Today our baby boys officially turn one year old. It’s unbelievable that it has already been a whole year since their birth. It feels like only yesterday I was balancing my water cup on my big pregnant belly.
One of the most difficult things about my pregnancy was trying to figure out a birth plan. I knew that a birth plan was not a guarantee. I knew that very few deliveries happened as planned. That didn’t stop me from making a loose plan anyway. Originally I wanted a home water birth. Steph nixed that immediately; she insisted we go to a hospital. When two sweet babies appeared on that first ultrasound, I knew there was no way she would budge.
Instead of making an actual birth plan, I made a list of things I would like to happen.
- Delivery, no C section–Not because I am brave or anything (I’m not) and not because I thought moms who had c-sections took the easy way out (I don’t). A c-section is major abdominal surgery. The only surgery I’d ever had was a tonsillectomy, but I was so little I don’t remember anything besides eating blue Popsicles. But I do have an unnaturally high pain tolerance, so I believed I could handle the pain. I didn’t want to have to recover from surgery while figuring out how to be a mom.
- No needles in my back. I don’t mind getting shots or having blood drawn or donating blood. Needles don’t bother me–as long as I can see them. I did not want one of them in my back.
- Full term. I was determined I would carry my babies for 40 weeks or more. I really wanted to have my boys on their due date as it fell on Thanksgiving Day. We found out we were expecting on St. Patrick’s Day and they were due on Thanksgiving Day. It would have been fun for our pregnancy to be book-ended by holidays.
- No NICU time. This was why I wanted to carry the boys to full term. I wanted to have a healthy pregnancy and healthy babies that I immediately brought home. We did a tour of the NICU because it was encouraged for all parents expecting multiples. We were very impressed by the NICU and staff. When we left we were confident that if our boys were there they would receive the absolute best treatment and care, but I hoped I’d never set foot on that floor of the hospital again.
Since I was carrying twins, I knew the likelihood of getting everything on my birth plan wishlist was pretty low. However, I was lulled into a false hope with a picture-perfect pregnancy. With each passing week, I grew more and more confident I would carry my babies to term and might even deliver them.
Zero. Zero things happened the way I wanted.
I really did have a wonderful pregnancy experience.
The first trimester I was exhausted and occasionally slightly dizzy or nauseous, but I didn’t get sick. I didn’t throw up one time. Sometimes I was convinced I wasn’t actually pregnant because I didn’t get sick. There were two big giveaways whenever I started thinking like that, though. 1) I was emotional, which is absolutely not typical behavior for me and 2) I was not smart.
To say I was air-headed is an understatement. I would ask Stephanie what common words meant and I forgot everything–to take medicine, to lock doors, when I put stuff on the stove or in the oven. I’d get in the car to go somewhere and then forget where I was going and turn around and go home. One morning I forgot I had to go to work. Steph came downstairs and I was sitting on the couch reading a magazine instead of getting ready.
Eventually Steph wouldn’t leave me unsupervised. She took care of everything–even driving me to and from work. I just had to make it through the work day, sleep, and eat the amazing food she made for me. (I had a slight aversion to chicken during the first trimester and that’s pretty much the only thing I eat. Stephy to the rescue! I also craved grapefruit, of all things, so she always made sure we had plenty)
My second trimester was perfect. I had plenty of energy. I completed an intense writing fellowship at a nearby university during summer break. We went to a few weddings and had a great time at all of them. Steph graduated from a deacon thingy and I spent the weekend with her at school for the graduation. I just felt good all the time.
I threw up once during the second trimester, and I sat on the bathroom floor and cried and cried because I had made it 21 weeks without throwing up and now it was over (Like I said, I was emotional). A few hours before I got sick, I was attacked by yellow jackets–literally, they chased me inside. They stung me several times before I got away and I had a headache for two days afterward. It took Steph the entirety of those two days to convince me I threw up because of the bee stings and not because I was pregnant.
The third trimester was exhausting. My belly was huge and I had to wear a belly band for support to get through the work day. I had not had caffeine in over two years, but I had to pop into the office manager’s office every day during lunch to make a cup of coffee in order to make it through the afternoon. I had never in my life been more thankful for fall break or needed the rest so much.
The Last Week
I had a picture-perfect pregnancy for 32 weeks and 5 days. And then all of a sudden, everything went downhill.
On the Tuesday of fall break I was 32 weeks and 5 days pregnant. I had a routine ultrasound and check up with my doctor, Dr. P. Y’all, I love Dr. P. He is the most patient, kind-hearted, doctor I have ever met. He always answered any and every question I ever had without ever making me feel dumb. Even though he was always honest with me about risks, dangers, and bad news, he never made me feel scared. Dr. P is not an alarmist, and he has the best bedside manner I have ever seen. He’s phenomenal.
My blood pressure was a little high when I arrived at his office. My ankles were pretty swollen, too. We had been out shopping and running errands, so we didn’t think too much of it. I had been monitoring my blood pressure at home for a couple weeks and it was staying in a safe range. Dr. P. put me on bed rest for the remainder of fall break and had me do a 24-hour urine collection test (which is super gross), blood work, and a follow up in two days. At this point he told us if I didn’t go into labor within four weeks, he was going to schedule a c-section. I reminded him of my birth plan, he promised to do his best but couldn’t make any promises.
On Wednesday we headed back to Dr. P’s office, dropped off my urine collection, and had my blood drawn. They checked my blood pressure, all was good, and we went home for more bed rest.
On Thursday we returned for a follow up and check in. My ankles and legs were still swollen. My blood pressure was pretty high again, but came down after I sat in the office with my feet elevated. We had an hour drive one-way to get to the office and my ankles started swelling from not having my feel elevated in that amount of time.
My urine analysis and blood work came back perfect, but my high blood pressure and swollen legs were a cause for concern. Dr. P put me on real bed rest–I would not be returning to work on Monday–and scheduled steroid shots to speed up the boys’ lung development because if I didn’t go into labor naturally within two weeks, he was going to schedule a c-section.
This was the first time I had felt fear. I was exactly 33 weeks pregnant and absolutely did not want to have the babies at 35 weeks. At the earliest, I wanted to have them at 37 weeks. I wanted to make it to November. But I trusted Dr. P so much that I never argued with him, despite the realization nothing was going according to my birth plan.It was too late in the afternoon to schedule the steroid shots, so we made an appointment for the following morning with his nurse.
I was super bummed about being on bed rest. My friend Amanda surprised us with a visit, ice cream in hand, and made me feel much better about everything.
33 weeks and one day. I went to the doctor’s office for the first steroid shot. My blood pressure was low enough that I could go home, but too high to be released back to work. The next shot had to be in 24 hours, so I received instructions about how to go to the hospital to get the shot and went home to sleep off the shot.
(PS–any time a nurse/doctor says something will “make you feel jazzed” they mean stoned. I had no idea what jazzed meant when the nurse kept saying it. Stoned. I was stoned.)
I woke up Saturday morning feeling really good. I was excited for the day. My mom, Steph’s mom, and one of our sweet friends from church had been working together to plan a baby shower for us on Sunday and our moms were coming to town that day to prepare. It was going to be a lot of fun, one last little party before Steph went back to work and I became a difficult, bored, bed rest patient.
When we arrived at the hospital, there was a couple checking in, and the woman was obviously in labor. When I walked up next, the registration lady looked at my belly and said “Wow, we sure are getting a lot of babies today! How far apart are your contractions?”
“Oh, I’m not here to give birth. I’m just here for a shot. I’ll be done and gone in 20 minutes.”
Oh, how wrong I was.
The nurses gave me the shot and checked my blood pressure. It was just around the too-high-to-go-home mark. I told her that I had been sitting with my legs down and if I laid down for a few minutes it would go down. She gave me twenty minutes but left me hooked up to an automatic blood pressure cup that recorded my blood pressure every three minutes.
Before the twenty minutes were up it set off an alarm because my blood pressure was dangerously high. She came in to reset the machine and take my blood pressure manually. This was the first time she mentioned being admitted. “Absolutely not,” I said. “I am going home today.” I was starting to panic, which was not good for my BP, obviously, so Steph took over.
She tried asking questions and wasn’t getting anywhere. “I need you to understand,” she said. She had been so protective my whole pregnancy. Her Mama Bear instincts were coming out. “I am the wife, the other mother to these babies, not some random friend. When we ask questions we need answers.”
At this point the nurse realized how scared we both were and assured us we were not in immediate danger but she didn’t think the doctor was going to let me leave without blood work at the very least. (Dr. G was on call—another absolutely amazing doctor). He was currently in surgery, but they had contacted him and he would be in to see us as soon as he was finished. She left me hooked up to the automatic BP machine and gave us some privacy.
Steph, who could see each blood pressure reading as it came through, started preparing me for being admitted.
According to the Mayo-Clinic, Anything above 140/90 four hours apart is considered pre-eclampsia. When I arrived at the hospital, my BP was 142/95. The first time I set off the alarm it was 186/110. While we were waiting for Dr. G, I set off the alarm again with a similar BP. The nurse contacted Dr. G in surgery again so he could authorize blood work. Before she returned, I set off the alarm again. This time my blood pressure was 208/118. She immediately prepared me for being admitted. I was in a gown, with a bracelet, and being wheeled to a room by the time Dr. G made it out of surgery to greet us.
Dr. G explained how pre-eclampsia can develop into eclampsia and then into HELLP syndrome, which was life threatening for both me and our babies. He told us he would monitor me closely and treat the pre-eclampsia aggressively. I was given an oral medication, hooked up to a magnesium drip, and had another medication pushed through my IV. If my blood pressure wasn’t down in 20 minutes, they would double the dose and push more through my IV. 20 minutes later the same thing until I reached the maximum allowed.
I had monitors and wires everywhere.
I stayed hooked up to the automatic BP cuff, which had been reset to take my blood pressure every ten minutes. Baby monitors were strapped to my belly. Steph stood next to the monitors and watched everything closely, giving me updates each time I asked. Finally, after three doses of IV medications and an hour on the magnesium drip, my blood pressure reached a safe level.
I’m not sure if they told me and I just don’t remember, or if they only told Steph, but as it turns out if my blood pressure wasn’t making significant improvements in 30 minutes time, I was going for an immediate C-section. Things did get better though, and I was sure we would hit the 12 hour goal (enough time for the steroid shot to make an impact on the boys) and I would leave the hospital.
“Those are going home numbers,” I told Allison, my nurse. “I can leave now.”
I think she thought I was joking. But I wasn’t. I believed I could go home if my BP went down, so I didn’t understand why everyone came to the hospital. Sarah and Kelly, some of our very best friends, dropped everything they were doing and drove from another state with snacks for Steph and games and activities to prevent boredom. Antonette, Steph’s “sis,” and her mom who we all call Nan dropped everything and drove two hours to be with us. Nan is a retired labor and delivery nurse and I wanted her to move in with us while I was pregnant. My mom and brother and Steph’s mom and SIL weren’t far behind them.
But I was going home. I was sure of it. I had my shot at 9:30AM and if my blood pressure was still good at 9:30PM, that meant I could go home. Who knows why I thought this. I’d had a lot of drugs that day and considering how crazy high my pain tolerance is, my drug tolerance is crazy low. So at 9:30PM when Dr. G said I had made it 12 hours, but 24 hours was best to give the steroid shot the most amount of time to benefit the babies so we would schedule a c-section for the morning I was shocked. And terrified. And so, so thankful to be surrounded by amazing friends and family.
We sent everyone to get some rest.
Sarah and Kelly drove the hour to our house to let the dogs out, clean up a little, and refrigerate the things our moms had brought for the baby shower we wouldn’t get to attend. Everyone else found a nearby hotel room and took off to sleep.
At 11:30, Dr. G came back. He had been ordering blood work every half hour to hour, and it was going downhill a lot faster than he wanted, my heart rate had also dropped. He had rescheduled a c-section for the next open OR. It was time to prep for surgery. Steph updated our family and everyone came back to the hospital.
While we waited for an OR, we visited with each group.
Steph’s mom and SIL sat with us for a while. They had both had c-sections and were able to answer many of our questions. I was so thankful for Steph’s SIL, who answered questions so calmly and gently. She was reassuring and soothing, which helped me hold it together.
Then Antonette and Nan came in. While Antonette took care of Steph, Nan rubbed my hair and talked to me. I finally–finally–got the nerve to ask the one question I had been holding in. It was the one thing that terrified me more than anything else, but I knew it was a silly question, so I hadn’t asked. “Nan, I know this is dumb, but I have to know. When I go to the dentist and they try to numb me, it doesn’t work. I feel everything. What if they can’t numb me for the c-section? What will happen?”
“That won’t happen. It’s extremely rare. It’s a completely different medicine. I promise you they will take care of you.” She didn’t laugh or scoff. She was perfect. She prayed a blessing over me, kissed my cheek, made the sign of the cross on my forehead, and headed out. Antonette gave Steph her rosary, blessed by Pope John Paul II himself.
Kelly and Sarah updated us on the dogs, who I was very worried about. They loved on us both and were just the best. They also brought us our “go bags” which were not in the car because we did not intend to have babies that day.
Eventually, it was just me, Steph, and our moms.
We had a very special few minutes. They stood around my hospital bed and we held hands while Steph’s mom prayed over the babies, the hospital staff, and me and Steph. It was peaceful.
After they left, the NICU doctor came down to discuss the boys’ treatment plan. I honestly cannot say enough positive things about the doctors and nurses who took care of all of us while we were in the hospital. They made the most terrifying days of our lives the best they could possibly have been under the circumstances.
After I was prepped for surgery, Steph and I had a last few minutes to be a family of two before we were taken to the OR.
Getting the spinal block was every bit as awful as I expected it to be. I almost passed out. But it worked. I could not feel a thing. And it kind of felt nice, like sitting in a hot tub. They told me when they started the surgery I would feel some pressure, but no pain. I didn’t even feel the pressure. They had to tell me it was happening.
October 8, 2018
At 1:34AM, Steph stood up to get the first photo of our first born, Atticus James. He entered the world ready to take over and nothing has changed in this first year. They swaddled him up and handed him to Steph. He was beautiful and tiny. 4lbs and 4oz of pure determination. Our friend Michelle has since commented that when she saw him in his incubator in the NICU she looked at his tiny, frail body and just felt pity for the little guy. He has surpassed all of our expectations; he has exuded a fierce strength over the past 12 months none of us saw coming.
At 1:36, Steph snapped a photo of our second born’s entrance, Gryffin Micah. Gryffin may be the second born, but he has not spent one minute of his life in his brother’s shadow. He makes his own mark on the world. At 5lbs and 8oz, he was born stubborn and ready to do life at his own pace. Gryffin does everything in Gryffin time. The nurses wrapped him up and brought him over so I could kiss him and put him in his incubator. Steph said Gryffin’s head nurse just had a different style than the head nurse on Atticus’s team. Months, literally months, later she finally admitted that they rushed Gryffin away because he wasn’t breathing very well on his own.
While Dr. G finished putting my body back together, Steph accompanied the boys to the NICU and made sure they were settled. She snapped some pictures and came back to my OR. While the surgical team finished up, she sat at my head and showed me pictures and assured me they were doing okay. When I was moved to recovery, she headed out to the waiting room to visit with our friends and family and show them photos. Steph took the new Nanas to meet the babies before they had to leave.
I was moved back to my room and slept a little. Everyone headed back to their hotels/homes/our house. Steph took a shower, but I don’t know if she slept at all.
The next thing I really remember was the shift change at 7:00AM. The new nurse checked my vitals and explained that she would be limiting visitors because I needed to rest. I thought that was strange. I wasn’t quite sure how I was supposed to rest when I had no idea where my babies were or how they were doing.
We have never talked about it, but Steph instinctively knew I needed to be alone. Not necessarily for rest, but for processing. In the span of five days, we had gone from planning for babies within four weeks, to having babies in the NICU. I had come to the hospital for a shot, and ended up having a c-section.
I had read that it can take hours to days for your stomach to deflate after you give birth. Mine was deflated by the time I left recovery. I laid in my hospital bed, no longer pregnant, and cried. These were supposed to be our first moments together as a family of four. I should have been snuggling my babies and soaking up all their newness and tininess.
It was months before I stopped missing being pregnant, before I stopped being jealous of women who carried to term, before I stopped getting uncharacteristically furious at women who complained about third-trimester discomfort on social media. If they only knew how badly I wanted to keep my babies safe and snug in my womb until it was safe for them to be born; if they only knew what it was like to have babies in the NICU because your body failed them; and if they only knew the unique and gut-wrenching guilt NICU moms feel, they’d never complain for a moment.
Steph had loaded a playlist she made for me on an iPod. She took my phone so no one could bother me. I turned on the music and slept as much as I could while waiting to be allowed out of bed to go meet my babies. Steph hung out in the waiting room with Sarah, Kelly, Antonette, and Nan, which was exactly what she needed–to be surrounded and loved and reassured by her people. I will forever be thankful they were there to take care of her.
Sometime later that day, around 5:00 pm, I was deemed well enough to be moved from labor and delivery to a postpartum room. Once I was all settled and had my vitals checked again and another round of blood work done, Steph took me to the NICU to meet my babies.
Becoming a NICU Family
As far as NICU experiences go, we were blessed for a number of reasons. Besides a top-notch hospital staff, our first blessing was that we did get to hold our boys. We were limited to 30 minutes to an hour twice a day at first, but we got to hold them. Many NICU parents have to wait days or weeks after birth before they can hold their babies. When I met them for the first time, the nurse took them out of the incubators and laid them on my chest and let me have a few minutes of skin-to-skin time with them. It was magical. It was life-changing. I experienced a brand new kind of love, and it was unbelievable.
After I settled in my room, Steph took the rest of our friends to meet the boys. Dr. P discharged me several days later. The Ronald McDonald House gave us a room so we could stay close to our babies. Two weeks later we brought them home. We were told we would be in the NICU for 6-8 weeks, so bringing them home after only two was mind-blowing and awesome and wonderful. Those were the longest, hardest two weeks ever, but every moment of the last 365 days has been worth it.
My birth plan might not have worked out the way I wanted, but that’s okay.
These guys are only one, but they have already made this earth a better, happier place. They have already made a positive impact. Being their mom is a true privilege and I am thankful for every single second.