Two Simple Acts

Mama Kanga and her Roo's, Lily (right) & Kali (left)

Mama Kanga and her Roo’s, Lily (right) & Kali (left)

When becoming a new parent, best practices, guidelines, and all of the “must-do’s” flood our mind.  All mom’s and dad’s want the best for their children. I find peace in getting back to basics and focusing on two simple acts: Kangaroo care and Breastfeeding.  Both of these can be practiced whether a parent takes their newborn home shortly after birth or for those trying to learn how to be mom and dad in a NICU setting.

Kangaroo care is an endearing term used to describe skin-to-skin holding.  This snuggle time has benefits for both mom, dad and baby. The newborn benefits from skin-to-skin holding because they learn their parents’ scents. The sense of smell is the first to develop and is quite strong, which is why many encourage the use of scent cloths. Additionally, the baby’s vitals mimic those of the person, which is holding them and can help to regulate their heart and respiration rates.  When mom is caring for her baby this way, the infant can be soothed by the sound of her heartbeat since it is what they heard for many months while in utero. Kangaroo care can foster quality sleep for infants. This is why it is typically done for at least 90 minutes at a time. We know that sleep is critical for a newborn, or preemie because it encourages both growth and healing. If time is of the essence, swaddling and hold the baby is also beneficial and many hospitals have “cuddlers” who are happy to help.

"Nana B" & Bella cuddling

“Nana B” & Bella cuddling

Kangaroo care also benefits parents as a unique bonding experience. One is able to simply hold, love and adore their baby. This is also a great time to sing, read or gently speak to the baby while they drift to sleep. A mother can specifically benefit from this practice because oxytocin is released during infant bonding.

Oxytocin is known as a love hormone, but plays a significant role in building, maintaining and letting down a mother’s milk. It also can cause uterine contractions that help the uterus return to its normal state. Therefore, it is evident how the first act leads to our second- breastfeeding.

The breast is best! Breast milk is often referred to as “liquid gold,” due to its nutritional superiority over other methods of feeding. A mother’s milk may vary in composition of nutrients, but on average it is 4.5 % fat, 7.1 % carbohydrate and 0.8-0.9 % protein. It is produced in the body by the mammary glands by pulling sugar, protein, cholesterol and other nutrients from the mother’s bloodstream. Therefore, good nutrition is also very important during the “4th trimester.” Most hospitals recommend fortifying breast milk to increase the calories from the natural 20 calories per ounce, to 22-24 calories per ounce. These fortifiers can also supplement the baby with much needed vitamins and minerals.

UnknownBreast milk is also unique because it contains IgA, or Immunoglobulin A, which is critical to helping to build the infant’s immune system. IgA is quite high in breast milk from day 10 through the 7th month. Additionally, if the mother is breastfeeding, the child can expose the mother to their bacteria and in turn the mother will create antibodies to fight the bacteria, which in turn will be delivered back to the baby via the breast milk.

I have never breast-fed; I have only pumped, but I certainly hope to in the future. The act of breastfeeding is a remarkable bonding experience that also provides an outlet for giving the infant attention. Pumping, with a caretaker present, is also not bad and can grant mother’s a few minutes alone to think, pray, or even grab a quick snack. Another benefit of breast feeding for mothers is that it can foster post-partum weight loss to help the mother achieve a healthier weight after pregnancy. Typically, mothers burn 300 to 500 Calories when breastfeeding or pumping 8 times per day, or every 3 hours. Again, it increases oxytocin which assists the uterus in returning to normal size. For further tips and information on breastfeeding, visit La Leche League.

Both of the acts described above may be simple on paper, but more difficult to practice in daily life. I hope the benefits listed above encourage mom’s and dad’s to explore these ways to attend to, bond and communicate with their baby.


Bon Voyage!

Prop Plane

This has been the week of travel for the Vanderwall quints. Isabella and Elliott celebrated their 3 week birthday by departing for a Madison NICU.  Early Saturday morning, August 24, we packed up Bella and Ellie into a single isolette and began our transition. I joined the sisters, a nurse and a respiratory therapist for the trek on the medical transport prop plane.

Elliott & Bella are ready to head home

Elliott & Bella are ready to head home

It was an emotional 24 hours to say the least and got a good taste of what it may be like to go back to work and leave my little ones at home. I truly felt heartbroken to leave Lily, Kali and Theo for that day and a half. Tears flowed until we boarded the plane. I am happy to say that my heart perked right up when we landed near green grass and fresh water lakes. It also was such a blessing to see how excited Frank was to welcome our daughters home.

The girlies handled the flight and transition really well. Halfway through the flight Bella wet the bed through her diaper, living up to her latest nickname of “Bella Blowout,” and Ellie was not happy about it. For the remainder of the flight, Ellie proceeded to kick her sister to the side of the isolette. By the time we reached Wisconsin, Bella’s face was nearly plastered to the side of the chamber. Firsthand witness to sisterly love! Now settled into their new NICU home, they continue to advance in their feedings and are getting to be better breathers!

After a quick night in my own bed, I boarded a plane on Sunday morning to return to the remaining quints in Arizona. My Mama mission was and is to continue to urge the medical team towards quick, yet safe, transfers home.

Lily and Kali’s turn was early this morning. They have been ready to head home since yesterday morning but there wasn’t any room in the inn… or the new NICU.

Lily on her tummy ready to go see Daddy.

Lily on her tummy ready to go see Daddy.

Kali is bundled up and ready to go!

Kali is bundled up and ready to go!

So, we packaged these little ladies up this morning and watched as the ambulance drove away.

Loading up Kali & Lily

Again, tears flowed.  Although it truly is a bittersweet event and more of a “see you later” than a goodbye, I learned that a parent’s unconditional love does not make sense. There simply is no logic in my love for our children.

Lily and Kali also arrived safe and sound in Madison. They are now enjoying their new homes in a room right next door to their sisters. The nurses reported to me that the plane ride was uneventful, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

Now, all but one are only 20 minutes from their final destination- our home. Theo and I will remain in Arizona until he is also ready to get his wings. He is doing very well and has achieved 4lbs!

Clean baby Theo

Big Brother, Theo

He and I have already logged quite a few hours of Kangaroo care, which I believe has definitely helped his breathing to get stronger. It is amazing to watch how his vitals normalize as we snuggle together. It also helps me to continue to provide “liquid gold” for all of these hungry babies… as evidenced by the overflowing freezer dedicated to the V-5’s breakfast, lunch and dinner!

BM Freezer

So, that is the latest and greatest regarding the V-5. Prayers remain that all five and mommy and daddy will be reunited soon! Please join me in praying that we will all be back in Madison by Saturday to celebrate their 1 month birthday!

Elliott Rose

As many of you remember, Ms. Elliott Rose, formerly known as Baby E, has been quite the fighter from day one. Today, she continues to fight and has pulled ahead of the quints and is now breathing on her own! She can even hold her own pacifier and has successfully taken milk from a bottle on one occasion. God’s handiwork and healing is truly miraculous. This little peanut is still the smallest of the bunch, but you wouldn’t know it by her resiliency.

Ellie Rose is another fabulous self-soother. She will lie wide awake for an hour if you let her just looking about her isolette, chewing on her feeding tube and exploring her face with her miniature hands. She also is quite the smiler and can steal your heart in a minute. Of all the quints, she knows our voices the best, which could melt anyone’s heart.

Elliott also loves bath time and being clean. She enjoys being snuggled in her blankets and nest, but will bust out of her swaddle like Houdini if she wants to.  We are so proud of our little Rose for how she has bounced back from her obstacles early on.

Praise God for His mercy on Ellie Rose and please continue to pray for her health and healing.

Kali Mae

ATTENTION WORLD: Watch out for this one.

Kali is far and away my pick for “most likely to get her own way”.  She possesses the lethal persuasion combination of a 10/10 rated puss-in-boots face and a 10/10 rated ability to throw an international-crisis-level temper-tantrum. With her ability to attack from any angle at a moments notice she will undoubtedly be a handful.

Speaking of handful, it was surreal the first time I held Kali, because she literally fit into one of my hands. I am in awe of life because of the incredible intricacies of the human body and how they are replicated to scale in infants. I could hold her in one hand, but she already had perfectly crafted fingernails (on her pinky too!), footprints, eyebrows, a heart, lungs, intestines, and even a little itty-bitty tongue! Absolutely incredible.

Ok. Enough from me. Pictures!!!

Quick Kali Status Update: Little Kali is doing very well right now and continues to grow. Currently she’s up to about 2.5 pounds. Please pray she continues to tolerate her feedings so she can gain weight, and that her lungs continue to strengthen so they can function on their own.

Until next time. Stay classy San Diego.

Lillian Grace

Lillian Grace is one tough cookie. She has certainly had one of the more rough transitions to life outside of Mommy. This little love bug has faced breathing issues, a puncture in her lung, a brain bleed and an infection scare. But, she has conquered all of them! She is now leading the pack of ladies in growth and is one of the stronger breathers. You will notice below that she has fewer photos than the rest of the V-5. We did not want to bother her while she was healing, so we have some catching up to do now that she is well.

Little Lily has Daddy’s light hair, but Mommy’s nose. She is definitely a cutie like the rest! Our little Lily Bug is a great self-soother. Once you put on her little Lady Bug hat she is as happy as can be. She also cannot stand dirty diapers and she will let you know it. The minute she wets her drawers, she’s wailing. However, once you clean her up, she’s good to go.

If you click on an image, it will give you a full-screen slideshow of all the pictures.

We are so proud of Lillian and very thankful that God has granted her grace and has helped her to heal from her ailments. Please pray that His hand remains over Lillian and the rest of our Quints, so that they will continue to grow stronger and be able to return home together.

Isabella Marie

Big sister, Isabella Marie, is the oldest girl but one of the smallest at birth. She is our “I don’t do drama” queen. This blonde Bella has very keen senses of hearing and sight. When the others’ start sounding their alarms, or she has had enough photos for one day the little hands go up and shield her little eyes and ears. Bella also takes the cake (literally) as our best eater and grower. She is tolerating 6 times as much milk as her siblings.  “Beautiful Marie” gets her looks from her Daddy with her light hair, long face and tendency to crinkle her forehead. We are excited to introduce you to our little Bella Bean.

If you click on an image, it will give you a full-screen slideshow of all the pictures.

Not pictured above:

  • When Daddy gets the camera too close or her neighboring brother causes a racket, little Bella flashes her hands Vogue-style until peace resounds. Her little spirit finger-spread has caught on in this NICU pod as her signature move.
  • Our big sis also knows how to grab your attention. She’ll hold her breath just long enough to get mom or dad to pay her a visit and then rebounds back to healthy limits.

We are so thankful that Bella has been the most well of the bunch, evading spontaneous ruptures and breathing issues.  Prayer requests for Isabella include her continued tolerance of her feedings, as well as, sustained growth and development.

Keep coming back to meet Lily, Kali and Ellie, too!

Baby Theo

Theo is quite possibly, in our unbiased opinion, the cutest little infant baby-boy in the history of the world. It’s amazing how at just 31 weeks of age he is already showing quite a personality. It’s also amazing how much of a prototypical boy he can be at times. Here is a snapshot of  sweet little Theodore Joseph who has more than stolen mommy and daddy’s hearts. (If you click on an image, it will give you a full-screen slideshow of all the pictures).


Not pictured above:

  • In an unprecedented incident, during the night, Theo escaped out of his little bed, pulled himself across his isolette, and positioned himself right in front of one of the entry portholes. Apparently, he thinks he’s ready to go home :-)
  • We were photographing Theo and he felt the session was running a bit long. We kid you not, he looked right into the camera, conjured up an epic scowl for his little face, and then flipped us the bird. The picture was too obscene for this blog, but it was all captured in high-definition. We’re quite positive it will resurface in the years to come, accompanied by much laughter.
  • When Dad finally decided to jump in for one of Theo’s diaper changings, Theo made sure it was an unforgettable experience – if you catch our drift, literally :-) Welcome to fatherhood!

We hope you have enjoyed the pics and stories of our precious little Theo.

Please pray for his continued health, well being, and many smiles and blessings to come.

Stay tuned for photo galleries of all Theo’s little sisters!