My experience as a NICU mom

On Saturday, September 24th, 2005 at 11:22 am my son was born. However, far from being the best day of my life, it turned into one of the scariest. The delivery went pretty easy, just about ten hours. The scary part came when the doctors were doing their post-delivery tests. The APGAR was perfectly normal, but the doctors thought his breathing was in distress. They were going to have to take him away to run more tests. For one brief moment, I held my son before they whisked him away to the NICU. 

Scared, tired, and worried, it would be hours before anyone would tell us anything. Two other babies had also been admitted to the NICU within minutes of my son. That information did little to calm our nerves. Finally, after many hours the staff pediatrician came to tell us the news. A tiny air bubble had burst in my son’s lung, most likely from the trauma of his birth. This was causing air to leak out. He would be on pure oxygen for the next 24 hours and then we would see. They told us the medical term was that my son had been born with a pneumothorax, also known better as a collapsed lung.

Since my son was in the NICU, I would have a room to myself. When they moved me from the delivery room to my hospital room I was confronted with baby balloons. However, they were not for me. The nurse assured me that the new proud parents would be leaving within the hour. Still slightly numb to everything I turned on the television to reports of Hurricane Rita and the damage it raged on the Gulf. That was nothing compared to the gurgling of a child not my own. The nurse had spoken the truth. My roommate was discharged with her bundle of joy. A few hours later, thanks to an error on the part of the nurses’ station, they started to prep the room for a new roommate. Thankfully, my husband intervened before anyone could be moved in.

Why are mothers of babies in the NICU not given roommates? Let me describe what happened the next night.

All the scans had come back good, but it appeared that my son was developing jaundice, possibly from being on nothing but oxygen for the past 24 hours. As long as the bilirubin levels stayed low, we would be allowed to leave in the morning. He could even stay in my room with me overnight. At the same time, they moved another NICU mom and her son into my room. Not a problem, I finally had him. I was happy. Happy until around 9pm that night when they tested my son’s bilirubin level again and decided it was too high and he would have to return to the NICU. The worst sound in the world is the cry of another woman’s child when your own son has just been taken away. It was a sound that lasted for most of the night.

That is why NICU moms have no roommates.

They discharged me that next morning. He stayed. The bilirubin levels were dropping, but slowly. After ten days of back and forth travel from home to the hospital, of constantly scrubbing and donning the sterile yellow smocks, the doctors let him come home. He was discharged with the caution to follow up with his pediatrician and have more blood work done. Thankfully, he did not have to return.

Today he is a happy, healthy teenager. It is hard to believe this was fourteen years ago. Though, the happiest day of my life is not the one when my son was born. The happiest day of my life is the day I got to take him home.

nicu

Advertisements

May is Mental Health Month

A lot of this blog is about finding balance. I focus a lot on how creativity and happiness can reduce stress levels, but sometimes you do need to seek professional help. With everything going on in my own life, my anxiety levels have been soaring. I talked to my doctor and we are trying the med route to see how it goes. It is not instant, magic, you are cured. It takes patience. I have been borderline anxiety attack mode at least three times this week, but managed to talk myself down from it. Since I am a researcher, I know that this can be a side effect during the first couple of weeks. Unfortunately, too many people stop taking meds when the side effects kick in. This is never a good idea. It is important to talk to your doctor and never stop a med without medical advice. 

So what has my anxiety flaring? Well, we are moving to a new rental in the next couple of weeks which is never fun. Our landlord has decided to sell the house rather than extend our lease. This is the second time this has happened to us in the past three years. Finding a rental in our price range that also lets us have the two dogs was a daunting prospect, but thankfully it all worked out for us. I am in the field research stage of my dissertation study and scheduling all the interviews that are needed will now probably not happen until after the move. We are also moving on to the hearing stage of the disability process for my husband. So of course money is tight on the one paycheck, thankfully I have side hustles to help supplement the income. Oh, and we have a teenager at home with all the mood swings that come with him. Yay!

So if you are feeling overwhelmed in life, know that you are not alone. Reach out to some to talk be it a friend, relative, or professional. When stress builds up, it can manifest in physical symptoms as well as mental ones. It is important to take care of your mental health just as you would your physical health.

You can find more information about May is Mental Health Month at http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net.

Let’s Talk About Self Care: a top 5 list

Face it, when you think about self care, you are probably thinking of spas and pedicures. Right? Full disclosure, I am writing this while waiting for a blue Dead Sea Minerals mask to dry. I’d take a picture, but I can’t smile since the mask is drying and honestly, I am not a selfie person. But that isn’t what self care is all about.

Self care is taking a moment to do something for your mental health. The benefit of visiting a spa is that you can disconnect. But really, how many of us can afford that? Monday was my birthday and I thought about going to get a pedicure, but instead I did my feet myself at home because spending money gives me anxiety. So dropping a chunk of cash in the long run really wouldn’t make me feel any better mentally.

If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you know my husband is having health issues. We are currently waiting to see if he has been approved for disability. It is a tough reality, but we have accepted it. So that means that we have to find ways to save rather than spend since he is not working. Things have also been tough at work too because two people in my department resigned. So overwhelmed is not even strong enough of a word right now.

So here is a list of my top five low-cost/no-cost self care things that you can do for your mental health:

1. Staycation

To celebrate my birthday and the fact that I had just returned from a week long conference trip, I took the two days off before July 4th. That gave me five days to unwind since my office is closed on the weekends. It would have been nice to have taken a real vacation somewhere, but not this year. Instead, I spent $18 on a cheap vinyl kiddie pool that my son and I setup in the back yard. We have learned that you can’t put a pool in our yard gracefully because of the slop of the yard. In the end, we sat in the pool fully clothed while it was filling with water just to keep the sides up long enough to self stabilize. It was a heat index of 105 degrees, so the pool was really needed if we wanted to be outside. The rest of the time was spent reading and watching movies with the family. Family time is very important for your mental health because the connection with people is something you need even if you are an introvert. Remember that experiences also trump things when it comes to happiness. So an $18 pool wins out over a $1800 vacation because of the experience it gave me and my son. Though he would probably have argued that a trip to Universal Studios would have been better. Honestly though, what will he remember. The only times I remember our family trip to Disney when I was a kid is when I see photos. Instead, my memories are filled with seeing fireworks at the local community college or barbecues in the backyard. Those are the memories that have stuck with me.

2. Budget

I know what you are saying…money gives you anxiety, so how is this self care? There is a piece of mind when you know that it is okay to spend on something like that kiddie pool. Also, even though money is tight, I know that we will be okay. Budgeting helps take out that ambiguity factor. According to Maslow, our happiness is at the top of the pyramid of the Hierarchy of Needs. However, we can’t reach that level if we are constantly worried about food or even a roof over our head. Which leads me to the next item…

3. Safety Net Fund

This could probably be lopped in there with the budget section, but a safety net fund is something everyone should have. For a long time, my husband and I put this on the back burner for when we would get our debt paid down. Then he got sick…when I took over the bills last year, it was one of the first things I did. The idea is that you want to start with $1000 set aside for when those big ticket emergencies pop up. So I set up a free savings account with Capital One because even though they were not exactly the best interest rate (though 1% is not too shabby compared with other banks), the ease of use for their system is really nice as I also have credit cards and my car loan with them. So it is all one interface that I log into. I started out small with $25 deposited ever paycheck. When money was a little better, I adjusted that to $50 and then back down to $25 when things started getting tighter again. When I got a little extra money, that also went into the account. I also opened an account with Long Game which is a gamified savings account app from a bank in Virginia. You receive tokens for depositing money into your account. Those token are used to play games of chance like scratch offs, match games, races with friends, and lotto drawings. You can win coins to play more games or even cash. The games don’t cost you anything, it is all based on how much you deposit. The more you deposit, the more you can play. It is FDIC insured and has a really low interest rate of .1%, but the draw is that some of the games give you a chance to win money. So far I have won about $3. I know, not much, but it is more than my son’s savings account has gained in almost six years with the same amount of money in it. Between Long Game and Capital One, I have reach that $1000 goal,for my safety net fund.

4. Gardening

Gardening is one of those activities that has a two-fold benefit. It can be a mindfulness based activity because of the tranquility feeling it can give us to putter in the dirt or trim leaves, but it can also be a nice benefit for our pocketbooks. I tried for several years to have a traditional garden and every year I failed. So I started small with a patio container garden using pots and herbs. With container gardens, you have many options for what you can grow things in. I have containers from the dollar store that I drilled holes in and added gravel for drainage below the dirt. That same year, my son tried to grow a cucumber plant in a pot. We had basil, mint, and cucumbers all summer. This year I expanded the pot garden. We have cucumbers, peppermint, basil, oregano, rosemary, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, lavender, cucumbers, butternut squash, and zucchini. Most of these were purchased as seedlings from the garden section of the hardware store, but some we also started from seeds. We didn’t think most of the seeds would sprout, but now I have roughly fifteen zucchini plants. My son hates zucchini. I am going to have to get creative when it is time to harvest. So factor in the price of purchasing these fresh at the grocery store and you have your money back and then some in the output. I use a dehydrator for all the herbs that we can’t eat fresh. Honestly, I am Italian but even this is too much fresh basil for me. During the summer I constantly drink ice water with lemon and mint. A health alternative to sugary or caffeinated drinks. It is also nice to sit on the deck in the morning with my coffee and smell the herbs. Very soothing!

Garden Tower Project

Here is a picture. It is a bit overgrown at the moment, I need to harvest some of those herbs.

5. Clean

I know, this is another one that has you shaking your head. But the truth is that clutter and mess is overwhelming to our senses. When our house/apartment is a mess, we feel like we are a mess. It also becomes another thing on our to-do list. You can start small, with just fifteen minutes a day (or broken down into fifteen minutes sections with lots of breaks between sections like my son likes to do). Purging the stuff you don’t need can also be very satisfying. You can donate or have a yard sale. There are also free sites you can post your stuff on if you still want money, but a yard sale isn’t an option. I have been holding on to a lot of clothes since moving to Maryland. They don’t fit, but I always had in the back of my mind that one day I would lose the weight and be able to wear them again. That is something else that can sabotage your mental health. Holding on to those items is just a reminder that there is something wrong with you. But hey, I am healthy and I can always buy new clothes if I do start to lose the weight. So I have been bagging up all those too small clothes and sending them off to thredUP…and using the money gained to buy cute shoes.

There are a lot of other self care things you can do to benefit your mental health. These are just my top five recommendations. Other than a spa trip, what would be some of the things that you would put on your Self Care list?

Fake it ’til You Make it

Have you ever had someone tell you that they were surprised about some part of you? For me, it is that I am an introvert. As an introvert, I do not like big crowds. I also am not a fan of speaking to people I don’t know, but I am an educator and frequently not only teach, but also speak at conferences. I am a big believer in faking it ’til you make it. Public speaking is terrifying to me, but I do it all the time. Here is a story about my last experience:

My last conference speaking session was to a packed room of library staff at our state conference. They even had to bring in more chairs! Before the session started, I was shaking. I didn’t recognize a single person in the room. I wasn’t positive that I could remember my notes. What if something I said offended someone? What if I went under time? What if I went over time? What if something went wrong? Well, what if everything went right?

My topic was on workplace creativity. I had attended a session at that very conference the year before on a similar topic, but I left the session feeling like it was all fluff. So I decided to take a risk (one of the facets of creativity) and apply to be a speaker at the conference the next year. So I did…and it got accepted. I didn’t know if I was excited or scared out of my wits.

I got lucky though that I got to present my topic at an annual meeting with our trustees. I was the keynote speaker. Here was a group that I was familiar with, but I was still nervous. I had scripted out my talk, but it was a little short. My director told me that would be fine since it would leave time for questions and one of our other speakers might actually run over. Well, you know you are doing something right when you have a group of trustees taking notes on what you are saying. Plus, they had a lot of questions. That trial run gave me a little more confidence that my topic and content would be good, but I felt like it was a little too static. So I borrowed from another facet of creativity and improved upon the original. With a few tweaks, I interspersed a little humor and audience interaction into my talk.

That session with the trustees was small compared to the session at the conference. Honestly, I was surprised by the number of people who had started trickling in for my session. I watched as the seats all began to fill. The size of the room meant I was going to have to use the microphone (something I hate doing), which meant I was going to have to sit at a table at the front of the room since that is how the AV had been set up. I admit I have a loud Jersey voice, but it is not always loud enough.

The first five minutes, I was shaking, but my voice was strong. I had done this before, I could do it again. At one point, my iPad decided to restart which meant I did not have my notes. So I winged it. I told an anecdotal story to illustrate the point I had been making. Everything was fine. People were laughing. No one was leaving the room. I had made it to the half-way point and everything was still smooth. I kept my eyes on the clock. I was getting confident and I think that is where I messed up because my passion for my topic started showing. In the end, I skipped three slides and still went over by three minutes. Reading the surveys after the session, half thought it was perfect and half thought it was too academic, but overall, everyone liked it. I also received two offers to speak again. So it was a win.

But why am I telling you all this? In her book, Presence, Amy Cuddy talks about striking a Superman pose for just a couple of minutes. Hands on hips, back straight, chin slightly tilted, and feet set apart. By taking this confident stance, we are sending our brain a signal that we are confident. I wish I had remembered this before my presentation, but I didn’t. It was okay though because after I got started, everything worked out. The hard part is taking that first step. No one else knows that you are shaking up there. If you show you are confident on the outside, that confidence will kick in on the inside too. By the time I was into the flow of my presentation, I was confident. Heck, I even suggested bringing this session to another conference in the Fall. But, well, we will see.

Do you have a “fiddler” in the family?

My family is filled with “fiddlers”…in other words, they are always spinning, flicking, or in some way manipulating something in their hands. My son has to be constantly told to stop touching things when we are in stores. We have in fact had experiences with the break it, you buy it policies. In addition to fiddling, we have a lot of anxiety. So the popularity of fidget devices has interested us for a while.

According to a July article from Psychology Today, there have been no studies on fidget spinners to show that they benefit mental health and as a mom, I admit that I can’t stand them. My son, unfortunately, got one this summer on the boardwalk when visiting his grandmother. It has since disappeared and honestly I had no part in it, but I am thankful that it did. I have seen many posts on social media that declare how much spinners have helped autistic and hyperactive children, but they are very distracting to everyone else. So the alternative devices that are less obtrusive are much more appealing. My son and my husband both have fidget cubes that they keep in their pockets. If you get the right one, then there is no sound. Though do read comments and check where they are coming from. These are small enough that they would fail the choke test. (Even the spinners fail that as the ball bearings can come loose). So it is probably not a good idea to give either of these devices to someone prone to putting things in their mouth.

As a trainer, manipulatives are something that I try to have out during my trainers. We primarily use pipe cleaners and tangles but have also recently started using adult coloring sheets and doodle pads. There are a lot of researchers interested in the thought that doing something with your hands, can help you concentrate.  Here is a list of some of the products I currently have my eyes on that I find less intrusive than the fidget spinners:


 Antsy Labs Fidget Cube 

*Warning* The Fidget Cubes are small and not recommended for small children as they will fail the choke test!


Tangle 


Adult Coloring Books 


Fidget Pens 


Stress Balls 

Do you have any favorites that you would add to this list? Comment below and let us know about them!