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From the NICU to Graduating with Honors: Seeing Babies, and Mom, Through the Pregnancy Journey

By: Faith Jeffcoat

Every birth story is unique. But some are filled with extraordinary challenges and moments that leave a lasting impact on the parents’ lives. Michele Wagner’s experience of becoming a mother shaped her in ways she never anticipated.

Michele’s journey started with the joyous news of pregnancy. But from the first appointment with her ob-gyns, Dr. Pierce Soffronoff and Dr. Carol Krupski, Michele was classified as a high-risk patient due to being over the age of 35 with her first pregnancy.

“I remember the day I went in for what I thought was a routine ultrasound. When I left, I was shell-shocked,” says Michele.

Little did she know that she was in for another surprise during one of her early visits. At around 10 weeks, an ultrasound revealed the unexpected news: she was pregnant with twins.

“I was so surprised. Now I was double high-risk. Then some complications arose,” Michele says. “I developed gestational diabetes. I was at risk of preeclampsia, which required weekly visits to Magee for checkups. And then at 34 weeks, I got told my blood pressure was too high. My doctor told me, ‘You’re done working’ and I got put on bed rest.”

As Michele headed to the lobby to get her parking validated, her water broke. “I turned around and headed back up, and they admitted me,” Michele says. On June 30, after 18 hours of labor, Michele delivered her identical twins via C-section. Michael James Wagner was born at 3:20 a.m. weighing 4 pounds 9 ounces, and Mathew William Wagner was born at 3:21 a.m. weighing 4 pounds 6 ounces.

Born with underdeveloped lungs and respiratory distress syndrome, the twins needed specialized care. For 10 days, Michael and Matthew resided in the NICU, gaining strength and getting healthy.

“It was a rollercoaster of emotions. You don’t expect your infants to require NICU care when you go into labor, or at least I didn’t. My lengthy labor, unplanned C-section delivery, and the twins’ unexpected health issues which necessitated NICU care left me quite disconcerted,” Michele says.

As a first-time mother to premature twins, Michele felt caught off guard and overwhelmed. Yet, the open NICU room provided a glimpse into the struggles of other parents facing difficult situations.

“Seeing I wasn’t there alone, and getting to connect with other mothers in similar situations really shaped me during that time,” Michele says. “It was eye-opening and a learning experience for me, and it made me even more grateful for my situation and for the care and support we received.”

Michele also found solace in connecting with the NICU nurses, whom she describes as the “heart and soul” of the unit and “angels on earth” who supported and guided her through every step.

“Not only did they take care of my infants, but they took care of me,” says Michele. “They were so kind, patient, compassionate, and reassuring. They encouraged me to change my babies’ diapers in between all the tubes and wires. No matter what came, they helped me bond with my babies,” Michele says.

After 10 days in the NICU and passing their car seat test where their breathing, heart rate, and oxygen levels were monitored, Michele and her twins were cleared to go home.

“We left with confidence, feeling prepared, and I am thankful to every person who supported and educated us during my stay,” Michele says. “And the care didn’t stop there. We received in-home follow-up care.”

As the twins grew, Michele’s initial concerns about potential cognitive delays were alleviated. “Other than needing some speech therapy when they were 6 years old, they flourished in school, and graduated with honors. They would not have been able to do so if it weren’t for the NICU at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital,” Michele says.

Their 19th birthday marked not only a celebration of life, but also a reminder of the incredible journey they have traversed together. Although they may squabble like typical siblings, their bond as twins remains strong.

“It has been so cool to watch them grow. They have each other’s back. They are each other’s champions,” Michele says.

As Michele looks back on her NICU experience at UPMC Magee, she is filled with gratitude for the extraordinary care that helped her twins be here today.

“To my NICU nurses, Donna, Kelly, Lauren, Linesse, Loretta, and Sheila, if you’re still there, I just appreciate you guys so much. My kids might not even be alive if it wasn’t for you and the NICU unit at Magee,” Michele says. “The doctors and nurses are legends and rock stars in my eyes. I would say to any soon-to-be mother, anyone pregnant with twins, anyone with a high-risk pregnancy, anyone really — go to Magee. There is no other advice I could give you that would be as valuable as that.”

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Read the full Winter 2024 MAGEE Magazine issue here.