April 25, 2018

Today, April 25, marks exactly one year since I found out I was pregnant with Zoya. I’m pretty sure it will forever be seared into my memory.

Vlad and I had decided that we would let the cards fall where they may when we decided we were ok with getting pregnant. I purposefully had pretty low expectations for myself in regards to timeline. The heartbreak of infertility and pregnancy loss are all too common and I wanted to protect myself from the pain at all costs. I wasn’t trying to be negative, but I did want to be real.

We had planned a fun trip to California for Vlad’s birthday, April 28th. (That’s coming up, so feel free to love on him extra this Sunday!) Our flight to San Francisco was the evening or April 25th.

Leading up to that day, I had been feeling utterly exhausted. I was also constantly starving. While working, I would finish my lunch within a few hours of arriving and actually resorted to buying sandwiches from Dunkin’ Donuts to make it through the rest of the day (yes, they were delicious and greasy). I shared what had been going on with a coworker.

“Oh my gosh. You’re totally pregnant. You need to take a test!” She laughed, pointing my way towards our point of care room, where we had multiple boxes stocked for patients. I refused, waving it off as a waste of time.

Several days later, we were packing. The perpetual exhaustion I felt had been joined by breast tenderness. On top of that, my period was mysteriously missing. I was thinking out loud to Vlad about all that had been going on.

“I had better not get my period on vacation!” I lamented. We decided that I would take a pregnancy test just to be super extra 100% certain nothing else was going on. I was in no big hurry.

The day of our flight, I went to my nail appointment and picked up a pee stick at the local Dollar Tree. Cause I wasn’t about to pay more than a dollar to find out I wasn’t pregnant. Obviously.

At home, I continued last minute packing. The test lay on my bed in it’s plastic bag, waiting for it’s time.

At last, when Vlad’s brother arrived at our house to give us a ride to the airport and with less than an hour before we had to leave the house, I locked myself in our upstairs bathroom. After a deep breath, the testing commenced. I had stolen a styrofoam cup from the water cooler at the nail salon so I wouldn’t actually have to pee on a stick (knowing me, I would for sure miss).

With my enough pee in the cup, I gingerly dipped the test and waited as the moisture seeped into the result window. I was really only half watching as a pink line appeared. It wasn’t faint either. If it was a paint color, I would call it “desert mauve”. The line appeared so fast that the control didn’t even have time to develop.

I was the definition of the word shook. Admittedly, the words “oh crap, what did we do?!?” popped into my head as well as the realization that this was forever.

I had been thinking of how I would tell Vlad I was pregnant when it would actually happen…there were vague ideas of doing some sort of cute prank and taping his reaction. Now that I was definitely pregnant, I was in such shock that the mental capacity required to come up with anything that adorable was long gone.

I slowly walked into the office, where Vlad was nonchalantly making his headphones into a neat little roll for the trip. I’m pretty sure my jaw was dragging on the floor somewhere behind me.

He looked up at him. I looked back wide-eyed.

What happened next was a lot of frenzied whisper screaming so we wouldn’t clue in Vlad’s brother, chilling downstairs. We tried our best to play it cool as he dropped us off for our flight.

If it’s possible to be ecstatic, terrified, confused and amazed all at once I was all of those. Plus slap happy. My body was actually creating a very tiny human. I felt different…yet I didn’t feel any different. I wondered if I looked different to anyone or if it was obvious to any of the thousands of people at the airport that I was with child. It was the most surreal experience.

Morning one of being pregnant. Note the giant breakfast.

Vlad and I had the most amazing trip, pondering the future and savoring every present moment. When I was ready to tell people at work, I found the nurse who had called me out initially and we jumped up and down in the medication room.

This is my story. I love it because it is perfectly representative of me – kinda quirky and silly, but also constantly aware of the emotional depth some moments hold.

Every mama has their own story, and they are also perfectly imperfect. Some stories are still being written, and that’s ok too. Truthfully, there are so many beautiful ways to arrive at parenthood.

I’m thankful to be able to share mine with you today.

I just wanna be OK

Can we all just acknowledge for a second that the motherhood struggle is real? And that although the hardships are now being more publicly spoken about, many times the sharing is done via perfectly curated Instagram images that still set the bar so high.

Basically, society dictates that you can be a hot mess, but in a very coordinated, photogenic way,

Instagram worthy serenity

Let’s face it though, sometimes we’re just a mess. No hot prefix. And the daily grind of being a mom doesn’t always inspire beautiful sentiment and song a la Disney princess.

When I was pregnant I had a notion that after giving birth, love for my baby would give me superhuman energy. I thought I would be able to jump out of bed in the middle of the night to tend to Zoya’s every need with an angelic smile and the energy 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep gives. It was bewildering and guilt inducing when, in fact, I felt the opposite. “They’re only this little once, enjoy this sweet season” – was what I heard from every outlet. Except the tiny baby season is also so, so tough. There are long nights that turn into early mornings and constant guesswork relating to a new baby’s needs. I wanted to cherish all the moments, but constant exhaustion was like a foggy veil that I couldn’t shake some days.

I was also frustrated at myself over struggling to figure out the balance of caring for a baby and exclusively pumping while simultaneously…uhh…doing everything else. There were days that getting dressed in anything but clean pajamas was unfathomable. Housework was like a mountaintop that I didn’t even want to begin to scale. Going back to work added a whole new layer to the mix. Girlfriends who had been through the season of fresh motherhood told me, “Don’t worry, you’re not supposed to get anything done right now.” Yet, as someone who has thrived on the satisfaction of accomplishment, accepting the growing mountain of laundry in the hamper as the new normal seemed like a big fail.

It took me a while to figure out that feeling this way was OK. It was normal and didn’t make me an inferior mother. Neither did the fact that I’m not a machine that can simultaneously fold laundry, work out, and make a gourmet meal while raising a baby.

I’ve learned to seriously prioritize all the things and be fine if some tasks don’t get accomplished. I figured out my sanity is more important than a clean house, a home cooked meal or even (gasp!) a baby participating in ten different activities a day. If I need a shower and I want to snuggle Zoya during nap time, and that means I have to order Instacart groceries, so be it. (Note: I’m very particular while grocery shopping, so giving the reins to someone else has required some serious humility and personal growth.)

When there’s multiple balls in the air, it’s ok to let some drop so you can catch the others.

This has become my daily reminder.

So if you’re just as overwhelmed and underenthused as a new mama or in any life stage, allow the reminder to also become yours.

You’re doing your very best, giving as much as you can give, within your present circumstance. You’re enough. You’re nowhere close to perfect, but it’s ok cause you’re nowhere closer to failure either.

Reality: Utter chaos
Trying to get some rest any way I can
These pants and sweater have become my uniform

Changing Waters

There are people in the world that thrive in its presence. They relish the idea of new seasons and changing tides. I am not one of them. I love the feeling of the fuzzy familiar. Perhaps the only exception to that would be work, where I enjoy seeing a variety of patient cases…as long as I am with the same wonderful coworkers and consistent environment. Sameness makes it very easy for me to feed my inner, sometimes unhealthy, need to plan everything and control the world around me. With change comes unpredictability. That is where I falter.
Lately, there has been so much change in my life it feels like an altogether different reality. I ended maternity leave and began a brand new job, transitioning to nursing in the outpatient arena. OK, I totally initiated that change but still, it was difficult and I spent many days missing the position I left. There is so much to learn and with working in a new hospital system a whole culture to get accustomed to, which has had its difficult moments. Our church has been going through some turbulent times and the process has been akin to a painful pruning. 
Obviously, the birth of Zoya has been the biggest and most radical adjustment of them all. The large scale change of her appearance in this world has been punctuated by so many small ones that I can hardly keep up. Right after her birth, I recall missing being pregnant and feeling her little kicks. After Vlad went back to work and the new baby high wore off, I struggled with the loss of my daily routine and instead having to put a tiny human first.  Most recently, she stopped sleeping in the bassinet next to our bed and transitioned to her “big girl crib” in her room. The first night was the hardest. I had grown so used to her sleeping within arm’s reach of me. The wall separating our two rooms made her seem so far away. My sleep was restless all night even though I knew she was perfectly safe in her beautiful nursery.
Going through these transitions felt bumpy in the moment. Now that I’m a bit farther down the road with each of them, I can really see the positives in each. My new job has catapulted me into a whole new arena of the nursing scope of practice and has tons of promise for the future, along with a more “mommy friendly” schedule. Both Vlad and I have agreed that as rough a go as our church has had, it now feels more authentic and is utilizing people’s gifts that were otherwise on the back burner. And although there were times where both Zoya and I were crying together from frustration at one another, I wouldn’t trade her flipping our life upside down. As tough as it was to “let go” and have her sleep on her own, I am now so glad to have our room back! 
In ruminating on all these changes, I have been reminded that God does not desire us to be stagnant. Accepting the Gospel as truth and committing to a relationship with Christ is akin to an entire reconstruction of one’s heart. We are catapulted into a life of constant transformation as we figure out what it means to live for Him. 

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:18

Through all of this, God himself is constant. There are SO many great verses in Scripture that showcase his nature, one of my favorites being Psalm 90:2

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Whether we are a boat that is peacefully gliding in glistening waters or if we are getting tossed around by life’s storms, God is like a lighthouse. Firmly fixed in place, showing us the path as we try and make our way towards Him. Maybe this is a cheesy analogy, but meditating on it when life seems to be moving a bit too fast gives me peace. 

Change is hard no matter what. Viewing it from a spiritual lens brings a bit of relief by reminding me that change has a purpose. Better yet, God is the same forever – no amount of earthly turnover can shake Him or His word. I can rest in the knowledge that He is the one thing that is certain.

Pump It Up

Of all the plethora of information I got from others during my pregnancy, the most prevalent words were, “breastfeeding is the hardest thing you will ever do.” I believed everyone, but I also had a secret fantasy that it would come miraculously easy for me. I enjoyed fantasizing about the amazing bond it would create between my baby girl and I as I snuggled her to my breast, complete with perfect skin and flowing hair. Things did not turn out exactly as planned.

With her being 8 weeks early and me ending up with a c-section, the odds of my milk coming in well were not great. Because Zoya was so tiny, the work of getting milk from the breast would actually take more calories from her than she would gain. When she was stabilized, I could only put her to breast for about ten minutes so as not to exhaust her.

A week after Zoya came home, her pediatrician gave the green light for us to try to extend our nursing sessions. However, by that time, all the bottle feeding we did in the NICU had taken hold. She realized it was much easier to extract milk from the bottle than from my breast. Every trial at a nursing session was anxiety ridden as I tried to get her to latch while she was wailing and falling off repeatedly. The girl was hungry! When we did manage a good latch, I spent a lot of time wondering if she was actually drawing out milk or just sucking for comfort. During a time when weight gain was crucial, the idea that she may not be getting any food was terrible. Needless to say, I realized I could not breast feed exactly as I had pictured.

But I could pump. I started pumping a few hours after delivery. Every 3 hours, round the clock, I hooked up the machine and watched as my body created food for my child. I brought a cooler of milk with me every night when Vlad and I went to visit Zoya in the NICU until the nurses finally told us to stop because they were running out of fridge space. Then we bought a deep freezer and I began building a stash for later.

Before this journey, I only knew of two ways of feeding a baby – breastfeeding and formula feeding. My situation opened my eyes up to the entirety new world of exclusively pumping. After a few weeks of struggle and anxiety over trying to get Zoya to latch and eat well at home, I made the decision to exclusively pump. I loved the idea that I could still give her my milk in a way that was acceptable to her while being certain of exactly how much she was eating.

Exclusively pumping is a full time job. I have so much respect for all the mommas out there who choose to do this. Establishing supply in the first 12 weeks is crucial so you have to commit to regular pumping sessions and work them in amidst taking care of an infant. Vlad was extremely helpful in feeding Zoya simultaneously as I pumped when he was home. However, when he went to work I was on my own. Every time I fed her and got her to sleep I wished I could take a nap too…but most of the time I couldn’t because I needed to pump, to wash pump parts or a dozen other pumping related tasks. Thank God for whoever invented hands free pumping bras, because if it wasn’t for those, I would be lost forever!

Now, I’m over 16 weeks into it and I have settled into a routine. I tote around a giant bag with my on-the-go pump and express wherever I need to – the store, work, most often in my car. I’m always trolling the internet for pumping hacks and gadgets. It’s become a way of life.

That’s why I was so excited to learn about the Moxxly Flow Kit and even more thrilled when they sent me one to try and tell you guys about.

The Kit is comprised of bottles and tubing and is designed to hook into your existing pump motor. This includes the Medela Pump In Style Advanced (my on-the-go pump), Medela Symphony, Hygiea Enjoye, Freemie Freedom and, most recently, the Spectra S1/S2/S9 (cue the fireworks as the S2 is my at home workhorse pump). It is designed to give pumping moms a hands free and discreet experience.

After receiving my kit in the mail, I eagerly opened it, sanitized all my parts and have been trying it out for the past two weeks. Here’s what I’m absolutely loving:

  • You can wear a regular bra! Yes that’s right ladies. When I read about this tidbit I just about screamed from joy. You can ditch that frumpy nursing bra and enjoy looking fine again as long as the bra you choose has some give in the band and is sans underwire (as recommended on the Moxxly site). All you do is slip the flange and attached bottle under the band of your bra, align with your nipple and pump away. The band of your bra holds everything in place. As soon as I got my Flow Kit, I went shopping for some cute lacy numbers and it bumped my confidence level way up.
  • Pumping can be done in public…privately. Because of the way the Flow Kit is worn (once again, under a regular bra) a flowy tunic or t-shirt can easily be worn over the whole contraption. The tubing will run out of the bottom of your shirt and to the pump. I can easily walk around with my Medela PISA in a tote bag, running via battery pack, and pump. No one will note two tiny tubes..and they are totally concealable between the tote and my body. This means I don’t have to hide in a bathroom or a mother’s lounge if I’m pumping on the go. Confession: on Friday while driving home from work and pumping simultaneously I went through a Starbucks drive through and no one batted an eye.
    Set up in a snap. It is so easy to put the parts together and start using. The valve snaps onto the 5oz collection bottles and the flange screws in on top. The tubing is also easy to figure out even if you are too impatient/excited to start using and don’t read directions fully (aka me). I pump and drive to and from work to save time. With my conventional hands-free pump bra system, I would have to take down my nursing bra, put on my pumping bra, then hook everything up and begin. With the Flow Kit, I am hooked up and ready to go in a minute (yes, I timed it) and I didn’t flash the mailman in the process.
    Feed & Pump. Prior to this, feeding Zoya and pumping simultaneously was a non starter. Not only would she wail like a siren as I fumbled with the hookup, the bottles and flanges would constantly get in the way. She would end up pulling and unhooking the tubing several times throughout the feed. Because the Flow Kit is tucked away inside of my shirt, I can relax knowing that our time saving pump & feed sesh isn’t going to turn into a messy meltdown.
  • Feeling the love. I am huge on customer service anywhere I go. A restaurant can have the most amazing food but if the waiter was mediocre I likely will not be back. Moxxly is like the opposite of the mediocre waiter. They employ women who are passionate about supporting moms wherever they are in their pumping journey. Communication was super easy and I was assured that they are here for me if I needed to troubleshoot my Flow Kit or had any additional questions. I felt genuine warmth and care for me not only as a consumer of their product but also as a mother. And hey, we all need a little support.

A few notes…

    Like everything in life, there is definitely a learning curve. It takes practice to align the flanges correctly and comfortably. Once you figure it out though, the rest is smooth sailing.
    I’m happy to report that my supply did not fluctuate with the new flanges. This is great and the beauty of Moxxly Flow – functionality of the kit while still being able to harness the power of a great pump.

The Moxxly Flow Kit is available here for $79.99. It is a worthwhile investment for any mom on the go and definitely anyone who is exclusively pumping.

My current goal is to get Z to 6 months and I am more than halfway there!

Thanks for letting me share my experience with you guys. Please do contact me with any questions on the Moxxly Flow or pumping in general – I have done my homework and can now employ a consultancy fee (I kid, I kid.)

Until later,

Your favorite Mother Pumper

All The Best Things…

Following delivery, I could not sleep. Not that I didn’t want to. Believe me, it was all I wished for. However, for 24 hours afterwards I remained on the magnesium drip to continue to protect my brain. This required neurological checks performed by the nurses every hour. Just as were done with a check and I began to drift off, time rolled around for the next one. No sleep meant that I was forced to face my thoughts. Physically, I felt as if I had been run over by that runaway train I was involuntarily riding earlier. Emotionally, I fell into a dark hole. I had created so many fuzzy scenarios about giving birth in my head – how exciting it would be when my labor would start, how I would labor at home as much as possible before presenting to the hospital, how Vlad would coach me through pushing and how deliriously happy we would be when Zoya was finally out. All of that got ripped away within just a few days time. I could barely comprehend what had happened. To top it off, the NICU team called to say that Zoya developed a bleed in her lung and had to be placed on a ventilator until it (hopefully) resolved. I didn’t even have the capacity to adequately process the emotional blow of that news – I simply said OK and hung up the phone.

My faith in God had never been so tested. In that moment, I needed God’s consistent goodness, sovereignty and faithfulness to be more than just nice words Christians use in hard times. I needed them to be true. I clung on to my faith that God has a good plan to work even the worst of situations for our benefit and ultimately, His glory.

In the days after, the good plan began to be revealed. So many blessings poured out on us from all different directions. It was one of the most awe-inspiring, edifying moments in my faith walk. I want to share with you just some of the main outcomes that resulted due to Zoya’s early appearance in this world.

1) Learning to relinquish control

Thank goodness for technology, right? I spent a lot of time reading the Bible on my phone in order to find peace in the midst of the chaos. One of the verses that stuck out to be was Psalm 100:3 –

Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

For those that don’t know me, I am a major control freak and have struggled with surrender for a majority of life. This lovely character trait is especially pronounced in times of stress. It seems as if I would rather run myself into the ground trying to find solutions to situations in which not much can be done, rather than be still and patient, knowing God is in control where I am not. With Zoya’s birth, God kinda sorta forced my hand in letting go. Even if there was something I could have done, in the first few days postpartum I was physically and emotionally incapacitated. I had no choice but to trust that God is who he says He is. I reran Psalm 100:3 over and over in my mind. Great comfort was found in the knowledge that God takes ownership of His children. I imagined Him protectively holding me and Zoya by the hand as we walked down a scary path, keeping our steps steady, giving us what we needed to make it through.

In a time when I could have been panicked with fear, accepting that I am powerless while God is all I am not and resting in His promises brought peace I would have otherwise never had. It was a rough, but necessary, learning experience that has since impacted every aspect of my life.

2) A New Bond
Going on seven years of marriage at the time of Zoya’s arrival, I felt like Vlad and I had found a sweet spot in our relationship. We knew each other. We were a true team. With every passing year, we were learning how to love and serve one another on a daily basis. But let me tell you guys, I’ve never felt that my husband truly loved me as much as when he was helping a flabby, leaky and wobbly me shower four days after delivery. It was painful to stand for a long time and just as uncomfortable to have him see me in such a state. I wanted nothing more than to get out of the bathroom. Vlad broke down my insecurities with his unconditional love. He calmed my worried heart as I was recovering. During hospital stay, he woke up with me every 3 hours to help me pump and then would personally walk down my breastmilk to Zoya in the NICU. He was my cheerleader as I shuffled down the hospital hallway despite the c-section incision pain. I’ve never been so dependent on another human being in my adult life. It was scary and humbling and left me breathless every time I thought about it. The experience of becoming parents in such a tumultuous way strengthened our relationship with a bond that could not be created in any other way. Talk about growing pains.

3) Friends in New Places

Following Zoya’s birth, we had a waterfall of texts, calls, messages – you name it – coming to us from all communication platforms. Our friend group surrounded us with love and support in every possible way. We had people bring us coffee and all kinds of delicious treats, call and pray with us, clean our house. My friend, Rita, started a meal train so we wouldn’t have to worry about cooking. It was amazing to know that the friends I considered as close really were that as they served us over the next few months. The best surprise of it all, though, came in the form of people who I was not close with or had lost touch with over time reaching out to us in love. Many shared their own stories of preeclampsia or experiences with having a NICU baby. Many just said words of encouragement. The transparency of these individuals, who were all but strangers, was incredibly uplifting. A particularly sweet girlfriend who I had previously been close with but fell out of touch with, offered to come over after I was home from the hospital and just be with me. She did not seek to be entertained but was simply willing to keep me company as I did whatever mundane things I needed to do that day. Zoya was the catalyst that ended our season of distance and started us on a path to a deeper friendship than we had in the past.

4) Fresh Professional Perspective

I’m a nurse, and nursing is all about empathy. It’s a skill that is actually taught during our education through practicing therapeutic communication, active listening and the like. Of course, the best empathy comes from personal understanding of the patient experience. Up until Zoya, I had very little expertise in being sick. I had never broken a bone. I had never gone to the Emergency Room. My “big story” was getting IV fluids and Toradol (like an ibuprofen, but given intravenously) at an urgent care for a bad UTI. I tried my best to be empathetic and compassionate to my patients, but looking back, I probably failed miserably many times over. I don’t blame myself, because I simply didn’t know what being a patient was like.

Being in the hospital for 6 days left me in awe of how tough the patient life really is. From the vulnerability of wearing a hospital gown instead of regular clothes to the unpleasant taste of saline in my mouth during an IV flush (it’s a weird phenomenon, but so real) to how mind numbing it is to remain in the same room for days on end, I kept thinking to myself, “wow, so this is what it’s really like!”.

It was a deeply personal experience that created a fresh professional perspective. I knew it was going to make me less dismissive, more compassionate and ultimately a better nurse.

These wonderful byproducts of Zoya’s birth story are just some of the ways in which I have felt blessed in those subsequent days.

There is so much more. Every day I would survey my life and find even more good. It was all around me, seeping out of every crack of this situation. It would have been very easy to sink into a dark hole in those days. To be honest, some days I was on the very edge. Relinquishing my personal control and holding on to God’s promises were what pulled me up and out. I did not forget the anger or fear that I felt. Yet simultaneously, my eyes were trained on all the good things, and ultimately, on a good God.

Makeup Must-Haves

I love makeup. It’s so fun to play with and fun to wear. I’m one of those people that will start off telling herself to just put on some mascara, get a little carried away and end up with a dramatic smoky eye look for a trip to the grocery store. Pilgramages to Sephora and Ulta can easily take up several hours of my day as I oogle all the latest goodies to hit their shelves. Lately though, I don’t have much time for makeup. In fact, I’m lucky enough if I brush out my hair on any given day between exclusively pumping and doing all the mom things. Still, a little makeup makes me feel put together and more “me” during this bewildering stage called postpartum. I’ve been trying to consolidate my routine and find products that are easy and fast to apply without compromising quality or payoff. Additionally, I am always on the lookout for any item that has potential to make me look less sleep deprived and unkempt than currently am.

I’m excited to share with you my 12 current ride or dies. It’s rather a big number and I’d be lying if I said I applied them all daily…but in picking my favorites it was kind of like listing best friends; I felt wrong leaving anyone out. The price ranges are truly all over the board here. While I love indulging in fancy buys, nothing gets me going more than a drugstore brand product that packs a big punch. You’ll note that most of these are cream based. I used to be a straight up powder gal but recently have found that cream products are much friendlier to my dry skin and easier to apply. I can drop ’em in my purse and feel OK blending with my fingers for on the go touch ups. If you’re on the oily side, any good primer will still allow for cream based goodies to be your go-to.

All right, without any further a do…

1) Hangover Replenishing Primer $32

Kinda wish I knew about this when I was working nights in the emergency room; my makeup would flake and slide off my face at hour 8 of 12. This primer is made with coconut water to superbly hydrate and revive the appearance of skin. It honestly feels refreshing going on, not at all slimy like some other primers. Best of all, it helps my makeup look fresh even after a full day.

2) Missha Perfect Cover BB Cream $22

I found out about this sensational brand from a friend while visiting Russia, where the K beauty craze hit about a half year before it took over the U.S. After reading a gazillion positive reviews, I ordered and have not looked back since. This BB cream feels like a lightweight moisturizer while behaving like medium-full coverage foundation with the added benefit of a whopping 42 SPF. A word of advice: the light shade is very light, as my sister in law, Natasha, found found out after ordering hers. This is great news for a pale girl like me, but the rest of you should diligently peruse all the color options on the Missha site before buying.

3) Tarte Shape Tape Contour Concealer $27

This guy is the true heavyweight of full coverage concealers while remaining surprisingly (you guessed it!) moisturizing. Truly, moisture is the key to looking alive on a 4 hour sleep plus multiple caffeinated beverages day. Add in this concealer and you’re golden. Undereye bags or dark circles, redness, zits –  it will cover all with just a tiny dab, meaning your $27 investment will yield a promising return over a long time.

4) Fenty Beauty Match Stix $25

A game changer for when you need a quick contour because, let’s face it, a sculpted cheekbone makes us all feel fabulous. I have this in the cool shade of Amber but there are also warmer tones available, as well as a huge range of colors developed for concealing in addition to contouring. My favorite feature is that unlike the majority of cream or liquid bronzers out there, this product is entirely matte and will not leave you a hot glittery mess.

5) Algenist Reveal Concentrated Color Correcting Drops $38

This stuff is so cool! Formulated with good-for-you ingedients, these drops are designed to be mixed in with skincare or foundation to ensure an even, radiant complexion. My favorite use has been mixing it with a highlighter and stippling on my cheekbones and eye area for seriously awesome light-catching results.

6) Glossier Cloud Paint $18

One thing I’ve learned: whether I’m stressed from an upcoming meeting at work or a colicky babe and have five minutes for makeup – don’t skip the blush! A well placed dab on the apples of your cheeks can take me from sallow to lively in seconds. This one by Glossier has been my favorite for some time now due to the big time color payoff and excellent staying power. I’m also a total sucker for the cute packaging.

7) Smashbox Photo Op Undereye Brightener $20

I was recommended this by Smashbox rep who also found me an amazing red lipstick so I figured, why not? Many moons later, I reach for this on days when I don’t have time for a serious concealer job or just aren’t feeling it. It’s like a cup of coffee for my tired eyes. A quick swipe in my under eye area after applying BB cream and I look instantly perky. This tiny tube lasts forever and is only a fraction of the cost of another insanely popular under eye brightener.

8) Eyeko Me & My Shadow Waterproof Shadow Liner $12.50

As far as I’m concerned, eye shadow is completely optional on mornings when I have mere minutes to get ready. However, if I do need a little extra glam for the day, this shadow always comes to the rescue. The stick formulation with a handy dandy brush on the other end makes it a breeze to swipe on. This particular version is possibly being discontinued (sad face) on the Eyeko site; the flip side is that you can grab up the remaining colors at half price! The full range of shades are still available at many other retailers at the full price of $25 and can be found via Google.

9) NYX Tinted Brow Mascara $7.50

I have said time and time again, brows are the eyeliner of the face. I believe that nothing will define your eyes more than a strong brow. If there is one thing I will do before leaving the house, it’s to put my eyebrows on. In fact, I distinctly remember begging Vlad to remember to grab my brow product when he went home to get some of our things after I delivered Zoya. Brow mascara is the perfect alternative to the more time consuming pot and brush brow products .While some brow mascaras can be goopy, making application and a natural look difficult, I have found a faithful friend in this one. It does a great job of filling in gaps while delivering a “these are my natural amazing brows” look.

10) L’Oreal Lash Paradise Mascara Primer $9.99

No matter how little time I have, if I am going to apply mascara, I always do primer first. This is a practice I adopted while working those long 12 hour ER shifts. I found that primer was an excellent way of ensuring that I didn’t end the work day with a raccoon eye look. This one from L’Oreal (which is incidentally my most favorite drugstore brand) is a winner. My sparse lashes look fuller and longer. Plus, I can go about my day confident that my mascara is in the same place I put it that morning.

11) Benefit Roller Lash Mascara $25

This is my holy grail of mascaras. I’m sad to say that I have tried it and discovered its full glory only recently. Until then I bounced around from every drugstore and department store mascara you can think of, never finding one that was consistently excellent. Enter Roller Lash. Just as the Benefit site description claims, it gives me lift and length. Every. Time. For that kind of result, the $25 price tag is worth it.

12) L’Oreal Rouge Signature Matte Lip Color $11.99

Another L’Oreal goodie here. I actually received a set of these to review as part of an Influenster campaign, otherwise I probably would have never found these gems. Having a well-defined lip is important, especially because I have such a pale complexion, and I’m always on the hunt for great lip products. I have a love-hate relationship with matte lip color; while I love the refined look, I hate, hate, hate the cake-y, dry way they all inevitably make my lips feel. I am happy to report that L’Oreal may have solved the issue. These matte lip colors have the lightweight, watery feel of a stain which I absolutely love. They’re not runny either, making even the darker colors easy to apply on the first time. The product withstands hours of wear, including meals, and my lips feel pretty great. I count this as a win!

So there you have it – a list of my most favorite, grab if the house is on fire, beauty essentials. Feel free to message me with comments, questions, and also to share your must haves! Makeup is nothing without a great canvas, so look for my next beauty related post covering skincare!

A Love Letter

Dear Zoya,

One more week until I’m back at work.

Until you came along, finishing nursing school and conquering the emergency room had been the most difficult, yet satisfying accomplishment. Now, the stress of exams and learning how to behave in a code seems trivial in comparison to being entirely responsible for nourishing a human life.

We were blessed with the opportunity for me to take four months off work in a country where some women get no time at all. One month of that time was spent sitting by your isolette in the NICU as we eagerly awaited your homecoming. I watched you start your journey from a frail little bird with limbs the size of my fingers.

After you finally joined us home on December 7th, Vlad and I spent the rest of 2018 floating through our house in a sleepless haze common to new parents. Every feed felt like life or death as we learned to care for your needs – fortifying your breastmilk with extra calories, supplementing vitamins, making sure you remembered to breathe while eating – all the while praying for good growth.

It was tough to be cooped up in the house during a long winter, especially after Vlad went back to work. I was equally anxious about flu exposure as I was about just being out with an infant – what if you had a need I could not provide? Then, slowly, we began to brave the outside world together. I remember the elated text I sent Vlad the first time you and I went to Mariano’s. Grocery shopping went from a mundane task to a monumental accomplishment.

Now our time together is getting sweeter by the day. We have learned one another the way mothers and daughters do. I love our early mornings especially. Waking up is still as tough as ever but after the morning bottle, we lay together on the big bed and you give me the best smiles. You’re starting to take in the big world around you. I feel so privileged to shepherd you through it.

In a week I will trade in your soft snuggles for being party to the physical, and often spiritual, ailments of strangers. That is what nursing is, after all. It feels a bit odd to be leaving you. And I must admit, it feels guilty. That mom shame is so, so real.

I keep reminding myself that God made me your mother, but he also made me a nurse. He gave me the mind to pass all those exams, the skills to assess a critically ill patient and the words to comfort a loved one just as he gave me the intuition to know exactly what you need from one cry. Now, again with His help, I have to figure out how to balance the two.

Being a working mom is no walk in the park. Neither is the life of a stay at home mom a permanent vacation. Career choices aside, the pressure is on to make organic baby food, decorate a sparkling home on a penny budget, and to look “I woke up like this” perfect on Instagram. Women are in competition with one another to raise beautiful young prodigies all while looking and being fabulous themselves. Reality is, it currently takes me several days to fold one load of laundry. The amount of dry shampoo I’ve been using on a regular basis is slightly concerning.

I recently listened to a podcast interview of Hannah Anderson, the author of Humble Roots. In it she relates many of our life stresses to pride. She states, “pride is self-reliance and attempting to live beyond the limits that God has placed in our lives.” Baby girl, how badly I needed to hear that! For I am such a limited human being. I know, that try as I might to be a perfect mother, I will inevitably fail in some way. And I’m learning to be OK with that.

My hope is that as you’re growing, you see me as a mother that leans deeply into the grace of God. As you see me going to work, I hope you are inspired by seeing me using the gifts God gave me and consider your own. I pray that you are modeled what humility and forgiveness looks like as I learn what they mean and practice them in the context of motherhood. Instead of trying to be a perfect parent, I want to teach you that God is the most perfect Father any of us could ever have.

I am sure there will be days that I will want nothing to do with getting in the car and driving to work. I am certain there will be at least one instance where I cry because of missing you or not being able to witness a milestone firsthand. But there will also be priceless greetings, bed time stories and lazy Saturday mornings. Our time spent together will be all the more cherished.

We are entering into this new season at full speed. Change is hard, I must admit. But also necessary. We will be in a brand new place, and it will be different. Different is not bad, though, and we mustn’t be afraid. Our love will change too – it will only grow stronger.

We will figure out this new place in life together and find a way to make it even sweeter.

The end of the beginning.

Inducing labor felt like the road of no return. As the ob-gyn resident prepared to begin the process, whatever shreds of hope for miraculous recovery I was holding on to flickered out. The steps for induction were explained; they were less than savory.

Because I was so far away from my due date, my body had not yet started to efface and dilate in preparation for labor. I would have to start from zero. This meant that in addition to medications given for labor induction, pitocin and misoprostol, the doctor would also have to (drumroll here) manually dilate my cervix. A catheter with a balloon would be inflated inside of me as I received IV medication in order to kick start my labor. I was told that there would be a minute of “cramping pain” as the balloon was inflated and was offered dilaudid for relief. Dilaudid is a opioid pain medication that crosses the placenta and can have some effects on a fetus, although it is considered OK to give in certain situations where need outweighs risk. Knowing this, I figured I could handle a minute of discomfort. I didn’t want even a slight chance of Baby Girl being in worse shape than she already was at 8 weeks early.

Once again, the my expectations were off. The process proved to be a little more than uncomfortable before the resident even got around to inflating the balloon. I was trying hard to maintain my composure and relax but failing miserably. Once the resident began to inflate the balloon, I mentally counted sixty seconds to the finish line. The pain did pass and I let out a giant sigh of relief. To my disappointment, the resident said that she was unable to correctly place the balloon and we would need to start from the beginning. I told her to go ahead and try again, hoping to get it over with. The second time around the pain was worse. Tears sprang to my eyes as I was told placement was not achieved once again. On the third round, I am pretty certain I was cutting off the circulation to Vlad’s hand. I could not hold back from screaming out in pain. The resident’s best efforts failed once again, probably in large part to how tensed up I was.

I was done trying to be a hero. No one was going to give me a medal for going through this torture medication free. I consented to dilaudid. The dose I was set to get was one milligram. Morgan, the nurse, only managed to push half of that through my IV when suddenly it hit me. I felt as though I was levitating above the bed while simultaneously being submerged into a hot tub. The air around me felt thin as my eyes widened and rolled back.

“Oh my God!” I remember exclaiming, mouth gaping. I had never had pain medicine this strong before. My body was absolutely reeling. Everyone around me snickered at my reaction. I laughed too. The comic relief in that moment was so, so needed. The resident quickly went back to work. I could feel her hands but was relaxed to the point of not caring. With my discomfort relieved, the catheter was successfully placed with balloon inflated within a minute.

I relaxed in back in bed. Perhaps the worst was behind me. I don’t remember how much time passed by, but it felt as if only minutes. The pain of the induction was replaced by the pain of contractions. I had read that a lot of women start to labor with back pain that gradually moves down and anteriorly. I was mentally prepared prepared for contractions that would slowly build up in intensity, giving me time to get used to the discomfort. Probably because my labor was induced with several methods for sake of speeding up the process, my contraction experience was unlike anything I read about. They came suddenly and from somewhere down below. The pain felt as if someone had cranked the dial from zero to ten. Unlike the beginning stages of a naturally progressing labor in which there are breaks of as many as ten minutes between contractions, I was barely getting seconds of rest. The experience was so completely disorienting that I forgot all about relaxation techniques. All I could do was sit forward and moan, holding Vlad’s hand. It took me a while to realize that I was holding my breath through each one. I forced myself to breathe rhythmically during each new wave, but the relief I got was a drop in the bucket. The epidural was out of the question until I dilated to at least 3 centimeters and was considered in active labor.

After what I felt like an eternity, the nurse got an order for another half milligram of dilaudid. I did not hesitate this time. My strength was diminishing rapidly and I knew I would need it even more after delivery. With the second dose of dilaudid on board, I was elated to find out that I was allowed to order food from the clear liquids menu. Ravenous would have been an understated description of my state. Clear liquids consisted of chicken broth, two different types of jello and popsicles. I ordered all three. I am not kidding when I say that after almost an entire day of not eating, jello and popsicles tasted like a delicacy.

With my clear liquid meal behind me, I rested in bed with my eyes closed. Although sleep was so needed, my thoughts were running a million miles an hour. I ended up pretending to snooze while listening in to my mom and Vlad talk about me.

The time wore on, although I had completely lost track of it. The resident came to check my dilation progress and was happy to report that I had made it to five centimeters. The hard work of the pain was not lost. She took out the balloon catheter and suggested that the epidural would be a great idea before I progressed any further. I consented as it was always part of my labor plan but found myself simultaneously filled with dread. So much had gone wrong and now I irrationally feared that the epidural would be added to that list. Every freak story I read on the internet ran thought my head. What if the anesthesiologist botched the job and I would end up with permanent spinal cord damage?

Thankfully, this was the one part that I did not have to worry over. The anesthesiologist turned out to be reassuring, calm and an excellent practitioner. I locked eyes with Vlad, who was masked for sterility and sitting against the wall. The nurse gave me an intentional hug to steady me as I sat on the edge of the raised bed, feet dangling, back hunched and exposed. The worst part of the whole process was a tiny prick of a needle as the area around the site was being numbed. I did not feel the actual spinal needle whatsoever. My feet began feeling like quicksand within seconds of the medication introduced into my system. The nurse helped me back into bed.

At this point the resident also broke my water – yet another step towards no return in my mind. The nurse placed a Foley catheter to measure my urine output and ultimately, my waning kidney function (I was very thankful for not having to feel this part).

The culmination happened in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. We had been there since Sunday night. The crazy seemed to be winding down. At that point we were in a waiting game for full dilation so that I could deliver. Vlad and I tried our best to rest in the dimly lit labor room. My mom was still seated in the corner and fairly traumatized by everything she had witnessed her only child go through. All three of us were past the breaking point of exhaustion.

For some reason, the nurse would not leave me alone. Every time I would drift off to sleep, she would be adjusting my positioning in bed or the heartbeat monitor on my belly. I was so annoyed. Everyone had told me to try to rest and wait, yet I kept getting bothered every few minutes. I couldn’t even get comfortable because I was only allowed to lay on my left side, propped by pillows. I should have probably realized that any time I built up expectations they would be shattered but I was too tired to think. My mind was so overworked that I failed to clue in that the reason the nurse, and all her nurse friends, kept crowding me and “bothering” me, was because of Baby Girl’s heart rate. It kept falling off the monitor. After a minute of searching, it would be found again but lower than the previous reading. This kept happening over and over for several hours.

One of the lead attending physicians, along with a several wide eyed residents, interrupted our trance-like state. He said that because of the repeated drops in Baby Girl’s heart rate, it was no longer safe for me to progress in labor. The best course of action was now an urgent c-section. His words fell on me like an avalanche. All through the course of my pregnancy, I had always told Vlad that whatever happened, the absolute last thing I wanted was a c-section. Although I worked in the medical field, the idea of personally undergoing surgery always struck a fear cord. Now it was inevitable reality.

I was so caught off guard by this turn of events that I asked the doctors to step out of the room “so I could think about it”…as if I were going to come up with an alternate option. Vlad, my mom and I took a moment to pray. I tried to collect my thoughts. The prospect of c-section had an air of finality about it that was unsettling. My pregnancy was about to abruptly end two months early. The little girl being grown inside of me would be out in the world.

Within five minutes I was being wheeled out of the labor room and towards a surgical suite. My mom was shown to the waiting room while Vlad was led towards a place to change into sterile scrubs so that he could be by my side. I was acutely aware of how alone I felt with no loved ones beside me while the nurses were helping me from the bed onto the surgical table. Thankfully, Dr. H. was smiling down at me – she had left her home at 3am that Tuesday to make it in to perform my c-section even though the attending physician on duty was more than capable. Seeing her familiar face gave me a sliver of peace.

I had been in several c-sections during nursing school. I listened in to the conversations going on around me as I was prepped, trying to pretend I was once again a nurse and not the patient on the table. It was not working to relieve my anxiety. To add to my nerves, Vlad was nowhere to be found. The anesthesia team increased the dose of my epidural until I was completely paralyzed. The curtain blocking the surgical site from view went up and I heard a voice say,

“I’m prepping her belly.”

“Don’t worry, don’t worry, he’s coming!” The nurses said in response to my frantic repeated questioning of my husband’s whereabouts. This could not be happening without him.

I was told with the epidural I would not feel pain but perhaps some pressure. Perhaps it was my imagination, but I seemingly felt the scalpel glide across my abdomen. Just as the first incision was made, Vlad was allowed to join me at the head of the table. He locked his eyes with my tearful ones.

Dr. H. was excellent at peeking over the curtain and giving encouraging updates as she and her team worked. It was mind blowing to know that on the other side of the partition, the muscles of my abdomen had been cut away and my inner organs exposed. Very quickly, Vlad and I heard the words,

“Her uterus is exposed. Bring in the neonatology team.”

A whole team of specialists just for Baby Girl rushed in, bringing the total headcount in the room to about 15-20 people. The anesthesiologist, sitting by me opposite of Vlad, looked at me.

“They are about to take her out.” He said. “You will feel some pressure in your chest and it will be over.”

I held my breath as all my emotions were squeezing together. It happened exactly as the anesthesiologist had described. The pressure was there and just as suddenly it was gone. The time was 3:30 am.

There was a split second pause followed by a giant wail from our two pound thirteen ounce little human.

Hearing that cry opened a floodgate of relief unlike anything else. Vlad and I put our heads together, letting out a simultaneous sigh as we both broke into tears.

“Zoya!” I exclaimed. That was the first time we openly said her name in front of others, although we had been calling her by it for months.

The moments after that one are truly a blur. Vlad was allowed to cut the cord as the neonatal team evaluated her under the infant warmer. She was wrapped up in the classic white-blue-pink hospital baby blanket. One of the nurses put her head up to mine so I could kiss her forehead before she was taken to the NICU. Vlad followed her infant warmer out of the surgical room as Dr. H. was already working on repairing my incision. When I first got pregnant, Vlad and I somehow thought to have a conversation about what he should do if things went wrong and the baby needed to go to NICU. Together we decided that unless I was actively dying, he should leave me and go with the baby to make sure it is OK. Looking back, I am so glad we made that plan in advance and were not frantically deciding what to do in the moment. Vlad was able to see Zoya get settled in the NICU, sign consents for her treatment and meet her nurses before returning to me as I was getting stitched.

After my repair was complete, I was transferred back to a hospital bed. The team went above and beyond by wheeling that giant thing through the halls of the hospital to the NICU so that I could see where Zoya was for myself. She was laying under the warmer without a blanket and I could see her limbs, as thin as my fingers, for the first time. Her breaths, assisted by an oxygen mask, were fast and hard – she was working overtime at life. I wanted to be there for her in every way possible but also felt utterly exhausted and helpless and overwhelmed. I was brought into the recovery room on the high risk maternity floor where I would be for the next 5 days. Everything that had happened seemed like a bad dream. I knew I had a baby but she was not by me. I was a mother yet I was still supposed to have been pregnant another two months. Zoya had been an extension of me and suddenly I was empty. Nothing made sense. All of these feelings continued to be blunted by the magnesium drip that was still running into me and would continue for the next 24 hours.

I laid in the dark of the recovery room as she laid, one floor down, in the NICU. It was the end of the beginning. The light from our heart monitors cast a glow over our beds as we started out on life as mother and daughter.

Runaway Train

The hospital I belonged to was divided up into two parts – the main building and the Women’s Hospital. In order to get to Labor & Delivery late on a Sunday night, one had to park in the main garage and enter through the Emergency Room since the main lobby doors were locked. One then had to make a five minute walk down a seriously long hallway to another lobby set specifically for the Women’s Hospital. There was no way to park at the Women’s Hospital and walk directly in. I guess maybe they thought it was good for all those laboring women to get their steps in.

Once Vlad and I made it to the second lobby, large double doors ushured us in to the Labor and Delivery unit. Several staff greeted us from behind a giant desk. A clipboard with privacy forms appeared for me to read over. At this point I was more than ready to stop feeling the headache, still cracking at my temples. All I could think about was following the nurse who appeared from around the corner and was beckoning me into a room. I managed to scribble my signature at the bottom, pushing the clipboard at Vlad to finish filling out.

In the room, the nurse helped me change into an ever-fashionable hospital gown as I told her the story of my day. We joked about the grumpy cat socks I was sporting. I waddled to the bathroom for a urine sample. After that was taken care of, I settled into the hospital bed for a vitals check. The blood pressure cuff was inflating, cutting off the circulation in my left arm. The alarm was creeping up inside of me again. I tried to be nonchalant as I stared at the clock on the opposite side of the room from the monitor. Vlad finished with the paperwork and appeared beside me. I took a deep breath and kept looking at the clock. The cuff suddenly let go and a high pitched sound rang out from the monitor. It was too ugly to be good news. Still refusing to look back at the screen, I asked the nurse how high my pressure was.

“Let’s just re-do it on the other arm!” She said brightly. Obviously it was bad enough that it warranted a second try. I tried to tell myself that this was ok. Blood pressure can falsely elevate in tense situations and this was definitely one of them. The repeat measure would be more normal, I was certain. Again the cuff inflated, this time on my right, and again the ugly sound rang from the monitor. I could not bring myself to look. I knew if I looked I would not be able to remain calm.

“How bad is it?” I asked again with an anxious laugh. The nurse continued to smile but I could see the concern in her eyes. She said she would page the doctor. This was the kind of answer nurses used if things were not good but they were waiting for the person with MD behind their name to deliver the news. The nurse then began preparing to start an IV, which told me this was a serious enough situation that she could not wait for the doctor to evaluate me and actually place order for one. I pointed out a spot in my forearm where a juicy vein could typically be found. To me, it seemed like a no-brainer placement for anyone with a few weeks worth of experience. How very wrong I was. Try as she might, the nurse could not seem to find the vein. I’ve never been a huge fan of needles (ironic, isn’t it?) and the very large one the nurse was using to dig around in my arm caused me to be covered in a thin layer of cold sweat. Vlad tried to distract me by telling the nurse that I too, am a nurse. I’m sure this helped her feel totally pressure free. After a few minutes, she gave up on my forearm and moved on to my antecubital area (the crook of my arm). There, too, she struck out. She ended up having to call the unit IV whisperer, who finally placed a line in my left antecubital area. The whole time, I was glaring and rolling my eyes at Vlad out of frustration at what I thought to be the nurse’s incompetence. Later, I would find out my initial blood pressure readings were showing 220/110, which was much more than just a little concerning for anyone, much more so for a pregnant woman. Such a high pressure was causing my kidneys to stop functioning properly. As a result, I was retaining fluid, leading to massive swelling over my entire body. The swelling masked my veins as well as exerted pressure, squishing them down and making them impossible to find.

As the vein search wore on, the on-call physician for my ob-gyn group, Dr. T., stepped into the room. Her tone was calm but serious. She explained that based on my symptoms and blood pressure readings, what was happening could be pregnancy-induced hypertension or preeclampsia. If it was pregnancy induced hypertension and I would respond to treatment, it was possible that I could go home, be placed on bed rest and continue taking blood pressure medication until delivery at 34 weeks. If it was preeclampsia, then there would be no choice but to deliver me as soon as possible for fear of life-threatening complications. Confirmation of one versus the other would come by way of blood work, which was currently being run in some windowless, halogen lit lab somewhere in the hospital.

What was being said to me sunk in very slowly. As the nurse pounded me with medication to bring my blood pressure to a safe level, I was starting to realize that I was on a runaway train with no means of exit. Being totally devoid of control petrified me. Vlad was also stunned. We held hands, praying and clinging onto the hope for the best possible lab results. I tried my best to find a positive, lighthearted aspect of the situation. Two weeks of bed rest, endless books, shows and snacks being brought to my bedside wasn’t the worst possible outcome. In two weeks Baby Girl would be a whole 14 days closer to being ready to live in the outside world. Whatever it took in those days for her to get stronger, I would do. I could not bring myself to consider the alternative.

In the late hours of that Sunday night, I was thrust out of my hopeful existence into reality. The labs were back and they were bad. By bad, I mean so ridiculously horrible that some of the staff on duty that night had never seen values so out of normal range. I was so sick from the preeclampsia that my kidneys not just malfunctioning, but were about halfway to being entirely shut down. Dr. T explained all this to me standing at the foot of my bed. Although she was hoping for a different outcome, based on the severity of the findings, she and the rest of the medical team on the unit that night concluded that there was no time to lose. The only way to definitively stop the preeclampsia from progressing was for me to give birth.

The next events were like a horrifying, yet perfectly orchestrated game play carried out by a team of professionals who knew exactly what they were doing. The news of my imminent delivery came right during the nursing change of shift at 11 pm. My new nurse charged into the room with the confidence of someone who regularly managed other people’s crises for a living. Her name was Morgan, she had strawberry blonde curls tucked into a bouncy ponytail and she seemed around my age. She listened to the outgoing nurse’s report on my situation and plan of care as I cowered in bed next to the both of them.

“Right, this is what we are going to do.” She said. Word that I was also an RN had spread throughout the unit quickly. She spoke to me as an equal, as someone who was preparing to fight my battle right by my side. “Your blood pressure needs to get under control. We are going to give you meds for preeclampsia, steroids to help mature your baby’s lungs and then as soon as you are stable the doctor will start the induction process. I am going to be here with you every step of the way.”

I was and am still so thankful to God for having Morgan take care of me that night. She was like the relentlessly positive, capable and compassionate warrior Vlad and I needed in the room with us as the night spun on.

Treatment started with more medication to keep bringing my pressure down and an IV antibiotic for group B stretoccocus, which is routinely ruled out in all pregnancies at the 32 week ob-gyn visit. My 32 week visit was scheduled for that Tuesday but I would never make it. I was given the first of two steroid injections to speed up Baby Girl’s lung development in preparation for her entrance to the world. As if being poked by multiple needles for IVs and injections was not enough, I needed repeat blood work every 4 hours to keep checking on the status of my poor kidneys. Megan showed nursing excellence here as she advocated for the best phlebotomist in the hospital to come and stick me for blood since no one on the floor could find a good vein. An ultrasound machine was rolled into the room to check on how Baby Girl was doing as all this drama was unfolding. To our relief, none of the symptoms I was experiencing affected her in the least. Her heart rate was in perfect range and good movement was seen during the scan. She was head down, poised for optimal vaginal delivery. Women’s bodies are designed to protect a baby at all costs in pregnancy, a truth I was never more grateful for.

One more large puzzle piece in the treatment of preeclampsia that I needed to undergo: magnesium. As a result of an IV infusion of magnesium, the body’s nervous system is tricked into dilating blood vessels in the brain as well as relaxing skeletal muscles. It acts to prevent the likelihood of seizures and protect the mother’s and baby’s brains if one does occur. The unpleasant side effect that goes along with this life-saving treatment is the feeling of heat and tingling from within. I knew this as a fact because I had also regularly given it in the ER to relax the spasming lungs of patients suffering asthma attacks. The usual ER dose was 2 grams and just that caused perfectly rational patients to turn into anxious wrecks who would jump out of beds and pull IVs because they couldn’t handle the heat (literally). The dose that I was set to receive, said Megan, was 6 grams over 20 minutes followed by a continuous infusion of 2 grams per hour…indefinitely. I steeled myself for what was going to be a certainly unforgettable experience.

Megan, being ever experienced, came armed with a basin of cool water and towels in addition to the bag of IV magnesium. She started the drip at the prescribed rate. The first few minutes were not so bad. Slowly, I began to feel the sensation of burning. It crept and tingled from somewhere within, soon taking over my entire body. I felt like I was having a thousand hot flashes all rolling from one to the next and piling on top of each other. It was itchy and sweaty and really did make me want to jump out of bed. Under Megan’s direction, she and Vlad began soaking towels in water from the basin and placing them over my body in attempt to alleviate the sensation. We started a countdown to when the drip could be turned down and tried to carry conversation as a distraction mechanism. After 20 long minutes, the fire was over. I was able to breathe a sigh of relief as Megan changed the settings on the infusion pump to 2 grams per hour.

Shortly thereafter, I attempted to go to the bathroom. This seemingly simple ritual made me discover that magnesium does not only make you boil from the inside, but also causes your body to be weak and your mind foggy as a result of inciting all that relaxation. Add to that extreme exhaustion from stress and lack of sleep. I had the strength and wits of a newborn kitten. There were about ten different wires and tubes connected to me from all angles. I stared in a stupor as Megan whizzed around, untangling and organizing all my accessories in attempt to make me mobile. Walking was a whole other thing. I swayed like a drunk, dragging two IV poles, as I tried to make the ten feet from my bed to the bathroom. Megan had to help me through the entire process, speaking encouraging words as I clung on to her for dear life.

What seemed like an endless stream of professionals funneled through the room. Social workers, ob-gyns specializing in high risk pregnancies, the neonatology and pediatrics teams, a respiratory therapist, lactation consultants – it seemed as though the whole hospital was mobilized to ensure the best possible outcome to a frightening situation. Vlad and I contacted our family and close friends to brief them on what was going on. Vlad’s parents were in New York on vacation and my dad was in Russia taking care of family business. The only one actually close by was my mom, who immediately started driving to the hospital. The text message alerts on our phones went off every few minutes as people sent prayers and expressed their support. It was comforting to know that there was such a literal army standing behind us. Somehow it was also very overwhelming. Giving updates made the whole situation even more real. I was afraid to waste the precious energy I had left on explaining and reassuring worried loved ones. Even holding and looking at my phone seemed debilitating. The faces of all the hospital personnel introducing themselves was reduced to a blur. I mechanically thanked each one and repeatedly stated that no, I did not have any questions at this time. In reality, I was barely processing information to be able to think of anything to ask.

Dr. H., the ob-gyn who I had been seeing for my pregnancy (plus the past seven years) drove in to see me. She arrived all dressed up, straight from the bedside of her daughter-in-law, who had just given birth to the family’s first grandchild. I was shocked that Dr. H. had left her house in the middle of the night after such a pivotal day in order to see me. We had always had a very warm doctor-patient relationship but this act of care truly brought tears to my eyes.

“You were supposed to be my easy patient! What happened?” she asked.

I tried to picture what she was seeing. My body, swollen to the point of disfigurement. The multiple bags of IV medication hanging on either side of me. Megan glued permanently to my bedside. My mom, who had promptly arrived at the hospital and now sat in the corner with a decidedly terrified look. Vlad’s grim smile and my blank stare. All three of us were trying to process and failing miserably. I had made a total transition from taking care of patients to becoming one in less than 24 hours. A 32 week baby was about to make an appearance in the world and she was mine. My once healthy body slapped me in the face in an act of ugly betrayal. I felt like I should possibly be crying, or screaming from fear or indignation or the injustice of it all. I knew that I needed to pray. Yet I could not muster any words. All these thoughts and emotions were blunted. All I could do was lay back and hold Vlad’s hand. To me he was maintaining supernatural calm. In reality, he was also barely holding on. We were at the mercy of God’s grace. It was just the beginning of the most humbling experience of my life.

As Sunday night wore into Monday morning, the medications kicked in and my blood pressure began to look more like that of a healthy person. Megan paged the on call resident physician. It was time to induce labor and meet the tiny human still in the process of being knit within me.

32 Weeks

Seven months. 32 weeks. I won’t bother with trying to figure out how many days or minutes are in that time span. At 32 weeks a baby is taking its first practice breaths in the womb, its skin transforming from translucency to look like actual flesh. An ideal pregnancy has roughly 8 more weeks in its timeline during which babies get nice and fat in preparation for the work of outside life.

32 weeks is by no means an ideal point at which a baby enters the world, yet it happens to so many people. And it happened to me.

Let me preface this by saying that I had a textbook healthy pregnancy. Yes, the nausea and the heartburn were bad throughout, but that was to be expected. My blood work, vitals, and nonexistent medical history were all mundane in their normalcy. After the fact, I found out that preeclampsia is completely unavoidable. There is no special tea to drink, no extra amount of times to measure blood pressure to somehow catch and stop it in the act.

Once it starts, its like you’re on a runaway train and the only way to get off is to give birth.

A word on preeclampsia. No one really knows where it comes from (Herndon, 2018). It happens in about 5% of all pregnancies. The syndrome is characterized by high blood pressure and a high urine protein after week 20 of pregnancy. Ladies also get ridiculously swollen (but really, who isn’t swollen when they’re pregnant?), get vision changes and headaches. If left untreated, it can progress to eclampsia, which means all of the aforementioned symptoms plus seizures. Ultimately, it can result in long term organ damage as well as maternal and fetal death. It’s pretty bleak to think about.

I knew about preeclampsia from nursing school, of course. The symptoms to watch for were engrained in my brain long before I was ever actually pregnant. But as that particular individual with a nonexistent medical history and textbook pregnancy, I felt I had nothing to worry about.

The day before I realized I was on the runaway train was a great one. Vlad and I spent the morning putting the house in order. I remember bending down to pick a bag off the floor only to notice my ankles. Or should I say, where my ankles used to be. That area had gotten so swollen that it was as if my calf grew directly into my foot. I laughed about it and sent a photo to some friends. In the afternoon we finally made it out to Buy Buy Baby to make some returns and spend our store credit on baby necessities (a.k.a. pink pig ottoman). Vlad’s friend, Eugene, was in town from Colorado, and the three of us went to Mindy’s Hot Chocolate for an indulgent treat paired with excellent conversation. We ended up getting home around midnight and I fell directly into bed because I had a shift the next morning.

I awoke with back pain, which was a typical occurrence for me in those days. It was so common that I had a routine worked out that would pep me up before I started my shift at 11 – I would get in as hot a shower as I felt was appropriate for a pregnant woman, take two acetaminophen and sit on the couch eating my breakfast with a heating pad. It tended to work like a charm and that day was no exception. With the pain subsiding, I used the remainder of my morning free time to check my baby app. It was a fun little ritual that happened every Sunday as the weeks flew by. This Sunday I was 32 weeks and wanted to know everything going on with Baby Girl, who was supposedly the size of a squash. After a satisfactory scroll through the app, I squeezed into my non maternity scrub pants and made sure my work bag was packed before setting off for my 12 hour shift.

I felt delightfully peppy as I walked into the Emergency Room. It was November 4th. The weather outside was frosty, meaning a lot of patients would not venture out unless absolutely necessary, keeping the waiting room nice and empty. My favorite day shift charge nurse was working. I had been assigned to the fast track along with some of my bestie coworkers. The goal of fast track was to weed out the minor complaint patients so that the nurses and doctors working the main side for the day could focus on the critical cases. It was a nice mental break that my 32 week pregnant self did not mind at all.

The first four hours flew by uneventfully. Then, the backache came back with a vengeance. I stiffly walked around from room to room, a fake smile plastered on my face for the patients’ sake. The pain was a relentless, tight ache radiating from my waist to my shoulder blades. Additional acetaminophen was doing nothing for me. I toyed around with the idea of asking to go home early but brushed the thought aside. I needed to save my PTO for maternity leave and didn’t want my coworkers to think of me as less capable simply due to being pregnant. At the urging of my fast track teammates, I conceded to a 15 minute lie down in one of the patient rooms.

As I lay on the stiff ED cart, one hand on my belly, I remember wondering how much more it could stretch in the next 8 weeks. I remember hoping that this baby would come a few days early. I made a mental checklist of all the things I still needed to get done before she arrived – finish decorating the nursery, pre-wash all the clothes, pack a hospital bag.

Fifteen minutes and I felt like I hit a second wind. I came out with full resolve to finish out the mere 6 hours I had left in my shift. The department felt mine for the conquering.

That lasted only about an hour or so.

When it became clear that the pain was not backing down easy, I finally waved the white flag. If I felt better after laying down for 15 minutes, then clearly I needed to continue doing so…but in the comfort of my bed. I waddled over to the charge nurse desk and conceded my need to go home. Before I knew it, I was punching out on the time clock and heading towards my car in the parking lot.

On the drive home, I actually began to feel better. I called my mom and we had a nice chat about the goings on of the past few days. As I got off the highway on the exit towards home, I chided myself for wimping out on the rest of my shift. No matter, it was too late to turn back now. I was going to make the most out of my night off.

Vlad met me at the front door of the house. We had a nice long hug and I made a beeline upstairs to our room. There was nothing I wanted more than to put on my comfiest, softest pajamas and snuggle under the covers. Netflix and early bedtime were waiting.

I’m not certain exactly when the change in pain happened. Maybe it had steadily been building throughout the day and I wasn’t paying attention. Or perhaps it hit me like that runaway train. All I knew was that suddenly the pain had shifted from my back to my head.
When I say this was the absolute worst headache of my life, I am not exaggerating. It felt like someone was playing whack-a-mole in my temples. Tension headaches from stress were not unusual for me and I tried to tell myself this is all it was.

I tried my best to ignore the gnawing tension of an internal alarm telling me something about this was not right.

Vlad, in his sweet and supportive husband mode, brought me a bowl of cut up fruit and Tylenol. The headache was making me nauseous. I took a few bites of fruit and collapsed back onto a pillow, praying the Tylenol would work quickly. It wasn’t long until I was urgently walking to the bathroom as my body rejected the food I just ate. Throwing up at all times of the day from random meals was nothing new to me; I had gotten extremely good at knowing just how long I had from the time I felt the vomit coming to make my way to the nearest toilet in an orderly fashion. Typically, one such episode would make me feel instantly better and I could continue about my day. As I watched my stomach contents get flushed down the toilet bowl, I was elated in thinking the worst of my day was behind me.

Nothing got better. The headache seemed to be only worsening in its intensity. I threw up twice more. I could not think or speak coherently any more. Even laying in bed was getting difficult – there was no position of comfort. My internal alarm grew more intense. At some point I had the idea that Vlad, who was sitting helplessly beside me, should take my blood pressure. Since headaches were a sign of high pressure, the nurse in me reasoned, I needed to prove to myself that my pressure was normal. That would mean that this is just a silly headache and nothing to worry over. All we had to measure with was an old manual cuff I had left over from my nursing school days. Vlad had never taken a manual blood pressure before that moment. Talk about a high pressure first experience (pun intended). I tried my very best to walk him through how to use the cuff. He followed the directions as I laid there, tying to relax through the pain.

“It’s high. Like 190, I think.” He said as the cuff was deflating from around my arm. Cue internal alarm. If true, that was extremely high. Like getting close to having a stroke high. I brushed it off and told him that he was probably doing it wrong. Next, I had him hold the dial as I pumped up the cuff and listened in the stethoscope myself. My result was only slightly better – 160 systolic. Still I refused to believe what I was seeing. Obviously I couldn’t be trusted to take an accurate pressure in my current condition, I thought. Vlad was asking what should we do.

I imagined all of the pregnant patients with headaches I took care of in the ED. Usually, they got re-hydrated with a bag of IV saline and a cocktail of pregnancy safe medications for their pain. Within a few hours, they were feeling much better and on their way home. I so badly did not want to be one of those pregnant women who rush to the hospital over nothing and subsequently become the subject of eye-rolling discussion in the unit break room. On the other hand, the prospect of getting some kind of relief from this pain was very enticing. Vlad and I came to the consensus that we would call my doctor’s office and see what they had to say.

Within minutes I was talking to the ob-gyn on call for the practice I belonged to. I explained my symptoms without trying to sound as if I was actively dying over the phone. The response came without any hesitation – I should report to labor & delivery in the hospital as soon as possible for an evaluation. As soon as I got off the phone, Vlad and I jumped out of bed and got dressed. Ok, he jumped and got dressed. I barely rolled out and could not even think of wasting time putting on clothes. Now that I knew we were going to the hospital, I suddenly could not wait to get it over with. My super soft comfy pajamas (which were that way from years of washing and stretching) were very appropriate. I threw up a fourth time (one for the road) and tried not to dwell on the internal alarm, now loudly shrieking, inside me.

We drove silently, hand in hand, through the dark streets to the hospital. It was already dark and the roads were mostly empty. The chill of winter approaching was thick in the air.

“I guess I’m probably not going to show up to work tomorrow either.” I tried to joke as we turned into the hospital parking lot. My first day of being 32 weeks pregnant was coming to a close.