Sunday, May 27, 2018

Three Years


My little guy, my baby boy, my only son. Today is your third birthday. It's been three years since I last got to look at you, to hold you, and give you kisses. Three years since we got to meet you. Three years since we said goodbye to you.

These three years since you left us, I feel like I've lived another entirely different lifetime. I look back and sometimes am still in disbelief that this has been part of our life and our story. That we really endured the loss of our son, and it has truly changed every part of me. I spent time the other day going through your things and your pictures. I look at it all and it doesn't seem real. In those pictures, I look at myself and your Daddy, our tears and the pain stricken faces. I feel it all over again as if I was right back in that moment. It still hurts like hell and rips my heart apart, feeling the raw emotion as if it had just happened, all over again.

It's another year you've been gone and life has continued on. Life does that. It does continue on. Something I couldn't fathom three years ago when ours halted to a stop. Since that time, we've done quite a bit of growth and change. We've moved, we've switched jobs, we've gone on to welcome two babies. The healing your baby sisters have brought us is immeasurable, but my heart will always feel the void of my son who isn't here with us.

When times become difficult, I try to find you in ways to know you are watching over us. All month I've seen a blue jay in our yard perched on the fence or fluttering throughout the yard and the trees. One day there were three of them chasing each other around. Your magnolia tree has grown so much since it was planted a year ago, but the majority of growth has been throughout May. It started budding toward the end of April, but on Mother's Day the first bloom opened and it's been blooming ever since. A neighbor had a party and a blue balloon danced into our yard and just kind of hoovered a bit before it popped on its own. These are the little Hudson Hellos that I count on to get me through the hard days, and there have been a lot of hard days. Even this morning, as I fought back tears, the moment we turned on the car, our song came on the radio. Immediately I had peace and a warmth in my heart as Wagon Wheel played. 

I will always wonder what our life together would have brought. There were a number of little boys born around the time you were, and it was painful to see them for a long time, but now when I look at them and others, I try to picture you among them. They look so grown up and aren't babies anymore. I realize that I have no idea what my big boy would look like right now and that is a very sad thought for a Mommy to have. It takes my breath away to see another Hudson or hear the name called out by someone else, meant for someone else. I look at our family photos and miss the little boy who should be smiling with us, or proudly holding his sisters. I miss the mother/son relationship I hear is so special and the father/son bond I don't get to watch between you and your Daddy. I am sad for your sisters who don't get to have a big brother here with them to laugh with, learn from, and even to fight with. It is painful that your only boy cousin wanted another boy in the family but you were the only one he would get, and you are gone.

I think about the time I had with you in my arms. I think about all the things I wanted to try to remember, things I felt like I should tell you because I would never again have the chance to, and promises I made. One of those promises was that you would never be forgotten, and baby boy, I try to live by that promise every day. I try to live for you and create whatever I can in your name and continue to weave you into the fibers of our family. I want to make you proud.

Recently, I had allowed myself to go through everything we had collected for you. In preparation to find out if this third baby was a boy or a girl, I allowed myself to go there and prepare for a boy just in case. I washed everything and had them ready, but on April 2, we met our Hannah. Another sister you hand-picked just for us. Coming home, it was bittersweet because all of those things we had saved, they didn't serve a purpose anymore. We weren't going to have a living son to use them. Coping with that, I realized that it wasn't that I wanted Hannah to be a boy, I didn't. I loved that baby girl fiercely. I realized that the only boy I wanted was you, I wanted our first born. I used to think our hearts wouldn't be complete until we had a little boy, but we do have one and he awaits us in Heaven. As beautiful as it sounds, it still breaks my heart.

Today we took your sisters to the zoo. I thought maybe we'd have a wild and three themed party, so the zoo seemed like something we would do if you were here. Hadley loves animals right now and is learning the sounds they make. I felt like the two of you would be having the best time together, as baby Hannah slept. There were flowers on the church alter today in your memory. I even baked a cake for you! We wrote notes and will send them to Heaven on the three balloons that we will release at the park once your sisters wake up from nap time. We will visit you at your resting place and introduce you to Hannah - it will be the first time she'll be with us to visit. It was hard to get out of bed and have the celebratory spirit to do these things, because all I want to do is cry, but you deserve them, so my pain can wait. Next week we will celebrate you even more at your golf tournament event! We are very fortunate to have so many special friends who will join us in that.

I hope you know how badly you are missed and how much your family wishes you were here. Happy birthday, Hudson. We celebrate you always.



Saturday, March 31, 2018

Boy or Girl?

Final sonogram picture before delivery, who will you be little one?

Going through a pregnancy without knowing gender has been something that I've pleasantly surprised myself with the ability to do, but with it has come a lot of questions when it comes to gender. As a perpetual planner, this kind of goes against every fiber in my being. When receiving the question, my answer to that has been that I've wanted to legitimately be surprised, therefore, try to be confused without a strong intuition one way or the other, for several reasons. I will say that I've had gut feelings almost immediately with both Hudson and Hadley that have been accurate. It's hard not to, and though I tried to ignore it, I have had that this pregnancy too. Up until the 25 week mark, my Jiminy Cricket said boy. I was really trying not to have a feeling either way because that was defeating the purpose of not finding out. At our 25 week appointment, the 4D sono that we had showed the clearest view at that point of baby's little face. Baby looked just like Hadley so I started to have a hard time picturing anything but another girl. Since then, baby changes each time and it's hard to tell so I was left confused again and that's where I've tried to stay. In these final few weeks, emotions of what is coming have caught up to me and I've tried to allow myself the chance to process those a little bit before delivery.

When asked that question - you know, when people give you that look in conversation and are all like, yeah okay but what do you really hope to have, boy or girl? - honestly it makes me shudder a bit because the answer and the deep truth is simply:
A healthy baby.
A living baby.
A baby we get to take home with us.

That's all that matters and the gender just doesn't to me, but that's not to say that I don't have feelings about the gender and in this case I have feelings about both.

People have asked why I've been so vocal that this is the last baby and it's because after experiencing a stillbirth, going through a pregnancy again - any number of pregnancies that you are able - takes a lot out of you. Pregnancy in general does and I don't discount that at all. Whether you've experienced a loss or not, there are all kinds of issues that can arise that can make it difficult on a woman from a physical standpoint, maybe an emotional one for some. Pregnancy following loss is draining physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. It takes a toll on every aspect of your life and my third trimesters are where risk seems to lie. This third trimester has been a roller coaster in which every time I went in, I felt like there was something, or I had the anxiety that there would be something. We originally planned for three kids and we have that, just in a different way. It's a way that we are completely at peace with and after this baby, are looking forward to raising our family and enjoying these next stages of our family growing up.

However, because I know this is our last baby, that makes this pregnancy and delivery emotional in a different way than Hadley's was. We've been through the sudden loss of a baby at a gestational age that he was absolutely viable to live if we could have known there was an issue and intervened in time. We've been through fertility issues after that loss. We've been through two pregnancies following that, both up and down with emotions and health issues. In no way do I take being pregnant for granted, and I'm thankful for the gift of it each and every day, but that doesn't mean that it can't completely overwhelm you, exhaust you, and make you a headcase of a person. It's a delicate line to walk and even though this has been my most difficult pregnancy due to issues this third trimester, I'm thankful for it every day but I know it's not something I can or should do again.

As birth nears - two days away at this point - I've been thinking a lot about who this little one is and there are a lot of emotions that surround it. One of my promises in writing is to be transparent, so that's what you will get. As it stands at this very moment, I have very deep joys and fears for either gender. I've know that there will be immense relief and excitement regardless, but have also accepted that there will be grief either way. Let me explain.

Having another girl. It feels right. It feels easy, we've done this with Hadley, we have all the things (and clothes galore!). I didn't have a sister, so there's this excitement for Hadley and this new baby if it is a girl to have that close, sister relationship - especially with such a small age gap. On the flip side, there would be a grief that is inevitable to follow because at one point, I was all in as a boy mom. I couldn't wait, I couldn't wait to see my husband with his son. The mother/son activities I envisioned in our future that would just be dreams, not having the chance to dance with him at his wedding someday, and when friends say that little boys just love their mamas so much and not experiencing what they mean by that - especially when I had been so close to that before. Having another girl would be the final realization that the chance to have a son, to mother a son, died when Hudson did. That's part of the grief that comes with losing the baby boy I gave birth to but who didn't get to stay.

Having another boy. In a way, that feels right too. When I was pregnant with Hadley, before finding out gender, I remember fearing that I was going to have a hard time switching my mindset from boy to girl. I remember feeling like my heart wouldn't feel complete without having that living boy in our family. But she completely fulfilled us and I did not have a problem switching that mindset once it was our reality. That's where my grief was then and as I've said, it continues to evolve. That is why we didn't find out the gender this time. The other piece to it was that we had a honeymoon pinky promise that if we had one of each and were having a third, I'd feel prepared for the surprise at delivery, which Max would have wanted from the start. So there was that, but there was also this heavier need to not know, an underlying fear that if I knew we were having a boy, I would allow that to stress me more during an already stressful pregnancy. I would compare every little detail to my pregnancy with Hudson. I would obsess and worry more than I needed to in fear this little boy wouldn't come home with us either. So to keep our eyes on the prize of getting a healthy baby here, safe and sound, and try to alleviate stress, we thought this would be the best approach. I envision a very emotional reaction if when baby comes and the moment Max says "it's a...." and that answer is boy. I will be completely overwhelmed to hold our living son in my arms. However, I fear the grief that will come from it as we take him home and begin life together with our son. Sure we have experienced things we had missed as a family once we had a living baby, but to have a boy, then I feel like we would really know what we've missed these almost three years without Hudson. I even worry I'd call the baby Hudson by accident. If it is a boy, I want him to stand on his own and for my broken heart to not still be so broken that I feel weak trying to be his mother. At the same time, receiving Hadley into our lives was a beautiful kind of redeeming love from the devastating loss we had endured. If we were given the opportunity to have another son, it would be met with the same feelings, too.

It's a lot to process. It's a lot of deep feeling and emotion surrounding this baby and who they are. Each one of our babies holds a special place - Hudson as our angel, Hadley has our answered prayer, this baby as our great surprise. Regardless, of what April 2 holds and the big reveal of who this little one is, in my heart I know our family will be complete and I will remember that as I continue to process the immense joy and the inevitable grief.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Make a Meal: Skinny Meatloaf + Maple Whipped Sweet Potatoes + Parmesan Roasted Green Beans

On my previous cooking blog, I used to do Make a Meal Mondays, but then I decided not to limit to one day and would post a Make a Meal whenever I made a full meal worth sharing, rather than just a part of it. I found that oftentimes when I was searching for meal inspiration, I appreciated the full meal, not just an entree or a side, so that's what I wanted to provide when possible.

About a month ago, I thought I would finally jump on the band wagon of the InstaPot. We had given my parents one for Christmas two years ago and so I asked mom if I could borrow it to give it a test drive before we invested in our own. I was hesitant to use one because, and I've said this for years, I'm not a big fan of the crock pot. I used to use one all the time, and sure they can really help to make life easier, but call me super picky - there is a crock pot taste. I don't know how else to describe it, but though it make take me longer, I appreciate the taste and flavor from slow cooking in an iron pot than the crock pot. So I didn't know how I was going to feel about the InstaPot, but with another baby coming and our life with two under two getting closer, I thought now would be a good time to try it and see what kind of ease it could add to meal making and more so, the time of making food for our family.

Well, for anyone that follows my Instastories, you saw my first attempt with it was a bust. I had seen a meatloaf and mashed potatoes recipe that sounded like a great idea, but in my own experience, it just didn't turn out. I actually used my favorite go-to meatloaf recipe that I had found in a magazine years ago and continued to adapt into the way we liked it, but aside from that, I did everything this one told me to do for how to prepare it. In the end, the meatloaf was under-cooked, but the potatoes were burnt - and yes, I cooked with the proper amount of liquid it said to provide.

So I ended up finishing the meatloaf in the oven and scraping the burnt bits off the potatoes to still be able to make a tasty dinner. The experience did help me in realizing a few things:

  1. I really loved my meatloaf recipe and we hardly ever make it anymore. Needed to change that. 
  2. If I had made it my way to begin with, it would have only taken 10 minutes longer than using the Pot of Doom. 
  3. and probably most importantly.... I didn't have an InstaPot. I had a Cuisinart Pressure Cooker. They are not the same thing, contrary to what I had thought. They require different instructions for cooking things, InstaPot being faster than a Pressure Cooker. Who knew? Not I. My mom enlightened me. 

Here I was thinking that InstaPot and a Pressure Cooker were interchangeable. I thought it was like brands of paper towels. One may be Bounty, the other Brawny but they are the same thing. Or like in the Texas, we call every soft drink a "Coke" but it could be a Sprite, or Dr. Pepper. I thought InstaPot was just a brand of pressure cooker and they were all the same. So we can attribute that to my dinner-making mess up.

However, since then, I have tried a few other things in my pressure cooker not InstaPot, while trying to use the correct instructions for a pressure cooker and it's just still not really working out for me. I just can't seem to get the timing right for the recipes I try. I would rather do it the "long way" since that seems to work better for me.

Not all is lost, though. That incident did remind me how much we enjoy our meatloaf recipe and it was Hadley approved, so as I made our meal plan and grocery list on Sunday, it was first up in our menu for the week. As for the time and ease aspect of making it, I used to make this quick and easy in 30 minutes for Max and myself when it was just the two of us. Add in a 16 month old who wants to be held all the time right now, and that did throw a little kink to it, but between tempting her with her own "nom noms" and distracting her in the high chair with some BabyFirst TV screen time, this recipe was quick in prep and completely doable with a small human.

So what makes the meatloaf skinny? It may all be tomayto/tomahto but I sub out heavier ingredients for lighter versions. For instance, instead of using all beef, I use half lean ground beef and half ground turkey. I also use 2 egg whites, as opposed to 1 full egg, panko breadcrumbs rather than biscuits or chunks of bread, and skim milk as opposed to whole. One last tip is that while I do not mind onion, many do, but I don't love the crunch of chopped onion in my meatloaf. So, I grate my onion instead. This helps to enhance the flavor, it really permeates. I do this in sauces too!

Speaking of sauces, the last directive I leave you with for this recipe. I used to make a ketchup sauce that was just really tasty, it was a typical meatloaf ketchup glaze. However, we discovered this Bronco Bob's BBQ Bacon Chipotle Sauce last year during Central Market's Bacon Fest. It was life changing. I tried it on the meatloaf and it was incredible, taking the place of a traditional ketchup-based sauce glaze. If you need a sauce you can whip up real quick, click here for one but note that the ingredients for it are not included below.

For meatloaf

Yields 3-4 servings

  • 3/4 lb. lean ground sirloin
  • 3/4 lb. lean ground turkey
  • 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup fresh Parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup grated onion
  • 2 egg whites
  • 3 tbsp. skim milk
  • 2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp. garlic, minced
  • Lightly season with salt and pepper
  • Sauce (whatever you decide to use)
For Maple Whipped Sweet Potatoes
  • 3 medium sized sweet potatoes
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • Maple syrup
For Parmesan Roasted Green Beans 
To begin, set your oven to 400 degrees. 

Chop your sweet potatoes, place in a pot of water on the stove on medium-high heat to bring to a boil. As those cook, use your hands to combine your ground meats, breadcrumbs, parsley, onion, egg whites, milk, Worcestershire and garlic in a bowl. Mold the ingredients into a loaf, then place in a baking dish. I like to line my baking dish with foil for easy clean up and to prevent the sauce from burning onto the dish. 

Bake in the oven for 35 minutes, then remove and top with sauce. While meatloaf is cooking, prepare the green beans as according to the recipe link above. Place back in oven and cook another 10 minutes. At this time, you can also put your green beans in too. 

While the meatloaf bakes, tend to your sweet potatoes. Once they are easy to pierce with a fork, remove. I like to use my large food processor for a very whipped consistency, but you can use electric beaters or a potato masher as well. First add the butter in with the potato chunks to get that nice and soft from the heat. Next add the brown sugar, and finally I take the maple syrup and add about two circular squeezes, then begin to mix. If using electric beaters or a potato masher, you may need a little more liquid such as milk, but if using a food processor, your consistency will not need the excess liquid. Blend or mash until all chunks are gone and keep warm until ready to serve. 

Remove meatloaf from oven and make sure internal temperature has reached 160 degrees. Let sit for about 5 minutes before cutting. During that 5 minutes, add the Parmesan to the green beans and bake for a final 5. 

If you follow these steps, the timing should all match up perfectly to complete each part of dinner to be ready to serve at the same time. Plate and enjoy!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Faith Over Fear: Take Two

31 week sonogram on February 19

Just like that, we are well underway with our third, third trimester. Given that I've been pregnant during the busiest time of year for us, I knew it would feel quicker, but this has truly flown by. The third trimester represents such a simultaneous composition of excitement and preparation, but for me it is also coupled with an impending fear of the unknown and the memories of what has happened before.

I haven't done a lot of writing this pregnancy because when I write, I go to a place that can conjure a lot of emotion. It can bring on all kinds of thought trails that at this point in time, I don't want to go down. I was in a different point of my healing process when I was pregnant with Hadley. It was a time that I needed to go to that place because I was still working through so many facets of grief and the expression helped in the release of the build up of fear and stress. I need to share through writing because it helped me and in turn, it was helping others who were also walking the same path, or those who just wanted the insight to better understand. This pregnancy, I have tried to silence my fears and anxious voice. I've viewed myself as someone who embraces my grief, wasn't afraid of it. However, throughout this pregnancy, I have tried to ignore my grief - unsuccessfully. I haven't wanted to go to that place of emotion in an effort to control my stress and anxiety, but I don't feel that it has done me any favors because it very much exists, just as much as my first pregnancy after loss with Hadley.

I had actually started writing and readying a post that was what this experience has brought the second time around. What is the same, what is different. I was waiting to get through our 30 week appointment last Thursday to finish it out. Now, it's changed a bit to include what is going on with this baby right now and how it is impacting my second pregnancy after loss.

I think a common thought to most people is that once you have a living baby after a pregnancy after loss, you are "back to normal" and the fear that was once there is now gone, or that you are no longer at risk, subsequently meaning that another pregnancy is easier. To address that, yes - I guess you can say that I am one and one now. I've had a stillbirth and now a live birth. But - I've had a stillbirth, I've still had a baby who has died, so that will always overshadow the fact that I've had a healthy live birth. We will always err on the side of caution and that fear is still very much present. I am high risk, I am at-risk, and that hasn't changed.

One of my soul sisters - a friend who I've met because we are both mothers of loss - is also pregnant with her second baby after loss and we are due within a few weeks of one another. In a text recently as we updated on our current states, she gave the perfect example. She said that she tells people that this is like surviving a plane crash that happens at landing. You'd be terrified of every other flight you are on, and the anxiety of ever experiencing turbulence while on the flight. The stress doesn't ever go away, but you just find ways to cope with it.

I think because grief is evolving, I'm in another heart and head space than I was in that first pregnancy after loss with Hadley. I know more, I've seen more, I've experienced both, certain things still trigger, others don't.  This time I've faced a different set of triggers because there are a lot of similarities to life circumstances between this pregnancy and when I was pregnant with Hudson. They trigger those memories that take you back to the dark place. There's a trauma that exists and a fear that takes hold after you've experienced a loss like we have. That's "our" normal.

In my pregnancy with Hadley, I celebrated each week that I was still pregnant, I checked the box on each step and milestone. I had high anxiety, my pregnancy with her wasn't completely carefree, we had scares, every sono caused me to hold my breath until I saw or heard the heartbeat. I had to shut down the fear with faith, and that was my mantra faith over fear. Through it all, deep down I felt like she would be in our arms, living and breathing. She had to. We couldn't do this again. Faith over fear. That feeling drove the confidence in our medical team and in that end result of her getting here safe and sound.

Faith over fear. 

Now let's talk about this pregnancy.

This time the fear set in almost immediately for many reasons that I discussed in my first post about this baby. It wasn't until almost the 21 week mark, when I started feeling legit continuous fetal movements, that I felt much more at ease. To be honest, I was very at ease up until about three weeks ago. What changed? We entered the third trimester, we started getting closer to our week of loss mark (32/33 weeks), and movement has been stressing me out. This little one's patterns of movement have changed from when I first started feeling them and are not as continuous, but more so, they are different than Hudson's and Hadley's. This one moves mostly at night and in the morning, and if doing a kick count, I get to the 10 kicks within an hour at those times of the day. Yet during the day, more often than not, we are very quiet and still. So quiet and still that it has really freaked me out at times. Some days are an exception to that but most days the fear creeps in and I wonder if everything is okay. It quickly escalates past wonder and goes to action mode. I grab a little Dr. Pepper or a handful of chocolate covered almonds to try to get some movement started. Sometimes it will work, but a lot of times it doesn't. Truth be told, I've had a lot of sugar the past few weeks - and not out of craving this time but necessity in my mind for sanity, sugar actually gives me heartburn - just to get some movement going and feel like everything is fine. Until 29 weeks, I hadn't used my fetal heart monitor since 21 weeks, but now it is in my bag with me at work. One afternoon I raced home to use it because I had a Dr. Pepper to try to get some moves, and then an hour later a chocolate chip cookie but nothing had happened in two hours. So now, it comes to work with me, that's how in my head I've gotten, in case I just need to know now and can't wait to get home later. Waiting isn't an option when you've been through what we've been through.

Enter the mantra again.
Faith over fear. 

So, let's talk about our 30 week appointment last week on Thursday. Our appointments have been every 2-3 weeks since 16 weeks. By this time in our first pregnancy after loss, we had started going weekly, but I've been doing okay with the current set up. However, it had been a busy and stressful two weeks since my last appointment and on top of what's been going on in life in general, my anxiety has been building as we inch closer to the week of loss mark from Hudson. At that 30 week appointment, I had planned to go ahead and ask for us to start weekly appointments going forward if she didn't suggest it already. It was just getting to the point that I wanted to be monitored more closely and needed that weekly check in.

Last Thursday, I took my mom and grandmother to my appointment with me because Max was in New York for work. After the sonogram, we met with my doctor who shared that the blood pressure levels within the umbilical cord were elevated - just like Hadley's were at this exact point in my pregnancy with her. There is not a black and white, clear-cut reason for this. Just a lot of it could be's. It could be due to a compression, restriction, or some kind of stress on the cord. It could be due to cord placement and size. It could be an issue with the placenta and not pulling enough oxygen. It could be my stress levels, even though my blood pressure is fine. The latter is what my doctor had concluded with Hadley and what she leaned towards again with this baby.

They checked a few different places of the umbilical cord and the level they want to see is between a 2.75 and 3, the spots that were checked were all 3.75 and 3.9, which is enough of an elevation to warrant caution. We talked about stressors, the last two weeks there have been a lot going on - our dog having sudden surgery to remove cancerous tumors, construction project in our house, Hadley's been sick, I've been sick. As she told me that this was an issue again, I was strong, but I cried. My doctor said moderated bed rest until Monday and I'd come back on Monday, and we would now begin appointments twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays.

We left, I felt okay, everything turned out fine with Hadley when this happened, we were going to monitor twice a week and I know the drill. I know the plan. If it gets to a point where it is more risky for baby to stay in than to live on the outside, we would take baby then and there. Following the appointment, I had lunch with my mom and grandmother. I texted Max an update. However, leaving lunch, things weren't sitting right with me. I called my nurse and said that for peace of mind, I want to see the specialist at the hospital's Fetal Care Center like we did last time when this happened with Hadley. Because lack of movement has also been a heavy thought on my mind for two weeks now, in order to stay as stress free as possible, I'd like to have this additional layer of assurance using their advanced imaging to be positive there is no restriction in the cord causing this. They tried to get me in between patients but it wasn't happening, so I was sent home to rest and landed an appointment time on Friday at 1:30 PM. I know from last time that this is a gradual issue, it isn't over night. If there had been restriction or compression of any kind, baby's size would be impacted and there would be more signs, like fluid on the brain. These things were not present, I could wait 24 hours.

Max had come home from his work trip and was able to head to that appointment with me on Friday. The specialist was very thorough and we were able to conclude that there did not appear to be any pressure on the cord, it wasn't knotted, wrapped or a cause for distress. Levels had lowered from the day before but we still needed to watch them. We will focus on my rest and try to keep stress down as much as possible because that's the only answer I am given. She said we needed to monitor twice a week. She suggested we induce at 37 weeks this time. She was the same specialist who last time said that we could wait until 38 weeks. The fact that she is willing to go a week earlier this time had me a little off kilter. What wasn't I being told?

Faith over fear. 

The fact that the unthinkable happened to us once before and that anything can change in a matter of seconds is not at all lost on me. The previous trauma is always in the back of my mind, the fact that I've been down this road of having a seemingly perfect pregnancy only for the lightening to strike and have this teeny tiny percentage of a tragedy occur. When my mind is overcome with that, I have to remind myself the really unfortunate difference between then and now, as another way to calm myself.

With Hudson we had the first sonogram to confirm the pregnancy, we had another quick one at 14 weeks because my nurse had a spare machine and we were waiting for my doctor to return so she did it for fun as we waited, then we had the anatomy scan around 20 weeks. That was it. I wasn't high risk and 3 years ago, in my doctor's practice at least, for a normal pregnancy, it wasn't routine to have another sonogram if you didn't need it. Maybe I would have received another with a 3D/4D option if we had made it to the 34 week appointment and beyond, I don't know. But between 20 weeks and 33 weeks, a problem developed that wasn't seen at the 20 week anatomy scan, couldn't be traced through simple blood tests, belly measurements or listening to the heartbeat. I didn't have a fetal doppler at home to listen to his heartbeat to see if something wasn't right. I didn't get the attention we receive now where I get a 2D then a 3D/4D sono at each appointment and look at everything in immense detail. We didn't know the umbilical cord was a problem, but we would now. So in that, I have some peace but I'll never forget that anything can happen at anytime and because we've experienced it, you just feel more susceptible to it and it's always a tender point, sometimes a downright raw patch.

That is where this fear and stress derives from. But again, we channel faith over fear. 

Part of that is getting ready for a baby that you have faith will be here, even though the fear of what happened once is etched in your heart and mind. But even after the loss of Hudson, I didn't let that stop me from readying Hadley's nursery. His things were comforting and therapeutic for me to be around. In my heart, if something happened to her, I would still have this space that I could be close to her. By 22 weeks, we had the majority of her room ready and just finishing touches to complete until she arrived.

Compared to the other two pregnancies, I feel very far behind on getting ready for this little one's arrival. In some ways, we already have so much of what we need because we will be able to reuse a lot from Hadley. If it is a boy, I have things from our preparation for Hudson that I will use for this baby. Before last week's appointments, I conquered a little PTSD earlier in the week briefly mentioned above. At this point with Hudson, we were a few weeks into a large home renovation project, one that involved his room. In our new house, we needed to do a little reno project for this new baby's room and it was the sole reason for the work we are doing. Back then, we added a door to Hudson's room. Now we are removing doors and adding a wall in this baby's new room, taking it from an open office to a private space that better converts it into a bedroom. I've had some questions in my heart like, should we do this or just wait until the baby is here and safe in our arms? But trying to do a home construction project with a newborn and a toddler seemed like a terrible plan, so I put that fear on the shelf with my grief and we decided to get this done now. The fear was if something were to happen, that room would be very much a bedroom. I love the office the way it was, it had beautiful french doors that opened to the dining room. If we closed that off, turning it into a bedroom, it was now that baby's room. It would haunt me if this baby didn't come home. But, the estimated 2-3 day project took 1 day. It's done and we concentrate on moving forward and the optimism and happiness  to bring this baby home to his/her own space. I see it all in my mind and it helps my fears to begin preparing it.

We started the nursery this past weekend. I stuck to my orders of rest and monitored as Max built the crib and Hadley tried to "assist". Monday's appointment went well and levels had dropped back in the range we want them in, just like with Hadley's. Sunday marked 31 weeks. Next Sunday will be 32 weeks and that is a very emotional place in a pregnancy for me to be. That was the last week I was pregnant with my first baby. Reaching it brings sadness, brings the memories of tragedy, bring the fear that you are trying so hard to overcome with faith. I'll take it gladly and be thankful every single second of it, even through the challenging times that pregnancy after loss brings but I'll tell you it is defeating. It is defeating to not have answers for this cord issue that has happened with Hadley and now this baby. It's defeating that there's something your body is doing or not doing that creates risk or warrants caution for your baby. It's defeating that it is happening in a space that is supposed to nurture, grow and protect but for me, I worry my body will fail me. I worry it can betray me again and harm my baby. I want reasons but there aren't any they can give me that are a sure thing, so what's left?

Faith over fear. 

And that's what we hold onto to get this baby in our arms safe and sound.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Sweet & Sour Chicken Fried Rice

There's something about the new year that makes us crave Asian comfort food. We've loaded up on all the traditional holiday food so we want something totally different. Or maybe we are just looking for a different kind of carb and sodium source, who knows? On this night in particular, what we really wanted was our favorite soup dumplings but that's just not something I can make, and they were too far away to go get. However, we had the contents to combine two of our other favorite dishes, a fried rice and a sweet and sour chicken, which created a tasty little hybrid. 

I usually like to make my own sauces for a number of reasons. You know exactly what's going into them, you can make them to taste, and it allows for some flexibility and creativity. However, if you have a jarred sauce already, there's the convenience factor that sometimes cannot be beat. I had planned to do a sweet and sour chicken recipe coming up and grabbed a jarred sweet and sour sauce on a recent grocery run thinking that perhaps this would come in handy rather than making my own - and so it did. It also helped to have pre-chopped onions and chopped carrot sticks that Max had done for his daily snacks. From a prep standpoint, I just had to chop the carrots a bit smaller and the bell pepper, which were easy to do as the chicken was cooking.

You will only have 1 pan to clean afterwards and it takes just 5 simple steps to make. With the time saving helpers of pre-chopped veggies and jarred sauce, this meal took maybe 20 minutes to whip up and it definitely hit the spot with our family - even our pickiest eater, Hadley. If you want to turn up the heat and don't have small tot taste buds to consider, adding in some red pepper flakes or Sriracha would be a fun way to give it some heat!

Yields 5-6 servings

  • 1 lb. chicken tenders, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 6-8 oz. sweet and sour sauce (I used this brand) 
  • 1 cup onions, diced
  • 1 cup carrots, diced
  • 1/2 -3/4 cup edamame, deshelled (okay to use frozen, they cook quickly in the pan!)
  • 2 eggs, lightly scrambled
  • 1 microwavable Garlic Quinoa/Brown Rice blend (we use this one, add a second if you like your dish to be heavy on the quinoa/rice)
  • Tamari or Soy Sauce to taste
1. In a large chef's pan, cook your chicken on medium high heat, doused in the Sweet and Sour sauce. When no longer pink, about 8-10 minutes, move chicken and scrape leftover sauce from the pan to a plate and set aside. 

2. With some remnants of sauce left in the pan, add your onions and carrots. Once onions are translucent, add the red bell pepper and the edamame. Once all veggies are soft, move to the plate with chicken. 

3. Now add your eggs to the pan surface and scramble until cooked to your liking. 

4. While your eggs scramble, cook your quinoa/brown rice package according to directions (90 seconds in the microwave) then set aside. 

5. When eggs are done, add the garlic quinoa/brown rice blend to the pan with the scrambled eggs and then give it some flavor with the Tamari (a gluten free, low sodium version of soy sauce) or Soy Sauce. Next add your veggies back in, followed by the sweet and sour chicken chunks. Mix it all together and you have yourself dinner ready to plate. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Beef Bourguignon

I don't know about you but this December has been full of all things congestion, respiratory ailments and fever. After traveling for the holidays, our family came back a little more under the weather and in serious need of a home-cooked comfort meal. I have had a go-to pot roast recipe I rarely deviate from but decided to change it up and finally try a beef bourguignon.

I'll tell you, I thought I was saving this recipe for a nice dinner or a hosting opportunity. There's something about the name alone that just sounds all Frenchy and fancy. But when thinking of something to make and feed our family, it felt like a perfect sick-day-feel-better-pajamas-on-the-couch meal too, so it can go either way, dressed up or dressed very down! I look for dishes that are robust with flavor and this did not disappoint. It is important to reduce the wine to the point where it is syrupy, then slowly add in the other ingredients for the sauce, a little at a time, continuing to reduce, so that the flavors are very poignant in taste.

I followed this recipe as a baseline, but also took my own liberties. For example, I don't do mushrooms. Someone once looked at me and said how can you call yourself a foodie if you don't eat one of the most delectable flavors there is? Well, I have tried, it's not for me, and I get by. I just hate the texture of them and can't do it. They are a umami, so I know the flavor elevates a dish. I've cooked with them before if it's an easy discard but this wouldn't be that. I decided to use onions instead because that is my "umami". Instead of full on soy sauce, I did part soy, part Worcestershire for more diverse flavor. Finally, I used butter to give it that final kick of dimension for rich, velvety goodness.

I also like to shred my meat rather than cook it cubed. I feel like it is more tender and flavorful that way. However, this method can also soak up more of the juices or sauce which depletes from the final result when time to serve. Making this for the first time, I used potatoes in the cooking process and the amount of sauce in the pan worked well. If I were to omit the potatoes when cooking and save them for a cauliflower/potato mash or polenta, I would have wanted this to have a bit more sauce to it. If you plan to serve over a starch, I would go heavier on the liquids by about 1/4 a cup each so you have plenty of sauce to serve with your dish.

I use a dutch oven when "slow cooking" because the flavor to me is better, but many prefer to use the crock pot. For crock pot instructions, refer to the linked recipe above, but come back here for step-by-step cooking directions.

Yields 6 servings
Prep time: 30 min
Cook time: 2 hours

  • 5 slices of bacon
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 lb. beef chuck roast, cut into large sections (about 5 for that size)
  • 1 cup red wine (I used a Pinot Noir which is a Burgundy and perfect for this dish) 
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 5 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 tbsp. thyme
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped
  • 1 cup baby potatoes, chopped (I used smaller pearled potatoes and cut them in fourths)
  • 1/2 onion, chopped in larger chunks
  • fresh parsley for garnish
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. On medium-low heat, add the bacon to the pot and allow to crisp. As it does, it will create a nice pot of grease for you to use in the next step! While bacon cooks, season beef with salt and pepper. When bacon is crisp, remove and discard. 

Next, turn up the heat to medium-high and add your sections of beef to the pot to sear in the bacon grease, about 1-2 minutes per side. This locks in the flavor and will make your beef even more tender. Once all is seared, remove beef to a plate and set aside. 

Next, add in the wine and turn up to simmer to allow the wine to reduce. Scrape the brown bits from the sides of the pan from the bacon and the beef. Reduce by about half and it should look a little syrupy, then add in the beef stock about 1/2 cup at a time, keeping the heat high. Next add in the tomato sauce, then soy sauce, followed by the Worcestershire. Let this all simmer together for about 5 minutes, then stir in the butter until melted. Final step for the sauce is to thicken it with the flour. Turn down the heat to medium and add the flour, about a tbsp at a time, and whisk constantly until all combined without lumps. 

Add the beef back in and settle around the pan, then add the garlic, carrots, potatoes, onion and finally the thyme. Give it all a big stir, put the lid on and place in the oven for 2 hours. 

When the timer goes off, remove from the oven and using tongs, remove the meat to shred on a plate, discarding any additional fat, then adding meat back into the pot. You can allow this to sit on the stove over low heat until ready to serve! 

For a bonus recipe, make this super easy and delicious roasted parmesan green beans side from Skinnytaste to pair with your Beef Bourguignon. 

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Darkness of Grief at the Holidays

In those first six months after Hudson died, the darkness had a way of always winning in most circumstances. It was harder trying to fight it than just succumbing to it and letting the sadness take hold. There were times it would come out of nowhere, and other times you could feel it, as if it were under your skin, boiling and waiting to erupt at the right time. The darkness would set in when I was alone with my thoughts, like in the car, the shower, and at night as I tried to drift to sleep.

The darkness would differ. Sometimes it would be flashbacks to the hospital, moments that were really painful and ones that I never did write about or talk about. Like the elevator ride from Labor and Delivery to the anti-partum floor. They wheeled Hudson and me through the service elevators for an attempt at privacy, yet another doctor happened to hop on as the elevator was closing and I sat there in my wheelchair holding Hudson, trying to shield him from view. The doctor was on his phone and without looking at us, simply said congratulations, beautiful baby. Nurse Katie was horrified that it happened, the look on her face scanning mine to see my reaction, let me know that. I stared at the back of that doctor’s head until they got off the elevator with a mix of horror and hatred. Or how from the moment Hudson left our arms for the last time, I could hear a baby crying constantly from down the way as we waited in that room to be discharged and go home. Little details like that would surface and replay over and over in my mind. It would also surface as recollections of emotional breakdowns I would have from triggers resulting from his passing. It would be thoughts of what would our life be like right now if he were here? These are the ways the darkness would seep in.

The darkness has a way of inserting itself when it isn’t welcome or wanted. No matter the amount of self care or proactive work you may be doing to keep it away while trying to stay happy and thankful for the blessings in your life. It just shows up sometimes and refuses to leave. 

The darkness is cruel. It has a way of distorting your feelings of sadness into anger, which can then become jealousy, and then bitterness, and back to sadness. It can make you see a situation differently far later on and become newly emotional, changing your perspective when it’s something you thought you had worked through.

The darkness still finds me. The opportunities for it to find me are fewer and farther between than they used to be to allow it to creep in and settle, but every now and then, it takes hold. Last night I couldn’t fall asleep and I was thinking about the new baby wiggling away. I flashed back to specific times I remember Hudson moving and then I became so consumed with thoughts of him and fears of something happening to this baby. Though we had just had a wonderful appointment with no flags raised. Yet there were these intense moments of my pain, and realizing I was still in a lot of pain that I’ve hidden away until it needed to come out.

For families of loss who do have a living child, either born before or after their loss, there seems to be a common misconception from the outside world of non-grievers that that living child fills the void the non-living child/children has left, or because the parents have them, it makes things better and their grief has passed. Just like putting a time frame on grief, that’s simply incorrect. Having Hadley helps the grief, but she is not "a cure" for it. She is one member of our family, just like the new baby is, but we have a child that will always be missing. If you have children, I ask you to imagine the holidays without one of them. What if your first baby was born, but you never got to take them home with you? What if one of your children was gone from your life altogether? A piece of you would be too, regardless of the others you do have. 

Our first Christmas as bereaved parents, I was living in the darkness and the week of Christmas, I remember carolers coming to our door. I believe it was the neighborhood early childhood PTA group and as they would arrive to your house, you were to join in and follow for this big group of holiday cheer door to door. Something my non-grieving self would have jumped at the chance to do! I was watching TV and cuddling George on the couch, Max was outside working in the garage. They knocked on the door and then the chorus started with We Wish You a Merry Christmas. I sat there frozen on my couch and was torn between wishing I felt up to opening the door to enjoy and then wishing they would leave. I couldn't get up and open that door because the tears were falling and I wanted to tell them there was nothing to be merry about this Christmas, my baby was dead and I didn't know when we would be blessed to have a living child. I thought if Hudson were there, how fun to stand on the big porch together, bouncing him on my hip as we sang along, and then put him in the carrier to go caroling as a family with the group. They kept singing and went onto song two which was Silent Night, a Christmas song that was now very hard for me. The windows in our front door made it impossible to get up and walk out of the room without being seen, so I just laid there crying until they moved onto the next house and I could move to the back of the house to not hear the echos of the carols on the street.

Two days later we left on a trip to escape Christmas and the pain of not having Hudson by making Christmas completely different than what we traditionally do. Instead of the normal routine we knew and the pain of his glaring absence from it, we traveled just the two of us to Quebec, only to end up lost in a cemetery on Mont Royal and our escape down the side of the “mountain” to civilization again. A dark-humored account I shared in this post.

Last year I had compartmentalized my grief and was really caught up in life transitioning from newborn to infant craziness. I had little time alone and was soaking up the joy that she brought, I did a pretty good job of ignoring the darkness and pain that was looming. Finally, on Christmas Eve, I was tired of staving it off and as I held my two-month-old in a room lit by only our Christmas tree, I was overcome by grief wishing for our family to be in its entirety, with Hudson there too.

This year the darkness snuck in and on Tuesday, December 5, I had an emotional meltdown in the aisle at Target at 12:53 PM.

I was there to pick out the Christmas gift for an underprivileged child who we were assigned through a community organization that is important to me. They have an annual toy drive and after preparing my heart for it since last Christmas, I was ready to do it in Hudson’s honor and be assigned a boy his age. I had a few other things to get at the store so I let that distract me from the true reason I was there as I moved about the aisles, checking things off my mental list. Then came time to grab that last item, the toy. I could have Amazon Primed the gift to our house, but that was taking the easy way out. I wanted to pick it out, it needed to be personally chosen for this child. This little boy’s description said he loved music and toys that would light up. He wanted a Leap Frog Music Beats Activity Table. I told myself, okay, we have one of those at home, I can do this because I wouldn’t be picking that toy out for Hudson right now. We got one for Hadley at nine months, so surely, this is something we would have already had for a long time if Hudson were here.

But Target didn’t have it. They were all out of those tables. I stood in the aisle and felt the darkness rising in the form of panic as I tried to think through what to do. I had to get a toy that day because we were headed out of town and there was a deadline to get it to them in order for his wish to be fulfilled by the volunteers at the toy drive warehouse, this was the only time I had to do it before we left. I wanted to pick this out for him, he deserved that personal touch chosen with love, I needed to pick something out for him because I couldn’t personally pick out anything special for my son at Christmas. I had this little boy I could bring joy to, one I could give to, because I didn’t have my own son to do it for. These thoughts continued as I looked around the aisle, scanning it to triple check I hadn’t overlooked the item listed on that card. He likes anything that plays music and lights up, the wish list said, offering additional hints for other gifts if the donor preferred or needed other options. I had readied myself to come pick out that specific item, and my heart was in a place to do just that, but now that item wasn’t there and I was surrounded by other toys asking, what else would this 2.5 year old boy want? Well I don’t know, my 2.5 year old isn’t here. I should have one here and I should know what else I could pick out. I stood there trying to stop the tears or to at least silent cry but unable to hold back as the darkness won.

A man in a Target red shirt tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if he could help me find something. I turned around and by the look on his face when I did, I knew it was apparent I was ugly crying. His face changed and just said softly, how can I help you ma’am? I told him I needed to find something special for a little boy who is two and a half, and I can’t find this item that he wanted, so I don’t know what to get instead. I was embarrassed and judging by his reaction to me, I knew I was visibly shaken. I wanted to explain myself but I didn’t want to say anything more at the same time. I wanted to crawl in a hole for standing in that store in the toy aisle, red and blotchy with tears down my face. I didn’t want to cry in public, I hate crying in public. I was frustrated and mad at myself because I wanted to be stronger, I should be stronger. I wanted to feel at peace with this for doing this in Hudson's memory. I wanted to feel warmth and comfort in my heart knowing what it would mean to this little boy who was in foster care to feel loved and receive something special, just for him. Yet, grief wasn’t allowing that in the moment. Now there were more people shopping the aisle and I wanted to give up and go but I felt trapped.

I held out my paper, to which he took and examined, then told me to follow him. We went four aisles down and he apologized things were out of order, they were in process of unpacking new shipments as the store was going through a remodel and they were expanding the section for the holidays. They didn’t have the Leap Frog, but this was a new Fisher Price display on an aisle that was transitioning from sporting equipment to more toys. We found a similar activity table and he handed it to me. I choked out a thank you and again tried to stop the hot tears. He wished me a happy holidays and said he hopes the gift makes the little boy very happy.

I did the self-checkout and got to my car. My car, a place that was like my sanctuary for emotion and release for a very long time after our loss. It’s where the darkness found me through a song on the radio or sudden thought that would sneak into my head. I sat in my car and gave the darkness the power again. I needed to because finishing that emotional release would allow me to get back to the normal so I could go back to work and finish my day as if nothing was wrong. Maybe I wasn’t ready to do this yet like I thought. Or maybe it will be this difficult but evolving each time, as I always wonder what my son would want/need for Christmas that year. But it was a start to something I have wanted to do to honor Hudson even though it was met with more grief than anticipated.  

With Christmas a few days away, the darkness has continued to try to creep in however it can as I carry one baby, raise another, and still long for our first. It will be our third Christmas without our son and each year is proving to be a new kind of difficult. In addition to the Target meltdown, last week we had a Christmas program for Hadley’s school. I had worked with some other parents to get the Potluck lunch organized for families of the school and wanted to be there for the whole thing, though Hadley's class was too young to really perform in it or take part in the lunch. As each age group came up to do their thing, I had to excuse myself due to the inability to calm the emotions from watching the 2 year old classes perform. The thoughts whirling around wondering would Hudson be like the kid in the red sweater hugging his teacher and crying through the whole performance? Would he be like the one on the end jumping around? Would he be like the curly head one shouting the lyrics and giving the audience big smiles? Then there was the program title, Because of a Baby Boy. I find that to be a very emotional part of the holiday for me, the various references to the baby boy. Finally, there was our sweet little girl brought in with her class dressed as an angel, to my surprise. 

The darkness will continue to seep through at times the heart is vulnerable throughout the year. It will infiltrate the holiday cheer, and weigh heavily because someone who is incredibly loved is terribly missed. No amount of other children or distraction will take the place of that. As I organize our home office containing Christmas gifts, I can’t help but picture what is missing. I see that toy aisle from Target in my mind as I scanned it for other 2.5 year old gift options and wonder what I would have grabbed for Hudson, what I'd be wrapping up or building out with Max for Christmas morning for him. I still can’t listen to Silent Night. If it comes on in the car, I change it immediately. I anticipate excusing myself early at the Christmas Eve service on Sunday because it is always the last song sung. This year we will travel on Christmas to visit family. A Christmas we haven’t done since we announced our pregnancy with Hudson. I anticipate the darkness, because that memory is still a hard one, but at least I expect it. So maybe I can prepare mentally for it. Maybe it will just find me in the quiet moments alone to myself. Maybe I need that.

For those struggling this holiday due to loss in your life - however distant or recent it took place - know that you are not alone in that. It is my hope that the magic of Christmas can outweigh or at least counterbalance the darkness that may arise, the pain that will be present in your hearts. Here's to finding tidings of comfort and joy through the darkness in a world full of light.