When 3 became 4: How adding a sibling changed everything

I am an only child.

Well, I had step siblings from my father’s second wife, but that isn’t the same thing. We didn’t have that intrinsic connection that I imagine siblings to have. Sure, I enjoyed growing up with them but I didn’t always feel welcomed or loved.

It was hard.

I wanted to feel more connected to them, for them to be like my real family, but no matter what, I always felt a bit on the outside.

When I was 21, my father died. It was a total surprise and left me and my step siblings shocked and upset. Even though we were all experiencing this loss together, I felt even further away from them then I ever had before. Here were these people who knew my pain – who were living it too, but we didn’t mourn together. They had each other to lean on, and I had myself.

I felt so alone.

Having someone to have gone through all of this with would have made a world of difference.

Im sure of it!

When Benny and I started thinking about wether or not we wanted to give Nori a sibling, I reflected on this time – how I felt, what I had wished for.

What if there was some sort of tragedy and Nori had no one to lean on?

She needed a teammate for life. A friend. Someone to talk shit about me and her dad to when she got in trouble. Some one to pick on and play with and really, do whatever it is that siblings do together – Im an only child, remember? I don’t know what I’m talking about.

I wanted her to have the forever friend that I didn’t have. I didn’t want her to ever feel alone.

Even though I had made up my mind about giving Nori a sibling, I had to work on Benny for close to a year before he was down for baby two!

I wasn’t worried though – I get what I want.

After three months of trying, I found out that I was pregnant. Nori was three years old.

We were THRILLED!

Soon enough, that happiness and excitement turned into anxiety and fear. Not fear of having the baby – we were already pros – but fear of what this new baby might do to our family dynamic. Fears about my special bond with Nori being broken.

I’d spend nights awake in bed, sobbing, worrying about losing Nori.

What the fuck?! We planned this!!

I thought about this for years. How did I suddenly realize that adding a sibling might be painful for her – for all of us?

I was mourning her – our love, our special bond – before anything had even happened.

Did we make a mistake?

I couldn’t get these thoughts out of my mind. Every moment that I spent with Nori, I treated like they were my last.

I gave her my full attention.

I held her close.

I breathed her in.

I kept telling her, “When your brother comes, things may be different, but just know that mommy and daddy love you so much! You’ll always be our special girl.”

Looking back, I don’t think that I should have said that so often. It probably hadn’t even occurred to her that things would be different.

I’m sure she smelled my fear.

Even though I was worried about her accepting the coming change, I also loved sharing my pregnancy with her. She loved my belly. She loved to kiss it and sing songs to it. She liked to feel the baby move. She would put her lips against my skin and talk to her brother.

She laughed when I used my belly as a table.

Nori’s sweet little hand on my baby bump.

When Mateo was born, she asked if we could put him back in there, because she loved my big belly so much.

He was better on the inside, in her eyes.

She didn’t come to visit us at the hospital. She didn’t want to facetime with us either. I tried to understand, while I laid in the hospital bed, nursing our son – her brother.

“It’s happening” I thought. “Everything I feared has come true.”

When we returned home with Mateo, Nori looked different to me. She looked humongous.

Her hands!!

Why were they so big?

How did she grow so much in the two days that we were at the hospital?

The fuck?

She hugged her brother. She hugged and kissed me and her father. She posed for photos. She was just being herself, but somehow, I felt like I didn’t know her anymore. I felt like she didn’t trust me – that I owed her something. I wanted to give her so much of me, to comfort her, to let her know that everything would be ok, but I couldn’t. I was exhausted, infatuated, distracted, hormonal. I expected her to be patient with me.

I expected my 4 year old to understand.

Nori and Mateo, when he was a few days old.

Benny took over most of my responsibilities that first month. He made Nori breakfast, he took her to school, he picked her up, he played with her, he made dinner, all while I laid in bed with Mateo, sleeping and nursing and sleeping and nursing.

Nori would come in to visit us. She never would come in the bed, but would stand at the edge and talk to me.

I wanted her closer. I wanted her snuggled there with me. I was missing her and I know she was missing me too.

After a few days, her sadness turned into anger and she started to be mean to me.

One morning, once Mateo was asleep, I went into her room to read with her and let her know that I’d do bath with her that night. I was focused on her. I needed to connect with her but she told me that she didn’t want to hear a story and that Benny should do her bath too. She asked me to leave her room.

Ouch.

I’d never felt rejection from her before and damn, did it hurt.

“Nori, I have this time to be with you, and you’re not being kind to me! I know that you miss me but I don’t think you understand that I miss you too.”

I started to cry. I couldn’t keep it together.

Nori looked at me in a way that I’d never seen her look at me before. I had never cried like that in front of my daughter, being her mom, I’d always held it together.

She jumped into my arms, crying and I held her.

She laughed, “Mama! We are both crying!” and then I laughed too.

Those early days were hard.

Mateo is almost 8 months old now and Nori is his favorite person in the whole house – well, except for me – but I think that’s just because I’ve got the boobs.

He laughs at everything she does. She will yell, “Banana bread!” and he cracks up and then we all crack up because it’s so random and funny!

Seeing their friendship blossom has been a treat. It fills my heart with so much love that I can feel it exploding!

The two of them being extra cute, playing on Mateo’s mat.

It’s crazy.

But, I’m not gonna lie, we still struggle.

Bedtime is a nightmare and sometimes, errands are too. Some days I feel so overwhelmed that when I am finally free to do whatever I need to do, I just go straight to bed. Some days Nori plays alone for hours while I struggle with a fussy baby, but we are getting there.

I’m trying my best.

Just the other night, Mateo was asleep in his room and I had my hands free to cuddle with Nori in her bed. I stroked her hair and sang her lullibies. Out of nowhere, she sat up and turned to me. She said, “Mama, I’m so sorry that I hated Mateo so much before, because now I love him!” and you know those heart explosions I mentioned before?

I had a thousand of them.

The itch of pregnancy: A horror story

In 2013, I was pregnant for the first time. Our pregnancy was a surprise, but one we were happy about. We had just gotten married and found out that we were expecting the day we returned home from our honeymoon.

From that moment forward, it was smooth sailing. I suffered the usual nausea in my first trimester but otherwise, I got off pretty easy. Once my second trimester rolled through, I was feeling fantastic! I had so much energy, I felt like my bump looked cute and loved feeling my daughter’s movements in my belly. Life couldn’t be better! I had heard from friends that I should enjoy that time, since once you enter the third trimester you start to be uncomfortable, lose sleep and have to pee all the time. The way I saw it, those rougher times were like baby boot camp, preparing you to lose some sleep. I was optimistic!

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LOL I thought I had a bump. (forgive this terrible 2013 filter plz)

I started preparing a birth plan. Water birth, NO DRUGS, birthing playlist. My birth was going to be beautiful! Incredible! NO hospital interventions!! I was a strong woman, after all. Pregnancy was easy. I was eager to bring my daughter into the world *my way*.

As I entered my third trimester, I still felt good! I was peeing more and I started noticing that my pee looked darker than usual. I didn’t think much of it. I drank more water. No matter how much I drank, it still seemed a bit darker (maybe more orange?) than it used to be.

Around 33 weeks I began to notice that my feet would start to itch a lot when I’d head up for bed. I figured that my feet were dry, or that maybe the added weight was making the skin on my feet tingly since they weren’t used to it, by that point I’d gained close to 40lbs – who knows! I bought some nice lotion and started to take better care of my feet.

“Pregnancy is weird” I kept telling myself.

Don’t complain.

I felt like all I was doing was complaining.

Every night, I’d itch again and every night, it was worse. Soon, my palms began to itch at night too. My pee looked like orange gatorade – it frightened me, but I kept it to myself.

Within a week, bedtime would roll around and my hands and feet would begin to itch – so badly that I couldn’t sleep at night. I would rub my feet on my blankets and cry. When that wasn’t enough I’d move downstairs and scape my feet on our sofa cover. It always felt cold and had little bumps of fabric that really did the trick, at least for a while. This itch was so real that many nights I stood on the cold tile of our kitchen for relief, sobbing, contemplating scratching my feet with a cheese grater.

I called my OBGYN on call line one night around 3 or 4am in desperation. The doctor who called me back seemed unfazed when I told her what was happening.

“You’re pregnant.” she said. “You’re supposed to be itchy.”

I cried to her, “THIS ISN’T NORMAL! It’s my hands and feet, not my belly!”

She suggested that I buy this lotion called Sarna that people use for eczema. It didn’t do a damn thing.

My regular OB would be unavailable until closer to my due date. She was on maternity leave until week 36 of my pregnancy. I wished so badly that she was there.  I had chosen her as our doctor for a reason – in mine and many other’s eyes, she was the best. She would have listened to me – she always humored every issue I ever had with compassion and care.

The following night, the itching continued. My husband became super worried and called the on call line himself. He hated seeing me suffer! He was firm with the doctor and told her that something was NOT right.

The on call doctor took him much more seriously than me (hello misogyny) and I was able to come in the following day.

Still, nothing. She drew some blood and sent me home.

Week 35, the itching continued. My pee was still orange and now, my poop was white!

FUCKING WHITE!!

I was so freaked out. Every night I applied the Sarna, knowing it wouldn’t work and I had also started bringing ice packs into bed to lay my feet on so that I could sleep.

Every day I dreaded nighttime. Would I be able to sleep at all? Every night I cried. The fear of itching and the itching itself wasn’t doing me any favors. It was affecting my sanity. I felt depressed, afraid and out of control. I worried about my baby. Would all of my suffering and sadness affect her?

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One week before my induction, pretending to be happy, on my 27 birthday.

Week 36, to the day, my usual OB called me. I was so relieved. Finally, someone who would take me seriously. She had heard from her covering doctor what was going on and she knew what was happening and that it was, in fact, a very big deal. She told me that I had cholestasis of pregnancy and no matter what, DO NOT GOOGLE IT.

I googled it.

Cholestasis of pregnancy, or ICP, affects 1 in 1000 women. It is a condition in which the normal flow of bile is affected by the increased amounts of pregnancy hormones. Aside from making the mother miserable, the condition carries no risk for her and resolves after delivery, but the baby is not safe. After week 37, the risk of stillbirth increases steadily and induction is recommended.

HO. LY. SHIT.

I knew something wasn’t right!! I was furious at that other idiot doctor, especially for making me feel stupid, or like I was a whiny baby who couldn’t handle pregnancy.

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Those red blotches are areas where, I assume, bile salts are trying to leave my body. SO. ITCHY.

I went into the office that day and had blood work to check on my liver enzymes and another to check my bile salts. Even without the blood test results, my OB was positive about what was going on. I had all of the classic symptoms – the itching, the orange pee and the white stool –  so she took action. I finally felt cared for. I saw a light at the end of the tunnel.

She sent me for an NST (non stress test) and had me schedule to do them every 2 days. I was sent home with a prescription for a medicine called Ursodiol, which would help me excrete the bile acids and help to reduce the itching. I was sent home, again, with the warning to stay off of google.

I didn’t. I was torturing myself willingly every night. I was so, so afraid. I read so many horror stories about women who lost their babies. Women who had no idea of the severity of their illness until after their babies live’s were lost. Woman, who if only they had found out sooner, could have saved their babies and now were helping to spread what they know now to other women who may be suffering in silence, thinking what they’re going through is normal.

The bile salt test can only be read at one lab in the entire country, which is totally weird, but whatever. The results took a week to come back. Now, we were entering week 37. I knew that this was the time that my baby could die and that every following day, my bile salt levels would double. I was so afraid. At this point, I don’t know what was worse – the fear, or the itching. Looking back, I think it was the itching. It was making me feel insane, in a very literal way.

That day, I went in for what would be my last NST. My blood tests had returned and she was right, all of my levels were dangerously elevated. With these test results in hand, we were now able to schedule my induction for 2 days later, when my OB would be available to deliver my baby. I would be 37.5 weeks.

I remember laying in the hospital getting ready for my induction to begin, looking at the nurse and crying – asking her if this would help me stop itching. I wasn’t even thinking about my baby at that point. I was barely able to live in my own skin. When I remember this, it makes me so sad. If only someone could have helped me sooner.

Baby Nori was born 24 hours after my induction began. Both she and I developed an infection and had to stay at the hospital longer than expected. My placenta was in terrible shape and broke into a million pieces. To think, I had planned to encapsulate my placenta and eat it. When I asked my doctor if we could still save it, she looked at me like I was crazy but also with empathy and told me that would be a terrible idea.

I wouldn’t say that my birth was traumatic, but it definitely wasn’t the all natural, water birth that I had planned. I took all of the drugs and watched Naked and Afraid while I labored – NOT what I had in mind! But, none of that mattered. My baby was safe in my arms.

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Happy to have my baby girl and excited to stop itching soon. (2014 camera quality sucks)

With my second pregnancy, we anticipated that I would get the condition again and I did. We tested my bile salts every 2 weeks in my 3rd trimester and at 35 weeks, I began Ursodiol treatment and scheduled my induction. I was itchy, but not crying every night. I knew all the tricks and brought ice packs to my bed from the start.

Mateo was born healthy and neither of us developed an infection.

I don’t want to get pregnant again, solely because of cholestasis – I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone – but the two times I suffered through it were worth it, because now I have my two beautiful children!

*If you’re pregnant and have symptoms that don’t seem normal, seek help!! If no one listens to you, KEEP BOTHERING THEM! There is good information at Itchy Moms and also ICP Care that you can show your doctor if you think you’ve developed ICP.*