Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 in Review

Last year, I started doing an annual recap of the year - and here's the one for 2012!


I started the year by making 12 resolutions. We closed on our house on a day so warm we didn't need coats, and moved in a week later in a snowstorm. Oh, Minnesota. (Related house posts: details about the house and what our house cost.) I finally got my hands on my domain. I talked about things that make me feel smart vs. things that make me feel broke. I debated saving for retirement vs. saving for kids' college funds. Peanut romanced me with life and disability insurance.


I evaluated how much of my spending is related to keeping up appearances. I read The Behavior Gap, which I loved. I complained about companies trying to scam new homeowners (and mail addressed only to the mail half of our jointly-held mortgage). I talked about finding good enough. Peanut and I fell into the new homeowner trap and spent a ton of money on a ton of stuff (nearly a year later, I just want to point out that I don't regret ANY of the money we spent - we have a great set of reliable cookware now. Oh, and we paid cash, which is the only way to go overboard like that!). I discovered that I like a new expensive hobby.


I participated in Women's Money Week and I was a jerk to a neighbor kid. We bought Peanut's dream car! I read and loved Words to Eat By. Behind the scenes, I was diagnosed with PCOS and told I could not get pregnant unassisted. As I struggled to accept this reality, I debated the sometimes unfair standards I set for myself and how that leads to general unhappiness.


I had some hefty medical bills for an ultrasound and started wondering if I'd made the right decision by going with our high deductible medical plan. I got all homemaker-y (by the way - we never used those firestarters!) and got an itch for superfrugal ideas. In real life, I hosted my mother in my own home (a first!), and took a road trip with her and my sister. I took up quilting as a hobby. Oh, and I got pregnant, but I wouldn't learn that for another four months!


That ultrasound turned into a full mammogram, which I had right when pregnant breasts are the most sensitive (I just thought that everyone had been understating how truly painful mammograms are!). I hosted the Carnival of Money Pros and told 1800Flowers that we are never, ever, ever getting back together. I explained why we left New York. I read and was inspired by The Complete Idiot's Guide to Couponing, and started the #couponchallenge. I was awkward to my hairdresser (I followed your advice!) and was amazed by a 9-year-old blogger. My mind was boggled by women who give up any participation in their household finances under the excuse of sharing finances with their spouses.


I started keeping a price book and learned some very interesting things about my assumptions. I spent a week in New York and a week in LA for work, so I didn't get a lot of blogging done!


I went to Aldi for the first time. Peanut and I got big raises on the same day! We added a four-legged friend to the Moneybags household. Offline, I enjoyed some seriously unseasonal weather for Minnesota, and I sat in my backyard and soaked it up.


I got the itch to spend some money! I went public with our infertility struggles and almost immediately found out that I was very pregnant! (Perhaps this blog is my vision board? If so, note to the universe: I don't have a million dollars in my bank! It would be a great thing to have a million dollars in the bank! I will keep you guys posted if this works!)


Only a few weeks after learning of my pregnancy, I gave birth to our daughter Baby M. We became NICU parents and pretty much everything else was put on hold. I struggled with learning to appreciate the generosity of others.


I discovered the true meaning of financial peace. I joined Dimespring as a regular blogger. I debated selling breast milk vs. donating it (I've since donated over a thousand ounces to local preemie and adoptive moms). I discovered kids consignment sales and tricked out Baby M's room and wardrobe on the cheap.


I waxed poetic about my trip to the kids consignment sale. I wrote about maternity leave over at Dimespring, and in real life I went back to work and struggled with balancing those responsibilities with my new job as a parent - and therefore I didn't blog much!


I read and reviewed The Money Code, which gave me some interesting insight into my money personality. I PAID OFF MY STUDENT LOANS! I detailed life in the NICU, which remains the overwhelming focus of my life.

In summary, 2012 will go down as probably the most unforgettable year of my life. From where I stand now, what could have been the most horrible experience I can imagine will have a happy ending - Baby M is healthy (all things considered), happy, and will be coming home sometime in the new year. Peanut and I remain ridiculously in love with each other, we are delighted with our home and the decisions we made last year to change our lives, and the furry cat-shaped hole in my life has been filled purrfectly.

For 2013, I hope for strength. I will take on the hardest job I have ever had - parenthood. I will spend six months at home (or hospital) with our daughter, and while that job is hard for everyone, I have been warned that the job of parenting a preemie can be tougher than average. In addition to managing a baby's need for food, sleep, and entertainment, I will learn to dose medications, handle oxygen tanks and possibly feeding tubes, and (please no) administer infant CPR. I will be her advocate with medical professionals and anyone who  might carelessly get her sick. And I will be thankful daily for the opportunity to do so.

How was your 2012? Do you have any big hopes for 2013?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Dimespring: What's a Little Gift Giving Among Adults?

Hey, guys - my latest post is up over at Dimespring!

There are a lot of things I like about the holidays: the music, the food, the change in seasons, the food, the festive spirit, the food, the decorations ... did I mention I like the food?
But I don’t like exchanging gifts. 
Click over to Dimespring to read the rest!

Notes from the NICU: Things People Say

Things that Help
I will be ever appreciative to all of the doctors, nurses, occupational and respiratory therapists, hospital staff, friends, and family who were able to say congratulations to us right off the bat. It felt strange, at first, for people to be congratulating me for failing to stay pregnant and for having a baby who had to live in a plastic box for several months. But it was the right thing to say. The word recognizes that what happened - a traumatic medical experience  - is not all that happened - we also had a baby! Something that should be celebrated! Something we should be proud of! Something that changed our lives! I saved every card that was sent to us, and I treasured every bouquet of flowers.

Everyone in the hospital refers to us as "mom and dad," even calling us that to our faces. This also seemed weird to me at first (what, don't they bother to learn our names?), but I am so grateful that they do this. Early on when there was no parenting I could do, when I had a hard time believing that I was a parent, I felt a little lost among the people who knew what was going on. Being called "Baby M's mom" made it easier for me to identify myself as such. It also helped us find our place in the NICU. Everyone else has a title: Doctor, Nurse, RT, Social Worker. Mom and Dad are pretty unique and definite titles!

Things that Hurt
I will never forget the words that a dear family member uttered when I called with the news of Baby M's arrival. "She might not make it." I wanted to scream. I know this person was trying to protect me in case the worst happened, and I knew (oh believe me, I knew) that this outcome was possible. But it was the last thing on earth I wanted to hear.

One friend, who I emailed with the news, wrote me back "I'm so sorry." I understand the sentiment that she was trying to convey - that she was sorry such a traumatic thing had happened to me, that she knew it wasn't what we'd wanted, but it still smarted. I'm not sorry Baby M was born, regardless of the circumstances.

Do not tell me statistics. Either I know them by heart or I am purposefully avoiding them, and your recitation of them isn't going to get to the fact of the matter, which is that statistics tell you NOTHING about an individual. Even the doctors refuse to quote me statistics when I ask for them, so I don't want to hear it from anyone else.

Maybe surprisingly, the words that I hate hearing the most are "You're so strong. I could never handle what you're going through. I couldn't cope."

Guess what?

I do not have a degree in coping. I have no special training in being a NICU parent. I had no preparation for seeing my child kept alive by machines. There is no secret to doing this. I just do it. Sometimes I am sure that I can't handle it, that if one more fucking thing lands on my plate I will completely go to pieces. That it isn't fair, and it isn't right, and this is not what I signed up for. But falling apart won't help me, and it won't help her, so I get out of bed, and I pump six ounces of breast milk, and I drive to work before the sun is up, I work a full eight hour day and I am more productive than I have ever been in my life while pumping every two hours, and I speed through rush hour traffic and I wait impatiently at hospital security and I scrub up and I get updates from doctors and nurses and I change diapers and I silence monitors and I untangle oxygen cords, and I read about surgery outcomes and medication side effects and disability statistics and the blogs of other preemie parents, I eat dinner from a charity and I pump more breast milk and I take pictures to take home with me because I can't take my child, and every night when I walk out of the hospital so tired I can't see straight, my heart breaks in two. And I drive home and pump milk all night and I do it again the next day. And it's worth it because every time I snuggle my daughter, I think I can do this.

And you could too, if you had to. You'd have no choice.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Notes from the NICU: Job Prospects

The future is uncertain for all of us, but since Baby M entered our lives, my future in particular has become uncertain. 

Will I go back to work full-time, permanently?

Since Peanut and I have been together, we have been careful to live a one-income lifestyle while bringing in two. This allowed him to try his hand at freelancing for six months, let us save up to move across the country and buy a house and two cars in eight months, and made my being on maternity leave with only five weeks' notice no big deal. But we didn't plan that so that I could quit my job to stay home with babies - I have a master's degree in my field and I like my job and my career, and I planned to go back to work after Baby M's full term arrival. 

And then she came three and a half months early. I didn't even have enough leave to be off work through her due date, and I have a fairly standard US maternity leave.

Luckily, my company has been very understanding*. I took all my paid leave when she was first in the NICU, and I will take an additional six months unpaid, starting next month. Whether I go back at the end of that depends on how her health is at the end of that six months.

Due to her chronic lung disease, we have to be extremely vigilant about protecting her from colds and other respiratory illness. Her doctors have recommended that we keep her out of daycare for two years. My leave will get her through the first cold and flu season, but what do we do after that? Where do we find caregivers who are experienced with preemies, don't mind babies on oxygen and maybe with feeding tubes, who are certified in infant CPR, who can take her to some of her many, many follow up appointments - and who are affordable? It seems an awfully tall order.

I have a lot of reasons for wanting to go back to work: I like feeling smart and capable at my job, I like working with books and book people, I think it's a great thing for me to demonstrate for my daughter. I never planned on being a stay at home mom, and I'm afraid I will go stir-crazy staying at home with an infant, especially because we can't leave the house and go to the park, museum or even grocery store during cold and flu season. I worry about leaving the workforce and trying to get back in down the road.

But ultimately Baby M's health trumps everything. If she needs me to be at home, take full-time care of her and be her advocate with medical staff and early intervention professionals, that will be my job. We just have to wait and see what she tells us.

*Which, frankly, they had to be. I was prepared to quit outright. THIS is the reason to go after financial security: so that you are in control of your own destiny. I don't think that my ability to quit has made them be more generous - my bosses are good people - but it certainly didn't hurt. I generally don't recommend anyone discuss their overall financial picture with their employer, but I have noticed that I am treated a little differently now that the higher-ups know that I don't NEED this job. They have more of an incentive to make me want to stay there!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Notes from the NICU: The Finance Stuff

Neonatal intensive care is EXPENSIVE. Baby M will be a million dollar baby when we bring her home, probably a million plus.

Our hospital is amazing in that they treat any child with no regard for ability to pay. We are fortunate that we picked the best health insurance available to us. It's a high deductible plan, but the deductible is totally manageable and after that everything is covered 100%. Not only that but because of her birth weight, Baby M qualifies for state aid which will cover the deductible for 2013 (which we will reach, in full, on January 1) so we probably won't have any out of pocket medical expenses for the entire year. Maybe some prescriptions, but that's about it.

Aside from the cost of her care, our finances are sort of wonky right now. We are spending more on gas driving back and forth to the hospital, but almost nothing on food - we've bought only things like milk and instant oatmeal for months. I posted about my initial discomfort with receiving assistance from the Ronald McDonald House, but I am long past that. We eat dinner there almost every night and I am grateful for it every day. We will be coming back to serve a meal in the future to pay it forward, hopefully on a very regular basis. The care we are receiving from them has already encouraged our extended family to contribute through the collection bins in McDonalds restaurants.

We don't really go shopping at all - Christmas is totally canceled, and the baby shopping is done. I can't justify spending time in a store when I could be cuddling my kid. It means that I have missed out on a lot of couponing deals for items like diapers and wipes that I would otherwise be stocking up on but you know what? We can pay full price for wipes. Big deal.

We did manage to pay off my student loans in the middle of all this, though. We've been chipping steadily away at them, but we decided to take the money we'd been setting aside for our Roth IRAs and just get rid of my loans and start dumping extra on Peanut's. It sucks to not max those out for a year or two, but we gain a lot more security and monthly cash flow in the short term by doing this. I always liked Dave Ramsey's recommendation to shore up your finances when you see storm clouds on the horizon, and this is one way to do that.

The hardest part of this financially is keeping track of where our money is going. We are almost always on the run, and keeping our spreadsheet up to date has been a little challenging. This sort of thing makes me crazy for some reason, but if the biggest financial headache I have while my daughter is in the hospital is that a spreadsheet doesn't match the number of bills in my wallet, I am lucky and I just have to keep that in mind.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

This should really tell you something about us.

Peanut and I went crazy at Target the other night!

It was ten o'clock at night. We had just left the hospital after snuggling Baby M into bed. We were exhausted and kind of loopy and we were out of milk. I also needed baby fingernail clippers. We decided to stop at Target, and I asked whether  I should just run in or if Peanut wanted to come in too. Then he said, "Let's just look around together."

Woo hoo! We never just go shopping for shopping's sake! Never! We always have a list and a plan and a desire to get in and get out as quickly as possible! We were breaking all of our rules!

We bought whatever we wanted. But just to show how cheap we are when it comes to going crazy, here is a list of everything we bought:

Slippers for Peanut (his existing ones have broken)
Gloves for Peanut (his old ones had an unfixable hole in them)
A Christmas stocking for Baby M
Baby nail clippers (in blue; the pink ones were $1.50 more)
A loofah for me
A gallon of milk
A package of pancake-sausage corndog things
A package of veggie sausage links
Two Annie Chun's soup bowls

Grand total: $32.79

Which we paid for with a Target gift card that we got at our baby shower.

Watch out, we are cRaZy!!1!1

Notes from the NICU: Future Babies

In a comment on an earlier post, Money Beagle asked, 
...Through all the posts I've wondered if they have indicated what caused you to go into labor so early and if there was any reason that the methods they tried to hold you off did not take. Also just wondering how this affects any potential future pregnancies...
Which I guess I should have clarified! I mentioned it only briefly right after Baby M was born, and not as part of this series.

I didn't go into labor, exactly. No one knows why I was having such frequent contractions so early in the pregnancy, but as they were painless and not effective, they alone would probably not have caused her early birth. I had a placental abruption, which is when the placenta detaches from the wall of the uterus. It occurs in 1% of pregnancies and is life-threatening to both baby and mother. In my case, the detachment was happening slowly, so they were able to keep me pregnant for a few more crucial days.

The irritation of bleeding in a pregnant uterus can cause labor to start (the causes of labor are actually not entirely understood!). The drugs I was given kept me from going into labor, so they definitely worked. But once an abruption starts, it's only a matter of time before it becomes severe enough to endanger the baby and/or start labor that cannot be stopped no matter what. The abruption reduced oxygen to Baby M, which put her in distress. (I learned a lot of this after everything was over. I'm glad I wasn't told from the beginning: Hey, you're going to be on bedrest till you have the baby! Which we hope happens sixteen weeks from now!)

It's not known what causes abruptions. Cocaine use is frequently correlated, but that wasn't true in my case. I didn't fall, I wasn't hit in the abdomen. There is no history of it in my family. It's just one of those things that happens to people. Unfortunately, because it has happened to me once, there is a higher risk that it could happen again.

I have some other things against me in the reproductive arena: I have poly-cystic ovarian syndrome, which makes getting pregnant difficult, and can have increased risks of multiples/pre term birth if fertility drugs are used. I have a bicornuate uterus, which frequently is associated with pre-term birth (I was actually expecting to give birth around 35 weeks, but not 25!), but is not associated with an increased risk of abruptions. Having one pre-term birth correlates highly with having a second for reasons that are not entirely understood. And having a c-section so early in the pregnancy increases my risk for a uterine rupture.

All of that has not necessarily put me off having a second child. All of the risks above, even the associated ones, are relatively small. I asked my doctor point-blank if she would recommend that I avoid future pregnancies, and she said no. So I have the official medical greenlight to try again, with a few caveats.

If I get pregnant again, I can expect to be placed on bedrest from the beginning. I would be monitored closely by a perinatologist as well as my OB/GYN. I would be kept pregnant for as long as possible but likely would not be allowed to go full term. I would have another c-section, unless, in my doctor's words, I "showed up to the emergency room so far into labor that the baby came before we finished signing the paperwork." I would be terrified for every minute of the pregnancy, and if we did wind up in NICU again, I would be dealing with the stress and trauma that I now know very well along with a child who also needs attention. In addition, I am fully aware of how smooth a path we have taken compared to some, and I'm not sure I like the chances of the road being that easy a second time (for example: boys struggle far, far more than girls do. That's an 50% increased chance of major issues right there!).

There is also a pretty big chance that I'd get pregnant easily, have a completely uneventful road and give birth to a totally healthy, basically full-term baby with no complications. We just don't know. At best, I think I would only try for one more pregnancy. I am 31, and it would take me a few years to be emotionally ready for this - and guess what, pregnancy over 35 is correlated with pre-term birth!

I've had to come to terms with having a pregnancy and birth end not the way I wanted them to. I've had to come to terms with never getting to have the type of birth experience I wanted. I am still coming to terms with not birthing the number of children I wanted (three or four) and possibly raising an only child, something I was kind of set against (no offense to only children or one-kid families; I have lots of siblings and they are a huge part of who I am. That's just what I know and what I wanted for my own kids.) Peanut and I have talked about adoption but right now it's not something we envision for ourselves.

So, in short, I don't know whether I'm done having kids. It might be irresponsible of me to even consider it. It might not be a big deal. At any rate, I have no business making decisions of that magnitude right now, so it's something that we are putting off for a couple of years.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The best frugal music video ever

I feel like this is something Katy Wolk-Stanley would get a kick out of.

Notes from the NICU: Being a NICU Mom

What has it been like to have a baby in the hospital, aside from the health stuff? Since this is our only child, we have nothing to compare it to. Sure, we’re aware that this isn’t “normal” but it’s normal for us.  

The hospital is wonderful. The nurses and doctors and all of the staff are extremely capable and compassionate, and frankly they work miracles on a daily basis and should be sainted, in my opinion. There are all sorts of resources for us, from Ronald McDonald House to social workers and financial counselors to a library of relevant reading material. The cafeteria food is really good, and cheaper than restaurants. There are all sorts of programs for non-baby patients – this hospital is for children only, so the whole place is done up in bright colors with lots of art and interactive things on the walls.  

I took eight weeks off work (on disability, at 60% of my salary) after Baby M’s birth to recover from surgery and sort of figure out what to do next. I spent the time doing all the things I didn’t have a chance to do before she was born – fixing up her room and cleaning out closets and creating a baby registry and sewing her quilt. I spent hours at her bedside in the hospital, even when I couldn’t do anything but change her diaper every four hours. Most days we kangarooed for as long as the nurse would let us. I read all the preemie books I could find.

Oh, and I spend time – so much time – pumping breast milk. I pump every two to three hours around the clock, although sometimes I go four hours at night to get a little more sleep. I have donated excess breastmilk already and I’d like to keep this up for as long as my body will let me.  (Fun fact: I have kept track of every time I’ve pumped – 650+ – and I could figure it out in gallons if I wanted to. #statsnerd)

When I went back to work, things got tougher. I spend eight hours a day at work and close to six hours a day at the hospital, with more time on the weekend. I don’t cook. I don’t go grocery shopping. (I don’t go shopping at all.) I don’t clean the house. I do laundry when absolutely necessary, usually at night so it goes while I’m asleep. I try to snuggle the cat as much as possible. I eat well, I sleep as much as I can, and I stay connected with Peanut. It’s a tough schedule, but the motivation is so strong that it’s not hard if that makes sense.

When might things change? It’s hard to say. We are in the stage two unit, where babies go home from. All told, we spent ten weeks in intensive care and we’ve now been in critical care for almost four weeks. As I write this, I expect that Baby M will be in the hospital for at least another month (so, mid-January), possibly longer depending on her oxygen needs. There’s not much left to do to welcome her home – buy a car seat, send out my maternity leave notice at work, and hunker down for the winter. I’ll write more about my career choices in a future post. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Notes from the NICU: Issues of Prematurity

Baby M’s NICU experience has been, overall, not terrible. She has not suffered from a lot of the problems that micro-preemies face. She has had no brain bleeds and no surgeries. Two rounds of medication closed the patent ductus arteriosus (a hole in the heart that closes spontaneously in newborns but not in preemies). Her digestive system works great and she has never had any problem “eating” – first with total parenteral nutrition and then with breastmilk via a naso-gastric tube or a few drops by mouth via a q-tip. Her eyes are immature but so far show no indication of retinopathy of prematurity, a blood vessel disease that can result in blindness. (Editor's note: I wrote this post a few days before it published, and in that time, Baby M has been diagnosed with moderate retinopathy. Her eyes are being watched very closely and she may need laser eye surgery before leaving the hospital to fix the abnormal growth of blood vessels.)

She weighed 1 pound, 5.5 oz when she was born, and was 12 inches long (from head to feet, she was the same length as my arm from elbow to wrist). Ten fingers, ten toes, a cute button nose and when they finally opened three weeks later, two beautiful eyes. Her palm was the size of my thumbnail, her fingers were like toothpicks. Her back fit in the palm of my hand. When she was stable enough to begin kangaroo care, she fit inside my shelf-bra tank top between my breasts.

Kangaroo care is amazing. The infant, wearing only a diaper, is placed against the mother’s bare chest, and they are both wrapped in a blanket. It promotes bonding, and helps the baby learn her mother’s scent. Her positioning allows her to hear her mother’s heartbeat which she should still be hearing in utero, and snuggling provides boundaries to make her feel safe (preemies tend to flail their arms and legs and get scared). But more than that, it helps the baby’s medical condition. Oxygen support needs go down and blood oxygen saturation levels go up. The infant can better regulate her own temperature. Breathing rate normalizes. Our hospital recommends kangaroo care for as long as the baby will tolerate it, even when they are on a ventilator. Once Baby M was stable enough to kangaroo, we did so every day for an hour or more, with very few exceptions.

For a while, she was the “poster child of the NICU” and doctors would bring foundation tours by her room and tell her story. She has had very few emergencies, and we have never received a terrifying phone call asking us to come to the hospital right away. But this is not to say that her path has remained remarkable.

Due to the immaturity of her lungs, Baby M has severe bronchopulmonary dysplaysia, aka chronic lung disease, and needs more support than is typical at this point (37 weeks five days gestation; 12.5 weeks of age). She went back on the ventilator briefly her first month in NICU, but has since been on SiPap or a nasal cannula with high flow. Her oxygen needs are high – above 40% and sometimes as high as 80%. This is dangerous for two reasons; one, oxygen itself is toxic to the lungs and damages the tissue, and two, oxygen damages the blood vessels of the eyes, which in her case are still developing. She’s had six rounds of steroids to try to wean her oxygen needs, and they’ve all helped somewhat but nothing has done the trick. She works so hard to breathe that it can be hard for her to do anything else, like suck from a bottle. So far, her work of breathing has not prevented her from growing, which is very important. New lung tissue is developed as she grows, and someday – someday! – healthy tissue will be more plentiful than the damaged tissue, and she will be able to breathe on her own.

That day is a ways off. She will be coming home from the hospital on oxygen, and could be on it for eight or nine months. A cold or flu would be catastrophic for her – we’re talking hospitalization, ventilation, major, major problems. She cannot go to daycare for at least two years. She may have asthma, and will probably be an “indoor child” – running and sports are not likely to be fun for her, maybe ever.

Even so, I will take breathing problems over some of the others she could have faced. Babies eventually outgrow breathing issues – have you ever seen a kindergartner on an oxygen cannula? Feeding problems (oral aversion) and digestive issues or brain bleeds are much more serious situations. We are not out of the woods yet, and it will probably be two or three years or longer before we fully understand the implications of her prematurity. But we are on a good path, and if nothing else, this experience is teaching me patience and gratitude.

To be continued…

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Notes from the NICU: Holding Baby M for the First Time

I was in the hospital for three more days, during which time my family came to help. I went to the NICU in a wheelchair through a long underground tunnel each day, sometimes twice a day. There was not much I could do there – I couldn't imagine how to change a diaper on such a tiny infant (her diapers were smaller than my palm). We couldn't hold her or do any of the medical things that needed to be done, and her skin was so fragile that we were reluctant to touch her unless absolutely necessary. Her eyes were still fused shut.

Baby M had surprised everyone by coming off the ventilator within 24 hours of her birth. She received oxygen assistance through a SiPap (similar to a CPAP for adult snorers). The headgear for the device covered almost her entire head. She had several IVs which delivered nutrition and medications and had monitor wires stuck all over to check her heartbeat, respiration, and temperature. Her initial test results were mostly very good – her brain ultrasound indicated no bleeds, and she began pooping right away so we knew her digestive system worked.

We got to hold her for the first time when she was four days old. A nurse wrapped her in a blanket and put her in my arms. That was the moment when the full trauma of what had happened to us hit me. I wanted to fold her up and put her back inside where she was safe, which of course was impossible. Instead, I held my baby in my arms and I wept. I wept for the natural birth I had planned for and now would never have. I wept for having had to face the biggest fear of my life and surviving. I wept for Peanut who had to watch his wife’s heart break. I wept for having only five weeks to come to terms with being pregnant and not infertile after all, for having nothing ready for her, for knowing that the next weeks and months and years were going to be a tremendous struggle for her and for us. I wept because I thought I couldn’t handle what was going to come next.

But I was wrong.

That half-hour gave me the strength to do everything that has come since and everything that will come from this moment on. That was my child, and I am her mother, and despite the traumatic beginning and the short-term difficulties and the potential long-term problems, we will be fine.

To be continued…

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Book Review: Who's Spying On You?

In this age of social media, high-tech surveillance, and online banking, it's easy to feel like your every move can be tracked online - and in the real world. And, guess what? That feeling isn't lying to you. Popular Mechanics Who's Spying on You? covers the basics of the threats to your privacy through financial transactions, medical records, online activity, phone usage and even your home appliances. 

Well-organized and thorough with very recent case studies and examples, Who's Spying on You? can make you feel like you're living in a spy novel - who would be interested in my medical records, for example? Or following me around as I run errands?

Mainly, advertisers. Petty thieves aren't generally willing to go to the trouble, and my life is not interesting enough for the government to keep tabs on me, but advertisers can and do pay for data that allows them to target us more effectively. If a company knows your demographic information, where you life, and where you are likely to shop, they can probably tempt you to spend money on their products.

Well, okay. That's not awesome, but is there really any danger to it?

I don't know - I think it remains to be seen. Who's Spying on You? makes a compelling case that even when  data is anonymized before being shared, it can be reidentified quickly and easily with just a few pieces of the data that is concerned "unidentifying" - gender and zip code, for example. Add a birthdate to that, and you can narrow the possibilities down to only a few. Do you want your medical information shared with such flimsy anonymity? I don't.

The last section of Who's Spying on You? covers the steps you can take to protect your privacy across the major areas where privacy is being invaded: your location, your home, your phone, your computer, your money, your medical history, and your kids.

My only complaint about the book was that the copyediting was seriously sloppy. There were a few sentences that I absolutely could not parse, along with some generally lazy turns of phrase ("endanger species," for example, instead of "endangered"). I would expect a more professional presentation from such a respected institution as Popular Mechanics. Then again, books are my business, so maybe this doesn't bother others as much as it does me.

The big selling point for me is that while much of this information is available on the web, it's nicely condensed here in book form (no one knowing what you're reading!) with a logical progression and solid recommendations. If you're at all concerned about your privacy, or curious about what you're giving up without even realizing it, this is a very good starting point.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book to review. My opinions are my own. 

Notes from the NICU: Welcome to the NICU

I was shocked that Baby M cried immediately after being pulled out. She was only 25 weeks and one day gestation, and her lungs were not fully developed and she was in distress. I didn’t expect her to cry. At that point, I wasn’t entirely sure she was going to be born alive.

They whisked her off to a super-heated room attached to the operating room, and Peanut told me he could see her tiny foot waving in the air. I asked him to show me how big it was, and he estimated with his fingers something that was impossibly tiny, but turned out to be quite accurate (her foot at birth was smaller in length and width than my thumb).

Once she was stable, the same NICU doctor who had come to see me in the labor ward came out and got Peanut, who was allowed to go into that hot room and see our brand new baby. He took some pictures with his phone, and brought them back to show me as the doctors finished stitching and stapling me back together.

As I was wheeled into recovery, I started shaking uncontrollably, from nerves or the anesthesia or both. Shortly afterwards, Baby M was brought to my bedside in a rolling incubator. I could hardly see the infant inside; she was so covered with wires and tubes. Peanut went with them to the NICU, and I was left all alone.

After a c-section, women generally stay in recovery for about two hours, being watched to make sure that bleeding subsides and that they’re okay as the anesthesia wears off. I was there for four hours, because my bleeding wouldn’t stop. Once it was under control, the nurse took me over to the NICU and somehow fit my enormous gurney into her room next to her incubator. I was raised up to be at her level, and I put my hand inside her little artificial womb and cupped her head – my daughter.

The doctor came in and I peppered her with all the questions I could think of, except for the Big One: will she live? I simply couldn’t get the words out. I asked around it: How many babies her size do you see? What do you expect for her progress? What were her Apgar scores? How is she doing? As the doctor answered these questions, I realized that my Big One didn’t need to be asked – the doctor fully expected her to survive, and everything else was a matter of degrees: how much support she will need to breathe, how long it will be before she can eat, how immature are her lungs, brain, eyes, digestive system. Things that, if they aren’t too severe, can be supported with machines and repaired with surgery and overcome with determination.

I was taken back to my room in the post-partum unit and I was given the option of figuring out how to move from the gurney to my bed, or having to stand up later in the evening. I chose to move my entire body, inch by painful inch, about 18 inches to the left four hours after major abdominal surgery. This remains one of my proudest achievements of my life.

Waiting in my room was a breast pump, and a nurse came in to show me how to use it. We started making phone calls to people other than the immediate family we’d called while I was in recovery. I got something to eat, and finally slept a while. And we started to figure out what our lives would look like, now that our daughter was here.

To be continued…

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Notes from the NICU: Emergency C-Section

The day that would become Baby M’s birthday, I woke up feeling great and had a big breakfast. Shortly thereafter I began bleeding very heavily again. The nurses put me back on continuous fetal monitoring and it was apparent that the baby was not doing as well as she had been. Her heart rate was erratic – faster than it had been, and then suddenly it would drop by half. The nurses told me to call Peanut and have him come be with me at the hospital, and they called my doctor. They also took away my water pitcher and made me “NPO” – nothing by mouth – in case of surgery. I was not allowed to get out of bed for any reason. The baby’s heart beat kept getting more and more erratic until my doctor said, “we have to do a c-section NOW”.

An emergency c-section was my worst nightmare. I lost a friend only last year when she hemorrhaged after an emergency c-section. I kept thinking, “this cannot be happening to me. This isn’t fair, it’s my worst fear, you’re never supposed to have to face your worst fear. My baby is going to die, and I am going to die, and Peanut is going to be left all alone.”

Suddenly things started happening REALLY fast. About twenty people materialized in the room. The nurses put an oxygen mask over my face to try to get more oxygen to the baby. Someone tried three times to get an IV started, which resulted in a bruise that extended from my wrist to my elbow and took eight weeks to heal. Someone else undressed me and shaved my lower abdomen. Someone took Peanut aside to fill out paperwork. A gurney was brought in and I must have climbed into it and then we were running through the hallways and people were flattening themselves up against the walls and clearing out of elevators to let us through.

They wheeled us into the operating room, and I wish I could say that my memory of this was hazy but I remember Every. Freaking. Detail. I remember the smell of my fear and of the alcohol wipes. I remember seeing my office doctor done up in surgical scrubs and face mask like it was Halloween. I remember the pink bandana that the anesthesiology assistant wore and the hooting noises I made as they administered the spinal. I remember the eerie silence of the time-out as they announced my name and the reason for the surgery and everyone agreed. I remember the random things I kept talking about because I was so nervous and if my mouth ran, my mind wouldn’t, and I remember Peanut being right next to my head. I remember the tugging and pressure as they opened my abdomen and then my uterus.

And then I remember hearing the tiniest cries in the world.

To be continued…

Monday, December 10, 2012

Notes from the NICU: Pre NICU

Physically, my pregnancy was very easy. I never got sick, I never got fatigued, my cycles didn't change, I didn't gain any weight to speak of. It was so easy, in fact, that I didn't know I was pregnant until my 20th week - halfway through a normal pregnancy.

All of that changed one Thursday evening. I was driving home and felt a very brief, very intense pain, and then a sensation as though I had started my period. Which of course, was impossible - I was 24 weeks pregnant.

I got home, checked to see that I was in fact bleeding, calmly told Peanut that I thought I was in labor, laid down on the floor and burst into tears. When I called the doctor, she advised me to go immediately to the emergency room, so we got in the car, me sitting on towels and holding a bag in case I threw up, and we drove to the hospital the doctor recommended – I hadn’t even had time to pick one

The bleeding had become much heavier by the time we got to labor and delivery, and I was starting to get scared. I was hooked up to a fetal monitor and got to hear my baby's heartbeat for only the third time in her life. I also learned that what I thought was the baby rolling over was actually contractions - I'd been having them about every five minutes for three weeks. I was given multiple shots of drugs to stop labor, steroids for the baby’s lungs, and Rhogam, which you need if you have a negative blood type.
After eight hours in the assessment area, in a bed that is more like an ob/gyn exam table than a bed, I was moved to the labor ward. All around me were women in active labor, who were being coached by nurses and doctors about when to push and when to breathe. And then there was me, with every attempt being made to stop my child from being born. I was put on a magnesium sulfate drip, known to those of us who have experienced it as The Mag. The Mag also helps to stop labor and since it's given via IV instead of a shot, it is more effective over a longer period of time. However, it is a fate almost worse than death. I cannot adequately explain how awful I felt. It was like having the flu and then being run over by a truck, and then being beaten with a sack of pennies. At first I was starving and then everything started coming back up. I had hot flashes of such intensity that a cold cloth pressed to my face became warm to the touch in seconds. I became so weak I couldn't get up to go to the bathroom without starting to black out.

Time passed. This part is kind of fuzzy, aside from how horrible I felt. After a few days I got weaned off The Mag and I felt like a totally new person. At this point, I still thought I was going home. I knew I would be placed on bedrest, but my doctors kept giving me tentative going home dates – usually “the day after tomorrow”. I know now that they had no intention of sending me home, and I’m really, really glad I didn’t know that then.

I should have been tipped off when they asked a neonatologist from the NICU to come talk to me about what premature birth would mean for my baby. She gave me a very good overview of the difference in outcomes based on gestational age, and said she'd like to see me stay pregnant until at least 28 weeks, or better yet 30, or even better 33, at which point she would not mind the baby coming at all. I liked her, but I thought it was overkill for her to come visit. I mean, the contractions had mostly stopped, and they weren't effective (meaning my cervix was still tightly closed and my water hadn't broken). It was just some bleeding, which had been controlled down to almost nothing.

Peanut came to see me every day. The fold-out couchchair in my room didn't seem that comfortable, and I wouldn’t sleep well if I thought he wasn’t sleeping well, so I sent him home to sleep every night. After four days I was moved to the post-partum unit, which I found out later is also a high-risk pregnancy unit. My digs were pretty nice - adjustable bed, tv with dvd player, cable, and on-demand educational health videos. I had a fridge and a microwave, my own bathroom, free wi-fi. The nurses were all top notch. The food was really pretty good - I could call down and order anything I wanted all day and they would bring it up.

The morning of the day that would become Baby M’s birthday, I ordered a huge breakfast – oatmeal, toast, hardboiled egg, bagel with cream cheese and fruit. I figured I could use the time in bed to gain some weight. About an hour after breakfast, things went south.

To be continued…

Friday, December 7, 2012

Master's Degree: Paid For!!!

That's right!!


Peanut and I decided recently to go all Dave Ramsey on our student loans (our only debt besides the mortgage) and funnel the money we had earmarked for Roth IRAs into paying them off. Doing so killed a balance of $8,100 and a monthly $225 payment, which is now freed up to attack Peanut's student loans.

We hope to pay his off within the next year, meaning we would only miss two years of Roth contributions. I hope we can do that - his loans are around $18,000 which is a lot of money when one of us won't be working for half the year.

I graduated in May 2010, and my degree is mine, clear and free! Also, I estimated a little high when sending in my pay-off payment, and the student loan servicer now owes me $40. That'll be a check I'd want to frame, except I'm totally going to cash it. :)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Baby M update

She's so cute, you guys. SO CUTE. I can't believe I made a human that's this freaking adorable.

She is still in the hospital but no longer in intensive care - she's in the transition unit, the last stop before she goes home. We've got another month or two before that happens, but she's doing quite well. She has more than tripled her birth weight and is just starting to take her meals by mouth instead of feeding tube. We've had a pretty smooth path, with no surgeries or major issues.

I went back to work at the beginning of the month, which explains my radio silence. It has been bittersweet to be back - it's nice to feel smart and capable and useful again, and honestly it's nice to be distracted during the period of Baby's life that simply requires patience. But it's really hard not being at her bedside all day long, especially now that she is more interesting and interactive than she was at first. My schedule is pretty demanding right now - I spend a full day at work, then five to six hours at the hospital every weekday, and eight or so hours each weekend day. I don't do much else - laundry when it absolutely needs it. No grocery shopping (thank you, Ronald McDonald House!) or other errands. We have made a point to spend time with friends and family every other week or so, to stay connected with people and give ourselves a break. And I go to yoga a few times a month to maintain my sanity (and it's helping with my recovery as well).

I am still pumping breast milk every three hours around the clock. I made a decision about selling or donating breast milk - I have made donations of several hundred ounces to four different moms (a total of six babies) and I will make an official donation to the Human Milk Bank later this month.

The NICU experience is a really crazy one. I haven't been writing too much about it over here, because I don't know if anyone is interested in that since it's not related to money at all. But I can absolutely talk more about it if people want to know what it's like.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Review: The Money Code

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book to review, but no other compensation. My opinions are my own. 

In The Money Code, Joe John Duran posits that there are three "money minds" which control the default ways in which we spend, save, and think about finances. If you can identify your money mind, you can use its strengths and be aware of its deficits in order to make better money decisions and have more productive conversations. It's sort of The Five Love Languages for your bank account.

Drawing inspiration from The Behavior Gap (see my review here), simple line drawings help illustrate larger concepts, like how to narrow down what you worry about to those things you can control and the intersection of good decisions. The main points of the book are repeated throughout, emphasized in different case studies and with different scenarios. 

Determining your money mind is possible with questions from the book or a well-executed quiz available on the companion website, (link directly to the quiz here).  Once you've learned whether you are a protector, a pleasure-seeker, or a giver, it's easier to determine why you keep making the same mistakes with money over and over again.

I am very definitely a protector. I need a safety net. I am able to be disciplined about saving money, avoiding debt, investing conservatively, and living within my means. However, I also frequently deny myself large or even small pleasurable treats, I have been selfish with money rather than giving, and I am much more likely to fear losing money, thus missing out on opportunities. Knowing how I am likely to act with money can allow me to overcome some of those downsides to being a protector, and use money to enjoy life as well as safeguard my future. The same understanding is given for the other two money minds, along with tips about how to interact with people who have a different money mind that you do.

The biggest downside to The Money Code, in my opinion, is the parable format in which the material is presented. We follow Jack through his encounter with a strange man called The Alchemist who gives him computer lessons and then a one-hour therapy session on a ranch. The lessons and talk therapy impart the components of the money code, use illustrative case studies, and conclude with questions to ask yourself. I found this convention goofy and distracting - it's a lot of filler around some really good food for thought.

That said, I think The Money Code is worth a read if you keep making the same financial mistakes (or even just sub-optimal decisions, like feeling stingy all the time) and can't quite figure out why. It's not prescriptive as much as descriptive - you'll have to figure out how to apply the knowledge to your own life - but it's a fresh, interesting look at our motivations.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

November Recap/December Goals

November Goals
1. Self-care. I am doing okay on this. I've been eating really well and trying to get enough sleep. I have scheduled the rest of my vacation days so that I have a day off every two or three days. I've been strict about bringing my pump with me everywhere. I have worked so hard to build a solid milk supply without actually breastfeeding, and I do not want to endanger it. 

2. Financial plan of action for Baby's homecoming. We have made some plans for how to handle our money while we're down to one income - I took my paid disability leave last time, so we weren't exactly down to one income. When I go back on leave it will be solidly single income, and it'll be for a longer period of time, so we better know that we can pull this off!

3. Ask for help. Fail - I haven't talked to anyone about helping me with the quilts. Ultimately, I realized that the quilts don't need to be done before she comes home, and I don't need to deal with them right now. As usual, I'm trying to do everything myself so it gets done right. :p

4. Figure out taxes for 2012 and make adjustments. I didn't do a dry run after all - Turbo Tax 2012 isn't available until early December. So this goes back on the list!

5. Don't go crazy on the baby spending. I did pretty good on this. We got the crib on sale and a ton of stuff from consignment sales and baby showers. The only thing we still need to buy is a car seat (no, I didn't go on Black Friday after all). And preemie-sized diapers. Lots and lots of diapers. (I'm holding off on this in the hope that she will be in newborn sizes when she comes home, and will therefore fit into the cloth diapers I bought on Craigslist.)

December Goals
1. Cancel Christmas. This is on my list every year and probably should have been done earlier than this but whatever. I just want to let our families know that we will not be doing any shopping this year, and we would prefer to not receive any gifts, either - it creates a sense of obligation and besides, we don't need anything. 

2. Pay off my student loans. Woo hoo, this is a big one! I'll make a separate post about this soon. 

3. Hunker down for one-income living. Last chance before it gets real!

4. Dry-run taxes and if it makes sense, get dental work done. I have close to $1,000 worth of (yet more) dental work I need to get done, and given our medical spending this year it might make sense to do it in 2012 instead of 2013, so we can deduct it. If it doesn't make a difference financially, I'd just as soon wait to do it because my time is so precious right now. 

5. Buy nothing for Baby M but diapers and a car seat! Seriously, we don't need anymore baby stuff. Even if it's cute. Even if it's on sale. Even if it's holiday-themed. 

What are your December goals?

November Spending

Baby $505.15
Business expenses (deductible) $3.89
Business expenses (reimbursable) $298.06
Cat $40.34
Charity $10
Clothing $2
Dental $308.80
Food—dining out $226.41
Food—groceries $113.18
Gifts $206.80
Household items $55.34
House $1366.54
Hygiene $7.31
Jeep $73.41
Mazda $150.52
Medical $613.51
Sewing/Quilting $40.92
Student loans $403.83
Utilities $323.31
Yoga $40

Total Spending: $4,395.45

Things of note:

Not much to note, really. I'm surprised that we managed to spend money on ANYTHING, given how little time I have to do anything other than go to work and to the hospital. But we're muddling along and actually doing just fine. 

How was your November spending?