Thursday morning, October 14, 2004, was a beautiful and sunny day in San Diego.
I didn’t sleep very well the night before, because I could barely breathe, I was unable to get comfortable with my newly inserted catheter, and my back and hips felt like they were being crushed by a semi-truck. Whenever I was able to settle in to sleep, I would be abruptly woken by nurses coming in to draw blood, take my temperature and blood pressure, check or change my IV, and evaluate my contractions and the babies’ heart rates.
My perinatologist came in to my room at 8 AM. He smiled and just when I thought he was about to tell me that they’d made a terrible mistake, I wasn’t really pregnant and let’s get me some breakfast (!) … he said that the babies would be born within the next hour. Apparently, I was seriously ill and my organs were shutting down, with my liver leading the charge.
My doctor suggested I call Charlie and tell him that he needed to get to the hospital as soon as possible. He emphasized that if Charlie were to get stuck in traffic, there is a good chance they might not be able to wait for his arrival before they delivered our babies.
My condition was that bad.
I felt like a robot going through the motion of picking up the phone and calling my husband, telling him that he needed to get to the hospital right away.
No, he didn’t have time to stop and buy the camcorder we’d put off purchasing for the past seven months.
No, he didn’t have time to stop and buy a cup of coffee.
I hung up and called my mother, who was vacationing at the beach in South Carolina. Mom was planning to come out to California when the babies were born, but like me, she didn’t expect they would arrive until November 12th. I could tell mom was concerned that I had deteriorated so quickly. I tried to keep it light and joked with her, “These children are an undisciplined lot! Do they not know that their birthday is written in INK on our calendar?!”
Once I was off the phone, I sat trying to savor the last few moments of having my babies within me. I tried to imagine what they would look like. It had been so many years that I had dreamt of having children, would my dreams be close to reality?
... sneaking in to my mind was the image of a huge needle.
Would our children be born with a head full of black hair like their father – or would they be blonde like I was as a child?
... I wonder how long would it take before the epidural kicked in?
I imagined that they would have blue eyes because Charlie and I both have blue eyes, as do both of my parents and Charlie’s dad, but maybe their eyes would be hazel, like Charlie’s mother, Jeanne.
... how do they put such a large needle in your back without severing your spinal column?
Trying to stay focused on our children’s features, I wondered if they would have my nose or Charlie’s? Would they have my fair Irish skin, or Charlie’s beautiful tanned complexion?
... what if my anesthesiologist is a Starbucks junkie and their hands are shaking?
While I sat nervously waiting for a wheelchair to take me to the delivery room, I rubbed my belly and tried to rid the image of the epidural - and burn in to my memory the location and feeling of each of my babies, in utero. I remembered one of the first ultrasounds, before we knew the gender of our children. Charlie and I gazed in amazement while our three little babies kicked around wildly – and I strained, unsuccessfully, to feel their tiny movements. When we saw Baby A kick Baby B and then flip around and kick Baby C … we both laughed and guessed that A was a boy and B and C were both girls. When our doctor told us that we were expecting three boys at my 18 week ultrasound, I was surprised. But two weeks later when we were told that we were expecting two girls and a boy, it felt right.
In my heart, I had known our children forever.
Baby A, our boy, was reclined in my lower belly – and he was the first baby I ever felt moving. He was always the largest and was stretched out, his head on one of my hips – his feet on my other hip. He didn't move around too much, but would squirm under the weight of his two sisters.
Baby B, one of our girls, was the second largest, and was located on my right side. I didn’t feel Baby B much until later in my pregnancy – but when she did start to move, she would have sweeping movements with her elbows and knees that made it look like an alien had inhabited my body.
Baby C, our second girl, was always the smallest and located on my left side. Perhaps it was because she was situated in an area where I could feel her movements more easily … but this child made her presence known, constantly. She was always moving – rolling – flipping – kicking – stretching – punching – hiccupping. Baby C was our little houdini that had flipped and been counted twice, making Charlie and I believe for a few tense moments, that we needed to register for a fourth of everything.
My wheelchair arrived and I was given a surgical cap and helped out of bed. Before I was eased in to the wheelchair, they rolled a scale in to my room. On Monday, March 29, 2004 I weighed in at 140 pounds. On Thursday, October 14, 2004 … at 30 weeks, 6 days pregnant ... I weighed in at 240 pounds. (I knew exactly how long I had been pregnant, down to the hour. Towards the end of my pregnancy as my discomfort intensified daily - I would literally beg for the days to go past.) In the three days since I’d been admitted to the hospital, I gained 10 pounds. This was incomprehensible to me, considering I’d had nothing more than ice chips and a small roast beef sandwich to eat, the entire time.
Was it possible to gain weight from thinking about food??
Just as they were rolling me out, Charlie and dad ran in to the room. I remember that they came in to the elevator with me, but when we arrived at the delivery room, Charlie went left through the back to get in to scrubs and my father went right to the waiting room. I was wheeled in to the delivery room, helped up on to the table and when they asked me to lean forward and try to touch my toes so they could give me my epidural, I began laughing hysterically.
Lean forward? In my state?!
With the assistance of three people holding me down, I received my dreaded epidural, which surprisingly, wasn't so bad. I then laid down on the table and while the nurses quickly put up blue screens over my belly, Charlie was led in to the room. He was dressed in white paper scrubs with his bright orange Walker Key shirt and khaki shorts, visible beneath the garment, clear as day. When I pointed out that I could see his clothes through his scrubs he stood back and looked down. He then breathed a heavy sigh of relief and told me that he wasn’t sure if he should wear clothes beneath the scrubs – or not.
The anesthiologist (who much to my relief did not drink coffee), was seated next to my head and chimed in that many dad’s don't see the sign in the dressing room and do not realize they are suppose to keep their clothing on beneath the scrubs. Since they are so wrapped up in the excitement of becoming a new father – they are oblivious to the fact that their birthday suit is visible beneath the paper-thin material. Unless they are an exhibitionist, she said these guys are mortified when they realize their error - and try to quickly change before their child is born. I was so thankful that my husband wasn't a victim of this common clothing mishap.
There were at least 17 medical personnel present in the delivery room. There was my perinatologist and his partner who would be performing the c-section. There were four nurses assisting with the surgery. There was a neonatologist, an anesthiologist, and teams of three nurses for each of the babies. And then there was Charlie, my wonderful husband and camera man.
I wasn't fully aware that the c-section was even underway until I smelled something burning. Much like the time I had laser correction surgery on my eyes, I suspected the burning smell was coming from me.
The whole thing happened so fast.
Before it had even registered that they were delivering our babies, I heard a faint cough. The doctor held Baby A up over the drape and I gasped when I saw the big doctor’s hands wrapped around our baby’s tiny body. Less than a minute later, I heard the smallest, tiniest cry imaginable as the doctor held Baby B over the drape. Another minute later, I heard another tiny cry, like a kitten meowing, and Baby C was held up and then whisked off to the team of nurses waiting. Charlie sat with me for a moment longer and then gave me a kiss goodbye and went to join our three tiny babies in an adjacent room.
I felt hot.
Then I felt cold.
Then I felt freezing cold.
I turned my head to the anesthiologist and with my teeth chattering told her I was an ice cube. She summoned to one of the nurses and I was instantly covered in wonderful warm blankets. Moments later, I was burning up and nurses were peeling off the blankets, and fanning me down. And then I was freezing again.
In October of 2004, there was a shortage of the flu vaccination because 50% of the batch had been tainted by lab error. People were driving for hours, standing in huge lines and forking over a big sum in order to receive the vaccination. Minutes after my surgery was completed, and while I chattered and then sweated under my blankets, I remember looking over at my perinatologist sitting down to receive the coveted flu vaccination. He rolled his sleeve up and when the nurse gave him his shot, he grimaced and groaned “Ouch! That really hurt!” My last words spoken, before everything went white were “Are you kidding me?! I just gave birth to triplets and you’re complaining about a little needle? Females are definitely the stronger sex!”
When I woke up, I was in the recovery room. I was so hot, I thought I would melt on the spot. The nurse asked if I was in pain and since I could feel twangs of discomfort, she gave me morphine. And then, more morphine. I was rejoined with Charlie and my father, and I’ll never forget Charlie saying “Jen, the babies are here and they are absolutely beautiful! William has a head full of blonde curly hair and the girls are both brunettes!!”
Unbelievable. Not only was I really pregnant, but the babies were here.
And they were ours ... for keeps.
For the next hour - or four – I completely lost sense of time, my father stood over my head with a hand held fan and tried to cool me down. Meanwhile, my nurse kept checking on my pain level and would administer more morphine, as necessary. They had asked if I would like to go through the NICU on the way back to my room to see our newborns, but I was feeling so terrible and had lost so much blood (2 liters) – the last thing I wanted to do was be wheeled anywhere other than straight to bed.
Even in my drug induced state, I remember the orderly told Charlie and my father they had to wait outside while they transferred me back in to my bed. I also remember having a fit because I didn’t know how they were going to transfer me from the gurney … without me falling flat on the cold hospital floor. I insisted Charlie and my dad come in to assist, and when the orderly refused … I started sobbing. The orderly reconsidered and the next thing I know, Charlie was by my head, dad was by my feet … and a nurse was running to grab an emesis pan because my roast beef sandwich from the night before was making a re-appearance.
While I remained in bed in a semi-conscious state with an emesis pan by my side, Charlie and my dad visited the babies in the NICU. Later that evening, they brought me back pictures of our children. All three of them had been intubated, but despite their troubles breathing, they had all been born with APGAR scores of 9. Their birth stats were:
Baby A = 3 pounds, 14 ounces, 16 inches long.
Baby B = 3 pounds, 2 ounces, 14 inches long.
Baby C = 3 pounds, 6 ounces, 15 inches long.
The nurses that were assigned to me, were shown pictures of our newborns. As they gushed over how beautiful the babies were and how good of a job I had done incubating them – I started to cry. My babies were born nine weeks premature and couldn’t breathe on their own. I hadn’t really seen them or held them yet, but I thought for sure all three of them were going to die. Most certainly our little boy who was struggling even more than the girls.
Certainly my mind had some control over my body. Maybe if I hadn’t wished for the pregnancy to be over … I'd still be pregnant. More than anything in the world, I wanted my babies back inside where they'd be safe. Didn't my body know our children weren't suppose to be born yet?
My feelings of inadequacy and guilt would only be compounded when I first saw our newborns and during the six weeks that they would spend in the NICU. This damn body of mine, first it couldn’t get pregnant without medical intervention – and now – it couldn’t carry our babies long enough for them to be born without life support. Despite everyone telling me that 31 weeks for a triplet gestation was a great feat – the fact that our precious children were struggling to survive, was all my fault. No one could convince me otherwise.
... to be continued ...