After a pregnancy full of complications, Tiffany Spina delivered her third child, Bria at 23 weeks and barely 1 pound. She just passed her due date of March 9 but has a way to grow before her release.
Not only is this amazing mom balancing work and fitness with NICU life, she also has two older children at home: 6-year-old, Mackayla, and 3-year-old old, Matty. It was seeing how she incorporates her older children into Bria’s journey that caused me to reach out and ask how she has helped her children bond.
Typically, our preemie mom profiles are with moms who have had a preemie home for a year or more. However, following Tiffany Spina’s story on Instagram via her profile @sweatingtosexyfitness has inspired me to share her story while her micropreemie, Bria, is still in NICU. She keeps family and friends up to date on Bria’s journey at the Facebook page Brave Like Bria :: The Journey Of The Bravest Micro Preemie.
Check out her tips for NICU parents with older siblings at home and leave your tips in the comments.
What were the circumstances surrounding Bria’s premature birth?
We don’t know exactly why Bria was born so early. She’s our third child and our previous two had no complications. But my pregnancy with Bria was a little different. I had a cervical polyp that was removed at 7 weeks gestation followed by nearly continuous bleeding the rest of my pregnancy.
We had quite a few emergency ultrasounds trying to identify the cause of the bleeding, but nothing was ever found. I had a low lying and anterior placenta, as well as slightly low fluid levels, but none were identified as the main source of the bleeding. All the while, Bria remained on target with size and development, always moving around and being quite stubborn during ultrasounds.
As we entered the 20th week of my pregnancy, my husband and I decided we should find a new doctor. We interviewed a few new doctors and decided to switch to a new doctor who only delivered at INOVA Fairfax Hospital. My new doctor immediately sent me for an ultrasound with maternal fetal medicine which identified my placental issues. We were scheduled for a follow up the next week and I began weekly visits with my new OB.
But my water broke at 5 a.m. on November 13 and I knew immediately I was in active labor. We rushed to the hospital, which would normally be more than an hour drive in rush hour traffic, but somehow we arrived in less than 45 minutes. During a physical exam the nurse found the cord to be prolapsed and Bria’s head compressing it. I was rushed to the operating room for an emergency C-section under general anesthesia and my poor husband was left running down the hallway behind us as I was wheeled away. Had I delivered Bria at any other hospital in our area she would have immediately been transported to INOVA Fairfax Hospital. We truly arrived at the right hospital at just the right time.
What kinds of things do you do to feel more like a “regular” mom to Bria?
It wasn’t easy at first, but eventually I started to feel like Bria’s mom. It just didn’t sink in that she was mine. The first few days just felt like I was in a fog. I was detached. But when I was finally able to give her the very first hand hug, that changed everything.
For me, being there for as many of her “care times” as I could was extremely important. The few things I could do, like oral care, changing her diaper and taking her temperature, were my way of feeling like a real mom.
She was intubated and in extremely critical condition, so holding her wasn’t an option for more than a month. Slowly but surely, I have been able to do more to care for her. Thanks to the urging of one of her nurses I’m now confident enough to pick her up from her crib on my own.
How was having Bria prematurely different than having your first two babies full-term?
Having a preemie is absolutely nothing like having a term baby. Sure, I’d had a C-section when I had our daughter Mackayla, but an emergency C-section under general anesthesia less than 20 minutes after arriving at the hospital was totally different from Mackayla’s planned C-section (she was breech). It was traumatizing, to say the least. I was rushed through the hallways into the OR with a nurse sitting on my bed between my legs while she held my baby’s head off the umbilical cord, leaving my husband trailing behind us. All I could think was, “I’m only 23 weeks, she can’t be born yet. She just can’t.”
I never had time to process what was going on, we weren’t prepared in any way. I still have trouble thinking about that day; I get flashbacks of my water breaking in bed. Nothing about that day was the joyous occasion of bringing a baby into the world. It was absolutely terrifying, instead.
How did you balance having two older children at home and a preemie in NICU?
Finding a balance when you’ve got a baby in the NICU and children at home is nearly impossible. To say I found balance is almost a joke. My mind is always at that hospital, even when I’m at home with our other two kids.
Thankfully, my parents have been able to stay with us to help with much of the day-to-day activities related to the kids: shuttling to and from school and daycare, helping with dinner, etc. I’ve joked that I just can’t adult anymore, but I really do feel like that. It’s so hard to do simple day-to-day tasks when all I can think about is how Bria is doing.
My husband has been the key to finding balance. He’s always reminding me that we have to return to normal life. Our other two kids need things to remain the same as before Bria was born. They need routine. He has really helped me to balance home life and NICU life. It takes trial and error to find the right schedule and that schedule is constantly changing.
How do you help you Mackayla and Matty connect to Bria in NICU?
We’ve done everything we can to help our two older kids feel connected to Bria. They draw her pictures and my husband printed their photos. We’ve had them taped inside of Bria’s isolette or crib since nearly day one. We often take photos of Bria “looking” at their photos and drawings, which they love to see.
Our daughter, Mackayla, has had the hardest time adjusting. She and Bria were supposed to share a birthday month and she was expecting Bria to be home for her birthday party, so we’ve had to do a lot more to help her through this journey. She has a very nurturing personality, so she always wants to help others.
One of her teachers had given her a “feeling stone” to rub when she misses us at the beginning of the school year. So one morning Mackayla brought me a “feeling stone” she made for Bria out of play dough; she wrapped it in tissue and had a hand written note along with a card and told me Bria could rub it any time she missed her or any of her family. We have the feeling stone and note hanging in her crib so Mackayla can always see it in the photos we take of Bria.
Our nurses and doctors have been great at including our kids in Bria’s life, too. For Mackayla’s sixth birthday, Bria’s doctor and nurse made Mackayla a card that was from Bria. She absolutely loved receiving a little gift from her sister, especially since it had her little foot print on it. The nurses have also sent us home with so many things that Bria uses, like feeding tubes, hats, diapers, blood pressure cuffs, etc. Both Mackayla and Matty love playing with all Bria’s stuff on doll babies.
We’ve also recently started using the video call feature through Facebook messenger now that Bria is older, more awake and alert. Mackayla loves to talk to her and be able to see her in real time, as opposed to a video we recorded earlier in the day. I think the interaction is key for her.
Our son, Matty, is different than Mackayla. He’s only three and a half years old, so while he asks how Bria is he just doesn’t grasp exactly what’s going on. He always asks us to give her a kiss from him and says, “Tell Bweeea she wuvs me.” He also asks to look at photos of Bria each night before bed. He pays close attention, too, because he’ll yell at me if I try to show him a photo from the day before!
What advice would you give to a mom with a baby in NICU right now who has older siblings at home?
My advice would be to talk to your kids daily about their baby brother or sister. From the beginning they were told that Bria had to stay at the hospital in an “outside belly” since she wasn’t in mommy’s belly any longer. Her isolette kept her safe and warm and the doctors gave her medicine to help her get stronger.
I would suggest giving your children a recap each day of what the baby did that day, like how much he or she weighed. This gives them something tangible to relate to and demonstrates how the medicine is working to make him or her stronger.
My other suggestion would be to have your kids ask you at least one question every day about their brother or sister. Sometimes they’ll ask simple questions, like “Is she ok?” But eventually a deeper question will arise, something they may be worried about or something that’s been on their mind but they’re afraid to ask. Keeping communication constantly flowing is the key.
You can follow Tiffany and Bria’s journey at Brave Like Bria :: The Journey Of The Bravest Micro Preemie.