In Honor of Prematurity Awareness Month

It’s natural to want to share everything with your best friend, so when Katie and I discovered that we were both expecting twins in the summer of 2014 we were ecstatic. To make it even more exciting, our due dates were only 4 weeks apart! Katie and I met at age 10, and while I don’t remember the exact circumstances of how we met, I do know that starting in the 5th grade, most of my childhood memories include Katie. We’ve had countless sleepovers, we’ve gone on many family vacations together, we’ve had thousands of deep conversations over cups of cocoa and we’ve even managed to have a few epic nights out. She’s the kind of friend that, when we’re together, even if it has been months since we last chatted, it feels like we were never apart.

Katie’s pregnancy was going really well, however she unexpectedly went into labor the day after Christmas 2014, about three months prior to her March due date. Her twin boys were born at 28 weeks 4 days and 28 weeks 5 days, (they have different birthdays!) At birth, the boys weighed a slight 3lbs 1oz and 2lbs 11oz. Due to their prematurity they both initially required respiratory support with a ventilator. They needed nutritional support and fluids with IVs because at first their little tummies were too immature for breast milk, and they needed constant monitoring of their vital signs. The boys quickly showed the world that they were small but mighty by weaning off their ventilators within about 2 days of life.

My husband and I were away visiting family for Christmas when we learned that Katie had delivered the twins. I was 25 weeks pregnant with our twins at the time and all I could do was cry. I was terrified for my best friend and her tiny twins and I felt helpless. When we returned home, I threw myself into supporting their family any way that I could. I was able to meet Katie for lunch in the cafeteria whenever it fit with her schedule as I work at the hospital, and one evening in mid January we brought a meal to the NICU to share with Katie and her family. It was the first time we were introduced to her twins. They were perfect and tiny. They were each cuddled gently into a warm isolette that mimicked the womb and each wore a diaper so small that it could fit in the palm of your hand. They each had a CPAP mask over their nose pushing oxygen into their lungs to make sure their airways inflated properly. They had electrodes attached to three places on their chests monitoring their vital signs and temperature. They also had a sensor wrapped around their foot measuring their oxygen saturation. It was terrifying to see so many tubes and wires on such a tiny, fragile body. Her boys were making steady progress, but they still had mountains to climb before they would be ready for discharge.

In Honor of Prematurity Awareness Month | Duluth Moms Blog{ Photo credit: Three Irish Girls Photography }

Our plan was to continue to bring meals to Katie and her family and support them any way we could, however in early February the unthinkable happened. My routine 30 week OB check led to a hospital admission and six hours later, the unexpected birth of our twins! Right before they were born I texted Katie to tell her the news, not only would we both have twins, we would both have premature twins. We would be NICU mates! After delivery I wasn’t able to go with the twins to the NICU from the operating room for obvious reasons, but my husband walked alongside the isolette that held our 2lb 13oz daughter and our 3lb 5oz son all the way to the NICU. When he reached the unit, my husband was greeted by Katie and her husband with a warm hug and a few words of encouragement as he was guided down the hall to the room that we would call home for the next 6 weeks. I went alone to the recovery room, but knowing that Katie and her husband were there supporting our twins in silent prayer and monitoring them from afar while nurses struggled to place IVs in their delicate veins and apply oxygen masks to their tiny faces was incredibly comforting. Throughout our stay my best friend was there in the room down the hall experiencing the exact same things that I was. She was also trying to balance providing care to two medially fragile babies, pumping around the clock, while trying to meet our own basic needs, all while still managing a household and preparing for life at home with two babies. It was incredible to have her so near and for her to truly understand what we were going through.

In Honor of Prematurity Awareness Month | Duluth Moms BlogWhen premature birth happens, the parents are unexpectedly thrust into a different universe. There are rules and strict routines, which are in place to help the babies heal and grow. You learn quickly that the babies will have good days and bad days. Days where they make forward progress, maybe by being able to wean off of oxygen or take a few mls of milk by bottle. However, just as often they have difficult days with multiple “spells” where their oxygen saturation dips causing bradycardia (low heart rate). These spells cause alarms to ring frantically at high pitches and it can happen all through the day and night. The alarms always send a team of nurses running to assess the situation. This is probably the understatement of the year, but this is all very traumatic for parents. Parents watch helplessly as their most prized possessions struggle to perform the most basic tasks necessary to live; breathing, eating and growing. Probably the worst part of all, is not knowing what sort of outcome your child will have.

In Honor of Prematurity Awareness Month | Duluth Moms BlogToday, I’m thrilled to report that our preemies are thriving. All four of them are meeting their expected developmental milestones and they’re healthy, happy toddlers. We have a lot of people to thank for that. We owe a debt of gratitude to the all the health care providers who cared for our children in the NICU. From the neonatologists and nurse practitioners to the nursing staff, from the physical therapists and the speech pathologists to the respiratory therapists, they were all wonderful, caring and skilled. We also have to thank our families and friends who supported us with food, prayers, and warm hugs through this difficult time in our lives. There are many bumps and twists and turns along the road during a NICU stay, but I was blessed to have my best friend by my side the whole way, this made the journey just a little easier. Our already strong bond grew even more ironclad, and for that I very happy.

In Honor of Prematurity Awareness Month | Duluth Moms Blog{ Photo credit: Three Irish Girls Photography } 

Here are a few simple ideas for how you could support a family enduring a NICU stay.

  • Provide a hot meal. Consider delivering the meal to the NICU in a disposable container so the family doesn’t have to worry about returning Tupperware or baking dishes.
  • Drop off a goodie bag of snacks. Simple snacks come in very handy, especially for pumping mamas. Just a heads up, typically only dry snacks and capped/covered beverages are allowed into the NICU hospital rooms. They probably do have access to a small amount of fridge space in a common area for snacks that need to be kept cold.
  • Take them for a quick walk around the hospital for some fresh air and a quiet chat. Lend an ear, listen to what they’re going through and validate their feelings.
  • Offer to walk their dog daily or better yet, host their pet at your home for the duration of their stay.
  • Invite an older child on a play date.
  • Offer to run errands or complete household chores such as mowing the lawn, or folding a load of laundry.
  • Send a simple card or e-mail that says you’re thinking about them and sending love and support. Small gestures like this are very much appreciated.

 


 

Dreaming of Family Adventure | Duluth Moms Blog{ Photo credit: Three Irish Girls Photography }

Kristina is a native Duluthian and a mom to boy/girl twins who are two years old. While in grad school in Boston, she met her husband who is originally from Ireland. They returned to Duluth 5 years ago to be closer to at least one of their families. Kristina works as a nurse practitioner in a local urology practice. She enjoys planning vacations that she hopes to actually take one day, using a label maker to organize all the things, and going on adventures with her family. 

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