Tiny Feet, Big Impressions

Since I was expecting quadruplets I knew my babies would have a NICU stay, and I knew it would be difficult. In the months that led up to delivery, I communicated with other moms of quadruplets and braced myself for the inevitable.  In the first week or so, I was managing NICU life relatively well, but as the days and weeks passed, it wore on my heart. Seeing my babies struggle each day hurt.  About that time, our hospital’s resident art therapist, Diana, paid us a visit and the timing was impeccable.  Diana bonded with our family immediately and quickly began working on a masterpiece.   As the years pass and NICU life fades into memories, this piece of art remains as a salient reminder of just how much our babies have grown.  Right now, the painting is housed in our study’s curio cabinet, but at every birthday celebration, it’s a centerpiece of the party decor.

we got a bath and clothes016

Sydney was so tiny that preemie sized clothes were far too large.  Her foot was about the length of my thumb.

we got a bath and clothes019

we got a bath and clothes022


Exactly three years and two days after meeting Diana, the kids and I returned to the hospital for a specialist appointment.  The appointment was at 8:30 am and I was running solo, which meant it was a huge undertaking to get everyone ready.  I decided for the amount of effort required to go to this appointment, we’d make it into a day long field trip.  Following the appointment, we stopped by the Build a Bear workshop where the quads beloved teddy bears were born.  There, each of the kids bought undies for their bear.  Next, we popped by Starbucks where I treated myself to a caramel frapuccino to sip while the kids darted about the play area.  The kids had a blast exploring the hospital where they were once long term residents.


build a bear undies


Just as it was time to head home, I spotted the smiling face of a woman clad in splatter paint from head to toe.  It was none other than Diana herself!  Though it had been three years and the quads had grown, she remembered us immediately.  I am forever grateful for the gift of art Diana gave us at a difficult time, and I can only imagine the many hearts she’s touched and will touch.   Reuniting with Diana was the perfect opportunity to thank her for the impression she made years prior. Sometimes it really is the little things that leave the biggest impression on us.



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Calling All Superheroes

NICU reunion super heroes

Three years ago, George and I began researching Neonatal Intensive Care Units in our area in preparation for the quads arrival.  Knowing they would be delivered prematurely meant they would have a NICU stay, and we wanted to be educated with our options.  When we toured Cook Children’s we were thoroughly impressed and knew it was the place to care for our babies.  After the babies were delivered, they were immediately transported to Cook and it did not take us long to bond with the staff there.  While NICU life was stressful and emotionally charged, our experience was a positive one because of the care we received.

Each spring, the hospital hosts a NICU reunion where families get the opportunity to see the staff who cared for their once tiny babies as well as other patients who were in the NICU at the same time.  Shortly before the babies turned one, we were able to attend our first annual NICU reunion.  Because we were in the process of moving last year, we missed the annual reunion.

Thankfully, this year the weather was nice and we made it to the shindig.  The kids were stoked about going since it was a super hero themed event.  A few days prior, I managed to grab Batman and Batgirl shirts for the quads and a Wonder Woman shirt for myself to wear.  Instead of wearing his Avengers shirt, George sported a Star Wars tee to which Rylin remarked, “That is NOT a super hero shirt!”  Although we don’t let the quads watch Justice League shows, they are fascinated with superheroes and recognize the high-profile ones.  At the advice of readers, we started watching Super Why on PBS kids; it’s a beloved, age-appropriate show about a super hero.

Upon our arrival at the event, on of our primary nurses, Tiffany, spotted us in the crowd.  Ironically, a few days prior I found a scripture containing each of the quad’s middle names given to us by Tiffany before discharge.   It’s clear that some people are put into our lives for a reason, and touch our hearts forever.  Tiffany was one of several nurses we will always cherish because of the nurturing touch given to our babies.

NICU reunion 2015

After reuniting with Tiffany, it was time to meet and greet a band of super heroes.  Despite being enamored with super heroes, meeting them in the flesh proved a bit too intimidating for everyone except our tiny powerhouse, Sydney.  She strutted right up to Batman (who was a rather tall guy) and examined his gloved hand.  The other three only approached the super heroes while being held by Mom and Dad.


NICU reunion 2015

Next, everyone sat curbside to enjoy their first snow cone.  I was amazed at how long these four were willing to sip and slurp snow cones.  As we enjoyed this little treat, we stumbled upon our triplet buddies who were born just five days after the quads.  Over the years, we’ve maintained contact and held a few play dates, which we call “Quatriplet” play dates.  It’s always nice to be around other families with high order multiples because we feel “normal” together.  Getting seven toddlers to sit next to each other was quite a task.  Perhaps one day we can a few of them to also look at the camera.  Out of seven kids, you’d think at least one would be looking, but not one did.

NICU reunion 2015

NICU reunion 2015


Even though the quads are usually reticent to try new things, Harper, Mason, and Rylin each conquered the ginormous bounce house slide.  Harper went so quickly, I missed his adventure, and he was not willing to repeat it.





Before leaving the party, each of the quads received a super hero mask kit and a set of stickers, which Sydney instructed the volunteer to “put on my cheek, and here on my arm.”  Of course the other three then made the same request and left with a nice collection of stickers.



On our way out, we stopped on our favorite hallway in the hospital to watch Tinkerbell dance on the wall (there is a silhouette of a castle affixed on he wall and a fairy is projected to the roof of the castle).  The quads were absolutely fascinated by this little pixie, and seeing them in awe reminded me why Cook is the place for children.  It doesn’t seem like a hospital….it’s almost magical.

NICU reunion 2015

Back at home, we assembled the masks and the quads had great fun modeling them.  The girls had even more fun looking at each other in the masks.

NICU reunion 2015

NICU reunion 2015

NICU reunion 2015

As the years pass, the memories of NICU life fade every so slightly, but going back to reunions like this is a good way to remember that time in our lives, and thank those who touched our family.



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Navigating the NICU


Over the past few weeks, we’ve returned to Cook Children’s where the babies resided the first seven weeks of their life. Thankfully, we’ve not returned as patients, but as visitors.  We returned to deliver a presentation, and also to visit a friend and her twins who are currently in the NICU.

Turning the corner to the NICU corridor back brought back a flood of emotions and memories.  I recalled fond memories of milestones being reached, but there were others I repressed.  Our experience in the NICU was a good one and we were pleased with our care.  Yet, it still was a NICU journey and there were many frightening, difficult moments. The twins are on the same floor where our babies stayed and it brought me back to a difficult place.  After reporting to the NICU for 49 days, there were quite a few things I learned along the way.  If I could rewind the clocks, here are the things I’d tell myself (and why).


1. Become an active participant in your baby’s care ASAP

In the early days of NICU life, I remember feeling detached from the babies as we peered at them in their little boxes. I was terrified I’d contaminate them or break something, but honestly they needed our gentle touch. George reminded me several times that the wires were not life sustaining, but merely monitored the babies, and that gave me confidence to touch them.

I recall the nurses teaching me how to gently touch their fragile skin (stroking causes preemies pain). I gradually began spending increasing amounts of time just cradling them in my hands through isolette windows as I spoke to them, encouraging them to grow stronger. It wasn’t long before their IV’s were removed and we could finally hold our babies, which meant I could even do more. One of our nurses taught me how to do the “cares”, which involved swabbing their mouths out, changing diapers, checking body temperature, and moving their pulse ox (oxygen monitor) from one foot to the other every three hours. Being able to do those small things helped me bond with the babies, learn their unique qualities, and finally feel as if they were mine.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Being in a hospital in general, let alone the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, can be intimidating.  With the quads, we found ourselves surrounded by numerous professionals who tossed technical jargon around as if we were medical school graduates.  Several weeks passed that I called the babies’ Pulse Ox (Oximeter) “Pole Socks”.  At first, I felt foolish forcing them to stop and explain things, but I learned how important it was.   As parents, it is important to know what is happening in your baby’s care and be a stakeholder, advocating for someone without a  voice.

3. Bond with staff

We spent a few weeks in the NICU before I learned about “Primary Nurses”. These are nurses who agree to tend to particular patients every time they are on shift. Our primary nurses became imperative team members in the care of our babies. They knew each baby’s nuances, cheered for them, and fought for them (and me). When George went back to work, I spent many days in the NICU alone. I felt helpless, isolated and lonely some of the time. When our primary nurses were there, they not only helped our babies, but kept my spirits up and taught me a wealth of knowledge regarding how to care for a preemie. One nurse even helped make sure I got the Medela pump that worked best for me, even though it meant she had to retrieve and clean it every three hours.

It was vital that when we left our babies, we felt confident in their care takers and that those care takers respected us as parents. By spending my days at the NICU, the nurses and other hospital staff came to know me and in turn wanted our babies to thrive even more. When we were away, they took time to dress the babies to match their linens, make name plates for their cribs, and snapped pictures of things we missed. They did all that not only because they cared, but they knew we did too.

To show our appreciation, I occasionally brought our nurses warm cookies from the cafeteria or a Starbucks drink.

4. Take time for yourself, and your partner

At first, NICU life was somewhat novel and we were absorbing all sorts of knew information. A few weeks in, it got to be nearly too much for me to bear. I felt defeated and that we may never leave the NICU. I needed a break from my new routine of spending the entire day at the NICU only going home to shower and sleep. At that point, George and I enjoyed a few date nights, time with friends, and I did some shopping. I admittedly felt a tinge of guilt for leaving the babies alone when I could physically be there, but I needed breaks for mental health. One night, we even enjoyed a few cocktails and I did the whole “pump and dump” thing with my milk. While breast milk was like liquid gold I didn’t want to toss it, but I needed just an evening for me, even if that meant sacrificing a few ounces of milk.

5. Meet your social worker

I did not meet our social worker until weeks into our NICU stay and I wished I befriended her immediately.  She had knowledge about how to access resources and services we needed, such as how to apply for multiple birth programs.   Because I met her late in the game, Sydney did not receive benefits she was entitled to based on birth weight.

5. Bring items from home

We were fortunate that our NICU had all private rooms with many amenities including a fold out sofa, television, and laundry facilities. In addition to those things, they provided things such as baby clothing, baby wash, and dish soap (for pump parts and bottles). However, over the course of our stay, I brought other creature comforts to help us feel as at home with the babies as possible. If our NICU nurses had not made name plates, I would have done that as well because it would personalize the space for us. I have a page devoted to items we kept at the NICU in case others would like to know.

6. Welcome visitors

As I mentioned, I spent the majority of my time in the NICU alone. The NICU is a place where emotions are high and being there alone can be intimidating. Fortunately, our NICU allowed four visitors per day (one per baby) and as best we could, we welcomed friends and family to come. Even if someone dropped by for just 30 minutes, that brightened my day. Because of our private rooms, I believe that visiting rules may have been more lax than at other places. If our NICU was more strict, I think I would have welcomed visitors to meet me at the hospital for lunch or coffee at the very least.

Despite welcoming visitors, we were strict regarding who could come visit. Before the babies were even born, we sent a memo to friends and family explaining the precautions we were taking to protect the babies’ health. These precautions were in place during our NICU stay and for the first 7 months the babies were at home. I believe that our efforts, while taxing, were worthwhile. After all, we did not have a sick visit to the doctor until after the babies’ first birthday. That is incredible considering the average baby battles eight colds in the first year!

7. capture memories

We took plenty of pictures documenting the babies’ milestones while in the NICU- the first time we held each of them, first baths, and bottle feedings.  What we avoided, was documenting when they were fragile because I feared preserving those memories.  Now that we have been away from the NICU over a year, I would like to reflect upon the progress the babies made, but there is little proof.  I also took very few video clips, and the ones I have are primarily from when the babies were near discharge.  Seeing the twins in the NICU made me want to remember how our babies were once so tiny, but I have no video to review.

Fortunately, our NICU had an art therapist on staff who helped us create memories through art.  The babies painted a canvas with their foot prints and molds of their feet.  I am in awe each time I pass their first masterpiece hanging in the playroom.  If it weren’t for our art therapist, I may have missed out on creating art.  However, it would be simple to do even without a therapist, and I’d recommend doing it.

8. Find someone who can relate

I was fortunate to have a network of other moms of quadruplets to support me in the NICU journey and give advice and tips for dealing with the NICU.  However, that support was solely online.  With the help of a few thoughtful nurses,  I was fortunate enough to meet a mom of triplets born five days after the quads in our same NICU.  Meeting another mom in person who was right there dealing with the same things simultaneously was immensely helpful.  In fact, we continue to maintain communication, supporting each other along the way and we’ve held play dates!

When we returned to visit the twins, George and I took turns watching our own babies in the family play area of the hospital.  I think they too enjoyed being on the other side of things at the hospital.

I only wish we had a space in our house large enough for a padded play area.

I only wish we had a space in our house large enough for a padded play area.



After the babies had a good romp in the play area, we retreated to the cafeteria for a brown bag dinner.

After the babies had a good romp in the play area, we retreated to the cafeteria for a brown bag dinner.



P.S. In reading the archives from when the babies were in the NICU, I made a great effort to stay positive.  Yet, I think I marginalized some of the things we endured, and consequently made it seem easy.  For parents currently dealing with a NICU stay, we encountered these things-

respiratory distress- CPAP, oxygen, nasal cannulas; jaundice- bilirubin lights, collapsed lung- chest tube surgically placed, reflux- milk fortifiers/ thickeners, Dani sling, pneumonia- IV antibiotics, MRI- white matter trauma, grade I brain bleed, car seat tests, bradycardias, de sats, caffeine drips, PIC line (through a vein in Sydney’s head because the tiny veins in her arms, legs and feet collapsed.  this was horrifying), transpiloric feeding tube, gravity feeds, occupational therapy, physical therapy, blood panels, platelet transfusion, low birth weight, anemia- poly vi sol

Learning What Lies Ahead

One of the risky things about quads is that they always deliver prematurely, somewhere around 30 weeks plus or minus a few.  That means a NICU stay is inevitable.  Of course the NICU can be a scary place.  The positive side of having quads that will go to the NICU is knowing they will go there.  Many parents whose babies are in the NICU did not expect it, but we have some time to prepare for what lies ahead.  We have also learned that parents can choose what NICU their babies are admitted to.  We are fortunate that Cook Children’s Hospital is nearby and just opened a new level III NICU wing this past September.  We toured it this Saturday to learn more about it.  The NICU nurse warned us that we would have to act like “pit bulls” to insist that they go to Cook Children’s rather than our delivery hospital (as they have their own NICU), but we will do what we need to do to make that happen.  George was blunt about it and basically got the nurse to tell us it was about hospital revenue.  I don’t care about the hospital’s bottom line, this is our babies!

Cook Children’s is unique in their approach, which I appreciate.  They highly regard parent involvement and want us to be there providing care to the babies as much as we can.  In fact, the babies will be together in the quad suite and there are parent beds so we can stay too.  In other NICUs they could be in separate nurseries and would be with other infants.  If my babies are in a NICU, I want to be with them as much as I can and they will really make this possible.  We also felt better seeing how despite all the medical equipment housed there, it was not terribly clinical.  Everything is warm and personalized so we will feel comfortable.  George thought a tour wasn’t necessary since we’ll have plenty of time to get acquainted with the NICU, but he was really impressed with the facility.  We were so happy we took this tour, because the NICU is one less thing to worry over.  We know they will get the best care, which will mean the best possible outcome, and that makes me rest better!