I’ve mentioned before that I wanted to share Ella and Rosie’s NICU story, but that it needed to be the right time and place.
Well today’s the day.
First, because I feel as if I’ve had the space and time to process the whole experience (though I don’t know if I’ll ever be at a place where I’ve fully processed it).
Second (and only because the above was true), because an amazing company called Prolacta Bioscience, reached out to me and asked if they could sponsor a post like this (more on them in a bit).
I can, with 100% certainty, say that those three weeks of my life felt like three years.
I look back on that time and it seems like it went so fast, but at the time every day felt like way more than 24 hours.
As many of you know, our NICU experience started with the early birth of our twin daughters at 33 weeks (writing that out, I still can’t believe they came so early).
It was the most surreal moment of my life because up until that morning when I started getting contractions, there were no signs that I was going to go into labor early… and I had been meeting with doctors on a biweekly basis due to the twins being mono-di and my gestational diabetes.
So their birth was a complete shock to me.
And even though I knew it was likely we would spend some time in the NICU, I still deep down felt like that couldn’t happen to us. I assumed I was going to be one of those “lucky” twin moms that can carry their babies “full term” (doctors typically deliver twins around 36-37 weeks).
But I was not.
We didn’t know how serious their NICU stay was going to be, but one thing that our doctor and nurses were all pretty certain of was that they would need to be hooked up to a breathing tube due to their gestational age (I was thankfully able to get both steroid shots over the course of my labor).
So you can imagine the absolute joy I felt when I heard both babies crying and it was confirmed that both girls were breathing on their own. I was able to cuddle them both for a few minutes (I’m so thankful for that) before they were whisked away to the NICU.
That was probably the longest night of my life. It was after midnight when they were born and by the time I was all cleaned up, and had spent my hour of recovery, I was finally able to be wheeled down to see them at about 3:30 in the morning.
One thing I am eternally grateful for is that I was able to hold them right away. My heart breaks for those mamas that don’t have that privilege. I honestly can’t imagine what that must feel like.
But it was the most beautiful moment where, for the first time, I found two babies in my arms and Rosie reached over and grabbed Ella’s hand. I just sat there with David and cried exhausted and joyful tears that even though they were born early they were doing so great.
I’m also so thankful for those nurses who then ushered me off to bed with assurances that all would be well. I didn’t think I would be able to sleep, but I did and it was the best thing for me at the time.
The next couple of days were a blur… we had some visitors, but not a lot, which was good. Even with the small amount of visitors that we did have, we eventually had to say “no more” as it was just too much for the girls.
My mother in law had come into town to stay with Kit while we were at the hospital and I originally was planning on staying at the hospital for a few days after I was discharged, but it became clear to me that I needed to return home and create some normalcy for Kit.
That was such a hard decision, I hated that I had to choose between Kit and the twins. But that became my reality for the next three weeks.
I still feel guilty and sad that I was only able to spend about six hours a day with the twins for the first three weeks of their lives.
I know it was the right thing to do, but it still hurts my heart that I couldn’t be there for them 24/7 after they were born. I still ache over the fact that they were safe and happy inside of me and then they were welcomed into a world where I was only around for a part of their day.
I don’t know if I’ll ever really get over the hurt that came/comes with that.
But I had to be there for Kit too. I had to make sure she was feeling safe and loved as well.
And that was our life for three weeks. I drove back and forth between home and the NICU. When I was home I tried to utilize every moment with Kit and while I was at the NICU I held those girls as much as the nurses would let me.
That time feels like such a blur and yet I still remember every nurse, every smell, every sound… I remember every feeling. The exhaustion, the joy, the fear.
I was so exhausted and overwhelmed that I started a private Facebook group for friends and family to post updates because even the thought of putting into verbal words how the girls were doing was simply too much.
In a weird way, voicing updates about the girls (instead of writing them down) made everything too real. I think not wanting to give updates was my mind’s way of protecting itself until it was “safe” to process things. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I don’t know how else to describe it.
The only thing that broke into that blur of time was the day we heard that Rosie had suffered from stage four brain bleeding shortly after she was born. They found the bleeding doing a routine head ultrasound that is done with all preemies.
I remember that I got the call from the doctor while I was at home pumping. It took everything in me to finish that pumping session without completely falling apart. It was just too much… first trying to handle the NICU experience and then hearing that my perfect baby girl might not be 100% okay.
But as we quickly learned, Ella and Rosie are fighters. They were born breathing when they shouldn’t have been, they came out bigger than expected, they were discharged from the NICU an entire week earlier than was originally forecasted… and I’m happy to say that Rosie seems to have beaten the odds and has stayed completely on track with her development so far. Something that has shocked her doctors and her developmental therapist.
Sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t feel so affected by the experience… because it was only three weeks and other families have to deal with so much more than that.
But then I realize that no matter how long your children are in the NICU, no matter how well they do… it’s an experience that is excruciating. To be so helpless in the care for your babies… to not be able to do anything to help them “get better”… it’s very, very hard.
I know this to be true for a lot of other NICU moms as well, but breastfeeding and pumping took on a new meaning for me (although I’m still 100% for fed is best). I was so thankful that I was able to have a supply for them because being able to provide my breast milk was the one thing that only I could do for them.
Even in those early days when we were using donor milk (until my milk came in), I was still determined to provide my colostrum for their feedings.
But even with the donor milk and with my milk that I was pumping and bringing to the hospital the girls still had to have fortifier in every feeding in order to get the nutrients and calories that were necessary for their growth.
I didn’t know this at the time (because everything was a blur), but the human milk fortifier used was most likely derived from cows milk. Not a big deal for some babies, but we found out as time progressed that poor Rosie has a pretty strong reaction to milk protein. I had no idea that the fortifier could be what was causing a lot of her “discomfort” (which I attributed to her sassy little personality), and I especially didn’t realize that there is a risk of severe complications that can arise from using cow’s milk in a preemies diet (especially extremely premature infants as stated in this article).
I had no idea that I had a choice in what the twins were given to supplement my breast milk. And I especially had no idea that there were companies like Prolacta that make Human Milk Fortifier from 100% human milk. If I would have known, I would have absolutely requested this for my girls. I’m so glad our outcome was positive, but it does make me wonder if we could have prevented so much of Rosie’s discomfort (and I’m very protective of her!) if we had been using a different fortifier.
Yes, Prolacta is sponsoring this post, but I wanted to share this information with you because I had no idea that cow’s milk was being used in HMF and because I had no idea that I had a choice in what was used for our girls. It’s easy to be so overwhelmed by everything that is happening when you are in the thick of a NICU experience, but knowing you have options is so important. As I walked out my journey in the NICU one of the greatest things that made me feel “normal” was acting like I was in charge (even if I wasn’t). When it was time to feed the girls, I called the nurses. I “decided” when it was time to give them a bath… taking as much charge of their care as I could (even if it was all under the close, watchful eyes of the nurses). I encourage you to do the same if you’re going through it right now, know that you have a say and be in conversation with your doctor about what’s best for your child… especially about what they are being fed.
Looking back on our time in the NICU, I’m so thankful it ended in the way that it did. I’m still sad that we didn’t get a normal newborn experience with the girls, but I know it could have been a lot worse. I feel so blessed to have two healthy and happy baby girls and I know this is a part of our story for a reason. I know the feelings of those three weeks will be with be us for a very long time, but I’m so glad we’re on the other side of things.
And if this post reaches you, and you are going through a NICU experience right now, know that you’re not alone. I’d love to chat with you so please reach out to me (on Instagram, Facebook, or directly: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Thanks for reading friends… sorry if it was rambly! This is the first time I’ve ever really written down my thoughts on those weeks and I was at a loss at times.
And if you want to learn more about Prolacta and what they are doing, here is a video that I think you’ll find helpful:
Until next time,