Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I'd like to thank the Academy...

No, I didn't win an Oscar (though I did thoroughly enjoy this year's show, hosted by my boyfriend, Hugh Jackman! And don't get me started on how excited I was that Kate Winslet finally won Best Actress!).  But watching all those acceptance speeches reminded me that I neglected to thank a couple of people who truly deserve the recognition.  I mentioned in my last post that my sister Theresa spent Christmas with us and helped us a great deal with the holiday and some baby preparations.  We were very blessed to have some other family members come help as well.

First, my mother-in-law, Chris, spent a week in our home and took care of Gabriel and Luke while we were in the hospital for the birth and recovery.  It's hard to leave little ones for so many days, and it was comforting to know they were in good, loving hands.  

Next, my sister Bernadette came for nearly a week in January and helped in a variety of ways, from watching the older two while we went to doctor's appointments, to cooking for us, to helping take down Christmas decorations.  Our apartment has not been clean since she left...that should give you an idea of how helpful she was!

Living far away from family means we don't receive (or give!) help very often, but somehow the ones we love always come through for us when we really need them.  Our hearts will always be grateful.

I'm still learning my way around this blog.  I played with the color scheme a little today, and tried to figure out how to include photos in my posts.  I can upload them, but I don't know how to place them where I want them within the text.  As soon as I figure that out, I'll start posting pics of the boys!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Two Joyous Births

To continue the story of my life from the beginning of this blog until the present day, I shall now cover the period from Christmas to New Year's.

Approaching Christmas, I was not doing well emotionally.  I was just a wreck and we'd had a difficult time preparing for the holidays.  I would look over my to-do list and get completely overwhelmed and depressed when I realized not everything would get done in time.  

Fortunately, my sister Theresa came to visit for Christmas, and her presence was such a blessing for us all!  She helped us make Christmas happen with all the necessary trimmings; Gabriel enjoyed it so much that he still wishes every day were Christmas!  Theresa also helped me make it through Christmas without falling apart.  Obviously there was a deep sadness that was just sort of understood, but together we were able to find happiness in each other and Lonnie and the boys as well.  It was a small, simple holiday, but it was full of love and joy as we rejoiced in our Savior's birth!

As soon as Theresa was gone, it was time to shift our focus to the impending arrival of "Baby Three."   One of the biggest tasks still left to do was to choose a name!  We had played a little name game for months in the fall, beginning with a long list of potential names and eachof us  removing one name from the list each week.  We had always considered using my father's first or middle name as a middle name, but not long before he died I started to consider using his first name as a first name for our baby instead.  We added it to the list and it became one of the top 5 finalists.  Just a few days before the scheduled c-section, I finally felt completely certain that his name had to be James.  We selected Matthew as his middle name because it was one of the other 5 final names, and it sounded really good with James.  Also, the Gospel reading at Dad's funeral mass was from the Gospel of St. Matthew.  It was a beautiful reading - the Beatitudes - and I will remember it always.  It felt really good to be certain that James Matthew was the perfect name for our little boy.

My c-section was scheduled for early morning on Tuesday, December 30th.  From the time I first found out I was pregnant, I had stressed over when the baby's birthday would be.  Everyone I've ever known with a birthday during the holidays hated it and complained about it.  I felt guilty for doing to that to my child, even though it was definitely not something I did on purpose!  I agonized over the different days on which I could potentially schedule the repeat c-section, but in the end was just scheduled when there was an opening.  I had hoped for the 29th, but was fine with settling for the 30th.  

Bright and early on December 30th, Lonnie and I arrived at the hospital ready to meet the newest Woodward boy.  We thought we were running about 10 minutes late.  It turned out we were over an hour late!  I had received a good bit of misinformation from my OB's office regarding what time I needed to be there and what needed to be done in advance.  Consequently, it was too late for my surgery to go ahead as scheduled, and because the hospital was fully booked all day long, it was unlikely that they would be able to squeeze me in.  I could wait around (in a Labor & Delivery room, hooked up to monitors and still unable to eat or drink) until 4 or 5 pm and maybe get to have my baby then, or come back for an open spot in the schedule the next day at 11am.  I chose to come back.  

I won't lie...I was disappointed and angry and frustrated enough that I cried before I left the hospital, and cried some more when I got back home.  It felt so awful to have my plans and expectations thrown out the window at the last minute, after everything else I'd been through.  And now I was going to have a New Year's Eve baby, after trying so hard to avoid the actual holidays.  I have since been reassured about NYE as a birthday...most people think it will be cool rather than a drag and I am optimistic!  

We showed up at the hospital the next day even earlier than they had suggested.  The place was packed full of women trying to have babies...maybe some of them were trying hard to get their tax deductions in 2008! :)  I've learned that people will constantly make this joke when you have a NYE baby, but I don't mind.  Since my Dad was an accountant and would have made the joke as well (only he probably would have been half-serious!), it actually makes me think of him and smile.  But I digress....because the hospital was so busy and there were some unexpected c-sections messing up the schedule, my delivery was delayed again, but just a little this time.

I was really nervous going into the OR, even though this was my third c-section.  I had a pretty nasty cold and was afraid I would not be able to breathe while lying flat on my back on the table.  I was also afraid of what would happen if I had to cough while receiving the spinal, or during the surgery.  I was still blowing my nose and coughing right up until the moment that they gave me the spinal and then laid me down.  Then everything happened very quickly.  My sinuses seemed to clear and my chest relaxed.  I could breathe perfectly and felt completely at peace.  Everything just felt perfect.  The doctor moved really quickly in performing the surgery:  the spinal went in at 12:37 and at 12:58 they were pulling a crying baby from my belly!  

If you know me at all, you know I'm the ridiculously squeamish sort.  I don't even like "blood and guts" on TV when I know that it's fake.  My policy on newborns, even my own, was that I didn't want to see them until they had been cleaned up.  Well, I didn't express this policy to anyone because it had never been an issue before.  So I was caught off guard when one of the assistants held my precious baby's head up over the curtain so I could see him mere seconds after he was born.  He was all covered in yuckiness....but he was the most beautiful sight I had ever beheld!  It was a perfect moment.  I was overcome with emotion.  I fell in love instantly, despite all my worries about not being able to bond with my baby due to my grief and the stress in my life, etc.  I wept tears of joy and I felt that all was right with the world.  It was the sort of birth moment that many women dream of but I had never expected  would happen to me.  And I will never forget it as long as I live.  I know my Dad was with me.  No - I know that BOTH of my parents were with me, letting me know that life goes on and that I would be okay.  

Very soon after James was born, all my nasal congestion came back and once again it was hard to breathe.  The perfect moment was over and reality was back!  But it wasn't long before I got to hold my little angel and fall even further in love.  Late that night, Lonnie and I rang in the New Year in a darkened hospital room, with James sleeping peacefully beside us.  We toasted with little cups of apple juice.  Good thing we had a TV in the room so we could at least watch the ball drop in Times Square!  It felt amazing to say goodbye to 2008, which overall was one of the worst years of my life, and to look forward to 2009 with such hope and eager anticipation.  The arrival of James did not erase my grief, but filled me with enough joy to keep going, keep living, keep loving.  
Another beautiful little miracle in all this was James's heart.  The nurses and pediatricians could hear a slight murmur in the hospital, but it grew more faint every day.  By the time we took him for his first check up at the doctor's office the next week, the doctor could not hear a murmur at all.  At two weeks, we took him back to the cardiologist for a follow-up echocardiogram, and she confirmed what the pediatrician suspected:  any holes they had seen in his heart in utero had closed up!  His heart is strong and perfect.  Praise be to God!  (I have a feeling someone other than my parents was putting in a good word for us with the Big Guy, but that is an entry for another day.)

My recovery and James's first weeks of life proceeded quite normally.  He has been a pretty easy baby and even lets us get reasonable amounts of sleep most nights.  Gabriel and Luke adore him and love to give him kisses!  Gabriel is taking pride in his role as big brother now, and has enjoyed helping out with Baby James by feeding him bottles occasionally.  Luke just loves to get into James's face and talk to him, and by doing that he earned James's first real smile a few weeks ago!

I'd be lying if I painted a picture of perfect bliss in our home.  Gabriel and Luke are both at challenging ages and unfortunately can be as sassy and stubborn as their Mommy.  Gabriel especially often seems like a small male version of my teenage self.  And most of the time it feels like there is always at least one person hungry, tired, or in need of a diaper or some attention.  There are definitely times and whole days when we get completely overwhelmed!  On those days, we count the hours to bedtime and try not to sell the kids to the gypsies in the meantime!  But there are more good times than bad, and our family is truly happy.

James is now 7 weeks old and we're trying to emerge from the newborn fog and re-engage in our lives.  We've been getting out and about with all 3 kids, which is always an adventure!  This week we put an offer on a house and we're hoping to become first-time homeowners in the very near future.  Our tiny 2 BR, 1 BA apartment cannot contain our boys and all their stuff, so it's time to upgrade to something with more space!  Attempting to move with 3 small children will present its own unique challenges; I hope we are up to the task.  If you decide to keep reading this blog, I'm sure you will "hear" all about it very soon!

I hope to post some pictures soon, and see what else I can do to make this blog more interesting and fun.  [EDIT:  Added photos 3/1/09.] Please bear with me.  I'm still new to this, and it's hard to find time just to write, much less add any extras.  I am very open to comments and suggestions, especially from experienced bloggers or just people who read a lot of blogs.  I'm not looking to win any awards here or anything, but I do want this to be a fun place for friends and family to keep up with our goings-on and be a little entertained. :)  Thank you for reading!

Friday, February 13, 2009

April Blogs...Take TWO!

I'm not at all surprised that this happened.  One of the reasons I resisted the urge to join the blogging world for so long was that I knew I'd have trouble finding the time to write regularly.  Once I took the plunge last August, I hoped that I would overcome my own time management shortcomings and really do this right.  I failed.  In all fairness to myself, I've just gone through possibly the darkest time of my life, so I'm not going to feel too guilty about it.  

Anyway, now I am recommitting to this project I have begun.  I'll be sharing the address with friends and family soon - that ought to be just enough pressure to keep up with it.  I plan to start adding photos as well, though first I'm going to have to start remembering to take them more often!  

When I chose the name and theme for this blog, adjusting to a different gender distribution than I had imagined for my children was one of the biggest issues weighing on my mind.  Unfortunately, life had far less trivial challenges in store for me and my family.  

Not long after my first entry, I underwent a fetal echocardiogram as a precaution because I have a family history of congenital heart defects.  At that echo, a minor defect was found.  It's called Ventricular Septal Defect, and it means there is a hole in the wall, or septum, between the left and right ventricles, allowing blood to flow between the two.  Often the holes are small and cause nothing more than a heart murmur in a child; in rare cases they are large enough that they need to be closed either with medication or surgery.  Out of all possible heart defects, VSD is about as minor as you can get, and I was incredibly grateful for that.  But no parent ever wants to hear that something is wrong with her child's heart.  I did my best not to allow worry to consume me for the remainder of my pregnancy, but it was always lurking at the back of my mind.

In September, my father underwent surgery on his neck to decompress a nerve.  It was not a particularly dangerous procedure and he was expected to have a reasonable recovery.  For some reason we will never know, he actually never recovered.  He developed a great deal of numbness in his extremities and became disabled.  He spent two months going in and out of the hospitals and rehab facilities, enduring myriad tests to find an underlying cause for this numbness, but no cause was ever found.  Attempts were made at physical therapy, but no real progress was ever made.  A second neck surgery was performed, but no improvement was ever seen.

His spirits were low, and we feared he would spend the remainder of his life in a nursing home, deprived of the independence that he so cherished.  The outlook was not positive, but we did at least believe that he would LIVE.  We were wrong.  

Just a few days after I celebrated my 31st birthday, my father developed pneumonia, serious blood clots, and other complications.  He needed surgery to save his life but the surgery itself was too dangerous.  It was his time to go home, where no doubt my mother was eagerly waiting.  We were fortunate in that all eight of us "kids" were able to make it to Charleston in time to say goodbye and spend some time with him in his final days.   On November 22, the Saturday before Thanksgiving, he entered into Eternal Rest.  

I don't think I need to go into detail about how difficult the loss was on an 8-month pregnant woman.  I survived the week only through the amazing support of my husband and my siblings, and the bright smiles of my beloved Gabriel and Luke.  But the grief was nearly impossible to bear throughout the final month of my pregnancy.  I adored my father.  For as long as I can remember, I've always been a "Daddy's girl."  Even in my rebellious teenage years, when I did nothing but fight with my Mom, I could still talk to my Dad.  And I've depended on him even more, emotionally, since Mom died nearly 4 years ago.  I felt like a little piece of her lived on in him, so losing him was like losing her all over again, but more completely.  Though I am an adult, I feel like an orphan.

Most of December is truly a blur to me now.  I was not myself at all.  At first there were good days and bad days.  Then there were just bad days with occasional good moments.  My moods shifted violently.  It is almost fortunate that I was very busy at my job because I was able to bury myself in my work to help just get through each day.  I really was not functioning like a normal person.  It was all just too much for me.

Unfortunately, I turned a lot of my negative thoughts toward my poor innocent unborn son.  He was unplanned to begin with, and throughout the pregnancy I'd been frustrated by the timing.  Adding grief to that equation caused me at times to resent my baby.  I thought if only I were not pregnant, maybe I could have visited Dad before he got so sick, and certainly I could have handled the sadness better.  I felt so empty inside that I feared I would not be able to bond with my baby once he was born.  Over and over again, I asked myself, "What if I don't love him?"

So I was overcome with grief, resenting my baby and fearing I could not bond with him, and also trying to throw together a good Christmas for my two precious sons, and that is how I approached the end of December.  The birth of "Baby Three" deserves a post all its own, so this is where I leave you tonight.  Hopefully it won't be six months before I share the next chapter of my story!