Every morning I tell myself that today is the day to finally sit down and write about Laurel. Today is the day to wrap my head around and put into words what happened. But, it’s almost as if I don’t write about it here, then it maybe it didn’t happen. Then maybe it’s not real.
Except it did, and it is.
And I can’t avoid this space forever.
It’s been more than a month now since Roth’s mom, our sons’ beloved GrammaLo, passed away. She died as a result of colon cancer that she battled as long and hard as she could for the last year and a half. She left this earth in peace, at home and surrounded by her closest family and lifelong friends. Some of her last hours were spent with Roth and his brother Lane, who held her hands and reassured her that it was OK to let go. Roth showed her pictures of Rowan and Milo on his phone, pictures that I’d texted him from earlier that same day. She couldn’t talk anymore by then, but he said he saw a tear fall from the corner of her eye.
She was just 62.
Today she would’ve turned 63.
It’s still unimaginable that Laurel got sick, let alone that she’s now gone. She was one of the healthiest, most vibrant people on the planet. She did everything right, everything she was supposed to do in order to live well into her nineties, just like her mother and her grandmother before that. She never smoked, rarely drank. She exercised, ate a balanced diet, took vitamins. She never even had a cavity in her life. And yet, none of that mattered because somehow she still got cancer.
The cancer was already stage 4 when she was diagnosed. It had spread to her liver, but it was too risky to do surgery. She managed to fight it for many months with chemo. “Stay positive!” she always said in her Caring Bridge updates. And so we did our best. I never Googled the odds. I never let my mind wander into a world without her in it. For a while, she seemed to be doing pretty well. The side effects of the chemo were minimal, manageable enough that she could travel a bit. She went to Tucson and Hawaii, and she came to Seattle to be with us for the birth of her second grandchild.
But things took a turn after the Seattle trip. She started experiencing a lot of pain, and the side effects of chemotherapy returned. She lost more weight, grew weaker by the week. In early July we got a call from Roth’s dad after a visit to her doctor at Stanford. He said it’d been determined that there wasn’t anything else her doctor could do for the cancer, and he recommended shifting from curative treatment to pain management. It was a short phone call, but Manny’s few words spoke volumes. We could read between the lines. We knew then that it wouldn’t be long, so we started planning a trip down to California.
On the drive down, we told Rowan that his GrammaLo was very sick, which was why we were going to see her, and he seemed to understand, but nothing could really prepare any of us for those next few days. She was in a lot of pain, and the first two days of our visit were, according to Roth’s dad, some of her worst days ever during her cancer fight. It wasn’t an easy decision, but Manny finally agreed to call hospice.
There is definitely a stigma attached to seeking help from hospice. It can feel like defeat, I’ve heard, like throwing in the towel, but just a day after receiving care from hospice nurses, Laurel was more comfortable and feeling less pain. Hospice couldn’t change the inevitable outcome, but I think we all felt relieved that her suffering had been lessened as she headed into her final chapter.
It was such a bittersweet visit, but I’m so glad we were able to see Laurel when we did. After she was set up with hospice, she had a couple of decent days, relatively speaking. She was able to eat a little, enjoy sitting next to Rowan while he played games on a tablet, and touch and feel Milo’s baby feet and hands. A few times, I was able to put him down for a nap right next to her while she napped. Roth and I both chatted with her about everyday things, just as we would have during any other visit before.
But this wasn’t like any other visit. We couldn’t stay forever, and soon it was time for us to head back to Seattle. Before that, Roth’s dad asked him if he’d come back “when things got really bad.” Of course, he said, but later we talked about how it seemed like things then were already really bad. How could they get worse? I managed to keep myself together until we had to say goodbye. When it was Ro’s turn to give her a hug, I lost it. She hadn’t been able to speak much above a hoarse whisper during our entire visit, but clear as day I heard her say to him, “I love you infinity.” Then Roth held Milo on her lap so she could look right into his face, and my heart broke into a thousand pieces. That was the last time Rowan, Milo and I would see her.
I’ve grappled with whether or not I want to write about the details of Laurel’s last two weeks, and I think the answer is no. Not here. It’s not my story to tell, I wasn’t there in the final moments, and out of respect for the family, I don’t want to make anyone relive that intense and emotional experience.
Roth did make it back down to see her one last time, and he was by her side — along with his dad and brother, her sister, and some very good friends — when she passed. I remember exactly what I was doing when I got the text from Roth. It’d been a very long and challenging day of solo parenting the boys. I was in the kitchen, frantically trying to get dinner on the table while Rowan complained from the dining room that it was taking too long for his noodles and Milo whined at me from the bouncer. I saw the text in the midst of making pesto, and my heart sank. Even though I knew that moment was coming, it was still a shock, and I instantly ached to see and hold Roth. As life chaotically swirled around me in the kitchen, a life had ended in a room just off another kitchen. It was all too much, and too soon.
Roth is doing OK. His brother seems to be doing OK, too. Roth’s dad is dealing, mostly focused on regrouping and reorganizing his own life after sharing it with someone for 43 years. He has plans to get away for a while, to go someplace warm, but now he’s reeling again after the death of his own mom, who passed away a month and a day after Laurel. She was 90. I think it’s high time the Universe give my father-in-law a break from all this sadness.
Life goes on because it has to, and it’s what she would want for her family, but this is the sort of loss we’ll feel in different and unexpected ways, for some time to come. Our day-to-day lives here in Seattle are the same, but it’s the bigger picture that’s still unclear. Grief sneaks up on me, in the quiet moments I share with Milo, or the conversations I have with Rowan. I reach for my phone, to send her a text or a pic of the kids, and then I remember. Roth said he listened to his dad make phone call after phone call to family and friends after she passed away, and he kept saying the same thing: her biggest regret is not being able to see her grandsons grow up.
That’s the lump in my throat, too.
There’s so much more to say about Laurel, more than the 330-word obituary I wrote for the local newspaper, more than the 1,300 or so words in this space. I’m thinking a lot about how I want to honor her legacy, how I want to ensure Rowan and Milo remember this amazing woman. There are photos and videos, of course, but there is the intangible, too. The way she loved her sons, and loved being a mother. I want my own sons to feel that same sort of love. I want to be the kind of mother to them that she was to Roth and Lane.
She was a daughter, a sister, a friend. She was a wife, a mother. She was a teacher, a mentor. She was a grandmother. She was GrammaLo.
When you decide not to find out the sex of your unborn baby, you’re unwittingly subjecting yourself to the thoughts and opinions of just about everybody on what they think you’re having. Be it old wives’ tales (barfing for five months? GIRL!) or the shape and position of your belly (carrying round and high? GIRL!), everyone likes to pretend they’re an expert when it comes to predicting the sex of the baby.
Despite a general consensus among family and friends that the wee sapling in my belly was probably-maybe-perhaps a girl based on the aforementioned fantastical reasoning, I could never really commit to thinking we would end up with a daughter. I don’t know if that’s because I already had a son and he’s all we know, or if there was some sort of cosmic, biologic connection between me and the baby, but anytime I thought I might buy a pink onesie, just in case, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
So when the baby was born and Roth announced, “It’s a boy!”, I laughed, and then I cried tears of joy and relief as the nurse placed another warm and wriggling baby boy atop my chest. Of course he’s a boy. I think I knew all along that he was a boy, that I was destined to end up with two of my own, just like Roth and his brother, and their dad and uncle.
Yes, yes. Milo was meant to be.
I didn’t intend to let two months pass in between posts, but man, have the last 10-plus weeks gone by in a blink. Whenever I thought I might take advantage of a small pocket of hands-free time to write Milo’s birth story, I found laying prone on our bed way more appealing. Sorry ‘bout the radio silence here, but pressing pause to close my eyes for a bit took precedent over anything else. If there’s one thing I learned from taking care of a small baby the first time, it’s sleep (or lie still/take a shower/play Candy Crush/eat a sandwich/scroll through your iPhone pics of them) when they sleep.
I know long-winded birth stories are not everyone’s favorite thing to read, and for a while, I wasn’t sure if I’d even write anything about Milo’s birth since so much time had passed. But I think it’s important to have a record of what happened, just as I did for Rowan, so that one day I can refer to it when the details become fuzzy. I mean, things are already starting to feel a bit blurry.
Forgive me all these thousands of words to follow.
It’s no secret that I didn’t love being pregnant this time. I grew increasingly more miserable with each passing week. I was tired and cranky and achy, and by the 36th week, I was very ready to be done. When I made it to the 38th week, sailing past when Rowan was born at 37 weeks 5 days and the doctor (not my own) declared on Thursday that no progress had been made toward labor that week, I started to feel a little depressed. I just wanted to have the baby that weekend, to put an end to the acid reflux and carpal tunnel, to have the delivery time out with the arrival of Roth’s mom. And yet, nothing was happening.
Except, of course something was happening. I was just so caught up in waiting for contractions to begin, as they did with Rowan, that when my water broke in an apparently unceremonious fashion, I had no idea for about a day before I started to wonder if something was going on. Like an idiot, though, I didn’t tell Roth that I thought I was maybe leaking amniotic fluid and instead buried my nose in my phone to Google “what does amniotic fluid look like?” and similar other searches that did nothing to quell my paranoia nor point me in the direction toward L&D. Roth’s mom arrived Friday night, and I was able to shift my focus to helping her feel settled in to our house.
Outside of a spate of three or four middle-of-the-night, very mild contractions, nothing really seemed to be happening, but by Saturday afternoon, I was feeling more anxious than normal. Rowan and I watched through the living room window a freak thunder- and hail-storm that brought with it a frosty chill in the air. After dinner, Roth and I decided to bundle up for a quick neighborhood walk in the hopes of spurring some contractions, and it was then that I finally expressed my concern to him about my water breaking. Had it? Should I call my doc? What if it’s nothing? GAH. I don’t know what to doooooo.
(A bit of foreshadowing: Ladies, don’t be as dumb as I was. Just get checked out at the first sign of something amiss. You’ll thank me later.)
Roth was of the mind to call my doctor, just to see what they’d say, but I knew they would tell me to come to the hospital, even if it turned out to be a false alarm. Suddenly I started to feel scared, not as ready as I thought I was to have the baby. Our bags had been packed for weeks, Roth’s mom was in town to stay with Rowan, and yet, maybe I just needed a little more time, or at the very least, a good night’s sleep. But there was no way I would be able to sleep at that point. After Rowan and Roth’s mom went to bed, I finally felt brave enough to call my doctor. About 30 minutes later, around 9:30, we were headed to triage.
It was eerily quiet at the hospital that night. After getting checked into triage and confirming that indeed my water had ruptured at some point, we walked around the halls of the fifth floor for about an hour while waiting for a delivery room to be set up for me. I wasn’t in active labor — I was dilated maybe 2 cm — but because my water was broken, and for who knows how long, we decided to go forth with augmentation, aka Pitocin, to get things going. I wasn’t particularly pleased with the turn of events, reflecting on my first experience with Rowan wherein I gradually started having contractions over the course of several hours and never needed the medical help, but in the interest of avoiding infection — and meeting our baby, of course! — I quickly came to terms with the trajectory on which we suddenly found ourselves.
Final belly shot.
By midnight, I was in my delivery room, hooked up to the smallest dosage of Pitocin, and mentally preparing myself for a long night. My nurse was pleasant, though not nearly as warm and comforting as the nurse who helped deliver Rowan. Mostly, though, I just wanted to close my eyes and try to get a little rest. Roth tried to do the same on the converted lounge/torture chair, but for the most part, deep sleep evaded both of us.
Just a couple hours later, minor contractions turned to pretty major, and I cried uncle. I never planned to deliver the baby without an epidural, but I was surprised by how quickly the Pitocin amped up the pain. With Rowan, I managed to go from 2 to 7 cm without any pain medication, but the ramp up was slower and more natural-feeling. I was definitely on a faster track this time. By 3 a.m., the anesthesiologist had administered the epidural, and like last time, my body immediately started shaking as if I were very cold. I wasn’t cold or hot, nor was I running a fever, but the shaking made it very difficult to rest, despite not being able to really feel the contractions.
By 5 a.m., my contractions were pretty steady, and the nurse checked my dilation, declaring me ready to start pushing. She paged the on-call doctor (not my own, of course, just like last time) and started preparing the room. Before the doctor arrived, the nurse assisted me with some practice pushes and breathing techniques. By then, the sun was starting to come up over the horizon, and we remarked on how different this delivery — and pregnancy, too — was compared to the last. Rowan was born in the winter, on the eve of a city-debilitating snowstorm; this baby was going to make his or her entrance into the world on a sunny spring morning.
The doctor finally arrived for the last few rounds of pushing. Like last time, the doctor could feel that the baby was face up. She tried to turn the baby, but didn’t have much luck. Instead, the baby’s positioning prolonged labor just a bit longer than if it’d been face down. As I got closer to the end, I started to feel really excited about meeting our baby and finally finding out if we had a girl or a boy. Both the doctor and the nurse commented that they could see the head, and that we had ourselves a “little baldy!” A couple more hard pushes, and out came the baby at 6:16 a.m. Roth was able to get a good look and lo, it was a boy!
“Really?” I confirmed. Yes, really. Another boy. I laughed, and then I cried as the nurse placed him on my chest. “My mom is going to be so surprised!”
Milo Burke was 7 pounds 3.3 ounces and 20 inches. He didn’t let out a really good cry until the nurse gave him his vitamin K shot. But his apgar scores were high and seemingly, he was perfect. He latched on right away to nurse, and then snuggled up in the crook of my neck as we waited to be transferred to a recovery room. By then, the sun was up, and everyone had been called to let them know our son (yes, a boy!) had arrived. Grandma Lo was just waking up with Rowan, and Roth got to talk to him about his baby brother. He seemed excited to meet him and anxious to see me, having gone to bed the night before not knowing anything was going on.
We finally settled in to our recovery room and marveled at the fact that we had another boy. He looked so much like Rowan did, too, that it was almost surreal. At one point, a few hours after he was born, I looked down at him in my arms and felt overcome with emotion. “I love him,” I said to Roth, who had endured so many months of my misery. All of the barfing and constipation and swollen hands and exhaustion turned to distant memories in that instant as I stared at my beautiful new son. It was all just meant to be.
Later that morning, Roth went to pick up his mom and Rowan to bring them back to the hospital for a visit. When Rowan got to meet Milo for the first time, it was almost too much sweetness for me to bear. And then Rowan asked us why we had a boy when he wanted a girl. Oh, dear. Roth’s mom got to hold Milo, too. I was just so relieved she was able to come to Seattle, to be with Rowan when I went into labor, and for this exact moment, to hold her brand new grandson hours after he was born.
Rowan quickly grew bored of the hospital, so Roth left again to take them home. The staff pediatrician came in then to examine Milo. She said he looked good, and told me not to worry too much if he hadn’t been able to nurse again since his initial latching, that newborn babies sometimes sleep for 12 hours after they’re born. She asked if he’d pooped or peed, and again didn’t seem too concerned that he hadn’t yet. Hmm.
By the late afternoon, after Roth returned, we started to feel pretty worried about our little guy. I hadn’t been able to get him to nurse since right after he was born, and he had not pooped or peed. Additionally, he would occasionally wake up just enough to spit up. We expressed our concern with the day nurse, but like the pediatrician, she did not seem alarmed. It wasn’t until several hours later after he started spitting up bile that our night nurse decided that something might be wrong. She asked to take him to the nursery to have him examined more closely. Wearily, we agreed.
She came back shortly with a neonatologist who explained that something was indeed wrong, but what exactly, she wasn’t sure. It could be a blockage in his bowels, or it could be as serious as an infection, but further testing had to be done in the NICU. It was midnight by then, and I was so tired I could hardly see straight let alone comprehend what was happening. They wheeled Milo back into the room so I could hold him for a minute before taking him to another floor. And then my perfect baby boy was whisked away.
No sleep was to be had as we waited for him to return. Finally, the same neonatologist came back around 2:30 a.m. with news. She prefaced the news by saying that while it might not be the news we’re hoping for, it’s actually quite good news that Milo didn’t have an infection, because if he did, it could kill him. KILL HIM, she said to a mother who just delivered a baby 20 hours earlier. The “good” news was that it looked like he had a bowel blockage and that it required surgery. She said the surgeon had been paged to come in early that morning, and that we would be contacted soon with more information. Oh, and we should try to get some rest.
I don’t remember this neonatologist’s name nor would we ever see or talk to her again, but she had the worst bedside manner of all the medical professionals we would deal with thereafter. I still can’t believe she would use the phrase “it could kill him.”
The next few hours were some of the worst of my entire life, not knowing what was going on with Milo. It was such a stark difference from what was happening the same time the night before, and yet both times we were waiting, waiting, waiting. I called my mom around 3 or 4 in the morning and bawled my eyes out, absolutely sick with worry. Roth tried to stay strong for me, but I could see the concern behind his eyes. This turn of events was so unreal.
Finally, I couldn’t stand not knowing what was going on, so Roth called the NICU around 8 a.m. to inquire. He spoke with a nurse (a male nurse, in fact) who had been with Milo all night. He said there was some good news to report, that he had peed once and pooped twice, all on his own, and that it appeared the blockage may have been his meconium plug, which he had finally passed. But, the on-call doctor had ordered an bariatric enema to be followed by another x-ray to see if things were moving on their own. We asked if we could come see Milo then, but the nurse recommended we wait a bit longer so they could keep him quiet and calm before the enema. He expected we would hear from the doctor soon, but that they were “cautiously optimistic” about his progress, and that surgery may not be as imminent as the neonatologist thought.
Despite not being able to see Milo then, I felt like a ton of bricks had been lifted off my chest. Roth and I hugged each other long and hard after that phone call. I think we both knew that he was going to be OK, that our little Milo was a trooper — a soldier, just like his namesake.
Meanwhile, terrible events were unfolding in Boston surrounding the marathon. I couldn’t bring myself to turn on the news, but I pieced together what was happening via Facebook and Twitter and decided I couldn’t let myself get sucked into that nightmare while I was dealing with my own scary situation.
At 2 p.m., we got a call from another NICU nurse who said then was a good time to visit Milo. She said he did really well during the enema, and that he was just the sweetest little baby, how all of the nurses were falling in love with him. My body ached to see him. It’d been 12 excruciating hours since they took him away. When we arrived on the sixth floor, I began to feel a little nervous about seeing him hooked up to cords and monitors. Would I be able to hold him?
It was definitely an intense experience, visiting Milo in the NICU, but not because of how he looked. He was definitely the biggest, most robust baby in Room 2. While it pained me to see him with a tube in his nose, it was harder to watch all of the other parents visiting their smaller, sicker babies, to know that things could be so much worse. We weren’t out of the woods just yet, but I felt so much more hopeful that things would be fine.
During that initial visit, the nurse showed us his x-rays and explained what had transpired in the last 12 hours. The tube in his nose was draining his stomach of bile to prevent him from spitting up, and to keep his stomach clear so that all of the contrast dye from the enema could work its way through his bowels. He also had an IV of sugar water for food and a heartbeat/pulse monitor.
Despite all of those tubes and cords, I was able to hold him again for the first time, and oh, it made my heart swell with even more affection for this little guy. Truth be told, I don’t think I felt very bonded to the baby before he was born, probably due to a combination of hating being pregnant and not finding out the sex, but I’d have endured an awful pregnancy all over again if it meant he didn’t have to be in the NICU.
Unfortunately, he had to stay in the NICU for three more days. The doctors who checked him every day were being extremely cautious, it seemed, even though it appeared the blockage had resolved itself. Once they determined the blockage was no longer an issue, Milo had to be weaned off the sugar water and introduced to breast milk, by bottle at first and later by breastfeeding. It took a few tries, but eventually Milo got the hang of nursing and started eating like a champ. By Thursday, he was downgraded to the level 3 NICU where we were able to “in-room” with him one night before he was officially released on Friday.
As all of this was unfolding, Roth’s mom was taking care of Rowan at home. It was definitely a confusing and frustrating time for him, as I came home without the baby on Tuesday, then went back to the hospital to stay on my own that night in one of the parents’ rooms so I could try nursing Milo every few hours. I wasn’t able to get a room for Wednesday night, so I stayed at home that night, but then went back to the hospital early Thursday with Roth to be with Milo when he was moved to another floor. Rowan didn’t have preschool that week, either, to distract him from what was going on at the hospital, and it was just rough.
On Wednesday night, I started having the chills followed by a high fever every few hours. I thought maybe I was coming down with mastitis, which would make sense, since I had been pumping every two or three hours to make a store of milk for Milo. Other than a fever, though, my symptoms didn’t match, so the triage nurse at my doctor’s office told me to treat the fevers with Tylenol and call back if I had any abdominal pain. I didn’t then, but by Saturday night, I could barely get out of bed to help Roth change and feed the baby in the middle of the night, I was so doubled over in pain. On Sunday morning, I finally called the on-call doctor, and soon after, I checked back into the hospital to be treated for endometritis.
I spent two nights in the hospital getting intravenous antibiotics to treat the uterine infection, which is likely a result of prolonged ruptured membranes — or, because I was a moron who didn’t get checked out when I first thought I might be leaking amniotic fluid. My case is a bit curious, though, because I didn’t show any symptoms for three days postpartum. I can’t help but think the stress of going back and forth to the hospital that week might have exacerbated my condition, too. I was a wreck that week, not really taking it as easy as I might’ve had I gone home with the baby after two days instead of five. Roth was an absolute rock star taking care of both boys on his own for those two nights. The only upside was that I managed to get some much-needed rest.
I’ve had a lot of days and weeks to mull over Milo’s birth. For one, it was very different than my experience with Rowan. I just assumed things would go similarly, but I should’ve known to expect the unexpected after a more difficult, much different pregnancy. Two, I can’t help but wonder if augmentation had anything to do with what happened to Milo. Did the Pitocin speed things up too unnaturally, and his body just didn’t have enough time to pass the meconium plug had I been able to labor without the aid of medication? And three, when did my water break? Is it possible it happened during my last pelvic exam on Thursday? It was done by another doctor in the practice whom I’d never seen before, and I recall it being far more painful than other exams.
Regardless of whether or not I could’ve changed or controlled the circumstances of Milo’s birth, I’m extremely grateful for the stellar care he received by the nurses in the NICU. They were all so caring and accommodating. I felt like he was in very capable and loving hands, and I didn’t worry too much whenever I was away from the NICU. I am also so glad I decided to keep my insurance through COBRA. Even though I could’ve jumped on to Roth’s plan after I lost my job, instead I kept my current plan because I’d met my deductible and also because it provided Milo and me far better coverage. We are faced with some out-of-pocket costs for my two hospital stays and Milo’s time in the NICU, but it’s not nearly as financially devastating as it could’ve been.
Now that Milo is here, though, it’s easy to forget those few stressful days. Now that Milo is here, it’s hard to imagine life without him.
Photo by Jessica Eskelsen.
Meet our newest son, Milo Burke.
Born Sunday, April 14, at 6:16 a.m. He was 7 pounds, 3.3 ounces, and 20 inches long.
In case you don’t follow me on Facebook or Twitter, where I’ve been documenting the last several days, we’ve had quite the tumultuous postpartum experience. Four days in the NICU for a bowel blockage, followed by two days at home, followed by my re-admittance to the hospital to treat an infection. The saga is not quite over yet — I’m slated to be released later today — but soon I’ll write more.
For now, though, know that Milo is doing great. He’s a perfect little baby, who looks a lot like his big brother Rowan, with some distinction of his own. Rowan is adjusting in his own unique way, though I know he’s craving a return to some semblance of (new) normalcy soon. And Roth is a rock star dad right now, taking care of Milo and Rowan on his own, juggling schedules and feedings and changings. When this is all over, this man deserves a medal. And all the beer.
To all who have reached out to offer help, express concern or extend well wishes, thank you. These last nine days have been the toughest stretch of days I’ve ever had to endure. But there is light here at the end.
A couple of Saturdays ago, when the light was just right, the three of us loaded into the car and drove north to a park we’d never been to before (though it turned out Rowan had remembered going there once with my mom when she watched him in January) and met up with my friend Jess for a mini family photo shoot.
It should be noted that planned and scheduled photo shoots are probably Roth’s least favorite thing, ranked up high with calling to order takeout. Rowan doesn’t like posing for photos, either, not without the promise of candy in his very near future. So, let’s just say the two of them were not exactly looking forward to this photo shoot, despite knowing how much I was. After listening to the boys argue about which shoes Rowan needed to wear, I’d had enough of the bitching and moaning, and I blew up a bit. I let them know how disappointed I was that they couldn’t just feign interest for five minutes in this little photo project because it felt important to me.
I wasn’t interested in doing a family photo shoot because I needed a dozen different artfully posed shots of my belly, complete with sun flares and other photographic cliches, no. When my friend Jess, who I plan to officially hire to take newborn photos of the baby, offered to take some shots of us together before the baby is born, too, I jumped at the opportunity. This wouldn’t just be a maternity shoot (although that’d be part of it); it’d be a chance to document us how we are now. As a family of three. When our lives had grown simpler because we’d figured out how to just be a family. You, me, him. Rhythm and ease and comfort.
It’s not lost on me (or Roth) that our lives are very soon going to become complicated and messy again. We very easily could’ve chosen not to go down this road, to just continue on as a threesome, enjoying sleeping through the night and not changing diapers and everything that entails bringing up a baby, but in all our discussions about if and when to have another, I just knew Rowan needed to be a big brother. Both Roth and I are firstborns with younger siblings, and it just felt right to let our firstborn experience that, too.
We’re almost to the end now, and the timing of receiving these wonderful photos from Jess couldn’t have been more perfect. I’ve reached maximum capacity and most days I don’t feel particularly attractive, but somehow Jess managed to capture so much light and joy in these few shots, and I couldn’t be happier with how they turned out, despite initial reluctance from my boys. I will treasure these images just as I will these last couple of weeks … before we were four.
All photos by Jessica Eskelsen.
Know what the hardest part of this pregnancy is? Surprisingly, it’s not the weeks-long morning sickness, the Zofran-induced constipation, the searing acid reflux or the perpetually vibrating hands and fingers from third trimester carpal tunnel. (Although don’t get me wrong, all those common pregnancy ailments SUCK like whoa.) Nope. I’d say the toughest thing at this stage, as my belly swells beyond physical comprehension and with my due date rapidly approaching, is the unknown. It’s not being able to circle a square on the calendar as “the day the baby will be born.” Because if I could just do THAT, life would be so much simpler. Plans could be made. Nerves would be soothed. And maybe, just maybe, I could just chill the eff out.
Instead, I’ve been wringing my tingly hands raw while trying to figure out the best case scenario as we enter the final four (or less, I hope) weeks of my pregnancy. My biggest concern is not how the baby will be get here — I’ve got a pretty good idea of how that will happen — but rather who will be take care of baby’s big brother when I do go into labor. It’s difficult not having grandparents close by for these kinds of situations. It would be amazing to just have them on call, but instead we’re having to play a guessing game as to when the moment will arrive. Will this wee little Sapling decide to come early like Rowan? Or will we be twiddling our thumbs well into the 41st and 42nd weeks?
We’ve decided to take a leap of faith that the baby will be a bit early in order to take advantage of Roth’s mom’s latest chemo schedule, which will allow her to come up to Seattle between my 38th and 39th weeks. This feels like the “sweet spot” for something to happen, if it doesn’t happen earlier. We’ve also got a backup plan in place with local friends, too, in case of an early evacuation. If Sapling decides to copy Rowan, that would be in another week and a half!
Because of this remote possibility, we’ve spent the last couple of weeks getting everything ready for the baby by my 36th week, which is where I am now. We spent one Saturday washing and wiping down every thing, and now we’ve got the car seat, cradle and newborn clothes at the ready. We brought the glider up from the basement. The bouncer and recently inherited swing are ready to go. Yesterday, we finished up our 2012 taxes, a task that’d been looming over our heads. And last night, we packed our hospital bags.
I’m sure being THIS prepared will ensure the baby will NOT come early, but without a job to occupy my time, it’s been something to keep me busy. There are still a handful of household organizational projects I want to tackle, but if I went into labor tomorrow, we’d be ready. We’d be OK.
If I had my druthers, though, I’d prefer the baby held tight just a bit longer since I’ve got plans this weekend. Kerri (and Matt, too) is coming from Wenatchee, and we’re getting together with a couple other gals for pedicures and lunch out. I didn’t want a baby shower, as it felt wholly unnecessary this time around, but I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to prettify my toes and hang out with some lovely ladies before my life is turned upside down in a couple of weeks.
I’m woefully behind on documenting this pregnancy’s progress here. I’ve been pretty good about having Roth take regular belly shots and posting selfies on Instagram, but I’ve definitely neglected this space. I decided to put together the last four shots, from 20 weeks to 35 weeks, into a collage, the results of which are more interesting than seeing a weekly shot, I think.
There’s not a lot of change from 20 (top left) to 25 weeks (top right), but holy belly growth from 30 (bottom left) to 35 weeks (bottom right)! Oh, and also, while my belly has grown several inches, I decided to lose several inches of hair last week, too.
I’m definitely feeling every inch and pound of this pregnancy. Restful sleep is getting harder to come by, with the frequent getting up to pee and more recently, my hands going completely numb from the aforementioned carpal tunnel syndrome. I do almost anything to avoid going up the stairs, for it renders me completely breathless. I’ve been going to a weekly prenatal yoga class on Sundays, and I find myself spending most of the time in child’s pose, just grateful for extended moments of stillness.
We’re at the homestretch, I think. A matter of just a couple weeks, and the baby will be here. I’m starting to get really excited about (finally!) finding out the sex. Most friends and family say I’m carrying high and all in front, which indicates girl. Just for fun, I’m curious what everyone thinks based on my 35-week pic. Is our little Sapling a he or a she?
I spent a good chunk of time last week drafting a post essentially about how little I’ve enjoyed this pregnancy compared to the last. It was definitely a little glum in tone, which nicely complemented the funk I’d often found myself in the past couple of weeks since I last wrote about silver linings. For the most part, things are fine, but at least once, maybe twice, a week, I inadvertently wade into a dark, murky place where I can’t see the light shining through the trees, where the seeds of insecurity take root, and all perspective on my situation is clouded by a dearth of confidence.
It’s not a happy place, obviously. It usually manifests itself into a lot of couch wallowing, cookie eating and hours upon hours of Netflix watching rather than active engagement and interaction with the world’s greatest little boy. Sometimes there’s unfounded yelling, too, at the person who loves and supports me the most. And perhaps the saddest of all, I find myself willing these last few weeks of my pregnancy away.
I don’t know if it’s just my attitude, if I’ve indeed felt terribly worse this time around, or both, but I’ve let these last 33 weeks feel like a means to an end. Surely, a second pregnancy IS different from the get-go, especially if your first kid is still relatively young and needy. There’s simply not time in a day to sit and marvel at your burgeoning belly, daydreaming what it will be like when your bundle of joy decides to make its entrance into your world, but I’ve also grimaced far too many times at my belly as the gentle flutters from 20 weeks turned into Olympics-style flip-turns, preventing me from sleeping or even just finding a comfortable position in which to lay on said couch of wallow.
It’s so different this time not knowing if we’re having a boy or a girl, too, and I’m fairly certain that has played a small part in my not feeling super connected to the baby yet. I don’t regret not finding out, as I’m pretty sure the moment we do, when (s)he is born, it will be as magical as other parents have described, but for now, it’s just strange not knowing, not being able to refer to the baby as he or she. I try to say “the baby,” but more often than not, I use “it,” which is just weird and unfamiliar. Maybe even a little alien?
All this not to say that I am not excited to have another baby. I am! We are! And oh boy, am I ever excited for Rowan to become a big brother. A couple weeks ago, I took him to a class at the hospital called Sibling Preparation. There he got to sit in a circle with a handful of other little kids all about to become big brothers and sisters and talk about what it’s going to be like to have a new baby in the house, how he’ll need to try to be understanding when mom needs to rest, or that if the baby is crying, he might have to go to another part of the house, because that’s just what babies do. After the class, wherein the kids also watched a demo of a doll baby being born from a doll mama, we toured the birthing suites, which was pretty surreal for me. Oh hello, PTSD.
Rowan did really well in the class (naturally, he was the one kid of the bunch who asked, “But how did the baby get in there?”), and I think he’s starting to get excited about the baby, too. He’s not so much into feeling my belly when the baby is kicking — I think he’s actually quite scared of it, and rightfully so; it IS weird — but he will “hug” the baby/my belly and sometimes talk to him or her, too. Which is, of course, heart-meltingly sweet.
Earlier this week, we went for a third trimester ultrasound, to check on a possible umbilical cord cyst as seen at my 20-week ultrasound. We decided to take Rowan with us this time, which was pretty special, that he got to “see” the baby and ask a thousand questions. “What’s that, Dada?” “Why can’t I see the baby in color?” “Where are the baby’s eyes?” It was pretty awesome for me, too, maybe even more so than any other previous ultrasound, because I could finally imagine this baby as real. I got confirmation that what I’m feeling under my left ribs is indeed the baby’s bottom, and that the baby’s head is in fact down near the right side of my abdomen, where I’ve been feeling hiccups.
And thankfully, whatever that “cyst” was has since resolved itself or maybe never even existed.
Getting to see the baby’s face in profile was definitely the boost I’ve needed these past few weeks. Even though we’re starting the homestretch, with the baby estimated to weigh around five pounds and his/her measurements putting me closer to the 34- or 35-week range (!), I think there’s still time to change my attitude, to turn things around. Instead of thinking about my due date as the end, I need to think of it as another beginning, another chapter.
I need to carve out pockets of time just for myself, to go get a pedicure or take a prenatal yoga class. I need to embrace the one-on-one time I’m getting with Rowan, rather than resent it, as I’ve done more often than not. I need to finalize plans for a date night with Roth, and for an afternoon of hanging out with girlfriends. I need to recognize and acknowledge all of the positive things in my life — a list forthcoming! I need to let go of what happened with the layoff, knowing that even though I didn’t deserve it, I do deserve this extra time I’m getting to prepare our house and our lives for becoming a family of four.
And I really, really need to not stumble into any more dark corners. It’s far better to be in the light.
Last weekend, I met up with my good friend Terrell to see Silver Linings Playbook, a movie with much buzz and many nominations. I typically enjoy these sorts of movies, the ones that are hard to define in any one category, and for the most part I did like it, despite being almost too quirky for its own good. It’s not exactly a rom-com, nor is it a drama, but it featured romantic, comedic and dramatic elements, alongside a hefty serving of crazy, too. Maybe not theater-worthy, either, but I’m glad I saw it if nothing more than it got me thinking about my own silver linings.
So, obviously, the biggest silver lining to my layoff is getting to stay home with Rowan. A few people have pointed out the serendipitous timing of our one-on-one time together, what with my due date a mere two(ish) months away, and it’s definitely not lost on me. He’s at an age now when he may actually remember this time, how now we can drop whatever it is we’re doing to go get burgers and milkshakes for lunch at Dick’s Drive-In, or marvel at the butterfly exhibit at Pacific Science Center, while everyone else is either at work or school.
That’s not to say we’re not still adjusting to this new reality. We’re both — and forgive me for yet another seafaring analogy — navigating through unfamiliar waters, trying to figure out schedules and routines that make sense and make the most of our time. These past three weeks have been equal parts wonderful and overwhelming, for the both of us, I think.
Before I was let go, Rowan spent his week days at the same tiny in-home daycare he first went to when he was 4.5 months old. Even though we’d been prepping him for a change come fall with the introduction of full-time preschool, I don’t think he was ready to just be yanked from his cozy cocoon of familiarity. After a couple of days at home with him, I knew he needed something more than what I could provide, so we enrolled him in a very part-time preschool through a local community center. It’s just two days a week, for three hours each day, but so far, it’s helping to break up the large expanses of time we have to fill each week. (And allowing me to feel like an adult, too.)
Another silver lining to this unfortunate situation is that despite losing my full-time income and benefits, we’re actually going to be OK, financially speaking. When you subtract how much we were paying for full-time daycare, gas for commuting, daily back-and-forth tolls and lunches out, and then add in what I’m getting for unemployment, we’re doing just as well, if not better than (!), as before. Seeing those positive numbers in a spreadsheet, seeing that really, truly, we’re not going to drown, not anytime soon, really puts things in perspective. Obviously, this situation isn’t the ideal, nor is it our long-term plan, but for now, it’s OK.
I’m looking for work, as I’m required to do, and I will consider anything that comes my way — anything that makes sense given my impending due date and desire to be “off” after the baby arrives — but I’m really trying to see the forest for the trees, and other overwrought, cliche expressions. Now is the time to take a step back, evaluate my surroundings, decide who I am and who I want to be, and just go from here.
One week — one silver lining — at a time, anyway.
In retrospect, the timing of our trip to Maui was quite serendipitous. We’ve since wondered aloud if I’d been laid off before we were set to go if indeed we would have gone, and the answer is always yes. A lot of our trip was pre-paid and non-refundable, and my mom was to fly up from California to watch Rowan while we were gone, so it would’ve been silly to waste the opportunity. Would we have dropped $200 on dinner at Mama’s Fish House while we were there? Maybeee not.
Yes, given what was to happen a few days upon our return, the timing of our trip to Maui was very fortunate. Despite Roth coming down with the flu (yes, the flu-flu) the night before we left (and my unfortunate experience with snorkeling), we really did have a wonderful time.
We stayed at an adorable cottage tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the more touristy parts of the island. It was very peaceful and serene, and just perfect for us.
We ate at amazing restaurants, including the famed Mama’s, but the highlight of the trip was dinner at Hali’imaile General Store.
We marveled at awesome vistas, including from 10,000 feet above the island (and clouds) in Haleakala National Park, and the unexpectedly treacherous Hwy 340, which made the Road to Hana seem like a Sunday stroll in the park.
(Much more Maui here.)
I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to thank the people who helped make our trip a reality.
First and foremost, there’s my mom, who agreed to come to Seattle in the middle of January to stay at our place with Rowan for five nights. The timing of HER trip was a bit tricky, since she’d just started a job a few days before, but thankfully her new place of employment was understanding of her pre-existing plans, and it was not a big deal for her to be away.
Rowan and my mom got along famously, mostly just hanging out at home because it was bitterly cold that week. That same Friday while I was hyperventilating in the Pacific Ocean, Rowan came down with a stomach bug (again), but my mom handled it well, despite his barfing all over the living room of my mom’s friend’s house. Oy. My cousin Julia, who works as a nurse in Seattle, deserves a shoutout, too, for bringing over Pedialyte and chicken noodle soup for the little sickie.
It was the last time my mom will see Rowan before Baby #2 is born, so I’m pretty sure she enjoyed all the one-on-one time she got with him. I’m pretty sure he enjoyed all that time with his Beppe, too.
Thanks also to Roth’s parents, his brother and his grandmother for helping fund the trip. As aforementioned, we got to eat out at some high-end places and drive all over the island in a rental car, something I don’t think we could’ve done so liberally without that financial support.
Lastly, a HUGE thanks to Roth, who despite feeling like utter crap the first two days we were there, rallied (with the help of Dayquil) to make sure we had a good time and made the most of every experience. Had it been ME who had been sick, the trip wouldn’t have gone as well. Also, Roth deserves a birthday do-over at some point since we spent his 35th on a 5-hour flight back to Seattle. At least there was chocolate cake included with the in-flight meal?
Thanks also for all of the really nice comments and support on my previous post. I plan to write more about how we’re coping with this change of status, but for now, we’ll always have Maui.
Not last Friday but the one before that, I was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 10 miles away from Maalaea Harbor, bobbing up and down on a catamaran anchored to the floor of a volcanic crater. We were there to snorkel in said geologic marvel, to float atop the azure water and peer down below at myriad sea creatures — the supposed pinnacle of our trip to Maui. I’d never been snorkeling before, but it wasn’t until we were geared up, standing among strangers and listening to a hasty lesson on how to breathe through a plastic tube that I started to feel nervous.
Roth assured me I’d be fine once I got into the water. I would just need to relax my body and breathe — in and out, in and out. He’d been snorkeling before, in the Florida Keys when he was a kid, and more recently, about a decade before on another trip to Hawaii.
(I’d never been to Hawaii before, either.)
We stood at the back of the boat, my legs quivering and my eyes starting to fill with tears, fogging up the mask. I didn’t want to get in the choppy water, but more so, I didn’t want to have to tell anyone that I didn’t even try to snorkel, especially since we paid for this rare, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Somehow, with more coaxing by Roth, I willed myself toward the steps and slowly eased my body into the water.
I never knew the depth of my fear of open water until I was in it. Even though we were mere feet away from the boat, and Roth was by my side, I felt very alone. Vulnerable. Unskilled. I clung to a boogie board and tried to breathe — in and out, in and out — through the tube, to get used to the sensation, as Roth suggested, but the more I inhaled-exhaled, my breath an eerie echo in my ears, the more I started to feel the vines of panic taking over my mind.
Put your face in the water, he said. Just look down.
I did. I did. It didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel good.
Just relax, he said.
I tried. I extended my arms and put my face in the water again, this time I was able to see to the rocky bottom, a scant few fish slithering by, but I couldn’t breathe. I was holding my breath. No in. No out. No, this wasn’t working. Despite the utter vastness below and outstretched before me, I felt claustrophobic. This wasn’t the magical experience that’d been touted in the guidebook. I had to get out of the water, and so I did, encouraging Roth to stay and get his money’s worth.
As I sat alone on the top deck of the boat, tears streaming down my face from behind my sunglasses, I felt like an idiot. We’d come all this way — not just the 10 miles from the harbor, but all the way from Seattle to Maui in the middle of winter to have an amazing! and awesome! vacation — and now the trip was marred. All that planning, and it was no longer perfect because I’d failed at snorkeling.
Several hours later, as Roth and I sat in our rental car trying to work through the anger and disappointment that’d taken over the rest of my day, we had a breakthrough, an epiphany, of sorts, as I remembered something I’d read in The Happiness Project last January.
Or, more specifically, “I tried snorkeling; snorkeling is not for me.” Period.
The rest of our trip — all the meals and driving and sightseeing and relaxing — was awesome! and amazing! It just feels so surreal that we’ve already gone to and returned from Maui, that two weeks ago I was adrift in an ocean of emotions. Little did I know that feeling of not being able to breathe would happen again just a week later.
This past Friday, the one after that, I was in a small conference room, the one without any windows to the outside, hearing my breath echo inside my head again, this time as I listened to the COO of the company for which I’d worked almost seven years tell me my position was being eliminated, that I was being let go, effective immediately. Like a scene out of a movie, another man I’d never laid eyes on before, an HR manager flown in from the corporate offices in San Francisco, extended a box of tissue in my direction as my eyes started to fill with tears.
The feeling of hearing you’re being laid off is not unlike the feeling of drowning. You try to breathe, see straight, and cling to the facts — it’s not you, it’s just numbers; you’ve done nothing wrong — but the water rises quickly in that situation. You’ve been sunk.
Obviously, this wasn’t part of the plan.
I didn’t see it coming, though I should have, having been through several cycles of layoffs and department consolidations in my time with the company. The sticky thing is, a month prior we’d all been assured that despite tough times ahead, there would not be any layoffs. Wrongly, I’d let myself feel safe and secure, especially in my diverse and varied role. I’d gotten too comfortable. Complacent, perhaps. Heck, I was 7 months pregnant. They’d never let ME go!
HA. Ha, ha.
Several days later, as I sit on my couch in my pajamas, with Rowan now at my side (the world as he knew it has been rocked pretty hard, too), things look a lot different than they did just a week ago. I’ve been through the gamut of emotions — sadness, anger, fear, woe, confusion (I’ve never been let go from a job before, either) — but I think things are really going to be OK. Thankfully, my former employer is not leaving me totally high and dry. There’s severance — a token, perhaps, of how terrible the powers-that-be feel, given I was one of six who were laid off that day — and help with insurance, too.
And there’s a silver lining, of being able to collect unemployment, of course, but also of being able to collect myself. Had this not happened to me, I might’ve stayed at my former company another seven years, but maybe this is the universe’s way of telling me it’s time to put my face in the water and see what else is out there.
To sink, or swim.
Oh, hello! And a belated Happy New Year to you!
It’s hard to believe it’s more than a week into the new year let alone that it’s already 2013 to begin with. So much of the latter part of 2012 was me telling myself and others, “I’ll deal with THAT next year!” And here it is, next year is now, which means I really need to get my act together with regard to some important things like, say, any kind of baby prep.
Honestly, I’m not too stressed about any of it this time around seeing as we have a whole basement full of baby stuff, but I should probably put together a list of things we’ll need sooner than later and create a timeline for getting it all ready because I’m certain the next 15 (or fewer!) weeks are going to zoom by.
Backing up a bit, though …
We spent the holidays driving a whole lot. Ten-plus hours the first day down to Redding to stay with Roth’s grandma for a night. What should have been 5 hours the next day ended up being 7 hours from Redding to Sonora, thanks mostly to white-knuckled rain-and-wind conditions.
We were so relieved to finally arrive at our Christmas destination — seriously, Roth deserved many beers for getting us there safely — only to experience Barf Fest 2012 a mere 30 minutes later. Poor Rowan had no idea what was happening to him as he puked all over himself, me and the leather couch. We thought maybe he’d eaten a bad burger at In-N-Out earlier in the day, but a couple days later, Roth’s 94-year-old grandma got similarly sick, and then the next night, I got sick, too. It got Roth later the next day (and probably the worst), so I’m fairly certain there was some sort of norovirus/24-hour stomach flu thing swirling around the house that we all (unfortunately) caught.
Thankfully, the stomach flu felled the majority of us AFTER Christmas Eve and Day. Rowan had recovered in time to thoroughly enjoy his spoils from us, the grandparents, Uncle Lane, and of course, Santa. So. Much. Stuff. It’s his last year as a Singleton Grandchild, though, so it just sort of happened. Next year will likely be very different.
A few days later, and after we’d (barely) recovered from the flu, we headed down to visit my dad in Modesto for a couple of days, which was really mellow and probably what we needed after being so violently sick. My dad gave Rowan his first two-wheel bike (with training wheels), so we spent some time outside trying to show him how to pedal. It might be a long road before he fully gets it, but I think the will to learn is there.
On New Years Eve, we left my dad’s house very early and started the 10-hour drive to Bend, Oregon, rather than our usual trek back up I-5. Even though it was a long day of driving and some of the roads were not plowed, it was an awesome diversion from the norm. A longtime blog friend Shannon had hooked us up with a great rate at the hotel where she works. I finally got to meet her and her family for dinner that night, too, which was fun. We were back at the hotel early enough to watch the New Years festivities unfold on the East Coast and then asleep by about 9:30. Par-tay!
After another quick meet-up with Shannon and crew at an awesome coffee-slash-beer-slash-bike-and-snow-board-repair shop (Bend, you so quirky!), we started the final leg of our journey home. The drive from Bend to Portland to get back to I-5 was farther than I thought, but oh, it was beautiful that day through snow-caked trees with Mt. Hood looming in the distance. We stopped in Portland for a very late lunch with the newly engaged Kerri and Matt, who were also headed home after many, many days on the road. I’m so glad geography worked in our favors so we could see them for a bit before the final 3-hour trudge home to Seattle.
Roth and I both went back to work the next three days, and I promptly came down with a sore throat-turned-head cold that’s still lingering more than a week later. With regard to us getting sick over the holiday break (and me still sick now), I keep telling myself, “Better now than Maui.”
Today we’re a week away from our trip to Maui, and with so much rain coming down, this babymoon-birthday vacation couldn’t be happening at a better time. Am patting myself on the back for making the trip a reality because seriously? WE NEED IT LIKE WHOA.
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