Sleepy Baby

Sleep. It’s so precious, especially so for new parents. I have shared tidbits about our journey to sleeping through the night with Zoya on social media and have gotten a lot of questions and requests for a post on methods used.

Before I begin to share, I want to preface with a few disclaimers:

I do not see myself as a baby sleep expert(although they are out there and they are fabulous!). The following is not so much a how-to on getting your baby to sleep well as it is a record of what Vlad and I did to reach that point in our family.

We did not follow any one particular sleep training method. Instead, we did a lot of research on all of them, as well as the science behind infant sleep, to come up with a strategy that made sense for us and one we were comfortable with. I think this really helped us stay unwavering on the path even when things got bumpy. After all, its really hard to follow through on anything you don’t understand or are having trouble reconciling in your head.

I give you a list of strategies, in no particular order, that we used that I believe were most paramount to our eventual success.

  • Build a bedtime routine & keep it consistent: Babies love this and widespread supporting evidence exists to back it up (BabyCenter, 2019). When we first brought Zoya home from the NICU, she had to eat every 4 hours around the clock no matter what – so we were waking her up constantly. As soon as we got the all clear from the pediatrician for her to feed on demand, we began implementing a bedtime routine and allowing her to sleep as long as she wanted (around 6 weeks, 38 weeks gestation adjusted for her premature age). The routine consisted of a final bedtime bottle, diaper change and a fresh pajama, and a song or book. The routine began paying off quickly – she realized that all of these steps, in their sequential order, meant bedtime and started sleeping at least 6 hours at a time. We were thrilled! Having sleep is a valuable commodity to us, so we constantly make sacrifices in order to keep things consistent – this means leaving parties early and scheduling other activities accordingly in order to make it home for bedtime. I see it as a classic “doing what’s best for your child” parenting moment; certainly difficult at times but ultimately very rewarding for all involved.
  • Create an association between the crib and sleep:Piggybacking off of bedtime routine creating a cue for sleep within a baby, I wanted Zoya’s crib to create the same effect. Although this was difficult in the newborn stage, I tried my best not to let her snooze in anything but actual designated sleep areas that were flat, hard surfaces: her crib, bassinet or pack n’ play. When she would fall asleep in a swing or my arms, I would quickly transfer her¹. Adding to this, I keep the crib as a sleep only zone – no toys, playing or hanging out allowed. I’ve definitely been tempted to use the crib as a playpen while I got things done but refusing to give in has yielded awesome results. When she’s in her crib, Zoya knows what needs to happen.
  • Learn & listen to sleep cues:Yawning, rubbing eyes, a suddenly cranky mood – all of these are signs that Zoya (and most other babies) is ready for sleep (Karp, H., 2019). We learned to watch out for those cues and respond to them quickly by ceasing activities and putting her down for a nap. Initially, we would try to stave off naps and bedtime with the thought process that if she would sleep less or stay up later during the day, she would sleep longer during the night. We quickly found out that this was not the case. If sleep cues went ignored, Zoya would get very frustrated, tearful and eventually, overtired. This made it actually harder to get her to go to sleep and stay that way! If you have done any baby sleep research, you have probably heard the phrase “sleep begets sleep”, coined by Dr. Mark Weissbluth (Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, 2015). As we progressed along our journey to quality sleep, Vlad and I both noticed that when we quickly responded to Zoya’s sleep cues, she would take longer & better naps. The better the daytime naps, the easier time we had with her during the day and at bedtime. Paying attention in an effort to not allow her to become overtired actually led us to the decision to move her bedtime up from 9:30pm to 8:30 to 7:30…until we finally hit the sweet spot of 6:30.
  • A calming environment before bed is gold:Zoya has major FOMO (aka Fear of Missing Out, for those unaware). She wants to see and do it all, no matter how tired she actually is. This desire to keep participating despite exhaustion also makes it very easy for caretakers to miss her sleep cues. We had to understand that just because Zoya keeps playfully interacting does not mean that she is not tired. It’s totally unfair then to expect her to shut herself down instantly when its time for bed. When we are out and about, leaving any area with a lot of activity and things to look at for a few minutes allows her to settle, leading to great stroller naps. During bedtime, we intentionally destimulate her and create a calming atmosphere. This involves stopping rambunctious games, singing and speaking in soft voices, blinds down and dim lighting while implementing the bedtime routine. If you have not done this previously, I would probably suggest to destimulate even earlier, up to half an hour prior to bed.
  • Ditch the sleep crutches:This was probably the most difficult aspect to our sleep journey, and the one that stood in the gap between Zoya and sleeping through the night. As explained by Dr. Shana Christian, my amazing pediatrician, a sleep crutch can be anything (or anyone!) the baby uses as a “step” to help them go to sleep. When they hit the light sleep stage of the sleep cycle and wake themselves up, they feel the need for the “step” of the crutch in order to fall back asleep. Habits start to really take hold at 6 months and up, at which point it becomes more and more difficult to wean from sleep aids. Thankfully, we were always pretty good about not letting Zoya spend a ton of time sleeping in our arms or in bed with us¹. After the bedtime routine, we would place her in the crib, sing the goodnight song and walk out. When she was really little, she would sometimes cry at this point so we would sit with her for a little, sometimes picking her up to soothe for a minute or so. Ultimately though, we would always make a point to exit while she was still awake so that she would learn to get herself to sleep on her own. This worked really well but there were still a few other sleep crutches we needed to get rid of. Namely, a tight swaddle, a paci and a nighttime bottle. If you want me to go into detail about the transition from a swaddle and saying goodbye to paci, I will be happy to do this in a subsequent post. However, since this one is already lengthy, I will just resort to saying it was done successfully. The bottle was the hardest to let go – in part because of all of Zoya’s crutches, this one was massive (plus we waited a bit long – 8 months) and in part because I was so used to ensuring her growth progress as a preemie with consistent eating. I consulted my friend, NICU nurse and certified infant sleep consultant Kate Arquilla (follow her @bumble.baby on Insta!), who calmed by anxieties by saying that as long as babies are over 12lbs and eating over 24oz per day, they are ready to go through the night without a bottle. We started by going in to her room for quick soothe sessions when she would cry for her bottle at around 3amevery night. This worked initially, but after a week she would only calm down while we were at her bedside and become absolutely hysterical upon our exit. I guess I expected to keep soothing her successfully until she realized she needed to sleep through the night, when in reality I was supposed to phase out the soothing and let her figure it out. When, after two weeks of no progress, we finally made the executive decision to let her cry it out, it took about two nights for her to grasp the concept of self-soothing and sleeping through the night. Here is where you find us today…

Zoya goes to sleep at 6:30pm; she knows her bedtime like its her mantra & will begin asking to be put down even if she’s been in an active and playful mood all evening. She will sleep until anywhere from 5:30 to 6:30am, at which point she wakes up and begins babbling in her room to get our attention. We wake up, change her and feed her a morning bottle. Most mornings she is not quite ready to wake up for real, so after she has breakfast she goes back to sleep until around 8:30am. This is phenomenal because it gives Vlad and I the chance to either sleep in a little, have a productive “adults only” morning or for our childcare provider to get settled in the house. Throughout the day, Zoya has two naps consistently; that sometimes gets adjusted to three depending on what’s going on – again, we watch and follow her sleep cues above holding to a rigorous schedule. In fact, there have been times that she has napped pretty much up until her bedtime. We were very skeptical about her going down successfully for a night during a day like that, but lo and behold – she does.

If I do have any advice that I can confidently give out as “advice” and not just a retelling of my story, it would be this – There are going to be times when things are really, really tough. I would be lying if I said I didn’t cry in bed at least a few times during the stage when we took away the bottle and Zoya was having a fit in her room.

Support during those times is everything. Whatever method you choose to follow, or if you blend techniques, arrive at a united front with your partner. Talk to people who care for baby when you are not around so they are also on the same page. Have people in your life who have been there to reach out to during the tough moments and to reassure you that you aren’t breaking your baby. Speak with your pediatrician or an infant sleep expert and let them be your personal guides. Armed with knowledge and support, be confident that you are teaching your baby, growing them, and ultimately setting them up for success.

Remember that every baby is unique. I understand that what worked for Zoya may not be the perfect formula for our next little (whenever they may arrive) or your current one. Allow for trial and error as you figure out what works in your particular situation.

Keep in mind that any good thing takes time. It took us pretty much eight months to get to our current situation. We didn’t institute all these routines and principles in a single night. In fact, we would usually only introduce one big change at a time, allow her to get used to it and slowly move into the next phase. We had no expectations on timeline. Zoya took two nights to figure out she didn’t need a paci to sleep but almost three weeks to be fully sleeping through the night without a feed. I always just prepared for the worst and hoped for the best.

Also expect setbacks. Sleep regression is real, just as travel, teething, or just simply rough days can throw make all your efforts seemingly go out the window. I assure you that your work is not wasted if you don’t let it be. Stay consistent and power through the hard nights.  The more consistent you will be despite circumstances,  the less confusing it will be for baby. You will arrive back at a good place faster than if you allow exceptions to the rules you set. I am telling you honestly that there are times even now when I am tempted to give Zoya a paci because it seems like the easy way out of a bad situation…but I resist because I know I will be setting her back in the long run. Vlad and I have resolved to have a “no going back” mentality.   

Having achieved Zoya sleeping through the night has been a dream pretty much since the day she was born. It’s hard to believe we have actually arrived. One challenge down, about a thousand more to go…am I right?

If you have any specific questions, as always, don’t hesitate to reach out via email, comments or Insta. I don’t know if I can find a solution, but I am always happy to lend an ear.

Footnote:

¹Per the safe sleep guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics, infants are to be put to sleep on their backs, on a flat, hard surface without any soft pillows, blankets or toys (2016). Incidentally, a lot of items and practices not supported by the AAP such as DockATots or cosleeping can actually be considered sleep crutches that you will eventually have to work on weaning. The only exception to this would be a paci, which when used appropriately, is shown to reduce Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. We noticed that following the AAP guidelines actually helped us develop Zoya’s healthy sleep habits with less bumps in the road.

References:

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2016). SIDS and other sleep related infant deaths: Updated 2016 recommendations for a safe infant sleep environment. Pediatrics: 138(5).

BabyCenter. (2019). The basics of baby schedules: Why, when and how to start a routine. https://www.babycenter.com/0_the-basics-of-baby-schedules-why-when-and-how-to-start-a-rou_3658352.bc

Karp, H. (2019). There’s a ‘golden moment’ for putting your baby to sleep. Happiest Baby: https://www.happiestbaby.com/blogs/baby/signs-your-baby-is-ready-for-sleep.

Mommy, the Nurse

A day on the calendar that got crossed off not too long ago marked the three month mark of my return to work. I even got a “Congrats on making it 90 days!” email from my the job I started once my maternity leave was over. The need to celebrate feels appropriate as this hasn’t been the easiest or smoothest transition.

Compared to other developed nations, the maternity leave standards in the United States are pretty barbaric. Just as I was settling into a good routine and starting to enjoy the mom life, I had to figure out how my career fit into the picture. I had a brand new, very promising, job opportunity that I was grateful for…but I was also nervous and a little guilty over the reality that I would be throwing my energy into an entity other than the home.

I lamented for many days over how women were forced to choose between their family and their career…and about how vicious the judgement is whether a woman stays home with the kids, or works full time, or tries to balance both. I hear it everywhere,
“She could have been something. At least now she has it easy at home.”
“She can’t possibly give her kids the kind of attention they need with that job.”

The lip pursing. The head shaking.

I will be the first to admit I’m guilty.

There is no perfect lifestyle that all mothers must aspire to. Yet we are consumed by a social media culture that tells us otherwise.

I’ve spoken with great, false, confidence about my life choices – all the while looking for affirmation from my peers. And when another’s were so very different, I could not help but feel threatened.

Sigh. It’s exhausting.

All of these thoughts were constantly spinning in my head as I trekked to and from work, pumped in treatment rooms, washed bottles and made new ones for the next day upon returning home when I just really wanted to collapse on the couch. In the beginning, I missed my old job a lot – not necessarily because it was so great, but because it was so familiar, like a second home. I also freaked out constantly over Things I Could Not Get Done (this has now become an official running list and therefore deserves the status of a proper noun). I worried over how Z was doing with my parents and got a little sad every time I came home too late to put her to bed. Everything around me seemed too, too new and unfamiliar.

I read a lot of articles and heard people tell me that the sense of mourning was normal during big life transitions. The sense of loss I felt over all that had passed and my slowness to warm to my new circumstances were not unique. Validation was sweet. It was nice to know I was not the only one with misgivings about the working-new-mom life chapter.

Yet there was so much more to this season. It really feels wrong to write it off as simply a transition period, to focus on only the sad parts. Or the parts in which I felt like a total, unglued mess. In all honesty, there were a lot of really, really wonderful parts.

Vlad and I am blessed with an amazing childcare arrangement with my parents, so much so that I never truly have to wonder if Z is OK. She’s better than OK with them.

My new job has led to an incredible expansion of my skillset as a nurse over the past months and has also allowed me to meet some phenomenal people. I am challenged with the work I do, look forward to my days there, all while simultaneously still working “normal” hours and not coming home totally wrung out as I did when I was with the Emergency Department.

I have been challenged by the lack of free time that is suddenly present in my life and am therefore learning to be very intentional with the hours I am given. Having Zoya has opened my eyes to how precious time is and how quickly it passes. I consider this a blessing because it is definitely possible to go through all of life and not have this realization until its very end.

There is a very fine line between acknowledging a season of mourning and wallowing in self-pity.

It is easy to move from being real to being real bitter.

I confess that I have enjoyed a good wallow on more than one occassion. Now I want to choose joy. I want to savor it all, even the not-so-sweet parts. I certainly want to find better ways to spend my time than playing endless comparison games or agonizing over my life choices.

This season has been a kind of non-stop merry go round but looking back at it via this post, I can confidently say that I’m not mad about it. Some days have left me entirely exhausted…but also in awe of the wonder that Z is, of the strong teamwork that Vlad and I have developed over the past months and how it has strengthened our marriage, and also of just how much I can handle when earnestly drawing on strength from the Lord. A poor attitude can contribute to exhaustion just as much as a busy day can, if not more, so I am learning to let go of the little stuff and take the crazy in stride.

So when people ask me how being a working mom is going, I’m going to be honest and say that it’s really freaking hard. And there are days I want to quit it all (not just the working part). But hard is not synonymous with bad, or wrong or remorse. Going back to work has been far from a regrettable choice. Assuming the title of both Mom and Registered Nurse simultaneously has been the catalyst to professional and personal growth that I would not have seen otherwise. I am very interested to see what is in store for the family as Zoya gets older and I establish myself with my current company.

As I am writing this, I am laughing out loud over picturing myself as the Disney cartoon Pocahontas in her canoe, having braved the rapids and waterfall, majestically waiting to see what’s around the river bend. Except in real life I am probably closer to Meeko the raccoon…dark circles around the eyes, constantly looking for snacks, and always getting into some sort of situation. Oh well.

More calendar days will get crossed off. I don’t know what’s next but I’m sort of eagerly anticipating whatever it is while also relishing the now. It’s a pretty sweet little spot.

Z and I enjoying a day off – in our jammies, of course.

Sarah Thompson

Dear friends,

When I initially began my blogging journey, my goal was to put the spotlight on women who inspire me, challenge me and are all around fabulous individuals. With pleasure, I share with you my very first interview of a dear friend and mentor – the wise, loving and glamorous Sarah Thompson. She took the time to sit down and share how Hope, her gorgeous and equally glamorous daughter, came to be part of the Thompson clan through the miracle that is adoption. Her story is an incredible testimony to how the love of God is reflected in a family unit.

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G: Hi Sarah! Thanks for taking the time for this sit down. To kick us off, tell us about yourself and your family.
S:
Heyyyyy! I am a stay at home mama and a pastor’s wife and a perpetual volunteer. I’ve been married to Jeffey for 17 years and we have three kids, Judah, 11, Elias, 8, and Paulina Hope who’s 5.

G: I know (through our past conversations) that your involvement with the organization Safe Families was instrumental to constructing your family unit into what it is today. Tell us more about what Safe Families is and does.
S:
Safe Families for Children is a compassionate movement to keep kids safe and families in tact. They are available in moments of crisis for families with a network of support and temporary hosting of children while their folks get back on their feet. They are a preventative service to keep kids from out of situations where abuse or neglect might occur and come in before foster care might be an option. It’s a super cool organization. We found it while we were in the process of adoption, hoping to care for kids in need while also getting to learn how to love a child from different genes with different backgrounds.

G: Talk to us about your story with Hope. How did she come into your life and what ultimately led you to the decision to adopt?
S:
I found out I have PCOS (Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome) when I was 16 and so had known for a long time that having biological children might be a challenge for me. We jumped through a 1000 hoops over the course of several years to get pregnant with Judah. I didn’t want to go through that again and we started our adoption journey.
Right when we had completed the process, I found out I was pregnant with Elias! You hear about stories like this from time to time, but it’s actually super rare! It was a huge surprise. And we had gotten really excited about adoption at this point and so decided to continue to pursue it for our third child. We chose domestic adoption, because there were so many kids right here that need homes! Our only stipulation was that we wanted to keep birth order, so to have Elias be a big brother too.
We were chosen by four different birth moms over the course of a year and they all chose to parent themselves. This was a hard year for us, though we were soooo glad and grateful that these birth moms were each able to come to that decision in a positive way. To keep our focus on the prize, we started hosting children through Safe Families!
We were blessed to keep four kids at different times over the course of the year, the shortest being for just a day and the longest being three months (which was the longest a child would stay in a host home through Safe Families). This was challenging in a completely different way and also a huge blessing. Our case worker at Safe Families knew we were waiting to adopt and so when there was a baby girl who’d been in the program whose mom had decided she wouldn’t be able to parent, she got in touch with us. Safe Families goal is always to keep families intact. They are not an adoption agency, but of course sometimes extenuating circumstances make it difficult or impossible for a family to continue to raise their child. This was one of those very rare occurrences.
We met with Paulina’s birth mom and hit it off right away and she chose us to parent Paulina! We found out about Paulina one day, met with her birth mom the next day and a day after that brought her home. It was a whirlwind after all the waiting! And after she’d been in our care for six months we were able to make Paulina Hope an official part of our family!

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Paulina’s 6 month photo, the first picture we ever saw of her.

G: How did you go about sharing your decision to adopt with Judah & Elias? With extended friends and family?
S:
Our family and friends had been in on our journey with us from the beginning, through our struggle with infertility and coming to the decision to adopt.

Life takes a lot of support, you know?

We needed a community around us for the ups and downs! We are so grateful for our families (church family included) and friends.
With the boys, we have always been open that God sends kids to families in different ways: sometimes through a mom’s tummy and sometimes through adoption, where, for whatever reason, a mom or dad can’t give the best care to their child and chooses to love them by putting them in the care of a family that can give them the care they need.

G: I’m sure its impossible to pick just one “best thing” about adoption – but share with us some of what you feel are the greatest parts of it for you and your family.
S:
Having Hopie (as we now refer to Paulina Hope)! She is a jewel, a precious, precious gift. She is a tangible expression of God’s grace and love for us. While we were so far off and so different from God, he chose to love us as his children. It’s a far smaller jump for us to love a child with different genes/background and we are completely humbled and honored to do it.

G: What would you say was the greatest challenge? How did you overcome that challenge?
S:
The waiting was hard. But that’s life for everyone, right? Whether we’re waiting to get pregnant or get a job or find a life partner or whatever: the process is the same. Rely on the Lord and trust his perfect timing and provision.

Sometimes God wants us to want him more than we want his provision. Sometimes we are not ready for the thing we are asking for and the wait brings us closer to it. But whatever it is, God’s ways are better than our own.

Secondly, we leaned on our friends and family. We were so blessed by the love and support of others. And we practiced what we wanted by serving with Safe Families.
I’d say there’s a lot of other challenges in adoption too, like learning to really love a child that in some ways is just completely different than you, or how to have a relationship with the birth family, or how to incorporate our child’s culture into our family… it is a lot. But we did our homework and researched and asked a lot of questions before we ever laid eyes on Hope.

G: Does Hope know her story? If yes, how did you tell her? If not yet, how are you planning to explain it to her?
S:
Yes! Most domestic adoptions are open adoptions, meaning we can know her birth family. We knew Hopie’s birth mom loved her so much and still desired a relationship with her, even though she couldn’t take care for her. Plus, it is generally seen as healthier for a child to grow up knowing and feeling like adoption is normal and just a part of their story. So we started telling Hopie her story before she ever understood the words. And we talk to “Mommy Shay” (as we refer to her birth mom) every week, on the phone/FaceTime or over text. Paulina Hope is blessed to have lots of family that loves her and wants the best for her!

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The day we adopted Hopie.

G: What is one thing that you wish people would know or understand more in regards to adoption?
S:
I wish people would stop saying “gave up” or “put up” their child for adoption. It isn’t giving up to choose adoption for your child. It’s choosing to love and to put the child’s life and needs first. And by using language like [“gave up”] we are perpetuating a stigma that it’s a bad thing or worst case or something to be ashamed of. It is not. It’s a beautiful thing.

G: Do you have a Biblically centered view on adoption/foster parenting that you could share? What encouragement can those that are hoping to enter into this role or are in it currently draw from Scripture and the Gospel?
S:
It was Matthew 19:14 where Jesus says “Let the children come to me” that first piqued my interest in adoption. God’s Word is living and active and never returns void. So here’s a bunch of scripture that helps to form my view of adoption:

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”– Romans 5:8

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”– Romans 5:10-11

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” – Galatians 4:4-7

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” – Ephesians 1:3-10

“But when Jesus saw it, he… said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. – Mark 10:14-16

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”– John 14:18

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”– James 1:27

Now for some fun questions…

G: Its summer in Chicago! YAY – finally! What are some fun activities that you and your family have done or are looking forward to?
S:
We LOVE being a city family and taking advantage of all Chicago has to offer. We go to the beach. We bike the Lake Shore path or the 606. We head to the Chicago Botanic Garden at an attempt of a more peaceful day. We hit up a lot of playgrounds/parks – Maggie Daley is awesome, but Oz Park and Welles Park are a couple of other favorites. We try to get museum passes from the library and go to at least one museum every summer. We usually hit up Lincoln Park Zoo a few times. We go to Lickety Split for the world’s greatest frozen custard and Miko’s for Italian Ice! And the Chicago Park district has a ton of really great affordable programs. I could for sure keep going. There’s a lot to do and see in this city!

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G: What is the funniest thing your kids have said to you this week?
S:
Hahaha! They say funny/gross stuff all the time! But out of the blue Hope said the other day, “Stop calling me Mr. Ham!” No one has ever called her Mr. Ham. We all died.

G: Describe your perfect way to unwind after a crazy day.
S:
Hit a yoga class, go home and have Jeffey already put the kids to bed and sit and read or watch a show with him and one of the stellar cocktails he makes. Then have sex and still make it to bed by 11pm. Lol goals

Final thoughts from Sarah:
It’s amazing to think about how I’ve seen God’s overarching faithfulness in my life. His provision and perfect timing has guided my every step and led me to be the woman I am today: mom, wife, follower of Jesus. Some times have been really hard! But God has ordered my steps and proved himself good again and again.

Got more questions about Safe Families or how to get involved?

Visit their site here!

The Sweet Six

“Oh my goooosh, can we see your little human? Both our kids are already big humans.”

Two ladies my mom’s age were slowly approaching me as I navigated Zoya’s stroller through TJ Maxx the other day.

The normal oohs, ahhhs and compliments followed suit.

“She is just so sweet! Aren’t you, honey? Aren’t you?”

And then,

“Enjoy her. Even through the tears. We remember – it’s the middle of the night and they’re crying and you’re crying too. But then it’s over real fast. So try to enjoy it too.”

Wow. That got real so fast.

I couldn’t help but marvel at how poignant and raw those words were. The fact that I was hearing them from two seriously seasoned mothers somehow made them even more sharp.

Zoya is now 6 months. Looking back, I am struck by how much truth is in those womens’ words.

There were definitely tears on my end, especially in the beginning. I had such a tough time adjusting to the lack of sleep aspect of motherhood. Nights that Vlad was gone due to work call were especially rough.

It was snowing, dark and cold. Zoya would sometimes take as long as 45 minutes to finish her 3 oz bottle. The fight to eat would then be often followed by an episode of major spit up. I would get her back to sleep and, teary-eyed, clean the rug or change out the sheets on our bed. Knowing I still had a 20 minute pump session ahead of me before I could go back to sleep. Wondering if such giant amounts of spit up meant something was wrong with Zoya. (Note: She simply grew out of it.)

In the thick of it, time seemed to be at a standstill.

Reality was, it passed by so fast.

I sleepwalked through the first three months of Zoya’s life. Then, one day, I woke up.

The tired blur of feeds, diaper changes, endless swaddling, re-swaddling, and guessing what was wrong that is the newborn stage really is just a blip in time.

It wasn’t all tears, though. I think three months in was when I really started to get the hang of it all and settle back into enjoyment. (Just in time to go back to work. Can we all agree that the U.S. needs to get with the times and create laws allowing longer maternity leave?)

I love coming into Zoya’s room in the morning – she always greets me with the biggest smile. She is also developing a serious affinity for music and it’s been so fun cultivating that in little ways. And there is so much more.

It’s hard to believe she is six months. Half a year shouldn’t be allowed to pass by this quickly.

As Vlad said recently, there is no growth without struggle.

Motherhood has been undoubtedly the largest and hardest undertaking of my whole life. And it has produced so much growth. I have had to lean on the Lord in ways I never knew before, learn to be a team with Vlad on a whole new level, and adjust to this baby centered pace of life.

From her birth, I have been confidently believing that God intentionally gave us Zoya, specifically, as a daughter and us to her as parents. It’s a giant privilege to be entrusted to show her the world and also to learn from her.

Six months.

What a sweet beginning.

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

Change. 
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.

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.

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.