Thanksgiving Place Card Craft

Most Fridays I host a toddler art class at my house. It’s a super fun way to get my Lil to interact with kiddos her age and practice the art of sharing and painting all at the same time. I typically do a read aloud and pair it with a project I’ve found on Pinterest.

Ever since doing a handprint paint project, Lillian is determined to paint her hands (and arms, imagine evening gloves up to her elbows painted on!) Every. Single. Art class. So let’s just say most of her paintings end up with handprints, not at all resembling the cutesie craft I am aiming for. Following directions is a skill we are working on! Haha.

My son, however is five years old. So he does the craft on the weekends and his turn out very well done, I must say. I fell in love, love, love with my son’s fist pumpkin patch! I thought, why not turn this into something to create for Thanksgiving? Here’s a few ideas for making placecards for Thanksgiving day.

1. The Pumpkin Fist

Supplies needed: Orange paint, paintbrush, cardstock paper or construction paper, brown and green markers

Instructions: Precut the paper, I would half or quarter each piece depending on how large your child’s fist is. Fold each cut piece in  half. Have your child form a fist. Paint the fist with orange paint using a paintbrush. Guide their fist onto the paper. Repeat these steps until you have completed the amount of place cards needed. Allow the pumpkins to dry. When dry, add a brown stem, green leaves, and name of individuals using the markers.

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2. The Handprint Turkey

Supplies needed: Orange, brown, green, red, and yellow paint, paintbrushes, cardstock/construction paper, a black marker.

Instructions: Precut the paper, I would half or quarter each piece depending on how large your child’s hand is. Fold each cut piece in  half. Holding your child’s hand face up, paint the palm and thumb with brown paint. Paint each of the four remaining fingers a different color, allowing your child to choose. Guide your child to make a handprint on each piece of cardstock paper. Repeat the steps, adding more paint as needed to make the prints. Allow the turkeys to dry. When dry, use the marker to draw legs, feet, eyes (if desired), and the name of each individual that will be in attendance for Thanksgiving.

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I hope you and yours have a Happy Thanksgiving, Mama!

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Date Ball Recipe

Dates look too much like cockroaches for me to eat by themselves. I prefer to add them to smoothies, oatmeal, or roll them into yummy goodness. Check out this easy recipe for date balls!

(This recipe is lightly adapted from the Medjool date container at Costco.)

Ingredients:

2 cups of medjool dates pitted

1 cup of raw cashews

1 cup of dried blueberries or whatever dried fruit

1/4 teaspoon of salt

1/2 to a whole cup of shredded coconut (optional)

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Directions:

  1. Put the pitted dates, cashews, dried blueberries, and salt in food processor and let it blend until all ingredients are combined.0-1.jpg
  2. Scoop out about 2 tablespoons at a time and roll into balls.0-3.jpg
  3. Roll the balls in shredded coconut. I put the shredded coconut in a container and then drop the balls in one at time, shaking them around in the coconut. (optional)0-2.jpg
  4. Store in an airtight container and keep in fridge.0-4.jpg
  5. Enjoy!

These are a yummy treat that satisfies the sweet craving in a pinch! Dates are also recommended for pregnant mamas to eat. Some studies show they could help with a quicker, easier delivery!

How do you eat your dates, Mama?

Breastfeeding Tips

Hey, Mamas! Today I want to chat about one of my favorite things I’ve experienced in motherhood. Breastfeeding! How the Lord designed our bodies to produce milk that sustains the life of our babies is truly miraculous! I pray that you and your baby have a beautiful breastfeeding experience! Here are my tips:

  1. It’s All about that latch, baby! This is the make or break, Mama. A proper latch will ensure the baby is getting the milk, and sending the correct signals to your body to produce more milk. Think of a duck’s bill. Both of the baby’s lips should be flanged out. Your baby’s mouth should cover about 70% of the areola. If it’s painful, try starting over. With my second, I had major blistering and cracked nipples. Thankfully I was able to hire a lactose consultant, she helped us fix this right quick.
  2. Try different positions. My personal favorites are cradle and side-laying. There’s also cross-cradle, back-lying, and football hold. I found side-laying to work well while co-sleeping. Find a fit that works best for you and your baby. As they grow older, they may change preference in position.
  3. My breast friend. I found it conducive to have a breastfeeding pillow the first few months of both my babies’ lives. I personally loved “My breast friend.”
  4. Hydrate constantly and eat foods that produce milk. Many of my posts remind you of the importance of drinking water in pregnancy, in labor, and once again, in postpartum. This may seem like common sense, but your milk is a liquid. Therefore, you need liquid in your system to produce…liquid. 🙂 I would drink at least 16 ounces immediately before each feeding, and continue to drink while feeding. I found having a water bottle with a straw super helpful, as it made my drinking a little more hands free. I also strategically placed water bottles all over my house. Oats are great for milk production. I ate oatmeal, cookies made with oats, and a friend gifted me these awesome bars that were easy to grab.
  5. Feed often. The first few weeks to a month of a baby’s life are crucial. They tend to lose weight soon after birth, as they were used to receiving all their nutrition through the umbilical cord. Now they are learning to latch, just as you are teaching them to feed. They need to eat every minimum 2, maximum 3 hours to prevent their blood sugar from dropping and to help build your milk supply. The first few days your body produces colostrum, this wonderful substance that helps line the intestines and seal the gut. Around day 3-5, your milk will come in. I found it helpful to remind myself: 12 feedings a day, 12 wet diapers a day plus poop as my target. You also want to feed often to help push the meconium out and prevent jaundice from setting in. Once they have put a bit of weight on, usually after the first month of life, you can put a little more time in between feedings.
  6. Patience and deep breaths. Sometimes it’s hard to remain calm when your baby is screaming and trying to communicate what they need. I found myself at times very anxious right before a feeding those early days, and your baby can sense this. “Will we get the latch right this time? Do I have enough milk?” Take a deep breath and relax. Trust that your body is making the exact amount of what your baby needs.

What are some breastfeeding tips you can share, Mama?

Fun Fall Festivities

It’s that time of year where everything has a little pumpkin spice! Our family loves creating and continuing traditions. Here’s some fun fall festivities we partake in every year:

1. Attend a Fall Festival. My Mom and Dad’s church, Grace Chapel in Loxahatchee, hosts a rocking fall festival! There’s bounce houses, hay rides, and a trunk or treat this year! Look up local churches in your area to find one near you. What I love about these is that they are usually free!

2. Trunk or treat. We choose to go to a trunk or treat event instead of walking around the neighborhood. We let our buddy fill up his bucket and choose three pieces of candy that are most appealing to him at the end of the night. He eats one that night, and can have two more for the two days following. That night he “trades in” his bucket and I replace the candy with a book or game. When he wakes up the next morning his bucket is waiting with his new good inside.

3. Pumpkin patch pics. We love getting our annual family picture at the pumpkin patch! We told the Facebook world we were having our first little “pumpkin” as our announcement to say we were expecting, so pumpkins and patches have a special place in my heart.

4. Painting pumpkins! I buy a bag of small pumpkins and acrylic paint at Walmart. This is super fun and not as messy as carving a pumpkin! Plus we use the kiddos pumpkins to as decoration!

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What do you and your family do to celebrate fall, Mama?

Meal Planning

A few years ago I was challenged by a friend of mine to start meal planning for the week. This has been a true GAME CHANGER for our family’s budget and time management. (Notice the all caps!) We used to be go to the store multiple times a week to run out and get ingredients. I would find it would be time for dinner and have no idea what I was going to make. I’ve discovered there are five important components to being successful at meal planning.

  1. Meal Plan. I make out a list of ALL the meals and snacks I will be cooking that week. An example of a week’s dinner meals includes: Sweet potato chili, Thai salad, guacamole, potato asparagus salad, spaghetti. Snacks/desserts: date balls and cookies. Breakfast and lunch: acai bowls, PBJ sandwiches, and leftovers from dinner. After making my list of meals, I go through my cabinets and refrigerator and make note off all the ingredients I need to purchase, categorized by store.IMG_0883.jpeg
  2. Do a Big Grocery Shop. We typically shop at 3 stores: Trader Joes, Costco, and Whole foods. I save the list on my hubbies phone and simply “un-click” the bullet point for the items we buy weekly, and add/delete items as needed. An example of our Costco list for a week includes: 2 packages of acai, dates, frozen blueberries, and eggs.
  3. Meal Prep. I didn’t quite grasp the beauty of meal prep in high school. I remember my mom cooking dinner first thing in the morning and being so relieved that dinner was made. Some mornings I make sweet potato chili at 6:30 am and do a happy dance as my husband puts the spices in. Sometimes I prep on the weekends, other times I prep during my daughter’s nap. I don’t always have the entire meal prepped, but often do a part. For example, I can prepare the salad dressing in advance . When I look at my meal plan and see I need to soak cashews overnight for a cashew cream pasta sauce, I am not surprised on pasta night. I’ve soaked the cashews, prepared the cream during my daughters nap, and only have a few steps left prior to dinner time.unnamed.jpg
  4. Double the recipe. One other thing I’ve learned is to double or sometimes triple recipes. If a recipe such as veggie burgers is super labor intensive, I’m going to make more and my family will eat off it multiple times during the week. Also, our family likes lots of sauce and dressing. So I always drouble/triple salad dressing recipes or pasta sauces.unnamed-5.jpg
  5. The Leftover Jam. Leftovers are truly our family’s jam! The majority of the time, our lunch is leftover from dinner the night before. This allows less expenses for food and helps us waste less food.
  6. This last one is a bonus! Let your kiddos help in the kitchen! It’s fun for them and teaches them good skills like teamwork and following directions.unnamed-6.jpg

I will say that I’ve learned to do things through a ton of trial and error. Too many times in the past I realized I didn’t have the ingredient I needed or forgot to soak something. And sometimes I still do forget a key ingredient by overlooking a recipe. I usually make adaptations and move on. After all, everyone has to eat and the clock is ticking towards dinner time.

Have you ever meal planned or prepped, Mama? Share some of your favorite meals to make! I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

What’s In Your Lunch Box?

Oh the Lunch Box! It’s only three weeks in, and the lunchbox struggle is real! My son has been digging some PB&J sandwiches on Ezekiel bread, but I have to encourage him to think outside of the box.

Every day I try to include one veggie, one fruit, one protein, and one snack. We really try to limit our kiddos intake of processed food, and have some healthier suggestions listed below. What kid doesn’t like a good snack?

Fruits: Whatever fruit our kiddos are currently digging, but preferably something not too messy. Grapes, apples, blueberries, strawberries, and frozen mango are the current favorites at our house.

Veggies: Kale salad, quinoa salad, leftover sweet potato fries, roasted brussel sprouts, or broccoli.

Proteins: PB&J on Ezekiel bread, kidney beans, hummus and crackers. For the PB&J, I use Trader Joe’s organic PB and organic jelly from Costco.

Snacks: Annie’s bunnies or cheddar squares, Yum Earth gummies, Lara bars, home made date balls, Trader Joes peanut butter crackers, and stove top popcorn.

As a child, I have fond memories of my mom and dad writing me notes in my lunchbox. I try to always include a bit of encouragement for my son on his napkin.

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What’s in your kiddos’ lunchbox, Mama? I’d love to swap some ideas!

Back to School Rhythm

The back to school rhythm is a wayyyyy different than our summer mornings where we would take our time to play and make big breakfasts. It’s been an adjustment even from VPK that started at 9 am, to kindergarten where Aiden can be dropped off as early as 7:45 but not one minute later than 8 am.

Here’s some tips that we have implemented to make our mornings run smoother and help with our transition back to school:

  1. Uniforms prepped and ready for the week. I wash all my son’s uniforms on the weekend and then my husband irons them on Sunday night. My husband has also taken on ironing his clothes for the week. This helps save time in the mornings-the five to ten minutes to let the iron heat up, open the ironing board, and iron the clothes daily.
  2. Prepping lunch. I try to have most of my son’s foods packed the night before. I simply have to transfer it to his lunchbox and we are ready for the day.
  3. Backpack ready. Homework and folder check are done each night before the school day. His backpack hangs on the door handle of the downstairs closet to make for an easy grab and go.
  4. Meal plan/Grocery shop/Meal prep on the weekend. I’ll write a whole post about this in the future. This is a strategy we implemented a few years ago that has changed our meal times for the better. I try to plan our meals for the week and my husband does grocery shopping for us on Friday nights while I teach. Sunday is meal prep day. I try to prep our salad dressings, baked goods, and one meal to make the week flow a little smoother. I also plan for very simple breakfasts and dinners during the week and am more apt to try new recipes on the weekends.

How’s your family transitioning to the back to school rhythm, Mama? What tips can you share? I’d love to hear from you, leave a comment below!

School of Choice

My first baby just wrapped up his first week in kindergarten. I predicted I would be sobbing as we dropped him off on his first day, but somehow I refrained. My little man barely glanced back at me as his teacher brought him to class. His demeanor helped stabilize my emotions.

My thoughts were another story…

Would he remember to use the bathroom and how to wipe his coolie when he poops? Will he drink enough water? Will he be kind towards his classmates? What color will he be on for behavior at the end of the day?”

The first day of school is filled with photo ops and lots of excitement. A new year and new beginnings.

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Deciding where your child goes to school is a big decision that requires research and prayer. There are so many choices. Public? Charter? Private? Home? Montessori? Waldorf?

We decided when my son turned 4 that he would attend VPK and see how he did before committing to a decision for kindergarten. I felt pressured to homeschool because a lot of my close friends were doing it, and with my background in elementary education, I felt almost obligated. Every time I thought about the homeschooling possibility I would get super anxious and have a strong sense of resistance.

I’ll never forget one night when cleaning up from dinner I was in tears. My Babes gently wiped my face and told me I don’t have to homeschool, and released me from that pressure.

I realized, “I don’t have to be super mom.” I can be confident in the things I do well and it’s ok for me to send my child to school and go back to teaching full time one day.  

So, we began to think and research schools. I preferred to send him to private school, but figured that was way out of our budget. I’m so thankful for our friends who told us about Step Up, this awesome grant that offers scholarships to people who qualify based on family size and income. I’ll share more details about the application process in another post.

The cool thing was, we didn’t have to look very far. One of the schools that accepted Step Up is relatively close to our house. I sensed the Lord leading us to this school. We only toured one school, only filled out one application, and only paid one registration fee. In fact, I put down the deposit of $300 to reserve Aiden’s spot prior to receiving the confirmation of the scholarship. I felt strongly that I needed to take that step of faith.

A few thoughts when making the school choice:

1. Freedom to choose. There is freedom in choice, mama. You don’t have to answer or convince your other mommy friends or family of your decision. What works best for your family? For your child?

2. Take it year by year. When we chose the school my son is at for kindergarten, we didn’t have to make a commitment that he would graduate from high school there. If down the road we decide to switch to a different school, we can do that. One year at a time.

3. Peace and unity. Be at peace with your decision, Mama. I think it’s very important for parents to be united in their decision making process as well.

What is your school of choice for your kiddos? How was their first day of school? Answer in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you!

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Flax Hair I Wear

My hair is one of my favorite physical features I have. But during my middle school and high school years, it was a painful experiment to tame my mane. I have a vivid memory of being in study hall in 7th grade, and leaving only to discover that some nice boys a grade above me had made my hair a target for their spitballs.

I went through many extremes of hair do’s and don’ts: pulled back into a tight bun, too much gel to have a crunchy look, french braiding my hair at night to give it a crimpy look, and the list goes on. For years, L.A. Looks blue level ten plus extreme sports gel was my best friend. It was cheap, it did the trick, and my hair looked good.

In recent years, I’ve been introduced to the idea of a toxic free home. This idea promotes using products that have clean ingredients-from what you scrub your toilet with to the makeup you put on your face. Gel was on the back burner though… It was the one thing I didn’t want to give up, even after seeing it’s poor rating on the EWG website. Organic toxic-free gel ain’t cheap, Mamas. And most of the products that I’ve tried didn’t give me the hold I needed for my curly locks.

To L.A. Looks I clung.

Until one day, I researched how to make homemade gel. I’ve adapted the recipes I found online, and added the secret ingredient for the hold I desired- honey.

This recipe is three ingredients. You’ll need a pot, a pair of tongs, a bowl, a glass Tupperware for storing, and nylon knee highs.

Flax Hair I Wear

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Ingredients:

2 cups of flax seeds

A few squirts of honey

5 cups of water

Directions:

  1. Put the 2 cups of flax seeds and five cups of water into a pot. Put the burner on medium high to high and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower heat to medium/medium high so it continues to boil, but not to the point that it is splashing out of pot. Stir occasionally, so the flax seeds at the bottom of the pot don’t burn. Let it simmer for ten minutes or slightly longer. There should be a frothy look when it’s done.APC_0725.jpeg
  2. Let it cool for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Scoop out with a ladel and insert several scoops into nylon sock. APC_0732.jpeg
  4. Using a pair of tongs, squeeze the flax gel into a glass tuperware. Repeat steps until all gel is squeezed out and nothing remains in pot.APC_0737.jpeg
  5. Add a few squirts of honey to Tupperware and mix well. I store my flax gel in the fridge to keep it fresh and usually use one batch within a week to two weeks, depending on how often I wash my hair.APC_0739.jpeg

Be careful on the honey, too much makes your hair stiff as a board. Too little doesn’t give you enough hold.

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Do you make any homemade recipes for beauty products, Mama? What’s your favorite physical feature you have? Share in the comments below!

 

Our NICU Journey

Two years and one month ago, our baby girl was born on June 24, 2017. We had a beautiful birth experience at home under the care of a midwife. Check out my birth story here.

Two years ago and three weeks ago, our sweet Lilian was admitted into the NICU. Many of you may remember seeing facebook posts with updates. This was by far the most faith stretching and challenging thing I’ve ever walked through. I’ve put off blogging about this because I knew it would take a lot of my emotional energy to remember these series of events. It’s hard to look back at the severity of the situation and recall that our precious girl’s outcome could have been much, much different.

I know there are other Mamas and families that need the hope to keep pressing on. One more day of visiting their little ones, one more pumping session to give your baby the best and seemingly only thing you can physically offer. One more prayer lifted up, one more post shared asking others to join you in interceding on behalf of your baby.

So it’s for all you families who have your little blessings in the NICU, this story is to offer you encouragement that you are not alone, that you and your baby are not forgotten, and there are people who have walked through this journey and come on the other side with a miracle.

Let’s start at the beginning.

The first week of Lillian’s life we were getting the hang of breastfeeding, pushing through having blisters on my nipples, and encouraging her to poop the rest of that meconium out. We visited the midwife for checkups and had her bilirubin tested which was in a normal range for her age of 5 days old.

At day 7, Lillian was not acting like herself. She wasn’t feeding as energetically as she had been. As the day turned into night, she wasn’t eating at her usually 2 hour mark. When she refused to eat at 3 hours, I was concerned and called the pediatrician and the midwife. The pediatrician asked if she had a temperature and to check her breathing. He said if she went to the four hour mark without eating to take her to the Emergency room.

Our thermometer’s batteries were dead- note to future moms, make sure your first aid kit is up to date! My husband noticed her breathing was more labored, but I am SO BAD at being able to tell these things, mostly because I wanted to believe the best. But also, why I pursued a teaching degree verses a nursing degree.

At the four hour mark, we rushed to the hospital. My mom and sister came to stay the night with our son. I couldn’t shake the mama’s instinct that we needed to go to the ER, but then also kept thinking, “I must be overreacting, she’s fine, right?”

When we got to the Children’s ER at St. Mary’s and they processed her, they proceeded to run a series of tests. I kept thinking, “She needs fluids, she’s been without fluids for too long now!” The ER doctor was super kind and communicated that she was really, really sick. She told me that Lillian’s way of communicating something was wrong was by not eating.  I was shocked, as I thought this would be an easy fix and we’d be home before the sun was up. She spewed statistics like high white blood cell count and needing our permission for a spinal tap.

All the while, my breasts are large and needing to nurse. Thank God for the one ER nurse who gave me a hand pump to bring some relief. In the early hours of the next morning, Lillian was transferred to the NICU where they finally put her on an IV for some fluids. We were shown the process of “scrubbing in” which required two minutes of using a fresh scour pad and hot water each time before entering the NICU. I was also kindly shown to the “pumping room” where I was able to pump milk for Lillian to drink later.

More tests were to be run, blood cultures were taken, and she was put on two antibiotics to begin fighting off whatever this was. We had to wait a few days for the cultures to come back with the results. At this point she was jaundice for being so long without fluids, so they had her put under the bilirubin light.

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Halfway through that day, we decided to go home and get some sleep. We had been up for over 24 hours and were exhausted. Lillian was stable enough and we would return that night.

Day 3 of Lillian being there she was moved from level 2 to level 3. I will never forget the how the nurse communicated with me not to touch her and that I was not to get in her way. She spoke kindly, truthfully, and firmly. Lillian was in a much more critical state and she showed me her coloring and breathing that were more labored. It was around that time that we were given the results from the cultures. Lillian had contracted Group Beta Strep which was in her spinal fluid, so spinal meningitis. My sister who is a NICU nurse was a godsend as she explained everything to us in terms we could understand. When I asked how bad that was, she said, “That was the one thing I was hoping it wasn’t.”

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Mamas, words cannot express how hard this was. I remember leaving that day feeling so discouraged and borderline depressed. “This is too hard,” I thought. “I don’t know if I can do this.” I remember forcing myself to eat meals those days, attempting to take care of myself. My husband stepped up to the plate. His faith did not waver. When it got hard for me to be there that day, he came by her bedside in the hospital and sang and spoke scripture of her. He commanded the infection to leave in the name of Jesus.

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That same day, my dear friend Amie texted me asking, “Christina are you taking your placenta pills? I think Lillian might be getting the GBS through your milk.” She sent me this article about a mom who had taken her placenta pills, the child got GBS, went to the NICU and got better, and then contracted it again. The connection was the placenta picked up on the infection.

Now this is a theory, but my instinct says this is exactly what happened. I took my first placenta pill 24 hours before Lillian went into the NICU. The day she got moved from level 2 to level 3, I had taken 2 placenta pills that morning. When I went home I dumped those pills directly in the trash just to be safe. In hindsight, I wish I would have kept them so the lab would have tested them. When they tested my milk that same day, there were traces of GBS in it. I was forbidden to breastfeed until my milk was cleared. A few days later, after the pills were no longer in my system, I was good to go with breastfeeding again.

When I was originally tested for GBS, I tested negative. I’ll do a future post on GBS, but Mamas, I encourage you to thoroughly do your research on this and placenta encapsulation. I was a huge advocate for it, and am still not against it, but my experience would cause me to refrain from it in the future.

Getting back on track with our story, Lillian was eventually moved from level 3 back to level 2 once more stable, and it was a marathon of waiting patiently for the 21 days of antibiotics to be administered. During this time a PICU was put in, x-rays were taken, 2 more spinal taps done, and so many other things that are a crunchy mama’s worst nightmare. There was grace in this process though. I firmly believe that God healed my daughter. But I also believe that He guided me to take her to the hospital and used modern medicine to aid in her healing process.

I just want you to understand a little bit more how serious this situation was. When I reminisce with my sister the NICU nurse, she reiterates, “Beans (she calls me), if you would have waited one hour longer, the outcome could have been different. Lillian’s quality of life could have been altered or she could have died.” Trust that Mama’s instinct, ladies. God gave us it for a reason!

We basically lived at St. Mary’s. I did come home each night to sleep, pumping at night, but was there all day long and Derek would come back at night to bottle feed her breastmilk. 

How did we get through? The support of our family, friends, and local church was amazing. We had people who donated money, breast pumps, provided meals, watched our son, sent encouraging texts, prayed, and visited us and Lillian in the hospital. We could not have made it through that valley without them! A big shout out to all you who cheered us on, we love you and are so thankful for you!

The NICU is a special and fragile place, the doctors and nurses there have a high calling to care for these little ones. I am forever grateful for the wisdom and kindness of the staff at St. Mary’s NICU.

Two years ago on this day our baby girl was released from the NICU. What a joyous celebration it was!

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The past two years have been filled with follow up appointments to specialists such as neurologists, infectious disease doctors, audiologists, and physical therapists.

Today, Lillian Melody is a passionate, friendly, loving, joy and delight! We celebrate the miracle and the beautiful pure song she is.

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What about you Mama? Do you have a NICU experience you want to share? What’s been the most challenging thing you’ve walked through?