From Trauma to Purpose with Mompreneur Michelle Armstrong of Finn & Co. Gifts

May 21, 2021 | Business, Faith, Motherhood

Michelle Armstrong is a Mompreneur who lives in Couer D’Alene, ID.  She is married with two boys: James (4 in March) and Finn (20 months). She is the owner of Finn and Co and creator of Finn the Panda.

With my son Finn, I got pregnant easily but would go on to have a very challenging pregnancy. It would include all kinds of sickness, leg aches and varicose veins, a miscarriage scare, and placenta previa, which would consequently move me from midwife care to doctor care.  However, I would be told it was a healthy girl, due in August.

Well, life is funny sometimes.  I would end up having a boy, in June, via emergency C-section due to preeclampsia and H.E.L.L.P. Syndrome—aka my entire body was shutting down and killing my baby in the process.  I thought it was indigestion and four hours later I was naked and strapped down to a steal table and the last words I would hear before going out were, “we’ll have to hurry, she’s going to lose a lot of blood.”

I would wake up to learn the baby I thought was a girl was actually a boy and that he was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in an incubator and I couldn’t hold him.  In fact, I could barely press my finger to his tiny hand so as not to cause any nerve pain to his translucent skin.

I would stay in the hospital for the next five days receiving transfusions and magnesium drips trying to stabilize my body, while my son was fighting for his life down the hall.  On the fifth day I would go home, but my son would stay another 52.

No mother is prepared to go home without her baby.  Even if she knows preterm labor is a possibility and has gotten the tour of the NICU, it is so unnatural to leave your baby behind.  It feels as if you have left your soul.

The next couple months my husband and I would go back and forth from home to the hospital.  I would heal from surgery and spend every moment I could holding my son skin to skin. We would have sweet moments of bonding and successes in his progress.

We would also watch him come off of oxygen only later to have to be put back on it.  We would come in one morning to find him lifeless and the doctor would say she suspected an infection and wanted to start antibiotics.  We would learn the phrase, “Cry don’t die,” when nurses would have to slap him on the feet to startle him into breathing again.

We would trade off in our highs and lows, one crying while the other comforted, then one full of anger while the other tried to stay calm.  We would butt heads with different nurses and doctors who didn’t think the same way we did when it came to the care of our son and we would even come to have a reputation of being “difficult.”

After the hospital, there were challenges we continue to face. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after having a baby in the hospital is a real thing, and it is not easily overcome. Like many challenges around parenting this isn’t talked about.  No one stopped to ask us how we were doing until my lactation consultant simply asked me, “How are you doing with all of this?” and I broke down in tears in her office.

I had finally come out of the blur of the NICU and all the feeding struggles we had once home, to then have him re-hospitalized for RSV four months later.  I didn’t realize it then, but I had PTSD the moment I walked back into the hospital. It was very real, and very scary. The beeping monitors, the nurses, the cannula…it was all so overwhelming to me and I just didn’t want it to be happening.

We transferred to another hospital with a PICU and my husband and I would stay by Finn’s side for the next 10 days while he healed.   We once again went home, tried to pick ourselves back-up, and enjoy our family, but I carried around so much baggage. I had fear that he would get sick again.  Guilt that I’d let him get exposed to RSV. Shame for how scared and angry I got.

None of this was profitable, and none of it was helping me be a good mother to my sons.

Then one night, as I had so many times before, I got into bed overwhelmed and at my limit and I begged God for His help.  I asked him to give me something good, to give me something to help fix all the wrong that I felt, and He gave me Finn the Panda.  He gave me the idea of something, even if it was a small thing that could have helped my Finn and me in the hospital and could help other babies and their families.  It could help bond them and comfort them; it could bring a mother’s or father’s or caregiver’s presence to babies even when they can’t always be there. 

YES! This is what I will turn all that wasted energy into.  And so it began.

I hoped our hospital stays were over for good, but I knew of all those families that were still in the hospital and those that were to come.  I knew the guilt, fear, and anxiety they were feeling. I knew the helplessness, but also the sheer determination to fight for one’s child no matter what and I wanted to help, even if only a little.

Mothers are in a special community together, and mothers of NICU babies are a special sub-group that know the dings of monitors, the sterile smell of the hospital, and the feel of their baby in their arms still connected to wires. Being in the hospital turns one of the hardest jobs in the world into something almost unimaginable, but as mothers tend to do, they persevere.  

I hope that Finn the Panda can help babies and their mamas everywhere in that fight and that it can bring comfort and bonding to families when they need it most.

Tell us one embarrassing or bad mom moment?

Oh geeze, there are so many. I think the one I always think of though was when I was working full time and my husband brought my son to see me. He was about 18 months and as soon as I picked him up he said, “boob,” and pulled down my shirt in front of my coworkers.

What do you do for self care?

Pure Barre 8/month has been my solace. Its about 30 minutes away for me so I use the drive time to call old friends or listen to podcasts as well.

If you could give one piece of advice to a mom in a stage you have already been through what would it be?

Be gentle with yourself, in every stage. Give your mind and your body rest. And I truly believe that if your children know at the end of the day that they are loved unconditionally then you are doing it right.

-Written by Michelle Armstrong

Learn more about Finn & Co. Gifts

Finn & Co. Gifts – Keeping You Close Even When You’re Apart (finnandcogifts.com)

 Finn and Co. Gifts | Facebook

Finn the Panda (@finnandcogifts) • Instagram photos and videos

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