Monday, November 18, 2013

A Tale of Three Tiny Babes

Sunday was World Prematurity Day. Does that even cause a blip on your radar? Honestly, as few as 17 years ago, it would not have registered on mine.

But then. Oh but then.

Wade and I learned we were expecting triplets on Nov. 27, 1996. There were so many emotions that day. I was in the midst of grad school and taking a Developmental Psychology class at the time. My predominant thought that day was how in the world I would nurture them all, give them all the emotional support they needed, and make them each feel secure in our attachment! (Sounds very grad school-esque, no?)

Wade was a second year medical student and so his thoughts were in a completely different place. He knew the challenges of carrying three babies to term. He knew the possibility of premature birth and the ramifications.

I was blissfully unaware.

I immediately signed up for a Triplet Connection group. They sent out a box of information. I wanted to see the beautiful pictures of precious babies born in triplicate. But the box also contained some of the scariest information I ever received. The information about recognizing pre-term labor, how to respond and how to prevent. This literature included pictures too -- pictures of the tiniest of infants looking for all the world like little featherless birds.

I was cocky in the way that only a first-time mother can be cocky. I would listen to the doctors. I would read every bit of information I could get my hands on and I would carry these babies to a safe delivery date. Oh, I understood they would be early, but late May would mean they were born near my Dad's birthday. That would be cool. That became my target.

Right up until I was sitting in a board meeting at 19 weeks pregnant and felt my first contraction. I tried to focus on the meeting. I tried to pay attention. But within minutes I felt another. I excused myself. (Or maybe I just got up and left. I can't remember.) I went to my office and called my doctor. 

"Get horizontal and drink a gallon of water. RIGHT NOW!"

I lived 30 minutes from work. I filled my water jug and headed out the door. I had no idea that I would not be allowed to return to that office for the duration of my pregnancy.

I ended up in the emergency room that night. The contractions would not stop. A giant dose of meds calmed everything down and we were sent home.

Two days later, we would be right back. This time they kept me.

Doctors in training, the residents, were the first line of doctors I saw. They made all manner of encouraging statements: "These babies aren't viable." "You probably won't be a mother this time."

And then my doctor showed up and kicked them all out.

"Focus on tomorrow," he said. "Just be pregnant when I get here tomorrow."

I briefly went home after that initial week-long stay but only briefly. On my next exam, I was dilating. I was 100 percent effaced. And even though I was only 22 weeks pregnant, my body thought it was time to deliver these babies. I wouldn't stand or even sit up straight until they were delivered.

Ya'll, the Labor and Delivery floor is supposed to be joy-filled. Unless you are there for weeks on end. Unless your contractions never stabilize enough in pre-term labor to be moved off the L&D floor. Then, well, then it is pure torture.

I listened to women giving birth day in and day out for weeks. My dear L&D nurses were often so busy they forgot to bring me meals (Most women on L&D don't eat....I needed enough calories for 3 growing babies!). And through it all, I prayed, I cried, I whined. 

Wade contemplated taking a year off so he could be with me in the room. But a year off meant another year of training. I talked him out of it. 

My doctor forbid medical students or residents to round on me. They were too close to Wade, he said. He didn't want them to have information before Wade did.

My sweetest nurse brought flowers to cheer up my room. Another found a VCR and I watched "Sound of Music" round the clock. My singing drowned out the sounds of labor echoing up and down those halls. Wade's friends brought milk shakes to up my caloric intake.

We had mentally marked the day we would reach the 28 week mark. The University of Chicago had a near 100 percent survival rate for premature babies born at 28 weeks. That was my target.

We celebrated that Monday morning. I was miraculously still pregnant after almost 10 weeks of labor.

And then, in the wee hours of the night, I felt a sensation that I could only assume was my water breaking. I simultaneously hit the nurses' button and called Wade. The nurse walked in and turned and walked out. She returned with the on-call Fellows and word that the doctor was on the way. I couldn't see beyond my belly and so had no idea what was causing the horrified looks on everyone's faces until Wade walked in. I was hemorrhaging. What I assumed was water was in fact blood and it was not stopping. Everyone moved in high gear believing the babies would have to be delivered.

My doctor had left town earlier that day for his mother's funeral. His partner walked in and shook her head, "No." She said, "I promised Dr. Moawad that you would still be pregnant when he returned. We are not delivering these babies."

She aggressively treated the labor, and when the contractions stopped, so did my hemorrhaging. We thought we had bought us more time.

And we did. But only four days. On Friday, it all started again. This time I had lost so much blood that it was unsafe to wait any further. The rush of events once the decision was made was insane.

A nurse was running up and down the halls alerting everyone to the fact that "The triplets are coming."

My L&D nurses filed into the operating room to kiss my cheek and express their prayers for my babies.  There was a doctor, fellow, and nurse for each baby. Plus the anesthesiologist, my doctors and nurses and Wade. That room was packed.

Benjamin was delivered first and though he cried to say hello, his team whisked him away so fast I didn't even get to see him. Mason was next, followed my little Claire a few minutes later.

Before I knew what had happened I was in recovery and urging Wade to go, go, go to the NICU and see our babies. A wonderful nurse handed him a Polaroid camera and told him to bring me pictures. I treasure those photos -- my first glimpse at the beauty of my trio.

Premature birth is a hard road. And if I thought 10 weeks of labor was a challenge, the next few weeks made those look like a walk in the park. The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the University of Chicago had many many tiny little babies. I wouldn't get to go there for 24 hours. But then they would have to kick me out every day.

The nurses were God's gift to us. They taught me how to Kangaroo with my tiny little babies. I would strip them to their diaper and button them up in my shirt, skin-to-skin. It was here that they would breath the easiest, maintain their temperature the best and teach me that I was their mommy.

Benjamin, Mason squished in the middle, and Claire in the pink bow!

When Claire was having struggles, her amazing nurse Laura comforted me. "Let's give her a spa day, " she said. We got out the bowl that we bathed her in (yes, a bowl!) and Laura put in one of the oxygen tubes to add bubbles. Sweet little Claire had her own jacuzzi! She didn't care, but Laura's actions had just made a sweet memory for me, and given me a dream of spa dates with my first little girl. I was comforted.

Those precious nurses made me cards for Mother's Day -- my very first -- with little tiny hand and foot prints. They encouraged us to bring photos for the isolettes and notes to hang. They held my hand during first baths (more bowls!) and the first time I could actually put clothes on them (preemie sizes swallowed them whole!).

I didn't know anything about premature babies, but these nurses taught me. They gently educated me on caring for my crew and graciously reminded me that I was the Mommy -- a hard thing to believe when so many trained-professionals are caring for your tiny little babes.

And so on World Prematurity Day (or this day after) -- I want to make you aware: I want you to understand that research must continue on how to prevent women from going into early labor. I want you to understand that the level of care my trio and I received is not available world-wide, we need to work to spread it everywhere!

And I want to thank those precious women who carried me through the season of my own labor and the trio's time in the NICU. It is one thing to do your job, but quite another to add love, friendship and understanding into the mix. Oh what a blessing those women were -- and continue to be in our lives!!

We thought it was appropriate to wear University of Chicago t-shirts for this photo!