July 2, 2014

Sending Love to the NICU

Chappers working on his tan
Since Chapman came home from the NICU, I haven't given our time there much thought; there just hasn't been an opportunity. Real life takes over, other crises pop up, months fly by and you forget he was even early. Well, maybe not forget, but you gloss over the details a bit.

So, so very tired.
Recently, though, I've gotten questions from thoughtful people wanting to help NICU families in their lives. Remembering each round of our babies' hospitalizations and reliving those anxious days makes me want to throw my arms around every parent who's there; I'm more than happy to offer any ideas I can.
Putting that new robe to good use.
It can be difficult to know what to do in a time of crisis, but I know firsthand how much those gestures mean. Here are a few things that may cheer up and provide help to families dealing with hospitalized babies:
  • Unscented hand sanitizer: After I'd "scrub up" to see Chapman in the NICU, I'd have to touch a telephone (to identify myself and get access) and several other surfaces between the door and his bassinet. I never felt clean or germ-free enough, especially in the dead of winter!
  • Unscented lotion: After all that washing and cold weather, my hands were a mess; I applied lotion on my way out of the hospital from time to time. Many preemies can't tolerate scents, so I tried not to use strong-smelling products of any kind as a courtesy for Chapman's little neighbors.
  • Jewelry pouch: We had to take off all jewelry below the elbow when we scrubbed up, and all cell phones (hello, germ-carriers!) had to be put away as well. Something pretty to hold the essentials would be practical and easy to reuse later.
  • A robe: If mom is staying in the hospital, which I was only able to do for 48 hours, she'll be padding back and forth from her room to the NICU floor, pumping in between and giving little thought to her appearance. A cute robe she can toss over herself on the way would come in very handy! Ask if she needs slippers or if you can grab her favorite flats from home, too.
  • Preemie-sized clothes: The NICU has basics babies can use, but there's a sense of home in allowing your newborn to wear his own things when he is big/strong enough to do so. Chapman was born during the "polar vortex," and he required several layers beneath his swaddle; hats and simple onesies or sleepers give parents an opportunity to dress baby (if that's possible) and have some sense of normalcy in that sterile environment.
  • Anything personalized: These babies are entirely isolated; they haven't met many of their friends or family members yet. In the cocoon of the NICU, personalized things (blankets, caps, signs) are a powerful reminder that people in the "real" world know and love you already.
  • Books: Reading to even the newest baby benefits everyone, and books are something that can be used at home after discharge. A thoughtful friend sent us this NICU scrapbook, The Littlest Peanut; I love the specific memories it captures for preemies staying in the hospital for a while.
  • Photo books: Babies attend to faces more than anything else, and showing them pictures of the ones who love them is a great idea! Mac had something like this as a baby, and it would be wonderful for families who are separated. 
  • Snacks: Pre-packaged snacks and drinks are a lifesaver! Granola bars and water bottles kept me going as I shuttled back and forth between Chapman and home. For moms who are rooming in, Kashi frozen meals or something similar might be helpful. Just ask!
  • Gift cards: For parents who are spending a lot of time away from home, gift cards for Starbucks, restaurants, hospital food courts and gas could be a lifesaver. Take a look and see what's near their hospital.
  • Your presence, but no pressure: My friends did a tremendous job each time we were in the hospital of letting me know I was in their thoughts. One text that stands out in my mind read, "I'm praying for y'all and I want you to know this won't last forever. Please don't respond." It's nice to know you're loved, but a flurry of communication can overwhelm you in a time where sleep, emotional stability and brain cells are hard to come by. Reach out, but don't expect reciprocation right away.
  • Errands: If you live nearby, roll their trash cans in and out on the appropriate day. Mow the grass. Drop off groceries or stamps and stationery. Leave a note under their door. Take an older child to the park. Offer to bring in mail, walk the dog, handle email updates to friends. Anything that takes tasks off their plate gives parents more time to care for their preemie.
Memories of Chapman's time in the NICU seem like one long day: pump, feed, drive, sleep, repeat. It's stressful and all-consuming, but thoughtful friends are always a bright spot.

Seeing this still gives me a lump in my throat.

I'm thinking of NICU and Children's Hospital moms today, as always. I'll never take for granted my messy house filled with my laughing, loud, healthy children. Our motto is, "The worst day at home beats the best day in the hospital," and it's the absolute truth.

We're busting you out soon, little buddy!

I'd love to hear your suggestions if you've been in the same boat. What helped you?

June 17, 2014

Captain May Boo

Mary Brooks got into costume, shuffled down the hall in Mac's way-too-big "pirate boots," and charmed the pants off me yesterday. So glad I got this on video!

"Got my hat, got my patch, got my coat, got my pants, got my boots, got my sword."
(Wow. What are you?)
"I'm Captain May Boo!"

May 1, 2014

May Boo

My Mary Haulbrooks Smith
Mary Brooks was named, as you may know, after beloved members of our family. Mary is after my late aunt, and Haulbrooks was my mother-in-law's maiden name. Bradley's much-loved grandparents had five daughters, so there were no Haulbrooks boys running around with their last name; it meant a great deal to pass it on.

Mary Brooks has always been her moniker; we knew while I was pregnant we'd shorten her name that way. What we didn't anticipate, though, was how many other nicknames would arise from it.

When she first came home, "Mary Brooksie" was our pet name for that bundle of pink when she was unhappy.

At one, as she learned to say her own name, Mary Brooks pronounced it "May Boo" a few times. Precious as that sounded coming out of her little mouth, it stuck right away. (It does get a lot of stares in public places. What kind of name is that?)

When she started to get a little sass in her, MB shortened "Mary Brooksie" to just one word. "Brooksie do it!" or "No! Brooksie's turn!" is heard daily.

Now that she's two, Mac has been teaching Mary Brooks everyone's whole names. (For ages, Jackson McNeal Smith thought his name was "Jackson Mackson Neal Smiff." He's quite motivated to ensure she learns her correct name early on.)

Mary Brooks likes to tell people her "baby Chappers," aka Chapman Collins, is named "Chappin Cahns Smiff." She hasn't mastered Mac's full name, understandably, but is learning quickly that her name is Mary Haulbrooks - and she hears that occasionally from me when she sprints off in a parking lot.

So this morning, her daily "interview" question for a keepsake book I've been doing with them lately was: "What are your nicknames?"

Since she doesn't know what a nickname is, so Mac asked, "What do we call you?"

She read the full litany:
Mary Brooks
Mary Brooksie
May Boo and, most adorably,
"Mayra Haulboots" - the toddler version of her legal name.

We always knew she would have a double name, but this poor child will never know what to write on her school papers. It comes from a place of love, May Boo! (Well, "Mary-Haulbrooks-Smith-there-are-cars-out-here" comes from a place of terror. The rest comes from love.)

April 22, 2014

The Laundry List

Recently I caught up with a friend I haven't spoken to in a while. It's been a busy year or two for each of us, and I felt a catch in my throat at her simple, "What's been going on?" question.

What hasn't gone on? Ardent list-maker that I am, the inventory is easy enough to trot out:

1. Had Mary Brooks.
2. Almost lost Mary Brooks.
3. Almost lost my mind.
4. Finally came back to life nine months later.
5. Ran the Walt Disney World half marathon for charity and, decidedly un-pregnant, rode every rollercoaster on the property. Thanked God hourly for the chance to start fresh. 
6. Found out I was expecting. (Surprise! And sorry for those loop-de-loops, baby.)
7. Lost our baby at 15 weeks. Had surgery. Stayed in bed for approximately a century.
7. Got, as we gallows humor-types like to say, re-pregnant.
8. Thought I was losing that baby.
9. Hospitalized more than once. On sporadic bed rest. Alternately terrified and in denial.
10. Unexpectedly delivered our son six weeks early.
11. Endured a one-week NICU stay.
12. Survived a sinus infection/ear infection/mastitis combo.
13. Thought that was the worst we'd handle this year.
14. Back at the Children's Hospital with a preemie and his fractured skull.*
15. Earned ourselves a three-day vacation right where we fought for MB two years before.
16. Nearly re-lost my mind.
17. Ran out of the hospital and swore we'd burn it down before we set foot there again.
18. Came back with a baby who wasn't gaining weight. 
19. Fielded daily questions as to why our newborn was "insanely small." (Y'all, please don't do that to a girl. No one's baby is insanely anything, besides cute.)
20. Brought in a team of experts: a pediatrician, lactation consultants, occupational therapists, a hospital-grade scale and one manic mama.
21. Took a deep breath. Began to enjoy what is, in truth, a beautiful, blessed life. And a sweet peanut who may just be getting the hang of this weight gain thing.

Amidst all that, we felt called to have Bradley leave his job* of nine years; it was slowly sucking the life out of our family and our marriage - the last thing we needed after MB's ordeal. Bradley's quitting was a tremendously brave act of obedience, one that both humbled and scared the pants off a planner like me. At every point, despite the stresses we encountered, our family saw absolute confirmation it was the right decision.

One side business and eighteen months(!) of a job search later, Bradley began a new full-time position just before Chapman was hospitalized. The pressure, waiting, healing, constant change - it was heavy and unrelenting. We were refined by fire once again, and no matter how I tried to look at it through a lens of faith and God's will, there were many nights I just wanted to opt out, to be passed over, to fast forward to the easy part.

When you write it all out, that laundry list looks like a lot. (Maybe I've outlined a fabulous memoir in these bulletpoints?) I wonder, as people have often asked, how we did it. In each moment, though, you don't philosophize or quit - you can't. The only option is to push on through.

You laugh with your husband the morning of your D&C, you shuttle yourself (and your milk supply) from home to NICU and back again, you remind yourself in the Children's Hospital that "this isn't that" and your son isn't fighting for his life - even if you're fighting for your sanity. You thank God for good sleep, sweet babies and a family who drops everything for you.

You feel the promise of the Gospel and know without a doubt that the Holy Spirit's presence in you is why you're still vertical, still putting one foot in front of the other.

You wonder if you've gone through this particular whirlwind to carry other people who are fielding harder, even more painful fights. You wish you never knew about any of this and desperately want your white-picket-fence, never-had-a-panic-attack, "perfect" life back.

You want your "what's new?" laundry list to be first movies, snow days, pigtails, park trips, holding hands, post-bath snuggles and birthdays. Your story is partly that, but the heart of the matter is a whole lot more.

And when someone asks what you've been up to these last two years, you don't know how to tell her you're not the girl you were before.

"Two babies, six dozen new gray hairs and an extra-large SUV. That's what we've been up to."

(What else can you say?)

When you hang up, you ask God to use this laundry list of chaos, this hard-fought battle, this big, ugly scar on an otherwise-smooth history for His purpose. And you know, more deeply than you've ever known anything, that He's in this with you.

What comes after this laundry list, Lord? (And, not to prove I haven't really learned my lesson, but can this season be finished? Please? I'd hate to see Bradley arrested for arson, and I'm pretty sure he's serious about burning that building down.)

*These are stories for another day. Promise.

April 7, 2014

Party of Five

First things first: meet our baby boy! 

Our son, Chapman Collins Smith, was born nearly six weeks early on January 6, 2014. He was a healthy 5 lbs, 7 oz and transitioned home beautifully after a one-week stay in NICU.


Mac and Mary Brooks are utterly smitten, as are we all. His early arrival may have been unexpected, but we were grateful all the same; the months leading up to Chapman's birth were stressful and occasionally scary. Having him home and healthy now is such a gift!

It's been a minute since I've popped in, and in all my busyness, I find the everyday details slipping away from me. The quirks and anecdotes and memories I just "know" I'll treasure when I'm 80 are trickling out of my brain and off to...wherever the rest of my brain cells have gone. 

So I'm back to update and record, and hopefully to encourage. It's been a tumultuous ride, these last two years, and you've all been on it with me; I want to fill you in on how we got through (and are still walking through) the unexpected. There's so very much to tell!

I promise to share details in the coming days, but most especially I promise to record the tiny, easily forgotten moments this blog has helped me preserve over the years.

There are a million blessings and a few miracles mixed in there, too. I hope you'll forgive me if I shout them from the virtual rooftops here in our little corner of the internet.

I look forward to catching up! xox

October 29, 2013

Beaufort Bonnet Blogger Showdown!

My friends at The Beaufort Bonnet Company are kicking off a fun promotion, and they've asked me to spread the word. How could I resist?

Buying gifts for babies is one of my very favorite things to do; another is supporting small businesses. TBBC is owned and run by Southern moms looking to support local seamstresses, delight their customers and raise their own little families while making them look absolutely adorable.

Here are a few of my favorite Beaufort Bonnet moments from Mary Brooks' last year:

You know what I love even more than the women behind the scenes at TBBC? The fact they're letting grown-ups in on the fun now!

I love how life-proof this monogrammed beach bag is! (My monogram iSa, for those of you itching to order me one. We'll discuss at a later time why it should probably be aSs but isn't...)

And Mary Brooks really needs this monogrammed bow holder, if just for my sanity's sake. Where do these bows keep running off to?

If you're interested in winning $200 to be the star of the next baby shower on your social calendar, or just to stock your own little ones' closets, below are the guidelines.

How to Enter:
-Write a blog post on The Beaufort Bonnet Company- your favorite items, why you love the company, anything you want! The more creative the better!
-Include a minimum of one picture of a TBBC item, either one of TBBC's photos or one of your own darling children in a TBBC item.
-Include a link to The Beaufort Bonnet Company’s website.
-Send the link to your post to Elizabeth@thebeaufortbonnetcompany.com with your name and email address by November 13.  One winner will be chosen on November 15.

TBBC will cross-promote select entries via our social media accounts including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and our TBBC blog.  The Beaufort Bonnet Company team will determine the winning blog and the winner may or may not be one of the blogs spotlighted during the promotion. Blogger does not have to be a mom to enter.
Please email Elizabeth@thebeaufortbonnetcompany.com for any questions or if you need photos to include in your post!

October 1, 2013

On the Other Side

"Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall."
-The Great Gatsby

There have been so many balls in the air chez Smith - family, work, pregnancy, staying semi-sane, attempting to keep my children clothed despite their desires to the contrary - that I've neglected this little online scrapbook in an effort to keep juggling.

I've been touched and taken aback by the response to our experiences in the last year and a half, though. People pull me aside at tailgates, after church services, by email or Facebook message and talk to me about transparency in the face of struggle. It's inspired me, loudmouth that I am, to keep talking. And to thank each of you who've shared your story with me.

If you've landed here because you love us or you're curious about how we are, I'm happy to give you a peek into our lives besides, "We're great; how are y'all?" If you're reading because you've walked a similar path and want a window into how we're dealing with it, well, here it is.

Last Friday, September 27th, was our due date for the baby we lost in April. As it approached and friends who had been expecting alongside us began to deliver, the reality of what was missing felt weightier.

When I stay in motion, I can glide through life without processing it; sometimes that's a valuable skill. There are times, though, when you've got to face facts, and last week was one of those times.

Leading up to the due date that wasn't, I felt oddly empty - as if my arms should be holding something, someone. I don't know if it's biology, hormones or the fact that I've never carried a baby past 39 weeks, but my body knew it was time. I was waiting on a baby that wouldn't arrive; that made my heart ache.

Thankfully, as with many things in life, anticipation was worst than reality. The days before I had flashes of what would have been, of a happy ending; on the due date itself I felt peace. I'd certainly never have chosen to lose our baby, but we see the Lord's hand in the way our lives are coming together in the wake of our loss.
Happy Tiger fans

Bradley and I spent the remainder of the weekend celebrating Clemson's Homecoming and eating far too much of his mom's fabulous cooking. I tried to focus on all I'm thankful for - our little family, the incredible support we've gotten, the opportunity to help others who are hurting.

I can't ignore the fact that, unlike many friends of mine who've lost babies, I am expecting another. It made the day bittersweet, realizing our future valentine wouldn't be on the way if we hadn't lost our third child.

Knowing I can't control the timing of any of this, the fact that it happened, the way it did - it could be paralyzing, but it's actually quite freeing. I have no hand in this; I'm along for the ride. I didn't create these lives, I can't control them and I believe the One who did has a plan far better than my own. (Even if there are spots that feel like nothing could be worse, in all honesty.)

I'm praying the Lord uses all of this for His glory, that He lets our family be a testament to His faithfulness, to the power of hope. I don't take for granted the promise of a new life, the fact that we can dare again to love a little person we haven't met yet.

I'm thankful we'll meet our third baby one day, that someone who is a part of us is already in heaven; it brings me great joy to imagine meeting the child we didn't get to hold here.

I'd dreamed of late September for months, and dreaded it since I saw our still baby on an ultrasound screen. September 27th came and went, and we're still here. We're thankful, hopeful, moving on.

We'll never forget this baby; I'll never wish I wasn't holding it, never stop imagining its face.

The pain of the due date is behind me, though, even if the whole experience may never quite be. I'm on the other side, and it's not as scary as I imagined.

If you're not on the other side - if you're right dab smack in the middle of the not peaceful, not healing, not putting one foot in front of the other, flat out wretched and absolutely not okay part - my prayers are with you. These verses were shared by a wise friend who's been there, too:

"Though the fig tree does not bud,
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord. 
I will be joyful in God my Savior."
-Habakkuk 3:17-18


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