My last post left off at the 3rd Trimester. In true Brielle fashion, even with the best plan in place, nothing went according to it. I’m convinced life has to be dramatic for me otherwise I will never learn or be as grateful as I am for what I have. Life doesn’t give us what we want. It gives us what we need. In my case it was a little boy named Gabriel Xavier Witek.
Chapter 1: The 3rdTrimester (that never happened)
I had the shortest pregnancy. Remember, I didn’t know I was pregnant for the first trimester, suffered tremendously during the second with gestational diabetes, a thyroid issue, endometriosis, preeclampsia, sciatica, feet that were swollen beyond belief (I won’t horrify you with those pictures), inability to walk 2 blocks without getting out of breath, cystic acne and weight gain on a 5-foot frame that was very painful. I guarantee Gabriel realized I was not the vessel he needed, took the necessary nutrients and decided he was going to take his chances and come early.
On June 31stmy mother and I visited my father at the nursing home. We were having a lovely Italian lunch and watching Ronaldo play (how does he always find his way into my life – haha). Keith and I joke now that it was him that caused my pre-mature labor.
I developed awful cramps and decided to just get back to Jersey City so I was at my home base.
Long story short, I wound up in the ER at Jersey City Medical, my water was ruptured, I was in labor and having the baby within 48 hours, took the epidermal like a champ (didn’t even feel it), they got my skyrocketing blood pressure under control and my son was born early (surprise) on July 1stat 12:46am. He was only 3lbs and 2.5 months early.
Looking back at everything that happened, it really feels like a dream. I don’t think Keith or I fully grasped what was happening. We were going through the motions not necessarily feeling the emotions because everything happened so quickly and there was a lot at stake. In the end, Gabriel proved to be the toughest guy I know and is thriving. He has shown me true courage and strength and for that I not only love, but have the deepest respect for the him. Here is our story:
Chapter 2: The NICU
I had no idea what a NICU was until Gabriel came into this world. The NICU [pronounced NICK-you] is a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Gabriel was high risk because he was so early. He lived in an incubator for almost 2.5 months. The NICU road is bumpy and, frankly, scary. Whether your baby is in critical condition or just needs to grow a bit more it’s a vulnerable time for parents. Gabriel had a ton of tubes, wires, needles – you name it, plugged into him.
Everything needed to be monitored to ensure he could breath and develop. We visited him every single day without fail and let me tell you, just sitting there watching him and praying for hours at end was exhausting. Knowing I had little control over the circumstances and could only watch and wait killed me emotionally. What I did to help me get through was compile a NICU survival tip check list for parents that find themselves in similar situations.
- Be a presence. Make yourself known. Introduce yourself to the doctors and nurses and even to the orderlies and desk attendants. Make sure they know which baby yours is. It’s human nature to feel more accountable if one is feeling accountable. You want the medical staff to know that your baby has actual parents who will want to keep up on the progress. The best decision we made was to have one of us there for the doctors’ rounds each morning so we could meet with the actual doctors and discuss how Gabriel was doing.
- Do not move into the NICU. Your baby is likely in an incubator, which presumably reminds him/her of exactly one place: the womb. The temperature in an incubator mimics that of the womb, and smaller babies are even given eye coverings. YOUR BABY WILL NOT KNOW IF YOU SLEEP AT HOME OR KEEP BEDSIDE VIGIL. So go to sleep in your own bed, whether during the day or at night and do not feel guilty. Trade off shifts with your spouse or go there together a few times a day. But make sure to ground yourself in your own house or room. Look at it this way, you are getting something few postpartum mothers get: time in your own home, your own shower, your own bed, and with someone else caring for your baby. Spending at least a few hours a day on your own turf will make you feel like yourself. I realize some mothers resist this because they don’t want their babies to bond with the nurses instead of them, but I looked at those nurses as his second mothers. They cared for him in ways I didn’t know how to and provided him the resources he needed to survive. They also patiently taught me how to change a diaper, feed… basic things that I wasn’t comfortable with on my own. I owe them so much and will be forever grateful to them.
- Your baby knows you. Your voice and smell are intimately familiar to your baby; he’ll know who you are.
- Accept offers of help. If friends and family offer to make dinner, say yes. I was surprised (and blessed) that many of my friends and family came to support us without us even asking. Their love and encouragement during a really uncertain and scary time will never be forgotten. Keith and I are the luckiest to have our framily.
- Familiarize yourself with your baby’s care and don’t be afraid to ask questions. I have no medical background at all and the array of monitors and medical terms can be confusing. If the nurse tells you that “his pulse is 96” and this sounds like a foreign language, stop the nurse and ask what this means. Clarity is key, and don’t be afraid to advocate for your child.
- Don’t be afraid of your baby. Many new mothers are afraid they’ll ‘break’ their little ones; this anxiety increases tenfold when your little one is tiny and/or hooked up to monitors. Be assured that the nurses would not let you handle your baby or leave the room if they didn’t think you could handle it. In fact, most NICUs encourage “kangaroo care,” which consists of putting your undressed baby on your bare chest for skin time. This is of great benefit to the baby, and again, you would not be given the opportunity to do this if the baby were not well enough.
- Take advantage of the education offered. At our NICU, the nurses were extremely focused on parent education. We learned how to feed, burp, change and bathe. We took Gabriel’s temperature and (sorry) learned what normal stools looked like. Everything. I’m very grateful for this; I even took some phone tutorial videos! There is a wealth of knowledge there. Embrace it.
- You will experience a post-NICU guilt: You’ll find yourself thinking things like, “Since I didn’t hold my baby much during the first 2.5 months of his life, I must now pick him up at every whimper.” Resist this. This might be enjoyable at first, but trust me: it becomes less and less enjoyable. Your baby is now home with you; anytime he needs something, you’ll be there. But if he needs to learn to sleep on his own or suck on a pacifier, now is the time for that too. Your baby is now able to have a normal home-life.
- Remember, we are human and worry so don’t freak out about the parent anxiety. It’s real, just remember and repeat after me: a team of doctors have unequivocally determined that your baby is ok enough to be home. You have discharge instructions, the internet, common sense, but above all, this unimaginable love that will get you through.
Chapter 3: The Shower
Our Combo 10-Year Wedding Anniversary and Baby Shower still happened even though Gabriel was already in the world. It was a beautiful day with family and friends – so much so that we forgot to take pictures. Thank goodness for friend’s cameras. The outpouring of love and generosity was overwhelming.
We were blessed to receive all our registry items and had a hell of a time trying to figure out where to put everything.
Another thing I learned from all this is to absolutely register, but there are certain items that are mission critical and others that are simply nice to have. Your baby will also determine what they like so don’t be disheartened if certain things are/aren’t working. Just from my experience here are my top 10 items that I cannot live without – all can be found on amazon.com
Chapter 4: Brielle’s Top 10 Life Saving Baby Items
- A travel stroller set (thanks Mom). We are fans of the Uppa Baby Vista. Many mom friends have validated, the reviews are terrific, my mom generously got it for us, and I have tested it every single day! I love it.
- The Merlin Sleep Suit (thanks Felicia and Karyn) and Halo Sleep Sacks. These have helped tremendously with sleep training.
- Fisher Price Rock and Play (thanks Tricia)
- Great Diaper Bag (find one you are comfortable with and that fits your style) with Insert Organzier (thanks Mel)
- Baby Nasal Aspirator NoseFrida the Snotsucker by Fridababy (thanks Karyn)
- Samsung Wisened SET-3053 WN Baby View Wi/Fi Remote Baby Monitor (thanks Felicia + Shendi)
- Skip Hop Baby Treetop Friends Active Gym/Playmat (thanks Lauren)
- Ergobaby 360 All Carry Positions Ergonomic Baby Carrier (thanks Shelley)
- Keekaroo Peanut (thanks Tricia)
- Munchkin Fresh Food Feeder (thanks Cristina)
- My Brest Friend Feeding Pillow (thanks Tricia)
*Listen to any recommendations from mothers and fathers you trust. They have experienced it firsthand. If it worked for them, it most likely will work for you! The timing of Gabriel’s birth was terrific because all my closest friends have kids/are having kids so we can relate and speak the baby language together. This support system was invaluable.
Chapter 5: GXW Comes Home
Gabriel started his life as a critical care patient and worked his way out of the NICU in a little over 2 months.
On Friday, August 24th he was discharged. By the way, he was early…again. Now my son, Rambo and I have ‘coming home anniversaries’. We ordered pizza that night to celebrate…typical of us.
On a side note to all of this, I was very lucky that work/my boss accommodated this unique situation. I was able to take my 6 weeks disability immediately after birth which allowed me to be with him in the NICU. I went back to work August month so I could be home when he was home and had my official maternity leave Sept. 1 – today, Nov 26th. It flew by but I realize how important and necessary this time is to bond with your newborn. While the tasks aren’t hard, they are tedious, tiring, all hours and sometimes so simple you feel like your brain is turning to jelly. Late nights, crying fits, insecurities of being a new parent, etc. There were definitely very low moments and some post partum depressive scenarios, but that is not what I’m focusing this post on.
Chapter 6: The Adventures
I am adamant about Gabriel being social. He wasn’t allowed visitors for the first 2 weeks home because of germs, but once he was cleared, we made it a point to do a daily ‘adventure’ whether it be grocery shopping, family/friend visits (which we had a ton of and it was so much fun for him to meet everyone), coffee talk time, shopping, lunch dates, errands… anything to get him out, give me practice on getting him out (all the gear!) and keeping us both sane.
There were many epic fails and survival mode moments. To start, the lack of sleep beats you up big time. I thought I could function with my over a decade training of partying, late night road crew moments, traveling around the world, etc. This was nothing compared to lack of sleep due to a newborn.
You are in pure zombie mode and becoming delirious is real. The cry-fests at 3am and then every 2-3 hours after causes insanity at times. But you just repeat, This too shall pass. Once you think it will never end, things change/get better and you move to a new ‘stage.’ Next up: teething, potty training, day care…
We were advised to do tummy time with him over the course of an hour each day to strengthen his back and neck muscles. What does Gabriel do? Stretches, does a superman for a hot second, and passes out. It was and is very hysterical.
We were able to get him to one Rutgers game to meet the crew. He had his own parking spot in our beloved purple lot tailgate and insisted we bring champagne to celebrate.
In the midst of all this maternity activity, we had to get our floors in the condo completely redone due to a flood. What a fiasco with a newborn. Thankfully I was able to stay with my mom who did an incredible job helping me with Gabriel and Rambo, and joining us on daily ‘adventure’ activities.
We also had to baby proof the condo. Thank goodness for professionals as they educated me on things I never would have thought of. We gated our precious bar area to keep it safe from the little man. Those are very valuable items and took years to accumulate.
There were some really priceless moments like when Rambo met his little brother. This picture melts my heart.
Rambo continues to be very protective watching over him during tummy time, and when he sleeps. He follows me around to make sure Gabriel is ok and takes strolls with us. He also snuggled Gabriel’s NICU blanket.
We enjoyed our first snowfall recently. Gabriel was exhausted when we got back home.
In the past month, Gabriel has gotten even more expressive. People have called me an emoji. I guess I passed that onto him. No poker face whatsoever. That prison looking picture in the upper left is me as a baby in Korea. I have a mini-me.
…and he’s vocal. I have convinced myself we are having conversations. Every morning we discuss what we are grateful for and the goals of the day. Yes I’m sure you must think I’m absurd but it’s part of our bonding moments.
Keith and Gabriel truly enjoy watching the morning news together. And college football.
Keith and I began a ‘date night’ tradition since we got married 10 years ago, and were determined to continue with Gabriel. It’s currently evolved into a new type of bottle service and we have to include him, but it’s been fun to have him join in good food, drinks and broadway show tunes.
His first Halloween was so much fun. We celebrated at the Jersey City Medical Center Annual NICU party for all the graduates. He went as Superman because he really is our little super hero.
On actual Halloween Day he had some costume changes. In tribute to my favorite band, Queen, and the movie that was released around the same time, he started the day as Freddie Mercy, and ended as Captain America. Rambo assumed the role of Super Pug.
We recently celebrated Thanksgiving. He visited my sister, Nicole, who passed away in 2011 this time of year.
There are always bittersweet memories associated with this holiday, but this year there was a lot of joy because it was not only Gabriel’s first, but we were able to celebrate with both families: The Caruso’s and The Witek’s. We all survived so I’d say it was a success!
With Christmas approaching, Gabriel had to visit Santa. We discovered the Express Line at Short Hills Mall (amen!). What did Gabriel do? Slept.Through.Everything. Some kids scream, some kids cry. Mine couldn’t be bothered.
Chapter 7: The Weight
Unfortunately I was unable to breast feed. Here’s a shot of my breastfeeding graveyard, which I donated to a dear friend.
I had all the gear and pumped for 6 weeks before throwing in the towel. My valiant effort resulted in 2 tear drops of fluid. So sad. Because of this, I also have not lost the baby weight as quickly as I hoped for. Breast feeding burns 800 calories a day. I, also, swear my fat cells have a mind of their own. This is how I feel.
Chapter 8: Divide and Conquer
I don’t know how people can parent alone. It’s a production, requires all your time and energy and quite honestly is an exhausting experience. I wouldn’t have had a child if I didn’t think Keith would be a responsible, helpful father but he turned out to be a super hero. Because of Gabriel’s early birth, I worked the month of August. Gabriel came home a week before my 2nd maternity leave. Keith stepped up and was Mr. Mom handling the changing, feeding, and newborn activity. Now that I am returning to work, he took the month of December off to watch Gabriel until day care begins in January. He’s proven to be an exceptional and doting father that wears Gabriel’s spit up like a little badge. Watching him interact and seeing how Gabriel is enamored by him melts my heart. All of this reiterates that I made the right decision choosing him to be my partner in crime. There have been bumps in the road but we remain a team and I cannot wait to raise this little nugget with the greatest man I know. (Love you Keith even though you aren’t even on social media and probably won’t read this.)
Chapter 9: What’s Next?
So today is the last day of my maternity leave. What a year. My son has taught me so many more crucial life lessons in the 6 months than I learned in my 37 years.
- Feeling good is finally feeling comfortable being ourselves in our messy, perfectly imperfect lives.
- Real luxuries are turning ordinary experiences into treats. A shower, a non-rushed meal, a full night’s sleep…
- Life happens and you can let it beat you down and break you, or you can heal yourself by refusing to belittle yourself and recognize how strong you actually are.
- Accept your quirks entirely and sincerely. They are solely your own and make you you.
- The old you might not be charming anymore. You have evolved and it’s ok. And maybe (gasp) embarking on an odyssey of moderation and simplicity is the next step.
- You will post pics of your kid on social media.
- Your kid is annoying and will drive you nuts, but maybe they have the potential to be a superstar?! See a resemblance?
- You are not perfect and will annoy your kid. I had to dress him up like the Where the Wild Things Are character.
- Never expect perfect circumstances. Use what’s at your disposal to keep moving forward. Take a tip from MacGyver and learn to make the best of the situation with the tools you’ve got. Especially the ones in your diaper bag!
- I had a misalignment of priorities and got stuck. Having a kid forces you to re-evaluate everything. It’s not about you anymore.
- We are good enough. We just need more practice at times. Instead of thinking ‘I have to be better’ change it to ‘I will do my absolute best today.’
It has been one hell of a journey and chapter of my (and Keith and Rambo’s) life. I am excited for this next installment: the work-life balance. I believe it’s possible to have a fulfilling career, marriage/partnership, friendship, family time, be a mom, maintain emotional and spiritual health, travel and still be a spitfire. This will be an ongoing challenge as life changes and you have to maneuver with it, but I hope to surrender to how dynamic life can be and embrace that no day is the same and we have the ability to just make the most of it.
I truly believe you only learn by actually experiencing something. I’ve often asked why has so much happened in my life? Maybe it’s to fully understand life circumstances, successes and tragedies first hand so I can be a better person for others. I know that is why I had and will have this experience with Gabriel. I feel blessed for the love and support I received during this journey. I simultaneously feel a little ashamed that I wasn’t always there for other moms. It was partially due to the fact that I was not equipped but I also didn’t understand the dynamics and challenges of motherhood. I am going to learn from this and not make certain assumptions or judgements. You never know what others are going through and should show compassion and support, and pay it forward when/if you can.
And I’ll end this with the adventures of being a parent are super scary and exciting. Every day is like a clue, not a conclusion. There are no black and white scenarios to this. It’s all gray territory where gnarly, messy, fabulous truths exist. If you keep your heart and mind open and your expectations reasonable, the outcome will be remarkable.
@Gabriel, I want you to live a life of originality, confidence and authenticity. You will always be legendary in my, Keith’s and Rambo’s eyes. I can’t wait for the rest of our life together. Thanks for helping me write this post.