Monday, May 31, 2010

Sensitive Skin

Never in a million years did I imagine that Ellie's allergy to cow's milk protein would be her only sensitivity. She is my daughter, after all. And since I am allergic to everything under the sun (and possible the sun), it does not surprise me at all that we're discovering some other "allergies" as time goes by.

Huggies wipes, for example. Raging diaper rash. Remember that Dragon Baby incident over Mother's Day weekend? All because of diaper rash. A rash that went away as soon as I switched her back to Pampers Sensitive wipes. On a hunch, I picked some up at Target. Those were the ones the nurses used at MGH, so I thought it might sort that issue out.

Yup. Add that to the list.

I've also discovered that she breaks out in a little heat rash/hives-type-splotchiness when we give her a bath with Johnson & Johnson. You know, that yellow body wash that's in the background of your own bathtime photos from the 80's. The stuff that smells like baby.


We switched to Aveeno and now she's fine.

Most likely, she has a fragrance allergy, which (again) doesn't surprise me. I had a horrible experience with some body wash from the Gap once, so we know I have a fragrance allergy. So I'll have to keep an eye out for her detergent, anything I use to clean the house, and even candles that I burn in her general vicinity.... all things that I've had issues with. Delightful.

I know, I know. No one is surprised by this.

I'm sure the list will grow as Ellie does. And just wait until we start sampling foods. When I was a baby, I had a cherry allergy... so that will be fun, huh?


Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Balancing Act

I think my fiction brain is on vacation.

I won't say that it's dead, because I occasionally catch a glimpse of it. I'll be feeding Ellie and I'll think of a clever story idea. Or I'll be in the shower and I'll come up with the perfect line of dialogue for a character in my novel.

But now that I'm so busy being a mom and all that, I never remember to write these things down. They dance through my brain and right back out into the atmosphere. Some of them are gone forever.

Probably most of them.

I suppose I have to find a way to balance things in my life. Right now, when I'm not taking care of my Ellie-gator, I'm working on tasks for Bentley or writing articles. Since I don't make any money writing fiction, it has all but disappeared from my life. And I'm not happy like that. I keep trying to grab hold of it again, make the time to really get some work done. Something always gets in the way.

I know I'll find a way, but the struggle is really frustrating.

I just hope my fiction brain doesn't atrophy.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Fight the Fat

Yes, it's cliched. I am trying to get my "body after baby" back in shape. But unlike the celebrities featured on US Weekly (argh), I do not have a personal trainer, thousands of dollars to throw at liposuction, or an affinity to subsist solely on lettuce for the next three months.

So I had some ice cream last night. So what?

Anyway, I've never really been "fit" to be honest. There was the one year in high school when I played volleyball. Running all those sprints whipped my ass into shape, that's the truth. But after that, I kinda fell off the wagon.

Then rolled several miles downhill.

When I got pregnant, I had just begun a weight loss plan with Mike to get us back into shape. I'd lost twelve pounds when I had to stop abruptly to, you know, feed the baby and all that... Mike went on to lose 50 pounds. I went on to find 25. At least we still achieved a net loss, right?

Anyway, I swore up and down that when the baby was born, I was getting into shape. I would fit into my high school uniform again! (If I can find it...) Putting baby weight on top of being overweight was a real strain on my tendonitis-ravaged ankles and knees. Plus, I felt like a whale. I'm sure all pregnant women feel like whales, but instead of feeling like, say, an orca, I was relating more to the blue whales of the world. My bone structure just can't take it.

But then, Ellie spent all that time in the hospital and I was subjected to two meals a day (at least) of hospital food. Yum. My mouth said yes to all those cheeseburgers. My metabolism said it was time to hibernate for winter.

And now I'm back where I started. Most of the baby weight is gone, since breastfeeding burns extra calories. But I'm not breastfeeding anymore. Still, since I'm not eating at MGH anymore, I think it's a win-win.

So on Friday I started a Wii Fit routine. I'm trying to eat better, impose a little structure to my days at home, and get moving once in a while. We're talking family walks in the afternoon, and Mike is not a friendly personal trainer. Yesterday, he made me climb the stupid giant hill in our complex twice. If you haven't seen it, it's a mountain.

I hated him for about an hour.

But the good news is that I'm feeling good. I'm actually having fun with this and I really hope that's enough to keep it going. I'll keep you posted as things progress. Fingers crossed for my first weekly weigh-in next Friday!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Just Keep Swinging

Last night was rough. Probably my roughest night so far.

Now I'll admit that my "roughest" night pales in comparison to the nights that parents experience when they bring home a real newborn, instead of a post-NICU, 9 1/2 week old infant. I didn't have to get up every two hours or anything.

But it wasn't the getting up that was the problem, it was the inconsolable screaming that threw me over the edge.

So we watched the Lost finale last night -- awesome -- and headed to bed very late for the two of us (since we're now old farts and all). Ellie had been out for about 4 hours by the time we made it into bed, and just as I was settling down, I could hear her starting to make sucking noises. Baby code for "feed me... like, now." Before she could start screaming, I jumped out of bed, heated a bottle, changed her diaper, and fed her. In my thinking, eating at 1 AM should hold her over for the rest of the night. Maybe 5 or 6 AM -- Mike's shift. Then at least I could get some sleep.

Ellie, or Dragon Baby, as she shall here-to-fore be referred, had other plans for me.

I get to bed somewhere between 1:30 and 2. At 3:55 AM, I hear the screaming. Not helpful feeding cues and sucking noises. Screaming.

How could she possibly be hungry again? But I figure, okay, I'll play along.

I do the routine. Change the poop, wipe the bum, warm the bottle... etc. Dragon Baby takes half the bottle and then starts hitting me. Baby code for "get that out of my face or I will barf all over your pjs." I catch wise and try to burp her. Pat her back? Rub her belly? No? Nothing?

I also notice that somewhere between 2 and 4 AM, she has gauged a large scratch across her left cheek, suporting my Dragon Baby theory. Seriously, when did my daughter grow talons? She has the tiniest fingernails I've ever seen. Did she crawl out of the house and encounter a dragon slaying knight? I suppose I'd be cranky and hungry too.

So we have many conversations about how screaming doesn't help me identify the problem, and a few about how self-mutilation is a bad idea...even for Dragon Babies. A few times, she stops screaming to stare at me with hatred. "Honestly, woman! How can you not know what the problem is?" At least, that's the subtext I'm reading from her expressions.

My daughter is very expressive. Actress material, I think.

Anyway, Mike swoops in. Major bedhead, squinty eyes... it is 4 AM, afterall. We bring every piece of her furniture upstairs, because we've learned that sometimes Dragon Baby just wants to sit instead of lie down.

The bouncy chair reaps limited success. We get some quiet, but then she spits the binky out after 2 minutes and screams in Mike's face. "You stupid Dad! Why would you think I want to sit here?"

She's got attitude problems, I think.

And then we try the swing.

If Dragon Baby has to swing every night in that thing until she's Dragon Teen, I will find a way to make that happen.

I got to sleep until 8 AM.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sour Milk

It's been an interesting couple of days. And I think I've been a bit overwhelmed to really process everything. I'll start at the beginning...

On Thursday, I finally got through to someone from the Milk Bank of America. For those that don't know the whole story, while Ellie was hospitalized, I was pumping breast milk and freezing it. By the time we discovered that she had a cow's milk protein allergy, I had over 300 ounces of breastmilk in the freezer. She couldn't drink them, obviously, because they contained dairy. And though most kids will outgrow a milk protein allergy around 6-7 months, all that milk will have expired by that time (if I had a deep freezer it would keep longer, but we don't).

So, I finally got someone to talk to me. It only took, like, a month. Honestly, donating something shouldn't be such a pain in the ass. So she explains to me that there's a phone interview, medical record check, and a blood test that I have to do. Annoying, but if it will save some premie baby's life somewhere, I'm on board.

I never got past the phone interview.

Apparently, if you have chronic allergies and must take Zyrtec to control your symptoms so you don't have sinus infections and daily head-to-toe hives.... you're out. I don't understand. I took Zyrtec during pregnancy with my doctor's ok. I pumped breastmilk for my daughter with her doctor's ok. Don't think I was just popping pills irresponsibly here, people. There's no pain meds, no alcohol, or even caffeine in that milk... and I get sidelined from donating by effing pollen?!

Something is not right here.

So guess where that breastmilk is headed? The trash. All that work! Wasted!

I could punch someone in the face.

The truth is, I don't have the freezer space to store all that milk at home. It will probably be bad by the time she can have it safely anyway, as I mentioned earlier. And also, she's on 100% formula now, since that dairy-free diet wasn't working out for either of us.


Sorry, needed to vent. I've never felt so useless! Mike is off donating platelets because his blood is, like, magic 0+ but negative for some weird virus that makes it ok for premie babies to have... Yeah, like I said. Magic Blood. And I was going to donate my milk.

Together, we were going to give new platelets and donor milk to little, sick babies. You know, save the premies. Empty the NICU of all it's patients.

Pay it forward.

I feel totally and utterly useless right now.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Not That Kind of Intervention

Yesterday, Elissa had her initial evaluation for Early Intervention. It was basically a formality, to see where her development is at right now, since her birth history already qualifies her for the program. Early Intervention is not scary, it doesn't mean she's delayed, and it's not that kind of intervention.

Trust me. My kid's already been through drug rehab anyhow.

So a team of people came to the house, sat on the floor, and played with Ellie. They measured her social skills, motor skills, and some other stuff that sounded much more scientific than it needed to be. (i.e. Does she eat her hands?) She did pretty well, but she's behind in almost every category. She needs a lot of work on her head and neck control. Her motor skills are at a two-month level. But her social skills are right on the money.

Mommy's little social butterfly. Aw.

Now, to preemptively answer the ensuing questions, Early Intervention gives us the opportunity to catch slow development and put Ellie back on track. With her MRI normal and all her progress to date, there's no cause for concern yet. She had a lot of traumatic things happen to her early on, a lot of things that put her at risk for different types of neurological problems, like cerebral palsy. But in EI, we have a chance to give her the most normal life possible.

And of course, I've got a whole bunch of "homework." Structured playtime. Doesn't that sound a bit... I don't know... counter-intuitive? But it's not bad. We have specific stretches to do, exercises that will help her neck strength grow, and all sorts of ways to try to get her to reach out and grab for things. Yay, light-up toys!

With lots of hard work, and a little luck, we'll get Ellie back on track in no time.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Flying Solo

When you bring a baby home, and it's just you and the baby -- one on one -- it's terrifying. When you're baby was in intensive care for 67 days and you spent weeks staring at heart rate monitors and oxygen saturation levels, and then it's just you and the baby ...


It takes some getting used to.

I've had the luxury of working all that nervous energy out of my system. Those first few days one on one with Ellie were panic-inducing at times, but eventually I realized she had the same needs as any baby. And I've been one on one with a baby before. Piece of cake.

For me.

Today, I went back to work and Mike stayed home with Ellie. I suppose you could say it was a test run of sorts, since he'll be one on one with her all summer. I wasn't worried, because hey -- he's Super Dad, right? No problem.

And after he got mad at me for insinuating that he was a goofy sit-com Dad -- I didn't, I swear. But who brings a baby in the car without a pacifier? -- he seemed pretty confident in his abilities too. We went all day with only one "judgment call" phoned in to my office. I was impressed.

But when I got home, he admitted that my fear of being one on one was real. He felt it too. Even though I'm long recovered from that fear, it's nice to know I didn't imagine it. Or that I wasn't overreacting, as I'm prone to do. He understood that first week -- when my nerves were frazzled and my stomach churned. And it gave me some perspective on how far I've come in just three weeks as a full-time mommy.

Ellie fell asleep in the car and when we got into the house, neither of us wanted to wake her. Mike, still feeling out that flying-solo parenting deal, turned and said to me, "Is it ok to leave her in there? In the corner like that?"

"Sure," I said. "If we were still driving, she'd still be in the seat, right?"

"But..." he smiled. "Nobody puts baby in the corner."

Ha. I guess he's over that fear now too.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Caffeine Fix

I should not have had so much Cherry Coke before bedtime last night.

Ever since I was pregnant, caffeine has had a new, weird power over me. It keeps me awake, basically, but it also makes my creative brain work at super speed. Kinda cool, when you are writing fiction. Not cool when you are trying to go to sleep.

So I sat up, composing the openings of books or entire short stories.... in my head. To get up and get a pad of paper would be to give in. To ignore it...well, I can't ignore it. In fact, I mostly wrote this blog post in my head last night.

Anyhow, as a writer, tapping into this creativity should be celebrated. But for a new mother, at 12 AM, not so much. I'd just quieted my creative brain and started to doze when Ellie decided it was time to eat. And where was that caffeine when it was time to stay awake and feed her?

It was a looooooong night.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Things That Were

This weekend, I got some interesting new perspective on my life. I find it's good to do that every once in a while. And visiting with old friends was the catalyst for a new path of thoughts for me.

This Saturday, I caught up with friends I hadn't seen in... well, forever, really... Good friends from high school. Friends that I grew up with, for all intents and purposes. The kind of friends that remember when you were awkward and naive and all those wonderful adolescent ideals you used to have. ("Ugh, who wants to have a baby? And stay home? Ummmm hello?")

One of these friends said to us: "You do realize how funny it is that you -- Mike and Steph -- have a baby together now, right?" And I thought about this. I pondered all the junctures in our lives together (14 long years of history) where we chose the direction that led us here.

Every moment of our lives has led us here. Every choice we've ever made, every moment we've ever spent together... For Elissa to have been born, there was a perfect alignment. Any other choice, and we would have had a different baby... or no baby at all. Maybe we wouldn't live in Boston. Or be married to each other. Or have college degrees. Or... anything could be different.

It blows my mind.

And in that moment, I realized she was right. Yeah. It is funny that we ended up here. If you picked up our book and read the first chapter and then this chapter... you'd be really confused.

The journey has made our family what it is. It's been a tough journey, but worth the trip. All of it... even those damn 67 days I'll never get back from the NICU.

I wouldn't change a single moment.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Rhythm of My Life

Elissa has been home with us for two weeks today. Unbelievable. These past two weeks went by so much faster than any two weeks we were in the NICU, it's incredible.

And I'm not sure who gave my daughter the green light on getting bigger. She's already starting to outgrow some of her clothes and I do not approve. I've had to start setting things aside for "the next baby".... and I hate talking in hypotheticals like that. And "next babies" would make my little Ellie Bean a big sister... whoa.

I'm gonna stop myself now before I get too carried away here.

Anyway, back to the two-week milestone. In those two weeks, I've accomplished a few things, not the least of which is keeping my child alive for 14 entire days without adult supervision. I am the adult here. Weird.

And although we haven't so much adopted a "schedule" per se, we have definitely fallen into a rhythm. A smooth, easy dance where Ellie gets fed, diapered, and cleaned. We have "bath nights." We have "play time." And somehow, bless her heart, she finds it necessary to allow Mommy some down time, all alone, once in a while.

It's not so bad, actually. I've got a good baby here. She even lets me clean the house. She isn't scared of the vacuum and she enjoys watching me fold laundry. Ellie really is my daughter if she thinks domestic activities are "fun."

All in all, I'm liking this motherhood situation. I think I will make Ellie a big sister one day.

One day.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Color Purple

When she was born, I decided Elissa's favorite color was purple. Part of it, I'm sure, what the fact that February's birthstone is amethyst. And also, pink for girls is fun, but all pink gets overwhelming.

Also, my baby girl looks pretty sharp in purple.

Throughout her hospitalization, I took comfort in purple things. Like good luck charms. Two weeks after she was born, Mike booked me a pedicure/manicure to relax. I had my nails painted purple. I kept that polish on until she came off ECMO.

I also started wearing my promise ring on a silver chain around my neck. My promise ring, oddly enough, is an amethyst. I'm not sure why Mike chose amethyst all those years ago... freshman year of college actually... aside from the fact that I'd once told him I thought amethysts were pretty. But now, ten years later, that ring suddenly meant so much more.

I wore that ring on my neck for sixty-seven days until my baby came home. I even slept and showered with it on, too scared to take off my good luck charm even for a little while. And on Ellie's sixteenth birthday, that ring will be hers. I want her to have it. There's so much emotion tied to that ring.

It's belonged to her from the day she was born, I guess.

Funny what we cling to in times of stress, isn't it?

Anyway, now that Ellie is home with me, I want to share that purple pedicure magic with her. I bought a new polish that I love, painted it on my own finger and toenails, then headed for her feet this past Saturday.

I learned several important things that day.

#1. Babies don't understand the concept of "Hold still, I'm making your toes pretty!"
#2. When touched, babies will kick their feet.
#3. Also when touched, babies will curl their toes... then drag them across the surface of, say, the bouncy seat in which they are sitting.

I had to explain the streaks of purple on our bouncy chair when Mike got home.

And truth be told, I painted more of her toes than her actual toenails..... which brings us to
#4. Babies have very tiny toenails.

Still, Ellie seemed pretty happy to hear all about "what pretty toenails she has!"
More or less...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Adventures of Super Dad

As I suspected, Mike is a Super Dad. I've seen them in action before--swooping in to save Mom from a tantrum, catching vomit in their bare hands, finding the perfect toy to occupy a cranky child... But now I know for sure that I'm married to one.

Apparently, as I was sleeping soundly throughout Ellie's 5 AM wake up time (that's Mike's shift), big events were transpiring. She woke up as usual, hungry and angry, looking for a meal. He trudged down the stairs half asleep. Change the diaper. Sit child in bouncy seat in kitchen. Heat the milk. But something was different...

Ellie quieted immediately when seated in her bouncy chair. Mike looked at her, she smiled.... And barfed. Everywhere.

Now... some dads would panic and wake their wives. Some dads would wipe it up, feed the baby anyhow, then call it a day. But Ellie's dad went into Super Dad mode.

A tub was drawn and Ellie was scrubbed from top to tail. New pajamas were commissioned. A smaller, but sufficient, feeding was given. He even washed the chair. And a very happy Ellie was placed in her swing in Mommy & Daddy's bedroom to quietly nap while Daddy went to work and Mommy snoozed.

Now, I know I can do all of that. I know a lot of Moms that can do all of that without thinking. And I am proud that my husband has equally superb instincts... and the clear-headed thinking that allows me to stay sleeping.

Thank you, Super Dad. That extra hour made me a happy Mommy.

Monday, May 10, 2010

My First Mother's Day

Nothing says "Happy Mother's Day, Mom!" like diaper rash. I mean, I didn't ask Ellie to get me anything to mark this special occasion. But she went ahead and did it anyway.

Yes, she is her father's daughter.

I spent the weekend of my first mother's day with a cranky, whining, not-quite-herself Miss Elissa. 'Screaming' seemed to be her only setting. With Mike away at the National Latin Convention, it was me, baby, Penny, and a slightly shell-shocked Auntie Lish. If she hadn't been here to feed me, I would have starved to death by Sunday.

Between diapers and feedings, I managed to piece together 7 hours of sleep in three days. I know I should nap when she is sleeping during the day, but I have never, ever been able to take naps. Ever. Even when I was pregnant, it was a rare feat. And just because I now have a child that naps, unfortunately, that does not mean that I will now nap.

Needless to say, I was pretty beat by Mother's Day.

But my friends took care of me. Emily made me a cake - hooray! Lish made me tacos - yay! And then Chris took me to brunch Sunday morning, where many mimosas were consumed - thank God! And by the time Mike got home Sunday afternoon, delicious chocolate-covered strawberries in hand, I was eager for a nice take-out dinner on the couch with my favorite two people in the world and a DVD.

Then I got a good night's sleep. Finally.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Messy Subject

This morning, Ellie pooped in my bed. I never thought I'd write a blog post about poop, but here goes.

So Mike was getting ready for work, I was awake but resisting the shower, and Ellie was laying in bed next to me. Kicking her feet, smiling at the wall... the usual. And then there were some other noises emanating from my child that have also become status quo around here. We laughed, saying things like, "Excuse you!" and "I bet you feel better now, huh?"

Somewhere between my sing-songing, "What a stinky girl you are!" and "Who wants clean pants?" I realized it. She'd fought hard for this poop, and won, and now victory had claimed 50% of her backside in an explosive attempt to escape her diaper.

How children can poop upward is beyond me. I wonder if I wore a diaper... you know what, nevermind. I'm not even going to go there.

The point is, why are we spending all this money on diapers if my daughter is going to try to poop up to her neck? I'm going to buy body suits made of diaper material. And if they don't have them yet, I'm going to invent them.

Anyway, the poop managed to triumph over the diaper's waistband, soak through her polka dot pajamas, and into my sheets. Awesome. I thought I was done with this nonsense when I got Penny housebroken.

So I stripped the baby, stripped the bed, and everyone got washed. All before 7 am.

And I thought I wasn't going to be productive today...

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mommy's Coffee Break

Today I made coffee and forgot about it. I brewed myself a cup, stirred in my Vanilla flavored soy milk, and walked away. I didn't even take a sip. When I remembered it was there, it was cold.

So I heated it up in the microwave. I opened the door, placed it on the tray, typed in my desired heating time, and walked away. It sat in the microwave until it was cold.

I'm drinking it now, after heating it a second time. But don't go congratulating me yet... it's cold. Because I heated it again, forgot it, and then gave up my dream of hot coffee. Right now, I'll take the caffeine however it comes.

And this, my friends, is how I know I'm becoming my mother.

As a kid, I wondered how my mom could drink the same cup of coffee for hours. Heating it here and there, adding some hot coffee from the pot just to freshen it up every so often. I thought it was ridiculous. I thought to myself, "Stephanie, when you're old enough to drink coffee, you shall always have a fresh cup." But now I realize that if I had a fresh cup every time I forgot about my last cup, I'd dump an entire pot of coffee down the drain by noon.

And now it all makes sense. Mom was just saving on groceries. Mom was also impressive in that she could function all day on just intermittent sips of coffee. I admire the strength of her parenting convictions. I, on the other hand, have dubbed Ellie's 9-10 AM nap time as "Mommy's Coffee Break."

Let's see how long that lasts.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

My Mer-Baby

I have never known a child -- much less an infant -- to be calmed by bath time. However, this is most definitely the case with my little girl. Screaming, wailing, fussing Ellie, when placed in warm tub of water, instantly becomes happy, splashing, smiling Ellie. Huh. If it wouldn't turn her into a giant baby prune, I'd leave her in there a bit longer. Not that she's unpleasant on land, or anything, but in the water, she is so peaceful. Like she belongs there.

My very own little mermaid.

It is ironic though, that Ellie is my child. I hate the water. Truly. I hate it. I can't swim, I don't like being wet, and I will avoid getting water in my eyes at all costs. My daughter, on the other hand, will do everything she can to put her face in the bathtub. (Don't worry, I don't actually let her do that... but believe me, she tries!)

I suppose, if you put any stock in astrology, this isn't surprising at all. She is, afterall, a Pisces. She really is a little fish baby. Maybe she'll grow up to be a swimmer or a diver. Maybe she'll be an Olympic athlete and crush Michael Phelps's records.

A mom can dream, can't she?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Happy In My Ellie-Ment

Ok, it's cheesy. But there's lots of potential to sneak Ellie's name into words. For example, our photo site on Shutterfly: Ellie Vision. Or when Ellie is trying to eat stuff, Mike calls her the Elli-gator. I think it's cute. I stand by my blog title.

So here we are, home at last. I'm not quite sure what to do with myself now that I don't have to travel into MGH every day. Ellie has made a full recovery and, I'll tell you, she probably has the proudest parents in the world right now. All of her follow-ups are going well and we're starting to feel like we're a normal family at last. We're slowly finding a rhythm to our days. It's like it was all a very bad dream.

It's wonderful and weird at the same time.

Now that I'm finally a "full-time" mom, I'm hoping to share my experiences here. I've always wanted to write a blog with an actual purpose. All my blogging to date has been a bit self-indulgent and directionless. Maybe this will be too, but at least it will be a fun record to look back on when Ellie is an adult.

Or blackmail material, at the very least.

Anyway.... here goes...