(Intro by Liz Kent) This month I am humbled to share Ashley Lines' story of her journey into motherhood. Technically, I probably met Ashley in college sometime, as we went to the same undergrad and her husband and I had some mutual college friends. But, we were "reacquainted" almost a year ago when we were randomly placed together in a Mastermind group for mom-entreprenuers. Since then, we have bonded over the challenges of parenting little kids while simultaneously running and growing our own businesses. Ashley is a talented graphic designer and a fantastic mom (as I am sure you will elude from reading the following story). Here is her story:
My daughter Zoe was born six weeks early. The doctors didn’t know why I had started to dilate so early, why bedrest really wasn’t helping or why my water broke but didn’t push me into labor. Regardless of all of those things, they had to induce me that morning or risk infection. I had a very loose birth plan: no drugs (natural HAD to be better, right?), just my husband and doctor in the room, lots of skin-to-skin and breastfeeding, of course. Sometimes I think back and imagine the universe laughing at me that morning and saying, "You are not in control."
After almost 24 hours of excruciating labor, I gave in to an epidural (best decision ever), fell asleep and was woken up by my doctor saying it was time. Then, one-by-one, nurses and doctors started flooding the room. I had my OB and the usually delivery nurses, plus an entire NICU team that was covered from head-to-toe in a yellow suit. No one knew if Zoe was going to be able to breathe on her own, if she would cry like a full-term baby or if I would even be able to hold her. I honestly don’t remember much from the entire experience and, quite frankly, we don’t have more than one picture to remind me. No one was waiting with a camera. I think my husband and I were scared, shocked and exhausted. We were in total survival mode.
We were so relieved to hear that Zoe could breathe independently when she was born. I honestly don’t know if she cried or not. I did get to hold her very briefly before the NICU team whisked her away to run some tests. I had to wait, get stitched, let my epidural wear off, etc, before I could go and see her. My husband saw her before I could, bouncing between us and assuring me that she was okay.
Later that afternoon, I finally was able to head downstairs, wash my hands twice all the way up to my elbows (anyone who’s been in the NICU will understand this) and meet my daughter. She was the “big” baby on the floor at just over 5lbs and was laying in an incubator attached to wires, IVs and monitors. I learned that while I had been recovering, Zoe’s heart rate had spiked uncontrollably high, twice, and the nurses had to use ice and other techniques to get it to come back down. She was diagnosed with Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT) and started on medication to control it, which she needed every 6 hours for at least the first year of her life.
Our time in the NICU was shorter than expected at just over 2 of the longest weeks of my life. She was jaundice, could not regulate her body temperature, had more “Bradys” (apnea and bradycardia) then I can count, and had to be tested for blood sugar counts via blood draw before she could eat, every single time, due to the medication she was on. The biggest problem was that Zoe couldn’t breastfeed. I was hounded by the doctors and lactation consultants to pump every two hours and bottle feed her. “Breast is best” starred at me from a poster on the wall. I felt like it was literally the only way I could help my baby so I did exactly what they told me. I pumped constantly. I power-pumped. I ate the oatmeal. I took the fenugreek. I warm-compressed. On the night my husband finally made me come home to sleep I set an alarm every 2 hours to pump again. I was never able to pump more than 2 ounces in total, ever. The lactation consultant told me to keep trying, that my body just wasn’t ready but I will get there if I KEEP TRYING. So I did. And I failed over and over again. I couldn’t keep my daughter safe until she was ready to be born and I couldn’t feed her.
One late night in the NICU a nurse very quietly said, “you know, the babies who are supplemented with formula usually leave here sooner. You might want to try it.” I wish I could remember her name because I want to thank her a zillion times for giving me permission with her experience and knowledge and non-judgmental care to give in and feed my child. I remember looking at her so gratefully and just saying, “okay.” And so we did. And Zoe bottle-fed like a champ, got rid of her IVs and came home a few days later on a heart monitor.
The first few months of Zoe’s life are such a blur to me, filled with doctors appointments and echocardiograms, medication adjustments and attempting to find a new normal. We were new parents with all the new issues, plus a few extra. I’d “mom” like the best of them, and then, while she was sleeping, I’d frantically search the internet for why this had happened. What had I done wrong during my pregnancy? Did I accidentally eat something I shouldn’t have? Did I secretly have gum disease (one of my weirder obsessions, thank you google)? Was it because I unloaded the dishwasher that one time after I was supposed to be on bed rest? Did I allow myself to get too stressed out? Why couldn’t I breastfeed? Had I not tried hard enough? Oh so many questions. There were just no answers. Not from my doctor, or an “expert” online. It just was.
When Zoe was about 6 months, I finally got into therapy and tried to find peace with what happened, with my “failure” and, perhaps more importantly, with not having all of the answers. It helped. Time helped. I admit writing this story still bring tears and it is likely something I will carry with me for life.
Almost three years later, my 2nd, full-term, daughter came into the world after an incredibly anxious and appointment-filled pregnancy. Less than 48 hours post-birth we were discharged and my husband and I looked at each other and said “That’s it? We just take her home?” Scarlett was perfectly healthy and welcomed by her big sister with such love that I can’t even take it still. I tried to breastfeed her, just like I had planned too with Zoe. This was my chance! My body was ready this time! But, even with a full-term pregnancy, couldn’t produce enough and Scarlett lost weight. I left that pediatrician’s appointment, went to target, bought formula and did not look back. Fed is fed. (Can I scream that again for those in the back?)
Trust me when I say that I do not ever want to repeat my introduction into motherhood, nor do I wish that on anyone, but I am grateful that our experience taught me a bit about letting go of expectations and finding grace with yourself. Most importantly, I know that sometimes there just isn’t a why no matter how much you want one. When anxiety and overwhelm of everyday life creep in, I try to remind myself of where we’ve been and find gratitude and peace. Admittedly, I’m still working on it.
For all the mamas holding their premies in the NICU right now, Zoe graduated from kindergarten last May. She walked on stage proudly and accepted her diploma while I held back a few tears and tried to wrangle her sister from kicking the people in front of us. Our time in the NICU feels both like yesterday and so long ago, and you’ll get there, too. I promise.