When your Birth Story takes an Unexpected Turn
The Story of My Twins’ Birth
Everyone has a birth story. Some are full of smiles and laughter, while others are filled with grief and sadness. Rarely do we hear the stories of pain, loss, and suffering. Today, I want to share the story of my twins’ birth. It is something I rarely discuss. The thought chokes me up and tears my heart as I recall that time in my life. I am sharing this because I’m not alone in my journey. This story is for every parent who has had a child in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
It’s hard to believe it’s been 14 years! Yes, it was March 21, 2005 that my twin boys, Austin and Ethan, were born. So much has happened in those 14 years that it’s hard to recall their actual birth. What I do recall, however, are the hours following their birth that changed my life.
First, a little bit about me: I am a physical therapist. It’s a great job with lots of flexibility and I get to help others get back to doing activities pain-free again. It is also a very physical job. I spend a full day standing on my feet moving people’s bodies, demonstrating exercises, performing body work on clients, and completing documentation with little time to eat or use the bathroom.
At 27 and only 4 months of marriage, I learned I was pregnant. It was my first attempt and I felt very lucky at how easy it was for me. Trying to stay physically fit during my pregnancy, I remained active and kept my normal running routine. I remember feeling very fatigued during exercise, but thought it was a normal part of first trimester exhaustion. It was at 20 weeks of pregnancy and my first ultrasound that I found out I was pregnant with twins! Kevin (my husband) and I were shocked. The news was completely unexpected and fully explained my low energy levels.
I was determined to be the woman I was meant to be. I’ll carry these twins full-term and continue exercising like I should. I’d even play Whitney Houston’s I’m Every Woman on repeat to empower me to overcome my fears because, “I’m every woman, carrying these babies is all in me!”
I continued to work as a full-time physical therapy clinic director in Midtown Atlanta. It was long hours of activity and I quickly realized that I was not gaining enough weight for two babies. As the babies grew, I didn’t and my perinatologist explained that I needed to consume more calories or I’d have to go on bed rest to gain weight. I immediately started drinking Ensure and Boost to consume more calories, but even still I couldn’t gain weight. I was expending more calories doing my job, than what I was eating to support the growing babies inside me.
At 30 weeks, my perinatologist, Dr. Korotkin, sat me down and said it was time to stop worrying about everyone else’s needs and start providing for my soon-to-be-born babies. Up until this time, the pregnancy itself was uneventful, so I stopped working and spent my last weeks resting at home. At my last OB visit, it was determined that my twins still were not growing at the rate they should and their outcome would be better if we delivered them at 34 weeks.
At noon on Monday, March 21, 2005, Austin and Ethan came into the world weighing roughly 3.5 pounds each at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta. The doctor didn’t want to try inducing me, so I delivered by c-section. Due to their prematurity, they were immediately taken to the NICU. I don’t recall holding them after I delivered because there were so many people in the Operating Room shuffling around and making sure they were healthy and scored well on the Apgar test. The last thing I remember was waking up in my room ready to recover from my c-section surgery. I think I was out of it from the morphine and the pain I experienced at my surgical site made it impossible to move. I waited until the next day to see my boys in the NICU.
Their tiny body’s lay in the NICU’s plastic troughs under a heat lamp. They were too fragile to pick up and were connected to all sorts of tubes and wires. I looked at them helplessly. As a first-time mom, this site was terrifying. What was I supposed to do? Stare at my babies like a museum exhibit? What happened to the sweet little baby that I could cuddle up with and feed like a mother should? No, my reality was much different.
Later that day, Kevin returned home to shower while I rested up at the hospital. As I lay there thinking how happy I was to make it to 34 weeks with my twins, I was brought back to reality by a visitor. The visitor was Piedmont Hospital’s neonatologist. He was giving me an update on one of my boys, Ethan. I sat there alone as he delivered the bad news. Ethan had esophageal atresia with a tracheoesophageal fistula. He needed surgery ASAP and would be transferred to the local Children’s Hospital that afternoon.
What? How can that be? You said the boys were healthy yesterday, but now his esophagus wasn’t attached to his stomach and in order to drink from a bottle, or eat, or thrive, he needed surgery. An ambulance would be transporting him to Children’s that afternoon to connect his esophagus to his stomach.
What had I done wrong? I stayed healthy, did what the doctors told me, and now they are saying that this esophagus issue could be the precursor to a life of disability for my infant son. This was the start of the darkest time of my life. So far, my life was full of easy paths, I had been blessed with an easy pregnancy and felt lucky to carry my twins to 34 weeks. And within an instant, I was embarking on a challenging journey to save my son’s life.
On day 2 of his life, I watched as Ethan was put in a tiny incubator and taken by ambulance to Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital in Atlanta. Just as my mother did nearly 33 years to the day when she lost her son Michael to a congenital heart condition after birth.
It’s always interesting to see the cyclical patterns of life. My mother rarely talks about this time in her life (because, well, that’s what you did in the 1970s), but now I was feeling her pain. The difference? She never saw her son again, whereas I hoped that our modern medical system would provide a solution for Ethan’s condition.
As he left the hospital for Children’s, I stayed behind. I needed to heal from my C-section and stay with Ethan’s twin brother, Austin, who remained in the NICU at Piedmont Hospital. I was devastated that I could not be with both of my sons at the same time.
With my persuasion, the hospital discharged me early so I could visit with Ethan. I returned home to two empty cribs and pumped religiously every two hours to provide breast milk to my boys (which is not an easy fete to pump when your babies aren’t even with you). I cried every day and remember thinking this must be the Lord’s way of testing me for the ease of my pregnancy and my life choices so far. But people say that the Lord will only challenge you as much as he thinks you can handle. And, luckily, Austin came home at 10 days old.
Unfortunately, my Ethan wasn’t so lucky. He endured a tumultuous recovery full of infectious diseases, nursing mishaps, and eating difficulties. I honestly thought he would never make it home alive. I visited him daily at the hospital but that had its challenges. When you don’t have family nearby and also have an infant at home, getting to the hospital meant tag teaming with my husband after his work to spend just a few hours with Ethan. It was both physically and mentally exhausting to care for one twin and fight for the health of the other.
In my desperation, I started to pray for his healthy recovery and return home. Finally, the day after Mother’s Day 2005, nearly 2 months after his birth, Ethan did come home! Both of my boys are survivors, they overcame such difficult beginnings. I always think that the Lord gave me two babies so they can be there for each other. Ethan struggled for many years with breathing and eating problems. Routine visits to pediatric pulmonologists and gastroenterologists allowed him to ward off multiple respiratory infections and choking issues.
Today, they are BOTH thriving 14 year-olds! I look back at pictures from their early days to recall it all. In the past, I tried to forget that period of time, but now I realize I was so lucky to have been given the experience. My boys are amazing and I am a different mother because if it. For every person that is struggling with a difficult birth story, take a breath…you are not alone, and it gets better one day at a time.
Thanks for reading,
-Lauren Sok, Physical Therapist, Mother to twins + 1
Lauren Sok, Founder of Functionize Health & Physical Therapy, brings 18 years of physical therapy practice and expertise in treating orthopedic and sports medicine related injuries. She incorporates a functional medicine approach in treating the whole person to find the root cause of a problem, rather than treating one body part at a time. Lauren holds a Master of Physical Therapy and Bachelor of Science in Health Science from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. She is a Certified Stott Pilates Instructor, a Clinical Instructor at the Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program, Emory University, and is trained in Redcord Neurac and Trigger Point Dry Needling. Lauren’s email is email@example.com. More information can be found at www.functionizehealth.com.