The number one, overarching, energy sucking thing about being a preemie parent is the stress. Stress is a battle for everyone in the human population. It’s talked about, therapied about, a huge industry centered solely around making this monster smaller, but like so many things in the preemie world stress is different in the NICU. It is constant. It's one variable is intensity, which can rise exponentially at any moment.
To combat this Goliath:
There are 5 Things I Wish I Had to Destress in the NICU, six years ago:
1) Adult Coloring Books
3) A Meditation App
4) Essential Oils
5) DBT Skills
3) A Meditation App: These can be found with a simple search of the app store. They have various features, such as meditation series, & different categories such as anxiety and sleep. They also have meditations of different lengths, and by different people, so you can try different styles.
As a quick recap of my previous post, (found here www.awonderfulyarn.com/blog/getting-the-bad-and-the-ugly-out-of-the-way), our little twins spent 110 in the NICU. They were born at 24 weeks, 6 days. Our full Caring Bridge story is here www.caringbridge.org/visit/samandemharris if you'd like all the details. Last post I dived feet first into the Bad and the Ugly. Now it's time for brighter things: The Good, The Bad(asses), and the Ugly (Ducklings.) Starting with the good, because the good is first in the saying The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly!
The people. Period. Hands down the single best "Good" of the NICU. I have never med a more dedicated, caring, kind-hearted group of people. They worked long hours, staying past shift times to help you through, and they knew everything! Everything about my babies, everything about the NICU, and everything about how to find the good in a situation that could leave you curled up in a ball sucking your thumb.
The nurses were our lifelines, the doctors were our anchors. Being in those occupations are as much about taking care of the parents as it is taking care of the babies. Maybe more so. They wrote on our hospital buckets little sayings like "Cuddle Blankets, "Mom's Pump Parts" and "Rub a Dub Tub", as we settled into a routine, we got to know the nurses even more. You couldn't help getting to know them. I talked to them more than my husband most days. We had conversations of all sorts and lengths and depths. We laughed, we cried, we were grossed out by the internet, and we were entertained by simple things like babies kicking.
Time is different in the NICU. Everything is clean and sterile. There are protocols and procedures. Everything is weighed and measured and tracked, and yet you are in suspended animation as the little pink things grow in their warm little boxes.
The first time they got to come out, though, that was definitely a good. They laid Emily on my chest, which I swear was going to burst and get explody bits all over. The nurses handled her like pizza dough, tossing her around like nothing. I never thought I would get to that point. As far as I was concerned she was made of sugar and would crumble or melt if I "held her wrong."
None of those things happened, though. She curled into my chest, and snuggled under that blanket, and my whole world was her and me rocking in that chair. For once the chaos of the NICU stopped. It faded away as I held my daughter. All I could see was her, all I could smell was baby head, all I could feel was her little cheek against my chest, all I could taste were the salty tears streaming down my cheeks, and all I could hear were her little sighs and squeaks.
Then she got the hiccups. They shook her poor little body so hard, we shouldn't have laughed, but we did. It was such a big sound coming from such a little body, and we knew it was a sound all her own. She was henceforth and forever dubbed Mommy's Squeaker Monkey.
Sam was actually a little scarier to hold, even though she had not had any surgeries or had any drains for her bowel. That little stinker didn't wanted to be bothered with the work of breathing. We became very good at gently shaking, or stimulating her to remind her that she DID know how to breathe, she COULD do it, and on top of that, she really NEEDED too. I suppose we should have dubbed her a little smurf something, she turned blue so often, but that seemed in poor taste, and she became my little Mantha Bug instead.
So, my girls count as my Bad(asses), although the nurses, as previously mentioned, are a close second for taking both categories. The babies were/are fighters, whose struggles were theirs alone. John and I could only look on, pray, and hold onto them for dear life. They made it through the needle sticks, and the tests, the tubes and the cares. They came out with flying colors on the other end, and they are the best thing this life has to offer.
Poor little things, though. For the first few months, they were so ugly. They looked like little alien beings with big eyes and heads and these scrawny little bodies. My coworker thought I was awful for saying it out loud, but it was the truth. What she didn't understand was that just because I said they were little aliens didn't mean I loved them less. It actually meant I loved them more- just as they were. They were (and are) my special Squeaker Monkey, and my Mantha Bug. They quickly grew into the most adorable babies, then toddlers, then kindergartners, and now first graders that you ever saw in your life. (No bias, really!) They are my own little Ugly (Ducklings), and I am the luckiest momma there is to be the mom of two (now three) little blessings.
So there you have it, the Good, the Bad(asses), and the Ugly (Ducklings). All of it is, and was, certainly an adventure. It has taken time, but I am able to look back and see the positive people, learning, and care we had in our lives.
Warning: This is a raw narration of the preemie experience. It contains descriptions that may be triggering for some.
You're not prepared. They try to warn you - scare you even, with words like complications, and possible outcomes, and percentage of You wish you could shake it off and throw it to the ground, stomping out it's existence with angry words "be gone! you have no power over me."time this happens. There is a whole dictionary of words, lists of medical procedures, worksheets of warnings. They tell you all this information thinking they are helping, but they're not. They mean well, but there's no way to take all that to heart and still feel okay with the little life growing inside you each day.
Then, everything, everything you ever thought about babies and hospitals, about births that will turn into joyous birthday celebrations, and about life as a family stops. It ceases to exist, and you are left with your entire world shrunk down to a six by eight foot area of one big room. In this small piece of rented real estate, your baby lays in a box while you squeeze yourself into the leftover space not occupied by machines and monitors. When a stranger comes to touch your child and care for her because you can't, you have to move out of the way.
You are no longer placing daddy's hand on your tummy while she kicks or turns somersaults that only you can feel from the inside. Now there are strange hands placing themselves in that box. You have lost the intimate, private relationship and connection with your baby. She is no longer inside you. She is no longer attached to you. She is no longer being kept safe, and warm, and growing by your body. You are empty.
They talk about the NICU being a roller coaster. You quickly find it is true when there are wondrous celebrations as machines are taken away and create space for you, and sinking despair when one needs to come back. The analogy is not entirely accurate, though. Roller coasters are fun and thrilling. We choose to get on them and hold our arms in the air to intensify the feelings that scare and entertain us for a few seconds of free fall. Someone has put you on it and strapped you in. You throw your hands in the air out of frustration, and cover your face to hide the tears.
hen, finally, gratefully and with great relief, you get to go home and just be a normal family. But it's not normal. It's sleeping in the nursery on a broken recliner because you are afraid they might forget that they learned how to breath. It's measuring formula in calories instead of bottles. It's remembering meds, and food, and baths, and more meds, and doctor visits, and nurse visits, and specialty visits, and cognitive tests, and expensive shots so they can continue to breath if they get sick.
And you can't. Not yet. You can't breath, you must stay vigilant and protect against the whole world who wants to enter your babies' space out of love for babies, and love for family, and the whole cuteness of it all. You can't let them in. She is quarantined from germs and viruses that full term babies could withstand. There are wipes, and foams, and gels, all meant to kill these bastards, but you still clench when anyone comes too close, or asks to hold or touch. All you can think of is the viruses they could carry that could bring death to your child's fragile immune system. An immune system that isn't built enough to defend against these things yet. You must be the barrier between your baby and the world, and they hate you for it.
The consequences of innocent gestures are beyond most people's comprehension, but they can't be beyond yours. You wish you could shake it off and throw it to the ground, stomping out it's existence with angry words "be gone! you have no power over me." But they do. They have a terrifying power that rears their head in every public appearance away from the safe space you've created at home. The one next to Kleenex, sanitizer, wipes and freshly washed hands and clothes.
Yet, the world goes on with its turning, and eventually your world starts to grow. As you emerge, however, you realize you've missed the walks in the park, and the trips to the malls. You've been so diligent about avoiding all the places where ever humans might get too close and upset the fragile balance between protection and madness. You had no mommy and me classes. You had no coffee play dates. You had limited family gatherings. Your baby has been existing for months, are more like the tree that falls in the forest.
Eventually, as time passes the seemingly impossible starts to happen. You lose a stat here, and forget a fact there. Things that you thought would be burned in your brain forever start to fade. Never totally gone, but softer somehow. You manage to get through the first birthday, which was the day your world collapsed around you rather than the joyous day your baby was born.
Even that feeling fades with time, and each time you are asked how you did "it", you are less and less taken aback each time. I did it because I had to. There was no other path we could have gone down, and I did. They did. Dad did. WE did.
It happened. We were there. We made it. We carry the physical scars from my daughter's surgeries, and the emotional scars in our hearts. We are never totally free of the sight of the wires, the smell of antiseptics, the feeling of holding something so fragile you swear you are going to break it, and the sounds of the shrill beeps of the monitors. You are never free from the place where your babies lived, but others went there to die. You try to remind yourself that you were one of they lucky ones, but it rings hollow. Your luck came at a great price. One you would wish on no one.
Why the heck was I so unmotivated?
My whole life I have watched other people find their way in life, stumbling, falling, and tumbling down hills, but finding their way nonetheless. I could never figure out why every time I made it up even a small hill, it erupted like a volcano before me, and I was left with ashes and soot. They say that cooled lava is some of the richest soil in the world, so I should have been up to my eyeballs in lush, green, paradise. Or at least on the tour bus to the resort.
Then I was forced to take a break, really buckle down and do some life-skill learning, and along the way I discovered "the other one" of two things about myself that surprised the hell out of me when they came to my attention: 1) I'm an introvert 2) I am a Right-Brained person.
The first one I figured out a while ago. While I've gotten good at being social and such, I come away from most interactions and events utterly exhausted.
The second one (I am Right-Brained) you couldn't have convinced me of before if you had paid me a million dollars. Well, okay, maybe then, but under protest. I felt a lot of things when this realization happened. Incredulous, joy, fear, relief, lost, stupid for not seeing it sooner, yet to finally unravel part of the "why" behind all my feelings over the years was amazing. I had felt out of place, alien, drained, unmotivated, and all around miserable at previous jobs. I've been an Administrative Assistant, An Executive Assistant, and worked in Human Resources. All of which required attention to detail and repetitive follow through on procedures and systems.
I was great at setting up the systems. Streamlining, documenting, training - it was all peachy! Until I had to follow my own system. Then. Brick. Wall. Stop. Turns out I love the creative process WAY more then actually doing the process, but business is mostly a Left-Brain world. At leas the part of the business world I was in. I'm sure some of you are in the same dingy, racing down the same, roaring river, dodging rocks and trees and getting closer and closer to that...peaceful pool at the bottom of the waterfall.
This "a ha" moment has let me to realize most of the things I do to rejuvenate, calm my anxiety, and all around feel in control, are mostly creative activities. From creating a an organizational/storage system for my home, to organizing a presentation or itinerary into a binder, I thrive on getting it just right, but not doing it just right over and over. I get excited about finding efficiency, order, the best way to solve a problem, and it's a huge bonus if I get to do it in a cute and colorful way.
So, I am going to. The details are gelling, but I know it will have something to do with the pain and joy of having preemies, while having Anxiety, and dealing with PTSD. The hair clips, in some form, are staying, but I would like to add all the things I wish I had in the 105 days we were in the NICU. I am setting up a Business Plan with a Right-Brained planning book. I am acknowledging my need to create, so am weaving into A Wonderful Yarn. (See what I did there?) I want to make it into something colorful, inspiring, and healing.
I am excited to take this journey and see, over time, what the realization does for Anxiety and shtuff. I hope to see walk with me off and on along the way.
All right everyone, fresh start! We're gonna have a good day, which will turn into a good week, which will turn into a good year, which will turn into a good life!
Ah...the "New Year, New You: Happy New Year!" post. Yes, it's here: 2019. Four years after the Back to the Future future. Ten years before an apocalyptic Terminator world. Here we are. Sitting on the precipice of a new tomorrow, and one after that, and one after that. And if we just believe hard enough and plan carefully enough, we can make ourselves anew!
Truth is, there is no new you. Just as Doc Holiday said in Tombstone: "There is no normal life, Wyatt, there's only life." (What exactly is a precipice anyway?)
Same for us. In Jurassic World Maserati says: "The secret to being happy is to accept that you are never really in control." I would add "of the world outside ourselves", but the point comes across.
Of course there is much wisdom in The Return of the Jedi, "Luke, you will find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view." You bet, Obi Won!
Just like Obi Won said. Point of view creates our reality, but so do the questions we ask ourselves: In the cartoon both are right if the question is "What is this number?", but if the question is "What is 4+5?" the answer is clearly 9. This cartoon drove me crazy until I realized, while 9 may be the correct answer to the second question, the "6 person" may never be able to see the nine if they are caught up in their own "stuff". It becomes a waste of energy trying past a certain point.
Whoa. Talk about something being wrong with the earth's gravitational pull in 1985! Think of all the energy we will get back!
Then of course, there's the much quoted Yoda line from Return of the Jedi: "There is no try. Do or do not.", but I like the exchange that happens right after that famous quote. After Yoda uses the force to lift Luke's X-Wing out of the swamp, Luke says "I don't believe it." in a hushed, reverent voice. Yoda: "and that is why you fail". Belief is a powerful thing. Don't believe me? Ask the guy in the cartoon that sees the six even in the face of all the evidence pointing toward 9.
So what does this all mean? According to Joy, every moment counts. Doc Holiday would say to not try to be something your not. Obi Won helps us step outside our own perceptions and realize other points of view. Of course then there is Yoda who wants us to get off our bums and do it already while believing in ourselves along the way. In Back to the Future we write our own destiny and Terminator, well let's remember these are just movies after all.
What are the memorable parts of your story?
How do I have a good day?
I use my Day Designer Planner.
Who has never worn a yarn hat of some kind? Go ahead, raise your hands...it's okay. You are a select few who have found joy in other hat materials, and I salute your freedom of choice.
The rest of us, however have had the joy of pulling that warm, soft, stretchy but hugging cap over our hair, and settling it on our forehead just right. Why, with the choices (of perhaps warmer, more functional, hats out there do we keep going back to the tried and true many of us grew up with our grandmothers and great-grandmothers hand making, a stitch at a time, for us?
First, what a yarn hat (or mitten, or scarf, etc) has going against it:
1) It is labor intensive.
Even for the fastest yarn crafter, building a useful end product takes time. With hectic work, kid, fur baby, etc. etc. etc. schedules, many people don't have time to learn or to take on one more project.
2) The yarn and supplies can add up quickly.
Most of us obsessed with yarn watch the sales and clearance events and have to stop ourselves from letting the mountain of yarn overtake our houses. If you are making a specific one-off project and need specific yarn and a certain amount of it, it can be more expensive than just going out and buying that cardigan sweater. Some people think "Why bother"
3) People are just not taught by their relatives as much as they used to be.
My Grandmother taught me to work the yarn and needle, and let's just say at 4, I didn't learn overnight. We are slowly losing the skills that used to be staple past times. We opened my Grandmother's hope chest when she passed, and in it were stacks and stacks of doilies, embroidery, and just about every other handcrafted cloth item there was. They didn't call it hand-crafted art back then, they just did it. Daily. Usually while sitting around chatting with friends and family. In today's world, that slower pace of life just isn't there. Many activities have taken its place.
So now that I've thoroughly bummed you out and have you longing for yesteryear, Here are the reasons I think yarn crafting is here to stay:
1) It is so darn cute! (Especially on children and babies)
There is a reason many of the photo props for newborns and such are knit or crocheted. The choice of patterns are endless, and you can welcome your bundle of joy (or fur baby) with a certain style and fit that suites them (and you) exactly. Not to mention how highly customization they are. We have not seen the last of sleeping babies in adorable hats and skirts and (in my daughters' case) Minnie Mouse outfits. (I did not make them - this talented lady did: https://www.etsy.com/shop/1beautifulhandmade) Photos by BellaLaVitaPhoto.com and CustomCreationsPhotography.com
2) It is made with love
From gifts from relatives, to your own creation, to preemie NICU hats and chemo hats. There is a genuine desire to help others that comes with receiving or giving a hand-crafted yarn item. I still have many of the NICU beanies and the hat and bootie gifts we received.
3) People love doing it, and you can only make yourself so many hats, scarves, etc.
Much like number two, this one follows that the people making these items love to do it. For me it is relaxing and a time to slow down and pay attention the process in my hands. I can do it and still be present for my family or friends, and it just makes me happy.
So there you have it. My humble opinions on knitting and crochet. Two hobbies and forms of art that touch countless lives every day.
Do what makes you happy-
1. Always hold your pinky out while drinking tea.
It's fun. It can be silly. It is apparently against etiquette in actual afternoon or high tea (http://t.co/xoAeehjzBP), but we didn't care. For gramma and me it was an occasion to laugh, pretend we were fancy, and enjoy ourselves. Every time I drink hot cocoa, I am reminded of her and her sun filled kitchen. I'm brought back to sitting at her little table next to her hand sewn curtains and being the luckiest two people in the world.
2. You can't "pass" at checkers - even if all your pieces are trapped.
When we played checkers, Gramma never went "easy" on me even though I was four. I remember her getting all my pieces in places where no matter where I moved I would be jumped by her piece and mine would be taken. I tried to "pass" on my turn, but Gramma held me to the rules of the game. Just like in life, you may not like the choices you have in a perticular situation, but you still have to make a move.
3. Watching the clock is the surest way to fall asleep.
Like many four year old's, I did not like nap time. I wanted to be up, playing, DOING. Gramma, however, knew I needed to recharge with a nap, and the way she got me to sleep was by telling me I could get up - when the big hand was at the top (ten minutes or so). I would always fall asleep before the time was up- every time.
Remembering to stop and recharge sometimes is valuable even for grown ups. Sometimes, we have to literally stop and watch the time tick by to calm down enough to allow our bodies and minds to rest. The world will still be there when we wake up again.
4. Being manipulative is not nice.
Now, I didn't learn the phrases and what this fully meant until I grew up, but some mornings I would cry and scream as my mom went out the door to work. As soon as the door was closed, I would turn to gramma, clasp my hands (completely scream free and smiling even while the tears were still wet on my cheeks) and say: "So! What are we going to do today? Luckily gramma was able to call my mom at work and tell her I was right as rain as soon as she left, but I just know it broke my mom's heart. Especially now that I am a mom who has dropped her girls at daycare, I just want to say: "Sorry, mom"!
5. Even if they don't all show it the same way, your family loves you.
My grandma was not what you would call the "touchy feely" type. She came from stoic, English farmers. She was also a pediatric nurse at the hospital, and she saw children in extreme situations. She had all the feelings about many things, but she didn't let herself show it most of the time. She would say "I love you" in a matter of fact way, and hugs goodbye with emotions were brushed off. It was only when I got older I realized gramma was trying to protect us from seeing her pain, but it was still there, along with the love, the pride, and joy that went along with life's moments. She just "didn't like a fuss."
6. Go outside and play.
It is good for you, and it is good for your caretakers who need a break from a child's boundless energy. In our high tech world of TVs, laptops, air conditioning and indoor activities, I am often guilty of this one. Our body needs the vitamin D in the suns rays. Our lungs and bodies respond to the fresh air and activity. It feels good to be out and to be part of the world instead of watching it go by from a window. The only way to enjoy these things is to get out and enjoy the world.
7. People remember, and come together around, great food.
Christmas, Easter, weddings, no matter the occasion, my gramma (and Aunts etc.) would all bring food to share. We would all sit down to eat, and even though each dish was brought by people with completely different personalities and lives, all of them would fit together to form a scrumptious meal.
8. A family recipe beats a cookbook.
I have dabbled in various recipes from time to time, and I consider myself a fairly good cook. I can taste something and add this, or add that to bring out the flavor I want. Every time I have started with a random cook book recipe, I've had to tweak it far more than when I started with gramma's recipes that were handed down from her mother, and her mother, and - you get the idea. Passing on family tradition is important. It has qualities that no store bought or catered food can touch. Plus, there is love in there.
9. Tell your family stories often.
And write them down. My gramma was diagnosed with stomach cancer a few years ago. I would drive the couple hours to see her, and the visits were long overdue. In those times, I heard the most amazing stories and the history of our family I didn't even know was there. Stories about my dad and his siblings growing up, stories of my gramma's siblings and growing up, and stories about when I was little. I had no idea about many of them, and I am thankful I took the time to be with her and listen to all of them.
10. Hand-crafted items take love, patience, and practice but are worth it.
Nothing worth having is easy, is the cliche saying that gets tossed around. I think that oversimplifies things. Things should get easier, at times be hard again, and other times somewhere in between. I have super cute patterns that I can do in my sleep, and I have other patterns that are a challenge, and still others that are neither. It becomes a balancing act between growing, resting and recharging, and living. Over time, it all evens out to be a life well spent.
Eclectic crochet fanatic & designer. Mpls, Sci Fi, God, JRTs, girls-6,6,3 & hubs=love. firstname.lastname@example.org