We’d like to introduce Preemie Babies 101’s new Online Community Coordinator, Leigh Ann Torres. Leigh Ann is a blogger, writer, and mother of twins plus one, living in Austin, TX. After a short bout with severe preeclampsia, Leigh Ann’s identical twin girls were delivered at 31 weeks and spent 38 days in the NICU. She looks forward to helping NICU parents connect with one another through Preemie Babies 101 and fostering the community that brings former and current NICU parents together. Please welcome Leigh Ann with her essay, “I Was Pushed,” which she read on stage at the 2012 Listen to Your Mother Austin show.
One night at the grocery store, a run in with some leaky meat sent me in search of hand sanitizer.
As I pumped the cool liquid onto my skin, my hands found the old familiar pattern: into the palms, over the backs of the hands, in between the fingers, working it all the way up to the forearms. It was instinctive; I had done it so many times before. The pungent smell flooded my nostrils, awakening my senses and transporting me to another time, another place, an entirely different world I thought I had long left behind.
It took me to dim lights and dull linoleum floors.
Hushed voices amongst the dinging of monitors.
Bili lights, pumps, syringes, feeding tubes.
Blanket covered isolettes encasing tiny sleeping babies not yet ready for this world.
This is the motherhood into which I was thrust.
9 weeks before my expected due date, in a swirl of high blood pressure and near renal failure, my body was quickly losing its battle with preeclampsia, and delivery was the only cure. I trembled on the operating table, partly from cold, partly from raw fear. But as my identical twin girls were removed and flown past me on their way to get cleaned up, I only remember being relieved that they were larger than the 3 lb hand weights I envisioned.
I now bore the title of NICU Mom. Despite the tour we took, the nurses who came to speak with us, or the literature I ignored while on bedrest, few things can prepare you for the overwhelming experience that is the neonatal intensive care unit.
Scrubbing up to almost surgical standards.
Changing your first diaper on a three pound baby surrounded by wires and cords and the fear that you could very well break her.
Waiting, wondering if your presence is enough.
Dark thoughts clouded my mind in my hospital room at night. I was wracked with guilt at not being able to keep them in my body long enough, and I began to feel as if my pregnancy and the normal birth experience I imagined were stolen from me. I cast resentful glances at the cheerful pink and blue ribbons on the other patients’ doors, knowing that they were likely snuggled up in their rooms with their babies. They were celebrating and preparing to go home, while I was merely a visitor, a spectator.
Would this time apart be detrimental to our lifelong relationship? Would it hinder my ability to bond with them? How was I even supposed to be there for them when I so desperately wanted to escape to something normal?
Part of me felt I should hold constant vigil by their bedside for hours on end, barely breaking for bread and sleep. Another part of me watched the clock, anxiously awaiting the shift change, when I would be kicked out and could shirk the responsibilities that weighed so heavily on my shoulders, the guilt that there wasn’t much I could do for them.
I didn’t feel like a mom. Each morning I arrived and tried to soak in the daily report from the nurse. I stood awkwardly in between my two babies’ isolettes, waiting for someone to tell me what to do next. This place was home to my babies, yet so stifling to me. I loved my children immensely and desperately wanted them to grow strong so they could come home, but this wasn’t the motherhood I signed up for. Where was my motherly glow? Where was my uncanny ability to always know what to do? Don’t they give that out at the hospital?
But this was the version of motherhood I was pushed into and I had to adjust. I had to jump.
Or at least hop. I slowly adjusted to NICU life like one adjusts to a new route to work or a new school schedule — because you have to. I smiled at the scary looking woman manning the front desk. I scrubbed up the same way each day, set my bags down on the same spot on the counter, and delivered my milk to the same familiar face.
I stopped being a spectator and started being an active participant. I made myself at home, combing the bays for a breast pump, gathering pillows and blankets for nursing, and taking the initiative to ask about my babies’ progress and what it might mean for their future. And the scary woman at the front desk? Her name was Brenda. And she was quite lovely.
During our five week NICU stay, my little hops grew into jumps, until we took the big plunge and brought the girls home. Again I fought the feeling of being thrust into a new experience I wasn’t quite ready for, because let’s face it — who really is ready to bring home two newborns?
That was four years ago. And since then, motherhood for me has been all about the jumps, the leaps, and the pushes. Sometimes I jump into something daunting, like breastfeeding two babies at once, which was no small feat, especially the times I left the TV remote on the other side of the room.
And I’ve jumped into scenarios that tested my comfort levels: taking two babies to the grocery store, taking two toddlers on an airplane, taking the fronts off of two cribs fully knowing that they will no longer be confined.
Every morning I jump into parenting, guiding, helping, consoling, and leading by example. Although that’s only after being thrust out of bed by a 4 year old whacking me in the face with Lightening McQueen.
Some find it odd that I describe our NICU experience as nothing short of amazing. But it really was. Other than needing to grow, my babies were healthy, and we were all well cared for and supported. The NICU gave me the shove I needed to discover the path to being my kids’ mom. It pushed me, made me uncomfortable, made me question myself, my instincts, and my heart. And I pushed back. I jumped. And I haven’t stopped jumping since.