Wednesday morning came bright and clear, bringing with it strong contractions and a twinge of fear. Six weeks away from my due date and not-so-ready for their arrival, I was taking life day by day. “We have to try to hold on a little bit longer,” the doctor had said, “The longer we wait, the better off they will be.” Pre-term labor had plagued my first pregnancy requiring medication and numerous hospitalizations, and it visited again during this pregnancy demanding the same. But early delivery is common with twins, so my doctor set a goal: 34 weeks, 2 days. If I could make it to that point, both babies would be viable and active labor would no longer be stopped.
Sleepy sweat curling the back of his hair, my 18-month-old slept in my arms as I made the call. “They are pretty strong,” I told my husband, “If they do not stop soon, I think we should go.” At 34 weeks, 1 day, I had almost made the cut. Would they send me home empty-handed once again, or could this really be it? My mind wandered, worrying all afternoon as contractions grew intense and much closer together. At 6:00 p.m. we went to the hospital. They decided to keep me overnight to monitor my progress as well as the babies’ heart rates. Active labor had begun, and this time I wouldn’t leave empty-handed – or so I thought.
On Thursday afternoon at 5:54 and 6:03 p.m. respectively, at 34 weeks, 2 days, they arrived screaming and silent, one pink, one blue. My first girl was beautiful and healthy, my second beautiful and unable to breathe. She had been in a breach position for a long time, and the doctor had planned to pull her out by the feet once her sister was delivered. She beat him to it though and decided to flip on her own. In the nine minutes between their births, in her turn and descent, the cord became prolapsed, choking life, stealing breath. After nerve-wracking moments and intense work, the nurses reported she needed assistance but would be okay. Relieved and grateful, I tried to rest and mentally prepare for the hard work ahead. Three babies under age two – I had my work cut out for me.
The day after their birth brought good news and bad. Both girls, breathing well and responding to treatment, thrived, but because of their prematurity, neither had developed a suckling reflex. Tube-feeding was necessary until they learned to suckle, and my second-born had jaundice, requiring she be kept under bili lights. Baby A would be released when she was able to suck, breathe, and swallow, keeping down all of her bottle. Baby B needed to meet the same requirements, but would also need to be jaundice-free before discharge.
For almost two weeks I felt ripped in two. Because my18-month-old was too small to visit his sisters, various relatives and friends offered to keep him a couple of hours during the day so I could be with the girls. My husband visited them each day after work, and in the evenings when he got home, I would visit them again. On weekends we visited our daughters together. Baby A was doing well and making progress. Not interested in a bottle, but otherwise fine, she was in a regular bed and we could hold her as much as we wanted to. Baby B still had jaundice. Like her sister, she was making progress despite her inability to suckle, but she needed to be in the light and warmth of an incubator to combat the yellow. Because of this 24-hour need for bilirubin, we were unable to hold her.
While we were able to embrace and bond with one twin, we were only able to touch the other through the pair of holes in her clear plastic cocoon. If we were lucky enough to arrive at bath time, we would be allowed to clean her, giving us ten whole minutes of bubble-free bonding. The fact that I could cuddle one baby but not the other took a heavy toll on my emotions. It felt as if I was choosing between them, showing some kind of cruel favoritism. Of course nothing could have been farther from the truth, but I was tired and guilty and stretched to my limit, so irrational thoughts made a lot of sense. I also worried about my toddler and how separation from him might effect changes in behavior or produce insecurities.
I felt guilty for leaving my son, guilty for holding Baby A but not Baby B, guilty for missing bath time more often than not, guilty I could not hold them in any longer, and guilty for leaving them. Everyone told me to rest and enjoy the time before they came home. It would be complete chaos with three babies, and I should get all the rest I could. I am quite sure the people who said these things never had to leave a child at the hospital. How could I rest and enjoy free time when every second was filled with painful separation? Who can leave her premature babies and rest peacefully, knowing all the possibilities, the potential for setback? I should have been thankful they did not have major problems, and I was, but I experienced more sorrow than gratitude.
And thus began my long battle with post partum depression. Born of guilt and inadequacy, stress and imbalance, it ate away at my being. I didn’t know it had a name or that others experienced it too. I felt isolated and freakish, resentful and frustrated, but mostly ashamed. Who would understand? I couldn’t tell anyone. And so I didn’t. I lied and pretended, but in keeping my secret I only hurt myself more.
Secrets never help. Ever. Relief only comes through truth and honesty. I wish I would have known that sooner. Satan likes to isolate us, overwhelm us, tell us lies, convince us that no one understands or cares. Don’t believe it. You are not alone. You matter. You are loved.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. – John 10:10 (NIV)
God has delivered me from going down to the pit, and I shall live to enjoy the light of life. – Job 33:28 (NIV)