More than eight years ago, my husband Josh and I were surprised and thrilled to learn we were having twins! We already had a little boy, Charlie, and we were ready to add more to our family. I had a comfortable, healthy pregnancy without any red flags. Everything was going great.
At 28 weeks, I went in for my doctor appointment and told my doctor that I felt a lot of pressure. Something was off. To my surprise, he confirmed that I was four centimeters dilated. Monitors showed that I was not having contractions, so I was sent home. The pressure continued, so I went to the hospital that night. Ultimately, I went back and forth to the hospital three times in three days because something didn’t feel right. On the end of that third day, I finally slept, but in the middle of the night I woke up and immediately knew I needed to rush to the hospital.
Back in the hospital for the fourth time that week, we went on bedrest with a goal to stay on bedrest for at least six weeks. Within hours of checking in, Josh and I had NICU doctors visiting with us and prepping us for what might happen: possible infant loss or NICU stays with health complications.
We were so naïve. We thought we could hold out on bedrest. That night my water broke. Anna was born 10 minutes later, weighing 2 lbs. 5 oz. Libby was born by emergency C-section 34 minutes later, weighing 2 lb. 3 oz. I woke up to realize that I was no longer pregnant. In fact, I had to ask Josh if our girls were still alive. They were, but they had been immediately taken to the NICU. It was absolutely terrifying.
I didn’t see my daughters until the next day. My family wanted to comfort me and lift my spirits. They said the girls were small, but looked really good, like perfectly formed babies, just tiny. I was not prepared for how small they really were – they were unrecognizable, covered in machines and plastic. It was worse than I had imagined – I couldn’t look at these babies and imagine their futures.
My first child, Charlie, was full-term, but less than 6 lbs. When I saw my twin girls, I’d never seen a baby that small – each about the size of my hand. I wasn’t sure my heart could handle feeling the emotions of this journey, with not just one, but two children.
The next two weeks were critical. We learned it was a minute-by-minute, day-by-day process to see if the girls would thrive. Our first challenge was getting them to breathe on their own. Anna had a heart valve that wasn’t working and a brain bleed that, in the worst case scenario, could’ve ended her life within two weeks or, eventually, led to a permanent motor disorder. By the grace of God, she overcame this and doesn’t have any lasting issues. Libby was just so weak and fragile – she didn’t have as many specific issues but took much longer to reach the necessary milestones.
My girls had to overcome a lot of challenges, including basic functions such as learning how to eat and suck independently without feeding tubes, and how to regulate their body temperature.
The hardest parts of any NICU experience are the scary medical jargon, uncertainty, and isolating feelings you experience even when you are surrounded by other people. Your end goal is take your baby home, but taking baby home is also frightening. It is an incredible challenge to feel equipped to take care of a medically fragile child, or two, outside of the hospital.
The girls were in the NICU for 56 days. Although it is almost unheard of, we took them both home the same day. In the beginning, their ongoing care included appointments with a neurologist, cardiologist, pulmonologist, gastroenterologist, and pediatrician. We also visited physical, speech and occupational therapists regularly until they were three years old.
When they were ready to start school, we talked to Anna and Libby about their time in the NICU. We decided to hold them back a year in school in order to give them some time to catch up physically. We reminded our girls of how strong they are and despite being presented with many challenges, they tackled them head on. And whenever they struggle today, we share their NICU story with them again to instill confidence in them and remind them how much they’ve already accomplished and that they should always fight for what others might take for granted.
The girls are 8 years old and doing well now. They are great little sisters to Charlie, age 10, and great big sisters to Molly, our 5-year old little blessing who was born at full-term three years later.
When I look back at this time in our lives, I wish that Hand to Hold had been founded and available to us. I needed their support and resources both when the girls were in the NICU and once they were home. I was struggling emotionally, and I was so far out of my league and ill-prepared for this journey. Nothing had gone according to plan, and it was out of our control. We had to face what each day had in store for us, one day at a time. At times I was paralyzed with fear. I had no one to talk to, no support or empathy and a lack of information.
Hand to Hold was formed several years after our daughters were born, and I learned about it through my good friend Jackie Price. I can only imagine how different our experience would have been if we’d had the support and resources of this wonderful organization. I do not believe that God wastes pain, and I am thankful that our NICU experience can now be used to help others. Our NICU journey gave us perspective, ultimately strengthened our family and opened our hearts to other families going through similar experiences.
About Emily Galatzan:
Emily Galatzan is a mother of four, including preemie twins born at 28 weeks. Upon learning about Hand to Hold, Emily was immediately drawn to the organization’s mission, and she’s proud to serve as co-chair for the 2nd Annual Baby Shower Luncheon. Read more about Emily in our Letter from the Chairs, and find out more about the 2nd Annual Baby Shower Luncheon, to be held on November 6, 2015.