Here comes Hadley Rose

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Spencer and I met seven years ago today.

As I type, our infant daughter — our sweet second child — is snoozing next to me, her tiny hands clasped beneath her chin.

Hadley Rose arrived on March 10 — 17 days before her due date. At nearly 38 weeks pregnant, I wasn’t technically full-term, but you know what? After our premature journey with her brother, it wasn’t even a blip on my radar. She arrived hollering and beautiful, 6 pounds and 12 ounces of joy.

It started that Thursday. I actually had my stuff together enough to throw steak and vegetable soup in the slow cooker that morning, chopping vegetables before Oliver woke up. I wore a cute tunic. I did my hair. As though I knew that would be my last “normal” morning, I enjoyed a cup of coffee over “Good Morning America” and rejoiced in the quiet before my toddler started calling from upstairs.

Dropped Ollie off at daycare. Drove north. When I ran into a Wawa before work, I noticed quite a few men tripping over themselves to help me as I dropped or reached for things. I’ve been visibly pregnant since the fall, but I can’t say I noticed much “special treatment.” Which, you know, is fine. I consider holding doors to be a basic human courtesy, you know?

But these guys were holding doors. Like, standing there and waiting for me because they were concerned such a super pregnant lady wouldn’t make it over the threshold unassisted.

I texted my husband about that afterward. “Guess I really look ready to pop,” I wrote.

My 37-week appointment with my doctor was just after noon. Her office is directly behind my own, so I usually walk, but something told me that extra exertion wasn’t a good idea! So I made the 60-second drive and headed in, taking in the curious glances of other patients. Seeing their tiny bellies for contrast, I definitely felt ready to explode.

My blood pressure was slightly elevated during my exam. After my experiences with preeclampsia, developing the severe complication at 32 weeks pregnant with my first child, we’ve been on red-alert for any anomalies since I learned I was expecting. But my blood pressure has been fine. It was still OK that Thursday — but had jumped 20 points from the previous week.

My OB initially ordered blood tests and said she’d call me the next day with the results. But after a third high-ish reading with a nurse, she met me in the hallway instead. I knew what she was going to say.

“Labor & Delivery?” I asked, already mentally running through who I needed to call (Spencer, namely). We’d been through this rodeo before.

“I would just feel better,” she said, noting that they could run tests and hook me up to monitors that would confirm everything was fine sooner than she could.

At the hospital where I’d once hoped to deliver Oliver, I hung out in a triage room in L&D listening to another woman in labor down the hall — just as I had two years ago, waiting to learn our fate as I got sicker. Honestly, I’m proud of myself. I did not panic. I had serious post-traumatic stress after Ollie was born and that moment — hearing another woman having a baby, while I desperately hoped to hold my own baby in — is very sharp in my mind.

Less than 12 hours later, I’d be the one with screams echoing down that hallway. But I didn’t know that yet.

My labs all came back clear: no preeclampsia, no issues. But while I was being monitored, the nurse kept hovering around a snake-like print-out, looking it over periodically. “So everything looks good,” she said, “but do you feel all those contractions?”

Apparently I was contracting every five minutes or so — a pressure I guess I’d noticed, but only in passing. I’d been experiencing uncomfortable Braxton-Hicks contractions for months. These weren’t painful or particularly noteworthy, though they were consistent.

As always, I kept thinking a doctor was going to come in and release me with instructions to “take it easy.” I kept in touch with Spencer as he got Oliver home, reminding him about the soup in the slow cooker. “I’ll probably be home soon,” I wrote.

When the nurse popped in to check on me an hour later, she was dressed in scrubs for another patient’s surgery. She checked the print-out of my contractions again.

“Do you think I’m heading out of here soon?” I asked. “I’m just trying to get my son situated, and wondering if I should call my family? I don’t want to alarm them, but . . .”

She gave me an incredulous — though not unkind — look. “I would call them,” she said. “You’re definitely in labor.”

My hands began to shake, but I called my husband and relayed all this information. I contacted my sister next, then my dad. Everyone answered the phone warily, as though they knew immediately what I was going to say: it’s time.

I finally had that moment. It was scary, but also felt good.

Spencer arrived with our hospital bag after getting Oliver settled with my sister and brother-in-law. My parents stopped by to see me at the hospital. My contractions were already picking up. By midnight, they were so intense that I was struggling to breathe through them — but I clutched the rail of my bed and just held on, riding the waves as long and calmly as I could.

It felt awful, all-consuming. But I was only 2 centimeters dilated.

So I never intended to have a “natural” birth. I wanted drugs. All the drugs. My labor with Oliver was long and traumatic and painful, capped off with a failed epidural. I didn’t want that again. I wanted to feel calm and in control — as much as one can, anyway — and had planned to try the epidural again.

Given I was already in the hospital, I never imagined that would be an issue. But things move fast.

After one of the longest nights of my life, I was checked about 6 a.m.: just 3 centimeters. The doctor said she would check again in an hour. If I didn’t progress more, they would start pitocin to move me along. I moaned and cried and clung to that rail, with Spencer next to me trying to provide comfort. I was back in Pain World, where nothing exists outside that pressure and hurting.

When the team came back in around 7 a.m., 7:30, the announcement was equivalent to getting struck by lightning: I was “complete” and ready to push. I’d somehow gone from 3 centimeters to 10, and now there was no time for the epidural.

If I thought I was scared before, now I was terrified.

After squeezing my eyes shut against all the lights and instruments that descended from the ceiling, I felt the calm presence of my husband and OB at my side and just did the darn thing. I pushed for a long time — long enough to feel totally exhausted, wanting to give up; long enough to pull my leg muscles — but eventually the pain gave way to relief, and she was here.

Hadley arrived at 8:16 a.m. with a head of dark hair. They put her on my chest immediately, both of us crying. That sweet weight is not something I’ll ever forget. I held her for a while — an opportunity I never had with her brother, who was whisked off immediately to the NICU. It was surreal.

And quick, I guess — in hindsight, anyway! I was so flooded with relief afterward: no longer anxiously running through possible labor scenarios in my mind; not obsessing about having to be transported to Baltimore again; not worrying about delivery complications. No more fears about preeclampsia and it coming back, being worse. Stealing one or both of us away.

It was over. We were fine. I’d done it!

We have a daughter.

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Hadley is a sweet, calm, quiet little baby — so quiet that I frequently stare at her chest to make sure she’s breathing, watching her snooze in a bassinet next to the couch. From the time Ollie came home, he would snuffle and coo and whimper and whine; you never doubted he was nearby. But Hadley? She’s so chill that it almost . . . makes me nervous.

And so far, none of Ollie’s antics seem to disturb her. Which is kind of a miracle. Our almost 2-year-old toddler has lately earned the nickname “the tornado,” ’cause this kid is sweet chaos in sneakers. He’s nonstop action and energy, a 30-pound tank of opinions, and we love him so very much — but he is exhausting.

Hadley, it seems, is his opposite.

Of course, she was born 11 days ago — hardly enough time to make sweeping judgments on her little personality. But given the Tornado really has been the Tornado since he left the NICU, perhaps we’ll get lucky with our second.

And if not? That’s OK, too.

Because we have a little more figured out this time. We are all adjusting. Having just found our footing as parents with Oliver, I knew the transition to mom-of-two would be easier in some ways and more complicated in others. The lack of sleep is less soul-destroying this go ’round, certainly, given Ollie is still up many nights and we’re used to existing in a zombie-like state. That’s what coffee is for.

Spencer and I have our “shift work” arranged pretty neatly: he takes the first one, staying up with the baby and sleeping intermittently until 2 a.m. or so, when I come downstairs and take over. So far we’ve avoided disturbing Ollie too much; though with as quiet as Hadley is, there isn’t much to disturb him. This process allows both of us to get a three- or four-hour chunk of sleep, as well as other cat-naps, and I actually . . . don’t feel that bad. All things considered.

It’s weird being home so much. I’ve been fighting some of the old anxiety that emerged after Ollie was born. But I know this is the only time in my adult life I’ll have this uninterrupted time with my newborn daughter and son; as hard as it is (and does often feel hard), I know I’m also fortunate. I’m trying to just take everything as it comes and not project too far ahead.

For the moment, my job is just to be their mom. No need to multitask, obsessively check email or hop on conference calls. Though my go-go-go personality has struggled a bit with this, I’m embracing the blessing of time. Of sitting. Of just . . . holding my baby.

Oh, how I know they don’t keep.

 

 

 

 

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This mom stays in the picture

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Many moons ago, I stumbled upon a piece by Allison Tate: “The Mom Stays in the Picture.”

I was newly engaged, blissfully planning my wedding, not yet close to being a mother. I was also in the best shape of my life. In 2013, I lost 35 pounds and was the happiest, prettiest and most confident version of myself to date. I felt young and beautiful. I was powerful: Meg 2.0.

I read Tate’s post because it spread through my social networks like wildfire, discussed and “liked” by many high school friends and coworkers toting toddlers of their own. Many noted the piece was a tear-jerker, so I clicked over.

It’s a beautiful piece. Solid and honest and real. It resonated with me, the importance of mothers taking pictures with their children, but I read it from a distance — and as a photographer myself. But I just wasn’t there; I didn’t feel it. I’d grown up in a household with parents who photographed everything, and my mom is still our family historian. I’ve lived my entire life in front of the lens.

Why wouldn’t I want my picture taken?

Though never weight-obsessed, exactly, I’ve struggled with my size for the better part of adulthood. Getting down to a healthy weight in 2013-14 was a major accomplishment for me, and I had hoped to continue my solid habits after getting pregnant. I was afraid of slipping back into old habits, you know? Ones I worked so hard to break.

But I did, of course.

There are many reasons why. I was pregnant, for goodness’ sake; if I wanted a milkshake, I got one. My pregnancy and subsequent release from the confines of tracking every Weight Watchers Point was refreshing. Though I love WW and plan to return to the program, letting myself stop obsessing about every pat of butter, jelly bean and French fry felt . . . good.

And there were complications. My weight ballooned rapidly with the onset of severe preeclampsia. Close to my delivery date at 32 weeks, I was swollen beyond measure and in physical pain, my face and feet and hands all puffy and foreign to me. I felt bloated and uncomfortable, though I’d chalked it up to “third trimester woes.” Learning that my illness was causing most of those symptoms was surprising but, later, a relief.

In the three months since Oliver was born, I have shed 30 of the 60 pounds I gained in pregnancy. Most of it was water weight that fell off within a week. My post-childbirth body was unrecognizable; I barely looked in a mirror for weeks. Having a baby in the NICU meant every shred of my energy, care and concern went to him, and weight was not on my mind. Not even a little.

Once Oliver was home, gaining weight himself and getting stronger, I began to consider stepping out of my maternity jeans. I was tired of feeling lumpy, frumpy and weird, though I had no idea what size I now wore and knew that stepping on the scale would be a rude awakening.

When I finally did, I was shocked by the number I saw: almost exactly where I’d started when I joined Weight Watchers in January 2013. To the pound.

It seemed a cruel joke: after all that discipline and hard work, adopting new habits and changing how I think about food, I was right back where I started? On top of the trauma of Ollie’s premature birth and my lingering blood pressure concerns, I felt overwhelmed. Depressed, even.

Still, since April, my attention has been on nurturing our 3 pound, 9 ounce baby boy to more than 13 pounds of pure chunk and love. My husband and I adore this baby to the tips of our toes, and I could spend hours just looking at his little face.

But I’ve had to look in a mirror, too.

The early photos of Oliver are of . . . Oliver. Because I’m our little family’s photographer, I documented countless tender moments between Spencer and Ollie in the NICU and beyond. There are a handful with me in them, too, but I didn’t press the issue. I rarely handed Spencer the camera.

Because I looked — and felt — exhausted.
Because my hair was always crazy.
Because I rarely summoned the energy for makeup.
Because my face was still bloated.
Because my clothes didn’t fit well.

I had dozens of excuses, you know. So many excuses for not taking pictures with my baby. I cut myself some slack because Ollie was hospitalized for a month . . . and I was lucky to remember to bring snacks and my cell phone on our long drives to Baltimore, let alone stage a photo shoot once we got there. I was more concerned with locating a breast pump than my camera. That was how it had to be.

Our Oliver grew stronger. He learned to take his feeds by bottle, to regulate his body temperature outside the isolette, to widen his little eyes and gaze out at the world. On May 7, Spencer and I finally got The Call: bring the car seat, baby – he’s coming home!

As exhausted as we were in those early weeks (er, months), I knew documenting that time was important. I tried to take as many pictures as possible, sneaking in time to upload them when Ollie snoozed. Many were with my iPhone, because that’s what I had handy. By the time my maternity leave ran out in mid-June, I wanted to have all the photos I’d taken so far organized and ready for an album.

And I would look through them, this collection of precious images, watching Oliver’s cheeks begin to plump and his little eyes widening. I saw the rolls appear around his sweet baby wrists, and the pudgy thighs that have now started supporting his weight as he “stands” on my lap.

But I’m not in many of them.

My own mom has taken thousands of photos of me over the years — and many with Oliver in my arms. Lately, I haven’t focused on his cheeky grin or adorable ears. With laser-sharp precision, I see my double chin and flyaway hair — and I cringe. And puff out my cheeks. And want to untag myself on Facebook, though I don’t.


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The truth? I’m self-conscious. I’m uncomfortable. After publicly embracing Weight Watchers and documenting my weight loss journey in my newspaper column, on Facebook, through this blog . . . well, it’s a little embarrassing. There is such pressure surrounding “post-baby bodies,” and it doesn’t help that two other new moms in my life have already seemed to return to their svelte pre-pregnancy selves. Others complimenting them is not an insult to me, but I can feel my cheeks burn when others praise how great they look. So I look away.

I know no one faults me for not slipping back into my skinny jeans — that it’s not about the skinny jeans, really. I know I’m being too hard on myself, and that no one notices the “flaws” we point out in ourselves.

And more importantly? And I know that, above everything else, I am not a body. We are so much more than our looks. A number on a scale does not determine my self-worth.

But I still don’t feel great. I feel slow and unhealthy and . . . like I did before. When I was a me I’d never planned to be again.


When I look through the home photo shoots I’ve staged with Oliver, my husband is in many pictures. One of my favorite shots is of Ollie peeking up at his dad, one fat fist extended, as Spence looks on and smiles.

Spencer is wearing an old gray T-shirt. He hasn’t shaved. To be honest with you, I’m not even sure he’d showered that day (sorry, babe).

And you know what? No one cares. It doesn’t matter. You can’t even tell.

So why did I beg off when Spence offered to get me in the frame?

Since he came home, I’ve taken pictures of Ollie every two weeks. I like to do them on Sundays, before the chaos of another work week, and try to edit them before Monday morning. Oliver was born late on a Sunday night . . . so that feels reverent to me, too. A reflective time.

Spence helped with Ollie’s 14-week shoot, as he always does. I took the classic photos of father and son I’ve come to know so well. But when I lifted the baby to reposition him, Spencer lifted my camera off the bed and turned it on me.

My first instinct was to refuse, as usual. To make up excuses. To push my son back into the spotlight. To scramble back into the shadows.

But I thought of Allison Tate. I thought of the collection of pictures on my laptop, all of a precious baby boy but not his mother. Of a woman pushed into motherhood two months earlier than planned, and how much I longed for and planned and endured to bring this baby into the world. Of how much I’ve changed, and how much stronger I’ve become.

And I stepped in.

I’m stiff in the first few. You can sense my awkwardness as I stand in my plain, new-ish shirt that already looks old, stained with spit-up and soft from many washes. My hair has grown long since the spring, and I’ve taken to pulling it into a messy, unkempt knot at night. I’m wearing makeup, but it’s smudged and minimal. Reminders of teenage acne dot my cheeks. I look tired.

But beautiful, too.

I think I look beautiful.


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I didn’t expect that. Didn’t dare even hope for it. When Spence wanted to take pictures of Ollie and me, indulged him because he’s my husband and I love him and, deep down, I would like photographic evidence that I was here during this time in my son’s life.

I mean, I’m obviously here. I’m catching tossed pacifiers, making bottles, changing the diaper trash in his nursery, washing onesies. I’m avoiding his splashes during baths in the sink and laughing with his dad over his hilarious expressions, doing anything and everything I can to make him grin.

I’m rocking him at 2 a.m., and 3 a.m., and sometimes 4 a.m. His dad and I are making major and minor medical decisions for him, looking for symptoms and calling doctors. I’m dealing with insurance, grappling with post-NICU anxiety, folding his blankets. I’m sending long missives to friends about he’s doing and uploading his sweet, chunky face to Instagram.

But he won’t know that. He won’t remember.

“I’m everywhere in their young lives, and yet I have very few pictures of me with them,” Tate writes. “Someday I won’t be here — and I don’t know if that someday is tomorrow or thirty or forty or fifty years from now — but I want them to have pictures of me. I want them to see the way I looked at them, see how much I loved them. I am not perfect to look at and I am not perfect to love, but I am perfectly their mother.”


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I look through these photos from a sunny afternoon and feel joy, and hope, and love. I sense all the dreams I have for Oliver pouring from my arms into his little body. I see the recognition in his own face — This is my mother — and feel my own: This is my son.

My body hasn’t “bounced back” from baby. That double-chin is prominent. I look exhausted and greasy, a little threadbare and worn thin at the edges.

But I’m in the picture. I want to always be there, holding and loving him.

And thirty years from now? My 30-year-old son might turn to me and smile.

“Wow, Mom,” he’ll say. “You’re so pretty. So young.”


Sleepless in Maryland

Sunrise

If you’re looking for me, I’m probably watching the sun come up.

At this point in his young life, I know we can’t expect our newborn to sleep through the night . . . or even for a few solid hours. Especially my 10-week-old preemie, who is actually two weeks old when adjusted for his early arrival.

But is the idea of five hours of unbroken sleep a beautiful fantasy?

Absolutely.

Oliver’s schedule can be somewhat flexible, now that he’s getting bigger, but he generally eats every three hours. Spencer and I took turns with the feedings at midnight, 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. when I was home, but I’m strictly on the 3 a.m. shift on our work days.

Sometimes Ollie falls back asleep after that feeding . . . and sometimes he doesn’t.

Sometimes I fall back asleep after that feeding . . . but often? I don’t.

I think it’s a combination of middle-of-the-night overthinking and listening to every whine, gurgle and hiccup our infant is making. Oliver sleeps in a bassinet in the corner of our room, recently moved from right beside the bed. When he first came home, I was up constantly to check his breathing — like every anxious parent — and have since released some of those nerves, but am still on alert for anything that seems amiss.

I’m okay if I fall asleep before Spencer and Ollie. In a quiet, dark room, it doesn’t take long for exhaustion to pull me under. But when I’m roused by his cries for the 3 a.m. feeding and get up for the half hour or more it takes him to finish his milk, I’m finding it harder and harder to go back to bed myself.

How can I be so tired . . . yet unable to rest? It’s torturous. After Ollie finished his bottle around 4 a.m., I should have collapsed immediately. But even with my little guy actually settling himself down, I was staring at the ceiling feeling the minutes tick by.

I’ve quickly realized I can’t do the math. Initially, I became obsessed with the mathematics of sleep: as in, “Well, if I go to bed right now and Ollie sleeps for a few hours, I’ll get three hours now and maybe an hour later, possibly two . . .”

And when that didn’t happen, I would calculate how much I actually got while waiting for the Keurig to spring to life. And the answer was just really depressing.

Spencer is so wonderful, and we really take turns with these nighttime misadventures. Parenting is a shared contact sport at our house. But at the end of the day, if it comes down to Spence or me, I try to let him sneak in some extra shut-eye. I know he’s just as worn out as I am . . . and has to go to work even earlier.

So at 5 a.m. this morning, rather than spend another few restless hours in bed before I had to get up, I decided to try and make the most of that time.

Oliver was fast asleep, of course. Because why wouldn’t he be — then? So I dragged my laptop upstairs with a fresh cup of coffee and settled in.

I wrote this blog post. Answered emails. Placed a Thirty-One order before the party closed. Uploaded some photos, replied to Facebook messages, perused some books on Goodreads.

And away from the digital world? Well, I eventually squeezed another few ounces of milk into Oliver’s reluctant, fussy tummy. Got myself showered, dressed and makeup-ed. Packed my lunch and his bottles. And then, my crowning achievement: I got dinner — this tomato basil chicken stew — in the Crock Pot.

It feels like I’ve lived a full day before I even left for the office.

Better than tossing and turning for hours? Definitely.

But let’s hope for a better night tonight.

Even coffee fanatics have their limits.


Nine weeks at home

Today is my first day back at work.

I’ve had a shock of bittersweet emotions coursing through my veins for days. “This is your last week at home” starting ringing in my ears last Monday, mocking me with this desperate insistence to make every moment count.

That can be hard to do when you’re running on four hours of sleep with a baby human screaming in your face . . . but I’ve tried.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that part of me was looking forward to getting back to “normal” life, even if my definition of normal has changed greatly. For as much as I’ve loved being home with Oliver, I’ve missed my friends and my work. Nothing about my life has felt familiar since April. The first month was spent drifting like zombies through hospitals, worried and exhausted, and the second wandering the house with a whimpering newborn, even more exhausted than before.

But we have adapted. Ollie’s month in the NICU taught me to be resilient, strong and patient — especially with myself. I had to learn to trust in a greater plan than the one I’d so fastidiously been crafting, and to accept that life does not always follow our color-coded spreadsheets.

That was a tough one for me . . . a lesson I’m still learning. One I swallow down every day.

I can’t say I have any regrets, though. With this little guy napping on my chest, how could I?


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Like all working parents, I already feel guilt nibbling away at the corners of my consciousness. Though he’s now tipping the scales at more than 9 lbs., Ollie is still a little tike — and his preemie status, especially, has me desperate to take care of him. When he spent those long weeks in the NICU and I was hours away, crying in the darkness, all I wanted was to hold him.

And I have held him constantly over the last month. There are times I thought I was going crazy, alone with him in this house; times I could not watch another second of daytime court shows or make another cup of bitter coffee that would cool before I could drink it. Times I was so desperate for human contact that I would prowl Facebook with one hand while soothing Ollie with the other, and afternoons I sat near the door waiting for my husband to come home.

But there were so many beautiful moments, too. Times Oliver and I rocked in the nursery and I swallowed back a tidal wave of tears reading On The Night You Were Born, which I can’t even type without getting weepy. Mornings we did nothing but cuddle over the morning news, then took photos in the cloudy light to document the growth of my sweet babe.

He’s gained about 4 lbs. since he came home in early May — doubling his birth weight and then some. When Ollie arrived early, so vulnerable and small, I didn’t know how I’d ever feel confident holding and feeding and soothing him. Everything was overwhelming. I plunged forward because I had to — because I am his mother — but I was scared, so scared, each time we walked into the NICU.

The past few weeks at home — these final weeks of my maternity leave — have really helped me find my mama footing. Though I am dead exhausted (and I’m sure that’s about to get worse), we’re so in love with this tiny baby . . . and that love carries us through another (nearly) sleepless night.

I’m sad to be going back to work. I’m happy to be going back to work. I’m not exactly sure how life will look yet, now that I’m returning to the office and Oliver is headed for daytime care, but I’m trusting that we will form new routines and make it work.

I don’t have a road map . . . but I don’t need one.

We’ll draw it ourselves. And it’ll be okay.


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.


. . . 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.