The month of September was NICU awareness month. Seeing so many brave people share their NICU stories is what spurred me to start writing down our story and sharing our unique journey. Our babies spent 5 weeks in the Northside Hospital NICU (Lucy 34 days, Shepherd 35 days, and Oliver 36 days). This is a significantly shorter time than many of my triplet mom friends, but even so it was crazy hard. Having 3 babies in the intensive care at the same time is exhausting. It is a roller coaster of emotion. The babies always took a couple steps forward and one step back. Even though Lucy started out on room air, she (along with both boys) were on a bubble CPAP breathing machine when they went into the NICU. Lungs are the last to develop so most preemies have trouble breathing. The first night in the hospital for me was spent resting and healing enough to be able to go see the babies. The first morning, they wheeled me up there, and I was so excited to finally get to see them. They let us go up their fairly early, but I was only able to hold Lucy and Oliver that day and only for a short period of time (less than 5 minutes). Derek was not able to hold any of them on the first day. They were all stable and doing well, but preemies need to spend most of the day growing and sleeping which means that we had to just let them stay in their isolettes and listen to what seemed like the hundreds of alarms beeping on their monitors. Since the babies were technically supposed to still be in the womb, the goal is for them to be in a womblike atmosphere – little holding and lots of growing.
As hard as it was, we knew that we had it far better than many triplet parents and better than a lot of other preemie families. Our babies were little miracles and doing fantastic, so we were filled with peace knowing that they were safe. Every 3 hours we could go up and help with their diaper change and watch the feed take place and maybe give a hand hug (literally a hug with just your hand), but I mostly had to spend time during the day learning how to pump, taking my meds, and healing so that I could take care of these babies when they needed me. We didn’t get to hold our sweet Shepherd on the first day because the other babies in his room (all 3 started out in different NICU pods) were in very bad shape and the doctors were focused on them. We decided to rejoice in knowing that he was healthy, and we got to speak words of love over him. The next morning, we finally got to hold Shepherd, and Derek got a turn with Lucy and Oliver.
Holding them entails a short 5-10 minute skin to skin kangaroo hold. It’s always an ordeal to hold them because there are seriously so many cords attached to them. Their little nervous systems hadn’t fully developed so you can’t stroke them at all. You can just gently hold them against you or hold your hand on their body (hand hugs). It’s a very surreal feeling to know that these tiny humans are yours, but you barely get to see them or hold them. Again though we knew that the best thing for them was for the doctors and nurses to take care of them while we got a few short moments each day. In between those quick 5-10 minute interactions, we would rest. All 3 babies switched to smaller CPAP tubing on day 2 which was a good sign. By day 3, we understood a little more of what was going on. We knew that our babies were healthy, but also needed time to grow. We knew that their lungs needed to grow, and their bodies needed to grow. This process is not easy and can often be very complicated. We knew that we would be going home without them. We knew that we needed to wrap our minds around this hospital being our second home for a while. We knew that the doctors and nurses were extremely capable and that we had to trust them. We knew that each moment we spent with these little ones was precious and that we couldn’t take them for granted. We knew that this would be a season and that it would pass, but at the same time it would seem like forever. Looking around in the NICU, we really did feel grateful that our babies were overall healthy. Again, this is often not the case with triplets (or preemies in general). On day 4, all 3 switched to a high flow nasal cannula for breathing which was fantastic. Our respiratory therapist was so special to us and made us feel so encouraged.
On day 5, Lucy jumped straight to room air and the boys to level 2 high flow nasal cannulas. Lucy and Shepherd both got jaundice and had to be under the bilirubin lights which meant we got even less time to hold them, but Oliver pulled out his nasal cannula and we got to see his face for the first time and that was amazing. The oxygen tubes and cords had covered the majority of all of their faces which made it hard to really see what they looked like, which is very weird in itself to not know what your babies’ faces look like after almost a week of life.
Going home without our babies was incredibly hard. I felt empty. After carrying them for 7 months and then having a scary birth, we had to be separated from them. We had tried to prepare ourselves for this moment and had known that it would most likely happen for most of our pregnancy, but it was still very hard. Our sweet friends had printed out pictures of the kids that are still sitting on our kitchen table today. We got to come home to beautiful pictures of our babies since the car seats were empty. It’s hard to explain the range of emotions in that one short week. I went from terrified about them being born too early, filled with joy knowing that they were ok, anxious to see them and hold them, questions upon questions about all the wires and lung development and possibilities of things that could go wrong, encouraging news, lonely nights without them, and then sadness about coming home even though we knew they were being well taken care of. Waking up the first morning at home without them was very strange, but I was thankful that it was a Saturday and that Derek could come with me to the hospital that day. When we got there, Lucy and Shepherd were off the jaundice lights which was exciting. Oliver was able to move to room air and Shepherd wouldn’t be too far behind. We got to change diapers and spend a couple minutes with each one. In 3 hours, we got to spend about 5 minutes holding each child. We stayed for a few minutes longer, but by then I was exhausted and needed to rest. Going home was always hard, but at the same time, I knew that it was what they needed and that this wasn’t about what I wanted or what I needed but about what was best for them.
Just as being a parent is not about me, I’m still slowly processing what a selfless prayer life looks like. Sometimes the best thing for my kids is for me to take care of myself. In prayer, I think that means that even though prayer isn’t about me, it’s ok to tell God about my problems and want him to be a part of them. The selfless part comes into play though when I stay in that place of only wanting what’s best for me. It’s good for me to to take care of myself and do things that bring me life. It’s good to talk to God about the things that break and burden my heart and the things that bring me joy. BUT if that is my focus in motherhood or my focus in my prayer life then neither will be very fulfilling or very fun honestly. As a recovering people pleaser and perfectionist, life is all about balance. Finding the right balance is often really really hard! The first step in both of these is changing my language and focus. After praying with prayer beads for a while, I have been reminded that the beginning and end of prayer is thankfulness and praise. As I lay in bed at night or just as I’m praying in my head throughout the day, I am intentional with the things that I am grateful for. This is especially important on the hard days. Lately I have been mindful as I read Facebook posts of the language that is used when people (sometimes including myself) want to convey that God is doing great things in their lives. The most common is “God answered my prayers” or “I am blessed.” These are both true statements, so it’s not a bad thing to say BUT we rarely use them in hard times. What is subtly implied as one writes about God answering a prayer when a healing or positive change takes place, is that if those things hadn’t taken place then God didn’t answer the prayer. Or that I am not blessed if God doesn’t respond with that YES I mentioned in my post a few weeks ago. Some new language that both Derek and I try to focus on in prayer and just in life is that we are grateful in the good and the bad. And instead of saying that God answered our prayer, we just simply say that God is good. All the time. God is good. It is true that we are very blessed, but even if we didn’t feel blessed, we will always be able to say that we are grateful and that God is good. Finding language that fits the good and the bad has really helped my prayer life. I got so tired during infertility of not being able to say, “God answered my prayer” that I just stopped praying. If today you are in that place of longing and waiting, know that even now, God is good. There is hope and life in Jesus in that balance of taking care of self and taking care of others.