Sometimes parenthood takes you on unexpected journeys.
Josh and Jenny Muche’s first son, Owen, was 7 pounds, 10 ounces at birth and healthy from the get-go. So when Jenny became pregnant again, both Jenny and Josh expected a completely normal, utterly typical pregnancy and birth.
Then they found out they were having twins. The doctor decided to monitor the pregnancy closely, as a precaution. The first sign of trouble came at a 26 week ultrasound: the blood flow to Twin A didn’t look quite right.
“The doctor told me to get to the hospital immediately,” says Jenny, recalling that fateful day in 2010. “We headed down to St. Joe’s in Milwaukee, and that’s where I was for roughly the next month or so.”
Luckily, Jenny’s mother, Theresa Klueger, had recently retired. She and other family members took care of the oldest son, Owen, then two, while Jenny and Josh did what they could to preserve the pregnancy – and their sanity.
“It was nerve racking,” Josh says. “I wanted to be there for Jenny, but I didn’t want to neglect my little boy either. It was really difficult because I worked second shift at the time, so I couldn’t just pick up Owen at daycare and go down by Jenny. I had to put my son in daycare so I could visit my wife.”
The goal was the preserve the pregnancy as long as possible. Jenny spent weeks on bed rest, trying to give the babies the very best chance of survival. But around 30 weeks, she developed severe preeclampsia, a pregnancy-related disorder that’s characterized by high blood pressure and can lead to seizures, stroke and organ failure in the mom or babies.
“My blood pressure got so high that the nurses actually got to the point of padding my bedrails with blankets. They didn’t want me to thrash and hurt myself on the bed if I had a seizure,” Jenny says.
The medical team was also worried about Baby B, whose heartbeat had dipped several times during monitoring sessions. So the team decided to monitor the babies for a full 24 hour period, while carefully monitoring Jenny’s health. Then it would be time for a decision. Deliver? Or wait?
“That was the scariest for me, because it got to the point where I needed to make the decision: if, God forbid, something happened, who do I want to be around?” Josh says. “I knew I couldn’t do it without my wife. The medical team said we could try going a couple of more days. When we sat down to talk about, it was like, ‘what’s a few more days doing to do when your blood pressure and heart rate are already way out of normal?’”
“We opted to deliver because my blood pressure was so bad,” Jenny says.
The Muche twins were born via C-section on February 19, 2010, two-and-a-half months before their due date. Parker, Twin A, weighed 2 pounds, 3 ounces. Ashton, Twin B, was 3 pounds, 2 ounces. “Parker was so little that my husband could have slipped his wedding ring over his foot and put it around his ankle,” Jenny says.
Leaning on Each Other for Support
Both boys immediately went to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The doctors initially told the Muches that the twins would probably need to stay in the NICU until their original due date. Both boys would need time to gain strength, to breathe effectively without support and to learn to suck and swallow with ease.
Ashton exceeded expectations, despite a rough start. (“We found out later that Ashton had to be revived at birth,” Jenny says.) Just five weeks after his early birth, he was ready to go home.
The Muches, however, were not ready. “I’d been in the hospital for weeks, and was spending all my time at the hospital, with the twins. My house was a mess. We had our crib out, but we didn’t have any of the baby clothes washed or ready to go. I had no idea where the bottles were. We didn’t even have a pack of diapers in the house,” Jenny says.
Luckily, family and friends stepped in again to help. Ashton came home and Parker remained in the hospital.
“That was tough,” Josh says. “You’re torn because you have two kids at home and one in the hospital. Where do you spend your time? The way I was brought up, you go to work and do your job. It’s sad and I wish I wouldn’t say this, but one of the things I’m proud of is that I never missed a day of work. It was tricky, though, because you don’t know where you should be. You know where you want to be, but not where you should be.”
Parker continued to have trouble feeding, so doctors placed a feeding tube directly into his stomach in May 2010. “The expectation was that he could come home after a few days,” Jenny says. “But then he ended up with a respiratory infection and ended up staying several more weeks.”
That pattern – one step forward, two steps back – became awfully familiar to the Muche family. Parker finally came home with a feeding tube, breathing monitor and supplemental oxygen at the end of July 2010. He was only home for two weeks before he landed back in the hospital with a respiratory infection.
And so it went. Parker was in and out of the hospital for much of his first year. “It was a vicious cycle,” Muche says. “We estimate that he spent approximately eight-and-a-half months of his first year in the hospital.”
Concern for their sick child, coupled with stress of trying to maintain a home and family in Horicon while commuting constantly to hospitals in Milwaukee, took a toll. “There was times when I thought, ‘Is he ever going to come home? Is he going to get better?’” Jenny says. “But my husband was always my rock. He was the one who was strong, who’d say everything was going to be OK.”
“I would say it’s probably the other way around,” Josh says. “I don’t know if I could do it without Jenny.”
A New Normal
Today, Parker and Ashton are happy three-year-olds who love to play with (and torment) their older brother, Owen. Ashton hasn’t had to be hospitalized at all since his premature birth. Parker still has his feeding tube, but with luck, it will be gone soon.
Jenny and Josh have both adopted new career paths that allow them to meld family and work responsibilities. Jenny works at Horicon Bank; Josh has transitioned from a career as a robotic programming welder to a career in financial planning. (“I wanted to be able to spend more time with my family,” Josh says.)
And while the Muches certainly wouldn’t have minded a more ordinary birth, they’re both philosophical about the experience.
“I truly believe everything happens for a reason,” Jenny says. “Sometimes you ask, ‘Why? Why would anybody have to go through this?’” Josh says. “But in all reality, if bad things wouldn’t happen to good people, nobody would care.”