tales from a stay-at-home mom of four boys

Archive for the month “March, 2014”

The beauty of breast feeding

My littlest guy is 25 days old (a little over 34 weeks adjusted) and he seems to be doing well. He averages a weight gain of about 2 oz a day and is approaching the 4 pound mark. He is still being tube fed, but in the past week I have begun to introduce him to the breast. Teaching him to breast feed isn’t easy, but it is one of the most rewarding tasks I do these days.

There is nothing better than spending those quiet moments, just before tube feeding begins, with my tiny naked baby cuddled in my arms, doing skin-to-skin. I insert him into my low-cut v-neck shirt, curl his petite body around me, and press his naked body against my bare belly. His little head dons a white hat with blue whales as it peaks out of the top of my shirt and nestles into my breast. He is awake, eyes wide, staring at me with wonder. I speak to him softly as I introduce the nipple to him, trying to get him to open his mouth wide enough to envelop it. He is not sure what to do or why he is doing it since he is use to his hunger being automatically sated through the tube directly into his belly, but his natural rooting reflexes take over. Once we manage to work together to get the nipple into his mouth, he still isn’t sure what to do with it, but eventually he latches and manages to suck for a few brief seconds. It doesn’t last long, but a smile spreads across his face so wide that it forces him to close his eyes. Sounds of what might even be a tiny hiccup of a laugh escape him and he knows this is something good. We work at this several more times over the course of about five minutes. I gently a sure him that he is doing a good job and acknowledge how exhausting his efforts are, but let him know that we will continue to work on it day by day and he will eventually get it. After about five minutes of valiant effort, he passes out, using my breast as a pillow, sleeping peacefully in my arms as his belly is filled with milk through the tube.

It may seem like such a short amount of time, but it is the quality of that time that counts. Nothing else around us matters in those few moments, it is just us, mother and son, working together as a team, to accomplish such an intimate and natural goal. For many babies and moms, breast feeding comes easily, but not for my little preemie; for him it takes work, exhausting work, but we do is work together and I enjoy every second of it. There is not a better time in my day than the time I spend bonding with my tiny little guy over the breast.



Pending storm

I’ve been going non-stop now since my little guy was born almost three weeks ago. I can feel the cracks in my emotional stability getting bigger and the storm brewing, but I just haven’t had the time to let it all out. This morning, things started to feel like I might come apart.

I’m exhausted. I don’t mean tired or I could use a nap, I mean exhausted. I’m physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted to the core of my being. I’m talking, I could sleep for days, exhaustion. Between the staying up late, waking in the middle of the night, and then getting up early to pump, my sleep is so disrupted it hardly feels restful. If I lay down for a nap, I have a hard time getting back up and usually feel worse for attempting to sleep. I pump every few hours, all day and night, which burns calories, yet I hardly eat. I don’t have time to eat because it takes time away from being with my baby. Most of the time I’m not even that hungry anyway, so I’m living on very little food right now. I’m also constantly going. Between traveling to and from he hospital to be with my baby, then rushing home to try to spend some time with my older kids, then staying up to try to spend time with my husband (I have to stay up to pump anyway) and trying to keep my household running, as well as trying to catch up on everything I missed while I was in the hospital, I never have time to myself. I barely have time or energy to shower every couple of days and I’m lucky if my hair gets washed more than once a week (don’t judge, priorities change when you are in certain situations). I’m just beyond exhausted and the baby isn’t even home yet. I worry about how I’m going to survive when he finally does come home. If I’m this tired now, how am I going to deal with those first three month after he is considered term, that “fourth trimester”, when babies are adjusting to life and colicky? I’m not sure there is enough coffee in the world to help me make it through the coming months.

I’m angry and I’m not totally sure why or at who. I know I shouldn’t be and it is a total waste of energy to feel this way, but I am, I can’t help it, I am angry. Maybe I’m angry that my final pregnancy was cut short and my baby was taken before I was ready to let him out into the world. Maybe I’m angry that my body failed him when he needed me to take care of him. Maybe the anger comes from having to go through all of this and not getting to enjoy a “normal” birth experience and bring my baby home like I should have. Some of the anger is from the stress that the financial burden has put on my family and a lot of the anger is definitely from the lack of control of the situation. Then there is the anger at how some people have been about the whole situation. When you find yourself in a desperate situation of any kind, one in which you need help and support the most, that is when you truly see people for who they are and you realize who really cares. It isn’t like I’ve never been in bad situations before and seen people’s true colors, but for some reason, no matter how many times I make the discovery, I’m still always disappointed and hurt. Maybe it just hurts more this time because it wasn’t just about me but about my kids too, especially my tiny baby. Don’t get me wrong, there have been lots of people who have totally stepped up and gone above and beyond, like my mom who has been living with us and helping care for my kids since a few days after I was admitted to the hospital over a month ago. There have been people who have shown unexpected kindness, like my burly, ex NYC firefighter cousin who up sent me flowers in the hospital which arrived on a day I really needed them. Or my old MOMS club from my last state, people I haven’t seen in over a year, that sent me a hospital survival package to let me know that, despite the distance, I was still in their hearts. There has also been great generosity, especially from people who don’t have as much to give, like my cousin who, despite having a young child of her own and not a lot of money, has sent me not one, but two packages, and always remembers to put something in it for the older boys so they don’t feel forgotten. These are just some of the examples of love and support we have received and we are thankful for them. Then there are those people that I thought I could count on, people I expected love and support from who just seemed to drop the ball and not be there for us when we needed them most. There are people who I thought we were as important to as they are to us who haven’t been there for support like I expected, some not even bothering to check in on us, the boys, or the baby. There are people I expected to hear from, people I expected to reach out to us in someway, yet these people have been absent from the scene, or disappeared as soon as the baby was born. Some people we even reached out to, yet we were rejected in our hour of need. It is disappointing and hurtful because I’d never abandon the people I love when they needed me like this, no matter how unsure I might be about how to help or how little I could do. It makes me angry.

These are just some of the things I am struggling with right now. This doesn’t even touch upon the emotional issues my older kids are having, like my oldest being worried that my two year old isn’t growing up fast enough to be ready for the baby to come home. It doesn’t touch upon the incredible amounts of guilt I feel for various reasons, including not being a loving and patient enough mother for my older boys right now and the guilt I feel for being so tired and angry. There is just so much going on inside me right now and I hardly have time to process it. Writing this blog is the closest I get to dealing with it. So this morning, when the tears began to fall and I began to feel like I’d reached a breaking point, I just sucked it up and swallowed it all down the best I could because the boys were late for school and the baby was waiting for me to come hold him for his eleven o’clock feeding. I just don’t have the time or energy to deal with all this right now no matter how much I probably should. So I just push on and hope the rumblings of the approaching storm will pass and hold off for another day, one when I might be a little more prepared to deal with it all.

The cow says “Moo”

I have a love-hate relationship with my pump. Ok, that’s a lie. No mom is going to tell you that she loves her pump, but like me, most moms will tell you that they love what their pump allows them to do, which is to provide their baby with the best nourishment out there, breast milk.

I hate pumping with a passion. It is annoying, awkward, uncomfortable, and time consuming, but I love being able to give my kids breast milk instead of formula, so I pump. With my first two boys, I pumped mostly because I was a working mom and couldn’t be home to feed my babies on demand. I also
liked the freedom that having pumped milk in the fridge or freezer gave me; I could go out for more than a few hours or sleep a little longer and let my husband give the baby a bottle. Of course this freedom came with a price. Everyday I had to haul my pump and accessories back and forth to work where I was a teacher. I had to spend what little, precious planning time I had pumping, I spent my lunch half hour pumping, and just for good measure, I usually had to pump again once more right after school. This left me chained to my pump which meant no socializing, no run errands to make copies or check my mail box, I was pretty much stuck in one spot for about 20 minutes or so. I pumped for my first two boys, almost every day, right up until their first birthdays. With my third son I didn’t pump nearly as much because I stayed home with him. I was thankful for that, but I still pumped on occasion so that he could be bottle fed if necessary. When my third child was a little over a year and we moved states, we decided that we weren’t going to have anymore kids and I was all too happy to get rid of my pump and never have to use it again. Then we decided to have one more and he came early, so here I am, back on the pump.

My new little guy was born too early to be able to breast feed. The huge task of sucking, swallowing, and breathing is just more than his preemie abilities can handle right now, so he is fed by a tube to the stomach. The tube does feed my little guy breast milk and I have every intention (hopefully within the next week or two) of breast feeding him when he is able to, so I pump. Every two to three hours, like a dairy cow, I get hooked up to the noisy, hospital grade pump for about 20 minutes so I can make milk for my smallest guy. It becomes part of the daily schedule and while I’m visiting the NICU or am just hanging out at home, it isn’t a huge inconvenience. When I’m all done, I’m even a little proud of the amount of milk I’ve made for my little guy. I keep my husband involved by putting him in charge of bagging and labeling the milk, as well as cleaning the pump pieces. This way we at least feel a little useful, doing something for our little guy who is currently being cared for my multiple doctors and nurses. The times that I really hate pumping come on the rare occasion when I venture out of the house for any amount of time (which means planning around pumpings) and even worse, night time pumping. At night, I usually push my limits to four hours before pumping, but even then, that means staying up later than I would like for an 11:00 or 12:00 pumping and then waking up around 3:00 am to incredibly full, uncomfortable breasts that need to be pumped. My husband helps me set everything up close to the bed before we go to sleep so that I can minimize the work I have to do at that ungodly hour, but it still means I have to sit up for upwards to a half an hour pumping away. Then the pieces need to be cleaned and the milk stored (I make my husband do that part, you know, so he gets to experience the fun with me). Then I get to get up nice and early and do it all again. I know some people are probably thinking that this can’t be worse than waking to nurse a baby every two to three hours, but this is my fourth kid, I’d kind of mastered the night time feeding thing so that I was able to do it with minimum interruption to anyone’s sleep. By my third kid, we usually only did one diaper change in the middle of the night and I usually just put the baby on the boob during that first night feeding and then just slept with him, so when he woke a few hours later to feed again, I just switched breasts and put him back on a nipple and went right back to sleep (don’t get me started on the whole co-sleeping with your baby being dangerous story, that’s a fight you are not going to win with me). So the fact that I actually have to get up, sit up, pump, bring things up and down stairs, and just think more in general around 3:00 every morning is more than I did when I was breast feeding the other boys. I can’t exactly fall back to sleep as I pump, though I’ve jolted awake many nights worried that I had and thinking my milk was left out too long and now spoiled, making that exhausting time wasted.

In short, pumping is exhausting and unfun to say the least, but I gladly do it for my preemie son. While I don’t love my pump or pumping, like most pumping moms, I love what it allows me to give to my baby. So here is to all the moms out there who have or are pumping for their babies, whatever their reasons for it. Pumping is a job you will probably never be recognized or congratulated for, but you should be. Keep up the good work! Moo.

Grieving what might have been

Today my baby is nine days old and is doing as well as a nine day old who was born nine weeks premature can do. It is important to understand though that he almost didn’t make it.

The past nine plus days have been a whirlwind for my husband and Me. We have been constantly back and forth to the NICU since my little guy was born, but even the days before his birth were tough, as I was being inundated with information and constantly changing conditions. Most of the information I was being told, I had to deal with and process on my own, as quickly as possible, and then pass on to my husband and family. As my husband pointed out, up until yesterday I was running on pure adrenaline, it is only now that I find some of the magnitude of what transpired over the past week and a half or two actually sinking in. Now I am trying to sift through it all and the emotions I never let myself feel at the time. This is something I need to do to heal and move on.

Eleven days ago, my day started off so great. It was a Tuesday and my middle child didn’t have school, so my mom brought my two youngest to visit me while on bed rest at the hospital. They stayed a good amount of time and gave me lots of hugs. I was feeling pretty good when they left, but that feeling wouldn’t last long; things were about to take a turn for the worst. I had a scheduled ultra sound right after they left. This was no big deal, I was suppose to have them at least once a week. Usually they only took 15-20 minutes, but this ultra sound took almost two hours. The baby wasn’t very active during the ultra sound and wasn’t doing some of the stuff the technician needed him to do. I even tried eating a handful or two of sweet tarts, usually a sure way to get the baby moving. I could tell there was something the technician wasn’t telling me. When the doctor finally came in, she told me that the cord blood from the placenta to the baby was barely flowing and the baby was not gaining weight. It wasn’t as bad as it could be, things weren’t flowing backward, but the baby wasn’t very active and he was showing signs of distress. In short, the placenta was giving out and the baby was going to need to come out sooner than the 34 weeks they hoped to get me to when I first entered the hospital. The doctor scheduled another ultra sound for Friday and hoped I would be able to make it at least one more week before the baby would have to be taken. I began to prepare myself and my husband for the reality of our baby coming next week. I called my mom, who was caring for my other children and told her not to go anywhere, that D-day would probably be the next week.

As part of bed rest, they monitored the baby twice a day for about an hour, but the monitoring began to be for much longer and the doctor asked that an extra monitoring be added first thing in the morning. The doctor wanted this to be before I ate breakfast in case I needed to be rushed to c-section. This, coupled with the “dips” in heart rate my baby was having, were very ominous signs. The nurses tried to assure me that the “dips” weren’t that bad because he was recovering quickly, but they monitored me more than usually all the same. Tuesday night, I couldn’t sleep at all. I was convinced that I was going to wake up and find out that they were going to need to take the baby that morning. I was so worried all night that my baby wasn’t going to make it through the night. The next day, I was to relieved when I awoke to some big kicks and jabs from my little guy. He seemed to be back, maybe things were going to be okay after all. That day he was more active than he had been since we had entered the hospital. I began to feel a sense of relief. Maybe Friday’s ultra sound was going to be ok and we would make it until at least the 32 week mark. While I was being monitored Wednesday afternoon, a friend dropped by for a visit. They seemed to leave me on the monitor for longer than usual, but I figured that part of this was due to my guest and that they didn’t want to interrupt us. Nurses came and went a few times during the visit, adjusting the equipment to pick up the baby better, but that wasn’t uncommon, my guy liked to make things difficult and move during monitoring. It wasn’t until about half way through my friend’s visit that I became suspicious. My main nurse kept coming and peeking in and then leaving when she saw I still had a visitor. She began peeking in more and more frequently and seemed a little panicked. I could tell something wasn’t right, so I wrapped up the visit and only had to wait a few seconds for her to quickly reenter the room once my guest was gone. She seemed very hesitant and upset so I tried to put her at ease by telling her that I knew something was wrong and to just give it to me straight. Apparently, when they first put me on the monitor, my baby was in the midst of a big dip in heart rate and they couldn’t tell how long he’d been that way. These dips became more and more frequent and lasted longer. All the nurses at the desk were watching my monitors with bated breath, terrified that he might not recover from each incident. My nurse became so worried that she began putting in calls to all my doctors and specialist and recalling them when she felt they weren’t getting back to her fast enough. She was panicked that I was going to lose he baby and she was determined that this would not happen on her watch. I was told that I was being put on full time monitoring and was not to get up and off the monitors except to use the bathroom. I was to order dinner and then not eat or drink anything after midnight. In the morning they would take the baby. I remained calm as I processed this info, struggling to come to terms with the fact that this was my last night of pregnancy and in the morning my baby would be out. I called my husband and asked that he tell my family. In the meantime, I took solace in two things, the fact that the baby was currently active so I knew he was still alive and the idea that once my baby was out in the morning, if he was in distress, the doctors would be able to help him which they couldn’t do while he was inside me.

I did the best I could, by myself in my room, to deal with what was happening, but mostly I tried not to think too much about it because I knew worrying or getting upset wasn’t going to help either one of us. Mostly I kept busy by nervously crochet the blanket I was working on for him, desperately trying to finish it before they took him from me in the morning. I couldn’t concentrate on the tv or my crossword puzzles, so I finally resigned myself to laying in the dark and attempting to sleep. Sleep alluded me though, and aside from a few momentary drifts into semiconsciousness, I didn’t really sleep that night. Despite trying not to think too much about it, I couldn’t help but lay there waiting to feel any slight movement that my baby made and listening intently to his heart monitor, holding my breath anytime his heart beat seemed to slow down or become inaudible. It was a long night of waiting. By the time the morning came, I just wanted him out of me so someone else could be responsible for watching him and making sure he was still alive. I was terrified that when they finally got me open and pulled him from me, he would be still born. I didn’t breath a sigh of relief until I had his few very faint cries once he was out. Even then, it was just a small sigh of relief, as the whisked him off to be worked on more and we had to wait hours before we knew for sure he was okay. Even then it was touch and go. Mostly I was just relieved that he was out of me and could at least receive any medical care he might need.

The next day, I was feeling pretty good thanks to some morphine and other pain killers. I visited my little guy in the NICU and was told he was doing pretty good. That made me feel even better. My mind was fuzzy with drugs and I was exhausted from the events of the day before. I was feeling optimistic, like somehow my guy was going to be different from the other preemies, my guy was going to beat the odds and come home from the NICU super early and be a champ. After my husband left to go home that night, I headed down to the NICU to check on my champ only to find that he wasn’t doing as well as I had thought. My little guy had had some set backs. He’d had a few “incidents,” he was rejecting the food they thought he was digesting, and he’d become restless and they couldn’t calm him down (a sign that he was in pain), so they had to give him morphine. My heart broke and I couldn’t stay there. I returned to my room, determined not to cry, but I couldn’t stop it. Once it came, it was like a flood gate opening. I desperately wanted my husband there to hold me and tell me that it would all be okay, or at he very least, to be there experiencing it with me. Instead, he was home dealing with my older sons’ emotional break downs over neither parent being there for over 24 hours. He couldn’t come back to he hospital because they needed him. As much as I wanted him and needed him there, I knew my boys needed him more because they were young and were having even more trouble than I was processing all that was happening. Eventually I made myself stop crying (partly because it was painful at my incision site to cry and blow my nose) and distracted myself refusing to think about it anymore. I’d let myself have a small release of what was building, but I couldn’t afford to let it all out, not right then.

Here we are, nine days after my youngest son was cut from my body. My wounds are still sore and I still feel slightly like I’m walking around in some sort of dream or alternate reality. My little guy is doing well, but I’m not so sure I am. Aside from a few tears that slip from my eyes when I’m not totally aware, I have yet to cry, I have yet to process or mourn what happened. I’m going day by day, propelled by my need to care for my four little boys and my bodies need to rest and heal, but I know I am due for a break and it will probably be a big one. I’m not sure when it will come or how I will handle it, but the cracks are starting to show and considering how calm I was about all of this, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be one big mess when the cracks finally give way. After all, it was only today that I finally let myself acknowledge that my little guy might not have made it and just how rushed everything was. I’d kept that thought locked at the back of my mind because I couldn’t handle it, but now it has been unlocked and I’m just glad that he is here and doing okay. When this is all over and he finally comes home, I will know that my littlest guy really is a miracle, but before that can happen, I need to process all that has happened and will happen in between.

When the weekend comes

So far, splitting my time between the NICU and home hasn’t been as much of a challenge as I feared it would be. During the week, my two older boys are in school most of the time that we spend at the NICU, so they don’t really miss us. My two year old, a newly middle child, is probably suffering the most from it, as he is left home all day with his Nana, often without a brother to keep him company, but this is just preparing him for his new role as the forgotten middle child. It has been just short of a week though since I’ve been home and we are about to face our biggest challenge of splitting our time so far, the weekend.

So far, my husband and I have tried to plan our days at the NICU to maximize time there and minimize time away from our older boys. My oldest is in school all day until almost 4:00 and since traffic begins to build an hour before that, we are usually home within minutes of him getting off the bus. My former middle child, who has now been bumped up to older-middle child status, has school three days a week in the morning. We try to get into the hospital not long after he has left for school those days, so that he is only home for a short time without us in the afternoon. On the days he doesn’t have school, we try to spend some time with him in the morning and then go in a little later, so he at least gets sometime with us. My poor two year old gets the shaft in this situation. He doesn’t go to school, so it doesn’t matter what time we go because he ends up missing us for several hours a day. There isn’t much we can do about this, but we feel it is good for him since he is the only child who never went to childcare and has never been away from mom for very long. We figure this will build some independence and healthy separation. We are also trying to figure out a way to make some of it up to him by giving him some special alone time with mom and dad, but he haven’t quite figured out when yet.

The problem now, however, is that the weekend is here and all the boys are home for the next few days and of course they are looking for some quality time with mom and dad. Just the thought of having to choose between my boys hurts my heart. I don’t want to miss a day with my little guy, especially now that I am able to hold him and bond with him, but I also miss my older boys who I hardly see all week and who need me too. On top of that, there are still the everyday errands of the weekend that need to be taken care of. We are coming up on a week since I came home and I still haven’t unpacked my bags. We need to grocery shop, clean, pay bills, and I’d love to catch up on some sleep. Doing all these activities take away from time with my boys though. It doesn’t help that the NICU is about 30 minutes away, each way, without traffic, so it isn’t a quick jaunt over there. I want so badly for my little guy to just be home so I can spend time with all my boys together, but we have many more weeks ahead of us like this and despite his great progress, I doubt he’ll be home in much less time than when his due date was.

So what do I do? Now that the weekend is upon us, how do I split my time and how do I deal with the guilt of not being with whoever is left out? I don’t have answers. I guess this is one of those things we just need to figure out as we go. I know I need to just remind myself that all of this is temporary and it will be over one day. I just need to make it to that day and hold my family together until we get there.

I don’t want to share, does that make me selfish?

At 2:28pm today, my little guy will be one week old. He will have survived his first week, I might even say, with flying colors. But the fact is, he is still only 32 weeks gestationally today, so he shouldn’t even be celebrating a one week birthday yet. He should still be inside me and because of that, I feel like I’m not yet ready to share him with the world.

Right now, if things had gone as planned, my little guy would still be inside me. It would be just him and me, no one else. I would be the only one to feel the hiccups he has right now, I would be the one feeling the little jerky movements he’s been making, and I would be the one who’s voice and heart beat he’d be hearing. This would still be our time alone. Now that he is out though, he is exposed to all who enter his room. Others are getting to see him, he is learning the sounds of the voices of nurses who care for him, and he’s even seeing blurry images of those who peek in at him. He is no longer just mine to bond with. I haven’t fully come to grips with this yet either. I find myself sitting at home and thinking he is still in there. Last night I ate a few Sweet Tarts and immediately thought “maybe I shouldn’t have eaten those so late at night, they always get the baby kicking.” Then I realized, the baby isn’t in there anymore, that sugar rush isn’t going to effect him, and I’m not going to be up for the next hour waiting for him to calm down and stop kicking me. He’s no longer there for me to have private little conversations with. He’s no longer mine and mine alone, I now need to share him with his dad and the rest of the family, but I’m just not ready to.

When I visit him in the NICU, I feel some sense of privacy away from everyone. Sure there are nurses there and my husband comes, but it is relatively private and a lot of the times it is just him and me there. We have our own private room which is kept very dim and very warm, like a womb. I it usually quiet and peaceful. When we are alone, I still have private conversations with him. Yesterday, I even got to hold him for the first time, which was the most wonderful thing to happen in several weeks. I held him for two hours, unwilling to share with his dad who sat bored on a couch behind me. I figured, after what I’d gone through, I deserved it, and his dad didn’t begrudge me for it. Today I am back again. I have his little feet tucked inside my shirt and his bare little body is snuggled into my bare chest. He is sleeping peacefully while I relax in a chair. I can’t really see his face because he is so close to me, but it doesn’t matter, it almost feels like old times. This time, however, I can hear his little breaths, his occasional wheezes, and his little hiccups. He is mine and mine alone once more (for the most part, occasionally the nurse has to come in and fiddle with him). This is as close as I get to private bonding time like we had when he was back in the womb. I only get it for a few hours a day because I have other children at home to care for, but I’ll take it.

All this makes it so hard to share him with anybody else. Sure, I’ve let his brothers see him very briefly and my mom has come to see him, but I just don’t feel ready for anyone else to see him. I’ve even been very reserve about posting pictures of him on Facebook and I’m one of those people who usually plasters her wall with pictures of her kids when they are first born. I just feel like, right now at least, I’m not really ready to share him with others. I’m not ready to share pictures of him with everyone I know, including people I haven’t seen since grade school, I’m not ready to share everyday events with people outside our immediate family, and even then I usually wait a bit to tell them about any big steps or milestones he made, and I’m really not ready for people to visit and ask to hold him. I just want to keep him to myself a little longer. It was suppose to be just him and me for a little longer and the way he is progressing, he’ll have all his wires off and be ready to be held by others in no time, so I’m going to use this time to my advantage to try to keep others out. I’ll let people visit and share some more pictures with time, but I need a little more time to keep him to myself. Maybe after a few more days of cuddling him I’ll be more willing to share. Maybe I’ll even let his dad hold him. Until then, I’m going to be selfish.

The comfort of touch

Having a premature baby is so different from having a normal, healthy delivery. When I found out that I was going to have a preemie in the NICU, I tried to prepare myself as much as possible for what was going to happen. I reached out to other NICU parents to hear their stories, I began reading books about premature births, and my husband and I visited the NICU. One of the biggest things I had to prepare for though was that I probably wasn’t going to be able to hold and possibly might not even see my baby when he was born. My last and final pregnancy was going to come to an end early and I wouldn’t even be able to hold the little guy when he came out.

My baby is now five days old and I still haven’t held him. The idea of not holding him was unbearable at first and took a lot of mental preparing in the small amount of time I had to adjust. I was slightly comforted by the fact that my husband might at least get to hold him and have skin-to-skin time with him if he was stable. My instructions to my husband on delivery day were to stay with the baby and hold him as long as they’d let him. Unfortunately, the realities of that day did not allow for any of this. When they pulled my son out, I heard a few weak cries, which gave me huge relief because I was terrified that he would be still born after all the issues he seemed to have while being monitored the day before delivery. They immediately began working on him and as soon as they could, placed him inside the isolet. There was no time for my husband to hold him and in fact, my husband and I were lucky to get the briefest of peeks at him before they took him away. My husband did not go with the baby as planned because he would’ve been in the way and just ended up ushered to a waiting room away from the baby. So he remained with me, which I ended up being so thankful for, as they finished me up. I was sent to recovery once I was done and after about an hour of settling in and waiting, I sent my husband to the NICU to see what was going on. It was still another hour or more before he really knew anything and even then he didn’t really get to see the baby because they were still working on him. It wasn’t until later that night, after I’d settled into my new room and eaten some dinner, that I finally was able to get wheeled over to the NICU for about a five minute visit to see my baby.

When he was born they said he was 2 pounds, 12 ounces, but hearing that still hadn’t prepared me for just how small he was going to be. He was smaller than any of the baby dolls my older sons had at home and was hooked up to, what seemed like, a million tubes and wires, including a tube down his throat to breath. I could hardly see his tiny, fragile body under it all, but I knew that little being under there was mine and loved him immediately. I wasn’t allowed to touch him, which made my body ache, but I was so exhausted after all that had happened and full of drugs, I didn’t fight it. The next day I awoke early for blood pressure checks, medications, and everything else they do to you in the hospital. As soon as I could get someone to bring me a wheelchair, I was up visiting my son. I couldn’t wait to not only see him, but hopefully touch him.

When they told me I could reach in and touch him, I was so nervous and excited. He was so frail, I was afraid I would crush him with the slightest pressure from my finger. I reached my hands through the portholes and gently placed my hand on his foot and then cupped my other hand around his tiny head as the nurse had showed me. It was amazing to finally touch his small warm body; my eyes filled with tears. I was afraid to touch him for too long because I didn’t want to over stimulate him, so I left knowing that that brief touch would hold me until I could come back later that day for more.

Here I am now, several days later and I am no longer afraid to touch my baby. In fact, my touches have become longer in length. There is nothing either of us seems to enjoy more than for him to wrap is long slender hand around my finger while he sleeps. It seems to comfort him and it relaxes me. We are having our first moments of mother-son bonding. Now I am just eagerly craving the next step in our bonding, which will hopefully come any day now; finally holding my baby. Once that happens, they are going to have to pry my baby away from me. For now though, I am happy with our little touches and the time we have together.

Adjusting to life in the NICU

The quiet is peaceful and the soft hum of the surrounding machines and monitors is almost relaxing, comforting. It takes me away from the beeps and dings of the fast paced, technology driven, social media filled world and drops me into a different kind of technology driven world, a world filled with medical technology that is keeping my baby alive. The world inside the NICU.

Most parents are lucky to never have to learn about this world, but for those who do, it is like a club you never wanted to join, but you sure are glad to have the support of. I was lucky enough to have three relatively “normal” pregnancies and births, and with my youngest being two, I thought I was home-free on ever having to deal with things like NICUs, birth defects, food allergies, or anything else you worry about during pregnancy and the first two years of a child’s life. I felt blessed. Then we decided to push our luck and have a fourth child, now here I sit, adjusting to life as a NICU parent.

This afternoon my son will turn 5 days old. He was born premature at 31 weeks. Over the past three weeks, my family and I have been on quite the roller coaster ride and had a lot to adjust to. During this time I was admitted to the hospital, put on bed rest, told I’d be there for five weeks only to learn I’d be lucky to make it through three weeks, and then to be told the baby would be taken in the morning. After the brith, we had to adjust to life in the NICU and all the ups and downs it brings. We had to learn quickly that things can change fast and that we really needed to take things hour by hour. We needed to learn how to split time between three kids at home and a tiny baby at the hospital. Here we are five days in though and I think we are finally getting the hang of things. That isn’t to say that things can’t and won’t change, it just means we are learning to roll with the punches and to forgive ourselves of any guilty we might feel for not being with any one child at any given time.

I almost feel fortunate now that I was in the hospital on bed rest for two weeks before I had my fourth son. This time made me miss my three boys at home so much that I couldn’t wait to get home to them so I could read them stories and tuck them into bed at night again. When I was discharges from the hospital, but had to leave my baby behind, it wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be. I was lucky enough to have three boys waiting for me at home that were in need of some major mommy time. Getting many, much missed, cuddles from them helped me to adjust to life back at home. This way I didn’t have to feel torn between caring for my newborn and lavishing attention on my older children who were feeling neglected. While at home, I am able to completely concentrate on my older boys and be with them. During the day, while I am at the NICU, I am able to focus on my baby and his care. I’m sure the fact that he seems to be doing well, is making progress, and is in the best care possible makes it easier for me to do this and elevates a lot of the guilt.

Of course, we are still taking things day by day and have a long road ahead of us, but I feel like we can handle this challenge. We have so much to look forward to, I haven’t even held my baby yet, and when this is all over and we bring him home, we will look back in disbelief that we ever even went through this. For right now, I feel like we’ve already cleared one of our biggest hurdles, adjusting to life in the NICU. From here we can handle whatever the future hands. We have so much to be thankful for.

Our last night together

In less than 12 hours I will have given birth to my fourth and final child at just 31 weeks gestation. Tonight is our final night together.

Yesterday, a chain of unhappy news began around noon time and I had to begin processing my emotions quickly. An ultra sound showed that the baby did not appear to be growing and that there was restriction in the cord blood flow. In short, the placenta was beginning to give out because of my preeclampsia. The specialist informed me that I would not make it to 34 weeks and that the probability that they would need to take the baby within the next week was very high. I’d be lucky if he made it to 32 weeks. Another ultra sound was scheduled for Friday and we would go from there. Later that afternoon, as they monitored the baby’s heart beat, there were many dips that worried them. The doctor decided that I should be monitored again first thing in the morning, before I ate breakfast, in case they needed to preform a c-section. This news, paired with the fact that he was barely active all day, led to a nervous night of little sleep during which I was convinced it would be my last night pregnant. By the time I woke in the morning, my little guy was already stirring for the day and let me know he was doing okay. His heart monitoring still had its dips, but he was moving. I was on the monitors for a much longer amount of time (most of the day), but it made me feel better knowing he was being watched. In the afternoon, a friend visited and during that time my nurse came in to check on me several times. I knew something was up because she seemed anxious for my visitor to leave.

At about 5:30 tonight, the nurse informed me that the baby’s heart rate had dipped pretty frequently and for longer amounts of time during the afternoon monitoring. All the nurses were biting their nails as they watched this. My nurse contacted my doctors and specialist and they decided that tomorrow needed to be the big day, it was too risky to wait.

So, this evening I have laid here, under constant monitoring, thinking about that fact that these are my last pregnant hours. It is as if he knows this because my little guy has been the most active he has been since I entered to hospital almost two weeks ago. He is flipping and flopping and kicking and jabbing me in every direction. I can see my belly move as he gives me a good kick or elbow. He wants me to know he is there and for me to remember how it feels to have him inside me. He wants us to have this one last night together to just be together in a way we will never be again. This is my fourth and final pregnancy, after tomorrow I will never be pregnant again. Even if I wanted another child, my body has made it clear that it can not handle pregnancy anymore. Once I am wheeled into surgery at 10:30 tomorrow morning, my last baby will be cut from my body and a whole new struggle will begin. I know that at 31 weeks, with all the technological advantages, my baby has a good survival rate, but I also know that there are always unknowns out there and anything could happen. I know that, though statistically low, there is a chance that these last hours of my baby beating me up from the inside could be the last moments I have with him ever. I also know that the reality of tomorrow is that I will probably not get to hold or touch my tiny child once he is pulled from me and that he will have to fight his battle without me for at least the first 24 hours. I also know that this will probably be the hardest thing about tomorrow.

I know my guy is tough and he will receive the best care possible once he is out, and that he is probably safer outside of me at this point because they can help him if he is distressed, but that doesn’t change the fact that I want to keep him in a little longer and have him all to myself. So despite being exhausted and knowing I should get some rest, I can’t help but remain awake, spending my last hours with my baby before this experience ends and I am never again pregnant. I’m just thankful that he is humoring me and keeping active to keep me company.

Trying to feel normal in and abnormal circumstance

The best part of my day, in this new life I am living, is when I get to shower. As a mom of three young boys, getting a warm shower has alway been an unfrequent luxury (especially if a hair wash was included), but now that I am hospital and bed bound, showers have taken on a whole new form of luxury I hadn’t ever imagined.

It might sound bad that I’m picking a shower over talking to my kids as the best part of my day, but I’m just trying to be honest. I Skype with my kids for almost and hour everyday and it is definitely my second favorite part of the day, but it still isn’t as good as a shower. When I Skype with my kids, I get to see them smile and hear them laugh and watch them be silly, which I love, but I also see their little bellies that I can not zurbert, their little checks that I can not kiss, and sometimes I even see them get hurt or hurt each other and I can not comfort them. As much as I love seeing them and look forward to it each day, it is still a reminder that I am stuck here in a hospital bed and they are at home, going to bed each night without cuddles and kisses from mommy. When our Skype visit is all done, I feel both happy and sad and just miss my boys that much more.

Showers, on the other hand, those are a whole other experience. Taking a shower is the one solid block of time each day that I am actually able to get out of bed and be out of bed for any length of time. While I am in the shower, I can temporarily forget that I am bed bound in a hospital. I let the water wash over me, relaxing my neck and back muscles that are cramping from lying all day in a few limited positions. I get to wash my hair, something that I don’t get to do often enough at home, and temporarily, I am able to wash away the stench of hospital on me. My belly feels lighter when the water sprays on it even though it is not actually being support by any buoyancy. My body is free of all the machines I am hooked up to throughout the day to monitor the baby and me. I feel as close to human as I can. When the shower is over, I don’t Immediately crash back to reality, I milk the time I am out of bed. I pretend as though I am prepping and primping for a normal day. I lather up in cream and go through my skin care regiment. I put on fresh, normal clothes, and even blow dry my hair (another rarity at home). By the time I’m done and do have to finally crawl back into bed and get rehooked up to machines, I look so refreshed and clean, nurse might actually confuse me for a visitor instead of a patient. If it weren’t for my concern over my baby’s health, I might even consider taking advantage of that one day and sneaking out for some fresh air and non-hospital food.

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