Monday, August 2, 2010

Amelia comes home!

The long awaited day has finally arrived!

Actually, it arrived this past Wednesday, but we've been a little busy since then. Amelia Frances finally came home to live with the rest of her family. Wouldn't you know it, we had just started to get into a rhythm with Elena, who had a two-week head start on her sister at home. We thought we had it all figured out. Here's a short list of things we weren't prepared for...

1) Tubes and wires. Holy cow, cord management has never been so important. With one baby, we had to fight to keep monitor wires and oxygen tubing straight. With two babies, we're a tangled mess. After an hour of feeding and diaper changing the two of them, then putting one in this chair and the other on that--our living room ends up looking like something you'd need a machete to get out of. We're seriously looking forward to wireless children.

2) The relentless inevitability of the next feed, followed by the next one, followed by... I thought the hard part was going to be middle of the night feedings. Turns out, for us the hardest thing is knowing that everything we're doing right now is going to have to happen all over again in three hours. It's seemingly never ending.

3) Delerium. Speaking of late night feedings, apparently I'm so delerious when I wake up in the middle of the night that I feed invisible babies (with invisible bottles). One night I was so convincing in my confusion that I actually awoke Crissie and asked her to hold my invisible baby while I attended to the other one. She was so confused that she obliged--only to find that the invisible baby was actually a bundle of comforter. I wish I could say I was just kidding around, but I was dead serious. (It should be noted that all babies were safe in their beds at this point and were never in any danger from their sleep-deprived father)

Need sleep!!!

4) Ridiculous amounts of cuteness. So really, one tiny baby is cute enough, but two is almost nauseatingly adorable. It's non-stop. I think they're incapable of not being cute. Even when they're fussy and smell like a Port-a-let at Mardi Gras, they still find a way to be cute. Even my obnoxiously sarcastic demeanor is nearly moved to tears at just how beatiful they are--and God forbid they crack a smile.

Amelia's first bath at home.

Twin sisters holding twin sisters (Awwww!)

Zonked out in bed for the first time.

All kidding aside, the kids are doing great. Amelia's nearly seven pounds and Elena is around five and a half. They're doing well with their feeds and they're adjusting very well to life at home. Getting geared up to go anywhere with both of them plus their monitors and oxygen bottles can be a little much, but we're getting used to it. We also have developed even more respect for all those quad and triplet mommas out there. We talk all the time about how much more planning it must take to handle the additional... everything! Every time we think we're overwhelmed, well, you get my drift... 

I've said it 1000 times, but we can't say thanks enough to the staff at Woman's Hospital in Baton Rouge. They did such an outstanding job with Amelia and Elena. We're so happy to have them both home, but Crissie and I genuinely miss our friends in Labor & Delivery and in the NICU--and not just because they would change a lot of diapers for us! 

Coming up on four months... I know, I can't believe it either...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Elena comes home...

Man, it's tough to keep up with this thing.

It's nearly been a month since my last post and a lot has changed. The girls moved from Pod 5, to Pod 2 (which is a step in the right direction), and ultimately to the Special Care Nursery. For us, this meant open cribs, low-flow canula for oxygen, and bottle feeding. Also, as a result of the open crib, it meant much more "cuddle time" for mom and dad... which is always a good thing.

Elena, who as I write this is nearly a pound less than Amelia, progressed so well on her bottle feedings that the doctors said she had to go home. So, yesterday, we loaded up the truck and took our first baby home.

As I sit here in our quiet home with Elena sleeping away between feedings, I can only think about the circuitous route that Crissie and I have taken to parenthood. When we bought this house, we knew it was going to be the place where we were going to raise our children. We had everything figured out. Or, so we thought.

Now, after nearly 3 months in the NICU, being at home with one of our babies seems like the most precious blessing we could ever imagine. I joked recently that I was actually looking forward to "screaming baby at 4am," but truthfully, I was looking forward to it. That was until last night, when it finally happened--wasn't quite the warm and fuzzy moment I'd imagined.

Despite that, we'll never again take for granted how "easy" it is to make babies. The first time one of them tells us that they hate us, or they come home with green hair, or with something pierced that shouldn't be, we'll remember this lesson. It was so hard to make them, that we can't just go make new ones if we screw this up.


This was right before the big move to Special Care. Amelia on the left, Elena right.

Elena in her car seat on the big ride!

First poop in a house!

Baby like bouncy chair!

Her first trick! Holding the pacifier by herself (and trying to rip out her nasal prongs all at the same time!)

This might seem like the biggest baby bed ever, but it's not.

Elena is weighing just a shade over 4.5 pounds. She's eating well, and even though being on oxygen at home was a little scary to think about, it's a good reminder of what our little angel has been through. We cherish her every breath and we're so thankful to have her home.

Amelia should be home by the end of the week. She's a whopping 5 pounds, 10 ounces at the moment, but she's been a little slower on feeds. Today, she was stepped up to 8 bottle feeds in the Special Care Nursery so the end is near for her. She was the first one out of her mommy, so it's only fair that Elena was the first to come home.

We can't wait to get them together again!!!

Amelia left. Elena right.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Moving right along...

I've been a very bad blogger lately...

I've started and stopped this entry a few times, and thus (because things change so fast) I've had to start over each time. I'll go "long story short" and say that overall, the girls are doing well. It's hard to believe that they are two months old today--or roughly 35 weeks gestational age.

They are both getting close to four pounds. They are both slowly becoming more able to maintain their temperature. They're both getting at least one feed a day via bottle. They've grown so much and they're definitely starting to settle into their little personalities.

This is Elena taking a bottle...

...and Amelia.

Momma and her babies.

Elena sleeping without her feeding tube.

So, they're doing well, their mommy and daddy are doing well. We're so excited about the idea of going home, but we're not allowing ourselves to get our hopes up yet. Their original due date was July 24th, so realistically, we've still got a ways to go. In the meantime, Crissie and I enjoy bathing them, changing their diapers, getting them dressed, and holding them when we can. Our NICU nurses and doctors continue to be awesome.

Time is flying by so fast and Crissie and I often joke that we'll be sending them off to college before we know it. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Trying not to jinx it... (D-Day + 31)

So, our early NICU experience was so up and down that we've developed a phobia of admitting when they're doing well for fear of jinxing it. It's funny, if you so much as mention the "Q" word (quiet) in the presence of nurses, you're sure to see them diving for cover expecting the ceiling to cave in. It's a surprisingly superstitious place. When the girls are doing well, I feel like we're all in the dugout in the 8th inning with a pitcher who's got a perfect game going. Nobody say anything...

Well, it's been a few days and at the risk of tempting the fates, we have to report that the last week has been pretty good in general. Maybe we're getting desensitized to the little blips, but it sure feels like they're progressing well of late.

Amelia (little Miss Consistent) is up to 6.5 mL of continuous feeding which is pretty much the maximum for her weight (which is roughly 2 pounds 4 ounces). She's tolerating her feeds really well and is growing pretty steadily. She's back down to 2 liters on the Vapotherm and she bounces around between 30 to 60% oxygen levels to maintain her saturations. No IVs or PICC lines. Overall, she's in good shape. She has the usual ups and downs--the occasional apnea or bradycardia, but she usually recovers well unassisted.

Elena (our Drama Queen) is up to 6.0 mL of continuous feeding which is good too and she's also weighing in around 2 pounds 4 ounces. She's tolerating her foods really well and seems to be stooling and urinating regularly. I only mention it because early on it was an issue. Her breathing is improving although she had a setback since our last update. Her carbon dioxide levels in her gas samples were coming back high. She was reintubated, then got upgraded to CPAP. She's now back down to the lowest rate on the CPAP and we're hoping she'll get moved back to Vapotherm soon. She looks like an underwater samurai--which is to say, uncomfortable (as any samurai who's spent time underwater will attest). No IVs or PICC lines. She just finished up some antibiotics for a little infection in the PICC line, but all seems to be better now.

On another note, we have received more thoughts, prayers, words of support, and genuine love from friends and family than we can ever possibly acknowledge. So many of our close friends, blog-followers, long-lost pals, distant families, buddies on facebook, current and former co-workers, and many complete strangers have reached out to us to show how much they care for us in this time of emotional awkwardness. To know how many people are out there cheering us on is truly touching. We still have our "dark and twisty" moments, but they get fewer and fewer as the days tick away. It's hard to think too much about "what might have been" when "what actually is" is altogether precious and awe-inspiring.

We can't possibly be more grateful for this tsunami of support we've received. It's meant more to us than many of you will ever know. Though we haven't been able to respond to many of you lately, know that your messages were received, they were appreciated, and they helped. Blasting this to the world via blog seems a wholly insubstantial way to communicate our appreciation, but we're having to make trade-offs for the sake of efficiency. We are sincerely thankful that each of you are a part of our lives.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

NICU Update (D-Day + 17)

By the time I put the period on this sentence, what I think I know about the condition about our daughters will be old news.

Seriously, it changes that fast.

First their PDAs are open. Then they're closed. Then one's open again. Got that fixed. The other one's open. Now it's closed. Check that...

Feedings? Yep, they're both feeding. No they're not. One of them is. Not anymore. One's not pooping. Now she's pooping. Starting feeds. Stopping feeds. Why? PDAs open. Crap!

How's their breathing? Great! Extubated after a couple of days. Now on Vapotherm. One's three liters. One's two liters. One's on high-flow canulas. One's on low-flow canulas. Room air trials (maybe)? Blood gases acidic. Reintubated. Oxygen 74%. Oxygen 100%. Back to Vapotherm. Doing good. Sleeping comfortably. Her PDAs open? Reintubated--do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

If this sounds familiar, then you've either worked in, or had multiples in the NICU.

As I re-read the above, I continue to be marvelled that it's not an exaggeration at all. This has become our life. People will ask me how they're doing and I'll give them the latest. Then, they'll ask me again three hours later at which point I'll tell them that whatever we were worried about earlier is now fine, but now there's three more things we're concerned about. People must think we have some sort of hyperactive "Munchausen syndrome by proxy."

I'm just going to start telling people that they're slowly turning into sea turtles.

So, here's the real latest scoop.

Amelia is doing pretty well. She was down to low-flow canulas at room air, but then her PDA re-opened up, so they moved her back to 2-liters Vapotherm and they gave her the 3 rounds of drugs to close it. They think it worked, so they resumed feeds and she seems to be doing fine. Her blood gases are checking out okay. She has some minor swelling, but she's peeing well enough, so they aren't overly concerned.

Elena is more of a challenge. At 10 days, she wasn't pooping. A couple of enemas and some Muco-mist later (I can't wait for her friends to read this one day), we got some poop. So we started some feeds. Then, her blood started getting acidic and she stopped peeing. So they stopped feeds and reintubated her. Now her gases look better and she's peeing. She's intubated at room air for the moment. She's struggling with ventilation even though her oxygenation is doing well. The doctors think she's worn herself out for the moment. So, we wait a little while and regroup.

Honestly, don't you just want some pictures already???

Amelia, the laid-back one.

Crissie and I spend a lot of time seeing each other like this. (Amelia's isolette)

Elena says "hello."

Taking a noonie.

That's all for now. You can be sure that anything you now know about how they're doing has since changed. It's the only thing that seems to be consistent for now.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Wheelock Quads are Born (Part 1)

We thought we were prepared for this.

Saturday was a day that started like so many others since our stay at Woman's Hospital began. I was on my cot and Crissie on her bed. My "uniform" that day was my Mississippi State hooded sweatshirt, my Mississippi State shorts, and my Mississippi State fluffy slippers that look like clown shoes. Something about being in Baton Rouge makes me feel the need to exaggerate my "Maroon-ness." Plus, I'm kinda' known around the hospital for those ridiculous slippers and I have a reputation to uphold. Our plan was to watch movies, Law & Order, and mostly vegetate all day.

Crissie was feeling uncomfortable. Of course, her belly was big, she hadn't had a night of uninterrupted sleep in over a week, and the straps on the uterine and heart monitors were irritating to the point of exhaustion. She'd been off antibiotics since early Friday morning and all indications were that they had done their job. The constant worry about Garrison's leaking amniotic fluid hung like a dark cloud over our situation, but there wasn't much we could do about it beyond hope.

My brother came to visit late in the afternoon because he was in the area and we hung out for about an hour. He left because he could tell Crissie wasn't feeling well. Around 5:00, Crissie started to get really uncomfortable, so we took off the monitors. It was about this point that she started getting the chills. We were still on high-alert for fevers, so we immediately started doing temperature checks. She was running about 99.9 so we called in Rachel, our nurse who was assigned to us for the first time (bless her heart).

Crissie and I immediately assumed the same thing: An infection was taking hold. We'd heard how quickly infections could wipe out a pregnancy if left unchecked, but even we were surprised with the speed and ferocity of this illness. Within two hours of the onset of her symptoms, her fever was 102 degrees. The decision to get the babies out was made quickly. By the time Crissie was on the operating table, she had vomited, was convulsing, and shivering so hard it was painful to watch. I was truly scared for her life at that point. However, they got her on the table a little over 3 hours from the onset of symptoms--pretty impressive considering the complex issues in play.

At 8:38 pm on April 17th, Amelia Frances (Baby B) was born first at 1 pound, 7.5 ounces. At 8:39 came Elena Marie (Baby C) at 1 pound 15.8 ounces, followed by Garrison Thomas (Baby A) at 8:40 also weighing 1 pound 15.8 ounces. At 8:41, Lillian Brooks was born sleeping.

Drs. St. Amant and Diket performed the C-Section and were assisted by a myriad of neonatologists, respiratory therapists, NICU nurses, and surgical assistants. Three of our "Top 4" nurses were able to make it in time for the surgery. Jami, Tanyl, and Tracy raced to the hospital and pitched in on their own time for which we can't thank them enough. We wish that Jennifer J. would have been able to make it too, but she was out of town and couldn't be reached.

A special thank you is reserved for Dr. St. Amant who gave us a 'bat-signal' to be able to reach him in the event of emergency. We found him at the first sign of fever and he was at the hospital within an hour or so--even though he wasn't on call and it was a Saturday night.

Crissie got loaded up with antibiotics and pain meds, while three teams worked on intubating and stabilizing Amelia, Elena, and Garrison. Our families stood by in the waiting room--my dad and brother, and Crissie's parents and sister, along with various other friends and loved ones.

Nurse Tracy took care of Lillian. She had the difficult duty of bathing and dressing her. Once Crissie was stabilized, she and I had an opportunity to hold Lillian's hand and say our good-byes, despite knowing that she was already in heaven. It was an emotional end to an emotional day and we appreciated the nurses who took such loving care of us by looking after her.

We got moved from our room in Labor and Delivery up to the part of the hospital known as "Mother/Baby." It was a much smaller room, and after nearly a month, we'd accumulated a lot of stuff. Most of that stuff got sent home with Crissie's parents. Dr. St. Amant helped us get rid of some of our remaining foodstuffs. Since we deprived him of his dinner, his preoperative meal consisted of peanuts from our "snack table."

Once settled into the new room for the dénouement, we were left with a few visitors, but mostly left to ourselves. It had been a day filled with the most intense emotions we'd ever experienced--fear, love, sadness, hope--we were exhausted. Not long after our last visitor left, we collapsed into what we'd hoped would be long, well-earned sleep...

It was not to be.  

The Wheelock Quads are Born (Part 2)

After falling asleep sometime after midnight, Crissie awoke around 3:30 in the morning with an intuition that something was wrong. Thirty minutes later, we got a phone call from the NICU asking permission to transfuse blood for Garrison. Of course, Crissie granted that permission without hesitation. We really didn't know what was going on with him at that point, and we certainly weren't thinking that a blood transfusion was out of the ordinary, but a 4am phone call from the NICU definitely had our already frazzled nerves on edge.

Thirty minutes later, we got a phone call from Phillip (the charge nurse in the NICU that night and a personal friend) that we needed to come down immediately. Considering that Crissie was eight hours removed from major surgery, still on a catheter, and had yet to be moved post-operatively in a wheelchair--this was a serious request. Though we wouldn't say it aloud, we were pretty sure they wouldn't call us down to the NICU unless there was dire need.

Much of the following was a blur because of our exhaustion, delerium, and (for Crissie) pain medications. But first, I need to back up a little bit...

When Garrison was delivered, he was bruised from head to toe. His membrane had ruptured and he had virtually no fluids in his sac at delivery, so the belief was that he had suffered external bruising as a result of the other membranes crashing down on him. Thus, Garrison's body was darker than we expected--it wasn't quite "black and blue," but it was close.

When we approached Garrison in Pod 8 of the NICU, he was being attended by as many as 6 or 7 different nurses, doctors, and therapists. His incubator was wide open and one nurse was doing chest compressions while another worked a breathing bag. He was being given epinephrine shots at a regular interval. It wasn't good.

The doctor in charge of Garrison explained that the infection that spiked Crissie's fever had attacked Garrison too. Having a ruptured membrane meant that he had very little defence against the infection. It wreaked havoc on his delicate lungs and cardiovascular system. He had crashed once already and they were able to bring him back, but from this last crash, he wasn't recovering. We were asked if we wanted them to continue, but the answer was already clearly written on the faces of everyone working on him. Garrison wasn't going to make it to his first sunrise.

I still don't know how long we stood there in silence watching everyone work. I do know that I felt my heart was literally being ripped in two--so much so that I thought was having a heart attack. Crissie sat and cried while I stood. We were completely devastated.

We continued to wait for a miracle that wouldn't come. They stopped chest compressions and he was shortly thereafter pronounced dead. He lived outside the womb for less than nine hours.

We were given a chance to bathe him. Crissie could only get up close enough in her wheelchair to rub lotion on his left arm and leg and I tried to help, but I was struggling to hold it together so I left it to the nurse. They dressed him and brought him to us so that we could spend a few quiet moments alone with him. We both held him and cried all the tears we had left. A priest came to baptize him. We finally left Garrison to check on Elena and Amelia (more on them later). We were led back to our room to collapse again in utter exhaustion. Heartbroken, overwhelmed, and afraid, we slept fitfully--wondering what the next phone call might bring.

We'll always wonder what kind of man Garrison would have grown up to be. We'll always wonder what kind of brother, son, or father he would have become. I can say with all honesty that we'd trade all of our worldly possessions to have him back. Everything... without question.

When Lillian passed, I was sure she was up in heaven, safe and sound, holding hands with my mom. I was so hopeful that it happened for a reason and that we would one day understand. With Garrison's passing, my hope is that they're all together and that Lillian will have a big brother to pass the time with until we can all be together again. It sounds nice to write that down--I just hope one day I find peace in believing that's how it works. Right now, there's no peace.

My faith has been shaken.

And, there's two other girls who still need us to believe in miracles.