Friday, December 6, 2019

Bert turned four  months old Wednesday. As I mentioned the other day, where does the time go? In that same post, I published some photographs my good friend Maggie was kind enough to take of our family when we were in West Virginia for Thanksgiving.

This marks the third set of photographs Maggie has taken for us. She took our engagement photos in 2017, our wedding photos in 2018, and now our family photos in 2019. All three sets of these photos are beautiful, make me happy when I see them, and are blessings to us. However, the most recent set of family photos has one adjective associated with them that the other two don't have: they are healing.

If you read my post about the birth of Bert and my expectations of it versus the reality of the situation (found here), you might remember that the one thing that truly pushed me over the edge was that we didn't get any photos of Bert in the hospital. As I wrote:

"But on Tuesday afternoon, two days after Bert's birth, I was standing by his bassinet in our room looking at him as he was lying in between the jaundice lights with his sunglasses on. I believe we had just found out he failed another hearing test. Suddenly, the photographer popped in and said she heard we were checking out that day and did we want to schedule photos for Bert? I just looked at him, then looked at her and told her that our son had some health concerns and it just wouldn't be possible for him to do it. So she said she'd just cross us off her list and get to the other babies who were also scheduled to be discharged that day.

The normal babies, you know." 

One thing that I want to add to what I wrote at the time, now that some months have passed, is that the photographer's response to me was part of what hurt so badly. It just hit me one day a few weeks ago that that lady never told me she was sorry to hear that Bert wasn't well. She literally just acted like he was taking up time on her list and she was relieved to be able to cross him off so she could move on with her day. I'm sure she didn't mean to be hurtful, but, you know, it hurt.

As time as passed, the wound has gotten less painful. But there are still times that it pops up. Just the other day we received a lovely picture frame for Bert's baptism (thank you Daniel and Catherine!) and the stock photo in the frame showed a baby with angel wings lying peacefully with his eyes closed. Joe remarked that we could never get Bert to pose like that, and I agreed with him that right now our son could never do that, but I also gently reminded him that that picture was a newborn photo.

Along with Maggie's photos, we were blessed to have Joe's sister Caroline come and visit us. Although she is not a photographer by trade (she is a stylist and business owner in Nashville), you'd never know it by the beautiful photos she also took of Bert.

Because of Maggie and Carrie, something that really hurt my heart and weighed me down was healed. I can't put into words how grateful I am to both of them for their kindness and time.

Photo by Caroline -- September 2019 
Photo by Caroline -- September 2019

Photo by Caroline -- September 2019

Photo by Caroline -- September 2019

Photo by Caroline -- September 2019

Photo by Margaret Schaad Photography -- November 2019

Photo by Margaret Schaad Photography -- November 2019

Photo by Margaret Schaad Photography -- November 2019

Photo by Margaret Schaad Photography -- November 2019

Photo by Margaret Schaad Photography -- November 2019

Photo by Margaret Schaad Photography -- November 2019

Photo by Margaret Schaad Photography -- November 2019

Month Four.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

It is hard to believe that it is already December and Advent is upon us. It's equally hard for me to believe that tomorrow Bert will be four months old. It's a cliche, but it is for a reason, that time flies. The time between Bert's birth in early August and now seems like it has gone by in a blur, but it also seems like so much time has passed. I can't figure out when we switched from short sleeve onesies to survive the heat to long sleeve fleece sleepers and coats when we go outside. It's never one day, it seems, but a series of moments: first you exchange your shorts for sweatpants, then you put away your flats and pull on your boots, then you find a cardigan, then your winter coat. A series of shifts so light they almost don't seem perceivable until you open your eyes one morning and realize you've turned your heat on and it's cold when you get out of the shower.

We have settled into a routine here, in a manner of speaking. I'm still very much baby-led: Bert eats when he's hungry and sleeps when he's tired, and in between we read, play, stretch, sing, go to the library, get our groceries, and run errands. We are blessed that Bert is mostly a cheerful, easygoing little fella. How his life started seems to have left no permanent mark on him, or, if it has, I pray that the mark it left is remembering how his parents never left him and how many people love him.

For myself, I am doing all right and try and take things day by day. I have not experienced the sadness and hopelessness that can accompany post-partum depression, but I have realized these last couple of months that my post-partum symptom is anger. I am quick to get angry and quick to stay angry, and I have a short temper. I really hold on to offenses and am unable to forgive and forget. The worst part is I'm the kind of person who, when I get angry about one thing, easily slides into recalling all the reasons I am angry until I am just one big ball of uncontrollable anger. I don't think this is my traditional behavior, but I have absolutely recognized it in myself these past weeks. I am not proud of it. I wish it weren't so. I do my best to control it, but sometimes (frequently) I fail miserably. I know it is taking a toll on Joe, and I'm sure it's taking a toll on my other family members and friends and probably randoms in the community that come into contact with me, too. Sometimes when I think about it I feel overwhelming guilt and quickly begin to beat myself up. The guilt compounds the anger, and I'm right back to where I started. I wish I could say that I'll start counting my blessings and realizing how lucky I am in life and that would take the anger away, but I know that it might not. So instead I'm trying to do those things while also taking life on a moment-by-moment basis and giving myself space and permission to mess up.

I think that because I was fortunate to recover physically pretty quickly from Bert's birth that I really didn't and haven't given myself time to fully recover in other ways. I know Bert is four months old now, but on the other hand Bert is only four months old. And this also corresponds with the holiday season which brings its own stress. I know in America it seems we give mothers three months to get it together, but I promise you that it's not possible. At the end of three months, at least in our case over here, it seems I finally got into a semblance of a routine and caught up on life and just now am becoming able to tackle my own mental and emotional health and coming to terms with the fact that I had a baby. And I'm not teaching this year after all I went through to become a teacher. And all my friends and family live 500 miles away. And I've got laundry to do and a house to clean and groceries to buy and dinners to make. And am I a good mother and I'm still Joe's wife not just a mom and oh my gosh did we forget about the dogs because they're our family too and I'm pretty sure there's a Palmetto bug over there and how do I always forget to buy nail polish remover and holy crap Christmas cards.

Some of you may be reading this and rolling your eyes and internally chastising me for being a complainer. You may be thinking that so many people have it so much harder than I do, and man, you'd be so right. As I said before I do try to remember how fortunate I am, but sometimes I really come up short. So sometimes all I can do is share how I am honestly feeling and continue to pray for the grace and strength to do better.

Whatever you're struggling with this season, I'd be happy to pray for you. One thing I have learned for sure is that everyone (E V E R Y O N E) has something they're worried about, that is causing them stress, or that is exhausting them. Maybe your particular battle and mine are two different battles. Perhaps you're praying for the very thing that I have. Perhaps you don't even know why you're so tired or angry or upset. But remember: we all carry weight differently. Your burden might seem easy to carry to someone else, but you carry it differently. And that's okay.

Some beautiful photos of our family recently captured by the practically-perfect-in-every-way Maggie!

In the Morning

Thursday, October 10, 2019

I just learned this morning that today is World Mental Health Day. Honestly, I wish every day were World Mental Health Day, as I think that we would all be a lot better off if we considered our mental health as important as our physical health. I think we would all be a lot better off if we treated mental illnesses as seriously as we treat physical illnesses like cancer. I think we would all be a lot better off if we felt as comfortable saying "I have an appointment with my therapist" as we do saying "I have an appointment with my dentist." I've written about mental health before, most recently concerning Bert's birth here.

After finding out about today being devoted to mental health, I thought it would be a perfect time to write about something I've been thinking about a lot lately, and that's what advice I would give a new mom. Let me say first that there is NO END to the amount of information out there that is available to new moms. Let me rephrase that and say: pretty much there is NO END to the amount of people out there who feel the need to tell you what you should be doing or should not be doing or questioning you or your methods. Truly, your mother, mother-in-law, neighbor, best friend, that lady at church, that woman at moms' group, granny in the grocery store, blogger on the internet (ahem), and random dude without kids "but I have two nephews!" (<-- true story) all have opinions about what you should do or not do.

And to that I say, Blessed are they who keep their mouths shut, for they will be able to visit baby Bert. :)

(I should also say at this time that the person in my life who is likely most qualified to give advice but who has truly kept her mouth shut unless explicitly asked for her input is my mom. Maybe I'll write more about that later since I have really appreciated that.)

The two best pieces of advice I have gotten are from my good friends and fellow moms of littles, Maggie and Catherine:

Maggie -- You are your baby's mom, and you know what's best.
Catherine -- Don't read anything on the internet.

So, with that in mind, I am going to tell you my advice for new moms whose babies aren't mine, and I'm going to do it here on the internet haha. But in all truthfulness, if asked for my input, and with today being World Mental Health Day, this is what I would tell any new mom:

Things always look better in the morning. 

My hardest times mentally so far as a mother have been during overnight feedings with Bert. I'm awake and alone, I am completely exhausted, it's dark, I have no one to talk to. Those things create the perfect conditions in which a storm of anger, doubt, and depression brews. When I think back over the past two months of mothering Bert to the times I've felt most hopeless, angry, and sad, they have mostly all been while breastfeeding him at 2:30 a.m., 3:45 a.m. or 5:15 a.m. Those are the times when I've thought to myself that I can't do this, that I'm a terrible mother, and that I am just so upset and sad. Those are the times when the anger inside me gets stirred up to a point that I just want to scream.

I do think it's important to deal with the underlying causes of those feelings and to talk to someone who can help. (I do.) But I would also say that in the morning when the sun is up and I've showered and had a coffee, those feelings that I had overnight seem so much more manageable. Even if the next night it all happens again -- and those feelings are very real -- I can tell myself that everything so far points to things feeling more manageable in the morning. And that gives me hope.

So if you are a new mom -- or honestly, any kind of person because I think this could really apply to anyone -- that is the advice I would give you: Things always look better in the morning.

That, and you are your baby's mom, and you know what's best, so don't read anything on the internet. :)

When you find yourself freaking out, picture Bert looking at you like this. "As if!"

Dignity in Diapers.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Joe and I were trying to calculate the other day how long it took us to go through a box of 172 diapers. We think maybe about 2.5 weeks. That's an awful lot of diapers to go through in one day.

Because I stay home with Bert all day, sometimes it feels like all I do is change diapers and feed him. Rinse and repeat. Some days it seems no sooner do I change a diaper than it's time to change one again. Sometimes it can feel, well, monotonous at best, defeating at worst, to reflect on my day and realize just how much of it is devoted to changing Bert and cleaning him up.

I recently read an article (and for the life of me I can't remember where, but I'm looking all over for it to give proper credit) that basically said that taking care of the hygiene of someone who can't take care of it for themselves gives that person dignity. At first I was like, well, yeah, that makes sense: someone with dementia who used to be able to do that but now can't take care of his own hygiene, it would give him dignity as a person to have someone else lovingly do that for him. It would be very hard -- and make someone very vulnerable -- to not be able to clean himself up after going to the bathroom, change his own dirty clothes, or give himself a bath. 

But, like, Bert -- I mean it's my JOB to care for him, right? He's just a baby. I mean, he's just small so that's why he can't take care of his own hygiene ... OH, RIGHT. Just because Bert has never been able to do it for himself doesn't mean that it's any less holy to do that work for him. I think it would be very hard -- and make him very vulnerable -- to not be able to clean himself up after going to the bathroom, change his own dirty clothes, or give himself a bath. 

Think of how horrified we are when we read a story about a neglected child, a child left to sit in a dirty diaper for days at a time, or a child whose clothes are filthy or has never been given a bath. We balk at these stories because NO ONE should have to experience that. When that happens, the victim is being treated as less than a person.

I am a believer in the value of human life from conception until natural death, and I am also a believer that ALL human beings have dignity -- whether they have a physical disability, are in the womb, or have Alzheimer's. Although Bert might just be a little baby, a way that I can protect and honor his dignity as a human person is to change his diapers, bathe him, and give him clean clothes to wear. These things sound so mundane out of context, but when looked at through the lens of the value of Bert's personhood, those chores take on a level of holiness that transform how I think about them.

This topic reminds me of one of my favorite pictures of Mary and Jesus. It's called "Polish Madonna," and it depicts Mary hanging clothes to dry on a line while baby Jesus sits nearby.


We honor Mary and think of her sacrifice in carrying Jesus and watching him die on the cross. But for years, like every other mother, Mary spent so much time changing Jesus's diapers, washing his dirty clothes, and giving him a bath. She might have been the mother of God, but at heart, she was just a mother.

It's so easy for me to fall into the trap of asking myself what I really did all day. My friend Maggie has talked to me about finding that question hard to answer too because what she did all day was take care of a child. How do you begin to describe everything that is? How beautiful, lonely, joyous, boring, taxing, fun, and overwhelming that is? I'm going to try and reframe my answer in my mind now. Instead of telling myself "all" I did all day was change Bert's diapers and feed him and do laundry, I'm going to remind myself that what I actually did all day was honor Bert's dignity as a person, made in the image of God.

Three Years Later.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

September 11 is of course an important day to remember in our nation. But it is also an important day in Joe and my life together because it was September 11, 2016 that we had our first date.

It was a Sunday, so I had gotten up and gone to church with my parents as usual. Later that day, I showered and got ready (wore a blue flowered dress and took a cardigan with me, naturally) and met Joe for lunch at 2 p.m. at Black Sheep Burrito in Huntington. (Old location for people who know what I'm talking about!) Joe was already there when I arrived, and we spent the next few hours sitting together talking, eating tacos, and drinking beer. We also went a for a really nice walk in Ritter Park.

The following year we commemorated our first date (although a couple days early since Joe lived in Georgia, and I still lived in West Virginia) by once again going to Black Sheep and sitting together talking, eating, and drinking beer.

Last year we were married, so for the first time we lived in the same place on September 11, so although we couldn't be at Black Sheep, the day once again found us sitting together talking, eating, and drinking our beer.

Yesterday as you know was September 11. This year was different, though. Although Joe and I were still sitting together and talking, it wasn't at Black Sheep or even at our house. 2 p.m. found us sitting side by side in a surgeon's office, our sweet Bert between us, listening to a doctor talk to us about another of Bert's health issues. In fact, the whole day went by yesterday without either of us acknowledging the anniversary of our first date.

Joe and I around the time of our first date.

On one hand, maybe that's a little bit sad. But on the other hand, isn't this what we're really all hoping for when we go on those first dates? Not to be in doctors' offices with our infants, of course, but I mean to even be sitting there together with a baby at all. Before we go on those first dates I think all -- or at least most -- of us are hoping that we will have finally found our person and that years down the road we may be too busy living our regular, everyday lives together to do more than smile for a moment when we arrive at the anniversary of that first hopeful date, if we even are able to take a moment to remember it at all.

Something else I thought about yesterday is how much life can change in such a short time. If you would have told me on my way to Black Sheep to meet Joe for that first date that we'd be sitting in the first home we bought together with our baby son just three short years later, I don't know if I would have believed you, but here we are. Three years ago I was Anna Lafferre, teaching at Fatima in Huntington, and living in my little apartment with Baby Snicks. Now, I am Anna Kraft, staying at home with my newborn son after teaching at Saint Jude for a year in Atlanta, living in my first home with my husband, son, and two dogs. Things really can change so very quickly.

Joe and I with newborn Bert, three years later. 

The beginning of a relationship is so exciting: getting to know someone, finding out how compatible you are, feeling that magic spark of something special. Those days are beautiful. But there is something magical, too, in the mundane day-to-dayness of life: paying your mortgage, buying the toothpaste, and talking about your worries and fears about a child. It was so fun at the beginning of our relationship when Joe would send me flowers or get me something he thought would help make my life easier. But I would trade all the flowers in the world for the Joe who changes Bert's diapers throughout the night, gets up and goes to work all day for our family, and changes his work schedule on a moment's notice to sit beside me at Bert's doctor appointment.

I once said to my friend Sarah about my friend Story that I felt like I owed Story so much for all she's done for me, but there was no way I could ever repay her. (Incidentally, Sarah, I owe you so much too for all you've done for me!) I made the comment that, "I mean, I keep showing up for Story's plays and things like that ..." And Sarah said those profound words that have continued to stick with me:


Amen, Sarah. Brilliant. That is how we show people we love them. Joe showed up to our first date fully engaged, never pulling out his phone or otherwise making me feel I wasn't worth his time. And I remember this, whether or not we were able to recall the anniversary of our first date this year. And Joe keeps showing up three years later. That's what real love is. Whether it's a romantic relationship or a friendship or a family relationship -- THAT'S WHAT REAL LOVE IS. You show up, and you keep showing up.

Grief ... It Just Is.

Monday, September 9, 2019

The son of a family member by marriage recently had his own son. We've never met the son or the new baby, but we love the grandmother, and we are so happy for her and her family. The new baby is about a month younger than Bert, and we've gotten to see a couple pictures of him.

A few days ago, Joe came home from work and, as we were talking, he suddenly told me he had a new photo that he wanted to show me. The photo was of the father of the new baby, shirtless and holding his new son skin-to-skin in the hospital.

Joe said, "I guess at this hospital they have the dads do that -- take off their shirts and hold the baby."

I couldn't respond. Because without me even realizing it or even any warning, I immediately started tearing up. I opened and closed my mouth a couple times, trying not to lose it, and Joe's face changed as he suddenly realized,

"... I was supposed to do that, wasn't I?"

I nodded.

"... But I couldn't because ..."

I nodded again. And the tears came.

As I wrote about here, there are a lot of things we didn't get to do with Bert when he was born because of his health issues. As I wrote about in that same post, I figured out that my post-partum healing would not be nearly as physical as it would be emotional and mental, coming to terms with what happened. Overall, I think I'm doing pretty well. But something I've also realized in all of this is that grief comes and goes in waves, it's not a straight line at all.

I think we usually associate grief with the death of a loved one, and, yes, that is such indescribably painful grief. But grief can also be associated with other things, such as when what you hoped, expected, or thought would happen in a situation turned out to be the complete opposite.

Some days I feel like I'm doing a good job of working through my grief, and other days some things will happen that just overwhelm me out of nowhere, such as the photo I just talked about or another health issue that Bert is dealing with. At his one-month appointment, Bert was diagnosed with an umbilical granuloma, which when treated, really is no big deal. The odds of getting it are 1 in 500, but as Joe said, if it's some crazy thing with crazy odds, Bert will get it. The granuloma was treated on Thursday, and we followed the instructions about giving it 24 hours, pulling the band aid off, and checking it. When I checked it Friday, I thought it still didn't look right, and it still had discharge coming from it. I called the nurse line at our pediatrician and left a message, and late Friday afternoon we got a call back that we'd need to take him to the Saturday sick clinic at one of our practice's other locations to be checked out and likely re-treated.

Like I said, this honestly is no big deal right now. But finding out that Bert had another health thing that required another "emergency" doctor's appointment hit me hard. It just took me right back to all the things that happened in the past five weeks of his life, and the overwhelming emotion this time wasn't sadness, it was anger. I told Joe I just feel so, so angry. I'm so angry about what happened to him, and that spiraled into me also being angry about what happened to Joe and me, angry about some things that went on in my own home after Bert was born, angry about something else that happened this summer that's unrelated to Bert's health but that I'm still dealing with, angry that I didn't stand up for myself in some situations like I should have. So right now, I'm angry. I'm angry, and I want a total do-over I won't get.

As I mentioned before, too, I know that life doesn't ever go according to plan, and I know that things could have turned out a lot worse. But I'm not sure in the history of time anyone ever felt better about their feelings after being told it "could have been worse." In reality, I'm pretty sure when someone is told that, all that happens is that they continue to feel their sad/angry/whatever feelings AND they now feel guilty for feeling those feelings, so now they just feel worse overall.

I am just trying to tell myself that grief is a process. Some days are great, some days you're taken right back to the thing or things that make you sad and angry. It's like this graphic that I've seen before:


Maybe it sounds like I'm whining or like I'm ungrateful for what I have. In reality, I am very grateful for Bert and all of the prayers for him and his current state of health. But, while my physical self is right on target for post-partum healing, my mental and emotional health is still a couple months behind. And you know what? THAT IS OKAY.

So if this is you right now, or past you, or maybe future you, please know that whatever you are feeling ... THAT IS OKAY. For as long as you need to feel it. I pray that you have someone to reach out to to talk to about it, and if not, I am happy to be that person because I understand. Talking about it has really helped me a lot. And if it happened to you five years ago and you still need to talk about it a lot ... THAT IS OKAY.

To be even more transparent, there is no happy ending to this right now. Right now, I'm in the middle of it, so it just is.

Here's a cute picture of Bert, though, because who doesn't love that? 

A Boy and His Dogs.

Friday, August 30, 2019

The last several posts have been (necessarily) serious, so I've decided to go with something a little lighter today.

We registered for some blocks for Bert. These blocks are plastic and of various shapes, sizes, and colors, so I thought -- great! These will be great first toys for our son. Earlier in the summer I was preparing for Bert by putting some of his things in different bins, and I pulled these blocks out of the plastic holder they came in. I BARELY squeezed one of them, and it let out the tiniest squeak. All of a sudden, Jane Austen came tearing down the stairs and ran right over to me. I realized she had heard this minute squeak from up under our bed (I had just seen her there), and then I realized something else: these blocks are basically dog toys.

Over the past couple of weeks, I realized that I wasn't wrong about those blocks, but I wasn't totally right either.

By that I mean ... ALL baby toys are essentially dog toys. So life is about to get really fun around here.

Think about it ... here is a picture of Bert's play mat thing. What do those toys hanging there look like?

Yep ... dog toys.

Here's an avocado that Bert's supposed to play with. What does that look like?

Yep ... a dog toy.

In fact, here is a photo of Jane Austen trying to share her favorite toy -- hedgehog -- with Bert. Because her toys are Bert's toys ... and more importantly, Bert's toys are her toys!

Clearly Bert is not playing with toys right now, but I can only assume that once he gets older and his toys are on the floor and Jane's toys are on the floor, well ... they will just be "their" toys then, won't they? 😂

Mental Health.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

When we took Bert to the children's hospital at 4 days old, we sat in the emergency room from about 9 p.m. to almost 6 a.m. After we were finally admitted and taken to a room, Joe and I fed Bert, ate some breakfast ourselves, and, thanks to a very nice nurse, were able to settle in around 8:30-9 a.m. to try and get at least an hour or two of sleep. The next thing I knew, I was being awakened around 10:30 a.m. for what appeared to be a very pressing matter: a lactation consultant wanted to see me. I tried to explain that we had seen a lactation consultant already a couple days earlier and received high marks and Bert was a champion eater, but I was pretty much forced to see this woman anyways. Of course, I was exhausted, worried, and irritated, but I tried to be nice even though I felt like it was a big waste of our time. But something important occurred to me mid-day that same day. 

In our stay at the children's hospital, we saw nurses, pediatricians, and this lactation consultant, but do you know what was never offered to us or even brought up or discussed?

A mental health professional.

Think about it: you have two brand-new parents with a four-day-old baby with many health issues unexpectedly in the children's hospital. The mother of this child already has documented mental health challenges and, like all new mothers, is at risk for post-partum mental health issues as well. To me, it's a no-brainer that some sort of mental health professional should be provided to us as parents. But no one ever came.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 9 women experiences post-partum depression. Additionally, these statistics vary by state, so in some states that number is as high as 1 in 5 women. (Source.) Post-partum mental health challenges can lead to everything from hopelessness and irritability to thoughts of harming oneself or one's baby. I think we can all agree that this is such an important issue -- as is general mental health in the United States, not just post-partum -- and it's important to closely monitor all new mothers. I would think maybe it's extra important to monitor mothers whose babies are experiencing scary health issues.

I feel fortunate because having dealt with mental health challenges for years before pregnancy, I already know signs to watch for in myself as well as have medication and a counselor who has known me for almost a year. But what about women who may, thankfully, have never experienced any sort of mental health challenge before and, therefore, don't know what to look for or understand what is going on with them?

I don't know what the solution is, and I don't pretend to. It was just something that hit me after how important it seemed to be to the hospital that I see a lactation consultant, yet my mental health -- and Joe's -- was never discussed or asked about.

Finally home after two hospital stays.


Thursday, August 22, 2019

For months before the birth of Bert, I prayed that God would just send us a "really nice nurse." I had heard from my mom and other people who'd had babies that a great nurse would go a really long way in making labor, delivery, and the first few days as a new mom more pleasant and smooth.

We were really blessed that this prayer was answered not just once but many times over. From our L&D nurses Cheryl and Ashley (Ashley is the one I mentioned in an earlier post who helped deliver Bert) to our post-partum night nurse Amanda, all of our nurses were truly wonderful, and we were so glad that we were blessed by them.

But although they were all amazing and we are so grateful to them all, there is one nurse who is now  buried so deep in our hearts that we will never forget her as long as we live. And this post is about her: Rachel.

Rachel was our day nurse the entire time we were in post-partum. When I think back on it, she was only our nurse for a total of 24 hours (7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday), but it seems like much longer than that. Rachel was all the things you'd expect a good nurse to be: kind, uplifting, capable, knowledgeable, patient. And we appreciate all those things about her. But Rachel was just so much more.

We know she had so many more patients than just us for those couple of days, but she never made us feel that way. Any time we called, she was right there, and we had to call a lot because of Bert's health concerns.

Speaking of Bert's health concerns, can you guess who had to be the bearer of pretty much all the bad news we got: Bert's blood sugar going back down, his strict feeding schedule, his bilirubin levels requiring jaundice lights? Or the person who had to come help us in the immediate aftermath of bad news delivered by others, as in the case with his multiple failed hearing tests? You got it: Rachel.

I feel for her because every time she walked into our room it seemed like we were upset or crying or stressed. And every time she came in, she was patient, optimistic, kind, helpful, and caring. She treated Bert so gently, like he was her own child and not just another patient in another hospital room on another day of work. Rachel spoke to us and Bert like she was part of our family.

We already loved Rachel so much and had filled out a compliment card for her ... and then she did the most amazing thing that we'll never forget.

The last day we were in the hospital we were scheduled to be released at 9 p.m. Unfortunately, Rachel's shift ended at 7 p.m., so she wouldn't be there to discharge us. Around 7:30 p.m. Rachel brought in the new night nurse, the one who would discharge us, to introduce her. When they came in, Joe and I were both sitting in my hospital bed, my mom was in a chair, and I was holding Bert. Joe was holding me. I was crying because although we were scheduled to be able to go home, they were still checking one of Bert's complications so even that wasn't a guarantee at that point. We were still worried about his hearing and his jaundice also, as well as just simply exhausted and overwhelmed by the unexpected difficulties of his two days of life. After Rachel introduced the new nurse to us, she asked her to leave the room. I looked at Joe because I was so terrified that Rachel had done that because she had more bad news to deliver about Bert and didn't want someone we had just met in there to witness it.

Instead, this happened:

Rachel stood by the bed beside where I was sitting. She looked at Joe and me and at a sleeping Bert and told us that Bert was such a special patient to her and that we were a very special family. She then asked us if she could pray for us. She put a hand on me and Bert, my mom came to stand by the bed, and we all closed our eyes. Rachel's prayer for Bert was beautiful. In fact, in her prayer she called him "perfect," and no one had said that about our son before that moment. She prayed for each of his medical conditions specifically, asking God to please heal him of them. But she also acknowledged that God had made Bert in His own image, and that Bert was exactly the way God wanted him to be. I thought I was crying before that prayer, but I was sobbing for sure during it. I wish I had a copy of it so that I could hear it again and again. Rachel gave us so much peace in that moment, peace that we didn't know at the time would also carry us through a stay at the children's hospital.

Joe and I have talked about Rachel so often since we left Bert's birth hospital. In fact, every time we'd talk about a nurse while at the children's hospital, we'd always call her, "Rachel ... no," whatever her name was. And so many times since we left his birth hospital we've said, "Remember when Rachel said ..." or "When Rachel told us ..."

Rachel was physically in our life for two 12-hour shifts. But she'll be in our hearts much longer. And as Bert grows older, we'll tell him about the most special nurse who thought he was so special, too.

Expectations vs. Reality

Monday, August 19, 2019

After you have a baby, so many people ask you how you are feeling. The nurses have to, in order to help you manage your pain. Loving family members and friends ask because they care about you and know you have been through a lot.

The thing is, physically I have been feeling really good. I had some post-birth cramping and soreness and things like that, but overall I do feel really good.

Physically, I mean.

It took me a few days to realize that physical healing is not going to be the main focus of my postpartum life. For me, emotional and mental recovery is what will take the most time and work. Specifically, I am in the process of grieving what I hoped and thought would happen while trying to come to terms with accepting what actually did happen.

Post-birth glucose gel and formula because of low blood sugar.

Having never had a baby before, I didn't actually know what the first few days of having a baby would be like. But I think what I thought would happen is we would have Bert, we'd spend a couple days in the hospital, and then we'd go home on a sunny afternoon with people taking pictures and I'd be wearing this cute (maternity) dress I had packed. People would drop in and visit Bert in the hospital, people would say how cute and perfect he was, and we'd push his bassinet through the hospital hallways like other proud parents. Joe and I would have plenty of time to do the recommended skin-to-skin and just sit and hold our baby and look at him and talk about how we couldn't believe we made him and he was here.

If you read the previous two posts then you know that those things did not happen.

We did spend a couple days in the hospital, but they were anything but normal or routine. And then, after being home for less than 48 hours, we had to go back to the hospital.

We went home, but we went home around 9 p.m. in the darkness, almost as though we were sneaking away. I wasn't wearing what I had planned and packed either, just pants and a nursing tank.

Almost around-the-clock jaundice light therapy.

My parents and sisters did come to visit Bert, and we were lucky to have them. But I really don't have friends here, and my closest friends are 500 miles away.

Of course people told us he was so cute, but "perfect" was never really used because much time was taken to update people on his many health concerns.

We never pushed Bert through the hospital hallways because he was hooked up to a light machine and it wasn't possible.

The only time I did skin-to-skin with Bert was during Golden Hour, and Joe never got to do it. Bert was either wrapped up in multiple layers due to his low body temperature or hooked up to lights to help him with his jaundice.

Joe and Bert at the hospital lab for one of Bert's many blood draws.

Although we did hold our baby, of course, once again there were always so many obstacles between us and him. We couldn't gaze into his eyes because he was wearing sunglasses to protect his eyes from the jaundice lights. Even the simple act of talking to him was tainted with us seeing if our voices would cause him to turn his head so we could check his hearing and repeating to each other, "I think he can hear us. Can he hear us? You know, I'm honestly not sure if he can hear us."

Joe and I did talk about how happy we were he was here and how we couldn't believe we made him, but the majority of our conversations were filled with worry and fear about Bert's many health issues and wondering how they all happened and how we were going to help him.

I cried so much during those first days. I feel like delivering a baby and being a first-time mom is overwhelming enough, but with Bert, the hits just kept on coming. The tears were like a waterfall that I just could not stop no matter how hard I tried. The only thing we knew to do was talk to each other about how we were doing and also keep repeating to Bert how much we loved him and how brave he was and how none of this was his fault. We kept saying to each other, "There are people who just have their babies with no troubles and take them home, right?" What is that like?

Bert in the Scottish Rite emergency room.

Bert never even got a first bath at the hospital because he had so many other concerns that one just fell completely off the radar.

I've always had a hard time with missed opportunities. There are just certain things in life that once the moment is over, it's over. You don't get a do-over no matter how much you might want one. Bert's birth and subsequent few days is one of those things. There were so many things I wanted for him and for us, and none of those things happened.

I want to pause here to say the following: first, I understand that there are people who go through FAR worse than we did. We know some of those people. Second, I know that how I feel about my expectations of what I wanted to happen is nothing compared to the pain Bert went through. I know that nothing in life is perfect. I know that things rarely go exactly how we plan. So if you have something to say along those lines, please keep it to yourself. My goal in writing this is to be completely transparent and honest about how I am really feeling, and if there's one thing I believe it's that it's completely okay to feel however you are feeling. Because those are your feelings. So, although I know there are people who have had it far worse than we did, I am still really sad about the reality of how things happened for us and for Bert. Because there are no do-overs.

Bert in Scottish Rite hospital. You can't see his foot IV.

Of all the things that happened -- and there were many -- there was one thing that pushed me over the edge. It's something that still makes me cry to think about, and it's something you probably wouldn't expect. Joe and I never got to have Bert's picture taken at the hospital. I know how stupid that sounds. Our hospital, like many I imagine, offer a complimentary photography service for your newborn, and you can choose later to purchase all, some, or none of the photos. Joe and I hadn't really talked about it in advance, and it was nothing that we even had our hearts set on. But on Tuesday afternoon, two days after Bert's birth, I was standing by his bassinet in our room looking at him as he was lying in between the jaundice lights with his sunglasses on. I believe we had just found out he failed another hearing test. Suddenly, the photographer popped in and said she heard we were checking out that day and did we want to schedule photos for Bert? I just looked at him, then looked at her and told her that our son had some health concerns and it just wouldn't be possible for him to do it. So she said she'd just cross us off her list and get to the other babies who were also scheduled to be discharged that day.

The normal babies, you know.

That interaction, having that choice of having his photo taken taken away from us, completely broke me. I started bawling then, and I am crying now as I type this. I know it makes no sense at all, but not having his picture taken just completely tore me apart. Maybe we wouldn't have even wanted his photos, you know? But the fact that the other babies had their photos taken, and Bert was lying there hooked up to jaundice lights he wasn't allowed to take off just completely broke me. I know it's completely irrational, but I don't want Bert to think we thought he wasn't good enough to have nice photos. Like he wasn't worth it. A couple days after I had Bert, one of my cousins also had a baby boy, and one of my aunts forwarded me some photos. While a few were iPhone photos of my cousin, his wife, my uncle, and the baby, several of the photos that were forwarded to me were proofs of the baby's in-hospital photo shoot. The minute I saw them I just started crying again because they were just so cute and, once again, we had nothing like that of Bert. I know there is more than one photographer in the world and we can still get pictures of him. And I know how silly this sounds, my mind is telling me that, but again, I am writing this to be honest about how I really felt and feel. I still bawl when I think about those stupid pictures.

It was also really hard for me to take photos of Bert at the children's hospital. Seeing him there in the emergency room was so hard, and at first I just didn't want to take any pictures of him in that hospital at all. But after encouragement from my friend Sarah, Joe and I decided that we had to take pictures of Bert in the hospital. Because that was his real life. We didn't want to have no photos of him from days 4-7 of his life simply because he was hooked up to wires in this sad place and we were so worried and sad. New parents take photos of their kid every day, and we didn't want this gaping hole in his history just because we were sad. So we took them, even though it was hard.

There is a photo of Joe, Bert, and me in his hospital room the evening we were scheduled to leave his birth hospital. When I look at it, it's hard for me because it's just not what I pictured at all. I pictured a certain outfit, a certain time of day, certain weather, a certain expression on my face. But instead, my face looks puffy and my eyes look tired, and it's because I had been crying all day. But I'm posting that photo here because that photo is the reality of the situation that we were in.

About to go home from his birth hospital. Only one thing in this photo was how I planned: Bert was wearing his WVU t-shirt and his Michigan hat. 

There's so much more I could probably say about all of this, and maybe I'll have to write more in the future if more things come to mind. But for now, this is where I am: working on my emotional and mental recovery, grieving what I hoped would happen, and trying to come to terms with the reality of what actually happened. Right now I am just allowing myself to sit in all of this. Just sit in the pain of it, with the end goal that one day I will actually not just come to terms with it but be able to embrace it.

The Birth of Bert: Part 2

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The other day you got the story of Bert's birth, from when my labor started through delivery. Everything I wrote is true to the best of my ability to remember it all, but unfortunately it isn't the whole truth. I didn't want to combine these two stories because I wanted to separate the happy story from the sad story that followed. I think I owe Bert that because we are so happy he was born, and to us he's always been perfect.

I need to start by saying that Joe and I had absolutely NO idea that any of this would happen. We had no indication that Bert may have any medical problems at all. My pregnancy was completely uneventful. I did have some nausea and fatigue during the first trimester, and we did require further testing because his first chromosomal test came back with elevated risk (turned out to be fine), but other than that, nothing eventful happened. My blood work was always normal, my blood pressure was always normal, his anatomy scan was fine, I measured spot on every week for the week I was. I barely had any swelling, I didn't have trouble sleeping, his heart rate was never an issue. I say all this to say, in Joe's and my minds we'd have the baby, spend a couple days in the hospital doing normal first-time parent things, and take our kid home to adjust to our new life as a family of three.

Unfortunately it didn't quite happen like that.

I must start by saying that I might not completely remember the order in which all of this happened due to general fatigue from labor, delivery, and having a newborn, coupled with how fast this all happened, but I'll do my best to tell his story accurately.

I mentioned in Part 1 that our hospital does "Golden Hour," and we actually got to have that with Bert. We were told that Golden Hour is standard practice unless there's a medical necessity to have the newborn treated for something right away. Since we had Golden Hour, it never entered our heads that something might not be 100% right with Bert. In retrospect, maybe our first clue should have been that the two nursery nurses stayed in the room with us the whole time when we had been told it would only be Joe, Bert, and me. It didn't enter my head at the time, though. After Golden Hour, though, we learned that Bert had been observed as being "jittery" at birth, which was an indication of low blood sugar. He was also observed as being "ruddy," which we found out later is a sign of jaundice. I had always thought jaundice turned a baby yellow, which is true, but apparently ruddy red is a sign as well. Bert was given two glucose gels and fed formula shortly after Golden Hour in an attempt to right his blood sugar. In addition, we were told his body temperature was too low and he needed to be put under warming lights. Shortly after being moved from L&D to our post-partum room, Bert was taken from us to be put under warming lights, and we weren't allowed to go with him. When he came back to us, he was wearing a long sleeved tee shirt, pants, two hats, and two pairs of socks and was wrapped in two blankets. We couldn't do skin to skin -- Joe never got to, and I only got to during Golden Hour -- because he was wrapped up in so many layers because he was too cold. We also learned that his blood sugar had stabilized at that point, but unfortunately that wouldn't last. In addition it's important to note that blood sugar in an infant is tested by doing heel sticks, which Bert had to endure multiple times in his first hours and days of life. More on that later.

Post-birth formula and glucose gel.

On Monday morning (the day after his birth), we were told that Bert had warmed up, so we were finally able to remove some of his layers. Sadly, we also found out that day that his bilirubin levels were incredibly high, and he needed to be put under jaundice lights. So we went from holding our child in multiple layers of clothes and blankets to holding him smashed between two sets of jaundice lights. He also had to wear sunglasses to protect his eyes from the lights, so we didn't get to see his eyes either. He was only allowed out of the lights for 20 minutes at a time to breastfeed. A pediatrician also visited us to let us know that his blood sugar was critically low again. She said she had given him another glucose gel, but three was as many as he could have. She told us that she was recommending we supplement my breast milk with formula to try and get his level back up. She also told us if his level did not stabilize, she would have to admit him to the NICU. Our wonderful nurse (truly, truly a gift from God -- I'll be writing a whole post just about her later) helped us get him on a feeding plan that would accommodate both his need to get his blood sugar up as well as his need to be under the jaundice lights as much as possible. It was intense. I was allowed to breastfeed him for 10 minutes per side only, at which time I'd hand him off to Joe. Joe would put Bert back between the lights and feed him a certain amount of milliliters of formula while I pumped for 15 minutes. After that, we would spoon feed Bert however much I had pumped. It was like doing really intricate choreography. And I know this might not sound like that big of a deal, but what was extra sad was that the only thing Bert had done well at the hospital -- truly the only thing he didn't fail -- was breastfeeding. He was a champion latcher from the first hour of life. The lactation consultant who came to visit us said she was so impressed with how well he was latching on and feeding. Bert was so good at it that she taught us a more advance breastfeeding technique and also told us that she would usually come back and visit the next day but she didn't feel like we needed that and to call her if we needed anything. So the only thing Bert was good at -- breastfeeding -- wasn't enough to help him. The only positive I can say about this is that Joe was a critical member of Bert's ability to eat, when usually that is the domain of the mother only. Bert also had to have his blood sugar tested before every feeding, which, again, means consistent heel sticks. He was also routinely having his blood taken to test his bilirubin levels.

In-hospital jaundice lights.

Also on Monday, Bert was given his first hearing test. He failed it. The audiologist told us not to worry too much, a lot of times newborns have too much fluid in their ears, and she'd be back the next day to check him again. When she returned on Tuesday, he failed the second in-room hearing test and was once again taken from us to be given a more intense hearing test. Joe and I waited on pins and needles till the audiologist came and told us "He almost passed." Meaning, Bert failed three hearing tests and will have to take another test scheduled at the end of this month. While this is hard for so many reasons, here's one you might not be thinking of: when your newborn is enduring painful things like heels sticks and blood draws and you can't stop it from hurting or even hold him while it's happening, what do people tell you? They tell you to talk to him so he can hear your voice and be comforted. And Joe and I are like -- We can't even do that confidently because he might not even be able to hear us.

If you're keeping score, in about 36 hours of life, Bert was told:
- His body temperature was too low
- His bilirubin level was too high
- His blood sugar was too low
- He might be deaf or have hearing challenges

As you can imagine, Joe and I were basically like deer in headlights at this time. We were first-time parents, had just labored for 26+ hours and delivered a baby, we had been up all night and not getting any sleep at all, and our child just kept getting hit with one problem after another. In the midst of this, we found out that the cause of his two major issues -- jaundice and low blood sugar --  was a high hematocrit level. Do you know what that is? I really hope not because no one should. It means that Bert had too many red blood cells. Did you know this was even a thing to worry about? I didn't. We have learned a lot about hematocrit levels over the past days of Bert's life. Apparently a lot of babies are born with high hematocrit levels but no one ever knows because it's not something hospitals routinely check because almost all newborns who have this are able to self-correct quickly. Bert's level was checked because of the low blood sugar and jaundice, but it was hoped he'd also self-correct.

He didn't. More on that to come. (Weirdly, in the couple weeks before Bert's birth, Joe and I had been watching this show about climbers on Mt. Everest and had learned about extra red blood cells and their effects on one's body.)

Bert did face one more small complication that I don't feel comfortable talking about publicly, but suffice it to say that Joe and I were just completely overcome. Basically all I could do was cry. I had held my baby for only a short time without the added clothes and blankets or jaundice lights. Feeding him was not peaceful at all due to the militant process we had to follow. Joe and I had to sit and listen to our baby scream and cry as he endured heel stick after heel stick (that "click" will haunt me forever) and blood draw after blood draw. His poor feet were so banged up, and he finally ended up having to have venous draws in his arm as well. I would cry every single time Bert would be held down for a stick and scream and cry. (Sadly, this would continue throughout his first week of life.) I was so worried that he would just give up because he was crying out for help so often, but no help ever came. His father and I couldn't do anything.

At a certain point when Bert was returned to us after having to have gone to the nursery for some sort of check or test (can't remember what for), he returned without his socks on. His nurse handed them to me and said, "I'm so sorry. He got blood on these." And I just stood there holding my two-day-old baby's bloody socks.

We received two pieces of good news on Tuesday, which were his blood sugar had stabilized (all his nurses and techs celebrated with us ... love those people) and, although his bilirubin level had not really gone down, Bert had gotten older so it was now at a more acceptable level. We were finally able to hold him without lights. The hospital finally decided Bert could go home Tuesday night, provided we had an appointment with the pediatrician the next day. Luckily I was able to call and make one. We went home around 9 p.m. Tuesday.

On Wednesday morning, Joe, my mom, and I took Bert to his first pediatrician's appointment. Of course, he needed another blood draw to test his bilirubin, his blood sugar, and his hematocrit. Unfortunately, the office's in-house lab wasn't able to get what they needed to check all of those things, so we left with orders for another blood draw back at his birth hospital. (30 minutes from our house.) The doctor also sent us home with jaundice lights we could use at home because she had observed that he was really ruddy and red again. She said she'd call us with our blood draw results as soon as she got them, and based on his bilirubin level would let us know if we needed to use the lights or not.

By the time we left the doctor, it was after noon. Joe and I decided to take Bert home and feed him and ourselves and change him before heading back to the hospital for the blood draw. We drove the 30-ish minutes to the hospital and got there around 4 p.m. Bert had yet another blood draw (at this point I'd lost count of how many times he'd been stuck) and then we headed back toward our home. A few minutes before we arrived at our house, we got a call from Bert's pediatrician letting us know that the lab had called her and said Bert's blood had clotted before they could test it and we needed to go back and get another blood draw. At this point, it was almost 5:30 p.m., Bert had already had his blood taken twice that day, and he needed to eat. Not to mention we were about to have to drive another 30 minutes and back in metro Atlanta rush hour. Joe was furious, my mom (who was with us) was furious, and I was furious. As Joe drove us back to the hospital, I called patient services in tears to let them know how upset I was that Bert was having to go through this again. I feel like I am generally a nice person, but I was at the point where I had HAD IT. Plus, as my mom said, Joe and I are Bert's only voice, and it's our job to advocate for him. I let patient services know exactly how we felt about our four-day-old son -- who had already endured far more than any newborn should have to -- having to have his blood taken for the THIRD TIME that day when he needed to be home with his family. Patient services representatives met us at the outpatient lab, which we found out they kept open late for us, and we were blessed by the BEST phlebotomist ever who treated us so well, was so kind to us, and listened to me cry and tell her all Bert had been through. She also was able to get what she needed from Bert with only one stick, and that was especially hard as the doctor had decided to have his blood drawn from his arm and not his foot that time. She also stayed with us as we waited for confirmation that Bert's blood was testable that time.

On the way home from that blood draw, Bert's pediatrician called and informed us that his bilirubin level was too high again and we'd have to use the at-home lights as close to 24 hours a day as possible. She also told us that his hematocrit level was too high again also. She told us we needed to watch for signs of dehydration, lethargy, and difficulty breathing. His plan of treatment was to keep him on the lights until 5 p.m. the following day when we'd need to drive Bert back to the hospital for yet another blood draw to check his levels. At that point, his doctor just said we'd take it day by day and evaluate his blood every 24 hours.

While the hospital light therapy lights were a bit softer and more malleable, the at-home light was as hard as a rock. My mom compared it to a Kindle or an iPad, and that's pretty much a spot-on comparison. We had to lay our son on this super hard light, wrap him in a blanket, and hold him. We had to feed him like that and try to get him to sleep like that, too, which, as I'm sure you can imagine, was basically impossible. Luckily, my parents were in town so we had four adults who were able to help hold him and evaluate him as well.

The following evening (it was now Thursday), Joe and I drove Bert back to the hospital around 5 p.m. for his daily blood draw. We were blessed with the same phlebotomist (her name is Tammy) who once again treated us with so much care and kindness. She once again stayed late to wait for a call to confirm that Bert's blood was testable. One of the receptionists or office administrators or whatever told Tammy (in front of us) that they were closing and to make us wait in the surgery waiting room. But Tammy said no -- she'd stay right there and wait with us until she got the confirmation call. Tammy, we love you. On the drive home, the pediatrician called again, told us that once again the bilirubin levels had gone up and the hematocrit was still up. Needless to say, Joe and I were just frustrated and devastated and completely at a loss at that point. The plan was to keep him on the lights and evaluate him again the next day. Joe and I got Bert home where my parents had prepared dinner. We took Bert upstairs to our room to put him back under the lights and feed him and then planned to join my parents for dinner. A few minutes after we started feeding him, Bert's pediatrician called again. She said a lot of things, but the gist was that a newborn with a high hematocrit level was out of her area of expertise because it is rare that it is dealt with outside the hospital. She said she felt so bad that she couldn't give us a timeline of how long we'd be dealing with this issue or really give us any answers at all. She told us that she consulted the neonatologist at his birth hospital as well as an emergency room doctor at the children's hospital, and pretty much everyone agreed that Bert needed to be re-hospitalized for fluids and constant evaluation in hopes his bilirubin and hematocrit levels would get to an acceptable level. Hanging up the phone and having to tell Joe (and my mom and dad) that we needed to pack Bert up for the emergency room was really tough. My parents helped by quickly feeding us dinner as we finished feeding Bert as well as helping us organize a few clothes and snacks to take with us. I don't know what we would have done without my parents around here to help care for the dogs and the house at a moment's notice.

Joe and I drove Bert the 45 minutes to the children's hospital emergency room, and we arrived around 9 or 10 p.m. As I'm sure you can imagine, we were scared, exhausted, upset, and worried, and having to hold our 5-day-old baby in line to check in at the emergency room while all around us these kids were like coughing and stuff around my immunity-less newborn about pushed me over the limit. Luckily a nurse intervened and let Bert and me wait in a private room while Joe checked us in.

Emergency room at Scottish Rite.

Over the next several hours, Bert endured getting an IV placed, a couple more blood draws, and visits with two doctors. At some point in the early morning -- 4 or 5 a.m. maybe -- we were told Bert was being admitted as his hematocrit had soared to 72 and he needed more fluids and monitoring. We got taken to a room a couple hours later, and I can probably commit to saying that was the most exhausted and defeated I've ever felt. Over the next several hours, Bert continued to endure blood draws in his feet and arms, interruptions every couple of hours, and a lot of uncertainty as to what would happen next. Joe and I tried to grab any little sleep we could, both of us squeezing into a single hospital bed, trying to take care of our baby the best we could as new parents who had no idea what they were doing. We ended up seeing a pediatrician who essentially said that Bert's prognosis for long -term health was very good, but that the only way we could leave was to get Bert's hematocrit level under 65. I believe 50-55 is actually ideal, but the doctors were willing to accept 65. We would wait on pins and needles after every blood draw only to find out he was at 66 or some other still-too-high number. At one point, Bert ended up kicking out his own IV (the nurse still has no idea how he was able to do it ... more on Bert's mutant strength another time), but the doctor had decided to go ahead and try and see if Bert's body could rid itself of red blood cells without the extra fluid. To make a long story short, it didn't work, and we got to watch as Bert endured yet another IV placement. Of course, he continued to endure multiple daily blood draws also. Both of Bert's feet and arms were so banged up it was heartbreaking. He couldn't -- still can't really -- stand to have his feet touched because he knew what would shortly follow. On Sunday morning -- his one-week birthday -- we found out Bert's hematocrit had hit 64.5, which the doctors would accept to allow him to leave. The piece of really good news was that his bilirubin level was acceptable, and the jaundice was no longer an issue. GOOD BYE LIGHTS! The only condition for leaving was that he would have to eat two times and continue to have wet and dirty diapers. As he has always been a champion eater (thank GOD), we were finally released from the children's hospital under the condition we'd see his pediatrician the next morning. We got home around 6 p.m. Sunday evening where my parents still were and where Joe's parents had arrived as well.

On Monday morning, Joe and I took Bert to see his pediatrician. Joe and I had talked and we agreed we needed to get in a mental place where we knew we would have to take Bert back to his birth hospital for another blood draw. His pediatrician checked him over and said she was happy to see he was back at his birth weight and that his color was looking better. As we expected, she sent us off with lab orders for a blood draw. Joe, his mom, and I took Bert to the lab with specific orders for a venous draw. (We had learned that the foot stick was not as accurate as the venous draw.) We were called back by a really young looking girl who said to us, "Which foot would you like?" I looked at Joe, and I was like, "NO NO NO NO. This has to be a venous draw." The girl kind of looked at us, and said okay, and took us to a different room. Sitting in the room with her back to us was this older lady doing paperwork. The young girl told her she needed the room, and I heard the older lady say she was doing paperwork that had people's personal info on it and she needed time to move, blah, blah. I'm pretty sure she didn't see me standing there, so at that point, I'm like "I AM SO SORRY (not) FOR THE INCONVENIENCE, BUT MY WEEK-OLD SON ..." and proceeded to begin to tell the story of Bert. I glanced over, and guess who I saw in the room? TAMMY! I looked at her and was like, "THANK GOD YOU ARE HERE!" Needless to say, Tammy took the lead on Bert's blood draw and once again got it in one stick. She also once again stayed with us until we had confirmed Bert's blood was testable. The last thing Tammy said to us was, "I really hope I don't see you guys again." We were like, "We hope we don't see you again either." (P.S. If you're wondering if I filled out a comment card about Tammy, I totally did. I only wish there had been more lines on the paper for me to write more compliments!)

Still feeling worried and defeated, we got back in the car for the 30-minute drive home. There was always a rush order on Bert's blood draws, so we knew it was likely his pediatrician would call us before we even got home. The car ride was tense as I clutched my phone, waiting for the call. Finally, it came. The phone rang, I said hello, and his pediatrician said, "So I have Bert's results. It's really good news. His hematocrit is 58."

FIFTY EIGHT?!? The day before it had been 64.5! How did he get it to 58 on his own in less than 24 hours?!?

His pediatrician couldn't even explain it. She had no idea. (We knew, though: prayer. SO MANY PEOPLE had been praying for Bert. Like my parents' dentist literally had his Bible study group praying for Bert. We love you Dr. Wild!) Then I heard the best words I have ever heard:

Dr. Johnson: "So, if you and your husband are comfortable with it, my plan of action for Bert is to just let him be. Let him be a baby. We'll see you back in the office for his one-month check up."

Joe and I were overcome. Our baby -- who had never gone one day of his life without a doctor's visit, a hospital stay, a blood draw, jaundice lights, etc. -- was finally going to get to wake up the following day and JUST BE A BABY.

So that is the real story of Bert and what happened to him.

These are the straight facts, but there is also a lot to say about the emotional and mental effects of all of this on Joe and me, and I have so many thoughts on that. I plan to write more posts about all of this, so stay tuned for my thoughts on accepting reality, emotional and mental health, and Bert and my post-partum nurse, Rachel.

If you've made it this far in the story, thank you so much. It has helped me tremendously to write everything down.

Also, if you knew this story as it was unfolding and prayed for Bert, we love you so much and can't thank you enough. A special thanks to our families, Mel, Colleen, Story, Sarah, Jena, Maggie, Catherine, Daniel, the Piaskowskis, the Mayeses, and everyone at Fatima.

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