I stepped out of the wheelchair and walked into a large open room marked “NICU Pod 2.” There was an incessant beeping of alarms, bright fluorescent lights and doctors and nurses scurrying around the room. The room smelled of hand sanitizer and panic. My girls were positioned next to each other in identical oversized clear boxes. Are these really my girls, I wondered. I have never seen a baby that small in my life. I was now a NICU Mom.
My daughters’ entrance into the world was shocking and far from the joyful experience I’d anticipated. My girls were Mono-Mono twins meaning they were in the same amniotic sac and same placenta which put them at high risk of cord entanglement and cord compression. The endless ‘what if’ scenarios were terrifying. My doctor had put me on bedrest around 25 weeks and there I was laying and incubating for two months until I experienced a placenta abruption at 30 weeks that resulted in their immediate delivery.
I remember laying on the exam table exhausted, nauseous and seeing my doctor proudly holding up my baby. “Here’s Baby A,” he said lifting Katherine up high for me and my husband to see. Thirty seconds later he pulled her sister Lauren out. “And here’s Baby B.”
I breathed a sigh of relief as my husband snapped photos of our girls. I heard my first daughter’s muffled cry above the surgical slurps and suctions. Then about two minutes later my second daughter wailed much louder than the first—almost as if to say, “Why did you pull me out? I want to go back!”
Hearing my girls cry for the first time was incredible but also heartbreaking. There was no baby on my chest after, no skin to skin contact, no looking into their eyes and whispering “I love you.” In fact, I saw the girls for a second before the nurses leaped in and whisked them away to the NICU. I was grateful they were here but devastated to be separated from them. My babies bypassed the loving arms of their mother and instead were poked and prodded with needles then placed into a lifeless machine.
They were barely a few minutes old and I already felt I had failed them as a mother. I worried they would feel alone or unloved. They would miss the warmth, familiarity and comfort of my womb and the ease of my voice. The combination of them being separated from me, in a plastic box, and then the fact that they didn’t even have each other weighed heavily on me. The sisters, womb mates, best friends since conception were now several feet away from each other.
After my C-section, I developed a fever and wasn’t able to go and see my babies. It was complete and utter agony for two days. I sent my husband to check on our girls and give me updates on their progress and show me pictures and videos.
When I was strong enough to go up to the NICU, my husband took me up in the wheelchair and parked it right next to their beds, and held my arm tightly as I met our girls for the first time. I had imagined this moment ever since that day in my OB’s office when he first delivered the news we were pregnant with twins. After months of waiting, worrying for their safety, and imagining what they would look like when I finally did meet them. Would they have my dark hair? Or would they inherit their Daddy’s sea-blue eyes?
Nothing had gone the way I envisioned it. Why couldn’t I carry my babies to full term? Why couldn’t we be coming home with our two babies. Instead I was discharged from the hospital and forced to leave without my family. If you are a twin mom or a singleton mom, nothing could ever quite prepare you for a NICU stay and becoming a NICU mom. I realized on that painful day when I was wheeled to my car empty handed, that I had a choice. I could either spend the next few weeks wallowing in self-pity or I could muster up the strength and courage to step up and figure out our next move. The NICU nurses had assumed the role of primary caregiver but I knew the girls needed me now more than ever. And so I became an expert in photo-therapy and bilirubin lights. When I was in the NICU I fed and changed the girls’ diapers carefully navigating around the cords and wires. When I was at home I pumped around the clock to provide the girls with breast milk. As I delivered the expressed breast milk to the NICU, I realized that my journey as a NICU Mom was beginning and that was preparing me for my greater role as a Mom when I brought my babies home.
There are no guarantees that anything will ever go a certain way but one thing will always be true and that’s that I will always do whatever I need to do to help my babies.
Crystal Duffy lives in Houston with her husband, three little girls, and a yappy little Yorkie. Her writing has appeared in Scary Mommy, Mamapeadia, Twins Magazine and she’s a contributing writer for Twiniversity. She’s the author of her memoir, Twin to Twin, which details her high-risk twin pregnancy. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and her blog.