Happy One Month, Little Bear

One month ago, I sat in my hospital bed, staring out the windows wondering if the past 10 hours had really happened. I had woken up merely to use the bathroom at midnight and that turned into a hurriedly packed trip to the hospital where my Little Bear was born crying a mere 4 hours later.

merely two hours old, full head of dark hair
merely two hours old, full head of dark hair

One month – it feels like it’s been twice as long and half as short.

We knew that as soon as Little Bear was here our lives would get a big chaotic dealing with his surgery, definite NICU stay, and whatever else he would need. Because of this, I had made sure to have freezer meals done, friends lined up to come and stay while we adjusted to life after his arrival. My baby shower was scheduled, a sign up genius for meals was set up, and my bag was packed by 32 weeks. Ever since we had gotten that first diagnosis of his spina bifida, I had felt like I was on a countdown clock that was flying along instead of steadily ticking down. To anyone who would listen, I explained that I didn’t think he would make it to his updated due date. I felt an anxious drive to get everything ready as soon as possible. I was on borrowed time and I worried about being able to give Little Bear the time he needed to full develop and be ready to come earth side.

I’m a month out now, and I still don’t feel like I’ve really processed the past month, especially those first two weeks. In a way I am glad my body went into labor by itself before going in to the OR for the c-section. I felt validated that everything my body had been telling me was true. I had felt a loss of not being able to have Little Bear like I delivered his older brother when we got his diagnosis. Having my water break and then being rushed into a c-section as my body quickly began laboring was the perfect mix of the two. I hated those three hours up to the moments AFTER the spinal kicked in. They went by too fast for me to really start panicking, but my body was freaking out, and I knew that if they hadn’t gotten me to the OR as soon as possible, things would start progressing really fast. Even though Little Bear’s arrival happened in the middle of the night, Phil nor I really felt alone. The nurses and my doctor were amazing. I knew that even though things happened quickly, there were those who were still thinking about and praying for us. I knew that even though I was only 34 weeks pregnant, my Little Bear was yet again proving that he was the one driving the whole deal. I knew he would be okay.

Within 8 hours of his birth, Little Bear went back for his own surgery. I am forever grateful for the neurosurgeons and anesthesiologists who continually popped into my room to let me know how my baby was doing during surgery. I never felt like I was being kept in the dark about his well being. So when I heard that he had remained completely stable during surgery and was now back to his room in the NICU, it wasn’t a surprise. Is it too presumptuous to say that I always knew he would do just fine? I went to see my Little Bear an hour after he had come out of surgery and felt the tears prick my eyes at the sight of my strong little warrior. He obviously hated the tube down his throat and was starting to fight it. They had warned me that he would/could possibly be in the NICU for [up to] 6 weeks. I remember texting a friend who had been in my shoes 18 1/2 years before saying that I bet he would be out of the NICU in 4 weeks.

It is now 4 weeks after sending that text, and Little Bear’s been home for 2 of those 4 weeks now. As grateful as I am to no longer have a preemie in the NICU, I will never forget those moments just before I would walk into his room, worrying that something had gone wrong. Little Bear started life earth side weighing 4lbs 15 oz, 18.7″ long. He now weighs just over 6 1/2lbs, and is about 19.1″ long.

As much as people kept calling him a rockstar (all the nurses, friends of mine, doctors…), it felt weird to call my baby a rockstar. Maybe I felt like it was jinxing myself (and him) to call my baby a rockstar. I merely smiled and nodded because I knew my baby was a fighter, but I wasn’t willing to acknowledge his incredible progress. I just took each day as it came and kept pace with my child as he blew through milestone after milestone, cutting his time in the NICU down to 1/3rd of what it was supposed to have been. I can see and feel the spirits guarding him and I’m trusting those fates to keep him safe when I can’t.

Having my whole family home the past two weeks has been both amazing and odd. This is the first week I am finally feeling like we have some sort of normalcy back. I feel like Little Monkey is finally adjusted (for the most part) to having Little Bear around. He begs me to let him hold his little brother often and has to watch Little Bear sleep. Little Monkey is still a little cautious around his brother, especially when Little Bear starts crying or waving his limbs all around. Little Bear and I have figured out a rhythm for night time feedings, and as long as I stick to the same each night, he sleeps well. The biggest question and frustration for me right now is getting him off oxygen. His pediatrician thinks he’s about ready to come off the oxygen, but wants him to see a pulmonary specialist before she takes him off. It’s getting annoying lugging around the oxygen tank every where he goes. But, I know that’s not going to last for forever! I think now that the end of that is technically in sight, I am anxious to get there.

Little Bear still doesn’t have a shunt, and according to his neurosurgeon, his head is holding steady. This part still worries me, but if they’re not seeing drastic increases in the size of his ventricles, then I do feel like I can take a breath and relax a little bit more. I still feel like we’re on borrowed time before he will need a shunt, but maybe Little Bear will surprise us…yet again?

My body doesn’t even feel like it was pregnant (minus the almost constant headaches, achy hips and tailbone). I see those weekly pregnant belly collages on Pinterest and feel a slight sense of nostalgia. I only made it to 34 weeks, and part of me mourns the not even making it to the “I’m so very done being pregnant” stage. I know that part is not fun, but I didn’t even get there! I barely gained any weight, and am sitting at just about having lost 20lbs right now. I am grateful for the “easy” recovery, especially with everything else that happened in Little Bear’s first two weeks of life. I am especially thankful for having made it through the first month of his life earth side. Today, of all days, was when he was supposed to have arrived. I was supposed to be at the hospital right now, recovering from a c-section at 10am this morning. But, Little Bear had other plans.

Happy one month, Little Bear. You are my snuggly little bear, instantly becoming alert whenever you hear my voice. I worried that the separation we would face when you arrived would make me lose my connection to you. I couldn’t have been more wrong. You are mama’s boy through and through. We share scars from your arrival and I will always feel that strong thread connecting us. You have FAR exceeded my expectations with nursing and sleeping now that you’re home. I am still taking an expert level class on how to wrestle with the octopus you become every time I change your diaper. Your extremely strong leg movements continue to surprise and give your dad and I much hope for your future mobility. It makes me tear up thinking about what’s possibly coming in your future. I will fight for you, and yet, I know that you’re going to keep fighting for yourself.

You are my little warrior bear, my fighter, my expectation breaker.

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What About When Things Don’t Go Well…

The more I read this book, Push Back by Amy Tuteur, MD, the more I wonder where the moms who haven’t had a good experience with birth, breastfeeding, postpartum depression, and such are. There is so much of a huge focus on the births that go well, the breastfeeding that goes well, and yet the moms who are buried beneath PTSD symptoms from a traumatic birth or “failed” breastfeeding get pushed under the rug.

I had a midwife appointment this past week, and had specifically requested the appointment be with one of the midwives who is also a lactation consultant. I wanted to ask her if she had any advice as to how to prepare for pumping as little bear will most likely not be able to nurse right away. She didn’t have very many tips for me, but she didn’t make me feel bad when I said I was still preparing to possibly not be able to breastfeed. I had a fairly difficult experience with Little Monkey. Sure, I did manage to breastfeed him for 15 months before he weaned himself. But those were hellish 15 months. I developed a nursing aversion in the beginning (like within a week of him being born) that included intense nausea and almost panic attack levels of anxiety every time my milk let down. He was also the kind of baby, and still is that kind of toddler, who absolutely refuses to eat unless he is hungry. This meant a lot of frustrated nursing sessions because I was engorged but he wasn’t ready to eat. Then add in severe back spasms (thanks to an un-diagnosed gallbladder issue) and I couldn’t nurse without severe back pain unless I had good back support. But I kept going, I refused to consider stopping because I was fed that constant narrative that “breast is best.”

Here’s what I want to make clear – yes, breast may be a bit better than formula, but for those of us who live in a first world country with access to good health care, good formula, and who actually get the CHOICE to breastfeed or not, breastfeeding doesn’t trump formula. Feeding your child formula isn’t going to destroy them for life. But there are many narratives that dominate the parenthood/motherhood arena of life that have been set up to make mothers who can’t or choose not to breastfeed feel severely guilty or ashamed. I would be willing to say that I continued breastfeeding Little Monkey to MY detriment. I struggled with a lot of postpartum depression and anxiety for months alongside the difficult breastfeeding. No one told me that it would be okay if I wasn’t able to continue breastfeeding. I cried the day he weaned himself. I didn’t cry because I “lost a bond” I cried from relief. But I had continued because I told myself that Little Monkey and I would lose our bond if I stopped.

This isn’t true though. Just because I fed my child from my breast doesn’t mean our bond wouldn’t have been any different than if I had fed him with a bottle. Think of the adoptive moms, and how they bond with their children while NOT being able to nurse them. That mother/child bond is not dependent on how you feed your child, or how you deliver your child into this world. It is, however, solely based on how much you take care of them. Are you there to make sure they feel safe and can rely on you to be there for them? Are you there to make sure their tummies are full and they have a comfortable place to sleep?

As I am mentally preparing for the possibility of not being able to breastfeed little bear, I am having to fight a HUGE inner battle against self-inflicted shame that that’s not doing what’s best for my baby. Logically I know that I’m going to do what is best for little bear, but holy crap, the shame and guilt I’m having to fight. It’s not good. Granted, I am in a slightly different situation with little bear’s condition. With his probable neurogenic bowel/bladder, breast milk is something that would/could greatly help him. There are options of using donor milk, but my goal is to make sure that if my body simply does not want to participate, then I want to take the shame off me and let him eat formula without any extra guilt on me. This whole pregnancy is teaching me the great importance of making the best decisions for my child AND me regardless of what the culture around me is trying to pressure me to do.

So what happens when it doesn’t go well? Nothing should happen. Nothing being no shaming, no guilt tripping, no making struggling mamas feel bad for not doing such n such. We should instead be supporting mamas for making the best decisions for themselves AND their babies. Did you notice that? I said “…making the best decisions for THEMSELVES.” Too much of the parenthood/motherhood culture builds a cage around mothers making it difficult for them to get the care they need. With postpartum depression on the rise, more mothers losing their lives to that and anxiety, we need to be more aware of helping mothers take care of themselves. Thanks to my amazing therapist, I had the tools to be able to take steps back from being Little Monkey’s mama multiple times because I felt like I was losing myself and losing my mind.

I want to see the narrative change. I want to see mothers hear that having a c-section is okay, that having pain meds during labor is okay, that not being able to or choosing not to breastfeed is okay. We already hear that natural birth is okay, in fact it’s so prevalent that that’s the loudest voice we hear. Hearing that breast is best is also such a loud voice that we don’t hear that not being able to or choosing not to is also okay. While there is nothing wrong with natural birth, I just want to see those advocates support and lift up the mamas who can’t have a natural birth or hey, guess what, choose not to!! No mama is any less or any more for how they bring their children into the world. Nor are they any less or any more for how they provide for their children. The thing that matters is how present you are for that child. How are you going to raise your child? That’s the more important question. Birth, breastfeeding, those are only a drop in the bucket of a child’s life.

 

Pregnant for the Last Time – Third Trimester Thoughts

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I am starting the third trimester today. It feels weird. I don’t remember having this sense of finality with Little Monkey’s pregnancy. This is the last time I will ever be in the third trimester. Sure, I have felt a difference with this pregnancy even from the start, but now it’s really real. I’m starting to daydream about wearing my normal jeans again! But it’s not the desperate daydreaming of a greatly uncomfortable mama. Which is also weird! It’s that daydreaming of knowing I am going to be wearing my regular jeans again and it will be very soon. In other words, it is way easier to accept that pregnancy does not last forever this time around. I still feel mostly comfortable with my body and the changes brought on by pregnancy, just minus the significant shortness of breath I’m starting to deal with. Thanks, little bear, I know I’m short-waisted, but my lungs feel like they’re in my throat!

I remember feeling absolutely exhausted from 30 weeks on when I was pregnant with Little Monkey. His pregnancy was relatively easy on my body (until I hit 32 weeks and started dealing with stronger and stronger braxton hicks that turned into prodromal labor) but it was also filled with that anxious anticipation of being a first time mom. Having grown up with many siblings, and having been a nanny, the practical side of having a baby didn’t scare me at all. It was the emotional side of things! Was I going to be able to connect with him? Haha, yeah, no worries on that front! My Little Monkey never ceases to amaze me at how happy he is and confident to try new things because he knows Mommy and Daddy are right there to help if he needs help. But you never know, right? You never know if things aren’t going to work out the right way.

Being now two thirds done with my second (and last) pregnancy, I don’t have the same worries. Obviously my worries now consist of little bear’s survival and thriving after birth, but that’s a whole other can of worms. This time I am eagerly and nervously looking forward to when I can actually hold him in my arms and I can’t wait for those first few weeks and months of bonding and loving on that little infant. I am not a terribly sentimental person, so the fact that this is my last pregnancy doesn’t weigh as heavy on me as it has and does on others. I am not in any way diminishing the mourning that naturally comes with that last baby, please hear that! This was a choice Phil and I made even before I got pregnant in June, and now with little bear’s diagnosis, that choice has been double, triple confirmed for us.

However, I know this is not how it always goes for those who end up having that last pregnancy. Sometimes, it isn’t their choice, it’s something that has to happen because of health issues that would mean major damage and/or danger to mama and baby if they were to get pregnant again. The choice (whether it was made by you or your body) to not get pregnant again is not easy. We live in a world today that still puts great emphasis on women and their bodies having a sole purpose of bearing children. Please know if this is a choice you have had to make because your body can not handle another pregnancy, no judgment, okay? It is incredibly important to take care of yourself. Even if the choice to not have any more children is a personal choice, still no judgment. Take care of yourself so you can be there for your children as they grow. Mamas are important characters in children’s lives.

This post is kind of following the same lines of my previous post from yesterday. While I have had to mourn many things with this pregnancy, this being my last hasn’t been one of those things. Acknowledging this as my last has been bittersweet, but being pregnant has always made me uneasy and this time things have been super hard on my body physically. Even though this time around has been difficult for my physically, I have savored the lasts. The last positive pregnancy test, the last first ultrasound, the last time getting maternity clothes. This final trimester is a time for savoring the lasts, I think.

So if you are facing your last pregnancy, or already have, take the time to let yourself mourn? Grieve, because that is normal and okay. Write down what you are feeling, or create a memorial of your choosing for your heart. Take care of yourself and love the little ones you may already have. I won’t say be content, because I think there will always be a part of you/me that will miss those beginning days of a pregnancy and then a newborn. But love yourself, give yourself permission to acknowledge that hard decision! Do not shame yourself if your body has failed. That is not something any of us can control. Be proud of your body for what it has already accomplished.

I guess if I were to leave anything at the end of this post it would be this; us as mamas have a obligation to ourselves to take care of our bodies, hearts, minds, and souls. That obligation comes from being an individual person/being BEFORE you are mama. I am feeling nostalgic as I’m starting this third trimester, and I know that’s going to present as depression and a lot of looking back. Because of that I am preparing even now for those darker days and the days when I need to remind myself this is not my fault. Take care of yourselves, mamas, you need you and so do your families.

**I will write more about depression and Postpartum Depression/anxiety another time as that is a topic I am paying a lot of attention to as I prepare for the final countdown to little bear’s birth

Measure – word for 2017

A few years ago a friend of mine introduced me to the idea of picking a word for the year. This is to signify what you will be focusing on in the coming year, but also to be built upon as the year progresses. I have always felt like a single word was not enough, but lately over the past three years, the words I have chosen were enough. So when thinking about the coming year, a single phrase has been running constantly through my mind; “A Measure Of____(fill in the blank).” I think in 2017 my strength is going to be measured, I am going to be stretched thin, I will find the measure of hope, love, strength that we will need for everything that will come with Little Bear. To me “Measure” means that I will come face to face with how strong I really am, how fearful I am, and much more I need to dig in and rely on the people around me.

I came up with the phrase “A Measure Of” when thinking about little bear. With Little Monkey, I have two specific hashtags I use on all of the pictures I post via Instagram. So with little bear, I wanted the same thing. The first hashtag is easy, as that’s his name with the addition of 365 added to it. The second is a little more difficult as it’s more personal to my sons. Little Monkey’s second hashtag is “#daysof[littlemonkey].” So for little bear, I came upon “#ameasureof[littlebear].” It fits because we’re going to see his measure once he’s born. He’s going to show us just how strong he is and how much of a fighter he is. This phrase really resonates with me because while I know 2017 is going to be hard, I am excited about seeing where we’re going to grow as a family. I am excited about seeing just how strong we all are, and I am excited about when we can bring little bear home. There is a certain amount of sadness just with all of the changes coming and especially when I look upon Little Monkey and know my days with him as an only child are truly numbered. 83 days (give or take a few days) to be exact. We’ll come to know the measure of Little Monkey too as he adjusts to his new sibling.

There are a lot more things I am having trouble putting words to that rest beneath “A Measure Of” but I know it’s the right word for this coming year. There is something unique and wordless attached to the picking of your word of the year. I used to poo-poo the concept, but now that I have done it for several years, I understand how having a word to cling to, to view the year through, helps. It helps give you strength for the year, it gives lens through which to process the happenings of the year. So as we face this difficult journey, I am grateful I have a foundation to start building experiences on.

Do you have a word for the year? What is it? And what are your reasons?