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Challenge: NICU Parenting

I was prepared for a fight, but I was not prepared for this.

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My journey to the NICU started when I was nineteen years old, eleven years before I actually laid eyes on my babies. At nineteen I had a large tumor removed, and along with it my left ovary. What followed was ten years of surgeries, a misdiagnosis, and a hospital accident that almost killed me. By the time I was ready for babies IVF was our only option, it's expensive, evasive, and often heartbreaking. Lucky for me the 10 years leading up to it prepared me, I was ready for a fight to get pregnant, I was ready for pregnancy complications that might lead to a preemie, that might lead to NICU time. I got all that and more!

Compared to most my fight was easy, we got pregnant on our first round of IVF and with twins! While I had every complication in pregnancy it was still pretty smooth. I felt great the whole time, my husband got a promotion at the exact time that I had to leave my job due to early complications and while we were in a constant state of fear due to complications it was no match for the euphoria we felt for being so lucky to not only have our IVF work, but we got twins!

I was nearing the finish 29 weeks I started weekly NST test, my list of complications was getting smaller and smaller, things were going great! At 32 weeks I happily bopped into the NST testing room with my jug of water ready to spend an hour chatting with the tech or maybe another mommy to be. I felt great. In the hour I was there the tech noticed my blood pressure which was normally low was high and I was having small contractions. (that I couldn't feel) It was a holiday week, so there were no doctors in the building so she sent me down the street to the hospital as a precaution. I called my husband, told him what was going on, he was 3 hours away for work and asked if he should head home. I told him no just come home later I felt great, nothing was happening. I WAS WRONG. Once I was at the hospital several nurses and doctors checked on me, monitored me and took my blood, it was all pretty casual and I was assured that it "was not time to call my husband yet" Then my blood work came back and confirmed I had preeclampsia and my contracts were getting stronger and closer. The nurse said NOW you call your husband we are having some babies.

Within minutes I had visits from at least 15 different people. I had so many doctors, nurses, nutritionist, techs in my room that I didn't even have time to call my family. While everyone told me not to worry and that they were very confident the babies were ready, the sense of urgency in the way they moved was clear that it was also serious. By the time my husband arrived a few short hours after I checked in I was feeling both overwhelmed and empowered with my new knowledge. Each person who walked into my room walked me through every bit of what the following days would look like. What we should expect from the delivery, who would stand where in the operating room, what I could expect from the NICU stay. I was scared, but I was ready. I was ready to meet my babies and spend nights in the NICU. I was told that they would probably be in the NICU until around their due date. Which was two months away. That thought was overwhelming, but I could do it. I could do anything as long as my babies were doing well and taken care of.

I asked if my best friend could be in the operating room with my husband and I and was told it might not be possible due to the fact that with twins the OR is so full. THEY WERE NOT KIDDING. On top of the doctor who delivered, the surgery techs, and anesthesiologist each of my babies had a NICU team of 5 people assigned to them. That's 10 people in that OR to do nothing but ensure my babies had the very best care. It was both comforting and scary knowing that they were so prepared. Delivery went smooth, on New Years Eve both babies were born breathing on their own, alert, and scored a 9 and 10 on their APGARS! While they were the tiniest humans I had ever laid eyes on, they both looked pink, and so healthy! After being initially assessed upon coming out they were brought to my head while I was being stitched up and I got to look at them, to kiss their little heads and marvel at their perfect faces. They were then whisked to the NICU as planned my husband went with them while my best friend stayed with me.

Then came the part I was NOT prepared for. Once I was back in recovery I asked when I could see my babies. I was told I had to wait 48 hours from the time they stopped giving me one of the medicines for preeclampsia. WHAT?! I can't go to my babies this very second?! My husband stayed with them for hours at a time, told me how well they were doing, sent pictures. I thought it was the longest 48 hours of my life. But then my 48 hours was up! Gimme my babies! I was wheeled up to the NICU I fully expected the amazing nurses my husband had been talking about to have wings and be standing there holding my babies ready to throw my arms. But they didn't my babies were in their incubators, a nurse standing above them checking on stats. "Can I hold them?" I asked, feeling silly that I had to ask to hold my own babies. "No" I am sure there was more to her answer than that, but all I heard in the most heartbreaking moment of my life was NO. I didn't understand.

You see, I had done my research, I had know women in my support groups who had babies born at 32 weeks, 29 weeks, 26 weeks even! All these babies seemed to need much more help than mine! I saw pictures, babies with breathing tubes, lifes support keeping them alive, babies with central picc lines, babies with tubes in their heads to drain fluids. All of these babies with so many more wires/IVs and machines hooked up to them, all seemingly "sicker" than mine all of them in their mothers arms. You see I was prepared for babies with breathing tubes and central lines. I was prepared to fight. I was prepared to put my babies skin to skin and hold them for hours. What I was not prepared for was "Some of the healthiest 32 weekers" our NICU team has seen. I was not prepared for babies who were simply just too small to go home. They needed to get to a point where their little bodies could tolerate and hold a normal feeding. So they didn't need picc lines they just needed an IV for fluids. Sadly when your baby is 3 pounds they come with tiny veins that "rip like paper" so any movement of that IV in their tiny paper veins just ripped them. Then the nurses would have to find more tiny little veins and re-poke my tiny little babies. So they didn't want us holding them. We were told a few times. "Alexandria is on her 2nd IV today, if she blows another we might have to put in a picc line" "Aiden ripped two out in a row so that's why we have his arm wrapped like that" "We have to do another IV do you guys want to leave while we do it, its really hard on parents sometimes" But the alternative was a picc line, which meant them being put under. There is always a risk with being put under and even though it created more work for them they didn't want to chance that risk. I thought I didn't want anything more in the world than to hold my babies, but I quickly realized that it wasn't about what I needed, it was about them. What was best for them.

Over the next days I watched Angels disguised as Nurses, techs, volunteers and doctors love and care for my twins like they were their own. I saw a nurse cry as she couldn't find a vein in Alexandria's arm one day. Every night the nurses would say "I hope I don't see you tomorrow!" Not seeing us meant we were discharged we were home. I watched nurses take shifts to hold an older sick baby that had been brought in who's parents for some reason or another were not there, they would sit and comfort that baby for hours just holding her, loving her. I had nurses reminding me to sit, recover and take breaks, assuring me that I could rest my babies needed a healthy momma when they got out. Teams of people met with us daily updating us, checking in with us, making sure we were ready to bring preemie babies home. I have spent A LOT of time in Dr. offices, and hospitals. There is always amazing nurses and doctors, and then a few that are just in it because someone said "The medical field is a really stable job" That type of person doesn't exist in the NICU every single one of the people we met there were born to be in the NICU they were compassionate, knowledgeable, and had a real love for their job that showed. They also put my twins on a schedule that I kept once we left that NICU and I have never received a greater gift in my life. My twins who will turn 3 on New Years Eve are the greatest sleepers and not a night goes by I don't think of and thank that NICU nurse schedule in my head!

My son stayed in the NICU for 10 days, his sister followed 2 short days later once she weighed enough to ride in her car seat! (4 pounds) We were prepared for a fight, we were prepared for a 2 month NICU stay. At every turn we were shown just how lucky we were. To this day the hardest thing for me as a mother is the 6 days my babies were outside of my body and I didn't get to hold them. While it still causes me a lot of heartbreak and brings back a dark cloud over what should have been a happy time I remind myself what the alternative could have been. I know that mothers are holding their babies with breathing tubes, and would give anything to just have one less tube or wire. I know that some mothers will never hold their babies. Or never get to leave the NICU with their babies. I am thankful every day for that NICU team who made hard choices and told a mother NO so that her babies could continue to thrive. That's the thing about the NICU, my worse day might be someone else's dream day. Here is to more good NICU days.

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