Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Our Birth & Recovery Story

I cannot believe our sweet girl is already 7 months old! Those early weeks were such a blur of diaper changes, middle of the night feedings, and just basically trying to survive and adjust to our new normal. Now that I've had a little bit of time to catch my breath and I finally feel more like myself after a rather difficult recovery, I wanted to share our birth story. 

When I unexpectedly gave birth to our son at only 20 weeks along, it was a completely devastating and traumatic event. I desperately wanted our experience this second time around to be one where we felt prepared and excited when it was finally time to meet our daughter. Because of my history with preterm birth, I was considered high risk throughout this pregnancy and was much more closely monitored by a team of maternal-fetal specialists. As far as they could assess, both the baby and I were healthy throughout my entire pregnancy but, since the same was true for my previous pregnancy, I'm not sure I ever fully relaxed. 

Annie Immello Photography

I wasn't due until January 25th, however, I ended up going to the hospital with contractions at 34.5 weeks pregnant. I was sent to triage and they monitored my contractions and told me I was already 2cm dilated. Many women walk around for weeks while dilated before they deliver, so when my contractions stopped and I hadn't progressed any further, they felt comfortable sending me home. The doctors recommended I have steroid shots, which would help the baby's lungs develop faster just in case she did eventually end up coming early, so they gave me a shot before we headed home (I had to go back the next night for a second dose and boy do those shots hurt...ouch). 

For the next couple weeks I made sure to rest, drink lots of water, and just generally take it easy in an attempt to keep the baby in as long as possible. Since I had made it to 34 weeks already, the doctors felt confident that if she came early, at this point along she would have a really good chance of not only surviving but thriving without any major long term issues. Still, I desperately wanted to make it to full term, which the doctors considered 37 weeks. 

Fast forward two more weeks (December 30th) and I decided it was a good day to take down our Christmas tree and decorations. Normally I'd wait until after New Year's Eve to do this but I just wanted things cleaned up and put away before our baby decided to make her arrival. Sure enough, that evening around 7pm I started feeling a bit off so I went to bed to rest. I started feeling mild contractions and by 8pm they had gotten intense enough that I asked my husband to start timing them. Not even an hour later the contractions had increased in intensity and were 5 minutes apart so we knew it was time to head to the hospital because things were progressing quickly. We live almost an hour away from where I would deliver so we weren't taking any chances by waiting around. Fortunately, because of our scare two weeks earlier, our bags were packed and ready to go! 

Christmas 2020 
(our sweet girl would arrive 6 days later)

When they assessed me at the hospital at 10pm I was 4cm dilated and the contractions were still consistent so I was admitted. I immediately asked for an epidural but they said because I was a few days shy of 37 weeks I was still considered preterm and couldn't have an epidural until I was 6cm dilated. When they checked me again an hour later I was dilated enough and got some relief! Things initially progressed pretty quickly and I was fully dilated and effaced by 1am. However, the baby wasn't moving down into place in order for me to start pushing because she was sunny side up (ideally babies should not only be head down but should also be facing down when moving through the pelvis)! The doctors tried going in manually and turning her (which hurt!!!!!) but she turned right back. 

I was told that it was still possible for me to push her out but it was going to take a lot more effort than if she were facing down in the ideal delivery position. They would only let me push for up to four hours before they would elect to do a c-section (while also monitoring the baby's heart rate). All I heard was that I was going to have to push for FOUR HOURS and still end up with a c-section so I told them to just go ahead with a c-section...the thought of having to labor that long and then still end up with a c-section just put me over the edge! 

Apparently some women don't feel the relief of the epidural as effectively and unfortunately I am one of those women, which I learned when I started gradually feeling more pain as labor progressed! But, the team that was with me offered a lot of support and encouragement by telling me there was a good chance I could push her out in less than four hours and they helped by having me labor in lots of different positions to encourage the baby to make her way down and out. 

Fortunately from that point, it only ended up taking two hours of pushing (which was still A LOT) to get her out and Miss Charlotte Anne was born at 11:28am on New Year's Eve! She turned face down right before I pushed her out so I suppose this just means she does things in her own time!

She let out a cry immediately and so did I...I sobbed from relief, both from the pain of labor and from hearing that she was strong and healthy upon their initial assessment. They put her on my chest and we were just so thankful that she was here. Although, she was 3.5 weeks early and a little peanut at 5lbs, 14oz, she was perfectly healthy!

Those next couple of days in the hospital were such a blur. I was exhausted and because the baby was essentially stalled in one place during labor since she was facing the wrong way, she put a lot of pressure on my bladder. I ended up having some unforeseen complications which really limited my mobility while in the hospital and for quite a while after. 

We stayed at the hospital for a few days so both baby and I could be monitored and then we went home to a very excited dog and a half naked Christmas tree still standing in the middle of the living room. Unfortunately, I had to have a catheter during my entire hospital stay and even had to go home with one as my bladder still couldn't function properly and it needed more rest to return to normal. Farmer Man took on the majority of the baby care because I was essentially bedridden until the catheter was removed a few days later at my doctor's office. 

One Week Old

We also found out at Charlotte's first pediatrician appointment (which was two days after going home from the hospital) that she had jaundice and that we would need to immediately bring her to the children's hospital so she could have light therapy. So, we packed everything back up and headed to the hospital to spend the night. I was having horrible pains in my abdomen and ended up going over to the emergency room while Farmer Man stayed with the baby. Apparently both my uterus and my bladder were contracting as they were essentially trying to get back to normal and causing me pain and I also had a bladder infection caused by the catheter being inserted and removed so many times in the days following Charlotte's birth. 

The light therapy worked and we were able to take the baby home the next afternoon. We consider ourselves so very fortunate that this was the extent of her medical needs considering she was preterm at 36.5 weeks. Unfortunately, this was only the start of my postpartum recovery issues as the antibiotics that I was given for the bladder infection essentially caused a chain reaction of other infections that would last months. I ended up needing surgery a few months later to heal a fissure that was caused from the extremely long period of pushing during labor (again, due to her being 'sunny side up'). I was completely unfamiliar with what a fissure was and really wish more people talked about this issue because it could have saved me months and months of significant pain if only I had known to see a doctor about this issue sooner. I also ended up needing to see a pelvic floor physical therapist for a couple months to help correct a bladder prolapse. 

At this point, the infections from the antibiotics have cleared up and I'm no longer in physical therapy, but I'm still healing from the fissure surgery and I also recently found out I will need to have one more surgery to address some vaginal tissue that still hasn't healed from when I tore giving birth. This will mean another 4-6 weeks of stitches, but hopefully it's the last of the surgeries needed as a result of giving birth almost 8 months ago! 

Taking care of a newborn and adjusting to new parenthood is in itself quite challenging, but doing it while also having a lot of physical pain for months following giving birth is incredibly demoralizing. I often couldn't take care of the baby or get back to normal household activities in the way that I wanted and I cried myself to sleep very often from sheer pain and exhaustion. These complications also had a significant impact on my milk supply and breastfeeding in general but I'm proud that I was able to give her at least some breast milk for the first 8 weeks. Before she was born, I never planned on giving my baby formula but I also never anticipated having so many recovery issues. Although at first I felt a lot of guilt, ending breast feeding early was a huge weight lifted off of me physically and mentally and was absolutely the best decision for our family.

 Annie Immello Photography

Charlotte is now a happy, healthy, thriving baby and we are cherishing every day with her. New motherhood has been the most challenging yet rewarding experience, watching her change so quickly and discovery the world around her. We are so very lucky to have her here with us and I know her big brother John is watching over our family. 

Check out Charlotte's Sweet Floral Nursery HERE!

Friday, November 20, 2020

Baby Girl's Sweet Floral Nursery

Before I was expecting our second baby, I kept myself busy and distracted from the grief I was facing from losing our son by daydreaming about our future nursery. I wasn't sure if we would get pregnant again but viewed my designs and dreams for the nursery decor as an act of faith and optimism and this was also the last room left to renovate in our current home.  I painted the walls one of my favorite colors, a soothing and gender-neutral greenish-gray and added board and batten to one wall. My husband also installed new flooring. As soon as I found out we were expecting a little girl, I knew I wanted to add just a touch of femininity by using the most gorgeous floral wallpaper on an accent wall. The wallpaper is removable and peel and stick so it was very easy to install! Her nursery is still pretty neutral overall with greens, grays, and whites, but every now and then there are sweet touches of pink!

Floral Nursery Wallpaper

Nursery Organization Ideas

The silver bank and the sweet little bunny were both my toys from when I was a child

By thrifting and buying items second hand and then giving them a makeover, I was able to furnish the entire nursery for just over $200! The dresser above was a FREE find off of Facebook Marketplace. I painted it with white chalk paint and added inexpensive glass knobs. I also used leftover wallpaper to add some color to the large thrifted frame above the dresser that I painted with chalk paint. This was the same frame I used to make a 'just married' sign for our wedding dinner and I was happy to repurpose it here!

Wood Nursery Rocker

The crib is originally from Pottery Barn and retails for over $1,000 but I got it off of Facebook Marketplace for $150! It's super sturdy and in great condition as is the mattress. The wooden rocking chair belonged to my husband's great grandmother and it was used in his nursery as well. I made a custom cushion for it using a patio chair cushion from the dollar store as a template. 

The bookcase in the nursery was another Facebook Marketplace find that I scored fo $40. It definitely needed some love to turn it from basic office furniture to cute and nursery-worthy. I removed the faux wood back panel and added a sheet of beadboard and then painted it with white chalk paint to give it a cottage feel. It'll be perfect for storing lots of toys, books, and other baby items. 

Spoonflower Soft Meadow Floral Wallpaper

 Our dog Stanley has already made himself at home in the nursery and LOVES lying on the rug in there! I still have a few items I'd like to add, like a lamp and some picture ledges, but I'm so pleased with how this space turned out, a huge change from where it began. We can't wait to bring our sweet little girl home!


Wall Paint Color- Sherwin William's Sea Salt
Soft Meadow Floral Fabric for shelf bunting
Our Amazon Baby Registry

Sunday, November 15, 2020

We're Having Another Baby: Pregnancy After Loss

 It was around this time last year that we excitedly told our families that we were expecting our first baby. Everything was going so well and both the baby and I were healthy and strong. We could never expect that a few months later, at the end of January, I would very suddenly go into labor and deliver our son at 20 weeks gestation. He had a heartbeat and lived for 5 short hours, the most excruciating 5 hours of our lives, as we waited for him to inevitably pass away. 

The weeks and months that followed were an incredible blur of grief like no other, physical and emotional healing, confusion about why this happened, and fear that I wouldn't be able to get pregnant again, or if I did, that I wouldn't be able to carry a baby to full term.  

Six weeks after giving birth I had a postpartum check up with my practitioner and we discussed when it would be possible to try again for another baby. She said that physically I was healthy and recovering well from giving birth and advised that we wait at least three months before trying again. She also suggested that I make an appointment with a maternal-fetal specialist who could hopefully give us more answers as to why this happened and advise us on the best path moving forward. Unfortunately, the day before my scheduled specialist appointment in March, we got a call that said all consult appointments were being pushed to July because of the Covid-19 outbreak so I wouldn't be seen unless I got pregnant before then. 

Having no concrete answers as to why I delivered our son prematurely coupled with our canceled appointment with the specialist made the thought of trying for another baby was very scary, particularly because much of what I researched had said that if you have had one premature delivery you are at an increased risk of having another. Still, in my mind, the thought of not trying for another baby because I was afraid of the future outcome was just too much to bare- we couldn't let fear dictate our decision to try again. Also, at 39 years old, I felt I didn't have the luxury of waiting too long before trying to get pregnant.

We waited three months, enough time for my cycles to get back to normal and to let my body heal, and then we tried again. To our astonishment, we were pregnant again on the first try! It felt like a miracle!

We shared the exciting news with our family and close friends pretty much right away but waited until I was much further along in the pregnancy before sharing anything on social media. I've gotten a lot of great questions about the pregnancy and the baby so I thought I'd answer some FAQs right here!

Q: How did you get pregnant so quickly?
 Did you use ovulation tracking apps or other resources to help you get pregnant?

Let me preface this response by saying that sometimes you can do all the 'right' things and life events still don't turn out how you hope or go as fast as you'd like. Losing our son after we got pregnant right away and had a perfectly healthy pregnancy up until he was born prematurely taught me that sometimes things happen for which there are absolutely no good reasons and that in the end, you can do everything 'right' and still have a horrible outcome...some things are just out of our control.

Having said that, in preparation for trying to conceive I tried to educate myself as best I could to increase our chances. I had always heard and read that it becomes increasingly difficult to get pregnant the older you are so I definitely had a good amount of fear and tried to have realistic expectations about how long it would take us to get pregnant. I didn't meet my husband until I was 37 (you can read about our love story here) and we got married when I was 38.5 years old so we pretty much started trying to conceive shortly after our wedding and my big move from Maine to Virginia. 

One of the best resources I have used to truly help with understanding how to best increase the chances of conceiving is the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health.  This book is awesome not only for trying to conceive but also just understanding how the female body works (so far beyond what was ever taught in any of the health classes I took), how to prevent getting pregnant, how to know if something is 'wrong' or out of whack physically, and preparing for menopause. 

What I found interesting in the book regarding trying to conceive is that many couples who think they have fertility issues are actually just timing sex incorrectly and therefore missing part or all of their fertile windows- who knew?! 

With help from the book and a free fertility charting app, I tracked my cycles and used inexpensive but effective ovulation test strips so I would know when I was about to ovulate. It can seem daunting to take your temperature every day (I used a basal body temp thermometer) and track information in an app, but I actually enjoyed learning more about how my body was functioning and it made me feel like I had some sense of control. 

Research indicates that eating well, maintaining a health body weight, limiting or eliminating alcohol and caffeine intake, avoiding smoking, and getting plenty of sleep can have an impact on fertility for both males and females. And of course, genetics and age, which are out of our control, can also play a role when trying to conceive. The book mentioned above discusses these factors as well. 

A few of my close friends have also tried acupuncture with a fertility specialist and have had positive outcomes after struggling to conceive. I can't speak to that experience but it might be worth looking into if you are having trouble. *Be sure to speak with your practitioner about various health concerns as I am not a doctor or medical expert. 

Q: How did you find out you were expecting again and what was your reaction?

Because I was tracking my cycles very closely I knew when I was ovulating and therefore knew roughly when I could start taking pregnancy tests. The ovulation tests I purchased also come with a bunch of inexpensive pregnancy test strips so I didn't feel bad taking a test each each around the time that I might possibly be pregnant. Two days after Mother's Day (which was so difficult to get through after losing our son and not knowing if we would be blessed with another baby), I took a pregnancy test even though I knew it may have been a bit too early in my cycle to get a positive result. I saw the very faintest shadow of a positive really didn't even look like a line but more of a slight discoloration almost invisible to the naked eye. I showed it to my husband and he couldn't see anything but I swore there was something there. So, I waited until later that day and took another test...sure enough, there was a very, very faint positive line!

Over the next couple of days I took more tests and the positive lines kept getting darker- a sign we were progressing in the right direction! I was so incredibly (but cautiously) excited and just really couldn't believe that I got pregnant again so quickly!

Q: When are you due? How far along are you?

I am just about 30 weeks along and am due in mid-January. 

Q: How have you been feeling both physically and emotionally? Sick at all? Are you constantly afraid you'll lose this baby, too?

I'm very thankful that with both pregnancies my first trimester symptoms were relatively mild compared to the stories I've heard from other women. I did have some nausea for several weeks early on, usually in the late afternoon and evening, but thankfully never bad enough to vomit. Eating crackers, almonds, and apples seemed to help as did anti-nausea candies which come in both ginger & peppermint flavors (I bought and ate both). 

Early on, and then again during late second trimester, I was incredibly tired as well. Luckily I'm not currently teaching or subbing and am thankful for the opportunity to rest whenever needed. Now that I've entered the third trimester, I'm definitely feeling aches and pains that come with carrying extra weight and have battled lower back/sciatica pain off and on throughout my pregnancy. 

Some days I feel amazing, other days I overdo it and need to slow myself down and rest (which is often tough as I'm always feeling the need to be productive and do projects around the house). I've had to remind myself that my main 'job' right now is stay healthy and carry this baby to term. 

Emotionally, I've certainly had moments of incredible fear, as can be expected after losing a baby the way we did, but I've really tried to remain calm and positive overall (peppered with bad days here and there), knowing that in the end so much is out of my control. I've also had moments of incredible sadness as certain events and milestones in this pregnancy remind me of the son we lost and I miss him all the time. It's certainly a crazy mixed-bag of emotions when you are so joyful about your current baby but so heartbroken over your first baby. I try to take each day as it comes, just so grateful for another day that our sweet baby is still safely inside my belly. 

Q: Have you had any strange food cravings or aversions?

During my first pregnancy I really craved BLT sandwiches and orange juice! I really haven't had any strong cravings during this pregnancy, however, I eat apples pretty much every single day. I would't say I crave them I just think they are a healthy was to keep hunger and nausea away. 

Q: Do you know the sex of the baby?

I had bloodwork taken for genetic testing around week 10 of this pregnancy so we did find out the sex of the baby shortly thereafter. There's a delicious wood-fired pizza bakery around the corner from my doctor's office so I asked my doctor to write down the sex in an envelope and then took it to the bakery on my way home. They were kind enough to bake a pepperoni letter into the pizza indicating the baby's sex so when I got home, my husband and I opened the box and found out what we are having (spoiler alert: IT'S, but we already knew that, ha ha). Our close friends and family know the sex of the baby but I think I'll wait until I share the nursery decor before sharing with everyone else. 

Q: Have you picked out a name?

We do have a name but will wait until baby is here before announcing to the world. Lets just say it was pretty difficult to find a name we both agreed on but eventually settled on something we both like so that's what we are going with!

Q: Have you started decorating the nursery? Theme? When do we get a nursery tour? Can we paint while pregnant?

Yes! I actually painted the room that will become the nursery before I got pregnant with this baby and before we knew the sex. I tend to gravitate toward neutral, calming colors and decor so I chose a paint color and furniture options that are gender neutral before adding some more colorful accessories. I still have a few projects left to tackle and then I will share the nursery along with whether we are expecting a boy or a girl! 

Pregnant women should avoid breathing toxic fumes so I have limited the types of projects and the types of paints I've used while pregnant. Chalk paint is a good option because it has very little odor as do paints labeled 'low VOC' so those are some of the materials I've painted with while pregnant. I also always have the windows open and a fan going and wear a ventilation mask while painting or sanding to limit breathing in anything potentially harmful.

Q: How has it been being pregnant during Covid? 

The most challenging part has been that my husband cannot come with me to any of my appointments or ultrasounds. It makes me sad that he can't be there to witness the ultrasounds in person or to be an extra set of ears when discussing important issues with my doctors. But, it is what it is, and thankfully (as of right now) he is allowed to be with me when I actually deliver the baby. 

We don't go very many places because we obviously don't want to risk exposure to Covid-19 so I have had a lot of time to rest (although sometimes, like many people, I go a bit stir crazy being home so much). It has been tough not being able to celebrate this baby in the way I would've liked with a traditional baby shower but we were able to have a small celebration here in Virginia and I celebrated with my Maine family and friends via Zoom. It's a scary time we are living in and I've really had to focus on remaining as calm and stress-free as I can for the good of the baby. 

Q: Do you have to do anything different this pregnancy because of your history? Are you considered high-risk?

I am considered high-risk simply because of my history of premature delivery. I switched to a maternal-fetal specialist practice that focuses on high-risk pregnancies and from about week 14-24 I had ultrasounds every two weeks to measure my cervix and to be monitored much more closely than during my first pregnancy. As per the recommendation of my doctor, I take a progesterone prescription every day as well as a baby aspirin in addition to the prenatal vitamins and extra folic acid I was already taking (*you should check with your doctor before taking any medications, over the counter or otherwise*). So far, every test they've done, every ultrasound, and all blood work has come back normal and I'm otherwise considered very healthy as is baby so it's sort of odd being considered high risk. I am thankful for the extra monitoring nonetheless. 

We have also decided to deliver this baby at a larger hospital than the one where we had our son as they have an OBGYN at the hospital at all times and have a really good NICU should our baby come early. This larger hospital is almost an hour away but we feel like it's the best option for us going forward. 

Q: What are your go-to dressy and casual pregnancy looks? Where do you shop for maternity clothes?

A silver lining to being pregnant during a pandemic is that I am home most of the time and therefore have not really had to buy a lot of maternity clothes. I've been living in leggings and tanks layered with tunics, open cardigans, and button-down tops that layer nicely over some basic pieces. I did shop at some local thrift stores during my first pregnancy to find some pieces that would work while pregnant and many of my non-maternity clothes have worked up until a few weeks ago when I started getting really big. 

I've purchased most maternity items from Target, Old Navy, Shein (really cute stuff that is super affordable), and Amazon. I've created an Amazon favorites list for maternity essentials and will plan to do a dedicated post on affordable maternity fashion at some point soon. 

Q: What's the coolest and most challenging thing about pregnancy? What makes you most excited about having a baby?

The coolest part of pregnancy is feeling the baby move and kick- it still just amazes me that there's a little human in there! I felt true kicks for the first time at 21 weeks (I'd been feeling little flutters here and there before that point which I assumed was baby but was waiting for the moment when I knew for sure it was a baby kick). I never got to feel true baby kicks with our son so I will never take this experience for granted.

I can't move around and do all the projects I'd like to accomplish because being pregnant and high-risk means I have physical limitations and that has been pretty challenging. 

I am super excited to see what this baby looks like and also just to experience the world through a child's eyes. I look forward to starting new family traditions and seeing the joy and excitement of our child through the holidays. 

(Last Two Photos: Annie Immello Photography)

Although we don't know what exactly lies ahead, we are so excited, hopeful, and thankful to have been given another opportunity to be parents. Thank you to the countless number of people who have offered kind words, congratulations, and well wishes as we look forward to the arrival of our sweet baby!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Surviving the Death of Our Baby

It's been eight weeks since our baby died...I'm not really sure of a more eloquent way to start writing, so there it is. With every fiber of my being I wish I didn't have to write those words and I so desperately wish that this was not a part of our story. It was only a few months ago that I sat at this very computer to write a blog post sharing that I was joyfully and excitedly pregnant and expecting our first baby this coming June. At 39 years old, I SO surprised and grateful that I got pregnant right away and that I was having a healthy and complication-free pregnancy. Like most couples, we 'played it safe' and waited until I was in my second trimester to make our happy news public. No one really talks about second and third trimester pregnancy loss and everything we were told and have read about lead us to believe that our chances of losing our baby were very small once I made it out of my first trimester and past those first 12 weeks. So, when that milestone came, I started to relax a bit and let myself make all sorts of plans because I started to feel like we were 'safe' and our dream of becoming parents was really going to happen.

With every check up I had, our baby measured perfectly on schedule and had a very strong heartbeat, and all of the tests (blood tests, blood pressure, genetic tests, etc.) came back perfectly normal throughout my entire pregnancy. Even my first trimester was pretty easy, with mild symptoms, so I felt incredibly thankful with each passing day. Losing our baby was not even on our radar, certainly not at 20 weeks after having a seemingly perfect, healthy pregnancy for myself and our baby, which is why what came next was, and still is, so difficult to understand and accept.

The last picture taken of me, in Maui, while pregnant with our darling baby boy

The day we lost our baby started out as any other day. We had come back from our belated honeymoon trip to Maui a few days earlier, so I was spending the day cleaning and doing chores around the house. I had spent that morning putting together an invitee list to give to my mom as she was making plans for my baby shower.  Physically, I felt good throughout our trip and I also felt good that particular day. Around dinner time my lower back started to hurt, which wasn't unusual if I was relatively active during the day. Everything I had read in my various baby books and apps said back pain was a normal symptom of pregnancy, particularly in the second trimester. I laid down on the couch with a heating pad as I had done many times before when my back hurt. But this time the pain started to feel different, pulsing in and out in increments, accompanied by lower abdominal cramping. I took some Tylenol and drank a lot of water, hoping I would start to feel better. After a couple hours I started to feel some pelvic pressure and decided to call my doctor. He didn't sound too concerned but suggested I go to the hospital to be checked out just to be safe. As my husband drove me to the hospital, I started to feel what I thought were contractions in my back, coming about every 3-4 minutes. I started to become concerned while also just trying to stay calm and manage the pain as best I could. Even as we arrived at the hospital and checked into the maternity ward, it didn't even cross either of our minds that I was going to deliver our baby...everything in our pregnancy had been going so well.

After I was in our hospital room, I was started on an IV with fluids, hooked up to a contraction monitor, and the baby's heartbeat was checked. He still had a very strong heartbeat, which was a relief. As my contractions continued to get stronger, the nurse didn't seem concerned and the doctor still hadn't arrived, even after a couple hours, so my husband and I still didn't think this was it- that this was when our baby was coming. No one seemed to think he was coming or at least there still didn't seem to be a sense of urgency on the part of the medical staff that night. The nurse checked my cervix and I was one centimeter dilated. I started to get very scared and she said the doctor would check again when he arrived. At this point, I was in full on labor and the pain was unbearable and yet they weren't doing anything for my pain so I started to cry from distress. We hadn't yet gotten to the labor and delivery chapters of our respective baby books so both my husband and I were very unprepared to deal with any of this. I really thought at that point that they would be able to give me fluids and medication to stop labor and everything would be fine.

When the doctor finally arrived, he checked my cervix and he could feel my water bag (it hadn't broken but was protruding which is a bad sign). I started to cry even more and asked him if that meant the baby was coming. He said it didn't look good but they would try to give me some medication to stop labor from progressing. I asked if our baby would survive if he did come out at 20 weeks and the doctor said he would not survive outside the womb very long at this stage of development. Everyone left the room (I assume to get medication but honestly I still don't understand why we were left completely alone) and I told my husband that I really needed to use the bathroom. I got up and hobbled to the bathroom while my husband wheeled the IV behind me. While I was alone in the bathroom our baby came out so fast and unexpectedly. I screamed uncontrollably and my husband ran out into the hallway to get help.

Everything after was such a blur...the doctor and nurses came rushing into the bathroom to help me and our son and it quickly turned into what I can only describe as an out of body experience. They moved me to the bed to deliver the placenta while the nurses tended to the baby. I thought because he was so early that he wasn't alive but he was...he had a heartbeat and lived for the next 5 hours. The doctor and nurses said he looked absolutely perfect for his stage of development and had no signs that anything was wrong with him. As far as they could tell, he was perfectly healthy. My doctor was also stunned that I delivered so quickly because he said most preterm labor and deliveries happen over the course of several hours. I suppose this explains why it seemed like there was no sense of urgency leading up to my delivery. I still have a lot of confusion and anger surrounding how our delivery was handled but I'm learning to make peace with these feelings and to accept that the outcome would probably be the same no matter what.

I cannot accurately describe the pain that comes with sitting in a hospital bed with your baby in a bassinet across the room while you wait for his heart to stop beating. Because he was so early, there was nothing medically to be done to save him so we just had to wait. Had he been born even 3 or 4 weeks later, perhaps he could have lived, but the 'could haves' and 'should haves' and 'might haves' after an experience like this are too many to count and too painful to keep asking.

The hours that followed after his birth were all a blur- truly an out of body experience that I have not ever experienced before. It didn't feel like any of this was didn't feel like our son was really didn't feel like we were really there experiencing this, particularly because it all happened so incredibly fast, with no warning at all, so our brains just could not process what was happening.

In one of the books I've been reading about grief, it says that when you are experiencing something incredibly painful and traumatic, a part of your brain shuts down and either fights, flees, or freezes- and this is exactly how I felt at that time- my brain could not process the excruciating pain that I was experiencing and therefore it just completely shut down as a form of protection. I was asked to hold our baby, to take pictures with our baby, to name our baby for his birth and death certificates, we even had to contact a funeral home, all within a few hours of his birth. My brain was just not equipped to deal with any of this at the time, not to mentioned what my body had just gone through, and looking back, I harbor a lot of guilt as there are some actions and decisions made that I wish we had done differently. I try to give myself some grace now because I know that we did the best we could at the time and we were just not capable of doing anything other than what was done.  I was in an absolute fog, I wasn't mentally in my body, and it took well over a week after being home for my brain to even truly accept what had happened as real. I audibly said multiple times in the week that followed "Did I really give birth? Is our baby really dead?" and yet the answer was always the same.

We were told that they wanted me to stay in the hospital for at least 12 hours after my delivery to monitor me before letting us go home. We sat in that room and sobbed through our numbness...we just wanted to go home and wakeup from this nightmare. Once we got home, I went to our room and rarely left our bed. I got up and went to the bathroom when needed, but I dreaded showering or looking in the mirror because it meant I had to look at my postpartum body, a painful reminder that I had given birth but my baby was not here with me. I had looked in that mirror every single day of my pregnancy, excitedly watching my body change and my belly grow, and now it was just too painful to see my belly slowing shrinking. My breasts became swollen and painful as they filled with milk, with no baby to nourish. My body thought my baby was here and did what is was naturally supposed to do, but it didn't know that our sweet baby boy had died. Dealing with the physical aftermath of giving birth was just another cruel daily reminder of what had happened.

I sat in our bedroom for several weeks, day in and day out, letting the waves of grief wash over me as they pleased. I felt completely and utterly broken, a shell of my former self. One moment I'd accept what had happened as our new reality, and the next I would collapse onto the floor or into the arms of my husband, the grief so intense it was physically painful, my heart literally felt as though it was broken.  I know that the grief any mother goes through when losing their baby in any way and at any point is painful, but sometimes I think it would be easier to accept the loss of our son if he had been sick or had died in the womb or I had miscarried during my first trimester when I was 'on guard' for that type of loss. Other times I think about scenarios in which losing him could have been even 'worse' than what we experienced and I'm thankful, as odd as that may sound. Either way, loss is loss...I know this and it does no good to make comparisons, but my mind still thinks about 'what could have been'.

I have never experienced pain and grief so intensely, it felt, and still feels like a part of me is missing. I suppose that is in fact true...our son is a physical part of us who is gone and I don't know if I will every feel completely whole again. It's so bizarre because he was a stranger to us and yet so much a part of us. The time we had to get to know him was taken from us. We grieve the life we wish he could have had, the boy and man he would have grown up to be, the life we had already pictured for him and for our family. We envisioned holidays, his birthdays, running around on our farm, interacting with our friends and his grandparents. We not only grieve the death of our son but of the life we were going to have...the trajectory of our life and his life changed in an instant and that fact is really difficult to process and accept. Here we were, experiencing two of life's most significant events, the birth of our child and the death of our loved one, all within the course of a few's incredibly overwhelming.

When we are ready, we would like to try for another baby. This decision is incredibly scary because I'm older and worried about my ability to get pregnant again. To further complicate things, we were given no answers as to why this happened. At first we had speculated that perhaps it was an 'incompetent cervix' but were told by my delivering doctor that he did not think that was the case (if/when I do get pregnant, I will be considered high risk and monitored much more closely by a maternal and fetal specialist). Doctors have studied my charts, administered more tests, had the placenta analyzed, and have gone over my medical history and there is nothing to indicate why this happened. I am in seemingly perfect health, with no risk factors for preterm labor, and so was our baby. Apparently 2/3 of preterm births have no known biological cause and if you've had a preterm delivery, you are then more likely for it to happen again. I want to choose to believe that a healthy, full term pregnancy is in our future but there's also so much uncertainty and that is tough for me to accept and very scary.

The passing of time has helped to soften the sharp edges of grief, but there are still many questions I often struggle with...why did we get pregnant so easily only to have it taken away so suddenly? Why did our son die when he was perfectly healthy? Why do other people who don't even want children have babies so easily? Will this happen to us again? What is the point of remaining hopeful, positive, and grateful everyday, as I did throughout my entire pregnancy, if it's still going to end in devastation? What did I do to deserve this? What did I do to cause this? Why didn't my body keep my healthy baby inside longer SO HE COULD LIVE???? There are no answers to these questions, I know this, but still my mind wanders there sometimes.

So what now? What do you do when your whole world has changed and you have changed in ways you could never imagine? I'm often asked 'how are you doing?' by those who care, knowing that the answer will never be a simple one. So, how am I? I am as well as I can be considering all that has happened. There is no 'getting back to normal' but there is 'creating a new normal' as best as I can.

I'm proud of myself for trying to take active steps in helping process my grief while also coming to terms with what happened and trying to look forward toward a bright future for our family. I've read books, talked to a therapist, talked to friends, sought medical advice, heard from people who've gone through something similar, journaled, worked on my physical health, cried when I've needed to, and allowed myself to feel joy when I've needed to.

Getting out of my bed and making my way to the couch was a victory. Leaving the house for the first time (even if it ended in tears in the middle of Home Depot) was a victory. Going back to the doctors office for a check up after my delivery was a victory. Laughing for the first time, even when it evoked feelings of guilt, was a victory. Going out on a date night with my husband and being surrounded by happy families and babies, then actively reframing my inner narrative to say "I don't know their stories, they could have struggled too" was a victory. Facing my grief and emotions head on to write this narrative is a victory. Even the first time I went back to the grocery store felt like a victory because the last time I was there, I was happily pregnant, chatting with a friend I ran into about my upcoming ultrasound.

I've dreaded a million different situations that I knew would be triggering for me but yet over time, with small steps, I've faced these situations and consider them all small victories in my fight against an otherwise crippling grief. It's definitely not always easy and there are still certain situations that I avoid because they are just too painful, but it has all been a practice in patience and faith like no other I've ever experienced.

Throughout this experience of loss, there has been one constant, and that has been the incredibly steadfast love and support from so many. My husband and I have only been married for 9 months, and in that time have been faced with one of the most difficult situations any couple could go through- losing a child. This could easily push us apart, but instead, it has shown just how devoted we are to one another and strengthened us like nothing else could. In the last few months he has proven himself to be everything I could have asked for in a partner, even literally feeding me when I was paralyzed by grief.

Our families have experienced their own grief as their dreams of a first grandchild were crushed in an instant, and yet they put us first, checking in while also giving us the space we needed.

I consider myself so incredibly fortunate to have curated a group of quality people I'm blessed to call my friends. These are the type of friends who become your family, who feel your joy and grief as if it were their own, rooting for your successes and holding you close to their hearts during times of pain and uncertainty, forgiving your emotional distance or lack of social graces during your darkest times.

The kindness shown to us over the passed few months has proven that even in the darkest depths of grief, in the worst situation imaginable, there is so much love in the world. Messages from social media 'strangers', cards and letters from people I haven't spoken to in quite some time, meals delivered, a garden of flowers sent to our doorstep, incredibly touching gifts arriving out of the blue, and thoughtful words of encouragement from all's been so humbling and has made me cry from love, a welcome reprieve from the tears of grief. Even writing that last sentence, I find myself pausing because in the end, deep grief cannot exist where there isn't also great, deep love.

So THANK YOU... thank you for loving us, for praying for us (however and to whomever that may be), for caring enough to read this, for offering words of solace and encouragement (even when there aren't the right words), for checking in on us, for being brave in your own journeys of grief, and for continuing to have hope that this isn't the end of our family's story.

And to our darling sweet baby John, you are LOVED by so many, you were wanted and wished for so badly, and you will be part of our hearts for as long as they are beating. 

Your mommy and daddy love you so very much.

Monday, December 30, 2019

A Baby Story

A little over a week ago I turned 39. If you had asked me 20 years ago if I thought I'd be pregnant with my first baby at this age, I would never have believed it. But, as I've learned through many experiences, events in life unfold exactly as they should, in their own time, despite what we may otherwise wish would happen.

I have always wanted to be a mother and although I tried my best to be patient in realizing this dream, truth be told, there were many times when I wondered if this would ever happen for me. I've been single most of my life and as each birthday came and went (particularly into my thirties), I was becoming fearful of my ever ticking 'biological clock'. About three years ago I went so far as to consult with my doctor about options for having a baby on my own and started doing lots of reading and research on single motherhood. While this route wasn't my first choice, I wasn't willing to give up on my dream simply because I hadn't yet found the right guy. After all my research, I had a choice to make: move forward with having a baby on my own or wait a while longer and see what else my dating life had in store for me, all while my fertile window was closing (damn you biology!!!). I decided to wait...six months later I met the man who would become my husband.

pregnancy baby story
I've already started shopping for Baby R., including a thrift store cable knit sweater

After Farmer Man and I married this past summer we decided that because of my 'advanced maternal age' (which is apparently the nicer term for a 'geriatric pregnancy'), we would start trying for a baby right away. I fully expected it would take months of trying because of my age and because of so many stories I've heard of people struggling to conceive, particularly as they get older. I did lots of research on conception, bought ovulation test strips, and used cycle tracking apps all in the hopes of increasing our chances.

About a month after we started accurately tracking ovulation, I decided to take a pregnancy test 'just for fun'. I say this because even though we were actively trying for a baby, I really, truly did not think it would happen so quickly so I was expecting a negative result. Well, again, events in life unfold in their own time and I found out that day that I WAS PREGNANT!! I called Farmer Man and told him there was a very faint line on the pregnancy test and that I would take another just to be sure. We were both excited but also hesitant to believe that it was really true. I also initially felt really freaked out at the thought of this little thing growing in my body! It's such a weird experience and I really didn't know what to expect or how to react.

Could not believe my eyes when I saw the very faint lines

I wasn't really sure what to do at that point but I quickly found out that there's really not much you can do except wait and hope for the best. Miscarriage rates are higher for older women as are rates of abnormal chromosomal issues so although we were really happy and excited, this excitement was tempered knowing that really anything could happen. As the weeks progressed, I was feeling pretty good overall, with very mild symptoms. Then at around 7 weeks, I started to have spotting (light bleeding) along with cramping and low back pain and was fearful that I was losing the baby. Our first prenatal appointment wasn't scheduled for another 2 weeks so we had no way of knowing if everything was developing normally. Luckily, I was able to get an appointment with another doctor a week later and cried as we heard the little heartbeat during the ultrasound. Baby R. was measuring right on schedule and they couldn't find any reason for the spotting- all was well.

Per my doctor's recommendation, we did opt to do a couple genetic tests at 10 weeks and subsequently, the sex of the baby was also determined. I did not want to find out the sex until the baby was born as it just wasn't something that was important to me and I prefer more gender neutral clothes, toys, and decor. I also thought it would be such a fun surprise on 'birth day'.  Farmer Man made several passionate speeches as to why he felt it was important to find out the sex and because it seemed very important to him, I had the doctor write it down on a card at my 13 week checkup. We now know the sex of Baby R. but are going to keep that between us and our close friends and family. We have settled on a name as well, but we are keeping that a secret until birth day!

Based on what I've read and heard about pregnancy symptoms, I feel very lucky to have had a pretty easy time of things overall so far (other than the scary bleeding incident). I had some mild nausea during the first trimester, usually setting in around dinner time and remedied with crackers and apple slices and not lasting more than a few weeks. My only cravings so far have been apples, orange juice, and BLT sandwiches. Farmer Man has been very helpful and thoughtful, always offering to run up to the store or rub my back if need be!

Crafty Teacher Lady Pregnancy

I'm now 16 weeks along and there has not been one day that's gone by that I haven't felt SO GRATEFUL for this opportunity. Because I've waited so long to become a mother and because I have witnessed grief in the hearts of some of my very best and dearest loved ones who've struggled with infertility and miscarriage, it is impossible for me to take this opportunity for granted. I've cried many tears of grief for the hurt of those who long to be parents but have not yet been given the opportunity- it weighs heavy on my heart.  I honestly don't know why I've been given this opportunity and I don't know how this story will/could end, but I feel so incredibly thankful and grateful!

Sunday, September 22, 2019

A Love Story Part 5: Our Wedding

We've now arrived at the last of my 'love story' posts, OUR WEDDING!
If you'd like to start at the beginning of our story, start here with part one!

Before I share the details, you can watch our wedding video HERE!
I'm so very thankful that I decided to spend a little extra to have this video made as it's so incredibly special and brings us so much joy!

We started our wedding plans a month and a half before we were actually engaged. To many people, this may seem very untraditional, but we decided to make our own rules and do what was best for us! We knew we wanted to get married within the year and if we were to marry in Maine (which was really important to me), it just seemed logical to do it before I moved to Virginia. Neither of us envisioned a huge wedding on which we would spend a lot of money and with our short timeline that didn't seem to make sense logistically. We liked the intimacy of an elopement but also liked the idea of having some close friends and family with us to celebrate after, so we ending up doing a hybrid of both!

I had searched 'city hall elopement' in Google and ended up coming across some absolutely beautiful photos of weddings at Portland City Hall (the building is quite stunning inside and out). Portland is were I was born and I thought it would be fitting to marry here before I moved away to Virginia...a nice 'farewell to Maine' if you will. We decided we would get married just the two of us and then have a small group of family and friends meet us for dinner afterward. The perfect blend of intimacy and celebration.

But as is the case with all 'perfect' plans, there's usually something that goes awry and our wedding was no exception. A few months before our wedding day I called the city clerk to make sure they would be open the day after July 4th to which she assured me they would be. Then, four days BEFORE our wedding day, I got a notice that said the city manager had just decided to close on July 5th so we wouldn't be able to get married there after all. You can imagine my panic after receiving this news since our wedding was at the end of the week! Fortunately, after my mom contacted the city manager directly, he kindly offered to personally open up City Hall to us on our wedding day, which meant we ended up having the whole building to ourselves- a truly private ceremony!

We stayed at The Regency Hotel in Portland's Old Port section, which is centrally located between Portland City Hall and the ferry to Great Diamond Island. We checked in on July 4th and spent that evening with Farmer Man's parents and close friends who were able to make it up from Virginia for the wedding festivities. Lobster rolls and fireworks were on the agenda!

The next morning, our wedding day, we ordered breakfast and then I sent Farmer Man to a hang out with his buddies while I got ready. I hid in the bathroom while he popped back in to our room to put on his suit before heading outside to wait for me. We did a 'first look' in front of the hotel then walked together to city hall to say our vows.

Maine Elopement

City Hall Elopement Dress

After our exchanging our vows, we walked through the streets of the Portland Old Port down to the waterfront where our immediate family and some close friends were waiting. We all took a scenic ferry cruise of Casco Bay to Great Diamond Island where we had a lovely, intimate dinner in an old brick barn on the island. The space was gorgeous enough that I didn't really need to do much decorating, which was great. I did, however, make our 'just married' sign out of a thrift store frame, sewed some simple table runners, and purchased the white lanterns for the floral centerpieces from IKEA, which all went well with our coastal setting. The Maine coast is absolutely breathtaking, particularly in the summer, and we are so happy to have had this special island outing. 

Other Details
After watching lots of YouTube tutorials, I decided to do my own hair and makeup. I'm very particular and decided to trust myself (and practice SEVERAL times before the big day). A couple of my friends came to the hotel and helped me get ready, which was really helpful.

I found my dress for $120 from Lauren Bridal. The website doesn't have very good reviews and I didn't know if it would actually fit or be good quality but the price was great so I decided to take a chance and order the dress. It ended up fitting really well and was exactly what I imagined for a city hall elopement!

My shoes are Badgely Mischka via Amazon and are the prettiest shoes I've ever worn! They were also the most uncomfortable shoes I've ever worn but the look was totally worth the pain! At $123, they were the priciest part of my outfit but I have no regrets- so beautiful!

I was on the fence about wearing a veil with a short dress but ended up ordering a simple $25 style from Etsy. Luckily, one of the friends helping me get ready on the wedding day was really persistent in convincing me to wear it. It ended up completing my look perfectly and made the photos and videos that much more beautiful! My entire wedding day look cost less than $300, perfect for a budget-friendly, low key wedding.

Farmer Man wore a suit coat & pants from H&M, paired with a shirt, shoes, and a belt that he already owned. I purchased his tie from Amazon, which completed his look for under $120. He could pretty much wear anything and look handsome!

Wedding Venders/Sources
Floral Arrangements: CM Skerritt Designs
Photography: Molly & Victoria Co.
Videographer: Miles Drouin
Marriage Venue: Portland City Hall, Portland, Maine
Officiant: Janice Gardner of Hitch Maine
Reception Dinner: The Art Gallery at Diamond's Edge Restaurant, Great Diamond Island
Ferry: Casco Bay Lines
Wedding Whoopie Pies: The European Bakery (owned by one of my former teaching colleagues)
Invitations & Place Cards: Minted 

Following our wedding, we had a more casual "I Do BBQ" in both Maine and Virginia so we could invite and celebrate with a larger group of extended family and friends, both of which were really fun and relatively stress-free! Our wedding day was everything we hoped it would be, the intimacy of both our ceremony and dinner was very special and being able to celebrate with more family and friends after the fact only added to our happy memories.

Some have wondered if people were upset or offended because we got married without anyone at the ceremony and had a very limited guest list for the dinner reception. To that I would answer that the couple getting married should do what feels right to them and those who love them will understand and respect their choices, whatever they may be! Thank you for for reading our love story!