If you know me, you know I’m a Downton Abbey fan. I spent a good chunk of my hospital stay re-watching all the seasons on my iPad. Time well spent people. In Season 2 while the characters are in the throws of WWI, there’s a scene at the Abbey during dinner where Lady Mary, referring to the serving in the war, asks Matthew, “What’s it been like?” Matthew pauses looking blankly in front of him and replies, “You see the thing is…I just can’t talk about it.” And the conversation ends. His response is how I’ve been feeling the past month…I just couldn’t talk about it. But I think now, after lots of time to process and pray, I can talk about…everything. I apologize in advance for the length of this post. I have, after all, been kind of living in my head for the past month and now have a lot to say 😉
We just passed the one month mark since the newest members of our family, by God’s grace and perfect timing, entered this world. Their “birth story” isn’t super exciting or ground breaking, but I want to document it here so that I can remember that day years from now. The birthday of this set of twins was so different than our first set. Through their birth and their NICU stay, I learned a lot and quite frankly was humbled…which I’ll explain later.
This is me on July 9th…hours before our babies were delivered. 34 weeks and 1 day. I’m not a fan of being pregnant. Some women love everything about it. It’s kind of one of those seasons I just have to get through. While I was happy that I would no longer have to deal with the pregnancy part of life anymore…I was sad that our babies wouldn’t get more time on the inside to grow and develop. I guess I should back up real quick…
Around 18 weeks along, as soon as my blood clot around baby A had dissolved, a marginal placenta previa was discovered on my ultrasound. The light bed rest continued and my doctors watched me closely. The previa never moved or caused any problems really. That is until the end of my 29th week, when I had a significant bleed that landed me in the hospital for 4 days for observation. During that stay I received magnesium to help the babies brains develop and two steroid injections to increase lung development. After I was released, I was looking forward to being home and riding out the next few weeks until July 30th, my scheduled C-section at 37 weeks. I wasn’t even home 48 hrs when I had to return the hospital because I was concerned one of the babies water had broken…and I was right. At the end of 30 weeks, our sweet girl, baby A’s water had broken. I had to stay on the maternal high risk floor until delivery or 34 weeks. As long as there were no signs of infection and both babies movement/heart rates were good, I would have to deliver at 34 weeks because at that point risk of infection outweighs the benefit of them being inside for growth. So the C-section date was rescheduled for July 9th at 5:30pm and I just waited at the hospital.
The week finally arrived. All my nurses told me it was one of the busiest weeks they had ever seen birthing wise at the hospital. On the day of delivery, I was told to not be surprised if my time was pushed back…and it was…not by much, but it was. I remember when A&H were born, there was a lot of joy and no sense of apprehension in the surgery room. The doctors and nurses were laughing with one another. It was a professional yet relaxed atmosphere. I don’t know if it was just the difference in hospitals, doctors, nurses…or if it was just me…but there was a small amount of tension in the air. Still some joy…but not the same way as before. And not like people-angry-with-one-another-tension…more like a cautiousness hung in the air. Although the babies had looked wonderful all through my pregnancy, I still felt anxious. This was another one of those times when the Spirit had to intercede for me. Except asking for peace and calmness, words to pray weren’t coming…and I wanted to cry. It’s hard to feel joy when you feel cautious. Nathan came in and sat next to me and held my hand. It seemed like it took my doctor an eternity to get the babies out. I felt like I was holding my breath waiting to hear a cry.
And then I heard it…our girl was crying. I had never been so happy to hear a baby cry. She’s the one I’d been waiting for. She’s the one I was told by my first OB, “I don’t expect baby A to make it” way back in January. Ever since I heard those words, all I wanted was to hold her. (And I don’t claim to be any kind of girl who is a baby holder…but when you hear that your baby might not make it…your arms long to wrap around that tiny body and rock it. It’s a feeling never anticipated having and one I can’t really explain.) She’s our miracle girl. And still whenever I hold her, I think about that. Little miss J. Her name means “He sees”…and He does. No matter if He chose to take her during pregnancy, shortly after birth, or if she lives a long life…God sees her. We want her name to remind her of God’s sovereignty. (I don’t use my kids’ names on public social media…but her name is uncommon and beautiful!) Since her water had broken a few weeks before, she hadn’t grown much during that time. She was born at 6:24pm weighing 3 pounds 13 ounces and 16 inches long.
And then came another cry, baby B, our little man Mr. E was born at 6:26pm weighing 5 pounds 2 ounces and 18 inches long. When my first OB told me baby girl would most likely not make it, she added that if I miscarried one, the other baby would not have a good chance of surviving either. Later in the pregnancy when the ultrasound tech could do a 3-D scan, she was able to get a good view of his face…little miss never did show us hers. But his profile looked so much like my husbands. I couldn’t wait to meet this little guy who, I was hopeful, would be a little mini version of his daddy. He was on the CPAP for almost 48hrs, which meant I couldn’t see his face very well at all because of the mask. I was there when he finally got it off, and I saw his face for the first time. There was that little profile I had seen on an ultrasound screen weeks before. His name is also not too common and wonderful…it means “Jehovah is God”. We want his name to remind Him of God’s authority. This world doesn’t look to God to call the shots…we pray our son (and all our kids!) recognize God’s Supreme Authority over this world and especially his own life.
The NICU teams worked on both babies in the surgery suite for a good 20 minutes. Before they took each one to the NICU, they held up and showed me each baby as they left. Nathan left with the babies and the doctors finished closing me up.
After the C-section was complete, I was taken to a recovery room for 2 hours. It was a large room with I believe 4 or 5 spaces for women recovering from C-sections, however, since I was numb from my chest down and I wasn’t able to sit up or see everything real well and I was on some pretty heavy pain meds…I could be wrong about all of those details 🙂 Why is it important that I wasn’t alone in recovery you ask? I’ll tell you…in a minute 🙂
Our first set of twins never saw a glimpse of the NICU. In fact, after my C-section, I was taken to my own room to recover and my nurse brought in the babies and from then on, they never left my room or my side. I was present for every poke, exam, cry, diaper change, and I could hold them whenever I wanted. And after I could stand, I could walk around my room holding my babies. This is the experience I had known…and I hadn’t thought of any other kind of experience. I knew our second set would end up in the NICU…but what I didn’t know is how hard that would actually be on me. I wasn’t prepared for…well…all the feelings.
As I lay in recovery somewhat groggy and trying to concentrate on moving my legs that would not move (which is a weird feeling, let me tell you!)…I heard them bring in another girl who had just had her C-section. Minutes later, they brought this mom her baby. You could hear the joy and excitement in the nurses voices. The baby was crying off and on and I could hear the mom comforting her sweet baby. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks…my babies are not here. I cannot hold them. I am not there to comfort them. I don’t even know whats going on with them. The floodgates opened and I started to cry. I could not stop. I tried. I didn’t want to be one of those emotional NICU moms. My nurse walked into my “room” and she saw me crying. Thankfully she was understanding and as soon as I was allowed to leave recovery, she took me to see the babies.
Honesty time and enter in the being humbled: previously I had judged parents of NICU babies and thought to myself, “why would that be so hard?” And to be clear…I don’t have any really close friends who’ve had babies in the NICU longer than a day or two (at least, not to the best of my knowledge.) So my judgements of people are based on comments/blog posts I’ve read, mostly on twin forums/sites. Super mature right? Not. Like I said…humbling circumstance here. But let me explain why I thought those people were overly sensitive…because my last set came straight home with me, I knew how hard it was bringing home two new babies. We hit the ground running. First kids, and there’s two of ’em. Talk about baby boot camp. And then hearing parents whose babies were in the NICU…it sounded like a vacation to me. You don’t have to wake up with them when they cry, you can recover from a C-section without having to worry about caring for babies, you could go out to coffee without taking all the baby crap with you, you could go on a date together without needing a babysitter for awhile longer…what’s there to be sad about?! I’m not an overly emotional person, so it’s hard for me to “get” emotional people sometimes. And like I said, I wasn’t expecting to get emotional about our babies being in the NICU…but the Lord used this to show me many things,…one being I can’t assume I’ll always know how my heart will respond to situations. And even if I think I know how I would respond, I should not expect others to be just like me. Needless to say, having babies in the NICU is no vacation. I whole-heartedly apologize for judging people previously. I was wrong. I am grateful that the Lord is gentle with me and gives me forgiveness and grace. I’m also planning on writing a post here soon using my experience (and maybe some others!) to help anyone out there with friends who’s baby/ies are in the NICU…something along the lines of “what to say/ask/do and not say/ask/do for the NICU parent”. So keep an eye out for that.
I’ve known both sides of bringing home twins…coming home right away with both and bringing them home one at a time weeks later. Both have their hard things. Both have their joys. But because I want to remember “all the feels”…here’s the major differences I experienced:
My first set (A&H), I could walk around with them wherever and whenever. This set (E&J) were hooked up to monitors, IVs, CPAPs…so we could not walk around with them. Why is walking around with your baby such a big deal? I’m not sure really. There’s something about walking around holding your baby. And when you can’t do it, you miss it and want it.
With A&H we were given bottles to feed them with no real instructions about how to feed them…we just did it. With E&J, we were taught how to feed them so they wouldn’t choke, gag, aspirate, or get their heart rate up too high. They also had to learn how to suck, breathe, and swallow and couldn’t learn that if we fed them like full-term babies. Ask any NICU parent what “sideline feeds” are and I’m sure they will show you.
We took A&H to Target, Starbucks, church…all over the place when they were like 3-4 days old. With E&J, we have become germaphobic hermits. “Oh hi friendly little old lady in the store. You want to just look at our babies? Can I first take your temperature, see that your vaccines are current and have you wash your hands 3 times? That’d be great thanks” We would prolly get lots of glares if we said stuff like that…so it’s best to just stay home in our bubble 😉
When A&H were born, I was present for every heel stick, diaper change, test, and consult with any nurse or doctor who came to check on them. Because E&J were at a NICU that is an hour north from our home, once I was discharged from the hospital, I didn’t get to spend much time with them. They had tests, pokes, treatments, and consults that I was never present for. Our little guy was under the bili lights for 24 hrs and I wasn’t able to make it up there to see any part of that time. Not that our being there makes it all go better for them, it’s just different and weird and hard to not be with your child(ren) for those kinds of moments. I felt guilty. And conflicted. My kids at home needed me. I needed to recover and couldn’t drive. But in my mind, our babies would know nurses better than they would know me if I wasn’t there.
Ask me anything at any moment in A&H’s lives and I could tell you what they were like, their preferences, little facts about them…things moms know about their kids. It’s a crappy feeling to ask a nurse “does she typically burp in the middle of her bottle?” or “when did his umbilical cord fall off?” I’m mom…I should know those things. But I didn’t, and that was hard.
After you have a baby (or babies), you look like you’ve had a baby (or babies) for awhile after…ya know? And when you’re walking around pushing a stroller with a fresh baby (or babies) in it…people understand why you look that way. When your baby/babies are in the NICU, you have that post-partum look…but you have nothing to show for it. It might sound like somewhat of a vanity thing to most people. But I think it goes deeper than that. At least when you have your baby/babies to care for, you are pretty much consumed with that little person/people and aren’t too bothered with the post-baby body for the first few weeks…at least that’s what I remember from when A&H were born. It’s a hard, almost empty feeling to be very pregnant, and then not, and no baby/babies to care for. Now, I’ve never lost a baby, let alone a baby that’s far along. And I don’t claim to understand what that’s like…but I do think the Lord gave me a little taste of what that pain might feel like. It’s like my body knew that something wasn’t right. After I came home, I would think I could feel the babies kicking, only to realize it wasn’t real and then feel the sadness that they weren’t there…someone else was caring for them, not me. It was like something in me knew life was supposed to be different right now and it wasn’t. My brain knew I shouldn’t be sleeping thru the night, so my mind would wake me up at odd hours and I would lay there, wondering what the babies were doing. It’s hard to explain and who knows, I might be the only one who’s felt like that…but that’s part of this whole humbling process. I guess the conclusion that I’ve come to is this: God made us to have babies and our minds and bodies to think and be different after they are born…and when there’s no baby around…I felt like it totally messed with me. It’s not “natural”…this is of course how He planned it for us and the NICU is where they needed to be…but not what my brain and my heart expected.
When A&H would cry during those first few weeks, we could pick them up, talk to them, give them comfort. NICU nurses each have a few patients (babies) to care for, so I understand that when my baby cries, he/she might not get comforted right away or for very long. But thinking about that made me sad that I couldn’t be there all the time just in case they needed me. One night I was laying in bed feeling guilty and a little bit angry when God spoke to me “I care. And I can be there all the time.” From that moment on, I prayed often the He would be their comfort when I couldn’t be. That He would give our babies peace during tests and pokes and whatever else…that He would tell them that mommy & daddy love them. That He would speak truth to them. (I was also convicted that I should be praying the same for our older kids…but that’s another post for another time.) I’m glad God reminded me that He is even better than me being there. His comfort far surpasses anything I could provide. I won’t know this side of heaven exactly how He answered my prayers…but I trust that He did.
A&H came home with us right away, and life did not stop. Right away there was laundry, dinners to make, dishes to do, appointments, groceries…you get the idea. And we just did what needed to be done. It felt a little crazy, but that’s just the way it was. When Nathan and I would visit E&J, I could sit and hold a baby and it felt like life stopped for awhile. In the NICU I could just sit and enjoy holding a baby for awhile. No laundry to fold. No emails to worry about. No floors to vacuum. So I guess that is one blessing and joy from the NICU…the few short opportunities I had to just sit and enjoy a baby. Of course the leaving wasn’t easy and I knew I was missing those little newborn faces, sounds, and finger grabs.
After A&H were born I immediately felt like the 4 of us were a family unit. This time, I had to keep reminding myself that there are two more of us. And it even bothered me that I had to remind myself that I had two more children…it felt irresponsible in a way. Now that they are home of course I no longer have to remind myself…but it was a weird transition into being a family of 6. We didn’t have our first family picture until 4 days ago. With A&H, our first family picture was when they were like, 5 hours old.
Bringing home a new baby/babies can be scary to new parents. Bringing home babies from the NICU is a whole new level of scary. You want them home, but then you realize there’s no more monitors telling you what their heart rates are, no nurses to help, and just you to feed them with a bottle and no feeding tube. The first few nights we hardly slept because we just laid there listening to them breathe…and everytime we couldn’t hear them, we would turn on the flashlight and look at them. Nathan and I are far from being the nervous type of parents…but for those first few days/nights, boy I sure felt like one.
I am grateful for this experience of having our babies in the NICU. If anything, I can somewhat relate to other parents now and come alongside others when they go through something similar. I know the Lord blessed us during our time at the hospital and will continue to use that time in my life to teach me things. One thing I do come away from my hospital stay, the NICU, and now having both babies home is this: motherhood is a ministry to my kids. These 4 little people are in a way my small group. The Lord has granted me a few short years to teach them, love them, serve them, work with them, and through it grow all of us in a deeper relationship with Him. I feel I come away from our hospital experience like I got a chance to re-group in a way. I want to see my role as a mom the way Christ sees it: as a purposeful mission field for His glory.
For those who have asked how we are doing…we are doing! Life with 4 kids is slightly crazy…and I only have two ages to deal with. Those of you with 3+ kids all different ages…major fist bumps to you. And I know things only get busier/crazier as kids get older! But good crazy, right? 😉 Also my mom is still here which has been a HUGE blessing. I’m so grateful she’s willing to be here with us for 2 months, away from her house, my dad, and her normal routine. She’s a blessing to us and we will be very sad when she leaves us in a couple weeks…but I don’t really want to think about that right now 😉
E&J are gaining weight, sleeping most of the day, and just doing a good job of being super cute! We’ve been waking them every 3 hours to feed them and last night we tried to go two 4 hour stretches…and of course the one time we tried to go longer they woke up on their own at the 3 hour mark. Stinkers. Miss J will most likely get her casts on next week. She’s working on gaining a few pounds before the doctor can cast her. A&H are doing great too, very helpful and they love to make E&J smile. And I realized yesterday as A&H were playing and whispering to one another and giggling…Nathan and I are now outnumbered by twins. Everyone has a partner in crime…for better or worse 😉
You might not “get” everything I’ve said, and that’s ok. This post is for me mostly. These are the thoughts I’ve been thinking and things I’ve been wrestling with. I’m sure more will find their way out into future posts…but for now, this is where I’ll leave things. Thanks for reading and letting me talk about things…and for being patient with my lack of posting about how we are. I do have lots of ideas for future posts…but getting the time to sit and get them typed out/posted is proving to be a bit challenging 😀
Well…that’s all for now! Press on!