Full-disclosure February on this blog has turned into something more closely resembling fully-withdraw February. It happened kind of naturally and I’m not beating myself up for it, but I will make the observation that despite all my detoxing and positive thinking and lofty goals for spending this month improving my health and writing daily, I am just as tired and cold and inclined to hibernate as I am every single winter.
The good news is that I’m not necessarily depressed about it or feeling like the winter will never end. I even giggled with joy when I discovered that it was still light out at 5:30 when I left work the other night. This is progress.
Yes, my boys are pushing boundaries and climbing walls because of all the time we spend inside. Yes, I have many stories written in my head that I haven’t translated onto the screen. Yes, I think I will always feel like I should be doing more and possibly even different things than I am doing in parenting, in my career, and in my personal life. C’est la vie. At least, ma vie.
In other good news, I have thrown myself once again into fundraising for a cause that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve turned February into Fundraising February and I’m almost a third of the way to my goal. So, I figured that I could feed two birds from one hand and combine my full-disclosure and my fundraising on this frigid February morning.
If you knew me, you’d know I have twin boys who were born prematurely. Thankfully, they were born without much of an ado, other than me being terrified. They only had to stay one extra day in the hospital for jaundice and have only had moderate respiratory issues that we can trace back to their early birth.
If you knew me, you’d know that I now work for the March of Dimes, an organization that is committed to ending premature birth, birth defects, and infant mortality. Before I began my work with the March of Dimes, I didn’t realize how serious the problem of prematurity was, nor how many families it affected. I didn’t know how many babies die every year because they are born too soon or because of a serious birth defect. I didn’t realize that preterm birth was the leading cause of death for children under 5.
Now if you really knew me, you’d know that when I found out I was having twins my doctors told me that I would likely have them early no matter what (this turns out not to be true, lots of twin pregnancies go full term). You’d also know that I began having complications around week 20. I had spent the day not feeling well and feeling almost like I was getting my period; achy, crampy, and just generally sick. My doctor directed me to the hospital where it was determined I was experiencing pre-term labor. I received several shots of terbutaline to stop my contractions and was sent home to strict bed rest for a couple of weeks. No work, no nothing. Bed rest. At 20 weeks. Half-way to the finish line with babies that would not survive if they were born at that time. No one said that to me though. No one said, “hey look, bed rest sucks but if you go into labor again and we can’t stop it, which is a very real possibility, your babies will die.”
If you really knew me, you’d know I didn’t come home from that first hospital visit to my own apartment and my cats and the loving, supportive father of these babies who would do everything in his power to ensure that I was able to get us all safely to the finish line. You’d know that instead I went to my dear, loving and supportive friends’ house where they had taken me in a month before because intervention-style they and my cousin decided that I shouldn’t live alone. They basically felt that I couldn’t take care of myself properly, and since aforementioned loving, supportive father of the babies had up and moved out of our apartment and was neither loving, nor supportive at that time, I had very little choice but to agree.
If you really knew me, you’d know I spent those weeks on bed rest in my friends’ home, alternating between feeling extremely lucky and grateful and feeling completely miserable and terrified. You’d know that I blame myself for the complications that continued to plague me throughout my pregnancy. You’d know that I would continue to fight with the father of the babies stressing myself out to the point that my friends once again had to give me some tough love, essentially telling me to cut the shit because they had taken me in to make sure I was safe and healthy and birthed these babies, not so that they could watch me self-destruct and take the babies with me. You’d know that I thought I had it all under control, but in reality I had nothing under control. You’d know that I cried at least a little every day.
If you really knew me, you’d know I eventually got my shit together and realized everyone around me was right and I needed to distance myself from the emotional drama that continued to unfold with the babies’ father and focus on the boys and getting them to the finish line. With the help of my friends, I moved into the home that I would make for the boys. I was reunited with my kitty babies. I was able to work from home, as long as I didn’t overdo it. I finally felt like everything was going to be OK.
If you really knew me, you’d know that I never got to “nest”. I never got to set up our little home. You’d know that my little army of personal angels had to take care of all of that for me because when I drove myself to my perinatal appointment for my 3-D ultrasound–I didn’t come home until 3 months later. You’d know that my cervix was incompetent and that my body was ready to go into labor even though my babies were only 26 weeks and would have a low chance of survival. You’d know that I was admitted into the hospital that day and the father came to show his support and I once again believed everything would be OK. You’d know that when he left, he didn’t come back for eight weeks. You’d know that all the medications they were giving me to stop the labor weren’t working. You’d know at one point I was feeling so sick and I was trying to explain to the nurse that I felt like I was going to pass out, that I couldn’t fully sit up and I couldn’t lay down and I couldn’t catch my breath. I told her I felt like you do when you have swallowed too much water. It turned out the medication had given me pulmonary edema. But you’d know that I had to have an chest X-ray in the middle of the night because they were afraid that I may have an embolism. You’d know that I was terrified that the radiation would harm the babies. You’d know that the technician, who was probably the first person who was able to drive home the seriousness of what was happening, told me that the slight radiation would be better for the babies than me dying during childbirth because of an embolism.
If you really knew me, you’d know that after the first week of absolute mayhem, of trying all the different medications and giving the babies steroid shots so they would have a fighting chance if they were born; the doctors tried a calcium-channel blocker called Nifedipine to stop the contractions. It worked. For the next seven weeks, I waited. I prayed. I took my pills. I let myself be prodded and poked. I took joy in listening to the babies’ heartbeat each day. But I was incredibly lonely and scared. And I forgot all the seriousness of what had landed me in the hospital to begin with. I thought I was out of the woods. I wanted to go home. The doctors ignored me (and probably hated me for continuing to ask if I could just go home now). I had no idea how lucky I was that all the measures the doctors took got me safely into my 35th week of pregnancy. I had no idea what our lives would have been like if my babies had been born in that terrifying 26th week. I had no idea how close we had been to death or to life-long health issues.
If you know me, you’d know our story has a happy ending. If you really knew me, you’d know the survivors guilt I often feel. Especially at work where I have the honor and privilege to work on a support community that the March of Dimes provides for parent and families who have experienced the unthinkable; parents who have watched their babies’ struggle and fight for life in the NICU, who have had to leave their babies in the hospital every day not knowing if they would survive, who have had to hold their lifeless newborns in their arms.
Each year during the March for Babies walk, the boys and I talk about the story of their birth. I’ve told them how scary it was to think they were going to come too soon, but mostly I focus on how lucky we are. Someday they will be old enough to hear the rest of it, if I am brave enough to tell it. Someday maybe I will forgive myself and their father for the undue stress we put on my pregnancy. But every day I am grateful for my friends who were the ones who got me to the finish line, even when they had to drag me there and that is part of the story I tell. Every day I am grateful to the doctors who took zero chances with my sons’ lives. Every day I am grateful to the March of Dimes for the work they do to end prematurity.
If you are so inclined, we would be very grateful for your donation. It is tax-deductible and the research and programs that the March of Dimes funds with your money is nothing short of life-saving:
And it is because of the tireless work of the March of Dimes that I experienced this moment:
holding my babies for the first time
Please consider making a donation: marchforbabies.org/caramclaughlin