What no one tells you about having preemie babies

This is what life is like after the casseroles stop coming.

What no one tells you about having preemie babies

My entrance into new motherhood brimmed with euphoria as I discovered parenting to be simplistically effortless. My daughter slept through the night and rarely cried. Her big eyes constantly searched for mine and her gurgling laugh filled the quiet house with its charming little ring.

Though born in mid-December, the days were remarkably sunny and warm. Snuggled up by the fire in soft sweaters with delicious coffee and her in my arms, the tranquility of life flowed like sheer happiness through my veins.

That tranquility was fleeting as pregnancy inadvertently embarked upon us a second time while my daughter was yet a newborn. This second pregnancy brought with it, identical twin boys. My body, still not recovered from incubating my daughter, rejected the further strain and my sons entered the world two and a half months before their expected arrival.

Suddenly I had three babies under 12 months old, two of whom were premature.

The twins spent several weeks in the hospital's NICU fighting the vicious cycle of progress then stagnation. Our lives became fixated on the achievement of the hospital's milestones for release; the 4.5-pound weight minimum, maintaining core temperature, weaning off the feeding tubes and completing five consecutive days without the need for breathing simulation.

We battled through infection, harrowing weight loss, a blood transfusion, lingering jaundice until at long last, the trauma of NICU life came to conclusion and the hospital sent us unprepared into the dark, cold December night. Or was it day? I can't remember. With prematurity, there was no day or night.

We couldn't comprehend at the time that life in the NICU was not the only hard part of prematurity or that those hospital milestones were the last developmental achievements we'd experience for quite a while.

Life at home became measuring milk intake down to the smallest milliliter, checking bowel movements daily for blood, hurriedly suctioning mucus from little noses and mouths when they became asphyxiated and fighting the impossible task of keeping our intrigued daughter away from our immunocompromised sons during a particularly lethal flu season. Our hands cracked and bled from the over-use of hand sanitizer.

The emotional weight of being solely responsible for these two fragile little lives felt crushing. Filled with physical therapy, blood tests, concerns over weight gain or lack thereof, time was a dark blur. There seemed to be no ages, no weeks, no months, just hours upon never-ending hours.

Hours filled with tears as they relentlessly cried. Neither could drink a bottle without choking, and both were in physical pain, screaming as much after eating as they did before. Reflux caused constant vomiting and the diarrhea was so severe that we stocked prescription antibiotic cream for their raw, sensitive butts. They cried from the pain of both.

Never finishing a bottle, they passed over critical calories. Anger consumed me, as those calories were my only sense of forward movement. After a particularly rough feed, I remember taking the unfinished bottle to the trash and just tossing in the whole thing, too frustrated to wash it.

There were times the fear would overwhelm me, and I would sob uncontrollably. The stack of medical bills reached over 8 inches high on the counter, each one another search for answers and another non-descript result.

Our loving pediatrician sent us to a feeding specialist, who sent us to a gastrointestinal doctor, who recommended a home health therapist, who suggested their problems could be neurological.

Meanwhile, days passed, and I'm sure the boys got older, but I can't say I noticed.

At night, I would lay in bed between rounds of endless caretaking and wonder if my sons would ever progress, would ever be normal. Was there some form of underlying neurological disorder waiting in the darkness to negate hope for improvement? And despite understanding their circumstances, I harbored a massive amount of guilt when each day passed, and their development continued to stagnate—layered with a secret shame at my anger and frustration with the incessant wailing from two sets of tiny lungs.

In this manner, hours faded into days and then into weeks—months passed in this sort of dense, dark fog, where my only life was trying to advance their lives.

Then somewhere standing on the other side of their first year, I raised my head and realized I could see, the fog had suddenly lifted. Sometime between their inability to roll and stammering sound of my son saying "baby" in response to a flashcard—they had grown.

I had grown.

We had grown.

The changes happened at such a slow pace I hadn't notice. Their stumbling little walks, their babbling of my name, none of it struck me until I held up that flashcard, just as I had every day for months, only that day my son looked at the picture of the baby and said "baby."

Hearing "mama" was never as beautiful as hearing that one little word. That word that told me we had survived, like coming out of a bunker after a storm and seeing clear skies.

Prematurity lingers beyond the NICU, beyond the texts from friends, beyond the supportive casserole deliveries. Prematurity takes away the life you had and leaves you changed—stronger, braver and ever so grateful.

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As much as I love fall, it always feels like the season when my family's routine gets kicked into overdrive. With our oldest in (homeschool) kindergarten, my youngest on the brink of entering her twos, work, housework and *all the things* filling my day, it's hard not to feel a little overwhelmed sometimes. Did I mention we're still in a pandemic? (Yeah, it's a lot.) And while I try to take a positive view as much as I can, now more than ever I definitely jump at the chance to take anything off my busy plate.

One thing first in line at the chopping block? Cooking. To be fair, I like cooking. I cooked most of our meals long before I had ever even heard of social distancing. But there's something about the pandemic that suddenly made cooking every single meal feel exponentially more draining.

Enter Daily Harvest. They deliver nourishing, delicious food right to your door. Daily Harvest's mix of smoothies, bowls, flatbreads, snacks and more provide a balanced, whole food options that are as satisfying as they are nutritious. But my favorite part? When we're ready to eat, I simply pull the food from the freezer and it's ready in minutes—without any chopping, measuring or searching for a recipe. Even better, they're incredibly tasty, meaning I'm not struggling to get my girls to dig in. Not cooking has never felt so good.

Here are my 8 favorite products that are helping to lighten my load right now:

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

One thing that actually helps break up the monotony of quarantine? Trying and introducing new ingredients to my family. I love this overnight oat bowl (add milk the night before and let it set in your fridge overnight—easy-peasy!) because not only does it not compromise on nutrition, but it also helps me bring new whole fruits, vegetables and superfoods to the table with ease.

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

I kid you not, these taste exactly like a mint chocolate chip milkshake. (Just ask my 4-year-old, who is constantly stealing sips from my glass.) What she doesn't know? She's actually getting organic banana, spinach and chlorella with every sip. #momwin

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Our family's eating habits have been leaning more plant-forward this year, which often means a lot of veggie washing, peeling and chopping every time I cook. That's why these flatbreads are my new best friend come lunchtime. This Kabocha + Sage Flatbread is made with a gluten-free cauliflower crust topped with kabocha squash, fennel and sage for a taste of fall in every bite. (Missing the cheese? You can add it before baking for more of a pizza feel.)

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

There's something about the combination of sweet potato crust topped with red cabbage, organic greens and an herby-cilantro sauce that is so delicious… like surprisingly delicious. I polished off this bad boy in seconds! And unlike other "veggie" crusts I've tried, these are actually clean (AKA no fillers, preservations, partially-hydrogenated oil or artificial anything). Plus, it couldn't be easier to throw in the oven between conference calls and homeschool lessons.

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Any time I get to serve a breakfast that tastes like chocolate, it's a good day. (That goes double when it's *my* breakfast.) This rich, chocolatey smoothie is packed with organic zucchini, avocado, pumpkin seeds and pea protein for a nourishing mix of healthy fats and muscle-building protein so I can carry that baby all day long. And did I mention the chocolate?

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Maybe it's just me, but after a long week of cooking, the last thing I want to do on Saturday morning is...wake up and cook. That's why these one-step breakfasts are saving my weekend. I simply add our favorite milk the night before and store the bowl in the fridge overnight. Come morning, I have a nutritious chia bowl that powers me through even the busiest day of errands. It's also Instagram-ready, which makes me feel like I'm out brunching (even if I can't remember the last time I was in a restaurant).

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

My kids have turned into snack monsters during quarantine, and I'm often struggling to find a wholesome option (that doesn't require a lot of extra cooking or else I resort to something ultra-refined and shelf-stable). These bites are the hero I never knew I needed. For one, they taste like cookie dough, but they're actually packed with chickpeas, pumpkin, dates and flax seed (among other whole ingredients). But unlike actual cookie dough, I don't have to go anywhere near my mixer to whip them up—all I have to do is pull the container out of the freezer, let them defrost a bit and we can all enjoy a treat.

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Sometimes I have a little more time to cook, but I still want a quick, stress-free solution. (Especially because it always feels like I just cleaned up from the last meal.) I love these Harvest Bowls because they warm up in under five minutes on the stove top (or microwave!) but pack tons of flavor. The Cauliflower Rice + Pesto bowl is one of my favorites, with basil, olive oil and nutritional yeast for a hearty dish reminiscent of a mouth-watering Italian meal. When I'm feeling extra fancy, I add leftover grilled chicken or a fried egg.

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Who doesn't want to end the day with a little something sweet? This creamy and decadent frozen treat from Daily Harvest is swirled with sweet berries and tropical dragonfruit for an antioxidant burst you'll feel good about—but that your kiddos will just think is ice cream. Go ahead, take credit for being the best mom ever.

Want to try it yourself? You can get $25 off your first box of Daily Harvest with code MOTHERLY.

This article was sponsored by Daily Harvest. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas

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There is rightfully a lot of emphasis on preparing for the arrival of a new baby. The clothes! The nursery furniture! The gear! But, the thing about a baby registry is, well, your kids will keep on growing. Before you know it, they'll have new needs—and you'll probably have to foot the bill for the products yourself.

Thankfully, you don't have to break the bank when shopping for toddler products. Here are our favorite high-quality, budget-friendly finds to help with everything from meal time to bath time for the toddler set.

Comforts Fruit Crisps Variety Pack

Comforts fruit snacks

If there is one thing to know about toddlers, it is this: They love snacks. Keeping a variety on hand is easy when the pack already comes that way! Plus, we sure do appreciate that freeze-dried fruit is a healthier alternative to fruit snacks.

Comforts Electrolyte Drink

Comforts electrolyte drink

Between running (or toddling!) around all day and potentially developing a pickier palate, many toddlers can use a bit of extra help with replenishing their electrolytes—especially after they've experienced a tummy bug. We suggest keeping an electrolyte drink on hand.

Comforts Training Pants

Comforts training pants

When the time comes to start potty training, it sure helps to have some training pants on hand. If they didn't make it to the potty in time, these can help them learn their body's cues.

Comforts Nite Pants

comforts nite pants

Even when your toddler gets the hang of using the toilet during the day, nighttime training typically takes several months longer than day-time training. In the meantime, nite pants will still help them feel like the growing, big kid they are.

Comforts Baby Lotion

comforts baby lotion

Running, jumping, playing in sand, splashing in water—the daily life of a toddler can definitely irritate their skin! Help put a protective barrier between their delicate skin and the things they come into contact with every day with nourishing lotion.

Another great tip? Shopping the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices—and follow along on social media to see product releases and news at @comfortsforbaby.

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

Our Partners

It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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