quite common

December 19, 2006

NICU nights, sunday-feature

“This is just what preemies go through, so expect a windy road, and try not to get too confident on the ups or too upset during the downs.”  Mix this advice up with some “You’re a fighter, and so are your little ones.” Then add a smack of “It’s really quite common for preemies.”  But this is what it’s really like: you’re at home, and after twenty minutes of ice on your breasts, you limp your way to the shower, to lean forward and massage the hell out of your solid buoy boobs beneath ropes of hot water. Pushing from your armpits, imagining a spray of release from your nipples that never comes. “Goddamn this sucks,” you whine aloud, but no one hears you because your husband is downstairs getting more water for you to drink, and your dog is locked up in his home so he doesn’t pounce onto your stomach.  So you cry.  Then you wail, sitting on a ledge, shaking.

You climb back into bed. It’s 11:30pm.  Your husband is beside you now, trying to make you smile, calling you “sexy, sexy” in a silly voice, when you look like a zapato. You insist you smell like mildew. I love you so much, he says.  And all you want is to fall asleep on him, which isn’t like you, because usually, you need your space. But now you need his touch, his hand on your back.  The phone rings.  But no one calls us at this hour. You exchange looks of panic.

“Mr. Klein,” a doctor says, “I wanted to give you an update on Abigail.”  We turn off the TV.  “It seems she has been having bouts of apnea and is listless.”  I forget at this moment what listless means. “So we took a blood culture which indicated her white blood cell count was high, which indicates the grumblings of an infection. For you or me, it wouldn’t be an issue, but for preemies, it can spread quickly because of their lack of immune system.”  I feel my lungs closing in.  “We’ve stopped her feedings, increased her IV fluid and started her on antibiotics.”  What kind of infection?  “We’ll know more when her cultures come back, but we put her on antibiotics right away.”  Something is wrong with my daughter and they don’t know what it is.  Just then I get a whiff of her. She smells like a mild chicken soup. I can never quite place the smell, and sometimes I think it’s macaroni and cheese, but then I go back to chicken soup.  Abigail smells yellow.

I want to be at the hospital, right then, to hold her.  “You need your sleep, sweetheart.”  So Phil goes without me, bringing my milk for Lucas, asking the doctor and nurses the same question six different ways.  “In three sentences or less,” he demands, “tell me what I can tell my wife.”

“She’ll be fine,” the doctor says. “This is very common.  It’s 90% a staph infection, from moving around her IV.”  The next day we get another phone call, asking for verbal permission to perform a lumbar puncture.  “Isn’t that a spinal tap?” I ask Phil.
“Nooooo!”  he says, freaked by the words. But it is. Again, apparently it’s quite common and routine, not at all a big deal, especially with newborns.  “It’s preventative,” he says, “to avoid her getting MENINGITIS.”  That’s all I need to hear.  There’s nothing common about MENINGITIS.  “She doesn’t have MENINGITIS!  It’s to avoid it.”  Even mentioning the word, the stir of stress in all of it, even having to have this talk, makes me want to scream. 

Why couldn’t they have stayed in me longer? It’s my fault. I’m a bad mother, and I can’t protect them now. I can’t do anything but pump nutrition from a distance, because my rest increases my milk production.

They don’t feel like mine.  They’re not here beside me, to smell or hold.  I want to protect them.  I feel like a failure.  What did I do wrong?  They don’t feel like they’re mine. It feels as if I’ve had another miscarriage. I wasn’t ready to NOT be pregnant anymore. I wake up in a hospital bed, and I’m allowed to have Advil. I’m not pregnant anymore.  And I cry at that. I should have had two more months of bitching. When you aren’t near your babies to hear them cry, it feels as if they don’t exist. It feels like a loss, like death, even though they’re fighting for their lives.

And that’s what it’s like, parenting two preemies. The words “quite common” are flung about, and we nod our heads and try not to google too many things. This is what these doctors do; we’ll let them do it. It’s frightening wondering what will happen. Replaying the last moments I held them.  What if that was our last time together?  What if that was all I had, that moment?

“I’m scared one of them is going to die,” I say to Phil. 
“You can’t think that way.  We need to stay positive and strong.”  Why?  Why do we need to stay positive and strong? I know people always say this, and when it’s your own health, I understand the benefits of visualization and positive thinking, but when it’s your children, when your thoughts from your bed don’t influence the health of your children, tucked naked in their isolettes across town, you should be able to think and worry as you please.  “My heart won’t be able to bear it if one of them dies.” I say again.  And we both cry in each other’s arms.

I just received word that Abigail is now doing great.  “But Lucas has decided to act up,” the doctor added after giving me the good news. “His tests are actually fine, but he seems listless and is having more bouts of apnea, so we’re putting him on antibiotics too.”  And I realize it’s all part of it, going from pregnant to visiting hours, seeing two wrinkled old men babies with wires in incubators with beeps and flashing alarms. We worry they’re getting too much oxygen, worry they’re not breathing, worry when their heart rates plummet, worry they’re not growing enough, aren’t lively enough. And that I’m not producing enough milk to nourish the two of them. And all we can do is give it time. It’s what the beans need.  So we continue to visit, and I let them root around, looking for my breast, and I give my nipple to Abigail, and when she takes it and begins to suck, I smile and cry.  It doesn’t feel quite common; it feels extraordinary.

50 Responses to “quite common”

  1. Stepheney Says:

    Those sweet babies are fighters……..they can't not be…..look at who their mom is. But in the depth of fear and irrational thinking, nothing we can say will bring you any peace. Know that there are thousands of positive prayers, thoughts, and wishes for you and your little ones to be healthy, safe, and home soon.
    And it's NOT your fault.

    Reply

  2. Megan Says:

    Bless you and and your babies.

    Reply

  3. Kerstin Says:

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    Reply

  4. Andria Witt Says:

    Oh Stephanie, that is such a beautiful story! Your little ones will grow and prosper, and this will be a story you can tell them when they are bad in many years to come. "Do you know what I had to go through the first weeks of your lives???"
    NICU is a scary, but familiar place. When you take your babies home, you will still somewhat miss their first home. As a respiratory therapist I can honestly say that I would trust my infant to any St. Davids NICU staff. They are like an extended family to your little ones!
    Be strong. But, why do I need to say that? You are an incredibly talented, strong woman already. But more than anything, you are now "mom"… the best words of all.

    Reply

  5. southcitygirl Says:

    glad to hear the whole family is well!

    Reply

  6. albertine Says:

    Go to the hospital and stay there. Learn to rest in that environment pump, read, pump, eat, drink, blog. The transition makes you want to rest at home, to gear up for later, but don't; go now and stay. You won't regret it.

    Reply

  7. Deanna Says:

    Should you be allowed to look that fabulous right after giving birth??? Seriously you and your family are beautiful.

    Reply

  8. JPTwins Says:

    Hang in there Stephanie. My twins arrived at 31 weeks so this all sounds very familiar. Take it one day at a time and some day you'll look back on all this and wonder if it happened to somebody else.

    Reply

  9. wynter m. Says:

    what a journey stephanie! we are all pushing for you and the little ones. I'm not surprised that the universe gave you such an experience to overcome. your fears are normal, your concerns are valid, you are a mother, mom's worry right? i was a little surprised to see abby and luke (those are my nicknames for them) so soon, but its my impression they couldn't wait to meet their fantastic mother. phil is absolutely right, you are strong, courageous and a fighter for sure. those kids are in good company.

    Reply

  10. amy m. Says:

    I have gotten my sister and now last night my mom officially hooked on you. I started reading just before your pregnancy and now I feel like I've been through it all with you. It's so strange to watch something that doesn't just come on once a week for a season, but something that is real and is happening right now. Congratulations and our prayers are with you and your family.

    Reply

  11. chelsey Says:

    Stephanie,
    I know what you are feeling, I am not sure if me saying that helps. I went through it and I don't have any advice to make any of it better. My only suggestion is just to relish in every moment, ask tons of questions, and never feel bad about questioning what the nurses are doing. I always felt like running away with Riah and taking her home. Keep at the breastfeeding it's so hard with preemies because your feelings are all over the place and being away from them aches. I will pray for you and your family.

    Reply

  12. Jenny N. Says:

    Beautiful post, Stephanie. All of us out here in cyberspace are rooting and praying for the Klein-Beer beans and their amazing parents. I hope you can feel the love and it brings you strength.

    Reply

  13. DeliciouslyTormented Says:

    To tell you not to worry is condescending. It's your instinct now as a mother to worry.

    The Doctors forget that though this is the 300th baby they have delivered and it is the 67th baby that was premature that it is your baby. Your first, and your second, and its your first time doing this. You can't be told to relax, or that it's quite common. Maybe to them, but not to you.

    I appreciate, and admire your ability to write about the otherside of motherhood. The constant worry, and the fear.

    My thoughts are with you and your family.

    Reply

  14. Melissa Says:

    I am a first time poster but I do read your posts all the time. I was so moved by what you said I just want to break down into tears. Those babies are stronger than us as adults they will fight and come out of there in no time. I am a mother of 3 and I know how you feel, sometimes you feel so helpless and you would give anything, your life, just so they arent in pain. But things will get better and I pray for your babies and you to be strong.

    Reply

  15. Melissa Tucar Says:

    I am a first time poster but I do read your posts all the time. I was so moved by what you said I just want to break down into tears. Those babies are stronger than us as adults they will fight and come out of there in no time. I am a mother of 3 and I know how you feel, sometimes you feel so helpless and you would give anything, your life, just so they arent in pain. But things will get better and I pray for your babies and you to be strong.

    Reply

  16. misshoax Says:

    i now have some small inkling to what my own mum went through. a boy and girl, born just shy of six months. twins. 30 years ago. me and my brother. good luck with everything.

    Reply

  17. jocelyn Says:

    CONGRATULATIONS!!

    Those pictures are wonderful!

    Thank you for sharing them.

    Best wishes always,
    Jocelyn

    Reply

  18. Meryl Says:

    You`re all in my prayers

    Reply

  19. amy m. Says:

    I feel like the birth of your babies has been the finale to a show we've been watching all season. But that trivializes it because it's so much more. Congrats – you and your family are in our prayers.

    Reply

  20. Alana Says:

    First of all, thank you for sharing. This is absolutely terrifying. But you look great – I did not look that good 6 months after my full term singleton. Just keep on keepin on. Best thing for milk production is actually calories and water and lots of pumping (unfortunately). Stay strong and keep us posted.

    Reply

  21. Dayna Says:

    My heart started racing when I read that because I remember the phone call about the spinal tap when I had little preemies in the NICU. It felt like the floor dropped from beneath my feet – sounded so dangerous and dire.

    You don't have to do anything but BREATHE and power through the next several weeks. It will all be a blur to you one day when you're fussing at Lucas for pulling one of Abigail's pigtails. So, so tough though – I offer up little prayers for you rather frequently.

    Reply

  22. Heather B. Says:

    They are too freaking cute. Gah.

    Reply

  23. (Another) Stephanie Says:

    The photos are beautiful, Abigail and Lucas are beautiful. It looks to me like Lucas might be a redhead too! Redheads and fighters from the start… you sure are going to have your hands full with these two!

    Reply

  24. rt Says:

    You have so much to think about, yet you continue to remember your readers. Thank you! Many thoughts and strong prayers for the Klein/Beer Family, those babies are beautiful and are lucky to have such fantastic parents.

    Reply

  25. christina Says:

    Stephanie,

    it is so painful to not have your babies with you. I'm not going to say the standard things but just to tell you that i took one day at a time. I cried when i got the bad news, i screamed when i got good news. I remember coming home one day and losing it because my daughter wasn't gaining weight like they wanted. I screamed for hours and then took a shower and went back to the hospital.

    one day and before you know it- you are home.

    Reply

  26. Racheal Says:

    Hi Stephanie –

    Your babies are so beautiful! You are obviously so in love with them! And Mr. Klein looks pretty enamored himself! The pictures are beautful.

    Racheal

    Reply

  27. Justin Says:

    If it makes you feel any better … and it probably won't, I was born premature, through an emergency cesarean, my mother died on the table for a bit and everything and they weren't sure I would make it.

    Reply

  28. s Says:

    May the power of prayer be with you now…

    What remarkable parents you are — already!

    Your ability to articulate your experience so beautifully is astounding. Thank you for sharing your journey. Once again commend your generous spirit.

    Wishing you and your family ongoing strength and courage–

    S.

    Reply

  29. Karolynah Says:

    Wow Stephanie. I’m so touched by your story. It is indeed extraordinary. Your strength, courage and sensibility are really admirable. Please know that you, Philip and your “two miracles of life” are in my prayers. I wish you and your family much health, love and prosperity. Thank you so much for sharing. I have your website “on” all day at work and keep checking every moment I can for new updates. Thank you for making us part of your life. God bless you.

    Reply

  30. Jason Says:

    Oh Lord. I hope it all goes well for you. My wife and I have a 6 month old, and I know that wrenching feeling you are going through. My best to you and your husband and your beautiful children.

    Reply

  31. Tricia Says:

    Beautiful post, Stephanie! I pray that the babies will grow stronger in the coming days. They are gorgeous! I remember that feeling of feeding your baby for the first time and how weird and wonderful it all felt all at the same time.

    Reply

  32. Anna Lee Says:

    They are both so beautiful and strong! God bless!

    Reply

  33. Kim P Says:

    I almost cried after reading yesterday's post. I cried after reading today's post. They are so tiny and wrinkled like you said, but they will get big and strong. It's so hard, I can't imagine how it must be for you and Phil. I am sending positive thoughts your way. Welcome to motherhood and the guilt it brings. Whenever something is wrong with your kids, be it illness or acting up in school, somehow you end up blaming yourself, even if it's not your fault. Premature labor was not something you could control. Hang in there! Much love to you & your family.

    Reply

  34. 3 teens' mom Says:

    I second everything above. When my littlest was in NICU – the distance to the hospital was excruciating – but I had 2 little ones at home that needed me desperately. I pumped. I bawled. I looked at her through the tubes and electrodes. I blamed myself.

    Now I look at this beautiful and astonishing young woman who is taking on the world every day – who is head and shoulders above all her schoolmates – who is the funniest, cleverest person I know, and whom we all refer to as 'spooky smart'…and I see how I hope it will be for you.

    Sending courage and strength from here.

    Reply

  35. meredith Says:

    Nothing I can say will make it better. I can only imagine how hard it is, how scared you must be. But I hope you know it is not your fault. Babies come early to healthy women every day. I have 2 friends who had preemies this year, and both are thriving.

    Reply

  36. tanya Says:

    I loved the ending sentence. So you are producing, good for you. Why is there a plague in our country of women not producing enough milk ? It's like the breast cancer incidences in Long Island in the late 90's.. what is up??!?!!!
    Then women feel so bad, well the ones who are smart enough to know they should be breastfeeding.
    Good for you Steph, and I hope you b.feed for months and months. So many incredible benefits.

    I must say, Lucas is adorable and I want to just eat him up!
    Now, I don't know if it's just me- but in the 2nd picture of the Lucas group- your hand on his head, where he's laying down and you are standing above him- your right hand looks ginorrrrmous. Then in the next pics we see your tiny dainty hands. Was there some weird angle or photo maneuver you used? It was just odd, had to say.
    You look fantastic, so happy, so healthy. Is Leah with you? Did she do your glamorous hospital makeup- ? Very not overdone, very natural, yet glam. I am so happy for you both. Sorry I will not have 'when I had my twins and they were born preemie' stories to share as I'm sure we are bound to see all over the posts now…

    Keep smiling! ps- you look so greek in that pic of you with no makeup and holding Lucas- you just remind me so much of my Greek side!
    congrats again, and most important, stay strong, and try at least, to think positively.

    Reply

  37. Tiffany Says:

    You're doing so good, keep it up! Our prayers are with you and your babies.

    Reply

  38. KAF Says:

    Hi, Stephanie:
    I am thinking of you and sending love your way…Know that someone near your old North Shore stomping grounds is wishing you & yours only the best. And — it goes without saying — my prayers. It is also incredibly touching to read of how you and Phil connect and support each other through this.
    Hang in there: the best is yet to be. And know — always– that you are already on the right path!
    God bless all four of you, today & always,
    Kathi

    Reply

  39. yamell Says:

    Hi Stephanie. I had my preemie at 32 weeks. I too worried that he wouldn't make it. I would rather have not gone than gone every day to see him because the sadness that followed each visit was overwhelming. My heart goes out to you and my prayers are with you and your family daily.

    Reply

  40. Easyfriend-zy Says:

    You are right, the only thing that will ease the worrying is time, now that you are a parent you will never completely stop worrying, ever. That's what a parent does. Hang in there. Thanks for sharing these pictures.

    Reply

  41. Megan Says:

    You all are doing such a great job. Good for you for resting and taking care of yourself, even when you want to be by their sides. You and Phil are working as such a great team.

    Reply

  42. Buffy Says:

    Prayers help. No one can convince me they dont. And you're getting those from all over.

    Stop googling. Now. It just brings on hypochondria …even in the best of times.

    Reply

  43. Jake Says:

    My heart and prayers go out to you and your family. My daughter was born Preemie on 11/28 and just came home. My wife is recovering and nobody will ever know the mix of emotions that you are going through unless they have been there. Your beautiful children are fighters and if they have half the NYC Spunk you possess, I know they'll be just fine in no time at all. Just love them and treasure them
    -J

    Reply

  44. Lori Says:

    Through your words I can imagine the helplessness you feel. I wish there were words that we could say to relieve your anxiety and pain, but I fail to find them. Instead I offer my experience, while our exact situation isn't the same, we're both moms now. My son is about 2 now. I still worry about him like he was born yesterday. I feel guilty when I leave him with a sitter or family. I think those feelings are universal. You are doing the best thing you can for your babies by staying home and producing milk. It may seem like you are just useless and I know you want to be THERE- but you are giving them their first line of defense. You ARE protecting them. For now and forever. Simply by offering your breast. Your writing is beautiful, like you and your children. Please know your family will be in my prayers this holiday season. Just a PS- it is my little guy who brought me my faith. Tiny babies are miracles. Your babies are miracles.

    Reply

  45. Kelly Says:

    Your last two lines are beautiful and made me cry. Babies are little fighters and yours are no different. In the meantime, it's okay to be worried and feel helpless, and you will all get through it. I am thinking of you all and sending positive thoughts to your new family.

    Reply

  46. Jen Says:

    "It doesn't feel quite common; it feels extraordinary."
    That just sums it all up, doesn't it? Great line to end on.

    You're in my thoughts and prayers!

    Reply

  47. JoeyB Says:

    Congrats on the babies. When people tell you not to worry, ignore them. Worry is a natural reaction, and not worrying is not natural, particularly in this situation. Have faith in the doctors, but by all means, pepper them with questions, and spend as much time as you can at the hospital. My prayers go with you.

    Reply

  48. Mags Says:

    Wow. That was incredibly powerful. Thank you for sharing this. I'm sending my best thoughts your way. Can't wait to hear about the beans as they grow up!

    Reply

  49. Adrienne Says:

    Thank You
    For taking the time to put that all down and letting us follow in this journey with you.

    Reply

  50. amber Says:

    I call my daughter The Bean after a song by Spoon, called "Me & The Bean." Part of the lyrics:

    My eyes are opening again
    I see you as you're marching in
    I'll bring you cover when you're cold
    you'll bring me youth when I grow old

    Do you remember when you were small
    how everybody would seem so tall
    I am your shadow in the dark
    I have your blood inside my heart

    Maybe it's just me, but I thought the song was so comforting after my daughter was born. Maybe it will bring some small measure of comfort to you?

    Congratulations on your beautiful babies. Best wishes to you and them and Phillip for a lifetime of happiness and good health.

    Reply

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