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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

SURPRISES AND BLESSINGS

***Below is a post I've been working on for weeks. It is a quick summary of my 30th year of life (beginning December 21, 2007 and ending December 20, 2008). To be honest, I didn't take the time to write this for you, my blog audience, but did it for ME. Last year had some many precious moments, so many details I do not ever want to forget. Since I didn't write it for you, I don't expect you to read it. But if you decide to take the time to read it, I hope you enjoy. Last year was memorable, to say the least. It was one I do not ever want to forget.

Surprises and Blessings...

These are the two words that best describes the past year for me. I began my 30th year of life by surprising myself...I was in the mood to shop. I skipped my morning run and drove out to the suburbs. On the way I talked with my uncle, who I share a birthday with. Its funny for me to think back on that conversation because I was so focused on ME and my plans for the future. How things have changed...

My birthday, though, is the beginning of my story about surprises. I got home from shopping late, threw on my running shoes, and went out for both exercise and to run a couple of errands. While out on my run, I took a fall. Two skinned knees, a scraped up hand, and a bruised ego were just the beginning of a terrible night.

At dinnertime, I met up with friends at one of my favorite restaurants, the Starfish Cafe. They have a terrific scallops appetizer, which along with a salad I had for dinner. It was a wonderful meal - good food and good friends. Looking back I realize it was the last dinner I had with my friend, Harriet. I'm so thankful she was able to join us that night. After dinner we went back to a friend's house where my wonderful husband had dessert wine, blue cheese, and a brownie from my favorite bakery, Sticky Fingers, waiting. Prior to leaving the restaurant I started to feel a headache coming on. By the time we reached my friend's house, I was sick. There I was standing along Mass Ave in my new clothes throwing up the wonderful dinner I had just eaten. Instead of enjoying the dessert and wine with my friends, I was in the bathroom throwing up. We got home that night and I was sick, sick, sick to my stomach, and my head hurt something terrible. I woke up late the next morning with a headache hangover... my head hurt from hurting so bad the night before. I talked to a friend that afternoon and recounted the events of the last evening. In a not so subtle way she raised some concerns... such an intense headache that brings on the throw-ups could be signs of a brain tumor or aneurysm. And since my grandmother had a burst aneurysm years ago, my friend was concerned. I was aliitle concerned, too, especially since birth control pills do increase your chances of blood clots. I decided then and there to stop taking mine until I visited my doctor in January.

Before I could even schedule an appointment, I had another intense headache with the throw-ups on January 8th. On the 9th I called my doctor, and she sent me to the emergency room. I had two CT scans that night and a pregnancy test. Both scans came back clear or tumors and aneurysms. My pregnancy test also came back negative. Three short weeks later we'd learn it was a false negative!

By late January I was settled back into school and starting to have some pregnancy symptoms. The last weekend of the month I ran my list of symptoms by my friend, Andrea, who is a nurse. She confirmed what I was guessing... I could be pregnant. I decided on Saturday night that if I didn't have proof that I wasn't pregnant by Monday I'd take a test. I waited it out for nearly 24 hours, but by Sunday afternoon I was ready to know. Part of me was really excied about the notion of being pregnant --- so many couples struggle to conceive. I didn't want to be one of them. Another part of me was thinking, "this is the worst possible timing ever." As I sat down to take the first of two home pregnancy tests I said a quick prayer, "Thy will be done." I peed on the stick and before I turned it over two pink lines appeared. I was pregnant. I took another test to be sure...

Telling David was easy. Unfortunately I had to wait. He was hanging out that evening with his 12 year old mentee. I had dinner with the two of them. All the while keeping a secret. When David got home that evening I just came right out with it... "I'm pregnant." He was so excited. He started talking to my belly that night.

We heard the baby's heartbeat for the first time on Valentine's Day. We also got to "see" her - first pictures were taken. We also met my new OB, Dr. Keller. She is one of the many blessings of this past year. She was/is the perfect doctor for me. She didn't have a set of rules for me to follow... she encouraged me to do what felt right and to take care of myself. She encouraged me to run (which I did until the end of June) and to remain active. She was so gentle in answering all of my questions. The biggest of which was about the two CT scan (one with an iodine contrast) that I had when I thought I wasn't pregnant, but really was. Dr. Keller told me that if the CT had harmed my baby more than likely I would have miscarried since it was right at the beginning of my pregnancy. She also assured me that the iodine did not harm my baby. I was so relieved. Over the course of my pregnancy, Dr. Keller was a gentle presence in my life; she walked me through everything from skin infections to heartburn, hemmroids to genetic testing. She was also super supportive of our decision not to find out the sex of our baby before the delivery.

I had considerable morning/all-day sickness throughout the first 15 weeks of my pregnancy. There were mornings where I wasn't sure I could make it to school without throwing up. I would come home from school around 4:30pm and sleep most evenings until dinner. Then I would get a little homework in and head straight to bed.

In late February, my parents and brother came to DC for a weekend visit. David and I decided that since I was nearly through my first trimester it would be a good time to tell them about the baby. We had planned to cook them a meal of baby spinach salad with baby carrots and baby corn, a main course of pureed foods, and some sort of baby dessert. However, David was late getting home from work and we were all were starving. We went out for Mexican food instead. When we got home we knew we needed to tell them soon. David and I plotted in the stairway for a few minutes. He came up with a plan to tell them we had a gift for them, but that it wasn't ready yet. The punch line would be that it would be ready at the end of September. I followed his lead... My mom took the hint and immediately replied, "is your cat having kittens." Our response was, "you're close." That's when the lightbulb went off in everyone's head. My dad responded with tears in his eyes: "I need another glass of wine." My mom just cried. Jeff said, "we are all SO stupid... she didn't have a drink at dinner, she's been tired all afternoon. Obviously she's pregnant." It was a good time. I was worried about telling my father. He's so worried about his age, but he was so excited about the thought of being a grandfather. Over the course of the next few days he kept saying, "this time next year we'll be doing this with a stroller."

After surviving my first trimester and getting a healthy check-up at 15 weeks, I decided I should start to tell people, especially since my pants were starting to get a little snug and I was gaining a little bit of weight. After one of my doctor's appointments, I called my grandmother to tell her that her fourth great-grandchild was due in September. She was overjoyed! Next I called my friend Bethann. I wasn't sure how I was going to tell her... we were about 20 minutes into the call - talking about school and life - when Bethann asked me if David and I were thinking about starting a family. It was the easiest transition ever... I responded with, "well, that's actually the reason I'm calling." Our baby was due on Bethann's birthday, which made telling her extra special. It also let the cat-out-of-the-bag. The moment I told Bethann her mother and mother-in-law both knew (Bethann was crying and screaming so loud). Next up on my list to tell were my friends Angie and Becky L. I wanted to tell them together, but since Becky has since moved out of DC I had to come up with an alternative plan. I stuck to telling them at the same time, but instead of in-person I told them over email. I sent them (along with Andrea) an email with the subject line: TOP SECRET. In the body of the email, I included a picture of my two positive pregnancy tests. It was enough said. Both of them called within minutes!

The spring semester at school just flew by. In early April I decided I needed to tell the head of my department and advisor that I was pregnant and planning to take the fall semester off. I told my advisor first. She was really excited for me and laid out a plan for me to tell people and file the necessary paperwork to take a leave of absence from the program. I followed up with the administrative head of my department. Once these two individuals knew I was pregnant, word got out. I got an email from the head of my department asking me if I could meet with her the next morning to talk about my situation. I was terrified. Prior to the meeting I had no idea if she would be sympathetic; if she could relate; or if she had children of her own. The night before the meeting I emailed three good friends and asked them to pray that the meeting would go well. Their prayers and my own were answered and exceeded. My department head was not only sympathetic, but faced a similar situation while working on her PhD. Not only did she think the timing was perfect (I'd only miss one semester), but she gave me permission and encouragement to take my comprehensive exams in January even though I would miss a required class in the fall. I was so thankful and touched by her willingness to work with me.

I finished the spring semester feeling well and with a perfect 4.0. Physically, I was doing great. I had not yet gained ten pounds (even though I was halfway through my pregnancy) and I was still running. My last real run came at the end of June. I went out for a late afternoon run and was just miserable. My expanding belly was becoming heavier and heavier and the heartburn was too much for me to handle. I estimate that for ever mile I ran I had an hour of heartburn afterwards. It was miserable. So I set my running shoes aside and starting walking - everyday - until the end of my pregnancy. I made several new friends while out walking: first is the school crossing guard about a block from my house. He directs traffic each morning and afternoon and quickly became one of my favorite people to see each morning. I also met a nice couple about a block away who are expecting their second child in March 2009. It amazes me how easy it is to strike up a conversation with another pregnant woman!

My summer semester flew by (in retrospect). The days of summer, however, dragged on... I was hot (our AC at home wasn't working well), growing larger each day, swelling, bored, and depressed. I was miserable and sad. The lowest point of my summer came in mid-June when I got word that a good friend, Harriet, had passed away. Becky Lehman called on a Saturday night and told me the news. She didn't have many details; just that folks hadn't heard from Harriet in several days so they went over to her apartment and she was dead. I didn't cry while talking with Becky; however, when I walked up the steps in our house and told David I lost it. I could barely get the words out. Harriet was really special. As a wedding gift to David and me, she paid the piano and sang during our ceremony. The Wednesday night before we got married, David and I took Harriet out to a wonderful Thai restaurant. We had a wonderful meal together. We were supposed to talk about the wedding, but we ended up really talking about life and it was wonderful. Harriet played a really special part in my pregnancy story... upon hearing that I had spent an evening in the hospital in early January due to another headache, Harriet pulled me aside in church the following Sunday evening and asked me if I was pregnant. I told her I wasn't. That I had a negative test at the hosptial. Harriet was dumbfounded... she had a feeling that I was pregnant and was shocked that I wasn't. What I would discover three weeks later was that Harriet was right. In mid-February, Harriet and I had lunch after church on Sunday. Sitting in her car on the corner of 9th and Maryland NE, I told her that I was pregnant; that I was pregnant when she asked me about it in early January. Harriet cried. She said she knew it, but not in a self-righteous way. She said that she felt God had shown her I was pregnant when she was praying for me during my stretch of headaches. We spent a wonderful afternoon together talking about my journey into motherhood and the highs and lows of the first trimester. When I got word that Harriet had died, one of my first thoughts was that my baby would never know this wonderful woman who was such a blessing to me. I cannot wait to show my baby our wedding DVD so she can see Harriet and hear her play the piano and sing. And I look forward to introducing Harriet to my little one in heaven...

High points of the summer included two wonderful baby showers. My DC friends through me a shower in early July. My mom came to town for the event, as did Becky Lehman. David catered the event and the food was fantastic. (Who knew a shrimp, peach, and cucumber salad would be so good?) A couple of weeks later, my mom and one of her close friends threw me a shower in Pittsburgh. It was very elegant. I received so many wonderful gifts at each shower. Some of the special, not-to-be-forgotten gifts included: my parents giving me my old toy box, hand-made blankets for the baby from Elizabeth and Rachel, personalized onesies from Angie, Becky, and Andrea, and a hand-made bag from my college roommate, Jill.

I spent two weeks in August in Pittsburgh visiting my parents, hanging out with Bethann and her girls, and watching the Olympics on my parents' HD TV. I haven't spent two weeks in Pittsburgh in FOREVER. But with David in Taiwan visiting his family (I wasn't about to fly halfway across the globe while I was eight months pregnant), it seemed like the perfect time to get away and visit everyone in P-burgh. It was a wonderful time. I was there to celebrate Elizabeth's 8th birthday and was invited to her Olympic-themed party. I also attended the Dolan's Olympic Opening Ceremonies' party. I spent time with both of my parents, which was nice. And then spent several days at their house while they vacationed on Lake Michigan. The Olympics were definitely a highlight of the summer for me. The fact that swimming received SO much coverage on TV, in primetime, was unbelievable. I sat on the edge of my seat watching so many of the races. After the men's 4x100 freestyle relay, I called my brother on the west coast and told him to get off the computer (I didn't want him to see the results before the raced was aired in Pacific Time). Watching Michael Phelps win race after race was breathtaking. I'm still trying to figure out how on earth he got his hands on the wall first in the 100 butterfly! I loved hearing EVERYONE talk about swimming during the Olympics.

David arrived home from Taiwan safe and sound in mid-August and we were both ready for our baby to arrive. In early September, David finished his first triathlon in DC. He did so well. The weekend of the event was SO STINKING HOT. I thought the miserable DC weather was over, but I was so wrong. The morning of his event, before the sun even came up, it was 77 degrees with a lot of humidity. Needless to say I was miserable ALL DAY LONG. I thought I was going to die walking to the finish line! David completed the race with two of his friends. Their wives and children were also there cheering for their husbands. They were also video-taping the event. About a week after the event, I saw parts of the video and I looked miserable. I was sweating like a pig, trying to manage unmanageable hair frizzy from the humidity, and getting bigger by the moment. I looked terrible. I believe that footage is the last taken before I gave birth. Thank goodness!

By mid-Spetember, I was done with school. I stopped attending my weekly comps study group and finished working with one of my professors. I was ready to get the baby out. Unfortunately, I had to wait much longer than expected. At my 39 week check up, I wasn't dialated AT ALL and showed no signs of cervical effacement. And the baby hadn't dropped. At 40 weeks, I was still the same. An induction was scheduled for October 6th. The weekend before my induction, I got really sick to my stomach - the throw-ups and the "runs". Things were so bad that Friday afternoon that I called David and asked him to come home from work to be with me. That evening I lost my mucus plug and was convinced I was going to go into labor on my own. That didn't happen. When I showed up at church that Sunday, STILL PREGNANT, no one could believe it. And everyone felt so sorry for fat, pregnant, and VERY BLOATED me. The Monday of my induction, I went out to lunch with Angie and Andrea. While metroing to meet them, a woman on the train asked when I was due. I joyfully told her, "two weeks ago" and that my induction was scheduled for that night. She thought I was crazy for being out! The one thing about the induction that brought me much joy was taking the subway to the hospital. Everyone seemed to be so concerned about how I was planning to get to the hospital while in labor. I kept telling people I was taking the metro because parking at Foggy Bottom is such a drag (or really expensive). As David and walked out our front door that afternoon on our way to the hospital to have a baby, I was in disbelief. The biggest surprise of my life, let alone 2008, was going to be born in less than 24 hours. I didn't know what was on the road ahead of us, but I was excited and nervous and happy and concerned all at once. It was the beginning of a long 24 hours...

The baby's birth story is long and PAINFUL. I was in labor for 16 hours before they decided to do a c-section. I went through the PAINFUL transition phase of labor (dialating from seven to ten centimeters) without any pain medications. My body just didn't take to the epidurals. I had two of them, but they just didn't work. I was also pumped full of painkillers through my IV (something I didn't want) and they didn't help either. So I sat in bed for hours clutching the bars on the side and breathing heavily. I was pretty incoherent. I was also grumpy. I scolded David for bumping my bed and when Dr. Keller stopped by to see me on her way home I told her she couldn't examine me. (After that conversation, she returned to my room a few minutes later in scrubs and ready to talk about my c-section.) Because of my c-section, I spent three wonderful days in the hospital. I was so well taken care of... I cried when we left. We came home on a Friday. My mom stayed with us for another week, which was such a blessing. And David stayed home with me for two weeks after that (he was lucky to have two weeks of PAID paternity leave). Friends from our church brought us meals for those three weeks. We barely did any cooking. It was wonderful. The slept a lot for those first three weeks. She struggled with breastfeeding, but finally caught on within a month. It was hard freaking work. One would think it would be so natural for a mother to nurse her baby. That is crap! I was in so much pain and was so tired. My mom posted signs reading "relax" next to my bed so that when I would nurse K I would relax and in doing so encourage her to relax. It worked. I also started drinking water while she nurse to encourage her to drink. That worked also.

November and December are a blur. So much happened... everyday I worked hard to get the baby to take six or seven full feedings during waking hours. I spent hours trying to get her to take a nap in her crib. I changed so many dirty diapers. And I loved every minute of it. We went for walks together. Stayed up late at night and rocked in the gliding chair. And snuggled during naptime and the early hours of morning. She went through a three week phase where she'd nurse early in the morning and then go to sleep on my chest. I loved it. We'd lay in bed together and I'd feel her little body totally relaxed against mine. I cherish those moments.

While I was tending to my during these months, I was also studying for my comps. Somehow the summer and fall were now behind me and my exams were quickly approaching. I still don't know where the time went. In late December the baby and I went to Baltimore to meet with my comps study group. It was fun reconnecting with them and introducing them to my baby. We got in one last study section and said our good-byes. Three weeks later we'd be sitting down for the exams together.

We went to my parents' house for Christmas and that is where I celebrated my 31st birthday. On my actual birthday, David and I went out for dinner only to find my favorite restaurant closed. So we ended up eating sandwiches at Panera Bread together and celebrating what was a year full of many blessings and several surprises. My 30th year of life was one never to be forgotten. I'm so grateful for my loving husband and beautiful daughter, wonderful friends and family, a challenging professional/academic life, good health, a warm home, and the promise of another year of blessings and surprises.

1 comment:

SARAH said...

I truly enjoyed reading this. You will always appreciate being able to relive this year by reading this post.

Send me some pictures of your little lady!