January 20, 2015

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas...

Chapman Collins Smith, the little peanut who could

...my true love turned one.

Two weeks ago today my littlest sweetheart grew up on me. Well, he's been doing that for a while, but now my Chappers is officially a year old.

His absolute delight at the world, his adoration of two besotted siblings, his sweet-natured squeals when we walk in to the room - every piece of him adds up to be just the boy our family needed.

Some people would call him a rainbow baby, the promise of hope after a storm of loss. I simply think he was just the right baby at just the right time to capture all our hearts.

We need you far more than you need us, little man, and we loved you from the very start.

You are the happiest Chappy, the most content child who wants only to be with us, to soak up the noise, giggles and excitement of two boisterous big siblings.

You/ve taught me so much, Chapman. After a season of grief over your sister's struggle and sadness at the loss of a baby before you, you taught me how to swim without sinking. I could keep moving without going entirely numb; I could be sad and still experience the joy of you. I didn't shut one bit out; I didn't lose a year of memories or pretend it wasn't happening.

You kept me going in the hard parts, kicking from the inside and beaming through big brown eyes once we met.

You've brought out the softest, most selfless parts of Mac and Mary Brooks, who I thought couldn't get much sweeter.

You, my love, were just what the doctor ordered. Thank you for growing at your own pace, for forcing your very scheduled mother to allow your strengths to develop on a timing not her own.

Thank you for being the snuggliest one yet, for grinning wider than any other peanut could have, for having a personality that belies your tiny stature.

You're finally on the charts, big boy! Without adjusting for your early arrival, you're first percentile for weight, seventh for length and twentieth for that noggin you balance between your shoulders.

I'm not sure what we did before you, Chapman, and I'm so glad we don't have to do without you anymore. May the years to come pass a tenth as quickly as this one did!

Happy, happy birthday to the best belated Christmas present I ever got.

October 28, 2014

The Best Kind of Busy

The start of Mac's very first field trip!

We have a full house, but life isn't as crazy as you might think for our party of five. We're slow-movers, we Smiths, and tend to build a good bit of rest time into our week.

That said, this past weekend was a doozy - and so, so fun.

Psyched for another photo op, obvs.

Friday morning was Mac's first field trip ever, a perk of being a "big kid" in K4. The whole family joined his class at Fisher's Orchard, and it was the warmest, sunniest October morning to be there!

The orange made Mac (and Bradley, for that matter!) easier to spot.
We saw goats, chickens, baby bunnies, a turkey and a cow. We picked apples out of giant crates, as we were about a month too late for the real deal, and left with armfuls of kid-approved pumpkins.

With my boys after our wild rompus of a hayride
Our gang enjoyed a hayride during which Mary Brooks and the younger brother of Mac's best buddy held hands behind his big brother's back. Eep! There was wind in our hair, enough bumps to make me thankful Chappers was strapped to me, and more screaming giggles from the little people than I could count.
Please note the hand-holding preschoolers and tiny cowboy boots.

We drove home with two extra passengers, Mac's best pal and his younger brother, grabbed some pizzas and let the combined five children wear themselves out before naps and quiet time.

At our old stomping grounds cheering on the Tigers
After stashing a few things in suitcases, we headed to my in-laws' near Clemson for Homecoming weekend. Bradley and I spent Saturday tailgating and catching up with friends while Mac, Mary Brooks and Chapman had whatever their hearts desired courtesy of Nana and Papa.

Burning off a birthday-cake sugar high.
Sunday morning we scooted back to Greenville for an early afternoon birthday party, after which we all collapsed into our beds.

It was a fast, filled-to-the-brim weekend, and while B made me promise next weekend would be homebound, I know he'd do it all over again. Plus a few naps.

August 28, 2014

And Then There Was You

Bradley and Chapman  
Six weeks ahead of Chapman's due date, he was trying his best to be born, regardless of our plans. That's some gumption.

Bradley sped back to the hospital after dropping Mac and Mary Brooks with a friend, placing a call en route to finalize the purchase of a suddenly-very-necessary SUV. The pieces of the puzzle we'd hoped to put together by Valentine's Day were sliding into place shortly after New Year's; it was miraculous and terrifying. 

The doctor on call checked me before B made it up to my room, and it became abundantly clear that my hope of stopping Chapman was a fantasy.

My husband, in his infinitely calm and even-keeled wisdom, suggested we let go and enjoy the day. Now that we knew this was our son's birthday, we needed to make the most of it; there was no use fighting what was already happening.

It was a bit too sudden for me, though. At dawn I'd woken up in pain; by 8:30 I was at the doctor's office. Two short hours later I was gowned up, epiduraled (this is not a word, but can I get a hallelujah for medicine!) and wondering what on Earth had happened to my Monday.

I'd been pregnant for 12 of the last 13 months; it bent the boundaries of time for me. Only zoo animals carry babies that long, right? The entire year of 2013, save one very sad five weeks, I'd been growing someone. I was determined to meet this child, and not one minute before mid-February.

It raised the stakes physically and emotionally having lost our baby only nine months before, just when I "should" have been out of the woods. With Chapman we never quite settled into the confidence of previous pregnancies, the giddy sureness that a big bow would be on our front door at 40 weeks.

There had been panicked phone calls, urgent ultrasounds, hospital rooms and steroid shots. Thank God no real problem could be pinpointed, but the symptoms were constant reminders, and fear nagged me. Chapman was the boy we promised ourselves we wouldn't lose.

I remember standing in our pitch-black sunroom at twelve weeks pregnant, begging Bradley to promise, despite the bleeding and the worry and the trip we were taking to the ER, that this was still our "take-home baby." This was the baby we wouldn't have to bid farewell to without ever meeting.

All eight months of Chapman's pregnancy I'd pictured that glorious moment just after delivery when I'd snuggle him on my chest, resplendent with hormones and happiness and the joy of taking part in a miracle.

He was coming, praise God, but I wouldn't get that moment. It's a lot to process in a few contraction-filled hours.

My parents flew up the interstate from Columbia, as they always do, and my in-laws retrieved Mac and Mary Brooks and treated them to a Chick-fil-A lunch at the hospital. By the time Mom and Dad made it into my room to say hello, I had to rush them right back out after the briefest of hugs; it was go time.

Everything led up to this. Despite my OB's objections, believing strongly that all was well with our boy, the NICU team began hurling facts and potentialities my way. They stayed in the corner - my doctor made sure of that - but I had to try my hardest not to focus on what they signified.

After one last statement of the obvious ("I'm not quite ready to meet him; I really wasn't planning to do this today!"), Chapman was here in a blink.

Chapman Collins Smith, our take-home baby.
He was pink, perfect, tiny and crying softly. He was here.

Our OB kept the NICU team at bay for a moment so I could see the son I'd carried so many (but not quite enough) weeks. I looked at him and my heart dropped. "Hello, my love!" I remember hearing the words leave my mouth as though I was a bystander; so much was happening at once.

Chapman was weighed quickly, and I was relieved to know he tipped the scales at 5 pounds and 7 ounces. Five pounds was some odd fixation of mine, as if somehow he'd be healthier, be safer if he crossed that arbitrary, invisible line.

As they wheeled him out, I whispered after him that I loved him, that I was sorry. Bradley and a small team of experts left with the newest, most scrumptious piece of my racing heart.

Little is as shockingly quiet as an empty delivery room. Our doctor kept me company until my parents returned, not 45 minutes after they'd first arrived.

Mac and Mary Brooks came in later with my in-laws, wide-eyed and laughing. It was such a happy occasion for them - waffle fries, grandparents and big sibling stickers!

Mac's discomfort with hospital goes back to his earliest memories, so I'd prepared him thoroughly for a typical birth. I'd stay in the hospital a day or two, and his brother would be a in a "clear box on wheels" beside my bed.

Mary Brooks was giddy, but Mac wasn't buying it.
He entered exuberantly, rushing to my bedside before welling up. "Where's my baby?!?" Bradley had told them Chapman was arriving early, but the NICU hadn't crossed our minds. Mac dropped his head to the mattress and wept, splitting my heart even more.

I'm more than thankful I was able to hold it together that afternoon. The children were on my lap an hour after Chapman arrived, and I knew if I started crying I'd never stop. So I smiled. I took Bradley's advice and soaked up the gift of our growing family; I shoved aside the ache from an empty spot on my chest where a newborn should've been.

God gave us a beautiful, eager-to-be-here baby. His time in the NICU is another story, but I'm grateful for the perfect timing of Chapman's birth, even if it didn't seem that way to me at the time.

Seven-plus months later, it still twists my stomach to think about sending my sweet newborn away. A half-effective (but better than nothing!) epidural left one side of me numb for hours, which delayed our first NICU catch-up and snuggle session.

Gussied up in my best robe for my first date with Chappers.
It wasn't the dream sequence I'd played in my head for eight anxious months, but Chapman was our take-home baby, just as I'd fervently prayed. 

August 5, 2014

An Early Bird

On January 6 I woke up, as many pregnant women do, before dawn. Padding back and forth from the bathroom to my bed, it occurred to me that something baby-related was happening; I couldn't have guzzled enough La Croix the night before to require five ladies' room visits in a half-hour.

At 34 weeks along, I chalked it up to our boy finally turning head-down. He'd struck a nerve, I told myself, and surely the discomfort would die down soon. This was a good thing, in the long run - a sign that his debut would be an easy one when the time came.

Unfortunately, the pains didn't die down; they intensified. I pictured his head nuzzling into my lower back, convincing myself that whatever yoga poses he was doing in there would settle down shortly.

Soon it felt like Chapman was burrowing down every few minutes, with a whole lot of purpose behind his movement. This was my third rodeo, but it was weeks too early for labor, and I clung to each shred of denial I could find.

By 6:30 I knew I'd need to go into my OB's office as soon as it opened so they could make the pain stop. I showered, took deep breaths and rocked side to side to "calm" my little guy; I crawled in bed beside a just-stirring Mary Brooks to distract myself. Mac, attuned to anything out of the ordinary, gave me the side-eye immediately.

"Why are you breathing like that, Mama? Are you feeling ok?"

Welp. How do you answer that, exactly?

I shimmied into my comfiest outfit, putting aside my feelings about leggings and long cardigans, and prayed for business hours to arrive quickly.

Bradley packed up milk in sippy cups, baggies full of Cheerios and tiny boxes of raisins for a picnic in the car. I tried to quiet my huffing and puffing from the front seat so Mac and MB could enjoy their early morning drive en famille in peace.

I waddled into the OB's office, asking the receptionist to work me in and, after a moment or two, returning with tears in my eyes. It was okay if they were too busy to see me so early, I said; just say the word and I'll head to the hospital instead. Someone had to make this baby stop hurting me - and stop trying to be born - but I didn't want to terrify every mother-to-be in that waiting room in the meantime. I was early enough that no doctors had arrived yet; every second felt longer.

The OB nurse immediately came out, took my BP during a contraction and had a near conniption fit. Obviously my body was telling me something, so she scurried me into an exam room as I texted a friend, "Owowowowow." Watching videos of Mac and MB kept me distracted for a moment, and then I saw a white coat.

The sweet doctor who delivered MB came to check on me; knowing my history, he told me to hurry to L&D and we'd develop a game plan there. I offered him, between contractions with a lovely nurse's fist pushing into my back for support, several options: I'd go on six weeks of bed rest, I'd sleep right until his due date, I'd stay at the hospital even. I just didn't want to have a baby today.

He smiled knowingly, gave me a hug and reminded me that he'd be on duty Thursday.  (It was Monday.) If I could wait until then, I joked, I'd wait until next month!

Bradley whisked me to the hospital, kiddos in the back seat, and I gave them kisses before sidling up to the OB floor all by my lonesome. B was back in a flash, but not before the nurses helped me realize our son was coming today. Eep.

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

Mary Brooks was named, as you may know, after beloved members of our family. Mary is after my late aunt, and Haulbrooks is 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 the world 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.)


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