November 5. The twins are home! Writing those words -- suddenly -- it's shocking. I feel a kind of buzz come over me. But they're home, truly home, resting right now in a crib, together, in our bedroom.
We had heard that Stella would be coming home last Thursday, October 29. The factors here were simple: can she maintain her own body temperature, can she keep gaining weight, and can she sleep in an open crib, and can she take a bottle for 3 days? She passed the tests, and we were given the call. Come get your child, the NICU nurse said, it's homecoming day.
I had been envisioning this moment for 11 long weeks. I have not missed a day of seeing them, even if only fleetingly at night, after a busy day in the office. Eleven weeks, or 77 days, or 1,848 hours. And now here was my baby girl, Estella Faye, coming home.
I didn't feel like cracking, though, which is what I thought would happen. No I only steeled myself for more, because I knew the story was not done. Luna would stay for another week or two. They had attempted to keep her in the open crib, but her temperature kept falling.
Jenny & I met the NICU nurse about three in the afternoon. The nurse on duty has been through alot with us -- she'd been the primary nurse. Jenny embraced her, and nearly broke into tears. I couldn't watch. I filled out paper work. I got the car seat ready. I pulled Tallulah's art work off the white boards. Over the course of weeks, Tallulah had put together about a dozen drawings, in various shades of crayon, of us, of the twins, of her, of the NICU, etc.
We left after about an hour, with Estella in her car seat. I carried her. The car seat felt light and vulnerable. I peeked down at her every few strides, nestled in blankets. Only her little scrunched face appeared. I didn't feel great. I felt nervous. I thought a great deal about how much longer we would have, about how many more nights I'd be coming to see Luna.
But it wouldn't be that long. Not at all. It would only be a few days. To our shock, the NICU nurses and docs began testing Luna again, in the open crib, and for this round, she passed. Only two days after Estella was discharged, we got the phone call from the nurse -- it was for Luna to come home as well.
The same routine -- Jenny & I are arriving around 3pm, filling out paperwork, tearing down artwork. I was surprised only to see Luna in her new crib -- if you could call it a crib. They had turned over the large crib to another kid, and Luna was now resting, swathed in blankets, in what was essentially a giant stainless steel pan. So this is where her journey would end then -- from the dozens of wires inside of a incubator, to a cold steel tray, and a waiting car.
This departure from the hospital rocked me more than Estella's. This was it. We would not be coming back. Our time at NICU would be over. We walked slowly out of the pods, and Jenny said good-bye to a few nurses. The primary nurse carried Luna now, and I think it was a moment of pride for her, to see these two girls she'd cared for weeks on end finally end their journey.
I had washed my hands with the blood red soap one last time. I had squirted my hands with the alcohol sanitizer one last time. I'd sat in the green pleather rocker and held Luna one last time while Jenny signed off on some forms. I took a last look around the "pod," where the walls were now occuped with new isolettes, with new kids.
A woman immediately to our left was having pictures of her baby made. She'd been with us since the arrival of the twins. Her boy would be going home the next day, although with an oxygen monitor. She is much younger than us, and I've never seen the father, although he has come in daily. She wears tight jeans and hoop earrings and talks on the cell phone. Her boy is huge, over six pounds. We say our good-byes.
Walking out of the NICU with Jenny and the nurse carrying Luna was a deeply moving experience. But I didn't want to fall apart. I had set a goal of this moment, and now it had come, and I savored it. I don't ever want to go back to that place. I don't ever want to have to go through the agony again. We walked slowly through the lobby, past the sinks. I asked the secretary to buzz the door, and the door opened, and out we walked, for the last time. A few moments later, I'd pulled the car out of the parking deck and idled it in front of the hospital.
It was a Sunday afternoon. We were by ourselves in the driveway. The nurse and Jenny came out and I opened up the back of the car. It was quiet, desolate, and overcast. I clipped the car seat into place. I gave the nurse a hug. Jenny passed along her business card and then gave the nurse a gift, a set of necklaces that she had made -- a moon, and a star, for our kids.
This nurse has been taking care of premature babies for over twenty years. She took the present quietly, and embraced Jenny and told us to call her if we needed anything. Then the double doors of the hospital closed behind her. She moved quickly back into the hospitals, to the elevators I'd been riding for weeks, back to the NICU, back to work.
Then we were on our own. Estella, 5 pounds. Luna, 4 pounds. Ready for living.
I had thought very little about what life would be like for us, Tallulah and the twins when we brought them home. I remember mentioning to Jenny that the things most folks complained about when having babies -- the sleepless nights, the dirty diapers, the incessant crying -- all of that seemed like it would be a wonderful experience for us, nothing to complain about at all. Just get the girls home.
I wish I'd thought about it more. Getting the kids home was a revelation. This was going to be serious, twenty-four hour work. The past two weeks have been overwhelming, frightening, and profound. We've endured some frightening choking incidents, several doctor visits, and some long, long nights of wailing and gargling.
A few days ago, we had to take both girls in to a scheduled appointment with a pediatric surgeon.
Luna has a hernia, which she has had for some time. The hernia is actually one of her ovaries, which has popped through the folds of her lower abdomen. Estella is still living (thriving) with a cyst in one of the lobes of her lungs. This will likely require some surgery.
Jenny & I sat together in the small, dank doctor's office with the twins in car seats on the floor before us. We talked, we waited. Every now and then, Luna or Estella would squawk or sigh. They were nestled under blankets, under the hoods of the car seats, only their small pink faces visible. These are our kids. These are survivors, endurance champions. Jenny & I fell quiet, looking down, finally, in a way, willing to believe that we would get through this, and that more, more than we dared to dream was about to happen to us, and happen for a long, long time. It seemed to get very, very quiet in that room just then, and very still, and I thought that so much of what had happened to us was beautiful, lovely luck, and it was all only the start, only the smallest of pivots against the greater, huge wedge of the living to come. I waited. I tensed. I smiled at Jenny. She smiled back at me. We looked at our twins, and just then, there was that knock at the door. And so it begins.