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“Posting” Our First Father’s Day Memories

Father's-Day-2013

Photo taken by Karen Hendrix

I might be a bit biased, but this beautiful baby girl has the most amazing Dad.  To celebrate Father’s Day this year, I was inspired by Paige’s “Post-It Pictures” idea on The Dating Divas.  Instead of leaving general fun captions, however, I tailored each message to be a specific reason explaining why James is a fantastic Dad.  My project started with these guys…

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…which were turned into 65  little love notes to display on each picture of James or Olivia in our house.  The heart conversation bubble post-it notes were just perfect for this project!  If the picture was of Olivia, I tried to think up something fun that she might say or list how she already takes after her Dad in some small way.

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When James walked in the door, he found this little grouping that explained all the fun:

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The whole process of writing and placing notes took a little longer than I expected but it was so meaningful to walk down memory lane, focus on how our little family has grown in the past couple of months, and make predictions about the future.

Here’s a mini tour of where some of the little messages where placed:

In the Dining Room

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On the Refrigerator

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In the Entryway

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In Olivia’s Room

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James loved the fact that I incorporated a challenge into this Father’s Day gift.  He could only open up a final card once he found all the hearts!

Cheers to all the fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers celebrating this special day!

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Father’s Day Card Ideas

Last year, I was newly pregnant when Father’s Day rolled around.  I wanted to do something special for James to mark the day so I created this card inspired by a photo I found on Pinterest:

Father's Day Card Father's Day Card 3 Father's Day Card 2

I was thrilled that one of the talented graphic designers working with The Dating Divas agreed to translate this card into an easy printable for our readers.  To see how the project turned out, check out this post: To Our Mr. Fix-It on Father’s Day.

Father's Day Printable

 

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First Mother’s Day

Mother's Day

Photo taken by Karen Hendrix Photography

I love you so much, Olivia.  I can’t wait to meet the beautiful, confident, caring, and intelligent woman you become.  In the meantime, I’m cherishing your sweet smiles and little gurgles, as well as sneak peaks into your blossoming personality.  You are already so independent!

We spent our first Mother’s Day at my parent’s lake house and strolled through a garden of irises.  Your Dad gave me the most perfect little gift in honor of our big day: he crafted a beautiful rose out of paper.

Mother's Day Paper Rose

Mother's Day Gift Idea

What a beautiful reminder of my sweet Olivia Rose.

 

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A Typical Day in the Early Weeks

Sweet-Baby

We were blessed in countless ways during the first couple weeks after my early delivery and Olivia’s release from the hospital.  That being said, the beginning weeks were hard, especially since I was attempting to balance a pumping schedule with Olivia’s care.  To establish my milk supply, I diligently tried to pump between 8 and 10 times a day.  For the most part, we let Olivia set the schedule in terms of when she wanted to eat and nap.  In case you’re curious, here’s a glimpse into how our day went:

12:30 -12:53 am: Last pumping session of the night followed by a trip downstairs to refrigerate milk and clean pump supplies.

1:30 -1:50 am: Olivia is up and hungry.  After being changed, she eats about 60 mL.

4:03 -4:40 am: Olivia is changed and fed.

6:30 -6:49 am: Pumped and cleaned supplies.

7:30 am: James is up, showered, and feeding Olivia while I catch a little more sleep.

7:57 am: James takes the dogs out.

8:30 am: Pumped and cleaned supplies.

8:50 am: Quick cup of decaf coffee and bowl of oatmeal.  Re-swaddled Olivia as she’s escaped from her blankets.

9 -10 am: Mix of holding Olivia, unloading the dishwasher, responding to emails, and putting a load of laundry in the machine.

10 -10:45 am: Olivia is changed and fed.  Time for a new outfit.

10:45 -11:03 am: Pumped and cleaned supplies.

11:03 -11:45 am: Took some pictures of Olivia to update her album for the family.  Loaded pics on my computer for editing.  Placed next load of laundry in the washer.

11:45 -12:30 pm:  Olivia has started to root again.  Finished combining refrigerated breast milk.  Changed and fed Olivia.

12:30 -1 pm: Pumped and cleaned supplies.

1 -2 pm: Waited for the home health nurse to arrive.  She weighed Olivia and we discussed common newborn issues.

1 -2:35 pm: Olivia is changed and fed.

2:35 -3 pm: Pumped and cleaned supplies.

3 pm: Edited photos in Photoshop and loaded them to a Picasa folder.

3:30 pm: Tummy time for Olivia is interrupted by dogs barking at the door.  UPS delivered a package.

4:30 pm: Pumped and cleaned supplies.

5 -6:30 pm: Olivia is changed and fed.  James returned from work.  He took the baby after she ate to give me a chance to fold laundry, open mail, and pick up around the house.

6:30 pm: Pumped and cleaned supplies.

7 pm: Dinner at my parents.  Olivia eats again.

8:30 pm: Pumped and cleaned supplies.

9 pm: Olivia is changed and fed.  James worked on his computer while holding Olivia.  They both drift to sleep while I’m making a to-do list on the couch next to them.

Bottles

10:30 pm: Pumped and cleaned supplies.  James washed and sanitized the massive bucket of bottles for the day.

11 -12:30 am: James worked a little more on his computer while I read and got ready for my last pump at 12:30 am.

I never will forget how grueling the first 2 months were for our little new family.  James really had to step up in terms of taking an active role in Olivia’s care, even at 2 and 4am!  Not only was I absolutely exhausted, but I was also battling some pretty significant pain issues related to pumping and attempts at breastfeeding.  I am so grateful for his support, presence, and attitude that “we are in this together.”

After pumping for 5 months for Olivia, I am in awe of mamas that pump exclusively for their babes throughout the first year of life.  It is truly a commitment- not only on a physical level, but also in terms of time!  I read somewhere that you tend to develop a love/hate relationship with your pump…  I couldn’t have said it better myself… I loved the fact that the machine was my ticket to giving Olivia nutritious meals packed with my antibodies and other protective cells.  I absolutely HATED the process- it is awkward, sometimes painful, boring, noisy, and absolutely DEVOID of the typical bonding moments that accompany traditional nursing.  Trying to calm an upset baby while hooked up to a contraption that keeps her at arms length is not always easy.  Feeling like you are missing out on the special bond created during nursing that you’ve read about in countless books is utterly heartbreaking at times.

Despite the moments of unpleasantness and uncertainty, I am so grateful for everything that our experience has taught us.  I am now even more keenly aware of how important it is to enter into every situation with an open and compassionate heart that focuses on savoring joy.

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5 Months After the Special Care Unit

5 Months After the NICU

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10 Ways to Help a New Mom of a Preemie

I was overwhelmed by the love and support given to us after Olivia’s early arrival.  So many people wanted to know how to help our family during this difficult transition.  Asking and receiving help, especially when you are still processing so many raw emotions and your mind feels scattered, is complicated.  On the one hand, you don’t want to feel like a burden and aren’t even sure of what you need.  On the other, you recognize that your family is quite literally in a crisis where all the “unknowns” can breed an overwhelming and isolating case of fear.

I’ve thought a lot about the very early days of Olivia’s arrival- what worked for us, how we struggled, and the small gestures of support from family and friends that really made a big difference.  We didn’t have hardly ANYTHING prepared before Olivia’s arrival.  While not an exhaustive list, here are several suggestions for helping a new mama of a preemie:

10 Ways to Help a Mom of a Preemie

1.  Offer to prepare dinners or freezer meals.

Several friends prepared meals for us- I honestly don’t know what I would have done with these beautiful care packages.  In addition to shuffling back and forth to the hospital, James went back to work so he could take some time off when she was discharged.  In the meantime, I attempted to pump every 3 hours to establish a milk supply.  It was incredibly helpful not to worry about what we were going to eat at night.

2.  Find and share educational material on preemies.

I didn’t have a clue on what to expect with a premature infant.  I turned to Pinterest to explore articles and information that might be relevant to our situation.  The website, Hand to Hold, and the blog, Preemie 101, were particularly helpful.  Unfortunately, I simply didn’t have time to read everything I wanted to in order to be an informed advocate for Olivia.  For instance, after reading The Premature Baby Book, I would have been much more insistent that we start kangaroo care with our girl sooner.  I also would have highly encouraged the hospital to use slow flow nipples when they fed Olivia a bottle to make breastfeeding attempts easier in the long run.

  • Ask if you can help find articles or books on the latest research concerning kangaroo care, feeding challenges, etc…ANYTHING relevant to preemie care.
  • If you know of another mom in the area that has gone through a similar situation, offer to connect this resource to the new mama.

3.  Provide emotional support.

For all of the support we received, there were occasional comments that really got under my skin.  In an attempt to help me focus on the positive, several nurses told me, “Wow, she would have been a 10 pound baby if she had gone to term- aren’t you glad you didn’t have to push that out?!”  I start to cringe even thinking about these words as defensive alarms blast through my brain.  First of all, my precious baby was right on track in terms of her growth and would have probably been close to 8.5 pounds at birth.  Second, I would have given ANYTHING to keep her safely protected inside of me until she was able to breathe on her own comfortably.  I would have gladly pushed out a 10 or 11-pounder if that meant I didn’t have see my girl hooked up to various machines struggling to inflate her lungs.

Some others commented, “well at least you can catch up on your sleep while Olivia is being cared for at the hospital.”  If it were only this simple. If only I didn’t feel guilty every minute we weren’t with Olivia at the hospital.  If only I didn’t have to pump every 3 hours, even in the middle of the night.  If only we weren’t in store for several “extra” weeks of sleepless nights that most parents experience.

I share these stories because words are so powerful, especially when they are directed at a hormonal and scared new mama.  I needed the people closest to me to listen to our unfolding drama and stand with me in awkwardness of waiting.  We had a LOT to be grateful for…. but, I didn’t need someone constantly reminding me to be positive, especially when we received news that one of Olivia’s newborn screenings was flagged.  Our fears and accompanying losses, including our grief over an incomplete pregnancy and the typical newborn experience, needed space to be processed and not simply dismissed because Olivia was making progress.

Our supporters were our greatest cheerleaders, celebrating our perseverance and Olivia’s milestones.  At the same time, they validated our feelings and acknowledged everything we had been through.

4.  Offer breastfeeding/pumping support.

Breastfeeding can be a challenge when dealing with a full term newborn.  It is an entirely different ballgame with a preemie.  Instead of cuddling and bonding with my newborn, I was handed a pump.  I won’t go into the full saga of how my breastfeeding story unfolded here, but I will say I was (and still am to this day) continually amazed at how much judgment exists on this particular issue from both sides.

For mama’s that choose to pump for their preemies, here are a few ideas on how to be supportive in this area:

  • Highly encourage her to rent a hospital grade pump, like the Medela Symphony, to establish a supply.  (They also make a version of this pump that is tailored for moms that are beginning to pump for preemies.)
  • Insist that a lactation specialist visually observe her pumping efforts before she leaves the hospital to make sure that the pump is working correctly and the pump flanges are the correct size.  Medela, for instance, manufactures 5 different sizes of breast shields to provide optimal comfort.  I learned the hard way that the particular brand and style of pump can make a huge difference in how effectively milk is released.
  • Ask your friend if she already has a hands free pumping bra.  If not, offer to go get one for her.
  • I didn’t have time to read The Nursing Mother’s Companion before Olivia’s birth.  Offer to read a few chapters (particularly chapters 2-4) and give her the bullet points of what to expect and what’s normal.
  • Offer to get her this supplement to help produce more milk: Motherlove More Milk.
  • Send her funny texts during her regular pumping sessions.
  • When difficulties arise, remind her multiple times that she isn’t a failure if she isn’t able to keep up with her preemie’s increasing demand.  This article might be helpful: Changing the Definition of “Nursing” Your Preemie.

5.  Provide a basket of snacks on the go.

I was incredibly hungry ALL the time when I first started pumping.  It was so handy to have the following snacks on hand: clementines, whole almonds, chocolate covered blueberries, mozzarella sticks, and my favorite wheat crackers from Trader Joe’s.  A dear friend brought us a batch of homemade brownies the day after Olivia’s birth.  What a gift!  Don’t underestimate the power of surprising a new mama with a thoughtful treat.

6.  Purchase one or two preemie outfits.

Dressing Olivia in her own clothes was a definite milestone while in the Special Care Unit.  Good friends and family gave us several adorable preemie outfits that were so essential for her tiny size.  It was so handy to have these outfits ready to go.  Changing Olivia’s diaper and dressing her in her own clothes somehow humanized our situation, even when she was still connected to so many machines.  These mundane tasks were simply NORMAL parts of being a new parents.

Any errand that a new mama doesn’t have to run is also a gift of time.  Since I didn’t need to go out looking for preemie clothing, I was able to spend more time either at the hospital or resting at home.

7.  Offer to help organize.

My parents came over one afternoon and helped us arrange furniture and hang a couple of pieces of artwork in Olivia’s nursery.  Was this a necessary action?  Absolutely not.  It was, however, immensely helpful for me in terms of feeling ready for our girl to come home from the hospital.  Clearing the clutter and restoring order to her space was incredibly healing for me.

Ask a new mama if there are any “rituals of readiness” you can help her complete.  I remember staying up late one evening to remove the tags from all the beautiful outfits we received at Olivia’s shower.  I then sacrificed several precious hours of sleep to complete a marathon of laundry to get her all of her clothes ready.  I also had to find time earlier in the day to run out and buy a baby friendly detergent.  In hindsight, asking someone to help me wash all of Olivia’s new outfits would have been extremely helpful.

8.  Explain the value of probiotics.

My doula warned me that I was particular susceptible to getting thrush on my breasts due to the multiple rounds of antibiotics they pumped through my system while I was in labor.  I truly wish that I had followed up with some research on which brands are most helpful and how much to take.  My particular case of thrush did not present itself in a typical fashion- I could have saved myself weeks of painful pumping and attempts of breastfeeding.  I had wonderful success getting rid of thrush for good after reading the 3-Day Get Rid of Thrush Cure by Rebecca Haworth.  What I loved the most: she provided recommendations on specific brands of probiotics.

9.  Be specific with your offers to help.

Take your kind offer to help one step further by being specific.  Since my focus was split in so many directions, it was hard to know exactly what I needed before I needed it.  By educating yourself on the world of preemies you can ask more targeted questions like “Do you need xyz?”   or “Can I help you with xyz?

10. Don’t underestimate the power of your responses to progress reports.

Believe it or not, it takes quite a bit of time to craft an email that provides the latest updates to family and friends.  I am so appreciative to those that responded with loving and supportive words when we sent out an progress report.  The reverse is true as well: it’s hard to forget which family members and friends were completely silent in response to such a life changing event.

Bottom line: Be responsive without any expectations.  In my own experience, I wasn’t always able to respond to emails in a timely fashion.  My thank you cards for loving care packages weren’t sent within the proper 2-week turnaround time frame.  But, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t cherish every kind word and gesture extended to our family during Olivia’s hospital stay.

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Preemie 101

With Olivia’s early arrival, we were welcomed into a brand new exclusive club: the world of preemies.  We didn’t ask for this entrance pass and I wouldn’t wish our experience on my worst enemy.  There were endless hours of waiting, grieving, worrying, and coordinating arrangements.

As a mama-to-be, I had heard countless stories of women going past their due date and trying anything to get their labors started.  I had NO CLUE how common the other extreme was!  The March of Dimes currently states that 1 in 9 women will deliver prematurely… I nearly fell out of my chair when I heard this number!  Our own qualitative research immediately validated this high prevalence.  It seemed everyone we talked to about our experience either knew someone that had delivered early or was themselves a preemie!  In my humble opinion, it seems like a knowledge gap exists in providing critical information to women on this reality.  There has to be a way to communicate this statistic so women can prepare their minds and create realistic expectations… all without creating needless worry or planting a seed of doubt into their minds that they can carry the baby to term.

Caring for a Preemie

I’ll never forget what the attending neonatalogist told us after Olivia’s delivery.  After explaining a procedure and seeing the worried looks on our faces, he stated: “Olivia will be the person she is meant to be.  She is just going to have a longer story.”  That little nugget of reassurance was such a comfort.

It quickly became clear that the medical goals for our 33 Week-er included:

Breathing easily and safely.

  • Olivia’s breathing began to deteriorate after she was born to the point she was on 70% oxygen.  The doctors immediately suggested treating her lungs with a round of surfactant, which would help keep her the tiny alveoli in her lungs from sticking together and allow her lungs to inflate more easily.
  • For the first couple of days, Olivia was hooked up to a C-PAP machine (continuous positive airway pressure).  This device delivered oxygen along with gentle pressure to keep her airways open.
  • Olivia graduated to a nasal cannula emitting high humidity before she was taken off all oxygen.
  • One of the nurses called Olivia her little hummingbird as our girl would have periods where her breathing became very rapid.  Other times, she experienced periods of apnea.  To counteract this problem, the doctors started her on a brief regimen of caffeine.  This drug had to be gradually stepped down and out of her system for at least 1 week before they considered letting her go home.

Regulating her temperature.

  • Olivia’s journey started in an open air bed with a warmer directly overhead to maintain her temperature.  When her condition stabilized, she was moved to an isolette.  This little incubator, even though it looked more intimidating, was actually a step in the right direction!  After Olivia was able to regulate her temperature, she was moved to an open air crib with frequent temperature checks.

Coordinating her suck/breathe/swallow reflex.

  • Progress in this department was SLOW.  The nursing team placed a g-tube down Olivia’s nose into her tummy relatively early so they could “gavage” her feedings or directly provide breastmilk/formula to her stomach.
  • During some of Olivia’s first attempts at bottle feeding, she only took in about 5-15 mL of fluids.  She progressively worked her way up to taking 60 mL during most feedings throughout the day.  If Olivia was awake, the nurses would allow us to attempt bottle feeding.  Any amount that she did not finish in 30 minutes was then given through the g-tube.  If Olivia didn’t finish within this critical window, the nurses explained that she would be expending too many precious calories compared to the amount she was taking from the bottle.  After Olivia’s breathing improved and she was capable of regulating her temperature, we were in a holding pattern waiting for this particular reflex to properly mature.  Some days, she took her bottle feedings like a champ.  Other days, Olivia was more interested in sleeping so many of her meals were “gavaged.”  The nurses reassured us that one day, everything would just click.  Imagine our surprise when we arrived at the hospital one day to find Olivia had pulled out her g-tube by herself!  Our spirited sweetheart was ready!
  • Thoughts in general:  I have an incredible amount of respect for this reflex.  Olivia choked two times during her feedings while I was home alone after we brought her home from the hospital.  My heart nearly jumped out of its chest from sheer panic.  Her system was still sorting out glitches in the required sequence of movements.

We are eternally grateful that Olivia’s prognosis was always positive during her time in the Special Care Unit.  We never questioned whether or not she would make it.  All in all, our experience was a CAKE WALK compared to the complications awaiting parents of other premature babies, especially micro-preemies (infants born before 26 weeks gestation or weighing less than 800 grams).  I can’t even imagine, even though I’ve had a first hand glimpse into the preemie world, the roller coaster of emotions that these parents face on a daily basis and the compounding effects of stress.

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Olivia’s Birth Story: Part 2

This post is a follow-up to Olivia’s Birth Story: Part 1.

After arriving at the hospital and facing the reality that we were going to meet our baby almost 7 weeks early, here is how our story unfolded:

The doctor checked me at 1:30am and reported that I was already at 3cm, -2 station, and 70% effaced.  At this point, they also gave me the first of 2 steroid shots designed to speed up the baby’s lung development.  Throughout the night, I continued to have gushes of amniotic fluid.  It was such a weird feeling to have these uncontrollable leaks.  I was grateful to have giant disposable pads underneath me that could be changed out quickly.

Jen, our back-up doula, arrived at 3:30am.  When she entered the room, I was resting on the side of the hospital bed while James sat against my back.  The slight bit of counter pressure was lovely as my contractions intensified.  I wasn’t sure what to expect- another stranger was entering the scene.  A scene that was supposed to be an intensely private affair where I was surrounded by familiar and loving faces.  Another stranger was going to see literally all of me.  If I thought about anything for too long, I started to feel out of control.  Any fears that I might have had quickly dissolved.  Jen became an invaluable member of our team.  She jumped right in but didn’t try to take over.  We really appreciated her warm personality and all of her helpful suggestions.

Fairly early on, this thought train started to dominate my mind:  She is coming.  The baby is coming.  We have no idea what shape she will be in.  I’ve failed her.  The only thing I can do for her is have an unmedicated birth.  If I don’t take any drugs, they won’t be passed to her.  Maybe that will help her initial rough start.  Natural childbirth is the only thing I can give at this point.

At about 3:40am, Jen suggested that I eat a little something.  I had my first Popsicle and we discussed my current nurse.  Everybody in the room was looking forward to the upcoming shift change at 7am.  This nurse was nice but very “by the book.”  She wanted me laboring in the hospital bed and was hesitant to let me move around since my monitors might need readjusting.  Any food or water was kept to a bare minimum.

At some point, we asked if the hospital had a birthing ball I could use.  They found one fairly quickly; however, it was made for a giant!  My tip toes barely touched the bottom of the floor!  By 3:50am, Jen recorded that I was sitting on the ball by the edge of the bed with my Hypnobabies soundtrack playing in the background.  She would later tell me that I was quiet and focused.  By 4:05am, she noted that my waves were becoming more intense.

Birth Story1

At 4:15 am, I used the bathroom and had the beginnings of “bloody show.”  I actually remember being disappointed that there wasn’t more- I was hoping that things would start progressing even faster.  I was ready to get things moving!

James and I slow danced to ease the discomfort of the pressure waves.  I also ate a Luna bar from my mom’s secret stash.  My Mom returned to the hospital with a few items from home that I might need, including an assortment of energy and breakfast bars.  I don’t know how I would have made it through the next couple of hours without this food contraband!  We all laughed as I quickly scarfed down these energy bars- all eyes were on the door to make sure a nurse didn’t catch me eating!

James was able to doze from 5-8 am.  During this time, I listened to Jen’s music.  I absolutely needed something in the background to focus on.  After a few rounds of classical music, it was back to listening to the Hypnobabies scripts.  Both my mom and Jen tried to provide counter pressure on my back to relieve some pain as I sat on the birthing ball.  I definitely preferred a firm touch with no rubbing motion.  Jen encouraged me to keep from scrunching up my shoulders and creating tension in my body by placing her hands firmly on my shoulders and repeating the release cue (a Hypnobabies technique to relax quickly and fully).

7am: Ate another Popsicle and was introduced to our new nurse, Emily.  Emily was such a gift- she basically left us alone the entire time but was on call if we needed anything.  She didn’t get bent out of shape if the monitor lost its signal as I was changing positions.  She let Jen readjust my belts.

7- 7:40am- I preferred to stand at this point.  I quickly ate another contraband item: a breakfast blueberry bar.

James woke up shortly after.  I was so happy that he was able to rest but really glad that he was back in this with me.  We stood and slow danced through the waves.  It seemed like the contractions came closer together when I was standing.  Sitting on the birthing ball was a welcome break.  By 9:30, I was becoming nauseous and having a harder time relaxing during waves.

10:10am- My waves started to linger as I rested on the birthing ball.

10:45am- Internal exam revealed I am 7-8 cm, 100% effaced and a +1 station.  I was thrilled to have made this much progress and hoped that it would all be over soon.  In my mind, I thought our baby would be here by early afternoon.  One of my big fears of having a hospital birth was “the clock.”  I assumed I would be on a timetable and expected to make progress within a certain amount of time.  I imagined myself being glued to watching each second go by.  Nothing about our experience could have been further from this reality.  Yes, it was a long labor.  BUT, while we were in the zone, hours felt like minutes.  I never watched the clock once.

By this point, James was a master at providing counter pressure on my back during waves.  We resumed our routine of standing, dancing, and resting on the birthing ball.

Around 12pm, I received the second steroid shot to help mature our baby’s lungs.  I commented that the waves are “doozies!”  Jen noted that I started shaking from all the hormones surging in my body.

12:20-2pm- More of the same: Standing, slow dancing, and sitting on the birthing ball.  My parents picked up lunch in this time frame and James quickly ate a sandwich.

At 2pm, Jen suggested that I rest by lying on my side in bed.  It felt good to stop for a moment and just attempt to rest.  The waves continued to get stronger.  By 3:15pm, I was exhausted and started crying and quietly confided to James that I don’t think I can do this.  Jen noted that my contractions were very long at this point (several minutes) and I was shaky.

When an internal exam revealed I had just a lip of cervix left, Jen and Emily encouraged me to try the hands and knees position.  It seemed like I was so close to the pushing stage but so far away!  My contractions were incredibly intense by this point and I was moaning.  Jen reminded me to lower my voice to make the moans effective.  I spent 10-12 contractions in this position.  They wanted to be sure that the next time I felt the urge to push, I could.  This portion of time felt never ending.

At 5pm, I was complete and at a +2 position.

I pushed for approximately 51 minutes.  I didn’t know what to do at first.  The urge to push didn’t happen immediately for me and my early attempts weren’t quite effective.  I was also afraid that I wasn’t pushing fast enough.  I was so grateful that the doctor was patient and let me figure things out on my timetable.  Finally, at the tail end of one of the contractions, my body kicked in and the pushing became primal.  There was a huge difference between me attempting to push and allowing my body to push.  Now, as I think about this portion of my experience, Cindy Crawford’s birth story from the movie The Business of Being Born comes to mind.  She explained that she wished she had listened to her body’s cues and trusted its timing instead of just starting to push when she reached 10 cm.  Her body simply wasn’t ready and the first hour of pushing was completely ineffective.  I can completely understand this abstract concept now.  When your body kicks in, you can’t help but push.

For some reason, it seemed like the space between each contraction was enormous- these lulls were filled with anticipation.  I was grateful for the break but also dreading the next wave of pressure.  According to Jen and James, however, there was hardly any time in between these rounds of pushing (long enough to take a drink of water).

I do remember that there was an incredible amount of people in the room- James, our doula Jen, the OB Doctor, a set of nurses for me and another set of nurses to attend to Olivia.  I had quite a cheering section.

Do I remember the ring of fire?  Yes, it is very aptly named!  And, then, it was over so quickly.  All the discomfort, pressure, and pain literally evaporated when Olivia was born.  It really did feel like she came out in a gush – what a weird feeling!  James cut the cord quickly and they placed her in a warming bed to assess the state of her health.  I’m so glad someone in the room focused my attention on the fact my baby girl was crying.  I couldn’t really see anything from my position on the bed so hearing her cry was amazing.  The nurses allowed us to take a few precious photos before they whisked her away to the intensive care area.  They refused to let me hold her but I did get the opportunity to reach out and touch her tiny, perfect hand.  Prior to her delivery, I repeated to James several times, “no matter how this ends- natural delivery or c-section- promise me that you will stay with the baby.”  Unfortunately, this wasn’t possible when they took her from the room.  They wanted only medical personnel present to assess her breathing and create an immediate treatment plan.

My placenta came out quickly after.  I was surprised how strong the contractions were to expel this organ.  I relied on James, squeezing his hand, to help me cope as my body was literally shaking from all the hormone surges.  I had read that women can experience an emotional high after giving birth- full of incredible energy after an exhausting labor.  So true.  After all the medical personnel cleared the room, I felt really good despite the fact that I had just spent 20 hours in fixed concentration working through pressure waves.  And, then the emptiness set in.  We were so happy and so, so alone.  We weren’t snuggling with our precious newborn.  We never had the opportunity to memorize the tiny features of her beautiful face.  We completely skipped over the part where a new family bonds together.  Our sweet girl was literally fighting to breathe at the other end of the maternity wing instead of safely wrapped up in our protective arms.  It was all so surreal.

And, so begins another story: Olivia’s time in the Special Care Unit.  James was allowed to visit her approximately 45 minutes later.  I had to wait an additional 2 hours in “recovery”… quite possibly the longest 120 minutes of my life.

James' PerspectiveDid you think Candice was going into labor?

We were both really hoping that she had accidentally peed her pants.

Biggest surprise?

The umbilical cord was incredibly thick and strong.  Definitely not what I was expecting when I cut it.

Biggest bummer (aside from the fact she was born so early):

From the beginning, we had hoped to delay cord clamping so Olivia could receive all the stem cell rich blood in the umbilical cord.  When we realized this wasn’t an option, we asked that it be donated to our local Cord Blood Bank.  The medical team informed us that only blood from pregnancies week 34 and older was eligible for banking.  We missed the window by 3 days.  What a waste.

What was your mindset going into this experience? 

I was ready for a fight.  I expected the medical team to try and push various interventions.  I kept a close eye on Olivia’s heartbeat and was prepared to argue to keep at least some of our natural birth plan in place.  Fortunately, after the nursing shift change, we were left alone for the most part.  I knew Candice could birth our baby naturally if given the opportunity.

Second biggest surprise? 

Despite my exhaustion, hunger, and the fact my arm was incredibly sore from applying counter-pressure on Candice’s back- hours still managed to feel like minutes.  I expected to be bored for at least a portion of our time at the hospital, especially given that we were there for 20 hours concentrating on only 1 thing (no TV, no radio, and endless hours listening to Hypnobabies scripts).

Any Other Difficult Moments? 

When Olivia was born, I really wanted to go with her as they assessed her breathing.  I also wanted to be able to stay with my wife, who was starting another round of contractions to expel the placenta- both of my girls needed me.  It was definitely a helpless feeling not to be able to be in 2 places at once.  For better or worse, the hospital made the decision for me and I wasn’t allowed to go with Olivia.

 

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Olivia’s Birth Story: Part 1

I wasn’t sure how much of this story I was actually going to share on such a public forum.  Why divulge the intimate details of such a meaningful and life changing moment?

Reason #1: One of the lines in this post resonated with me.  I could completely relate to Molly Mahar’s desire as a first time mama to read as many birth stories she could find.  Mainstream media is flooded with so many negative and dis-empowering statements  about the process of birth.  While I was pregnant, I loved hearing stories of positive, natural deliveries where women trusted their bodies and were surrounded by a fabulous support team.  That being said, I wholeheartedly agree with Molly’s opening statement that “there is no right way to be pregnant, give birth, or parent your child.”  Each life is so dear and full of unique experiences.

Reason #2: I have been overwhelmed by all the love and prayers that have been sent our way over the past couple of months from family and friends.  Some have asked questions, some have heard the intimate details, and others have quietly offered their support from a distance.  I am so grateful for your support in how our story unfolded.  Each of you have played a part… now, here is the whole:

Olivia Birth StoryAt about 9 pm, I went upstairs to listen to a relaxation script as part of my Hypnobabies childbirth prep homework.  Lexi, our Shih Tzu puppy, snuggled next to me and we both started to drift as the familiar relaxation music and soothing imagery played in the background.  I remember hearing Lexi’s soft snores.

All of a sudden, still in a light sleep state, I felt a gush of something fill my pants.  I literally threw the covers off of me and sprang out of bed.  When I realized what might be happening- what it just had to be- I went over to the door and started screaming for James who was in the basement.  Fortunately, he had just finished up his work and was heading upstairs so he heard my cries immediately.  James was so calm and collected.  I told him in between panicked sobs that I think my water broke… every couple of moments, more trickled out, which only served to confirm my theory.

James quickly called my parents to let them know we were heading to the hospital while I changed into another pair of pants.  I don’t remember much of the short car ride to the hospital other than talking to my parents and asking them to call the doctor’s exchange since I didn’t seem to be able to locate the number in my phone.

James dropped me off at the ER entrance and suddenly everything was becoming very real.  The woman at registration asked “Can I help you?” as I walked in and I remember not being able to speak.  In between sobs and feeling more trickles, I managed to blurt out something to the effect “I’m 33 weeks pregnant and I think my water broke.”  By that time, James had parked the car and they both were assisting me to a wheelchair where I was whisked up to the Labor and Delivery floor.  Everything seemed to be happening so quickly.  James would later tell me that I called out to him at around 9:50pm and we were in a hospital bed by 10:04pm.

I was immediately hooked up to an IV and a continuous fetal monitor, 2 medical interventions that I desperately wanted to avoid.  My dream of having a private, home birth with little medical assistance was shattered.  My birth plan was safely housed on my computer and our birthing preferences were slowly being eroded in front of our eyes.  One thought was at the forefront of my mind, “Is she ok?”

The first couple of hours in the hospital were a bit confusing.  The on call doctor wanted to check my cervix (which was completely closed) and confirm that the fluid was indeed from my amniotic sac.  She also ordered a test to assess how mature Olivia’s lungs actually were at this point in the pregnancy.  It appeared as though it was one giant waiting game to see what was going to happen next.  We kept asking how long it would take to get the lung maturity test back from the lab- no one was able to give us a clear answer.

My contractions (or birthing waves in Hypnobabies lingo) started within a half hour of being at the hospital.  The nurses kept asking me if I felt anything and at first I told them no.  It wasn’t really a lie, per say, but perhaps a futile attempt to avoid the fact that things were progressing.  I guess I was holding out hope that the doctors would suggest some magic cure to fix the whole situation and guarantee the safety of my sweet baby.

My parents arrived at the hospital around 10:30pm.  My mom had a long tiring day prior to this event- both of my grandparents ended up being hospitalized after their doctor’s appointments earlier in the day.  Prior to my admission, she had already gone 10 rounds with coordinating hospital arrangements.  Now, her baby was in the hot seat.

While we waited, our wonderful doula (Alicia) stopped by the hospital.  We called her initially to tell her a heads up over what was happening and she immediately set things in motion to have her back-up doula join us at some point.  Alicia had just given birth herself 4 days prior to our surprise delivery.  It was such an incredibly nice gesture for her to come to the hospital to lend us her support.  She asked the doctors several clarification questions and attempted to give us some tips on how to proceed with our natural birth plan in our new circumstances.

Birth Story Fetal Monitor

When it became clear that my pressure waves were becoming more intense quickly, the situation in the room started to shift from one of “wait and see” to “she is having the baby now.”  I had heard that when a woman is hooked up to a continuous fetal monitor, a dynamic in the room shifts.  All eyes start to watch the monitor instead of the pregnant woman.  So true!  Our eyes became fixated on how our little girl’s heart rate was tolerating each contraction.  Was it going to stay within the safe zone?  I’ll never forget how after each intense wave, James lovingly reassured me that the baby was doing great.

Click here to read Part 2 of Olivia’s Birth Story

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The Day Time Stood Still

You might have noticed a bit of a time gap from my last post… our lives have been utterly transformed by one precious event: the birth of our sweet baby girl.  Olivia Rose arrived on December 28, 2013 at 5:51 in the evening…. almost 7 weeks premature.

First Family Photo

I am not the same person I was 3 months ago- I am stronger.  I am more grateful.  I am more aware of the precious and fleeting nature of each moment.  J and I have been on a roller coaster of emotions ranging from pure joy to sheer panic.  We were so unprepared for everything that unfolded: no hospital bags were packed, Olivia’s nursery was completely unfinished, and I was under the impression that I had approximately 7 more weeks to practice all the child birthing relaxation techniques that we had learned.

Welcome Olivia

These beautiful pictures were taken on the day Olivia was finally released from the hospital.  Our little girl has been through so much- time in the Special Care Unit, medical procedures to ease her breathing, follow-up appointments with different specialists, and continued metabolic testing.  I am so proud of her strong spirit.

Welcome to the world, dear Olivia.

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