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November’s Book and Bike Break Down

Catch up on what Mandi’s reading and how many miles she’s riding!

Booking and biking my way through 2020.


Books

44. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez (Young Adult, Contemporary)
So I tried my best to read this during Hispanic Heritage month, but the stars didn’t quite align. I loved the cultural aspects of this story and felt much of it was appropriate to read in times such as these, but it’s definitely written for a younger audience (despite the amount of cursing). That made it harder for me to really connect. I guess I just didn’t expect “young adult” to come off as quite this juvenile. While I don’t feel like it’s a book my kids HAVE TO READ some day, it was a good story, and I did enjoy it. 4 STARS

45. Dear Martin by Nic Stone (Young Adult, Contemporary)
I guess I’m kind of stuck on the YA/Contemporary stuff right now, but I have no regrets. Here is what was great about this book: Justyce, the main character is black, comes from an underprivileged home and goes to a school for mostly overprivileged kids. He’s incredibly smart and could do amazing things in the world, yet he’s struggling with the same things every young black kid struggles with – growing up black in America is just different than growing up white in America. I won’t lie, the book was much more young adult than I anticipated, and while that bothered me at first, in hindsight I really appreciate the perspective. It felt similar to Between the World and Me, but was more like the story version of that. 5 STARS

46. Love Does by Bob Goff (Christian, Nonfiction)
Bob Goff has a really fun way of writing. You can tell he is a character from reading even just one of his stories. I really like a lot of the choices he has made as a parent and a lot of the ways he has chosen to live his life, but his book as a whole wasn’t overly inspirational to me. I would love to see it as a memoir instead of something that is intended to make you go do big things for God. He is doing big things for God, and I think his stories alone can bring about inspiration. 2 STARS

47. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (Fantasy, Young Adult)
4,224 pages later, I did it. I finished the series, and wow, what a doozy of a last book. I was skeptical going into this series. Why does it have such a cult following? But while I haven’t up and joined the cult, I can say that it was worth most of those 4,224 pages to get to the end. Book 7 was amazing, but without the first 6, it could not have been written. It was an phenomenal culmination of the story, the character’s journeys, the overall Harry Potter/Voldemort battle. Had I had the time, I could have binged the second half of this book easily because so much started happening and I needed to know the answers. 5 STARS

I think it’s worth noting that I would give the Harry Potter series as a whole 4 stars. I was underwhelmed in the beginning, but books 4, 5, 6 and 7 (especially 7) removed any skepticism I held while making my way through the series. I get why people love it.


Biking

Current total: 2300

698 of those miles having been outside (366 of them pulling a kid).

I don’t think I’ve made it “public knowledge”, but the new goal? 2500. Shooting for something very manageable at this point so I don’t overwhelm myself during the holidays. Also, I never thought I’d ride this many miles this year, but here we are.

Hope you had a great November! Stay safe everyone.

The Nightcap

Living in a constant state of anxiety and feeling like you do not even know yourself is so hard when you’re also trying to love on your new baby and be a good mom to your toddler and a good wife to your husband and a normal friend to your friends and a good family member to your family. I didn’t even know how to be good to myself, so feeling like I needed to be good for other people felt like a stretch I could hardly make yet one that was expected of me. Why couldn’t I just be normal? Why couldn’t I be the Mandi everyone knew? Why couldn’t I be predictable?

11.16.19

“My anxiety has calmed down a bit. I think I’m starting to level out, which is good because I have just not been myself. There’s a part of me that thinks going back to work will be good for me. I need purpose and structure outside of my kids. But there’s also a part of me that is anxious about missing the precious, little moments with my babies when I’m working.

Around the time of my 6-week postpartum follow-up appointment, I reached out to a couple of friends and let them know I was experiencing some postpartum depression.  While naming what was going on to my husband cracked the door to healing, sharing my experience with friends gave that door another good shove. My friends’ responses, while different, were both overwhelmingly understanding and supportive. One reminded me of just how common this is and that I don’t need to view myself as being abnormal despite feeling abnormal. The other said that she, too, had experienced PPD and acknowledged how hard it is, but reminded me how temporary it is in the grand scheme of things. I am blessed to have such great friends in these particular women, that they then journeyed with me through the rest of that viscous hormonal cycle, reaching out from time to time to check in or offer ways they could help.

Living in a constant state of anxiety and feeling like you do not even know yourself is so hard when you’re also trying to love on your new baby and be a good mom to your toddler and a good wife to your husband and a normal friend to your friends and a good family member to your family. I didn’t even know how to be good to myself, so feeling like I needed to be good for other people felt like a stretch I could hardly make yet one that was expected of me. Why couldn’t I just be normal? Why couldn’t I be the Mandi everyone knew? Why couldn’t I be predictable?

Near the end of my maternity leave, my husband, two kids and I spent some time in Northern Michigan at a family-favorite vacation spot. Getting away from our house and just being in a different place with no expectation to do anything other than just simply be there worked wonders on my anxiety. We got horrendously snowed in, but we made the best of it, marveling at the sight, taking overly bubbly bubble baths, building snow forts and feeling as though we were the new cast of Survivor.

In the same week, I also prepared 13 freezer meals for my return to work. I noticed that a part of my life that causes great anxiety for me even without PPD is meal-planning and preparing. I started doubling up on dinners every few nights, making one for that night and one for the freezer. While we wouldn’t even end up immediately whipping those out and heating them up, just knowing I had them available if I needed them helped ease my mind about my return to work.

In short, naming what was going on and sharing that with people made space for me to acknowledge what I needed to do to get through it. Did my PPD go away the minute I made peace with those words or shared them with my closest confidants? Absolutely not. In fact, as I recount these times a year later, I know that I still catch glimmers of it here and there even today. While I imagine some day I’ll be completely through it, I now know what it’s like, and I hope I’ll extend grace upon grace upon grace to any other woman who has to go through PPD on top of the already incredibly difficult task of being a mom to a fresh baby. It doesn’t quite seem fair that on top of your major new role in life you should also be trying to figure out who you are now, why you seem so different and why you think the things you think and feel the things you feel.

A part of me has felt like PPD was the nightcap to my pregnancy experience. Let’s finish it off with one more shot of something difficult.

In the stats: 
Adjusted Age: 4 weeks, 5 days
Actual Age: 8 weeks, 1 day

October’s Book and Bike Break Down

Catch up on what Mandi’s reading and how many miles she’s riding!

Booking and biking my way through 2020.


Books

39. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (Young Adult, Fantasy)
The 6th of 7 books, I’m staying pretty steady with my ratings on this series and might end at about a 3.5/4 star average. I liked this particular book much better than the last one, and was pretty shocked by the ending. I’m definitely invested in the characters, which helps the whole series feel better to me than each individual book. However, I just can’t get to a 5 star rating on these books. I think it’s generally because they are so big and they just don’t need to be. Lots of extra stuff in there… 4 STARS

40. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (Young Adult, Contemporary)
I remember so very little of this story from my childhood, but I wanted to re-read it before watching the movie on Disney+. I was incredibly rewarded for having done so. Reading this as an adult and, particularly, during this season of the world is a game changer for this heart-warming story. Why are we all so obsessed with being liked and being like each other? Why can’t we be obsessed with liking each other instead, regardless of who or what we are? Maybe we all need to be a lot more like Stargirl. 5 STARS

41. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (Science Fiction, Thriller)
Though this isn’t my typical genre of choice, I realized I truly enjoy it by reading Blake Crouch’s newer book, Recursion. When book club chose this book, I was excited to visit his work again. This book was great – well thought out, engaging, deep, and intense. Like Recursion, it would also make a great movie (though I think I would also not generally choose this type of genre in the movie format…). If I had to pick between both of his books, I think Recursion was better. They share a lot of common themes, but it felt like he just learned a lot the first time and did it even better the second. 4 STARS

42. Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks (Short Stories)
I think Tom Hanks might be the greatest actor of our time. He never does anything that’s just okay… except for writing. He might be one of the most okayest writers of our time. I wanted to love it, but it just felt shallow and so it dragged for me. I started reading this in September and it took me over a month to finish it. But did I read every short story with the voice of Tom Hanks in my head? Maybe… 2 STARS

43. Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (Young Adult, Contemporary, Poetry)
I love the idea of novel-in-verse books. In general, I feel like they’re better because the author had to take much more time to so carefully craft each sentence with eloquence and intention. However, this one was just ok to me. I enjoyed the story, but I just thought there might be more to it. I wanted to cry, and I never even came close. The idea of a plane crash that brings people together who have so little yet so much in common could be really fascinating. It felt like a bit of a missed opportunity to me. 3 STARS


Biking

While I met my goal to ride 2020 miles in 2020 on October 17, I figured I’d continue on with the tally for your enjoyment:

My current total: 2054

635 of those miles having been outside (339 of them pulling a kid).

Hope you had a great October!

PPD

The fall of 2019 was a hard season. Ears deep in a mountain of personal turmoil, I was also struggling to bond with my one month old baby. In hindsight, I can attribute that struggle to many things (like his NICU admission/experience), but I’m lying if I don’t say that amidst all that was going on, I had become one of the ten percent of women who experience postpartum depression.

10.28.19

“I think I’m finally in a place where I can admit I’m having some postpartum depression…

The fall of 2019 was a hard season. Ears deep in a mountain of personal turmoil, I was also struggling to bond with my one month old baby. In hindsight, I can attribute that struggle to many things (like his NICU admission/experience), but I’m lying if I don’t say that amidst all that was going on, I had become one of the ten percent of women who experience postpartum depression.

In regards to our baby, things were going fine. Win was eating and growing and sleeping and being so cute. He was fussy a lot, but babies are like that some times, so we gave him grace.

It took me several weeks of feeling “not myself” before putting two and two together and calling a spade a spade. I’d always known postpartum depression was common, but now I know it’s a misnomer as well. I didn’t feel depressed. I had no urges to hurt my baby like they say you’re going to feel. I felt extremely anxious and indecisive and nowhere near as though my son was an extension of myself.

When I forgot to pack my daughter’s blankie for Grandpa and Grandma’s house, I literally could not decide if I should drive it over there before nap time. When my son’s flailing arms and legs were getting in the way of a middle-of-the-night diaper change, I had a panic attack. I was constantly counting down the time I had left on maternity, completely freaked out about whether or not I would be able to return to work a functioning adult. I was tired all the time – no matter the amount of sleep our kids allowed us at night.

I was rational much of the time, but I knew I was being irrational in every irrational moment I had. I just could not, for the life of me, flip the switch to rational. Some days were fine. Others were nightmares. Not many were all that great.

I danced around the words “postpartum depression” for a few weeks, telling my husband, “I’m just not myself,” and putting on a happy face for everyone else.

Depression? Not me. I would never!

But admitting to myself that maybe something is wrong right now (and will be ok again some day when I’m a little more postpartum), and maybe what people call this doesn’t actually sound like what it is, and maybe, even if it did sound like what it is, that would be ok, too – was a huge first step in the direction I needed to go.

It took me a while to say the words to myself. It took me longer to say them to my husband. But naming what was going on, opened up a level of acceptance of myself that cracked the door to healing.

“I don’t want to miss out on these times because I’m hormonally imbalanced. I just want to enjoy and love on my kiddos.”

In the stats: 
Adjusted Age: 2 weeks
Actual Age: 5 weeks, 3 days

2020 in 2020: A Bonus Biking Post

Ride 2020 miles in 2020? Check!

As of October 17, I completed 2020 miles in the year 2020! If you’re like me, you might be curious as to how those 2020 miles broke down statistically, so…

It took me 291 days total, averaging 6.9 miles per day though I took 68 days off, averaging 9.1 miles per ride.
When counting miles per day, I only ever rounded down and, while my average might give the appearance of otherwise, I ended every single day at an even number count of miles. 9.5 mile ride? That would have been counted as 8 miles. Go ahead, call me superstitious, but we’re all a little crazy somewhere.
I rode a total of 240 rides, 163 indoor + 77 outdoor with 43 “Burley Rides” as we call them in our house.
Of the 2020, 1391 miles were indoors, 629 miles were outdoors, and 333 miles were “Burley Rides”, which brings me to my next argument…

Burley Rides with both kids means, I’m pulling approximately 55lbs behind me on said ride. While I did not inflate my mileage to take this into account, I think it’s worth doing the math to accommodate for the extra work. 55lbs is a certain percentage of my weight. If we times my Burley Ride miles by, say, 1.4, it’s really like I rode 466.2 miles instead of 333, which would have given me a total of 2153 miles and had me finishing 2020 in 2020 on October 2.

Regardless, some of my notable rides along the way:
Win took his very first Burley ride on April 3 and Oaklee held his hand and wiped up his spit to help him through it.
Oaklee rode alongside me for 2 miles on her balance bike on May 23. This was my shortest ride. It was also my sweetest.
I rode my half-way ride (1010 miles) on Memorial Day.
I got my very first flat tire on July 11 and the good Lord sent a more than equipped stranger to the right place at the right time who helped me, my kid, my bike and my Burley get home.
On August 23, we left our old house for our last time on bike, riding 6 miles to our new house.
I rode my longest ride on Labor Day (24 miles).
And, of course, I rode my last 2 miles on October 17.

On October 17 I celebrated with champagne, a Barbie cake and a 4 person awards presentation (my husband, my kids and me). A co-worker of mine bought me the most perfect medal. And while my true gift to myself hasn’t arrived yet (a silver ring with a bike on it), finally ordering the Barbie cake I’ve wanted for like 23 years was pretty sweet (though the cake itself was not sweet – it was everything I ever dreamed of until I took a bite – quite possibly the worst tasting cake I have ever tasted – utterly inedible – there’s $35 I’ll never get back).

Before we talk about what’s next, for your enjoyment, my acceptance speech:

It is an honor to accept the award I am 100% presenting myself today. I’ve dreamed of this award literally for decades and finally deemed it well deserved after such a feat as biking 2020 miles this year. This milestone would not have been possible without the help of many others, so allow me to take a moment to thank those who’ve helped me along the way.

I first have to thank the Lord for giving me a body I can use, a community I can explore, and the safety and health to complete such an endeavor as this. I also have to thank and attribute much of my accomplishment to the support and occasional neglect of my husband, Kevin. To my children, their stuffed animals and dolls for literally being along for the ride whether they excitedly jumped into the Burley en route to the playground or were lured in with snacks. To my parents for teaching me to ride a bike and then buying me the bike 12 years ago that I still ride today. To my high school cheer experience that formed me into a goal setter/getter. To the guy who took me, my kid, my bike and my Burley home when we were were stranded with a flat tire. To the owners of the ponies on Barry St and the owner of the goats on Quincy who provided above par pit stops for my kids. To Ms. Whitmer for never shutting down sidewalks, trails and roads (too soon? 😬). To the books that kept me company on my indoor rides. To every friend and family member who checked in or encouraged me along the way – you may have thought your words were small, but they were fuel.

When I set out to ride 2020 miles this year, I had no idea when or if I would actually finish it. So today, I’m honestly surprised to be celebrating two months early. Many have assumed I have always been an avid biker. This is untrue. My bike is nothing special. It’s never been “tuned up”. Last year, I probably rode 300 miles max. The only special biking gear I have is a helmet (though I did have to buy biking shorts because chafing – ow). I fought hard to make today happen and I ran into many challenges along the way. From knee pain, to a flat tire, to a shutdown that made it almost impossible to find time away from my kids to ride, to major life changes like moving, I had to rework plans, go with the flow, be persistent, multitask, take breaks and find ways to make it happen in times it felt like it might not.

If you journeyed along with me this year and thought, “I could do that,” I would say DO IT. And if you journeyed along with me and thought, I could never do that, I would say you’re probably right. The difference is, undoubtedly, thinking you can.

So today I celebrate accomplishment. This wasn’t about changing my body or testing it. It was about taking time for myself, showing my kids what healthy habits look like, practicing dedication to a task, and accomplishing goals. Ride 2020 miles in 2020? Check! Now onto the cake I’ve been waiting 23 years to eat…

So I’m done. A lot of people have been asking, “Now what?” I still have two months in 2020, am I just done? In short, no. But up until this point I’d been prioritizing biking over other areas of my life, and I don’t feel a need to continue in that trajectory. I also need some time to recover. Two days before the end, I fell down our stairs and hurt my knee (why do we still do this as adults?). Having already ordered the Barbie cake, I had to finish 14 miles at a time when I should have realistically rested. I’ll go easy for a couple of weeks now, riding when it sounds nice instead of riding to cross an item off my to-do list, and then I’ll jump back in and see where I end the year at.

As far as next year, will I continue riding? Absolutely. Part of this process was simply about forming a healthy habit. I once realized that if I want to be fit forever, I need to have realistic fitness goals. Do I think I’ll run a marathon at 50? Probably not. But could I ride my bike for 20 miles at 50? I sure hope so. So I’ll continue leaning into this healthy habit, but I might not as meticulously track my mileage and every detail along the way. We’ve got other plans for 2021, and I honestly cannot wait for those to begin panning out.

It’s been an amazing 10 months in regards to biking. The goal getter side of me is sad that it’s over, but my biking journey as a whole will never truly be over. Cheers to this experience, to celebration, and to goal achievement! I’ll keep you posted on where I end the year at.

Slightly Monumental

In the world of premature babies, there are preemies, and then there are PREEMIES. My son is a preemie. My daughter is a PREEMIE. As the parent of a PREEMIE, we often struggle to consider other preemies “true preemies”. When other parents want to relate to (or commiserate on) our experience of a premature birth, it’s hard to engage in a conversation of two experiences that are so vastly different.

10.14.19

“It’s Win’s due date. It seems much less monumental to me because he’s never seemed like a preemie.

In the world of premature babies, there are preemies, and then there are PREEMIES. My son is a preemie. My daughter is a PREEMIE. As the parent of a PREEMIE, we often struggle to consider other preemies “true preemies”. When other parents want to relate to (or commiserate on) our experience of a premature birth, it’s hard to engage in a conversation of two experiences that are so vastly different. Statistically speaking, of the 10% of babies who happen to be born premature only about 6% are born before 28 weeks. So for every premature kid (born before 37 weeks gestation) we meet, only about 1 in 167 of them can understand what this was like for us. (And yes, we have met some.)

While I’m grateful my kids will forever be bonded by their premature births, they are the perfect example of those vastly different experiences. I’m incredibly grateful my son did not have to undergo the experience his sister did. After his brief NICU visit, he came home a pretty normal baby. By his two week checkup, he weighed in at 8lbs, 2oz – a very respectable weight for a two week old baby.

At this age, my daughter was still receiving milliliters of breastmilk – not ounces – through a nasogastric tube. Win, on the other hand, was eating like a champ. He knew when he was hungry (and boy, was that often), and he ate as much as he wanted. I didn’t have to set alarms to wake us up in the middle of the night to remind him to eat and grow. I didn’t have to count the minutes he spent breastfeeding to know he was getting enough. I didn’t have to pump, bottle feed and record to the nearest milliliter how much he’d taken. I didn’t have to track wet and dirty diapers to confirm his output was good. Win was an eater. He was a big boy. There was a certain side of anxiety I did not have to experience this time around, and that felt so good.

In the stats: 
Gestational Age: 40 weeks
Actual Age: 3 weeks, 3 days

September’s Book and Bike Break Down

Catch up on what Mandi’s reading and how many miles she’s riding!

Booking and biking my way through 2020.


Books

35. Find Layla by Meg Elison (Young Adult, Contemporary)
I have a soft spot for underprivileged kids, so I knew this book would get me. An Amazon First Reads choice, I finished this short, emotion-packed book quickly on my Kindle. Though the story is fictional, the situation Layla faces is too common for kids. Layla basically raises herself without being given any tools to succeed in doing so. And still, she thrives. While I would never expect someone in her situation to thrive, this story gave me hope for those who do find themselves there. 4 STARS

36. When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald (Young Adult, Contemporary)
This was a former Book of the Month choice of mine. I wanted to believe it was going to be similar to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, but nope. While it was a fine book, it felt boring for too long before we got into the thick of the story. I think the story had a lot of potential had it taken off sooner. I loved the point of view, and maybe that played into the boring-ness of it even, but it still just missed something. 3 STARS

37. This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger (Historical Fiction, Coming of Age)
Think Huck Finn in every way, but put him in the 1930s. This book has all the makings of a modern classic. A coming of age novel, it closely reflected themes Mark Twain clung to. I loved each section in its own unique way. The thoughts Odie had felt real and genuine. The big inner concepts he grapples with on his journey were real things boys (and girls) face and the author did such a good job of getting into the right frame of mind with this character. They story felt so real. I didn’t always have it placed in the right time frame while reading it because it felt so Huck Finn-y, but that might just go to show that stories on these topics are timeless. Some things never change. 5 STARS

38. Dream Big by Bob Goff (Inspirational Nonfiction, Christian)
This particular genre is not my preferred genre, but when the nonprofit I work for got Bob Goff to agree to speak at our virtual conference, I offered to read his newest book and comb through it for little useful tidbits here and there for our social media approach to promoting our conference. Here’s the thing, though. I think I already dream big. The whole point of this book is to get you to take steps towards your ambitions. I’m 38 books into my 40 book goal and less than 150 miles from my goal of riding 2020 miles this year… and it’s only the end of September. I’ve never really had a problem with dreaming big. I’m a goal setter AND a goal getter. This book just wasn’t written for me. But… I did appreciate his sense of humor. Stay tuned for more Bob Goff thoughts because he has more books and I have more work. 3 STARS


Biking

And now, onward with the goal to ride 2020 miles in 2020 on a bike. (And I think that’s the last time I can say “onward” because the end is near…)

This month I made my longest ride – 24 miles, taking turns with my husband, pulling the kiddos. My husband and I rode, on Labor Day, from our house to Upper Macatawa Natural Area in Zeeland, through the trails, and back home, stopping just to give the kiddos a break from the Burley and to make lunch out of a gas station pit stop. In this stage of life, that will likely be my longest ride. And I’m honestly shocked we pulled it off. That’s a long time for the kids to be in the Burley. In fact, Win threw up afterward from the swaying and bumping of the ride. Oops.

My current total: 1878

587 of those miles having been outside (303 of them pulling a kid).

Hope you had a great September!

Home Again

Approximately 36 hours after the approximately 36 hour NICU stay, we were discharged to go home. By that point, we couldn’t wait to get out of there, but the 36 hours between the NICU and home were not exactly uneventful. It’s not as though we were bored.

9.23.19

“My babies are sleeping under the same roof…

Approximately 36 hours after the approximately 36 hour NICU stay, we were discharged to go home. By that point, we couldn’t wait to get out of there, but the 36 hours between the NICU and home were not exactly uneventful. It’s not as though we were bored.

Both sets of grandparents had come to meet Win while he was still in the NICU. Post-NICU discharge, we spent two more nights at the hospital. By night two, a little problem had escalated and robbed us of really any sleep at all.

On the 22nd, we had three groups of visitors – some friends and two of our siblings/spouses. Somewhere in the midst of visitor group two, my body decided it was going to feed an army. I had had a breastmilk overproduction issue with my daughter but, exclusively pumping at the time, it was relatively easy to manage and resolve in time for her to catch on to breastfeeding at six months old. This time around I was set on skipping the exclusive pumping bit. Win had been doing great with nursing any attempt he’d made since birth. But then this.

It’s not uncommon for a mother’s milk to take a few days to come in (especially in the event of a premature birth). It doesn’t even usually come in regulated in the perfect amount for baby at the perfect times he/she needs to eat. But in literally a matter of an hour, on day two, I found myself uncommonly engorged. I was swollen, rock hard to my collar bones. I was recovering from a surgery that extracted a 7lb baby from my body, but I was begging for pain meds that could alleviate the situation in my chest. We called on the lactation consultant (LC) who began putting together a plan for me. We strapped diapers packed with ice to my chest, which I wore during visitor group three because I couldn’t fathom attempting to suck this up for the sake of my pride.

The level of engorgement was beyond belief. The LC acknowledged that this was one of the worst cases she’d ever seen. I began worrying that this might cause irreversible damage to a part of my body I would be relying on so heavily in the many months to come. Could I actually pop? I needed to get this under control fast.

After our visitors left, I began a power-pumping approach – 15 minutes pumping, 15 minutes icing, 15 minutes pumping, 15 minutes icing. I was encouraged to do this for hours until I began to see progress. The LC feared that if we didn’t remove the milk, I would face a more serious issue – mastitis. I’d briefly experienced mastitis with my daughter, and while I did not want to land there again, I also knew from my experience with my daughter that my body tends to quickly replace every drop of milk I remove.

Breastfeeding works by supply and demand. If you’re fortunate to be able to breastfeed well, your body will supply the breastmilk your baby demands. So when we introduced our middle man, the pump, it was as if I was asking my over-eager body to supply milk for the demands of Win and the pump. I dutifully did as I was told for approximately one hour. Not only was I experiencing excruciating pain, but I was also dealing with extreme doubt. There was no way this approach could work for me.

I eased up on pumping that evening, only pumping when I could no longer handle the pain and needed even just the mental relief of withdrawing milk from my overstuffed breasts. We closed our eyes that night in failed attempts to sleep many times. Around midnight, I woke up from a three to five minute slumber in a panic attack. My chest hurt so bad, but I couldn’t sit up to communicate it because my incision was also painful. And so I sobbed, my breath escaping me in exhaustive shallow blows, my heart pounding, my body sweating. I thought I was going to throw up, but I didn’t want the muscles that had just been rearranged to make way for a baby to have go through those motions.

Once calmed down, I decided the hospital was not the place for me. I’d taken care of engorgement on my own before, and I could do it again. I needed to be home. I needed to be away from the LC who didn’t know how to handle my situation, the nurses who woke us up for various checks, the bed that wasn’t mine. I needed to be able to relax – to be comfortable. If I could just stick it out until the morning, then I would become another cog in another wheel.

And I made it to the morning. We had the pediatrician circumcise Win and approve his discharge to go home. We pushed our nurse (one I’d met during my stay two years prior during my pregnancy for my daughter) to get my discharge going. And then we, our baby, and the 100 or so ounces I’d already pumped were off. We drove home and were soon reunited with our daughter.

Being home didn’t immediately alleviate my engorgement. I continued to ice and pump when necessary, but it gave me hope. We were a family of four. But now our life as a family of four could begin. My babies were sleeping under the same roof. We were home. Again.

In the stats: 
Gestational Age: 37 weeks
Actual Age: 3 days

The Cog in the Wheel

When Oaklee rounded the corner to lay eyes on her brother for the first time, I completely lost it. The height of this moment was everything: my “big” NICU grad meeting her brother for the very first time as a NICU patient himself. I was so happy to see her. I was sad to see her in the NICU. I was excited to show her new baby brother to her. I was flooded with emotions. 

9.21.19

“It’s frustrating to have this start. We’re exhausted and angry, making for a stressful situation on top of a stressful situation.

If I learned anything in my first NICU experience, it’s that you have to be an advocate for your child. There are times when you might actually know what’s better for your child than the nurse or doctor who gets paid to know what’s best – to make decisions about and care for your child.

So at 7:00pm on the 20th, almost 12 hours after he was born, when I was finally allowed to hold and feed my baby, I told the nurse I forbid bottles. Bottles make feeds easier on babies. I didn’t believe Win needed the easy route. He would eat, and he would eat from me. And if I wasn’t there because my own recovery required me to be in a different building, she would have to call me back. She would have to call me back at 7:00pm, at 10:00pm, at midnight, at 3:00am, at 6:30am. Oh, she would be seeing a lot of me.

I vowed to be the cog in the wheel. I was not along for the ride this time. We made it very clear that we did not feel our son needed to be in the NICU. We would not be playing their game.

Had Win’s initial blood sugar not been an issue, we would have skipped over the close monitoring that comes with the cords and sensors of NICU life. We would have never known he was slightly tachyneic. We would have never known his blood sugar was dipping into questionable territory and rising every few hours. His little heals would not have had to be poked. He would not have needed an IV, pumping him full of man-made “nutrients”. We could have held him skin-to-skin sooner. He could have relaxed with us instead of being on his own his first hours in this bright, cold, scary world. And his sister wouldn’t have had to go back to the very NICU she started in to meet her brother.

It’s not as though Oaklee would remember anything about the NICU, but I knew seeing her there again would be hard for me. We put off her visit the first 24 hours, hoping to be out of there before she met her brother, but it was starting to feel like she needed to come despite our location.

When Oaklee rounded the corner to lay eyes on her brother for the first time, I completely lost it. The height of this moment was everything: my “big” NICU grad meeting her brother for the very first time as a NICU patient himself. I was so happy to see her. I was sad to see her in the NICU. I was excited to show her new baby brother to her. I was flooded with emotions.

She leaned over and gave me the stuffed monkey I’d bought for her to bring to Win. She tickled his toes. She kissed his forehead. She was quiet and confused and observant.

And we were a family of four.

Hours later Win got the okay to be discharged. He teetered on the edge with his blood sugars, but I truly believe they saw our determination and knew that we knew he’d be fine. We exhaustedly waited for our escort back to the other building, and settled in by about 10:00pm for whatever sleep we could get.

We’d done it. We got him out of the NICU. We may not have come off as the most patient, the most understanding, the most gracious people. But we just wanted what everyone wants. We wanted to snuggle and love on and be with our newborn son. And we’d seen enough in the past to know that he could not only handle that, but probably benefit from it, too.

In the stats: 
Gestational Age: 36 weeks, 5 days
Actual Age: 1 day

The Kiss

For probably 20-30 minutes, there was a back-and-forth whisper of whether or not Win would go to the NICU. But my husband and I knew this territory all too well. He would go. It’s an easy place to get into. And once you’re in, it’s hard to get out.

9.20.19

“How quickly we went from over-the-moon happy to pissed.

A continuation of C-Section in 4 Min.

It was 8:00am on Thursday, September 20, 2019. As I clung to my minutes-old baby, safe and warm on my chest, the nurses buzzed around us testing, whispering, questioning.

Winslow’s blood sugar was dangerously low – 18 mg/dL – an automatic admission to the NICU. I think I physically felt my spirit drop through the floor. How quickly we went from over-the-moon happy to just pissed off. After a glucose gel failed to instantly raise his blood sugar, the nurses suggested formula for an extra boost. He was an hour old and I had a bottle of formula thrusted in my face to feed him (a route I’d never intended to take). Win did what I didn’t have the guts to do – refused. But then the nurse suggested we force the formula into him and began explaining the process of a nasogastric tube for a gavage feeding. I was honestly offended as she flooded my mind with painful memories of my daughter’s first months. “We’re familiar,” I cut her off with the only couple of words I could manage to get out.

For probably 20-30 minutes, there was a back-and-forth whisper of whether or not Win would go to the NICU. But my husband and I knew this territory all too well. He would go. It’s an easy place to get into. And once you’re in, it’s hard to get out.

At last the call was made; Win would be admitted. And before I knew it, some stranger was holding my baby near my face asking if I wanted to give a kiss goodbye. Again. No, I didn’t want to give a kiss goodbye. Because I didn’t want to have to say goodbye. I wanted to snuggle my baby and enjoy that moment with my husband. But that infamous kiss sealed the deal again. A stranger walked away with my baby again. I sat in the recovery room without a baby again. My desires for my baby and me were stripped from me again. Someone else got to make the decisions about my baby again.

It was hard not to be disappointed in my son despite the fact that he not only did nothing wrong, but the situation was also just so far beyond the control of a human, let alone one who is minutes old. However, phrases were thrown out like, “If he could just get his blood sugar up,” pinning the pressure on him as if raising his blood sugar was something he could do on command. To say he was “failing” tests implied he was in a situation where, if he just tried a little harder, he might succeed. The language, in this moment, was unfair. It set the tone of my initial relationship with my son. And then the actions came into play. They took my son away from me, and they brought him to a place I loathed and essentially kept me hostage in another building, waiting on an incision check, before allowing me to see him but telling me I couldn’t hold him or feed him.

Post-cesarean, you have to prove silly things like your ability to pee, walk and eat before you can leave your room. When your baby is in a different building than you, that means you have to prove you can pee, walk and eat before being with your baby. Never in my life have I been more motivated to pee, walk and eat. Get. It. Over. With. I need to go get my son out of there.

Within his first hour in the NICU, Win’s blood sugar stabilized, but then he became a bit tachypneic. Had he not been sent to the NICU for his blood sugar, his minor tachypnea (something many people experience without ever noticing) would have gone unnoticed. We were smack dab in the middle of the viscous cycle we begged God to help us avoid.

“Feels kind of like he just needs his mom if you ask me… I think Win went in at a point where he could have done better with us than in the NICU.”

In the stats: 
Gestational Age: 36 weeks, 4 days
Actual Age: 0 days
Doctor’s Appointments: 11
Ultrasounds: 4
Makena Injections: 19