A Helicopter Ride to Deliver the Twins and a Million Dollar NICU Stay with Nathan Handl – Podcast 136

Joe Rawlinson by Joe Rawlinson - October 22, 2020

Helicopter Ride to Deliver the Twins and a Million Dollar NICU Stay with Nathan Handl

Episode 136 of the Dad’s Guide to Twins Podcast Show Notes

We continue our father of twins interview series with Nathan Handl, father of fraternal boy/girl twins.

Listen as we explore his twin journey, including:

  • Having twins after IVF
  • Changing plans from expecting one to two
  • What happened when Mom’s water broke at 28 weeks
  • When the hospital isn’t ready for your preemie twins
  • Why Mom had to take a helicopter to another hospital
  • Emotions of a sudden delivery of the twins
  • Babies getting rushed off to the NICU
  • Overseeing the initial setup in the NICU
  • Complications of such an early birth
  • Having the twins in two different NICUs at the hospital
  • When one twin immediately needs antibiotics
  • Spending 53 and 57 days in the NICU
  • Leaving one twin at the hospital and taking one home
  • Juggling desire to be home with the twins and still work
  • Paying for a $30k helicopter ride and a million dollar NICU stay
  • Essential baby gear that makes twin care a lot easier
  • The power of listening as you parent twins and help your spouse

Contact Nathan here or in the USA Fathers of Twins & Multiples Facebook Group.


Joe: Hi there and welcome to the 136th episode of The Dad’s Guide to Twins Podcast. This is Joe Rawlinson. As always you can find me on the web at twindadpodcast.com where you’ll find the complete transcript for this episode and all previous podcast episodes.

Raising Twins Book

Today’s show is brought to you by my book for fathers of Twins. It’s called, Dad’s Guide to Raising Twins: How to Thrive as a Father of Twins. If you’re expecting your twins or you are in the trenches of raising twins right now, getting through infants, and the first year, second year, then this book is for you. It will help you overcome those common challenges that we experience as dads of twins.

Today on the show we are continuing our Father of Twins Interview Series with Nathan Handl. Fellow father of twins, he’s got boy/girl fraternal twins. Welcome to the show, Nathan.

Nathan: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Joe: Nathan, tell us a little bit about your twins right now. How old are they, and what’s the most exciting thing about this age?

Nathan: We are currently six months. I would say the most exciting thing at this point is they are a lot more interactive, a lot more smiles, and we’re starting to get some giggles, which is a lot of fun.

Joe: That is fun right, when you kind of move past the survival phase, and the start interacting with you phase, which kind of makes it all worth it, which is great. Let’s rewind the clock back to your family situation when you found out you were having twins. Tell us about that experience.

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Nathan: We already had an older daughter, which we actually adopted, so we had a 14-year-old here in the home. My wife and I had been trying to get pregnant for a long time to no avail, so we did the whole IVF process, which that in itself was pretty, pretty intense. Anybody that’s been through that knows. It definitely worked out for us in the end.

We kind of knew that we had a good chance of having twins based on how we did the transfer, but when we did go in for that initial scan, our doctor was super nonchalant about it. It was like, “Yep, there’s two.” Then right after we had the actual ultrasound machine they had turned off. They had forgot to plug it into the wall, so I guess the battery died.

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My wife and I kind of just looked at each other like, “What’s going on right now?” Then sure enough they pulled it back up, and there was two. We knew very early at seven, seven and a half weeks, I think, that we were having two, and were just excited to start the journey.

Joe: You kind of suspected that twins could be a possibility because you were doing IVF, but it’s still always a surprise when you get that news. What were some of the first thoughts that you had when you found out that they were twins?

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Nathan: Honestly, we’d had everything in our head that we were going to have to buy one of everything, so immediately then it’s like, “Oh man, I need two car seats. I need two beds, two cribs. I need two of everything.” It was kind of like rebudgeting at that point, but exciting. Ironically, my wife and I, when we first met, we had always joked about having twins.

We said, “We’re going to [inaudible 00:02:57], knock them out, be done.” Through the crazy journey, the IVF journey, we ended up with that. It was kind of we put it out there, and we were lucky enough to get it.

Joe: That’s great. It’s funny how things you just joke about sometimes come to pass. That was the case here. How did mom and babies do during the pregnancy? Did you have some health issues?

Nathan: No, actually we were really lucky. I’ll just say we did tons of appointments, and tons of ultrasounds, and with the perinatal specialist to make sure everything was good as far as their development, and they were great. It was a big shock to us that at 28 weeks, when my wife’s water broke super early, but up until that point, everything was great.

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Joe: Tell me a little bit about that. So, 28 weeks is really early, like you mentioned. It seemed like it came out of the blue. Tell us about that day when her water broke, and what happened after that.

Nathan: We’d actually been out to dinner. My wife had woken up in the morning and her feet were really swelled, which was something new. They’d always warned us about preeclampsia, with being twins and a high-risk pregnancy. We were a little concerned about that in the morning, but she seemed fine. We go through the whole day as normal. Went out to dinner with some friends, come back at like 11:00 in the evening.

She just kind of said to me, “I’m all wet right now. This is really weird.” We still had our friends here, and they both had had kids, and kind of said, “Yeah, you might want to go and get that checked out.” We drove to the hospital that was closest to us, because we were a little panicked because it was so early. In five minutes of getting there, obviously they pulled her straight into the labor and delivery ward, and immediately start talking about moving us.

My wife and I were super confused. We didn’t really realize that the babies were coming. They didn’t really flat out tell us, and when you’re at 28 weeks, you’re not expecting them. All right, the babies could come. We knew 32 weeks, 34 weeks, we knew that that was a possibility, based on the fact that they were twins, but not 28.

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After frantically kind of going around and around with the nurse that was kind of heading things up, they finally told us, “We need to get you to a hospital that has a level 3 NICU, because they didn’t have one. Then we’re trying to figure out how we’re moving. We said, “Oh, so you bring us in ambulance, right?” They said, “No, no, no. This is going to be air-evac. We have to fly you.”

Being a cautious man as far as how much this is all going to cost, that’s the first thing that went through my mind. Make sure everybody’s good but I’m thinking about the cost. They told us flat out, “We have to take this helicopter.” Finally, get everything set up. She gets all IVed, the whole bit, so she’s ready to be transported. They put her in a helicopter. I couldn’t go with her, which was kind of scary as well.

She flew down to the hospital, and I drove down. We’re in a completely different hospital than we know anything about, but we’re told that it’s great. We arrive. It was a completely different experience once we got there. You could definitely tell that this team of professionals knew what was going on, and they dealt with early babies a lot more often than the other hospital.

Immediately we were kind of put at ease. They said, “Get ready to hang out. The goal is to keep these babies in here as long as we can.”

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Joe: Interesting. How far was that drive for you, and what were some of your thoughts as you were driving while your wife was in the helicopter?

Nathan: It was a … It’s about a 20 minute drive. Ironically I could see the helicopter flying over from the sky while I was driving down the street. It was about 1:00 in the morning at this point so there was no traffic, and it was pitch black so you can see the flashing lights. I just was kind of scared. I didn’t really know what was going on. We’d had such a smooth pregnancy that for them to come all of a sudden, they weren’t due until October 11th and this was July 23rd.

It was a big, big time span. As I got to the hospital, they had just got here, set up in a bed. I actually saw the helicopter crew wheeling the gurney back out to get back to the helicopter. The nurse, as I walked in, was wearing a jacket that had an elephant on the back of it.

Now, elephants have been a good luck charm for my wife and I since we first started trying to get pregnant. As crazy as that sounds, the second I saw that, I kind of relaxed, and they completely took charge of the situation, and did a really good job of explaining to us. “This is the expectation. We’re going to try and keep the babies in as long as they can.” They had monitors on both my wife for contractions, and also on the babies’ heartbeats.

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At that point it was just like, “I need to get some sleep.” They said, “Rest up, and we’ll reevaluate in the morning.” That’s kind of where everything stayed for that time.

Joe: That’s great, then you had basically a good luck charm as soon as you got to the hospital. That was a good omen. The goal for the hospital is to keep the babies in as long as possible. How long did that last?

Nathan: We got there the middle of the night Saturday into Sunday, and that lasted through until Monday afternoon. They did an ultrasound on my wife to make sure that everything was okay with the babies. Obviously once the water breaks, for one, there’s an increased concern for infection, those types of things, so they wanted to make sure the fluid levels were good.

By this point, Olivia had really moved down like she was ready to come out, so the ultrasound tech had to really push down hard on my wife’s body to actually get the results, so the machine could see her. After that happened, my wife didn’t feel very good. At this point, I was at work. They had told me, “They’re not coming any time soon, so carry on with your regular business. Do what you need to do.”

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I finished work right at 4:00 on that Monday. By 4:15 I had a call from my wife saying, “I think you need to be here.” When I got to the hospital, she was in labor.

Joe: Wow. At 28 weeks, was she able to deliver the babies vaginally, or was she going to have a C-section?

Nathan: The funny thing about that was our babies had been head down the entire pregnancy, and in that weekend span, Charlie had rotated so he was breech. There was a lot of conversations with the doctors, between the ones that were on-shift, and off-shift because we really wanted to do a vaginal delivery to see if that was going to be possible.

In the end they decided because of their gestational age, and because of the fact that he was breech, they didn’t want to deliver Olivia vaginally, and then have to do a C-section for Charlie. They figured for the safety of everybody, that they would do the C-section.

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Joe: Yeah, that’s a tough situation. Lots of parents of twins have that where one baby’s in the right position, and one is not. The delivery experience isn’t quite what you were hoping for. What was it like for you as a father? Were you able to be in the operating room with your wife and the babies, and how did that go?

Nathan: Yeah, I was able to be in there. I don’t think they could have stopped me, quite honestly. The craziest part was once they made the decision they were doing it, within 15 minutes she was in the OR, but then they have to do the epidural and get her ready, so they left me outside, and had me gown up. I just kind of sat there for about 15 minutes, and that was the point in which my mind was in overdrive.

I’m getting in contact with my parents to let them know what’s going on, and just you immediately kind of think about the bad things. As much as it’s an exciting time that your babies are coming, because it’s so early, you’re like, “Is everybody going to be okay. This wasn’t our plan.” I just kept waiting for people to come and get me.

There was all these people going back and forth between the surgeons, and the nurses, and then all the people from NICU. I hadn’t met any of these people at this point. At the point in which they finally called me in, it was the most relaxed environment. I was really surprised. They had Adele playing on the stereo. Sat me down by my wife’s head, and kind of got down to business.

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Joe: Yeah, that wait in the hallway before you go into the operating room is like the longest 15 minutes ever. I had that same thing where you’re just waiting. You see the activity, but you’re not invited to the party yet, and it’s kind of worrisome at times of, “Wow, did they just leave me out here? Did they forget I was here? Should I just go in there and see what’s going on?”

Nathan: Right. Oh and talking to my wife afterwards, she told me she kind of had the same feelings. She kept asking them, “Are you going to bring him in? Is it time yet?” She was worried they were going to start without me.

Joe: Yeah, by the time I got in for our girls, they’d already made the incision, and were starting to cut through the layers to get the babies out, so yeah they plopped me down right next to my wife. Sometimes they have problems with dads getting a little too squeamish in the operating room. How were you able to interact with your babies when they were born?

Nathan: We go to see them for maybe 30 seconds when they first were born. They both made a little whimper, a little cry, and then they took them straight to the Isolette. At that point I think they had the doctor, the respiratory therapist, and two nurses. They immediately stabilized the babies to then take them to the NICU. They took Olivia out first at like 7:47 in the evening. Then Charlie came out two minutes after.

Then once they had Olivia stabilized, they came and got me, and I left my wife, while they were stitching her back up, to go to the NICU. I was able to be there with them the whole way through it, but it was like a military operation where you entered the NICU, they sat the Isolette where it was going in the pod, and there had to have been 10 or 12 people around this little, tiny thing, with my little, tiny new baby.

I kind of stood out of the way because I didn’t want to be in the way. Finally, one of the nurses realized and said, “Come over here. Be involved. See what’s going on.” I was right there. Obviously I hadn’t really touched them at that point, but I was able to be right on top of what was going on.

Then within a few minutes, Charlie came in as well. Then I’m on a mission to understand everything. All the different machines they’re attached to. The Isolettes there to understand what they’re monitoring on the babies, and making sure that everything was okay.

Joe: How big were your babies when they were born?

Nathan: Olivia was 3 lbs 5 oz, and 16 inches long, and Charlie was 2 lbs 15, about the same length.

Joe: Were you able to hold them or they were always in their kind of isolation?

Nathan: I didn’t get to hold them. My wife held them about 3 to 4 days later once everything was good. I didn’t. I kind of let her do that for a while just because they’d been taken out early, and that physical connection that the mother feels is a lot more intense than the one that the father feels, in my opinion. Obviously I got to touch them in the Isolettes and stuff, but it was a few days before I held them.

Joe: What kind of complications did your twins have, being born so early?

Nathan: In the beginning … The very first night their blood sugar was a little bit off, which they corrected very quickly, but they were basically feeders and growers, which we were really, really fortunate with. All the scans and everything they had done came back good. We did have a complication a little bit later on in the stay. Charlie got a UTI, which actually developed into E. Coli Sepsis, which was really scary, because obviously babies can die from that.

Fortunately for us, the doctors were able to get on it really quickly. He had pulled his feeding tube out and thrown up, and that kind of didn’t seem right to the doctor, so they did blood test right away, and were able to get ahead of it, but it did take, I think, three or four different antibiotics until they had the right one. The blood samples they take to the lab, and they watch them grown. That was kind of crazy because then he was on isolation.

We had one baby upstairs in the level three NICU, and we had Olivia downstairs in level two NICU. Then trying to see them was a little bit more complicated. The scariest part of all of it honestly, for me, was they had to do a lumbar puncture on Charlie to take some spinal fluid to make sure it didn’t turn into Meningitis.

Thankfully it didn’t. Yeah, that whole process, and knowing that they were going to stick a needle into his spine, and the complications that can come from that was pretty scary. It was 14 days of antibiotics. Within the first three days, they could tell that the infection was gone, but they had to do the full course to make sure that it didn’t come back.

Joe: A couple weeks taking care of that infection, that was a surprise. How long were your babies in the NICU total for that feeding and growing stage?

Nathan: Olivia was there for 53 days. She came home on a Friday, and Charlie was there for 57. He came home on the following Tuesday. I can say that Friday when we took Olivia home was the happiest, and saddest day of my life because finally I’m getting to take a baby home, but I had to leave one behind. That was the most intense feeling I think I felt the whole way through the process of them being in the hospital, because he was there by himself at that point.

Joe: So, you’re ready for two to come home, and one came home with you. It looks like it was about four days where you’re home with just Olivia. Now looking back on it, now that you have two home, what were some things you cherish about those four days with your daughter?

Nathan: I think it kind of got us in the rhythm a little bit. I definitely didn’t want to take my eyes off her the whole time because you’re paranoid at that point. They’ve been hooked up to machines and there’s been some professional monitoring them 24 hours a day. Now, we’re just at home by ourselves. I think it was good in the sense that we got a couple of days to kind of get our head around what this was really going to look like at home.

After two months of going back and forth to the hospital, that was the norm, you know? Go to work, go home, go to the hospital. It was nice to just kind of get broken in slowly. We had actually spent the night at the hospital on the Thursday night, knowing that Olivia was coming home on the Friday to get used to that. See what it was like being up in the night, because at that point we hadn’t done it. That kind of helped with that process as well.

Joe: What surprised you the most after you had both babies home?

Nathan: The fact that I never wanted to leave. Obviously I feel very close to our oldest daughter, and we had adopted her at an older age, so we didn’t do the baby aspect, but I just wanted to look at them all the time whether they were awake or they were asleep, it didn’t matter. I wanted to physically be there and never, ever leave. That was a pretty intense feeling. I don’t know that I was expecting it to be as strong.

Joe: The responsibility, and the love, and the bond you have with your twins, particularly when they’re so new and so fresh in your home is a great, kind of overwhelming feeling sometimes. How did you juggle those desires to be home with your babies, and your responsibilities to work outside of the home?

Nathan: We were fortunate that my wife was able to kind of flex her hours while the babies were in the hospital so she could be around a lot more. I took FMLA so I was able to actually take off five full weeks once the babies came home. Leading up to that I had intermittent FMLA so I could take half days here and there as I needed to, but obviously that was a balance for making sure we had enough money to pay the bills and that kind of stuff.

As we got closer to them coming home, I spent more time with them at the hospital, and then once they were home, yeah that first five weeks, we didn’t go anywhere. We were here, other than doctor’s appointments, that kind of stuff.

I really appreciate that I was able to take that time because I think it’s very difficult. You get caught up in needing to go back to work so you can pay bills. My wife’s really great with finances, and actually saved up enough money so we were kind of ahead of the game before they came home. That worked out real well.

Joe: That is great. How did you juggle the financial responsibility of the helicopter ride, and the extended stay in the hospital?

Nathan: We got really lucky with both of those things. There’s actually a program and I can’t remember what it’s called, that based on your income, and based on the number of people in your home, and your medical expenses for the previous 12 months, they actually subsidize the NICU, so really we just have to pay our deductible for our insurance, and then anything outside of that was covered by this program, which was a huge weight off our shoulders because we were told …

We got real close with the nurses, and level 3 NICU, it’s like $10,000 a day. You double that up with twins, and 53 days or 57 days, that’s a big bill. As far as the helicopter, I had to fight with the insurance a little bit for that because that they billed us, I think, just over $30,000, which I was pretty scared about. Initially they denied it, but after some long phone calls, they actually paid the whole thing. We got really lucky.

Joe: Well good. Where are your twins right now in your home? Do they sleep in your room, or do they start out straight away in their nursery?

Nathan: Ultimately the goal was to have both of them in the nursery. At the moment, while we’re still trying to figure out their sleeping through the night, we have Olivia in the nursery, and Charlie is in our spare bedroom. Then we’ve got baby monitors for both of them. Just this last week we finally got them to sleep through the night a few times, which has been glorious. We separated them just so they didn’t wake each other up basically.

Joe: Yeah, sleeping through the night is such a huge milestone for parents because you finally realize what a difference the extra couple of hours of sleep means in your life, which is great. How do you and your wife manage care of the twins during the nighttime?

Nathan: My wife is exclusively nursing still. We’re subsidizing with some oatmeal and those types of things during the day, so usually what happens is I’ll wake up and get the babies, and then she’ll nurse them. Then she’ll usually put them back. At the moment it’s really only once a night for each baby. Sometimes twice, which is a lot easier than it was.

When we first came home from the hospital we were doing it … she was pumping, and we were doing it with bottles at night, so then we were both awake. Once I went back to work, that was really difficult. I need my sleep, and so she kind of took the reins there, and that’s made things a bit smoother.

Joe: Yeah definitely. What has been some of the baby gear that you’ve used that has really made a big difference in caring for your twins?

Nathan: For night times we’ve got these swaddles, and I … The babies kind of look like little cactus in them. Their arms are kind of up at like 90 degrees, but that gives them the ability to put their hands to their face without scratching themselves. I would say that’s been the biggest thing that’s helped them sleep through the night, because then they’re able to comfort themselves with their hands.

We were, before, swaddling them with a blanket with their arms down, so if they did wake up, they didn’t have any ability to kind of calm themselves, so that would be one thing that I think has really helped. More recently we got those bum [buddies 00:22:17] to help them sit up. That has really made a big difference for playing with toys and those kinds of things that they’re able to actually not be laid down to interact with them.

Joe: Yeah, those are great, particularly at night when you’re trying to get your babies to calm down, swaddling is just a huge benefit. I’m glad you found some gear that made that a lot easier for them. What is something that you wish you knew about twins before they arrived or before caring for them now?

Nathan: Maybe the expense of the diapers and the wipes. You can kind of rationalize it in your head, but until you actually start going through them, and you have those few explosive times where it’s three or four diapers before you get them buttoned up again, it’s just like that never-ending cycle, and that diaper [inaudible 00:22:54] fall all the time. I would say that would be the biggest shock to me.

Other than that, we … Because of the fact that it took so long for us to have babies, it was about a five year process between trying to get pregnant, deciding we had to do IVF, and then going through the process, I think we were really a lot more prepared than the average couple that just happens to get pregnant naturally. We had to be more involved ahead of time, so I think we were a bit more prepared, so it wasn’t as much of a shock I guess.

Joe: Did you have any help from family or friends in this first couple months when they were home?

Nathan: Thankfully yeah. My parents live real close. My mom has a real flexible schedule with her job so she’s been around. She helps out my wife a lot now I’m back at work, just to give her a break here and there. When we get to the witching hour, which is when we’re getting to bedtime, if it’s just one of us here, she’ll come over and make sure that there’s an extra pair of hands. That’s been real helpful.

Then extended families come for a visit, but we limited a lot of people coming by the house when we first came home, just to remove any chances of getting sick, especially because that was October, September, October time as we’re getting into cold season. It’s just kind of real close family that were helping out.

Joe: You mentioned the witching hour. That particularly requires more than two hands to get everything done that you need to. If you could give a piece of advice to your fellow twin dads about keeping your marriage strong through all these challenges that you’ve had with twins coming early and raising them, what advice would you give?

Nathan: I think the biggest thing would be to listen. They’re going to give you clues. Your wife is going to give you clues, or the spouse, as to what they need. Just try and take as much of the weight off of them as you can. Cleaning bottles, doing the laundry, all the things that she doesn’t have to do, that makes a big difference.

Then lean on that relative or that friend that you have that is willing to help you out with the babies. Even if you just get an hour, go have lunch. Just be away from the home. Go for a walk. Whatever it takes. It’s really important to make sure that you still take time for your relationship to keep that strong.

Joe: That’s wonderful advice. Looks like it has served you well so far. If listeners want to connect with you, Nathan, what’s the best way to get ahold of you?

Nathan: Quickest way is probably going to be my email. I’ll spell it out. It’s going to be my last name, so H-A-N-D-L, and then the first three letters of my first name, N-A-T @gmail.com. I have that access from my smart phone all times. Then I’m also on the Facebook group. There’s a USA Father Twins Group, which I found through this podcast that I can be reached on there as well.

Joe: Wonderful, and I’ll link up those in the show notes at twindadpodcast.com. Nathan, thank you so much for sharing your story with us today. We really appreciate it.

Nathan: Thank you. I’m glad I’m able to help. This has been something I’ve listened to every week since we got pregnant. It’s really helped me so it’s nice to be able to share our story, and hopefully somebody else will be able to benefit from that.

Joe: I hope you enjoyed that chat with Nathan about his twin journey. What an exciting adventure from sending his wife, his pregnant wife, on a helicopter to a hospital that they were not expecting to have to use, to bringing his twins home finally from the NICU a few months later. If you’re a father of twins, and you’d love to share your story on the podcast, why don’t you reach out to me, [email protected]. As I mentioned at the top of the show, today’s episode is brought to you by my second book for fathers of twins. It’s called Dad’s Guide to Raising Twins: How to Thrive as a Father of Twins. You can learn more about that book at raisingtwinsbook.com. Thank you so much for listening, and I’ll see you next time.

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Further Reading

Dad's Guide to Raising Twins book
Don't forget to pick up a copy of the definitive guide to raising twins. "Dad's Guide to Raising Twins" was written for fathers of twins to help guide you through the first several years with twins. Click here to learn more about the book and get your copy.

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