Media & Updates

My Dose of Awesome for 2018

So - I entered this photo contest.  Before I tell you how I did - I wanted to tell you about the contest itself.  Most of you think - oh, well photo contests are all about popularity.  Right?  Not this one.  I honestly can't stand those contest where people send you the link to their specific images so you can vote on them so they could win.  That's not a true contest - it's a "who has the most friends that can vote for them" contest.  When I heard about the World's totally free and fair photo contest hosted by Shoot&Share, I immediately wanted to enter. In no way would I be able to ask anyone to vote on my images.  There is a small chance that even I would see my own images in the contest when voting.  I love it. The reason I love this The Photo Contest is because it's a great way to bring the photographic community together and share what we love, our photos!! Photographers from all over the world enter their work into the contest and let me tell you, I was in utter awe by how incredible the photos were that I saw throughout the contest.  There were images that literally put tears in my eyes, while others caused my jaw to drop.  The contest was so inspirational and in the end, has given me motivation to work even harder this year to create some even MORE incredible work!

How the process works:

You log-in to vote.  4 random images (in the same category) pop up on the screen.  You simply click your favorite of those 4 images, and then automatically the next 4 images pop up.  (No names are shown so every photograph is judged solely on it's own merit!)  You do the same - pretty much forever.  It's a great way to use up hours of your life without realizing it!  Every contestant can enter up to 50 images into the contest (there are 25 categories total to enter into.)  I entered all 50 images.  Each round ends when EVERY image in the contest had been viewed and voted on 48 times.  (It's a totally fair method and algorithm).  The top voted images in each round make it to the next round.  There are 12 rounds in the contest.

The Contest Stats for this year:

Total entries: 412,379 photos

Total number people voting: Approx. 125K from 130 Countries

Over 78 MILLION votes were cast

My Personal Photos and Stats

The first time I entered my photographs into the international Shoot & Share contest, was last year.  Although 4 of my images had made it into the top 10% and top 30% of the contest, none of them ever actually made it to the finalist round, let alone made it into the top 20, or at least the top 100 (best of the best).

When it came time to enter into the contest again this year, I felt that my work had grown in the past 12 months and hoped that I'd see improved results - and I was so pleasantly surprised!  Last year I had 4 images in the top 10-30%, this year... I had 20 - yes TWENTY images make it to either top 10, 20, 30%, AND even the finalist round, top 100 AND I had one place 4th PLACE!!  I was utterly shocked.  When the news hit my phone, I startled my husband awake from a deep sleep to tell him of my accomplishment!

Are you finally ready to see my results??  I'll work my way up from Top 30% percent to my 4th place winner!

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This senior portrait of my beautiful client, Emily, made it to the TOP 30% in the TEENS & SENIORS category.  If you want to see specifics, it placed 7,835 out of 29,260 entries.  This shot was taken on the boardwalk leading to the beach at Harkness State Park in Waterford, CT.  It was a crazy windy day, but Emily pulled off this gorgeous look, blowing locks and candid smile like none other!

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My 2nd Top 30% winner was this stunning photo of Giuliana from the summer of 2016.  This was one of the final shots from our gorgeous boho-styled boudoir session in Woodbury, CT.  There is nothing like the warm August sun toasting up your skin and the perfect amount of breeze so that it's not too hot!  This image placed 3,787 out of 14,733 entries in the PEOPLE PORTRAITS category.

My 3rd image to place in the top 30% of the contest was this creative beauty portrait of a mama celebrating her 40th birthday by treating herself to a shoot.  She brought a LARGE cream colored tulle skirt with her, and combined with my silk flowers, corset, flower crown, and of course, studio swing - we pulled off this dreamy look that placed 2,325 place out of 11,101 entries in the STYLED PORTRAIT/FASHION category.

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My last image that placed in the top 30% of the contest was this smile-inducing photo of Leon at the beach (Harkness State Park in Waterford, CT).  We were finishing up his family portrait session but I knew we just had to get a few shots of just him because every mama LOVES to have photos like this of their baby!  This happy image placed 7,696 place out of 35,570 entries in the KIDS category.

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Does this gorgeous teen look familiar?  You're right!  One of her images also was above in the top 30%!  This beautiful senior portrait of Emily (also on the beach at Harkness State Park), made it to 5,394 place out of 29,460 entries in the TEENS & SENIORS category.

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The 2nd image of mine that made it into the top 20% of the contest was this beautiful black and white silhouette shot of Kelly, the perfectly pregnant, absolutely gorgeous military spouse who couldn't make pregnancy look any more incredible.  This image placed 2,972 out of 18,185 entries in the Maternity category.

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This image was the first of my 4 top 10% placing imags.  It was also one of my first beauty portraits I photographed after moving back to Connecticut from Illinois.  My hair and make-up artist, Chelsea (Beauty by Chelsea Dae) did a stunning job creating a super quick up-do for this portrait, and the dress- well that was a lucky find on a garage sale page!  This image placed 1,054 out of 11,101 entries in the STYLED PORTRAIT/FASHION category.

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Kelly's maternity photographs, you will notice, seam to be very popular amongst the voters.  When I look at them, they make me want to be pregnant again!  This photograph, also in the top 10% of the contest, placed 956 out of 18,135 entries in the MATERNITY category.

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What do you know! Another one of Kelly's maternity images placed.  This image shares an understanding of knowing what is to come, the miracle that is upon her.  This one placed 822 out of 18,135 in the MATERNITY category.

The last image that placed in the top 10% of the contest was one of my personal favorites.  This stunning portrait of Victoria was my first ever milk bath session.  I used powdered milk to create the white milky base in the tub, I grabbed floral bouquets from the grocery store (literally the sale section) and used scissors to cut off the petals into the tub.  It was so dreamy looking!  The lace bralette was a less than $10 purchase from Amazon and the studded crown was provided by my makeup artist, Nicole with Beauty by Mineko!   This image placed 994 out of 11,101 entries in the STYLED PORTRAIT/FASHION category!

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Ok - let's talk about the finalist round images!  This means that these images made it all the way to the 12th round of the contest!  This first one is one that melts my heart every time.  It was one of the first shots I got of my sweet baby girl smiling in the NICU, and most likely because she knew that after nearly 100 days she would finally be discharged the following morning!  This shot placed 212 out of 1,998 entries in the PASSION PORTRAITS category.

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This maternity image, taken at my studio is one of my favorites from her session.  The light gives me that early morning feeling - you know, when you are pregnant, you woke up this sexy, but you can't go back to sleep sort of feeling haha. ;)  This image placed 112th out of 18,185 in the MATERNITY category!  That's so close to the top 100!

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OK... THIS image.  THIS is one of my favorites of all time.  When my daughter was born (3.5 months early), my husband had a really hard time.  He isn't one to share this, but he didn't visit her often.  He said it hurt him too much to see her that way.  It broke my heart, but I understood that every person copes with events like this differently.  I was so thankful to have my camera with me on this day when he came to visit.   This image makes me feel so much.  I can see the pain in his face as he hesitantly and gently embraces our daughter of just under 2lbs, in his large worn hands.  No matter what this image placed, it will always be number 1 in my book.  But if you must know, it placed 193 out of 1,998 entries in the PASSION PORTRAITS category.

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The next image that made it into the Finalist round is this sweet photo of Kelly and her adoring hold of her future baby girl. This photograph placed 467 out of 18,185 entries in the MATERNITY category.

While this portrait is surprisingly not one of my favorites (from a technical standpoint), I still get a pang in my heart every time I see it.  This is the VERY FIRST moment I got to hold my daughter skin-to-skin 10 days after she was born.  She was so small and my heart just filled with joy and emotion when I finally got to feel her skin on mine.  My husband helped me grab this shot so although I had the settings set for him, I have to give him some credit too <3  This image was taken in the NICU at Connecticut Children's Medical Center in Hartford.  It placed 422 out of 1998 entries in the PASSION PORTRAITS category.

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THIS portrait is a favorite amongst so many of my current and potential clients.  It wasn't planned - but my client brought with her a Lularoe wardrobe item called the "Sarah".  It is a long kimono, and hers was so bright and colorful I just had to photograph it.  I don't normally think of Lularoe as a boudoir/beauty portrait wardrobe brand, but I was so excited when we were able to pull this look together, along with that incredible statement necklace (also the client's).  I wanted to showcase both wardrobe items so I chose my fireplace set-up which is bare and minimalistic.  This image placed 342 out of 11,101 entries in the STYLED PORTRAIT/FASHION category.

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This is the last finalist image.  I was honestly surprised it didn't make it further, but it was competing against so many other inspirational portraits that told compelling stories.  Before my daughter was born, the doctors promised us she'd be ok.  They said "She's a girl.  She'll be a fighter.  Don't worry mom."  When she was born at 26 weeks on the dot, weighing in at just 1lb 14 oz, she came out SCREAMING.  The nurses told me that is so rare, especially with a preemie so young.  Our daughter busted out of her womb fighting for her life, and I feel like this portrait (taken when she was 3 days old) really shows the fight she has in her sweet little body.  This image of Chase placed 423 out of 1998 in the PASSION PORTRAITS category.

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This was the 1st of 2 images that made it to the top 100 (BEST OF THE BEST) in the contest.  This was my husbands FIRST time holding our daughter skin-to-skin and honestly this is another 1st place picture in my mind.  The way she grasped his finger melts my heart. This image placed 83 out of 1998 in the PASSION PORTRAITS category.

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This is the 2nd image of Chase that made it to the top 100.  I took this photograph with the intention to share how little Chase really was in comparison to her daddy's hands.  It placed 51 out of 1998 images in the PASSION PORTRAITS category.

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Last but not least, my proudest (photography) accomplishment (my children are my proudest life accomplishments), is this portrait of Kelly, my most beautiful maternity client who wanted to commemorate her pregnancy for both herself and her husband since he was serving our country overseas.  She wanted to give him a gift so that he could share in their newest journey from afar.  This image placed 4th out of 18,135 images in the MATERNITY category.

I am going to work hard this year, step up my game, release my creative juices and really try to build some masterpieces to enter in 2019.  This was so much fun and I've been so inspired by the incredible work I've seen over these past few months of voting.  Thank you to all of my friends, family, clients (and haters) who have helped me to get where I am today! <3 I love you ALL.

Our Diamond in the Rough: The Story of our Survivor

I photograph women of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds and for all reasons.They all have their stories of strength, hardship, love and light.However - there is one little lady that I am finally taking the chance to highlight today because she's surpassed so much and has blown so many odds out of the water.This little lady is Chase Dakota, my baby girl.

Many of you already know that last fall my family announced that we were expecting our first baby girl for Mother's Day.We were elated beyond words that our 3 year old boy would finally have a baby sister to play with, love and look after.

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Around 18 weeks, my pregnancy took a scary turn as I began to bleed, and this lasted daily for a couple of weeks.The doctors had no answers, and the experts at Yale even went as far as to offer the option of a pregnancy termination.  They said that because I already dilated and that my cervix had shortened far past the 'safe' zone, the odds were against us that our daughter would stay put.  They emotionally prepared us for a preterm birth, in which Chase would be born well before the viable stage of pregnancy, and wouldn't survive, or in any case - have no possibility at a good quality of life.

With tears in our eyes and hope slipping away, we refused to go that route as we wanted to hold on to every last bit of hope that we had. The whole world that we knew, and even those we didn't know,prayed for us for days. On Christmas morning (20 weeks) I was taking a shower when I passed a large mass nearly the size of my palm, and I couldn't determine if it was a clot or something else.  I was frightened beyond words. We contacted our doctor and they had us come in the next morning to do an ultra-sound.  Low and behold, my cervix had grown again (which a week earlier we were told was impossible during a pregnancy.)  Prayers were answered and we finally felt some relief.

5-1/2 weeks later, on February 1st, I started my day like any normal work day (for a business owner).  I attended a local BNI chapter meeting, and then headed to my studio to meet with a client.  During that meeting - I'd felt a little bit of cramping, but assumed it was normal and didn't think anything of it until it started to grow more painful and more 'contractual' over the next few hours.I realized after 3 hours of focusing on them and being able to time them regularly, that they were in fact contractions and not just pregnancy cramps.  After calling my doctor 3 times to no answer, I knew it was time to go to the hospital.

Ryan dropped me off at Backus before running out to pick Xander up from daycare before they closed.  The experience here was probably my worst of these entire next few months that I'm about to talk about.  The triage nurses rushed me right in and took me quite seriously, but the doctor on call who came in to examine me rudely suggested to me that my "contractions" were just cramping that was most likely due to lack of hydration and I should have just taken a Tylenol and called the office first instead of coming to the hospital. I told her I'd tried calling the office three times and no one answered.  She claimed that someone always answers, implying that I was making that up.  At this point I was feeling frustrated and ready to call for a different doctor, but because she was there, she had to check me anyway so she did. This was when she measured that I was in fact 4.5 centimeters dilated and boy did her mannerism changed instantly.I will still never understand why I was treated the way I was throughout those past few weeks of my pregnancy. All of the doctors seamed to discount my instincts, assuming I was over-reacting.

My facebook post: "I am currently in labor 4.5 centimeters dilated, 25 weeks five days. About to be transferred to Hartford hospital via helicopter. (so if Chase does come early we will be nearby NICU) We've been given a shot to strengthen Chase's lungs. I've been given medication to slow down the progression of dilation and penicillin to stop any possible infection. I'm scared and I feel like crap and I have a catheter in and it sucks if I were to be honest. They told me I could be in the hospital for at least a week if not longer trying to their best to keep Chase in. Everything has been so smooth lately that this was the last thing we expected, so just keep praying for us please. "

Within 1 hour, I was on a helicopter, catheter in, magnesium dripping and first round of steroids having just recently been injected.  I was being life-starred to CCMC in Hartford because it WAS in-fact serious and I wasn't--against the Doctor's judgement-- exaggerating.  Backus hospital did not have a NICU so there was no way to care for a baby as small as Chase would be if I gave birth right there. This was the quickest, smartest, safest option that would give her the best chance of survival.

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I spent the next 48 hours stuck on a bed, calf-socks bound to each leg that alternated inflation to keep blood flow moving (this prevents blood clots from forming), an IV drip of magnesium in one arm, a blood pressure cuff on the other arm that inflated every 30 minutes, a catheter in between my legs and a belly band with a baby-heart-rate monitor glued to my stomach to make sure Chase was doing well. Every part of my body had something attached to it.I was absolutely and positively miserable, exhausted and starving.I was not allowed to drink ANY fluids or eat any foods for 48 hours.My mouth felt dryer than the desert. 

The 48 hours lasted what felt like a week.The nurses occasionally let me sneak a few ice chips to wet my pallet, and at one point my heartburn got so bad I could cry so they tried to give me a pill that I had to swallow with water, and I threw it up shortly after my blood pressure dropped and I nearly passed out.  I was in so much pain, and oh so scared.  Finally on the 48th hour, on February 3rd, the nurses took the magnesium drip out and I finally got to eat something...jello, followed by a popsicle.  It felt like a celebration.I sucked that down so quick and asked for another.The purpose of this un-ideal process was to STOP my labor and it worked.By the end of the 48 hours, I had no more contractions.The nurses monitored me for about 2 hours and then removed my catheter after determining that I wasn't going back into labor.  The next plan was to move me to the long-term ward the next morning where I would stay for several weeks until I reached at least 32 weeks. I should also add that Ryan had to travel back and forth to the hospital each day since we didn't want Xander to have his daily routine turned upside down - so we tried to keep things normal during the day and just visit here and there.

They switched me to a regular bed that I would live on for the next few weeks, and we were waiting on a room to open up to wheel me to.  I slept so good that night with no catheter and magnesium drip.  I felt so free. 

February 4th, 2017:

I woke up, ate hot breakfast and took an amazing shower (I hadn't showered in 3 days).  It felt so good to be moving again. Ryan planned to visit me early that afternoon with Xander supposedly after I was transferred to the long term ward.  The transfer was taking longer than we expected - so while I was laying in my bed waiting for transfer, Ryan was at home getting Xander's little backpack packed up and ready to come visit me.I spent the next few hours feeling some (what I thought was) gas pains.Each hour, it felt as if they were getting worse, but I couldn't seem to find relief. When Ryan was about 20 minutes away, I finally mentioned to the nurse that I was in pain, hoping for some medicine to give me some relief before my family arrived.I described the pain to her and she immediately contacted the floor doctor.When the doctor came in, she explained to me that she would do a quick cervix check just to make sure things weren't progressing.At this point, Ryan was pulling into the parking garage.

When the doctor checked me, she looked up at me and said, "Honey, baby's head is right there, you are FULLY dilated.We are having this baby right now."

Instantaneously, my eyes welled with tears.I was only 26 weeks pregnant.I was scared to death that this day, February 4th, could be the first and last time we get to see our daughter.  Ryan arrived on the labor wing and was immediately bombarded by the nurses as they quickly explained to him what was going on. A couple of the nurses kindly took Xander into their care and played with him while Ryan was ushered into the room to be with me.The next 15 minutes was a blur, we were prepped, pep-talked, there was pain, some waiting, pushing, a shit-ton of pain and screaming and, the best part...REAL-TIME encouragement from my husband.  For those of you who don't know, when I gave birth to my son in 2013, Ryan was in Afghanistan - so he witnessed the birth through an iPad screen, and because of the distance, the entire feed was delayed by 10 seconds... you know... every time I pushed, he sat there and starred blankly... then when I'd stop to breath...he'd yell "PUSH!"  It was a bit ridiculous, but we laugh about it now thankfully).It was so much better having him physically next to me holding my hand through it.After about 15 minutes, this absolutely astounding little human being came bouncing out at just 1lb 14oz, followed almost immediately with the most BEAUTIFUL music to my ears, her tiny little cries of life.  Ryan got to cut the cord and just like that she was whisked away.  Unlike a normal, un-complicated, term-delivery, we didn't get to sit and hold her, touch her, or stare at her for hours.We just got to get a quick glimpse of her tiny little self, and then she was gone before from our eyes.Ryan kissed me, and then while the nurses continued to work with me to get the rest of the after-birth out, Ryan went to tell my family (who was now all waiting in the hallway) that we gave birth to a a beautiful baby girl, and that we were scared but hopeful and so far things were looking optimistic.Within minutes, the nurses came back out with an incubator that housed our tiny miracle, tubes, wrist bands, everything attached to her. She was wrapped in saran wrap, which I thought was odd until they explained that this helped to keep her body heat in.They gave me about 30 seconds to look at her through the glass for a moment, and then promptly wheeled her out to get her to the NICU.The whole family got to see her roll by.

Facebook post, February 4th:

"Well all we can say is we were in the right place at the right time...Chase Dakota Dale was born 3:22pm this afternoon, February 4th, just short of 2 lbs.  She was born crying, kicking, feisty.  She's doing amazing and we are so blessed."

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This was one of the scariest days of my life.While I was finishing up the after-birthing process, all I could think of was what is happening with Chase. Is she ok, is she going to make it??Well, thankfully a NICU nurse came up to update me.She said Chase was doing incredible.She was breathing on her own with just the help from a CPAP machine and they were all surprised and equally impressed that she didn't have to be intubated.So far, she had no sign of brain bleeds and they were monitoring her heart regularly to check for palpitations. She was stable and doing exactly what she should be doing for a 26-weeker.They told me it was incredibly rare to hear a 26 week old micro-preemie scream out of the womb, but that this was a sure-fire sign that she was a fighter.

While I recovered, Ryan and my dad went down to visit Chase in the NICU.He texted me pictures of her so I could see her.I could not WAIT to be with her, and finally got to see her that night, after meeting with the lactation consultant to discuss my pumping responsibilities for the next few months.  When I arrived down a floor to the NICU, I scrubbed my arms well as instructed and was ushered passed other babies in incubators, some already out of incubators, other moms and dads with lanyards, and nurses everywhere.  I was shown right to Chase's bedside where I was greeted with the sweetest little pink name-tag and the most beautiful baby girl.  The nurse talked me through the different routines that they repeated every 3 hours with Chase and explained to me how I could hold her.  It was called a "preemie hug" - where I could gently cup the top of her head and the bottom of her feet.  I wanted to scoop her up so badly, but I couldn't.  They taught me how to change her diaper so that I could be involved in her care, a normally menial task, that meant so much to me.

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Ryan and Xander visited us that night and we took turns visiting Chase in the NICU, and watching the Super Bowl in my hospital room.  That night, the Patriots won the Superbowl.  I two great events in one weekend.  I remember feeling so excited, I put on my slippers and scurried downstairs to see Chase.  I wanted to tell this tiny little baby that the Patriots had won, and so I did.

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Chase was doing incredible during her first 48 hours.  She had occasionally 'spells' which is a desaturation in her heart-rate when she forgets to breath, but that is to be expected and because she was attached to monitors, she always had a nurse by her side to help stimulate her when needed.

Chase's bilirubin levels were also lower then they needed to be (another part of the micro-preemie process) so she had to spend a day or two under photo-therapy lights.  I called it her daily dose of sun-bathing.

February 6th:

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I held my baby girl for the first time on the morning of Feburary 6th, just before they discharged me. It was the most GLORIOUS feeling in the world.She was hooked up to several machines making the process of taking her out of the incubator a bit difficult, so we were so incredibly grateful of the nurses who allowed us this blessing without a hesitation.I will never forget that moment so long as I live. 

The next few months went by so slowly.I drove back and forth to Hartford EVERY day to visit Chase while Xander was in school so he wouldn't notice such a drastic change in our routines. At night, we were able to log into an "angel-eyes" account which was an incredible technology that allowed us to view Chase's bedside from her very own video monitor.  I did this often when I was missing her. Chase progressed beautifully.The little things you don't normally appreciate, where the most exciting parts of my day - like changing her diaper.

After about 5 days, the doctors had tried several times to insert a PICC line to feed Chase so that they could remove her bellybutton line (which would also enable me to do skin-to-skin with her).  They were unsuccessful all three times.  They said she had amazing veins and that finding those were not the problem, but that threading the catheter was where they kept getting stuck - so instead, they decided that since we were nearing the end of our first week (they only like to keep the belly button line in for a week to prevent infection) they are going to increase her feeds daily and if her stomach can handle it then they won't even worry about the PICC. They will remove the bellybutton lines and just feed her through the line that's going into her mouth to her stomach. She'd been impressing everyone so far with how quickly she was becoming accustomed to her daily environment so they where very optimistic.

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We didn't get to hold her often because at her age, it would over stimulate and tire her, and we completely understood that.  The days that they DID let us hold her, were the REALLY good days.

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On Valentine's day, I finally got to hold Chase Skin-to-Skin - the best and most incredible feeling in the world. Her tiny hands brushing against my chest, her little cheeks squished against my skin.  I couldn't get enough.

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On February 22nd, Chase finally surpassed the 2lb mark.  This was a minor victory, as was every day she was alive.  By the time Chase was 3 weeks old (21 days), she was well on her way to 2lbs 2 oz, breathing 21% oxygen (room air) and looking so beautifully pink.

On February 27th, Ryan held Chase for the first time skin-to-skin.  He'd been so nervous to hold her, afraid to 'break' her.  She was so small, so fragile to him.  That little girl grabbed onto his finger so tight... already Daddy's little girl.

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I want to add, that during this time, Xander was not allowed to visit Chase as there were age restrictions in the NICU.  He wouldn't get to meet her for weeks - but he still loved her.  One night, he woke up in the middle of the night and told us he was scared.  I asked him if it was because it was dark.  He said:

"Yea (frowning). I want baby Chase to come sleep in my room with me."

It broke my heart - I totally got what he felt.  He knew she was now a part of our lives and that our house now felt in-complete without her.

By March 1st Chase's blood count had started to drop, which isn't unusual given the fact that babies that small don't have a lot of blood to begin with, and daily pricks to check blood quickly starts to diminish her counts.  She was ordered a blood transfusion -and to my surprise, I was allowed to hold her during the process.  It hurt my heart to see her poked and prodded with needles but I knew she was getting the care she needed. She did very well with her transfusion. The doctors split her transfusion process in two, so that one long transfusion wouldn't be too much on her.  She lost a little weight during the process but primarily due to a diarrhetic in-between the transfusions.

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March 5th: 2lbs 8.6oz (that's over 2.5lbs! )

March 7th: 2lbs 10oz.

March 8th: Chase had chest XRays done to determine if she was read to drop a level on her CPAP machine, and guess what, she was!  The dropped her to a peep of 5 - next step will be to take her off!  This was a proud moment for me!

March 11th: The Baby Shower

It felt pretty strange.  I was attending my baby shower - and I didn't have a baby bump- I wasn't pregnant.  Actually - I ended up jokingly shoving a balloon up my shirt during part of the shower so I looked as if I was still pregnant. Regardless - the shower was remarkable.  My sister planned the entire thing, from decorations, to treats and games.  She had a mood board, guys.  :)  It was a beautiful day, and we ended up with everything we needed to prepare us for Chase's anticipated homecoming.  That afternoon,  we swung by the hospital to visit Chase and not only did I get to hold her, OFF CPAP, while standing - but I even got to walk her over to the reception window so Xander could see her from the outside.  He was more upset than excited, considering he wasn't able to reach through the glass to touch her. Still - it felt like a REAL mommy moment for me... walking around with my baby, not attached to a wall.  She'd been doing so great that the nurses were able to occasionally take her off the CPAP a few minutes here and there since she tolerated it so well.

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March 14th: Chase hit 3lbs!  This was an exciting milestone for us because we knew that once she reached 3.5 lbs, it meant that she was strong enough for us to transfer her to a lower-level NICU in New London - where she would be closer to us.  At this point, the nurses were allowing her to trial off her CPAP for about 30 minutes each day to let her breath on her own.

March 17th: Happy St. Patricks Day!

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Over the course of Chase's stay in Hartford, we had a few visitors (not too many of course).  Chase was loved near and far.  She received many gifts while there, including an adorable preemie-sized octopus to snuggle with, and some preemie sized clothes to wear.  Yes... she FINALLY got to wear some clothes here and there.  We were sent love from all over, and we felt so incredibly blessed.

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After 1.5 months, the day finally came.  On March 21st, Chase reached her 3.5lb goal, and she was approved to transfer. We figured it would take a few days to process her transfer, but as soon as she received approval, it happened so fast!  I was being sent right to L&M Hospital to wait for her arrival.  They packaged her up in a safe travel-incubator, and carefully drove her all the way to New London- the paramedics even made sure to grab her GIANT stuffed giraffe and buckle him in on a seat in the ambulance.  I was so anxious as I sat in her new empty NICU space at L&M waiting for her arrival .  Finally, I heard the 'doorbell' to the NICU ring and I heard some voices chattering and the scuffling of feet, and then finally a "she's here!" from one of the Nurses.  I jumped up excited to finally be with my baby girl again, this time in a more intimate setting.  The paramedics wheeled her down the hallway into our NICU bay where I finally got to see how they'd transported her, and then I watched them carefully transfer her into her brand-new bed.

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A few moments later, as the nurses attempted change her diaper, Chase introduced herself by exploding poo against the walls of her freshly cleaned incubator. She became known for her memorable bowel movements. 

I want to take a detour now to talk about pumping.  I'd been pumping since day 1, saving, storing, delivering to the nurses, and so on and so forth.  Every day, every 3 hours, throughout the night - I felt as if I had the pump permanently attached to my body.  I wanted to quit so bad, but I kept my end goal in mind - if I keep this up, I WILL be able to nurse Chase the same way I did Xander.  I just have to keep going... keep going... keep going.  In just under two months, we ended up purchasing a deep freezer because I had so much milk.  Chase would be set for a while - I proud moment for myself.

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A few days after the hospital transfer, I decided to do something drastic.  I was so proud of Chase - I was proud of her fight and I wanted to share my love and support.  Purple.  Purple is the color of prematurity awareness, so naturally, the answer was to dye my hair, right?  It was definitely a big change for me, but I felt younger, prettier and more alive - I guess I was trying to be like my daughter. <3

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After 7 weeks... yes, you read that right... Chase finally had her first bath.  Most babies have their first within 24 hours of birth, right??  She was so relaxed in that little tub, her own mini spa.  I wont lie, I was pretty scared I'd drop her, but the nurse (Charlene) was amazing, helpful and encouraging. Of course I continued my skin-to-skin moments as much as I could.

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March 25th, Chase reached 3lbs 14oz.  Doctor James told me that if I think she's ready, I could try to put her to my breast.  As soon as those words left his mouth, my heart skipped a beat.  I thought it could be a few more weeks but he said he encourages giving it a try if she seams as if she is rooting.  I'd been waiting for that day for what felt like forever.When it came time to hold her, I did as he suggested and sure enough, she found my breast and began to suckle.It was very little and gentle, but none-the-less she knew what she needed to do as if it was second nature.It was in that moment that I finally felt 100% like I was her mama, and not just the lady that visited her daily to care for her.

We worked and worked over the next several weeks, she grew bigger, stronger, nursed better, became more aware longer and Xander even finally got to meet her in person. March 30th was the first day that all 4 of us were in the same room together.  We finally felt complete.

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In the beginning of April, Chase finally hit the 2 Month mark and boy it was crazy to look back and compare her growth.  She'd already spent 56 days in the NICU and was now 4lbs 8oz.  She was down to 2 Liters per Minute on her nasal cannula and taking about 38mL of breast-milk every feed.  Her bowel movements still had the nurses jumping back every time they tried to change her diaper.  They were changing her incubator out often.

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April 8th.  This was a hard day emotionally.  I'd been feeling frustrated that I couldn't just bring Chase home already.  I felt like I would never get out of here, I knew she would go home but it seamed like an eternity.  On this day, I sat there in my chair holding Chase- her heartrate looking perfectly stable on the monitor, feeling her warm body breathing against my skin, and I will never forget the sound of the curtain being slowly pulled around a NICU bay across the hall from us that surrounded two parents sitting there in tears with their angel in their hands.  A little boy had just lost his fight, the entire wing was silent -the EMT's sat on a chair with their heads in their hands, and the nurses had tears in their eyes.  Suddenly my the bumps on my skin rose, and my eyes filled up with tears, my heart started to putter and I felt guilty.  I felt so guilty to be sitting there holding my baby girl, alive and breathing while there were grieving parents within 10 feet of me.  I squeezed Chase tight, hooked her back up to her bed and left quickly and quietly.  I let out the tears in my car.  I felt so selfish for allowing myself to get frustrated at the length of time Chase's stay was.  

My facebook post when I got home that day:

"When you are so frustrated because your pregnancy is giving you morning sickness, remember there is a woman who has been struggling for 3 years and counting to be where you are.

When you are so eager to make it to 20 weeks so you can find out the gender, remember there is a mom who didn’t make it far enough in her pregnancy to even hear a heartbeat.

When you are sick of being pregnant and you can’t wait for your baby to be here already, remember, there is a mom who is on the verge of losing her baby because she is going into labor far too soon.

When you’re a NICU mom to a healthy preemie and you are feeling impatient on when you can bring your baby home…remember, there is a mom and dad two beds down who will never bring her baby home.

In every walk of life, there is someone struggling through a personal challenge. Count the blessings you DO have this very moment in your life."

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April 9th: Chase took her first full bottle, 43mL.  Even the nurses thought this was a major milestone as they created a little banner to celebrate and fixed it to her crib. Yes - you read that correctly...her CRIB.  At now, 4lbs 14oz, Chase FINALLY graduated to a crib.  Now, I could just walk up to her and put my hand on her with out having to open little glass doors and reach in awkwardly.  All NICU moms know how exciting this milestone is.

After 67 days, on April 12th, Chase finally hit the 5lb mark!  Weight didn't determine her going-home date, but it did let us know she was growing, and with every oz., we were celebrating, and every lb. felt like an even bigger means to celebrate.

April 13th (Day 68) Chase FINALLY got to take the training wheels off of her lungs.  The nasal cannula was removed and she was now breathing 100% on her own.  She also had her 2nd eye doctor exam which added to the excitement of the day.  Doc said her eyes were perfect, mature and exactly where they need to be with NO signs of ROP.  We wouldn't have to have another appointment for at least 6 months. Now we just had to work on feeding.

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Visits continued, and we trialed on and off the feeding tube a few times.  Chase had the hardest time eating, but with every day, she grew stronger and built up more energy to try again and eat a little more with each time.  We finally reached a point where we tried a few days without the tube. The nurses even started to allow us to hold her off monitors, which means that while we held her, we could unplug her from the equipment.  This would teach us how to pay attention for visual queues and not listen for abnormalities of a monitor since we wouldn't have one of those when we got home.

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Chase had her hearing screen done on April 21st in which she passed with flying colors.  I was so ready to get this girl out of there, though she was still teetering back and forth with her feeds.  She ended up having a major de-saturation in which the nurses had to stimulate her to breath again-- plus, she'd lost a little weight because she wasn't eating enough through the bottle.  They said she'd been working a little too hard to eat so the feeding tube went back in for a few days to let her rest. I felt so defeated at this point - when I got back in my car the morning after the tube went back in, I broke down in tears.  It was so hard to say good by every day.  It had been almost 80 days.  On the plus side, they also did a head-ultra sound and it came back normal which made me happy again.

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On Day 83 (April 28th) Chase had another Brady (this is when her heart rate drops so low that she stops breathing for more than 15 seconds and needs stimulation).  It had been less than 7 days since that had happened and every time she did this, her clock started over as to when she got to go home. I felt breathless.  Every time I felt like I could see the finish line, 2 more miles were added to the marathon.  The hardest part of the entire NICU stay, for me, was the end.

On April 29th, we celebrated 3 months with Chase - and again, took a look back at how she'd grown.  She is fuller, pinker and cuter with every day.

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Our stay at L&M was just an amazing experience, one that we will never forget.  The nurses were just downright incredible, angels to our sweet Chase and loved her as their own.  Every night at just after 11pm, I would call the night nurse an ask what her weight was.It was those numbers every night that I looked forward to ... just to know she was growing, and the nurses gave me the number happily.  They were all rooting for her to go home. Her due date was approaching.  I kept asking myself, will she be home by then?

On May 5th, it had been 90 days.  Chase had gone 7 days without a spell and the doctor started talking to us about the plan over the next few days in preparing Chase to come home. I was getting the butterflies.  Then - May 8th rolled around and when I called the nurse in the morning before my visit to see how her night went, she delivered the frustrating news... Chase had another brady.  She refluxed during her feeding and stopped breathing.  Since it wasn't apnea related, the doctor added 5 days (instead of 7) onto her stay.  When he told me this, he got to witness my eyes fill up in tears.  I was starting to feel like Chase wouldn't be home for Mother's day. I could tell he felt awful, but I still couldn't hold back my tears.

The next week went by slowly - but finally on the 11th, I thought I'd spend the night with Chase and be the only person to feed her.  I hoped that would help - and I planned to stay a few nights if I had to.  I packed a suitcase, said good bye to Ryan and Xander and moved into a family room at the NICU so I could be with Chase in a more home-like setting.  I loved on her for 24 hours and things started to look up.

We took the feeding tube out on May 12th (Day 97) and Chase was up at 6lbs 12oz.  I was praying this would be the very last time. Doc told us if she could gain weight over the next two days, then we could go home.  All the nurses were pulling for us.  I spent another night with her.  She did amazing, and on Saturday, May 13th - we hit her due date.  98 Days in the NICU, we finally reached the day that she SHOULD have graced us for the first time.  Instead, we were blessed with an extra 3.5 months of her presence in our lives.  We celebrated by bringing chocolate covered strawberries to the NICU and inviting the nurses to join us in singing "Happy Due-Date" to her.

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On May 14th, Mothers Day, Doc came in, took the notes from the over-night nurse, evaluated Chase and told me with a smile on his face, she's going home.  I tried to hide my excitement, but I really couldn't contain myself.  My smile was permanent on my face and I started packing all my bags, oh I was so giddy! I still had to wait for her to pass her carseat test which they wanted to wait until after her next feeding - so we had at least 3 more hours to wait.  3 hours, compared to the already 99 days, was nothing.  Our baby was coming home.

Chase took her carseat test (she had to tolerate 1 hour in the seat without any de-saturations).  While she did this, I ran across the street to grab a coffee to pass the time.  When I came back, she had about 15 minutes left, so I loaded all of our things into the car, finished cleaning out her bay and then came back eager to take Chase and run.  Of course I would never leave without saying goodbye to the incredible women that loved Chase so dearly during her stay, so I did that first. ;)  I love these ladies - all of them.

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After a very slow and steady 25 minute drive home, I got to take walk through the doors of our home with Chase's carseat hanging from my arm.  My heart felt truly full, that moment I plopped down onto our couch with Chase on my chest, no wires attached, no beeping noises to be heard and just the complete and everlasting comfort of knowing she is happy, healthy and OURS. Our daughter fought an amazing fight, and she pulled through with strength and grace.She makes us proud every day of our lives, and we will never forget how truly blessed we are.

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