From the time I learned I was expecting until I had my first ultrasound, I did experience moments of queasiness and my dietary staple for two weeks consisted of nothing more than Goldfish crackers and strawberry Jell-O. But once my first ultrasound was performed and we saw three little heartbeats flickering away, the nausea disappeared and in it's place was an appetite so large - I could put a team of 15-year old boys in the midst of growth spurts to shame.
In fact, I felt so good that I often got downright panicky and questioned if perhaps they'd made a mistake and mixed up my paperwork. Except for the fact that I'd devour anything that was edible, I didn't feel pregnant. I certainly didn't look pregnant. A little voice inside my head would say, "This isn’t real. Someone made an error. You aren’t really pregnant. This is a horrible mix-up and very soon, they are going to call and tell you that it's all been a mistake and you need to put down the cheeseburger."
As the days, weeks and months ticked by ... the call never came. So, while I waited for the phone call that would tell me this was all a dream, I, alone, consumed more than 75 gallons of ice cream.
Slowly and then quickly, my stomach started to grow. Every so often I still questioned if my increasing girth was a result of the pregnancy or from my ability to pack away 8 tacos at one sitting. By the time I was 10 weeks, none of my bras fit. By the time I was 12 weeks, none of my pants fit. By the time I was 15 weeks, none of my socks fit. Fortunately, I was pregnant during the warmer months and we live in a mild climate because by the time I was 18 weeks, the only shoes that I could wear were flip flops - which I couldn't see beneath my huge tummy - unless I was looking in a mirror.
When I was 14 weeks pregnant, all of my care was transferred from my regular OB/GYN to a High Risk Maternal/Fetal Specialist (aka: perinatologist).
Every two weeks, I would have thorough appointments, including ultrasounds and internal exams. Whereas most women receive only one or two ultrasounds during their entire pregnancy, I had more ultrasounds than I could count by the time I was 22 weeks, and have enough ultrasound images to wallpaper a 15 x 15 foot room.
One of the best things I did while still early in my pregnancy, was to schedule a tour of the NICU. From all the reading I had done on HOM pregnancies, I knew that our babies would be born prematurely - most likely between 28 and 32 weeks gestation. If I was lucky - I would carry them to 35 or 36 weeks, but the odds were great they would be born sooner. Because there was a good chance that our babies would be spending at least a certain amount of time in the NICU, I thought it would be a good idea to investigate.
We were very lucky that the women's hospital where I would be delivering was rated with one of the top three NICU's in the entire country. The care offered to premature newborns at Mary Birch is exceptional and since the hospital is attached to the Children's Hospital of San Diego - they have the resources immediately available to manage all phases of care. What I learned during my pregnancy is that if there is a chance you will be delivering your baby prematurely, especially less than 35 weeks, a Level III NICU (where there is the ability to care for seriously ill newborns, including those who require immediate surgery, and those who weigh less than 1,000 grams (2.19lb.)) is imperative.
The day Charlie and I toured the NICU, there was a baby that had recently been delivered at 32 weeks. He was tiny, weighing in at only 4 pounds. When I looked in the incubator at this perfectly proportioned little infant, I cried. He was hooked up to wires, monitors, and wore a tiny patch across his eyes because he was under glowing blue bili lights for jaundice treatment.
The neonatologist took my arm and led me up and down the several rows of incubators where I saw tiny babies, each one smaller than the next. I saw lots of name cards - lovingly crafted - above the cribs. There was a Joseph, Eleanor, Thomas and Katie. There was also a Joyous Miracle, a baby girl who along with her twin brother, had been born at 23.5 weeks and weighed in at only 15 ounces. Not even a pound.
I saw a lot of rocking chairs and mother's sitting with their premature infants doing kangaroo care. Considering there were so many newborns in this room, at least 50, it was surprising that I didn't hear a single one cry. Instead, my heart would skip when I would hear multiple alarms sound and see nurses run over to inspect their tiny patients.
Following our tour, the neonatologist sat down with us for the next hour and answered all of the questions we had ... and addressed a number of topics we'd never considered. He told us that my goal was to get past the 24-week mark. Beyond that point, there was an excellent chance our children would survive.
This caught me totally off guard.
I never even considered our children not surviving. My only thought, all along, is that they would be born and thrive. It was then that I fully understood just how "high-risk" my pregnancy actually was.
The doctor told us that babies born before 28 weeks could have problems resulting from brain bleeds and retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). Babies born so prematurely were also more suspectible to viruses and bacterial infections. If I could get past 28 weeks, he indicated that the risk of long-term developmental delays decreased dramatically.
This was good to hear, but my plan all along, was to reach 35 weeks gestation. I had every intention of delivering our children on Friday - November 12th, Charlie's birthday. I had even written, in ink, on our calendar: “Charlie turns 38 … babies are born.”
Around here, if it's in ink ... it must be so.
Returning from the NICU tour, I was more determined than ever that I would carry our babies as long as possible. My goal was to stay off my feet and drink at least 1.5 gallons of water a day. In my spare time, I read and re-read Barbara Luke's book "When You're Expecting Twins, Triplets or Quads" and did my best to follow her strict guidelines on caloritic intake. For me, that equated to approximately 4,000 calories a day and loads of protein. At least three nights a week, Charlie would grill up delicious steaks and every single night, I would have a huge bowl of Rocky Road ice cream. Because we ate out a lot during this time, I especially enjoyed telling our foodserver, after I would order the entire right side of the menu, "I'm eating for four!"
Never before in my life - and I doubt never again - will I have the freedom to eat with such reckless abandon. It was awesome. Fortunately, I was never afflicted by the inability to eat because I would get "full" too soon. Apparently, my stomach resides in my lower leg and was never crushed by my growing belly.
Because I really love my job and thought that the distraction of work helped keep my mind off my general discomforts (which were mounting each and every day), I worked full-time with no restrictions until I was 20 weeks. Once I hit 20 weeks, my perinatologist suggested that I start slowing down and requested that I use a handicap placard so I wouldn't have to walk long distances in the parking lot whenever I went to his office for my frequent check-ups. We also invested in a waterproof chair that I used whenever I took a shower. Charlie was a good chap and when my waistline prohibited reaching my legs to shave them - he would pitch in to help.
It was about this time that Charlie and I celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary. Because I've always stressed that I subscribe to the "Modern Anniversary Gift", Charlie has known for years that the 10-year anniversary is a diamond.
On our wedding anniversary, which happened to fall the night before my baby shower, Charlie shocked me (and his sister, Susan, who was in town for the shower), when following dinner he said "10-years ago I gave you a gift that was unfortunately not meant to be. Today, I am replacing that gift." And with that, he pulled out a black jewelers box and removed an exact replica of the engagement ring that I had lost 9-years earlier. And to think, I hadn't even bought him a card.
Here's some quick background ...
Two years after we were married, one of my sisters married a Kebadjian and we have obviously had close ties with the Kebadjian family ever since. The Kebadjian's had sized our wedding bands and adjusted the fit of my engagement ring a few days before our nuptials. What I didn't remember is that they had also taken the complete specifications on my engagement ring. As our 10-year anniversary drew closer, Charlie reached out to my brother-in-law and told him that he wanted to have a replica of the ring that had been lost, recreated for our anniversary. Most importantly - this had to be a complete surprise, so my brother-in-law could not whisper a word to my sister, who in turn, would most certainly tell me.
Our curse is that no one can keep a secret in my family ... especially the women. Word travels especially fast which is why the phrase "Telegraph, telephone ... Tell-a-sister" has been coined. If you've ever heard that phrase before, just know it was started because of the female line I have descended from.
Now, the reason I mention this story is to illustrate, once again, what an awesome guy I have married. But I also mention it because I was 20 weeks pregnant when we celebrated our anniversary and I was starting to swell up like a balloon. The size of my fingers, which had grown to the proportions of my big toe, were not enough to prohibit me from trying on my new ring. I was so enamored with my anniversary present that I wedged it on my finger and was immediately unable to take it off.
If you are reading this - and if you are pregnant ... do not be a fool and put on jewelry that is designed to fit you in your pre-pregnant state.
Also, do not be a fool and leave your rings on too long while waiting for the phone call that says the lab made a mistake and you really aren't pregnant at all.
Once you reach your second trimester - remove all of your rings. Otherwise, you will spend a lot of time
Minus the ring faux pas and a fainting episode I'd had when I brought our new neighbors a tray of O'Henry bars and nearly collapsed on their front porch ... I had yet to go to the hospital for any pregnancy related issues. I was having the best time of my life and wished that I could stay pregnant forever. Although, I was starting to get these pesky spontaneous and explosive nosebleeds, heartburn that felt like my esophogus was on fire, and my hands were completely numb when I woke up in the morning. Despite those minor ailments, my hair never looked better.
At about 22 weeks, Charlie and I went in for a Level II ultrasound. It was during this visit that we received our first bit of scary news. We were informed that choroid plexus cysts (CPC's) were identified on all three babies' brains. In addition, Baby A (William) had a echogenic cardiac foci on his heart.
While Charlie and I were reeling from what this could mean, our perinatologist introduced us to a genetic counselor who informed us that CPC's are considered "soft-markers" for Trisomy 18, and ECF is considered a "soft marker" for Down's Syndrome. The genetic counselor mentioned that we could rule out both of these birth defects if we performed an amniocentesis ... but she also informed us that the risks of miscarriage with amnio is much greater when you are expecting multiples.
For the same reason we decided to forego selective reduction, Charlie and I decided to forego the amnio. We wanted these babies - no matter what. Together, we made the decision that we would never terminate our pregnancy (or one of our children) if the results came back indicating there was a problem.
Still, we were shaken. Here we had waited so long to become parents, and we received the first hint that not one, but all three of our babies, could be born with birth defects so severe, they may not survive their first year. We tried the best we could to
By the time I was 24 weeks, I was ordered to go on "self-restricted bedrest." I hadn't had any complications - but - I was at a critical time in my pregnancy and we didn't want to take any unnecessary risks. At exactly 24 weeks, I moved out of my office and on to the couch in our living room, where I continued to work full-time with my laptop computer until I was 30 weeks pregnant. I will always have wonderful memories of enduring long conference calls on our couch, while watching in awe - the mosh pit that had become my stomach.
In addition to moving myself out of my office - I moved myself out of our bedroom and on to the couch. After a string of profanity at 3 AM due to hot flashes and the most intense leg cramps ever experienced by mankind ... I made the decision to sleep in the living room. Charlie tried to protest, saying something about how he needed his wife by his side ... but he never finished his train of thought. He was back to sleep and snoring loudly before I even left the room.
Once on the couch, I found that I could actually sleep if I was upright with 12 pillows strategically placed behind my back and legs. I also discovered that it was a full body workout placing 12 pillows in strategic locations behind my back and legs and whenever I would finally get comfortable - I had to get up and use the restroom.
Thus began the longest and most uncomfortable nights of my entire life.
Beginning at 27-weeks, I had to go in for Antenatal and Non-Stress Testing (NST) twice a week.
This was an event where I would sit in a chair for a minimum of one hour with four straps around my massive belly that would measure each of the babies' heart rates, monitor me for contractions (that I may or may not feel), and evaluate the fetuses movements.
Charlie being the incredible husband that he is attended each and every NST appointment with me. But because he was still working and was taking off an exorbitant amount of time to accompany me to every single doctor's visit, we finally accepted the offers for assistance.
At 30 weeks, my dad flew in from Massachusetts to help. He arrived on Thursday, October 7. I remember that I almost didn't make it to pick him up at the airport. Charlie and I happened to be at a NST appointment and I was having contractions every 5-minutes. This was a total surprise, because I couldn't feel a thing. They gave me one shot of Terbutaline and then another. I don't drink coffee, but I imagine that if I did ... pounding 20 shots of espresso in less than a minute is a good analogy for the effect of this medication.
The perinatologist on call came to see me. They wanted to admit me that afternoon for observation but I begged and pleaded. "Please. PLEASE. Let me go home. My father is flying in from Massachusetts and we are having meatloaf for supper." Even after all that I'd been through - my priority was not my health, nor the health of my unborn children. Everything in my world revolved around what I was eating for dinner.
When it didn't seem like the doctor was listening to me, I bribed the nurse. If she would help to convince my doctor to release me, I would let her borrow my black leather Dansko's until my feet shrunk back to their normal size. I would also knit her a cashmere scarf and give her my copy of The Red Tent.
After two additional hours, and my incessant whining, they let me go. It was only recently, when I was bragging to some friends about my superb negotiation skills, that Charlie clued me in that the ONLY reason the doctors had released me is because my contractions had finally leveled off.
When we arrived at the airport, we greeted my father who had been waiting for the past several hours at the curb. As I struggled to get out of the car to hug my dad, he looked at Charlie and said "Oh, Dear God. What have you done to my daughter?!"
At that point, I had gained over 90 pounds during my pregnancy, with 20 pounds packed on within the last two weeks. With my carpal tunnel braces, flip flops, nasal spray that I wielded like chapstick, sausage-sized fingers and toes, and a splotchy rash over the better part of my body ... I wasn't quite the epitome of a glowing pregnant woman anymore.
Little did any of us know, my body had started to shut down and our babies would be delivered by an emergency c-section in less than a week.
…. to be continued …