Birthdays work different for most preemie mommas. See, for most of us, the night our kid/kids were born was traumatic. For most of us, either our health was in danger and/or the lives of our children were in danger. We held our breath as we waited to hear whether or not our children were alive. So, as I approach the second birthday of my twins, I am filled with many emotions. Yes, I am grateful. Yes, I am thankful. But you know what? It’s okay to also feel a sense of sadness. It’s okay to remember the fear and the pain because their birth was all of those things.
I had been on bed rest for two weeks. One of those weeks was in the hospital, and the second week was at home because my labor (thankfully) wasn’t progressing. I started to feel “off” the night before they were born. I started to feel like maybe my daughter wasn’t moving as much as she was before. Then, I would wait and feel her move again. Breathing a sigh of relief, I chalked it up to paranoia. The next day, I still had an intrinsic feeling that something was not right. However, I continued to feel her move and kick inside of me, so again, I thought I was just being paranoid.
In the afternoon, the backache started. It was mild at first, but got increasingly more intense as time passed. I wasn’t having contractions and the pain wasn’t intermittent, so I didn’t think much of it at first. My mother-in-law was spending the day at my house, and I remember as my worry increased, I tried to keep calm because I didn’t want her to think anything was wrong. Quietly I slipped into the next room to call my OB/GYN. I was told to monitor for now.
My husband got home and my mother-in-law left. The pain was beginning to bring tears to my eyes. I called again and was told I should go in if I thought it was getting worse … and oh, was it. On the way to the hospital, my pain got increasingly intense. I became nauseous and lightheaded. My husband dropped me off at the front of the hospital, so I could be seen more quickly while he parked the car.
Standing in front of the labor and delivery desk, I was embarrassed. I had been embarrassed for the last two weeks I had been in labor. I felt like somehow it was my fault because my body was failing my sweet babies. She asked me how far along I was: “27 weeks.”
“37 weeks?” She replied.
“No, 27,” I replied with a sense of shame sinking to the pit of my stomach. All the while, I continued to feel worse and worse. After coming close to passing out, a nurse came rushing with a wheelchair.
I felt like I was going to throw up and my back hurt with a wicked intensity. I kept saying how sick I felt, but the nurse wasn’t panicking yet. Up to this point, besides the fact the labor was preterm, I’m sure my symptoms weren’t all that different from another woman in labor. Then, she put the fetal monitors on my stomach to search for my twins’ heartbeats. Now, she began to panic.
Before I even knew what was happening, a doctor, an anesthesiologist, and two nurses were at the door. They were calm, but clearly something was wrong. The nurse relayed to the doctor that Baby B’s heart rate was only 80 beats per minute. Those of you who have had babies know that typically it should be much higher. The doctor asked if the nurse was sure it wasn’t my heart rate she was detecting. Slightly panicked still, she replied that no, she was sure that it was Baby B’s heart rate.
The doctor then calmly explained to me that they were going to monitor the baby’s heart rate; if it didn’t come back up, they would have to do a C-section. At this point, I had not been at the hospital more than 20 minutes. The heart rate didn’t come up, and the code C-section was called. Everyone sprang into action. The doctor remained calm and explained to me what was going to happen. As she was talking, she turned to the nurses and said, “Can we hurry up with that IV?”
The anesthesiologist asked me the last time I had eaten. I said an hour ago. A worried look came across his face, and he said, “We’ll try not to get that in your lungs.”
I turned to my husband and told him to call my parents. Before I knew what was happening, I was run out of the room. And I mean they ran me out of the room. After running and pushing my hospital bed for a ways, the anesthesiologist ran to go finish getting the room ready. I was panicked. I felt sick. I was alone with all of the doctors and was being run to the OR.
There wasn’t enough space for my husband in the OR because they needed the team of doctors working on me and two NICU teams (one for each baby). They lifted me onto the operating table. I remembered what the anesthesiologist had said about trying to keep the food out of my lungs. I remember hoping I wouldn’t die. They told me they were putting oxygen on me, and everything went black.
I woke up in the recovery room. My first question: How are the babies? The nurses who had swiftly gotten me ready for my C-section smiled and said that they were stable in the NICU. My husband came in and showed me pictures.
But in that moment, I didn’t feel joy. I was ashamed. Ashamed it had come to this. Angry and sad that this had happened to me. In that moment, I felt robbed of all that I had hoped for. He was smiling, and I explicitly remember telling him that this was not a happy thing. Because, you know what? It wasn’t. Yes, they were alive. Yes, I am thankful for that, but that doesn’t make what happened okay. I asked him if he still liked the names we picked out. He said that he did, and so I named them immediately. The idea of my children nameless, alone in the NICU, in their incubators that were continuing the work that my body could not, made me feel a tremendous sadness. I wanted them to immediately have the dignity of a name.
My daughter Scarlett was born at 9:14 pm at 27 weeks, 0 days and weighing two pounds seven ounces. Born with a heart rate of 60 beats per minute, it was clear she was saved just in time. My son Wyatt was born at 9:14 pm at 27 weeks, 0 days and weighing two pounds four ounces.
I was wheeled in to see them. The NICU doors opened for the first time of the 72 times they would while we were at the hospital. Wheeled into the land of hand sanitizer, hang washing, beeps, rounds, “spells,” doctors, and nurses. Wheeled into the place were tomorrow isn’t a guarantee, where parents watch their babies, hope for their babies, and cry for their babies. Wheeled into the world of pumping until my babies were strong enough to eat on their own. The world of putting my milk into a bottle with a hospital-issued label.
Seeing them for the first time, I felt disconnected. They felt like they belonged to the cords, wires, and machines keeping them alive and not to me. Seeing them for the first time was not that joyous moment so many moms get to experience. Seeing them felt strange and almost unnatural, and I suppose that in a sense it was.
So, that was the night they were born. That is what floods my mind as their birthday approaches. I see their smiles and hear their laughter now, but I still feel the fear and hear the beeps of the NICU. Birthdays are complicated for preemie mommas. We feel all of this. Don’t dismiss our trauma. Yes, our babies may be healthy now, but that doesn’t make our story a peaceful one.
I share my story so that others know they are not alone. To my fellow NICU mommas: You’ve got this. Even when it feels like your world is falling apart, know that you are enough.