When I was pregnant with the triplets I spent at least half my days of hospital bed rest searching for a “Big Sister of Triplets” shirt. They were easy to find in size 2 or 3T but no where to be found in 12 year-old sizes. My excitement when I finally found one probably caused an extra contraction or two and I paged my nurse to ask her if I could have it shipped directly to our floor since I wasn’t going anywhere.
During my daily two seconds of being vertical I unfolded the shirt with happy tears because this was all really happening and hid it between my wide selection of faded blue and green hospital gowns. Every time Ashlyn came to visit I had to talk myself out of giving it to her, there would be plenty of time for that.
My brother brought her to visit me one day after school when I was 28 weeks pregnant, working on my tenth week of hospitalization and the longest knit blanket in the history of knit blankets. I decided we were in a much less scary place than 18 or 24 weeks and when my brother headed down to the cafeteria I gave her the coveted Big Sister shirt. She decided it should only be worn when she was the “real” sister of triplets and didn’t want to try it on until her siblings made their appearance.
That night my contractions were harder to control than usual, Parker’s heart rate dropped and by the time Mark arrived for his evening visit the nurses were handing him a set of scrubs and a surgical hat as they wheeled me to the delivery room. We decided on the exact combination of first and middle names as I stared at the ceiling whirring by.
The operating room held a small army of medical staff and no one has created a word to describe the emotions of meeting one baby after another after another within five minutes time. I wasn’t shocked by their size or their condition because they were still without wires and tubes.
Our first hellos would be the only time I saw their complete faces for months for two of them and forever for one.
Ashlyn wore her new t-shirt to school the next day and was as much a celebrity as she could tolerate for the day.
We spent the next three months in the NICU as our children survived and did not.
On the rare occasions I managed a load of laundry I would come across her shirt and ball it up again, burying it deep in the mounds of dirty clothes. No matter how well I hid it the time before, it would reappear as I separated colors and whites.
Parker and McKenna came home after 77 days in the NICU bringing with them frailty that has never quite left our walls, no matter how sturdy they’ve grown.
Hadley has never been home at all, leaving behind a bittersweet tinge to life that can’t be buried under the surface.
Today is National Prematurity Awareness Day, for more information on premature birth and how to recognize the signs of premature labor click here. For support during your child’s NICU try a forum like this one or email me at fourplusanangel (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll promise you that you can make it through.
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