I was extremely honored when Kari asked me to share my family’s story for her World Mama series. Our story is definitely not common and one filled with sadness but our story is also filled with hope. The “hope” is what I want you to take away from my post while raising awareness about two causes that are extremely near and dear to my family. A portion of this post can also be found on my blog. To read more about my family then please check out my blog, overwhelmed and follow along with us on Instagram. Thank you for reading!
“I wish I could go back to those moments of innocence to better prepare myself for what was to come”
Every woman who is trying to get pregnant with their first child knows the feeling of vast excitement as soon as they see the first positive line on their pregnancy test. I will never forget how happy I was the morning I found out I was pregnant. I could not believe our good fortune of being able to conceive after 15 months of trying and immediately started to imagine our life with our future bundle of joy. I was blissfully naïve of any complications which could arise during pregnancy and sometimes still wish I could go back to those moments of innocence to better prepare myself for what was to come.
Fast forward to a couple weeks after my first positive pregnancy test and I found myself nervously waiting at the doctors to be called back for an early ultrasound since I had started to spot. By then I had read the statistics of early miscarriages and was sure this was happening to me and I was losing our baby. I remember praying so hard that my thoughts were wrong and I would see a healthy heartbeat appear on the ultrasound monitor.
Turns out my thoughts were wrong. I did not just see one healthy heartbeat. I saw three! I found out I was expecting a set of spontaneous identical triplets. Saying this news was a shock of a lifetime is correct since naturally conceiving identical triplets is extremely rare.
Becoming pregnant with multiples was never on my radar. Whenever I thought about building our family, I figured it would be with one child at-a-time. But here I was, laying down on the examine table while the ultrasound tech kept having to update her computer notes with each new heartbeat she discovered in my womb.
The next few weeks were a blur as we adjusted to the fact that our family of two was increasing to a family of five. Even though we were shocked by the news, we were instantly excited about our babies and our love for them grew by the minute. I started to scour the internet and social media to find support groups and articles to help me paint a small picture of what my life would be like with three newborns. While researching I continuously came across articles about multiples being born extremely prematurely and a disease that can only affect identical multiples called TTTS (twin-to-twin or triplet-to-triplet transfusion syndrome).
Fetal Laser Ablation Surgery
Remember when I said I had been blissfully naïve? Well, this all changed as soon as we had a very long conversation with our Maternal/Fetal Medicine doctor and he told us what to expect now that we were expecting multiples. He informed us about TTTS and how it occurs when one (or more) baby is receiving too much blood and the other baby (or more) is receiving too little. He told us that it can happen at any time during my pregnancy and the only way to cure TTTS is by a fetal laser ablation surgery which only a limited amount of doctors across the country can perform. The surgery is risky and not always successful. He also told us to expect to deliver the babies early. Full term for triplets was considered 32 weeks but many are delivered before. This was a lot of information to process but I kept trying to tell myself that it would be ok and our babies would be born healthy.
“Without the surgery there was a 100% chance of fetal demise”
Unfortunately, I was very wrong. I went in for my weekly doctor visit and ultrasound the day before Thanksgiving in 2014. I was 18 weeks pregnant and was extremely concerned that my abdomen had started to swell. I had never been pregnant before, let alone with triplets, so I did not know if this was just what was to be expected or if something was wrong. Turns out, something was very wrong. TTTS was discovered during my ulstraound and we immediately needed to make a game plan on where we would travel to have the surgery, which would hopefully save all three of our babies lives. Without the surgery there was a 100% chance of fetal demise.
A few days later we traveled from our home in Charlotte, North Carolina to Miami, Florida to meet with a surgeon who is one of the pioneers of this lifesaving surgery to correct TTTS. He explained to us that he would be using a laser to section off my placenta so each baby would basically have their own piece and they would no longer be sharing a blood flow. This would then help balance out our babies, which we had found out were girls, amniotic fluid levels. We were so optimistic entering the surgery and were praying for the best outcome of three healthy baby girls.
The surgery was a success! I was waiting patiently for the medical team to do all post-op protocol so my husband and parents could soon join me. I was already throwing up again but that was pretty normal since I had been sick my entire pregnancy. I looked up and saw the three happiest faces ever walking through the double doors to the post op room when it happened. All the sudden I felt a little gush. This did not make sense and I immediately told the doctor. After that everything seemed a blur. My family was rushed out again and a flurry of people started moving quickly around me. I went from sitting up to back down and they immediately wheeled me to the nearest ultrasound machine and started to conduct tests. My husband was then able to join me when we found out our precious baby A’s sac had ruptured. We were hoping I could be taken to emergency surgery right away to repair the rupture but unfortunate circumstances halted this hope. We had to wait and see if after 24 hours we could do more to save Baby A, our precious Ashley.
I will never forget the last moments I was able to see her wiggling around on the ultrasound machine. I would have never let them turn it off if I had known the next time I would see her again she would be forever still.
We found out Ashley had passed on the morning of December 3rd, 2014. I do not think I can ever recreate the guttural sound that left my body when the doctor told us she was gone. I remember looking around the room and seeing my husband’s eyes lose the twinkle that is always present. My parents were crushed and my mom immediately called my sister to tell her our terrible, new reality. I felt like I was in the middle of a horrible nightmare. All I wanted to do was sleep with the hope of when I wake I would still have three live and happy babies growing inside of me.
We left Miami four days later and I was on strict bed rest. My family and I have never really been completely open about how awful the next few weeks were for us. We had some complications after the surgery and I was in and out of the hospital more times than I like to remember. I had frequent doctor’s appointments to monitor our survivors and the position of Ashley too. Each time the ultrasound screen would light up I felt like I was holding my breath and praying there would still be two heartbeats.
Baby Emmy and Baby Elle
Towards the middle of January we found out our two surviving triplets and angel would be making their debut into this world early. I like to consider myself part of the fortunate club faced with unfortunate circumstances when we found out the girls would be arriving early. I was having weekly appointments with not only my OB but also my MFM due to the high risk nature of my pregnancy and since I had already had surgery to correct TTTS. We found out when I was 24 weeks along that my cervix had thinned considerably and I needed to have steroid shots right away to help develop my survivors (Emmy and Elle) lungs if they decided to make their grand entrance with their angel sister anytime soon. It was an extremely scary situation but with a pregnancy that kept throwing curveballs, I cannot say with any honesty that it was unexpected.
“We were being introduced to what was going to be our very near future. The land of tiny babies and worried parents”
My amazing OB started to talk with us about the NICU after my second round of steroid shots. He asked me if I knew anything about where my children would be receiving care if they were born early. Since my husband and I are first time parents we were quick to say we had no clue what to expect from the NICU. The best thing (and what I strongly recommend to any parents who are faced with a similar circumstance) my OB did was to call the NICU and set up a “tour” for us. I use the word, “tour,” lightly because it is not what you expect to be doing before you give birth. All the other first time moms that I know were taking tours of the birthing units and maternity wards. We were being introduced to what was going to be our very near future. The land of tiny babies and worried parents.
Arriving to our “tour” seemed completely surreal but we were met with a smile from one of the nurses, Samantha. She had already been briefed of our circumstances that had led us to this stage in my pregnancy and was extremely caring and compassionate as she walked us through the unit. She talked to us about how the unit was set up with babies being assigned to a “pod” and how there were daytime nurses and night time nurses, respiratory specialist, physical therapist, and the list can go on and on for the many people who would be taking care of our girls.
Hope and Superheroes
She then brought us to a baby who was born at 25 weeks and told me, “if you were to go into labor and deliver your girls today then this is what you can expect your baby to look and act like after birth.” I stared down at this tiny little creature with her eyes covered and skin almost translucent. I did not even know what to say until Samantha spoke and said, “she is a fighter and your girls will be the same way. You will be shocked to see how strong our tiniest babies can be.” See folks, that’s what makes NICU nurses the true superheroes living amongst us commoners. She knew exactly the words to use to give us hope.
Hope is honestly the only thing we were hanging on to when another scare landed me permanently in the hospital until the girls’ big debut. The night our triplets were born I remember looking around as they laid me on the operating table and I saw a gallery of faces behind surgical masks waiting patiently in the wings to sweep in and grab the girls as soon as they were able. I will never forget our first night nurse, Kristina, who witnessed my delivery and I can only imagine the train wreck that was me after laboring for 40+ hours (26 of those hours on magnesium) that ended with an emergency c-section. Kristina introduced me to Emmy and Elle when I was wheeled in from recovery after 2am. She calmly walked me through our new life in the NICU by telling me exactly what was happening and letting me know the girls were both “fiesty. And fiesty is a very good thing to be as a preemie.”
The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is a roller coaster. Emmy spent 75 days in the NICU and Elle spent 85 day in the NICU. Having a child, or in our case children, in the NICU is a life changing event. A mother will truly never get over having to leave their newborn in someone else’s care. It goes against all natural instincts to protect and tend to every need of your baby from the moment they enter the world. It’s truly devastating to be discharged from the hospital and see other new mothers waiting to be picked up by their spouse with their newborn tucked safely in their car seat while you know your baby is hooked up to monitors and possibly even machines a few floors above. I honestly feel that’s why God made NICU nurses because He knew a special kind of person would be needed to help families cope with the grief of a shortened and/or traumatic pregnancy/delivery.
“The NICU is where miracles happen, love is abundant, and tiny babies fight for their lives”
Don’t get me wrong, NICU doctors are amazing too. The nurses though are with your baby 12 hours per day and I saw them as basically a surrogate parent while we were away. I grew close with many of the nurses during our stay and I am so thankful for avenues such as social media so they can continue to watch our girls grow and develop into beautiful little ladies. I know I am not alone with feeling like I can never say thank you enough to the NICU doctors, nurses, and specialist for saving the lives of my children and countless others.
The NICU is where miracles happen, love is abundant, and tiny babies fight for their lives. It is a place of immense joy and complete sorrow. The NICU might be the first chapter to your child’s life but it definitely does not define your baby. My hope is this post serves its purpose to bring awareness to the neonatal intensive care unit and TTTS. These two events changed the course of my life but I also want to bring you hope because even though we will always mourn the loss of our daughter, Ashley, we will always celebrate our miracles, Emmy and Elle. We are so grateful and fortunate to have our survivors and know their sister watches over us as we try to raise awareness about TTTS and prematurity.
Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions about TTTS, raising multiples, pregnancy loss, or the NICU. I am an open book and always happy to share our lives with others.