March of Dime’s Prematuraty Awareness Day

I can’t tell you how many statistics I’ve heard this year. So many numbers about odds and chances that it makes my head spin. Did you know that more than half a MILLION babies are born prematurely each year? 1 in 8 to be exact. Premature birth is also the #1 cause of death during the first month of life. Many babies born early and survive live with debilitating disabilities due to underdevelopment. But the worst statistic was the one I realized a few weeks ago, all on my own. While so many of you followed our story here, and rejoiced in our triumph, I want and need you all to know just how lucky we were. In the 3 months that we spent in the NICU, 4 micro-preemies were born. All 24 weeks gestation, all 1 pound, 8 oz or less. And out of the 4, only one survived. Just one. Abigail.

I seem to be such a stereotypical bandwagon supporter. I become an advocate for the groups that support the things that effect me most. But isn’t that always the way it should be? I mean, how do you choose which charities you donate to? I’m betting you choose the ones that help the groups that you can relate to. The ones that somehow effect you. For example: I have been a HUGE supporter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation for years. The trigger for that support? When my grandmother passed away from breast cancer. My advocacy only strengthened when my Aunt, her sister, passed away from it last year.

Truth be told, I had heard of the “March of Dimes” foundation before. They are a force to be reckoned with. But I honestly had no clue what they were all about. While I knew they worked for kids, I thought they did work with the homeless. I never knew they were one of the world’s leaders in research that focused on preventing premature birth. But about 5 months ago, I figured it out. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I was pointed in the direction of the March of Dimes website, “in case we needed financial help.” I’m proud to say that we didn’t. Between the savings we had and the amazing insurance Anthony’s company provided, we were fortunate enough to not need the assistance. But that didn’t stop me from visiting their website. It provided all sorts of great information. Ways to get involved, ways to donate, ways to become part of an entire community of people that understood us. It was amazing.

So there you have it – the sole reason for my jump onto the bandwagon. March of Dimes is all about finding ways to prevent premature birth, as well as researching how to better care for babies that are born early so they have a better chance at a normal life. I want to be a part of the movement that helps families going through what we went through. Better yet, I want to be part of the group that finds the answers so that no one will have to go through it again.

Today, Wednesday, November 17, 2010 is the 7th Annual Prematuraty Awareness Day. Both Abigail and I will be wearing Purple, the official March of Dimes color, to support the event. Even cooler, the Empire State Building will light up purple today to support the event, too!!! I highly encourage you to join us.

And for those who are able and so inclined, we have set up a fund with March of Dimes, in honor of Abigail. You can click here to see Abigail’s Purple Band, and donate to help families who have ridden the NICU roller coaster like we have. We can help save the lives of little angels born too early. Thank you all for your support!

Here are some pictures to show just how far we’ve come.

I can’t believe she is 5 and a half months old. She is amazing. Thank you all for following her amazing story.

-Jen

The truth about breast feeding

IT ISN’T EASY!!!

And whoever said it was is full of beans!

Yet another WARNING!!
I’m about to write about breasts. Most specifically, my own. I will also be referring to them as anything from “boobs” or “Ta-Tas” or “the girls” or, as I have affectionately come to call them, “Righty and Lefty.” If that offends you, or if you don’t want to hear about my breasts, stop reading now. You’ve been warned.

I don’t know about you – but as a first time Mom, I did everything I could to learn about motherhood ahead of time. I reached out to Mommy communities (like The Bump and BabyCenter.com), I reached out to organizations specializing in becoming a Mom (like Le Leche League), and I read pretty much anything I could get my hands on. And while I learned that there is A LOT to learn, I also heard one pretty consistent train of thought: Mommy = Breast feeding.

It is pretty common knowledge that, medically speaking, breast-feeding is the best thing you can do for your baby. The nutrients, vitamins, and immunity boosters in there are pretty top-notch. But that is a medical fact. I.E. NOT an opinion. So why there are so many opinions out there on breast-feeding confuses me. And pretty much every opinion out there is that if you don’t breast feed your baby, you are a bad Mom.

HUH?!?!?! I’m not even a Mommy yet, and someone is saying there is potential for me to be a bad at it? It almost scares you into thinking there is no other way. I’ve heard everything from “Moms who don’t care about their babies are the ones who don’t breast feed” to “There is no such thing as ‘can’t’ breast feed – that Mom isn’t trying hard enough.” WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? I mean, talk about pressure!

On the flip side, every positive opinion about breast-feeding is flowery and delicate and sort of sugar-coated. Some are of the opinion that breast-feeding is “the most beautiful thing on earth.” Breast feeding is “easy and carefree.” Breast feeding is “natural.” And oddly enough, these opinions put on pressure, too. They make it sound so easy and so great! But what if it isn’t easy? What if it isn’t great? Then not only am I a “bad mom,” I’m not “natural” either.

What I didn’t know until after Abby was born was that my fears about breast-feeding were as common as eating eggs for breakfast. I told Anthony during the whole pregnancy, “I’m going to breast feed!” Anthony had a better grip on reality (as he normally does). We talked it out and he made me think long and hard about it. He was so concerned that I was becoming too obsessed with breast-feeding and that it was going to have some serious postpartum repercussions if (for any reason) it didn’t work out. So we made an agreement. We were going to try our best to help me breast feed Abby, but if it didn’t work, then we would pick the best formula money could buy.

Oh no! I was only 4 months pregnant and I had uttered the “F” word. Formula was some sort of swear word in the baby/mommy communities. I had just agreed to possibly be that mom that “didn’t try hard enough.”… Are you getting it? Do you see the kind of downward spiral this idea puts on us? During a time when our emotions are just ridiculous and our brains fell out of our ear as soon as the word “pregnant” registered? It creates a worry and a stress that is just silly.

So, fast forward to June 3rd. I. WAS. TERRIFIED. She’s 24 weeks premature! There is no way my milk has come in! There is no way I can do this! I’ve failed before I even start! (And please note: Yes, failure. The pressure put on me from these communities really did make it seem like I had failed.)

Lois, the lactation consultant came in to chat. She brought the hospital pump and a book on feeding preemies. She told me that if my milk came in, I’d be pumping for quite some time because Abby isn’t ready to be put to the breast yet. She taught me how to use the pump and how to bag the milk. She told me to relax (because I was obviously freaking out) and just let it happen. She took a picture of Abby off the wall and brought it to me. She told me to focus on the picture. We set it up, turned the pump on, and waited.

10 minutes of pumping produced only a small puddle of this rust colored liquid out of Righty. Lefty produced only a few drops of yellow liquid. I freaked out. Why are they two different colors???? Why is one giving more than the other???? What is wrong with ME????? It turns out that both are very common. Righty had something called “Rusty Pipe Syndrome.” (No joke, she showed me the term in a medical textbook the next day.) Rusty Pipes is when a blood vessel bursts in your breast from the suction. Blood gets into the colostrum. To full term babies, it isn’t harmful, and most mom’s never know they had it – because their milk goes into a baby’s mouth and not into a clear plastic bottle. Hence why you’ve probably never heard of it. But for Abby, we needed clean stuff. The solution? Pump it out – I had to do what is called “Pump and Dump” for that whole first day. As for Lefty, Lois thought that the milk just wasn’t in yet. She told me to give it time.

I had to pump for 10 minutes every 3 hours. By the afternoon Righty was going to town! But it was still all rust colored. So Anthony and my Mom had to pour that down the drain. It was physically painful to watch them do it. I’d just worked so hard for that! And Lefty wasn’t much help. Not only was nothing really coming out, but that boob seemed to be growing before my eyes. By the end of the day, Lefty was swollen, red, and hard to the touch. And it HURT!!! I was getting very discouraged. I couldn’t get Lefty to work, and Righty was bleeding to death. Great.

I told the nurse, but there wasn’t much she could do – she wasn’t a lactation consultant. She was sweet though. She wandered over to the nursery to talk to the nurses there. One said that Lefty was probably blocked. Try a heating pad to see if that helps. So my nurse brought me a heating pad, which was a no-no because the temperature couldn’t be regulated, but we had to try something! So with the promise that I wouldn’t let myself over heat, I left the heating pad on Lefty for about an hour. The swelling and redness went down a bit. So we tried it again. And Hallelujah!!! The flood gates opened!! Lefty had a lot to get rid of (and on day 2 of motherhood, “A lot” was still less than half an ounce). And no blood! Lefty’s milk (which was really colostrum, still) was usable!

And it was fascinating to watch. When you pump, you’ve got these clear suction cups on you (they look like the horn portion of an air horn you’d bring to a sporting event), and those cups filter the milk into a bottle. When the pump is sucking out the milk, it literally sprays in every direction. I always thought it was like a bottle where there is one stream pouring out. Nope – there is a stream here and another there, and they are both streaming in different directions, and then there is broader spray coming from yet another source. It is like a leaky sprinkler system. Kind of odd. Pumping is just odd, in general. It seriously made me feel like a milking cow. To the point that I still say, “Mooooooo!” when Anthony is around for it. And for those who are of the opinion that breast-feeding is “beautiful” and “easy” and “natural,” well goody for you. But I’ve got a news flash. It’s awkward. And it hurts. For me, getting it started was harder than passing my 10th grade geometry final. And I’m sorry – but hooking yourself up to plastic suction cups is anything but “natural.”

I asked my Mom why no one ever told me this was going to be so hard? And why so many people had lied and said exactly the opposite? I remember talking to one friend about it and she HATED it. She only did it because it was what was best for her baby and she was able to do it. She was happy that she stopped producing enough to feed her baby, so formula was introduced. And My mom told me that both my sister and I were breast-fed for only a short time. We were both jaundice and formula was needed. My mom told me that I didn’t know about all of this because it was one of those things that isn’t talked about. It is a subject quite like sex was in the 50’s. We don’t discuss that. It just happens, so deal with it. And then, we have a lack of information about how to make informed decisions. Yea – cause that’s a great plan. Sheesh. Well, dang it, I’m talking about it! Soap Box, here I come!

There was a sense of relief to know that I could at least produce milk for Abby. I couldn’t believe I was able to make it happen. But I’m still not done with the fear and anxiety. You see, the brain mechanism for “suck-swallow-breathe” doesn’t kick in until the 34 week mark. Today, Abby is at 32 weeks gestation. All of this time I’m producing milk like a cow farm (literally half of our freezer is FULL of milk bags), and not once has she been put to the breast. Until today, that has been too risky so she gets fed through a tube. And she may not take to the breast. She might not latch on. In all honesty, I think the girls are too big for her to get into her mouth (a problem teeny-tiny-little-me never thought I’d have!). She also may not be strong enough to suck the milk out. So breast-feeding may still not work for us. Again, Anthony had to sit me down and help me realize that it didn’t mean I was a bad mom. It may not take, and that is ok. At least we know I can pump and we can feed her what she needs through a bottle.

Jen Confession #182: I cried when the Doctors told me she’d be 2 months old before I would be able to try to put her to the breast. And honestly, I cried for no other reason than I thought it meant I wouldn’t be able to bond with my baby. There is yet another school of thought floating around out there in pregnancy world: No breast-feeding = No bonding. The way the idea comes across, a first time mom can truly be made to feel that our bond will never be as strong as it could be because we can’t or don’t breast feed. I cried because I really did think that there was no other way for Abby and I to bond. I couldn’t hold her, I couldn’t comfort her, and now I couldn’t feed her. The words “Bad Mommy” kept flashing in my head.

ENOUGH!

This is dumb. This is so utterly stupid. I’ve got news for the world at large – “I’M NOT A BAD MOMMY! SO SHOVE IT!”

It took me a couple of days to get there, but I quickly learned that the idea that breast-feeding is the ONLY good option is a bunch of bull shit. THAT’S RIGHT! I said a swear word. Bull SHIT! And then, I got angry. I got angry that these “experts,” these other mom’s, and these crazy people were able to instill fear. And I know that these types have also hurt other moms feelings who aren’t as lucky as me. My Mommy friends shall remain nameless, but I know of more than one occasion where someone actually said TO THEIR FACES that they were unfit mothers because they weren’t breast-feeding their baby. Who the hell do you people think you are? Do you people know that one of the MOST COMMON reasons a Mother can’t breast feed is stress? Yup. Stress. Anxiety. It’s a combo of stress stopping production and stress deterring the baby! These emotions have an actual physical effect on people. And look at what they are doing! They are creating stress!!!

I’m one of the lucky ones. My body miraculously produced milk for Abby 4 months early. But there are so many moms – especially those in my kind of situation, where it never happens. There are hundreds of reasons for the inability to produce milk. 95% of them are medical and cannot be treated. So, that idea of “she didn’t try hard enough” can take a hike off a very high cliff. Common things like thyroid problems or diabetes can make it hard or even impossible for women to produce. Did you know that? And as for the dreaded F word – did you know that NICU’s across the country are partnered with Enfamil? Enfamil makes a special formula JUST FOR PREEMIES that mimics the same nutrients and antibodies that breast milk has? And they worked so hard to perfect this formula because many women in my situation are not able to produce. And we’ve got to feed them something!!!

And let’s not forget the Dads! Hello? Dad’s don’t breast feed. Ever. So how the heck do you think they bond with their baby? By holding them and touching them and talking to them and spending time with them. Anthony even asked me far before Abby was born if I would be willing to pump some milk so that he could feed her, too. I was so touched by the initiative he was taking and the proactive approach, that I simply had to say yes to that! So we’ve known far before we ever had to deal with the NICU that dear old Dad would get his chance to feed her, too.ย  What do you have to say to that, crazy “breast-feeding only” people? Huh? Huh? Yea – bet you didn’t think about that one, did ya?

And as for the question of bonding, I’d say some pretty choice words to anyone who questioned my bonding capabilities with my baby. Abby is 7 and a half weeks old. Weeks at a time have gone by when neither Anthony or I could hold her, and we’ve still managed to bond with her. She knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, who we are and when we are there. She responds to our touch, our voices, and our love. Literally – it is something tangible. She can feel our love. All the babies can. I have bonded with my baby girl. Past tense. Already happened. So has my husband. And today, at 32 weeks, is the first time she’ll get to try to latch on. While she is still too young to feed from my breasts, she is old enough to figure out how it works. It is called “Non-Nutritive breast-feeding” and it means that she’ll go through the motions without getting the nutrients. So I will pump today and empty out the Ta Tas before I head to the hospital. And we will give her the chance to try.

I’m not going to lie, I’m excited. But I’m more excited for the developmental implications this has for her than for the “mommy/baby” thing anymore. Sure – if she can do it, I’ll take it! I’m going to give it my best shot, because she deserves it. But I’m not going to push it. And while there will be some amount of disappointment if she can’t or doesn’t latch on, I can honestly say I’ll be fine. Because she is fine. And there are so many other ways to bond.

Normally, I would apologize to any of my readers who fall into the category ofย  the “breast feeding only” way of thinking, simply because I’m sure I’ve offended someone. But I’m not going to apologize. Because I’M offended. I’m offended that other women and even some prestigious organizations were able to make me feel like a failure. I’m offended that there are mothers out there who speak OPINIONS before knowing FACTS. I’m offended that there isn’t more information out there on exactly what breast-feeding entails and both the hardships and triumphs that are had by all. I’m offended that no one is talking about this. So no apologies. I’m a good mommy to my precious miracle baby, no matter how today goes. And I’m never going to let anyone tell me otherwise, again.

To all the mom’s out there – What is your story? I want to know. Good, bad, ugly, or indifferent, it is ALL important.

-Jen

Chocolate Brown

As many of you may have noticed, my status for the last couple of hours as been simply, “Chocolate Brown.” You may have also noticed that I’m not the only one out there who has some sort of color as their current status.

If you haven’t been let in on the secret yet, here it is: “Chocolate Brown” is the color of the bra I am currently wearing.

Yup. You read that right. I’m wearing a chocolate brown bra right now. What color are you wearing?

I was so curious as to why all my girlfriends had colors up as their status. I come to find out that someone late yesterday/early today started sending out a message to girl’s Facebook Inboxes saying something to the effect of “let’s take over facebook” and put our status as the color of our bra to ‘confuse the guys.”

Apparently this silly idea didn’t go very far. I mean, who cares? I have better things to do with my time than try and confuse boys. I can do that just by being a woman. BUT when someone decided to add purpose to this little endeavor, it EXPLODED. That purpose?

BREAST CANCER AWARENESS

Who wouldn’t want to jump on that bandwagon!? Of course, you get your naysayers out there who ask, “how on earth can that help? How stupid.” Well Mr. Negative Nelly – I’ll tell ya what purpose it serves! The “secret” element to it all compelled people figure it out – to be “in the know.” In essence, to do some research. Because of this phenomenon, people have been stumbling across blogs like this:

cancerspot.org

Go on. Read it. I’ll wait.

You done yet? Good. How great was that? So well put.

Ok, Ok. Let’s face it. Negative Nelly is right – Letting the whole world know what color my bra is has ZERO effect on breast cancer research or even awareness. But when my color, combined with everyone else willing to participate encourages flow of information and ideas, it has a HUGE impact. People get information they didn’t have. (Did you know that men can get breast cancer, too? Did you know that, according to the CDC, 41,116 women and 375 men died from breast cancer in 2005? Did you know that breast cancer is the 7th most common cause of death among women (Also CDC)? Bet you didn’t. See? You just learned something.) This silly crazy exercise obviously draws attention to breasts in general. My fellow blogger is right – while your down there checking out that awesome color, give yourself a breast exam.

Instructions for giving a self-exam can be found here:
http://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/testing/types/self_exam/bse_steps.jsp

I felt compelled to blog. Cancer has touched my life in the cruelest of ways over the years. Fierce battles that have been fought hard and finally lost. But they fought to live because they had the chance. They got help because they could. It makes me SO angry when I hear stories of people who die from this disease, but could have been saved with early detection. I have been giving myself a “Self breast exam” from the age of 16. Once a month, EVERY month. No exceptions.

And ladies – a tip for you. Let’s be honest – no one knows your knockers like your boyfriend (or girlfriend)/fiance/husband (or wife), right? Let them give you the exam. They may notice something you won’t. And they’ll think you are SO COOL for letting them do it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I lost my Grandmother to breast cancer in 2002. We lost her sister, my Aunt, just last month to the same. Enough is enough. We have the power to take action. For all the naysayers out there who said “this is dumb – wouldn’t donating to research be more helpful?” I say yes! It would be more helpful! Get off your butt and do it instead of picking on those who are trying to make a difference! To those who are aware that breast cancer runs in your family – be responsible! Self exams starting right this second! Annual exams without relenting! To everyone on the whole planet (because it isn’t just breast cancer – it is all cancer) Educate yourselves. Knowledge is power.

In the meantime, I am proud to tell you that it’s Chocolate brown. All day. Tomorrow will more than likely be black.

I will get off my soap box when every man on the planet knows they are subject to this too. I will get off my soap box when every woman does monthly self exams, annual paps, and regular mammograms when the time comes. Until then, I’m never going to stop talking about it. I’m never going to ease up. I’m never going to let it slide. We can change the future. We can change the outcome. But just like this little exercise, it can’t just be me. It’s gotta be everyone. EVERYONE has got to get in the know.

-Jen