Little Bag O’ Sugar

On October 12, 2010, in Julia's Journey, Personal, by Chris

A variant on the old Sesame Street tune: One of these things is just like the other! We have had some real encouragement over the last 24 hours. The visit with the hematologist yesterday went very well. Dr. Jamil has been watching Julia’s platelet condition over the past couple of weeks (you can read the backstory here and here), and we got the happy news that her count has tripled to well over 300k per microliter – well into the normal range! There will be a final follow up in a month, but this is a big win.

As the pic indicates, we have reached another milestone in her growth. Julia gained four ounces in the past four days and passed the five pound mark as of today! She has been eating well and the concern that we had about her growth has been allayed somewhat.

It’s amazing how these comparatively small, incremental improvements can really make my day! I even broke into a little victory dance when I got the news (a sight definitely not ready for prime time). There are going to be days where the news isn’t as encouraging; but today, it’s very, very good.

Okay – if you are the praying type of person, I have a couple of requests: Julia has a couple of appointments coming up. The cardiologist is tomorrow to continue monitoring her heart condition. We hope for continued comfort and ease of breathing and a delay of her symptoms.

The other is with the audiologist on Thursday. The NICU staff did a routine hearing test on Julia, and the findings were such that further testing is required. Granted, there are issues of her health that are far larger than this one, and the situation may be remediated in many ways. But I really, really want my kid to hear. I was listening to Vivaldi, Alison Krauss and David Gray as I was working today, and I prayed that God might someday grant my daughter the same enjoyment (okay, maybe different music). I’d really love it if you would join us in that prayer.

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A Special Visit and a Loud Holler!

On October 10, 2010, in Julia's Journey, Personal, by Chris

Happy 10-10-10 people! Julia’s actual due date (the day before) came and went with little fanfare, and she is continuing to feed and grow well, albeit a little slowly. We are hoping that now that her feeding schedule has turned to a more on-demand cadence, her weight gain will be more robust. We are also looking forward to (hopefully) final visit and clean bill of health from the hematologist tomorrow.

The past several days have been punctuated with visits from some dear friends – many of them generously bringing a meal to ease the transition of Julia’s arrival. Jocelyn’s small group has been right at the forefront with some of the most amazing meal! It’s great to get some recipes that are out of the normal routine. I have to say that most of the offerings have been marvelous comfort food that is going to seriously impact my weight loss efforts (20 lbs. so far!).

But the most distinguished visitor we’ve had (for me, anyway) was my father. I gotta say that I didn’t know I would feel the pride that I did when Jocelyn put Julia into his arms. Bob is a guy that has a lot on his “resume of life” – husband of over fifty years, caregiver to his bride until her passing, father of four, cancer survivor – and now he can add another life to his legacy. Julia is his second granddaughter; and after watching his son marry later in life and being so supportive throughout, I felt an amazing sense of the weight of the moment as he cradled my daughter in his arms.

I hope you’ll indulge me with a bunch of pics of my dad and his granddaughter, but scroll down. There’s more!

Another big development is a change in Julia – something of a surprise, really. Since she was born, she’s been the picture of congeniality. Even the NICU staff loved her during her stay because she was a very quiet and amiable little girl. Of course, there were the cute little chirps and sometimes more insistent squeaks when she needed a bottle. It was only when she was in pain that you would hear her really use her pipes.

Here’s the deal: In the last twenty-four hours, Julia has found her holler! It started last night when she decided to let her sleeping parents know that she wanted food and right away! It has persisted on and off throughout the day – especially at feeding time. Who would have thought that our perfect little princess could generate the volume she does (yah – I know that’s a new dad talking!). It’s actually a pretty good sign considering her heart condition that she has some energy to burn and is willing to expend it! We continue to be hopeful for her as we look forward to a night punctuated with a howl or two from the nursery!

Okay – here we go. Jocelyn is putting her down for the night as I write this. Wish us luck!

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One at the NICU and One at Home

On September 25, 2010, in Julia's Journey, Personal, by Chris

Big day yesterday for the Cook family. My wife came home – here’s a pic of her feeling the sun on her face for the first time in four days. She had her incision staples (yes, staples) removed early Friday morning. There was a little apprehension on both our parts, thinking that it would be more painful removing metal than it would silk sutures. But in less than two minutes, they were gone and she was ready for Steri-strips. In the meantime, I was looking for the red “That Was Easy” button (pun totally intended).

We went down to see Julia after her overnight Blue Light treatment, and she looked like a different kid. Her color was much better, she was more alert and active and (okay, guys – breastfeeding talk ahead) she latched! I sent a text message of the good news to women of our families and you would have thought I had announced an 80% off shoe department clearance sale at Nordstrom. I have to resort to humor just because I’m a little awed by the whole thing. I really do appreciate – but have the self-awareness to say that I will never totally understand – the kinship that binds all women together when it comes to childbearing and breastfeeding. Kind of like the male camaraderie surrounding the Superbowl…

No. That’s not it.

Give me an uninterrupted year or two under a tree and I might come up with something. All I can say now is that it truly is beautiful and indescribable. And all the sistas say, “Amen.”

We were thinking that we might be able to stay one more night on what is called “Maternal Stay-over” where we would have had access to the hospital room to crash in between feedings. But we found out that if the room was needed, we would have been asked to leave immediately – even if it was 3am. In the end, we decided it was best to sleep in our own bed. And leave our kid where she needed to stay.

That created a lot of really complicated feelings in both Mom and Dad. It was a very, very weird feeling leaving a part of you behind in the hospital. We had known going in that Julia was going to stay behind and had each prepared in our own way for the reality of it. My sister, Lauren, told me that she needed actual physical support from her husband to leave her son in the hospital after giving birth. But now the inevitable was right up in our faces.

So we did the best we could. The flurry of activity before discharge – especially procuring the hospital grade breast pump – got us focused on the tasks instead of the emotions behind them. I asked an especially intimate circle of men to pray for me as I made myself available to whatever my wife needed from me. One texted back to me with what he heard:

Be encouraged, this is good for the two of you.

No truer words could be spoken – even though the thought of it hurts. We’re going to be leaving our little girl many, many times in her life; and she will eventually leave us. It didn’t make the keen pain of the moment recede, but it did give it a little context. Some company and assistance from good friends that night – along with Buddy’s pizza, a chick flick and two milk runs to the hospital (11pm and 4:30am) by Dad while Mom got some shut-eye kept us occupied and the “My Baby’s in the NICU” blues somewhat at bay. Along with complete exhaustion!

The morning brought a new rhythm (Pump – Drive – Nurse – Repeat) but also some much appreciated reinforcements to this beleaguered little outpost. Jocelyn’s sister Jen drove up from Dayton to bring some much needed support in the form of lovingly prepared food, a womanly perspective that I simply cannot give, and the fun of having my sister-in-law around. She is the consummate child-raising pro and helped Jocelyn out as we got Julia accustomed to breastfeeding. Baby is doing well – we were able to do a full feeding from Mom today. We still use the bottle sometimes, but only when we don’t want to waste the good stuff that Mom is producing.

Jen will be leaving us tomorrow, but there will be other reinforcements that you will be meeting as we go, and great support from our community. As I am writing this in the dim half-light of the nightshift NICU, I am humbly watching my sister-in-law quietly dozing after a day of giving it her all. The late night milk runs, the breast feeding frustrations, and the messy house is all worth it when I watch my little girl sleeping peacefully, and it makes the pain of our time apart a little less keen.

Jocelyn has produced enough breast milk tonight to get Julia through the night time feedings, so Dad will not have to jump in the car for a milk run tonight. Thanks sweetie! We have the first truly restful night in front of us!

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She Picked Me!

On September 19, 2010, in Life, Personal, by Chris

Two years ago, right around this time of night, I was sitting in my living-room with my Best Man enjoying my last glass of wine as a bachelor. The next day would be my wedding day and so begin one of the greatest adventures of my life. Earlier in the day, we had had some of the lads together for a bachelor party of Lipuma’s hot dogs and several laps at Race Rochester’s unlimited Kart track. We showed up at the wedding rehearsal smelling of gasoline and exhaust, but had a great time.

Later on that night, after the out-of-towners’ party, David came by to help clean up so the girls could go off to their bridesmaids’ nest at a friend’s house. Once all the dishes and platters were put away, we sat down and popped the cork on a vintage cabernet and took in the glow of how truly good life can be.

I still remember our glasses of wine in our bachelor days after a good meal, over which we would ponder everything from practical theology for regular dudes to our careers and (especially) what good women God had planned for us. Despite our moving into and through our thirties, we continued to hold out hope (for each other, at least) that they were out there – even if we hadn’t met them yet.

David found and married his in 2006, and I watched them grow together and face some real challenges – not the least of which was the premature birth of their son, Christian David. At every turn, through every challenge, David and Dana have been the picture of strength, yet remained vulnerable to God and his purposes.

And I still walked in solitude. But fortunately, that would not be forever. Nearly two years after I stood as a groomsman in David’s wedding, he stood up in mine.

As you might have read before, I had almost given up (I’ll spend some time unpacking that later). But I am so glad that I remained open. I’m so glad that God brought this woman into my life. She’s carrying our child now – a thing that couldn’t have crossed our mind on that great day – and the adventure begins anew.

The Cook household has been in preparation for our baby for months, now made more challenging with Jocelyn’s doctor-prescribed modified bed rest. Half of my energy of late is spent getting the cooking and laundry done and the other half is spent keeping my normally activist wifey from doing too much. I’m honestly beginning to wonder if the new spiritual discipline that God is calling her into is the very act of being served instead of serving.

Another day of baby preparation and normal house operations are done; and to tell the truth, I haven’t felt this tired or this satisfied in a long, long time. The cat is still slinking around in the darkness of the kitchen, quietly reminding me that my day is not done until I give her the customary nighttime treat.

I’m hearing the Vivaldi that Jocelyn plays for our little girl, still in her womb, as she prepares for bed. I am reminded that this is a woman of rare strength and quality. And I still marvel at the reality that, two years minus one day ago, she picked me.

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