This Saturday, our twin boys turn 4, and what a ride it's been. It started some time around New Years 2009. A few weeks later, the first ultrasound at 12 weeks said what we knew was possible. Not only was my wife pregnant, but with twins. We knew it was possible, with twins on both sides of our families (my wife's brother and sister, my aunts on my dad's side. Then the stress kicked in. I was in the process of getting out of the Army after a medical discharge for lower back issues, after only a year (with 4 in the Marine Corps on top of it). The stress of having to leave Augusta, GA was compounded by the now high risk pregnancy because of the twins. We got ourselves ready, got out of the military, and moved back to Massachusetts. Everything was going great, with ultrasounds every couple of weeks. We timed everything so that the 6 months of transitional military health insurance (TRICARE) would extend just past their due date in September.
Then it happened. My wife woke up, went to the kitchen, and her water broke, completely out of nowhere, at 29 weeks. I got the frantic phone call, at work 2 hours away. Fortunately, we were in the process of finding a new place to live closer to my work (where we've now lived for over 4 years). I drive as fast as I can to the hospital where my wife's been getting treated. A few minutes after I get there, they decide that since the birth is too high risk, and they don't have a NICU, to arrange for ambulance transport to a major hospital 1 1/2 hours south. After we're all there, it's anti-labor drugs and steroids to help the twins' lungs develop. Within 24 hours of being taken off of the anti-labor drugs, BOOM! This time, my wife didn't tell me, because she knew how reckless I drove to the hospital after her water broke. After a few hours, the decision was made for emergency C-section. Our twins were born at 10:01 PM, and our lives changed forever.
The next 6 weeks were something I wish on no one. I covered a lot of it in this post, but basically our boys spent the next 6 weeks hooked up to monitors, forgetting to breathe, heartbeat slowing to barely there, transitioning from IV fluids, to a feeding tube, to bottles (primarily pumped breastmilk), to breastfeeding. I had no idea how strong something that small could be. Our biggest (L) who was born a minute after his brother, was 3 pounds 5 ounces. Our smallest, C (who is still skinnier), was 2 pounds 9 ounces. We have a picture of him, with my wife's wedding ring around his forearm, with room to spare.
Then, the day we were waiting for was here. We were almost ready to take them home. And full-stop. L has a hernia that needs to be repaired before he can come home. We learn that inguinal hernias on premature boys is normal. All right, he gets the surgery, everything goes smooth. Almost. He stopped breathing during the surgery, which meant that he needed to be held for observation for 5 days. Fortunately, we were able to take C home, to our new apartment 2 hours away in southern Maine. While it was great that we were now closer to work, it also meant that we were 2 hours away from L. During those 5 days, we did everything we could to make sure nothing happened to C while he was home, and we spent every night after work, driving back to Massachusetts, until the day finally came that we could take him with us. Of course, a few weeks later, C had the same dual inguinal hernias, and while the surgery was done in a hospital an hour away, my wife was able to spend the one night with him. While stressful, it was much less than L's.
While things were different right after they were born, it was nothing compared to what life was like after they came home. We went from a family of 2 to a family of 4, two of which were yelling, eating, pooping or sleeping most of the day (and night). They were still on their NICU "every three hours" food and sleep schedule, so that meant that we were too. Fortunately, at night we had a system during those first few months when they were sleeping in ou room. One kid on each side of the bed in a bassinet, so that we were responsible for our side only. He wakes up, you deal with him only. They switched once a week, and our system worked.
Next came cribs, in their room, and testing whether or not we could stand the "cry it out" method. Fortunately, after a couple of weeks, we had them sleep trained. They were in their own room, in their own cribs, and we had a system (which still works to this day). After a few months, we knew the cribs were done with when they started climbing in and out of them so they could spend time together. Toddler beds it is, and because they're boys, Toy Story it is. We blink an eye, and all of a sudden we're setting up bunk beds because they're too big for their toddler beds.
Over the past four years, they've gone from miniature people who we could hold in the palm of our hand, to walking, running, talking people. We may not like the things they do, now that talking means talking back, and walking and running means that they can run into their sister. But every day, when we look at them, we remember the little person you used to be (and still are, no matter how much they like to act otherwise). Having a baby is tough. Having twins is tougher. Having to spend the first few weeks (we were fortunate enough to measure it in weeks, not months) of their lives in a NICU is even tougher. But one day, they get released to you. From there on out, what you do, and how you do it, helps them become who they are. And while you may not realize it at first, they help you change too.
While I would never wish our NICU experience on anyone, I wouldn't do it any differently. While there have been ups and downs, there have fortunately been more ups. It has been an absolutely amazing experience helping them grow, from the first time they held on to my finger, to rolling over, walking, running, talking, talking coherently. We were in our early 20s when they were born, and I could have never expected the changes that have happened in us, as parents and as people over the past four years. We have slowed down, and focused more on the things that matter. As we helped them change and grow, they helped us do the same. Looking back on the last 4 years, I can't even imagine what the next 4 will be like. All I know is that we will be there, side by side, taking it one step at a time.
Happy birthday boys. I love you.