Mom-scale victories at 4 months old

Week 16 (2)

In Weight Watchers, we often talk about “non-scale victories.”

NSVs are those little moments which serve to remind you why you’re pushing so hard and making tough choices every day. They’re related to weight loss, of course, but not directly; as you might guess by the name, they’re triumphs apart from any number on the scale.

Fitting back into your favorite pair of jeans, for example. Running your first mile. Making healthy choices at the all-you-can-eat smorgasbord. Buying a smaller size. Foregoing cake for fresh fruit.

NSVs come in all shapes and sizes, and each is deeply personal. Though my weight loss has taken a back seat while I struggle to regain my sanity with a 4-month-old, I’ve been thinking about these little accomplishments . . . and how they relate to motherhood.

Oliver has his first cold, which started with the sniffles last Friday. My husband called me at work, worried about all the congestion, and we contemplated taking him to the doctor immediately . . . because, you know, the window of opportunity was closing. Everyone knows a kid has to get sick at 5 p.m. on a Friday, right? Just before the weekend — when the shuttered doctor’s offices just taunt you.

He didn’t seem too bad, though — and we didn’t want to be alarmists. No fever. No odd behavior. Taking his bottles normally. Laughing and smiling as usual. Just a little stuffy with an occasional cough.

My darling boy bounced back quickly . . . though I still took the afternoon off Monday to cart him to the doctor’s office. He seemed to be recovering well from whatever bug he’d developed, but better safe than sorry. (#firsttimeparents, I know.)

As we debated whether Oliver was truly sick or just “not feeling well,” we checked in with his day care provider for guidelines. That was my first Mom-Scale Victory: proactively making that phone call and planning ahead to Monday morning. Because he has had no fever or vomiting, we were cleared to bring him in. But she thanked me for calling her first — you know, just to double-check. And I felt like a mom-boss.

Having a sick baby has definitely been our first introduction to the Working Parent Juggle. And it’s going to be an interesting one. We have a few things going for us: Spencer and I both work locally, a real rarity in the D.C. area; we have friends and family nearby for back-up; we have an understanding day care provider who wants to work with us and help find solutions.


Did I want to be home with my sick baby? I did. Especially when I woke up with a sore throat that quickly progressed to my own runny-nose, splitting-head illness that made everything that much more exciting on Monday. I thought getting up with an infant was hard when I was “just” sleep-deprived. Now I’m sleep-deprived, sick as a dog and completely dead on my feet.

But the show must go on.

Week 16 (4)

My mom once told me that some days are just “fighting the war.” She has had a hellish work commute for more than three decades, and she still excelled at raising two daughters with my dad (who worked from home, but also made terrible drives for work).

They say you can only truly appreciate your parents when you become an adult — and a parent yourself. While I’d like to hope I acknowledged their sacrifices before now, can I just say: wow. Yes.

Fighting the war, indeed.

Getting Ollie to his doctor’s appointment on Monday was another Mom-Scale Victory. I’ve never taken him out in public alone, and I had to ready his stroller and get everything hooked in by myself. While I’ve taken him out in his car seat plenty, I have yet to run errands without Spencer. This isn’t intentional; I just haven’t needed to.

But on Monday? It was time. After creating an elaborate plan that included Spence calling the doctor’s office as soon as they opened at 8 a.m. and me consulting my boss for a half-day when I ran in the door, we secured an afternoon sick appointment. I would meet my deadlines by noon and head back to the sitter. I would take Oliver by myself.

I was nervous about it, but I didn’t let myself entertain that anxiety. After getting through his prematurity, his NICU stay, those early and tough weeks at home . . . well, I figure it can’t compare to that insanity. This was just wheeling a sleepy baby up to a third-floor doctor’s office alone, you know?

Preemie parents feel a special rush of pleasure when others can’t single out our little ones as being early. Oliver was born four months ago today weighing 3 pounds, 9 ounces, and at his appointment on Monday? Our chunky man weighed 15 pounds on the dot.

“He’s a 32-weeker?” the doctor crowed, eyebrows shooting up. I quickly guessed that her terminology marked her as a preemie parent, too, and I was right: her own son was born at 33 weeks. “You’re kidding me.”

“I’m not,” I glowed. “He’s a 32-weeker.”

Here’s a Mom-Scale Victory: I didn’t immediately launch into Ollie’s whole story. For months, I took any and every opportunity to talk about our son’s dramatic entrance into the world. “Preeclampsia” was always on my lips, and I found myself wanting to talk about the trauma as a way to . . . relieve it? Comfort myself? Find support?

I don’t know. But as spring gave way to summer and summer heads toward fall, my favorite season, I do find myself healing.

I have set-backs. I have bad days. I still cry. But all in all? I am getting better.

I mean, aside from the cold.

That’s going to linger just to torment me.

Week 16 (6)

At 4 months old (2 months adjusted), Oliver . . .

• Is beginning to grasp and tug on objects, especially his favorite blanket;
• Looks for and recognizes us in a crowd;
• Can hold his head up mostly unassisted;
• No longer despises tummy time;
• Still loves his ceiling fans;
• Smiles frequently and with reckless abandon;
• “Dances” (limbs flailing) to “Everything is Awesome”;
• “Talks” constantly, cooing and oohing while making eye contact. (“I hear you, baby,” I say, and he seems to nod in agreement.)

He is . . . a baby. No longer a newborn, but an infant. A child. One with adorably round cheeks and the cutest little giggle; a baby who loves to grasp our fingers and gleefully watches us move about the room, the center of our little universe.

Though I sometimes feel like a heaping mess of a person – a bedraggled wife; a weary mother — I often remind myself of just how far we’ve come. For two glorious nights in a row before he got sick, Oliver slept for six (!) hours. At night. In a row.

And he seems to know us. Really know us. Not just as the tall people things with the milk, I think (though there’s that, too) — but as Mama and Daddy.

Four months after his birth, my Mom-Scale Victories include never being late to work in the two months I’ve been back at it; finding a way to make the overnight shifts work with Spence; managing to almost finish a book over the course of the last month; and getting more comfortable taking Oliver out with us on day trips. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it — and important. Our duo has had to learn to be a trio, but we’re doing it.

In the month to come, we’ll take baby’s first plane ride and head north to introduce Ollie to his New York family. I’m insanely nervous about the flight, only because I’m worried he’ll have a total meltdown — and I’ve been known to get ugly when people stare at me. Or us. But I guess that just comes with the territory, and I’ll have to learn to ignore it. We are, after all, just doing the best we can.

And my last Mom-Scale Victory for today? I got this post written on four hours of broken sleep with a head so fuzzy and clogged by illness and medication, it’s really a wonder that I’m upright.

Just makin’ it work.

Adventures in motherhood: Oliver at 8 weeks old

Ollie on quilt

My mom surprised me with a gift last week. It’s a daily journal with a polka dot cover, slim and adorable. “First Year Moments With My Baby Boy,” it reads. “The Hardest, Happiest Times I’ve Ever Loved.”

And I promptly began to cry.

That one sentence so perfectly sums up the first month we’ve had Oliver home: beautiful, difficult, wonderful, strange. There are times I feel totally competent, even smug — like, What? I got this. Was this supposed to be tough?

And then there are times I’m so exhausted I can barely see, trying to comfort a howling infant who was due for a bottle 15 minutes ago. I have to push my unwashed hair from my eyes to peer at him from behind smudged glasses, trying to ignore the rumbling in my own stomach as I mix formula and stare blankly at late-night television. I don’t have this, I think. I had no idea it would be this tough.

My husband took two weeks off when Oliver left the hospital, and we tackled everything as a pair. Feedings, diapers, games, soothing . . . when I needed a break, we played Pass the Baby. When he needed a nap, we passed back. My mother- and father-in-law arrived over Memorial Day and were a tremendous help. My family and friends have also stopped by frequently, and the company and meals have been invaluable.

But I’ve been without Spencer until dinnertime for the last few weeks. I quickly had to figure out a way to sneak in a shower and transform myself into a real, live human, which didn’t turn out to be as hard as I’d feared. After his bottle, Ollie is pretty much sacked out for an hour. I’ve quickly figured out ways to maximize these naps to rest myself, pull the house together, answer emails.

Baby feet

Today, June 5, was my due date. Instead of waking up to labor pains or waiting anxiously for my water to break, we welcomed Oliver in April after I developed preeclampsia. We’ve had him home from the NICU for almost a month now, so he’s been with us longer than he was in the hospital.

That knowledge gives me so much comfort.

Sometimes I still forget any of it happened, honestly. I wake up to Ollie whimpering from his bassinet and think, That sounds like a baby. Is that a baby? And then . . . it floods back, of course. And I sneak my face close to his and look into those dark blue eyes peering up in the darkness, searching and eager and sure. (And hungry, of course.)

The first week was hard. Really hard. After the roller coaster that was life in the NICU, suddenly bringing home our tiny infant — and staying inside the house for days, weeks — was abrupt, isolating and lonely. We were okay, but it was a weird transition I could not have anticipated.

Once I started letting go of “the plan” (“This is not how it was supposed to be” was, for a short while, my sad mantra), everything began to improve. And when I started focusing on the moment and just looking at my son’s sweet face, putting aside my anxieties about . . . well, everything else, life got better still.

For as much as I love being able to hold and comfort our son whenever I want, I initially struggled with feeling competent as his mother. Where Spencer has instinctively seemed to know how to change diapers, swaddle and comfort, I did best when I was just rocking or soothing him. Though we gained so much knowledge in the NICU, I still worried about him being so small.

But he’s not so small anymore. He’s not small at all, in fact! Now weighing more than 8 lbs., Oliver is the size of a full-term newborn — which is exactly what he would be had he arrived on schedule.

Hitting this date is a major milestone, and one I’ve been thinking about for weeks. Though I know his prematurity is not my fault, I’ve still carried guilt around like a backpack. After all, my body could not do its “job”: protecting this little guy until he was ready to come into the world. June 5 has been looming over me.

No photos please

I really don’t dwell on that, though . . . not anymore. I’m nowhere near that nervous first-timer I was two months ago. In the last four weeks at home, Oliver has flourished and given us so many glimpses of his little personality. He loves his meals and naps like a champ; he has these sleepy, “milk drunk” smiles he offers just as he’s drifting off.

Preemies have two ages: their actual age based on their date of birth, and their corrected age calculated based on their due date. It’s important to know the latter for determining milestones. So Oliver arrived 8 weeks ago, but he’s actually age 0! His “adjusted” date of birth is . . . today.

Sometimes during the last few months, Spencer and I would look at each other and say, “Can you believe you’d still be pregnant right now?” or “Can you believe he wouldn’t even be here yet?”

At 8 weeks old (or 1 adjusted day old), Oliver . . .
– Drinks 3 oz. of milk every three hours
– Loves to snuggle on Daddy’s chest
– “Laughs” soundlessly in his sleep
– Is fascinated by black and white images
– Sucks his thumb occasionally
– Takes a pacifier when he’s hungry
– Turns at the sound of our voices
– Is beginning to make eye contact
– Seems fascinated by ceiling fans
– Likes to “hold hands” by squeezing our fingers
– Naps right through TV shows, vacuuming, power tools
– Has about 10 different silly nicknames
– Can raise one eyebrow at a time . . . and does
– Is wearing newborn-sized clothing — for now!

Spencer and I take turns looking after him — and just looking at him — into the long, dark hours of the night. Though the broken sleep and exhaustion were crushing at first, I’ve made a quick return to coffee and Diet Coke and am finding a way to function. People do this every day, everywhere, I think. And he’s more than worth it.

Speaking of caffeine, I return to work in a little over a week. I stretched my paid time off as far as I could, and my job has been very accommodating in light of all the chaos. Part of me is a little excited to go back, honestly. I’ve missed my friends and routines, my desk and . . . well, just the normalcy of it all, I guess.

But I’m tense and heartbroken, too. I cannot say I’ve hardly been away from him since he was born. I’ve spent many minutes and hours — even days — away from Oliver. Heck, save a frantic few seconds after he was born, it was days before I could even see and touch him.

So I do know what it’s like to be away from him — and it sucks. A lot. But we’re going to keep moving forward and figure everything out as a family.

After nine weeks off, returning to work will be tough. Being away from Ollie will be really tough. Navigating our new schedules and responsibilities won’t be a cinch, either. But I think I’m ready for the challenge — and ready to start developing a new normal as a happy family of three.

I’ll never forget how fortunate we are.

And as long as we get to smooch this face at the end of the day, I know we’ll be just fine.

Ollie chubby cheeks

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.

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.

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


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.


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.