First, I think it’s important to mention that when you are living through unimaginable times, despite people’s intentions, no one really knows how to react or support you. As I mentioned before, I am a people pleaser by nature and I’m pretty crapping at advocating for what I need. In reflecting on my experience and what I wish I would have asked for, here are my tips and ideas for family or friends wanting to support their loved one in the hospital:
1. Books: for me books were the best gift and I found myself buying a lot during our stay. A close friend of mine purchased the book “Wherever You Go My Love Will Find You” by Nancy Tillman. To this day, this book still makes me tear up. This book was incredibly powerful because it reminded me that even though I was not physically able to be with my baby for most of the day, I was enough in just being his mother. I loved reading books to the boys especially before leaving the hospital for the night. Even though there were times when my boys were completely sedated, reading a book helped me feel like I had a role other than pumping and this helped me connect to my boys
2. Untraditional gifts that made a world of a difference such as gift cards and MONEY!
We lived at Ronald McDonald House with both boys and despite the accommodation being very reasonable, you are still paying for your living expenses at home and usually one partner is working less to be at the hospital with your baby. My husband and I calculated that we probably spent more than $4000 on parking alone between the hospitals. We really appreciated gift cards because they took some of the stress out of the day. Tim’s or Starbucks gift cards are great options because they are both located in the hospital. Uber eats gift cards are also a great option. A lot of time is spent driving between home and the hospitals so gas gift cards can also be really helpful. Also I know money can be an untraditional and sometimes awkward gift to give but at the end of the day a monetary gift was extremely helpful as again it just took some of the burden off the daily expenses.
3. FOOD: The best thing about being in downtown Toronto is all the different food options. But for someone like me that has Crohn’s disease, I need to eat a specific diet. Eating out would be quite distressing for me as my body does not always agree with the food choices available. Due to my Crohn’s disease, I cannot eat a lot of raw food so my parents would often make a huge tray of grilled vegetables for me and drop them off at the Ronald McDonald House so I could add them to my meals. Some family members would cut up fresh fruit and veggie slices to take with us during the day. My husband's grandparents were very sweet and would just show up with homemade meals that were warm. They would even bring plates and forks from their house so we could feel like we were eating a normal meal. Friends/family would sometimes quickly stop by and just say I’m bringing you dinner or homemade cookies. When people just showed up with cookies, muffins or a tea just to say hi, these gestures made a world of difference.
4. Showing Up! As I mentioned above, I always had an excuse when someone asked to come and visit. However, parents NEED breaks out of the hospital and need to be supported by the people that love them the most. We were lucky that we only lived an hour away from the hospital and had many friends that live in the city.
5. Clothes: I highly recommend not bringing clothes. My boys couldn’t be dressed until they were 2 to 3 months old and getting clothes was just another reminder of the normalcy that I was missing because my baby was in the hospital and very unwell. The only exception are clothing items such as hats or socks because these items were useful and helped me to connect.
6. Stuffed Animals: Despite the best intentions of a personalized stuffy the space you have in the NICU is unimaginably limited and precious. While stuffy’s are cute and can be comforting, the space available was limited to essential items.
Lastly, I realize that many of the suggestions provided may not be possible due to Covid -19. These are recommendations solely based on my experience with both boys. Kayla & I continue to brainstorm & network with parents currently living in the hospital. If you read this & have any tips or suggestions that could help during the pandemic, we would LOVE to hear them <3.
When people hear the phrase ‘baby weight’, they often think of the extra pounds mamas hold after carrying a baby and then delivering them into this world. Contrary to popular belief, this is not what I am referring to. To me, I am referring to my baby’s physical weight. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined the hardships our family would face to get our children to eat. I always thought that once my baby’s intestines were back inside their belly, they would do all the things a “normal” baby does...aka EATING. It has been an extremely exhausting process - both mentally and physically - and I’m even getting teared up while writing about it.
My eldest, Theo, struggled to gain weight in the hospital. I began pumping and he would receive my milk through a bottle. The next step was to fortify the breast milk to help him gain weight. But anytime he had a successful feed, he would vomit it all up and then some. We were feeding him every 2 hours around the clock. It was just horrible - at night the nurses advised me to wake him up by changing his diaper then using a cold cloth in hopes to heighten his alertness and thus consume more ounces of milk. Then every time Theo made weight gains, his milk volume would increase and the cycle would begin again. It felt like we could never catch up. I so desperately wanted to get the hell out of the hospital - mentally I wasn’t coping at all. The staff agreed that home would be a less stressful environment for everyone and hoped less stress would improve eating.
Being discharged from the hospital is a surreal experience. You feel excited but with that comes so much guilt about leaving the other families that will be there for longer periods of time, or even worse the ones that don’t get to go home. And above all you’re terrified! When you’re in the hospital with your baby for long periods of time there are so many people checking your baby 24/7. When you go home you’re not only a new mother but also nurse.
When we got home with Theo, he would drink only half of his small bottles. I continued to pump for a couple more months but he still wasn’t gaining weight. I decided to throw in the towel as our whole freezer was full of unused breast milk! We tried every medication for his reflux but he continued to constantly vomit. My day consisted of trying to get him to eat at the perfect time so he could get in the correct volume and subsequently being covered in vomit throughout the day. My husband was super supportive and tried to feed Theo as much as he could when home because of how stressful I found feeding. Everyone would tell me that Theo could sense my stress but this only made things more stressful.
I kept asking myself: “I am his mother, why can’t I feed him?” My whole life revolved around getting a certain amount of ounces of milk into him my month and later G-tube, then reporting the information weekly to our nurse practitioner/pediatrician/family doctor. It was extremely frustrating because my husband would be able to calmly feed Theo and he would drink his whole bottle. It was so infuriating because I was the one that was producing the milk, I was the one that was home with him all the time and I was the one up with him constantly through the night but yet when daddy fed him a bottle he ate it all and went to sleep… Like what the hell!?
The trauma from being in the hospital plus literally NO sleep at all left me in very bad shape. I couldn't understand why I could not get him to eat and felt like a complete failure. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and severe PostPartum Depression.
As mentioned in my bio, I am a fitness enthusiast! I thought I would be that mom that always comes with the perfect healthy snacks and have these amazing homemade recipes. Instead I was the mom with the unhealthy underweight baby. I wanted to be a mom so badly, but here I was feeling like I would get the “mom gene”.
Despite my mental state, I was determined to join a mommy playgroup...right, is that what a good mother is supposed to do? It took everything I had to get to that playgroup, but I did it and ended up meeting a lifelong friend and many other fabulous mamas. But the thing about this mommy playgroup is obviously all you talk about is all things baby, which usually includes eating and growing.
Everywhere I went it seemed that people always commented on my son’s size….even strangers! One of the worst memories I have is the first time I went to a singing class with Theo. I was so proud of myself for getting out the door and excited to be doing normal, non-hospitalized things. We went around the room and said our kid’s names and ages. I remember telling the group that my son was six months old and I can vividly remember the reaction of 2 other mothers in the group. I remember exactly what they look like, what they were wearing and their faces. I remember them grasp as their jaws hit the floor when I told them my son was only six months and approximately 10Ibs. They couldn’t believe how small he was. Then when you are not sleeping and you were plagued by the trauma you went through at the hospital, comments like these would put me over the edge.
I felt like a failure and a horrible mother. I had dreadful thoughts about me and my baby, and struggled to connect to him. To read more about our feeding struggles and tube feeding, you can read the feeding and tube post on the blog. But I want to get back onto the topic of weight.
As a woman it would be completely offensive to say to another woman after they’ve had a baby “oh wow, you’re still hanging onto a lot of baby weight”. For me, I would take the same offense when others called my baby small. When someone would make a comment regarding my child’s size it was not them matter-of-factly stating the fact that he was small, for me it meant he was small so he was sick. He didn’t have enough nutrients for his brain to grow, he could have to be admitted to the hospital again...and above all I am the biggest failure in the world for not being able to feed my kid.
Looking back on it, of course my kids would be small! He was not held or fed through the mouth for 2 1/2 months. Of course my kids are going to be delayed at walking and crawling and moving their head as they were literally addicted to opioids for the first two months of their lives
How to get through it when you’re in the thick of it:
Things that helped me were:
1) Getting my husband/family members to feed my son the bottle as much as possible without me being in the room.
2) Going to a friends house during meal time as he would usually eat better with other children around.
3) Asking help from grandparents for feeding, especially on the weekends.
How to deal with negative feeding comments:
When you’re in the baby phase, all you seem to talk about is how your baby sleeps, eats and & poops, and that’s pretty much it (or at least that’s all I heard). But when your child isn’t achieving these basic baby survival markers, and you are in constant communication with a medical team, simply hearing a conversation about another child’s positive weight gain, is enough to really put someone (ME) completely over the edge. I remember getting together with a group of my university friends that I hadn’t seen in a while for a play date. At this point Theo was being fed through his G-tube. During the playdate, everyone casually was feeding their babies and food was a huge topic of discussion. I remember leaving and driving home while connecting Theo to his G-tube in the car ride. I was bawling my eyes out. I was so angry and upset that my son had gone through so many obstacles and was still struggling with eating. He literally had a hole in his stomach to eat. One of my closest friends in the whole world called mem after the play date. She mentioned I seemed a little off and asked if I was home yet. I should’ve been home in about 45 minutes but the G-tube bag wasn’t distributing the milk properly and I had to stop many times on the way home to reconnect the bag. I would often give feed Theo small feeds in car rides because he was elevated in his car seat and this helped prevent reflux. I explained to her that I know it’s a normal thing to talk about eating but all we did was talk about eating and snacks and Theo doesn’t need anything right now through his mouth. I explained to her that I just feel so overwhelmed. She said so many wonderful things to me and reminded me that she had no idea how hard things must be for me. People like these are your tribe! Keep them close to you. and Despite them not fully getting what you’re going through, if they’re able to divert the conversation or simply acknowledge that talking about weight and feeding is a really triggering issue, these are the people you want to stick with.
Unfortunately I have tried to talk to other people in my life about how these comments can be hurtful. To them they may might just think it’s a casual comment about their kid’s development, but to me it’s a constant reminder of what my kids have had to go gone through, and the worries I have still about their growth and development. The unfortunate thing about having medically complex children is the people you think will really understand you sometimes don’t, but sometimes people come into your life who are able to support you in unimaginable ways.
Everyone’s got their crap and everyone’s got their story but as a friend you need to know your audience. My closest friends would never tell me about their kids' doctor’s appointments because they know that I’ve literally lived in and out of the hospital with both of my children for three years. It’s not that they don’t think I don’t care about them and their child, but they know and understand still grieving my experience.
1) Avoid situations where there is a lot of baby talk. Even if it is a baby shower, your mental health comes first! Celebrate with your friend with a private dinner date. If they are a true friend, they'll totally support you.
2) Remove people from your life that trigger your trauma and do not support you. Family or not - YOU have a family now and that comes first.
3) Consistently remind yourself of the GOOD and UNDERSTANDING people in your life. Stick with your tribe no matter how big or small.
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