HE IS ALWAYS WITH ME
HE IS ALWAYS WITH ME
By Rebekka Mattingly
I was officially 29 weeks along. I knew for sure since as a twin high-risk pregnancy, I was monitored and checked every week. For the most part I felt great…almost as if my body was built to do this pregnancy thing. I felt incredibly fortunate and almost like I deserved an easy pregnancy, especially after 4 years of infertility trials that almost broke my faith.
It was a Friday, at the end of a very stressful week of work. In an effort to avoid an awkward encounter with someone in my office, I had the thought to go into my doctors office to get checked. I had an open invitation to go in to have the babies’ heart rate monitored anytime it seemed warranted. I was almost 100% sure I wasn’t feeling right that day because of the stress at work, but I decided to take that excuse and run with it.
Once I got to my doctor’s office, they found the heart beats right away, took my blood pressure, and I was left to relax for the next while. The nurses came back much earlier than a normal monitoring session, and told me Dr. P wanted to see me. Dr. P was my perinatologist and I loved him. He made me feel safe through the pregnancy. He small-talked with me for a few minutes and then let me know that my blood pressure was really high and he was concerned. I walked him through the stress I was under at work, but he didn’t seem to care. He then gently told me I would be going on bed rest for the rest of my pregnancy…at the hospital.
I didn’t believe him and immediately started crying. There was no way this was happening. How could everything turn this quickly? I wasn’t even supposed to be there! I came on a whim and I wanted to change my mind and just leave and pretend none of it was happening. I told him I needed to talk to my husband Nic, go home and get stuff and then maybe come back tomorrow. He looked at me with such pity, and shook his head. “Rebekka, no. We are walking you over to the hospital right now.” And then I turned around to a wheelchair being wheeled over. He told me that I was not going home, but instead going right on bedrest from that moment. He said with my blood pressure as high as it was, he was afraid I would stroke or seize, and do permanent damage to myself or the babies inside me. I couldn’t stop sobbing. I was so mad and sad and frustrated.
During those first 24 hours in the hospital, my blood pressure stabilized. It didn’t lower, but it didn’t increase either. Apparently, there were also extremely high amounts of protein in my urine. Between that and the blood pressure, it looked like I had preeclampsia, which I had never even heard of. And all the while, I felt fine. Like, really, I felt fine. I knew I wasn’t perfect, but I was pregnant with twins! I wasn’t supposed to feel perfect.
On Monday morning I woke up and knew. Everything was different. All my energy was gone. My vision was blurry and the pressure in my body was making my eyes water.
On Tuesday morning I woke up much worse. I was getting bigger by the minute. I had gained 30 pounds in the last two weeks of pregnancy and almost 10 of that in the last few days. I was retaining most of the fluid going into me because my kidneys were starting to fail. The pee I did have was dark brown. My liver enzymes were elevated. And my back and shoulders hurt so bad. At the time I thought it was the terrible hospital bed, but later learned it was a symptom of preeclampsia that was taking over my body. My body was failing me and it was happening so fast. I just kept thinking that if I didn’t go in to get checked on Friday this might not be happening. Like somehow being monitored at all started the spiral of events.
Dr. P told me that afternoon that there was a big chance he would be delivering me that night. That night came and the blood work didn’t change much, which gave me hope that maybe our prayers would allow us to stay in that state for at least another week. I had convinced myself that I could last one more week and I knew that even just one more week could do wonders for fetal growth.
Later that night our Bishop came to visit. He counseled us that God has more control over bringing life into and out of this world than anything else. If the babies were going to be born at this point, it was part of our Heavenly Father’s plan for our family. He also counseled us that when you live your life righteously, trials that come into your life are the will of the Lord. The things that were happening were happening for a reason. He then prayed with us, with words that brought comfort and love I will never forget.
I didn’t sleep that night. The pain and discomfort in my body was overwhelming. The nurse came in around 3:00 am and did more blood work. The nurse told me that based on those results, my doctor would most likely be delivering me that morning. By then I was prepared for what was coming. I could feel how quickly I was going down and I knew I wouldn’t be able to last much longer.
My doctor himself pushed me into surgery that morning. They administered my nerve block and I laid down on the table prepped for surgery. The anesthesia made me sick and I threw up multiple times while laying there on the table. There were almost 20 people in the room when I delivered. Two perinatologists, two neonatologists and a team of nurses assigned to each doctor. Nic was there with me, comforting me even though he was probably more scared than I was.
As soon as the babies were removed from me they were placed in incubators and rushed up to the NICU. I never saw them. I begged Nic to follow, not wanting them to be alone without either of us. Once I was closed up, my doctor told me I would go into recovery for an hour and then would be able to head up to the NICU to meet them.
But things didn’t go according to plan.
When Nic got back from the NICU, he and my mom, who had showed up the day before based on a spiritual prompting from my dad, joined me in recovery. The nurse kept coming back to check my vitals, and even though I was not very coherent, I knew we had been there far longer than an hour.
Something didn’t seem right.
She told me my doctor wanted me to rest more and that I wasn’t ready to go up to the NICU. They sent me back to a labor and delivery room, which had become similar to my hell on earth. I learned my blood pressure had sky-rocketed, and instead of stabilizing after birth, my body continued to crash. They administered magnesium sulfate to try relax my body into stabilization. For the next 24 hours, I was in and out of sleep. Mostly in. Every time I tried to wake up or speak, I was pulled back under. Being pregnant seemed like a dream, like it never happened. My babies were no longer in me and I had never seen them, so in my medicated stupor, I kept thinking that maybe none of it had happened. Every once in a while I was pulled out of the darkness by my mom’s voice begging me to breathe. My breathing was very shallow and there were points that I stopped breathing all together. I remember not caring but trying to breathe harder in order to make her and Nic happy. They both told me later they thought I was going to die that day.
I didn’t fully wake up until Thursday morning. Nic filled me in on all the things I had missed about our babies. They were doing as well as possible, given the circumstances. I could tell he loved them already, and for some reason it bothered me. I had never even seen them. My heart ached. I was instructed that I wasn’t able to go and see them until I was more stable.
The longer I was awake without seeing them, the less I wanted to. I knew I was supposed to want to meet them, but I was really scared. I was scared of what I would see and what they would look like. I was scared I wouldn’t feel close to them or feel like they belonged to me.
But, 36 hours after I gave birth to my twin boys I was given the clear to go meet them.
I met Liam first. He was baby A. He looked like an alien covered in a thousand monitors and cords, and I loved him. Instantly, I loved him. I knew him. He was mine. And it felt like he knew me too. I felt the same about Jake. Jake has always had wise eyes. As soon as he looked at me, it felt like he recognized me. I couldn’t yet hold them, but I was able to touch their small legs. They had the fluffiest fur on their bodies that would eventually fall off. And they were barely bigger than my hand. They each weighed a little more than 2 ½ pounds and would spend the next 2 ½ months in the NICU trying to survive their early birth.
One of the hardest things I had to do was leave them after I was released from the hospital after 10 days. At the time I had no idea how long their NICU journey would be.
When I first came home from the hospital, all I could do was lay in bed. I couldn’t handle much physically or mentally. I hadn’t ever really struggled from a mental-health perspective before, so I didn’t understand what was happening. I couldn’t handle any stimulation. Noise of any kind was too much. It led to intense anxiety. I laid in bed all day, basically looking at a wall. My only form of activity was pumping breast milk. I couldn’t watch TV or listen to music or even talk on the phone because the stimulation and noise gave me anxiety. This ‘PTSD’ showed itself in my life for the next 6 months.
I wasn’t able to get myself to the hospital those first 6 weeks, so the only time I saw my boys was when Nic came home from work and we went together. We had one hour a day with them out of the incubators, where we were able to have skin to skin contact. We prayed constantly and held them with hope, that the skin to skin contact would help their bodies grow and develop.
It took a couple of months for my blood pressure to stabilize so I had to stay on medication for a while after I delivered. I also started having bad headaches. The headaches were debilitating, but they were brushed aside along with everything else I was suffering with, because I had a new job to do; pumping breast milk. It very quickly became my overwhelming priority. For some reason I believed that feeding them breast milk would help make up for my inability to keep them inside of me. I pumped every 2-3 hours, an alarm waking me up through the night. I lived with constant fear that I would lose my milk supply and fail them again.
I harbored such intense guilt those first few months. Every time I saw them I fought feelings of failure. I was sure I had done something wrong. I was mad at my body for failing at such an important job, and I was mad at my doctor. I kept replaying what happened, wondering if he had over-reacted. I really thought I could have lasted pregnant a few more weeks or even days. Then one night as I was driving home from the hospital by myself, the negative thoughts I couldn’t let go of nearly overcame me. And then suddenly I heard the spirit whisper to me that my doctor had done everything right to keep me alive. It was as clear as if someone was sitting next to me talking to me. I felt immediate peace, and in that moment my anger at my doctor disappeared.
But it took me a much longer time to stop being angry at myself.
I was convinced there was something wrong with me. First I couldn’t get pregnant, and then I couldn’t stay pregnant. After dealing with such an intense and long journey to get pregnant, I thought we were in the clear for another trial for at least a little bit. But I’ve learned no one is exempt from trials, and certainly not a particular number of trials. We are on this earth to learn and grow and strengthen our faith. As much as I wish there was a better way to attain those things, trials seem to teach and strengthen us the fastest.
I’ve never felt as lonely in my life as I did that first year after having them. Even after they came home, they were barely over 6 lbs. They still struggled to eat, and they weren’t strong enough to nurse. So I continued to pump every 3 hours and then spent 45 minutes feeding and holding each one up for at least 30 minutes after feeding them, trying to limit the reflux. Between pumping, feeding, and holding, I had about 30 minutes to regroup, go pee, or eat something before the cycle started again. Day after day, month after month, in an empty house all by myself while Nic was at work. In hindsight, I know the Savior was there with me, giving me the ability to keep going. His example of facing the utmost adversity and not giving up enveloped my heart and helped me move forward even when I didn’t think I could.
I refer to that first year as a very dark time in my life. Something shifted in my brain chemically during this experience that has never shifted back. For a long time I struggled to keep them alive and growing. Then, just as I was starting to get the hang of it all, at their 6-month mark, I had to go back to work full-time. At their 9-month mark, postpartum depression and chronic migraines moved into my life. Both of those are things I haven’t quite conquered yet. But I continue to be filled with the knowledge that my Heavenly Father knows my struggles. This is part of my path, and those struggles keep me close to Him. I can’t do life with either of these trials without His constant help and relief.
I can’t do life without His constant blessings either. Three and a half years after our boys were born, we were blessed with a little girl who has added so much joy to our family.
What I’ve realized is that motherhood, in all forms, requires sacrifice. And a lot of times sacrifice leaves scars. Scars can be physical, but often they are also emotional and mental. I’ve never been the type of mother to say that the hundreds of stretch marks on my stomach from growing 30 lbs in two weeks are a badge of honor. I hate them. Neither are the depression and chronic migraines I still suffer from. I’d much rather not have any of it. I can trace most of the personal issues I deal with on a day-to-day basis back to this experience, and even now, over 6 ½ years later, I struggle to reconcile my life and what I’m meant to learn from this trial. But when I look at the faces of my children, as I watch them grow, when they cling to me with love, when they refuse to do life without me…that’s what makes it worth it. That’s what feels like a badge of honor.