Chapter 7: Uncertain Motherhood
Even knowing I was having twins, I somehow had still expected a normal birthing and post-birth experience. In my mind, I was supposed to give birth in a cozy labor-and-delivery room, not the cold, sterile operating room. I pictured the doctor gently and lovingly handing me my healthy, pink babies after they were born so I could begin bonding with them immediately as I fed them their first meals. But none of what is supposed to happen does happen when you give birth to a premature baby.
After the birth of my babies, I waited and waited in the recovery room for almost eight hours until they moved me to the postpartum unit. Shortly after I awoke, Nurse Susan stopped by my bedside in the recovery room to ask me how I was doing. The only thing I wanted was to know if I had two girls, or a boy and a girl. I had been awake for the birth of Baby A and knew she was a girl, but I still did not know if Baby B was a boy or a girl.
Baby B was a girl. Dave and I had not finalized name selection for our newborn children, since we didn’t know we were having two girls. Our daughters were born at 1:01 p.m. and 1:11 p.m., but remained nameless until after nine o’clock that evening.
After the birth of my twins, as I lay in the recovery room barely coherent due to the general anesthesia, Dave asked me if it would be okay for his sister to visit me. I was adamant: “No.” I did not want her as a visitor. We argued about why I didn’t want her to visit, and why she continued to insist on offering unsolicited support.
Once again, Dave put Julie’s wishes before mine, as he allowed her into the recovery room to visit me. Had I not been so drowsy from the anesthesia, I think I might have contacted an attorney right then and there to draw up the divorce papers. The full realization of my depression had yet to settle in, but I was becoming angrier and angrier at my husband. It looked like our marriage was going to get very ugly before it got better.
When they wheeled me from the recovery room to the postpartum unit, the nurse was kind enough to stop by the NICU so I could see my daughters for what was really the first time. Thankfully, Dave had briefed me on the girls’ condition and tried to prepare me for what I was about to see. However, nothing could have prepared me for that shocking experience. I had chosen not to visit the NICU during my hospitalization for preterm labor — I didn’t need to see babies struggling to survive to keep me motivated to stay in bed.
I was overwhelmed when I saw my daughters for the first time. They lay enclosed in grill-sized incubators, with wires monitoring their every physical function attached to their tiny bodies. They were so incredibly small. Baby A weighed 2 pounds, 11.6 ounces and was 15.5 inches long. Baby B weighed 2 pounds, 9 ounces and was 15 inches long. They were probably as long as a Cabbage Patch Kids® doll, but less than half the circumference. Unlike their full-term counterparts, preemies require breathing assistance through a treatment known as CPAP. CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, delivers pressurized air to the baby’s lungs. The air may be delivered through small tubes in the baby’s nose, or through a tube that is inserted into the windpipe. CPAP helps a baby breathe, but it does not breathe for them. My babies were not supposed to need a device to help them breathe . . . or require housing in incubators to help them maintain their body temperature.
Each enclosed incubator had a clear plastic lid, with porthole windows in front and on each side. They were full of blankets and had colorful cloth covers draped over the tops to soften the bright NICU lights so my daughters could rest and develop more comfortably. It was hard to get a good look at them through the Plexiglas containers.
After I was finally able to catch a glimpse of my daughters, we decided to name Baby A Kaley and Baby B Ashley. I probably spent a total of only ten or fifteen minutes in the NICU that first night. The babies needed rest, and so did I. Both my daughters seemed to be resting peacefully, which somewhat eased my racing mind. After eight hours in recovery and fifteen minutes viewing my daughters, I was wheeled into my postpartum room for a night of restless sleep.
The first thing I did when I got to my room was ask for a breast pump. I was determined to produce milk for my little girls. As if breastfeeding is not challenging enough under ordinary circumstances, it seemed my body was not quite ready to cooperate by producing milk. I was frustrated, but kept at it. I asked the nurses to wake me every three hours so I could pump. I remember being very upset when one of the nurses didn’t honor my request. Didn’t she know how important breastfeeding was to me and my babies’ health? In retrospect, I can see she was probably just trying to be kind and let me get some much needed rest.
Because my milk was slow to come in, my daughters fed on formula for the first few days of their lives. This caused me to feel a great deal of guilt, especially when Kaley was later diagnosed with an intestinal disease. Premature babies are less likely to develop intestinal problems when they are fed breast milk because it is easier to digest than formula. I couldn’t stop wondering whether my fear that my water might break early played a part in this nightmare. I’m sure I caused the delay in my milk production because of the guilt I harbored over their premature birth.