“The first night I said, ‘I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do this.’ But I didn’t have a choice.”
Tiffany and Darren Allen’s daughter, Kinslee, was born in August of 2020 at just 24 weeks – a terrifying ordeal in any situation, but even more so during a global pandemic.
With a terrible headache one day, Tiffany called her doctor, and an exam showed that she was suffering from severe preeclampsia. Her doctor sent her straight to labor and delivery. The couple thought they’d be monitored for a few days and sent home, but on day three, Tiffany’s blood pressure spiked, she developed a pulmonary edema, and her liver began spilling toxins into her body. An ambulance transferred her to another hospital with a level 4 NICU, and within 30 minutes she was on the operating table, about to deliver her baby girl.
Tiffany experienced more terrifying complications during delivery, and Darren found himself torn between following his baby to the NICU and staying with his very sick wife. “It was impossible for me to do everything that I wanted to do,” he said. “I wanted to be with my wife, and I wanted to be with my baby. But I could only be in one place.”
Due to the pandemic, no other family was allowed into the hospital. Tiffany’s mom drove from Houston to Austin and sat in the parking lot, awaiting news of her granddaughter’s arrival and her daughter’s safe surgery outcome. No additional visitors were allowed in the NICU either. Darren and Tiffany’s family members have been unable to see Kinslee other than in photos.
In most NICUs during this pandemic, parents aren’t allowed to visit at the same time. Darren and Tiffany were allowed to visit the NICU together in the first 24 hours after Kinslee’s birth, but after that, they had to visit in shifts, each of them experiencing special NICU milestones without the other.
Tiffany was the first to hold Kinslee, but Darren wasn’t there to see it.
Tiffany also wasn’t present when Darren held Kinslee for the first time.
When Tiffany gave Kinslee her first bath, Darren was not there.
Experiencing the roller coaster of events and emotions in the NICU was even more difficult without a partner to help shoulder the burden. The couple connected with their Hand to Hold Family Support Specialist, Christine, a NICU and bereaved mom, not long after Kinslee was born.
“Being in the NICU, it can just feel like you’re drowning,” said Tiffany. “Just knowing that they have done this before and that I’m not alone has been the most helpful.”
Now that Kinslee is home, the Allens are thrilled to be together as a family. But they also know that their journey is not over. They’re ready to take any future hurdles as they come.
When asked what advice they would give a new NICU parent, Tiffany and Darren both agreed on the same words of wisdom. “Take it day by day,” said Darren. “And when you can’t do that, take it hour by hour, or minute by minute.”
“Every day isn’t a bad day,” said Tiffany. “Hold on to the good days. Hold out hope. Don’t drown yourself in the worries. Stay off the internet. Listen to the doctors, nurses, social workers, and all the people that are there to help you. Make sure you take time for yourself. Get your rest at night. You can’t be there for your baby if you’re not taking care of yourself as well.”
“It does get easier,” adds Darren. “We’re all learning to be fighters.”