Inspired by her journey with Colette, Michelle and her husband founded The Colette Louise Tisdahl Foundation, whose mission is to improve outcomes of pregnancy, childbirth, prematurity, and infancy, as well as aid in the grieving process through financial assistance, education, and advocacy. Their flagship program financially assists families dealing with high-risk and complicated pregnancies, NICU stays, and loss. Michelle also participates and advocates on issues of maternal health, maternal mortality, infant health and safety, and pregnancy complications.
You started the Colette Louise Tisdahl Foundation in memory of your daughter, who was born extremely premature. Tell us about her birth, her preterm complications, and her time in the NICU.
I had two pregnancies, one that was lost in April of 2017 at 7 weeks gestation. I got pregnant for the second time in December 2017. Other than all-day morning sickness and fatigue, as well as some pregnancy brain, it was a pretty normal pregnancy until I was 21 weeks pregnant. At a routine OB appointment, a day in which I had felt the best of my entire pregnancy, my blood pressure was reading at 188/110 and not going down. My OB calmly told me that I needed to go to labor and delivery so they could monitor me. I was not too worried because she seemed concerned but not overly so.
We went to labor and delivery, and I was admitted with a diagnosis of severe preeclampsia as well as intrauterine growth restriction. Colette had been measuring about two weeks behind when I was admitted, but the MFM team was hoping that once my blood pressure was under control, she would naturally catch up. The repeat ultrasound did not show any growth and the doctors recommended delivery. Colette was born extremely preterm at 24 weeks and 5 days and whisked off to the NICU right away.
Colette spent nine days in the NICU before her little lungs could not handle it anymore and she gained her angel wings.
Your foundation is in memory of your daughter and helps others in her honor. What type of work does your foundation do to help families with babies born extremely preterm?
Our mission is to improve outcomes of pregnancy complications, childbirth problems, infancy, and extremely premature birth, as well as assist in the grieving process through financial assistance, education, and advocacy.
This organization is dedicated to Colette. We want to keep her name and memory alive and also help families that find themselves in situations similar to ours – to families who have to struggle with pregnancy complications, extreme prematurity and premature birth problems.
What did you know about preterm birth and the problems associated with it prior to and during your pregnancy?
Some of my first memories as a child revolved around preemies and NICUs. My sister who is four years younger than me was born eight weeks premature. She was in the NICU for about 6 weeks due to the complications of premature birth and then in and out of the hospital for her first two years. She went through a few surgeries and remained tiny for her size for a long time, as well as needed speech therapy for a few years due to a tongue thrust from the incubator.
Additionally, I have had many friends who experienced preterm birth and had their premature babies in the NICU for a time. In fact, for one of my best friends from high school, her preterm labor was so early that her baby shower occurred after her daughter was born, while her daughter was still in NICU care.
With the newest advances in testing around prematurity-related disorders, do you find yourself starting to gain hope that one day others will not have to go through what you did?
On a professional level, as the founder and executive director of The Colette Louise Tisdahl Foundation, who works with families across the country seeking financial assistance due to crises relating to pregnancy, prematurity and childbirth, I think these types of preterm birth tests would allow families to better plan for parental leave to care for their preterm infants and to budget as best they can for earlier births and more complicated neonatal outcomes. Additionally, one thing we see quite a bit is that because of preterm birth, any planned baby showers do not happen, which means that parents are on their own to purchase items for babies when they come home. With an earlier indication of a preterm birth possibility, arrangements can be made for earlier events and the purchase of neonatal care items for low birth weight infants.
How do you look back on your pregnancy and preterm birth experience? What would you want to tell expectant mothers of a preterm baby?
I think when we are working with pregnant people, it is important to strike a balance between not causing too much panic and worry and also sharing the risks and warning signs of preterm babies. One of the biggest things I learned in my prematurity journey is that there is so much we dismiss as just normal pregnancy issues when it might actually be indicating more serious problems. For example, my feet swelled so badly just days before I was hospitalized. I knew that pregnant people did have swelling that was totally normal, but now I realize that the way I swelled at the time in pregnancy was not normal and was a major sign for preeclampsia.
Talk to your doctor today about the PreTRM Test for your individual risk assessment.