Surviving Depression After Preemie Twins
Nothing about my pregnancy, delivery or introduction into motherhood was what I had thought it would be like. I struggled throughout my pregnancy, often feeling like a bad mother before I even was one because of how much I did not enjoy being pregnant. Hearing other pregnant women talking about how wonderful they felt and how amazing their experience had been only made me feel worse. I was pregnant with twins and it felt like every side effect of being pregnant was magnified. Don’t get me wrong- I loved having my babies in there. I could feel them kicking and moving around all the time but as a human being, all I felt was uncomfortable and huge… I had put on almost fifty pounds. I was extremely swollen all over. I couldn’t find shoes that would fit. I hadn’t slept well at all throughout my entire pregnancy. I often felt nauseous. I had terrible arthritis in my hands. I felt hot all the time. My skin felt like it was about to rip open from how stretched I was. I had to pee every twenty minutes. I felt hungry all the time, even after just eating. Needless to say, I hadn’t been comfortable in my own skin since I found out I was pregnant.
I often found myself thinking about how much happier I would be once they were both out in the world. Little did I know at the time, they would make their appearance twelve weeks too soon. The guilt of all that wishing they were out and then having to rush into the hospital for an emergency C-section at 28 weeks did not sit well on my conscience. I felt guilty. It was my fault they were out here in the world fighting for their life because I couldn’t give them what they needed inside. Every wire that was attached to their body- my fault. Every IV, pic line and needle that penetrated their translucent skin- my fault. Every breath they couldn’t take and a nurse had to run in to intervene- my fault. Every cry because something hurt and we couldn’t comfort them in their isolette- my fault.
Over the first few weeks, the guilt began to subside on this front. My babies were flourishing and as a human being, I knew I couldn’t blame myself for this… honestly, I couldn’t blame anyone. It was just how God created my pregnancy- Grace’s placenta was not giving her the nutrients she needed and in this world outside, the nurses and doctors could make sure she had what she needed. I had done everything right… no drugs or alcohol, took my prenatal vitamin every day, ate healthy, tried to work out when I could. A healthy pregnancy just was not in the cards for us but due to the amazing technology and team at MGH, they could do for my babies what my body couldn’t for them. It made me sad that we never got those adorable pictures when they were minutes old in our arms because I was too busy being stitched back together and they were too busy being rushed to the NICU. We can never get that back… it was just one of the many things I had to work through during our time in the hospital. Our celebrations were day by day rather than large milestones… we celebrated small things like Grace’s pic line coming out, moving from the NICU to Special Care, Cole drinking a whole bottle, increasing feeds milliliter by milliliter and gaining weight ounce by ounce.
I focused on the positives and small wins for the remainder of our hospital stay and we were so excited when Cole and Grace came home. I think at this point was where I felt like I would start to feel better. I was home. My babies were home, healthy and safe. We had great support from our families and close friends. Many people were helpful- sending meals, cleaning our house, helping with laundry, sending gifts, etc. Much to my dismay, it did not get better… it got much worse.
My depression got worse for a variety of different reasons. My kids were home but up until the moment they left the hospital, they continue to have self-resolving breathing episodes. Now, I know in my heart of hearts, no one at MGH would have let us go home if they were at risk but when you watch your babies stop breathing for months, you have this fear in your mind all the time that they could just die in their cribs and you wouldn’t even notice. Because of this fear, it led to my next problem. I never slept. I’d lie down listening to my husband sleep soundly and get up to check them in their bassinettes every five minutes until complete exhaustion took over. I was literally running on nothing. Not sleeping then let to anxiety and panic around not sleeping. I’d fear the night. The night was when no one was there to help. It was just Geoff and I with Grace and Cole and they were, at minimum, up every three hours to eat (for about 1.5 hours each time between pumping, prepping them, feeding them and getting them back to sleep).
I remember the first panic attack… I was sitting on my couch trying to eat dinner while Geoff and my sister were holding the babies. Suddenly, tears welled up in my eyes and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I kept trying to get myself to relax and I couldn’t. I wanted to take a break from my own life. I felt alone even though I was constantly surrounded by people. I felt overwhelmed and so afraid that this was never going to get any better. My sister asked if I was okay and I couldn’t even explain to her what was happening… I’d never had anything like this happen to me before. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it because I felt like it made me a bad, ungrateful mother. My kids were home, they survived and I wasn’t happy. The attacks started happening more and more frequently after that until I went to see someone.
I started seeing a Social Worker closer to home over the summer. She helped immensely. She let me talk about my fears, my stresses, my exhaustion and my depression. I always assumed PPD meant that you wanted to harm yourself or your baby… that wasn’t what was happening to me at all. She explained that depression can rear its ugly head in a variety of ways... For me, I became anxious because my twins were premature and spent months in the hospital. My mental health was declining due to lack of sleep. I was mourning the loss of my old life- being able to go out when I wanted to, take a shower when I wanted to, read a book when I wanted to, etc. I felt depressed because I stayed in my pajamas all day, never slept, rarely left my house and was so jealous of those women and babies who had a much easier road. It all made perfect sense- my life was in a complete transition with no sleep and I had to mourn the loss of that life and process all the changes before I could be happy about them.
We also asked for more help around night time. I needed to sleep more so we set up bassinettes in our living room (the babies would have a safe place out of our room to sleep) so we could get help later at night and earlier in the morning so we could at least sleep some… even if it was 8-11pm and then 6-10 am. It was also easier for us to have a quiet place to nap during the day when we had help. We also went on vacation without our infants so we could relax and sleep.
Getting to a good place mentally took a lot of work and a lot of time. For me, as time passed, everything became easier because I became adjusted to this new life. I became used to staying at home more. I stopped worrying so much because each morning my babies were still alive and smiling up at me. I became used to less sleep (and found ways to get more of it!). My babies began to grin and laugh, which brought me so much joy. I also joined a Mothers of Multiples group and having that support from other twin and triplet mothers who were experiencing similar issues was so comforting. I stayed connected though Facebook with acquaintances who quickly became close friends who had preemies and bonded with them. That social media connection gave me someone to reach out to a two in the morning for support… I can’t tell you how many conversations I had at 3 am with these women who were up doing the same thing as me- rocking a baby or attached to breast pump. I didn’t feel so alone anymore.
Are there days I still struggle? Absolutely. I am still jealous when I see posts on Facebook about a woman being 37 weeks pregnant, with her full belly and big smile. I have to remind myself to be happy for others when they deliver a gorgeous baby vaginally at full-term. I cringe when I see pictures of a mom and dad holding their beautiful baby in the hospital bed seconds after being delivered. I cry when I see pictures of twins going home from the hospital on the same day. I definitely still have to bite my tongue when a mom of one, healthy baby complains or better yet, wishes she had twins. I still feel guilty about something every day when it comes to my twins because they only get half of me while singletons get all of their parents. I still have walk away when a stranger on the street says how small Grace is. I still have to practice breathing in and out when I see the NICU on Grey’s Anatomy or Chicago Med. I still have to fight through the guilt, the jealousy and the outside noise every single day.
Now, I go to bed every night reminding myself I did the best I could for my babies today and for right now, that’s enough to lift any depressing thoughts because they are true miracles and they light up my life. Our pregnancy, delivery and first many months of life were not typical because they are not typical. They are gorgeous and funny and the strongest little fighters I know. They aren’t going to remember the months they spent in the hospital or their years spent in Early Intervention or the many follow up doctor’s appointments they have had or that they crawled or walked later than most babies. They aren’t going to remember which one I picked up first in the middle of the night or who got fed first.
What I hope they remember is being constantly loved from the moment they took their first breath. I hope they always know how much their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends love them. I hope they know that they have a bond with their womb mate that can never be compared. I hope they know that they are different from most other human beings because they are truly miracles…