Hazel Grace and her twin sister Hattie Claire were born on August 7, 2015 at 30 weeks gestation. Robbie and I had received the news 3 weeks prior that I was to be admitted due to a few complications. Our goal was to make it to 34 weeks, so the thought of being confined to a hospital room for 7 weeks wasn’t exactly in our birth plan. Then again we burned our birth plan the day we were surprised by the sound of not one, but 2 little hearts beating lub-dub…lub dub.
No longer than a week in, the Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist from Dallas saw a few things wrong with one of the babies.
We had chosen the girls’ names early on, but we were a little baffled at which one would be which. Would we wait until birth and then just name the first one Hazel? Would we wait to learn their personalities? One of the babies loved to practice her MMA moves inside the womb, while the other seemed to be saving her strength for what was to come. I decided the little fighter would be Hazel. My Grandmother, Hazel McClain, was a firecracker and I knew this little baby could live up to her name. We were able to keep track of who was who fairly early, due to the fact that Hazel had a pelvic kidney. If the babies switched sides, which they did often, we could always take a look at the kidneys.
Well, back the MFM. The baby with the heart issue was little miss pelvic kidney, Hazel Grace. This news crushed me and left me with so many questions. We were already traveling in unknown territory. These were our first children, twins, premature, and now a congenital heart defect. What did that even mean? Would she make it to birth? Would Hattie be in danger? Question upon question with no sure answer in sight. We trusted in God and in each other to help see us through this time. God had promised us a family and we knew He didn’t bring us this far to turn His back on us now. - Lauren
I was experiencing contractions pretty early and one of the nurses caught something in the middle of the night during a monitoring session. Hazel’s heart rate would drop significantly during a contraction. I was then put on 24 hour monitoring and began to realize that we would not see 34 weeks. Our MFM increased his frequency of visits and introduced new tests and fed us new information with each visit. The realization hit us that there was a good possibility that Hazel would be transferred to a larger hospital that specializes in CHD repair and Hattie would be unable to tag along. We would have one baby in Dallas and one in Longview. We expressed our concern to the doctors and we received mixed advice. Hazel was so unstable that if something happened during the transport to Dallas, they would be unable to intervene. It just wasn’t worth the risk to us. A few days later a pediatric cardiologist did an echo of Hazel’s Heart in utero and diagnosed her with a co-arctation of the aorta. Basically it is a narrowing of the aorta where it curves down to supply blood to your lower extremities. Her belief was that Hazel would need to grow considerably before surgery and she could do that in Longview. Our plan was that hopefully Hattie would be out of the NICU by then, and could travel with us to Dallas to be worth her sister.
We all know what happens to plans in this story. - Lauren
On August 6th around 8:30 pm, the MFM examined the girls and based on all the research and data, he recommended we do a scheduled c section the next morning. Lauren and I both exhaled the tension and dropped the weight from our shoulders. We both felt that it was time and just needed someone to confirm. We knew it was risky delivering two tiny baby girls this early in their development, but Hazel’s heart was threatening them both, worse than time.
The next morning was a blur as our family and friends gathered in the room and hallway. I was scared, scared for my wife and my two babies. Lauren was so beautiful and strong. We were ready to meet our girls and to start the journey of healing for Hazel. Lauren rolled back to get prepped and they called me back a few minutes later. It was like another world in that room. I felt like I had just walked onto the mother ship and all these “aliens” in masks were speaking a foreign language. They asked me if I was ready and I assume I nodded or mumbled something. The equipment hissed and beeped, and the lights and stainless steel were blinding. The doctor was giving a play by play and the nurses, assistants, and techs were all on standby, all 15 of them. Before I knew it, he was passing off a silent Hazel to the nurse. No crying, no movement. Is that okay? I was speechless. I felt as if I was a spectator watching a production on stage marveling at the drama and bathing in the tension of the outcome. As the nurses attended to Hazel, the doctor passed off Hattie to another set of nurses. They were so small. I didn’t really know what to expect. I had never seen a 2lb baby before. After what seemed like an eternity, we heard the faint sounds of a whimper from each baby. We had two heart beats and two babies breathing. They wheeled them out in their incubators to the NICU just after we got a quick glance. We weren’t able to hold them, no skin on skin, just a quick "Hello there...Happy birthday". We knew it wasn’t going to be the typical road, it was starting to sink in.
Hattie Claire and Hazel Grace, 3lbs 15” and 2lb 5oz 14” respectively. Head to toe…From my fingertips to the middle of my forearm. They were beautiful, resembling olive toned porcelain dolls. Encased in a plastic container for preservation. They were both doing great considering. It didn’t surprise me. God gave me His word and I knew that we would be home together soon, but how soon? Patience is not a virtue I have ever possessed. We got our first microwave and VCR when I was 5, how could I? The next few days were much like the next 4 ½ months. The days were so slow, but the weeks flew by. On August 11th, that other little plan we made spontaneously combusted. Hazel’s team insisted that she be moved to Medical City in Dallas to be monitored daily by her cardiologists and baby sister was unable to travel with us. Two very small premature babies, one Mommy, one Daddy, two hospitals 2 hours and 134 miles between. Definitely not in the birth plan. Lauren and I were in this together and we made the decision to stay together. We are blessed with the greatest support team in our parents. Whenever we were with Hazel in Dallas, our parents were in Longview with Hattie, and vice versa. 4 ½ months… it seems like a lifetime ago (9months), but I just sat there counting the minutes, hours, and days, until Hazel was big enough to have her surgery. Both girls had their great days, followed by a few not so great ones. We had many ups and some devastating downs. Seeing your baby turning blue from aspirating, yelling for a doctor, and have them come in and pop the top on her isolet to bag her to get her breathing again, is not a site I wish on anyone. In that split second you don’t have time to think, to prey, or to react. You forget about that promise. A few minutes later when the heart rate and oxygen level start to rise, you recall. You remember that promise and thank God he is seeing it through.
October 12th. The day had arrived. It was like Christmas morning when you have been looking forward to it since December 26th. My parents were keeping Hattie at the apartment in Dallas and Lauren’s parents were with us at the hospital. We were all so blessed to have Dr Mendeloff performing Hazel’s surgery. We were so confident in him and his team. After giving Hazel some sugar, they wheeled her off and the wait had begun. We hadn’t slept much the night before, and if you know me, I can sleep anywhere, so that I did. I passed out in a recliner in the waiting room to be awoken by Dr Mendeloff’’s nurse a few hours later. She had some news, not the best news, and not what we wanted to hear. They attempted to repair Hazel’s heart by going through her side. This does not require heart and lung bypass, so we were ecstatic when we found this out. Unfortunately when Dr Mendeloff opened Hazel he noticed her anatomy was nothing like the echos had showed. He had to sew her up, regroup, and we had to come up with a new plan. A very gracious doctor decided to stay to do a heart cath on Hazel immediately. This would give them a better picture of what was going on. We met with the doctor later that afternoon and he shared that with us. They would re attempt surgery the next morning, but this time it would require to open her chest and put her on the heart/lung machine. Numbness. Nausea. Devastation. It was Christmas morning, but Santa had skipped over our house.
My memory is void on the next morning. Everything had started running together. I’m sure this is an involuntary survival mechanism. Sometimes, it’s just too much. My memory resurfaces at the point when we are told that everything went great, she is back in her room, and you can see her shortly. A sigh of relief and thank you to above. Our little fighter wasn’t done yet, she still had a long recovery, but we knew she was strong.