Hannah in the hospital part 2

So after spending a week in the hospital treating Hannah for meningitis, even though she more than likely had a virus, we were informed that she had been having high blood pressure the entire time we were there. Initially they believed that it was because of being sick but once she was better and still having high stats, it was decided we should try to figure out what was going on. The final dose of antibiotics was given on a Wednesday afternoon and then we were scheduled to go home Friday as long as the illness didn’t reoccur but that night, Samantha came down with the stomach flu and because of the high probability of others in the house getting it and how dangerous it would be for Hannah at the time, they decided we should stay through the weekend and make sure everyone stayed healthy first (thankfully, they all did!). So Friday Hannah was scheduled for a round of ultrasounds to look at her heart, brain, kidneys and hips. One really reassuring thing about the medical system at the children’s hospital is that the doctors themselves do the ultrasounds so they can tell you right away what they see. Hannah was very relaxed and performed beautifully. She laid on the bed under the heating lamp and just slept most of the time. Her heart had a small hole, which is common in newborns and sometimes closes and sometimes is open the entire life but doesn’t cause any problems. Brain and chest scans were also good, as was the hip (this is routine here in Germany to ultrasound the hips to check for hip displaycia). The kidneys were the only place there could have been a problem but the measurement fell within the normal range but at the highest point. It appeared the artery leading to the kidneys was too narrow and could be causing the high blood pressure but since it was in the high end of the normal range, it wasn’t a definitive diagnosis. 

So the decision was made to treat her with medicine but because of the risk factors associated with the meds, she would have to stay under observation while she adjusted to it. The first 24 hours she had to be attached to her monitors for 2 hours after receiving the medicine and have her blood pressure monitored every 15 minutes for that time. After the first two days, we only had to monitor every hour to see if it went down. The medicine was given in a liquid form and mixed with some of the milk that I had pumped the previous week. She didn’t  like it very much but she tolerated it. At night, they would give it to her and she would just drink it down and sleep right through it. Since she had to have it every 8 hours, she received a dose in the middle of the night and two during the day. It took three times raising the dose before it finally had an impact on her stats and we could only raise it every 24-48 hours so by the time we got the right dose, we had been there another week.

By this point, I just didn’t think I could handle being in that hospital anymore. It really began to feel like a prison and like I was so separated from the rest of the world. I was desperately missing the other kids and was so bored at the hospital. I was so grateful to some of my good friends who took time out of their busy days to come visit me. We were very grateful that Julie, my mother in law, came to visit a week earlier than originally planned in order to help Ken at home with the kids and me with Hannah when we could finally come home. She came and stayed with Hannah at the hospital a couple of times so that I could go home for a few hours with the others. Thankfully, Hannah has taken just fine to the bottle and breast both so I could leave her for a few hours with no problems. 

Thursday of that week, the medicine finally started to make a difference for her and so we were told we needed to stay two more days to monitor whether it continued to work correctly and if it did, we would be able to go home. The day before, my week long roommate had gone home so I was ready to follow suit as that made me even more lonely not to have someone to talk to all the time. Saturday morning the whole team of doctors did rounds (only happens like once a week) and agreed to let us come home and give Hannah her medicine here. She would need to return to the hospital in a month to repeat the ultrasounds to see if we could get a more definitive diagnosis. That was one really frustrating thing for me about being here was the struggle to understand the language and the differences in medical systems. The lack of information given directly to the parent is hard to understand and it was like pulling teeth to find out anything but I eventually began to understand how it all worked and learned more medical vocab. That didn’t make it any easier to have to see my baby be poked for blood work and frequently on monitors but thankfully we were finally released. 

Ken came to help me pack everything up and be able to have a second set of ears hear our release instructions. We took a cab home together because we didn’t want to expose Hannah to too many virus’ on the bus ride home and it was much faster. We were happily bombarded by Samantha, Micah and Noah who had spent the morning helping Julie clean the apartment which was such a blessing. I had never felt better to come home and sleep in my own bed, sit on my own couch, shower in my own bathroom. Above all, we were so happy to be all together as a family again and that Hannah was healthy.

NICU stay- Part 1

All kids get sick- it’s just a simple fact of life and one of the challenges of parenting. It’s never easy to see your young ones not feeling well, especially when you are helpless to do anything to make them better. When Hannah was just over four weeks old, she became very sick. It happened so quickly too, which I am told is quite common in a baby so young. I had noticed that one day she seemed more tired than normal, that I was having to wake her up to eat after 3 hours, rather than her waking up on her own, but I assumed she was hitting a growth spurt and thus needed more sleep. Than very early the next morning she just started screaming as if she was in pain, like she had a stomach ache. She burped a few times and I thought that had been the problem because she fell back asleep. But after that, she started letting out short screams or whimpers every five to ten minutes and I knew something wasn’t right because normally she only cries occasionally in the evening unless she is hungry or needs to burp. When we all got up the next morning, I noticed she felt warm so I took her temperature and discovered she was definitely feverish which is always concerning in a newborn. The same morning, Noah broke out in a rash and in a couple spots the rash was different, looking like there was blood directly under the surface, so I was also concerned about him as I had never seen a rash look like that before. However, he appeared and acted perfectly healthy otherwise.

As soon as Samantha was gone for school and Ken took Micah to Kindergarten, I called the doctor to make an appointment to come. In Germany, you don’t actually have to have an appointment, you can just go during their open hours and be seen but with an appointment, you are frequently seen faster. Unfortunately, our pediatrician office was on vacation which meant I had to call another one who thankfully got me in that morning. They immediately weighed her, took her temp and put a urine collection bag on her. By this point I could feel how warm she was and she was crying the minute I would lay her down. When the doctor came in and examined her they informed me her fever was 101 and her urine was showing evidence of infection so he was sending us directly to the hospital because she was so small and infections can spread very quickly at her age. Noah’s rash didn’t concern him except for the spots that were darker red so he ordered blood tests for him to be done there too. So I packed them both back up and we headed by bus to the hospital.

When we were all checked in at the children’s hospital, they came and got Hannah to collect more urine while we waited for our turn with the doctor. That was one of the more stressful parts of the day because Noah was so active and didn’t want to sit down so I felt like I was chasing him around the waiting room for an hour. Since we hadn’t planned on going to the hospital, I only had some crackers and fruit for him to eat so that was also a challenge. When we finally went into our exam room, I was almost to the end of my patience level so I was very grateful there were some children’s books inside for look at with him and he sat well for that. After their exams they said Hannah didn’t have a bladder infection after all like we thought but obviously something was wrong with her since her fever was so high so there was no question that she would be staying at least over night. Two doctors came and looked at Noah’s rash and both felt like it was normal but they took a tiny vial of blood to make sure there was nothing more serious going on and thankfully there wasn’t. The doctors in the emergency room put her IV in which a little traumatic because with young babies they try to do it on their heads first so they have to swaddle wrap her really tight and then hold her down. Of course she screamed a lot and then after all that it still didn’t work so they ended up putting one in her arm. This would be just the first of many IVs they would have to put in as hers kept failing over the course of the next week. Just after they had her IV in, Ken arrived to come with us to her room and then take Noah home since all his tests came back clear. We were very lucky that there was an available spot in the NICU for me to stay overnight with her so that we could continue nursing as often as she would. I said goodbye to Ken and Noah at the entrance to the NICU and headed in for what would turn out to be a long stay in the hospital.

As soon as we came in, we were greeted by the same nurse who treated Hannah when she was in NICU after her birth. We said “It’s good to see you again but not under these circumstances” but it was reassuring for me to have her and the same doctor because I felt at least like I knew what to expect a little bit, just to have a familiar face. They both also knew German wasn’t my first language and so were very patient with me and then passed the info on to the next nurses before they began treating her. I managed to handle the entire time in German there, except for the a couple times the first few days when she was very ill and her doctor chose to speak with me in English to lessen the stress and make sure I understood everything.

Hannah was immediately examined by the doctors who noted that in addition to her high fever, her skin was very marble looking which is a common sign of serious illness in children, particularly infants. They confirmed that the blood test results were negative for infection which led them to believe she had some form of virus, maybe the same one that caused Noah’s rash. I wasn’t, and am still not, convinced that it was the same one because Noah never had any symptoms of illness- no fever, no crankiness, only the rash (which disappeared the next day). The problem with testing for viruses is there thousands of viruses out there and there was no way to have an idea which it might be nor would that really help as most viruses are not treatable, only the symptoms. But because of the possibility of infection she was immediately put on a round of two antibiotics that she would be on for a minimum of two days and up to a maximum of 14.

After her initial exam, I was allowed to nurse her and hold her but it turned out that would be the last time for a couple days that she would nurse as she continued to get more ill and was vomiting after feeding due to the high fever. As that first evening progressed, her condition deteriorated even more to where she was very lethargic, not as responsive, higher fever, she wouldn’t scream or cry just whimper, it was very scary to have my little baby looking around like she couldn’t see you there, as if she was looking through glass. Because she was deteriorating so rapidly, the nurses brought in a pediatrician from the intensive care unit to examine her again and there seemed to be some discussion between them of whether she should be moved over there but I think because I was staying overnight with her, they allowed her to stay. They ordered further tests as well as a spinal tap as they were beginning to suspect meningitis and if the test is done too late, the antibiotics might already have lowered the infection a little and they wouldn’t see it but it needs a stronger medicine to fully kill it which means without the stronger antibiotic, meningitis can reoccur. Thankfully I was asleep during that test because I don’t think I would have wanted to see that. Throughout that first night, the nurses checked her very regularly, her fever, respirations, etc. so she was well taken care of. She was also always on a heart monitor and O2 sensor. Interesting to learn that a baby’s heart rate goes way up when they have a fever so that was one of the ways they would watch her. As her heart rate climbed, they knew the fever was also increasing and would then come check her and give her more meds. For the next three or four days, her fever stayed around 103-104 for a majority of the time. Unfortunately the spinal tap didn’t work despite 5 attempts so they weren’t able to determine with any certainty if she had meningitis or not so they decided to treat her as such anyways as a precaution which meant they added another, more powerful antibiotic in addition to the other two she was taking. Basically for a week she was being given antibiotics through her IV almost continuously.

Despite the high levels of antibiotics, she didn’t get better very fast which further confirmed the possibility of a virus rather than infection but because they couldn’t be sure, we had to continue the medicines for seven days plus two days after to ensure she didn’t get sick again. That was a really hard week for all of us because Ken had to be home alone with the three other kids and I was with Hannah. There was no Internet available in the station we were at and food was not allowed in the rooms so I had to leave and walk to the cafeteria, eat and then come back. It was hard to leave every time because sometimes she wasn’t sleeping yet or I couldn’t be sure she would stay asleep and she didn’t like to be alone. The first few days, she pretty much slept all the time except to eat a little bit and have her diaper changed so it wasn’t such a hurry then. Usually I tried to read while I ate just to relax a little from the stress. Thankfully the hospital gave me vouchers for all my meals so I only had to spend a small amount of money every day on food- less than my portions at home cost. The walk to and from was good exercise, taking about 5 minutes at a good pace each way (it’s a huge hospital)  and I usually used that time to talk to Ken or the kids as I had really poor service in our room. I was so grateful for a few friends who came to visit us while we there and encouraged me; others came and stayed with the kids at home when Ken needed to do something else or so he could come to the hospital for a little while. Many joined together and planned meals for us so that Ken didn’t have to make dinner for them for about a week.

One good thing that came out of the illness and me staying with Hannah in the hospital is that it gave me uninterrupted time to be just with her. At home there was always something that needed to be done and the other kids to take care of and give attention to and since she was the youngest, she frequently was the first to be put down in order to help the older ones. Although she was already a month old, we didn’t have a very deep bond yet simply for lack of time and so I was grateful for the chance to focus only on her and develop a good relationship with her. We spent our days cuddling while I read, watched movies on the computer or played games. Because of the fever, she would vomit if she ate too much so I could only nurse her in small amounts on the third day after she had small bottles of my milk the first two days. I had to weigh her before and after each feeding so we would know how much she was taking from me and we could adjust her IV drip accordingly. Then I pretty much had to pump after every nursing to make sure I maintained a normal amount for when she was healthy again. Thankfully, the NICU has a really great pumping room that was right next to her room so I could pump but hear her if she needed me and they provided all the bottles and supplies I needed. They were very supportive of the nursing relationship, knowing how important it is and encouraging me to keep it up despite the challenges at the time while she was sick. By the fourth day, she was still fevering but not as much anymore so she began to nurse better and the nurses allowed me to feed her as much as she wanted. Shortly after that, we were able to reduce her IV to only be used for her antibiotics which was great because then we were free to walk the halls of the NICU together without having to lug around her IV machine. That was good for my mental health as I had a rather irritating roommate at the time.

The room we were in had two beds for babies and their moms. The first night there was another very nice mom and her newborn there but they were released the following afternoon. I had the room to myself with Hannah then for the next few days which was really nice because those were the most stressful when she was so sick and I was glad I could feel free to relax on my own with her. Then I had another mom come in who was very frustrating to share the space with. She was a teen mom whose baby was born premature due to her poor diet and smoking and was now not eating very well so they had to come to the hospital for monitoring. I couldn’t understand why she even chose to stay overnight with him though because he basically laid in his bed all day except when he was being fed and the mom was hardly ever there with him. She would be off with her boyfriend smoking or making out with him in the room. It was really uncomfortable and they were just so young and irresponsible it really irritated me because it was at this poor little baby’s expense. They also didn’t have much respect for me or consideration of the fact that I was there with my baby who was still fairly ill. Many nights her baby would be screaming to eat and she would just sleep through until the nurse would come get him and feed him. I was very grateful when they were released but concerned for the baby’s welfare as well. The same day I got another roommate and she was great. We were there together for an entire week and I really enjoyed my time with her. I’ll tell you more about her in the next post about Hannah’s second week and a half in the hospital.

Even after her fever broke from being so high, she had a fever around 100-101 for a few more days. Those were some of the most challenging taking care of her because she was so uncomfortable but they didn’t really want to give her Tylenol anymore since she had been having it so consistently for days before. So she pretty much fussed unless she was in my arms and didn’t sleep much on her own. She ended up being in my bed every night- something I never thought I would do on a regular basis but felt comfortable doing it because she was always on the monitors. The bed was tiny though so I didn’t sleep much those days. Thankfully, she finally was doing better though; her color was returning to normal, she had the strength to cry again and she was nursing normally. She had definitely turned a corner as far as the virus went but another problem had shown itself over our time there and the next weeks were spent trying to resolve her unexpected high blood pressure.

Hannah’s First Month

The addition of a child to the family is a major event, a joyous thing. We have been so pleased with how well Hannah has fit into our family and we are so glad God chose to bless us with her. It has been so much easier going from 3 to 4 kids than it was when we went from 1 to 2, and even a little easier than from 2 to 3 (Don’t worry- there DEFINITELY won’t be a 4 to 5 for us!); each child seems to just sort of slide into our daily routine, disturbing it a little, but not causing as major of a shift as when we had our first. Because our lives have a pretty consistent routine, it hasn’t been that different to have her here, other than that everything takes a little longer to accomplish than before. We’ve been blessed by wonderful help from friends, family and my midwife in the weeks following Hannah’s homecoming.

One of things that is so great about Germany is the amazing medical system that we have access to. In regards to pregnancy and birth, they work really hard to take excellent care of the moms and the newborns. My hospital care was great, followed by the wonderful home visits and help I received from my midwife. I had been a little confused about how you go about finding a midwife to take care of you at home, I thought the hospital arranged it for you, so it wasn’t until we got home on Friday that Ken started calling the list of available midwives to see if one was willing to take me on as a patient at the last minute. Thankfully, we found a wonderful woman who speaks perfect English as she is from Uganda (where English is the main language) but has lived in Germany for 30 years now. She came every day for a week after Hannah and I came home to check on my incision, how it was going with breastfeeding, and to weigh Hannah and keep an eye on her jaundice (all my kids had this). These visits were usually fairly short, 20 or 30 minutes only, but it gave me some security to have someone come and make sure we were healthy and who could help if we had any problems. She was also able to remove my stitches for me a few days after we got home so that I didn’t have to go back to the hospital for this to be done (they used mostly dissolvable stitches, except for one last row on the outside). After the first week, she came every few days to check on me and then one last time about 3 weeks after Hannah was born. She is still available to me to call should I have any problems with nursing in the first year, if I get mastitis, or if I have any other questions or concerns in relation to the birth or feeding Hannah. This at home-after birth care greatly improves the outlook for the mom because they keep a close watch on you rather than only seeing you weeks after the birth. She was able to diagnose in me that my uterus was not shrinking at an acceptable speed and treat me with a tea that caused cramps and helped it remove the remaining clots. Since I was able to know about this early enough, I could treat it naturally and not have to suffer unnecessary intervention later when I went to the doctor for my checkup. It truly was a blessing to have her and even more stress free that she spoke in English to me because after being in the hospital for almost a week and speaking only German, I just couldn’t think anymore! Ha Ha.

My mom came to visit when Hannah was two weeks old and we were so happy to have her here. The kids loved having the extra attention and it allowed Ken to go back to work for a few days before he had to leave for his annual conference in the States, in Chicago this year. By this point, I was doing really well already though. I had walked to and from Micah’s Kindergarten twice, gone to church on Sunday, and was helping with nearly all the household chores again but I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle all four kids alone all day when Ken was gone for five days so it was such a help to have her here. And I loved having her company and encouragement in those first weeks. Unfortunately, I was a little premature in my thinking of what I could handle and over did it one day. We took Micah to KG, went grocery shopping, did dishes, took the kids to the gym, gave all three showers when we got home and I cut Ken’s hair before bed. Even reading it all written now, I can’t believe I let myself do so much in one day but at the time, it didn’t seem so bad. But it caught up to me later that night when I realized I had pulled a muscle in my shoulder and down into my rib cage while cutting Ken’s hair. By the next morning, I couldn’t move without it hurting and by that afternoon, it hurt to breathe. I was so grateful to have my mom there to help because I really couldn’t do much after that for about three days when it finally calmed down. They were a pretty miserable three days though because it really hurt to breathe so I kept waking up at night gasping for breath and during the day it seemed no matter what position I was in, I was in pain. Finally I talked to my midwife just to ensure there was no concern of anything more serious because I had been at high risk for blood clots (I had to give myself shots at home for the first four weeks to prevent them) and I didn’t want to have one in my lungs or something and have that be causing the pain. She assured me that wasn’t the case and encouraged me to take IBprofen and rest as much as I could. Thankfully, the meds worked and then I was able to relax and it started to heal. By Sunday, it was nearly painless but I had learned my lesson by then and worked hard to take it easy and let my mom continue to take care of me.

Ken came home from his trip to Chicago around lunch time on Wednesday just in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with a group of our American friends here. Because of Hannah’s birth, we decided not to host it again like we did last year but another couple who are here for a year with their four boys graciously opened their apartment to us. Mom and I made apple and pumpkin pie together and I made green bean casserole- all from scratch- yummy! We had a great time with our friends and were happy to get to celebrate an American holiday here even though it’s never the same as at home with family. The next day was Ken’s birthday (he’s 30 now!) and I had bought him another addition to his Settlers of Catan game and so we spent the next few evenings learning how to play it. It is a fun way we like to spend time together.

Saturday morning really early my mom had to leave to go back to the States which was sad because she had only been able to stay for 12 days and we weren’t sure when we would see her again. That is one of the hardest things about living so far away, you never know when you will see your family again. At least when we were in the States, even though we didn’t live in the same city, we always had a rough guess of when we would see each other again and it usually wasn’t more than a few months in between. Here, it could easily be a year in between visits which is really hard. But she made it safely home and we survived the first few days of sadness. It was good that it was a weekend which meant Ken was at home with me so I wasn’t too upset and then Monday we started back into our normal routine, just our family, for the first time. I was amazed at how well it worked out, it wasn’t nearly as stressful as I expected it would be. That evening, my friend and I went to see the new Twilight movie at the local theater because it was the only day it would play in English. So nice to go out with her and I loved the movie! I am so glad I was able to have that stress relieving time because a couple of days later, we experienced one of the most stressful events our family has yet to encounter when Hannah became seriously ill. And that’s the next story . . .

Hannah Elaine

As many of you know, we added a new addition to our family about two months ago and I have been very neglectful in posting the story of Hannah’s birth. So as I sit here in the hospital with her again (I’ll get to that story later!) I am finally finding time to journal her coming.

As with all my other children, Hannah had to be born via C Section as the risk of uterine rupture for me was simply too great to attempt a natural birth. My pregnancy with her was very different than with the other three. I didn’t have gestational diabetes at all which was my biggest challenge with the others. I am pretty sure this was due to our diet here which is much more natural (more raw food and less prepackaged products) and our activity level. I had other struggles this time such as varicose veins, heart burn, and I fought a serious cold and sinus infection the last two weeks before she was born. Although I didn’t have gestational diabetes, there was still reason to believe Hannah would be born rather large and so the doctors scheduled her to be born at 38 weeks instead of waiting until 39 so that I didn’t go into labor on my own. I was pretty nervous about the birth because even though I done it three times before, this would be my first time in Germany so I didn’t know what to expect.

All scheduled C Sections take place on Monday morning so I had to check into the hospital Sunday evening. When I got there, they examined me and did an ultrasound to check on where Hannah was in my stomach and how big she was. I was worried they weren’t going to let me go ahead with the surgery because I was still so sick but thankfully I was given the green light. We were surprised to see that Hannah seemed smaller than expected but they planned to go ahead the next morning. I also had to get a shot to help prevent thrombosis , especially important for me since I had pretty severe varicose veins due to the pregnancy. I attempted to sleep but nerves kept me awake most of the night.

The morning of the C Section Ken was planning to take the other kids to a friend’s house and then come directly to the hospital since the surgery was scheduled to start at 8:30 in the morning. Of course, like always happens in that kind of situation, he was late but thankfully my surgery was delayed anyways for some reason. I found it interesting the lack of urgency the medical staff had. There was no hurry to put in my spinal block or get me situated on the operating table although with my other C Sections it always felt very stressful, like there was some kind of timetable or schedule to meet. Another major difference here was that the doctors that assist in the deliveries or perform surgery are not the ones who care for you throughout the pregnancy, they work separately, so I hadn’t met the doctors before that time. There were very thorough however in making sure they knew everything from my previous C Sections and medical conditions.

Despite all the great medical care I received, my surgery was quite horrible. The anestisiologist was very caring and worked very hard to keep me feeling well so I didn’t have to experience any nausea but the challenge ended up being much worse than that. From the beginning of the surgery, I could feel all they were doing, it didn’t hurt but I was aware of every cut, clamp, pull and tug. When they pulled her out of me, it felt like an elephant was standing on my chest and I couldn’t breathe but once she was out, it was such relief. She was beautiful and let out a nice loud cry and proceeded to scream for the next few minutes. When they had her wrapped and brought her over to me, I could immediately hear her struggling to breathe, like she was pushing hard to get the breath out and then back in. We were also shocked to see how tiny she was and that she was still covered in the milky white cream that protects their skin in utero. After about 10 minutes, when she was all cleaned up and weighed (2900 grams or about 6 pounds 6 ounces- 2 & 3 pounds lighter than the other kids!), they brought her back over to us for just another short minute and let us know they were taking her directly to the NICU because she was really struggling with her breathing. Ken went down with her for a short time before returning to me. Shortly after that time was when my surgery started to take a turn for the worse.

Although I had been able to feel what they were doing before, it hadn’t actually hurt but after about 45 minutes, I started to feel warmth returning to my feet as if my spinal was wearing off. I let the doctor know and so she asked them how much longer it would be, 30 minutes she was told. I thought, “Well I can probably handle it for 30 minutes.” She (the anestiologist) instructed me to let her know as soon as it started to hurt which it ended up doing within about 5 minutes. She offered me another medicine “It’ll make you high though,” she told me and started waiting for me response only to see something in my face that made her not wait and just gave it to me right away. I very quickly went into a sort of twilight state for the next hour and a half as the surgery ended up lasting much longer than expected and I had to be given the medicine another four times as it kept wearing off and I would start being in severe pain again. That was such a weird experience because I remember sort of coming around and thinking “What is going on? Why are they ripping me apart?” and then my thoughts would clear momentarily and I would remember Hannah had just been born and I hoped I wasn’t talking too crazy because Ken would laugh at me later. He really was my rock during that whole time as he sat next to me and rubbed my arm, which kept me grounded to where I was and what was going on, and he helped talk to the doctors and nurses for me when I couldn’t think to talk in German. I was so grateful for him and that it was over eventually.

In the recovery room, I was alone with my nurses most of the time because Ken had gone downstairs to be with Hannah again in the NICU. The pain medication quickly began wearing off and the next struggle began because due to the sort of twilight medicine I had during the C Section, I wasn’t allowed to have any more narcotic pain meds, only Tylenol. If you have ever had major surgery, you know that Tylenol isn’t enough to hardly ease the pain, let alone kill it. I spent the next 15 or 16 hours, begging, crying and moaning for more medicine just to give me a little relief. Finally at about 4 in the morning, my nurse finally believed me that I just couldn’t handle it anymore and got permission from the doctor to give me IBprofen. So funny to have to get PERMISSION for IBprofen and to have that be the medicine they gave me after being in so much pain for so long. Thankfully it did actually help deaden some of the pain from the uterus cramping and I was able to sleep for a couple hours.

Ken came back to me in my room for a little while but it was hard to be away from Hannah because she was really struggling to breathe and seemed to only calm when he had his hand on her stomach. They believed she possibly had an infection that was causing the rapid breathing and low oxygen levels and so she was immediately put on antibiotics to get whatever infection she had under control. She was also put into an incubator for about 18 hours to make sure she had access to enough oxygen. Because she was a newborn he couldn’t stay with her here overnight and we hadn’t reserved a room for both us in the maternity ward so he stayed with the kids overnight at one of our good friend’s home which is closer to the hospital and they had taken care of the kids all day and put them to bed at their house (it was like a big slumber party for the kids, they were more excited for that than for Hannah to be born!). We are so grateful for their help.

The next morning, my pain was more manageable and so the nurses got me out of bed and to the bathroom. Getting in and out of the bed was a lot harder here than in the States because the beds here are not automatic and don’t have bars on the side to grip when you sit up. Also I had a drain from my incision and so I had to have help from the nurses every time I wanted to go to the bathroom or move around in any way. I was pleased, although I had been in so much pain initially, how quickly I was healing and able to be up and about. That morning the kids came with Ken to visit and then we all went down together to see Hannah in the NICU as she wasn’t in the incubator anymore and had stabilized over the course of the night. They brought me down there in my bed and so I was able to sit with her and hold her for a couple hours and nurse her twice. I was so grateful she was doing better and that I was able to go visit her because up until that point, she hadn’t really felt like my child. Since she was taken away so quickly and I had only seen her for maybe a minute total and then I was in such pain, she seemed more dream than reality. The pictures of her Ken had showed me seemed more like looking on Facebook at a friends’ new baby rather than my own. While I held her, the nurses brought each of the other kids in one at a time while Ken waited with the others in the waiting room. Samantha kept saying how sweet she was, Micah just wanted to kiss her and Noah didn’t know what to think. It was good they got to see her so she could become more a reality for them as well because it’s really hard for kids to understand the concept when the baby is still inside.

Over the next couple days, my pain continued to improve. I had a few problems with trapped air in my stomach as a result of the surgery but by later Wednesday it was much better. Wednesday morning I visited Hannah again in the NICU and by that afternoon she was released from there to come stay with me in my room. We were so grateful that she got healthy again so fast and could be with me all the time. It was such a different experience too because I was alone there with her without Ken, who had been with me the whole time at the hospital after the other kids were born. She was, and still is, a good sleeper from the beginning and so it was a very relaxing time there together to heal. But by Friday morning I was ready to go back home, bored at the hospital and missing my kids and my own bed. My generous doctor agreed to release us, although usually they would have me stay another day or two, if I promised not to overdo it when we got home- easy to do when you have three other small children. I agreed and after a fairly extensive pre-release checkup for me and Hannah, involving an ultrasound on her hips, jaundice check, full pelvic exam and ultrasound for me, we were allowed to leave. My gracious German friend and her boyfriend came and brought us home as they have a car which saved us the taxi fare. We have been so blessed to have such good friends here.

One of my biggest fears about coming home after such a big surgery, was climbing the three flights of stairs to get to our apartment. I wasn’t sure I would be able to manage them all at once so my wonderful husband came down the stairs with a chair for me to sit on at each level should I need to. Amazingly, I was able to manage it all at once and go directly into the apartment. Of course we were swarmed with attention from the other kids who were so excited, as was I, that we were finally home.

Although her arrival was a little stressful and anxiety inducing, we are so grateful for our little Hannah Elaine, named for Hannah in the Bible, the mother of Samuel, meaning “God is gracious” and after her great grandmother Elaine, who has meant so much to us and always been there for our family in  prayer and support. We are so grateful that although we didn’t plan for her to join our family, God had a better plan and gave her to us anyways.

Parenting Struggles

This post is definitely not going to highlight any proud moments for me as a mom but I do find it important to document and remember the trials we go through so I can better appreciate the good times and be encouraged in the future when we encounter the same struggles again with the next child. These past few months have been nearly a daily struggle with my boys, particularly Micah. Micah is usually a very sweet, loving, cuddly child but has recently become defiant, angry and sometimes violent. Now I know that this is a pretty common stage for boys his age to go through, but it is just so far from his usual personality that the difference has been striking. The other major trial has been his regression in potty training. And this really threw me for a loop because he had been fully toilet trained for about a year and a half. Now all the sudden, he was going in his underwear nearly 5-6 times a day, sometimes an entire bladder full worth.

I knew how (mostly) to deal with the behavioral and disobedience issues but I really had no idea what to do about the peeing in his pants. I was so confused and had no idea why he would suddenly choose to do that. As we looked on the Internet about why some preschoolers would regress in toilet training, even after such a long period of success, we came to understand that for some unknown reason, stresses and major life changes can cause this regression. I had expected that kind of regression if life was stressful or something big happened shortly after toilet training but really didn’t know it could happen after a year and a half. I had wrongly assumed Micah was just being lazy and defiant, purposefully going in his pants for some reason. Thankfully, some really wonderful family members and friends encouraged me to look at Micah’s life in the last few weeks and see what was going on. As we thought about it, we realized Micah’s “normal” life was changing dramatically and we hadn’t really even noticed since all the changes were not directly involving him from our perspective but from his, nothing was the same anymore. Samantha was starting school (a huge deal here with lots of extra attention and new things), 3 of his best friends plus his sister would no longer be with him in kindergarten, I am pregnant and needing more personal rest time in the afternoon, and Noah has become more of a big kid and thus a competitor for toys and attention in a new way than before. And part of Samantha starting school was making her think she was a “big girl” now and wanted to play more alone and “girly” toys than with Micah. This was a major adjustment for him because she is, and always has been, his best friend and he worships the ground she walks on.

Once we realized how many changes and stresses he was dealing with, and taking into account his more sensitive personality, we were much more understanding of how hard he was struggling. Although we still don’t, as adults, quite understand what makes a stressed child pee in his pants, we do understand that everyone deals with stress in different ways (I eat! lol). After we were aware of his struggles we were able to develop a plan of attack so to speak to help him adjust and hopefully come out of this period of toilet regression and behavior problems. We decided we would need to start reminding him it was time to go potty on a regular basis again, with the insistence that he go when we asked, and praise him for staying dry beforehand. Also we wouldn’t make a big deal out of it when he was wet, just make him change his own clothes, clean it up, and put them in the laundry. This part was really the hardest for me, not making it a big deal out of it, because it really upset me and made me angry sometimes. It was a good test of my patience to ignore it; my natural instinct was to punish him for it, although from everything I read, I knew this wouldn’t, and hadn’t, helped. We also decided we were going to be more purposeful with all the kids about spending time with them on an individual basis, making sure they knew they were each important and that they weren’t lost or being forgotten despite with changes in our family. The ironic thing about Micah being the one to struggle so much with the changes, the baby being a major one, is that part of why we wanted to have an even number of kids was to avoid more of these “middle child” issues, only to have her birth be the thing that caused these issues to arise. It’s been hard for me to not take it all personally, to feel like I am a failure as a parent, to blame myself that I haven’t given them what they need. But I know that is not true and I just need to be more proactive in their lives.

It’s been about four weeks now since we really started putting effort into giving each kid extra attention and encouraging good behavior and habits. Micah has made great improvements in the toilet training department and is doing better at listening and obeying as well as playing more gently and nicely. Those things I know are a lifelong effort, especially with boys, so of course I don’t expect perfection overnight. Despite the fact that I have had to give up a little bit of my “own” time in the afternoons to spend more quality time with the kids, I am actually enjoying the time with them more than I expected to. It’s been fun, and a challenge sometimes, to find things to do that each really enjoys which I believe is really important- to celebrate and encourage their strengths and differences.  Thankfully, I haven’t had to not play with them or give them attention very often due to the pregnancy in the last few weeks, most of the discomforts I was feeling have eased (although replaced by others but I am still able to be there with the kids). I am working now on planning a few activities each week to do with them, especially as fall and winter descend and we can’t go to the park outside as often as before (any ideas are of course welcome and greatly appreciated!).

In retrospect, although it has been really emotionally tough, I am glad we have had this experience of regression to make me reevaluate how I parent and to work harder to see the world through my kids’ eyes. This parenting thing is never easy and we are never finished learning how to do it better. I think that is one of the most important lessons I have learned in all this- that I don’t have all the answers and can always do more in the lives of my kids. Keep us all in your prayers as we embark on adding another member to our brood soon and all the struggles, and joy, that will bring to us and our children.

Einschulung

It’s that time of year again, the start of school. For us, this is the first year any of our kids have gone to “real school”. Had we been living in the States, Samantha would have started kindergarten last year but as it is in Germany, kindergarten does not constitute school and so elementary school begins in first grade. Last year was sort of like a version of preschool, although with much less structured time and lots more free play than American preschool. But this year is the big deal, the beginning of first grade. I know to lots of people in the States the start of school is also a milestone in a child’s life but the celebrations there are nothing compared to here.

I have to start by saying that we have literally been preparing for Samantha to start school here for an entire year. This is the case for all German kids as well but particularly for those in our situation where German is not the first language the child speaks. So she has been attending language classes twice a week all of the previous school year as well as us (by us, I mean Ken since he can understand lots more German than I can) attending numerous parent meetings to get info about the school, teachers, etc. During this past year, kindergarten had a short daily prep class for all the kids who would start this year that involved things like learning letters, numbers, learning about rhyming, safety, etc. but not really classroom instruction. Samantha also had to go to a few meetings at the school to register, have a medical checkup, and reevaluate her language abilities. All of this preparation finally culminated this past week with the start of the school year, called Einschulung in German.

The first graders start school on a Saturday here although the day is mostly a celebration along with one hour of class time where they basically spend time with their teacher and classmates to make them more comfortable the following Monday. The day starts off with a special church service at the local church- for us, just right across the street. In the service, everybody sings a few songs, a short message is given encouraging the children to look to God for help as they go to school and prayers are made on behalf of the kids and their families. After the service, everyone travels together on foot the couple of blocks to the school. This looks a bit like a parade because everyone is dressed nice and the children are all wearing their Schulranzen (backpacks) and carrying their Schultute (cone shaped present filled with treats and toys given to each kid the first day of school, meant to sweeten the start of school for the child).

Once everyone arrives at the school, the children were taken with their teachers into their classroom for the first hour of class while the parents, grandparents, extended families, etc. are sent out to the playground where they wait for the kids to be done. Samantha’s class listened to a story and colored a picture during this time. After the first hour, everyone was ushered into the main hall, like a mini auditorium, where a play was going to be performed and a short assembly take place to celebrate and welcome the kids into the school year. However, it was WAY too crowded and it was a warm day and the boys were just not having any of this sitting still stuff so I ended up outside with them while Ken stayed in to watch. They both enjoyed the little play and Samantha was very proud to stand up and wave when she was introduced to the school.

After the assembly was over, it was picture time. All the kids, with their Ranzens and Tutes, and their teacher, gathered for the first class picture. By this time the kids were getting a little worn out I think from all the activity and attention, plus they were all looking forward to getting home to open their Tute. Samantha’s class has about 15 kids in it with their main teacher who instructs them on most subjects. They do rotate with the other first grade teachers for some subjects throughout the week but she is her main one. She has been a teacher for about 30 years I think she said and is married to a Welsh man. Her English is perfect; although we always speak in German, it is good to know if I had any concerns I couldn’t express in German, that I would be able to with her in English. She is very kind and we are really pleased to have her as Samantha’s first teacher. If we were to stay here, she would be with the same teacher and class the entire four years of elementary school which I think is really cool.

We were all pretty exhausted by the end of the morning and were more than ready to come home and rest. When we got home, Samantha opened her Schultute and the boys opened their little Geschwistertute (sibling cone). Samantha’s had candy, gum, hair bands and clips, granola bars, etc. plus a mermaid Barbie in it (something she has been wanting for a long time). The boys’ each had a little bit of candy and a small matchbox car. They were happy to get something as well and it was just the right size so they didn’t feel left out but also wasn’t as big as hers so she was still the main focus.

It’s really hard to imagine when I think about it, that we have a child old enough to be going to school. It makes me feel a little old, and sad that she is growing up so quickly. But also I am really proud of her and the independent girl she is becoming and excited for all the things that school will open up for her. Let the learning (in German nonetheless!) begin!

Summer Heat & Pregnancy, not a fun mix

As grateful as I am (now) to be pregnant again, I can’t help but find it miserable and totally uncomfortable in the summer. I know I should be used to it by now, as my boys were both born in the middle of the summer and Samantha at the very beginning but somehow, it still is really getting to me. As much as I hate to complain on my blog, I also have always wanted this to be a really honest record of what is going on in our lives so that, later, I can remember what it was like. That being said, for some, this post may be irritatingly negative and/or contain “too much information.” Ha- you were warned!

Now I know that there are thousands of people out there who are desperately trying to get pregnant right at this very moment (just 7 years ago I was one of them!) and they would gladly trade the discomforts just for the chance to have a child. I get it, I was so there. But then, when I was pregnant, I was uncomfortable and also longed for the day when I would hold that baby in my arms and not have to deal with her inside. Funny how after the fact, we tend to remember the good parts of pregnancy rather than fully comprehending the reality we were in. Well the reality for me now is that I am pretty miserable although I am only a little over 7 months along. It has been really hot this past week which has further increased my discomfort. I will say though, I am really happy that, so far, I am not diabetic yet with this pregnancy although by this point with all three others I was on insulin and having to poke myself 5-8 times a day to monitor my sugar levels. So that is something I am really happy about. And thrilled to be having a girl!

What I am not so thrilled about is the varicose veins I have gotten as a result of the increased blood flow and pressure on my body. I have one really long one on my leg, multiple ones in the “down there” region and feel like I am constantly battling not having hemorrhoids. In addition, I always struggle when pregnant with having a high resting heart rate which of course means my active heart rate is even higher. This just makes it harder to breathe and then harder to rest and fall asleep in the evening. And I am really active (walking nearly 2-4 miles a day plus 3 flights of stairs multiple times a day) so I constantly feel like I am out of breath, even though I am in better physical shape than I was with any of my other pregnancies.

The other aspect of pregnancy that I really struggle with, especially after I already had kids, is the emotions it brings to the surface. I find myself really having a hard time being patient with my kids, I don’t have a long temper at this point. I know this is not their fault and so I feel guilty when I speak in sharper tones than I normally would or get irritated at something that wouldn’t normally bother me. I am sure the kids appreciate it when the baby is born and Mommy starts to act more like herself again! ha! And that’s the other thing, I never feel like I am meeting everyone’s needs as well as taking good enough care of myself. Like, I know I should give the kids more attention in the afternoon, but what I really want to do is just lay down. And then I feel like I am failing as a wife as well when Ken comes home to an apartment that isn’t always tidy and I need his help more with the kids than before. Let alone having the energy to devote some undivided attention to him. <sigh>

OK my rant is over. I should end by saying how totally grateful and blessed I do feel that God has chosen to give us another child. 7 years ago when we were struggling simply to get pregnant AT ALL after nearly two years of trying, I would never have envisioned us with the family we have now. I really do feel blessed, just had to be honest and put into words (for myself) the ways in which I am struggling in the moment. So soon, she will be here though and these trials will change into others. Yet, God is ever gracious in his mercy and love and pulls us through all we deal with. I am trying to remember to stand on this promise.

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