“Wait, there’s another one.”
“Another heartbeat. It’s triplets. You’re having triplets.”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw my husband shoot out of his chair and bolt to the bed I was lying in. He grabbed my hand, and we both took a deep breath. We stared at the monitor as the technician carefully went from baby to baby to baby showing us each precious heartbeat. Two little babies were in the same sac, and the other was in its own.
Deep breath in. Exhale.
A week before, we were sitting in this same office getting the terrible news that we were miscarrying twins. During our first sonogram we saw two sacs without any heartbeats at all. The doctor brought us to his office to tell us what that meant. He gave us little hope and told us to go home, wait a week, and then come back to have “everything removed.” This was not our usual doctor (the OBGYN that I had seen my entire life), and in the pit of my stomach I felt something was wrong with the whole thing.
But here we were, a week after that first sonogram looking at three strong heartbeats. Only by the grace of God did they decide to do a sonogram before they took me back to remove everything. The doctor pulled us into his office again and ran down a list of possible complications, told me I would be on bed rest my entire pregnancy, and that he would take the babies at 30 weeks. Then he calmly gave me the option of selective reduction to give two of the babies a better chance.
I walked out and called my normal doctor, the doctor in whom I had full faith. He agreed to see me right away, and after he gave me a sonogram, measured the babies, and made sure we were all healthy, he smiled and told me that everything was fine. He told me our goal was 40 weeks with no bed rest and that he was sure that we were going to deliver three healthy babies.
Deep breath in. Exhale.
In the world of triplet pregnancies I’d say ours was middle-of-the-road. I was hospitalized four times for dehydration, and aside from being as big as a house, I really didn’t have any other complications. My belly was so big that people would gasp at me in public. It wasn’t pretty. It was hot. It was miserable, but it was one of the most amazing things God has ever blessed us with.
At 35 weeks I went into labor and delivered three babies that weighed in at 5.8, 5.6, and 5.5 pounds. We got to kiss each one as they came out and sing happy birthday to her, and then together in the same incubator they were taken away to the NICU as Daddy followed close behind. This would be a whole new world that we had never been part of before. We were officially members of the NICU Club—a club no parent wants to be part of.
After the babies were settled and I was out of surgery, the nurses rolled me through the NICU in my hospital bed. I’m not sure how they pulled that off, but they did. This is the part that I hate to admit but it’s the truth. I had no emotions. None. They brought me to the first baby, I look over, and said, “OK.” Then off to the next baby. Again, “OK.” Then to the third. “OK.” Maybe it was the medicine or the extreme exhaustion, but I was numb. Maybe it was because at that moment I knew I was completely helpless when it came to my three new babies. They were all in incubators covered with tubes. They all needed help breathing and eating. Two had IVs in their heads, and one had an IV in her foot. I wasn’t sure where to direct my attention or energy. No matter how much you prepare yourself, you can never really understand the emotions until you are smack dab in the middle of it.
Deep breath in. Exhale.
I had enormous guilt. Guilt that somehow I failed at bringing these babies further along so that their lungs could have been fully developed. Guilt that I got to go home while they had to stay at the hospital without their daddy or me. Guilt that I had to hold them while they were poked and pulled on. Guilt that the mom sitting next to me had one baby that weighed two pounds while I had three that weighed well over that. Guilt that the same mommy sitting next to me was not allowed to hold her baby while I got to go from bed to bed to bed and hold each one of mine. Guilt that I knew in a few days I would walk out of that hospital with all of my babies while some of these mommies would walk out empty-handed.
I knew the good Lord had blessed us far beyond anything we deserved. We had three babies at one time. That just doesn’t spontaneously happen too often. We knew that in time our babies would come home with us, and aside from some very small complications they would lead healthy normal lives. We knew that the NICU was the best place for them, and we were grateful for the loving and educated hands that touched them everyday. We were blessed with supportive friends and family and that the hospital would have to actually cut off the amount of visitors these sweet babies had.
Even though I knew all of the doctors and nurses that worked in the NICU were educated and trained specifically on how to care for my three little girls, it was still intimidating and terrifying. There was a joy on the surface of all these parents with their babies, and there was a deep sadness that we were all collected in this one room draped in gowns and covered in masks.
I wish I had a list of things to say and do for a parent with a child in the NICU. I don’t. Even after having three babies in there at one time, I still don’t know what NICU parents need. I know that my husband and I weren’t home much during the babies’ stay, so we never had time for a home-cooked meal. We cherished the food that family and friends dropped off and tried to at least taste it while we inhaled it in a hurry to get back to the hospital. There wasn’t much time to clean, and I am forever grateful to my sister and mom who helped around the house during this time and even after the girls got home. We were thankful but fearful of the people who showed up at the hospital to see the babies. Thankful that the triplets were so loved, but fearful of the germs that might get tracked into the room and deposited on our very susceptible infants. I’m a huge advocate of waiting for a mommy and baby to get home before visiting, but I know that can be irresistible for family and friends who want to love on the mommy and baby right away.
We are some of the lucky ones who, after little more than a week, got to bring our babies home one by one. The triplets all came home with a clean bill of health and without any medical assistance. However, being NICU club members has forever changed us. We know how lucky we are to have these precious preemies home and healthy. We are, in turn, more cautious with them and delight in each milestone that they meet, whether it’s right on time or slightly delayed.
In my closet are three little hand-knit beanie hats that each girl wore while in the NICU. It’s a reminder of where we once were and how far we have come.
To anyone who has a friend or family member with a child in the NICU, prayer is most important and most needed, but a home-cooked meal is close second. If you don’t know what it’s like to have a baby in that position, you don’t need to pretend like you do. It’s OK to not understand the parents’ feelings—just give love and encouragement, and don’t be scared to head on over to their house and vacuum for them.
To all my fellow NICU Club members. you are not alone, and you don’t have to be. I know how your heart feels, and the fear that you have experienced. You and your baby are valued and cherished, and please know that the greatest blessings come in the smallest packages.