The book, Four Before Their Time, is the story of quadruplet micro preemies born at 24 weeks. It is written by their Grandfather, Timothy Spillane, and vividly details the quads' NICU journey.
Now I've got to say I was a little skeptical of how well a Grandpa would be able to write this story. I mean he's just the Grandpa, right? (No offense, Timothy!). But how much of this could the Grandpa possibly understand, much less enough to write an entire book about it?
A lot, I'll tell you, he understood a lot. I'm going to go out on a limb and say he understood a lot more than some parents even understand.
The time in the NICU is incredibly complicated (yes - bold, underlined, and italics worthy it's so complicated). You are feeling every single emotion under the sun. You are grieving the life you planned for your kids, while also desperately trying to celebrate the life they are living, minute by minute. You are scared, confused, and overwhelmed. It is a small miracle any amount of information sinks in. I, personally, recorded absolutely everything my twins went through every time I talked to the doctors. I was in such a fog I was scared I would get the details wrong and it was important that I fully understood everything about my boys.
The author and his family obviously felt the same need to keep track of every ounce of information, because no details were missed. He captured it all in a way that was understandable for the lay person, yet all of the medical accuracy also remained.
And it's not only the technical descriptions, but the emotional ramifications that are even harder to put into words, yet he does, with eloquence. For instance:
"Her role as mother of the babies was essentially suspended once the babies had been taken from her...when it came to her newborn children she really had no other role than to be their insurance sponsor. In fact, whether she lived or died in the SICU seemed to have little to do with how well the babies would do in their first hours or days outside her womb".
Here he's speaking about his daughter, the mother of the babies, recovering in the surgical ICU from her own medical emergency. At this critical point in the babies' lives, however, their mother's survival has zero impact on how her babies are going to fare. Reading that literally took my breath away because I had always known, but had never seen it in front of me in print like that. When your babies are that sick and that small and an entire team of medical staff and machines are taking care of them, their mother really has no role in their survival. That is an incredibly sad and harsh - but true - reality. And as much as it pained me to read that, it felt good to know that someone actually understood what it was like to feel so completely useless.
And now, like I said earlier about grieving while trying to feel some semblance of joy at the notion you've just given birth, more of his words:
"She had suffered a terrible loss. The pain she felt was as though someone very close to her had died, and while she was overwhelmed with grief, she was confused as to why. No one had died. Still she felt a gnawing ache, a stabbing pain that dug deeply into her, and she could not find the thing that had pierced her, let alone begin pulling it out. It wasn't for lack of trying. She desperately wanted to feel joy. But any notion that something should be celebrated - the birth of her children - was offset by the sense of grief that followed having her pregnancy cut short...Try as she might to convince herself she should feel joyful, to persuade herself - in spite of all that had transpired - that there were still things she should be thankful for, she could not. She was being crushed by the looming prospect of even greater loss and grief. It was so hard for her to hold onto hope".
You said it, Timothy! I wanted to be hopeful. I wanted to be positive. Every day my boys lived was a day to be celebrated. But every day also brought the potential of more complications. And when you have multiple babies facing these challenges - two was hard enough, much less four - it is a never ending series of "lows" between seemingly very short lived "highs". And again, being the mom - who should be the most important person, central to her baby(s) surviving and thriving - there is much grief associated with having no real role.
I could go on quoting but I won't because I risk this being far too long and everyone losing interest. But I will touch on one more thing that is pretty key to this book: Faith.
Now I will admit, when I started reading it and the author began mentioning God and his Christian faith, I wasn't entirely sure what to make of it. But I respected his faith and as I kept reading, I actually began to make a real connection to it. I realized that for this author it was his Christian faith that kept him going, but for most anyone living through such a stressful and unknown journey, some sort of faith is needed to keep going - something to believe in to get through the day.
For some people it's faith in God, or some sort of higher power. For others, it's faith in science and the medicine and machinery that keeps the babies alive. For others still, it's faith in their support system that no matter what happens, they are going to get through this with the help of others. I think for me, it was my faith in all of the above. So whether you're Christian or not, I think anyone who has been through an experience like this can relate to needing something to hold on to to let you know you're not alone in all of it. Faith is a very central theme in this book, and for good reason.
Anyway, the long and short of this review (ok just long, sorry I got a bit carried away) is that for anyone who has been through the harrowing NICU journey with a micro preemie (or two or four!) this is a very well-written and relatable read. To find out more, check out the book's website here and Facebook page here.