Fourteen years ago this September, I met one of the kindest souls I have ever known. With her striking green eyes, she had the power to draw you into her world of simplicity. She became a constant in my life and the lives of my family and friends. She didn’t ask for much, just companionship. She loved being around people. A heartfelt hello and a pat on the back was all she needed. I swear she thought she was a person. And to me and my family, she was.
Nelly Lafawnduh Sprandio came into my life on my 18th birthday.
Yes, her middle name was Lafawnduh. Lafawnduh was the name of one of the characters from the 2004 movie Napoleon Dynamite. My brothers and I liked that movie and I thought it’d be hilarious to name her that. Thankfully, the ultimate voice of reason, my mother, said that was ridiculous and she would not be walking around with a dog named Lafawnduh. I agreed to make it her middle name instead. Her official Kennel Club dog papers have it listed in prominent capital letters:
NELLY LAFAWNDUH SPRANDIO
I’m not sure who came up with Nelly, it was probably my mom. But when I heard it, it seemed right. As she grew, we learned the nervous and timid nature of Nelly. Nervous Nelly … perfect.
Nelly came into the family a few months after our dog Max had passed. He suffered from bloat, which is when a dog’s stomach becomes distended with gas and puts pressure on the diaphragm. It causes breathing issues. Surgery can be done to fix the stomach, but it can be fatal. It happened to Max one afternoon at the shore in May of 2005. He started foaming at the mouth and his limbs became lame. Me, my mom, and my dad rushed him to the vet. As they were prepping him for surgery, Max went into cardiac arrest twice and died. He was nine years old.
Nelly was a healing puppy for all of us, even our other dog Sam. Sam was a temperamental toy poodle and she had a terrible time after Max passed. I can remember she moaned for weeks. It was a distinct mournful cry. Nelly helped Sam heal by being her punching bag. Sam asserted her authority over Nelly from day one, even though Nelly was considerably larger. Sam is one of the reasons Nelly turned out as timid as she was.
Since I attended college down the street from my parents house, I was able to see Nelly whenever I wanted and my friends got a chance to know her as well. My mom, God bless her, had three dogs at home with her when I was in college. My brother Mike had a dog named King, a standard poodle, and he would drop King off at my mom’s during the day when he went to work. My mom took care of Nelly, King, and Sam. Three poodles of three different sizes. King was also an authoritarian. He and Sam would battle for leadership, while Nelly cowered and tried to be the peacemaker. It was an interesting dynamic.
After about a year of living at home after college, I moved in with my brother Mike and Nelly came with me. I was in grad school and doing freelance work, so I spent a lot of time in the house with Nelly. I had parties with friends and Nelly would wander around reveling in a house full of people. She was one of the gang.
Nelly was five when little John was born. I was surprised at how well she adapted to him. She wasn’t a puppy anymore and was starting to get set in her ways. I assumed there would at least be some resistance on her part, but she never snapped, she never got agitated. She allowed little John to pat her, pull her hair, whatever he wanted to do. For the next eight years, baby after baby would discover Nelly. She met them as infants and watched them grow. She let them climb on her, pull her hair, and chase her around. She would get a spark of youth when she would see the kids. Even if she was having a day where she was struggling to walk the stairs, her ability to run and jump suddenly returned when the kids came around. It was so special to be able to introduce Nelly to my baby.
About 6 months before I got married, I moved back home with Nelly. After I got married in 2015, Nelly stayed with my mom and dad. She was ten years old and we didn’t want to take her out of an environment that made her conformable. While I know Nelly posed some inconveniences for my parents, they did adore her. They didn’t always admit it, but they did. Even though they had a few dogs over the years, they didn’t really become “dog people” until the last four years Nelly lived with them. She offered them comfort as they each took on new roles in their life, “empty nesters.” Four out of the five of us live close by, so the house is never truly “empty,” but during weeknights, it was my mom, dad, and Nelly. On days when my mom was home during the day, it would be her and Nelly. They never really said much to her and she didn’t say much to them. But I know they enjoyed having each other around for the simple comfort of knowing somebody was there. In the mornings, my dad would snap his fingers and Nelly would follow to be let outside. When she started having trouble on the stairs, my dad would help her along, walking step by step with her. After he left for work, she would go back upstairs and join my mom as she got ready for the day. She followed my mom everywhere. My mom used to take her out in the car with her when she was running quick errands. Nelly would sit happily in the backseat. When Zach and I began the process to buy and renovate our house, we moved in with my parents and Nelly. That would be the last time I lived in the same house as her.
Nelly had many lumps that developed over time and a few sores on her back, typical things that happen to an aging animal. One thing that was most worrisome was a cough that would come and go. My dad and I had taken her to the vet a couple times in recent months. The vet insisted we get tests done etc, but we didn’t want to put Nelly through extensive tests at her age. He gave us a few cough suppressants and the cough would subside for a while. My parents had many sleepless nights when Nelly would be struggling to settle herself. They did what they could to make her comfortable.
June 9, 2019.
The day started as an ordinary Stone Harbor day. We woke up and had breakfast. My parents went out to the store as Zach and I got Lucy ready for the beach. I put Nelly in her cage because nobody was in the house. She was coughing a little bit, but nothing concerning. I locked her in and told her I’d be back soon.
When we came back from the beach, I let her out of her cage and brought her up to the porch. I got Lucy down for a nap and joined my parents, Zach, and Nelly outside. Nelly began to cough, like usual. It seems as though in unison we all said, “Okay, Nelly. It’s okay.”
The cough continued on, getting harsher with each breath.
“See, this is what she does,” my mom said.
“It’s never gone on this long,” I said as alarm rose in my voice.
It wasn’t a cough anymore. She sounded like she was choking. My dad googled the nearest Veterinary office and went inside to call them. Nelly laid down on the porch, Zach stroked her head. Her tongue was hanging out, her abdomen heaved in and out like never before. I began to cry. I looked up at Zach.
“Do you think she’s dying? This isn’t right. Something is wrong with her.”
I ran inside to my dad, “Dad, we need to take her. We need to take her now. I think she’s dying.”
Zach picked Nelly up and carried her to my mom’s car. I sat with her in the backseat. She sat beside me. Her eyes yellowed. Her tongue hung out of her mouth. Her abdomen heaved in and out faster as she struggled to take a deep breath.
“She’s choking,” I shouted. My words weren’t helping, but I didn’t know what to do. I felt helpless. My parents were silent up front. We all feared the same thing, this was the beginning of the end. Flashbacks of the three of us driving down the same road with my dog Max flooded my brain.
“It’s okay. It’s okay, Nell.”
We arrived at South Paw Veterinary hospital. They brought us back to an exam room. Nelly laid down on a dog bed on the floor and I sat on the floor next to her. My parents sat in chairs beside her. We talked to her while we waited. We reminisced about when we brought her home. My mom went to pick her up with my brother Mike and she sat in Mike’s lap on the drive back. She urinated all over his lap and he sat there patiently until they arrived home. When I first met her, she was sitting in the basement with a bow around her neck. The first time we locked eyes, we were connected forever.
My dad and I had discussed for a few months prior that Nelly may need to be put down, that it was the right thing to do for her. That day, he kept repeating it. “Kate, this is the right thing to do. She’s been suffering. This is the right thing to do.” I know he kept repeating it to make it easier for me to let her go, but I think he kept repeating it for himself and my mom too. We didn’t want Nelly to suffer anymore, but we still needed to convince ourselves that it was time to let her go. She had become such a staple in our family. She was always there to greet everyone at the door, always lying around in whatever room we were all gathered in. She was our friend, our family member. I said to my parents, “Think about how much our family has changed since we got Nelly.” We were kids when we got her and now look at us, 5 weddings and 10 babies later. Nearly 14 years, and now it was time to say good bye.
The doctor came in and saw Nelly struggling to breathe. She was able to diagnose what it was right away just by the way Nelly’s abdomen was heaving in and out. She told us Nelly had laryngeal paralysis. It’s when the opening to her trachea was paralyzed and Nelly was essentially suffocating. When it first starts, the animal exhibits labored or noisy breathing and as it progresses it becomes increasingly harder for them to breathe. We described her history to the doctor. In retrospect, Nelly had been exhibiting classic symptoms for months. The doctor said we could sedate her and help her get out of the current episode and go home, but she said she would keep getting worse. She said she knew it was a hard decision, but the most humane thing to do for her would be to let her go.
The doctor was so kind as she explained the process. She would first administer anesthesia, so Nelly wouldn’t feel anything and then she would administer the euthanasia medication. She got down on the floor beside Nelly’s legs. The doctor covered the IV they had put in. I was sitting up by Nelly’s face. I kept my eyes locked on hers. I stroked her head over and over.
“You did a good job, Nelly,” I said. “You were such a good dog. Such a good dog. You did a good job. We love you, Nelly. You did a good job.” Tears ran down all of our faces.
I watched as her breathing slowed. Her belly heaved in and out slowly a few more times. I looked in her eyes, those beautiful eyes that once sparkled a striking green color, those eyes that held such trust and love, those eyes were dark now. I took a deep breath in as I closed a chapter of my life and said my final good bye to my friend.
Nelly was at peace.
The doctor stayed with us for a moment and reassured us we did the best thing for Nelly. She left the room and said we could take as much time as we needed. The three of us sat there looking at Nelly. We cried together as we talked about her long life. It was sad, it was really sad, but there was also a feeling of relief. Relief that she wasn’t suffering anymore. It was the most peaceful we had seen Nelly in about a year. Relief that we were able to be there with her as she was able to be there for us so many times before in good and bad. As sad as we were, we were comforted by each other and the knowledge that we did everything we could for our friend.
It is often said that dogs are too good for this world. That was the case for Nelly. We often take the love and loyalty that dogs provide us for granted. They become members of the family and we don’t realize what we have until they’re gone. Over the years, Nelly taught us patience, kindness, loyalty, and love. She taught us that even when you get old and sore, you can still be young at heart and reignite that spark of youth.
Nelly lived a long, happy life. She was a kind, pure, loving soul. We were blessed to have known her and will forever share the fond memories we made.
Farewell, my friend. You did a good job.
I had wanted to include this story with my previous post, but I felt like it needed its own spotlight.
It was late afternoon a few weeks ago and Lucy was being crabby about going down for a nap. It had been a long, dreary day already, so I decided to take her for a drive. A drive in the car never fails to induce a nap. I drove around my neighborhood a couple times thinking about where I could go. Right near my house is Holy Sepulchre Cemetery where some relatives and friends of my family are buried. It had been a long time since I had driven through and visited them.
I called my mom and my aunt Clare to help me remember how to find the gravesite where some of their family was buried. Clare told me the particular road to turn down and then said to look for the Celtic cross. I found the road and saw a sea of Celtic crosses. I laughed. Was she joking? Look for the Celtic cross where half of Ireland is buried.
I felt like giving up, but then I saw it, the headstone marked Quinn.
Buried there are the following: my maternal great grandparents, Kathryn (my namesake) and Edward. My maternal grandparents Jeanne (my middle namesake) and Bob. My great aunt and uncle Clare and Weston. My mom’s cousin’s husband Jim. My cousins Jeanne Kathryn and Benjamin. And the most recent being my uncle Robert, my mom’s brother. The 5th anniversary of his death was May 18th. I wrote about him a few years ago after his sudden heart attack. It’s still so hard to believe he is gone.
Lucy was asleep, so I got out of the car alone. I stood there, thinking of memories about the ones I was lucky enough to know, wondering what life would be like if they were still with us. I must have looked like a crazy person, but I began talking out loud. I think it made me feel better. I guess people do that, right? It may be silly, but I had this feeling I was being heard. I talked about how in my immediate family there were 10 kids and about the babies in my extended family. I thanked them for watching over Lucy when she had her scare and for watching over the twins when they were in the hospital for their first month.
As I was speaking, a light breeze came through and it thundered! I turned around and looked above in the direction it thundered. The sun was breaking through the clouds, the rays shined down on the graves. It had been rainy off and on, but it had not thundered the ENTIRE day up until that point and it did not thunder THE REST of the evening after that moment. Now that’s weird. And it wasn’t a prolonged series of thunder, it was a brief boom that lingered for a few seconds.
I am iffy about my belief in signs from beyond the grave, mostly because I haven’t experienced many. I think with what happened with Lucy, I have become more open to signs from above. Well, THIS was a sign. I have no doubt that this was a sign. They were answering me. Side note, Kathryn Quinn, my great grandmother, was born October 29th. That is the day Lucy was discharged from Children’s Hospital.
I stood there overcome with emotion, tears welled up in my eyes. I thanked them all for the sign and I reached out to touch the stone. I hoped that with a touch of the stone I could somehow impart to them how much I missed them all. There are other family members and friends of our family buried in this cemetery. I didn’t have time to drive around and find them all, but I made sure to say hello as I drove out. I think everyone was giving me a shout out.
I drove away that evening in peace knowing that those we have lost can always be found, we just need to listen closely with our hearts open.
After all the craziness of the first couple months of Lucy’s life, we began plans to get her baptized. We picked a date, we picked Godparents, and we got the paperwork in. With all the planning of the event, the true meaning of it all got lost. In terms of the actual sacrament, my immediate thinking was that we “had to” get Lucy baptized because that’s what Catholics do, they baptize their children.
Before we could get her baptized, our church required us to go to a meeting about baptism. At first I thought the meeting would be silly, Zach and I knew what baptism was. Lucy was becoming an official member of the church and the priest was washing away her original sin. Yada, yada, we knew the spiel.
To my surprise, the meeting turned out to be meaningful. It was an hour out of our lives to reflect on what it was we were actually doing for Lucy. We needed this break. We were reflecting on our personal reasons to baptize her not because of the technical“rules” of the church. We wanted our child baptized because we want for Lucy what we had. Zach and I both had positive experiences growing up in the Catholic church. We were both involved in our communities and frequented Sunday masses with our families. I always admired the priest in my parish, Father Himsworth. He was a kind man who was good to my family over the years. Even after he retired, I kept in touch with him through letters. Zach told me he volunteered for years at his church, opening it up for early morning masses and leading classes for kids. Our church communities were extended family. Because of my schooling, as a teenager and a young adult, I developed close relationships with members of the Sisters of St. Joseph, a group of women who I can’t say enough good things about. My aunt Karen is a prominent member of the order. They are a group who showed immense support when Lucy was first born and had her medical scares.
Sitting in this meeting allowed Zach and I to be reminded of how much we enjoyed being involved. I have been saying for a few years, “We need to go to church more. We need to get more involved in the community.” It’s been an empty sentiment on my part. I want to, but I haven’t put forth the effort. Why? I really don’t know. Even though we had such positive experiences growing up, I think we’ve allowed the current church climate to affect us. “Positive” isn’t a word used often to describe the church in today’s world. What with scandals coming out so often about disgraceful behavior from hierarchy, it’s easy to fall away or lose faith. It’s easy to be afraid. And I also think it’s as simple as life getting in the way. Poor excuses, but it’s true. Despite the darkness in the world and the hectic nature of life, sweet Lucy has brought us back to our roots.
The deacon who baptized Lucy is a nice guy. He’s one of the good ones who can often be overlooked amidst the darknesses in the church. He baptized Lucy and one other baby that day. In his opening, he spoke about how we live in a broken world. That’s just the truth. I appreciated his candor. Sadly, the truth is hard to come by in society today and it’s refreshing when someone is strong enough to be honest. We do live in a broken world. But he pointed out that babies don’t know that yet. Babies are so pure and unaware of sadness and hardships. Our job as parents is to provide a happy environment and share the good.
I was struck by this. It’s so obvious, but I hadn’t given it much thought. One of the most important of our responsibilities as parents is simple, show Lucy all the good life has to offer. Sure, she will learn about the bad stuff and try as we might there is nothing we can do to stop her from experiencing that, except be there for her and guide her. By having her join the church, we are providing her the opportunity to join a loving community that will allow her to feel safe and grow in faith. We are having her join an extended family that can help us reinforce a positive environment. Thankfully, the church we belong to is a great place. And, as I said above, we have a unique connection with the SSJ who are also affiliated with our church. The religious in the community are wonderful people and truly care about the families. I have been a member there a long time and our niece and nephews attend the parish school. It’s a small community, which makes it easy to get to know everyone. It reminds me a great deal of the parish I grew up in. It feels like home and our hope is Lucy will find comfort in that feeling as well.
When we went up to the baptismal font, I held Lucy and Zach stood beside me. I looked out at our families gathered in front of us. It was one of those “I feel like a grown up” moments. I told my mom this after the fact and she said, “That made you feel like a grown up? The whole giving birth to a human thing didn’t make you grow up?”
Lucy was hilarious of course, she screamed when the deacon motioned to come near her and calmed down as soon as he backed away.
I glanced over at her Godparents, my oldest brother John and Zach’s sister Sarah. I saw the pride they each held in their smiles for their new titles. I was reminded of the significance of Godparents. To me a Godparent is a special mentor for life. My Godmother is my aunt Tracey and my Godfather is my cousin Johnny. I was grateful they were able to join us celebrate that day. I’m 31 years old and they are still showing up for me and I am still leaning on them for support. Both of them were also there for us when Lucy was in the hospital. Without question, they showed up to support us. I don’t know many people who can still say their Godparents play an essential role in their lives.
Like me, Lucy is blessed to have many loved ones ready to support her at any moment, but I hope she develops this special connection with her Godparents. My hope is when she experiences the ups and downs, if she feels she can’t come to me or Zach, that she can go to John or Sarah. I know she will because they are two people Zach and I feel we can personally count on. I was also reminded of what my own role is as a Godparent to my niece Grace. I know I could step it up and be more present to Grace, even in small ways like checking in on her more often. In this fleeting moment of reflection, I allowed myself to be immersed in the true meaning of baptism: family, love, human connection. (Side note, Zach and I were blessed to be asked to be the Godparents of our sweet niece Holly. My little “God family” is growing!)
If anything, you all know from other posts that I have doubted more than I have believed over the last few years. The journey of doubt and renewal is one most of us find ourselves on. It is essential to personal growth in my opinion. Life changing events have the power to take us away or bring us back to faith. I lived a charmed life up until I had some bumps in the road. How many people can say that? 29 years without encountering a serious hardship. I allowed my miscarriages to pull me away from faith. I allowed the hardship to bring me down. Lucy has brought me back. She has lifted me up, lifted us up. Her arrival was perfect timing. I believe when we are at our lowest if we try hard enough to keep our heads up, something life changing does come around to lift us up again.
[Actually, to be exact, it felt like she lifted us up the day she was born, she had seizures and then we were taken down again from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, and then she got better and we were rejuvenated once more. Writing it out that way, her entrance into our lives really was completely insane. We are beyond blessed it has all worked out in her favor.]
Lucy has done so much for us and our families since she arrived. Restoring our faith is one of the major things. Our faith in God and our faith in each other is at an all time high. She has helped me restore my faith in myself too. I had no idea, but apparently I have intuition. The way I respond to her and I am somehow able to understand what she needs amazes me. She and I have an indescribable connection. I hate to be cliché, but I really have never known love like this before. Sometimes it’s a bit too strong. Some days she doesn’t let me move more than five feet from her. But that’s okay, even though it can be exasperating. As long as it fades by the time she goes to school. She won’t get any dates with her mom hanging around her all the time.
She has brought forth a side of myself that I didn’t know was in there. She has helped me feel a pride and a self confidence in myself that I had been lacking for some time. Lucy has helped us rediscover the good in the world, the simple joys life has to offer every day.
We all have our struggles, but it is important to find something that rejuvenates us. Rejuvenation, it is key for the soul.
At least a few times a week, I will look at Lucy and say, “I can’t believe I pushed you out of my body.” She’ll smile at me and drool all over herself. I say, “No, really, you were in my belly and I pushed you out. How did I do that?” Her little face lights up with laughter. Yeah, real funny Lucy.
How did I do it? I pushed really hard and a baby came out. Sounds simple. I didn’t have much of a chance to process what I did since Lucy decided to scare the crap out of us 2 days after she was born. We were thrown into a tornado of terror and uncertainty. Then, suddenly, we were sent home with this tiny creature and told she’d be okay.
Childbirth is seriously amazing and sort of terrifying…okay really terrifying. Don’t worry, I won’t go into gory details. If you want specifics, shoot me a message. And I’m not trying to scare anyone out of doing it. It is terrifying, but it’s such a miracle. It’s a miracle that this tiny life form is pushed out of a bigger life form and the whole process goes right as often as it does. It’s a miracle that a woman can conjure up enough strength required to birth a child. I never believed I was that strong. Now, after doing that, I feel as though I am capable of doing anything.
I didn’t cry through the induction process and most of early labor. I expected myself to be a crazy mess, but I was smiling and making jokes with Zach most of the time…probably because of the epidural.
But, when the doctor came in and said I would be pushing soon, I lost it. I had this uncontrollable urge to cry. Through the tears I said to Zach and my mom I hoped that nothing would go wrong. I said I wasn’t sure if I was strong enough to do it. I feared I would be bad at being a mom. I apologized for crying. They both consoled me and said I was being silly. They reassured me that I would do this and I would be a great mom.
When I began to push, the fear went away. The doubts disappeared. I did what I had to do. I pushed my baby out. When they handed her to me, I felt a contentment that I never felt before. I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t unsure. I felt a courage and confidence that I had never had until that moment. It’s like a switch was flipped on. The mom switch. Lucy was my baby and from that moment on I would do anything and everything to ensure she was going to have a wonderful life.
It’s true that right after you have the baby, the pain and insanity of the moment melt away. When you see the face of the little human you and your partner created, everything else becomes irrelevant. All you can focus on is the prize you got after the most physically taxing moment of your life.
Since my last blog post, I have had more of a chance to think about the childbirth process and formulate an articulate response:
OH MY GOD THAT WAS THE MOST INSANE THING I HAVE EVER DONE. I PUSHED A SMALL HUMAN OUT OF MY BODY AND NOW I AM WALKING AROUND FEELING FINE LIKE NOTHING EVER HAPPENED … AND DARE I SAY, I’D DO IT AGAIN?!
It was seriously awesome and the respect I have for my body, the female gender, and life itself has increased by a million. And even though it was super intense and wild, I would totally do it again. I think there is a thing to these hormones. God put hormones into the mix to make women crazy enough to want to do this again and again. These hormones are no joke. THERE ARE SO MANY FEELINGS. I miss being pregnant sometimes. Is that crazy? I miss that feeling of a life growing inside of me. There’s nothing like it. I think the hormones give you like a life high or something. You get on hooked on creating life.
They say your body should be mostly back to normal within 6-8 weeks after you deliver. Which is true, your body does get back to its essential inner workings pretty quickly, but it is forever changed. When you have a baby, you are not only learning how to take care of this new human, but also how to take care of the new you. You get a new baby, a new body, and a new soul.
I feel like my soul has changed. Both Zach and I fee l that way. We feel enriched. We feel a new kind of happiness. Lucy has helped us level up in this game of life.
In retrospect, the first few weeks we had her home were kinda nuts. She slept a lot during the day and spent her nights waking up every 1-2 hours. One of my brothers said to me, being up with the baby in the middle of the night is really special. I thought that was an insane statement at first, but over time I have found that he was right. He said, “the middle of the night feeds are the best. It’s just you and the baby, nobody else.” No matter how tired I feel, I revel in the time I get to spend with Lucy feeding her in the quiet of the wee hours of the morning. She is typically pleasant in the middle of the night, which makes it easier. She often goes right back to sleep after eating. There of course have been nights when she is wide awake after eating. I get frustrated and find myself saying, “Oh, God, come on Lucy, just go back to sleep, please.” Zach will come in and ask if I need help and I’ll snap back at him, “Just go back to sleep!” It happens! It’s hard, but the key is to remain a united front with your partner. It can be a struggle figuring out whatever the issue is. It’s the worst when we look at her when she is crying and she looks right at us as if she is saying, “What are you going to do about this?! Help me! Figure this out!”
I have found she seems to be a baby who only cries when something is really bothering her. She doesn’t cry just to cry. I feel like some babies cry just because they can. Once we figure out what’s making her uncomfortable, she calms down right away. I have been getting better at determining what it is she needs. I have intuition, who knew.
That intuition came in handy. In the beginning of January, she gave us another scare. She had high fevers off and on for over a week. We took her to the doctor and they said it was probably a virus because she had a runny nose. I felt like there was something else going on with her. The runny nose and congestion weren’t convincing to me. The fever continued, but the runny nose did not. Off to CHOP ER we went.
We learned that there are two possibilities when a baby under 3 months presents with high fevers: a viral infection or a urinary tract infection. Of course, with Lucy’s luck, it was a UTI. She spent two nights in CHOP so she could get IV antibiotics to get rid of the infection. She was smiling through the whole ordeal. Classic Lucy.
Zach and I stayed there overnight and as we walked through the hospital to the cafeteria, we were reminded of her first few days of life. We felt blessed that all she had this time was a UTI. We navigated the halls like we owned the place. Hopefully, we won’t have to stay over night there anytime soon, if ever again. The sleeping arrangements can be rough.
That was an awful week. Her fever got up to 103 one night. She would scream and scream and we didn’t know what was going on. She only wanted to be held. Poor girl was a hot mess.
She has been fine since we figured it out. She has a urinary reflux issue on one side. Vesicoureteral reflux to be exact. I had the same thing when I was young and I grew out of it, but I never had symptoms. She looks like her father, but she got my urinary tract. My bad, Lucy.
I didn’t find out I had it until I was 29 when I discovered my blood pressure was high. My high BP is a result of the years of reflux going untreated. At least we discovered it and can be on top of it. The doctor said it’s something she will grow out of and requires no intervention at this time. All we need to do is monitor her and keep her on a medicine to prevent further infection for now. Lucy gets lucky again.
It’s shocking Lucy has only been with us for just over three months. It feels like years. My assessment on parenting at 3 months in: parenting is hard work, but it’s fulfilling. It’s exciting and scary and beautiful. Every day is an adventure with Lucy. It’s a pleasure and a blessing to be able to experience the miracle of life through her. The blow out diapers, the spit up, the middle of the night feeds, the occasional screaming fit, the hospital visits, it’s all worth it.
The other night we had gone out and Zach’s sister and brother-in-law had watched her. When we got home, they said she was very upset for a good part of the night. As soon as she saw us, she lit up. After they left, we sat with her. She laid on my chest and held her head up. She had a smirk on her face. Her little hand was resting on my chin. The stare she had was one of overwhelming love and admiration. She was lost in my face. She turned to Zach and gave him the same look. Back and forth her little head would go. She couldn’t get enough of us. She was the happiest, most content person in that moment. To be able to provide such an intense level of love, comfort, and safety to a tiny person is so gratifying. It was a simple moment, but it was one of the most beautiful moments we have had with her so far. Knowing that we can provide this type of happiness for her makes everything worthwhile.
And, just for the record, after reflecting and working on this post for a few days, I still don’t understand how I gave birth.
Wednesday October 24th, I gave birth to the most perfect little human I’ve ever seen. Her name is Lucy Rose Ells. Weighing in at 7lbs, 14oz and 22 inches long, Lucy was a force from the start. With the help of excellent doctors, nurses, Zach, and my mom, I succeeded in bringing her into the world safely.
Tuesday night, Zach and I went to Lankenau to begin the induction. I took my first dose of medicine and settled in for the long haul. As I laid in the hospital bed with Zach at my side, we watched the first game of the World Series. Talk about my “labor plan” not going the way I thought. I never thought I’d have to be induced and I never thought I’d be watching a Red Sox World Series while being induced. Once again, life proves not everything goes according to plan. In the middle of the night, the contractions began and the discomfort set in. I think the contraction pain rivaled the pain of watching a Boston sports team. I was able to push through the hours and focus on my goal. I was on the final leg of my journey to meet our baby.
At 7am, the resident taking care of me told us we were moving to a labor and delivery room. I walked to the next room in my hospital gown looking like a surge protector. Multiple wires hung down from me from my IV to the heart monitor they had strapped around my belly.
Once settled, I was given more medicine to make the contractions increase. By 10am, I got the epidural and life was blissful. I couldn’t feel my hips or my legs and it was great! I sat chatting and laughing with Zach as we guessed at what it would be like to be parents and what our baby would look like. Even as I sat there unable to feel my legs with wires attached to me and monitors beeping off and on, I could not comprehend that I was going to be pushing a human being out of my body.
My parents and Zach’s parents came through and various family members appeared. Everyone was brimming with excitement. I expected it to feel like it would drag on, but I think time flew by. Before I knew it, my doctor was telling me to push.
I had Zach and my mom to my left side and a nurse on my right. Front and center was my doctor, Dr. Hammerel. Dr. Hammerel has been with me since the beginning of my journey. She rearranged her schedule that evening because, in her words, “I feel like I’m meant to deliver this baby.”
I couldn’t have asked for a better team. With Zach in my ear counting to ten for each push and telling me he loved me, my mom telling me how strong I was and how proud she was, and the doctors and nurses continuously telling me I was doing an amazing job, labor honestly wasn’t that bad.
I conjured up a strength from the deepest parts of me. All of the feelings I had developed over time fueled my power to push my baby out. This was it. This was the moment I had waited for. This was MY time for MY baby. Everything that had happened leading up to it happened to make me stronger. It all happened so this particular human being could have a place in this world. This child was meant for greatness. This child was meant to be with me and Zach. With each passing push, I felt stronger. I focused on my doctor as she coached me through the final pushes. It was such a blur. Quite literally, considering I didn’t have my glasses on.
As I pushed with every ounce of myself and roared through my teeth, the doctor pulled my baby up into view.
“It’s a girl!” Zach proudly announced to the room.
I was shocked! A girl! I had a girl! My mom rejoiced, “A girl, a girl! My girl had a girl!” The medical staff celebrated. My baby entered the world the way every baby should, to a round of applause. The staff cleaned her up and brought her back to me. She instantly calmed down as she rested peacefully on my chest. Finally, I got to feel the greatest feeling in the world.
Zach and I couldn’t take our eyes off of her the rest of the night. After meeting both sets of her grandparents and her aunts and uncles, we were moved to the next room. Our nurse came in and explained to me how to take care of myself and asked me about my pain level. Pain? I felt no pain. The love and admiration I had for Lucy overpowered any other feeling in my body. I was a mom, Zach was a dad, and this blessed gift from heaven was our baby girl.
Lucy’s first full day with us was magical. We had a few visitors come through, including a photographer who took beautiful photos, but for a majority of the day it was just us. Our new family of 3. We watched her as she slept and hung on every little sound she would make. Her eyes didn’t open much, but when they did it was easy to get lost in her mesmerizing gaze.
Near midnight, I fed Lucy and the nurses came to take her for her evaluation. The nurse asked if I wanted them to keep her until she was ready to eat. I remembered my mom saying, “If they ask if you want her taken to the nursery at night, do it. Get some rest with Zach because you won’t be getting much when you get home! It’s a good opportunity for the nurses to keep an eye on her too.”
They took my baby from me at midnight. Zach and I drifted off to sleep as dreams of being with our Lucy flooded our minds.
I heard the door open and the lights went on in a flash. I eagerly sat up thinking it was time to feed my precious new baby.
A tall man in a white coat approached my bedside, but Lucy was not with him.
This doctor sat down in a chair next to me and a flood of information came at us. It was all a blur. Involuntary movements, blood tests, spinal tap, possible MRI, EEG, maybe a strep infection, possible meningitis. Those are just a few words I can recall.
Was I dreaming? I just saw her two hours ago. My baby was perfect. What the hell was this guy talking about? He had to have the wrong baby, but he kept saying her name.
We are monitoring Lucy. Lucy may need further testing. Lucy is exhibiting involuntary movements. Lucy may be having seizures. Lucy has been sent up to the NICU.
My Lucy?? Lucy Rose Ells, my first baby? My rainbow baby? My baby is in the intensive care unit? Zach and I sat there immobile. I don’t remember taking a breath. I held it hoping I would wake from this nightmare. Zach may have asked questions, but I can’t remember. All I remember is nodding my head as the doctor said, “We will contact you with more updates.”
Our hearts ached. Unsure of what to do or how to process it, I called my parents. They answered on the first ring. I relayed what I could to them through intermittent sobs. I knew they could calm me down with their combined medical knowledge and of course their soothing way of talking. I needed to hear their opinions. I just needed to hear their voices. There I was, a new mother, calling on my own parents to help me.
I told them not to come yet and that I would call with any news. Zach and I told each other it would all be okay. I don’t know if either of us believed it or if we said it to calm each other, but we laid our weary hearts to rest and attempted to go back to sleep.
Our door opened again. I shot up in bed. My heart instantly felt a calmness. My parents had arrived. Even though I told them not to come, they knew in my voice that I needed them. My mom hugged me and it calmed me in a way only my mom’s hugs do.
After talking, the four of us fell into a broken sleep until the doctor came back a few hours later. At that point, he said he had already ruled out various problems, which was good. All her lab results were coming back normal. His primary concern, however, was her brain. The seizures were a result of some event that occurred in her brain. He wanted to send her for an MRI and an EEG asap.
It was her brain. Something was wrong with our baby’s brain. How could this be? She seemed normal. How did we not catch that something was off? The doctor said the seizures she was having were so subtle that they were hard to identify. The normal movements newborns make are already sudden and weird that catching the slight involuntary movements she was making was hard to do. That’s why they needed an EEG done, to monitor her brainwaves and catch how often she was seizing. God bless the nurses in the nursery who caught these subtle movements. Thank God I listened to my mom and sent Lucy to the nursery for the night.
Morning to afternoon
As the day wore on and we waited and worried, more family appeared. My three older brothers left work to be with us. Zach’s parents and his sister and brother-in-law came. A few of my aunts came. The texts and calls came flooding in from various family members and friends extending their prayers. Word traveled fast that we needed prayers. No matter what was going to happen to this baby, she had a lot of people to support her. The nurses and the social worker on staff at the NICU who spent the afternoon with us commented on how much support we had. That’s what family is all about. In times of need, family shows up.
Waiting was hard, but not being able to hold our baby was grueling. Zach and I yearned to hold her and comfort her. We felt so helpless. We sat for hours with our family. My dad, brothers, and mom used their medical expertise to try and figure out what it could be. Being from a family of doctors and a nurse and having worked in a medical office, I am familiar with the terms the doctors were throwing at us. I understood the severity of the situation, but part of me wished in those moments I was ignorant. Maybe it would have been easier to digest if I wasn’t familiar with what it could be.
Various scenarios uncontrollably passed through my mind. First and foremost, what if she died? What if she had some sort of severe brain damage that she couldn’t recover from? What if we were going to leave the hospital without our baby girl? It was a morbid thought, but I couldn’t help it. I felt like I had to prepare myself emotionally and mentally for any possible outcome. What if she was going to struggle the rest of her life? She didn’t deserve that. She is an angel. Why did she have to go through this? Why did Zach and I have to be tested again? Didn’t we learn enough lessons already? Why was God being so cruel?
By late morning, we were allowed to see Lucy in the NICU. It was the first time we saw her since midnight. Poor little Lucy was hooked up to monitors and her face was puffy from the fluids. She was groggy from the seizure medicine, so she wasn’t responding to us except for the occasional grip on our thumbs. There was a screen monitoring her heart rate, blood pressure, etc. She didn’t look like the baby I had held just hours before.
As we sat with her, we witnessed her seizures. In retrospect, we realized we had seen the subtle movements the day before. If we hadn’t sent her to the nursery, we may have brought her home never knowing she was struggling. We watched as her head twitched. Her little hands and feet shook so lightly. She was so dainty even her seizures were dainty. We held her hands as the tremors set in, whispering in her ear that she was going to be okay. We told her how strong she was and how we would do everything we could for her. We told her how much we loved her. She clutched Zach’s thumb as he kissed her on the head. I had to look away at moments, it was too much for me. But Zach, Zach kept his eyes focused on her the whole time. It was the hardest moment of our lives watching our baby girl in distress.
They did an ultrasound of her brain and those results showed there was no active bleeding. However, the MRI results came back with evidence. One of the doctors overseeing her care guided us to a small room. There were three spots of damage on her brain. Lucy had suffered a form of stroke. They weren’t sure of the severity of it or even when it happened. The doctor started firing questions. “Did you have complications during pregnancy? Did delivery go okay? You’ve had two miscarriages, was this a natural conception? Did you take fertility drugs? Do you have a history of a blood clotting disorder?” I understood she had to cover all the bases and get my proper history, but my mind was spinning out of control. There were no complications, pregnancy was natural, I didn’t take any medicines, I had no history of blood clotting issues. My miscarriages were random. Why is she asking this? Was this my fault?
After further monitoring, the NICU doctor decided that they weren’t able to provide the care Lucy needed. An adult neurologist reviewed her MRI results and what they needed was a pediatric neurologist to review it. They didn’t want to keep pumping her with more seizure medicine when they weren’t sure of the dosage she needed or how to move forward. She suggested we transfer her to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) NICU for further evaluation and a firm diagnosis. My family is personally familiar with CHOP and my brothers wives have friends who work in the NICU. They took to their phones to ensure Lucy would get a spot. My dad called our childhood pediatrician right away and he gave him the number of one of the neurologists there. Zach and I are so grateful for the care the doctors and nurses at Lankenau gave to Lucy and to me. We are most grateful that they recognized so quickly that they couldn’t provide what Lucy needed. In situations like these, time is of the essence. How lucky was Lucy to be born in a city with the best children’s hospital in the country.
As details were being finalized, I went back to our room to lie down. I needed to get off of my feet. I was so concerned for Lucy that it didn’t register that I was in physical pain. I had to remember that I was in recovery and I needed my strength so I could be there for my baby. I sat alone in the hospital room crying. This was not how I pictured my second full day as a mom. Okay, God. I get it. Life does not go as planned.
The door opened and my three big brothers came in. “What stuff needs to go?” I told them and without hesitation they started gathering my things. With the help of the doctor in the NICU and the contacts we had, Lucy was secured a room at CHOP and an ambulance was coming. All I could do was cry and thank them. The three of them reassured me it was going to be okay and they reinforced how strong I was.
I drifted off to sleep. I have no idea how much time went by, but I heard the door open again. It was my dad. He came up to my bedside.
“She’s going to be okay, Kate,” he said. I looked in his eyes. Tears were welling up and there was a cracking in his voice. My dad is the strongest and smartest man I know. It was one of the few times I have seen him vulnerable. I wasn’t sure if he believed what he was saying or if he was being a Dad and saying it to make me feel better.
“Are you sure?” I croaked.
“She’s not going to die from this,” he said firmly. It’s as if he knew my mind was drifting in and out of the darkest corners. He knew that’s what I thought might happen. “She’s going to be okay. And if she needs help along the way, we will all do everything in our power to help her. She has the resources.”
“Okay,” I said.
I believed him. I always believe and trust in my dad. This was one of those moments in life when I felt like an adult. He was talking straight with me. No sugar coating. His vulnerability was real. I believed he knew in his heart that my baby was going to be okay. If my dad believed it, then I believed it.
When the ambulance arrived, one of the responders was a girl I knew when I was younger, another guardian angel for Lucy. I watched as this girl from my youth assisted with packing my baby up on a stretcher. It’s amazing how people resurface in your life in different ways. She was so kind and professional and I felt reassured that Lucy was with someone I knew.
By the time Lucy was ready, everyone was already at CHOP waiting for us. Zach’s parents drove us down behind the ambulance. I could see through the windshield into the back of the ambulance. I was in a car following an ambulance with our baby inside. I cried to myself the whole way there, Zach’s hand clutched in mine. I turned a few times to look at him. We didn’t need to say anything out loud, our eyes spoke for us. Everyone kept telling me how strong I was being. Zach was the reason for that strength. Not sure what I would do without Zach. As a team, we have become an unstoppable force. The path to becoming parents had bumps in the road and now our first days as parents were turning out to be the most stressful of our lives. With the darkness I felt in my heart, I still felt an overwhelming positive feeling that we would get through it together.
We entered the hospital through the back entrance with the responders and Lucy. We got to Lucy’s room in the NICU. The team greeted us and before I knew it, Lucy was set up in her bed with the monitors going and a plan was in motion. My baby was where she needed to be and we had met incredible people along the way to get her there. Zach and I both felt a little relief.
The plan was to stop the seizure medicine and hook Lucy up to an EEG machine for an extended period with a camera on her so the neurologists could track her brainwaves along with viewing her movements.
After getting her set up, we went back out into the waiting room. Our visitors took up the entire room. We were surrounded by support and love. We sat down to talk with everyone. They offered us food and encouraged us to reenergize so we could be strong for Lucy. As we sat there, comforted with the love of our family, one of my brothers switched the channels on the TV. I looked up and there was an infomercial for I Love Lucy.
“Oh my God,” I said through my tears. “If this isn’t a sign, I don’t know what it is. When do you ever see an infomercial for I Love Lucy?!”
It showed various clips from different episodes and we all laughed together. God was with us and he understood our pain. He knew we needed a moment of levity. He knew how much we loved Lucy.
Visiting hours came to an end and our extended family went home. Zach and I set ourselves up in the room they provided us. We had two single beds. We each sat down on our own bed. The room was small, but I felt so far away from him. All I wanted was to lay my head down next to his. For the first time all day, he sat with his head in his hands, he look defeated. He said, “I want to cry for her. But I’ve cried so much, I don’t know if I have anything left.”
I walked over and I hugged him. I wanted to lift him up after he had been holding me the whole day. Here we were experiencing the worst day of our lives, but somehow we each still had the strength to lift each other. That’s what love does. That’s what love is.
The weekend wore on and we continued to hear only good news about Lucy’s progress. Her vitals were fine, no seizures on record. With the help of my timekeeper, Zach, I pumped every 3 hours so my milk supply would be ready when Lucy was ready. He woke me through the night, he cleaned the pump machine, and bottled the milk. He was Lucy’s personal milk man. By Saturday evening, she was eating bottles of my milk. By Sunday, she was off the EEG machine. She was eating more. She had a glowing evaluation from the neurologist. By late Sunday night, they took her IV out. Everything was working out for Lucky Lucy.
The doctor said what happened to Lucy was hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). At some unknown point, there was a dip in her oxygen level affecting the blood flow to her brain. It could have been in utero, it could have been during delivery, they just don’t know. The MRI noted three infarcts, small localized areas of dead tissue resulting from failure of blood supply. The part of her brain that it affected was the frontal lobe. This particular region is not responsible for any major functions. In other cases when this happens, it can affect major functions and can cause lifelong debilitating issues. Lucy is seriously lucky.
Other regions of Lucy’s brain would be able to make up for what she lost. The doctor said Lucy exhibited mild symptoms and babies in her case turn out fine. The seizures she had were an affect of the event. He said typically in this scenario the child will exhibit seizures soon after the event but only for a couple days. She had the seizures Thursday and Friday. She exhibited no seizures from Friday night on. He reassured us that she would have little to no lasting affects. If she does have any deficits, they will likely be some learning issues that can be helped with early intervention. He instructed us to continue to monitor Lucy as she grows and to call if we ever notice an abnormality. He can’t predict the future. She may have affects later that we won’t be able to notice until the age of three or four, but as of now he is reassured that she will probably be fine. So, we continue on like normal parents, we will monitor our baby’s development.
By Monday, Lucy was breastfeeding. The team came through again to give her the final evaluation. Monday evening, Lucy was cleared to go home.
It’s been four weeks since she was born. It has been such a fun experience at home. Each day we see that she is growing and developing. Each night she is making her voice heard. She has a strong voice and a strong will, especially when we try to change her diaper or her outfit. We are so blessed to know this new type of love. She has not only brought Zach and I closer, but she has affected the lives of many. Since she was in the hospital and since being home, we have heard from various people about how many groups have prayed for her. Pretty sure the entire order of the Sisters of St. Joseph have prayed for her. Prayer groups in various states have her name on their list. Extended family and friends continue to text and call to check up on Lucy. Thank you to all those who have prayed and continue to pray. Thank you to all of those who have been our strength when we felt we couldn’t be strong. Thank you to my baby girl Lucy for being.
Lucky Lucy Rose Ells has reminded us of the power of prayer and love and the importance of showing up when others need you most. She has been with us about a month, but has taught us a lifetime of lessons. She is a miracle. She is an inspiration. I know I am biased because I am her mom, but it’s really true. I don’t know why this had to happen to her, but I know there must be a deeper meaning. For some reason, we had to weather one more storm before our rainbow could come home. This child has touched the lives of many and I know she is destined to continue to do so.
It’s been 10 weeks since I last wrote. I’ve had the urge to write but haven’t made myself sit down and type it out. It’s just after 6am on the morning that I am going to the hospital to be induced for labor. I just had a bowl of Coco Puffs. The next time I spend a morning in my house, I’ll have a baby here.
The doctors decided it’s best not to let me go past 40 weeks due to my history of high blood pressure. I am only going a few days before my due date, which they decided to bump back to October 27th, the original date we started with in the beginning. I am 39 weeks and a few days pregnant. How did I get here so fast?
People say the last few weeks often drag on. Not for me. I think the only part that dragged on was the beginning of the pregnancy. I didn’t feel so well for a few weeks and I think I was kind of a wimp about it all. I was super nervous about everything going well and didn’t focus on much else. Once the morning sickness passed and I felt reassured the pregnancy was a successful one, life went in fast forward.
Now, here I am. The nursery is finally ready. The car seat is installed in the car. The clothes, blankets, hats, and socks are all washed and neatly folded in their places. We have an abundance of diapers and wipes, which I am sure we will go through faster than we are expecting. Our hearts and our home are ready to welcome a baby.
I finished work last week so I would have a few days to chill out and get more things in order. Sunday night, my parents had my immediate family over for dinner as a final send off for Zach and I into parenthood. When I got home that night, I watched TV with Zach. Before I went upstairs to get changed, I hugged him. I began to cry and expressed that I was scared. Anytime anyone has asked me how I am, I have responded with a chipper, “I’m fine! Feeling super calm, actually.” While this is true, of course there has been slight trepidation lingering on. Zach reassured me that it would all be okay, no matter what. He’s definitely gotten very good at calming me down. One can try very hard to be strong in front of others, but occasionally you have to let it all out.
After he helped me settle down, I went upstairs alone to get changed. I sat in our room with my hands covering my belly, feeling the kicks and squirms of my little one.
“This is it,” I said. “We’re going to meet you soon.”
Pregnancy can feel lonely. I am not discounting the endless support of my husband and other family and friends. I have had people to count on the whole way. I’ve never felt more blessed. I mean lonely in the sense that this particular experience at this particular time was only happening inside my body. It’s like I felt when I had miscarriages. Women take on this task of completely altering our bodies, minds, and souls from the moment of conception. Yes, things change for men, but those tangible changes aren’t in full effect until the baby arrives home. It can feel isolating, like a lot of things women have to go through. It’s hard to describe to someone exactly how you are feeling when what’s happening inside of you is simply, well, indescribable.
As I held my belly, I began to cry again. I haven’t cried much through this pregnancy, which surprises me, and most of it was happening in this evening. I did a heck of a lot of crying before it, that’s for sure.
As I cried, I smiled. How could I be so selfish? I haven’t been alone in this experience. As I felt my little one push back against my hand, I realized, I’ve had someone within me the whole way.
“It’s been me and you,” I said to my belly. “It’s been me and you the whole time. We’ve been in this together.”
This tiny human residing inside me has given me more strength and confidence than I have ever known. I have had various moments in my life when I have let fear of the unknown stunt me. A lot of of those times were last year when I had the two miscarriages. I don’t feel that fear anymore. I don’t have that self doubt. He or she has helped my heart grow and see the world more clearly than I had been seeing it. My eyes were cloudy, but I can see now. I can physically see the love within and the love that surrounds me. I can do this. We can do this, as a family. Me, Zach, and this brand new life we created together.
The time has now come to share this little one with the world. It’s time for the world to meet this strong, courageous little person I have come to know and love these last nine months.
“We’re going to be okay,” I said to my baby. “We’re really going to be okay.”
“You and Me” – Penny and The Quartets
Only a handful of weeks before we get to meet our precious little one!
It was a Sunday morning when I found out about you.
Your dad was away for the weekend, so I was by myself.
I’m not sure what made me want to take the test, but I did. Maybe I just knew you were already there.
When I saw the two lines on the stick, I breathed a sigh of relief and excitement.
I had to go to your cousin’s christening that day. A full day with extended family and I couldn’t say a word about you. It was tough. All I could think about was you and how happy your father would be with the news. I was quiet that day, mulling over in my head all the possibilities of you.
Later that night, I picked up your dad and we went to our house. We were in the basement together when I told him about you. He wore that smile that I fell in love with when I first met him. He held me like I was the only person in the world. His excitement surged from his body to mine. I took a second test that night to ensure it was true. It was. Our lives were taking yet another turn.
There were two times during the year when our hearts were broken like we’d never experienced. We found ourselves tumbling along together trying to make sense of it all. Even though there were days when we didn’t feel strong enough to keep trying, we did anyway. We did because our love for each other and our dreams were stronger than the hurt. We overcame together. That love created you.
Because of the thought of you, we persevered. Because of the possibility of you, we kept our heads held high. You were our driving force.
Because of you, our hearts have been healed in a way we couldn’t imagine.
You are our light, our heart, our rainbow at the end of the storm.
I had grown to hate the number 29. To me, 29 reminded me of my crappy year. From the day I turned 29 things started to suck. I found out my blood pressure was kind of high so now I take blood pressure medicine. Then the whole pregnancy adventure began. It was a transformative year for my body and mind. Why were the events all taking place at the same time?! I yearned to be 28 again. 28 was a good year.
When I was in the thick of my personal struggles, I associated the number 29 with anything that went wrong. It’s interesting how we can associate inanimate things with sad events. It could be a song, a movie, a picture, or in my case a number. When grieving, you give these triggers the power to transplant you back to the moment in time when you struggled. I associated the number 29 with my personal, physical failure. In the lowest of my lows, there was nothing that could change my mind. I hated 29.
Today I am 29 weeks pregnant. Today, I decided, I like the number 29 again.
I’ve made it through 29 of 40 weeks of pregnancy. 11 weeks or so until I deliver a baby into this world. A little living creature is going to come out of my body. It’s a miracle, kind of a freaky miracle, but a miracle nonetheless. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that fact, but that’s a blog post for a later time. In about 11 more weeks, I get to hold the little one who has begun to kick and squirm every day reminding me that he or she is there and getting ready to make their debut in just a few short months. 29 weeks. As I reflect on the past 29 weeks, I’m not even sure how I got to this point so fast. The year leading up to this felt like it lasted an eternity, but these 29 weeks have flown by in a flash.
As we travel through life, different triggers will bring us back to our defining moments. I don’t think this can be controlled. We can’t stop ourselves from thinking of these defining moments, whether good or bad. It’s human nature to occasionally dwell in the past and reflect on the why and how. The key to it is how we process and act on the feelings these triggers evoke. It goes hand in hand with how we handle the event itself. It’s yet another step in the process of comprehending the changes that happen in life.
It’s strange to me sometimes that when people die it is said we “lost them.” I think of the word lost in the context of misplacing items. People who pass on aren’t misplaced. We aren’t going on a search to find them. They left us for another world. Maybe it is said that way because we really don’t know where they went. Religion teaches us they went somewhere else like heaven or something of that nature or they left their body only to begin life in a new one. So they really aren’t “lost,” they move on. They move on from us, from this world. I like to think they aren’t lost. They know where they are going, we just don’t know. It is impossible to grasp and sometimes impossible to accept. But, maybe it is supposed to be that way, so we can learn to trust and have stronger faith.
A couple months ago, a friend Zach went to school with passed away suddenly. Zach had known him since college and I had gotten to know him over the years since I have been with Zach. He was a guy Zach spoke to pretty much on a daily basis. He was one of the nicest people I have ever met. He was genuinely a really kind human being who genuinely cared about other people. And now, he’s gone.
He was 30 years old. 30. In what kind of world is this tragedy fair? He was so young. He had so many plans ahead of him, just like the rest of us. He left behind parents, siblings, a fiancé, friends.
When we heard the news, I said to Zach, “This doesn’t make sense. We aren’t old enough to have a friend die.” We had a really hard time processing it at first and it’s still weird to try to comprehend. Just a friendly reminder from life that this stuff happens every day to people. Hits you when you least expect it. Life likes to pop up and put you in your place whenever the hell it wants.
Here we are in the midst of such happiness. New house, new baby on the way, and then we hear our friend died. Why are we so lucky to have good fortune? Why did this happen to him, his family, his soon to be wife? He didn’t deserve this. These are just a few questions that linger in times of tragedy. Questions I don’t think I’ll ever find the answers to.
This hit me differently than other losses I have experienced, one because I think it’s the first time a personal friend our age passed away, and because of my pregnancy journey. As I stood listening to his family speak at his service, I placed my left hand on my pregnant belly and clutched Zach’s hand with the other. I was at a service to honor a life that had moved on and inside of me a life was actively growing. The moment was a collision of life and death.
His mother spoke. She said we should think of his life as a gift. The way he lived with his whole heart and his kindness should act as an inspiration for us to continue. We were blessed for the time that we did have with him. His lasting gift to us is helping us maintain the ability to cherish each moment, each day. As I held my hand over my growing gift in my belly, I cried. I cried for all the adventures of marriage and starting a family that our friend would never get to experience. I was amazed at how composed his mom was and how she was able to reflect in such an eloquent way. Her strength and faith was inspiring.
I want to try and live that more often, treating others and experiences as what they truly are, gifts. It’s hard to when you get caught up in life and your perception gets skewed. If we step back and reflect and really try to see reason, every experience can be perceived as a gift. I’ve been caught in dark places the last year and a half with the hardships I have encountered personally with my miscarriages, but hearing our friend’s mother speak inspired me to be stronger. Those experiences have given me the gift of having a greater respect for life, for my body, and the way my body knows what is right for itself.
The idea can be carried over into my workplace as well. A few patients I have come to know pretty well over the last few years have passed on recently. I get so accustomed to seeing certain people and then one day, just like our friend, they’re not there anymore. When I get caught up in the reality of death at work, I will remember to think of the gift in my belly. When I feel the kicks of my little one, it calms me. I will also try harder to remind myself of the special moments I shared with these patients and try to see my moments with them as gifts not only to myself, but also I hope my help was a gift to them.
I remember Zach telling me that when our friend heard about us having a baby he was so excited and he looked forward to meeting our little one. We’ll be sure to tell our baby all about the gift of his friendship and the life long gifts he left with us in his passing….the gifts of love, friendship, and cherishing life.
The end of this month would have been the due date of my second pregnancy. I’m unsure of what the exact date was, but I know it was the end of April. I said to Zach the other day, “It’s crazy all of the stuff that has happened to us and here we are right now in this moment. It seemed as though during some of those times I felt like I wasn’t going to get through it. Time seemed to stand still. How did we do this?”
A recap of Kate and Zach’s year and a half:
-I got pregnant
-We found a house we liked
-I had a miscarriage
-We decided to buy the house we liked
-We went through a nine-month process to buy the house
-I had another miscarriage within the nine months of trying to buy our house
-We moved out of our apartment and into my parents’ house and had to put most of our belongings in storage
-We FINALLY officially bought the house and decided to do some renovations before moving in which we thought would only be a few months
-We are still currently residing on my parents’ third floor awaiting a final move in date
Our plans didn’t work out as we had hoped. If they did, we would have a baby, the house renovations would have been done months ago, and I’d be writing this blog post from our office on our second floor rather than my parents’ living room.
I think the house ordeal helped keep mine and Zach’s minds off of the pregnancy losses. But often times it added more stress to my already clouded perception of life. These grown up experiences were making it hard to keep the faith and trust the process.
In early February, I decided to bring some clarity to my cloudy outlook on pregnancy and have some labs done. Noticing that I hadn’t been myself for a while, my dad stepped in and advised that in situations like these, the not knowing what the problem is can sometimes make it all worse. He said even when talking to his sick patients, they seem to be more at peace when they know answers. He said I had resources to investigate what’s going on and I should use them. After begrudgingly admitting to myself that he was right, I went to the doctor with Zach and we discussed my options. The doctor suggested I get tested for common blood clotting disorders (which can cause miscarriage) and also get my thyroid tested. I thought the plan sounded good. I was convinced something would come back weird and it would be something we could fix and we could move on.
Everything came back normal. Zach was encouraged, and I felt, well, I felt terrible. Seeing NORMAL blood results is supposed to be a good thing, but in this case it made me even more frustrated. I still had NO answers. The doctor seemed positive I would be okay and suggested we keep trying. She said if I was still having trouble or had another loss by August, I should seek counsel from a fertility doctor. I left the office feeling indifferent. I passed all the blood tests, my overall health was fine, what else could I do but move on and hope for the best.
About three weeks after my visit with the doctor, Zach was away for the weekend and I was at home. I had a lot of time with my own thoughts. I thought about everything that we had been going through together. I thought that I didn’t even care anymore. Maybe if I just gave up, something good would happen. Early Sunday morning I woke up and had a strange thought. It was about the time in my cycle when I could take a pregnancy test. I thought maybe I should wait until Zach got home, but I was convinced it would be negative. No harm in just taking one.
Two lines appeared. Positive!
After sitting on the floor crying, I calmed myself down and went back to bed. Later that morning, I went to my nephew Michael’s christening with my immediate and extended family. All through the day, I had this positive test on my mind. Was it true? Was I pregnant again? It could be a false positive. It could all go away in just two weeks. My mind was racing with every thought possible and I couldn’t say a word to anyone. I waited until Zach arrived home later that night. He had been helping move some things from his grandparents’ house, so we went to our house to drop off stuff they had given us.
We were standing in the basement of our home when I showed him the picture of the positive test. A mix of excitement and fear flowed from my eyes. Zach wore the smile. I’ve written about this smile before. The smile he wears proudly anytime we hit a new life milestone together. With each pregnancy, he’s given me that smile. Knowing that this 3rd time made him just as happy as the first two calmed me. Even though my body had tricked us twice, Zach was just as excited, as if this were our first time. We embraced and I cried harder. I cried for what my body had been through, I cried for the amazing support Zach had given me through it all. I cried, hoping this third time would be the charm for us.
I took another test later that night: positive. I was very early on, only 4 weeks. Knowing what could go wrong, we proceeded with caution. We told my parents and his and kept to it to ourselves for another week or so before we told our siblings.
The day after I found out, I called the doctor immediately. I wanted to know what I had to do considering my history. They measured my HCG and progesterone levels. After two long days, I got a call from the nurse practitioner. According to her, my levels were beautiful. This brought some comfort to me, but knowing I had never made it past week five or six, kept my excitement contained. The next Tuesday, I woke up and I said to Zach, “I feel different. I’m really afraid.”
I was so convinced that whole day that I was going to miscarry. I couldn’t fully explain it, but I didn’t feel right. I felt like my body was changing again, but maybe it was all in my head. Taking matters into my own hands, I had my dad order labs on me and he drew my blood at the office. My HCG levels were fine, but I noticed my progesterone level had dropped. The Progesterone hormone causes the uterine lining to thicken and helps to provide a safe environment for the fertilized egg to grow. Could this have been the cause of my first two losses? Did I catch the problem? I had heard of people taking progesterone supplements early in pregnancy to maintain the levels, so I called the doctor. The nurse explained that their practice found there was no hard evidence that taking progesterone could “save a pregnancy” and they didn’t offer it because they didn’t want to give people false hope. But, she said there was no harm in taking it and if I felt it could help, she would prescribe it to me. I began taking it that night.
When I was six weeks, I went to the doctor for an ultrasound to make sure there was something growing. I laid on the exam table half expecting an empty womb. When we looked at the screen we saw a tiny little flicker, a heart beat. Baby Ells was growing.
I’m just about fourteen weeks now. Baby Ells is due November 1st. Who knows why it worked this time. Could it be the extra help from the progesterone pills I was taking? I don’t know. Perhaps, this was just meant to be. This little one is supposed to be our rainbow baby.
I’ve gone through all the first trimester symptoms: nausea, morning sickness, and crazy fatigue. I’ve never been more excited to feel so out of sorts. My body is changing each day and so is my heart. While I still harbor some fears, my heart is returning to a familiar place where it once was. A place filled with excitement and hope. Together with Zach and baby Ells, I will continue to keep the faith and trust the process.
P.S. Go Sixers!