You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know."
― Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
My friends, I have been remiss. I have not made the time to update you on all of the progress of our pregnancy since last year. I missed out on telling you about how we revealed our babies genders to our work peeps, I have failed to relay to you the selecting of our baby names, I have been remiss in relaying to you all the ups and downs of Heidi's ever-growing girth. And for that, I am sorry. But I am not going to tell you those stories now either. For you see, we have reached the end...the end of our journey to become parents. The excitement that overwhelms me with the prospect of sharing this news with you trumps my need to relay all of those other stories. Instead, my friends...I am presenting you with the end of our story. And in true Voci fashion, it's dramatic. So, grab a glass of wine, turn off the TV, put the kids to bed, and curl up on the couch with your laptop. This is the climactic conclusion. The story of our arrival at our destination...we have traveled the scary and difficult path to parenthood, wrought with joy, sadness, loss, new friends, every possible emotion a person can experience, and we have arrived. We are moms. But let me take you back just a little bit, to the beginning of April, where the beginning of the end starts...
April 8, 2013. We are a mere sixty-one days from our due date. 8.7 weeks. Two months. It's hard to believe how fast our pregnancy has progressed. It really feels like only yesterday that we found out we were pregnant and now, here we are, seven months pregnant.
Since Heidi's birthday was yesterday, we had a mild-mannered celebration. She and I had a low-key dinner at P.F. Changs. During dinner, Heidi started feeling small cramps but we brushed it off as her being hungry. I would state for the record that because of her new advanced age, we were eating dinner around 5:30 p.m. We have seemingly graduated to the age of the early bird diner. And in further celebration of Heidi attaining her 31st year of life, we head to bed relatively early. Apparently aging, pregnancy and having dinner at 5:30 in the evening seem to have made her pretty tired.
Around 3:00 a.m. Monday morning (yes, you read that right...am. As in 0 dark thirty), Heidi wakes up with what feels like contractions. She's been uncomfortable most of the night and now the cramping is getting pretty intense and not subsiding at all. We call our OB and she recommends we head over to Bayfront's Babyplace to get checked out. Now, if you've read any of the past blogs, you know that Heidi is atypical. Nothing seems to fall under the "Normal" column when it comes to her so we take the doctor's advice...we roll out of bed, put on the first clothes we find (nothing that is going to get us any runway notice) and drive to St. Pete in the middle of the night. We go because we need someone to tell us it's nothing. We are pretty sure it is nothing, so sure so that I email my boss from the hospital to tell him I will probably be a little late and that Heidi's probably going to be super tired and may not make it in to work. You don't send an email like that unless you're pretty sure it's nothing. Right?
When we get to the Babyplace, they put us in a room, hook Heidi up to a fetal monitor and start monitoring contractions. She's having some. Now, I'm not an expert so those hills and valleys on the monitor read severe to me. However, the RN read them as smaller than severe...more as "irritations". Huh. What does she know anyway? She advises us that she is reaching out to our doctor's office to get copies of Heidi's medical records and when they get those, they plan to check her to see if she is dilating. They also hook her up to an IV while they wait to make sure she's hydrated. Standard fare, I'm sure...nothing to worry about.
The nurse comes back in and says they are going to go ahead and check to see if Heidi has dilated at all. I would inject a little tidbit o' info here...this will be the first time Heidi has had to be checked for this. All OB appointments to date have been ultrasounds so this little exercise is new for her. For the dilation challenged, let me elaborate on the process for you. Checking to see if one is dilated generally involves taking what feels like the bulk of one's hand and shoving it as hard and far up one's vagina as is physically possible and then using the tip of one's finger to measure the gap in the cervix. Now, obviously the ideal checker for the checkee is a small asian woman with impossibly small hands and fingers. However, in our case, there were no small asian women on staff that evening. Instead, Heidi was introduced to this pregnancy tradition by a standard sized white woman. At least it wasn't a big-handed man. Small blessings, my friends, small blessings.
Standard sized white nurse checks for dilation and somehow, all of a sudden, things go from "yea, I may be a little late for work" to "what the hell do you mean we might have the babies?!?!?". After checking for dilation, the nurse promptly advises us that Heidi is having contractions and is dilated 2 cm. They decide that they are going to start giving her medicine to try to stop the contractions and they are also going to give her steroids to help develop the babies lungs in the event they are born soon. What the hells? Born soon? They have two months to go...they can't be born now. Heidi was only 31 weeks. That is incredibly early. Too early. They weren't done cooking yet. We were scared to think about what it would mean for the babies to be born this early. I mean, yes, we knew technology was amazing in this day and age, but still. Babies are meant to be born full term, not at 31 weeks. In addition to the IV fluids, meds to stop contractions and part one of an incredibly painful steroid shot in Heidi's arsafarse, they also did a vaginal swab to determine if Heidi was, in fact, in active labor. The nurse indicated that if the test came back negative, it usually meant labor wouldn't happen for at least another two weeks. If it came back positive, it didn't necessarily mean she would have the babies now, but it was an indicator that they could be coming. Again, I say what the hells?
I would like to think that I'm pretty decent under pressure. I mean, we've had a rough year, an unexpected surgery, so many things...and I would like to think that I have demonstrated strength and fortitude for Heidi during these moments. For whatever reason, be it the moon, the early hour, the difficulties already experienced on this journey, this particular night seemed to have rendered me less than strong. As I sat next to the bed listening to the nurse, holding Heidi's underwear (don't ask...I helped her get undressed and hadn't yet put them down), I couldn't help myself. Tears just started coming. I have always made it a point not to cry in front of Heidi when I was scared. I was supposed to be her rock. If she saw me start to crumble, what would she feel? What would she do? But damn it all to hell, I couldn't help myself. I just started crying. And I'll be damned if I wasn't sitting there wiping my tears with her damn underwear. This was definitely not shaping up to be a good Monday. No my friends, it was not. I sure hope she at least put on clean underwear at o dark thirty...
The test to determine if Heidi was in active labor came back negative. That was a good sign but not enough to dissuade them from admitting Heidi into the hospital. Yea, I'm definitely going to be late for work.
April 9,2013: When babies are born incredibly early, there are a plethora of issues that may accompany their birth. Today we met with the neonatologist so he could give us best and worse case scenarios for what to expect if the babies are born right now. The best news was that there is almost a 100% chance of survival at this gestation. Huh...that's a bit of a stinger. Not because it wasn't good news, but because it was hard to think of the alternative. Bad news issues that could occur include breathing issues, which we knew about, risk of abdominal infection, brain bleeding (which are minimal but still exist), and retina issues from prematurity. He gave us a run down of what to expect after birth and with the babies in NICU. We also met with our OB. Wow. That was a conversation I never wanted to have. A parent already thinks of the obstacles their children will have in life, but to be presented with so many challenges before they even got to begin theirs was a little overwhelming.
Throughout the day, Heidi's contractions decreased. The medical professionals indicated they would send her home if her cervical check showed she hasn't dilated anymore. Yea, another fist to the vagina...exciting adventures for Heidi!!! Her vaggie check indicated she had not dilated anymore so the hospital released her and told her that the remainder of her pregnancy would be spent on her back. Well, not technically or specifically on her back, but on bed rest. Whatever...I equate that to months spent collecting bed sores from lying in bed, doing nothing all day except watching mindless daytime TV and slowly counting down the weeks, days, minutes and seconds until this torture ended by hitting the due date of the babies. Oh, and she has to stay on the medication to stop contractions. A little pharmaceutical aside here...the medication they gave her to stop contractions wasn't actually created for this purpose; it's just a secondary use. It's primary purpose is to lower blood pressure. Now, my little medically inclined readers, what happens to you if you take medicine that reduces your blood pressure? Well, you get dizzy. Your heart races. It's a lot like falling in love but in an annoying kind of way. Happy belated birthday, my love...happy belated birthday. Now, on our way home to celebrate. With bed rest.
April 11: Well, we liked the time we spent at the hospital so much we got up at 3:30 am to visit again. Today's visit has brought us another centimeter dilated and since we already drank from the steroid bar, we (and by we I totally mean Heidi) partake in a sassy new 12-hour regimen of magnesium sulfate introduced intravenously. This new concoction was intended to slow contractions and as prescribed by the house doctor, intended to reduce the chance of cerebral palsy in pre-mature babies. *Sigh* I have to say I'm wearing a little thin with the constant introduction of additional potential problems that come with birthing our children early. Despite the situation we find ourselves in at the moment, I will say that from the beginning of her pregnancy until present time, our babies have demonstrated a ridiculous amount of tenacity and strength. Their difficult start has made them strong, my friends. They started and remain strong and this little hiccup is just that...a hiccup. They will overcome. Why? Because they are goddamned medically engineered. And they are Voci babies...they take after my wife ~ strong, determined, stubborn as hell. And if that weren't enough, there were prayers flying up to the big guy begging for their safety from all over the world. Every part of this little earth had someone raising their voice to God, asking for protection, safety. Let's be honest...with that kind of spiritual fire power, you have to succeed, right?
A very long 12-hour regiment, which by the way precluded her from being able to eat or drink - - - not the best of circumstance for a pregnant woman who is 1. hungry; 2. tired and hungry; 3. thirsty and irritable and 4. has the worlds fastest metabolism so missing a meal usually results in instant weight loss. It has been over twenty-four hours since Heidi has had the opportunity to eat. I fear she may disappear. At the end of this very long 12-hours...another dilation check. Sadly, this check was not done by the hoped for asian woman; instead, a very large male doctor. With large hands. And fingers. My vagina tinged in sympathy pain for my betrothed. The good news -- no more dilation! She is still at 3 cm and about 80% effaced. Her contractions have slowed down considerably.
April 12: Today is 31 weeks and 6 days. We are hoping for at least two more weeks of baking time before the little buns in the oven introduce themselves to the world. Heidi gets released today, still on bedrest. Daytime TV, here she comes!
Contractions continue on various ranging levels each day after leaving the hospital. Sometimes they are mild, sometimes they are a little stronger. The meds seem to work well to calm things down when Heidi's uterus becomes overly-agitated. She stays pretty idle, getting up to do those "necessary" things...you know, like showering. And pooping. Things she can't do on the couch. During this time, each time a contraction starts, I panic. We've packed various bags to take to the hospital should we need to go again...our bags, baby bags, make-up and hair bags. That's right, make-up and hair...we're that kind of lesbians. We like to be pretty, even in times of strife and stress. I've all but given up my evening glass (or four) of wine for fear that a 3:00 a.m. wake-up nudge will come from Heidi and I'll be too buzzed or hung over to drive her to the hospital. Yea, cuz that's the type of reputation I want...drunken lesbian pre-mom, too inebriated to drive her contracting woman to the ER. I think not, people!
April 24: Today is Heidi's grandpa's birthday. Whilst the babies are still earlier than we would like them to be, if they did decide to make today their arrival day, it would have such a sweet connotation. Well, in honor of Heidi's grandpa's birthday, that evening, we have pain. New pain, to be clear. Not the same contraction pain. But pain nonetheless. And because we have become regulars at the Babyplace, we decide to pack up our wares and head over once again to identify said new pain. We get to the Babyplace and get to see a new room...this will be our third so we are starting to really feel like we own the place. Same regimen...baby monitor, ultrasound, send us home. They don't identify the pain but rule out anything that they feel could be contributing to the pain.
April 27: Today is 33 weeks and 6 days. We're so darn proud of ourselves for continuing the baby incubating! I mean, just a few weeks ago we thought we might have the babies too early and look at us! Almost 34 weeks. Go us! The neonatologist from so long ago, you know, early April, said if we made it to 35 weeks, the babies would likely not be required to spend any time in the NICU. And so that was our goal...make it to at least 35 weeks. We're only a week and a day away!
To celebrate our impending parenthood and date night restrictions that will accompany that, I invite my beautiful wife out to dinner. Nothing special, just a little something to send off our days of freedom from children and the ability to dine out on a whim. To prepare for our very special dinner date, we decide to take a tandem shower. Oh get your minds out of the gutter you dirty freaks...we were saving water! Plus, well, let's be honest...my wife is on bedrest and well, item number 2 on the discharge paperwork was an explicit instruction to refrain from, um, well, you know, um, relations. So lets just call a spade a spade...I had a brief opportunity to actually see my wife nekked. And maybe even accidentally brush against her whilst trying to scoot by her big old belly in the shower in search of the conditioner. Ulterior motives exposed. Geez...drag it out of me next time!
As we are preparing for our exit from the shower, Heidi announces that she's not feeling that great. She is actually feeling pretty crappy. So crappy, in fact, that she goes and lays on the bed without drying her hair or putting on clothes. Now, this may sound like a positive for me (see paragraph above) but seeing her in pain definitively negates the joy derived from seeing her naked. I know...it surprises you all that this is enough to negate the joy, but I assure you, it does. Heidi sits on the bed for a few minutes, hoping that the pain will subside and we can continue with our dinner plans. Not happening, my friends, not happening by a longshot. In fact, her pain increases. She immediately wants me to call 911. I convince her to instead take a Procardia, which will likely reduce the pain...this is the medicine she's been taking to stop contractions. I hustle over to the kitchen, grab her a pill and a drink and dose her up, convinced this will be enough to get her back on track. We wait about ten minutes and the pain isn't subsiding. At all. I convince her to take another Procardia, since the doctor told her we could double up if the contractions became too severe. She begrudgingly agrees but tells me, in no uncertain terms, that this won't work. Now, for those of you who have been following our journey since October, you may be reflecting back to the beginning of our pregnancy where Heidi told me something was wrong and I told her it wasn't. One would think I learned my lesson. However, here I was again...trying to convince her that she was over-reacting. A far reach to get out of going to dinner, I tell you.
She asks me again to call 911. I tell her that instead we should call our doctor. She concedes. I call Dr. Raimer and told her what was going on. She said we should go into the hospital. I tell her that Heidi is in so much pain that she wants to go by ambulance. She tells me that if that's how she'll feel more comfortable, I should call 911. And so I do. For the second time this pregnancy...It is not at all unrealized by me what happened the last time.
Since I'm becoming a professional 911 caller, I first put the dogs outside. I also decide that perhaps my naked wife may prefer to have some clothing on instead of having strangers enter the house with her butt-nekked. I pull out a t-shirt and a pair of panties and dress her. This is no easy task. She is in an inordinate amount of pain so this small exercise makes her even more uncomfortable. But, I persevere...why? Because she's modest and whilst she's in a fair amount of pain now, I'm sure she'll thank me later. Right?
I call 911. The gal on the line was doing a fabulous job reading from her "pre-term labor" script. She asks me to look between Heidi's legs to see if there was any fluid. What??? Um, OK...I take a peeksy by opening her legs...an inconvenience not lost on Heidi and advise script reader that there is no fluid. She then asks me if there is a head coming out. WHAT?!?! This is not what is happening 911 script reader! This is different. There is no way in h-e-double hockey sticks that these babies are coming tonight and most certainly no way that they are coming in our bedroom. Of all of my self-professed skills, baby deliverer is not one of them. I advise her that no, there is no head protruding from my wife's nether regions. *deep breath* I tell Heidi it's going to be ok and I rub her leg, the traditional gesture known to indicate things will be fine, nay prove things will be fine. Script reader must not have heard me tell her that and advises me, in her all-knowing scripting reading voice, "Continue to reassure her." So, yea, again, I say...it's going to be okay. 911 girl decides to change things up and sends me on a treasure hunt. She sends me off to find clean towels (OK - - I can figure out what this is likely for, in the event I was dishonest about that whole head protruding thing...but why do we have to use clean towels? I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that if I became baby deliverer, it is likely I would want old towels to throw away, not clean towels). I'm also instructed to find a shoelace (presumably to tie off the umbilical cord when I become baby deliverer) and last, but not least, a safety pin. Huh. A safety pin. What, pray tell, would that be for? I was already in a bit of a pre-panic state so it didn't occur to me to ask her what it was for but I will say, with pride, that I found and retrieved all designated items in record time. I have my baby delivering toolbox and advise 911 girl of same. She then tells me to remove Heidi's panties. Seriously? I just put them on! Because I'm a good instruction taker, I do as she says. As I'm pulling Heidi's panties down, almost to her knees, she asks me, in her most pained voice "What are you doing?!?" I respond with the obvious "I'm taking off your panties." I swear, a girl is in a little pain and she can't tell even the simplest of things that are going on. She asks me why and I tell her "because, the lady on the phone told me to." I would part from my story for a brief moment to say that if only I would have known earlier in our relationship that said statement was the only validation needed to accomplish this little task, things may have been a little easier for me. I digress...back to post-panty removal.
Emergency crew #1 arrives...they are from the fire department. Not the ambulance. Fire dude is, oh, I don't know, maybe in his 40's and is in a "let's mosey along" state of mind. His lack of urgency serves only to piss off my wife. When a woman is in pain, do not, I repeat...do not patronize her or minimize her pain. This is what fire dude #1 did. He saunters in and asks, "So, what's going on?" Heidi says she's in an incredible amount of pain and needs to be immediately taken to the hospital. I follow-up with the fact that she has been in constant pain for approximately 35 minutes. I also articulate for fire dude that these are not contractions; we have already been in the hospital for pre-term labor and are familiar with contractions. These are different; this is a constant pain. He relays to his partner, fire lady #1, that "patient is having contractions 5 minutes apart." Uh, fire dude, did you not hear one f-ing word I just said? I did not say contractions 5 minutes apart. I said something completely different. So, I reiterate for him what is going on. Fire lady leans all the way over our bed to put monitors on Heidi and fire dude advises he's going to have to start an IV, presumably for those 5 minute contractions. Heidi advises in her I-have-so-little-patience-for-you voice that she doesn't want an IV, she wants to immediately go to the hospital. He responds in his best condescending fire dude voice that he has to do an IV first. Through clenched teeth, Heidi says fine. Fire dude starts IV...oops, wait. Fire dude starts to do IV, gets it in and says "Uh-oh, this is in wrong, I have to do it again". I would like to state for the record that if my wife were not in so much pain right now, she would have stood straight up on the bed, pantyless and all, and kicked fire dude straight in the teeth. Lucky for his bridge work that she was unable to act on that urge. He puts in the second IV with a second "oops...got a little blood on your bed." Unnecessary proclamation, fire dude. Just ignore it and let's move on to the hospital.
EMT dudes show up next. Fire dude relays to them that Heidi is having contractions 5 minutes apart. I swear to all that is holy, I am going to find some unknown jujitsu skills and just run and kick him straight in the face. Hard. Like so hard. My wife is in pain. Not a little pain, but extreme pain. She's scared, I'm scared. She's wearing no underwear. Fire dude is so living on the brink of being murdered by two scared lesbians in the most horrific painful way possible...
I correct fire dude, for the second fricking time in less than ten minutes, and advise EMT dudes of the actual situation. EMT dude says, "Um, OK, but do you want to put some panties on her?" Oh dear god...someone needs to make up their God blessed minds and decide if her goddamned panties should be frigging on or frigging off because my wife is getting pretty fricking tired of having this on-again, off-again relationship with her fricking underwear!!!
After some back and forth conversation about which hospital to go to - - Heidi wants to go to Bayfront because that's where her doctor has privileges and EMT dude thinks she should go to Morton Plant because it's closer. All of this banter is doing absolutely nothing to minimize the amount of pain Heidi is in. She concedes to Morton Plant because she's not sure how much more of the pain she can take. EMT dude asks her if she can walk to the ambulance. She responds that she can't even stand up to get out of bed. He then asks if she can walk to the hallway to the stretcher. Aside here - - while I appreciate that medical response providers are often met with situations that may indicate that perhaps the patient is being a little whimpy or whiney, if you do not fully understand what your patient is going through, THINK ABOUT YOUR FUCKING QUESTIONS BEFORE YOU ASK THEM!!! If you have a woman, in constant pain, who has mere seconds before advised you that she is unable to stand up, WHY WOULD YOU THEN ASK HER TO WALK TO THE HALLWAY??? Dear sweet Jesus, please remove your heads from your rectums and just listen to her. EMT dude begrudgingly agrees to bring the stretcher into the bedroom since apparently Heidi was going to be difficult and not just walk her happy little behind to the hospital. Heidi finally makes her way onto the stretcher and for good measure, EMT guy makes sure he scratches up a good length of the hallway with same stretcher. My wife, known for being particular, notices this amid all of her pain and frustration. She notices that now the wall needs to be fixed...
Heidi advises EMT dude that she wants me to ride in the ambulance with her. I ask EMT dude how much time before they leave, he says one minute. I dress in a mad flurry, primarily because I had just gotten out of the shower and was dressed in only a tank top and boxer shorts. I rush out of my bedroom to find my neighbor standing in my living room saying "what can I do?" I ask her to take care of the dogs, give her a key and run to the ambulance. The ambulance driver then tells me that I need to drive separately. I think when all is said and done, I'm going to find fire dude and EMT guy and run them over with a really big truck. Or a steam roller. With spikes.
I drive behind the ambulance but get caught at a light. Apparently, the lights and sirens playing in my head fell on deaf ears of the other drivers. As I made my way to the hospital, I called Heidi's mom. I have to say that whilst I like to think I'm a relatively strong gal, after this pregnancy, particularly the last two weeks, I'm at the end of my strength. I call Nancy and do what I most hate doing when I'm scared. I cry. I cry because I'm scared. I cry because while neither of us said it, both Heidi and I thought it...these were the same symptoms I had when Payton died. We didn't say it because somehow putting out to the universe might make it so. Constant pain. That's what I had. That's what she has. How could this be happening? After all that we had gone through, would it come down to this? We both knew what this could mean. We both knew the tragedy that could at that very instant be befalling us. This is why Heidi wanted me in the ambulance with her. She was scared. If something happened, she wanted me there with her. She didn't want to be alone. And here I was...crying on the phone with her mother. I tried to call Jessica and then called our doctor and left a message that we were going to Morton Plant instead. Then I took a deep breath and pretended to be strong again...I was at the hospital and that was my job. Take care of my wife and our babies. And do it without crying.
I get to the labor and delivery floor and Heidi is already in a room. I see EMT dude coming down the hall and am thankful a tray full of scalpels is not conveniently located near me as he passes. I fear that at this point in my evening I may not have the strength to resist the urge to stab him in the throat. I enter the room and there were a couple of nurses hooking Heidi up to various monitors and asking various questions.
I'm going to throw in a little caveat here, readers. The rest of this story happened a little fast for me. The chances of me having forgotten or missed some details are pretty good. When I talk to Heidi about it, she only has a spotty recollection of the night. When I think back to it, I feel like I am retelling it from someone elses mind, like I was more of an observer than a participant. Everything seemed unusually fast and slow, clear and blurry, all at the same time. Our arrival at the hospital seems to be when this Alfred Hitchcockesque type of recollection begins. So, accept my apologies in advance...a gal can apparently only take so much before she starts to show her humanness...
The nurses start to hook Heidi up to the standard machines...we have become pretty familiar with the monitors over the past few weeks. We had a quiet blonde nurse, Sharon, who started our adventures at Morton Plant. And we had Shawna, the gal who kept trying to inject calmness into the situation. At some point, Kristi and Amy entered the mix. Throughout our night, at any point in time, one or each of these four women were making heretofore unknown amazing impacts on our life and our babies lives. Remember their names, my friends. We will - - they are forever etched into our minds and hearts. We are eternally grateful for fate coming together to put these women in our room that night.
At some point, we meet the doctor on staff that night. We are hoping that they will be able to do something to identify and stop Heidi's pain sufficiently enough that we can make our way to Bayfront to be with our doctor. Heidi is not shy about communicating this to the on-call doctor. The nurses have already said we have one of the best doctors; it's a little frustrating to not have that expertise working for you when you feel like you need it the most. We did not know this doctor. We didn't know his medical background. As he was talking with us about what might happen that evening, he talked about what our intended birth plan was...asking if we intended to have a vaginal birth or a cesarean section. He also spoke about the potential for having both - - if we tried a vaginal birth and issues arose with the second baby, we may need to then have a c-section. He was talking like we would be staying...again, Heidi asks about moving to Bayfront. He indicated that she was unstable. They wouldn't transport her if she wasn't stable and if she was adamant about going, she would be leaving the hospital against medical advice. Heidi told him she wasn't going to leave unless she knew it was safe and then proceeded, to ask the doctor, with sternness and intention in her voice, "have you ever done a c-section?" The smirk on his face and his response of "well, I did read the book yesterday" did not sit well with Heidi. Apparently, it is not clear to people that when Heidi Voci is in pain, you don't make a joke. Ever. I know this. Why don't they??
The next step is one of Heidi's favorite - - checking to see how far she's dilated. She was still at 3 cm. and her contractions were showing more as irritations that full-on contractions. But still, the pain persisted. Constant pain.
The doctor ordered an ultrasound. The ultrasound tech arrives and performed the most meticulous ultrasound I've ever witnessed (and yes, I've witnessed a shit-ton). He was checking for what may have been causing the pain. It was not lost on us that one of the things he was checking for was placental abruption. Those unspoken words again...
When the results came back, I stood behind Sharon and Shawna and peeked over their shoulders as they read the results. No placental abruption. There were other things he tested for but the words that stood out for me were no placental abruption. You have no earthly idea what reading those words meant. You do not know the weight that lifted from my chest seeing those words. The fear that had gripped my heart subsided slightly. We still didn't know why Heidi was in pain, but we knew it wasn't that. And at that moment, I knew that we could handle anything else. Why? Because anything else had the potential for a good ending. That did not.
Heidi continued to be in significant pain. Although she wasn't progressing with contractions or dilation as she should be for active labor, the decision was made to give her an epidural to help her manage her pain. Family was asked to leave the room (oh yea...I apparently failed to mention that Heidi's mom, brother and future sister-in-law were there. An epidural was given, the second one of Heidi's pregnancy, mind you. It was strangely like we had come full circle...this we eerily like the beginning of our pregnancy...weird...
Heidi's pain began to subside some. While she lay resting, a NICU nurse took me on a tour of the NICU and explained what would happen if the babies were born tonight. She showed me the beds they would be in and explained what the nurses would be doing to them when they were brought back.
I returned to the room with Heidi. Her pain was returning even with an epidural. Sharon, the quiet blonde nurse, was in the room. She was staring at the monitors, obviously deep in thought. She had the look of someone searching for answers but not being able to find them. She called the
anesthesiologist and advised that the epidural was not working. The anesthesiologist contacted another anesthesiologist to find out what should be done. She indicated the insertion of the first epidural was textbook and said she didn't understand how Heidi could still be feeling any pain. The second anesthesiologist said to go ahead and redo it and hung up. He then called her right back and said that he would come to the room and check himself.
Both anesthesiologists are conferring in the room and are uncertain as to why the first epidural isn't working. The second doctor decides to replace it himself (it would seem that he was the more senior doctor). He put in the second epidural and agreed that it was textbook. He stood conferring with the other anesthesiologist and nurses and said to us that we must smell all of the wood burning as they tried to figure out what was going on.
Heidi lay in her bed, still in pain. A little while later, and this is one of those spots where things are harried and blurry for me, her vitals start to go down a little. Sharon, ever so calmly, inverts Heidi in her bed so she is head down and with the calmest voice, hits the call button and says that she needs a little help. What felt like an army of people flood into the room to help. I'm at Heidi's head and Nancy is rubbing Heidi's arm. Heidi is inverted with people working on her and none of us know what is going on. I'm leaning in to her, telling her that it's going to be ok. Nancy is telling her to close her eyes and pretend she is somewhere else. I keep whispering in Heidi's ear. There is something about us, something so crucial to us that I know that if I tell her it's OK, she'll believe me. I don't know it's OK, in fact, I'm pretty sure it isn't. But my job is to be strong. It is to reassure my wife. It is to keep her calm and I do that by whispering to her. Something so intimate in a room so full of strangers.
Amidst all of the flurry, Sharon starts shaking Heidi's stomach. Because she's already in a lot of pain, this is excruciating to Heidi. Aiden's vitals are dropping and she is trying to stimulate him. Heidi's vitals are dropping. Her blood pressure is seventy-something over forty-something. The blur deepens as what feels like chaos ensues.
Kristi pulls me aside and starts dressing me in OR clothes. I ask her what's going on. She says they are going to take Heidi to surgery. I ask if they are doing a c-section. She says yes. I ask her what's wrong. She says they don't know. I ask her if I can go in the OR with her. She says I don't know but if you can, we're going to have you ready. They take Heidi out of the room. Kristi takes me to an elevator and then to the basement where the OR is located. On the way down, she tells me that if they do a local, I can be in the OR with Heidi. If they put her under general anesthesia, I can't go into the OR. She puts me in a small room and tells me she's going to go see what is happening in the OR and she'll come back and let me know.
Alone. All of the chaos is now silence. I am alone. The realization is setting in that this is not good. I try to call Jessica again. No answer. Fate or God or who or whatever has decided that this moment shall be mine alone. This moment is the moment that all of the fear I have been holding down comes rising to the top. I am petrified. For the first time I think that I might lose my wife and my children. I cry. I cry so hard that I am shaking. I pray. I ask God to please take care of them. I beg for him to not take them away from me. I think every single ounce of strength is used to pray, to plead with God to keep my family safe. I feel myself breaking, I feel my heart breaking. I have never been more afraid in my entire life. And I am also managing to fill the entire sleeve of my OR outfit with snot and tears. For a brief moment, I think that they'll never let me in the OR if they see how much snot and tears are on this OR outfit. It's a brief thought, but it was there. Kristi comes back to tell me that they are putting her under general anesthesia so I am unable to go into the OR. She tells me where to go so I can see the babies on the way to the NICU. She said that someone at the desk in labor and delivery will let us know how Heidi is doing. I ask her if Heidi is going to be okay. She pauses, ever so briefly, then says yes. I ask her to promise. She stares at me for a moment, hugs me and says she promises. She later tells me that was the hardest promise she's ever had to make. I go back to labor and delivery to wait.
Heidi is in the OR. There are so many people everywhere. There is a team of nurses for each baby and a team for her. She is still in a lot of pain. They do a test to see if she can feel the incision and she does. They decide to put her out, quickly. The doctor does not know why she's in so much pain. He only knows that vital signs are dropping and they have to get the babies out as soon as possible. He cuts Heidi's stomach and as he opens her up, he sees blood. A lot of blood. She's bleeding internally and he has no idea from where. He opens the uterus and there is no blood, good sign. He takes Baby A out first...our little girl. He takes Baby B out second...our little boy. They are removed so quickly that they are both born at 1:22 a.m., mere seconds apart. Baby A is breathing, just a little shallowly. They give her a little oxygen from a mask and she seems to be doing fine. Baby B is blue when they take him out. His team intubates him to get him breathing. Both teams leave the OR and head to the NICU.
In the meantime, the staff OB is trying to figure out where the bleeding is coming from. He knows its not from inside her uterus because there was no blood when he took the babies out. He begins moving all of Heidi's internal organs around, searching for the source of her bleeding. He finds it. A varicosity ~ a varicose vein on the backside of Heidi's uterus that had burst and was continuing to bleed. He tried to cauterize the bleed but was having a difficult time getting it to stop bleeding. He thought he may have to remove her uterus if he couldn't get it to stop. Otherwise, she may bleed to death. As he was on the cusp of making the decision, he got it to stop. They remove four units of blood and have to replenish her with three units.
A general surgeon is called in to go through Heidi's abdomen and examine each of her internal organs to make sure nothing else is bleeding. While they are doing this, the babies are being brought to the NICU.
I'm standing in the hallway on instant alert for any sound that may be the elevator signaling the arrival of the babies. I'm texting a million people that we are at the hospital, not because I think they'll respond, but because it's busy work. If I don't think too hard, then I won't be too scared. So, I text away. Jessica is on her way to the hospital. Again, de ja vu...we have come full circle my friends. In October so many very similar events took place...ambulance ride to the hospital, internal bleeding, emergency surgery, Jessica there to take care of me. And now, here we are again...ambulance ride to the hospital, internal bleeding, emergency surgery. Only this time, I'm sitting in this hallway unaware of how my wife and my children are.
I hear something...it's the elevator doors opening. Out comes a huge incubator and a team of nurses. And inside that incubator...inside that incubator are two of the most beautiful creatures I have ever layed eyes upon. Our little girl is wide-eyed, looking around. Our little man, a little upset. He's managed to pull the intubation tube out on his way down because he just wasn't having any of that nonsense! The nurse stops as she walks by me and asks me the most amazing question...do you want to touch them? I don't know that I've ever wanted anything more than that at that very moment in time. I am in love already. You see ultrasounds of your babies and you imagine how beautiful they will be when they are born but nothing, I mean nothing, prepares you for the first time you see your babies. It is breathtaking. They start to take the babies to the NICU and tell me I can come with them. Nancy is standing there with me, looking imploringly at them, telling them she's the grandmother. They tell her she can come back too. It was beautiful how much joy those few words brought to Nancy. Her first moments with her first grandchildren and she was going to get to be a part of this process.
We followed the babies into the NICU. I asked the nurse how Heidi was. She said they were still working on her. My friends, there are two things that a person can do when she hears these words. Sob uncontrollably because of the unknown or have faith that all of the prayers sent up will be enough to bring her safely back to you, and take what little energy you have left and go watch your babies get introduced into the world of the NICU. I chose the latter. I did so because I needed to make sure I was there for the babies and because to think that Heidi might not be okay would have been paralyzing, crushing. I couldn't let those thoughts rent space in my head. And so I followed the babies and watched.
They weighed each baby...baby girl weighed in at 4 lbs. 11 oz. Baby boy weighed in at 3 lbs. 13 oz.
The NICU nurses continued about their business. Weighing, measuring, monitoring. It was all surreal and amazing and scary, all at the same time. The babies were here. The two little lives that we had waited for all these months. They were here. I could see them, kiss their hands, touch their heads. It was incredible but bittersweet. My wife was not here with me. She was not only missing these first few moments, but I didn't even know how she was. I kissed the babies, caressed their heads and held their hineys, because that was what was reassuring for them - - holding their heads and rear-ends. Everything else was too much stimulation for their little pre-mature nervous systems. I was overwhelmed...
After a bit, the nurses asked us to leave the NICU so they could finish their work on the twins. We were taken back to a different room in labor and delivery to wait for the doctor. Around 3:30 a.m., he finally came in to tell us all that had happened in the OR. He said he had never seen anything like this before. I guess this brings new meaning to "have you ever done a c-section before", doesn't it?
Jessica and I snoozed on the couch for a little bit until we could go see Heidi in the recovery room. Around 4:30 a.m., we were finally able to go see her. She looked so amazingly beautiful. She was going to be okay...they had stopped the bleeding. They had replenished some of her blood and she was going to be okay. She was even feeling well enough to crack jokes with Jessica, even though she wouldn't be able to remember any of them later on.
Heidi was admitted to the ICU for the next two days. The twins were in the NICU. I was always hovering somewhere in between.
Sometime in the evening of her first day in the ICU, the nurses got Heidi onto a stretcher that could sit up like a chair. Approximately fifteen hours after their birth, she was going to be able to go see the babies for the first time. She was weak and tired but wild horses wouldn't be able to keep her away from seeing them. She was able to hold Aiden for the first time...
Because she was so weak, she only stayed in the NICU for a little while. She went back to the ICU without being able to hold Riley.
The next day, they moved Heidi from the ICU back to the labor and delivery floor in the post-partum wing. This was nice because it was a lot closer to the babies. That afternoon, about twenty-six hours after having given birth, Heidi was able to hold Riley for the first time.
You would think that things were now all on the upswing, right? Well, not so. The evening that Heidi held Riley found her with a fever. The doctor said it was likely from the surgery and they would begin a regimen of antibiotics, four to be exact, all given intravenously. The bigger issue with the fever...Heidi had to stay away from the babies for twenty-four hours. My friends...imagine if you will, going through all that Heidi had gone through (if you need reminding, start at the beginning of this blog and read through to this spot) and now, after all that you had endured, now, you were forced to wait another twenty-four hours before you could see your babies again. It was almost heart wrenching for both of us. My heart ached for her because her heart ached for the babies.
In the meantime, the babies were beginning their lives in the NICU. Each were in an incubator, hooked up to assorted wires and IV's. It was, to say the least, a little intimidating to see them in that condition. They couldn't be touched too much because their little nervous systems were a little sensitive. Most touching was done either by cupping their head and hineys or by the all too infrequent skin-to-skin opportunities. After two of their daily feedings, we were allowed to hold the babies with just their diapers and our bras. You may have heard it referred to as skin-to-skin or kangaroo care. To us, it was amazing. We were finally able to hold the two amazing little lives we had ached for over the past two years. And it did something to warm our hearts knowing that simply by holding them, we were helping them...helping with digestion, helping with body temperature. But what they didn't know was what it was doing for us. We were falling in love, more and more each day. Our hearts were being stolen, bit-by-bit, during our skin-to-skin time. Soon enough, they would hold all of our hearts...
Each day in the NICU met with different tasks, challenges or accomplishments. Their first feeding was all of a tablespoon of breast milk. Since Heidi was unable to pump yet, they used donor milk. It was a huge accomplishment that they were able to eat their entire tablespoon.
Aiden had demonstrated from birth that he was going to be a spitfire. He took his intubation tube out before he even made it to the NICU. They replaced it with a C-Pap. He was not a fan. Before long, the nurses tired of fixing it since Aiden kept moving it from his nose, where it needed to be for him to get oxygen. They then moved him to a tube that ran under his nose. And they were already getting to know his personality...they taped the tube all the way across his face.
That wasn't all...Aiden had managed, at a mere 3 lbs. 13 oz. to wiggle his little body out of his diaper. Several times. He managed to remove his feeding tube on what felt like a daily basis. It was becoming increasingly clear that Aiden was going to be a bit of a handful. But he had balance...while he was a spitfire when he didn't like something, he had the most expressive facial expressions. His little forehead, with barely any fat, wrinkled like a little old man. And he always seemed so worried...with his furrowed brows and puckered lips. His animated face was a beautiful site to behold.
Riley on the other hand acted exactly as she had in the womb. Always calm, always so serene. She was always a little ahead of her brother, both in the womb with weight and now in the NICU with hitting milestones. She didn't need oxygen after the bit she received in the OR. She had her feeding tube removed sooner than her brother did. She was always just a bit ahead. In fact, she moved to a crib sooner than her brother and went home two days sooner.
But Aiden was a little spitfire so he wasn't far behind. He left the NICU ten days after birth. Not bad considering we were told that they may remain there a minimum of two weeks all the way up to their due date.
And so here we are. At the end of our journey. Almost three years have passed since we started our journey. But we made it...we made it to the end. And the beauty of it all, my friends, is that it is just the beginning.
It is with more pride than I thought I could ever muster, but I officially introduce you to our little miracles, our gifts, our son and our daughter.
Please meet Aiden James Voci and Riley Payton Voci. Our children...
Thank you for joining us on our journey. While this is the last entry in our blog, it is certainly not the end of our voyage. It is merely the beginning of our next chapter. Thank you for joining us on our unique path to parenthood.
The Voci Family
Twenty fingers, twenty toes,
two sweet babies with cheeks of rose.
Born on the same day, two gifts from above,
lives entwined, two babies to love.