Happy birthday little Felix!

One year ago today, our little Feisty Felix graced the world with his presence. To be Felix’s mom is the greatest joy, fear, frustration, laughter, pain, and surprise I could have ever expected, but I would not trade any of this.

I’ve struggled with what to write today. How do I possibly sum up the most life-changing year? And how can I explain all the little things that were actually huge things for Felix to accomplish without delving deep into the hardships of NICU and post-NICU life? Because after all, today is a happy day — the happiest of days. One year ago today, I got a second chance at life and my little boy lived.

The week before Felix was born was the scariest time. I didn’t know if he would make it and if he did make it, I had no idea what challenges we would face. I remember getting my last ultrasound just a few days before he was born, and crying bitter tears in my car because it was the first time I realized how much I loved that little thing and how much I wanted him to survive.

For those that know me well, you’ll know that I’ve wanted to be a mom forever. Even as a little girl, my favorite games to play were mommy and baby. I waited 33 years, getting all my ducks in a row, and partaking in so many adventures so that when my time to be a mom did arrive, I could fully enjoy it with zero regrets. And I’m so glad I did because I never had to make the difficult choice of being there with my son or having to provide for my family — I could do both and I continue to do so, enjoying my time at home with my baby and simultaneously working in an amazing job.

The first time I saw Felix, the day after he was born, I knew I would go to the ends of the earth for him. I remember seeing those delicate little fingers and toes and thinking what a miracle he was. Then the nurse lifted his hat over that little face, and he took my breath away. I don’t know what I’d been expecting, but he was beautiful. He had this perfect little nose and lips, and a little pointy chin. He looked like a little genie. I could have stared at him forever.

The NICU staff was incredible. They took amazing care of my little baby and for that, I will always be grateful. He would not be here if not for them. We nearly lost him several times, and their quick actions saved him again and again. I won’t go into details and perhaps save these types of stories for another day, but needless to say, that to have made it this far is a true miracle.

In the NICU, sometimes it’s hard to feel like a parent. I had major imposter syndrome for a long time, because he was too fragile to hold, to comfort, to change, or to feed. And so, in many ways I felt like I wasn’t a true mother just yet. We celebrated all the normal firsts, but sometimes it was the tiny accomplishments that were treasured above all else because they helped us become Felix’s parents.

The first time a nurse let me change his diaper was a true milestone. I was scared, trying not to hurt that fragile soft skin and so I ever so lightly dabbed him with a soft cloth. It took about 5 minutes to change that one diaper, even when Felix barely moved because I was terrified of hurting him. At the time, I hadn’t held Felix yet and so that one moment helped my imposter syndrome subside a bit.

The first hold was the first moment I truly felt like a mom and it continues to be one of my most cherished memories, especially because it almost didn’t happen at all. In those first two weeks of life, Felix’s oxygen needs steadily increased. Finally, one day we found out that Felix had reached the maximum level of support they had available in the NICU. If his oxygen levels dropped or he stopped breathing, there was nothing they could do for him. Our only hope was to give him steroids. There was a decent chance they wouldn’t work and even if they did, there could be long term side effects. It was a horrible situation, but we had no choice.

The steroids worked. And the progress was almost instantaneous. Only two days after we thought we would lose our little boy, Felix was well enough that I was able to hold him. My world literally shook that day as an earthquake rocked the East Bay. I held him steadily against my chest, his breathing rate slowed down, and his oxygen saturation remained stable. It was a small miracle, as most babies that fragile couldn’t tolerate being held. But Felix was and continues to be happiest with his parents.

There are so many other milestones from the NICU that I could talk about: the first decorations we placed in his room to try to provide a sense of home, the first time he got to wear clothes — nearly two months after he was born — because it meant he could finally hold his temperature stable and could sleep with an open incubator, the first time we heard him cry a few weeks after birth was heartbreaking as his voice was a little hoarse from being intubated but it also meant his lungs were healing enough that he could breathe using a CPAP machine, every time he moved to a new and lower oxygen setting was one step closer to home, when we moved to the back rooms of the NICU — where only the babies that don’t need one-on-one care can reside, his first bottle, and of course when we could finally take him home — 5 months after he was born.

It’s been nearly seven months since Felix came home and although cold/ flu/ RSV and now COVID have kept us mostly home-bound, it’s been such an incredible opportunity to spend this time together as a family of three after spending so much time apart. There’s so much I love about Felix, but here are just a few things.

His first true smile was the day we took him home. I think he must have sensed something exciting was happening. We had gotten tiny little mouth quirks previously, but the day we took him home, he graced us with a big, unmistakably happy smile. His smiles have only continued to get better. He often graces us with giant, open-mouthed grins and little gurgly giggles, coos, and sometimes even deep belly laughs. Making Felix smile is the best feeling in the world.

I love how much Felix shows us that he cares. The way he looked at and continues to look at Bryan is just amazing. This little boy loved his daddy even when he was a tiny little thing, and why wouldn’t he? Bryan adores him and makes him laugh like nobody else. When Felix was in the NICU, sometimes he would cry inconsolably during a diaper change, after getting blood drawn, or if he was scared. Yet, he would immediately stop crying the moment I picked him up. I remember this one time, a doctor was examining him and he worked himself up. I picked him up and immediately stopped the crying. The doctor was amazed and said to me: wow, you can really tell Felix loves his mom. To this day, Felix still loves being held and he enthusiastically reciprocates, nuzzling his head against our chests, and wrapping his little arms around our shoulders. Lately, I’ve loved when he reaches out for me to pick him up or when he gives us little open-mouthed kisses. I don’t think that will ever get old.

I love how brave, stubborn, and adventurous he is. This kid is a little explorer and loves figuring out how things work. He willingly reaches out his little hand to touch new things, whether they are leaves on trees, our dogs, bubbles, the messiest food, water out of the faucet, or my hair! Recently, he learned that when he opens his hands when we make him “clap” he can make sounds. His little face lights up in a joyous smile. When he first came home, he figured out that if he kicked the walls of his bassinet, he could make the animals on his mobile jiggle. He loved falling asleep watching them shake. To this day, he usually lulls himself to sleep by kicking at his mattress. I think the best example though is when Felix was born. He was a tiny, 12 inch, 1lb 6 oz little baby boy. His lungs weren’t fully developed, and yet he cried. He wasn’t even supposed to breathe and doctors warned us he would likely need to be resuscitated — if he survived the birth, but he came into the world with a triumphant shout, and gosh darn it, he would breathe! The doctors gave him some oxygen and he managed to breathe on his own for two hours!! Although he quickly tired out and had to be intubated, he could breathe and he continues to defy expectations to this day.

I love how patient he is. I still pump six times a day to provide milk for Felix. Although Bryan tries to watch Felix while I pump, sometimes a meeting comes up or Felix wakes up from a nap. Oftentimes, he just lays there silently cooing to himself while playing with hands or feet, and waits for me to finish. I’ve never met a baby like him before. We’ve often been complimented for how patiently he waits while we’re at the doctor’s office instead of screaming for us to go. He is truly one-of-a-kind.

And I love all the other little and big moments we’ve shared over the past year, including: the first time he met his extended family including grandparents and aunt/ uncles, the first time we could see his entire face after taking off his oxygen cannula, his first two teeth that have made his smiles all the cuter, his first time in a pool, his first walk among the redwoods, our first walk at the park when he saw geese and a giant lake for the first time, the first time he went on a front-facing harness walk and stared mesmerized at the trees moving in the wind, singing songs to him while he smiles at us, when he sat up for the first time, the first time he opened his eyes, the first giggle, when he first said mam in the middle of the night — calling out for me to help him, when he discovered the joy of peek-a-boo, when he tried watermelon for the first time, nightly bath time, reading books while he helps us turn the pages, rolling the ball back and forth, sitting outside in the warm breeze, the day he discovered his feet, the day he became brave enough to try to pet Riley and Kiwi, when he learned to bounce while standing, every time he rides on Bryan’s shoulders, and so many more.

This year has been so incredible and we are so lucky to have spent it with Felix. While we still have a few hurdles to overcome, I know we can do it together and my hope is that the next year can bring us many more smiles, adventures, and milestones, and much less anxiety and tears. Happy birthday little Felix! Here’s to many, many more.

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