Amanda Pate is a working mom and wife- and a blogger! www.lessonsfromthemamahood.blogspot.com. Check it out, it’s very funny.
She’s a reader from Old Town, Maine, where she lives with her husband Alex and their two boys, Austin, 4.5 and Benjamin, 2.
Luka and I visited Amanda and her family on a very rainy August evening. Aside from my blood pressure/blood sugar demon rearing its ugly head- thanks for the graham crackers Amanda!- it was a very lovely time.
We sat with our coffee in her terrific playroom and chatted while the children played. Her little one and Luka, eyeing each other suspiciously over the toys.
During our pregnancies, we furnish a nursery, we buy little NB onesies and socks. We reconfigure the house, we buy loads of unnecessary contraptions, and we pick out the ‘home from the hospital’ outfit, all in preparation for the baby’s arrival home- taking for granted that our little one is coming home with us.
Amanda’s babies didn’t, and she shared her experiences with me.
The NICU. The place no parent wants to be. For Amanda and Alex, it was home for both of their sons in the early months of their lives. Amanda describes the NICU and the emotions she grappled with while watching and waiting for her babies to grow…
It made me feel helpless; like I wasn’t a parent, or wasn’t able to parent. Everyone else was taking care of my baby and I couldn’t. All I could do was sit at his bedside, and every three or four hours I could change his diaper, take his temperature, and wipe off his eyes. We brought teeny tiny outfits, but it was weeks before either could wear clothes due to the IV lines. We bought every receiving blanket we could find, so that they could have their own bedding and we could feel like we were providing something for them. It was a couple of days before I could even hold my first born, and even then it was twice a day for short periods of time.
Preemies are a whole different ball of wax. Though I had held many babies, I wasn’t quite sure how to hold this tiny baby with tubes and wires coming from what seemed like every available surface. The best times were when we were able to do kangaroo care, skin to skin contact. Because preemies are easily overstimulated and my boys’ systems hadn’t matured yet, I had to learn a whole new way of handling babies. If I was rocking them, I couldn’t talk to them too because it was too much input. I had to place my hands on them, and resist the natural instinct to stroke their faces or rub their backs. It was like re-learning everything I’d ever learned about babies.
The lighting is dim in the NICU and though voices are quiet, there’s a distinct “noise” present in the beeping and hissing of the various machines and alarms that are constantly going off. I learned so much about bradycardias, apneas, PICC lines, bilirubin and CPAPs that one day I was talking to my mom and she suddenly said, “This is not normal.” She was right, it was just bizarre to be talking about all these medical things that most people never have to worry about with their newborns, as if I were simply talking about what to have for dinner. My vocabulary completely changed.
There were a lot of emotions going on at all times as well. The fear of the unknown and worrying whether they would make it through was such an ominous and powerful presence throughout their NICU stays, and even after discharge. There were enormous amounts of guilt and feeling like I failed them. I felt awful that my body couldn’t even do what women’s bodies are made to do. I also had a lot of resentment. I resented the happy families on the 7th floor taking their babies home. It was tough to be in the NICU and see babies coming and going, yet we were still there. I hated that I didn’t get to hold my baby; that I didn’t get to have the beautiful birth with the baby placed on my chest; that I had to go home every night without my baby. We are extremely grateful that we did have a happy ending, because there are so many that don’t.
After a difficult two years trying to conceive, the pregnancy was smooth and seemed trouble free..
There was no indication with my first that anything unusual was going to happen. Everything was normal-blood pressure was good; I’d passed my glucose test with flying colors. Then at 29 ½ weeks pregnant, at 4:30 in the morning, my water broke. We knew it wasn’t good, but the scariest thing was that no one could tell us it would be ok, because there was no guarantee that it would be. I didn’t have a birth plan, except GIVE ME DRUGS. My biggest fear (before I knew that there were much, much bigger things I should be worried about soon to come) was that I wouldn’t be able to have the epidural. I had been in the hospital all day but they didn’t think he would come that day because they were trying to slow down the labor. No one checked me because of the risk for infection. Finally I attempted to get out of the bed and said something along the lines of “Someone better check me RIGHT NOW because SOMETHING IS HAPPENING!” Sure enough, the nurses started flying around the room, tossing chairs into the bathroom and getting lights and instruments set up, moving me back to a labor bed. In the midst of it all I was freaking out until one nurse made me get a grip. Of course, there was no time for an epidural. As soon as the doc arrived, the pushing began, and Austin Nicholas was born at 11:17pm, weighing 2lbs, 10oz and 16 ¼ inches long. He was in the NICU for 56 days.
Benjamin was born at 30 weeks on the nose. Once again, the medical team told me he wouldn’t be coming anytime soon and I could relax. I was not a happy camper because I felt like crap. Thank God for Jen, the awesome, kind, and super caring nurse who got me not only a milkshake but a whoopee pie too. I was adamant that I get an epidural this time ‘round but when the time came I surprised even myself by telling them not to bother, just let me push him out (they still thought he wasn’t going to come for awhile). I remember telling the sweet nurse Kelly, “Um, Kel? I think you better get someone in here ‘cause he’s coming NOW.” She took one look and hit the panic button on the wall and what seemed like hundreds of people started running into the room. Benjamin Alexander was born at 8:17am, weighing 3lbs, 5oz and 16 inches long. He was in the NICU for 36 days
I wondered how that experience effected her feelings about trying for her second baby or if she’s thought about a third….
We knew that we were at high risk for having another preemie, and they were never able to tell me what had caused the first preterm birth, so it’s not like there was something I could avoid, or something I could do differently. I was nervous throughout the whole pregnancy, and knowing that stress could make things worse only stressed me out more!
I sometimes daydream about having another boy that we would name Eli, but I know he’s just a daydream. We feel so incredibly lucky and blessed to have two happy, healthy boys. Leaving the hospital without my babies was the hardest thing I have ever had to do, and I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to bring them home eventually. There are many families who don’t get that luxury. We don’t take that for granted.
And, I think I would totally lose my mind if I had another child!
Advice for other mothers?
It was easy to be a great mom before I had kids! *laughs* I think every parent does the best they can with what they have. As moms, we need to give each other a break and not be so critical. We all want to do right by our kids. I’ve learned to let some things go, and that I don’t have to be perfect. I use humor to share the lessons I’ve learned and my experiences through my blog, Lessons from the Mama ‘Hood. (www.lessonsfromthemamahood.blogspot.com) Most of all, I’ve learned never to take those babies for granted. I love them more than anything in this world, and our experience has shown me up close and personal how precious and tenuous this life is.
I think it brought us closer. We both dealt with it in different ways, but at the end of the day we went through it together, experienced it together. We look at each other every day and say, “Two boys!”
Two boys! I love that.