Saturday, November 20, 2010

A few of my favorite things

In honor of Oprah giving her audience "a few of her favorite things" like seven-day cruises, ridiculously expensive jewelry, and designer shoes and bags, I thought I'd make my own list. Plus, it's less than a week before Thanksgiving when everyone gets all sentimental about what they're thankful for, so I thought it was good timing.

1. My boys, my friends, my extended family (cliche, yes, but so true)
2. Good health. Every time I do any sort of exercise, which isn't often enough (shout out to the Guts 'n Butts class!) I try not to get too negative about how hard it is or how much it hurts or how I wish I was on the couch because at least I have the ability to work out. I remind myself that there are people with physical disabilities, people with serious illnesses, people with injuries who—for whatever reason—cannot work out and wish they could so shut up already and hold that plank pose.
3. The clean-cut GQ look vs. the rocker or rugged look
4. Aveda Brilliant shampoo and conditioner
5. Chocolate chip cookies (no walnuts) fresh out of the oven, a top-shelf margarita with a Mexican meal, a juicy burger (California-style) cooked on the grill
6. Sitting around a fire, the smell and crackling sound of wood burning, the mesmerizing glow of the orange and yellow flames, the heat that takes the chill out of the air.
7. Flowerbomb perfume & LaCoste Essential cologne
8. Turtlenecks or t-shirts with blue jeans and tall boots
9. When people do good deeds without needing to be recognized
10. Prince, DMB, Jack Johnson, Dixie Chicks, David Gray, Indigo Girls
11. People who are passionate about their jobs, their hobbies, life in general
12. Those sometimes annoying but absolutely necessary eternal optimists
13. Writing!
14. Christmas and Halloween
15. Sandalwood, vanilla, sea breeze, sugar cookie scented candles
16. Fellow sponges who like to absorb, absorb, absorb
17. Glittery eyeshadow and rhinestone bracelets (sparkle in moderation)
18. Road trips to visit good buddies
19. Bear hugs from people who mean it
20. Good listeners who really listen and aren't just thinking of what they're going to say next
21. Inspiring books and movies
22. Small kids with big personalities
23. Aaron - the most altruistic person I've ever known
24. Dancing at wedding receptions
25. Our goose down comforter
26. Ben's belly laughs and Adam's uncontrollable giggles
27. The Victorian era
28. Mitch Hedberg
29. Friends and family (they're so amazing it's worth repeating)
30. Camping with the crew at Hok-si-la
31. Puppies and kitties (of all ages)
32. A home-cooked meal, by someone other than me
33. Summer weekends with my family, parents, brothers, SIL, and niece in Forest Lake
34. Watching the Olympics - esp gymnastics and figure skating
35. Anyone with an open mind and heart
36. Modern Family, The Office, Ellen (love her!), 30 Rock (big fan of Tina Fey), Glee, DWTS, AI, trashy reality shows
37. Word games, lawn games, bar games, drinking games
38. When the underdogs win
39. Running, snowboarding, softball, shopping, socializing, planning get-togethers, bachelorette parties, baby/bridal showers (more games!), play dates, BBQs, holiday gatherings, milestone birthday celebrations, reunions, happy hours, GNO, dinners with friends/family
40. Uninterrupted sleep

Thursday, November 11, 2010

One year ago ...

When she entered the room, I knew something was wrong. She wasn’t smiling. She sat down and stated matter-of-factly, “You’re ten weeks along.”
“I know, I’m SHOCKED,” I answered with a smile. “Two negative pregnancy tests later. Who’dve thought?”
She didn’t return my smile. Where was my congratulations?
“I think the sonographer said I was ten weeks, six days,” I added. “Almost eleven weeks.”
“Are you? I just saw ten weeks on your ultrasound, I didn’t look at the days,” Dr. S responded while pulling out a sheet of blank white paper. Immediately she got down to business by drawing a picture on the paper of a bean-shaped baby.
“This early in a pregnancy we can only look at a few things. There was a heartbeat, so that’s good (she drew a little spot on the bean where the heart was), and the crown-to-rump length is measuring right, so that’s good (she drew an arrow from the top of the bean to the bottom), but there’s one thing that’s concerning to me.”
Concerning? As in wrong? Something is wrong with my baby? Don't panic. Don't panic.
She drew a balloon-like structure on top of the bean and circled it.
“I think there might be a gut herniation,” she said, tapping the circle. “That means there’s a weakness in the stomach wall, and the baby’s bowels and intestines are forming outside, rather than inside the body.”
Gut herniation?
I stared at her face, willing her to say more, yet not wanting to hear anything. Her eye contact was unwavering.
“It could either be gastroschisis, which is a physical abnormality that can be repaired through surgery at birth, or it could be an omphalocele, which might indicate a genetic cause. Most babies with omphaloceles have other serious medical issues.”
Ompha-what? Oh-my-god, oh-my-god, oh-my-god. This isn’t happening. This is a bad dream. This isn't my life. This can't be my life.
“Can you write those words down for my husband?” I finally asked, holding back tears.
She dutifully wrote them down, pausing a second to think about how omphalocele was spelled.
Is this what it felt like to drown? Time was standing still. I couldn’t breathe.She was supposed to be telling me, “Everything looks beautiful” like Dr. E had told me after Adam’s ultrasound. She was supposed to be smiling and sending me on my way.
“I want you to call a specialist today to set up another ultrasound. Sometimes I send people there and it’s nothing, but this looks like something and I want you to have a consultation. They have better ultrasound equipment than we do. If it’s an omphalocele, you can have a CVS test done to determine which genetic markers are causing the problem,” she said.
A genetic marker?
I stared at her, not knowing what to say, how to respond, what to think.
“Let me show you what I’m seeing on the ultrasound,” she said, breaking the silence.
I followed her out to the hallway, where she stopped at a computer, pointed at the fetus on the screen, then showed me what looked like a ball on my baby’s belly.
“Do you see this here? This shouldn’t be here,” she said. “That’s why I’m concerned.”
I nodded. There was no denying that there was a tiny little circle on the baby’s belly. And if she said it wasn’t supposed to be there, she should know. She went to school for this. I just have a journalism degree.
I felt numb. We walked back to the room, where she once again got out her notepad.
“Here’s the number for the Maternal Fetal Medicine Center. I’ll fax over your records so you can make an appointment right away.” She wrote down the number, then looked at me and said, “I’m sorry that I have to tell you this.”
“It’s not your fault,” I answered, remembering my manners. I am, after all, Minnesota Nice, even in the wake of hearing devastating news.
“I think we should still do some standardized blood tests and give you the H1N1 vaccination before you leave here today,” she said. “Do you have time for some lab work?”
I had been at the doctor’s office since 10 a.m., it was now after noon. I had waited 40 minutes for my ultrasound, then another 30 minutes to see the doctor. I felt faint with hunger and worry. I didn’t even know if I’d be able to make it to the parking lot without passing out.
“I need to eat lunch or I’ll faint.”
“Go get something to eat and come back when you’re done. I’ll leave your file at the front desk,” she said. “Come back any time today.”
I left the office, the office that—such a short time ago—had been the place where I had felt relieved, happy, and excited to discover that my baby had a strong heartbeat and I was almost 11 weeks along! How crazy since I had taken two negative tests in September and October and my first positive pregnancy test was taken only two weeks ago. This meant that I didn't have to keep my pregnancy a secret; I could start telling people any time now! That feeling was replaced with a sense of dread and foreboding. Is this how people feel when they find out they have an incurable disease or when they receive bad news that a loved one has died? Like your world has been altered and will never be the same again?
I’m sure I looked like a deer caught in headlights as I passed the other pregnant women in the waiting room and walked out to my car. Dazed, confused, scared to death. I drove across the parking lot to the closest fast food restaurant, not even sure I could eat but knowing I should try, and ordered comfort food: a thick chocolate milkshake and a filet of fish. I almost dropped my money when I was handing it to the cashier.
I felt like saying, “I’m sorry, I’m a little distracted. I just found out my ultrasound was abnormal and, to tell you the truth, I’m absolutely terrified of what that could mean.”
I’m surprised I didn’t rear-end the car in front of me. I pulled off to a corner of the lot, attempted to eat a few bites of my sandwich, took a long, slow drink of my shake, then got out my cell phone. The hard part would be calling Aaron.
I called him at work, no answer. I called him on his Blackberry, no answer. I tried his cell phone and hoped he would pick up. I needed to talk to someone. I needed a friend. I needed Aaron.
He was in a noisy lunchroom, sounding cheerful. As far as he knew, everything was fine. I told him he might want to leave the lunchroom because I had some bad news. As soon as I told him what the doctor had told me, I lost it. I was sobbing. SOBBING. He said all the right things (I can’t remember what he said anymore, but I know he made me feel better). He looked up some of the words online and read the definitions out loud. He volunteered to leave work and go back to the clinic with me. I told him no, that was OK, he was going to have to take a day off for our appointment with the specialist, he should save his vacation time. I’d pull it together. (somehow)
“We’ll get through this. I love you.” It was very reassuring to know he—no matter what obstacles we face—would always be there. For better or for worse. He was just as invested in the health and well-being of our future child as I was. I love him SO much.
I regained my composure, checked my splotchy face and red eyes in the rear-view mirror (I was vain even during a crisis, glad I hadn’t worn liquid eye liner that morning), and went back to the clinic, feeling just as scared but maybe a little less alone. A chatty lab tech drew numerous vials of my blood and gave me the H1N1 shot, congratulated me on my pregnancy, and asked where I’d be delivering and where I’d delivered before and if I had a good experience there, and blah-blah-blah. It was sort of nice that she didn’t know that I had just received news that shook me to my core; all she knew was that I was going to have a baby. She didn’t treat me any different than any other newly pregnant patient. When she was finished, I asked if I could talk to Dr. S again. I’m not sure why I felt the need to see her one more time, but I had the afternoon off and nothing but time on my hands, so I told the lab tech that I would wait as long as I had to. It was another hour before the doc squeezed me in. I can’t remember everything I asked her (it’s kind of a blur) but she was forthright in her answers. I do remember asking, “I can call the specialist when I leave here and they’ll have my records? I don’t have to wait until the end of the day or anything?”
“No, call them right away. I’ll fax this over right now,” she promised.
The sooner I could see the specialist, the sooner I would have answers. I needed answers.
“Am I considered a high-risk pregnancy now?” I asked.
“It all depends on what the specialist tells you,” she answered. “Your baby might need surgery immediately, and if that's the case, you’ll want to make sure you’re at the best place for that procedure.”
Yes, OK, I’ll call them, thank-you, goodbye.
I’m usually a glass-half-full kind of girl; I wasn’t used to feeling weighted down by sadness. I was sad that there could be something wrong with our baby, our poor defenseless baby, and I felt guilty that maybe I had somehow caused this -- I took not one but TWO pregnancy tests that both tested negative, and because I didn't know I was pregnant, I hadn't been exactly careful about my alcohol intake. How many pints of beer had I had in the past two months? How many glasses of wine did I have at that AHA Gala? What if this was all my fault? I was scared that our lives would be turned upside down – lengthy hospital stays and regular doctor’s appointments and always worrying about our child’s health. I felt cheated that we couldn’t celebrate this pregnancy until we knew what was going on. I started thinking about all the people I knew who had perfectly healthy babies and felt a twinge of jealousy. Why was this happening to us? (Isn’t that the million-dollar question?)
When I got home, I felt this compelling need to talk to someone. I wanted to tell my parents, but I didn't want to burden them with worry. One of my best friends, Tonya, is a nurse who lives out in Idaho. She knows me better than I know myself. I decided to call her. Thankfully she answered on the first ring. I spilled my guts. She listened patiently, never interjecting or interrupting or throwing in a forced, cheery sentiment. I (surprisingly) didn’t break down crying, but I came close a few times. I felt so much better after telling her, it was a relief to think out loud after processing the information. She told me not to worry about possible scenarios until I had all the facts. She told me she loves me and she’d be thinking of us and made me promise I’d call her after I made another appointment. She told me she would talk to her coworkers about the situation and see if anyone knew anything. I wish she didn’t live so far away. I miss her.
Aaron came home early with a beautiful bouquet of flowers for me. We hugged. We talked. We sat on the couch together—no TV, no radio, no books. Just silence ... lost in our own thoughts. I was completely depressed. What if it was worse than I thought?
I tried calling the specialist around 3:30 and was told, despite what my doctor had promised, my clinic hadn’t faxed anything over yet. I couldn’t make an appointment until they had my records. I called my clinic and explained the situation. The girl I talked with promised to fax the info over right away. I waited until 4 and called the specialist again. This was urgent.
“We received one page from your clinic, but we didn’t receive your records. I don’t know why they’d do that. They know we need to have your records before you can make an appointment,” the woman said, sounding annoyed. She volunteered to call the clinic on my behalf and “if they send your information today, I’ll call you before 4:30.” She seemed to understand my urgency. I appreciated that.
And then it was time to get Adam from daycare. We realized, with disappointment, there would be no appointment made today. We would have to wait until Monday. Waiting, waiting, waiting.
When we got to Adam’s daycare, the sight of him was the brightest spot in the darkest day. His smile filled my heart. Our pride and joy.
I wasn’t feeling very social, but I tried to act normal when our daycare provider asked why we were both there to get Adam.
“I left early so the three of us could get something to eat,” Aaron lied.
“French fries?” Adam asked. “I love French fries!”
“Yeah, that's what we're gonna have,” I told him, picking him up and kissing his cheek. Oh, innocent unsuspecting Adam.
We went to a chain restaurant, where I have never enjoyed a meal less. I could barely carry on a conversation. I picked at my food. Everything tasted like cardboard.
When we got home, I got on the computer and started Googling right away. I read horror stories and I read medical miracles. Some stories left me feeling even more depressed (babies spending months in the NICU); some stories filled me with hope (gut herniation babies who had grown up to become normal, productive adults. Adults without belly buttons, but healthy adults).
“How can you Google things when you don’t know exactly what the situation is?” Aaron asked.
“I just need to,” I answered. I couldn’t explain why. Maybe because it gave me a sense of control? I don’t know. I went to bed early that night, feeling emotionally drained, but I couldn’t fall asleep. Wide awake, I stared at the ceiling. My mind raced. My heart raced. I tossed and turned. Every time I dozed off, I’d wake with a start and within moments would feel a sense of hopelessness and fear. I did a lot of praying.
The next morning, we tried to carry on as usual. Aaron did yard work with Adam, I cleaned the house. That afternoon, we met my mom and grandma at the apple orchard. I couldn’t stop staring at the healthy kids playing around us. I wanted to tell my mom that I was pregnant but I couldn't. I needed to be armed with facts. And I didn’t want to tell my mom without my dad around. We’d wait until we had more information. I felt like a ticking time bomb.
It was a beautiful day and we spent a lot of time outdoors. The fresh air was great, but I didn’t sleep much better Saturday night.
On Sunday, we drove down to a small town in southern Minnesota to visit Aaron’s grandma Margaret, who—weeks before our visit—had lost her husband after 55 years of marriage. (Adam's middle name is Lowell after Aaron's beloved grandpa.) She was doing amazingly well considering the circumstances. If she could stay strong in the wake of losing her husband; I could stay strong while facing the unknown. For once, I didn’t obsess over the baby and actually enjoyed the visit. Being there with her allowed me to forget my own troubles.
On Monday, I called the specialist, was told my records STILL hadn’t been faxed over, left a voicemail for Marge in the medical records department urging her—no, pleading with her—to send those records so I could make an appointment, then I tried to get some work done at the magazine (key word = tried). At 4 p.m., I called the clinic again and was told, “Christina S.? I faxed your records this afternoon.”
About damn time!
I hung up and dialed Fairview’s number and spoke with a very sweet girl who told me that yes, they received my records and Dr. So-and-So took a long look at my scans and—what I was expecting to hear was this: “And she wants you to come in right away. Can you make an appointment for tomorrow?” But instead I heard this: “She thinks everything looks perfectly normal. A lot of babies look this way at ten weeks gestation. She doesn’t want you to make an appointment here for at least one to two weeks, just to make sure everything is developing properly, but she’s not concerned.”
Say what? I almost dropped the phone.
“I’ve been worried sick all weekend,” I told her. “You don’t even know how reassuring your words are.”
“Oh honey, don't worry. The odds are that this is nothing. Just for your peace of mind, though, we'll make an appointment for around Thanksgiving.”
I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Someone pinch me. That was the best possible news we could have received.
I hung up and relayed the news to the three people who knew about the situation: Aaron, Tonya, and my boss Sara (who had also been amazing and supportive and knew just what to say). I was shocked, excited, and most of all, HOPEFUL. I knew I wouldn’t be able to breathe easy until the baby was born (talk about a crazy pregnancy so far!!) but I was cautiously optimistic. I didn’t want to be too confident just in case there was an issue, but finally, finally I had some good news to hold onto. I could breathe again.

And one year later, this is our little bean. Healthy as any five-month-old could ever be.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Parthenon, schmarthenon

Aaron is here right now.

And I am here.

It's not Greece, but really, I can't complain.