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Austin Personal

Running Before Crawling

This is a story about marathons, babies, the NICU, and more. To skip ahead, please consider making a donation to Hand to Hold, a charity that provides support to parents of NICU babies.
The start of most of my training runs.
The start of most of my training runs.

I like to run. While my frame doesn’t scream out the running type, I seemingly do pretty well at longer runs. I’m too stubborn to stop. Before this season, I’ve ran two Austin Half-Marathons, one full marathon, and a fair number of < 10k events, plus the training for those events. I haven’t ran with any true purpose. I know I should exercise, but running, in and of itself, isn’t great for weight loss or strength building.

 

 

In the end, it has become a stress-reliever and a relatively productive way to fully disconnect, both from the virtual world and from other people. As I fall right in the middle between being an extrovert and an introvert, living with six other people, the introvert side need a bit more intentional help.

I digress. For the first time, when signing up for the Austin Marathon this year, I made the optional selection to run for one of the Austin Marathon’s official charities—Hand to Hold—an amazing charity that provides free support to parents and other loved ones of premature and NICU babies. Truth be told, I had zero intention of making any reference to this anywhere. They’re a good organization that I have a good friend active in and wanted to, on some small level, support.

Austin Distance Challenge magnets with four of the six races completed.
Austin Distance Challenge magnets with four of the six races completed.

In addition to the Marathon, I signed up for the Austin Distance Challenge. This is a season-long challenge to run six different distance events—an 8k, a 10-mile, a half, a 30k, another half, and the full Austin marathon. Everything was going great through the two events of the challenge.

Then the twins were born.

Due in January, but expected in December, when Vanessa woke me up that November morning in the 3-o’clock hour telling me her water broke, my masterful plan to run the Decker Half and have the craziness of birth slide in after that was washed up.

After three kids, I knew twins would be different, but I honestly hadn’t thought about needing the NICU at all during the pregnancy. Having ultrasounds at least monthly and up to weekly at times, everything was progressing well.

We would be in the hospital a couple of days, come home, get less sleep, but with paternity leave, I should still be able to keep a decent training schedule, or so I thought.

While Vanessa was in labor, we had our “NICU Consult”, where a member of the NICU team came to let us know what it was going to be like at delivery. “What if they are X? Will they still go up?” “Yes, they’re young enough that we’re taking them up in any case.” “If they’re fine, will y’all check them and send them back down to the (Level 1) nursery?” “No, they’ll be up on [the eighth floor] for the duration of their stay.”

We had followed along with Kathryn’s journey of Luke’s 40+ day NICU stay. We didn’t want that. They would be fine and we could take them home in a day or two, we didn’t want to bother with the NICU.

Nevertheless, this birth and hospital stay would be different than the previous three. With our older three girls, they were delivered in the same L&D room that we had been in all day. Naturally, without medication, just a ton of work to get the kiddo out. The bed automagically changed into a delivery drop zone, there is a handful of new people there (which seemed like a lot back then).

Our doctor was confident that the twins could be delivered without a C-Section, but there was a high likelihood that it would be required. When it was time, we were moved into the OR. There was an epidural involved and the NICU teams filled the room.

I may be off, but my memory recalls, in addition to V and myself, her OB, an assisting doctor for the OB, the anesthesiologist, another OB working an ultrasound, one or two neonatologists, two nurses assisting the doctors, another nurse for Vanessa, two respiratory techs (one for each twin), and 2-4 other nurses down from the NICU.

Except for a quick scare in the delivery room, delivery went great without needing a C-Section. The twins were great.

Over the next nearly two weeks, we had some ups and downs, but they were relatively minor. They only needed an IV for four days. Always on room air. The possibility of a feeding tube came up, but wasn’t needed in the end. Some phototherapy, but mainly “feeder/growers”.

In other words, they were an easy NICU case. Plus, we were seasoned parents, knew a NICU veteran well, knew her experience well, had a great support network here in town and throughout the world online.

It was still hard. Even with the simple nature of their case and the support, it was still hard. We lived at the hospital for two weeks, any sense of normalcy was lost, we saw babies all around us who were in similar straights. Some were easy cases too, other, sadly, weren’t, and needed much more.

We saw a lot of parents. A lot of first time parents who had kids far more sick, naturally more scared since this was all 100% new to them, seemingly without the support we had.

God, can you imagine? It was hard enough watching our two stuck with IVs with a handful of monitor leads affixed to their chest and feet. What if they need to be on a CPAP or in an incubator? What about a feeding tube? Some NICU IVs are stuck into the baby’s scalp. It gets so much worse. You’re staring at your little one with more attached to them than most of us will ever in a lifetime, possibly alone since your husband only could take a week off of work and your NICU stay is passing a month. No parents anywhere close. Maybe you’re new to the city and aren’t surrounded by most of your closest friends? You’re a first-time mom also freaking out since you’ve never had to pump before.

I couldn’t imagine being alone with that.

Thankfully, Hand to Hold fills that need.

Staffed with an army of NICU Veteran parent volunteers, they offer free support to parents of premature and NICU babies. For those who haven’t been born yet, but know the NICU is in their future. Those currently in the NICU. Those after the NICU, whether leaving the hospital was joyful or heartbreaking. The staff at the hospital was amazing, but their primary job, rightfully so, is your baby. Hand to Hold is for you.

And so, I want to help Hand to Hold in some small way. Please consider making a donation to support them.

With six-week-old kids at home, I’m in no position, mentally, physically, spiritually, or by schedule, to volunteer and we don’t have a money tree in the backyard ourselves, but hopefully some of my dear readers have a few dollars and a few minutes of prayer time to spare.

Wearing my dual hospital bands with my Austin Distance Challenge bracelet.
Wearing my dual hospital bands with my Austin Distance Challenge bracelet.

With everything, my running season changed quite a bit. I ran the Decker Half-Marathon while living at the hospital. Fully dressed out for the race in the NICU nesting room, drove from the hospital garage to the course, ran the hardest 13.1-miles I’ve ran in a very long time, then right back to shower in a small, cramped, hospital bathroom and rejoin the twins bedside.

I’ve switched from the full marathon track to the half. The 30k became a 10k (which was needed since I hadn’t ran once between the Decker half and last Sunday’s race) and the full becomes a third half-marathon for the season.

For those counting at home, that will put me at ~60.5 miles of running in events plus training, which was about 35 miles a week before they were born. If you’d like to use those figures to influence your donation, feel free.

Support Hand to Hold today.

By Brandon Kraft

My life is an open-source book.

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