Baby love

Ollie and me

Hi! I miss you guys. I miss this space. I miss shaping my disjointed thoughts into some sort of order, but . . . well. With a 6-week-old, I am more exhausted than I ever thought possible. My mom once told me that, reflecting back on my own newborn days, she couldn’t believe she could be so tired and still physically standing.

But Mr. Ollie is napping after his 6 a.m. feeding. I had the option of returning to the couch to try and catch a little more shut-eye, too, or popping on here to check in . . . and I chose you, friends. Anyone who has spent time caring for a newborn understands my grand gesture, right?

Oliver has been home for three weeks today. By the weekend, he will have been with us longer than he was in the hospital, which feels like a major milestone. Little by little, the chaos and pain of those early days has begun to dull. Slowly but surely, I find myself dwelling less on the minutiae of the NICU and our complicated early experiences as parents and focusing more on who this fella is already becoming: our sweet, lovable, sleepy baby man.

There are moments I feel very zen — calm, peaceful, in love with this child. And there are times I feel frazzled, worried, anxious. The two often coexist, rearing up within the same day, the same hour. I am in the waning days of my maternity leave, meaning work lurks just around the corner . . . and at one of our many 3 a.m. feedings, I started to panic thinking about how life will look in just a few weeks.

Change. Change again.

Being a mama is hard. I wasn’t naive enough to think it wouldn’t be, but I don’t think I was full prepared for the upheaval. (And broken sleep.)

But who or what can possibly prepare you for parenthood? For those 2 a.m. screams and endless dirty diapers and the responsibility, my God — the responsibility. The all-consuming need of this brand-new human: the one you love with your entire heart, though really? You’re still just getting to know each other.

Sometimes I think about how Ollie was with me for eight-ish months but how he was a concept, really — a beautiful concept that was kicking, yes, but not one I’d processed was actually coming into the world. In the very beginning, especially, I would stare at him in his little bassinet and think, That is a person. We made a person.

A pretty cute one, I think. Though I’m certainly biased.



Our days right now are . . . well, they’re pretty relaxed. Quiet. Oliver is a very easy, happy little baby. He eats every three hours and generally naps in between, so I try to get little projects done while he’s out. Perhaps thanks to his time in the NICU, Ollie is rarely affected by noise. Sudden sounds startle him, of course, but vacuuming? Hair dryers? Televisions? Loud conversations? Nothing.

For all my work around the house, though, I am also trying to relax. I haven’t had this much time off work since getting my first job at 18. Though it hasn’t been a vacation, I have enjoyed a break from the norm — a departure from all my regular duties. I’m catching up on things I normally don’t make time for, like all the movies and TV shows I’ve DVR’ed over the months. Ollie and I watched “The Fault In Our Stars” yesterday — I cried, unsurprisingly — and read together frequently, both his books and mine.

I would have been 39 weeks pregnant tomorrow, so we’re still in the very early days — and his patterns could all change. Preemies sometimes “wake up” close to their due dates, suddenly undergoing a personality shift — or an energy surge. Heck, according to his adjusted age, Ollie is currently -1 weeks old! I suspect things will change.

And I’m okay with that.

I’m learning to be okay . . . with lots of things. Our sudden entrance into parenthood has taught me to adapt, after all — and be loose. Not to plan too much or too far, and trust that the pieces will fall into place with patience. That’s never been my strong suit — patience — but I’m trying there, too.

For all the early mornings, late nights and exhaustion in between, I look into Ollie’s face and feel my heart split open with love. We can already look back at his first photos — taken in the NICU, with wires and monitors covering his little body — and see the tremendous progress he’s made. He’s nearly doubled his birth weight and sized out of teeny preemie clothes weeks ago. (That’s his very first onesie on top of him, below.)


Preemie clothes


He “smiles” all the time — an adorable, gummy look that usually follows a healthy dose of milk. Sometimes he “chuckles,” too: a long smile that looks like a noiseless laugh. When he’s awake, Ollie is always taking in the world around him — and is already fascinated by ceiling fans. He occasionally makes eye contact, but still seems to be figuring out who the heck we are.

And that’s fine. We know exactly who he is.

And man, we love him so.


Reading between naps

As I assumed would happen after little Ollie’s arrival, my reading has been all over the place.

There are times I can binge-read for hours, feeling focused and content with a sleepy baby in my arms. And other times I’m a knotty-haired, stone-cold mess who can barely open an eyeball to take in the news, let alone get lost in a complicated novel.

Ah, life with a newborn.

But I’m not me when I’m not reading. In the months before my actual due date, I had ambitions to choose a “meaningful” book for the time period of his birth. I didn’t know if I’d have a chance to actually read in the hospital, but I wanted something special and dear to help usher my mama heart into the next phase of life.

I don’t remember what I was reading before my wedding, but I do remember the book I brought to my first date with Spencer: Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. Back in my online dating days, I quickly figured out I liked arriving before my date so I could scope out a good table and settle my nerves. Getting there “a little early” — say, 10 minutes, like a normal person — quickly became a half hour or more, so I took to reading to kill the time.

Plus, you know, I thought it made me look sophisticated.

Choosing “the book” for Oliver’s birth changed when, of course, I became sick with preeclampsia and he arrived eight weeks early. We didn’t have a hospital bag packed before I was admitted, so I had Spence grab whatever was on my nightstand — along with my trusty Kindle — for the long haul.

My family brought magazines; I had the world accessible through my e-reader. But in the chaos of that week-long hospital stay and Oliver’s birth, I barely read a thing. My concentration? Shot. I did finish one book — a simple love story — but forgot the plot almost immediately afterward.

It’s been almost five weeks since Ollie’s birth . . . and I’ve actually finished a few novels. I don’t know when I’m reading, exactly, because I feel like a zombie about 90 percent of the time. Oliver eats every three hours and hasn’t yet mastered the idea of day/night, so he’s awake from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. pretty consistently. We are, too, of course.

Sometimes I watch TV — all I have the energy to do. But other times (magical times, really), I can muster the strength to grab my Kindle. It’s beautifully easy to cuddle a newborn in one arm with an e-reader in the other, and this book-loving mama made sure to begin practicing that skill immediately.

I can’t tax the ol’ brain too much, though. I’ve been popping into lighthearted, easy-to-read stories like Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret and Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. I stumbled across Kimberly Rae Miller’s Coming Clean, a memoir of the author growing up in a hoarding household, and read that fast, too.



And I’ve been reading to the little guy, of course. We brought books to the hospital so I could introduce him to Eric Carle, a childhood favorite, but I wanted the first book we shared in his nursery to be really special. With the sunshine streaming in, I grabbed a gifted copy of Dr. Seuss’ classic Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

And I cried, of course, holding this tiny baby while talking and thinking and hoping for his winding, unknowable future. Though Ollie’s room doesn’t have a “theme,” per say, Dr. Seuss features prominently. We have a favorite Seuss quote ready to hang and a “One Fish, Two Fish” mobile above the crib he’ll sleep in after moving up from his bassinet . . . someday.

Someday. Some magical, sparkly day.

After the weeks of chaos following his early birth, I finally feel like we’re settling into a routine. Life with a baby in the house is definitely insane — both easier and harder than I was expecting — but full of beautiful little moments, too. I’m gaining a lot of confidence as a parent and Ollie’s caretaker; Spencer and I have changed hundreds of diapers, given dozens of bottles, changed onesies and socks and given our first bath.

Though it probably sounds silly now, those were things that worried me just a few months ago. Fear of the unknown, you know? But if there’s anything I’ve learned from being catapulted into parenthood, it’s this: you’ll figure it out. I was initially panicked that I hadn’t washed his clothes or gotten the nursery together or read the first chapters of the child care book my mom got me. There were just so many things that I thought I had to do, you know?

But we didn’t. When in doubt, we Google. The baby laundry was done and folded in no time. What we didn’t already have — like preemie clothes and diapers — made its way to us through generous friends and family, and the things that would have once paralyzed me with fear — NICU stays! insurance calls! leaving work early! childbirth! — just sort of . . . worked out.

It helps that I’ve changed, too. Though always a calendar-keeping planner, I’ve realized you can’t always shape life into perfect, convenient squares arranged in the pattern of your choosing . . . and I’m a much happier person when I just surrender and adapt. Digging my heels in the sand serves no one. And when pressed? I am capable. Strong. I can handle it.

So many lessons from this crazy, glorious, hard and wonderful time in our lives.

Ones I’ll continue to ponder . . . between naps.

Especially when my Kindle battery finally gives out.


. . . And he’s home

ollie and me

Just in time for Mother’s Day weekend, our little Oliver was able to come home last Thursday . . . and I’ve barely slept since.

I’m exaggerating — but only slightly.

It’s just that he’s so little . . . and he makes so many sounds. There’s the dirty diaper cry, the “Lady, how’s about that bottle?” cry, the belly pressure cry. Our first night home, I was truly a mess. Everything startled him, and everything startled me. He just seems so vulnerable.

After almost a month in the NICU, where Ollie was cared for by an attentive staff, he was turned loose to Spencer and me. I’d gotten so used to the monitors, wires and nurses hovering nearby that I had a panic attack before discharge. Though Ollie requires no special medical attention, I still couldn’t imagine how we were supposed to care for our preemie without professional help.

Don’t you have to, like, prove your qualifications to be handed a helpless child? Isn’t there a form to fill out, a test to take, some sort of ground to cover?

For as much as we often wanted to sprint out of the hospital with him, there was still comfort — reassurance — there. Those folks know what they’re doing, after all — and we do not. Not like that. But his nurses taught us about his little quirks and budding personality. Since we were only able to be there for a few hours each day, they were his caretakers. We were frequent visitors.

For two novice parents, the knowledge shared in the NICU has been invaluable. I’ve made no bones about how little I know about babies, how nervous I am around newborns. I usually avoid them out of terror and apprehension. I usually politely refuse offers to hold them, worrying about their cute squirms and floppy necks . . . so it seemed a crazy (cruel?) twist of fate that Spencer and I would, in fact, get a tiny baby even more fragile than most.

“You’re really not going to break him,” his nurses would assure me, sensing my hesitation at his bedside. Nervous and still recovering from childbirth, I often differed to Spencer for his care at the hospital. I usually flopped in a nearby chair, content to take photos and just breathe.


Ollie waves


But the time came to get myself together. My mama instincts finally came in.

We spent hours learning to change diapers, give baths, offer bottles, give comfort . . . and I wanted desperately to bring him home, especially late at night and early in the morning. When I was pregnant, those were his “active” times — the times I could feel him kicking, grabbing my husband’s hand as we talked about this mystery baby and dreamed little dreams for him.

When we came home without Oliver, ravaged and shocked by his early arrival, I couldn’t bear to see night come. I felt so empty — physically and emotionally — that I just prayed to fall asleep and not think about anything, anything at all. I often wrote in a wild fury, words strung together that I never shared; I’ll probably never read them again. In the first week, especially, I was just sad and angry and wrung out.

Though the NICU nurses were wonderful, it was hard not to feel angry at times. That’s my baby, I’d think, feeling jealous and weird when one of his caretakers fussed over him. I had to remind myself constantly that I am his mom. I just felt displaced and in the way, toting my tiny containers of pumped breast milk and trying not to cry at his isolette.

I felt robbed, honestly. Robbed of the last two months of my pregnancy, which we’d planned and anticipated; robbed of a more peaceful birth experience without the anxiety, fear and guilt of preeclampsia and early labor. I was mad that our families, eagerly anticipating their first grandchild and nephew, had to experience all that worry with us.

But I’m working on letting that go. It doesn’t serve me to think of what might have, could have or “should” have been; there is nothing I could have done differently to change what happened in April. And he’s here now, and he is perfect.

“We get bonus Ollie time,” I say.



I’m sure that, in the months to come, the chaos of it will fade. To some extent, it already has. I can look over now and see our son in his bassinet, kicking his feet in baby dreams. Though I gave birth a month ago, I feel like we actually had a baby on May 7. Bundling him up for the car ride home and waving goodbye to our favorite nurse is a moment I won’t forget.

As any parent of a newborn can kindly tell me, these early days have been tough. But I cherish them because they are, in fact, “normal” — and normalcy is something I crave. Ollie’s early arrival, my own illness and his month in the hospital complicated what is already a challenging time, and we’re processing.

Though he is a sweet, easygoing baby, Ollie doesn’t sleep when anyone else prefers to sleep. Which is to say: at night. I knew this would be hard, but the exhaustion is something else entirely. And after seven months of living a caffeine-free existence, I am hitting the coffee hard. Spence had a pot brewed on Mother’s Day morning, and the pair of us wandered the kitchen like zombies throughout the day.

But there’s a beauty in that, too. The bleary-eyed new parents, clinging to each other like buoys as their newborn howls nearby; the piles of laundry and stacks of fresh diapers, the spilled baby powder and mounds of bottles. It’s a familiar scene — and ours now, too.

Like all things in life, I know this is only temporary. That floods me with relief and sadness — joy and pain both. I think about when Ollie will be big enough to stand in his crib and reach his arms up to us, and the nights he’ll turn the pages of his picture books himself. When he’ll stop trailing me through the house, running out to meet friends instead. The bittersweet flavor of those moments dissolves on my tongue.

So I focus. I relish. I try to stay in these moments, difficult and fuzzy and milk-soaked though they may be.

Last night, my husband held him gently and brushed his nose over his downy-soft hair. Oliver was swallowed up in Spencer’s arms, his little hands flexing as though in a wave.

“Can you believe that, someday, he could be taller than us?” I whispered.


Spence and Ollie


We are already developing new routines, schedules. Ollie gets bigger each day, pushing us closer to the blessed time we’ll all get a few unbroken hours of sleep. And then I’ll be crying at his high school graduation and helping him pack for college and deciding none of his floozy girlfriends are anywhere close to good enough, so.

In the meantime, we’re trying to rest. Clean. Work on our new normal. Though I’m still sorting through those Feelings I have about Oliver’s birth, our weeks visiting him in the hospital, my crazy entrance into motherhood and how we’re adjusting as a family, I’m focused more on the day-to-day at home while I can. Four of my six weeks off work were used — poof — before Ollie even came home, so we have logistics to sort out as well.

And we will. I know we will. Every major life change I’ve experienced — many in the last two years — has seemed overwhelming and a little scary at first . . . and motherhood, though thrilling, is no different. I’m proud that I’ve made it this far without major meltdowns and so impressed with my patient, loving husband, who has already proven himself to be the best dad to Ollie.

In the meantime, I savor the quiet moments we share these days: rocking in the nursery with his wide eyes searching mine; our 3 a.m. bottles in the quiet, dark house; the drowsy, sleepy smiles he offers like clockwork after mealtime. Sometimes I look at him and think, How did this happen? How is he mine? and I laugh, because life so often feels like beautiful happenstance.

And I’m grateful.


Oliver William: A Birth (and Love) Story

I first met my son at three in the morning.

I was sweaty, and tired, and shaky. My hair was matted and, with my old glasses, my vision blurred at the edges. Oliver William had been in the world for 29 hours, and he’d spent all of them in an isolette in a neonatal intensive care unit a floor below the curtained-off room where I was coming off a magnesium sulfate drip.

He was the most beautiful, surreal thing I’d ever seen.


Our story begins weeks before the balmy spring Sunday he entered the world. I had a fairly normal pregnancy until I began to swell in March, my limbs getting puffy and painful around the time I reached the third trimester.

My blood pressure was on my doctors’ radar from my first OB appointment in October, but it wasn’t under constant surveillance . . . at first. When my readings began to trend high, I underwent frequent tests at my appointments to check for protein and other issues. I’d heard the term “preeclampsia” before, but had little concept of what it was — or how it would come to apply to us.

In the week before Oliver’s birth, my husband and I had made in-and-out hospital visits twice — including late on Easter Sunday. We have a blood pressure cuff at home and had taken to checking my readings . . . only to find the numbers were consistently scary. On Easter, my reading at 10 p.m. was 170/120.

On each of those early visits, I was monitored for a few hours with regular blood pressure checks and hooked up to a fetal monitor. The baby was active, strong and happy, so there was little sense of urgency in the beginning. My readings would always drop to a more manageable level — 142/90, say — at the hospital, so we would stay for a few hours and head home under orders to rest and check in with my OB again the next day.

On April 8, I used my lunch break for a blood pressure check at my regular OB. I left in a hurry — not even bothering to turn off my computer or grab my leftovers from the fridge. My coworkers and boss were aware I’d been having some difficulties, but I wasn’t yet aware of the seriousness myself. I said goodbye to my friends without realizing I wouldn’t be back for months.

That appointment didn’t go well, of course. I was sent back to the local hospital. Spencer met me there, thinking it was another routine monitoring, but this time felt different. I’d been taking medication to lower my blood pressure for a few days without any change, and I knew a third hospitalization in less than a week was serious.

I laid in a hospital bed down the hall from a woman in labor, listening to her wail and scream. I remember thinking how scary it sounded, but felt oddly jealous of the relief she must feel to have it over with. I’ve been nervous about childbirth since learning about childbirth, but there was no part of me that thought I’d be having a baby that weekend. I assumed I was heading for bed rest — possibly hospital bed rest — and had a long month ahead of me.

I was right . . . in some ways. Totally wrong in others.


The woman down the hall had her baby at 8:30 p.m. I watched the clock — about the only thing I had to do — while Spencer ran home to pack a bag with phone chargers, snacks, a change of clothes, toiletries. For months my sister had been asking me if I was “prepared” with those sorts of things, and I’d been indignant about the fact that we had months until we’d be hurrying to a hospital. What was the rush?

When Spence returned, we didn’t have any answers — but I was moved down the hall so the baby and I could be monitored overnight. More tests were conducted, and my mom and sister were with us on Thursday. I was swollen, tired and cranky, plus feeling guilty about my poor husband sleeping upright in the world’s most uncomfortable chair. I kept waking up to look at him, wishing desperately we were in our own house. That none of this was happening.

To compound the chaos, my mother-in-law was flying in while I was hospitalized. Our baby shower was Saturday, April 11 (at our house.), and all the final preparations were underway. I was agonizing over potentially missing this event — something my mom, sister and I had been discussing for months. We’d spent hours getting excited about and working on the details, and I knew how stressful this was getting . . . for everyone.

My dad picked up my mother-in-law at the airport that Thursday — the same night I thought I’d be returning home to rest. Though there was talk of my release in the evening, everything changed quickly around 8 p.m. With my blood pressure still high and the results of my tests in hand, my doctor arrived to talk about preeclampsia.

Transfer.
Ambulances.
Getting to a hospital with a NICU.
Taking steroid shots to help the baby’s lungs before delivery.

Delivery.

The word echoed like a gunshot.

I got my first steroid shot, was hooked up to a magnesium drip, felt like my skin and arms and life were on fire and laid mute and desolate in a side room as another woman down the hall had an emergency C-section. Spencer never left my side for more than a few moments.

At 1 a.m., I took my first ambulance ride. The crew arrived to transfer us to a large Baltimore hospital with a NICU, something our local facilities lacked; we were admitted in the middle of the night. I arrived in the same room where, two days later, our baby would enter the world, but all I knew then was that I was scared and thirsty and wanted to be anywhere, anywhere but there.

Spencer and I held hands and talked and pressed our heads together. When I think back on that week, all I see is his face close to mine reminding me to breathe, that everything would be all right — even if we weren’t always sure that would be true. When you marry someone, their qualifications as a partner and parent haven’t necessarily been challenged.

Spence and I had our love and our commitment — and we’re the very best of friends. But we’d never been tested. Not like this.

In every way it’s possible to pass, my Spencer did. I can’t imagine how I would have survived without him. He wore so many hats: taking care of me, contacting our worried families, becoming the chief communicator manning both of our cell phones . . . needless to say, I quickly learned that Oliver was going to have a hell of a dad. And even in the haze, that made me so happy and proud.

Saturday, April 11 — the day of the shower — was hard. We were moved to a corner room on the seventh floor with a beautiful view of Baltimore, but the sunshine and blossoming trees and well-intentioned text messages from family and friends seemed to cause physical pain. Though there was a brief ray of hope that we’d be discharged, that things weren’t that serious, I knew in my heart that we were in it for the long haul.

Our doctor came in around 7 a.m. to tell me, quite sympathetically, that I wasn’t leaving. They were still monitoring my blood pressure (high) and urine protein (also high). Though they believed it could be gestational hypertension, preeclampsia was still the beast lurking around every corner. Each time a nurse came in to check my pressure, my heart began to pound. Everything seemed to be resting on a number — those two numbers — and the stress was making me crazy.

From talking to our doctor on Saturday, I knew I wasn’t going home until after I had our baby. Whether that was after a month of hospital bed rest or much (much) sooner, my body was struggling. Little Oliver was still safe in there, but an ultrasound revealed a few potential issues with my placenta and how the high blood pressure was affecting my uterus.

Nothing sounded good. Everything sounded terrifying, in fact.

We used FaceTime to participate in the baby shower from afar, which helped dull the pain a little, but I was abjectly miserable. A cousin and aunt surprised us at the hospital, bringing balloons and cupcakes and gifts, and it was wonderful to see them . . . but I was so scared and sad, it took all my energy not to cry the entire time.

Somehow, the day passed. Spencer and I laid in our room facing a historic tower, watching the sun sink lower and cast the skyline in golden light. We didn’t talk much, just held hands and got lost in our own thoughts. It felt like the room was holding its breath with us, waiting. After the shower ended, we rarely saw or spoke to anyone.

Around 4 a.m., I woke up with terrible heartburn — especially strange given I’d barely eaten anything the day before. Food and drink are off-limits with a magnesium drip, so I felt sick and low. Ever alert, Spence woke up and got a nurse for me. A dose of heartburn medication did nothing, and I developed a pounding headache.

Our doctor appeared again in the pale light of early morning. I was awake, staring out the window, watching colors appear and lights blink off; Spencer was, too, just stroking my needle-studded hand. Waiting.

I don’t remember what the doctor said. I remember his calm face telling us that I was going into severe preeclampsia — just as they’d feared — and that, with my high blood pressure, I was in danger of having seizures or a stroke. Bed rest and medication would not cure this; I was too far gone. Nothing would cure it but having our baby. The safest thing to do — for both of us — was to deliver.

I was 32 weeks, 2 days pregnant. He was due June 5, a date I’d recited countless times in seven months. A date I’d circled, starred, color-coded on my Google calendar.

But April 12 would be his birthday.


I was induced around 10 a.m., then spent 12 hours in and out of sleep. I took any medication I was offered, floating freely through childhood memories after a powerful dose of Stadol. I apparently told Spencer I was back at my grandparents’ home, the place where my sister and I spent hours after school and every summer; we were playing with dolls and Barbies, lost in our games.

I was high as a kite, honestly — “tasting purple,” as a nurse joked. I barely remember the afternoon, but it’s probably better that way.

Our families arrived in Baltimore. My parents, Spencer’s parents, my sister and brother-in-law all camped out to wait for news. Spencer waited until I was sleeping to disappear and update them.

The day wore on. I was oblivious to most of it. I woke occasionally in pain as the contractions revved up, clutching my husband’s hand and waiting to hear how dilated I’d become. By mid- to late afternoon, I was at 4 centimeters and given an epidural. Spencer had to leave the room while it was administered and, for the first time, I became my own coach.

If you’ve had a baby, you know the rest. If you haven’t, you probably don’t want to.

At 9:57 p.m., we welcomed our Oliver into the world. His cry was mighty and immediate; a nurse lifted him high enough for me to see and called out, “Happy birthday!” I began to cry as Spencer cut the cord.

I saw him bundled for just a moment, kissed his cheek shakily, and he was off.


The days after are a blur. Safely ensconced in the NICU, Oliver was breathing on his own and doing better than we could have hoped from the beginning. It was a day and a half before I was well enough to be wheeled down to see him, and I’ll never forget peeking into the isolette to see my tiny son bundled in the semi-darkness.

Everything felt like a dream. Even after he was placed on my chest — this sweet, sleepy, whimpering little guy — and nuzzled beneath my chin, I kept thinking, This is my son. This is my son? and trying to sort out the ten thousand conflicting thoughts in my head.

It just happened so fast. None of it was in “the plan.” For starters, I couldn’t rationalize that I was no longer pregnant. I could not comprehend that this was my baby. I couldn’t process that I’d actually given birth, something I’d been simultaneously anticipating and dreading, and survived. It was over. He is here.

He is here.

Our darling, darling son.


Ollie smiles


So everything has been . . . surreal.

Oliver is now two and a half weeks old, is eating completely by bottle (no feeding tube!), has had his IV removed and generally gets cuter and stronger every day. He rarely fusses and mostly naps; we go up to visit as much as we can, which is much easier now that he is closer to us at a new hospital outside of Baltimore.

Oh, my emotions. They tumble and fly and toss me about — a ragged sea of feeling all the feelings, usually in rapid succession. I’m filled with such overwhelming love for this little boy, it’s an ache. I’m so excited to see him each day, but paralyzed with anxiety when we have to leave.

Spencer and I have gone from total NICU novices to pros, meeting so many kind families in a similar boat and feeling supported by friends, family and strangers alike. I can’t believe the messages, emails and gifts we’ve received; we are so grateful for all of them.

We met a woman Monday who just delivered her third preterm baby and, standing in the parking lot after leaving the NICU, she told us that — before we know it — Oliver will be home, healthy and happy . . . and this will all be nothing but a memory. She was calm and collected as I stood before her, fragile and half-broken and teary.

Sometimes I think, I hope I don’t remember any of this. Other times, well — I hope I remember all of it. As Oliver continues to grow (and give us his happy little milk smiles!), we’ve been taking the advice of a new friend and trying to document everything we’re seeing, doing and feeling. I’ve taken hundreds of photos and sometimes pull them up side by side, already marveling at the difference between April 12 and today.

Each day is a new day.


IMG_6688_cropped


Entering the NICU is like stepping into a parallel world. I mostly curl up in a chair by his isolette to slip a finger into his little hand or, when we arrive at feeding times, hug him close with a bottle. Spence and I take turns; he is amazing with him. My own confidence increases with each hand-off, hug and diaper change, and I’m already far from the fragile, nervous woman I was just a month ago. Heck, a few weeks ago.

Because I’m a parent.

My goodness, I’m his mom.

It happened much faster than we would have ever wanted and the circumstances were less than ideal, but I get stronger every day — and so does Ollie. In my better moments, I feel capable and accepting. In the darker ones, well . . . less so.

But I cling tightly to the advice from other NICU parents: that once we get our little guy home, this chapter will close and life — beautiful, unpredictable, amazing life — will blossom. And we will be okay.

Better than okay, even.

Because we’re a family.


Family


More than anything, I’m grateful. Grateful Spencer forced me to take care of myself and Ollie when I was frightened and in denial. Grateful for the doctors who noticed the right signs at the right moment, and for the medical staff who cared for me during the scariest time of my life. So, so grateful for the NICU nurses who continue to care for our sweet baby and also soothe our own concerns each day.

I’m thankful for our amazing families, who rallied around to care for us physically and emotionally, and will love their nephew, grandchild and great-grandchild just as much as we do. The cards, emails, Instagram and Facebook comments from friends have buoyed our spirits, and we are so appreciative of the presents and offers to help.

At the firm encouragement of a social worker, I’m learning to say “yes.” It’s so hard for me to do. I hate to inconvenience anyone, to feel as if I’m burden; I thrive on self-sufficiency. But we say “yes, yes, thank you” to most everything now: rides, meals, help, prayers. Yes to everything. Yes to anything that can help us help our Ollie.

I’ll never forget the support we’ve received.

Also, I’m a hugger now.


Though we don’t yet know when Oliver will come home, he gets bigger and stronger every day. We’re definitely heading in a homeward direction — and that is a huge comfort — but he has a few tasks to accomplish before he’s ready.

I’m okay with that. I’ve made my peace with it. I trust that he is in the best place possible, where he is being looked after by caring professionals who know far more than his nervous parents do. While I can’t wait until he’s home with us, I’m also scared. The NICU isn’t anyone’s idea of paradise, but it’s become familiar. A known entity. With time, I suppose, anything will.

But we will learn. We can’t wait to learn! Spence and I have already absorbed so much about preemies, newborns and, most importantly, Ollie himself. So many of the things I was nervous about — child birth, breastfeeding — are either something I’ve now done or something I do every day. I figured it out. Trial by fire.

We’ve developed a new normal with Ollie in the NICU, but the real adventure begins when he gets home.

I’ve channeled much of my energy into washing his new clothes, organizing his toys, getting his nursery ready . . . and Spence has been putting together furniture, hanging curtains, painting. Our energy gets pooled nightly to tackle projects both big and small, and working on his room has given me a productive way to feel close to him when he’s far away.

Despite all that, we still have yet to finish.

But somehow, I think he understands.


He’s here

Oliver and me

Oliver William made his unexpected but much celebrated debut at 9:57 p.m. on Sunday, April 12!

At 3 lbs., 9 oz., he is our tiny and precious little one. Though he was eight weeks early, Ollie is already a fighter who amazes us every day. He is being well taken care of until he’s ready to come home with us, and we hope fervently that moment is coming soon.

Having a baby is a beautiful, life-shattering thing . . . and having to go home while our little one remains in the NICU has been one of the most heartbreaking experiences of my life. I don’t know how we would have survived the last week without our families, and I definitely could not have survived any of this without Spencer. He held me up — literally. In every way possible.

I’ll share his birth story in the weeks to come . . . likely when I’ve had more time to process it all, and hopefully when we’re able to hold him constantly in our arms. In the meantime, you’ll likely see radio static here. I have a million things to say but no idea how to say them, but I know I’ll need to find a way as we press on.

‘Til then, we’ll be daydreaming and driving up to see our little love. We already know the roads by heart.


That sweet bird feeder life

Bird

I never thought I’d turn into a crazy bird lady.

Or, um, a faithful Walmart shopper.

But here we are. Ah, the suburban life.

At some point in the homeownership/adulthood process, Walmart — and its seasonal department — became our new hotspot. You know you’ve settled into married life when a stroll through the potted plants, bird baths and mulch is fine entertainment . . . especially when combined with a trip to Lowe’s. (Likely your third that week.)

My pregnancy-addled feet are so swollen that walking anywhere is a chore right now, so I prefer to lean on the cart and waddle behind my energetic husband. Now that spring is here, with trees beginning to bud and our dormant yard is coming back to life, my husband has big plans for grass and gardens and grilling.

All the Gs, basically.

Our bird feeder — like a new grill — was a bit of an impulse buy. While I’m more of a saver than a spender, especially with Baby J on the way, I was lured by the idea of having a cute spot for birds to hang out. Our persistent cardinal and his girlfriend are still around, tapping on windows and loitering in Bradford pear trees, along with lots of other birdies. I love to hear their trilling in the woods behind the house.

Armed with a new cedar feeder and a starter bag of seed, Spence suspended the birdies’ cafeteria from the deck railing near our living room. It’s visible from where I typically plant myself on the couch, giant feet propped on the coffee table, and we’ve already gotten hours of enjoyment out of it.

First of all, there is nonstop traffic trying to land at the feeder. I can look out at any given moment and find birds coming in for a landing or quickly departing, depending on who is in charge, and usually they sort of . . . line up along the railing for a turn. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of chaos.

We’ve seen blue jays and woodpeckers, our cardinals and tiny bluebirds. And lots I can’t identify. Some are pudgy and stout, others lean and aggressive. Some prefer the feeder all to themselves while their compatriots are happy to share.

I spend a lot of time staring at birds.

And I’m oddly okay with it.


Tree


There are times I still miss our condo, conveniently centered in a neighboring town. It was the first place Spencer lived without roommates and the first place we lived together as a married couple. I miss the gorgeous sunsets painting the sky from the second floor, and I miss walking to restaurants and bars when we wanted to combine exercise with a deliciously fattening pub dinner.

But we’re coming up on one year since we bought the house and moved. Though it was a process getting here, it has completely become “home” to me. I can run my hands along walls in the dark to feel for light switches I know to be there. Though I still have those weird moments where I don’t feel old enough to have my own place, let alone my own place with my husband, that has faded. And I’m sure will only fade further when our little boy is here.

Hanging the bird feeder feels domestic — and permanent — in a way that few other home tasks have. Though we still talk about the condo, living on our own in the woods is actually . . . pretty great.

Until the bird seed runs out — and those buggers totally turn on us.

Speaking of which . . . er, better run to Walmart.


Book chat: ‘The Precious One’ by Marisa de los Santos

The Precious OneTaisy Cleary thought she’d finally banished him. After her father abandoned the family when she and her twin brother, Marcus, had just turned 18, Taisy made it her mission to press on without the dominating, controlling, sneering Wilson Cleary. With his pregnant second wife quickly ready to welcome a new daughter, his first wants only to exorcise him.

Wilson makes it his mission to protect Willow, this precious babe, from all the world’s hurts. As his third child lives a sheltered, academically-rich life under her father’s tender wing, Taisy and Marcus work to erase difficult Wilson from their lives. And they succeed — mostly — for 17 years. But after learning of her father’s recent heart attack, Taisy is shocked to receive an invitation back to the hometown she fled so long ago.

Faced with a surly teenage half-sister, dreamy stepmother and father who remains as self-obsessed as ever, Taisy is also confronted with memories of another man she lost so long ago: her first love, Ben. Returning to the Delaware town where she’d once been so happy, she hopes to forge new connections . . . just as her sister needs her the most.

Lyrical, thought-provoking and filled with memorable characters, Marisa de los Santos’ The Precious One challenges our notions of family, loyalty and second chances. Though it got off to a slow start for me, I became lost in the beautiful language and sucked into the world of the complicated, broken Clearys.

In chapters alternating between Taisy and Willow’s viewpoints, the story begins with Taisy estranged from her father and his second family — but still faced with a longing to understand, and be understood by, her dad. While her brother has long given up on Wilson, Taisy can’t seem to shake her strange, misguided feelings of loyalty to the man who destroyed to their once-strong family unit. Even decades later, she can’t help wondering . . . why?

With Wilson now in his 70s and in questionable health, he calls his oldest daughter — a writer — for a favor: to ghostwrite his life story, one of his marvelous mind. An unquestionable genius, Wilson places education and knowledge above all else. His daughter, Willow, was molded in his image: a brilliant, savvy young woman who thinks easily for herself . . . but can’t function away from her father’s grasp.

Public high school is a new circle of hell for Willow. With Wilson unable to continue her homeschooling, she enters eleventh grade without any of the grasp of culture or social norms. And it’s painful. When the author has us join Willow in a dirty stairwell where she’s somberly eating her lunch alone, I ached for her. Who hasn’t felt like the misfit?

And that’s why it’s so easy to understand how she is quickly adopted by a new mentor: her English teacher, a 30-year-old man who easily quotes poetry and Shakespeare but harbors dubious intentions. The Precious One is as much the story of a family as it is one of predation and loneliness, hope and belief.

I related to Taisy — in her thirties, still smarting with the dissolution of her first love — and with Willow, this sad and lovely girl who can’t understand just how sad and lovely she really is. No matter your age, there is probably a bit of Taisy and Willow in all of us: people who still seek the approval of their parents, regardless of what’s come to pass between them. Willow’s fondest hope is to never make a mistake, and Taisy’s is to atone for her worst one of all.

Can you tell I liked this book? I really liked this book. I read it almost entirely in one afternoon with my swollen pregnant feet propped on a coffee table, lost in the Clearys and their myriad issues . . . swept up in the idea of Wilson’s mysterious past and how much he inflicted his own issues upon his unsuspecting children.

Though I didn’t feel we got the most satisfying story arc from Wilson’s history, I appreciated Taisy’s desire to dig deeper — to try and find the root of what made this man so calculated, austere and cold (to everyone but Willow, that is). As Willow begins to clear a small path in the real world outside her parents’ arms, I felt a surge of protection for her . . . even though my loyalty was, for the most part, with Taisy.

The evolution of the sisters’ relationship is at the heart of the story. Though we have sinister subplots peeking into the crevices between paragraphs, Willow and Taisy finding solace and camaraderie in one another — and the changes they help bring to each other’s lives — was moving, to say the least. Though Willow would have never admitted to needing a “sister” around (and Taisy could never imagine being that sister), their changing dynamic was my favorite part of The Precious One.

With a satisfying conclusion and engrossing plot, Marisa de los Santos presents a winning novel that swept me up with its gorgeous prose and compelling characters. This family isn’t one I’ll soon forget.


4.5 out of 5

Pub: 2015 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor on Facebook
Complimentary copy provided via TLC Book Tours for review consideration