My name is Caitlin and I am a mom of a five year old girl, Violet, and a two year old boy, Weston. Life at the moment is great. I feel in control and am loving the stages my kids are in. I did not always feel this way. When my son was a year old I felt stressed, unfulfilled, irritable and consumed with guilt for feeling this way. I was tired and did not recognize myself. I had a baby who did not sleep well and a toddler who needed constant attention. During this time I felt compelled to write a book for new moms. It was supposed to be a guide to what could happen to HER after birth and throughout the first year, or however long it takes for her to feel “normal” again. Pregnancy is a crazy ride on it’s own, but nobody talks about how you don’t actually exit the ride after giving birth. I realized if we had a HEADS UP beforehand, our struggles may have been easier to navigate.
My two children, two miscarriages, a three month NICU stay gave me enough material to get started, but I wanted my friend’s input as well. I asked my mom friends to contribute their experiences by asking them, “What could you have used a HEADS UP on through the first year after having your baby? Concerning only YOU, not your baby. It could be mentally, physically, or your overall change of life.” I was so thankful for their responses. Each contribution was so raw and honest I felt honored to be trusted with each experience. I have compiled a small collection of stories and information that my mom friends say, "I was not prepared for.” None of this information made it to print or bookstores, but it is a TRUE conversation that needs to be shared. So please read this with a glass or mug in hand and pretend I am talking to you as a close girlfriend. My life is an open book and that’s how this all pours out...
I was pregnant before Violet and I lost that baby at twelve weeks. I was in my normal twelve week check up when my doctor discovered there was no heart beat. It was quite a shock because my body felt normal and I had no troubling symptoms. Losing a baby is awful, no matter how far along you are. For me, the absence of a warning and being my first pregnancy made it more traumatic. I needed a dilation and curettage (D&C)*; I had to recover from that surgery and live with the fear that I might never be able to have a baby. Miscarriages, for whatever reason are not openly talked about. I found it therapeutic to discuss my feelings, it helped me mourn and move on. When I discovered miscarriages happened to other women who ended up having kids, it gave me hope. I had another miscarriage after Violet as well. I was at twelve weeks again, with no indication anything was awry. This time I wasn't grief-stricken, I was enraged. Why in the hell can I have a baby and just lose another again? I ended up getting some blood work, but found no conclusive evidence about what was wrong. Maybe it was just bad luck. My doctor recommended I take a baby aspirin per day as well as my over the counter prenatal vitamin. I did as I was told and my second baby was a textbook fat, healthy, happy child.
*D&C is a procedure to remove tissue from inside your uterus. Doctors perform dilation and curettage to diagnose and treat certain uterine conditions - such as heavy bleeding - or to clear the uterine lining after a miscarriage or abortion.
Ev, mom of two
My first miscarriage was very eye opening. No one told me that having a miscarriage naturally (without a D&C) feels like you go into labor. You contract and you want to push. You are forced to sit on the toilet for hours as the jello and liver looking discharge comes out of you. The scariest moment is when the fetus leaves the body in a big messy ball. You will cry and be mad at the world. You will have lots of questions running through your head like: why is this happening to me? I’m healthy, I’m doing the right things, what should I have done differently? Most of the time it is just nature, something was wrong with your baby, it wasn’t your fault, and your body knew it.
Violet, Violet, Violet. My first-born and only daughter was quite the challenge, medically and emotionally. Due to the miscarriage I had before getting pregnant with Violet, I was paranoid until I got past that 12 week appointment. Some stress did alleviate after that appointment until I went to the 20 week ultrasound. My husband and I were so excited to learn we were having a girl! But, after learning this we discovered she had a birth defect called, gastroschesis. When I heard this word I immediately felt my heart fall and was filled with dread. The doctor explained to my husband and I that Violet’s belly had not fully closed during the first trimester and that her intestines were outside of her abdomen. I asked the doctor (who was the doctor expected to relay the ultrasound technicians findings) if this was something he had seen before? Basically I was trying to ask in this moment, “will my baby be okay?” His response was, “no, this is very abnormal.” So, as you could guess, I started crying. This doctor handed me tissues and my husband a text book explaining this disorder and left the room. He said he didn’t like crying pregnant women in his office. Worst bedside matter ever!?!
My husband and I left the office confused and nervous and went home to call my OBGYN and Google, “gastroschesis.“ The short version is it’s a birth defect that means the belly did not fully close around the belly button and the intestines and sometimes other organs are floating around outside the babies body. In Violets case, it was just her intestines. The odds of this happening are 1/ 3,000 and has never occurred to a mother over 30 years old. I was 29 at the time. Talk about frustrating and thinking the baby world was totally against you.
I ended up being monitored every week in the third trimester to consistently measure the intestines to see if they had inflamed at all. On week 35, they were inflamed, so I was off to the c-section table! Violet was born five pounds, eleven ounces, which was a giant baby in the NICU. She was delivered, I kissed her, and she was rushed to an operating room of her own. The surgeons pushed all her intestines back inside her little belly and stitched her up. The next three months was a long process, so instead of you reading a bunch of paragraphs I will list the important events in our 11 week NICU stay.
-Vi’s surgery was a success. All the intestines fit back in and things are looking good!
-She was hooked up to a central line for all her nutrients and food. She also had an ugly green tube coming out of her nose (and sometimes mouth) that removed all the “waste,” since her bowels were not working.
-My husband and I left the hospital on day five with out our new baby. My heart actually ached when I left, but those NICU nurses and doctors are angels. I left sad, but confident she was in the best care possible.
-I got to hold her for the first time on day six.
-After waiting six weeks, Vi had still not pooped, which meant something was wrong with her intestines, a second exploratory surgery was needed.
-Turns out, Vi had a “kink” in her lower intestines, so our surgeon cut 4 cm of the bowel off and re-attach. We were told it was a success and to stay patient while we waited for Violet to poop on her own.
-Two days after this surgery Violets lung collapsed. Now here is where I get wordy. My usual routine had been, wake up, pump, dress, walk dogs, eat in the car on the way to the hospital. Then I'd sit with Vi and pump every 3 hours at the hospital until my husband came or until I went home in the evening to eat and walk our dogs again. On day two post surgery I was expecting to sit with Violet like "normal" and wait for her little bowels to work like I had been doing for weeks. But, this day was different; I came in to find her struggling to breathe and seeing her ribs poke out of her skin gasping for air. To this day I still don’t know what went wrong. I just remember one of our primary nurses moving faster than I have ever seen her move. She unloaded two other babies she was caring for to other nurses in our room so she could focus on Violet. This is when I got scared and stopped biting the inside of my lip to stop from crying and just left myself go. I called my poor husband who started working nights so we could each see Violet as much as possible and told him he needed to wake up and come in. Throughout the day we had five different doctors checking in on Violet. By the end of the day there were two oxygen tanks (these things looked like those big helium tanks to blow up balloons) at the end of her incubator. There were tubes going every which way and as a non-medical person, I was overwhelmed and intimidated. After twelve hours of stress Violet’s condition was manageable and I felt secure with taking a break and heading home.
-Week seven Violet finally pooped! Now we have to teach her how to eat. Time to start using all that frozen breast milk.
-Week 11 day 72 Vi is finally strong enough and can eat on her own so we can take her home!
My overall opinion of the NICU, which I imagine most people who have been there agree, is that these people are truly amazing. Not only do they know all the medical needs of your child, but they care for them as their own. I know in the evening when I couldn’t be present, nurses held Violet, just because she needed the love. I know they teared up when I did, because they felt my pain and frustration. They never gave up and they do this every day for every child. Hats off and round of applause to all the NICU nurses and doctors! My only gripe was that Violet was in the NICU during flu season, which meant no visitors except for my husband and myself. So for 11 weeks my parents, in laws, brothers and sister-in-laws and friends were not permitted to see her. This made for a very lonely experience. I hope whoever is reading this will never have to have an extended stay in the NICU, but if you do, I hope you can bring visitors with you. I think it would have helped me a great deal.
Another issue to address is to TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. I should have followed this advice. I was underweight by the time my Violet came home. I had been pumping like crazy, not eating real meals and was under so much stress my nutrients was severely depleted. My weight and strength was way down and as a result I lost more hair and had to avoid questions from friends and family. I would often stand up and feel faint. I did get back to normal, but I should have been taking better care of myself. Looking back, I would have eaten balanced meals, drank more water and cried more.
Talia, mom of one
I work in the NICU where I delivered my son. I KNOW the staff, I know the environment, and the miracles that go on. But I was NOT mentally prepared for a NICU stay, no matter how short. My recovery room was on the same floor as the NICU, which would seem convenient to anyone who was not postpartum. In my mind that was miles away and I was a mess. It did get easier, if this happens to you just give yourself a moment to breathe and accept.
Ashley, mom of three
NICU time is scary and comforting at the same time. Knowing my twins were in good care was a relief. I spent every day at the NICU and would come home to sleep at night, while still getting up every three hours to pump milk for them. I felt more rested after my twins than I did my first born because I was able to go home and get a few hours of sleep. The nurses really pushed me to take care of myself, and I'm so glad I listened to them and didn't try to sleep in that uncomfortable hospital recliner all night. I would also sometimes go and pass out in my car for a nap in between feedings. I think being able to rest really helped me have energy when we got to bring them home.
Sandi, mom of two
My first child was born early at 33 weeks and was three pounds seven ounces. I can never express the gratitude I felt towards NICU nurses. I was given hugs, a shoulder to cry on, and most of all they loved my baby for me when I wasn’t there. We still go back every year on my son’s birthday and bring treats. I didn’t know that having a small NICU baby, once he was discharged, I was not allowed to leave the house with him. This period of my life made me feel like I was under house arrest. When I was finally given the OK from the doctors to take my son outside, I would time my walks with the bus schedule so I could at least say hi to other humans. Soon we were able to go out in public, and yes, I was that mom in the Target parking lot waiting for it to be 8 am. While looking back at this journey I wished I had been more true to myself. I felt alone, scared and it felt like it was my fault. Please be honest with your feelings, talk to friends, family, even your doctor. I feel like if I would have said "I feel like shit" or "why me" I could have gotten the help I needed and not missed out on so much! Be true to yourself, you are one amazing mama!