Preparing for a NICU stay

As we prepare for the birth of our 4th child this coming April, we are also preparing for our second NICU stay. Our first time in the NICU, just over a year ago, was unexpected and overwhelming.

Today we have a sweet and healthy one-year-old (pictured below👇), who serves as a constant reminder that the suffering and struggles were totally worth it. I also came away from that NICU stay with a new understanding of how to improve the experience for me and my family, tips and tricks that I’ll be putting into practice this April:

1. Be your own (and your baby’s) advocate. This is hard when it feels like the doctors and nurses know so much more medically than you do (which they do); but the maternal instinct is also valid and if something is troubling you, SPEAK UP. For example, I was encouraged to stop breastfeeding Rosie during her hospitalization because it meant she had to be removed from treatment for 30-45 minutes at a time, as opposed to 5 minutes if the nurse bottle fed her. But—especially as a mom with PPD who has had trouble bonding with babies in the past—I stuck to my belief that breastfeeding through that time was critical to our longterm wellbeing as a family. And you know what? It turned out I did the right thing for us (we bonded beautifully), and on top of that, pulling her off her treatment for those chunks of time did not extend her hospital stay. Obviously your child’s situation/health will be different, so pulling them off treatment to nurse might not be possible: I’m not suggesting that you go completely against medical advice. Rather, what I’ve found (and what my husband, a physician, says) is that a patient who advocates for his/her needs, or has family who advocates for those needs, will almost always receive better patient care.

2. Prioritize YOUR spiritual, mental and physical wellbeing. One thing I’ve learned from being a mama to multiple small children is that self-care is critical to you being the best mama you can be. Self-care is about making time to do the things that refresh and recharge you, and for me that means:

  • Putting God first. There is no hope for peace in my life if He is not number one each and every day. This means sticking to my daily prayer/spiritual reading routines, as well as going to daily mass when possible. While in the hospital last year, I even requested that the Eucharistic minister visit me daily (which they did in both labor & delivery and the mother baby ward!).
  • Resting and sleeping as much as possible. Naps are not luxuries; naps are how I keep my PPD at bay.
  • Filling my waking hours with meaningful activities. Last year I spent my time in the hospital mindlessly surfing the internet. This did not fill me up; in fact, I’d say it drained me further. This time around I’m planning to bring some good books with me and have a line up of shows on Netflix/Amazon Prime (BBC’s new Little Women and possibly some Marie Kondo).
  • Planning ahead meals and snacks to keep me well-nourished in the hospital. While the hospital does provide a room for the “nesting” mom, they no longer provide meals for you once you are discharged. I learned last year that the hospital cafeteria is expensive and not very good, but thankfully there is a small fridge in which I can store my food. I plan to stock up on Chobani Yogurt Drinks and maybe some meats (honey baked ham anyone?), fruits and veggies. I might even make some meatballs ahead of time because I know I am going to be craving substantial, high-protein food.

3. Schedule dates with your husband. You and your spouse need each other’s support during a NICU stay, and that means being physically, mentally and emotionally present for each other. Resist the urge to switch into self-reliance survival mode, where you become ships passing in the night (my husband and I drifted into this territory too much last year). These dates may take place in the hospital–which is how they went for us last year–but are times when you can be alone just the two of you. Last year my husband would come visit me when the big kids were napping and/or in bed for the night. Sometimes we were too worn out to talk, but it was a comfort just being together. You might also consider planning some Netflix/Amazon shows for the two of you to watch, or pack a book for the two of you to read aloud together.

4. Family dinner every (possible) night. We made this a priority, and I don’t think we missed a night. Some nights this took place in my hospital nesting room, and some nights (especially when I needed fresh laundry, etc) I went home for 2 hours between Rosie’s feeds. This meal was critical quality time together; it was an anchor for everyone in our family during an otherwise turbulent time in our lives.

5. Schedule “dates” with your big kids. Last year I felt like I was drowning during our NICU stay, and one of my biggest regrets was relying too heavily on other people to support my older kids emotionally during that time. This spring I am planning to be more intentional about one-on-one quality time with my big kids while I’m nesting:

  • My (will be) 4 year old daughter: I’d love to watch A Little Princess and Annie with her, and also start reading Narnia or some Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’m also planning some simple jewelry making crafts that we can easily do in the nesting room (like making friendship beaded bracelets).
  • My (will be) 3 year old son: I’d like to start reading a new Roald Dahl book with him. He loved James and the Giant Peach, so I’m leaning towards Charlie and the Chocolate Factory after reading this review. We’ll probably do some crafts as well—including the friendship bracelets (mother/son bracelets 😊💕) and I’ve been thinking about investing in some educational manipulative activities like this Scoop-a-Bug Sorting Kit.
  • My 1 year old daughter: This is harder to plan because she’s a girl on the go and a dirty hospital is not the best place for a toddler who wants to get into everything. Hopefully, since it will be April, we’ll be able to go for walks outside and have lunch together. I’m praying about this—let me know if you have any good ideas for things to do with a toddler in the hospital!
  • And, of course, breastfeeding dates with the newborn. 😉

So this is my game plan! If you’ve had a NICU stay, what did you learn form that experience? How would you approach it differently if you had to do it again?

Surviving 3rd trimester discomfort and fatigue

I should probably be napping right now (it’s “rest time” in our house) but this post has been on my heart all morning as I’ve STRUGGLED to [cheerfully] survive the the long stretch of hours between 6:45a – 1:30p (aka kids morning wake up to nap time). I’m midway though 26 weeks of pregnancy and third trimester symptoms are already setting in: my belly has reached the point where it’s uncomfortably large (and I accidentally bump into things because I forget to give myself enough clearance) and the physical fatigue is REAL.

One blessing of this being my 4th time surviving 3rd trimester is that I’m more aware of/expecting the changes that are setting in, so I’m better equipped to manage them. Here’s my game plan to survive these last months of pregnancy:

1.Sleep. As much as possible. For me this means going to bed at 9p and sleeping as late as I can in the morning (usually 6:45/7a). Of course this is not all high quality sleep: as any pregnant lady knows, aches and pains plus stomach and bladder issues will wake you up frequently overnight (as will your children who are already outside the womb). Hence, I also enforce mandatory rest time in our house (my 2 y/o and 1 y/o still nap, while my 3 y/o has some quiet time in the family room & watches a show) when I take a nap…and you better believe that I nap every day. This is just as important to my mental health and physical wellbeing as it is to that of my kids—we all need a break from each other, they need their rest and they also need a joyful Mama.

2.Discover rejuvenating activities to fit in throughout your day. When I’m burnt out and exhausted, my natural inclination is to waste time scrolling though Instagram and Pinterest. But this NEVER recharges me; in fact, I usually put down my phone 5-10 minutes later feeling even worse than when I sat down to “rest”. I’ve realized that I need to fight the resistance I feel to pursue activities that actually recharge me when I have a small break in my day. For me those activities are prayer (nothing like a few decades of the rosary at 10a to reset your day), reading (thanks to the #CathLit2019 challenge I have a stack of good books ready to pick up and read) and writing. For you it might be painting, crafting, cooking…the list goes on. Whatever it is that pulls your out of yourself and gives you that sense of timelessness.

3.Eat well. We made chocolate chip cookies this morning and I am too embarrassed to say how many I have eaten today. I sort of developed an eating addiction: every time I started to feel super tired, I’d eat a cookie. This resulted in a series of sugar highs and sugar crashes, and also me not feeling hungry for anything substantive. Needless to say, I felt crummy and irritable thanks to my food choices (though the cookies were supremely delicious in the moment). I know from experience that what I should be doing is focusing my food consumption on high-protein, high-fiber food groups, foods that will give me stable energy and provide me and baby with the nutrients we need (and prevent constipation, which is a nightmare when pregnant). So tomorrow that means more meat, veggies, fruit and yogurt for this Mama!

4.Drink lots of water. I’m always thirsty these days, and when I don’t stay hydrated I get super irritable and develop low blood pressure. These are not helpful conditions to function under, especially when you have small, fast, loud children at home with you.

5.Be intentional with your time and energy. Over the years I’ve come up with my list of priorities: prayer/God, my husband and my kids are the top three—the people living in my home and our relationships. Following these priorities is staying on-top of laundry, keeping the home relatively picked up/vacuumed, and making healthy meals (important ways I care for the people in my home). Right now, this is pretty much all I’m capable of doing, which brings me to my next point…

6.Ask for help. Today I told my husband that I will no longer be able to keep up with deep cleaning the bathrooms. And you know what, he was okay with that and even volunteered to take over the dirty work until after baby is born. (He’s definitely a keeper ❤️). Acknowledging my limitations has made me a more cheerful wife and mother, and has helped me do the work that still I CAN do well and with a joyful heart. Through my struggles with prenatal and postpartum depression, I’ve come to the acute realization that Mama does set the emotional tone in the house. I want my home to be life-giving and joyful, which means I need to focus on how well I’m loving the people in my house, and asking for help (or maybe even letting go for a season) of the things that aren’t as important.

If you’re pregnant or recently postpartum, what have been/were the biggest challenges for your pregnancy? What tricks did you discover for coping?

Intentional Living with Toddlers & Preschoolers

Whew! We just survived 8+ days of stomach flu in our home—it was as much of a nightmare as you can imagine it would be (have you ever held a 12 month old over the toilet at 2am while she vomited up chunks of hotdog? NOT a pleasant experience). Luckily (I guess?) I was the last to get sick so was able to nurse everyone back to health before getting taken down by the bug myself.

Praise God for good health and a fresh start to this week!

As I mentioned earlier this month, my word of the year is FAMILY. It was a particularly rough fall for our family, filled with a lot of mom guilt on my end. I am pregnant with our fourth, and first trimester never goes well for me: I always get hit hard with prenatal depression and all day nausea/sickness. As a result of living in survival mode from September though mid-December, there was A LOT of TV watched in our house (in fact, it feels like that was pretty much all we did). For the new year, I’m trying to reset our daily routines and the unfortunate TV norms that our family has all too easily settled into.

1. Free play & “me play”. The first step to watching less TV is simply turning off the TV. Somedays this is easier said than done, but dispite my 3 y/o’s persuasive push-back when the screen goes black, I’m holding firm. Independent play is strongly encouraged in our house (we value open ended toys—I love the Waldorf and Montessori toys sold by Bela Luna toys), so usually after a few minutes of fussing the kids find an imaginary world to get lost inside. As Fred Rodgers said, “Play is really the work of childhood.”

But it’s also import that I join them in their play sometimes. My plan for the next few months is to take breaks between each chore (ie. after cleaning up the kitchen in the morning, after doing my daily laundry, after doing my daily deep cleaning of a room, etc) to get on the floor to play with my kids or read some books for 5-10 minutes. It’s a sad truth, but for me its really easy to get sucked into the todo list for the day and “forget” to make time to play with my kids.

2. Trying out homeschooling. My 3 y/o just dropped her nap. As a pregnant mother of three kiddos ages three and under, I initially met this loss with lots of tears (on my end). But actually, having DD1 not nap has enhanced our days. Now, from 2:30-3(ish) we get to have one-on-one quality time; “special time” as she calls it. We have been using this time to try out homeschooling, as that’s something we’re discerning right now, and it has been a beautiful blessing that we both look forward to every day. I’m following old versions of Seaton’s Pre-K Early Literacy book and Religious Education book, so homeschooling takes very little prep work on my end (in other words, it’s not some fancy, Pinterest-inspired science project).

3. Increasing the amount of (high quality) reading we do. I’m ashamed to admit that readalouds were an unfortunate casualty of my first trimester struggles. When I fall into these dark pits of depression, the classic symptom of “loosing interest in activities once enjoyed” seems to hit hardest in the areas of reading and writing (hence the hiatus from blogging this fall). My two oldest, particularly DD1, love reading the board books we have but could really benefit from having some more stimulating picture books. So this spring I’ll be ordering more books from the library, using the awesome picture book lists I’ve discovered in “Twenty-Six Letters to Heaven” and “A Mother’s List of Books”.

4. Daily outdoor time. We live in Pennsylvania where winters are YUCKY. It’s easy to fall into the trap of staying inside all day, every day. That said, I’ve noticed we’re all happier and more relaxed when we get some outdoor time each day. This past fall I learned about Denmark’s Forests Kindergartens. I was so inspired by this way of raising children, and now I also feel like I have no excuse to not get us outside! I’m also hoping to start doing more family gardening this spring and summer…did you see the announcement today about the new book Joanna Gaines wrote with her kids, “We Are the Gardeners”? I hoping this will be an inspiring, “high quality” read for me and my kids that will get us ready for the warmer weather!

5. Setting limits and boundaries for the kids (in order to preserve my own sanity). While I am building in pockets of quality time with my kids through out the day, I am simultaneously working to set limits and boundaries for them. Since DD1 is no longer napping, but because I still need to nap everyday in order to keep my prenatal depression in check, as soon as the 2 littles are asleep DD1 gets 30 minutes of TV while I get a 30 minute nap on the couch in the room next door. This is of course followed by our homeschooling “special time”, but she knows that if she wakes me up during this time she will lose the privlage getting to stay up during nap time.

So these are the ways I am planning to be intentional with my kiddos these next few months! Am I missing anything, or is there something you do in your home to be more intentional with your family?