By Jessica Cerretani
Every mother and father is
familiar with the ups and downs of pregnancy and parenthood. For the parents of
premature infants like Alyssa and Sam Robb, however, that understanding is
amplified. The Robbs, who have been married nine years, always knew they wanted
children. In 2007, they were thrilled to learn that they were expecting—but
then the unthinkable happened.
"I was 22 weeks pregnant
with our daughter, Logan, when I started having complications," Alyssa
explains. "Everything had been fine, but I developed a uterine infection
that would have forced me to deliver her at a time when she just wasn't viable
yet." They made the incredibly difficult decision to end the pregnancy.
|Alyssa and Sam Robb|
By 2009, they were ready to try
again. Through in vitro fertilization, they were soon pregnant with twin boys,
Baylor and Hudson. Although excited, Alyssa remained cautious, aware that
multiples, her age, and her past experience put her at high risk for premature
birth. In fact, more than half of all twins are born at less than 37 weeks gestation, according to the National Institutes of Health.
At the same time, the Robbs knew their
pregnancy was in good hands. A close friend had recently delivered early and
highly recommended that Alyssa see her obstetrician, Hyagriv N. Simhan, M.D. As
Chief of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC,
Dr. Simhan specializes in helping women at risk for preterm delivery.
For the first trimester, things
progressed as expected. But at about 22 weeks, the Robbs found themselves
tested once again. A mental health counselor, Alyssa was getting ready to see a
client when she realized she was bleeding.
"I had never been so scared
in my life," she admits. "I thought, ‘Here we go again. We've lost them.’"
An immediate trip to Magee
revealed that Hudson and Baylor were just fine, but Alyssa was put on modified
bed rest for placental abruption, a separation of the placenta from the wall of
the uterus. During the next four weeks, she went to the emergency room eight
more times for bleeding, and was admitted four times.
Eventually, the situation became
critical. Over Thanksgiving weekend, Alyssa experienced a large bleed at the
hospital. Although the doctors tried to prevent labor, Dr. Simhan had no choice
but to deliver the boys in an emergency Cesarean section. It was November 28,
14 weeks before the twins' March due date—and the original due date of the
Robbs' late daughter, Logan.
"Dr. Simhan talked to me the
whole time, and I heard him talking to Hudson and Baylor, too: 'Come on buddy,
let's go,'" Alyssa remembers. "He saw Hudson's eyes open when he was
delivered, and that's something that's really special to me now."
As the boys were wheeled away to
the neonatal intensive care unit, the Robbs marveled at their size: Hudson was
2 pounds, 6 ounces, and Baylor weighed just 2 pounds, 2 ounces. "I
thought, ‘Oh, they're tiny, but they'll be
fine,’" says Alyssa. "In retrospect, I think my brain was
protecting me from reality."
The fact is that premature
infants face a number of challenges, from developmental delays, to vision
problems, to breathing difficulties. In the NICU, both boys were intubated and
placed on ventilators to help their tiny lungs function.
Just two days later, doctors came
to Alyssa's room with devastating news: Hudson's lungs collapsed when he was
extubated. Although he had stabilized, he was critical. Sam and Alyssa, who was
still recovering from a blood transfusion, rushed to his side.
"All of his systems had
started to fail," says Alyssa. "They suspected a brain bleed and had
taken him off the ventilator but were still giving him oxygen. We asked the
doctors to stop. We couldn't let him suffer."
An hour later, Hudson died in his
It's a tragedy that many people
would find insurmountable. But the Robbs knew that, despite their immense
grief, they had to be strong for Baylor. It was almost three weeks before she and Sam
could hold Baylor, but when they finally did, their connection to him grew even
stronger. "I just sobbed," says Alyssa. "It was just pure love
Seventy-five days later, Baylor
was healthy enough to go home with his parents. Although the prospect was
initially scary, the Robbs felt comfortable knowing they weren't alone.
"Everyone at Magee was so supportive, and Dr. Simhan was always there when
we needed him," Alyssa says. "They've become like family to us."
|Alyssa holds Baylor for the first time.|
Today, Baylor is a
"personable and strong-willed" four-year-old who loves to dance, swim
and play with Hot Wheels cars. He has no major complications from his early
entrance into the world—but the experience has had a lasting impact on his
parents. In 2011, the Robbs organized a charity event, raising enough money to
help purchase equipment that will aid Dr. Simhan in his research into premature
The experience has also given
them perspective on being parents of a preemie. "You have to trust and
have faith that you have been given a gift," says Alyssa. "Even if
that gift doesn't turn out the way that you expected it, it's still a blessing.
Embrace that—and enjoy every moment that you can."
Jessica Cerretani is a freelance health writer.
Labels: high-risk pregnancy, Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, pregnancy, preterm births