Every day for the first two weeks of my twins’ lives, I checked their statistics with the NICU’s staff nurses and the neonatologist. How many ounces did they gain or lose? How much milk did they drink? What’s their bilirubin count? How much longer do they need to be under the UV lamp? How many days do you think it’d be before I can take them home? What’s that number on that machine? What does it mean?
When you have premature babies, all these numbers matter. These numbers indicate whether they need to be in the incubator or not, whether they have finally beat recurring jaundice, whether they are closer to going home where they belong.
Life in the neonatal intensive care unit is a bunch of milestones for the babies and their medical team.
Life as a mother of premature twins is a bunch of moments that I did not think I would care much about. Until I did.
The first time I held them (not immediately).
The first time I breastfed them (days later).
The first time I changed their diaper (not for the first few days).
The first time they wore clothes (10 days old).
The first time I saw their faces without wires or tubes on them (3 days for my daughter, nine days for my son).
They first time they were finally together again after they were born (12 days old).
When they finally came home after two weeks.
When their big brothers finally met them.
When I could feed them in the quiet of the bedroom, without machines beeping and whirring around us.
When we were finally together as a family of six.
When you have premature babies, all the usual baby milestones are forgotten. Holding heads up, rolling, sitting up, eating solids, crawling, standing, talking, walking. They will get to them when they get to them.
With my first son, I stressed about when he would start walking (late) and talking (very late), what he ate, when he slept (or rather, didn’t), his obsession with electronics, his tantrums. I worried he wasn’t keeping up with his peers, and I avoided talking about things like “sleeping through the night” (nope, that didn’t happen until he was two). Some worries were legitimate – at three, he was diagnosed with a speech delay and started working with a speech-language pathologist twice a week. Others, not so much. He walked eventually at 15 months and was none the worse for it, despite being months behind other kids his age. He’s 5 1/2 and the size of a 6-year-old, even though he only ate four types of food (none include fruit or vegetables). He can read and write, even though as a baby, he tore books up.
I relaxed considerably with my second child, as you do. I only remember his milestones because he was in such a hurry to do everything. Rolling by three months, crawling by six months, and walking just as he turned one. He was speaking in sentences at 18 months before his older brother could string two sentences together.
When my boy/girl twins were born at 34 weeks, I was thrown for a loop, as you would expect). But I knew enough to take the statistics thrown at me daily when they were in NICU, to mean that they were closer to the moments that mattered – getting stronger, healthier, and going home. So I celebrated the small ones of holding them, breathing in their baby smells, marveling at their tiny hands and feet (and were they TINY) and being grateful for the medical technology that ensured my children survived being born too soon.
This essay was originally published on The Huffington Post.
Alison Lee is the co-editor of Multiples Illuminated: A Collection of Stories and Advice from Parents of Twins, Triplets or More. In another life, Alison was a PR and marketing professional. After a 10-year career in various PR agencies and of the world’s biggest sports brands, she traded in product launches and world travel, for sippy cups, diapers, and breastfeeding. Alison’s writing was featured in Brain, Child Magazine, Mamalode, On Parenting at The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Everyday Family, Scary Mommy, Mothers Always Write, Feminine Collective, The HerStories Project, and DrGreene.com. She has essays in two anthologies, My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends and So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood. Alison lives in Malaysia, with her husband and four children (two boys and boy/ girl twins). Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, Google +, and LinkedIn.