November 15, 2017

Why I Won’t Be Watching ‘This Is Us’ Next Week

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It was supposed to be my husband’s and mine’s “No TV Tuesday”—a day we set aside to connect in the midst of this chaotic phase of parenting three really small children. But Holiday planning got the best of us. We would “No TV Wednesday” and watch one of our favorite shows live for a change.

It wasn’t the episode this week that got us; it was the preview for next week’s. That 30-second or less clip that brought fat, ugly tears to our eyes. We learned this week that Kate lost the baby, but seeing a quick glimpse of her and her husband’s reaction to it after the fact—was too real.

We had a 14 months ago. Like Kate’s and Toby’s loss, ours’ was the easy kind; the kind that happens early in pregnancy. The kind you know can happen, the reason you hold off telling anyone the news at first because it’s common.

But there was nothing easy about it.

I classify those days as the loneliest in our lives. It felt as if we should not have felt that the miscarriage was that big of a deal; that the loss wasn’t that great. I know people who have lost their babies days before their due dates—that was real pain. This was almost expected.

So, we spent the weekend of the procedure to remove our baby’s remains taking turns quietly crying.

When the tears kept coming, I suggested we deal with it once and for all. Genetic testing had revealed she was a girl. So, we sat down and made a list of names and gave her one after her great-great grandmother. It was perhaps the most gut-wrenching night of our lives. We talked about what we thought she looked like in Heaven. I pictured her with shiny brown hair like her dad’s and dimples like her sister’s. We imagined her with our own family members up there. We dreamed about what it would be like meeting her one day.

We felt it all. Then we felt some more.

I thought it was done. We got pregnant quickly after that night. Our son is the most beautiful little human I’ve ever laid eyes on. How can I be sad over her when he wouldn’t be here, if she was? It’s all too much to think about. Too complicated for my heart. Our hearts.

I thought we had dealt with losing her the night we gave her a name. And then that 30-second clip opened up the floodgates. We held each other the way we did that night. We said things that made me realize this bit of grief will always be a little too close to the surface.

We’ve been through a lot in the last year. Our son’s health complicated. We almost lost him, too. I went to bed last night with the look on my face I haven’t seen in a while—my nose so swollen that it gives validity to that 8th grade bully who called me Ms. Piggy, my eyes so red, that it makes my iris appear to be an eerie shade of blue—a sight I’m sure would frighten my kids.

I’m so tired of seeing that face staring back at me.

So, I just can’t do next week’s episode. Creators, I appreciate you bringing some needed realness to Television. Really, thank you. But some things in life are too damn hard to re-live.

 

 

For my Midweek Moral followers- here’s some things I think we can all think about from this experience. What things have you told yourself shouldn’t be painful? What things have you told yourself shouldn’t be painful for others? When is it good to tap into grief and when is too much? I don’t have many answers this week- just questions.

July 13, 2017

Lessons From Living at the Ronald McDonald House

ronald mcdonald house living experience review high-risk pregnancy luto puv
This is part 6 of our high-risk pregnancy journey about finding beauty in pain and my experience living at the Ronald McDonald House. Our unborn son has a lower urinary tract obstruction- posterior urethral valve. Read parts 1,234 and 5

It was some of the harder two days in my 30-year life span. My husband and I packed the car and headed to a larger city four hours away from our new home. We had made the drive many times before for doctor’s appointments, only this time, we knew I wouldn’t be making the drive back. I was moving to my third town in seven months, the timeline of my return still unknown.

We checked into the Ronald McDonald House for the second time in our lives, only this time for a different son we’ve yet to meet. The industrial carpet reminded me of walking the halls of my high school. The small-checkered tile in the bathroom resembled a locker room. How could this be home for the next 6 weeks, 2 months, maybe longer? We had dinner reservations at a fancy place for my 30th birthday, but I couldn’t get the tears to stop flowing, so we cancelled.

For two days, I let myself stay in that place. I let myself feel the full depth of sadness of our situation—me away from the ones who call me ‘mommy’ so that they can maintain some normalcy, while I get the best care for the brother who will one day call me by the same name.

As the scenery became more familiar, the rawness started to ware off. I finally emerged from my room and into the shared living space, where my eyes were opened to the dozens of people also calling this place their temporary home. At first I saw them, families with children with bald heads, scars, feeding tubes, visible disabilities and invisible illnesses. Slowly, I’ve started listening to them.

The family of a 14 year-old with hypo plastic-left heart syndrome who has lived here for months at a time since their son’s birth shared their homemade tortillas with me. I rode the hospital shuttle with parents of a child not much older than my oldest who received four heart surgeries in the past 10 months, I ate a meal with a pregnant military mom who had to leave her overseas base to receive fetal surgery for her new daughter with spina bifida.

Everyone here is in the middle of one of their life’s hardest chapters. For some, these chapters are a reoccurring theme in their stories. And yet, you may think that being surrounded by these sufferings would be depressing or burdensome, but there is joy here.

After dinner one night, my mother-in-law and I were feeling a bit unsettled, needing new people to talk to, needing a change of scene from our room. We hovered around a table with mostly Spanish-speaking families, when I saw the most beautiful and heart-wrenching scene of my life: three kids having a tea party with a new tea set one of them had just won at bingo.

Only this tea party looked different from any I had ever seen before. The host was a stunning girl that you wouldn’t know was awaiting a heart transplant. She served the imaginary drink to a boy with a facial disfigurement and physical disability that I couldn’t identify. Next to him was a girl with no hair who had just won a Disney princess dress that she quickly adorned—I had watched her get off the shuttle at the cancer center hours earlier.

They giggled, they were kind, they were accepting of each other. They didn’t see the differences among them. There was pure joy in their small escape.

A few nights after, one of the local businesses sponsoring dinner brought in a DJ. The same little girl fighting cancer was still in her princess dress. She danced around her friend in a wheelchair, he smiled the entire time.

I observed their parents. I’m sure they have their quiet moments of overwhelming hurt, maybe nights filled with uncertainty and tears. But as they talked and laughed around the dinner table, I saw them lifting each other up.

I thought about how overwhelming this house would be if I hadn’t already had my son, Anderson, who has Down syndrome. Because he has been a part of our lives for more than two years, we have been more exposed to the disability and medically complex world. The world that’s always existed, but we could keep away at a safe distance before his arrival.

The illness here, the hardships here would have consumed me if it were not for Anderson. Now, as I wait for another son who will have medical issues of his own, I fit in here.

Of course, I wish our first son would never have needed open-heart surgery. Of course I wish this son’s urinary tract and kidney issues were all part of a bad dream. But because I have been here before, because I am surrounded by dozens of children here at the Ronald McDonald House who serve as constant reminders, I also know the extreme beauty that exists among the ashes.

I don’t think evil occurs so that we become the people we are intended to be. Nor do I think that suffering exists, so that the good times shine more brightly. However, I think these things can be byproducts of the inevitable pain we experience in this world.

I wish I didn’t belong here, but because I’ve been here before and because I am here again, I am not who I once was. I have been moved to action in ways I wouldn’t have been without the experience of my own sufferings.

I can’t predict the children’s future who shared tea together, but I think it’s a safe bet that they won’t be afraid of those who are different. I bet their parents will teach them to never take a moment of life for granted. I bet they become people who refuse to sit on the sidelines when someone needs help, even if they too are in need of rescuing.

Medical update: 
Things are about the same, but the doctors are worried that I may have developed a liver issue that’s common towards the end of pregnancy. Unfortunately, it’s pretty serious and they’ve upped my appointments to 3 times a week. I should find out next week if I in fact have this condition, but because I’m displaying the symptoms, I get the feeling they are going to treat me as if I have it no matter what the blood work says…we’l see. I’m 36 weeks pregnant now. For more frequent medical updates, follow us on Facebook.

June 25, 2017

When Grieving, Keep Your Eyes Open

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This is part 4 of our high-risk pregnancy journey about finding perspective in grief or hard times by keeping your eyes open. Our unborn son has a lower urinary tract obstruction- posterior urethral valve. Read parts 1, 23 and 4.

It was one of the longest weekends to date. He made a decision, he felt down. He made the other decision, still no peace. He looked to me for guidance and I had none to give. I felt helpless as he bared the weight.

Soon after arriving to our new Air Force Base, my husband’s boss asked him how my pregnancy was going. I’m sure he expected a polite, maybe even boring response, but instead, Andy told him the truth. Later that day several higher-ups called Andy into a meeting and asked him to take the year off from his orthodontic residency. The decision was still his to make, but his bosses made their wishes known; Andy had until Monday to decide.

You may be reading this thinking the decision was a no-brainer, you may think I wanted Andy to take them up on the offer, but I didn’t know what to think. We came here thinking it was a two year assignment and suddenly it would turn into three—the longest we have been stationed anywhere in our military life.

Andy and I met when we were both 18 years old. In a sea of sorority girls, I some how stood out to him with my then long curly hair and red top on the front steps of his fraternity house. Although I had a boyfriend, he stood out to me, with his college-swooped hair, yellow polo shirt and an unfamiliar southern charm. It would take two years of run-ins for him to tell me how he felt, but I never forgot our first conversation where he told me his life plan: to be an orthodontist.

How could I tell him to take his bosses up on their offer? He had been waiting for this for more than a decade. And really, more than that, the truth was: I didn’t want to admit that our lives had gotten bad again. I didn’t want to acknowledge that our situation was so extreme, that it warranted us to turn our lives more upside down than it already was. I didn’t want to confess to them, to ourselves, that maybe they were right—we couldn’t handle the stress of this pregnancy, delivering in a different city, surgery, an extended hospital stay and also the stress of the residency. Our dream of another uneventful pregnancy was already crushed, why did another dream have to come to a halt, too?

After consulting several mentors, Andy decided to take the year off from residency and continue working as a general dentist. We realized his residency directors had given us a gift, but it was a hard one to accept.

It was Monday and before going to talk to Andy’s bosses, we had to take our son Anderson to the pediatrician. Knowing that the pediatrician knew at least a little about our new son’s diagnosis, I told the doctor what was going on and said to him, “We’re doing the right thing, right?” He responded in a way I couldn’t, that no one could, prepare for, “We had a child die from cancer, you are absolutely doing the right thing.”

I don’t think he meant it in a way that he expected our son to not make it, but instead in a way that life is precious, unpredictable and that we should embrace this time we had been given.

Two days later we went in for an emergency appointment because I started having contractions. The doctor examined me and after telling us that all looked stable, we started making casual conversation. I asked him, “So, you have three kids?” “No, we have four, but we lost our daughter to a rare genetic condition.”

That same afternoon we rushed home to interview a respite provider for our children. I liked her right away. She exuded confidence and light. And then she told us her story: she was a refugee from the Congo who came to America as a child to escape slaughter.

Three people in three days who have stories of unimaginable pain and trials, yet all had managed to go on. Not only go on, but to make a difference. The doctors chose to continue caring for others, the respite provider is working on her masters and will specialize in helping orphans find forever families.

My point is not to say that our problems, your problems, are not as bad as they seem. But yes, there are others out there who have likely had it harder than you. Instead of letting that statement make us defensive, we should instead realize this: we are not alone. We are all connected by the trials of this life. And if you know your heavenly father, then there is even greater comfort in reading His word. Not because He guarantees to relieve our pain, but because he promises to be there with us when it inevitably comes.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

It’s easy to get lost in the disappointment. With the exception of a growing belly and a home in a new state, 2017 has not at all turned out the way I expected or wanted. But even as I write this today, I went through old pictures and was reminded again that there has been joy in the trials. There have been daddy-daughter dates, milestones met, old friends that were hard to say goodbye to, new friends being made and our children are growing closer to each other everyday.

That week was a hard one for our family, it’s still hard. Admitting that our pregnancy had taken ahold of our lives in another unwanted way was yet another disappointment we’ve faced over the last three years. But we are not alone in our disappointments.

Instead of falling into the temptation of keeping our lives pointed inward, we will aim to live with our eyes wide open. We will help others going through the hardest parts of life and will accept help from others willing to walk with us. We will search and be thankful for the light that exists in the middle of the darkness. And no matter what happens, we will go on, seeking to fulfill our life’s purposes even in our painful circumstances.

We are on this earth, not to walk alone, but side-by-side, not to look downward, but upward, not to let trials become roadblocks, but instead speed bumps and sometimes, maybe even springboards.

 

Medical update: We learned that the urinoma on our son’s right kidney has gotten larger. At this point his abdomen is measuring full term- meaning it is too big for birth. Right now, they are planning on draining the urinoma while I’m in labor. I will move away from my family in preparation for deliver this week. For more frequent medical and life updates, follow us on Facebook.