This is motherhood: A story of HELLP Syndrome + the NICU

We were so thrilled to get our baby home after four months in the NICU, but that was when the reality of everything that happened hit me.

This is motherhood: A story of HELLP Syndrome + the NICU

We had our first baby, Valley, in January of 2017—15 weeks early. I had been in the hospital for four days with extreme pain that we couldn't figure out until they finally discovered it was my liver failing due to HELLP Syndrome (H: hemolysis—breakdown of red blood cells, EL: elevated liver enzymes—liver function, LP: low platelets counts—platelets help the blood clot).

So, I had an emergency C-section at 25 weeks within five minutes of diagnosing me.

Then, we began our 4-month NICU stay where we watched our 1 lb 11 oz baby fight for her life. She was taken immediately after birth to be intubated and stabilized and we couldn't hold her until she was over two weeks old.

We watched for months while she endured transfusions, IVs all over her body, blood draws, eating almost entirely from a nasogastric tube, many days of fasting due to a bloated tummy, infections, ventilators, oxygen, and many other procedures… all on a tiny one pound body.

At first, I felt at peace knowing that everything would be alright. I think our calmness may have actually been shock, now looking back. I remember one day about three months into our NICU stay where our doctor said, "I think we can now say we are out of the woods" and I remember thinking… We just got out of the woods now?! I felt like my mind had only been processing the positive things.

We were so thrilled to get our baby home after four months in the NICU, but that was when the reality of everything that happened hit me.

The life or death stress—for me and my baby—was over, but the hard part was just beginning. I felt like I was finally experiencing all those emotions I felt like I should have experienced at the start of all of this. It felt what I imagine PTSD feels like. And I didn't think I could talk to anyone about it.

How do I explain these feelings after my beautiful, now healthy baby just got home? On top of that, my doctor had explained to me that women who develop HELLP Syndrome in their second trimester (like I did) have a higher chance of getting it with every pregnancy thereafter, versus if it had developed in the third trimester. I wasn't thinking about having a second baby yet, but I was already terrified of this happening again.

I didn't want to put my own mom through another night of not knowing if her own daughter would survive delivering a baby. I didn't want to wake up to anymore 3am phone calls from the NICU, thinking it might be "that call."

Valley was difficult when we brought her home. She wouldn't eat and she hardly slept. I think we had 50 doctor's appointments in a six-month span after she left the NICU—it was a lot.

I felt an internal struggle, too. I felt so much pressure to remain "optimistic." There wasn't a more grateful mom at that moment to be able to hold my baby in my arms. My heart aches for mothers who don't get that. But I felt like I never got even one second to grieve. Or struggle. But I needed to.

I started to become angry.

I forgot how blessed we had been. I got upset when I saw other people comforting moms with what I thought was "an easier problem" when I felt like I needed help. And then, one day, I thought again about those mothers who lost their babies. I may have had a baby at 25 weeks (which was so scary, of course), but what is even harder than that is losing a baby.

I thought if I was bitter about people with "easier" circumstances than me, imagine how a mom who lost a baby feels about me? I decided to make a conscious effort to try to change my thought process.

My incredible husband helped me understand that sometimes someone else's problems may seem easy to us, but that just might be the hardest thing they have had to endure so far. You can't compare. I wanted to help and love anyone struggling, and I needed a change of heart to do that.

My husband and I decided to do something about all of these feelings and all of our experience. We created an annual 5k race which we named, "The Littlest Valley 5k"—which marked the start of a healing process for me.

We donated the proceeds to a family in the NICU with a micro-preemie. We sobbed when we met the parents and discovered that their baby was the exact same weight, length, and gestation at birth as our daughter was. It was another reminder to me of the miracle our little girl is.

I am still learning every day how to process my experience, but I have been refined and taught (over and over) what true love is—all from my powerful, tiny miracle baby.

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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

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Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.


Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!


Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.


Wooden doll stroller

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Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.


Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.


Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.


Mini golf set

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Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.


Vintage scooter balance bike

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Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.


Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.


Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.


Wooden digital camera

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Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.


Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.


Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.


Baby forest fox ride-on

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Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.


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Time-saving formula tips our editors swear by

Less time making bottles, more time snuggling.

As a new parent, it can feel like feeding your baby is a full-time job—with a very demanding nightshift. Add in the additional steps it takes to prepare a bottle of formula and, well… we don't blame you if you're eager to save some time when you can. After all, that means more time for snuggling your baby or practicing your own well-deserved self-care.

Here's the upside: Many, many formula-feeding mamas before you have experienced the same thing, and they've developed some excellent tricks that can help you mix up a bottle in record time. Here are the best time-saving formula tips from editors here at Motherly.

1. Use room temperature water

The top suggestion that came up time and time again was to introduce bottles with room temperature water from the beginning. That way, you can make a bottle whenever you need it without worrying about warming up water—which is a total lifesaver when you have to make a bottle on the go or in the middle of the night.

2. Buy online to save shopping time

You'll need a lot of formula throughout the first year and beyond—so finding a brand like Comforts, which offers high-quality infant formula at lower prices, will help you save a substantial amount of money. Not to mention, you can order online or find the formula on shelves during your standard shopping trip—and that'll save you so much time and effort as well.

3. Pre-measure nighttime bottles

The middle of the night is the last time you'll want to spend precious minutes mixing up a bottle. Instead, our editors suggest measuring out the correct amount of powder formula into a bottle and putting the necessary portion of water on your bedside table. That way, all you have to do is roll over and combine the water and formula in the bottle before feeding your baby. Sounds so much better than hiking all the way to the kitchen and back at 3 am, right?

4. Divide serving sizes for outings

Before leaving the house with your baby, divvy up any portions of formula and water that you may need during your outing. Then, when your baby is hungry, just combine the pre-measured water and powder serving in the bottle. Our editors confirm this is much easier than trying to portion out the right amount of water or formula while riding in the car.

5. Memorize the mental math

Soon enough, you'll be able to prepare a bottle in your sleep. But, especially in the beginning or when increasing your baby's serving, the mental math can take a bit of time. If #mombrain makes it tough to commit the measurements to memory, write up a cheat sheet for yourself or anyone else who will prepare your baby's bottle.

6. Warm up chilled formula with water

If you're the savvy kind of mom who prepares and refrigerates bottles for the day in advance, you'll probably want to bring it up to room temperature before serving. Rather than purchase a bottle warmer, our editors say the old-fashioned method works incredibly well: Just plunge the sealed bottle in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes and—voila!—it's ready to serve.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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