The End

Abigail,

Taking a look back over the last 5 years, there is this one moment in your first few days of life that has stayed with me, all this time. I was sitting in my hospital bed, reading the blog post that Miss Bree wrote about your birth, with tears streaming down my face. You were maybe 3 days old. So many people – family, friends, strangers – left comments of love and prayer. The messages came from around the block, around the country, and even around the world! Not all of these people knew us, but they were all rooting for you! And one comment, in particular, struck my heart like an arrow.

Mary (and Tim) Walker, whom I have never met or spoken with, added this comment to their continued prayers: “These are such tender pictures. So many people are praying for your little one. I see her playing with the other kids on the playground in kindergarten!”

I can’t describe to you or to anyone else how that comment made me feel. It nearly knocked the wind out of me. The best I can do is tell you that it literally left a weight on my heart that I could feel in my chest. All of our goals in those first few days were just to get through. To survive the day. So, to read that someone could so plainly see a future for you, so far away, was such a blessing for me. It changed my perspective. It took away some of my fear. It gave me the beginning spark of the strength that so many have marveled at over the years. Reaching that goal – to see you play with your friends like a normal child on a Kindergarten playground – became EVERYTHING for me. It has been my driving force for your whole life.

I don’t know exactly what Mrs. Walker saw in her vision of you on that playground. But the vision it created in my mind was as clear as if she’d handed me a photograph. I saw you, as a small girl with braided hair, laughing and smiling on a swing set. You were surrounded by other children and you were trying to get that swing as high as it could go. You were the epitome of what it meant to be starting Kindergarten. You were healthy, normal, and (most importantly) happy. This imaginary image became what I clung to every time we met an obstacle. Every time we had a set back. Even every time we experienced a triumph. Every step of the way, this image flashed in my brain and I knew we could keep going. We could make it.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words:

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The last 5 years have easily been the toughest half decade of my life. But everything we wanted for you, everything we hoped and prayed for… it’s here.

This is the end of our Micro-Preemie story. You did it. You survived those first few days, and I’ve survived the last 5 years. Baby girl, we came out on top. I could not be more proud, or relieved. You are going to be just fine. Enjoy every moment on that swing, Princess. You’ve more than earned it.

I Love you.
-Mama

******************************************************************************************************To all of my readers:

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for continuing to follow us on our journey with Abigail. Thank you for the prayers, the words of encouragement, the advice… all of it. You’ve been amazing.

This is where I will end my postings on this blog. I will never take it down, as I want Abigail to be able to read it when she’s old enough to understand her story. But I don’t have anything further to add. Don’t worry, though – I’m going to keep on writing.

Join me on my new blog: http://www.TheMermaidandtheDinosaur.wordpress.com

I’ll be writing about everything under the sun (but mostly I’ll be writing about our crazy life with 2 amazing kids!). It will be different, for sure – but it it will be fun! Hope to see you there.

Thanks again,

-Jen

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Happy 5th Birthday, Abigail!

Dear Abigail,

Today, for the very first time in your little life, I missed it. Every year, on June 2nd at exactly 1:30pm, I pull you aside and wish you a Happy Birthday. But today, the moment came and went and I didn’t even notice until over an hour later… you and Milo and I were having far to much fun to care about what minute it was.

It is a true sign of the times and how they have changed for us. In those first few days, we were counting minutes; each one that passed was a success – a step closer to our goals. Counting minutes changed to counting hours. Counting hours changed to days, then weeks. Then came the time that I’d refer to everything, including your age, in months (I’m still cursing that corrected age, btw). 2 years ago was the first time your dad and I started counting in years. You turned 3, and you were moving mountains. But still, I looked at you like a fragile doll. Still, I saw the tiny baby that might not make it home. As your Mom, I think a part of me will always see that, in a way. But it is SO different now.

Today, while you were either riding your scooter, or racing down the slide, or playing happily with your brother in the sand, you turned 5. And for the first time ever, I wasn’t watching the clock. I was watching you. I wasn’t paying attention to every tiny detail. I was paying attention to you. I wasn’t stressing about germs or dangers lurking or the people around us. I was enjoying you.

Baby girl, I need you to know: I so enjoy you. From the moment you entered this world, you’ve been a marvel to behold. You have made me smile bigger than I ever thought possible. You have made me laugh (and cry) harder than ever before. And today, as I watched you, I realized just how incredible you truly are.

Today, I realized (or rather, re-realized, if that is even a word) how kind and generous you are. You came down the stairs and saw your birthday present – the scooter you’ve been wanting for months. You were so genuinely happy, and you remembered to say Thank You to your Dad and me. And then you noticed that Milo was sitting on a scooter, too, because all at once your excitement got even bigger. You looked at me and said, “Mama!!! Look! Milo has a scooter, too! Now we can ride outside together!” The only thing that could have made you happier than getting exactly what you wanted for your birthday was to know that your brother had been taken care of, too. That kid has no clue just how lucky he is (But don’t worry – I’ll make sure he learns it soon.)

Today, I realized the true span of your imagination. You told me at least a dozen stories today. Some of them I understood fully – You and I on a mission to find the dragon and the witch was so much fun. Some of them, however, I don’t think I’ll ever have a clue what you meant… You said to me, in passing, “Mom, I can’t go outside right now, the ballerina tiger needs to go potty.” All I could do was look at you and stutter… “Ok, baby.” This statement will never fully make sense to me, but it made sense to you, so who cares what I think. Your mind races at about a million beats per second and I love hearing about what you are thinking. Maybe you’ll write stories like Mommy. Or maybe you’ll just be the most awesome playmate your kids ever have. I know you are the most awesome one I’ve ever had.

Today, I realized how smart you are. Well, actually, I’ve been slowly realizing it over the last year. Out of nowhere, you come at me with these profound thoughts and insights. Like the time you told me (when I was upset) that, “It’s ok, Mama. God’s watching.” That one blew me out of the water. Or the other day when I miscounted the apples and you corrected me. “No, Mama – there are only seven apples. Not eight.” You were right. You constantly amaze me with your level of intelligence in all things. Today was no exception. For instance, you put sand in Milo’s hair today at the park. You knew it was wrong to do, but you tried it anyway. And when I put you in time-out for doing it, you looked at me with those big blue eyes of yours and said, in the most sickeningly sweet and coy voice, “But Mama, it’s still my birthday.” It took every ounce of will power I had not to laugh. You’d done it because you figured today would be the day you could get away with it… It’s odd, as a mom, when you have to be stern and follow the rules, and then secretly laugh on the inside at how proud you are of the kid that just broke the rules. Because, sweetheart, you are ridiculously sharp.

Abigail, I don’t think even Poppi’s large vocabulary will ever be able to explain to you just how much I adore you. You make me laugh and smile, you make me think, you make me the happiest person on earth sometimes. Yes, sometimes your will power and stubbornness and inability to see things anyway but your own can frustrate me to no end (hmmmm… wonder where you got all those traits from? 😉 ). But on the whole, you simply amaze me.

5 years, baby. 5 years of my life, gone in a flash. And, honestly, I have trouble remembering what life was like without you in it. It’s almost like the day your life started is the day my life started, too. Of course, I have fond memories of my 27 years prior to you, but I really can’t seem to remember what it felt like NOT to be your mom. You have encompassed all of me, in the best way possible. You have no idea how special you are. We’ve never tried to explain to you what makes your presence on this earth so incredible. You don’t know that you weren’t supposed to be here today. You don’t know why Miss Patricia or Miss Bernie or Miss Donna (Nurses) mean so much to you, or why Dr. Mah tells people about you every time he sees you. You have no clue how crazy your first 5 years have been – because from day one, you simply took it all in stride. You fought every obstacle like it was just another day. You have no idea why you going to Kindergarten without Miss Karen (Speech Therapist) makes Mommy so happy. All you care about, today and every day, are things like what color you are wearing (God forbid it be anything other than Pink or Purple) or if you are going to get to see Laila and Max today, or who is picking you up from school, or that Milo is ok and not crying.

Missing your birthday minute today was a true sign of all that has changed for us, baby girl. For the first time ever it didn’t happen, because for the first time ever, it didn’t matter. What matters is that we had a fantastic day together and you know exactly how old you are (you told me easily 20 times). You are strong and smart and creative and beautiful and wonderful. And I am so proud of you.

I love you Abigail. I hope that if you understand nothing else in this letter, that you understand that. Its truly the only thing that matters now.

Happy Birthday Princess.

Love Mommy

Typical

Typical – Exhibiting the qualities or characteristics that identify a group or kind or category.

I’ve been re-reading many of my blog posts from the last 5 years. And the word that seems to pop up the most throughout is the word “Typical.” It’s funny to go back and read old musings. So much has changed in the almost 5 years we’ve been on this journey with our daughter. The thing that has remained constant to the bitter end, however, has been to achieve the status of “Typical.”

Let’s be really honest, here. Abigail has never been typical. A typical newborn arriving into the world 16 weeks early wouldn’t typically breathe on her own. But she did. A typical Micro-Preemie typically has at least one surgery during an extended NICU stay. But she didn’t have any. If you’ve been following along all these years, you’ve been privy to every time she did something atypical for whatever standard we were measuring her against. I’ve lost count at this point.

As time went on, I wrote less and less on this blog. Some of that was due to how exponentially busy one gets, caring for a small child. Then add a second small child to the mix and extra availability gets sucked into some sort of vortex. Truly, though, the main reason was because I had less and less to share. Obstacles became less frequent, problems came with less drama, and we saved our celebrations for the really big milestones. Abigail was becoming more typical by the day.

Abigail and I have been walking this path together for 1,811 days, all with one goal on our minds – for her to be “Typical” by age 5. Now, this goal was not at all arbitrary. I did not set out to hand her some all-encompassing ultimatum that meant “failure” if we didn’t meet it. Age 5 is a significant milestone for any child, as it is typically (there is that word again!) when a child starts school. That was truly the goal: For Abigail to start Kindergarten as a TYPICAL child with her 5-year-old peers. This has been the standard we have held everything against since we brought her home.

It has been a daunting, time consuming, emotionally draining task. One that has brought just as many tears as it has brought smiles. I am writing this post to share with all of our followers that we are only 15 days away from that deadline: her 5th birthday. We are only a few months away from the start of Kindergarten and the end of our story. I only plan to write 2 more posts on the subject. But most importantly, I am here to share that we’ve met our goals.

Abigail has needed 3 kinds of therapy in her short half decade. At age 3 months she started Occupational Therapy, and tested out of it at age 3. At age 13 months she started modified physical therapy and tested out of it within 6 months. And at 18 months old she started Speech therapy. This is the therapy we have struggled with the longest. At age 3, she “aged out” of the state system for early intervention, but was still testing at more than a year behind. She was moved into the school system at that point and we’ve seen “Miss Karen” (her Speech and Language Pathologist) twice a week EVERY WEEK for the last 2 years.

Karen came to me a little over a month ago and set up the end of the year testing we’ve become so accustomed to – but she added in, “I honestly don’t think she’ll qualify for further services.” I was skeptical. I’m not sure why, as anyone who has had a conversation with Abigail lately can tell you – she speaks extremely well. 2 weeks ago, Karen administered the test and told me Abigail did “well.” No idea what that meant at the time.

This past Friday, I went in for Abigal’s IEP. It’s the annual “here is where we are at” meeting where we discuss the goals we have met, vs. the goals we didn’t, and where we go from here. This was where Karen delivered the following news:

Abigail didn’t just “Test Out” of speech therapy. She blew the test out of the water. For example: One of the goals from last year’s IEP was that her “Vocabulary was intelligible at least 75% of the time.” This means that a stranger would be able to understand 75% of what she says. She could not do this a year ago. But her latest test indicates she is speaking with 92% intelligibility. This is high for a typical child, let alone a speech delayed child. Another example are the numbers the tests spit out. I don’t claim to understand one sliver of how they come up with these numbers… I just understand what they mean. She scored an 8, an 8, a 16, a 16, and an overall score of 18. To qualify for further services, you must score 6 or less in 2 categories and/or less than 8 overall. 8’s are on the low end of average, meaning she needs some improvement, but the skills are still “emerging” as they say. 16’s and an 18 are on the high end of average. I’m told that a “Typical” child would score between 13 and 17 across the board.

I was informed that, with these scores, the school district could no longer offer Abigail speech therapy. We’d done it. She will be entering Kindergarten as a mainstream, typical child, with no extra services. It was so odd to hear. When she tested out of OT and PT, I did a little happy dance. Whoo-hoos and clapping and a feeling of true accomplishment as we moved further away from “special needs” and closer to typical. But for this announcement… I just sat there. It didn’t really sink in. I almost asked, “Are you sure?” because this particular part of our life has been such a constant for so long. But the numbers didn’t lie. They stared at me on that piece of paper, and finally, I signed on the dotted line, agreeing with their decision.

Abigail was granted one last session, which we will attend tomorrow morning, for emotional purposes. Its her chance to say goodbye to Miss Karen. And we will walk out of that classroom for the last time, as we prepare for her Pre-School graduation next week, then her first summer of Camp, and onward to Kindergarten in the fall. I really can’t believe it.

Mission Accomplished.

-Jen

Milo’s Story

As a testament to just how nutty my life has become chasing after two children, I am JUST NOW finishing this post… a post I started a mere 6 weeks after Milo was born. He will be 15 months old in just over a week. Oh well… Better late than never!

Milo’s Birth story, for my memory and for his:

I can already feel the details slipping away. In the chaos that is giving birth, followed by the haze of exhaustion afterwards, followed by a complete inability to get one’s world back in working order, it is a wonder that anyone can remember any of it. But I wanted to write down Milo’s story so that I don’t ever forget the details.

His story starts a good 6 weeks before his arrival. At 28 weeks along, a high-risk Ultrasound determined that my cervix had opened up almost half way (called an incompetent cervix) and the likelihood of a full term delivery was slim. I was placed on full bed rest at home. My doctors were guessing that, if things went well, I’d make it to 32 weeks along. To take any extra pressure off of my cervix, I needed to be in a fully reclined or laid-out position. I was allowed to go to my doctor’s appointments, to walk to the bathroom, and to make one round trip up and down the stairs in our house each day. Otherwise, it was “Park it, Sister” until delivery.

I spent 6 weeks in that chair. My Mom, my MIL, my Hubby, and several close friends and other family members took turns taking care of me and of Abigail. Everyone tried very hard to help me stay positive – lots of people told me to “enjoy” bed rest. Hahahaha, yea right. I was bored out of my mind! I watched WAY too much TV to pass the time. I got a TON of work done for Brienne. And I spent an exorbitant amount of time online. But the effort was well worth it. I was able to keep Milo in for a full 2 weeks longer than my doctors predicted. As we know, every single one of those extra days counted towards a healthy delivery. It is odd to be proud of doing something as mundane as sitting still, but seeing as I am the type that can never do so, I am actually very proud.

But, as seems to just be the way it is with me, pre-term labor came when I least expected it and there was no stopping it. It was a Friday. I was 34 weeks and 1 day into my pregnancy. Nothing was out of the ordinary. No cramps, no odd signs. Status quo. Then around noon, I had a little cramp. Nothing big, but noticeable. I had a handful within the hour. I couldn’t actually tell if they were contractions or not, but I wanted to be safe. I called my OB’s office. They had closed early for the day and forwarded me to an on-call doctor named Dr. Fields. When I told her I couldn’t tell if they were contractions or just cramps she told me it didn’t really matter to her – she wanted to know how far apart they were, regardless of “what” they were. She told me that if they were coming less than 10 minutes apart, I was to go straight to the hospital for observation.

We timed them, and by now (over 2 hours in) I was pretty sure they were, in fact, contractions. They didn’t hurt, but they were uncomfortable and they were happening faster as time went on. When we timed them, they were 8 minutes apart. I felt defeated. I really wanted to go longer than 34 weeks. But my mother gave me that knowing look that only she can give me and convinced me that we better go in. Luckily, Paul (my Brother-in-law) was there, waiting for my MIL and my Niece to arrive. He told us to go, he’d stay with Abigail. We saw my MIL and niece in passing as we got ready to go. I remember that my MIL postponed leaving town for a few hours, “just in case.” But at this point, we all thought that the hospital would try to stop my labor and buy us some more time. I was dreading hospital bed rest.

The truth was that I was ready for Milo to be born. I didn’t want him to come early if he didn’t have to, but I wasn’t going to fight it if that was what was meant to happen. Dr. David and I had discussed at length our plan of action – and we both agreed. Anything past 35 weeks and we’d let nature do its thing – we wouldn’t fight it. I was 6 days shy of that marker. I was a bit on pins and needles about what to do. I wanted my doctor, who was unreachable at that point.

I hopped in my mom’s car and we headed in. I called Anthony, who left work early to come be with me. Thank goodness it was a Friday afternoon! This time around, I got to enter the hospital through the front doors. My mom wanted to walk in with me, but didn’t know what she should do with the car. The parking garage was a good walk away, which I couldn’t manage. The valet guy wasn’t there at the front. Just as my Mom had decided to leave the hazard lights on and walk me in before running back out to the car, he reappeared. She looked at him with her “urgent face” on and said, “My daughter is in labor, can I leave the car with you?” He smiled and said, “Go! Go! Not to worry, I’ve got this covered.” She handed him the keys and we were off! We went to admitting and sat for what seemed like forever. I had to pee twice. Anthony arrived and we got everything taken care of. I was wheeled up to Labor and Delivery into the room right next door to where I recovered from giving birth to Abigail (The hospital had done a remodel, and what was then “recovery” was now “Labor and Delivery”).  A couple of nurses whose names I do not remember came in and out, hooking me up to monitors and asking me questions. Another hour had passed and by now the contractions were undeniably that: real contractions. The painful kind. Still about 6 minutes apart. The nurse who was filling out my chart started asking me all of the “we need to know everything about you” questions to put into the computer. During which time Dr. Fields made her first appearance.  She was bubbly, and a little too perky for my liking (which is saying something if you know how perky I can be!), but she was now in charge. She told me Dr. David had been notified but that he was stuck on the 405 in bumper to bumper traffic headed in the OPPOSITE direction from us. He was going to try to make it back. But for now, I was in her hands. She asked me her own round of questions and I answered as best I could through contractions that suddenly started to come hard and fast.

At this point, the first major problem had arisen. I mentioned that I had planned to have my tubes tied during this surgery. But in the state of California, you have to sign the paperwork for consent more than 72 hours before surgery. I had – weeks prior, actually. But those papers were in Dr. David’s office, not the hospital. And they were telling me that they wouldn’t be able to do the procedure if they couldn’t get the paperwork faxed before we started the C-Section. Dr. Fields ran off to try to rectify the problem.

It was about 4:30pm and now the contractions were really crazy. Long and strong and under 2 minutes apart. I was over half way dilated and 90% effaced. The nurse asking me all the medical questions (and trying to get answers through Anthony, as I couldn’t breathe, the contractions were so painful) gave up. She said it didn’t matter anymore, we needed to get into an OR before I just had the baby the old-fashioned way (which could have been dangerous for me). They took Anthony to get moon-suited up. Another nurse came in to draw blood and hook me up to an IV. She was great! She saw how sacred I was and how serious I was when I said I was needle-phobic. So she did a 2-in-1 and drew my blood through my IV. That was cool! Only 1 prick! Wahooo! I high-fived her.

Before I knew it, it was go time. They wheeled my bed out of the room and down the hall to the OR (hitting not one, but TWO supply carts on the way there, btw. Anthony started to get upset). The phrase “Please keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times” played loudly in my head in both English and Spanish. We made it to the OR in one piece. They were prepping for me. The best part of it all was that, this time, Anthony was with me every step of the way so far. He held my hand, he talked to me and held my focus, he made me feel so much better. A complete 180 from my first experience.

They got me up on the operating table, ready for the spinal tap. At this point my contractions were less than a minute apart, and lasting 30-45 second each. The anesthesiologist braced me for what was coming. He told me that he usually did this in between contractions, as it is VERY important that I don’t move while he does this. But there was not a break long enough between them to accomplish his task. So he said we’d have to manage THROUGH a contraction. He actually waited until one started, so that I was less likely to move. Anthony held my arms as I grabbed onto his sleeves. I pressed my head on his chest and he held me there as best he could. I was SO scared. But it really wasn’t that bad! In actuality, I barely felt it. The contraction was the only thing I felt, and Anthony was able to hold me still long enough to get the job done. Within 30 seconds my body started to relax. I felt one more, significantly weaker, contraction. They laid me down and before I knew it, I couldn’t feel a thing. To the point that he poked me up my leg, past my hip, and all the way up to my bra line before I could feel the pin he was poking me with. Holy Moly!

Dr. Fields had not yet returned from her paper-finding mission. That was majorly concerning me. Not doing the procedure today would mean yet another procedure in the near future. My worry was becoming an all-consuming focus at that point. But the next people to walk through the door were the best distraction possible! The friendliest faces I could have asked to see charged through the door with smiles and “So good to see you!” and “We’ve got you covered.” You see, for every C-Section performed at Los Robles, 1 NICU nurse and 1 NICU RT (respiratory therapist) must be present. But this was MY baby we are talking about here. Los Robles NICU is family. So I got 2 NICU Nurses, 1 RT, and a Neonatologist. Everyone of whom I knew by name. It was like a family reunion. And they all pulled out their phones to snap pictures for me. 🙂

Dr. Fields returned, ready to go. She announced that she’d received the signed paperwork needed to perform the extra procedure. Even though the office had closed early, and Dr. David could not help, his AMAZING staff went back into the office after already going home for the weekend, and delivered what I needed. Once again, my incredible OB staff came through for me in a pinch. They are fantastic people.

And with that, it was time. Anthony and I talked to the NICU staff while Dr. Fields cut into me. It took mere minutes to get Milo out. They held him up for me to see, and told Anthony to stand up and look at his son. (Side anecdote: peering over the curtain meant that Anthony could see my exposed abdomen… and all of my displaced insides. This did not bother him in the slightest! But it will bother me forever that he gets to tease me by saying, “I know you now – Inside and out.” Ugh.) The NICU staff took Milo, weighed him, cleaned him up, and handed him to me. They told me he was breathing great! And that he was big! Over 5 lbs. It was better than we could have hoped for. We snapped a few photos and it was time to take Milo to the NICU. The crew was getting ready to go and they asked if Anthony wanted to come with them. I told him to go – I’d be fine. So off he went, admiring his new best bud.

In all honesty, the strangest experience I’ve had in my life to-date was that C-section. To be awake, unable to feel the pain, but 100% able to feel the pressure and movement. When they moved something aside, I felt it. When they put something back, I felt it. At one point, I remember they were pulling on something and it literally shook my whole body – which I totally felt – and said “Sorry about that!” WTF were they doing???? Tying my tubes took almost triple the amount of time it took to deliver Milo. Obviously, they wanted to get it right. But it was like I wasn’t even there – the doc and her assistant were chatting about some personal family thing the whole time. The Anesthesiologist tried to talk to me, but I was just like, “This is weird. I need to be done now.” Oh, and I’ll never forget the shivers. I was concerned about how much I was shivering. Apparently it’s totally normal but no one warns you about anything, so it freaked me out.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity (but was really only about 15 minutes) it was over. I was stitched back up, they carried me back to the mobile bed, and wheeled me to recovery. I was visited by a few people – My sister, my MIL, my parents all stopped by. Anthony came in at one point to update me and then run back. And then, the drug induced haze of happiness kicked in and I slept. Like, for hours. I actually didn’t even see Milo until the next day. I had peace of mind knowing he was in the best hands possible, and I was so utterly exhausted that sleeping in that hospital bed was the best sleep I’d had in months (and would prove to be the best sleep I would have for almost a full year after).

I saw Dr. Fields several times over the weekend. Dr. Ghausi called me the next morning to check in, and Dr. Saul (Abby and Milo’s pediatrician) came to visit me and check on me as well. Dr. Ghausi saw me Monday morning and said I was probably well enough to go home and recover but that if I wanted to stay, he’d give me one more day. So I stayed.

Visiting the NICU for the first time, the day after Milo was born, was like a party. I wobbled my little butt into that room and received the warmest of welcomes. Hugs and cheers and “OMG, he’s gorgeous!” from all angles. I was given my first NICU update in 3 and a half years, and it all flooded back to me like I’d never left. I was told that certain primary nurses of Abby’s were fighting over who would get to care for Milo. We laughed, and we played catch up, and we pretty much scared the daylights out of the poor couple next to us who were so obviously going through something similar to what we went through in 2010. I pulled this new mother aside and I told her, “I’m so sorry if we scared you – these people are family, as this is our second child in this ward. I promise you, your baby is in the BEST hands she could be in. And if you need to talk to someone, I’m more than happy to listen.” She never took me up on my offer, but at least she didn’t seem so afraid of me anymore.

Milo spent 19 days in the NICU. He kicked every test’s ass, never had any major set backs, and only had to stay the extra week because of the damn apnea. Abigail met him on day 3, and visited often. She was so utterly in love with this tiny creature and would tell anyone who would listen that he was, “My Baby Milo.” Which made my heart melt, because I said the same thing to anyone who would listen the day my sister was born.

I don’t remember much else. I recovered quickly. We managed to move from Anthony’s parent’s house to a place of our own less than a week after I’d left the hospital. I remember my In-laws finally got to return home to NorCal after staying to help for weeks while I was on “Bed Arrest.” I also remember my Mom got shingles and couldn’t see any of us until after Milo came home which made both of us miserable. Life returned to “normal” so much more quickly than it did in 2010. Abby adjusted so well, and we all just started living this amazing life as a family of 4. It’s been more than a year now. He’s walking, has several basic words (His first word was Mama!!!), mimics dozens of sounds, and loves Abigail more than anything. He’s completed our family, and we love him to the moon and back. I’m at the point now that I have trouble recalling what life was like before he arrived. It is both an odd and incredible feeling.

I’m one blessed Mama these days. Thank you, again, for everyone who helped us and prayed for us during that time. You made a difference to me, which made a difference for him.

-Jen

Missing You.

Abigail_3months_34Oh, Pup. I don’t know what to say. I have so many feelings swirling around in my heart right now.

For those of you how don’t know, Captain Pup has been our dog for 9 and a half years. A friend of Anthony’s brother found pup in a parking lot around Thanksgiving in 2004. It was raining so we took him in. We called him “Pup” because we didn’t want to name him. We tried to find an owner, but no one claimed him. So after almost a month, Anthony said, “I’ll keep him.”

Anthony’s Brother tried to rename him. “Captain” was the favorite option. But it was too late – a month of calling him “Pup” and he wouldn’t respond to anything else. So for the better part of a decade, “Pup” was as regular a word in my everyday vocabulary as the word “Water.” At first, the vet thought he was about a year old when we found him. But after being properly fed and cared for, it came to light that he was closer to age 3 when we found him.

Pup loved the car back then. He’d go anywhere with us. And he always wanted to sit in the driver’s seat. 🙂 He’d put his front paws on the steering wheel and watch where we were headed over the dash. Then he’d hop in the back, curl up, and take a nap. He was a funny-looking kind of cute, and the biggest cuddle bug. But that was years ago.

These days, pup is the “Grumpy Old Man” as we call him. If our calculations are correct, he’s about 13 years old. He is afraid of the car now because it usually means visiting the vet, and his naps are less of a recharge and more of a way of life. That black and tan dog in the picture is now a black and grey dog. Old Man to the Nth degree. And “grumpy” is a euphemism for a dog that has turned aggressive and easily agitated. He liked Abigail for about 6 months after we brought her home. Pretty much once she was even remotely mobile, he decided they weren’t friends. The same seems to hold true for Milo. He is a very different dog than the one we took in off the street almost 10 years ago.

The truth is, Pup doesn’t really like people in general. Especially strange men. He has shown obvious signs of abuse from day one. He’s a barker, and a growler. But for the entire time we’ve had him, he’s been mostly all bark and no bite. He has snapped a few times at people who have gotten in his face or made him feel threatened. But he’d never hurt anyone.

That is, until this past Thursday. Abigail was sitting on the floor watching TV and eating goldfish crackers. Totally normal. And Pup was attempting to steal some of those crackers. Also normal. As Abby moved the crackers away, he quietly growled. Normal. My tone of voice in warning him to knock it off – normal. What happened next was as far from normal as it gets. Abby turned to look in my direction (turning her head towards Pup) and he lunged. Without warning, he bit her face, leaving a significant gash on her right eyelid.

I watched it happen. It was mere feet from me. For a moment, both Abby and I froze in shock. In that moment, I saw that Pup’s expression had changed. His normally kind eyes and sarcastic grin had turned cold and angry. But then the moment passed. All in the same split second, Pup’s expression returned to normal and the pain of the bite set in. I put Milo down (who immediately objected by crying) so I could scoop up a sobbing and confused Abby. Pup ran and hid. He knew he’d done something horrible.

It took the better part of 20 minutes to calm Abigail down. In that time I had assessed that the wound did not puncture her eyelid or damage her eye. It was just a deep and painful cut. I called Anthony for reinforcements, but by the time he arrived home, things had settled and seemed normal. Abby even seemed unphased, trying to let Pup back into the house from the yard where I’d banished him for the moment. The doctor was called, with treatment instructions given, and everyone seemed ok… everyone except me. I still couldn’t wrap my head around it, and worse still, I knew what was coming. Anthony said it aloud first. “He can’t stay here.”

If you know me well, you know that there has literally been a 3 months span of time when I was 15 that I didn’t own a dog. That’s it. Every single day of the rest of my 31 years included a furry friend. And I was taught that while they were family pets, that they were to be treated as family members. You don’t leave them behind – for ANY reason… except one.

Dogs that bite children, for ANY reason, cannot stay. It’s like there is some dog owner code written down somewhere that states it. Can’t find an apartment that will take dogs? Not a good enough reason to dismiss the animal. Can’t afford the medical bills? Not a good enough reason. Spouse allergic to the animal? Still not a good enough reason. But a dog that bites, unprovoked, changes things.

I was heartbroken. But my hands were tied. I called the local shelter for information on protocols and got ambushed. A dog that bites is serious business to them. Animal Control had to get involved, as did the health department. An official Bite Report was filed. It was a giant mess and my head was spinning. And the ultimate result was that the best course of action for all involved, including Pup, was to surrender him to the shelter. I wanted to vomit.

Anthony took the rest of the day off to help me deal with it all. I was told that he’d be given a 10-day quarantine to rule out rabies. (He was current on his shots, so I knew that wasn’t it). From there, they will assess his behavior. If he passes their tests, they will do everything they can to find someone to adopt him – most likely a home with no children. The shelter is a reputable one, with a very low rate of euthanasia. They are known for going above and beyond the call of duty and keep dogs significantly longer than they are required to do so. But, of course, dogs who do not pass their behavioral assessments are deemed “unadoptable” will have to be put down. A fate that is a real possibility for my precious little guy.

I felt (and still feel) so guilty. Leaving him at that shelter was gut-wrenching. I broke down sobbing in the parking lot. And as the days have passed, I’ve gone from shocked and upset to angry. The Bite Report left me with a choice: Keep the dog under Health Department approved quarantine in your home and away from any children, or surrender him. And you have roughly 4 hours to make your decision before we make it for you. The guilt I feel is from knowing that if I’d had more time to deal with it all, I could have done better than “We guarantee him 14 days here (10 of which I paid for), but after that, anything is possible.” I know that I could have found him a home, or a rescue, or at least a foster until other arrangements could be made. But I wasn’t given that option. And 4 days after surrendering him, I am still feeling guilty and angry. And I feel like that is going to last for a lot longer than I want it to.

I know that, under the circumstances, we did the right thing. The safety of my children, and any visiting children, far outweigh my sentimental feelings for a pet. But knowing the facts in my head don’t detract from the feelings in my heart. I feel like I let him down somehow. But I also know that he’s the reason we are in this mess. And I also know he’s got a shot at turning this around. I know that if anyone can find him a home, it’s our local shelter. And I know that he will be well cared for while he is there, however long that may be.

I have to believe that whatever happens to him, it’s for the best. He is old and his mind is slipping. I am sure that the dog that bit my daughter is not the dog I’ve lived with for a decade. I know that he knows how much we love him. And I know that, no matter how hard it is to face, we did the right thing. Which, as usual, is the hardest thing to do.

Abigail’s eyelid is healing. I am hoping it will not scar. Her emotions seem to have leveled out a bit. She was definitely not herself for a day or two after it happened, but she’s coming back around quickly. And while she was visibly scared of Pup after the incident, it doesn’t seem to have transferred to other dogs, as she has spent time with a few family dogs since, and been fine. I pray there is no long-term damage here.

While I am no longer struggling with the decisions we made, I am struggling with the unknown. Surrendering him means we give up all rights of ownership. Meaning that I don’t get notified of what becomes of our beloved family pet. I won’t know if he passes those tests. I won’t know if he gets adopted. I won’t know if he gets put down. I will struggle with this lack of knowledge for a long time. All I can do is pray that whatever is supposed to happen for Pup, will happen. And I pray that whoever is in charge of his care is kind. Because, biter or not, he was and is a good dog. And he deserves at least that.

 

I miss you, so much, Pup. Grumpy as you had become, I still loved you. I will think about you often and remember you just as you are in the picture. A good dog.

The Christmas Card Equivalency

Jen Confession #188: Having 2 kids is HARD WORK.

This is no secret. Everyone warns you. You warn yourself. You accept it as truth, and yet… you think to yourself, “Oh, it can’t be that bad. So many people do it. I’ll get the hang of it in no time.”

Ha! I laugh in my own face in the mirror each morning. Ha! Stupid girl. You had no clue.

When you take a step back out of your own reality and look at your life in its tiny little bubble, you see two things. First you see how it falls short of everything you want it to be. For me, it is “incomplete tasks.” I’m one of those people who love to run a deep and permanent black line through items on my To Do List. I feel like I fall short of what is expected of me when heaps of laundry haven’t been done, or the toys aren’t put away, or there are a gazillion dishes to do, or emails or phone calls to make, or any myriad of normal “To Do’s” left undone. And with a fantastic and energetic little girl like Abigail, and a little baby like Milo who just wants to be held, those tasks are almost impossible to keep up with. But the second thing you see when taking a closer look at that bubble is the bigger picture. I see a little girl who loves to play and use her imagination – the reason for so many toys on my floor. I see a growing and thriving little boy, who does everything an infant is supposed to do: eat, sleep, and poop – the reason the laundry pile is never-ending. I see a man who is just as happily exhausted as I am because he runs this race with me, at my side, every day – the reason the dishes aren’t done. I have to take a moment and realize that all those little things that make me feel like I fall short are, in fact, what make me a “Super Mom.” My daughter is happy. My son is thriving. My husband and I are closer than ever. These are the things that matter.

I was going to apologize to all of my friends and family for not sending out a Christmas card this year. I felt so guilty that I just couldn’t get them done. It’s a first for me in more than 6 years. But then I realized I don’t owe anyone an apology. I owe myself a little slack. It didn’t happen this year. So what? Instead of spending my time stuffing envelopes and applying stamps, I was snuggling with Milo and singing the ABC’s with Abigail. And it is because I came to this realization that those same friends and family will not be receiving a “New Years” card, either (my back-up plan). Instead, I stole away for 20 minutes while my children sleep and my husband plays a much deserved video game to write this blog post.

I want to wish you all a very Merry and belated Christmas, and the most Joyous of Happy New Years. From the Francis family, to yours, we truly hope your holidays were as wonderful as our own. May 2014 bring you all the love and happiness you deserve. It is going to be a good year. Please enjoy this beautiful E-Card (done by none other than the lovely Brienne Shepard) this year. I hope it finds you all well.

-Love Jen

Vertical 5x7 Folded Card Inside

This Image

Image

I am in awe of this image. I am stunned that it is a photograph, not the painting it looks like it is. I am perplexed that it is a picture of me. And I’m proud of it. So very proud to be a part of it. Brienne Shepard created this image of me last week and I find myself staring at it, daily. It is truly a work of art and it means so much to me.

I few days ago, I sat down to write a post about this image, and the artist behind it. I wrote an anecdote about how we met when we were 16 and how I thought her name was “Brie” short for Brianna for over a year. It wasn’t until I saw it written out as “Bree” that I was informed I’d had it wrong and her name was actually Brienne. 🙂 I talked about how 8 years went by between graduating High School and the next time our paths crossed, and how I could never have known just how important to me she, and her amazing talent, would become.

I was planning on posting solely about this image that she created of me and for me, and the story behind her vision. I was going to answer some of your questions, as you have asked me everything from, “How did she do that??” (Very carefully!) to  “Are you really underwater?” (Yes) to “Is that safe?” (Very). But what I truly wanted to write about was what this image means to me. Unfortunately, I had to chuck what I had written and start over because it means something very different to me today than it did just a week ago.

As of today, this image (and the two others Bree created during this shoot) may be the only maternity photos I will ever get. Abigail came too soon to do a traditional maternity photo shoot. Bree was among the first wave of people to be notified of Abby’s early arrival for just this reason – I needed to cancel that session, and beg Bree to drop what she was doing and come take pictures at the hospital, as the possibility that they could be the only photos we might get of her was real. (Luckily, Abby has been the subject of MANY of Bree’s images over the years!)

Once again, I found myself contacting Bree Monday, alongside our immediate family, to let her know that yet another curve ball has been thrown our way and our plans for a traditional maternity shoot are thwarted. Don’t worry – Milo isn’t here yet. (I just heard you all breathe a sigh of relief!) But he could be on his way very soon. On Monday, during a routine ultrasound, we found that my cervix has opened over half way, and Milo is in the head-down position, putting pressure on that opening. The likelihood that Milo will be a full term baby is now very slim. I am now on full bed rest here at home until he arrives. I am allowed to get up for bathroom trips, 10 minute showers, and one round-trip up and down our stairs per day. That’s it.  Other than those exceptions, I must be in a reclined or a lying-down position at all times. Failure to comply here at home will result in full hospital bed rest where getting up for any reason won’t be an option.

The good news is that, otherwise, both Milo and I are in perfect health. I am a very healthy pregnant lady. And Milo is measuring “big” for his gestational age (they estimate him at just under 3 pounds. Double the size Abigail was at birth) and in perfect health. I have zero infections, and no abruptions to speak of. The hospital was able to administer a steroid injection that will help with Milo’s lung development, as well as perform a Non-Stress Test which confirmed that I am NOT currently in pre-term labor. Yippie! These are all good things. I am just over a week away from the 30 week mark. If we can make it there (which all indications say we can) Milo will not be classified as a Micro Preemie. Tomorrow (Thursday) will mark 29 weeks in my pregnancy,  and it means he’ll have at least 5 full weeks more “cooking” than Abigail had. That is significant!

It has taken the better part of the last 48 hours for Anthony and I to wrap our heads around this news and come to terms with it. And to make adjustments. We’ve had to bring in reinforcements. To help with Abby, to help with the day-to-day stuff that usually falls to me, to help care for the three of us as a family, and to help care for me personally. (I can’t tell you how frustrating it is that I can’t get up to get my own glass of water… but I’m coping.) I am so thankful to have family and friends in the surrounding areas that are ready and willing to help. Thank you to all that already have, and will soon offer. We will be taking people up on offers, believe me.

Being put on bed rest has hindered many plans. Events I was very much looking forward to are now canceled. I am sad that I will miss my sister’s birthday brunch, the Wolf/Ledesma Family BBQ, Halloween festivities, Abby’s first school field trip of the year, and more. But it also makes me truly thankful for the things that I’ve already gotten to do. Most importantly to me this time around were actually being pregnant at my shower 2 weeks ago, and that I did get my own version of a Maternity photo shoot.

A week ago, this image meant a lot of things to me. Seeing myself like that made me feel beautiful and womanly. And it will always evoke those feelings. But now, knowing that any sort of Maternity shoot we do will be of me in this chair, or me in my bed, or an outside possibility of me in my backyard, laying on a blanket, this image means so much more. Bree wants to attempt a “Traditional” shoot to the best of our abilities, and I will let her try. But it will never be what it was in either of our heads. And a part of me says, “Let it go.” Mainly because I have this image. I must say, if I only ever get one, it really takes the cake.

I had a moment of clarity the other day. My story is different. I know that sounds so obvious. But the truth is I longed for normalcy. It is what everyone in my life has wished for me – to be the big pregnant lady waddling around, being touched by strangers, craving strange things, and bringing home a fully developed, term baby. I longed to experience it all. I’ve even said things like, “I want the chance to do it right.” Which now makes me cringe because it implies that we did something wrong the first time around. The truth is, this is who I am. These are who my children are. This is who my husband is. Our story is just that – different. I am not meant to be the waddling pregnant lady. I am meant to be the mother who is strong enough to handle this journey. Anthony and I were hand-picked by God to raise these miracles. And I’m proud of that. And for once, I’m owning it, outright.

To me – this image is not just of a pretty woman in a green dress. It is a true representation of my story. I am wrapped in this beautiful cloth that, to me, represents the protection I strive to give my babies, in my womb and beyond. I am floating, being carried by the Lord’s grace and the love of the people who care about us. I have my hand on my belly – my constant reminder that there are things in this world bigger and greater than I will ever be. And I am holding my head high, facing the sky, looking to a bright and magnificent future bestowed on me by God.

I have no idea what tomorrow holds. I have two months left of this pregnancy journey, in the best of cases. And while I do not think for one moment that I have the final say on this (because the big guy upstairs likes to frequently remind me of how silly my “plans” are), Anthony and I do not plan on having another child. So I will do my best to enjoy what little time I have left in this state. As we’ve all come to learn through watching Abigail, our real journey begins when we bring Milo home. Whenever that will be. And if this image, this piece of art that means so much to me, is the only Maternity photo I ever truly have, I am 100% ok with that. It represents a time in my life I will never forget. And it is a reminder of just how many more beautiful works of art Bree will produce over the coming years, with my family at the center of her lens.

As always, we ask for your prayers. Prayers for peace and guidance. Prayers for patience and understanding. And this time, prayers for time. As much time as He can give us.  Thank you for all of your love and support. Thanks for reading. And thanks for the prayers.

-Jen