A Step In the Right Direction: Sunglasses and Soothers January 29, 2012
After the heart-pounding drama of trying to find my ‘misplaced’ child, I immediately noticed that a few other things had changed for Vaughan overnight. Someone had attached a set of sunglasses to his little face and he was sprawled out, sunning himself under a UV lamp! Ah the life of a jaundiced preemie, catching rays and Zzz’s at the same time. This is probably the most adorable thing I’d ever seen…nothing like seeing an itty-bitty baby rocking a set of itty-bitty fabric shades. Sure jaundice is serious business but it’s hard to get stressed out about it when your kiddo looks so darn cute getting the treatment!
Vaughan had also been taken out to the giraffe, oscillating isolette and put into a regular isolette! This meant that he was regulating his own breathing much better and only needed a little ‘nudge’ once in a while to keep it going. He was able to do little ‘sprints’ off the machine twice a day, and the nurses would save those for cuddles during our visits. Way to go V! You know you’re a proud parent when you feel like taking out a newspaper ad to let everyone know that your kid can breathe all on his own! Well….almost.
He still had his umbilical IV lines, but he’d now also been upgraded to an additional IV line in his foot, through which he was receiving lipids and fluids. I have no idea how they found a vein in that skinny little appendage but all that mattered was that they were starting to get him all fattened up! If he tolerated the IV well the umbilical lines could be out by the next day. V’s weight bottomed out at 2 lbs 12 oz (all infants will loose a portion of their birth weight in the days following delivery) but he had started receiving my ‘liquid gold’ through his feeding tube as well, 13 mL every 3 hrs! This was a huge step because his stomach would start to learn how to accept and digest ‘real’ food. He didn’t spit up a drop and was taking it like a champ. This amount would slowly increase, as his weight did, every two days, assuming he continued keeping it down. They had also given him his very first tiny green soother to help him develop his sucking reflex…again another step to eventually teach him to feed himself.
Preemies are a little behind their full term peers in several ways, but one big one is that they still haven’t developed the ability to breath, suck and swallow at the same time. So, when you first start trying to feed a preemie without their tube they tend to choke…a lot. The soother helps them self-soothe as well as learn the sucking motion and the nurses always made sure he had a good grip on it before they fed him through his tube… blatant conditioning so that he associated a full tummy with the sucking action!
I sat beside V for the day, met with various visiting family members, read a book, watched what was going on around the busy NICU, all between quiet times in the pump room. I got to watch the nurses feed him, change/weigh his diaper and flip him from side to side. Another little known fact about preemies is that their skulls are still very, very smushy and if they lay on one side too long it can become all flattened and misshapen, never a good look.
The diaper changing was probably a highlight for me because it was so funny. All of his diapers were weighed on a scale to make sure what was going in was coming out in the right amounts. Bowel issues (perforations or obstructions) are also a common complication for preemies, yet another thing to worry about on that very long list of ‘maybes’. Vaughan was wearing the smallest diapers I have ever seen. He literally wore a preemie size diaper…cut in half…I really wish we’d kept one for his baby box but luckily he was soon fitting into regular newborn diapers, a size he would wear until he was almost 6 months old.
The day ended on another high note when Andrew finally got to come and spend some time with his little guy. I was so excited to share the great news about all of the progress that V had made in just 24 short hours. As we left that night we saw the cutest and saddest moment of our new parenthood, Vaughan reaching his spindly arms out and snuggling his receiving blanket…looking for physical comfort as he went to town on his new green soother.
As I have mentioned in a previous post, Andrew was still involved with the LCP production of Three Musketeers while all this was going on, and sadly, (although it was a fantastic production) his visiting time in the NICU was limited due to both his day job and rehearsals for the show. Community theatre doesn’t have understudies so when you commit you’d better be serious about it! Vaughan was born about 2 weeks before opening night and a few short days after all of our excitement, Andrew put in two 10+ hour days at the theatre for things like a costume parade, cue-to-cue, and full scale dress rehearsals. I have no idea what half of those things are, I’m not the actor in the family, but I do know that it was hard on Andrew to be away.
Due to his various commitments, I made my first solo visit to the NICU that Saturday afternoon and it was definitely lonely as I sanitized myself and got ready for some quality one-on-one with our little guy. Even after a few short days, I was used to having Andrew by my side to ‘Oohh’ and ‘Ahh’ over baby V and back me up when I was harassing the nursing staff or doctors.
The NICU is a busy place There are various medical professionals running amok in organized chaos, monitors going off, parents/grandparents/’insert-random-family-member-here’ visiting, laughing, crying, etc. It is a place where in 5 minutes you can witness the highest or lowest point of a person’s life. It’s a scary and wonderful place that definitely took some time to get used to, and for some reason I always felt like I was intruding when I first went in. For Vaughan’s first few days all I could do was hold his tiny hand, V depended on other, more capable professionals and machines for his necessities of life. It’s so sad, as a parent, to feel that you’re a superfluous observer to your child’s hectic world, but maybe it’s just good training for when they hit the teenage years…at least that’s the story I’m sticking with!
Anyways, I cleaned myself up, signed in and made my way to the busy back room where V had been resting for the past 3 days. Each isolette had a pink or blue sign on it stating the child’s name, date of birth, weight, and parent’s names. I approached V’s bedside; however, as I reached to lift the cover, my eye was caught on the attached pink sticker…um what? My breath literally caught in my throat…this was not my baby! I looked around to make sure I was in the right bay, maybe I was confused? Nope, this was his spot! There was no nurse in the immediate vicinity and I must admit I had a mini-panic attack. Where was Vaughan?? Why didn’t anyone call me? Is he okay? This was all followed by an internal litany of ‘ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod…’
Okay, deep breath. First order of business was to find someone, anyone, who could tell me what the heck was going on here. I also caved under a huge tidal wave of shame, how could I not know where my child was? As a new mother, can you imagine the horror of not knowing where you baby is and if he is safe? I felt like I had failed him, something had happened while I was gone and I hadn’t been there for him! I crept up to the nurses desk, flushed and embarrassed, dreading what I could possibly be told, and quietly attracted the attention of the nearest nurse. I almost whispered because I was afraid of the other nurses or parents judging me, the horrible Mommy who didn’t know where her baby was. ‘I can’t find my baby.’ I told her. She looked at me, for a full second, and then asked me for his name. After I provided the information she smiled (thank goodness) and informed me that he’d been doing so well that he’d been moved to one of the front rooms! YAY!! My thoughts did an internal happy dance and I frantically turned around to V’s new room, directly behind me. There he was, safe and sound, chillin’ in his new location. He was now in a three baby room, had a corner spot, and shared a nurse with one other tiny miracle. I breathed a sigh of relief and quickly sanitized (again) before reaching in to give him a little pat.
Before I was a Mother: Identity Crisis Time! January 24, 2012
I know I promised to keep going with the beginning of V’s story (and I will get back to that), but I was inspired to write this post in particular. I was at work this past week and since it was slow I started to think about how my life has really changed, in fundamental ways, since I became pregnant and gave birth to my little guy. Every day V astounds me with what he learns and discovers, he brings so much joy to our lives…but as we watch him learn himself, sometimes I feel like we, as parents, get a little lost.
Before I was a mother I had so much confidence in my abilities. I thought I was pretty good at school, work, teaching, keeping in touch with friends, taking care of myself physically and adept at my home/life balancing act. I was very solid in my identity and took advantage of the many great opportunities that were offered to me. I’ve been very fortunate to have experienced many cultures and lived on all sides of the world (except the super cold parts!). I went to university and even completed a post-graduate degree. I was luckily to receive some great job opportunities in both retail and teaching and loved expanding my skills in both areas. In short, things came easily to me and I never found, luckily, that I had to work too hard to move forward at work or get good grades. I feel self-conscious about saying this and I’m not boasting but this is just how I perceived my life to be like…before I was a Mom.
After giving birth to baby V however, I feel like I’m still trying to pull myself back together and figure out who I am now. Especially since V was a preemie and spent his first year pretty much in solitude, I spent a whole 12 months of my life at home, caring for an infant, cut off from the ‘adult’ world. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every second of that time with my baby boy but since returning to work and the outside world, I’ve been struggling on how to mesh my new identities as ‘Vaughan’s Mommy’, and ‘Andrew’s wife’ with the ‘Me’ I knew before.
Before I was a mother I took chances, not crazy, life-threatening ones, but I took exciting job opportunities, be they at home or overseas. I went on trips. I made executive decisions at home and at work, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. Maybe it’s something inherent to being a mother but I now find myself second guessing my decisions and abilities in ways I never have before, which creates a lot of anxiety! I know that whatever decisions or mistakes I make now, affect not just me, but the two most important people in my life. I spend so much time mulling over which option to take that often times I’m too late or make some careless error. My memory is also shot! It’s a good thing that I have a cell phone because usually I’ll get halfway to work and remember the really, super important thing I had to tell Andrew about Vaughan’s dinner/day/routine/dr’s apt. To attack this issue I’ve started leaving myself post-its and lists like a senior citizen…some days it works, and other days the laundry sits in all of its damp glory until I re-run the cycle the next day.
Before I was a mother I balanced school, a job, housework and an active social life. Even on my maternity leave I felt that I had a good handle on balancing baby and home. My house was usually pretty clean (with a few dust bunnies roaming around), dishes were done and meals were planned in advance. Now that I’ve added work into the mix, even part-time, and tutoring my niece, I find that the house becomes a disaster zone and I’m overwhelmed with where to start. Laundry becomes mountains, dishes pile in the sink and really all I want to do when V isn’t running around like a mad man is sit on my duff or have a nap right along with him. I feel like I’m failing as a woman and wife when I stare at the pile of unfolded laundry, or I have to pull out ‘adult’ towels for V’s bath because his are still sitting downstairs, waiting for their turn in the washer. My husband is fantastic and never, ever mentions how little gets done each day while he’s at work, and he helps so much when he’s home for the weekends, but I hardly feel it’s fair to pass it on to him since he’s bringing home the majority of the bacon. Where did my old organization skills go? Before I became a Mom, when I was in school, I’d work 40 hrs a week, have 20 hrs of class, managed to keep an A average and go drinking with friends on the weekend, all in clean clothes! Why all of a sudden is 20 hrs of work a week and tutoring on average 3 days a week such a mountain to climb? I’m trying to resolve to look at the housework in small sections and set little goals for myself each day….for example: By the end of today I’d like for all of the laundry to be clean and dry, not necessarily folded, but clean. I finding that this helps but I really miss when all of this stuff seemed to take care of its self and I wasn’t collapsing into bed at 10pm.
Before I was a mother I was pretty proud of my physical appearance, not vain, but not totally unfortunate looking either. I had an enviable closet packed with current fashions, cute haircuts and the time to do makeup. Now, I really see a difference in my appearance…and it has nothing to do with the extra pregnancy pounds still hanging around. Regardless of weight, my body just feels different, from my hair all the way down to the width of my feet. This has also contributed to a fair amount of my decline in self-confidence. When you get up at 7am to take care of your beautiful baby it’s hard to get all excited about getting dressed up. You know that by 10am you’ll be covered in milk, food, snot and possibly other bodily fluids that do not mesh well with dry-clean only materials. As a nod to the aforementioned laundry mountains I prefer to not go through 10 outfits a day and so, I pick the easiest thing to put on…which sadly for my husband happens to be jeans or jogging pants, t-shirts and slippers. I put my effort into making sure V looks adorable since I wouldn’t want other parents thinking my child looks like a hobo! I can’t even discuss hair and makeup, because to be honest I can’t remember the last time I did mine. This year I’ve also resolved however, to take baby steps and make more of an effort in my appearance, not just for me but for my newlywed husband as well. Flannel Pjs just aren’t a sexy look for the first year of marriage….My first tiny step has been keeping my nails well maintained, and I’m proud to say that I’ve managed to keep it up! It sure does help when OPI makes such pretty colours….
Before I was a mother I thought that Mommies became a part of this super supportive, secret sorority where everyone had your back. That’s one thing that no-one tells you about being a parent… some Mommies are competitive, mean girls! I don’t think anyone can exclude themselves from this bunch because as first time, or even second time, etc parents we’re all looking for validation that ‘yes’ we are doing it right. Mommy groups, Facebook and message boards are full of exclamation point filled posts about how their 10 month old is running marathons, has perfect hand-eye coordination, is juggling college offers from both Stanford and Harvard as well as orating epic prose at genius level. This doesn’t help your confidence as a parent when you look down at the adorable, drool covered 16 month old child whose sticky hands are clutching at your leg to avoid falling down, still drinks from his bottle and babbles with very few actually discernible words. The first thought is ‘Where did I go wrong?’ followed closely by ‘Oh my God! I’ve failed my child, he’s going to be left behind his peers’. The doctors say he’s meeting his milestones but what do they know?? Pfft…experts…
Nowadays I just stare at my little miracle, think of how far he’s come, and get a little teary-eyed when I think of all the things he has yet to do in his no-doubt, remarkable life. I’m not saying I won’t push him to be his best at what he chooses to do…but helicopter parenting is not for me!
Other Mommies will also judge you on what/how/when you feed your child along with what/when/how they play with toys, sleep, dress etc. Anything anyone can have an opinion on, you’re doing it wrong!! And this doesn’t help when you are your own worst critic. I’m finally learning to take a deep breath, say ‘Good for you’ and keep going in my own routine and beliefs. Everyone was a first time parent once and for the most part it seems to go well. I always appreciate well-meaning advice and help, however if someone is trashing my child-rearing efforts to make themselves feel good? They can kiss my stretch-marked behind and let the door hit theirs on the way out!
Before I was a mother I used to have actual conversations with friends that, most of the time, didn’t involve kids. Now, when I actually do have time to call up an old friend, which sadly happens less frequently than I’d like, I find that I babble about V and his milestones, simply because I have nothing else to talk about. When you’re home 24/7 with a toddler for company it really limits your conversational topics. I can absolutely update you on the current episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, however I’m sure that would be even less interesting to my child-less friends. I do appreciate the effort that they all put in, however, to show interest in our little guy. I love being able to share the greatest happiness in my life with friends but I do wish I had more time to do it! Friends with kids understand when you don’t call for three weeks because you didn’t have time. Even staying at home all day doesn’t leave you with the same free time it did before you had kids. When V is napping, I’m cleaning, paying bills, calling various government agencies to update someone’s records, or heaven forbid…napping. Sometimes I just forget….and I feel terrible! Motherhood guilt doesn’t just surround your child…I find it has seeped into other areas of my life and sometimes a good meltdown is called for when I’m feeling like a particularly bad friend. I’m trying my best to at least reply promptly to emails, and make a few phone calls a week but to be honest the results have been weak…although tomorrow is another day and maybe it’s time for a good phone chat!!
I also used to go places before I was a mother. Like the mall, movies or even out for coffee. Now those trips involve a car seat, bottles, snacks, toys and often a cranky child. If I’ve been lucky enough to make it out the door for a little ‘girl’ time there is still the issue of a babysitter, and making sure that it is someone we trust. With so much effort going in to 2 hours away from home, to be honest, some days it just isn’t worth it and I’d rather snuggle up with my boys and watch Netflix. I am trying to be better again this year however and have made a dinner out, once every two weeks, my achievable goal! So far, so good!
I’m feeling like a real downer for this post, but everyone always extols the virtues of ‘new parenthood’ and sometimes someone just needs to vent and tell it like it is, at least some of the time. I am having the best time of my life as Mommy and wife. I love my little miracle and my amazingly supportive husband…but sometimes my identity gets lost and I need a few minutes to find it and integrate it into my daily life.
Sandwiches and Sanitizing: Our First Official ‘Visit’ January 17, 2012
Looking back at it now, it’s shocking the small details you remember about some days and how vague other things are. Although I don’t think this is unique to preemie parents…baby brain anyone??
After leaving our tiny boy at the hospital I really don’t remember the ride home, or even the ride back to the hospital later that day (maybe we walked?), but I do definitely remember my lunch and what happened upon our return visit to St. Jo’s.
At the time we lived across the street from a Superstore and while I unpacked my bag and had a few moments to myself to adjust to our new reality, Andrew went across the street and picked up the fixings for, what still remains, the most delicious sandwich I’ve ever had in my life. We ate quickly while sitting in our two chairs (don’t even get me started on the fact that we STILL didn’t have a couch…see previous blogs) and then made our way back to the hospital to make sure our little man was still hanging in there.
I don’t want to repeat myself too often, but as a reminder the NICU has a two visitor per bedside rule, so when we went to visit, Andrew and I were the only two allowed to see Vaughan at a time, unless we traded out. This is to stop mass congestion in a small space with a high probability of emergencies; however, it still hurts when you’re both not there to see other people’s tearful and joyful reactions to your child. I have no idea what my in-laws faces were like when they saw our precious boy for the first time because I wasn’t allowed to be there…again just one more way us preemie parents are cheated!
Anyway, when Andrew and I were dropped off that afternoon we made our way back up to the Mother and Baby unit and sanitized within an inch of our lives before entering the NICU. There were two doors into the unit and sanitizer by both. You also stopped to wash your hands after hanging up your coat and signed in with the nurse behind a glass panel before being allowed into the inner sanctum. Some habits die hard and I still sanitize like a mad-woman even though V is now 16 months old (14 corrected!). Preemies are incredibly fragile and something as simple as a cold can devastate their systems. Children without immunizations and anyone who is feeling the slightest bit unwell are not welcome around the infants and are asked to wait and visit when they feel better.
Vaughan was still in the back room, resting in his covered isolette with his nurse watching close by. We did our usual grilling about his progress and the nurse patiently answered all of our questions. He was still doing well on room level oxygen and was becoming more consistent with his breathing. He did still ‘coast’ at times (skip breaths) but never enough to cause all of his bells and whistles to go off. Andrew and I spent a lot of our first visits staring at that monitor before we learned to relax and enjoy our time with Vaughan. As a preemie parent you are constantly staring at all of the heart/breathing/oxygen monitors and frantically willing them to stay in the ‘normal’ range. What you don’t realize is that your wiggly bundle can cause the monitors to go off by slightly smashing a wire during a tantrum or even just random glitches. If you panicked every time you heard it go off you’d be grey haired in two weeks. The nurses are total pros however and can tell if it’s serious or a blip just by glancing at the baby, which is what we, as parents, should have been doing in the first place!
Andrew and I had opened the sides of his isolette and were laying our hands on our small, squirmy bundle when the nurse asked us the ‘big’ question: Do you want to hold him? Um…YES!!!!!
We hadn’t been prepared for this right away since, having talked to a friend who had had a preemie and hadn’t been able to hold her for a while, we’d been expecting to wait for a few days or even weeks before being able to hold him. He looked so breakable!!
Before holding Vaughan I hadn’t held a baby in years, I had no idea what to do! The nurse swaddled him up and put a tiny little hat on his head (preemies are very susceptible to temperature and must be kept super snug and warm) before putting him in my shaking arms, wires, ventilator and all. Tears were streaming down both Andrew’s and my faces and it was all I could do to not burst into those horrible, messy sobs usually inspired by some terrible, sappy movie. All I can remember thinking is ‘Oh my god he’s so small…but he’s so perfect!’ as I cuddled my newborn. I think my vocabulary significantly reduced to ‘I love you!’ and ‘Mommy’s here’ for the entire 5 minutes I got to hold him, before passing him off to his anxiously awaiting Daddy. Andrew has never looked more handsome to me than that day, in jeans and a t-shirt, on 5 hours of sleep in about 48 hours, tears falling down his face as he held his tiny son. It was definitely a changing moment in all of our lives.
Unfortunately it was over all too quickly and Vaughan had to be put back in his ‘shell’. Preemies can get cold and tired while being held and the best thing for them is to rest and snuggle. We didn’t get to kiss him, or explore his tiny little body since he was pretty much bundled head to toe, but we did hold his little hand before heading home for the night, promising to see him early the next morning for more cuddles.
Andrew and I made the sad journey home again, one we would do at least daily for the next 6 weeks. We spent the night talk about how perfect our little man was, our fears for his immediate future and started to finally make plans to get our buts in gear, making sure everything was perfect for when we would finally be bringing him home.
Back to the Beginning: The Short (but Long) Journey Home January 16, 2012
After a brief foray into full-time work following mat leave, Andrew and I have decided that the best thing for our family is for me to divide my time between work and V, hence a drop to part-time status! This will hopefully leave me more time to continue my blogging journey, depending on how co-operative one very cute, but very active toddler may be.
I’ve touched on a few of my favourite topics and pet peeves but have been requested to continue my intro into our terrifying/exciting journey into parenthood (started all the way back in August!). When I left off V had made it through the critical 24 hour period with no drops in breathing or heart-rate…cue giant sigh of relief! And now…the continuation…
The next morning Andrew showed up a little before 8 and watched me demolish my breakfast. After finally having a few hours of sleep before the tray was dropped off, I must have been feeling in better spirits, and famished at that! I ate a lot while I was pregnant but this breakfast tray didn’t stand a chance! It was delivered and the next time I looked down it was gone. When people talk about how nursing increases your appetite they don’t lie! Oh, and those celebrities who maintain that that extra 50 lbs they gained during pregnancy just melted off after delivery solely on the benefits of nursing? Liars!! I’m not saying weight doesn’t drop…but if you want to kiss that extra, 15, 20, 55 pounds goodbye? Extra effort is going to have to be put in. I’ll post later on my ongoing struggle with that!
Anyways, Andrew and I spoke with our morning nurse who asked if I wanted to be discharged that day or wait until the next morning. I’d been trying to prepare myself for that question all night, and take into consideration what would be best for all three of us. Now, the way birthing works in Ontario hospitals is that you get to stay in the hospital for up to 60 hours after a natural delivery. This generously includes a bathing lesson and counselling session before they hand you an infant (or in our case not) and send you on your way with a smile and a wave. They up this to 4 days if you’ve been unfortunate enough to have them open your belly, shuffle around your insides and remove the baby by c-section. Andrew and I decided that I’d like to be discharged as soon as possible. This would have been a different story with a private or semi-private room, but looking at Teen Mom 3 candidates and their healthy babies was like rubbing salt in the proverbial wound. We packed up my meagre belongings and went to spend some time with Vaughan before the doctor gave me the all clear to rest up at home.
Vaughan had had a great night and was wiggling his little arms and legs around in his isolette. The nurse on duty put up with our bazillion questions and assured us that there were no outright concerns for his health at the time, although preemies are unpredictable and things can change in a minute. He was still on his Aladdin ventilator but was breathing room Oxygen (HUGE milestone…for a preemie of his size to only need oxygen support for less than 24 hours was amazing). Andrew corned the doctor that morning as well (They tend to hide from NICU parents or they’d be there all day!) and was also assured that our little guy was doing well and showed no ill effects of his crash. He would be going for a CT scan to see if there were any brain bleeds (again common for preemies) which freaked me out for a few minutes but we put our trust and our son’s life in their hands. You don’t get to be a Level 3 NICU for nothing!!