September 29, 2016

Seeing the Grace in our NICU Memories | Levi's Birth Story Part 3

September is Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Awareness Month. 

Can I be honest for a moment? 
For months after Levi came home, memories of the NICU still left a bitter taste in my mouth. 
Yes, even though in the grand scheme 15 days is not that long. Yes, even though he was a 34 weeker that didn't have many complications. Yes, even though in comparison to many other NICU journeys, we had it easy. Yes, even though I often felt guilty about it.

I couldn't really talk about it or look through pictures without feeling my stomach sink or having my heart race. With some friends, I would begin talking about some of our negative experiences with nurses here and there and I could feel myself spiraling out of control. Because here's the reality....
The NICU is not what you dream about. 

You dream about having that disgustingly gooey but so perfectly fresh baby laid right on your chest after they leave that home you've carried them in. You dream about those first snuggles, first feeds, first cries and sleepy faces... all right there in that first hour. In that hospital bed where your world changed. You dream about visitors coming and passing him or her around while you glow with pride that this child is yours. You dream of spending one or two nights of making sure they're just fine and loading that precious gift up in the carseat to leave. You dream of spending those next weeks in perfect (sleepless) bliss cherishing every noise, movement, and moment. 
Or at least that's what I dreamed of.

But that perfect little vision I had quickly changed. (Read Levi's birth story from the beginning here.) I saw sweet Levi come out, heard him cry, and watch Joel cut the cord. From there the NICU team began checking him out in the room attached to mine. They first thought I would get to hold him but he was struggling with breathing a little so they had to put a CPAP on him. I remember watching from afar as Joel, my sister, and mom all oohed and ahhed and insisting on them bringing me a picture. One of the neonatologists brought him over so I could get a good look, touch his precious skin, and seemingly in a blink... he was gone. Off to the NICU. 

The next 15 hours were harder than any part of pregnancy or labor. See Levi was in the NICU but because of my medicine I was stuck in my bed in my room. Shortly after they took him Joel was able to go be with him, do skin to skin with him, and send me tons of pictures. He was able to take family back to see him as well. I was so thankful that they could be with him but not having a panic attack in those several hours was a struggle. I watched the webcam the NICU gave us, kept Christmas movies playing, tried to sleep, and prayed a ton! I don't think time had ever moved so slow. 
It was just past midnight when I hit 12 hours past labor and could have my medicine turned off. From there, it was an hour before I could get up or eat, then time to transfer to my postpartum room and scarf down food, all while trying to get out the door and wheeled to the NICU. By the time we got there and got scrubbed in, it was 2:45am by the time I was reunited with my sweet boy and after 3 before he was in my arms and my heart could finally settle.

Then our norm for the next 15 days began. There were highs and lows. Good days and bad days. Easy nurses and difficult ones. Our days followed much of the same patterns...

Watch the webcam on and off all night.
Wake up and call to see how he is.
Pump and pump and pray for a friendly and familiar nurse.
Try not to have a melt down before getting to the NICU.

Go through three hour cycles....
 being excited to change his diaper, 
praying while we took his temperature, 
attempting to nurse or holding while he was fed through NG,
being as inconspicuous as possible trying to get more hold time,
setting a time to make myself actually put him down,
pump, pump, pump,
guzzle water in the family room and try to eat a snack,
take a quick bathroom break,
all to start the 3 hour schedule again.

In the midst of all of that...
Growing in the ability to advocate.
Bonding with nurses and other NICU families.
Learning about bili lights and NG tubes and respiratory care plans.
Longing for a little quite in a room of sooo many monitors.
Appreciating visitors like never before.
Picking up serious photography skills on working around a box.
Repeatedly denying the need for a break to just go out and meander.
Trying to focus on the good and the progress not the setbacks and the tubes.
Hating to but having to leave him at night to sleep.

Some moments were easier than others. Sometimes it felt easy to be thankful and positive while other times I felt like a bawling mess who might snap on a nurse. Mornings were harder on me than nights, as I felt like I couldn't get to him fast enough. I didn't do well with getting 4 hour nurses but every now and then it worked in our favor. It was a 15 day rollercoaster ride but at the end of the day every day Joel would remind me of the progress, of the people we had praying, and talk about how in "x amount of days we'd surely be home."

It's so different than anything you expect to experience in those first few days with baby. As if your hormones aren't out of control enough already... it's easy to become a complete mess. I tried to take it moment by moment, nurse by nurse, day by day. And in the wake of coming home, the NICU still seemed frustrating sometimes.

But now 9 months later, I don't see it quite the same.

Of course I still feel a little jealous when I see friends taking their babies home right away. 
I mentally plan for ways I would advocate differently if we ever ended up in the same situation again. 
I pray it's a journey we'll never have to walk again.
And I still have a hard time comprehending that the baby in those pictures was my crazy little Levi. 

But now I see the grace.

 I see the grace that got us through every single moment.
The grace that calmed my breaths and settled my heart in the midst of a total meltdown.
The grace that didn't let me lose it on the nurse who snuck and put an NG tube in or the one who set us back 3 days or the one who wouldn't let me hold my son.... but instead helped me express calmly my frustrations to the ones who could do something about it.
The grace to be thankful we live in an era and a country with NICUs and incubators.
The grace that lets me now look back and appreciate the sacred moments that happened there....

The first time I got to hold my baby against my chest and breathe in his precious smell.
The countless hours I got to look at him without any pressure to fold laundry or clean house.
The excitement of getting to tell him good morning.
The joy of letting him eat from me the milk my body had produced.
The bonding with friends that will last a lifetime.
The celebrating of what might seem to be the tiniest of milestones.
The fascination of sweet baby smiles.
The closeness with Jesus that comes from needing Him every single minute and Him being right there.

It's taken me 3 days and numerous attempts of writing this post that would typically take me maybe 30 minutes. But I'm thankful it took that long.... because the interruptions were from this little guy who looks to me as his playmate, diaper changer, snuggle buddy, and milk machine. I love being his mommy and am thankful for this responsibility.

I know that not every NICU journey ends so quickly or with such a wonderful outcome. But I hope that whatever your NICU journey looked like, you can somehow look back and be thankful for the moments there. The precious ones with your little one that are sacred moments. Probably not moments you'd ever want to relive and not moments you planned on having... but sacred moments with your little one that are worth remembering and smiling at. Because they helped your family get to where you are now. They helped shape you and change you. They made you appreciate things many would take for granted. 

Remember and smile... because above all else... they were moments with your baby.
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Pictures from my delivery and immediately after were taken by the lovely Stephanie Leight of Luminosity Photography.

August 26, 2016

Our Little Levi | 8 Months

Today our sweet boy is 8 months old. I try to soak it in. I try to make it go slower but it's just impossible. He's changing so much every week now and while I love watching, I feel like I can't blink without missing something.

We aren't sure how much Levi weighs currently but he's definitely growing and filling out. He's nearing the end of his 3-6 month clothing and I'm pretty excited for his fall wardrobe. He still loves to nurse but food his is his most favorite thing right now. He pretty much eats anything we eat and if sharing is not desired then hiding is necessary. He's got a few teeth poking through now and seems to be working on another one. 

He can sit up on his own pretty well minus the occasional throw backwards and he's trying so hard to crawl. He hasn't been successful yet but between rolling and turning in circles he can pretty much get to whatever he wants as long as it's not directly in front of him. Joel is in some big rush for him to crawl and walk. I, on the other hand, am in no hurry at all. 

He still loves his exersaucer but has taken a liking to some new toys over the last couple months.... 
his baby piano, Scout the dog, nursery rhyme keys, and a dumbbell rattle. He also likes when cousin Cole shares his big boy (2yo) toys with him like monster trucks and kid hammers. Still the most entertaining thing to him is to simply watch people and get them to interact with him. He's also a pretty big fan of our huge doggie.

We've spent the last couple months trying to enjoy summer as much as we can with as hot as it's been. Levi has loved splashing in the pools of friends and family, spending days on the beach (under the tent of course), traveling to VA to work with Momma and plan Auntie Kate's wedding, eating ice cream here and there, and having lots of inside play dates to beat the heat. 

This week has been a bit of a tough one as he picked up the hand, foot, and mouth virus over the weekend. He's not been feeling thee best and we're both getting a little stir crazy trying to keep our germs to ourselves. However, we're hoping it will pass quickly and we can start packing for our week at the beach and Auntie Kate's wedding.

Oh how we've loved these 8 precious months!

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July 5, 2016

Our Little Levi | 6 months

Last week Levi turned 6 months old! It's been an eventful couple months and mama is still wishing time would just SLOW DOWN! (No I haven't watched that music video because I'm not prepared for the monsoon that would come after it.) 

Levi is now 13lbs 14oz and 24.25in long. He's still nursing pretty frequently but has definitely gotten more efficient making our time stuck on the couch less and less! He's started eating some solid foods and loves sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, and just about anything else you'll give him. He's been in 3-6 month clothing for a little over a month now and is in size 3 diapers.

He loves to play in his exersaucer and still greatly enjoys his treetop playmat. He LOVES people and talks and smiles with just about anyone who will pay him attention. He's started to recognize faces and will light up when he sees Joel or I from across the room. The belly laughing has begun and I couldn't be more obsessed. Those moments are probably my favorite in our days. He's rolling from side to side, is close to sitting up solo, and can scoot off his playmat. He usually sleeps a good 6-8 hour stretch at night but those 2 teeth making their way in are messing with that here and there. 

In the last two months....

Levi was dedicated at church.
Blessed Joel and I in celebrating our first Mother's and Father's days.
Had his first few trips to the beach.
Celebrated his cousin's first birthday.
Welcomed a new baby cousin.
Got a visit from Nana, Auntie Kate, and Uncle Jack.
Experienced his first VBS.
And continued to be loved to the max and fill our hearts with so so much joy. 

We praise God for these six glorious months.

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June 28, 2016

Levi's Birth Story | Labor & Delivery

Yeah, yeah... I didn't plan on it being this long before I published the 2nd part. While part of me wishes I'd been a little more on the ball with this, most of me is just thankful the abundant amount of snuggles that keep blogging from being anywhere close to my top 5 priorities right now. :) If you missed part 1 and want to know what led us up to the induction, you can find that HERE. 


I had taken a shower, walked around the room, and eaten a breakfast tray from the cafeteria when the induction orders came through on Christmas Eve. It was a little past noon when the nurses and the Maternal Fetal Medicine doc came in to turn on the Mag (because of my preeclampsia) and insert the Foley Bulb (used to help open the cervix in an induction). I had to get a new IV because the one I had from triage was giving me issues and then it took 3 tries to get the Foley Bulb in but around 1pm my induction was all set. 

It was explained to me that the Foley Bulb would fall out once I was dilated to 3-4cm and at that point they would start Pitocin to get contractions going. The nurse warned me that it would likely make me really crampy (which it did) and that it could take anywhere from 4-12 hours to complete it's job.

One of my closest friends stopped by in that waiting period and it was such a breath of fresh air. Joel arrived within a couple hours after getting our doggie set and packing up a few last minute needs for me and him. He had his first of 3 back to back WaWa meals (it was Christmas) for dinner and I had my first of many cups of Jello (one of the only 2 foods I was allowed while on Mag). We watched Christmas movies on and off, tried to rest, and attempted to prepare. 

I was feeling pretty calm and at peace throughout the evening. I was trying not to get worked up about all of the possibilities to come and just be in the moment. Looking back, the heaviest weight I had that evening was knowing that because I was on Mag and Levi would be required to go to the NICU, I would not get to spend those first hours with him. I asked a few close friends to pray for me about that and then just tried to relax.

I dozed on and off waiting for the Foley Bulb to fall out. At around 2:30am on Christmas Day the doctor on call came and said I was ready for Pitocin. I dozed back off but not for long. Within an hour or two the contractions were coming strong enough to wake me and I would try to sleep in between. The frequency and strength only intensified and by 6am there really wasn't much sleep happening.

At some point in the next couple hours, the new on call doctor came in. It was Christmas Day now and the practices had teamed up for a holiday rotation and I had no idea who this woman was. Up until this point everyone coming in had prepared me that this would be a long process since my body had not started labor naturally and because Mag usually fights labor. Many had said it would likely be Saturday (the 26th) before he was born... But this new doctor was in a hurry. She came in ready to give me an epidural, break my water, and crank the Pitocin. Her words were "We'll have a baby today one way or another. Either this induction will work or you'll have to have a C-section.
Aye aye aye. My heart sank. 

Thank God for my sweet nurse who was willing to hear my thoughts and advocate on my behalf. When the doctor came back into the room she let her know that we were not in a hurry. Because of the meds, I was stable and baby was stable and breaking my water was going to put me on a time restraint that I wasn't ready for. So she checked my dilation and I was at 3cm. She said she'd be back in a little while to check in.

My contractions picked up and I was mainly having back labor. All I wanted to do was walk around or get in the shower but unfortunately that wasn't allowed with Mag. I knew I could go ahead and get the epidural but I also knew that it wouldn't help me progress at all. Not to mention that once I had that I'd be in less pain but fighting the anxiety that I get with being numb. So we set the bed up as far as it would go into "shoe shiner's" position (the name a nurse had given it) and Joel was champ at rubbing my back every time a contraction came on. My mom, sister, and stepdad arrived around 1pm and my mom took some turns to give Joel's hand a break. 

For the better part of Christmas Day, my contractions were 2-3 minutes apart and lasting for 60-90 seconds. When the doctor came back in to check me again, I thought for sure I was at 5 or 6 at least. 

Nope. Still only at 3. Consistent contractions all day long and no progression. The nurses said this wasn't uncommon with Mag and especially with not being able to walk around. The doctor thought I needed to have my water broken before I was going to progress any farther.

Most everyone left the room to prepare for the next steps to get going and for the first time in this process, I lost it. It was just me, Joel, and the nurse and I sobbed. So many emotions all at once. I am so thankful for my compassionate husband and the sweet nurse I had. I am so thankful that they both recognized I just needed a few minutes of a good cry and didn't try to tell me to "get it together" or insist that "I could do this." In the midst of my good wail, I begged God to make it clear to me what to do and to please let this labor progress. 

A few minutes later there was a strange turn of events. Call me crazy, but I really believe the Lord changed my doctor's mind. She came back in and gave me 2 choices. The first was to proceed with her original plan (epidural, break water, crank pitocin). The second was a "pit rest." This would mean they would turn the Pitocin off for 5-6 hours to give my body a break from the contractions and we would pick back up at 1am to try again. Hal-le-lu-jah! 

Needless to say, the decision was clear to me. Physically and emotionally, I needed a break. I also knew that if I could restart early in the morning, my chances were greater for getting to the next on call doc who would hopefully have a different birth philosophy. So at around 8pm the Pitocin was turned off.

Joel and I watched Elf and both tried to get some rest but my IV was making rest really difficult. The amount and type of meds being pushed in it were causing issues and my arm was red and swollen and in so much pain. My night shift nurse that had came on (who was such a Godsend) was concerned. She babied my arm with ice packs and elevation but nothing was working. Since this was my 4th IV in 2 days, she called in the IV team to look for a new vein. She tried a few places but nothing held and they all suggested a PICC line. (Info in the link but long story short: It's not something I really wanted.) I was a little relieved when were informed that the PICC team stops at 11pm... it was 11:10. Problem was, that left with us with only the bad IV that was giving us so much trouble. My nurse pushed for my veins to get a break so they turned off all the meds and only had fluids running to give my arm a break. My nurse put my bed in the most comfy position possible when you're pregnant (a position I later learned only she knew how to do... but she had been an OB nurse for 30+ years) and finally I got a couple hours of sleep.

During that sleep, they'd got all my meds back going and the Pitocin was restarted at 2am. The next few hours progressed much like the day before but this time as the contractions picked up, my back was shot. The day before I had been able to handle the contractions all day because I would get through the pain of one, have 1-2 minutes of no pain, and then be ready for the next one. But because of my back labor the whole day before, I was sore and getting no relief in between. I knew it was time for an epidural.... not what I wanted. But what I needed if I was going to deliver this baby vaginally while on pitocin without the freedom to walk or get on my birthing ball. 

All around the same time that my nurse put in my request, the doctors were switching out. The new doctor came in I took a big sigh of relief. Calm, compassionate, patient. What an answered prayer. At this point, everyone agreed that it was best to go ahead and get the epidural, break my water, and see if we could get things moving. 

I was so nervous about the epidural but many of my fears were relieved when the anesthesiologist shared that mine was her final epidural of her 38 year career. Needless to say, she got it right on the first try. I still hated the weird feeling of it shooting down my leg and had to pray through the anxiety constantly of feeling numb and not having total control of my muscles but it was one step closer to getting me to see Levi's face. 

I was at 4cm when they broke my water around 7am. From there we'd just have to wait and hope and pray that my body would progress. Another huge gift from God happened not long after my water was broken. As if the new doctor didn't bring enough relief, in walked the midwife who worked with him. When she introduced herself, I literally thought I might cry. Because it was Christmas weekend and my midwife has 3 kids, there was no way she could be there.... but having Jennifer was the next best thing. She was in my room a good chunk of the morning and put me a such ease! Having her and my nurse Monica both there made me feel so confident about the hours to come.

The coming hours really all started to blur. I hated the way my body felt as the epidural kicked in. I had to pray through anxiety as the tingling and numbness came farther and farther up my torso. Thank God, Joel and my mom were there to talk to me down every time I got panicky. Though the pain relief was really nice, I had one spot about the size of a tennis ball on my lower back that the epidural didn't take. So with ever contraction I felt a crazy amount of pain in that one spot. Because of that I couldn't lay and get rest. We got the bed situated all the way up in a sitting position again. That was the position I was in most of the time and it allowed Joel and sometimes Mom to rub the spot on my back that was in so much pain. 

The team came in to check me at some point and I had progressed to 6cm. At this point, we called our friend who would be photographing the birth to let her know it might be time to head our way. My mom headed over to Babies R Us to pick up some preemie clothes but she wasn’t out for long. I started feeling a lot of pressure and the midwife came in to check me. She was surprised to find I had moved to 8 in a very short time and thought he may be coming out faster than we originally thought. My mom rushed back over and our sweet photographer friend was in a panic worrying she might miss it. 

The doctor came in to see if I was possibly close to pushing and found that I had actually regressed. It was a huge disappointment when after a second opinion, they all agreed I was back at a 6. My team had never seen that before. They gave me instructions not to bear down as they thought that might have been the cause and assured me I would progress back quickly. All of this happened around 11am. By this time my mom and friend photographing were in the room taking deep breaths that they hadn’t missed anything.

It didn’t take long for the crazy pressure to return. My nurse and midwife both checked and agreed I was around 8 or 9. They told me to let them know when I felt like I had to push even in between contractions. They hadn’t been out of the room for 5 minutes when the pressure got insane. I could no longer sit on my bottom and I turned over and got on my knees on the bottom part of the bed. This was a big no-no considering I was on mag AND had an epidural, so naturally everyone freaked out on me. But looking back, the midwife thinks that was just the position I needed to put Levi in perfect position. When she came back into the room to check me she agreed it was time to push!

So Joel grabbed one leg and my mom grabbed the other and we began the final stretch of getting that sweet boy out. We pushed through a couple contractions and the fetal monitor fell off of Levi’s head. They called in the doctor to be there just in case there was an issue. The NICU team was all set up and waiting to the side as well. I pushed for roughly 15 minutes and through 3 or 4 contractions. I don’t remember much about this time….

The midwife asking my mom what color hair she thought he had.
My sister (who wanted to only stand in the corner) being at the end of the bed watching her nephew arrive.
Joel telling me over and over that I could do this.
A nurse I had never met coaching me on what to do.
Pain and pressure and pure excitement.

And then I heard that cry…. 

oh what crazy joy came when I heard that cry. 
Our sweet Levi was born at 12:15pm.

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May 6, 2016

This Mother's Day I'll stand, but I'll still think of you.

This year I'll stand, but still I'll think of you.

Sunday morning will come and I'll wake with excitement, but still I'll think of you.
I'll receive a card and gift with joy, but still I'll think of you.
I'll hear Happy Mother's Day with so much glow, but still I'll think of you.
When they call for Moms I'll stand with pride, but still I'll think of you.
I'll hold my flower or bookmark with a smile, but still I'll think of you.
I'll go to lunch with my family with full arms and a full heart, but still I'll think of you.
I'll praise God for my son with thanksgiving, but still I'll think of you.
I'll laugh and I'll cry and cherish that day, but still I'll think of you.

I'll think of you, the woman still longing to hold a baby in your womb.
I'll think of you, the woman who's lost her child far far too soon.
I'll think of you, the woman who's standing but still holds hurts just the same.
I'll think of you, who's missing your own dear mom more than ever on this day.
I'll think of you, who's taken in the children of others but still longs for one with your eyes.
I'll think of you, who's sitting and longs to be standing or stayed home to hide your cries.

After two Mother's Days of longing to stand with all  those Momma's, this year I will stand. I will enjoy this day and be so very grateful. Being a mom is one of my greatest joys in life and I want to soak in every bit of being a Momma on this beautiful day.... But I want you to know that you're not forgotten. You are remembered. You are loved. And you are prayed for. 

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You can read my letter to Mommas-in-waiting from last Mother's Day here.
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