Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Snow Baby

Earlier this week we got some serious snow. It was notable even by the standards of my former home in Upstate New York. For my current home in Virginia, it was just short of apocalyptic.

We had about 20 inches when all was said and done.

We took Lexie out in the snow so she could really experience her first blizzard. At first, she liked it.

Then, not so much.

Maybe next year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Too Much Navel Gazing

I've been thinking lately that my retrospectives must be pretty boring. I mean, they're even getting boring to me. This whole month everything has reminded me of being in the hospital last year. Even the Today Show's holiday programming reminds me of being in the hospital (and watching the show every day for four long hours). The memories permeate everything, to the extent that I don't even feel much like writing about them. So I've had radio silence here for more than a month.

The New York Times recently published an article about NICU parents with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). When I read it, I thought it probably applied more to people whose children were at death's door repeatedly. I hate thinking about Lexie's time in the NICU, but after the first two weeks she was pretty much a feeder-grower (although not the best feeder), and there wasn't too much drama. But a while back I visited the beautifully written blog "A Fifth Season," by a mom who lost her baby daughter after 11 weeks in the NICU. On her daughter's second birthday, the mom posted a video tribute with clips and pictures from the NICU. I was watching the video and feeling sad for this mom, when suddenly the unmistakeable sound of a NICU desat alarm blasted loudly over the soundtrack. I felt a sudden wave of panic, just as I had so many times when Lexie desatted as I fed her in the NICU. And I surprised myself with a series of sudden, gasping sobs.

I have no idea where my reaction came from. I suppose any PTSD will pass, with time. I have no business being traumatized when so many people don't get the happy ending.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hospitalization: One Year Later

On this day last year I went into the hospital with preterm labor. I spent a terrifying Thanksgiving in the hospital, and a less-terrifying (but fairly depressing) Christmas there as time went on.

60 days after I checked in, Lexie was born.

Look how far we've come.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Goodbye Wendy

The problem with dog stories is that they all end the same way. We knew this when we adopted Wendy. But we thought we would have more time.

Wendy was billed as a 5-year-old beagle. If we'd really looked, we would have noticed her bad teeth, the touch of gray on her muzzle, her slightly creaky back legs from the arthritis that would only get worse. Her actual age at the time was probably somewhere between 7 and 10 years old. As the story went, a shelter in rural Virginia had found her wandering on the side of a road, starving. People have beagle packs down there, and when the beagles get too old or lose their ability to hunt, they're often turned out from the pack. It was a kill shelter -- her number was almost up when the rescue org came through looking for adoption candidates. She went to live with her foster family Robb and Jerry (and foster beagle brothers Barney and Andy). Wendy had been there for about a month when we met her and decided to make her part of our family. Her foster dads had cleaned and fixed her up as well as possible in that short time, and had worked to fatten her up. But she still had a long way to go.

My brother called Wendy a "fixer-upper." She immediately needed to have her teeth cleaned, and a couple of teeth needed to be removed. Her front teeth were worn down almost to nothing in some places, which her vet said was a sign that she'd been in a wire kennel for many years, and had chewed constantly on the cage because she was bored. She had a bad ear infection, and some nasty stomach problems. The stomach problems didn't stop her from begging for treats, though. Her favorites included, but were not limited to, chicken, steak, hamburger, french fries, cheese, watermelon, pork, bacon, eggs, potato chips, crunchy bread, tuna fish, mashed potato, turkey... the list goes on and on. She was ALWAYS optimistic about the potential for treats.

Wendy was cool with Steve, but she was really my dog. She followed me around all the time. When I went to bed, she went to bed (her little dog bed was at the foot of our person-bed). She always came to sit by me and came to me first for help. She was more likely to listen to me than anyone else, although as a beagle, she was never the best listener. She was not brave. She never barked when anyone came to the door, and was more likely to hide behind us. She fled in terror from tossed tennis balls. She could not do tricks. She never picked up the Washington Post from the sidewalk. The only command we were able to teach her was "sit," and she'd do it only if we were holding a treat at the time.

We taught her her name by saying "Wendy" while crinkling a potato-chip bag.

We went for long walks around the neighborhood. We quickly learned that if Wendy pulled on the leash with all her might, no good could come of letting her go in that direction. Without fail, something heinous and rotten -- but in her world, deliciously stinky -- was at the end of that trail. She enjoyed feinting at squirrels and watching them run away. She rarely bothered to actually chase them. Too much trouble.

She learned that crowds meant more opportunities for treats. After my brother's wedding, we invited family members over for drinks and snacks. Wendy became increasingly excited as the guests arrived. Steve took her out for her walk as the last of the guests were showing up, including my dad, who always spoiled her with treats. Wendy moved very, very slowly as she and Steve walked away from the house. She did her business, turned around, looked at Steve, and took off at full speed toward home. Steve said our creaky little beagle, for once, actually outran him. Inside the house, I heard a commotion and a clatter of toenails and turned to see Wendy skidding to a stop in front of my dad, who then slipped her one of many tasty morsels that evening. I saw other family members do the same. Her stomach swelled to shocking proportions. It was probably one of Wendy's best days ever.

Wendy was a known kleptomaniac, having once stolen a pig ear from the dog groomer's array of treats at the register. I took her back in and we paid for the item, but I don't think Wendy learned any lessons.

We took Wendy on vacation with us one summer, to a cabin on the north fork of the Shenandoah River. She probably thought she was at bootcamp. We walked with her down to the river, maybe 3/4 of a mile. Exhausted from the walk in the sun, she sat panting and refusing to drink, balking when I brought her to the river shore, terrified of the running water. She and I sat under a tree while Steve took an ill-advised dip. (We didn't know until a couple of days later that the river is badly polluted.) We headed back to the cabin, and Wendy sprawled on the floor, panting like crazy. It wasn't until we fired up the grill that night that she got back on her feet.

Last April, Wendy became gravely ill. A tumor on her spleen was bleeding, and if we didn't remove it she'd die within hours. I handed over my Visa, and $2500 later we had a stapled-up dog with a new lease on life. (During the operation, the vet also looked in Wendy's stomach and found -- and removed -- a bunch of metal wire and two socks.) During her recovery at home, we tried to "crate" her in the kitchen with an attractive cherry wood gate. I came home from work to find the gate in splinters. Wendy hated being locked up and had chewed her way through it. We decided to give her the run of the house as usual, and everything was fine. Around the same time, we discovered Wendy had Cushing's Disease. Because the standard treatment could result in increased fearfulness (and some dogs had died of fright after being treated), we elected not to follow an aggressive regimen that kills off part of the pituitary gland. We treated her holistically with melatonin and flaxseed oil. The vet warned us that Cushing's would eventually kill her, but nobody could say how long it would be.

Wendy healed remarkably well from her spleen-removal surgery, and we had a quiet six months or so. When I became pregnant with Lexie, she followed me around even more.

When I went into the hospital last November with preterm labor, I couldn't stop thinking about how I'd deserted Wendy. Did she think I'd abandoned her? I'd wished I could tell her that I was coming back, that I hadn't wanted to leave for so long. I read "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" and cried in the parts where the elderly dog searches for her master. Even though Wendy had been doing well, I worried that she would die before I came home. I made Steve promise that he would stay with her if he had to put her down. When I came home after 9 weeks in the hospital, I expected a joyful reunion. Instead, Wendy regarded me with a sniff and a tail wag, the dog equivalent of "oh, there you are."

I have often heard stories about dogs who wouldn't leave their owners' sides when their owners were sick. This was not Wendy. A true pack dog, Wendy avoided me like the plague when I was unwell. Better to stay with the healthier members of the pack. So she stayed away for the first week or so that I was home, bandaged and weak. We slowly rebuilt our relationship and had a good nine more months together. As Lexie grew, she started noticing Wendy and laughing, sometimes reaching out to touch Wendy's fur. Wendy got used to Lexie, and even allowed Lexie to pet her (gently).

But Wendy's arthritis continued to worsen, and the Cushing's caused her organs to begin to fail. She might have had several more months if that was the only issue, but her back legs gave out. She would walk a few steps and fall down, and her little body would shake, wracked with spasms. She could still rally for french fries or steak, but she lost interest in her dog food. It was becoming clearer and clearer that her time had come. The day she couldn't stand up for some bacon, I knew she'd reached the end.

Wendy, keen-nosed hunter of fast-food bags, connoisseur of french fries and belly rubs, floor-cleaner extraordinaire, ate a bacon cheeseburger and fries last night before we took her to the vet's office and said goodbye. I stayed with her until the end, which was peaceful.

We will never forget her.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

This Time Last Year...

This time last year, I was into my second trimester and thinking maybe pregnancy wasn't so bad. I'd spent a weekend at Cape May with some college friends and had had a great time. My biweekly OB appointments were going well -- no signs of the preterm labor to come. Our 20-week scan had showed that we were having a girl, and that all was normal. I was having a busy time at work, but it was set to calm down in a couple of weeks. I enjoyed singing really loudly in my car during my commute and I imagined my little girl was enjoying the tunes.

Two weeks later, I was headed to the hospital with contractions and a short cervix, wide-eyed and terrified, where I would stay until January. I spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day in the hospital. I didn't leave my hospital room for weeks at a time, and left my bed only to use the bathroom. It was a dark, scary time, and normally I don't like to think about it.

But the time of year is making it impossible to push out of my mind.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Temporary Single Parenthood

I am pretty sure I haven't talked about this yet: Steve has been out of town for four weeks now, and I am tired.

My mom was here for almost two weeks, which was helpful, because I was actually able to work a full 8-hour day instead of chipping away at my annual leave by 30-45 minutes each day. (Lexie's nanny works 9 hours. I live 45 minutes from work. That means if I leave as soon as the nanny arrives, which rarely happens, I've got a max of 7.5 hours under my belt for each day.)

Time in the evenings is short. Lexie goes to bed around 7:30pm or 8pm, but I still give her a "sleep feed" around 9:30pm, and I have to hold her up for a half hour after she finishes eating due to her stomach problems. I've found that there is a very tight calculus to what one can accomplish in those evenings when caring for an infant on one's own. Here's how I've got the options figured out:

Group A (Choose one)
  • 6 hours of sleep
  • 4 hours of sleep and two additional items from Group B
  • Teething baby -- 3 hours of sleep and subtract one item from Group B
Group B (Choose two)
  • Make a dinner with more than two ingredients
  • Eat dinner with utensils while sitting at the table
  • Do one hour of billable work
  • Shower
  • Clean up house
  • Pay bills
  • Talk to Steve on the phone
  • Write blog post
  • Read newspaper/catalogs/books for fun
  • Fold laundry and put it away
Aaaand it's almost 9:30, so I'm out -- off to get the little miss for her last bottle of the night.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Commuter Tales

Back before the days of Lexie, I sometimes blogged about personalized license plates I'd see on my commute. Now that I'm pretty much back in the saddle, I've got the mental bandwidth to notice license plates again. I took note of two recent ones:

I saw the "P SOLACE" license plate (possibly a urologist?) again last week. That guy must have the same commute that I have.

And then, yesterday, I saw a license plate that completely cracked me up. It made me curious about the car's owner and it made me want to be his/her friend. Ready for it? It was this: KGB SPY

Friday, October 23, 2009

Lexie and Her Doggie

I haven't written much here about our beagle, Wendy. We've had her since a fateful Beagle Adoption Day in 2005. She's a sweet pup, but she's pretty old (probably about 13) and the vet recently gave her a maximum of about 6 months due to a variety of illnesses and complications she's having. I think that's probably fairly optimistic, and based on some recent collapsing spells she's been having, it may be a lot sooner. We're trying to make her as comfortable as possible for now.

Wendy hasn't been all that interested in Lexie except when babyfood is involved. She has allowed Lexie to pet her when Lexie has been gentle, but as soon as the fur gets grabbed, Wendy hobbles away to her dog bed. But Lexie LOVES her doggie. She finds Wendy to be absolutely hilarious. And Wendy stands there wondering what everyone is laughing at.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Spider Woman (or, Evidence That I May Have Gone Off the Deep End)

We had a terrible mosquito problem this year -- they were eating all of us alive. So we purposely left up several spider webs that appeared on our small front porch. Spiders are good luck, anyway. We rarely saw the actual spiders, but we saw plenty of evidence of their effectiveness in the form of trapped bloodsuckers.

Last week, this appeared.

It's a spider egg sac. My first instinct was to remove it -- to toss those suckers as far away from the house as possible. Then I looked more closely, and saw the spider.

She was never openly visible in her web before the egg sacs appeared. Now she was perched just below her sacs, guarding them. I decided to watch for a few days.

The next night I saw her spinning one more little bubble below the five pictured. The night after that, she started encasing all six bubbles in a thicker cocoon. Every time I passed the web, she sat vigil under her eggs.

I started thinking about Charlotte's Web -- in the book, Charlotte died after the eggs hatched. I did some research -- for some, but not all, spiders, egg-laying is their last major act.

And this is when Crazy came to town. I started relating to the spider. She'll do anything to keep her eggs safe, I thought. She won't leave them, even though this places her out in the open where creatures like me come stare at her. This could be her last shot.

There is no way I will be the one to kill her babies.

This may mean that we'll soon be overrun by tiny spiders. If they keep to themselves, we'll all be fine. If they start messing with my baby, that's another story.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Never a Sure Thing

I went through a long period in my 20s when there was literally zero family/personal tragedy. The worst things that happened to me from around age 21-27 involved relationship breakups. The most stress I experienced was typically related to apartment moves. Nobody in my extended family died. Nobody got sick, had major surgery, lost a limb, lost a house, lost a baby, got divorced... nothing. Things were very quiet in the "major life change" department. I'd been at my job for more than 5 years. I took the calm for granted.

As I left my office building on September 10, 2001, I walked across the street and past the World Trade Center for what would be the last time, although I didn't know it. As usual, I recognized a lot of the same people walking near me. I was on the same schedule with these strangers and saw many of them daily. "My life is like Groundhog Day," I thought. "Every day is the same. Something needs to change."

I really did think that. Of course, you know where this is going.

Change came in relentless waves after 9/11. I never returned to that office. After six months of professional limbo working in New Jersey with my colleagues at an alternate "temporary" site, I resigned and headed to DC for grad school and a job at a university that offered an uncompetitive salary and free graduate classes.

The drama and change continued. My aunt and then my grandma died. Steve and I got married. My dad had hip surgery. I finished grad school and found a new job. My mom had surgery on her vertebra. Steve went to Iraq for six months. My uncle died. Steve and I started trying to have a baby and had two losses right off the bat. Steve's dad began descending deeper into chronic illness. In the last year, two of my real-life friends lost their babies, born too early to survive. I finally made it to the second trimester and ended up in the hospital with preterm labor for 9 weeks. Lexie was born 10 weeks early.

I've wanted to ask someone -- why does this shit happen? Why do babies die? Why did nearly 3,000 people die on the whim of some sick asshole on the other side of the world? But there is no "why." You can get into specific causes, but the big-picture "why" -- it doesn't exist.

What this has taught me is that nothing is a sure thing. I didn't truly understand this before having some real adversity. I think it's good in some ways that I know this now, instead of sailing through life thinking it's a big deal if someone dents my car in the garage or the movers break my mirror. This knowledge can also be bad, though -- as in my earlier aversion to buying Lexie's wardrobe too far ahead. It's irrational. Chances are, now, she'll be alright. But who knows -- the world could end tomorrow. As long as we go together, I think I'd be ok with that.

I really don't have any words of wisdom about this day. I'll be remembering the friends I spent that Tuesday morning with, remembering the ashes and singed papers floating down to the ground in Brooklyn, remembering the acrid smell, remembering how the gorgeous September weather seemed all wrong for that day, remembering the 13 worried messages I had on my machine when I got home after everything happened. Remembering waking up the next morning to a moment of peace before the memories flooded back like a punch in the stomach. Remembering the fat plume of smoke that rose from lower Manhattan for weeks afterward.

Remembering how we thought things would never be the same.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Gratuitous Giggling Video

We had Lexie baptized last week, and with the resulting deluge of family, we have been very busy. But we did have time to take this video of Lexie giggling in her pajamas.

Every time I watch this video, I can't believe how lucky we are.

Friday, August 14, 2009


At a department store recently, I thought about buying some sale clothes for next summer for Lexie. I found myself hesitating, in the same way I hesitated when I didn't want to buy maternity clothes too early, and when I didn't want to buy baby clothes until she actually arrived.

And I realized: I still am not 100% certain that she's here to stay. She's been in fairly good health, and gaining weight in spite of GI problems. There's no reason to think she's not going to make it at this point. But I still fear SIDS, and now swine flu lurks just over the horizon. I'm sure I'm not alone in my concern for my child, even among parents of full-term babies, but I do think preemie parents have stared a lot of serious, life-threatening hazards in the face, and it heightens our awareness of all that could happen.

I'm not sure when I'll feel secure that Lexie's going to be okay.

The first time I was pregnant, I purchased a onesie for the baby that never was. It was a silly little thing I'd seen years earlier and I was excited to buy it for our baby. After that first miscarriage, I tossed the onesie in the back of a closet, where it stayed for more than two years. Every once in a while I'd come across it, but I'd return it to the depths of the closet and try not to think about it. I hated having that reminder of how certain and happy we had been, and how little we knew about how long the journey to parenthood would be.

A few weeks ago I finally broke out that onesie and tried it on little Lexie. It was already kind of small, but I did get one picture.

She had just the right Jennifer Grey look here, too.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Study in Friday Night Economics

Just Married:
Out to a leisurely dinner for delicious sushi and cocktails! $80-$100

Married With Dog, So We Have to Get Home:
Takeout sushi. $55

Expecting a Baby:
Takeout from local grill. $35

Baby Is Home, Mom's Still on Paid Maternity Leave:
Organic whole wheat Greek takeout pizza. $25

Mom's Leave Becomes Unpaid:
Five dollar footlongs: $10.50 incl tax

I get my first paycheck next Friday. Maybe we'll upgrade back to the pizza.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Year's Journey

Exactly one year ago, in a North Carolina beach cottage, we found out Lexie was coming. It was our third positive home pregnancy test, so we greeted the news with neither excitement (as we did the first time) nor with cautious optimism (as we did the second time). By this time, we knew about my unicornuate uterus and understood the possible complications. So we greeted the news of our third pregnancy with equal parts hope and fear.

The next morning we were scheduled to drive back to Virginia. Before we left, I sat on the steps to the beach for a long time trying to set my head straight. Looking at the ocean always helps give me perspective, reminding me of my tiny place in this big world. At the time, I'd wished I could know what lay ahead.

It's probably better that I didn't know what we'd contend with through the pregnancy. At least in the early days, I had only my usual worry of miscarriage, and a few weeks of my second trimester were practically a cakewalk. Then it all came crashing down with 9 weeks of preterm labor in the hospital and a baby born 10 weeks too early.

But if I could send a message back to myself a year ago, maybe I'd just tell her this: It's going to be a bad, bumpy ride, and you're going to be more terrified than you've ever been. It will be the hardest thing you've done in your life.

But in the end, it will be worth it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Back to (Paid) Work

On Monday I head back to work. I like my job, and I am not exactly dreading my return. I know things will be different, because I'll be highly motivated to get my work done and get the heck home -- not as much socializing with coworkers, and I might be calling in to (versus attending in person) those late-afternoon meetings that can stretch into the dinner hour. I do want to go back to work. But I wish I could have more time with Lexie, too. And my full salary. A girl can dream...

We have hired a great professional nanny for Lexie while we're at work. Because of Lexie's prematurity and resulting weak immune system, she can't go to daycare like a regular kid. I've spent much of today trying to iron out our nanny tax situation. Suffice it to say I now feel more sympathetic to those who don't bother to pay their nanny taxes. It's not easy to figure out. But we are doing the right thing and staying above the law.

The nanny has been here all week, and I've been in and out. It's kind of awkward and I keep wanting to swoop in and gather up my little baby when she cries (like right now), but intellectually I know that's not the right thing to do. I know Lexie will be better off with a nanny than in daycare, because she'll get constant one-on-one attention, but I might be feeling just a little bit jealous of the nanny.

We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

In the Trenches

Yesterday, we had some friends over to meet their one-month-old little boy. It was also the first time they'd met Lexie.

Their little guy is pretty much the same size as Lexie, who is now over five months old. But he was over 10 pounds (!) when he was born (vaginal delivery!), and Lexie didn't hit 10 pounds until last month.

We'd lost touch with these friends for a couple of years. When I heard they'd had a baby, I sent them a congratulations email and gave our story in a nutshell. My friend wrote back with theirs. They'd lost their first baby, a boy, at 22 weeks to a devastating heart defect, and that pregnancy was followed by another miscarriage before they finally succeeded in having a baby.

Somehow, hearing that they'd had trouble too -- that they hadn't sailed easily into parenthood -- made me feel that we were allied with them, like we're together on some big IF team. It's the friends who've had difficulties that I find it easier to relate to, easier to keep in touch with.

I'm sure that, over the years, the whole painful process of becoming parents will recede into the haze of the past, but right now, it's very raw, and when I'm with those friends, I know we won't find ourselves inadvertently smacked in the face (metaphorically) by some remark made in total innocence by those who haven't been on the IF rollercoaster. Even questions about whether we want to have more kids would have to result in a long explanation.

I could always use the generic response of "You'll be the first to know." But frankly, I'm already tired of using that one from our pre-baby days.

I don't know -- I'm having trouble really expressing my feelings about this. It's not fair to pull away from some friends just because they had an easy time having a family. But then, life's not fair, right? For now, it's nice just to stick with the people on my team.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Pup Update: He's Doing Better!

Barkley is on the mend and doing better! Thanks everyone for your good wishes.

Snakebite in Mississippi

My mother-in-law has had a tough time over the past few years. My father-in-law is sick and she's his primary caretaker and the family breadwinner. It's created a lot of stress. Two years ago, her mom (Grandma Sara) passed away. She was pretty low. And then, when we were at the cemetery looking for a good spot for Grandma Sara's remains, we found a little puppy.

My mother-in-law took him home and named him Barkley. He has been a bright spot during a very dark time, as my father-in-law has continued to decline. Barkley made himself at home on their farm, getting his exercise attempting to herd the feral cats. He has grown up to look kind of like a half-corgi, half-spaniel (below right is a recent photo sent via cell from my mother-in-law). His breed is one that was never meant to be. As Steve's brother-in-law says, "his parents made a mistake." But he's always been a good dog.

Today, I was rocking Lexie (post-projectile vomit) and I received a text message from my mother-in-law. It said only:
Barkley got bit by a poisonous snake this AM.

I texted her back:
What happened to him?

As I waited a long 10 minutes for her answer, I thought back to when we found him, tiny and alone in the cemetery, obviously abandoned and so eager to be part of our little pack. And I thought about how he's helped my mother-in-law cope since he joined the family. He's so little, I thought, how could he survive that? He must be dead. And she can't bring herself to say it. I teared up. I know that life's not fair, and that bad shit happens to good people all the time. But please, I thought -- Barkley's story cannot end this way. This cannot happen to my mother-in-law after all she's been through and continues to endure.

She finally texted back. She'd rushed him to the emergency vet. Two shots and a pile of medications later, he came home for observation with instructions for my mother-in-law to call if he didn't seem improved tomorrow. The vet said he'd seen dogs survive worse. My mother-in-law reports that he's listless and won't eat or drink.

Please cross your fingers that little Barkley's story has many more chapters.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

"Fragile" Baby

Thursday night, I went solo to the baptism class offered by our Catholic church. We aren't sure when we'll get Lexie baptized, because church was one of two places doctors told us never to bring her, because of the multitude of germs swarming about. (Grocery stores are the other off-limits category.) We were hoping to get the baptism done this summer, if it fits in the church's schedule. But we weren't sure -- we are still thinking of waiting until next summer, by which time her immune system should be caught up with those of her peers.

During the class, the instructor mentioned something about "a private baptism," which would be for sick babies or baptisms that expect a very large crowd. After the class, I approached the instructor and mentioned Lexie's prematurity and weak immune system, asking if this was an appropriate reason to schedule a private baptism.

"Oh," she replied. "You have a fragile baby?"

For a split second, my mouth hung open. I was at a loss for a response. What the heck does that mean, a "fragile baby"? I sure didn't want to answer in the affirmative.

So I burst out laughing, tears collecting in the corners of my eyes.

And the awkwardness descended upon us like a cloud.

Then I explained that I didn't like to think of my daughter as fragile, although she does need a little extra help and protection. I think the woman was a little chagrined at the exchange. She did say that we could probably arrange a private ceremony, although scheduling could be a challenge.

But I keep thinking about the term fragile. She was definitely fragile when we brought her home. I was terrified that she'd just stop breathing, or that I'd drop her and mortally wound her tiny body.

But now she seems pretty hardy.

Fragile? I don't know. What do you think? Is there a better term out there?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bus Stop

My homey Lacey recently started up a blog about her daily bus ride: The 167 Short Bus. It's hilarious and profane and it's funny because it's true.

I hate riding the bus. My problem generally is the hygiene of the clientele.

I never rode a public bus until I went to college in Syracuse, NY. My friend Nicole and I used to sometimes take the city bus back from our internships downtown. We had to wait at the sketchy downtown bus depot on S. Salina St., sometimes for a long while if we'd just missed a bus. There were a lot of "special" people also waiting for the bus -- apparently there was some sort of substandard last-stop mental health facility on one of the bus lines. Usually they were pleasant and harmless, but some of them really weren't prepared to be out on their own and did not handle it well. There were also the standard drunken unwashed in the pool of riders, and dirty lecherous men, as well. We tried to avoid the bus when we could, but sometimes the snow was piled too high for us to hoof it.

So this one spring (read: cold, snowy and miserable) afternoon, Nicole and I were walking up to wait for our bus when we saw this guy who appeared to be following us. We kept walking around the bus stop and so did he. And then we noticed he had this foot-long string of green snot swinging from his nose. We continued around the bus stop one more time with him about 10 paces behind us, the snot string turning into a three-foot-long rope. Swing. Swing. Swing. We then realized he planned to circle the bus stop regardless of whether we were fleeing in front of him, and we stepped to the side. We cringed against the glass of the bus stop as he loped past us, and although we tried not to look, both of us saw the final few swings of the snot rope. It didn't fall to the ground; no, it swung full-on into the front his grubby navy blue parka and sealed itself to the fabric.

Our bus came shortly after that, and he did not board. As I remember it, Nicole and I elected to walk the mile or so back to campus after our internships for the rest of the semester.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Hello From the Nursery...

I'll be spending large chunks of time this week in Lexie's room as she gets accustomed to her crib. She's starting to fill a lot of her little bassinet (at least lengthwise), and, much as I like the security of having her right by me at night, I know it's getting to be time to move her into her own digs.

For now, we're just working on naps. The first one this morning had a rocky start. I put her down, all swaddled and sleepy, and she suddenly decided it was time to party. She turned on her 1,000 watt smile (see below) and started cooing like a champ. But I know that game. That's the game that ends with no real naps all day and a pissed-off baby by 7pm. We don't like that game. So I popped in the paci, and turned on some white noise, and we started playing the game where she spits out the paci and whimpers, seemingly just to see if I'm still here and waiting to pop the paci back in. After about 20 minutes, she actually dropped off. Now it's afternoon-nap time. She's not so good at afternoon naps regardless of sleep location, so we'll see how it goes. Right now we're playing the "drop the paci" game again.

Good times, good times.

I'm sitting in the room with her not just because I want to play her little games, but also because I worry about her. Her bassinet still has a special motion-detector monitor hooked up to it. It was this monitor that finally allowed me to sleep at night (instead of staring at her all night long to ensure she was still breathing). The first couple of weeks home from the hospital were really scary, and her breathing was noticeably uneven. When we left the hospital, we left without a hospital monitor. In spite of my repeated questions and requests, they sent us away completely unplugged, saying that Lexie's breathing was so great it would just be a waste.

When we got home, I was a nervous wreck. I credit this product with preserving my sanity: AngelCare Movement Sensor With Sound Monitor (see photo below). With this monitor, I could be sure that if Lexie did stop breathing for 15 seconds or more, I (or Steve) would be immediately alerted to the event and could take action right away.

The 15-second warning beep has gone off twice, waking me up in the middle of the night. I just had to lightly shake Lexie and she started breathing again. She probably would have been fine anyway, but who knows? Her breathing is much better now, but you can't be too careful.

Although Lexie is now over 5 months old, she's closer to 3 months gestationally. Babies between 2 and 4 months of age are at the highest risk for SIDS, and by some statistics preemies have 80 times the risk of full-term babies (although the exact stat depends on the study). So I'm not taking any chances. Once we're ready to put her in the crib to sleep at night, the motion sensor will move to the crib. In the meantime, I monitor her the old-fashioned way during the day.

I'm dreading putting her in her crib at night. I think I'm going to find myself going to her room at every whimper, at least for the first week or so. Even though it's not a long walk, it takes a lot more energy to go down the hall than it takes to pop myself up on an elbow, look down into her bassinet (pushed next to the bed each night), and assess the situation.

We need to start working on this now because I'm going back to work July 13. Lexie's nanny is scheduled to start July 6. I say "is scheduled to start" rather than "is starting" because I noticed (when I went to hide our nanny-seeking profile on the site where we found her) that her job-seeking-nanny profile is still active. I'm hoping she's just looking for interim work, versus looking for a better offer. Even if she does find something else, though, the job market for nannies is so bad that we shouldn't have *too* much trouble finding someone else.

At least, that's what we're hoping. Fingers crossed...

Monday, June 1, 2009

At Her Own Pace

Soon after I found out I was pregnant, I heard through the grapevine that a colleague was pregnant as well. Her due date was just a week after mine. She had a very easy pregnancy, and her baby was born at full term, which would have been a week after Lexie's due date had all gone well. Instead, Lexie was almost 11 weeks old.

Preemies mature at kind of a staggered rate. You can't simply say, "well, it's two months after her due date so she should be on track with those milestones." In some areas, she's a little bit ahead of her gestational age (her age calculated from her due date instead of her actual birthday), but in others, she's behind. I do understand that all babies mature at a different rate, but we have to be more vigilant for any sort of delays. (Luckily, Lexie is eligible for all sorts of help if she falls behind substantially - starting at 4 months [gestational] she will be monitored by specialists and will be referred for more help if she needs it, up to age 4.)

For the most part, I really am ok with relaxing as Lexie develops at her own pace. I know that the important thing is that she is here and healthy. But this weekend, that colleague posted a Facebook update about her baby "having a conversation with herself," and that made me kind of sad. Lexie makes cooing noises, but nothing as sustained as that, and if she's not interacting with a grown-up she's just as likely to be quiet. Or to be whimpering for some attention.

Of course I immediately went online and found "Eight Ways to Improve Your Baby's Verbal Skills," briefed Steve on the techniques, and we spent the rest of the weekend narrating our every move to her. "Now it's time to change your diaper! Here is the new diaper. See, I'm putting it under your old diaper..."

We know it's a little ridiculous. We really aren't trying to create some type-A overacheiver. We just want her to have every chance possible to catch up to her peers before any delay starts to become noticeable in preschool and kindergarten. We will do everything we can.

In physical size, she continues to make great strides. Her length was on the chart for her true age at her 4-month doctor's appointment a couple of weeks ago - she was in the 16th percentile. She still was underweight though - even for her gestational age she was still pretty light, probably due to a litany of digestive issues we've been working out. But we can see so many major changes when we think back to how she looked in January.

When she was born, she was 10 weeks early, weighed 3 pounds 11 oz., and was 16 5/8 inches long. During delivery, she had been severely bruised all over the right side of her head, her upper torso and right arm. Where she wasn't bruised, you could see that she was yellow and jaundiced. She had a thin layer of downy hair all over her back and shoulders (it's called the lanugo). She was so skinny - there was no baby fat on her at all, because that's what the third trimester is for. Her eyelashes were invisible unless you could get within a few inches to see tiny colorless feathery lashes, more of a suggestion than anything else. Her cheeks were almost gaunt. Her fingers looked so long and delicate, without any baby chubb to fill them out. Her fingernails were the size of sesame seeds. She didn't really have any nipples yet - they develop between 32 and 34 weeks in utero. Her little bottom was almost flat. Her legs were so scrawny that it looked like she was wearing another baby's too-big leg skin. Without any fat on her belly or around her legs, her girl parts stood out like a Mr. Potato Head piece.

(I fully realize that someday she may kill me for writing those last few details.)

At her 4-month appointment, she weighed 10 pounds and was 23 1/4 inches long. Although she's still a little peanut, all her parts are looking pretty normal. Her right eyelid still has red streaks on it from the birth injury, but it's operating the way it's supposed to be. Her eyelashes are now long and dark. My favorite thing is her little almost-chubby bum. Everytime I change her diaper I want to give it a little pat.

It's funny the things you appreciate.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Too Much TV

Except for the six weeks Lexie was in the NICU, I have been watching a LOT of TV starting back when I entered hospital in November. To pass the time, I took to watching a soap opera or two here and there. The first thing I noticed, being in a hospital myself at the time, was the large percentage of characters being treated in the hospital at any given time. Then I noticed several more things that are out of proportion in soap opera world. My running list:

  • Hospitalizations
  • Fake pregnancies
  • Babies switched at birth
  • Evil twins
  • Characters missing and presumed dead (leaving the door open for a return)
  • Cases of mistaken identity
  • Number of cops
  • Number of doctors
  • Car accidents
  • Multiple marriages by the same person
  • Divorces/reconciliations
  • Whodunits
  • Amnesia

There must be more. What soap opera plot cliches can you think of?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

More Neighborhood Intrigue

I've previously mentioned my neighbor with the three constantly yapping dogs, fried hair, and drinking problem. The dogs have gotten worse lately, and my husband has been tossing around the option of calling the cops and making a noise complaint. For a while I urged against it, because the neighbor doesn't seem to have a lot of good things in her life other than the dogs, and she clearly is unhappy, but it's gotten so bad lately that I started to feel fewer qualms about it.

Thursday night, I went to take a shower around 7 p.m., and when I came back downstairs my husband informed me that he had finally had enough and had called the cops to make an anonymous noise complaint. I was all, "no way." He told me that a police officer had showed up in an unmarked car, and Steve had crept up to the kitchen window and lowered it slightly so he could hear the conversation (we live in a townhouse). Apparently the officer told her that this was the first complaint, and at the next complaint she'd get a fine, and the third would put her in jail. She freaked out and got combative, which, needless to say, did not endear her to the police officer.

We laughed about it (although I still felt a little bad for her) and I went upstairs to catch some sleep. (I try to go to bed around 8pm nowadays to ensure I get at least three hours of sleep before Steve heads to bed and I'm back on Lexie Watch.) A half hour later, there was a pounding on our door. I had been drifting off to sleep, but at this point my eyes popped open. I knew who it was.

I tried to listen but couldn't hear much. She hung around for a looong time, and as soon as she left Steve came trotting upstairs, with Lexie in his arms, to report on the confrontation. Apparently, my husband had answered the door to find our neighbor, reeking of booze. "Didyoooocall thecopson my dogs?" she slurred. "Nah," my husband lied. "We're so busy with the new baby we aren't even worried about anything like that."

So then she proceeded to unburden herself on my husband for a half hour about her sad life. She admitted that the dogs have been louder lately, ever since she adopted a homeless cat; her dogs bark constantly at the cat. She began to ask Steve repeatedly who he thought may have called the cops, and he just kept saying he didn't know. She became convinced (her idea) that it must have been the neighbors on the other side, because she'd complained to the HOA about their failure to rake their leaves. She kept drunkenly asking Steve, "do you think I should go over there?"

Finally Steve ushered her out the door saying, "If I were you, I'd definitely go over there right now." And she toddled off.

We haven't heard the dogs since.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day

After several Mother's Days that brought only sadness, I am thankful for little Lexie today. But I still feel sad for my friends who hope to become moms, and for my friends who have lost their babies. I wish I could have brought you all with me to the other side.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Small Town in an Untamed Land

I got a call this morning from the UPS man in my in-laws' town in Mississippi. He didn't recognize the address on our Mother's Day gift to Steve's mom because the in-laws live on an unnamed dirt road "outside of town." Another funny thing about the call was that he seemed to know the last name, but was shocked that people with that last name lived "out there" and he didn't know about them. (My in-laws keep a low profile. My mother-in-law doesn't like people knowing her business.)

So I had to give him some directions.

Now, their corner of Mississippi, is, in my Yankee eyes, an untamed land. Example: Several years back, Steve and I spent an afternoon creeping around an abandoned mobile home that had belonged to his grandma's late cousin, Amy Katherine. Someone had clearly been squatting in the trailer after Amy Katherine's passing, as it was strewn with Rolling Rock ponies. And Amy Katherine was not the type. Also, the TV was gone, but most of her other belongings were tossed around the trailer. We found her address book -- it contained three addresses: her sister's, her son's, and her own. In the forest behind the trailer was ... the trailer she'd lived in before this one (completely collapsed) and several broken appliances. Behind the older trailer was ... a giant pile of bricks that was the house she'd grown up in. And in front of the newer trailer sat two broken down cars, one of which was full of garbage.

This was perhaps three years after Amy Katherine's demise. And now, about five years later, ALL of it has been overgrown by the forest, completely. You can't even tell that anyone ever lived there.

It's a wild, wild place.

So my directions went something like this:

"If you drive out of town past the Sugar Creek Quick Stop, you know that cell tower on the left?" He did. "Take a left just before the cell tower, and then drive down the dirt road for a mile or two. Pass the beaver dam on your right, and at the fork in the road, it's the white house with the red brick porch. It will probably have a lot of cats and a little black and white dog running around out front."

The best part was that from that description, he knew exactly the place I was talking about.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Run-In in the Hospital Garage

One of the things I hate about the DC area is the apparently excessive number of people who have an entitlement complex. As in, I'm better than you, so I deserve X.

I had a run-in with a couple of these people back in February in the Inova Fairfax blue garage, and I've only recently calmed down enough about it to write the story.

The Inova Fairfax blue garage is a complete disaster, with dozens of spaces reserved for visiting doctors, physical therapy patients, cancer patients, radiology patients, etc. On a busy day, there's a lot of jockeying for the few remaining unmarked spaces. One cold day in February, I was headed in to the hospital to visit Lexie in the NICU when the line of cars in the garage came to a complete stop. Far ahead, I saw a giant black SUV backing down the ramp from the roof. I sat and waited. Normally this kind of thing might have annoyed me, but I was too tired and worried to expend any energy on being annoyed at that point. I waited, and waited, and waited, more than five minutes, and the line didn't move.

The black SUV still sat at the bottom of the ramp ahead of us, blocking everyone's forward escape from our row. Cars had pulled in behind me in line, so I couldn't back up, either. Finally, I started to notice a few people coming out of the elevator bay and getting in their cars, and I figured this would unclog the bottleneck. The first two cars left, and the two cars in front of me took the spaces. Now only one car remained in front of me. And what do you know -- a space just in front of that car opened up. I waited patiently for the car in front of me to take the space, but it just sat there. After a minute or so, I figured, hey, I guess I'm next. I drove around that car and pulled into the space.

Suddenly I heard someone leaning on the horn. And I mean leaning. I decided to ignore it as I pulled together my bag and my cooler of milk for Lexie. As I was walking away from my car, Mr. Black SUV pulls up and yells, "THANKS FOR STEALING OUR SPACE." I continued to ignore him. "I JUST DROPPED OFF MY PREGNANT WIFE!" Oooooh, wrong thing to say to me.

"OH YEAH?" I yelled back. "WELL I'M GOING TO VISIT MY PREEMIE IN THE NICU." He sped off like the witless coward he was. He probably gave me the finger or something, but I didn't look back. I was a little thrown -- it had been a long while since I'd had to fight with someone like that, but I tried to calm down and headed into the elevator bay.

Standing inside the door was a young-ish pregnant woman. She looked expensive. She watched me walk by, probably saw that I looked exhausted and frazzled -- like a weak, easy target -- and she made a big mistake.

"Thanks for stealing our space," she tossed at my back, maneuvering to show off her pregnant belly as I turned my head.

I stopped.

I turned around.

I engaged.

"I had no idea it was 'your' space. I'd been waiting forever without moving and a space finally opened up. I had just as much right to that space as you did." My voice rose and she began to shrink away, muttering a few "never minds" -- ha, too late, idiot. "And this is a hospital. We've ALL got problems. I'M GOING IN RIGHT NOW TO VISIT MY PREEMIE. I HOPE *YOUR* PREGNANCY IS A SUCCESSFUL ONE."

I spun on my heel and strode into the hospital. It really pissed me off that she thought a pregnant woman at the hospital should get special treatment over all the people there who may be DYING on any given day.

I do hope she felt sorely ashamed of herself, at least for a moment, before she went back to her rich little bubble of a life with her jerk of a husband.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Gratuitous Lexie Photos

These are probably long overdue. Plus, I remain too tired to pull together the ideas swirling around in my head.

Lexie likes her paci when she gets stressed out. It's no joke:

She's kind of an escape artist. She likes the swaddle, but that doesn't stop her from trying to bust out:

Here she was on one of those hot April days, in her first summer outfit:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Denizens of the Night

The other night, I was getting a bottle out of the fridge around 4 a.m. when I noticed a car parked haphazardly across the street, engine running, lights on, driver's door open. And then I saw a middle-aged woman in dumpy clothes running toward our house. Full speed. With what looked like alarm on her face.

My heart started racing. Why was this woman running toward me? Did she see me in the kitchen with the light on? Does she need my help? Is she being chased by someone dangerous?

Holy shit! She was running up our sidewalk. Should I yell for Steve? Oh my god!

Then I heard a smack on the porch and saw her run back down the sidewalk, jump into her car, and speed away.

I stood frozen in the kitchen, Lexie in my arms, heart pounding. Finally I made a decision. I threw open the front door.

And I saw it -- sitting right at my doorstep:

The Washington Post.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Packing Up the Maternity Clothes

One day this past week, Lexie decided to nap for more than 30 minutes, for a change. I took the opportunity (after hurriedly going to the bathroom, brushing my teeth and washing my face) to pack up most of my maternity clothes. It was a little bit sad -- I never had a chance to wear the majority of the garments, so the whole process just reminded me of my jacked-up pregnancy and Lexie's resulting premature birth.

Pregnancy did not go the way I expected, at all. I knew the risks of my condition, but the statement of risks was always accompanied by something to the effect of "but most women with unicornuate uteruses don't know they have them until they have a full-term C-section, and there are probably tons of women who never find out, blah blah blah. So you could go full term!" I was cautiously optimistic, and never expected that I might have such a close brush with worst-case scenarios.

At this point, I don't see myself ever needing the maternity clothes again. My body really isn't made to carry babies, and I can't imagine going through bedrest with a child already at home. If we have an unlikely "accident," we'll play those cards as they're dealt. But that's the decision for now.

In baby news, Lexie recently passed the three-month mark, although she's more similar to a one-month old in her development and abilities. She's gaining weight and seems to be learning every day. She's not doing so well in the sleep department because she's been having stomach issues that wake her up pretty regularly. We started her on a new formula today and are reeeeeally hoping it clears up the problem. I'm dreaming of getting more than three interrupted hours of sleep a night. If only. I never knew I'd be able to go this long on such an extended sleep deficit. I've heard that sleep deprivation is cumulative. I'm easily 250+ hours in the hole in the six weeks since Lexie came home.

It's hard to be profound on so little sleep. So here's a gratuitous shot of Lexie in her Easter hat.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

March 20 and March 27

Lexie's due date, March 20, passed without fanfare 11 days ago. In a lot of ways she's acting like a newborn, but in a few ways she's a little ahead of newborn skills. She's almost able to hold her head up consistently now, and she tries to hold her own bottle too. I know it will be a long road, but hopefully by age 2 she'll be caught up for her actual age, versus her gestational age (11 days today). Below, a shot of Lexie around her due date. (Note busted swaddle. Don't worry -- we were keeping an eye on her. We're not leaving any loose bedding in the crib or anything like that.)

On March 27, Steve and I went out to dinner for our 5th anniversary. My mom babysat. She was trying to get us to go to a movie as well, but I figured we'd just fall asleep if we sat down in the dark, so we kept it down to just dinner. As we drove down the street away from the house, I wondered if it would be bad form if I napped in the car en route to the restaurant, an Asian fusion place in Old Town Alexandria. I managed to stay awake for the ride, but it wasn't easy.

We had a nice meal, and actually managed to talk about a few things other than the baby. Steve had some hot sake, but I passed on the booze, since I'm still pumping and not making enough to feel right "pumping and dumping," even just this one time. Not to mention the fact that any alcohol at all would likely have put me under the table -- I haven't had a drop since July.

It's been a long time since I went out to dinner. So long, in fact, that as I finished a breadstick I came appallingly close to tossing the last bite onto the floor for my dog. Who obviously would not have been at the restaurant. Luckily I caught myself at the last minute.

That night, Steve and my mom gave me the ultimate gift -- a full night's sleep. I felt like a new woman! And I'm looking forward to the day some months in the future when that becomes the norm once again.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Two Weeks Home

Alexandra has been home with us now for two weeks, which marks the first two weeks since November that no member of our family has been in residence at the hospital. I still think of the families there and all the babies in the NICU. This whole experience has brought me countless new perspectives, even just walking around the hospital.

Whenever I'd see women in their hospital gowns being wheeled into the NICU to see their premature babies for the first time, I'd think, "that was me."

Up on the 6th floor, where Lexie lived for two weeks just down the hall from my old room, I'd see glimpses of the women on bedrest and think, "that was me."

When I'd see tired, worried-looking men getting off the elevator with takeout dinner for their hospitalized wives, I'd think, "that was Steve."

When we were finally checking out of the NICU, I saw other mothers watching me and I knew what they were thinking, because that had been me, every day until it was our turn.

My mom is visiting this week, helping us get some extra sleep. Lexie is doing well here at home, although she hasn't quite taken to her bassinet the way she did her NICU crib. She's a great sleeper now as long as someone is holding her. We're trying to get her used to the bassinet, little by little.

It hasn't been an easy road to parenthood, so I'm wired to expect adversity. Because preemies are more likely to die of SIDS, I'm completely paranoid. This probably contributes to my wanting to hold her as much as possible. (Then I can make sure she's still breathing.) I know I'll have to chill out, especially when Steve goes back to work and I'm on my own here at home, but for now this makes me feel better.

Here's Lexie hanging out in her bouncy seat. She's not too sure about it.

Here's a shot of her fluffy hair, post bath, while she chews on my sweatshirt.

Friday, February 27, 2009

She's Home!

We brought her home yesterday afternoon and things are going well. Thank you everyone for all your support!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Close, but No Cigar

Yesterday, we got the big news that Lexie might be able to go home today. What?! Today, you say?! Holy crap, we need to run out of here and clean up the house, finish putting together the bassinet, clean off the changing table, install the carseat, and omygod what else...

Today, Steve and I headed in there, Lexie's "going home" outfit and carseat in hand, nervous and excited to bring our girl home. But Lexie had other plans, spending the day sleeping almost nonstop, barely waking up to eat. And she didn't eat enough to get the OK to leave.

On the bright side, she passed her "car seat challenge."

We suspect the sleepiness was due to her Synagis shot last night. It's not a scientifically known side effect, but all babies are different, and *something* was causing her to be out of it.

Hopefully tomorrow will be the big day. Fingers crossed. In the meantime, Steve and I went out to dinner. It might be a while before we can do that again.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pump Room Soundtrack

The NICU provides a pumping room for NICU moms who spend a lot of time with their babies. It has its own culture and etiquette, which I won't get into here. It also has its own radio, which is worth mentioning for the sheer inappropriateness of much of the music.

Some songs I've heard while pumping:
Black Dog, Led Zeppelin
Nights in White Satin, Moody Blues
The Reaper, Blue Oyster Cult
Free Bird, Lynyrd Skynyrd (seriously)
We Will Rock You, Queen

The last one was the most jarring. I mean really.

Today, I finally heard what I deemed an appropriate song for the environment (the chorus, at least) -- Red Rubber Ball by Cyrkle:

And I think it's gonna be all right.
Yeah, the worst is over now,
The morning sun is shining like a Red Rubber Ball.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

36 Weeks

Today Lexie reached the equivalent of 36 weeks gestation. This had been the goal when I checked into the hospital in November -- getting the pregnancy to 36 weeks. Obviously we didn't quite make it.

Last week Lexie was moved to yet another "step down" room for babies who just need to learn to eat and grow. It happens to be on the 6th floor (the regular NICU is on the 2nd floor). And it happens to be within spitting distance of the hospital room I lived in for so many weeks. Every day I see my old door at the end of the hallway. It's always closed. Inevitably, I've been thinking a lot about an alternate universe in which I am still behind that door. In that alternate universe, today I walked out the door on my own and headed home to wait out the rest of my pregnancy, instead of being quickly wheeled out, terrified, heading to the labor and delivery floor many weeks too early.

But things continue to improve in real life. Yesterday Lexie's feeding tube was removed. That's not entirely accurate -- it would be more accurate to say that Lexie pulled out her feeding tube again. And her doctor decided not to replace it as long as Lexie continues to eat enough on her own. So far, so good. She looks like a regular little baby now without the tube taped to her little face.

In other real-life news, we just received our copy of Lexie's birth certificate as well as her Social Security card. She's not even supposed to be born yet, and already she's just a number in the eyes of the government. Welcome to the world, kiddo. We're so glad you're here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pumpin' Ain't Easy (NICU Mother Theme)

As you know, I've been spending a lot of time working to produce enough healthy food for little Alexandra. It's a struggle for NICU moms, because our babies aren't with us -- the hormones don't quite kick in the way they do when you're with your baby 24x7. Plus, one of the most common tips, "think about your baby," is more likely to stress you out ("I wonder how she's doing ... I hope she's not crying ... I hope she's gaining weight ... I hope she doesn't feel all alone ..."), especially in the early days when you can't even hold your baby, than it is to create happy warm babymom feelings.

Anyway, as an outlet for my frustration (and yes, I've talked to the lactation consultants -- I'm working it out), I came up with this interpretation of a hiphop classic.

Pumpin' Ain't Easy (NICU Mother Theme)
[With Apologies to Ice-T]

NICU mother's in the house...
Grab yo' phlanges

Pumpin ain't pumpin ain't easy woman [repeat 4X]

Take a look at me, everything I wear's stretched out
Pump baby, I can't see my nips with the lights out
This is how I do it, pumping milk really blows
NICU mother baby, and it's a heavy load
Step back, hater make a little room for my hose
Slippers on my feet, hope the milk really flows
Baby is the reason all the real pumpers know that
NICU mother puts pump to breast
She got no chance trying not to get stressed
I pump on the right and I pump on the left
If you don't dig the pumpin I could really care less
Increase my supply, increase my supply baby

Pumpin ain't pumpin ain't easy woman [repeat 3X]
Pumpin ain't pumpin ain't easy...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lexie Update

I've been spending all my time at the hospital, pumping (ouch), eating, and a bit of sleeping here and there, so blogging has taken a backseat for now. But I wanted to post a quick update for anyone who's still checking in.

Alexandra now weighs 4 pounds, 13 ounces. She'll be allowed to come home once she can eat all of her meals on her own, instead of getting too tired with the bottle and needing to supplement with a feeding tube. She also needs to keep breathing steadily during those feeds -- right now, when she gets really tired of all the exertion during a feed, she sometimes starts breathing shallowly or forgets to breathe for a little while. (This causes what is called a "desat," in which her blood oxygen level starts to decline.) She needs to go a week without a major desat. She had one yesterday, so as of now the earliest she could come home is the 23rd. That said, the clock keeps restarting on the 7 days, so we haven't begun a real countdown yet. Maybe if she gets to 3 or 4 days without a desat while eating well then we'll start to get excited.

People keep telling us "get some sleep now!" As if we're sleeping soundly all night long. I'm pumping regularly, which seriously interferes with my sleep schedule, and to tell you the truth, you don't sleep very soundly when your baby's in the NICU. (This is why NICU parents are given a special phone number to call for an update anytime, day or night.) I know people are just trying to think of something to say, but they really don't fully understand what's going on.

Hopefully it won't be too much longer until Lexie comes home. I'm looking forward to staying in the house all day long with my baby. And to being awakened regularly by her little lungs.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Nine Weeks in Exile

Now that I'm out of the hospital, the time I spent there seems like a vague bubble interrupting my life. In a normal life, a lot happens in nine weeks. Think about what can happen through nine weeks at work. Projects start and end. People start new jobs and begin to become one of the gang. Workplace dramas arise and subside.

Over nine weeks, Fall turns to Winter.

Relationships can begin and end.

Fortunes can be made and lost.

And in nine weeks, a tiny baby can be saved.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Stepping Down Early!

We got the big news tonight that Alexandra will be moving into the step down room with the next shift change at the NICU. She still has the feeding tube but is doing pretty well on her bottle feeds (only 10ml, but you have to start somewhere). The step down room seems much calmer than the room she's in now. The doctors basically said that she doesn't need the intensive monitoring that is given in the big room.

Go Lexie!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Eating and Growing

Alexandra is still doing pretty well in her little NICU box. She's off her IV and gets all her nutrition now via formula and breastmilk from my meager supply. Most of it comes via her feeding tube, but she's also started taking a bottle three times a day and usually eats 5-10 ml from it before losing interest. The doctors have been very encouraging about her bottle experiences. She's been steadily gaining weight since losing a few ounces her first week and now weighs more than her birthweight.

We've done a little bit of "Kangaroo Care" (in which the baby is placed skin-to-skin on a parent) and she seemed to really like it -- she usually cries when the nurse takes her away.

The only minor setbacks are some periodic minor "desats" (during which the oxygen saturation of her blood sinks below 88%) -- the doctors say this is totally normal for preemies -- and that she's having a little trouble maintaining her body temperature. The doctors turned down the temp slightly in her isolette to see if she's able to keep herself warm, and it seems like she's having a bit of trouble in that area. Once she can keep herself warm and comes off the feeding tube, she'll be ready to move into a crib in the "step down" room to get ready to come home in maybe four weeks or so.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Update From the NICU

We've been spending a lot of time in the NICU watching over our little girl. Lexie is tiny, but amazingly there are smaller babies in the NICU with her -- much smaller.

The doctors say she is doing great and just needs to gain weight and grow. She's breathing on her own without any trouble. She has a tiny feeding tube that gives her about half her nutrition nowadays and they inch it up a little bit each day, and inch down the IV nutrition.

I'm hoping to post a birth story within a week or so, but the short version is that I started leaking amniotic fluid last Tuesday night. It was spontaneous -- I was just lying in the hospital bed as usual when it all began. Wednesday morning I was contracting regularly and most of the amniotic fluid was gone. Ultimately my doctor determined a C-section was the safest course and things started rolling pretty quickly.

The scariest part of it all was after I was sewn up and my doctor looked over the curtain and confirmed that I did indeed have a unicornuate uterus, adding: "You were lucky to get her to 30 and a half weeks. Your uterus is very small."

I can't believe I'm back home on my couch and we have a little girl sleeping and growing in the NICU. We are so lucky.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Alexandra Has Arrived

Alexandra ("Lexie") was born January 14 at 3:22 p.m., weighing 3 lbs, 11 oz, 16 5/8" long. She's breathing on her own in the NICU and just needs to stop losing weight -- other than that she's doing great.

She was 30 weeks, 5 days gestation, and was delivered via c-section after my water broke the night before. Will post more info soon, but for now I'm off to the NICU again.

Thank you everyone for all the support!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Antisocial Hour

On Thursday, I made use of my 2 hours per week of wheelchair privileges to get rolled down to the weekly social hour/class for the women in my unit. I was excited to leave my room, and looked forward to meeting some women who could directly relate to the hospital bedrest experience.

So I roll in to the lounge, and see about 12 other women already sitting there in silence. I smile and pop out with a general, "Hi!"

No response. Very little eye contact. I try again.

"How's everybody doing?"

Crickets. I feel like a washed-up comic at a shabby Catskills resort. ("Is this thing on?")

I look around and decide, against my better judgment, to try one more time to get people talking. "So how long has everybody been here?"

This question produced a seriously uncomfortable silence. There seemed to be some very negative energy coming from the opposite side of the lounge -- from one woman in particular. I think she was poisoning the whole room's atmosphere. So I directly addressed one woman sitting next to me. "How about you?" She actually answered, and was fairly nice about it. It seemed like many of the women just weren't talking because nobody else was talking. I turned to the woman on the other side of me and asked the same question. She also answered. She'd been here 9 weeks and was going for another 9 with twins. Someone who'd already been here longer -- and would be here longer -- than me!

I was probably hyped up due to the excitement of leaving my room, so I tried the general discussion one more time. "Anybody been here longer than 9 weeks?"

No answer. I wouldn't be surprised if there were four or so women who had been here longer but refused to answer.

Finally daunted, I chatted quietly with my neighbors. (Meanwhile, NOBODY else talked among themselves.) Eventually, the class (on C-sections) ensued. Good information, but no socialization. I could have watched a video alone and gotten the same info. At the end of the class, a basket of giant brownies was passed around. I was one of only two women who weren't allowed to have one (brownies are incompatible with gestational diabetes). That sucked. I have to say, I wasn't sad to roll back to my room.

I'll try again next time. Maybe if I get there earlier and greet each person as they roll in... or maybe I should just go for the stony silence like the rest of them.

Eh, screw 'em. I'm going to talk anyway. Eventually someone will crack.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

It's All Relative

One of the nurses recently told me that the unit sometimes has prisoners as patients. The prisoners get a private room and are handcuffed to the bed. They each have their own personal guard rotation; the guard sits in the recliner next to the bed and usually monopolizes the TV. Fascinating. I'd made comparisons between the hospital food and prison food, so I asked the nurse: "What do the prisoners think of the food here?"

"They think it's fantastic," she said.

So it's possible I may have been exaggerating the food's awfulness. It's not good, but most of the time it is edible. Occasionally it is tasty (maybe one meal every two weeks). Still, when it's time to eat most of the entrees I often end up talking to myself, trying to psych myself up for the task.
Just eat it. It's not going to kill you.

How bad can it be? Take one bite.

You're 34 years old. You aren't a picky kid anymore. You can eat this. Be a grown up.

It could be much worse. What if you were in a Mexican prison? That would have to be worse.

You're lucky that you even have food in the first place.

The sooner you start to eat it, the sooner you'll be finished and won't have to deal with the food for a few hours.

Just hurry up and swallow it and wash it down with some milk...
The good news is I've managed to get my weight back up and have gained about 4 pounds overall since I checked in more than 7 weeks ago. The contractions have kind of calmed down for the most part, although they still rear their head from time to time. Friday we will be at 30 weeks gestation. If we can get to 34, Baby Girl and I should be golden.

I sometimes feel that we've had really bad luck, especially compared to all the women who sail through their normal pregnancies and end up with a healthy baby every time. My first two pregnancies seemed like worst-case scenarios, ending in the first trimester. But now I understand that some things are much worse than that.

In the past few months, two friends of mine have lost their babies in the second trimester, delivering them too early for the babies to survive more than a couple of hours. I can't imagine how devastating that must be.

I've complained about the food here, and I've complained in general about my "confinement," but we now have a good chance of having a healthy baby.

In that respect, we are very lucky.