Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Beautiful Soul

I will always look at my sweet Tyler and remember Kelli. It was our first (and only) experience with fertility drugs - I took Clomid to conceive in October 2009. My doctor wanted to give me the hCg shot at the perfect time, so I went to Woman's Hospital daily for ultrasounds. It was neither fun nor convenient, and I was a ball of emotions. I needed a little perspective -- and quickly got it in the form of Kelli Richmond.

Kelli and I hadn't gotten together in months. Scott and I got married, and were hoping for a pregnancy. Nights out were few and far between, and I wasn't drinking during the "two week wait." I kept up with my girlfriends on Facebook, though, and Kelli's updates said she was having stomach pains. But this was the Kelli I'd always known. The Kelli who, instead of eating fast food after a night of drinking, would eat dry cereal. I couldn't keep up with what Kelli could and couldn't eat - but she could enjoy a glass of wine, and that's what we did together as we enjoyed each others' company. It only made sense that I hadn't seen her in a few months.

So here I was, heading to Woman's every day and she was there. Having surgery. When we talked, she mentioned having tumors, but - as was typical with Kelli - didn't make it sound serious and was optimistic. It was serious, though -- and from that day on, she began the fight for her life.

And I was pregnant. Which was crazy. I was the total opposite of Kelli - while she was optimistic about her future, I was pessimistic about my pregnancy. I couldn't believe that I'd gotten pregnant during our first round of fertility treatments. I was convinced that this meant I would experience a loss. On Christmas Day, at exactly 9 weeks pregnant, I woke up to bleeding. We spent the morning in the hospital, but even the ultrasound of my healthy baby didn't lift my spirits. The doctor could make no promises - there was no obvious explanation for my bleeding and it was too early to tell if I would miscarry. Too early to do anything if I was losing the pregnancy.

But Kelli was one of the first friends I told of our pregnancy. Before her first chemo treatment, we all went out and celebrated "Kelli kicking cancer's ass" over drinks. (Yes, this was an actual titled event. As most events with Kelli were!) I sat beside her and drank iced tea. Somehow, Kelli had me convinced that she would beat cancer, even though I was convinced that I would lose my pregnancy. How crazy is that?

I remember being on our "babymoon" - one last vacation as a family of two before we became three. It was April, and I was in the lobby of our amazing hotel when I got a text message from Kelli saying that she wasn't responding to any of the treatment and she was going to MD Anderson to look into clinical trials. And in the bar area of our posh Miami Beach hotel, I sat down and cried. Until then, I really believed that Kelli would live a cancer-free life, get married, start a family. The sudden realization that it wouldn't be that simple stuck me all at once. I looked to Scott and said, "My friend is going to die." Scott was confused. I handed him my phone, put my hands over my face, and felt his arms wrap around my waist.

Kelli and I met for lunch and she came to visit Tyler after he was born, but there were some days that she didn't feel well enough to leave the house. One day, I left Tyler with Scott and Kelli and I laid in her bed talking. She told me that she'd seen a Dr. Oz that day about ovarian cancer. How unfair, right? Seeing this episode 18 months sooner could have improved her outcome - could have even saved her life.

Still, being around Kelli challenged me. She was SO alive. More so than I was, most days. She was seeing Sister Dulci, who told her she was healing. Her scans were looking good. She took a break from her treatment, and I was pregnant again. Kelli was in love and many of our conversations were about the ups and downs of dating. We talked about the advocacy she was doing for Woman's Hospital, ovarian cancer, and the book she wanted to write. But mostly we talked about her relationship - Normal Kelli and Laura stuff.

My pregnancy progressed. It was different the second time - I wasn't fearful of loss like before. I worried how the baby would change the delicate dynamics of our family - how Tyler would cope with a sibling, how I would cope with two babies at home. Kelli and I talked in November, and in December I sent her a Christmas card. In February, she updated her Facebook status.

Her cancer was terminal and untreatable.

I know that her friends who were closer knew in December, but I learned from her Facebook update. Not even a month later, I went into labor and Liam joined our family. I sent Kelli a photo from the hospital and then a birth announcement. I learned later that she was in Houston, seeking alternative treatment. She wasn't there long, though - she came home and spent the last days of her life with her family.

I woke up one morning to the news that she'd died. Somehow, even though I'd known it for two years, I was surprised. It didn't seem real - the last times I'd spent with her, she was so alive.

And I'm thankful for that, but it's confusing sometimes, too. You see, Kelli and I often went months without seeing each other. Sometimes I find myself expecting to hear from her. It wouldn't be unusual for me to have gone eight months without seeing her - even longer when she lived in California, or when I lived in Florida. Sometimes I have to stop and remember that I won't be going to another of Kelli's named Facebook events, that I'll never go to her wedding, or see her mother children of her own. That my friend of 14 years - the one who danced into my house at 15 years old on St. Patrick's Day - will never dance into my life again.

I am running for Kelli on Sunday and expect myself to be an emotional mess. My grief has been in pieces - some here, then I focused on raising my two boys under two. And some there, then we relocated our family to a new city, 8 hours away. I haven't allowed myself the time to process this loss because there literally hasn't been time. I have only managed to bandage the bits as they came up. I do think, though, that the reality of Kelli's death is with me now. So I am going to work though it - run though it - even though it takes my breath away and leaves me gasping for air.

And every October, when I remember the month that we began our journey as parents, I will remember the perspective that I gained from Kelli. I promise.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Running For Kelli - Team Kel Bel

Three months ago, I lost an old friend to Ovarian Cancer. Kelli was diagnosed in October 2009, the same month that I found out I was pregnant with Tyler. I visited the hospital for a fertility treatment and she had a complete hysterectomy that we all hoped would save her life. I know the "it's not fair" argument doesn't go far, but it's really not fair that I was having a baby and Kelli was losing her baby-making organs. She was optimistic, though, and talked about how she would adopt, have a surrogate -- something. She was determined to have a family.

I started my pregnancy and she started the fight for her life. Kelli underwent numerous surgeries to remove cancer growth. She did countless rounds of chemotherapy and lost her beautiful brown curls. She smiled, though, and was the most gorgeous bald woman I have ever seen! When she was well, we celebrated life. When she was unwell, she smiled through her hospital visits. I can't say that I would do cancer with such grace. You all know I would be a hot mess! But Kelli became this strong woman and she did not suffer. She fought.

The Advocate recently published an article about Kelli. You can view it here. They have misspoken, though. Kelli did not lose her battle. She found the peace that she deserved. As selfish as it is to miss her, I know that her being here means that she would be suffering. She is no longer in pain.

I would love if you would consider sponsoring me while I run a 5K with the boys for Kelli. And if you don't, that's okay, too. Please take a moment to read the information below. Kelli suffered with pain and discomfort for months before she was diagnosed. She went to doctors that were unable to find the source of her pain. It wasn't until she finally had an ultrasound that her body was found to be littered with cancer. I know that if Kelli's cancer had been detected early, she would be here today. Even though one of Kelli's best friends was treated for Ovarian Cancer, Kelli didn't know the symptoms. The information below could save your life, or the life of someone you know and love. From the NOCC website:

More than 20,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, and approximately 14,000 women die annually from the disease. Unfortunately, most cases are diagnosed late when prognosis is poor. However, if caught early, ovarian cancer is over 90% treatable. It’s imperative that the early signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer are recognized not only by women, but their loved ones and the medical community as well. There is currently NO early detection test for ovarian cancer, nor is there a vaccination to prevent the disease. The key to early diagnosis is awareness.

Potential Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
Pelvic or abdominal pain
Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often

If symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks, consult your physician.

Thank you for reading about Kelli. One of these days I will get around to really writing about her - to try to capture her with words. But right now, I am keeping those things just for me as I grieve her.

Sponsor my Run For Kelli

Learn about Ovarian Cancer

Monday, March 12, 2012

Liam's birth story

The entire pregnancy had been a whirl of emotion and hesitancy to bring another baby into our gently balanced home dynamic. Throughout my pregnancy with Liam, I felt like I wished I had just an extra month, a few extra days to spend one on one with Tyler to show him how loved he is. I certainly never imagined that I would be bringing home a baby earlier than my estimated due date of March 25, and neither did my OB, Dr. Dickerson. Because Tyler was a post-due date baby -- only born at 40+3 because of an induction -- we both felt like I would be making it to that 40 week appointment and the Biophysical profile ultrasound.

On February 28, at 36 weeks and two days, I was tested for group B strep and had my first cervical check. My cervix was dilated to 3cm, Dr. Dickerson said. I was so surprised that I said I didn't want to know about position and effacement. Even then, though, I felt like I had 3-4 weeks -- and Dr. Dickerson said he did too, but to be aware that when labor started, it may go quickly.

I met with the Birth Help team that evening and realized how unprepared I really was. I made a long list of to-dos, including packing a labor bag and taking supplements that I'd purchased but hadn't gotten around to taking. Throughout the week I tried to get my mind focused on the impending labor by purchasing some last minute items for the hospital and postpartum period.

On Sunday, March 4, I woke in the early morning to go to the bathroom and went right back to sleep. An hour or so later, I woke again with wet pajamas. I'd had a dream that my water broke and after I woke, I got up to change. It didn't seem as if I was actively leaking fluid, so I went back to bed. When I woke for the morning around 6:30, I told Scott I was leaking fluid but wasn't sure of the origin. I talked to Angela (our doula and also a friend of mine) and told her that I was losing fluid, but didn't think it was amniotic fluid because it wasn't constant -- but that I was fairly certain it wasn't urine. I expressed my concern about going to the hospital before labor started, or even just wasting time if it wasn't amniotic fluid. She advised me to monitor it and we could make a decision later in the day.

All day I leaked here and there. Sometimes a good bit, but most of the time a tiny bit at a time. I was convinced it was something other than amniotic fluid, and even joked with a friend that if I was peeing on myself I'd never make it another three weeks like that!! I began to pack a bag for the labor -- but only because I thought it was a good idea to have it done ahead of time anyway.

Around 3:30pm, I sent Angela a text message to let her know there was no change, but that throughout the day I'd filled several pads. We hosted a small birthday party for a friend's one year old and I enjoyed our guests and all of the food everyone brought over. Around 5, I spoke with Angela who thought we should take a trip to triage to get checked out. We decided I'd wait for our guests to leave and I'd put Tyler to bed. As I read Tyler The I Love You Book, it occurred to me that just maybe I should read him another, in case this was his last moment with me as an only child with his mother. I also felt the urge to go to the hospital and get it over with so we could get back home, though, so I put him in bed and told him how much I loved him.

At this point, I'd still not felt a single contraction.

When we arrived to the hospital, a nurse used a strip to test the fluid and confirmed that it was amniotic. I broke down into tears. I realized that my bag had been broken at least 14 hours. Not many practitioners would be supportive of waiting for further intervention, but I felt comforted in knowing that mine would. When Dr. Dickerson arrived, he assured me that we were on no timeline. I was to take Penicillin through an IV (I had a hep-lock) every 4 hours because we hadn't received my group B strep results, but he said we could continue that way for days. In my head, I knew I didn't have days in me. I knew I'd never be able to stand that much time away from Tyler, and Scott only had two weeks to take from work. I felt comforted knowing that I wouldn't be rushed, but anxious for labor to start.

At 9:25pm, the nurses filled the labor tub. I would not get in for another 16 hours.

Angela recommended some natural induction methods and I was hopeful that I'd be able to get labor moving by nipple stimulation or walking. After walking and pumping and walking and pumping, I'd only felt tiny contractions. It was nearing midnight, so she suggested rest, which did not come easily. I was scared that I wouldn't go into labor by natural induction means, anxious spending my first night away from Tyler in 19 months, and distracted by hospital sounds, vital sign checks and my intermittent IV of Penicillin. I finally requested assistance to sleep, and after an Ambien, slept for about an hour and a half. The rest of the time I stayed in bed and tried to be physically restful, but my mind couldn't stop. I thought of all of the what-if's, all of the not-readies, how much I loved and missed Tyler. I cried when I realized I wouldn't see him the following day. I considered the possibility of cesarean section for failure to progress and thought of the irony -- I'd put effort into planning a natural birth, and I felt it slipping from my hands. But mostly I thought of how I wished I'd read Tyler one extra book, so I ordered him a few on my list for him and I waited for what the morning would bring.

The following morning, at 6:30am, we were at it again, but our natural induction methods weren't making any progress. Dr. Dickerson stripped my membranes and I walked the halls. Still nothing. Some time later, Dr. Dickerson very gently recommended I begin thinking about my feelings about using Pitocin, a drug that I hated during my labor with Tyler. I hated that he was bringing it up, but in my mind I already felt like it was going to happen. I agreed to the intervention and was hooked up to the IV and monitored continuously with a wireless telemetry monitor. I would stay on this monitor (and curse it) for most of my labor.

At 10am, the Pitocin was started. It began coming through my hep-lock at the lowest dose, 2, and was increased by 2 every 15 minutes. The first segment was spent in the labor room on the ball. After the first increase, we hit the hallway. The night before, we were one of three occupied rooms on the labor and delivery floor. Now the rooms were full. Each hallway had an anesthesia cart and I was reminded that although I desired a normal birth, it was no longer the norm. The halls were busy, but not with other laboring women. Nurses and doctors gave us weak smiles and a few made jokes about my fast paced walking. As the contractions got stronger, I remembered Angela telling me it was a good idea to stop, squat, and rock my hips throughout the contraction. I felt silly doing this, but quickly decided I didn't care.

Apparently this moved the telemetry monitor, which lost the baby's heart rate every time I contracted or squatted. Which was every few minutes! Our nurses chased me around the hospital hooking it back up, struggling to get it to stay on. It was a minor annoyance in the beginning -- it didn't feel great but the contractions weren't strong so I didn't mind as much. Later in the labor, I would yell as the monitor was adjusted during a contraction. There is certainly a lot to be said for intermittent monitoring.

As contractions picked up and became stronger, I began to look to Scott and Angela for relief. I spent some time in the ball near the bed, and when I didn't find the comfort I needed, I leaned over the bed while Scott massaged my back with the knobby ball.

With each contraction, I looked to Scott and Angela. It was a relief to know that I didn't have to go though them alone -- that I was being guided though the journey by our doula and being supported by my husband. The contractions were painful but manageable with the comfort measures Angela taught us. I leaned over the bed for counter pressure, rocked on the ball, spent time on my hands and knees in bed. I reminded myself that though difficult, the movement was allowing Liam to make his way down to the birth canal.

Each hour felt like five. I'm not sure if it was because of the challenge of the contractions or if it was the lack of sleep, but I am guessing it was a mixture of both. In birth class, Rene' taught us that having a full bladder could cause more pain during a contraction, so when I felt overwhelmed by a contraction, I tried to get to the bathroom to empty my bladder. I knew that this was something I needed to do every hour, and I really thought hours were passing! Many hours later (which, in reality was only ONE hour later) I found myself rocking on the ball in the shower, begging to get into the tub. Everyone always said that the tub provided such relief, and I felt like I was holding onto that trick for when I really needed it. I was there.

The nurse wanted to check me, and I requested Dr. Dickerson do it instead. I remembered reading in Ina Mae Gaskin's book that a laboring woman's cervix can actually change when she isn't comfortable with the practitioner, and I certainly felt most comfortable with my own doctor making that assessment. Because I declined the nurse's evaluation, though, I had to wait until Dr. Dickerson was available. He came in and was very encouraging -- Laura, you can do this; Laura you are doing great -- get into the tub, I don't need to check you.

But then it happened. And I know it wasn't intentional, but it still happened. I heard Dr. Dickerson mention to the nurses and Angela that he didn't care if I wasn't to 4cm, that I was in labor and the tub wouldn't slow me down. So in my head, I did the math. I'd been in labor for 94 hours (okay, maybe only 3 hours on the Pitocin, but you couldn't have told me then!) and the thought that I may not have dilated even one centimeter crossed my mind. I knew it was a mind game, and I tried to put it out of my head -- but I will always think of this as my first big challenge during my labor. As I got into the tub, I couldn't stop thinking that if I wasn't yet to a 5 or a 6, that I wasn't going to make it. Even though I knew that number didn't mean anything, in that moment it had power over me.

With each contraction, Scott applied counter pressure from outside of the tub. When the contractions became too intense, he hopped in the tub with me to hold me. Angela stayed by my side and Scott applied pressure. At times it felt like what Scott was doing hurt MORE than the contractions, so I would scream for him to stop. When he stopped, I realized I needed him to hold me. I'm sure this was very confusing for him, but he never once complained, never faltered. I told Angela countless times "This is terrible!!" because in that moment, it really was. I felt like my contractions were never ending. I had no concept of time but it didn't feel like I was getting a rest period. In my head, there was a possibility that after all of this, my cervix was unchanged, and I started feeling panicky.

I told Angela that I needed to see Dr. Dickerson. I needed to be checked. She calmly asked why I wanted that information, and I told her I needed it to make a decision. In my head, if I was at 5cm, I could go on. If I wasn't, I needed to rest. I don't know what that meant, but I couldn't stop thinking of how if I got an epidural, I would be stuck in the bed. I didn't want that. But I was tired, worn out, exhausted. Maybe close to delirious.

Angela suggested that instead of being checked, maybe Dr. Dickerson could turn down the Pitocin. THE PITOCIN! I'd forgotten about that! (Mostly. I guess it had just blended in and become part of my reality at that point.) It had to be turned down. Immediately. I looked over at the IV bag and realized it was only on a two. A TWO! How could it hurt so much and only be on a TWO? (At some point, apparently, the Pit was turned down from a 6 to a 2. Thankfully.) I needed it out of my arm immediately (because at this point, the Pit was to blame for my pain and discomfort, of course.) Dr. Dickerson came and we removed the line. He checked me while I was in the tub and told me I my cervix was 8cm dilated and 80% effaced. I couldn't have been more relieved to learn that the torture I was enduring was transition and that it would soon be over. He recommended I leave the tub and labor on the toilet for a while.

There I met the second biggest challenge of my labor. Often described by natural birthing mothers as one of the most intense places to labor, the toilet brought no relief. But it brought progress. Within minutes of laboring there, I began to feel the baby move into the birth canal. I saw my pregnant belly -- usually so high during my pregnancies -- lower as Liam dropped. I felt no relief in between contractions and I was so tired, but Angela continued to encourage me and Scott held me with each pain. Several times I heard the nurses over the intercom before I realized I was unknowingly pulling the emergency chain next to the toilet. Oops! I felt like I couldn't manage the intensity of laboring on the toilet but was unable to walk. Angela said I could return to the tub for relief but the idea of getting there was unimaginable.

At some point, I asked if I could lie in the bed to rest and Angela suggested I stay on my hands and knees, to keep my pelvis open. I remember asking if it was dark or light outside -- I didn't want to know the time, but felt like I could have been laboring through the night and into the next morning, it seemed so long. I just kept saying "I can't --" I was too exhausted to hold myself up, too exhausted to continue, too exhausted to move. With a lot of physical support, I moved from the bathroom to the bed where I was propped up on pillows and Liam's blanket. The one I made him right New Year's Eve -- the one thing I'd done to prepare for our baby boy. As I saw his blanket, I was reminded of why I was doing this. Healthy baby. Lower risk to baby and Mama. Freedom of movement. Breastfeeding success. Bonding.

I needed this birth to recover from my traumatic experience birthing Tyler, the difficulties it brought when establishing our nursing relationship, and I was almost there.

And then...

It just happened.

I had been pushing with each contraction, but not because I thought it was changing anything, because it provided relief. The contractions were still strong, though spaced further apart. I told Angela I needed Dr. Dickerson, and she gently said he would be coming -- but in my mind, I needed him there right away! I knew he would be there to deliver Liam, and in my head, when the doctor appeared the baby would come out. I needed that baby OUT! Angela encouraged me to vocalize through the contractions and I think this is when I vocalized the most. From the corner of my eye, I saw the nurse come in the room and I yelled, "I need to push!" Later, I would laugh about how I heard her quietly call the doctor and say, "She just yelled that she needs to push!" So -- I guess she was listening to me!

When he did enter the room, he calmly said, "Now Laura. I am going to look to see if we can see any change. Sometimes the labia will move and..." and he pulled up the sheet and said, "I NEED GLOVES!" I knew it was happening. We were ready to meet our little boy and I was ready to rest. I pushed with every bit of energy that was left. I remember thinking -- I don't care if I rip my body in half! This baby is coming out! Dr. Dickerson suggested I move my hips, but I was too exhausted. Just as I was saying I couldn't, someone guided them into the position he'd requested for me. A few pushes later, at 3:34pm, Liam Scott was born -- 8 pounds, 9 ounces, 21" long. 14" head circumference. I needed help turning around so I could lie in bed and hold him. The adrenaline from the contractions was gone and I melted into the bed with my boy in my arms.

(Later I was told that it was my "controlled pushing" that prevented vaginal tear. Funny how different my perception was.)

When it stopped pulsing, a very happy Daddy cut the cord. And held his son.

I wasn't the only one who was tired. Liam did not immediately nurse, though with the help of our doula then later our birth photographer, I was able to nurse him twice before we were moved to our Mother/Baby room. Thinking of this brings tears to my eyes because it wasn't so long ago that this happened. (As a side note, Liam "failed" his glucose test, too, but we were never pressured by the hospital to formula feed him. I was successful at nursing him instead. One day I will write the story of Liam's breastfeeding beginning, though it's short and simple.)

Liam's birth, from Pitocin to delivery, was 5 hours and 34 minutes. The longest and most rewarding 5 hours and 34 minutes of my life.

I can't say enough about our natural childbirth experience. It was one of the most amazing and empowering experiences of my life.

Photo credits to Melissa Cannon Photography. I bid on a birth package that Missy so generously donated to Louisiana Natural Birth group thinking that we would be happy if we got one or two family shots after the birth, and that if I wasn't comfortable with having a photographer we would just ask her to stay outside until the delivery. We couldn't have loved Missy more, and we are so thankful for her presence and support at Liam's birth. And of course -- the beautiful keepsake photos.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Power of Social Networking

I have been putting off writing about this because I know it will make me cry. But I think it is important and that people should know about it.

Facebook has changed my life.


Myspace, too, really. It all started in 2006, my first year of graduate school. But we'll get back to that.

Most recently, I came across a family who had a lot of needs. Eugene is a janitor who cleans state buildings. My mother (a single mom of four, who had a lot of help from her co-workers when she was raising us) developed a relationship with him and found out that his wife was expecting twin boys. Eugene and Judith are immigrants from Africa. One day, while my mom was playing with Tyler, she asked if I had any clothes "or anything" I could pass along to this growing family. Our own family was expecting twins, and I'd donated much of our extras to them, but I was able to come up with a few things. I told her I would post a message on Facebook and see if any of my friends had any extra baby items.

So I did.

And they did.

Everyone wanted to help.

This is where it gets emotional, so hang in here with me. I cried. Every. Single. Time someone had a donation. One stay-at-home-mom I know made two beautiful minky blankets for the family. Another mom of four donated a gift card. A mom in my mom's group brought clothing, toys, and extras. Another mom met me for lunch with a baby bathtub, changing pads, and clothing. I found a consignment store in town and purchased some baby gear, and when I shared the story, they donated two strollers, two car seats, and miscellaneous toys and clothing. Another girlfriend collected donations from her network of friends and family. I didn't call any of these friends asking for anything.

I only changed my status on Facebook.

So back to grad school. I was getting my Master of Social Work and the program required two full years of internship hours. Because I was working through school (and at the time school started, working 50 hours a week), I chose to delay my internship hours and complete them in a double block over the summer. Some of the professors worked hard to tailor the class experience to meet the needs of those interning. I didn't have an internship, so I would often piggy-back on with other students and discuss their experiences in their internships.

In my Diversity class, there was a service learning component. Each student was to spend classroom hours working on a project that would benefit the agencies hosting their internships. I was paired with a classmate, Mollie Nobile, to help with her agency. Mollie worked for a partial-hospitalization program -- a day program for those with mental illness, many of whom lived in group homes. Nearly all were indigent, as their disabilities rendered them unable to work.

They needed clothing. Patients would come to the day program in clothes that were soiled, needed changing and hadn't been washed in days. Many of the patients experienced weight gain (a side effect to anti-psychotic drugs, and other mental health medications) and could not affect a new wardrobe as their needs changed.

The agency requested a clothing closet and I thought and thought of how to provide them with one. Naturally, they did not expect me to BUY everything. I knew people would donate for the cause, but couldn't think of the logistics involved in organizing such a clothing drive. So what did I do? MYSPACE.

It was brilliant. And easy. So easy, it felt like cheating. I posted an event on Myspace and invited all of my friends in town. The messages started pouring in. I drove to meet friends across town that I hadn't seen in months, and each person stuffed the trunk of my Honda Accord full of clothing. I had the opportunity to thank each person for their donation and tell them just what their bags of clothes meant to the patients of the hospital. Every couple of weeks, I dropped by the agency with a delivery, until their storage room was filled. One Friday, I took off of work and organized the clothing, hung everything by size, and took a few photos.

It was the easiest (and most rewarding) school project I'd ever completed. I had an impressive clothing closet to provide the agency, and the most important part? The people who needed CLOTHES had CLOTHES. What a simple but beautiful thing.

So back to this family. Eugene and Judith had the boys last week. Only one twin survived, and the other has a heart defect. Eugene missed work for over a week -- and because Judith was on bed rest during the last months of her pregnancy, they did not have money for July's rent and other bills were piling up. I shared their story on my Facebook and Twitter feed and asked for monetary donations. Because really, we can't take away the pain of the loss of their son. We can't make adjusting to life with a newborn easy for this family. We can't immediately breach the language barrier that makes getting public assistance so difficult. But we can alleviate some of the financial stress, albeit temporarily, while we are working to get them on their feet.

This is the part where I really cry.

In fewer than 48 hours, I have received donations and pledges totaling over $300. Friends from all over the country have sent paypal donations and mailed checks to help this family. Some are women I have never met -- they're moms in my online birth club. Nearly all of the donors are people who are not in my everyday life -- friends I don't see often. The employees at the state building where Eugene works have taken up a collection, too. Their immediate financial needs are being met and we are working to provide them with resources such as Family Road to help with their ongoing needs as they adjust to life with this new baby, mourn the loss of their son, and get back into the swing of things with work.

Word of mouth, emails, and technology have brought people together for this family. But mostly? Facebook. Social Networking.


If you are interested and able to help with a monetary donation for Eugene and Judith, please leave a comment and I will get the information for you.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


I recognize that I am doing this about six months late... oops!

January: We heard Tyler's heartbeat on a doppler for the first time. Announced our pregnancy to our friends. Took an Intelligender test that swore we were having a little girl. Didn't believe it (fortunately).

February: Received a Valentine card from Scott and the baby. So sweet! Started looking pregnant. Dug a garden and planted a lot of yummy things.

March: I started having horrible acid reflux because of the pregnancy. I woke countless times choking on my vomit. It was terrible! I had no idea that people LIVED like that and I started buying stock in tums. When that stopped working, I used OTC then prescription drugs. Of course, none of these worked, so I just swallowed a ton of vomit.

April: Scott won a trip to Miami, so we babymooned. Fortunately for him, everything was all inclusive with premium bar. Unfortunately for me, I was pregnant. We didn't spend much time on the beach, but it was nice to get away. I took my annual photo with my birthday tree, and we celebrated my last birthday as a family of two.

May: School ended and work for me became much easier. I became huge. There is photographic evidence of my size on this very blog. At some point, I decided that it would be a good idea to completely demolish our kitchen and remodel it. (Okay, not completely, just mostly.) It was horrible, but now it looks much much better.

June: I did summer camp with elementary and middle school kids in the heat of Louisiana summer. Outside. With little liquid nourishment. It was tough, and I had a lot of Braxton-Hicks contractions. These would be the last contractions I would feel until I was actually in labor.

July: My due date was July 31. I knew better than to think I'd actually have the baby early, but I was so sick of choking on my vomit that I was ready to have the baby. I spent a lot of time at the pool because I felt weightless. It was amazing.

August: Tyler was born August 3 at 12:24am. He started screaming after birth and didn't really slow down for months. Fortunately for him, we are very forgiving people and we fell in love with him anyway. All that time at the pool I spent in July? Big mistake. My belly button was black. I am not kidding.

September: Scott started a new job and was out of town for nearly two full weeks. My mom stayed with me to help with Tyler and I spent a lot of time crying and feeling helpless. Every day felt like the longest day of my life and I was sleeping a collective 5 hours of broken sleep a day. Tyler would only sleep in the Baby Bjorn or on the boob.

October: Tyler took his first out-of-state trip to Dallas, TX. Scott had a business trip and I was terrified of being alone with Tyler, so we went along to see Catherine and Mark. Catherine especially loved seeing Tyler, as she was pregnant with twins and ready to be a mom. Tyler didn't sleep very well, but that was sort of normal for the time. The Baby Bjorn wasn't working out very well on the trip, so most of his sleep was attached to the boob. This would be a habit that would continue until March 2011.

November: Tyler and I accompanied my mom to Wichita Falls, TX to meet the brand new Salem Hostetler. Tyler slept less than he slept in Dallas, and he cried most of the time we were visiting with my sister. It was stressful, but I fell in love with baby Salem. She also managed to sleep more than my 3 month old baby. In love? Yes. Jealous? You betcha. We brought Tyler to Slidell to stay overnight the night before Thanksgiving. He woke up every 45 minutes and slept in my arms while Scott and I share a double bed. Not a whole lot of fun. Tyler also cried through Thanksgiving dinner with my parents. I suspect he was exhausted, as I wanted to cry, too!

We hosted my in-laws for Christmas because it was really the only way we could survive. Tyler loved the Christmas tree (a fake) and spent most of his time trying to eat the branches. I took six hundred photos of him sitting in front of the tree in his little elf hat. Life was still incredibly difficult, but was becoming more manageable. Scott and I decided that we would move Tyler to his own room in hopes that we could all get some sleep, and we made a plan and stuck to it. Initially, Tyler hated his crib, but we soon learned that he could in fact roll over (as he spent most of his time rolling in his sleep. Which woke him. It was great!)

So that's a year! Only six months late :)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Our Breastfeeding Journey

I've been meaning to write about this for a while, but let's face it - I haven't blogged in months. I don't do much writing at all nowadays (besides my daily note to Tyler, part of our 365 project) but I think as if I am writing all the time.

I am not sure if that makes me crazy, but yes, I do it!

SO here goes.

While I am well aware that many women successfully formula feed their babies, it never crossed my mind as a choice. Even before I knew so much about breastfeeding, it just seemed right to me. Hey, that's what these things were made for, right? I longed to be one of those mothers who held their babies close while they nursed at the park, and I loved the idea that I could just grab a diaper and run out of the door (no bottles!)

My biggest misconception about breastfeeding was that it would come naturally. It's such a natural thing, right? I would just open my hospital gown right after birth, pop that sucker in his mouth and he would eat until he drifted off to sleep. Why did I need a class, or to go to a La Leche League meeting? I tried to read a book, but it just didn't seem right because there was no baby to practice on and borrowing someone's baby for the task just didn't seem right. My preparation didn't exceed buying a few nursing bras, tanks, and a good pump. I already had the other equipment, right?

So it goes something like this. Tyler was born. What a big boy!! He was so big, in fact, they did this sneaky test to check his glucose. I don't remember consenting for this blood prick, but I'm also not sure I was really given a choice. Regardless, his numbers were off, and he had to eat - IMMEDIATELY. BUT I AM BREASTFEEDING! I exclaimed. I'd heard of Lactation Consultants (commonly referred as LCs - those specialized in infant nutrition and helping moms like myself learn to nurse their babies) and I wanted one in my room now!

But it was 12:24am. And even though I was delivering at WOMAN'S HOSPITAL, THE BIRTHPLACE OF BATON ROUGE who swears on every commercial and billboard that they are woman and baby centered, there was no LC available. It was past midnight. These people needed some sleep, y'all, and my baby had to eat.

"If you don't breastfeed him right now, we have to give him formula" the nurses informed me. No problem. Here goes. Boob - check. Baby - check. I opened my gown and tried. Baby was SCREAMING! Isn't he supposed to know what to do?? (I had no idea what to do). And there she appeared - the pediatric nurse. She will know what to do! "You have to hold yourself this way" she said, as she smashed my breast painfully between her hand, "and just DUNK him on like THIS" Well, the dunking wasn't successful the first two times so we tried it another hundred. The result was an incredibly bloody nipple (just one hour post-birth, mind you!) and her response, "Well, it doesn't look like you'll be able to breastfeed him. Your anatomy isn't right for it."

OOOOOHHHH good. That makes sense, right? I mean, I had the boobs, but my anatomy wasn't right. Whatever the hell that meant. I decide I'll try again when I get to my room and am away from this boob smashing nurse. So I get to my post-partum (mother/baby) room and get the full, 30 minute long orientation. At some point, I said, "I really don't need to learn how to use the remote right now. Could you just turn off the light?" It was 2:30am, Tyler was two hours old, and had been crying for close to an hour because he was hungry and I'd been unable to feed him successfully. When I was finally alone, I did that thing I saw all of the other women do - I put my boob in his mouth (right?) and I think he kind of latched (albeit incorrectly) for a moment or two.

Until Nurse Bitch walked in, waving his chart. His whatever glucose issue was important. We are testing him again. If it's whatever wrong, he needs this crap we have ready mixed in a 2oz tube. (Obviously this was not what was said, but all I heard was that my baby would eat first from a rubber nipple instead of my own, that those precious first drips of colostrum would not line his tummy, but it would be stinky Similac or Enfamil or whoever the hospital signed a contract with.)

But he was still crying. He was hungry. I failed at feeding him and I had no support. It's not like my husband knew how - and obviously none of the nurses knew anything but how to screw that rubber nipple on the top of that liquid ready-to-feed human milk substitute.

That was not our first challenge. Tyler's glucose levels "required" (I write in quotes, because I am not positive this was an actual requirement and will request physical documentation of this policy/procedure before it happens again) another formula feeding. In the morning I attempted to nurse him, and it must have been enough to keep him from screaming for a little bit. And finally, when the morning nurse came, I asked, through tears, "PLEASE HELP ME BREASTFEED MY BABY!" and she responded by immediately paging the LC. Who promptly came.

And told me I had flat nipples. Wouldn't be able to breastfeed without a nipple shield and shells. She even told me that because Tyler was a big baby (8 pounds, 8.5oz at birth) that he would need more than I could provide. Showed me how to syringe feed formula through the nipple shield. Brought in a hospital grade Ameda pump and showed me how to use it. "Oh! You have a lot of colostrum" I remember her saying. But never took back the comment about Tyler needing formula because I would not make enough.

I cried. A lot. This was not how I pictured it at all. Where was my peaceful, easy, convenient set of boobs I could use to feed my baby? Now I have to wear these hard plastic things in my bra that cut into my bleeding nipple (still sore from pediatric nurse) and pull out this silicone thing to place over my nipple before I feed my baby. It didn't make sense - Surely other women had the same issue I was having and didn't use all of this crap to nurse their baby. Why was I being told this was what I needed?

That night was a long one. Tyler barely slept and spent most of his time screaming. I tried to nurse him over and over, and eventually ended up supplementing with the syringe and the nipple shield the way the LC showed me. When that didn't work, I called the nurses in to check him out. SURELY something was wrong with this baby. Newborns were supposed to be sleepy, right?? After checking him out and finding nothing wrong, they concluded that I was starving him. He NEEDS formula, you know. They offered to let me feed him. I refused. I didn't want to feed my baby formula. I cried as he was fed an entire two ounces of formula, and I cried again when he projectile vomited all of it all over himself and his bassinet thirty minutes later. Obviously, no one told these nurses that the size of a one day-old's belly is only the size of a marble. No one told me, either.

The next morning, a nurse came in to bring Tyler for his circumcision. Tyler had just woken and I was struggling to nurse him while Scott ran home to check on the house, clean up, and grab some non-hospital food to eat. The nurse saw me nursing and said, "Oh no! He can't eat right now. The doctor can't wait." So I listened. What else was I to do?

When she brought him back in, she said, "Don't feed him now - the pediatrician is coming and will want to see him." My wonderful OB came in to tell me about the circumcision procedure. He asked how I was doing and I broke down into tears, telling him of the problems nursing. He told me he could have waited, and that the pediatrician could wait. We talked about supplementing with formula, and he told me to make sure to bring the baby to my breast first. He was so supportive, and I cried the whole time. I was alone and incredibly overwhelmed. I immediately started nursing, and was able to get Tyler to latch. Less than five minutes later, I was interrupted by the pediatrician who, as it turned out, would not wait. "Take him off. If he's been nursing longer than five minutes, he's gotten everything he needs anyway." Really? If that was true, why had the LC told me to let him nurse until he stopped sucking? I wanted to believe that five minutes would work instead of an hour, but it seemed too good to be true. I didn't react, so he grabbed Tyler from my arms. Off of my breast. I wish I was exaggerating. After the exam, he left and I attempted to nurse again.

I called the lactation line. A new LC came this time - Mona. She asked me about the night before and I broke down into tears and told her about the other LC, the formula, the nurses, the vomiting. Mona tossed the shells and nipple shield to the side and showed me how to get Tyler to latch without all of that garbage. I felt like I could do it for the first time since giving birth.

The hospital social worker also came to check on me because I'd spent the whole day crying every time someone asked me how I was doing. We talked for about thirty minutes about my difficulties, my level of stress, how I was being interrupted when trying to meet my baby's most basic need, and how I thought I'd be okay if I would JUST LEAVE THE HOSPITAL.

Mona came a few times that day to check on me, and the next day, too, before discharge. After meeting with Mona that initial time, we tossed the formula from the room. I felt confident in my ability to feed my son without the artificial milk. (As a side note, the hospital did not, and they packed along 70oz ready-to-feed formula with the bag of diapers they sent home. The sad thing is, the nurse really believed she was doing me a favor hooking me up with freebies. I took pleasure in donating it to the local food bank as soon as I was able.)

It didn't get easier. As soon as my milk came in, my nipples were flat again and I was unable to get Tyler to latch. But wait! I had this silicone thing that helped - the nipple shield! I used that thinking I would toss it after the first few feedings, and ended up using it exclusively (with resentment) for over five months. Not only did I receive that thing at the hospital, it came with no information about nipple confusion or how to wean, and I would cry as my own baby would not recognize my nipple without it.

We had other problems, too. Tyler was a refluxy baby and when I brought him in for a doctor visit, my pediatrician told me he was gaining weight too rapidly and that he was overeating. He was, after all, eating for an hour every other hour. It certainly felt like too much for me, but I believed it was what he needed so I did it. When I asked, "But I thought breastfed babies regulated on their own?" the pediatrician said, "Yeah, well, no." She recommended nursing for five minutes and finding another way to pacify Tyler without feeding for at least an hour. We tried it once and it all Tyler did was cry. Then, we decided that the problem wasn't Tyler's weight gain, rather, it was the pediatrician. We chose a new one immediately. (And, for the record, he has stayed on the same curve since his 20 week anatomy scan - he is just a big kid.)

Breastfeeding Tyler was HARD. As in, cry-every-time-he-showed-a-hunger-sign-because-I-know-it-will-be-horrible hard. I wanted to quit nearly every day for most of the first three months of his life. On top of nursing being tough, he was just a generally tough baby (still is, as an older infant) and I resented my decision to breastfeed. I thought every day about feeding him with pumped milk, or human milk substitute, but really? I was too stubborn to give up. That didn't mean I didn't want to, that I didn't cry when someone asked me about it, that I didn't consider the possibility that I was having a breakdown because I felt I wasn't able to meet the needs of my child.

But one day - and I don't even know when because I was so mentally and physically exhausted - it didn't feel impossible. Then, after that, I found some support. Even though I'd called the LC line (and talked to LC #1, the giver of nipple shields) and was told I wouldn't be able to nurse without the shield, I tried it. It took some time but we eventually stopped using it completely and haven't looked back. Feedings dropped from 12 times a day to six or seven. (Remember, this is the baby that slept attached to the breast for the first six months of his life - literally. If I had given up, I wondered, how would he sleep??) I educated myself about the needs of a newborn when feeding and became angry about my experience. I vowed to spread the word about basic breastfeeding education to my pregnant friends so they wouldn't feel booby-trapped the way I did.

And somewhere along the line, I fell in love with nursing my baby. It became easy, convenient, healthy for both of us, relaxing for both of us, and we bonded. Tyler found my eyelashes one day last month while nursing. He learned to "Give me 5" while getting his morning milk. We talk, laugh, and share smiles while he nurses. Sometimes I sing. I finally got it.

I don't know how long I'll breastfeed Tyler or any of my other, not-yet-conceived babies, but I do know that when I look back years from now, I'll cherish those moments. Maybe even more so because of our struggles.

What is it they say? The challenges for the joys?

Tyler is 10 months and 3 days old.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Day in the Life

There's a great reason why I've neglected my blog. The thing is, I actively parent 12-13 hours a day, plus an hour or so in the evening. Here's our regular-ish routine:

6-7am -- Tyler wakes. (Sometimes happens as early as 5:30, often happens closer to 6:15. Occasionally has happened as late as 7:30. Love the 7:30 wake-ups!!! For the sake of this post, we will say he wakes at 6am) I fight to get him to nurse. (anywhere from 20-40 minutes, depending on his interest. He often wants to look at every single thing before going back to the boob. It's on and off until eventually, I give up, and we get up to play.)

6:30 -- Play. Look at everything in the house. *I* know that it's the same, but he doesn't! Make faces at daddy. Sometimes this is when I shower and Scott takes over. Most of the time we play for 30 minutes or so and then I make his oatmeal.

7:00 -- Eat breakfast. Usually both of us. This means that I have to manage to get his breastmilk/oatmeal/fruit concoction into his mouth fast enough to sneak in a bite of cereal myself, then give him another bite. He really enjoys eating solid foods, so he whines in between every bite. It is so cute. But also a little bit difficult! If he finishes his oatmeal and I still have cereal, I have to try to shove it into my mouth as quickly as possible without him noticing or he will continue to beg. We haven't gotten to the point that he refuses food, so I am thinking if I kept giving it to him he would continue to eat. But I don't.

7:30 -- Play. Sing ABC's, Jingle Bells, and any other song I can think of (or make up). Roll all over the floor (both of us). Tyler puts everything in his mouth. Toys, toy box (his favorite), hands, bib, feet, my hair, my hands, his feet again, the remote if I would let him... etc.) This lasts for about an hour. Often I beg for him to poop while Scott is still home because let's face it: it's no pretty sight.

8:15 -- Begin to get fussy. Whining, throwing head into my chest, and shrieking are his favorite displays of fussiness.

8:17 -- Nurse in our bed. Where we stay until he goes to sleep then wakes from his nap. Yep, that's right, both of us. The thing is, when I hold him he sleeps for sometimes 2 hours (often closer to 90 minutes). When I leave him in our bed, he sleeps for 15 minutes, max. When I put him in his crib, he sleeps for zero minutes. You read that right, ZERO.

10:00 (ish -- this is where it gets tricky) -- Tyler wakes. I nurse him if he'll have it. We repeat all activities. Look around the house, play with toys, eat solids. If we are going to do anything out of the house for the day, this is the best time. The morning nap is the most restful, and he's usually not very fussy at this time.

12:00 -- Nurse and nap again. This usually only lasts for 45-60 minutes, total. This nap sucks. Always. I really think it's because he wants to nurse the entire time and he's not able to fall into a deep sleep. It sucks. Again, I hold him. For this nap, he won't sleep at all unless he's held.

12:45 -- Wake. Try to find stuff to do that we haven't done. Try to remember that Tyler doesn't mind doing the same thing over and over again, even though it's not super exciting for me. Ah, the love we have for our children!

2:30 -- Nurse and nap again. This nap rarely lasts longer than 30 minutes. He's so overtired at this point, so this is rarely a successful nap. If he didn't act so fussy at this time, I'd skip it... but he can't skip it. Without screaming and crying for an hour or more.

3:00 -- Do anything I can to entertain Tyler until 5pm. This often includes Scott's help.

5:00 -- Walk. This is the only part of our day that's consistent. Scott and I take Tyler in the stroller for 30 minutes around the neighborhood. As soon as he was able to sit upright in the stroller (3 months), this became the fussy cure.

5:30 -- Bath with daddy. Scott bathes Tyler and I get his PJs ready. This is my "me" time. I often use it to get on the computer and delete the mass amounts of junk mail I receive daily.

5:50 -- PJ's and lotion. Tyler is so exhausted by this point that he fusses a bit while Scott tries to dress him. I set up in the bed and wait for Scott to bring Tyler to me.

6:00 -- Nurse. For an hour. I realize that he gets all of the milk he "needs" in about 20 minutes, but he's a big comfort nurser. Seriously. If he could park himself at the boob all day, he would pop on and off every ten minutes, just to "check in" and see what Mom's doing!

7:00 -- Hand Tyler off to Scott who kisses all over him and places him in bed. Tyler pulls a ninja move and flips on his belly before we even have time to shut the door. It takes him much more time to roll back to belly during the day when he's wide awake, but at night he has a super flipping power.

At this point, Scott and I often cook dinner, eat together, and then try to spend quality time for a few minutes. I pump for about 20 minutes and then we go to bed around 9:15 to read (yes, I do that sometimes, even now!) By 10, I am struggling to go to sleep, but am not usually successful until around 10:30.

Tyler wakes anywhere between 2-4am to nurse, nurses for about 30 minutes, then goes back to his bed. It usually takes me another 30 minutes to get back to sleep myself.

So there you have it! This blog is not the only thing that's neglected. Now that Tyler will play for 3-4 minutes alone in his room, I am able to pull out the Dyson and swing it around the carpet in the living room. If I attempt this while Tyler is in the living room it results in tears. An overtired baby is startled easily!

For the most part, he's happy, though. When I have tried to get him to nap by himself he's skipped naps completely and he's NOT happy. If he could just play all day, I'd skip the naps! He can't, though... he melts down and then his nighttime sleep is horrible.

So this is where we are. Not perfect or ideal, but drastically improved!

Sorry to neglect you, blogger!