“Our NICU chapter began before we were even ready to write it. Are you ever ready for that type of heartache, though? No pictures of NICU babies could ever prepare you for seeing your own little one hooked up to machines and tubes. No amount of stories or advice could equip you for the sadness and loneliness you are about to face. Nothing, not even your wildest dreams, could begin to unravel the path you are about to wander.
My twins spent a whole 5 seconds on my chest after birth before they were whisked away from the room and upstairs to the NICU. My husband followed after, knowing he was better use to them than he was staying with me. The next hour I spent alone, with no babies and no husband, was only the beginning of this emotionally confusing journey I would walk. I truly believed we would squeak past this experience, even after my water broke at 35.5 weeks. I knew the possibility of preemie twins, yet I never accepted it being a reality. I never wanted to.
Seeing your little babies attached to machines is a surreal moment. You cry like you’ve never cried before and your face becomes so puffy you can hardly recognize yourself in a mirror. You watch their chest rise and fall inside of the incubators while you obsessively watch their stats on the screen above. You have this constant battle of ‘COULD I have done more to keep them safer inside of me?’ and ‘you KNOW you could have done more to keep them safer inside.’ You fight internally with your thoughts, trying so hard to keep the negative ones at bay.
You spend the next few days as a patient yourself in the hospital, while shuffling between your own room and theirs. Every few hours you pump tiny drops of milk in hopes it’s sufficient for their tiny bellies. You walk back from the NICU with empty hands, into an empty room. There’s no see-through bassinets in there holding your babies, there’s just crying babies down the hall to remind you of what you’re missing. You become envious. Then bitter. Then heartbroken. Then angry. Then you just cry more because hormones make it impossible not to. Eventually you pick yourself up and walk yourself back up to see your babies again. Even when they are the reason you have newfound fears and anxiety, they are also your source of love and comfort at the same time. Just seeing them and being next to them brings you hope that this chapter won’t last forever.
Then the dreaded discharge day comes. You knew you’d be leaving without your babies but you never anticipated how absolutely agonizing that would be. Of course they have to stay here. Of course you can’t take them home with you. They need help breathing and eating and the hospital is the only place that can cater to their needs. They’re much safer here in the care of the most angel-like human beings on the planet. NICU nurses are a special breed of their own and you could not have picked a better place to birth them. But it still hurts. It still crushes you to your inner soul that they have to stay.
But before you leave, you make one last trip to see them. You double check that the nurses have your correct phone numbers and you kiss their sweet little heads. ‘It’s not goodbye, just a see-ya-later.’ You take a deep breath in and you walk out, hoping nothing too serious happens while you’re gone.
You walked into this hospital on the arm of your husband, with a full womb. You are wheeled out of this hospital with an empty womb and a piece of your heart missing and stranded on the third floor. You cry the entire way home. It feels so impossible and unfair that this is a part of your story. You didn’t want to be this strong. But here you are. And you’re about to walk into a home with two other children that need their Mama too, so putting on a brave face is about to become your middle name.
You walk in the door to excited arms and lots of ‘I missed you, Mama!’ and ‘I love you, Mama!’ phrases. You are so eager to see their smiling faces and kiss their little cheeks. They seemed like little toddlers before this whole process but now they look like huge kids compared to their baby sisters in the hospital.
You’re glad to be home, but your heart is still yearning to get back to the little babies you left behind. The empty nursery only rubs salt in your already stinging wound, yet you try so hard to be thankful for what you already have. Your other children are happy and healthy. They’re standing right here in front of you with so many questions about their baby sisters. You all try catching up with each other and listening to all the fun activities the family did with them over the last few days. Then you take a glimpse at the clock.
You’ve been home for about 30 minutes now and you know it’s about 45 minutes until the babies need to eat again. Do you take off already to go back to the hospital to see them? Or do you take a much needed shower, snuggle with your other two babies here and go see them for the feeding after? You know it takes about 18 minutes to get back to the hospital, so you could take a quick shower and then sneak back up there for this feeding before calling it a night. That way you can put your kids to bed, get some good rest, and be energized for the first morning feeding at the hospital at 8 a.m.. It seems like the perfect plan and for a few moments, excitement creeps back in to your heart.
You run the idea by your husband as you’ve already started your shower. He urges you to stay home with the other girls since you just arrived after quite a few days away. He suggests you call up there and ask how everything is going and maybe hitting the later night shift around 10 p.m. He hints that your kids could use a much needed Mama-enforced bedtime routine. You agree, sort of unwillingly. But you still take your much needed shower and cry knowing it’s going to be another 4-5 hours before you see your babies again. Then you cry more, knowing you’re not loving your children in front of you enough and feeling like you can’t even begin to juggle splitting your time between the two sets.
You spend the next few weeks in this constant battle between knowing your babies in the NICU don’t NEED you to be there for every day-time feeding, and also knowing your older children are having a blast with all of this family around, so why not try to do every feeding? When you are home, chores seem like the last thing on your to-do list. You take the help from anyone and everyone willing to do your dishes, help vacuum your carpets, and fold your laundry. When there’s no one around to help do the housework, your husband starts stepping up in your place. When you’re home you focus your attention on your kids there and tell them stories while showing them pictures of their sisters in the hospital. You snuggle with them on the couch, exhausted by this new normal you all have.
When you’re in the NICU, you witness the babies take one step forward while taking two steps back. Just when it seems like there’s light at the end of the tunnel, one of them has a sleep apnea episode that buys them more days or one refuses to eat all of their meal through the bottle. There are so many ups and downs that when the doctors do give you the go-ahead to go home the next day, you spend all night holding your breath, praying that some random thing doesn’t set you back.
But the day does finally come and it seems surreal that you actually get to take these babies home. Your heart is pounding out of your chest that you’re being entrusted with these tiny human beings that have spent all of their life attached to some kind of monitor. But they’re finally yours! They’ve always been yours, but now they’re 100% your responsibility. There are no nurses coming with you, even though you secretly wished one could sneak out. The car seats you’ve been staring at finally have babies inside of them and you’re carrying them out of the hospital. You are taking your babies home!
When you arrive home, the real fun and chaos begins. But you take a moment to admire the journey you just walked and the excitement this moment brings. You’re finally all under the same roof and your children are all together. Your life has never felt more complete.”
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