10 Apr Momspiration Monday // Caitlin’s Story
Countless times I have sat down and tried to write this, but literally got up and walked away with tears in my eyes. I can rattle off my daughter’s medical history without batting an eye, but putting these thoughts into words was different. How could I summarize the last few years of my life into something that could potentially help another mother, sister, daughter or friend be encouraged through some of the darkest days of her life and still find hope and happiness?
My husband, Thomas, and I were married in May of 2012. We knew we wanted to have as many children as possible, but we were not set on a timeline. My father took his own life about 9 months into our marriage on Valentine’s Day – which also happens to be Thomas’s birthday. We immediately knew that a baby would bring some happiness and joy into not only our lives, but to our families as well. After all, when I was growing up I always joked about wanting to be the fun, young, stay at home mom – little did I know…
In December of 2013, we were thrilled to learn we were expecting twin girls due in July of 2014. Trust me – there was also plenty shock and fear, but most of all we were thrilled because we knew these little girls were huge blessings and gifts from God. If you know me, I am huge planner – I like to know what is happening, when it will happen and how it will happen. So of course, Thomas and I dove in head first making game plans, rearranging bedrooms and picking out all the matching outfits we could. Then everything changed. On March 17, 2014 at 23 weeks and 5 days gestation, I was having some unusual pains. I called my OB first thing and she said she wanted me to come to her office. From there she sent me to Baylor-Dallas to have some additional tests run, where we eventually learned that our twin girls were identical twins and had a condition called Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS). As if that wasn’t enough information for us to fully process, I was also in labor. The incredible staff at Baylor did everything possible to stop the contractions and make me comfortable, but God and our girls had other plans. On March 19, 2014 at 24 weeks gestation, I ruptured and we lost the babies’ heartbeats – I was rushed into an emergency C-section.
Our first daughter, Catherine Reid, was born at 6:18 a.m. and her sister, Elizabeth Jane, followed minutes later. They were immediately whisked away to a team of neonatologists, nurses and pulmonary techs. Both of our girls were tinier than you can imagine. Catherine weighed 480 grams and Elizabeth was 460 grams – both barely 1 pound. All things considered, Catherine was doing reasonably well. Elizabeth was born coded (meaning that she did not have a heartbeat) and she had a grade 2 bilateral brain bleed. However, by the grace of God and the incredible efforts of the medical staff, they successfully performed CPR got her little heart going. Unfortunately, the stress of such an early birth was too much for our Catherine. While in our arms, she went to heaven early in the morning on March 20, 2014. We miss Catherine every day and think of her often.
Elizabeth, on the other hand, quickly made a habit of defying her doctor’s expectations. We were told on multiple different occasions due to multiple different medical issues that she would not live through the day, but each time our little Elizabeth mustered all the strength in her tiny little body and pulled through. She spent months on ventilators and oxygen, required a feeding tube and underwent several surgeries and procedures. Elizabeth spent 176 days in the NICU and we brought her home just shy of her 6-month birthday.
Looking back, I had an instant connection to Elizabeth. Thomas and I had picked our girls’ names, but we wanted to see the babies before deciding which baby was Catherine and which baby was Elizabeth. I vividly remember them wheeling Baby B past me in the OR and I said, “That’s Elizabeth.” I do not remember seeing or spending any time with Catherine when she was alive at all. Maybe that was God protecting me? Thomas remembers, but I have no memory whatsoever. My only memory of her was the morning she died. I regret not taking any pictures of the girls the day were born. There was so much happening so fast that it was the last thing on our minds, and then Catherine was gone before we knew it. When she died, we were totally shocked and unprepared. I think we had partially prepared ourselves to lose Elizabeth since she was smaller and seemed sicker at birth, but I do not think you can ever fully prepare yourself for losing a child.
Thomas and I spent the next month completely guarded and feared we would lose Elizabeth as well. I really struggled to connect to Elizabeth that first month. We could not hold her, she was still in such critical condition. She was so small and her skin was so thin that we could not even touch her either, because just our touch would have ripped the skin off her tiny body. In those early days, all I could do was look at her, talk to her and provide breast milk for her. I know there is nothing I did to cause TTTS, but I still sometimes feel like I failed my girls. I sometimes feel like it is my fault they were born so early. Because they were born so early Catherine died and Elizabeth has faced and still faces so many challenges. What if we had caught it sooner? What if I had stayed pregnant longer? What if Catherine had lived? What if Elizabeth had died? Will Elizabeth have survivor’s guilt? What does Elizabeth’s future really look like? These are all questions I play in my head over and over.
Thomas and I have been told by many doctors that there is no medical reason for Elizabeth to still be alive. Just think about that for a second – there is no medical reason for my daughter to be alive. How incredible is that? When you hear or read her medical history and then look at the most precious three-year-old we are raising – the two do not add up. The odds have always been stacked against her and yet she has stumped more doctors and specialists than I can count – I have literally experienced a doctor hug me, shrug their shoulders and walk away in disbelief that she made it another day. Elizabeth was fearfully and wonderfully made.
Fast forwarding a little bit, Thomas and I knew we wanted Elizabeth to have a sibling on Earth. Even with all of Elizabeth’s ongoing challenges, we decided it was time to try again, although we were not fully sure how we were going to handle Elizabeth and a new baby. But there is never a perfect time is there? We knew I was going to be considered a high-risk pregnancy with a history of preterm labor, meaning my OB was not going to let me out of her sight. Thankfully my second pregnancy was easy overall. I was not nearly as sick, but boy was I big – especially towards the end. When your first pregnancy is twins with a fluid problem, you’re just destined to be that big again and potentially have a fluid problem again. However, everyone kept a very close watch and I did my best to rest and not pick up Elizabeth – we were very lucky that Elizabeth’s favorite aunt (my sister) came to stay with us for a couple of months to help! I did start contracting about 28 weeks gestation, but I made it to 36 weeks and 6 says gestation before I delivered Ben. Once again, we had everything planned. My sister was going to watch Elizabeth, we were going to go to the hospital and get settled in postpartum before everyone else came up, but our son and God had other plans. At 3:30 A.M. on May 28, 2016 we welcomed Benning “Ben” Adams Laughlin and he was perfect in every way.
Today our sweet Elizabeth just turned three. She has overcome so much, but still has many challenges ahead of her. Last July she was diagnosed with Mild Athetoid Cerebral Palsy. She still has her G-button (feeding tube) in her stomach. There is a slight chance it will come out this summer, but we do not want to rush it! She is also still very physically and developmentally delayed. She independently crawls, pulls to stand and cruises. She can independently walk in her walker and has bilateral spring step AFO’s with an SMO insert to give her legs support, but she can’t yet really walk or stand on her own yet. I take her to two physical therapy sessions, two occupational therapy sessions, two language and one feeding therapy sessions a week. There is also usually a doctor’s appointment or two thrown in there as well and she just started preschool. Elizabeth is truly our hero. Ben is a big healthy ten-month-old. He eats everything in sight, he is crawling and pulling to stand. He also loves his sister and has the sweetest temperament. He was the perfect addition to our family and it has been so fun to experience a typically developing child. Did I mention he and Elizabeth both weigh close to 30 pounds? My back needs one of them to start walking independently as soon as possible!
I will be honest – some days are just harder than others and I cry a lot, but these babies bring so much joy into our lives. I will always grieve the loss of Catherine and I grieve the typical childhood that Elizabeth (and Catherine) will not get to have. I worry about the future. Who will take care of Elizabeth after we’re gone? Will she be ok? It is hard to watch other moms run their daughters to ballet while we head back to Our Children’s House for another therapy session, but it is okay. It will all be ok. We know there is a greater plan for Elizabeth! God wrote this book long before I started living it. I am taking care of the babies God made for me the best way I can. I just hope one day they know how much we love them. One day I will get to sleep through the night or go on vacation, but right now my babies need me and that is incredibly special.
Caitlin is the oldest of four children and was born and raised in Beaumont, TX. She attended Baylor University and earned a degree in Interior Design. Upon graduation she moved to Dallas, TX where she met her husband, Thomas. Now Caitlin is a stay at home mom to their son Ben (10 months) and their daughter Elizabeth (3), who was born very prematurely, has mild cerebral palsy and has an identical twin sister in heaven. In memory of their daughter Catherine and in honor of Elizabeth, she and Thomas have become involved with the March of Dimes to help end premature births. If you fell lead, you can visit their personal page for Team Little Laughlins and consider making a donation to this worthy cause.
Do you want to share your story of motherhood with others? Do you have a momspiration you’d like to nominate to share their story and encouragement? Tell us about your Momspiration Monday by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org!