The blood scared me – there was too much and it was too bright. An ordinary Saturday was suddenly turning into crisis. Without thinking beyond the moment, my husband and I rushed to the Emergency Room at the nearest hospital. Fearful and confused, I attempted to tell the triage nurse why I was there, while my husband parked the car.
“I’m bleeding. I’m pregnant. Five weeks along, a high order multiple pregnancy.”
I didn’t utter the words, “I’m afraid I’m miscarrying,” as if I would make that result even more likely by breathing the words out loud. The nurse’s eyes met mine, and we both knew the unspoken fear.
Saturday slowly turned into Sunday while my husband and I sat waiting to see a doctor. Patient after patient was called – hours passed. I knew there was nothing they could do, they knew it too, but none of us acknowledged it out loud. Miscarriages leave medical professionals acting more as observers than anything else. They rarely have the power to stop things from going bad this early in a pregnancy. In a way, we were all waiting to see what my body would decide to do. So there I was carrying life – and a lot of it – yet fearing death.
That early scare ended anticlimactically – I stopped bleeding. I showed no other signs of early labor so the specialist they called said “Have her call me on Monday, and we’ll do an ultrasound.” It was our first real lesson that everything can change on a dime with pregnancy, often for no understandable reason – especially this early, especially when carrying many babies.
The happiness of our tremendously desired pregnancy was completely overshadowed by its complexities through the next weeks. “If we lose one baby, does that mean we’ll lose them all?” “If we lose one or more babies, will that make it easier for the others to be carried to term?” We had endless questions that no one could answer. So we continued to live through scares, watching and waiting, until the day that yet another specialist said, “you have three little girls with strong heartbeats and it looks good right now.”
Finally, it was permission to hope. That, plus love, faith and the thoughtful support of friends and family was what we lived on during the next phase of the pregnancy – seemingly endless waiting.
Just two years prior, we had created our family of three – myself, my pre-teen daughter and the man of my dreams. My cubicle at work was still decorated with wedding photos. Now at 40 years old, my husband was entering biological fatherhood for the first time while I was trying to remember what it felt like to be pregnant; after all, it had been nearly 12 years. I was also hoping my own age wouldn’t hamper my ability to parent three babies and a teenager. Perhaps the most wisdom came from the youngest of our little family,
“I prayed lots and lots of times for a sibling. I didn’t know God was going to add up all the prayers and give me three at once!” our nearly 12-year-old said.
Confronted with what seemed to be every risk factor and pregnancy complication imaginable – from advanced maternal age to gestational diabetes and much more – we just kept living our lives. Our little family of three plugged along through bed rest for Mom, hours and hours of overtime for Dad and the first year of middle school for our daughter. Whenever anyone asked “How are you ever going to manage three at once?” we tried to smile and say things like, “We’re just trying to get them born healthy right now,” or “The way we do right now – one second at a time.”
We expected preterm labor, preeclampsia and hospitalized bed rest – we feared much more. Premature birth was a given, the specialists wouldn’t let the pregnancy go beyond 34 weeks gestation (6 weeks premature) in the best of all possible worlds. What really concerned us however, was the very real possibility of giving birth to our babies any earlier than 30 weeks or even 28 weeks.
After immersing ourselves in the latest medical knowledge regarding prematurity, we knew more than we ever wanted to know about what could happen. No chance of survival before 22 weeks gestation, and potentially only hospice care offered until 24 weeks. In actuality, they don’t expect “micro-preemies” to survive at all unless they are at least 25 weeks gestation at birth.
We studied the issues common to premature babies, like brain bleeds, poorly developed eyes and/or ears, respiratory concerns, feeding issues and much more. Beyond survivability, there were plenty of concerns that could carry on throughout a premature infant’s life, well after the magical 2 year “catch-up” date when they can be measured for milestones with children who were born full term. During an interview with the head neonatologist, we noted when he started to smile while talking about preemies; it was at 28 to 30 weeks gestation. Somehow, no matter what, we wanted to hit that window.
There comes a point in a high-risk pregnancy when you realize you can’t do anymore, it’s out of your hands and what will be, will be. You live on hope, follow the doctor’s advice, and wait. And wait. And wait some more.
On November 18, 2008, our small trio of a family doubled in size. In the words of the specialists, it was a remarkable triplet pregnancy. Preterm labor never occurred - not even a symptom. All other complications were either well-controlled or simply didn’t show up. While the last five weeks did include hospitalized bed rest, our three baby girls were delivered on the scheduled cesarean date at 34 weeks gestation weighing 3 lbs., 14 oz.; 4 lbs., 14 oz. and 4 lbs., 10 oz. They spent about two weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit before coming home to join us.
I always knew life held risks, but the triplet pregnancy helped me understand its basic essence. Risk surrounds us every day, even if we don’t acknowledge it. We drive to work in metal contraptions of steel at 70 mph without a thought that an accident is possible any time we enter a vehicle. We kiss a sweetheart and risk marriage, confident that the 50 percent divorce rate will never impact us. We celebrate the births of newborns and never really acknowledge that being a parent is one big risk.
In a few short weeks, we will make our traditional annual trip to our neonatal unit at our hospital. We’ll show off the little girls, express how amazing our now teenager is and say thank you to whoever is on duty. Thank you for helping us build our now doubled family.
And I will become reflective again, I’m sure. Our triplets are nearly two now – almost at their magic “catch-up” date for milestones. I watch three little girls try to form words, learn to imitate the display of affection, and discover their world. I’m so excited for the time we have to watch them grow. Then I turn my head to see a young woman who has just emerged. I marvel as our 14-year-old starts high school and yearns to be 16, for the time when “life starts” with dating and driving.
And I wonder have I risked enough? Have I risked enough of myself to show her the character I want for her? Have I left anything behind? Have I risked enough to parent her well? Have I taught her to risk?
I really believe that part of being human is the willingness to risk. Without risk, we lose dreams, and we lose hope. To risk is to live. I hope and pray that I live in a way that teaches my children, teenager and toddler alike, to risk much in their lives. To take the risks needed to listen, to learn, to love.
Sometimes we have the luxury to choose our risks, other times risk comes without warning, like a cyclone. I hope I teach my children to embrace risk and welcome its rewards no matter how it arrives.