A letter to the NICU nurses who were there when Aiden was born

Last week we celebrated Aiden's birthday with 7 candles on the cake. As most parents do, each year I say, where did the time go? The first couple years of Aiden's life were some of the toughest. But these last few? Nothing short of amazing.

If you haven't followed our story from the beginning, below are some of my first posts ever, as he was the reason I started this blog.

Aiden's Birth Story
He's Home!
More Great News

Not in the reading mood? Below is the trailer to a short film created for us several years ago about the start of Aiden's journey with Apert syndrome. (Shout out to Tommy Nolan of Creative Video Solutions!)

As I reminisce about the roller coaster ride, I'm often transported over and over again to the delivery room. The hushed doctors, the dim lights, the beeping machines. Aiden was whisked away to the NICU where he spent the next 2 weeks, while Ricky and I wrestled our emotions within the quaint concrete walls of the Ronald McDonald House Family Room housed in the lower level of the same hospital. I walked those halls - back and forth, upstairs and down - for 14 days. Delirious. Dazed. Grieving. And although I knew nobody could make it better - make him better - I came to appreciate the tenderness of the nurses who tried to help our boy as we wondered how to heal our hearts.

Dear NICU nurses who were there when our boy was born,

It's been 7 years, so this "thank you" has been a long-time coming. The early days left little to be thankful for as our assumption of a healthy 2nd baby boy was abruptly replaced with shock, fear and anger. A sterile stay in the NICU is probably not how most families expect to start their journey with a new baby, so I'm sure you are used to the flux of emotions that come from our end of things. Looking back now though, I am able to truly grasp the gratitude I hold in my heart.

Thank you for being there for my son. While my hands were shaky, trembling with fear, your warm and steady touch reassured him when I could not. You see, I was too scared. It sounds crazy, too scared to touch my own son, but with wires and leads and tubes attached to him in various places, I was terrified that I'd do him more harm than good if I stroked his belly wrong or made him wiggle too much.

Thank you for your tenderness. You saw that we were scared. Scrubbing your hands and arms up to your elbows for a strict 3 minutes might be commonplace to you, but doing so before being allowed in to see our baby was definitely new to us. The first time around, we had the freedom to scoop up our infant as he slept within arms reach. We heard him breath all night long without buzzing machines and dinging bells. We felt like parents, not like visitors. When we stood outside the NICU doors with tear stained cheeks and bleary eyes, you stopped what you were doing to welcome us in. When just about everyone else met us with frowns and uncertain emotion, you didn't. Even though I couldn't see behind your protective mask, I could tell from your eyes that you were smiling. You walked us to our son's isolette, decorated with a big construction paper heart with his name, and reminded us that this home of his was temporary. You gave us hope when we had none.

Thank you for your respect. You spoke to us in direct terms that we could mostly understand. And if by chance we didn't, you never made us feel silly for asking questions. When I was too nervous to give my own son his first bath, you walked me through it step by step. When I voiced my concerns, you listened. Even when we sometimes felt like it, you never treated us like victims. We were Aiden's mommy and daddy, plain and simple. You never made us feel small - and that helped to build our confidence.

Thank you for your patience. Every night we made a list of questions. We made you stand there answering each one while we crossed them off our list. Sometimes, when we couldn't sleep, we came up at 3 or 4 in the morning to ask them again just so we could spin the answers around in our head and give our minds something to focus on. When I couldn't hear your responses through my heaving sobs, you gave me a moment to collect myself and simply tended to my child's needs. If I argued or got angry or demanded something of you, you understood it as raw emotions and didn't dish it back to me even when I may have deserved it. I promise I wasn't trying to be rude. I was just scared. Thank you for letting me be scared.

Thank you for your encouragement. I was told many scary things about my son in those first few days. I watched as doctor after doctor came in to shuttle him from test to test. Talk of brain bleeds, organ problems, breathing issues, severe mental delays - I was flooded with so many negatives that my entire existence was shaken to its core. I searched for normal. And even though they said I would not be able to nurse my boy because of the anatomy of his mouth, something inside of me made me want to. When he was no longer intubated, you let me try. You showed me latching tricks and pulled up a rocking chair and shooed visitors when I was getting frustrated. You probably don't know this but I successfully nursed Aiden for 4 months. Had you told me no like everyone else had, I would have missed out on an invaluable lesson on perseverance. Something we have carried on into every aspect of Aiden's life.

Please let this long overdue thank you letter serve as reminder on those really tough days - when you let the fear and misguided emotions from scared and tired parents make you doubt your very important role. We certainly didn't find hope from the doctors with their rushed search for answers, confusing big-words and "prepare for the worst" attitude. Without you, we would not have survived. HE would not have survived. We will be forever grateful.

Every year on his birthday, I think of you. And I'm finally getting around to letting you know.

A NICU mom

A Month From Now, On a Tuesday

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Nobody escapes grief. We have all experienced loss, disappointment, unexplained or unexpected situations that rob our heart of feeling whole. We ask why? And turn to friends, family, loved ones, books, the internet for support, meaning, answers. A psychiatrist attempted to wrap the emotion up in a pretty little box with a bow by providing an "outline" for the "stages of grief". But as I learned when we had Aiden, grief strays drastically from that chart. It proved more stressful when I realized my grief was not a straight line or a bullet point. It was a wave of back and forth. Good days and bad. But once I embraced the ebb and flow and let go of expectations that attempted to label our feelings, I healed. 

I always tell people that despite the first two years of Aiden's life being the most difficult from a medical standpoint - with numerous appointments, surgeries, therapies, challenges - I was at my best. I wore many hats. Mom, nurse, teacher, student, supporter. And those hats plugged the holes in my heart like a band-aid. Over time however, and well after Aiden turned 2, the band-aids gave way and grief bled through rapidly. When things settled down and I didn't have to focus so much on Aiden's care, the reality and stress of it all finally took its toll. That next year was the hardest. But with help from friends (the ones that stuck around) and with the love of my family, we made it through. Together.

When my friends lost their little boy to cancer last year, I had no idea how to support them. I had never experienced loss like this. How could I possibly know what to say or how to help? I think some tend to be so intimidated by the fear of saying or doing the wrong thing that they run the other direction and never look back. I didn't want to do that. I couldn't do it. Because even though I could never fathom the hurt they held in their hearts, I too hurt right alongside them. I too grieved. I reached out to a person at my church who gave me some books on how to help friends through loss. I researched online. And finally, I just followed my heart and prayed that God would show me what to do. 

My husband and I flew to be by their side as they said their final goodbyes. When we returned, I sent my friend a text every so often. Whether it was just to say I was thinking of her, or to tell her something that made me think of her little boy. Often times my boys would say they missed him or let go of a balloon and say they were sending it to him in heaven. I shared those special moments with her as I knew it would make her smile. I gave her space, always letting her know I was here to talk, but never wanting to impose. 

Not too long ago, I was packing up some clothes that Nolan had outgrown and I came across a pair of PJs. They were faded and stretched having been hand-me-downs worn by both of my friends older boys, then my two younger ones. She had given them to me before her little boy had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma, and she probably never gave them a second thought. But when I sorted through the piles, I couldn't bring myself to get rid of them. I eventually decided to mail them back to my friend in Texas with a little note. Shortly after, she called and even though she's not much of a phone-talker, she opened up to me about how things have been. It was so refreshing to have her share with me. I cherish that conversation.

This weekend, I found out that my college roommate, Anna, lost her husband in a tragic accident. She and I and another friend shared more than just space in our 2 off-campus rental houses. We would take walks and talk about our hopes and dreams for the future. They pegged me as the one who would get married and have a bunch of kids (they knew me well!) and Anna was going to be the career-minded one who would eventually be swept off her feet by her tall dark and handsome prince. 8.5 years ago, we celebrated her fairy tale coming true as she wed her soul-mate on a beautiful day in May. The 3 of us stayed in touch over the years despite spreading out to various parts of the country. 

When I was on hospital bed rest last fall, pregnant with baby #4 and scared I would lose him, they both came to visit. We chatted and caught up, and even though we hadn't seen each other in months, it was reminiscent of our college chats. Anna shared with us that she and her husband had been trying for quite a while to have a baby of their own. Some time later, after many challenges and years of trying, she called to tell me they were finally going to parents. Joy! Such joy! Prayers answered! So when I got a phone call from a mutual friend this past weekend, letting me know that Anna's husband had tragically lost his life in a hiking accident, my head spun. But the baby! How can this happen? This is not fair!

I wanted to get in my car and drive the 2 hours to be with her, but with 4 kids at home that's not always the easiest thing to do. I sent her a text. So cliche. So impersonal. But I wanted to let her know that I had heard the news and was praying. A little while later, one of Anna's best friends called me to talk. We cried. We shared our broken hearts. We talked about ways we could help her through this. 

"I refuse to say if you need anything, let me know", I told her. "I find that so annoying. Nobody who is grieving ever wants to ask something of anyone. So as Anna's closest friend, you tell me what to do. Just say the word. Go here, pick this up, send this, whatever it is, tell me and I'll do it." 

Her friend agreed and then she said something like this: She's going to have a lot of support over the next few days and weeks. She's going to have meals and visitors and be surrounded by lots of love. But a month from now, on a Tuesday, when family is no longer in town and she's gone back to work and comes home to an empty house each night, that's when she's going to need her friends the most.

That right there friends, is the truth. I was so thankful for that honest reminder. 

I plan on visiting my friend this week. But I also plan to remember her after the storm dies down. Her grief is going to ebb and flow after all, so my support will ride the waves along with it. Not just now, as she deals with the shock. Not just this week as she plans his memorial. Not just next month when she's made it through another calendar page. But always. 

A month from now, on a Tuesday. And every month after that.

34 in 34 by 34 (AKA my new catchy weight-loss goal)

So I turn 34 this year.

At 29 I was not scared of turning 30 in the least. I didn't feel 30. I don't think I looked 30. Thirty didn't sound old.

But for some reason, thirty-four seems...old.

I'm finished with the having babies part of my life. I'm in the home where I will grow old with the man I love. I'm seeing new wrinkles on my face every day, and so it goes without saying that I'm feeling every bit my age. And, well, that just plain sucks.

Could it be because I'm not in the best shape? Can I blame my thyroid? Perhaps the pure exhaustion of raising 4 boys? Sure, probably all of the above. Regardless, I want to feel better and losing weight will help I know.

So because it just seemed to work out this way, I couldn't resist...

My goal is to lose 34 pounds by my 34th birthday. Which happens to be exactly 34 weeks from now! Crazy right?

So as I share my weight-loss journey with the world, cheer me on. Ask how it's going. Share your tips/recipes/success stories. Remind me to workout and to skip the dessert or second glass of wine. I CANNOT do this alone. And I CANNOT wait to post my success story on my 34th birthday!

{Be sure to follow along on Facebook, Instagram and MyFitnessPal}

On Milestones and my Last Baby

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Time is moving full-speed ahead, barreling towards Nolan's 1st birthday much more quickly than I had anticipated. In the last few weeks and months he has accomplished new things, reached new milestones and developed his own spirited personality.

When his little gummy smile started sprouting his first teeth, I was thrilled and emotional at the same time. This was the last gummy smile I would call mine. First teeth smiles are just as cute. But it meant leaving behind a small part of babyhood that I'd never get back.

When he learned to push up on all fours, and hoist into a sitting position, I beamed with pride from behind my camera. I wanted to be sure to capture that moment, as I knew it would be another last "first" I would experience as a mom.

Just last week we ran out of formula. With less than 2 weeks until his birthday, we went ahead and made the switch to whole milk, and from bottle to sippy cup. This transition has really been a hard one. Not so much for him, but for me. I will never buy another container of formula again! I will never scramble to fill a dispenser with the right number of scoops and have to pack a leaky bottle in the diaper bag! My wallet will be happy to eliminate that expense, but my heart, I will admit, is a little sad. Our night time routine of rocking him to sleep as he sucked on a bottle in my arms will no longer be. Sure I can still rock him, but he's a little less "baby" and a little more "big".

I realize that it's part growing up, part letting go. Knowing this is my last baby - that these moments will be some of the last "firsts" I will ever experience - my emotions have been bubbling up to the surface with each milestone.

There are so many more "firsts" I will get to watch. Not only with Nolan but with each of my kids as they grow and learn. So I have to focus on the present. Not dwell on leaving things in the past. But it is definitely harder to do that with a last baby. I will try my best. But if you see me tear up when Nolan starts to walk or says his first word, just know that those are bittersweet moments for me. I'll want a high-five...and a hug.
Nolan's Newborn Photo Session Feb 2014
Photo credit: Little White Whale Photography
Family Photo Session Nov 2014
Photo credit: Bellissimo Photography

Nerium Night and Day Cream Review

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I'm sure I'm not the only one who has noticed their Facebook newsfeed being overrun with Nerium information. Before and after photos, product deals, representatives sharing their financial goals being met and cars being earned. Part of me wanted to hide every person who continually posted these status updates...but the other part of me was definitely intrigued. When I was contacted by a friend of my husband's who sold Nerium, asking if I would be interested in giving it a try for 30 days risk-free, I figured "why not?"

I posted on Facebook that although I was skeptical, I was excited to try the "miracle in a jar"...a product that was given in swag bags at the Oscar's, Emmy's and Billboard Music Awards. As I waited for my products to arrive, I got a private message from a Facebook friend who cautioned me about the safety of the ingredients in Nerium, particularly the Oleander. I reached out to the distributor, sharing the info I had received, and she was able to ease my fears with a lot of research that seems to indicate the opposite. See video below:

A few days later my products arrived in the mail: two sleek pump bottles with clear instructions. I was anxious to get started on my new skin care routine, and even more anxious to see if I would have the amazing results I had seen plastering my newsfeed. Results like the below:

Nerium before and after 1

Nerium before and after 2

Nerium before and after 3

I've always had pretty "normal" skin. I had the typical teenage breakouts and have probably spent too much time in the sun than would be advised by a dermatologist. But at 33 years old, I will admit that I'm starting to see my age show up on my face. Fine lines, tired and puffy eyes, old redness from past blemishes. It never bothered me until the last few years. So "miracle in a jar" would be my saving grace, right?

First, let me talk about my skin care routine before Nerium. It consisted of wiping down my face with a makeup remover cloth, removing my waterproof mascara with liquid remover dabbed on a cotton pad, and slathering whatever moisturizer was on the endcap clearance shelf at Target. And if I'm being honest, this really only happened about 3 or 4 nights of the week. The remainder of the time I was too exhausted to do anything more than brush my teeth and crawl in bed. 

Once I started Nerium, it felt good to get into a healthy skin routine. Knowing I had just 30 days to see whether it would make a difference forced me to make it a priority. 

On to my initial thoughts about the product...

  • The pump bottles were what I would expect an "expensive" skincare product would like and feel like. I only keep a few things out on my counter in my bathroom because I don't like clutter (everything else gets shoved into the vanity drawers) and this was something that I didn't mind keeping out.
  • The day cream bottle was white and the night cream a dark gray. This made it easy to distinguish between the two.
  • The consistency of the creams were silky, not oily feeling, and light to the touch.
  • They both smelled fresh. Weren't overly perfumey or medicinal.
  • Once applied, it left my skin feeling smooth. It wasn't too heavy (like a mask) but did feel like it was being absorbed deep into my skin.
  • Didn't feel like it stayed "on top" of my skin where I would be worried about it rubbing off onto my sheets or clothing.

  • The pumps had a small little plastic piece inside the nozzle which I discarded in a hurry, before reading the instructions all the way which actually instructed you to keep and replace it after each use to keep the lotion fresh. Ooops. (But it was so small that I probably would have ended up discarding it anyway after a while).
  • The instructions say to use 3-4 pumps per application. I kept stressing about which I should do to prolong the amount of lotion to last the 30 days. I usually pumped the bottle a few times before anything even came out and would count 3 pumps after any amount of product emptied from the bottle. With that as my rule of thumb, I ended up having just enough lotion for the 30 days.
  • The bottles are weighted, which is deceiving a bit. I thought I had much more lotion remaining in the bottle than I ended up having.
  • The price. I am definitely a budget shopper. There are only a few cosmetic products that I am loyal to and spend a bit more on. Moisturizer/wrinkle reducers have never been one of them. Perhaps they should be a priority and perhaps now that I'm "of a certain age" they will become more of one. But at $80/bottle, Nerium is definitely more than I would typically seek out to spend.
Finally, my thoughts on the results...

Overall I was happy with the product. There really wasn't anything that would keep me from recommending it to someone. With that said, there really wasn't anything that would make me want to drop everything and sign up to sell it to my friends and family either. My before and afters are below. 

Personal results - before and after 1

Personal results - before and after 2

When I shared them with my brand rep, and told her I didn't really see much of a difference, she pointed out a slight improvement in my marionette lines (the lines at the outer corners of my mouth), and that my eye area seemed a little less puffy. I was hoping that the little dark spot near my eye would fade a bit, which she said sometimes dark spots seem to get a little darker initially before they really start to fade. She assured me that 30 days is just a "start" and that if I continued using the product, I would definitely see a more dramatic difference. 

I think I would be interested in finding out...if only my pocketbook could afford it...

Nerium Firm dealI do encourage others to give it a try - especially because there is a 30 day money back guarantee. You really have nothing to lose, and may just find your "miracle in a jar"!

If you are interested, contact Jessica Stewart (sscakedesign@yahoo.com) or visit her webpage: jessicastewart.nerium.com

I am hoping to give the Nerium Firm a try soon. As I recently mentioned on my Facebook page, I have decided not to move forward with my "mommy makeover". There were so many factors that went into that decision - and I'm not saying that I won't change my mind again in the future - but it wasn't right for me right now. With that said, I'm ready and willing to try anything that might even slightly improve the look of my post-baby belly. Now if I try it and if I'm willing to share before and afters of my belly online is an entirely different story ;)

PS - part of my goal to reclaim my pre-pregnancy body will be on the blog soon! Stay tuned...