In 2007, my husband and I decided to have another baby. My sons were 7 and 6 years old at the time, and we thought it would be easy to get pregnant for the third time. But months of trying turned into years until my doctor suggested fertility treatment in 2009. A year later, I gave up my fertility treatment, but I still hoped to conceive naturally.
Then, in 2013, I finally got pregnant. It was the surprise of my life when the ob-sonologist told me that I would have to pay twice the amount of a regular ultrasound -- we were having twins!
My husband was very shocked when I told him the news; he kept on asking how it happened. He thought I was joking until I showed him the ultrasound report.
I was closely monitored by my doctor and was put on bed rest on my fifth month of pregnancy. Our congenital anomaly scan results showed the twins were developing well. Cervical length analysis and the biophysical score showed no warning signs of premature delivery.
As my pregnancy approached its sixth month, the twins, Jeci and Jena (my eldest son prayed for a baby sister, and my second son prayed for a baby brother -- God answered both their prayers), did not give any sign that they would be born too soon. But on March 20, 2014, I was admitted because I found blood on my undies. Next thing I knew, I was being scheduled for an emergency caesarean operation. My husband, who was working overseas, was once again shocked when my brother told him I gave birth already, 26 weeks into my pregnancy.
The twins were born one minute apart on March 21, 2014. I did not get a chance to hold my babies after being born because they were rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for immediate medical treatment. It took two days before I could walk and visit them in the NICU. What I saw and heard devastated me, and I still could not hold them.
The twins could not yet breathe on their own. Jeci weighed 1,100 grams, had an intracranial brain bleed and was on Continuous Positive Airway (CPAP) therapy, a machine that kept his lungs open in between breaths. His newborn test results also showed Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia. Jena weighed 950 grams and was given two doses of surfactant because her lungs collapsed after the first dose. She literally could not breathe and had to be intubated. She also had Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA), a condition where a blood vessel in her heart did not close after birth. A blood test also showed the twins suffered from sepsis and had elevated levels of bilirubin.
I was instructed to express breast milk and deliver it to NICU immediately. At day three, the twins started feeding through an Orogastric tube. I produced 5 ml of breast milk, which I thought was a measly amount. I breathed a sigh of relief when my doctors told me that the twins would start with 1 ml of breast milk every three hours. I was so happy that I produced more than enough for two feedings!
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Our doctor told me to religiously express breast milk because it would help increase the chances of the twins' survival. I learned breast milk was not just food; it was medicine for my premature babies. It was the start of my three-month journey of hand expressing breast milk.
At day nine, we transferred Jena to a bigger and specialized hospital in Manila from Laguna. I was allowed to ride the ambulance with the team of doctors and nurses who were ventilating Jena with the use of manual resuscitator. It was the longest and scariest 30- minute ride of my life, and it did not end there when we arrived at the new hospital.
The doctors had a hard time stabilizing Jena's heart and respiratory rate. I was so scared I might lose her that the idea of transferring Jeci next frightened me. But my husband’s faith and hope calmed me. So on day 12, it was Jeci's turn for the ambulance ride. But, as I had feared, Jeci experienced Jena's ordeal. Doctors needed to intubate Jeci because of several desaturation and drop in heart rate.
The twins were admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit, where I practically lived for three months. Eighteen days after the twins' birth, however, I was finally able to hold Jeci for the first time. The nurse assisted in placing him on my bare chest for skin-to-skin contact (or popularly known as kangaroo mother care). Jeci instantly fell asleep, and his monitors showed no signs of distress. On day 24, Jena was finally extubated. Five days later, it was her turn on my chest. We practiced kangaroo mother care (KMC) every day, one twin after another.
To this day, I don't have the words to describe the moment when I first held them; it still makes me feel emotional.
While I could already hold them, it was still a roller coaster ride at the pediatric intensive care unit. Each time we thought the twins' condition would improve, a new battle would come along -- cardiac arrest, hernias, apnea, hypothermia, anemia, pneumonia. The twins endured countless needle pricks, blood tests, and even several blood transfusions.
The good news was the twins' feeding increased rapidly. But I was struggling to provide, so I needed to purchase breast milk. I joined a Facebook group - Breastfeeding Pinays -- hoping to get donor breast milk. Instead, I found myself inspired by the success stories of the members of the group. I doubled my efforts to increase my output. I sought the help of lactation nurses, and I even wet nursed babies at the nursery. My efforts paid off, and I was even able to donate some excess breast milk for other preemie twins at the NICU.
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This was the day when Jena was finally discharged from the pediatric intnsive care unit, and the twins were reunited.
After 48 days, Jeci was finally discharged and admitted to a regular room. We continued with KMC and waited patiently for Jena. On my 38th birthday, I received the most precious gift -- after 69 days, Jena was finally out of danger and discharged to a regular hospital room. After 88 days and two hospitals, we were officially going home, which happened to be the day before my expected date of delivery.
The twins, however, still faced health battles. Before we left the hospital, the pediatric ophthalmologist diagnosed them with Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), a disease that could cause retinal detachment and lead to blindness.
The pediatric ophthalmologist cleared Jena’s eyes from ROP after a month, but Jeci’s eyes worsened. A retina surgeon immediately scheduled laser eye surgery. I begged the doctors for other options, but they told me it was the only recourse. They did encouraged me to breastfeed Jeci more often. It seemed the nutrients of breast milk could help kill the abnormal blood vessels in Jeci’s eyes.
And so Jeci and I did unlimited latching, day in and day out. On the day of the surgery, I swear to God, his abnormal blood vessels were completely healed! There was no need to do Jeci’s surgery. A pediatric dermatologist also advised me to continue breastfeeding Jena to help in her skin asthma. Her rashes eventually disappeared.
Jena and Jeci just last March
Three years after the ordeal of their premature birth, our miracle twins, Jeci and Jena, are happy and active toddlers who love to eat, play, sing, dance, jump and run. They are meeting their milestones, and they don't have any long-term health complications or disabilities that are common in premature babies.
My experience prompted me to pay it forward, and I became actively involved in promoting breastfeeding and kangaroo mother care. Two years after I gave birth to the twins, I became a LATCH breastfeeding peer counselor. My twins' health journey made me a firm believer in breast milk. Breast milk was truly life-saving for my family, The benefits to my once fragile micro preemie twins were just unbelievable -- sometimes, miracles come in pairs.
IMAGE courtesy of Rowi Rizala
Rowi Rizala is married to Jesson, an OFW based in Kobe, Japan. They are blessed with four kids: the Kuyas -- Jethro Cidea, 16, and Jeiro Cidea, 15 -- and the twins Jeci Cidea and Jena Cidea, now 3). Aside from being a breastfeeding counselor, Rowi advocates natural parenting and practices co-sleeping, babywearing, exclusive cloth diapering, and extended breastfeeding.