Birth Story: Twins at 23 Weeks

Monday, December 15, started out like every other day since starting my bed rest. I was awake when Chris would leave for work - he spent every single night at the hospital with me, so we had our own bed rest routine. Around this time, my nurse would come in for my 6am medication - and after that, I would have my quiet time. I'd read Jesus Calling and spend some time in prayer. Every morning I thanked God for a new day, which meant another day behind us; I prayed for our girls and their specific needs and I prayed for Chris. Me being on bed rest was just as trying on him as it was me, if not more.

After my quiet time and the local news, my doctor came for her morning rounds. We chatted; talked about how exciting it was to be into my 23rd week and that in less than a week I'd be getting my steroid shots. We were both so excited for where I was and what the upcoming week meant.

After her visit, I closed my eyes and fell asleep until breakfast was brought in. Most mornings, I would be anxiously awaiting the delivery of my breakfast tray - but after my doctor left the room, I fell asleep. When breakfast was delivered, I remember being hungry and wanting to eat, but fatigue won and I fell back asleep. This never happened. I was always ready to eat.

This was the case throughout the day. I'd eat, then nap. Had my ultrasound, then nap. Got assessed by the nurse, then nap. Ate lunch, then nap. And that went on until the evening. I slept more this day than any other day. Looking back, I see God was giving me rest and preparing me for a long night and even longer day ahead.

Chris got "home" from work around 7pm. Once he ate dinner and settled in, we got out the computer. We'd been on a weekend binger watching The Killing on Netflix - and we were ready to dive back into the show.

As we started watching, I began to notice I was having several Braxton Hicks. I mentioned in previous updates, that I would have them fairly often, but it was never worrisome and my doctor was aware. Most days I would have 4-5 within an hour and then none the rest of the day. After subconsciously noticing that I was having several of them, I began to pay close attention. Within a 45 minute show, I had 10+ Braxton Hicks. I knew that was too many for that time frame, but I didn't think too much about it. I tried to steer clear of over thinking anything my body did. Let's be honest, when you're pregnant, you're hyperaware of any and everything your body does or feels. Even more so when on bed rest. So I always made an effort not to think too much - and definitely no Googling.

As we started a second episode, I noticed the Braxton Hicks continued and were more noticeable. I continued to brush it off because they still felt like the Braxton Hicks I'd been having for the past several weeks.

By the third episode, my Braxton Hicks began feeling different. My uterus was contracting, but instead of it being in the middle and upper portion of my belly, it was low. There was still no pain, just a change in their typical location.

After the third episode, we decide to call it a night.

I was laying in my bed, in complete silence and darkness aware of nothing else except what my body was doing. I began to realize that whatever I was feeling was becoming consistent and getting stronger. I grabbed my phone and watched the clock. Every four minutes, my uterus contracted. Each one a little stronger than the previous. I could feel pressure in my pelvic region that radiated to my back. After 30 minutes, I told myself, Ok, if I have one more, I'll call my nurse. I had another one, but I was in denial. One more, then I'll call her. Ok, one more.

I finally confronted what was going on and called my nurse.

I never called my nurse. My nurses knew I never called them. She popped her head into our dark room and the first words out of her mouth were, "Are you OK?"

I explained everything from the multiple Braxton Hicks to the worsening contractions. And from this moment on everything became a blur. For the next 8-12 hours, time stood still, yet it all happened in a flash.

She put the toco monitor on me, which measures contractions - and sure enough, I was having contractions four minutes apart. After my water broke at 17 weeks, the monitor showed I was having contractions, but never strong enough to the point that I felt them. I'm guessing I had contractions all day before giving birth, but never felt them until they were getting closer together that evening.

My nurse initially told me to start drinking as much water as I could, but it seemed like as soon as I reached for my water bottle, she had already decided I needed IV fluids. Once she got my IV going and called my doctor,  she gave me two shots, 30 minutes apart, to try and stop the contractions. The medication slowed them down. They were barely noticeable and further apart. A bit of a relief; however, this lasted for about an hour after the last shot. Then they came back. Stronger.

My nurse spoke with my doctor again at this point and she was given orders to check my cervix for any dilation. So she did. And after she did, she didn't say anything. So I asked.

Six centimeters.

My heart dropped. 

I had just noticed mild contractions and I was already six centimeters dilated. This can't be happening. She stepped out of the room to call my doctor again. When she came back into my room, she had my chart. My heart dropped again. She calmly told me I was going to Labor and Delivery.

If I've learned anything about myself since Halloween, when my water broke, it's that when I find myself in high, emotionally-charged situations, I go into shock-mode. I'm sure for everyone it is different, but for me, my shock-mode is a lot of different things, in no particular order. I'm calm. I'm freaking out in my head. I'm still. I react. I move forward. Then, in the blink of an eye, hours from when it all began, reality takes over and I cry.

As soon as she told me I was going to L&D, I went into shock-mode. My bed was being rolled out of room 205 and I was being pushed down the long, dark hall that led to the double doors of L&D. I was pushed through the double doors and passed by several familiar faces before entering into my room. None of us said anything, we just looked at each other. We exchanged silent looks that screamed fear and sadness; we knew what the near future held.

I was rolled into Room 11 that was already filled with several people. Two NICU beds were being prepared as I was being asked if I wanted an epidural or pain medication. What? I didn't know. Was I really about to have these babies? Somebody tell me what I need to do. I must have had a look on my face that read exactly that. One of the nurses informed me that the pain medication would reach the babies and could possibly make them lethargic if they were born - which would make things even harder for them.

At this point, a whole new level of shock hit me. I'm in L&D, talking about an epidural and delivering my babies. I had always wanted to have natural deliveries - I was even one of those women who considered a home birth, but these contractions were no joke. I'm not sure if I have a low tolerance for pain or if they were just that bad. They felt debilitating. I knew I didn't want my girls to be lethargic, so I got the epidural.

I was also given antibiotics, magnesium, steroid shots, and fluids. I had two dopplers and a toco on my belly. I spoke with many different people including the nurse anesthetist, a NICU nurse, my nurses, my OBGYN, a phlebotomist, my husband, and my mother in law; however, I don't remember much of what was said. I do remember asking the NICU nurse if she'd ever seen babies born this early survive. She told me she did, but I could read the sense of doubt in her voice and on her face.

At some point, things settled down. The room cleared out. Everything was set up. The room was ready for whatever the future held. So I tried to sleep. I wanted to take a break and escape the madness that had been going on for the past five, six, seven hours. But it was impossible.

All of a sudden it was shift change. My night nurses were leaving me. Surprisingly, I found myself scared and anxious about the fact that those who were with me since all this started so many hours ago weren't going to be here. I clung to them. I didn't want them to leave. They had gotten me through the chaos and all settled in my new room. For some reason, them leaving made me uneasy.

Shortly after shift change and getting acquainted with my new nurses, my OBGYN came in again - she had checked me earlier that morning when I first got into my new L&D room and I was still six cm, but she wanted to check my cervix one more time before she headed over to her office for the day.

She checked.

I was completely dilated.

She told me in a very quiet, calm voice that she could feel Mary Elliott's head and arm and that she was ready to come out. I felt tears running down my face. I called out Chris's name. Between my tears and my doctor beginning to suit up, he knew too.

Just like that. I was going to deliver. Within seconds, before I could even process what just came out of her mouth, she was dressed in blue from head to toe, there was a table full of sterilized tools at the end of the bed, and my legs were bent up.

There I was, four months before any of this should be happening - my husband holding my hand, a nurse at each of my legs, and my doctor at the end of the bed saying, it's time to push. 

I found it incredibly difficult to really know if I was pushing because of the epidural. The coaching and encouragement I received from everyone during the pushing let me know I was doing something right. So I kept on.

I pushed. Maybe three or four times… and there she was.

Our first born daughter. I burst into tears that both celebrated the life of our child, but also feared for the future. She was out. No longer safe inside of me. She was impossibly small. I could only see tiny hands and tiny feet over my belly that still housed Sadie Ann. I cried. And cried. I was overjoyed to see her, but scared because all odds were against her. I could no longer do anything for her. She was taken across the room to her NICU bed where it seemed like dozens of people were surrounding her. I laid my head back and prayed for her.

WIthin minutes my doctor looked up at me and said Sadie Ann was coming too. Before I could even process that Sadie Ann was coming too, she broke my water and told me to start pushing again. So I pushed. Pushed. Pushed. And there she was. Four minutes later. Our second born daughter. I could see her a little bit better. She was moving and kicking. Then quickly whisked away to her NICU bed.

The room was chaotic once again. Lots of voices talking at one time. People in and out. Surrounding both of our girls. People cleaning up the bed. Asking me to roll left, roll right. Taking out my epidural. Taking off the dopplers. Cleaning me up.

Just like that it was all over. I was no longer pregnant. No longer on bed rest. I could no longer provide a calm, safe environment for my girls. I could only lay there and watch the backs of several nurses as they did everything they could for two babies born 17 weeks early. 17 weeks early. 

Although in the moment, time did not seem to exist, it was after about 30 minutes of working on Mary Elliott, that her neonatologist came over to my bed. She told us that they tried everything that they could, but her lungs would not inflate. They were just too premature; too firm from the lack of fluid in the past seven weeks. She told us that she still had a heartbeat and thought it would be best if we held her rather than for them to keep working on her.

With tears pouring down our faces, we agreed.

A nurse brought her over. There she was. Finally in our arms.

Perfect. Beautiful. She was showered with kisses. Told hundreds of times how much she was loved. Told how proud we were of how strong she had been in mommy's belly. We smiled and celebrated the beautiful life we created. A life that God decided to place in our arms. How blessed to be hand-picked by God to be this little girl's parents during her short life here on earth.

Since this day, I often find myself overwhelmed with sadness, sometimes even anger, at how fleeting my time was with Mary Elliott. However, when those feeling strike, I redirect my thoughts to this fact: as she took her last breath on this earth and left my arms, she then opened her eyes for the first time and saw Jesus. My daughter never had to see or experience this broken world. She's only ever seen heaven. And although I selfishly want her here with me, I'm oh-so thankful she knows no pain or sorrow. Having faith and confidence in this makes it all bearable.

After our time with Mary Elliott, Chris went to the NICU to see Sadie Ann before she was transferred to a different hospital with a higher-level NICU that she needed. Before she left, the NICU transport team brought her by my room. I held her little hand and told her how much I loved her. Then she was off to what would be her home for the next several weeks to come.


Anonymous said...

I should have had tissues ready... Linley, you & your family are so beautiful.

RAM1780 said...

I'm so sorry your sweet baby girl had to leave you so early. But at least you can take comfort knowing you had a few precious moments with her and she is up in heaven watching over you, your husband and her beautiful sister Sadie Ann. Such a touching story. Made me cry at my desk, here at work as I ready this. Hugs and kisses to you & your family Linley.

Melanie said...

Linley, I have been following your blog posts, Instagram photos and Pins for years. I think we started doing the fashion blog thing around the same time way back when.

I'm so sorry you had to go through this. I'm not sure there are any words that I (or anyone) could say to make it even a little better for you or Chris or Sadie Ann. What I will say is this: I think your girls are extremely lucky to have you. You have showed such grace and love in the face of such tragedy. I only hope I can be the kind of mom you are one day.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. Mary Elliott was beautiful and I'll be praying for Sadie Ann.

une vie à vivre said...

I'm very sorry for your loss. Stay strong mama your daughters need you and will take care of their dad & mama. Sending lot of love your way

CT said...

You and your family are in my prayers. I am so sorry to hear about your loss. You have shown an immense amount of strength in sharing your words.

Ashley J said...

Oh Linley...this post breaks my heart and made me cry. I am so sorry for everything you and your husband have had to go though and praying for you!

Maggie said...

I'm really sorry for your loss. We are currently going through a similar experience with our twin boys born at 23 weeks. Our firstborn, Teddy, although still alive is unlikely to make it many more days. Freddy, his brother, is doing better and is relatively stable on the ventilator. Words cannot describe the pain and horror of this experience. Thank you for beig brave enough to write about it. Somehow it is helpful to know others have been through this and came up on the other side. I hope Sadie Ann is doing well and pray for your family's strength to continue through this journey. In the meantime, Jon and I will be here in Atlanta doing the same thing hour by hour and day by day.

promiteus said...

Very sorry for your loss. Keep it strong, you a power mama.

Brian and Courtney said...

Heartbreaking. I was crying while reading this. My mom was calling me my cell phone, and I couldn't even answer it. What tremendous pain!

Many blessings on you all and Sadie Ann as she grows big and strong!

Becky said...

Oh so sorry to hear about this :( I can't even imagine what you ate going through. Xx

Unknown said...

Dear Linley,
It was so heartwrenching to read about the loss of your baby girl. My deepest sympathy to you and your family.
You and little Sadie Ann will be in my prayers. ✞ ♡

Unknown said...

If you feel like listening to what happened to this 23-week baby, here is the link: