Sunday, March 15, 2009

Happy 2nd Birthday

Happy 2nd Birthday, April and Sophia! These cute little girls are holding stuffed animal bunnies that I bought when they were in the NICU. We took a series of pictures there of them with the bunnies to show their growth. Those pictures are on my other computer, so I'll simply comment that the bunnies were just a tad bit shorter than April and Sophia were -- and the bunnies were chubbier.

Below is April. I always remember that, in the NICU, a nurse once commented regarding her gaunt face: "Oh, she'll be attractive when she's older... very distinctive looking with well-defined chin and cheek bones." I had to smother a laugh at that time, because my children do NOT have thin faces, and I knew that April would be no exception. I do think she is attractive, though:

Below is Sophia. I think she is cute, too!

Below is what happened when I asked Dale to take a picture of April and Sophia together. He laid them on the floor. April left, and Sophia must have been bumped in the process, because she wasn't happy. Notice her spastic legs.

I love the picture of Sophia below. She was opening gifts (well, her sisters were really opening her gifts) and sitting in her chair fairly uprightly for the first several minutes.

Here are some things about Sophia at age 2:

* Eight teeth (molars still emerging) -- only missing the incisors
* Will be weighed and measured at the end of the month -- probably over 21 pounds and under 30 inches
* Says a few words spontaneously on occasion (not often): Ma (for MaMa), Buh (for Jolie), All done, Na (for song/sing), Cuh (for Claire)
* Says additional words when she hears them or is prompted: Da (for DaDa), Buh (for April), A-Ma (for Amen), Ba (when she hears her ball), Dow (for down when I'm carrying her down the stairs), Muh (for more), Ha (for hi), 'K' sound (for book), Buh (for bye), 'K'- 'K' sounds (for cracker) -- I might be missing a few
* Will sign "thank you" when prompted by putting her hand to her mouth
* Loves to chew on hard toys
* Will put anything in her mouth and then bite, including people's skin -- we are often telling her, "No biting!!" (And then, if I don't say it first, April chimes in with, "Ouch!")
* Is a good eater -- she will eat most things by feeding herself with her hands... she spills a lot and her appetite dropped off for a couple of weeks, but seems to be back now
* It can be difficult to get her to drink enough... she usually drinks from a sippy cup... but she just recently learned how to suck on a straw! This is a major accomplishment!! (She still needs to learn to coordinate the suck & swallow so liquid doesn't drip from her mouth)
* Cannot sit unassisted -- this has actually become worse as her legs are tightening more as she gets stronger...
* Rolls on the floor with some effort
* "Commando crawls" -- pulls herself across the floor on her belly using her arms
* Can see well enough to crawl toward an object several feet away from her, though she seems to "turn off" her vision at times
* Learning to take steps in her gait trainer, but can't propel it herself
* Seizure-free so far since beginning regular seizure medication (Keppra)
* Laughs when roughhousing
* Loves for people to sing her songs -- a favorite is "Rain is Falling All Around"
* Can put her hand on her nose when asked to "touch her nose"
* Doesn't have a pincer grasp, can't point her index finger
* Is a very loveable, fun little girl whom we love and LOVE having in our family!!

Below is a picture of April kissing Sophia. Sophia used to scream anytime April touched her (April's touch was probably somewhat uncoordinated and rough), but she's getting better about that -- April's probably becoming more coordinated, and Sophia's probably learning that April won't always inadvertently hurt her. These are my two little twins.

Here are some things about April at age 2:

* Has eight teeth -- incisors look like they will break through any day
* Unknown weight and height. I'd guess 24+ pounds and maybe 30 inches?? (She's heavier & taller than Sophia)
* Has the cutest smile with dimples. I remember, when she came home from the hospital, she didn't often look at me. Now, I love to make eye contact with her and hold her gaze as long as possible to take in that adorable smile.
* Says a lot of words and occasionally puts two together. Sounds like she speaks in sentences, but we can't understand any of it. Most of her words are not very clear, and I worry a little about her speech. Here is a partial list: Mommy, Daddy, Claire, Buh (for Jolie), Audrey, Eee-a (for Sophia), more, all done, thank you, please, ouch, hungry, cat, moo, meow, baa, ear, eye, nose, no, yes, hi, bye, woof, Addie, up, down, cracker, book, baby doll, blankie, love you
* Usually calls Sophia "baby," but will say "Eee-a" if I push it
* Has learned to feed herself with a spoon
* Can drink from an open cup, but will throw a fit for a sippy when she sees Sophia with one
* Likes to put all her food into an open cup
* Until recently, answered "yes" as "uhh-uhh," with her voice rising at the end of the utterance. Cute. Now, usually answers "yes" as "no," although she can physically say the word "yes" when I prompt it.
* Likes to play with whatever Audrey is playing with -- Polly pockets, etc., but she is usually not a welcome addition when that type of toy is involved
* Tries to run, and is getting faster, though I think she still always has at least one foot on the ground
* Nicknamed "kitty" by Audrey
* Has shown more interest in Sophia, and will assume a helper role -- will hand her toys she drops, and copy what I do -- like trying to "help" with her positioning
* Can kind of sing the chorus of "I Am a Child of God" (though you can't really understand the words)
* At bedtime, asks for "mo baby," which means "more blankie" or more blankets
* At bedtime, has down the urgent "Mommy!" to try to get me to stay in her room, but then doesn't say anything else
* Likes people
* Is somewhat afraid of -- but fascinated with -- our (outside) dog, Addie
* Is a sweet, smiling little girl whom we LOVE having in our family!!

Below is a picture of April with her candles. I thought she would be excited about her party, but the whole day she just seemed kind of perplexed. I felt badly because I didn't prepare her to try to blow out her candles, so she wouldn't even try. She did enjoy her cake and ice cream, though.

Sophia also enjoyed her cake (see below). I had worked on blowing with her, but she purses her lips and blows up toward her nose, and she didn't think it was time to do it when her candles appeared. Maybe next year?

Happy two years old, my little girls! I love you!

Friday, March 6, 2009

New Equipment

I am trying to bury the previous post. (It is LONG... the summary is that Sophia had two seizures in December, but is on seizure medication now and is doing okay so far... Now you don't need to read it!)

Never mind about the previous post... how frustrating.... I was about to post it, but I highlighted the text to try to change the font, and -- poof -- it disappeared. I am discouraged because it took hours and lots of energy to write. Anyway, here's this one (I'd better post it before its text disappears too):

Sophia has some new equipment. The first is a new gait trainer / walker. She wasn't quite ready for it, but our insurance would pay 100% of it last year, and we received it Dec. 31, so it was fully funded by insurance! Hooray! The following photo is from January 1st. She couldn't hold herself up at all. I wondered whether she would ever be able to use this thing.

In early February, she received foot orthotics (braces that support her feet and lower legs). I need to take a picture of them. We had to pay nearly $300 for them, and insurance covered the remainder (no more 100%). She wears huge shoes that make her tiny, unused feet look big, but the orthotics make her much sturdier. The following photos are from February 18th. She can't propel the gait trainer herself and her feet cross over each other when she steps, but look! She can support herself (with the gait trainer's supports and the orthotics helping) with her arms and legs!! Now I think that she may someday actually be able to get around in this thing! (Though her therapist thinks that a wheelchair will be her primary mode of transportation.)

We're also borrowing a different, more supportive stander from Early Intervention. I was disappointed to go from the less-supportive stander to the more-supportive one, but it is a nice piece of equipment and is what she needs. She loves to bite the bin that comes out of the tray.

All done!

I'll try to do birthday posts soon -- April and Sophia turn 2 on Sunday!!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Happy Holidays

We had a fun and busy Christmas time. We enjoyed activities with members of both Dale's and Andrea's families. We missed seeing Dale's mom and Aaron's kids. All of Andrea's siblings and their spouses & kids made it through crazy weather conditions with outrageous (but true) travel stories to tell. It was wonderful to have everyone together:

We tried to purchase our Christmas tree this year at a tree farm just a few miles from our home. However, we arrived just as the last wagon had left. So we drove to a tree farm in the town where we used to live that we have always had good luck in getting trees late at night. Hooray! They were open! In the dark with five children, carrying Sophia, and slogging through mud, we searched for the perfect tree. (Kind of difficult when you can't really see the trees.) We found one that looked nice, chopped it down, payed way too much for it, drank hot chocolate with candy canes, and went on our muddy way. Jolie then proclaimed that she had lost a scarf and a stuffed animal. Who brings a stuffed animal to a dark, muddy tree farm?? Anyway, our van was heavier with a tree but lighter a toy. It didn't take long to realize that the branches on our tree were SHARP. Painfully so. Not a great selection for a home with young children... Who knew that Blue Spruces have sharp needles? (Not me.) However, since it was pruned to a nice, thin shape, it fit well in our not-so-big family room, and gifts around the tree buffeted passersby a bit. All Christmas season tree injuries were quickly recoverable. Hooray for the Christmas tree!

I bought pretty dresses for the three oldest girls, and they looked great (IMHO) the Sunday after church. I didn't buy dresses for April & Sophia, since they have a lot, but I felt bad about that. Luckily, my mom came to the rescue, and gave them these adorable dresses. They have hats (beret-style) that go with them, as well as over-dresses. They look super, and they received many comments at church. They aren't wearing the hats, because I asked Dale to take this photo while I hurried to prepare food for company, and Dale is all for no-fuss dressing... which includes no hats.

I'll write more about our December later. Suffice it to say that Christmas activities were a great distraction to some really hard things. It's great that, even when bad things happen, good things continue to touch us all around. (Sometimes we just have to make sure we are looking in the right direction.)

Happy 2009!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Audrey's Haircut

This is old news, but I want to capture it to remember it...

One positive side effect of having a child with disabilities is that it gives one a better perspective on life. I've learned to prioritize problems, and am less likely to become upset about small setbacks.

Hmm... Or not...

Audrey Anna was born with more hair than any of our other children. It also began to grow the soonest, and she could have ponytails at an earlier age than the other girls. It is not thick, but not too thin, and lays nicely straight so, when it is combed, it looks nice. She once cut the front of it such that I had to taper the front and cut a few inches off the back to even it out, but, at age three, it was still halfway down her back and (in my mind) beautiful. I actually loved to comb it and loved having a child with long hair at a relatively young age. I loved it more than I thought I would. I imagined her being one of those five or six-year-olds with pretty hair nearly to her waist. Again, I had never been one to prize hair (just look at all the pictures of my girls with messy, uncombed and undone hair for easy evidence), but with Audrey it was surprisingly different.

You already know what happened if you read the title of this post and noted the past tense references in my last paragraph.

At the end of July (like I said, this is an old post, but obviously the event had a lot of meaning to me since I am taking the time to write about it over three months later!), Audrey was dancing around our family room with her sisters and her aunt, an accomplished dancer. Her hair was flying out above her dress as she twirled around. There was nothing unusual about her disappearing for a few minutes (really not long).

When she returned, she commenced dancing. Almost instantly, I noticed that her hair was not flying out in quite the same way as before. To my horror, I noticed some short hair among her long tresses. I whisked her upstairs, and like some kind of horror film gone bad, we encountered pile after pile of long hair. In the privacy of my bathroom, I combed her hair to further assess the damage, and the comb pulled out more clumps of beautifully long hair.

In only a few minutes, Audrey had cut some of her bangs nearly to the root, a BIG piece in the back just above her hairline, and some on the side at about the ear level. I cried and cried in front of her and was shocked by my emotion. In the back of my mind, I was thinking, "This really is not that big of a deal. I have learned about perspective. I should not be getting this angry about this." In real life, I was very angry at Audrey and threw at her the most hurtful thing I could think of to say to her: "You are not a princess anymore." She tried to reassure me, "Mommy, it will grow back," but only I realized how long that would take. Later, I discovered that she was trying to look like a picture of Jolie that hangs in the hallway upstairs. Claire had dressed her in a dress that had been Jolie's. Jolie was wearing that dress and had a bob haircut in the photo.

I didn't take a picture of Audrey's damaged hair, but here is a picture of her shortly after I took her to a hair salon to "fix" the hair:

I have to admit that, as it has grown out a bit, it actually looks quite cute. We both miss her long hair, but below is a picture from a couple of months ago. It is even cuter now as her bangs are a great length.

My takeaway lesson from all of this is that I haven't learned much!

Another Diagnosis

In September, we took Sophia to an opthalmologist. The last time she saw an opthalmologist, she was 4 months old, still small, and home for just a couple of months. At that time, the visit's purpose was an ROP follow-up to make sure that she still showed no signs of retinopathy of prematurity. We also expressed to the doctor our concern that she didn't seem to be seeing and tracking. The doctor seemed rushed, and didn't explain things to us to our satisfaction, but we recall him telling us that both babies' eyes looked good, and that Sophia might have CVI (which is a vision impairment due to the brain not correctly processing what the eyes see). It was this doctor who made the referral to the neurologist, who subsequently diagnosed Sophia's PVL, cerebellum atrophy, CP, and CVI. The neurologist told us that there was no point to taking her back to the opthalmologist since she couldn't see much of anything.

Jumping ahead to last spring, when Sophia began to reach for and track objects held close to her eyes, the developmental pediatrician she sees twice a year recommended we take her to an opthalmologist again since she was seeing more. The thought was that perhaps something should be done for her crossed eyes (to improve binocular vision) since her vision was improving. So, I made the appointment with a different opthalmologist and waited with building anticipation for months for it to come.

I expected that we would leave the appointment with a plan to address her strabismus (in her case, crossed eyes). I thought we would either be told to patch her eye(s) for a certain number of hours per day, or she would have a prescription for glasses, or she would be scheduled for corrective surgery. I hoped for the surgical option, since that would straighten out her eyes and, I hoped, help her vision. I was extremely optimistic about his appointment.

Instead, we left the doctor's office with a new diagnosis. Sophia has severe optic nerve hypoplasia (ONH). This means that her optic nerve didn't develop properly. She has only about 15% of what she should (sounds kind of like the cerebellum diagnosis, huh?). The doctor said she may have CVI too, given her neurologic history (= brain damage), but that her ONH is severe enough to singularly account for her visual status. The icing on the cake is that this condition often also affects the pituitary and growth. This is called SOD, and we need to have her tested for that.

Although it doesn't matter, I don't understand why both the first opthalmologist and the neurologist missed this. Was the opthalmologist just pretending to look in her eyes? Was the MRI image so poor that the optic nerves looked normal? However, this diagnosis does answer some oddities that CVI didn't seem to explain. Sophia's light sensitivity was not typical to CVI, but people with ONH sometimes have sensitivity to light. Her CVI had seemed worse in relation to her physical impairments than it should have, according to a doctor she saw last year. So some "mysteries" have been explained.

This diagnosis didn't change Sophia's vision. She is the same cute, smiley little girl she was before the appointment. However, what it did was change my hope. With CVI, I had hope that her vision would continue to improve as her brain learned to better process the images it receives. I dared to hope that she might be able to learn to read, at least in large print. I hoped that she would be able to navigate safely through space. I hoped... We still don't know exactly what she sees since she can't tell us, but now those hopes are gone. Her brain doesn't receive all the visual signals that it should. The optic nerve can't be healed or regrown (though there has been some promising research in mice, so perhaps someday...). It is finally, heartbreakingly, accurate to say that my baby is blind.

Monday, September 8, 2008

18 months - April

April is now 18 months old!

April has a lot of nicknames. Sometimes, I call her "Trouble" (with much gratitude and joy behind that label). Audrey, for some unknown reason, calls her "Kitty." Maybe it is since she crawled around for such a long time. I also call her "Miss," and Claire, Jolie and I sometimes call her "Cutie." She seems to be doing pretty much everything she should be doing -- just a little bit behind.
April eats well. She is not very picky -- although she doesn't like plain Cheerios (she will eat them in a bowl with milk). She self-feeds finger foods well, and attempts to use a spoon occasionally. She drinks using a sippy cup, but can also drink from a straw and is beginning to learn to drink from an open cup. Thankfully, the days of spitting up every time she eats are long gone. She also doesn't care for water. She usually drinks whole milk, and enjoys juice occasionally, but she does NOT like water. The picture below shows her reaction to discovering water in her sippy instead of milk.
When April is finished eating (and she doesn't always finish what is on her tray or in her cup), she says "all done!" Although April doesn't run around talking all the time, she does actually say quite a few words. Among her repertoire are: mama, daddy, thank you (one of her first words), me (for "give me that"), nose, no (newly acquired - not surprising since she hears it all the time), ball, up, down, bath, uh oh, hi (which she calls out to many people she sees), bye, soft, lullaby, here, and baby (this was her other first word -- and she used to say it very clearly). A strange thing is that if she is out of my sight and I call to her, she never answers. I say "April!" and I predictably hear silence. Sometimes, when I find her, she is just around the corner from where I had been.
She obviously sucks her thumb, as have all my children (except Jolie didn't start until 18 months, and Audrey sucks her fingers). She is a pretty smart little cookie. When I do up her car seat or stroller straps, she watches carefully, and then grabs them to try herself. When we undo the straps, she sometimes (instead of trying to get out) grabs the buckles, stares intently at them, and tries to snap them together. She rotates her little wrist around to look at all angles of the buckle. I wonder whether she will learn how to get herself in and out of her car seat before Audrey does! (Audrey is just not interested.) As most kids, she loves remotes, phones, and the laptop. I've had to delete lots of unwanted characters from this message, as she has tried her best to contribute to it. Right now, she is trying to insert a straw into Audrey's empty juice box.
("See my four teeth?") April finally walks everywhere now. My "deadline" for her (before I began worrying) was August 20th. Audrey didn't walk until she was 15 months old, and August 20th was April's 15 month adjusted-for-prematurity-age. Well, as posted here earlier, her first steps were July 21, and that was a big relief. She didn't progress very quickly, but gradually we convinced her to take a few steps most days. Finally, in mid-August, she decided she'd had enough with crawling and that her future would be on her two feet. Way to go, April! She still has that wide stance and is building her strength. I look forward to her running eventually!

April has some fun facial expressions that she uses. She likes to scrunch up her nose like this (picture below) and seems to know that she looks funny / cute. She doesn't seem to have a favorite toy -- her favorite thing now is just to walk around, finding whatever looks good (especially if it is troublesome) or following someone around. Although she and Sophia don't have the typical twin relationship, they do have some touching moments. April gives Sophia her favorite ball toy without being asked. She doesn't play with it herself, although sometimes she takes it to look at (and then gives it right back -- again, no encouragement needed). One of the first times we helped Sophia in her stander, April reached out her little hand to help push Sophia up from her bent-over position. The reason she knows the word "soft" is because I show her how to pet Sophia's head softly and say, "soft." As Sophia would tell you if she could, April needs this reminder because her pats can be rough. Sadly, Sophia can usually tell if April is close by, and she cries if she is worried about being accosted. April's and Sophia's cribs are right next to each other. April's mattress is lower than Sophia's. One morning, they didn't notice me as I entered the room. I observed that Sophia had rolled over to the edge of her crib by April's, and Sophia's arm was extended through the slats into April's space. April rolled over so her back was against Sophia's arm, and Sophia patted April. It was fun to watch.
We love this independent, caring, talking, walking, bunk ladder-climbing, dishwasher sitting, helpful, little girl!

18 months - Sophia

Sophia is 18 months old today!

In a departure from my typical format to date, I'm going to journal a snapshot of Sophia today, at a year and a half old. She is a cute, little girl and we love her dearly. She seems "sweet" because her body doesn't let her get into much trouble, and she is not easily upset. However, she enjoys roughhousing and fun play, so I think her true personality may be much more fun-loving. She is fairly mellow, but when she is upset, she remains (sometimes) difficult to soothe. For example, we went camping a couple of weeks ago, and Sophia fell asleep in the stroller on a walk before bedtime. I woke her when I changed her diaper, and then April crawled all over her, and then NOTHING worked to pacify her for an hour and a half. (Which, I'm sure wasn't much appreciated by the neighboring campers.) This is very unusual, though.

This week, the physical therapist who sees her twice a month in our home through Early Intervention brought a stander for Sophia to try. This one offers minimal support, and if it works for her, that would be great -- less support means more work for her, which means more potential strength building. However, her trunk is not very strong, so she can lean forward way too much (not helpful):
Here are her cute little feet and toes (she also has some cute little Adidas shoes that she wears in this). Her feet always want to roll to the inside (scissoring), and her toes scrunch up during weight bearing. She also tends to lift her heels. I just position her feet for her when placing her into the stander. The knee pads help to align the legs and feet correctly.

Ahh, here is better posture. We tap firmly on her back to encourage her to stand up correctly, and, if this fails, we place one hand on her chest and one on her back and simply lift her to the correct position. Then we help her grab the bars, and that way she can use the bars to help hold herself upright.
Sophia is generally pretty smiley, but this is the first time I'd been able to get some good smiles from her while in the stander. I think her body is working so hard that it is just too much to smile. I don't think she minds the stander, though. In fact, when she's on the floor, she says "up" (which sounds like "uuub") and I think she is asking to either stand or sit up (or maybe just be held). She also says "ball" for her absolute favorite toy -- a ball on loan from the EI vision specialist -- and it also sounds like "uuub," but I really do think they are two separate words. "Ball" ("uuub") was her first word, and she began using it less than two months ago. We are excited that she has a few words now, as she is at risk of being non-verbal. We hope there are many more words to come! Her other word is "more" ("mmm-la") and she also verbalizes when she is hungry ("mmm-mmm" or a variant). Back to the stander -- when she's finished with it (currently about 15 minutes), she lets us know by fussing!
Statistically, if Sophia doesn't learn to sit well by the time she is two years old, her chances of walking someday are minuscule. We work on sitting every day. I sit behind her and place her in a sitting position (although we are also working on showing her how the transition goes from back-lying to sitting). I bend her knees so her feet are touching (to reduce the effect of her hamstring tightness on her hips). Then, I pull her behind back a bit to help her correctly tilt her pelvis. Finally, I help her weight bear on her arms to remind her to use them for balance as needed. This is her normal sitting posture, or sometimes she falls forward even more than this:
I help her adjust her balance by pressing down on the thigh opposite of the direction she is tilting, if necessary. Here is a notably good sitting moment:
It doesn't last long, however. After a few seconds, she does this:
And then this:
I place her in the following position to show her how to get down to the floor from sitting. This time, she held herself up with her arms before lowering to the floor. Although she was placed in this position, I look at this picture, and in my imagination she is just about to crawl off to play:
Sophia continues to be a relatively good eater. She swipes her left hand across her tray in an arc, looking for finger foods. When her hand touches something, she rakes it up and brings it to her mouth. She can eat with her right hand too (which is actually her less tight hand), but for some reason she generally uses the left. I think her right hand and arm may help her stabilize herself. If the food is beyond the reach of her arc, she doesn't get it. She doesn't seem to use her vision much while she is eating, although she sees and reaches for her sippy cup within about 15 seconds when I bring it to her and hold it in front of her. She handles her sippy clumsily, but has figured out how to maneuver it quite well and seldom fusses for help. Sometimes she drinks from it upside down, which works as long as the cup is fairly full. She drinks whole milk, occasionally formula (if we are out it is easy to transport), and loves juice, although I rarely give that to her. She'll drink a little water before she decides it isn't quite what she wants. She doesn't know how to drink out of a regular cup and doesn't have the slightest idea what to do with a straw (she chews on it). She eats most things, and gags only when she has too big of a bite of something. She needs to improve her chewing. Every meal, I am grateful that she eats so well.
Sophia rolls both directions. She will roll more than once in a direction, although she has yet to do anything like roll across the room. Today, she was close to the border of the family room, and I told her I would love to find her in the kitchen (due to her own mobility) one day. Yesterday, I vacuumed around her and she was excited about the vacuum cleaner. She rolled toward it in both directions. (I did stop and let her briefly touch it). Her vision is about the same as the last report. Her eyes are very crossed. She sees in near space and has a delay in reaching toward objects. Typical of CVI, she usually does not look directly at an object as she reaches for it. I hope her vision continues to improve. She has tracked me as I walk across the room several feet away from her, although since it is difficult to tell where she is looking, I can't really say whether this is due to visual or auditory cues.

She has begun to try to grab books when I am reading them to her. If successful in her quest, she tries to eat the pages. I am delighted that she is getting into this "trouble." Also, if I hold her while I play the piano in Primary at church, she slowly reaches for the piano keys. It is really, really, hard to not let her just play the piano. I'm not sure the Primary children and leaders would share my enthusiasm about this accomplishment.

We love this smiling, happy, sitting (or at least working on it), standing (with help), talking (3 words), eating, seeing (some things), fun kid.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Big Steps!

Today, April took her first unassisted steps! This is exciting, because I thought it was still a little ways off. Yesterday, she stood alone for a few minutes. This is the longest by far I have observed her standing alone. I think she thought she was leaning against something, because her dress was lightly touching a toy wagon at Grandma & Grandpa's house. Then, today, she was standing at the back door watching her sisters outside as she often does, and I knelt down by her and encouraged her to walk to me. She stood momentarily, and then took two steps to me! Dale and I then had her go between us, and she repeated it once! Hooray! I'm sure she is still weeks off from walking any distance of note, but this is still a major milestone! She is 16 months, 2 weeks old.

As excited as I am for April, with that excitement come some strong, sad feelings about Sophia. I don't know when or if she will ever take those first steps. As Dale and I had April going between us, Sophia lay an arm's length away on her back on the floor, virtually immobile. As the months roll by and she still can't balance herself in a sitting position, and still can't scoot, the future is beginning to be a little more clear, and I don't like it.

I could, unfortunately, go on about that. However, it has been far too long since I last posted, and there has actually been some very exciting progress with Sophia in the last two and a half months.

First, probably in April, she began reaching for objects that she sees! Yes, that is right -- that she sees. She tracks slowly moving objects about eight inches from her face, and will bat her arms to find and grab the object (if she is interested in it). This has been HUGE. She has gone from no apparent vision, to a little bit. The difference between no usable vision and a little bit is of major consequence. Of course I hope that her vision continues to improve.

Also about the same time, she began rolling from her stomach to her back. It started as an accidental occurance, when she pushed up on her arms (which has slowly improved too) and lost her balance. At first, she would startle and look scared as she flopped onto her back. Now, she does it purposefully, and although she still probably log rolls, it is more graceful.

Then, at long last, about a month or so ago, she rolled from her back to her stomach, which takes more strength. She uses some back extension to do it, which is not ideal, but it is exciting nonetheless. Even better, this new movement was spurred by one of her favorite toys -- a low vision ball on loan from Early Intervention. It sounds like a rattle, and has grab bars for her to hold onto. She like to chew it, and curls around it and rolls to her side as she plays with it. It is the FIRST thing she has tried to move for when it rolls away, and thus the rolling. I actually think she is rolling less now than she was when she first discovered the new movement, however. She seems content to roll to her side and play with the ball in that position.

Both girls also have teeth now. Sophia has four -- two on the bottom, and two on the top -- with more coming soon. April has three, two below and one above. It hurts now if they try to chew on a (my) finger!

Finally, here are a couple of pictures. The first is of April, taken June 8th. The second is of Sophia on the same day. The third is not a family member, but Claire and I and my mom and brother were excited to hear him back in May. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Count Your Many Blessings --- Life

Although we face trials, as does everyone, we have many things for which to be thankful. This is the first of what I intend to be regular entries about our blessings.

When the babies were born last year, I was overwhelmed with gratitude and relief at their lives. They (especially Sophia) had come so close to returning to their creator, that when they made it past their first hurdle of survival, it was easy to look at them and recognize the miracles that they were.

Even as time passed in the NICU, however, life crept into that miracle and I found myself forgetting a little. Gratitude left one day as I overheard a couple in the pod across the room. I learned that this couple lived in the same town I did. Their baby was unexpectedly born a few weeks too early, and they were devastated to have him in the NICU. My babies had been there for weeks, and I was yearning for some socialization, as much of my time had been spent alone with my babies, curtains drawn, “kangarooing” (holding the baby skin-to-skin, which is supposed to be good for preemies). I wanted to say “hello” to them, commiserate with them, and provide sympathy for each other, as some of our circumstances were similar. Instead, in their grief, they never made eye contact with me. One day, as they both wore sweatshirts of the college from which I graduated, I heard them complain to a nurse, “We live so far away! It takes at least an hour to drive here and an hour to drive home. Our baby has been here so looooong. When can we take him home? We have a two-year-old who has to stay with grandma when we come here, and he doesn’t know what is going on, and it is so difficult for him. My husband has to work, and can’t come quite everyday.” These people’s baby was in the NICU for less than five days.

I soon realized that this couple deserved my sympathy, as having a baby in the hospital is difficult whether it is for one day or one hundred days. However, before I came to this realization, I mourned my own. I lived just as far away. I had three other children, including one not yet two years old, who were lucky to stay with grandma, yet also were having a difficult time. My husband had just opened a new business (it opened the day before the babies were born, while I was in the hospital) and so was working two jobs. I had to work once a week so he could visit the hospital at all. My babies had been there for weeks, and would remain for many more weeks.

Not too many weeks passed before I was given a strong reminder of how grateful I should be. The entry to the NICU has a washing station, and everyone who enters spends three minutes scrubbing hands and arms. In my new need for contact with other parents, I greeted a couple washing next to me and asked about their baby. It turned out to be a mom and her brother, and she had a beautiful but sad smile as she told me that her daughter had been born a few weeks too early, but just needed to grow and eat and was doing well. They finished their washing before mine, so I was surprised to see that their baby was in the same room we were. I nodded and waved as I passed their pod on the way to see April and Sophia.

Either later that day or another, they approached me and asked whether they could see my babies (privacy is a big issue in the NICU, so people must ask permission to approach another pod). Glad for the opportunity, I smiled and welcomed them. The woman commented that she had heard from a nurse that I had twins. She admired them and told me they were beautiful. Then, I heard her softly comment about her twins. Realizing that this was emotional for her, I thought that perhaps she had had twins a few years beforehand that did not make it. I gently asked, “Twins?” Then, tears freely falling, she told me that her baby who was across the room had been a twin. Her sister died shortly before she was born. I put my arm around her and struggled for words of comfort. Here were my twins, right in front of her. Life is not always fair. This woman taught me much about gratitude, because, aside from that and another encounter, all I ever heard her talk about was how much she loved her surviving daughter, how well she was doing, and how much she looked forward to taking her home. Her daughter was beautiful, with the perfect color of soft, reddish hair. This woman who had faced such a major trial was optimistic about her baby and their future together.

I think that baby and her mother were there for two or three weeks. I wanted to give her something to let her know I was thinking about her. I struggled from the time we first met until nearly the time she left to think of something suitable. I finally settled on a beautiful journal, in which she could write her thoughts, or notes to her daughter, or whatever she chose. I wasn’t sure this was the perfect gift, but a friend had done that for me when I first entered the hospital, and I appreciated it greatly. A day or two before they were scheduled to leave, I approached the woman and her baby. She rose and met me in the middle of the room. “I have something for you,” she said to me. Surprised, I answered, “I have something for you too.” What she gave me will forever be a reminder to me to be grateful for April’s and Sophia’s lives. “My brother gave these to me at my baby shower,” she explained, tears wetting her cheeks. Her gift is pictured below. Cute onesies that were meant for her twin daughters had been generously, unselfishly, and lovingly passed on to mine. I am eternally grateful for April’s and Sophia’s lives.

(Photos, top to bottom: 1. April & Sophia today, 2. April, top, & Sophia - 8 days old -- 1st picture together, 3. The family, about 3 weeks after babies' births, 4. April & Sophia 1-1/2 months old, 5. April & Sophia today)