By Rebecca Drew
AFTER the devastating loss of THREE of her quadruplets, this mum was forced to carry them all to SAVE ONE.
When bartender, Tori Keller (23) from Athens, Alabama, USA, and her fiancé stone polisher, Tyler Hallman (24) found out they were expecting quadruplets when Tori was 19, they shocked doctors who asked them if they were taking fertility medication, which they weren’t.
Once they’d got over the initial shock and had seen their four babies on the ultrasound, Tori and Tyler, who first met on the dating app, Tinder, were looking forward to becoming a family. Three babies; B, C and D were sharing a placenta and sac and their fourth baby; A was in a sac of their own.
Tori suffered with terrible morning sickness during her first trimester and her pregnancy was deemed high risk which meant she had to see her doctors weekly for checks. At 15-weeks the couple were looking forward to a scan that would determine the sex of their children when they received the news that baby D no longer had a heartbeat as the placenta wasn’t strong enough to sustain three babies.
Heartbroken, Tori and Tyler discovered that they were expecting girls and despite grieving the devastating loss of their child, Tori was told that she would have to carry all four of her babies full term. Tori found the strength to carry on but two days after her 18-week appointment she stopped feeling any movement as well as having pains in her side. Terrified, Tori phoned her doctor and was told not to worry and that her pains were just her uterus growing.
At their 19-week scan, Tori and Tyler were told the heart-breaking news that babies B and C no longer had heartbeats but told them that she would still be able to go full term and deliver all four babies naturally. From then on Tori was closely monitored with ultrasounds, cervix checks, blood and fluid samples and at 21-weeks she was admitted to hospital for closer monitoring due to her cervix weakening.
Tori had been in hospital for two weeks when at 23-weeks she suddenly went into labour and was rushed to theatre to have an emergency caesarean. Athena was born on January 2, 2017, weighing just 1lb 5oz and 12in long with her eyes still fused shut and her ears not yet fully developed, her sisters were born sleeping.
Tori and Tyler had to wait two and a half weeks before they could hold their delicate daughter and Athena spent 127 days in hospital before being discharged.
“Finding out I was pregnant with quads was shocking, to say the least. I thought the doctor was joking when he told me. I honestly didn’t truly believe it until I was able to see the actual ultrasound,” said Tori.
“At fifteen weeks along, I had an appointment with my regular OB, and it was also the day we were supposed to find out all the genders. As we got settled in the ultrasound room, I lifted my shirt over my already round baby bump to get ready to see them all again.
“The ultrasound tech first started with baby D, but the baby wasn’t moving much, so she moved on to baby C, then baby B, then baby A. As she went back to baby D, I started to get nervous. The baby was smaller, and not moving around anywhere near as much as the others. The tech said she was going to be right back.
“As she walked back into the ultrasound room, my OB followed her in. He sat down and sighed, ‘Ms Keller, I am so sorry, but we were unable to find a heartbeat in baby D.’
“I had to carry on. I knew that I couldn’t give up for my other babies. I didn’t know how to feel about carrying her with no heartbeat, but I didn’t have a choice. It’s a feeling with multiple feelings. It was hard.
“It was a couple of days after my eighteen-week appointment when I stopped feeling them moving. I had some pains in my side, but I was told that it was round ligament pains because my uterus was growing at such a fast rate.
“I was worried and scared. I’m honestly not super religious, but I prayed. I prayed every day until my next appointment.
“I was monitored very closely after losing baby B and C; cervix checks, very intricate ultrasounds, fluid samples, blood samples. And then of course, I was admitted into the hospital at twenty-one weeks for closer monitoring and strict bed rest.
“It was nerve-racking and honestly kind of humiliating. I hated not being able to move around. I really hated not being able to use an actual bathroom. That’s something I will never take for granted. I hated being monitored all the time. I like my privacy.
“The labour was barely noticeable at first, some minor back pain but as it got more intense, and coming and going, I was terrified. Especially when the nurse confirmed I was having contractions. Then when my water broke, I knew there was no going back. I was so scared that I was going to lose my baby.
“Recovery from labour was nothing like I had ever experienced before. A c-section is a major abdominal surgery, and they are definitely not easy to heal from. It hurt to cough, laugh, sneeze, and move. I was cut differently than ‘normal’. I was cut horizontally on the outside, but on the inside, I was cut vertically.”
Tori said her partner Tyler was her rock throughout everything. She went onto talk about what it was like seeing Athena in the NICU for the first time and the transition to life outside of the hospital as a family.
“Seeing Athena for the first time was unreal. Of course, I never wanted to see her like that, but it truly is an amazing thing to see a baby that small. Surely, I was scared, and sad that she had to be hooked up to tubes and wires, rather than in my belly, but I was filled with so much love for her. Love is the main thing I felt,” said Tori.
“Oh god holding her for the first time, it was the best feeling ever. I waited two and a half weeks to hold her. It felt so natural and perfect. We connected. There’s no other way to describe it but perfect.
“I bawled like a baby when we had to leave the hospital. I was nervous and anxious, but it was time. I was going to miss the nurses and the doctors, but it was a relief to be able to bring her home and not have nurses watching your every move.
“It was hard to adjust. She stayed on the NICU schedule for a long time. Which means she was up every two to three hours. I was fine with it, but Tyler and I were tired all the time. It was definitely worth it though.”
Seeing the doctors and nurses care for Athena and the other babies in the NICU has made Tori realise that she would like to become an NICU nurse one day.
Athena has some developmental delays but after everything she’s been through she is now thriving and is the best big sister to her younger brother, Zachariah (1).
Tori and Tyler have told their children about their sisters, telling them that they are angels who watch over them every day.
“She is amazing, now. She walks, talks, runs, jumps, screams, and just everything a normal toddler does, even the tantrums,” said Tori.
“She is behind on her speech, but we are working on it. A year ago, she could say maybe three to five words. Now she does nothing but talk, even if you can’t understand her.
“She is a perfect big sister. She was unsure of him at first, but as they both got a little older, she wanted to hold him all the time, and love on him. Now they spend all their time together. They are very very close. She calls him ‘Riah’.
“We already talk to them about their sisters. They have seen pictures of them as well. She knows that they are angels now, and they watch over us every day. I know she doesn’t quite understand yet, but we do talk about them a good bit.
“For anyone who has a micro-preemie, they can get through it. For anyone struggling with child loss, you can get through it. Having a micro-preemie taught me so much.
“It taught me to appreciate every small detail and to be patient. Athena taught me how to be strong. She taught me how to get through the dark times. She saved me. She’s my hero, and she doesn’t even know it.
“As mothers of micro-preemies or NICU babies in general, we often forget to take care of ourselves because we are so wrapped up in the NICU. It is okay to take time for yourself. Your mental health matters.”
For more information see www.instagram.com/torikellahh