How I Survived Bed Rest When My Unborn Twins Needed a Miracle

mom on bed rest
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They really weren't supposed to be there at all, those two blips on the screen. The words 10 percent chance were lobbed at us from across an array of offices, dour faces behind desks. One fertility doctor, normally in the business of selling hope and hormones, discouraged us from even trying. But we'd waited until it was now-or-never and we wanted to see what would happen. After a barrage of tests, pokes, and punctures, the statistically improbable occurred. What appeared to be one baby became two, and we basked in the radiance of imagined chubby cheeks and teeny toes.

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The first sign of trouble came at 16 weeks, when they were diagnosed with a placental disease called twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. In-utero surgery was successful.  Until -- pop! -- at 19 weeks, Twin A's water broke and the resident on duty at 4 a.m. suggested we induce, terminating the pregnancy. We said no thanks. We were sent home to await the impending labor, or, hope against hope, make it to 23 weeks still pregnant and without infection. Enter: Tom Petty, 1981 -- the truest song that ever was -- "the waiting is the hardest part."

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Sigh. Those weeks of bed rest stretched out before me like all the slot machines in Vegas. Sure, there was technically a chance, but only a sucker would bet on those odds. I wish I could tell you I went right on planning the nursery from my bed and wrote a children's book about some buck-toothed farm animals, but I can't. However, I can tell you how to cryogenically preserve your sanity in light of impending doom. 

Step One: Eat the Cheetos

Despite marital protestations, I usually prefer a whole food diet and make most of our meals. I stay away from ingredients I can't pronounce, and artificial anything. But, being in a situation where your total lack of control becomes crystal clear changes you. I started having bizarre cravings. Mostly for tequila and cigarettes, but also steak and waffles from Waffle House, Taco Bell tacos with shiny, nubbly beef. Some cravings I couldn't bring myself to indulge (and I really wanted that tequila), but others I embraced wholeheartedly. Like spicy fried chicken sandwiches. And Cheetos. 

Once I began to feel the effects of low-quality carbo-loading, my mind filled with a pleasant fog. As much as I wanted to nourish my children in the womb with whole grains and asparagus spears, the reality is this: Cheese grits, chips, and gas station fruit pies are what my children are made of.

Step Two: Pray and Cry

Most NICUs will not resuscitate a baby earlier than 23 weeks -- these babies don't usually breathe on their own and their systems are so underdeveloped that if they survive, they have lifelong medical issues. Every hour was a small victory and I gave thanks for each uneventful night, each breakfast with the babies. I prayed through the Psalms with a book a far-off friend mailed to me. I cried so very many tears. I knew things were beyond my control and the helplessness, the fear of each moment, was overwhelming. The weeks between PPROM (preterm premature rupture of membranes) and viability were the hardest three weeks of my life. I still suffer from mild PTSD.

Step Three: Let People Visit

You're crabby, you feel like a beached whale, you're living in the front parlor because you're forbidden to tread stairs. And, let's face it, you smell downright gamy. It's tempting to isolate yourself, but too much alone time can really hurt you in the mental game that is bed rest and PPROM. Let people see you and help you and feed you, even when you feel like a creature and not a person. 

Step Four: Binge Watch

I've heard of people using bed rest to write novels, but I couldn't even read one. I would flip a page and not remember what was on it. A friend shipped me a box of trashy celebrity magazines, and those were delightful to consume, but didn't last long. I found a bright and sunny murder mystery called Death in Paradise on Netflix and dove in, watching all available seasons on my laptop.

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At last, I reached that thrilling date of viability, 23 weeks. I was transferred to the hospital to continue bed rest. There, I discovered a channel that played Law and Order: SVU. All. Day. Long. I'll probably never watch that show again, as long as I live. But Benson and Stabler were there for me, decoding clues I was too high on junk food to catch, nabbing the bad guys and wrapping things up in the span of an hour. I could break my days into mentally manageable chunks.

Step Five: Find Every Excuse to Party

Lying flat on my back with straps cinched on my belly for two-hour non-stress tests twice a day was painful. It was summer and I wanted to be at the beach. So I asked my nurse to flick on the light directly above me, and I went to the beach. I imagined the waves and the wind, the sand under my feet. That horrid overhead light shone right through my eyelids and, while that was bothersome for the other 22 hours each day, it was just like the summer sun for those two hours. 

To mark each additional week of the babies staying "in," my husband and I threw theme parties -- Parisian Picnic, English Equestrian, Yippy Chihuahuas. People became so comfortable visiting Hotel Hospital, as we came to call it, that there was rarely a day I didn't have someone come by. My lovely nursing staff on 5 West, the hospital's antepartum wing, began casually pointing the way to my room whenever grinning visitors came through the doors. 

Step Six: Shine

It seemed like everything that could go wrong did. But everything that had to go right ... somehow happened. I held on for 31 weeks and 5 days, when I suffered a placental abruption and underwent an emergency C-section. We knew there was still a possibility that Twin A's lungs hadn't developed because her sac broke so early.

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There is no sound that I will cherish more in this lifetime than her angry squeak as she was lifted into the light. A doctor later apologized when he learned I'd had an emergency C. I told him there was no need. It was the best day of my life. 

Things don't always go as planned and the road you travel isn't always smooth. Occasionally, we're faced with a situation which makes this fact shine. What I learned from walking a hard road was: You can shine back.

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