Overcoming Infant Loss and the NICU with Priscilla

Priscilla is a survivor of infant loss and the mother of a NICU graduate. Her wish is for all women to experience complication free births. We met via social media where we’ve been following each other for years. She posted something for NICU Awareness Month and I asked her if she would share her family’s story and she agreed.

Overcoming Infant Loss and the NICU

Her first baby, her daughter, only lived a few hours after being born unexpectedly preterm at 22-weeks gestation. William, her second baby, was born full term at 40-weeks gestation and experienced meconium aspiration during his birth. He went on to spend 2-months in the NICU recovering from this and persistent pulmonary hypertension. Today he’s a healthy, happy and thriving 4-year-old.

Nothing tops the kinship you feel when you connect with someone who’s had the same or similar childbirth experience. Reading her story brought back so many of my own memories of progesterone shots and nights in the NICU. I can relate to the triumph of achieving a full-term pregnancy, after a preterm birth, only to have it end in a second equally complicated delivery.

We share this story in solidarity to highlight the experiences of families that have also coped with infant loss, preterm birth and having a baby in the NICU.

How did you handle being pregnant after the loss of your first baby, a preemie? 

Honestly, not that well. I knew from the moment I lost my first baby that I needed some serious mental health care. Though I went untreated since I didn’t have stable insurance or general access to any practitioners. So when I got pregnant again, I was extremely nervous and anxious all the time. I had flashbacks to my loss, especially whenever I had to go to the doctor and do ultrasounds. And I allowed my PTSD to kind of consume me at times. I became hell-bent on being able to control every single aspect of the birth.

I had a great OB/GYN but I disliked the hospital she delivered at, they had a higher c-section rate and were not very flexible on allowing mothers freedom and choice during childbirth. So I found a Doula thinking she might be able to help, but she was part of a group of doulas and midwives who were very pushy about natural birth and home birth. They swore that I could do this birth at home with a new midwife and I was coerced into leaving my OB/GYN and it did not turn out well. During labor, my son got stuck and we had to have an emergency transfer. Thank goodness, because he aspirated meconium and had persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPHN), which the midwife would not have been prepared to manage during a homebirth.

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How I Survived Hyperemesis Gravidarum

I recently read the Duchess of Cambridge is expecting baby number three. It’s her third pregnancy with Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG). Reading about it has me thinking about my experience with HG.

Hyperemesis Gravidarum

A wise mother of three once told me every pregnancy has at least one discomfort. During my son’s pregnancy I had sciatica pain in my lower back. With my daughter’s pregnancy my morning sickness continued the entire pregnancy. I recall even wondering, “maybe its twins this time.” As a childbirth educator I knew HG was more common in twin pregnancies. I had no idea then I was predicting the future. My doctor diagnosed me with Hyperemesis Gravidarum. He also assured me I was not pregnant with twins. I laugh now even thinking about it.

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Having a Preemie: Continuity of Care in the NICU

Care and Continuity for Premature Babies in the NICU

I strongly believe continuity of care is one of the most important things we can do for the happiness of our babies. The proverb, “it takes a village,” is the belief that emotional and physical support, from extended family and caregivers, ensures a calm and welcoming environment for children to grow into healthy adults.

As a first time mom, having nurturing people around me meant more sleep and less stress. It also meant having more time to focus on bonding with my son. He thrived having “a village” to meet his needs with sensitivity and familiarity.

Reminiscing

There are many memories from my time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit I can recall with clarity. I remember the first nurse I met in the NICU, Lisa, she was working beside my son’s bedside when I saw him for the first time. I can call to mind the view out the window from my chair next to the incubator and even the parking attendant in the garage. The moment I can’t recall is meeting the nurse who became the source of our greatest encouragement in the NICU, Lora. I know it was the first week, because she was with me on day five. The first day I was able to hold Bastian.

Although I was a mother with a newborn, until that day, I hadn’t been able to hold or care for my baby. His micro prematurity required a level of care which could only be provided by medically trained professionals. In our first foray into Kangaroo care, often called skin-to-skin contact, I finally felt like a normal new mom.

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Raising a family in Sweden with Emma Olevik

I think of Sweden in the same way as Narnia. A far off place with foresty islands, magical light, mythical history, and renowned novelists with strong female protagonists such as Lisbeth and Annika. They also have generous paid family leave. I try not to think about the dark cold winters, and focus on a country that is creating policies to offer families the healthiest work life balance.

Raising a family in Sweden with Emma Olevik

Today, we present Emma Olevik, a horticulture journalist based in Sweden with her husband and three daughters. I had the fortune to “meet” her in an online photography class several years ago. At the time she was a mother of two and I was a mother of one. We bonded over ‘Wabi-sabi’ and have kept in touch since.

Here we talk about having and raising a family in Sweden while being a working mom.

As told to me March 2016. Emma welcomed her 3rd child, a beautiful baby girl, in October 2016. 

Raising a family in Sweden with Emma Olevik

Are there birth doulas and postpartum doulas in Sweden?

Yes, it exists, but it is unusual. But getting more and more common I think. None of my friends had a doula, or anyone I’ve heard of, but you can easily find one online.

During your pregnancies did you receive care from a midwife or an obstetrician?

In Sweden once you find out you are pregnant you call your local ”mother care central” where you register and get a personal midwife whom you meet regularly during the pregnancy. Once or maybe twice you visit the hospital for a scanning/ultrasound (more often if there are special needs). You don’t meet an obstetrician as long as everything is “normal.” Even during the actual birth it is most common to be assisted by a midwife and a nurse. They call on an obstetrician if there is a need for it.

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Motherhood: Fantasy vs. Reality.

Our hopes and dreams create the passion we need to strive in life. However, the vagaries of reality can be disillusioning. Childbirth, and the transition into motherhood, is one of those times where our fantasies often do not match reality.

​The singer Freddie Mercury summed it up in his epic ballad, Bohemian Rhapsody:

“Is this the real life?

Is this just fantasy?

Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality.

Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see.”

Motherhood: Fantasy vs. Reality.

During times when it feels like there’s no escape from the landslide of reality, it’s only natural to seek external inspiration. It’s tempting to jump online and read what others have done to make it work, and copy them. There are plenty of rosy stories with women who seem to have it all. There are also endless tips, tricks and advice articles. While none of this is necessarily bad, it can end up spinning you in circles with no clear direction. Keep in mind that inspiration is not mimicry, it should be a catalyst for finding your own way and methods.

During pregnancy, many of us have expectations for birth and the kind of mother we will be when our baby is here. These expectations can quickly become misaligned with reality depending on how labor goes, what your baby is like and how much support you have during the early days of motherhood.

It’s also important to listen to yourself and find birth professionals who are a good fit. There’s nothing like hiring an obstetrician who doesn’t remember delivering your first child or a lactation consultant who grabs your breast without asking.

A popular book that many women read during pregnancy is “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.” It’s filled with encouraging birth stories and advice to trust your body and instincts. Ina May’s books are relevant and important, however it’s important to remember they are also “inspirational.” Striving for an ideal birth can be empowering… but the flip side is that sometimes you just can’t attain it. Being able to accept a not-so-dreamy birth, after fantasizing about a perfect one can be difficult.

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Motherhood vs. Oneself

Motherhood vs. Oneself

I’m sure you had a life before the conception and birth of your child, I know I did. Who you are doesn’t magically change because you’re a mother. Yes, you have a new baby who needs your attention to thrive, but you’re still you with desires, goals and idiosyncrasies.

We’re living in what appears to be a collective renaissance of self-enhancement, especially where I live in Los Angeles. Everyone is trying to be the best version of themselves by keeping a healthy lifestyle and chasing their dreams. As with anything, you shouldn’t stop trying to be the best version of yourself when you become a parent.

If you’re a stay at home mother the household and lifestyle requirements still need to be maintained. A home doesn’t run itself, and even with a regular housekeeper, someone has to make sure that everything is being done to the desired specifications and that scheduled events like doctor’s appointments are met. Making a stable home life for your family is an important component of being a high functioning mother.

If you have a job outside of the home it can be daunting to stay connected to it while welcoming your new baby into your family. There are many thoughts and things to consider when you’re a working mother. Is your baby going to forget who you are when you’re gone? Are you going to miss out on opportunities to grow in your career if you take too much time out? Are you a horrible mother if you have to do daycare, because hiring an in-home nanny is too expensive? Can you even breastfeed if you go back to work? Is it acceptable to do formula?

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Creating Simplicity & Joy with Christine O’Brien

The beginning of the year brings reflection and resolutions for many. As a mother in Southern California, where it’s technically “winter” but often warm enough to go without a jacket and let the children play outside everyday, the new year still brings an urge to nest and create a cozy home.

Christine lives in Northern California with her husband and daughter. She is a Parenting Coach, recently trained as a KonMari Consultant, who helps other mothers create joyful homes for their families.

KonMari is the organizing method created by Japanese professional organizer Marie Kondo. A method she shared in her bestselling book, “The Life Changing Method of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.”

Creating Simplicity with Christine O'Brien

Christine is also a Simplicity Parenting Family Life Coach. She teaches techniques based on Kim Payne’s book “Simplicity Parenting” which is full of helpful tools for creating daily rhythms that allow children to feel secure and supported.

Several years ago I read the book that started the KonMari craze: “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” There are many aspects of the book that I find informative, however I don’t apply it strictly to my own home. I found that the book “Simplicity Parenting” was more applicable to my family’s personal lifestyle and I implemented several of the techniques it outlines.

The KonMari method was the catalyst for a complete lifestyle change for Christine. A few months ago I sent her an email to hear more about her personal philosophy and how it made her life more joyful.

Since then I’ve been following her wonderful Facebook Group, “From Chaos to Calm,” where she offers guidance to parents who are looking for peace in their day-to-day family routines. It is inspiring to read testimonials on this page from people who are making positive changes in their lives.

I can understand why the KonMari method has such a passionate following. Many people are also applying the KonMari practice to areas outside of the home and making more mindful choices throughout their lives.

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Wild Boys and Girls x Annie Kruse

A few years ago I stumbled upon Annie Kruse’s interior design blog Stylejuicer. In four short years she has gone from blogging for fun to launching her children’s clothing brand Wild Boys and Girls.

Wild Boys and Girls x Annie Kruse

Annie resides in London with her husband and two sons. Here she shares her thoughts on motherhood and what it takes to balance family life and work.

With two adorable little boys underfoot, where and how do you find time to run your business?

Ha, with great difficulty but I think if you’re passionate enough about something you will simply make time, even if that means putting on the TV for the kids for an hour, so you can answer some urgent emails or pack some orders. I don’t like to do it, but it’s a stop-gap, and as long as it doesn’t happen too often, I don’t feel I’m neglecting my children in any way.

I’ve got a little (tiny) home office which is my haven. The door is never closed and I can always hear what goes on, so if my lion cubs are getting too rough with each other, I’m there to solve any issues.

Mornings are my most productive time as that’s when both of them are off to nursery and school. Those 3 hours do fly by though and most evenings when others are settling in for a night in front of Netflix with a glass of wine, I’m heading upstairs to finish off some work, often with some dark chocolate to help me through.

I struggle with balancing work and family life every day. I feel so much is expected of us moms today. Most of us have no relatives, neighbors or friends who can help out with childcare on an as needed basis, so the pressure of child rearing is mostly on the mother and the bar is placed incredibly high.

There is so much (often conflicting) research and testament out there telling us how we should parent, what is and isn’t good for your child that you’re set up for failure in the eyes of society from the start. I always thought I’d be strong enough not to take on parenting guilt as long as I tried my best and saw that my kids were happy and developing well, but I’ve discovered that I am not immune to this burden of guilt. I constantly feel that I should be playing, singing, reading, drawing, interacting with them more and being the best mum I can, but I do know my limits and often I’m too tired and exhausted to play Mary Poppins.

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Birth Trauma: Having Another Baby after a Traumatic Birth

Being pregnant again after a traumatic birth or high risk pregnancy is like walking through a field of memories and revisiting places you would rather not see again. It is not unusual to experience anxiety, self doubt and fear during your pregnancy.

Pregnant after a Traumatic Birth

Anxiety can come from unresolved trauma from your previous birth, as well as worrying about what could go wrong this time around.

Fear can come into play the closer you get to your due date and during routine tests, or milestones in your previous pregnancy or labor where things might have started to unravel.

Self doubt can arise at any point where we find ourselves trying to make the “perfect decision” to avoid our previous experience. This can result in procrastination, indecisiveness and looking to people outside ourselves to make the right choices for our family.

Pregnancy and birth are unpredictable by nature, most of the time things go well, but sometimes they just don’t. A way to set oneself up for a better experience is to accept that it will go how it goes on that day and in that moment.

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Knocked up Abroad with Lisa Ferland

Sweden, land of IKEA, Elsa Beskow and Carl Larsson, is one of those Scandinavian countries known for providing generous paid family leave and being very supportive of families. Lisa Ferland, an American mother of 2, relocated to Sweden from Georgia after the birth of her first child. Then went on to welcome a second child in Sweden, which led to her book “Knocked up Abroad.”Knocked up Abroad with Lisa Ferland

Last month she launched a Kickstarter for her next book “Knocked up Abroad Again.” This book will feature stories from mothers in South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. These varying stories and experiences will help us to see there are many ways to bring a child into this world.

I reached out to Lisa after hearing her speak a little of her journey on a podcast interview and I’m so glad to be able to share more of her story with you today.

Pregnancy

When you talked about the difference in prenatal visits in America and prenatal visits in Sweden, so many thoughts came to me; specifically how both models can influence a parent’s confidence. I got the sense that not having as many prenatal visits and multiple ultrasounds, as well as being told “let us know if you need additional care,” was more empowering, because its trusting you to know what’s best for your baby. Has birthing and parenting in Sweden made you more confident as a mother?

I recognize it is not the same for all mothers but for me personally, I found the hands-off approach of Swedish prenatal care as a stress-reliever. During my first pregnancy in the U.S., everything was treated as an emergency, and I was in a mild state of constant panic. With the frequent scans, I was terrified that they would find something even though they never did. Then they found white spots on the baby’s heart but couldn’t tell me if it meant anything. The increased investigations without any answers or diagnoses only made me more fearful of the unknown. My baby was born 100% healthy. All of those scans and worries were for naught. In Sweden, their approach is very much, “let us know if there are any issues but until then, go live your life as you would normally (but no drinking alcohol or smoking).”

Birthing in Sweden has given me the firsthand knowledge that my body can have a baby without interventions of any sort. I had an uninterrupted, complication-free childbirth without any pain relievers and still never experienced any pain whatsoever. A comfortable and easy childbirth experience is very possible—a concept that goes against the majority of the cultural depictions of childbirth in the U.S.

Parenting in Sweden has unquestionably increased my confidence as a mother. I don’t feel the social pressure or judgment that I see so many other American mothers facing today on Facebook or in social media. It helps that the Swedish cultural norms of child-rearing align with how we wanted to raise our children. It is culturally encouraged to breastfeed in public, allow your child to play outside unattended, climbing, exploring, screaming, and laughing in public—all of these things are seen as “kids being kids” and it is a positive environment as a parent.

Childcare

You shared in your podcast interview and tell me if I have this right, you can’t place your child in daycare in Sweden until they’re 12 months? How did you feel about this, especially after returning to work much earlier with your first son in the US?

That is correct. Swedish daycare or preschools don’t allow children to start younger than 12 months of age but if you did enroll your child, s/he would be the youngest in the group. Parents in Sweden receive 480 days of paid parental leave, and many people stretch those days, so their child is a bit older when they start daycare at 16-18 months.

Knocked up Abroad with Lisa Ferland

At first, I was surprised that daycare was so much later than in the U.S., but Sweden has free “open preschools” which are as much for the parents’ benefit as for the child. These open preschools are usually held in churches (Swedes aren’t very religious with only 5% being regular churchgoers), or local community buildings. Unlike a regular preschool, parents must stay and play with their children. Coffee and snacks are provided at a fee but the singing time, access to a safe play space, and other babies and toddlers make for a great meeting spot for parents to socialize and stay sane while at home with their child for that first year after birth.

Truly, Swedish society values family time and places it at an equal or a nearly higher priority than the career.

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