On August 30, 2009 I unexpectedly delivered our twins at 24 weeks gestation. The delivery was incredibly traumatic. I can still smell the sterile operating room I was rushed into and can recall each person draped in their surgical gowns. My husband was asked to step out of the room and I had to go under complete anesthesia. I was terrified and would soon learn that the terrifying parts of this journey hadn’t even begun.
For 4 ½ months, my husband and I would buzz into the NICU and perform a surgical scrub up to our elbows before being able to see our babies. We would meet with our team of doctors, nurses, developmental therapists and respiratory therapists to discuss the goals of the next 12 hours. For the first 3 months, the “12 hour plan” would always turn into a “2 hour plan” because our babies were so critical that every hour to the next was unstable and terrifying. We watched countless times as the team performed aggressive resuscitation efforts on our children in hopes that God would allow them to stay here on earth with us.
Days felt like weeks, weeks felt like months and months felt like years. I was grieving a pregnancy that did not go as planned and was literally traumatized every day as I was a bystander watching our 1 pound, 9 ounce babies literally fight for their lives. You can’t witness this kind of event and expect to come out of it the same person you were going in.
Lola and Landry were by the grace of God and an incredible NICU team, discharged home after a total of 130 days. We spent Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year in the NICU. Once home, they had 6 specialists each in addition to all three disciplines of developmental therapy, 3 days a week. We were home but so far from “normal”.
Things would get further complicated in May of 2010 as I had been given a NICU PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) diagnosis and needed weekly counseling along with medication. I felt as if I was an epic failure as a mom in every regard at this point…what mom wouldn’t?! My body didn’t do what it was supposed to in order to keep my babies safely inside of me and I obviously wasn’t strong enough to overcome my struggles with my anxiety and depression. Most days, I felt like I had been thrown out into the ocean with just a straw to breathe through and if I am being honest, there were days when it felt like the water was over my head and water was filling my straw. There were times when I was ready for the water to just go ahead and pull me down…I was tired of trying to breathe. I was tired of “swimming”. I specifically remembered thinking to myself that I should be happy and grateful but I wasn’t. I was exhausted, angry and just wanted our lives to be “normal”. I hated how much medical information I knew and the long term repercussions it might have on our babies.
Once we were home, it took me 4 years to be able to talk about Lola and Landry’s humble beginnings without a complete emotional breakdown. My PTSD is something I will likely deal with for the rest of my life although the triggers I experience are few and far between. The last one was when we went for Lola and Landry’s first parent/teacher conference in kindergarten. My husband and I went together and he was on my right. I know this because as we approached the doors of the school, the buzzer was on my left. I pushed it and I immediately felt as if an electrical current was racing through my body. The doors automatically unlocked and the same sensation hit me again. I was frozen in my thoughts and in my body unable to move. Why couldn’t I move? It hit me moments later that the sound of the buzzer and the doors unlocking sounded just like the doors and buzzer into the NICU all those years ago. It was a trigger that I wasn’t expecting.
This has been such a long and unexpected recovery for me. I would like to think that I am a strong woman both mentally and physically but gaining strength and distance from the NICU hasn’t come until this year…9 years after leaving the NICU.
I can actually tell you that this healing process has taken exactly 3,344 days to grieve, fight, cry, celebrate and now overcome our NICU journey. How do I know? It goes back to the spring of this year when a friend asked me to go with her to a local gym. I was hesitant because I don’t do gyms but I was in a place that I wanted and needed a change so I showed up. It was one of the most intense workouts I had done since my days when I trained at the Olympic Training Center (and that was only the warm up)! I noticed almost immediately that little pieces of old anger and emotions were being left behind with each workout I did. A month in I felt like what I would imagine it would be like to come out of a coma…I literally felt like I was human again.
At some point during the summer, another friend asked if I would be interested in training for a Spartan race and without hesitation, we signed up together that evening! On October 28th, we went with our trainer and completed 4 miles and 23 obstacles and with every step I ran, and every obstacle I did, I left the bags of guilt, anger and grief that I had been carrying around due to our babies premature birth out on that course.
I am finally ready to finish this chapter in our book and no longer let the chains of prematurity confine me or define our children. I am finally at peace with my soul and I am officially no longer surviving but thriving in our post NICU journey.