The NICU

My first son was born at 34 weeks and 3 days. He spent the first ten days of his life in the NICU which is not really something that any parent is prepared for. It was a quick choice that he was going to be delivered that day via c-section and was before the time of most smart phones, so I didn’t Google anything about the NICU, nor had I read anything beforehand because it just wasn’t something that you think you will experience as a first time mom. Although they tell you to expect for your baby to stay in there until their due date, they rarely do and I ended up with a baby whose gestational age was 35 weeks and 6 days home with me. The NICU comes with many ups and downs and there were a couple of days that were better than others, but for the most part the entire experience was wonderful.

The nurses are literally the best in the hospital. They all have fantastic personalities, most have a great sense of humor and they have the patience of saints because they deal with nervous parents and unpredictable infants all day long. I felt very confident when Chase came home because he was on a set schedule, could sleep through alarms dinging day and night and I knew more about a newborn’s respiratory and heart rates than most parents could imagine.

There was a very tiny part of me that would have been sad had any of my other children not gone for a visit to the NICU. Not for them, but more for me. Although I would have loved for my newborn to sleep in my room and to know what it feels like to discharge from the hospital with an infant, the NICU kind of cheats you out of the first week (or weeks) of parenthood. You can sleep in your own bed, don’t have to attend to a baby every three hours, or even really wake up in the middle of the night, and you can get everything ready for when the baby actually does come home.

So imagine my surprise when I was told that my baby was going to be born at 32 weeks and 4 days. I had a nurse practitioner visit from the NICU, and unlike the first visit, this time I knew what to expect. I knew it would be a roller coaster, one step forward and two steps back. I knew what each and every alarm meant and which ones to worry about. I was much calmer this time because the nurses had done such a fantastic time helping me deal the first time. I would say 90% of those nurses that Chase had are still in the NICU. One of them greeted me at the door on Ryder’s second day there to give me a hug. In fact, she saw when I was admitted the Friday before Ryder was born and didn’t come see me that day because she knew she would see me early the next week when she was working.

The hospital where women deliver was moved three years ago and the NICU in the old hospital was a large open room, this one has small, private rooms. The old NICU was about a half mile away from my parents’ house, the new one is three miles down the road from our new house. There were several nurses that remembered us from when Chase was in the NICU, and there were several new faces, but I did not meet a nurse that I didn’t care for. They literally are the best.

Ryder’s NICU experience was different from Chase’s. While Chase was briefly on a ventilator to help him with his breathing, Ryder never was, despite the fact that he was born two weeks earlier. In fact, Chase was considered the sickest baby in the NICU for days, that was never the case for Ryder. Chase’s biggest issue aside from his breathing difficulties was the fact that he would forget to breath while he ate. That was not a problem for Ryder. But he was not without his own issues. He was on oxygen much longer than Chase was, he wasn’t as good of a digester of food that Chase was. But his 32 week gestation slowed him down more than Chase. I knew that we would be in the NICU for weeks with Ryder, and we were. We ended up spending 25 days there, but it could have been way worse. I thought he would be in there for four weeks at the very least, and he was actually supposed to leave after 20 days, but had a bit of a setback. I was super depressed after he had his hiccup, but I honestly wasn’t ready to have him home yet.

The twenty five days was great because we had time to get the nursery together (up until the weekend after I got home from the hospital, that room was still an office), to bring down clothes and accessories from the attic to figure out what we needed to buy, to get caught up on sleep, to prepare Chase for his brother to come home and to prepare myself for the reality that I actually did have a baby and that he was eventually going to come home.

Was it hard? Yes. Did I hate every single minute that I wasn’t with my new baby? Yes. Was I so over having to get in my car to drive up to the hospital to find a parking space to walk to Labor & Delivery to check in to walk to the NICU to scrub in to walk to my child’s room, which meant that I needed to leave my house approximately 25 minutes before he ate in order to feed him? Umm, yes. But I got to catch up with my pals from four years ago, make some new friends, learn more about my baby and how he eats and what he tolerates, he was able to get healthier and then we came home, which made homecoming even sweeter than it already was.

I’m Pregnant

It is only now, today, with a two week old baby that I feel comfortable enough to put this in writing. I’m pregnant. Well, I was, and now I’m not, but I still should be, if any of that makes a sense. Two Sundays ago, on September 21st, I gave birth to a beautiful, perfect, living, breathing and crying four pound, seven ounce, 17.5 inch long baby boy. It was one of the happiest days of my life and I still cannot believe that he is here. I have to pinch myself every time that I see him and just stare at awe that he is alive. He’s not supposed to be here. He’s not even supposed to exist. Nine months and two days before he was born, I was trying to get out of the same hospital as fast as humanly possible because I had just delivered my stillborn daughter at 23 weeks and less than a week before Christmas and there was no place I wanted to be less than that hospital.

To say that Christmas was hard would be the understatement of the century. It was pretty damn close to impossible. Thankfully, I have the most wonderful family anyone could ask for and they got me through it. Thankfully, it was the holidays and there were enough distractions and people and booze that I made it through. Thankfully, I had awesome coworkers who picked up the slack while I worked from home for four weeks. Thankfully, time marches on despite our best efforts to slow it down and I somehow managed to get through the hours and days and weeks and months following her death.

I knew from the day that I left the hospital that we would try again. The first question that I asked the doctor who delivered was, “When can we try again?” The first question I asked the doctor who discharged me was, “When can we try again?” and the first question I asked at my postpartum appointment was, “When can we try again?” Interestingly enough, all three gave me different answers, but I went with the answer I liked the best, which happened to be my actual OB who told me that we were welcome to try as soon as I had a regular period. I had failed as a successful gestational carrier and I was obsessed with making it right.

On March 6th, I discovered that I was pregnant. My husband was out of the country and it was just the dog and I when I found out. I was ecstatic. Happier in that moment than I was at any moment in my entire pregnancy with Charlotte and that happiness never subsided. It had taken me 3 months to get pregnant with Chase, 7 with Charlotte and 1 this time. We weren’t even trying, we had just decided to see what happened. And then it happened.

I had stupidly convinced myself that 9 months (or 40 weeks or 280 days or 6720 hours) would fly by! Yes, the pregnancy progressed quickly, but there were some scary moments. When I was five weeks along I learned that there was more that had happened that could have been a contributing factor to Charlotte’s demise, other than the fact that it was a fluke. I had a genetic mutation called MTHFR which prevents folic acid from being absorbed, but can be fixed by taking extra folic acid. There were also blood clots found in my placenta, so they prescribed baby aspirin for that. At 9 weeks, I got a call that Charlotte had Trisomy 21, more commonly known as Down Syndrome. My low risk, “normal” pregnancy suddenly wasn’t. We were referred to the high risk doctors, also known as Maternal Fetal Medicine or MFM. They did multiple genetics test and every one of them came back negative, but I still held my breath.

At 15 weeks, I felt some cramping that felt similar to what was the writing on the wall for Charlotte. I called my (amazing, wonderful, godsend) friend that had told me to go to the hospital and asked if she could please bring over her Doppler. Thankfully, she found the heartbeat immediately and I’m not sure who was more relieved that she found it, her or I. At 20 weeks I had a miniature panic attack when I realized that if I lost the baby from this point on, it would be another stillbirth, and I honestly wondered if we were completely out of our minds for doing this again. Several weeks later, I was downstairs at 3am chugging 32 ounces of water because I had not felt much movement in an hour or so. Thirty minutes later, everything was totally fine. For the most part though, the baby did its best to convince me that everything was fine.

Chase would wake me up in the morning with his hiccuping when he was in utero, but that could be as late as 8 or 9 or 10 in the morning. This baby woke me up every single morning at 7am. He moved constantly, including just about every single time that I woke up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. We had decided on the name Ryder if it were a boy and after he was born, we looked up the meaning of his name. One of them is “The Messenger,” which is perfect because that is precisely what he was. I would hear the song that in my mind meant that everything was fine while I was pregnant with Charlotte EVERYWHERE! I would hear the song I designated as my anthem for this pregnancy all the time, including on the day Ryder was born. It wasn’t much, but it was one more small thing to ease my mind.

I fought for a lot during this pregnancy. The MFM appointment didn’t do much other than give us some answers about our genetics, but it also resulted in a “Plan of Action” for the pregnancy. They wanted to start doing Non Stress Tests (or NSTs) at 34 weeks, but for some reason 28 weeks stuck in my brain. At my 28 week appointment I asked the Nurse Practitioner what they were going to do to up the monitoring. I would have been willing to go to the doctor’s office every day to know that everything was fine. They started me on weekly appointments at 28 weeks with ultrasounds at every appointment and then twice weekly appointments starting at 32 weeks with NSTs at every appointment and weekly ultrasounds.

I never made it past the first two NSTs. Apparently, you can’t fail more than two and I did just that. Thankfully, the two days before Ryder was born, they were able to get in two doses of steroid shots to help with lung development before things really started going south. So when I was 32 weeks and 4 days, he made his grand entrance. He is on his fourteenth day in the NICU and he’s still got several more weeks before he will come home. But he’s here, he’s safe, he’s being monitored and he is making improvements every day. I was told that my “uterine environment was compromised,” and the doctors and nurses had no idea what was going on inside of me. At least here, we can see him and know what is going on. I would give anything to have a normal, typical pregnancy, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards for me.

I told myself that if I did get pregnant, that we wouldn’t announce it on social media. We told family and close friends, but that was it. I told my husband that I didn’t want to find out what we were having, and that we would have some names, but that we would not share them with anyone. We both kept our word on the rules I established for the pregnancy. I wrote almost every day, but I could not bring myself to post any of the entries not because I was trying to be sneaky, but because if something had happened, I would not have been able to publicize it again. I was having a hard enough time dealing with all with the pity from Charlotte.

The entire time I was pregnant, I was in denial. We did not purchase a single thing and we didn’t set up a nursery. There was no mention or offer of a shower or a sprinkle, and there was no way I was going to have either. There was one point where I was at the hospital and people kept saying, “your baby” this and “your baby” that and I honestly wondered whose baby they were talking about. It was the coping mechanism that I must have needed because it worked. Despite those feelings, I have had no problem bonding or loving this baby as much as I knew I would.

Over the past nine months I have often wondered why we lost Charlotte. I wonder if there was something I was being punished for or if there was a true reason for it. I haven’t been able to come up with any answers or even much closure and I’m not sure I ever will. But I do know this much, we would not have Ryder if we hadn’t lost Charlotte. I would give anything to have her back, but she’s gone, so I have to be happy with the brief time she was here and also appreciate Ryder as well. It’s almost like there is a chunk of my heart that is missing and that piece will always be missing, but Ryder is a band aid on that piece. He can’t fix it, but he has made it better. So now I find myself wondering why we have been blessed with such an amazing, beautiful baby boy. But for now, I try not to think so much and instead just be happy. And honestly that’s pretty easy to do these days.

The Hummingbird

One morning last week I was sitting at our kitchen table with my cousin when she looked out the window and said, “Look, there’s a hummingbird out there.” I have only seen a hummingbird in my city one time, nearly four years ago, and I will occasionally see them at Brad’s parents house, but they live 30 miles inland and have hummingbird feeders to attract them. This one was interested in only one particular plant in our backyard, Charlotte’s flowers. It kept hovering around them and zooming from planter to planter. I am almost positive that it was a female because it wasn’t the brilliant colors of the males. It made my heart smile.

I miss you baby girl.

The Guardian Angel

Growing up, my Aunt Rhonda’s “job” was running a small daycare out of her house. She usually had a couple of kids that she would watch during the day, but there was a time where all of the kids had grown up, her own children were in school and she took on a more permanent job. She worked in the office of an OB/GYN practice. Rhonda lives close by, so when I got pregnant with Chase, I hoped and prayed that she would be able to go back into childcare and would agree to keep him. It took about a month of convincing, but she finally decided to get back into it.

Flash forward to Chase going to RaRa’s house for about six months. There were a couple of other babies that had come and gone, when one of the nurse practioners at the office where Rhonda used to work called and asked if Rhonda could bring on another baby. She was due in January and later broke the news to Rhonda that she was having a boy (Rhonda is incredibly partial to boys). Rhonda told me that I “had to meet” this girl. “You guys are such much alike.” “Your husbands are so similar.” Blah, blah, blah. Eventually I met her, and it was fine. She was nice, friendly and we saw each other about once a month when I happened to drop off or pick up Chase super early. Her hours were way different than mine, so it didn’t happen all that often.

At the beginning of summer last year, I quit my job and took a couple of weeks off before starting my new job. My first real day off, I went strawberry picking with Rhonda, Lauren (the nurse practioner), her son and Chase. We had fun and it was one of the first times we actually had a real conversation. Rhonda was totally right! We had some strange similarities, and we had a great time.

I invited Lauren and the family to Chase’s birthday party in October, and from then on, we were friends. We texted occassionally, were happy to see each other at Rhonda’s, and that’s how it went. Then the night before my big 20 week ultrasound, we hung out with the boys, Rhonda and my family looking at holiday lights at the beach. I was completely FREAKING out about the ultrasound (as I was the entire pregnancy) and Lauren talked me off the ledge. She kept it up until that fateful day in December, and has kept going ever since.

I believe that people are put into your life for a reason. Rhonda worked at an OB/GYN office so she could meet Lauren, so she could keep Kellen, so Lauren and I could be friends. I feel like our friendship has been one sided so far. I rely on Lauren so much (and that will only continue if we go down the path of pregnancy again), and I can only hope that one day I can repay her. I doubt that will be possible, but she has really and truly been my guardian angel. She has answered so many questions, she has offered so much guidance (that I needed), and kept me sane and calm.

Losing Charlotte was single-handedly the worst thing that has happened to me. However, appropriately, some really wonderful things have stemmed from it. Among the other beautiful, wonderful women I have written about, I’ve been so happy that Lauren has been one of the ones to make such an impact and became a better friend. My only hope is that our relationship will continue for years to come because if anything, I owe it to her.

Today’s Your Day

Today was my last day at work. After a very short tenure, I have decided to try something new.

I started this job after a six year run at a company doing sales. I loved the company I worked for, loved the people I worked with, but I didn’t love the commission structure that they adapted that would leave me not making a single dollar in commission for some months. So I took this new job under some duress, needing a consistent paycheck and giving a “desk job” the ‘ole college try. There was new leadership, I was his first hire and the department and his leadership were under scrutiny when I started. In fact my first day in the building I had already decided that the longest I would stay at this company would be two years. There were already enough red flags that I knew this was not going to be permanent.

Less than two months after I started I discovered that I was pregnant. Four and a half months after that, my world came crashing down. I have not had the best vibes with this place.

Thankfully my boss and co-workers could not have been any more helpful. They were understanding when it came to me working from home for a while. They were supportive when I came back. They were kind, caring and compassionate in between. They got me through the toughest time in my life, and I’m not sure I could have done it without them.

Maybe one day I’ll tell you the details that I have omitted from the dark days of December and January. Maybe one day I’ll tell you the real reason that I left. But for now, let’s leave it all on a positive note and just talk about the good parts of the company.

As they say, all good things must come to an end. It is my time to move on. Starting on Monday, I am going to do something completely new. I am going to do something that terrifies me, but now is as good of a time as any. With Charlotte I realized that life is too short. There are too many parts of Chase’s life that I have already missed and with this new adventure, I will have the time to do the things I have not been able to do. Here goes nothing, so wish me luck!

An Ode to My Husband

I know I reference “my husband” or just “Brad” a lot on this blog. I talk about what an amazing guy he is, how he has kept me afloat, but I haven’t gone into specifics. Today is our ninth wedding anniversary, so I want to take the time to let you all know what a wonderful man I am married to and to reinterate how lucky I am to have landed him as my husband.

A couple of weekends ago I witnessed my cousin marrying her long time boyfriend and for the first time I really, truly listened to all of the words of the entire ceremony. They wrote their own vows and they were beautiful! In fact, I could not have written then any better, but the whole thing got me thinking. On our wedding day, most of us commit to each other “in sickness and in health, for better or for worse,” and know that the best is yet to come. The wedding day is usually the most hopeful day of your entire relationship, or at the very least of your entire marriage. You see years of love, happiness and maybe a houseful of children in your future. You envision the American Dream, where nothing does or will go wrong. And if (which is a huge “if”) something happens to go wrong, you will make it together.

When I said my vows to Brad nine years ago, I had no idea what life had in store for us. I imagined it would be typical to the way our lives had gone, rainbows and sunshine. It has been for the most part. We’ve hit some bumps, but none that we couldn’t overcome, and when we hit the biggest obstacle (so far), we came out of the other side stronger and better. And honestly, that’s the way it should be. That’s what I want out of a marriage and that is why I am so happy to be married to the man I am married to.

When I cried myself to sleep, he was always there, holding my hand. When I needed to vent and I was angry, he was my sounding board. When I laid all of the guilt on myself, he was there to help soften the blow. When I was irrational, he was there to talk to me back to sanity. And when I had my good moments and later good days, he was there to celebrate them with me. There was nothing left unsaid during those first couple of months. We communicated more in that time than we had in years. He never questioned my grief. Never made me feel bad about any feeling I was having. Never put himself first. He was my absolute rock when I needed him the most.

That however, was in our darkest moments. Thankfully, life is about so much more. He still makes me laugh almost every single day. He still tells me I am beautiful every morning. He still kisses me as night when he thinks I am asleep. He still wants to snuggle and cuddle with me (even when all I want to do is sleep). He cooks me dinner every night. He does my laundry without me asking. He rubs my feet and my back just because. He loves me for me. And doesn’t hurt that he is an amazing father. He makes Chase laugh, changed (past tense, thankfully) dirty diapers, gets him ready every night, and never turns down an opportunity to read a story. There isn’t anyone else I would rather have as a husband or as a father to my child and I still can’t believe that when we were 16 he picked me.

I love you more than anything Brad! Thank you so much for putting up with me these past nine years! I look forward to many, many more!

D-Day

Today is D-Day. April 17th. The day I had been waiting for since August, dreading since December. It took its sweet time getting here, but alas, it has arrived.

I have known that Charlotte was no longer alive for four months to the day. Those four months have seemed like an eternity, and even if I were still pregnant, I am sure that time would have slowed down to a crawl. Winter is my least favorite season, and we had one hell of a winter. In fact, it is the middle of April with highs in the 50s. Spring with all of its life and eternal hope has yet to have sprung, we keep bouncing back between it and winter. Thankfully after Friday, it looks like we may actually get a permanent reprieve of winter.

The past four months have changed us. We are not the same people or the same couple we set out as in August. And because it would have been the way of Charlotte, we are better for it. We are stronger as a couple. We have seen close to the worst and survived, maybe even thrived. We live each day with a lot less fear and see BS for exactly what it is. We embrace life and don’t take it for granted like we used to. Neither one of us takes the silly stupidity of work or everyday life quite so seriously. We are given this gift that they call life, and we have learned to live this short time we are here on this planet to the fullest. And we do it all because of Charlotte. Just because she wasn’t able to grace us with her earthly presence, she has made an incredibly positive impact in our lives.

Over the past 4 months I have written 90 posts on this blog. I have heard from old friends and made new ones, but it is time to take a little bit of a break. In case you haven’t noticed I have tapered off a little bit when it comes to posting daily. I plan on keeping that trend going. Yes, I love Charlotte and always will. Yes, life is harder because she is not with me. But, although things are not easier, they are better. Every day I feel better and get better. So, I will continue to post, but not necessarily on a daily basis. When something happens or I feel a certain way or something reminds me of Char, I will write, but it won’t be quite the necessity it has been. The 12 months since her passing will be the hardest, but as we approach yet another milestone, I feel like another chapter has closed. I am not sure how long this book is, but we are moving along, day after day.

Thank you for joining me on this life changing journey and stick with me, I think (and hope) the best is yet to come.

The Countdown

Tomorrow is my due date. I am 99% sure that I would have already given birth to Charlotte by this point if she had lived because of my history, but regardless, it would have been my due date.

I have been dreading/anticipating/waiting for this day since August when I first got a positive pregnancy test, and it has literally taken forever for it to get here. It seems like the past four months have been four years and the four months prior to that weren’t so speedy either. Despite everything, tomorrow will be April 17th whether I want it to be or not.

I don’t know why there is any type of anticipation now. I have a spoiler alert for everyone. Nothing is going to happen tomorrow. There is no Charlotte here, there will be no Charlotte tomorrow, and we are still breathing, still standing, still surviving. Charlotte will forever be in our hearts, December 19th and April 17th will always be special to us. Tomorrow will be hard, but we’ll get through it, and time marches on.

The Autopsy

I was told at my follow up doctor’s appointment in January that the cause of Charlotte’s death was “inconclusive.” I was told by my doctor to “mark it off my list, that is something I have gone through and will likely not go through again.” That was a little irritating, but also a relief, because it meant that the odds of going through that again (whether or not I actually believe in odds) were slim. I was supposed to get the final report at the end of February.

On March 10th, when I had yet to hear that final report, I called the doctor’s office and heard back from her on the 12th. Imagine my surprise when I was told that no, in fact there were some underlying issues. The final report stated that the cause of demise was due to several small blood clots in my placenta. Of course, this rapidly pushed other things into motion. I was to go get some blood work done to see if I have any blood clotting or anti-coagulation disorders. Turns out I have a mutation on one of my genes and I don’t process folic acid the way that I should. So, I was told to take more folic acid and also a baby aspirin if and when we decide to try again. And my doctor thinks that this has to do with the issues with Chase when he was born.

The thing that gets me is, what if we hadn’t decided to do the autopsy? Had we attempted another pregnancy, would we have been doomed to the same outcome? We were really truly torn between doing it or not because we were told that so often there isn’t really a true reason why these things happen. I think one of my friends for pushing me to do it because otherwise, who knows what would or could happen.

The Lost Days of December

I’ve been thinking about this some recently mainly because I’ve been remembering things or coming across calendar reminders looking through old stuff. There was an entire week that I lost in December. The week of the 9th started off innocently enough, but with all of the madness of the weekend and week that followed, this week simply disappeared. And that is truly unfortunate because it was a really great week and it was the last full week of normalcy.

Chase was in his school’s Christmas play that week. He was dressed as an angel (paper wings and a “halo” headband), didn’t participate in singing any of the songs (save one line of one song) and never even told us what songs they were performing. He was absolutely adorable though. I’m pretty sure I teared up when I saw him too.

Thursday (or Friday) of that week, I had lunch with one of my girls. We talked about how nervous I was in this pregnancy and how I couldn’t shake the fact that I felt like something was going to go wrong. I attributed it to Chase being wonderful and knowing how he was delivered into this world as the true reason why I was freaking out. Obviously, there were other reasons.

Friday, we went out to dinner with some friends of ours. We had a wonderful time, went back to their house after dinner and the boys played video games and the girls hung out upstairs talking about life and work and everything in between. Fortunately, Brad and the husband (his name is Michael) get along really well and are so similar it is literally scary. The wife (Dara, I’ve written about her) used to be my boss and again, she and I have a lot of eerie similarities.

There you have it. Three important days or dates that I feel deserve to be recognized. When everything still made sense.