Thursday, March 31, 2011

Post-Traumatic Moments

One year ago today, our lives changed forever.  On April 1st last year, I went into unexplained pre-term labor at only 23 weeks 5 days pregnant with twins.  We were told by the high-risk doctor that if our children were born that day, they would not survive.  That is a moment that we will never be able to forget. 

I thought I should share this very honest, very real side of our story.  I love to post about each milestone our babies meet and every challenge they work so hard to overcome, but if I am sharing my story and showing the reality of having former 24-weekers, I can not ignore this part of the story. 

I have read that 74% of women who went into premature labor have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder.  I don't think I have PTSD, but I do have moments of traumatic memories.  It does not interfere with my life; however, the memories are still very real and harsh.  I was washing bottles last night and just started crying.  I realized that today was the day I went into the hospital one year ago.  I can feel myself in that exam room being told that I was dilated to a 2 and would not be going home.  I can picture Brenna sitting in the window seat playing with some toy.  I remember trying not to cry so I would not scare her, but how can you not break down when you are told you are in pre-term labor at 23 weeks?

The memories come back at the strangest times, unexpected and uninvited.  Jim and I were driving to the movies a few weeks ago when an ambulance passed us with lights on inside and just like that I pictured myself riding in the ambulance with Camdyn on our way to Dell when she had turned pale and lethargic.  I could feel myself praying over her and repeating "breathe baby breathe baby breathe baby . . ."  I can't remember if I said those words out loud or if they were just circling in my head the entire way to the hospital.  Then I will think back to how it felt holding her limp body rushing her into the pediatrician's office and handing her to him then praying, praying, praying.  And just like that, the memory goes back into its proper storage place inside my brain waiting for its next uninvited arrival and we are just a couple driving to the movies.

I can hardly even drive past Mopac (the babies address for 4 1/2 months).  When I do happen to pass by the hospital, I am the scared mother again going in to visit my tiny babies not knowing how they will be doing that day or what bad news the doctors may have to deliver.  If I am lucky, I will just drive on and the memories will stay suppressed.  Other times, the traumatic memories venture out for a moment and then return.  I will see myself clutching Cade tightly against me on the day they told me he may need a trach for life.  I thought if I held him tight enough, maybe I would never have to let him go, and they would never be able to tell me anything bad again.

At random times, I will see myself being rushed into the operating room.  I feel it all over again.  I feel the fear.  I remember how cold, how very cold it was in there.  Later I learned that was because my body was in shock.  I was shaking uncontrollably.  I did not know it was possible to be so cold.  Everything happened so fast.  I remember thinking that they were in such a hurry that there would be no time for the spinal to work.  I was so afraid that I would feel them cutting me open.  There were so many people.  They rushed the babies off to the NICU before I could even see them.  All I was able to see were their isolettes being whisked away. 

Sometimes when I hold the babies at night, I hold them so close to me wishing that I could somehow hold them tight enough that they would return to the womb.  I want so badly to give them back those 4 months they missed. 

Even in the simplest things, a memory returns.  The babies took their 1 year birthday pictures last weekend.  I made a pink cupcake for Camdyn and a blue cupcake for Cade.  When the pictures were done, Cade's lips were stained blue.  I couldn't help but think how thankful I was that his lips were blue from frosting and not from the lack of oxygen.

I don't want anyone to think that I am dwelling on the negative memories or dwelling in the past or feeling sorry for myself.  I know that we are lucky.  I count my blessings every day.  I only want to paint an accurate picture of my story, and as much as I would like for those bad memories to fade, they are present.  They are part of the whole picture.  Without them, I wouldn't be able to see the beauty and miracle of every moment with the amount of clarity that I now do.

Luckily, I get to spend this April 1 making cupcakes and decorating for my babies 1st birthday!  Such a better way to spend a day than the way I spent this day one year ago!  I am so blessed!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Anniversary post

I know I am very late in this post, but I decided my deadline would be by the end of March.  We celebrated our 8 year wedding anniversary on March 15th.  We have now been together for 16 years - half of our lives.  Crazy!  As I looked at our wedding photo sitting on the shelf, I thought of how different our lives are compared to the people in that picture.  We were only 24 in that picture looking so young and naive.  I began to think about what I would tell that couple.

I would have told them that they would see their dreams of success and a happy family come true despite some struggles to get there.  I would have liked to tell them that they would have 3 kids and watch them laugh at me and say, "no, two at the most."  I would have liked to tell them that not everything is in their control and what a blessing that would become.  I would have liked to see their reaction when I would tell them that they will have twins.  (I would leave out the whole part about those twins arriving 16 weeks too early.  No need to scare them into not having any children.)  I would tell them that they would weather a very difficult storm and that along with their friends, family, and each other, they would make it through.  I would like to tell her that her daughters would have her same independent, strong-minded personality.  I would like to tell her that although she never thought she needed a son being a girly-girl and all, she wouldn't even realize how much she needed him until he was here.  I would tell them that high-school sweethearts can last and that they would be proof of that.  Last, I would tell them to enjoy being that size!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cade is EATING !!!

I have the most exciting news ever!  Cade is eating!  This is huge; this is a breakthrough; this is AMAZING!  For the last 3 days, we have only fed him through his g-tube 3 times.  Every other time, he has eaten by mouth!  Up until this point, he could not figure out how to coordinate sucking from a bottle.  I know that seems crazy since he is almost a year old, but the crucial window of learning was closed to him after he failed the swallow study in the NICU.  "Babies do suck and swallow while in utero, but the sucking reflex is only developed properly and matures into a coordinated reflex at 36 weeks gestation. This is important to understand when baby can start to feed." (taken from Little Steps website)  Our babies were born well before 36 weeks.  While other babies are happily sucking on amniotic fluid in the womb at 36 weeks and improving their strength and coordination to suck, ours had feeding tubes, had already endured heart surgeries, had been on mechanical ventilation for 5 weeks followed by CPAP masks for several more weeks followed by cannulas for more weeks. 

Here's a quick version of a very long story of why Cade could not eat - heart surgery caused vocal cord paralysis which increases risk of aspiration (food in lungs), passed first swallow study, started learning to eat in NICU, failed 2nd swallow study, stopped all oral feeds, passed third swallow study, could start learning again but had already passed crucial window of opportunity to learn.  All of that plus a huge oral aversion caused by breathing tube, CPAP mask, nasal cannula, oral feeding tube, nasal gastric feeding tube, 3 swallow studies, upper GI, and 4 scopes shoved down his throat to look at vocal cords.  Do you blame him for not wanting anything in his mouth?  I have included a look back at all the stuff Cade has had to endure in, on, and around his mouth.

Cade at 1 month old on a ventilator with an oral feeding tube.

Camdyn and Cade on CPAP with oral feeding tubes.

Camdyn and Cade with cannulas and nasal gastric feeding tubes.  (They are so sweet here.)

Cade still with an ng tube.  He had it for 9 months!

Cade with his helmet.  This had nothing to do with his oral aversion.  I only included it to show how much my little guy has had to deal with.

Cade in the hospital after his g-tube surgery with Camdyn by his side.

So to get to this point AND sucking from a bottle - WOW!  I just might need to buy him a trophy - What an accomplishment!  Way to go big boy!

Side note: Please go to and vote for me for "Mother of the Year".  Click on "Leander/Cedar Park" and then "Michelle Hansel" (it's misspelled).  There is only 1 day left to vote.  Thanks so much for your support!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

"Mother of the Year" finalist

I was competely surprised last week when Ms. Katie (a teacher at the studio) e-mailed me to tell me she saw me in the paper and congratulated me.  I had no idea what she was talking about; I actually thought maybe she sent an e-mail to me by mistake that she meant to send to someone else!  I had to call her to ask, and she told me, "You are a finalist for "Mother of the Year" for the Leander/Cedar Park area.  I figured you already knew that."  WHAT?!

I later found out that my wonderful mother wrote an entry essay about me and entered me in the competition.  Judges chose my story as a finalist for the "Mother of the Year" competition.

It seems so strange to me because when I think of people who should have that title, I think of the moms who have special daily activities planned for their children, take frequent trips to the library and zoo, plan scavenger hunts, go to museums, and fill their children's schedules with park playdates.  Ha - that's no where near what we do.  We fill our children's schedules with doctor and therapy appointments and find some old book laying around the house to read before bed.  A trip to the zoo is not necessary; just go into our living room!  Our scavenger hunts consist of trying to find where Camdyn has crawled off.  We aren't trying to win any awards around here; we're just trying to get through the day!  So, I was completely surprised and honored to be selected as a finalist.  Now I can use that against my kids forever.  "Hey, I was chosen as "Mother of the Year" finalist 2011.  Don't mess with me!"  Ha- I can't wait.  I can already foresee rolling eyes and sassy looks in return.

I would love votes because even though just being a finalist is totally cool, winning a $500 spa gift certificate isn't so bad either.  Click on the Leander/Cedar Park area and then click on "Michelle Hansel"; it's misspelled on the ballot, but it's me!

Thanks Mom for nominating me and for truly being the best mother ever!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Spring Forward!

In honor of springing forward (Yippeee!), I thought I would post some pictures of the babies coming out of winter hibernation.  Since micro-preemies' immune systems aren't so great and they require over $5,000 in shots every month for 5 months to keep them from getting RSV, most parents of preemies choose to go into hibernation for the winter in hopes of staying well.  Luckily, so far we have managed to stay well after Camdyn's stay at Dell for a week in September.  Now, we are slowly making our way out into the real world.  I still have anxiety about it, but I think it is great for them to see the world beyond our living room and doctor's offices.  Plus, it makes me feel almost normal to take them to a park or to the store even if we have to time it in between all the feeding times and pack Lysol wipes.

swinging at the park - Of course, I Lysol wiped every inch of this swing.  It has never been cleaner.  They really enjoyed swinging.  They were perfectly content the entire time we were at the park.

The babies very first trip to the grocery store.  Again I wiped every part of the cart that the babies might touch with Lysol wipes.  They LOVED riding in the shopping cart and looking at everything.  They thought it was so exciting.

at the grocery store - We were only running in for diapers and formula.  I would definitely not take all three kids to do actual grocery shopping.

We visited our triplet friends, Anson, Madilyn, and Reagan, who we met in the NICU.  We took a stroll to their neighborhood park.  Interestingly, the triplets have the exact same middle names as our kids - Joy, Grace, and James.  We discovered that in the NICU. 

On this outing, we went to Mighty Fine burgers with our twin friends, Dylan and Jayden.  (What's the deal with all these multiples?)  Brenna had fun playing on the playscape there, and the babies (all of them) had fun looking around.  By the time we took this picture, Camdyn and Cade were wiped out.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Beautiful MESS!

Feeding time at our house is an ordeal to say the least.  It's not a simple put them in high chairs, feed them, wipe them down, and clean up.  Oh no - it is an all-out undertaking.  You have to prepare.  Here's the list of items you will need to feed 2 former micro-preemies with feeding issues:

2 high chairs
a beach towel
a box of wipes (I need to buy stock in wipes.)
a wet rag
a dry towel
a jar of baby food
rice cereal to mix in with the baby food so it's not too thin
2 cups or bowls for the food (Camdyn has to have flax seed in hers.)
2 spoons
2 or more interesting toys to distract them
a gum toothbrush (will explain later)
a cup of lemon juice (will explain later)
biter biscuits
2 preferably naked babies
2 self feeder toys
a very patient mom (or one who tries really hard to be so)

This first picture is just for fun.  I have to push Daddy's beer out of the way to make room for our 12 bottles a day.  Just thought this picture was funny to add.

So the fun begins! 

Camdyn is "Little Miss Independent" and likes to hold the spoon herself.  Of course, this is a huge mess, but she eats like this, so I will deal with the mess.  I have no idea why I didn't take their clothes off this time.  I guess I thought we might manage to be a little neater, but I must have been crazy.

Every inch of them is covered in food when they are done, and I do mean every inch!  The therapist says that messy play is great to help them learn to like food.  Well, we have mastered messy.

I bought these self feeder things.  Camdyn loves hers.  Cade played with his a little. 

Camdyn ate the banana in hers and then ate Cade's too!  She loves the autonomy of feeding herself.  No one can tell me that babies don't remember anything.  They might not remember consciously, but those NICU memories are very present for them.  She doesn't want anything forced on her. 

This time Mommy was smarter and we did the feed with naked babies.  I do have them set up in the living room because I find it easier to work with them when I am sitting on the floor.  You can see some of our supplies in this picture.  The red cup has lemon juice and one of those infant gum toothbrushes in it.  The therapist told us that getting lemon juice on their tongues helps their tongues "wake up" and get ready to move.  Throughout their meal, we intermittently use the lemon juice to remind them that they are supposed to be using their tongues to move food around and swallow.  They have 2 different feeding cups because Camdyn's contains flax seed oil.  They also like the toddler biter biscuits.  They can hold those themselves.  Cade is chewing on one in the picture, and Camdyn is holding hers.  I have learned that I can dip it in food, and they will eat the food off of it.  I also put the self feeder toys on their trays.  Anything that gets food in their mouths is an accomplishment.  They are starting to take bites from a spoon as well. 

This makes me so proud!  Cade is happily chewing on the biter biscuit.  Yeah!

Clean up is quite a process too.  If Daddy is home, he cleans up the mess, while I shower the babies.  I don't know if you can tell in the picture, but they have peaches all over them.  I love our big shower in our new house.  It has come in very handy to bathe all 3 children and myself at the same time.  (I end up covered in peaches as well).

So that is our feeding routine, and we are supposed to now start trying that twice a day instead of once a day.  This is on top of the 6 bottle feeding times that we still do.  It definitely feels like all we do is feed babies around here, but I am not complaining.  I can see the benefits of all of our practice, and it is so rewarding.  Sometimes I tear up when I am feeding them.  I am just so happy that Cade is eating the little bit that he does and that Camdyn is making such good progress.  It is exhausting, and it is messy, but what a beautiful mess it is!

11 Months (7 months adjusted)

It's hard to believe that in only 1 more month the babies will be 1!  They are in so many ways still like infants - 7 month olds.  I am so excited that we are approaching their first birthday.  It is such a huge milestone.  I have been wishing for them to be 1 since they were born.  I have already ordered invitations and birthday outfits and set up their first birthday photo shoot.  I had a hard time finding a birthday outfit for Camdyn because they don't make 1st birthday outfits in size 3-6 months.  I ended up ordering some on etsy; Camdyn got a size 6 months, and Cade got a size 18 months.  I had a lady ask me the other day how much difference in age they were.  When I told her they were twins, she said she thought that they might be but she also thought they could just be really close together.  The last time they were weighed Camdyn weighed 14 lbs, and Cade weighed 20 lbs, but that was several weeks ago.


Cade - Cade is EATING!  YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!  Well, he is not "eating" in the same way that you all might think of "eating", but he is accepting a few bites, swallowing them, and not choking or gagging.  This is huge!  I am thrilled!  He has been going to private therapy for feeding weekly, and I love our new therapist.  She has helped him make tremendous progress, and it is more than exciting to see him progressing.  He is still having a lot of trouble with the bottle.  Most people start weaning the bottle at around a year old, but we will be ecstatic if he can learn to drink from a bottle at a year old.  Cade hasn't thrown up in weeks now, and he is no longer gagging/coughing all the time.  He actually puts his hands, toys, and FOOD in his mouth now!

He now rolls over both ways by himself.  He still is not crawling or even scooting, but we are working on that.  He sits better by himself for longer periods but he still needs someone there because he does eventually topple over.

Camdyn - Camdyn is doing much better at eating as well.  She still isn't great at it either, but she is making progress.  She takes most of her bottles better as well.  The pediatrician told us to start adding butter or flax seed oil to her food to add calories.  We need to fatten her up!  (No one is telling me to add butter to my food!)  Hopefully, she will have some good weight gain with her new fat diet.  I am excited to see what her weight will be at her next appointment.

Camdyn is cruising all over the house now and getting in to everything - mainly whatever Brenna is playing with.  I didn't know that sisters can fight at such an early age, but they do.  I constantly hear Brenna yelling at Camdyn, "NO Camdyn - bad girl!"  Shortly after that, I hear something like, "Mommy, Camdyn is eating my puzzle pieces and getting them all yuck."  It's hard not to laugh.  I almost think Camdyn might be doing it on purpose just to irritate Brenna.  Cade just watches the girls "argue" and laughs.  I have a feeling this is how it is going to be in our house for now on.  It really is pretty funny.

I am just overjoyed at the progress they are making.  Every milestone is such an accomplishment, and I feel so blessed every day.