In Mom-Mom’s Arms

My Mom is the most self-less, generous person in my life. She is a Mother of five children, the Grandmother of 13, and a Mother figure to countless others.

Now that I am a Mother, I finally understand a lot of what she has been talking about over the years. She told me I would eventually “get it” when I had kids of my own one day. As always, she was right!

Seeing her take on the role of Grandmother ten years ago when John David III was born was inspirational. It was no surprise that she jumped head first into her new role. Here we are now in 2021 and she has 13 grandchildren. Her love and devotion to them is fierce and it has been a pleasure watching her enjoy them.

My Mom was in the delivery room with me when I gave birth to Lucy. Having her by my side was amazing and at times hilarious. I was pretty upset that she was not allowed to be with me when Zachary was born. Despite the uncertainty of the pandemic, she was there for Zachary from the start in any way she could be.

That’s my Mom. Always there, always ready to lend a hand or share a piece of advice. She can make you laugh till you cry or if you’re crying she’ll help you laugh.

Here’s to you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day, birthday, and 40th wedding anniversary!

In Mom-Mom’s Arms

In Mom-Mom’s arms there is safety.

There is endless love.

There is perpetual warmth.

A weary body finds much needed rest.

Dreams are conjured.

Time slips away,

In Mom-Mom’s arms. 

In Mom-Mom’s arms, tears are dried.

Troubles don’t exist.

Smiles are abundant,

In Mom-Mom’s arms.


In Mom-Mom’s arms, our babies have been cradled.

They’ve dreamed, they’ve smiled, they’ve laughed.

They’ve learned security,

In Mom-Mom’s arms.

These babies who have been cradled will continue to grow and grow.

They will grow to be strong.
They will grow to be confident.

They will grow to be good human beings,

Because they spent their early days in Mom-Mom’s arms.

Motherhood: A Poem

6am I hear him wailing.
He had been sleeping later for a couple weeks.
But that suddenly changed.
It’s frustrating when babies slip into different phases without warning.
I roll over to check the monitor.
He’s standing up.


I glance at my husband, sound asleep.
I blow my breath loud to see if he stirs. Nothing wakes him.
I pull myself from the comfort of my bed with my eyes half open.
My feet take me down the hall to his room.
Just the sight of me makes his wailing stop.
I pull him from his crib.

I change his wet diaper.
If diaper changes in the dark were an olympic event, I’d be a decent competitor.
I settle down in the rocker and drape him across my lap.
I look down at his sweet face as I nurse him.
He’s peaceful, content, angelic.
I feel guilty for grumbling to get up so early.

I raise my head as the early sun begins to seep through the blinds.
I allow my face to drink in the warm rays.
The monotony of routine, the struggle of late nights and early mornings,
It all washes away in this moment.
I look down at my healthy boy.
I relish in the boundless trust and vulnerability that we share with one another.

I alone can give him what he wants.
I alone can give him what he needs.
I alone can quell his cries.
I rest my eyes as he nurses.
I let the rhythmic rocking calm me.
These moments are fleeting.

I feel him pull away from me.
I look down to a satisfied grin.
His cheeks rosy, his eyes glistening.
I lift him to sit in my lap.
He reaches for my face.
He touches it and memorizes every line.

I bring him close and we rub noses.
He smiles.
He’s always loved doing that since he was a newborn.
He nuzzles his head into my neck.
I bask in his warmth.
This is what it’s all about.

I squeeze him and bring his face up to mine.
His mouth opens wide with a gaping smile.

Gurgle. Burp. Splat.

I place him on the floor.
I wipe regurgitated milk off my glasses, face, and neck.
And so begins another day.

Postpartum in a Pandemic Pt. 2

Saturday, December 19th

All the tears that I felt I couldn’t release over the last few months surged to the surface. I questioned him, hoping there could be a chance it was a false positive. He assured me that false positives are very rare, plus he had symptoms. They came on hard and fast.

He woke up at 3:30am with a bad head ache, body aches, a fever, and chest congestion. He thought at first maybe he had the flu considering the onslaught of symptoms. He has said that the flu often hits quick, at least in his experience. Covid seems to present slowly. Patients complain of symptomssuch as congestion or head ache and the symptomsincrease as time passes. He told my Mom that he did not feel well at all. In classic Mom fashion, she told him he was being hysterical and he was probably fine. As the morning progressed and he felt worse, he decided to get a rapid test.

“Access to testing is critical for multiple reasons. Course of treatment available is dependent upon making a diagnosis. I had a result within 2 hours of onset of symptoms as opposed to 1-7 days.”-Dad

My Dad, the protector of us all, had contracted Coronavirus. As soon as he knew he had it, he told my mom to mask up and quarantine from him. That night they began sleeping in different rooms. 

___

My Dad has taken such caution and care for so many months. He has taken it on himself to ensure the safety of his family, his office staff, his patients, and various family friends. He has guided countless people on what precautions to take, what supplements to take to beef up their immune systems, what symptoms to look for if they think they may have been exposed. 

I remember the first couple months into the pandemic, my mom told me he was up at all hours on the computer and on the phone researching what he could trying to decipher the ins and outs of the virus. When my dad is faced with a medical problem or any problem for that matter, he will obsess over its solution, especially if the problem endangers his loved ones.

The rumor of the virus being an intense flu was believed by many because of the similar symptoms. But behind its flu like mask, the Coronavirus can be a full body assault. It can cause blood clots and inflame the vital organs throwing the body into a battle mode so intense that the immune system goes into overdrive. There are 3 phases of the disease. 

My dad’s description of the 3 phases:

  • Viremia – period of viral invasion, attachment to ACE2 receptors on the endothelial cells lining all of our blood vessels – the shear numbers of endothelial cells is enormous in the small blood vessels in major organs (lungs, heart, liver, kidney, brain). Invasion into endothelial cell leads to replication, release and more invasion (endothelial damage).
  • Phase 1: variable symptoms, 40% no fever at all, maybe just diarrhea, decreased appetite, fatigue, or what I had. I had low fever 99.4 but lots of sudden myalgias, severe headache, deep cough, shaking chills. It’s over in 4-7 days and the circulating viral levels are controlled in that time frame in most patients. But the vascular damage (oxidative damage to endothelial cells, release of clotting factors stored under the cells, along with a robust immune response to the vascular damage) is already done setting the stage for multi system complications and failure. 
  • Phase 2: feeling tired, maybe some cough, maybe low grade on/off fever and muscle aches. This can last 2-7 days before progressive symptoms of organ dysfunction in next phase.
  • Phase 3: hypoxia, Covid “Pneumonia”, myocarditis (heart inflammation), hepatitis, renal failure, strokes, brain inflammation. Only 30% have fever maybe in the > 100 range.

The process at this point is not controllable at the vascular level. Permanent damage to some degree and death in those with preexisting vascular impairment (damage). Almost everybody has damage to some degree starting around age 45 in this country and progressive into our 60s.

It’s scary to me that you don’t know how your body is going to react to it until you get it. I suppose that’s how it is with anything, but this virus is so new that there is nothing to go off of. Some older people make it through with nothing but a cough, while others die and the same goes for young healthy people. Some people have long lasting effects, while others don’t. Scientists are learning as they go. Sadly, many people continuously discount the scientists because they have changed many of their conclusions over the course of the year. I guess they can’t seem to remember the basics of the scientific method that we all learned in school. 

When my Dad found out he contracted it, he knew it was time to employ the tactics that he spent months studying and implementing with his patients who had contracted it. The Coronavirus had chosen a well educated, well armed adversary. It had no chance against my Dad, but damn, it certainly gave it a hell of a try. 

___

I hung up the phone and cried to Zach. The what ifs shrouded my vision like a dark cloak. My postpartum hormones, combined with the scary news, gave me no chance of thinking clearly or reacting calmly. 

What if he ended up in the hospital? What if my Mom got it and she ended up in the hospital? What if they never got out? I had seen in the news couples contracting it and dying together. I don’t know what any of us would do without my parents. Was it my fault? I had been visiting them more often in the two weeks prior and I didn’t wear my mask. I had no other exposure to people outside of my family, but this thing is unpredictable. Could I have gotten it somehow and had no symptoms?

Since I was a child, I’ve had this idea of my parents as eternal beings. Even now, the thought of not having them around one day is never on my mind. But that reality plowed into the forefront after my Dad called me. What would I do if something happened to Mom and Dad?

On top of being worried for my parents, I had mom guilt. There is a lot of blame and shame that goes with Covid. If you get it, you had to have gotten it somewhere and from someone. But that’s with anything, even the common cold. I don’t blame my Dad at all. I knew that going ANYWHERE was a risk. Going to my Mom and Dad’s house was a risk I was willing to take. I knew how careful he was being and I trust him and my Mom to no end. I was also aware that no matter how careful people are, they can still get it. I had spent so many months keeping Zachary and Lucy away from so many people and places. I was the reason they were exposed. I blame nobody but myself. I also really NEVER thought my Dad would get it. You never think something bad could happen to you or your loved ones. Every day there is a possibility something bad could happen, but we don’t think that way. It would drive us mad. He even seemed baffled as to how he got it. Considering how safe he is at work and his lack of exposure there, he is convinced he got it at the grocery store. 

Late Saturday, my brother John texted us and told us Dad was going to the hospital, not because he was sicker, but because they were offering a monoclonal antibody shot. Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the body’s ability to fight off harmful viruses. The shot had only been approved six weeks prior. John and Brian (both physicians) agreed it was a smart idea to get it. In typical Dad fashion, he insisted on going alone. His car drove him to the hospital and he got the infusion. The next day, he couldn’t believe how many of his symptoms subsided. His chills and aches were nearly nonexistent. He was starting to feel better.

“Bamlanivimab infusion was completed 16 hours after onset of symptoms.  It works best when given ASAP after onset of symptoms (viremia) – it doesn’t help if given late in phase 2 of the disease. It reduces the viral load almost immediately, reduces severity of phase 3 complications, reduces the need for admission to hospital and transfer to ICU, ventilator, ECMO, and death.”-Dad

Sunday December 20th

I felt a little more at ease knowing Dad was feeling somewhat better, but I became convinced I was getting sick. I felt feverish, but my temperature was normal. My head hurt, my body ached, I felt exhausted. I didn’t want the babies to see me upset, but I could not settle myself. 

I called my parents.

I asked them endless questions about how they were feeling and the specifics of the virus. I apologized multiple times because I didn’t want to impose all of my worry on to them. I wanted to be strong for them, but I couldn’t be. I explained how I felt and my mom said it was probably from worrying so much and being up late with the babies. I think I was having some sort of panic attack. I’ve never have had a panic attack before, but I think that weekend I did. Raging hormones and a panic attack is a crazy combination. 

My Dad reassured me that he was going to be okay. He reassured me that my exposure was limited and that the babies would be fine, but to monitor them just in case by taking their temperatures twice a day for the next few days. They reassured me that they weren’t worried, so I shouldn’t be either. We knew what to do and how to approach it and we had the resources if things went south. Our privilege of having access to immediate medical knowledge and resources became so aware to me. I think I am always aware of it, but I don’t often actively appreciate it. I feel guilty for being so ignorant to our access in the past. Anytime anything seems medically wrong, I have the advantage of being able to call my Dad or my brothers for advice or they can contact someone quickly to get any answers we need.

After I talked to them and shed some needed tears, my aches and chills dissipated. 33 years old with two babies and I hid in my room to cry to my Mom and Dad. You never stop needing your parents.

As the next couple days marched on, Dad said he could not believe how much better he felt. He felt so sick that first day that he had mentally prepared himself that he was going to end up in the hospital. He was convinced the antibody shot kept him out of there. He felt tired and he had a cough, but no fever, no aches, no chills. He and my mom were in separate rooms most of the day and slept separately too. She continued to feel fine and exhibit zero symptoms. He had her tested and she was negative.

“I cannot believe your Mother doesn’t have it. She is going to test positive at some point. I am certain.”

I said to him, “I don’t know, Dad. You hear in the news about a person gettin it and people living in the same household never get it.”

He disregarded that information and was so worried that something was going on inside her and she just wasn’t registering positive for some reason. He was actively fighting the virus himself and all of his concern was for my Mom. 

I took my mom’s negative tests as a good sign for me and the babies. If my mom who is with my Dad every day doesn’t have it, then the babies and I were more than likely going to be okay. 

Zach, the babies, and I were feeling fine as well, but we also quarantined for two weeks. I called the pediatrician and she advised me to monitor Zachary and Lucy and quarantine them for 10 days starting from day of exposure. She insisted they didn’t need a Covid test unless they had symptoms. I was tested 6 days out from exposure and I was negative. My Dad explained to me the importance of the timing of a test. He told me since I exhibited no symptoms, I should wait 4-6 days post exposure to be tested. If I had symptoms, testing would need to be done right away. I found out on Christmas Eve that I was Covid negative.

Christmas Eve, Christmas, and Christmas weekend

We had been going back and forth before about what to do for Christmas. My mom wanted to have a drive by and give everyone sandwiches and have each family come safely in shifts to pick up presents. After finding out Dad had Covid, my Mom (the comic relief in chief) said, “Well, now we don’t have to figure out what to do for Christmas!”

This was the first Christmas ever that my parents spent alone. If you know my parents, you know they are the most welcoming, generous, accommodating pair around. They live to host family gatherings. They’re happiest when their home is full of people, laughter, and love. To have to spend Christmas in a big, quiet house alone was almost a worse blow than Dad’s Covid diagnosis. To me, that is one of the saddest parts of this virus, the isolation from loved ones. It’s bad enough to be sick. To be isolated from your support system when you’re at your lowest is crushing. My Dad has often said a support system is key when fighting a disease. I could tell the separation took a psychological toll on my Dad.

We tried to make Christmas Eve as festive as we could for the kids. We video chatted with Zach’s parents and they read “Twas’ The Night Before Christmas” to Lucy and Zachary. Funny enough, my family had texted out an invite to do the same thing, so the kids got a double dose of a classic Christmas tale. It felt weird not having to get the kids dressed for mass on time or prepare the house for visitors, but then again it was fun to relax and lounge around all evening. We watched Christmas movies and made cookies for Santa.

Christmas Day we did our Christmas morning tradition. I went down first and exclaimed that Santa had come. Zach brought the babies down and we exchanged gifts. It was sweet. Lucy was more excited about the cookie crumbs Santa had left than any of the gifts we got her. Simple man Zachary was happy with trying to eat the wrapping paper and seemed uninterested in the teething toys. Zach’s sister Sarah and her husband Brian came by to exchange gifts. They came to the patio door and stood outside. It was drizzling out. We were all masked up. My first inclination was to welcome them inside, but we decided it was safer to keep it distant. A dreary Christmas morning.

I was grateful Zach could see them and they could see some family on the holiday. They don’t have any family around the area except us. This was one of those eye opening moments into Zach’s experience of being away from family. I could never begin to understand how it is for Zach living as far as he does from most of his family. But moments like this help me appreciate and understand better. I am so grateful we could provide a safe way for them to see each other. Here I was being sad I couldn’t be with my family on Christmas, but at least I could get in the car and physically see them from the window. It really helped his spirit to see his sister and brother-in-law in person.

We had a breakfast video chat with Zach’s family and we opened the gifts we had all mailed to each other. The babies enjoyed it and we spent a long time laughing and enjoying the virtual company. We made the best of a weird day.

It was nice not to have to rush to get the kids ready to go anywhere, but we did eventually get dressed up for Christmas photos. We prepared a roast. I put on a new table cloth and we used the nice silverware. We tried, we did. But that feeling of emptiness lingered. Zach never said it out loud but I could tell he felt it too. I of course felt guilty about it because we have each other and we have our babies, so who are we to complain? If this is what a “different” Christmas looks like for us than we’re doing okay. It was so hard feeling cheery when I was thinking about my parents sitting at home alone masked and separated from each other.

Before dinner, we did a drive by their house. They came outside and we spoke, masked and at a distance. “Masked and at a distance,” the theme of 2020. 

Dad said he felt pretty good. He was tired and short of breath on occasion. He had started taking some dexamethasone, a powerful steroid that treats inflammation, to ease the inflammation of his lungs. He said that had helped his breathing. I felt at ease hearing him say he was feeling okay, but he didn’t look like himself. He looked rundown. Dad never looks rundown. I don’t think I had ever seen him like this. My Dad is a strong and active guy, always going from one thing to the next, working his ass off from sunrise to sunset and never seems to break a sweat. He looked beat that day. His face looked drawn and weathered.

I could see the sadness and frustration in his eyes. My mom too. They put on smiles as they looked at the babies through the car window, but I could see they were sad and scared. Zach and I and my Mom and Dad stood in a semi circle in the driveway. A few of us staring at our feet, willing ourselves to make it feel like Christmas. 

It was a holiday, we needed to pull it together for each other. We needed to focus on the positives. Thank God we lived near them so we were able to do a drive by. Thank God Shane and his wife Nina were able to come in safely from California and stay with my aunt Clare. We couldn’t hug or be at the same dinner table, but at least we were able to say hello in person. 

Christmas night we video chatted with my family. Little John set up an online Christmas trivia game for us to play. My parents joined. They sat next to each other masked. We were all able to enjoy ourselves a little bit and put the current reality on the back burner. 

Christmas weekend we played with the kids and their new toys. I checked in on my parents every few hours each day. I could hear the frustration in their voices. They missed each other. My mom said she hadn’t hugged my dad in almost two weeks. 

I would call and say, “How is Dad?”

She would say, “I think he’s okay. He is upstairs. Give him a call when you’re done with me.”

It was like they were living in different houses. A positive of having a big house, you can easily quarantine from each other. I wonder if the “ability to safely quarantine from each other” was at the top of their list when they bought the house 30 years ago. Mom continued to feel fine, so the separation was worth it. 

The next few days I continued my daily calls and FaceTimes so they could see the babies. I was able to begin to relax a little bit and enjoy my family during Zach’s time off.

December 29th

Dad woke up in the middle of the night with AFib. Dad has a history of Atrial fibrillation. AFib is an irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke, and other heart-related complications. He hadn’t had it in a long time. He had kept it at bay by exercising more regularly and getting himself in better shape. Waking up with it was a warning sign for him. Something wasn’t right. 

His fever was higher, around 101, and his pulse ox (oxygen level) was 88%. For reference, a patient monitoring their Covid symptoms at home wants to make sure their oxygen level is at or above 90-92%. He had shortness of breath and had to sleep on his belly to ensure proper oxygenation. He, with the guidance of my brothers John and Brian, scheduled himself a CT scan. It’s worth noting that just a few weeks before all of this, Dad, John, and Brian were all voted Top Doctors of the Mainline. Hematology/Oncology for Dad and John. Palliative care for Brian. A top doctor down with Covid cared for by his top doc sons and his certified nurse wife. If you’re going to contract Covid, these are the people you want in your corner. 

December 31st

On the last day of 2020, day 16 of the virus, Dad had a CT scan that revealed what he and my brothers had suspected, double Covid pneumonia. The virus wasn’t done with him. It wasn’t going to let him get away as easily as we all thought. 

Dad was really sick. 

I remember calling my Mom later that week to check in and she had told me he had gotten worse. She sounded worried. Through most of the journey, each time I called she sounded upbeat. She would say, “I’m fine. Your father seems okay. You know him, he can be a baby when he’s sick. I really think he’ll be fine. It’s all going to be okay.” Her voice was different now. Mom, the unstoppable force that holds our family together, was scared.

Covid pneumonia can be fatal. My Dad has said, even before he contracted the virus, that it’s not a pneumonia in the terms most people think. It is not an air space disease. The similarity is the impairment of gas exchange. Pneumonia is an air space disease that impairs gas exchange. Covid pneumonia is a vascular clotting disease that impairs gas exchange. The vascular assault is what makes it far more dangerous than regular pneumonia. 

Covid pneumonia spreads rapidly in small areas of the lungs. It then uses the lungs’ own immune cells and the blood clots spread over many days or weeks. The long duration of its course is possibly why it causes greater damage than regular pneumonia. If Dad didn’t know to get himself scanned, it would have gotten worse and he would have been hospitalized. 

“I was on oral anticoagulation pills during phase 1 and 2 – it helped but was not as effective as full dose anticoagulation would have been with Heparin or Lovenox. I had Covid pneumonia and myocarditis (inflammation of the middle layer of the heart wall), neurological symptoms, and slight inflammation in liver and kidneys. I could probably have prevented this with Lovenox.” 

Dad strayed from the course that was working for his patients and friends he had treated because he was convinced he kicked the virus from the start. The way he felt when he got the antibody shot was so dramatic and striking. If he had stayed the course that he applied to his patients, he may have completely avoided the trouble he ran into.

My dad’s office began taking a certain approach to the virus back in April 2020:

  • “Anticoagulation – right now it’s generally accepted that full anticoagulation with Heparin or Lovenox is helpful and safe only in patients in early phase 3. We have been doing that since 4/20 for phase 3 patients and we are now even using full Anticoagulation with heparin or Lovenox earlier in phase 1/2 in selected patients who likely have underlying vascular disease (everybody over 55-60, and 40 year olds who are obese, hypertensive, untreated elevated cholesterol, diabetes).
  • Dexamethasone – this is the most potent anti-inflammatory steroid medication that we standardized for inpatients in April 2020, 3 months before the data from the U.K. that documented the reduction in death rates when used the way we did. This is widely given to admitted patients in phase 3. We started to use it in outpatients in phase 2 in April 2020 and now extended it to selective patients in mid to late phase 1 (day 4-5 depending on symptoms).
  • Remdesivir is given 5 days in hospital and does basically nothing – should be given within days of viremia phase 1.
  • Continuation of Dexamethasone and Anticoagulation for periods that are still undefined for patients emerging successfully out of phase 3.”

Working with my Dad and brother John for five years, I was given an up close look at how their practice (Consultants in Medical Oncology and Hematology) provides exceptional, unparalleled care to every patient. It didn’t surprise me that they began implementing a particular and successful course of action for Covid before anyone else. Dad and his group are always ahead of the curve. He and his practice have helped many people (patients, family, and friends) avoid fatal situations from Covid. 

January 2nd

I went over to my Mom and Dad’s house alone to visit with her. I asked my brother John if it was safe. Dad had a blood test to confirm he was no longer contagious, but John said I should still mask up, keep my distance, and wear my glasses instead of my contacts, just in case.

I sat with my Mom in the fully decorated library. Both of us masked, sitting over 6 feet apart. The Christmas tree was set up behind her. They make it look the same every year, I don’t know how they do it. It looked like a smaller version of the Rockefeller Center tree, it was beautiful. 

“Look at this. It looks ridiculous. All set up and nobody to see it. I feel like I am in a Christmas prison,” she said. 

My instinct was to hug her, but to be safe I knew I shouldn’t. She was feeling fine and had tested negative again, but you never know with this virus. I assured her it wasn’t ridiculous and that we’d all be able to come by soon and enjoy it. It looked magical. Sitting in there filled me with the familiar Sprandio Christmas magic that we all direly needed to feel this holiday.

She talked about how scary the week had been. Dad was really afraid he was going to end up in the hospital. He was afraid to go to sleep at night for fear that he wouldn’t wake up. She told me how she had to check on him every 3-4 hours through each night to make sure he was breathing okay and sleeping on his belly. She had to make sure he walked the steps to get proper blood flow and had to check his pulse ox after walking and at rest. These are the exact things they would have done if he was hospitalized. Dad is so lucky he married a nurse. 

She said she missed hugging and kissing him. She hadn’t gone this long without hugging him in over 40 years. 

She found herself thinking, “What the hell am I going to do if he’s gone?” 

Hearing my mom say these things broke my heart, but also made me feel connected to her in a way I hadn’t before. I wasn’t just her daughter in that moment, I felt like a fellow woman. She was confiding in me, she was being vulnerable with me and I so appreciate that. As scary as it was to hear that Dad was struggling and as scary as it was for her to witness it, it felt good to know exactly what was going on. And I think it was good for her to talk about it. For me, it’s better to face the facts than run from them. This was our reality and I didn’t want to shy away from it. 

While I was there, John came in to check dad. He was wearing medical goggles, gloves, and a mask. When he was finished he came down and said Dad looked pretty good. He was able to walk up and down the hallway and up and down some stairs and his pulse ox was good. John and Brian aided him in getting on the proper dose of medications as soon as they were aware of the double pneumonia. John was confident the medicines were working and the next couple days would be crucial. 

I asked John if it was okay if I saw him. He said it was okay, but to keep my mask on and stand in the doorway as an extra precaution. 

I walked upstairs and stood in the doorway. Dad was lying in bed on his phone, classic Dad. The room was pretty dark. We exchanged pleasantries about the kids and then the conversation jumped right into what I came to hear. 

He explained to me that he knew exactly what was happening inside his body. He said the CT scan showed he had blood clots on both his lungs and he was certain he was at the point of the virus when all his major organs were inflamed. I didn’t even know that was a thing the virus did. 

He was having AFib because his heart was inflamed. He had trouble breathing because his lungs were inflamed. Knowing the course of the virus the way he did, he could only assume that his liver and kidneys had slight inflammation as well.

He shared how scared he was a couple days before that he was going to end up in the hospital, but with each passing hour he felt confident that the dose of meds he was on would keep him out of there. I remember asking him if he was absolutely sure. 

He said to me, “Kate, I am definitely on the road to recovery now, but for a couple days there this damn thing was really vicious.”

Brian and John helped him get on the correct dose of Dexamethasone for the inflammation and Lovenox for the blood clots. He believed that if he went in the hospital they would have pumped him full of the wrong stuff and he would have gotten sicker and he never would have come home. He was also certain if he hadn’t gotten the antibody shot when he did, he would have been in the hospital sooner.

Most doctors don’t have a reputation of being tolerant patients, my Dad is one of those doctors. When he said he was certain the hospital would make him sicker, a story came to mind. There was a time years ago when he was young, he got in a car accident with his friend and part of his scalp was ripped back. We have this frightening photo of him with stitches across his forehead up on to his head. He looks like Frankenstein. Anyway, his friend Jack recalled my Dad barking orders at the doctors as to how to take care of them. “We need MRIs here, CT scans!” Even with half a scalp, Dad was trying to control his own care. 

Hearing him speak about himself this way, openly expressing his fear he may die, was unnerving. Like the conversation I had just had with my mom downstairs, I felt a new connection with my Dad. He was talking to me like I was a grown up and no matter how scary the subject matter was, I very much appreciated it. 

When I left there that night I felt more at ease than I had in weeks. I walked in the house and hugged Zach. 

“I am confident now that my Dad is going to be okay.”

With each passing day, Dad got stronger. The boys kept a watchful eye on him and mom continued his bedside care. Thank God, the medicine was working. There are hundreds of thousands of people who got just as sick as Dad and had a fatal outcome. They did not have the luxury of knowledge and proper care in their own home. I think he realizes now more than ever how blessed he is to be able to rely on my two brothers and my mom, to rely on all of us to step up and be there when we are needed.  

January 8th

By January 8th, we had Christmas. We all came over in our masks and we gathered in the living room so the kids could open their presents. Mom and Dad sat in the middle of it all. Basking in the glory of the insanity they so sorely missed on actual Christmas Day. There was wrapping paper everywhere. Babies, toddlers, and children laughing, crying, and running amuck. Mom and Dad were in their element. I remember talking to him that night and really looking him in the eye. I saw an actual twinkle in his eyes. They were glistening. The smile on his face was one I had never seen before. It was the smile of a man who fought and won against a vicious virus.

I got home that night feeling light. It could have been the two glasses of champagne I drank, but it was also because I knew Dad was okay. Mom was okay. I was able to breathe easy knowing that when the next challenge comes our way, my family will be able to face it the way we faced this, together.

Recovery

Texts with Dad from January 31st:

“If you can formulate what your emotional response has been to all of this, I’ll also implement that. I know it is tough to formulate emotional responses considering you are a robot.”

“Two words: sobering and humbling.”

“Sobering came after your steroid high I am sure.”

“No, it came despite a steroid high. But confidently looking ahead to the next challenge….on the horizon.”

“My mind is still boggled over the fact that you had it.”

“The unbelievability is reinforced every time someone I’m talking to on the phone says that I sound short of breath while talking.” 

Dad returned to work January 14th. He noted some of his neurological symptoms still lingered. Forgetfulness, scattered thoughts, foggy moments. He found himself asking silly questions that he otherwise would have known the answers to. 

On February 1st he had told me he was still on injectable Lovenox and low dose Dexamethasone. His symptoms started 12/18/20 and it was 2/1 and he still wasn’t back to his baseline level of strength and endurance. 

It’s now March. His endurance level is back and he is exercising again. His mind feels sharper than ever. His thoughts are more cohesive and he’s speaking more fluently. He faces each day with a new appreciation and gratitude. We all do. 

Postpartum in a Pandemic – pt.1

I’ve wanted to sit down and write for a while now, but I wanted to be in the right head space to do it. Tonight, as I was taking my evening bath to wash off the smell of spit-up, I realized that I have a 2 year-old, a 7 month old, and I’m living through a global pandemic that’s coinciding with one of the most frightening/controversial ends to a presidential term in modern American history……I’m not going to be in the right head space for a long time. I better just sit down and write.

I’m sitting at my dining room table. There are three Santa figurines staring at me. There’s a platter with a picture of a goose on it with snowflake decals resting on it. There is a pile of green placemats to my right from Christmas dinner. Putting away the Christmas decorations hasn’t been high on my list of priorities. What’s the point?

That question has popped up in my head more often in the last few months in regards to the little things. I’m sure a lot of people have had these thoughts as this uncertain time has raged on. Put decorations away, put on actual pants, get a shower? What’s the point?

Zach and the babies are my main “point.” They keep me smiling and occupied. Focusing on them during the day has helped. But, at night, when they’re asleep, my mind is infiltrated with the complete insanity that has been going on in the world (at least I assume they’re asleep, Lucy sometimes does an hour long stand up routine for her toys before settling down). I try to keep out the noise but I can’t. Yes, the reality of the world is scary, but as much as we want to, we can’t look away. A national health crisis combined with political and racial unrest is like a perfect storm of crazy. We can’t pretend it’s not happening. It’s easy to do because we are confined to our homes with endless entertainment at our fingertips. I watched the Crown so many days in a row I started thinking in a British accent. We have masterfully created a safe bubble, but it’s not healthy or responsible to pretend that everything is peachy keen. There are a lot of things going on that are much bigger than us that we need to give care and attention to.

____

When the world first stopped, I was 7 months pregnant with Zachary. I was more anxious than I had been in a while. I was on the edge of my seat every day. My jaw started hurting from clenching my teeth so much, so i had to wear my mouthguard at night. Yes, I’m one of those people who has a “night guard.” I look like I’m ready for a boxing match when I go to bed. I was paranoid about keeping Zach, Lucy, and my unborn baby safe. I rattled off all of my fears to Zach, to my parents, to my in-laws. Everyone was clear on how nervous I was about having a baby in a pandemic.

Postpartum is a thrilling and difficult time, especially with the first baby. Lucy’s situation was a bit wild. Best and worst few days of my existence. The highs and lows of the first couple of months were intense. I was a stranger to myself. I not only had to get to know my new baby, but I also had to get to know my new self. This new self had experienced joy and heart ache and joy again in a matter of days. My family had changed, but the world around me was unchanged. At least I could rely on family and friends and the stability of seeing them often to help guide me through my new journey.

Postpartum in a pandemic is a whole new roller coaster.

___

Birthing Zachary was the easiest part of 2020. He was more than ready to come into the world. Why? I don’t know. I told him again and again, “Little one, it is a shit show out here right now. You should stay where you are.”

In mid to late March, our president decided to tell us coronavirus was no big deal even though the scientists all over the world were like, “Yeah, this is a pretty huge deal.” How Fauci held himself together during those meetings, I will never know. During the day I threw my focus into the babies, and at night Zach and I would watch the news. Each night our leaders spread the virus of deceit as the coronavirus continued taking lives. No matter your political affiliation, you can’t deny the guy lied. He straight up told us he lied. He said on tape that he played it down to avoid panic. It’s obvious that tactic failed. It encouraged panic, hatred, and divisiveness at a time when we REALLY needed calm, kindness, and unity. It’s hard not to get political when the administration and the media politicized the virus and are still politicizing it. I can’t say it enough how grateful I am to be from a family of medical professionals who are on top of any type of health crisis. I’ll never forget, my dad said to us the first weekend our area shut down, “We all need to wear masks. We all need to distance. Life will not be the same for at least the next 18 months.”

Not only was there a pandemic raging, but racial unrest reached a peak. Three days before Zachary was born, George Floyd was murdered. His murder was a tipping point for the black community and beyond. The situation was tragic and disgraceful. As horrifying and graphic as the video is, I think it was important it was shown. He did not die in vain though. His death, along with the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, called attention to so many similar situations that people of color deal with every damn day. Ahmaud was killed in February and Breonna in March. I am embarrassed to admit I had no idea until the summer that those murders happened, along with many others, and what’s worse is I know I am not alone in being unaware. Even the government seems to be doing very little, if anything meaningful at all, to address institutional racism. White people have either turned a blind eye to it or haven’t given it the time of day to educate themselves. I myself have allowed my privilege to get in the way of seeing how the world really is. I think of myself as an open, accepting person and I give credit to my parents for raising my brothers and I to be so. I have loved ones in my family who have experienced hardships because of the color of their skin that I and my children will never have to know and I thank them for sharing their experiences with us to keep us aware. I know there is room for growth and improvement. I welcome this growth and Zach and I are open and ready to learn how to be better as our babies grow and learn from us.

Floyd’s death sparked numerous civil rights protests across major cities. It was an eye opening experience. We need more than eye opening experiences though, we need real change. We need to listen, appreciate, and amplify black voices. As I have grown up, I have heard of racial tensions flaring up and then they seem to calm down and “go away.” But that is my ignorant assumption. I assume it’s all okay because it’s not in our faces. I don’t have to live it. We can’t keep perpetuating the same cycle.

As I was preparing to bring new life into the world, I was learning about so many mothers who mourned the wrongful deaths of their sons and daughters. I thought, damn, here I am trying to protect my babies from coronavirus, while mothers all over the country have been trying for decades to protect their babies from the virus that is racism. Being a mother has given me a new perspective on something I have always known was there.

There is so much happening at once that is much bigger than my family and I feel like to be responsible humans and parents that we need to stay abreast of what’s going on and figure out how we can contribute. That’s always going to be the case. There is always going to be something bigger going on, but all of this happening with a global pandemic, combined with postpartum feelings, it has hit hard. Everything is being put on the table. We need to sit down together and face it.

Society’s view of racism correlates with the views some have of the virus, if it’s not affecting them personally then it doesn’t matter or it’s not real. Our true nature has been revealed this year. It seems to be a singular nature of self preservation with little or no regard for our fellow human. But there is hope. People of all races and creeds making their voices heard in defense of their neighbors are proof of hope. The scientists who have told us the truth and who have developed vaccines in record time are proof. The dedicated healthcare workers are proof.

“When the news is scary, look for the helpers.”-Mr. Rogers

___

As the world erupted and summer forged on, my physical recovery from Zachary’s birth seemed to be much faster than my first time. The first two weeks postpartum, Zach had off from work. I got a lot of rest and bonding time with Zachary while big Zach tended to Lucy.

My body was bouncing back, but my head and my heart were all over the place. My heart was full with the love for my growing family, but simultaneously it ached because I couldn’t share my joy in the manner in which I was accustomed. My head was spinning with what could happen if anyone in my circle caught the virus. There was still a lot unknown. With each week, my dad and brothers gave us insight and updates on what to do and how to proceed.

The day I brought Zachary home, I didn’t let my parents hold him. I kept them at a distance and made them wait a few days. I trusted that they were okay, but I was afraid. I was afraid we could have brought something home from the hospital. My biggest fear outside of Zachary getting something was my parents getting sick. I don’t know what I would do if something happened to them. I had to proceed with the utmost caution. It took so much energy to do that. Zach’s parents didn’t come down until Zachary was a week old. If everything were normal, they would have been there the day he was born. This was their second grandchild and they had to meet him wearing hospital gowns and masks.

We spent a lot of alone time just the four of us through Zachary’s first couple months. We began to look at it as a blessing that we didn’t have to run off to different places every weekend. I was able to establish a routine and time did seem to go fast. My mom was able to visit safely and my aunt Clare started a routine of taking Lucy out for walks while I got situated with Zachary. Everybody else saw Zachary through the windows or FaceTime calls.

I didn’t cry very much those first few weeks, which surprised me. Crying, whether it’s happy or sad crying, is like an essential part of postpartum. I cried a heck of a lot before he was born. But at a time when I was experiencing a combo of the “baby blues,” pandemic fear, and guilt about keeping people at a distance, I didn’t cry. I can remember a friend of mine telling me that she felt so overwhelmed about everything, but she couldn’t bring herself to cry. It made me realize that I felt the same way. So much had already happened in the outside world that I think I was stuck in fight or flight mode. I couldn’t let my emotions get the best of me because I needed to be ready and on constant guard to keep my family safe. I felt that way for months. I felt confused and completely unsure of the future. I had felt this way for a time in the past and I do not like who I am when I feel that way. Working through those feelings while holding it together for my babies and for Zach is a chore, but I think the important thing that helped me was I talked it out with Zach, often.

I could tell around August/September that everything was starting to hit Zach. One night he told me he felt like he had nothing to look forward to and he felt guilty for feeling that way because he had two growing babies and he was so grateful we were home and safe together. His job was not affected by the pandemic other than the location. He set up his office in our “library” room on the 2nd floor. But he couldn’t kick that feeling of dread. He said every day felt the same. Get up, get coffee, say hi to me and the babies, go upstairs to work. Then when he was done, he’d come down, have dinner, play with the babies, and then it was their bedtime. Everything he did was inside the house. Every day, the same thing. 

I had been wondering when it would finally kick in for him. I was used to the “being home a lot” part since I am a stay at home mom. Repetitive days are my jam, but not going places was getting rough. I tried to keep my visits to mom’s house short and limited through the summer. We visited the pool if nobody was there. My parents held just a couple outdoor gatherings, but even then I kept Zachary in his carseat away from everyone. I felt so sad doing this. What was the point of going out if I had to be in another room or sit alone across the deck with him the whole time? We didn’t visit the shore until the end of August. My mom said the other day how it didn’t seem like Zachary was an infant for very long. It’s because everyone hardly saw him as an infant. I was operating out of fear, which in retrospect I could have eased up. But being fresh from having a baby, my wiring was short circuiting. I could not let myself calm down. I kept thinking that as soon as I relax something would happen.

Knowing that Zach was going through similar feelings as me was helpful in figuring out how to keep our spirits up. Saying out loud “I’m unhappy and I can’t figure this out” is the first step in helping yourself feel better. Because ultimately it’s YOU who makes YOU happy. Yes, your partner or family can bring you joy and help you feel fulfilled, but YOU make the personal decision every day to be happy or be miserable. I learned that the year I had miscarriages. I chose to be miserable a lot that year. I became detached from everyone and allowed myself to be lost in pity even though everyone did their best to cheer me up and include me. I didn’t feel better until I realized I was the one keeping myself down.

Thinking about people who don’t have the kind of outlets I have makes me so sad. There are many individuals across the nation who struggle with mental illness. These people were left behind or disregarded before the pandemic. I can’t imagine their struggle now. The isolation of the virus has been so detrimental to those individuals. Mental illness is another societal issue that has been brought to the forefront by coronavirus.

After Zach and I hashed out our feelings and came to terms with the fact that life was going to be different longer than we planned, we felt better. We felt more at ease as new information was learned. His parents were able to visit safely a few times over the summer, which helped ease the monotony and take our minds off the real world. My family figured out ways to be together safely as well.

My birthday was September 30th. Zach organized a birthday parade for me, which was sweet. My brothers and their wives, my parents, and aunts brought balloons and poster boards. We should go into a birthday parade business with all the parades we have been doing since the pandemic began. I always love my birthday and though it was weird this year, it still felt special.

Lucy turned 2 on October 24th. I felt anxious because I wanted to give her a special day as safely as possible. Everyone kept saying not to worry because she wouldn’t remember it, but I wanted to create a joyful day that was unique compared to the hum drum we were living. Even though the world was in disarray, we were able to celebrate her big day. We planned Zachary’s baptism for the same weekend. I figured if we felt safe enough to have a party for Lucy, we might as well celebrate Zachary too. My mom and dad graciously hosted Lucy’s birthday party. Our immediate families attended and the weather was perfect. I think it was close to 75 degrees that day, so we were able to spend a majority of the time outside. When we were inside we all wore masks. Lucky Lucy had a great afternoon with her cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. She knew the day was for her.

The following day we had Zachary’s baptism. It was us, the priest, both sets of grandparents, and the Godparents. Again, it wasn’t the large crowd we were used to, but the intimacy of it made it feel all the more spiritual. I hadn’t been to church in a long time because of the virus. When we walked in I felt this overwhelming sense of calm. It was like we stepped out of reality for an hour and we are able to focus specifically on Zachary. We were able to cancel out the noise and we allowed ourselves to breathe easy.

Come November, Zach’s parents were able to visit for his birthday weekend. The virus was getting worse and the travel restrictions for both Massachusetts and Pennsylvania were tightening up, so that was their last visit of the year. It was a good way to head into the holiday season.

The holidays brought on some new anxiety. We were upset about not being with family, especially Zach because he doesn’t see his often in normal times. But we focused on the positives and tried to keep our perspectives fresh. We made the firm decision it would be best to stay home for the holiday season, all across the board. We’re fortunate enough that we are probably never going to be completely alone for a holiday again. We will either be traveling or hosting, so we took advantage of having a quiet meal. Thanksgiving was nice. Zach cooked while I tended to the kids. We did a sides exchange with my family so I was able to stop by my mom and dad’s house to drop off food and give a holiday greeting. We did a zoom hangout with Zach’s family. It was different, but the kids are at an age where they love being home. We took some nice family photos just like we would any other year. 

For Christmas, it was our year to travel to Amesbury. We made the tough decision that it wasn’t safe for us to travel. My family was up in the air about what to do for Christmas. My mom had the idea of making sandwiches for everyone and having the families come in shifts to open presents. The conversation was back and forth for a few weeks.

December 18th the babies and I visited my mom and dad in the late afternoon. It was like a typical visit that we had been doing. I had been trying to visit when nobody else was there as to not overcrowd them or expose the babies to too many people. We didn’t have our masks on. My dad was in the living room most of the visit doing work. My mom ordered pizza and we sat in different parts of the living room and ate. 

About 20 minutes before we left, I handed Zachary to my dad so I could get things ready. I packed the kids up and we went home. The next morning I was preparing cookies that I was going to drive down to Zach’s sister later in the afternoon. 

My phone rang.

It was my dad.  

“What’s up?”

“Did you go to Sarah’s yet?”

“No, we are doing that later today. Why?”

“Don’t go. I tested positive for Covid.”

TO BE CONTINUED…

Zachary Morris Ells Jr.

On the night of May 27th, we put our Lucy girl to bed for the last time before we became a family of four. My parents arrived to stay the night. They wished us well and we said a teary goodbye.

We opened the garage and our neighbors cheered for us. Zach honked the horn and we waved.

“Here we go,” I said to Zach, as I breathed a big sigh and wiped the tears from my eyes. I was on my way to have our second baby in the middle of a global pandemic.

I had spent the last few months of pregnancy isolated. Other than a few trips back and forth to see my parents and doctor’s visits, we hadn’t been anywhere. It was going to be our first night away from Lucy ever. We felt like we were going on vacation. 

We were supposed to check-in at 9 and we arrived at 9:15. We called the front desk and they directed us to park in the ER lot and enter through that entrance. We walked up, bags in tow. They took our temperatures and gave us masks. 

I had been tested for COVID a few days prior to going to the hospital. I did a drive-thru test and it felt like a scene from the movie Contagion. I drove up and a medical staff member directed me where to go. I rolled down my window to a nurse dressed in a hazmat suit with a face shield on. With her gloved hands, she inserted a long q-tip like object into my nose and swabbed around for 30 seconds. Longest 30 seconds of my life, but worth the brief discomfort to know that the caution we had been taking was working because I tested negative.

After we checked in at the ER desk, a security guard led us through back hallways to the maternity ward. The lighting in the narrow hallways was dim and a few spare empty hospital beds were lying around. The atmosphere was eery and it seemed as though we were the only people in the whole hospital.

We arrived at the maternity ward. The security guard was buzzed in and he showed us to the check-in desk. I filled out the forms and we were led to our room where the induction process would begin. Zach set up his chair that folded out into a bed. I got cozy in my hospital gown with my IV. The wires from the fetal heart monitor laid beside me. Amidst all of the unknowns, I took comfort in the feeling of familiarity. I knew what needed to be done and I was safely where I needed to be to do it. My plan was to pop this baby out and get back home.

When I was officially set up, the nurse came in and told me I was contracting regularly. I hadn’t even realized it. I had had a few random contractions at night in the days prior and had been feeling some inconsistent pressure, but it didn’t register that they were actual contractions. I hadn’t felt any real contractions leading up to Lucy’s birth. Since I had already started contracting, she told me the process would probably go quicker than the first time. With that in mind, I was able to rest easier. The evening progressed and Zach and I were able to get some sleep.

By 7am, we were transferred to the labor and delivery room. Go time was upon us.

When I had Lucy, my parents and Zach’s parents were able to filter in and out of the delivery room. When it came time to push, my mom was by my side with Zach. This time, it was just us: me, Zach, the hospital staff, and the little person in my belly. Everyone wore a mask and Zach was required to wear a mask when the staff entered the room.

As time passed, the contractions were getting stronger. It was time for an epidural. I got an epidural the first time and I fully intended on getting one this time. The anesthesiologist came in and began to set up. He asked me to sit on the edge of the bed, lean forward, and stay as still as possible. 

“Wow, I can’t believe how still you are. Do you meditate?” He asked. 

“This ain’t my first rodeo,” I said.

As the epidural set in, I was able to relax. Both Zach and I napped for about an hour. Even though we were missing our families, we focused on how grateful we were to be able to be alone and rest.

Around 11am, my doctor came in to check my dilation. I was about three centimeters. She reiterated that second time deliveries often go faster and that I should expect a baby by lunch time. 

Another half hour passed, and the nurse came in to check on me and said the baby’s heart rate was going up and down fairly often.The nurse believed the baby didn’t like the position I was in. She said the cord may have been smooshed between the baby and one of my organs, which happens often. I had to remind myself to breathe. What if something was wrong? She consulted with the doctor and they agreed I needed to reposition.

“Okay,” I said. “Whatever the baby needs.”

“So we think if you got on all fours, that might make it better.”

Get on all fours. With a baby in my belly. After having received an epidural. Sure, why not. 

I grabbed the guardrail on the bed and began to hoist myself over, dragging my dead legs with me. The nurse offered to help but I insisted on doing it myself. Somehow, I ended up on my hands and knees. 

“Okay, just stay like that for fifteen minutes and we’ll see how the baby does.”

Time ticked on. My head was in my hands. Zach stood by me and encouraged me as he took a couple pictures. 

Charming, isn’t it?

“What time is it?” I asked Zach.

“It’s 11:33,” he answered.

My shoulders were getting shaky. I didn’t even know where my legs were. Were they still attached? I assumed they were under me. But no problem, I was doing it for the baby. What seemed like 20 minutes had passed, so I asked for the time again.

“It’s 11:36,” he said.

“3 MINUTES PASSED? Are you freaking kidding me?! I can’t do this anymore. Where are they?!”

“But you told the nurse you’ll be fine.”

“Well I’m not! I can’t feel my shoulders, my elbows, or my legs, what the hell are they doing to me?! They said fifteen minutes. It’s been longer!!”

A few minutes later, the nurse came in.

“The baby seems to love the new position. Are you okay to stay like that a little bit longer?” She asked.

“Oh good, the baby is okay. Yeah, sure, I can do this a bit longer.” I smiled at her as she left the room. 

Zach looked at me.

“Why didn’t you tell her you were uncomfortable?!”

“Well, the baby is okay so let’s wait a little longer.”

Another ten minutes ticked away and the nurse came to check on me.

“I really can’t do this anymore. I can’t feel any of my limbs,” I said.

“Okay, let’s straighten you up,” she said.

I grabbed the rail again and with the help of the nurse I turned myself back over. The nurse arranged the bed in more of an upright position. As soon as I was settled, the pressure was intense.

“We need to get the doctor in here,” I said. “This baby is trying to get out.”

Taken a few minutes before I started pushing! Zachary was already pushing hard!

The nurse left the room to get the doctor. Every emotion I had been feeling the last few months came to a head. I was overcome. Tears welled up and I felt like I couldn’t speak. Flashbacks of Lucy’s birth popped in my head. I thought about how much I wished my mom was with me. I thought about the scariness of everything going on in the world.

“Zach, this baby is going to come.” I grabbed Zach’s hand.

My doctor came in and checked me. 

“Okay, you are ten centimeters. Let’s have a baby.”

She urged me to do one push. 

“Woah! Okay, the head is right there. Hold on a minute while I get my team.”

Oh my God was she serious?! She said the baby was coming out and she wanted me to “hold on a minute?!” 

I could feel the baby bearing down so hard. My instinct was to push. This was so unlike Lucy’s birth. I had to force her out of me. This time the baby was doing the forcing.

Within a minute, the doctor was back with a nurse and a resident.

“Okay, big push.”

Zach was by my side. 

“I can’t see you,” I said to him in a frantic voice. “Move up so I can see you! I need to see you!”

I caught a glimpse of him before I turned forward to push. Love, hope, and excitement floated in his eyes.

I can do this, I thought. I gathered every ounce of strength I had, took a deep breath, and gave one big push. 

Another deep breath, another big push. 

6 minutes later my doctor held up our baby.

“What is it?” She exclaimed.

Zach shouted, “It’s a boy!! It’s a boy!! Oh my gosh, it’s a boy!” 

At 1:14pm, Zachary Morris Ells Jr. arrived. 

Zach cut the umbilical cord and they handed Zachary to me. It was as unreal as the first time I did it. Even though I carried him in my belly for nine months, it’s still hard to comprehend it. How in the world did I do this a second time? 

It felt like we had known each other for years. He nestled in on my chest and started sucking his thumb. I embraced him and breathed in that new baby smell. Everything else melted away. It was just us. The best feeling ever. Zach stood to my right and spoke. Zachary’s eyes shot up and searched the room for his dad. I had done it. I had safely delivered our second baby.

As we gazed at our new baby boy, reality hit me and I couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness. There was nobody waiting outside in the waiting room for us. Zach didn’t get to run out and do the big reveal. 

I SO appreciated that I had Zach with me. Some women had to give birth without their partner because of the pandemic. I know it’s selfish to complain we didn’t have 20 people waiting to meet the baby the second he came out. It’s not that it wasn’t as incredible as the firs time because it really was. And they were right, it went a heck of a lot faster. It was just different. A good different, but still different. We sat with him for a couple hours, telling him about his sister and all of his extended family. We told him how he is the eleventh grandchild on my family’s side and the 2nd on Zach’s side. So many people already loved him. We FaceTimed and called our families to let everyone know it was a boy. The all reveled in our joy and excitement.

The nurses cleaned me up and took Zachary’s vitals and then we were carted away to the maternity ward. We masked up before going to the hallway. As a precaution, we weren’t allowed to leave the room for any reason. We settled in our intimate space with the newest member of our family. Nurses came in off and on to check on me and Zachary. We marveled at our new creation and rested when he did. 

Me and my boys

The morning after he was born, Zachary was taken out for his assessments. We tried to sleep while we waited, but the two of us were anxious. It was a mutual anxiety that stemmed from our experience with Lucy. Everything had gone well so far, but I sort of felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. When your first experiences with pregnancy and childbirth are scary, you go into each time with a wary step. At last that is how it is for us. 

After two hours, they brought him back. He had passed his assessments and the doctors agreed that if I felt comfortable we could go home. I had felt pretty good, as good as one can feel after pushing a 7lb 14oz baby out of their body. I had the expected soreness and aches. Like I had said, it wasn’t my first rodeo. I was anxious to get home to Lucy.

I went in, I popped the baby out, and I went home. All within 42 hours.

We arrived home to my parents, Lucy, and our neighbors on our driveway. Even though we couldn’t hug anyone and they were spaced out on the grass, it was a warm welcome. The love in the air embraced us all. Though I felt some disappointment in how it went, my excitement with our new phase of life outweighed the doubts and fears.

Lucy met her baby brother and we went inside to begin our lives as a family of four. 

Both of my babies had unique entrances into this world. Another lesson for us that you can plan and plan, but life will not always follow. The important thing is Lucy and Zachary are healthy and happy kids growing within the walls of a home built from love.

Focusing on Certainty in an Uncertain Time

I found out I was pregnant again in September. I called the doctor the next day and requested I have a blood test.The results came back and the numbers were good. Pregnancy number 4 was underway. This is considered my 4th pregnancy because of the miscarriages.

I inquired about whether I should take progesterone again because I had taken it in the early stages of Lucy’s pregnancy. As I was told before, she said, “Well, taking progesterone hasn’t been proven to save a pregnancy. We don’t believe in administering it, but if it makes you feel better we will.”

I reminded the nurse that with my previous pregnancy my progesterone had dropped within a week, so I would prefer to take it. She again said, “We don’t believe it saves a pregnancy.” Well, in my case, I beg to differ.

A week after the first set of labs, the nurse ordered another set for comparison. Sure enough, my progesterone went down within that week. When the nurse called me to give me the second set of lab reports, she told me she would put the prescription in right away.

I began taking progesterone around week 6 and by my 12 week ultrasound I saw the tiny being and heard the heartbeat. Certainty washed over me like an ocean wave. I felt empowered that once again I took control of what I could in an uncertain situation and in turn I made certain that just like pregnancy number 3, I was doing what I could to make pregnancy number 4 start off strong.

The weeks and months began to pass. Being home with Lucy and being able to focus my energy on her has helped me be more positive. When I was pregnant with her, I felt on edge for months. I had a lot of time alone with my thoughts then. This time almost ALL of my thoughts are focused on Lucy. After she’s asleep, my brain relaxes and the other thoughts I have are nonsensical.

Lucy’s optimistic outlook on the world has rubbed off on and me and helped me have an easier pregnancy. I am more aware and confident that I am doing everything I can to maintain some level of certainty. I have a stronger sense of trust in my body that is absolutely integral through this process. Or it could be that my hormones are raging so much that they’ve messed with my head completely and I’m so high on the ability to make a baby that I’m convinced it’ll all be fine. Either way, this time was starting off a lot less scary….until February.

Valentine’s Day weekend I developed a deep cough. Over the next 48 hours I began to feel awful. Extreme fatigue, body aches, low grade fever, and nausea hit me all at once. I have never had the flu before, but I knew it had to be that. I convinced myself, that this would be the scary part of this pregnancy and I would overcome it. I was knowledgeable in the fact that the flu can cause various complications for a pregnant woman. Lucy also came down with a virus at the same time, but thankfully she tested negative for the flu. God bless Zach for living with us those couple weeks and God bless my mom for helping me out. Lucy and I were not happy girls.

On Monday February 17th, I went to the local urgent care to get checked out. Being the child of medical professionals, I tend to skip the whole “go to a doctor part” and simply tell my mom and dad my symptoms and they tell me what I have. My dad said, “I think you definitely have the flu. You need to start TamiFlu right away.” Because of the pregnancy, I wanted to be sure of what was going on. Sure enough, I tested positive for Influenza A and they prescribed TamiFlu immediately. Dad was right, as always.

When I was checking in at the desk, the receptionist asked me if I had traveled to China or anywhere outside the country or come in contact with anyone who had in the last 14 days. The answer of course was no. The farthest I had traveled in the previous few months was to the Target that’s 25 minutes away. I go to that one so Lucy can fall asleep in the car on the way home.

Next to the receptionist, was a sign posted about “coronavirus” and it listed the symptoms. My eyes widened as I noticed the symptoms were similar to what I had. I had heard something on the news about it and saw some recent tweets about it, but, I figured it was contained to China.

When I sat down in the waiting area, my thumbs raced across my phone screen to text Zach.

   Me: “There is a sign about coronavirus. I have the same symptoms! What if I have that?!”

   Zach: “You haven’t been to China have you? Did you go without me knowing?”

I sent some laughing emojis and texted him a picture of myself with a mask on. When I said I had flu symptoms, the receptionist told me to put on a mask. I told Zach I felt funny wearing it because there were a few other people in the waiting room staring at me because I was the only one wearing a mask.

Fast forward about a month. I was at an OB appointment wearing a mask and gloves. I was the only one in the waiting room wearing them. My dad had begun urging all of us to wear a mask and gloves to public places. Coronavirus was in America and it had been here longer than we realized.

The last few weeks of March felt like a year long. The fear and uncertainty that circulated through the news had everyone in a panic.

How was this going to affect my babies? Not much was known about how coronavirus would affect a pregnant woman and her fetus. Ah, there’s that extra uncertainty I had been waiting for. The experts started out saying a pregnant woman was at no greater risk. I had just gotten over the flu. Pregnant women are at a greater risk for complications when they get the flu, so how could they not be at greater risk when getting corona, a virus that was 10 times more deadly than the flu? Didn’t seem to make sense, so I assumed I was in the “at risk” category and began taking control of what I could. Thankfully, children don’t seem to get hit as hard as others, but I wasn’t about to take any risks with Lucy either. There has been more evidence coming out that pregnant women should be more cautious and there is evidence that some children do not fare so well from it. Better to be safe than sorry.

My family has been taking every precaution my dad and brothers have told us to. The CDC originally said healthy people didn’t need to wear masks, but we wore them. And now, in most places, you can’t step foot into a store without a mask on even if you are healthy. We wore masks everywhere before it was cool! Pandemic trendsetters.

As the hours and days have progressed, more information has become available, which has eased mine and Zach’s fears. Unfortunately, the misinformation that circulated rapidly from various powerful figures has made many people skeptical of the facts. It’s obvious to me that scientific research and facts should take precedence over some crazy person’s opinion, but I guess that’s not how it is anymore in this country. When a medical expert who has spent decades studying a particular topic speaks, I’m going to listen.

The confusion spread by the misinformation could be considered just as dangerous as the virus. My family is blessed to be associated with doctors and nurses who are on the frontlines caring for people with this virus and researching every day how it can be stopped. Even though it has been extraordinarily worrisome with my dad, 2 brothers, multiple cousins, aunts, extended family, and friends exposed to this vicious enemy on a daily basis, being on the inside track has afforded us a sense of certainty in this otherwise uncertain, unprecedented time in human history.

Thank you to all my loved ones who go out every day and have to pack your own fear aside to try and save those who are suffering and prevent others from falling ill. Really, thank you. You are on the right side of history.

Sadly, we don’t thank these people enough. We don’t thank people in any area of the service industry enough, until we are in dire straits and we need them to survive. Only then are we reminded of what they do for us every day and how our lives are made safer and more convenient by their personal sacrifice. There are various fields of work that have gotten the spotlight through this pandemic. Thank you to ALL of the “essential workers” and I am sorry I/we don’t thank you more often. It’s sad that it takes hard times to open our eyes to what truly matters, but it seems to be an eternal pattern for humanity. When will we learn to appreciate all people from all occupations and walks of life? What will it take for us to change the way we operate? They keep saying life as we knew it is over and the world will be forever changed. Is that really true? Will this current change in perspective be long lasting or is it just our initial shock reaction? Will we fall back into the same ungrateful patterns when we are through with this trial?

Being pregnant during this is terrifying. I became worried from the second I learned about this virus. A majority of the reports were saying it was going to get worse before it got better. A lot of the initial reactions I heard from various people weren’t ones of alarm. They didn’t have much of a reaction at all, except for complaining about things closing and not being allowed to gather in big groups. I can understand how it didn’t feel “real” for people who it wasn’t affecting directly. Like a lot of things in life, you don’t understand a situation until it happens to you or someone close to you. It took me some time to respect that. The challenge is opening up your mind enough to embrace that it may not be “real” for you, but it’s real as hell for a lot of people all over the world. It’s like the uncertainty with pregnancy. The picture that is painted in society is that pregnancy is common and sort of easy. I didn’t understand miscarriage or even worry about it as a reality until it happened to me.

I think the pandemic felt “real” for me right away because of my family and friends in medicine. When the news said the hospitals are filling up around the country, I had firsthand reports from local doctors and nurses that this was true. I had to go to the hospital for an ultrasound on March 18th. The entrance to the main hospital was closed off. There were a table of nurses in the parking garage asking questions. When I entered the hospital they took my temperature. The atmosphere was soaked in fear and uncertainty. The closer it hits to home, the more scary it gets.

I became overly anxious and combative with Zach the first few weeks of all the news updates. I kept telling him, “People don’t understand how scary this is! Why are there so many people not listening? You don’t understand how scary this is! We need to take every precaution and we need to tell our loved ones this is real. Why is nobody listening to me?!”

Of course he understood and still understands and he was listening closely as he always does. He also understood he had to hold it together for me. I feel badly that it has been his job to keep me in check, but he’s become used to that role. Having Lucy has been a Godsend for both of us. I can’t let myself spiral like I have in the past when faced with hardship. I don’t have the luxury anymore to lie down and cry and sleep it off. Zach and I have to present a united front for her. Even though she is young, she is so perceptive of our feelings. I think we have maintained a happy and safe environment for her. I would say she has no idea the outside world is in disarray. I make sure to save my panic stricken diatribes for after she is in bed. I am grateful she is only 18months old. Major props to all those families who have school aged children and have to explain this mess to them and home school them while you are simultaneously unsure and freaking out about the future. A round of applause for teachers who are still trying to reach their beloved students in any way they can. None of you have anything to go off of to begin to understand how to operate in this new world we have found ourselves in. Nevertheless, you all have hit the ground running and never cease to amaze me. Bravo.

In this scary time, knowledge is power. The more information we have learned has calmed me down and afforded me some certainty that even though the world just got a whole lot scarier, Zach and I will do whatever we can to ensure the safety of Lucy and our new baby. I have to accept the fear and uncertainty with this pregnancy is bigger than my immediate family. I have no choice but to do that. It’s not all about me! What a sad realization for someone who grew up as the only girl in her family.

Everyone is afraid together, which sort of makes me feel better. Sounds sad, but they do say, “misery loves company.” We are at least in a stable situation. Zach is able to do his work from home. He is receiving a stable paycheck and it doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon. I was already at home with Lucy which makes us used to being “stuck around the house.” It has been a slight adjustment for us. We did used to go out a few days a week to the park, to the house of one of her cousins, my mom’s house, or a friend’s house. I guess it’s more of an adjustment for me than her. She doesn’t mind spending every day with me and her toys and seeing her dad for a few minutes here and there when he takes a break. Zach is so easy going, it didn’t take him long to find his stride with working from home. I know he struggled with it, but he’s able to see the positives quicker than I am. We have plenty of food and he’s able to get out to the store every couple weeks to restock. There are so many families who are struggling financially and can’t provide meals for their children. I can’t begin to fathom what that must be like and I’m not going to pretend I do. So while we are technically “all in this together,” we are on vastly different levels of uncertainty. I respect that and try to understand it better to allow myself to be grateful for my situation even though I am scared.

A lot of people have put up a stink about the social distancing rules and my first reaction was, “Oh my God, they don’t get that this isn’t just about them! They could have the virus and not know it. This virus is so infectious that they could spread it to somebody who can’t handle it. Why can’t people see this is bigger than themselves?” Humans are social creatures. We crave being around others.

A majority of my family lives nearby, which enables me to drive by and say hi. My one brother and his kids live across the street. I wave to them almost every day. Many people do not have this luxury and are forced to be at home alone. This allows me to understand the general distaste for the new rules. But then again, the science of it all steps in and riles me up. These rules are in place to avoid the spread! They are not in place to take away anyone’s freedom or a political ploy. It’s to save lies. If we stop the spread, we get back to normal sooner. This virus is requiring everyone to think outside of themselves and that’s really hard to do. You could have it and not know it and be fine, but you could infect someone else and that person has a family who they could infect and those people could have compromised immune systems that can’t handle it. There are still so many “what ifs” that we need to continue to take precaution. After much reflection, I have allowed myself to get it now. I do get that some just can’t understand and maybe don’t want to understand. It can be easier to shut off the world and pretend like it’s not happening. I do that on occasion. Ultimately, all I can do is protect my family. I can help inform others and they can do what they want with that information. 

I hear others say, “oh, well when this all goes away in a couple months….” I understand trying to be optimistic, but sometimes you gotta be real. It’s not going away by the deadline the state’s set. It’s not going to “magically disappear” like some individuals claim. It’s going to be here a while. It’s going to ebb and flow and we have to adjust accordingly. This thing is telling us we need to slow down and we need to be careful. Hopefully, there will be better and safer interventions in place sooner than anticipated, but it’s bigger than all of us. It is an invisible enemy and our best defense right now is staying put to avoid its wrath while the experts do their job. It’s not easy. It really is not easy, but it’s essential. The way this virus has been politicized is disgraceful and inhuman and it has distorted the reality of it all.

A major positive in this is we relearn how to “be still.” We can relearn how to live without the constant rat race we are accustomed to. I know a lot of people that like to constantly be moving or want to be traveling or have every weekend lined up with events and now they are forced to live in a completely different fashion. I get it. We are usually busy too. There’s always a party to go to or a family dinner to attend. We’ve had to adjust to a slower agenda. That’s life though. You expect your routine to continue and be able to do whatever you want whenever you want, but things can drastically change in a second and you have no choice but to adapt. We’ve been spending more time in our own yard. We sat on our driveway in chairs the other day and ate lunch while Lucy napped. It’s been different, but it has also been peaceful and refreshing. We can relearn to be grateful to be alive. There are so many perishing from this virus. So many families are being destroyed. Death was happening every day all over the world even before this outbreak, but having it surge through our own country is a wake up call. It’s a slap in the face. HEY, life is fragile, shape up and appreciate it.

It’s inspiring to see on the news that people are picking up old hobbies such as playing an instrument, baking, making funny videos with their families, or simply reconnecting with their partner through conversation. Parents have to come up with more activities within the house or their yards, so it’s helping families become more creative with their children. My mom told me the other day she’s been enjoying her time with my dad. He isn’t going to the office as much, various grandchildren aren’t parading around their house every day (as much as they love that, they needed a break). They are finally spending time alone. Zach and I are getting to spend more time alone with Lucy with no interruptions. Life is going to change drastically for her in a few weeks. This time we have alone with her is precious.

It’s interesting talking to people outside of our homes during this time and it’s not just because that it’s mostly on the phone, video chat, through a car window, or at least 6 feet away on a sidewalk. I am finding there has been an air of awkwardness in conversations that would otherwise be easy. There are many silences where in normal times there would be so much talking I didn’t know if I breathed or not. It is harder to try and figure out what to talk about. There isn’t much in the news other than virus news. Nobody is able to go to new restaurants, concerts, or anything public. There are no sports on. We all have corona weighing on our minds, but you don’t want to be the person to bring it up and drag the other person down. It’s like everyone is avoiding talking about the elephant in the room. You have to be creative and focus on positive things and find new hobbies to talk about or talk about the show you binge watched. But there only so many shows you can talk about before reality weighs in. I find myself thinking the whole time I’m talking to someone, “so how about that pandemic that’s throwing our world into absolute chaos?” The longer we live like this, the easier the conversations have gotten. But those initial few weeks, it was tough not to want to express all of my fears to everyone.

I think the thing I miss most through this social distancing era are hugs. I miss picking up my nieces and nephews and tickling them or tossing them around like they have come to expect Zach and I to do. I miss my mom’s hugs the most. I am really missing getting to spend time with her in person with Lucy as we prep for this new baby. I miss our lunch dates and occasional dinners at her house. I’ve realized how fortunate I have been to have her to lean on. Of course, I can still call her, FaceTime her, and drive by to see her. I am still spoiled. But I really am craving a “mom hug.” She gives the best hugs. Her hugs fill you with a sense of calm and comfort that leaves you believing everything is okay. I have to hold it together until the day I can get that mom hug without worrying I am going to pass a contagious virus to her or vice versa. I am grateful though that I get to give mom hugs to Lucy and I’ll get to give a mom hug to this new baby soon. I feel like I have been hugging Lucy more often than ever.

I am bummed my mom won’t be able to be in the delivery room with us this time. It was such a special experience for us when she saw Lucy be born. We can’t have anyone in the waiting room either. When Lucy was born, the waiting room was packed for us. While I am disappointed it is going to be way different, I am beyond grateful I will be able to have Zach with me. I have no idea how some women have given birth without their support person. I don’t think I could get through that without Zach. When I had Lucy, he stood up by my left ear and held my hand. There were times when I was pushing and the only thing I could hear was his voice. I am grateful to have a few more weeks to go. What pregnant woman says they are grateful to have more time being pregnant? A woman pregnant during a pandemic, that’s who.

I had said to Zach in the beginning of this pregnancy, “Man, I hope this birth isn’t as scary as Lucy’s was.” Thanks, corona.

At least with Lucy’s birth, I was able to connect with others who had babies have the same thing happen to them. The last time there was a pandemic was over 100 years ago. I don’t personally know anyone that was pregnant and delivering during the Spanish flu! God bless them, though. At least we have advanced maternal care in place in these times.

I am delivering at Lankenau again and so far they have good precautions in place. I have heard through the grapevine of a few women who have delivered there recently and it’s all been good reviews. Sounds like if your birth is uncomplicated they get you in and out pretty quickly. I’m glad this is my second baby and hopefully I can pop this one out quick. My heart is heavy for those first time moms. First time delivery is scary enough without doing it during a pandemic. Chances are, I hope, the closer I get to delivery the more knowledgeable the staff will be and the better the conditions at the hospital will be.

So, amidst the worldwide uncertainty, what certainties can I rely on going into this delivery? I have the love and never-ending support of my husband and our extended families. I have reliable doctors and nurses who will guide me through as my new baby enters the world. I have my healthy baby girl who will be waiting anxiously at home for her new sibling. I have a team of medical experts that I am closely related to that I can call on at any moment if I run into any issues at home. I am doing my best and will continue to do my best to provide for my family a safe, happy environment in which to dwell until the outside world is safe again. Life will continue as it always does. Of all that, I can be certain.

A Year in Review

Hello, all. It’s been a while. I wanted to do a recap of Lucy’s first year and have it ready by her 1st birthday, but here we are. Seventeen months have gone by. Better late than never.

October 24th, 2019 Lucy turned one! Fastest year of my life. Fastest, happiest, scariest, most emotional, most rewarding year of my entire life. 

Lucy is seventeen months old. She walks all over the place. She tries to talk but it’s still mostly in her own language. She has a raspy growl that she does, and according to my parents and extended family, I used to do that too. Oh, how happy I am that I am passing on my best qualities to my daughter.

Lucy walks around with her head held high with a sophisticated air of confidence. When she laughs, she laughs with every fiber of her being. She is not afraid to voice what she wants. She still loves her bath time and says good bye to each individual bath toy before getting out. She loves books and insists on choosing her own when we do story time. Some of her favorites are Goodnight Pennsylvania, Goodnight Massachusetts, and Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes.

A few weeks ago, I was reading to her before bed and she slipped (more like leaped) out of my arms and walked towards her books.

“Okay, choose what you want and bring it over here,” I said to her.

She walked towards her bookshelf as if she knew exactly what she wanted. She returned to me with a thick book entitled Baby Sign Language Basics.

“Lucy, we’re not learning sign language before bed,” I said.

She squealed and shoved it into my lap. “Okay,” I said. “Let’s learn sign language.”

She growled with satisfaction. We sat and looked at the illustrations of the signs for the letters of the alphabet.

That’s Lucy.

She shows interest in TV shows now and can focus on them. I didn’t think I’d be implementing (and failing at) screen time rules so early. Her favorite shows are Sesame Street and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. She also enjoys Jeopardy and gets especially excited when contestants find the Daily Double. Wheel of Fortune is another favorite. Her favorite movie seems to be Toy Story, although I think Frozen is a close second. She is happiest when she is alone with her mommy and her daddy. I know she adores me, but she gets a special sparkle in her eye when her daddy is around. He has the same affect on me.

She also runs a successful business from our living room. Her staff has the utmost respect for her. She holds board meetings every Friday.

IMG_6349.JPG

She adores all of her grandparents and she is mesmerized by her nine cousins. When I see the kids together, I am reminded of how it was when my brothers and I were growing up. We would run through the house with our cousins playing games and laughing without a care in the world.

Watching her grow has been the greatest joy of mine and Zach’s lives. Everything she does amazes us. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. The scare we had with her in the beginning has made us even more grateful for each new development. Those first few months I was on the edge of my seat every day. Since then, she has proven to me that she is a strong and capable person and nothing can stop her…not even me repetitively saying “no.” As she grows, I have been able to sit back a bit more relaxed and watch her discover the world on her own.

She has developed a unique sense of humor and knows how to push the limits just enough to get a rise out of me. I don’t know what I expected her to be like at seventeen months, but I’m floored at how tuned in she is to us and the world around her. I can remember in the beginning worrying that I might not be good at this whole thing. I worried about connecting with her the way that I think I should. I would say to Zach, “What if she doesn’t like me?” My worries have washed away. We are so synced, it’s crazy. She makes certain sounds or body language and I know exactly what she needs. She has the same thing with Zach. It’s like we had these skills all along and it just took her to bring them out.

Becoming a mom has been unreal. I still can’t come up with anything more powerful to say than that without crying all over my keyboard. Each day is a gift, even the days when Lucy is smacking me in the face, tearing my glasses off, contorting her body to avoid every diaper change (no idea how she twists herself and doesn’t break), and throwing food on the floor. Yes, even those days are gifts….in retrospect. I have become a version of myself that I didn’t know was in there, a version that I have become pretty proud of. It’s a rewarding and fulfilling feeling. I have been on a constant search most of my adult life for what it is I’m “called to do.” When I became a mom, I felt a fulfillment I never felt before. I had finally found something I knew I was definitely supposed to be doing. 

One thing about the motherhood world that has stood out to me these past seventeen months is how hard moms are on themselves because of the pressures of society. The constant judgment and comparisons that are made in society is mind boggling and makes it difficult for us not to be hard on ourselves. I, especially in the beginning, have scoured the internet on more than one occasion for tips to make sure I’m “doing it right.” Checking to make sure I’m “doing it right” only makes me more uneasy and frustrated and makes Zach frustrated because he has to keep telling me to relax. My mom has said to me many times, “Sometimes, you need to stop reading.”

Every little human is unique and each relationship between the parents and the little human are unique. I have found there is no general “right way” to do this. I have 3 sisters-in-law who have children and a handful of friends. I have heard methods from my mom, my mother-in-law, and my aunts. It’s great to be able to pass advice back and forth and commiserate with each other when things are nuts, but I’ve learned that each of us has our own way of approaching motherhood and each of us is doing it or did it the way our children need/needed us to. That’s what’s important! I struggle with comparing myself to others. It’s human nature to do so. Since being a mom, I have put extra effort into trying NOT to compare my experience with those around me. We all have happy/healthy kids and that’s what is important.

Lucy wakes up pretty much every day with a smile on her face. I don’t hear her crying when she gets up, I hear her growling and laughing to herself. She runs around all day and plays and laughs. I guess I’m doing something right. 

I’m a stay at home mom. It’s been a wonderful and sometimes crazy experience. Overall, I feel blessed and grateful that I have the ability to do it. I encountered a few people soon after I had Lucy who asked me, “When are you going back to work?” I would tell them I’m going to be staying home and the conversation would be over.

Women are judged if they stay home and women are judged if they go back to work. We need to stop judging each other!! Whatever works for your family is what works. Honestly, props to moms who work. I don’t know how they manage it. But also, props to us stay at home moms. This is hard work too. I have had people say to me, “What do you do all day?” Oh, you know, just watch Netflix and pick my nose. But that’s really only when Lucy is napping.

I’m not trying to get up on a soap box and preach. I just want everyone to believe that no matter what you decide to do, we are ALL working hard ALL day every day. Our lives change completely the instant the little human exits us. Technically, our lives change completely the instant the little human begins growing in our belly. Why society can’t appreciate that and applaud all of us is beyond me. Why society forces us to pin ourselves against each other is shameful. No matter what path we take, stay at home mom or working mom, or stay at home dad, we are making a sacrifice for our growing families. In my household, we used to have two incomes and now we have one. We had to adjust to that new reality, which was difficult. 

Some days I get jealous that Zach gets to leave the house every day (at least he did before this pandemic showed up), go to an office, and interact with other humans who are contributing to society. I miss that office working version of myself on occasion. As I am sure moms who work wish they could be doing more with their babies. Society demands women BE it all and DO it all. Women constantly feel torn, which can affect the way we parent. Why are we pressured in this way? WE GROW HUMANS IN OUR BODY AND THEN THEY COME OUT OF US. GIVE US A BREAK. We give up our bodies for pregnancy, push humans out of our bodies, or we get cut open and get them pulled out of our bodies (both equally difficult), care for them at the expense of our sanity for the rest of our lives, and we are still judged over whether we stay home or go back to work. See, doesn’t it seem ridiculous when it’s written out? We become different human beings on a cellular level, from the change of how we physically look, to our body composition to how our brains work. We become new women physically, mentally, and emotionally. However we decide to lead our lives after we bring children into the world is our decision for our family and we shouldn’t be made to feel as though we are making the wrong choice.

Even though I understand and accept the path I have chosen, at times I still feel helpless and think I could be doing more. I don’t want to feel that way, but it seems that is what comes with being a mom. SO MANY FEELINGS. And I thought I had a lot feelings before motherhood. 

When I feel that way, I look at my daughter and my growing belly that contains baby #2 and I realize I am contributing to our little society within our household. I am working on raising little humans who could one day change the world. That’s my hope at least. I won’t pressure them to change the WHOLE world, just their little corner of the world is totally fine too.

All parents are doing that. We are contributing new humans to the world to hopefully make the future better. Don’t lose sight of that in the humdrum of routine or the fast paced world of getting ahead while trying to have it all.  

To my Lucy girl, thank you for allowing me to see the world through your eyes. You have awakened in me and your daddy a sense of wonder and excitement that invigorates us every day. Continue to hold your head up high and never lose that unflinching confidence that you so seamlessly display. You are a strong little lady and you proved that to everyone right out of the gate. Being able to watch you grow and discover the world has been God’s greatest gift to us.

IMG_5339.JPG

Always remember, “you are so young and so curious. Your life is wide open. You can be and do anything you desire, but follow your heart. Don’t let the cares and concerns and fears of those around you keep you from becoming whatever it is you want.”**

*Excerpt from the Good Friday Homily from Deacon Joe at my parish OMC.

Nelly

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. 

57851580032__CC8278E8-A308-497F-A949-B939FB166362.jpg

Nelly and Lucy

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.

IMG_8784.jpg

Nelly Lafawnduh Sprandio 7/6/05-6/9/19

 

Do not be afraid, we are with you

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.

Rejuvenation

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.

IMG_1214.jpg

She’s like, “Um, excuse me. Who are you?”

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!)

IMG_0424.jpg

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.

IMG_0433.jpg

God has seriously blessed Lucy Rose!

IMG_0431.jpg

IMG_0423.jpg