Thursday, May 7, 2015

Battle Scars

I have a friend who is facing an inevitable NICU stay for her not quite yet born sweet little baby. I feel like my NICU mom scars are still fresh, and I have found myself trying to think of what I can tell her. How can I help her prepare for what's right around the corner. Writing all of this out may just be more cathartic for me than anything, but maybe it will help. I've found that these are all pretty universal truths for NICU experiences.

The first day is a blur.
All kinds of doctors are running all kinds of tests, doing procedures and telling you all about it. You meet doctors, nurses, specialists, social workers, etc. They'll hit you with all kind of medical terms and information, it makes your head spin, and puts your stomach in knots. Write down your questions, because it's easy to forget when there is so much going on. There is nothing anyone can really say to quite prepare you for seeing your baby in there.

You will feel guilty.
Even though you tried your hardest and wanted your baby to bake as long as possible, to be healthy, and you had doctors making the calls, there will come a feeling of guilt. A little voice whispers in your ear that you did something wrong. That there is something wrong with your body that it couldn't hold on to your baby longer. Try to remember that this is not your fault.

You will feel torn in two.
When you have a child, or children, at home and one in the hospital you feel like your heart gets ripped in half. You feel guilty no matter where you are because your babies need you, and you can't be in two places at once. People will tell you either your baby is in good hands and your other child needs you, or that the other child won't remember and your baby needs you, depending on which one you're with. They will say whatever they think you need to hear at that particular moment, but the truth is, it doesn't help. You feel like a bad mom no matter where you are.

The night you are discharged is excruciatingly painful.
Going home without my baby has by far been the worst feeling I've ever experienced. Your body is there, but a huge piece of your heart is missing. The night I was discharged I stayed strong until I got my son to bed, then I collapsed on the couch and sobbed. I cried harder than I've ever cried in my life. I just wanted my baby. You constantly worry about how your baby is doing, and feel terrible that your missing moments. There is nothing I can tell you that will fully prepare you for that feeling. Take a blanket with you every time you visit, place it on your little one or near them. Take it home with you when you leave, you can at least have their smell with you.

Not being able to hold your baby hurts.
It seems like a weird concept, but your arms literally ache to hold your baby. Sitting there with your hand on their head and feet only does so much. You want to hold and snuggle them. It's like your body knows that that is what should be happening, and so it doesn't feel right when you can't hold them. It's like restless leg syndrome, but in your arms. When they weigh the baby ask if you can put them on the scale, it's almost like getting to hold them.

Taking a backseat in your child's life is hard.
Having someone else take care of my baby wasn't easy. They were allowed and able to touch and handle her in a way I ached to. Obviously they are doing their job, but having more and more doctors and nurses touching her, at times, just felt like one more person coming between me and my baby. It's hard to find your role as mommy when you don't feel like there is anything you can do medically to help your little one. I had to tell myself that there's a comfort l could give her. Taking over her care once we got home, making the decisions for her health, is still a lesson I am learning.

The smallest things feel huge accomplishments.
Every time the numbers on the ventilator went down, every time a wire was taken off, every time a tube was taken out or even moved, when IVs are taken out or when they take I was so proud. I felt on top of the world. It would probably seem like such a small thing when she opened her eyes while I was doing her cares one day, but it was indescribably good for my heart. It's hard not to become fixated on these small details, and that can drive you crazy. It puts you on a roller coaster of emotion as stats go up and down. I would spend so much of my time staring at her monitors, watching her levels. the first time her oxygen levels reached 100% on her own, I cried.

You find your groove and learn to love things about the NICU.
Scrubbing in becomes second nature, and becomes a habit that you take home with you, as well as using hand sanitizer. After a few days I knew my way around, and felt much more confidant in my routine there. Our NICU was a quite, warm place with dim lights in the rooms, which made for the perfect napping spot. I came to love my afternoon naps with Tatum. The nurses become your favorite people. You see them more than anyone else, and you develop a love for them. We definitely had our favorites, one in particular that we shed tears with on our way out the doors when we left. I came to love the smell in the NICU, since it was one place that didn't smell like hospital, but like babies.

Life post-NICU...
The day you get to take your baby home you are on cloud nine. They make extra sure that your baby will just fine at home, and all the extra tests and checks just seem tedious when you are so ready to just grab your baby and make a run for it. Then when you get home, you are in charge of setting boundaries and making the decisions for your baby. It can be intimidating. I still have a hard time letting Tatum be around sick people, she catches everything and with her weak lungs she has a really hard time with even the simplest of colds. I also have a hard time taking her around people when there's even a possibilty of her being sick and spreading her germs, which tends to keep us kind of isolated. I still haven't found the perfect balance.

The scars from Tatum's ivs, wires, lines and chest tube are all virtually non-existent. I wish I could say the same for my heart. I'm sure those eventually fade as well, they may just take a little longer.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dear Tatum

Dear Tatum,

Today is your birthday. You are one whole year old. I can't believe it. Time seems to have flown by, so much faster than it did with your brother.

You've been through so much in this first year of life, it doesn't quite seem fair. To be honest I'm glad that you won't remember this first year, I'll remember for the both of us. I've learned so much by being your mommy, and I have a feeling there is so much more to learn from you.

Your start in life was a rough one, but I know that you are stronger because of it. You have a fighting spirit and a spunk that amazes me. You have overcome, and yet still maintained your sweet nature. That is a lesson I have yet to learn. There is something about leaving the hospital without your baby that changes you, and I'm not sure that it changed me for the better, yet. But you, my sweetheart, you are strong. You are a fighter. I pray that you keep that with you your entire life. There will be plenty of times that you will need it.

You are so loved. You have so many around you that love you, and care about you. You were lucky enough to have 5 cousins born within 5 months of you. Cherish that. Your brother adores you. I see the two of you and it makes me smile. You are his shadow, and he doesn't seem to mind one bit (usually). He is definitely protective of his little sister.

You are making incredible progress these days. You are getting much better about taking your inhalers. Most days you don't even cry. You are gaining weight and doing wonderfully when it comes to your physical milestones. You are just starting to walk. I think your personal record is about 10 steps. You are getting into everything. At least once a day I have to put all of the movies from the bottom two shelves back where they belong. When I tell you "no", you just look at me, shake your head, and give me that smile that I'm afraid will get you out of just about anything. You are a serious climber. Your favorite place to climb is into your brother's bed.

You are the sweet spot in our family. You bring a joy to our hearts that I could never adequately describe.
We love you, sweetheart.
Happy birthday, little one.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Be Brave, Be Safe

I try my hardest not to be THAT mom.
THAT mom helicoptering over her child at the park.
I'm getting much better at it. When William was younger, he wanted to climb on everything. Every time we were at the park, my anxiety would shoot through the roof. In my mind I saw every way that he would get hurt. 
These days there are times where I will even sit back on the benches. (They MUST be there for something, right?)

Since the day that boy was born, no far before that, I've thought about how to raise him. How to not screw him up is probably more accurate. I have had plenty of opportunities to do so in his short three years. 

One of those moments happened this morning.

Will likes to help me put the dishes away from the dishwasher. His favorite part is sorting the utensils. 
He was getting in his little fork-sorting groove when he picks up a steak knife. He knows that these are sharp, and he is usually not allowed to touch them. 
He instantly realizes what's wrong and looks at me with that panicked, "help mom" look, that a child perfects. 

Now you should know that William is an incredibly sensitive little boy. He picks up on others' feelings, and will take everything personally. So when he looks at me, scared, and worried he's doing something wrong, I know this was a delicate moment. 

"Mommy, I got a sharp knife!"

"Yes, you do"

"What do I do?"

"You need to be brave, and you need to be careful."

So he hands me the knife, carefully, by the handle, with confidence.

I sat there for a little bit, and I knew that this was one of those lessons I want him to learn, one that I hope he has many chances to learn. 

So William, (and Tatum) if you ever get a chance to read this, I want you to know:

Be careful. Think things through. Make good decisions. 

Be brave.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Bad Mom Blues

It's time to admit it. I have not been the best mom.

It all came to a head today, during nap time... go figure.

William wanted to sleep in our bed, I told him that was fine. Then he wanted Mommy to come snuggle him. We have all been a little under the weather recently, and a nap sounded nice, so I whole-heartedly agreed to a nap. Well, I fell asleep just fine. William was beyond restless. He was all over the bed, poking me, playing with my hair, and his noise was causing Tatum to stir. It was getting on my nerves, and I hit that point. I snapped at Will with a "if you're not going to sleep then go to your own bed."
He just slowly slid off the bed and headed out the door.

A few minutes later He was yelling that he needed to go to the bathroom, so I rolled my eyes and rolled out of bed. While he was sitting on the toilet, me on the side of the tub, he was kind of messing around, like he does when he avoids going #2. He looks at me, with that look that only a two year old can give you when they know you're at the end of your rope. That look that goes right to your soul. I swear at that moment it was like in the movies, that special effect where time stops and the camera quickly zooms into the eye and then their is a flash of light and there are a hundred tiny flashbacks. I thought back on those times I've been short with him. I thought of all those times he has tried to get my attention and I had to brush him off because I was doing something else, usually helping Tatum.

I'd recently shared with a friend how Will was the "perfect" little boy; quiet and sweet, loving, and snuggly. Recently he's been that "typical" two year old boy; rambunctious and rowdy, loud, and has gotten very physical. He is still very lovey, but he holds on so tight, it makes you wonder. I was telling her this behavior kicked in a few months after he turned two. She says "So right around when Tatum was born?" I'm sure it showed on my face, but I know for sure I said "oh... duh!" in my head... maybe even out loud...

I looked into that boy's big brown eyes, and I just smiled at him. And what do you know, he smiled back and gave me a huge hug. And with that hug came waves of guilt. Guilt for every time I left Will under-stimulated and frustrated, and then got frustrated at him for it. So much has been going on since Tatum was born. Most days it's just me and the kids and I'm afraid Will has probably been feeling the brunt of my frustration. And he is one of the most sensitive boys I know, I know he feels it.

So I made myself a silent promise to set aside more time for Will. So today, it was small, but I set Tatum in her exersaucer and let her play, while we made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich together. He was glowing, even with that little bit of Mommy-time.

So here is my resolve, for all of you to see, to devote more one-on-one time with my little boy.
I love him more than I can express with words. He is my pride and joy.

I hope he knows that.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Tatum's Arrival!

 If you want to know what real love looks like... it looks like this.

 This was during the uncontrollable shaking. 

 If you are wondering if labor hurts... yes, yes it does!

 He is my hero.

 She came so fast! I swear the next one is just going to fall out!


 There is nothing like that moment when they put your baby on your chest. So many emotions and thoughts. It is so incredible, the moment you meet this little human you created. 

 Billy got to cut the cord, although I don't think I even noticed, I was so smitten.

 Getting checked out. She scored 8 and 9 on her APGARs which is crazy to think with everything that happened.

 We wanted to be back snuggling together again!

 This is probably my favorite picture of the whole thing! It's like he realized just how much trouble he was really in for! ;)

 It's amazing how instantly settled in with each other you become. It's like she's always been a part of our family.

 So exhausted but so happy. This was probably a little after 2 am..

 His world was about to turn upside-down

 This was just a few minutes after everyone left after I hemorrhaged.. can you tell? I was so out of it!

 It was so good to see him!

 Meeting his baby sister for the first time!

 Aunt Sam

A family of four! 
(please excuse the puffy face! That's what pre-eclampsia + IV fluids will get ya!)

Monday, May 5, 2014

NICU (feelings)

 I hated every single one of the 11 days that Tatum was in the NICU.
I felt guilty whether I was at home or at the hospital. I know William needed my attention, as did Tatum. People would either say "She won't be able to tell when you're not there, she's being taken care of." or "Tatum needs you, William won't remember any of this." depending on what they thought I needed to hear that day.

It was hard not to feel guilty. I felt like it was my fault that she was where she was. If I'd taken it a little easier then my blood pressure and protein levels wouldn't have been so high, and I wouldn't have been induced and her lungs would have been healthier. i still don't think I've gotten over the guilt.

I did learn some incredible lessons while we were there. There are some incredibly selfless people in our lives, who are willing to take care of us in more ways than one. We had people bringing us food, taking care of William, offering hugs and words of comfort, we had so many people praying for our little girl. I feel like we will never be able to repay the kindness that has been shown to our family. So many hugs, and even at times literally holding us up when it was hard to stay standing

The nurses in the NICU became some of my favorite people. not only because they were taking care of MY baby, but because of the nature of their job and they were always looking out for us. We had nurses pushing so hard to get our baby home. There were times that the nurses would just sit and talk to me during the afternoon. Nurses that weren't even assigned to her that day would come and check on her and see how she was doing. Of course everyone commented on her hair.

 It was hard to be in there at times, knowing that she'd be coming home soon. The NICU was divided into 4 pods, and Tatum was in the A pod, which means that she was in with the babies who were in the least trouble, if that makes any sense. She was almost twice the size of her little roommate, I felt a little guilty knowing that we weren't as bad off as some of the babies in there. I would here the "code blue" alarm or hear that life flight was "in Pod D and ready for transport." and my heart would sink and I'd feel like crying.

 Sometimes I felt like our experience wasn't legit because out baby wasn't in a dramatic life or death kind of situation. Obviously she was in some danger or she wouldn't have been in there, but it seemed, at times, i wasn't entitled to some of the feelings I felt. She improved so quickly, and we were in there for ONLY 11 days, and other than her lungs she was an incredibly healthy baby. So why was I feeling so devastated?? I just had to tell myself that this was the hardest thing I, personally, had ever been through. And while I know that there are others who have been in, or were going through much harder things, this was a challenge for MY little family, and for MY heart. 

I learned to love some things about the NICU. I love the smell. It doesn't smell like hospital in there, it smells like baby... or maybe my brain just associates that smell with my baby now... either way, I always loved the smell when the door would open. I loved the NICU naps. Every afternoon, after I would feed Tatum, she and I would snuggle up on the chair and take a nice long nap together. I loved getting to do her cares, it was one of the very few times that we were there that I actually felt like I was taking care of my baby. It was not easy taking a backseat to the nurses, so when I got to changer her diaper, and take her temperature, I felt like I was actually being a mom to her.

I had a hard time with other people touching her. Even her nurses sometimes! Those first few days it just felt like anyone other than Billy was just getting between me and my baby and my inner momma bear did not like it. Even in the moment I would tell myself just how irrational I was being. I knew that she needed all the love she could get, but I felt so protective of her and didn't want her to be overexposed of taken advantage of. I know that wasn't happening, but in my irrational, overly hormonal mind, I didn't want other people touching her.

I went back on Saturday to pick up some milk that was left in the freezer, and I saw two moms in their hospital gowns, getting ready to see their babies and I just wanted to hug them and make sure they were doing ok. As I was walking out I saw two more couples with the "NICU parent" badges that I was all too familiar with, and couldn't help but feel connected to them in a weird but special way. We were part of some club that you never ever want to be in, but just seeing another "club member" offers a strange comfort.

Life since being home has been pretty amazing. Of course, it has been an adjustment, but there aren't words to describe how it feels having her home with us. It's been a little hard taking the lead making decisions about her health. We were told not to take her out in public for 2-3 months, to limit visitors, and not to be around any little kids other than William. We've had to decide what exactly that means for our family. We have so many family members and sweet friends just dying to meet her and hold her. I am getting better at letting other people hold and touch her... It may not seem like it, but I've made huge steps since she's been born :)

I feel like we are finding our stride as a family. Things are feeling more settled, and I feel more at peace. The adrenaline that got me through those 11 days has since worn off and my body has realized that I did in fact have a baby, and I am exhausted. Exhausted but so, so happy.

My Tatum Grace,
You are such a strong little girl. I should have known that you were such a fighter given all you and I have been through already.
You've already lived up to your name. You have brought us so much joy. You brought our family closer together, we know we can do hard things.
I hope you keep that fighting spirit. If nothing else, you'll need it to keep up with Will.
you've taught me so much in such a small amount of time. you helped me realize just how much strength i have in me, and just how far my heart can stretch and still be full of so much love.

We love you so much, hopefully you will love being a part of our crazy family too.

i love you, my baby, I'm so glad I am your momma.