In honor of World Prematurity Day a few days ago (which I missed because let's face it, life as momma is just crazy sometimes), I thought I'd take a moment to share how prematurity has been a part of our lives in more ways than one. Yes, we have twins so that could be counted as two ways *wink*, but also because I was a NICU nurse at the time.
To do due diligence to the wonderful miracles that are our twins, I feel like I have to give a little backstory. To read all the details, feel free to read my post, A Twin Mommy, but here is a summary. My oldest who is five now, was a twin. The word "was" still hurts to state like that, but fetal loss happened to us.
Five months along, one of our sweet girls gained her angel wings. I felt her kick and wiggle, and I loved her so boldly. After struggling with infertility, hearing that we were pregnant with twins made the fight and treatments extra worth it. The hardest part was having no control and that her little body was perfectly formed. An amniotic band broke away and caught her ankle and ultimately her cord, the very thing that gave her life flow. I couldn't do a thing about it, couldn't hold her, couldn't fix it. Yep, there comes the tears.
After watching for two weeks, they decided they were going to operate. The day before while doing the ultrasound to prep, there she was, still, her little heart I saw beating countless times pitter pattering away, still. Complete and utter anguish is what the months to come held imaginably. Some days I was silent, but in those moments I felt up for voicing my anger to God, His small sweet voice gave me peace in the same breath. I knew loss and joy all at once and emotionally it didn't stop after Ella was born as every milestone hurt as it always felt like someone was missing. I often wondered if Ella felt the same. I loved on her harder than I ever knew possible and many tears fell onto her as I cuddled her and thanked God she was with us.
Ok, time to fast forward to when she was 18 months old and we said we were ready. Ready to try for another little one all while struggling with fear, but knowing who holds our tomorrow.
This time, we knew what treatment course was needed, and although equally hard to go through, it happened the first time around. Being monitored through a fertility specialist meant we got exact lab values and the first level was higher than expected for how far along I was. I remember talking with my sister in law who worked the office( which what a blessing that was firstly), and wondering, could it be? Surely not, that would be impossible. A few days later, the labs doubled a little more than they should have. Hmmm. Cue freak out moment, but again, hormone levels can just rise fast, so let's not overthink it. I mean really, what would the odds be?
The seven week scan came and you already know the result of it-two little sweet peas were there. We were in awe and shock. Every emotion that exists, we felt it. Happiness, confusion, thankfulness, concern, joy. We had dreamed of twins before we were married and had those dreams pulled away from us. Although nothing will replace our angel baby, God puts back together our broken pieces, little by little. He did the impossible and it still baffles me to think about.
However, I am human. I had debilitating fear that at one point must have been emanating off of me. I remember being a few months pregnant and my pastor was preaching about fear and of course I was a blabbering mess as it was one of those days it felt like the message was just for me. Was waving my hankie in agreeance and using it to blot the tears away. He came and prayed with me and I could barely stand I was crying so hard, it was like everything I had held onto, burst out all at once. From that day forward, I lived in hope. Hope that this time would be different. And it was.
I moved past my mental block and then was faced with some physical complications. After nearly passing out many times as work, being a stubborn nurse, I finally went to the ER and was diagnosed with a syndrome that causes your heart rate to be very high and your blood pressure to be very low. This was evident after they pumped me full of six bags of IV fluids with no correction in my symptoms. They kept me overnight, the babies were fine, so I was fine. They wanted to avoid adding medications to help as that would pull blood supply away from the babies, so I took it easy for a few weeks and eventually my body caught up to the demand and corrected.
Then all of sudden it was time for the gender scan. This was the scan that changed everything last time, so a little or maybe a lot of fear bubbled back up again, but I quickly put it in it's place. Baby A was a precious little guy and Baby B was a sweet little girl! Everything was perfect and I breathed a sigh of relief and my heart was so thankful.
I briefly mentioned before that I was a NICU nurse during this time. Here's where that part gets hard. Aside from being on your feet all for 12 hours, you are faced with prematurity every day. Caring for babies I could hold in my hand while carrying my own right next to them. I know all pregnant NICU nurses do this, but you count each week and know exactly why you need to make it to the next. You see the turmoil, the pain, the anguish families are going through each day. You love them hard through it, right in the middle of it all with them, crying alongside when things don't go according to plan.
The level of stress you feel when fighting for a baby's life for hours on end has been researched and compared to the levels felt in battle. Such an enormous responsibility and weight upon your actions to sustain life. A tiny little baby that their future is in your hands. Every grasp of the Ambu Bag to provide a breath during a significant spell leaves your teeth clenched. Seeing a baby go from stable to having twenty people in the room running a code within hours because they are unbelievably fragile leaves you breathless. Being at the bedside when a baby just can't fight anymore, no one should have to go through that, and we did, over and over. Just writing this, I can see all of those moments flash before my eyes and can feel myself there. Because this is something so real and so painful for the families that have endured or even been left behind by their angel babies, we must continue to raise awareness and fight towards more babies being born at term.
So I'm going to tell my NICU story. No, my babies were not micro preemies, they didn't require a ventilator to breathe, and nothing life threatening happened, but they were born too early. They could have been born earlier if I didn't know what I did, so I feel a responsibility to share.
"I want tacos for dinner," I said. What husband can argue with that when you have a watermelon for a belly? So off we went for tacos, then a quick stop at the store for the necessities, then got miss Ella all tucked in for the evening. Then it started...hello contractions! I wasn't a stranger to these having a just-turned-two-year-old and working on my feet all day, but these were different. After the usual guzzle a jug of water, get a warm shower and get my feet up, they didn't quit.
"Uh oh, that was another one, I think we need to head to the hospital." Those dang tacos, they weren't even spicy! If I had known they would be my last meal for three days, we would've went a little more classy. On the way to the hospital they got down to two to three minutes a part. I was thirty-three weeks and two days so I knew they would be ok if they were born, but not without complications, so I lectured them through my big belly. I got settled in the triage room, hooked to all those lovely straps and sure enough, labor.
Of course on the way over, I called my NICU gals to keep them updated and upon arrival they were already on standby. The doctor came right in and I was a few centimeters from being ready to push. Excuse me, come again? That's not how this is supposed to happen, there's supposed to be this long drawn out process of dilation where the last stretch seems to take forever?!? Like 30 seconds later I got a steroid shot to the behind to help with the babies lungs, but they seemed pointless as it looked like we were going to meet them in a hot minute. I was past the gestation to get Magnesium to slow things down, so we prayed and asked everyone else to pray.
The contractions stayed consistent, but seemed to get less frequent. I had gotten my epidural because it seemed everyone thought we were close to go time. Another reason I was not even debating on an epidural was Lola, Baby B, was breech or sideways the entire pregnancy. With twins, if it's your second pregnancy and Baby A is head down and measuring larger than the second baby you can deliver breech depending on the physician. They were going to try to turn her externally or internally, yeah, ouch, see why I didn't argue with them?
Things slowed way down and we weren't upset about it as we would take every extra hour to let them cook more. Then things almost came to a standstill with contractions every ten to fifteen minutes. I took the rest for what it was as answered prayer, and was too exhausted to even think about the cause.
The clock being 36 hours later now, I was welcomed with a good morning from some holy yowza contractions! They let my epidural run out when things slowed before and then I called my nurse and was like, "um hi, do you mind calling the Anesthesiologist again? Pretty please, I'll buy you whatever you want! Endless coffee? Doughnuts? A diamond ring? It's yours!" Better that than some of the other words people choose to say, right?
They had the ultrasound tech come to the bedside to do a scan as labor was progressing again to check positions to plan accordingly. My sweet little man who had been head down the entire pregnancy on every innumerable scan had flipped around. Not even sure how that was possible, but certainly explained the course of events. I knew what it meant when she said it though...a c-section would be needed. Of course I wasn't thrilled, but being the person I am, I tried to see the good in it. Maybe Lola wouldn't have tolerated her half of the delivery and I would have had to deliver both ways, totally cool with passing on that option. Maybe him flipping is what kept them put for almost 48 hours, the amount of time needed to absorb the steroids to make their respiratory status better, so that's a positive. So C-section it is.
The resident came to the bedside and knowing how quickly I progressed with my first delivery, I politely recommended she call her superior to speed things up as the NICU team was ready and if we wait much longer it will become an emergent C-section with a baby making an entrance feet first versus nice and controlled. She walked out of the room and two second later, my nurse got a call and said, "let's go my dear."
I am forever thankful that God sets things up the way He does. I knew every single person in the room. I worked along side them and knew they'd do whatever it took to stabilize a baby. To have them there during the babies first few breaths that are telling for their status to come, was so reassuring to me.
Before my husband got scrubbed in to be by me, they started prepping. I am not an anxious person, but no one wants to be cut open and feel it none the less. Ouch, I can feel that, that isn't right. I informed the doctor and they had to tilt the OR table to get my epidural to work higher. I wanted my best friend in there by me, but one of my girls stepped in to help calm my nerves and overwhelming pressure I was feeling in my chest from the quick load of medicine.
My husband was finally by my side and then the real fun began. I anticipated some discomfort or weirdness being awake during a surgery, but oh my, the leaning on my ribs was intense. I'm thinking, do you see this big belly full of 35 inches of baby, aren't they right there about to burst out?!? Hah! They were working really hard to get Jase out and there he was. My heart was erased of it all and I cried in amazement of his almost five-pounds, eighteen and a half inch self. They got him all dried off and brought him over to me to kiss his cheek. Behind the masks of the party of people in the room, were my friends and their smiling eyes full of happiness. They were there during both pregnancies and just knew what I was feeling.
And then there is Miss Lola. Before she was even born they said I had a gymnast on my hands as she wouldn't let them get ahold of her, and I could tell she was putting up a fight(this should have been my first indication of her sassy, but sweet years to come), as both people again with the whole laying on the ribs thing. Boy did they call that one, she was not happy to be out of my tummy and had a much more stern cry than Jase. Her precious little face though, my heart, again, could have exploded with thankfulness.
I had to part ways with them for a bit to go to recovery, then to my room, but shhhh....I may have been taken on a detour through the NICU on a very big stretcher to say a quick hi.
It's a known fact that boys don't fair as well in the NICU, so here I was thinking Jase was the one to worry about. He nailed his first feeding, breathing on room air, and was as calm and collected as can be without a care in the world(still is how he is). Then there's Lola, she became grunty and required CPAP for a few hours to open up her lungs. Her little determined self quickly transitioned to a nasal cannula and then to room air the next day. They were what we nurses called feeder growers. They just needed time. Time to grow, gain weight, and master all the newborn skills like staying warm, eating by bottle, etc.
I never went too far. I was made by their nurses, AKA my lovely friends, to skip one early morning feeding to get a little sleep, I did so begrudgingly, but knew they were right. With two babies, it was a diaper change, get bundled to come out of the incubator, bottle feed pumped milk, do the same for the next little one, then pump after for the next round. That left all of 20 minutes before it was time to start again. I made my nurses job easy and was only in my room when they called me to have my vitals taken, I may have even been chased down with the machine once, oops! I didn't wait around for pain medicine, just made my way slowly back over for more snuggles.
You'd think all the walking I was doing would have made my elephant legs from all the fluids disappear but that was a big negative. My co-workers who were used to my chicken legs were in for quite the surprise when they came in the room to visit. The day shift coming in even got to witness me sitting in the seating area ravagely eating hospital breakfast because making that much milk, I was STARVING.
But I was so glad my family and friends were there as I know it helped push us all along. Every smile, every hug, was a blessing that kept my love tank full and hopeful towards going home soon. And sweet big sis, can I just brag on her? I only left the hospital once in 12 days to grab a few things and I just sat with her and stared in her sweet eyes to reassure her I'd be back home soon. Every day she visited with Nannie and Pop Pop and went home with Daddy when he went home at night. I cried every time she left the room because I wanted her to understand why I wasn't with her, but she was a champ and wasn't even phased.
When your babies are in the NICU, it's a rollercoaster. I found myself reminding myself of the very words I spoke to so many like that. One step forward, two back. Very few alarm alerts happened, but they made my heart sink as they usually happened just after I dozed off on the itty bitty comfy spot in the chair I slept in. They both had a few days of phototherapy for jaundice, you can see below, Jase unphased or bothered, his motto in life.
I know what things could have been if they had been born earlier. Many a days, holding my tiny, but healthy babies, I broke down in tears knowing there were dozens of women holding their babies at that exact same time without that same statement to be made.
I counted my two blessings and my third at home and the many more that God has brought our way over our life. I looked back on painful back issues that lead to a big fusion surgery, that led to me being unfit to work in the ER anymore, that led to me working in triage one evening when a NICU nurse happened to be not feeling well, that led to me applying for a NICU position and getting called the next day, that led to years of caring for others' babies, multiple at a time, that led to me caring for my own twin preemies amidst the love of co-workers, that led to going home with them and rocking the beautiful chaos to come.
I am forever grateful for each path my life has taken. Even the things meant to harm or bring us down has led to something beautiful. Pain, loss, anger...became joy, thankfulness and extreme love.
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