Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanks in a time of Grieving

Last night, our little family sat on the couch. Tired after a long day/night, we enjoyed the quiet moments together. George was nuzzled between us, Hadley was asleep on my shoulder post-feeding. Max and I were trying to figure out the best way to move her into her Dock a Tot without waking her up. Suddenly his face lit up and he mouthed "she's smiling!" Then a series of coos and squeaks began. In those moments of sheer joy, memories flooded back of last year at this time. I was in such a dark place. I was grasping frantically for something to fill the void, but was missing it altogether. I wanted our Hudson so very badly, a life with him was all I could think about. I was lost, deeply sad at all times, and very broken. A year ago I didn't see hope. I didn't see happy again. I was just submerged in the sadness. I felt so isolated and alone most of the time. I can only imagine how hard I was to be around because I started to give up on camouflaging it with others. I had found my rock bottom of grief at this exact time last year.

Last night I had this precious baby girl on my chest with her sweet noises and sleep smiles. All of it filled me with emotion and I cried. Max thought I was tired and exhausted, he hugged me and told me to go get some sleep, he was going to take night duty. I looked at him and just said that I was emotional because of where I was a year ago, depressed and so unhappy, but now here we are, with her. Last year I struggled to find thankful, to be grateful. I found thanks that Hudson was ours, though not the way that we would have wanted, because we were without him. This year I'm not emotional because of what feels empty, I'm emotional because how full we feel. I have become accustomed to the piece of us that despite the fullness, feels like there is someone who will always be missing.

Last week the One Wing Foundation held its final fundraising event of the year, our Wine & Dine dinner. At that event, we had a representative from the Grief and Loss Center of North Texas speak. She did a beautiful job presenting on a difficult topic, grief. One thing that struck me is that the most common misinterpretation of grief is that the first year and its milestones are the hardest. As a grieving person, I knew we would grieve Hudson as long as we lived but I didn't think that it could be more difficult outside of that first year. What she's found is that the second year can be just as if not even more difficult. It hit me hard because for us, our second year has not been more difficult. As we prepared for Hadley, of course there were intense emotions and a wish that we would be introducing him to his little sister, however, we've found a healing and peace in this second year without our son. I know that's because of Hadley and what she has not only restored to our life but also the new pieces of life she's brought us. Not everyone has that. However, what I take from her talk was that people - both grievers and non-grievers alike - underestimate grief as a whole. We had a very hard first year but grief is never ending. It will be difficult at different times, for different people. Though this second year hasn't been as hard or harder for us, for others it very much may be. Though we aren't experiencing it right now, that doesn't mean we won't as time goes on. The grief is always looming and it may become more difficult at another time. When I went to bed last night, I was thinking about this and I found myself crying for Hudson and my wish to have both my son and daughter here with us this holiday season, a time of year that is centered around family. The looming grief found a vulnerable time to invade my heart and mind.

This morning as I was having time with Hadley, I thought about how two years ago we were pregnant with Hudson and we were trying to hide it from family on Thanksgiving. Next week when I go in to see my doctor for my six week check up, I thought how it will be the same week we went in for our first sonogram with him. We will celebrate our four year anniversary weekend this year by baptizing our sweet baby girl, when last year we were mourning not having our baby boy with us. I feel there are so many things that have come full circle throughout the last two years.

I had a conversation via text yesterday with a friend who is in a season of grief herself. We were discussing this holiday season and went back and forth about the platitudes offered and how most people cannot simply exist with another person in their grief. It is our nature to try to fix when most of the time, a grieving person wants someone to justify their feelings or have someone to just sit with them in it. We live in a grief illiterate society, but people do mean well and there are ways to "help fix" that are better than others.

This holiday season, you may know people in your life experiencing a Thanksgrieving or a Blue Christmas. If they have lost someone close to them whether it's been a few months or a few years, the holidays will be difficult. I challenge you that if you do have someone close to you in a season of grief, let them know you are there. Don't tell them things will get better, don't tell them anything that equates to what has happened is God's will or everything happens for a reason. Justify where they are with their emotions instead. Tell them this sucks. Tell them you hurt with them. Say their loved ones name. Share a memory of their loved one with them. Sit with them in their grief. It makes them feel like they are understood and someone else recognizes their pain. This can be more uplifting than any platitude or well wish.

As you prepare to send your holiday cards, if you know someone who has lost a loved one in the past year or seem very raw in their grief, don't send them the card everyone else will receive of your beaming family. It intensifies their pain and is like a fluorescent blinking arrow of what is missing in their life: a husband, a wife, a child, a mother, a father, a brother, a sister. Instead, when you are at the store, pick up a thinking of you card and send that instead. It's heartfelt, it's personal to them, it is so appreciated. For those who may be more removed from grief, that may not be necessary but I would definitely stay away from it if you can sense they pain is raw.

For the grieving family members, find a way to incorporate the loved one's memory into your holiday traditions. Maybe it is a stocking with their name, a family tree ornament representative of them in some way, a tradition surrounding the one who isn't there, or setting a place at the table to show they aren't forgotten. Maybe talk to those grieving hard - if they are parents of loss, a sibling of loss, a child of loss or spouse of loss - to ask them how they would like their loved one's memory portrayed in the family celebrations so you can know what they need.

To those grieving, create a plan for your holiday season. Know that you are not alone. Know that though it's hard sometimes, there is thanks and giving to be found and that there can be joy amidst pain. Do what you need to do to make it through this next month of watching the world go on around you when yours may feel halted. Practice self-care and whatever that means for you right now, during this season of grief.

For us personally, we needed different. Last year we had to host Thanksgiving to keep ourselves busy. It needed to be a different setting than what we did each year because I had already envisioned that setting with our son and it was too hard to do it without him. We needed a change up. Christmas was especially difficult, it was the time we had told our families the year before that we were expecting. Those memories were too glaring and the pain without him was too raw. I couldn't be around expecting family members while we were struggling to get pregnant after experiencing the death of our baby. It was too hard to be around other parents experiencing Christmas with their little ones. So we escaped. Travel is something that is special to us, it connects us on a deeper level being able to see and experience new things together. My husband needed snow because that represented the holidays to him, so we chose a Winter Wonderland in Montreal and Quebec City. It was what we needed to get through not having our son for Christmas.

We've all heard of the 5 love languages and you may or may not know your personal language style of giving and receiving love. If you don't, try this. Here are some ideas of ways to express that based on your personal love language.

  • If your love language is through gifts, send them a thoughtful way to include their loved one in the holiday, like an ornament for their tree. Last year it meant so much to me to receive ornaments in Hudson's memory. Our Christmas tree tells our family story and now Hudson was able to be included in that. Etsy makes some wonderful remembrance ornaments, Pier One has these beautiful angel wings, LaurelBox makes these ornaments for grieving loss. If they do not celebrate Christmas or you would like to do something else meaningful, consider a donation in memory of their loved one to an organization that may mean something special to them. That simple gift helps a grieving person feel like their loved one lives on or has left a legacy, no matter how big or small.  
  • If your love language is through words, send them a text, an email, a card or call them. When people are deep in grief, many times they do not want to talk on the phone, but they will appreciate your attempt even if they don't answer or return the call. A text or email may illicit a response they are more comfortable with, but if they don't respond, know they are grateful to hear from you. You can say you wish (loved one's name) was here with them, too. You can simply say you wish them comfort today. It doesn't have to be profound or a novel. Sometimes the more simple the better. 
  • If your love language is through service, take them a meal, mow their lawn, offer to help them around the house, or grab them some essentials from the grocery store just because you were thinking about them. Many times, help is offered but a grieving person may not be able to or know how to accept help. Sometimes you just need to show up and do it, or proactively stay on top of them to say today I'm coming over to do x, y or z. 
  • If your love language is through time, like with service, stay on top of them and arrange time to spend together. Offer to take them to visit the resting place of their loved one with them, to go on a walk or another fitness activity they may be too inhibited by grief to try to do on their own, go to coffee or lunch, or have a movie marathon at their home. 
  • If your love language is through touch, never underestimate the power of a hug. 

As a grieving person, you can also use the 5 love languages to express your grief in a way that honors your loved one.

  • If your love language is through gifts, if your heart is ready, adopt an Angel from an Angel Tree who would be the same age as your loved one or hold a baking day with friends or family and take those baked goods to people as a gift. Last year I found a snowflake poem that made me think of Hudson. I found snowflake ornaments and gave those to others in Hudson's memory. This year we will adopt a 1 year old boy from the Angel Tree and as a family, we will honor Hudson by giving another little boy a special Christmas in Hudson's name.
  • If your love language is through words, use writing as a form of expression. Write them a letter, story or narrative. You can scrapbook special things that makes you think of them. Connect with others on your path and go to coffee with them to talk about how you are feeling or text them when hurting most. I found myself writing and meeting with other loss moms a lot during the holidays last year and it was a great band aid for my heart to use my writing and conversation to help heal. 
  • If your love language is through service, use a volunteer opportunity to serve those in need at a food kitchen on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Create bags of food for families who can't afford to feed the mouths around the table. Organize toys at a local hospital or shelter for kids who don't have anything can bring healing to your heart. Maybe it is connecting with others walking your path through a support group care package or ornament exchange. 
  • If your love language is through timesurround yourself with family or special friends who make you happy. Plan out activities to fill your time when you think you may be sad. Spend time at a nursing home talking with someone who may not have anyone to visit them. 
  • If your love language is through touch, don't be afraid to ask for a hug or someone to hold your hand when you need it. Another way to fulfill that is to go to an animal shelter and cuddle those animals who don't have owners to love them yet. 
Most importantly, know that you are not alone. Know there is a community ready to embrace you if you are in need. Seek out your tribe and find the support you need to get through this difficult season. If you can't make a list of what you are thankful for this year, that's okay. Maybe you can find thankfulness it in the one you wish were here. A thanks that you had them at all, even if just for a little while. Sending you love, comfort and peace during this season. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Chronicles of Parenting a Living Child After Loss, Edition I

The moment she was placed in my arms, everything changed.

My comparisons from this time and last time ceased once I heard her cries. At that moment, it was a new and different experience. There was a lot of strength and optimism from the time we entered the hospital around 3:00 PM on Friday, October 14. That optimism continued on into the evening and through the hours of the early morning of October 15, but throughout it all there was still a tiny bit of insurmountable fear in the back of my mind. That fear took over during delivery and at one point I remember thinking that she's been in the birth canal too long (she hadn't at all) and I ignored nurse Shirley's half-push prompts because I felt like I needed to push harder to just get her out already, something could still happen (it didn't). The feeling of sweet relief and sheer joy spread throughout us once she was in our arms, safe and sound.

However, her birth story didn't tell the side of grief that was experienced once she arrived. About two hours after she was born, it was noticed that the little noises she was making wasn't her learning to cry and make sounds. It was termed grunting, which indicated that she was having trouble pulling oxygen into her lungs. She was taken from us and they were able to remove the excess amniotic fluid. As mentioned in her birth story, it was a busy night for Labor and Delivery. When it came time to move us to postpartum floor, there were not any rooms available. We were temporarily placed in a room on the antepartum floor - which is where we were taken following our delivery with Hudson until we were ready to go home. These rooms are primarily used for women who are pregnant and need to be hospitalized. Now we were back in the same kind of room we were in when we said goodbye to our son, which took me right back to last time.

Shortly after settling into this tiny temporary room, we realized she was still grunting. The nurse came in and Hadley was taken from us again. It hit me so hard to be back in that room, watching a stranger take my baby from me and wheel them away, door closing behind them. In the back of my mind I knew she was coming back, I knew it wasn't goodbye, I knew it wasn't like last time but in that moment the emotions and my grief got the best of me. This is where my personal version of post traumatic stress started.

About an hour later, the nurse and pediatrician came to see us. They told us that the grunting was still persisting and that we had a few options. They said it could be that there is just a little bit of fluid in there and it would resolve itself within a few hours, it could be pneumonia or another infection, it could be some kind of internal problem that they will need to start running tests for. She recommended that we wait a few hours and keep her in the NICU for observation to see how she does and then if it isn't getting better, we would do x-rays of her chest and start running tests. Now that we had this long awaited child, I hated having to be apart from her. 

We tried to sleep and get some rest as we waited, but my heart was overwhelmed. A few hours later, we were led to the NICU nursery to see her and to work with a lactation consultant. They said she had a posterior tongue tie and that it would be challenging for her to adequately latch, so we also learned how to syringe feed. The pediatrician came by and checked her over again, saying she was doing great and her lungs just needed a little time but that the grunting had stopped so they let her come back to our room with us and to work on obtaining a good latch to nurse her.

By 4:30 PM we were finally moved and settled into a postpartum room, now in a new environment and I could get over that hump, get back to the new and different of this time again. We were nursing her, family came to visit and to meet her, we tried to get our own rest in between.  As we moved into Sunday and throughout that day, we thought we were on the up and up. Except that her bilirubin levels were going up slightly each time checked which indicated jaundice, but we were still in the safe zone. No big deal, I had jaundice, a ton of babies have jaundice. Max held her in the window where the sunbeams came in and the two of them napped together throughout the day, bathing in the sunlight to help that jaundice dissipate.

We were supposed to be discharged on Monday, but early that morning the pediatrician came in to talk to us again. Her first 24 hours, she lost 1% of her birth weight which was normal. But that second 24 hours, she was down an additional 10% of her body weight which was a lot at once and concerning. We thought she was latching better and feeding well, but apparently she was not. The pediatrician on call said she wanted the lactation consultant to come check for a good latch and we'd wait for the blood test results for her jaundice before she will discharge us. After working with the LC for about 20 minutes, they said they just weren't comfortable sending us home yet. We then learned she was now above the seventy-fifth percentile and had moved into the high-risk classification with her jaundice. I had a tearful conversation with the pediatrician and she was aware of our previous birth and loss of Hudson. The team decided to discharge us, but keep Hadley as a patient. While I wasn't their patient anymore, we were to stay together in that room with her as if I were because they weren't going to send us home without our baby again, as long as they could help it. That, I am truly thankful for.

That Monday was a hard day. Aside from already being a sleepy newborn, the jaundice made her even more sleepy. It was nearly impossible to wake her up to try to feed on the schedule they wanted us to have so that she didn't lose anymore weight. However, to help the jaundice, she needed to eat. Throughout the rest of that day, I was broken down so badly. I would have episode after episode of staring at this precious newborn baby, wanting her so badly to open her eyes. It took me right back to last time with Hudson and trying to will him with my mind to wake up. Holding this tiny baby, tears running down my face please wake up, please open your eyes, it absolutely broke me. While I knew she would be fine, this wave of grief and de ja vu consumed me. We worked hard throughout that day to feed her and get her in that indirect sunlight so that they wouldn't have to take her from us to be under lights and receive supplemental formula to gain weight. We were trying to breastfeed and get a good latch, but also cup feeding and syringe feeding to make sure she had enough in her belly. By Tuesday afternoon, her BR levels had lowered, she seemed to be feeding better, and she hadn't lost any additional weight overnight so we were able to take her home.

Finally we were at that moment of being wheeled out of the postpartum floor, holding our living child. As they pushed me down the hallways of Labor and Delivery and to that front door, I clutched Hadley in her little going home outfit that was too big for her though it was a preemie size. I know I had the goofiest smile on my face while at the same time trying to fight back tears. I've been on that wheelchair ride before, but without my baby, a look of horror and disbelief on my face, passing people in the hallway, trying not to look at them and see their face when they looked at me. I clutched this little girl and listened as people gave their congratulations, commented on her big pink bow or how tiny she was or how beautiful she looked. I had tears of joy and pride, tinged with a little bit of sadness because of the memories that flooded back. Because I didn't get to do this part last time.

Max arrived in the circular drive with the car and he put her in the car seat for the first time. I let her grip my finger the whole way home and in exchange, she allowed me to stare at her in awe, with those tears streaming down my face. I held my breath walking in the front door. Max carried the car seat in. We took her out and walked into the nursery. We stood there together, the three of us, in that room. In the room that from the first time we first entered the house with the realtor, we identified it as the nursery. The room we had waited to bring a baby home to. The room we started to create for a little boy. The room we fell to the floor sobbing in when we got home after saying goodbye to that little boy, our first baby. The room that brought us joy again to create the perfect space for her. Now she was here, we had our baby in that room. I held her and just cried because that day had finally come. Afterwards, Max walked her around and introduced her to each space in her house, huge smile on both our faces. 

Throughout these first few weeks at home, both of us would just hold her or stare at her and cry - happy tears, tears because we couldn't believe that she was actually here, that we were finally having these moments together as a little family. I wasn't prepared for all of these overwhelming emotions. At the end of our first week with her, I learned that my placenta had an abnormality discovered once delivered and had been sent off to pathology. I also learned that her umbilical cord was short and had a marginal insertion which meant instead of a normal cord placement in the middle of the placenta, it was on the side. Both of these things can cause a number of risk factors, including a cause for stillbirth. One of the risk factors of a marginal insertion is restricted blood flow to the baby, which would explain the umbilical cord blood pressure issue we had. Between the unknown placenta abnormality and the marginal cord insertion, I felt even more so like she was a miracle. I was so thankful she came when she did and we didn't have to wait another few days for her to arrive. It makes me fearful in thinking about what it could mean for future pregnancies seeing that my uterus seems to create a risky environment for my babies and why neither of these factors were discovered in one of the 20+ sonograms we had. We will discuss pathology report and our questions with our doctor at the 6 week check up but for now, I concentrate on the fact that Hadley is healthy and perfectly fine despite the way things could have turned out.

At every 2 am diaper change and feeding, I rock her in her room. Sometimes I hold her and as I look at her, I cry. I whisper her lullaby songs to her and allow myself the chance for that emotional release of my grief and my joy tangled together. Smelling that sweet baby smell, feeling the weight of her in my arms, hearing her breaths and sighs, seeing her little facial expressions as she sleeps with the occasional raised cheek smile. I wasn't prepared for all the emotions this "fourth trimester" brings, but they are coupled with those of a mother's heart who is parenting one child in her arms and one she longs to hold again.

After losing Hudson, I'll admit, I would get really angry anytime I heard a mom complain about motherhood. I would bite my tongue but always in the back of my mind I thought I'd give anything to have that, you don't know how lucky you are to have your child. Because of that, I have immense guilt when I feel like this is really hard. But it is very hard, for any mother. I have guilt for the times I feel defeated or stressed when we have trouble with feeding, or I am so incredibly tired, or I just don't know what else to do to soothe her. I think that guilt is normal for a mother of loss to feel. I know this is just the beginning of all those feelings. I am tremendously grateful to have this sweet girl with us, to be her mother, to raise her and to love her. I'll take the hard times, all of them with the happy, whatever it may be, just to be able to have them with her at all.  

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Welcome to the World, Hadley Jane

My Precious Girl,

Today is November 3. If we were not a high risk pregnancy, this would be the due date we would have been anticipating and counting down toward. Today you would be 40 weeks, instead you are 19 days old! As I write this, you sleep in the Rock and Play next to me. They say when you sleep, we should sleep. I'm exhausted but I can't stop staring at you and I am feeling nostalgic about three weeks ago tomorrow when you decided it was time. I want to remember everything about this, which is why I am writing. I want to remember all of these moments, all of these emotions, every feeling of exhaustion, pride, sadness, joy, fear, triumph - all of it rolled into one.

The morning of October 14 I woke up around 5:00 am, your typical time every day to say good morning mama! You were kicking and moving, but I was also feeling contractions. I had been feeling them since the Sunday before when we went to the hospital to be monitored when your heart rate was elevated. The contractions had not increased in intensity and were still very irregular throughout the week but Friday morning, they were feeling a little stronger. At our 37 week appointment the day before, I had moved from 1.5 cm dilated on Sunday to 4 cm dilated on Thursday. We talked with our doctor about how Tuesday morning would go when we'd arrive to induce labor. My doctor felt like we would probably make it to then, but she said she wouldn't be surprised if you came on your own before.

I took my time getting ready that Friday morning. It was my last day of work before maternity leave started. We had a busy weekend and I planned to spend that upcoming Monday at my final appointment, followed by a prenatal massage, then doing any last minute errands before your Daddy and I had one final date night at one of our favorite restaurants. That morning I took my 37 week photo which was the last bump shot with you!

I got to work and felt a little off. I was trying to wrap up everything but in the back of my mind, kept wondering if these contractions were really feeling a little more real, or if it was just in my head? I finished my to-do list around noon and said my goodbyes to the team. On my way out, both my boss and another team member predicted you would come sometime that day or over the weekend because of the full moon.

I got home around 12:30 and felt the need to feel close to Hudson. I held his lamb, sat in his rocker and wrote him a letter. I was feeling very nostalgic about his birth and very emotional. After about an hour, I realized that contractions had become much more regular - in fact, incredibly regular. I decided to start timing them just for fun. I didn't think we would get to time contractions so I was somewhat excited to do that. After about 30 minutes had passed, I noticed a pattern, that they were every 4 minutes for exactly 1:05 or 1:15 min. After an hour of doing this, and checking your heartbeat on the fetal monitor, I let your Daddy know that we may be heading to the hospital. He said he was on his way home! I called my doctor's nurse and she told me to head to the hospital and check in for observation in Labor and Delivery because it sounded like we could be in labor. Daddy got home around 2:30, we grabbed the hospital bag that I had packed, kissed Georgie pup goodbye and had our moment of could this be it?! after all. Leaving the house we were about 40/60 that the next time we came home, it would be with you in tow.

We got to the hospital and checked in with Labor and Delivery Observation. They hooked me up to monitor your heartbeat and the contractions for 30 minutes. During this time, we had a very special person who set the tone for our experience, Nurse Jill. My doctor's nurse, Stephanie, had already called down to them and prepped her for us. She knew all about us and was ready for us. She was so wonderful and I felt she was a special angel placed to be there for us on that day and just what we needed to begin this experience. During that first thirty minutes, Daddy and I sat in our triage-like, curtained off room and overheard a scenario I recognized all too well. A woman had come in and she was in a panic. In tears she was frantically asking if her baby was okay. We listened as they tried to calm her and look for a heartbeat. Tears fell down my cheeks as I heard the sound of a fetal heart monitor searching for a heartbeat and her scared stifled sobs. Your Daddy reached for my hand. It took a bit, but they did find a heartbeat and I could breath again, but it really rattled me. When Nurse Jill came back into our area, it's like she knew. She talked to us about Hudson, she said his name, she said we had a special angel watching over us. She told us that we were going to get you here safe and sound.

At the conclusion of that first 30 minutes, she had tracked the same contraction pattern I had at home but they were now every 3 minutes. I was 5 cm dilated so she told us we were going to walk this baby out. We were instructed to briskly walk around for 30 minutes and then come back, that we would do this three times and after each 30 minute set of walking, we would check your heart rate and my contractions. Throughout our walks, I definitely had stronger and closer together contractions. We walked all around that hospital and the exterior in those 30 minute increments with brief check ins.

After the last walk, we went back in and I was 7 cm dilated. Jill called the doctor on-call for my doctor's practice. She came back in to give us the option of going home and seeing how things continue to progress on their own, that I'd probably be back within 24 hours. Or, if it was okay with me, she recommended we go ahead and have this baby. We chose the latter, though it meant that Dr. Kurian, who we felt so close to throughout this whole experience, would not be the one able to deliver you. The doctor who was on-call, Dr. Myears, was someone we had seen once when our doctor was sick. She was very caring and compassionate, and she knew our history. Having met her before set us at ease and we were comfortable that she would be delivering you. Jill looked at us and said, let's go have your rainbow baby, she's ready to meet you. Shift change had started but Jill stayed an extra hour to make sure that we were transitioned well and that everyone who was going to be working with us through the delivery process was in the know of what the plan would be. On the Monday morning following your arrival, Jill came up to check in on us, gave us big hugs and had the chance to meet you!

Remember Nurse Katie from Hudson's labor and delivery? She was planning to be there on October 18 as our doula and photographer - the "doulagrapher" as she called it. Since you moved up the timeline, I immediately sent her a message to let her know that plans had changed and I was in labor now. With three kids, a nursing career and photography business, I fully didn't expect that she would be able to be there, but the amazing person she is made it happen. She met us at the hospital with camera in hand, smile on face and there with us through the nearly 12 hours of labor, again. My doctor's nurse, Stephanie, had also been a huge support throughout this process and she came up to be part of "Team Hadley" as well.

With Nurse Stephanie after you arrived
We were settled into our delivery room by 6:45 and shortly thereafter, there was a knock on the door. A familiar face popped into our room and I nearly burst into tears. For anyone who has read Hudson's birth story, you may remember that the first person to enter the delivery room after I had been hooked up to the IV was the sister of a friend of mine. She was the resident on the floor and was coming in to check my vitals and Hudson's positioning via sonogram. It made me immediately comforted to have a familiar face there in my darkest hours. This time, Mallory was doing rounds on another floor but saw our name on the board and came to say hello. I haven't seen her since Hudson's delivery and to have her pop her head in was really special. We exchanged big hugs this time and smiles as we caught up. 

Our main nurse for the labor and delivery experience was Nurse Shirley. She was a very different personality type than I thought I would need for this, but it turned out to be exactly what we needed. Shirley's big personality kept us on our toes, kept us laughing, and kept us distracted.

My family arrived by 9 PM and kept us company well into the early morning. The plan that Jill and Dr. Myears had was to start a pitocin drip to help progress labor, to get the epidural and then break my water. However, Shirley felt like my body was doing this on its own and she wanted it to keep doing that as long as we could. We took more walks, used the medicine balls and then around 10 pm, it was decided to go ahead and break my water. Contractions really picked up then, fast and furious. It was apparently a very busy night, maybe there really is something to the full moon and women going into labor after all, but it took almost an hour for the anesthesiologist to arrive in our room after requesting the epidural.  That gave me quite the taste of true labor pains and your Daddy and Katie helped me get through them. The anesthesiologist who gave me my epidural with Hudson came in the room and was part of this birth story too. This time, it worked correctly on the first try and I was comfortable throughout the remaining hours of labor without needing to increase it or have a new one.

Midnight was nearing and we all started to take bets on when you would arrive. With Hudson, once my water broke, delivery came quickly after. I thought it would be similar with you. I thought you'd come before 2 am, your Daddy said 3 am. Nurse Shirley said you were your own baby, she thinks you'll come after 4 am. I sat on medicine balls, I had a "peanut" ball positioned under my legs as I laid down to help you progress. We all slept a little on and off as each hour went by. Finally, around 4:15 am, they said I was completely dilated and effaced, it was time to call Dr. Myears. This time I wasn't scared. I didn't want to keep you where you were to stay part of me as long as possible. I couldn't wait to have you in my arms. I was ready to meet you and start this life as your mama. There were smiles and words of beautiful promise. She's almost here, they said to me. Let's get our girl, I said to them.

By 4:30 am, the room was full with "Team Hadley" and as everyone took position, I had to focus because it started to become all too familiar. I needed Daddy by me, I needed his hand in mine and at my side so we could receive you together. I felt overwhelmed with emotion and Shirley talked me through this. She said this time would be different, it may take longer, to listen to her cues. She instructed me on full pushes and half pushes. They had an oxygen mask this time, I needed that to get big breaths.

At 5:08 am on October 15, you arrived. Of course you did, I should have known. That 5:00 am window was always your time of day. You were 7 lb, 3 oz and 20 inches of pure perfection. I watched as you were lifted and I could see you in plain view, waiting for your scream. I saw you before I could hear you and before I could finish my thought of why isn't she crying, there it was. The most beautiful sound I have ever heard. You screamed and you cried. As soon as I heard it I laughed. I wanted a river of tears to flow but laughter was how my emotions were expressed instead. They laid you on my chest and your Daddy buried himself in us. Nothing was like the last time anymore, it was now its own experience. You were here, you were breathing, we looked into your eyes, your arms and legs moving as you were laid on my chest. In those moments, time stood still for just a little while.

I watched through tear-blurred eyes as eventually they handed you to your Daddy and he walked you to the other side of the room where the nurses weighed you, measured you, did your APGAR tests and gave you a sponge bath. I watched as your he protectively looked on, with your hand clasped around his finger.

He put your first diaper on you and he continues to do that as often as he can - I listen as he talks to you, he says it's your bonding time together and it started in that delivery room with your first diaper.

They lifted you into his arms again and he walked back across that room to me and we spent time together, just the three of us, as a little family before we introduced you to your grandparents who were patiently waiting in the waiting room.

While we were in the hospital, you met two of your uncles, three of your great grandparents, two great aunts and a great uncle. You met some of Mommy and Daddy's special friends who love you beyond measure. And now here we are. You are perfect in every way. You and your brother resemble each other slightly but that's maybe because I want you to. Every now and then I'll catch a glimpse of him in you, but you are your own little lady with your own features and characteristics that we will be able to watch grow and change. You have the biggest cheeks and a dimpled chin. Your Daddy's eyes and the softest skin. Your hair is lighter than Hudson's and without any curl. You have the longest fingers attached to the most precious chubby little hands. I count your toes and rub your feet. Your nose continues to look more and more like mine, and like Hudson's. I rub our noses together and cry to be able to do nosies with you the way I did with him. You have the sweetest yawns and sounds.

I will never forget the moment that I realized you knew me. It was our first full day in the hospital. You were wailing and then quieted at the sound of my voice. You gripped my finger and were instantly calmed while the nurses poked at you. I knew I loved you from the time I found out about you. I bonded with you throughout my pregnancy and loved you more by the day. Seeing you for the first time and feeling you on my chest was one of the most beautiful moments I've ever experienced. But watching you as you recognized me and knew I was yours, that was a moment I didn't know to expect or how to prepare for and one that takes my breath away every time it happens. I watch you with your Daddy and how you both adore one another. You snuggle up to him and do not fuss when he holds you. You know him as yours too.

You came on your own time and on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. A day that the year prior had brought us pain as we remember Hudson in our raw emotional state. But this year on October 15, you restored our hope by bringing us the greatest joy and a redeeming love to show that beauty can rise from the ashes.

Hadley, you are our miracle. We are so thankful to have you and that you are ours. I will not say that all the pain we endured on this road to getting you was worth it, that you were worth the wait. No, because that diminishes your brother and is not a fair representation of either one of you. However, it is because of what we went through that makes you that much more special and wonderful and incredible. Our promise to you is that we will love you unconditionally, we will teach you, grow you, support you, and provide you with everything we can to enrich your life with love. Welcome to the world baby girl, I can't wait to do this life together and see where your story takes you.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Your big brother gift to Hadley, your hospital blanket made into a special snuggle bunny, 
with the initials you share.

Sweet Hudson,

I'm writing you today because my heart is consumed with you right now. Today I felt a strong urge to need this time for you. I'm sitting in your chair, your lamb in my lap, trying to feel as close to you as I can. While October is the month of its awareness, tomorrow is the special remembrance day for Pregnancy and Infant Loss. I have your Our Bud Hud candle ready for the Wave of Light at 7 pm and it's by the hospital bag, just in case.

I know other mamas cherish the last few days with their first babies, they do something special with them before life changes for everyone with the addition of a brother or sister. If you were here we would be doing that. Maybe your Daddy would have made you pancakes today and we'd go to the park together. Maybe we'd curl up and read to you, enjoying sweet cuddles. We'd give you a bath and hold you until you fell asleep, soaking in these last moments of you as an only child before you were officially a big brother. You've watched over us, and you've watched over her. I've had rough moments throughout this pregnancy, but when I come back to you as my center, it brought me peace and comfort throughout this time because I've felt you in my heart.

We've planned to make you apart of this experience in special ways. If Hadley comes when she should, we plan to have Nurse Katie, who helped deliver you, there as our doula throughout the labor and delivery process. Just like she took your pictures, she will take Hadley's as well as she comes into the world and we can capture those first moments together as a family. We have the most special gift to give Hadley from you, one that will be passed down to each of your siblings when they are born from their guardian angel brother. Your hospital blanket was made into a stuffed bunny, then inscribed on the foot are the initials you all will share. Around its wrist is a special bracelet with your name. It is to let them know that some bunny very special loves them and is always with them.

You and Hadley will be 16 months apart and it would have been so fun to watch the two of you grow up together. My heart aches because that's not the case. I know the course of our lives changed the day you died, but I also have to tell myself that we very well could be here right now with you and with her. It is absolutely possible. My heart can't choose between the wish of having you here and the reality of Hadley or any other future babes we are fortunate to have some day.

In this world of loss, your sister is referred to as a rainbow baby. I want you to know that you were never the storm, it was the aftermath of losing you that was the greatest personal storm we could face. You were the brightest light there was, but that light went dim for a little while as we tried to wade through the waters of our grief and sadness. Eventually we found a new path to head down, one that honored you the best we could and continued to give your life meaning. Your sister brought light again of new life into the darkness that was losing you. We have two babies who are the lights of our lives and you both shine so beautifully and differently. I am so thankful for you, what you've taught me and what you've done to my heart.

I think of what you would look like now and who you would be growing up to become, your little personality and characteristics. I wonder if I'll see you in her when I look at her, or how different you two may look. I hope you are the reason she smiles in her sleep, the extra twinkle we see in her eye, and the joy she finds in her heart - always.

I love you with everything I have. My first born. My precious son.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Sweet Potato Turkey Chili


Needing an easy, low effort meal, I pulled out this turkey chili recipe I used to make. I love to add butternut squash to my brisket chili so with the sweet potato I had leftover from a recipe I didn't get to last week, I decided to add it to this instead. I also like to include black beans for additional nutrition value. I love this change up in the meal rotation and it refrigerates/freezes well too, with the spices tasting even better when you heat it up again.

Prep time will take you about 30 minutes - less if you have veggies already chopped up. Cook time is about 2 hours for the most robust flavor result, but can be less if needed for your schedule. this can be made with either a crock pot or my favorite, the dutch oven.

Yields 6 servings

  • Olive oil
  • 1 lb. lean ground turkey
  • Cumin
  • Chili Powder
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 16 oz. can Fire Roasted Tomatoes with Green Chiles (medium heat)
  • 6 oz. can tomato paste
  • 2 cups sweet potatoes, 1 inch cubed  
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup of low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 packet of taco seasoning
  • Cheese, optional garnish
  • Avocado, optional garnish
  • Sour cream, optional garnish

1.) In a skillet, heat the olive oil on medium-high and add the onion. Saute until fragrant. 
2.) Add the turkey, breaking it up into smaller chunks and season with generous sprinkles of cumin and chili powder. Once meat has turned from pink to mostly white, add the red bell pepper and the garlic. Cook together on medium heat for about 5 minutes. 
3.) Move the contents of the skillet to either a dutch oven on the stove on low-medium heat, or a crock pot set on high. Add the can of roasted tomatoes with green chiles and tomato paste. 
4.) Add the beans, cubed sweet potato and taco seasoning packet. Stir to combine all ingredients. 
5.) Pour the chicken or vegetable broth in slowly, mixing well to combine as you go. 

Set your timer for about 1.5-2 hours. By this time, your sweet potato chunks will be nice and soft, with all the flavors well blended. Scoop and top with your favorite chili extras such as sour cream, cheese, and/or avocado. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Confessions of an Anxious Mama: Pregnancy After Loss Edition V - The Final Countdown

Today is Tuesday, October 11. As I lay in bed this morning, I realized at this time next week - if not before then - we will be at the hospital in labor. We've reached the one week countdown for our scheduled induction for Hadley's arrival. Immediately, Europe's Final Countdown started on loop in my head.

However, it's been an interesting few days. I can proudly say that I made it to 36w3d in this Pregnancy After Loss (PAL) until my paranoia got the best of me and I ran out the door, hopped in the car and drove like a bat out of hell to the hospital thinking something could be wrong.

It's no secret that PAL is scary stuff. People can tell you until they are blue in the face how everything will be fine, lightening won't strike twice, etc. However, they don't know that and for a Parent of Loss trying to do this again, every day can be a struggle to release those scary and anxious thoughts from your mind. Those going through this or have been through this, can I get an amen to that? I think almost every mama I've talked to who has gone on to deliver after a loss has their own version of this kind of story, so here's my account of the OMG, something is wrong! moment.

We had our 36 week appointment on Thursday of last week. My blood pressure was a little elevated and she had one spot in her cord out of the four checked that had umbilical cord blood pressure elevated in the 3's. All the other spots checked were still in the 2's, so my doctor was comfortable, but she just said I needed to rest. I was getting sick with my annual fall allergies, overdid myself a little bit at work the day before, sleep hadn't been great that week, so I welcomed the doctor's orders for rest.

Fast forward to Sunday morning. I had felt really crummy due to allergies since Wednesday, increasingly more by the day, and woke up feeling the worst on Sunday. My lower abdomen hurt but I thought it was just round ligament pain and overall discomfort. I posted this on instagram and decided to take a shower to get ready for the day. An hour later, I was rushing to the hospital.
Careful what you post, it could come true. 

Max had been invited to play golf with my dad and brothers. He said he didn't want to leave me but I told him to go and enjoy, it may be a while before he gets out on the course again. While the boys of the family played golf, my mom wanted to take me for my last mani/pedi before baby. After all, she had this dream on Friday night and has been saying for a few weeks now that she has this feeling Hadley will come earlier than our planned date, like I did (I came 5 weeks ahead of schedule). On his way out the door, Max joked - don't go into labor without me! I told him very funny. I took a shower and started to get ready. My lower back had been hurting so it felt really nice to just let the hot water run over it. Just before I started drying my hair, my eyes caught a glimpse of the home fetal heart monitor on my bedside table just sitting there and so I decided to take a listen, because why not? I hadn't listened from home in about a week, it gives me a little pep in my step to check in on her and hear those beautiful beats.

I found her heartbeat right away but it was fast. Really fast. Like, uncomfortably fast. Not just fast, it was rapid. During our appointment with the hospital's Fetal Care Center at 31 weeks for the umbilical cord scare, that specialist said if her heartbeat ever rose above 160, that could be cause for concern, it could mean she was in fetal distress. Now this is not in every circumstance but because we were experiencing an umbilical cord issue again, it was something we needed to take watch of and a sign for us not to ignore. I watched as the numbers kept rising and nearing 160, then over 160 and they went from green to red on the display screen. They got to 171, then kept climbing to 187. I held it there for a good three-ish minutes without them coming down at all. I took a break, trying to stay calm, and then did it again with the same result. I texted my nurse and then decided to check one more time. When they hit the 180's again I decided nope, not going to sit here and ponder this, I just need to head straight to the hospital. I was trying to talk myself off the anxiety platform I quickly scaled up in that last 10 minutes, that it could be my monitor that's messed up. The anxiety rebutted that it could also be correct because the readings have been pretty spot on this whole time. Either way, I wanted to make sure everything was okay and not take any chances. I didn't have signs that I picked up on with Hudson, I didn't have a chance to go to the hospital and make sure he was okay. If something was so much as slightly off with her, you bet I was going to take every precaution I could.

I called Max but I knew they were teeing off right around that time and his phone was probably in the cart and/or on silent. I left a message and then called my mom who was expecting me at her house by that point. I told her hey, so change of plans, don't be alarmed but meet me at Baylor. Max called back and I told him everything as of right now is okay, to stay put, mom was meeting me and I'd call if something isn't right. That I feel her, there is a heartbeat, I'm just going in for reassurance. I prayed the whole way to the hospital, even talking to Hadley telling her to calm her little self down in there, and to Hudson to keep watch over little sis and mama.

I waddled into Labor and Delivery and immediately the icy-hot feeling was trickling throughout my veins. You know that feeling? Like when you realize you messed up and did something wrong. Or when cop car lights are behind you and you think you are about to be pulled over. That's the feeling I get when I'm overcome with nerves and fear. Stepping in there again after the last time was something I was started to feel very emotional and anxious about. However, my adrenaline was pumping and I had one focus, making sure Hadley was okay, so I quickly dismissed what was conjuring inside and just concentrated on trying to find someone who could check her heartbeat as soon as possible. I ran into a nurse in the hallway and told her I was a high risk pregnancy, I'm 36 and a half weeks, my baby's heartbeat is very rapid and in the 180's, I want to make sure everything is okay. She told me to go to the ER and proceeded to give me directions.

I took off speed waddling down the hallway and then of course, in my typical fashion, I got lost. I couldn't remember what she said after the second left turn, wait was it a left or was it a right? Not the best time to have pregnancy brain. Luckily someone else turned the corner and breathless by this point, I simply looked at him and asked ER? He said down the elevator to the basement and follow the signs. Y'all, it seemed like a mile away and the never ending hallway of twists and turns that just kept going and going and going. It was pretty dingy, walls lined with trauma beds, I halfway expected to pass a door that read "morgue" and completely lose my sh*t.

I finally made it to the ER. I was passed to three different people behind the desk before a nurse came to the window. I was able to calmly say that I was worried about my baby's heart rate being too high and feared she was in distress, that I am high risk and lost my son to stillbirth 16 months ago due to an umbilical cord accident. I am pretty sure I had one of those tooth-grit-white-knuckle moments where I said between my teeth I just need to make sure she's okay. As if everyone who worked in the hospital just walked around with a fetal heart monitor in their pocket and could pull it out to take a listen right there. Rational. This angelic woman peacefully told me that since I am so far along, I needed to go straight to Labor and Delivery. To which at that point all the hormones and emotions flooded out and I lost my composure to choke out but they told me to come to you. Tears were falling, I just wanted to hear her heartbeat right then and there, thinking if this were a ticking time bomb we are really doing a crappy job of handling it.

She immediately hopped up, got a wheelchair and a male nurse with a clipboard. They sat me down, I filled out a form in my best hand-shaking, frantic chicken scratch, and he began to wheel me back through the basement maze hallways, up the elevator and back to Labor and Delivery. It was much quicker in a wheel chair. We approached the desk I couldn't find on my way in. That desk. The same desk I checked into last time. It had an uncomfortable "deja vu" feeling. The emotions were rising again but I pushed them back down. Composure was back and I was able to calmly share why I was there with the receptionist. We started paperwork and luckily I had already pre-registered so that process was short and sweet. My mom texted that she was parking. They took me back into a room and had me put on a hospital gown, then proceeded to hook me up to monitor Hadley. Last time I did this, I was in tears, clutching my belly, trying to get one last glimpse of myself pregnant with Hudson.

I sat there on the bed, legs crossed, back straight just looking around the room thinking here it is, I'm back here again. I could hear her heartbeat on the monitor and it was just as rapid as it was when I was at home, but it was still a heartbeat and I was at a hospital so if something needed to happen, it could happen. I had been anxious about being in a room like this again, but this room was different than last time. Still a delivery room, but it was much smaller and just different than before. I was calm. The nurse came back in and had me lay on my side. She explained that they were going to monitor for a bit and in that time, her heartbeat may fluctuate but what we want is it to establish a baseline in the 150s or lower. That if we did that, all was good.

She then asked me if I was feeling any cramping or in pain at all, I said my lower back has been in pain and I've had some low crampy aches in my abdomen. She asked if I was feeling it at that moment, and I told her yes. She smiled and said that I was actually having contractions. Oh. I didn't remember what those felt like really because I was in such a different state the first time and had the epidural pretty quickly. I realized I woke up feeling them but wrote it off as though it were normal growing belly pains.

My mom came into the room. We looked at each other and kind of laughed. She said I told you she could come early. A little bit later the nurse came in and was taking my entire medical history, which helped the time pass by. A doctor came in and she let me know that Hadley was looking just fine, heartbeat was lowering - though still jumping up a bit - it increased with my contractions and she was reacting to them. She did a sonogram to check Hadley's heart, to see her practice breathing and movement. I hadn't had lunch yet and that time of day was usually a calm time for H unless I've had a meal and then she reacts to food. Her heart looked great but she was napping and not cooperating with what they needed to see. They brought in some juice and mom had a chocolate square she gave me, so about 10 min later we were able to see some practice breathing and she started moving for us. Of course, as soon as I was getting in my car later, she was jumping those legs around but just wanted to be stubborn when put on the spot and it mattered for her to move.

The doctor told me that I was about 1.5 cm dilated and contractions were somewhat irregular and at a low strength. Therefore, I was not in active labor. About an hour of being hooked up they reported that Hadley was just fine and I could head home. I had an appointment scheduled for 11:00 am Monday so we all felt good that I'd be back to check in again within 24 hours. It was the right thing to go with my gut and not ignore it. Her heart rate was high, it was too elevated, but it lowered itself and it was in response to my body preparing for a pending delivery. She wasn't in fetal distress, thankfully.

Lately with delivery becoming closer and closer, I've thought a lot about being back in the same place that Hudson was delivered. The whole experience and being in that same environment again. It's made me really emotional the closer we get to that. This episode broke the ice on that. It was like the practice run for it. There were times it started to feel overwhelming, but then it went away as quickly as it came on. Just like I was having the anxiety about reaching the week of loss, we had the scare a week and half before that and implemented increased appointments and monitoring, bed rest then a modified bed rest and reduced activity schedule. I entered that week with peace and more calm than I would have otherwise. I believe that Sunday's experience is helping in the same way as we are counting down the single digit days.

Monday's appointment went well, she is measuring at 6 lb and 11 oz. Obviously labor did not begin and my mom's premonition of 10/10 didn't happen. We head back to the doctor on Thursday and will be 37 weeks. We are just taking it as easy as possible until then, hoping not to go into labor before Thursday. After Thursday, if it happens, my doctor is fine with it! We will most likely make it next Tuesday and be induced, but there's a chance she will come on her time. Either way, I'm glad my body is starting to do this on its own a bit and we will just see what happens. Most importantly I'm calm going into this. I feel at peace with it. I'm ready for it. I've let go of "the plan" we have in place and I'm ready for whatever comes between now and October 18. For the time being, I do not have any fears surrounding it. These are big personal milestones on this journey and I'm thankful.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

From My Heart to Yours

Dear Mama,

We may or may not know each other by facial recognition or by name, but my heart knows your heart. We may be very like-minded individuals who would, in a non-grieving world, find common interests and share conversation over coffee. Or, in a non-grieving world, our paths could look very different without a likelihood of crossing. However now in this grieving world, we share a bond that many will never know.

A year ago at this time, I had slipped far into the trenches of my grief. I was losing my grasp on positive outlooks, I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel, every day everything hurt. I didn't want to get out of bed and start a new day that my son wasn't apart of. I was mourning him, I was mourning the life we had to learn to live without him, I was mourning the person I used to be and feared I could never be again. This was five months out from losing my son to stillbirth. It took five months to get to the bad place in my grief which shows the road is different for everyone. I've journeyed to the depths of the darkness of grief, and I've found my way back into the light of joy. It is not a smooth road and it can be all over the map, but you know what? That's okay. There is no "right" or "wrong" way to grieve.

One of the biggest lessons I learned is that you are only as strong as you are weak. When you endure a loss such as this, strength you don't know comes on in forms you may never have experienced before. For me, I felt it was a supernatural strength in those first few days and weeks. In my 16 months of grieving, strength has found me at times I didn't know I could muster it. There were other times I couldn't find it at all. I didn't want to accept the ugly pain and as time went on, I felt it was inappropriate in a way to succumb to it. Until I learned that if I didn't show my weakness, if I didn't go to that place where I let it all show, then my strength was a facade and I was flailing any way. There is no shame in hurting deeply for long periods of time, but because nothing about this feels natural, we feel like it's wrong to walk through life in this way. Know that you can have weakness. Know that you can feel anger. You can feel it for as long as you need to, but know how long to stay there and when to pull yourself out so you don't get stuck there. Find what is the most helpful way to channel the release such as writing, reading, photography, yoga or other forms of exercise, cooking, that person to talk to, whatever. Finding this activity can help pull you out if you start to spiral.

I want you to know that you are brave. You have more courage than you give yourself credit for. Your heart is broken but the pieces will come together again in a new way, in a beautiful way, though I know it doesn't feel like it possibly can right now. There is still joy to be found amidst sorrow, thankfulness to be sought in hardship. This took me a long time to get to. Most importantly, you are not alone in this, though you may feel like it. Seek out your community of both non-grievers and grievers alike. Both will help balance you out and will give you the strength you need and the permission to show weakness. Find those who will stand with you no matter what and never let go of them. They are your scaffolding, they are your people.

You will smile a true smile again. You will laugh a pure laugh. You now know how to love deeper than you thought possible. You will enjoy simple pleasures and indulge in adventure. You will live life again to the fullest. You have an outlook you never thought about previously. Take and use your strength when you have it, allow your baby to be your joy when you can, but go to them in darkness when you need. Know you will find them in all things when you're ready.

It gets better. It isn't necessarily easier, it just becomes more manageable with time. You experience the seasons and chapters of grief and the wounds heal a little more, though always there. Patience with yourself and your grief is hard, but it is key to your healing.

Know this: you are the mother of all mothers. Your heart has experienced things that most will never know. You keep going every day despite your heart break and devastation. Celebrate your child whenever you can. Cry and be angry whenever you need. Feel whatever emotions you need to feel. This is the best we can do with our grief. You are doing this right, because it is what you need to do to get through, and that's all you can do. Don't let anyone tell you differently.

From my heart to yours,

Hudson's Mommy

PS: If you need to find more hearts like yours to talk to, email me at adomestikatedlife at gmail dot com.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Barbecue Pot Roast and Cauliflower Mash

Cooler weather has started to flirt with us here in Texas. So much in fact that I've reached the point where I've switched from iced decaf lattes to one hot in a cup. Pumpkins and mums will make their appearance on our porch this weekend. Dinner is becoming influenced by this seasonal change.

So I must tell you, this roast is everything y'all. Truth is, I've been making it nearly every week since February, even on the triple digit heat weeks - this year it hasn't been so seasonal for me due to my beef and mashed cauliflower cravings the past 35 weeks. This recipe made its initial appearance on my previous recipe blog more than three years ago but has changed a bit since then as I've continued to adapt it.

Many people will favor the crock pot version out of ease and I have those directions as well, however, I prefer to use my dutch oven for this. It takes a shorter amount of time, I find the roast to shred better, and it very well could be in my head, but I think the flavor is better. At some point, things made in the crockpot started to taste like "crock pot" - and I don't know how to describe that.

This meal is savory. It's swimming in flavor with a little tang, a little punch and a little heat. It is easily the only recipe you'll need again for making a roast. Give yourself about 30 minutes for prep and 2.5 hours to cook the roast if using a dutch oven, and same prep but 6ish hours with a crock pot. You'll need about 20-30 minutes to make the cauliflower mash, which is the last half hour of the roast cooking away.

I am not a huge fan of leftovers. Depending on what it is, I can reheat a meal one time, usually it has to be the following day for lunch. This gets even better in flavor with time. We made it on Tuesday night, I had it Wednesday for lunch and Thursday night for dinner again.

(Yields 6-8 servings)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • Garlic powder
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 2 lbs. Beef Chuck Roast, trimmed of fat and cut into 3 smaller sections (this will allow your beef to cook more evenly and shred better, faster)
  • 3/4 cup beef broth
  • 1 cup BBQ sauce of choice (our favorite is Austin's Own, medium)
  • Optional: if you are using a mild BBQ sauce but want to turn up the heat a bit, add 1 tbsp of Sriracha!
  • 1/2 cup sweet red chile sauce
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup celery, chopped
  • 1 cup carrot, cut into 2 inch sticks
  • 1 onion, chopped 
For cauliflower mash
(Yields 4 servings)
  • 1 large yellow or red potato, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes (waxy potatoes have less starch than Russets and they provide a creamier, smoother consistency. I like to use in my mashed cauliflower to help the texture)
  • 2 cups cauliflower florets (don't use frozen, it'll make this very watery)
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • Garlic powder
  • Paprika
  • Salt
If using a dutch oven, set your oven to 325 degrees and allow to pre-heat. If using a crock pot, set to high heat. 

Start by heating the olive oil in the dutch oven on medium-high heat. If using a crock pot for this meal, heat oil in a skillet. Season both sides of the beef with the garlic powder, salt and pepper, then place on the hot surface. Sear until ready to flip - when meat easily comes away from the heat surface. Sear all sides. 

If using a dutch oven, add the beef broth at this time and scrape brown bits from the sear. Keep on medium-high heat. If using a crock pot, transfer the meat into the crock pot and add broth. Add the celery, carrot and onion to the pot. Whisk the other wet ingredients into a bowl and pour over top. 

If using a dutch oven, place in the oven once 325 degrees is reached. Set timer for 2 hours and walk away. If using a crock pot, set time for 6 hours and walk away. 

Once the timer goes off, it's time to make your mash. Set the timer for an additional 30 min, or just know your roast will be done once you finish this next part. If your roast has been in the oven, go ahead and remove to set on the stove, it'll continue to cook on its own. 

For the mash, boil water and add potatoes first. They take a little longer to soften. Let boil for about 5-8 minutes on high, then add the cauliflower. Cook for 10 minutes, or until easily pierced by a fork, then drain. I prefer to use my large food processor to puree the potato and cauliflower but this would also work with an electric hand mixer. Add the butter, then season with garlic, paprika and salt to taste. I give a couple hearty shakes of each. Mix until consistency is smooth. 

Remove each piece of meat from the roasting pot it has cooked in and shred, adding back to pot when complete. Mix everything around, sometimes I stir in a little extra BBQ sauce to thicken the juices if needed. 

Plate by spooning cauliflower mash first, then topping with roast and veggies. Goes best with a cold glass of milk and Max loves a good batch of crescent rolls to accompany! 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Confessions of an Anxious Mama: Pregnancy After Loss Edition IV

3D/4D sono picture taken at 34w4d - a cheeky smile and a thumbs up, straight in the nose. 

Ever since our umbilical cord scare at the beginning of September, Hadley has continued to be on the up and up. At last week's 34 week appointment, her levels were the best they had looked since August. The modified bed rest has helped, and I also believe our steadfast support network of prayer warriors have added to this outcome as well. Her levels look wonderful, her movements have been great, and she is a growing girl estimating close to 6 lbs.

In my pregnancy with Hudson, I remember the tremendous guilt I later felt for this, but around the beginning of the third trimester I became sad and a bit scared. I was sad that I had "twelvish" weeks left with Max as just the two of us. That for seven years (4.5 years dating, 2.5 years married) it had been just us doing things however, and really whenever, we wanted to. We added George the pup to the mix two years ago and sure that changed things a bit, but not greatly. Now we were talking about a baby. A baby who would become a toddler, who would become a kid, who would become a teenager, who would become an adult. We were talking about a human being that we were responsible for now, forever and always. I was scared of what if we changed? What if we grew apart? What if our marriage wasn't ready for this? What if we resented each other over parenting issues? What if we would never be the same?

I remember talking to a friend about those thoughts, asking if this was normal, to which she assured me she thought all the same things around the same point of her pregnancy. Of course on the forefront of my mind, I couldn't wait to have Hudson with us. I had so much love for that baby already and couldn't wait to be his mama and see my husband as a father. There was just this secondary emotional thought train going on of missing the "us" that we've been because it would inevitably change.

Then, the unthinkable happened. Our son died. Suddenly and without warning we were thrust into a world of grief that included pain, confusion, anger and sadness. There were times we were more connected than ever, other times we were disconnected and needing different things. Within the first week of our loss, we were warned to protect our marriage because grief can tear a couple apart. I remember on one of the nights I couldn't sleep within that first month, I had been watching TV on the couch and I laid my head down with thoughts swirling. I remembered that I had been having those feelings of sadness surrounding the fact that it wouldn't just be the two of us anymore. I got so upset with myself about it, racked with guilt, that I made myself sick. I was so worried about how our life would look with another in it, I never stopped to think about how our life would look without that life anymore. How could I ever have felt that way? How could I have thought so selfishly? Now he's gone and I'd give anything to have him, to have the three of us, to have everything change because it would have been for the better. The alternative change that we got instead was the absolute worst.

This pregnancy, we have been so caught up in all the emotions surrounding this new life and the anticipation of getting to the point where she is here. Today we are 35 weeks. It was a long afternoon of appointments but they went well and Hadley is just perfect.

On Monday before our sono appointment, Max and I grabbed a quick lunch beforehand at a little cafe near the hospital. As we were sitting there eating, he said you know what I thought of today? We aren't going to have the moment of rush and excitement of "ahh my water broke, let's get to the hospital!" He said it in an upbeat way but I could tell it made him a little glum. That was a thought that occurred to me over a year ago at one of our post-partum follow up appointments after Hudson. At the time, it had made me sad too. My doctor had told us then that going forward, we will be high risk and in any pregnancy we have in the future, she will induce early. I remember feeling robbed of that experience where a husband and wife are frantically, yet excitedly, rushing to the hospital because it's time! However, it's a romanticized idea which we will have in a different way. Now knowing what we've been through and the path we've walked, I'm okay with how it will happen for us because I'd rather be safe than take chances.

We are "two-ish" weeks away from her arrival. This morning, I got up and walked into her room. I turned on the little lamp by her bed and just look at everything, taking it all in. Her books filled with special messages from friends sitting on shelves. Her crib now all dressed and put together. The little nightstand next to it with her swaddles, pacifiers and blankies. Her chest of drawers with pretty trinkets and Hudson's shadow box of special things. The rocker we will spend hours upon hours in and the antique lace and peach ribbon hanging from the dream catcher on the wall above it. Her changing table area with everything neatly sorted and waiting. I run my feet along the soft rug that someday she'll play on. I look in her toy basket at the sensory books, stuffed animals and other toys collected. I open her closet to see a full array of clothes hanging, her shoes, the many cases of diapers in all sizes, and various other items like the bumbo and boppy lounger, in position ready for use. The peach and ivory crepe paper flowers are the last thing to do and are waiting to be hung above the crib as soon as the rest arrive.

Time has surprisingly passed by quickly to me and I feel like these next two-ish weeks will fly by and then it'll be time. I want to exhale with relief but I'm still holding my breath. We are ready for her, we see life with her in it, we just need to get through the actual day of that happening. This week, I had the feeling for the first time that oh my goodness, it's almost here. Our lives as we know them will change again - but in the best way. It won't be just the two of us, doing whatever we want to do at any time. It will be about her, it will be about the three of us and Hudson watching over. This time, it doesn't scare me. This time there is a piece of me that wants to skip past the hospital part, because we've had that part before. Though I know this time will be so different and of course the moment I've been waiting for is to hear her and see her for the first time, I just want to get to the part when we are walking through our front door with her, home at last as a family, and starting that life together.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

231 Days

32 weeks

Today is day 230 of this pregnancy. That's 32 weeks and 6 days.

Day 230 was the last day of my pregnancy with Hudson and day 231 was the day we delivered and said goodbye. As we entered 32 weeks, there has been an ominous weight I've felt, a presence of sadness. The scare we had with Hadley's umbilical cord two weeks ago seems to have curbed the anxious feelings and fear during this tough milestone week of loss, but the sadness remains. The modified rest has kept my stress levels low and the twice a week appointments have helped me feel more at ease knowing she is doing well. Reaching this day is something I've anticipated since before I knew we were pregnant again. The time of loss. You try to keep it out of your mind but it is always in there, looming. I am so thankful to have this day sandwiched between appointments, giving me peace of mind and comfort in my heart to get through it. Yesterday we got to see Hadley, her levels were not elevated, she was doing wonderfully. They measured her and estimated 4 lb, 11 oz. Today I woke up in a funk but as soon as I started moving, so did she, providing immediate comfort entering this day. Before I left for the office, I listened to her heart beat which was strong and steady, the additional little push I needed.

Over the last week, Hudson has weighed so heavily on my heart. I find myself trying to remember everything I can about that last week I carried him, unknowing that it was our last together. I wish we had this chance with him, this chance to make sure his life wasn't in jeopardy. He deserved that, but we didn't know. We went to visit him over the weekend and standing there at 32 weeks with his sister, staring at his name in stone, was both painful and healing. Watching my husband put his hand on Hudson's niche and say we miss you buddy, as I kiss the stone saying we love you with tears falling, holding onto one another through that pain and the release. One day we will bring Hadley and visit him as a family.

Today as I was getting ready, I was looking through the "maternity dress" section of my closet and came upon the dress. The navy maternity dress I wore on day 230 last time. I have avoided it ever since, and haven't worn it again. I always skip right past it on purpose, but today I took it off the hanger and folded it. It's not a dress I want to have anymore.

Tonight we attend the newborn care class at our hospital. A class we had enrolled in previously but never got the chance to take. Tomorrow I go back to my doctor again for the 33 week visit and I enter a new phase of this Pregnancy After Loss, the part I didn't get to last time. At 33 weeks I was delivering our son and saying goodbye, leaving the hospital without my baby and entering our home empty and broken. This time I will wake up on day 1 of 33 weeks and cling to the belief that we will meet our living, breathing daughter within 5 weeks. It will be day 231 of this pregnancy but the first day of a new week we didn't get to experience previously.

We will celebrate it.

We will have faith in it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Staring Fear in the Face

Image result for sonogram image of umbilical cord doppler reading
This is what the doppler image of a cord scan during a biophysical profile looks like. They measure the cord in various places to get a reading which comes from the peaks and valleys of the imaging at the bottom, indicating the flow of oxygen and blood through the arteries within the umbilical cord. 

My last post talked about cord accidents in general, the research behind them, identifying different types, how this impacted us and how women who have had a cord accident are at an increased risk of having another cord-related incident.

Entering this pregnancy, I knew there was that risk because what I read about them last year. My doctor knows those risks and that is why we have had this increased monitoring and why I am and always will be classified as a high risk pregnancy. I didn't want to believe it could actually happen again but of course it has been a fear which has driven some anxiety lately because of the point of this pregnancy that we have reached - nearing the 32/33 week mark when we lost Hudson. I haven't really been sleeping well, I have been a lot more emotional than usual, and have been feeling rather on edge. We went to our 31 week appointment on September 1 and were confronted with news that made us stare our fears in the face.

At our 31 week sonogram last Thursday, Hadley presented with high blood pressure flow in three places of her umbilical cord. The ultrasound tech checked a few different spots and the levels didn't sit right with her. It was enough of a jump in her scores from previous weeks to warrant concern. We were none the wiser walking out of the ultrasound room and went about our merry way to wait for my doctor. When our doctor came in, she was in good spirits and started by saying that Hadley looks beautiful but that something new has come up and she didn't want us to panic, that we are catching it early and there are things we can do. She started to explain that the blood pressure in her umbilical cord was elevated which can be problematic and we are going to take every precaution there is given our past with Hudson's cord accident. She let us know that best case scenario is that it could go back to normal on its own and it could just be situational. That it could mean bed rest. That it could be the beginning of a developing problem and could mean I'm admitted to the hospital to be monitored more closely. It could mean we deliver that day if needed.

Try hearing that last one and not panicking. Suddenly my baby's life felt like a waiting game and I was back in a position of fear in that doctor's office. I didn't know how much of her approach was in efforts to keep me calm and what I wasn't being told. I didn't know the extent of how serious it was or what it could become. I didn't know what this would mean for Hadley in this very moment and each one after for the next 6 weeks.

I sat there partially processing and the other part stunned, my husband immediately taking on his calm role of support. I blurted out that I felt hiccups yesterday and had a melt down the night about it because what hiccups could mean if they occur too often. Now, I had only felt them one time, but my mind went to the scary place. I felt hiccups with Hudson at this exact time in my pregnancy. I only felt them three times with him over the course of two weeks, which is in no way excessive, but it still haunts me. The fact that I felt his in the two weeks leading up to his passing and now I was feeling hers at that same week mark and there seemed to be some kind of cord related issue again pushed me over the edge. She told me that we are going to get through this, we are being proactive and her nurse was in the process of calling another fetal high risk specialist for a second evaluation. That was our next step and we will determine from there, that we have a plan.

As they worked to get in touch with them and send over my medical records, we were told to go downstairs to the hospital cafeteria and eat, to try to relax and if we don't hear from them, call in an hour. Riddle me this - how could I possibly eat or relax!? My stomach was in knots, I felt sick and the last scenario she mentioned was going through my mind what if we have to deliver today at 31 weeks? We waited nearly two hours before getting the call to head over to the hospital's Fetal Care Center. I was going crazy thinking what if something happens to her in this time, doing kick counts and recording her movements in my phone to monitor her activity. I have to tell you how amazing my husband is in tough situations. He kept us calm, at as much peace as possible, and distracted as best as he could. He knows how to handle my reactive nature and he is the eternal optimist.

The other doctor we saw was phenomenal with us and very compassionate regarding our previous cord accident loss. Before he started, he laid it out there for us though. He said that he will not take any chances and that if she so much as looked at him wrong on the ultrasound, he would admit us or send us over there to deliver via emergency c-section. By the time I got into see him, it was nearly 3 hours after the initial scan. He looked at the cord in depth in several spots and in two of them, the levels had stabilized to normal realm of comfort. In one area, the numbers were still slightly elevated and a little further apart, but not to the point where they felt we needed to monitor her in the hospital or the need to deliver her immediately.

Want to know something interesting he told us? After we talked about Hudson, he said there are more babies that die before birth in the state of Texas than women who die of breast cancer each year. It is a harrowing fact and one we should pay more attention to. That was eye opening for me but it reinstated his passion for what he does and made me feel in very good hands.

He spent a lot of time evaluating various aspects of her development that could indicate any kind of cord restriction issue, like fluid build up in the brain and heart chambers. Both were completely clear and functioning beautifully. Her heart rate was at a strong 151, and she is growing like a weed. He even took the time to point out a fat roll, so sister is getting what she needs, which is a wonderful sign so far. At the conclusion of the scan, he explained to us what the imaging of the cord blood pressure readings meant. To be honest, I can't fully remember all the different medical terms and explanation of what was happening. I was clinging to every word but not completely processing it because I was waiting for bad news. Essentially, what I was able to gather from the little of the conversation that I retained, is that the cord will go through times where it will constrict and get tighter which will drive up the blood pressure in the arteries through it. This can happen due to maternal anxiety, stress, lack of sleep. Even though my blood pressure is not elevated, he said I need to rest because it effects hers. He and my doctor decided that I am to be on bed rest until my next appointment the following Tuesday when we will go back and do another BPP and most importantly, check that cord flow. At that time, we will look at our course of action for keeping her safe and healthy for the next 6 weeks or until we deliver, whichever comes first. With elevated blood pressure flow in the cord, the risk it can pose is not a sudden thing, it is gradual so they were comfortable with me being home over the long weekend and checking again in a few days.

We were told to be prepared that we may not make it to 37 weeks, but there's nothing saying that we won't. I have a perpetual need to understand and be prepared for things that can come my way. Some may call that being a planner. Guilty. We went into that appointment ready to tell our doctor that we had decided on the date we wanted to induce, ha! Throughout the weekend, I had to fight my need to know everything and start googling so that I don't drive my anxiety up more. I started to look it up on my phone in the hospital as we waited, then read a few sentences in an expecting mom's forum and decided not to read anymore. I needed to just listen to what my doctors say and go to their nurse with questions. I practiced some extreme self control for my nature.

So over the last five days, I've rested. I've finished Parenthood, started Narcos season 2 and spent a lot of time browsing online Labor Day sales to get post-partum recovery items ready. I sat in the glider supervising as Max finished some things in her nursery, like chandelier installation. We are trying to finish things in case her arrival comes sooner than planned. That initial 24 hours was not easy, I was a headcase. I had a hard time sleeping because of all the what ifs swimming in my head, however, it tapered off. Throughout those five days, her movement was great, I checked her heart rate daily and it was strong and consistent with the numbers we've been seeing.

We went back to the doctor today. Hadley started moving around this morning at 5 am so I had immediate comfort starting the day. Our sonogram today revealed that her levels are looking good and are in the range we want them to be in. Bed rest did it's job and we want it to stay this way. We will go in twice a week from here til delivery day, and more if needed. By slowing down with my schedule, restricting physical activity and cutting back my work hours, they feel like this should help contain her umbilical cord blood pressure to safe levels and keep her out of additional risk.

Thursday marks 32 weeks, the beginning of a time frame that I have been anxious about because the very end of that week became the end of our pregnancy last time. Our prayer request first and foremost is for Hadley to remain safe and healthy and for my anxiety to decrease to help with that. My doctor said that if we have to deliver her at anytime, she will be a NICU baby but a NICU baby is a living baby and we will be in excellent hands at our hospital to see her through to coming home. Of course, all we want is a living baby and we will do whatever it takes for that to happen. As her parents, we also want an as-healthy-as-possible baby second to that. We would like to be able to keep her cooking as long as we can and to get to that goal mark of 37 weeks, however, if inside the womb becomes more risky than being on the outside, we are becoming prepared for that.

We have confidence in our medical team. We believe them when they say we will get her here safe and sound. Even with that, it's still hard. It's hard for me when I feel like my body is somehow responsible and I want to understand why the umbilical cord is now an issue in both of my pregnancies and what that can mean in the future. That's really difficult to deal with and I've caught myself dwelling on it and making my head spin, but it's not something we can get caught up in, especially right now. Staying calm has never been more important.

We are thankful for the good news received today giving us some much needed relief. We are thankful to have a wonderful team of medical professionals who have the attitude that there is no such thing as too careful as we go forward. We are thankful for our network of those holding our hands through this. Thank you for following us on this road and supporting us in thought, prayer and action!