Disclaimer: This story contains graphic photos of child loss that may be triggering to some.
“I was 19 years old when I found out I was pregnant with quadruplets. I was in the ER, of all places. We had 3 babies in one sac, and 1 in another. We were asked if were taking fertility drugs, or IVF. Of course, at 19, I was not. My first trimester was rough with constant morning sickness, a move to a different state, and finding good doctors. I was anxious, nervous, but mostly excited.
I had 2 doctors, a high-risk doctor, as well as my regular OBGYN. I was seen weekly with alternating my doctors each week. At 15 weeks along, I had an appointment with my regular OB, and it was also the day we were supposed to find out all the genders! As we got settled in the ultrasound room, I lifted my shirt over my already round baby bump to get ready to see them all again. The ultrasound tech first started with Baby D, but the baby wasn’t moving much, so she moved on to Baby C, then Baby B, then Baby A. As she went back to Baby D, I started to get nervous. The baby was smaller, and not moving around anywhere near as much as the others. The tech said she was going to be right back. I kept telling myself, ‘It’s going to be okay. Everything is okay.’
As she walked back into the ultrasound room, my OB followed her in. He sat down and sighed, ‘Ms. Keller, I am so sorry, but we were unable to find a heartbeat in Baby D.’ I still remember my heart breaking, or at least that’s what it felt like. I was sent over to my high-risk doctor’s office for further testing. Our 3 identical babies were sharing 1 placenta, but it just wasn’t enough to sustain them all. I was told I would still have to carry her so there’s no risk to my other 3 babies. That evening, we found out the genders: ALL girls! We knew we would have 3 of 1 gender, but we didn’t think Baby A was going to be a girl too! Still, we were blessed to have 3 beautiful healthy girls, and one perfect angel watching over us.
Between my 18-week appointment and 19-week appointment, I stopped feeling the girls move. I called the on-call doctor for answers, but I was only told it was still too early to feel a lot of movement. I was weary, but I calmed myself as best I could. When I went in for my 19-week appointment at my high-risk doctor’s office, I was scared. I prayed, I talked out loud to God, and begged him for everything to be okay. I could see the screen for my ultrasound as the tech moved the wand around on me. I knew almost immediately that something was wrong. I felt helpless. The tech left the room, and I started to cry. I looked at my fiancé and said, ‘I can’t lose my babies. I can’t.’ When the tech came back into the room, my high-risk doctor followed. I knew that I was right. Again, the words were burned right into me, ‘Babies B and C no longer have heartbeats.’ She then went on to explain that I did still have to carry them, but I had a chance for natural birth, as well as not having to be hospitalized as early for monitoring.
At the next appointment, it was found that my cervix was starting to give out on me. ‘What else could go wrong?’ I asked. Both my doctors advised for bed rest. That’s what I did. I didn’t walk everywhere. I stayed in bed for the most part. I didn’t want to risk a thing. Sadly, at my 21-week appointment, there were no good changes. I was admitted into the hospital the next day. I had to stay strong and keep going so my survivor could have a chance.
2 weeks stuck in a hospital bed was not fun to say the least. You never know how much you appreciate everyday things until you’re forced not to use them. I had to take bed baths and had to use a bedside commode. It took some of my dignity, but I told myself it was all going to be worth it in the end.
On New Year’s Day, my fiancé, my grandma, and I were celebrating. They brought lunch for me and we all drank Sparkling grape juice. It was almost a normal thing. That night, Tyler was with me. He slept on the couch that was in the room. He was lying down, watching YouTube videos on his phone while I played with social media on my phone. I was trying to go to sleep, but my back was hurting, and I was very uncomfortable. I could still feel my baby girl move, so I wasn’t too worried. Eventually, I called the nurse to ask for some Tylenol. When the nurse walks in, about 5 minutes after I called, she asks if I had a headache or if it was for something else. I explained to her about my back and how I was uncomfortable.
She didn’t show any cautious emotions, but still hooked me up to a monitor. Shortly after, the pain started coming and going, each time more intense than the last. The monitor showed each ‘pain’ as a contraction. It did not take long for them to get close together and almost unbearable. More nurses flooded into my room to hook me up to an IV and check me. After 3 nurses trying, I was told that I was fully dilated, and my water bag was poking through my cervix. About 2 minutes after that, my water broke. It was everywhere. I didn’t think it was ever going to stop.
I was petrified. It was too early. I wasn’t even 24 weeks along yet. I kept crying out, ‘Please wait! It’s too early! She’s going to be too small!’ I remember all the commotion and my fiancé’s face looking petrified but trying so hard not to show that to me. He stayed next to my bed as the nurses ran me down the hall to the OR. I felt alone once in that OR, even with what seemed like half of the hospital staff in there. I just wanted it to be over, but more importantly I wanted my baby to be okay. I was trying to prepare myself for the worst.
I woke up in recovery a couple hours later. I was groggy and in pain. My fiancé and my grandma were right there when I opened my eyes. My fiancé looked at me, and I’m pretty sure he’d been crying. Athena was born at 12:40 a.m. She had a bad start. She wasn’t breathing for a while, but they got her back and then rushed her to the NICU. She was 1lb 5oz and 12 inches long. I remember being wheeled into the NICU not long after that. She was the tiniest baby I had ever laid my eyes on. She was hooked up to so many tubes and wires. Her skin was see through, her eyes were still fused shut, and even her ears weren’t fully formed. Yet, she was still the most beautiful thing. Her 3 sisters were born sleeping.
At 3 days old, Athena’s doctors did a head ultrasound. It showed a Grade 4 Bilateral brain bleed. My heart sank. They informed me that they were going to do weekly ultrasounds to keep an eye on it. At a week old, a belly ultrasound showed a small hole in her intestines. I remember standing away from her isolette, watching them take pictures with a machine. I remember feeling helpless, hopeless. I needed everything to be alright. It was an isolated perforation, and only needed a small procedure to put a drain in her belly. She also had a collapsed lung, but She fought like a champ and overcame that.
I sat in the NICU for hours every single day. Just sitting outside of her isolette, reading books to her, and writing in a journal. I would peek into the isolette to see her move her arms or legs. Her care times were the best. It was when I was able to change her diaper and dip a cotton swab in breastmilk and swab her mouth with it. It was hard changing a diaper that small.
At 17 days old, she was stable enough for skin to skin. Which means I was finally going to be able to hold her! She was still intubated, still had her drain, and still had a million wires around her, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to hold my baby. It was the best feeling in the world. She seemed so aware of everything, but it felt so natural once she was on my chest. She rested for 2 whole hours. I didn’t want to put her back, but I knew it was what she needed.
Things were good for a while. Her SAT’s were great, her vent settings were amazing. At Day 29, I call at about midnight to the NICU to check on Athena. I was informed that she pulled her vent out and was now on NIPPV. That’s a nasal canula that blows air for her to help initiate breaths, but she was ultimately breathing on her own. Tyler (fiancé) and I RUSHED to the NICU to see her. We waited for 2 hours until her care time so we can hear her for the first time. She had the tiniest cry. It was so bittersweet to hear. A few days after that, we got fantastic news that her head ultrasound showed NO more brain bleed. Nurses were calling her a miracle!
When she was almost 2 months old, I got a call at about 7 a.m. It was her nurse for the day, and she explained I needed to get to the hospital. As we got there, my heart started to race. I walked up to her isolette and she was intubated again. Her little belly was big and dark. She didn’t move when we changed her because she was so sick. She was diagnosed with NEC (necrotizing enterocolitis), where a part of the intestines is infected and/or dead. With much luck, they caught it early and surgery was not needed. She was retaining a lot of fluid and looked miserable. Luckily, after 3 days, she was no longer intubated, and lost a bit of the fluid. She started to look like a normal baby!
After the infection passed, it was some smooth sailing. She did have some feeding issues, and it took her a while to get off oxygen, but she did it. She was a warrior through all of that. Next thing we know, on Day 126, we were told it was time. It was time to room in at the hospital with her and we could take her home the next day. They had to run tests, such as a car seat test, as well as an MRI to make sure her brain bleed was still gone. It was a whirlwind of emotions, but we were ready. SO ready!
It was a nerve-racking night. There were no monitors, no nurses looking over our shoulder, and we didn’t have to wear a gown just to hold her. We did it though! On Day 127, we packed up and got her ready. It was time to go HOME! God, it was so bittersweet. I was a nervous wreck, but a good nervous. It took some time to adjust. We didn’t get any sleep, but it was all so worth it. I highly believe it was her sisters who helped her through it all.
Now here in 2020, we just passed her 3rd birthday. She’s so healthy. She does have some delays in speech that we started working on last year, and she struggles with weight. Other than that, she is perfect. She has a little brother, Zachariah, who is a year and a half. He came out and had no NICU stay. They’ve been best friends from the start.
For anyone who has a micro-preemie, they can get through it! For anyone struggling with child loss, tou can get through it! Having a micro-preemie taught me so much. It taught me to appreciate every small detail and to be patient. Athena taught me how to be strong. She taught me how to get through the dark times. She saved me.
She’s my hero, and she doesn’t even know it.”
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This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tori Keller of Athen, Alabama. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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