Friday, October 11, 2013

Chicken Pot Pie

Ahh, chicken pot pie. My old friend. It's been a while since I have eaten you. Nine months and seven days since I have eaten you, to be exact. Yep, I made a chicken pot pie for dinner on the night that Elsie was born. And needless to say, I haven't really felt like making it again since that night.

I only recently discovered chicken pot pie a year or two ago. I was not very familiar with it growing up, and thought that it was only something that old people bought in the freezer section of the grocery store. When I found this recipe from the Pioneer Woman, I gave it a try and loved it, as did my family. I found out about its savory goodness, the rich gravy mixing perfectly with the chicken and vegetables, and to top it all off, a flaky pie crust. Yum. What's not to like? I often made a batch of the filling and would freeze half of it to make another pie on a later day.

Now, I'm not saying that the chicken pot pie on January 4 caused me to go into pre-term labor. Of course not. And it didn't exactly make me sick, but just the thought of it afterwards made me kinda queasy. It just sounded unappetizing. Somewhat revolting. Almost disgusting. Which is sad, because we used to love chicken pot pie. But I just couldn't bring myself to make it for dinner, until just a few nights ago.

That's right, I faced my fear. I found the courage to make the dreaded chicken pot pie. For the first time in nine months, I found my mouth watering just a bit at the thought of it. And so, I made it. Cooked the veggies, added the chicken, made the gravy. Put the crust on top. And baked it. And then, we ate it.

I totally conquered that pie.


G Tube Jammies

When your baby has a g tube, sometimes things come up, and I'm not just talking about puke. Things you wouldn't have thought of before, like how pajamas with zippers won't really work during night time feedings. Zippers don't allow the feeding tube anywhere to come out, except up at the top by your child's neck. And you don't want tubes to be close to your baby's neck, that's just asking for a strangulation to occur. Jammies with snaps are ideal, because you can snake the tube between the snaps with no problems, away from the baby's neck. So what do you do if you have jammies with zippers that you really really want to use? Solution: you get creative.

I have several of these sleep-sack-type fleece sleepers that I loved to use during the winter when Evje was a baby. She would wear some cotton pajamas underneath, and then I would zip her up into the fleece sleep sack, and voila, your worries about baby kicking off her blankets during a cold winter night are gone. But this concept wouldn't work very well with Elsie's feeding tube because the sleep sacks have zippers . . .

So I did some research online and found a tutorial for adding a pocket to pajamas or other clothes to allow access to the g tube. I tried following the tutorial, but when there aren't pictures for every single step, and I mean EVERY single step, then sometimes I get lost. What can I say, I'm a visual person. Or I'm just really slow. Anyhow, I tried to follow the tutorial, but didn't really understand a few of the steps in the middle, so mine didn't turn out exactly the way it was supposed to, but I'm happy with the results anyway. Ta da!

As you can see, I created a hole or a pocket that allows you to access the g tube port without having to undoing the zipper and undress your child. Then, in order to prevent small fingers from exploring the pocket or a cold breeze to blow through the hole, I made a pocket flap with a button to close the hole. This way, the feeding tube can still exit the jammies, but the hole is closed off. Don't worry, the button is securely reinforced so that it doesn't fall off and become Elsie's chew toy or choking hazard.

There are a few little things that I will do differently for my next attempt, but overall, I'm pretty happy with the way that they turned out and that I didn't ruin the sleep sack, as I am prone to do when I try to get creative. I predict some cozy nights in a warm sleep sack coming up!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

9/5 months

 I can't believe our little Elsie is nine months old!

Weighing in at 14 pounds, 6 ounces, she is almost on the weight chart for her actual age! We're pretty excited about that. She's still a bit on the short side, at 24.5 inches, but her height will catch up with her weight eventually.

Here's a few more pictures from the last month or so.

Typical morning scene, the girls in their chairs having breakfast.
Elsie's milk via tube, and Evje's chocolate milk via bottle.

Funny face Evje!

The following three pictures are examples of our adorable two year old being incapable of smiling normally for a picture. She cracks me up! And Elsie freezes when she sees the glowing orange light on the camera, so it's hard to get good shots of her, too. Ahh, my photogenic children! 

Sisters holding hands :)

Really? That's a smile??

Even better

And this last picture is after Elsie's first trip up in the canyon for a ward activity. We had a little campfire and roasted hot dogs and marshmallows. Halfway through the night, it occurred to me that it probably was not good for Elsie's lungs to be around the campfire smoke. I'm such a good mom! Not. Besides possibly damaging her delicate lungs, we had a fun time, and she was all tuckered out and ready for bed when we got home.

Thanks for the cute hat, Aunt Brenda!

We took Elsie on her first overnight trip last weekend. We drove to Logan so that Clayton could go to a football game with his brothers, while the girls and I hung out with his sister-in-law and a bunch of cousins. We had fun and Elsie did great. Then the following day, we went to a baby blessing for Elsie's cousin Makenna, and got to visit with lots of loved ones.

Coincidentally, our girls have been struck with another cold virus, plus an ear infection for Evje, plus flu shots. Needless to say, we've had a lot of sleepless nights, tissues, boogers, fevers, grumpy girls, and tired parents this week. Also needless to say, we've had a lot of stay-in-pajamas-all-day days and watch-movies-all-day-while-holding-grumpy-kids days. Good times!

Besides all of the nose-wiping, we're loving our sweet little Elsie. I love watching her face light up when she sees somebody smile at her. I love watching her learn new things and make little improvements with her development. I (usually) love watching Evje interact with Elsie, unless it involves several blankets and a pillow being piled on top of Elsie's face. Yes, that actually happened. I was less than thrilled.

Happy nine months, baby girl!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Breast milk

If you're at all squeamish or uncomfortable reading about breastfeeding, pumping, or breast milk, this post is not for you! Please keep in mind as you read that I am keenly aware that breastfeeding is a very sensitive and emotional topic for many women, and I will try my hardest not to offend or make anyone feel badly. Everyone is different, has different opinions and different experiences. I simply wish to share my experience in hopes that it might encourage or uplift others in similar situations.

After Elsie was born, and the nurse came into my recovery room with the breast pump for the first time, I was still kinda in shock with the whole situation but I followed her orders dutifully and started pumping. When I went to bed that night, she asked if I wanted her to come wake me up in the middle of the night so that I could pump. "Wake me up in the middle of the night to pump?? Is she crazy?" I thought to myself. "No no," I told the nurse, "I'll set an alarm on my phone. You don't need to come wake me." I chuckled to myself as she left, believing my lie, because who in their right mind would wake up in the middle of the night to pump? Certainly not me. I had just been through a nightmare of a premature delivery, and I wanted to sleep and forget the whole thing.

At least, that was what I tried to convince myself. But as I thought through it and faced reality, I realized that if I was going to be serious about pumping and trying to get my milk to come in to feed my baby, that I needed to be dedicated from this moment on. I would do what it takes, I would try my hardest.

So I woke up in the middle of the night, and I pumped. When the first little drops of colostrum appeared in the bottle, I was thrilled. I walked myself down the hall to the NICU and triumphantly handed the precious liquid to Elsie's nurse. This simple act of motherhood was sometimes the one and only thing that I could do for my baby. I couldn't hold her, I was nervous to touch her delicate skin, I was scared to even change her tiny diaper amid the tubes, cords, and monitors. But here was one very important thing that I, and only I could do for Elsie. It was empowering.

From that moment on, I was a full-time pumper of milk. Every three hours on the dot, I would hook up to my pump and milk away. It helped that Elsie was on a three-hour care schedule; that helped me remember and to focus on why I was doing what I was doing. Whether I was at home or at the hospital, Elsie received her feedings and I pumped at the same time: 8am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm, 8pm, 11pm, 2am, and 5am. After the first few days, I ditched the 2am pump because I can't function on three hour periods of sleep. I also scooted the 11pm pump a little closer to 10pm, so that I could go to bed a bit earlier.

I got pretty handy at multi-tasking while pumping. Evje got used to me walking around the house with the breast pump attached. Good thing she's so young and hopefully won't remember all of this, or else the poor thing might be scarred for life. I made breakfast while pumping, read bedtime stories while pumping, watched Evs take a bath while pumping. Watched lots of movies and read lots of books and surfed the internet lots and lots while pumping. Clayton gave me a Nook tablet on my 30th birthday, and that handy internet device provided hours of entertainment while pumping. Pumping milk became part of my routine, part of my life. I was happy and proud to deliver bags full of the plastic 2.5oz bottles to the NICU freezer.

But. Keep in mind what was going on with Elsie during the first few weeks of her life. She was so tiny and could only take a few milliliters of milk every three hours. Then she wasn't pooping, and they didn't know why, and feeding milk was suspended for a time until they figured out what was wrong. Once she was cleared to start milk again, they fed her very small amounts very slowly and cautiously until they were sure that her underdeveloped digestive system could handle it. In the meantime, I was pumping like crazy and milk was starting to pile up. Our shelf in the NICU freezer was full. Our freezer at home was full. Our deep freeze in the garage was starting to get full. And so, a tiny bit of depression crept into my mind. "Elsie is so small and so fragile," I thought to myself, "There's no way she's ever going to use up all of this milk. IF she even survives, that is. Why am I even still doing this? I could stop pumping right now and she'd have enough milk to last her for months and months, if she lives." I continued to pump, but did so resentfully.

Luckily, the resentment didn't last for very long. Elsie turned a corner and started to thrive. She was still small but was growing. She was still only being fed very small amounts, but it was increasing. I remember distinctly the first time that the NICU nurse practitioner called to let me know that they needed me to bring in more breast milk to put in their freezer. I couldn't have been more thrilled. Elsie needed my milk, and was growing stronger and bigger because of it. So I continued pumping.

Around April, I was starting to feel the same depression and hopelessness again. Several of my friends, cousins, and a sister-in-law were expecting babies at this time. I was supposed to be due at the end of April/beginning of May. My baby wasn't supposed to be born yet, but she was. I was supposed to be enjoying the last few weeks of an easy pregnancy, complaining in camaraderie with my fellow pregnant buddies, but I wasn't. Their babies started coming, and I felt small twinges of sadness.

Then my dear sister-in-law gave birth to her sweet baby girl, and I suddenly felt no anger or jealousy, only happiness that baby Annabeth had arrived safely, and that both she and my sis-in-law were healthy and well. I was so thankful that they hadn't had to go through a terrifying NICU experience. I was glad that if anyone had to go through the NICU, that I had to do it instead of them. It's not something that you would wish on anybody, and I was so happy that their little baby was full-term and healthy. The depression was gone.

Fast forward to a week or two after baby Annabeth was born. Due to some extenuating circumstances, Annabeth's mama was unable to produce enough milk for her hungry baby. She wasn't gaining weight. Of course they knew about my overflowing freezer problem, and thus began a very happy arrangement of sharing the frozen milk with my sweet new baby niece. I was thrilled to have a new reason to pump with renewed vigor and enthusiasm. It seems kinda silly that my own baby wasn't reason enough for me to want to pump, but I'm serious, the frozen milk would have lasted until her 8th birthday by the rate we were going through it. I know that it was a very hard and probably very humbling thing for Annabeth's mama to admit that she couldn't feed her baby enough and to ask for help. I'm so very glad that she did. Annabeth is a strong, active, and healthy baby now, and reminds us so much of when Evje was a baby that we joke about what I put into her milk. Yes, Annabeth would probably be just as healthy and happy if she were only fed formula, but I can't but feel happy when I see her and know that I have helped her grow in a small way. I like to call her "my little milk baby."

As Elsie grew and it got closer to her due date, I was anticipating being able to teach her how to breast feed so that I could stop pumping. How much easier it would be to simply put my child to my breast to feed, instead of having to pump, wash bottles and equipment and so forth. I couldn't wait. We had one or two successful attempts, but she never got very good at it. She had a lot of anxiety with feeding by mouth, and despite all of the help of the lactation consultants, we tried and tried with very little success. At last, four weeks after her due date, we decided to have the g tube placed. Everyone told me that Elsie would get the hang of feedings as soon as we got her home and she got used to me being her full-time feeder and caretaker. She would get over her anxieties and would pick up breastfeeding. The g tube would be a very temporary solution.

Aaand here we are, nearly four months after Elsie's discharge. If you've been following our blog, you know that Elsie developed a severe gagging problem and stopped all feeds by mouth shortly after she came home. The g tube was her only source of nutrition. Now, we are still working with our awesome feeding therapist Helene, and making progress towards Elsie someday being able to have her g tube removed. But in the meantime, I'm still pumping. I dropped the 5am pump after Elsie came home, and adjusted my pumping schedule to her new eating schedule, which is every four hours during the day. I pump at 8am, 12pm, 4pm, and 8pm. Sometimes if my supply is dropping, I'll add an additional pumping session at 10pm.

I have been blessed to have enough milk for Elsie as she grows and her feedings increase, and still be able to freeze milk for Annabeth. Elsie receives milk through her feeding tube from 10pm to 6am, in addition to her four daytime feedings, which requires a large amount of milk. I never thought in a million years that I'd be pumping for nearly 9 months and still going strong. But it's second nature to me now, and I don't resent doing it. It is recommended that Elsie receive breast milk or formula until she reaches the corrected age of 1 year, which will be the beginning of May 2014. That is my ultimate goal, being able to pump until then, but you never know, I might keep going after that. I have been blessed with sufficient milk for my own baby and to supplement another baby, and I say that it is a blessing because there are so many women who struggle with their milk supply, especially when exclusively pumping. Especially when your baby is born early, and your body is tired and traumatized and stressed out. I consider it a huge blessing that I have been able to be so successful producing milk. I'm not trying to toot my own horn, or brag about my accomplishments, but simply want to share my pumping experience with you. Like I said in the beginning of this verrry long post, I am writing about this experience to provide encouragement for others. If there is something difficult in your life, you can do it. You can get through your trials and hard times if you find the determination and a good reason to keep on trying. I am proud to say that I pump breast milk for my baby and I know that it is giving her the best possible nutrition for her growing body to grow and to heal.

My two little milk babies

October 1

Ready for some updates? We've been busy during the last few weeks with various doctor appointments and therapy appointments and family activities. Here's what's been going on:

  • Elsie had an evaluation with a craniofacial doctor to see if Elsie would need helmet therapy to correct her flat head. The appointment literally took less than two minutes, and she doesn't need a helmet. Thank goodness! Her head is improving and should continue to round out as her muscles get stronger.
  • Elsie had her first appointment with the Neonatal Follow-up Clinic. This is a medical clinic with the State of Utah Health Department. Basically, they will follow Elsie for the first few years of her life to track her progress, provide us with support and resources as needed to help Elsie succeed, and also to share her medical data with the Neonatal community for research purposes. During each appointment, Elsie will be seen by several different providers in various medical fields. For example, during our appointment last week, Elsie was examined by a nurse-practitioner, we spoke with a nutritionist, worked with a physical therapist, and spoke with a neurologist. The appointments went well. Developmentally, she's a little behind on a few things with her motor skills. We received lots of helpful information and I was glad to find out what we need to work on with Elsie. There is still also concern that Elsie could develop Cerebral Palsy, as a result of her brain bleeds. But that is something that can't officially be diagnosed until 18 months or so, and until then, we'll keep working with Elsie and helping her to learn and grow. She has overcome so much in her short life, and no matter what the future brings, we love our little miracle baby.
  • Feeding therapy is still going really well. We've shifted focus from getting Elsie to take a bottle, and have instead introduced her to drinking from a cup. We take a very small soft plastic cup like a medicine cup, and mix some milk with a small amount of pureed food to make a thickened liquid. We don't want to have her drink thin liquids from a cup just yet, not until she's better at it. Thin liquids could cause her to choke and that could be detrimental to her learning. Thickened liquids are slower to collect in her mouth and therefore easier to swallow while she is learning. So far, she's done pretty good with it and seems to enjoy it. We are also still working on spoon-feeding purees, which she also enjoys. She thinks it's great fun to blow bubbles while eating, which means that most of the food ends up on the bib or all over her face, but she's enjoying herself while eating, and that's important. She doesn't eat large amounts by mouth, neither with the cup nor with the spoon. She'll take maybe a teaspoon or two. But again, she's enjoying herself and learning to eat by mouth and is mostly successful. Her gagging while eating has decreased a lot. We're really happy with her progress.
  • We finally got an appointment set up with Early Intervention. They were supposed to contact us after Elsie was discharged from the NICU, but for whatever reason, that never happened. I called them a few weeks ago and we are scheduled for an evaluation next week. They'll come to us and work with Elsie in our home, giving us ideas of what we need to work on with her and how we can help her to achieve her potential.
  • During the last few weeks, we've been able to take Elsie with us on different family activities out and about. It's fun to take her with us and we love being a complete family. But . . . cold and flu season is quickly approaching, and we're going to again have to take precautions to keep Elsie safe. She will qualify for special shots called Synagis that will help protect her from the dangerous RSV virus, but she can still catch the virus, which has the potential to put her back in the hospital. Therefore, once the winter sicknesses start up, we'll go back to keeping Elsie at home as much as possible and limit her exposure to small children. We ask that not only for Elsie's sake, but also for everybody else--nobody wants to get sick--if you are not feeling well or have been exposed to someone who is sick, please stay home until you are feeling better. The following sign will be hung up in our home to remind everyone to keep the germs away.