Yesterday was Charlie’s first birthday and it was a wonderful day. We had been anxious about it since it was also the first anniversary of the most traumatic day of our lives. I’ve never talked to any parents of twins who lost one of them on the day they were born, and I’d like to, because it makes for such a complex tangle of emotions. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as far as Charlie is concerned over the past year it’s how to live in the moment and appreciate all the good things as they are happening. We feel so incredibly blessed. But yesterday it was simply impossible for me not to remember that day one year ago that began with Kendall waking me up at 4 in the morning because she was in pain. I wasn’t surprised when I woke up yesterday at exactly that time, but looking over and seeing Kendall and Charlie sleeping so peacefully helped temper the memory of that rising fear that began before dawn last April 27th.
Moments that I had completely forgotten came rushing back, such as the somber drive to the hospital, with me trying to convince Kendall that nothing was wrong, assuring her that we’d be home by 8 am. I could see that her pain was getting worse as each minute passed but we were both in denial, and I still can’t believe I left her alone out in front of the hospital as I parked the car. When I found her trying to check into the maternity floor the pain had increased so much that she could no longer stand. There were no chairs by the registration window and when she started to go down, they rushed a wheelchair over.
The next few hours were a nightmare of nurses trying to strap two fetal monitors onto Kendall’s belly. I’d never seen her in that much pain but they had to get a reading for 20 consecutive minutes and they just couldn’t do it. She got massive doses of medications designed to stop the contractions, then to help the babies’ lungs. Her whole body shook uncontrollably, she was freezing. Still, we never dreamed the babies would be born, we knew they weren’t ready. I still believed we’d be able to go home and just have Kendall take it easy but they started talking about admitting Kendall to the hospital for the remainder of her pregnancy. “Are you nuts?” we replied. “We have four more months to go!” But minutes later, after a contraction that sent the needle off the monitor and had Kendall doubled over in agonizing pain, a doctor rushed in and announced that the babies were coming, she could see Oliver’s head. “Keep your legs together!” she screamed as they wheeled Kendall away.
I’ve written about what happened next and won’t go into it again but the images from that operating room are forever burned into my mind. I remember exactly what both our sons looked like just after they were taken out and what Kendall looked like as they were stitching her up. I remember the helpless feeling overtaking me as the doctors and nurses struggled furiously to save Oliver. It did not look good—one of his lungs had blown when they tried to insert the ventilator tube and I remember hearing the phrase “catastrophic neurological damage.” Charlie was as tiny as could be and I remember the relief I felt that they seemed to be successfully inserting all of the tubes and lines that were necessary to keep him alive. Not that there was a lot of optimism expressed about his condition—and I had the doctors’ words from an hour earlier ringing in my brain: “These babies are just not ready. We’ve GOT to keep them in for another week or two.”
Sorry, I didn’t mean for Charlie's birthday post to start out this way. I’m actually way less worried now than I’ve ever been about how we are going to celebrate Charlie’s birthday in the future. Despite the terrible memories that came up yesterday, we succeeded in having a truly fun, happy day with our special birthday boy. But I can’t pretend those other feelings weren’t there, too. At 9:48, the moment Charlie was born exactly one year earlier, we were at a Peet’s Coffee on Larchmont, very meaningful for me because for some reason when Kendall was pregnant I always imagined bringing our twin boys there.
We then met Charlie’s physical therapist at Griffith Park and had a great two-hour session where we marveled at how far Charlie has come. He enjoyed his first time on the swings (he couldn’t get enough of it!), his first ride down a slide, his first playtime in a sandbox. If there’s a happier, more contented baby on the planet, I haven’t met him yet.
I made a coconut cake for Charlie’s birthday but instead of eating it ourselves, we decided to bring it over to the Cedars-Sinai NICU and give it to the amazing staff who saved our son’s life on countless occasions over the four and a half months he spent there. It was so great to see them again and to see how happy they all were to see Charlie. I will never forget these folks and it was the only place we could be on his first birthday.
Here’s how Charlie looked when he was first under their care:
And here he is during his triumphant return to the NICU one year later:
Oh, how I felt for the parents I saw going in and out of the NICU while we were there yesterday. We talked to a few of them and told them a bit of Charlie’s story. I hope it comforted them to see how a baby who was once much smaller than their babies has turned out.
We also wanted to stop by the NICU because that’s where Charlie’s brother Oliver was for the 12 short hours of his life. My daughter Leah was at the hospital on April 27th when Oliver was still alive. She wanted to see him but there was so much happening with him at that time that was very difficult to watch and I suggested we wait until later. Sadly, later never came, and while I still think that was the right decision at the time, I deeply regret that Leah never got to meet her brother. In Oliver’s memory, I’m going to repost the video Leah and I made in his honor. That’s Leah on the soundtrack singing one of her favorite songs to her little brother.
We love you, Oliver. And Charlie, we are so incredibly grateful that you are here with us and so honored to be your parents. Happy Birthday, my beautiful, sweet son, I love you so much! After the NICU, we went to a friend's house. Her 10-year-old daughter had been working on a quilt for Charlie for months and wanted to give it to him on his birthday. When we finally got home, I was exhausted. Kendall then took this photo of me and Charlie in my favorite position: