When we found out that we were expecting baby number two we were elated and excited. At our first ultrasound appointment we were told that we were expecting not one baby but two babies! The joy we felt that day was indescribable. I considered myself a healthy person and after a successful pregnancy just 18 months prior with our daughter we didn’t worry one bit. Our joy quickly turned into chaos when I unexpectedly went into labor at 24 weeks. On the morning of June 28, 2012, I got out of bed to find a puddle of blood at my feet. Of course I panicked. How could this be? I received top-notch prenatal care. When I arrived at the hospital I was informed that I was fully dilated. With my first pregnancy I was in labor for over 15 hours before I was fully dilated. I hadn’t even felt any real pain. After the most frightening hour of my life and an emergency C-section Baby Stephen and Baby Skyler were welcomed into the world! The whole experience is still a blur to me. Both babies were rushed to the NICU and put on ventilators, as their little lungs were not developed. They were also treated with surfactant, which is a drug that allowed their underdeveloped lungs to expand on their own; a treatment that I later found out was funded by the March of Dimes. Sklyer was 1 lb 7 ounces and Stephen was 1 lb 6 ounces. The doctors prepared us for what would be a crazy roller-coaster and we immediately knew that it would be a tough and scary road for these boys. We spent the next two weeks at the hospital, changing their diapers, and giving them their breast milk through an IV. The boys were so fragile but we still prayed that they would develop into healthy little boys. We knew that 24 weeks was the brink of viability for a baby but we also knew that many 24 weekers had a tough road ahead.
On the evening of July 7 we were told that Baby Skyler caught an intestinal infection and that antibiotics would be used to fight it. Our other son Stephen already had heart surgery just days before so we never expected Skyler to have a problem. Up into this point he was actually the less dramatic baby. By midnight the doctor called us to come back to the hospital -- the antibiotics were not working and Baby Skyler was crashing fast. As soon as I ran though the NICU doors I saw the doctor’s face and I fell to the ground. I will never forget how I just collapsed. I looked to my husband -- the 310 pound football player -- and he looked at me and said “I’m so sorry Tiff.” Even though Skyler was our baby he knew I had carried, talked to, prayed for, and mothered him since the moment I found out about his existence. We held sweet Skyler until his little heart stopped and he was at peace with the Lord. To leave that hospital that morning knowing I was leaving my son’s body inside -- there was no worse feeling. I actually wanted to bring him home, put him in the bed with me, and cuddle with my baby like I had been picturing in my head for the past six months. Instead I went home and sat in darkness for days. Every time I tried to get out of bed it was like a magnet sucked me back in and I just couldn’t make it out. Not to use the bathroom, not to shower, not even to see my family. I made it clear that I wanted no noise -- no TV on in the house and no radio on in the car. My world had stopped and I felt that the rest of the world needed to be stuck with me. This was not fair.
The only thing that kept me going was knowing that I had to visit my other baby, Stephen. He needed me. He needed my love and my breast milk. The only daylight I saw for the next few weeks was the car ride over to see baby Stephen. Besides that I climbed right back in my dark room under the covers. I slept so much and just knew that when I opened my eyes again this would all be a nightmare. It couldn’t be real.
The next few weeks showed me that people just don’t know how to handle the loss of a child. I got every comment in the book, and my most frequent one was, “At least you had two” Really? One child doesn’t replace another. People don’t realize that every time I hear the word twin, I cringe. To know that I had twins but one of them is missing is the worst feeling.
You never know how strong you are until you are forced to be. My next few months forced me to keep moving. I had children to care for. When my husband signed a contract with Washington Redskins and had to leave us it was all on me. Taking care of our 2-year-old, pumping breast milk for baby Stephen, and spending my time with him at the NICU, I didn’t have too much time to drown in my sorrows. I was just too busy.
As parents of both a healthy NICU baby and another NICU baby that did not make it through, we know what the highest highs and the lowest lows feel like. Our experience shows the world that prematurity and infant mortality happens to all -- poor, rich, white, black, healthy, and sick. No one is immune to this. That is why what the March of Dimes is doing is so important; I never thought that this would happen to me. I had a healthy first pregnancy, and in my second I received the best prenatal care and did everything right. And while I was put on bedrest, it was because I was pregnant with twins. There were no signs that anything was wrong. March of Dimes is working to understand why this happens to people like me. In 50% of all cases, the cause of premature birth is unknown. So March of Dimes is putting a lot of resources into understanding the causes of prematurity. They’ve come a long way, but there is still a lot of work to do.