‘We’ll need swings for two babies.’ I told my daughter, ‘Not this time.’ Then my doctor whispered, ‘You won’t believe this.’: Woman gives birth to preemie rainbow twins

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“When I was around 18 months old, I was run over by a car in my driveway. It was a complete accident and the complete miracle that changed the course of my future family’s life.

Engaged at 19 years old, I was told by more than one doctor our chances of getting pregnant ourselves were slim to none. But 17 days married, we found ourselves pregnant with a daughter who not only slid her way through birth control but also through my infertility diagnosis. My teenage self could not believe it, but a miracle nonetheless.

I suffered a subchorionic hemorrhage during this pregnancy but we made it pretty close to term at 36 weeks. It was just the three of us for over 3 years. During that time, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. It has no cure. That, combined with the result of my car accident, led us to fight an infertility battle together. We had two miscarriages in 1 year and after six rounds of fertility treatments, we made the decision to take a breather from the madness that comes with those treatments.

Sandra Lilly Photo & Video

We ended up opting for one last try before taking another route to grow our family and giving ourselves a well-deserved rest. I sat one last time in a waiting room for another day of measuring follicles. I told my husband there was no need to come. And there I sat, with the bravest face I could put on for the 3-year-old watching me. As usual, she asked me if we would bring home a baby. Instead of feeding her the typical hope I not-so-easily carried with us to those appointments, I told her, ‘Not this time.’ In her typical innocent and confident fashion, she said, ‘We’ll need two swings for two babies.’ I was relieved at the fact she wasn’t carrying the burden I was feeling, but I still had nothing left to tell her.

I walked into another exam room I’d come to know so well, laid back, slipped my feet into stirrups once more, and closed my eyes for another unbearable assessment. One that would hurt but one I’d grown to get through with clenched fists and private tantrums of scream-cries. This was my life. This was my bi-weekly routine. The silence lasted as usual and I opened my eyes to read the ultrasound screen. Pulsing cysts everywhere. Typical. Then my doctor whispered, ‘You’re not going to believe this… there’s two.’ I shot back, ‘Two what?’

I was having two babies. I was going to buy two swings for two babies. I looked over at my daughter, who had her arms folded and she said, very matter-of-factly, ‘I told you.’ My doctor scanned back and forth, several times, until he eventually said, ‘It’s a miracle, nonetheless.’

I carried those babies until my body could not any longer. On June 27, at 1 a.m., we made our way to the emergency room. Both of us expected a quick visit to stop some preterm contractions. Before I knew it, the medical staff surrounded me. I locked eyes with my daughter through all the arms and bodies that swarmed me. My arms were strapped, I was put on a sped-up magnesium drip and my body felt like it lit a fire from the inside out. I was in and out of consciousness and remember feeling relief when I passed out. Then I heard someone say, ‘Call someone to pick up your daughter. She can’t be here. You are having these babies.’ I have to say, this was the easy part. The events that followed are ones tearing my soul right open and somehow put me right back together into a completely different human being.

Sandra Lilly Photo & Video

It was a second-trimester delivery, at just 27 weeks gestation. Alice Mae and Archer were born, weighing 1 pound, 12 ounces, and 1 pound, 15 ounces. Both of those bodies went septic and at the same time, I became very sick. I was told to quarantine for 10 days and I did. I slept with my cell phone volume on as loud as it would go. We answered phone calls with nurses worried the babies would not make it through the night. I watched their dad pull out of the driveway to rush to the hospital several times while I stayed home, quarantined, and hoped for the best without knowing who would be alive tomorrow. I had no control left.

Their lives were in critical condition and both of them had to be intubated to live. Archie suffered an esophageal perforation during his intubation to save his life simply because it is a hard task to perform on a 1-pound body. He went septic a second time, I completed my 10-day quarantine, and I walked into the room housing my babies again. I missed them and when I saw them, I couldn’t believe it. It was a miracle, nonetheless.

Sandra Lilly Photo & Video
Sandra Lilly Photo & Video

There was no way they should still be alive, but I was looking right at them in foggy isolates. Their bodies were previously wrapped in plastic body suits to protect their fragile skin. At that moment, I promised I would not show up there to say goodbye, even though I had prepared to do so many times. At 16 days, I held each of them for the first time. My husband and I rotated visits at the hospital so one of us could share our love with our daughter, Adeline, at home. A balance that hurt for all of us to learn. At 36 days, I got to hold both twins together for the first time since their separation at birth. At 66 days, our daughter came to meet her siblings for the first time through a glass window. It was not what I imagined, but it was a miracle, nonetheless. It was magic. Just a different kind that I didn’t know existed until then.

Courtesy of Tiffany Zubal

82 days went by. Every night for 82 days, we left without them. We showed up every morning for 82 days. For 82 days, I watched nurses whisper the most gentle words to my babies.

The biggest lie I have ever been told is I will never be given more than I could handle. I had babies 92 days early. That was more than I could handle. Trying to mother children who I could not save on my own was more than I could handle. Watching my babies through an isolate was more than I could handle. Waiting to hold them and watching my oldest daughter wait to meet them was more than I could handle. Meeting 1 pound bodies was more than I could handle. Experiencing loss and then experiencing human beings who wavered every day between death and life was more than I could handle.

Prematurity is rarely addressed but when it is, it has a summary line that goes something like this: ‘The majority of preterm survivors are found to do well and live fairly normal lives.’ While that statement is medically correct, it is extremely deceptive. I discovered this during our journey of prematurity. It is a difficult subject to talk about, to read about, to witness, and to learn about. But unless we start talking about the reality of what uncomfortable things are really like, we are denying ourselves the opportunity to connect with another human being. We do not need to experience the same things to practice compassion for one another. Let’s stop and listen to each other.

Sandra Lilly Photo & Video

It’s time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable to be present in someone else’s pain. But it is comfortable to tell someone, ‘Everything happens for a reason,’ because, as humans, we like to be another person’s fixer. That’s what we are trying to do when we use that phrase.

The reality, though, is that we are covering up their pain instead of letting them feel it. Nothing can heal from what you don’t allow yourself to feel. I am not trying to say it’s wrong to try to find comfort when we experience unbearable pain. But we need to realize there is also true power in unpleasant feelings because it can teach us how to be present with others in their pain instead of telling them to be quiet when we say, ‘Everything happens for a reason.’

I want to thank the people who have allowed me the privilege to hear their stories and experiences. I’m not talking about the pretty ones, I’m talking about the messy ones I haven’t experienced in my own life. I’m certain I probably rarely show up perfectly for you, but you have taught me to notice the way others have shown up for me. It’s a hard thing to do, to show up imperfectly, but let’s keep doing it.

Here is the truth: you will be given more than you can handle. And when that happens, people will show up to scoop up your oldest daughter, take her for lunch, and have lots of grandparent and cousin sleepovers. Doctors you barely know will put their hands on your shoulders and tell you they see you when you’ve experienced multiple miscarriages. The best neonatologists in the country will be there to intubate your children. NICU nurses and respiratory therapists will be there to fight the best they can to keep your babies alive. Your boss and co-workers will worry for you and send hope to you. People will show up for you, most likely uncomfortably and maybe sometimes saying the wrong things, but they’ll show up.

And showing up imperfectly is better than not showing up at all. Life is a miracle, nonetheless.”

Sandra Lilly Photo & Video

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tiffany Zubal. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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