Archive | May 2016

A Year of Blogging

I got a message on my blog dashboard saying that it’s been a year since I started the blog. I remember the night I wrote the first entry. I had been out of the hospital for a couple days, since I was in there for almost a week, and I wanted a way to keep family and friends updated on what was going on with Little Miss Minion. Between text messages and phone calls and Facebook messages, Mr Minion and I were fielding at least a dozen conversations each day, and we started to forget who had been told the latest updates. I came up with the idea of the blog, and Mr Minion reluctantly agreed after I agreed no pictures or real names. I had always figured it would be friends and family who would bother reading. 

Then I started to look at my blog stats. As of tonight, I’ve had over 2,500 views, 591 visitors, 92 blog posts, and views from around the world. I’ve got followers I’ve never met, I talk to adults with hydrocephalus and other preemie/nicu parents. I’m able to share our story with others and learn from others’ stories at the same time. 

So to all of my readers, thank you for coming by! I appreciate your comments and support!

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My Check Mark

I had lots of things I hoped and expected to be able to do with Little Miss Minion. When I first found out I was pregnant, I started reading about labor and delivery, different pain management options, what to register for, how to arrange the nursery, whether to give pacifiers, whether to give formula or breastfeed, whether to give bottles right away if I would breastfeed, where she would sleep, who would come to the hospital, etc. With the exception of “have a baby,” the only other thing that didn’t get thrown out the window when LMM arrived 12 weeks early was breastfeeding. While I only successfully breastfed her twice, I exclusively pumped to provide her with milk. My goal was to make it to one year, having decided that the many health benefits and low cost (free!) made it the best choice for me. I’m very proud to say that I made it 379 days.

***disclaimer*** I don’t judge moms who can’t or don’t choose to breastfeed. It’s a ton of work and in the end FED IS BEST. This is just my own personal experience. 

Babies born early, like Little Miss Minion, often have to actively develop a sucking reflex. Once they master that, they have to learn to suck, swallow, and breathe at the same time. In the case of LMM, we used a pacifier to help her learn to suck, and then tried to get her to breastfeed (once she was about 34 weeks gestational, or 6 weeks old). Beginning at her birth, I realized that I would need to pump if I wanted to be able to try to breastfeed later, so I pumped every two hours around the clock for weeks, bringing in my milk each morning. They gave it to her via a feeding tube! Since she couldn’t drink enough to sustain her. Since I couldn’t be there all the time, they began to introduce a bottle, and she was pretty successful at that. I still tried to breastfeed, rushing to the NICU when I got off work and struggling with a lactation specialist for about a month. When it became clear that she was on the tail end of her NICU stay and oral feeds were her last real obstacle, I gave up on breastfeeding because I wanted her home.   Being the Type A person that I am, and wanting to be able to see if my supply started going down, I started tracking my pumping sessions and didn’t miss one for the entire time I pumped. I finished my last pumping session yesterday and have some interesting stats for you.

Over the course of my 379 days of pumping, I averaged 7 times a day for about 20 minutes. That’s 16 hours a week being chained to the pump, or almost 884 hours over the course of my pumping career. I pumped a total of 191,876 milliliters (and for the first couple of weeks, LMM’s daily intake hovered between 10 and 20 mls). This equates to 6,488 ounces, or 50 gallons. Buying that much formula would have cost $2,495.43, not including the fortifier she was on. I currently have a stash of about 200 ounces in the deep freezer. 

I also did some research, checking out CDC statistics on breastfeeding/exclusively pumping. Did you know that 79% of full term babies are breastfed in the two weeks after birth? For preemies, only 35% are breastfed by 40 weeks gestational. By one year, only 27% of full term babies are breastfed, compared to less than 6% of preemies. Breastfeeding a preemie is incredibly difficult, not only for the obvious reason that the baby isn’t usually big enough to try oral feeds for a couple weeks. Preemie moms often have trouble with milk production, since C sections are pretty common and the surgery depresses the ability to produce milk. In my case, I was also on blood pressure medicines for about two weeks following the surgery, due to my preeclampsia. The medicines kept me safe, but also tanked my ability to make milk.  I was one of the lucky ones who got to stop taking the medicines, and once they were out of my system, my milk production went up dramatically. 

It’s especially important for preemies to get breastmilk. Donor milk is widely used in neonatal care units because of the immune properties and the fact that NEC (an illness almost exclusive to preemies in which the intestines die) is greatly reduced in babies who receive breastmilk. Preemie moms produce more colostrum for a longer time in order to help boost the health of the baby. The full milk that comes later has more calories, more fat, more iron, and more vitamins than the milk of a full term mom. When LMM got her first blood transfusion, they remarked on how unusual it was that she had gone so long without needing one, and I wonder if it was because I was able to give her milk when so many others were unable to. Other benefits of breastmilk for preemies include lower chances of developing pneumonia, SIDS, allergies, and have also been shown to increase cognitive development and IQ.

The benefits of breast-feeding are not exclusive to the baby. Breast-feeding mothers experience lessened rates of post partum hemorrhage, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, and several types of cancer, including uterine, ovarian, and breast cancer. According to a 2011 NICU nurse conference, if 90% of Americans mothers breast-fed until 12 months, the economy would be saved around $13 billion.

In America, mothers who return to work face additional challenges if they choose to breast-feed. Since they won’t be able to bring their child with them to work, they will have to pump. The family medical leave act requires employers to provide pumping space and pumping time, but do a five minute Google search and you will quickly realize but not all pumping situations are the same. Although the rules state otherwise, many mothers are given the option of pumping in the bathroom or in a space that is unsuited for pumping. This time is also not required to be paid time and therefore mothers must choose between money and food for their infant. I was incredibly lucky in that my employer worked with me on providing adequate time and appropriate space to pump. 

The family medical leave act also provides for 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Most mothers that I know would be unable to afford to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave to take care of their child or to recover from a major surgery in the case of a C-section. Knowing that we were in for a long NICU stay, I returned to work after only three weeks of recovering from my emergency C-section and the trauma of LMM’s birth. With all of my extra appointments and extra testing, I had gone through about two weeks of my vacation time before she was even born. Again, I am one of the lucky ones who was able to have any paid time off. 

Exclusively pumping provides its own special challenges. When you’re only pumping, you also have to separately feed the baby. So if you have one baby and you’re pumping, it’s really like feeding two babies. I often refer to it as feeding the pump, because it is like feeding another child. In my case, I could not have done it without the help of my husband. When I was in the hospital on magnesium, and still feeling sick and recovering from my C-section, he woke me up every two hours and got me to pump. Once I was discharged, he would get up with me when I would pump overnight so I didn’t feel so alone. Once LMM came home, we took turns feeding her overnight. It took only a week or so to realize that when it was my turn to feed her, I also had to pump afterward, so my turn was taking about two hours in the middle of the night. Mr. Minion started getting up and feeding the baby while I pumped. If it hadn’t been for him, I probably would’ve quit pumping in October. 

I’m very proud of myself that I managed to pump for over a year. It was a lot of work and a huge time commitment, but I did it. Out of all of the things that I thought would happen or I thought I would do, I’m finally able to cross one off my list. Plus, I personally saved us about $2500, and who wouldn’t be happy about that?

1 Year Old

I can’t believe it’s been a year already. This time last year, I was in the recovery room after the emergency C Section that probably saved both our lives. I had only seen Little Miss Minion for a few moments, long enough to look at her and think “she’s too small, too early” before giving her a kiss and seeing her get whisked off to the NICU. I wouldn’t get to see her again for a couple more hours, wouldn’t get to hold her for another day. 

Small but mighty. 

Happy birthday, my amazing Little Miss Minion. I’m so proud of how far you have come and excited to see where you will go. 

Platelet Donation

Last weekend, I finally had enough time to donate platelets. I donate blood all the time and I guess the Red Cross figured I was a good candidate for platelet donation. Donating platelets takes about 2 hours and is worth about 3 full blood donations for an adult “dose” or about 12 pediatric “doses” of full blood. Platelets help your blood to clot. Certain illness, chemo, HELLP syndrome, and lots of other things can cause a loss of platelets, which can cause lots of other problems. 

Donating was a nice pre-Mother’s Day break for me. I got up early, having made the earliest appointment possible, and had breakfast. I drove to the Red Cross center and checked in. I got a Platelet Donor pin. After the standard iron check and questions, I was ready to start! 

The chairs for platelet donation are soooo much nicer than the ones they use for regular blood donors. They reclined and adjusted, and they pushed over a table for me so that I could read. The actual procedure wasn’t bad either, although I can see why they have trouble getting people to do it. The chair sits next to a machine that will run your blood through it and spin it, to separate the platelets from the rest of the blood. The platelets go into a blood bag and the rest of the blood is pushed back into you via an IV type setup. They run the first needle into your arm, like a normal blood donation, and then they run a second needle into back of the opposite hand, like an IV. The blood comes out one arm, goes into the machine, spins around, gets split into platelets and leftover blood, and then the leftover blood gets pushed back into your veins via the IV. As long as you don’t move your hand like you are revving a motorcycle, you can do whatever you want. I read a book. 

When I had Little Miss Minion, my platelets had been dangerously low for weeks. Until the last set of labs came back, they weren’t sure if I would be able to have a C Section, or they would have to put me under general anesthesia. Luckily, mine had jumped a massive amount and I was cleared for the epidural pretty much as they were putting it in. I had wanted to donate platelets for a long time since then, but since it does take two hours, I needed the stars to align so I could go. 

I hope I was able to help someone in a similar situation. I’m not 100% sure how platelet donation works on the receiving end, but I hope a new mom was able to be awake for the birth of her child because of me. I hope she got to kiss the baby and see it, maybe even hold it, instead of being totally out due to platelet issues. And I hope that she eventually donates platelets too. 

Preeclampsia Awareness Month

I was informed by a Facebook post the other day that May is Preeclampsia Awareness month. I find this a very interesting coincedence, as Little Miss Minion was abruptly brought into this world due to Pre-e in May.

I thought I would do a post about preeclampsia and it would be prety much like what I’ve said before. I decided to take a look at Preeclampsia.org and found some very interesting information that I didn’t know about before today.

Did you know that preeclampsia encompasses several different health issues? It covers standard pre-e, plus HELLP syndrome, toxemia, and hypertension of pregnancy. It causes a range of symptoms in the mother and in the baby, most of which will result in death if not treated. It happens in an estimated 5-8% of pregnancies, but is resposible for 20% of premature births in the world. That is 2.6 million, if you wanted a number. It causes about 76,000 maternal deaths and 500,000 infant/fetal deaths worldwide annually. HELLP syndrome, which occurs in 5-12% of preeclampsia sufferers, is particularly dangerous, as it causes damage to kidneys and platelets (the part of your blood that allows it to clot), among other things.

There isn’t much known for sure about the causes of preeclampsia. Most specialists agree that it might be caused by a placental issue, but there isn’t much proof. See my last post for on that theory. The symptoms are much more well-known. High blood pressure, blurred vision, protein in urine, and seizures are pretty standard. Swelling and organ damage are also common. Having preeclampsia doubles mom’s risk for stroke and heart attack. Pre-e preemies are at higher risk for cerebral palsy, learning disorders, and more.

People ask me all the time if we will ever have another baby. The truth: I don’t know. Since I got preeclampsia so early (abnormal bloodwork at 25 weeks, full blown severe pre-e and emergency delivery at 28 weeks), I have a higher chance of getting it again. The average reoccurence rate is 20%, but some studies suggest its between 5-80%, depending on the severity. I would say a second trimester delivery puts me squarely in the severe category.

The good thing about pre-eclampsia, if you look really hard, is that most people are aware of it thanks to pop culture references such as Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife. Proper prenatal care is ESSENTIAL in monitoring preeclampsia. All of my symptoms could be brushed off as typical pregnancy things, until they did bloodwork. My advice to anyone reading this who thinks they might have some of the symptoms-PUSH YOUR DOCTORS!!!. I did, and I think it saved my life and LMM’s. I have every confidence that my doctors would have caught it, but probably not as early as we did.

Enough from me. Happy Intergalactic Star Wars day! May the 4th be with you!