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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Happy Birthday!

I have a one-year-old.

My little 2lb 8oz baby turned one today. He now weighs 18.5 lbs, which puts him nearly on the growth chart for his actual age. He's grown from 15 inches long to about 27.5. Again, just starting to graze the bottom of the growth chart.

Whenever I describe his age to people, I always do the mental math by saying he was born 3 months early. It was actually a little more than that - 3 months and 5 days early. When I look at his ticker today for his adjusted age, it reads "8 months 3 weeks and 5 days."

Wow. Looking at it that way really highlights how early he really was.

As you'd imagine, today has been a crazy mix of emotions. Like all moms, I'm happy to be celebrating the first birthday of my son. I'm sad and nostalgic that he's growing up. I'm proud of how much he's grown.

There's so much more than that, though. All of my emotions just seem so much stronger than most parents' on their child's first birthday.

I feel like I'm turning a page. It's the same relieved feeling I had when we brought our son home from the NICU. We made it. We survived. HE survived. A whole year. And he's a thriving, happy ball of energy. What a relief. Now, we can concentrate on enjoying things more. It'll get easier from here...right?

And I'm so unbelievably proud of how hard my son fought to get here. I've heard people talk about their hearts swelling with love, but I never understood that until I became a mommy. It's like I can feel my heart grow. And it's magnified today. If we would have lost him in the beginning, I know we would have been devastated. Only now, after falling in love with my baby, do I truly understand what I would have missed out on if my son didn't make it. I didn't have enough capacity to love him enough until many month later, and it's only in hindsight that I'm able to grasp the all-encompassing love I would have missed if my son didn't come home with us. It physically hurts just to think about it that way. Luckily, my son was a fighter from the beginning. Rolled with the punches. "I'm showing up early? Cool. Have to live in a strange hospital in a strange city in a strange state? No problem." He's weathered the storm better than anyone, and we're so lucky to have an amazing son who likely won't have any long-term effects of his early birth.

I'm proud of us. My husband and I. We've been to hell and back in 2011, and we're closing the door on that. All three of us were admitted to the hospital at least once in 2011. We've had health scares and spent a dizzying amount of money, but we're here. And we'll be stronger for it. Better for it. I look back on who we were before our son was born, and I don't even recognize us. Everyone changes when they have a baby, but not like this. Not like this.

But not all the changes are good. All the memories came flooding back over the past few weeks, and they were especially strong today. Sometimes, it's images of labor & delivery or the NICU. They pop in out of nowhere, triggered by all sorts of things. The weather that takes me back to the snowy day of my son's birth. The Super Bowl advertisements that drag me back to that pumping room and the tiny individual TV where I stared at that game without knowing the score. My MacBook dictionary screen saver that has "gavage" as its word of the day. Really? Why today of all days? That stupid stupid wonderfully produced Pampers commercial about Every Little Miracle. It shows that tiny baby born 3 months early and it has that beeping. That NICU beeping. Beep...beep...beep... It took me months to not hear those beeps every time the microwave finished cooking or a truck backed up or my alarm clock went off, and that commercial takes me back. Every time. And it's been harder to push those images out as his birthday got closer.

It's not always memories, but sometimes it's feelings. I've been feeling anxious the past few weeks, and it got worse last night. I couldn't sleep. I was too lost in my thoughts until way past 2 am. I never had anxiety before the NICU, and now, every time I feel anxious, I think of the NICU. Or labor & delivery. Anxiety will forever be tied to those experiences, and I've been fighting against the flashbacks every time I've felt anxious over the past few weeks. Even when I get anxious about work or any other normal thing...BAM!...Back at the NICU. Or in labor & delivery. It's frustrating. I'm frustrated that I still struggle with these feelings. I know I'll never be the same, and I grieve the person I used to be. Sometimes, I wish I could be just a little more naive again.

On balance, I'm glad today is over. I'm terribly sad that my little baby is growing up, and I'm so happy to celebrate his birthday with him. But, mostly, I feel relief. Relief that this year is over, relief that my son is doing so well, and relief that we get to put some of the most difficult parts of this battle behind us.

I love you Captain Stinkerpants. Thank you for being the Best Baby Ever.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Coming up on a year

My son turn a year old next week. I have such mixed feelings about it. I'm happy and proud, but obviously sad that my little baby is growing up. And I'm really worried that his birthday is going to trigger even more memories. The flashbacks had gone away for awhile, but I'm worried they're coming back. The memories are coming back.

Maybe it's the weather, too. It was snowy when my son was born. In fact, there had been several snow storms right around his birthday. Shortly after he was born, I remember looking at my Blackberry to see e-mails from my company telling everyone to stay home due to the bad weather. We got another of those e-mails today. And it brought back the memories again.

It doesn't help that I'm stressed at work. I think the memories are stronger when I'm worried or sad or angry. Feeling bad emotions just takes me back to labor & delivery and the NICU.

I'm frustrated. I just want my head to be screwed on straight.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The memories come from everywhere

A couple of days ago, I was at my company cafeteria grabbing lunch. They have a cooler that they use to display yogurt, pudding and other cold items. Suddenly, I flashed back to the hospital where our son was in the NICU. They had a very similar cooler, and the food containers must have been similar.

Sometimes, it's the smallest things.

The other day, I remember that a labor & delivery nurse complimented me on my engagement ring. I have no idea what triggered that memory.

I wonder if these flashbacks will ever totally go away.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Always a preemie parent

When my son was in the NICU, I saved all of the e-mails people sent us. I knew that I'd want them eventually, and I plan to someday print them out for his "memory box" (I'm not nearly crafty enough for any sort of scrapbook or anything).

I was going through some of the e-mails again yesterday, and it brought back a bunch of feelings again. Many were positive. We got SO much support from so many people when our son was in the NICU. Some were neutral. I can remember the day-to-day grind of being in the NICU. Just waiting for each day to be over. Counting down the hours until the end of the day. Counting down the days until the end of the week. Counting down the weeks until the end of the month.

Seeing all the support we got from everyone made me feel a little guilty, too. There were so many people who were very supportive, but we (I) haven't really done a good job of keeping in touch with them. I sort of blame the prematurity for that, too. First, our son wasn't allowed to be around people for several weeks. Then, I was in a pretty bad mental place for several months, and I just wanted to be left alone. Now, our son is quarantined again for flu season.

Beyond that, though, I just can't get the mental energy to do those sorts of social things. I was never exactly a social butterfly before, and, now, I just can't do it. I don't want to be away from my son. I'm sure that's pretty typical of all parents (especially first-time parents), but I think it's more acute with me. I know how precious this time is, and I just can't tear myself away from it.

Even when everyone else has forgotten how early our son was born, it'll still be with me. Looking back, I feel like a completely different person than I was before my son was born. Everyone changes when they have a baby, but I feel like the way I've changed is just different. Watching your child struggle to survive completely changes who you are in all aspects of your life.

Friday, January 6, 2012

New year reflections

2011 was the worst year of my life. It was the best year of my life in that I got my son, but, in some ways, that's unfortunately overshadowed by how he got here. I will never be the same person I was before my son was born. Everyone changes when they have a child, but I'm scarred in a way that most people aren't.

It frustrates me when people say things like, "Oh, he's so healthy now!" The implication is that I should be over it. Yes, I'm incredibly fortunate that my son is doing so well. Yeah, but... I'm still not over it.

I feel like it's always "Yeah, but..."

It's been almost a year since he was born. Yeah, but I'm not over it.

He had a very easy NICU stay. Yeah, but I'm not over it.

He almost certainly won't have any long-term problems. Yeah, but I'm not over it.

I never will be. I still think about his birth or the NICU experience every single day.

Like, today, I remember that the labor & delivery nurse complimented me on my engagement ring. It's like so many things in my life get turned back to the NICU. Has it gotten better?

Yeah, but I'm not over it.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Maybe baby? Or maybe not

My husband and I have always wanted at least two kids. Maybe three. And, we wanted them to be 2-3 years apart. As my son approaches his first birthday, the reality that we'll have to start planning for our next baby relatively soon is starting to hit me, and I have a lot of mixed feelings on it.

On the one hand, I sometimes feel like I'm ready for another baby. My son is getting more and more active, and he's certainly not a tiny baby anymore.

On the other hand, I worry a lot that I'm just trying to have a "do over" of my first pregnancy. I never had a third trimester, and I worry that I'm just anxious to have another shot at pregnancy. We never had those exciting moments where we were wondering "is this really it?" with labor. Hell, my husband wasn't even there when my son was born. I was actually looking forward to my unmedicated birth with my doula. While I knew that not everything would go as planned, absolutely NOTHING went as planned.

And I missed out on having a newborn. I never got wheeled out of the hospital with balloons and a baby in my lap. I have no idea how to take care of an umbilical cord. We never had our baby sleeping in our room because he was getting up every two hours (our son slept in his own crib right from the beginning).

There's also no guarantee that we wouldn't have another preemie. No one knows why my son was born so early. While I'd be monitored closely and would get progesterone shots, I could still end up with another preemie. Or worse.

Beyond all that, I'm just not sure I'm mentally in the right place for another pregnancy. I've been wanting to watch "The Business of Being Born" for quite awhile. I was all set to download it tonight, but, after reading the online synopsis, I just couldn't do it. Just reading a little about the births that are in the movie was enough to set off my anxiety again. I never had anxiety until after my son's birth, and, now, I just can't quite seem to shake it.

I guess I still have a few more months before I need to worry about another baby. I mean, we'd probably want to get a HOUSE, so there are plenty of other challenges to overcome. Sometimes, I just don't feel that I have a path to get there, though. I've been seeing a counselor for months, but I'm not sure she can help.

How do I go from where I am now to someone who's ready to become a mom again?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Early NICU memories

My memories of the NICU are so different than the L&D memories. I remember very very little from the first few days in the NICU. Having a baby born as early as mine was means you are in no way guaranteed a take-home baby. We were extremely lucky, though. Our son did awesome from the very beginning. I was even asked several times if my due date (and thus his gestational age) could have been wrong. He was so large (2lb 8oz at 26w3d) and did so well that it was hard for the staff to believe that he really was a 26 weeker. I am 100% confident of the conception date, though. We were charting, and our due date was confirmed with a dating ultrasound.

There are some horrific things that happened in those first few days, though. And some other things that I'd forgotten about that weren't necessarily horrific, but were somewhat noteworthy. Just sitting down to write this post brought back so many memories, including:

- My husband asked one of the neonatologists what our son's chances of survival were. He said "70%." When my husband heard that, he of course thought, "My son has a 30% chance of dying." He was extremely upset about this answer, as you'd imagine. Later, the neonatologist spoke with me when my husband wasn't there. I think the doctor felt bad that he upset my husband so much. He said to me, "I told your husband that your son has a 70% chance of survival, which I thought was good news. He didn't take it that way, though. What I meant was that, at 26 weeks, the odds start to tip in the baby's favor." I just nodded, I think. I knew the statistics already, since I have a friend who lost a 24 weeker. And I knew what we were in for, at a high level anyway. I was just taking things a half day at a time during those first few days.

- We asked one of the nurses a few days after our son was born if we could start referring to "when" our son came home rather than "if." She said no, meaning we weren't out of the woods. I never forgave her for that, although I know she was just trying to be realistic. After she said that, my blood would boil every time I saw her.

- On a related note, I do remember the first nurse who told us we could start referring to "when" our son came home. Her name is Trish. She was also the nurse that let me hold my son for the first time.

- I remember when I held my son for the first time, and I thought it was going to be an amazing emotional experience. It wasn't. I was so numb and drained that I didn't feel much. In fact, it took MONTHS before I could tell my son "I love you" and felt like I really meant it. I was protecting myself in case we lost him, I think. My husband, on the other hand, cried the first time he held our son. He fell head over heels in love right away.

- We were staying in a hotel near the hospital for the first few days (before we found our extended stay place). My milk came in while we were there, and I remember how painful it was to sleep on my stomach. And I had these miserable hot flashes where I was just painfully hot and cold at the same time. I was sweating, but I couldn't let the cold air touch me because it was physically painful. It made getting up to pump absolutely terrible. And I was pumping every 3 hours around the clock at that point.

- Thinking back now, I have no recollection of where I stored the pumped milk during those first few days. I must have had a cooler or a refrigerator, but I really don't remember.

- I had no clothes during those first few days. I only had enough clothes with me for 2 nights, I believe. Nearly all of them were work clothes - maternity clothes. I had a pair of sweatpants, a t-shirt, and a sports bra that I wore to the gym earlier in the day when my son was born. I must have worn those clothes for several days in a row. I had no nursing bras or tank tops. We had to go to Target very early on to buy me a bunch of clothes to hold me over until my parents could bring down more clothes for me. I remember walking around Target talking on the phone to a friend of mine who had called to see how I was doing. I grabbed some yoga pants and a couple of zip up sweatshirts. And nursing tank tops and socks. And underwear. I couldn't even wash anything before I wore it.

- I remember calling the OB back home to tell her that I'd had my baby. My son was born on a Tuesday, and, the prior Friday, I'd called the OB to ask what symptoms I could look for if my water was leaking. She said that I would notice because I'd have fluid running down my leg. She wasn't concerned, and, being a first time mom, I wasn't too concerned either. To this day, I wonder if my amniotic fluid was leaking for a few days and that was why I went into labor. My water had broken by the time they checked me for the first time, after all. I had also called the OB the night of my son's birth because I had some spotting. She agreed that I should go to L&D, but she (like my husband and me) thought it was probably no big deal. Anyway, I called her after my son was born, and it was the strangest conversation. "Hi, remember how we talked on the phone last night about how I was spotting? Well, I had my baby last night." She was obviously concerned, but you could tell she didn't know what to say. I had been seeing the midwives in the practice, and one of the midwives called me a couple days later, too. She was SO concerned, and I remember the concern in her voice. I don't blame the OB in any way for anything, though - she was making the best decision with the information she had.

- We got so many e-mails, texts, and phone calls those first few days. My husband and I would just sit outside the hospital cafeteria and read them. And cry. It was amazing how much support we got.

There are so many more memories, but I've blocked out so much from those first few days. I feel a need to go back and revisit it here on this blog to help me process things and to be sure those memories aren't lost forever.