Our introduction to prematurity:
At 25 weeks pregnant I began experiencing regular contractions less than 15 minutes apart. I was told told by my doctor to go to the hospital and have things checked out. The nurses discovered I had dilated a couple centimeters but had not begun effacing. They were hopeful that while this was cause for what I had been told was the inevitable prescription for bed rest, it would not mean I was in imminent danger of delivering. The doctor ordered a fetal fibronectin test to be sure. This is a test that indicates whether you body has begun releasing a specific hormone that helps the body get ready for labor. It's presence indicates that the woman will deliver within 7 days.
The test was ordered and I was sitting tight hooked up to monitors that, over the next 8 weeks, would become both a source of great comfort and annoyance for me. There were 3 monitors, round disks strapped to my giant belly each picking up something different: one for each of the babies' heartbeat and one monitoring the strength and frequency of my contractions. The babies heart rates, the nurse assured me, were both good. My contractions, on the other hand, were not. Then the fetal fibronectin test came back positive. "How far along are you?" one of the nurses asked me for clarification. "25 weeks" I managed to squeak out. She nodded and tried to hide her panic. Moments later the OB on call was in my room explaining that while the fetal fibronectin test can be a false positive, the facts were not pointing her in that direction. I was having regular contractions, carrying twins, I had begun to dilate, and I was 8500 feet above sea level which my pregnant body might not be handling all that well. "We are going to do everything we can to keep you from having these babies this early" she said to me as I tried hard to will away my tears. I looked at Aaron and I could tell he was trying as hard as I was to be calm and brave for each other and our children. But we were both totally terrified.
The next couple of days were a blur. It's a cliche, I know, but it's really true. Magnesium Sulfate is a mean hateful drug that blurs the lines between real life and what I can best describe as a drug induced semi-reality. I was immediately started on a massive IV drip of the gross stuff and quickly I began to feel like my skin was radiating enough heat to warm the entire hospital. My eyes burned and my vision got blurry. I begged the nurses to lower the air conditioning (it was January in Colorado, keep in mind) and please please let me have just one glass of water. No water, just ice chips. You see, magnesium sulfate can do a serious number on the kidneys and I was on a whopping steady dose of the poison. And it was probably better that I drank no water cause I was so sick to my stomach that any quick movements would start my stomach wrenching. There were constant heartbeat and contraction monitors beeping and nurses monitoring my input and output (I refused to have a catheter but wasn't allowed to get up to pee, so you can imagine the ridiculousness that ensued. Picture a half crazed, burning up and extremely nausous pregnant woman hoisting herself onto her knees to use a bed pan every 3 hours. Not fun for anyone involved). It's hard to believe that a drug that could make me feel so completely miserable would benefit my babies, but benefit them it did. Eventually the contractions slowed, the dosage was lowered, and I began to re-enter the world of the living.
At the end of those initial two days the NICU doctor came in to speak with us. It's one of the conversations that will stick with me the rest of my life. He came to lay out for us what we could "reasonably expect" out of our current situation. If the babies are born now... keep in mind, at this point my contractions were barely under control with the help of a lot of "mag," as those in the prenatal wing call it... if they were born now they have a 50 % survival rate. Imagine that for a second, will you. Either you are a mother who is trying with all your might to get your body to obey your will and stop laboring, or you're a father who is stressed out and hasn't slept and is worried sick not only about your 2 babies but about your wife who has basically been lying in a bed moaning for 2 days. And the expert premature baby doctor looks you right in the face and tells you your babies have a 50 % chance of dying. And then before that can even really sink in he goes on... before they make it to 28 weeks gestation they are at great risk for multiple birth defects including but not limited to blindness, deafness, and cerebral palsy. If they are born between 28 and 32 weeks gestation they are at great risk for having 1 of these birth defects. The doctor talked for maybe 20 minutes and then the lactation nurse came in to talk to me about pumping breast milk and feeding preemies. They were getting us ready to be new parents to what would have been tiny (under 3 pounds) babies born 15 weeks too soon. Aaron and I sat there, stunned.
Thank God, thank the doctors, thank the nurses, and thank the drugs that this didn't end up to be the case. My labor eventually stopped and we all held on for another 8 weeks before Lola and Jackson were born. And I am so thankful.
For the friends and family who saw us through to Lola and Jackson's premature birth, thank you. Thank you for the phone calls and visits. For the food and magazines and coloring books and DVDs and the baby showers I couldn't attend and the baby cloths we eventually grew in to and the help with moving and most of all for the thoughts and prayers. Thank you.
For the doctors and nurses who helped me stay pregnant for 8 long weeks of Brethene Pumps, Procardia Pills, Magnesium Sulfate IV drips, home and hospital bed rest, endless demands for milk and mylanta, protests about lying flat, lying on my side, automatic leg compressors, catheters and bed pans and those awful high calorie "milk shakes." Thank you all for everything you did to help me give birth to 2 healthy babies.
Thank you to everyone in the NICU for taking care of my precious babies for 3 weeks while I sat at the side of their isolettes watching them breathe, listening to the alarms on the monitors and constantly looking for reassurance. Thank you for explaining yourselves over and over again while I struggled through fear and worry trying to understand the facts of our situation. Thank you for you compassion.
And thank you to the March of Dimes and everyone who donates their money and contributes their time to that organization. Thank you to the many other organizations who sponsor prematurity research that save lives. Because of them my children not only survived my premature labor and preeclampsia but they thrived despite it. Today they are happy healthy 20 month olds and I am so very thankful for everyone who helped us get here.
On this National Prematurity Awareness Day please remember those you may know whose lives have been affected by prematurity. Please remember that not everyone is as fortunate as we have been. Many families have spent months, not weeks, in the NICU. And other families have left the hospital with no baby at all. And if you're so inclined, please visit the March of Dimes website and learn a little more about what is being done to help women struggling to stay pregnant for as long as they possibly can.
Me and our 2 preemies a few days after they were born:
And Pops with our former preemies working in the garden: