It's a little bit ironic... don't you think?

The week of Emerson Claire’s birthday haunts me every year as I can’t help but walk through the days that of my panic as my body failed to stay pregnant and our little miracle entered the world as my soul was paralyzed with fear yet enlightened with the only thing I could do…hope. As many NICU moms can relate, every year while planning to celebrate, a shadow casts over me as I recall the blood, uncertainty and helplessness we felt as I lost my fight to stay pregnant. The smokey California skies this weekend didn’t help me escape again this year...

Every year I walk through November 2015 day-by-day, with the PTSD temporarily creeping back into the aches of my heart that have healed with Emerson’s smile and progress but still hurt

  • November 11- finally 28 weeks, home from weeks of hospitalized bed rest, finally reunited with my Grace but living temporarily at my parents while the house we had just purchased is remodeled.

  • November 12th- picking out stains for our new hardwood floors when sudden excruciating pains overtake my abdomen. I call the doctor and they say I am probably fine but see me. They think it’s my body adjusting to being upright again. Tiny bones break in my feet having used them for the first time in months.

  • November 13th- I start bleeding and can’t get out of bed but too sheepish to go back to the doctor as they said I was fine yesterday…right?

  • November 14th evening- Blood and tissue is passing and I send a text to my MFM who tells me to rush to the ER. I am admitted and I get hooked up to dreadfully painful magnesium drip to prevent brain bleeds in Emery, meds to slow contractions while we try to get two rounds of steroids in for her lungs. Panic overwhelms the physical space as everyone rushes by with uncertain looks. I’m facing a placental abruption and my waters are leaking. I just remember so much tissue and blood, so much pain, and panic.

  • November 15th-  The neonatologist comes in and what may be one of the scariest moments of my life (and Grant’s, my parent’s and Grants’ mom who are gathered in the tiny delivery room.) She unemotionally rattles off all of our odds- for survival, for serious handicaps, and forewarns of the arduous NICU journey. We nod and try not to look at each other and hold it together. Tears well on the inside. Seconds later I can’t help it, I scream and the NICU team assembles in mere second, its truly marvelous Grant and I recall, a fluid team working together. They tell me to hold her in for 2 more minutes, and literally mean to stay pregnant for another 120 seconds. At 90 seconds I tell them I can’t anymore, holding my breath with my heart racing as I battle being unable to keep her in and protected anymore.

    The next 10 minutes are a blur as Grant and everyone hovers over her teeny limp, purple body- but I couldn’t see her then. Grant and the neonatologists whisk her to the NICU and I’m left alone in a bed of blood realizing that the nightmare I tried so hard to avoid all those weeks on hospitalized bed rest was happening- I was living the nightmare. And oddly - all alone.

    Grant was with the NICU team with my phone in his pocket, so no one came by to tell me if my 29 weeker was alive. May not sound like terribly long, but those 4 hours not knowing are etched in every ounce of my body with fear and guilt running through my blood of bringing a little girl into the world 11 weeks too early. It would be days before I could hold her, and when I finally saw her, my first thought was she looked like an uncooked purple pork tenderloin. Who thinks that the first time they see their child?

    With Emery overcoming her 6th battle of pneumonia of 2018 this week, its a reminder how a few extra weeks in the womb would have protected her and let those lungs and immune system grow.

    With so many beautiful congratulations as we announced the pregnancy of our little boy last week, many inquisitive friends also asked how this pregnancy would go with my history and if I’d be blogging. Between working on my doctorate and the two little girls at home, I wasn’t planning on it, but felt compelled to share at least the milestones of this journey.

    So here is the irony: this week, the week that washes over me like a cloud of inescapable soot, I have to have a fairly invasive surgery to stay pregnant... ironic that it’s the same week 3 years ago my body failed to do so. It could very well be the same day.

    We go in for pre-op tomorrow, Tuesday, November 13th up in San Francisco with Dr. Michael Katz- a lauded MFM who has some of the highest success rates in the world and will schedule the surgery for sometime the following 72 hours... which encompasses Emerson’s birthday. With this preventative TVCIV cerclage, timing is of the essence as they have to move my bladder and other internal organs to stitch up while keeping the growing baby’s sac small and safe from incision. 

    I remind my self we have a happy ending with Emerson and live life to the fullest each and every day. This week, while we celebrate our sweet miracle baby’s third birthday and try to forget how we lost our battle to stay pregnant longer, we are taking literally the biggest steps we can to stay pregnant this time around with our little boy to complete our family. Wish us luck!

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Our first week in Switzerland!

What a whirlwind of a week it has been as I reflect on all of the beauty we have witnessed, jet lag we have overcome, and overwhelming sense of gratitude I have for all of these lessons we learned last year to make our transition of 9 time zones that much better!

We arrived on Tuesday at 8am and took a black car to our new apartment in Kilchberg right along Zurich's Silver Coast. The girls slept on the plane, but when we opened the apartment door, they immediately found their beds and claimed them with a quick power nap while Grant and I unpacked and got settled. Soon after we went to the trainstation to pick up some food and necessities and explore the local parks and Kilchberg bade (Lakeside Pool Club) which I joined today for a brilliant afternoon of relaxation and taking in the beauty of Lake Zurich and the Alps Cascading behind it. 

Aside from grocery shopping where eggs come in ten packs and you have to pay for shopping carts, our big adventure early in the week was taking the 165 bus up to Park un Gruene with the Migros restaurant which was a delightful morning where the girls and I played with so many other families and enjoyed the sunshine and big open spaces.

I also took a day trip to the city of Zug with the girls which was such a treat as we explored the shops (great shopping right of the train tracks!) art throughout the city and the lakeside which led us to the charming old town and even a beautiful aviary. Just 25 minutes away, I will be back with more energy to explore as we loved our time adventuring about.

We unpacked a bit more and explored our own neighborhood the next few days as Grant was at the St Gallen's Leadership Conference until Friday night when I met up with some fellow members of the World Economic Forum at Frau Gerold Gartens followed by dinner at Viadukt which is a hip restaurant built into the railway arches! It felt nice to get away and have some adult conversations (mostly blockchain and FinTech Related) but the highlight may have been when I stumbled upon the CucumBAR by Hendricks and had an opportunity to plant my own cucumber plant! (On June 14th I get to go back and trade it in for a drink at the bar!) 

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Saturday we did what all new expats probably do and hit up IKEA for some of the essentials missing from our executive apartment, you know, all of those things you don't really need but you get anyway! The kids both went to the kids club which may have been the highlight of their week as they played and played and even got to go in the kids cinema and watch Mickey Mouse for a bit while we knocked off our to-do list! Ikea may be the only place you can get breakfast for under $5, we will take it! My favorite part is the rolling tray carts, we don't have them in the states but I adore them so I can add a tray for each of the girls and myself and seamlessly push it through the restaurant - they are most everywhere here!

Sunday we went to Lichtenstein for a day trip and were constantly "wowed" by the beauty of all of the small lakeside towns on our quick 1 hour, 15 minute drive there. We fell in love with the town of Valduz as an Orchestra played and food was cooked al fresco while we awaited getting our passport stamped and bought tickets for the tiny train tour of the city. The vineyards surrounding the castle and city were both breathtaking and surprsing, adding charm to the city whose streets are filled with fascinating sculptures, shops and delicacies abound! The girls even found a castle shaped bouncy house to jump in with new friends at the foot of an actual castle!! Toddler dreams do come true! 

Speaking of castles, we were driving home as the girls were exhausted when we saw the Gutenberg Castle in Balzers, Lichtenstein which was a great work out to climb up, and we found ourselves winding again through vineyards on the way down after marveling in the beauty of the castle which was constructed around 1100 AD. Just 1000 years ago...

Today was a big day as Emerson Claire had her first day of pre-school ever, as she and Grace will now attend the Double Decker bilingual preschool in Kilchberg a few days a week. We decided to enroll them as last year we found the girls and I were looking for more of a community and knew that a school would help solve for that, and after only orientation day, it certainly has! The school welcomed us so warmly and the other parents as well! After school I took the girls to the Lindt Chocolate factory next door to pick out a chocolate treat (the air literally smells like chocolate all day while they are in school!) and then we went down to the Kilchberg Bade where we swam and played at the gorgeous lakeside playground. Ya'll, this life I am living right now is an absolute dream! 

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I'll start my own classes on Wednesday (well Technically Thursday, as my classes will be from 12midnight until 4:30am, thanks Vanderbilt University and central time!) but I didn't want to risk taking a semester off of my doctorate work so here goes nothing!

Hope each of you are finding the blessings in each new day! Lots of love from the Allen family in Switzerland... Tschuss! 

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Castle Crawling with Kiddos under 3

Let's be honest, when we found out we were going to be spending the summer in Europe, of course the inner princess in me immediately was day dreaming about bringing my fairy princesses to castles! At the top of the list was Neuschwanstein Castle.

Located in Germany, there are three castles of King Ludwig II of Bavaria that are famous with over 6,000 tourists visiting a day! The two primary castles Linderhof and Neuschwanstein Castle are bustling, and we wanted to get in on it! With Neuschwanstein being the castle that supposedly inspired Disney's castle for sleeping beauty, Grant was finding his way into all of our hearts with a surprise trip with a little Disney magic. We rented a car and drove through Austria to Germany where we settled into our hotel is Fussen on a very rainy Friday night.

While we had hoped to explore the charming town of Fussen that evening, Grant was on a call until very late and the girls were starving so we enjoyed some room service of Wiener Schnitzel, spatzel and Bavarian apple tart. The view from our room at Hotel Sonne was amazing, and the quirkly little hotel was overflowing with charm  - the perfect setting to get our girls ready for a princess weekend! 

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The next morning, we awoke very early and did the hotels amazing buffet breakfast that was included with the stay -- this buffet was so good - reason enough to stay there! Attentive staff, so many choices of food and they refilled my coffee 10x which never happens in Zurich! 

We walked around Fussen for a little bit and then headed to the castles - you have to show up an hour before your tour, and our tour was at 9:15 so we got there by 8:15. We parked, hiked up a hill to the ticket office, and then found out we were going to have to do a lot more hiking. Other moms had warned me we couldn't bring our stroller so we each tackled the venture with a baby bjorn -- and a 30+ pound toddler :)

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We hitched a ride with a horse and carriage that took pity on us that was filled with tourists from Shanghai that were more inclined to take pictures of our blonde babies and family than the gorgeous setting as we rode up to the castles. We are talking hundreds if not thousands of photos from strangers. When we exited the carriage - these strangers all picked up our girls and took pictures with them. We were stunned and paralysed with disbelief, unsure of what to do. Normally I don't let anyone touch my kids. The best part was they didn't speak English, but all insisted on air dropping the photos to us -- so strange but goes to show technology transcends all language barriers! 

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We got to the top of Neuchwastein Castle only to discover that we were supposed to be at Lindenhof Castle at 9:15 and the information lady at the top of the mountain was of no help, saying we were out of luck. So $60 later, we opted to just hike the bridge with sleeping babies on us and explore what we could -- stopping for fresh donuts of course.

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Overall Experience: The castle experience was beautiful if not overly welcoming for families. I'd highly recommend exploring - but if you have toddlers, I'd skip buying the pricey tickets - you arent allowed to bring carriers into the castles or strollers or backpacks, the tour is 3 hours, and apparently they are strict on the behavior of kids. Also, no photography and if you don't instagram it, it didn't happen - right?! (kidding, kind of)

From there we ventured to Maipau - more on that adventure to come! 

Thoughts on the eve of Gracen's Surgery

"You made me broken!" The visceral words directed at my parents spewed from my mouth as a 15-year old girl slamming the door. After finding my kidneys filled with 6 stones the size of peanuts in their shells, lots of scans and blood work at Stanford's LPCH, I was preparing to have the tumors (four, the size of golf balls) in my parathyroid glands removed - which also meant I'd be marked for the rest of my life with a 6-inch frankenstein scar across my neck. Hard to swallow, literally and figuratively, for any kid - especially a teenage girl. 

That comment, "You made me broken!" so untrue, but so loud and clear echoes in my mind as I sit here beside our Christmas tree while my own family sleeps, trying to gather my thoughts and courage for Grace's surgery at Stanford's LPCH tomorrow. 

Her last big hospital stay, Gracen at CNMC at 2 months old.

Her last big hospital stay, Gracen at CNMC at 2 months old.

At 6 weeks old, actually out here in California with my parents while Grant was in Switzerland, Grace had her first UTI - I remember rushing her to El Camino Hospital, laying across her in new-mom panic and not letting doctors anywhere near her when they mentioned "Spinal Tap". Two weeks later, she was back at Children's National Medial Center in DC for an 11-day stay with new UTI's - where we determined she was born with an abnormality - a duplicative collection system which was sending urine back into her kidney instead of out through her bladder. Our amazing, incredible, awesome urologist, Dr. Craig Peters, was truly a calming force as he explained that while she had stage 4/5 hydronephrosis and stage 4 reflux, there was a small chance she could potentially out grow it - but this would require daily prophylatic antibiotics for at least the first few years of her life. No surgery?! Let's try! 

The daily battles ensued trying to get Grace to actually ingest the antibiotics each day. In new mom naivety and having heard how "bad" juice was for a child, that first year I would be on the floor in tears covered in green, antibiotic filled milk and water she would inevitably spit up all over me. Once we mixed in an ounce of orange juice at around age 1.5, things got easier... but not better. The UTIs came back. And then back again. They were becoming resistant to the antibiotics - our worst nightmare - and occurring almost every other week with high grade fevers and new types of medications. It became difficult to identify the end of one episode and the beginning of another. Mother's intuition kicked in, Grant and I discussed options with confidence, and we knew what we had to do - not that after the dramatics of this past year, my month-long hospitalized bed rest and Emerson's 63 day NICU journey, did I want to be in the hospital any more. But whatever it takes to protect my girls.

So the Friday before Halloween Grant, Grace and I went in for her VCUG procedure, identified that there had obviously been no improvement, and sat down with Dr. Kennedy - who was dressed as an Octopus for Halloween. He delivered the options- wearing his Octopus suit - and while Grant was enthralled by the robotic surgery, we agreed upon the "Open" surgery which has a 99% success rate, but leaves a sizable scar across her abdomen. That December 10th date seemed so far away, but now it is tomorrow, and I am still processing all that is happening.

Stanford's LPCH is great. In reflecting on my own major surgery there, I have nothing but positive memories- which is why I was inspired to get more involved with the Ambassador's Program and why we do the 5k every year. I fondly remember the doctors and students who worked with us, and of course I have this scar across my neck to never forget the positive outcome -- instead of my own kidneys shutting down, I am now able to be a health advocate for my own two girls!

Life is a rollercoaster, I hope my girls always look to make the best of it!

Life is a rollercoaster, I hope my girls always look to make the best of it!

With my own hospitalized bedrest last October and Emerson's 3 months NICU stay earlier this year, I remember reflecting late at night that God works in mysterious ways - obviously He had me endure my health obstacles as a teenager to help me find strength in those times to bring Emerson to life when some doctors wrote her off as a very late stage miscarriage. I remember spending 14 hours a day at her bedside praying and advocating - building friendships with every nurse and doctor so they knew how invested I was in everything they were doing for my precious daughter. The gratitude was overwhelming. I also remember the guilt of being torn between Grace and Emerson - which will happen again this week as I won't see Emerson for the 5 days I am in the hospital with Grace recovering. But it will be okay. A moms gotta do what a moms gotta do. 

I have every confidence that things will go well tomorrow with Grace. To be honest, I am less worried about the actual surgery - I know she is in the hands of a skilled surgeon - than I am terrified of keeping a curious 2 year old still during recovery. Being stuck in a hospital room with a toddler is exponentially more difficult than my own bed rest or watching Emerson thrive in the NICU - but we have been blessed by an outpouring of friends who have brought over distractions of every shape and kind to help the hours pass by. Thank you!

When one of the rock-star moms from my moms group asked if we wanted a Meal Train set up for surgery/recovery, I graciously said, "no" as we had our fair share of doting upon earlier this year with Emerson's homecoming -- but that we did still appreciate prayers. While of course we welcome any prayers for Grace's surgery and healing, above all else, please pray with us in gratitude that God has given us an opportunity to fix what has ailed our little girl and in thanksgiving that as odd as our past year has been, God has gifted us with a beautiful understanding of the medical world to appreciate, navigate, and endure together whatever is thrown our way. We are so, so, so thankful. 

Whether you call it history repeating itself, or that everything comes full circle - I know that there is a deeper calling here - that one day Grace will look at me and say, "You made me broken!" when she wears her bikini to a high school pool party and gets self-conscious- and I hope I am just there with open arms to hold her tight and instill confidence in battle wounds like my mom and dad always did. 

Grant, thank you for always being my partner in navigating the curve balls we are thrown (2017 will be borning, I promise!). And mom & dad - thank you for being the most amazing role models I could have ever asked for, I couldn't imagine tackling any of this without the beautiful examples you've set for us, wise words, and help caring for whatever child I can't be with as we hit day 119 in the hospital out of my short, but long 2 years of motherhood.  

Bows That Make A Statement... and an Impact!

Confession: I like big bows.

No, wait.

I LOVE big bows! Both of my girls have rocked big bows everywhere from sporting events, to pre-school, park play dates and even this NICU. Some say you are never fully dressed without a smile, but for our family - you are never fully dressed without that big bow!

While Grant was gone last weekend and we were stuck at home potty training Grace, I had that entrepreneurial itch after someone asked for the 10,000th time where I get their bows... why not sell them myself?! So it has been a busy past 6 days sorting gorgeous beautiful bows, figuring out packaging, building our website, starting on branding, etc -- and we are still just a work in progress... but we have a site!

You can read more about the inspiration at "More than a Bow" but when I was reflecting on our NICU journey that began a year ago with me in the hospital, and 10 months ago with Emerson Claire's birth - I remembered the first time I saw Emery dressed in clothes with a big bow on her hat that the nurses had tucked her in ("tucked", as even the preemie sizes were way too large) - she was my doll, and in that moment, she was so so real. Such a little fighter! As anyone who followed our journey knows, the 63 days of our NICU journey were rough, and the days I could just order Munchery for dinner or have Google Express drop of diapers made everything exponentially easier. We were fortunate, but all of these little "helps" are expensive -- as was our million dollar hospital stay! We want to take the silly logistical lift off NICU families, and hope that proceeds from our bow sales can make an impact. It may not be much, but to NICU families, a hot meal to share together when you feel numb means EVERYTHING!

Emery, 4.5 weeks old and about 3 lbs, rocking her first bow in the NICU

Emery, 4.5 weeks old and about 3 lbs, rocking her first bow in the NICU

Head on over to http://www.shopkatertots.com to check out our limited collection! We have all sorts of fun (including some Mommy & Me gear I am super excited about) planned for later this Fall!

 

Visiting Charlotte, NC with Kiddos

Last week we packed up the two little ones (Emery age 6 months, Grace 22 months) and flew to Charlotte, North Carolina for Grant's youngest brother's wedding. I hadn't bee to Charlotte in a few years, and was pleasantly surprised just how walkable the city was - and family friendly!

Accommodations: We stayed at the Westin Charlotte and it was a lovely hotel, extremely family friendly - happy to accommodate two cribs in our adjoining room and had nice, healthy kid options for room service. On the 3rd floor, there was a lap pool intended for adults but was great for the kids to hang out by. The interior wasn't so family friendly, but the staff was incredible always going the extra mile to lend a helping hand. We truly enjoyed our stay thanks to their hospitality.

**Pro Tip: Whenever I travel, I use my Instacart membership to have essentials like diapers, bottled water, formula and snacks delivered to the hotel within an hour of our arrival. Makes it easier to travel light. We hosted Grant's extended family in our room for brunch and found it so simple to have bagels and OJ delivered as well!

Eating: Downtown Charlotte is home to all of the usual family-friendly chain suspects - from Chick-fil-a to Brueggers Bagels, but we found two spots that were divine!

Amelie's Bakery: Ecstatic to welcome our new Au Pair, Amelie, in a few weeks, we had to check out a french bakery of her namesake. Everything from the coffee to the quiche was fabulous, but the best part was watching the bakers knead dough and decorate cakes! Grace was thrilled, her laughter perhaps somewhat a nuisance to the many businesses breakfasts going on, but whatever.

7th Street Market Public Market: Grant was determined to take us here one morning, and I am glad we persevered. After getting a bit lost, we stumbled upon the market that was filled with the smell of strong coffee and baked delights. With plenty of vendors to choose from, space wide enough to accommodate the stroller (and the other dozens of moms and their strollers) and high chairs tucked neatly in the corner, our family enjoyed a fun, care free meal cafeteria style. Great place to escape the heat and right off the train!

Attractions: While I searched and failed to find any playgrounds walking distance in downtown, we were delighted to enjoy our time exploring air conditioned museums (gosh I don't miss the east coast humidity).

Nascar Hall of Fame Museum: The Nascar was loads of fun, but if you are bringing your children, I would suggest they be a bit older. Fortunately, kids under 5 are free, but there just wasn't that much to engage them, and I had to miss out on the driving experience to watch the kids while Grant qualified and competed. That said, they do have a small kids experience section and there are tons of videos to keep any wee one entertained. The "Pit Stop Cafe" also offers great family packages with pretty decent NC BBQ.  

Charlotte Discovery Place: I cannot say enough great things about this place. With admission under 2 being free, we went in with low expectations but were amazed by all this small museum had to offer -- from a rainforest exhibit where we got to meet a variety of reptiles to an aquarium, IMAX theater and science section - we played and explored until Grace was ready to drop. We especially appreciated the toddler section with a gigantic water table, obstacle course and other activities geared towards the littlest patrons. A must see!

Wells Fargo History Museum: With free admission, we snuck into this museum for just a hot minute while we tried to cool down from the scorching NC heat. While the museum offered quite a bit of history, the highlights for the kids were climbing in the real stage coach and checking out the gold mine.

 

All in all, the trip was quite a success! Grace made it down the aisle as flower girl and I gained an incredibly awesome new sister-in-law! 

Thank you for helping Team Katertots raise $2150 for the March of Dimes Silicon Valley Walk!

Friends -

It is with great gratitude I thank our extended community for the support in helping Team Katertots raise $2150 for the March of Dimes Silicon Valley walk(and in just 72 hours!). As many of you know, March of Dimes is the leader in research and development re: prematurity. On this blog alone, I quoted their research 19 times during our journey - from bedrest to NICU stay, and they are a partner we will continue to walk arm-in-arm with as Emerson Claire continues to thrive! 

1:10 babies are born prematurely (before 37 weeks), with an estimated 354,000 babies in the United States each year. The money raised helps those babies, their families, and the NICU staff through medical research and best practice studies and beyond. 

So many thanks to Gretchen and her girls for joining us on the walk in History Park, San Jose this past weekend, and for all of our donors nearby and afar: Mary G, Barbara K, Kevin B, Keri Ann M, Peter K, Saket S, Teresa D, Elizabeth M, Stephanie E, Janis R, and Brandon R! 

We were so proud to be able to contribute and raise a decent amount of money for a last minute sign-up and push, but the real icing on the cake was walking with so many of E's NICU nurses from El Camino Hospital who were delighted to see her progress and made my heart so happy to share hugs as they were the family we never knew we needed through each step of that chapter. 

All in all, we were so glad to participate and hope you consider to support an organization that supported our family (and millions of other families) throughout this journey!