Don’t Kiss My Preemie. Actually, Don’t Visit at All.

By Kate Morrow

This year as my husband and I put up the Christmas tree and decorated the mantle for the pending holiday, I could not help but reflect to this time last year. I instantly felt a lump in my throat. My heart started beating faster. I pushed those thoughts down and continued decorating.

Last year was the most traumatic year of my life. My twins, Jack and Lilly, were born too soon on September 14 at just 28 weeks gestation. We spent 76 days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). I thought that was the worst of it, but as we were preparing to discharge, I quickly realized life after the NICU was going to be much tougher than life in the NICU.

As we made plans for discharge, we were being advised and told all of the things preemie parents hear from their NICU care team:

They cannot go to traditional daycare.

 You need to isolate yourselves.

 You can’t have unvaccinated caregivers in the home.

 If anyone has a cough, spray them with Lysol and RUN. (Kidding, but they might as well have said this!)

 As a preemie mom, you are constantly conflicted with the overwhelming blessing of having living miracles. You are grateful. You are thankful. You are in awe. At the same time, you are also conflicted with the selfish thoughts of, “I didn’t get what everyone else got.”

This selfish thought hit me most in two ways:

First on their birth date— In my mind, I would have two beautiful twins. We would snuggle in the hospital room while Daddy loaded us up with vending machine snacks and family filtered in and out of our room. We would dress them in beautiful outfits, take pictures, post sappy social media posts, and we would go home together. None of this happened. I didn’t get to see or hold them after their birth. And instead of taking them home, I went home with a hospital grade breast pump. All of my dreams and visions of being a brand-new twin Mommy went out the window in an instant. I was a NICU mom. That was a surreal reality.

newborn-1399155_1920Secondly, our first week at home. The whole time we were in the NICU, I dreamed about going home. I rationalized in my head that as soon as we discharged, life would be normal and I would get all of those dreamy things. Our friends coming over to finally meet them, having Sip and Sees to replace the baby showers we never got, and more. But instead, we discharged on the brink of one of the worst flu seasons and I learned that life after the NICU is just as precious and fragile as life in the NICU.

This hit me the hardest a week after we were home. My three best girlfriends came to town for our traditional Christmas shopping weekend. I couldn’t go, obviously, and they asked if they could meet the babies through the window. I thought, “Sure! That’s such a great ideas!”

After they left, I ugly cried harder than I had since September 14. “This is not fair, I thought!— My best friends should be in here ooh-ing and aww-ing over my babies. I deserve this. I want this! I am longing for this!”

And then it’s almost as if God himself came and tapped me on the shoulder and it hit me as fiercely as the cold air outside. This isn’t about me. It’s about them. It’s about keeping these two precious babies who fought so fiercely for their lives safe. It’s about ensuring that they have years upon years to live and enjoy life.

And so began the most isolated winter of our lives. I became Momma bear and I hibernated with my baby bears. We isolated ourselves. Everyone who came into the house had to “scrub in”. If anyone had been at a large gathering or around a sick person, they had to wait 72 hours in case symptoms showed. We ordered everything off Shipt and Amazon and for things that could not wait—we masked up. We hand washed. We bought more antibacterial hand sanitizer than you would think imaginable.

You, like many of our friends and family, may think this is a tad bit ridiculous. But it is not. We would be rich if I collected a dime for every time I heard, “Babies need to be exposed to build their immune system.” FACT! Preemies do NOT have an immune system. Especially micropreemies who missed the transfer of antibodies in mom’s third trimester. A simple cold or mild flu could be devastating and send a preemie back to the hospital. Especially for preemies who had chronic lung disease or were on a ventilator at any time during their NICU stay.

So, please, as we approach winter, help me out. Help me with the following so other preemie moms do not feel as isolated and alone as I did last year.

  1. Get your flu vaccine.
  2. Don’t kiss the babies! Any baby!
  3. If you have a sniffle, let your healthy newborn baby visit wait.
  4. If you’re the friend or relative of a newborn preemie, wait. Don’t pressure them. Assure them that, “When the time is right, you cannot wait to meet their bundle of joy!” Every parent in medical isolation with a preemie deeply fears that no one will be excited to meet their baby when the time comes. Offer to drop dinner off on the porch. Offer to run an errand so they don’t have to expose themselves.

As I write this, my twins are now 14 months old and have their very first sniffle. I wiped Jack’s nose and went about my day. My how things have changed as I put up this year’s Christmas tree.

 

The Best Thanksgiving

By Kate Morrow

Thanksgiving has always been my most favorite holiday. A time for cooking, wearing comfortable clothes and lounging, catching up with family, playing games, watching football. It’s just such a cozy holiday that truly kicks off the entire holiday season.

Last year, Thanksgiving took on a whole new meaning. Our babies came home.IMG_6781

In the NICU, they never really tell you when your baby will discharge because things could literally change in the next moment. But on the Friday morning before Thanksgiving, our nurse practitioner excitingly told us the babies would discharge that Sunday and they would be home for Thanksgiving.

We were beyond thrilled! My husband, our families, and I came together like an Army— finishing the nursery, washing all the sheets and blankets, and getting all of the last-minute items. Cam and I went on a date night Saturday to celebrate and have one last “date” before we knew life as we knew it would get a little crazier with newborn twins at home.

I was like a kid on Christmas Eve and could not sleep at all on Saturday night. When the alarm finally went off, I sprung out of bed. The car seats were packed. Their coming home outfits were finally packed. This was truly going to be the best day ever.

It took a good while to pack up our 76 day adventure in the NICU and get everyone loaded in the car. We arrived home to all of the grandparents standing on the porch, complete with balloons, storks announcing their homecoming in the front yard, and an excited dog anxious to meet his brother and sister.

I dreamed of this day. I longed for this day. I wanted this day so badly and it was here. We were finally basking in the beauty and joy we so desperately dreamt of for those 76 days and during my favorite and the most wonderful time of year.

IMG_6834On Thursday, we celebrated Thanksgiving. Because we were technically in medical isolation, only our selected caregivers could be there. We all sat down at the table—Cam, me, Yaya, Pops, Gigi, Poppy, and Jack and Lilly in their bassinets. We held hands and we prayed. We ate. We shared stories. We tended to the babies. We snuggled.

I can distinctly remember looking around the room and thinking there was no absolute way I could ever possibly get any happier. Everything and everyone I loved most in the world was finally together.

This year, their Poppy— my dad— will be missing from the table. I find so much peace and comfort in knowing that our last Thanksgiving with him was the best Thanksgiving of my life. This is our first big holiday without him and my heart hurts. My heart hurts for the cranberry dressing he won’t fix this year. My heart hurts that he won’t scold me for picking at the trimmings as he carves the turkey. My heart hurts that we wont sneak a few midnight snacks of leftover macaroni and pecan pie.

fullsizeoutput_f6But just like the changing leaves and cold air that are upon us—I know this, too, is just a season of life. I can remember some of the very best Thanksgivings I have ever had. I can remember some of the ones that weren’t as easy. But, I am thankful for them all. And I know easier and better Thanksgivings are in my future.

Wherever you are, whatever you are going through, Happy Thanksgiving!

Poppy’s Cranberry Dressing:

Ingredients: 

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 package of fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons of orange zest

Method: 

Add sugar, a half of cup of water and orange juice to a sauce pan. Bring to boil and then add cranberries. Allow to boil. Reduce heat and boil for 9-10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add orange zest. Allow to cool. Refrigerate.

It Takes a Village. And a Double Grandpa.

By Kate Morrow

When agreeing to write for this blog, I knew one of the posts would be about the sudden and traumatic loss of my father. I dreaded writing this one. But, it needs to be told and I want to get this one out of my mind, off my plate, out of sight.

I recently read an article that was entitled, “The Unique Hell of Losing A Parent When Your Kids Are Small.” As I read the article, a few lines really struck me:

“As taxing as it was, I put on my brave face and did what I had to do at home. Then I put on my brave face and did what I had to do at the hospital, and they were none the wiser.”

 I remember exactly what I was wearing, what I was doing when I found out about my father’s unexpected and quick death. My brother called me. He didn’t even have to say it. I just knew. It was 4:45 p.m. on a Tuesday. I was still in the midst of my maternity leave. My husband Cam was about to leave the office and head home. William, my brother, uttered the word, “I hate to have to tell you this, but Dad…”

I instantly started screaming, “No. You’re lying. No.” I ran onto the front porch. I cried. I felt helpless and panicked. And then the twins started crying as they woke up from their nap. I remember having to hide my pain, my tears, my anguish, when all I wanted to do was sink into the floor. I could barely breathe. But they needed me.

 “If there is one absolute truth, it is that death and grief and small children do not mix. Life as I knew it changed forever, but my circumstances and responsibilities did not. I was waist-deep in naps, meal prep, butt-wiping, art projects, the flu, paying bills, loads of laundry.”

 I often wonder how I would have handled my grief differently if I were not a mother yet. I probably would have spent a lot of days in the bed, under the covers, with a pint of ice cream, and the television on Netflix to get my through my sadness. But as a new mom with infant twins, that was simply not a choice.

I remember telling my husband often, that I didn’t even have time to appropriately grieve my father because I was so busy being a twin mom. There are days I still feel I haven’t grieved him adequately and it’s going to hit me even more immensely when time slows down. Even though my husband was there every step of the way and my in-laws fly down the interstate any time I am in need—babies are babies and they still need Momma.

“Intense waves of grief periodically stop me in my tracks, take my breath away and force me to sit down and say to myself, “Holy shit, that happened.” Those waves will crash in the rest of my life, and if time is able to do anything for me, it will give me longer stretches between each one.”

 In the weeks and months after my father’s death, I would find myself so busy between caring for the twins, being a wife, keeping up with the house, learning my new job, that I would sometimes forget for split seconds at a time that my father had passed. I would randomly think of him and how I should “call to tell him something” or “the next time I see Dad.”

And then it would hit me. And I would force myself to think about it. Really think about it. “This is forever.” “I will never see, hug, or talk to him again.”

There is no feeling in the world to describe that pain. None. There is no amount of time or level of busyness that can get you through that.

But honestly, being Jack and Lilly’s mom has given me so much inspiration and gotten me through some of the toughest days. People often ask me how I have been so strong through this. It is partially because I am so busy with life, but also part that I saw so much life and death during our hospital stay. I know the world has to end for some for others to begin.

The hardest part about my father’s death? Not getting to see him be a grandfather. He only got to be a grandfather for the twins’ first six months of life. He visited them in the NICU frequently, FaceTimed with us often, held them for the first time on Thanksgiving Day. It hurts the most because he would have been one of the world’s best.

He was so proud of them. After he died, I was the family member in charge of clearing off his phone. I found a photo log full of every single picture I ever sent him of the twins. I found text message after text message of him beaming with pride about his twin grandchildren to his family and friends.

What makes it better? A man that often gets overlooked because he is quiet, but humble. A man who I can simply not find enough words to tell how much I love, appreciate, and am grateful for not ever intending to take my dad’s place but intentionally makes the pain less deep because he is always there. A man who had to balance the difficulty of being overjoyed to be a new grandfather without overshadowing my pain in losing another new grandfather, my dad. He is sincere, loving, and giving. The epitome of what it means to be the protector of one’s family. Losing my father was breathtakingly, stop you dead in your tracks, painfully hard, but having someone I consider my second father made it easier.

He, my father-in-law, has the hardest job of all—being Jack and Lilly’s double Earthly grandfather. I have watched him these past eight months in awe and wonder as he has been there for all of their firsts, putting in overtime to make them feel the love of having a grandfather.  The world’s best.

I know Dad is honored to give you his Grandpa moments that he is watching from Heaven with the same awe, wonder, and pride.

Thanks for being in our village, Ed. We love you.

On The Night You Were Born

By Kate Morrow

“On the night you were born, the moon shone with such wonder that the stars peeked in to see you and the night wind whispered, ‘Life will never be the same.’ Because there had never been anyone like you… ever in the world.” – Nancy Tillman

51kBche93SL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_This was the first book I ever bought for my babies. In fact, I purchased it before I even knew they would exist, around the time my husband and I started having trouble getting pregnant. I have always loved this book. The words are so beautiful, and it was my traditional gift to friends and family with new bundles of joy. I bought it to give me hope, to give me joy, and to give me the confidence I would be a mother one day.

When we found out we were pregnant, the book eventually got moved to the room that would become the nursery. It sat alone on an empty dresser for months until we finally started to decorate. The book eventually transitioned into the fashionable diaper bag my mom gave me as a congratulations gift. The diaper bag hung on the hook in their room because it was a part of my “hospital packing list” for the eventual night we would go check in and deliver our babies. I had big plans of a beautiful night with our twins, reading them this book, snuggling and settling in as a new family of four.

Except, it never happened. Or at least not the way I expected. Not the way I had planned.

In August 2017, when I went into labor, the nursery was not complete. The hospital bag was never packed. I was 23 weeks pregnant and it was totally unexpected to be in labor. I went into immediate bedrest and a mentality of “fight for survival”. Things like “what baby book to pack for the hospital” became secondary. They became non-existent.

In fact, when I went into actual labor at 28 weeks, my husband and I raced out of the house. I was in ugly pajamas. Hair had not been washed in three days. Needed a pedicure bad. There was no hospital bag packed full of beautiful clothes for me and my new babies. Because the night they were born, was not a night I could have ever imagined. Not ever.

When we drove to the hospital, I was still in denial that they could come early. I thought this whole thing was far-fetched and I would surely hold out until 35 weeks and I still had time to pack my bag and my book.

After 45 minutes in the Labor and Deliver Unit, they were coming. In a whirlwind. They were raced off to the NICU immediately after taking their first breath. Without Momma getting to hold them. Without Momma really knowing if they were truly okay.

I was wheeled back to my hospital room alone with my husband. I laid there in absolutely shock, awe and terror. “What just happened?” “Were they really just born?” I felt like they had been ripped from inside me and there was nothing I could do to protect them anymore. It was not the night I imagined. Not the night I had planned.

This is where our story truly began. There is so much more to our own personal story of “The Night They Were Born” that I cannot wait to share with you chapter by chapter during this coming year.

But let me spoil the ending. After 76 days in the NICU, Jack and Lilly came home. They came home on the week of Thanksgiving. I got to pack a bag full of their coming home outfits, special blankets, and our very special Nancy Tillman book when we discharged them from the NICU. The day they came home felt like the “Night I was Born” as a Momma.

On that night, we settled in at home. No NICU monitors, no wires. Just us snuggled in our bed. And I finally read to them:

“Jack and Lilly – on the night you were born,  the moon shone with such wonder that the stars peeked in to see you and the night wind whispered, ‘Life will never be the same.’ Because there had never been anyone like you… ever in the world.” 

 

Happy First Birthday to Jack and Lilly!

By Kate Morrow

Jack and Lilly Morrow, born at 28 weeks gestation, turned one year old on September 14, 2018. 

Dear Jack and Lilly,

I will always remember your birthday as the scariest, yet best day of my life. You came into this world in a whirlwind and have been strong, courageous, and brave since day one. You have been through more in a year than most have been through in a lifetime. I am absolutely honored to be your Mommy and as I reflect on this day, I am filled with nothing but pride and joy.

You have changed me so much this past year and in ways I never expected. On your birthday last year when you were born at 28 weeks, I couldn’t understand why this happened to our family. I asked God “Why” so many times. Why did this happen to me? Ashamed, I spent a lot of this past year continuing to ask why and jealous of others who had such a joyous entrance into motherhood— beautiful and snuggling their babies in their hospital beds. I couldn’t get those happy images I longed for out of my head.

But, as you grew, I grew, too. I started to understand, accept, and love our beautiful story. I found reason and purpose— word by word, line by line, page by page. As our story came together, I realized it is the most beautiful story I have ever read.

Today, I confidently now know God gave me you for a reason. He gave me you and our experience to build me. To strengthen me. To make me a rock solid, warrior. You taught me what it means to be strong and courageous. It is this courage that has helped me become the best version of myself possible.

Your courage has given me strength to be brave so much this year when I really needed it. It gave me strength to keep going on our darkest, loneliest days during the NICU and isolation. It gave me strength to resign from a ten-year career and know that a career doesn’t define you. It taught me how to take a leap of faith and not be consumed by what others thought. It taught me to be brave for those around us and how to bring others joy and make them smile when I was absolutely losing it inside

Your birth story gave me purpose. For the first time in my 33 years of life, I have found my calling and I am using our experience to help others. To advocate for women and babies in our situation. To make a difference. To empower others. I feel absolutely alive when I talk about our story and see that it brings others joys and comfort.

Our experience has shown me what an amazing world we live in. The amount of friends, family, and even strangers who came together to pray for us, love us, encourage us, care for you, and just hug us was humbling. I still continue to be in awe by the love that surrounded us. I am so grateful for each and every single person—for sharing with us and allowing me to overshare somedays. I couldn’t have gotten through this year without our village. I could spend every minute of every day thanking them and it wouldn’t be enough. It taught me to take refuge in family. I have a deeper love and connection with all of our family, especially your Daddy. He continues to amaze me. Your strength and courage definitely comes from him.

You have made me realize I cannot plan. I used to be a worrier, full of anxiety and full of creating perfect plans. I’ve learned this past year life can be messy. It goes unexpected. I have learned to go with the flow and I have never been happier.

But most of all, your courage taught me how to be strong when we lost your Poppy and my Daddy. You are absolute miracles. Science only does so much and then there is God. Your medical success is God’s work. You are living testimony that there is a wonderful Father in Heaven and because of this, I know, without a doubt, that Poppy is resting gently in His arms and watching over us.

The day you came into this world so early, your birthday, I accepted that I could potentially become a Mommy to children with disabilities, special needs, or ultimately a Mommy to two angel children in Heaven. It was also this day that I committed myself to making sure I did everything in my power to help you become the best version of yourselves possible, whatever that version may be. Because, darlings, no one is perfect. You have exceeded my expectations in every single way possible.

I no longer ask God why. Instead, I thank God daily for writing the most beautiful story ever— a story I could have never written myself. A story that I would not change for the world. Our story.

You are everything I ever wanted. Everything I ever dreamed. The best book I have ever read.IMG_1537-1

I love you. I love our story.

And most of all, I love being your Mommy.

Happy Birthday, Jack and Lilly!

Love,
Mommy

 

When Birds Make Plans

This month, we are introducing our new bloggers not only with their posts, but with a video!

Meet Kate:

By Kate Morrow

It was my very last day of maternity leave and I was determined to make the most of it, soaking up every last minute with my twins Jack and Lilly. I had big plans of reading books, snuggling, taking a walk in the stroller to the park, visiting daddy at work and more. And then I heard it. “Tweet, tweet.”

Our scruffy, lovable Beagle, Atticus, who has a personality large than life just went outside and I forgot to close the door. I shut it quickly thinking I heard the bird from outside. I continued to hear, “Tweet, tweet.” And that’s when I realized…

A bird had flown into the house.

He was thrashing about. Atticus was chasing him. It was absolute chaos. Frightened and panicked, I quickly threw everything into the car, babies in tow, and was prepared to drive up the interstate to my in-laws rather than dealing with the bird. I quickly realized, it’s true—

You make plans, God makes other plans.

You see, this has been the metaphor of my life for the past year.

I planned to get pregnant. A year and three rounds of Clomid later, we were finally expecting.

I planned to have a baby. A six week ultrasound revealed we were expecting twins.

I planned on a normal, healthy pregnancy. I went into pre-term labor at 24 weeks and spent 4 weeks on bedrest.

 I planned to keep my babies inside of my womb as long as I could. I went into for-real-this-time labor and delivered them at 28 weeks, 3 days gestation and we spent 76 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

I planned to live a life as normal as possible when we were discharged. We were discharged a week before the worst influenza season in history and instead spent 120 days in medical isolation.

I planned to return to work. I instead had to resign from my ten-year career to keep my babies at home and safe through the winter.

I planned a countdown out of isolation and breaking free to our finally happy, normal life.  My father unexpectedly passed away at 68 years old just 17 days before isolation would have been complete.

This past year has been hard and tougher in ways than I ever thought possible. It was dark. It was a lonely journey. It was the year that almost broke me. Yet, it was also the year that also defined me. It was the year that I saw more life and death than I ever thought possible and the year that filled me with purpose. It was the year I grew up in more ways than I ever thought possible.

fullsizeoutput_177

The only constant during these times was the persistent urge and calling to do more. To help people. To encourage women like me. To make a difference for babies like Jack and Lilly. To leave a legacy. And that’s exactly what I am doing.

I didn’t plan for this, but I have never been happier or more fulfilled.

And I cannot wait to tell you more about it.