This is our contribution:
My mono-chorionic/mono-amniotic twins were born on December 30, 2009 at just twenty-five weeks, three days’ gestation. Michael George weighed in at 1 lb, 12 ounces and his younger brother, Wagner Lee, weighed 1 lb, 9 ounces. Both were just over a foot long—the size of kittens, not babies. They were in the NICU for three months. Now they are eight months old, (or five months adjusted) and weigh over seventeen pounds. They are in the ninety-fifth percentile for babies born at their gestational age.
On New Year’s Eve, still tethered to my IV, I shuffled into the NICU for the first time. The front desk was a collage of Christmas cards, all photos of Preemies Past at different ages. Some were toddlers, some were first-graders, some were twelve-year-olds. All were NICU grads. That’s when it hit me—the NICU nursery is a place where babies go to get well. After that they go home where they learn to do baby things like crawl and toddle and learn to do kid things like become ballerinas and boy scouts.
Being a NICU parent is like parenting on steroids. Parents “on the outside” can live their entire parenting careers deluding themselves that they have some semblance of control over their children. NICU parents know better; they are reminded daily that there is no control to be had. Children go and grow at their own rate. The most we can do as parents is guide their progress. We can’t control when our children crawl or read or get married. All we can do is facilitate crawling or reading or fostering healthy relationships and the worst we can do is hamper progress. By the same token, there is no control to be had as to when a baby will be ready to go from SiPAP to CPAP, when he will tolerate his feeds or be stable enough to go home. The most I could do as a mom was visit, change diapers, hold the twins, tell them I love them, and pump, pump, pump. Oh, and make sure that I was fed and rested so that I could come back the next day to do it all over again.
Every day for three months, I visited my sons in the NICU. I’d change their diapers and take their temperature and move the pulse-ox sensor from ankle to wrist and back again. I pumped every three hours (or tried to). When the twins were stable enough, I held them skin-to-skin. I told my boys about the sister who was waiting at home, the daddy who was at work and would visit them later tonight, the grandma who was cooking our meals, and about the doctors and nurses who were taking care of them every second that they were in the nursery.
I didn’t realize until much later—after the twins were home doing normal baby things like nursing and cooing and grabbing earrings—how much parenting I did in the early days, and what all those diaper changes taught me about my babies. I knew which cries were grumpy cries and which ones were hungry cries. I knew how to soothe them (I still use compassionate touch techniques on them when they are fussy). I knew them as individual people, tiny heroes who had been through more in the first ninety days of life than I had in forty years and who taught me that patience is a skill to practice, not a thing to have or lose.
This year our Christmas card will join the deluge of holiday cards at the front desk: a family portrait of me, dad, the sister, the grandma, and the twins who are so chubby, that strangers at the supermarket call them “bruisers.” Hopefully our story will be a testament to what teamwork between families, doctors, nurses, lactation consultants, social workers, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, x-ray technicians, pharmacists, and admin staff can accomplish, a call to hope for the next generation of moms and dads and grandparents who tiptoe into the nursery to visit their own beautiful tiny heroes.
© 2010 Janine Kovac
And the pictures we included:
Matt & Michael
Me & Wagner
Michael & Wagner
Michael & Wagner
Wagner & Michael