You may recall the major bed rest meltdown I had in the hospital when my doctor insisted that I tour the NICU. Now I know that despite how painful it was, it was wise of her to insist. The first time I saw my babies, they were attached to more tubes and machines than you can possibly imagine.
Looking back, I'm shocked that I remained so calm when I entered that room and saw how pitiful and tiny they looked. Maybe it was all the drugs I was on. Or, maybe it was some sort of inner knowledge or blind hope that they were going to pull through the dangers of prematurity. Harrison's birth weight was 3.7 lbs, and Austin's was 4.1. I could add their weights together and it still didn't reach what Vivi weighed when she was born.
Jeff and I watched our boys in their isolettes and listened to the doctors tell us how great they were doing, considering. They had both feeding tubes, and Harrison had something called a CPAP, which supplied him with additional oxygen for breathing. We could only have contact with them during "touch times" before each feeding. They seemed so fragile, I was almost afraid to touch them. Their little stomachs were concave, and their chests visibly pulled in and out with the effort of breathing.
Austin was rapidly improving and hitting preemie NICU milestones in quick succession, while Harrison was a little behind. I didn't actually see Harrison's face for a full two weeks because of all of the equipment covering him up. Much of the time he looked like a strange little alien, especially when they had to put bilirubin lights on him to improve his jaundice levels.
Still, the doctors insisted that Harrison was making great progress. They said it was quite normal for one twin to be a little behind the other, and they warned me that it was likely that the boys would not be going home together on the same day.
For three weeks we hovered over their beds and celebrated each small victory. Perhaps the greatest triumph was when the boys were moved out of the NICU and into Intermediate Care with the rest of the "feeders and growers". We still weren't in the clear, though. Both boys were having episodes of crazy heart rate drops and rises, and they would occasionally stop breathing. Alarms sounded when this happened, and nurses would run into the room in a full on sprint to stimulate them back into breathing. Apparently preemies simply forget to breathe sometimes.
It was one of the hardest, most exhausting experiences I can recall in my lifetime. I was getting up twice a night to pump so that I could keep up my supply and somehow contribute to the care of my babies—then I would drive to the hospital, (ahem, of course after the required 2 week driving wait following a c-section—okay fine, so I cheated and drove after a week) and sit all day with the boys and the nurses. Eventually the feeding tubes were removed and the nurses taught me how to hold and feed my teeny tiny boys.
Incredibly, our babies were only in the hospital for 3 weeks before they were both released on the same day. The morning they were to be released, however, the doctor informed me that my smallest, Harrison, had a heart murmur and something called PDA—patent ductus arteriosus. A PDA refers to an opening around the heart that remains open after birth. Typically, the hole closes right away after babies are born—but with preemies, it sometimes remains open. In most cases, the hole will close on its own in time. The doctor explained all of this to me in a very logical and rational manner, which didn't stop me from panicking and bursting into tears on the spot. Still, I was consoled by the knowledge that there was just no way the doctor would send my babies home if the heart issue was life threatening.
Harrison and Austin came home with us equipped with heart monitors. God, I hated and loved those monitors. For the first three months they were home, we powered through false alarms and real alarms and batteries dying and tripping over cords. It's a strange thing to have your newborn babies at home and see them attached to machines 24/7. What a beautiful moment it was when we received the final go-ahead to detach them from their bonds. And when the pediatric cardiologist told me that Harrison's PDA had closed, I finally felt our family emerging from the abyss.
Over the past 5 months I've watched these little guys morph from rather pitiful, scrawny looking creatures to chubby cheeked, smiling and cooing babies. I look at them and marvel at how much they've endured and how far they've come, and I'm so proud of them. It's been hard and scary—and life as we know it is irrevocably changed. There were mornings I'd wake up from 2 hours of sleep and wonder how in God's name I'd make it through the day. It's been overwhelming, exhilarating, agonizing and beautiful.
We've survived to tell the tale. Every day presents new twin and toddler challenges, whether it be projectile vomiting, constipation, colds, divvying up attention, potty training, and constant scheduling and rescheduling. My hope is to continue to record as much as I can here so that one day we can share our experience with our kids and hold it over their heads. I kid, I kid. But I do want Vivienne, Austin and Harrison to have the ability to view a history of just how much they are loved. More to follow...