Tuesday, May 8, 2012

On How Things Started

In addition to the Brady Anderson photos and Paddington bears, one of the other treasures I uncovered during our yard sale preparation was a 10 page essay that I wrote in April 2007, the month after Luke and Will were born.  I had forgotten that during those weeks when I was home from work, alone, miserable, and unable to drive; Luke and Will were in the NICU; and Nate was back at the office, I had written my first hand account of their birth.  I was in desperate need of an outlet for what had happened.  I just found the file on our home computer. 

This is Nate's story too, and aside from him, I've never shared this written version of events with anyone except my dad.  Over the years, people have asked me about my birth story... on how we started.  I usually skip over the details.  But I think I am finally ready to share.  So here is the story of Will and Luke.  Unedited.

On How Things Started

It is hard for me to imagine that a life can be defined by a single moment. But I feel as though that a single event in the early morning hours of March 11, 2007 has defined my life in a way that I had never imagined.

Aside from finding out that I was carrying twins, I feel as though my pregnancy was unremarkable. I felt good, never got morning sickness, and was going to all my OB and fetal-maternal medicine appointments. During my first appointment with the FMM, I was told that babies born after 32 weeks have almost no risk of long term problems. He told me to circle March 31 on my calendar… this was our goal day.

Nate and I looked forward to the ultrasound appointments and really got a kick out of seeing our little guys interact in utero. Although I do recall always having a feeling of dread and fear before each appointment, each ultrasound revealed brains forming, swallowing, and bone development. My blood pressure was good, and I passed all the glucose tests that I had.

On March 10, we attended a friend’s birthday party. I was just 29 weeks pregnant and starting to get swollen ankles, so spent the majority of the day sitting down and watching a basketball game. Nate and I came home, did some things around the house, and around 10pm, I went to bed. I had been starting to sleep poorly in our bed, so decided to go to sleep in the guest room. I remember feeling a little tug on the right side of my belly as I reached over to turn out the light.

A little after midnight, I woke up for my first nightly trip to the bathroom. I noticed that Nate was in the bonus room, playing a video game. Not wanting to wake up too much, I left the light off in the bathroom and sat down to go pee. I had gotten in the habit of not flushing at night so that I didn’t want up Nate, so I wiped, stood up, and was about to go back to bed when I stopped and looked back at the toilet. What made me look back? To this day, I have no idea.

When I looked back, the toilet looked dark. My sleepy brain thought this was strange, but was not immediately alarmed. So I flipped on the light. And what followed was my life-altering moment.

The toilet bowl was filled with blood. Bright red, shockingly red. Lots of red. From me. From me… from my babies?

I panicked. I screamed for Nate. I started to shake. I ran into the guest bedroom to see if the sheets were covered in blood. Thankfully they weren’t. When I got back to the bathroom, Nate was there. I pointed to the toilet. He pulled the only “guy move” of this whole experience when he went to the toilet and flushed it away. I don’t recall what he said, but in my mind it was something along the lines of “It stopped, right?”

Nate did his best to keep me calm. I sat back on the toilet as he went downstairs to get the emergency telephone number magnet for my OB. I periodically would check to see if I was still bleeding. Every time I looked down, the toilet water was a frightening shade of red. Nate called the OB and left a message with the answering service – “my wife is 29 weeks pregnant with twins. She is actively bleeding. Please call us back and tell us if we should come to the hospital.”

We waited 5 minutes. No call back from the OB. During this time, we prepared to go to the hospital. The bleeding was not stopping. We put poor Otis in his crate. I changed out of my pajama pants into granny panties with a baby diaper in them, and my most comfortable maternity outfit.

Another call to the OB answering service. Still no call back from the OB. And I am still bleeding.

We got in the car. We didn’t take anything with us. I hadn’t had time to pack my hospital bag yet. And I sure didn’t have a “what the hell do we do if we go into labor at 29 weeks” bag either.

On the way to the hospital, I called the OB answering service for a third time. I left a third message. The answering service attendant could not believe that we had not received a call back.

The car ride was silent. I knew that both Nate and I were fearful… and that nothing that we could say would make the other feel better.

Because we had not gotten to talk to our OB, we did not know where to go once we got to the hospital. We parked at the Emergency Room and checked in. We were amazingly composed as we told the night receptionist our story – “29 weeks, twins, active bleeding.” In what seemed like seconds, there was a nurse with a wheelchair calling out my name. She sat me down and wheeled me to the birthing center.

I didn’t want to be in the birthing center. I didn’t want to believe that I would be in the hospital for more than a few hours as they figured out why I was bleeding and made it stop. That’s all I wanted to happen. Make it stop. Let me go home and put my feet up and incubate these babies just a little while longer. We weren’t at March 31 yet… things weren’t going to be okay.

I was ushered into a room and introduced to two nurses. I can’t remember their names. I remember that I liked one of them a lot. She was calming. She had an unusual name. She helped me change out of my bloody baby diaper and into a hospital gown. She asked me if I wanted to keep the granny panties. I cried.

Nate helped me back into bed. The nurses hooked me up on a number of monitors. I can’t remember everything, I just know that there was at least one monitor for each baby. It seemed like my belly was covered with bands with Velcro straps. They gave me an IV and put a large absorbent towel between my legs.

It seemed like only seconds had passed before the friendly concerned face of a male OB from my OB practice arrived. He talked with the nurses and looked at the monitors. Then he did a pelvic exam on me, and said he could see that I was actively bleeding and that I was one centimeter dilated and fully effaced. The monitors showed that the boys were doing fine, but that my uterus was contracting. They were going to start me on magnesium sulfate in hopes of stopping the contractions. The OB seemed hopeful that they could stop the contractions, keep me in the hospital on observation for a few days, give me steroids to develop the babies’ lungs, and send me home on bed rest. God, I wish that is what happened.

Because I was receiving the IV mag sulfate, I had to have a Foley catheter. This was not a very pleasant experience, but minor when compared to the mag sulfate itself. The mag sulfate hit me like a ton of bricks. All of a sudden, I felt as though I was one thousand degrees. Nate got ice from the hall and rubbed it on my feet. It was a great feeling and distraction for me, and I think it helped him feel as though he was helping. I know how helpless I felt with what was happening to my body and my concern for the babies. I can’t imagine how he felt, being forced to stand back and watch it and not be able to do anything.

Around 1am, we helped the nursing staff turn forward all the clocks in my room. It was now daylight savings time. I wondered if my babies were suddenly one hour older, one hour closer to being born healthy. Nate called our parents to tell them what was going on. I don’t think I have ever heard him as stoic as he was on the telephone that night. I think now that he was trying not to lose it in front of me, but also trying to protect our parents from the intense fear that we were facing.

My contractions didn’t stop with the large initial bolus of mag sulfate. The nurses tried to leave us alone for a little while to “get some rest” but we just laid there and watched Will and Grace on TV without the volume. Any time the boys would move, the nurses would come in and reposition the monitors. I was uncomfortable and every time I turned over, I felt a large gush of blood come out of me. I cried and called the nurses again.

They gave me another bolus of mag sulfate. Nate came back with more ice. By this point, they had called for an ultrasound technician to come in and take a look at the boys. She looked sleepy and I remember apologizing to her for making her wake up to come and check on me. Nate looked over her shoulder as he did to the technicians at all of our other ultrasounds, and looked pleased as she could see the boys moving around and their hearts beating at a good rate. She estimated their size to be between 3 and 3 ½ pounds.

Afterwards, the OB came back in and explained that my contractions still weren’t responding to the mag sulfate. He was going to give me a shot of steroids to help the boys’ lungs develop and said it would take 24 hours for their lungs to respond. I took that to mean he thought we could stave off delivery for 24 hours. Now, looking back, I just think he was praying for it like we were.

He also sent in the neonatal nurse practitioner from the high risk nursery. She was horrible. All she did was spout off scary statistics about babies born at 29 weeks gestation. Her monologue is one that I cannot remember a single specific word from. I just wanted her to leave. I’d read all the books. I knew the statistics that she was reciting. I knew about brain hemorrhages, chronic lung disease and hydrocephalus. All I wanted was for her to say something positive. She didn’t and I was happy when she left. I cried. Nate was angry.

The nurses returned again. They told me that my contractions were about 3 minutes apart. From our birthing class, I knew that this was bad. I told them I couldn’t feel any contractions. They looked at the monitor and told me that I was having a strong contraction at that exact moment. I tried to figure out what I felt, and determined that the only thing that I felt was a slight twinge in my back. We continued our conversation as the contraction subsided. At some point within the next couple of minutes, I was in mid-sentence when I stopped and said “I am having a contraction right now, aren’t I?” They nodded emphatically. I told them that if I hadn’t gotten out of bed to use the bathroom, this contraction wouldn’t have woken me up from a light sleep. They looked concerned.

When they left, our room was quiet again. Nate spent a while holding my hand. He hadn’t cried the entire time. I knew he was scared, but I think that we both still held out hope that things were going to turn in our favor.

Around 6am, my two nurses and OB abruptly burst into our room. They explained that one of the babies’ heart beat was starting to become erratic, and they were concerned that the uterine contractions were starting to cause the boys distress. My OB explained that they had done everything that they could to stop this from happening, but that these babies were going to be born today. They wanted to do an emergency cesarean section.

Nate looked into my eyes, and for the first time, I truly saw his fear. He was trying so hard to stop from crying, but I could see his eyes welling with tears. We didn’t know what to say to each other, we didn’t have to say much. We simply looked at each other through teary eyes and nodded ever so slightly and said “okay.”

They pushed my bed out of the birthing room and wheeled me through a number of doors. Suddenly I arrived in a stark room that was freezing cold. Nate couldn’t be there with me as they prepped, but they promised to bring him back when the c-section began. Someone did one final ultrasound to see where the boys’ heart rates were. They said later that they had to do that to see what kind of c-section I was going to have. If the heart rates had been poor, I would have been given general anesthesia and completely knocked out, and the boys would have been taken out within 1 minute of the beginning of the procedure. Because the heart rates were good, I was able to stay awake for the procedure.

In my memory this prep time passed within seconds, but in speaking with Nate afterwards, it seemed to him to take an eternity. He was ushered into a waiting room where two people were sleeping, so he instead chose to pace the hallway. In the operating room, I was being moved to the operating table. I was told to hang my legs over the edge of the bed. A nurse whose name I never caught helped me to stay upright as the anesthesiologist prepped my back for a spinal. As he told me to hold still, she looked into my eyes and held me tight. A lightning bolt of pain shot down my left leg as the anesthesiologist injected the numbing medicine into my back. All I can remember is her eyes… sympathetic and kind. She helped me lay back on the table, and was gone in an instant.

All of a sudden there was a sheet across my bust, my glasses were taken off of my face. I heard my OB saying that they were ready to begin. I called out for Nate. He arrived by my side and took my hand as the OB was making his first cut.

I cannot remember in what order things occurred. I remember that the OB tried to joke with me and tell me that he was having a hard time getting through my abdominal muscles because they were thick and strong. I remember wanting to thank him for ruining them. At some point, I started having intense nausea from the spinal. There was nothing in my stomach for me to vomit, so I dry heaved for what seemed like an eternity. I am sure that Nate held the pink kidney-shaped basin, but could not see anything without my glasses. I remember the OB telling me that there was a lot of blood in my uterus.

At 6:36a, we heard our first baby cry. “Baby A is out!” said the voice behind the curtain. For several months prior, I had a daydream about this exact moment. In my daydream, I turned to Nate and said something about this being the only time in our lives that we were going to have just one child, as we prepared for Baby B to make his entrance. But things didn’t happen this way. The time in between Babies A and B was filled with angst about Baby B getting out. I just wanted to hear his cry as well. There is something ingrained in you that makes you think if you can just hear them cry, everything is going to be ok.

The OB told me after Baby A was out that there was no blood in his amniotic sac. This was a good thing. They walked him past curtain for us to see, but I couldn’t see anything because I didn’t have my glasses. The neonatal team whisked Baby A away to another room to do his Apgar assessment. The OB continued up into my uterus to find Baby B. He opened up the amniotic sac, and again announced that there was no blood inside. He pulled Baby B out at 6:38a, and we again anxiously awaited the cry. I remember not hearing anything at first. I was immediately scared. Then a small cry emerged from behind the curtain. He was walked past the curtain, and even though I could not see, I could see that the middle of his face was black with bruise. He, too, was whisked away. I sent Nate with the boys.

Every mother has an idea of what the moment that she names her child will be like. In my mind, it is a quiet solitary moment where I have just performed the feat of birthing two full term baby boys who are completely healthy and each weigh 8 pounds. Nate wipes the sweat from my brow, and the nurse hands me two babies in blue blankets both quietly sleeping. I look lovingly to the right and name Baby A Luke Pascall in honor of my paternal grandmother’s family. I look lovingly to the left and name Baby B William Rost in honor of my maternal grandmother’s family. In actuality, I believe that we named Luke and William as they were being paraded past us on their way to the neonatal team.

After Nate left my side, there wasn’t anyone close by my head for me to talk to. This was not a big deal until all of a sudden, I could not breathe. I tried to cry out, but no one seemed to hear me. I started hyperventilating, and this must have set off alarms. “Some… thing… is wrong… I … can’t…. breathe…” was all I could muster. The OB laughed behind the curtain and all of a sudden I could breathe again. He told me that he was clearing out the contents of my uterus, and that he had been pushing on my diaphragm. “See?” he asked, as he pushed on it again and the uncomfortable feeling in my lungs returned. I look back and now and think this is a funny story, but at the time, it pissed me off.

Nate returned after some amount of time, though I have no idea how long it was. He said that the boys looked good, and that they were being taken to the high risk nursery. The boys had done pretty well on their one and five minute Apgar tests, better than they had thought 29 weekers without steroids could do. Luke had come out weighing 3 pounds and 7 ounces, Will had weighed 2 pounds and 15 ounces. For 29 weekers, my boys were huge. The nurses immediately told me that I had done a great job in growing babies, but I couldn’t fight the growing sense of doubt and guilt that I had not done a good job holding on to them.

The nurses and doctors that had been with me through my ordeal through the night changed shift at 7a on the dot. I do not recall seeing the OB or the nurse with the strange name or the nurse whose eyes had understood my pain during the spinal again that day. The team clearing my operating room was completely different.

I was wheeled into a recovery room and immediately covered with warm blankets. As I came off of the anesthesia, my body shook violently and I felt very cold. I was in a good mood, and Nate and a friendly nurse were by my side. Every couple of minutes, the nurse would push painfully on my uterus to void blood and encourage my uterus to start firming up. As the spinal wore off, this process hurt more and more. It seemed to take a while for them to get the order for me to be able to start taking IV pain medication. I was being given pitocin through my IV to help my uterus continue to contract.

After an hour, I was able to leave the recovery room and go to the room where I would stay for the next 4 days. They asked if we wanted to go into the high risk nursery on the way to my room, so of course we went.

The high risk nursery is a scary place for a newcomer. Its often dark and no one speaks more loud than a whisper. There are constant monitors beeping, ventilators moving, and the littlest babies that you’ve ever seen covered in tape and rubber tubing lying motionless amongst it all.

I was wheeled into the nursery laying down on a gurney. I had to put on another hospital gown and spray my hands with anti-bacterial mousse before I could enter the room that held my sons.

I met William first because his radiant warmer was the closest to the entrance. I tried to look at his face, but had a hard time because there were so many tubes blocking my view. He was on a CPAP machine to help him breathe and also had antibiotic gel on his eyes. The only thing I could see were his lips, and from my vantage point, it appeared as though he had a cleft palate. The first question I asked about my son was “what’s wrong with his mouth?” Looking back, I think that is a horrible first thing to ask. At the time, hopped up on narcotics, without having slept for more than 24 hours, and having been through the most stressful day of my life up to that point, it seemed like a perfectly normal thing to ask. The nurse assured me he was fine and did not have a cleft palate.

I could see that little Will had very thin blonde hair. His arms and legs were long, and he hadn’t yet had the opportunity to fill in all of his skin. Really, he looked like a little old man. I felt as though I had to try very hard to see my son beyond this baby with more tubes and monitors than I could keep track of.

Luke was in the radiant warmer to the left. He had all the same tubes, monitors, and extra skin that Will did. At this point, the only differentiating characteristic was that Luke had dark wavy hair. The nurse explained that they had given each boy a dose of surfactant, which would help their lungs open up. They seemed to be doing well. The nurses had made tags for their ankles with my name on them. They had also made tags for their beds with their names, birth date and time, weight and length. It was a surreal thing to see this name that you’d been keeping secret for months and excited about giving attached to a baby that you weren’t ready to see yet. And to see their birth dates, weights and lengths made me sad. It should have been such an exciting day… their birthday… the day Nate and I became parents. But for me, it was a day filled with fear, angst, and guilt.

I was not allowed to get out of my gurney during this first trip to the nursery, so I met my sons laying down, just as they were. I had an IV attached to my left hand, and three bracelets on my right wrist. One for me, one for Luke and one for Will.

We left the nursery feeling as though things were ok. Once I was settled into my room, I met the nurses and was told that they wanted me up and walking as soon as possible. Because I’d had surgery, I was at risk for blood clots, and walking encourages circulation, thereby decreasing the risk of clot. I did not feel up to walking for another couple of hours.

Because things had happened so quickly, we had not had the opportunity to call our parents back to let them know that the boys had arrived. The last they knew was that we were in the hospital and I was bleeding. I wasn’t prepared for the questions or the tears that I knew would come if I had to explain to three sets of parents what had happened, so Nate made those calls.

I do not recall the order in which Nate called our parents. Prior to our birth experience, this seemed like a big deal to me… who got the first call when the boys arrived as expected on May 25? I’d also stressed over who was going to be allowed in the birth room with me (only Nate), and who was going to stay at our house while the boys and I were in the hospital.  Looking back, it was all so trivial.

My stepdad Scott answered the phone when Nate called my mom. He was definitely asleep when he took the call, because when Nate said “the boys have arrived,” Scott’s response was something along the lines of “good, thanks for calling.” A couple of minutes later, my confused mother called back. Scott had simply told her that the baby was here and had laid back down. She got worried for a number of reasons, as she knew that we were not due for 11 more weeks and that there were two babies, not just one! Mom and Scott were in upstate New York for one of Scott’s jobs, so Mom started figuring out how she was going to get from there to Raleigh as quickly as possible.

Nate was unable to reach my father. We’d left him a couple of messages at home and on cell phones during the night, but hadn’t gotten a call back. Although I didn’t know it, they had spent the weekend with Tammy’s family in Pennsylvania and did not get good cell reception. My grandmother was finally able to reach them. Late on the night of March 11, my mom, dad and stepmom arrived to be by our sides.

I think the hardest call that Nate had to make was to his parents. He wanted to be so strong and confident so they would not worry, but was feeling so scared and fearful underneath. I do not think that anyone really knew what to say. Nate’s parents would be heading down in a couple of days.

The following day went by very quickly. Perhaps because of the post-op medications, perhaps because of the fear. On their second day of life, Will’s blood work came back oddly and his neonatologist ordered an ultrasound of his brain, heart, and abdominal organs to rule out bleeding. Will’s ultrasound revealed a huge hemorrhage in his brain and liver encapsulation. I remember when the neonatologist came to give us the news. I was sitting in my hospital bed, catching my breath and feeling like things were ok. The second I heard “brain hemorrhage,” I felt as though I died. I cried… sobbed.. hurt like I had never done before.

The neonatologist was kind and quiet. He understood. He left my bed and immediately started searching for larger hospitals to transfer Will to. The hospital where Luke and Will were born was not equipped to handle these types of situations. Thankfully, he said, we were within 30 miles of 3 hospitals with intensive neonatal intensive care units.

I cannot accurately describe the grief that we felt. The sense of loss and unknowing. The heartbreak over wanting to love these boys, to pick them up and love them to make the world disappear… but being unable to do more than touch their warm, fuzzy bodies.

It seemed like forever and very frustrating, but we finally learned on March 13 that Will and Luke would be transferred to the University of North Carolina. They had two NICU beds come available, though only one was open that day and they would be transferring Will because of the criticality of his situation. Luke would follow on March 14, the day that I would be discharged.

Nate and my dad went with Will to UNC, while my mom and I stayed behind with Luke. It was so hard to be separated. I couldn’t gauge from Nate’s voice on the phone how things were going. I was getting around a little better and spent as much time with Luke as I could. The doctors said he was doing well. He was breathing faster than his CPAP, so they moved him to minimal oxygen support. He had yet to open his eyes. My arms ached to hold him.

My mom wheeled me down to the cafeteria for my first meal outside of my room since the boys were born. The only thing open was a sub shop. I didn’t care what I ate. My mouth tasted like dust. My face was ugly, pink and blotchy and swollen. I didn’t really want to be out of the safety of my room or the hum of Luke’s bedside.

I stood up to place my order, and the attendant looked visibly shocked by my appearance. He made my sandwich quickly, and then handed it to my mom. Then he said “ma’am, I hope that whatever is ailing you, that this sandwich will make it all a little better.” I started crying again.

The morning of March 14 was very busy. Upon waking, we were informed that the ambulance was on its way to transfer Luke the 30 miles to UNC. That meant I was leaving too. I painfully showered. The nurse removed my c-section staples. I packed up my things. I was ready to go… ready to have all 4 of us together again.

The transfer team told me that Luke looked good. He was starting to open his eyes slightly as they transferred him to an incubator on a stretcher. I held his hand. I tried to smile, but it was all still very surreal. They wheeled him away and told us that they would see us in 45 minutes. My mom and I said goodbye to the NICU staff before they wheeled me to the front door of the hospital. I was no longer a patient, I was a mom on a mission. And my mom couldn’t drive fast enough. I wanted to be an UNC to welcome Luke and see my boys.

We arrived at UNC at what seemed like a painfully long drive. My dad and Nate met us in the parking garage with a wheelchair for me. I wanted to walk, but I couldn’t. I was wheeled out of one hospital and into another. Nate’s parents arrived around that same time. I cried when I looked into their faces. They were being so strong.

At UNC, you’re required to get a sticker badge every day before you go into the NICU. I just wanted to see my boys. But rather than heading up to the 4th floor of the Children’s Hospital, I had to stand up and have my pictures taken. I was angry. The photo looked like a mug shot. For the next several years, they kept the same photo on file. Every day we checked into the NICU, any time we were back in the hospital because of shunt malfunctions or g-tube surgery, I had to wear a photo of myself from March 14, 2007… one of the worst days of my life.

We went up to the NICU finally after receiving our badges. I saw Will in a bright and sunny room, with a happy pregnant nurse perched next to him. He looked so small, so many tubes. There was a space in the bay next to him for Luke, but there was no Luke. With the delay with our badges, he definitely should have been there already.

Where was he? I don’t remember how we were told, but someone informed us that Luke had stopped breathing in the ambulance. They had to stop on the side of Interstate 40 and resuscitate him. When the transfer team finally arrived, Luke was on a ventilator and no longer breathing on his own.

The nurses and doctors ushered us out as they went through Luke’s admission process. All of a sudden, all of our parents were gone and Nate and I were walking into a private room to talk. Nate’s eyes were brimming with tears. We hugged for an eternity. This wasn’t what we were expecting. This was not the baptism into parenthood that we had spent the past 29 weeks dreaming of.

Through a heaving chest and shaking hands, Nate told me that the day before… the day he had sounded so distant on the phone, the NICU doctors at UNC told him that they didn’t think that Will was going to live. His brain bleed was one of the most severe they had ever seen. They wanted to know if he wanted to meet with a chaplain. He was just trying to hold it together and be strong for me. I was happy that my dad had been with him when he had gotten that news.

After Luke was admitted and hooked up to all his monitors, an ultrasound was ordered of his brain and internal organs. We learned that he also had a brain hemorrhage, but it was less severe than Will’s. We processed so much devastating news in such a short period of time. Who knew which way was up? Not us. We were just holding on to each other for dear life.

Will was on several medications and blood products to keep him stable and a ventilator to breath for him. Within a day, his bilirubin levels were high and he had to be placed under UV lights. Luke soon followed suit. Repeat ultrasounds were ordered for the boys brains and internal organs, which showed that the brain bleeding had stopped and were no larger than a few days before. They ordered an EEG on Will, which showed that he was not having any seizures. Thank goodness for small miracles.

We left the NICU that evening with heavy hearts. It was the first time that I had been away from one of the boys since they were born. We went to eat at a steak restaurant close to the hospital because I was severely anemic and needed iron. Before we ate, my father in law lead us in prayer and proposed the sweetest toast to our baby boys. But I couldn’t handle it. I wasn’t ready for them to be here with us yet, much less be in their precarious states. I cried. I didn’t feel happy that they were born. I felt scared. Why was this happening?

After dinner, I drove home with my mom. A silent ride. I walked in the door, and again felt so sad. The last time I was there, things were still okay. Things had changed so dramatically in such a short time. Otis greeted us at the door. I sat on the floor to hug him, sobbing. He didn’t know what was going on, and ran away from me. I sat on the floor by myself and cried. I felt alone even though I was surrounded by love.

I took a shower and just cried. I ran our hot water heater cold but it didn’t matter. No amount of heat or steam was going to make this pain go away. No one could give me a direction or a sign or a purpose or a reason.  I prayed to God to bring my sons safely through this dangerous time.  I prayed that He would allow Luke and Will to grow and to thrive, and help them to forgive me and my body for failing to keep them safe.

Nate and I made a pact that night. We agreed that no matter what happened, no matter the news that we were given or the way that we felt or the shortness of each other’s tempers, how we felt was okay. There was no right or wrong way to feel. It just was. We seemed to know at that moment that we were in this for the long haul.

The next three days are a blur. We were quickly indoctrinated into the NICU life. Getting our badge, checking in, washing hands, rushing to be by our boys’ sides. Each day, Nate would stop in to talk to the attending doctor before seeing Luke and Will. I didn’t talk to a doctor until the boys were at least a week old. I had learned in the first couple of days that talking to doctors made me feel sad. They didn’t have much in the way of good news. I didn’t want to fear the next shoe dropping each day. So I bypassed the doctors and went straight in to see the boys. Their nurses were cheery, and positive. I needed that.

We soon learned about the monitors that the boys were on, what each little dinging sound meant and when there was something to be concerned about. We got to know the respiration technicians who monitored the ventilators and the boys’ breathing, and cheered as the boys would keep down 10mL of the breastmilk that I pumped for them. The only thing that I could do for them… I cried when I pumped. It wasn’t how I wanted things to be. I felt as though my body had failed me by birthing my sons 11 weeks early, and that producing ounce after ounce of milk was the consolation prize.

When the boys were one week old, our parents went home. Things were quiet. Sad. We went to the NICU on that Sunday, thinking it would be another day of sitting by bed side, watching the vents breath for the boys, watching PICC lines get flushed, watching the monitors show us respiration and heart rates… always just watching. We ached to hold them, but because they weren’t stable yet and hadn’t opened their eyes, we were just allowed to watch. And change diapers.

But on that Sunday, exactly one week after they were born, when we sat and watched and waited for more of the same, the unexpected happened. Luke’s nurse Lauren asked if we were ready to hold him. His status had been changed to stable. And he was finally starting to open his eyes.

My heart skipped a beat. I was nervous. There were a lot of wires and tubes... and what if I hurt him? Or he stopped breathing? Could I squish him? She chuckled a little bit and told me that is what the monitors were for, and that if I would just sit back in the chair, she would place him securely and safely onto my chest.

All I felt in that moment was peace and the warmth of my first born. For a week I had craved this touch, wanting to smell his head and hold his hand. I snuggled that 3lb 6oz boy as if my life depended on it.

Luke’s breathing soon mimicked my own. His high heart rate and respiration rate monitors stopped beeping. He was at peace too. This is where he wanted to be.

Will’s nurse Jenny sought out the attending physician to see if Will was ready to be held. We were given the ok to hold him too, though he had not yet opened his eyes. He was considered stable. And just as I had been given the instructions to take a seat, Nate pulled up a chair next to me and grinned through tears as Will was placed on his chest.

And there we sat, the family of four we had dreamed about… finally snuggling and loving as it was intended. It was a week later than we would have liked, but certainly better than never at all. In and amongst the tubes and the wires and the vents and the hustle, we finally felt like a family. And Will chose that perfect moment to finally open his eyes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I read your story feeling it was so familiar to my own. The bleeding, the terror, the steroid shots, the waiting, the NICU...it all came back to life. I have not wanted to go there. I like to fast forward past that time and forget about the traumatic births of my children. My first born came into the world that way, and it happened again with my second child. I don't think if we decide to have more children it will be any different. My body just can't make it work, for reasons no one has been able to explain. Thank you for sharing your story with the world. It reaches and touches more people than you can imagine.