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.

The Birth of Bert: Part 1

Friday, August 16, 2019

Sitting down to write Bert's birth story is a funny exercise because some of it I remember in great detail, while other parts of it I don't remember well at all. So I guess I'll preface this by saying that all these things happened -- plus more things I don't remember I'm sure -- on some sort of timeline in some sort of order over the days of August 3 and 4, 2019.

Bert was due to arrive Saturday, August 10. At my most recent doctor's appointment the week of July 29, I was 1 cm. dilated and there was no effacement at all. I hadn't had any contractions, Braxton-Hicks or real. After the midwife left the room after that appointment, Joe said, "He's going to take his sweet time, isn't he?"

It seemed like it.

I mean, I was only 38 weeks at that time, but it's August in Georgia, his room and all his things were ready, and at that point we were just basically waiting around. My mom thought this was all pretty funny as I was 13 days late and made her wait around a REALLY long time during July 1984.

On Saturday, August 3, Joe and I decided to take a late morning trip to Home Depot. I wanted some larger pots for these succulents I've been growing (Side note: what?! I have never gotten anything to grow before, but these things are monsters! I basically got them to grow through general neglect, which makes me feel really good about my chances at motherhood!) as well as some other around-the-house things like an extension cord and potting soil. We also decided to look at some tile for a future fireplace re-tiling as well as some options for outdoor landscaping, which our house desperately needs.

Right around noon we were wandering the tile aisle at Home Depot*, and I felt a little trickle of something. (I guess at the beginning of this I should have written some sort of warning about the graphic nature of the content, but then again who is reading a birth story and doesn't expect that sort of thing?) I didn't pay much attention, as this was not a totally unusual occurrence, although this time it did feel a little different. I mean, I felt good, I wasn't in any pain, I was walking around Home Depot, and I had been told in pregnancy and childbirth class that, contrary to what you see on TV and in the movies, women's water spontaneously breaking only happens in 10-15% of cases, and it's not always that big gush you see from Hollywood either. Basically, the odds were against my water having broken, I had no other clues or signs I might be in labor, and I did not want to be that first-time mom alarmist who rushes to the hospital only to do the walk of shame back to the car. I will say, though, that this trickle kept going. Not non-stop, but pretty frequently. Again, though, I felt good, I had no other clues or signs, the statistics, blah blah. Joe and I checked out and took our stuff to our car. We then decided to go to another local nursery to check out more options for landscaping. We drove about 10 minutes to the other store, walked in, and I immediately told Joe I needed to go to the bathroom. I went in, assessed the situation, and decided we really needed to go home. I found Joe, told him we needed to go home, and we left, making us the most awkward shoppers ever to visit the Pike Nursery. I'm not sure we can ever go back.

Needless to say, Joe and I were both not sure what was going on at this point. Joe kept asking me if I thought my water had broken, and I was like -- dude, I don't know. It's never happened to me before! At that point, I was also still not in any pain. Being the person I am, I hustled into the shower because I hadn't showered that day, and I was not about to go deliver a baby with dirty hair. I didn’t want to feel gross. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I also want to say that I changed my nail polish because the stuff I had on was slightly chippy and I had planned to change it that day anyways. And, again, being the person I am, I was not about to go deliver a baby with chippy nail polish. I know myself. (Colleen -- for some reason I am picturing your face when you are reading this, and it's cracking me up!) When I got out of the shower, I did exactly what my childbirth class book told me to do if I thought my water had broken. At a certain point in all of this, Joe actually witnessed some of it leak onto the floor, and at that point, he's like CALL THE DOCTORS' OFFICE NOW!

So I did. I called the after-hours number and told the service what was going on, and the lady who took my call said she'd alert the midwife on call and have her call me. She also told me if the midwife hadn’t called me back in 30 minutes to call again. I had 30 minutes? Cool, because I could re-do my nail polish in that time! (Shout out to ColorStreet!) After 35 minutes passed without a call, I called the service back, and within 10 minutes I heard from the midwife. (She had apparently just come out of doing a delivery.) I told her what had happened over what timeline, and she told me it was time to go to the hospital. In the middle of all of this, Joe was madly trying to take our honeymoon and summer vacation pics off our camera to free up space for the baby, which, again we had planned to do that day.

Joe and I change our clothes (him in a Michigan t-shirt and me in my West Virginia Strong t-shirt because, yes), grab our pre-packed bags (something we did prepare correctly), made sure our dogs had food and water, and headed to the hospital, which is about a 30-minute drive from our house. At this point, I'm still doing fine and not really feeling too much pain. I try and call my mom, who doesn't answer her phone, which makes me laugh because is the second time I had called her recently and she didn't answer, which made me realize my family really had no sense of urgency about my imminent labor. I then try my dad, who answers. My parents had been planning to find out when I was in labor and then drive down to Atlanta, about an 8-hour drive from where they live in Huntington, West Virginia. When I tell my dad what is happening -- at this point what we think is happening -- Dad informs me that he and my mom are in Parkersburg at a family reunion. Parkersburg is about two hours north of Huntington, adding extra time on to their drive. There is clearly no one in this family -- including me -- who thought Bert was coming on time, let alone early. I'm still feeling good, although I'm starting to have very mild contractions. At this point, it's around 3 p.m.

Joe and I got to the hospital and went in and registered. At first there was a misunderstanding because the nurses thought I was due September 10, so they put me in Antepartum. While I was in the bathroom, I heard Joe tell the nurse I was 39 weeks, due August 10, so when I got back into the room the nurse had to wheel me over to labor and delivery. Hilariously, Joe and I ended up in the exact same L&D room we had toured only the week before. (Nothing like doing things last minute! There was a lady on that tour who wasn't due till February, and I'm like -- oh, I'm due in two weeks. Yeesh.) A nurse came in and tested to see if my water had broken, which indeed it had. No walk of shame for me! She also took my medical history. When I told her about my endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy, she told me her daughter had the exact same medical condition (hyperhidrosis), but they'd never heard of the surgery, so I told her I'd be happy to talk to her daughter at some point, proving there's no end to the amount of people who suffer from hyperhidrosis and think there's nothing that can help them. Eventually I got put on an IV, saw the midwife on duty, Mary Anne, and just kind of hung out. Joe and I did a few laps around the floor and at that point my contractions were getting worse. Still not unbearable, but definitely worse. Around 7 p.m. the first nurse left, and I was introduced to my night nurse, Cheryl, whom I loved. She was so great! Around 8 p.m. Mary Anne came back and told me that my body hadn't progressed as much as they were hoping it would -- at this point my water had been broken for 8 hours -- and they needed to start me on Pitocin. I was hoping not to have this happen, as I knew my mom had had to have it several times, and it's really no fun, but all along my birth plan has been to have a baby, so whatever was best for him and for me is what I was happy to do. Shortly after the Pitocin was started my contractions increased significantly. If you've had them before I don't need to describe how painful they are, and if you haven't had them before there's nothing I can say to describe how painful they are. All I could really do was breathe and stare at the ceiling while repeating uplifting things to myself. Not to be too sanctimonious, as I was definitely not in a place where I was uniting my suffering with Christ on the cross or anything -- it was more like me repeating over and over in my head, "This is bullshit" (sorry for the language, Mom) in the voice Joe uses to narrate the thoughts of Jane Austen, hilarious -- but I did realize that the Divine Mercy Chaplet refrain has the same amount of syllables -- 10 -- in the words before the comma and after, so it was really easy to repeat that as I tried to breathe since it's easy to remember and so even. So if you're picturing me doing that while simultaneously saying "This is bullshit" (sorry for the language, Mom) in my head, you'll about get it.

At some point, I really don't remember when but it had to have been right around the time I met Cheryl since Mary Anne was also getting off shift around that time, Mary Anne came and asked me if I wanted my epidural. I was in a lot of pain, but I was also surviving, so I asked her what she thought. At that point, Mary Anne gave me the following words of wisdom: This is only going to get harder. Appreciating her frankness, I opt in for the epidural right away. Luckily, the anesthesiologist was not far away, so he came pretty quickly. They made Joe sit down -- they wouldn't let him stand -- while I got my epidural. I was worried about the pain, but I agree with others who have said that a. labor pains are far worse and b. the only part that really hurts is the injection they give you to numb you, which really wasn't that bad. Joe told me later he's glad it wasn't that bad because he wouldn't have believed it seeing the size of the needle that went in my back. No thanks, didn't need to see that.

Labor went on for a while, but I didn't really feel too much thanks to the epidural. Joe and I tried to get some sleep, but we probably only got about 2-3 hours worth. My parents made it to Atlanta sometime around 2 a.m. My sisters Erin and Emma made it at some point, too. We met the new midwife, Barbara, sometime too. What ended up happening in the meantime was the nurses discovered that Bert's heart rate kept dropping if I was not lying in a specific position. He could not tolerate me on my back at all, and he favored me lying on my right side only. The nurses propped me up with pillows in certain areas to keep his heart rate up as much as possible. Needless to say, it was incredibly awkward and also painful as I didn't have the ability to decide how I'd like to lay there, much less sit up. They also made me wear an oxygen mask, which I didn't really love either. I spiked a fever of 100.1 overnight and had to be given IV Tylenol. Around 7 a.m. Cheryl left, which was really sad because I really liked her, and she introduced to me my new nurse, Ashley. Ashley and I had a really awkward first interaction, and at that point I was crying because a. I basically haven't slept in 24 hours, b. I haven't eaten in 12 hours, c. I'm not allowed to have water any more, and I have a really big fear of being thirsty, d. I'm scared and exhausted, and e. Ashley is now my delivery nurse. My epidural also was wearing off and I was in need of some help. Luckily, Ashley and I went on to work it out, and I'll tell you more about her later as she was a HUGE factor in the actual delivery process.

The day progressed until about, say, 1:00 p.m.-ish when I was (still) lying on my side, it was just Joe and me in the room, and I looked at him and was basically like I CANNOT DO THIS ANYMORE. Around that time, I felt this super strong urge to push, I was in a ton of pain, and I sent Joe out to find a nurse. I feel like they took their sweet time, but they probably didn't, and also I had been told that most first-timers push for 3 hours or so, so no one thinks delivery is imminent. Ashley also told me to get to a mental place where it might take a long time and there also would likely be tearing, and I appreciated her honesty. They had already prepped the room for delivery, so they were good to go. Ashley came in and checked me and told me that my cervix is gone, and it was about time. She taught me how to push, and we practiced a few times. Then she told me to stop and resist any urge to push. She gathered more nurses, Barbara the midwife, and the NICU team (standard practice at this hospital). They adjusted me where I needed to go, told Joe what to do, and everyone got into place. The next contraction happened, I took a breath and closed my eyes, and did what Ashley taught me to do. I heard Ashley's voice counting for me and also telling me to push harder and that I was doing a great job. At some point someone asked me if I though I could do this on my side. Apparently Bert's heart still couldn't take my lying on my back, even for delivery, so they turned me to my right side. Honestly, I felt like this was a bit easier, as one my legs was on the bed, so I didn't have to worry about pushing too much with my legs and not enough in the right spot. The hardest part of all of this (um, other than pushing a baby out) was when they went to flip me to my left side. For some reason, that was almost unbearable. But I did it, I kept pushing on my left side, Joe was there encouraging me, and I kept hearing Ashley's voice counting and telling me what a great job I was doing.

Finally, after 26 hours of labor and 32 minutes of pushing (I found out later), Robert David was born.  He is named after two of his great-grandfathers. Even if I hadn't heard everyone exclaim when he arrived, I'd have known it as my pain level went from 10 to 1 in about one second. I've never felt anything like it. I found out later, too, that everyone was super impressed I only had to push for 32 minutes. I kept telling people that there was no way I could have pushed for 3 hours. I feel like not only is that physically exhausting, but it would have to be mentally and emotionally defeating as well. God bless you if you've had to push for that long!

They put Bert on me, and basically I stared at him like -- Huh. Here is a baby. Haha. The hospital we delivered at has something called "Golden Hour" where, if there is not anything really wrong with the baby upon birth, they allow mom, dad, and baby to spend some alone time together before they weigh and measure the baby and clean him off. So Joe and I sat there with Bert for about an hour. We later found out he was 8 lbs. 6 oz. and measured an astounding 21.5" long. We also found out he has really big hands and feet, so we are happy to note he will have his pick of positions on his football team! (QB, wide receiver, kicker -- who knows?!) He was born Sunday, August 4 at 2:40 p.m., 6 days before his due date. He latched really well and began breastfeeding almost immediately, which should have been a huge indication of what a big eater he has turned out to be.

A note on Ashley: although Bert's birth certificate will list Barbara the midwife as the person who delivered Bert (and she was GREAT), in my mind it was Ashley who really delivered him. She taught me to push, she held my leg, and it was her voice I kept hearing throughout the whole process. After Golden Hour, I told Ashley how much I appreciated having her there, and she told me how much she loves her job. I also told her for months now I had been praying for good nurses since they are so important in the L&D process and basically run the world. I will never forget Ashley.

So that is the story of Bert! ... Part 1. Bert has a much bigger story that starts at the moment of his birth, but I will save that for another day. For now, this is the happy story of how we met Bert face to face.

EDIT: One of the biggest things I remember from labor is how thirsty I was. You can't drink water -- only ice chips -- after an epidural. I have a HUGE fear of being thirsty, and I told Joe so many times that I would kill for a drink of water. I said something to my mom about getting water just as soon as Bert was born, and she told me I probably wouldn't even think of it because I'd be so distracted after birth. A couple of minutes after Bert was born and they put him on my chest, I said to the midwife, "This sounds really selfish, but can I have my water now?" It was the best drink of water of my life!

*I regret not having made a bigger deal of my water breaking at Home Depot. I feel as though I could have at least gotten a gift card out of that. So don't make the same mistake I made! 

Happily Ever Krafter

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

In 2012 I started this blog under the name Anna Who is Magic, writing about everything from books to teaching to the single life to faith and everything in between. In the summer of 2019, I decided that I needed to update and re-brand my blog to reflect the changes that had taken place in my life since I started it, namely: my marriage, my relocation to Georgia, and my new baby boy. While there are certainly new topics to be written about, you will still find me talking a lot about books, teaching, faith, and everything in between! The new name of this blog was the idea of my friend Sarah, who came up with it to be used as the hashtag at Joe and my wedding. 

By trade I am a teacher, specifically in middle school Language Arts, and I have spent the past five years teaching in Catholic school, four in West Virginia and one in Atlanta. Teaching brings me SUCH joy, and I am blessed with former students who continue to stay in touch and meet me for lunch when I make it back to West Virginia to visit. With a new baby in our family, Joe and I decided that it would be best for me to stay at home with our son this year. While I am blessed by this opportunity to mother my son, I am also sad about not being in the classroom this year. Combining that with being in a new place, and realizing that I rely a lot on the writing of other women across the United States to feel empowered, connected, and supported, I decided that re-branding and continuing this blog would be a great way for me to feel purposeful and not alone this year. 

I was planning to re-brand and share before my son came, but in a fun twist of fate, I actually got everything set up with a new layout and a new url the day before I went into labor with him, 7 days before his due date. In the coming days, I plan to share his birth story as well as some other things I've had on my mind since his birth 10 days ago. 

As always, I love and appreciate you reading! More to come soon. In the meantime, here's a preview of my son, and follow me on 

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