Being two months premature meant they needed to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for two weeks, while I stayed in the nearby Ronald McDonald house, visiting them four to five times a day to deliver tiny bottles of milk – just about the only thing I could do for my babies the first week. I wasn’t even allowed to hold them the first week because they were being kept within isolettes (incubators, basically), and breathing with the help of respirators.
By the second week they were doing much better, breathing on their own and I could hold them for a few minutes at a time. Grace had a heart condition that is common with premature babies, but fortunately medication worked to improve it and over the next few weeks her heart had caught up to her early birthdate. There were many other babies in the NICU that were not faring so well. Babies as early as 23 weeks, as small as my hand, encased in tiny oxygen tents. At the Ronald McDonald house, we met the parents of a one month old baby that had just had a heart transplant. We met other parents with children with cancer and children on dialysis waiting and praying for organ donations. Everyday we realized how blessed we were with our healthy babies, that just needed a little extra time to catch up.
The second week my mother-in-law, Joy, came to stay with me at the Ronald McDonald house so B. could go back to work. In the meantime my parents had been taking care of our older girls, Blaze and Dreamer, for three weeks while I was on bedrest and in the hospital. The girls were finally able to come down and stay with us. The Ronald McDonald house was like a vacation for them! It had lots of play stuff including larger-than-life, fully-furred statues of two of their favorite Disney monsters, Sullivan and Mike.
Volunteers would come over two or three nights a week to make dinner for all the residents and set up special activities for the kids (making gingerbread houses, playing games, etc). Before leaving the Ronald McDonald house, we were showered with donated Christmas presents for all five of our girls (even my stepdaughter). We could hardly fit all the presents in our van!
By Dec 19, two weeks after their birthday, we got the much anticipated permission from our insurance company to transfer the twins to the hospital in Laramie – which meant we could finally go home for Christmas! (A side note: the cost of transferring two babies on the same ambulance 150 miles was almost $10,000, PER BABY! Even though the transfer was pre-approved, we still spent the next 9 months fighting with the insurance company to get the amount paid).
The twins spent another week and half in the Laramie hospital, learning how to eat (babies born before 34 weeks gestation do not yet have the ability to nurse or take a bottle). Even when we brought them home from the hospital, Grace still had to be hooked up to oxygen for another couple weeks to handle Laramie’s high elevation and thin air. Up until then we’d had nurses taking care of them round the clock, and now we had to take over. They had to be fed every three hours, and feeding both of them could take up to an hour! B. is my hero for taking the 3 am feeding every night for a month. Fortunately Serious and Starlet gained weight fast and were actually sleeping through the night by three months. The twins were basically quarantined at home because preemies are more susceptible to sickness, in fact Grace spent three days in the hospital again with pneumonia. I couldn’t have survived those first few months without tons of help from my parents, B.’s parents, neighbors and friends bringing us meals, my Aunt Margie coming for two weeks to help (and giving me time to catch up on some sleep), and the help of a part-time nanny so I could keep my sanity by getting out of the house every other day!
We’ve come a long way… Serious and Starlet are already a year old, crawling all over the place and starting to cruise. It’s kind of like having little gremlins in the house, you never know where a baby is going to pop up, usually in some kind of mischief. They have completely different personalities. The doctor’s comment about Serious when she was in the NICU was that “this one doesn’t know she was born early; she’s ready to go.” She has always been a little ahead of her sister – the first to sit up, the first to crawl; usually the first to cry, too. She is always exploring, and loudly vocalizing her opinions about the world. She is also likes to crawl over her sister (why go the long way around?), and will often pause to pummel her sister in the process. Don’t feel too sorry for sensitive, wide-eyed little Starlet, though. On many occasions I have seen her steal her sister’s pacifier. She is good at pulling her sister’s hair too.
Blaze is six now, loving kindergarten, and taking after me with a passion for “writing” books. Actually, she dictates the stories to me, or to Grandma H, we write them down for her, and then she illustrates them. She adores her baby sisters and pitched in helping with them right away, doing just about everything but changing their diapers (we let her try that once, but she hasn’t volunteered since).
Dreamer is three years old and loves to play dress-up and copy everything Blaze does. She does pretty well with her baby sisters except sometimes she tells them they are being too noisy. For a while she thought their car seats were her own personal play toys. I have found various dolls and toy horses strapped into the car seats, complete with blankets tucked in around them.
My stepdaughter, Stars, is about to turn 13 years old and is already better at walking in high heels than I am. She still plays a good mean game of monopoly with me when she comes to visit (except we play a version called horseopoly). Blaze and Dreamer can usually talk her into playing Candyland with them too – and even better yet, she’ll fix their hair fancy for them. Stars and I frequently trade books and whenever we finish a good book we call each other and tell all about it (except the ending, of course).
I am still working part time (going to my office is almost a vacation for me, so quiet and peaceful compared to all the noise at home). I still manage to find time to ride my horses once in a while and go hiking in the mountains. B. is still running large machinery, moving lots of dirt and occasionally the extra special treat of getting to tear down a building.
He is also doing a lot of plumbing on the side and is in the process of partnering up to start a new plumbing business. He still doesn’t care much for the plumbing business, but we decided we like the money it makes well enough to give it another go. As if that doesn’t keep him busy enough, he is working on his degree again, taking two classes a semester, and he started two new hobbies this year as well: rebuilding wrecked trucks for re-sale, and team roping.
For those of you who have never had the pleasure of going to a rodeo, team roping is where two guys on horses chase down a steer, one of them ropes it around the horns and the other ropes one of it hind legs. When he first started out, B. wasn’t very good at roping steers so he would practice roping my horse, Rebel, or one of our barn cats, or any other moving or stationary target, including small children. The kids don’t mind though because whenever it snows, their dad will put a rope on their sled and pull them behind his horse (at speeds that make their mother a little nervous).
When B. got pretty good at roping this fall, he decided he needed his own steers to rope, so we are now owners of two calves. At first I threw a fit when he moved them in behind our barn. But they are so cute, I softened up (we only get to keep them for a few months, anyway, then they get moved to the ranch down the road from us).
Many blessings to you all for 2008.