As a nurse wheeled me inside, my mind was in a haze. A trail of IVs followed closely, my body weak and struggling to survive. The hall was quiet. Only soft whispers of nurses could be heard as my wheelchair turned the corner. We entered a dark room illuminated by the soft blue light hovering over two isolettes. As the nurse wheeled me closer, she quietly said, “These two are yours. Say hello to your babies.”
I always knew my children would be premature babies, but I never planned for what unfolded in 2013. I was considered high-risk, being pregnant with triplets, so I knew that our children would need a little help in the neonatal intensive care unit. What I didn’t expect was for my family’s life to go in a different direction ― one filled with grief, triumph and strength.
I had heard of the NICU but was unsure of what to expect. After delivering our triplets at 22 weeks gestation, we lost our first child, Abby, her lungs underdeveloped and too weak to survive. My body went into septic shock, and I was whisked away for emergency surgery, waking up several hours later in the ICU. My husband was the first person I saw, and he shared the news I never expected to hear. Two of our triplets were alive and were being cared for in the NICU. It was two more days before I even met Parker and Peyton, my body too sick to make the trek to a different wing of the hospital.
As I looked inside the isolettes, I was overcome with emotions. My eyes became cloudy as the tears poured down my face. Two frail little babies were laying there, wires and tubes covering their translucent skin. The nurse opened the isolette door, allowing me to put my hand inside. I hesitated as I looked at my children, wondering if even a gentle touch could hurt their one-pound bodies. My husband nodded, nudging me to place my finger inside, allowing my son to touch his mother for the first time. It was a moment I’ll never forget.
As first-time parents, my husband and I had no experience caring for a newborn baby. As we sat next to our children for hours on end, we could only stare inside the isolettes while we talked to them and read books out loud. The first few weeks were challenging. My heart hurt every day. With two critically ill babies and a third child who had passed away, I didn’t feel like a mother. I was unable to hold my children, they were too small to receive my milk and we found ourselves holding our breath, wondering if our children would even survive each night.
Those early days were spent counting the minutes, hours and days ― celebrating the little milestones that most parents take for granted. The first time holding our children took on new meaning as half a dozen nurses worked together to place my daughter onto my chest for what’s called “kangaroo care.” Over the course of several weeks, my husband and I learned how to do typical parenting activities in an abnormal setting. In addition to changing diapers, we learned how to take our children’s temperatures and how to watch the monitors for breathing instabilities.
But as we quickly learned, life can change in an instant, especially in the NICU. In the first month of their lives, we had to make difficult medical decisions. We signed papers for surgeries, allowed for blood transfusions and trusted our instincts when the doctors told us they couldn’t decide for us. And after 55 days in the NICU, my husband and I made the most difficult decision of our lives, one I wish no parent would ever have to make. After nearly two months of life in the NICU, we held our boy, Parker, as he passed away in our arms.
As we struggled with the tragic reality of losing two of our triplets, we found ourselves trying to stay positive for our lone survivor in the NICU. I learned that it was OK to lean on others to get through the darkest days. And I found tremendous strength within me at a time when I felt my weakest. As our daughter, Peyton, continued to grow, her preemie power helped me get through the long days.
As the weeks turned to months, I watched my miracle daughter transform before our eyes. That frail little baby was growing by leaps and bounds. She was learning how to eat and her weak lungs were slowly healing. And along the way, my child was teaching me more than I ever thought possible. The months spent at her bedside taught me to appreciate life, for you never know what tomorrow may bring. The ups and downs of the NICU taught me a special kind of patience and that some things in life are out of our control.
After nearly four months of calling the hospital “home,” we hugged our nurses and said our goodbyes. The faint sounds of the alarms and the distinct smell of the hospital followed us as we strolled through the halls towards the exit. It was a surreal moment as we bid farewell to a journey we never expected, finally taking our NICU grad home. And as I walked out that door one final time, I was a changed woman. The NICU gave a new outlook on life, one that I will carry with me forever.
A version of this was originally published at Perfectly Peyton.