If you follow me on Instagram, you already know that Sam and I received a belated Christmas present this year: our beautiful baby girl, Harper Elizabeth. She was born on Sunday, December 27th at 2:58pm. Our tiny miracle weighed 4 pounds, 14.9 ounces and she measures 19.25 inches. She has her daddy’s chin dimple, her mommy’s dark hair and, as of right now, the deepest blue eyes I’ve ever seen. She is an absolute doll and we are so in love with her.
I’m in the process of writing her birth story and I hope to have that up (in parts because it’s so long) next week. In the meantime, I wanted to start my baby/postpartum updates. I’ll be doing these weekly (on Sundays since she was born on a Sunday) in the beginning and I’ll transition into monthly updates once the changes slow down a bit. So here’s what happened during week one:
Harper was born prematurely at 34 weeks which meant that she would have to spend at least a week, if not more, in the NICU. I knew this when my labor started, but nothing could prepare me for the moment that she was taken away by the nurses after she was born. Thankfully, we got to spend a little time with her before that happened, but it still hurt like hell and I sobbed into her hospital receiving blanket for a while after they took her away.
Thankfully, our stay in the NICU has been relatively easy, and everything that has come up has been extremely common in babies her age. She never needed oxygen and was able to regulate her own temperature from the beginning (although they still put her under the warming lamp just in case). Because of this, I immediately started asking them when she could come home. Unfortunately, her jaundice levels went up higher than they wanted them to which meant she had to be under a bilirubin light for a full day on day four. Seeing her in that closed bassinet, even though I know jaundice is common even in full term babies, sent me into the most emotional day I’ve had since she was born. It didn’t help that we also found out that she had a baby apnea spell (I doubt this is the medical term, but this is how the nurses at our hospital refer to it) while sleeping earlier that morning. Baby apnea is when a baby’s brain fails to remind it’s lungs to breathe. If it lasts longer than 15 seconds, an alarm goes off and the nurse will either stimulate the baby (which usually gets them breathing again) or will give the baby oxygen. This, like jaundice, is extremely common in premature babies because their brains missed out on a few key weeks of development in the womb. I know this, but it still scares me to death. Even worse, I was feeding Harper that same day (day four was basically the day from hell) when she had a very brief apnea moment. She was eating too fast and stopped breathing for just a few seconds. But in that time, I saw her lips turn a dusky color and I had a silent panic attack. It didn’t help that the NICU doctor and nurse who were working that day weren’t exactly warm and friendly. They kept
threatening warning us about extended NICU stays and feeding tubes (because Harper was having trouble staying awake during feeds) and all of these other scary things that were true, but most likely didn’t need to be said in that moment. They also said she would have to stay in the NICU for 2-3 weeks. I cried for an hour after we left and we prayed nonstop for things to turn around.
By that evening, Harper’s jaundice levels had dropped and she was pacing herself while eating again. By the next morning, she was released from the bilirubin lights (by a different, much nicer doctor) and put back into an open bassinet. She hasn’t had an apnea spells since and she is eating like a champ so they never had to insert a feeding tube. Speaking of eating, Harper started off eating donor breastmilk because it took five days for my milk to come in. I’ve been pumping every three hours since Sunday night and I’m now producing more than enough milk for her. She is currently taking 45-50 ml of breastmilk every three hours and she also nurses for 10-15 minutes on each side when I nurse her (usually twice a day while she’s in the NICU). I don’t believe it’s any coincidence that Harper has been absolute rockstar since my milk came in. There is a reason that they say “Breast is Best.” I’m not here to bully anyone into breastfeeding, but I witnessed a major change in my child once all of her nutrition was supplied by me. She has only lost 2% of her body weight (the average is 10%) and she has even started to gain a little bit back. Breastfeeding/pumping is a full-time job, but I believe it is 100% worth it.
Because of all of these positive steps forward, today is our baby girl’s last day in the NICU! As long as nothing changes between now and 8am tomorrow morning, we will get to bring her home sometime tomorrow. Tonight, Sam and I will spend the night at the hospital and we will room-in with her (so we can get used to being full-time parents with the added security of having nurses and doctors right down the hall). She still has a few tests to pass (a carseat test, drinking from the bottle we plan to use at home, etc.), but we have full faith and confidence that nothing will stop us from walking out of those doors with a baby in hand tomorrow. Although our stay in the NICU was extremely difficult for me (I’ll write about that more later), I am so thankful that it was relatively easy. Harper did not need any procedures and never had any major health concerns. I cannot say the same for the some of the other babies and families we met during the past week. We pray for them every time we’re there. I also cannot express enough gratitude for the doctors and nurses who work in the NICU. They are all so dedicated to their jobs and you can see how much they love these babies. They taught Sam and I so much and we never worried once about the level of care she was receiving. We are so grateful for them.
Aside from the afterbirth cramps I get every time I pump, and the fact that I feel like there is nothing but air and mush in my belly now, I feel fantastic! I did a lot of research while I was pregnant and read a ton of birth stories. I always paid particular attention to the recovery portions of those stories because I feel like no one ever tells you about what really happens after the baby comes out. Because of this, I was expecting the absolute worst. I just knew I was going to be feeling like crap for weeks. But in reality, my recovery has been wonderful. I’ve had to remind myself that I just had a baby seven days ago.
I weighed myself for the first time since she arrived yesterday morning and I am 4.8 pounds lighter than I was when I got pregnant. I still can’t believe that. I think it’s a combination of losing weight during the first trimester, plus only gaining ten pounds during pregnancy and then pumping like a mad woman once she was born. It’ll be interesting to see how my weight changes in the coming weeks. I am always starving or thirsty these days because of all of the calories I burn while feeding or pumping. I’m trying to eat really healthy and to pay attention to how the foods I eat affect her, but when you’re living in 3 hour increments, it can be hard to make smart, healthy choices. I survived off of granola bars, goldfish and pretzels yesterday because I was running around trying to get things ready for her to come home. If anyone has any tips or advice on this, please let me know!
Emotionally, I was a bit of a wreck this week. Obviously, your hormones go a little haywire when you give birth and I definitely cried off and on all day the day she was born. And then, when she was taken to the NICU, I went a little…cold. I was in shock and pain and I couldn’t figure out how to deal with it. Then I got very, very afraid. Every time the monitors made any noise, or any time a nurse or doctor mentioned anything that seemed a little scary, I would lose it. I also felt like a bad mother for not sitting at her bedside 24 hours a day, even though I needed to allow myself to rest and recover before she came home. I am so thankful for Sam and my parents and siblings. They prayed with me and encouraged me and reminded me to have faith every single day. And slowly, but surely, my faith grew.
Another thing that helped me was reminding myself that I’m Harper’s mother and allowing my motherly instincts to kick in. Usually, Sam and I visit her together, but one day he went to the gym and I went alone. During that time, she had her first good nursing session and while she was eating, she looked straight into my eyes and held my finger with her tiny little hand. In that moment, not only did I fall even more in love with her, but I realized that she knew me, she trusted me, and she loved me too. She spent 34 weeks safely tucked into my belly and she remembers that every time I hold her. From that moment, I made bonding with her my number one priority and it has made a world of difference. My emotions are in check and I feel more confident than ever that I was made to be this little girl’s mom.
I apologize that this post ended up being so long. A lot can happen in one week! I hope you enjoyed reading our first update and I hope that it is especially helpful for those of you who are pregnant, are planning to get pregnant, or just had a baby. Please let me know if there are specific topics you want me to write about. Have a happy Sunday!!