I’m beyond excited that my friend Britney is sharing her story for my second motherhood interview. Britney is truly one of the sweetest, and yet also strongest women I know. Britney and I met in college and back then she had a crush on a boy named Elijah. Now, a decade later, Britney and Elijah are married and live in Nashville with their three beautiful children, including twin girls, born at 25 weeks.
After the twins early arrival, Britney spent months away from her home, husband and eldest child to be with her baby girls in NICU. Below she’s sharing her story about learning to thrive in the midst of uncertainty by fighting fear with strength.
Hi Britney! Let’s begin with your first child, Avett. Can you share a little about him?
Yes! Avett just turned five and is my absolute sunshine. He, like me, can be SO stubborn and hot-tempered. But then he can turn around and say the most heart-melting things. We often clash during the day and he has been our most difficult child (which is saying a lot when you know the girls’ story!) but at the end of each day I feel so completely blessed to be his mama and best friend.
How did you feel after becoming a mom for the first time?
My husband says the first thing I said when Avett was born was “I have been waiting SO long to meet you!” We have been best buddies since his birth and we’re pretty much inseparable. Until he was two and a half when the girls came, we had never spent more than a few hours apart from each other. Being my first baby, I had to let go of a lot of expectations I put on myself and learn to adapt to a child who is so similar and yet so different from me.
It taught me a lot about motherhood being more “rerouting” than mapping out ahead.
Did you know you wanted more children after Avett?
I vividly remember telling Elijah a few moments after Avett was born, “That wasn’t so bad! I could totally do that again!” to which he nearly passed out! I think having a natural birth was a bit more traumatic for him than it was for me. To me, it’s one of my most beautiful memories.
But it was around Avett’s second birthday before either of us really felt ready to add to our family. Hardly a couple weeks later I was taking a test and already feeling the morning sickness! I had a feeling baby number two was a girl, or that there was more than one baby, but all my friends said I was crazy.
BUT, you were right, on both accounts! I remember you writing somewhere that you always thought “I never want twins” and then, you found out you were pregnant with twins! What was your first reaction?
The night before we went in for our first ultrasound, I told Elijah, “Heads up, there are going to be two babies in there.” Elijah said the hormones were getting to my head. Then at the ultrasound the first thing the nurse said was “Well it’s your lucky day! You have TWO babies!”
I babysat a few sets of twins growing up and remember thinking how cute they were, but that I never wanted to actually be the MOM to twins. Too many tv show twin mixups had ruined that for me. Plus, the fear of never being able to give either twin the full attention you want is terrifying. But almost as soon as they were born, I knew that our family couldn’t possibly be our family without identical twin girls. They somehow fit so perfectly that I can’t imagine only having one second baby.
Your twin girls, Margot and Meryl, were born at 25 weeks. Can you talk a bit about those first few days?
I went in for a routine ultrasound, which was happening about twice a week at that point, and they said everything was shockingly normal. The girls are identical which means they were at risk for twin-to-twin transfusion (one twin “donates” all the placenta to the other twin, leading to fluid overload in one and malnourishment in the other) but so far no signs of that happening were present.
Then, three days later I went in for another ultrasound and my fluid levels had changed so drastically, they told me to drive the five hours to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital immediately. The plan was for me to undergo surgery (something they couldn’t do at our local hospital) that would split the placenta and allow the babies to continue to grow at their own rate.
I ended up going into labor before the surgery was performed and decided an emergency c-section was our best shot at saving either or both babies. It was surreal, being thrown into a situation we had feared, yet had thought we were miraculously in the clear for.
Mostly the memories of those days are filled with suffocating uncertainty. Uncertainty for when I would see Avett again (he was at my in-laws), if the next nurse to come to my room would have bad news, when I would get to see my babies who were rushed to the NICU within seconds of being taken from me, how we would pay for everything, how Elijah would keep teaching back home, if our family would be separated for days or weeks or months.
But God sustained me through every single moment. I remember thinking that this is how people make it through those unimaginably hard stories we hear about, knowing that as long as you are ok in the present moment, that is all that matters.
Each moment turns into the next and somehow you are still there, still crushed by fears and grief, and yet still there.
During the girl’s stay in the hospital, you stayed at a Ronald McDonald House. What was your experience like there?
Ron House (as we have affectionately come to call it), saved my life. Within two days of being released from the hospital, the staff called and said they had a room for me for as long as I needed it. I was really skeptical but reluctantly went to check in. However, I was in shock from the moment we drove in the gates and promised never to slander a McDonald’s again.
Not only are the facilities at the Cincinnati Ronald McDonald House beautiful, but the people take care of every need you could possibly have. I wasn’t just physically cared for with a free room and meals, I was nourished to my soul by the love and genuine care each volunteer showed me. They absolutely care for the whole being there.
Since there birth, there have been enormous medical challenges with Margot & Meryl. Can you talk a bit about each child & where they are now.
When we were deciding whether we should do a c-section at 25 weeks, we had several conversations about the developmental (physical, emotional and mental) impact it would have on the babies. Not only were they just barely viable at 25 weeks, they were smaller than normal since they are twins.
Speech delays, brain bleeds, lung development, heart defects, cerebral palsy, permanent disability, blindness- all these were “casually” thrown out as significant possibilities by the doctors and nurses.
But when you are looking at the lives of your babies, the question for us was not how to avoid disabilities, but how to keep them alive long enough figure out the next steps.
Immediately after they were born, both babies were rushed to the NICU and plugged into more life-saving machines than I knew existed plus a million monitors reading every vital sign and pattern. They each weighed barely a pound.
When you see that, it’s hard not to imagine a life full of doctor appointments and tubes and wires and tests and diagnosis. Over the past two years, we have been through 37 surgeries, eight therapists, a six month NICU stay, seven months of 24/7 home nursing, and four months of daytime home nursing. Margot has had a tracheostomy, full airway reconstruction, a g-tube, and an eye surgery. Meryl has had a brain shunt placed, a g-tube, a handful of airway surgeries, and multiple eye surgeries.
Not every day held progress, actually most days had what felt like incredibly large steps backwards with only a few forward creeping days. But the girls grew faster than we imagined, and have gradually graduated all medical equipment except for the shunt and an eye contact for Meryl.
I love this phrase you wrote on one of your blogs – “fighting fear with strength”. Can you share what that means to you?
That is one of my favorite phrases- fighting fear with strength- and something I have been training myself to embrace daily. About three months into the girls’ lives, I became really depressed. I stopped eating, I stopped sleeping, I stopped allowing myself to be excited by milestones the girls were meeting.
I was so sick of being afraid every moment and realized that living permanently in fear was not living but more a walking state of comatose.
I became obsessed with the idea of fighting my fears- no matter how small or big- with strength. I started weightlifting before bed to help me sleep better and to improve my mood during the day. I started digging into my Bible for every truth I could hang onto in times of doubt or fear. I started pushing myself to stop reacting to news from the girls’ doctors and instead research their answers and suggestions and own the role of being a mom to medically-complex twins. It was obvious at that point that the girls would be coming home with multiple medical needs and I was tired of fearing that.
Can you share any advice for moms with medically-complex babies?
Never underestimate your gut and never be afraid to be an advocate for your child. You know them the best as you have been to every different doctor and specialist and therapy session and ER visit and have the biggest picture of their overall health. Ask questions always, research on your own, voice your fears, share your suggestions, and don’t let doctors or nurses bully you. While I don’t recommend ignoring your doctor’s advice, I will always push for the right to be involved in every decision and to be fully informed. You are so much stronger than you realize and there are almost always multiple solutions to a problem. Just knowing that can be so strengthening and empowering!
What are Margot & Meryl’s personalities like now as toddlers?
Margot is our introverted bookworm who loves food and wants everyone to just love her. Meryl is Avett 2.0- outgoing, extroverted, emotionally volatile, and Avett’s biggest fan. They are so opposite in personalities, quirks, preferences and even looks that it’s hard for me to reconcile their being genetically identical!
On top of raising three children, you also own your own business! Tell us about your business & why you started it.
I have always been motivated by the idea of owning my own business and about a year ago it finally started to take shape. The girls were finally stable, we no longer had nurses living in our home, doctor appointments were less often, and we were looking at the last big chunk of medical bills to be paid. So we went for it.
I started off by selling produce and homemade goods at local farmer’s markets, and organized a five family CSA from our backyard gardens, as well as coaching a couple friends with their first gardens. I now sell my homemade granola at markets and stock it at a local brick and mortar store, and am selling more produce and seedlings at local markets.
One day I would love to open floral studio using only my own flowers and offer healthy cooking and gardening classes for those with lower incomes. I have always loved food and plants. When the girls came home from the hospital and life was contained to our home in Nashville, I found my release in the garden and kitchen. Any day started with my plants is a good day!
How do you balance it all? Are you super organized and plan out your days, or do you take it one day at time? Alternative reading: how do you stay sane?
Both! I function at my best when everything is planned out and organized on my Trello boards (an organization app that has my whole heart forever), but with three kids, a business, gardens, chickens, and a house in the mix, I have learned to roll with each day. I plan out each day pretty rigidly but view that plan as a dream day plan. Almost every day throws curveballs, so when I view my list as a dream day, I feel less frustrated and behind when something unexpected is added to the mix.
Plus, my husband is also the best partner I could dream of. He often helps with cooking and has never been afraid to take all the kids out so I can work on a project. Without his willingness to care about the things I value and push me to go for the things I dream about, I would be a hot mess. We have always tried to support each other in our dreams and goals and realize that there are seasons when each of us is the helper or the doer.
One thing I love about your IG is that through everything, the unbelievable challenges, you are always smiling & full of wonder & gratefulness. How do cultivate this attitude?
I think a lot of it stems from my desire to find beauty in all things. As an individual, my personality seeks and craves beauty and that has helped me to both create and find it in my days.
I want my kids to look back on their childhood as being filled with wonder, joy and beauty and I know a lot of that comes from my attitude.
Throughout this whole experience God has showed us his unconditional love no matter how much we rage against him or question his goodness in the midst of all our pain. He has brought us to a place where we can truly know his goodness despite the outcome- because God didn’t give us the miraculous healing we prayed for.
We spent six months in the hospital fighting for the girls’ lives with the best doctors in the world and we still ended up with more medical devices than I originally thought possible. But I without doubt know that it is His love and blessing that has allowed us to remain a family through this nightmare. We have gone through incredibly low and high points in our relationships the past two years, but without God’s faithfulness and strength, I know we would not have come out on the other side as strong as we have.
Thank you for sharing Britney! If you want to keep up with Britney and her sweet family, you can follower her on IG @britneyammen. And make sure to check out her website Dinner:Unprocessed for healthy recipes, resources and local events around Nashville.