Spreading Savannah’s Snowdrops

Gain insight into the feelings that go with losing a baby as a mother describes her family's NICU experience and mission to remember their little loved one.

Our Pregnancy

Rob and I were ecstatic when we found out I was pregnant in 2014. We had experienced a second trimester miscarriage 5 years earlier and had been dealing with infertility since that time. But our first round of IVF had proved successful.

We went to our first ultrasound hoping to see a heartbeat and be reassured that we had a viable pregnancy. That ultrasound brought us the greatest surprise of our lives. We didn’t see one heartbeat—we saw three. Triplets! We were shocked and scared, but those feelings soon gave way to joy as we prepared to welcome our trio into the world.

We went in for the anatomy scan at 20 weeks. It showed that Baby A (Savannah) had a congenital heart defect. We were referred to a pediatric cardiologist who confirmed that Savannah had Tetralogy of Fallot and an AV canal defect. Despite this seemingly scary diagnosis, the doctors seemed optimistic that they would be able to repair her heart after she was born.

Their opportunity to do so almost came very early—one week later, in fact. At 24w3d pregnant, I went into labor and was transferred by helicopter to a hospital 2½ hours away with a Level IV NICU. The doctors were able to stop my contractions, and I went on hospital bed rest for the duration of my pregnancy.

Seven weeks later, on the morning of January 8, 2015, Savannah’s water broke. I was 31w5d pregnant. Savannah, Paige, and Emma were born at 12:35 p.m., 12:36 p.m., and 12:37 p.m. (respectively).

Our girls were immediately rushed to the NICU. Paige was intubated, Savannah had a CPAP, and Emma breathed room air. As soon as I was out of the recovery room, I was brought to the NICU in my bed to see the girls. I’ll never forget the sight of my three beautiful babies hooked up to all kinds of machines. Despite feeling incredibly worried, I had never been so in love.

A three-picture photo collage of a couple with each of their triplets. Pictures labeled A, B, and C.
Shelly and Rob with their triplets in the NICU: Savannah (A), Paige (B), and Emma (C)

Savannah’s NICU Story

When your babies are in the NICU, you know the range of possibilities for things to go wrong. But you still hope and pray that they don’t.

Things started to become extra worrisome when Savannah needed her first surgery at 4 days old to try to correct her heart defects. It went well, but the next day, the doctors determined that she needed to have a stent placed in the cath lab because the blood still was not flowing through her heart properly. They took her in for the procedure the following day. She crashed after they placed the stent, and after 30 minutes of trying to bring her back, she was pronounced dead. My baby girl had lived only 6 days.

My heart was shattered into a million pieces, and I didn’t know how I would survive. I didn’t understand how we could experience such happiness followed by such overwhelming sorrow. Because of how fragile Savannah had been, we didn’t get to hold her while she was alive. When she passed away, we spent a long time holding her, looking at her beautiful face, and talking to her. We told Savannah that we would always love her and promised to take good care of her sisters. We buried her 10 days later with her sisters still fighting for their lives in the NICU.

Photo collage of three baby girls in the NICU.
Left: Savannah. Top: Paige. Middle: Paige and Emma. Bottom: Emma.

Paige and Emma’s NICU Story

Emma did very well in the NICU and was able to come home on February 11. We called her our preemie rockstar.

On the day of Savannah’s funeral, Paige was diagnosed with necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). I knew how serious this was, and I was so fearful that we were going to lose another one of our babies. The doctors stopped all of Paige’s feedings and monitored her carefully for 10 days. Thankfully, she never had to have surgery, and her bowels healed on their own. She had a few more ups and downs, but she joined us at home on March 3, just 4 days before her 40 weeks due date.

Today, both Paige and Emma are healthy and growing, and we have been blessed with another daughter, Mackenzie. I have more love in my heart for my little girls than I ever thought possible.

But my heart is also weighted with sadness at times when I think about what it would be like to have all our girls here with us. I struggle with this juxtaposition of joy and sorrow. I also struggle to find my place as a mom of multiples. I’m not a twin mom, but I have only two of my triplets in my arms. So where exactly do I fit in? And how do I identify Paige and Emma? Well-meaning strangers often ask, “Are they twins?” How do we answer without ignoring that Savannah existed and is part of our story but without making other people too uncomfortable? These are the things that no parent should have to deal with every single day, yet it is our reality and our story.

Photo collage of four girl toddlers.
Top left (clockwise): Paige, Mackenzie, and Emma. Bottom left: Emma. Right: Paige.

Our Project Sweet Peas Story

Being in the NICU and/or losing a child can be a very isolating experience that many people do not understand. Having people that get it and are there for you is so important.

While my girls were in the NICU, we received a gift from Project Sweet Peas–Greater Philadelphia. Project Sweet Peas is a nonprofit organization coordinated by volunteers who, through personal experience, have become passionate about providing support to families of premature or sick infants and to those who have been affected by pregnancy and infant loss. Their support includes care packages for families and siblings, NICU graduation packages, financial assistance to NICU families, memory boxes, luminary vigils, online support groups, NICU staff support, and hospital programs.

The gift we received was a care package, and it contained a NICU journal, a hat and an outfit for each of our girls, a reusable water bottle, a bracelet, a NICU guide, an accordion file folder, and a sweet card for us. The package so touched our hearts that Rob and I knew we wanted to be a part of this amazing mission to honor our girls and remember Savannah. We applied for and started our own division of Project Sweet Peas, Project Sweet Peas–Delaware, in August 2015.

In 3 years, we have delivered 301 NICU care packages; 529 holiday packages; 30 memory boxes; 248 miscellaneous items such as scent dolls, books, and snacks; and many mamaRoo swings to local NICUs. Through our services, we give from our hearts to inspire families with the hope of tomorrow.

Gain insight into the feelings that go with losing a baby as a mother describes her family's NICU experience and mission to remember their little loved one.
The items in a NICU care package put together by the Hopkins family.

Our Message

There will always be a missing piece in our family since we lost Savannah. I will be forever grateful to her for making me a mother. I believe that Savannah was given to us to help us recognize the beauty that we have here on Earth. We have met so many amazing and inspiring people on our journey, and I believe that Savannah made that possible. Rob and I want to keep Savannah’s memory alive by helping other families experiencing a NICU stay and/or child loss. No matter how short Savannah’s life was, she touched the world for all eternity.

Gain insight into the feelings that go with losing a baby as a mother describes her family's NICU experience and mission to remember their little loved one.

 

 

About Marcella Hines

Marcella Hines

Marcella wants to live in a world where she can escape to quiet rooms stacked high with books that come bundled with a brownie cookie dough DQ blizzard and cuddly purr monster. When she’s not finding creative ways to play with cars for the eleventy billionth time or shouting, “Undies! Pants! Sit! Pee!” at toddlers who have the attention span of a gnat, you can find her running to the beats of an audiobook/podcast or assisting writers in crafting their work through her editing business, A to Z Editing. Marcella likes talking about the day-to-day experience of raising triplets, like how to navigate toddler time and a park playdate with three toddlers in tow. Follow her running, English weenie-ing, and ice creaming on Instagram: @hineschica.

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