View From the NICU

Jenny’s and Sully’s entrance into the world was almost as spontaneous as their conception. There was no labor. There was no grand anticipation. There were no family or friends impatiently waiting for their arrival in the waiting room.

What there was, was William and I trying to navigate what was to happen next. We had such very little time to process this moment; one minute we were thinking about the twins’ arrival, the next minute they were here. The hours after delivery and my time in recovery are a blur. I remember only bits and pieces; I remember William going to the NICU, our babies’ new safe haven outside of their comfy womb, and spending a lot of time with them while I was in recovery. I remember thinking about all of the bad things that could happen, but somehow managing to keep it together. I remember seeing them for the first time, in separate rooms, and wanting to be overcome with emotion, but mostly feeling nauseous from the pain meds and afraid that I was going to puke all over my newly birthed daughter.

Our NICU stay was just short of one month. In that time, the twins got the testing, medicine, and care they needed in order to thrive. Jenny persevered and was moved from intensive care, to the lower level of care “special care” side of the nicu within days. Sully had a few more challenges than Jenny did to start and needed some respiratory support before finally being reunited with his sister in special care. In the grand scheme of things we were the lucky ones, and I know and value and am grateful for this. However, I can sum up the experience with one sentiment: it was shitty.

No mother prepares to leave the hospital after delivering a child, with no baby(ies) in her arms. We didn’t pack two tiny babies in to car seats and leave with balloons and smiles, I didn’t sit in the backseat staring at them and yelling at my husband to slow down all the way home, we didn’t show them off to family and friends. We waited four weeks to do those things; for four weeks, I came and left the hospital, leaving my newborns to be cared for by someone other than their mother.

I felt very resentful over this reality during the twin’s time in the hospital, and over the last year. It’s been difficult, as their mom and as their home for 31 weeks, not to somehow blame my body or myself for their premature birth. “Mommy guilt” didn’t take long to kick in. I also struggle with the fact that don’t think this outcome was very fair; nothing about this pregnancy went as planned or expected. Couldn’t I have at least had the delivery I had hoped for? Couldn’t that, if nothing else, somehow resembled what we had planned? I wanted to have my baby shower (which was canceled,) I wanted to revel in the birth of our babies and have a “I am woman hear me roar” moment after delivery, I wanted to spend this time with my husband and reflect on our pregnancy and the imminent changes about to occur in our lives and in our relationship, and I know all of this sounds petty. I had two beautiful babies regardless of how they came in to the world, but it’s important I’m honest. And the truth was: it was really shitty.

The whole experience taught me many positive things, though. For starters, it taught me that I am a lot stronger than I thought I was prior to this. The physical recovery of a c-section, the emotional toll of two fragile babies in the hospital, the no sleep from worry (and pumping) all hours of the night, pulling twelve hour days in the NICU; all amazing feats I’m proud of. The NICU gave me lessons in patience and acceptance of the things I can’t control; something this crazy anxiety-ridden new first time mom really needed. The NICU taught me that there are people, and a lot more than I realized, that care about me. Family, friends, co workers, they all rallied to help out any way they could; which allowed me to realize I was deserving of the support and help. It taught me to love each day, each moment, and each thing no matter how insignificant with my babies. And it taught me to appreciate my husband in ways I didn’t know I needed to. The most important lesson I learned was this: this was only a drop in the bucket. There was a life we were building outside of that hospital and that would be what the twins would remember; not the month that we, or they, weren’t together…because they did come home…and we couldn’t have been happier… and just as I HAD expected, things got crazy, fast.

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“Oh…We’re Going To Be Parents Today.”

I’ve begun to believe that a multiples pregnancy has left me somewhat shell shocked. For starters, it’s taken me one year and eight months to finally open up about it. It’s clear how the story ends; I mean, the twinadoes are 13 months old now!

I previously referenced a new language I was forced to learn while I was pregnant with the twins.  From that first ultrasound on, I was no longer a woman experiencing a typical pregnancy. Now, this was a “multiples” pregnancy. All of a sudden I had gone from contemplating being a mom, to totally nailing this pregnancy thing, to all of a sudden being a mom of multiples. I also came to learn of the word “singleton,” in other words, the kind of pregnancy I wasn’t having; the one where the mom-to-be is only cooking one bun in the oven.

I’d be lying if I said idea of housing two kids over the next nine months didn’t scare me.  Of course I was f***ing scared. I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to do this with one baby and now there was a second one along for the ride. I wondered how this was possible; wasn’t it supposed to be hard getting pregnant?  I’ve been known to be an overachiever but this was much more of an undertaking than I had imagined.

For the most part, my pregnancy was pretty unremarkable. I had the usual complaints one is allowed when playing incubator to a growing human(s). William and I did the typical things parents-to-be do when eagerly awaiting the arrival of their baby(ies.) We found a place to live (our tiny, two bedroom second floor apartment was no longer an option,) we researched items for a baby registry, we named our babies, hell we even took a twin prep class! (Highly, highly recommended by the way- let me know if you want further details about this.) As things moved along, I was thrilled to get to feel my babies tap dancing in my belly, exhausted as sleeping was beginning to be non existent, and sick with heartburn.     For almost the whole time, my son sat contently, in prime birthing position, his head crushing my pelvis while my daughter sat breeched with her head in my rib cage. Little jerks.

I was diligent in my prenatal care, attending all of my prenatal appointments like a good mommy, but my OB sent me to labor and delivery QUITE OFTEN “just in case.” On one occasion she sent me because I was a little “crampy,” (a completely normal pregnancy symptom) and they didn’t have the necessary equipment to monitor me and the babies. Another time after a freak thing at work which included a carbon monoxide scare, it was suggested I go and get checked out just to be safe. While in labor and delivery, Baby A, was screwing around and they kept me overnight. So, when I went to a routine appointment at 31 weeks pregnant and my doctor suggested again that I go to L&D I was really pissed.

Here’s another vocabulary word I learned: shortening cervix. Apparently this is something common with multiples pregnancies. The thin membrane protecting my babies from basically dropping out of me was shortened from the pressure of exactly that; carrying two babies. This was brought to my attention early into my pregnancy and watched closely. At this particular appointment my blood pressure was a little high and that, coupled with my shortening cervix, was enough to be told to get my butt to the hospital. This time I was told that I’d most likely get steroid shots to mature the babies’ lungs in the event that I did go into labor before the marked day.

I reluctantly went to labor and delivery, bitching the whole drive there and commenting on the phone to my dad that it couldn’t be anything too serious as they were having me drive myself to the hospital. I sat in the valet line (I was far too big already, and lazy, to walk from the parking lot to the entrance) and I furiously shoved everything I had brought with me to work that day for lunch because these people were notorious for telling me I couldn’t eat while I was there. I was going to get one over on them this time.  Plus, the last thing these guys wanted was an angry, pregnant, and HUNGRY Nicole on their hands.

I got checked in, my blood pressure was normal. I rolled my eyes; pissed again. They got me set up for the first steroid shot. I knew they were going to admit me because the steroids are given in a two shot series; the second being administered exactly 24 hours after the first. They also hooked me up to magnesium because, apparently, I was having slight contractions which I didn’t even know. I met the doctor on call, who proclaimed that I would never be seeing him again because “we weren’t having babies today.” I begged to be released by Friday, two days later, since my baby shower was scheduled for that weekend. William met me, got me settled in a room and sat with my while I got ready for a long, uncomfortable night in the hospital.

I felt really messed up from the magnesium and it was giving me an awful headache. I continued to have contractions but was not in, or anywhere near, labor. Around midnight I was put on oxygen and was told one baby wasn’t being very cooperative and they were going to have me lay in a different position to get a better reading on baby. I tried figuring out how they keep track of two babies heart beats when I could feel these kids moving around like my uterus was their own private bounce house. Around one in the morning, a doctor came to talk to us. She explained that something was happening to one baby, their heart rate was rapidly decel-ing and the possibility of a c section was being discussed.

Panic ensued. “O….K.”

I thought that the doctor was suggesting that other options of how to keep me pregnant were going to be explored before surgery. But before I could ask what they were, a nurse was throwing scrubs at my husband and telling him to get changed. We locked eyes and he said “this is happening, we’re going to be parents today.”

The next moments moved SO fast but in my head I still see them in slow motion. Nurses began to rip my clothes off of me, and they shot something into my IV. I made the mistake of asking what they gave me and they said it was something to prevent me from throwing up with the anesthesia.

I don’t do vomit, remember?
I started hyperventilating.

The same doctor, the one I wasn’t ever supposed to see again tonight, came with paperwork I needed to sign, consenting for the c-section. I tried to ask one hundred questions. “Are they worried about the health of the babies? They’re so early.”The doctor responds, “of course.” He went on to explain the neonatal intensive care team would be standing by.

It’s explained to me that I may, or may not, hear my babies cry. All of a sudden my idea of what the delivery I had planned for these twinkies goes out the window. The doctor then presses me to sign the consent because “he doesn’t have time to explain the ins and outs to me, he needs to get my babies out.”
They separated William and I while I got the anesthesia. I try to figure out how not to lose my shit that a man is going to shove a needle in my back and I can’t stop shaking. I was numb, exposed, laying on an operating table and finally William was allowed in the room and was by my side again. There’s tugging and pulling and pressure and finally the faintest cry, the sound a newborn kitten would make. One little yelp at 2:02am followed by another at 2:03. The babies are were taken out of the room immediately. I asked if they were okay, and no one answered because they’re with the neonatal team and the only thing the people care about in the room with me is how I’m doing. I started to feel some pain and they give me the good stuff; the rest is very fuzzy but I know I became awfully chatty. That was it. In a matter of 60 minutes, I went straight from a multiples pregnancy, to multiples.

Baby A – Sullivan James
Baby B – Jennifer Estelle

And there’s plenty more to come about them later.

Spontaneous Twins

Did you know that twins that occur without the use of fertility drugs or treatment are called “spontaneous” twins? Neither did I. Being pregnant opens you up to a whole world of new vocabulary; being pregnant with twins, I learned a whole new language.

I needed to wait until I was eight weeks pregnant before my OB would order an ultrasound. Eight WHOLE weeks I walked around growing a little bean.   Eight weeks of thoughts, anxieties and hopes for the future of our growing family. It was also eight very looooong weeks of waves of nausea that left me feeling like I had spent my whole day getting on, and getting off the gravitron.

See, I don’t do nauseous, and I REALLY don’t do vomiting. Those who are close to me know I can count on one hand how many times I remember puking in my entire life (only one of those times was the result of too much alcohol.) So when I woke up one morning feeling a little queasy, and instead of subsiding, the queasiness got more and more intense by the minute, I had, what only can be described as, a nervous breakdown.

 

Nope. Nope. Nope.

 

We only told a handful of people about my “big fat positive.” My dad was one of the first to know. I called and complained to him often over the first few weeks and I shit you not, I had a conversation with him via text that went like this at six weeks pregnant:

textwithdad

I felt terrible; I knew William wanted more than one child. I swore up and down that this would not be something I could endure again. Sorry, honey, but you’lI only get the chance to father one kid. Mama ain’t doing this again. I couldn’t believe that women actually go through this more than once. It boggled my mind that there weren’t more only-child-families out there. The women who had more than one pregnancy were all of a sudden heroes in my eyes.

So after eight weeks came and went and William and I were finally going to get a chance to see this little bundle we had created. I had no idea what to expect; looking back, I wish I had been given SOME kind of idea. A young sonogram-tech met William and I and instructed me to pee before the ultrasound. Why? All she was going to do was squirt some cold jelly on my tummy and look around with a wand thing.   After following orders, she brought us in to a barely lit room with a machine, an exam table, and a TV. I was slightly confused when she put my legs in stirrups, I mean, did she KNOW where a baby is located? This was my first understanding that in the beginning of a pregnancy, your baby is so miniscule they cant do a sonogram on top of your belly. Hello, internal sonogram. To spare gory details, the gist is this: lady tech proceeds to pull out an instrument that is strikingly similar to a sex toy but and clearly this would be without any of the fun. I was mortified.

A very uncomfortable me was now looking at a black and white picture that was being projected on to the TV screen above my head. I couldn’t even try to make out what I was looking at. I knew it had to be the general vicinity where a baby would be hanging out; I had seen enough ultrasounds to make out that almost triangle shape of the uterus. Then lady-tech starts asking questions.

 

Lady Tech: “Is this your first pregnancy?”

Me: “Yes.”

Lady Tech: [she pauses] “Natural pregnancy?”

Me: [I take the term ‘natural’ to mean without fertility assistance] “Yes.”

 

I start panicking for a second. Why does she seem so cautious? Are these questions normal? I can feel my anxiety picking up speed. The alarms in my head start going off like crazy; is it possible for this not to be a good news appointment? It occurs to me at this point why they call it an appointment to confirm a pregnancy; there hasn’t been any confirmation yet. There was still time for things to be wrong. She continues looking around.

Lady Tech – “Here’s the heartbeat…”

I look in awe at the blinking ball on the screen and breathe a sigh of relief that could fill a Macy’s Day Parade balloon.

Lady Tech then moves things around a little.

Lady Tech – “And here’s the other heartbeat; did you know you were having two?”

 

I look at her. I look at my husband. I look at her again. I look at the TV screen.

Me and William collectively: “Two what?”

William laughs, I laugh. The tech continues with the ultrasound and confirms two very strong heartbeats. Two babies. Spontaneous twins.

We sit quietly through the rest of the ultrasound. I am reeling. The thoughts, anxieties, hopes are flying again but this time they look completely different. We can’t believe it. There’s another moment of panic, the first of one trillion over the course of my pregnancy (and still today.) We leave the doctor’s office with congratulations and well wishes from the staff.

William and I walk out to our car and he makes the grandest statement that could ever have been made in that moment…

“There’s as many of them as there are of us…”