By Megan Ueckert
After being admitted into the hospital at 21 weeks pregnant with twins due to my daughter’s sac rupturing, I was starting to be ok with the fact that I would be spending four months on hospital bedrest. Around 2am the Sunday morning when I was 23 weeks and four days pregnant, I started to feel pains again in my back.
I called my nurse and asked for some pain medicine and asked that she put me on the contraction monitor. She monitored me for about an hour and came back and said that she wasn’t seeing anything. I took her word for it and drifted off into a pain killer induced sleep, thinking my back was just hurting from lying in bed for two weeks. I woke up around 7am and ordered a big breakfast thinking that maybe if I ate something, I would feel better. After finishing my breakfast, I called my nurse because now not only was my back hurting, but I could feel my stomach getting hard; I knew I was having contractions. She put the monitors back on me and didn’t see anything, so she also put the fetal heart monitors on me. Every time I felt a contraction, baby B’s (my son) heartbeat would dip significantly although the contraction wasn’t showing on the monitor still, so they called the on-call doctor.
Dr. Walters came into the room with two nurses to examine me and checked me to see if I was dilated. The nurses’ demeanor had suddenly changed from a caring and friendly smile to expressions of concern. I had dilated 2cm and the stress of the contractions was causing baby B’s heartbeat to go down and they were concerned it was too much for him. The doctor put oxygen on me and told me that they were going to move me to labor and delivery.
As she told me this news, I remember sheer fear and panic setting in as my eyes were wide as saucers and then tears came uncontrollably pouring out. It was too early for these babies! In my head I hadn’t even considered that I wouldn’t make it to at least 30 weeks. Fear set in as I quickly realized what this meant; I may be giving birth to twins that aren’t able to survive. While they were considered viable, they would be so little, I knew they would have a very hard battle. Through the fogged-up oxygen mask, I asked Dr. Walters to call my husband Joe to let him know what was going on so he could come back up to the hospital after his brief respite.
My bed was wheeled into a small L&D room. The nurses covered me in ice packs and told me they were going to be injecting magnesium to help prevent brain bleeds for the babies. I have a high pain tolerance and with all the adrenaline, I didn’t think I would feel much. The nurses warned me they had to push it as quickly as they were able to help the babies as much as possible before I had the c-section.
I felt like someone had just set my body on fire and I halfway expected to smell smoke as I suffered through the process. Joe walked in all gowned up and ready to go sometime between the first and second bag of magnesium. The nurse came in and said we’re scheduled for a c-section at 3pm. It all seemed to be happening so fast that none of it was really setting in.
They took my bed into the operating room where the anesthesiologist was waiting for me in what felt like a very small room with two empty incubators and a sterile silver table that was reminiscent of an autopsy table a cadaver is placed on in the movies. At the direction of the doctor, I was to sit on the cold silver table so he could give me my spinal block. I was a little scared about the long needle entering my back, but it wasn’t like I had a choice, so I followed the doctor’s instructions as he injected my back and then had me lay down on the table.
A sheet went up in front of my face where I couldn’t see the rest of my body and my arms were strapped down as if laying on a cross. I heard the voices of people begin to enter the room and finally saw Joe standing there by my head. I was in shock and going along with everything that was happening, but not fully processing that my babies were about to be born. I was talking to Joe when my ObGyn walked in and heard her say “she can’t feel this” as she assumedly was pinching my abdomen. I started to feel my body convulsing uncontrollably and in fear looked up at the anesthesiologist who was standing by my head when he quickly assured me that was a good sign that the block was working.
I was shivering like I was freezing, but I wasn’t cold and couldn’t wrap my mind around what was happening. The start of the surgery was somewhat of a blur as I was so scared and upset that they were coming so early and that I had to have a c-section. I felt a lot of pulling and tugging and then heard a very weak baby cry; our sweet baby girl Grace came into the world weighing only 1lb 6 oz. I couldn’t see her as they whisked her into one of the previously empty incubators and began to work on her and intubate her.
There was more feeling of pulling and I heard the doctors say “classical” “Yes, confirming classical”. I had no idea what this meant but remember thinking that it sounded like they were yelling out football plays and this must have been a change in their original plans. I learned later that this was a vertical cut they had to unexpectedly make to get baby B out of me that would also prevent me from ever being able to have a natural birth should I have any other children. 3 minutes later, our son Lane was born, but without a cry, and was whisked away without me seeing him.
I heard a lot of voices in the room and heard them all working on the babies and although there was a lot of chatter, I couldn’t really make out a single conversation. The surgery was completed, and I was given some pain medicine to take the edge off and was wheeled into a recovery room while Joe went to the NICU with our new babies. In the recovery room a nurse started helping me hand express my breasts. I felt very out of it and didn’t really care that some stranger was milking me like a cow. I was still trying to process everything that happened.
What about the joy of birth and that keepsake photo of the happy and exhausted mother snuggling with her perfect baby on her chest? I briefly felt sad for missing the birthing experience I had envisioned, as I was quickly panicked to realize I had no idea the condition of my babies or if they were even alive.
About 30 minutes after being in the recovery room, my bed was wheeled into the NICU where I saw my babies for the first time. I was out of it from the meds they had given me and only remember bits and pieces of seeing them. I remember feeling somewhat lost as to what was going on, but that Joe seemed to really have a grasp on it since he had already gone to the NICU and seen the babies as I was recovering.
I was somewhat resentful of the fact that he saw them first and we didn’t get to see them together and that it seemed like he totally knew what was going on and I felt left in the dark. They were each in incubators laying on plastic bags that had splatters of blood. They both had tubes down their throats and hats pulled down over their eyes. They were smaller than my hand and their skin was red and felt like a gummy bear and their eyes were still fused shut. I was still somewhat in shock of what all had transpired and don’t think my brain was really connecting that these were the babies that had been inside me for a short 5 months, in fact, they barely looked human.
My bed was wheeled down a hallway past the visitor’s waiting area where family was awaiting to congratulate us. I plastered a smile and thanked them for coming, but in my heart was not ready to celebrate. I was wheeled to my room where I slept on and off the rest of the day; waking up only to pump milk since the babies would be on a feeding tube for a while.
During my 3-night stay, I would go to the NICU 2-3 times a day to see the babies, but all I could do is look at them through their plexiglass prison as they fought for their lives. While the incubators were needed to keep them alive and I knew this, the boxes felt like a barrier that kept me from being a mom.
Megan Ueckert shares her pregnancy and NICU journey with Graham’s in this special series. This is part 3 of six.