Callie Davis was pregnant with twin girls when at 28 weeks her water broke. She was taken to a specialty trauma hospital in Birmingham, Alabama three hours from her home to deliver her girls. The local Ronald McDonald House would become her home away from home as she and her husband created their new normal.
“I always had someone with me in the Ronald McDonald house except the week I asked to stay alone so I could mourn for myself,” said Callie. “You need that. I knew so many more babies had it worse than mine but I still needed to mourn.”
Callie is a cousin on my dad’s side. The entire family is tough as nails. They roll with life’s punches and are usually quick to punch it right back with humor and grit. I think those character traits will come across as you read Callie’s story.
How early were your girls? What were the circumstances around their early birth?
My twins, Foster Grace and Smith Elle, are 29 weekers. The bag of water on Foster broke at 28 weeks. I was given steroids and magnesium to stop labor and was taken via ambulance to UAB Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama several hours from home. I was told to cross fingers that we made it to 34 weeks.
I went into labor a day and a half later with contractions. The doctors stopped them. They were waiting for the steroid shots to kick in. Five days later I woke up feeling like I had the flu. I was achy and crying. I was measuring 40 weeks at 28 weeks so I think my body said “let’s go.” At this point I had an infection from the ruptured membrane so they delivered the girls ASAP to prevent the infection from spreading to them. They needed spinal taps to see if they had contracted my infection. Luckily, they did not.
We stayed six weeks. They came home on the same day at 35 weeks gestation.
When did you get to go see the girls for the first time?
I delivered around 7:30 p.m. at night and saw them a brief second at birth before they were whisked away. Then I saw them the next morning. I can say a C-section is handy because I was so out of it that I don’t think I registered that I didn’t get to see them. After the C-section I was delivered to my room and my nurses had already taken, printed, and delivered me pictures. I really appreciated that.
When did you get to hold your preemies for the first time?
I held Foster for a couple minutes the next day. Short spurts only once a day. Smith Elle was a few days later. It can take a lot out of them if they are not stable. I immediately did kangaroo care with both. And between my mom, husband when he could be there, and a dear family friend we all took turns rocking. One nurse told me Gregorian chants could help with brain development so my girls listened to monks chanting during that time.
What was the most difficult part of having a baby born premature?
For us it was the distance and knowing my husband would be leaving soon to go back to work.
When I was in the hospital with the ruptured membrane, a NICU doctor came and talked me through a lot of what I could expect with early deliveries: surfactant, life support, and possible blood transfusions. What I didn’t know was how I would feel leaving the hospital. I stayed a couple of extra days because of the infection, but the day came when I was leaving and my babies were not. I cried all the way to the Ronald McDonald House. It was only a block away and I was going right back there to see my babies. But the emotions were so much.
My dad called as my mom was driving me there and he said, ”You don’t see it now, but I promise the first night you are home with those babies you will be so happy you are recovered from your C-section. And when they are screaming through the night that first week home you will wish they were back there so you can sleep!” He WAS SO RIGHT!!!!!! I, of course, didn’t see it then.
My mom, husband, and a dear family friend made sure I always had someone with me in the Ronald McDonald house except the week I asked to stay alone so I could mourn for myself. You need that. Cry selfishly for you! I knew so many more babies had it worse than mine. I knew from the get go with no brain bleeds, MRSA, etc. I was more than likely taking home two healthy babies…but I still needed to mourn. That weekend two friends from college came to visit me. The NICU nurses said go out, have a glass of wine, and come back tomorrow. So I did!
What got you through the tough times?
Living in the Ronald McDonald House. The lady that ran it was like a therapist. We had food delivered and Starbucks every morning. I stayed with the girls until 5 p.m. every day and then went to Ronald McDonald House because UAB was not in the best part of town. I awaited my 9 p.m. update call from night nurse. I kept a routine.
At the house, I was around many families who had sold everything for their terminally ill children to receive treatment at the hospital — it made me live more in the moment. I didn’t think of the long weeks ahead. Or ask, “why me? How come this happened?” I lived thankful for every gram they gained, each time I was able to kangaroo care, and every new day we made it through.
What kinds of things did you do to feel more like a “regular” mom to your girls?
I pumped every two hours. It took five days for my milk to come in and only a drop of colostrum came that they split between the girls. I had so much milk eventually. Most patients had one small bin. I had a fridge full. It felt like the only thing I could do. I also slept with stuffed animals which I would take to the girls for my smell. I think it helped with bonding.
How was it relating to friends and family during your NICU stay?
People called and texted, but that first week I had no energy emotionally to respond. In fact, now with all new moms I text and say “do not text back or feel obligated, just wanted to say I am thinking of y’all. Even if we don’t talk for months, I get it! Enjoy your time with baby.”
I actually joined Facebook while at the Ronald McDonald House. It was still kind of new then. It was a good way to stay in touch being so far from home. We never had our baby shower. It was scheduled, but I went to the hospital [first]. So we didn’t have a lot of things. I didn’t even have an outfit to bring them home in. So a dear friend back home painted our nursery, got the baby beds ready, etc.
Was there anything anyone did for you that helped make the NICU stay easier?
I had so many people that made sure I was taken care of and loved. They all had this village to oversee me. My husband, Paul; my mom; and our good friend, Gay, switched off staying with me and getting me necessities. They helped me stay calm. I didn’t have a worry. So many friends helped out. Friends and family flew in to visit me.
Also, the NICU nurses were wonderful! They got to know me so intimately. I loved that they kept the same nurse on every day they worked so the girls had the same one three or four days in a row. They explained everything. They held my hand as Smith Elle began her blood transfusions.
They made sure I had keepsakes and mementos since I missed some things like Foster’s first bottle. They took pictures for me and saved the bottle. They made it seem normal to feed my kid through a tube in their nose while holding the end. They made sure that I could change diapers and record temps. I will never forget a bradycardia Foster had and she turned blue. I screamed and tapped her foot and she breathed again. But they made it seem like it was my normal. We are all still friends on Facebook.
What would you tell a mom who has a preemie baby in NICU right now?
It is not your fault, it is not your fault, it is not your fault! You did nothing wrong. This happens sometimes.
Also buy an Angel Care monitor. We were not going home on oxygen. But I was so worried about SIDS, what if a bradycardia happened even though we had to go five days without having one to go home. While it cannot prevent SIDS, it can alert you if there is no movement for 20 seconds. It went off on Smith Elle our first night home. I am not sure what happened. But she was blue and not breathing. I popped her feet to stimulate her and she gasped and started breathing. WORTH EVERY PENNY.
And make sure you have someone to ride in the backseat with babies on your drive home. Because we were far from home, I had a car at the Ronald McDonald House. When I found out the girls were coming home, my husband got in the car and headed our way. Plus a friend was visiting. We had three cars, and no one to ride in the back with the girls to make sure their heads didn’t fall forward. I stopped every three to five minutes to check them. All 226 miles home.
How are your girls today?
They are wonderful! Healthy and turning nine in October. They have no cognitive or developmental delays. They always fell within the gap for adjusted age on milestones. Smith Elle sat up and crawled many months before Foster Grace but both fell within the adjusted gap. I did take advantage of early childhood intervention from 18 months until age two.
Both have severe asthma. But we are unsure if it is because they were preemies or heredity. Foster has really bad acid reflux. I’ve heard it is not uncommon for preemies to have it for life. Also their first pediatrician said Smith was a toaster head. Apparently preemies can have a certain head shape, more narrow on the sides, and are called that.
I always say preemie moms deserve a merit badge. What merit badges do you think you have earned?
Well, at one point when they were a little older, I could nurse both while standing up and then somehow manage to pull my pants down to go to the bathroom and back up. Took balancing on my legs and knees but somehow got it done!