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

Archive for the category “Life after the NICU”

Still counting my blessing

In one month my youngest will turn four. I find it so hard to believe this. In some ways I can’t believe that my little guy is getting so big already, but at the same time I can’t believe there was ever a time without this little guy in our lives. Even harder to believe are all the pictures of this little guy, so tiny and struggling in his first six months of life. I can’t believe that this is the same kid we worried about surviving four years ago.

Right now my little guy is sick. He has a cold and a temperature, something that would have scared me to death only three years ago. However, now I am able to hold him in my arms, cuddle him, and enjoy the rare still moments with him. A typical day with him at this age includes lots of jumping, demanding, climbing, getting into things he shouldn’t be into, making concoctions and messes, being adamant that he do things himself, him telling me what’s what, and lots of laughter and smiles. He is a spunky one for sure. Even now, while sick, he still emanates spunkiness. Earlier today he passed out on my lap downstairs, as I carried him up the stairs he groggily looked up at me an asked where we were going, I answered “upstairs”. He blinked, looked around himself, and whispered “wee,” as if flying, then closed his eyes again. Even when sick, you can’t keep this kid’s spirit down.

That spirit is what kept him going those first six months. I can remember being in the NICU with him and him giving me that big smile of his. We have videos of him rolling over and trying to scoot himself into trouble even as he wheezed and struggled to breath at home. I remember him in the hospital the second time around, hooked up to multiple machines, labored breathing, and I still needing to send down for toys to keep him entertained. Within hours of his surgery to remove his cyst, he was sitting up in a bouncy seat, kicking his feet so hard I thought he’d bounce himself over. By the time we left the hospital, he had captured all he nurses’s hearts with his laugh and his smile. Some even came to his room in recovery just to see his smile again and hear his laugh without all the rasping. Once he was fully healthy, he started crawling and was into anything he could reach. Then he started cruising and began climbing before he was walking. From that point on there was no stopping him and no keeping things out of his reach. If my littlest guy sees something he wants, it doesn’t matter how high up you put it, what you put in front of it, or what door or cabinet you lock to keep him away from it, he will find a way to get it. This spunk, which can be so dangerous at times, is also the reason he is alive today, I’m sure of it.

Those days of worry feel so long ago. These days my biggest worries about him are how bad of a mess he made while I was in a different room and will we make it through the day without breaking a bone with the way he plays (stitches, or glue rather, have already happened). He is like a different kid now, though I know he always had that spunk, that spirit, that unbreakable will, from the moment he came out. Lord help anyone who tries to stand in his way because this child is going to do great things and nothing is going to stop him.


Looking back, two year later

Two years ago tonight, I layed awake in a hospital bed, hooked up to a multitude of wires. The wires were not only to monitor me and my extremely high blood pressure, but also to monitor my baby and his constantly dipping heart rate. I laid there listening for those dips, praying that they would fix themselves, and that my baby would stay strong enough to make it to the morning, when I was to have a csection to bring my baby boy into the world nine weeks ahead of schedule. It was much too early for my baby to come, but the doctors hoped that they’d be able to better care for him on the outside than inside me. I laid in that bed terrified, knowing that we were in for a long journey that I just hoped my baby would be able to survive.

Our stay in the NICU lasted 77 days, but our journey did not end when we came home. My son left the hospital with a feeding tube and we struggled for two months with feeding schedules, reinserting tubes, doctors visits,  pumping, attempting to breast feed, wheezing, and problems with breathing before we found ourselves back in the hospital. We spent another two weeks in the hospital being told to prepare for multiple hospital stays and surgeries. This child’s life had not started the way we had hoped and it was looking like it wasn’t going to get better anytime soon, but as the saying goes, it is always darkest before dawn. We received miracle news the day of surgery that my son had an easily treatable cyst and that the bleak future we had been preparing for was not going to happen. Two days later, we were back home and my son was eating like a champ, no more feeding tube.

That chapter in our lives feels like it was forever ago. When I look at my son now, it is hard to believe that he is the same kid who went through all of this. Aside from how skinny and small he is, no one would ever look at my son and guess that this was the story of his first six months. My son is turning two tomorrow and he has already been practicing for the part of the troublesome two year old. He is into everything, moving furniture, climbing on chairs, figuring out how to open things he shouldn’t, and making messes faster than I can clean them. I’m pretty sure his thinks his job each day is to mess up as much stuff as he can before he gets put to bed each night. He is very good at his job. As much as he loves to be near his mommy, he is very fiercely independent and insists that he do many things on his own and to be treated like his older brothers. He insists on big boy cups and forks. He wants to sit on the potty when his brothers do. He likes to play whatever his brothers play. In his mind, he is already a big boy. When he doesn’t get his way though, watch out, because he has been practicing his terrible two tantrums, complete with laying on the floor, kicking and screaming, and pushing his body about on his back. Luckily for him he has the cutest smile, the sweetest little curls, the prettiest blue eyes, and a contagious laugh that all allow him to get away with acting like a brat or making a giant mess. One look at him and your heart just melts.

Watching my youngest son sleep, cuddled into my bed with his brothers for his last night as a baby, it seems impossible that just two years ago he was my smallest baby. Just two years ago, that 18 pound ball of trouble was my 2lb 12 oz miracle baby. Two years ago, he was struggle to survive this journey, now I’m struggle to keep up. Happy birthday baby boy.

a year of health


a year ago (2014)

A year ago today, I stood in the Children’s Hospital waiting room, a ball of tension and anxiety, and I cried. I cried tears I’d need to cry for months. These weren’t tears of saddeness though, these were tears of joy, and more importantly, relief. We’d had a rough six months. Despite the sun being on the horizon multiple times, it’s rays never seemed to reach us, but that day, the sun finally shone on my family and my sweet littlest boy.

As I stood in that hospital waiting room, preparing for the worst, I heard the doctor speak the words none of us thought we would hear, “it is just a cyst.” And like that, the sun came out, a miracle was grant, and my baby was spared the horrendous picture of his likely future that the doctors had painted. He was healed. It was a night and day difference, like we’d brought in our broken little baby and they had just handed us a brand new healthy one. The docors and nurses couldn’t even believe that it was the same child. Even harder than comprehending the change from the baby who entered to hospital to the baby who left it is comprehending who this child is today compared with a year ago. On occasion, I look back at pictures and videos of my son from the first five months of his life. It is very hard to look at those pictures, but the videos are even worse. I remember his breathing being loud and him struggling with it, but I guess I had forgotten just how bad it was. These videos remind me of just how far he has come and just how lucky I am that he is now healthy. 

This past year has been a year of health for my littlest guy; a year to celebrate. A year ago today he got the all clear from the doctors. Within hours we said goodbye to the feeding tube permanently and he was sucking down bottles faster than I could pump them. It must have been just as amazing to him that he could finally breathe and because of that, he could finally eat and enjoy it. Within a week, he was taking almost all of his milk directly from the breast and within two weeks he had gained almost an entire pound. A month later we got rid of his sleeping wedge and all the equipment for feeding. We began to live normal lives. My littlest guy found his voice (a very loud one), he began eating solid foods, and he had more energy from all the food so he was able to become mobile. Soon he was cruising around the house and into everything he could reach. He was walking just after his first birthday, which he celebrated by eating a giant chunk of cake. Sure there were still reminders of all he’d gone through. There were follow up appointments and multiple shots to prevent RSV, but aside from a nasty stomach bug that hit the whole family, an ear infection, and visit to the ER for a (luckily not broken) finger slammed in the front door, he was healthy and growing. 

Today, my littlest guy still isn’t on the charts for weight, but he certainly eats his fair share. He loves peanutbutter crackers and granola bars and helps himself to them whenever he finds the pantry door left open.  He begrudgingly drinks his milk from a sippy cup, but prefers a lid-free big-kid cup. The same attitude applies to eating in a high-chair versus a normal chair, even more preferred though is to sit directly on the kitchen table, which is where I often find him. If we would let him, he would happily climb up onto the counter or into the sink after eating to clean his own dishes or even assist us in pressing the buttons on the oven to help us prepare the food. He has just changed and grown so much in the past year that it is unbelievable to think that he was that frail, sick little baby a year ago. It is amazing how much of a difference a year of health can make!

today (2015)


Our first Mother’s Day together

Dear Mom with a baby (or babies) in the NICU,

Today is the day in which mothers are doted on by their families. Mom are thanked and loved the way they probably should be everyday. The day is filled with hugs and kisses, cuddles and laughs, hand-made cards and jewelry, flowers and meals cooked by someone else. This is the day moms finally get to relax and enjoy watching their kids be kids, knowing that Dad is on clean up duty. At least that is how today should go, but for you, that is not the case. 

Your day probably looked more like this. You sat in a quiet, sterol room listening to the beeps, buzzs, and whoshes of machines. If you are lucky and your baby is doing well, you got to change a tiny diaper, take baby’s temperature, and enjoy some kangaroo-care with your little one. Maybe today you only got to place a gentle hand through a portal in the isolet for a small amount of time to touch your precious baby and let them know you are there. Maybe today wasn’t even that good of a day and you simply had to watch from outside of the isolet as your tiny little one, attached to a million wires, lay under the blue bili light. Or maybe your day wasn’t  like that at all because, though this might be your first Mother’s Day with your NICU baby, it is not your first Mother’s Day, so you made the painful choice to say home from the hospital today in an attempt to get some much needed rest and spend some time with your other kids. Despite your best intentions, you spent most of the distracted by your guilt over missing a day at the hospital. That choice may have been a hard one, but it was not a selfish one, I know, I made that tough choice last year and spent the whole feeling bad about it, but I’m glad I did.

However you spent this Mother’s Day and whatever mixed emotions you are feeling about this day, just know that you are not alone. Unfortunately, there are many Mamas in the NICU Moms club, the club that no one asks to be in. No two situations are completely the same, but a lot of the experiences and feelings are shared with other members in this club. I was a member last year and it was pure agony, but I wouldn’t change it because it made me stronger and more appreciative. I made it through and so did my little boy. You will also make it through and I pray that your little one(s) will too. Whatever your outcome, on the other side of it, you will find some sense of meaning and peace, though it may take a while.

Today I spent my first Mother’s Day with my littlest guy, after choosing not to spend my Mother’s Day with him last year. The fact that this was my first Mother’s Day with him was not lost on me. I reflexed back on where we were a year ago and what we went through to get to today. Our story last year made our time together today that much sweeter. Sure I was adorned by some of the finest pins and jewelry preschoolers can make, a spectacular breakfast, and I card that I know was a labor of love for my seven year old to write, and I loved it all, but the best present I received today was just the fact that my baby was here with me and I was able to bask in his beautiful smile all day long.

So to you mom’s with little ones in the NICU right now, my message to you this Mother’s Day is this: you aren’t alone no matter how lonely you feel right now. Things are hard, but they will eventually  get easier. Take a little time for yourself every once in a while so you are fresh and present for your baby. And enjoy  any little moments you can get with your precious one. My Mother’s Day wish for you today is, that next year your Mother’s Day will be as wonderful and filled with joy as mine was today.


Why does it still hurt?

Today I needed to get a foot X-ray from a three month old injure. My doctor sent me to a local hospital which I’d had the pleasure of visiting the ER of three times  in a four month period over a year and a half ago. This is the life of a mom with many small boys; my own visit was also due to injury caused by those boys. I’d  never seen outside of the ER before even though this was the hospital I was originally suppose to deliver my fourth son at a little more than a year ago. When I walked into the hospital in search of the imagining department my first reaction was, “this is a really nice hospital.” Within seconds, however, I was hit by a bigger, tougher reaction, as I choked back tears and a sick, sinking feeling.

This hospital  really wasn’t similar to the hospital I gave birth in almost 14 months ago, with the exception that it was pleasant looking, had a cafe on the first floor, and a little outdoor sitting area. Despite this, I was immediately transported back to my days visiting the NICU last year. I was completely surprised by these feeling because this wasn’t one of the hospitals that I’d spent time in with my youngest. Still these memories were triggered. The feelings subsided a little during my X-ray, but they came back strong again as I attempted to quickly peruse the cute gift shop that really resembled more of a store at the mall than at a hospital. This time I was overcome by memories of our stay at the Children’s Hospital over last summer and the gift shop there. I wasn’t able to hold back tears and felt suddenly nauseous, so I bolted for my car.

When I got to my car I began to cry. I couldn’t help it. I knew it was stupid, my baby was healthy and fine and with my neighbor, but my emotional self seemed oblivious to this fact. So I just allowed myself to cry, figuring that I must have needed it. After a few minutes I stopped, but I was then overwhelmed by a need to see and hold my baby. So as soon as I was able to compose myself, I raced home to see him.

It seems crazy that something that seemed so unrelated triggered feelings I thought I was getting beyond, yet it happened. It makes me wonder if I’ll ever be able to walk into a hospital again without falling a part. I know it hasn’t even been a year since we finished our hospital stays, but my littlest guy is doing so well, so why aren’t I? 

Happy first birthday: letting go of the NICU

It is St. Patrick’s day and I am sitting here, listening to Celtic lullabies, holding my littlest guy, decked out in his St. Patty’s day onesie, rocking him to sleep, and I am reminded of where I was a year ago today. One year ago, I was sitting in the NICU, holding my littlest guy, kangaroo-care style, and rocking his tiny body, too small for clothes, only a hat with a shamrock sticker on it to show it was St. Patrick’s day. Tonight I am rocking my littlest guy for the thousandth time, but a year ago, I rocked him for one of the first times, after waiting several days to finally be able to hold him.

Less than two weeks ago we celebrated a big milestone for my littlest guy, his first birthday. I was prepared for it to be a bittersweet day, a day of mixed emotions, but it wasn’t. The past week and a half since then has been the emotional part for me.

We had just a small celebration with our three other kids and my parents, which seemed fitting since they were the ones who were really there for us through last year’s ordeal and the ones that really sacrificed for my growing family. My wonderful mother was a Godsend when everything happened so I was glad that she decided to come out to celebrate our accomplishment of making it through that first year. There was no party and very little pomp and circumstance that day. I made a homemade vanilla cake with blueberry filling and blueberry butter cream frosting. I was obsessive about making it as perfect as I could and poured a lot of attention into the cake making processes. It is only now that I realize this obesession with the cake was a way of keeping my mind off where we were a year earlier. I felt like it was some how vital that his cake be perfect, even though he wouldn’t know otherwise, nor would he remember it later in life. He received a few gifts that day, but the main event of the day was a return to the NICU with gifts. I was insistent that it be done on his birthday because I felt the need for some sort of closure. I brought  one and a half dozen cupcakes, the same flavor as his cake, for all the NICU nurses working the different shifts that day. I had also organized and assembled,  with the help of one of my moms groups, care baskets for the parents in the NICU. During my small amount of spare time, during the months leading up to his birthday, I crocheted a dozen Easter bunny hats, like the one I’d made my littlest guy while he was in the NICU.  On his birthday, I delivered all these things back to the place where he had spent the first 77 days of his life. I thought for sure that I’d break down upon entering the NICU again, but it didn’t happen. I got a little teary eyed, especially when I saw one of his first nurses, who cared for him the most during his stay there. Other than that, I didn’t feel the need to escape quickly before I was overcome by emotion. In fact, I didn’t really feel that way at all that day. The days after his birthday, however, were another story.

People talk about having PTSD after time in the NICU and it is very much real. I know I never totally dealt with all of what was going on at the time and instead I pushed things down inside or tried  to brush them off because I didn’t have the time or strength to deal with them. I kind of assumed that it had all gone away with time, but that wasn’t  the case. A lot of these emotions and thoughts are starting to resurface now that we have made it through the first year. My husband keeps telling me not to be sad because our baby is healthy now, but it isn’t about that. I’ve found myself in a not too wonderful place mentally and emotionally the last few days. Some of this is partially due to how other people in my life dealt with (or didn’t deal with) this important milestone in my son’s life, but part of it is just the experience itself and the finality of the fact that this is my last baby and I didnt even carry him to term, hold him when he was born, or get to take him home and enjoy him until he was several months old, and even then there were still several more months of problems before I could let go and just be a a regular mom. On a recent trip to Target, I found myself close to tears while browsing the baby clothes aisle when I came across a pair of tiny little mittens that were identical to the ones they attempted to keep on my son while he was in the NICU. I started to think about him in the NICU with those tiny mittens that were still too big for his even tinier hands, then I began to think of how we will never again own tiny mittens like those because he is our last baby.  I’m sad because I feel like I want to have more babies, but not really, I  just want my time with him back to do again, but this time to do the way I had envisioned it. 

I want a chance to finish my pregnancy, know it is time to deliver him, and for both of us to be ready to meet on the outside world. I want a chance to hold my baby in those first hours, breathe in his wonderful baby smell, and rest with him in my arms after such a big day. I want to chance to buy those outfits that say “baby’s first” St. Patrick’s Day and Easter that I never got to because he was too small to wear them and because he really should have been celebrating these holidays for the first time right now. I want the chance to be a new mom who celebrates and shows off her new baby instead of one who hides away in the sterol world of the NICU, afraid to be happy because my baby might not come home.  I want to let go of and not know the anger I feel over people in my life not understanding or caring about the heaviness that comes with having a baby in the NICU or how monumental that first birthday is after surviving such a year. But most of all, I want to finally come to terms with and feel peace with how my last son came into this world and what he went through during his first year of life, because like my husband constantly reminds me, he is healthy now and that is what is important.

Despite  all these emotions and all the difficulties of my son’s first year, I know that I really wouldn’t change  it. My littlest guy’s first year made my family stronger, more appreciative, and showed us who really loved us enough to be there for us. His first year made my littlest guy stronger too and gave us a glimpse of who he is; a determined, stubborn, fighter, who is small but mighty. I guess that means that I just need to except these mixed emotions, allow myself to feel them, and move past them. Our experience in the NICU will always be a part of us, but it shouldn’t continue to hurt us. I am sure by the time we reach this time next year, our time in the NICU will feel like a life time ago, as I watch my littlest guy run around with his brothers, laughing and yelling, the picture of a healthy two year old.

A return to the NICU

The other day I decided to bring cookies to the nurses working in labor and delivery and the NICU for Valentines day. I hadn’t initially planned to do this and wasn’t expecting to go back there until next month when I plan to drop off a service project to celebrate my son’s first birthday. Still, I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal, the NICU is a secure ward, so I’d just call call in, someone would come to the door to get the cookies, and I’d leave; no big deal. I was wrong. It was a little bigger of a deal than I had planned on and prepared for.

I’d been back to the hospital exactly once since my son let the NICU and it took a lot of mental preparation to go that once. He was six months and healthy by then, just awaiting a second look to confirm there was no regrowth of his cyst. Driving into the parking garage made me feel claustrophobic, but other than the parking garage, I didn’t go into any other part of the hospital that was connected with memories. It wasn’t long after that that I stopped feeling tense anytime I drove in the direction of the hospital. I still got occasional pangs of painful memories if a certain song came on the radio and the weather was just so as I drove near the hospital, but other than that, I was pretty ok. Yesterday, however, I made an actual return to the second floor and the place where my son spent the first 77 days of his life.

When I called into the NICU, I really didn’t expect for them to buzz me back, but they did. The second those double doors swung open with a whoosh, that sickening-sweet sterol smell hit me, and I felt like I was floating in a dream. The first thing I caught sight of was my son’s original room, which now was occupied by some other little boy, with his name plate displayed on the door. I resanitized my hands upon entering and proceeded around the corner to the nurses’ station. One of the nurses who was usually at the desk was sitting there and immediately recognized me. I presented them with the cookies and focused on my task at hand. When I was done, the nurse who remembered me asked about my littlest guy. I began to tell her how great he was, but the familiar sights, sounds, and smells of the NICU, coupled with discussing my baby became too much for me. My eyes began to fill with tears and I had to quickly take leave, explaining that it was just too much to be there, but promised to come back with pictures next mother. I walked so quickly to the door that I forgot to hit the security button to let me out and I got stuck as the door made a little sound. I apologized, joking that I was out of practice, and made my quick escape. The tears came as I entered the stairwell. I was desperate to exit the building and get back to the car where my baby was. All I wanted to do was pull my baby from his car seat and kiss and hug him, thankful that he was no longer living on that second floor behind those secure double doors. Unfortunately, when I returned to the car, my littlest guy was sleeping so soundly in his seat, I didn’t dare touch him and wake him, so I had to settle for a quick glimpse of him before jumping in the car and heading out. It took me a few minutes to recover and I even began to tear up again as I told my husband about the experience.

This spur of the moment trip was too much for me right now, but I’m hope to be better prepared in a few weeks when I return for the one year anniversary of my son’s arrival and stay at the NICU. I’m not really sure how I will mentally prepare for this visit or how I will even deal with what would normally be a happy time for most families. It feels so bitter sweet to celebrate his first birthday next month. I’m so thankful for my son and the fact that he is now healthy, but I fear there are still a lot of emotions I never truly let myself feel and this might be the opportunity they take to escape. I’ve already felt great hesitation and sorrow at the idea of the anniversary of my two week bed rest approaching, so I know those feeling are beginning to stir inside me. I’m just hoping I can feel more joy rather than guilt and sadness on my son’s first birthday. I will just have to try to continue to focus on the present and future and my son’s beautiful smile to get me beyond the past and all we went through.

Ready for a New Year

This has been a tough year for us. It didn’t start off great, a stomach bug ripped through the family twice in the first few weeks, and then it got worse when I landed in the hospital on bed rest at 28 weeks pregnant and delivered my baby at 31 weeks. This year wasn’t all bad but I’m definitely ready to say good bye. Before I do though, I wanted to count my blessings and remind myself that even the darkest hours can bring light, it might just take some time.
Like many of my readers, we sleep-walked through the nightmare that is the NICU. We did 77 days there, though it certainly felt longer, but like my husband remarked today, that nightmare feels so much longer ago than it was (even if I still have some PTSD from it). We took home a struggling baby, still living off a feeding tube and struggling to breathe. We received crushing news that he was probably going to have repeat surgeries for his first year, possibly longer. We dealt with a second hospital stay only two months after bringing him home. We found ourselves in some very dark hours. During those dark hours though, we learned who truly cared for our family (and unfortunately, who couldn’t be bothered with us). We saw the great compassion of strangers and became closer with people we barely knew. I found a renewed sense of God and religion. We also received better news than we could have hoped for.
Now we have a happy, healthy, wonderful baby boy. We feel so blessed. Our struggles were tough, but instead of feeling like we were cursed by all that happened, I feel like it has given me hope and purpose. I discovered multiple preemie support groups on line and I’ve continued to keep in contact with them. I feel like my pain and experience can now help others going through similar situations. I feel like we received so much love and charity in our time of need that I want to pay it forward and make next year not a year of need, but a year of giving.
Looking back at this year and coming out on the other side of everything, I feel blessed. I have four beautiful boys who I love with all my heart. I have a wonderful husband who helped me through this year and I feel closer to for it. My baby made it out of the hospital just in time to enjoy nearly perfect summer weather which allowed us to be outside. We had family outings to zoos, beaches, and parks. We welcomed my all my family for a reunion and enjoyed time together. I witnessed my usually timid 4 year old (now 5) decide to take off his training wheels, hop on his bike, and start riding all by himself. Despite everything this year, we laughed, loved, and enjoyed each other as a family.
This year didn’t start off well and the majority of it sucked, but it also brought hope. So for those of you still living through those struggles, just know that they do eventually end, hopefully in a positive way. However and whenever they end though, you will be stronger for it and hopefully find a higher purpose through your struggles. 2014 wasn’t my family’s year, maybe 2015 won’t be your year, but whatever this year brought and next year brings, count the blessings you do have, enjoy those little moments, and know that there is always hope with the New Year.

Fear of the common cold

It is past midnight and I should be long since asleep, especially considering that just two days ago I felt like I’d been hit by a very large automobile, but instead I’m awake, more awake than I’d like to be. I’m sitting here, holding a sick baby, trying to make him more comfortable, and worrying. I’m worrying like only the mother of a child whose spent time in the hospital knows.

In the past two weeks sickness has ravaged my home as it has so many lately. This horrible cough, cold, fever, and overall miserableness has taken down family members one by one, myself included. I knew it was bound to happen despite my incessant nagging, of everyone who entered the house, to wash their hands constantly. So when it happened I did everything I could to shield my littlest guy. I kept sanitizer in the kitchen and next to my bed, I washed my hands until they were chapped and raw, I started taking vitamin C and D in hopes it would pass on to the baby like the doctor said, my husband slept in a separate room with which ever child was sick in order to keep them out of my room, where the baby sleeps, and I wiped down surfaces that germy fingers touched, like my phone and iPad, in hopes of stopping the spread. I knew it would spread amongst my three older boys, my oldest is not good about covering his coughs and my Middlest drinks out of everyone’s cup, so my goal was to keep the baby healthy. It didn’t work.

A few days ago the baby woke up with a hoarse little cough and a runny nose. His symptoms have continued to progress as I watch him carefully for any signs of troubled breathing. Then tonight, as I was falling asleep, I heard him cough, gasp, and saw two little trachea-tugs. There were just the two and most people wouldn’t think anything of it, but we have a history with them. So now my mind it running as I worry about my son’s health. Will his cold get worse? Will he have trouble breathing? How can I sleep if he might get worse? What about his RSV shots? He’s only had one, what if he gets it anyway? Speaking if shots, how will I afford the three he receives after the New Year? I have to pay about $4,000 for the one in January before insurance will cover the other two! We only found this out a few days before Thanksgiving. Will I have to pull my middle two out of school in order to afford it? They love their school and have already had to give up so much because of their brother’s health issues. I didn’t want to start off another year with all these worries and problems, I wanted next year to be a fresh start where everything is better than this year. It isn’t fair to have to choose between my kids’ education and their brother’s health. Obviously health wins out, but it is so unfair to the other two. What if the shots don’t matter anyway because he’s sick now and it could get worse and he could still end up in the hospital? I’m so tired, but he is so miserable and just wants to be held. I’m sure to most I just sound like I’m overreacting or a hypochondriac, but to those who have sat next to their child in a hospital bed, unable to make them well, they know this feeling, this panic, this constant worry.

I know I’m not alone, that there are many out there that share this paranoia of cold and flu season; this fear of a simple cold. For us we aren’t worried that our child might have to miss school or that we might have to take off work or even that we might be inconvenienced by the household shut down of a cold. For us, the risks of this time of year are much greater and the fear is warranted. For us, the simple cold could turn into something so much worse. So I sit here, thinking of all these things, as I cuddle my baby, and prepare for a long night. I just pray that neither my baby nor yours has to experience the worse case this cold and flu season.

The present of presence thanks to the NICU

Over the past few weeks I have been participating in the gratitude challenge that many people do on Facebook. For those of you unfamiliar, basically you post one thing you are grateful for each day leading up to thanksgiving. I usually pick something that has stuck out to me that particular day in hopes that I’ll also be extra observant of the wonderful things in my life. This year, though, I have struggled with this challenge, not because I don’t have things to be grateful for, but because I have one thing that I am so grateful for, it seems to outshine all the other things I am grateful for from year to year. I am so grateful for my littlest guy and his health that it makes it hard to see past this giant blessing to focus on any of my other blessings. Then one day, as I sat trying to think of something other than the obvious (the baby in my lap) to post about, I realized something I was grateful for that I decided not to post on Facebook for fear of it being misunderstood. I realized, that despite how hard this year has been and how tough having my baby in the hospital struggling for his life was, I am grateful that it happened. I know that sounds strange, but now that he is healthy, I feel like I can say it. I am grateful for our experience in the NICU.

Obviously I never planned for or wanted my baby to be born 9 weeks early, to be in the NICU for 77 days, to have to shove a tube down his nose so he could eat, or to watch him gasping to breath as he lay in the hospital crib for another two weeks over the summer, but all of this did happen and we made it through to the other side. Not all babies do make it through this struggle and some families fall apart, but we survived. Yes, I am grateful for this, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about being grateful for the experience of having a preemie and a sick child and how it changes your perception of the world afterwards. Many people walk around this world living privileged lives and are never truly challenged, so they never have their eyes opened to how precious life and every little moment in it is. These people take things for granted, they miss the special moments in life. Even those of us who have faced challenges, sometimes enough time goes by that the memory of the challenge begins to fade and we can begin to lose sight of what is truly important in life.

For example. The first time I got pregnant I was excited, but I didn’t totally love being pregnant. I began to lose sight of just how precious the miracle that was happening inside my body was, until I lost it toward the end of the first trimester. I was devastated by the loss, but when I become pregnant again, I was sure to enjoy every minute of it, constant morning sickness and all. It was because of that initial loss that I was able to truly bask in my pregnancy and enjoy it, no matter how unenjoyable some parts were. When I had sever morning sickness, I just told myself that it was a good sign, that it meant the baby was still there and growing. Sure, I was terrified right up until I actually held my baby that I would lose him, but I also felt the gift that that pregnancy was. Of course, three pregnancies later and enough time had gone by that I wasn’t so in love with being pregnant anymore. This last pregnancy had hardly started and I was looking forward to it ending. Unfortunately, I got what I wished for, with it ending 9 weeks earlier than it should have. My last night of pregnancy I laid awake, trying to take in all I could of my last hours of being pregnant, mourning the idea of it ending too soon.

Now I am the mom of four boys and life is crazy and busy. It is easy to get lost in the chaos. I was busy when I had only three boys and often felt overwhelmed trying to take care of them and get everything done. I stretched myself too thin trying to be super mom. I’d take on tasks, join committees, plan outings, have a million projects going, all while trying to get all the laundry done. Despite all the things I’d be doing for the kids, I’d often forget to stop and enjoy these things, to actually be present in the moment. Sure, I’d take the kids on special “dates” to get some quality one-on-one time with them, but at the back of my mind a “to do” list a mile long was always going. Baby number four was in danger of being just added to the pack as I continued to move about doing all the things I was doing. Then he came early and my entire world slowed down. Suddenly, my life as I’d been living it completely changed; it wasn’t until all these month later that I’d realize it was a change for the better.

In the NICU, all you have is time. I would sit for hours and hold my baby. I’d focus on him; his tiny frail body, his shallow breaths, his sweet little smell. Some days I miss those endless hours of cuddles. When my littlest guy came home, he was on a feeding tube and a strict feeding schedule, this made it tough to do outings with the boys or start any new projects. Then we had our second stint in the hospital and faced a future filled with hospital stays and surgeries and many missed moments with my older boys. I began to think about all the little events that meant so much that I was going to miss with them. When we received the miracle good news and I was able to bring my baby home healthy, my perception of life as a mom of four boys changed.

Now I am sure to be truly present and take in all the important little events I was so worried about missing with my older boys. I am in the moment, mentally recording birthdays, holidays, “dates”, and traditions I take part in with my boys. I have attempted to prioritize my time. My “to do” lists are more of like weekly suggested goals that get written down on paper in hopes that I will not constantly play the list over and over again in my mind, freeing up my mind to be with my kids. I sign up for a lot less committees and I currently do not run any. I take time each day for cuddles and fun and try to remind myself to slow down and enjoy life.

As for my littlest guy, I am over the moon about him and how healthy he is. He is such a happy baby and his smile is contagious. I am constantly kissing and cuddling him. I smell his sweet baby head ever chance I get. I kiss and zurbert his stomach with every diaper change. I spend large amounts of time just watching him play or sleep and marvel at his existence. And, at least once a day, I try to find a little time to sneak off with him for some quiet cuddles. I rock and nurse him while singing to him some of the songs I sang to him while he was in the NICU. Once he is asleep, I linger longer than necessary, just holding him and enjoying being close to him.

So when I say that I am grateful for our time in the NICU, I’m not talking about being grateful for the nurses and doctors, or that my son survived (though I am clearly thankful for both those things), I mean I am grateful for the actual experience and how it changed my life. I am grateful for the appreciation of life that this experience has given me. I feel like the NICU not only saved my baby’s life, but mine as well.

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