Wednesday, November 2, 2011

From Mainstream To Chewy...And Beyond!

So, before I had kids, I knew EXACTLY how I was going to parent. I had all the answers. If my kids lipped me off, I'd spank them. (I was spanked, and I turned out okay.)  I was going to fully vaccinate them because if I didn't, what kind of a parent would I be?! Geeze, they could get POLIO, you know! And I had always planned on breastfeeding, but before kids it was a non-issue, something I never put too much thought into. When the twins were born, I said I'd breastfeed for a year, then stop. Oh, and lets not forget letting them CIO. Seriously, it's not going to kill them to cry. And if I had a son, he WOULD be circumcised. I don't even remember why...but I knew the "tip" would be snipped.

I look back at the parent I was before I had kids.  Lets just say I am SO glad I only had cats.  That is NOT the parent I would ever want my children to have.  I remember hearing about co-sleeping and thinking "you hippies are going to smother those babies!"  I remember hearing about the "dangers" of formula feeding and thinking these breast feeders were Nazis, spreading their propaganda, and pushing their opinions on everyone else so they could feel superior.  I remember thinking that if I ever ended up that way, I would want someone to punch me right in the face, because I'd deserve it.

Now, after three kids, part of me wants to say that the person I was then needed a punch in the face more than anyone I've ever met!!  The other part of me, (the kinder, gentler part of me) knows that the person I used to be had NO information or experience, and the opinions I had at the time were formed from my own experiences as a child.  Nothing more.  I know that the person I was before children (B.C.) was on the outside, looking in.  And really, when you're raised being told that babies need to cry (as not to "spoil" them), and that children need to be spanked (it keeps them out of prison, you know), and that formula is "just as good" as breast milk, it's only through experience and education that you can see things from another perspective.  Before that, (before learning how to do things better) you don't even know there's another perspective in the first place.

So, here it is.  I was a hard-core mainstream mom before I ever had kids.  But then something happened.  After 7 years of TTC, my husband and I FINALLY got pregnant!

I'll tell you...that in itself started things rolling in the right direction.  Then, at 7 1/2 months gestation, my twins were born due to PPROM.  When they were born my son was 3 lbs., 14oz.  As he came, the room filled with NICU staff, they held him up for a split second for me to see him (I wasn't wearing my glasses, I couldn't see much), and they whisked him away.  Five minutes later his sister was born weighing 2 lbs., 12oz.  She was born not breathing, so they immediately ran out of the room with her in a towel.  After 45 minutes of working on her, they returned with her in an incubator.  They were bringing her in to show me that she was alive.  She survived her birth.

That moment...that very second that I laid eyes on her...she was red from jaundice, and the smallest human being I had ever seen in my life...that very second, the world disappeared.  Literally.  I could see nothing but that little angel in her incubator.  I could hear no sounds, and nothing in this world even existed but her.  It was that very moment that I changed forever.  That little tiny baby was mine.  I was her mom.

I didn't hear the Dr. talking to me...I didn't even realize there was anyone there anymore.  I was so focused on that incubator, I had tunnel vision and my ears couldn't husband put my hand in the Dr.'s, and shook it for me.  Only then did I look away, look at my husband (annoyed that he had interrupted me), and said "what?!"  He just laughed and said "the Dr. wanted to congratulate you."  I looked at the Dr., and thanked her for my babies.  That's when they took my baby girl into the NICU.

We had a nightmare of a "journey" in the NICU.  It sucked so bad.  I said more than once that it was a roller coaster, and I hate roller coasters.  After 8 1/2 weeks of visiting them there, watching them both survive things that would have killed adults, the ride stopped, and we got off.

I don't know if it was PTSD from what we went through there.  I don't know if it was suddenly coming out of the shock my brain immediately went into the very moment I went into labor with them.  I don't know if it was the lack of sleep, or the complete overload of stress of their birth and first 2+ months of life.  But when we brought them home, I was not the parent I thought I would be.

The instant one of them would make a sound, I was in their room standing over them, ready to pick them up and hold them if they needed me.  Never once did I ever make them CIO.  There were times that one of them cried while I fed/changed/rocked the other one.  But it wasn't because I was trying to teach them to get used to not being held.  It was simply because I didn't have enough arms to pick them both up at once.  (And it would not have been safe to attempt it with how very exhausted I was.)  I cannot even imagine how someone could hear their baby in distress and ignore them.  It just baffles me.

As much as I would have loved to have them in our room with us, at that time we lived in a very nice, but very small 4-plex.  We thought it would be perfect for when they were carpets, so no worry that we'd have cat/dog hair getting all over them...just run a broom across the floor a couple times a day, and the hair would be gone.  We clearly had never had children before, because it didn't take long to realize that ceramic tile, as nice as it looks, was less than ideal for infants.  There were 3 bedrooms, but the only normal-sized room was on the main floor, directly off the kitchen.  (Crazy!)  That became our living room until the twins started Occupational Therapy , and then it became a "play" room...where I could work with them to help them catch up developmentally.

The two bedrooms downstairs seemed great before we had the kids.  They were right across from each other, and the one we had for the kids was big enough for two cribs, a dresser, and a rocking chair.  Our room was smaller, and fit our bed and a small side table.  As much as we thought it would be ideal, once they were home, it wasn't.  I had a baby monitor in their room, and the receiver was right next to my head, turned up to full volume so I could hear them breathe.  Still, every hour on the hour I would wake up and run into their room to rouse them a little bit, just to make sure they were still alive.  (I did that for over a year, even when they were bigger, and sleeping in 5 hour intervals.)  I also had to wake them every 3 hours around the clock to eat.  So I'd wake one, change them, feed them, and put them back to bed.  Then I'd wake the other, change them, feed them, and put them back to bed.  Then I'd wash a bottle, mix up the next one, and get into bed for ONE hour before doing it all again.  (With preemies the 3 hours is from the START of one feed to the START of the next one.)  In total, I was sleeping 3 hours every 24, and it was in three separate attempts.  I can't help but think that if they were in our room, after they were allowed to finally sleep longer than 3 hours between feeds, I could have simply reached over and put my hand on their chests to feel them breathe, instead of waking up in a state of panic and running into their room every hour.  I know without a doubt that I still would have woke up, but it could have been better.  Less traumatic and extreme.

Before we were allowed to take them home from the hospital, we were required to make a Dr.'s appointment for them, and provide the hospital with the date and time, so they would know that our preemies were going to be okay in our care.  We were also told that at that visit, our children HAD to be vaccinated, or they would not release them to us.  (We were told more than once that our children were "property of the hospital" until released to us upon discharge.  Seriously.)  So I did what I had to do to take my babies home.

At that Dr.'s appt., I asked about why they'd be getting vaccinated at that time, considering that they shouldn't  have even been born yet.  My Dr. simply said "that's just how we do it."  My mommy instinct was SCREAMING, but I handed them over.  I let them vaccinate the kids.  They were vaccinated at 2, 4, and 8 months actual age...which means that when you "correct" their ages, they were vaccinated 2 weeks before their due date, at 1 1/2 months old, and at 5 1/2 months.  Also, starting at 5 months actual age (2 1/2 months corrected age), they started getting a monthly RSV shot.  The Dr. told me that we should be "so thankful" that our twins qualified for this would save their lives.  I was told that RSV in preemies is among the top killers in the first year.  I can honestly say that I was too afraid to say no.  For 5 months throughout the winter, the twins got their RSV shots, and I did my best to spread them out so they didn't have them too close to their routine shots.

I'll never forget the day I took the twins in for their 8 month shots.  My son went first, and my husband stayed in the room with him because I couldn't hold him down while the nurse put that needle in his leg.  I did it the first time and it broke my heart.  So I stayed out in the waiting room with my daughter, playing with her on the floor until it was her turn.  When my husband brought my son out, he stopped crying as soon as I took him.  Then my husband took our daughter into the room.  

I could hear that high-pitched scream clear as day, and she was in the farthest room from the waiting room.  When she came out, she wasn't just crying.  It was a scream I'll remember for my entire made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, and the mommy radar inside of my guts was just going insane.  I knew something wasn't right.  I knew these kids better than anyone else, and that scream was NOT normal.  

We were told to stay until she calmed down.  We spent half an hour in that waiting room with them.  She finally calmed down, and we took them out and put them in their carseats.  She started screaming again.  Instead of taking her back in, we went home.  I knew that all she needed was to get home, where it was safe, and snuggle up with Momma.  

That night I slept on the floor of their bedroom.  I couldn't get the sound of her screams out of my head, and I couldn't go to bed and ignore what my gut was saying.  Every hour I would rouse her so she didn't sleep too soundly, terrified that she might die if I left her to fall asleep too deeply.  The next morning when I got her out of her crib, the spot on her left thigh was swollen and felt like there was a golf ball inside of it.  If I touched it, she would scream again.  I called the doctor's office and was treated like I was stupid.  I was told it was "normal", and that I shouldn't worry so much, that my fears were "normal new mother fears".  The receptionist told me that if she continued to scream and it lasted more than a day, or if she got a fever over 101 degrees, to bring her back in.  Otherwise I should stop worrying.  Yeah.  Easy to say when it's not your child!!!

That day something inside of me snapped.  I was suddenly unable to ignore the feeling in my gut that something was seriously wrong with giving these babies those shots when they should have not been getting them for months after they got them.  If they were born full term, none of these shots would have been timed like this.  And so I started researching.

In the beginning I wanted to believe I was wrong.  That I was the crazy one...that I was just an overly-worried new mother.  I wanted to dig and dig and find that the Dr. was right, and that I didn't make a horrible irreversible mistake letting him vaccinate my twins according to their actual age, rather than their corrected age.  I wanted to read that I had no choice, and so I did the only thing I could, which was to shut up and go along with the program.

The more I dug, the worse things got.  I couldn't sleep.  The things I found were terrifying.  The truth about the ingredients of vaccines, the truth about the diseases...I bought books and read them in bed when I couldn't be on the computer.  My brain felt like it was turning to liquid as I learned more and more about how I had been living my life with the wool over my own eyes.  At first I had to look up every second word, because a lot of that vaccine information is in medical terms.  By the time I was 2 months into it, I no longer had to look them up.  And I couldn't stop reading this information.  I was obsessed with finding the truth.  

The more research I did, the more I realized that I knew nothing.
I fell down the rabbit hole.
The truth is that it would be illegal to give a vaccination to an unborn child, but it's perfectly legal to give one to an infant that was born early.  It just made my jaw drop.  The more I knew, the less I was able to ignore the truth.  My twins never got another vaccination, and our new baby is 100% vaccine-free.

Along this parenting path, I've encountered some amazing women who have put raising children into a whole new light. I knew after I had my children, after all we'd been through with them, that I could never put my hands on them to "discipline" them. My mother still to this day tells me that they "need a good spanking", in one breath, and in the next she tells me how she loves that they are so sensitive, and says it makes her want to cry when she thinks of how sweet they are. I think that after 50+ years of believing that spanking is the only way to teach children to behave, she's torn. I think she knows in her heart of hearts that no one should ever do anything to children that might damage them emotionally, but she's unable to ignore a lifetime of believing it's okay to hit them.

I think our children need to know they're safe. I think they need to be allowed to act out if that's how they're feeling. Adults do it everyday, but we expect MORE from children than we do from adults, and that is so very unfair. I think children need to know that mommy and daddy are going to protect them from pain, not inflict it. And I think children need to know that love is un-conditional. Even when they are not behaving appropriately, they need to know that they're not going to be punished, when all they really need is some guidance and patience!

Parenting is this learn-as-you-go experience. Sometimes our older children are given less than the best, but not because we love them less. Because we just don't go into this with all of the answers. I think parenting is one of those things that really never stop changing and growing...I do better now than I did then, but I'll do even better than I am right now, as time goes on. And we just can't change what has been done in the past, and that's okay. From every experience, good or bad, we learn. Sometimes we need to do wrong to see what was right, so that next time we can do better.

What I once believed, I no longer see as being what's best for my children. Mainstream was fine before I had them, and now that I have been blessed with three children I never thought I'd ever have, I see that the hippies were right all along. And, as time goes on and I'm getting a little more crunchy by the day, I know that before too long I'll be able to call myself one of them...and I'll be proud of that!

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