Welcome to episode #72 of the Mount Motherhood Podcast.
In today’s episode, we chat with Caritta. Caritta is the founder of Raising Little Miracles and also mama to Isaac, born at 26 weeks. Turning two this year, Caritta shares the obstacles she overcame from multiple miscarriages, a 116-day stay in the NICU and graduating law school two months after Isaac graduated from the NICU.
Caritta brings energy, understanding and a strong belief in positive thinking as a coping strategy to push past challenging times. Her positivity has touched the lives of hundreds of mothers in the Illinois area also navigating a NICU journey and has shifted her attention to supporting these mothers and their warriors.
You can reach out to Caritta and follow Isaac's journey on Instagram.
You can find a full transcript BELOW.
Resources Mentioned/Recommend in this episode:
"First, I would say allow yourself to feel whatever you need to feel. A lot of times we get the bad news or, you know, what some people would consider not ideal news about their children. And it's like, well, you have to act like it doesn't bother you or, you know, we have to put on a brave face, but you have to allow yourself to feel those emotions and in order to move forward in order to heal. And a lot of times people will say to you they think it's going to make you feel better. But they say, well, it could be worse. Well, yeah, it could be worse. But right now, this is what I'm feeling and this is what I'm dealing with. So that needs to be acknowledged. And I feel like you can't be afraid to say that. You can't be afraid to say to some people that you don't have to try to make me feel better right now. Just let me feel what I'm feeling and I'll work through this. And then at some point, it will start to get a little easier and just keep in the back of your mind who you're fighting for. You're your child's biggest advocate. You're their voice when they can't speak for themselves. So you have to always speak up for them and no matter what. Don't be afraid to ask for your needs to be met. Or question the doctors or, you know, maybe even seek therapy because you have to be the best version of you in order to advocate for your child. So I think that's something very important to keep in your mind as you journey through whatever you go through with your children."
Host - Ivan[00:00:08]Welcome to the Mount Motherhood Podcast. Thanks for tuning into another show. And just a reminder to take a moment, leave a review and subscribe so we can reach more listeners around the world.
Host - Ivan[00:00:20]Welcome to the show Caritta. Can you start off by introducing us to your family?
Guest - Caritta[00:00:25]Yes, um I am a mom of one. My son's name is Isaac. He is twenty-three months old now. Use the micro-preemie born at 26 weeks. So we've had quite the excitement. But yeah, he's my only kid right now.
Host - Ivan[00:00:41]Well, it's gonna be great to hear more about you and him and walk us through, I guess, you know, your pregnancy and the delivery and, you know, his first few weeks of life.
Guest - Caritta[00:00:54]Okay. My pregnancy was considered a high-risk pregnancy due to recurring losses. So I was seeing a regular O.B. and then I was transferred over to maternal-fetal medicine for weekly cervical length checks. And so it was pretty tough. I was you know, it wasn't that easiest pregnancy. But at 21 weeks, they decided that my cervix has shortened to just one centimeter.
Guest - Caritta[00:01:20]So I needed to receive a cervical cerclage, which is a stitch that is put into the cervix to try and keep it closed. Hoping to make a full-term pregnancy, however, for me, it held for about five weeks and at 26 weeks. Exactly. I had dilated five centimeters already. And any emergency C-section had to take place. So before this, I knew nothing about the NICU. Nothing about prematurity or anything like that. So this was all pretty scary for me experiencing this with the birth of my first child.
Guest - Caritta[00:01:55]However, Isaac's NICU stay was pretty uneventful in the beginning. He was put into the NICU intubated to help him breathe. At 26 weeks his lungs were nowhere near developed enough for him to breathe on his own. So we did that at about 32 weeks. The doctor was like, Oh, he's doing great. We may discharge him at 34 weeks. However, he ended up getting RSV, which is a respiratory virus that most people know that's pretty dangerous for children, especially preemies with underdeveloped lungs and especially a preemie who hadn't even made it full term yet. So that was pretty rough for us. It nearly claimed his life. The doctors did not think he would survive that kind of infection in his lungs. But he did. And he ended up coming off oxygen after about four months in the making and was discharged home.
Host - Ivan[00:02:49]So one thing that I wanted to ask as we were kind of researching your story and this came from a blog post you wrote on Black Moms Daily, it was just about how you were preparing for law school exams at the same time. Can you touch just all the stuff you're juggling?
Guest - Caritta[00:03:06]Oh, my goodness. Yes. I was actually, the day that I had him, Friday evening, November 10th. I was preparing to start my finals for my second to the last term of law school. And it was like this could not be happening. I have no clue what to do. But I knew that quitting or, you know, taking a break wasn't really an option for me because I was so close to being done. And I think I have to push through this. I'll figure it out. My professors were extremely, extremely accommodating.
Guest - Caritta[00:03:37]They allowed me to do a lot of recordings and send them closing arguments and things like that. Via prerecorded cameras when it should have been live video. So I was so grateful for that.
Guest - Caritta[00:03:49]And then I went ahead and in January, I started my very last term of law school. And that's when things were getting really rough for us in the NICU because that's when Isaac was battling RSV and some other infections that he had gotten while he was already sick. And so that was really tough for me.
Guest - Caritta[00:04:08]But I just it was one of those things where it's like I have to do what I have to get this done.
Guest - Caritta[00:04:13]So I would say in the NICU you all day long and I would bring my note cards.
Guest - Caritta[00:04:17]And I think every NICU staff member pretty much knew that I was finishing up law school. They were so accommodating. They would read my notes out loud to me, help me study. It was awesome and finished that up. I actually graduated in May. My son came home in March and I was able to graduate law school in May.
Host - Ivan[00:04:39]Wow, you're definitely an incredible role model for him. Yeah. You mentioned the NICU time. Looking back on that experience. What do you feel like were some of the most valuable, you know, either words of wisdom that you got or just kind of like takeaways from how you kept moving forward as a family.
Guest - Caritta[00:05:02]For me, I would say two of the biggest things that I had to learn was that you cannot compare your child to other children. There were some kids born after Isaac that went home before him and things like that. And that became very overwhelming for me because it just felt like defeat. You know, every time another child would be discharged, it was like, well, why isn't it our turn? Yeah. Why is it taking so long for us? But I learned quickly that the kids move at their own pace. And when they're ready, they literally let you know it's like their bodies let you know that they're ready for the next step. They're ready to come off of oxygen. They're ready to try bottle-feeding or breastfeeding, whatever you choose. And so that became the thing that I held on to. That every little milestone that Isaac accomplished in the NICU was closer to us getting discharged. So that's pretty much what helped me keep my sanity, I guess, as long as he was progressing in the right direction. I knew that eventually, our time would come. And I tried to tell other moms that are on their journey, too. Don't focus on getting out of the NICU, focus on your child meeting the little milestones that they need to make while they're in the NICU. And I think that's one of the things that literally helped us survive our 116-day stay.
Host - Ivan[00:06:18]And shifting gears, I guess, towards Isaac. For those of us that don't know him, can you describe his personality and sort of what defines him?
Guest - Caritta[00:06:30]Oh, my goodness. He is such a little character. He actually I'll back up a little bit when Isaac was three months old. He was diagnosed with encephalocele. And for those of you that don't know encephalocele is a very rare neural tube defect where part of the brain. It can be a very small portion or a very large portion. It's actually outside of the skull.
Guest - Caritta[00:06:53]And this happened to be between his eyes. So it looked like he had like a little golf ball or something sticking out of his skin between his eyes. And at twelve months old, he had to get an emergency operation done to repair that encephalocele.
Guest - Caritta[00:07:12]And that required a six-hour brain surgery where they kind of built and restructure the bone between his eyes to cover the part of the brain that was sticking out. And so he now has a metal plate in his skull and also an artificial bone placement. But that has not stopped him from doing anything. He is so full of life, such a happy kid. I mean, he's walking, talking, just living like he should be and for us that was very scary because one of the things about encephalocele survivors that sometimes they don't meet those milestones of walking or talking because of all the damage, that's done to brain from the operation. From just birth, the brain being outside of the skull, the tendons and things like that that are damaged. And he is doing incredible. And that's another part of our story that I always like to share with moms or dads who have seen these really tough diagnoses for their children.
Guest - Caritta[00:08:10]And immediately you feel like you're just completely defeated. And it's like, don't give up on a child because they are capable of doing amazing things. And sometimes the doctors may tell you one thing and then your kid turns two or three and they're doing the complete opposite. You know, they are defying the odds. So that's one thing that Isaac has taught me. And he continues to teach other people that, you know, just because you receive a sudden label or certain diagnosis, that's not going to define how you live your life. And even at just two years old, he's shown me that. And so I'm really grateful for that.
Host - Ivan[00:08:44]During the time at the NICU or even now at home, are there a couple of people that you'd want to mention by name that were especially helpful either as a resource or support for your son or you for yourself?
Host - Ivan[00:08:59]Sure. Isaac's dad is so, so, so supportive. And I know a lot of times make making dads are the forgotten group. You know, they're... They're the group that's like everyone focuses on the mom, but it's just as hard for dads as well. And his support has been tremendous through all of this. Even, you know, I'm the one that usually takes him to his appointments and therapies and things, because that works. But just the support that we've gotten from him is absolutely incredible. My mom and my sisters have been incredible as well with their support. But as far as groups that I found via social media, there's one account Our Little Preemie. They are phenomenal with their support in connecting you with other moms who have children born at the same gestation as you are or people that live near you. Colorful Beginnings is also another organization that was super helpful for me and I feel like I'm missing some big ones. But those two were really good. And if anyone has children with special needs or born prematurely Our Little Preemie and Colorful Beginnings have been incredible resources for us.
Host - Ivan[00:10:11]Thanks for sharing those resources and...What's, you know, in terms of, uh, you know, you personally. What strategies, I guess, do you have for self-care? Uh, knowing that, I'm sure, throughout this journey, it's been a lot of ups and downs and, uh, and parents tend to neglect themselves for their child. But, um, what strategies for self-care do you have?
Guest - Caritta[00:10:39]For me, I would have to say I do a lot of reading and writing, journaling was a lifesaver for me in just kind of writing down my feelings throughout the day, because a lot of times you're not really in the mood to talk about how you're feeling. Talk about what you're going through when your child is going through. And so write it down. That's one way for me that I really relieve a lot of stress was writing. Definitely a lot of prayer. I pray a lot. I read my Bible a lot. That is one pushing force for me. And I've also founded a nonprofit organization called Raising Little Miracles that serves other NICU families and families of children with special needs. And for me, that has been very therapeutic, helping other people walk through their journey and holding their hands and guiding them and encouraging them in turn. I'm still encouraging and uplifting myself. So I think that has been incredible for me and not only helping others but that it's forced me to kind of face some things that I wasn't ready to face and heal from the things that we've gone through. So that has been very big for me.
Host - Ivan[00:11:45]And now we see all the success you're gaining from Raising Little Miracles, can you talk a bit about, you know, the start of that and how it's developed over time?
Guest - Caritta[00:11:57]Sure. So it actually kind of started while my son was in the NICU.
Guest - Caritta[00:12:02]I met a lot of other moms who just somehow kind of, I guess, gravitated to me or my positive energy. They'd always tell me that they never saw me sad or crying or anything while my son was in NICU, which I did. I was sad a lot. But one thing for me, like I said before, it was focusing on the good and not really letting myself get too down about our setbacks and things like that. So it kind of just started with me, like talking to moms individually just on the phone, Facebook, Instagram, texting or things like that. And it kind of grew from one mom to two to three to four. And I thought, OK, there are a lot of people who need this resource. So I went ahead and actually made an organization out of it. And so it started just me sending little cards to NICU moms, I'd go to the hospital, drop off the cards. I'd always handwrite them because I feel like that means more than anything for someone to know that you took the time to think of them individually and write them a card. And then from there, it started with serving at Ronald McDonald Houses, giving food, meals for things like that. And it just with social media and things, it just kind of brought me so many families who I realized that I could help and that I could speak life into and so I had no idea that it would, you know, take off like this. Or that people would even be interested. But you'd be surprised how many families suffer in silence because they don't know who to talk to work with to reach out to. So that's kind of where Raising Little Miracles has come in and try to fill that gap as much as possible. And I hope that I can continue to do that for years to come.
Host - Ivan[00:13:38]It's a terrific commission and we're excited to follow, follow the journey going forward. What organizations do you focus on or what? What hospitals do you work with most frequently just for people that are in that region or area?
Guest - Caritta[00:13:52]Sure. My son was at Loyola Hospital, so I definitely focused on them. That's in the Maywood, Illinois area and then Edward's Hospital, which is in Naperville, Illinois. I've been working with them. And Elmhurst Hospital, which is in Elmhurst, Illinois, and will actually be starting to. And I'm also fluent in sign language, some kind of starting to put some online content together for children that are non-verbal and their parents want them to learn, sign language because private classes can be very expensive. So that's a new resource that we will be offering hopefully within the next couple of months.
Host - Ivan[00:14:29]Knowing that, uh, knowing that your son is gonna be turning two, um, fairly soon, what are your feelings going to be like on that day as you reflect on how far he's come?
Guest - Caritta[00:14:40]I think every year on his birthday will probably be pretty emotional for me. Even into his teen and adult years and all that good stuff.
Guest - Caritta[00:14:48]Just because when your child has gone through so much and doctors have specifically said to you, you know, it's time for you to say goodbye. He's not going to make you have this amount of time left and things like that. Every milestone is extremely emotional and such a joy to celebrate. And so for us to be moving into his second year of life is absolutely incredible. So I'm sure I'll probably cry a lot. I'm an emotional person, so that is not going to surprise me at all if I'm crying all day that day. But it will definitely be tears of joy because like I said, every year that I have my son with me, that he's meeting new milestones, there's always gonna be something to celebrate.
Host - Ivan[00:15:27]And as we start to wind down here, what other advice would you have for parents who are just receiving, uh, a diagnosis that that, um, you know, puts their child or children into the NICU?
Guest - Caritta[00:15:42]First, I would say allow yourself to feel whatever you need to feel. A lot of times we get the bad news or, you know, what some people would consider not ideal news about their children. And it's like, well, you have to act like it doesn't bother you or, you know, we have to put on a brave face, but you have to allow yourself to feel those emotions and in order to move forward in order to heal. And a lot of times people will say to you they think it's going to make you feel better. But they say, well, it could be worse. Well, yeah, it could be worse. But right now, this is what I'm feeling and this is what I'm dealing with. So that needs to be acknowledged. And I feel like you can't be afraid to say that. You can't be afraid to say to some people that you don't have to try to make me feel better right now. Just let me feel what I'm feeling and I'll work through this. And then at some point, it will start to get a little easier and just keep in the back of your mind who you're fighting for. You're your child's biggest advocate. You're their voice when they can't speak for themselves. So you have to always speak up for them and no matter what. Don't be afraid to ask for your needs to be met. Or question the doctors or, you know, maybe even seek therapy because you have to be the best version of you in order to advocate for your child. So I think that's something very important to keep in your mind as you journey through whatever you go through with your children.
Host - Ivan[00:16:58]Thanks. Thanks for all that you do there in the Chicago area. And we can't wait to follow the journey of Raising Little Miracles. But for all of our listeners out there who want to follow your journey up close, Instagram looks like the best spot for that. And it's @raisinglittlemiraclesinc. But once again, thank you so much for taking the time today.
Guest - Caritta[00:17:18]Thank you so much for having me.