BENEFITING: March of Dimes Foundation
EVENT DATE: Nov 29, 2016
In August of 2008, Ben and I received the shock of a lifetime when we were told we’d be doubling the size of our family the following March. We were expecting twins! We couldn’t help but feel just as nervous as we were excited. And, unfortunately, we quickly came to realize those nerves were quite justified. It seemed almost immediately, we started making unexpected trips to the hospital. Dealing with complications from a placenta previa and, soon, preterm labor symptoms. At just 24 weeks, I had a feeling something was very wrong. Ben met me at our Dr.’s office and after being examined, we were told that, for no apparent reason, our baby girl was trying to deliver and we needed to head straight to the hospital. Neither of us knew, or could have imagined then, that we would spend every day for the next 218 days there at that hospital.
I was checked into the anti-natal unit, turned upside down in my bed and administered a steady stream of terbutaline and magnesium sulfate to slow down the productive contractions. The twins were given two doses of surfactant and we settled in for the long ride. Every day that passed was a victory. Every week, another battle won. We knew the longer we could keep them safe in my womb, the better chance they had to survive. We had gone from picking out nursery furniture to strategizing how best to keep our children alive. It was a stark reality. We had barely decided on their names, now we were facing the very real and likely possibility that, if they were to live, that life would be filled with longterm medical intervention, developmental delays and/or physical disabilities.
On December 10th, three weeks after being checked in to the hospital and three months before their due date, we discovered the twins were no longer safe and needed to be delivered. I had contracted an infection and “Baby A’s” placenta was starting to detach. We were rushed into prep for a c-section. The children were only at 26 weeks and 6 days gestation. Ben and I had a strange peace. A peace that surpasses understanding. We had faith that no matter what happened, we would accept it and love our way through it. We were also completely naïve. In fact, that naivete would only be revealed to us over the next 128 days as we would watch the stark contrast between our story and most of those around us unfold.
At 10:10pm, Gentry Jane, came into the world at 1 lb, 14oz and 11” long. We didn’t hear her cry. We didn’t get to hold her. We only saw a glimpse of what resembled a bright red, almost translucent, furry little creature as she was whisked away to the NICU. Just two minutes later, at 10:12pm, Benjamin “Kayson” joined us at a whopping 2 lbs, 3 oz and 13” long. He did cry. It was the sweetest and most pathetic sound I’d ever heard. While we should’ve been terrified and traumatized, the one feeling I remember the most was… joy. We had the same overwhelming joy that any parent has when their child is born. Yes, the circumstances were ominous and certainly unconventional but, the miracle of life was upon us still the same. We were determined to have a new parent experience as close to normal as possible. So, on the blinders went.
As we signed off on a spinal tap for Gentry to see if the infection that had spread through my blood, to her placenta, then into her bloodstream, had gone to her brain, we also went through the motions of introducing the kids to their grandparents. As I was vomiting in their sterile NICU room because I had become septic from the infection, we still videotaped the first time Ben got to “hold” Gentry. Yes, he was simply lifting her up as the nurse switched the blankets beneath her, but that was just a technicality in our minds. She was still in his hands for the first time. We wouldn’t actually get to hold her or Kayson for another 3-4 weeks. In fact, we were instructed to barely touch them and we soon realized why.
Where I always imagined my touch would sooth my child, it seemed to have the opposite effect. The stroke of my hand on their tiny bodies would almost immediately cause a drop in oxygen saturation and heart rate. Loud beeping would ensue and “bonding” time would be abruptly over. Sadness started to creep in and the realization of just how helpless we were was evident. Nonetheless, like every new parent, we began to familiarize ourselves with the procedures for diaper changes and bathtime. We insisted that we be present and administer every feeding. Even if that meant holding up a 5ml syringe with 3cc’s of parenteral nutrition in it as it dripped down a tube straight into Kayson’s stomach. Babies should be fed by their mother; and so they were. Some things were typical, many others were not. Terms like PDA, Brain Bleed, Head Ultrasound, Blood Gas, Hyperbilirubinemia, Brady, Tachycardia, BPD, Edema, PICC Line, Intubation, CPAP, Nasal Cannula, NEC, NG Tube, OG Tube, Osteopenia of Prematurity, Retinopathy of Prematurity, Pneumothorax, RDS, Sats, Sepsis, CMV, Thrombocytopenia, all became a standard part of our daily vocabulary. I would be jolted away from the storyline of my book by the beeping of monitors, to find that Gentry was again de-satting and turning blue. I would run to the door to flag down nurses, who were already racing towards me to quickly pump air into her lungs with a blue bag and bring her back to life. Then, we all went about our day. Pretty status quo. In fact, the reality was, we were making out extremely well. Before we knew it, we were throwing a 3lb party and trying out room air. And, outside of a laser surgery to repair erratic growth of blood vessels in Gentry’s eyes, neither baby required even a minor surgery. Our NICU experience had been a surprisingly pleasant one. It was filled with ups and downs, moments when we weren’t sure if one or both of our children would make it. But, we had made lifelong friends with some of the nurses and I even got to deliver a baby in the parking lot! True story.
Sadly though, we were no longer naïve. During our four month stay, we saw countless babies enter the NICU. Many of which did not leave. There were days I spent on my knees praying for other children far more than my own. Ours was panning out to be a success story, with a happy ending. We would soon take home both of our beautiful babies and watch them grow into thriving, healthy children. Keeping pace with all their peers in every aspect. In the back of our minds, however, we will always know that the way things turned out for our family isn’t always the case. And, it wasn’t by chance either.
This is the “why” behind our support for the March of Dimes. Gentry and Kayson are the light of our lives. The joy they have brought us as parents ignited a desire that would drive us to have three more children in the years to come. We now know that the family we have today would not have been possible without the March of Dimes. Their research is responsible for extending our pregnancy with the twins to the point of viability. It is responsible for the surfactant they received to mature and strengthen their lungs to the point that the ventilator could help them breath just after birth. The March of Dimes is responsible for the countless life-saving procedures and treatments they received in the NICU and after leaving the hospital in the early years of their life. And, most importantly, it has kept our family from ever having to experience the NICU again. By discovering and treating my recurrent preterm labor, we successfully carried our next three children to term. We did not have to bear again that moment that every NICU parent has endured; when you leave the hospital without your child. That gift is truly priceless and we are eternally grateful.