On this High Risk Birth Stories episode, Andrew Cromer shares his story of identical twins born at 24 weeks, including his wife’s emergency C-section, his sons’ stay in the NICU, and the support they received from family. While telling his story, Andrew shares advice for couples in similar situations: take one day at a time, don’t despair, and be cautiously optimistic.
High Risk Birth Stories: 24-week Twins – with Andrew Cromer
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Dr. Fox: Welcome to “High Risk Birth Stories” brought to you by the creators of the “Healthful Woman Podcast.” I’m your host, Dr. Nathan Fox. “High Risk Birth Stories” is a podcast designed to give you the listener a window into life changing experiences in pregnancy, fertility and childbirth. All right, Andrew Cromer, thank you so much for coming on the podcast to talk about high risk birth stories. I really appreciate it.
Andrew: Yeah. Thank you for having me.
Dr. Fox: Andrew, you and your wife, Carrie, are in Michigan in Grand Rapids, Michigan, correct?
Dr. Fox: Yeah, I’ve been to Grand Rapids, Michigan. It’s a great town. I flown into the Gerald R. Ford International Airport several times and then driven South down the coast. So I really like that part of the world.
Andrew: Yeah, it’s a really pretty place. I was born in Grand Rapids. I’ve lived here my whole life. My wife’s from Grand Rapids. She lived in Chicago for a little bit. But we both really loved the west side of Michigan.
Dr. Fox: And Andrew, you and I know each other because you’re one of the big pooh-bahs at DLN. And we worked together professionally, which is great. And you volunteered to tell your story, as we were planning this idea of a podcast because you said, I have a story. And let’s talk about it.
Andrew: Yeah. As you were putting together the podcast and bouncing ideas, it fell right into the situation that my wife and I found ourselves in. So I can just dive right in, if you’d like.
Dr. Fox: Tell us what are we like, what year is it and tell us where you are, individually. And as a family, as a couple, like what’s going on in your life, sort of when the pregnancy started.
Andrew: My wife and I were married October 22nd of 2016. We had been married a little, moving into our first year, we knew before we got married, that we wanted to have kids. And so we had been trying and so we found out in May of 2017 that we were pregnant. And so we started like with normal couples, you start scheduling the different doctor’s appointments, we went in for our first check in appointment where they do the heartbeat, they found the heartbeat of the baby and told us that we were having a healthy baby. And so from that point, we scheduled the follow up appointment, where you find the ultrasound at 20 weeks. The surprising part when we went in for that initial checkup is that I told the doctor I was like, “I think my wife is having twins.” And she said, “Well, you’re crazy.” And I said, “No, I think we’re having twins just because of the size of her stomach. And just it seems just higher.” But we scheduled our 20 week ultrasound appointment when we went in for that ultrasound appointment. As soon as they put the machine on and started looking around it became very clear that we were having twins, we found out that day that we are having identical twin boys.
Dr. Fox: So not not so crazy after all, huh?
Andrew: Yeah, no. Every time I see that doctor, I was like I told you from the very beginning, but we were thrilled my grandpa on my mom’s side. He was a twin fraternal twins. And I know that identical twins are genetic. But we were thrilled. The ultrasound lady was telling us that she doesn’t always get that reaction. But we were just overjoyed to have not one baby. But two baby boys.
Dr. Fox: At your doctor’s practice, their first routine ultrasound they do is at 20 weeks?
Andrew: I think what they said is they would have done one earlier if they would have known we had twins.
Dr. Fox: Sure.
Andrew: But with it being just the assumption that it was just the one child with the heartbeat that it was scheduled. Yeah, on 20 weeks.
Dr. Fox: Right. How old is your wife at the time?
Andrew: Well, my wife, she is 32 now so she would have been 29.
Dr. Fox: Yeah, I mean, the chance of having twins, on your first pregnancy and spontaneous pregnancy. You’re talking about 1 in 300, give or take. And so it’s not that common, but okay, so your 20 weeks you find out you’re having twins. And did you find it at that time if they were boys or girls?
Andrew: Yep, we found out that they were boys at that time. So we planned to be, you know, we did the stereotypical gender reveal what was pretty funny. So my little brother, were 17 months apart. He actually was having a child at the same time. So my wife’s due date and my sister-in-law actually due date. They’re only like three days apart. And so we decided to do a combined gender reveal just for immediate family. The twist that we knew is that we weren’t just having one baby but we were having two, so in the video our wives smashed pies in her face with whether we were having a boy or a girl. And then we pulled out a second pie and I just smashed my brother, at that point telling them that we were having not just one baby boy, but we’re having two
Dr. Fox: So the pie was filled with like, blue or pink cream or frost or whatever?
Andrew: Yeah, so it was the white topping and then underneath was a blue or pink. So my little brother, he ended up having a baby boy also.
Dr. Fox: That’s a lot of blue.
Andrew: Yeah, a lot of blue, which he actually has four kids. At the time he had two girls, he ended up having another girl after that, so he has a lot of pink. But that day, it was all blue.
Dr. Fox: Wow. And so when you found out at that time, when you and Carrie found out that you’re having twins, identical twins. How much did you know at that time about what is the…obviously it’s a lot of fun. It’s exciting, as you said, and it’s two instead of one and it’s all this whirlwind of excitement. But obviously, unlike on our end and the doctor end there’s all this concern like oh, twins increase risk of this and increase risks of that. And preterm birth and the identical and the twin-twin transfusion, all these things are gonna be swirling through the doctor’s head. How much of that did you know, at the time? Did it like drop it on you that day? Or did it unfold over the next several weeks?
Andrew: It unfolded over the next couple of weeks. So when we immediately found out at the ultrasound, it was all just joy over the next… I mean, we started scheduling, I think it was weekly appointments, or maybe not that frequent that early, but it was pretty regular going in for ultrasound appointments. They started educating us on the risk of just having twins and not only twins, but identical twins. And so we started to educate ourselves. In hindsight, I wish I would have done a little bit more research and familiarize myself a little bit more. But we were just overjoyed with the fact that we were having twin boys. And it was fairly smooth sailing. My wife didn’t really have a lot of her pregnancy, she didn’t have a lot of morning sickness. She wasn’t in a lot of pain or any of those just not common things that you hear with pregnancy. I would say that my wife’s pregnancy was was fairly common. Her stomach was quite large with the twins, but that was everything seemed to progress pretty normal.
Dr. Fox: And was she working at the time? And if she was, did she have to like take off work or change her life at all when she found out she was having twins?
Andrew: She did not she was told that she could progress. So my wife is the store director of Target at one of the stores local here. So she continued with her job and progress kind of with her normal life. I mean, still took prenatals, the list of items that they tell you can’t eat when you’re pregnant. So she was very strict in following those and no strenuous exercise. Just very, very diligent in keeping up with the advice that we were given, for any pregnant mom.
Dr. Fox: Okay, so she’s doing well, feeling well, doing her thing. You find you have twins, you have more appointments. And then what happened?
Andrew: The beginning of that week, our world kind of started to turn. So on September 30th, we found out my older brother had committed suicide. He had taken his life. And so we had started the preparations of dealing with that, with planning the funeral. And so a couple days after that, we were in the process of planning a funeral with my family, and my wife believes that she was having contractions, so wasn’t feeling great. They had told her, I think they’re referred to it as the Braxton Hicks where they’re not really contractions, but they feel like contractions. So she started having those. And so we took those very serious so we went to our local hospital. It’s the same hospital my wife ended up giving birth at, but we went there, they sent us to the triage unit where they monitored my wife.
We had actually had an ultrasound, I believe three days before we had gone there, everything was okay. And while we were at the triage unit we were there for about, I want to say four or five hours. It was quite a long time. They were monitoring my wife, they did another ultrasound. They were a little worried because it seems like the size of my life stomach had grown. And then that was an indication that there could be trouble. But they did the ultrasound and everything seemed normal. So at 6:00 p.m. that day, they sent us home. So we went home that night, ate dinner, kind of progress. My wife still wasn’t feeling great. They had told us when we left that if she had any more what they believed to be the Braxton Hicks, to call back.
My wife is a she’s strong, tough lady. So she believes she was having more of the Braxton Hicks. So they kind of progress. They were kind of infrequent. So we thought it was that. We weren’t completely sure they they continue to progress. So we ended up calling back to the hospital. We had told them, we were just there, at this point six hours ago, they had given an ultrasound, they had monitored everything and they said everything is good, but she’s still having these pains. They told us to come back in. So we went back into the hospital. Back to the same triage unit. And there, they started checking. And it was at that point that they realized that my wife was dilated. I don’t remember the exact amount that she was at that point. Before, they didn’t want to check to see how dilated she was, because they said that that could spur on labor. But yeah, so at that point, that’s when we knew, okay, this, things are definitely not right. Because at that point, she was 24 weeks and five days when this occurred, so very, very early on, we never dreamed that she would potentially be going in labor that early on.
So we knew that, they had told us that with twins that they were gonna be born early, but we were instructed more in like 36, 37, maybe 35 week range, not anywhere in the 24, 25 week range. So, at that point, things started to progress fairly quickly. So once they realized that my wife was dilated, they moved us in the hospital, to a room, they got ahold of my wife’s doctor at the time, and actually still is her doctor, but got ahold of her doctor. And then they started administering certain drugs to slow or to prolong the labor, trying to make sure that the boys would stay in the womb, as long as possible. I don’t remember the exact flu, the drugs that they gave her, but they gave my wife, one of the drugs, which they say is like giving this basically flu in a bag. They called it.
Dr. Fox: Yeah, magnesium properly. It’s probably the magnesium. Yeah, it’s pretty rough.
Andrew: Yeah. And so they gave her that. And it wasn’t only a few minutes after they gave her that the doctor had left the room. And my wife said, “I think I peed my pants.” Then the doctor as she was leaving out the door. She said, “No, you didn’t.” And my wife’s like, “No, I think I peed my pants.” And she’s like, “No, your water just broke.” So she came back. Because normal people just don’t pee their pants.
Dr. Fox: I want to stop you right there just because I want to ask you, at this moment in time, right? So you guys, you’re 24 and a half weeks pregnant, you’re in the hospital, she’s in labor, either before her water breaks or after water breaks. And obviously, you just gotten this traumatic news of your brother dying by suicide. And I want to see two questions. The first question is at that time, what was your understanding of what would happen with the babies if they were born in the next couple of days? Was it your impression that it was hopeless? Was it your impression that it was hopeful? Or was it your impression, you didn’t even know it wasn’t even being discussed at that time, it was just such a whirlwind? That’s like the first thing I wanted to ask you.
Andrew: I was running through all these scenarios in my head. As soon as they said that she was going in labor and I knew how early it was, while I hadn’t done a lot of research, I know that you don’t hear a lot of success stories of babies born that early. So I was losing it. And so I was crying. And my wife, she grabbed me by the hand, and she said, “Calm down, calm down, Andrew. It’s gonna be okay.” And I said, “Okay, okay, we’re gonna be okay.” And so she definitely the tough one of the two because…and that’s a tribute to her. She is a very glass half full, very positive person. And so in the midst of all of the chaos going on, she was really holding it together and thinking the best, but I, at the time, was going to all the worst case scenarios.
Dr. Fox: Yeah. And did the doctors give you any numbers at that time? Did they say, I mean, because again, sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t, there’s a lot of things going on. But did anyone say, if they’re born, this is the likelihood this is what to expect or was it sort of like, that wasn’t yet discussed?
Andrew: They did tell us that they were trying to prolong the labor as long as possible. So the ones could develop, so they start giving my wife steroids to try to help the long growth. And then they also, were talking about the next, kind of decisions that we had to make that were quickly where it was with my wife going into labor, whether she was gonna have a natural birth, or if they were gonna do a C-section. And then so they started going over the different risks of the two scenarios, we elected based on their guidance to have the C-section, the emergency C-section because they just said it really increase the likelihood of a healthy delivery of the two children and that they would have the best chance of survival with the C-section. So we knew trying to remember exactly all the conversations of that day, but they were very direct with us but in a very positive, I guess, way. And so it was…we knew we knew that there was a lot of danger, but we didn’t, I guess, fully comprehend all of the ramifications until we were kind of through it.
Dr. Fox: Yeah, I mean, it’s a really difficult obviously, for many reasons, it’s a very difficult situation. And I know that as a doctor, who were in that situation, there’s so much to talk about, and there’s so many facts and figures and decisions in this, but it’s hard to do it at that time. Because number one, it could be seen as either very aggressive or morbid or whatever it is to talk about all the risks. And number two, it’s hard for people to retain that information in such a high-charged environment. So, it’s generally many conversations over as much time as you have, and so it’s hard. So just curious where you were.
And the second question I wanted to ask you is just, you’re in the situation, you guys pretty much, everything is going great. And then suddenly, in 24 hours, like an anvil has dropped on the two of you that your brother dies. And now you’re preterm labored in the hospital and thinking about your babies. What was that like for you guys emotionally in general, and obviously, you’re saying you’re very worried about your babies, and your wife’s being very positive and optimistic, and you were sort of, helping each other. But in a global perspective, what’s going on in your heads at that time?
Andrew: Our world was just spinning. It started earlier in that week, I mean, we went from earlier that day, we were making funeral arrangements for my brother to going to the hospital, being sent home from the hospital, back at the hospital. And then once my wife went…and once her water broke, things moved quite quickly. And so we were just emotionally spent, but knowing that we’re just on the front end of this, in the next few hours, we were gonna know what the outcome was gonna be, how the babies were gonna be doing from basically the time they gave my wife the drugs to try to stop labor then her water broke to us deciding that we’re having a C-section. It was okay, everybody that was in the room, my mother-in-law was there. My little brother had come up to the hospital once he found out that we were going into labor, it was me putting on scrubs and cleaning up because they were moving her into the operating room. And so it was just a lot of emotions just all hitting us at one time.
Dr. Fox: Wow. And how was the rest of your family, extended family dealing with all this as well? It must have been very traumatic for them, I imagine.
Andrew: Yeah, it was. It was extremely traumatic dealing with the sudden loss of my brother to you’re trying to plan a funeral to you know, then you find out that you’re having two grandkids that are coming early. So the amazing thing that through this whole experience, I have just phenomenal parents, an amazing support system, the two of them, and they just, in dealing with everything that our family had gone through in just a very short period of time, really just leaning on each other. Like I said, my brother, I had texted him like, “She’s going into labor.” And he hopped in his car. He was there within just a few minutes.
Dr. Fox: Are both of your extended families in Grand Rapids at the time?
Andrew: Yep. Well, we’re fortunate that the hospital, the Spectrum Hospital in Grand Rapids, we all live very close to it. So my extended family all lives in Grand Rapids and my wife’s family as well.
Dr. Fox: So you guys go into the operating room. And they do the cesarean was she…was Carrie put to sleep or they did it with like a spinal epidural?
Andrew: They did it with a spinal epidural, so it was crazy. So we move into the operating room, and there is just a team of people.
Dr. Fox: Yeah. Probably like, 50 people in the room. Yeah, it’s crazy.
Andrew: Yeah, yeah. So and then I’m in the room. So my wife is, I think, it’s a spinal epidurals because she just couldn’t feel…she could talk and she was conscious, but…
Dr. Fox: But she’s awake.
Andrew: Yep. And so I’m actually up near her head. And I’m over by the anesthesiologist, and I don’t remember his name, but he was just an amazing gentleman. I’m losing it here, just watching my wife not knowing what’s going on. And he’s talking to me, I like to run so we were just talking about running a little bit, I think he was just trying to keep my mind occupied while he was also dealing…doing his job, but also just really trying to help me get through this difficult time. It was an interesting…so as they were kind of cutting or doing whatever they were doing, I couldn’t see it because there was a sheet, there was some fluid that came out until it hit the ground. And so he looked at it, and I’ve never been a person who does great with blood, or any of that stuff. And so he just grabbed me by the shoulder and just backed up and he said, “Yep, you’re not gonna want to look that,” I think he could read it on my face.
Dr. Fox: Yeah. The anesthesiologists, their part for C-sections, they’re primarily doctors, but they’re also friends, social workers, sometimes nurses, sometimes photographers, videographers. They have a lot of roles there because everyone’s typically awake. And so they have to…it’s not like when they’re doing, heart transplants and so on. To sleep for 12 hours, this is, you know, they’re talking to you guys, you’re in the room, she’s awake. And so they have to really…it’s a tough role for them. But yeah, they’re really good at that and keeping everyone calm during the situation because the OBs, they’re operating like they’re…you know, they can’t do that.
Andrew: Yeah. And so they had two teams of people. So the OB was operating on my wife, which they refer to at the time twin A, which was my son, Jacob, he was born first followed by twin B, which was Jonathan. So they took them immediately to the stations, which seemed to have…these stations had probably four or five people, and they immediately went to work. That was the other moment, as they were kind of talking to us. And this is all of it’s happening just very fast that we knew that with twin A, Jacob that there were some very serious complications. It was in…I think it was maybe after the fact that we had found out that what had kind of cause the problem was, is that twin B, Jonathan, at the time was stealing the nutrients from twin A, Jacob, and so that he just wasn’t getting any nutrients. So at that point, that’s what moved my wife into labor, but that he had been struggling.
So he was born with a brain hemorrhage, both of them actually, both Jacob and Jonathan were born with a brain hemorrhage, but Jacob was in just really rough shape. When they were delivered, Jonathan, he was in a little bit better shape. In that case, they actually…I got to go over and cut the umbilical cord at the time. They asked me, and I said, “No, I just want to make sure that they’re okay.” And they said, “No, we really think you should do this.” So I went over, and that was a really neat moment, getting to cut the umbilical cord. But after that, both Jacob and Jonathan were rushed off to the NICU.
So at that point, I went back over, I was by my wife. It was real interesting. So the anesthesiologist, I think, was double booked or had another engagement that he was supposed to be at. And so this nurse had came in and told him, “Hey, we need you.” And he said, he was talking to me, and he said, “No, I’ll be there.” And so she left a little bit. And then she came back. And she’s like, “No, we need you to come now.” And he said, “I’ll be there.” And so he made sure to help my…they were moving my wife from the operating table onto a thing. So he helped her over, made sure I was okay, shook my hand, and then he left. And the thing is, is that going through that traumatic experience, and I think that, you know, just in general, the entire hospital experience, but that’s just part of their every day. And so here, this guy is help…he doesn’t know me, he’s just helping through one of the most difficult times and calm, cool, and just a very unique individual.
Dr. Fox: Wow. So and you obviously, you’ve never seen him again, I assume, right?
Andrew: No, I didn’t catch his name, we tried to thank as many people in the hospital thing, but I didn’t know his name. So just very fortunate for our medical industry, and just the value that they provide.
Dr. Fox: The delivery is over, you go to the recovery room, at what point are you or you and Carrie able to see the babies to visit them? So to speak.
Andrew: They moved my wife to the recovery area, she has to stay there. At that point, we don’t know whether or not that Jacob or Jonathan have lived. We didn’t know what was going on with them. We wanted to see them together. So I went to the recovery with my wife, they then moved us upstairs to the NICU. So we got to go up there together. And I want to say that that would have been that night or later in that day. So this all took place on October 3rd in the morning, I want to say around 7:00, they were born. And then I think we probably saw them like really, maybe like noon-ish. I don’t have the exact time. But it was…we got to see them that day. And it was just absolutely mind blowing to go in and see them. Jacob was born one pound, five ounces. And Jonathan was born one pound nine ounces. But it was absolutely amazing just to see that the human body can be born that small with lungs and organs and legs and fingers. And so it was just absolutely, they were hooked up….I’m not gonna use the right term, but it seemed almost like incubators.
Dr. Fox: Yeah, no, they actually…that is the right term. They use incubators. It’s what they call them.
Andrew: And so they had these little and we still have them, just these teeny tiny diapers. There’s like preemies and then it’s like, I forget what they call them.
Dr. Fox: Yeah, and then little footprints also like the size of a thumb.
Andrew: Yeah. And so once they were in the NICU, that’s where the real fight or just both of them began. Them trying to grow trying to keep on weight, I know both of their weights initially went down that point is when we really, we knew that we had the boys had been born. And they were surviving, but they were fighting every minute and hour and day was gonna be crucial to their survival. At that point, we knew it was just trying to get to the next day. I’m a big college basketball fan. So as they say in college basketball, “Survive and advance.” So it was just survive, and so every minute and hour, trying to get to the next step.
Dr. Fox: And then how long was was Carrie in the hospital for after the cesarean?
Andrew: It was a decent amount of time. So she was supposed to be discharged on the sixth, they were born on the third, they were fighting. So that was an interesting component of it, too. So you have Carrie dealing with the surgery and the recovery, and so she was in a hospital in her hospital room, and then you had the NICU that was across the hospital. So I was staying at the hospital, and then we would track over and go see them in the NICU and then go back to our room. It was during that time, we also…so we had the visitation for my brother. So that was on the fourth. So the day after the boys were born, they were struggling. And so my wife, she couldn’t leave the hospital. So we went and I did the visitation for my brother, greeting people and dealing with that. And then back at the hospital that night, and my family would go to the visitation or they were all at the visitation and then my immediate family, my parents and my sister and my wife’s family, her mom and dad and stepmom and sister, they would come up to the hospital too as we were just trying to deal with this world, one that we had found ourselves in.
Dr. Fox: On the sixth, that’s when she was gonna go home. Right? So tell me about that day.
Andrew: The sixth is when things really…we had gotten some good news on the fifth that the boys were doing better, that they had made the first 24 hours. The second, made it 48 hours. They seemed Jacob who was in the worse shape than Jonathan had started gaining some weight. So we were getting very optimistic. My wife was set to be discharged that day, the funeral was actually for my brother was scheduled that day. And so we were…the plan was is that my wife was gonna stay at the hospital, she was getting checked out later that day, her sister and mother were gonna take her. I was gonna get up and go to the funeral, but we woke that morning on the sixth, getting a call from from NICU that Jacob had taken a turn for the worse, and that we needed to get immediately to the NICU. So we rush over, and they fill us in, that just things aren’t going well, that they had given them some additional medicine. And it just it wasn’t working. So they were trying a lot of different things, but they wanted us just to be near and to be with him because it was very likely that he didn’t have very long to live.
So that morning, they try a few things as sort of last ditch efforts to try to preserve his life. But it became clear that just being born that early, and having that much trauma, his little body just couldn’t take it. So at that point, they informed us that they could try a last ditch. I think it was a surgery or some very like invasive procedure. We didn’t know…the benefits and the risks and the benefits, it just wasn’t very likely. So after they had exhausted kind of all options, they informed us that that they would let us hold them. So the thing is that I come from a long line of Cromer’s and we’re all very stubborn. And so in this I’d like to believe that I passed on to my son, Jacob. And so the funeral is going on for my brother. My family, most of my family is there at the funeral. And so they allow us to hold Jacob and so my wife holds him because they think he’s gonna pass here in like an hour.
And so she’s holding him but he just keeps fighting and he keeps moving, so they still have the oxygen [inaudible 00:29:41], but he’s still fighting and so after a couple hours, we switched to me. So I’m able to hold him and one of the really neat things is that he kept holding on and fighting so that my parents and my sister, my brother, and my close family, the funeral had wrapped up. And they had gotten news that things have taken a turn for the worse. So when my family was heading to the hospital, they thought that he had already passed. But he held on long enough that my parents got to see him and they got to say goodbye. So my wife and just, we held him as he passed, it was a very tough day, I like to say that it’s a good day for a good day just because that wasn’t a good day. And so any day that’s not that day, that’s not October 6th, is a good day for us.
Dr. Fox: Wow. I mean, I can’t imagine. I mean, for you, and for your, I mean, your parents to say goodbye to their son, and then a grandson on the same day. I mean, I just can’t imagine what…I mean, I’m gonna get to, you know, obviously later, but I’m just like, October 6th must be like, just a horrible day in your calendar now. I mean, what happens on that day to you guys, now?
Andrew: My wife and I, we usually take off the days right around there. And we usually, we go to the grave site, and we just reflect because through all of this hardship that we’ve been through, and how bad that week has been, we’re still just reminded how blessed we are as a family to have each other to have our son, Jonathan, to have the family and the support system that we have, that the thing is that it didn’t take long being in the NICU just to realize how fortunate you are. I’m reminded so much of a couple the very next day. So the day after September 6th, there’s another couple there and they lost one of their…they had twins. They were in a very similar setting, situation that we were we didn’t know the details, I didn’t talk to them. But the setup that they had at the hospital is that they had…it was almost like group care is where the boys were kept. So Jacob and Jonathan were in two incubators, there were four in the room. And so there was a couple that had two twins. But what we’re reminded of is that they ended up losing both of their sons, and they lost them on different days. And so I just…we’re just very…we’re very fortunate.
Dr. Fox: What ultimately happened with Jonathan, in terms of his recovery and his growth?
Andrew: He was in the NICU, he ended up being in the NICU for 129 days. So we weren’t out of the woods yet, we knew that. So Jacob had passed, we knew that Jonathan still had a long way to go, that he still had an uphill battle. He had the brain hemorrhage that he had, he’s still being born so very early, underdeveloped lungs. He also…when he was in the hospital, he caught some sort of infection. And so once he was….when he was in the NICU, we were in that group room for a period of time, and then they moved us to an individual room. He had caught the infection. So every time my wife and I or anybody went to go see him, we had to gown up, put on basically these full suits, and gloves and make sure that it wasn’t gonna pass anymore. He ended up also having a hernia and so the whole…the ride in the NICU was very much a roller coaster. And so we we really adopted the phrase of, cautiously optimistic because he would take a couple steps forward, and then you’d have some sort of setback or some sort of turn in his care, and the thing is just being able to just weather those little hiccups along the ride.
Dr. Fox: Wow. And during this time, I’m guessing that your family all sort of latched on to Jonathan’s progress as like some form of hope or some sort of comfort over the devastation that happened just earlier. I can only imagine that with all this despair, every sort of good news you get for him must have been magnified, like, 100 times, that finally something good, something good and moving forward. Was it like that?
Andrew: Yeah, it was absolutely…the thing that what we found, though, is that we would be overjoyed by the good news, but there would be… So one of the big hurdles that he had is just with being born so early, the underdeveloped lungs. And so he was on a incubator, the respirator that the tubes they were in his lung and so he really struggled trying to get off of that machine. So they moved on to, I believe it was three different versions. So he would kind of like progress and sometimes when they would move on to the next version of the machine or try to turn down the level so that his lungs where he was using his own lungs more, his levels would spike and you’d see the machines. The family really came together and really were rallying and just pulling for him to keep fighting.
Dr. Fox: Wow. And then, ultimately so he eventually did, obviously he came home. And how’s he doing now? So he’s, I guess, two and a half. Three and a half, excuse me.
Andrew: Yep, he’ll be four in October. Yeah. So we got through 129 days, he had to have a hernia surgery. He got through that. So he got to come home. The other thing that also that really was beneficial as my mother-in-law, my wife’s…yeah, my mother-in-law. She went to the hospital, I mean, my wife for the 129 days, I was working during the time, she was off. Her company was absolutely just amazing with the grace and just the ability that they were to show her my wife during that time. So she was at the hospital every day holding him and my mother-in-law was right there by the side. So she couldn’t…we wouldn’t have got through this without our family. But Jonathan got to come home. We were on eggshells, it’s one thing to have a newborn and come home, we became very dependent. And they had warned us when you’re at the hospital, because you’re hooked up to all these machines. And so you have all these machines that tell you if something’s going good, or something’s going wrong, and so when you bring them home, they’re not…he wasn’t attached…he wasn’t on any oxygen, any machines. He was a little on the small side, I want to say he was like five pounds. I would have to double check on that. But I believe he had gotten, you know, from originally being born at 1.9 pounds that he was in the 5 pound range.
So a small baby, but we brought him home, it was a few months of just walking on eggshells, just making sure that he was okay. We were real worried about him catching any kind of flus or any of that stuff. We actually…they told us for the first couple years. So we are very fortunate, my sister-in-law, she stays at home with her kids. And so she was able to help watch him. So he wasn’t around a lot of other kids or in a group daycare setting. But he’s progressed. He’s had to go to speech class, and he had to go to physical therapy. But the thing that what we found is that being born so early, everything’s just a little delayed. But once he catches up, he gets it. So he talked a little bit later, but now, he loves the run. I’m a talker, so he gets it from me. But he really is a chatterbox now. Physical therapy, took him a little bit to walk. But now he walks and runs everywhere he goes and is just a very healthy, active, three year old boy. He’s in normal daycare, speech. We’re just very fortunate that given how dire things looked, and how scared we were in the very beginning, that this has had such a positive outcome.
Dr. Fox: Wow. Does he know that he had a twin brother?
Andrew: He does not. We have taken him to the grave site. He’s seen it. And we’ve talked a little bit, I just think he’s not fully comprehended that when we go to the grave site, that that was his brother, that that’s his twin. And I think that it’s something that we’re not gonna shy away from, it’s something that we’ll discuss with him very early on. One of the nurses got us a very cute sign that says that, “Not all twins are meant to walk together, one of them sometimes flies.” I think it’s a quote similar to that, but it’s a very cute sign that sits in his room right above his bed.
Dr. Fox: Yeah, and listen, I mean, when families have losses of either fetuses before birth or children who passed away shortly after birth, each family sort of has to figure out how they’re gonna tell their story. And for many of them, the baby has a name and as one of their children in the family and others are sort of less comfortable discussing that openly and either with the other children or with their family and friends. And I just think it’s a remarkable situation to try to navigate because who’s trained for that? Who knows what to do? And you have to find what works well for your family and your own children. When you look back, so it’s been three years and you have this beautiful healthy son, and at the same time, you have this this story of loss of a child and a brother in such a harrowing experience. What do you take away from all of this?
Andrew: The take away is that my first thing is that I realized that things could have been a whole lot worse, that I feel just very blessed. And that fortunate that we were able to go through this…well, I wouldn’t wish this on anybody. I do think that my family structure and our love and caring for each other really prepared us. If any family was gonna have to weather this, I think our family was innately built and able to handle this challenge and support system because I just feel for so many people that they go through situations like this and they don’t have the support system in the family that we have.
Dr. Fox: And what did you take away in terms of you mentioned the anesthesiologist who this sort of this anonymous hero and the nurse in the NICU and people, what other types of relationships did you make with either the people in the hospital at the time, or maybe a pediatrician early? Because sometimes, I mean, this is a very intense relationship, you’re there for four months, essentially, in the NICU. How did that work?
Andrew: Yeah. So we became very close with a few nurses at the NICU because like you said, I mean, my wife would…we live close to the hospital, so she didn’t stay at the hospital. But I mean, she would get up there, and she would go there first thing in the morning, and then she would be there all day during the day, and then we would have dinner. I would get out of work, we would have dinner, and then we would go up there. And I would spend the three hours at night. So my wife was there all the time and she became very close to the nurse. We had a nurse, Brittany, which was just a Godsend for us. She was there very early on when he was in the group area, walked along with us, answered questions. She actually helped coordinate other nurses so if we found other nurses that we liked, or that we really clicked with. We didn’t have any bad nurses, I don’t want to say that. But just you’re spending so much time there. You just have these relationships that form so she helped facilitate having those nurses on Jonathan’s care.
We’re very fortunate, too, that here in West Michigan, we have what they call medical mile, we’re fortunate that we have the DeVos family that has built just an amazing Children’s Hospital here in Grand Rapids, and that we live very close to it. And so those kind of combination of items that he just got exceptional care during that time, and that we were able to build relationships with just amazing doctors who a lot of them, we still talk to this day, even three years later.
Dr. Fox: If a couple in this similar circumstance, someone is either in the hospital at 24 weeks who might deliver or they’re having twins at that point, and they’re worried or has a baby or babies in the NICU and they came to you say, “Hey, you’ve been through this,” what would you tell them? What kind of things would you say to them in terms of advice or expectations or lessons you learned, that would be helpful to them?
Andrew: I would tell them that is dire the situation may look at the time that take it one day at a time, that you don’t know how it’s gonna end up. We’re very fortunate when we were in the NICU. They do a good job of trying to pair you up with other couples, but the couple that they paired us up, they didn’t have a very positive or it wasn’t what I would refer to a happy outcome in the story. And so the thing is, is that the thing that I want to just communicate, the reason for telling my story today is that, that no matter how bleak the situation was on ours, from October 6th to the 7th and the 8th looks very, very bleak, especially after we lost Jacob with no guarantee that we weren’t gonna lose Jonathan in the breathing problems that he was having that it can be okay, that that we have here in the United States, we have amazing medical.
Every single day that, we would check into the hospital, you go through security, and they had a lady down there, and she would ask how he was doing. And she would remind us, she was born significantly early. I don’t remember the number of weeks but they said that they just referred to her as her baby because, what they did when she was born was you just prayed that, there wasn’t modern medicine wasn’t where it was today, where there’s these incubators, and there’s all this modern medicine that really can do remarkable things. And take a baby that’s born at 24 weeks and 6 days at 1.9 pounds. And three years later have a fully functional, healthy little boy. And we’re just so very thankful and blessed for that.
Dr. Fox: Wow. Andrew, what an amazing story. First of all, thank you for sharing it. I appreciate it. I know the listeners appreciate it. There’s so much to learn from there. What Carrie and you and your family, A, went through, and B, how you guys bonded together and, you know the support you talked about and just the, the hope and the setting of all this despair to have hope and to fortunately, in addition to having such sad things happen to also have such a positive outcome with your son and I just think it’s terrific that you’re willing to share your story and talk about it and I really appreciate it.
Andrew: Yeah, thank you very much. Yeah, we’re glad that…we hope that no one has to go through what we go through, but for any couples that do find themselves in this situation that not all is not lost, that is not to despair. That ask a lot of good questions and and be an advocate for your child and cautiously optimistic and things will hopefully work out for the best.
Dr. Fox: Wow, thanks. Wow, what a powerful story. Thank you to Andrew Cromer for telling his and Carrie’s story about their 24 week twins, Jacob and Jonathan. Anytime someone delivers a 24 weeks, it is truly touch and go for the newborn. Some babies fortunately do well, but many others do not. Carrie and Andrew experience both outcomes. And I think Andrews message about gratitude and hope are lessons for all of us. Thanks for listening and have a great day.
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