Stateside

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Flashback to August 8, 2015 when we sneaked into the hospital here at Kudjip to do an ultrasound (since I’d known I was pregnant for about 3 weeks at that point). To our GREAT surprise we discovered TWO tiny babies growing in there, each with a perfect heartbeat and measuring 7-weeks size. After weeks of thinking and praying and receiving good counsel from our fellow physicians here, we decided to return to Ohio for the delivery of the babies. We wanted to stay through Christmas and enjoy that time with the entire immediate Radcliffe family who travelled great distances to be together at Kudjip. So, at 28 weeks along, we packed up our family for the five months we’d spend Stateside.
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On January 6th we began our long journey back to the States where we would wait for the birth of the twins. Here we sat in the departure lounge of the airport in Mount Hagen, PNG. AND, we got to enjoy the first two legs of our journey with Uncle Josiah and his girlfriend, Sarah, who were returning to the States after spending Christmas with the entire Radcliffe crew in PNG.
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Several days before departing PNG I started to experience some painful contractions which required me to take it REALLY easy and not do any heavy-lifting. We decided at the last minute that we’d need lots more help on the flights home and we recruited Aunt Cilla to join us. She was an absolute gift to us and kept us from missing at least one flight!
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It took 5 planes and an overnight stop in Brisbane, Australia to get us home to Ohio, so you can imagine how excited this 28-weeks-pregnant-with-twins mama was when several of our flights had room to stretch out a bit.
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After a fairly restful and uneventful overnight in Brisbane, we managed the short flight to Sydney before boarding our Airbus A380 (the world’s largest passenger airliner) for the 15 hour flight to Dallas. It never takes long for our boys to get acquainted with the technology on board. Oh, and you can’t tell from this photo, but there is actually NO SEAT in front of me. That’s right. I paid about a hundred bucks to upgrade to the one and only seat like this on the plane (its the spot for the emergency hatch to the crew cabin below). And it might just  be the best money I’ve ever spent on airline travel. 
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After arriving in Dallas with only a matter of minutes to run to our connecting flight to Columbus, Ohio, we arrived breathless at the gate only to discover the flight had just departed. So our 6pm flight was changed to a 9pm flight and after some McDonald’s, sponge baths and clean jammies, we were the first to board the small, almost-empty plane. And the very kind and conscientous pilot must have noticed our kids were on their last leg (ha!) and offered for them to sit in the cockpit. Excitement abounded!
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We didn’t arrive to snow-covered ground, but shortly after our arrival the boys experienced some of the white stuff for the first time in awhile. And since we lived with Grandma and Grandpa Stevens for our 5 months in Ohio, we enjoyed all the perks of their home and yard, including the fire pit!
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Another beloved activity for the boys was to accompany us to ANY store in order to peruse the toy department. And (almost) always, they knew they would only get to LOOK, but they were totally okay with that. On a good day we’d spend 30-40 minutes literally looking at the two aisles of wheeled vehicles.
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And with a trip to Mount Vernon comes a good bit of time at real, bonafide playgrounds.
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This was the last photo taken of my growing belly before the babies came a week later.
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Sunday, February 7th was Super Bowl Sunday. It was that day and the few days prior that I began to experience left side pain that felt very familiar. I had a history of kidney stones when I was pregnant with Simeon, so I was quite certain what was causing my pain. But I also knew that I was only 33 weeks along and we wanted the babies to stay put as long as possible. We were in Mount Vernon, but it didn’t take us long to determine we’d need to make the one-hour drive to Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus where Ben did his surgery training and where we planned to deliver the babies. I was evaluated in triage of the OB department and since I was contracting a fair bit by the time we arrived, they decided to admit me for observation. It turned out that I had multiple kidney stones in both kidneys and passing a stone was indeed the reason for my premature labor. We realized pretty quickly the next afternoon on February 8th that we wouldn’t be able to stop my labor. As is typical with twin deliveries, when we knew delivery was inevitable, I was moved to the OR in case there was a need for an emergent c-section (although both babies were head down and I was planning to attempt a natural delivery). After only a few pushes, at 9:55 pm, we found out that the first baby was a GIRL! After months of anticipation of their genders, we were thrilled to finally meet Tabea Betsy Radcliffe. She weighed 4 pounds, 10 ounces and required no major interventions after birth. We were praising the Lord as Ben texted and called a few family members quickly to give them the news. But then…on to Baby B! The resident quickly put the ultrasound on my abdomen to find that Baby B had flipped to a breech position. This led to about 10 minutes of attempts by my (very seasoned) physician to turn baby in order for me to attempt a vaginal delivery. Once it was determined that this baby was not turning, the OB/GYN was planning for a breech vaginal delivery until he realized that the baby’s umbilical cord was blocking the birth canal and a delivery at this point would be life-threatening to the baby.
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So, we quickly determined to prepare for a c-section. I was transferred to the OR table, drapes and lights were positioned, and while everything was being prepared, I got to get a good look at Tabea for the first time. And then at 10:15 pm, we found out that Baby B was a GIRL too! I don’t think we ever dreamed that both were girls, but we were overjoyed when we found out.
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Naomi Katherine Radcliffe weighed 4 pounds, 7 ounces and was perfect as could be! She needed some CPAP to help keep her airways open a bit after delivery, but by the next day she was weaned from the CPAP and continued to do so well. I remember asking Ben shortly after they were born whether or not the girls were identical. And he replied that they definitely did NOT look alike! We were prepared for the fact that since the girls were 7 weeks premature they’d go directly to the NICU after they were born.
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After my c-section and short recovery, I was wheeled to the NICU where I got to visit the girls briefly before getting settled into the postpartum room.
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Since it was flu season in Ohio, there were strict limits on visitor to the NICU. We could list only four visitors for the entirety of the girls’ stay in the NICU and no children were ever allowed to visit during flu season. So, the boys came to see Mama, but didn’t meet their sisters in person for another 4 weeks.
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On Day 2 of life, Tabea had a rare few moments without any cords or tubes connected to her before her nasogastric tube and IV were replaced.
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After Naomi’s CPAP mask was removed, we enjoyed seeing more of her face too.
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Simeon and Matthias drove the hour with Daddy to the hospital on Valentine’s Day for lunch, a visit, and to make cards for their sisters.
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These were the finished Valentine cards for the littlest Valentines!
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We were only missing the two big brothers here!  This was one of the last photos in the main NICU before we were moved to C Room where we spent the remaining weeks. C Room is generally for babies that are just learning to eat and grow.
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Years ago the nurses in the NICU would c0-sleep twins. Modern day medicine has changed this, but there were a few nurses who encouraged us to put them together for a bit each day and it was so fun. The girls are 20 days old here and clearly they remembered each other from the womb. They were quick to snuggle up and no part of this photo was staged.
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There is something incredibly special about twins. I think I was aware of it before we knew we would have our own, but living each day with them for these six months has been a special (and most challenging) gift.
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I woke up this morning and drove to the NICU as I did each day before. I had a routine by now, since I’d done this for 24 days in a row. I arrived in time for the 8 am “care” each day. The nurse and I would tag-team taking vitals, changing diapers, adjusting bed positions, baths on Wednesdays and then feeding. I was allowed to nurse the girls during 4 of the 8 cares each day. So, I spent the entire day with them in order to give them the best shot at successfully breastfeeding. By suppertime I was exhausted and made my way to one of the two homes provided for us to stay during our time in Columbus. I attempted to eat 3,000 calories a day and drink 120 ounces of water in order to maintain my milk production. It was absolutely a full-time job, but as it turned out, probably the only way that I was able to do this was because the girls were in the NICU for 4 weeks and the boys were being cared for by Ben and my parents in Mount Vernon. Anyway, on this particular day, I was anticipating that Tabea (pictured here) would be discharged as the previous day’s doctor had informed us. But as we’d experienced twice before, there was a new (more conservative) doc on this day and she decided she wanted to see Tabea have more consistent weight gain before discharging her. I was so incredibly frustrated and disappointed. I had been so patient and diligent each day, but I had reached my limit. I called Ben right away and explained it all through tears. I felt alone. He encouraged me to drive to Mount Vernon that evening after the last care and spend the night with the rest of the family. He gave such wise counsel. I went to our “home away from home” shortly after the phone call and got an overnight bag ready for my trip later that day. But as the lunch hour progressed, I found that I was having some increasing abdominal pain. It was not the typical pain that I will sometimes experience related to my Crohn’s Disease, but I was uncomfortable enough that I decided to just drive on to Mount Vernon then (knowing the nurses had plenty of frozen breast milk for the girls). The discomfort progressed to pain as I pulled into my parents’ driveway. I was greeted by two very happy boys, but I immediately had to try to get comfortable on the couch. After pumping some milk and writhing around due to the ever-increasing pain, I called Ben in to help assess me. I was starting to feel as though this pain was similar to the pain I experienced with the bowel obstruction I’d had in 2010 when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. We quickly decided that I’d need to return to Riverside (where my surgeon practices) and go to the emergency room. After a very sad goodbye to two boys I’d only seen three times in the last month, I proceeded to experience the absolute worst one-hour car ride I’ve ever experienced in my life. Increasing pain came in waves every 20-30 seconds. We finally reached the ER and since Ben had called ahead to some of his previous colleagues, I was literally in an ER bed with an IV and pain medication in a matter of minutes. And then I was on to the CT scan that indeed revealed a bowel obstruction that would require emergent surgery. My surgeon happened to be on call that night and I believe in record time I was in pre-op, on the OR table, and then in PACU before I hardly could take it all in. Of course, we were worried all along about the worst possible scenario being a Crohn’s flare. All that I remember from my post-operative time in the PACU was Dr. Toscano coming to the bedside once I was barely awake and informing me that he did everything laparoscopically because the closed-loop could simply be “untwisted” to relieve the obstruction AND he scanned the entire bowel to discover there was NO evidence of active Crohn’s Disease. Never had more reassuring words been spoken! A loop of bowel had been twisted around one solitary piece of scar tissue from my previous surgery and once the babies were delivered, the anatomy shifted enough for this to occur. We were praising the Lord that He knew just where we needed to be during this time, with access to a CT scan, my surgeon, good medications and a laparoscopic procedure. AND, can you imagine if Tabea had been discharged that morning as planned and we’d taken her home?!  The girls were still safely tucked away in the NICU and the boys with my parents.
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This was my post-op room where I spent two night before being discharged in record time!
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It was an incredible gift to be in the same hospital where the girls were. The day after surgery Ben wheeled me to the NICU where I received the BEST medicine.
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Ben’s shirt says it all!
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Four days later, and after 28 total days in the NICU, we FINALLY got to go home and introduce these sweet bundles to their family!
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My brother, and our kids’ beloved Uncle Peter, had never held ONE baby this small, let alone TWO!!
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And so the visiting commenced! Ben’s sister, Bekah, and her family were in town because of their daughter Sylvia’s open-heart surgery at the children’s hospital in Columbus. So we had the privilege of introducing them to the girls. We have some pictures like this of them with their identical twin girls, Dora and Sylvia, 6 years earlier! (They reminded us that they forget a LOT about those early days.)
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And the fun continued for these boys as we explored a nearby “real” train!
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Every once in awhile Tabea got really blessed in her sleep.
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We had the privilege of getting some family photos on the girls’ due date, March 26th. Ben’s cousin’s new wife, Larisa Radcliffe, is a gifted photographer and helped to capture the look and feel of these girls at 7 weeks of age.
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Every bit of this journey has been a team…or perhaps a VILLAGE effort. But if I, for one second, thought that I could have done this without Ben by my side I’d be lying to us all. We would easily classify the first 8 weeks home with these girls as the most difficult of our married lives. But with great tribulation comes the greatest blessing. I know for certain that we’ll forget the hardships, the never-ending diapers and spit-up, the constant holding and bouncing and consoling, and the utter exhaustion. But as we often remind each other, good things are still coming!
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There’s hardly a caption worthy of this photo.
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And Grandma Betsy has THE greatest playroom. Its so great that when we FaceTime from PNG these days, the boys ask to see the play room and all the toys.
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Without fail, when one of the girls was just inconsolable, my dad would say, “Let me try.” He’d prop her against his chest like this, holding the pacifier with his left hand and he would often bounce straight up and down very gently while singing a medley of songs, which always included, but was not limited to…Oh Happy Day, Precious Name and Battle Hymn of the Republic. And without fail, in 5, 10 or 30 minutes, she’d finally calm. He was always available and always persistent.
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We never planned to be back Stateside after 11 months in PNG, but one of the blessings of those five months was getting to spend time with my brother Adam and his three children. Cousins are a special thing.
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I’ll never forget when Simeon was about 5 months old and I was preparing to finish up the last months of my family medicine residency. I asked around at church if there was anyone that might be willing to watch him. I was given the name Sue Noll. And here we are 4 years later and she is one of our VERY favorites. She and her husband gave us their home to use during part of our NICU time and then she drove from Columbus to Mount Vernon twice after we were home to help hold babies, play with boys, and bring us delicious food.
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To this day, Simeon has held the girls only maybe a handful of times. He’s a firstborn with high expectations of himself and he admits that it makes him nervous. But, boy oh boy is he sweet with his sisters. It took him a good two months at home before he really was confident identifying them properly (despite the fact that they look VERY different), but he’d find a toy and sit next to them, often saying in the highest pitch possible, “They’re so cute!”
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Matthias, on the other hand, asked frequently to hold “twooo bobby”!
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We train them young to love cars. At least that’s what Matthias thinks!
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We wore the girls a good bit in the first weeks. This was mostly because it was absolutely necessary if we wanted to do things like say, make supper or go on a walk.
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We celebrated a lot of birthdays in Ohio this year. Matthias turned TWO. And when you have an almost four-year-old brother you’re bound to have some help opening gifts.
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The girls were given a BEAUTIFUL shower by dear friends Karen Doenges, Ami Workman, Steph Diehlmann and Sonja Smith. Great Grandma Beam got a kick out of trying to hold two babies at once!
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Whit’s Frozen Custard opened while we were home too. We didn’t enjoy it one single bit.
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Goldfish and cars are close-at-hand when Matthias is on baby duty.
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My older sister and I shared the joys of pregnancy at the same time. We were due just 3 weeks apart and here after delivering Lola Rae just two weeks earlier, she and her husband drove 7 hours to be with us before we returned to PNG.
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Behind the scenes of a “triplet” photo shoot!  Tabea (L), Lola, and Naomi (R)
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We had a coordinated visit with the EIGHT Stevens cousins. It only took about 65 shots and 22 Tic-Tacs to make this photo happen.
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These girls were swaddled until they were 5 months old. And this was not an unusual place to find Ben.
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We squeezed in a trip to Xenia with all four kids so we could visit with Great Grandma Beam and the rest of the family there. And her new kittens, of course.
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Simeon turned FOUR on May 30th and we celebrated with a Paw Patrol cake with all the family!
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And hardly a birthday would be complete without an ALL-FAMILY water balloon fight. Adam didn’t last long in that hammock.
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When Grandma Betsy left for 10 days to be with Sarah, David and their new baby Lola in Virginia, we hardly knew what to do with ourselves! She was the constant cuddler, consoler and comic relief. Tabea seems to agree, I’d say.
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Another day. Another playground. Aunt Bethany and Baby Betsy joined in on the fun!
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We loved being in the same town with Great Grandma and Great Grandpa Radcliffe. And Great Grandma took every chance she could to hold these girls. We made some sweet memories.
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Naomi (L) and Tabea (R) turned four-months-old just before we left the States for PNG.
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It takes a good bit of work to take a family photo these days, but I say its worth every fuss and holler. Stay tuned for a photo tour of our return to PNG and all that’s happened since!

5 thoughts on “Stateside

  1. Toni Veale August 7, 2016 / 11:47 am

    I LOVE reading your posts and gazing at the pictures of your family. I caught myself smiling through the entire thing! (I often remember the trip we shared years ago and am the fun we had then 💕) Thanks you for sharing your encredible journey.

    Like

  2. Janice Nielson August 7, 2016 / 10:07 pm

    In spite of all the sleepless nights and exhausting days, it’s a beautiful thing to see the joy that trumps all else!

    Like

  3. Debby August 8, 2016 / 2:29 am

    Loved this! I read every word, looked at beautiful pics and was blessed by it all.

    Like

  4. Becky Hancock August 17, 2016 / 1:21 pm

    Aunt Becky just read it all and I’m staying tuned for the next chapter! Still think you need to get it to mission headquarters for an NMI reading book. I will do it if you don’t! 🙂

    Like

  5. REBECCA BELT January 7, 2017 / 7:37 pm

    There r no words 2 even remotely describe the gratitude 2 God 4 His endless & every minut detail of interventions on your family’s behalf.

    Including the fact that while I was reading what Dr. Toscano told u, I got a very definite impression from God that you, Katherine, r completely healed from Chron’s Disease. Dr Toscano didn’t find any evidence of Chron’s cuz the Greater Physician, Jehovah-Ralphe, has healed u indeed.

    Like

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