Jannalee’s Story

August 17, 2015

I always knew when we found out we were having twins it would be a game changer, but our story is far from what I expected. Everyone would comment on how difficult it would be to juggle life at home with two babies, but for me the struggle began much before they made their way home.

The first sign of concern was when I was around 26 weeks pregnant. It was Christmas holidays and we had flown to spend the season with family & friends. My first memory of feeling swollen was actually on Christmas day. I remember struggling to take my boots off and looking down only to be amazed at what I saw. Now the body does some interesting stuff when pregnant, but I was beginning to feel concerned. Like any pregnant woman I did what doctors would advise you against, I sat on the computer, scrolling for answers, searching for similar symptoms with stories that ended well just to ease my mind. I was beginning to be so tired, my legs and feet literally dragging me down. My legs as heavy as cement. This couldn’t be normal, could it? Any symptom I would search would lead to the diagnosis of preeclampsia. What a scary thought – that word was terrifying, especially as I dug deeper reading probably one too many horror story of what could all go wrong. What if this was something I was experiencing? I began to worry more and more each day. Each week brought about its own array of symptoms. I was puffy, yes, but my weight started to spike and all symptoms pointed to one obvious fear. The only cure being to deliver, for the placenta, and in my case placentas to exit the body, I began to look up babies born at 26, 27, 28 weeks. Would my babies be ok if they came so early? I would read about people’s birth stories and blogs on different NICU experiences. I would scroll through hundreds of pictures on Instagram, with a fear that those pictures would one day also fill my memory.

My blood pressure was reaching new highs, and the doctors continued to be concerned. It came to a point where they did not want to risk the health of the babies by keeping them inside, after all they were not thriving anymore, and my body was obviously under a lot of stress. I requested a medical leave from work. I packed up my classroom and said goodbye to my students the next afternoon. Everything was happening so fast, but my due date was still 2 ½ months away.

After two rounds of steroids to help mature the babies lungs, and after spending a few nights in the hospital unaware of what was about to happen, I went for my final fetal assessment. We knew the routine well, as I had been in countless times over the past 7 months, and most recently the babies were being checked weekly. This time was different however. I was experiencing a horrible migraine, similar to the one the day before, so my husband pushed me down the long hall in a wheelchair to where we met our doctor. Before we knew it we were back upstairs and they were prepping me for surgery. This was it. At 31 weeks, the babies were coming.

I remember lying there, the room spinning. Unable to eat I felt weak. I felt so unprepared physically and emotionally. I had no idea when I woke up that morning we would be meeting the babies that afternoon. I felt defeated, but ultimately had to give up control, knowing my doctor would not be rushing things if she didn’t think it was absolutely necessary.

They brought me into the OR, where I kept my eyes squeezed tight the entire time. Because the room was spinning, but also because I felt fear like I had never experienced before. I felt scared for myself, but I had so many questions about the outcome, would my babies be ok? Before my husband was invited into the room, they gave me a spinal which filled my lower half almost instantly. The next thing I knew my husband was by my side, holding my hand tightly and reassuring me that everything was going to be ok, even though he himself was scared to death. His strength surrounded me. This strength is what I relied on in that moment, and in every moment that followed. I was so drugged up I could barely talk. I remember lying there so numb and helpless.

The rest of the afternoon feels like a fog. 3:30 – our daughter was born, and three minutes later our son! Both let out tiny cries, the happiest sound I had ever heard. I do remember them announcing the babies’ arrival, but beyond that, I had to get my husband to fill me in on all the other details around their birth. I had no idea what was happening around me. To this day I still feel like I’m fitting together the pieces of that day and the intense early days that would follow.

My doctor held up both babies for me to have a quick glance, but I dreamt of that moment where my newborns would be placed on my chest, we would count fingers and toes. I dreamt of that instant connection, that moment of relief that the past months of pregnancy were worth it, that precious moment of meeting and falling in love with my two precious babies. Instead, they each had a medical team to transport them to not only another room, but a different building which felt like miles and miles away.  My babies were being cared for as I lay helplessly in a dark room with anti-seizure medication running through my veins. They were in the best possible care, don’t get me wrong, but as a brand new mom I thought the little things that would fill my mind would include learning about umbilical cord care, proper latching techniques and those first few diaper changes. Someone else was taking care of my babies. I had to ask how my babies were doing, all the while feeling crushed that I didn’t know, I should’ve known, after all I am their Mom.

With being in such rough shape, it took me a while to feel up to making the trek through the long dark tunnels of the hospital to find our way to the NICU. My husband was running back and forth, in a constant tug-o-war match between being with me and being with the new babies. He was my rock and remained so focused when everything around felt so unfamiliar. I would pump as much milk as I could and my husband would deliver it. Each time coming back to check on me with another story of how amazing our babies were, and how he was learning about the different machines and equipment used in the NICU. He would show me pictures and even brought back a tiny diaper for me to see just how small the babies actually were. It’s hard to imagine babies being 2.5lbs and 2.13lbs. My first visit felt unreal, I remember buzzing in identifying who I was. I was led to where they lay and I felt every emotion in that moment. So extremely in love, yet so extremely sad. All they needed days before was my body, now everything was being monitored so closely, and the machines were overwhelming. We held them close while asking what seemed like hundreds of questions. Trying to blur out the random yet persistent dinging of machines, we were a family, we bonded. We took picture after picture and told the babies how much we loved them and how proud we were of them.

I was sent home with a pharmacy of medications to take. Medications to lower my blood pressure by making me feel like I was living outside my body. My thoughts seemed cloudy. Nothing could’ve prepared me for how heartbreaking it was to come home without my babies. Each milestone seemed harder than the last. Well wishes came pouring in, but I continued to feel so torn, so confused to simultaneously feel such intense love and such deep sadness. I felt anxious being away from them. How could there be such separation from two little people I had just carried for all those months.

The nurses that meant the most were those who assured me the babies were aware of our presence. When different medical professionals were taking care of them I often wondered if they knew we were there, if it even mattered during those first few days. Could they recognize our voices, could they sense our closeness? Kangaroo care is what got me through those first few weeks. With different cords and monitors hooked up, we were able to experience that skin to skin contact that my soul desperately craved. For them to feel the warmth of human touch, to hear the beating of my heart. They had come to know that sound so well from the inside, surely it would be a comfort to them during those first few weeks.

We began navigating hospital rules and differing nurses opinions on how much/how long our babies should be handled. Some thought it was the best thing for them while others thought it would be too stressful and that instead we should just let them sleep. Calling was always an option, but most of the time it just made me more anxious about not being there. In the beginning I knew I had to focus on my own recovery, but I think God gives you the reward of cuddling your baby to get you through the first few weeks of postpartum. The hormones raging, the breasts engorged. I didn’t have my babies to snuggle. I wanted desperately to stay home and not get ready for the day, but that meant I wouldn’t see my babies. Every day, missing only one Sunday, we would pack up and head to the hospital. The halls became familiar, the nurses the only other human interaction I would have. People would call or text, but I would often have no idea where to start. I was hurting. I was exhausted and had no emotional capacity left. Also, how was I expected to answer questions I didn’t even know the answers to? How long will they be in the hospital for? I had no idea. Everyday doctors would do their rounds, talking about each baby, and as someone very new to the medical world, I felt like I was trying to play keep-up non-stop. But they were talking about MY babies!! I struggled with that… obviously in the beginning I knew that the hospital was where the babies needed to be. But, having complete logical knowledge around something does not necessarily make the situation any easier. In fact, the control and unknown was so incredibly difficult to let go of.

After 38 days, and at just 36 gestational weeks, we brought home our tiny daughter. She was not even 5lbs but we were so excited. In some ways bringing her home first eased us in to what our new life was going to be like, but having one baby at home and one still in the hospital was really overwhelming. Comments would hit me hard. We arrived at church one morning with our daughter, and someone asked, “Did you forget one?” A comment I will never forget, it hit me so deep and crushed my heart into a million pieces. I think I cried for the rest of the day. He was all I was thinking about and I needed to be with him.

Then came a phone call early one Sunday morning saying that it had been discovered during a routine check-up that our son had extremely low blood sugar. A few times during the previous days I had mentioned to the nurses that his colouring was off. This began another whole difficult situation. Our son went through countless scans, MRI’s, ultrasounds and blood work all looking for a reason why he was experiencing hypoglycemia. Each test would weigh heavy on me and again I would search for my own answers on the internet. Nothing seemed to help, and the days felt like they were wasting away. Every specialist had their own theory, and we tried really hard to be patient. Our son was such a trooper through it all and we could not be more proud. He was finally diagnosed with Hyperinsulinaemic Hypoglycemia, a condition thought to be brought upon by his low birth weight. After finding a medication to regulate his blood sugar, doctors were confident he could be discharged. After 87 days we brought our son home! Our hearts so overjoyed to be together at last.

Since bringing both babies home I have allowed myself time to process our birth story as well as our time in the hospital. While this is not how I pictured becoming a Mom I have so much to be incredibly grateful for. Was it traumatic? Yes. Have I had to grieve the labour/delivery/bringing home baby process? Yes. Most days I get a lump in my throat just thinking about it and I wonder if I will always be heartbroken when I think about this season of our lives. I was not the first to hold my babies, the first to feed them or to give them a bath. But I keep coming back to the realization that we all have our stories. Being in the hospital all those months reminded me of that. There were stories being played out all around us. Everyone has a story, some filled with deep heartache and some with overwhelming joy. We are so incredibly blessed to welcome these two precious babies into our family. We are thankful to the many nurses and medical professionals who cared for us during our time in the hospital and for our community of family and friends who have walked with us through this journey.

~ Jannalee Wilson

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