Twinfant Tuesday: Multiple Infants with Multiple Needs

Getting ready for a day of appointments.

The topic of Twinfant Tuesday came up and I wondered to myself and to Sadia, did I have a good experience during the infancy stage and do I have something to contribute? At first thought, I had serious doubts. My memories recall close to four months in a NICU, living away from home, the discharge and then the madness of appointments that awaited us, all the while working hard to balance the needs of my older child. My husband was at work Monday to Friday, working very long days due to unfortunate timing and he and I together were trying to figure out how to navigate as parents of 3, two and under, with particularly special needs.

We made it to some special events.

During the infant stage I was busy running my twin boys to appointments in town and out of town, navigating the hospital parking lots, calculating the best and quickest routes to my destinations, and breastfeeding in empty seminar rooms and in the back row of my minivan. I did whatever it took to keep these little infants well. It felt exhausting and unrelenting. These memories are my initial thoughts when I think about their infancy.

But when I think about these things and the other things that are too many to mention which made up the early week s and months of my twins’ first year, I realize that we had somewhat of a unique experience. An amazing experience actually. The healthcare they required and the follow ups that came with it enabled me to get to know these babies cues, health needs and personalities in a way I can’t explain. It’s as though I developed a sixth sense of proactivity when it came to their unspoken needs. That’s what I’m going to call it. I learned that really and truly, I was their expert. They couldn’t articulate their needs, but I knew how to sense them and articulate for them. I knew them best. Doctors knew about healthcare and the typical needs of babies like them, but I came to realize I know them best and if I had a gut feeling about something it was going to be accurate. Don’t get me wrong; I do appreciate every single thing our doctors and specialists have done for us along the way, but I recognize that we worked as a team and I really was my babies’ voice.

Putting some occupational therapy concepts to work.

So when I look back on my twins’ infant stage, I realize that it really was enjoyable. I did many things with them every day, maybe in atypical ways, but I breastfed them like I wanted to and made some fun and unique memories with them along the way. I look forward to sharing their stories with them one day.

On the road again.

Allow Myself to Introduce … Myself

Like many of you, I have developed an arsenal of responses to, “wow, you have your hands full!” and “do twins run in your family?”. I, too, was once guilty of saying such things, in my life pre-twins, (which seems so long ago). Now, I am guilty of noticing a twin mom across the supermarket, the parking lot or the playground and excitedly making my way over to her (as naturally as possible) and striking up a conversation. There’s a really special camaraderie amongst twin moms, isn’t there? We’ve been in trenches other mamas just don’t understand. (No, not even if your kids are 13 months apart and “pretty much twins.”)

So when I discovered this resource through another blogger twin mama friend (Hi Sarabeth!), I excitedly steeped a cup of tea, put the girls down for their nap, and settled in to sip chai and pour through these archives. I laughed, I nodded my head in agreement, and found some shared experiences summarized eloquently in words I hand’t thought to use myself.

A friend of mine from journalism school recently delivered twins, and we’ve been messaging back and forth. She said something that struck me: twin moms are really special people, a class unto our own. We are helpful, nurturing, laid-back, and understanding of exactly what to say or what gesture to offer another twin mom in a moment of need. We know. We get it.

In that spirit of celebration and of admiring what exactly sets us apart from other people’s parenting experiences, I was happy to join in the conversation. So, hi! I’m Sarah!

xmas2I have four young girls, two of whom are identical twins. They were born after some infertility and loss heartbreak, so they are know as our miracle babies. They were born early, but since our hospital didn’t have a NICU, we helped keep them warm, fed and happy as best we could, since they weren’t born with any difficulties other than being teensy (3 lb 12 oz and 4 lb 4 oz!). That’s pretty much what we’ve tried to keep up with: keeping them warm, fed and happy! Anything else is just icing on the cake, and way above my aspiration level, most days.

rain1We are currently working on toilet training, going to sleep at a reasonable hour in their shared bedroom, and staying at the side of the road when we go for walks in our neighbourhood. Baby steps!

 

Sarah is the mother to four girls, two of whom are identical twins Hailey and Robin. They were born in the Yukon in a very small hospital at 35 weeks, and though they were small, they were mighty. She now lives in Ontario, where her high school sweetheart husband works very hard, and she stays home with the girls, freelance reporting on the side. In her past life, she was a journalist who covered everything from fast-paced federal politics to cats stuck in trees. Her writing has appeared in local newspapers and magazines, and in national publications like the Globe and Mail and ParentsCanada Magazine. She is a yogi, a mediocre cook, an awesome Beyonce dance move imitator, and an avid blogger at Cure for Boredom.

What Lasts: Carter’s Song

For years, Angela Bickford struggled through infertility and loss.  Angela is now the mother of triplets, born prematurely, one of whom, Carter, passed away after 49 days.  This song, originally published on her blog angelabickford.com, pays beautiful tribute to the lasting impact of Carter’s short life.

Written and recorded by Jetty Rae
Slideshow photos provided by Angela Bickford

Never thought that it would come to this
I wake up in the middle of the night
And your face I long to kiss
Then I remember looking at you
On the other side of the glass
That night the Doctors said
You probably wouldn’t last

[Chorus]
What lasts is the love left beating
In this Mother’s heart
The dreams all scattered down in tiny little parts
I will love you, I will love you
Sweet Child you are mine
You’re heaven sent and I’m hell-bent
On telling the world you are my little sunshine

Waking up each day without you
Is a hurt I’ll never shake
Leaving your body there was a choice
We never got to make
Carry on, carry on sweet child we all carry on
I see you in your brother’s eyes and I tell your sister
You were strong

[Chorus]
What lasts is the love left beating
In your Father’s heart
The dreams all scattered down in tiny little parts
I will love you, I will love you
Sweet Child you are mine
You’re heaven sent and I’m hell-bent
On telling the world you are my little sunshine

[Bridge]
So many days have come and gone
We’re still standing, we’re still strong
You have stayed where you belong
But in our hearts you will go on

Angela is a stay-at-home mom raising surviving triplets. She lost her first-born triplet, Carter, after 49 days, and her survivors, B & T, keep her pretty busy with their ongoing needs as a result of their prematurity. She manages to find time for her business, her job at Hand to Hold, a non-profit dedicated to preemie/NICU awareness and support, and her personal blog (angelabickford.com). Her tagline ‘Mom of Triplets. Lost One. Survived & Sharing’ is her goal in blogging and she aims to share with others that it’s possible to survive after loss. She and her husband live in the Houston, TX suburb of Cypress.


Infertility TalesThis post is part of Infertility Tales 2014, How Do You Do It?‘s series to raise awareness about infertility and its impact on families. Please take a moment to read through some of the personal stories of loss, pain, fertility treatments, and success.

Toddler Thursday: When Your Toddlers Aren’t Toddling Together

We’ve all heard the common question, “How do you do it?” That is how we got our name. Another common phrase I have heard over the years, as many parents of prematurely born twins do is, “They’ll catch up on their own time.” I hate to say it, but sometimes this phrase is like a Band-Aid trying to cover up a bigger “owie” than it can. Sometimes it’s the only thing people can think to say to try to make the mother feel better, when she is wondering if there is a bigger problem to be addressed.

Take my little guys, for example. Growing and progressing a little more slowly than the average baby, but also born much earlier than the average baby. We always take their early arrivals into account. We don’t want to overshoot and stress them out during their development, yet, as a mother I don’t want to undershoot their capabilities by overprotecting or making excuses for them. I believe mothers of premature children may be a little more likely to overprotect their children at times, and that’s okay. Everyone has been through a lot! I also believe there is a balance and it can take a bit of time and self-reflection to understand your parenting style.

My twins are about to turn 4 and when I think back to two years ago, I remember twin b was not yet toddling. Meanwhile his twin had started motoring around on his own. Twin b was able to walk everywhere on his knees, but not his feet. Alarm bells were going off in my head, but I tried to ignore them and give my son more time to figure it out. We shouldn’t compare our twins, as they are individuals and they often do learn things at different times. I kept watching him closely and mentioned it to a few people now and then. I often heard, “he’ll figure it out on his own time.” Hmmm…Are we sure about that?

After lots of watching him in silence, assessing and reassessing; working with him one-to-one to try to get him to walk, I finally trusted my instinct. Something was NOT right. As he approached 24 months corrected/27 months actual we looked at his feet closely. I knew he was able to walk if he had the right support for his feet. I had inspected his feet closely, compared them to his brothers (sometimes comparing twins IS helpful,) watched what he was doing when he tried to toddle and cruise along the couch. I put 2 and 2 together when I realized he could cruise without a worry, but as soon as he tried to stand in the middle of the floor or walk, he’d collapse. His teeny tiny feet just couldn’t keep him standing upright because his feet were very flat and one was practically turning over. We weren’t seeing it because we were trying to promote his walking by keeping him in supportive shoes most of the day, which was supported by his physiotherapist. Once I realized his feet were likely the problem, I contacted our PT and she said my instincts could be correct and he was seen later that week. She yanked off his little shoes, assessed his feet and confirmed that his feet would benefit from the use of orthotics. He was fitted with a custom pair of ankle-foot orthotics (AFOs).

The day we picked up his custom AFOs, the physiotherapist helped him put them on as the orthotist watched. First we had to dig through a box of extra shoes at the centre to fit the larger sized AFOs. Once the AFOs and shoes were on, twin b was set in the middle of the floor…and…HE STOOD…and then…HE WALKED! ALONE. It was amazing to see unfold. One moment he’s a non-walker, the next he’s toddling around the assessment room on his own! I could not hold back my happy tears! They were also likely tears of relief, but I didn’t realize it at the time.

The moral of this story? Trust your instincts and if you feel something isn’t making sense or you’ve said and heard, “he’ll catch up on his own time,” maybe a few too many times, it’s okay to put your foot down (pardon the pun) and ask LOTS of questions to get the answers you need.

What Is “Adjusted Age” or “Corrected Age”?

I recently witnessed an extremely heated and sometimes mean-spirited discussion of the term “adjusted age.” One side felt that the term was derogatory to preemies, while the other side felt that their families’ experiences with prematurity were being flippantly dismissed.

Of course, it all boiled down to a misunderstanding of what “adjusted age” (or the synonymous “corrected age”) means. I’d like to set the record straight.

Defining Adjusted Age

A premature baby’s adjusted (or corrected) age is medical shorthand for how old that baby would be if he or she were born at full-term at 40 weeks gestational age. What’s gestational age? The time since mom’s last period. Why since her last period? Because until relatively recently, that was the best indicator we had of when pregnancies began and it’s become a cultural norm.

Why Use Adjusted Age?

When a baby is born full-term, we don’t pay particular attention to the predicted due date. After all, 95% of babies don’t show up on the due date. The full-term birth window is two weeks on either side of that date. There’s nearly a month of wiggle room in there! I’ve seen due dates wonderfully referred to as guess dates.

So why would anyone care about a premature child’s gestational age? It comes down to development.

As any parent knows, every kid is on his or her own schedule. Still, there’s a general order of operations when it comes to human development. We start out as one cell and end up becoming neurotic adults. All that happens in between is pretty well understood by the medical and scientific establishment. Exiting the womb ahead of schedule doesn’t much impact that developmental schedule beyond putting pressure on immature systems to perform maturely.

Human babies develop in a predictable fashion, regardless of when they exit mom's womb.

Take my daughters, J and M, for instance. They were born at 33 weeks gestational age. They were born with spectacular heads of black black hair. They also had furry ears, foreheads and shoulders. The lanugo, or fetal body hair, that babies have in utero had yet to fall out. It didn’t get the memo that they’d been born. It was just doing it’s regular 33-week thing. This is J at 1 day old. Or should I say “-7 weeks adjusted”? She’s adorable, teeny tiny, and rather furry.

J is 1 day old here, born at 33 weeks gestation. She still sported lanugo on her ears and shoulders. Adjusted age: -7 weeks.

And this is her now. Just trust me when I tell you that she’s not furry. (I had to use this photo again. She was so adorably excited to learn how to sew.)

33-week preemie at age 7.

Adjusted age. That’s what we were talking about.

Let’s put prematurity aside for a moment. Imagine a 1-month-old. This baby can grasp something placed in his hand, but forget about him picking something up of his own volition. He’s probably rather bobble-headed, thanks to brand new neck muscles. Now, compare him to a 3-month-old. She’s not quite so bobble-headed, can get her hands in her mouth with ease, and swipes at toys and Mommy’s phone with gusto. Two months makes a huge development difference in that first year.

Now imagine my 33-week preemies. At 3 months old, they’re still as bobble-headed as the 1-month-old, because as far as their physical development goes, they’ve had as much time to develop from that single first cell as a 1-month-old. When it comes to predicting how much they should weigh and what they should be capable of doing, the pediatrician and I strike a balance between their birth age and their developmental (adjusted) age.

The adjusted age for a child born prematurely is measured from conception and takes into account that they’ve had less time than their birth-age peers to get up to speed. That’s all there is to it.

By age 2, there’s really no reason to use adjusted age any more. There’s not much that distinguishes a 24-month-old from a 26-month-old. By age 2, preemies are caught up, developmentally, to their birth-age peers, barring complications.

A premature child's adjusted age is a way to gauge where she is developmentally.

 As with the term “identical” twin, the non-technical meaning of the word “corrected” in “corrected age” (which is the term my kids’ doctors all use) leaves the concept prey to misunderstanding. So let’s all hug and make up.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

The Preemie Primer – A Book Review

A triplet mother's review of The Preemie PrimerThe Preemie Primer is a great reference book for parents of multiples, especially triplets and more, who have a high likelihood of spending at least a little time in the NICU.  I read it basically cover to cover when my wife was about 22 weeks pregnant with our triplets.

I’m an information seeker so this book was just what I needed when I was feeling anxious about our little trio arriving early. This book is written by an OB who was pregnant with triplets. She delivered and lost one boy at 22.5 weeks and the other two were born at 26 weeks and had multiple complications. Throughout the book she includes personal anecdotes, which makes it easier to digest this sometimes overwhelming information. Dr. Gunter does a nice job of explaining “medical~ese” in layman terms too.

I think you need to know yourself before deciding if this book is for you. If you have a hypochondriacal streak, then you may want to wait until you know your babies are going to be preemies and then order it on Amazon and just read what is relevant in the moment. If you’re like me and “just want to know” then this is a good book to get up to speed on common preemie medical issues.

The book is organized by time frame. It starts with “The beginning” covering pregnancy and delivery. Then moves on to the bulk of the book with “Your premature baby & the hospital,” giving an in depth look at time in the NICU. This section is organized by body system (lungs, digestive system, etc) and covers normal function as well as common problems and treatments. Part three focuses on the mind-body connection, starting with the emotional roller coaster that parents experience when their babies are in the NICU and discusses some good coping strategies.  We were lucky that our triplets were only in the NICU for a week, but I can still attest to the emotional roller coaster!

There’s a section that’s all about “working the system” to help with navigating the medical, insurance, and government benefits systems and he last two sections cover topics related to issues once you get home and then a final “other things you should know” section.

Overall I found this book to be very useful in preparing for our babies’ stay on the NICU. We’re donating our copy to our NICU for other families to use!  I think it’s a great resource to help parents feel empowered to be advocates for their tiny babies!  You can find a copy on Amazon.com.

(We Will Never Be) Full-Term

My boys are almost two, and I’m 32 weeks pregnant with our third son. Over the weekend, I spent some time in L&D. Everything is fine, but to say I had flashbacks to NICU is an understatement. In order to lighten the mood in my own mind, I re-wrote the lyrics to “Royals” (originally by Lourde). So without further ado, here is:

(We Will Never Be) Full-Term

I’ve got fine hair upon my flesh
I cut my teeth on breathing tubes and a blue Soothie
And I’m not proud of my address
In the NICU wing, no nursery envy

And every nurse is like:
De-sat
Jaundice
That was a bad brady
Art line
PICC line
Puttin’ in an NG

Kangaroo care, we’re being snuggled in our dreams

But everybody’s like:
PDA
Caffeine
Bathing in pink basins
Surgeons
Breast pump
Unplanned extubation

We don’t care, medical terms are your affair

And we’ll never be full-term (full-term)
It don’t run in our blood
Mom’s uterus just ain’t for us, now the machines all beep and buzz
Let me be your ruler (ruler)
You can call me preemie
And someday I’ll breathe, I’ll breathe, I’ll breathe, I’ll breathe
Let me live that reality

My twin and I aren’t gonna code
You watch our hearts on the machine when we’re sleeping
And everyone who knows us knows
That we’ll be home soon, give the hospital your money

But every nurse is like:
De-sat
Jaundice
That was a bad brady
Art line
PICC line
Puttin’ in an NG

Kangaroo care, we’re being snuggled in our dreams
But everybody’s like:
PDA
Caffeine
Bathing in pink basins
Surgeons
Breast pump
Unplanned extubation

We don’t care, medical terms are your affair

And we’ll never be full-term (full-term)
It don’t run in our blood
Mom’s uterus just ain’t for us, now the machines all beep and buzz
Let me be your ruler (ruler)
You can call me preemie
And someday I’ll breathe, I’ll breathe, I’ll breathe, I’ll breathe
Let me live that reality

ooh ooh oh ooh
We’re smaller than you ever dreamed
And I’m in love with clothes sized “P”

ooh ooh oh ooh
Life is great in Intensive Care
We’re your full-time love affair

And we’ll never be full-term (full-term)
It don’t run in our blood
Mom’s uterus just ain’t for us, now the machines all beep and buzz
Let me be your ruler (ruler)
You can call me preemie
And someday I’ll breathe, I’ll breathe, I’ll breathe, I’ll breathe
Let me live that reality.

Toddler Thursday: Preparing at home for the NICU stay

prepareAfter finding out I was expecting twins my brain started spinning. How would we fit in our current car? What about bedrooms? How would my 38 year old body handle this pregnancy? After I adjusted to the idea many of my initial worries disappeared, but one didn’t. How would our barely two year old Oliver handle things if our babies had a lengthy NICU stay? I had a history of preterm labor and had had all three of my boys at around 37 weeks.  That’s not very early, but I was worried that my body would kick into labor even earlier while carrying two babies. Sure enough right around 28 weeks I started having contractions and my Dr. put me on Procardia. I quickly realized I would need to prepare Oliver for not only the babies, but also for the time that I’d inevitably end up away from him. To complicate things my mother (who is our primary source of childcare) has a chronic illness that makes it difficult to predict how much help she will be able to provide.  In the event that she became ill at the same time the babies were still in the hospital I’d need to have things ready for someone else (who may not be familiar with our routines) to step in.  Eeeeeeek! No pressure, right?

Since Oliver isn’t in school or mother’s day out he spends the majority of his time at home. I knew that I needed to focus most of my energy on creating an environment that would keep him busy and allow him to be as independent as possible. I also wanted to simplify things so that whoever was caring for the boys wouldn’t have as much to clean and keep up with. The first thing I did was purge the playroom and kids’ rooms of any toys they hadn’t played with in awhile, were broken, or sets that were incomplete. I was brutal and got rid of almost half our toys. I was surprised that the kids never mentioned things were missing. After the clean out I sorted the remaining toys and put half away in a closet so they could be switched out periodically. This served three purposes. It made it easier for the big kids to keep things put away, it kept Oliver interested in his toys, and it kept him from being overwhelmed. By limiting his choices he actually started playing with his toys instead of doing what I call the dump and run (where toddlers pour all the toys onto the floor only to walk away without playing) After our playroom was organized I started on our back yard. Once again I got rid of any toy that was broken or in bad shape. I added new sand and toys to our sand box and made sure we had plenty of bubbles and sidewalk chalk. One addition that worked surprisingly well was a plastic easel. We kept it on the patio and would put paper and paints on it as needed. Oliver enjoyed being able to paint whenever he wanted and my mom loved that clean up was so easy. My husband did a safety check and made sure our fence was secure and the play scape didn’t have any loose nails or splinters. My goal was to make our backyard another place where Oliver could play independently and be safe.

I knew having a schedule would make it easier for Oliver during our NICU stay. Thankfully we had already established a routine and flow to our day (It kept my type A personality happy). As we got closer to the babies coming I typed and printed our routine and added it to our household binder (more on the binder later). The further I got in my pregnancy the more tempting it was to let our schedule slide. I was so tired and achy that I reeeeeaaalllly wanted to throw it out and let Oliver sleep late in the mornings and fall asleep wherever he happened to collapse at night. For the most part I tried really hard to stick to our routine knowing that it would make things better for everyone later.  We started practicing what Oliver should do after we ate (put his plate and cup in the sink), where he should put his dirty clothes, where his shoes were kept (the basket by the door), and how to get to the “approved for Oliver” snacks in the pantry. While helping him learn how to be more independent certainly made things easier for whoever was caring for him I was also hoping it would increase his confidence. Going from being the baby of the family to the middle child of five kids was going to be hard. I hoped knowing what to expect and how things worked in our home would help Oliver find his new place.

Knowing I’d be hard to reach in the hospital I decided to make a reference book for our family. I was worried that there would be a question and nobody would be able to get ahold of me. After looking at several examples on pinterest I decided the household binder was the format I liked best.  Our binder is organized by the topics: schedule, food, school, miscellanious phone numbers, and in case of emergency. The schedule area holds our daily schedule and all our routines are written out. This served almost as a script for our day. For example if my dad wasn’t sure what bedtime or bath time looked like for Oliver he could read about them before hand. The food area holds ideas for breakfasts and lunches, take out numbers, and a grocery list for items we typically need every week. The school tab is full of the bigger boys’ school information (schedule, phone numbers, lunch menu, and teachers contact information). Miscellanious phone numbers included the numbers to our plumber, air conditioner repair company, our pediatrician, and various friends who know the kids and could help if needed. I really thought I was going overboard adding this tab, but it turns out my parents needed it! While the babies were in the NICU our air conditioner went out. August in Texas is brutal and thankfully my parents were able to get it fixed quickly. The emergency tab holds copies of our health insurance card and a generic letter giving my paremts permission to seek medical care for the kids. I also included directions to our pediatrician and the closest hospital. While my parents knew most of the information included in the binder I wasn’t sure who else would be caring for Oliver and the bigger boys. Now that we are home and settled the binder serves as a great resource for our baby sitter.

Rhodes and Laurel were born at 34 weeks and spent two and a half weeks in the NICU. Thankfully Oliver and the bigger boys did beautifully while we were gone. My mom did become ill in the middle of our stay but continued to help out as much as she could.

Prematurity Awareness Week 2013: In Sum

Prematurity Awareness Week 2013: How Do You Do It?How Do You Do It? just completed a week of posts on The Moms’ experiences with premature deliveries, NICU stays, health complications, special needs, and how we’ve dealt with these complex issues. This week honored November’s Prematurity Awareness Month, led by the March of Dimes.

We thank you for joining us as we shared our experiences, reflected on our journeys, and celebrated our milestones in the name of prematurity awareness.

Want to check out all of the posts?  Want more information on a particular topic? Here is the index of the topics we covered, including…

In sharing, we raise awareness.  And in raising awareness, we hope to lower the incidence of prematurity in minimize its negative outcomes.

Now go and check out last week’s posts!

Thank You, March of Dimes… Ella and Zoë’s Story

Prematurity Awareness Week 2013: How Do You Do It?

World Prematurity Day November 17In the United States, 1 in 9 babies is born prematurely, 1 in 10 in Canada. Worldwide, over 15 million babies are born too soon each year. While not all multiples are born prematurely, a multiple birth increases the probability of an early delivery. Babies born prematurely, before 37 weeks gestation, are at a higher risk for health complications in infancy, some of which can have long-term effects. Full-term infants are not all free from their own health complications, of course.

In honor of November’s Prematurity Awareness Month, led by the March of Dimes, How Do You Do It? is focusing this week’s posts on The Moms’ experiences with premature deliveries, NICU stays, health complications, special needs, and how we’ve dealt with these complex issues.


Ella and Zoë were preemies. They were born a little over 10 weeks early and spent 47 and 57 days in the NICU.

They had many issues to overcome, though not nearly as many as they probably should have had. They were fighters from the get-go, like all preemies are. They had to work hard to be able to do things a full-term baby is easily able to do on its own. They needed a lot of help and were given that help by the most amazing NICU nurses and doctors. They are alive today due to medical advances which were brought about by the research funded by the March of Dimes.

They are now 7 1/2 years old, and you would never be able to tell they were premature, by either looking at them or talking with them. I think Ella and Zoë have quite the story to share, and this week I am joining in with hundreds of other parents and bloggers in the Fight for Preemies to help raise awareness and fight… because babies shouldn’t have to.

Ella and Zoë’s story started many years ago when Tom and I first began our journey of trying to become parents.

During our ‘trying to have a baby’ stage (a stage that lasted many years) we spent a lot of time at doctor’s offices, we had lots of appointments and procedures, we had lots of disappointments. We also learned how to keep trying after many negative pregnancy tests, and we also learned how to move forward after painful losses.

Then we found out I was pregnant again. We got the positive and started celebrating. Cautiously.

I started bleeding at 6 weeks (at 11pm) and we spent that long night together and braced ourselves for more bad news. We were beside ourselves when we saw not one, but TWO hearts beating strongly on the ultrasound screen. We were going to have TWINS!!

Then at almost 12 weeks there was more bleeding, and that’s when we found out Baby A’s placenta (Ella’s) was starting to detach.

That was the beginning of my 8 weeks of bed rest.

At 24 weeks preterm labor started and so did my time in the hospital.

A little over 10 weeks early, due to a really bad case of preeclampsia that turned into the beginning stages of HELLP syndrome — (I gained 19 pounds over the weekend), my doctor decided it was time for us to meet the babies. We were super excited but very nervous that it was too early. On Wednesday, April 19th (29 weeks 6 days) at 6:49 pm, Ella Marie was born. We named her after Tom’s mom, Della Marie, and her name means ‘Light’. She weighed 2 pounds 14 ounces and was 16 inches long. She was perfect.

At 6:51 pm, Zoë Dianne was born. We named her after my mom, Dianne, and her name means ‘Life’. She weighed 3 pounds 5 ounces and was also 16 inches long. She was also perfect.

Ella

Zoë

Even though we were nervous, the c-section went well and was so amazing. Ella, the tiny peanut that she was, came out crying pretty strongly for such a little thing.  Zoë had swallowed more amniotic fluid so her first cries sounded more like a kitten rather than a baby, but to Tom and me hearing both girls make noises (their lungs were working!) was the best sound we’ll probably ever hear in our lifetime.

After the initial assessment by their own team of neonatal doctors and nurses both girls appeared to be overall very healthy and only required room air oxygen to help with their breathing. Hearing that news was such a relief! (Most preemie problems are respiratory related.) Even though they were only almost 30 week gestational babies they were doing so well!

Before they were taken out of the operating room the nurses brought Ella over to me first and then Zoë. Ella had been crying since her grand entrance but stopped when I started talking to her, my heart melted. Because Zoë had swallowed more amniotic fluid her team was in more of a hurry to get her to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), so instead of talking to her I gave her a little kiss on her forehead. It was probably a reflex, but that little sweetie leaned forward and kissed my nose! My heart melted again.

During the first few days of Ella and Zoë’s lives they each had a lot of different things done to them, including IVs (which they did not like, and often pulled right out), feeding tubes, and being attached to monitors for pulse, oxygen content, respiratory and blood pressure. Both had brain ultrasounds done a couple of times, and we were relieved to hear they each had “normal brains” (meaning no bleeding or swelling). The girls did need to pass a few tests before they could come home. They needed to breathe on their own and Ella needed to stop having her apnea spells; they needed to regulate their own body temperatures; and they needed to learn how to suck, swallow and breath, all at the same time.

On the fifth day of Ella and Zoë’s life I was finally well enough to go to the NICU.

It was the first time I remember holding Ella and the first time I actually held Zoë.

My sister was with me and she also had a chance to hold Ella

. . . . and Zoe, too.

And so began our life at our Home Away from Home — the NICU.

Zoe and Ella ~ 2 1/2 weeks old
First time together since their birth.

Zoe with her eyes open.

Ella with her eyes open.

Zoe and Ella at one month old.

Wearing their fairy outfits made to fit a teddy bear.

Ella at 6 weeks old.

Zoe at 6 weeks old.

Ella.

Zoë

It was a ‘one step forward two steps backwards’ type of dance those first few weeks but we were lucky.  Ella and Zoë did really well, especially considering all of the ‘what could have beens’. And we had THE BEST PRIMARY NURSES ever!!

We will always be grateful for the care that Molly,

Cori,

Denise,

and Becca gave our daughters.

Leaving them each night would have been much more difficult it weren’t for those four nurses, as well as all of the other amazing staff that helped take care of our girls.

After 47 days we brought Zoë home!!

Zoë’s first car ride.

It was somewhat bittersweet though as Ella needed to stay in the hospital a bit longer, but the only way we were able to leave Ella was because Nurse Molly was there to hold her for us. Again,we’ll always be so grateful.

Ella recovering from her infection. She was a pretty sick little girl for over a week.

So for 10 days we learned how to parent a single baby at home while also spending time in the NICU helping Ella recuperate from her infection. On day 57 we brought Ella home and FINALLY, all four of us were under one roof!!

We were ready to start the next exciting chapter in our lives . . . A life that included a heart monitor for Ella, a pump, bottles, feed schedule every 3 hours (because both girls couldn’t swallow on their own and needed their milk thickened) that took 45 minutes to accomplish if everything went well . . . and lots of playing, smiles, cuddles and love. It took some time to get into a routine, and we didn’t get a lot of sleep those first few months, but eventually our days were more often less chaotic than chaotic ☺.

Zoë and Ella at 4 1/2 months old.

Ella and Zoë are now 7 1/2 years old in 2nd grade, and are THRIVING.

They love building and creating…

reading anything they they can get their hands on…

hanging out together…

and with their Grama Dianne…

they love animals and bugs…

… and butterflies, too…

they love spending time in the lake…

at the farm…

and at our neighborhood zoo…

These girls are my silly, loving, caring, lovely, smart, fun, helpful, curious, goofballs.

They are my dolly-girls.

Thank you, March of Dimes. We have so much to be thankful for.

MoM to 7 1/2-year old fraternal twin girls, kindergarten teacher Jeremi blogs at Ella and Zoe.  Each of her picture-filled posts radiates the joy she gleans from her two most beautiful gifts.