Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Newborn Mom’s Manifesto

            Recently I was on a mom’s discussion board and a good friend who has a seven-week-old apologized for not shipping some stuff to other friends because she didn’t have time in the day. Everyone responded that she didn’t need to worry about it because they understood that she was busy and tired. Parents understand; I’m not sure that non-parents would get how hard day-to-day stuff can be.
Liz, Sage, and Silas
            If you’re a new reader to the blog, let me tell you a little about myself. I’m a 35-year-old psychology professor, doctoral student writing my dissertation, wife to Mike (who is also a student and works 19 hours per week), and Mom to Silas (27 months or 2 years and change as I say) and Sage (6 weeks old and born early at 35 weeks). During the regular academic year I teach six classes per semester (three face-to-face and three online), but during the summer I usually teach two online classes only from home, making me a 1/3 of the year stay at home mom. We’re usually a very “green” household and try to grow our own vegetables as much as possible. We cloth diaper (CD) both of our kidgets, so between the four of us and CD washing there’s daily laundry. With two dogs there’s a lot of vacuuming as well. And the dishes and cooking and the bottle washing…well you get it. Add in the sleep deprivation from having a newborn and it makes for some long days with the possibility of cranky people being cranky on each other.
            As I’ve read other bloggers’ posts on different things this week I started to think of a list of things that others (non-newborn parents) should understand about the newb household (ours especially). If you’re a parent, this list should look pretty familiar and probably will make you laugh as you think back about your experiences. If you’re not a parent (or not a parent yet), use this to understand exactly what’s going on with those friends that have newborns and you think have dropped off the face of the earth.

Sage sleeps...shhhh.
·      * Sleep is a fleeting visitor to my home (at least for me, sometimes for my husband, but thankfully not for Silas who sleeps through Sage’s hunger crying every night). We go to bed between 11:30 and 12 a.m. every night because Sage eats around 11:15 p.m. Some nights he sleeps until 4 a.m. before he wakes up for food again, but sometimes it’s 3 or earlier. Depending on what time he eats, he could wake up again around 6 or 7 for more food, and then he falls back asleep. Sage sleeps a lot right now, which is very helpful when you’re trying to coordinate two children’s schedules in the morning, but his schedule means that I’m getting two stretches of 3-4 hours of sleep per night (and most nights less than that). Sleep deprivation creeps up on you and eventually you sit on the couch feeding a child and wonder how you got there. Like literally, how you got on the couch with the child. Because your brain is so overwhelmed it stops making new memories.

·      * Sleep deprivation causes people to say some messed up stuff. So if I’m talking to you and there’s a long pause, it’s because I lost my train of thought and I’m trying to find it again. If I say something that sounds offensive, believe me, it’s not intended to be. The filter in the frontal lobe that says, “That sounds rude” is one of the first things to stop working when sleep deprivation sets in. Just ignore me.

·      * Days of the week are arbitrary really. I go on Facebook or get texts from friends and see “I can’t wait for the weekend!” and I’m thinking, “Wait, what day is it?” The only way I know what day it is is if a) I have an appointment that day (according to my iPhone calendar) or if b) Silas is home (and not at daycare). So calling me and asking me if I want to meet for XYZ on Tuesday doesn’t work. Say something like, “Two days from now” but also make sure I put it on my calendar. Otherwise I probably won’t show up.

·      * And if I do show up, I’m going to be late. Deal with it. I try not to be, so hopefully I won’t be too late, but you try coordinating dogs, babies, diaperbags, car seats, trains (Silas has to bring at least 4 with him wherever he goes), blankets, milk/formula to go, snacks (for Silas and for me), and you’ll see why I’m late. Even if I get to go somewhere by myself, like an outing to the grocery store, I’m still going to be late. Our Pediatrician’s office tells new parents that their first appointment is actually 30 minutes earlier than it actually is because they know you’re going to be late. I wish the rest of the world got that.

Showered and out in public! No way!
·      * One of the reasons I’m late is because I showered – you should be thankful for that. Showering at my house is not a daily occurrence (unless you’re my husband or Silas). I usually shower if I have to (I’m going out or someone’s coming over). Otherwise it may or may not happen. I do always put on deodorant though. That’s a plus. Unless I forget to because I’m overtired.

·      * Sure, you can come visit. There’s not ever really a “good time” (except 7-8:30 p.m. is bath/bed time so that’s a bad time). Bring ready to eat food if you want to eat because I don’t cook. And if you’re competent and enjoy babies, I may just ask you to watch Sage while I go take a shower or hand you a bottle to feed our Littlest Monkey. And be careful what you say around us. Mike and I have decided to never say no to some nutbag (I mean loving friend) who says, “I’ll watch the boys so you guys can…” We’re liable to run out of the house before you finish that statement. Am I joking? Mmm slightly.

·      * While you’re visiting, know that everyone here uses the rest room with the door open. If I don’t leave it open, there will be a toddler at the door, banging, crying “Momma! MOMMA!” until you pull your hair out, scream “I will be RIGHT OUT!,” or simply open the door for him. We’ve opted to just leave it open. Circumvents the whole process.

·     *  I miss adult human interaction and news from the outside world. You can only interact with a child whose favorite word is “No” (and recently, “No, now”) for so long before you feel the loss of IQ points. Even getting mail from people (as opposed to bills and junk) and email from friends (even if I don’t respond right away) make my day. It reminds me that there are other humans in the world who have a larger vocabulary than “Car gone! Thomas! Choo choo!”

Disaster creator at rest
·      * My house is a disaster (in my mind). We keep expectations real low around here (and we’re never disappointed!). There are Hot Wheels cars everywhere, baby contraptions (bouncer, swing, tummy time mat) all over the living room, and trains dribbled from the boys’ room to their bathroom to the playroom. There’s mud spots on my black couch along with Sharpie stains (black thankfully). Toddler activities are not always what we think they should be. And I don’t always have the energy or wherewithal to deal with them.

·    *   As far as eating goes, we try to cook. We really do. But I can’t help it if the Chinese food delivery guy knows Silas by his first name and Silas hugs him when he leaves. Don’t judge. At least we’re eating.

·      * And when we do eat, we use paper plates and sometimes even plastic eating utensils. The least number of dishes to wash, the better. But there are always sippy cups that need to be washed. I have been known to run the dishwasher full of sippy cups on the top shelf and some silverware on the bottom shelf. Having a newborn has definitely cut down on our environmentally friendliness.

·    *   I would love to hire a cleaning service. But I look around and think, “Would I need to pick up before they come over?” and that deters me from calling anyone. So I run the vacuum around and call it done. That little Dust Buster is my bestest friend when it comes to cleaning the tile floors.

·      * I have lots of stuff I intend to do. Like my friend that I started this post about, I have stuff I could ship to friends and thank you cards to write. But I have to say, if my options are “take a nap or…,” take a nap always wins.

·      * Grocery shopping for the week is a thing of the past until Sage can sit in the cart. If you don’t know why, take an infant car seat. Put it in the cart at the grocery store. See how much space you have left. It’s about enough for three days’ worth of groceries (maybe). Once he gets a little bigger I’ll be able to use my Beco or Ergo carrier with him so we won’t need the car seat in the store, but until then we shop on an as needed basis. As in, “Mike, we need milk for Silas and formula for Sage. Pick those up on your way home.”

·    *   I feel as if I wash cloth diapers every day. But that’s not true. I wash them on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, but then I fold them on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Mondays, so there’s really only one day that I’m not doing something with diapers for the boys (besides putting them on them). And on Saturdays I catch up on clothing laundry and feel like I cannot catch a laundry break.

Blissful rest
Ah peace.
·     *  I have no life outside of this house pretty much. So don’t get offended if I don’t call you back right away or answer your texts. You may read this and think, “God, I’m never having kids,” and that would be a mistake. Regardless of how overwhelmed and tired I feel, these two little boys are my loves and my world. But like everyone, a short vacation wouldn’t be a bad thing. I’d miss them like crazy though.

Are you a new parent? What do you wish that others knew about your life and household so they could understand your seemingly quirky behaviors?
Thanks for reading,
-Liz (who’s off to fold towels)

The Babies in the NICU Go Beep Beep Beep

            After Sage was born the NICU nurses put him under the warmer and cleaned him up. Mike was able to hold him for a few minutes, I got to hold him for a few minutes, and then the NICU nurses took him down to the NICU. Mike went with him and I was left alone in my room again (well the doctor and nurses were cleaning up but they don’t count and my BFF headed home). When Mike came back he had the head nurse from the NICU with him. She talked to Mike rather than to both of us and even with all the meds I was on, I still recognized it and was frustrated.
Sage Orion born 6/16 at 35 weeks weighing 6 lbs and 3 oz
So Sage was having difficulty breathing, and it was as if his skin on his ribs was lying right on the ribs because he hadn’t plumped up. He was breathing rapidly and the amount of oxygen in his blood (his O2 saturation) was lower than 100% (and varied a lot). He also had a sacral dimple (where the skin on the spine may actually be fused to the spine – it looks like a dimple) directly above his anus. In a small percentage of cases that’s an indicator of spina bifida (but he had use of his legs so they weren’t worried about that) and they were going to do an ultrasound to make sure they weren’t fused. As she’s talking about all this I could feel my eyes welling up with tears. This is not fair, my brain said. This poor little boy.
“I want to see him.” I told her.
She looked down at my legs (which were now not functioning because the extra epi had kicked in RIGHT after he was born). “Well once you can walk you can come down to the NICU whenever you want to. Except between 6 and 8 we’re closed for shift change.”
I’m pretty sure she got the Eyebrows Raised You Can Go F Yourself look when she said I could come down once I could walk. “No, now,” I responded. “On my way to my room I would like to be wheeled down there so I could see him.” I looked down at my gurney. “If I can fit.” Research says he needs to be held and cuddled ASAP, my brain kept saying as if a record stuck in a groove.
Sage in his "house" 6/16
“Yes ma’am,” she nodded and left. She instructed the person driving my bus (or gurney) to stop in the NICU before going to my room. We wheeled through a few doors, down some halls, and we were in a large open room separated into smaller areas with curtains. Babies in isoletes (those little “house” beds with the covered holes on the sides) lived in each of the makeshift rooms. Some of the babies had signs with their names, stuffed animals, banners, and all sorts of decorations. Some were smaller than my hand. And all of them beeped.
Our NICU was set up so that each nurse had two babies to care for during their 12-hour shift. Amy was Sage’s first nurse friend right after he was born (and she was his nurse again on Saturday evening). She opened the arm holes on the isolete so that I could touch his face while she answered my deliriously tired questions (that I don’t remember the answers to at this point). I do remember that she said that I could come down and see him whenever I wanted (aside from shift change), and I told her I would be back when I woke up. Then they wheeled me up to my room. And I couldn’t sleep. Mike slept like crap on the pull out couch. Neither of us fell asleep until after 4 a.m. because we were too jacked up on adrenaline.
I woke up at 7 when my nurse came in to introduce herself and take my vitals (and offer me pain pills). She helped me get up and walk to the restroom and took out my catheter. Nutrition brought me breakfast and I ate like I hadn’t eaten in a day (oh hey, I hadn’t eaten since noon Friday). I wanted ice water very badly, so I got up (Mike was still sleeping) and walked slowly down to the nurse’s station. I was not about to lay in bed and call the nurses station for jack shit – I was getting up and walking so that I could walk my own happy ass down to the NICU whenever I wanted. I was not about to have any recovery time lapse or have to ask anyone to wheel me down there.
The nurse at the nurse’s station looked at my socks, which were yellow and had grippys on them – they put them on me right after I got my epi. “Are you ok?” she asked me. I glanced down at my socks. “Huh?” Apparently my socks had something to do with this conversation. “Yellow socks mean you’re a fall risk. You’re not supposed to walk around by yourself in yellow socks.” “But I am,” I responded. “Can I take the socks off then? I brought my own. And I want ice chips. Please.” She took out a blue pair of grippy socks and we changed my socks (and no I wasn’t allowed to wear my own). And then she got me some ice. Apparently the hospital can get in trouble if there’s some crazy lady in yellow socks walking around unassisted. Note to self. Never wear bright yellow socks to a hospital.
Kanga Mama
Mike got up and after I washed my face and brushed my teeth he wheeled me down to the NICU – I started off walking and then I decided that maybe, just maybe I’d like to sit thank you. Mona was Sage’s nurse that morning. She had 30 years NICU experience and answered any and all questions we had. First she told us we had to “gown and glove” (put on a plastic gown and gloves) until Sage’s MRSA test came back negative. Parents who were breast feeding or doing kangaroo care (half nakey parent with half nakey child on their chest) could not gown and glove though, so I told her to take him out of the isolete because I was going to get comfy and kick back kanga-style with my honey bunny. Mike went home to get Silas (who was going to stay with my BFF and her two littles for a bit since he couldn’t come down to the NICU with us) and to grab some stuff from the house for us. Mona, when she wasn’t working with her other babe or doing paperwork on her computer, was educating me about NICU life and preemies in general. I learned what each of his leads were for (heart beat, respiration, O2 sat, and temperature), how they fed him through his feeding tube (which went up his nose down to his belly and was teeny tiny), and why his IV was in his poor little head. Apparently they start with the top of the hand for the IV, but Sage said F that and ripped it out. Next spot is the bottom of the foot. Re-moved by my little fighting preemie. The next (and usually last) place they’ll stick the IV is in the scalp and that’s where they had to do his because he couldn’t reach it. He had a nasal canula for oxygen and he’d already ripped the canula and the feeding tube out more times than she could count, so she’d had to tape them to his face. Poor kid looked pretty Frankenstein-ish, but knowing what they were all for and how they helped him made me less anxious about all the wires and the beeping.
Daddy and the Beeping Baby
Oh the beeping. Each baby has four leads which beep. There were six isoletes in an area and there were at least 40 “rooms” (numbered on the ceiling), so there was a lot of beeping. And the beeping gets angry if the numbers (O2 sat or breaths especially) go below certain levels. Initially the angry beeping freaks you out, especially if you’ve watched medical drama shows (“OMG my kid’s coding!”), but that wasn’t the case at all. The machines can be set to get angry when the numbers go below a certain level, and usually Sage’s O2 sat would set it off. Eventually throughout Saturday (he was born early Saturday morning) it stabilized and he was able to have his canula removed Saturday night. Saturday after shift change I tried to feed him a bottle (rather than through the feeding tube) and he didn’t latch on to the bottle or the breast, which I was kind of bummed about. You can’t go home on a feeding tube dude, I wanted to tell him. Amy said she would keep trying at the next two feedings (the NICU puts them on a 2-5-8-11 feeding schedule).
Scalp IV came out Sunday at 8!
Sunday morning when I went down to the NICU Nick was his nurse, and he was awesome (not that all the nurses weren’t). Mike and I sat down there and talked to him for a good long while about all sorts of stuff. When it came to be 11 a.m., Nick handed me a nursette (little formula bottle with a disposable nipple), removed the feeding tube, and told me to feed him. My eyes teared up as he took the nipple in his little mouth and started to suck on it. Another milestone reached – that much closer to going home. Amy had apparently worked with him the night before to get him sucking. The MRSA test came back negative that afternoon, so we could hold Sage without gowning and gloving and turning into plastic heaters (if you’ve never worn those gowns…don’t…ugh they’re like saunas). Nick told us that we should definitely come back right after shift change because we’d be excited to see what happened. At 8:05 p.m. they removed the IV from his scalp – no more IV fluids for this boy. All the shit from around his face was gone – he was just a little boy with four little beeps (and chapped cheeks from where the tape had been). *Swoon*
On Monday I was discharged in the late afternoon. Sage’s nurses didn’t know if he’d go home Tuesday or Wednesday but they were pretty sure he was busting out of there soon. We spent Monday during the day holding and feeding him and relaxing in the room while he slept. It felt weird, like I should be doing something, almost like we were on some sort of vacation. Mike went home and got the portable DVD player and we watched Redbox movies between feedings and holdings. People brought me food (not that it was good food, but what can you expect). We rested because we knew that once he came home, it was on and there would be no off button.
Tuesday morning we woke up at home, excited about the prospect of bringing Sage home. We went to the hospital and Sage had been moved to Intermediate Care (IMC) which is for babies who need less support than NICU babies. One of the moms had been in the NICU for 3 months and was leaving that day. You could see she was both excited and nervous. Sage’s ultrasound (US) on his sacral dimple was scheduled for that morning, so after his pediatrician came by to check him out we went to US. His scans came back fine – no tethered skin to spine. Yes! (And we noted that his dimple was completely gone when he was five weeks born). The last hurdle for him to overcome before going home was the car seat test: he had to sit in his car seat (at least an hour after eating) and his beeps (which were set on ultra sensitive) couldn’t get angry or he’d fail and have to wait another 24 hours before they’d test him again. Rather than sit there on our hands and watch the clock, Mike and I went to Babies R Us and got the rest of what we needed (burp cloths, formula, etc.), hopeful that when we came back he’d have passed and be ready to go home. And…he passed!
Proud parents on Father's Day
Mike said that driving him home was the second scariest drive he’s ever done (the first was when he brought his first son home since he’d never driven with a newborn). Sage’s car seat was too big for him – we had to add extra padding just so that the straps would be taut. After adding chin padding to help his neck stay up and a preemie insert, he now fits in his car seat with no extra padding. But he hates those damned pads (called the Puppy Pals). Damn Puppy Pals make us cry every time (but then we fall asleep and forget about them).
Something to smile about!
We’ve been home for a little over five weeks now and our little preemie is a fighter, man. He got himself out of the NICU in four days, and is already trying to hold up his head. He’s amazing. He makes me proud every day. And big brother? He tolerates him. And helps sometimes. Mostly he ignores him because, well, Sage does still sleep a lot. While our NICU experience was not a typical one, I have to say that I give major support to families with babes in the NICU. And the staff are amazing. They made signs and decorations for Sage’s “room” and there are these volunteers (Threads of Love) who knit and sew blankets, hats, and booties preemie-sized out of the goodness of their hearts. And they’re the baby’s to keep. Every time I look at the airplane blanket (chosen by Amy because Silas loves airplanes and she thought it would help him to like Sage) and the knit green and white blanket we received, it makes me smile.
After a long post I’ll leave you with a cute song about the NICU written by a NICU dad. The “video” is just a picture with the song playing, but if you were ever a NICU parent “NICU at Night” will make you both smile and tear up.
Thanks for reading…
-Liz (and Mike and Silas and Sage)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Story of Whining and Babies…

For the past few months I have had no energy to write, and with good reason. November 14, 2011 (on my birthday) Mike and I found out we were expecting again. I spent the next six months visiting doctors, hanging out in ERs, conversing with on-call doctors at night, and being in a lot of pain (on top of being tired, of course). We were excited but more than a little apprehensive about my medical issues.

After Silas was born my OB told me that while she would help me have another baby, she didn’t suggest it, so none of my medical professionals were especially excited about me having another baby. I started my shots (anti-coagulants due to having a stroke in 2008) and they actually increased the dosage because apparently I had a lot of clotting issues during my last pregnancy that were revealed after Si was born. Over the next few months I experienced a bladder/cervix prolapse (Google it if you don’t know what it is, I don’t need to describe it here) at 15 weeks, bleeding at 23 weeks, and contractions from 25 weeks onward. It was as if every time I turned around something was going on, I had to explain my medical issues to another medical professional, and I was in a lot of pain. I tried not to complain as I’m sure that Mike got tired of it really quickly, but it was difficult. And not wanting to be a crankypants prego person, I didn’t call my doctor about all these things when I should have because, well, I was pregnant, and pain is just part of the package right?

Then at 34 weeks things got kind of crazy – Wednesday night I started feeling massive pain on my left side by my pelvis. My brain said, “Contractions start at the top and roll down so it’s not a contraction. Lovely, a new pain to deal with.” It came and went though, but when it came, I was on the couch breathing and whistling the pain away. And then it went away and I went to bed. Thursday the same crap started around 1 p.m. I took a nap. It stopped and then started again after Si’s bedtime. Mike offered to take me to the hospital and a friend was waiting to take care of Si for us if we needed to go, but I still wasn’t convinced “it” was bad. Plus we had doctors’ appointments on Friday morning and afternoon. Friday we saw the perinatologist and they put me on the NST (non-stress test looking for contractions) and sent me home, even though my pain had started at 9 a.m. that day. I do have to say that my pain was pretty low when we were in their office though. Mike and I had lunch, and then we went to the OB’s office. My pain was back and so bad by then that I was crying uncontrollably every few minutes. They took me into the office 45 minutes before my appointment and put me on their NST. I swear they took me out of the waiting room so the other pregos didn’t see me crying and in pain.The OB came in from the hospital, looked at my NST, and decided to check my cervix. Five minutes later I was in a wheelchair being wheeled to Labor and Delivery – at 35 weeks exactly I was dilated to 5 centimeters and 80% effaced. Those pains WERE contractions apparently.

I checked myself in to L&D while Mike went back to the doctor’s office to get the car (and my bags which I had packed just in case). They got me settled into a delivery room, and Mike left to pick up Silas from school and to get him situated at home with a friend. A nurse did all my paperwork on the computer while she monitored my contractions. The anesthesiologist came in to do my epidural. A seemingly unflappable man, he had done my epi with Silas as well, and he hadn’t changed. Still he had no sense of humor. “If you got to 5 cm without meds why are you getting an epidural?” he asked. “If you can promise me that the next 5 cm will only be, oh, twice as bad as the pain was to get to 5 cm, then I won’t take one,” I responded. He looked perplexed. “I’m joking. I avoid pain at all costs,” I told him. What the heck dude. Lighten up. Just a little.

The nurses checked in on me and over the next five hours my contractions remained constant but my body stalled out at 7 cm. Bring on the pitocin. Now mind you I was still sitting in L&D, you know, in active labor, by myself. My BFF showed up around 6 and Mike came back around 7, but I have to say it’s a little weird to sit in a room, by yourself, and think, “And I’m having a baby?” So I texted and posted on Facebook and called people. I’m sorry if I offended anyone – there were pain meds involved. At 11:45 or so the nurse checked and I was still only 7.5 cm even on pitocin. My epi was wearing down so I asked her to ask Mr. Happy to come back and give me a little more. He came back, pushed a little more epi, and reminded me that it could take 15-20 minutes to kick in. Everyone walked out again. Mike and Missy were trying to sleep since we didn’t know what time The Boi would arrive. And then there was this weird…sensation and I literally felt like the baby was crowning. “Mike. Go get the nurse and have her come check me.” “She just checked you like 5 minutes ago.” I gave him The Look. He went to get the nurse. She didn’t believe me either, but she did as she was asked. “Seriously?” She asked. “How did you go from being 7.5 to 10 cm in just a couple of minutes?” And then it was on – everyone ran for everyone else and I tried not to dwell on the fact that nobody believed me. And my epi hadn’t kicked back in yet. Rockin.

 Having a baby early is pretty scary, but honestly it didn’t really kick in that he was early until he was born. I felt this amazing release of pain (because, you know, the epi hadn’t kicked in) but there was no sound – no screaming child. I held my breath waiting for him to breathe. And he did. And then he screamed. And then I could breathe. The whole night I had been the picture of “I’m fine, no problems!” but as soon as he screamed, I cried and the random thoughts started. Pregnancy was all over. My last pregnancy was all over. And my son was a preemie. Nobody ever prepares for that (ok maybe some parents who have had preemies before do because they worry their other kids will be early). And he was going to the NICU. While I have lots of experience and knowledge about babies, infants, toddlers, children, parenting…hell, I teach child psychology…I had nothing on preemies. Except I knew that a lot of them stayed in the NICU until they were supposed to be born (37-38 weeks). The NICU freaked me out. My son wouldn’t room in with me at the hospital. I would probably go home without him. The cloth diapers I had prepared for him (the few they were – because, you know, I thought I had 3 more weeks) definitely wouldn’t fit his tiny tush. The random things you think about after having a baby.

But he was here. Sage Orion was born Saturday, June 16 at 12:32 a.m. 6 lbs and 3 ounces, somewhere between 20 and 21.5 inches long (nobody ever got the same measurement). And then we became NICU parents. Stay tuned for the next installment as we learned about NICU life and preemie babies (who rock).

 Thanks for reading. I’m going to go get some sleep while Sage sleeps. Send wishes for a 4-hour sleep span. Please.