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Mitchell and Harrison - born at 24 weeks

Pregnancy and Birth

Our life changed forever on March 23rd 2004. This was the day that we found out that we were pregnant after eight long years of trying to conceive. We also found out we were being posted back to South Australia after 8 years in New South Wales. However, a bigger surprise was in store for us a few weeks later, when during a routine ultrasound the doctor discovered two little heartbeats! I can still remember the moment clearly, Kevin was in the Middle East with the RAAF and my friend Pat came with me for moral support. We both burst into tears as soon as the doctor confirmed that I was indeed carrying twins. I jumped off the bed in excitement and hugged our doctor – only to remember I wasn’t wearing underpants! It sure must have given him a great story to tell at dinner parties. That night when Kevin rang home he heard the wonderful news and was thrilled.

The next few weeks passed quickly as I worked and prepared for our move back home to South Australia. Several times we had scare when I had some bleeding, but each time the ultrasounds showed our babies were doing well. I felt so contented being pregnant and even though I had morning sickness throughout the pregnancy, nothing seemed to dampen my joy. Then in June I drove from our home in Windsor to my parents’ home in Adelaide with my friend Pat. Kevin had decided he would prefer for me to go on ahead and he would finalise the move before joining us in early July. It was lovely seeing my parents again and we spent lots of time choosing special things for the babies.

In early August we had settled back into our old home and had met the obstetrician who would deliver our precious babies. I spent my days catching up with friends and preparing our home for the birth of the twins in late November. The 12th of August 2004 started out like any other day, although I noticed a tiny smear of blood when I went to the bathroom in the morning. I wasn’t overly worried, but then I noticed a little bit more. So I didn’t say anything to anyone, but contacted our obstetrician and he organised to see me in the evening. I could still feel the babies kicking and moving about – so nothing seemed to be wrong. That night after my examination we received the devastating news that I was in early labour and that my cervix was dilated. We realised how very serious this was when our obstetrician contacted the major hospital in Adelaide and told them that they needed to prepare to places in Neonatal Intensive Care for babies which were going to born that night.

The next few hours passed in a blur as we drove to the hospital and I was admitted to the labour ward. Kevin contacted our families and tried his best to reassure me that everything was going to be alright, but deep in the pit of my stomach was a gnawing fear that if the twins arrived so early they may not survive. At this stage I was 24 weeks and 1 day and the Neonatologist who visited us in the labour ward explained that they hoped to be able to prevent me from delivering until I was 28 weeks, at which stage the babies would stand a much better chance of survival and less risk of ongoing problems.

On August 16th 2004 our twin boys were delivered by emergency c-section at 24 weeks and 6 days gestation. The most precious sound I heard was each baby cry as he was delivered. Two beautiful baby boys – Mitchell Steven weighing 660grams and measuring 31.8cm and Harrison Adam weighing 840g and measuring 34cm. They were attended by two separate NICU teams and were transferred up to NICU to begin their long stay in hospital. Shortly afterwards I was wheeled in my bed to see Mitchell and Harrison in NICU. They looked so small and so perfect and I fell completely in love.

In the NICU

Both boys had a difficult time through NICU. Mitchell although the smallest twin required less intervention in the early days and we optimistically imagined he would be fine. We called him “our little energiser bunny” because he just seemed to keep going and going.

Mitchell in NICU

Harrison was critically ill with multiple lung collapses within a few days of his delivery. The ventilator which he needed to keep him breathing and alive was damaging the delicate lung tissue. It seems that this was the way with a lot of the treatments in NICU – they both helped and harmed the boys.

Harrison in NICU

As each day passed we came to realise why the journey through NICU is often referred to as a rollercoaster ride. At one moment the boys would be stable and we would take a breath and something would seem to go wrong. The NICU staff were so kind to both of us and we were able to ask lots of questions. But no-one could answer the question which hung heavily in the air – would the boys survive?

Within three days of the boys being born Harrison had started to rapidly deteriorate – his lungs were not coping with the ventilation and he had multiple chest drains inserted to try and help his scarred little lungs reinflate. His haemaglobin also dropped and the doctors were concerned he may have had a bleed in his brain – but his scans came back clear. I came to dread answering the phone, as each call from the hospital brought more bad news. I began to wonder how I would cope if only one of our precious babies came home. The thought was too painful to express in words to anyone.

Only 8 days after the boys’ birth we received a call in the middle of the night to come into NICU immediately as Harrison had perforated his bowel and was being prepped for surgery. The drive into the hospital seemed to take forever and we arrived just in time to see our tiny baby boy wheeled away to theatre. He had been diagnosed with Necrotising Enterocolitis in which part of the bowel dies, it was explained to us that this is a common complication in extremely premature babies and that in Harrison’s case the dead bowel had been removed and he now had an ileostomy bag. Our poor little boy looked so swollen and sick when we able to see him after the surgery.

11 days after the boys’ birth we were asked to come in for a special meeting to discuss Harrison’s condition. The doctor was very kind, but explained that Harrison was deteriorating again and that if he didn’t start to make some improvement in the next few days that we may need to consider discontinuing treatment. Part of me wanted to rant and yell – that this wasn’t fair and that this shouldn’t happen, but I sat in silence as the tears flowed down my face. Kevin tried to comfort me, but it felt like we were drifting apart. I was completely consumed with the boys and what was happening with them and Kevin was so worried about me, but neither of us knew how to reach out to each other.

During this dreadful time, Mitchell was gradually gaining weight and had started on tiny expressed breast milk feeds. He seemed to be getting stronger and stronger. I was finally able to give him his first cuddle when he was 16 days old – it was a truly beautiful feeling to hold Mitchell close to me although he was tiny and covered with tubes. I would sit between the two humidcribs and look at Harrison who was dying before my eyes and Mitchell who was getting closer to coming home, and wonder how I was ever going to survive. My heart felt like it would split in two. I couldn’t imagine life without both of our beautiful boys.

For over a month Harrison deteriorated and then improved slightly, but after 36 days I was finally able to hold him for the first time. He was still attached to the ventilator and had lines and monitors everywhere, but it was the sweetest feeling to finally hold my beautiful Harrison Adam Reid in my arms. From that time on he slowly improved. There were steps forwards and steps backwards, but gradually he seemed to become more stable.

It was around this time that Mitchell became very ill with an infection. Initially the doctors thought he had meningitis and he had several lumbar punctures, but eventually they discovered he had a virus in his bowel and appendix. Just when we thought we were past the worst, our energiser bunny was fighting for his life. Each day we would come into NICU and things had worsened. Mitchell’s surgeon came and spoke with us and explained that he held grave fears for Mitchell’s survival and that unless he could provide some assurance of quality of life following his surgery, he felt it would be best to just keep Mitchell comfortable. Two months to the day after he was born, Mitchell went to theatre and had a bowel resection and an ileostomy formed. He continued to struggle with the after effects of the virus for a month afterwards, but he was alive.

From that time on the boys seemed to both turn a corner and we even started to talk about what we would do when they came home. They still had almost three more months in hospital learning how to feed, gaining weight, monitoring their eyes and repairing Mitchell’s hernias, but each day was one step closer to coming home.

Coming home was such an exciting and scary time. They were still both so small and frail. We had medications to remember, feeds every 2-3 hours and more nappies than we could imagine, but we finally felt like we were a family. We both survived on very little sleep, but somehow managed to look after ourselves and the boys with a lot of help from family, friends and a wonderful lady provided by the South Australian Multiple Birth Association. This angel visited us once a week for 12 weeks and spent time with the boys so I could sleep, get a haircut and run some errands. We were so sorry to see her go, but knew that she was going to help another multiples family.

Finally when the boys were at home and we had a semblance of a routine I started to feel very distressed about all we had been through and a friend suggested I contact AUSTPREM – an online support group for parents and caregivers of premature babies and children. What a wonderful group of people I met. Parents who understood what we had been through and who had been there too. I found AUSTPREM an invaluable support and still do – only now I am part of the development team and help welcome new parents to the group.

And now our beautiful boys are two years old and bundles of energy. I look back at those early frightening days in NICU and realise how far we have come. We know that we may face challenges ahead, but we face them as a family that has been through a lot to get where we are today.

Mitchell age 2 Harrison age 2

©2007 Lisa Reid

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