The Worst Thanksgiving Ever

Picture it, Thanksgiving 2016. Two NICUs, a burnt brunch, and McDonald’s for dinner. By far the worst Thanksgiving I had personally experienced.

Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016, was our first Thanksgiving as a family of six. Our youngest two children — twins — were 6 weeks old. The day started like many other years, I was in the kitchen preparing food. And we watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV.

However, this year there would be no large meal. Our normal large family dinner was pushed  few days back to accommodate schedules and in-laws. My husband, our then 7- and 3-year-olds, and I had traditional side dishes for brunch. It was our small attempt at providing normalcy in an abnormal year. It was a poor attempt at that, it was burned. I burned because I was cooking and pumping, but had not mastered the ability to pump milk unplugged and hands free. It was more like cook, go sit near a plug for 20 to 30 minutes, and repeat. We ate burnt stuffing and grean bean casserole, (were there sweet potatoes?). Honestly, I don’t remember too much of what was on the menu. I remember the stuffing because it is my all-time favorite side, but mostly I remember it was all burnt and there was a general sense of disappointment from everyone. 

We ate a charred brunch with no main course because our twins were in the NICU. Actually at this point they were in two separate NICUs about 30 minutes apart. We wanted to spend as much time together as we could for the holiday. NICU number two had set visiting hours for siblings, it was a 2-hour block of time in the middle of the day. So we built our day around that fixed point.

After eating what we could of the sad brunch, we packed up two children, a lunch box of milk, and drove an hour north to NICU number 1 to see our youngest daughter. We had laminated visitor passes that allowed us to bypass the normal visitor pass process. We walked to the NICU, we scrubbed our hands, disinfected our phones, scrubbed the big kids’ hands, and then we scrubbed our hands again. We walked back to her hallway and her room. I deposited labeled milk in her refrigerator. We talked with doctors and nurses to get updates on how she was doing. We stayed a short while. Kids get very restless in the NICU and on this day, we had a schedule to keep.

We left our daughter and headed 30 minutes west to NICU number two to see our youngest son. We parked in the garage and we walked into the hospital. We paused to note the familiar art that decorates the children’s hospital. We stopped to get our visitor passes and we headed up to the NICU. We waited in the family lounge until sibling visitation began. Once it started, we all scrubbed in and then walked to our son’s hallway and down to his room. We said hello to his neighbors, who turned into wonderful friends. Toward the end of the sibling hours, a grandmother met us in the family lounge and took the big kids to her house for a sleepover.

After the big kids were off, we visited our youngest son a little while longer. Then we made a return visit to our youngest daughter to spend more time with her.

At the end of the day, we drove an hour home, exhausted and hungry. We pulled into a McDonald’s drive thru and got dinner. Until that day, I had never understood why places like McDonald’s stay open on major holidays. I no longer wonder, but I remain grateful  businesses like that stay open.

To date, Thanksgiving 2016 is the worst I’ve ever had. No other bad Thanksgiving has ever been as hard as that year was.

The 2020 holiday season may cause a lot of disappointment and frustration. I share my worst to first inspire you to look back for your worst holiday. Will 2020 be your new worst? Secondly, I share my worst because the title of worst is a little liberating. Maybe liberating isn’t the right term. But having lived through a “worst” experience, you will always have a benchmark for other disappointments. Bathroom floods; at least it wasn’t reliving that really heinous year when [fill in the blank].

Even if 2020 will be your worst Thanksgiving, you know the next time your celebration has a disruption, you’ll be able to remind yourself of your own personal worst and be thankful not to repeat it.

In our worst years, I hope you find at least one reason to be thankful, even if it’s just that McDonald’s drive thru was open so you could eat something that wasn’t burnt. Happy Thanksgiving.

Happy Mothers Day, Warrior Mama!

Oh, mama! I know your life is not what you thought it would be. I know this is not how you saw yourself as a mother — running to medical appointments instead of soccer practices. But your unimaginable life has made you a mother beyond compare. No one advocates for their child the way you do. You took on the world without time to think or prepare. You stepped in. You rose up. You madam, are amazing. Even if you don’t feel amazing.

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Happy Mothers Day!

Happy Mothers Day to the mother who has seen her baby in a plastic box. The mother who had to ask a nurse when she could hold or touch her baby for the first time. The mother who knows what a baby needs to do to move out of an incubator and into an open crib.

Happy Mothers Day to the mother who has seen her child intubated and knows the sounds a ventilator makes. Do-do-do-doo-doot. The mother who knows the difference between a ventilator, CPAP, high flow, nasal cannulas, and room air.

Happy Mothers Day to the mother who has spent countless nights (and maybe a few holidays) in her child’s hospital room. The mother whose child has been in an ICU (NICU or PICU). The mother who has spent so many nights in a hospital room with her child that she has a preferred style of parent sleep couch.

Happy Mothers Day to the mother who has spent hours in an emergency department with her child. Injuries. Seizures. Illnesses. Episodes of respiratory distress. Gateways to admission. Really too many reasons to list.

Happy Mothers Day to the mother whose child has a lifelong chronic condition. The mother who knows another admission may just be a matter of time. The mother who always waits for the other shoe to drop.

Happy Mothers Day to the mother who has sent her child into surgery. The mother whose been in a surgery waiting room more times than she cares to count.

Happy Mothers Day to the mother who takes her child to countless therapy appointments. The mother who has been told what her child will never do. The mother who hopes her child will defy the odds. The mother who helps her child find as much independence as possible.

Happy Mothers Day to the mother who prepares for IEP meetings like she is going into battle. The mother who fights to give her child every chance.

Happy Mothers Day to the mother who knows more about her child than she ever thought she would need to know. The mother who knows how her child reacts to medications. The mother who knows her child’s recovery patterns. The mother who knows what type of cough precedes vomiting.

Happy Mothers Day to the mother who has ever felt like a home care nurse. The mother who gives multiple daily medicines. The mother who feeds her child through a tube. The mother who has oxygen tanks and/or oxygen concentrator in her home. The mother who watches her child’s monitor for apneas and bradys. The mother who can hook up IV fluids, IV antibiotics, and/or IV nutrition in her home.

Happy Mothers Day to the mother who didn’t think she could all do this. To the mother who thought she wasn’t capable of managing her child’s health. To the mother who was and is scared. To the mother who feels overwhelmed, but continues to push forward. To the mother who gives everything she has to her child(ren) so they can have a more typical childhood. To the mother who still blames herself. To the mother who wonders why. To the mother who feels like she isn’t doing enough. To the mother who feels lost to her child’s medical diagnoses.

Happy Mothers Day, warriors! I hope you feel seen, appreciated, and loved. I hope you are celebrated. I hope you take a moment to realize how amazing you are.

Best Ways to Help When Your Friend’s Child is Hospitalized

When a friend calls Scratch that. I’m going to be real and honest. When your friend texts you her child is in the hospital, there will be several things running through your mind.

Oh shit! • Jesus, what happened?!? • What’s wrong? • Are you OK? • Is there anything I can do?

It’s that last question/gut response, “Is there anything I can do?” that is the hardest one for your friend to answer. Her world has most likely just been rocked. She can’t breathe. She is so focused on what is happening with her child, that she can’t think about much else. It’s completely understandable. Of course she isn’t thinking about non urgent needs when her child is having an emergency. But we all ask it.

For many, it’s a foreign concept to have a child in the hospital. For some, it’s an all too common occurrence. Lucky for you, I’m the latter, which is why this post is possible.

Before I get into the ways to help, you need to know one important thing. YOUR QUESTION WILL NEVER GET A REAL ANSWER FROM YOUR FRIEND. It’s not that your friend doesn’t need things. And it’s certainly not that your friend doesn’t think you would help. It’s going to go unanswered because she is busy processing the hospital life. Or it’s going to go unanswered because everything she can think of is too big to ask. Let’s face facts, as women we put ourselves and our needs dead last. All the time. It’s like we don’t think we are worthy of help, but that attitude is a completely different post. I’ll get back to the task at hand.

I’m going to break the best ways to help into two categories: things you can do for your friend, and things you can give your friend. Both categories are equally important.
Services to Provide
Things you can do for your friend while she is in the hospital with her child. Many of these items only require your time.

First, don’t ask open ended questions about how can you help. She doesn’t want to make decisions. Coming up with ways for you to help, may only add to her stress. It’s best to offer a specific way you want to help.

  1. Clean her house, or a portion of her house. Housework is the furthest thing from your friend’s mind right now. You can either offer to clean her whole house, a room or two, or just offer to vacuum. This is totally up to you, and this service at any level is greatly appreciated.Just be sure to assure her as much as possible that you will not judge the current state of her home. The goal of this one is to give her less stress. The last thing you want is for her to worry about cleaning before you come over to clean.
  2. Cut her grass. Yard work, like house work, is not at the top of her priority list. This one might even go unnoticed for a little while, but it will be appreciated. Whether your friend is traveling from hospital to home and back again, or if she is staying with her child for days (or weeks) at a time, the last thing she wants is to notice her lawn resembles the Serengeti.
  3. Feed and walk her pets. If your friend’s family includes animals, they are probably not getting the love an attention they normally receive. Tell your friend you would love to come over to feed her dog, walk him and play with him. Offer to feed her cat and clean the litter box. Stop by to sprinkle food in the fish tank. You get the idea.
  4. Wash her laundry. This one is especially helpful if your friend is sleeping/showering at home. Or if your friend has other children at home. Daily needs don’t stop just because one child is in the hospital.
  5. Pick up her other children. If your friend has other children at home, offer to take those kids to and from school. Offer to take the other children to a park or a movie. Arrange a play date for her kids and your kids.
  6. Bring her a meal. This could be for the family members at home, or bring her something to eat at the hospital. Hospital food is expensive and has the habit of getting really old, really fast. Whatever you have made for dinner, save a serving in a container and drop it off to her.
  7. Loan her the password to one of your streaming services. This is why these things come with different profiles, right?
  8. Visit her. This one is tricky, because not everyone is up to having visitors, and your friend doesn’t want you to make a special trip to see her (you know, because she puts herself last). Hospitals can be very lonely, so visitors are a treat.

Gifts to Send/Give
Maybe you don’t live in the same city/state/region as your friend and you want to do something from afar. Maybe you and your friend only know each other through social media. Maybe you are busy with your own life. Whatever your reason, sometimes we prefer to throw money at things. So here are the things you can send to your friend whose child is in the hospital.

  1. Gas. If your friend is doing a lot of driving back and forth to the hospital to spend time with her child, she will LOVE a gift card for gas. A gift card to a popular gas chain in her area will buy her gas of course. But it will provide her snacks, coffee, breakfast, bottles of water—whatever your friend uses to keep her going in high-stress times, they have it at the gas station.
  2. Food. There is so much you can do with food. You can send a gift card for groceries, because if she has other children, they will need to eat too. You can send gift cards to an eatery near the hospital. Or find out what she likes and send a meal delivery service. Whatever you do in this category will not be wrong. She will need to eat.
  3. Caffeine. Similar to No. 2, send your friend coffee, tea, soda, or whatever her caffeinated beverage of choice is. You can send gift cards to coffee shops. Or you can mail her coffee pods, boxes of tea bags, a case of soda, etc.
  4. Money. This can be really awkward depending on your level of friendship. But you also could send gift cards to Amazon or Target. This makes the list because no matter how prepared she is for what is happening currently, there are bound to be items she forgot, or items she never knew existed that she suddenly needs. This could be money for a hands-free pump bra to make pumping breast milk for her infant easier. This could be for washable face masks to help protect her child fighting cancer from other people’s germs. This could be for a new pack of underwear because she simply did not bring extras with her and she’s afraid her significant other who is more than willing to bring her things from home will bring a pair she doesn’t want. Of if you are sending money, it could be what she uses to pay for parking at the hospital; what she pays tolls with when she drives to the hospital; or what she uses to buy breakfast, lunch, or dinner whiles she is at the hospital.
    • Contact the hospital where your friend’s child is staying and find out if you can purchase parking vouchers or gift cards to the hospital’s food court.
  5. Activities. Send age appropriate activities to your friend and/or her child. This could be games to occupy their time. A gift card for Apple or Google Play so they can download new apps, or spend money on extra game lives to occupy their time. Send coloring books and crayons or colored pencils. Send crossword puzzles, word searches, jumbles, Sudoku. Anything that helps pass the time while sitting in a hospital room.
  6. Care package. Send her some basic survival items. Lip balm, tissues, lotion, hair bands, fuzzy socks, a water bottle, a travel mug, and some snacks.
  7. A cleaning service. The last thing in the world she has time to do is clean her house. However, when she is home, she will notice if the floors haven’t been mopped or the sinks haven’t been wiped since before her child was admitted. The last thing she wants to do is clean, and she probably doesn’t have the energy to do it anyway.