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Diagnosis Day

“Ok, we’re all done,” the ultrasound tech told us.  “I did see something fairly concerning, though.”

I steeled myself.

“Ok?” I replied.

“Have you ever heard of spina bifida?”

Honestly, the only context I had for spina bifida was Zola Grey Shepherd, the African orphan adopted by Derek and Meredith on Grey’s Anatomy.  I had no idea what it was, but I knew Derek had fixed her with his magic neurosurgeon hands and she was a perfectly normal girl.  But that was TV, and this was real life.  Magic neurosurgeon hands like Derek Shepherd’s do not exist in real life.

The ultrasound tech had us wait in the waiting room, while she called our nurse practitioner across the building to alert her to our situation.  As we waited, I began to cry.  After a preterm delivery with Haven, all I wanted was a healthy baby and a normal delivery.

We waited.

Waited, and waited.

In the spina bifida world, they always say, stay off of Google.  Google is your worst enemy.  I couldn’t help myself.  Sitting there with the name of a diagnosis but no knowledge except for Zola Shepherd was agonizing. I Googled.

A birth defect in which a developing baby’s spinal cord fails to develop properly.

Can’t be cured, but treatment may help.

Pictures of babies with round, open defects on their backs.

“What is spina bifida?”  Josh asked me.  “I don’t really know,” I told him.  “But I know it’s not good.”

We were finally called back to speak with the nurse practitioner.  She told us that the baby had a neural tube defect, and the ultrasound would be reviewed for further information for official diagnosis.  She said that the defect was low, which usually means less of an impact on mobility.

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I felt ridiculous for crying, but I just couldn’t believe this was happening.  As we listened to the nurse practitioner, I sat with a tissue scrunched in my hand, wondering why we had to go through even more than we already had.  Miscarriage.  Premature birth and a NICU stay.  Now, this???

As we left, we began to call our family and friends to let them know.  I felt shattered.  This baby I was carrying suddenly felt foreign.  I felt like I was pregnant with a diagnosis, not with a baby.

We had asked the ultrasound tech to write down the gender and place it in an envelope, so we could be surprised at our gender reveal party two days later.  After learning of the baby’s diagnosis, we questioned if we even wanted to do the party anymore.  Hanging blue and pink decorations and cheerfully holding my belly in anticipation of learning if it was a boy or a girl was the last thing I felt like doing.  But, we decided to go ahead with the party.  I knew that if we just opened the envelope, we would be disappointed with how we found out, and we needed something to be fun.

The next day, as I drove back from the house of my friend who was hosting the party, I found myself alone in the car.  The tears came slowly, then turned into sobs.  It was the first time I really let myself vocalize the grief I felt.  I don’t want this, I sobbed. It’s too much.

I couldn’t be the parent of a disabled kid.  I had never even considered the possibility, but the reality was suddenly thrust upon me, and it felt overwhelming.

The next day, I was able to pull myself together a bit more.  It was party day, and I was relieved that I would finally learn more about who this person was.  I needed to bring my mind back to the baby, not the diagnosis.

We had planned a fun, backyard grill out for our gender reveal.  A few days before, we gave the envelope with the gender to a friend, and she had ordered Holi powder, the colored powder used in the Indian festival called Holi, as well as in color runs.  When I had envisioned this gender reveal months before, I imagined a cloud of pink or blue colored powder floating through the air.  We had done silly string for Haven’s reveal, so I thought Holi powder was as least as fun, if not more fun, than silly string.

We ate burgers and macaroni salad, kids ran through the sprinkler, and friends made guesses about the baby’s gender.  They all knew of the diagnosis, and solemn talk about what it meant for the baby was peppered in with the excitement of learning if it was a boy or a girl.  I felt mostly happy, but the party was still tinged with sadness.

It was finally time.  Our friend in the know brought out the men’s black dress socks filled with the powder (random, I know.  It was the best solution I could come up with for a container that you could reach into but not see).  Josh and I were given a sock each, and we reached in to pull the powder out to throw in the air.  The sock bounced off of my belly, leaving a pink mark.

“It’s a girl! It’s a girl!” One of the kids yelled out.  I was a little disappointed I didn’t find out with the cloud of colored powder I had imagined, but I threw it in the air, anyway.  Everyone cheered.  Socks were passed out to everyone, and a pink powder fight ensued.  It was quickly realized that the best way to color fight was by hitting each other with the socks.  It was as fun as it was hilarious.

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I turned to Haven, on my hip.  “You’re going to have a sister!”

The next day, we decided to name her.  Just like with the gender reveal, we needed to know her as a person, as more than her diagnosis.

We decided on Eisley Mae, and made a fun video with Haven to announce it to our family and friends.

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Over the next weeks and months, as we learned more about Eisley, spina bifida became less scary.  We knew she would have to have surgery right after birth to close the defect, we knew that she would definitely have a NICU stay, and we knew that she might have issues with mobility and might need a shunt to drain the extra fluid from her brain.

But she was still Eisley, and as my sister reminded me, she was always meant to be a part of our family, and we were meant to be her parents.  And I’m so thankful she is ours.

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New Name, New Season.

Every year, when the time comes to renew my domain name, I put it off.  I don’t know why.  Maybe it’s because I’m a chronic email-notification-swiper-awayer, and then I forget about it, or because I inevitably end up letting it expire and it becomes more of a headache than it needs to be.

Whatever the case, this year, I decided I wanted a fresh start to my blog.

Many things have changed since I started it.  I began writing here while we were part of the way through with The World Race, so I could have a space to continue writing as we came home.  After returning to the States, we started trying to conceive and experienced the difficulty of a miscarriage, conceived again and had Haven, who was born a month early and had a NICU stay, Josh began the perfect job for him-working with inner city youth and camp ministry, and we had Eisley, who has spina bifida.

Along the way, I have discovered that my passion and my heart for this season lies with my children and my husband.  Earlier in our marriage, my heart was for the Nations and to serve outward, but now that has changed to serving inward to pour into my family.

As I was pondering a name change, I asked my sister if she had any suggestions.  She suggested Mend and Bloom, and I instantly fell in love with it.

Mend is a play on our last name (Mendenhall), and also references Eisley’s spina bifida, and how she was mended (get it?!) after her birth.  If you are wondering what spina bifida is, check out the Spina Bifida tab at the top. In short, it is a birth defect that develops in very early pregnancy.  A portion of her spinal column did not close all the way, leaving it to be open on her back.  She had surgery to place her spinal cord back inside her back at 7 hours old.

I also love the imagery of mending a family together.  There are too many times to count when Josh and I have said or done something that hurt or angered the other person.  We have a rule that we never go to bed angry, even if that means staying up until the wee hours of the morning to work it out.  Or there are the many times that my toddler is being disobedient or just cannot do the thing and she is on my last nerve.  Or when the baby is crying and the exhaustion sets in and I feel like there is absolutely no way that I can give any more of myself than I already have.  It’s in these moments that I remember that I can’t do this alone, say a little prayer, and find a way to fix it.  Mending and holding the family together is part of my job, and it’s one that I (usually) delight in doing.

And finally, Bloom.  At the beginning of this year, I wanted to find a word that I could focus on for the year.  My first thought was improve, because there were several areas of life that I wanted to improve in.  But that felt too rigid and dry.  The idea of improvement morphed into thrive.  Because yeah, I want to improve, but not so much so that I am miserable in trying to attain these ideals of perfection.  I want to do what I can, and celebrate the progress-I want to thrive in whatever stage I’m in.  I also want to help my family thrive, in the midst of the crazy, the mundane, and the challenges of life.  We’re on the cusp of Spring, and just yesterday, Josh pointed out that a tree across the street from us has the tiniest little blossoms starting to show.  I love all seasons for the special things they bring, but there is just something about the first blooms of Spring that makes my heart come alive.

20170225_215439-02.jpegMy super artistic doodle-drawn with jumbo crayons over naptime.

So.  I hope you will join me on this journey of pouring into my family and helping us to thrive.  If you’d like to follow along, there’s a little bar there to the right to enter your email address.

I hope you have a great week!

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Overcoming Adversity: Our Breastfeeding Journey

It sat there, next to my hospital bed, staring at me.

My breastpump.

Pump

(Google image courtesy of http://www.medelaimages.com/product_images/lrg/Symptroll-02-002.jpg)

My daughter had just been born, four weeks and two days early, and had been whisked off to the NICU.  The nurses had rolled the pump in, and told me it was there when I was ready to use it.  I knew I needed to, but I was too busy being on an emotional high and scrolling back and forth through the few pictures we had of her to bother much with the pump.

If only I had known just how necessary that pump was going to become.

After finally being able to go down to the NICU to see Haven, and after moving to a recovery room, the nurses asked if I had begun pumping yet.

“No, not really,” I told them.  They reminded me of the importance of beginning to pump, since I wanted to breastfeed and Haven was in the NICU.  They showed me how to use it, and I began pumping.

The first several times, I got maybe a drop or two.  It was pretty discouraging at first, but my Mom encouraged me that my milk would come in; I just needed to keep pumping.

So, those first few days in the hospital, I pumped every two hours, and walked the few drops I was getting down to the NICU.  Because she was on a CPAP for breathing help for the first few days, we were not able to attempt nursing until she was breathing room air.  She was receiving IV fluids, so all of her nutrition was coming from the fluids, so it wasn’t a problem that she was not receiving colostrum or breastmilk yet.

First Time Holding

My first time holding Haven

The first time I attempted to nurse her, she was a few days old.  The nurse set up the privacy screen around us, and showed me how to hold Haven to help her latch on.  She latched right away, but was just sitting there.  We let her stay there for comfort, until it was time for her to go back in her isolette.  Each time over the next few days it was the same story-she would latch on, but fall asleep despite our attempts to wake her.

Once she finished her IV fluids, it was critical that she take in milk, whether from nursing or being bottle fed pumped milk.  The nurses would help me to position and latch her, and asked me to time how long she actively nursed.  If she was actively nursing for 20 minutes, it was considered a full feed and she didn’t need a bottle afterward.  If it was any less, she would receive a bottle.  They did not want her to attempt to nurse for longer than 20 minutes, because the calories she would expend would be more than she was taking in.

I would sit and watch the clock, hoping and praying that she would start nursing.  There were a few times when she nursed 5 or 10 minutes, and once when she nursed the full 20, but most of the time she wouldn’t nurse at all.  It always felt like somewhat of a defeat when I would give her the bottle.  I wanted SO badly to be able to nurse Haven, and every time she didn’t, that dream felt farther and farther away.  Even though the bottle nipples were “slow flow”, the milk would pour out of the sides of her tiny mouth, so we had to tuck a washcloth under her chin to catch all of the milk.

Josh Feeding Haven

Josh giving Haven a bottle in the NICU

 

After our nursing attempt and subsequent bottle, I would send Haven back out with the nurses to be hooked back up to the monitors, and I would pump.  By this point, I was starting to develop a love/hate relationship with the pump.  I loved that I was able to provide the best possible nourishment for my baby, but I hated the process of pumping.

It takes a few minutes to unpack all of your pump parts, put on a pumping bra, and hook up to the pump.  The feeling of pumping is not a particularly enjoyable one, either.  It’s not painful, but just not enjoyable.  Then, you have to wash all of your pump parts, and since I was only bringing one set back and forth to the hospital, I had to dry them with paper towels every time.

While at home, I had to pump overnight.  I would usually get a set of pump parts ready, place them in a plastic mixing bowl by my bed, and when my alarm went off, I would sit bleary eyed on the edge of the bed while I pumped.

Any mom who has pumped long-term with an electric pump will tell you that her pump “talks”.  Especially in the middle of the night, when your brain is SO tired, and is trying to make sense of the rhythmic whir of the pump.  I swore my pump said, “Diego, diego, diego…”.  I tried to make my brain hear, “Haven, Haven, Haven…”, to help me remember why, in the middle of the night, I was attached to a machine that repeatedly pulled my nipples into a tube.  It seemed like that would make it better.  But alas, I still heard Diego. 😉

I did love the satisfaction of pouring one bottle into the other after finishing a pumping session, and seeing what my total was.  Even if it was just 30 mL (or one ounce), I was elated.  After pumping in the NICU, I would apply the ID sticker to the bottle, record my times and amounts in my pumping log, and head back out to Haven’s isolette.  If a family member was there that day, I would proudly show them the little bottle and tell them how much I was able to pump.  I couldn’t do much in those early days, but providing milk was something I could do, so I did it proudly.

The last few days in the NICU, Haven just needed to get on a weight gaining trend.  She had been losing weight for a few days, which was concerning.  After a few days of gaining weight, she was given the green light to go home!  She was still not nursing, and was actually screaming at the breast, until I would give up and give her a bottle.

First Carseat Ride

The car ride home

 

This feeding process continued every 3-4 hours at home: she would wake and scream while I tried to latch her, I would cry and give up after trying for 15 or 20 minutes, we would feed her a bottle, and I would pump.

 

Bottle Feeding

Bottle feeding at home

This went on for weeks.  It was draining, heartbreaking, frustrating, and every other difficult emotion you can throw in there, topped with the inevitable sleep deprivation that comes with being a new parent.  I felt like I was making my newborn baby cry it out every three hours.  As she screamed and pushed off of me, I would cry and ask, “Why??? Why won’t you nurse?”

Eventually, I realized that a few things were happening.

First, I was not catching her hunger cues early enough.  The feeding process was becoming such an emotionally difficult process that I dreaded, so when she first began to wake up, I would sit there for a few minutes and think about how much I did NOT want to start everything all over. By the time I got her to the breast, she had enough time to realize how hungry she was, and was not happy about it.

She also had bottle/flow preference.  This was a big one.  She was used to the milk coming fast and easy, and not having to work for it.  If I could get her to latch on, she would get frustrated that the milk was not dripping into her mouth, and everything would spiral downward from there.  She did not know how to or really have the strength to pull the milk out of the breast, especially considering that for much of this time, she had not yet reached her due date.

Because she kept having these stressful experiences every 3-4 hours, she started to associate being at the breast with stress.  I would place her in the cradle position, and even before attempting to latch her, she would start screaming.  As a mom, that breaks your heart.  Even though I knew it wasn’t true, I couldn’t help but feel like she hated me.

Pumping and bottle feeding was also becoming super stressful.  We blew through the extra milk I had pumped while she was in the NICU, and I was pumping each time for the next feeding.  She would finish a bottle, and still be hungry, and I didn’t know what to do.  I felt like I wasn’t pumping enough to satisfy her.  Every pumping session, I would pray for enough, and either triumphantly pour it into the bottle and put it on the nightstand for the next feeding, or I would cry with stress and worry that I was starving her.

At around 6 weeks old, I called my mom, crying. “It just isn’t working,” I told her, through my tears. “She is never going to nurse.  Maybe I just need to give up and switch to formula.”

“If that’s what you need to do, there is nothing wrong with that,” she said.  “I don’t know anyone that has tried breastfeeding harder than you have.  Giving her formula doesn’t mean you love her any less.”

So, with a tremendous amount of guilt, despite my mom’s reassurances, I found myself on the formula aisle in Target.  I felt like a failure. (Side note: In no way do I mean that moms who use formula are failures.  This is just me being real about my sleep deprived, emotionally exhausted mental state at the time. Formula has fed countless babies whose mothers could not or choose not to breastfeed, and in the end, FED is best.)  I picked out one that was formulated as a supplement for breastfed babies, and headed to the checkout.

The first formula bottle I mixed up was done so with tears.  A tiny voice crept into my head: I’m a bad mom. (Again, not formula bashing.  Remember, trying to breastfeed had been my life-almost an obsession-around the clock for weeks.  And because, sleep deprivation.)  You know what?  NO. I told the voice. I’m a GREAT mom.  I’m putting Haven’s needs above my own desire for her to breastfeed.  And that is what a good mom does.

I had been attending the breastfeeding support group at the hospital where Haven was born, as well as joining a local breastfeeding support group Facebook page.  Somewhere along the way, I heard the very best piece of advice.  To the new mom who is reading this and is struggling with breastfeeding: let this sentence soak in and remember it in those moments that you want to quit.

Never give up on your hardest day.

That day that I called my mom in tears, I figured that was my hardest day, so I knew I couldn’t quit.  Even though I was getting some formula to supplement, I wouldn’t let myself give up that day.  I couldn’t.

In hindsight, that was my hardest day.  It only got better from there.

I started watching her while she slept, and would scoop her up as soon as she started stirring.  This gave me time to try to get her latched before she realized she was hungry and completely lost it.

Haven and Moo

Haven napped in her Rock ‘n Play while I waited for her to wake up

At the suggestion of a friend, we switched to the Munchkin Latch bottles.  They are made for breastfed babies, and they don’t drip out when turned over like many other bottles do.  This helped Haven to learn how to draw the milk out, instead of waiting for it to drip in.

We also began to practice paced feeding when giving her bottles.  With paced feeding, you hold the baby more upright instead of reclined, hold the bottle horizontally, and take it out every couple of minutes for 30 second pauses.  This slows the baby down to more of a nursing pace, and taught her that eating from a bottle was just as slow as nursing.

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Josh giving Haven a bottle at the park

 

I also started using a nipple shield-a silicone nipple that is worn over the mother’s nipple. Its intended use is to assist with latching when a mother has flat or inverted nipples, but is also sometimes used for preemies, because it gives them a little more to anchor onto.  I had tried the shield a couple of times in the NICU, but hated it because Haven would just knock it off in her flailing, and milk would spill everywhere.  But I decided to try it again, because it would at least get her back to the breast, rather than eating from only a bottle.  In an effort to keep the shield on while she was flailing, I started taping it on with medical tape.  I ended up with red rings on my breasts from pulling the tape off every few hours, but it kept the shield in place, and she was nursing with it, so the discomfort was worth it.  I was also making sure to pump after every feeding, to protect my supply.  Nipple shields are very useful tools, but should be used with caution, and under lactation consultant guidance, because it can be hard to maintain supply with them.

 

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Nursing with the nipple shield

 

At one point, I realized that she was getting frustrated with the inefficiency of the shield, so I started trying without it.  Sometimes she would latch without it, and sometimes she wouldn’t.  If she did, I felt like I couldn’t move a muscle because I didn’t want to mess it up.  Without fail, every time she would successfully latch, my nose would start itching.  I often asked Josh to scratch my nose for me so I wouldn’t have to move.

We eventually got to the point where we were using the shield less and less.  Those times that she directly nursed, my heart soared.  I suspect the oxytocin released while nursing also had something to do with it, but I was SO excited and thankful that my baby was finally nursing.  I think the day when I was able to leave the house with no pumped milk, no shield, and no breastpump was the day when I felt like we had finally arrived at a successful nursing relationship.

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Kicked back after a successful nursing session

It was an incredibly long, difficult, emotional road, but now 10.5 months later, Haven is still nursing like a champ.  She eats solids for all three meals a day, and has recently moved to mostly nursing before and after sleeps, and several times overnight.  Sometimes, when I look back at the beginning of the journey, I can’t believe the obstacles we overcame.  We are incredibly lucky that it all worked out for us-many moms and babies aren’t able to overcome those challenges, but we did.  I was extremely determined (read: stubborn) to make it work, and in the end, I think that that is what made all the difference for us.  Determination and support.

To the mom who is struggling with breastfeeding right now: don’t give up.  You can do this.  It gets better.

Thank you for reading about our journey, and I encourage you, if you are struggling with breastfeeding, feel free to comment or email me at jen.r.mendenhall@gmail.com .  I would love to chat, give you some resources, and pray for you and your baby.

Nurse on, mommas!

20160115_200916Pulling Up

 

 

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Remembering the NICU Days

In a few short days, Haven will be nine months old. Nine months of joy, sleep deprivation, laughs, changing diapers, and watching her grow.

Oatmeal 8 Months

I knew it would feel bittersweet to see her grow and change, and I love seeing how she is discovering the world around her and getting stronger.  But, I also fiercely miss the days when she was five pounds and some ounces, barely staying awake to eat, and snuggles for dayssssss.

And, strangely enough, I also sometimes miss our days in the NICU.  These are our first memories with her, and even though it was Hard with a capital H to have her in the hospital, I understand why I look back so fondly on them.

I left off on her birth story at the first time I got to hold her in the NICU.  If you haven’t read them, you can read Part One and Part Two.

After holding her for a while, I gave her back to the nurse to place her back in the crib.  She wasn’t in an incubator yet, and she looked so little and helpless with wires everywhere.  I asked my Mom to take a picture of me, Josh, and Haven-our first family photo.  It’s not the one I was expecting-in the hospital bed, minutes after birth, with the baby sleeping peacefully on my chest-but it was our first picture, and part of our story, and I love it for that.

First Family Photo

The nurse explained to me that I could come down and see her anytime I wanted, with the exception of 6:45 to 7:45 pm and am, while the nurses changed shifts.  We headed back down to my room, and I tried to settle in and get some sleep, a difficult task while on an emotional high off of getting to see and hold her.

For the first few nights, while I was still admitted in the hospital, I would get up to pump in the middle of the night.  I was only getting a few drops at most, but I knew any little bit would help her.  I would walk down the hall, even at 4 in the morning to go see her and drop off the tiny bit of milk I had.

I couldn’t try to nurse her for several days, until she was off of oxygen machines.  Until then, she was receiving IV fluids for nourishment, as well as IV antibiotics for her suspected case of pneumonia.  Because she couldn’t nurse, the NICU nurse would take a q-tip, dip it in the drops of milk, and swab it in her mouth.  She said it was called oral care, and it gives her a taste of the “liquid gold”.

After the first night, Haven was moved to an incubator in the spot right in front of the desk.  She was the first baby you saw as you came in the doors to the NICU.

After two and a half days, I was released from the hospital.  Before we left, we went down to the NICU to say goodbye.  When the nurse learned that I was being released, she took Haven’s CPAP off so I could see her face while I held her.  She could breathe without it, it was just labored breathing.  “Momma needs to be able to see her baby,” she said with a smile.

First Time No CPAP

She handed her to me, and I started crying.  This was the moment I had waited for-to hold my baby and to gaze into her face.  I still mourn that I didn’t get this moment right after delivery, but it was maybe even more special because I had anticipated it so much.  The moment only lasted a minute or so, and then she needed to be put back on the CPAP.

Before we left the hospital, we stopped at the in-hospital pharmacy to pick up my prescription, and I remember sitting in the waiting area, with my It’s a Girl! balloon, boppy pillow, and suitcase, and feeling like people were looking at us and wondering where the baby was.  While loading everything into the car, my eyes filled with tears as I thought, we should be driving home with a baby.  As we drove away, I realized it was the first time I would really be apart from her, with miles between us, and she was only 36 hours old.

When we got home, some friends and family had graciously cleaned our house for us.  Josh’s parents had finished up painting in Haven’s room, and my father-in-law had put her crib together.  It was wonderful to be home, but of course it didn’t feel quite right.  It felt normal, but abnormal within the context of my new reality.  How could I sit and watch TV while my baby is in the hospital?  Shouldn’t I be doing something because my baby is in the hospital?  I should be breastfeeding instead of pumping but I can’t because my baby is in the freaking hospital.

The next week and a half is hard to separate by day in my mind, because every day turned out to be mostly the same.  I would get up in the middle of the night, every 2-3 hours and pump.  I had the pump set up next to my bed, and I would sit on the edge of the bed while I pumped.  Bleary-eyed, I would label the bottle, put it in the freezer, wash my pump parts, and crawl back into bed.

In the mornings, I would wake up, shower, and get ready to go.  My Mom and I would ride in her car, and Josh would drive ours so he could leave for work from the hospital.  As we pulled up and parked at the hospital, I would feel so giddy that I was about to go see Haven.  The ride up to the sixth floor, down and around the halls, and the scrubbing in process couldn’t happen fast enough.

As the nurse buzzed me in through the doors, I was greeted with the familiar beeps of the monitors, low lighting to create a relaxed atmosphere for the babies, and the smell of soap and hand sanitizer.  I would find my nurse and get updates from the last few hours.

She had to wear the CPAP for the first three days (the specifics are fuzzy now), then she had cannulas in for a day, then she was on room air.  The last day she was on cannulas, I arrived and saw that they were taped to her face, but not actually in her nose.  I found our nurse, who was tending to another baby, and she said that Haven had actually been pulling them out all morning, and her oxygen levels were staying up without them in, so she was just keeping an eye on her.  She kept her levels up for several hours, so we got to take them off that day!

No More Oxygen

After she was off of oxygen machines, I was able to try to nurse her.  Because she was a preemie, it was a struggle.  I’ll go into more detail in a blog about our breastfeeding journey (I have a ton to say about that), but the short version is this: in the beginning, because she was so little and so sleepy, I would latch her on, and she would just sit there.  For the days that she was still receiving IV fluids, this was okay because she was getting her nutrition there.  As soon as she finished the fluids, though, if she wouldn’t nurse after 20 minutes of trying, we would have to give her a bottle of pumped milk.  Although it was a “slow flow” nipple, the milk dripped out and poured out of the sides of her tiny mouth.  There were times when I was able to get her to nurse for a few minutes, but it was always very weak nursing.

Josh Feeding Haven

Because she was having so much trouble nursing, she went from her 5 lbs 10 ounces birth weight down to 5 lbs 3 ounces.  She was also jaundiced, and spent several days under the bilirubin lights.  Those days were hard, because she had to spend most of the day in the isolette instead of in my arms.

The nurses have the babies on three hour schedules, so every three hours, we would take her temperature, change her diaper, and the nurse would do an exam.  They always weighed her wet and dirty diapers to measure output, to make sure she was getting enough milk.  Then, we would carefully unhook the monitor wires, transfer her to the crib, and roll her to the pumping/nursing room.  After attempting to nurse, then bottle feeding, I would send her back out with Josh or my Mom, and I would stay in the room to pump.  If her bilirubin levels were good that day, and if she was keeping her body temperature well, we could hold her as long as we wanted.

I would usually stay at the NICU from 8 AM to 10 or 11 PM, only leaving during the shift changes, or to run home to eat or eat in the cafeteria.  Leaving at night was always hard.  I remember crying the whole way home one night, and when we walked in the door, my Mom (who had gone back to our house earlier) asked, “Is everything okay?” “It’s just so hard,” I told her.

I often called in the middle of the night for updates on Haven.  They would usually do a blood draw to check bilirubin levels over the midnight shift, so I would call to see if her levels would be good that day, or if she would be under the lights again.  Often, I just called because I wanted to be connected to her somehow.  The nurses were so great, and always reassured me with news on how well she was doing.  One nurse told me, with a laugh, about how she had just gotten done giving her a bottle, and she spit up the milk all over her, some of which had already curdled.

When she was getting close to the end of her stay, all she needed to do was to be able to regulate her own body temperature, and to get on a trend of weight gain instead of loss.  I remember that the day that she got to wear clothes for the first time (after finishing her IV fluids and only had the monitor wires to work around), and the day she moved to an open air crib (when she could regulate her temp) were both really exciting days.

During this time, they allowed us to stay in a room across the hall, so I could try to nurse her overnight.  It was great to have a place to land, and to take a nap if I needed.

On the 12th day, as I walked into the NICU, our nurse walked up to me and said, “You’re going home today!” “Really?!” I couldn’t believe that we were finally going to be able to bring her home.  Haven had passed her carseat test overnight-they must be able to sit in their carseat for 90 minutes without their stats dropping-and she was finally gaining weight.

We hadn’t had a chance to have the carseat base properly installed, so we called around to several fire stations to see if anyone could install it for us that day.  Josh took it to be installed, and I picked out an outfit for her to go home in.  We didn’t have any warm clothes that were small enough for her, so her going home outfit was super random-whatever I could roll up and layer.

The nurse brought her to our room, we strapped her into the carseat, and the nurse rolled her downstairs in a wagon.  The nurse we had had for several days was Filipino, so we talked about the Philippines and Filipino foods while Josh pulled the car up.  It was raining, so we covered her carseat with a blanket and loaded her in.

First Carseat Ride

Finally, we were home.  We brought her inside and set the carseat down on the living room floor for the cats to see.  While it felt amazing to be home, it also felt a little anticlimactic.  I always pictured bringing my first baby home to a house full of family members, but our family had all needed to go home before she came home from the hospital.

Nevertheless, we were home, and I was so thankful.  I was so excited to finally start our everyday lives as a family of three.

Two Weeks

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Birth Story Part 2…or, This Isn’t Too Bad

If you haven’t read Part 1 of my Birth Story yet, you can do so here.


After the doctor left the triage room and I had called my Mom so she could start the 4.5 hour drive, I looked over at Josh.

“How do you feel about this?”  I asked him.

“Well,” he said, “I don’t know.”  In true Josh form, he was outwardly calm, which was good for me.  I was excited, but nervous.  I couldn’t believe that it was going to be a matter of hours before we would meet our little girl.

I remember, a few years ago, during a friend’s pregnancy, I asked her if she was nervous about delivery.  She laughed and told me, “Well, it’s coming whether I like it or not, so I don’t really have a choice.”  I felt the same sentiment this night.  Labor and delivery were here, so the only thing to do was to do it.

Josh called his parents, and they decided to wait until the next morning to drive up, rather than driving through the night.

The nurses came back in and prepared me to be admitted and to move to a labor and delivery room.  They walked me down and around the hallway, and brought me into the room.  As we walked in, I thought, this is where she will be born.  Strange to be here and see it.  Life was going to change in a few hours, and it was exciting and strange to see the environment that it would happen in.

After settling into the bed, they placed an IV, and began to ask me questions about what I would like for the labor process.

“Will you be wanting an epidural?”

“I’m 99% sure no, but I might change my mind.”  They advised me that even if I was pretty sure I did not want one, it was a good idea to go ahead and talk to the anesthesiologist so he could get his spiel out of the way, rather than trying to listen and sign paperwork while I was in hard labor.  I consented, knowing that was probably a good idea.

My friend Kayla arrived, and my sister would be getting there soon.  The plan had been for my sister to be present at delivery, and Kayla would wait in the waiting room with my 6 month old nephew so my sister could feed and attend to him when needed.  However, the ER staff would not let him into the waiting room overnight, so my sister was forced to go home.  We were both bummed, but the circumstances were understandable.

Because my sister was not able to be there, I asked Kayla if she would be there during delivery.  “Of course.  This will be the first birth that I’ve been to.  I can’t believe it’s time for Haven to be here!”

The nurses started my pitocin drip, and decided to start small to see where that would take me.  I was having contractions, but they were irregular, and they were hoping that the pitocin would regulate them into active labor.  I was frustrated because I was having two or three contractions in a row, but because they weren’t fully coming down into a rest in between, they would only count as one contraction.  So I was having them “six minutes apart”, but for three or four minutes at a time.

After awhile, the contractions were still not settling into a good pattern, so they turned my pitocin drip up to 4, then to 6.  The contractions were getting harder and harder, and I thought for sure I was progressing quite a bit.

Because I have had a miscarriage before, I knew what to expect from contractions.  In many ways, it gave me confidence to know that I would be able to handle them.  My coping mechanism for the contractions was closing my eyes, focusing on breathing, and grasping Josh’s hand.  I didn’t expect to need the hand, but I really did.

As the contractions came and went, I squeezed Josh’s hand (firmly, but not to the breaking point, lol), and Kayla talked me through the contractions as they rose and fell on the screen.  There were a couple of times that Josh was still holding my cup of ice chips from the last time that he had spooned some into my mouth, so his hand was not readily available.  All I could get out was, “Hand, hand, hand, HAND!!!”

After awhile, the doctor came back in to check my dilation.

“You are three centimeters and 90% effaced.”

Three. Centimeters???  Are you serious?  This was the first time that I questioned whether I could do it without an epidural.  The contractions were getting pretty strong, and I knew that as I approached 7-10 centimeters, it would just get harder.  The nurses asked me if I wanted some pain meds through my IV, but I felt like there was still quite a ways to go until I reached my pain threshold, so I declined.

The contractions became harder, and I suddenly felt sick to my stomach.  I grabbed the awkward plastic cone-shaped sick bag, but didn’t throw up.

Forty five minutes later, the doctor came to check me again.

“You are eight centimeters and 100% effaced.”

I lifted my head off the bed in shock.  “Eight???”

The nurse smiled at me.  “No wonder why you were feeling sick.  Your body was going through a ton of change.”

Ok.  I’m at an eight.  I can do this.  The end was in sight.

Just a little bit later, I was checked again.  The nurse said that as she was checking, she felt it change from a 9 to a 10.

“Whenever you feel the urge to push, just let us know.”  They began to set up the room for delivery.  The doctor put on his gown and gloves, the NICU nurses were on standby in the corner of the room, and other people were doing other things, but I was too busy to notice what else was going on.

“I feel like I have to push!”  I told them.

Everyone assumed their places.  My labor and delivery nurses were on each side of me, holding my legs.  Josh was by my head, holding my hand with one of his, and holding a cool rag to my forehead with his other.  Kayla was behind Josh, camera at the ready.  This was probably the time that I panicked the most, as I was cautioned not to push yet, but my body was involuntarily pushing anyway.  I focused all my energy on not pushing.

An oxygen mask was placed over my nose and mouth, and I was given the go ahead to start pushing.  I focused on one of the nurses as she counted me through the pushes.

“Good job, good job.  Again!”  I gave three pushes at a time, and by the third push, I was just ready to breathe again.  I could feel the muscles in my face bulging, but I really had no control over them.

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I had been worried about the pushing part, and how much it would hurt, especially if I tore.  If I’m being honest, it was not as bad as I imagined, and the things at the forefront of my mind were actually about how I was so thirsty and my mouth was so dry from the oxygen, and how I really needed some chapstick.  I kept on pushing because I wanted water and chapstick ASAP, haha.

“I see lots of hair,” the doctor said.  Good, I thought.  I had hoped she would have lots of hair to justify all the heartburn I had during my pregnancy.

After only twenty minutes of pushing, she was out.  She cried out for a second, but then she was quiet.  She was placed on the table between my legs, and I took off my oxygen mask and leaned up.

“I can’t see her!  I can’t see her!”  They wrapped her in a towel, and placed her on my belly, but the towel was over her face as they wiped her down.  She still was not crying after a few seconds, so they took her to the NICU nurses in the corner.

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As strange as is sounds, my focus wasn’t really on her at that point.  I knew she was in good hands, and I knew I still had more work to do.  They pressed down on my belly to deliver the placenta, and began stitching me up.  I didn’t really feel anything, even the poke of the needle to numb the area.  I was concentrating on keeping my body from shaking off the table.  I guess it was a combination of adrenaline, hormones, and maybe some effects of the pitocin.

They called Josh over to the corner where they were working on Haven.  They were using a manual oxygen pump to help her breathe.  She was grunting and working hard to keep the air sacs in her lungs open.  Josh began talking to her, and she opened her eyes wide and looked at him.  Josh said later that this was the coolest part for him.  I think this is exactly when he fell in love with her.

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“You can come to the NICU with her while we get her set up,” they told him.

Before they left, the nurse wrapped her in a blanket, and brought her over so I could see her for a few seconds.  I barely had time to register what she looked like before they had to take her away, but I was grateful I got to see her for a second.

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Josh followed them down the hall to the NICU, and they explained in better detail how they would help her breathe.  Then they had him come back to the delivery room while they did the “mean stuff”, like placing her IV, pricking her foot, and strapping on a machine to help her breathe.

After Josh got back to the room, my Mom arrived.  She had rushed from home, over four hours away.  For the next three hours, we waited in the delivery room until we could go see Haven in the NICU.

Finally, my labor and delivery nurses came with a wheelchair to wheel me down to the NICU to see her.  When we got there, she was in an open-air crib with a warming lamp above her.  She had wires coming out everywhere, and had a big CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) strapped to her head and covering her nose.  She had a small tube taped to her chin that went into her mouth, down her throat, and into her stomach to drain off air and fluid caused by the CPAP.  There was also an IV in her hand.

She looked so tiny and fragile, but at the same time, I couldn’t believe that she had fit inside of me.  There were the feet that had constantly poked out of the left side of my belly, and the bottom that had burrowed so far into my ribs on my right side.  Because of the CPAP, I couldn’t see much of her face, but I could see a thick tuft of brown hair poking out of the back.  I placed my hand lightly on her shoulder and arm.  “Hi honey,” I told her.

The NICU nurse explained all of the machines and how they were helping her, and what the numbers on her monitor meant.  She also told us that they had taken an X-Ray of her chest, and there was some fluid on her lungs, and possibly pneumonia.  They had started her on a round of antibiotics, and she was receiving IV fluids for nourishment.

Later that night, my Mom and I returned to the NICU to see her again, and I got to hold her for the first time.  We did Kangaroo Care, a technique where the baby is placed skin-to-skin inside your shirt, against your chest.  Finally, I was holding my baby girl.  The moment that I had been robbed of at delivery because of her circumstances was finally here.  Even though she was very sick and there were wires everywhere, all felt right in the world.

First Time Holding 2First Time Holding


I’ve been asked a couple of times if I had the birth experience that I had wanted.  The answer is yes and no.  I had a feeling during my pregnancy that Haven would come early, but I didn’t expect her to come this early.  I was 35 weeks and 5 days, which is considered late pre-term.  The biggest concern at this point is underdeveloped lungs, which was Haven’s biggest struggle.

I was not crazy about being induced, especially with pitocin, but I know that under the circumstances, it really was the best option for us.

I am so proud of myself that I was able to labor and deliver with no pain medication or epidural.  Maybe it is because I am now three weeks out from the experience, but I really honestly did not think that the labor process was all that bad.  I mean, I don’t want to do it again right now, but it does give me lots of confidence for future deliveries.

And above all, I am so glad that our Haven Harper is here, and is healthy.  Her first couple of weeks were rough, but she has proven herself to be a fighter.  In my next blog or two, I’ll talk about our NICU experience-the hard things and the beautiful things.  It was a life changing experience for sure.

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Birth Story Part 1…or, You’re Not Crazy

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 (35 Weeks and 3 Days)

I woke up that morning feeling crampy and stiff.  I didn’t think too much of it, because honestly, sleep had been difficult for weeks.  Usually, after getting up and moving around, the crampiness would go away.  I got up, poured a bowl of Pops, and settled down to read my Bible and journal.

The crampiness was not going away, though, and I was trying to pay attention to see if there was any kind of pattern or rise and fall to the discomfort.  There didn’t seem to be, so I decided to keep an eye on it throughout the day.

Later that morning, I texted my sister to let her know how I was feeling.  We planned on her being there during delivery, so I wanted to let her know just in case.  I just wasn’t sure what to make of the discomfort.  Do I chalk it up to the last few weeks of pregnancy?  Do I go in to get checked?  She suggested that I go in to get checked-better safe than sorry.

Josh was getting ready to take the car to go to work, so she offered to take me to the hospital.  My brother in law was working from home that day, so it would be possible for her to leave her two boys with him and go with me.

As we circled the parking lot trying to find a spot, I kept thinking, it’s probably nothing, and I’ll feel dumb if it is.  But we’re already here, so there’s kind of no going back.

We walked into the Emergency Room, and I told the receptionist, “I’m 35 weeks pregnant, and I might be having contractions, but I’m not sure.”

“Ok, follow me.”

They led me back through the ER doors, and my sister had to go around through the main entrance.  We wove through several hallways,  “Have you ruptured?”  She asked me.

“No.”

I was taken to the labor and delivery floor, and the receptionist had me sign in.  They took me to a triage room, and when I saw the hospital gown on the bed, things got real.  I mean, I just wanted to know if I was having contractions, not actually be admitted.  Memories from my ER experience during my miscarriage came flashing back.

When the nurses came in, they asked me what was going on.

“Ok, I just want to clarify,” I told them, “that I don’t think I’m actually in labor.  I think I’m having contractions, but I’m not sure, so I just wanted to get checked.”
They took my vitals, including my blood pressure.  It was elevated as it had been for the last few weeks.  I normally run in the 110s over 70s, but my blood pressure had lately been something like 135/90.  So not an astronomical number, but high for me.

They strapped the fetal monitors around my belly, and I watched the screen as they asked me questions about medical history.  I could see (with some relief) that I was having contractions, but they were not strong enough to be able to feel clear divisions between them.  It was justifying to see it on the screen, though, and to know that I wasn’t crazy.

The doctor then came in to check cervical dilation and take some swabs.  She said I was dilated 2 centimeters and 50 percent effaced, but that did not necessarily mean that I was in labor.  Many women can walk around at that stage for weeks before delivery.  They decided to monitor me for a few hours to see if I would progress at all.  I was given a big jug of water to drink, and at first I just thought it was a courtesy.  How thoughtful of them.  Come to find out, they wanted me to drink it like crazy to see if that would stop the contractions.

My sister and I got to know that triage room pretty well as we waited.  The nature of my contractions was not changing, so they told me they were going to give me IV fluids.  Until this point, I had never had an IV, at least not that I could remember (I did have one as a baby).

Two nurses came in to give me the IV, and I could tell that one was a student.  It took her a few tries to place the IV, which was not fun, but I just tried to stare at the spot I had picked out on the ceiling.  I could tell she felt really bad, and although it was definitely not fun, I didn’t want to freak out and make her freak out.

Eventually, the IV was placed, and they started the fluids.  After receiving the fluids for awhile, my contractions slowed and my blood pressure went down.  They concluded that it was probably an irritable uterus that was causing the contractions.  The uterus, they told me, is a muscle, and when I get dehydrated, it starts contracting.  So apparently I was dehydrated.  I guess I should not have had that big glass of sweet tea the day before.  Oops.

I was sent home with instructions to drink tons of water, rest, and to come back in if I started bleeding, if my water broke, or if I started having stronger contractions in a pattern.

Thursday, March 5th-Friday, March 6th (35 Weeks and 4 Days)

Sometime overnight, I began leaking amniotic fluid.  I didn’t recognize what it was at that point, because honestly I just thought I was getting really sweaty overnight.  By late morning on Friday, when I had had to change underwear again, I started to become suspicious.

I kept an eye on it for a few hours, but things were not changing.  My contractions were about the same as they had been for the last few days, but I was beginning to be able to feel a bit of a rise and fall with them, rather than a continuous background of discomfort.

By early evening, I was starting to think that we needed to go back to the hospital.  Josh was off work that day, but he had gone out on a walk, so I waited for him to get back.  I had started to write down the times of contractions, and they were ranging from three to seven minutes apart.

When Josh got back, we decided to go in to get checked again.  If it was still nothing this time, I was really going to feel stupid, but again, better safe than sorry.

We were taken into triage again, and I ended up seeing the same doctor that I had a few days before.

“So tell me what’s going on,” she said.

“Well,” I told her, “I think I might be leaking fluid.  And my contractions are getting a little stronger and more defined.”

She told me that she would check my dilation again, and take a sample to look at under the microscope to see if it was indeed amniotic fluid.  I was still dilated to a 2, but now I was 75 percent effaced.  After a few minutes, she returned with the results.

“Well, it is fluid.  Once you are ruptured, there is a risk for infection, so we will be admitting you and inducing you tonight.”

Ok.  It’s happening tonight.  I’m going to have a baby.  I felt strangely calm.

I really had hoped not to be induced with pitocin, so I asked her if there was any form of induction that we could do that was one step below pitocin.

“There are other methods, but at this point the infection risk is high so pitocin is your best option.”  If that was what I would have to do, then that’s what it would have to be.

With shaking hands and climbing adrenaline, I called my Mom.

“Well, they are inducing me tonight.”

Part 2 Coming Soon…

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The List

A friend of mine has been having a difficult time lately-he has been stressed about work, and just the bumps in the road of life. He reached out to his friends and family to ask for advice, and I was reminded of December of 2012.

Josh and I were with our World Race team in the Philippines, working with a church in the projects outside of Manila. The work was not hard necessarily-our days consisted of walking around the government project area, making friends, and hanging out with the youth of the church.

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The work was not hard, but I found myself feeling drained, physically and emotionally. Maybe it was the oppressive heat, maybe it was the 14’x14′ living space that all 8 of us lived in. Maybe it was the constant attention of locals peering through our window, or the stress of being thousands of dollars behind in fundraising, and not knowing if we would be allowed to continue on to the next month, and next country, of the World Race. Whatever it was, I was feeling drained; I felt like a lesser version of myself, and I knew I wasn’t giving my all.

So, I sat down one day, and jotted down in my journal the ways that I get filled up that came to mind. I am a verbal and written processor, so often I don’t even realize that something is true until it comes out of my mouth or shows up on the page. Some of the things didn’t surprise me, but some did.

Quality one on one time.  No surprise here.  As an extreme extrovert, I feel most alive when I am connecting to people.  Especially when having a deep, soul-filling conversation.  Often, after meeting a friend for a coffee date, I leave with the this is what life is all about feeling.

Music solitude.  Growing up in my family, there was always something going on in the background-people talking, music playing, TV going in the background.  Background noise is comforting to me; silence is jarring.  One of my absolute favorite feelings is the feeling that there is a soundtrack playing to my life.  I remember a moment in Honduras-our team had loaded up on the back of a flatbed truck, and we were being driven out to pray for a family who had a deathly ill family member.  I stood on the bed of the truck, holding onto the rails, and I had my headphones in and mp3 player going.  I was listening to Take Me Into the Beautiful by Cloverton.  The sun was warming my skin, the leaves of the banana trees blew in the wind, the smiling faces of my teammates on the back of the truck made me smile, too.  It’s as if turning off the sound of the “real world”, and putting a soundtrack to it gives me a chance to step back and observe the beauty of the moment.

Interaction with animals.  I love animals.  I think the Lord did something really special when He created them.  Animals give us a chance to interact with creatures other than ourselves.  We can see nature in them, we can see intelligence in them, we can even see social bonds in them.  I love that my cats could exist on their own if they needed to, but instead, we enrich each others lives.  I give them an endless supply of yummy food and treats, toys, and the occasional catnip, and they give Josh and I laughs and unconditional (sometimes conditional-if we haven’t filled their food bowl yet, or didn’t pet correctly…) love.  While on the World Race, if there was a kitten to be found, it was in my arms.

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Creating things.  This was one that surprised me.  I’ve always known that I enjoy the arts and creating things, whether that be crafts, music, writing, media, design-basically any kind of creative outflow.  But I didn’t realize just how much it filled me up until I realized that I hadn’t done any of those in a long time.

There were a few others on the list, but for the sake of time, I won’t list those.  Once I had these things written down, it gave me tangible ways that I could refill and refresh myself.  The very next page of my journal has a pen sketch of a tree by a stream, with the words Like a tree planted by the streams of Living Water.  I remember sketching that out, and feeling the release of stress and tension that I had been carrying around for who knows how long.

That month in the Philippines went from being draining to enjoyable.  Still difficult, but enjoyable.  Thankfully, I also had the loving support of my husband and our teammates to help sharpen me, and I am forever grateful for the ways that they molded and shaped me throughout that year.

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I encourage you to make out your own list.  What fills you up?  Maybe you could just start with what do you like to do?  And then, here is the important part, go do those things! 

Love and peace.