The one thing I wish someone would have told me before having children is to let go of any and all expectations. To be truly open-minded and go with the flow of what a baby wants and needs at any given moment. In one way, I think all of my pre-birth prep set me back. If only because it made me think that in some cases there was only one way to do things, and if that method wasn’t succeeding in my home, either myself or my child wasn't doing something right.
My first birth didn’t go nearly as planned. I found out I was pregnant with identical twins at my 8 week ultra sound. A pregnancy so high risk due to the fact that they shared the same placenta. My OB at the time passed me off immediately, explaining she didn’t deal with “these type’s” of pregnancies. I got the obligatory sit down by my new OB describing all the risks associated and the percentage stats that at the very least, I would deliver prematurely. I immediately wrote the conversation off, deciding that none of these risks would apply to me.
Fast forward to 23 weeks at Thanksgiving and someone had asked me if they were kicking a lot. It occurred to me that they hadn’t been but I couldn’t recall for how long, being busy with all the preparations leading up to hosting the holiday. That evening I sat in the dark for a while and waited for movement. When it didn’t come, I chalked it up to being exhausted after a long day and went to bed.
The next morning, when I went to the bathroom I saw blood. I called the OB who immediately referred me to the ER where he was on call. It still didn’t occur to me that something could really be wrong and I assured my visiting family that I’d likely be back before lunchtime.
Turns out, I was having contractions, and after a sonogram was diagnosed with something called Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS), a risk that affects 15% of identical pregnancies. When identical twins share a placenta, abnormal blood vessel connections can form in the placenta and allow blood to flow unevenly between the babies. One twin − called the donor – becomes dehydrated; and the other − called the recipient − develops high blood pressure and produces too much urine and over fills the amniotic sac. The prognosis is fatal without treatment, but an in utero surgery exists, and in many cases can save one or both of the babies.
The events following are still a bit of a blur, but a specialist was contacted and ordered my current physician to stitch up my cervix before transferring me to the hospital where he could perform the life saving, in utero surgery that my babies needed as soon as possible. The specialist was hopeful after the surgery that the procedure would correct the problem, but we wouldn’t know if the damage already done was irreversible.
A couples days after the in utero surgery, my cervix had begun opening, so he stitched me up again, and I was ordered on bed rest in the hospital. I received daily sonograms and countless pediatric specialist visits that would describe all of the risks, and likely outcomes associated with delivering babies at each weekly stage. Week 23, 24, 25, 26….None of it was promising, but for some reason I remained un-phased, or more likely numb.
Each Tuesday, in my hospital room we would celebrate another week gone by and splurge on take out from one of our favorite Miami restaurants like Mandolin. Celebrating the small wins became my motivation.
Finally at week 28 exactly, I went into labor again and this time the doctor decided it was best to deliver them instead of trying to keep the contractions at bay.
My two little girls were born on New Year’s Eve weighing in at just over 1LB each. They were transferred to the NICU where numerous tests were performed. The doctors diagnosed one of the girls with a grade four IVH (intraventricular hemorrhage), which is bleeding on the brain. Despite the dire consequences of this diagnosis, everything from developmental delays to permanent brain damage, it was really just a “wait and see” situation. There was nothing we could do. For 3 months I spent my entire days in the NICU holding my babies to my bare chest for hours on end. I had read studies showing how this “kangaroo” method helped nurture and develop premature children, and needed to do everything I could to give these girls a fighting chance.
The constant beeping of machines became the norm as my husband and I sat draped with numerous cords and monitors, while our babies slept on our chests. Finally, the day came where they were ready to be discharged. That moment became the scariest because up until this point, the girls had 24/7 monitoring on everything from heartbeat, to oxygen, to temperature, etc… and now we were just supposed to take them home and assume the best.
I think the hardest part was how differently my husband and I reacted to the trauma of their birth. For me, once they were home I mentally cleared the prior three months and didn’t look at them as different, or needing any special treatment. But for my husband, every little thing was a really big deal. He viewed them as fragile little creatures who he felt he had to protect from everything. It look a lot of third party experts to finally allow him to understand that the girls were thriving and needed space and independence to learn and grow on their own.
The twins are now almost 5 years old. There have been bumps along the way and I’ve been lucky enough to work with people like Dr. Stephen Cowan who has above all else, made me trust in my intuition as a parent. I adopted holistic parenting practices from Dan Nevel, an acupuncturist who treated the girls. And I was introduced to natural remedies through Orion Nevel who prescribed them herbs that were life changing. In my most desperate and vulnerable moments I saw the power of alternative methods. As parents, Orion and I knew that these were methods that needed to be available to all parents. We set out to create a children’s lifestyle brand that offered preventative health tools and targeted solutions to common childhood challenges. And as a result, Gryph & IvyRose was brought to life.
I now know that every single baby and child is different (even if they are identical). Children have different needs for nurturing and development. One twin was a very quick study in things like using a fork and potty training, while the other one seemed to take FOREVER to be somewhat independent. One girl loves small snacks consistently throughout the day, and the other enjoys sitting down to a meal 3 times a day and doesn’t need much more. Considering those differences and nurturing them without attachment to the other child has made me a more understanding and compassionate parent.
A few years later, I became pregnant with another little girl, thankfully this time just one! It wasn’t quite as dramatic but this pregnancy had me fleeing Miami when Zika was in full swing and I was just 20 weeks pregnant. With her I tested positive for gestational diabetes so I had to be really diligent about a balanced diet which for a major carb loader was really difficult. Although not nearly as severe a diagnosis as the first pregnancy, I do admit feeling a little bitter that neither pregnancy was coming easily to me. But I knew at least this was something I could control and work through. It was just another example how even pregnancies can be so different from one another and if you don’t have too many expectations, you can better roll with the punches.
So much of what we deal with as parents is messy and unpredictable. Those moments of laughter and pride are what make it all worthwhile. The twins are so in tune with each other and the little one has inserted herself in her own way into their little club. The three girls can play together an entire day with just their imaginations and a couple of tutus. If we learn to step back and trust our intuition, without applying the judgment of others, we set a great example for our children and enjoy those precious moments all the more.