Last week was my due date. I can’t help but wonder what today would have been like if my babies had stayed where they belonged. I would have been gloriously uncomfortably pregnant leading up to their birth. I would have wistfully said good-bye to pregnancy forever. And I would have been able to hold my babies on their birth day, breathing in their brand-new baby smell, counting their tiny fingers and toes, kissing their round cheeks.
That wasn’t how it happened, but I still feel like the luckiest mother in the world. Sweet little Sylvia and Carina are ten weeks old, born ten weeks early. But they are here, and healthy. And they are finally HOME!
I started writing this post two weeks ago but haven’t had a moment since to finish it. Carina came home on September 29th, quickly acing all her NICU exams and surprising us all by how quickly she was ready to go, especially after her rocky start. The day before, T and I frantically raced around the house getting everything ready and trying to find space in our tiny two bedroom condo for two babies.
At the NICU, the nurses pulled off all Carina’s probes and handed her to us. It felt amazing and strange to hold my daughter for the first time without wires. We packed up her half of the room, and buckled her into her car seat. It all felt very surreal.
Our littlest daughter was sleeping soundly in her industrial NICU bed when we left. I kissed her goodbye and started to cry. It felt wrong to be taking her twin home and leaving her behind, so tiny and lonely in that big cold bed. All the raw emotions from leaving my babies behind in the NICU the first day coming back to the surface.
Once we got home, I felt better. Estella was delighted to have one of her baby sisters at home. She insisted that Carina get bedtime stories with her, and that Carina sleep in her room. And then she said she wanted to go back to the hospital and “bring the other one home too.”
Over the next two and a half weeks, we juggled twins in two places, carting Carina back and forth to the hospital to visit Sylvia and pleading with Sylvia to take her feedings so we could take her home. Carina was not pleased to be back in the hospital; my easy-going baby would cry every time I put her down in the NICU bed. I would kangaroo with them both together as often as possible. Sylvie loved this most of all- reaching her arm over her sister in a hug one day as I held them together.
At home, I would call the NICU night nurse on duty when I was up with Carina in the middle of the night, checking in to see how Sylvie was doing. The hospital had moved Sylvie out of her delux twin room to a smaller single baby room, with a whole new set of nurses. So now when I called to talk to the nurse at night, most of the time I was talking to a stranger, someone I had never met who had the job of taking care of my littlest baby. I’d tell them to be patient with her, that she was a slow eater but that she could finish a bottle if they stuck with her.
I could tell that some of the nurses took my pep talk to heart and did their best to get Sylvie to eat. But others were eager to get me off the phone so they could just turn on the tube feeding instead of bothering with bottle feeding my slow-poke eater.
Until Sylvie could take 75% of her feedings by bottle, she wouldn’t be able to come home. So the days clicked away, and it seemed Sylvie would never be able to come home.
Finally, last Wednesday morning, Sylvia’s NICU doctor called. She’s the one who was there the night the girls were born. The one who saved Carina’s life.
“What do you think about taking home Sylvia today?” she asked. “I know it’s sudden, so if you aren’t ready, no problem. But I think she will do well at home.”
“YES!” Yes, I wanted to take my baby home!
I called T at work to give him the amazing news, and we made arrangements to meet at the hospital at the end of the day so we could all leave the NICU together as a family.
As I drove over the bridge to the hospital one last time (at least until all the follow-up appointments) I exhaled a giant sigh of relief. We had made it through to the other side. After so many months of anxiety and uncertainty, both my babies would be home. They were going to be ok.
We packed up Sylvia’s room and at the urging of our nurse, took a “Victory Parade” around the NICU to say goodbye to everyone. I tearfully hugged my favorite nurses goodbye, overwhelmed with gratitude.
As I stood in the lobby of the hospital, waiting for T to bring the car around, a woman came over, curious about the double stroller and its occupants.
“Oh look at them!” She exclaimed. “Twins?”
I nodded and smiled.
“How old are they?”
The question stumped me for a moment. I didn’t want to explain it all. Everything I’d been through. Everything they had been through. My babies were nine weeks old, but they were also 39 weeks old. Not even to their due date yet.
I gave her the short explanation.
“Oh, so they must have been really tiny when they were born,” she commented. “How much did they weigh?”
Her question, well-meaning if nosey, pierced my heart, as I recalled how small and fragile my two and three-pound newborn babies were. How close I came to loosing them.
I tried to answer her, but started to cry.
“Very, very small.” I managed to say.
T came around with the car and we headed home, stealing glances at our beautiful babies in the back seat, marveling at how lucky we were.
In the days since then, that sense of wonder hasn’t waned. Even with the sleepless nights, waking up to feed two babies every three to four hours, I hold the girls close and whisper to their sweet baby heads how loved they are, how grateful I am that they are with us.
I had left journals in the twins’ room for the nurses to sign, so the girls will have messages from those amazing people who cared for them during their first months of life, and a glimpse into what those days were like. I was touched by their words, and especially the nurses’ observations of me and T:
I had the pleasure of caring for you your first day in the NICU. You came into this world with a bang and gave your mommy and Daddy quite the scare. They were brave and strong and bursting with love for you…
I never had the pleasure of caring for you, but I got to show your mommy and daddy around the NICU before you were born. I talked with your mommy and daddy a long time about what to expect after you were born. They were so scared, but it was obvious their love for you no matter what happened. I’m sure you will fill their life with joy…
They already have. So grateful.