The Rollercoaster: Our Journey to Parenthood
From the start, motherhood and even pre-motherhood has had its set of challenges for me. In 2016, our infertility journey began. My body was not functioning properly to allow us to begin the steps to get pregnant. I was doing everything I was supposed to – living a healthy lifestyle and taking care of my myself but there was nothing I could do to get my body to prepare for pregnancy, it was something out of my control. I felt frustrated and angry. People close to me were getting pregnant and we were doing everything we could with no success. I would see pregnancy announcement posts on Facebook and while I tried to be excited, it hurt. Finally, after months of pills and injections, in April 2018 we learned we were pregnant, and not just with one baby but TWO. After two years, our infertility journey had finally come to an end. I could hardly believe it, after months of disappointment we finally had got what we wanted and more.
My entire pregnancy was flawless- no issues, I felt great, I hadn’t been that happy in a very long time. On Sept 17, 2018 life suddenly shifted. I abruptly went into labor at 27 weeks. My labor progressed so quickly I wasn’t able to transfer to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and I gave birth in Dubuque. Brooklyn and Charlotte were born at 6:37pm and 6:48pm weighing 1 lb 14oz and 1 lb 11 oz. I had never seen a baby that small. They were immediately intubated and taken to the NICU. The Iowa City Med Flight team was also called in as the girls were at a very early gestational age for what the Dubuque Mercy NICU normally handles. By 10pm, they were taken by ambulance to Iowa City. We had waited so long for this moment only to have our girls taken from us so quickly. I remember telling the nurses I planned on going back to work the next week so I could save up time for when they got out of the hospital. The nurse told me how the NICU is a “rollercoaster” and how I should be prepared to leave work often. At that moment, I had no idea what the next 4 months would have in store for us.
The next day, we headed down to Iowa City to see our babies. When we got there I was shocked. Both girls were laying in their beds with tubes coming out of their mouth to help them breathe, they were hooked up to devices to track their heart rate and oxygen, IVs coming out of their hands and their beds were wrapped with saran wrap (to keep the draft out since they were so tiny). I was so excited to finally be with them, but extremely nervous and uneasy. I hadn’t planned on my first moments with my babies to be like this.
The first couple days were spent sitting in the girls rooms watching the monitors beep on and off, nurses come in and out, and getting to know more about the NICU. On the 3rd day of Brooklyn’s life, one of the doctors entered the room and told us we should sit down. With a quivering voice, she informed us Brooklyn had a Grade 4 brain bleed which is the worst type of brain bleed. She told us Brooklyn would more than likely have some type of disability, but could not tell us what that would look like on a scale of mild to severe. I was numb and couldn’t process everything that was happening. Days later we were told she had developed hydrocephalus, which is the buildup of fluid in the brain. She would require surgery to place a shunt on her brain to drain the fluid, which she would have for the rest of her life. I thought how could this be happening to my baby? She never asked for this. What will the future look like for her? For us? At one point, the doctor told us if Brooklyn developed an infection, she might be telling us life is too much for her and we should consider ending her care. I felt like life was crumbling. I could barely keep it together and was constantly in tears. I had planned her funeral in my head on more than one occasion. I really believed we were only coming home with one baby and that devastated me. The “rollercoaster” seemed like it couldn’t go down any further at this point. I blamed myself for everything- I could have prevented this… Why didn’t I go into the doctor earlier the day I went into labor? When the doctors told us we were at risk for a multiple birth and that would be risky, why did I move forward with everything? Eventually Brooklyn pulled through and went on to have two brain surgeries and one heart surgery. Charlotte also went through one heart surgery. All of which were successful.
My husband and I both returned back to work after 6 weeks which meant being away from the girls Monday-Friday for a while. This wasn’t like leaving them at daycare across town for the day. Every week we left them 1.5 hours away in the hospital and worried. Leaving Iowa City on Sunday afternoons was difficult. When we were back in Dubuque my favorite part of the day was calling their nurses to hear updates on their day. If they gained weight, how much they ate, did they cry (for awhile they couldn’t cry with the ventilator tubes down their throat). I still struggled to keep it together at times and cried when I was with the girls, when I was not with them, driving, in the shower, at the dinner table, I was filled with a sadness and emptiness I had never experienced. I was on edge whenever my phone rang fearing it was Iowa City telling us bad news. I couldn’t wait for Friday nights to head back to Iowa City, where our weekends consisted of holding them from the time we woke up to the time we feel asleep. We couldn’t do much else as they were tethered to various cords monitoring their vitals.
The next couple months were filled with ups and downs. We dealt with setbacks such as pneumonia, collapsed lungs, apnea spells, and breathing issues, among others. We celebrated moments like the first time we got to hold the girls after two weeks in the NICU, when they graduated to different and less invasive breathing machines, when they steadily ate more, graduated to preemie diapers from micro preemie diapers, moved to different rooms as they progressed through their care, started to wear clothes, were able to give them a bath, when they graduated to a crib from an incubator, or when they started to bottle feed. Through this all, Brooklyn and Charlotte continued to show a strength and perseverance I never imagined such a small baby could exhibit.
Eventually on January 24th (my birthday!) we were able to take them home. Finally after 129 days, our NICU journey had ended. It was surreal leaving what had been our 2nd home for the last 4 months and leaving the NICU team who had become our 2nd family. I don’t remember feeling any fear about bringing them home as my excitement overpowered any feelings. We were finally headed back to Dubuque as a family of four.
A friend once sent me this quote – “The pain you are feeling now, can’t compare to the joy that is coming.” I carried this with me throughout both our infertility and NICU journeys. Both were painful times in my life, but now when I see my girls I understand. The joy I have when I am with them is indescribable. The pain I once felt feels so foreign and has now been replaced with bliss (and still some worry!) Being a mom comes with a whole new set of responsibilities and emotions. No matter what obstacles arise, I’ve come to realize my only choice is to carry on what Brooklyn and Charlotte exhibited during their NICU journey. Through all the surgeries, infections, and medical issues they never gave up. They deserve exactly what they showed me the first four months of life and that is strength and perseverance. Never give up when times get tough ♡