I'm so excited to share my interview with fellow preemie parent Jamie C. Johnson with you on her book launch day! You can find her book Strong Faith: Daily Encouragement for Moms and Families of Premature Babies on Amazon.
"As a result of my NICU experience I have become an advocate. I am on a mission to learn about preemie statistics, resources, etc., more specifically around families of color."
~ Jamie C. Johnson
Please share your NICU journey.
I gave birth to my son Caleb on September 28, 2018 via emergency c-section. He was delivered at 32 weeks, weighing 4lbs 0.4oz. He stayed in the NICU for 49 days. Caleb is my first child. I dealt with a rollercoaster of emotions as I had no one to talk to about the preemie/NICU experience. Caleb had his ups and downs with weight, his heart rate & his breathing. It was hard to find a way to feed him and he not have an alarm. I had a difficult time producing milk which was a major blow to my esteem as a mother. I felt pressure and guilt from the nurses as they kept asking about when I was bringing milk or when I did give milk "oh, is that all?" Having to resort to formula was painful. We are vegetarians and we planned to keep things as natural/organic as possible.
Caleb had reflux and would vomit during many feedings. We tried several bottles & nipples. One of the nurses that I absolutely loved shared how some babies responded positively to "thickened feeds" (adding oatmeal to milk). I asked repeatedly to try it and my request was denied. I followed the NICU team's suggestions but I knew it wasn't working. When I told a nurse that it didn't work because Caleb was having bad alarms with me (which he rarely had) I was told that the head of the unit needed to see it not working for herself- which meant more alarms. I felt like they actually wanted him to have alarms. I was so angry that I wasn't respected as a mother. It took having a meeting with the head of the unit for my request to add oatmeal to Caleb's formula to be approved. Once we started it the alarms stopped and he began to gain weight more consistently.
The unresolved feeding issue was what kept Caleb from coming home. He passed all of his tests that were necessary for him to be released. He just needed 3 consecutive days of no alarms. To think that not being listened to as a parent not only delayed my son from coming home but also contributed to the many times his heart rate dropped and his breathing slowed is heart breaking.
What gave you strength while going through the NICU experience?
God was my main source! I prayed so much throughout our NICU journey-believing that Caleb would come home and not have to stay until his original due date. Joshua, my husband was such a rock. He was working the night shift at that time and sacrificed his sleep to ensure I could get to the hospital everyday (I was medically not allowed to drive most of the time as I healed from my c-section). My family & friends were great as well. They held me accountable when needed and even allowed me and supported me during my low days. My mom only missed 1 day at the hospital with me.
I found a song that ministered to me and kept me encouraged. I played it in Caleb's room everyday. I also found a book about an amazing boy named Caleb and read that to my Caleb everyday. I am grateful for technology! Being able to FT family and friends made quiet/lonely times conquerable.
Tell us about your organization, Build You Up Sisters.
Build You Up Sisters was created to provide opportunities for mothers of all walks of life from around the world to connect and support one another through love and sisterhood. We believe in the power of shared experiences to: foster Trust; give Encouragement; develop Relationships; and provide Support. The need for the sisterhood was noticed when our founder, Jamie Johnson became a mother to her amazing son who was born prematurely and was hospitalized for over 40 days. The many experiences she had led her to wonder about those that may not be as fortunate to have the support she did and the desire to connect and support mothers like her. BYU Sisters will soon have a cohort program to help moms become mompreneurs so that they can be financial contributors to their family while being active in their children's lives/education.
What inspired your new book?
While in the NICU I tried to find a book to help me through the process. I couldn't find anything that I could connect to. One day while spending time with Caleb I heard that I would write the book that I was looking for. From then I began writing out our experience and what I did to make it through as a mom of a premature baby.
According to the calendar, it is officially summer. However any parent out there will tell you it has felt like summer for a while already. Yes, the summer of social distancing is upon us and for many parents that means no camps, daycare, or sports. So how will we all keep everyone happy and busy during these long, hot, days of summer? I have compiled fun, simple, screen- free activities that will keep you and your kids sane this season! If you need more ideas, check out my post for 35 Simple Summer Activities.
And just like those NICU days, at some point, I will look back on those hard moments and be so glad we survived them.
Before the emergency birth of my twins at 28 weeks, I had never heard of kangaroo care. But after a stint in the NICU, I will never forget the many benefits of this special therapy.
One of my greatest challenges while dealing with the NICU was time. I had waited so long to be a mother. I just wanted my babies out of the NICU and home with me. It was difficult to go to the hospital day after day, and not know when they were going to be released. And just when I thought the end was near, there would be an issue that would put us back at the beginning. Being so focused on the end goal of going home, made the journey that much harder.
I found that Kangaroo Care grounded me and allowed me to focus on the present. I would purposely think about the future, and life after the NICU to escape the moment I was in. That moment in the hospital with my tiny babies was sad, but it was precious too. Just because it was hard, didn’t mean I should miss it altogether. Several years post NICU, and this realization still impacts my parenting philosophy. I try not to wish away any moments with my babies, because nothing lasts forever. And just like those NICU days, at some point, I will look back on those hard moments and be so glad we survived them.
I must confess that the idea of homeschooling interests me. I have always been open to this method of educating and over the last several years I have consistently supplemented my children’s education with lessons at home on their school and summer breaks. When all the daycares, preschools, and elementary schools closed in my area, I thought this would be a chance to test-drive homeschooling to see what it was all about. I quickly learned, however, that what we are embarking on is not homeschooling at all. When one chooses to homeschool, I can only assume, that they have time to plan and to research curriculum, and time to instruct. So what we are all doing with our kids right now can only be described as crisis schooling. But even so, I am trying to make the experience enjoyable for me and my children, while also ensuring that they are learning something. I know that every family and situation is different, but here are a few things that are working well for us.
Have a Schedule
I love a schedule, so this is a no-brainer for me. Since there is a schedule at school, there is also a schedule at "home school." This schedule is flexible and takes into account when my children are at their most attentive. I also build into the schedule time for picking up and quiet time. This is important to me, so I have a little time throughout the day to accomplish what I need to as well as it setting expectations and boundaries.
Create a Space for Learning
We do not have a “classroom,” yet we still need designated space to read, write, and use technology. I have turned our living room into a make-shift learning area. I pulled my folding table from the laundry room in and removed most of the decor from my bookshelves to make space for supplies like paper, pencils, crayons, and workbooks. It doesn’t look great, but no one is visiting at this time anyway and it is functional for now.
Manage Your Expectations
Are my children learning as much at home as they would be at school? Probably not, but their academics are not a worry for me...at all. I am simply doing that best I can. Once school is back in session (whenever that may be) I am confident that their teachers will course correct and get everyone back on track. My job right now is to guard my kid’s mental health and make sure that they are happy and healthy. We accomplish what we can each day, and we don’t worry about the rest.
I don't know about you, but I am always looking for places to put books! I love books, especially children's books, and we have a lot of them. If you're like me and looking for places to keep all your books, check out these cute book case options.
1. Cloud Shelf- Target, $29.99
2. Metal Cart- Ikea
3. Mid Century Bookcase- Crate and Barrel, $299.00
4. Angled Bookcase- Pottery Barn Kids, $299.00
5. House Shelf- IKEA, $34.99
*This post is not sponsored. All thoughts are my own.
This post is not sponsored! All thoughts and opinions are my own.
I recently took my family to visit the Field Museum in Chicago. I love a good museum and have visited many including the Museum of Natural History. But this was the first time taking my twins to a museum that wasn’t specifically designed for children. I was a little nervous, but all those nerves were for nothing. We had such a great time. And my children are still talking about it today and asking to go back. Here are a few tips so your family can have an amazing time too!
Before You Go
The week leading up to our trip I began preparing my kids for the kinds of things they would see. The Field Museum is very interactive and informative, but it’s not a children’s museum. So we talked about how some things we wouldn’t be able to touch, as they would be behind glass. I also pulled up the Field Museum’s website and we looked at the different exhibits and encounters. The Field Museum is huge, so I knew we wouldn’t be able to see it all in one day. I helped each child to make a list of their top 5 must-sees. I then used the online map feature to make a plan for the day. We also got some great books from the library to read before we left.
My original thought was to walk to the museum from our hotel. I had purposely found a room in the South Loop, so it would be within walking distance. But it was just too cold to walk. We ended up driving and being able to park right next to the museum in the East Lot (cost $30). It was so close to the door, that we left our coats in the car, so we had less to carry around. There is a coat check, but it costs $3 per item. This lot is on the small side, so I suggest getting there early.
We got up early to arrive at the museum right as the doors opened at 9 am. For the first hour, we had many exhibits to ourselves! It was great. We headed straight for the Griffin Halls of Evolving Planet and Sue the T-Rex. This was high on both my kids’ must-see list, and it is a very popular exhibit. We leisurely enjoyed this very cool exhibit about the evolution of life on Earth. But the best part was seeing Sue, the most complete T-Rex skeleton in the world. The Upper Level also houses the Fossil Prep Lab, Planets of the World, and Restoring Earth. Every exhibit is really fascinating and well-done but the highlight of the Main Level for my family was the dioramas in Messages from the Wilderness. It’s just amazing to get so close to actual (taxidermy) animals. Now we can view high-definition videos of animals in their natural habitats. But when the majority of these specimens were collected in the late 1800s and early 1900s, people could only see animals in nature at a museum. Also don’t miss the Crown Family Playlab located on the Ground Level. Specifically for children 2-6 years old, it offers hands-on, interactive activities. All of this was included in the basic ticket price. The museum offered plenty to see and do without upgrading our tickets.
When the crew got hangry, we headed to The Explorer Cafe. I had packed lunches for the kids, to save money and ensure there would be something that they liked to eat. But the adults purchased food. It was pricey ($40 for two adults), but good. There is a picnic area on the Ground Level if you prefer to bring in all your own food.
Our last stop was the gift shop. My kids love a gift shop. In an effort to curb any end of the day meltdowns, we had allowed each child to bring some birthday money to buy a souvenir. We finally left for the day at around 4:30 (the museum closes at 5:00). We didn’t get to see it all, but we did experience everything on our list.
I cannot recommend the Field Museum enough. It was such a fun and educational day, that I know made a real impact on my kids. So consider adding the Field Museum to your family bucket list today.
I’m not the kind of mom that embraces the dirt, the forts, and the piles of stuff that result from littles at play. But I recognize it's value.
I admit it...I don’t love messes. I’m not the kind of mom that embraces the dirt, the forts, and the piles of stuff that result from littles at play. But I recognize the value of sensory play. I know that when kids are engaging several senses at once, they are building important cognitive skills, learning about cause and effect, and being creative. In fact, sensory play is associated with better outcomes when feeding selective eaters. These are all skills that preemies may need additional help with mastering. Over the years I have come up with a few tips to make sensory play less messy, so everyone can enjoy experiences with materials like play-doh and sand. However, I have nothing to offer when it comes to glitter...that is where I draw the line!
When Possible Play Outside
When weather permits, set up messy activities outside. Just being out in nature is a sensory experience in and of itself. Some of my favorite outdoor sensory experiences are making mud pies and playing in a sandbox/bin. A good rinse off is required before anyone comes back inside.
Play in the Bathtub
Kinetic sand is one of my favorite sensory play materials. I always set my kids up in the bathtub to play with it. I plug the drain, fill the tub with kinetic sand and a variety of scoops and tools. The tub is the perfect container to keep the sand from spreading all over the house, and they are already in the bathtub if a quick clean-up is required. I also find that kinetic sand never sticks to the porcelain bathtub.
Purchase a Wipeable Table Cloth
Whenever it is time to create with paint, I get out my reusable table cover. It is made of plastic-coated fabric and I found it on clearance for a few dollars. It protects my dining table and makes clean-up so easy. Once it is dry, I fold it up and store it away for next time.
Water is a Great Option
Remember, water is a great option for sensory play. My kids really like it when I add a few ice cubes with small toys frozen inside. Gosh, you could even add some soap and a sponge and let them clean stuff...genius
I will never be able to not care about the messes my kids make. But I also don’t want my neat-freak tendencies to keep my kids from the joy of squishing mud between their toes or stretching slime between their fingers. If you have ever felt the same way, hopefully, these tips can help you embrace the mess too!
Career development is the life-long process of learning about yourself and the world of work to help manage your career goals.
As parents, we are our children’s first teachers. Many essential life skills are learned through modeling, observing, and in some cases, direct instruction. Long before a child enters any kind of formal educational setting, parents are teaching children the fundamentals of being a human, like how to walk, talk, and of course use the potty (very important indeed!). But one area that is virtually ignored is career development. We live in a society obsessed with careers. As children, we are asked what we want to be when we grow up. As adolescents, we are shuttled to lessons and activities that are supposed to make us academically well-rounded and desirable. As young adults, we are quizzed about our future career goals. But what is often lacking, is informed discussion and guidance about career exploration. Many students are not familiar with even the basic steps of career development until high school or college. And while this may seem like an optimal time, as students are faced with furthering their education, selecting majors, and choosing careers, it is often a time of high stress and anxiety. However, if the career development process is introduced well before a career decision needs to be made, and discussed often in an age-appropriate way, stress and unrealistic expectations can be reduced.
Obviously, career development is important, and most parents would agree that they want their children to grow up and find a career that they enjoy. So why aren’t we spending time teaching children how to properly navigate this path? My answer...parent’s feel unable to teach this topic, because they feel that they haven’t mastered it themselves. But mastery is not part of your role in a child’s career development process. Instead, focus on:
Do you want to become a career competent parent? Need some help to get started? I have several resources to help.
*My eCourse walks you through the steps of the Career Development Process and provides you with activities and discussion questions.
*My book The Career Explorer introduces children to the basic principles of the career development process. If you want to explore even more, download the curriculum that complements the book.
* This blog post provides more tips and hints as well.
I’ve also learned that strength is not dependent on one’s size. The toughest person I’ve ever known fit in the palm of my hand.
~Kristina Mulligan, One in a Mulligan
Being a preemie parent does not end when the NICU doors swing closed behind you after discharge. Being a preemie parent doesn’t stop when your child’s due date passes, nor when they turn two and adjusted age is no longer relevant. Parenting a preemie is for the long-term and, in so many ways, the journey never ends.
Prior to becoming a parent, and even long before my struggle with infertility, I had so many notions about what I would be like as a mother. My dream of motherhood began when I received my first doll and I felt that I always just knew what my parenting style would be. I thought that I was so aware of the type of person that I was and would become, and then my son was born at 28 weeks. What is so fascinating about people is that two individuals could share an experience and, while no situation is identical and neither are the persons involved, it will shape them in completely different ways.
Prematurity is something that can only be completely understood by those who experience it firsthand. I’ve felt the gaping hole in my heart each time I left the hospital without my child. I’ve grieved losses, even though our family was one of the lucky ones. I’ve wept over grams gained and lost, and milliliters of painstakingly pumped breastmilk spilled. I was jolted from a life of comfort into one that was so uncertain and traumatic, yet I survived. And I’ve had to quickly turn from quiet and timid to an advocate for someone who doesn’t have a voice.
Just as giving birth to and caring for a preemie is a rollercoaster, so is the evolution of the preemie parent. There are ebbs and flows from the time the baby is born, to discharge, to their first birthday, and beyond. The shift from survival mode to every day life was the most difficult, and I’m still working past the traumas almost three years later, but through this transition I’ve become wiser.
My strength has been pushed, pulled, twisted, and put through the elements, but I made it through. I’m braver than I ever thought I could be.
I’ve also learned that strength is not dependent on one’s size. The toughest person I’ve ever known fit in the palm of my hand.
I’ve lost relationships as I learned the influence of those close to me on my personal mental health and, in turn, the wellbeing of my family.
I have a new respect for my body and what I put on it, in it, and around my home.
I’ve discovered that all messes can be cleaned up, and that life is more fun with a little chaos involved.
I’ve learned that every cause, no matter how small, is worth fighting for. And I found mine.
With small beginnings comes appreciation for what the typical parent believes are little things – each gram gained, every single breath taken, even every dirty diaper. After all that we’ve been through as a family, it’s easy to only focus on the negative, but over time I’ve learned to look at our experience as a gift, not as a punishment. Parenting a preemie alters you forever and I’m far from the mother that I thought I would be, but I choose to believe I’ve been changed for the better. I’ve changed into who I needed to become.
But as an introvert myself, I must admit, that having twins suits my personality type just right!
I’m naturally introverted. This does not mean that I am shy or that I don’t like people, as is often assumed. It simply means that I need time alone to recharge. As a career counselor who is certified in the MBTI personality inventory, I have helped hundreds of people discover and understand their personality types. But it wasn’t until I had twins that I started to think about how your personality can impact parenting. Certainly, no one personality type is perfect for parenting multiples, but here are 3 times when having twins is an introvert’s dream.
When you don’t want to go somewhere
Every introvert knows the drill. You are invited to a party, or a playdate, or a work event. And you have to come up with an excuse, as to why you can’t go. But guess what... once you have twins, you don’t have to come up with an excuse. Now you have a reason. Taking your two babies out of your house during that first year is so much work that everyone will give you a pass.
When you don’t want to make small talk
Chit-chat is often disliked by introverts, who prefer more meaningful conversation. When you are out with twins, you don’t have time to talk to anyone. Someone always needs your attention. You may start many conversations, but will inevitability be pulled away by a toddler needing a drink, or help finding their toy. This phenomenon hits epic proportions at the park when upon exiting the confines of their car seats, your multiples will scatter in different directions leading you to spend all of your time scanning the corners of the playground to ensure everyone’s safety.
When you just need to be alone for a few minutes
In most cases, more children mean less alone time for their parents. Unless you are talking about twins. One of the many cool things about parenting twins is their ability to entertain each other. Twins are often satisfied playing with each other, which can give you a pass every once in a while when you just need a moment alone to decompress.
Personality theory says that no one personality type is better than any other. And I whole-heartedly agree. But as an introvert myself, I must admit, that having twins suits my personality type just right!