Fear, helplessness, anger, frustration, rage, sadness, depression, acceptance-these are just some of the emotions that I have felt since I was told that my twin daughters were going to be delivered seventeen weeks early (and since they’ve been in the NICU).
Without some sort of understanding of how this started, one won’t be able to fully grasp what my updates mean.
Monday, July 26, 2010-3:45 pm—I had just walked into the house and Robin told me that she had been uncomfortable all day. We both laughed it off because, after all she was pregnant with twins, of course there would be some issues with comfort especially since she had just reached the end of the second tri-mester. But the discomfort wouldn’t stop or even slow so she called her doctor’s office for reassurance that these were normal issues. After speaking with the on call nurse she hung up the phone and told me that they would be calling back. Then the home phone rang and I noticed on the caller i.d. that the name matched that of the nurse that Robin had left the message for. She spoke with the nurse for a few seconds then picked up her cell phone. “Oh yeah, my phone was on silent,” she answered into the phone. A few seconds later Robin hung up the phone and told me that she had been told to go to the hospital.
We both thought that it was a precautionary measure because in our sue-happy society doctors can never be too careful. Nonetheless, we contacted the next door neighbors and told them we were heading out to the hospital then asked them to walk our dog. We casually then discussed which vehicle we would drive and decided on the Nissan. While en-route we continued to laugh about the situation and figured we would be there just for monitoring and be sent on our way, after all we had a doctor’s appointment just seven days prior and they told us that the pregnancy was going perfectly. It was 4:30 pm when we arrived at the hospital.
Fairfax Hospital is a big place with many roads and entrances outside and a labyrinth of hallways and elevators inside. Finally we found the right garage and entrance and parked. When we got inside we had to wait for the usual question and answer period with the receptionist and then were told to go up the blue elevator and turn left into Labor and Delivery triage. This was when things got kind of scary for me. Our nurse was less than cordial, probably because just like us she thought that there was no way that someone who was only twenty-three weeks pregnant should be there. But within a few minutes her demeanor changed and soon she told us that she had paged Robin’s doctor. Now I was getting worried. I mean, we were at a hospital with plenty of doctors and nurses, so why did she page our doctor?
About thirty minutes later Dr. Stas arrived wearing shorts and an airy shirt that was seasonal for the summer weather. She greeted us and then said that she would be running some tests. A few minutes later came the first bit of bad news-Robin was in pre-term labor and her cervix was dilated. We were whisked off to a labor and delivery room. A few minutes later Dr. Stas came into the room, her shorts and summer shirt replaced with operating scrubs. She explained to us that there are complications with delivering babies that are only twenty-three weeks of gestational age and that she was going to start medications to attempt to stall the labor and that hopefully we could buy a few more weeks, or at least days. The monitoring continued for a while and then the doctor came back in. This time she said that Robin would be admitted to the hospital and placed on bed rest. We hadn’t been prepared for all of this, so I, still thinking that we had time, decided that I would go home to pack things that we would need for the coming days. While on my way I made some phone calls to let people know. It was approximately 9pm.
Joaquin, a good friend whose wife is pregnant and due within 2 weeks, told me that he would meet me at the house so that he could help in any way possible and my next door neighbors said that they had prepared some food for me. As I turned onto our street my phone rang and by the ringtone I knew that it was Robin. “Hey, where are you?” I answered. “You need to come back,” she said. I asked if the babies were going to be delivered and she said they were. I ran from the car to the door and was greeted by my friends. I explained the situation and began to grab what I could. Joaquin, seeing that I was in a bad emotional state insisted on driving me back to the hospital. One missed exit and then back on track when the phone rang again. “Where are you?” Robin asked. I was hoping that she would tell me that they had gotten the labor under control–no such luck. We arrived and I got myself to the right spot. I was quickly put into an operating room gown and moved to a chair just outside of the room. I cried, uncontrollably.
“Are you worried about the c-section,” a passing nurse asked. I replied that it was not so much about that as the fact that my kids were going to be pre-mature. “You’re in the best place for that,” she said. Minutes later I was escorted into the operating room. As I walked in I saw my wife on a table with a host of people, presumably doctors, around her. In the corner to her right I saw two small bed looking contraptions that each had six people around them. This was really happening and it was going to happen then. Garbled, seemingly encrypted messages were passed between the staff and I started noticing Robin shaking. Someone shouted, “Baby A is out,” I then saw someone carrying her across the room to the small bed. “Does she have a name yet,” the woman asked. “Her name is Avery,” I replied. That was at 10:33 pm. Robin and I knew that at least one of the babies was a girl, we had seen her on the ultrasound and although we were also 90% certain that there were two girls we only knew one for sure. For the mystery baby, which we knew wouldn’t be a mystery for long, we had chosen the name Sienna for a girl and Jake for a boy. “Baby B is breech,” I heard someone say and then “Baby B is out.” Two minutes had passed since Avery was announced, it was 10:35 pm. Someone asked if there was a name, but didn’t specify the gender of the child so I just went with Sienna. And I watched her carried to the other bed. None of the Angels that were working on my babies shifted their glance away from the task so I shifted mine toward my wife. Although strong and brave in almost every other setting I have ever observed she seemed terrified, understandably so.
“We’re going to be okay,” I was trying to comfort her but hide my own fear, all the while knowing that the odds were stacked against us. One of the people working with Avery then asked me if I had brought a camera. That was a dumb question to me. Up until about two hours prior I thought I still had at least a couple of weeks and was hoping for a month or two to pack a camera. When I did get the news that it was happening I was in such a state of shock that I didn’t even consider grabbing a camera. “Does your phone have a camera, we could at least take a picture.” One of the people that appeared to be an Angel was obviously a cold, heartless (expletive) . Without thinking I handed my phone over and then went to Avery’s bed and was allowed to touch her head. One of the nurses told me to lean back so that Robin could see the babies as they were wheeled out, but she refused to look; she was too sad and afraid. I was then told to follow the nurses pushing the babies to the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit. Robin begged me not to go.
As we exited the operating room I saw Joaquin sitting in the same chair I had been sitting in just minutes prior and can only imagine that it was his intimidating physique and personality that bought him a ticket to that seat. He smiled, I sobbed.
I don’t remember much that was said as we walked to the NICU or how we got there from that point, nor do I even remember how I got back to the area outside of the operating room. I really just remember crying and begging God to wake me up. Somehow though, I did manage to make the appropriate phone calls and found my way back to where my friend was sitting. And I managed to get Robin’s friend, Sharon, up to where Joaquin was sitting and introduced them. I then managed to get Sharon to Robin’s bed in the recovery area. The whirlwind continued for a while and I managed to go tell everyone that had come to the hospital that we loved them and appreciated them coming but we needed them to go so that we could concentrate on what we had to do. Then I got a call from Sharon and she told me into what room we had been moved and that Robin needed me. I went to the room and kissed my wife. Nurses and doctors came and went and I was lost as to how to go see my babies-something that Robin and I both knew I needed to do.
“Sure, follow this hall through the double doors, turn left at the end then right, go through another set of doors then turn left, go down the elevator and as you come out the NICU will be straight ahead.” She was a good nurse but seemed to be lost on the fact that I was confused, lost, an emotional wreck, and without any kind of clue; I asked three more people along the way for directions. When I finally did arrive at the NICU the receptionist was busy speaking with someone else, but a maintenance worker had opened the door so I walked through, not knowing where to go but feeling something drawing me in. “Hey, get back here,” she said. “I’m sorry, the door was open,” I responded. “Next time, don’t walk through until you’re told to do so,” she demanded. My zombie-like state immediately turned to anger. It took me two days to appreciate that she was protecting the fragile souls inside that unit. She then ordered me back out and to wash my hands and then asked my last name. One phone call later and I was shown to Sienna’s bed.
For anyone who has never been in an Intensive Care Unit, which I had on multiple occasions, the experience can be nerve racking. But in a NICU it is multiplied because the patients are all babies, people with no possible means of self protection. I introduced myself to the first nurse I saw and asked where my baby was. I was shown back to Sienna’s bed and upon arrival was greeted by her caregiver, Valerie. I was there hardly five seconds when I lost control and began to cry. They comforted me as best they could then showed me to Avery’s room. Again, I cried. They were both beautiful, but fragile-perfect, yet abnormal. There was an almost sideshow aura about the beds in which they were encapsulated, with lights above them and various tubes protruding from their mouths, hands and feet. The rooms were also eerily dark except for the lights above my babies and the lights that shown from the monitors above most of the beds. Beeping noises coming from all angles, especially the angles above my babies caused my senses to go into overdrive. Then one of the nurses, seeming to sense my concern for the noises began trying to explain all of the sounds and lights, I broke down and cried. As I was walking away I noticed that the bed in which Avery had been imprisoned had more accoutrements than the beds of any of the other children and that Sienna’s was the same. Twenty-three weeks of gestational age is the youngest at which resuscitation attempts will be made. My kids were twenty-three weeks so they needed more help than the others.
I’m not sure how, but I found my way back to room 331 and spoke with Robin. She asked me about the situation and then asked me to say a prayer. She also told me that no matter what happened I needed to be perfectly honest with her about anything that I was told or observed.
Over the next few days I heard the terms, “rollercoaster” and “take it day to day,” so much that I felt like strangling people who said it. How could you compare this to a rollercoaster? How could you tell me to take things day to day? Those babies are my daughters. Rollercoasters are fun – this was not. “Day to day” is what you tell someone when they’re experiencing a slump at work. This was literally the lives of my children.
On this site you will find the gritty, honest, scary emotions and experiences of a father who is worried about the health and lives of his twin baby girls. You will find answers to questions about the experiences and updates about how Avery Rose and Sienna Grace are progressing. And, God willing, you will be told when they leave the hospital and their lives after discharge. I have made a promise to myself that I will stay focused on the positive, but I know that sharing the negatives will help those of you who are experiencing the same things or face the prospect of having to deliver premature babies, so I will share those as well. As I write this the girls have just passed the milestone of surviving five days outside of the womb. Hopefully in five months I will be writing on this blog that they have both been released from the hospital and that they are both healthy.