Told by Louis John’s and Leonard James’ mommy, Olivia Koepke

It all started when I was 20 weeks pregnant with fraternal twin boys. We had our 20-week anatomy scan and learned Baby A was measuring a few days ahead of Baby B, while this was something worth watching, we were told it is not that uncommon, as long as both babies continue to grow.

At 24 weeks, we found out that Baby B hadn’t grown since our 20-week appointment due to Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR), a condition where his placenta was not delivering the amount of blood flow and oxygen needed to help his brain develop and his body grow.

Not all heroes wear capes
After my 24-week appointment I was placed on bedrest at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center – Neenah with constant fetal Doppler-monitoring on both Baby A and Baby B. It was incredibly difficult to be away from our 3-year-old son, but I had the best nurses and doctors checking in on me and keeping me company. Dr. Jeffery Cherney, a physician at Women’s Health Specialists, came in EVERY day to check on me even though we were told originally that he would be off for one week following my admission to the hospital. We later came to find out that Dr. Cherney had postponed surgery on his wrist until after our boys were born. Talk about an amazing doctor and person!

At 25-weeks, another ultrasound showed that Baby B’s umbilical flow went from absent to reversed, pretty much the worst news. My husband Zach and I read tons of medical research and could not find any successful IUGR babies who were born before 28 weeks. We were at a loss of what we do.

Each day, biophysical profiles were performed and the boys continued to score better than expected, but at 26 weeks, Dr. Steele, a Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist who works with the experts at Women’s Health Specialists through a partnership with Fox Valley Perinatology, found my blood pressure to be dangerously high.

Dr. Steele held my hand on the ultrasound table and said, “Now this is about you. You need to deliver the boys for your health. If your blood pressure gets any higher you are at a risk for a stroke.”

We began preparing for birth. Thankfully I had already started receiving steroid shots to help develop our babies’ lungs and a magnesium sulfate drip to help with my blood pressure. It was time.

A life-changing moment
On Feb. 17, at 8:54 p.m., we welcomed an itty-bitty Baby Boy B weighing 1 lb. 3 oz. He squealed like a mouse! Two minutes later we welcomed a little bigger Baby Boy A at 2 lb. 5 oz. He cried so loud. After 24 hours, I was off magnesium sulfate and was able to meet our boys. As I entered the NICU room, a nurse named Erika greeted me and said, “Congratulations!”

“Congratulations?” I thought. “Is this for real? Our babies are here? They aren’t supposed to be here for 14 more weeks!”

My husband named each boy with the names we had picked out. Louis John (Baby B) means “warrior”; he is a fighter and that’s why he is alive today. Leonard James (Baby A), who we call Leo, means “brave lion.” He was so brave being born so early in order to give his brother a fighting chance. Their bond is amazing.

The journey begins
My journey as a NICU mom began the day our babies were born. It was my new job. No one said it was going to be easy, but it was worth it.

My husband called the NICU, “The Baby Garden,” where babies go to grow. That was the BEST way to look at the NICU when we felt so helpless. Our boys were in the NICU for 100 days because they were too small and underdeveloped to bring home. During those 100 days, I would sit up there from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and read the same book to them, every day.

I wasn’t able to breastfeed them right away, either, but I pumped every three hours, around the clock, for six months. We even had to purchase another full chest freezer! It was my therapy; a way for me to not feel as helpless. By pumping, I was helping them grow!

I told them every day that if they fought for their lives every moment in the NICU, I would fight for them for the rest of their lives.

My husband would visit them after work. He would hug them and talk to them about their big brother and all the fun things they would do as they got older.

Lifelong connections

One of the best things I did in the NICU was connect with another micro-preemie mom in a similar situation who became my NICU bestie. We would connect every day about our situations. I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through without her.

Today, our boys are 21-months-old and absolutely perfect. Louie is still smaller than Leo, but both are on track to meet their developmental milestones at 2-years-old. They run, laugh, chase their five-year-old brother and light up the room with their smiles.

Our journey has not been easy. We’ve cried many tears, had many sleepless nights and many feelings of guilt. In honor of preemie awareness month, I urge parents in a similar situation to keep their outlook on life as positive as possible and stay strong – you’re not only fighting for yourself, but you’re fighting for your babies.

Dr. Cherney, Dr. Steele, our bed rest nurses, NICU staff, therapists and NICU doctors are the reason for the success of Team Koepke. From the bottom of our hearts, we are forever grateful.