Friday, August 15, 2014

Saying Goodbye to the Childbearing Years

After 171 weeks of my life spent expecting babies--some who made it to birth and some who did not--I find myself now inside the last week I will ever spend in such expectation.  In just a few days, when a precious baby boy is removed from my body, my womb--by necessity--also will be.  This is not a place the Mister or I have ever wanted to go.  Truly, we would have been so very happy for me to be able to bear children for many years to come.  We desired to accept all the children God would give us.

But, as I keep having to remind myself, we have!  These are the children God has given us.

Our blessings have been abundant, and we are grateful.

Yes.  It is with reluctance that we leave these years of childbearing.  To know that there will be no more days spent with a curious toddler patting my back while I succumb to morning sickness, no more moments spent wondering if those were the first stirrings of a baby, no more trips to the maternity store for bump adornments or just some pants that will stretch big enough, no more evenings of the Mister coming home from work and laying his hands on my tummy to see if he too can catch a kick, no more hiccups or somersaults or endless discussions of names, no more staring through squinted eyes at ultrasound screens in hopes of a glimpse of a face or hand.  This is the end.

It's an acceptance that part of being open to the possibility of new life is being open to the possibility that there will be no new life.

It is also a beginning.  The beginning of a time we did not anticipate, but which we trust will be good, because it is ever so clearly within God's plan for us.

We will one day be those people who eventually stop buying diapers, who can plan trips without worrying that they will be canceled for morning sickness or childbirth or nursing needs, who don't stock a small nation's supply of squeezy pouches in their pantries.  We will keep ourselves to a tidy two or three rows of an airplane and we will all still fit in a minivan.  The children will one day outgrow the witching hours and 7 o'clock bedtimes. They will eat their suppers, they will play outside unsupervised, and they will flush their own potties.  We will find our groove as a family of six, and I think we will love it.

There may always be a twinge of sadness at the thought of what might have been, a forward-flashing whiff of nostalgia for the hope of a long, long dining table full of rowdy children, a memory of an unmet dream.

But maybe not.

Maybe we will be too busy rejoicing in the beauty of what is.

I hope so.  I intend so.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Final Countdown

Just twelve more days of bed rest!  The surgery now has been officially scheduled for August 21, the day the baby hits 34 weeks gestation.  I'll get an epidural bright and early that morning, then be taken down to interventional radiology for the balloon catheter procedure intended to help with blood loss, then at 10:30 AM, we'll have a baby delivery (!!!) followed by more surgery for me.  My part of the surgery could take 3-4 hours, or it could be simpler than that.  I'll hope to be awake in the afternoon and see the baby in the NICU the next day.

This has been a rough go for everyone, and I'm pretty desperate to regain the privilege of caring for my children, as well as our newest addition.  I'm under no illusion that all will be easy post-delivery.  My recovery will be pretty extensive, and my baby will be hospitalized.  But we will be on the road to being reunited as a family, and that will be awesome.  I hope I'll never again let the immense privilege of my calling escape me...even for a second...even among dirty diapers and sibling tangles and an endless sea of crumbs.  Caring for my children is a balm to my heart.

The Mister, in his infinite genius, set up a basketball goal in my room.  It's been a very popular addition to the social scene here.

As a throwback to 70s basketball fashions, today Little Guy was sporting his brother's short shorts.  And a shirt with his brother's monogram.  He says these items were in his drawer, but I'm wondering if perhaps it was he that was in his brother's drawer.  :)

It's really been a team effort on the home front, with my sweet Mama and our dear Nanny leading the charge, and my wonderful mother-in-law providing relief to the weary.  Not to mention my precious friends, who have pitched in with play dates for Little Guy and meals for the family!  We've got one amazing village, and we are so very thankful.  

The Mister, as usual, has stepped up to the plate big time in my absence, skillfully meshing always demanding work responsibilities and recently increased home responsibilities, mostly at the expense of his already minimal sleep patterns.  He's managed the weekends solo, moved practically every piece of furniture in the house to accommodate new living arrangements, stayed on top of mail and paperwork and back to school arrangements, played Tooth Fairy and grocery-getter, handled medical appointments and diabetes classes, and just generally made the whole thing work.

And last night, he treated me to an in-hospital hair doin' by my stylist!  He's a sweetie.

We've got a little 4th birthday celebration in the works for Buddy Boy tomorrow, and my Daddy is scheduled to arrive.  It's bound to be a good day!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Spice of Life

In the hospital, not much changes from day to day.  I choose my food from the same menu that I've now perused for more than seventy of my most recent meals.  There's no humidity, no wind, no warming rays of sunshine, and the temperature is always 67 degrees.  The shades go up and the shades go down, but any time past ten in the morning, the overhead lighting needs to come on.  My vitamins come right after breakfast and supper, my anti-contraction meds come every four hours 'round the clock, my shower follows the fetal monitoring, blood draws are an every-three-days treat.  Each day is a reasonable facsimile of the last.

But the staff members.  Oh, the staff members.  They provide the spice of life around here.

Perhaps my favorite is the Go-Getter.  She's young and fun, but she is motivated.  Go-Getter is planning a path to nurse practitioner, and she jumps for any opportunity to do something cool.  When the first nurse blows your vein trying to get in an IV, she calls another nurse who looks over your veins with uncertainty, and then that nurse calls Go-Getter.  Who slides that IV in no fuss, no muss.  Boom.  And then she raves about your juicy veins.  Gross?  Maybe, but all is forgiven in the world of IV successes.

SuperTech is a lot like Go-Getter, except she's a nurse technician.  A nurse technician who does the best blood draw in the tri-state area, is ever-vigilant to keep your water jug full, waits to change your sheets until after your crumby little children have visited, and just generally makes life pleasant.  She pumps up your air mattress pad on the regular, and you never hesitate to ask her to open or close your blinds, because she's just great that way.

The Chatty Night Nurse is lovely and so totally European.  She's more thorough than any of the other nurses, the only one that ever pulls out a stethoscope or checks the pulse in your feet.  Chatty Night Nurse wears shoes that squeak across the floors in the night, but it doesn't really matter, because she's got you up talking, anyway.  Whether it's the disorder she discovers in the bedside supply drawer or the incomplete information displayed on the dry-erase board, she's always got something to cluck about, something to tend to.  Chatty Night Nurse has a tendency to ask for a verbal response to her midnight bed checks and to require weigh-ins and blood draws in the pre-6AM hours.  With someone else, you might tire of that, but she makes you feel united with her in the drive for order and efficiency.  You mean that IV was flushed twice within a 12-hour period?  Hoo-rah!

The Bubbly Fellow finds herself working on the Fourth of July and a sparkler.  Because, you know, some people might not get to see any that night.  Her words.  Head to toe black, with silver sequins exploding across her chest and shoulders, topped off with a hair adornment that sparkles and shimmies while she assesses your blood loss and orders magnesium.  She's the one you seek out when your back hurts after a couple weeks of bed rest, when you're wondering about a change in medicine, when you just want one more detail of the surgery plan explained more thoroughly.  She relates, she sympathizes, she problem-solves, and she has seriously impressive accessories.

The Bubbly Fellow has a counterpart in nursing, the Bubbly Nurse.  Bubbly Nurse wears hot pink clogs and also ascribes to your big hair beliefs.  She monitors your baby bedside and for twenty minutes, gives a running commentary about him lacing up his Nikes a little tighter this morning and being an athlete, an over-achiever, showing off for his mommy.  She calls his heart rate decelerations dipsy-do's and when she's not satisfied with the brand-new resident's assessment of the dipsy-do's, she runs the results down to the attending doctor, just to be sure.

The Circumspect Resident comes on a little more slowly.  She spends the first three weeks of bed rest showing up at your bedside every morning at 6:15, prodding your tummy with ice-cold fingers, inspecting your legs, running through a rote list of questions--all of which you regularly answer in the negative-- and then leaving without so much as a good-bye.  But after a couple days off, she shows up and tells you she's been thinking about you all weekend, hoping that things were still going ok.  And that just might bring a little sting to your eye.  After that, she never leaves without saying goodbye.

The Menu Planner works for food service, delivering the meal trays.  She seems to favor meat-heavy meals, or else she's got something against cheese.  Jury's still out on that one.  But if one day you dream up a way to divert from the ordinary menu and order macaroni and cheese as your entree, she will let you know--in a jolly way--that she thoroughly disapproves.  She thinks it's something her son might order, but you--YOU!--should not.  And if she happens to be the one dropping off your lunch of grilled cheese a couple days later, oh! woe to you.  Never have you seen a head shake so gravely.

Giggles is the housekeeper.  She comes giggling in each morning, greeting you with a giggle, replying with a giggle to your inquiries about how she's doing, giggling that she's just here to take the trash.  And then again in the afternoon, a knock at the door is followed by a giggled announcement that it's time to sanitize the room.  More giggles about the dirty lunch tray and any towels that might be in the linen deposit, and then a last peal of giggles as she wipes down the bed rails with rubbing alcohol and giggles herself into the hallway.

Nurse Matter-of-Fact is all business for the first couple of days she cares for you.  Perfectly friendly, but no personal stories, no inquiries about your life outside.  Just medicine and monitoring and routine checks, right on schedule.  But one day, she finds you in a mess of tears over a proposed medical plan involving a good bit of pain and discomfort, and she immediately tells you that that plan will need to be "reassessed."  And then she goes to bat for you with the doctors and the head nurse, and you overhear her describing you as "extremely reliable," "careful," "trustworthy."  And by the time she comes back, the plan has been changed to one that achieves practically the same result and involves no pain or discomfort, but more work for your nurses.  You cry in amazement and she wins a forever fan.  She also calls you "doodlebug" from there on out.


A salute to all you hospital staff members out there!  You make a difference in each patient's day.  And when a patient spends a while inside, YOU are their spice of life!


Thank you so much for all the prayers being said for our family, for all the kind and encouraging words you have offered.  We are truly overwhelmed by the love that has been shown our many fun visits with friends, mail deliveries, play dates for the children, meals for the home crew.  So much love.  Thank you!  I hope to do the same for each of you one day.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Still Here. 30 Weeks.

30 weeks today.  Cheers!

I've figured out that Fridays in here are tough.  I came in on a Friday, so each Friday marks another week away from home (three, this Friday).  Each Friday marks a week since the last time our family has been together.  Each Friday has been met with previously un-topped behavioral woes among the children.  Each Friday, it feels like I've been here a really long time, but still have so very much longer to go.

So, on Fridays, I cry.  The rest of the week, I usually do ok, except when Baby Girl glues herself to my lap at the end of their visit, and bawls to stay with me or for me to come home.  Or, when Buddy Boy's lip trembles as he asks Ten more days? and I just can't bear to tell him that it's so many more than that.  Or, when Little Guy has spent hours snuggled at my side, but weeps that he hasn't spent any time with me when it's time to go .  I cry then, too.  But mostly, just Fridays.

Mama and Nanny are earning stars in their heavenly crowns each and every day, managing my three rascals.  The children seemed to sense a power vacuum, once I was firmly established at the hospital and the Mister was back at his desk, and they each have been doing their earnest best to work their way up--through some sort of battle of the baddest, behavioral display of shock and awe-- to alpha dog status or something.  Their world has been all shook up, and I know that accounts for a lot of the turmoil, but it's been disturbing to see just how devious they can be without me around to enforce standards.  So, that's a challenge.  More for Mama, Nanny, and the Mister than for me.  But goodness, reality hurts sometimes.  And there's the tendency to feel like a failure.  How thankful I am to have people willing to see my children through this most difficult time, and to keep on loving them!

Oh! I wish I were there for Little Guy losing his first tooth.  The excitement, the milestone, the fairy visit.  

How I wish I were there to find the littles in bed together.

We are used to so much togetherness.

Most importantly, though, the baby is still cooking and, truly, THAT is what I am called to be seeing about right now.  I've had some selfish moments where I've thought, I wish we could just have the baby and start the path toward restoring our family life now.  But I snap out of those pretty quickly when I think of how very badly I hurt for Buddy Boy when he suffers from his conditions, and how very badly I would hurt for this baby if he were to suffer.  More time in this hospital bed makes his suffering less likely.  Baby is where he needs to be.  I am where I need to be.

There must be something all of us are meant to learn from this.  We just haven't fully unearthed it yet.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Days in Here

I've been here a little more than a week now.  I was moved to the high risk unit Sunday night, and haven't left my room--barely my bed, even--since then.  It's a very strange feeling to have no idea what the temperature is outside, or even what the hallway looks like outside of my room.  I've learned to tell some of what's going on by the noises that accompany...the dining cart rattling down the hallway at meal times, the laughter and hub-bub of shift changes, the sound of plastic wheels across carpet when it's time to bring the medicine-charting computer to my door, the swish of garbage bags when the housekeeper is making her rounds.  And the periodic intercom calls about Code Blues, Code Yellows, and Code Reds, often accompanied by the whir of rescue helicopter blades.  There's a lot that goes on in a hospital that makes you thankful you're not worse off.

The doctor told me to wear these leg squeezers all day and night, and that if I wanted a little break to just pedal my feet back and forth the whole time I had them off.  That didn't sound like much of a break, so I just keep them on.  The nurses keep commenting on how compliant I am about them.  Ain't nobody got time for blood clots!

Bed rest in the era of the world wide web has got to be vastly better than in the dark ages.  These are my lifelines.  I'm probably going to hit some limit for maximum number of allowed Facebook comments or something.  But until then, I surf...

The food is actually not too bad.  And hey, I neither cook it nor clean up from it.  

I'm working my way through all the menu options during lunch and dinner, but I've pretty much settled on a "regular" for breakfast.  Pancakes, eggs, and sausage, hot chocolate and a Diet Coke.  When I got to the hospital, I'd gained 18 pounds so far this pregnancy, which was waaaaaay less than ever before.  Now, I haven't moved in 8 days and this is my breakfast.  Not sure I'll be breaking any personal records any more.  Oh well, more for baby!

After breakfast, my IV site gets wrapped up for showering.  It's funny, no nurse does it the same way.  Some with way more success than others.  You'd think they'd standardize these things.

And then I spend a little time mooning over pictures of my babies.

And downing a few pills.  I get my anti-contraction medicine at 6 and 12, around the clock.  It really messed with my sleep at first, but I'm learning to practically keep my eyes closed through my midnight vitals check and pill.  Makes me think of how Buddy Boy sleeps through a lot of finger pricks and insulin shots.  Actually, I think a lot about what he goes through daily.  Bucks me up.

After the morning meds, we do a fetal non-stress test, to listen to the baby's heartbeat and check for contractions for about 20-30 minutes.  We also do shorter tests throughout the day.

The readings are printed out.

But I can also watch them in real-time on the monitor.  The blue line is baby.  The green line is me.  This day, I didn't have any contractions during the monitoring.  Yay!  I've been having a few contractions some days, but so far, they've been able to give me my next dose of medicine a little early and get things to quiet down.

I've enjoyed so many sweet visitors this week.  It really helps the time pass pleasantly.  And so do the magazines some of them have brought!

When I moved up here, I asked the Mister whether he thought it would be like the KD house.  He didn't.

They do have a social hour on Thursdays, which the ladies get wheeled down to attend.  But only if your doctor clears you.  No clearance for me this week.  Maybe next Thursday.  A friend said the conversations are bound to be a bit like prison talk...What are you in for?  How long you been in?  How much time do you have left?  Any priors?

Time for lunch.  See?  Not bad.

And then, the best part of the day!  Mama and the children arrive for their daily visit.

I get to hear all about their morning, and then we usually do something quiet, with them snuggled in my bed next to me.  I love it.

There's also a lot of adjusting of the hospital tray and smushing of the bed buttons.  They love to raise my bed {and me!} up above their heads.  So far, we've only earned one visit from maintenance and one from the electrician.  They said it happens all the time...

Baby Girl's favorite attraction by far is my water jug.  There's just something about Mama's water.

Their visits often end with a good many tears on their part and mine, so their little creations are nice to look at when they're gone.

And the most important part is that baby is still tucked away, growing and doing beautifully.  28 weeks now.  Grow, baby, grow!

Monday, July 7, 2014

His Yoke is Easy and His Burden, Light

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-30

A sweet friend sent me the above passage from the Gospel reading for this past Sunday, and I've been resting in its truth ever since.

As I have shared here, my current pregnancy started without much hope, but turned into a miracle of life.  Miracles aren't always simple, though, I'm learning.  

In late March, at 16 weeks, I had a hemorrhage that led to the discovery that I have placenta previa.  In late June, at 25 weeks, I had another hemorrhage, accompanied by a little hospital stay, that led the doctors to conclude that I was at high risk for a dangerous complication called placenta accreta, due to multiple risk factors, including two C-sections and two D and C's following miscarriages.  Although they thought from the sonograms that I did not have accreta at that time, they recommended a follow-up on the accreta and modified bed rest due to the complete placenta previa.

So...I rested.  The children spent a lot of time snuggled with me, reading books and playing games, and we scrambled to get plans in place for the longer term, to allow me to spend as much time as possible off my feet.  

Those plans included my mother coming to the rescue once again, on the first flight from Alabama, and our lovely friend who has helped us in summers past taking on a larger role in the children's care.  It was so strange to go suddenly from being the one taking the children on adventures to the one receiving pictures of my children out and about.

But I think we all managed pretty well, and I was--and am--so thankful for the blessing of being able to entrust my children's care to people who love them and care for them so beautifully.

I had my first appointment with the high-risk obstetrical practice last Tuesday.  After almost two hours of songram and a 1.5 hour consultation with the doctor, Mama and I walked out rather shell-shocked.  The most important information was that the sonograms do show placenta accreta, and actually, it looks like I have the most severe form of accreta, called placenta percreta.  They can't be completely sure from sonogram imaging, but it appears that the placenta has grown completely through the uterine wall and is now at the edge of the bladder wall.  

The high-risk specialist explained that what this means for baby and me is that the best case scenario for delivery is now at 34 weeks, which would be August 21.  If we are able to make it that far, and have a scheduled delivery, then the plan would go as follows {if you're comfortable reading about medical procedures}: I'll receive an epidural in the morning, then be taken to interventional radiology, where they will thread balloon catheters through my femoral veins, to be used during surgery to reduce the bleeding.  Then, I will go in for a combination C-section and hysterectomy.  The Mister will be able to be with me for the delivery of the baby, and I will be awake for that time.  The high-risk obstetrical team will deliver the baby by using a vertical incision to about 4cm above my belly button and removing the entire uterus, which then will be cut from the top down the back side to get the baby out without cutting through the placenta.  The Mister and the baby will go straight to the NICU, and I will be put to sleep by general anesthesia.  Then, the gynecological oncology team will step in to perform the hysterectomy.  Gynecological oncologists are the surgeons most skilled at this type of surgery, because, as I understand it, they are accustomed to dealing with parts of the body having grown and attached in ways they weren't supposed to.   The surgeon will separate the placenta from whatever it has attached to outside the uterus (like the bladder) and repair that damage.  Then, I'll be sewn up and likely taken to the ICU for a couple days' stay, before being transferred to another unit.  Major blood loss is expected--I learned today from one of the doctors that the national average of blood loss for this type of surgery is 5-6 liters--so the blood bank is already prepared with matching blood parts for transfusion and that team will be in the OR, as well.

The doctors had explained that they usually follow a "three strikes and you're in" rule, as far as hemorrhaging and hospital bed rest go.  On the evening of the Fourth of July, I hemorrhaged again, so the Mister and I arrived by ambulance to my home for the next couple of months {at least, we hope it's that long!}.  It was found that I had had a small placental abruption and was showing signs of pre-term labor.  I spent a really gruesome, but ultimately effective, 36 hours on a magnesium sulfate drip to quiet the contractions.  The nurse they called in to cover my case was told that they were delivering my baby that night, so I am really thankful that that did not turn out to be the case.  Once I stopped contracting, I was put on an oral medication to precent further contractions and transferred to the high risk unit, where I will stay until we deliver the baby.

Now, I even get pictures of what life is like at home.

Obviously, this is not what any of us would have chosen.  I don't want to be on bed rest, I don't want to be away from my husband and my children.  I don't want the baby to be delivered early.  I don't want to be having a hysterectomy, and certainly not under the frightening circumstances that I will be having one.  But I know--without a shadow of a doubt--that we are in the Lord's hands.  And that whatever happens, He will make good of it.

The Mister and I have always said that we would take as many children as God would give us.  I am so thankful that He gave us the grace and the desire to accept with open arms and in pretty rapid succession these beautiful gifts.  Now, it seems my childbearing years are coming to a close.  Earlier than I expected and definitely not in any way I could have imagined.  But even with that sadness, He is giving us one final gift of life born of our love.  We are so very grateful for this baby whose life we thought was not to be.

This morning, after cruising the Amazon Prime movie lists for a good hour or more, I decided to spend a little time coming up with some worthwhile goals for this stretch of rest I have in front of me.

1. Grow the baby.
2. Pray the Rosary each day.
3. Watch those movies that people always talk about, but that I've never seen.
4. Write a little.

For the second item, I thought to myself that I needed to ask Mama to bring my Rosary up to the hospital, and made a mental note to do so.  But God knew better than to leave it to my multitasking brain.  Just a few minutes later, a lady from the chaplain's office stopped by to administer Holy Eucharist.  This time--unlike at past visits--after I had received the Eucharist, she asked whether I had a Rosary with me at the hospital, and pulled one out of her pocket to give to me.

Everything is going to be ok.  I do not walk through this alone.

His yoke is easy and His burden, light.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Strawberry Picking

Some days, when our little adventures turn into day-long sagas of whiny children and blowout diapers and appetites that hit at all the wrong times, I return home feeling defeated and just flat worn out.  With a picnic cooler to unpack, a load of laundry to spot treat, and a mess of grubby kids to bathe.  

But there are other days--when the weather is pleasant enough to enjoy an entire day outdoors, the activity appeals to all ages, the moods are good and the behavior is satisfactory--that our little adventures completely energize me.

Strawberry picking was one of those days.