Friday, March 28, 2014

// 7 Q U I C K T A K E S V O L. 3 //

Just getting in under the wire to post my 7 Quick Takes.

It's been a while since I've talked about Johnny's poop on here. So here goes. 

Johnny has been much more interested in eating solids over the past few weeks.  We've been having loads of fun having him sit at the table with us while we eat and watching his reactions to different foods.  We've also been very careful in selecting foods to introduce to try to avoid constipation. Johnny is more prone to constipation than other kids, because of his anal reconstruction. So we've been trying to feed him foods that are high in fiber. But something went awry because he went All Day Monday with a poop.  That may be normal for some babies for for Johnny normal = every diaper's a poopy diaper. 

After two days of only breastmilk, much worry, and many calls to my father-in-law-pediatrician, we finally discovered the culprit: strawberries! Sorry Johnny, my bad.  Here's hoping it won't happen again.

Not only did Johnny have his first bout of constipation, he also crawled forward for the first time! He's been pushing himself around in reverse for quite a while now, and has been pretty frustrated that he can't get to where he wants to go.  Then all of a sudden Sunday night it clicked and he was going forward! Since then he's been crawling all over, he's gotten better at pulling himself up, and has shown a lot of boldness in trying to walk.  I think he enjoys the feeling of getting places on his own.  I guess this means now I need to baby-proof the house. 

My parents were out of the town this week, so that means all of us kids get together to have dinner and watch a movie. (It was Sunday, so Alex and I were still in keeping with our Lenten TV fast.  Yes, we take Sundays off.) Sibling movie-night, the night we get together and argue about what movie to watch. Thor got the majority vote, I was in the minority. Nonetheless, it was still good to get everyone together.

For the first time in my life I own a pair of rain boots! Now that it's kind of getting warm-ish outside Johnny and I have been going for walks and regular old boots or shoes were not cutting the mustard during puddle season. So I cashed in some credit card points and bought myself some rain boots. (Remember my New Years resolution to not shop? Well, since I used credit card points and not real money I'm considering this not real shopping. See how good I am at finding loop holes? )  

Anyway, I every time I slosh through a puddle (and my feet stay blissfully dry) I can't help thinking of this video.

Remember when I asked for suggestions for what to read for Lent? I got some good ones from some of you, but in the end decided I should finish one of the books I had kind of started already. So I've been reading this book:
50 Reasons I Love Being Catholic

The author, Liz Kelly, came and spoke at our church last year during Lent, which is when I bought the book.  She's a compelling speaker and writes beautifully. Here's a snippet from the section on kneelers.

Perhaps if I were humbler, less self-involved, then maybe I wouldn't need to be reminded 
to surrender, and maybe I wouldn't need to kneel in church- or elsewhere- to show
my respect and reverence in this way. But I do.....
when we're not to anxious to love and serve God, kneeling can be a reminder to us of 
who we are and who God is. Sometimes by first disciplining our body, our heart and mind follow.

I got my hair cut today! I should specify that I got bangs today. I haven't had bangs since 2009. I was in my senior year of college, I was living at home.  I was dating Alex but we weren't engaged yet. One morning as I was getting ready to go to my 8:00 am class I decided I needed to switch things up a bit in the hair department so I cut bangs for myself.  I instantly regretted it. I went to wake up my sister, who was just finishing the cosmology program at the Aveda Institute, and begger her to help me.  She looked at me and said "there is nothing I can do for you." And so I was stuck with my bangs. 

Then a couple weeks late Alex proposed to me. I didn't want to have bangs in our wedding pictures so I had to begin the arduous task of growing them out. 

This was right after we got engaged.  Those are the offending bangs.

 I made both Alex and my sister take a solemn oath to never again let me get bangs (my sister has also taken a similar oath to never again let me get a perm) and since then I have not had bangs...Until today! 

The winter was so long and hard, and I was feeling so cooped up and boring. I needed a change. So I made and Alex and my sister recant their vows, took a facebook poll,  and my sister gave me some nice fringe bangs.  I imagine that once the weather gets hot I will regret this. But for now the change is great! Thanks Amy!

When I was child my parents would always come tuck me in at night and say "bedtime prayers" kneeling at the side of my bed.  They did this from as early on as I can remember. I could never fall asleep until they had come in to pray for me. They continued the tradition through my high school years as well. "Bedtime prayers" became a time where we could talk about the stresses and hopes and projects I had going on. And they would lift them up to the Lord. After I moved out for college I learned that they still went into my room and prayed for me before they went to bed.

Now I have a baby.  He sleeps in his room, for the most part. And Alex and I go in to prayer for him before we go to bed. We prayer for his health. We pray that he would sleep well. We pray above all that he would know the Lord from a young age and walk with Him always. This is one of the things I do that really makes me feel like I am a parent. It's one of my favorite moments in the day.


for more Quick Takes visit Conversion Diary

Thursday, March 27, 2014

// H I D E & S E E K //

Motherhood can often be a draining, tiring, thankless job.  Diaper change after diaper change. Trying to figure out what a fussy baby wants. Your time is not your own, your bed is not your own, your body is not your own.  I don't even go to the bathroom alone!! And I don't mean to complain. Johnny is a gift that we and many others prayed for for a long time. But there are days when I wonder, will this ever get easier?

Then something like this happens....

Johnny started crawling over the weekend.  He's been scooting himself around in reverse for about a month now.  And while that was sort of comical to watch, he would get so frustrated that he wasn't getting to where he was trying to go.  It felt like he was never going to figure it out and he would just be frustrated always, and need to be held always. Then Sunday evening something clicked. And he was crawling, on his little hands and knees, going forward like a pro. 

Today I put him down at one end of our upstairs hallway. I walked to the other end and he started to crawl towards me. I decided it would be funny to go in one of the rooms at the end of the hall and stick my head out at him, you know, like peek-a-boo.  When Johnny saw my head jut out in to the hallway he instantly started to laugh his gurgley, grunty laugh. I did this over and over again, his grunt growing into a full on belly laugh. And he laughed his way down the hall until he found me.

I think....I just play hide and seek for the first time with my son.  And it was really fun!

I think I just got a little glimpse of what it's like to have a kid. Not a baby--a kid. Johnny is getting so big so fast. Sometimes when he is stretched out on my lap asleep he looks huge! I get sad thinking that he won't be a baby for long.  But then something like this happens and I realize that as each new stage brings a little bitter-sweetness, it brings all the more joy and fun!

Alright...I gotta go play some more hide and seek! 


Monday, March 24, 2014

// N I C U d i a r i e s: B E T H A N Y 'S S T O R Y //

Two months before Johnny was born my cousin and his wife had a little baby boy who had to spend time in the NICU.  We were praying for the health of their baby as my pregnancy was coming to it's completion. Then when Johnny was born and we were in the NICU with him, they prayed for us. Bethany was someone one who gave us such beautiful words of encouragement while we were there. Last summer Johnny and Austin got to meet each other and you'd never guess to look at them that they both started off in the NICU! I am so pleased that Bethany was willing to share her story here.


I had an easy pregnancy, with no complications at all, and went into labor on my own on the morning of Holy Saturday, 2013.  I had planned to have a VBAC because I missed the first hour or so of my older daughter’s life while in recovery after the c-section.  With my firstborn, I had to be put under general anesthesia for the section, so I didn’t see her right away.  My husband had already taken pictures and texted them to family before I saw her face.  Not wanting to miss a moment of my son’s birth, I prepared for a VBAC, and I got an epidural early on (I had tried to go all natural with my first), so I wouldn’t have to go under general anesthesia a second time.

You can probably tell where this story is going.  It was Holy Saturday, and I had just got the epidural when the nurse noticed that I was running a fever.  “Sometimes that happens with an epidural,” she said.  She came back and checked a little later, and the fever was still there.  I think she had given me a Tylenol, to no avail.  That was the first sign anything was wrong.  I was put on IV antibiotics, as a precaution.

Other than the IV antibiotics, labor progressed normally.  There was meconium in the waters, but that had been the case with my daughter, too, so I wasn’t too worried.  My son’s heart rate was a little high, but not alarmingly so.  At one point I thought I might be headed back to surgery, but my doctor let me keep going.  Around midnight, I started to push.  

As always when a baby is about to be born, the hospital room filled with people.  The presence of meconium in the amniotic fluid meant that a team from the NICU must be present at the birth as standard procedure.  I would learn later that our story is an example of why the NICU team comes every time there is meconium, even if most of the time they aren’t needed.  We are the statistical rarity that they come for, and I thank the Lord.

The nurses and my husband were helping me push.  My doctor had arrived, and he was ready to catch my son.  “He needs to come out,” said my OB (who I love).  I pushed hard, prayed to God, got an episiotomy, and boom!  My son was born at 1:14am on Easter morning. 

He didn’t make a sound.

My OB quickly cut the cord and passed my son back to the NICU team.  Two neonatologists and two nurses worked on him, suctioning his nose and mouth, giving him an oxygen mask.  I watched as one of the doctors held up the umbilical cord straight above his little body and squeezed the blood in the cord back into his body.  The cord had been wrapped around his neck; he had aspirated meconium; he had an initial APGAR score of 2.

When you are waiting for your newborn son to cry, you lose all sense of time.  I have no idea how long it was before we heard his voice.  The room was quiet.  My OB doctor and the nurses who had attended me busied themselves, though I paid them little attention.  I tried to read the room for signs to see whether or not I should panic.  Everyone was so quiet.  My doctor had his back to the NICU team while he waited for the placenta.  I saw him cock his head in the direction of my baby, as if better to hear.  That worried me.  Then he cried.  Praise God, he cried.

We named him Austin Immanuel, in part because we had felt (already) that God had been with us through a difficult time.  The nurses brought him over to me for a hug.  He looked beautiful to me.  I kissed his cheek.  Then they took him to the NICU, where he would stay for 17 days.

When I look back at photos of his birth, he looks so sick to me.  Immediately after he was born, he looked puffy and pale.  I did not notice this at the time.  Such is a mother’s love, I suppose.

Then I started hemorrhaging.  I lost a lot of blood, and my placenta came out in pieces.  I was only dimly aware this was even happening at the time, to be honest.  I am glad I had a medical team to take care of me because I was in no condition or frame of mind to think of myself whatsoever.

Turns out my placenta had gotten infected during labor (hence the fever).  Bacteria that lived in my body traveled up through the broken waters and infected my placenta and my son.  It happened very quickly --- so much so it astounded all the doctors who heard it.  I was not high risk for this.  My waters had only been broken for a few hours, and my son was full term.  It was a fluke of epic proportions.

Later, I would tell my doctor I had found a statistic online that said what we had suffered had something like a .0008 percent chance of occurrence.  “That sounds high,” he would say.

Anyway, the next morning I was finally deemed stable enough to visit my son.  I had seen him via Facetime in the night (my husband thinks we should be in an Apple commercial for this! Haha).  Little Austin was on oxygen, an IV through his belly button, and several monitors.  We said hello, held his hand.  There was not much we could do.  He was not stable enough to hold him.  They were still running tests and had not diagnosed his infection yet.

Although I could stay in the NICU all the time, day or night, I found that I could not handle being there without a break.  I felt completely helpless.  I was completely helpless.  I had to hand my son over to the nurses, the doctors…well, to God, really, and trust that through this medical care God was providing my son what he needed. 

It was three days before I could hold him.  Suddenly, with my son in my arms, everything was so much better.  I felt I could handle all this, if only I could hold him.  I felt the effects even in my body.  I could sleep.  And immediately, my milk came in.  I am still amazed at that.

Later that day I was discharged from the hospital.  It was good to be home.  I found a lot of comfort in my routine care for my 17-month-old daughter, who was oblivious to all the stress.  She had been missing me, even though Nana was pretty cool.  It was helpful to me to be able to care for at least one child – there was so little I could do for my son, I really needed to care for my daughter.  I slept in my own bed, and woke only to pump.

Our days began to take shape.  In the morning I would care for my daughter and put her down for her late-morning nap.  Someone would come to relieve me, and I would drive to the hospital to see my son.  I got to know the nurses in the NICU (wonderful people).  I would hold my son while he slept, or try to nurse him, or sometimes just watch him sleep.  Some days I spent hours holding him on my chest, skin to skin.  Often my husband would stop by after work.  Then we would head home to have dinner and put my daughter to bed.  Some nights I would go back to the hospital.  But I would sleep in my own bed and be home when my daughter awoke. 

And that was our life for a couple of weeks.  We had lots of help.  My mother, my mother in law, and a close friend all took shifts.  I cried on and off.  I tried to relax the muscles in my face, but I never could.

Gradually my son recovered.  First the oxygen tube came off, then the feeding tube, as he grew strong enough to suck.  First a bottle, then the breast.  Finally it was just the PICC line left (a Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter, aka a Super IV J) for his antibiotics. 

Finally one morning we arrived at the NICU to bring him home.  Our wait was over, and I felt our new life together could really begin.  My daughter met him for the first time – what a precious sight!  Those 17 days were over. 

Since then my son Austin has grown big and healthy, with no lingering issues.  Nearly a year later, I am still so grateful.  Grateful for the doctors and nurses who saved the life of my son.  Grateful for the NICU, and grateful our stay was not longer.  Grateful to leave the NICU with my son snuggled safe in his car seat.  I know not every mother gets to do that.  We are grateful that his rough start has not left any lasting damage.

Our time in the NICU has given me a perspective on motherhood that I value.  When I think of how much pain I endured in labor to have that first hour with my son, only to wait instead for three days to hold him --- all I can say is that there is grief, but the gratefulness outweighs it.  Today we have a wonderful relationship, my son and I.  I don’t feel that our bond is diminished by our brief time spent apart.  I love my son.  I am his mother.  Those two things, nothing can change.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

// M I X TA P E n o. 0 1 //

Not watching TV has had all sorts of positive repercussions in our life. (someting hard bearing great fruit.) One has been that now I listen to more music throughout the day. I should specify that I've been listening to more classical music.  I don't talk very much about my musical background on here, but I've got one. I am a classically trained pianist and violinist.  I've been playing since I was 8 years old. I have a degree in piano performance. And I teach piano and violin for a (meager) living.

Taking lessons and putting in my own practice time has fallen by the way side since Johnny has been born.  I am kind of in survival mode when it comes to my music career; find music for students to play, stay ahead of the more advanced ones, accompany violin students, occasionally play at church. But I love classical music and really miss playing.  Someday I'd love to take lessons again! (Carolyn, if you are reading, I hope you'll take me back!) But for now I just play when I can, and keep listening.

These are the tunes I have been enjoying lately.  I don't really know how Spotify works, but I think if you follow me (Anna Coyne) then you can listen to the playlist.

mixtape no. 1: middle movements

Mahler: Symphony no. 5 in C# minor, IV. Adagietto
Beethoven: Piano Concerto no. 5 in Eb major Op 73: II. Adagio un poco mosso
Ravel: Piano Concerto in G Major II. Adagio assai
Finzi: Eclogue
Brahms: Quartet no. 3 in C minor Op. 60 III Andante

And here's Johnny  rockin' out on his new DJ-ing station, complete with turn table, scratch pad, and-that's right- xylophone. Thanks Once Upon A Child!

Monday, March 17, 2014

// N I C U d i a r i e s: S H A N N O N' S S T O R Y //

This week I am so honored to be sharing my sister-in-law's story of being in the NICU with our sweet nephew. EJ was born 10 weeks early! I remember the day we found out Shannon had needed an emergency c-section and that she was still waiting to see her baby for the first time.  The memory of our NICU stay was so fresh in my mind that I couldn't help crying throughout that entire day. We had a hard enough time being in the NICU for 9 days with Johnny. I am truly inspired by Shannon and Peter and how well they handled being in the NICU for 39 days!

One of the many reasons my husband and I chose the hospital we did for our baby’s birth was because it has a Level III NICU that is considered one of the best in the country, but we certainly never expected to need it.   When our son EJ was born at 30 weeks gestation weighing 2 pounds and 7 ounces, we could not have been more grateful for it. 
EJ’s premature birth came as a complete shock.  My pregnancy had been going very smoothly, and my doctor described it as ideal as recently as one week before EJ’s birth.  We had no reason to think anything would go wrong.  When I thought I was experiencing heartburn and went to the hospital just to be safe, never in a million years would I have guessed that I would be rushed into an emergency c-section and be meeting my baby in just a few hours.  I developed HELLP Syndrome almost overnight, and it was so severe that my baby needed to be delivered immediately for my safety. 
                    The many, many times I pictured meeting our baby for the first time, it was always a moment of overwhelming happiness and joy.  It would be the happiest day of our lives!  In reality, the day we met our baby was terrifying.  The first time I saw EJ, which was about five hours after he was born, I felt scared, helpless, and heartbroken.  I felt like I had failed him.  I couldn’t keep my little boy safe, and he had to come out before his tiny body was ready.  I was devastated.

EJ’s first photo!  My husband got a quick glimpse of flailing arms and legs as EJ was rushed to a team of waiting doctors and followed EJ to the NICU, but it was about five hours before I got to see EJ for the first time.

                My sweet baby looked so small and fragile.  He was covered in tubes and wires and surrounded by machines, and I didn’t know what any of them did.  I didn’t know what, if anything, was wrong with him.  I didn’t know when I could hold him.  I didn’t know how long he would be in the hospital.  I didn’t know if he would live.  It was completely overwhelming, and all I could do was cry.

EJ was 14.5 inches long and not much bigger than Sophie the Giraffe.

  It was days before we knew what his face looked like under all the tubes.

                EJ ended up being one of the lucky ones.  After a very scary first week during which he showed signs of a life threatening condition, he pulled through and never looked back.  From week two on, he was considered a feeder and grower, which meant he just needed to grow and mature (be able to drink from a bottle, maintain his body temperature, breathe on his own) so he could go home.   Even so, NICU life means constantly having to brace yourself for something to go wrong, and it is incredibly stressful.  I cried every day until EJ came home, which he did after just 5 and a half weeks (at 35 and a half weeks gestational age) and weighing exactly 4 pounds.  Now THAT was the happiest day of our lives!

EJ wasn’t very impressed by his first experience with a car seat.  He weighed 4 pounds- the weight minimum for his seat.  My husband was excited to get to watch a Chargers game at home with EJ!

Fortunately, we were at a very supportive hospital.  We could visit EJ in the NICU 22 hours a day, a lactation specialist had me pumping within hours of EJ’s birth, and the nurses encouraged us to take as active a role in EJ’s care as possible.  We were changing his diapers, taking his temperature, giving him baths, feeding him, and doing anything else they would let us.  I would strongly encourage all NICU parents to be as involved as possible.  Insist if you must!  There are many things that we can’t do for our babies while they’re in the hospital, but there are also a lot of little things that we can do that can give us a tiny sense of control in a totally unpredictable situation.  It also helped me feel more like a real mom, which is hard when you’re not your child’s primary caregiver.  One day, I overheard our nurse briefing her replacement, and she said that the new nurse didn’t have to worry about checking on EJ because his parents were here and they were very independent and capable.  I beamed.

We were wondering if EJ would arrive in time for Christmas or not.  We never expected to have him here for Halloween!  My mom made his cape, but we learned that lots of preemie parents go to Build-A-Bear Workshop for costumes.

                  While the NICU was EJ’s home, we made it our home, too.  We hung up a banner and pictures EJ’s cousins drew for him.  We brought as many of EJ’s own items (blankets, clothes, hats, toys, boppy) as possible for him to use.  We asked question after question--how they did things, why they did things, did they expect that process to change?  I pumped there, we took naps there, we brought a laptop, and we set up camp.  We celebrated every tiny accomplishment, like when EJ went from 1 ml per feeding to 2 ml.  Do you know how tiny a ml is?  It’s nothing!  But it was everything.  Making ourselves at home made it easier to spend as much time with EJ as we could and helped us feel like a family.   

This picture is from our Tiny Footprints Project shoot and was taken three days before EJ came home.  We didn’t know it at the time, but our NICU stay was almost over!

EJ’s 39 days in the NICU were the hardest of our lives, but like all memories, the bad is fading and we’re focusing on the good.  EJ is alive, healthy, and thriving.  He shows no ill effects from his premature birth and will be five months old (11 weeks 3 days adjusted age) tomorrow.  He’s such a smiley, happy little guy and by far the best thing that’s ever happened to us.  I have a sense of love and gratitude the likes of which I previously never knew.  We were lucky, and that’s not lost on us.  People who don’t even know us were praying for EJ, and the deacon who came to the hospital to baptize EJ had our entire congregation praying for him at every Sunday Mass until he came home.  Every day my husband or I still mention how fortunate we were or how grateful we are to have our baby boy.  We take cookies and cupcakes to the nurses, but it never feels like enough.  How do you say thank you to the people who saved your baby’s life and cared for him when you couldn’t?  One nurse told me the best way I could thank her was to take good care of EJ, and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.
                I have come to think of being a NICU parent as the best club that you never want to join.  There is a great sense of community among NICU parents, and in our case in particular, a kinship among preemie parents.  You had a preemie?  I may not know anything else about you, but I will do whatever I can to help you, like other preemie parents did for us.  I know the agony that you’re in, NICU parents.  I know the worry and the tears. I know how hard you fight to breastfeed, and I know how heartbreaking it is if it doesn’t work out.  I know how hard you are on yourselves when you’re not with your baby.  I know the guilt you feel.  I know you can’t eat and you can’t sleep, but try.  I want to tell you that everything will be okay, but I know that may not be true.  I sincerely wish every NICU story went the way EJ’s did, and I hope your sweet NICU babies will be all right. 

                I can’t write about our NICU experience without plugging the Tiny Footprints Project! The Tiny Footprints Project is a group of professional photographers who donate their services to NICU families free of charge.  They arranged for a photographer to come to the hospital to take pictures of EJ, and a friend of mine recently used them, too.  Getting professional pictures of EJ taken gave me something fun and exciting to look forward to in the midst of such a horrible experience, and I’m so grateful!  You can see some of our TFP photos here.

Friday, March 14, 2014

//S E A S O N S: l e n t //

Even now, says the LORD,

return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
For gracious and merciful is he,
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment.
~Joel 2:12-13~

This passage was from one of the readings on Ash Wednesday, which marked the beginning of the season of Lent.  Lent has always been my favorite season of the Church year. Not because I'm a glutton for punishment. No. I love the somber attitude. The silence. And the discipline. 

Even before I was Catholic I was drawn to this season. I am so grateful that I grew up in churches where lent is observed. All through my childhood, once a year I had ashes applied to my forehead in the sign of the cross, and for a moment or so thought about how I was nothing but dust. Humility is something that does not come easily for me. But that posture of humility feels so right to assume, because it is so true. Humility. Seeing God as He is and me as I am.  And I am dust. 

Discipline is another thing that does not come easily for me.  So again, maybe a little surprising that Lent, when we are called to prayer, fasting and alms-giving, is my favorite season. I confess that the hardest of these for me is alms-giving.  How do you do that on regular, normal, daily basis.  Seriously, how do YOU do it? I want to know. But prayer and fasting happen here. It's hard, but the fruit of these disciplines is so good and comes so quickly making it so worth it.

We gave up TV. Alex and I always give up the same thing. Since we live in the same house and do many things together it just makes things easier.  This is our second year giving up TV. Ash Wednesday rolls around and all of a sudden we become really interesting people.  We talk more, we spend more time cooking, playing with Johnny, studying (in Alex's case), reading (in mine).  We've been eating our meals at the table.  This may sound like a no-brainer, but when you have Netflix and there's ALL the seasons of the West Wing and every other great show at your finger tips...well, let's just say most of our meals became TV dinners.

So now we sit and the table and we look each other in the eye. We're teaching Johnny to pray and converse.

 We're building better habits.

We're becoming better.

Picture from the first of what will hopefully
many walks this spring.

Monday, March 10, 2014

// N I C U d i a r i e s: A M A N D A 'S S T O R Y //

Thank you so much Amanda, for offering your story as the first entry in the NICU diaries.  Your words are beautiful and so many things in your story remind me of our own stay in the NICU.  Especially how easy it is for mothers to neglect themselves because they are so concerned about their babies.  You are all troopers!

Most pregnant women spend a lot of time preparing for the birth of their baby. They read books. They attend childbirth classes. They practice breathing. They watch birthing videos. They envision healthy deliveries. They write birth plans. They decide whether they will medicate, or breastfeed, or circumcise. But that is the extent. Most women don’t plan for a NICU journey. How could they? It’s difficult to prepare for something you can’t imagine. And, unless you’ve been through it, you could never imagine…
Early pregnancy was good to me. I may have been uncomfortable and tired, but I was never sick and it really didn’t affect my lifestyle much at all. But at 37 weeks I developed mild pre-eclampsia and was placed on modified bedrest. I spent 2 weeks lying on my couch, watching movies, reading, worrying. My condition improved with rest so we were able to delay delivery to get me closer to 40 weeks. I desperately wanted to avoid a c-section, and my OB agreed that I should be able to try for a vaginal delivery. At 39 weeks I was admitted for induction.
There is much to my birth story, but I will try to keep this portion brief. After 8 hours of cervidil and 18 hours of labor I was told that my cervix, which had been 8 centimeters and fully effaced, was now only 6.5 centimeters and swelling shut. I was regressing, which I didn’t even know was possible. I was told that my body was starting to shut down and a c-section would be necessary. I was devastated. After all we had been through I would still be heading to the operating room. My c-section was not quick, nor was it easy. I was in terrible pain, despite the epidural, and felt that someone was sitting on my chest throughout the operation. (I would find out later that, in fact, a nurse was sitting on my chest and pushing down on my baby from above.) I was heavily medicated due to my level of discomfort, so while I remember everything I felt like I was in a haze. I remember finally feeling the pressure in my abdomen subside and then hearing that first, glorious cry. He was here. And he was MAD.

Our sweet baby boy arrived at 3:46 am. 10 pounds 3 ounces! 21 inches long. Perfect in every way. Except one. He wasn’t breathing well on his own. I was told that he would need to be taken to the NICU to be started on oxygen and antibiotics. I had been so averse to considering a c-section that my husband and I didn’t discuss it much prior to my delivery. But the one thing I made sure he knew with certainty was that under no circumstances was he to leave our baby’s side. So Jeremy followed baby to the NICU, and my c-section was completed and I was wheeled back to my room to recover. Jeremy finally called me from the NICU around 10am. (He had been told I would be sleeping; and I should have been, but was so anxious for news of my baby that I couldn’t rest.) He said that the nurses had started an IV and Brantley had received doses of two antibiotics and was on oxygen in an incubator. He said “He’s just been so calm through all of it. We’re just staring at each other.”
It was killing me that I hadn’t seen my sweet baby yet. My nurse was still too busy to take me to the NICU (the unit is locked, so I needed a staff member to be able to take me). I felt helpless. I hadn’t seen, let alone held or nursed my baby. I longed for him. I wanted to be able to breastfeed, and my nurse was very busy and completely overwhelmed by her workload, so I ended up calling the operator and having her connect me to the on-call lactation consultant, who came to my room and helped me get set up to start pumping right away. I got a few drops of colostrums the first time I pumped, and the LC assured me that that was a really good thing. I felt encouraged for the first time in days! I finally felt like I had a little control over something.
Around 3pm, my nurse came to check on me, and I insisted that she take me to see my baby! She helped me stand and walk a little. I was in terrible pain, and my legs still felt weak from the epidural and from being in bed for so long. But I knew that I needed to be able to walk if I wanted to see my son, so I pushed on. My nurse finally wheeled me to the NICU, and with her on one side and my husband on the other I made the long walk to Brantley’s room at the back of the department. I stood in the doorway of his room and just stared. Here he was. Finally. My sweet boy. Here in front of me. Already 12 hours old. And it was so very bittersweet. He looked so tiny in an incubator, hooked to monitors with an IV in his hand, oxygen tubing in his nose and a feeding tube in his mouth. I sat next to him and just stroked his back. He was so beautiful. And looked so little. And all I wanted was to hold him and cuddle him and love on him. And I couldn’t. His oxygen levels weren’t stable, so we weren’t able to move him from the incubator. I tried to put all of my love into those caresses. And I prayed that he knew how much I loved him, even if I couldn’t hold him close. And my heart broke a little bit, minute by minute, as I sat and stared at him.

At shift change the nurses encouraged me to go back to my room to get some rest, and when I came back around 9pm my nurse told me that Brantley’s oxygen levels were stable and I could finally hold my baby! I was so excited, but completely overwhelmed. I felt like this was the culmination of my pregnancy and delivery. So much excitement, and fear, and disappointment, and anticipation. I sat next to his bed and the nurse wrapped him up, monitors, tubing and all, and placed him in my arms. And tears streamed down my face. Incredible love overwhelmed me. And an innate desire to keep this precious little being from any pain or harm. And here he was with tubes and wires all over him, and there was nothing I could do to ease his pain. And for the first time in my life I truly glimpsed the sacrifice the Lord made in sending His Son to die for me. It was the most humbling moment of my life to date.

I sat and held my baby for hours, and we just stared at each other. I watched his oxygen levels creep higher and higher the longer I held him. The presence of his mommy was literally healing and strengthening him. The nurses finally ushered me back to my room so we could both get some rest.
The next morning I had to wait for my OB to come to see me before I could go back to the NICU. She gave me the go-ahead to be up and around, but cautioned me to be careful not to overdo it. I was so focused on my baby, though, that I couldn’t even think about myself. (This is one of the worst things, and the most common, a new mommy can do to herself. I am still recovering from aspects of my c-section because I didn’t take the time to take care of myself while we were in the hospital and after we arrived home.) I walked into the NICU and Brantley was OFF oxygen! We were so excited. The nurse said his oxygen levels were maintaining well enough that we could try to nurse. She called the lactation consultant, and with her help we were able to get him latched on right away. It was so encouraging to finally be able to nourish my baby. We nursed off and on, and I spent most of the day in his room. I went to my room to rest for a while in the afternoon, and when I came back to the NICU the nurse told me that Brantley had made so much progress that the neonatologist had given us permission to bring Brantley into my room as long as I was still in the hospital. So that evening we left the NICU, and took our baby with us. I was thrilled, but we realized quickly that things were not going to be easy for us.
Brantley needed doses of two different IV antibiotics three different times throughout the day, and they were having difficulty keeping IV access. There were multiple attempts at starting IVs, and multiple IVs lost. My poor baby had poke-holes in both hands, both arms, and both feet. We never had to resort to a scalp-line, but I was concerned we might. There is nothing worse than knowing that your baby will be experiencing pain and not being able to stop it. I knew it was for his good, but it still broke my heart every time they had to poke him.
Our first nursing sessions had given us a false sense of security regarding breastfeeding. But Brantley was not doing well. He would literally shake his head frantically, and make noises that sounded suspiciously like he was saying “Uh-uh, uh-uh”. I would have to hold him with one hand, and my breast with the other, and my husband would try to guide his head towards me. And he was so strong. It was a fight with EVERY nursing session. We would literally both be a sweaty mess by the time we were finished. Once we would finally get him latched on, he would suck for a few minutes and fall asleep. We would undress him, tickle him, jiggle him. But he was stubborn, and slept right through our attempts to keep him awake. I asked my nurse repeatedly for help, and she kept saying “It’ll be fine, he’s doing alright, he’ll catch on.” I knew deep down that something was wrong, but trusted that she was right and I was overreacting. The next day, though, things were not improving. By the afternoon he had gone nearly 8 hours without attempting or being persuaded to nurse. I asked that the lactation consultant come see us again, and under the guise of acting sweet, she was quite condescending. She and my new day nurse kept exchanging a look that said “New mommy here, overreacting”. But I knew in my “new mommy” heart that something was terribly wrong. Brantley was sleeping when she arrived, and she wanted to just let him sleep. I was adamant that she observe our nursing session, so we woke him and attempted to latch him on. Within minutes her condescending attitude disappeared and she realized that I was right, and something was not normal. She spent hours with us trying every trick she had up her sleeve, with very little improvement. By this time, seeing the frustration on her face, and knowing that my sweet boy had had very little intake in nearly 12 hours, I was devastated. Around this time my nurse came into my room, slightly frantic with arms full of formula bottles and told me that his bilirubin level was high and his weight had dropped 11% and we would need to supplement. At this point I could not control my emotions. I felt like a terrible mommy. Not only could I not feed my child, but he was losing weight rapidly and I hadn’t even noticed that he looked yellow! The lactation consultant could see my distress, and knew that my desire was still to breastfeed, so she spent more time teaching us how to supplement Brantley with formula at the breast. Nursing had officially become a 2-person endeavor. I would hold Brantley to my breast, and Jeremy would syringe feed him formula by the 0.1mL. That is LITERALLY one drop at a time.
Over the next several days our breastfeeding routine would be modified many times. Brantley continued to lose weight until he was at a 13% loss. Anything over 10% is concerning. By the end of his seven day stay in the hospital his feedings were scheduled for every 1.5 hours. My milk didn’t come in until day 5, so I was pumping after every feeding to help stimulate supply. He was still a slow, sleepy eater so it took him between 45 minutes and an hour to nurse at each session. I would pump for 30 minutes after he nursed. That gave me, typically, between 15-30 minutes to rest before we started over. And Jeremy was still syringe-feeding him at my breast. And due to his weight loss, they wanted him supplemented with 15 mLs, which is about 3 teaspoons, at each feeding. We were stuffing him so full of milk, and so constantly, that he was in a perpetual “milk drunk” state, which made him even more sleepy, which made it even more difficult to keep him awake long enough to nurse. He and I were both exhausted. When the nursing was not getting any easier, the neonatologist diagnosed Brantley with a “minor tongue tie”, which is when the tongue is tethered too tightly to the floor of the mouth. He clipped it with a sharp surgical scissors (more pain for my sweet boy), but we still didn’t see much improvement. He would later be diagnosed with a severe posterior tongue-tie, which was revised as an outpatient an additional two times, and I think he still has an undiagnosed upper lip tie. Nursing has never gotten much easier. And while we no longer supplement at the breast, Brantley is still supplemented with formula and I frequently have to take breaks from nursing to pump in order to allow my breasts time to heal.
On day 5 I was discharged from the hospital, and there were no free rooms on the post-partum unit. Brantley would need to stay for 2 more days to complete his full week of antibiotics. Since I needed to be at the hospital to nurse, I was nearly forced to spend 2 days in a recliner at his bedside. The neonatologist took pity on me, though, and approved our use of the NICU’s transition room, which is a mock bedroom where parents are able to stay when they are learning how to take care of their premature babies once they’re nearly ready for discharge. The room was not going to be in use for the remainder of Brantley’s stay, so I was actually able to sleep in a real bed until he was ready for discharge. It seems like such a little thing, but was truly such a blessing for us!
I don’t think I have ever felt such relief as when we walked out of the NICU for the last time with our baby in tow. As I look back on our time there sometimes I feel guilty about how terribly I still view the entire experience. I compare our story to that of other families and I think, “Wow. It could have been so much worse.” I see mommies who can’t hold their babies for weeks or even months. Who sit in recovery rooms waiting for their babies to come out of surgery. Who never get the chance to try to nurse. Who have to kiss their babies goodbye for the last time when the battle is just too much. And our experience pales in comparison. But I think, regardless of their experience, the NICU is a terrifying place for a mommy (or daddy, or grandparent). A place no one plans for. A place no one expects to visit. A place of uncertainty and fear. A place of helplessness. And sometimes of hopelessness. But the NICU taught me so many things. It taught me never to take for granted my child’s health, or even his presence in my life. It taught me to ask for help, because as independent as I’d like to think I am, sometimes I just can’t do it alone. It taught me that no matter how long the road seems, or how difficult the struggle, there is always an end. It taught me that sometimes the “mommy heart” knows best, whether anyone else believes it or not.
I will hug my son a little tighter tonight. Cuddle him a little longer. Tell him over and over again how much mommy loves him. And how proud I am for how far he’s come. How far we’ve come.

Friday, March 7, 2014

7 Q U I C K T A K E S V O L . 2

 It's March Madness! I'm not referring to basketball.  I'm referring to how mad the weather is making everyone in Minnesota this time of year.  The days are starting to get longer.  Birds are starting to come back; I hear them chirping outside my window. The air feels warm and balmy on my face. It's even starting to smell a little like spring. And yet, there is still 4 feet of snow on the ground and sidewalks are sheer ice, making it impossible to indulge my desire for fresh air. The clothing stores are advertising their spring, nay, summer styles.  My west coast and southern state friends are posting pictures of themselves in t-shirts and sandals. And yet, I know I will be wearing boots and a jacket for at least 2 more months.  This, my friends, is March Madness.

To try to combat some of this madness Johnny and I took a trip to the Como Park Conservatory this week. Why have I not done this before?!? It was like a mini tropical vacation just a mere 10 minutes from my house.  The air was so warm and humid, I could just feel my skin becoming happier. Johnny really enjoyed looking at all the plants and fountains.  I'm sure he doesn't remember what the world looked like when it was summer, so all he knows so far is a land of ice and snow. It was a great little break. If you ever find yourself waist-deep in winter blues, I highly recommend it.

I'm going to take this opportunity to put out another plug for my new blog series: NICU Diaries. I'm looking for mothers (or fathers) who have had babies in the NICU to share their stories. It was so encouraging for us to hear from folks who had been in the NICU when we were there with Johnny, and I hope that by sharing stories as a community we could encourage and be a blessing to families all over who may be dealing with the hospitalization of a child. I have a few ladies who have graciously agreed to share their stories, but would love more! So if you or someone you know might be interested, drop me a line!

Sleep Update: Putting Johnny in his crib was probably the best decision we've have made so far in 2014.  Without doing any sort of "crying it out" he is doing much longer stretches of sleep, usually only waking up twice to nurse. We 're still a ways off from sleeping through the night, but going from 6 night feedings to 2 has be so great!

Johnny has been pulling himself up! So now we are going to have to lower his crib.  I am afraid this might throw a wrench in the process of lying him down in his crib.  Right now I give him lots of kisses and keep my face next to his when I put in the crib to keep him asleep.  But I won't be able to do that once it's lowered. I guess I'll have to figure out a new strategy.

Wednesday marked the beginning of lent.  I love lent, it's my favorite liturgical season. No, I'm not a glutton for punishment, I love the somber attitude and the paring down of distractions. But that's another post for another time. We went to mass on Ash Wednesday and Johnny received ashes on his forehead for the first time. Though it's somber moment, I couldn't help but smile to see my little guy marked with the ashy cross, and giving the priest a bewildered look.

Johnny's ashes had mostly rubbed off on my shirt by the time we got home,
so you'll have to trust me when I say that he got them.

Speaking of Lent, does anyone have a good recommendation for some Lenten reading that is not too weighty? I'd love something that will challenge me, but that I can realistically finish before Easter.

Did you watch the Oscars? I did, seeing as it was before my TV fast went into affect.  Alex and I don't go see movies anymore, it just doesn't happen.  We are actually so far out of the pop-culture look that we had hardly even heard of the nominated films.  But we made a list of the ones that sounded interesting.  12 Years a Slave is at the top. When Lent is over I think we'll rent it. What about you? Any nominated films you'd like to see or recommend? 

have a great weekend!

{for more quick takes head over to Conversion Diary}

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Announcement: // N E W S E R I E S //

I believe that setting goals and working towards them is an important part of life.  Even though blogging is just something I do for fun/cathartic experience, taking part in this 7 posts in 7 days challenge has been really good for me. Some days I didn't feeling like writing anything, but by the time I hit "publish" I was really glad that I had. And the best part is that this challenge has given me the momentum I needed to start a project I have been thinking a lot about for a long time but have been to scared/lazy to pursue.

And so, without further ado, I give you my first series ever:

NICU Diaries

I think that everyone reading this probably knows that we spent 9 days in the NICU with Johnny after he was born.  It was, hands down, the hardest most awful 9 days of my life. But one of the things that gave me so much encouragement during those 9 days was hearing from other mothers who had been in the NICU with their own babies.  I think it's so important for mothers to encourage and support one another, because what we do is not easy.  I think it's especially important to encourage and support mothers who are going through extra difficult circumstances.  I believe that the Lord uses the difficult circumstances in our lives to help those around us. And I know that the Lord will and already has used our experience in the NICU with Johnny to encourage other mothers going through similar things. 

So with all these things in mind I am looking for mothers who have been the NICU, or special care untis, or had other hospitalizations with their babies to share their stories.  Not to relive or focus on hard times, but to encourage those who need encouraging, and to give a new perspective to those who have not had a child with health issues. I know that when Alex and I look back now on our NICU stay we are a little sad about everything Johnny has had to go through, but more than that we so thankful for the care he has received and so overjoyed at how well he is doing now! 

If you or someone you know is interested in sharing their story drop me a line:

//S A T U R D A Y//

Well, I have a officially failed the 7 posts in 7 days challenge. 12:01 Sunday morning. But we'll just pretend it's still Saturday.

Saturday morning is the best because you have the whole weekend ahead of you. So much possibility, so many projects to get done, so much enjoyment to be had. The husband is home. We can take our time in the morning and have breakfast together. I can take a shower and put on my makeup in peace all by myself. It's a magical time of the weekend. 

This particular Saturday we celebrated the birthdays of two pretty cool guys we know. 

This one:

And this one:

I always feel, but on days like today am hyper-attentive to the fact that we are incredibly blessed by our circle of friends. We truly have this communion with others that we can share our lives with, and laugh so hard, and be so refreshed. These are the people we celebrate birthdays with. 

And the boys have matching pajamas. 

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