The Big Day is Finally Here (aka Preemie is Born!)

It’s finally here!  The day Preemie makes her way out into the world!  In many ways, Preemie feels like a third child.  Our first born arrived on his due date, our second came a wee bit early (!!) and this third baby… well it kind of feels like a scheduled c-section!  All weekend I’ve been cleaning bookshelves and the back corners of closets and file drawers, trying to get everything just perfect!  And now the day is here.  And, as with everything else in life, it will be perfect in it’s own imperfect way!

We’re having a book launch bash tonight – so if you’re anywhere nearToadstool Bookshop in Milford, NH, please join us!  I follow up with photos so even if you’re not there, you’ll feel a bit like you were!

It feels a little strange to celebrate the arrival of this new baby (book) because my first born, Tuck, just left this am for a week long trip to Quebec City with his 7th grade class.  I want my boy here.  With me.  I always do.  But he’s with all his friends and I have to trust that he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be.

Perfect.

Thinking of him, reminded me of this beautiful note he wrote to me three years ago when the future of Preemie was so uncertain.

march29-500w

It’s small and hard to read on the blue paper, so here is what it says:

Hi mom! I hope you are having a good time here in Bradford, because I am.  I hope your book gets published.  A lot of people like your book so I think it is going to be great.  Did you know I am making a comic.  Maby I can send you a comic strip.  Gess what I wished that your book would get published and I won with the wish bone.  Love your son Tucker.

And there at the bottom of the page is his piece of the wish bone, attached with masking tape.

His wish, and mine, came true.

So, without further ado, please join me in welcoming this new baby into the world!

My dear high school friend Renee has a phenomenal blog and posted an interview she did with me, asking lots of really insightful questions!  Check it out, leave a comment ’cause she’s giving a book away, and be sure to start following her blog!

And thanks.  You’ve all held my hand for so long.

I’m utterly grateful.

What a Mother’s Day Gift!

This was posted over on Hand to Hold’s official bloghttp://preemiebabies101.com for Mother’s Day and I just had to repost it over here!  What an incredible gift!  Thank you, Kelli!

Why “Preemie” May Be Your Best Read Ever

may 11, 2012 by  leave a comment

Preemie_FrontCovFsmMkt-204x300Mother’s Day will soon be here – a time to celebrate and honor mothers and motherhood – a time to reflect on the influence our mothers (or a significant maternal figure) had in our lives.  And hopefully, a time where we, as moms are encouraged to relax and enjoy a little pampering.

For moms with a baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), Mother’s Day can be bitter sweet.  No woman plans or expects to begin her journey as a mom this way!  But for more than 500,000 moms each year, their baby arrives too soon and too small, and must be whisked away to be cared for in a NICU.

I wrestled with my role as a mom for many months following the preterm birth of my son at 24 weeks gestation. (Read my full story with before and after photos.) I felt more like a bystander than his mother because I was unable to hold him, feed him or participate in his complicated medical care.  I was ashamed because I found the first photos of him to be terrifying and disconcerting.   I was plagued with guilt for “failing” to carry him to term.  I desperately just wanted to start over.  I was not sure I could handle being the mom of such a medically fragile child.

For years I kept these feelings of guilt and shame to myself.  What kind of mother would people think I was if I admitted that I did not feel an immediate bond with my own baby?  It was not until I read the transcript for the new book entitled, Preemie:  Lessons in Love, Life and Motherhood, written by preemie mom, Kasey Mathews, that I fully accepted the emotions I felt after Jackson’s early birth and understood that they were normal.  With each page of the book I found myself shaking my head in understanding and wiping away tears of gratitude for the courage of the author to allow herself to be so vulnerable and voice her darkest secrets…

To read the rest of Kelli’s article, click here 

8 days until Preemie’s release date!  Thanks to all for your ongoing support!

Texas Day Three

I knew it was going to be an amazing day when I woke to another Texas sunrise.

And it was game day.

I had to have my table of books ready by 7:00 am and at 6:30 am, a young bell hop arrived to move my boxes down to the conference hall.

By 7:30 am, I had sold my first book.  I said to the neonatal therapist who’d bought it, “Look out!  Confetti’s gonna fall from the ceiling!”

She actually looked up, but no confetti fell.

Then I sold my second book.

And a third.

And so on, until I’d lost count.

(I even kind of got over the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to give away every copy and by-pass the whole exchange of money thing.)

When the morning workshops began and the NICU therapists found their designated rooms, my mind seized the opportunity to panic about my talk.

And I ran to pee for the hundredth time that morning.

By noon, the morning sessions had ended, and most of the attendees had headed to the other side of the hotel for lunch.

I ran across the street to the Fort Worth Water Gardens (gorgeous!!) to practice my talk one last time.  (I also wanted to warm up because the hotel air conditioner was set at 20 below zero!)

I stood in the sun, in front of a cascading waterfall, and spoke aloud the lines I’d nearly memorized from my talk:  My story doesn’t begin with the birth of my premature daughter, but with the birth of my son, who arrived on his due date weighing a hefty 8 pounds.

And then I pretended to push the power point button to reveal this photo –

2006-07a_1441And I paused for a moment, imagining the Ahhhs I’d hear from the audience.

It was 12:35 by the time I’d done my final run through, and I needed to hustle back to the hotel to set up the room.

Pleased with my calm and collected manner, I took one last deep breath in front of the waterfall, reflecting on the fact that I had not had one single“running-with-scissors- moment” throughout that entire morning.

I gathered up my materials, and began a sure stride across the park toward the hotel.

I was near the park’s entrance when I saw a baby blue jay all alone on a cement bench.

I knew immediately it was a sign.

I recalled the line from my book, Her eyes were like the eyes of a baby bird I’d discovered as a girl in a fallen nest…

I leaned down toward the scared little guy, wondering if I’d have time to get someone from the hotel over to help.  “You ok little man?” I asked.  He titled his little head in response, and I felt certain we’d made a connection.  Then I heard a loud squawk and felt something whoosh by my head.  I looked up just in time to see the big-ass mama jay begin her second dive-bomb, and I ran for my life, screaming and hollering all the way back to the hotel.

With sweat pouring from my arm pits,  I stood gasping in the hotel lobby, all at once utterly grateful for the frigid a/c.  Then I looked up at the clock behind the reception desk, and my stomach lurched.   I ran up the escalator steps to the ballroom where my talk was being held.

In a flurry, I raced around the room dropping all the materials I needed for my talk; colored markers, shipping labels and blank paper, on each table.

At 1:27, I stood breathlessly in the back of the room with the tech guy attaching a microphone to my bra and the video guy attaching the back up mike to my undies and realized I’d never changed into my heels or put on mascara.

“Glad I wore a bra and undies today,” I said as the guys struggled to zip up my dress.

Then I heard a woman at the front podium say, please welcome… followed by my name and the clapping sound of the audience; the audience that I suddenly noticed had filled up the entire room.  And I felt a nudge on my lower back, and before I knew it, I was standing at the podium in the front of the room, hearing my own voice echo through the microphone.

“I am so honored and grateful to be speaking to the group of people whose work ensured my daughter became who she is today…”

And I read several passages from my book.

And then I shifted gears and walked around the room and talked about labels and asked the NICU therapists to think about all the labels that had ever been put on them by others or themselves.  And I asked them to write those labels down on the shipping labels on their table and then stick them all over themselves.

One woman put a sticker right between her eyebrows, and I told her she’d thank me later for the free waxing.

And then I asked the audience members to peel off any of the labels they didn’t want to wear anymore.  To keep or add only those labels that made them feel like their very best self; the self they wanted to take back to their home and work life.

And after that, I asked them to label me, and every other preemie parent they’d ever known.  I strode around the room and let them plaster my arms, legs, back, chest, belly and bum, until I was completely covered in white shipping labels.

And there I stood in the front of the room and read each label and then peeled them off and asked the audience to try and see me, and all those other preemie parents, for who we were without any additional, preconceived labels.

And I answered several questions.  And when a therapist asked me what was the turning point in my story, I talked about Andie contracting RSV and how we’d almost lost her, and I completely choked up and could hardly talk.

And suddenly I noticed people milling outside the door to the room and a quick glance at my watch revealed that I was completely out of time.  And there I was in the back of the room, apologizing to the next speaker, and people were hugging me and crying themselves, and I remembered I’d forgotten my last power point slide, and the tech guy was taking off my mike and before I walked out of the room, he put both his big hands on each of my shoulders and said, “Girl, you got me right here,” and pointed to his heart.

And then my talk was over.

And somehow, in spite of myself, I’d actually managed to pull it off.

 

What about you?  Any labels you carry around that aren’t serving you?

Texas Day Two – Finally!

Well it turns out Max wasn’t ok after all.  Yesterday morning our vet discovered that his pelvis was fractured. How the emergency vet missed a pelvic fracture is beyond me, but long story short, Max will be having surgery on Monday.

In the meantime, I am going to finally tell you the continuing story of my time in Texas.  In my last Texas post, I had left off on Thursday morning, having chronicled Wednesday’s travel adventures.

I began Thursday morning with a long walk down Houston Street (I was in Ft Worth in case you forgot) and returned to the hotel to meet Kelli and Erica from Hand to Hold to head over to the local Ronald McDonald House, where I was scheduled to read to the preemie parents staying at the house.

Before we left the hotel, I went over the excerpts I planned to read with Kelli and Erica.

“I’m going to read the section about seeing Andie for the first time,” I said, “but I’ll leave out the line, ‘I wanted to throw her away and start over.’”

“You have to read that line,” Kelli said.  “That line is so important.”

I explained to Kelli how it’s one thing to write that down, but to actuallysay it out loud?

I wasn’t sure I could.

But I did.

I read that line and many others to the parents and grandparents who had gathered to hear me talk.

It wasn’t until I looked at the sets of scared, confused, uncertain eyes looking back at me and read the section of the book that tells who Andie is today – She wears contact lenses and makes up dances behind her closed bedroom door – that I broke down and had difficulty reading the lines off the page.

After my reading, Kelli and Erica gave everyone copies of my book (Hand to Hold has generously purchased a bulk order of books and is hoping to get it into the hands of as many preemie parents as possible!) and as I signed each one, the parents and grandparents told me a bit of their story.

“My wife won’t come back to see our baby,” the red-headed, twenty-something year old dad told me.  “I think she’s depressed or something and I’m not sure what to do.”  I wanted to wrap him in my arms and never let him go.  Instead, I walked him over to Kelli and had her tell him aboutHand to Hold’s peer-to-peer support network.  How Hand to Hold could match his wife with someone who’d walked that same path.  And that they could match him with a dad who’d been in his shoes.

I signed a book for the young couple who I’d had trouble not overly focusing on during my reading.  Dad kept rubbing mom’s back and whispering in her ear and I felt like I was looking back in time at Lee and me.  After I’d signed their book, dad said that when I read the line about wanting to throw my baby away and start over, he thought about how the doctor had asked if he had wanted to touch his son right after he’d been born, and how he’d said no.  He wiped away his tears as I told him again and again what a normal response that was.

I signed a book for the Grandpa with the thick, dark mustache and cowboy boots, whose daughter was still over at the NICU with his preemie granddaughter.  He hugged me tightly and said, “Today you speak to small group, but I see the help you do, and someday I know you speak to thousands of people who you help.”

And I signed books for many others, including one, that the directors of the house were going to mail to the preemie parents who had just left the day before to take their baby home from the NICU after EIGHT MONTHS.

And I signed books for the directors themselves, who both commented that much of what I read had brought up many of their own emotions and uncertainties around the birth of their full-term babies.

Needless to say, it was an amazingly powerful experience that I am so grateful and humbled to have had.

But the day didn’t end there!

I returned to the hotel to meet Andy and his baby James in the hotel lobby.

“I’m meeting a guy I met on Facebook,” I told my husband over the phone.

And I really was!

Andy (of course his name was Andy!) had read my blog post about Texas through the micro-preemie support network and asked to bring his baby James (my husband’s first name!) to meet me.

And what a treat that was!

Screen-Shot-2012-05-09-at-12.36.28-PM

Sweet Baby James!

And there we were swapping stories, when a gorgeous blond came running across the lobby hollering in a thick Texas accent, “That’s my baby!  That’s my baby, James!”  Turns out it was not his mama, but Chrysty, his therapist from the NICU!  As she smothered James in kisses, I learned that Chrysty was also one of the co-chairs of the conference!  I’m telling ‘ya!

The conference officially began that night with the welcome gathering.  As I stood in the middle of the hotel ballroom with 260 others, I could feel the amazing, healing energy of the group swirling in the air!

And finally I met the woman responsible for my being at the conference in the first place, Sue Ludwig, the president of the National Association of Neonatal Therapists!

Sue-Ludwig

Later that night, as the waiter cleared our dinner plates, Kelli leaned over and asked if I was ok.

And I thought a moment.

And I realized that I was.

That I was ok.

Better than ok.

Because in that moment, I realized, that for the first time since Andie’s birth eleven years prior, I was finally amongst people who truly understood and related to my experience.

And when Kelli squeezed my hand, I knew that this was just the beginning of so many more connections yet to come.

Reentry

Dear Friends,

I’m home.

My trip to Texas was truly phenomenal.

After my first update, Texas Day One, I really believed I would post each day. Maybe even twice a day!

Ha!

After I hit post on that first entry, the day my husband’s college roommate dubbed my “running with scissors” day, I thought I’d give you a big update on Texas Day Two, followed by Day Three and then Day Four!

Ha!

Soon enough, I discovered that each day would bring one incredible moment after the next, and there would be no time to write, let alone process all that I was experiencing.

And now I am home.

And what I thought would be a restful Sunday morning full of contemplation and writing, was instead spent at an emergency veterinarian clinic with our cat Max, who had some sort of run in with a wild animal during the night.  We know now that he is ok.  But we didn’t know that when we saw the blood on the porch floor, and we didn’t know that when we were trying to load him in his carrier without causing him further injury, and we didn’t know that when my car suddenly quit on the way to the vet.

We still didn’t know that he’d be ok as the tow truck driver loaded my car onto the flat bed, and Lee arrived to transfer Andie, Max the cat and me into his car.

But now we do know that Max is ok.  Angry, confused, and wearing a cone of shame, but, still, ok.

I now know, too, that this morning was a chance to practice what I preached to so many of the preemie parents I met in Texas.

“Visualize your baby some time in the future,” I had said. “Healthy and healed and running through a park, eating an ice cream cone, sleeping next to you in your bed at home.”

As I held my hands on Max looking at the deep concern in Andie’s eyes, the chant Please don’t die repeating in my head, I suddenly remembered my own advice.

“Let’s picture Max out on the back stone wall hunting a chipmunk,” I said to Andie.  “Or sleeping in the sun on the garden bench, or running to the back door when you call for him.”

“Or doing his rollies on the driveway,” Andie added.

And we continued in that way.

And Max is ok.

I hope the same holds true for my car.

And those babies and their parents in Texas?  Well, that kind of puts the car, even Max, in perspective.  I will carry all those families in my heart and my thoughts and my prayers.

And for now, between soccer practices, play dates, and school meetings, I will try to process, digest and hopefully make sense of all the astounding moments I experienced.  And as I do, I will share them with all of you – all of you who have so graciously joined me on this wild ride.  I am so utterly grateful to have your company!

With love and blessings,

Kasey

DSC_0029

Max pre-cone!

Texas Day One

This is a unusual for for me to write again so soon, but I thought it might be fun to keep you updated on the progress of my trip!  Please excuse typos and formatting issues as I only brought along my IPad (which I’ve had for just two weeks) and not my laptop.

Much of yesterday was traveling, but there are a few notable moments I thought I’d share.

First of all, you need to know that I hate to fly.  I like both feet firmly on the ground, thank you very much,but it’s a long drive to Texas!  The plane was surprisingly small, just two seats a side and that panicked me a bit, but I just kept breathing.  My seat mate wasn’t friendly at all.  She was probably in her late teens/early twenties and barely said hello when I offered up  a big smile.

The talk I’m giving on Friday is about not labeling others and half way through the flight when the young woman spoke to me for the first time, it was to ask if there was a bathroom on the plane and if she should throw out her trash in there.  Her name is Louise and it turns out she is a refugee from Liberia.  she’s 35, has four children, two she’s still trying to get out of Liberia, and she was flying to Texas to see her sister who ended up there.  After showing her to baggage claim and finding her sister, we hugged goodbye.

I went out to get the shuttle to the hotel and it turns out Dallas and Fort Worth are actually two different places, and there is an Omni Hotel in both!  So I had a nice tour of Dallas before begging the shuttle driver to take me 45 minutes in the opposite direction to Ft. Worth.  He came to the states 26 years ago from Ethopia and we talked a bit about my semester abroad in Kenya. Africa Day!

Then I got to the hotel and met Kelli from Hand to Hold in person for the first time.  After big hugs she wanted me to sign her copy of the book while she took a photo.  My mind went blank and I asked for time to decide exactly what to write.  Still thinking.  Erica from Hand to Hold came, too, and the three of us sat on the patio of an amazing wine bar that we walked to from the hotel (which is gorgeous!)

I woke just in time this morning to see a beautiful sunrise!  I plan to have a walk and then we’ll head to the Fort Worth Ronald McDonald House for the book reading/signing Kelli organized!

More to come!

This is a story I wrote on the plane!  Those of you who know my Dad will appreciate it!

No Joke

I gave away my first book today.

Wait, I should start at the beginning.

Central parking at the airport was full.

Auxiliary Lot B was full, too?

I was told to follow the signs to Economy Parking

“How will I get back to my terminal?” I asked, trying not to sound as panicJed as I felt.

“Shuttle bus, mam.”

And off I went, driving further and further from the airport where I thought I’d arrived so early.

I got one of the last parking spots in the Economy lot and didn’t let myself think about where I would have been sent after that. The man I met in the parking lot couldn’t imagine either.

The man I met on the elevator, who was flying to Chicago, helped me lift my over-stuffed duffle bag onto the shuttle bus.

The older gentleman in the navy blue sport coat who I sat down next to on the shuttle bus was traveling to Chicago also.  His daughter was speaking at a conference there.

“I’m speaking at a conference, too!” I told him.

“Fantastic,” he said, patting my arm.

I smiled.

“Now let me ask you a question,” he said.

I nodded.

“Let’s say your conference talk is an hour long.”

“It is!” I said.

“My daughter’s, too,” he said.  “So tell me this – do you jump right in to your talk or do you try to loosen up the crowd with a joke?”

I could hardly believe it.  Just two nights ago Lee and I were lying in bed sharing a pillow while I whined and whimpered about my upcoming talk.  “Maybe you should take your Dad’s approach,” Lee had said. “You know, warm ’em up with a joke.”

“Yeah,” I said, “I’ll start with the old stand by, ‘Did you hear the one about the neonatologist who walked into a bar?”

I covered my mouth so the man wouldn’t see me laughing at the memory.

“Well what kind of talk is your daughter giving?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s a medical conference,” he said. “She’s a blood doctor.  The best, by the way, if you ever need one.”Turns out she works at the hospital just down the road from where Andie lived in the NICU.

“My daughter always just jumps right in,” he said. “And don’t get me wrong, she really captivates her audience, but mix it up a bit I tell her – throw in a few jokes.”

I almost looked over my shoulder to see if my dad had somehow snuck on the bus.

“In your daughter’s defense,” I said. “I bet blood jokes are a bit hard to come by.” Then I told him about my dad and the neonatologist joke story, and he slapped his knee and laughed in delight!

When he shook my hand and wished me luck, I knew he really meant it.
All my nervousness had dissipated, and I felt like my dad was there with me. So I reached into the front pocket of my bag and pulled out a copy of my book and handed it to the man.

We had just arrived at Terminal B where he needed to get off the bus, but instead, he pulled out a pen, apologized to the driver and the other passengers and asked me to sign the book (another first!).

He waved as he got off the bus, and I waved back, knowing that I’d just met yet another angel on this wild and wondrous adventure!

“So d’ya hear the one about the rookie author who somehow ended up speaking at a national conference in Texas?”

1006410405_6b123a2054

Anyone familiar with Fort Worth and have favorite hangouts to recommend?

And so it begins!

I am off to speak at the National Association of Neonatal Therapists (NANT) conference in Dallas, Texas!  I’ve worked through my nerves (for the moment anyway – I’m sure they’ll creep back in!) and I’m ready to go!

I’ll be meeting Kelli Kelley, from Hand to Hold for the first time in person!  Kelli has been an incredible supporter of the book and made arrangements for me to speak at the Dallas/Fort Worth Ronald McDonald House tomorrow!  I’ll read a few passages from the book and we’ll give away copies to the preemie parents staying at the house!  Although the book isn’t available yet (but remember it is May 29th!!), Random House did an early print run, so they’ll be copies waiting for me in Texas!

I received a few copies here in New Hampshire the other day!

IMG_2625

Tucker caught me checking out the book!

Can you believe this is happening?  There is definitely a part of me (the introvert) who wishes I’d never even began this process and could just take my quiet, daily walks in the woods with my big dog, Meg.  Then there is the other part of me who remembers what it felt like to feel so alone for so many years after Andie’s birth. And with that thought, I remember why I wrote the book in the first place and know that I am on the right path.

So, if you think of it on Friday at 1:30, please send a little courage, confidence and love my way, as I begin my conference talk and the journey of sharing my story.

“Eleven years ago I gave birth to a little baby girl …”

Thanks so much for all your support!

By the way, what do you think of the new website?

XO