Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Tale of Two Hospitals

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Just kidding. Once an English major, always an English major.

Deciding where to give birth is a pretty routine decision: you go where your doctor goes, or you pick the place closest to your house. With Caroline, I chose the place second closest to my house, because the closest hospital has no labor and delivery. With Weston, I had already been there for a month, so he was obviously born there. I initially "chose" that hospital because my perinatologist told me to go there if things got bad. I suppose it's the third closest hospital to my house and only ten minutes away. Anyone who gets injured in my neighborhood is covered.

You probably know what's coming: choosing the hospital this time has NOT been routine.

For several weeks after Weston died, I was intensely drawn to the NICU. I found a reason to go almost every day. Someone told me, without judgment, that my obsession was a little out of the ordinary, but it didn't matter. I was just doing what I needed to do to cope.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving 2012. I delivered cards to the NICU and barely made it. The NICU, and the rest of that entire wing of the hospital, had changed from a place of comfort to a place of torture. I haven't been able to even look at the NICU doors since. The only places in the hospital that have provided comfort since then are the chapel and the lobby, where I'd get my daily frappuccino and hang out in my wheelchair with my family.

So, it's a little weird that, ever since we began considering another child, I have felt drawn like a magnet to give birth at the same hospital where Weston lived and died. That feeling only intensified when I found out I was pregnant. I can't explain it exactly, but I have felt that giving birth there will be quite healing, a way to honor Weston, and a bond between my two boys who will never meet in this lifetime.

But then it became more real. I will actually be giving birth again. My doctor delivers at two equally good hospitals, including Weston's, so I had a decision to make. The decision has been hanging over my head; I would cry every time my doctor asked me if I'd chosen yet. The "deadline" to decide was my 26 week appointment, last week.

So, Shannon and I talked and then made a very scientific decision: we would tour the "other" hospital, then venture up to the labor and delivery wing of Weston's hospital, compare and contrast, and…go with our gut.

Now, I didn't want to tour the hospital in the standard way with a large group of other pregnant women. They would have all been happily innocent, first-time moms, which would have been entirely too difficult. So, I called the "other" hospital, which is a very good hospital, by the way. Most of my central Phoenix friends give birth there, in fact.

I asked the lady on the phone about tours, etc. Then I casually asked if I could have a private tour. "This is my third child, and---." "NO. We do not give private tours." And then I just fell apart. I was crying so hard, it's a miracle she even understood what I was saying. "Uhhh, let me transfer you. I can't answer your question."

Long story short, they agreed to the private tour. But I was seriously doubting myself: I can't even make a stupid phone call to a hospital, so how can I…do what, exactly? No stork is gonna deliver this baby to my house. I don't really have a choice regarding upcoming events.

Shannon and I went to our private tour, and it was fine. The nurse pointed out the NICU (a NICU I had never seen, mind you), and I almost cried again. But I learned something new: if you have a normal c-section, your baby gets to go to the recovery room with you. Who knew?!

A few days later, it was time to go back to Weston's hospital and venture all the way up to Labor and Delivery. My counselor met me there and walked me through the entire process. (Shannon had already gone, alone. Brave man.) I do not know how my "self-guided tour" would have turned out if she had not accompanied me, and I'm glad I don't have to find out.

I did it. It was hard, I cried, I saw the NICU lobby, I saw OB triage, where I spent so many scary hours (and where I'd spend some time prior to admission with baby #3), and I survived.

My mind was made up before we ever got on the elevator, though. We were sitting in the weird lobby place (not my favorite frappuccino lobby), a place that holds unpleasant memories for both Shannon and myself. My counselor didn't like the space either, and we talked through a plan to avoid that area during labor. Then I saw a woman walking across the lobby toward us and thought to myself that we'd get on the elevator after she leaves.

This woman came closer and closer, and then I recognized her: my OB. My current OB, with whom my friend set me up for my c-section follow-up after Weston died, at a time when my medical condition was the last thing on my mind. And I LOVE HER. If you ever need an OB/GYN, talk to me.

Call it what you want, but this was a sign. Seeing someone linked to my current pregnancy, in the sacred place where my last baby died, literally in the middle of the decision-making process: I think my decision is obvious. We chatted for a couple of minutes, I told her why I was there, and she left to deliver a baby.

Having made this decision is a huge relief; it had been weighing on us for months. There is no doubt that giving birth again is going to be incredibly challenging emotionally. However, it is going to be challenging no matter where I am. I am anticipating it and working on it: with my counselor, with Shannon, with God. I feel peaceful and confident about my decision, and hopefully I can hang onto this peace when labor starts and it's time to head down 7th Avenue.

I have had a really hard few days, because of Weston and other reasons. But I am also feeling God's presence close by, in the form of an article sent by a friend I haven't talked to in quite a while, speaking directly to a struggle she didn't even know I was having. Chills.

And, good old Facebook. I posted a picture of my belly today (finally, at almost 28 weeks!). I felt a little weird doing it, but I deeply regret my lack of belly pictures with Weston. The "likes" and sweet comments practically broke records. For my Facebook page, anyway.

Pregnancy after losing a child is quite emotional: I'll never be able to explain it adequately to someone who has not experienced it. There is so much joy for this new life we're anticipating, but it also opens the grief floodgates again: not to mention that ALL of my difficult anniversaries with Weston, including even his birthday (maybe), will start next week and continue through the duration of this pregnancy.

So, seeing so much love and support from others on difficult days really does help carry me through. On a day when grief threatens to overpower, I am so thankful for the joy from others, even if it is just on Facebook.

And now, I'm off to count baby kicks.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Weekend of Deja Vu

Today was the day I have been dreading for a long time. I am 24 weeks 1 day pregnant: the day in my pregnancy that Weston was born.

For the past twenty months, I have primarily been grieving the death of my son. However, I have always known that, if I were to get pregnant again, I would have to work through the events of my pregnancy with Weston and his birth. Recent (and well-timed) communications have confirmed this need. I have struggled through the past 24 weeks, and now it is time to prepare for what is ahead: childbirth. Look at me, already off on a tangent. I'll save the future talk for a later post.

There is a popular pregnancy resource that compares babies in utero to produce. I got rid of the fear-mongering book, but I still can't help Googling "size of a xx-week fetus" every week to see how big my baby is getting. Caroline often asks me as well. At 24 weeks, my baby is the size of an ear of corn. But that sounds weird to me. I've seen a baby at 24 weeks: I know what they look like. I can't quite imagine Weston as an ear of corn. So, this week I am saying that my baby is the same size as Weston.

I had my first growth ultrasound on Friday, at 23 weeks 6 days. My doctor wants me to have them every four weeks, because I have a higher risk of having a too-small baby. I wanted the sonographer to check my placenta closely, and I ended up telling her some details about my abruption at Weston's birth. She told me I am lucky to be alive.

Now, I know how serious placental abruptions are. I know they can kill mother and baby. But, after my c-section, when they discovered the abruption, no one was that dramatic about it. Of course, they said we were both very fortunate, and one of my surgeons said he'd never seen anything like my situation when they opened me up. But no one said, "You could have died."

So it was striking to hear those words from a medical professional, especially at the same point in my pregnancy. It was also quite a reminder of how different things are now.

The ultrasound examination continued. "Everything looks great…your placenta looks good…his heart looks perfect…growth is good…it looks like he weighs one pound six ounces." Unbelievable. That was Weston's birth weight. Fortunately for the sonographer, I was able to hold back the tears until I was in my car.

One of the most difficult aspects of pregnancy after loss is doing normal pregnancy things with other pregnant women. I have been attending prenatal yoga on Saturday mornings (side note: if you ever find yourself pregnant, get yourself and your bump to prenatal yoga!). My emotional difficulties in class are outweighed by the physical and mental benefits; I think the yoga will pay dividends during labor.

Anyway, class always begins with introductions, how far along we are, the sex of our babies, and anything else we'd like to share. Almost everyone else in the class is expecting their first child and is blissfully unaware of anything that could go wrong (I know this because they also say it's their first pregnancy). I always try to be a little vague. Yesterday, for example, I didn't want to say what I was really feeling: "I am 24 weeks pregnant today and so relieved to be here instead of in the hospital, which is where I was at this point in my last pregnancy, getting all kinds of radiation exposure, followed by hours of being chained to a hospital bed, followed by a scary-like-a-TV-drama c-section, and I'm so glad I'm here because I think yoga will help me deal with all of these flashbacks I will inevitably have at this baby's birth." No, that would not fly.

But it is really hard to hear things like, "I'm 37 weeks, blah blah, and I'm not looking forward to the sleep deprivation." I don't like sleep deprivation either, but…seriously?

So I feel like I don't really belong anywhere. Yes, I am pregnant, but I don't want to complain and commiserate this time. Yes, I will (hopefully) be pregnant in Phoenix in the summer, but no, it won't suck. No, I won't have my hands as full as you think I will after having my third child. Yes, I am elated to be pregnant, but I am also indescribably sad and will never be able to adequately explain the contradiction.

The weekend continued with some fun and distractions; I did not think about the 24-week milestone constantly. But my body reminded me: this morning Shannon woke me up at 9:15 (!) and asked me to help get Caroline ready for church. I was almost nodding off again around noon. Noon is when I finally met Weston, ten hours after he was born. Later today, I fell asleep on the couch twice. I think my body just wanted to block out today completely.

Caroline and I planted a little herb garden this afternoon, and Shannon planted flowers. We didn't plan it out, but, yep, we started new life in our yard on the same "day" Weston was born. Like Weston, these plants won't survive the summer. In fact, they will probably be gone by the time Weston's baby brother makes his first appearance.

Now that the pregnancy milestones are over, I pray that days of joyful anticipation outweigh days of fear and sadness. Somehow, though, it will be acceptable if they do not. There is room in my heart for every emotion. For baby #3, what matters is that he is loved. He is dearly loved, and I can't wait to meet him.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Big Brother Weston

Well, February is almost over, and I have only now managed to update this blog. A lot has happened since my last post, but anyone who knows me through Facebook already knows our big news: Weston's baby brother is on the way!

The quick stats: I am due July 5. (Weston's birthday is July 7.) I am 21.5 weeks pregnant right now. My baby is the size of a carrot. I had all-day nausea for the first trimester, just like I did with Caroline and Weston. It's mostly gone now. I did not ski in Switzerland (still need to write a post about that trip!). According to the anatomy ultrasound, Baby Brother and my placenta look healthy. He looks like Weston. I am not technically high-risk, but we're going to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist for my ultrasounds. I am "advanced maternal age," which means additional monitoring anyway. Based on my medical history with Weston, I have a higher risk of several serious complications, but a daily baby aspirin cuts those risks in half. Also because of my history with Weston, I will have ultrasounds every four weeks starting at 24 weeks to monitor Baby Brother's growth.

So, given my catastrophic (physician's word) pregnancy with Weston, things are going just about as well as they could with this pregnancy, physically.

My pregnancy with Caroline was blissful in every way. My pregnancy with Weston was a nightmare in every way. Truly. Now that I'm pregnant again, I have realized that I don't have a single positive memory associated with being pregnant with him. I do have one cute picture of Caroline kissing my barely-perceptible 20-week belly, but that's it.

Obviously, then, this pregnancy is more positive, emotionally, than my pregnancy with Weston. Baby Brother is quite active: I've been feeling him move since 14 weeks, which makes me happy. But it's nothing like my pregnancy with Caroline. However, I have another five months to explore this particular issue. More importantly, I have a baby boy growing inside of me who will, hopefully, get to come home and live with our family. We are ecstatic over this fact, and I want my first blog post about it to be positive.

We have actually taken practical steps toward preparing to bring this baby home. At 17 weeks, I bought big workout shorts. As an aside, where the hell are all of the maternity workout clothes? I had to settle for giant-sized non-maternity shorts at Target. I later took them back, because I found two old pair of mine that I stretched out while pregnant with Caroline. But, it was still a big step for me to do something so forward-thinking.

At 19 weeks, we discovered (1) our baby is growing normally; and (2) it's a boy! So I had 4.5 years of girl clothes, blankets, bedding, etc. to sell, and I began sorting through them that night. They are almost gone now.

And, just over the past couple of days, we sold the guest bed and put the not-yet-assembled crib in the now-empty guest room. I even know what kind of nursery decor I want.

I know these are normal pregnancy tasks. For me, though, there is nothing normal about being pregnant after losing a child, so starting to prepare a room for this baby is monumental, and-I'm going to toot my own horn here-I'm pleasantly surprised at my ability to do so. I am actually enjoying the process and am even entertaining the idea of buying paint this upcoming weekend.

There have been highs and lows so far, and they will continue. I'll document some of them here.

Wow. I never ever thought I would have three children. And I never knew I could love three children so much.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Recap

It is New Year's Eve, so it's time for a 2013 retrospective and a look forward. It was our first full calendar year without Weston, and ringing in 2014 takes us a full year farther removed from him. However, it also brings us closer to seeing him again. Maybe I wouldn't have added that last sentence last New Year's Eve, which means there were some positive changes in 2013.

First, the obvious: none of my children died in 2013. Having another year on this planet with my child(ren) is the greatest gift, and it has happened almost every year. As time goes on, it takes less and less to make me happy. I, for one, think that's a good thing.

My surviving family is healthy (except for Caroline's dairy allergy, which gave us all a good scare a couple of weeks ago). After bed rest, surgery, and the havoc grief wreaked on me physically, my body powered me through one of my faster half marathons in 2013.

Our family vacation to Colorado ended up being more of a spiritual pilgrimage, and I made peace with God there soon after Weston's first birthday. Grief has made me braver/more selfish/more open/more impulsive, depending on your perspective, and I recently made a major decision regarding church. It is really the culmination of almost twenty years of internal wrestling with various spiritual/religious issues, and Weston's death was the last straw that has inspired me to make this change. Only a very few people know about it, and I'd rather the rest of my loved ones not discover the details via a blog post, so I need to have several conversations before I talk about it here.

I am still angry a lot. However, I think I'm a little better at cutting slack to those who say the wrong thing. I try to look below the surface of the behavior now, and I truly realize that no one is trying to hurt me when they say the wrong thing about Weston or his death. Saying something, however wrong, means they care and are thinking of him. With that being said, though, I am still incredibly hurt, and sometimes very angry, when people deliberately ignore his existence. Only time will tell if that particular hurt will ever go away.

Speaking of anger, I will always be angry that children die. It is utterly unfair. I will never try to explain it away.

I read 38 books in 2013. The ones that affected me the most (in order of finishing) are:

Simplicity Parenting, by Kim John Payne, M.Ed.

The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard

Flannery O'Connor Spiritual Writings, edited by Robert Ellsberg

Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver

Middlemarch, by George Eliot

The Faithful Gardener, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis (a reread)

You may be wondering why in the world I would even mention the books I read. I am obsessed with books, and I mainly have my parents to thank for that. Getting an English degree helped too. People find inspiration in various places, and I tend to find it in the written word, among other places.

I didn't read as many grief books in 2013; I read most of those in 2012. There are many more on my list, but a huge part of my grief in 2013 was figuring out how God fit into it, so that's where my reading tended to go. I am part of many groups for baby and child loss, so I found plenty of resources and support in those places.

In the couple of months following Weston's death, I thought I would become very interested in prematurity prevention, NICU support, etc. I did, and I am, but my heart truly lies with my fellow parents who have lost children, at any age, in any way. No matter how much improvement continues in the area of prematurity prevention and care, babies will still die. I have more opportunities now to help on that front. My loss of Weston still looms larger than anything else (in other words, I'm not ready to be a mentor to other parents yet), but I have found that sharing his story with professionals (medical, social workers, counselors, chaplains, etc.) helps them do their incredibly difficult and rewarding jobs even better.

I continue to work through my grief every day (or ignore it until I explode), but some things do not change. Little boys still tug at my heartstrings. I miss Weston all the time. With another year having gone by, I thought the holidays might be a little easier this year; they weren't. They were excruciating, in fact. There wasn't a lot anyone could or should have done to make them better, short of bringing Weston back. Last year, we were in shock and on autopilot. This year, the reality that he is GONE punched me in the face. Subconsciously, it's probably one reason we didn't do Christmas cards this year (no, you were not left off the list!).

Caroline continues to light up my life. She makes it possible for joy to coexist with the grief. As time goes on, she talks about Weston more and more. She misses him. Certain horrible memories are firmly implanted in her head. She is asking more questions, about Weston and her own mortality. Especially after losing Weston, I can't assure her that Daddy and I are not going to die, etc.; I just have to reassure her that it's unlikely to happen soon.

I have a hard time lying to her, no matter what. In other words, there was a lot of stuttering around about Santa; poor kid. I wish I could lighten up.

Unlike last year, I am feeling positive about 2014, starting with tomorrow (Sic 'em Bears!). I'll be at the Fiesta Bowl, but my favorite thing about Baylor being so awesome at football is the dear friends it is bringing to my city.

On Saturday I embark on the trip of a lifetime to Armenia to see my sister's labor of love for the past ten years and meet the beautiful people she helps via her nonprofit organization. I am excited, scared, hopeful that my presence makes even the slightest positive difference, anxious, sad about leaving Caroline, etc., but I know the trip is the right thing at the right time.

And I have to say, I'm not completely abandoning my family: we are going to rendezvous in Europe for a week on the way home. Caroline is old enough to enjoy herself and remember the trip, and Shannon gets to see the country of his ancestry. I am nervous about the dairy allergy, though; it's pretty hard to avoid dairy in Europe. First world problems...

2013 made me comfortable with my grief and more aware of suffering in general. I will never be thankful that Weston died, but I am thankful that he was here on this earth, and I am thankful that he is my son. I wish he was around to cry and wake up at midnight, so we could ring in the new year together.

Weston, I hope I make you proud in 2014.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Ramblings

I'm back. I didn't post an article a day in October like I'd planned, but I posted enough. And I have several more, so I'll keep posting them into November. Here's another good one.

And now I will talk about things that have nothing to do with the above article. It's been an intense few weeks. Life has kept me very busy with writing and teaching obligations, travel planning, passport applications, and, of course, raising a four-year-old. I haven't had a lot of down time to evaluate my grief or plan how to incorporate Weston into the holiday season. I know myself: I need to plan ahead regarding the holidays.

But grief lets itself out anyway.

The day after the dental debacle, Caroline got sick. Really sick. We ended up at the doctor's office in the afternoon, followed by a chest x-ray and trip to the pharmacy. She either had asthma or pneumonia; we still don't know.

I was already pretty emotional from Caroline being so upset at the dental visit. I had to enlist a nurse's help to calm her down enough to take a breathing treatment. She finally did and was sitting on my lap when the nurse asked her what she was going to be for Halloween. Innocent enough. But then, to keep Caroline occupied, she asked her if she has any brothers or sisters. And what he is going to be for Halloween ("He's not going to be nuffin."). And why he's not going to be anything for Halloween. Is he really little? Yes. That was Caroline's answer. She almost never tells people that he died.

By this time, I was sobbing, and the nurse was concerned. So I had to tell her he died. And then watch the horrified look on her face. She apologized twenty-seven times and slunk out of there.

With all of this going on, I didn't have time to dread Halloween. The breathing treatments helped Caroline turn around pretty quick, so she got to go trick-or-treating. Is she scary or what?


Halloween was OK: she didn't have much stamina from being sick and became upset pretty easily. In retrospect, it has been more difficult, thinking about our adorable one-year-old son who should have been along for the ride.

And then I was figuratively kicked in the gut by a terribly insensitive comment made by someone who should know better. The situation was pleasantly improved by someone else's acknowledgment of the obvious pain on my face later that day.

(P.S. If you're reading this, you're not the offender. The offender doesn't know I have a blog.)

I didn't speak up. Bringing up Weston would have been appropriate in that context, but I didn't do it. I don't know why. Initially, I felt horrible about not saying anything, but now I think it was the right decision.

I've trumpeted over and over that I want everyone to know about Weston. That is still the case to an extent, but he is such a precious and sacred part of me that sometimes I just feel protective. Throwing his story out there would not be the best way to respect him in that moment.

Mulling this exchange over, I wondered why I let it, and others, get to me. Why can't I just let it go? I was lovingly reminded today that some situations will hurt as long as I love my son. While it might not be appropriate to be return the insensitivity, it is entirely appropriate to be sad about it.

I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it: I'm learning to be comfortable with the fact that I will always be broken, and broken-hearted, until Weston and I are reunited in the presence of God. Our world is far from perfect; why should I expect a whole heart on this side of heaven?

And I don't expect or want a pity party for embracing my broken heart. The truth is, I don't want to be whole here. I'd rather long for heaven and have questions left unanswered. Some people might even characterize this as...healing.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Straitjacket

Today was all over the place. I made plans to fulfill a long-held dream (which I can't share yet because I have to tell my mother first!), among other things. It will always be a day that rocked my world.

And it included a trip to the pediatric dentist for Caroline. It wasn't her first visit, of course, but I decided that she finally needed to get her teeth cleaned after four years (she's always refused before). After twenty minutes of cajoling her into the chair, she still couldn't relax enough to let the teeth-cleaning happen.

DO NOT JUDGE ME. Apparently there's something called a ped wrap or something like that. No. It's basically a miniature straitjacket that restrains the child from neck to toe. My child needed clean teeth. I'm sure you can figure out what happened next. I gave my consent, but I did not participate.

Caroline was hysterical. My hands never left her body. As soon as they laid her down, the dentist and hygienist dove into her mouth. (Although it might not sound like it, I love this dental practice. They were really good with her. Plus, they complimented us on her exceptionally clean teeth.)

And, cue the NICU flashbacks. The scene was identical: bright lights, loud noises, tubes everywhere, lots of things going into my child's mouth. Except this child was about 36 pounds larger. I just lost it, right there, and I had to turn away from Caroline so she wouldn't see me weeping and get even more upset. Like the NICU staff, pediatric dentists have to "treat" the parents just as much as the little patients. And treat she did.

I was able to pull it together after a couple of minutes and turn my head back toward my screaming child. She finally calmed down a bit toward the end. The cleaning and exam only took about five minutes. When they "released" her from the damn straitjacket, she was soaking in sweat.  Then she smiled, smacked her lips together, and said, "Ohhh, my teeth are so healthy."

As all parents know, watching your child hurt is pure agony. Especially when it includes flashbacks of your dead child's suffering. These scenarios still take me by surprise. Who would have thought a dental visit would be so traumatic? Now it's obvious. Caroline was fine within thirty seconds of finishing, but I'm still upset about the whole experience.

However, Weston came up with the dental staff. I told them he died, because they asked why they hadn't seen my second child at the office. There's no escaping that one. But guess what they did: they asked me how he died. And that is another reason why I love this dental practice.

Monday, October 28, 2013

More of the Same

If you haven't suffered, live longer.

The above sentence from the link, among a few others, jumped out at me. If we have all suffered, or will suffer, why are we so inept at responding to the suffering of others?

Sometimes, it's because we suffer in silence. Although I bare my heart and soul on this blog, I've become an expert at pulling myself together in public. Except in big groups. And at church. And baby showers. I haven't been invited to one yet since Weston died, but going to one sounds like the eighth or ninth level of hell.

Anyway. I'm good at "being strong." I'm pretty stressed out right now, with too many commitments and not enough time, and stress swallows up grief pretty easily. People, including family, ask how I'm doing (for real), and I sidestep it, because I'm letting the distraction of the moment overshadow my grief.

But that is a major digression from the point of the link. The link is more of the same, really, but it is so incredibly important that I will say it twice: knowing God does not mean you can sidestep grief. Knowing God does not mean you can sidestep grief. 

For whatever reason, it's so tempting to just spout off attributes of God to a suffering person (see the link), but doing so is so unhelpful. Let the suffering person think and feel for themselves and arrive at their own conclusions about God; it will be much more meaningful that way. As a bonus, the suffering person will not have to exercise any self-control for refraining from punching the spouter-offer in the face!

Why do I have a feeling that the problems described in the link will never go away? Sigh...

Just read the link. She is a much more pleasant person than I am.