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Your Best Will Always Be the Best for Them

Written by Katie Hannigan

You hear a lot about breastfeeding, but not often abut how hard it is. We are led to believe that it is easy because it is the natural way. It shouldn’t require any effort. But the test results have determined that is a lie.  This is even more true when it comes to preemies and babies in the NICU.

I’ll be honest, when I found out I was having twins I got super excited about the idea of tandem feeding and breastfeeding in general.  I can’t tell you why, as it was never a priority with my oldest and I only nursed my middle for 6 weeks. Maybe I was hoping for some sort of come back. Who doesn’t love a good comeback, right?

When the twins decided they wanted to join the world 15 weeks early, my idea of nursing them instantly changed.  Out went the images of bonding and nursing them right after birth and in came my new partner, the breast pump. Over the next few months I would spend more time with her than my own husband.  

Our relationship started shortly after the twins were born, before I even got to fully see them.  They needed the colostrum. I needed to get that for them. From that point on we had a standing date every 2 hours around the clock.  At first, it was easy. It wasn’t comfortable but it was easy. My babies needed me to do it and it was the only thing left I could do for them.

 Once I was discharged, it became a little more challenging. We lived 35 minutes from our NICU and, as I mentioned, I had two older kids at home; one in preschool and one in first grade.  I made the drive to the NICU everyday after school drop off and back home every afternoon before the bell rang.  I tried to time everything so it would work out just right. Since they were not yet getting feeds, we were able to freeze everything I was getting and, even then, it wasn’t much.

After about a week or two, the joy was wearing off. My supply was not increasing like I wanted it to. My alarm clock was waking me up every few hours at night, not my newborns cry. But I kept telling myself they needed it. It was the best. I carried on.

I never had a very strong supply.  I did everything they said to do in the beginning, but it never came on strong.  I knew women who could pump gallons at a time it seemed and I was lucky if I got an ounce or two.  I tried almost every trick out there. Everything from power pumping to blue sports drinks and anything else Pinterest suggested. I also tried herbals like fenugreek, which no one tells you has the opposite effect on some women, and it made me smell like maple syrup.  The only thing that seemed to maybe help a little was skin to skin but that wasn’t possible every time. It’s one of those built-in struggles of the NICU, having to wait for someone else to come help you hold your baby.

Once they got old enough, we started to let them go to breast.  My son was a champ. He loved food and enjoyed anyway he needed to get it.  But he had a lot of trouble still remembering to suck, swallow and breathe. He would often drop his heart rate, which was terrifying, and we decided at that point that he wasn’t quite ready. My daughter, on the other hand, never really figured out the latch.  She was still pretty small and had a hard time. It was frustrating for both me and her. I decided I was just going to exclusively pump.

After a few more weeks, we brought my daughter home and life became even more chaotic.  Now I had the older two in school, one baby with a lot of appointments and one baby still in the NICU.  I started to push the old breast pump to the side which impacted my already slim supply.

My son was discharged a week later and we were finally complete. I thought I would be able to fix my supply. Maybe even try putting them to breast again, now that we were home and everyone was comfortable, but it didn’t happen that way.  I was not making enough for one baby all day, let alone two. The less milk I made, the more stressed I became, which just resulted in even less milk.

When the babies were 6 weeks adjusted, I gave my pump the good old “its not you, its me” and we called it quits.  My frozen supply was long gone and, just like that, it was over. I’m sure some would say that I could have tried harder.  I, of course, let myself down. This was going to be my comeback. But did I let my kids down? I don’t think so.  It has taken me two years to get to that conclusion. I put blood, maybe some sweat, and a whole lot of tears into those 4.5 months and that is something to be proud of.  I gave my babies what I thought was best and, in the end, it was a happy mama. I think something to remember is that your best is always going to be the best for them.

A Preemie’s Perspective

Written by Emily Howard

Hi, my name is Emily Howard and no, I’m not a parent. I’m the preemie. I am now twenty-two years old and here to give all preemie parents support and hope from a different perspective. 

I was born on August 15th at 32 weeks, weighing 4 pounds and 15 ounces. Now remember technology was much less advanced twenty-two years ago. I was immediately admitted to the NICU. While there were many uncertainties, my parents called in their church’s priest who came to baptize me within hours. They frantically looked through a phone book to find a name for me. I am forever Father Bob’s “August 15th Miracle Baby” and I hold that relationship very close to my heart. I had many ups and downs while in the NICU. From a nasal CPAP, being on oxygen, getting E. Coli, invasive candidiasis (yeast of the blood), necrotizing enterocolitis, a cardiac murmur, a feeding intolerance and anemia, it was a rough roller coaster for my family. Due to my level of sickness, I was put in a room with only two other babies that was darker and less noisy. One of the hardest parts for my family was not being allowed to hold me due to being in an incubator. After all of the antibiotics, spinal taps, blood transfusions, and much more, I was discharged eight weeks later. 

Looking at myself and my accomplishments today, you would have no clue I went through all of this. I’m told preemie parents worry how it will affect their child for the rest of their life. Although I know every story and situation is different, I am here to tell you to not worry. 

Have we questioned whether some injuries, anxiousness, or such are related to my premature birth? Absolutely. However, I have not let it hold me back in life. My whole childhood I was very athletic and advanced in academics. Starting in middle school I was selected for advanced classes. I was on the honor roll all four years of high school and graduated with twenty-nine college credits. I was on the varsity dance team, which earned me the role of captain, four state titles and multiple top ten national placements. I was directly admitted to the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Finance in just three and a half years. I was involved in student organizations and even held an executive board position for one year. Now, I have a great fulltime job at the headquarters office of a financial institution. 

 

Meet Our Team: Michaela

I am very excited to be partnering with Graham’s Foundation. My son Carter was born at 10 weeks premature, at 30 weeks and 1 day. He was 3 pounds 11 ounces and was 16 ¼ inches long. I was terrified about whether he would be okay and what implications this would have for the rest of his life. While in labor, the nurses kept telling me things like “You won’t be able to hold him because he likely won’t be able to breathe on his own” or “You likely won’t be able to see him for a bit while the NICU team assesses his health.” That was far and away the scariest day of my life. 

Our friends and family were so incredibly supportive and did everything they could to comfort us while we waited to see how Carter was doing, but we knew no one who had been through this. I felt very scared and very alone. We were very, very fortunate that Carter was able to breathe on his own when he was born, and I was able to hold him before he was taken to the NICU. We spent 6 weeks in the NICU at Aultman Hospital, where we were, again, very fortunate that Carter just needed to get bigger and stronger until he was ready to go home. We were also fortunate to be surrounded by the doctors and nurses who helped guide us through our son’s care and taught us so much while we were there.  

A few days after we were admitted to the NICU and once I knew that Carter was okay for the moment, I sort of shut down. I went to the NICU every day to be with him, but I didn’t really talk with anyone or let anyone else come for about a week.  ]I needed to process how differently things could have been. There were babies I walked by every day born weeks earlier than Carter who were not able to breathe on their own, who had difficult and life-changing diagnoses, and some who were never able to go home. Even now, when I think about how I felt in those moments, I cry.

During that time, I wish I would have been able to talk with other parents who had been where we were. I wish I would have known about Graham’s Foundation. I’m so thrilled to be working with a not-for-profit whose vision is a world where no parent goes through the experience of prematurity alone. We provide a number of resources to preemie parents, including valuable information, care packages, and a parent-to-parent mentor program. I am excited about working with Graham’s Foundation and will do everything I can to help ensure that no other parent has to go through the experience of prematurity alone.

Michaela Calhoun has recently joined the Graham’s Foundation team and will be working with our NICU outreach and ‘Tinis for Preemie events! We are so excited to welcome her!

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