A memory of a quick glance was all I received of my two little baby boys, who I was so anxious to meet. My eyes were watering and my throat was dry. Despite the layers of white hospital blankets on top of me I had no control over the shivers that my body was experiencing. I felt like an alien in my own skin. I placed my hand on my stomach; it immediately felt different as though something was missing. The twins that once were growing inside me had been moved upstairs to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). I spent my entire pregnancy with my babies going everywhere with me. There wasn’t a time that one of them wasn’t kicking, hiccupping or moving around. Since entering the hospital, I had been surrounded by what felt like a small army of medical professionals, until they wheeled my hospital bed into recovery. I was alone with my thoughts waiting for the nurse to return. It was especially difficult lying there, since I didn’t know what was happening with my two preemies upstairs.
I am jumping ahead in my story; let me start over. When I found out we were having twins, I knew the chances of delivering early were incredibly high. In order to try and prepare for our new arrivals and new parental roles, I signed my partner and me up for every baby class I could find. We took courses after work on breastfeeding, newborn care, postpartum, labor and delivery; we even got certified in first aid and CPR. We coordinated several different meet and greets with different pediatricians to find the best doctor. We also scheduled hospital tours with the two major hospitals in our area. My partner installed the car seats and we had them inspected by a safety specialist months before the due date. I read every parenting book I could get my hands on. We tried to educate and take good care of ourselves in order to provide the best quality of care for our little miracles.
We got bad news after going in for an ultrasound. Baby B, was fighting for survival due to new complications with the pregnancy. He had stopped growing and his placenta was no longer receiving the nutrients he needed. If that wasn’t scary enough, he was also showing several additional signs of distress including in his heart rate. My doctor told me that he was a fighter, but we needed to deliver them both now to give Baby B a fair fighting chance.
On the day of the delivery, the operating room was cold and brightly lit. I didn’t feel ready. I didn’t feel like my babies were ready. But ready or not, they were coming. The room was filled with 16 medical professionals, all clambering to be included in the process. That day, I delivered two brave baby boys.
There is something that changes inside of you when you watch loved ones fight for their lives. You experience a wide range of emotions as you watch some of your worst fears become your nightmare of a reality. It is even more terrifying not knowing what is going to happen, especially while making difficult medical decisions for your babies. In this journey, you are forced to discover strength you didn’t know you had in order to be the support system you need to be for your kids. I want to make sure it is clear; they were the ones who taught me to be strong, not the other way around.
It seems like such a strange concept, but I loved them both before I had even met them. I remember the moment I first fell in love. It was the day that I found out we were pregnant. The ultrasound flashed what appeared to be two little gummy bears across the screen; I knew then that they already owned a part of my heart. The strength they showcased in the hospital (and continue to show each day) only makes my love for them grow.
We made going to the NICU a part of our new daily routine. It is true what the nurses told us when we first were admitted to the NICU. The NICU is a roller coaster of emotions. In a single day, you can experience fear, frustration, despair, and joy. We were told on 4 separate occasions we were all going home. In the hospital, you are forced to take it day by day.
Baby A “graduated” from the NICU several weeks before his brother. He was released after he learned to breathe on his own without the CPAP (Continuous positive airway pressure). Baby B had several complications that required additional attention including surgeries, jaundice treatment, feeding tubes, hypoglycemia, and a heart condition.
We learned to care for our babies under the careful watchful eyes of nurses and doctors. They taught me how to bathe them, change them, and nurse them. We were trained to check Baby B for low blood sugars by poking his tiny little feet with a lancet and a glucose monitor. They showed us how to listen to his heart using a stethoscope to check for a heart episode. I listened to our doctors and nurses on why we shouldn’t rock or sway the preemies because it could overstimulate them. If the doctors would have told me to learn an Irish jig, I would have done that too to help their development.
We watched as every day they both grew stronger. We anxiously waited for Baby B to be able to come home with us and join his brother. Each night we would pack a single car seat with Baby A, and would say a goodbye to Baby B. For me, it didn’t get easier with each passing day. The longer he stayed the harder each day was to say goodbye. It felt like I was leaving a piece of me behind every time we left.
Due to Baby B’s special cares, we were required to pass different assessments. We worked hard and passed with flying colors! We were lucky and we all did finally go home. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t a difficult journey to get there or that it was easy after. It doesn’t matter how long your stay is in the NICU it has a toll and lasting impression on you. You find a new appreciation for life and find a way to make the best out of your situation. The highlight of my days there was being together as a family. Being together felt like one of the few things I could control during a time where I felt I had very little. I looked forward to being able to assist with the changing of those tiny diapers despite having to navigate around all the layers of blankets, onesies, wires, tubes and bandages.
Here is what I learned:
- Preemies often have one of the most challenging starts there is to life. But don’t let the small fragile size fool you, they are fierce fighters! Despite being tiny, they are some of the most resilient beings on this Earth.
- There is nothing worse than watching your babies suffer and fight for survival. The good news is they won’t remember what has happened. The bad news is you will never forget it.
- I continue to experience a huge sense of guilt for not being able to get the twins to full-term. I felt like my body had let me down. My doctors told me that there wasn’t anything I could do to change what had happened. I didn’t cause the complications that required me to deliver sooner.Yet, the guilt still manages to take over even though it contradicts the facts. I did everything I could to have a healthy pregnancy. As difficult as this can still be, I am still learning to take it day by day.
- It was incredibly difficult to have my babies taken to the NICU instead of staying with me. I found some comfort in the advice another mother of twins had shared, “They are going where they need to go.” They were surrounded by trained medical professionals getting the help and support they truly need at that point in time.
- You will get the bonding time with them. As mentioned, I really struggled with not being able to do skin-to-skin right away. There were also numerous occasions I was told by a nurse or doctor that I couldn’t hold them due to their fragile state. This was heartbreaking, but I found other ways for them to know I was there (reading, talking, and holding their hands). You read and hear how crucial that bonding time is for the mother and babies. I feel like I am doing my best to make up for some of that lost time that we can’t ever truly get back.
- They will catch up. I was worried about my preemies not catching up with their health and overall development. It might not be tomorrow, next week, or next month, but they do catch up. We were advised by their doctors they will have an adjusted age and different development milestones (compared to a full-term baby) until they are 2 years old.
This was one of the most challenging things that we have had to go through as a family, but my babies are worth it. My preemies are the reason that every morning, I give it everything I have (despite how tired I am) to be the best Mother I can be.
Nicole Liederbach works full-time in Madison, WI. She married her high school sweetheart, and is the proud mother to adventurous, energetic twin boys. In her not-so-spare time, she enjoys being with her kids, seeing friends, and experimenting with new recipes. She also writes stories for her family blog Our Peas. She hopes that others will find comfort in her words and learn from her experiences.