Postpartum Depression and PTSD: Here I Thought I Was Fine…

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This post has been a long time coming, but I have to admit — I’ve been avoiding it like the plague. I started writing this post one year ago and I find that this is still a difficult subject for me to wrap my head around.

Postpartum Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - one mother's story.
In college, I read a story called The Yellow Wallpaper  by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. In the story, a woman is taken to a hideaway by her husband and imprisoned there after the birth of their child. During her stay, she slowly goes insane, hearing voices and seeing faces behind the yellow wallpaper. This story is about much more than a woman and a decorating decision gone awry. This is a story about postpartum depression and the fears and stigma surrounding it, much of which still exist today.

Going into my pregnancy, I feared PPD. I have a family history of mental illnesses, and I have some personal experiences to draw from, as well. I was monitored by the high-risk team that cared for me and Jane and Emma throughout my pregnancy, and they watched me like a hawk when I went into the hospital to deliver. I was given a checklist, visited by social workers, and deemed fit to leave with no threat of severe depression after 4 short days.

What they didn’t tell me then was that PPD can strike at any time in the first postpartum year, and, furthermore, that I was also at HIGH risk for post-traumatic stress disorder due to my premature twins’ six week stay in the NICU, something that I didn’t think about until a friend in a similar position posted about the condition on her Facebook page after we had taken our babes home from the hospital.

In my first year home with Jane and Emma, I felt the effects of these two afflictions full force. My husband brought my attention to some of my actions (my anger, specifically), and subsequently I’ve been forced to take a good hard look in the mirror, and to do some serious research. Here is what I have found and how I relate.

Emma

Postpartum Depression

Something that I didn’t think of was that there were multiple ways that PPD could manifest itself. Symptoms range from depression to anxiety and anger. I experienced mostly the anxiety and anger.

Our society definitely does NOT do enough PPD care before/after the babies are born. Even BabyCenter, a site that I’ve always frequented for all things baby-related, downplays postpartum depression. It seems to file it into this “postpartum care” category, and talks a lot about body image and how to balance your life and your sleep deprivation with caring for a new little one. Why the stigma? Why does postpartum care have only to do with “What workouts can I do now that the baby is here?” or “Feeling good about your postpartum body”?

The fact of the matter is, there is so much more to it. While all of that is good to consider, it’s just as important to look at and be very aware of the ugly side.

As a new mom, I never got to mourn my old life. Everything changed VERY suddenly, and, for me, as a mom of multiples, it changed 8 full weeks before it was SUPPOSED to. Attention switched from me to my babies (and rightfully so, but I wasn’t told that I would be a footnote to my children’s lives, and I was not prepared for that), and I (perhaps somewhat irrationally) felt like no one cared about ME or how I was doing.  There was also no longer a “me-and-Hershey”. We were both NEEDED by our babies, and our need for each other no longer mattered. Those early feelings of no longer mattering and the severe feeling of isolation were what most likely sent me into my initial depression.

I spent a lot of time feeling anxious about EVERYTHING. I broke out in hives from head to toe, and was having heart palpitations. I thought maybe I was just anxious about work (if you have been following this Chris Christie fiasco, and not that I’m a teacher in NJ, you understand), but I really couldn’t pinpoint the anxiety. I’ve always been a little bit high-strung, but never downright ANXIOUS.

On top of that, it seemed like every little thing set me off. If things didn’t go as I envisioned them, I would totally lose my marbles.

And I still, to this day, am always nervous about how people are caring for Jane and Emma. I selfishly feel as though no one will care for them as well or as fully as I do, and (while that may be true since I AM their Mama, after all) being with the girls 24/7 took a MAJOR toll on me that I was not prepared for.  I mean, how does one prepare for these things when they decide to start a family, especially when having multiples was never an idea in one’s mind!?!  I don’t know about you, but I was focused on the perfect bedding and the most beautiful and safest cribs, not how I would cope with my own feelings…

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

This is a term that many people relate with war veterans.  And while I would never trivialize the plight of our veterans, after having been through having two children stay in the neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital for 6 weeks, at the end I felt like I had been through a war.

The Mayo Clinic defines PTSD as “a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it.”  Let me tell you something – experiencing having your children in the NICU, not knowing what tomorrow may bring, is both terrifying AND extremely traumatic.

Mayo further goes on to delineate possible symptoms, such as flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and “uncontrollable thoughts about the event.”  Check.  Check. Check. Double check.

I remember after I went home from the hospital, without my children who I had carried around inside of my body and worried about for 32 weeks, I used to go into the girls’ nursery and just sit in my glider and cry. I would cry for the absence of my babies.  Cry for the fact that I was home and they were not.  Cry for the unknown.

jane and emma NICU

I would never know what I was walking into when we went to visit the girls.  Once Hershey went back to work, I was making 2-3 trips A DAY to the hospital to the neonatal intensive care unit, most of the time on my own. And you cannot be blind to the other babies and parents in the NICU. I hurt for the other parents who were going through the same thing. I ached for those who were going through worse. I cried for the babies whose parents could not spend as much time visiting them as I did visiting Jane and Emma due to extenuating circumstances. I got to know the other babies. I said hello to them when I got to the hospital if their parents weren’t there, so that they would know that they were not alone.

And the day that I brought Emma home, I bawled leaving the hospital. I was so happy to be bringing home my baby girl, but leaving Jane there for 2 days was excruciating. She was in good hands, and I was grateful to have a couple of days to get settled and get into a routine with ONE baby before having TWO brand new babies at home, but I would have done anything – ANYTHING – to be bringing them both home together.

Once we got the girls home, they were on apnea monitors for about 4 months.  I’ll never forget the terrifying moments when those monitors went off and we would have to jump out of bed in the middle of the night to watch carefully to make sure that our babies would start breathing again.

tiny family pic

Imagine standing there, knowing that your child is not breathing or that her heart is not beating, just waiting for her to “self-correct” before having to try a revival technique.  If that’s not traumatic for a new parent, I don’t know what is.

And to this day, I still struggle with PTSD. Every night before I go to bed, I sneak into Jane and Emma’s rooms and wait to hear their little breaths. And if I don’t hear them, I shake them and make them move.  hat sounds ridiculous, but it’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop. I spent so many months fretting over their survival. From the moment I went into labor, all I could think was They’re too little. They’re not ready.

And sometimes, I still feel that way. Every sniffle, every cough, every puke stain sends my mind into a downward spiral, and I am wondering when I will be able to look at the symptoms of their colds and be able to say, “Ok, we’ve seen this before, it’s no big deal.”

Three-fie

Wherever you are at in your postpartum life, you need to know that you are not alone. Those feelings that you are feeling are NORMAL, and we are all with you. And if you are like many MoMs, you may have given birth way before your babes were fully cooked, and you have faced the terrifying world of the NICU. And Those Feelings are also totally normal.  It’s ok to be sad.  It’s ok to be a little bit selfish once in a while.  What you are going through is a tremendous life-altering experience, but it’s worthwhile, and those babies of yours need you!  Acknowledge the feelings so that you can monitor them.  Be aware of the feelings so that you can put yourself in check when you need to.  Postpartum care is so much more than just being on a “roller coaster of hormones”.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore those feelings that you’re having because the sooner you accept them and address them, the sooner you can get back to being a ROCK STAR Mama.

And if you know someone who is about to have a child (or CHILDREN), or has recently had one, check in with them.  Remember to ask them how THEY are feeling, and if there is anything that you can get FOR THEM.  My husband’s aunt gave me a gift certificate to get my nails done for Christmas this year, and it was the best gift that I could have gotten, because it meant me, a book, and a quiet manicurist making me look beautiful after a year and a half of being puked on and not even being able to blow dry my hair in the morning…and that, to me, is PRICELESS.

How have you dealt with PPD?  PTSD? I would LOVE to hear from you!

This is my personal story and observation.  I am not saying that every person will experience the same aspects of each disorder (I hate calling them that!), but my hope is that this post will enlighten someone, or maybe help someone understand what they are going through.

Jessica is Mama of twin baby girls, Jane and Emma, Wife to Hershey, Teacher at her alma mater, poet, realist, kitty-lover, friend. She decided to blog because during her pregnancy, she could never find anything having to do with twins or multiples. She didn’t come across any advice for registries for multiples, or pregnancy, or life after delivery.  Jessica felt extremely alone, and spent most of her pregnancy in a funk. Today, she is the happiest she’s ever been. She continues to improve her craft (teaching) through various professional development outlets, and learns something new about being a mother every day. Jessica is in love with her girls, with being a mama, with her husband, and with life.  She is the one people go to when they want the truth. Jessica writes all about life with a husband and twins at Leading the Double Life.

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

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Categories Birth Stories, NICU, Prematurity, Theme WeekTags 1 Comment

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.

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The Road to Motherhood: A Twin Birth Story

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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.


It’s been a humbling experience to read the so many brave stories that have been contributed as part of the Prematurity Awareness week on HDYDI. I stand in sisterhood with all those who have shared their heart stories and am blessed and grateful to be able to share my birth story.

This time 3 years ago, I picked up my hospital bag and headed to Methodist Hospital Houston to deliver my fraternal twin girls. I was 39 weeks pregnant. I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t have a birth plan. I was going to wing it on hope and prayer because in my wildest dreams, I did not imagine an ending as surreal and ordinary as me walking into labor and delivery to have twin babies on just another Tuesday.

It’s not that I’m a pessimist, it’s just that there had been so much water under the bridge.

At 8 weeks pregnant, I started bleeding and this continued for 7 more weeks. My doctor put me on bed rest and I worked from home lying down on the couch. With every doctor’s visit, my heart was in my mouth until I got confirmation of 2 heartbeats. Then I could breathe again.

At 31 weeks pregnant, I was diagnosed with a shortened cervix. My doctor said all the indicators showed that if my cervix continued to change at the same rate, I would deliver my babies within 3 weeks unless I went on a very strict bedrest. I spent the next 5 weeks at home in bed; only getting up for 10 minutes at a time to eat and shower

At 36 weeks pregnant, I exhaled. I finally called my parents, family and friends and told them that I was pregnant. I know I left it late, I just couldn’t bear the thought of sharing more bad news with them should something happen with my high-risk pregnancy. Living so far away from most of my family and friends made it all the more easier to be silent about my pregnancy.

Finally it was the 16th of November 2010 and I went to the hospital for a scheduled induction. I changed into the hospital gown and settled in. After 10 hours of watching TV and epidural-induced motionlessness, I was wheeled into the operating theater. Around 7pm Houston time, my baby A announced herself to the world with the sweetest little cry. I think that moment of knowing “yes, she made it!” would stay with me forever. I was ready to meet my second child

But nothing happened. The doctor started asking for instruments. A few minutes later, a second and more senior doctor walks in. They confer and then he comes to my side of the bed and tells me my second baby’s heartbeat is getting weaker. I just stared at him blankly like he was speaking Greek. I had spent the last 39 weeks in a deliberate state of emotional numbness and I wasn’t coming out of it soon. They installed heart rate monitor for her and I waited some more. A few minutes later, the doctor ask me if I wanted them to use a vacuum to deliver the baby. I said no I’d prefer to push. After 2 pushes and the scariest 20 minutes of my life, my second baby girl was born.

3 years later, the birthday party is over and the girls have finally settled in bed. It’s mama’s time to write the story of the day they were born.

I know a lot of women pregnant with twins will come to this website for advice and find it. I know they’ll read all the shared stories and wonder how their story will be written. I hope that they’ll feel the love and hope in all the stories that have been shared this last one week. I want them to know that 3 years ago, I had 2 sets of premmie clothes in my hospital bag that my girls did not get to wear. I want them to know that many paths lead to destination motherhood and each path has its own story. Thank you for letting me share mine.

Yetunde-Olusola is the proud mom of twin girls, affectionately nicknamed Sugar and Spice.  She blogs at mytwintopia and loves to share tips and resources based on her personal parenting experiences in the hopes that she stops some frazzled twin parent from re-inventing the wheel.

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Seeking Supplemental Prenatal Care

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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.

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, and how we’ve dealt with these complex issues.


When we found out that I was carrying twins, my husband and I were both thrilled and terrified. I imagine this is a common response among expectant parents of multiples. On one hand, I was excited to be able to complete our family in one fell swoop, but on the other hand, I was keenly aware of the potential complications of a multiple pregnancy. In my own circle of friends, I know one mom who lost her twins prior to viability and I’m good friends with Sadia, whose girls arrived at 33 weeks and had to spend some time in the NICU. Meanwhile, I wasn’t aware of many moms of twins who had managed to carry their babies to term.

Between having suffered a prior pregnancy loss and the stress I felt over the possibility of serious pregnancy complications, I dealt with a lot of anxiety throughout my pregnancy, but especially in the early months. My worry led me to do a lot of research on twin pregnancy and to seek out supplemental care in addition to my normal prenatal care.

It is important to note that while my outcome was a healthy pregnancy and two full-term babies, the supplemental care I received did not directly lead to those great results. I happen to have been one of the fortunate ones whose bodies handle a twin pregnancy relatively well. There was nothing I could do to guarantee a healthy pregnancy for myself and for my babies. My goal in seeking out more care was to try to detect and adjust for any major complications as soon as possible. As it turned out, my complications were all pretty minor, but some of the supplemental care I pursued could come in handy to other moms of multiples.

I faced a conundrum when I was choosing an OB practice to visit during my pregnancy. On one hand, I wanted the best care for multiples that I could get. On the other hand, I was committed to giving birth to my twins in a well-equipped medical setting but with as few interventions as possible. To that end, I chose a practice that prides itself on a low rate of caesarian sections, but that has plenty of experience with twin births, as well.  The standard of care is for each patient to visit with all the health care providers in the practice over the course of her pregnancy, and while my twins would ultimately be delivered by a doctor, much of my care early in the pregnancy was handled by certified nurse midwives.

I was generally confident in the care I was receiving from my midwives, but it was important for my elevated anxiety levels to have medical twin experts keeping a closer eye on my pregnancy, as well. To that end, I did a great deal of research on twin pregnancies and discovered that the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, TX, has a dedicated Program for Multiples. For the cost of an insurance copay and a tank of gas, I was able to receive a personalized assessment including a comprehensive ultrasound, genetic counseling, and, most important to me, individualized nutritional advice.

As it turns out, my assessment indicated a clean bill of health for my fraternal twins and me at around 13 weeks of pregnancy. Had I been carrying identical twins showing signs of Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome, the ultrasound could have detected it early, and I would have been referred for further treatment and, hopefully, a successful outcome.

My pregnancy was otherwise fairly unremarkable until my blood pressure began to creep higher around 26 or 28 weeks. At that time, I was referred to a MFM doctor in town, who provided more supplemental sonogram to monitor the growth and development of my babies. Each ultrasound indicated that growth was steady and my babies were stable, but by 32 weeks, it became increasingly clear that they were locked in a breech position and didn’t have much room to rotate head-down.  Knowing that my chances of getting them to turn were small, and that my doctor could not deliver them vaginally if they were breech, I had time to mentally prepare myself for the possibility that I would need a c-section after all.

At 36 weeks 6 days, an ultrasound indicated that growth had stalled, and my MFM and OB conferred and decided that my twins would be delivered the next day. My c-section was scheduled, and I was left with about 18 hours to wrap up my preparations and finish up the work I had planned to do before going on leave.  The next day, my twins arrived, weighing 6 lbs 15 oz and 7 lbs 1 oz. They required no time in the NICU.

twins2-sm
James and Rebekah, 6 days old.

Ultimately, beyond listening to our doctors’ advice and taking care of our bodies during a twin pregnancy, we can do very little to control the outcome. According to the March of Dimes, 60% of twins are born prematurely. I was one of the fortunate 40% who managed to carry my pregnancy to term. But I feel it’s important to share my story during Prematurity Awareness Week to let those expecting twins know that a successful pregnancy is possible, and that seeking out supplemental care early on could help you identify warning signs for complications and improve your chances of a healthy pregnancy.

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Prenatal Care for Twins

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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.


I will start out by saying that I have never been pregnant before now. This is my first pregnancy and I have been thrown in head first with this new world of twins. So my experience is different. I didn’t know what to expect when going into it all. I had other friends that had been pregnant with singletons, and so I wasn’t completely naive, but I also really learned as I went. So, here is my experience with various aspects of prenatal care for our twins.

Prenatal Vitamins

I had wanted to be pregnant for a while, so I started taking prenatal vitamins very early on (well over a year before actually getting pregnant). I knew that the benefits were only going to help me, so I had no problem taking them long before we actually started trying for our baby. I have quite the sweet tooth, so I took the gummy prenatals with extra folic acid- two before bed- and it was quite the delicious pre-bed treat. Because I am also lactose intolerant, I also took a calcium supplement (gummy version) and a multivitamin (also gummy). After about a month of 6 gummies all right before bed, I started spacing them out a bit more and went with 1 of each vitamin at lunch and 1 of each before bed.

It ended up being a very good thing that I started this so early, because once I got pregnant, I had major trouble stomaching any vitamin supplements at all. I literally couldn’t do it. I felt so guilty to be denying my babies these added nutrients, and I talked to my doctors and nurses quite often about this. Thankfully, they said that I had done the right thing by starting so early, because my body had a built-up supply of the nutrients, and my babies would still benefit, even if I couldn’t take them every day.

Once the 2nd trimester hit and I started to get over the morning all-day sickness, I got some Flintstone vitamins, upon the suggestion of my doctors. I actually could take these just fine (2 at night before bed), and I felt like I could do something again for my babies. This didn’t last, however, and once I got to about 28 weeks, I had trouble with the nausea again, and I had to stop taking them. Thankfully, my pregnancy diet (and cravings) included lots of fruits and veggies and protein, so I knew that I was doing what I could. Plus, the babies were growing really well and the doctors were happy.

Moral of the story: start taking your prenatals EARLY, but listen to your body. It doesn’t help you to get sick after every vitamin, when it may be better to rely on those better vitamin-rich foods instead. And no matter what, talk to your doctor. I felt guilty each time they asked about prenatal vitamins, and I had to say that I wasn’t taking them. Then, they would respond that it was ok. I was doing well, and I shouldn’t worry. Oh, I love getting support like that from a doctor!

The First Appointment

Thankfully, I knew what to expect at my first appointment, so this wasn’t a surprise, but I can understand that some may have been taken aback if they weren’t prepared.

Because we had been seeing a doctor for a short time leading up to getting pregnant, my appointments were on the fast track. Please don’t worry if you don’t have all of these appointments right away.

I took a pregnancy test on April 5, when I was only 3 weeks 5 days pregnant. When it came back positive, I called my doctor immediately and he scheduled me to get a blood test done that day (a Friday). We went in the moment they opened the doors and I happily gave them my arm to draw the vial (and I hate getting blood drawn). They told me that they would fax the doctor the results in about an hour.

An hour passed, and we didn’t hear anything. Because it was a Friday, I knew our doctor would be closing early (a half day), so I didn’t want to have to wait to find out if we were going to be parents. I called and spoke to the secretary (whom I had become really close with due to our visits), and she was able to tell us the great news: it was positive! I asked about the HCG levels, and they were a good steady number. We set up an ultrasound date for 3 weeks later, and I dreaded having to wait that long for the final confirmation and heartbeat.

Finally, the big day arrived (6 weeks 3 days), and my husband and I nervously went in to the office. I got undressed (waist down) as I knew that they would be needing to do an internal ultrasound. This is because the baby/babies are too small at this point to be seen using the stomach ultrasound. They need to get closer, which is why they have to make it internal. If you aren’t prepared for this, I can understand how this would be scary and uncomfortable. Prepare yourself, though, because it really isn’t painful if you are ready for it. They insert a stick-like wand “up there” right against your cervix. There may be moments of being uncomfortable, but they really try to make it as pain-free and quick as possible. I promise that, once you actually see your baby/babies heartbeat(s), you will totally forget about anything else except this miracle that is happening to you.

People have asked us if we were surprised it was twins. In a short answer, yes. Although my doctor wasn’t. When we went in, I was joking with him in order to cover up my nerves. I was convinced that something had happened in the past 3 weeks and I had lost the baby. I didn’t have any proof to confirm this, but I just was worried. 3 weeks felt like a long time to wait in between the blood test and the ultrasound! So as we were joking, I told him that I hoped I was still pregnant. He told me that he knew I was, and it was just a question of how many. I asked him if he would buy us dinner if it was just one. He happily agreed (knowing through the HCG numbers that it would be two). Well, he was right, and we didn’t get a dinner from him. Oh well!

When he was looking at the ultrasound, he quickly (within seconds of any image on the screen) said, “Yes, there they are.” We were shocked. My jaw hit the floor. Thank goodness I was already sitting/laying down. The nurse turned to my husband a few times to ask if he needed to sit down, but he was frozen to his place. Two heartbeats. Two strong heartbeats. Twins.

At our office, we got lots of pictures and even a flash drive with all of the pictures and a video of the heartbeats. We went home to share the news with our parents via Skype (they already knew we were expecting, but they had no idea about the next doubly exciting chapter to this story).

Perinatal (“High Risk”) Appointments

When you are expecting multiples, you are categorized as a “high risk” pregnancy. Many people, upon hearing this, get scared or confused. To someone not facing these appointments themselves, they may wonder why it is “high risk.” After all, there are so many more twins born now. So is it really “high risk?” Yes, it is. Now, this is not to say that you will definitely have problems with your pregnancy. I didn’t have any complications after the first trimester.

Those of us blessed to carry multiple babies at once are considered high risk because bodies simply weren’t made to carry more than one baby at once. We can do it and be successful at it, but we do need to be carefully monitored.

Be prepared to see a perinatal specialist, a “high risk doctor.” They will focus on your babies’ needs throughout the pregnancy. For us, once we got in the groove of appointments, these were our ultrasound visits. We started by going once a month (plus a couple of additional appointments due to scheduling issues). They did a full tummy ultrasound (no more internal ultrasounds unless they had trouble seeing your cervix), where they would focus on measuring the size of the babies, the amniotic fluid amount, the length of my cervix, the cord and placenta placement/size, and check the vitals of the babies.

Then, once we hit the third trimester, we went in for a couple of appointments every 2 weeks. They still only did the measurements once a month, but they just wanted to check and see the babies a bit more often. They also wanted to make sure I wasn’t going into pre-term labor.

At 32 weeks, we started our weekly perinatal appointments. They scheduled the measurement ultrasound for every 4 weeks still (32 and 36 weeks), but I would be getting additional ultrasounds each week as well. During these, they would check the amount of amniotic fluid (to make sure it wasn’t leaking out). They would check the stomach cavity and diaphragm. They would also look at and measure the heartbeat and heart chambers. Finally, they would look to see that the babies were practicing breathing. Now, they don’t actually breathe when inside the womb, but they do pretend to do this. After 3 weeks of this, I realized that Baby Girl A would pass this part of the test with flying colors, as she would always show this. Baby Boy B, however, would get jostled a bit to wake up and show us something. I asked our doctor about this- should I prepare myself for issues after they are born with his breathing? She told us not to worry. They give themselves a window of 45 minutes per baby to watch for signs of breathing practice. If the baby hasn’t shown it in that 45 minute time, then we would worry. Baby Boy always took longer than his sister, but never more than 5-7 minutes, so there is nothing to fear. In addition, there are many other aspects that they look for during these ultrasounds, not just breathing. All of the results as a whole are much more important than just any one part.

Finally, in these weekly visits, they do the Non-Stress Test (NST). After the ultrasound (and they’ve figured out where the babies are), they hook you up to these monitor belts. They will put some jelly on these discs and place them on your stomach where each heart would be located. Once they find the heartbeat and can hear it clearly, they will attach the disc to an elastic belt, wrapped around your waist. Then, they find your second baby and do the same thing with another disc and belt. Finally, they will put an additional disc on the top of your uterus to measure contractions. You will be hooked up to this for 20 minutes.

During the NST, they are looking for changes in your babies’ heartbeats. They want to see them rise and fall, as the babies move around. If they don’t see much variation, they may do a few different things to get a reaction. First thing is they will ask you to drink some cold water. Cold liquids and foods often get those babies jumping. Jumping babies = rise in heartbeats. I also tried eating some apples that I brought with me, as that often got them moving and shaking. When that didn’t work, they brought in the buzzer. It is a mini airhorn of sorts that they put against your stomach. It vibrates and emits a buzzing sound. When they did it, both babies jumped and started kicking like crazy (and I started laughing because it was so funny to witness. Well, for me, they jumped but Baby Girl didn’t show a change in her heart rate. That’s when Daddy stepped in to the rescue. He came over to me and put his hand over Baby Girl. As she always does, she jumped to life at his touch. Then he started talking to her and coaxing her into getting excited. It finally worked, and both babies passed this test.

Regular OB Appointments

In addition to your perinatal appointments, you will still see your OB, who will actually do the delivery. If they are in the same practice, you may schedule these on the same day. For us, however, we didn’t have this luxury, so we had extra appointments. We made the decision that we would both go to all of the high-risk appointments, because that was when we could see our babies. My husband didn’t want to miss that! For the OB appointments, they focused on my care, and he really didn’t need to be there for them. He came to a few early on to meet our OB and discuss her thoughts on twins and twin deliveries. As I started going more often (and more quickly) to these visits, I gave him permission to save up his doctor time for the other appointments.

During the OB visits, they will take your weight (to make sure you are growing at a good rate) and blood pressure. They will also have you pee in a cup to check your protein levels (to check for signs of preeclampsia). Then you will go back and meet with your OB. She will ask about how you are doing. Sometimes you will get a cervix check (be prepared for this to be a little uncomfortable, as your lady parts are a bit more delicate when you are pregnant). She will also order blood tests and your gestational diabetes test.

Gestational Diabetes Test

I documented my experience (and nerves) about this test here. It really wasn’t bad, but I worked myself up to a bundle of nerves.

Dealing With It All

It all has to do with attitude. I loved going to the doctor so often, because it meant that they were really thorough in making sure that we were all okay. Because I had stopped working after the first trimester (I was a teacher and I finished the school year and didn’t return for the upcoming year), I could be flexible with my appointment times. I also didn’t mind if they took a while. Having this laid-back attitude definitely made a difference in what could have been a very stressful situation. I looked at my appointments as adventures. After all, I got to see and talk about my babies. I got to express fears or concerns and get to know what was going on in my body. I took advantage of the Do-you-have-any-questions? section of my visits. I stayed positive. I listened to their advice and did what they said to the best of my ability. I kept a smile on my face. It really helped.

We had one ultrasound tech that we kept getting that would rush through our ultrasounds. This meant that we got poor pictures and felt like we couldn’t appreciate the experience during those weeks. After the first time this happened, I left the office in tears. I just wanted to see my babies, and I hated that I had to wait another month to get the chance. Well, after a few times of this with her, I realized this was just her style. So, one day I went in and told her, “We aren’t in ANY rush today! I’m feeling great (a lie). It’s beautiful outside, and we don’t have anywhere to be! We are at 34 weeks, and who knows how many more of these appointments we will have left. So, feel free to take your time during this ultrasound!” It did the trick. She commented that she couldn’t take forever because they had a very hectic schedule during the rest of the day. BUT I noticed that she took a little longer on their faces, even though it wasn’t medically necessary. AND we finally got two more pictures of our beautiful babies (which we hadn’t gotten for a few weeks). We didn’t have to be rude or spiteful or call her out on her previous rudeness. Just a upbeat, passive comment was all it took to win her over and get what we wanted in return.

*Dory is currently pregnant with boy/girl twins. She blogs on her personal blog Doyle Dispatch. To read more posts about Dory’s pregnancy and nursery decorating on her blog, you can see the list here.*

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The Signs of Premature Labor

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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.


The premature births of all my babies (see full stories here and here) — my singleton, born at 31 weeks, and then my twins, born at 27.5 weeks — obviously affected our family very profoundly.

In addition to the many other hats I wear, I chair the Multiple Births Canada’s Preterm Birth Support Network and work in my local multiples group as a peer support worker.  In these roles I have the opportunity to speak with expectant mothers and fathers, and a big part of my message is to educate them on the signs of preterm labour.

The day you find out you’re having multiple-birth babies is a day filled with excitement, wonder, and even concern about how you’re going to do it. While preparing to have multiples you will be focusing on doubles, triples or more of many big ticket items and you will be very focused on the babies who are on the way. It will be equally important to remember to focus on yourself; get enough sleep, listen to your doctors’ instructions and be fully aware of preterm birth labour symptoms.

When it comes to expecting multiples, you should be prepared for the possible early arrival of your little ones, as multiple-birth babies are more likely to born premature than their singleton friends.

It is my experience, though, after speaking to hundreds of expectant mothers, new mothers and well-experienced mothers alike that the majority just don’t know what the preterm labour symptoms are. So here is a list of a few of the common ones, with a link to a longer list to be aware of:

  • Low, mild backache
  • Menstrual-like cramps
  • Pressure (as though the baby is pushing down)

Read the full list HERE and consider posting this on your fridge as a quiet reminder.  Ensure your spouse/partner and family are fully aware of the preterm labour symptoms as well. Sometimes as moms we can think we are strong and know our bodies, but miss some obvious signs, so our family can monitor our behaviour and ensure we get the help we need if symptoms of preterm labour present themselves.

Maintain an open dialogue with your doctor.  No question or concern is too silly.  While preterm labor is not completely preventable, education and awareness are important keys in working towards a healthy delivery.

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NICU Graduates: A Picture Round-up

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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.


Thank you for joining us this week as we shared our experiences, reflected on our journeys, and celebrated our milestones in the name of prematurity awareness.  Rounding out our series, the HDYDI MoMs are proud to showcase some of our NICU graduates.


Preemies shortly after birth compared to age 7 from hdydi.com
Sadia’s daughters M (top left and on the inside bottom) and J (top right and on the outside bottom) were born at 33 weeks but are now doing more than fine at age 7. They’re dancers, bookworms, pet lovers, Girl Scouts, best friends and the light of Sadia’s life. They read about 3 grades above their age level. M plans to be a restauranteur, astronaut and mother of quadruplets. J intends to be a teacher and dancer.
Preemies grow up strong from hdydi.com
Margie’s boys, Wesley (top row) and Andrew (bottom row) spent two weeks in the NICU after being born via emergency c-section (on their scheduled 38 week scheduled delivery date) due to an undetected blood disorder that caused extreme complications hours before their actual scheduled delivery time. After several blood transfusions each, having a seizure (Andrew) and receiving several rounds of platelets, the boys beat the odds and came home happy and healthy. The photos on the left were taken the day after their birth. After only a quick glimpse in the delivery room, the boys were rush off to receive immediate medical assistance and Margie and her husband were not allowed to see them until the following morning. The entire day seemed surreal, knowing she delivered two babies, not being able to see them and still having a big twin belly. Margie says those first few days were the hardest, scariest and saddest days she’s ever experienced. The photos to the right show the boys in the NICU after most of the wires and tubes had been removed. They are two of Margie’s most treasured photos.
4
Wesley and Andrew just celebrated their 4th birthday and love living life at 100mph! Wesley wants to drive an ambulance someday to help sick people, and Andrew dreams of being an astronaut.
Preemies grow up healthy and strong! from hdydi.com
MandyE’s fraternal twin girls were born at 34 weeks and spent 10 days in the NICU. They will celebrate their fifth birthday in January with their very blessed family.
Angela's triplets were born at 27 weeks and 5 days after a month of hospital bed rest. They weighed a little over 2 pounds each. Carter only lived 49 days and Braden & Tenley came home after 4 and 3 months. They fought through L3/4 brain bleeds, shunts, NEC, seizures, sensory issues, feeding issues and GERD, and still have ongoing therapy. In the end though, Angela feels blessed and is very proud of how far her little preemies have come.
Angela’s triplets were born at 27 weeks and 5 days after a month of hospital bed rest. They weighed a little over 2 pounds each. Carter only lived 49 days and Braden & Tenley came home after 4 and 3 months. They fought through L3/4 brain bleeds, shunts, NEC, seizures, sensory issues, feeding issues and GERD, and still have ongoing therapy. In the end though, Angela feels blessed and is very proud of how far her little preemies have come.

 

Insert caption here
Carolyn’s first son was born at 31 weeks, followed two years later by her twin boys, at 27 weeks.  Now five and three years old, they are her superheroes.
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Paying It Forward: Volunteering in the NICU

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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.


Our twin girls were born six weeks early. We were so blessed that they required minimal assistance, and after 10 days in the NICU, they were ready to come home.

I knew we were very fortunate that our girls were so healthy…but at the time, those 10 days in the NICU seemed like much longer. I remember feeling so helpless, and so confused. I felt like I couldn’t grasp what was happening…was something wrong with me? Why couldn’t I understand?

In addition to the raw emotion, I felt almost embarrassed at the biggest breakdown I had, the day I was discharged from the hospital without my babies. It was one of the hardest experiences of my life.

Fast forward a couple of years, and those NICU days – while still crystal clear in some ways – were far behind me. My girls were healthy and happy, and if anything, the challenges during the girls’ first few days made me even more appreciative of my blessings.

Sometime before the girls’ second birthday, I received a call from the NICU, asking if I would be willing to volunteer as a “support parent”, as part of a new program they were starting.

I tentatively said yes. I felt like it was the “right” thing to do…but – to be completely honest – part of me dreaded facing that environment again.

I was completely engaged at home, singing songs, reading books, and playing endless games of pretend with my amazing girls. I feared that the sights and sounds and smells of the hospital would bring back too many emotions.

For the first year or so, I visited the hospital when they called me, on average about once a month. I’d psyche myself up beforehand, preparing my game face. I’d let myself be reminded of those emotional days of the girls’ early infancy, and then I’d focus on trying to help another family who was dealing with a similar situation.

The visits could be challenging for me, but I always felt like I’d made a positive impact afterwards. (And they reminded me to squeeze my girls extra tightly when I got home.)

Ahead of the girls starting preschool last fall, I talked with the NICU about volunteering more regularly. To once again be completely honest, I was a little bit torn. For the first time in close to four years, I’d finally have some “off” time. Did I really want to spend part of that each week in such an emotionally-charged environment? But again, I felt like it was the “right” thing for me to do.

A year and a half later, I am so thankful I made the call.

Every Tuesday morning, after I drop the girls off with their beloved teachers and friends, I head to the hospital. No longer do I have any nervous anticipation. I see the same nurses who took care of our beautiful girls. I get to know the families who are in for the long haul. And – if I’m lucky – I sometimes get to be among the first to congratulate a new mom.

I do my best to be a good listener, and – when I feel it’s appropriate – to talk about some of our experiences in the NICU. It can be a delicate balance, but I try to respectfully share what I found as the ultimate blessings of this challenging time.

I hope I’m able to help in some small way the families who are currently experiencing the NICU…to validate their feelings…to be a sounding board, and sometimes lend a shoulder.

I read a quote once upon a time, that there is no true act of altruism, and I find that very true. For any help I am able to provide others, it heals my soul, too.

MandyE is mom to fraternal twin girls, now almost five.  She blogs about their adventures and her journey through motherhood at Twin Trials and Triumphs.

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Giving Back: NICU Gratitude

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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.


During the first 2 weeks of my boys’ lives, the NICU was our home-away-from-home. I was aware of the possibility of a NICU stay, just based on a multiple pregnancy being high-risk. We made it to 38 weeks gestation, so what could possibly go wrong?  Our boys decided to throw a wrench in the we’re-just-here-until-we-can-gain-some-weight-and-maintain-our-body-temps NICU experience that I was prepared for. No parent wants their children to require a NICU stay, but if your children end up there, I now know that there is no better place. The care and concern of the neo-natal doctors and NICU nurses was unimaginably authentic and sincere, and they knew how to react to urgent situations in the blink of an eye.  They are skilled in their profession, and skilled in compassion. (Read a little more about my boys’ unexpected NICU stay in the letter I wrote to them on their first birthday.)

For the first two years after the boys were born, my mom and I “went back to give back”.  On their first birthday I baked 100 cupcakes and my mom knitted baby blankets to distribute to the current NICU residents.  On the boys’ second birthday, they went with us to donate 100 infant and preemie handmade hats (again, the crafty work of my mom).  The nurses loved seeing the boys and the families we encountered were grateful for the handmade items, and hopeful that they’d soon be home with their little ones.  Every February, we also attend a fundraiser for our hospital’s NICU which raises thousands of dollars each year.  Absolutely amazing.

Although my mom was prepared for their 3rd and 4th birthdays, I had a difficult enough time returning the first two times.  Although miracles were performed during my boys’ stay, I got extremely emotional as we walked down that long corridor to the NICU with gifts; gifts thanking the medical personnel for allowing me the opportunity to bring my boys home happy and healthy.  If anyone has ever seen me cry, you know it’s not a pretty sight.  I cannot easily contain my emotions.  I just couldn’t go back to the NICU again.  It was just too difficult, and instantly brought back very emotional memories for me.

Fast forward to today.  I have two very happy, very active four year old boys, and am now involved with our local multiples club.  I was ecstatic to hear that our club’s Charity Committee was able to purchase a rocking chair second-hand, and is in the process of having a plaque made for each arm of the chair.  The plaques will dedicate the chair to a local NICU and create name recognition for our club; a club which has been so supportive to new moms-of-multiples in our area.  You don’t even have to be a member of our club to receive and benefit from the plethora of advice our members are always ready and willing to share.  We want to let new moms know that we have ‘been there’, and that we are a strong, local support system that they can turn to.

Any small token of gratitue does not go unnoticed.  Gifts, parental support via volunteering, updates on your NICU graduates…

Do you feel NICU gratitude? What have you done to give back to those that gave so much?

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The Goal of Reaching the NICU Reunion

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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.


Our girls were born at 34 weeks and spent 10 days in the NICU. I knew at the time – on some level – that we were very lucky, and certainly I realize it today.  Still, those 10 days were filled with many emotions, and a whole lot of haze.

I know a lot of the details I’ve blocked, but some things stand out very clearly in my memory. One of the things I remember with great clarity is a hallway exchange I had with another family, whose twin girls were born a week or so before ours. The mom seemed so well-adjusted and optimistic. We exchanged pleasantries, and she said, “I’m already looking forward to the NICU reunion this fall!

I appreciated her outlook, and that little tidbit of information stuck in my mind. A reunion…eight months out…it was something to look forward to. Although it was very tough to appreciate at the time, I logically knew my girls would be long past their NICU days by then. I, too, began to anticipate the weekend after Labor Day.

Throughout the next few months, as I practiced what I’d learned in the NICU…how to feed my babies, how to burp them, how to bathe them…I was looking forward. I couldn’t wait to show off my babies – who by that time would be plump and smiling – to the NICU nurses. I couldn’t wait to show them and to celebrate, “We did it!

I’ve had numerous conversations with my mommy friends who didn’t spend time in the NICU. Several have recounted how they cried and cried when they brought their babies home, feeling like they didn’t know what to do.

While I did my share of crying after my girls got home, it wasn’t because I felt like I didn’t know what to do. I know I have the NICU nurses to thank for that.

Those nurses were there for us, not just punching the clock and doing their job, but wrapping their arms around us figuratively, and at times, literally, during those first critical days as the size of our family abruptly doubled.

They cheered as I changed my first two diapers…they showed me all sorts of tricks for coaxing a premature baby to take a bottle…they affirmed my every “was that a burp?” question…they stood by my side as I gave the girls a bath for the first time.

The environment may have been cold and sterile, but that’s not how I remember our time in the NICU. The nurses were always so reassuring, letting us know the babies would be fine, and so would we. For that, and for so many more things, I will be eternally grateful.

We attend the NICU reunion each year. It is an awesome opportunity to reconnect with the doctors and nurses who were our family those first couple of weeks. They are truly amazing people, and they will always hold such a special place in our hearts.

The first reunion, it was Mommy who was so looking forward to the visit. The next year, when the girls were about 20 months old, I’d worked with them for days to say, “Hi, Miss Michelle,” in greeting our very favorite nurse. It brought tears to her eyes, and mine.

Since then, the girls look forward to the reunion, too. “When are we going to MY hospital, Mommy?” They like to ride the elevator, they like to eat a piece of cake, and they like to see their pictures hanging on the wall outside the nursery, one of a handful of cases who were highlighted as part of a March of Dimes “graduates” wall.

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Headed to our first NICU reunion. We take a picture now every year beforehand…one proud Mommy and her two healthy babies.

If I could rewrite history, would I want to spend those days in the NICU? No. But do I love to take the girls for a visit once a year…to reflect on how far we’ve all come…to try to convey our eternal gratitude in some small way? Absolutely.

Have you revisited the NICU since your babies graduated?

MandyE is mom to fraternal twin girls, now almost five.  She blogs about their adventures, and her journey through motherhood, at Twin Trials and Triumphs.

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