When you find that you are expecting multiples, you are aware from the moment you discover the extra womb inhabitants that a premature delivery is not only possible, but probable. The fact is that the babies can run out of room in their tiny little apartment and force eviction. So, when I found out that I was expecting twins, the first thing I was told was that they would likely come early, and that we were shooting for a minimum of 36 weeks gestation. Anything beyond 36 weeks was going to be a lovely bonus.
As anyone would do, I consulted Dr. Google to find out everything I could about premature babies. This is the worst idea in the entire world. Not because Dr. Google doesn’t have some pertinent information from his contacts available for perusal, but because preemies are each a case unto their own. Knowing you are likely going to have a premature baby (or two, in my case) can lead to some preparation, but it can also lead to a whole lot of (perhaps unnecessary) worry.
Here’s what I expected:
– 24 weeks gestation was a magic time. This is known as the age of viability. It means that with intense medical intervention, a baby born at this stage can survive and even thrive under ideal circumstances. Still, this is definitely not an ideal stage at which to have a baby.
– Lung maturity does not occur until the later weeks of pregnancy (37-40), and premature babies often have breathing difficulties due to immature lungs. This necessitates some extra time in the NICU and lots of tubes and needles (technical terms, of course).
– Each week a mom is able to carry the baby (or babies) buys the baby less time in the hospital.
Here’s what I didn’t expect:
– The terrifying and crippling sadness of barely seeing my babies before they were rushed off to the Special Care Nursery with the other preemies, and the ensuing loneliness and impatience as I was not able to see them for hours following delivery while I recovered.
– The uncertainty I felt when nobody could tell me definitely that my babies were going to live. The Doctors and Nurses would tell me that they deal with this kind of thing frequently, or that the difficulties my babies were experiencing were normal for babies who were born at their gestational age, and for twins in general, but they could not say to me, “your babies are going to live and be healthy.”
– The number of tests that my little babies would have to pass in the first week of their life. Certainly on par with the number of tests that I had to pass to graduate from college.
– How very seriously tiny they would be, and mine weren’t actually very tiny. Still, at 5 lbs 5 oz, and 6 lb 2 oz, they were the tiniest babies I’d ever had (my other two had been more in the 7.5 lb range). There was a preemie in the incubator near my twins who weighed 3 lbs. She was so tiny, and I know that many preemies are even tinier. It really puts the fragility of life into perspective.
And here’s the thing, my babies were only days premature, not weeks or months. I sometimes even feel silly calling them preemies. I have many friends (one of whom you will hear from tomorrow) who had very premature babies and dealt with far more than we did in our four days in the hospital with our twins. The encouraging, and often amazing thing, is the strides that modern medicine has made so that we may live in a time where premature babies are able to survive and thrive, and so that mothers at risk for preterm labor and delivery can have intervention that helps them safely prolong their pregnancies for as long as possible. If you can believe it, improvement and discoveries are still being made, and we are so fortunate to live in a culture and world that supports maternal and fetal health in this way.