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

Archive for the month “April, 2014”

Update About Me

I am now the lucky Mama of four handsome and crazy boys who run my life in four different directions and keep my hair graying. My boys are each two years a part ranging in age from new born (currently a preemie in the NICU) to six years old and in kindergarten. Though my newest son’s stint in the NICU has made my most recent posts take a more serious tone, there is still plenty of humor in our lives outside of the NICU, the serious side is just what I need to put out there right now. Hopefully my littlest guy will figure out how to be a baby and come home soon (though he may want to go back to the hospital once he realizes how chaotic and loud it is here) and then the humor in my posts will return. Until then, we are just taking it day by day and trying to figure out how to maneuver life with four boys six and under.


A few four year old gems

I’m long over due for some funny things my kids say, so here are a few nuggets from the past months.

My four year old:

“Can we go to the Space Noodle?” (We live outside of Seattle now)

Upon seeing me after I had my last baby, “Your belly got all small and your boobs got all big!”

Looking down my shirt at my massive “new mom” cleavage, “You have a butt on your chest.”

“I want the new baby to come home…so I can fart on him.”

He’s such a sweet boy.

Welcome to the Hotel California

This is the week my son probably would have been born. He wasn’t due for another week after this, but because he was going to be my fourth section, his delivery date would probably have been scheduled for the end of this week. That means, he would’ve been home by next weekend. Instead, next weekend, he will be moving into his eighth week in the NICU, stalled out with eating issues. My cousin told me that one of her friends once referred to the NICU as The Hotel California, “you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” I tend to agree with that analogy, after all, I checked out seven weeks ago, but I haven’t been able to leave.

Time in the NICU is a crazy thing. The time inside the NICU moves so slowly, you feel stuck in place, but outside the NICU, everything is speeding by. I feel like it has just been during the last few days that I have woken up from this NICU haze and realized that it has been more than seven weeks already (more than nine since I first entered the hospital and it all began). It was only after my new neighbor had posted that her son was now 9 months that I began to wake up. I thought, how can that be? I just met them the other day and she said he was six months old. That’s when I realized that time was passing on the outside even if it didn’t feel like it was on the inside here. I’ve been so immersed in this crazy slow down of time inside the hospital that I hadn’t stopped to notice how much time had passed and how much things had changed outside of the hospital.

When I was first admitted to the hospital with high blood pressure and preeclampsia it was the end of February, the last day of my boys’ mid-winter break from school. Here I am now, spring in full swing, staring down the barrel of May. My kids have had their spring breaks, celebrated St. Patrick’s Day and Easter, and are now looking ahead to the end of the school year. Nine weeks ago, this all seemed so far away, I could hardly grasp the amount of time we were looking at or how I would survive these weeks. Somehow though we’ve made it through and are almost to what would have been D-day, but we don’t seem any closer to going home. A few weeks ago the doctors were very optimistic that my baby would be home for Easter. Now Mother’s Day is only two weeks away and I’m just praying I will have all my boys home with me for it. I’m beginning to feel like it doesn’t matter how much time passes because we aren’t getting any closer to the day I get to take my baby home.

People say that things get easier with time, but I don’t believe that to be true; I think we just become accustom to how things are. This doesn’t make things easier, it just makes things the norm. Sure, I’m used to come to the NICU each day and spending a few precious hours with my baby. That doesn’t mean that coming here and leaving my three other boys is any easier or that when it is time to leave the NICU each day I feel any less guilt as I leave one child, who is now more alert and aware, to go back home to my other three. In fact, it now feels harder and I feel trapped inside a constant cycle of guilt. Last night I stopped to talk to another NICU mom whose son came in a few weeks after mine, but at the same gestational age mine was when he was born. This is her first child so she stays here at night. She says she’s been getting out more now, but is still here for ever feeding (which is every three hours for 30-45 minutes). It made me sad. Sad that this was the experience she was having with her first child, sad that she was living here, and sad that I couldn’t do the same because I have three others at home. I left to go home and put my boys to bed only to miss bedtime by a few minutes and feel guilty again. Why hasn’t someone perfected teleporting yet so I can just pop between home and the hospital in a matter of seconds instead of traveling 30 minutes each way?

I know that, despite what it feels like, my son won’t grow up in the NICU. He will eventually come home, grow up, and probably be way bigger than me and even his brothers, but that “eventually” isn’t here yet and still feels so far away. Time is moving at a snails pace to the day that he gets to come home while the world around me, outside of the NICU, is speeding by. I feel like I real am stuck in the Hotel California, I’ve already checked out and I’d really like to take my baby and leave now.

Too many moms

My son has been in the NICU now for seven weeks. He has some of the most wonderful nurses there. We totally appreciate them and all they do and often express our gratitude through chocolate. These nurses are there around the clock, most of the time when we can’t be there and they take care of my little guy as if he were their own. I often wonder though, with so many secondary moms taking care of him, does my son know who I am?

These wonderful NICU nurses diaper, clothe, feed, and comfort my baby when I am not there (on top of all the medical treatments they constantly provide). They are amazing at their jobs and I feel good knowing that my son is in such good hands when I can’t be there. I have three other sons at home to care for, so I can’t be at the hospital 24/7. We are so fortunate to often have the same nurses taking care of my son over long periods of time. It is nice to have consistency. The thing is, some of these nurses have spent more time with my son over the past 7 weeks than I have and it makes me sad that in the first weeks of life my son is being attended to more by other people than his own mother.

When my other three boys were born, they hardly left my arms. I didn’t send them to the nursery so I could rest while in the hospital, they didn’t sleep in cribs, and they didn’t have a nanny. I held my babies unless I was going to the bathroom or showering. The voice they heard the most and the scent they were enveloped by over the first few months was mine. Sure, dad and some family members got to hold them and maybe even feed them on occasion, but 98% of the time they were with me. With a baby in the NICU though, all this is impossible. Even if this was my only child and I lived in the NICU 24/7, I still wouldn’t be able to hold my baby as much as I did the other boys. I didn’t even get to touch my baby for almost 24 hours after he was born and it was a little over a week before I was able to hold him. Even once I was able to hold him, it was only for a limited amount of time each day because he wasn’t able to maintain this body temperature and had to be in the isolet for most of the day. Once I was able to hold him for less limited amounts of times, we still ran into problems like a horrible bum rash that required him to lay on his belly with his bum undiapered and sunning under a lamp for most of the day. Then of course is the reality that he isn’t my only child, so I am only able to be with him for 4-6 hours a day. This leaves him spending the majority of his time with those fantastic nurses and leaves me wondering if he ever gets confused about who mom really is.

Most babies can at least make a connection with being fed and mom (or sometimes dad), but as I attempted to feed my little guy the other day, I realized that this wasn’t true for him. He still gets most of his nourishment through the tube in his nose, which is the main reason he is still in the NICU, but bottle feeding is attempted at most feedings. These days, I can only be there for one feeding which means 7 out of 8 feedings a day are being given to him by someone other than mom. It is a strange thought to think that your baby is being feed your milk by someone else more often than he’s being fed it by you. Which means, he isn’t associating the taste of my milk with me. As far as he is concerned, I’m just another lady who comes into his room and fusses with him for a few hours and then leaves until my next shift. That makes me so sad.

As much as I love the nurses and the care my son gets from them, it breaks my heart to think that I’m just another person in a whole line of caregivers and I’m not mom, that special lady who cared him for months and makes that milk he drinks. I know that eventually he will make that distinction and he will be as attached to me as my other sons, but it is just so hard to not feel that connection when he is so little and especially since I was suppose to still have him all to myself inside me right now. I suppose this is just one more reason why I am desperate to get him home. If only we could get past all the road blocks and get him home so I could be his one and only mom. Of course, once he is home, there is a chance that I won’t put him down until he needs to leave for college. Then again, there are online colleges now, so maybe I won’t even have to put him down for that.

When life in the NICU becomes the norm


As I drive through the parking garage, I head straight for the fourth floor, because that is where I know I’ll find parking, and I realized that this has become yet another norm of my daily routine. A daily routine that is far from the norm for most parents.

We are now well into our sixth week of life in the NICU; going on nine weeks since our lives were turned up side down and the hospital became a second home for us. It has gotten to the point where I know many of the hospital staff, from nurses and doctors, to housekeeping and food service workers. The guys who work the booth in the garage seem to recognize our car and van when we approach. I know where the vending machines and bathrooms are on several of the floors and I could probably walk the route from the garage to the two different NICUs blindfolded (I do so most days half asleep). I know which days are the busiest (usually Mondays) and which days are the quietest (Sundays are like a ghost town). I know the hours of the coffee shops and caf├ęs and have seen the daily specials rotate through their line up several times (the raviolis are good, but they don’t give you enough for the price). Many people at the hospital know me too, not my name, but by face. They smile or say hi as we pass in the halls, some even stop to ask how the baby or my other boys are. It is clear that I spend a lot of time here.

My days usually consist of visits for several hours during the morning until mid afternoon, at least six days a week. During the work week, I’m usually to the hospital by 9:30 or 10:00 (every once in awhile I’m so exhausted that I can’t get out of bed and come a little later). I’m usually in my son’s room for rounds. I’m there for one to two feeds a day, skip lunch so I can be with him, and then grab an ice tea for the ride home, which can be a long one if I don’t leave before 3:00 since traffic in the area starts that early. On weekends, I often come in a little later so that my husband and I can try to catch up on some sleep by taking turns going back to bed in the morning. On weekends I don’t have to worry about getting out before a certain time because of traffic or my kids coming home from school, so I have a little more flexibility. For the most part, I try to plan my visits around school schedules and NICU feelings so I can be with my kids as much as possible.

What I do during my visits to the NICU has changed with time. At first I would just come and sit near the isolet, watching my son breath with the help of machines, occasionally touching his tiny body through a porthole. I just wanted to be near him, in the same room as him. After a week or so, I was finally able to hold him for small amounts of time. I would take great joy in any small motherly activity that I was able to do, like change an occasional diaper through the porthole. I savored the small amount of time I was able to hold him close to me, skin to skin. Eventually some of the tubes and leads were taken out and he was transferred to an open air crib in which I could touch him in and pick him up out of without as much fuss. I went from waiting for a nurse to come in and help me with all the motherly activities I was able to do, to mothering on my own.

These days, I come in, wash my hands, check his current weight on the board, and go about my business. Lately he has been propped on his belly, bare bottom in the air, being sunned under a light due to a very sore bum thanks to the human milk fortifier that they add to his regular breast milk. When he isn’t in this position though, I help myself to my baby. I check his body temperature, change his diaper, wrap him in blankets, and move cords so I can hold him. When it is time for feedings, I just go a head and start if I’m going to try to breast feed him, knowing he will only take a few milliliters and that it is mostly just practice for him. I’m a pro with the breast shield and positioning, holding him just right so that he will relax his jaw enough to allow the nipple in. On days that I’m going to practice bottle feeding, I get everything set up before the nurse comes in to mix up the milk. When she does come in, I know what questions to ask, both professionally about my baby and socially, about her day off or family. I know the best positions to hold him in to bottle feed, how many sucks he takes before he needs a breath, when he needs to burp, and how to get him to. I also know when he has had enough and it is time to finish the feed through his tube. I sit with him, skin to skin, allowing him to sleep comfortably for the rest of the feed. When the feed is done and the machine begins to ding, I know how to turn it off and disconnect him from it.

I know the names of his nurses and doctors, the names of the machines and procedures, what each ding means and which cords to check when they sound, which supplements he is on, and where to find any extra supplies I might need while I am there. These things have all just become a part of my everyday routine, a part of my norm. These things are all just part of life in the NICU. A life I’m ready to be done with.

One month later

A month ago, at this very moment, I was hunched over a table in the OR as the anesthesiologist pricked my back several painful times, looking for the right spot to give me my epidural. I was about to go under the knife for the fourth time, for my fourth son. This c-section though was going to be very different from the other three, it would be the most painful and emotionally draining of them all. I would not come out of this c-section to have my baby placed in my arms and my joy over take my pain, instead it would only be one of many scary and painful steps in my youngest son’s journey into this world, a journey that started two months sooner than it should have.

That was all a month ago now and many things have changed in that month. Things certainly aren’t as scary or painful as they were a month ago. Last night my little guy was moved from the long term NICU to the short term NICU in preparation of going home soon. This is just one of many exciting and hopeful signs we have been given in the last few days. At one month old (35 weeks 3 days adjusted) my little guy is now almost 4 and a half pounds, up from 2lbs 12oz at birth. He has been off oxygen and at room air for a couple of weeks. He was moved out of the isolet and into a crib a week ago. He began to be introduced to the breast and then the bottle within the past week. As of this morning, he has doubled the amount of milk he was able to take from a bottle during one feeding from 12 to 24ml. He is doing so well that the only thing left for him to do is to be able to take his entire feeding, every time, by bottle (or breast, but that will likely happen after he comes home). Things are looking good for my little guy.

It is hard to believe that my little guy was born a month ago. In many ways it feels like we have been traveling back and forth to the NICU forever, yet it also feels like he was just born yesterday. The past month has been so strange and filled with so many emotions. Now we are getting ready for new emotions and experiences, the feeling of elation and apprehension at the idea of finally bringing our preemie home in the next week or two. Soon all the pain and fear of the past month (and even longer) will no longer matter because I will be home with my littlest guy in my arms and that is all that will matter; and for that I am thankful.

So you think you’re exhausted?

It is something I hear people say all the time. It is usually the first thing said upon waking in my house. “I’m so exhausted.” We all seem to feel this way no matter how much sleep we get. The thing is, I’m not sure people really understand what exhaustion really feels like, at least not until they are dealing with an infant under three months old.

So you think you are exhausted? Well, I hate to break it to you, but you probably aren’t. For all you childless people out there, I don’t care what your work or social schedule is like, you don’t have a clue what real exhaustion feels like. Sure, lots of people have to get up early for work or are up late, but usually, once they fall asleep, they are solidly asleep for several hours. Even those who have trouble sleeping, get some sleep. My brother is a fire fighter who works 24 hours on, 48 off. He complains all the time that he didn’t sleep well at the fire house and that he is “exhausted” and I just laugh. The thing is, he doesn’t have kids. He goes home and naps and gets decent nights of sleep when he isn’t working.

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t just the childless that are confused and think they are exhausted. Pregnant women think they are exhausted too. I know, I was just one of them (for the fourth time) not that long ago. Sure, pregnant women are tired, their bodies are working hard at making another human being. As the pregnancy progresses it is harder to get comfortable at night and you have to get up 20 times a night to pee, but if you think this is exhaustion, you are in for a big surprise once you bring that little one home. I remember laying in bed at night, feeling as big as a house, my body achy, my mind racing about all that needed to be done before the baby came, and needing to pee yet again. I’d wish that the baby would just be here already because maybe then I’d get some sleep. Oh how disillusioned I was.

Even those with kids aren’t really exhausted like they think they are. Other than my new baby I have a 2, 4, and 6 year old. We play musical beds with them all night long. My two year old is a terrible sleeper, always has been, and he still sleeps in my bed with me. My husband and I are up several times a night, sleeping in uncomfortable toddler beds or uncomfortable positions with my toddler’s feet jammed into our ribs or face. We would constantly wake up “exhausted” and complaining. Or at least we thought we were exhausted. It is funny how quickly our brains allow us to forget difficult or traumatizing situations, allowing the pain to dull with time (if our brains didn’t work that way, women would never have more than one kid). Of course we were wrong about feeling exhausted. Just the other day, my husband and I were reminiscing about the months before our new baby came and how we thought we were so tired because our two year old didn’t sleep well. We had a good laugh and thought longingly about how we couldn’t wait to be that tired again, instead of feeling the way we do now.

You see, no matter how exhausted you think you are, unless you have an infant under three months living in your house and you are their main provider, you have no idea what exhaustion is. The worse thing for me right now is, my infant isn’t even home yet, he is still in the NICU and I know I’m in for a whole lot more hurt when he does come home. As exhausted as I think I am right now with staying up for a late night pumping, waking 3-4 hours later to pump again, and then again first thing in the morning, combined with the constant back and forth to the NICU and dealing with three other small children, I know this is nothing compared with how it is going to be when the baby finally comes home.

For the first three months of an infant’s life (longer if they are a preemie like my fourth one), babies can’t regulate themselves and think they should still be in the womb. This is often referred to as the “fourth trimester.” Babies under three months are adjusting to life outside of the womb. They don’t know how to soothe themselves, they have no idea whether it is night or day (nor do they care), they are use to getting food whenever they want and except this not to change, and they aren’t use to the noise and temperature of the outside world. All these things make a baby very fussy (or colicky) and very demanding. So for the first few months of a baby’s life the parents are pretty much at the mercy of the baby’s demands. Babies tend to like to eat every 2-3 hours, but they aren’t very fast eaters and it can take 30-60 minutes for a baby to finish a meal. The problem is, the baby doesn’t realize it just finished a meal an hour or hour and a half ago, so the baby wakes to eat again 2-3 hours after he started to eat last. If your baby is on a two hour feeding schedule and the baby takes almost an hour to eat, you have to start the next feeding only an hour after you finished the last feeding. Babies don’t just eat three meals a day either, they eat round the clock, which means that your sleep is interrupted every 1-3 hours to feed (and good luck if you are someone who doesn’t fall back to sleep easily). The other wonderful thing about newborns is, they tend to get gassy and need their diapers changed not long after eating. If you leave your baby in a dirty diaper for very long they will get a rash and be even more cranky which will not lead to sleep for either of you. Babies also like to spit up all over themselves and you, so if you thought all your household chores would be put on the back burner for a while, you were wrong. New parents find themselves doing loads of laundry almost daily (often washing the same stuff twice because they were so tired they forgot about the clothes and left them in the washing machine too long instead of putting them in the dryer, so now they have a musty smell). Then there is the issue of food for the parents and siblings. When I had my first kid, I often choose sleep over eating, but now I have three other kids who depend on me for food, so I no longer have that choice, I have to feed them. Add all this to normal everyday activities and they add up to exhaustion and I mean exhaustion.

When you are a parent to a newborn, then and only then do you realize what true exhaustion is. You experience exhaustion like no other. I’m not talking a few bad nights of sleep or a few hectic days exhaustion, I’m talking three months of constant lack of sleep exhaustion. I’m talking, 2 hours of consecutive sleep at most, while listening to every little noise you hear, it hurts to wake up exhaustion. I’m talking, haven’t showered in weeks, not eating, eyes barely open, could be mistaken for the walking dead exhaustion. You will learn to survive on a level of exhaustion you never knew existed (or in the case of parents who have other children, levels you forgot existed). Those first three months will feel unsurvivable and never ending. You will feel ready to give up on life and crave the sweet eternal sleep of death, but continue to push forward out of pure love for this child that has turned your life into this blissful hell of new parenting. And just when you feel like you can’t do it anymore, your baby will hit that sweet three month mark where everything will magically get better over night. I know, it sounds hard to believe that all of a sudden, all at once, everything gets better, but it does. I didn’t believe it the first time either, now I count down the days with each kid. Not long after that point, you too will return to the point where you think you are exhausted, but already you have forgotten what exhaustion really feels like and that you are not in fact exhausted, just a little tired.

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