Millie Met Mo’ana

Millie Met Mo’ana

We are so fortunate to live close to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Because I teach and have summers off, Millie and I have been able to go on daily adventures – the zoo being one of her favorites. She loves looking at all the children and is captivated by the fish at the aquarium. During the week, especially on days with spotty weather, the zoo isn’t overly crowded and we have the opportunity to talk with the staff that works directly with the animals.

The Columbus Zoo works closely with Western Lowland Gorilla conservations and learning about their success in the gorilla population was encouraging. Stephanie, the gorilla expert, told us the names of all of the gorillas and their ages. She was knowledgeable about their relationships with one another and their personalities. She informed me that “Mac”, the silverback in the enclosure, the grandson of Colo who was the first gorilla to be born in captivity, knows he’s handsome, will pound on the glass whenever he feels like it, is a surrogate dad, and is busy raising his two year old, rambunctious son, J.J. J.J. acts like any other toddler; he prolongs nap time, copies everything his daddy does, and plays about the enclosure. The gorillas habitat was observed and approved by Diane Fossey, one of the greatest mountain gorilla conservationists of all time. Stephanie says that these gorillas have it made at the Columbus Zoo, like the animals in the movie, Madagascar.

I learned that the female gorillas take birth control pills once a day, the same way a female-human would. The female gorillas are tested each month to make sure that they haven’t gotten pregnant over the course of the month, by mistake. A “board” meets to determine which gorillas can breed according to their DNA compatibility. Because the gorillas at the zoo are promoting the conservation of their species, the board wants the bred outcome to be the best gorillas. What I found particularly interesting is that even with this board acting in the role of God, some gorillas don’t come out as they plan.

Kinyani, a beautiful female gorilla at the zoo, was bred and born in captivity, and she is deaf. She stays up high in the trees so that she can see the activities below and no one can sneak up on her (For his own enjoyment, Mac will sneak up behind her to smack her in the head.) Her deafness was not planned by the board however, Gods plan superseded.

Mo’ana, is a seventeen year old, female gorilla at the zoo. She was born and bred in captivity and she has a mental disability. Her body didn’t grow normally so she looks different and she has arthritis. She sits right at the glass of the gorilla enclosure and tries to feed the children hay, when they sit across the glass from her. Again, her disabilities were not planned, however her gentleness is a gift from God.

I have always loved gorillas and I felt especially close to them after learning that Colo, the beloved gorilla in Columbus – may she Rest In Peace, her parents were from Cameroon. I was not familiar with this country until earlier this year when I looked it up; 3% of my DNA is from Cameroon, according to Ancestry. I also learned that Colo’s mother’s name was Millie.

Twice, I have sat Millie by the glass to interact with Mo’ana. She seems timid as she looks at the gorilla and then turns her face into my chest. She doesn’t cry but she doesn’t smile at her either. I tell her all about the gorillas when we visit their enclosure. I hope that one day she will share the love that I have for these beautiful primates.

Managing Migraines

Managing Migraines

I’ve always hated bumper cars; I would drive around the edge of the raceway, as to stay clear of the congested middle. The steering wheel, violently shaking, was difficult to hold onto. WHAM! I was forcefully rear ended; stalked for the “bump”. My body jolted forward, my head ricocheted off the back, and I felt nauseous. This is exactly what has been happening inside of my head; bumper cars.

Light; crash! Noise; ouch! Touch; bam! Every sense was hypersensitive and I couldn’t focus. I didn’t have an appetite. I drank water and I ate salt; no relief. I took two ibuprofen and still, no change. I tried to sleep but was frequently interrupted to feed Millie. The pressure behind my eyebrows was difficult to ignore. I’ve never experienced headache pain like this before so this was new and unwelcome.

After waking up the next morning with an unsettling, dull ache beneath my skull, I made an appointment with my family doctor. My 20/20 vision was distorted from the intense pain and driving seemed dangerous. Thankfully, my grandma was able to drive me to my appointment as I rested my throbbing head.

I arrived at the doctors and was pleasantly surprised with the number on the scale. I was further impressed by my blood pressure, especially because eclampsia can occur after delivery and headaches can be a symptom. My lungs sounded fine and my heart murmur had subsided. After two neurological tests, I was told that I had been experiencing postpartum migraines. I immediately felt angry; yet another issue from pregnancy that I’ve never heard of. Postpartum migraines occur due to the hormonal fluctuations while breastfeeding; migraines can last for days at a time – great. I was instructed to lay in a dark room and stay on a regiment of ibuprofen; three pills, four times a day. If I wanted to take migraine specific medication, I would have to pump-and-dump – not an option. I know others who dull migraines with caffeine however, because I don’t consume caffeine on a regular basis, my doctor did not think that would help me. I was instructed to go to the ER if the migraines got any worse. Thankfully, 48 hours later, the bumper car ride was over.

Preeclampsia, rupturing ovarian cysts, postpartum migraines; I’ll take it all as long as Millie is healthy. And praise God, she’s perfect.

Making Memories with Millie

Making Memories with Millie

Time is a thief; last week we celebrated Millie’s half birthday! She wore a pretty, smocked dress, attended church, and we ate dinner at Ruby Tuesday’s. Whenever we take her out, people are so complimentary of her behavior and beauty. She’s achieving every developmental milestone; reaching and grabbing, laughing, visually following, drinking from a glass, intentionally rolling over, sitting independently, etc. Needless to say, I’m a very proud mama.

We didn’t take Millie out of the house for her first three months of life, with the exception of her pediatric appointments. She was born six weeks early and during flu season, so we didn’t want to take any chances. Eighteen years ago, my baby brother was hospitalized and placed in a medically induced coma due to severe RSV; time stood still, my family was terrified, but by the grace of God, my brother lived through it. Needless to say, I did everything possible to guard my sweet angel from germs; masks were bought and worn, guests were limited, flu shots were mandatory, and hand sanitizer was within reach.

When we decided to venture out with Millie, we quickly learned that getting ourselves and the baby ready was not for the faint of heart. It took many tries before we made it out of the house on time and clean. Our first attempt failed miserably; Millie blew out a diaper worse than she ever had before; poop was up to her belly button and smeared all over her back. How did it get in her hair?! Thankfully, we had some wiggle room in our schedule for a quick bath, got her dressed in a new outfit, and cue chunky spit up – all over herself and me. We decided to stay home and try again another day. Our first successful outing was to church. My husband and I are musicians on the worship team so a family member graciously watches Millie whenever we are serving the Lord. I have still not utilized our church’s nursery. Our church has a beautiful nursing room where I am able to feed Millie and still hear the sermon; it’s comfortable and I’ve met many other wonderful moms there. On Mothers Day, Millie made it through an entire church service for the first time! What a gift!

Can’t we agree that taking pictures for Easter, at the mall, with an oversized rabbit is just weird? What do you even say to him once you’re on his lap? Feeling some societal pressure, I dressed Millie with a carrot headband for a quick pic with the bunny. The people manning the stand were very informative and patient when I asked questions; “Do you delete the pictures after we order? Can we drape a blanket over the bunny’s lap so she doesn’t have to touch the costume?” As we stood in line, enclosed by velvet ropes, I observed the children and their parents interacting with the rabbit; kids were crying as their parents were bribing for smiles. I quickly realized that the bunny pictures weren’t for us; I unclipped the velvet rope and left the line.

At Macy’s, I let my MIL push Millie in the stroller. Due to the amount of clothes draped over the front and her purse clipped to the handle, not to mention the diaper bag, the stroller tipped over from the weight imbalance. This startled Millie and woke her from her sleep. Luckily, she was still strapped into her car seat, which clips into the stroller, or she may have come flying out! You should have seen the faces of the women shopping around us; jaws on the floor. I froze. Who’s stroller was that? Once I realized that it was my child that was screaming, I grabbed her out of the seat and held her close; I spoke to her softly and she calmed down. Accidents happen and it was brushed off with a laugh; Praise God, she wasn’t hurt.

We are Columbus Zoo members and Millie has had two grand adventures there! On her first trip, she spent time with Gam (my mom) and saw the colorful flamingos, playful tiger cubs, an elephant, and a rhino! She loved looking at all the people. My mom took Millie into the gift shop where she smiled her no-tooth, heart wrenching grin at a stuffed tiger. Of course we came home with the tiger. Her second trip to the zoo was with my husband and me. We took her into the petting zoo; none of us touched the animals however, she got to experience them much closer than ever before. Millie was so intrigued by the goats! We spent time at the aquarium where she could watch the fish swim; it was the perfect place to nurse her as it was dark and air-conditioned. We will be going on many more zoo adventures!

My big sister, from Delta Phi Epsilon, married her soulmate! We were thrilled when the invitation read “3”. We didn’t want to interrupt the ceremony with a crying baby, so we joined the festivities at the reception and we were surprised to see so many other babies there. The golf course club house was beautifully decorated and there were many vegan options for us to eat. Mille was an angel; she curiously looked around and chewed on her Sophie Giraffe. When she needed changed, I was astonished to find that there was no changing table in the women’s restroom. I asked a staff member where I could change her, I wasn’t about to squat on the floor with my floor-length dress, and she informed me that the venue is currently being renovated but that she could set up a table for us in the women’s locker room. As I was leaving the locker room with a freshly changed baby, we ran into the blushing bride! We had an intimate moment together before rejoining the party. We were also able to return to that room numerous times during the evening to change and nurse in private.

We raised more than five hundred dollars for the March of Dimes and participated in their three mile walk for awareness! The weather was not what we had expected – cold and windy so I decided to wear to Millie, facing me, and she slept the entire walk. Carrying 15lbs while walking a brisk, three miles wasn’t easy however, neither is having a preterm baby. We walked among family, friends, NICU nurses, and strangers who bonded together for a worthy cause. I so appreciate everyone who helped to support us and the March of Dimes!

Millie has been to church, the doctors, the zoo, her Papa’s, two restaurants, a vintage market, downtown, her daddy’s work, my work, the mall, two stores, the photographers, friends’ house’s, and a wedding! We are preparing for a trip to see her grandparents in Virginia next month. See, I don’t keep her in a bubble!

Raising and Rupturing

Raising and Rupturing

Just when I thought that labor was the end of doubled over pain, cue ruptured ovarian cyst.

I delivered my beautiful baby, naturally. I dilated quicker than expected and therefore could not receive an epidural. People have asked, “What does natural, childbirth feel like?” Well, have you ever been set on fire? Labor was long, exhausting, and painful but I knew that when it was all over, I’d be able to hold my precious baby. I love my daughter and I’m so grateful that she is here and healthy however, the birthing experience is not something I look back on and smile.

Fast forward 14 weeks and I started back to work. For the sanity of my family, we maintain a strict, daily schedule. My Wednesday was interrupted when I felt a sharp, stabbing pain in my abdomen. I gasped, grabbed my gut, and leaned forward. Appendicitis? Cold sweats, dizziness, nausea – the pain wasn’t going away. I had to stop teaching, I didn’t want to pass out in front of my students! All too soon I found myself laying in a hospital bed, wearing a stylish gown, with my post-traumatic-delivery-anxiety triggered.

After I told the nurse that my left arm was best for IV insertion, she persisted to dig around in my right arm, fishing for a vein. Why?! She switched arms and the IV went right in. I told her so. The saline flush had a skunky smell and the IV fluid made me feel cold. The pain meds were inserted and I immediately felt delirious. I was given additional meds to help subdue the nausea that the pain medication caused. With both medications administered, I couldn’t help but to worry about what was being filtered into my breastmilk. The doctor thought it would be safest if I’d “pump and dump” for the next 24 hours. This was an issue – My body does not create excess milk and while working full time, my storage isn’t built. I knew with this hospitalization, we’d go though everything I had stored.

I was wheeled into the CT scanning room and was given an iodine-contrast through my IV. My body felt warm for thirty seconds as the contrast entered my blood stream; my throat, bladder, and ears especially. Unfortunately, this was another med that one probably shouldn’t breast feed on. I was instructed to lay still as the scan took place; it didn’t take long, but the stillness allowed my mind to wonder about scary what-if’s. Once the scan was complete, I was wheeled back into my room and instructed to drink lots of water to flush the contrast from my kidneys.

I had dozed off waiting for the CT results. Wow did it feel nice to sleep without a baby next to me. All too soon, I was woken up by the doctor with the results of the scan. Due to the amount of fluid in my abdominal cavity, he could conclude that I had a 2-3cm ovarian cyst rupture. He informed me that this is not uncommon 6-12 months after pregnancy, due hormone irregularities. Apparently, cysts occur often during ovulation but they don’t always burst nor cause horrific pain. Naturally, I wanted to know how to prevent the cysts in the future and he gave me two options; get on birth control to stop ovulation or get a hysterectomy. What?! I’m not ready to kiss my reproductive years goodbye! I also was not about to start taking birth control pills – hormone altering, cancer causing, weight gaining, mood swinging “birth control” pills. As grateful as I was to not need my appendix removed, the possibility of painful ovulation every month concerned my husband and me.

Now, it’s just a waiting game; will the cysts return? Will they continue after I finish breastfeeding? It’s possible that if the cyst is 7cm or larger, it could twist my ovaries during rupture and cut off my blood flow to my reproductive parts – terrifying! The heating pad helped, so did hot tea and the fetal position however, dealing with that intense pain every month will significantly decrease my quality of life. The doctors don’t know the future anymore than I do, and in the meantime, I will be diligently praying big. Go away rupturing cysts; I have a life to live and a baby to raise!

March for Millie

March for Millie

https://www.marchforbabies.org/team/MarchingforMillie

The cashier asks, “Would you like to round up your total to the nearest dollar for charity?” I do it every time – mainly because I’m a sucker for even numbers. I’m that person at the gas station whose goal is to land on .00 exactly; I digress. My husband and I agreed years ago, that we will would always donate to children and veterans, in need; it’s also tax deductible and it feels good to give what we can. We’ve been monetarily giving to the March of Dimes for four years, never thinking that it would be us experiencing unlikely circumstances during childbirth. In November, I was induced six weeks early due to pre-eclampsia and my daughter was born premature. I developed severe symptoms, including a heart murmur, while my newborn was living in this world weighing a mere 4.8lbs.

Did you know that prematurity is the leading cause of infant mortality? I didn’t. I’m educating myself now, knowing that my chances of having another preterm delivery are heightened because of the pre-eclampsia with Millie. The March of Dimes has become a movement promoting healthy babies and moms and they raise money to help spread awareness of birthing difficulties, to better prenatal care, and to research deliveries in the U.S. #thecarewomendeserve

Next month, we will be walking 3 miles representing Team Millie with the March of Dimes. I am excited to be in the presence of so many others who’ve shared similar birth experiences. Millie will be with us, sporting a purple headband. I’m so proud of her, and our family. At Mill’s four month doctors appointment, we found out that she is in the 50th percentile for height and weight, not including her adjusted age! It’s looking like our growth struggles are behind us, praise God. For any mother living minute by minute, I’m praying for you; the tiniest of sparks can become the strongest flame – you’ve got this!

If you would like to have more information about the event or would like to donate to the March of Dimes, check out my team page: https://www.marchforbabies.org/team/MarchingforMillie

Next time the cashier asks you if you want to donate, do it. Support your community and help make this world that we all live in, a better place. I will walk for babies!

Will you?

Getting to Know Millie

Getting to Know Millie

At four months, Millie is enjoying life differently than before; she can see further, manipulate her hands better, and vocalize her needs. The more she develops, the more human she becomes (she’s always been human) but she has flourished with independence and she’s growing her own personality. The first precious smile we received from Millie was a product of gurgling gas and now, she’s smiling at our smiles, different toys, and the sunshine. Her facial expressions, interest, and focus inform me of how she is feeling and it’s a joy learning along with her.

Millie was born premature, so during the first month of her life we weren’t concerned with playtime, we were in survival mode. Our days included making sure she had dirtied the appropriate amount of diapers, that she was feeding every three hours, and that her breathing wasn’t labored. She would last ten minutes in the stroller before crying. She had a difficult time getting her eyes to focus so she frequently went cross-eyed. Car rides were no fun; she hated them.

At two months, Millie began to take notice of dark and light contrast; we would show her different black and white patterns which kept her attention. She also was drawn to the color red and the lights on the Christmas tree. She enjoyed about thirty seconds of tummy-time; she would turn over onto her back if we kept her down for the full minute. Millie liked sitting in her bouncer seat but she did not enjoy the five-point harness in her swing. Car rides were still the worst.

At three months, Millie was enjoying walks more than she had before; on a nice, winter afternoon, we walked for almost two hours. She was fascinated by the woodland creature mobile hanging in her crib; the otter, the fox, and the owl move around to Brahm’s Lullaby above her head. When eating dinner at the table, we sat Millie up in her high chair. She would watch us eat and interject a coo or two into the conversation. Have I mentioned how much this baby hates being in the car?

My sweet love is now four months old and I know for certain that time is a thief. She is loving chomping down on anything that she can get her mouth on. She smiles anytime she catches her reflection in the mirror. She snuggles with her Cuddle + Kind dolls. Millie thinks my hair is a toy and pulls on it with all her might. With some assistance, she is enjoying sitting in her skiphop saucer. Millie loves pulling on her teething links and holding her Oball. The car seat is no longer her worst enemy. Everyday she learns something new; she amazes me. I keep thinking, if I could just freeze time, but then I’d miss out on her adorable five-month adventures.

Maternity Leave

Maternity Leave

As a full-time, public elementary school music teacher, I received six weeks of paid maternity leave by using my accumulated sick time. Preeclampsia caused me to deliver preterm and just six weeks later, I would not have been prepared to leave my premature angel for work. Any mother would agree that six weeks is a ridiculously limited amount of time to bond with a newborn. For those mothers who have to rely on outside childcare after six weeks, I am so sorry; I will pray for your continued bonding, physical and mental health, and safety. Fortunately, I was able to take additional time off using FMLA. This time off of work was unpaid however, my husband and I had monetarily saved. In total, I had fourteen weeks off of work for maternity leave and I still wished that I could have taken more time. Whether you have six weeks or six months, the time you’ll spend with your newborn is priceless. The fourth trimester is a blur but before I completely forget, due to juggling work and infancy, here’s some thoughts of my time on maternity leave.

After we were discharged from the hospital, my body was recovering from the trauma of birth; breastfeeding was a learning curve, my blood pressure was regulating after the high levels due to pre-e, and I was profusely sweating out all the excess fluid that my body was retaining. While all of this was occurring, I was also bonding with my fragile, four pound newborn. It’s difficult for me to look back on the first month because I feel guilty – there’s so much growing that she did that I just slept through; I’d nap on the couch with Netflix on. There were so many moments that I forget due to sheer exhaustion. My advice for any new mom is to tape your eyes open – of course I’m kidding! I encourage you to take so many pictures and journal as often as you can; you never get that precious time again and so much of it can become lost in the exhausted haze of motherhood.

I was so grateful to have an overwhelming outpour of help from my family and friends during this time. Having a meal-train was extremely helpful; we had prepared meals for a week! My mom stayed with us the first two weeks after Millie was born. Everything was new; I didn’t know that I was supposed to log every diaper change by time and contents, I didn’t know what cluster feeding was or how to handle it, and I had never given a newborn a bath before. Having an additional person to help clean pump parts, make dinner, take a nighttime shift, run a load of laundry, etc., was so helpful. My mom successfully raised three children and was there whenever I asked, “Is this normal?”. My husband was allotted no paternity leave; he had to use his vacation time for my hospital stay, so he was incredibly grateful for the support from my mom as well. Thanks, mom.

It was traumatic getting Millie’s blood tested when managing her jaundice level. As I held my daughter in my arms, she was pricked in the heel of her foot and then milked of her blood, which of course made Millie cry and her tears broke my heart in two. My mom was there with me so I didn’t have to experience that alone. Pumping was difficult for me in the beginning. I truly thought that I’d have more comfortably with the pump than breastfeeding however, it felt impersonal and I had a hard time doing it. My mom would stay up with me and care for Millie while I pumped to increase my milk supply. Those late night talks of motherhood and watching my mother bond with my little one; I hope to never forget those moments.

My mother returned home and my mother-in-law came to stay with us. For the first month of Millie’s life, I was never alone with her. Some people may read this and think, wow – this woman is crazy however, I was relieved having someone else there with me. It was more eyes on my preemie, someone to watch her while I showered or napped, and it was socialization when I couldn’t leave the house (I was terrified that I would bring home germs that would put Millie back in the hospital.)

I loved taking Millie for walks when the weather was fair. I loved holding her tight, rocking her, having skin-to-skin time, and resting my cheek upon her cheek. I think my heart skipped a beat every time my husband would speak to her. I didn’t completely despise changing her diapers like I thought I would. I enjoyed online shopping while breastfeeding – maybe a little too much. I watched her grow from a thin four to a chunky twelve pounds. Listening to her sigh, smelling her head, seeing her smile – there’s nothing else like it. I feel so incredibly blessed to be Millie’s mother. Even though my maternity leave is over, I am grateful for the time that I had and I cherish my moments with her now, even more.