September was NICU awareness month, and I had a brilliant article all typed out and ready and somehow in the process of trying to upload it, it lost it. It has taken me a month to stop moping and attempt to write this again. So here goes!
The overpowering smell of disinfectant, the sound of beeping machines, the sound of shuffling feet of busy nurses and the cries of tiny humans - over our 41 day stay, we got to know the NICU of Femina Hospital VERY WELL.
We ended up in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) as Eli had to be delivered via emergency c-section at 33 weeks` (7 weeks early). I have previously written about my birth experience if you want to have a read.
It was honestly the hardest thing I've ever had to endure and I would hate to ever go back, but I learnt a lot and hopefully my experience be of encouragement to someone else.
Disclaimer: I know so many families who have had far more traumatic birth and NICU experiences, and I know I could never truly relate, but hopefully something here could be helpful.
For those who haven't experienced the NICU, please let me paint a picture:
You've just given birth to your baby, most likely unplanned with little to no warning. You aren't even sure if your baby is going to be okay and you have to endure the couple of minutes (feels like hours) before your baby starts to cry or shows some sign of life. You then get a 5 second family picture before your baby is wrapped up, put in an incubator and whisked away to a place called the NICU (which you never even considered, because all first babies come after 40 weeks right??)
Your partner then stays with the baby and you get sent to recovery (in my case I was sent to high care for 24 hours). Only once you're strong enough to stand up without collapsing from the stab wound in your gut, you can go meet your baby properly.
Once you get there, your heart explodes and breaks from seeing this person who was in your tummy, now attached to what seems like a million wires and machines. You are given the run down about how fragile your baby is, and how holding them too much wears them down. You have never seen something this tiny.
You go home after 3-4 days in hospital and that drive home without your baby feels empty and heartbreaking. The next few weeks, depending on how long you stay, will be emotionally and physically draining, driving back and forth from the hospital (our hosptial was a 30-40 minute drive away!).
The nurses or pediatrician won't give you any indication of how it's going or when you can go home. You just have to go to the hospital every day and pray the previous night was good and that there was progress. One day you will get there and they increased feeds since you left and it's going great, the next day you will get there and they picked up an infection and stopped feeds altogether, meaning you have to start over.
You sit on an uncomfortable stool for hours a day, while going to express breastmilk every 3 hours. This is the most unnatural, mechanical process when all you want to do is breastfeed your baby like you always dreamed you would.
Every tiny bit of progress feels like the hugest victories - every time a new wire comes off, when they increase a feed, when your child picks a bit of weight, the first time they are allowed to wear clothes and the glorious moment they allow you to breastfeed for the first time (for me it was when Eli was 5 weeks old). Eventually you are told things are going well and your baby should be going home soon, which gave us 2 days to prepare.
You are completely overwhelmed with excitment and fear as you finally take this little person home who looks way too small to even be out your tummy, let alone be exposed to the germs and the new inexperienced parents who has to try keep him alive without machines.
Through it all you have grown a new appreciation for other moms who sat for hours expressing milk with you, nurses who were essentially your baby's first moms and for this little fighter who against all odds, learnt how to do things way earlier than he was meant to. (Sorry, that was a bit long-winded!)
Here are some tips I found helpful and lessons I learnt:
Here are some ways you can support family or friends:
That's it for now! Please share your story or even suggestions. I'd love to hear!
6 years ago I was an idealistic 22 year old, who thought marriage would be the greatest never-ending sleepover in the world. I thought I would be a great wife and that my husband and I would sail off blissfully into our very successful future as husband and wife.
It has been the greatest adventure, greatest challenge, greatest growth and greatest giant piece of humble-pie. In addition to the challenge of marriage, life has gotten really hard at times and this has put even more pressure on our marriage.
We have so far to go and by no means feel like we've "figured it out", but there are some principles and ways of doing things that have proven to be helpful to us. I have to remind myself of these truths daily, as we live in a world where good marriages are hard to find and the track record isn't very reassuring. As we all know, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. Somehow we need to change our thinking, ways of doing things and the examples we follow if we are going to have marriages that not only work, but thrive.
Here are some things marriage has taught me...
I may have painted marriage as only a lot of hard work, but I believe it comes down to perspective. Whatever you approach negatively, will be significantly harder for you.
A growth mindset means approaching everything in life as an opportunity to grow and learn. There is no failure with a growth mindset.
Tackle the challenge of marriage with this in mind, and you will be a much better spouse and your marriage will grow and become sweeter over time.
"So what DO you do all day? It must be so nice being at home all day!"
I have so many responses going through my mind like, "You know that magical place you drop your kids off in the morning? Well..." or "what do you think stay-at-home moms really do all day?"
The truth is, whether you're a working mom or a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), being a mom is hard. Each group envies the other. Isn't that what we always do though - think the grass is greener on the other side? When in reality, the grass is just a different shade of green.
So a bit of background: I worked full-time as an administrator at a pre-school. I LOVED my job - it was challenging, interesting, filled with interactions with people and it gave me the world of confidence as it was the first job I had that fit me like a glove. I resigned as it was a full-time position, and I really wanted to work half-day - I couldn't picture myself working such long days and still coping with the demands of motherhood, marriage and life in general. We then decided to take the plunge and make the financial sacrifice for me to become a SAHM. On paper, we needed my salary, not having much wiggle room in our budget for anything that wasn't a need. Thankfully in our case, the tax benefits for my husband starting his own business did help fill some of the holes.
I worked a notice period of 5 weeks and had a bit of a taste of what being a working mom would have been like. (It was actually helpful to see that I probably wouldn't have coped)
I see it as a huge privilege to be able to be at home with Eli, as I know so many moms who would give anything to be with their babies all day. I love that I get to see every little bit of his development, I don't have pressure to rush or be anywhere and I have space for creativity and dreaming at home.
I am sharing my difficulties, not to complain and be negative, but to empathize with other stay at home moms. It is not an easy choice.
I have the greatest respect for moms who work full-time, go home and still look after their kids, husbands and home. It is something I don't believe I had the capacity for, and I personally believe it is harder than what I am doing now.
But anyway, here's why being a SAHM mom has been one my greatest challenges yet:
Being a SAHM is challenging, but the greatest privilege and sadly a rare opportunity for a mother in today's world. If you are a working mom reading this - you are a hero in my eyes! Your kids will be OK and no matter how they are raised, you will be the best version of a mom they know. All kids need is love and security. Don't entertain guilt - embrace the time you DO have with your kids.
So if you're in a place where you have to make a choice whether or not to work, here are some things to consider and questions I asked myself:
(Again, I have to stress, that the following is NOT aimed at moms who have no choice but to work)
If you do decide that being a SAHM is not for you - it's ok! Everyone is different and you don't need to feel guilty. Like I've reiterated several times, all kids really need is love and security.
What a great responsibility but privilege motherhood is!
So two weeks ago, Eli decided that he no longer enjoys purees and eating from a spoon (I just made him 30+ gourmet freezer meals), and would prefer to feed himself. Fun! (Note the sarcasm)
This milestone has caught me by surprise and I've found myself having to rethink his meals all over again!
Two lovely mommy friends, suggested I try making fritters, as they're easy for baby to eat, and you can put almost anything in a fritter, using ingredients in your fridge. This is true and I'd love to share some recipes with you.
First, let me explain: A fritter is a pancake/crumpet/flapjack (whatever you'd like to call it), that has flour (or some type of starch) and egg (to bind the ingredients). Some fritters also have baking powder (as a raising agent), milk (or substitute) and then any ingredient to flavour. You can add spices, herbs and pretty much anything you like to make them tastier. Fry in a pan with some coconut oil (or olive oil) and voila!
You can also easily freeze a few them in seperate freezer bags and take out as you need. So when are you planning your fritter making day? Here are 2 recipes and then a few more ideas:
Spinach & Cheese Fritters:
5ml baking powder
125 ml cup milk
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
150g cooked and drained spinach
Herbs and spices - I used a pinch of salt and some dried parsley
Milk all ingredients and fry in well greased pan with some coconut oil. These were SUPER yum and I ate a few myself!
(Feel free to add more milk or flour if batter is too stiff/runny.)
Blueberry & Banana Fritters (Gluten, Dairy and Egg-free!)
2 ripe bananas (I freeze ripe bananas and then squeeze out the banana once defrosted)
1/4 cup blueberries ( I cut mine in half)
60-125ml ground oats flour (or normal flour if you prefer)
Cinnamon (to taste)
2,5ml baking powder
Milk all ingredients and fry in well greased pan with some coconut oil.
(Feel free to add more milk or flour if batter is too stiff/runny.)
Some other fritter ideas (using the basic method mentioned above):
The intense smell of disinfectant, the uncomfortable chairs, the sound of an alarm going off because a baby just stopped breathing for a second and the overwhelming silence paired with the sound of the daily routines of busy nurses. Over our 41 day stay, I got to know the NICU of Netcare Femina Hospital VERY well.
I have very deep and tender memories of our stay in the NICU. Almost like Stockholm Syndrome - I didn't want to be there, but being there made grew in me a deep respect for nurses (they work VERY hard), it made me appreciate the fragility of life and it made me part of a special group of mommies who know what it is like to leave their babies with complete strangers, but know the tenacity of a little person that learns things faster than they're meant to. It is still not easy to think back over this time, but my hope is that my story would encourage others and give them strength to get through.
(Just a bit of context: Eli was born via emergency c-section at 33 weeks due to preeclampsia. I was not prepared at all, and he was born within 16 hours after finding out I had this condition. I know there are MANY people who have experienced much more traumatic circumstances in the NICU, but hopefully this could still be encouraging and relevant for you.)
So if you are in the NICU right now, here are some helpful tips to surviving your stay in the NICU:
One of the hardest parts of being NICU parents, is how isolated you feel. People don't understand, and couldn't possibly, but here are some tips & insights if you ever have some friends or family going through this:
Hopefully you will never need to use the information in this article, but obviously this is quite a common occurrence and it's something that needs to be spoken of more.
Please feel free to comment with any questions or maybe if you just want to share you story!
I thought I was as prepared as I could be. I had researched natural birth and c-sections extensively so that I would know what to expect, and not be caught by surprise.
That actually makes me chuckle as I write that, because Eli's birth could not have been MORE of a surprise. I never even considered the possibility of having a premature baby.
(Side note: Life rarely goes according to plan, so do prepare, but also relax and take it as it comes - motherhood is teaching me this the hard way!)
I was 33 weeks pregnant, and on our "Baby-moon" when I woke up one night with intense pain in my back and chest, that literally took my breath away. I wrote it off to the fact that pregnancy is really tough on your body and Eli must have just moved up into my ribs. I spent the next few days taking painkillers every 4 hours (lame painkillers that only took the edge off - the joys of pregnancy), knowing that I would go see my gynae for my 33 week check-up in a few days anyway.
After a crazy day at work (sending a picture of my "kankles" to my family) and rushing to be at my appointment on time, I finally got to the hospital. I was feeling pretty sick, swollen and exhausted.
It was a routine check-up with a urine test, blood pressure test and ultrasound.
I even discussed my birth-plan with my gynae, desperately wanting natural birth.
Our gyane didn't mention my blood pressure being high, but left the room to go get my urine test results. She came back saying that the protein levels in my urine are very high, measured my blood pressure again, it had gone up to 170/120, and proceeded to tell me that she suspects I have preeclampsia and that she is admitting me straight away. My weight gain had also been abnormal and the symptoms I had a few days prior all pointed to this condition. She also mentioned that the only cure for this condition is delivering the baby, and this will probably take place in the next couple of weeks. No bags packed, no baby room, still supposed to work for another month - it felt completely surreal and I had absolutely no idea how my life was about to change.
Follow the link below to see what the symptoms of preeclampsia are. (I had no idea I had preeclampsia and I'm grateful I got to the doctor in time. It can be fatal for mom and baby as it happens suddenly and isn't always so obvious)
I was admitted straight away for observation through the night, so they could try get my blood pressure under control. I was completely overwhelmed - never having been hospitalized and getting a catheter and drip within an hour. By early hours of the morning, the midwife attending to me told me to prepare myself for Eli to be born today. It was a very emotional night - feeling sick, scared, unprepared, alone and grieving the loss of what I had hoped would be my birth story.
By 06:00 am, when the gynae came to check up on me, I was vomiting into a bed pan (classy, right? - exactly how beautiful I imagined childbirth would be) and feeling at my worst. She made the call to schedule a c-section for later that morning. It was a crazy whirlwind of filling out forms, getting a crash-course on what was about to happen, and what would happen once Eli is born. I should prepare myself for Eli being in hospital for as long as he still should have been in my tummy (7 weeks). It was a logical fact, but devastating as my dream of taking my baby home with me was no longer possible.
After a very quick surgery, Eli was born and hearing him cry was the most beautiful sound in the world! The moment they took him out, I felt immediate relief from the symptoms. I was able to take a quick photo with Eli and give him a kiss on the head. He was wrapped up, put in an incubator and taken up to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit).
Eli James Saker was born Thursday, 4 May 2017 at 11:15am at 33 weeks, weighing 1,8kg.
I was taken to the high care unit for the night to recover and because my blood pressure was still very high. (High care was AMAZING - best sleep I had in months!) Till the next morning, when they took me off the drip and the pain start to set in. It was horrible and I balled my eyes out. Eventually, after a unsuccessful trip to the bathroom and nearly fainting, I was able to get out of bed and was moved to a general ward. That afternoon, more than 24 hours after Eli was born, I finally was able to go see my baby.
It was the craziest day for my husband too. He was torn between checking on me, and checking on Eli. (I wanted him to stay with Eli) He had to fill out all the paperwork, get together all the things on list that I was supposed to have in my hospital bag (which wasn't packed yet - because who has their baby at 33 weeks right?) and get a ton of things for Eli that was needed by the NICU. He even drove into a tree or something that day. (It's just as hard on a new dad who is in complete shock!)
LIFE HACK: I had a file with me where I kept every single important document, ID's, certificate, documents to register baby once born etc. I was able to give this file to my husband and he could complete all the admin with ease and not have to scramble for the right documents.
He was the smallest baby I had ever seen and I was even too afraid to touch him. He had so many wires attached to him and we were told how delicate these wires are and if pulled out, it can be very dangerous for him. I was able to pick him up and hold him for 5 minutes while they changed the sheets in his crib. He was doing well - breathing mostly on his own, mild jaundice and drinking a tiny amount of my expressed breastmilk.
I had to express milk every 3 hours in hospital. It was excruciating even just sitting up in bed, but having to get up, express milk, label it, take it to the fridge down the passage, sterilize the breast pump and repeat was honestly one of the hardest mental battles of my life. It was really good for me to see that I was stronger than I thought. These experiences build endurance, resilience, character and strength. I want Eli to know that he was worth fighting for and worth putting myself second for.
I was discharged on the Sunday afternoon and leaving the hospital without my boy was so much harder than I ever thought it would be. I was relieved to be going home though. The hospital was very far from home, and so the next few weeks would prove to be unbelievably trying as we had to travel to the hospital everyday.
I don't want to bore all of you with the details, but the summary of our time in the NICU is that it took 41 days before Eli was sent home. The biggest delay was that he battled to keep in large amounts of milk, and every time they increased his feed too quickly, he would spit up and they would have to slow it down or start again. He also got an infection when he was 1 week old and they had to stop feeds altogether and put him on antibiotics. It took over a week before I was allowed to hold him and do Kangaroo Care (skin-to-skin cuddling). That was an amazing moment!
Having Eli in the NICU was the most frustrating and emotionally exhausting process I have ever been through. The nurses and our paeditrician made a point of remaining neutral and not giving you any idea of a timeline. Which is understandable because one day I would arrive and he had a great night, and the next day not so great. It often felt like we were never going to be able to leave.
When Eli was 5 weeks old, I was allowed to breastfeed him for the first time. He latched immediately, drank 3x what he was meant to and it was one of the most magical moments of my life that I will always treasure deeply. For the first time since he was born, I felt like a mother.
As a result of the breastfeeding going so well, I was allowed to breastfeed more often, and it took 5 days for them to send him home with us. It happened fast and it was very exciting!
Having Eli home was scary (I couldn't believe they trusted me take take this baby home - I mean, I don't know what I'm doing?) but it was also so wonderful feeling like a real family. One day I will share more about the practicalities of having a preemie at home and what those first few months were like. (Spoiler alert: It was VERY challenging!)
Today, Eli is 9.5 months, full of energy and the happiest baby I know. He has caught up all his milestones and amazes me every day. See gallery at the bottom!
I know there are many families who have much worse birth stories and who endured much longer stays in the NICU, but having a premature baby and staying in the NICU is HARD no matter how long you are there. It is hard because it feels unnatural. It is hard because no one who is there wanted to be there. It is hard because you feel alone, and like no one really understands what you're going through. It is hard because your dream of becoming a mother was completely different in reality. It is hard for so many more reasons.
BUT, it is wonderful because you meet amazing people who inspire you with their strength. It is special because you see this tiny person do things they're not supposed to do yet. It is empowering because you surprise yourself with strength you didn't know you have. It is humbling, because you realize the quality of people you have in your life, who care about you more than you ever imagined.
It is an experience that has made me appreciate being Eli's mom and made me celebrate every little milestone like he has just invented something for the very first time. I do not take Eli's health for granted and I try to be grateful, because it really could be worse. There is so much to be grateful for.
If you are going through this journey at the moment or you're still processing the aftermath of the NICU, feel free to comment or send me a mail. I'd love to encourage you and listen to what you're going through.
My next post will be filled with helpful tips for surviving the NICU, a premature baby and being there for others while their baby is in the NICU.
Here some of my favourite photos from the last 9 months:
Parenting and actually, life in general, is something NO ONE can claim they are perfect at or have figured out how to do perfectly. Obviously there are better, wiser ways to do things, but at the end of the day, the way we do things remains subjective and there are truly a million different ways to do it.
The sad thing is, we still hold onto our pride thinking our way is best and that everyone else is wrong.
Becoming a mother is really a journey of accepting imperfection, celebrating small victories, learning to be less critical (of myself and others) and just enjoying the moments. It's so easy to get caught up with doing the right thing, that you miss what's right in front of you: a little person whose only desire is to be loved, accepted and fed (obviously).
I've wasted too much time worrying that I'm feeding him too much, feeding him too little, not teaching him to sleep better, not stimulating him enough etc. And then off I go, on a Pinterest binge to read as many articles as possible on the topic, in the hope of finding the perfect answer to my question. I log off feeling more confused and guilty than ever, and pretty much back where I started. When will the madness stop??
So here is my mission this year, and I hope you would join me:
(I say "let's" because I need to remind myself of this daily.)
Kids have survived a million different parenting strategies.
Through my time as an au-pair and working at a preschool I realized that children only want to feel heard, want to have quality-time (not just be around each other - actually DO something together) and they want to know they are secure.
It's actually not that complicated. You love your child, so that's enough.
Have a wonderful week - enjoy your children. Enjoy the privilege of being a mom. Remember the days when you couldn't wait to have babies and be grateful that your dream came true.
Be kind to yourself. You are doing a great job!
I’m writing this to hopefully bring light to a topic that is in a lot of ways, still very much taboo. As someone who has been through this, I want to speak out and possibly help some ladies to verbalize their pain and maybe even find some closure and healing. I am sharing this from my perspective as a Christian and my faith in God.
I was 9 weeks pregnant when we very excitedly went to our first scan, only to find out there was no heartbeat. I chose to miscarry naturally and so I did one week later at home. It was very painful, traumatic and heartbreaking but I can honestly say that it has been an experience that has grown me up, put empathy in my heart and made me so grateful for life and the privilege of being a mother.
So to my fellow ladies who know the pain of losing a baby:
And to the rest of you/everyone:
“It's probably for the best because something must have been wrong with the baby”, “You’re still young and beautiful, you’ll still have children”, and “at least you were only 8 weeks along” are just some of the well-meaning but insensitive and unhelpful statements women have to endure.
Ultimately, there is not really anything anyone can say to truly comfort BUT there are a few ways to work on your tact to not make it harder
I feel like there is so much more to say but this is it for now! Please feel free to comment and share your story.
So you're pregnant for the first time, congratulations! It will be the most special time of your life! Pinterest is a great tool to gather information, but can often be pretty irrelevant for South Africans.
I'm a planner by nature and I love working off lists and knowing in advance what I need to do. This is obviously a list drawn up based on my experience, but your hospital, medical aid and circumstances will affect how this all works out for you.
Here is a list I wish I had to work from:
(Bare in mind that I was pregnant 2016/2017 so prices would have increased since then)
First trimester (0-13 weeks):
Second trimester (14-26 weeks):
Third trimester (27-40 weeks):
I decided to go through an agency to save myself the headache, and it was so worth it! I emailed all the documents and never had to set foot in any building to sort out admin. I used following company: http://www.mothersjoy.co.za/
It should cost you no more than R1000 in total. You can only apply for UIF with an agency from approx 4 weeks before your due date. They will however only be able to send the documents through to the department once the baby is born and they have received a birth certificate. Don't worry though, the agency will guide you through the process.
FYI: You have to have a own bank account in your own name for UIF to pay out.
I have no idea how claim from UIF directly? Anyone have a clue? Please comment!
Booking your hospital bed:
At 26 weeks pregnant, you are now at viability which means that if baby is born, chances are he/she will survive. Yay!
You will have to pay an admin fee to book your bed of about R500 - this fee could include a free 4D scan, registration with the Department of Home Affairs and baby’s first immunization. You may also get a free baby bag with goodies (but don’t count on getting that before you leave the hospital)
You will need your medical aid card and the ID's of mother and father to book your bed. Make sure you give yourself enough time at the hospital because you will be filling in A LOT of paperwork.
Getting pre-authorization from Medical Aid:
As soon as you’ve booked your bed, you will receive a document from the hospital and your gynae with the practice numbers, ICD 10 code, procedure code etc. You can then phone your medical aid and give them all these details and receive authorization from your medical aid. You should also ask them to send you the documents to register your new baby as soon as he or she is born.
Some medical aids require you to inform them of your pregnancy by 12 weeks, so I would suggest giving them a call at 12 weeks as well. (I’m on Discovery and I phoned them for the first time at 27 weeks, and it wasn’t a problem)
PRO TIP: I kept every single document, including our ID's in a file which I kept with me all the times. I'm SO happy I did this because when I was admitted to hospital suddenly, I was able to give my husband the file with everything in it so he could sort out the admin with ease.
There should be a pediatrician present at the birth, so make sure you get a pediatrician that is covered by your medical aid if you don't want to pay extra.
After baby is born:
TIP: Download the "Scanner App" on your phone so you can easily sort out your admin and email it directly from your phone.
So that's about all I could think of! If you're a mommy who has been through this and can add anything, please feel free to comment!
This it all started with a kiss.
Just kidding, we all know how babies are made.
It actually all started 2 years ago when my husband and I had "the chat" about being ready to go off contraception and see what happens. Much to our surprise, we were pregnant 2 months later! I was 9 weeks pregnant when we found out that the baby's heart had stopped beating and I miscarried naturally 1 week later. Then 4 months after that we were pregnant again. My pregnancy was quite easy up till 30 weeks, when I started feeling pretty uncomfortable and "over it". At 33 weeks pregnant I was admitted to hospital with preeclampsia and Eli was delivered via emergency c-section the following day. He spent 41 days in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) and came home a few days before his expected due date. He is now 8 months old and is a healthy, friendly, busy boy and an absolute joy to us!
Those are just the highlights for now, I will share my stories in detail soon enough.
Well, I will make it my mission then to be as honest as possible.