Monday, October 28, 2013

How I'm REALLY doing

I try really hard to keep a completely positive attitude on this NICU journey with Chase. I try to be strong for him, and have a positive outlook. I hesitate to share bad news, and try to hang onto enthusiasm over the baby steps in the right direction for as long as possible because sometimes I don't know when the next little bit of progress will come along to rekindle that fire.
Last night, in the car on the way home after some pretty bad news my mom told me it's OK to be real. I said I was afraid if I allow myself to be negative then more negative things would happen. I'm not trying to be negative, but for just one moment... one blog post... I need to be real.

Sometimes I hate it when people ask how I'm doing. I know everyone means well, and really I'm touched by how much support and genuine care people have shown our family through everything. But...I went through three years of infertility, planned a perfect home birth I was excited about, was excitedly counting down the days until my baby would be born at home, spent YEARS making every little decision, only to have all of that go down the drain. Now I sit by an incubator and watch a monitor full of numbers pleading with God  that this tiny miracle might remember to breathe a little better tonight than he did last night, pleading that none of the flashing numbers dip down again that hour, knowing that if they do my skin-to-skin time will be cut short as they assess him and determine if his care regimen needs to change. I wake up every hour through the night, hoping that he's OK, knowing that a bad news phone call could come in at any given time. My phone ringing is all it takes to make MY heart stop beating, my body to break into a nervous sweat, and my mind starts racing. How the Hell do you THINK I'm doing? I'm a new mother separated from my newborn. My baby is in NICU. I'm not OK, and I won't be until he's strong, healthy, and home.

Sometimes, I'm angry. I'm angry that my baby has to get poked and prodded every day. I'm angry that he has to go through tests, blood transfusions and exams every day. I'm angry that his little body looks battered and bruised from all the needle pokes. I'm angry that he is so bothered by all the things taped to his body all the time. I'm angry that he's not home in mama's arms, which is the ONLY place new babies belong. I'm angry that I have to ask permission to hold my own baby. I'm angry that I don't always understand exactly what's going on and what is best for him. I'm angry that I didn't get to spend those first few minutes of his life with him, as I was knocked out and he was rushed off to NICU. I'm angry that we can't be together all the time. I'm angry that he gets a revolving door of nurses rather than a team that gets to know him. I'm angry at my body for not cooperating, for letting this happen, for failing him. I'm angry my c-section isn't healing properly. I'm angry that the pain involved makes it unsafe for me to drive, and that I'm so reliant on rides and other people.

Sometimes I'm sad. My heart breaks for him every time he has to go through yet another traumatic experience. He's only three weeks old and he's been through way too much already. I'm sad that I can't protect him from all this. I'm sad that I am missing out on so much because I can't be at the hospital 24/7. I'm sad that he's in pain.

Sometimes I'm afraid. I'm afraid of infections. I'm afraid of him getting sick. I'm afraid of feeding issues. I'm afraid of apnea. I'm afraid of brady spells. I'm afraid of all the things that keep babies reliant on machines for longer, which in turn keeps them in the hospital longer. I'm afraid of RSV, I'm afraid of the flu. I'm afraid of making wrong decisions and him suffering for it. I'm afraid of letting him down and I'm afraid of not being good enough.

So, when you ask me how I'm doing, and I tell you I'm fine... know that it's a lie. It's a big fat lie. I'm going to continue saying it, in hopes that it eventually becomes the truth. I'm going to keep trying to be positive, and I'm going to continue to have faith it will all eventually turn out OK. I'm going to continue believing that Chase will come home strong and healthy someday, and I'm going to keep dreaming of the day I can hold my son and not stare at the flashing numbers on the screen to know when he needs help breathing. I won't allow the anger, sadness, and fear completely take over... but they are always there, sometimes in the back of my mind, and sometimes front and center.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Our NICU Journey: Week 1

If baby Chase had stayed put, today would have marked 31 weeks. Instead, he is ten days old.
Ten days. I can't believe how much life has changed. Less than two weeks ago my daily agenda revolved around little projects around the house, getting things ready for Chase, and counting down the days to mid-December. Now it's revolved around getting back and forth between NICU to visit him, and pumping milk every two hours.  
Nothing can prepare you for something like this. Through our TTC journey and then through this pregnancy, we just didn't think about "what if he comes super early?" I don't think anyone does, because it's one of those things that you just don't expect to happen to you. But it did. 
Sometimes I don't know how I'm supposed to feel. I am overwhelmed with gratitude that he is here safe, and that we will be able to bring him home- even if it's not as quickly as I would have liked. I love him so much. But sometimes, generally in the middle of the night, I just feel angry. I feel angry that he's not here with me, angry that he's having to go through all this, angry at the situation. I don't understand how it's decided who gets healthy babies and who doesn't. I try to push those feelings out and be thankful for what we DO have, thankful for how many things ARE going great with him... but it's not easy. Being separated from him feels very unnatural. 
The first time I got to hold him I have to admit- I was a little scared. Certainly not scared enough to not jump on the chance when it was offered to me, but I was nervous. He's so tiny. His little arms and legs... there's just nothing to them. I mean, all of him weighs less than 3lbs. 3lbs is tinier than I pictured it. I was afraid that he wouldn't be happy, that he would just want to be put back- and afraid that I'd do something wrong and hurt him. All of those things went through my mind but at the end of the day, I wanted to be close to him and knew these fears were something I
needed to just get rid of. I have a son now, and he's going to need me to be there for him- there's no room for fear in that. (as someone I greatly admire told me this week: there is not room for fear in parenting.) 
Holding him for the first time, which happened on October 12th, was the best feeling in the world. He just melted and snuggled in, and for an hour- life was perfect. It was natural, he was exactly where he belongs. We get to do that every night, and if he starts to gain weight better will add in mornings too. 
I'm amazed at the progress that can be made one baby step at a time. In a week, he moved off the ventilator onto a CPAP, and then gradually weaned him off of that onto a regular nasal cannula. That didn't go super smoothly so they put him back on CPAP, and then a high flow cannula. As of today, he's back to a regular nasal cannula. He had so many tubes and wires going on the first couple of days and several of them have since come out. His PICC line will come out in the next day or two as long as he continues to tolerate his feedings well. I know we still have a long road ahead, and these things are often two steps forward, one step back (as we learned with his oxygen...) but the idea of him needing LESS machines makes me really happy. As much as I can accept the PICC line, cannula, and feeding tube as things that are helping him that he needs, I know they can't be the most comfortable, and if he's strong enough- I'd rather he not have them. He's such a trooper. 
Seven weeks or so- best case scenario. He has at least seven weeks left in NICU. I hope every week goes by as quickly and overall smoothly as this one has. 

Where we're at now: Chase is having acid reflux after his feedings, which he may or may not grow out of, but we aren't overly concerned about it at this point. His biggest hurdle is that his brain isn't reliably telling his body to breathe- so he tends to stop breathing, which in turn makes his heart rate nosedive, and he has to be moved/ roughed up to stimulate him and then he comes back around. His lungs in and of themselves are just fine- he just forgets to use them. His weight dropped down to 2lbs 10.5oz, but is picking back up. He's at 2lbs 14oz now, which is just an ounce below his birth weight. The more weight he gains, the more we get to hold and touch him so that's a really big deal. 

As for me and Jon... we are hanging in there. It gets overwhelming and we have our moments of pity parties, for sure. Jon is working hard (as always! He's such an amazing husband and father) on getting things prepared at the house for all of us to come home. Since everything is so torn apart and I've been a little out of commission lately, we've been staying at my mom's. I'm anxious to get the house put back together and settle into whatever our new normal is going to be. Plus it's a shorter drive to the hospital and I'm pretty sure we're spending a fortune on gas alone. I'm mostly focusing on eating, drinking, and pumping like crazy. Soon, I will be staying at the hospital during the days and being as present as possible for absolutely everything. A couple things have gotten in the way of that this week- recovering from my c-section, inability to drive, lack of cooperation from my body, etc. but Chase needs me, and I need him. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

When Things Don't Go According to Plan: The Birth Story of Chase Albert

Generally, today, I’d be telling you all about weeks 28-30 of pregnancy. I'd tell you my bellybutton is still an innie, that I'm not wearing maternity clothes- but perhaps I'm cheating because I officially live in sweats. I might comment that I’m nauseous, or tell you how crazy I’ve been nesting lately. I might mention that our house is coming right along and that I started putting all of Chase’s cloth diapers on the shelf this week. I’d tell you all about how I sent Jon to the grocery store at midnight to satisfy the most intense grilled cheese craving of all time, and about how I still adore egg and cheese burritos, as long as they are smothered in hot sauce. I’d surely mention how far away December is and that I was so looking forward to meeting my son, whom was growing rapidly in my body.
But, sometimes things don’t go as planned. Sometimes, no amount of preparation, learning, or striving towards a particular goal is enough to make it happen. Sometimes God writes a different plan, one that catches us completely off guard, one that we may not understand at the time, (or ever!) and we must learn to be flexible. You can imagine my surprise, after nearly three and a half years of planning a beautiful natural home birth, and nearly 30 weeks into a healthy, fairly textbook pregnancy, when I went into labor at just 29 weeks, 4 days.

Chase Albert Lanman was born at 12:48AM on October 7, 2013 via emergency c-section. He was 15.5” long, and weighed 2lbs 15oz. His gestational age at the time of his birth was 29 weeks, 5 days, and this is his birth story.

Anyone that knows Jon and I knows that we were very passionate about the beautiful natural home birth we had been planning for the entirety of our 3+ year TTC journey. Birth has become a real interest of mine during that time as I’ve been fascinated learning about all things pregnancy, birth, and baby. It really is an incredibly interesting topic! I’m a firm believer that medicine and routine intervention really have no place in normal childbirth and tend to cause more problems than they solve. I am, however, thankful for the technology and options available for those FEW times that for whatever reason, birth doesn’t go quite so “normal,” when it really IS necessary to intervene. I am thankful for the knowledge I have acquired. I am thankful that I took the time to learn what I did, so I can look at my birth experience and know that what we did was necessary, that this was one of those not-too-common cases where medicine was necessary, where it was valid, where it was right. I am at peace with the decisions that were made. I cannot deny being disappointed that we did not get the beautiful birth we had planned and hoped for, but we did get a growing and learning experience that has brought our family closer together. 

My labor with Chase was easy. Mostly because I had absolutely no idea I was really in labor until I was pretty well into transition and my body wanted to push him out. I had what I thought were Braxton hicks contractions all day and went to my midwife’s to get checked out- certain everything was OK and just wanting peace of mind. After checking me, we all just suspected that I was maybe getting a bladder infection which was causing the contractions, (the pressure and discomfort I was feeling was very consistent with this- and because I didn’t even suspect I was in labor- and only 29 weeks along it wasn’t the first thought to cross anyone’s minds, it made sense.) We decided to go down to the hospital and just get some things checked out, just for peace of mind- urinalysis, probably get some antibiotics, and maybe a non-stress test for Chase. We left pretty convinced we’d all be home and in bed at a decent hour. In fact, at this point we didn’t even think to contact family or anything, figuring there was nothing to report. “Hey, everyone, just letting you know I maybe have a bladder infection!” No. No one does that.
At the hospital, I gave a urine sample, and they strapped the monitors to my belly to make sure Chase was doing well while we waited to hear back on that. He was. Several contractions came and went during this time. I was able to breathe through them, allowing the waves to come in, peak, and wash away one at a time. Sherri supported me through each one. Her presence brought me so much peace and comfort, I was able to relax completely even in uncertainty. The hospital nurse gave me a pelvic exam which was immensely uncomfortable to no fault of hers. Contractions came and went, and I noticed they started to come more and more quickly. At some point it occurred to Sherri that maybe this had nothing to do with a bladder infection, and maybe I wasn’t even in early labor- maybe I was actually in late labor. At seemingly that exact moment I suddenly felt like I needed to use the bathroom. When I voiced this, I think what was happening “clicked” throughout the room because it was like everything stopped for a moment. A moment after, I started getting shivers, though I wasn’t cold. I wasn’t really in pain, but I felt very pushed to my limit in a very physical sense. Each contraction that came would push me right until I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore, and then it would roll back and I’d catch my breath. At this point, a doctor came in. I have no recollection of him even being there, as I was so tuned into myself and what was happening I didn’t even know he was in the room… until things started to unravel….
Once we confirmed (by complete chance…) that I was in real labor, and there was no going back or stopping it, and there was talk of c sections, and ambulances, my fear set in, and so did the pain. I was managing OK, right up until the EMT said no one could go in the ambulance with me- not even Jon- and then I just could not cope with the fear. I have a lot of anxiety around hospitals, and I recognize that, so to take my main support system away, and add in all the uncertainty going on, the idea of having to go alone was just terrifying. How would I make it through the contractions without Sherri’s support? How would I know everything was OK without Jon’s calming presence? No, this wasn't what birth was to me. It wasn't OK. I was scared. I felt myself slip into a panic as I struggled to regain focus on my breathing and relaxation. Unfortunately the overwhelming fear translated into overwhelming pain and I found myself being “that woman” in labor begging for “help.” Vocally I was asking for pain medication, but that wasn't what I needed. I needed to get out of my own head- to get rid of the fear. I knew it was the fear getting in my way, but I also didn't know how to cope with that. My whole coping mechanisms depend on the fact that I trust birth- and I do- but I trust natural birth. This was out of my comfort zone, and in that moment I didn't know how to adapt to it. I didn't know how to let go of that fear. At some point, in the ambulance, I was able to get myself refocused to some extent. I accepted that this was not the plan, but it was happening, and I knew that my son needed me to work with him and to do that, I HAD to set my fear aside. I laid there, allowing the contractions to roll over me as I fell into them, humming and ahhhhing deeply through them. They were doubling over each other at this point- lasting longer than the breaks in between them were. I knew from everything I read that Chase’s appearance wasn't far off. I wasn't ready for him to come but in that moment, listening to the sirens of the ambulance, I accepted that this was happening. We arrived at the hospital and they wheeled me into labor and delivery. I felt a bit silly as I vocalized through my contractions. I looked up at the EMT and told him baby was not going to wait any longer. He just said “They’ll check you when we get you upstairs and see if you can have an epidural.” I don’t think he understood what I was saying. I felt movement low in my body- very low. I knew his feet were presenting. An animalistic roar escaped my mouth, and everyone looked at me. Suddenly I’m being yelled at to stop pushing. I didn't know I was pushing! It was completely involuntary and uncontrollable. The room turned to chaos again as a few nurses grabbed my bed and rushed me down the hall to the operating room. I went into myself, humming and ahhhhing through the waves, trying to close out the chaos around me. The doctor was harsh and short with me, telling me to be quiet and listen to him. He was trying to explain what they were doing- but I didn't care. I didn’t care what he had to say. I knew I was having a c-section. I knew it was happening now. I knew I would not get to hold my baby immediately, and I knew that the best thing I could do for Chase was stay in my little bubble of peace and hummm and ahhh through it. So I tuned him out.  He was also yelling at the anesthesiologist to hurry up, as a nurse prepped my abdomen for surgery. The last thing I remember once I felt the medicine in my vein, was telling Chase not to be scared, and that we could do this- together. And we did.

If I could remove the moments of panic, I would say my birth experience was wonderful. The pain did not rear its ugly head until the fear and panic did. It was confirmation to me that birth absolutely can be everything I thought it could be. Contractions don’t have to be immensely painful. Labor doesn’t have to be miserable. There does not need to be chaos and panic. When those things don’t happen, and I was able to just fold into myself and let things happen, it was nothing short of amazing. In fact, those final moments, right before I went under the anesthesia, when I had accepted everything going on, I can honestly say it was a powerful and spiritual experience. I believe birth is beautiful. I believe that even though circumstances prevented it this time, Jon and I absolutely will experience a wonderful home birth next time around. And the time after that. And the time after that. I know enough to feel confident in saying that though I didn’t have the experience I was preparing and hoping for- I know that I can someday.
Chase’s birth wasn’t normal. That’s OK! That’s why we are so thankful that medicine and doctors exist- so we can call upon them when it’s necessary! I have no regrets on ANY decisions Jon and I made as a couple for this pregnancy and birth. Words cannot express how thankful I am we found Sherri, nor the value of the comfort and peace of mind she brought to me through my pregnancy and as she supported me every step of the way at the hospital. What an incredible woman. I am a better person just for knowing her. I can only hope she is available my next pregnancy so we can totally ROCK a VBAC at home. I can so do this whole birth thing, don’t let my gnarly c-section scar fool you.
Chase has a long road ahead before he’s strong enough to come home with us. Jon and I have been absolutely overwhelmed by the amount of love, support, and kindness that have come pouring in the last couple of days. PLEASE know that while it’s been difficult to individually return every message, they do not go unread, they do not go ignored. Your thoughts and prayers are so very appreciated- and keep them coming, they are working!! I’m a believer in positive energy and creating your own reality starting with thoughts, and I have no doubt that we can thank all of you out there rooting for us for Chase’s progress so far.