Guest Post: What Being a Single Mom Means to Me

This article is the seventh in a series of guest posts. I have invited a variety of friends and family members to contribute to my blog. I have chosen them based on two things: 1) I personally go to them for help; and 2) I am fascinated by their unique parenting challenges, because I want to hear how they make “okayest” work for them. 

Today’s author is Betsi, a young single mother whom I met at church. She correctly pointed out that I’ve not yet had any guest posts by single mothers! Despite being something like a decade and a half older than her, I greatly enjoy Betsi’s company, and, furthermore, I respect her very much. She also quite eerily reminds me of Sarah, my best friend from high school (featured here, and here, and here, by the way). Is it her mannerisms? Her style? Doesn’t matter, cuz Betsi is one-of-a-kind anyway. Here’s Betsi:

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Almost a year ago Mrs. Okayest asked me to write a guest blog on my experience of motherhood. Over the last year I sat down to write this many times to no avail.

Until recently, that is.

You see, I am a single mother… well I am, but I am also not. I am single in the relationship sense, but I most certainly am not a single mother. I am surrounded by support. I may not have the fathers of my children supporting them, but I do have a village.

My village is composed of many people; my parents, my brothers and sisters and their significant others, my mom friends, my dad friends, even my childless friends.

I’ll give you an example: Both of my parents were in Germany for 10 days recently, leaving me alone to fend for myself. During this time I had my 6 month postpartum pap smear, a therapy appointment, and a psychiatrist appointment. I had 3 different friends watch my eldest on the 3 different days. Each friend took her longer than they had to and did some fun activity with her that she had never done before.

When I asked my facebook friends if anyone could watch Z, my eldest, they jumped on the opportunity. I had many offers of help. (The would watch baby E too if she weren’t so fussy and still exclusively breastfeeding!)

I have an amazing support system, I could not have asked for better people to be a part of me and my children’s lives. I know we are loved and cared for.

So, yeah, I don’t have a boyfriend or a husband and neither of my children’s fathers are involved at all, but I am by no means a single mother.

***

Have an idea for my next post? If you’d like to write for my blog, please send Okayest Mom a message via my Facebook page. Let me know what angle you’d like to see featured here and why you’d be the best writer for the job. Currently, I’m especially interested in writings about special needs, race, or something written from the male perspective. 

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Guest Post: When lllness Interferes with Motherhood

renee 1 Being mama to two active boys has gone a bit differently than I planned.

This article is the sixth in a series of guest posts. I have invited a few select friends and family members to contribute to my blog. I have chosen them based on two things: 1) I personally go to them for help; and 2) I am fascinated by their unique parenting challenges, because I want to hear how they make “okayest” work for them.

Allow me to introduce you to my childhood friend, Renee. We were close friends in elementary school, but we probably haven’t even seen each other since middle school. (I think we were both pretty dorky. The other girls were fawning over New Kids on the Block while we were making up blues songs about our troubles at age ten.) Like lots of old friends, we re-met on facebook. Even though we haven’t been able to reconnect in person, we bonded over being on bedrest – and death’s door – together. 

Renee’s optimism is astrounding. She deserves a chance to tell her story. Here’s Renee:

The Hubster and I were married for three years when sweet boy #1 came along and we had it all figured out! I got to stay home for a while with him and the three of us had lots of fun together. Weekends were relaxing, mornings were slow, but time flew by. Other than him having pediatric epilepsy controlled by meds, nothing could stop us.

Five years, one miscarriage and many fertility issues later, sweet boy #2 greeted us! After he was delivered, the doctors delivered a 10 pound ovarian cyst that had shared space with our new bundle. We knew it was growing along with him as it was discovered right before we learned I was pregnant! Many ultrasounds took place to make sure he was outgrowing the cyst that posed a threat to us. Removal during pregnancy was too risky so we prayed and took precautions. I had ten weeks of bedrest and my ankles were the size of my knees. Yikes! But that was the least of my worries. As soon as Youngest was born, I started having severe abdominal pain. Even in the hospital, hours following the c-section, I was complaining of increasing pain and the docs said, “That’s to be expected”, or “You just had a c-section”. At the one-week mark, I had my staples removed and I was feeling a bit better.

But two days later, I woke-up with a 104.5 fever and couldn’t move my legs. My husband was home, doing what we thought was a great idea for his “time off”: putting in wood floors. Huh? Hey, don’t plan remodeling projects for maternity leave. Even though it’s your second kid and you think you are a pro. Nope. Don’t. Anyway, we were so afraid of what could be wrong so we called 911. Not kidding: paramedic dudes had to climb over plywood, wood slats, tons of tools and a bunch of new baby garb from just not getting it all put away yet. Hubster had to stay home with the kids, so this was my first ambulance ride, alone. At the ER I was told I had a “wicked” UTI. Also, it was determined I had bilateral sciatica and it “could be six months”. My left calf was also swelling and turning black. I was given antibiotics and steroids. My husband drug our babies out to pick me up. I remember sitting on the bench waiting, thinking, “I can’t walk. I can’t stand. I can’t lay. How am I going to be a mommy of two?” Once home, I literally screamed the whole way in the house. I had to have a walker at all times. Along with that, I needed posture help from my husband. Ok, I went to bed the night before feeling just fine, right? The next three weeks were what I’d describe as heart-breaking. I went to the ER seven times with excessive bleeding, fainting, unexplained pain, etc. They just kept saying, “It’s that wicked UTI.” I went to my family doctor and explained everything. He said, “Renee, what is it you’re doing here? Are you drug-seeking?” Hmmmmm. He was no help.

I decided, “I’m 30. I’m a mom. I’m going to tough this out. Oh, and I will use a walker.” I was in so much pain. I couldn’t walk, lay or stand. No cooking, no cleaning, no running to the baby’s crib when he awoke for a feeding. My husband rigged some pillows in our bed to surround me and the baby, propping me up just right for breastfeeding and remaining pain-free. My oldest climbed in next to me and we colored every page of every coloring book, and found every hidden picture ever drawn. He was a trooper. Everyday when he was home from school he’d bring me something he made to “make mommy well”. It was nearing the end of May (three weeks since birth) and it was time for my oldest’s kindergarten graduation. My leg was still massive and black and blue. I was grey all over and I still couldn’t walk. My husband finished that floor and put a comforter under my recliner. (At that point, I’d slept in the recliner since mid-bed-rest days, with the exception of birth week. Twenty pounds on my abdomen was too much for lying down, and not being able to move your legs makes it hard to get in bed.) He pulled me across our new floor (wee!) to the bathroom. He carried me to use it and back to the chair. He was dressing me completely, cooking all meals, changing all diapers, up all night with Youngest and taking Oldest to and from school and the sitter’s. My sitter was amazing. One of my best friends.

This graduation was a big deal to me. But I didn’t think I could make it. However, walker and all, I arrived. The ceremony felt like hours. I cried tears of joy for his accomplishment and tears of sadness for our situation. Life was upside down.

My husband’s leave ended and that weekend we were faced with “Who will care for Renee? Who will care for the boys? Should this be the same person?” We thought I’d be better by now. My sitter would come over and literally babysit me, 30-year old me. I had so much pain. We’d cry and pray together. I even confessed that I felt death was near.

My husband suddenly had a brilliant idea! He was approved to use his vacation time to drive us out to my mom’s house in Missouri so she could take care of me before school started back. That way, he could go back to work and not lose his job. Also, we figured I’d be better by then.

Off we went! I had a 104 fever through four states. It was 112 degrees outside and I had chills and a fleece blanket. Once we arrived, I was so ill that we unloaded and my husband got me back in the car to go to a nearby hospital. We sat in the waiting room for nine hours. I was hemorrhaging. When they took me back they said, “Oh you have a UTI. And postpartum depression.” Say huh? That causes hemorrhaging these days? A doctor in Virginia had suggested that as well and I had to go to a counselor. During that first visit, she said, “It’s clear you’re not at all depressed. Rather, you seem scared.” Anyway, the ER treated my fever with Tylenol and it responded, down to 101. They said, “Sorry you have walking problems. It’s your weight.” Fun times.

We left. Guess what?? Fever was back to 104.5. Also, BIG allergic reaction to the IV med they used to treat my UTI. Back we went. A doctor took one look at me and said, “Oh! You are very ill! I’m going to run these tests!” Tests revealed I was suffering from sepsis (a bloodstream infection). He gave me two weeks to live. Hi, I have babies! I got shipped to a smaller hospital two hours away because the Joplin, MO tornado hit and I was not a priority patient. I woke up in a new place, sicker than ever. A nurse was standing next to my bed with a breast pump. “Dear, you must wake-up so we can pump some milk and see if it’s poisonous.” Whaaaa?!?!? I’ve been poisoning my baby? She added, “Fifty percent of babies need serious medical intervention from poisoned milk; the other fifty percent just poop green.” Called mom. Baby was fine. Five days passed and hubby was running back and forth between kids and mommy. He had to go back to Virginia. Vacation’s over. So he got me to my mom’s and left (I’m not cured, but better). Tears!

For three weeks, I sat on the couch. My legs started loosening up and I could take 10-15 steps on my own. I could change diapers, people!!! Oh, I was a happy momma. At night, I sat on the couch by our little baby in his pack-n-play. Bottles, burps, kisses: these little things helped me get through immeasurable physical pain still occurring in my abdomen and legs. I also felt like my heart was beating through my spine. I taught my oldest how to make all the basic foods, as I couldn’t always get up to make foods when he wanted them. We called it “big boy tools”.

The last night before my husband came to get us, I started bleeding again. Buckets. And kidney pain out the yang. He arrived and we loaded the car. I cried all the way to Kentucky, but quietly. I didn’t want my kids to know. I said, “We must stop. I am bleeding to death. I feel death is near.” I fell on the counter inside the convenience store and told the poor teenager workers I was dying and need an ambulance. While waiting, I went back to the car and I put on a brave face and talked to Oldest while holding Youngest’s bottle. The ambulance arrived and we caravanned, oh, 60 miles.

At the hospital, I was told to lay down on the bed at the hospital, but I begged them to let me sit. They have no idea what we’ve been through. The girl across the hall had my same first and last name, with the exception of three letters. Really??? So she got my doctor first by accident. I waited three hours, alone, as I told Hubster to get the kids to a hotel with a pool and play. Finally, the doctor. “Ma’am, you are not urinating, only bleeding. I bet it’s a stone. Oh here, tests show a UTI. And your sepsis test takes 72 hours. So here’s your walking papers!” Really? I begged him to admit me. It was 3:00a.m. My pain was a ten out of ten, and I am bleeding so much I couldn’t keep it from getting all over the place. A nurse cut off my wristband and I went to the lobby. Hubster and kids drove out and took me to the hotel. The next morning I was crying at the continental breakfast bar. I could see how I was no longer a necessary element to our family’s function. People were dressed, fed and packed. It took all I had to walk from the elevator to the car.

We got home to Virginia about 3:00p.m. I had Hubster drop me at the hospital. I said bye to my boys like I had once before. Like when I had had pain and bleeding so immense that I thought I should get in my last kisses. After argument from staff about how I was a frequent flier, I got a CT scan, which I demanded. They found 66 kidney stones. I met with my urologist four long days later and he had read my whole, entire chart. “Renee, this bloodstream infection usually eats heart valves. I need you to get an echocardiogram.” My infectious disease doctor does a heart check before the echo and jumps back from me. “Do you have a murmur? Because right here, I hear a large hole in your heart!” Ok. Echo, done. “Hi, I’m a cardiologist. You need open heart surgery. Now. You have 48 hours to live. If you want a second opinion, call them on my personal cell phone because there’s no time.” Ok. My kids are at the sitter. My husband’s at work. My mom drove in yesterday, before any of this was known, because she “felt like something was wrong”. She was holding my hand while we got the news and I think I broke her pinky.

I was admitted and tests started immediately. I was too sick to operate. I had to wait. But could die. My kids weren’t allowed in to visit until the night before surgery, as my “valve is hanging off and excitement could push it to the brain causing immediate death.” The night before surgery, I said goodbye to them. Like for real this time. I was convinced those first two times were practice. I bawled like a banshee when they left. One of my best friends and my husband spent the night with me. I had taken two antiseptic showers and I had my game face on. I looked at the sunrise and told the doctors I would see tomorrow’s sunrise.

Nine hour surgery. Recovery. Five weeks more in the hospital. Cardiac rehab. Home.

I have to re-bond with my little baby who is now three months old. My oldest is overjoyed mommy is home. But I still can’t be alone. After several weeks, I was feeling better, fully bonded again and part of our family mechanics! Oh, did I mention I lost my full-time job during these events, where I had worked as a counselor for several years due to “restructuring”? And you aren’t allowed to draw unemployment if you’re under a doctor’s care. Yeah. We couldn’t get food stamps, Medicaid, WIC or any other government support. Still had all the same bills with half the income. Add in monstrous medical bills, a home nurse for three weeks and picc line maintenance charges. Yeah, we made $80 too much per year for federal assistance. For reals? That’s two gas tanks.

Anyway, it was time for kidney surgeries. Sixteen in all. One surgery went horribly wrong, causing another “you have 48 hours to live” and required two extra corrective surgeries and 16 blood transfusions. I was sent to a larger hospital for these life-saving procedures. My husband had to be home with the boys, as these things happened so often, we got tired of asking friends to care for our boys, fearing they’d feel taken advantage of. A dear friend rode in the ambulance with me. I spent the next three days throwing up and bleeding profusely. Even my nurses said, “Oh sugar, I dunno if you can pull through this one!” I had blood thinners on board due to my mechanical heart valve in place, so that exaggerated the bleeding.

Oh my poor babies. Weeks of curtains closed, babysitters for mommy, mommy stuck to the couch, trips to the doctor. But you know what? After that last surgery, it was over. Mostly. I just had to endure many ureter stent placements for draining my kidneys.

On my first day with no scheduled surgeries, my oldest climbed in bed with me and started crying. He said, “Mama, you don’t know, but I cried at night while you were gone. I beed brave for you. Now, it’s time to cry together. Let all your tears go in my hair so they don’t get wasted on the ground.” Really???? You’re 5??? All of us were bawling.

It was a new day. My nightmare had ended and I began mourning the long nights awake with my newborn, piles of 0-6 laundry, walks with the stroller, and so so much more. I couldn’t even hold my three-month-old until November and it had already been since July. I now completed laundry with joy! Nothing could shake me! But there was that whole now-you’re-losing-your-house and have-to-sell-everything-but-your-kids just to eat. Sure, food banks were nice, but having both worked in a field where we helped with food banks, or drove clients to the food banks, those people knew us. And we were not always received kindly.

I can tell you, I’m not your average parent of small, growing kids. I’m not the mom with the jogging stroller at the park. I’m not the busy carpool-driving mom who “does it all”. In the last two years since surgery, I missed my oldest getting dropped off by the bus due to passing out; I’ve had a heart attack; I’ve needed two surgeries to stop bleeding and in turn required several blood transfusions. Most of my surgeries since 2011 have made me sterile. I’ve logged 137 days in the hospital away from my babies and husband. I’ve sat in an empty hospital room, wondering when my last breath would be. Would I know? Who would find me? I’ve made thousands of friends who are nurses and doctors, because I make time for them in my schedule (that was a joke, but true). I’ve learned a lot about health, and although my problems were caused by a freak occurrence of endocarditis, I’ve worked hard to save the rest of my heart by losing 154 pounds since surgery. I can run, but I mostly walk. I can be mommy! I can get on the floor and play! I can go to Chuck E. Cheese! I can be me. I have great stories to tell! The craziest one is that I called my son’s school to cancel the parent/teacher conference we had scheduled… because I was busy having a heart attack. I sit in waiting rooms with 30 ninety-year olds and learn so so much.

Jesus is our source of strength. We trust him through all of the crazy twists life throws at us. We are thankful for me being alive. And for Youngest not being poisoned.

In addition, many friends and family have helped us through these years of hard times. People sold vehicles to pay for our mortgage so we wouldn’t lose it all. But we couldn’t hold on anymore. We sold the house but had to bring 1/4 of the mortgage with us as a personal loan due to poor housing prices. We are trying not to let that eat us alive.

renee 2We now live with my mom in Missouri. I went back to work full-time for nine months last year. I was stuck at work many times, as we didn’t have money for gas to get home. Not to mention health scares here and there, adding to our medical debt. Most difficult was the $800/month health insurance, for myself. The kids were never hungry but Hubster and I shared plates. We wouldn’t change our journey, but we don’t want to do it again.

Today, I’m a stay-at-home mom! I love it! My medical team just isn’t sure I should work out of the home at this time. We are closer than ever as a family of four. My husband is working hard to rebuild our financial stance, as it had completely disappeared.

We will get back on our feet! And I will take each step with joy.

renee 3.

Note/Update from Okayest Mom: In my post Please Consider Helping My Childhood Friend this Christmas , I asked for my readers’ help in passing Renee’s Indiegogo fundraising campaign along. We were hoping we could help her and her husband pay off some of their staggering medical costs. I personally thank each of you who prayed, shared, or even donated. I am happy to report that they raised a take-home total of $10,330.75! Renee writes, “We are filled with gratitude. Thank you for every prayer & share – each one a treasure. Thank you also to Jesus. Each and every donation was a blessing and brought freedom. We are taking a sigh of relief tonight and every penny has been used to pay off my health insurance and 47 doctor visits from 7/2013 thru 2/2014!! That was chunked in one bill and it was eating us alive! NOW, it’s PAID in FULL!!! Thank you. We take none of you for granted.”

Guest Post: A Mom Who Went Kicking, Screaming, and Pouting into Motherhood

This article is the fifth in a series of guest posts. I have invited a few select friends and family members to contribute to my blog. I have chosen them based on two things: 1) I personally go to them for help; and 2) I am fascinated by their unique parenting challenges, because I want to hear how they make “okayest” work for them.

Allow me to introduce you to my good friend, Jen. I was actually friends with her husband first – he was one of my best friends in college. We met when he, um, started “hanging out” with my roomie. Anyway, after college, when he married Jen, I knew that they didn’t plan to have children. Now she is mother to a 4-year-old and is due with baby #2 any minute, and her feelings about motherhood are beautifully complicated. Having a treasured friend like her who knows that motherhood isn’t all “sunshine and rainbows” (i.e., a friend who encourages my snarky side) definitely helps me on my bad days. Here’s Jen:

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I am both flattered and surprised that Mrs. Okayest asked me to guest post for her blog. Flattered, because she’s awesome and is clearly a talented writer, so it’s truly an honor to be asked to be a part of this incredible space of hers on the internet. Surprised because, unlike Mrs. Okayest, I’m more of that upfront, in-your-face, snarky friend that often says inappropriate things like “breastfeeding was horrible, it made me feel like I was in prison,” or “I can’t handle the newborn stage; they’re like a rude houseguest that just demands food and screams at you for 6-8 weeks before even offering up a smile.” Yes, I’m that friend. To my credit though, saying some of those things out loud really helped some fellow struggling moms to feel less guilty, and that’s enough for me.

Let me introduce myself and say upfront that I’m not one of those women that readily or easily embraced parenthood. I kicked, screamed and pouted my way through my first pregnancy (and with my current pregnancy as well) and the seemingly endless newborn and baby stages. It might seem shocking, but not all women were wired to enjoy being new moms and have newborns, some of us have to muck through it. For me, I celebrate each passing year with joy. I love my beautiful girl getting older, more independent, interesting and interactive. I don’t miss the newborn stage or the baby and early toddler years. I’m not one of those blissful women who find be-all-end-all life fulfillment in changing diapers, wiping noses, and dealing with the adult version of the Neverending Story: Laundry. Please don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter fiercely and wouldn’t change her for the world, but she’s not my entire life. Despite what an awesome kid she’s turning out to be, and how much I’m (mostly) enjoying it, I still have rough days where I want to hide in my closet and not have anyone talk, touch or even look at me for just a few minutes. That being said, how does someone not wired naturally for motherhood even start to make “okayest” work for her and her family?

There’s a lot of ways that I’ve made “okayest” work for me (store-bought baked goods and avoiding socially expected preschool playdates is a large part of that), but I think the most important okayest moments for me came in the first days, weeks and months of having a newborn. When you’re a first time parent, everyone tells you how amazing and special having a baby is going to be with all “the firsts.” The “newborn baby smell,” the snuggles, the bonding, the cuteness, the rainbows and the unicorns. Luckily, some seasoned mom friends will be helpful with tips about the weird stuff; breastfeeding conundrums, your recovering body, sex issues, and so on. For some of us, however, those adorable firsts and bonding experiences are overshadowed by dark days of serious hormonal imbalances and the onset of depression; and the breastfeeding, body and sex issues only serve in feeding the downward spiral. Worst off, because we’re expected by a polite society, that still stigmatizes mental health issues, to only feel blissful joy at this new life, shame sets in. Nothing fuels depression quite like a stinking pile of shame.

I’m not going to lie or sugarcoat things; there were times in those first few weeks of having a newborn that I’d find myself wishing the MAC truck barreling down the road would run in to my car, or that my heavy-footed loud neighbor would cause the roof to come crashing down on my head, or that somehow I’d find the nerve enough to swallow the entire bottle of Percocet that my doctors had prescribed me for the immense amount of physical pain I was in. I truly didn’t think I could do the whole mom-thing and survive. Having a screaming, unhappy, newborn (it’d be two months until we had her diagnosed with severe reflux which, once treated, changed things for the better) didn’t help my doubts or fears, and of course, I didn’t want to admit out loud to anyone that I didn’t think I could do it.

Long story short, there’s very little I remember from those dark survivalist newborn days other than forcing myself daily to repeat (in whispers to myself, of course) that I couldn’t let my daughter grow up having a mother who’d committed suicide. I knew that suicide was a selfish act and I survived one hour at a time until things started getting better. Forcing myself to get outside and walk; with or without the baby with me helped me to clear my mind, as did deciding not to feel guilty about asking all the grandparents to come and babysit so I could take a nap, go grocery shopping by myself, and even once, see a movie. But what helped me the most was being vulnerable and putting my ego aside by talking to my good friend Beth about how I felt. I honestly just needed someone who I trusted and respected and who’d survived the infant stages twice already, to tell me that yes, it was hard and sometimes terrible, but that above all, I was going to be okay. That it was okay to ask for help, or go see a counselor, or take antidepressants, because what my child needed most from me was for me to be healthy.

After that talk things slowly started getting better. There was no overnight miracle, but the relief of knowing I wasn’t alone was enough to help keep putting one foot in front of the other. Finally getting used to the rhythm of things, finding help for my daughters reflux, getting more sleep, and physically healing all helped as the weeks went by. I stopped feeling so alone, and was finally able to start enjoying this new little life; especially after she actually started sleeping and smiling more!

So how did I make “okayest” work? I stopped worrying about what everyone else thought and did what was right for me, with the encouragement of my husband, my friend Beth, and a few other friends who to this day may not know how much they helped me survive those first few months. “Okayest” is different for everyone, and new mommas (or seasoned ones who might have found their way to this post), please know that it’s okay to do what’s right for you and your family. Maybe it’s going to counseling, maybe it’s spending a kid-free weekend with your spouse, or going out with your girlfriends. Perhaps it’s just getting some fresh air, getting a babysitter or grandparent to watch your kids so you can get an extra hour of sleep, or making sure that when you’re feeling the most vulnerable that you’re not alone. And know that you are not alone in this struggle, there are other women out there than can empathize because they’ve survived this as well. I’m living, snarky, opinionated proof of that.

Guest Post: One Adopted and Brown, Then One Birthed and White

This article is the fouth in a series of guest posts. I have invited a few select friends and family members to contribute to my blog. I have chosen them based on two things: 1) I personally go to them for help; and 2) I am fascinated by their unique parenting challenges, because I want to hear how they make “okayest” work for them.

 Allow me to introduce you to my college friend Claire*. We lost touch after college, but found our way back together when we realized that both of us had our first child around the same time – and both those children happened to be “brown”, adopted, and male. We both went on to birth white children. Here in this blog post, she has the guts to say many of the things that are in my heart. It is good to have a friend with a trans-racial family. Here is Claire’s point of view:

I have two kids, both boys. One is almost four, and the other is almost two. The first and oldest is adopted and brown. The second and younger is birthed and white. There is a long version of how my husband and I ended up here, but I have a short version too. Essentially, my first post-college career was foster care social work, which led me to wanting to adopt through foster care and not have bio kids. My husband, Jim, knew this because we’ve known each other since always. He was totally up for adopting, though he did want one birth child so we could have a variety of experiences. After five years of marriage, we became foster parents. Our son, Nicholas, was placed with us as a baby, and we adopted him when he was a toddler (shortest version ever of the hardest 15 months of all of our lives). Shortly before the adoption was finalized, Jim convinced me that Nicholas needed a sibling close in age and whom we could raise from infanthood. And we were lucky, or whatever you want to call it, and became pregnant right away. Our son Alexander was born six days before Nicholas turned two. That’s how we ended up with our two sons. And yes, we do expect to foster and hopefully adopt again, though we want to parent a teen next. Our son Nicholas also has special needs, while Alexander does not. All of this about fostering and special needs kids is its own topic, however, and I’m here today to write about how parenting adopted and brown versus birthed and white. Nicholas is Cherokee, Korean, black, white, and Hispanic. Alexander is European white bread.

1. What goes on in my head around this topic?

On an everyday basis, I think a lot about books for my kids. I like to spend time thinking about the things I can actually control, and for me for right now that means deciding which books they borrow from the library or own. We read a lot at our house, and I like having books that align with the subjects Nicholas is learning about in preschool. For money and shopping week that meant books about going to stores, for October that mean autumn and Halloween books, and last week that meant books about different types of houses and house-building. The trouble has been that most books do not include people of color, and I’ve had to search to find the racially-inclusive books that I want in our home. I have found some good ones: Gabe’s Grocery List by Jenck; Fall by Roca; and Wonderful Houses Around the World by Komatsu. We also end up with a lot of books about animals because I just cannot buy another book with an all-white cast of characters due to how many we already own. I love having the opportunity to show Nicholas people in books who look like him, and I’m excited that Alexander is also being exposed to more racially diverse books.

In terms of books I’ve read, my favorite book on parenting in a multi-ethnic family is “Does Anybody Else Look Like Me?” by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. The book discusses the ways that multi-ethnic kids are objectified, and it provided me with useful ways to handle those situations. It helped me think and talk about things that were already on my mind, and it gave me more to ponder too.

I also think a lot about how the world sees my kids, in terms of the opportunities that are available (or not) to them because of race and racism. There’s so much to say here, I’m not even sure how to begin. I think about things that people talk about often, like hiring practices when my boys look for jobs someday. And I also mean things that I haven’t heard people talk about, like when Nicholas is older and makes new friends who are people of color, and those friends then learn he was adopted by white parents. What about when he is dating and eventually looking for a mate? What will those people and their families think of me and our mostly white family? Will he be seen as “other” because his identity is that of a multi-ethnic person in a mostly white family? What will they think of us white people? The stuff about employment opportunities and such bothers me of course, but I spend more time thinking/worrying about the implications for Nicholas’ identity and his personal relationships with everyone he’ll bump into in life. I have none of these worries for Alexander.

I sometimes think about Bruce Springsteen’s song “American Skin (41 shots)” and it gives me the chills and sometimes tears. I don’t want to talk about the particulars and the politics of the police shooting death of Amadou Diallo in 1999, but the lines that speak of a mother sending her son out into the world are hard for me to stomach. This is the verse that’s really hard for me, “Lena gets her son ready for school/ She says “on these streets, Charles/ You’ve got to understand the rules/ If an officer stops you/ Promise me you’ll always be polite,/ that you’ll never ever run away/ Promise Mama you’ll keep your hands in sight”” I would not have the same reaction to those words if I, as a white woman, only had a white child. I often think about my boys when I interact with authority figures, and I know that Alexander will be privileged in interactions with authority figures while Nicholas will not be.

2. What do we talk about with Nicholas and Alexander?

We have always talked to Nicholas about being adopted. And he was aware of his coming brother when I was pregnant with Alexander. Because of hard things about the situation and events that took place, Nicholas doesn’t yet know details that relate to foster care and his birth family. We have a good deal of contact with his aunt, whom both Nicholas and Alexander refer to as their aunt because we’ve encouraged them to do so. But other than that, Nicholas knows only that he came to us when a social worker brought him to our house. The story goes like this, “When you were a tiny baby, you needed a family and so Diane brought you to our house. She drove her car into our driveway, and Dad went out and took you and the carseat out of her car. He carried you into the house, and then we held you. You were so little that you needed to eat a lot in the middle of the night, so we would feed you and then change your diaper, and then put you back to bed. When you were older and almost ready to walk we went to the judge together and the judge said we were a family forever. That was when you were adopted and we knew that we could stay together forever.” Nicholas knows that story and loves to hear it, particularly the part about us feeding and holding him at night. He seems to find comfort in hearing about the care we gave him as wee one. He also knows that Alexander grew in my belly and then came out when he was big enough and strong enough. While I was pregnant, we had talked a lot about what it means to be a family and have a younger sibling. Nicholas understood more than we had guessed. When Jim first brought Nicholas (who was still a week away from turning two) to visit Alexander and me in the hospital, he was already protective of his little brother. He’d seen Alexander fuss and cry when the nurses came in to do all their checking. When another nurse entered the room, Nicholas pushed the bassinet on wheels away from the nurse, shook his chubby little pointer finger at her, and said, “No, no, no!” He did not want anyone else coming near his baby. And so Jim and I witnessed the first of many, many moments that have displayed the boys’ strong bond. On the one hand, sometimes it is odd to think of our boys as having two different birthmothers when they’re clearly so connected. On the other hand, it does make sense because it isn’t blood that makes relationships; it’s all the choices we make to love, protect, and serve one another.

Right around the time he turned three, Nicholas seemed to notice skin color for the first time. He and I were at the pool at the local recreation center, and he saw a boy with dark skin. I should say that we live in a state that is 80% white, with the other 20% being a fairly even mix of people who are black, Asian, Hispanic, and multi-ethnic. Our town’s demographics reflect that of the state in general. At the pool that day, everyone other than Nicholas appeared to be white. Then the boy with dark skin arrived. Nicholas soon noticed the boy’s father (a very dark skinned black man) and mother (an extremely pale skinned white woman). Nicholas was fascinated by the family and clearly had a lot of questions, but one of his challenges is an expressive language delay so unfortunately he didn’t have the language to express his ideas. We have learned Sign to enable Nicholas to communicate, however, so I gave him the language (in oral English and in Sign) to be able to communicate about skin color. I gave him the words for skin, dark, light, and brown. At the pool we had some conversation about the skin color of that family and our family, and that conversation ended up continuing for weeks. Mostly he wanted to review the concept that people have different colors of skin and that this variation, even within families, is fine and good. We still talk about skin color, of course, but Nicholas has moved on somewhat from his fixation on skin color and now has questions about eye color. Most people in our immediate and extended family have blue or blue-green eyes, and Nicholas has very dark brown eyes. He wants to know why he has dark eyes but pretty much everyone else has light eyes, and so I point to his birth aunt and also Jim’s sister-in-law who have brown eyes because we want him to feel like he fits. He also wants to know why Buzz Lightyear has blue eyes, Jessie has green eyes, and Woody has brown eyes even though they all have light skin. Preschoolers have so many questions and notice so many details! We work with an adoption/attachment therapist regularly, and she’s helping us traverse this complicated ground of having differences because of adoption. Being an individual and being unique is important, but so is fitting in and feeling like you belong. Alexander looks like Jim and me, especially like me, but Nicholas of course does not. It will probably always be easy for Alexander to feel like he fits. One of our main strategies, based in the work we do with our therapist, is to focus on the behavioral ways that we’re all alike. Nicholas is the one who has my temperament and interests, so we have no trouble identifying many similarities in those areas.

3. What’s it like to interact with strangers?

I very much like talking about adoption and foster care, but much of that conversation is not appropriate to have in front of young children because of the topics it encompasses (e.g., teen pregnancy, abuse and neglect, and choices about contact with birth family). Additionally, these aren’t topics I want to discuss with strangers! Anytime Nicholas is with me in public, which is pretty much all the time, people ask a lot of personal questions and objectify him because he’s obviously adopted and because he’s multi-ethnic. They act as if he is not right there, and they act as if he isn’t a person at all.

First, there’s the way people love to ask questions about adoption or make observations because we have one adopted and one non-adopted child. Here’s a common one, “I’ve heard of so many people who adopted and then ended up getting pregnant!” This is still completely offensive even to me as a person who hasn’t struggled with fertility challenges; a whole lot of assumptions about extremely personal things are wrapped up in this comment. It ignores the science that says you don’t actually magically become pregnant because you’ve “relaxed” (as people love to tell me) after adopting. Plus, it assumes that I wouldn’t have wanted to adopt Nicholas if I could just have had Alexander by birth first! In response, I always say something like, “Hmm, I have heard of that happening too, but I don’t think fertility is usually affected by adoption. And in our case we were really excited to adopt, and that was our primary goal. Alexander came along later because we found it so special to know Nicholas as an infant, and we wanted to be sure we could have that experience again.” Primarily, I want my kids to hear me, but I want to tell those nosy folks a thing or two as well.

Another topic on strangers’ minds is Nicholas’ ethnicity. One common question is, “Where did you get him?” This is framed in a way that sounds like someone is asking me where I acquired a pack of gum or maybe a pair of shoes. “Get him?” Is that really a way to talk about a person? Jim once told a woman in a store that we found him in a vending machine, and he told another woman, “You see, there’s this thing about a sperm and an egg…” but then she walked away. And there was also that time he told someone, “Earth.” Jim tells me that if they ask a stupid question, they will receive a stupid answer. Sometimes I wish I could be that sassy, but most of the time I just smile and walk away in response to those crazy questions.

“Where is he from?” is the same question but packaged slightly better. I always say, “He’s from here.” I mean, what are you even asking??? He was born in the capital of the state in which we live, so answering “here” seems like a good enough answer for a complete stranger. Okay, okay, I know what they’re asking: they want to know about his ethnicity and what country we adopted him from. It’s just none of their business so I mostly refuse to provide information. This is Nicholas’ story to tell, not mine. And I can’t imagine him wanting me to tell strangers all of this stuff. Another good comment along the same lines is, “He’s so exotic!” Oh, or the one we received at the hospital the other day when we were checking Nicholas in for surgery: “Are you his legal guardians?” Nope, I did not hear that one asked of the other families around us who had kids with matching skin color. And of course every person at the playground, grocery store, library, post office, etc. loves to ask me about our boys, “Are they both yours?”

But my favorite question ever was, “Are you his personal trainer?” Nicholas and I were at the pool together, and since we are different colors clearly I could not be his mother. Therefore, I must be his personal trainer. Because three-year-olds have personal trainers?! I would bet any amount of money (by which I mean up to $50 because I’m cheap like that) on the side that says I would never have been asked that question had I been with my white son.

Raising an adopted and brown child is different from raising a birthed and white one. We’re raising them together though, and I know that Alexander will benefit from the experience of having a more ethnically diverse family and seeing racism first-hand. I hope and pray that Nicholas ends up understanding that we’ve worked hard to do the best we can to protect him from being objectified by strangers, and we’ve tried to create a world in which he sees and knows people who look more like him than we do. Whatever happens, I know they have each other.

* Names have been changed.

Guest Post: Why I Choose to Remain Childless

This article is the third in a series of guest posts. I have invited a few select friends and family members to contribute to my blog. I have chosen them based on two things: 1) I personally go to them for help; and 2) I am fascinated by their unique parenting challenges, because I want to hear how they make “okayest” work for them.

 Allow me to introduce you to one of my best friends, Sarah. We met at the small (and I mean small) school where Mr. Okayest and I also met. She knows all the nitty-gritty details about me and still loves me. Our lives have taken different paths: she went for a career, and I went for, um, a career, and then infertility, and then dog-walking, and then adoption, and then IVF, and then being a stay-at-home mom. Anyway, I am excited to hear from Sarah, my first non-mother guest writer on a blog about motherhood.

 

Sarah borrows one of my sleepy twins for a cuddle by the fire.

Sarah borrows one of my sleepy twins for a cuddle by the fire.

“You’ll change your mind,” is the response I inevitably receive when I tell someone that I am not planning to have children.  Perhaps I will change my mind some day or perhaps a child will choose me. After all, unexpected pregnancies run in my family; that’s how I came into the world.  I’m pretty sure I would be a good mother. I think that I have what it takes to nurture a child. But the honest truth is that I do not want to. Being a mother is not the path that will lead to fulfillment for me. I turn 35 this year and I finally feel like I know myself pretty well.

I do not begrudge any woman for choosing motherhood. I have known Mr. and Mrs. Okayest since I was 15. In fact, I have known them as long as they have known each other. Mrs. Okayest has always wanted children. It is a fundamental part of who she is and she is an amazing mother. I frequently feel immense disappointment when my friends become parents. I know that parenthood will likely consume them. They will become Mommy and Daddy and that will define them completely. But Mr. and Mrs. Okayest are the rare breed of parent who still maintain their pre-children individuality. I know this because in a recent photo of Mrs. Okayest, she is wearing knee-high converse just like she would have when we were teenagers (had knee-high chuck taylors been around then – we had to settle for the traditional high tops).

Some parents like to pretend that parenthood is transcendent and perfect, but Mrs. Okayest is completely candid about how challenging and at times soul-sucking it can be (you’ve been reading her blog, right?). On a recent trip to Virginia, I spent the day with her. Late in the afternoon after the three children were down for naps, we went out for an hour to have some “adult” time. When we returned to her house, Mrs. Okayest didn’t get out of the car immediately. “I don’t want to go back inside,” she said. I loved her immensely in that moment.

I’ve encountered a lot of annoying parents. In fact, Facebook is rife with them. They are the Stepford parents who seem to believe that their children crap rainbows and are the center of the universe. Mrs. and Mr. Okayest are nothing like this.  They still prioritize each other over their children. They do not hover or fawn. They do not allow their children to run rampant. They do not brag about how much their kids like esoteric foods or are already fluent in French at 3 years old. Mrs. Okayest has never uttered to words “you wouldn’t understand, you aren’t a parent.” This phrase is up there with “you’ll change your mind” to someone who has made a conscious decision not to pursue parenthood.

If I were a parent, I would want to be like Mr. and Mrs. Okayest. But let me get back to why I do not want to be a parent.

Reason #1: I really like my life the way it is. I am unmarried and live alone with several cats. In popular culture, this is the trope for a sad pathetic unlovable woman and I am the first to make fun of myself for this. I joke that I’ll choke to death on a ravioli and my cats will eat me. But in reality, I’m perfectly happy with my life. I’m not sad or lonely. I have my friends and my family (and my cats). I have my career and my hobbies. I have a full life. I do not feel like there is something missing. There is no child-sized cavity that I crave to fill.

Reason #2: I’m a selfish introvert. I don’t even want another adult in my space, let alone a child who will destroy my things and torment my cats and be generally annoying. As an only child and an introvert, I need a lot of space. I mean A LOT. I joke that if I ever get married, my husband can live in the house next door. This goes back to the whole “knowing myself” thing. This need for space and alone time is an indelible part of my personality. It’s not going to change.

Reason #3: My career as a software engineer at a large tech company in Silicon Valley is highly demanding. It is also incredibly important to me. I do not believe that I could be a good mother and also adequately handle the demands of my job. Warning: I’m about to say some incredibly unpopular things about working mothers in the tech industry. Women are not super-frickin-human and, at least in tech, I don’t think we can “have it all”. I probably just had my feminist license revoked, but whatever. I do believe that woman are equal to men. I’ve spent my entire career in a male-dominated field trying to prove this.

I recently read Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In.” Many of the things she said about being a woman in tech really resonated with me. The part that didn’t resonate with me is her belief that you can be a good mother and have a high-powered career (she is COO of Facebook). I call BS. She posits that all you really need is to believe in yourself, be assertive in asking you employer for what you need as a parent, and have a partner who shares 50% of the parenting responsibilities.  To her credit, she openly admits that she enjoys a lot of privileges that many working mothers do not, but still, I think that she is describing a unicorn. An unrealistic myth. In tech, as in many other professions, hours are unpredictable, expectations are high and the pressure is unrelenting. It is sadly a young single person’s game. I’m not saying it’s right. Perhaps there is room for change. But in our highly competitive global economy, these types of jobs are demanding out of necessity. Asserting that a woman (or a man) can be fully present as a parent and also meet the demands of this kind of job is setting unrealistic expectations. Marissa Meyer (CEO of Yahoo!) was reportedly checking her work email just hours after giving birth. I completely get it, but I’m not sure this mentality is compatible with being a good parent.

As for a 50/50 partnership… Again, in most cases, I just don’t see this being a reality.  Fathers are more involved in child-rearing than ever before and this is awesome (Mr. Okayest is a prime example). But culturally, we’re just not there yet. I could espouse some more unpopular opinions on this topic, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll restrain myself.

Reason #4: My final reason for not wanting to be a parent is a very personal one and is difficult for me to talk about, but I want to be honest so here it goes. I have struggled with mental illness my entire life. In my late twenties, I was finally diagnosed as depressed and minorly bipolar (if I ever have a band, I’m totally calling it “minorly bipolar”). It is a physiological (and hereditary) chemical imbalance which I manage with a cocktail of mind-altering medications and bi-weekly therapy. If I were to get pregnant, I would have to stop taking my medication and I’m pretty sure that the combination of pregnancy hormones and no medication would be the end of me. Also, I would never want to expose a child to one of my depressive or manic episodes; I don’t think that a good mother should spend days in bed shutting out the world or indulging in self-destructive binges of bad behavior (I’ll leave that one to your imagination). Finally, I know that these illnesses are frequently passed on to the subsequent generation and I wouldn’t want anyone to struggle the way I have.

So this girl plans to stay child-free. My biological clock ain’t tickin’ and, to loosely quote a friend of mine, “this oven don’t bake no buns.”  Maybe I’ll change my mind. But more likely, I won’t. For now, I’ll just enjoy my friends’ children and admire my friends for taking the plunge I choose not to take.

***

Note from Mrs. Okayest: Sarah also showed up in my post about How a Good Girl Accidentally Got a Tattoo and Shaved Her Head One Time.

Guest Post: A Twin Mom Gives “The Talk”

This article is the second in a series of guest posts. I have invited a few select friends and family members to contribute to my blog. I have chosen them based on two things: 1) I personally go to them for help; and 2) I am fascinated by their unique parenting challenges, because I want to hear how they make “okayest” work for them.

Allow me to introduce you to my childhood friend, Holli. We have been friends since fourth grade, mostly because we shared a love of books and finishing our school work quickly so we could read more books. Now that we are all grown up, we share a twin mothering bond. I go to her for reinforcement when someone says something weird about adoption or my twin mommy guilt threatens to swallow me whole. She is always ready with a kind word or a snappy comeback (whichever I need most). She does not mince words. I give you Holli, straight-talkin’ twin mom:

rylanramziephotoA few days ago I received a request from the World’s Okayest Mom to write a guest blog that capitalized on my experience as the mother of twins.  Perhaps she wanted my (often sarcastic) responses to the typical questions I get when out with my children.  So, before you ask…“Yes, they are identical.  No, neither one is ‘dominant’.  No, they are not complete opposites, nor are they exactly alike.  No, one of them is not evil.  And, yes, they do have different fathers”…sorry, that last one is the answer I typically give out at Walmart, just to see the reactions I get.

Mrs. Okayest may have also wanted me to demonstrate that you can survive twins, but since mine are only eight years old, the jury is still out.  What I do have for you, loyal audience, is a story that recognizes the individuality of twins.  A story that overlooks how similar my boys are in many ways and exemplifies a challenge that any parent can sympathize with.  This is the story of why I had the talk with one of my boys, but not the other.

Yep, you heard me.  The TALK.  I had the TALK with my eight-year-old son.  Are you done gasping in horror?  If so, hear me out.  Maybe it was because the boys are in different classes, possibly exposing Rylan to information that Ramzie was not privy to.  Maybe it was due to the fact that Rylan loves to read – those Captain Underpants books might be a bad influence.  Whatever the reason, this past summer Rylan began bringing up the topic of sex.  At first, I ignored the comments as he appeared to be gauging me for a reaction.  But, when he wrote a story with “sex” in the title, I decided to ask him about it (with the full consent of my husband).

For those of you who do not know me, I taught anatomy and physiology for five years at a private school.  The body, and its functions, do not embarrass me in the least (a handy fact when in the company of children).  I’m pretty comfortable talking about sex and reproduction, as any of my adult students could attest to.  In keeping with my nature, one evening after finding out about the story Rylan wrote, I asked him flat out if he had questions about sex.  Before he answered, I told him to think about it – did he really want to know?  To my surprise, he did.

I won’t go into all the details of our conversation, but I explained to Rylan in simple terms what sex involved and that it was how babies were created.  Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Rylan got the giggles.  Really got the giggles.
  • I couldn’t explain where the phrase “the talk” came from.  I still don’t have a clue.
  • He said “Ewww”.  A lot.
  • Part of our conversation went like this:

Me:  “Sex is really about intimacy and there are different levels of intimacy.”

Rylan:  “Different levels.  Like in a video game?”

My husband:  “Exactly.  One where you’re always going for the high score.” (As you can see, my husband was extremely helpful during this conversation.)

After the TALK portion of our conversation was over, I had to make it clear to Rylan that this was not information he could share.  Not with his brother, his classmates, etc.  I explained that everyone was ready for this information at different times, and that it was not up to him to determine when that time was.  Since he claimed that I had now scarred him for life, I was pretty sure he would keep this information to himself.

My point in sharing this story is that Rylan, despite his comments, was ready for this information, as indicated by his previous comments and story.  His twin, however, was not.  Ramzie has made no such indications until recently, but is still not quite ready.  As their mom, I have to recognize their rights as individuals and not paint them both with the same brush.  Part of that individuality involves their maturity and knowledge levels.  While Rylan is in no way ‘more mature’ than Ramzie, his knowledge level, for whatever reason, brought him to a place that Ramzie has not yet reached.

Right now you may be thinking that you would never tell your eight-year-old the facts of life – and that’s fine.  As a parent, all you can do is take in all available information and then proceed with what you think is best.  Not what your mom says, not what Dr. Phil encourages and not what you read in the social media.  My gut told me that Rylan would benefit from having the facts and the correct information.  Your gut may tell you something completely the opposite.  That’s the great thing about being the parent – you get to decide.  Just remember to make that decision before his friends or the kids on the bus do it for you.

I’ll leave you with this.  If you have twins, or even just have multiple children, respond to their cues and not the “shoulds” of the polite world.  Remember that each child is different and try not to become entrenched in a timeline set by an older siblings (flashback to my childhood pleas that were often met with “Your sister didn’t get to wear make-up/shave her legs/stay up later until she was ## years old, so you can’t do it either”).  Recognize the cues that they give you and, hopefully, you don’t scar them for life.  Oh, and by the way? Your best friend’s cousin’s sister that has a twin boy and girl does not have identical twins.  If you don’t know why they aren’t identical, call me.  I’ll give you the TALK.

Surviving the NICU: Life as a Preemie Mommy

Preemie Motherhood - 2

This article is the first in a series of guest posts. I have invited a few select friends and family members to contribute to my blog. I have chosen them based on two things: 1) I personally go to them for help; and 2) I am fascinated by their unique parenting challenges, because I want to hear how they make “okayest” work for them.

Allow me to introduce you to my sister-in-law, “Dee”, who, along with her 2-year-old daughter, Em, is currently living with us. Em, my niece, was born 3 1/2 months early and survived. Em, a former micropreemie, now weighs 27 pounds and can hold her own against her three cousins (who have managed to outweigh her). We have four children under the age of four living in this house. The chaos, mess, noise, and diapers are out of control, but every time I see Em giggle, hug a cousin, or say “oops” with a lisp, my heart soars. She is the Girl Who Lived. Here is a little window into the world of preemie motherhood.

When Melissa asked me to be a guest writer for her blog, I thought about what “okayest” moments I’ve had parenting my daughter, Em. I could go on for days about different situations we’ve had, but being a mom of a 1.5 lb baby tops all of my other mommy moments. Parenting in a NICU is incredibly difficult, especially when you never saw it coming. There are no perfect moments. There are no lovely, glowing pictures of you snuggling your newborn. It is chaotic, heartbreaking, and eye-opening to watch your tiny baby struggle to live, while you struggle to keep your sanity. Each and every day is about surviving and being okay.

Em’s (glossed over) Birth Story:

At 25-weeks gestation, I noticed a small amount of spotting. I’ve heard it’s not terribly uncommon, but I had my husband take me to the hospital just to make sure. As my doctor was checking me, his expression turned from unconcerned to uncomfortable. He told me that I was 2 cm dilated, and needed to be rushed to a hospital with a level three NICU, so that they could put a stitch in my cervix.

While in the ambulance, I asked the EMT how many premature babies he had delivered. He responded with: “Two. But neither made it, since we aren’t equipped to keep smaller babies alive.” I was stunned and furious. Who says that to a patient that is 25-weeks pregnant and on a two hour trek to the hospital?!

By the time we arrived, I was 4 cm and having contractions. They were able to give me medication to keep Em in the womb for another week, which saved her nearly a month in the NICU.

On the seventh day, I woke up bleeding and contracting, and spent the next five hours begging my nurse to get my doctor to help me. She would come in every half an hour or so to tell me that I was fine, and that I was not in labor. I cried. I pleaded. It took my mother and husband yelling at nurses down the hallways to get someone to come in. By the time my doctor showed up, my daughter was having her legs crushed in the birth canal. I was told I needed a stat c-section. Then an ultrasound showed that there was no time, and she needed to be born breech, immediately. My tiny little baby was born with bruised, black legs, because of my nurse’s negligence. Had she been head first, my time as a mom would have ended that morning.

This is the day Em was born, at 26 weeks gestation, when her eyes were still fused shut like a kitten's.

This is the day Em was born, at 26 weeks gestation, when her eyes were still fused shut like a kitten’s.

Em went through nine weeks of crazy ups and downs. We went through more than I can even write, but here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way.

Being a preemie mommy means:

-…you were (more than likely) unaware that your little one was going to come into this world so soon, and are BEYOND unprepared. And it’s okay that you are! You will learn by watching your baby change each hour of each day (and from the occasional google search that turns out to be helpful, and then is just down-right terrifying).

-…mourning a pregnancy that ended too soon. You will feel gypped. You may have to go to your baby shower while your baby is in the NICU. You don’t get to look super pregnant and take fun maternity pictures. If you’re like me and waited until the second trimester to tell anyone, you’re going to feel like you’ve been pregnant for five minutes.

-…not getting to touch or hold your own baby for days or even weeks.

This is the first time Dee was able to hold her own baby. She had to wait two agonizing weeks for this touch.

This is the first time Dee was able to hold her own baby. She had to wait two agonizing weeks for this touch.

-…being discharged and having to go home without your baby. This was one of the worst nights of my life. The guilt, the pain, the uncontrollable need to just be with your baby…. As hard as the first night is, it gets less painful as visits become routine. Eventually, you will be able to walk out of the hospital with your sweet little preemie and it’ll be a day you’ll never forget.

-…having to decide different courses of action, whether they are invasive, risky, or down right experimental. Em was part of the NEWNO study, which is a double-blind study to test whether or not giving a particular gas to preemies helps them breathe on their own faster. It was a scary decision to make, but to us, everything that was being done to save Em was first tested on preemies that were part of studies like this one. She can know that she made a difference to future preemies.

-…realizing that you and your child are capable of more strength, endurance, and hope than you can imagine. It may not seem like it, now, but trust me. You will see.

The Unique Positives:

-You will get to know your baby sooner than most parents do. You will see their personality shine through from day one, and (let’s be honest) it is interesting to watch a baby develop before your very eyes. When Em was born, her eyes were still fused shut, like a kitten. When she was about two weeks old, we walked up to her incubator to find these odd paper sunglasses on her, and her nurse told us that early in the morning, her eyes opened. I wish we could have seen it, but we put pictures of us in her incubator, so at least she still saw us.

-You will see that your preemie is a warrior. They will go through things that adults can’t handle, and their strength will amaze you. One of Em’s scariest NICU experiences was when a PICC line (an intravenous catheter that is threaded from the arm/leg/head to the heart for prolonged medication) site became infected. For several days I watched the slightly concerning bump on her foot turn into a black, marble-sized wound, that the nurses just would not take seriously. It wasn’t until she started running a fever of 103 degrees with her heart rate at 220 bpm, that they took action. They took off my 2.5 lb infants clothes and made her stay in an open bassinet for hours just to bring her temperature down. Once her fever was under control (days later), they told us that they needed to do a spinal tap to check for a deeper infection. After they performed it (and we cried harder than she did), we went home, for the night. At 3 am, I received a call from the doctor that they didn’t get enough fluid to test, and that she needed consent right now to perform a SECOND spinal tap, while she was all alone. As you can imagine, spinal taps are PAINFUL, and she was only given a small amount of Tylenol to ease the pain. These tests bring grown men to their knees, and yet these preemies often go through some of the scariest things alone. By the time we got there, she was bundled back up and sleeping soundly. It was if she hadn’t just had two giant needles jabbed into her frail back, just hours earlier. I don’t think I would have been in her position.

-You have more milestones to celebrate! Daily weight-checks to see if they’ve gained a few grams, being able to finally put some cute little clothes on your tiny baby, graduating to an open bassinet, and for some preemies, getting to take an ambulance ride to go from a level three NICU to a hospital with a level two!

Life at Home:

Here is the joyful day of Em's homecoming, after almost 3 months in the NICU.

Here is the joyful but intimidating day of Em’s homecoming, after almost 3 months in the NICU.

-The first night at home, you will be thinking: “WAIT. No monitors?! How will I know what her sats are? What if she has bradies (bradycardic episodes)?! How will I know?!?!” The idea of going from medical care 24/7 to being totally on your own is terrifying. Chances are, there will be a lot of unnecessary phone calls to the NICU because you think something is wrong, but DO NOT stop calling just because you think you’re being overly concerned. Had we given in to the many doctors that told us we were just young parents, and were still having some PTSD from Em’s prematurity, she would have never been diagnosed with epilepsy when she was, and she very well may not be here today, had we not followed our parental instincts.

-As time goes on, you start seeing your baby as a normal, healthy baby. No wires, no needles, no bandages, just your wonderful munchkin. Other people, however, don’t always know how to treat you and your preemie, now that you’re home. Which brings me to my next thought.

What NOT to Say to a Preemie Mommy:

1. “At least you’re not 40 weeks! Being this pregnant sucks!”

Say this to a preemie mommy, and she’ll want to punch you in the left ovary. We would give ANYTHING just to have been pregnant long enough to deliver a healthy baby. Bite your tongue!

2. “I wish I didn’t have to breastfeed!” or “You DON’T breastfeed?”

Preemie mommies can’t always lactate, which makes us feel inadequate and guilty for robbing our sickly babies of something that is so good for them. Even if you don’t want to breastfeed, it stinks not to have a choice.

3. “How is your baby having a GOOD day?! It’s so sick!”

Preemies can have good days. Even if it’s just gaining ten grams or coming down on their oxygen levels, it’s progress and that leads to hope. If you aren’t going to be positive/sympathetic, don’t say anything! We could use someone to just listen to us.

4. “Don’t worry, she’ll be fine.”

Yeah? Where did you get your doctorate of neonatology? Not only is this infuriating because no one knows if your baby will be fine or not, but it makes you sound passive about a very upsetting situation.

5. “Yeah, my kid was in the hospital with the flu for a few days. It’s tough!”

There are many parents out there that have had kids in the hospital, and many for reasons far worse than prematurity. But if your kid is in the hospital for poison ivy, don’t compare.

6. “At least you didn’t have to deliver a big baby!”

(Insert the hundreds of “at least you”’s that preemie parents can throw back at you.)

7. “She looks awful!”

She may not look well, because she is small and sick, but come on, now.

8. “She’s a preemie and you took her outside in this weather?!”

I’ve got more doctors numbers in my phone than I have friends/family. If I need medical advice on my kid, I won’t be asking you.

9. When your GYN nurse asks (without looking at your chart) “Did you feel the baby move, today?”

And cue sobbing. Running into people that don’t know you delivered early is tough. I have no advice for this one. It’s just awkward and sad.

10. “I’ve heard that the odds of a preemie doing ____ are ____%”

I’ve heard that the odds of being killed from falling out of bed are 1 in 2 million, so I’d start sleeping on the floor, if I was you. I hear statistics from every doctor and nurse that crosses my path. Don’t be negative, or try to be “realistic” about it. Just be supportive.

A Few Things to Remember:

-It’s okay to have fun outside of the NICU. I’ve had my share of guilt about going grocery shopping, seeing a movie, or just getting some dang sleep, but it’s necessary! You really do have to take care of yourself! Your baby has plenty of people taking care of him/her, so get take a little time each day to do something for you, even if it’s only for five minutes.

-Don’t take people’s crap in the NICU! I had a good share of family members that needed to just get the boot, either from being upsetting or negative. Your baby wants a happy mommy, and he/she won’t get that if mom is stressed out by a visitor that isn’t being supportive. Don’t be afraid to ask them to give you some space!

-The NICU stay will end eventually. It will seem like you will never escape the monitors, doctors and the sickening smell of Purell, but in a few weeks/months, you will hopefully be home with your little one.

There is no such thing as a perfect parent, but it seems like an even more unattainable status when you’re the mommy of a preemie. You don’t have to have it all together. You don’t have to pretend like you didn’t just cry in Target because a woman was pushing around her newborn, and you can’t even find a preemie shirt that will fit your baby (which, by the way, you’ll want ones with snaps that go down the front!). If you follow your instincts, get some sleep every once in a while, and just do your best, you will be okay.

Here is Em on her second birthday. Look how strong and big she is! Photo courtesy Mr. Okayest (Em's uncle)

Here is Em on her second birthday. Look how strong and big she is! Photo courtesy Mr. Okayest (Em’s uncle)