Life By Kristen

Go, and embrace your liberty. And see what wonderful things come of it. – Little Women

Archive for the category “Love”

NICU Awareness Month

Apparently, September is NICU Awareness Month. Before having a child in the NICU, I had no idea such a month existed ( though should have guessed since every cause/affliction seems to have a month).

I’m in a few Facebook NICU parent groups as a lurker/liker as I found it helpful in the month we spent in the NICU to remind myself that we would get out of there and bring our son home. It’s heartwarming to see all the preemie babies with their before/after shots, especially in the last few weeks as many parents post first day of school photos.

I’ve struggled a bit with being a NICU parent because my child “looked normal.” He was born only 4 weeks early and at a healthy weight and size, despite his traumatic birth and lack of oxygen at the time of birth. There were babies in the NICU that were born at 25 weeks when we were there, another was less than 2 pounds, and others born with medical issues. Gray was perfectly fine inside up until his birth so seeing the struggle of some of the other families made our situation feel less dire– sort of like that saying “if you throw your problems in a pile with everyone else’s, you’d take yours out again.” One day in the NICU when we thought our little guy had a kidney infection, I was pretty upset and crying. I stepped out of the room with my mom to go eat breakfast in the family room ( no food is allowed in the baby’s room) and there were 2 mothers in there whose babies were born with some pretty serious medical issues– was sort of the perspective I needed to count my blessings. There were families in our area of the NICU that had been there over 120 days– we spent exactly 30. It was heartbreaking and difficult, but I can’t imagine what it would have been like if things had been much different.

When Gray was born, there was a lot of unknown about his prognosis. With the lack of oxygen at birth, he had to be resuscitated and we didn’t know what damage had been done to his body and systems. He was cooled for 72 hours below normal body temperature to preserve his vital organs and functions- we basically had to wait until those 72 hours were over and they slowly warmed him over 48 hours to know if he would be okay or not. One (horrible) doctor told us he might be brain dead ( it was clear by the end of his birthday that he was not that because he was moving his limbs and responding to stimuli). Babies who come off the cooling treatment often have complications with other body functions and while Gray is doing spectacular for a 3 month old baby, we’re hyper vigilant about making sure he stays on track with all the developmental milestones. We know he is a miracle and are thankful for every single moment with him.

What surprised me the most about the NICU was how many people in my universe had babies spend time there- more than I realized. You often only hear about folks with scary medical conditions or babies born very early– but the NICU is also for full-term babies who have issues of various kinds- breathing issues, heart murmurs, digestive issues and so on. It gave me a lot of hope and strength to know that we’d get through it because lots of people I knew did it before me. It didn’t always help when Gray was struggling to eat or we couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t gaining weight, but we always knew in the back of our mind we’d bring him home.

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Thoughts on Maternity Leave

Our little guy is 3 months old today! It’s hard to believe how much he’s grown and overcome, especially considering this time 3 months ago we didn’t know if he’d live through the day or not. We are thankful every single moment for him- even when he’s crying!

My maternity leave ended up being longer than anticipated since my son arrived 4 weeks early. I am lucky to work in a state that provides some paid maternity leave so between sick time and temporary disability/caregiver leave, my leave will clock in at 16 weeks. I go back to work in September so I still have a few more weeks to soak up cuddles and smiles. I am incredibly fortunate that even when I return to work, I will be working a mostly part-time schedule in the office and working from home on other days. We’re also beyond grateful that my mother is willing and able to care for our little guy in our home, saving us daycare costs and letting Gray’s immune system get stronger before he’s out with other babies.

I took my son to meet my coworkers last week and one of them ( a childless man) asked me the other day if my maternity leave was restful, to which of course, I laughed. Sure there were days when we didn’t leave the house and I went from pajamas to lounge clothes to pajamas, but each day of caring for a tiny human with medical issues is definitely not restful. He’s a great baby and so much of his early month of life was filled with tears and stress that even his most crazy crying fit didn’t seem all that bad. But he’s a little human learning something new every single day– I can’t even wrap my head around that or not being able to verbalize beyond crying if something itches or is uncomfortable. All that “normal” baby stuff topped with a brain and body that is healing from trauma is a lot for anyone, let alone a tiny human!

My leave has been filled with doctor’s appointments and visiting nurses which has been a bit of blessing because so many people have been keeping their eyes on him. It should be mandatory that every new mother gets a visit or two from a nurse, especially in those first few weeks you’re home and have no clue what to do. We went through a baby boot camp crash course in the NICU in baby care, getting Gray on a schedule, and so on. I don’t know how people do this without a partner, family, or friends around. It really takes a huge village to support.

I cannot imagine Gray would have had the care he received if we didn’t have amazing private insurance – with the exception of my care and a few of his x-rays, everything has been covered because we met our deductible pretty quickly. If we had to pay out of pocket, Gray’s treatments alone are already above $25,000. it makes me sick to my stomach to think a little baby would get transferred to a lesser facility or be denied care because of insurance or a parent’s inability to pay out of pocket.

One thing I will say about maternity leave is that it didn’t provide me the clarity about life and career that I thought it would. Yes, being away from work so abruptly and taking care of my new human definitely showed us what our values are and that our current jobs are just part of the routine at this point. But in terms of getting a feeling that tells me what  “I want to be this when I grow up,” I think the only thing I’ve learned is family and health are all that really matters– they are non-negotiable to me now. Finding something that respects and understand that– and values it too– are going to be most important, no matter what the job title is. I don’t want long hours, weekends, or something that’s not going to allow me to be at a doctor’s appointment, or in the future, a school play. So for now, until we know more about Gray’s health now and in future, I’ll likely be staying put in my current role. It doesn’t feel like I’m giving up on doing what I want for my life, but it does feel like I’m putting my son and our family first which is ultimately the right thing for us all at this moment.

Alive & Still Here

Reporting live from Babyville, the mayor of which is an adorable almost 11 week old boy who rules the roost and has captured our hearts, despite his endless hunger and crying for more milk!

I’m still alive and still here even though this space has been silent for over a month. I’ve been in an endless cycle of bottle washing, formula mixing, breast pumping, diaper changing, etc. Of course there have been lots of snuggles, smiles, and new cooing sounds every day too. And a bunch of medical appointments, labwork, and scheduling for baby too.

I have just over a month to go on my maternity leave- I’m incredibly grateful I was able to take the entire summer off, plus the extra time from when Gray decided to arrive early. Now that he’s gaining weight and the doctor’s visits are getting less and less, we are venturing out more and that’s been a huge help for keeping me sane. I’m blessed with a partner who believes in sharing the parenting duties as much as he can and family and friends that are supporting me from near and far. Overall, minus the never ending cycle of baby care routine and worrying about his medical conditions and everything associated with it, I’m handling this stay at home mom thing fairly well. I’m not sure it’s for me long term, but my opinion on that may change when I go back to work in September ( and even then, I’ll be pretty much part time).

Speaking of work, I thought that this time off would provide me with some much needed clarity about what I want to be doing for work. It has to a certain extent and in other ways, I still have no clue. I know I want to be in a position that allows me to focus on my son and family so the position I have right now is right for our family at this time, especially as we still have some question marks about Gray’s health.

Even though we’ve into a good groove with the little guy, every day looks a little different because of his various appointments so it;s been hard for me to carve out time for myself for anything beyond social media and reading some breezy books on Kindle. I’m committed to writing here, even if only sporadically! And a quick note– you won’t see any photos of my son on this space because his father and I have made an active decision to limit what we’re putting out in the world about him, but if you’re so inclined, Gray will sporadically appear over on my Instagram, so feel free to send me a friend request there!

Hope your summer is full of relaxation and fun!

Post NICU Life

Thank you all from far and wide for the good wishes and support on the arrival of Gray and the month-long stay in the NICU. He was discharged this past Thursday so we’ve been home as a family adjusting to each other and our new schedule. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions from joy to tiredness and frustration– for all of us! Even though he’s a month old, it’s like bringing a complete newborn home and trying to figure out which end is up. The amount of random Amazon purchases for baby that we’ve made in the last few days probably speaks to our often cluelessness about what to do with a new baby.

Some day I’ll have the emotional bandwidth to write Gray’s birth story, if only for us as a family to remember the journey we went through as a family. The month-long saga is not something I’d wish on anyone– leaving the hospital every day without your baby to come home to a house with baby things everywhere is difficult in ways I don’t think I have the words to describe. And yet, I have such an intense level of gratitude for the month that we were there– the care Gray received allowed him to bounce back from what could have been a very different outcome in our life. NICU nurses are true angels on earth not only in what they do for the babies they care for, but for how they support and teach the families- and they do it for more than just Mom and Dad. As we’ve entered into the new parent sleepy phase with midnight and 3AM feedings, I even had a moment of missing the NICU because of the around the clock care that allowed us to sleep every night and sleep in a few weekend mornings too.

Having a baby in the NICU is incredibly difficult in the postpartum weeks- not just the fact that you’re recovering from birth, but missing out on a lot of the early bonding which is so important. Gray was born on a Monday, but I wasn’t able to hold him until late Friday of the same week. And yet that difficulty is also paired with gratitude for having time and space to heal from emergency surgery. There were definitely more than a few tough moments of getting in the car, needing help showering, etc. where I was relieved my baby was safe at hospital while I was healing at home. A million high fives to Moms who have a C-section and then come home with baby 3-4 days later– you are serious real-life super heroes.

Gray’s birth has re-ignited my faith in the power of prayer, love, and things bigger than us. It affirmed my belief in guardian angels, being in the right place at the right time, and counting blessings big and small. It’s opened an emotional part of myself that I imagine happens with many mothers regardless of how their child came into the world. It reminded me that family and true friends who are family rise to the occasion when a crisis happens. Amid the crazy bad news of the world, it reminded me how good and kind people are, even complete strangers who Gray and I will never meet who prayed for our family and his health/recovery.

They say a baby changes everything, but I think Baby Gray has been more of an inspiration than his little 36 day old self can realize.

 

A Quick Update

A quick life update!

Life threw us a huge curveball on Monday, May 20th when our son, Gray, decided to enter the world four weeks early. His birth was fast, furious, and traumatic for both of us, but at least for me I was out of the hospital four days later. Gray is still in the NICU and will be for the foreseeable future, although his dad and I are about ready to steal him away to go home ( is it stealing if it’s your baby?) We’re head over heels in love with the blue-eyes, dark haired little boy who is amazing us every moment at the strides he’s made in his 15 days of life ( now if he could only get the eating/feeding thing down!)

In any case, I’m now in another club no one wants to be in– a NICU mother. It’s heartbreaking, stressful, overwhelming, boring, tiring, and about a million other things in between. The wins are amazing, the setbacks are heartbreaking, and we’ve only been there 15 days. Today I overheard docs talking about a baby who has been there 120 days. l literally cannot imagine because I’m about to lose my mind.

This is all to say  it might be quiet around these parts for awhile. It’s funny because in between Gray’s feedings, meeting with OT, docs, and other happenings, the day goes by quickly and slow all at the same time. Q and I are making it through- he dealt with the brunt of the scary stuff for the first 2 weeks of Gray’s life while I was healing from an emergency c-section that’s left me quite sore. He had to go back to work this week and is trying to spend the nights at NICU with our little guy. As they say, the days are long, but the years are short.

Some day, when I’m off this emotional roller coaster, I’ll write up his birth story, if for no other reason than it might help me put together the timeline of what happened– from the time I called the hospital that my water broke, to the time Gray was born was only about 2.5 hours so it was a whirlwind that I’m still not sure I completely understand ( and not sure I want to quite yet).

It’ll be quiet over here for bit until we get Gray home and get our new life together– not sure how long that’ll be, so wishing you all a lovely June and start of summer!

John McCain & Grief

I met John McCain for a brief moment in 2007 when he was in New Hampshire campaigning for the 2008 presidential race. My then boyfriend (now ex-husband) was really involved in politics and after the NH Republican debate that year, we went to a few of the candidate after parties. Since it was literally a two second hello as he walked passed us, I don’t have anything meaningful to say about the interaction other than it happened.

I don’t agree with a lot of McCain’s politics, but I, like many people in the past few weeks, was struck with his death, possibly because it seems like it might signal not only loss of a good person, but also the loss of a type of civil politician that seems to be a rarity in these maddening times.

During all the pomp and circumstance that comes with the death of an American statesman, I was actually feeling more for his family. As happens when someone loses a parent, whether I know them or not, it always brings up grief and feelings related to my Dad. I commented to a few people how emotionally (and likely physically) exhausted the McCain family must be after the marathon week of memorials and ceremony– it was just 5 days from the day my Dad died to his funeral and it was by far one of the most tiring weeks I’ve ever experienced.

Seeing Megan McCain’s grieving brought back a lot of raw emotions for me and took me right back to that week almost five years ago. Again, don’t agree with most of her politics ( though I applaud her efforts on body-positive stuff for women), but felt connected with her in a weird way watching every public display of grief that the media seems to love so much. Side note: the voyeuristic nature of celebrity/public figure grief is something I will never understand the interest in, yet seeing it stirred something in me. The mind/heart is weird.

Grief is a weird life partner because even when you think you’re in a good head space, it creeps in at weird times. Songs, smells, a random memory all bring a person to mind– I like to think that’s when Dad’s spirit is with me so it can be comforting or it can be just plain unsettling. I also think grief and losing Dad has made me a much more empathetic, kind, and patient person. It’s also made me feel this urge to reach out to people who lose someone, especially a parent, because I feel like we’re in this club together. A club no one wants to be in, but there together and connecting in some way makes the situation easier to handle.

Be Kind

The deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain last week came at a time when suicide was on the mind of Q and I already. A year ago, Q’s brother-in-law took his own life, and it’s changed so much of our family since then. Not just the actual physical loss of someone, but dealing with the pain of knowing they chose to leave this world and trying to make sense of it all. It’s been really hard for Q because he was incredibly close to his BIL, who often was the only person he’d talk to about some tough things. They were fishing buddies, and it’s something they did together, so much that Q hasn’t even fished since.

The saying that’s been going around all week “everyone’s fighting a battle, you don’t know it, so be kind,” is very true. This December marks 5 years since my Dad died, and I’ve felt his loss more this year than probably the previous few. I think part of it is because I’m in a transition- planning about moving somewhere new (who knows where!), possibly a new career, and hoping to expand my family with Q. I think a lot about Dad when I’m doing yard work or things around the house, something we often did together. Father’s Day is always a tricky time that brings up a lot of sadness because he isn’t here to celebrate and there is so much all around reminding me he is not here. I actually had to stop buying Q a Father’s Day card because I was having crying fits in the card aisle. This year feels particularly touchy because Q likely won’t see Little Man. It’s a long story, but we haven’t seen Q’s son in quite some time and I honestly don’t know when we will again. It’s another layer to our grief battle, just another kind.

All of this is to say to remember to be kind to people and to tell your people you love them.

Via LifeofTheKind

 

 

June

I almost didn’t realize June began because I was entrenched in a conference in Maine last week that I was co-organized and helped to run. It was a success, but it was a blur of activity, moving boxes, running around to check on projectors, and various other duties that left me tired and more than a few days without seeing the outside of the hotel.

When I left my house on Memorial Day, I said to Q that I couldn’t wait for the conference to be over so we could finally have some time for us. We’ve had a stressful spring with some work woes for both of us, the fire next door to the house, deaths on both sides of our families, and this conference. We were looking forward to doing some vacation planning, buying new outdoor furniture, fixing our grill, and many other little things that bring us happiness.

Life, of course, has other plans.

Sadly, Q’s brother in law passed away unexpectedly over the weekend, and once again, we’re putting our plans on hold as we help his sister and niece. Things are still shocking and fresh right now and I think will be for the foreseeable future.

 

I’ll still be posting on here and have some book reviews coming down the line, but the big blog revamp I had in mind for June may get pushed back a bit, depending on how things shake out with life. Despite the curveballs that seem to keep coming our way, I’ve realized over the past few months that writing is the one thing I want and need to be doing and won’t abandon this space, even if it’s only my mother and aunt who still read it ( hi Pat and Cindy!).

Be well, friends.

Traditions, Old &New

For as long as I can remember, my mother and I have been making cookies for Christmas, as so many others do this time of year as well. Growing up, we almost always made them on Christmas Eve Day so there would be fresh cookies for Santa, and for family and friends who came to our house for Christmas Eve, and later for the many houses we would go traveling to on Christmas Eve. It was often just her and I who baked, with my brother frequently helping with the decorating. My Dad was usually out last minute Christmas shopping that day by himself, as that was a tradition of his own that he enjoyed.

As adulthood as crept in, we now make the cookies usually on the weekend before the holiday, bringing them to our coworkers and saving the rest for ourselves. It’s been a lot of fun in the past few years as now my sister-in-law joins in the fun. I think we made 7 different kinds of cookies this past weekend- all delicious and almost gone!

cookies

a small sample of our cookies, decorations by my brother!

Q and I are still working to establish our own holiday traditions with Little Man as each year it always depends on how Christmas falls and when we’ll end up seeing him to celebrate. In the past two years, we’ve made sure to decorate the house together and buy Little Man a new ornament every year for our little tree that he gets to pick out himself. We watch Christmas movies on the weekends we have him in the month of December, trying to expose him to new ones and favorites of ours that he has not yet seen ( he really liked Home Alone).

This year, it’s just the three of us for Christmas and while we’ll miss the rest of our family who are spending it in other places, I’m also very excited that we’ll have Little Man for Christmas Eve and a portion of Christmas Day. Seeing the fun of Christmas through the eyes of an 8 year old boy has brought a lot of joy to me this year that has been missing since my Dad died. I might be more excited about Christmas morning and the excitement of seeing what Santa brings than he is! We’ll continue a tradition from my family’s Christmas mornings too– cinnamon rolls for breakfast.

As a lover of history and family, I find traditions- no matter the holiday or time of year, fascinating. I’d love to know some of yours! As life changes around us, our traditions are often the things we hold onto for the memories, but the new ones that emerge bring excitement too.

 

3 Years

There’s no rule book on grief. If you ever lose someone and people try to tell you there’s some timeline to stick to, that “things get easier,” or whatever platitudes they think you want to hear, it’s totally fine to be polite and say thanks, but to know that it’s absolute krap.

People say things like that because they honestly don’t know what else to say. Often times those people haven’t ever lost a person close to them, someone they talked to every single day and relied on for so many aspects of life. I used to be that person who tried to find the right words, but mostly sounded silly and felt inadequate and uncomfortable around people who have lost someone.

Dad&me001

And now that I’ve solidly been in the category of losing someone who was in my inner circle of life, I can say that things don’t get easier– they get different. And they will continue to get different. Every day that you live is a day away from the person you lost. Every new thing that happens, every possibility of life is something that you can’t go and call that person or ask their advice. And that’s the tough part of grief. The loss isn’t just about changing life circumstances, though that can be huge. But it’s about not knowing what the person would say to you, how they would react, or what they might do to help a situation.

Three years after unexpectedly losing my Dad, after having our lives shot out of a confetti gun, I’m still trying to grab at the pieces. I think this past year has been the hardest for me since his death. The first year was all about working through the ‘grief-stones’– the birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc. and figuring out the various bits of life like finances, belongings, etc. The second year was about supporting my mother and family as they made decisions that came as a result of losing Dad.

And this past year, the third year which I felt was finally time for me to figure out my life– that I felt I finally was settled financially after my divorce almost left me broke, secure in my new relationship, and certain that my family was all going to “be OK”– that it was time for me to make my changes, my move, and do what I wanted. And it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced.

In some ways, I feel like this past year was the first time I really faced the grief. I’m a task master, a planner, and a to-do list maker. The pragmatic, practical side of myself worked through Dad’s death by making lists, organizing food, plans, people. I did this for year one and year two. But year three was just me. And as I faced questions of what next? and possible moves, I have never felt so lost without my Dad.

I realize I might always cry when there’s something on TV or a movie when someone says “I love you Dad.” I know that he’s with me and I talk to him on a regular basis. It kills me to think that he never met Little Man or any potential grandkids. I know that feeling isn’t going to go away. I know that it might lessen with time and that as things happen in life, I’ll figure it out.

It’ll never be the same, it will never be better, it’ll just be different.

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