I hope I can find the words to tell you how big of an impact you made on my life and the impression you made in my heart. Every day when I look at my beautiful 23-month-old, twin girls, I think of you and feel the most incredible sense of gratitude. I know that I have said thank you many times for the things you have done for my family, but it never seems like it is enough. My hope is that in this letter I can tell you both how much you mean to me and how you truly are everyday heroes. Susan Gale said, “There are angels and heroes all around us. Their superpowers are not revealed to all...just to those whose paths they cross and whose lives they touch every day." I will never forget the day God placed you in our lives or the six long weeks we spent with you in the NICU as you cared for our premature babies and taught us how to do the same. In those six weeks, you were caregivers, lifesavers, teachers, mentors, strength coaches, and you became our biggest heroes.
Nothing can prepare you for the journey that comes with having one premature baby, let alone two. Although we knew around twenty weeks that there were complications and the girls may come early, we constantly hoped for the best and prayed for them to continue growing for a little longer. My insecurities about becoming a parent were big enough without having to think about taking care of premature babies. To be honest, I had no concept of the emotional roller coaster that would ensue once the girls could no longer grow on the inside and were forced to fight for life in an incubator. Although it did not seem like it to us at the time, our girls were fortunate compared to so many others that spend time in the NICU. They were born seven weeks and two days early. Sh. weighed a whopping four pounds and two ounces and Sy. weighed two pounds and fourteen ounces. I had never seen babies that small. I say we were fortunate because they were never on oxygen and they were strong enough to move from the critical NICU floor to the regular NICU floor in less than 24 hours. That is where we met you. Although looking back now it is easy to see how lucky we really were and how well-off our babies were compared to so many others, it wasn't easy to see at the time.
We took every class that you can take before having a baby. We learned about changing diapers, feeding, and bathing babies, but nothing prepared us for having premature babies. I guess I should start by saying that, from the first moment I laid eyes upon our girls in that operating room where they were taken by C-section, I loved them with all of my heart. In the NICU world, I have heard people talk about how similar yet different experiences can be. I have talked to so many premmie parents and I have learned that NICU nurses can make the difference. If I wrote our story down for all the world to read it would feature you, the heroes who were calm in the storm, strong and firm when we were weak, and nurturing when we needed to be lifted up. You taught us everything, from the most basic things like how to change a diaper, take temperatures, and bathe them to the most critical things like how to get them to take a bottle and how to bring them back from a brady (bradycardia) /apnea episode.
I have never felt a greater fear than when the alarms would sound letting us know that one of our babies had stopped breathing and their heart rate has dropped. No matter how many times it happened, I never got used to it. My heart would race and panic would set it. Sometime I would freeze and others I would race to the incubator or stare up at the monitors unsure of my next move. Every time you would calmly come into the room and give her a little shake or pick her up and rub her little body to stimulate her to remember to breathe again. When the episode was over you would put her back into her incubator, reassure me that she was okay and tell me how great I was doing. Great at doing what, I still do not know, but somehow it always made me feel better. Despite never having to be on breathing tubes, our girls had major obstacles to overcome. Brady's were an ongoing problem and the scariest when they were happening.
Sy. was born with a ventricular septal defect (VSD), a defect in the ventricular septum, the wall dividing the left and right ventricles of the heart. Of course, we were terrified when the doctors sat us down and informed us of their most recent discovery, but you were there to reassure us. You calmed our nerves and wiped our tears, informing us that this was common and in most occasions, the holes closed on their own. They were also born so small that they could not be fed by breast or with a bottle; they had to be fed intravenously and by feeding tubes. A parent never wants to see their children hurting, but it became a horrifying reality to us as we watched tiny needles being placed in their tiny little veins. Unfortunately, tiny little veins can only take so much and we quickly learned that every little vein that they had would likely be used to make sure they were receiving the glucose and other nutrients they needed to grow. It never got easier to watch, I think I cried every time, but you were always a true professional.
You did everything that you could to keep the needle in one spot as long as possible. When it came time to change it out, you did everything you could to make it as painless as possible, not just to the twins, but also for us. You reminded us that it was necessary and the girls were okay. You let us hold them even if it was just for a minute to comfort them. A constant struggle for us was wanting nothing more than to hold our newborn babies, but knowing that in order to grow they need to stay in their incubator where they were warm and could rest. You taught us about skin to skin contact, knowing how important it was for us to bond with our girls, but you understood the fine balance between giving us that time to bond with the girls and knowing when they should be left alone to grow. Somehow you always knew when it was more important for us to leave them in their incubators and when it was more important to bond with them.
There is no greater frustration than knowing that your tiny premature baby has to eat on their own and gain weight every day in order to go home and finding out when you come in the next day that they had lost weight. Equally frustrating was knowing that our girls had to cease having brady's for at least three days before they can go home. As we got closer to being able to take them home, it felt like we would take one step forward and two steps back. One would gain weight well, but have a brady or gain weight for two days and lose weight on the third. We would question what we were doing wrong if we should have held them less or maybe more.
When it felt like we just couldn't take any more of the ups and downs and the stress was going to tear us apart as a couple, you were there. By this time, you were not just our babies' nurses, you had become our friends. You became a counselor when we needed to vent and a shoulder when we needed one to cry on. Jennifer, we can never thank you enough for your lighthearted humor, you were always there when we just needed to laugh or needed a cookie. Jennifer, you are one of the more sincere and encouraging people we have ever met. There wasn't a day that went by when you were working that you didn't tell us how well we were doing, even when we probably weren't. You were not only there during six of the most stressful weeks of our lives but have continued to be there for us ever since.
We truly hope that you will always be part of our lives, no matter how far away life takes us from each other. Never ever forget how extraordinary you are. It really does take a special person to have the strength and the courage to deal with tiny sick babies and their neurotic parents, especially because not all endings are as happy as ours. We sincerely want to thank you for all you have done and remind you that not only to us but to all of the people whose lives you touch in those little rooms, caring for tiny people; you are heroes.