Starting Life in NICU

A nurse said to me at the beginning of the boys NICU stay “Buckle in because you are now on the biggest rollercoaster ride of your life”  How right she was. There were the most exhilarating highs where you could actually see HOPE followed by incredibly intense lows which is where my wall bashing and screaming came in.

 

Right at the start time felt like it was in the birthing suite, where every single second counted, we were living completely moment to moment every minute was a victory. I have never lived my life in such an intense way. Your appreciation of seconds when it means life and death is phenomenal.

 

My boys were right in the middle of NICU right next to the nurse’s station. They had one Nurse each. You know it’s serious when your boys are in that position. They started their life in their incubators, wrapped in plastic, under little heat lamps for their jaundice, they wore tiny little eye masks, they had wires going through their belly button as they were too little to put any into their veins, they had little wires attached to their chest which measured things such as their heart rate, they had a tube going down their lungs which actually had to manually breath for them, they didn’t even wear a nappy in the very beginning as their skin was so sensitive it could tear away with the slightest touch, they didn’t get fed-their tiny tummies were far too immature, and of course we could not touch them. In fact, it was a very long seventeen days until I could hold one of them.

 

Such extreme premature babies will actually lose weight in the first couple of weeks because they can’t be fed. I can’t remember how much weight the boys lost but they got below 500 grams.

 

I was still in hospital recovering from my caesarean and just having my infection markers checked on, which were coming down (yah!)  The milk pumping had begun, which was a bizarre situation, sitting at the milking machine pumping away like a cow when two of my babies were in neonatal intensive care and my other was in the morgue. I had actually been given a private room with a balcony which was lovely but it was that moment I realised life had just continued despite my daughter’s death. When I was alone I could not stop crying. It felt like I would never be able to put back the pieces of my broken heart. I was worried for the boys. I knew what losing a baby in NICU was like. I had moments of realisation when I realised I might go home with no babies. I thought how could life be so cruel to bless me with triplets and not be able to bring any home? My hysterectomy was looming. I had been forced to be so strong this whole journey, but I knew if I left this hospital without my boy’s whatever strength I had would just shatter.  Daniel came and wheeled me outside for the first time. I had not had fresh air for six weeks- seems like such a small amount of time! But I had not felt the sunshine on my face. Everything seemed so bright and beautiful. I remember saying to Daniel everything moves so fast!! LOL

 

 

The Neonatologist who started our journey with us was incredible. She spoke to us in such a soothing matter of fact way, that just made you feel like she had it all under control. She explained everything that happened and was patient answering all of our stuttered repeated questions over and over again. I was so grateful for her.  But at the same time, you are trying to wrap your head around these really severe complicated medical issues.

 

On admission and during their stay the complications read like this-

Apnea

Suspected sepsis

Prematurity

IUGR/SGA

Anaemia

Respiratory distress syndrome

Pulmonary haemorrhage

Unconfirmed congenital infection

Haemorrhage

Hypotension

Persistent/patent ductus arteriosus

Jaundice

Apnea of prematurity

Neutropenia

Thrombocytopenia

Coagulopathy

Chronic lung disease

Retinopathy of prematurity

Gastro-oesophageal reflux

Unconfirmed acquired infection

Rickets of prematurity

Septicaemia

Intracranial Haemorrhage

Intracranial imaging abnormality

Gastric bleeding/melena

Inguinal Hernia

Acquired urinary tract infection

Central venous catheter sepsis

Non-birth related skin and integument Injury

Hypoglycaemia.

 

I promise in another post I will break down these complications for you. Why do I write them here now? I guess it’s important for you to know that at 23 weeks’ gestation it is well and truly the grey zone. No one can tell you the outcomes. No one has a crystal ball (if I had a dollar for every time I heard that) Before my boys were born they were given a 20% chance of survival. Yet I knew in my bones that I was being told to fight for these boys- so we did. But it has been the most complicated heartbreaking journey of my life. As a parent, you are always doubting yourself. But I will never ever doubt the decision to fight for my babies….

 

Sometimes you just need to believe in miracles.

 

Getting wheeled outside for the first time since being admitted. That is true fashion right there! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

The birth of triplet B and C.

Triplet B and C were born on the 19th August 2016 via caesarean. Triplet C is Atticus James and B is JoJo Hendrix. They tried to get JoJo first but he was just to stuck and far far too tiny. So, Atticus came first followed by JoJo.

 

When they pulled my little Atti out he let out the sweetest little cry and I just knew he was going to be ok. I mean I didn’t think a baby born at 23+5 weeks gestation could even cry, and it was the only “normal” part of my labour and I will be forever grateful for the memory.

 

Atticus’s weight at birth was 550 grams and JoJo was 530grams. Yes, they were tiny. Really tiny. They basically weighed the size of a stick of butter. But my god did they look huge in comparison to Olive. Their bodies were far more advanced.  When they say EVERY day counts in utero they REALLY mean it. I saw it firsthand. We were so lucky I was able to keep them in for that extra week.

 

Post birth was hard. I was mourning Olive. I was in total body/mind shock over the last month. I was in total shock over the boys. When I fell pregnant I never thought I was going to have extreme premature babies. I didn’t even think it was possible that a baby born seventeen weeks early could survive.

 

They were in their little incubators. Just lying there. So, tiny. We could not touch them. They had a million wires going into their belly buttons. Once again, the terrifying chorus of alarms that was hooked up to them seemed to screech across the unit. They were under these little lamps for jaundice with these teeny tiny little eye masks on. They had a tube going into their lungs that manually “breathed” for them.

 

To say that it was terrifying is an understatement. I was frozen in fear. I also felt intense guilt. Guilt that my body was relived. Guilt that I may have caused this. Guilt over what I (semi) knew they would have to endure. Guilt over what their future held. Guilt that I was clearly NOT providing their best lived life. Guilt that I was so fucking helpless. I was so helpless. I felt like such a silly giant oaf. All I could do was talk to them. All I could do was talk. Pray. Hope. Reassure them that I am still here.

 

 

Our long NICU journey had begun.

 

JoJo Hendrix                                    Atticus James

 

 

 

The six day labour of triplet C.

For six days, I was in labour with triplet C. After Olive’s passing the labour really started to get serious. I kept getting sicker and sicker. I would get tiny catnaps of five minutes, but apart from that I could barely sleep because of the contractions. I was hooked up to IV penicillin, magnesium sulphate, hydration, and pain relief. It felt like every 15 minutes I was taking huge antibiotics. Upside down. At one point, they had me on a birthing bed upside down for 24 hours. Hooked up to magnesium sulphate for 17 hours. Magnesium sulphate is important for preemie baby’s neurological development so if they can get it in before a premature delivery then they certainly try, but my god the stuff is horrible! It gives you hideous hot flashes and seriously makes you feel like you’re going to do one big poo right there in front of everyone while your arse is on fire.

 

About day four I turned to Daniel and said I think that a sadistic puppet master was playing with me- that’s how out of this world it felt. Poor Daniel he just didn’t know what to do, he paced around while I moaned and groaned. He kept checking my catheter bag and making sure I wasn’t dehydrated. At one stage, he went to go get something from the vending machine and came back white as a ghost. He had walked past this little glass room full of doctors with my name written in big letters across the top of a whiteboard. With nothing written underneath. They were standing there very sombre, scratching their heads.

 

The contractions were getting worse and worse and little triplet c had moved into Olive’s spot. They decided the time had come to give birth to him and to try and leave triplet B behind. The neonatal team were called back in.  We tried and tried and tried. I kept telling them he doesn’t want to come.  He doesn’t want to come. This time it’s different. But still we tried and tried and tried. But I was right little C-man did not want to come into this world yet. He got breech. They could feel his little shoulder it was not going to happen. So, they decided to give me a break. Hoping that he would move back up into a better position. The obstetrician told me- I’m going home now to sleep, but I’m not abandoning you, I’ve given strict instructions to staff to call me as soon as something happens.

 

I kept getting sicker and sicker. I was totally out of it. I started throwing up green. There was green discharge. I felt like any second green was just going to spurt out of every orifice in my body. My infection markers were checked and that poor obstetrician was called back.

She came in, took one look at me and said we need to get to theatre NOW.  I now had no control over the pregnancy. I couldn’t keep my babies in any longer. I knew my body actually couldn’t take much more- it had been pushed to its furthest capabilities. Daniel was thrown a set of scrubs which he immediately started posing for photos in LOL. Within ten minutes I was being rushed down into theatre. The obstetrician turned to Daniel and gave him the stark reality – You might be the only one to come out of this alive.

Goodbye Olive :(

I’m not going to share Olive’s passing with you. Except to say she passed away in my arms while I sang to her. They weren’t going to let me sit up. I screamed. They let me. It’s a very precious memory and one that belongs to Daniel our beautiful Olive and myself. I like that. I like that it is just our memory. It’s sacred.

 

I will say that the pain of a death of a child is like nothing else I have ever felt. Its like I have a huge scar running  from my face down the entire length of my body. But you can’t see it. That scar can crack open at any time and all the sadness and love I have for her comes gushing out. I could be in the supermarket passing crappy children’s lunch box items and crack I am a mess. I see a tiny female toddler with hair similar to how mine was and crack I am a mess. An AD on TV crack. Someone mentions my boys are twins crack. The colour pink crack. Coming across Beautiful baby girl’s clothes. Crack. Every day for no reason. Crack crack crack crack CRACK.

 

When it was all over. When the boys were born and I was allowed up to the postnatal ward with a balcony and fresh air. I remember the first time I woke up in that room. I was alone. There was a construction sight out my window and people were busy working and I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that people were still working. I couldn’t believe that the world didn’t stop. My daughter had just died and you just go about your day as if nothing has happened? I could NOT believe that the world did not stop for my Olive. She deserved the entire universe to stop. I was so angry so sad. This poem I learnt in acting school came to mind in that  exact moment, and I finally understood it. Like really understood it. So I give you that poem. It says it all. And Olive Louise my love for you knows no bounds, I hope you feel it.

 

 

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

 

W.H. Auden

Day 2 of Olive Louise (Triplet A)

Olive was born with a lot of complications. She was born with level 4 brain bleeds (the worst kind) on either side of her brain. She was born with a nasty infection, which sadly she probably got from me (I had been on numerous antibiotics since the catheter debacle) and she was born at twenty-two weeks and six days gestation. Parts of her body hadn’t had time to mature properly. To top it all off she was a triplet. A singleton baby born at her gestation might fare better, but she had to share the entire pregnancy. Upon hearing this news the stark reality was that her outlook was simply becoming bleaker and bleaker.

 

And yes I had started to go into labour with triplet C. My infection markers were steadily rising and they had really kicked up the antibiotics. When I gave birth to Olive they actually had to leave her placenta in me, as pulling it out could possibly pull B, and C’s with it. So my already infectious body coupled with a placenta no longer being used didn’t make for exactly a clean steady ride. My drug chart started to look like a bible.

 

On day two the hospital organised a charity called heartfelt to visit us. Heartfelt is a WONDERFUL organisation with professional photographers who donate their time and come and take photos of preemie and stillborn babies. I am forever grateful for them, as without their generosity we would not have any photos of Olive. I was raised to a normal sitting position (kind of) for the shoot. But as I was currently in labour it was a brief shoot.

 

The labour had really kicked up a notch and we had been moved into the big birthing suite. Two NICU resuscitation stations stood blinking at us. Minutes felt like hours while we played the waiting game with the labour and Olive. Neither of us had slept since going into labour with Olive. Every time I started to doze off I would hear footsteps and my heart froze over certain those footsteps were for us. Certain they were coming to tell me that my baby girl had passed.

 

That evening the footsteps were for us, they were for Olive. The main nurse who had been looking after Olive came in. She was crying. She thought it was time to let Olive go. The Doctor was pushing the envelope trying and trying but it looked bleak. I just collapsed onto the nurse heartbroken, sobbing. No no no no no no. Please no.

 

But still we waited for that Doctor still we hoped that something had worked. Still I waited for a miracle. The doctor came in at 8:30 that morning. It was day 3 and Olive still wasn’t responding to the treatment. He could keep her alive if we wanted but her tiny fragile lungs could burst on the machine that was breathing for her. The thought of my tiny daughter dying all alone on a machine broke me, I had barely been able to spend time with her due to the labour, I hadn’t been able to hold her to comfort her. She must feel so confused suddenly out in the big world, taken from the safe haven of my belly with her two brothers. She must feel so frightened in that stark medical incubator with strange voices around her, no voice from her mummy reassuring her. She must feel such pain being so fragile you couldn’t touch her without her feeling pain and they had to take bloods, do transfusions, put lines in. There was no way my beautiful first born would become an angel in that environment she deserved to at last be in my arms, singing softly to her, with her father, feeling the love that we have for her. I asked them to please bring her to me. It was the hardest decision we have ever had to make but it was time to say goodbye and for tiny Olive Louise to have peace.

Talking to Olive during the heartfelt shoot.               Olives tiny hand.

Olive Louise (Triplet A)

Olive lived for 3 days. For 3 days I barely breathed. For 3 days I didn’t sleep. Every footstep that echoed down the corridor made my heart stop beating. I wanted it to be ok more than I have ever wanted anything in my life. I wanted to be that freaky face to a freaky miracle that finds it way into every trashy UK newspaper because it’s so unbelievable. I wanted my daughter to live. I wanted to tell this incredible story at her 21st,  at her wedding with tears streaming down my face because it’s so unbelievable. I think I knew deep down it was too unbelievable. Deep down I really just wanted her to be OK.

 

After the birth Of Olive I ate a huge meal, and I felt lighter. My stomach felt lighter. There was more room. We left the specialists to work on Olive and we would go see her that afternoon. Family stopped by to see me and we all agreed she WAS going to be that miracle. As it got closer to visiting her I asked our midwife if this constant leaking was normal after childbirth?  She had look and confirmed it was not normal.

 

Next moment the room was once again full of doctors poking and prodding. An ultrasound was performed and we found that it was amniotic fluid leaking out of me. Giving birth to Olive had put a hole in triplet C’s sack and it was slowly leaking away. My heart sank to the very pit of the earth. I was now completely paralysed with the fear.

 

While Olive had a sliver of a chance just for being female- female preemies do better than males because of the hormones females naturally produce (helps mature the lungs and other organs)  I knew if the boys were born now at 22+6 weeks they had no chance, I would have to just ask to hold them and let them pass away in my arms. My triplet miracle was slowly becoming a nightmare that was beyond even my very wild imagination.

 

But the time came to visit Olive so there I was- upside down half naked leaking everywhere with my little sheet just covering my modesty and I got wheeled down to the neonatology intensive care unit or NICU. I couldn’t believe what I saw. There was baby after baby kept in these little incubators, hooked up to more wires than I thought possible. These huge screens monitored the babies with a chorus of terrifying beeps ringing across the unit. There was no privacy. There isn’t much room between the incubators. So there I am in all my glory jammed between my daughter and someone else’s baby.  But I really didn’t care I was to paralysed in my fear. I only had eyes for Olive.

 

There she was. The tiniest being I have ever laid eyes on. So fragile and so unfinished like the tiniest little bird. She completely belonged in my stomach for another 4 months. But fuck I LOVED HER SO FIERCLY. She had the longest legs and the biggest feet just like my Nan. She was 100% my daughter. But she was also very black and blue from the birth; she had a lot of trauma from it all. I couldn’t touch her if I did her unfinished skin would peel away and she would bleed. I couldn’t open the little porthole to her incubator. I could just lie there upside down and hope she could hear me. Hope that she found comfort in my voice. I felt powerless to help her, to comfort her. I was just this big oaf directly in the way. She was constantly surrounded by doctor’s, by nurses. She was the smallest baby the unit had ever taken on. I asked to be wheeled away with the heart breaking knowledge that the only people who could help her now were the medical team surrounding her.

 

Late that afternoon the contractions started up for triplet C.

 

Olive’s feet day 2.                               Tiny Olive Louise.

The birth of triplet A.

Within what felt like seconds I was in the birthing suite with Daniel at my side. It was confirmed that Triplet A’s membranes had in fact ruptured and she had started to move down. The plan was to keep her in there for as long as possible, to stop me going into labour, to put a hold on it. They pumped me with drugs to hold off the contractions, drugs to ease the pain, to stop me from pushing. But my daughter had other ideas.

 

Its funny during your life you have moments of epiphany’s, you feel like you understand certain aspects of life, you have a grip, a sense of control over things. That is until you begin childbirth. You can try and try and try to get control of the situation, to prevent, to understand. But suddenly you are at the mercy of nature, of these very primal instincts, and you realise you really have no control over anything at all. That in a second your entire life can change in any situation.

 

She kept getting lower and lower. And lower and lower. And despite all the drugs my contractions kept getting stronger and stronger.

 

At about 3am they sent in a doctor from the neonatal unit to ask us what we wanted to do. They don’t normally resuscitate 22-week babies but they do 23 weeks. Seeing as she was one day shy of 23 weeks and they were a bit iffy on the actual correct age (because of the triplets) they decided to consult with us. Her outlook was bleak. There was an extremely high chance she would come out dead due to the trauma of the birth. But there have been 22 weekers around the world who have survived, but it’s a one in a million chance.

 

When the hospital thinks you are going to have a premature baby they give you a dose of steroids, which help the babies lungs develop rapidly so they can survive out of the womb. And of course we hadn’t had any because we were trying to prevent the entire birth. So her outlook looked even bleaker. Daniel and I made a plan. We would continue trying to hold off this birth for as long as possible. We would ask for the steroids. We would ask the neonatologist to be brutally honest with us. If she came out and there was no chance for her-please let us hold her. But if, if there is hope please go ahead. Maybe we might have a miracle.

 

You’re probably thinking what a naïve decision. You are right. We were naïve. These were our first children. We really had no idea. But hindsight is a funny thing isn’t it?

 

They needed permission from the head of the neonatology department about wether they would give us the steroids. Wether we could make that plan. We would have to wait until 8:30 that morning, when the head doctors would arrive. Minutes felt like hours as we waited for the answers.

 

In the meantime she kept getting lower and lower and my contractions kept getting stronger and stronger. They decided to roll in the big guns with my pain medication and started injecting me with morphine.

 

All night we heard the animalistic sounds from women all around us in labour, the midwife’s coaching them, then the claps, and the celebrations once the baby was born. Exactly how I always imagined my birthing story would be.

 

8:30am came and we were given the green light. I was given my first dose of steroids with the hope I could get in the second dose 12 hours later.

 

But despite all the medication, all the pain relief, all the control we were trying to grip with- I changed. My pain changed. I turned into a caged animal. I started making the exact sounds as all the women around me. Daniel turned white. The midwife turned white called for help and started prepping for the birth. The obstetrician came in and confirmed she could feel my daughters head. It was on. Suddenly the room was filled with nurses and doctors from the neonatology department. They stood with this huge baby resuscitation unit blinking at us. Its warm, its bright, and it constantly alarms and beeps. I tried not to look at it. I didn’t want to start freaking out. Right before we started pushing my beautiful midwife came over to me and whispered that I don’t have to go through with this. I can just ask to hold my baby. I guess she knew how bleak it really all was. I didn’t.

 

Giving birth to a baby no matter what size is difficult with no urge to push. The obstetrician was FIRM. If I wanted to give my daughter a chance at life I had to push like my life depended on it (or her life) So I did. Just like the women around me I pushed, I grunted, I swore. Just like the women around me I was coached, yelled at, told I CAN do it. However once she came out there were no claps, there was no celebration. There was an eerie silence as the neonatology team took over and assessed our daughter. The head doctor gave us a thumbs up. She came out fighting for her life. They were going to take her on. Within a second my daughter was whisked away to the Neonatology intensive care unit. There was no holding my baby, no staring at her beautiful face. Instead there was a very strong fear that suddenly gripped my heart that tightened around my throat that made me feel like I couldn’t even breathe. I was choking from the inside. Would she even make it?

 

On the 13th August 2016 at 12:30pm Olive Louise McPherson entered our lives. Her gestational age was 22 weeks and 6 days. She weighed a tiny 400gms. She was the smallest size baby this NICU had ever taken on. Triplet B and C remained safe in my tummy (for now)