Images courtesy of Paul Kuntz and Rosimar Suddeth
The day we had longed for had finally arrived. We were pregnant – with twins! Our first-time parent excitement kicked into high gear. As the weeks went by, I delighted in taking weekly pregnancy photos and made it through my first trimester smoothly with all of the expected symptoms.
During my second trimester, however, all was going well until it was not. Our world was flipped upside down at 23 weeks gestation. I remember this day so vividly, too. I was at work when I experienced some leakage – not a significant amount, but also not minimal. In tears, I called my husband who told me to drop everything and head to my OB/GYN. Our physician attempted to perform an emergency cerclage, planning to stitch my cervix closed to prevent early delivery. Sadly, one of our daughter’s membranes had ruptured (PPROM) and it was too late for the procedure.
I was devastated. It didn’t take long for the guilt to come pouring in – did I do something wrong? Did I miss an important sign? Could I have prevented this from happening to my baby? I felt as if my body had failed my girls, and now they were both at risk. I knew in my heart that the answer to all of those questions was a resounding “no,” I hadn’t done anything wrong, but I was just grieving. I was grieving the full-term pregnancy I had envisioned.
I was transferred to Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women and placed on bed rest. I decided to make the best of the situation and prayed fervently. I prayed for our girls to not experience distress, and I prayed for them to stay in my womb as long as possible. Each day, every ounce of growth would make a huge difference in their outcomes.
On the 11th day of bed rest, which happened to be Friday the 13th, I delivered the girls via cesarean section under a full moon a little after midnight. They were so tiny, and so unprepared to enter the world. They weighed in at 1 pound, 8 ounces, and 1 pound, 9 ounces. My husband was holding my hand and comforting me during the delivery, and we nervously watched as our girls were rushed to a large team of newborn specialists. We were their biggest cheerleaders, quietly chanting, “come on, babies, come on, babies,” begging for them to stay with us as we were told the first 24 hours of life were the most critical.
The girls were placed on breathing ventilators and had lines placed all over their little bodies for medications. They underwent procedure after procedure, including multiple blood transfusions. We had to wait two long weeks before I could even hold Layla, and an excruciating month before holding Eva, as she was especially fragile with severely underdeveloped lungs. At 12 days old, Eva needed open-heart surgery to close a heart murmur. Her recovery was slow, and she spent a total of 10 weeks on the ventilator.
We would connect with our girls in every way possible – primarily through skin-to-skin touch by holding their tiny hands and feet and rubbing their backs. I would sing lullabies during those treasured moments I was able to hold them, and, amazingly, their stats would improve.
The four months we spent in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) were the hardest and most grueling months of our lives. I prayed we would get to experience the “firsts.” I longed to see our girls smile for the first time, to hear their laughter, to watch them take their first steps and to witness all of the milestones parents get to celebrate. As a first-time mother, I came close to breaking down, but realized this was not an option. How could I possibly do so when our girls were fighting so hard to stay with us?
In this moment, I decided to ask for help by reaching out to the hospital’s mental health resources. I clung tightly to my support system – my husband, parents, family members, friends and church community. I found strength I didn’t know I had.
Life in the NICU changes you, forever. We were elated when we finally got to take our girls home. Our family was together, and I could breathe easy. Eva came home on oxygen support, which was removed 5 months later. Both girls received early intervention therapy through Texas Children’s to help them catch up with their peers, which they have. Eva and Layla are now healthy, happy and silly 4-year-old girls who are starting pre-kindergarten this fall. This is such a huge milestone we get to celebrate!
Texas Children’s NICU taught us to cherish every moment and to treasure every accomplishment, as small as they may seem. It taught us that our family is resilient, and taught us that our daughters who entered this world as tiny preemies are fierce warriors. They have battle scars to prove it. We’re forever grateful for the compassionate, knowledgeable and extremely competent staff at Texas Children’s Hospital. We attribute love, prayer and expert medical hands as the reasons for their outcomes.
Our family’s journey is far from typical, but it’s our journey and we’re proud of both the obstacles our girls have overcome and the odds they have defied. As a mother, my wish to my girls is the following:
If you ever find yourself doubting your ability to overcome any obstacle that life may have in store for you, I pray for you to remember how you entered this world with grit and a spirit of resilience that lit up the darkness. May that light always burn bright within you, my beautiful miracles.
The Suddeths are the featured family for the 21st annual Bad Pants Open, which will take place on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, at the Clubs of Kingwood. The Bad Pants Open is committed to raising funds to support research and advanced education for NICU providers alongside family support services for needs such as parking and bereavement. If you’re interested in registering for the event, click here.