,” said the 29-year-old Harrisburg resident whose first three babies were born prematurely. “I always wanted to experience having a belly, feeling my baby kick, giving birth at the right time and taking my baby home with me.”
The first three times, that didn’t happen. She gave birth at 23 weeks, 25 weeks and 30 weeks, to babies ranging in weight from 1.7 pounds to nearly 3 pounds. Each one spent weeks to months in the neonatal intensive care unit.
“I always dilated too early, and my water always broke early as well,” Watkins said. “I went through so much in my pregnancies – from being hospitalized for weeks to needing a blood transfusion. After my first baby was born, the doctor told me my cervix was so badly damaged that I’d probably never be able to carry a baby again.”
With her next pregnancies, Watkins found a strong ally in Dr. George Henning, an obstetrician at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. He diagnosed her as having a weak cervix, also known as an incompetent cervix, which causes it to open too early in pregnancy. He recommended weekly shots of a form of the hormone progesterone and a cervical cerclage, a procedure to stitch the cervix closed and remove the sutures during the last month of pregnancy.
Despite these measures, Watkins’ next two babies were still premature. For baby No. 4, Henning upped his recommendations to include much less activity, no lifting and bed rest as much as possible starting at 14 weeks. That meant giving up her job as a retail sales associate.
“My situation was so crazy that you never knew what would happen, but having a great doctor and the support system at Hershey Medical Center really helped me a lot, Watkins said. “Dr. Henning’s nurse, Nancy Morton, became like a mother to me. She cried with me and she listened to me vent. You just don’t find that support everywhere.”
Happily, Watkins’ fourth baby, a girl, was born at 39 weeks, weighing 5.12 pounds. Now, Watkins is able to look back on a pregnancy and birth experience that was as close to normal as she had hoped.
“Penn State Health is family oriented and only wants the best for you,” she said. “Even now, they have the resources I need for any of my kids at the touch of my fingertips.”
To other moms dealing with challenging pregnancies, Watkins advises, “Do your research, do what you have to do even when you’re uncomfortable with it. It’s not just about you. There’s a little person you’re bringing into the world.”
With four children, three of whom are age 4 and under, her home is bustling. Her oldest daughter – the only baby she thought she might ever have – is now 9 years old.
“I just love being at home with all my kids. This is all I ever wanted,” said Watkins, who finds time out in nature helps her handle stress, along with a helpful boyfriend and extended family.
“I love to hike, and I really love to hike to waterfalls and put my feet in the water. Just being out in nature makes me feel calm and closer to God,” she said.
She sent up more than a few prayers as she was carrying her babies, asking God for strength and willing herself to picture them at age 3, 4, 5 and beyond.
“Thinking about the what-ifs, I thought about giving up a few times, but my faith, my family and friends helped me through,” she said. “And the support from Hershey Medical Center was amazing.”
This is the health that Kianna needs to live the way she wants.