Two Years Ago

December 2012 155It was two years ago. In the same house with most of the same people. I felt anxious, exhausted, and so swollen. I had never taken my blood pressure at home. I had never needed to check my blood pressure at home, but as I was lying in the recliner wishing my feet weren’t so swollen, I suddenly knew I needed to check my blood pressure. I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. On the outside, I looked fine. For the most part, my symptoms could be attributed to entering the third trimester of pregnancy. I don’t know why I suddenly had the epiphany that my swollen legs, my exhaustion, my irritability, and my flushed cheeks meant anything more, but I knew. And when we saw the astronomically high numbers and my mother-in-law calmly suggested we retake my blood pressure to make sure the machine wasn’t malfunctioning, I just knew the baby and I were in big trouble.

My mind keeps going back to the days that followed. I wonder if New Year’s Eve will always be about my almost New Year’s Eve baby, about preeclampsia, about terror and joy, all intertwined. Two years and counting now, and it’s all so fresh. If only I had been assured that this wild child would be mine, that M would not always be so skinny and fragile, that I would emerge on the other side with this infuriatingly independent, fierce, hot-headed, gleeful, mischievous magic child, I would have had some peace.

It’s funny how the most restless, energetic, ferocious, and un-peaceful being brings the most peace.

Christmas M

Goodbye to Therapy

We saw our longtime physical therapist recently. She’s the one who worked with our family and both of our kids for 3.5 years. We only had a few minutes with her, but it was such a treat to see her face and give her a hug. As we were leaving, I told my husband how sad I was, that it was like leaving a dear friend.

And she is a dear friend. In the best of circumstances, therapists become friends, because they share a family’s goals, they visit a family’s home, and they know a family’s children better than most friends and extended family. Our pt knew nearly everything about our kids, she helped a clueless new mama find her bearings, and she heard all my concerns, complaints, and fears for years. She was encouraging, thoughtful, and central to the success of my kids. There really aren’t words to express my appreciation.

And true to our friendship, she helped me again in just the few minutes we were with her. She took one look at M, who wasn’t walking and was barely talking six months ago when we moved, and she said, “She doesn’t need therapy!” M was racing from one side of the room to the other, tripping over mats and toys. She was falling and popping right up. She was giggling and chattering. She was showing us how she can jump and throw. I said, “We’ve been discussing what to do, because she’s eligible for services until she’s 3. But, she’s come so far in the last few months that we’re not sure she needs any more therapy.” And the one person in the entire world whose opinion on development I trust the most spoke again. “She’s doing everything. I don’t think she needs therapy!”

And with that, I think we’ve made our decision, and after the holidays, I’ll finish the paperwork to end our four years of therapy. It was Christmas in 2010 when I cried to my best friend on the phone that I didn’t think I could go on because I was so overwhelmed, and when I look at these wild kids, I can’t help but be amazed that we’re here at the end of therapy. And I can’t help but be grateful for people who devote their lives to helping children.

Thank you, K. Thank you for everything.

Forgiven But Not Forgotten

As life carries us away from the NICU days, it becomes easier to forgive how traumatic those months were, but we never forget them. Sometimes, I feel like I am a different person wearing the costume of the person I once was. On the outside, I look very much the same, but in the middle of a simple conversation with an old friend, I’ll stumble. I don’t know how to answer questions about what I’ve been doing these last years. It’s all too personal and difficult to toss haphazardly into a light conversation, and so I must seem brusque or quick to change the subject because all of the things we heard and saw and felt still touch us in ways that are absolutely unexplainable in a quick conversation.

And as busy as I am and as healthy as my kids are, I never forget where we’ve been. Little reminders touch me throughout each day. Someone mentions blood pressure, and I think about preeclampsia. I wash my hands in a gas station bathroom, and the automatic paper towel dispenser is the same brand as the ones that I must have used 1,000 times in the NICU. I see a newborn and think no matter how tiny that baby seems now, there was a time when I thought newborns were giants.

Sometimes, I am completely blindsided by the welling up of such ferocious emotions. I was watching a reality TV show (My Five Wives) last weekend, and in the episode, a healthy, young pregnant woman gave birth within a matter of hours to her first child, a baby boy, at 25 weeks. Baby Huck’s birth reminded me so much of my experience with J that I started crying. And then I cried harder when the baby’s father said that the baby was having so many good days that he was afraid for the bad ones. I knew exactly what he meant, how you try to steel your emotions for all the possible heartbreaks ahead. And how you live in a space of being afraid to freely love your baby but loving your baby anyway, so much so that the thought of having him taken from you makes you unable to find any peace. Each moment of the day is filled with fear, and the journey feels unending.

The more time that passes, the more I believe this past is never dead. There is always a place within preemie parents where our babies are tiny.

Mothers and Preemie Daughters

Baby MI just read a Huffington Post article about a new “Human Placenta Project,” which aims to better understand the organ that makes growing babies possible. If the placenta fails, the pregnancy fails. If the placenta suffers, the pregnancy suffers. Amazingly, such an important organ is little understood.

It is thought (and I stress thought because no one really knows) that early-onset preeclampsia is related to a poorly performing placenta. Why and how and what to do about it are all questions up for research.

After I had J, I thought a day might come when I’d put preterm labor, J’s traumatic delivery, and the sorrowful months of his babyhood behind me. I knew they’d marked me, that they’d marked all of us, even our extended family. But, I thought as J grew and his health improved and we had big, healthy, full-term babies, that it would all seem like a dream.

In so many ways, M changed everything. Not only was my life forever marked by the way my children entered the world, not only was my childbearing over, and not only was this a way of life that I began to embrace…

M was a girl.

It’s different having a preemie who is a girl. A huge question looms: Is this genetic, beginning with me? Could M have preemies, like me. I have nothing to warn her against, because I never received a single diagnosis about anything. Maybe it is just me, but what if it isn’t? I want M to be resilient in the face of adversity, but do I wish this adversity on M? Never.

All the Preemie Mamas out there know exactly what I mean. All the parents out there probably understand too. But, I know the Preemie Mamas hope one day they’ll have the satisfaction of holding big, healthy babies and watching their children have the beautiful experiences they missed.

It’s even deeper than that, though. I am afraid for M, because preeclampsia was deadly. And it felt deadly. It was shocking how rapidly it took hold of me. It was a thief in the night, ready to take M and me both. And what if M weren’t as fortunate as me? What if she lost her baby, or her life, or both?

Sometimes, I feel like because so many people have healthy babies in our day and time that we’re complacent on research into pregnancy and pregnancy complications. Too many babies die unnecessarily around the world because of our lack of knowledge. Once things go haywire in pregnancy, it’s a crapshoot.

For my daughter, I have to believe that things will be different.

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If you’re interested in the Huffington Post article, here’s the link.

Preemie Parent Remembrances

I know. I know. My commitment to blogging lately has been stellar…

During a debacle yesterday concerning our brick, I noted that it’s a good thing we experienced the stress of the NICU before we took on house-building, just to keep things in perspective. I was joking, but not really.

I recently received an email from another preemie mama who requested I share a link to her blog post, which is about the remembrances of preemie parents in honor of World Prematurity Day. I always enjoy the shared experiences that families with preemies have. Those first years of Preemiehood certainly bind us together.

So, if you’re interested, here’s the link.

My Cup Runneth Over

September and October passed so quickly. I often find myself lost in the daily rhythms of raising kids: wake up, feed the kids breakfast, take J to school, run errands, each lunch, nap time, and on. Each day blurs past me and into the next one, and before I know it, months have passed.

So, I can’t say when M stopped walking and started running. Each milestone was so arduous until August. Every move she made was monitored. Then, she finally started walking at nearly 20 months old and never looked back. She is such an energetic, athletic, busy, curious, wild child that I’m sure I’ll sit on the sidelines of the soccer field when she’s in high school, and I’ll reminisce with the other parents about how long it took her to walk. And that she’s been making up for it ever since!

With my son, a motor delay led to a speech delay; we worked so hard to help him physically that his brain had little energy left for talking. But, I’m amazed to witness my daughter shattering goal after goal, whether it’s gross motor, fine motor, or language development. Each week she’s a new child with new tricks. And I feel a little guilty that in all this rush, I’m failing to document all the cute things she says and does.

I simply cannot keep up.

But, when your child has started life so tiny, so fragile, and so inundated with a developmental uphill climb, there is something extra special about watching her soar. And for the first time in the more than four years that I’ve been a mother, we’re now looking at a future without therapy of any kind. I cannot even speak to how grateful I am. My cup absolutely runneth over.

5 Things I Wish I’d Known When Choosing a High-Risk OB-GYN

I forgot my post about choosing a high-risk ob-gyn appeared on Preemie Babies 101 today…until I saw a belly in my Facebook newsfeed. I thought, “Hey, that kind of looks like my belly.” And then I realized it was.

Blogging about pregnancy and childbirth sure can be awkward sometimes.

Click here if you’re interested. In high-risk ob-gyns, not my belly in front of a Christmas tree. There I go feeling awkward again.

Childbirth Small Talk

January 2013 078At a kids’ party last week, I realized something: I am very uncomfortable around any discussion of natural childbirth. Like sweaty palms, looking for an escape, must use my baby as a buffer kind of uncomfortable.

I was those women, before I had my own babies. I watched The Business of Being Born and complained about the high rate of C-sections and how doctors rushed long labors even though both mother and baby were healthy. I might have even questioned women who actually chose C-sections or bottle-feeding over the more natural options, though I am no longer in any position to judge, if I ever was.

In many ways, I tend toward a naturalist way of thinking. I believe in recycling and reusing and reducing consumption. I cloth diapered both of my kids. Ask our contractor if I don’t love me some trees, and I’ve proposed adding chickens to our future garden. I love organic produce, and I only use cleaners made from natural and harmless ingredients, most of the time. I have a hippy bleeding heart for the natural world.

So, on one hand I totally get the sentiment that in pregnancy and childbirth, less is more when it comes to intervention, but I feel so uncomfortable when the topic of childbirth comes up. And with a bunch of women with small children, it’s bound to come up.

I can small talk with the best of them. My husband says I can talk to a fence post. But, childbirth is not a topic of chit-chat for me, and I can’t small talk birthing babies.

I remember the things I was asked to do in the trenches of emergency childbirth, and I am confident about the kind of woman I was when I was trapped in that dark corner. I know I was tough as nails. I know I was a fighter. I know my husband and family were proud of me. And I forgive my body for what it did to all of us.

But, in a conversation about the ills of C-sections, what do I say? Somebody, please tell me? Yes, so many women have C-sections for all sorts of reasons that probably don’t justify the risks and the expense of major surgery. But, I wasn’t one of them. Without medical intervention, my husband would be a widower who lost both of his tiny children. That is my reality.

What a conversation killer.

So, I keep my trap shut and don’t say a word. But, then I haven’t done myself or other women like me or the women who speak of things they don’t understand any favors at all. It’s all still too painful for me to casually mention that my body in pregnancy was like the bad apple in the Berenstain Bear book I read as a child: perfect on the outside and a mess on the inside. I don’t want to shock or frighten or sadden, so I do the worst possible thing, which is shut down completely. This is no way to make friends. This is no way to advocate for preemies. Shutting my mouth is no way to raise awareness about how more research is needed to understand even the basics of some of pregnancy’s most common disorders.

I sit there like a lump on a log, contributing nothing. Why do I clam up?

I am afraid. Of being judged. Of being pitied. Of being misunderstood. Because it feels worse to open up and then be shut down than to ever open up at all. I realize this sentiment translates to so many of us, and I wonder what kind of people we would be if we didn’t feel so isolated. The larger our communities get, the more lost I fear we are, away from the people who know us best. Some of my dearest loves in life who are my soft place to land are scattered–no lie–all over the world.

I realize that at the kids’ party I didn’t even give the childbearing-discussing women a chance to be curious or understanding or sympathetic. I prejudged them. But, then I picture myself in that situation again, the odd woman out talking about one of life’s most painful topics for me, and I still can’t imagine what to say or where to begin.