On our walk to our car while we were leaving last night, Rob and I discussed how much more difficult it is to have three babies having rough NICU moments (or hours, as yesterday was) than to just have one.
Up until yesterday, each baby has had his or her cycles in which he or she keeps the nurse (and Mommy and Daddy) on her toes. Oxygen levels drop, breathing stops, heartrates drop – it’s all normal premature-baby behavior. Preemies aren’t supposed to be breathing on their own yet, so they often don’t realize they can’t just stop for a break if they’re tired or too comfy or whatnot. It’s normal, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
When it’s just one baby, though, as it has been pretty regularly as they switch turns between who’s called the trouble maker for the shift, it’s easy to hang out at their isolette, keep a hand on their head, let them know you’re there, soothe them, tell them to breathe deeply and occasionally pat their little butts if they need a reminder that it’s time to breathe.
Last night, all three babies had a few rough hours. One would drop, then the next, then the next. One would have a bad apnea episode, then the next. This all happens to the sights and sounds of dinging alarms and flashing lights. Rob and I hopped between isolettes, the nurses played musical babies (along with their other duties like keeping up with assessments, feeds, etc.), and when a break finally hit in the chaos, I quietly fell to pieces in the corner as I prepared my latest pumped milk for the freezer.
Minutes later, they were at it again.
Add to our own personal chaos the noises in the rest of the NICU – other babies’ monitors going off, other babies crying, other families snapping happy photos using their flash – and it’s the perfect recipe for Mama Tears.
It’s no lie when NICU veterans call the experience a rollercoaster no one will let you off of.
It isn’t my idea of a fun rollercoaster, though. Many readers may remember the rollercoaster we experienced at the beginning of my pregnancy with our sweet trio. I called that time the rollercoaster of my life. Not so much anymore. Cedar Point, I still think we should talk.
I know many of you are getting ready to comment that parenthood itself is one big rollercoaster and the range of emotions I’m feeling is akin to that of all parents, whether their babies are in the NICU or not. You can halt those comments, though, because I KNOW THAT. Those comments will only make me feel worse for having bad days and reacting in any way other than calm and cool.
Like I said, normal doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Earlier this week, I tried to write about the babies’ birthday. Before I could even touch pen to paper, I realized I wasn’t sitting down to write about the happiest day of my life, and that made me feel awful. I should be happy about that day, right?
After talking with Rob and other preemie parents, I feel better knowing that it’s entirely normal to call the day of a premature birth the scariest day of one’s life. For me, it’s the second scariest, as the first was the day I was admitted for preterm labor when I was only 25 weeks pregnant.
So instead of writing a sweet story of love and hearts and happy feelings, I’m going to get down the (sometimes graphic) details and hope that one day I can return and fill it with happy thoughts.
I had taken three 6-hour doses of terbutaline over the last 17 hours and was due for another dose in 90 minutes when I woke up at 5 a.m. on Nov. 22. I had to pee, so I decided to heave myself up and return to bed for a little more sleep before dosing again. I had an appointment at 10:30 with our perinatologist group and hadn’t felt any more contractions, so I was just dosing and waiting.
As soon as I stood up, I felt a huge gush of warmth. Thinking I had finally peed myself, I hurried for the bathroom with my hands cupped over my crotch, hoping to not leave a huge trail of pee that I’d have to wake Rob to help clean. The gushing happened again, and I knew – before I could hit the light – that this wasn’t urine.
I turned my bathroom into a crime scene as I yelled for Rob to wake up, told him I was bleeding and that we needed to go to the hospital NOW. He was in the bathroom in a flash, and as I sat on the toilet and tried my hardest to hold back the tears and shaking, Rob rushed around to find me something clean (for a minute, at least) to wear while getting dressed and cleaning the floor so I wouldn’t slip.
Finally, after several attempts to stand without losing more fluid, I gave up, and we made our way out the door.
We’re fortunate to live close to the hospital, and we were even more fortunate that this happened at 5 a.m. Rob was able to race us to the hospital at speeds well over the limit, and we got there without anyone getting in our way – including ticket-writing police officers.
I spent the ride reclined in the backseat of our new tripletmoblie, and tried calling the hospital to let them know we were coming. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any phone numbers with me, so I tried Verizon’s 411 service.
Well, guess who needs to update their phone numbers? VERIZON. Two attempts later, I realized they never updated the new exchanges the hospital system changed to in the last year.
(Someone remind me to call and complain about that. I’ve been meaning to, but you know.)
So instead of giving a few minutes’ heads up, we did a movie-scene reenactment with Rob pulling up to the front door, running in to announce his bleeding, contracting (I started to notice those on the ride to the hospital) 28-weeks-pregnant-with-triplets wife.
And, like something in the movies, I swear the front-desk lady moseyed her way to a wheelchair and out to get me, taking her sweet time.
Finally, we got back into triage, and more moseying took place. One hour, one speculum exam and a few swab swipes later, the laborist on duty in triage announced that my membranes most likely ruptured and that he’d send the swab to the lab. We’d get definitely results in 45 minutes. The triage nurse assured me I wasn’t having “real” contractions – just an irritable uterus – but instead of waiting those 45 minutes, Rob insisted that someone tell our doctor, who just so happened to be down the hall that night.
Five minutes later, a second nurse came in while on the phone with our doctor, confirmed to her that I was having regular contractions (to which the triage nurse agreed – thanks for lying) and told me I was being admitted and prepped for a c-section in the next hour or two.
Rob called our parents and told them to come up, that the babies would be here soon.
From then, I think all that happened was fairly typical c-section preparation. The anesthesiologist came in to talk with me and explain a spinal block. Nurses weaved in and out of my room (which I had spent two nights in three weeks prior – it’s the only L&D room with a triplet monitor), and we heard about the huge team that was being assembled.
Originally set for 8:30 a.m., my surgery was pushed back to 9 to allow a second neonatologist to arrive. Finally, they came to take me into surgery, and Rob told me he’d see me soon.
People lined the hall outside my OR, and I was pretty shocked to see how stark and bright it was. I climbed up on my bed, which I remember thinking looked a lot different from the movies, and got into position for my spinal. Soon, my legs were warm and heavy, and they got me into position.
I’ve never felt more exposed and vulnerable in my life. A tiny portion of my brain told me I should be embarrassed, and another portion noted that I must look like a beached whale of a crucifix impersonator (my arms were spread eagle, but I got to skip being strapped down).
The curtain went up, more voices filled the room, and they sent someone to get Rob. He had already been in the next room (we technically had two ORs – three isolettes wouldn’t fit in just one), so he was to me just seconds after the request.
Moments later, they said they were starting, and moments after that, someone announced that the first out was our only boy.
I laughed. Rob cheered. The doctors laughed. He had hoped all along that Toby would be born first so he would always know his role as big brother was to protect his sisters.
Then I heard him cry, and the tears of relief started. Our Baby A came out easy-breeze next, then Baby C – Ninja Baby – decided she wanted to hang on for dear life. I felt pressure from the outside just below my breast and a lot of pulling from the inside. Rob and my doctor tell me she had to go elbow deep to pull Callista out, but finally, they announced her birth.
I didn’t hear her cry for a few moments, then, from her corner of the room, I heard it.
Three crying babies. Three living babies. Thank God.
Sewing me back together seemed to take forever, but I got reassurance after reassurance that everything looked absolutely perfect on my end. I wasn’t hemorrhaging (another of my biggest delivery fears), and my uterus was in perfect condition.
Rob was able to get a few photos of the babies to show me before they were whisked off to the NICU for stabilization and assessment, and when I was put back together, I was sent back to L&D for my one-hour recovery.
The doctors had to make a vertical incision in my uterus, and let me tell you how much that incision hurts to have the belly-mashing they need to do post-c-section to check for bleeding. Rob swears it looked like the nurse’s arm went straight to my spine during that first critical hour of recovery. I can assure you it did.
She’s lucky I was preoccupied with thoughts of my babies. Otherwise, she would have gotten punched.
Finally, around noon, we were able to leave L&D for my room in mother-baby. On the way, we finally got to visit the NICU, and I finally laid eyes and a hand on my babies.
Each baby gripped my finger, and each looked beautiful. One nurse told Rob and I to pose and smile next to Toby’s isolette, and I remember thinking it was so very difficult to smile when all I could do was pray that they would live.
Amazingly, the picture came out well. I wish we had one with all three babies.
The rest of the day was spent from update to update, just waiting to hear more good news on each baby. Once I started pumping that afternoon, Rob took down each small bottle and returned with news. Finally, around 11 that night, when I was free of catheter and IV, I made it back down to the NICU to again see my babies.
A long, exhausting day – for body, mind and soul.
I’m not sure I had any real moments of true happiness that day, but the memory of several moments of sweet relief are going to have to be enough for now. I’m hopeful that those and each day that pass will tilt the scales on the day, from terrifying to happy.