A Letter to My Unborn Son

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dearest baby boy,

For me, one of the hardest moments of parenthood so far was accepting the fact your big brother has a neurological disability (or four).  I vividly remember crying and saying to one of my closest friends "this isn't what I wanted for him."

Some people might interpret that as a selfish sentiment - that I was upset this meant my child might not grow up to fulfill whatever doctor/rocket scientist/astrophysicist fantasies I had. 

But what I really meant was that I didn't want my baby's life to be any harder than it had to be.  He was nearly two and I'd been watching him struggle from the day he was born.  The diagnosis meant that the hand he's been dealt is something he's going to struggle with forever.  Until then, I'd secretly hoped they were going to tell me he was just developmentally delayed and a few months in therapy would put him back on track.  That everything would be ok for him.

Which brings me to you.  And the fact that you could be here any day now.  And after 4 years of watching your brother struggle, I can't help being a little afraid of what the future might hold.

Before Bear was born, if someone had asked me what I wanted for him I'd responded with all kinds of emotionally naive new parent nonsense. 

There's no doubt that being special needs parent changed my perspective.  Things are both more simple and more complicated.  And now, when I put the "what do I want for him" question to you, the answers are harsh in their practicality.

1) I want you to be able to eat.

2) I want you to be able to sleep.

That may seem ridiculous, because ask anyone and they'll tell you that's what new babies do.  But the things is... not always. Not all of them.

Nothing in my life has been as physically and emotionally painful as having a newborn who couldn't nurse.  Going through clogged ducts and multiple rounds of mastitis and the mind-boggling pain of vasospasm was nothing compared to the fear and uncertainty of having a baby who simply lacked the ability to work out suck, swallow and breathe.  By the time I got to the other side of it, even a couple of La Leche women told me they would've given up.

The first days of his life - over a holiday weekend when no one on the lactation help list answered their phones - were a horrible blur of pumping every 90 minutes and dripping milk into his mouth with an eye dropper.  I survived on 20 minute naps - that's all the time there was between hour long pumping sessions that only netted me a precious ounce to feed him with.

By the time he was 7 days old and we were finally able to see the lactation consultant, he had lost more weight... my nipples were cracked and bleeding and blistered and hideously painful... one breast was already clogged and on the way to infected.  The lactation consultant spent 3 hours with us.  By the end of the session, she was in tears.  She'd never seen anything like it.

He just shut down completely.  Trying to eat was simply too much for him. I can't tell you how many times it crossed my mind that if he'd been born in another era (or even a less developed country), he would have starved to death.

She tried every single nursing aid there is.  At the end of that session, we were reduced to finger feeding - taping a tube to our finger and sticking it down his throat to manually stimulate swallowing.  It took a week of that before he started to swallow on his own, from a bottle.

It was a month of gradual steps, weekly hospital visits and tense weigh-ins before he finally developed the ability to nurse, finally starting putting on weight and we were able to move on.

So when I say I hope you can eat...  this is why.  I want to spend your first days and weeks in our family enjoying the long awaited wonderfulness that is you.  Figuring out how to be a family of four.  Not sobbing from pain, not worrying if you're going to be hospitalized from dehydration and weight loss, and not separated by plastic tubes and shields.

Sleeping was just as rough, though in different ways.  Bear couldn't fall asleep unless he was nursing.  He couldn't sleep unless he was physically lying on one of us, and he couldn't stay asleep if we laid him down.  We took turns in the rocking chair to keep him moving.  Our salvation in his early infancy was a vibrating bassinet loaned by a friend.  For the first time in weeks, we both slept lying down in bed.

Bear, December 2007
Vibrating bassinet = Best. Invention. Ever.

As he got older, sleep got harder.  While other parents were putting sleepy 6 months olds in their cribs for full restful nights, we were still experimenting with ways to get him to sleep at all.  It generally took vigorous rocking plus music playing plus me singing lullabys until I was hoarse... in short, an exhausting cacophony of sensory input.

It wasn't unusual for it to take up to 3 hours of this to get him to sleep.  And it wasn't like he had napped too much during the day - until we figured out that he needed blackout drapes, he barely slept in the daytime either.

And when all that finally worked... he generally woke up every 1-2 hours. Pretty much every night. For two years.  He's 4 now - and while it is a whole lot better - rarely a night goes by he isn't up at least once.  By the time he was 3 we were so worn down spending an hour or more in his room every single night trying to get him back to sleep we no longer protested that he worked out how to wander down the hall and crawl in between us.  He goes back to sleep. He's kicking us and hogging the blankets and mumbling in his dreams and we're often awake for the rest of the night... but it still beats sitting up for hours in his room desperately trying to find the right combination of sensory input to wind him down.

Needless to say, I do not wonder what it is that aged me so much I stopped getting carded shortly after he was born.

So again, I say I hope you can sleep... for your sake and ours. Because we want you to be happy.  And to enjoy growing up with your sweet, snuggly, hilarious big brother who can't wait for you to join us.

That being said... it will be all right if you can't.  It will be hard, but we'll make it work.  Because we've been there, done that.  We're better at it now.  And we already know who to call for help.


Beautiful Budget Nursery

Sunday, December 4, 2011

When I was a little girl my Grandma had a great big stuffed Winnie the Pooh that I slept with when I stayed at her house. We went through some rough times back then, so suffice it to say we stayed at Grandma's quite a bit.

Sadly, the stuffed bear itself is long gone. But for me, Winnie the Pooh came to represent the safe, comforting home where all my happiest family memories were made. Hence, it's not a stretch to understand why I did both my children's nurseries with a Pooh theme.  My only wish is that Grandma could have lived a little longer to see them.

Money's tight for everyone and we're no exception, especially with Bear's therapy bills and medical bills from this difficult pregnancy. I'm proud of the lovely space we managed to create for the new baby on a modest budget. So many people have asked to see pictures of the nursery when it was done I decided a post was the easiest way to share them, and to provide further details for those who have asked me about specific items.

And for those who asked how Bear handled the change, and how I pulled this off when I've been so sick with this pregnancy... the answer to both is a little bit at a time over several months.  Our primary concern was Bear and his tendency to struggle with even small changes in his environment. By letting him participate setting up the space every way he reasonably could, he's accepted the new room remarkably well - to the point of enthusiastically showing off his "baby brother's room" to visitors.

*Indicates item was a hand-me-down from Bear's nursery or otherwise repurposed from somewhere in the house.

Crib and changing dresser* - The set was a hard won Craigslist find. When I was pregnant with Bear we spent weeks scouring the baby furniture listings and more than one crib was sold out from under us moments after we made an offer. Some days we made 3 hour round trips only to find the items in such terrible shape we passed on the purchase. This set was priced a good bit higher than most secondhand baby furniture we looked at, but was in perfect condition and still cost less than half what the dresser alone would have been new.

Wall mounted shelves* - The ubiquitous $20 Lack shelf from Ikea. They were part of the guest room decor.

Bookshelf and toy shelf - Your basic flat pack bookcases. These particular shelves came from Target. Bear has the same (in a different finish).

Fabric tote bins - Standard issue Target storage totes, about $6 each.

Nursery rocker* - This was our one splurge 4 years ago when we were outfitting Bear's nursery (and given his sleep challenges, worth every penny). After deciding on the style we liked, we shopped around a lot until we found one for about 50% less than retail at a downmarket strip mall outlet. It was hard to convince Bear his storytime chair was going to leave his room, but thankfully a few months ago he started wanting us to read his bedtime story sitting in bed and that eased the transition.

Pooh crib set* - A gift from Bear's baby shower. I wasn't going to waste money on a new one, so the new decor had to take it into account.

Pooh lamp* - $15 impulse purchase when I was decorating Bear's nursery 4 years ago.

Pooh quilt clips - $13 impulse purchase from eBay. I was endlessly frustrated with finding a good way to hang the quilt in Bear's room, and these Winnie the Pooh clips were such a charming perfect solution I couldn't resist.  

Pooh soft blocks - $7 impulse purchase at TJ Maxx.

Vintage framed Blustery Day album* - The album itself is from my husband's childhood, and it still plays. The frame was a $5 wood album frame from a craft store; I painted it white with some leftover paint I had lying around the garage.

Reading lamp* - Was the bedside lamp when this was the guest room. It was maybe $10 at Ikea when we bought it several years ago.

Chocolate brown blackout drapes* - These were also in the guest room, but I bought them in this great neutral knowing I'd like to use them in a nursery someday. Bear had terrible problems sleeping and blackout drapes were the answer then; it made sense to get them ahead of time for this baby. They're from Bed, Bath and Beyond. I waited until I had enough 20% off coupons to get all 4 panels, then I bought them separately to get the maximum possible discount.

Winnie the Pooh Wallpaper Border - I strongly dislike the overly bright saturated colors in the Disney Pooh designs and was frustrated to discover my Target no longer has pastel classic Pooh decor in the store.  I shopped around a lot and was ready to give up when I stumbled across this one on Amazon. 

100 Akre Wood wall decal - The find that inspired the color palette for the nursery.  I was in love the moment I saw it, and felt like $25 was reasonable for such a large piece that serves as the focal point of the entire design.

Paint color (top) - Home Depot, Behr (or possibly Glidden?) in Oyster
Paint color (bottom) - Home Depot, Martha Stewart in Bay Leaf

Awww Sheet

Friday, December 2, 2011

If you asked me two months ago I'd have said Bear was potty trained.  But lately I'm not so sure - between repeated bouts of preschool plague, changing schools and having house guests for a week at Thanksgiving we are deep back into pull-ups territory.  (Can't wait to see how badly he regresses when the baby arrives in a couple of weeks.)

These days, "Mommy, it looks like I need to go potty" really means "Mommy, I just peed all over the couch. Again."

Coupled with his increasing tendency to soak through the nighttime pull-up, we've been doing a lot of extra laundry - the kind where you're wrestling with mattresses and wet blankets.

Perfect for a girl in the last weeks of a high risk pregnancy on partial bed rest, right?

So, yesterday morning Bear wanders into my room to wake me up with his typical "I think I'm kind of soaked" announcement.  (I'm actually grateful this happens so often he's calm about it now - he used to wake up screaming if he was wet.)

He moseyed into the bathroom to start the Woke Up Wet Shower Ritual, wherein he:

- solemnly informs me he got a little bit of pee on his neck
- resists all my attempts to clean the areas actually affected
- stands there pointing the shower directly at his neck for as long as I'll let him get away with it (left to his own devices, this would be until we run out of hot water or die of old age, whichever comes first)

I pop back and forth the few steps between his bathroom and bedroom, trying to always be in arm's reach while stripping his bed and doing a quick check for collateral damage (wet snuggle blankies and the like).

Then I noticed some dark spots on his top sheet. Which means at some point he must have had an undetected nighttime leak and it grew mildew. On the only sheets he'll accept. AWESOME.

I mentioned it to (thank goodness he happened to be working from home) husband and we decided to try the color safe bleach that's been in the back of the cleaning closet forever.  A little while later I walk by the washer and noted a giant suds monster attempting to escape.  Caught husband before I left for afternoon of appointments to ask how much detergent he put in.

He said the regular amount... before he noticed that the bottle of color safe bleach is actually labeled "bleach and detergent."  So, probably triple.   The washer finally choked on the suds, he convinced it to run an extra rinse and we were back in business.

And I know what you're thinking. "No mother of a potty training child is dumb enough to only have one set of sheets." You're right. I do have a set of nice, neutral organic cotton sheets I picked up on clearance just for spare. But that was way before I knew sheets were going to be one of Bear's things.

And the handy dandy spare set?  Don't match his main set. Gawd help the poor soul who thinks they can just swap out the wet one for a mismatched dry one. That's a mistake you only make once.

Cut to bedtime. Bear's lying on the floor mid-meltdown, sobbing pathetically.  His bed still isn't made because those indispensable waterproof mattress pads? Take forevah to dry. 

We decided to let him sleep with us.  I head over to arrange his pillow and blankies the "right" way... to discover the cat puked in my bed. He got both sheets, the blanket and soaked the (worth its weight in gold) waterproof mattress pad. Deep green faux pine needles were sprinkled throughout in silent testimony to the source of his gastrointestional distress.

The cherry on this shit sundae is the whole reason I haven't put the tree skirt out yet is to avoid this annual holiday scenario under the tree. But turns out? I'd rather wash the tree skirt.

So. At this point...

1) Bear's bedding is finally clean and dry, but bed's not made and he's in a full blown meltdown (i.e. if we try to change something in his room at that point I'd be picking his poor exploded brains off the ceiling)

2) Our bedding had just started the 2 hour sanitary wash cycle, and it was already past Bear's bedtime.  A mysterious issue with our washer shredded part of our other sheet set a while back.  And even if we did have those other sheets, we don't have a spare waterproof mattress pad.

Oh, and when that sheet got ruined a couple months ago? And I had to buy a new set? Bear was trau. ma. tized. I thought I was doing well to get the same kind of sheets so they would feel the same. Had no idea a different color would be an issue.  Yeah.  It took him nearly 3 months to get over it.  Last thing I wanted right then was to remind him of the old sheets. (And these are MY sheets. Not his.)

3) I thought briefly of the guest bed.  Thanks to my amazing husband the bedding was already washed from the holiday house guests. But it was piled in a wrinkled heap at the foot of the bed. Also? No mattress pad for that bed.

Husband and I looked at each other over the barren mattress and screaming child and shared a light bulb moment. 

An eternity ago - definitely pre-kids - we got one of those waterproof throw blankets. The kind that protect your couch or good comforter or whatever from, ya know... marital relations.  We figured it should work as a substitute mattress pad for one night. And, well, it couldn't be any more mortifying than that time he was really sick as a baby and we were reduced to using sex lube to get a rectal temp.

Husband goes off in search of said blanket while I working on calming the Bear.  He finally found it in a box... in a closet... in the basement... in the original packaging.  Because we are apparently much better at planning to have wild and crazy marital relations than at actually having them.

We threw the bed together, risking the partial old sheet set. (Yeah, he noticed, but thankfully was still to distracted by another imaginary transgression to do more than tell me they were wrong.)  We finally got him settled and by 10 all three of us had passed out from exhaustion.

I was awakened at 2 am by my amazingly calm husband's voice explaining to a fussing Bear that he had soaked through the bed.  I don't know how, but somewhere in there he managed to make Bear's bed, get him changed into a fresh pull-up and dry jammas and settled to sleep in his own room without ever waking him up.

For my part, I staggered out of bed long enough to strip the wet sheet and throw blanket and add them to the growing pile of bedding in line for the wash.  Defeated, we went back to bed on the bare mattress.

That was about 24 hours ago and we've worked our way through most of the laundry. If I hurry, I might get everything put back together in time for him to pee on it again tonight.