Sunday, September 3, 2017

surprise, surprise ... baby #5!

I know baby #4 was an early loss, but I believe every life matters so I am currently expecting our fifth baby.

Now let me give you a moment to recover from the shock ...

Still breathing?

(I'm STILL recovering)

I'm due in March so I'm a couple days shy of 14 weeks. In 5 short weeks we have the all important mid-pregnancy anatomy scan with the maternal fetal medicine doctor. Keeping this pregnancy under wraps has made it zoom by. I've been super sick, because that's how I do pregnancy, but I haven't thrown up as much as I normally do so that's positive!

Since I like to make things uber complicated I am delivering with an entirely new set of doctors. With the kids nearing 4 & 6 life has become a bit more complex: preschool, homeschool, gymnastics and church programs will fill our weeks this fall and I simply don't have time to drive 45 minutes to an hour to see my previous doctors. Also, my maternal fetal medicine doctor retired and the midwife that delivered Ainsleigh moved to a freestanding birth center.

SO - I'm trying a traditional OB this time and the maternal fetal medicine doctors at the local hospital. I've hired an amazing doula and my midwife from my first birth will hopefully be able to be there as a doula as well so I think it will all be fine. With this birth I'll have delivered in 4 different places without moving from our fine city, so that's something of an accomplishment I suppose.

Also planning on an epidural at 4 cm (is that even allowed?) because I am over birth trauma and getting through it and breathing and trying to go natural. Just get this baby out, please and thanks!

I wouldn't say we are excited, but I would like to get to that point, so we are starting to share about this pregnancy. Hopefully if others are excited for us we'll get on board. With that hope in mind I finally posted about the pregnancy on social media last night.

Everyone present thought this was a fabulous announcement idea, but we were on eclipse party day 3 and all feeling a bit rummy so our judgement was questionable. I *almost* didn't post this picture, because we all look a bit rough, but that's us! In our jams, un-showered (I was too sick to host people for the eclipse and shower; it was literally too much) at 10:30, hanging out in our backyard for a monumental event. We are not a well put together family at the best of times (why get dressed when you could be reading?) and this summer has been quite a mess with B going through a massive diet change and me feeling so ill. We went to the doctors in our jams more than once this summer, so this picture feels quite appropriate!

I believe God has a plan for our family and for this baby. And I believe our family is meant to have a third little one to raise, because that is the only way I can wrap my mind around this year of surprise babies. Everyone who has read here, or known me, or talked to me for more than 10 minutes knows the more babies question was off the table. Pregnancy and birth is so traumatic for me I couldn't fathom choosing to do it again. We have two beautiful kids we are raising and that was enough. But through Christ all things are possible, so here we are, expecting another blessing, and hoping we are done with surprises for a while.

Friday, June 9, 2017

honestly - it's been a hard year

This year has been full of brokenness and hard days.

Things really began in December of '16, but 2017 hasn't been easy. We're halfway to 2018 (isn't that crazy?) and I find myself unable to do much but hope the latter half of this year will be easier, because I don't want to imagine what other hard things might be coming.

I'm slowly coming out of a difficult few weeks of extreme illness. Like I have never before been so ill in my life. I know that is not a completely true statement, but goodness I have been sick.

Long story short:

My miscarriage left me anemic. When I finally went to the doctor to find out if I was low on iron I was told my body was so depleted of iron the blood test registered almost none present. My doctor put me on a HUGE dose of iron, which made me really, really sick.


I didn't know the iron supplement was causing my sudden disturbing symptoms.

I felt like I couldn't swallow.

I felt like I had a golf ball in my throat.

My stomach was upset.

I couldn't eat.

I had a massive anxiety attack because I felt like I couldn't swallow and it was the week of Charlotte's birthday, and the kids were really sick ... And I thought: oh dear me this anxiety issue has become a major problem and I should possibly be committed.

Then I lost 6 lbs in 4 days, a tremor developed in my right hand, and my heart was racing.

Oh, maybe not anxiety, I thought. Perhaps my thyroid problems are cropping up again. I called my doctor and asked for a same day appointment. She didn't have room in her schedule and her physician's assistant had recently quit so I was referred to urgent care where I found out that the golf ball in my throat was due to acid reflux and my thyroid levels were perfectly balanced.

Why in the world am I having crippling acid reflux when I have never had a problem with it before? I wondered. And why did I spend a week feeling like this before seeking help?!

Two miserable days later I finally traced the acid reflux issues to the iron supplement my doctor prescribed.

Every day I am off the iron supplement I feel better. (Well, I did until I tried taking my recommended multivitamin. That set me back a few days). The iron supplement destroyed my GI tract. I was only on it for a week, but it was a really high dose and my body did NOT like it.

The only good thing about all of this? I didn't touch caffeine for three weeks and I had hardly any sugar. Before this I would have said, impossible!, to three weeks without chocolate, but when every bite of food makes you miserable you want to avoid eating as much as possible.

Two weeks after my doctor referred me to an IV infusion center for an iron boost insurance approved the procedure and I head in Monday to get my first infusion. And I really, really hope it helps me feel better. And as more time goes by I hope all of the GI issues will settle and resolve. I still have to drink aloe juice 30 minutes before I eat to get food down and keep it down without getting knock me over acid reflux, but I no longer feel like I have a golf ball in my throat which is a huge improvement.

When I think about the stack of issues we are up against right now (B's health and mine primarily, gah it's all such a mess) I get overwhelmed, but in the middle of the swirling chaos that the last few months have brought I see God's presence and help in our lives.

I've written a little bit about going back to counseling at the beginning of the year. I'm still at it. Nearly every week. Yeah ... healing takes so. much. time. But a few things I've learned that have been SO helpful: how to breathe (I'm serious), calm myself enough to stop an anxiety attack (so useful) and use guided meditation when I a) can't calm down or b) can't sleep. It has been so helpful to learn how to manage my anxiety symptoms so I can function fully. Just learning how to use guided meditation (I just use YouTube to find guided Christian meditations, but there are apps) to help me get good rest has been instrumental to my survival during this month of illness.

This has not been an easy, or pleasant, process, but I hope at the end of all these health trials - whenever that comes - I'll be healthier mentally and physically. And in the meantime I am doing the in the deep trenches one day at a time dance, which isn't necessarily a bad thing for a worrier like me. Every day I have to evaluate what I can and cannot do, and the kids are learning to adjust their expectations of what I can and cannot do. It's not easy, but we're all hobbling through life together right now and the kids are learning flexibility and compassion.

This is my third health issue since December - broken finger, miscarriage, iron supplement nearly killed me (I'm kidding - ish) - but having so many issues is teaching me a lot about dependency and vulnerability and how to accept the limitations life sometimes puts on me.

After nearly four weeks of having problems eating / being unable to eat I am glad for the basics: food, having enough to eat, being able to eat, and hopefully soon - enjoying food. Right now I still feel wary about eating, but a lot of the anxiety that cropped up when the acid reflux crashed into my life has subsided.

I am so thankful B is done with school. The last week was pure misery for me; I could hardly function. I still haven't snapped his last day of preschool picture, but I'll get around to it. Maybe.

I've talked to many moms like me - worn out, neck deep in health issues, chock full of anxiety. We're so busy hustling and bustling for our babies and families we push ourselves to the back burner until we fall off the stove entirely and require extensive repair to get all the pieces back in order. Whether you're in pieces mentally or physically, or all of the above like me, you're in good company. There's a lot of us down here on the floor trying to figure out how to be healthier so we can continue caring for the ones we love with our whole hearts.

Don't forget to take care of yourself.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

year seven

I have a huge bruise on my right hip from zip lining with friends on Monday.

Can you believe I went zip lining?

6 days before Charlotte's birthday! 

With an anxiety disorder in my pocket (it's always there. I can't take it out, but I'm trying to make it less comfortable).

Because flipping out on a platform halfway up a very tall tree with no way down aside from a zip line sounds like fun!

Typically May is for hibernating, but that didn't make me feel better in years one through six so I thought I should try pulling myself together and living in May instead of suffering through May.

This year Charlotte's birthday falls on Mother's Day, which is making my head spin in ways I didn't know were possible (I think it's so overwhelming a thought I've mostly shut down and decided to ignore it) so when an opportunity to get away with my best girls came up I decided to go for it, anxiety disorder and all.

In utter defiance of the panic attacks that come weekly I packed the car on Sunday morning and said goodbye to the kids and Jon. As I drove to the resort I reminded myself I was going on a break, that it was going to be fun, and that I was lucky to have a chance to spend time with my friends without our kids climbing our legs and demanding our time (the five who went have 18 children here on Earth with us. That's a whole lot of needy babies!)

On Monday morning I ordered room service for breakfast because it is one of my favorite things. I don't care about the cost, or the fact that they overcharge, or anything logical or practical. I. love. room. service.

And then I met up with my friends and after scrambling into a harness with zero dignity and much confusion I climbed up a set of stairs on shaky legs, clambered onto a platform and threw myself into the beautiful cool stillness of a quiet Northwest forest. Oh wait, it wasn't quiet. I was with three other terrified girls; there was a LOT of screaming.

Oddly enough, I wasn't as scared as I thought I would be. By the end I was even stepping up for my turn without a topsy-turvy stomach and shaking hands. I was so busy focusing on what the guides had to say and how to keep myself alive I didn't have time to panic.

In therapy I've been working through the idea that I don't have control over my life, or the lives of those I love. I have a lot I am working through, but the issue of control is a whopper of a problem and the core of my anxiety.

Out there in the forest, soaring through the trees with the beautiful Columbia Gorge surrounding me, I made the choice to relinquish control and have fun. I couldn't zip line without the guides (not if I wanted to live) so I had to let go and allow them to be their job: a guide, a helper, a sign post.

At one point a guide was giving me directions and I cut him off. "I just want to go straight, please. I don't want to turn. Why are you telling me how to turn?!"

He put his hand on my shoulder and said, "I'm trying to tell you how to go straight. You're not listening. Just listen, I am showing you what you want to know."

I quickly shut my mouth, listened to his words, followed his instructions, and zipped down the line just as I wanted to (straight as an arrow, no spinning please! It's enough I am on this contraption, I don't need to spin in circles as I am flying down the line!!)

That interaction was my entire life encapsulated in thirty seconds of instruction.

I spend so much of my time in a STATE of upset I miss what I need to hear. I am so busy trying to solve and manage things on my own I don't see the helping hands all around me. I am so determined to sail the ship and keep all the people alive I forget it is not my job, nor am I able to do so. It doesn't matter how hard I try, or what effort I put forth: I cannot keep the people I love alive, well and safe. Coming to grips with that, which I am still in the process of, has been one of the more difficult things I have done.

The last few weeks I've been hearing the Lord urging me to pick up my Bible, but the lethargy of grief and the buzz of anxiety knocked aside His voice.

Why pick up my Bible when I can spend an hour on Instagram? Why pick up my Bible when I can watch Netflix?

Why pick up my Bible when I am so anxious I can't take a deep breath? Why pick up my Bible when I feel completely lost in the wilderness?

This time of year there is always a bit of a war between God and I and it always comes back to the salient fact that He did not answer the way I wanted Him to when I cried out for Him to spare my baby's life and give her back to me.

So I always circle back to this question:

Why pick up my Bible when you didn't save my baby girl?

But last night I listened and picked up my Bible.

This is what I read:

Psalm 27: 1-2

The Lord is my light and my salvation
whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life
of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 34: 4

I sought the Lord and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 34: 18

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

After inhaling those verses last night my anxiety scaled down a bit. I'm still jittery as all get out, but I have confidence I can get back to a manageable place soon, and maybe even a healed place someday.

Last month I read a book called The Lucky Few. I wrote a review on it, but I am going to re-post part of it here because I need the reminder.

When Heather and her husband are struggling with the medical issues stemming from their first daughter's open heart surgery she breaks down over the stress, which leads her dad to remind her that God is in control:

"Heather. Heather Elizabeth. Every breath she will ever breathe has already been accounted for. Nothing you do or don't do is going to change that, Heather. God's got this ...

There it was: life-giving, life-changing truth. We had sat in the hospital in the shadow of death. Now we were home, and that same shadow was knocking on my door, but the truth of my dad's words drowned out the racket that death was trying to make.

The truth my dad spoke that night was branded on my heart. And as the days and weeks and months and years went on, I would say the words out loud whenever I needed to drown out the fear that death would whisper in my ear.

'Every breath she will ever breathe has already been accounted for. Nothing I do or don't do is going to change that.'"

In four days I should be celebrating my first daughter's seventh birthday. Instead I am navigating another year without her. A year that has brought new challenges and incredible valleys I found impossible to navigate solo. But it's also the year when I found the courage to live in May. It's the year I dared to say, I need help, and I am listening, and I feel anxious, and will you walk through this with me?

And it's the year I found a little bravery, jumped off a platform and sailed through the forest with shaking hands and a quick tripping heart.

Every fear I confront is for Charlotte. I want to live my life well because she didn't get the chance to.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

the lucky few {book review}

I was reading through The Lucky Few by Heather Avis when I realized she lived the story I'm in right now. It's a story of letting go of how we expect mothering and parenthood to be, and who we thought would make up our family, as well as relinquishing control over everything - even our children - and giving our families to God so He can direct our steps in the way He wants us to go.

For Heather and her husband Josh, the journey includes the valley of infertility and the rocky uncertain path of adoption and parenting special needs children. Throughout The Lucky Few, which chronicles the Avis family's life as they move from a family of two to a family of five, Heather is honest about her doubts, hopes, fears and strong feelings.

I read The Lucky Few in one day. As I was finishing it up my kids were at the park with their dad, burning off energy before bed. Moments after I read the last words I could hear the arrivial of my family. Ainsleigh was screaming and crying so hard in the driveway I could hear her from the house. While at the park Ainsleigh slipped and fell in a creek. (She is fine, we took her to the ER to make sure, but our sweet girl had a terrifying experience last night.)

As I held Ainsleigh in my arms in the ER waiting room I thought about the chapters in The Lucky Few when Heather and her husband are struggling with the medical issues stemming from their first daughter's open heart surgery. When Heather breaks down over the stress her dad reminds her that God is in control:

"Heather. Heather Elizabeth. Every breath she will ever breathe has already been accounted for. Nothing you do or don't do is going to change that, Heather. God's got this ...

There it was: life-giving, life-changing truth. We had sat in the hospital in the shadow of death. Now we were home, and that same shadow was knocking on my door, but the truth of my dad's words drowned out the racket that death was trying to make.

The truth my dad spoke that night was branded on my heart. And as the days and weeks and months and years went on, I would say the words out loud whenever I needed to drown out the fear that death would whisper in my ear.

'Every breath she will ever breathe has already been accounted for. Nothing I do or don't do is going to change that.'"

I know this isn't a straightforward book review - mine usually aren't - but I believe God put this book in my hands so that when we were sitting in the ER waiting room I would recall Heather's words (and her father's) and remain calm.

I've been doing so much work on letting go of my kids and family and asking God to be in charge (because He ultimately is and I'm just wearing myself out trying to steer the ship solo) and then something like last night happens and it reminds me how close all of us always are to the edge.

I can't keep my kids alive.

I can be careful, vigilant, and mindful in my care of them, but I do not have the power to keep them whole and healthy. That is a difficult truth, but it is one Heather Avis comes to terms with in The Lucky Few as she watches God take control and grow her family in unexpected ways.

I enjoyed reading about Heather and Josh Avis and how they created a beautiful family with God's grace and guidance. 

I  received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, April 9, 2017

disaster falls {book review}

Just as I was going to pick up Disaster Falls and begin reading I miscarried. I put it aside for a while, knowing my heart and mind were not in the right place to read a book about child loss. When I flipped the calendar to April I knew it was time to try Disaster Falls again. I needed to read it before May and Charlotte's birthday and all the attendant emotions that come with her month fell.

I thought I would need time to read about Stephane Gerson and how he experiences life and grief after his son Owen drowns on a rapids trip in Utah, but I tore through the book in one afternoon. I was captivated by Gerson's story (how often do we get to witness a father's grief experience) and how he navigated his journey of guilt and grief.

In Disaster Falls Gerson explores his relationship with his father, as well as his father's history, and ties it into the greater story of his son's death, but it was the narrative of Owen's short life that captivated me. I can't always read books on grief and loss. Sometimes the stories are too close to my own, sometimes I can't relate at all, sometimes there is too much bitterness or anger for me to continue, but Disaster Falls is a well written story of a father who loses his son far too soon and how he coped with that loss and his feelings of failed responsibility.

The story of Owen's life and death is interesting and well written in and of itself, but Gerson's meditations on being a father to a surviving child, and potentially having another child, were the most poignant for me. In what might be my favorite passage Gerson writes,

"How would we carry the memory of a dead child while remaining open to the possibilities of a new life?
I wondered whether I would allow myself to experience the full immersion in parenthood that I observed in young couples. If so, where would this leave Owen? If not, if loyalty to his memory and fear of pain held me back, what kind of father would I be this time around? Children deserve insouciance and the belief in a better future and a world in which mistakes do not necessarily yield disasters."

Stephane Gerson's Disaster Falls is a book well worth reading whether you have lost a child or not. He writes about the trauma of sudden loss and what it looks like when a family loses an elemental part of its structure. Gerson also explores how loss, guilt and grief changes him, and how it is possible to move forward while still holding onto memories of the lost life after something unexpected and devastating happens.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

miscarriage {baby #4}

We lost a tiny one a month ago. A really tiny one, just a few weeks along. We were still in the whirlwind of what the ... that throws a wrench in about a thousand things ...

I haven't really wanted to talk about it. Less than a handful of people knew I was pregnant. Then a few more found out I lost the pregnancy when the process went on longer than expected.

But I can now confirm something I have always claimed despite a previous lack of personal knowledge: a miscarriage is hard in its own way. A just forming baby can be desperately missed and wanted. Equally so, a just forming baby can be a shock and a surprise, and the loss can lead to mixed emotions.

That's where I landed: mixed emotions and one difficult month that I'm only just on the other side of. It's not that I wanted a baby, or another pregnancy, or even another child, but once I had it - however briefly - I wanted, and expected, to keep it.

Pregnancy and birth is so traumatic for me I couldn't plan on having another child, but when we were surprised with one I felt the hope that always comes with new life. I also cried a LOT because I don't do well with change and another baby is a BIG change. I felt so confused for the few weeks we knew. I wasn't sure I wanted another baby, but I also didn't expect the pregnancy to end so early. I assumed I would come around to the idea of having a baby eventually. (That's why pregnancy is such a long process, right?) And just when I began to think about Ainsleigh and Bennett - who love babies - with a new sibling in the house, the pregnancy ended.

After the loss I wasn't craving a busy 1-year-old or a saucy 2-year-old or a curious 3-year-old, but I desperately wanted a newborn. That's exactly how I felt after Charlotte died and feeling that way again sent me in to a bit of a spin.

I was worried the feeling would last forever; that my certainty our family is as complete as possible this side of heaven would evaporate and I would once again question if we should have another. But then the feelings faded, after one very intense difficult week, and I remembered that the deep, dark feelings don't last forever, they just feel like they will.

There is no way to know, but I think #4 was a boy. I believe I have a daughter and son waiting for me in heaven. We didn't tell the kids about the pregnancy, but they knew Mama didn't feel well (I couldn't hide that!) and there was so much comfort in their tiny arms and beautiful lives as I miscarried and recovered. 

Losing this baby was a different kind of loss, but it was still a loss and I am so thankful for the people I told for allowing me the space to grieve and have lots of different feelings about the miscarriage. 

There is a small part of me that is reluctant to share this. This loss is a much quieter one than our first. One of my initial goals for this blog, which I've tried to carry forward, is to be honest so that others may feel like they can share their life stories. In that spirit I am going to share about the miscarriage, but I probably won't write about it after this post.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

living with food allergies

I have noticed over and over and over that it is impossible to truly understand the impact and challenges of living with food allergies unless you or a loved one are exposed to the struggle daily.

When Bennett had his reaction last fall to the new nut butter we tried my anxiety went into overdrive mode and it is just coming down now (mostly due to therapy). Even though his reactions in the fall ended with hives and did not affect his breathing at all, I have spent the past few months in a panic about Bennett and his allergies. 

When I am at the children's museum, or the park, or church, and a child has a peanut butter sandwich, or peanuts are served, I want to explain to people how hard and stressful it is to live with a food allergy. If you haven't been exposed to food allergies, or lived in close proximity to people with food allergies, it's hard to understand how frightening it is to see a parent pull a peanut butter sandwich out of a lunch bag.

And Bennett isn't even that allergic! His allergy is triggered by ingestion, thankfully, but it's still stressful to to take him to the park and other kid heavy places because he has a terrible habit of putting his hands in his mouth (we hand wash and remind, remind, remind, but this is a hard habit to break!).

Our friends and family have been accommodating, kind and thoughtful, but if I had to tell a new friend about what it's like to live with food allergies this is what I would say:

It is very challenging and sometimes heart breaking to have a child with food allergies. My son feels left out, he knows he is different, and it makes him sad there are so many foods he can't eat.

I spend a lot of time shopping for food and preparing meals my son can eat. Every time I shop I check labels, even if it's the three ingredient rice crackers I buy every week. Ingredients can change at any time and assuming a food is safe can have harmful consequences. Please don't feed my child anything from your cupboard or fridge or child's backpack without my consent.

There are restaurants we cannot go to because they serve foods cooked in peanut oil or made with peanut sauce. We have to bring a separate dinner for our son if we are eating out. We used to be able to go to two places and get him something from the menu, but he's been too reactive lately for us to try. If we want to "eat out" we either bring food for my son or my husband brings food home and I make a separate meal for the kids (this is what we usually do).

Holidays can be a nightmare. Finding food substitutes and safe options is hard and time consuming. (Last Thanksgiving Bennett had a smoothie while everyone else had a full turkey dinner.)

I have cried because I don't know what to make for dinner / I'm tired of eating the same five dinners that are safe for my son / I am exhausted from cooking.

I have also cried because I want to take my son out and enjoy a treat with him. Seeing pictures of parents taking their kids out for ice cream, a hot chocolate, or a cupcake because they wanted to do something special makes me sad and jealous.

Despite the challenges there are positives as well:

We are all eating healthier. I still eat the foods my son can't have, like wheat, but I eat way, way, way less than I did before. Nearly all of our dinners comply with Bennett's diet restrictions, which means at least one meal a day (and usually two because I often eat leftovers for lunch) is free of gluten, soy, corn, dairy (mostly, I do love cheese) and preservatives / food dyes. 

My son is learning compassion for himself and others. He knows what it is like to feel different and he carries heaps of kindness and empathy in his little heart.

I've learned a lot about cooking and preparing meals from scratch with a handful of ingredients.

And here's some ways you can help:

Be considerate and try to remember the food restrictions. I know this is really hard to do! Right now Bennett's list of restricted foods is so long it is easier to list what he can eat than what he cannot eat!! But the kids who remembered my son's food allergies on Valentine's Day and made sure he had a non-food treat in his bag made my day - not to mention his.

Think twice about bringing foods with peanut butter to kid focused places and events. For kids with airborne or contact allergies just breathing in or touching the allergen can cause anaphylaxis.

If you have a child with food allergies over for a play date:

- Please wash your child's hands and wipe the table down after they eat.
- Don't let them play with toys while eating unless you plan on washing them.
- Don't let them wander around the house with food (my son eating a small bit of peanut butter cracker off the floor when he was 9 months old led to an ER visit and his Epi-pen prescription)
- Musical instruments that touch the mouth are not to be shared (whistles, harmonicas etc.)

Parents of children with food allergies appreciate your kindness and consideration! It is so stressful to be in an environment where allergens are. When there is a safe place for us to drop our time consuming vigilance and let our kids play and make friends our whole family benefits.

Does your child have food allergies? Do you have a friend who has a child with food allergies? What is living with - or near - food allergies like for you?


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