Saturday, April 25, 2015

What is natural?

What is natural?  The gorgeous caramel highlights in your sleek, flat-ironed hair? Or the perfectly manicured tips on your fingernails? Perhaps the slight green tint that your contacts give you, or the sparkly, straight glow from your whitened, formerly braced teeth? Maybe it’s the fluid swing in your golf game, or the day-in, day-out ease with which you manage your classroom of 22 five year olds. 

Truth be told, there is rarely a person who can claim to be a total natural at anything.  Most of us have  worked hard at our appearance, careers, hobbies, etc. 

So why is it that we constantly shame each other with the notion that ‘natural’ puts us above someone else?   Instead of being able to enjoy your new hair color, or the airbrushed glow your new foundation gives you, we often face critical glares, or whispers.

So it’s no wonder that women our society feels shame when faced with problems with something that is supposed to be as ‘natural’ as having kids.  Is it natural to want to mother or father a child? To want so badly to raise a family that you will go to lengths you’d never imagined?  That’s where I found myself a year ago.

Let’s back up a bit.  All through my teenage years, I struggled with irregular, painful cycles, mood swings, migraines, and stomach issues.  My doctors all brushed it off as being young, lactose intolerance, or needing more body fat.  Into my 20’s, the issues compounded and I was eventually treated for endometriosis.  Medically induced menopause at 25 years old.  The injections put a toll on my body, but they helped the symptoms.  Conversations with my doctors in regards to my future usually ended with,  ‘You will probably have trouble getting pregnant-if you can at all.’  My heart ached.  Ever since I could remember, all I wanted to do was to be a mommy.  Six-year-old Amanda didn’t dream about her perfect wedding, she made lists of prospective names for her future children, and used her baby sisters as dolls to play house.

When Mark and I got engaged, one of the first conversations we had was about having kids.  Although I didn’t want to think about it, I made sure he knew that there was a possibility that my body couldn’t do it.  About six months after our wedding, we decided to try for a baby.  Within weeks, we were pregnant.  On this day four years ago, we heard our little Sprinkle’s heartbeat for the first time.  After an almost textbook pregnancy (aside from the little stinker turning breech), we met our little Kinley Ryan on her due date. 11/11/11.  7 lbs, 7 oz of perfect.  Our hearts swelled with love and pride.  The Miracle of Life.

Over the next couple of years, life got busy, but we knew we would ultimately want more children.  Mark wanted to wait to be sure I wasn’t too pregnant during our house build, and I impatiently obliged.  We were hoping for a late spring/early summer baby.

However, it took over 20 months for my cycles to resume after Kinley was born-and when they did, they came with a vengeance.  It seemed like they wouldn’t stop.  I was having what seemed like two cycles a month. I couldn’t ‘time’ anything. We decided to try for #2 at the end of the summer, and one day in mid-November, I found myself squinting in the sunlight at a very faint, pink second line.  Excited, but cautious, I decided to wait a few more days to test again.   On the morning I was going to check, I woke with awful pains shooting through my abdomen and back.  I woke Mark and told him something was wrong and that I was going to be very sick, or he was going to have to take me to the hospital.  And then it happened. It was an early loss, and since it took two weeks for my doctor to see me, they decided that with my description, I was probably right and that blood work wasn’t necessary.   My doctor offered Clomid to help regulate my cycles.   (Boy am I glad I didn’t take it blindly!)

Something didn’t sit right with me, so instead, I called a specialist.  We had only been trying 2 months, but I just knew something wasn’t right.  I didn’t want to wait it out, and the worst they could do was to tell me to keep trying and come back later, right?  Fortunately for me, the specialist started right away with a series of tests and blood work. By January, I found out I had polycystic ovaries (high risk for multiples), blocked tubes, endometriosis, a tilted uterus, a short cervix, luteal phase defect  (low progesterone-which can cause miscarriage), an elevated antibody level which is an indicator for high risk for miscarriage, and that I was, indeed, having 13-15 day long cycles-not long enough to sustain a pregnancy.  I went to the doctor 3-4 times a week for months, each morning getting blood work taken to check hormone levels, and then waiting by the phone for results.  At one draw they actually took 19 viles!  My hormones were out of control-I even started randomly lactating one day-almost a year after I stopped nursing.

I had surgery just after Valentine’s Day in 2014.  They unblocked my tubes and removed some scar tissue.  I was started on a medicine to regulate my cycles and one day in early April I got the call.  “Well I have some news. I hope it’s good…”  That is a strange combination of words coming from someone who knows you WANT to be pregnant.  I thought, ‘Why do you ‘hope’?’  “You’re pregnant…but it doesn’t look good.  I am not sure that this is a viable pregnancy.  We will have to check your levels again in two days.” 

Instead of my heart soaring, it sank.  Mark knew I was waiting for results that day, but I couldn’t bring myself to call him.  When I got home, I pulled out the little plate I made that said ‘We’re pregnant!’ I put a few cookies on it and handed it to him.  He got the message. He hugged me with tears of joy in his eyes…and I bawled.  I told him that it didn’t look good.  Over the next couple of weeks, my symptoms slowly faded.  I wanted so badly to feel sick, for my chest to burn, to be too exhausted to keep my eyes open past 6 pm.   I had my Teacher of the Year observation that week.  At a time when I wanted to crawl in bed and be left alone, I had a team of 8 people flood my room with all eyes glued to me.  I wanted to tell them to leave.  I’m sure it showed.   Two days after Easter, the nurse called me with results.  “I’m sorry.  You are going to lose this pregnancy.”  And I cried.  Hard.  A lot.  They told me it would probably happen by the next day, but it ended up being a few hours later. 4/22. Earth Day.

It was an early loss again, but that still didn’t make it easy.  Loss is loss. What’s easy about losing something you’ve wanted so badly, and worked so hard for? About knowing a life was growing inside of you-even if for a short time.  What’s natural about any of that?

It turns out that my progesterone was dropping too low for the dose that they were supporting me with.  We were fortunate to get pregnant that next month.   I spent three months giving myself progesterone and having weekly ultrasounds.  At 12 weeks along, we found out we had a little boy joining our family.  

We were fortunate. Our struggle wasn’t a long one.  I was able to get help far before most people who end up needing it.  I didn’t have a hard time getting pregnant; I had a hard time staying pregnant. I was pregnant three times within 7 months.  Since last April, my charts all read: 4 pregnancies, 1 live birth. Gut wrenching. Until now.  Until Krew. 

I’m proud of my struggles. I found comfort in telling people about my issues as I was going through them.  Through talking, I found out how many people have gone through this, or were actually fighting the battle right along with us.  Noone should be made to feel embarrassed.  It’s so much more common than I ever knew.

I am not a religious person, but I do believe that someone sent us our Krew-and along with him all the most wonderful parts of our angel babies. 

I don’t know why Kinley was so easy for us.  I don’t know if it would be again-or if we will even risk trying.  I don’t know if Krew was conceived ‘naturally’. I never will.  I don't know why this happened to me...or why it happens to anyone.  But, I do know this: fertility issues are humbling.  They can make you feel inadequate and doubt your womanhood-something we don’t need other people doing for us. Underhanded comments and digs from others, sometimes oblivious, can compound these feelings.

And so I ask of you, use caution when talking to people about their fertility.  Choose your words carefully.  ‘When are you going to have a baby/another?’,  ‘Don’t you want kids?’, ‘Were they natural?’,  or ‘I get pregnant if my husband walks by me during the right time of the month,’ are not comforting words for someone fighting the fertility battle.  And how do you know who is?

I am not less of a woman because of all of this, but I am stronger. I am a mother-and the love I feel for my kids is about as natural as it gets.  Shouldn't that be most important?

*Be kind. For everyone you meet may be fighting a harder battle.*

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Things My Husband Should Know-Take 2

Dear Husband,

If I tell you we need a new steamer, you should just hop along over to the vacuum store and bring one home.  Unless that is,  you want to do the cleaning...

The washer is not magic. It doesn't remove items from your pockets or set-in poop stains from onesies. Lets pretreat the laundry...or I could go shopping for replacements.

I am not your mother.  I do not cook like your mother. Chicken-it's what's for dinner.

I work a full time job too.  Then I come home to another one.

At that full time job, I'm on the clock all day-I won't be on yours.

It wouldn't hurt you to put your dirty clothes IN the laundry basket. Next to, under or 'in the general vicinity' doesn't count.  I'll just fold them back up and put them in your drawer.

Open your ears-or I will pierce them in your sleep. Speaking of sleep-shave that beard or I'm going to carve tribal symbols into it with the dog clippers while you're snoozing.

I do complain about you to my mom-but rest assured, she still likes you. Remember-she had to deal with me for 18 years...

I love how you manage to stay calm for me when the baby gets hurt and I'm jumping around the house-although I know you're freaking out  too-on the inside.

I love sneaking glimpses of you staring at Kin in awe of her.

I think it's darn cute to see you riding that bike trailer all over town with that big goofy grin on your face.

You cook better than me.  Thank you.

I appreciate that you come home to non-existent thoughts of dinner and just start making something in the kitchen instead of complaining.

We love you very much.


Your Girls

Friday, August 17, 2012

C-Section Mama (could be a trigger)

A birth plan.  Everywhere you read says to have one.  Our birthing class instructor said to forget it-as she went on describing how our birthing process would be would be if you were with such and such practice and had so and so doctor and went naturally, as well as with an induction and then also a c-section.  I, of course, stopped listening after she described my doctor and a natural birth.  I was 35+ weeks along and had been told for months that my baby's head was down and we were ready to go.  My doctor was amazing with natural births.  He supported my decision to try to go naturally, kept you calm, didn't let you tear, and even had you pull the baby out yourself.  I was so excited!  Clearly this woman sensed my stubborn personality because she very bluntly made the comment to me (in front of everyone in class) "Oh honey. You have control issues, don't you?  You're going to have to let that go."  I should have known then that I was in for it.

A little over a week later, as I was resting my feet after work, I felt a tornado in my gut. It hurt. I couldn't get comfortable. My ribs were crunched.  I couldn't breathe.  There were elbows flying everywhere down there!  After a few hours it stopped.  Whew!

We walked in to our sonogram appointment two days later. I was anticipating any crazy news I might hear.  'She's a BOY' or 'She's REALLY BIG'.  So when the tech nonchalantly mentioned that she was breech, I was obviously caught off guard. No. No. No.  Not my baby. I was numb. "The doctor told me she was in position," is all I said to her.  She slowly moved the wand below my belly button and, as she scrolled towards my ribs, pointed out all of her parts. "There's her head, and the spine, butt, and there are her feet." You've GOT to be kidding me. 'SHE WAS IN POSITION!' was all my head was screaming.  I wasn't sure what the purpose of this ultrasound was so late in the game anyway. Now I know.  He must have had a doubt.

I headed to my weekly appointment alone that afternoon, and to my surprise, my regular doctor was on vacation.  'Convenient,' I thought.  I was introduced to a new doctor.  So new that it was her first day.  "This is Dr. ***.  She may deliver your baby in a few weeks." 'WHAT?'  I didn't know this lady from a turnpike toll collector, and now she could possibly be delivering my BREECH daughter? No thank you.  "When she entered the room, she didn't even get the door closed before I was out with it, "She's breech.  We need to fix her."  Her reply, "Oh.  That's not good."  Lady, you are not making a good case for yourself.  My doctor wouldn't have missed a beat as he calmly told me, "We have time and we have options.  Relax.  Anything could happen."  And I would have relaxed-more so than I was then anyway. Instead,  I told her that I knew my doctor would attempt a version. (Emphasizing the 'my' so that she knew she wasn't my doctor.) She seemed disinterested in my plea.

Now I'm not going to say I went into the appointment with a clear head.  All of you mothers out there know how raging your hormones get when you are pregnant, and then throw all that news on top of it...I lost it.  Right there-right in front of that lady.  I told the nurse I didn't want to see that doctor again.  I mentioned skipping my next appointment if my regular doctor wasn't back in time-and I think I also told them I'd be making sure my husband took me to a neighboring hospital if she were on call when I was to deliver.  (Yeah-that was my crazy pregnant lady moment.)

The poor lady had no clue what she'd done.  She didn't do anything really.  I just wanted my doctor.  The one who made sure I was taking care of myself and the baby. The one who watched her grow, and the one I expected to be there to make sure she came into the world safely.  At the next appointment I had with him, I made him promise to be there. (Unfortunately for him, he was off duty on my due date-but he was there!)

I left the office sobbing.  The poor desk staff didn't know what to say as I tried to schedule my next appointment.  What do you say to a very pregnant lady who leaves her OBGYN appointment sobbing?  I wouldn't risk it myself.  I got to the car and called Mark. "My plan is ruined.  I CAN'T have a c-section.  And they are trying to let a stranger deliver her!"  I'm sure that Mark heard none of this-as I was sobbing through the entire conversation.  "Are you ok? Is the baby ok?  Are you hurt?" is all he asked.  Yes.  You could say we are ok.  It's just my feelings that were taking a beating. I hung up.

Over the next few weeks we tried it all.  I was obsessed with delivering her naturally.  This baby HAD to turn.  We did acupuncture.  Twice.  I put ice on my belly;  she seemed to like it and head butted it instead of turning around.  We played music near my butt.  Mark talked to her from below my belly button. I spent most of my time at home hanging upside down off of the couch.  Each ultrasound that followed showed the same thing. Breech.  Breech.  Breech.  "She's a stubborn one,"  each tech would comment.  (Wonder where she gets that...?)

I was mad, resentful, and exhausted.  We made a plan.  The doctor refused to check my cervix so as not to jumpstart labor.  He would let me go up to my due date to allow time for her to turn.  If I didn't start labor before, we'd have a c-section scheduled for my due date-the morning of we would attempt a version. If it was successful, he'd induce and deliver naturally right then.  If not, we would have to do a c-section.  Cool. If she wouldn't turn on her own, we would turn her. (Clearly, the c-section part of the plan escaped me.)  He warned that if labor started, it could be hard to turn her, but the overall rate of success with the version is about 50%.  That sounded like a glass half-full to me!

Two days before she was due, I had a sonogram.  Girlfriend was suddenly measuring big and I was low on fluid.  At my appointment following, the doctor sent me back for a non-stress test.  I passed with flying colors and with no contractions.  We were going to try to wait and follow the plan.

The next night, we had friends over to celebrate our last night as 'a couple', and the beginning of our life as 'a few'.  I was having aching back pains-but chalked it up to my last minute shopping spree-and the 30 extra lbs I was carrying.  The next morning, I was still aching, but assumed it was all nerves making my stomach upset. Plus, I was STARVING.  No breakfast for a non-pregnant Amanda is bad, so no breakfast for a pregnant Amanda is exponentially worse.  I took in the gorgeous fall colors and scenery as Mark drove to the hospital.  After all, I wanted to remember every second of today.  It was our baby's birthday.  The best day of our lives!

Once checked in and hooked up, we found out that my contractions were 4 and then 3 minutes apart.  Crap.  Labor.  A quick ultrasound verified her right-side-up position, and then there was the version attempt.  I say attempt because it was a fail.  Glass half empty.  I watched my doctor's hands guide my baby's small body around.  Her head passed a 90 degree turn...almost 180!!!...Then flip.  She wouldn't stay.  My uterus was contracting down on her. "Ok.  We are going in for the c-section," he said.  I absolutely lost it.  I was sobbing.  NOOOOO.  This was not supposed to happen. THIS WAS NOT A PART OF MY PLAN.  I was coming here to have my natural birth.  Now you are going to bring me into an operating room, strap my arms down, paralyze me from the chest down, put a curtain beneath my chest, (what are you doing down there?) and rip my baby from my womb?  I don't think so.  Clearly, my choices were limited at that point.  The baby was coming that day. No more waiting it out.  It was get her out safely or risk hurting us both.  I had to put my selfish plan and controlling nature aside and follow directions.  It wasn't just about me anymore.  I think that's when I first became a momma. It wasn't when they made that initial cut and her little foot popped out, it was when I put her over myself.  Isn't that what being a parent is all about?

The c-section itself wasn't terrible.  Ok. I hated it. It's not for everyone.  However, I suggest you prepare yourself for a c-section just in case.  1 in 3 births occur this way for various reasons.  I wasn't too prepared for what was happening.  I knew they would numb me...but I didn't associate this with the idea that my very-active-that-day baby would seemingly cease movement.  (I just couldn't feel it.)  I freaked out (imagine that!) and they quickly got her vitals up on the screen by my head.  They did a good job of distracting me through the surgery-to the point where I was making wise-cracks.  "Hey-am I covered down there?  She's not coming out that area anymore!"  and chiming in with "Where are we going for lunch?" as the staff discussed their afternoon plans.

I got the spinal at 11:11 on 11/11/11.  And then she was here.  7 lbs, 7 oz and 19 inches long at 11:32 am. It all went very quickly.  Mark was wide eyed and open mouthed and didn't answer when I asked if she was ok.  (Hey! Is she here?  Is she ok?  Is she a girl?  Is she over 9 lbs?) She didn't cry.  She gurgled. And then I knew.  We did it.

I wish I could say that they placed her into my arms and she hasn't left my sight since, but that would be a lie. C-section babies need a little extra care.  The birth canal does amazing things for a baby that a c-section doesn't.  The nurses did their thing and finally brought her over to me.  I was strapped down, so all I could do was kiss her.  I wanted to hold her, to count her digits, to figure out whose ears she had, to comfort her after that terrifying entry into the world, and to let her know her mommy was here and loved her.  Instead, I settled for a nuzzle.  I rubbed my nose on hers and told her, 'Happy Birthday baby. I'm your Mommy. I love you.'

Then they took her.  She and Mark were taken to the 'nursery' for a bath while I was stitched up.  It seemed like forever.  Worse yet was the recovery room.  I was wheeled there and basically left alone. It was a daze.  I was alone.  No baby. No  husband. No more belly.  (and no breakfast)  What the heck just happened?  There was a socially inept volunteer stationed at the foot of my bed.  He kept his back to me and would try to make random conversation. "So you had a baby?  That's cool.  My wife had one too."  I refused pain meds-knowing they'd keep me longer to monitor my condition if I took them.  I HAD to get to that room.

So now I am one.  A c-section mama.  1 in 3 births.  Branded for life (or until my hospital agrees to do a v-back).

To say I was traumatized may be a little strong, but the way my hormones were raging, it's how I felt.  And unfortunately, that's my memory of the whole process.  I cried-a lot.  I actually cried to the point where Mark asked me to talk to the doctor about postpartum depression. I did.  I cried as I told the nurse.  I'm glad I did though, because as I came out with it, the whole emotional mess that I was came out too.  It felt good to tell someone on the outside.  Someone who didn't see Kinley every day and think that I was being stupid for not just being grateful that she was here.  '"I love my baby," I said, "and I would never ever ever want to hurt her.  I am happy with her.  I just feel cheated. I feel like they ripped my baby out and gave her to me. I didn't get to have her.  Then they stole her away and left me alone.  I'm so mad."  Then came the joyous words, "Oh honey, that's completely normal.  It's very normal to mourn a c-section.  It wasn't what  you'd planned.  You only need to be worried if you have thoughts of hurting yourself or her or if it persists past the six week period." Ahh!  I'm normal. She gave me some phone numbers in case and sent me on my way.  I never called those numbers, but I did reach out to other c-section mommas.  I asked questions and expressed emotions.  I cried a little when I needed to, and then eventually, I cried less and less.  The crying soon stopped.

And that's why it's taken so long for me to write this.  40 weeks to the day.  The exact amount of time I grew Kinley in the safety of my womb-sharing the secret of her life between just the two of us.

But when I look at this wonderful ball of 9 month old, I am coming to realize that it doesn't matter how she got here.  The point is: she's here.  In all reality, those first couple of hours apart haven't weakened our bond. (not that I would know of anyway.)  She still knows I'm her Momma and that I love her.  On a plus note, that time after her birth was a way of letting Mark in on our little secret.  He was finally able to experience some of what I had for 9+ months-and for that I am grateful.  I'm sure it's a memory for him that I'll never come close to understanding.

Recently, Kinley has learned how to nuzzle.  She leans right in and rubs her nose back and forth across mine-sometimes like a crazy person, and sometimes very gently.  She's letting me know she is here and she's my daughter.  I'm her mommy and she loves me.  Now, she can comfort me.

Our First Nuzzle