Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Part V: A Waddle In Time

When I woke up Friday morning, I didn't have an overwhelming desire to meet our babies right away. Rather, I was extremely apprehensive to visit the NICU and a bit afraid of what I was going to see and how I would react to our preemies. Even my father was traumatized by what he had seen in the NICU the day before.

My feelings were not at all in-line with what I thought they would have been, after all that we had been through to have children.

After a quiet breakfast, Charlie helped me in to a wheelchair and we rolled to the elevator and down several flights to the NICU. When we entered the waiting room, I instantly became aware of all the visitors who were gaping at us. At first, I thought that they were surprised to see a woman who looked like death warmed over out of her hospital bed ... but then I realized that they were looking at our wristbands.

When our babies were born, each child was given a leg band to identify them and Charlie and I were given a wristband which corresponded to one of our babies. Because we had three babies in the NICU, we had three wristbands identifying us as their parents. The three wristbands I wore for our babies, were in addition to the patient wristband and blood type wristband I also had to wear - for a grand total of five wristbands.

Five wristbands created quite a ruckus anywhere we went.

Charlie picked up the phone and called in to the NICU and told the head nurse that we were here to visit our triplets. There was a gasp around the room followed by hushed silence as everyone stepped back from the door and let us roll through. I made eye contact with one or two people and I remember they cautiously smiled and whispered "God Bless You."

Having a baby in the NICU can be a very difficult experience. Having three babies in the NICU was even more difficult than I imagined it would be, and I thought that I was well prepared, having taken a tour earlier in my pregnancy. In reality, nothing could have prepared me for what was in store.

Between the waiting room and NICU, was a washroom with huge steel sinks and soap dispensers. Everyone was required to wash their hands, thoroughly, before stepping foot in the NICU. If you were sick, or had been sick one week prior to the day you were visiting, you were not welcome.

Better stated ... you were forbidden from entering.

It's nothing personal ... but what people do not realize is that premature infants are EXTREMELY susceptible to infection. Whereas a healthy full-term baby could be exposed to something as harmless as a cold and survive ... the common cold could actually kill a preemie. There were no more than two people, per infant, allowed to visit at any given time - and one of the people must be a parent. Therefore, the most visitors that Charlie and I could have in the NICU were two. During the six weeks that we would spend visiting our children at the hospital, I could often be found stopping renegade family members that tried to sneak more than two people in for a visit. My blood pressure and temper would go through the roof if they dare got snippy with me and I wouldn't hesitate to call the head nurse and reveal anyone that tried to break the rules.

I had THREE babies in there.

There were two levels to our NICU ... the "High Risk" side and the "Step-Down" side. One of the primary differences between the two sides, is the ratio of nurses to infants. On the high-risk side ... the ratio is no more than two infants per nurse. On the step-down side, the ratio is approximately four infants per nurse. Additionally, to be moved to the step-down side, an infant must be capable of maintaining their own body temperature (i.e. not be in an incubator), and they must be breathing on their own (i.e. no intubation).

For the first few days following their birth, all three of our babies were on the high-risk side.

After scrubbing up, Charlie rolled me in to the high-risk side of the NICU. Our girls were in incubators across the row from each other, and our little boy was the next aisle over. Immediately next to our girls were two babies that were covered in what looked like Saran Wrap. According to the nurse, these preemies had been born at 25 weeks gestation ... 6 weeks earlier than our children.They didn't look real, they were so small.

When I had toured the NICU while pregnant, I saw micro-preemies. But they did not have nearly the same impact on me then, that they did on the day after my own children were born. It felt like the air was crushed out of my lungs and tears instantly sprung to my eyes for these tiny babies and their mothers. To this day, I still pray every single night for micro-preemies (and the doctors and nurses who care for them), the world over.

At that point, we hadn't yet named our children ... so our first visit was with Baby C. She was positively tiny. I remember the nurse opened the incubator and removed her from her warm little nest. She rearranged all of her wires, and gently rested her in my arms. It felt like my heart was going to burst. I looked at her perfectly tiny little features - her nose, her eyes, her lips and her ears. I touched her fuzzy brown hair and chuckled when I noticed that she had "male-pattern baldness". I counted her ten tiny fingers and gazed in awe at her teeny tiny fingernails.

How would I ever manage to clip them?

She was smaller than dolls I had as a child and her head was smaller than the grapefruit I had had for breakfast one day last week. I noticed that the cartilage in her ears had not yet formed and they were as thin and as flexible as paper. She had no trace of eyelashes or eyebrows since those features hadn't yet filled in at 31 weeks gestation.

While I held her, alarms were buzzing around me. At one point, I was startled because the monitor that was hooked to my newborn daughter started to sound. I glanced around frantically for the nurse, who I hadn't noticed was standing beside me. She looked over at the monitor and pushing a few buttons, smiled and said everything was fine.

I wasn't so sure.

Suddenly, I felt afraid to hold my baby ... afraid that her tiny body would be hurt. I wanted to return her to the incubator where I knew she'd be safe. Actually, I wanted to return her to my uterus, but that wasn't an option. As I sat worried that my daughter would stop breathing, the nurse told me it was time to put her back. Apparently, preemies are very easily over stimulated, and something as simple as holding them for too long can cause problems. The nurse carefully lifted my baby away from me, wrapped her in a special blanket, adjusted her multiple monitor leads, and carefully placed her back in the incubator.

Letting her go was the hardest thing I'd ever had to do.

With my eyes full of tears, Charlie rolled me over to meet our Baby B. The nurse had lifted our newborn daughter out of the incubator and her head full of dark brown hair instantly shocked me. Once she was in my arms, I touched her soft hair and was surprised to see that she had little blonde tips all over her head ... as if someone had given her highlights. She too, was perfect in every way. After smiling at her through my tears for a few minutes, the nurse gently picked her up and returned her to the incubator. As soon as Baby B was removed from my arms and placed back inside her little "house" ... she started to cry. It took every ounce of restraint to not stand up from my wheelchair and scoop her back out of the incubator and run from the hospital. Hearing the tiny cry and not being able to comfort her, was absolute torture.

Letting her go was the hardest thing I'd ever had to do.

Charlie rolled me over to visit Baby A, our little boy. He wasn't yet in an incubator and was on an open bed with warmers overhead. He had on a little cap, but I could make out tufts of blonde hair. Unlike his sisters, he was still intubated and not yet stable enough to be held. Instead, I caressed his tiny feet, touched his tiny hands and told him over and over again how sorry I was that he had been born too early. I was so angry with myself and disappointed in my body, that I could spit.

When it finally came time to return to my room, Charlie turned my wheelchair around and rolled me out of the NICU. Leaving my three precious babies behind, once I had finally seen and touched them, was the hardest thing I've ever had to do.

**************

Saturday was a difficult day. Perhaps it was because the morphine had finally worn off, or perhaps it was because hormones were trying to stablize after the delivery. Or perhaps it was because they had removed my catheter and told me that I needed to take a BM. Whatever the case, I was absolutely miserable two days after our triplets were born.

The thought of a BM scared the ... well, not sh*t out of me ... but I wish it had. I ordered everything with fiber in it on the menu. I had raisin bran, bran muffins, oatmeal with raisins, prune juice, stewed prunes AND I ordered a laxative. I wanted this to be as seamless of an evacuation as possible. While dad sat with me over breakfast, I told him how nervous I was that every single one of my organs would fall out when I sat on the toilet and gave the slightest push. This is the kind of conversation I never thought I would have with my father.

What I didn't expect was how every single one of the nurses that were taking care of me, and every single one of my visitors, would be so aware of my most private of bodily functions. Whenever I felt the urge to use the restroom ... I would have a minimum of five people excitedly asking if I thought I'd be making a BM.

There was so much enthusiasm and anticipation surrounding this singular event that I started suffering from performance anxiety.

As the day progressed, and a BM was nowhere to be seen, I started to worry. At one point, I thought for sure I needed to go, and when Charlie and my father helped me out of bed (which was an extremely difficult and painful experience), I wobbled in to the bathroom just in time to pass the largest blood clot imaginable. This clot was literally the size of a kidney and for a few minutes ... I thought that's what it was. When the entourage of nurses came in to look at my creation ... everyone convinced me that it was perfectly normal and I could stop screaming.

While the day wore on, we visited the babies, I ate more fiber, and the nurses dragged me out of bed gently persuaded me to get up and walk around. Leaning on my wheelchair, I cruised up and down the halls of the hospital hoping I wouldn't pass another blood clot outside the privacy of my bathroom.

The highlight of my day was naming our children.

After much deliberation, we decided that Baby A would be named after his father. I liked the idea of naming our son after his dad, but it was an easy decision because from the day I first met Charlie, I always thought he had a wonderfully regal name. Thus, William Charles Junior came to be.

Baby B would be named after my beautiful sister, Beth ... and Charlie's lovely Aunt Betty. Her middle name - which we had first thought should be Ann, was changed to Jeanne, as a tribute to Charlie's mother who passed away in 1992.

Baby C would be named after my beloved godmother, Aunt Carolyn, who had passed away in 1986 from breast cancer. Her middle name was after my favorite Aunt Grace who has always been like a second mother to me (except for the time she tried to run me over with her Cadillac when I was misbehaving in 1981).

Signing the birth certificates and feeling a sense of contentment with the names we had chosen, Charlie and I went back to visit our William Charles, Elizabeth Jeanne and Carolyn Grace in the NICU. These were our beautiful babies and we hoped that they would grow up appreciating the strong names we had given to them.

By the early evening it felt like a train had hit me I was so sore.

It had been several days since I'd showered and I was feeling absolutely gross. The nurses located a waterproof chair for my bathtub and with Charlie's assistance, I climbed in to the tub. Charlie helped to wash my hair, soap my legs and back and rinsed me off with the handheld shower. When it came time to get out of the tub, I realized that I couldn't move my legs. The pain was positively excruciating. While stuck in another bathtub for the second time in less than a week, and crying that I'd never get out, my loyal nurses came running in to check on me. When they asked when the last time was I had taken my pain medication, I hesitated.

Except for my laxatives ... I didn't remember taking any other medication.

Turns out, I hadn't.

While I shoveled in saltines to coat my stomach, the nurse stepped out to pick me up some percocet and motrin. For the next 45 minutes, I sat in the shower waiting for my pain to subside. When it finally tapered off, I was able to gingerly lift my legs over the side of the tub and Charlie picked me up and helped me back to bed.

I felt completely defeated.

I could barely move ... our babies were still struggling in the NICU ... I couldn't get a brush through my rat's nest hair ... I still hadn't had a BM after several days ... I was swollen ... I was passing blood clots and my father had left to return home to Massachusetts. The salt in my wound was when the Red Sox lost the third game of the ALCS to the Yankees.

At that moment in time, I didn't think I could ever leave the hospital.

While I sat in bed with my wet knotted hair, and fretted that I'd never have a BM, never be able to walk again unassisted, and never see my babies grow in to healthy children ... I cried and sobbed and bawled hysterically. Saturday night, October 16, 2004 was one of my lowest moments in life. But once I reached the pit of despair ... something came over me.

As Charlie settled down to make name tags for all of the babies, I searched my soul for what I could do to improve my situation. Despite the pain that shot through my body from moving my arms, I dragged the brush through my hair and toweled my head off. With Charlie's assistance, I climbed out of bed and brushed my teeth. Then, without Charlie's assistance, I forced myself to hobble back to bed and climb back in. It took me 30 minutes and lots of tears ... but I did it.

That night, as Charlie slept on the lumpy fold-out chair, I got out of bed at least three more times, on my own, to use the restroom. By Sunday morning, I weighed 30 pounds less than I had three days earlier. I also had the biggest BM in recorded history. The weight loss could have been because of that - - but more likely - - was due to the diuretic they had started me on Saturday morning.

For the first time in a long time ... I was beginning to feel like I might survive.

While savoring waffles and reveling in the glory of my successful bathroom experience, whilst maintaining all of my internal organs, I was visited by a team of lactation consultants. They had stopped by to visit me on Saturday, but I was in such a bad state - the most they could do was introduce me to the hospital grade breast pump I would come to call Baby D.

When my lactation team returned on Sunday, I quickly learned that when it comes to nursing ... there is no place for modesty. While I sat in my hospital bed with my shirt wide open ... I was showed how to massage the breast, rub the nipple and express milk. Provided I had milk to express ... which at that time, I did not.

The lactation consultants were my own personal cheerleaders who convinced me that I could nurse our triplets. Infact, they stressed how important it was that I start pumping NOW, and continue pumping at least every three hours ... round-the-clock in order to get my supply established. Even though my milk hadn't yet come in, it would soon and the early collostrum was extremely important for our preemies - who were currently receiving tiny amounts of donated breast milk.

Charlie, sat through my entire lactation session and jumped in to action. He created a To-Do list on my hospital dry erase board with the hands free pump bra I needed to obtain, the herbal supplements we needed to purchase which would help boost my supply (including Lecithin, Fenugreek and a prescription for Reglan), the times I was scheduled to pump and what, if anything, was obtained. We had a mini-celebration when collostrum crystals appeared on my nipples after 24 hours of pumping, and when small amounts of fluid were extracted after 36 hours, we rejoiced and ate Jell-O.

Even though the walking was difficult, the more I did it, the better I felt and the easier it became. Meanwhile, the tremendous amount of fluid that I had been retaining was literally being flushed out of my system ... at the staggering rate of 10 pounds per day. (Seven days following the birth of our children, I had shed 70 pounds. The remaining 30 pounds that I had put on during my pregnancy came off over the next few months).

When Charlie had to return to work on Monday, I felt courageous enough to push my wheelchair to the NICU, all by myself. For several hours, I sat holding and/or staring at our babies. Just as I was about to leave, William's nurse asked if I would like to hold our baby boy. Four days after his birth, was the first time I was able to hold my tiny little son.

On the way back to my room, as I shuffled behind my wheelchair, I realized that I was not going to heal as quickly at the hospital as I would at home, especially with nurses coming in to check on me every 30-minutes ... day and night. When Charlie came to see me that evening, my bags were partially packed and sitting by the door. Whereas a mere two days earlier I thought I would never leave ... by Monday night, I couldn't get out of the hospital fast enough. The hardest part would be leaving our babies behind.

Because I had been so sick and a blood transfusion was still a good possibility, my perinatologist had reservations with me leaving the hospital so soon. But by 11 PM Monday night, one week since I had been admitted, they removed my c-section staples, removed my IV's, helped me pack up my flowers and breastpump, put in a few more c-section staples because my incision re-opened, had my pain medication prescriptions filled, gave me strict discharge instructions ... and bid me farewell.

The next and most important thing on our To-Do list, was getting our babies strong enough so that they could come home, too. Unfortunately, we were just about to begin the dreaded "Preemie Shuffle" where our babies would take two small steps forward, and one BIG step back.

... to be continued ...

10 comments:

  1. So amazing. I'm almost in tears. I am so thankful my babies made it to full-term. I don't know how well I would've handled the NICU. I've never seen a premature baby or ever been in an NICU. I'm sure it must have been very tough for you. You sound like an amazingly strong woman.

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  2. Oh, yeah. Reading your story brings so many vivid memories back. Thank you for sharing this.
    Those first days postpartum were hellish for me too. I found that being with my babies in the NICU was the only time I felt okay, and the rest of the time I was miserable.
    I remember how much I treasured those 3 extra hospital bracelets, such fragile but concrete evidence that my babies had been born.
    You got very good advice on the pumping, and it sounds like you did great. Way to go!
    tripleblessings, mom to 6 year old g/g/b triplets

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  3. Preemies or micro-preemies, your NICU experience and post pregnancy recovery is spot on!

    Keep the posts coming!

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  4. Staring at your babies in the NICU, just brought tears to my eyes. Twice in 24 hours now, your children have brought tears to my eyes! You are on a roll.

    I lost weight like that too. I lost 50 pounds before I left the hospital. We both had preeclampsia, so looking back we must have gained very little "actual" weight. It must be all water retention.

    It's so good to know the ending off this story already. Whew!

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  5. You could be telling my story and it brings tears to my eyes. I didn't even get the option of waiting a couple of days for delivery. They delivered me that day. It's amazing how you don't know how sick you are until afterwards. I went through the same emotions seeing my little guys that first time in the NICU feeling like I had totally failed. I was convinced I was going to make my 36 week c-section schedule. Just feel good you witnessed the delivery I actually passed out and didn't get to see them be born. Thank you for sharing I read your blog at 2:00 in the am while feeding babies.

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  6. It's truly beautiful, Jen...

    I link you up again in my blog post, November is Prematurity Awareness Month.

    Hugs and kisses to your guardian angels... :)

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  7. tears, jen, tears. I can't wait till your next installment.

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  8. Wow- my 29 weekers just got out of the NICU 3 months ago, but reading your experience made it seem like just yesterday. I have no idea when I will have the courage to talk about my NICU experience. Thank you so much for sharing!

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  9. Hi there, I've gotten to catch up on my blog reading a lot as I've been in the hospital for preterm labor and so appreciated reading all about your experience with the NICU and seeing the pictures of your beautiful little babies. I am only about 24.5 weeks with my twins but am praying desperately to make it to at least 30 or more.

    Thanks for sharing your story,
    Lindsey

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  10. Thank you for a wonderful story!! I just found your blog, and I've spent the last 1,5 hours reading your entire pregnancy story. It was the best reading ever..

    I'm a triplet my self, but my mom has never talked much about her pregnancy. Now I feel like I know how she felt 25 years ago - thank you soo much!! I love my mom even more now:)

    Oh, and my parents did NOT know that they were having triplets! They expected twins! The doctors found out that there were three of us, the day before we were born! But we were; two boys and me (three eggs (natural) = three babies) In all our first baby pictures, you can see two babies with matching clothes, and a third with "last minute clothes":)

    PS: I don't know how you moms do it! I'd really like to have a baby, but every now and then I get the feeling that if I ever get pregnant, I'll end up having triplets! And that reeeaaally scares me! Enough to give my man a cold shoulder for a week or so....

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