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May 22

I think most parents remember the day their child was born as one of the best days of their lives.

May 22, 2015 was the day I gave birth to Austin and Brady. It was not the best day of my life.

Those words are hard to write because they feel shameful. I didn’t know there could be trauma surrounding the birth of a child- or children. Nor did I know for over four years that I had suffered from trauma, postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety.

My pregnancy was pretty awful. I was physically ill most days of the 32 weeks I carried Austin and Brady. In the weeks leading up to their birth I wasn’t gaining weight and there was concern that Austin was growing well and Brady wasn’t. Six years ago tonight I began having contractions. This wasn’t anything new- I had been contracting for about six weeks now – going back and fourth to the hospital. Matt fell asleep around 11pm and I continued to watch television through my contractions until he woke up around 3am to use the bathroom. He asked if I was still contracting and if they had ever stopped. I replied no and told him I really didn’t want to go to the hospital because we would spend five or six hours there and end up back home. Matt convinced me we needed to go- and I said well I guess you should bring the damn suitcase just in case.

When we got to the hospital I was in fact in active labor. They admitted me and started a magnesium drip immediately to try to delay the labor as long as possible. If you have ever had a magnesium drip then YOU KNOW- it’s awful. You can’t move, speak, you vomit and feel hot. I begged Matt to call my mom- I needed my mom. My labor was progressing and I was 4cm dilated. My doctor made the decision to stop the drip and deliver the boys via c-section. ( they had been laying sideways on top of one another my entire pregnancy- so c-section was my only option.)

Austin and Brady were born within the hour at 11:07am and 11:08am. Each baby was removed from my body and handed off to a team of 4 NICU nurses and a neonatologist. That’s right I had 15 people in my delivery room- 5 per baby, 2 surgeons, the anesthesiologist two nurses, me and matt. Each team quickly stabilized each baby. Before they were swept to the NICU, a nurse would bring the isolette with a baby inside by my head- take the oxygen off of his face for just a second to show me- and then he was gone. That happened twice.

Austin Cunningham 3lbs 12oz

Brady Joseph 2lbs 7oz

The next thing I remember very clearly is being rolled into the NICU on a gurney in between my two sons who had cpap masks on with wires and tubes coming from every which direction. The doctor spoke on each baby but I can’t even tell you what he said. The only thing I knew he said was that I must pump- that the liquid gold my body would produce would give them the best chance. I think I was mostly just in shock- it had been what felt like a very long pregnancy into a crazy last 12 hours. I was almost in disbelief that the boys had arrived.

I told my family no one was to post any photos on Facebook of Austin and Brady- I didn’t want people to think they were sick. What I really didn’t want people to know was that I failed to bring them into this world. Those are true words- words I felt were the absolute truth for a very long time.

I was able to hold Austin for the first time 12 hours after he was born- and Brady 24 hours after he was born. The first few days in the NICU I was told when or how I could hold my own children. I wasn’t able to change the first diaper. They were fed via feeding tube for many weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I thank the lord daily for the nurses and doctors who cared for my boys because they are the reason my children are alive today.

Austin stayed in the NICU for 5 weeks- Brady for 6. Leaving the hospital without your baby might be the worst thing any woman has to endure. I remember very clearly wanting to go home to recover to my own bed, but when the nurse wheeled me past the NICU to the elevator as we left, I sobbed like a baby. How was I- their mom- leaving them alone?

For the first five weeks I went to the hospital twice a day. Either someone would drive me during the day for a few hours to sit with the boys or once I was cleared I would drive myself. At the time we lived about a half an hour away from the hospital where our babies were staying. Matt went back to work because we knew he would need some time off when both boys came home. In the evening Matt and I would go back to the hospital together and stay for the 11pm rounds to get updates on each baby’s progress. I would wake in the middle of the night and call the NICU to check on the boys. Sometimes the NICU would call in the middle of the night if one of the boys needed more oxygen or there was a change needed in his care. I learned how to read the heart and oxygen monitors to know how they were thriving.

Austin was released from Cooper Hospital’s NICU on June 30th without his brother. While I was so excited for one baby to finally be coming home- it was excruciating to leave the other baby behind. Five days later Brady joined us at home- and I felt a sigh of relief that we had finally made it. We made it through the storm that was their birthday. This was really just the beginning…but more on that later.

Every year on May 22nd -for four years- I cried and had a very hard time being happy for my boys birthday. I always celebrated the day they came home from the NICU as the happy day. I think after reading my story you can probably see why I felt that way. But last year I shifted my mindset. After 10 months in therapy I was able to be happy on Austin and Brady’s 5th birthday. I’ve worked really hard on changing my thoughts around the trauma I experienced on their birthday and the weeks that followed. I have learned that the trauma will ALWAYS be with me, it will always poke at me unexpectedly. BUT- I now tell myself the truth. I did everything I could to keep my babies inside of my body for 32 weeks. Their 8 week too soon entrance was not my fault. I have fought damn hard to make sure my children could receive the therapies they needed to succeed and hit their first milestones. Austin and Brady are unbelievable miracles that are SO loved and are SO happy.

Tomorrow they turn 6 and we are throwing a big ole party in our backyard with a racecar bounce house, water balloons, airplane gliders, cake, love and laughter.

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