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What I Learned about Motherhood in the NICU

In all my prenatal research, I failed to connect some of the dots about my twin pregnancy. I knew I would probably deliver early, but I didn’t consider the likelihood that my babies would have to stay in the NICU. Maybe it was optimism or pregnancy brain, but I thought we would just bring home 2 smaller-than-average, adorable little babies. Little did I know, we would have to wait six weeks for our little ones’ homecoming.

Having twins at my recently celebrated “advanced maternal age” classified me as high risk. So I required more frequent prenatal appointments and scans, and at 33 weeks, the ultrasound confirmed one of my doctor’s worries: Baby B’s growth had slowed and it showed that his placenta was tiring out. Suddenly, we were talking about delivering the next day and having our babies stay at the hospital until their full-term due date, which was seven weeks away!

Thankfully, with some monitoring, the right treatments and a lot of rest, we were able to postpone our scheduled C-section to 34 weeks. After the birth, we barely had the time to snap a few photos before our boys, Rhys and Owen, were taken to the neonatal intensive care unit. Four hours later, were we able to visit them for the very first time.

It was late, and the NICU was dark. Aside from hushed voices and the muted beeps of the million monitors and machines, the room was calm and quiet. We weren’t allowed to hold them yet, and part of me was actually relieved. They were so teeny and hooked on so many wires and tubes, I was honestly scared to touch them.

I was also instinctively filled with maternal worry, yet the physical separation made me feel strangely detached. After all, I was a few floors up from the NICU and had to work through the effects of the surgery by myself while my husband spent most of his time with them. I stayed in my room while my husband spent most of the first night with them, and every time I heard a STAT call to the NICU, I texted him in a panic.

By the next morning, they were already doing so well. Their breathing tubes were gone, and we could better see their sweet faces. To my surprise, the nurse told us we could hold them, and while it was amazing to finally do that, I had to fight the urge to put them back. I felt they would be safest in their little boxes and was afraid to disturb them because they had growing to do. That is, until our nurse told us that skin-to-skin contact would advance a preemie’s development – much more so than him resting on his own.

Three days later, we went home -- without our boys. It was heart wrenching. Though my husband was back at work and I was still recovering, we had to go back to the NICU every day. He’d go before and after work, and I would spend most of the day there, sitting in an uncomfortable chair holding one baby, often feeling guilty that I wasn’t holding the other too. So I would take turns and would often lose track of time, worrying that one of them got more snuggles than the other.

After just 10 days, the doctors told me that Rhys could go home! He was still so tiny, but he had grown and was eating and holding his temperature. I burst into tears -- it was much earlier than the seven weeks they had predicted, and though I was happy, I was also scared. Having all that support from the hospital staff was a major crutch: if I couldn’t get him to nurse or take his bottle after 30 minutes, the nurses knew how; if I couldn’t get the burp out, they always could; and how would I know if something was wrong without the monitors for his heart and lungs? At that point, all the beeping machines and quiet voices were very comforting.

Of course, Rhys’s homecoming turned out to be amazing. But the fact that Owen, our Baby B, was still in the hospital made this joyful moment bittersweet. Since we couldn’t bring Rhys to the NICU, we had to recruit the help of our family and friends and coordinate our NICU visits so that Owen wouldn’t be by himself for too long. One week later he too was ready to go home.

I think about our NICU doctors and nurses a lot. They were just so supportive and helpful -- it was comforting to know that our babies were in their care. Not only did they facilitate bonding to counteract the physical separation, they helped us with breastfeeding and diaper changes and even encouraged us to take breaks to take care of ourselves.

We didn’t just learn from the hospital staff, but also from other families who dealt with complicated situations too. A mom was on bedrest for months before delivering prematurely, while another one had to go back to work and could only visit her teeny tiny baby during lunch and on weekends. Some babies were born way too early, yet were beating the odds. We marveled at the strength of everyone we encountered in the NICU, and though we had our own trials and setbacks, we were grateful for the cards we were dealt.

When it was time to leave, saying goodbye to the staff turned out to be very difficult. We cried, a lot. Not just because we were relieved, but because we were going to miss the community that we had there. The NICU is not exactly an ideal place to be, but we ended up seeing it as an incredible gift: the gift of being able to bring 2 smaller-than-average, adorable babies at home.

Gillian O'Banion is mama to identical two year old twin boys and wife to Colin, an integrative physical therapist. After 15 years in Manhattan, she’s a recent transplant to the Westchester ‘burbs and is finding the balance between a previous life in wellness and lifestyle marketing and her current profession as a full-time toddler wrangler.

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Daycare for infants is expensive across the country, and California has one of the worst states for parents seeking care for a baby. Putting an infant in daycare in California costs $2,914 more than in-state tuition for four years of college, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Paying north of $1,000 for daycare each month is an incredible burden, especially on single-parent families. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines affordable childcare as costing no more than 10% of a family's income—by that definition, less than 29% of families in California can afford infant care. Some single parents spend half their income on day care. It is an incredible burden on working parents.

But that burden may soon get lighter. CBS Sacramento reports California may put between $25 and $35 million into child care programs to make day care more affordable for parents with kids under 3 years old.

Assembly Bill 452, introduced this week, could see $10 million dollars funneled into Early Head Start (which currently gets no money from the state but does get federal funding) and tens of millions more would be spent on childcare for kids under three.

The bill seeks to rectify a broken childcare system. Right now, only about 14% of eligible infants and toddlers are enrolled in subsidized programs in California, and in 2017, only 7% of eligible children younger than three years of age accessed Early Head Start.

An influx of between $25 to $35 million dollars could see more spaces open up for kids under three, as Bill 452, if passed, would see the creation of "grants to develop childcare facilities that serve children from birth to three years of age."

This piece of proposed legislation comes weeks after California's governor announced an ambitious plan for paid parental leave, and as another bill, AB 123, seeks to strengthen the state's pre-kindergarten program.

Right now, it is difficult for some working parents to make a life in California, but by investing in families, the state's lawmakers could change that and change California's future for the better.

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When a mama gets married, in most cases she wants her children to be part of her big day. Photographers are used to hearing bride-to-be moms request lots of pictures of their big day, but when wedding photographer Laura Schaefer of Fire and Gold Photography heard her client Dalton Mort planned to wear her 2-year-old daughter Ellora instead of a veil, she was thrilled.

A fellow mama who understands the benefits of baby-wearing, Schaefer was keen to capture the photos Mort requested. "When I asked Dalton about what some of her 'must get' shots would be for her wedding, she specifically asked for ones of her wearing Ellie, kneeling and praying in the church before the tabernacle," Schaefer tells Motherly.

She got those shots and so many more, and now Mort's toddler-wearing wedding day pics are going viral.

"Dalton wore Ellie down the aisle and nursed her to sleep during the readings," Schaefer wrote on her blog, explaining that Ellie then slept through the whole wedding mass.

"As a fellow mother of an active toddler, this is a HUGE win! Dalton told me after that she was SO grateful that Ellie slept the whole time because she was able to focus and really pray through the Mass," Schaefer explains.

Dalton was able to concentrate on her wedding day because she made her baby girl a part of it (and that obviously tired Ellie right out).

Ellie was part of the commitment and family Dalton if forging with her husband, Jimmy Joe. "There is no better behaved toddler than a sleeping toddler, and she was still involved, even though I ended up unwrapping her to nurse her. I held her in my arms while my husband and I said our vows. It was really special for us," Dalton told POPSUGAR.

This is a wedding trend we are totally here for!

Congrats to Dalton and Jimmy Joe (and to Ellie)! 🎉

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The internet is freaking out about how Peppa Pig is changing the way toddlers speak, but parents don't need to be too worried.

As Romper first reported, plenty of American parents have noticed that preschoolers are picking up a bit of a British accent thanks to Peppa. Romper's Janet Manley calls it "the Peppa effect," noting that her daughter started calling her "Mummy" after an in-flight Peppa marathon.

Plenty of other parents report sharing Manley's experience, but the British accent is not likely to stick, experts say.

Toronto-based speech and language pathologist Melissa James says this isn't a new thing—kids have always been testing out the accents they hear on TV and in the real world, long before Peppa oinked her way into our Netflix queues.

"Kids have this amazing ability to pick up language," James told Global News. "Their brains are ripe for the learning of language and it's a special window of opportunity that adults don't possess."

Global News reports that back in the day there were concerns about Dora The Explorer potentially teaching kids Spanish words before the kids had learned the English counterparts, and over in the U.K., parents have noticed British babies picking up American accents from TV, too.

But it's not a bad thing, James explains. When an American adult hears "Mummy" their brain translates it to "Mommy," but little kids don't yet make as concrete a connection. "When a child, two, three or four, is watching a show with a British accent and hears [words] for the first time, they are mapping out the speech and sound for that word in the British way."

So if your baby is oinking at you, calling you "Mummy" or testing out a new pronunciation of "toh-mah-toe," know that this is totally natural, and they're not going to end up with a life-long British pig accent.

As Dr, Susannah Levi, associate professor of communicative sciences and disorders at New York University, tells The Guardian, "it's really unlikely that they'd be acquiring an entire second dialect from just watching a TV show."

It sure is cute though.

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A barking cough echoed over the baby monitor at 5:00 am. My eyes hadn't even opened and in a hoarse morning voice I asked my husband, "You heard that too, right?" Maybe it wasn't as bad as I thought. But he agreed, and I groaned, knowing what my day—already planned to the hour—would now look like.

My husband is a teacher with a hefty commute and not always a lot of flexibility, so things like sick kids, vet appointments and oil changes usually fall to me. While I'm thankful for a job that essentially allows me to work anywhere—like car dealership waiting areas, my kitchen table or even waiting in line at the grocery store (thanks, email app!)—I still flinch at any disruption from my usual schedule.

I knew the barking baby seal probably meant Croup and because my older kiddo had also been battling a nasty cough and cold, I made plans to take both kids to the doctor. Four hours of meetings scheduled? No problem. I'd make the kids appointments, change my in-person meetings to conference calls, get the kids comfortable with some PBS and pillows and get on with my day working from home.

Two doctors appointments, a breathing treatment (due to unforeseen wheezing) and a trip to the pharmacy later, the girls and I were back home. I had 10 minutes to spare before a call with my manager. Barely breaking a sweat, I thought. Oh, the smug confidence.

I texted a quick update to my mom who'd asked how the girls were. Exasperated, my 3-year-old began pacing in circles in the kitchen. She might have been sick, but somehow her energy never faltered. She gestured with frustration— her palms up and little fingers spread wide, "It's not time for texting, Mommy. It's time for lunch!"

Some people have the type of kids who get colds and melt into the couch for days. They sleep more than usual, they're quieter and they are more than happy to zone out to a movie. I do not have such children.

But she was right. I apologized and sloppily slathered some peanut butter and honey on stale bread ends. Then added bread to the running grocery list.

Five minutes to spare.

As I served up a gourmet lunch, of PB&H and a juice box, I fumbled around to find the conference code when I heard the splat of baby barf hitting the floor (it's possible there is no worse sound.)

"Mommy! Ew! She barfed!"

I made a mental note to talk to the toddler about using the word, 'barf.'

My confident attitude about taking the day head on was now in a swift downward spiral. Sure, I could still join my meeting. I could half listen on mute and soothe the coughing baby with some gentle hip bouncing. But I'd likely have to answer a question and unmute myself, no doubt as the baby started crying again or the dog barked at a UPS truck.

I could make it happen and later face my oldest asking why I'm always on the phone or always texting and never playing. Basically, I could make it work, but not work well.

So, here's what I did.

I sent one final text to my manager that said, "Thought I could make today work but can't. Two sick kids. Need to reschedule."

I then breathed a huge sigh of relief for making one decision and not trying to squeeze in 50 things. I was able to refocus my attention to the little people who actually needed me. My manager sympathetically—and genuinely—responded, "Mom job comes first."

Because let's face it—my 3-year-old doesn't care that my inbox is full and my calendar is back-to-back. All she knows is this: When I'm home she wants to play.

And just because I can work anywhere, doesn't mean I should. I have to learn to stop "making it work." Some days it just doesn't work. I need the reminder to put the phone down. Close the laptop. Focus on what's in front of me. Find a way to shut off the part of my brain that's yelling and anxious about everything I need to do.

Sometimes I need to just s l o w d o w n.

My career isn't going to come to a screeching halt because I spent a few hours or even a few days with sick kids. But I'd like to think my kids will remember the times I spent snuggling and relaxing with them when they were sick. I'd rather they hold on to those memories than ones of me texting and scheduling and over-scheduling and trying to make ALL of it work.

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