PROBLEM: Premature birth of twins
SOLUTION: Respirator support; antibiotic treatment for pneumonia
OUTCOME: Healthy and strong adults!
Madeline and Morgan are turning 20 soon. Like most kids, they like to hear about their childhood and have questions about their birth day itself. Unlike most kids, their entry into the world unique. I don’t have a journal from those days, but as with most moms, while some memories fade, others are clear and strong and very much a part of who I am.
Starting in the 26th week of my pregnancy, I had contractions that I assumed were Braxton Hicks contractions and didn’t think much of them. My work colleagues, not ready to help deliver a baby that day 😊, convinced me to go to the ER just to be sure… Turned out my colleagues’ instincts were right on! The fetal monitors in the ER showed I was having contractions every few minutes and was starting to dilate. I remember the ER nurse stepping back from the bed, putting her hands in front of her with her palms facing toward me and saying “I’m not going to touch you, you are in active labor. It is too early.” At that point, I was sent via ambulance to Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. Admitted to the hospital for the remainder of my pregnancy, the medical focus was to delay labor as long as possible.
The medical team prepared us for the many things that can go wrong with a premature birth, and believe me, the list is long. In a nutshell, we were prepared to accept that we may not get to bring both babies home and, if we do, chances are high that they may have lifelong complications. Happily, we were able to stop labor through September and into October. Every extra day mattered for our twins. At 26 weeks (our goal was 27 weeks!), Baby A’s (Madeline’s) water broke and it was time to deliver babies!
Madeline: With a team of NICU staff ready to grab Madeline after a vaginal delivery, she was quickly cleaned and bagged, weighing in at 1.12 ounces and 13.5 inches long. Madeline was immediately transferred to the NICU.
Morgan: Thirty minutes later, Baby Morgan arrived into the world via c-section! Mercifully, all was well as the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck and she would never have made it through the birth canal. Bigger than her sister, Morgan weighed in at 2 pounds 2 ounces and 13 ¼ inches long.
I was cleared to leave the recovery room and was rolled, still in a bed, to the NICU. The girls looked different from when I first saw them and were both hooked up to more machines than I remembered from the delivery room. The tube that was placed in their mouths in the delivery room was now hooked up to ventilators. There were cords and wires everywhere to attach the monitors recording their temperature, their breathing, their heartbeats and their oxygen levels. They had IV’s in their bellybuttons and they looked like they were swimming in little preemie diapers they had on. Another thing I noticed were unique preemie characteristics. For example:
Their skin color was more red than tan
There was a fine layer of blond hair covering their entire body
When the ventilator breathed for them, their abdomens would suck in rather than puff out
To my eye, they were impossibly small
The next 72 hours were critical. I was wheeled back to my room while the medical team went in to action to take care of our girls.
I debated sharing this last part but this, too, is a part of my story as a mother and I want to keep it as honest as I can. Later that night, the nurses asked me if I want to go see the girls but I declined. It’s not that I didn’t want to see the girls but I felt that my girls no longer needed me. My husband and nurses overrode my reaction and wheeled me into the NICU. Once I was there, I realized my babies needed me and that I was a critical part of their growth and development. However, I need other preemie moms to know that you aren’t the only ones to have this reaction.
We spent a lot of time in the NICU. Aaron pushed me in my wheelchair me through the tunnel from my hospital to their hospital. There is an area in the tunnel that is a little downhill and Aaron thought it was a lot of fun to give me an extra push there and then let go. I didn’t find this nearly as amusing as he did. The NICU is an amazing place and there are just as many multiples as there are single babies here, all experiencing this unique journey. To this day, I have never experienced a place quite like it. In our room, our girls were side by side but in separate isolettes.
Other NICU experiences that I didn’t expect:
Initially, our contact with the girls was limited. We were only allowed to simply place our hands on their heads, torso, back or cradle their feet. At this gestational age, their nervous systems were too “raw” and any contact beyond simple touching would be too much for them to handle.
My milk hadn’t come in yet and I was put on medication to help. Not only did the medication stimulate milk production, but other body fluids too. I remember talking and having saliva drip out of the corners of my mouth. I guess there are worse side effects.
Changing diapers. Sounds simple, right? It was tricky with all the wires and tubes. We needed to keep the isolette clean during the process. It was also extremely important to record every single diaper. We need to weigh the diaper and write it down so the nurse can monitor everything that goes in and out of them. If it was a dirty diaper, we needed to show them to the nurse before throwing them away. Changing diapers is something so many people do not like to do but for us it was a way to feel like we could actually do something for our girls. Silly as it seems, this itself was a big milestone for us.
Finally, I was released from the hospital. It was extremely hard to leave my babies behind. The nurses are all so amazing and they reassured us that the girls would be safe. I knew they were in the best hands but leaving them was like leaving a piece of myself behind. It physically hurt my heart to walk out of that hospital.
Progress - Several steps forward and one or two back:
After we left the hospital, the doctors decide to remove both girl’s ventilators. Madeline did very well with this and never needed to go back on it. Morgan ended up having it placed back in again after a few days.
They lost weight, as all new born babies do. At their smallest, Madeline was 1 pound 7 ½ ounces and Morgan was 1 pound 11 ounces. Madeline got back to her birth weight when she was 12 days old; Morgan hit that milestone at 16 days.
Another setback occurred when Morgan contracted pneumonia at 11 days old. The NICU staff explained what this could mean for her and they did not sugarcoat anything. Despite how serious pneumonia is for a preemie, they were extremely supportive and hopeful for positive outcomes.
Sweet baby Morgan also needed an emergency tracheotomy, due to the scarring in her trachea that ultimately closed her airway. The experience was terrifying for Aaron and me but mercifully she came through the surgery like the champion she is!
Our interaction with the girls was still limited, but the nurses did everything they could to help us bond with M&M. Aaron could give Madeline “a bath” by taking a damp washcloth and wiping it over her head/hair. He didn’t get to come visit the girls as often as I did as he needed to be at work, so when he was with us in the NICU, he did as much as he could for the girls. They were small and looked even tinier in his hands. Seeing his big, strong hands be so gentle with our babies made me love him more than I ever thought possible.
We were encouraged to touch the girls (still just the holds, no stroking), even to put one hand under the blanket to cradle them from underneath while the other hand rested on their torso. One nurse even opened up the sidewall of isolette to allow us a quick little kiss to the top of Madeline’s head. As Morgan was not as stable as Madeline, we could do even less with her at that point.
Eventually, the girls got bigger and stronger. My memories from 20 years ago are still so vivid and I’ll never forget those days in the NICU. Having multiples is a constant balancing act of celebrating one and consoling the other during life’s coinciding successes and failures. Watching and celebrating all the milestones has given us so much joy.
Twins Madeline and Morgan - Full Speed Ahead!
One last thing that I’ll never forget was the song my husband would sing to our daughters as a lullaby when he would hold them, doing Kangaroo Care. To this day, when I hear this song, it brings tears to my eyes, remembering those NICU days and our precious baby girls:
“I could stay awake, just to hear you breathing. Watch you smile while you are sleeping, while you are far away and dreaming. I could spend my life, in this sweet surrender. I could stay lost in this moment forever. Every moment spent with you, is a moment I treasure.” Aerosmith, 1998
Thank you, Steven Tyler and Aerosmith. As difficult as those days often were, we’re so glad we didn’t miss a thing.