A patient and family story from Catrina McKnight, recounting an experience that took place eight years ago.

As my eyes began to open slowly, I couldn’t fathom what had just occurred. My mind was blank for a moment while I tried to get my bearings and recall what was happening. My body didn’t feel the same as it had felt for the last seven months. It was numb from the morphine, yet the empty sensation in my abdomen jolted me into reality. My babies. They weren’t with me anymore.

“I had spent the last two-and-a-half months doing everything in my power to keep them inside of me.”

Medical procedures, shots to help with lung development, two hospital stays, and strict bed rest. I counted every day and knew the major milestones. I knew their chance of survival for each additional week that they stayed inside and the challenges that they would face if they arrived. I knew they needed more time, time to grow bigger and stronger. I knew they weren’t ready for the world yet, but the world was ready for them.  

As my eyes opened, I saw my friend standing near the foot of my bed, large windows behind her framing the dark night sky. The lights in the room were dim. I could feel the warmth of the blankets that were on me.

“When I finally mustered up words, ‘My babies?’ was all that came out.”

My friend came near the edge of my bed and let me know that Alan (my husband) was with the babies and that they were okay. A sense of relief came over me, but that was soon replaced with months of worry. 

My twins, Austin and Bailey, arrived at 28 weeks and two days, weighing just under two-and-a-half pounds each. Nothing in the world could have prepared me for it. The moment I saw my oldest child for the first time, it was magical – pure unconditional love and happiness. The moment I saw my 2-lb twins for the first time, it was unconditional love and terror all wrapped up in one. 

“Standing in the NICU for the first time, four hours after I had a c-section and still hooked to an IV of morphine, I stared at my babies covered in tubes and wires.”

Catrina McKnight with her husband, Alan, and one of their twins in the NICU.

My husband stood next to me. I feel like in that moment we both grew up in an instant. Nothing else in the world mattered. Our new purpose in life was to care for these fragile beings. Neither of us knew what to do or say but these tiny humans belonged to us. They needed us, and we needed the NICU nurses. 

I spent days walking from my hospital room to the NICU at all hours of the day and night. I was so happy that I kept them in long enough and they were alive, but so mad at the world that they were born so early. Did I do something wrong? Am I being punished? Why us? All questions that ran through my head as I walked past the other rooms with moms and babies in them. I couldn’t help but feel alone. Alone is a hospital full of people. 

The day I was discharged, my husband and two-year-old daughter walked out of the hospital with me. It was like half of my heart was walking down the hallway and through the lobby with me, and half of it was on the seventh floor in isolettes.

“Once I went home, I spent all hours of the day and night driving an hour each way to and from the NICU.”

nicu premature twins
Catrina McKnight with her twins in the NICU.

Nothing could stop me from being with them. Yet, despite my loving husband and support family and friends, I still felt alone. Like no one understood what I was going through. People said all the right words but it didn’t make it okay because no one truly understood what I was going through. They didn’t know what it felt like to want to hold your newborn without them being attached to machines. The very machines were keeping them alive. They didn’t know what it felt like to just want to have your family all in one place. Not being able to have my children all together ate away at me every single day. It was like leading two separate lives.

Almost eight years later, I am here to tell you that we made it. The four months that we spent at the UVM Children’s Hospital changed all of us. Austin and Bailey left bigger, stronger, and ready to take on the world. My husband an I left knowing that we can take anything life throws at us and our daughter left now with two siblings and friends for life.  

Catrina McKnight and her family.

Catrina McKnight lives in Johnson, Vermont, with her husband and three children. They own and operate Better Construction, LLC. She is also a teacher at Cambridge Elementary School.

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