Once we made it to Virginia, we hoped to have a few more weeks- actually we dared to hope for another few months before the babies were born. I arrived at the end of June and the babies were due in mid-September. There was only one day we did not want the babies to be born – our oldest daughter’s birthday in the beginning of July. Her birthday was quickly approaching. From the hospital bed, I ordered her a cake at a local grocery store to be picked up by family. My husband J bought presents and I wrapped them in the hospital (it was nice to have something to do). We were given permission to use a conference room next to my hospital room to sing her happy birthday and have decorations and cake with some extended family. I went to bed that night excited for the next day.
The next morning before everyone arrived, I had my usual daily ultrasound. I had already become familiar with the Doppler studies myself so right away I was able to see that Lily’s umbilical cord blood flow had changed. The ultrasound tech was silent and called in the doctor. This doctor was unfamiliar to me, but she said what I feared—the blood flow had indeed reversed. We had to deliver today if we wanted to save Lily. It was only 8 days into my hospital stay.
I called my husband, who thought I was calling to wish our daughter a happy birthday. I put on a brave face when I told my daughter the birthday party plans had changed. While my insides were churning with anxiety, I cheerfully told her that the triplets wanted to meet her on her birthday and were coming today. Kids are so resilient- she happily accepted the news and skipped off to be pampered by her extended family instead of her parents.
Meanwhile, J was rushing to the hospital. I was wheeled down to labor and delivery and given magnesium sulfate. I was told it may have harsh side effects but I had it for so little time it never really seemed to affect me. I had already been given two rounds of steroids to develop the babies’ lungs, so magnesium sulfate was the last thing I could receive to give the babies their best chance of a good outcome from such an early birth. In hindsight, I realize that behind the scenes everyone was rushing to get me in for the C-section and they didn’t want to alarm me. While I thought it was odd they were giving me magnesium sulfate and then stopping the administration shortly thereafter, the reality was they were probably rushing me to the room without me really knowing. We told the anesthesiologist that four of our kids would now share a birthday and it turned out it was his birthday that day too. We laughed at the coincidence. Should anything really surprise us anymore?
The operating room was ready for me and I was wheeled off. It had only been a few hours since the ultrasound- maybe 3 hours tops. The next few moments were surreal. I was given anesthesia so I couldn’t feel the lower part of my body while my husband was suited up in a separate room. There were doctors and nurses everywhere. There were three isolettes set up for the triplets, and for each triplet there was one neonatologist and two NICU nurses. For the babies alone there were 9 people in the room. Then there was an anesthesiologist near me, a gynecologist performing the C-section, another gynecologist who was there to help (probably mostly intrigued by the triplet factor), and a gynecology resident. There were at least two operating room nurses and my husband J, making the grand total people in the room about 17 (not counting me and the triplets- ha). The room was not big, although I suppose by operating room standards it was bigger just to account for all the beds. The gynecologist who performed the surgery was amazing. She quieted the room, was calm, and worked incredibly swiftly. I kept marveling at the operating room. This was my first time in one. This was J’s world, and yet he was here today as a spectator instead of a participant. It was surreal to see all the organization, the calmness in the midst of uncertainty, the teamwork, the focus, and the professionalism displayed by everyone. Lily was born first. I believe I heard her cry, which was so amazing because we had been warned we may not hear cries from 28 weekers. She weighed 1 lb 13 oz. They let me give her a kiss before she was attended to by her NICU team in the room. Next was Z. At the time we were still on the fence about his name (we thought we had time to decide- ha), so he was still just Baby B. He was visibly larger than Lily. We were originally told he was 3lbs 1oz when he was born, which was amazing, but we later learned there had been some issue with the scale in his isolette and he was likely closer to 2lbs 8 oz. I was able to kiss him too. Last was Baby C. She was bigger than her sister (2lbs 3oz) but still tiny. They were all so very tiny. I gave her a kiss too before all three babies were attended to and readied for their transport to the NICU.
J followed the team of people to the NICU to get the triplets stabilized. He later told me he had to sign tons of paperwork about their care. They were initially put in three separate areas in the NICU just so they wouldn’t be confused and they could be adequately attended to while their needs were acute and time consuming. The rest of my surgery was fairly swift and well executed. I spent quite some time in the surgery recovery room, where J met me, and I anxiously awaited movement and feeling to return in my legs. It eventually did and I was returned to the same room I had been in for bedrest.
Throughout this process, J was positively radiant with joy. When he found me in the recovery room, he was bubbling with excitement about the babies. He told me how great they looked and how the NICU was taking such great care of them. He told me there was a certain way we could place our hands on them to comfort them. He told me I had to get downstairs to see them as soon as possible because they would make me feel so much better.
I had a bad reaction to the painkillers but we had promised my daughter we would still celebrate her birthday. My daughter S and family arrived when I was still pretty loopy. I thanked family for the flowers and balloons they brought and we happily watched S open presents. I then proceeded to throw up while everyone tried to distract S with other things. The guests left fairly soon afterwards. I had a fairly rough night, but was able to get out of bed ever so slowly to go to the bathroom. The next morning, as soon as J arrived, we went downstairs to see the babies. We scrubbed our hands, vowed that we hadn’t had colds or other contagious illnesses in the last 24 hours, and proceeded down the hallway to the NICU. I was wholly unprepared for what I saw.
Where J saw beautiful beings, I saw tiny pink babies that were frail and hooked up to every imaginable device. Their every breath and heartbeat was displayed on a bright computer screen next to them. They had on glasses to shield them from the bright bilirubin lights. Their faces were covered by a CPAP mask. They slept peacefully, but I could see their ribs rising and falling with each breath and their tiny veins coursing through their see-through skin. I touched them and latched on to J’s cheerful voice as he explained everything. He kept asking “don’t you feel so much better? Aren’t they great?” I wanted to believe him- to see things the way he saw them- but I was in total shock. Of course I was also a hormonal mess who was in denial that the babies would ever be born so early, so my shock was to be expected.
It would take a few days for me to be at ease seeing the babies in their isolettes. It would take me longer to get used to the noises in the NICU, the endless beeping, the lights, the constant busyness of people attending to babies everywhere. But we soon got into a rhythm. We would come see the babies daily. Their personalities began to shine through right away. There was a certain moment in the mornings when the NICU nurses would switch the babies’ masks/hats from a nighttime C-pap setup to a daytime C-pap setup. J would rush me out of the house every morning just so we could see their faces without their masks on for that brief moment.
The story of course doesn’t end here, but for the sake of briefness I’ll fast forward a bit. We had a fairly uneventful NICU stay. Most importantly, the babies were in excellent hands. The babies were (are?) fighters and did amazingly well. They were discharged only a few days apart. Of course it was only fitting that little Lily, the cause for the early birth, was the first to come home. Her grand total stay in the NICU was 52 days (one month and 21 days). P was the second to come home only 2 days later (54 days in the NICU) and Z came home 4 days after that (58 days in the NICU). Then a new and much happier part of the adventure began!
So there you have it. Again, if you’ve read this far, I’m impressed. I mentioned the takeaway at the beginning of the story was that everything worked out better than we could have ever imagined or planned. There are a few details to the takeaway need further explanation. I mentioned we were jobless and living with family at the time I delivered. We continued to be jobless the entire time the babies were in the NICU. J eventually did find a job and we moved for that job while the babies were 2 months old adjusted. If he had gotten the job any sooner, he would not have been able to make the daily trek to the NICU with me. His job offer was in a town 3 hours away, so we would have been apart for a few months until the babies were safe enough to travel. Because of the job timing, J was with me when the babies came home from the hospital. For the first two months after they came home, J was beside me for every late night feeding, bottle cleaning session, bath, spit up episode, etc. J never had the ability to be with the older kids for that extended period of time after they were born, so having him around was such a blessing to all of us. Also, if we hadn’t been living with family, we would have had a tough time finding childcare for our other two kids while we visited the babies in the NICU daily. Instead of worrying about the cost of childcare or worrying whether our kids were having fun or feeling resentful about us being absent and distracted all the time, they were happily entertained by cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents. Once the babies came home and we were in the midst of getting used to three preemie babies and a rigorous feeding schedule, our family was there to help us with anything and everything. It was so miraculously orchestrated, I still tear up when I think about how well we were taken care of by God. And the best part is that we now have three healthy triplets running around as if they were never born at 28 weeks gestation. We are incredibly fortunate. It all worked out. The end!