Two Balls of Wool

scarf for vanessa

I learned to knit around the time that Paul and I got together, almost eight years ago. For my first knitting project, I bought wool that should have been spun into a skein. I didn’t know and got it all knotted up. Horribly knotted up. I lost my patience when attempting to unravel the mess, and left the huge heap of knots on the kitchen table, telling Paul it was impossible, before heading out to meet a friend.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I came home to find the mess replaced with a neatly wrapped ball of unknotted wool. Not only did Paul’s wool-unravelling make me think for one of the first times that “He’s a keeper.”, I was struck by his calmness and patience. It must have taken him almost the whole time I had been out.

Fast forward to an evening a few weeks ago. Paul and I are still together and have a three-year-old son, James. I went to start crocheting a hat for James’ Halloween costume. Neither end of the just-purchased skein (which needed no further spinning – I now know the difference!) released properly. The ends had been accidentally spun into other strands of the skein.

I knew what lay before me and I remained totally calm. Two hours later, I had made a neatly wrapped ball of wool.

Two balls of wool. Paul’s showed how much patience he had already. Mine showed how much patience I’ve gained. Paul’s foretold that he had a much-needed trait for parenthood. Mine confirmed that parenthood has changed me.

Early Adopters

Since becoming a parent, I’ve been awed by some other parents whom I’ve met. They are the parents who adopt children who have had tumultuous beginnings.

In my old neighbourhood, I met the mom of a little girl who was around my son’s age. After we spent months of exchanging anecdotes and helpful suggestions, I learned that she was going to become a mom again. I also learned that my son’s playmate had been adopted when she was a year old. Now her biological sister was that age and the mom was thrilled to unite the two little girls.

She didn’t go into the details as to why both girls had to be taken from their biological parents. We did touch on the irony that people who are unfit to care for children continue to have them. But this mom saw that downside as her silver lining. She would now have two daughters and they’d be blood-related. I admired the mom’s open-mindedness, and her capacity to face a potentially challenging situation with such optimism and love.

I also met a single dad who had adopted a little boy. The dad told me about the intense scrutiny he had gone through because he was male, single, and gay. Three show-stoppers. It turned out that the process ended up being a little shorter than expected because he and the little boy were racial matches. The dad is East Indian and the little boy is too. However, the little boy looks Eastern European – his other background. The dad found himself explaining the racial difference quite a bit, as well as having to deal with his son’s temperament issues, given his birth and first year. The dad was incredibly upbeat and loving. What’s more, he was comfortable admitting that things were a bit different than his expectations and he was getting support.

The stories of those two parents touched me. They had overcome so many hurdles to be parents – something that quite a few people just take for granted.

Saying Goodbye to My Brother(-in-Law)

After a three-year fight with cancer, my brother-in-law, Rick Murray, passed away last week. He was only 47-years-old.

I’m posting the speech/eulogy I gave for two reasons. The first is simply because I like to have an archive of my writing. The second, more important reason, is that I feel as a society we are really bad at dealing with death. When I went looking for inspiration for his eulogy, I was aghast at the crass websites I found. One honestly had a WAV file that played “Don’t Go” when I hurriedly tried to click away from the jaw-dropping tackiness. Thankfully a friend of mine had posted a eulogy he wrote for his father. As well, I recently witnessed my dear friend give an amazing speech about her husband at his memorial. They inspired me. Hopefully I can inspire someone.


The reason we’re here today is twofold. We want to take comfort in one another after the passing of Rick. But it’s important for us to remember that though we grieve, we also should celebrate his life. I’m having a hard time imagining mine without him in it. He was a brother-in-law in name, but really a brother to me. I’ve been lucky to know him since I was fourteen or fifteen.

He entered my life when he began dating Sharon, my sister. That was all thanks to some matchmaking done by my cousin, his friend – Adrienne. After one friends’ cottage weekend, he and Sharon started spending a lot of time together. I thought he was cool because he had a motorcycle and would take me for rides down hilly Chicopee road.

The motorcycle. It was the first hint that much more lay below Rick’s reserved surface. He was shy and quiet, but only until you got to know him. He also had this wonderful, playful side, which would appear at random times. I’ll never forget when he figured out that his intimidating, professional-looking camera would secure him press access to the Royal Winter Fair. He printed out a phony company ID for himself, ensuring he and Megan spent a lot of time behind the scenes. Also, Rick loved to tease. I lost count of how many times he poked fun at my food choices or called me an American once I moved to San Francisco.

He was understated, making his playfulness, I feel, more fun. When I was still working in Toronto, every month or so, I’d get a call at my desk around 11:30 in the morning. It’d be Rick. He’d say “Hi” and ask how I was doing, the sound of car static in the background. I figured out that this was his way of seeing if I was free for lunch after he finished with a client. If I had a meeting or something, I’d admonish him for not giving me some advanced warning. He was nonchalant, saying we’d just get together the next time.

One of my favourite examples of Rick being unruffled is when he had to go and sell pool supplies at a nudist colony. I was all over the craziness of that and pelted him with questions. Did he have to have a business conversation with someone who was nude? Did they expect him to dis-robe? Rick calmly answered “No” to both of those questions and merely said it was like any regular call.

I must confess that for a while I was mystified he was a successful sales guy. In my experience, all people in sales were loud and fast-talking, often brash – the very opposite of Rick. I soon realized it was his determination, stubbornness, helpfulness, watchfulness as well as his ability to listen, which let him succeed.

I really liked that Rick was a keen observer. If we were out at a family dinner, he was quick to notice odd behavior by other clientele or the staff, much to our shared amusement. He always knew what to get Sharon and Megan for their birthdays and Christmas, happily giving me suggestions if I was at a loss. Those suggestions showed how much quiet attention he paid to their interests and hobbies. I never took Rick for a romantic, until one wedding anniversary. He asked a local artist to paint Sharon’s present: Pioneer Tower, where he had proposed to her. And she tells me that when he wasn’t commissioning paintings, he was always a loving husband, never forgetting to get her flowers for special occasions.

Rick and Sharon have been married twenty-two years. For me, the best symbol of their relationship—aside from wonderful Megan—is the colour of their kitchen. It’s a shade that can best be described as Deep Rose. I don’t know any other guy who would have agreed to it, but that was Rick. He was laidback. He knew it was important to Sharon, so he didn’t sweat the small stuff. He was her calm. She, his dynamo. Together they valued family and home. Whenever Megan saw them hugging, she’d squish in and make it a group hug. I know Sharon wishes that she and Rick could have at least doubled their years together.

She’s asked me to say on her behalf that Rick was a very good listener and he knew that most times she talked enough for the both of them. In all their years together, she never heard him say a unkind word about anyone. And if someone needed help, he was there. Also, he never complained about anything. In his three-year fight with cancer, he remained strong, positive, and courageous.

It was wonderful to witness him become a dad. From Megan’s earliest days, he was always calm and patient. He was encouraging, wanting her to explore, even if it meant the odd scrape or two. He was her champion when she clarified that the horse on her Christmas list was real (after we all gave her toy versions). He recognized her passion and helped her become not only the great equestrian, but also the gentle woman she is today. It’s no surprise that he too liked handling the horses, playing in the mud at barns and being around all the other animals.

As I write this, I realize my partner, Paul, treats our son in some similar ways. And Paul too is more introverted, with a strong playful current. I guess those traits work well for strong-willed, talkative Schaffer women.

Rick and I did a lot of our talking over email. At least once a week, we’d exchange some message, whether it was just catching up or I re-stating my Canadian-ness after he sent me some mocking article about the States. Or we’d continue our ongoing political debate, with me defending the left and him upholding the right. He was conservative. I’m liberal. I love to travel. He loved to stay at home. We were very different. I think that’s why we cared for each other the way we did. I already miss seeing a new message from him in my inbox.

Of course, we’ll all miss him. At the beginning of this speech I said I couldn’t imagine my life without him in it. I believe he’ll still be there in some way. He lives on in each of us, with our stories and memories. Let’s remind each other of them.

So Long 2011

I’ve been wanting to write an end-of-year post, but I haven’t had much time until now. So here it is, a little late.

My Facebook status for New Year’s Eve was “good riddance 2011”. I really felt that way. I’m incredibly grateful and happy that 2011 brought us James. However, his wonderful triumphs and miracles could only come from traumatic scariness. That’s what I was saying a happy good-bye to. On top of all that, this year was especially dark for many of my loved ones. What I’m most anticipating for 2012 is normalcy.

In August, I posted about what 2011 had brought so far. I’ll pick up from there without further adieu.

The month began with promise. I’m happy to say that it played out accordingly. The three of us thoroughly enjoyed Paul’s last days of paternity leave with sleep-ins, occasional errands, and trips to the park.

We had more visitors over, which was fun and made us feel like we were emerging from our bubble. As I’m sure other NICU parents can attest to, it’s hard, in some respects, to leave the protective world of the hospital behind. Also, I hit a milestone. I was able to return the hospital-grade breast pump because I no longer needed it. I was no longer pumping around the clock; James was nursing. Happiness and relief.

We finished the month off with a small adventure. We took an overnight road trip up to the coast to Jenner in Sonoma County. James proved to be a wonderful little traveller. He loves seeing new places. He got to strike being nursed under a giant redwood from his bucket list.

The day after Labour Day, Paul returned to work. It was a big adjustment for all three of us. He was sad to leave James. I was overwhelmed at first at being the only daytime parent. The first week was especially tough. Covered in spit up, I’d hand James to Paul as soon as he walked in the door. Soon though, we figured it out. We got into a routine. I also started doing things with my mommy friends.

Two more rather traumatic, yet short-lived occurrences happened. James’ breathing monitor went off when I was driving us over to our friends’. What ensued was horrible. I hurriedly pulled over, but in my haste I inadvertently locked rather than unlocked the car doors. I couldn’t get to him. I almost passed out from panic. Paul has written a full account on Grow James Grow. However, as you’ve probably guessed, it all worked out thanks to passers-by and firemen. Still I shudder to think what if the monitor had gone off for real rather than a false alarm.

James had to have his lingual frenulum (the fleshy bit under the tongue) clipped because the theory was that it was causing him to clamp down (ow!) while breastfeeding. However, when I took him to the specialist to have it done, she said she was uncertain it would help. I had to make the hard decision to go through with it. (I recalled all the comments from lactation consultants as well as NICU nurses.) Usually the procedure isn’t supposed to result in much blood. Well, James’ frenulum was particularly fleshy (groan) and there were many mouthfuls of blood, which got all over both him and me. Why they didn’t give us a protective cover is beyond me. He was beside himself for about half an hour. I was horrified. And, even worse, he wouldn’t nurse at first. I feared I had totally messed up. However, when he did nurse, he clamped down much less. Within a couple of days, he was barely clamping down at all. Phew.

Finally my parents could come to visit and meet James, which made me so happy. My mom did remarkably well for having broken her hip at the beginning of the year. She barely needed her cane. We all went to Muir Woods, plus stopped by the hospital to see where James (and Paul and I) had spent 105 days. There was lots of cuddling, hanging out, and baking.

October was rather quiet. James started rolling and would take his most epic naps only at Starbucks. I became somewhat obsessed about his naps, but soon realized I had to let something so variable go if I was to stay sane.

The only blip for the month was that at an ultrasound for James’ kidneys (given his previous two urinary tract infections) they saw some spots on his liver. They believe them to be vascular – like a strawberry birthmark that’s internal. Most days I can believe that and try not to worry. Only time and observation will tell. When I get scared about it, I remind myself that James has been scanned and prodded so much more than most babies. We probably would have never known about the “mass.” (Yes, gulp, that’s what they call it.) Also, he’s defied the odds all along. This time the odds are on his side. Ninety-nine percent of cases they see resolve themselves.

For the last couple of weeks, Paul and I spent most of our spare time working on James’ Halloween costume. We didn’t plan it that way, but costuming our little man as Totoro took a bit longer than we expected. The results were completely worth it. James looked super cute, even after he spat up on himself at the preemie Halloween party. Also, the hat I made still fits and is the go-to one on cold days.

Right at the beginning of November, I left Mister James with Paul for a weekend so I could visit some dear friends in Toronto who were going through tough times. My friend was nearing the end of his valiant eight-year war with brain cancer, and his wife is one of my best friends. His fight, her care, and their love was inspiring, beautiful, and heart-breaking to witness again. I’m so grateful I did, as hard as it was to leave James.

Cancer also continued to wreak havoc with my brother-in-law. His relatively favourable prognosis hasn’t changed, but his treatment has been rough…to say the least. Plus one of my other best friends finally saw the hard end of some stressful times which had dragged on for years. I’ve missed her.

Thankfully there also was a lighter side to November. James found his feet and fell in love with them, so much so that for a while, he forgot he also could chatter and roll. He was reunited with Grandma Jane who returned for a hospital-free visit. I love to see grandparent-love. It’s amazing. We all had a really fun time together. Paul and I even had our first date since James came home.

Paul, James, and I celebrated American Thanksgiving. Very aware that we have so much to be thankful for, we took our little American to a cozy cottage on Tomales Bay near Point Reyes National Seashore. It’s rather fitting, I think, that that’s the weekend James tried solids.

I’ll sum up the goodness of December first. James fell just a little out of love with his feet and recalled he could roll. Because of it, he became really mobile. He also started trying to crawl. All so very exciting!

To my surprise, I love feeding him solids. It’s fun to think what foods would be good for him to try. I like making his food, knowing exactly what’s in it. Plus his reactions are so very amusing. He’s become a food mooch, and will often grunt and thump his feet if I’m having something he believes he should be having too.

We introduced him to Santa. We took him to get a medium-sized (huge to him) Christmas tree, which he tried to eat when it was decorated. The three of us had a cozy, quiet Christmas together, punctuated with quite a few Skype sessions with family back home.

A little before Christmas, I decided to resign from Blast. The timing seemed very right. I wasn’t ready to return to work yet; I want more than a year off with James. 2011 brought so much change for me that I felt it was time to make even more.

Now onto the bad. My friend passed away a week before Christmas. Anytime would have been difficult but during the holidays was terribly poignant. I miss him. Also, it’s hard to be so far away from his wife, my dear friend, who has so much grief to bear. It’s all still rather hard to believe. Words really do fail in such times. I tell myself that all of us who mourn him need to have the grace he showed in his amazing fight.

It was quite the year. I’ve never been so emotionally and physically drained. I’ve never known such trauma and such tremendous marvels. The old adage about what makes you stronger does seem to hold true. I’m now a happy mom with much more perspective than when the year began. I’m grateful for where I’m at. I just hope 2012 gives me some time to savour it all.

An Uninvited, Yet Rather Promising Visitor: The Kindle Touch

If you know anything about me, you probably know that I’m an avid reader. (Well, I was before James’ arrival.) I love books – their smell, their paper, their covers, their typography and, most importantly, their stories. I’ve had to figure out that prioritization over the last couple of days because, you see, Paul gave me a Kindle for Christmas.

I was very wary at first. I even considered having him return it. But I started to see the thoughtfulness of the gift pretty quickly and that it wasn’t just about trying to decrease my stockpiles of fiction. Although I’m well aware that that was one of Paul’s ulterior motives. Ahem.

Here’s why I’m liking my gift. I’m comfortable saying that now. It took a few days. At first it felt like sacrilege.

Portability. With my Kindle, Paul also got me Murakami’s latest: IQ84, a veritable tome. It’s only out in hardcover right now, which makes its weight the equivalent of a couple of bricks. Not so on my Kindle. Plus in my pre-baby life I travelled a lot. I won’t as much now but when I do, I can take a stack of books with me, with ease.

Accessibility. I assume I’ll get back to some regular reading pattern eventually, when James decides I shouldn’t be so sleep-deprived. I read quickly. I won’t be without reading material. (However, I have to say that I have savoured that time in the past, strategizing what should come next before my hungry eyes.) As well, I think getting the latest updates to a travel guide while on the road sounds extremely civilized. Many times I’ve been frustrated to find—at the most inappropriate time, of course—that my Rough Guide or Lonely Planet is out-of-date.

Eco-friendliness. Not surprisingly, much less carbon is emitted in the production of e-readers than that of books. I still wonder about this overall claim because if software advancements mean needing to purchase a new e-reader every couple of years, then it becomes pretty eco-unfriendly. Are the claims taking into account used bookstores, which I love? Or the fact that books are more readily recyclable than an e-reader? Of course, a lot less paper will be used. I hear some forest foliage whispering a sigh of relief.

I still can’t imagine a world or my home without books. Glancing at a colourful spine on a bookshelf can be visceral. I often am reminded of some bright image from the story contained within, or of how or where I acquired the book. So to further help me grapple with owning a Kindle, I’ve decided on a buy policy. Yes, yes, I geekily have. The books I “e-read” (groan) that I really like or love will be keepers. Their analog copies will get bought for my shelves.

Hmmm, maybe another bonus of the Kindle is that I won’t have to cart any duds to the used bookstore.

Four Things I Never Knew About Motherhood

Yes, I expected to be tired from sleep deprivation. I also expected to love my babe lots and lots and because of it, to lose my ability to be an extra-ordinary multi-tasker. Sure, all of that is par for the course. However, I never knew about the following four things. And I’m sure there are many unknowns yet to come. Oh boy.

1. I want to stop my baby’s crying immediately. I mean IMMEDIATELY.
I can’t stand for James to cry. I guess it’s something primal because I can’t take it. Paul teases me about my hard-wiring. Due to said wiring, I’ve come to use the pacifier as a cork. I’m not happy about that but it makes me happier than the cry. I feel like a wuss. I am trying to toughen up. Today I did a full wardrobe change and some other unpleasant—in James’ mind—task with no pacifier in sight. Baby steps.

2. I’m still hungry ALL OF THE TIME.
When I was building James inside of me, I accepted that it was taking a lot and I, therefore, needed to eat accordingly. Well, I think I may even need to eat more now that I’m nursing the babe. As well, I’m also thirsty all of the time. Given that I have always had a very healthy appetite and a fast metabolism, this means I really could be eating around the clock. James, however, has other plans for me.

3. Breastfeeding hurts, and not where you’d expect.
Even my longest hours at the computer didn’t prepare me for the aching neck and shoulders I have. Ouch. And yes I have the pillow with the God-awful name: My Brest Friend. I love looking at James while he’s breastfeeding. My neck doesn’t. Its roaring pain has been a great motivator to get back into yoga and pilates, even if it means less sleep. Doing anything means less precious sleep. Sigh, so be it.

4. I’m a preferential light sleeper.
Before James, I was a really light sleeper. I’d curse the Fatty McStompies who live above, hate when morning traffic began on the busy street outside our window, and groan when the Saturday-night bar-goers would feel compelled to scream at the top of their drunkenness. No longer. I sleep through all of that now. It’s rather shocking. However, Mr. James just has to make one little grunt and I’m wide awake. I marvel at nature’s programming.

All you seasoned moms out there can wipe the smug smiles from your faces. You should have warned me! ;)

Time is of the Essence

A while ago, I wrote about healthcare and maternity leave in the U.S.A. I had suspected that having next to no maternity leave would negatively affect the overall consensus on breastfeeding. From my experience so far, I was right.

The less-committed message started to come across loud and clear at work, even before I went on mat leave. One woman from another agency started lecturing me on the importance of weaning a baby to the bottle. Huh? (Gotta love the unsolicited information flung at you when you’re pregnant.) I already knew then that I was going to take additional time off, but she didn’t. Because most moms return to work after three measly months, she was encouraging me to get started on the bottle right away. Little did I know that I’d have a preemie whom I’d have to wean onto the breast. Perhaps I’m harsh, but I believe she wouldn’t have bothered doing so.

It’s been so worth the bother. I have way more milk with James actually breastfeeding than I did pumping. Plus I love the bonding. Having a cute baby snuggled into me is way better than being attached to plastic gizmos. (However, I’ll always be grateful that they exist and helped me keep some supply when he was too premature to breastfeed.) Then there are the hours I’ve gotten back not having to sterilize pump parts and bottles.

Add to that the World Health Organization’s recommendation that moms breastfeed for the first year and, ideally, for the first two years. Especially with a preemie, all doctors recommend you breastfeed.

I will insert the caveat that I’ve always heard and respect that some women can’t breastfeed.

Less time for mat leave seems to have shortened the amount of time American moms put into breastfeeding. The women who have to return to work are confined to breastfeeding only in the mornings and evenings, and need to find time during their work days to pump. Not easy. Pumping is by no means fun, and when done solely it usually depletes your milk supply. Once a baby is taking bottles, it’s also easier to switch to formula.

The women I’ve met in the States who have stuck with breastfeeding and pumping either have arranged longer mat leaves, are self-employed, or are stay-at-home moms. Coincidence? Maybe, but I’m guessing no.

A longer, year-long mat leave like that in Canada seems to instill a different approach to feeding babies. I know a lot of Canadian moms, especially through extended circles. Almost all breastfed for a year, if not longer. Only a few of them supplemented with formula. And I can think of only one or two who switched to formula solely.

Based on my non-scientific but keen observations, less mat leave means less breastfeeding. Maybe it’s the hippie in me, but I find that really sad.

Here’s to August

August has started out well. So much so, that Paul and I think it may turn out to be the month that rights the craziness of this year. I think it’s time to take a look back on this insane year so far. Doing so may be cathartic. Usually I find writing to be. As well, I haven’t had much time to write this year. This is a catch-up, so to speak and it’s a long one.

I realize some of this post will be tinged with a little self-pity and self-congratulation. Oh well, I think I deserve them. ;) And you may too, if you read on.

At the very beginning of January, we got to see Little One during a detailed ultrasound. It was thrilling.

Then my mom broke her hip, just weeks before her 80th birthday. She also had a close-call with a blood clot after being discharged from the hospital. Thankfully, and because she’s such a trooper, she was already moving around quite well by her birthday. I celebrated it with her. That part was great, minus getting stranded for a day in NYC because of one of its many snow storms.

I found out about my mom’s hip when I was en route to the hospital myself. I had a bladder infection that gave Paul and I a small scare, since I had a hint of spotting with it. Any spotting when you’re pregnant is terrifying. However, I got treated at the hospital the very day I realized I had the infection.

All in all, January foreshadowed what was to come. Hospitals were going to play a big role in 2011.

February started with a bam, literally.  One morning while walking across the street on a green light, I was hit by a car. I haven’t written about the accident until now for a couple of reasons: too many other things happened soon after it and my memory seems to want to protect me from recalling. What I remember is mostly out-of-body, more like I’m watching myself rather than experiencing the accident. Interesting how the mind works.

I recall vivid pieces, like seeing the car (which was making a left turn) coming right at me. Thankfully, I had a split second to think “Baby!” and to curl my tummy up and hit the hood with my arms. Also thankfully, the driver was pounding on the brakes as she was hitting me so that she didn’t run me right over. I made sure to fall to my right side on the road, protecting my belly.

Then I remember getting up and holding my belly and crying and yelling about my baby while searching for my left shoe, which I guess I got knocked out of. One of the fabulous witnesses got a blanket from her car and wrapped me up after getting me to sit on the curb. A woman asked if I wanted her to call 911. Uh yeah! I realized later that it being the States, she was worried about bankrupting me, not knowing if I had insurance. I called Paul to come, since I was a block from home.

A firetruck arrived first and a debonair fireman assessed my injuries and flirted with me. Then a paramedic was talking to me and perhaps a policeman too. The paramedic asked me every other minute if I was having cramping or bleeding. I knew I wasn’t cramping, but I couldn’t tell about bleeding and I felt so worried, scared, and panicked. Then I was being put on a stretcher and I could see that there were people EVERYWHERE. Suddenly I was staring at the sky, still getting prodded with questions, and then I was looking at the roof of the ambulance. And then Paul was there and he could ride with us to the hospital.

I remember feeling like I was in one of the hospital shows from TV. I had a trauma team assess and work on me. The hardest moment is when they told Paul and I that they wouldn’t try to save James (who we only knew as Little One) if I started miscarrying. He was 23.5 weeks then and not considered viable. But they did an ultrasound and he looked fine. I’ve never felt such relief. I wouldn’t let them x-ray my ankle for fear of harming him. I was put under trauma observation for six hours. We made it out the other side.

However, we had to go back to the hospital the next day to get my ankle looked at. It had hurt so much during the night that I had started shaking when I had got up to go to the bathroom. We learned that I had a really bad sprain. Amazing what wrapping it and crutches did. Except I was a pregnant woman on crutches. Picture that. Yes, laugh. I used them only one day for fear of injuring myself more.

The rest of the month I tried to heal up and was grateful that Little One was still inside me. However, on the last day of February, my preterm labour began. I’ve already written a post about James’ early, unanticipated arrival. That was the second time we almost lost him.

But we didn’t lose him. So amazing. I remember after trying to hold him in for 36 or so hours, I finally had to resign myself to fate. When they said I had to deliver by emergency c-section, I never believed I would have the son I do today. We are so lucky to have him. He survived his crazy, early delivery into the world on March 2nd. My little fighter.

March was a bit of a blur. We spent most of it in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) with James. I’ve never felt so awful in my life. I’ve learned from talking to other moms that having a c-section after going through full labour is the worst. It is. I hurt so much. I was so weak. And I couldn’t be – James needed me. Plus I also had all of the usual post-pregnancy hormones.

Near the end of March, I found out that I had thrush (a yeast infection) in my breasts due to all of the antibiotics pumped into me for the c-section. Essentially it feels like shards of broken glass in your breasts. Yeast gets into the milk ducts. Wonderful.

However, we had amazing news on the 2nd last day of March. James’ head, chest, and abdomen scans looked clear. More relief.

All of that was pushed aside on the last day of March – the second worst day of my life. That’s the day James started turning grey. The doctors assured me his vitals were good and showed me brave faces. But I could see them having worried huddle sessions. And I could tell that something was terribly wrong with James. He wouldn’t grab my finger. He stared at me with sad eyes. Awful, awful.

In the wee hours of April 1st, they tested James for meningitis. Paul and I waited, so scared. The results were negative. The infection hadn’t crossed to James’ spinal fluid but it had crossed to his blood. He had a urinary tract infection (UTI) that had gone septic. I thought we were going to lose him. Everything I had read about sepsis mentioned death. And a part of me couldn’t believe that we’d be blessed enough to survive a third close call. The doctors reassured us that since it was caught so early, they believed James would make it. My little miracle did. He looked and acted like himself after two days of his antibiotics course.

The rest of the month was fairly uneventful. Thank God. I continued to battle thrush. It got worse because I had to take more antibiotics. They discovered I had a crazy-acting bladder infection from having a catheter during my c-section.

Near the end of the month they confirmed that James had inguinal hernia and would need surgery when he was larger.

May wasn’t bad, all things considered. James was still in the hospital though. He progressed wonderfully – he got off of oxygen, went into an open-air crib, and started taking all of his feeds by breast or bottle. However, his apnea and bradycardia episodes weren’t stopping. Because of them, he couldn’t come home with us.

I continued to fight the fight with thrush.

He was diagnosed with reflux. Yes, all babies have it, but his was considered a tad more severe than the standard fare. Since he had stayed in the hospital longer than expected, he had his hernia operation before he came home.

Right before James’ operation, Paul got a nasty cold. We actually were grateful that James was still in the NICU. He wasn’t home with the germs. For those of you who don’t know, germs are worse for preemies than full-term babies. Germs are why Paul and I have to be more neurotic than we’d like. Although James’ lungs are pretty good for a preemie, they still are at a deficit. Even if he catches a simple cold, chances are high he’d have to be re-hospitalized.

I also got the cold for a day and couldn’t be there for James’ operation, which made me really sad. But better me than him.

And finally, he came home!!! June 14th was the day. It was fantastic to have our little family altogether.

But he was so unhappy at home at first. He was still recovering from his operation. As well, he got the nastiest diaper rash. Most likely it was from the operation’s antibiotics. He spent most of the time wailing.

Just when he was getting back to being his sweet self, we had to take him to the ER for a fever. He had to have his second spinal tap to test for meningitis again. Ugh. We learned that he had another UTI. This one stayed localized though, and didn’t go to his blood or his spinal fluid. We were in the hospital another week. Paul and I felt like we had broke our baby.

We went to UCSF to have James tested. Even one UTI for a boy is weird. The tests showed that nothing anatomically was wrong. Yes!! His infections were bad luck. Most likely the second one was a result of some of the bacteria resisting the initial antibiotics.

Things got bad on the breastfeeding front. I still had thrush. I don’t think any other physical ailment has caused me to meltdown. Twice. But the meltdowns were also due to James’ attachment to the silicon nipple shield I had been given in the NICU. A nipple shield is used to help a preemie who has a really small mouth still breastfeed. Although James was big enough to lose the shield, he didn’t want to. The shield was stopping him from getting enough milk and it was killing my milk supply. I had to pump after every feeding, meaning I was sometimes only getting 45 minutes of sleep between feeds during the night. I was spending most of my time doing all things milk-related – either feeding or pumping or sterilizing pump parts. I also was worried that soon I wouldn’t have enough milk for him and we really didn’t want him to be on formula.

Dare I say, August has started out remarkably. Paul is afraid I’ll jinx us. Let’s hope not.

Last weekend, after much strategizing, James breastfed without the nipple shield and has never looked back. I can’t convey how removing one tiny piece of silicon has so greatly changed my life. He’s getting enough to eat, I’m making enough for him to eat, and I’m getting some sleep too. As well, after five months of trying most everything, it looks like my thrush is finally gone. I think/hope/pray that it is.

And on the topic of sleep, James has proven to be even more of a super baby. He’s started to sleep in longer stretches at night. He’ll go three or so hours without wanting to eat. It’s incredible.

He’s in such a good groove that we’re thinking of taking a short road trip at the end of the month. We wouldn’t have even thought of that two weeks ago.

It’s been an incredible journey to get to today. The first leg was very scary, but after the initial dark days we learned to be amazed and grateful. We are thrilled to have James – our million-dollar, miracle baby.

I have to say that there are still dark clouds on the periphery of our family. This year has been a trying and hard one for some of my favourite people. A couple of my dear friends are trudging through difficult days. It all makes my light have some shadows still. If anything, I have perspective.


This week I really felt disheartened when James didn’t get to leave the NICU. It was the fourth (maybe fifth?) time his homecoming had been changed. Of course I want him to be ready, but when I heard of yet another revised date, I felt extremely tired. The flight principle took over: I was ready to leave for the day and it had only started.

My pity-party didn’t last. In the ole pumping room, while I was telling my friend my news, a new mom started asking me some questions. Then we heard her story. Just like that, I felt really small. James’ remaining complications became, as they are, simple things that can be cured or treated. In stark contrast, her son’s situation is dire. It’s highly unlikely he’ll survive.

It’s prompted quite a few of us to cry for him and for her and, to be brazenly honest, for ourselves and for our babies, yet again. It takes very little for us to put ourselves in her place. We’ve all faced the likelihood of losing our babies; however, we were rescued from that gravity. No one has a reassuring answer for this baby. So very sadly, time is both at a standstill and hurtling along for him and his mom.

Profile of a Preemie Parent

Alright, I admit, I couldn’t resist an alliteration for the title. More accurately, this post is about NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) moms – moms of extremely premature babies, which are babies born at 24 to 32 weeks.

You see, all the moms talk in the NICU’s pump room. Supposedly this wave of moms has been unique in that we’ve been very supportive of one another. How one couldn’t be, I don’t know. It’s a little surreal to have so much in common with an absolute stranger. And well, there’s really no need for small talk. I’m also grateful to have a dear, old friend who’s mom to twins. They’re now three-years-old, but she can readily recall her crazy days in the NICU and she’s been a great support to me.

Here’s what I’ve come to realize about a mom of an extremely premature baby:

– She can regale you with insane delivery stories. One mom was on strict bed rest, with her head lower than her feet for seven weeks. Yes, seven.
– She’s traumatized because of said delivery story and can’t imagine having another child. Ever.
– She feels guilty. I was reading about how this, apparently, is the norm. We preemie moms choose guilt first because we know that emotion and understand it, whereas the onslaught of other emotions is inexplicable.
– She is afraid she won’t be able to take care of her baby at home. After seeing your baby in a box, hooked up to monitors and IVs, the thought of caring for that little one is daunting. Even a week ago, I imagined I won’t sleep and I’d just watch James 24/7. Now, I’m actually anticipating his home-coming.
– She’s had to face, at least once, the likelihood of her baby dying.
– She has to wait to find out if all of her baby’s parts work. Brain. Eyes. Hearing. Muscles. Lungs. And so, scarily, on.
– She’s beholden to her breast pump. That means pumping every three hours. Four hours tops. However, pumping and cleaning all the parts takes about 30 minutes. I’m learning to live my life in 2.5 hour segments.

As time goes on, I’m sure I’ll have more to add to this list. I wish I had had it when my dear friend had her twins. Before my eager James took me on this crazy adventure, I was completely ignorant about prematurity. I didn’t realize that a 24-week-old baby was considered viable by the medical community. Today I walked by a new addition to the NICU and my heart dipped. The baby was the tiniest I’ve ever seen, probably less than a pound. It’s all heartbreaking, but also amazing to witness the pure gumption of these wee babies.

Although the emotions are settling and I’m feeling more balanced, it’s a bit freaky, yet comforting to see that the other five-or-so NICU moms are right there with me. Guess we are textbook. So be it.