"And a gift is a gift, no matter how it is wrapped."
Oh 2020...what a dumpster fire of a year you have been! In the remaining weeks that are left of this very memorable year, I can only imagine what will happen next. Has the whole year been bad...no. Has the whole year been hard...no. But there have sure been a lot of really bad, really hard hours, days, and even weeks. I never dreamed I would be living and parenting through a global pandemic, and yet here I am.
If you are a “big things parent,” it was an especially hard year. “Big things parents” thrive on creating memories through milestones and experiences. So when many big life moments, like graduations, vacations, and holiday celebrations were canceled this year, many parents felt defeated. They are passionate about celebrating the exceptional, and bringing joy to themselves and their families by throwing a special party, or planning a dream vacation. “Big thing parents” appreciate the destination. This makes for a rough year when you literally have no where to go.
On the other hand, “small things parents” are here for the minutiae. They can appreciate the wonder that exists in the everyday. They can see something remarkable, in what appears quite unremarkable to others. “Small things parents” celebrate bare baby feet in green spring grass, snuggling under a blanket to read out loud (again) a favorite book, or flour handprints left from baking on the kitchen counter. They elevate the journey that is parenting. And while this year was hard for everyone, “small things” can be done daily...even in a pandemic.
This year I was reminded that I can and should be both a “big things” and a “small things” parent. In fact, I started out as a “small things parent.” When you have a NICU baby, you quickly learn about the beauty that is simplicity. Milestones in the NICU are measured in grams and milliliters. So if you are not naturally a person who notices and celebrates the smallest of victories, you soon will become one. Typically, I take the time at the end of a year to reflect upon my accomplishments, and set new intentions for the upcoming year. Since I can’t begin to envision what the future will look like, I’m going to just focus on the past for now. I don’t want to dwell on the pain of 2020, so perhaps I can look at the positives. This year gave me the gift of time that allowed me to remember that sometimes less is more. And a gift is a gift, no matter how it is wrapped.
*This post is not sponsored. This is just my honest opinion.
There are very few baby items that I still use today. But these three bath products have not only stood the test of time, but they are still things we use everyday. Watch as I tell you all about these three baby bath products.
This article originally appeared at www.infertilitytribe.com
“Everything will be ok in the end. And if it’s not ok, then it’s not the end.”
I’m not sure where I heard this quote for the first time, but soon I adopted it as my own. It became my infertility mantra. I repeated it as I gave myself my first injection. I whispered it as I rolled up my sleeve to reveal my bruised arm, black and blue from daily blood draws. I screamed it as I fell to the floor sobbing after receiving yet another negative outcome. There were so many times over the course of my 3.5-year infertility battle that I didn’t believe those words, and yet I clung to them because at times it felt like it was all I had left.
Infertility took a lot from me. Receiving an unexplained infertility diagnosis at 30 years old was a shock. I had no medical or family history to suggest that I would have trouble conceiving. In fact, by all accounts, my family was full of fertile people who became pregnant with little effort. For 3.5 years I lived in the secret gray area that undergoing fertility treatment creates. An in-between state where the present is a painful series of failures and the future seems hopeless. Where your every thought, plan, and dollar goes toward a dream that might not ever come true.
Infertility robbed me of my joy. I am ashamed to say how hard it was to be happy for my dear friends and family when they announced a pregnancy. It’s not that I didn’t want that for them—it’s that I wanted a turn as well. On special occasions and holidays, it was hard to celebrate when I was longing for something that was so far out of my control. It was a lonely time. I had the support of my partner, but that was it. Through the majority of my struggle to become pregnant, I didn’t have a community of women to talk to who had been through this experience.
Infertility removed the hope I had and replaced it with fear. Fear of my life looking different than I had always imagined. Fear of the worst thing continuing to happen, because once you have had such heartache you assume it will always be the norm. Infertility took up so much of my time. Years that I will never get back. Promotions that I never took, because that month it might work. Experiences that I never had because every extra dollar was earmarked for treatment. And I certainly tried them all! We started with a conservative approach, but over the years I ended up sampling a little bit of everything from multiple IUIs, to acupuncture, to exploratory surgery, and finally to multiple IVF cycles.
Yes, infertility sure takes a lot.
But it gave me something as well. It gave me the chance to be there from the very beginning. To know my children from the very start. To hold a photo of my babies when they were nothing more than a few little cells, and pure potential. To be aware of the exact moment when my child’s life began.
Infertility gave me perseverance. I have been brought to my knees from the physical pain that is infertility treatments. I have searched my body for an unbruised spot to give myself yet another injection. I have sat in my car and cried over bad news on my lunch break from work. And yet, I never stopped trying. I never felt ok with the way it was, so I knew it wasn’t the end. So month after month, year after year I picked myself up and did it all again.
Infertility gave me the gift of perspective. When I finally did get pregnant after a second IVF cycle, I found out I was having identical twins. I was overjoyed and terrified. I had been dreaming of that moment for so long, and yet it was hard to relax and enjoy a high-risk pregnancy. The majority of my pregnancy was uneventful until around 27 weeks. I was admitted to the hospital for signs of early labor, and eight days later, I delivered my twins via emergency c-section. I was only 28 weeks along.
For the next two months, I had two babies in the NICU. It was so hard, but in many ways, the struggles of infertility prepared me for the humbling days in the NICU and life after discharge. If being infertile, and the treatments and heartache were what I needed to endure in order to approach parenthood from a place of gratitude, then it was all worth it. Because when it all comes unglued (and it certainly does) I can look around and smile and think I’m so grateful that I get to experience the mess, and the noise, even the tantrums. I wouldn't be where I am, or who I am without this experience. It took so much from me and yet gave me, my everything.
I know my “ending” was a happy one, with two healthy babies. I recognize that this is not always the case. But my hope for anyone dealing with the hell that is infertility is that if you are at the end of your infertility journey, you are okay with the outcome. I hope you are at a place or are working towards a place, of peace with how it all turned out, and excitement for the wonderful life that lies ahead...with or without children.
This article was originally published at www.handtohold.org
My preemies’ first “outfit” was not a family heirloom or a super cozy sleeper. It wasn’t even something that I picked out.
The first thing that my babies wore were tiny knitted hats of soft pastel yarn that had to be handmade by a volunteer because their heads were too small to fit store-bought hats. A hat was the only thing my babies could wear for weeks after their birth.
Something that I didn’t realize before my twins were born at 28 weeks and admitted to the hospital, was that babies in the NICU do not wear clothes. The sickest and smallest of babies are only in specially designed preemie diapers, the tiniest diapers you can even imagine, that are still too big for some. They don’t need clothing for warmth, as they are in a climate-controlled incubator. The clothing only gets in the way of the leads, wires, and tubes that are necessary to keep these little ones alive.
Seeing my bare babies was another reminder of how this wasn’t typical. It was a visual cue that I was not a normal parent, and I couldn’t do the very basic task of dressing my babies.
Before our NICU experience, I never thought my babies’ first piece of clothing would be considered a milestone. I had thought about finding a special outfit for leaving the hospital. But I never thought I would be so emotional over a tiny white cotton button-up sleeper until the day I arrived at the NICU and saw my babies in clothing for the first time. When a NICU baby is finally allowed to wear clothes, it is a big deal! It meant that they were getting better, growing, and requiring less medical intervention. It meant that I would be able to change their clothes, and for a brief moment, I would feel like a normal parent. I could momentarily forget about the wires and tubes, the monitors and machines, and just enjoy this nurturing moment with my child.
Years later, I still have the tiny preemie clothes that my kids wore in the NICU. I keep thinking that I should donate them, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. They are so much more than sleepers and onesies, they are a symbol of all my family has been through. And it’s not just those preemie clothes that are special to me. Anytime they grow out of a pair of jeans or size up in a new shirt, I’m reminded how far they have come and how much they have accomplished just by being alive.
There are certain milestones that every parent dreams about, like the day their child starts walking or says their first word. But if you are the parent of a NICU baby, you quickly learn about a whole new set of milestones that you never even knew existed. Milestones in the NICU are measured in grams and milliliters. So if you are not naturally a person who notices and celebrates the smallest of victories, you soon will become one.
A NICU baby has a lot of milestones to conquer well before the first steps are even considered. And while drinking their first bottle or wearing clothes for the first time might not seem like something special, for NICU babies, these accomplishments are sure something to celebrate.
While it is impossible to prepare emotionally for having a baby in the NICU, at the very least, you can feel that you have what you need to make it through each day.
I never packed an overnight bag for the birth of my babies. At 27 weeks, I was put on unexpected bedrest and spent the next 8 days at the hospital. I was admitted after a routine OB appointment, so I didn’t have time to collect items that would have made my stay more bearable. On the 8th day, my twins were born prematurely and taken to the NICU where they stayed for the next 2 months. During that time, I developed an all-day everyday NICU routine. The hospital that was caring for my babies had a “traditional” NICU that didn’t allow for a private room or space for parents to stay the night. It became a daily task to pack a bag with the things I would need to survive the day at the NICU. Here was what helped me care for myself and my babies during this time.
Life in the NICU was stressful, so I made sure my outfit was not. Comfortable pants that didn’t rub against my c-section scar were a must. I also wore oversized shirts or tops that could be unbuttoned to facilitate kangaroo care and frequent pumping sessions. I always wore freshly laundered clothes to help prevent the spread of germs to the NICU.
There is a lot of important information to keep track of in the NICU. I had a small notebook that I used to jot down questions I wanted to ask the health care staff. I also used this book to record my babies’ milestones and accomplishments. There are also several organizations that make journals specifically for the NICU experience that are great to have around.
The birth of my twins certainly didn’t go as I had expected, but these were still memories that I wanted to remember. I used my phone to snap photos, and occasionally I would bring my DSLR camera into the NICU as well. I guarantee you will be so happy to have those photos to look back on.
As a pumping mama, I needed a constant supply of food and water. I didn’t want to leave the floor to go to the cafeteria, and sugary snacks from the vending machine left me unsatisfied. I packed healthier snack options and lots of water.
After hours at the hospital, I sometimes felt disheveled. At those times, I really appreciated having a small bag of toiletry items like a comb, toothbrush, and facial wipes. I also always needed chapstick. The hospital air can be extremely drying.
When I was pumping, I never left the house without my supplies. The hospital provided a pump, but I needed to bring everything else like an insulated bag, a hands-free bra, and my pump parts (valves, flanges, connectors, etc.). I often needed to pump multiple times while at the hospital, so having cleaning wipes formulated especially to clean pump parts were useful.
One of the ways I passed the time at the bedside was by reading to my babies. On days when I was unable to hold them, it was nice to be able to strengthen our bond by reading. It also was a nice distraction from the stressors of the NICU.
While it is impossible to prepare emotionally for having a baby in the NICU, at the very least, you can feel that you have what you need to make it through each day.
"Try to do one thing each day that can’t be undone."
It's been 160 days. Over 5 months of trying to squeeze our whole lives into one house. I must admit I have noticed that as the months of COVID have continued on, without an end in sight, I have more and more moments of disconnect. There are times, when I just want to zone out in front of the TV or scroll mindlessly on social media. So I do! And then I remember something my Grandmother told me. She said, try to do one thing each day that can’t be undone. She wasn’t talking about cleaning or organizing, she was talking about connecting. Spending time with your children, listening to them, being present and making simple memories are the things that will remain forever. So here are a few of the easy things we have been doing to connect and enjoy this gift of time together, without ever leaving home.
Read a book
My kids love to read or listen to a book. While we are at home we have been reading lots of books out loud together. Many of the classics are readily available electronically through your local library. It’s fun to introduce my kids to books I enjoyed when I was young. If you have a reluctant reader/listener, try a “library lunch.” Read a book while everyone eats their food!
It just feels like a good time to bake together. Find a new recipe online, or dig out an old family favorite. Measuring out the ingredients counts as homeschool math...right?
Have a picnic
Preparing 3 meals a day at home can make mealtime monotonous. But a picnic is a surefire way to mix things up. Of course, eating outside is always nice, but if the weather isn’t cooperating, or you don’t have a private outdoor space consider an indoor picnic. Spread a blanket on the floor and eat in your child’s bedroom, or put a sheet over the dining table to create a tent and eat inside it.
Throw a “house” party
If your family is missing social gatherings, throw a party at home. Make up a reason to celebrate or have a good old-fashioned tea party. Plan the menu, make the decorations out of things you already have at home, and pick out the perfect party playlist. Consider inviting stuffed animals, dolls, and other assorted toys as your guests.
Have an at-home sleepover
Make bedtime fun, by having a sleepover at home. My kids love sleeping in each other’s rooms, and this is a great time to allow that. Or gather up your sleeping bags and blow up the air mattress and have the whole family sleep together in the living room. Your kids will love it!
At a time like this when so much seems out of our control, prioritizing connection with our kids is so important. Try to set aside a bit of time each day to connect with your kids and make a memory that cannot be undone.
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.