Labor Day had always been a special day to anticipate. Celebrating the end of summer and the last barbeque of the season – I could always remember the smell of the cedar planks and charcoal that we used for grilling. But after 2011, what Labor Day signified changed for me. Never again would I think about what type of condiments to put on my favorite homemade turkey burgers.
The year started off amazing, it was like all my dreams were coming true. I opened my own restaurant in January, and the next month I found out I was pregnant. With TWINS! I always wanted to be a mom and when I found out they were both boys, I imagined them growing up together and being best friends for life. When we found out the sex, my husband Jabbar screamed so loud with excitement that I thought they were going to put us out of the room.
But soon our fairytale became a nightmare. I was considered high risk because I was carrying multiples and was over the age of thirty. On a beautiful day in April, I went on a family outing with my husband and stepson. While visiting a local museum in Philadelphia, I had heart palpitations, and couldn’t control my breathing. I chalked it up to my pregnancy and didn’t think much of it. But the next day at the restaurant, I found myself breathing heavily again and my heart was racing. My doctor advised me to go straight to the Emergency Room, so I walked to Cooper Hospital in Camden, NJ, which was only a few blocks away. By the time I got to the corner I had to stop. It was like someone had put a cloth over my face, making it very hard to breathe.
Testing revealed that I had a pulmonary embolism, with clusters of blood clots in both of my lungs. The doctor said I was lucky to be alive as they usually find those kinds of clots while performing an autopsy. Not having any idea of how serious my situation was, I asked how long before I could leave and return to the restaurant, as I needed to prepare for my dinner crowd.
I was advised that I wasn’t going anywhere, as I was at risk for a stroke, heart attack, or even death. I was admitted to the ICU and put on bed rest and blood thinner medication. I was terrified that at any moment a clot would break off and go straight to my brain, and I would be gone. After a week I was released from the ICU and allowed to resume my normal activities but was advised to take it easy. I had to give myself a shot daily throughout the entire pregnancy and for months afterwards, which left bruises.
My prenatal visits revealed the babies were growing and everything was normal. In July, we went for a routine visit as we were preparing to travel to Jamaica for a wedding. I was five months pregnant and was looking forward to a break with my husband after so many long hours at the restaurant. During the ultrasound the technician showed us different parts of the babies and then suddenly made a strange sound. She took a picture and said she would right back. She returned with the doctor who also examined the screen. He turned the monitor to us and informed me that I had an incompetent cervix. He explained that it was a shortened cervix that opened and closed like an elevator door. This condition put me at high risk of having a miscarriage or a premature birth.
Our trip was cancelled, and the doctor continued to monitor me. A week later nothing changed, and I was promptly admitted to the hospital. I protested as I had a restaurant to run, and we had a limited staff who had already been working crazy hours to cover me. But protecting the babies was the most important thing. I would be on bedrest for the remainder of my pregnancy as I waited on my November 2nd delivery date.
Each day in the hospital I experienced a range of emotions. Depression at night when I didn’t have visitors and joy during the day when a few people would stop by. It took so much mental strength to endure months of bedrest, I tried any and everything to keep my mind entertained – movies, books, coloring, painting, eating, and attempting to knit. Daily I had to fight off depression and usually I lost.
I remember watching and then reading “The Help” and loving it then, but now can no longer do either due to the hospital memories it brings up. Sadly, we had to close our restaurant – our dream and investment was gone. I felt terrible like it was all my fault. Then came a gestational diabetes diagnosis. I then fell deeper into depression. What happened to my fairytale? There would be no gender reveal party or pregnancy pictures for me.
While in the hospital, the highlight of my day was waiting for my friend’s NJ Transit bus to drive by. Her bus route would go through the parking lot of the hospital. I would wait, and wave when I saw her approaching, and she would beep and wave back at me. That small gesture made such a big difference in those long days of bedrest.
Sunday, August 21st started off as a regular day. Following my evening dose of the blood thinner Coumadin, Jabbar headed home. Soon after he left, I started having pains in my lower back. The nurse strapped the monitor on, and no issues were detected but I knew something was wrong. I immediately called Jabbar and told him to return to the hospital. I could hear the irritation in his voice as he had a long day and just wanted to get some rest. By the time he returned, the doctor finished examining me, and informed us both that was I was 6cm dilated and fully effaced. We would soon be meeting our sons. My heart raced and dropped all at the same time. It was bittersweet, as I wanted to meet them, but I was only 29 weeks pregnant. What would that mean? Out of nowhere, it seemed that my water for baby A broke.
Everything went crazy, like something you would see on TV. People rushed into my room and started prepping for delivery. There was a team of about twenty people waiting for the special delivery. The blood thinner I had just taken increased the risk level and there was a chance I could die from complications if there was an issue with my platelets. I remember being rolled into a cold room full of people. They had me count down from 20, and I remember making it to 9 before everything went black. What I don’t remember are the piles and piles of bloody towels on the floor, as the doctors attempted to stop my bleeding. My husband anxiously waited outside of the room, not knowing if I would make it.
I woke up surrounding by yellow walls and a nurse staring at me. I turned and saw Jabbar with a huge smile on his face. He assured me the babies were fine and soon I met Jahaad and Jacaiah. When she rolled me in the room, I saw the 2- and 3-pound pale babies and thought I was in the wrong room! I could fit each of them into one hand.
Jahaad was the first one I held. We came to see them every day in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), feeding and changing them and finally got to take pictures. It truly was bittersweet. The next fourteen days were a blur. On September 4 we visited the boys late. The nurse that was normally with the boys had been on vacation and it was his first night back. Jahaad was extremely cranky and just not himself. The nurse commented that his belly looked distended as it was swollen and called the doctor. They decided to stop his feeds and run tests in the morning. The next morning the received a call from the NICU saying we needed to return immediately.
The doctor suspected Jahaad had a condition called Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC), a disease that can infect a premature baby’s intestines. They made the call to send him via helicopter to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) as they were better equipped to handle this medical emergency. It took four hours from the time we signed the paperwork for him to arrive at CHOP. Three hours later he was gone. While people were enjoying their Labor Day burgers, I was saying goodbye to my first-born son.
After Jahaad passed away, I called the hospital to check on Jacaiah and was told he was fine and sleeping. Twenty minutes later my phone rang. It was the hospital informing me that Jacaiah had the same condition his brother just died from, and they needed my permission to fly him to over CHOP as well. I screamed YES through the phone as I had so many thoughts run through my head. I had no chance to grieve because now I had to fight to save my remaining son. He was here for a purpose, and I would fight with everything in me for him.
I struggled with everything I was feeling inside. My husband was distant, and I didn’t understand why. I questioned why God would allow all of this to happen to me. Why would He allow so much pain? No business, no baby, and now my marriage was struggling but we had no other choice except to fight to hold it together.
A later conversation revealed that Jabbar distanced himself from Jacaiah due to the pain he was dealing with from Jahaad’s unexpected death, and also the trauma of almost losing me during the delivery. He didn’t want any more children as the risk was just too great and the pain was too deep.
I questioned why would God do this to me? Why would He have me go through this pain? We later learned that Jahaad’s placenta ruptured and he may have been without oxygen for some time, which may have caused developmental issues requiring special needs and accommodations for the rest of his life. Slowly I’ve come to realize that God knew what I could handle.
I’ll probably never get over losing Jahaad, but I do know he’s with the best babysitter ever. A few weeks after he passed, I had a dream of God walking Jahaad out of that same hospital room – but he was a little boy. I have been comforted with that vision ever since and it’s helped me to move forward.
I do know that in life you don’t go through things for yourself, so that’s why I tell my story to help other moms. I know this is part of my assignment and purpose. It may have taken me ten years to be able to share this, but thankfully I’m not where I use to be. I can see that God never left me. Even though for years I felt like He did.
Our lives are about the journey, not the destination. We face hurdles, bumps, and detours along the way, but the pain isn’t meant to hurt or stop us. They help to develop us for our life’s purpose. I often think on a scripture found in Esther 4:14; Perhaps I was created for such a time as this? The journey is about the lessons we learn and the people we help along the way. I’m still on my journey. God helps me to keep going, one day at a time.
Each Labor Day it gets a little easier. I am finally able to say “whose house are we headed to?”
Encouragement for Moms:
I am over 10 years in and I am not where I was. Some days have truly been debilitating for me. I don’t allow myself to fall backwards. I recognize that some things in life don’t need to make it to the next chapter. It’s up to me to decide to NOT be a victim but be victorious. You have to define small victories for yourself and celebrate them. I don’t think I will ever get over it. It’s a part of the new me that I have embraced, and I know I will get through it. I’ve learned to look up for my help and not down on my experience when I need comfort.
Prayer for Moms:
I pray that my test not only touches and encourages …but allows others to have a mindset shift, knowing that your grace and mercy is above ALL pain and struggles that we will ever endure. Moms, I pray you remember that God can provide comfort during the hard times. And that you allow the grieving process to happen and accept it so you can get through it and eventually encourage others to do the same.
In Jesus name, Amen
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