There are certain parenting moments that are universal. Moments that are so defining that they are imagined many times, and have high expectations attached to them. One of those moments is the birth of a child. But no matter how many times I might have thought about the day my twins would be born, I never would have imagined it would turn out the way it did. As I was wheeled down the hall to the NICU to meet my tiny babies for the first time after 8 days of hospital bed rest and an emergency c-section, it was all so surreal. I didn’t feel the rush of joy I had always imagined. I felt completely hollowed out. I felt emptiness from all the years of infertility. I felt guilty that their delivery at 28 weeks was perhaps my fault. I felt fear that my babies might not survive.
I didn’t feel the rush of joy I had always imagined. I felt completely hollowed out. I felt emptiness from all the years of infertility. I felt guilty that their delivery at 28 weeks was perhaps my fault. I felt fear that my babies might not survive.
I was unprepared to deal with life in the NICU. I had never seen a premature baby or toured a NICU before. However, over the next 2 months, I would certainly get to know this wing of the hospital quite well. Several days after my twins’ early birth, I was discharged. They were not. Leaving them in the hospital was excruciating, but I took comfort in the fact that they had each other. I developed an all-day, everyday NICU routine that would become my normal. Pump, rush to the hospital, wash hands, kangaroo, pump, check temperatures, stare at monitors, read, ask questions, pump, worry, ask more questions, try not to Google 28 week old preemie, worry, pump, change diapers, call friends and tell them I was pregnant with twins that were already born 12 weeks early, then pump again.
Time is rarely linear in the NICU, as just when you think the end is near, an issue arises that puts you right back where you started.
Like so many NICU stays, ours was not without moments of bliss and despair. I believe the NICU holds these two disparate emotions closer than any other space in the hospital. We dealt with many of the common health problems associated with prematurity; jaundice, apnea, PDA, and infections. Time is rarely linear in the NICU, as just when you think the end is near, an issue arises that puts you right back where you started. One day a nurse was asking me if I wanted to hold both of my tiny babies. A lovely reunion for two babies that missed snuggling each other. It was no easy feat to get two preemies comfortable on my chest with all of their leads and wires. A team of nurses placed one baby and then the next, situating them just so under a layer of blankets. And then, one twin’s tiny twig of an arm reached out in a healing hug, and they embraced each other. The monitors were quiet as we all snuggled together. And a short time later, I was listening to my baby cry from another room as the doctors searched for the cause of an infection. Both days will be etched in my mind forever.
After 55 days in the NICU, one of my twins was ready to be released. I wasn’t prepared, in fact, it felt somewhat sudden. I had been waiting to finally get to this point, where all the milestones had been reached, all the tests had been passed. But it was bittersweet to leave one baby behind. Although it doesn’t make much logical sense, I always felt a little better leaving, knowing my babies were not alone in the NICU. The next ten days were the hardest part of the whole NICU experience. I literally felt torn in two pieces. At nearly 2 months in, I had an excellent NICU routine in place. It was something familiar and well-practiced. But this was different. I didn’t want to leave one baby to go back to the hospital, but I couldn’t stay away from the baby still fighting in the NICU. Finding a balance was impossible, which led me to feel so guilty. But finally, the day came, when everyone was home.
I know now that the NICU is just the beginning of so many brilliant and hard things. And that the grit and tenacity that we created in the NICU is the foundation for the journey we have all only just begun.
Now that I am several years out of the NICU experience, I have learned a lot about savoring the little moments of life even when they don’t go as planned. I know now that the NICU is just the beginning of so many brilliant and hard things. And that the grit and tenacity that we created in the NICU is the foundation for the journey we have all only just begun.
Ali Dunn is the founder of Me Two Books and the author of four children’s books: I Was a Preemie Just Like You, I Needed the NICU Just Like You, One of Two, a Twin Story about Individuality, and The Career Explorer: An Introduction to Career Development and STEAM Careers. She is also the creator of an e-course for parents about Career Exploration. Ali is the chief mom officer of identical twins born at 28 weeks via emergency c-section. You can learn more about her books at metwobooks.com and connect with her on her blog
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