All Together Now

After all the hustle and bustle of landing home and then getting through Ben’s last week of school for the semester AND then the excitement/hubbub of Christmas, we have finally had the last few days to just be as a family of seven in our own space, without anything extra pressing or even on the calendar for that matter!

Take yesterday, for example.

It was a whopping, what – 5 degrees – outside? So really, the perfect day to stay warm and cozy indoors (and in pajamas), so that’s exactly what we did. No one went anywhere, not even outside to play in the snow because BRRRR!

Instead we napped (well, WA, TJ, and B and I did, anyway) and had screen time and played games and even managed to squeeze in Mama/Daddy Time with each of the Big 3 (not that Trumy doesn’t count; it’s just that he can’t count yet and therefore has no concept of time/taking turns with this stuff, plus he finds plenty of ways to have his own time with us).

Now, we’re not very good about doing this as often as we should, but much like a Mama or Daddy Date, M/D Time means each kid gets undivided attention individually with each parent for a set amount of time. I.E. 15 minutes to do whatever you want (minus screens) with one parent and no extra kids. That sounds incredibly minimal and simplistic (it is), but you’d be amazed at how hard it is to pull off because you have to have the other parent available to keep said wandering sibs away from your special time and it easily takes at least an hour+ to get the three 15-minute sessions accomplished. And then when you’re trying to do time with both parents in one day, well, there’s your afternoon, folks!

Although it felt like we dropped back into home life in a ding-dang whirlwind of mid-December chaos, I am so glad it’s the holiday break and we have the opportunity to be doing these “do nothing” days filled with whatever whims our kids or we can conjure. Of course it is not paradise and we are having as many kid squabbles as the next family cooped up in the same house day after day, hiding from the cold, but bless it, we needed this time together to acclimate, to regroup, to adjust back to our own “normal” after Wilson’s wild arrival.

As a friend pointed out to me last week, part of this normal is that we’re a Together Family. And it’s so true. We do the majority of our stuff together and the majority of it is close to home. That’s just how we roll (by not rolling much of anywhere sometimes). So the whole Omaha/Hastings split was extra hard because none of us are used to having one parent gone for any extended amount of time, much less both and for so long.

Since we’ve been home, I’ve noticed some residuals from our separation, mainly in the form of questions coming from The Middles about our (Ben and mine) whereabouts. Lincoln is terribly concerned, in the way of any good 4yo who can ask the same question 10 times a day, every day for a week straight, about our upcoming return trip to see Wilson’s surgeon in Omaha. He wants to know exactly how many sleeps we’ll be gone (none; it’s a day trip) and he’s got to ask at least four times to clarify that when we say zero sleeps we MEAN zero sleeps. And Raegan, too, had a moment during our newborn photos, when the baby and I weren’t quite done and ready to follow them home, where she turned to me, eyebrows raised and concern in her voice as she asked, “Mama, when are you coming home?”

These aren’t concerns we’ve had to field in the past because prior to November 22, the question of “When will Mama and Daddy be home?” was a nonissue. We were just always, more or less, together.

And thankfully, that is now the case once again, so much so that even in the multi-levels of our house, we can end up all in the exact same corner of the living room as a total coincidence of Family Time.

I wouldn’t have it any other way. img_8831

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What We Know of Willa (One Month In)

While we are still getting ourselves settled into Home Life at the One Week/Month Mark with sweet Wilson Ann, it is very clear that she has stolen all of our hearts and was always meant to be part of our story. I may still find myself mystified at times that I am now a mama to five and that we have a second girl in that bunch, but there’s no mystery when it comes to how happy they make my heart.

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Now that we’ve had a wee bit of time to be in our normal chaos instead of hospital chaos, we’ve also had a wee bit of time to learn more about just who this newest little person is. For the most part, minus that doctor-made belly button and inch(ish)-long scar on her tummy, she’s a typical newborn. She eats every 2-3 hours during the day, sleeps a lot, and poos. That’s really about it (and isn’t it all just glorious?).

Wilson is a fan of her paci, being super snuggled up in blankets or on her people, and noise. Thank goodness, right?! Because you know there’s no way that all four Bigs have suddenly learned to be super quiet, so they’re all a good match. But side note question: anyone out there have a good white noise device to recommend for nighttime? Normally we just run floor fans, but currently using an app on my phone and wondering if there is a happier medium out there.

Her color is gorgeous and she’s doing the full-peel/slight baby acne thing right now. Her hands don’t stay quite as tightly balled as I remember her siblings doing, and she loves to swing her long arms around during feedings and diaper changes (because: challenge is fun, right?). Although she doesn’t cry much, when she does, it tends to ratchet up pretty quickly into a sound that makes my mama heart hurt because it’s one I heard other babies in the NICU doing but never from her while there, so the guilt of not being able to be with her 24/7 the whole time in Omaha comes swooping in pretty quickly when she does that (was she crying like that when we were gone?!). Trying to remind myself that that might just be a Fifth Kid thing and not so much a NICU thing and she’s not afraid to use her voice to join the (happy) cacophony of our home.

Speaking of her voice, she has this grunt/throat clear sound that is always in triplet which is quite endearing, unless it is between 3-6 a.m., in which case I’m less of a fan.

And as fond as Wilson is of being around the rest of the Welschies and their goings-on, I find myself wishing for not much else than to be close to her, too (OK, sleep. I also really just want a bit more sleep or an uninterrupted nap for once, but I digress). I don’t think that’s much different from my other babies, but it feels a bit more heart-string pulling in those moments when I just get to hold her in my arms or on my chest, or put her on the bed next to me for a little close time. After all the lines and cords and beeping/dinging things that were connected to her arms, legs, and chest for the first three weeks of her life, to have nothing between us is the biggest blessing after that of being home.

So one whole month. Forever long and also gone, just like that. She is perfect.

 

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“Shhhh! Baby!”

Somewhere in the hustle of coming home last week, Ben and I were conversing about how we were going to navigate all the hubbub (read: chaos) of four excited siblings around the new baby and I told him I really didn’t want us to be yelling at them constantly. But how does one approach Bigs without constantly hollering at them to be quiet (ha – there’s a fun oxymoron/paradox of parenting, eh?).

Somehow B came up with the idea to hush them by saying, “Shhh! Baby!” and oh my word…in a handful of days we’ve already said it enough times that the kids are now saying it to each other and it truly has become a reflex response from both of us when any of them are being loud. Side note: how is Lincoln, my still in 20th percentile for size kid,SO loud? I know those outside our walls may not believe me because he tends to be so quiet elsewhere, but oh.my.word! SO loud!!

The irony of our shushing? Wilson actually seems to be quite comforted by the noisiness of our house and doesn’t care at all that her brothers and sister are literally bouncing off the furniture while hooting and hollering around her. In fact, on our first full Day One at home, everyone bailed from the dining room after breakfast, leaving her snoozing in her Rock-n-Play, and it wasn’t until it was totally quiet that she got mad enough to squawk about the happenings around her.

Clearly she loves her people and it’s safe to say the feeling is mutual.

How do we know? The number of fights logged thus far over who gets to hold the baby. img_8657This started within, oh, maybe 20 minutes of all seven of us being in the house together and has continued through every offered Sibling Hold Fest. They call (read: scream) “dibs!” and race each other to the couch and Boppy and basically refuse to give up their turn until we force them to do so. It’s both (slightly) irritating and (most definitely) the cutest thing ever. The only one who doesn’t get super worked up is Harrison, as he knows that his stay-up-late time is his hold-the-baby time while we read together before bed.

They are all just so darn proud when they hold her, too. I mean, for cute – look at Truman’s face from that first img_8614afternoon! He is suuuuuch a natural with her and totally enamored, too, as evidenced by his softly patting hands and his wiggling, happy feet the whole time he first got his arms on her (and every time since).

And if Wilson so much as cries for a split second, at least one, if not all four, of them is asking where her paci is, or telling us that her hat came off, or alerting us to the fact that she needs us; so fear not, Willa – you have a whole crew of watchers keeping an eye and ear out for you!

 

Which leads to one more story. Remember the whole designation of the nickname Willa? Because I love the name and I didn’t want them trying to call the baby Willy? Well, the biggest Bigs were complaining to me while we were still in Omaha that people were calling her Willa instead of Wilson, making it quite clear by accusational tones of voice what they thought of that (HD has since at least tried to slip “Willa” into conversation, but I’m still not sure he’s down with it), so so much for best laid plans, eh? And sure enough, they STILL managed to catch me off guard when tonight after super, Raegan suddenly referred to the baby as Wilsy and asked, “Pleeeeeease! Please can we call her Wilsy????”

Lord, give me strength-y.

Great/Gray Expectations

I get it. This time of year can be hard on anyone (everyone?). There is so blessed much going on with programs and parties and holiday activities, not to mention self-proscribed traditions and To Do lists and preparations (house, gifts, food, etc.) that can suck up all our time and energy in December.

This year feels especially confusing because I didn’t even realize it really WAS December until we landed at home in the late afternoon of 12/14 and even if you’re like me and not a math-er, you can see by those numerals that we missed half the month of getting our heads, hearts, and house ready for this special time of year. And, quite honestly, I’m pretty pissed at time right now because the three weeks we lost in Omaha are messing with me.

Now, to be clear….when I say “lost” I do not mean wasted. We did exactly what we needed to do for Wilson by being where we were for as long as we were (OK, still would have liked to have been home waaaay sooner, but that’s OK, Baby Girl – you are an excellent bus driver and we were happy to comply since it meant we got to bring you home at all). And in the grand scheme of things, three weeks is a drop in the bucket of time/a year/a life, and I am very much aware of people who stay longer or graduate to other parts of the hospital or live daily with illness and medical complications.

Awareness and heartbreak for those situations do not change, however, the fact that my own postpartum experience with Willa was nothing I ever anticipated, much less prepared for or knew how to navigate, and now that we are through it, I don’t know how to do what I’m doing now, either, which is trying to figure out life back in my house and with my five children and all in the week prior to Christmas during which my husband is teaching full-time because of Finals. It all feels like a bit much, you know?

Enter the Great Expectations. I know my kids don’t really care what they get for Christmas and that if we don’t do All. The. Things. we have done in Christmas’ Past, they will live (and trust me, they all have elephant memories, so they will remember). Even I don’t have huge expectations of what Christmas should be or look like, but the fact that it is suddenly upon us and I’ve had no time to ease into that, much less newborn life, is hard.

And enter the Gray Expectations, which is how I feel about our homecoming and what I think people are maybe expecting of me which is to be gushing with happiness right now. The number one question I am getting, and understandably so, is, “How is it to be home?!” and it is my response to that that feels so loaded. The answer is more complicated than “good” but not everyone wants/needs to hear that and I don’t actually need to start crying every time I talk to someone about it, so what do I do?

A “good/yes” response is true.

A “hard/overwhelmed” one is as well.

And I think it’s just going to be like that for a while as we take time to unpack our bags from the hospital, find all the baby odds and ends around the house that we need, and deal with the see-saw of emotions that come with any newborn adjustment, much less one post-NICU, and yes, prepare for Christmas, too.

I wish there was a more compact way to include that in my answer to the No.1 question these days, but none of this is black and white, and as with any parenting journey, there’s no manual, either, so the best we – I – can do is to keep trying and talking (OK, mostly writing) about the “tossed in the deep end” moments, for how else do we hope to make any progress to our new normal?

Good and Hard. Great and Gray. All of these things, and so much more are a part of this time and this sweet Little One’s story. And so, we carry on.

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Re-Entry

Bless it, my friends, we are finally home! I apologize if we were a little mum and sneaky during our last 24 hours at the hospital, but things started coming at us quickly, and we were just happy to comply and get the heck out of there as quickly as we could once that ball started rolling!

img_8569It began Wednesday afternoon with the Charge Nurse coming to tell us we could move into the Transition Room that afternoon. This is the before-home room that has its own door and bathroom (um! Hello and thank you!!) and a place for two people to sleep (due to other rules on the Unit, the other two nights we slept at the hospital with Willa actually meant me sleeping on a pull-out chairbed (that was acquired only by giving up my rocking chair) and Ben sleeping on the bench/couch thing in the waiting room. Nooooot exactly ideal). So we booked it over to the Rainbow House were we quickly packed up our stuff and checked out of there so we could spend the final two nights in the TR instead. The Rainbow House has a waiting list right now, so we were very happy to give up our spot for some other family in need of close lodging, and a couple nights early, to boot.

It surprised us how different the new room felt and we spent the rest of Wednesday evening getting semi-settled and ready to get Wilson through another night of feeds because we REALLY needed her to show a weight gain by 7:00a Thursday morning as this was the one thing the doc was really looking for after letting her go ad lib on nursing Wednesday. For our sanity’s sake, we kept up with the before/after weights on each feeding because the last thing we wanted was a surprise (in a bad way) Thursday morning!

True to #WonderWilson form, Baby Girl rocked it and even added an extra feeding in there, making her 7-7 total for her first day with no NG supplementation a whopping 94% intake via the breast. Amazing (& as a friend pointed out, good dang thing I have a lot of dang milk!)!!

We saw her doctor in the hall Thursday morning and gave him the good news (she did indeed gain by her official weigh time Wednesday night) and then while we were eating breakfast in the waiting room, our nurse came by to tell us that she’d heard a rumor we might be going home that day instead of Friday.

As you might imagine, our hearts leapt at this and we got

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right to it with sending out all the hopes and wishes and prayers that that might actually happen, which we found out less than two hours later was very much indeed the case!

Because Willa showed so much progress and aptitude for feeding these last few days, and everything else had been cleared and done, they saw no need to keep her for one more day/night just to prove she could go home. So pack we did and by noon Thursday we were officially in our van, driving away from Children’s for Wilson’s very first car ride. HOME.

We could not wait to surprise the Bigs after school! And we couldn’t wait to surprise all of you with this fun and fantastic news, too!

From here, we know we enter a new period of chaos. Of course it is a much better, more familiar kind of chaos, but we still have a lot of adjustment to do as a not-so-little family. Not only do we have to recover and regroup after three weeks of crazy separation, we have to do the typical “Hi! There’s a new person in our house!” stuff which can be interesting even without such a wild, disjointed start.

To be perfectly honest, we’re probably going to hunker down a bit, and we hope you’ll understand if we’re not really out and about or big on visits right now. It’s not that we don’t want you to meet our Sweet Wonder Girl – we very much do – but we also want to stay mindful of many things right now including Cold & Flu season (our doctor flat out told us to avoid crowds and playing “pass the baby” anywhere) as well as the fact that we’re probably going to need about as many weeks as we had at the hospital here at home before we really feel settled. And while we’re flying high on adrenaline and love right now, I’ll warn you that there may be days when I flat out can’t talk about it because the whole thing has been surreal and it is going to take time to process before I can maybe have normal conversations about it all. Please don’t take it personally if I 1) burst into tears and/or 2) change the subject on you the next time I see you!

Please also know that I will continue to post updates and pictures for you and that we appreciate so very much all of your continued support up to and beyond this point in Willa’s story. You all stepped up to help and provide and love on us when we needed it the most and even though it took longer to get home than we hoped, we know you all helped us get here as smoothly and quickly as possible.

And a huge shout out and thank you for understanding as we give Wilson and all the Bigs (and ourselves) time, space, and grace on this much-anticipated, much-appreciated time of re-entry. Besides trying to acclimate back to our own house, we’re trying to do as much of this (line-free snuggles) as possible: img_8641

Go Fly

After a handful of steady days of a steady plan (and slow but steady progress), we hit a hiccup with Wilson’s feeding that started Saturday overnight and definitely carried over through last night and this (Monday #3) morning.

As you might imagine, any sort of setback at this point is pretty frustrating because we NEED that steady progress to happen in order to go home, so B and I hit the ground running this morning with the attitude of “What can we do to turn this around (and no offense to the nice folks of Children’s, but…) to get the heck out of here?!” Thankfully some of those nice folks are very much on the same wavelength as us and so a new approach was hatched.

Starting tonight we will not be sleeping at the Rainbow House. Instead, we’ll be here in the room with Wilson for the next 48 hours, breastfeeding around the clock (instead of the bottle feeds that had been happening overnight) in hopes that that is what it takes to get enough in her system so we can meet those benchmarks that actually get us out the door. So, essentially, we are going to do a normal newborn schedule in the most not-normal environment and pray that it works (and works well)!

Hence the feather. img_8132

Confused? Let me do my best to explain…

Remember the Tembo post and Wilson’s animal connection to the elephant? But also how she had previously been tagged as a bird because of all the feathers I saw during pregnancy?

After I shared that post, a friend wrote to me about the symbiotic relationship between elephants and birds which I had forgotten about until she brought it up, but as soon as she did, my brain instantly clicked to the thought: allllllll of those feathers I saw were still signs, just not for the baby, but for her helpers (Still with me? I promise, this does all make sense). Remember in Dumbo how he uses the feather to boost his confidence enough to “fly” for the circus act? That feather was his helper and all of you have been Willa’s (as well as our) feathers in the last three weeks, helping us navigate as best we could through our family’s biggest time of challenge and need.

Seriously. We could not have made it this far without your love, prayers, messages, meals, rides, letters, gifts, and all the other goodness you have sent our way.

And now we are calling on our feather-helpers for what we hope is one last big push to get over the hump with feeding so we can go home to do actual newborn things in an actual normal environment because that would truly be the greatest blessing of all. Please keep those hearts and prayers lifted, your fingers and toes crossed, and all the good vibes coming because our Little Miss is so, so ready to fly.

 

No Filter

It has been almost three weeks since Wilson joined us. Since I waited in my kitchen through contractions so we could “save a night” at the hospital (oh, the irony). Since I entered the most bizarre postpartum period of my entire mamahood. Since I bothered to put on a single bit of makeup (because, honestly, why?).

I mean, who really cares what my face looks like and why try to hide the fact that 1) I am tired, and 2) we have been under big stress, and 3) I am in what is regularly a weepy time which, as you might imagine, has been greatly intensified by our NICU experience; there’s just not enough concealer in the world to cover all that.

img_8541With that said, I’m still trying to make sure I end up in pictures during this time because documentation matters, and although I hesitated and questioned how to write this particular post, I know it is a story that matters, too, and therefore needs to be part of the documentation. So on Saturday, before I hit the road home for 24 hours, I snapped this selfie and contrary to my body dysmorphic ways, my first reaction to it was pleasant. To quote the good old ANTM fangirl days, it struck me as fierce and beautiful, even though (because) it is also rather harsh.

This is the face of a mama of five (who has yet to have all five babies in the same room even though the aforementioned almost three weeks have transpired). This is the face of a mama who has been working, working, working to understand how entirely different newborn life is in the NICU while also doing her best to keep calm and breastfeed on with her “gut” baby.

This is also the face of a mama who was flagged by a sheet of paper containing 10 simplistic questions regarding her mental health as being someone who might have postpartum depression.

Now. I share this with you because I share a lot with you on the blog, including the fact that I have been the beneficiary of professional therapy for four years now. My therapist and I have covered and uncovered a lot in that time, including the fact that I was indeed a MISSED case of PPD after RL’s birth, but neither one of us thinks that is the case this time.

This time is circumstantial, and silly me, I answered those 10 questions based on our NICU circumstance even though the questionnaire clearly did NOT.

Before I continue, please let me be clear that I do believe in screening for such things and very much believe that PPD is not only real but also needs real attention and care. I get that they needed to check in with me and I also realize how privileged and fortunate I am to already have a mental health professional at the ready to help me. But I have never been a fan of these questions (usually they come at the six-week post-delivery OB appt), nor have I ever thought they were worded in such a way that people who need help would actually feel like it was OK to ask for it. Because, honestly, what came flooding over me when I read those questions (and even more so when they came back in to tell me that I had borderline “failed” – my word, not theirs – and this is without marking any of the extremes on their sliding scale answers) was shame. Pure and simple. SHAME (which was accompanied by the tears that seem to concern folks so much which also felt instantly shameful).

You are crying. You aren’t handling things well enough. You aren’t strong enough. You’re depressed. Shame.

Now, again…no one said any of this to me. When the social worker came back in to talk to me about my results she was kind and supportive and encouraging. And that’s great. I’m glad to know they are here for folks who do not have a support system outside of this bubble. But I also made it clear in our conversation that I don’t like how much weight 10 questions get to wield nor the fact that none of them took into account the utter lack of normalcy a NICU experience has. I mean – who DOES pass that screening in this situation?! And isn’t a lack of emotion a stronger indicator of something being off than having some occasional hot mess moments? (which I will argue happens for any woman postpartum, much less here).

And really, that’s it. I don’t have any grand answers or insight from this, but I wanted to give voice to the normalcy that is being emotional after a baby’s birth as well to express support for seeking out help if you do feel off after delivery because both are real. Both are valid. And there might be circumstances that are extenuating and that’s OK, too. Someday I hope to be able to devote more time and attention to this by asking more questions about what we can do to support women after birth without shame, but for now I’m going to keep doing my thing here with my Lady Baby, knowing that happy, sad, crying, laughing, dark circles, or concealer (when it someday comes back into my life), this IS my experience and there is no shame in sharing that.