07 May 2014

Ginger, Grey, and Yellow

Being a new mum was overwhelming at first. I can't imagine anyone thinking otherwise as they hold, for the first time, the tiny person they've just spent the last nine months creating. Because of the method of my delivery, I didn't have the use of my legs for quite a while afterward. Lots of time to cuddle with my perfect bundle of joy and debate about who he looked like.

In our case, this was a very short debate: he couldn't possibly look any more like my husband than he does.

But as I held him and slept beside him through his first night, we began to notice a few things that weren't quite right - the most telling one being that we couldn't really wake him up, and he wasn't all that hungry when we did. Blood work done the next day confirmed the reason why: our little bundle had jaundice. High levels of bilirubin in his system was making him tired, and because he was so tired he didn't have the energy to eat. Now, there are a bunch of babies born every day that develop jaundice, but in our case it was a bit more serious. My munchkin was operating in the "very high" range of bilirubins per blood unit - there is no higher on the scale that you can go. And because he is a different blood type than I am, he also lacked that basic genetic immunity which meant that his red blood cells were working overtime.

Luckily, the way they treat neonatal jaundice is by phototherapy. He was placed in a bassinet under a UV light and a heater. He got to wear a sunshade to protect his eyes, and he was kept at a warm 36.5C. We got to have the whole unit in our room with us so we could take him out to feed him when he needed it, and bond with him as much as possible during his first days.

This is the phototherapy set-up for newborns, where Charlie spent his first few days "tanning"

I won't tell you it wasn't hard. He did not like being on his back all splayed out at first, but we couldn't keep holding him like he wanted - it would have made treatment impossible. I cried a lot while he cried, and Matt did his best to keep us both calm. He did finally get used to being under the lamp, and it really helped when one of the nurses made him a little nest of blankets so he felt more secure. Over the next few days his colour improved, and when they had evidence that the bilirubin levels in his blood were dropping, they let us bring him home.

By this point the changes in him where undeniable. He was sleeping soundly, and eating so much that we had to start supplementing with formula, something that we have continued to do ever since to make sure he's on the right track for growth. He'll never been a big kid - Matt and I are not giants - but at his two week check-up the doctor confirmed he had gained back and surpassed his birth weight, and I breathed a sigh of relief. His hair gets more red and gingery every day, and his eyes have stayed a stormy grey, but one thing is clear: the yellow skin colour is gone for good.

28 April 2014

A Whole New World

After a hiatus enforced by yet another extended hospital stay (3 weeks this time) and subsequent concerns with my health, I am not only returning to blog another day, but also celebrating my promotion to Mummy! Charles Matthew Fenton Johns was born on April 11, 2014 at 5:20pm, weighing 6 lbs 6 oz. and measuring a whopping 18 inches long.

His measurements are important: there was a point in the pregnancy when I was happy he was over 2 lbs. Both his Daddy and I thought for sure he was going to be with us very early. At 28 weeks and during one of our busiest times of the last two years, I woke up in the night bleeding and having contractions. After rushing to the ER, I was admitted with a "placental abruption" to the ante partum ward and put on strict bed rest. That means my placenta had decided to start pulling away from the uterus much too early, which was in turn making my body think it was time to go into labour. Things had suddenly gone from being worry free to being quite worrisome. The doctor had to give me special, specific permission to be able to get up and use the washroom independently once I arrived on the floor, which cemented for me how serious this whole thing really was. But after we established I would be there for a while, it got really boring really fast. I will also admit to freaking out and having flashbacks to my days spent in the hospital post-accident; though the circumstances weren't the same, it was most unsettling being stuck in bed all over again.

And because I like to do everything the hard way, the week I went in was the week we were taking possession of our new home and moving. I had appointments booked nearly every day for some reason or another: cleaners, movers, utilities, lawyers, builders... And I had to rely on my poor husband to be able to make them all now. We rescheduled what we could, and he was luckily able to leave work midday to attend a few, and somehow with all that as well as the added stress of me being hospitalized, he managed to finish packing our apartment and get us moved. I'm still not sure if he got any sleep while he did all this. 

So while he was run ragged getting our new home ready for a family that was threatening to arrive at any moment, I was trapped in the hospital, watching the women around me experience their own complications and occasionally get whisked away to another ward in a big hurry. I was able to meet a couple other women who were hospitalized for the same reasons as myself - who were also both having boys - and tour the NICU to get a feel for where my baby might end up if he was born early. I was put on the fetal Doppler monitor 3 times a day, and since I could hear Charlie's heart beat strong and steady, I stayed much more calm than I normally would have, which in turn helped him stay put.

3 weeks passed as a handful of roommates came and went. For a while I was lucky enough to have the room to myself. When my weekly ultrasound finally showed the internal bleeding had stopped and begun to heal, the doctors decided that I could come home as long as I continued to follow the strict bed rest rules. I was ecstatic, and finally got to see our new house with all our things in it. We got the baby's room set up as soon as we could - we were still on high alert to expect him early - and I spent my time resting and sorting tiny baby clothing. Matt had to go away for a week so my mum took some time off and came to stay with me, accompanying me to my many, many follow-up doctors appointments and making sure I ate.

Then we waited.

I was told that, if I passed 34 weeks, Charlie wouldn't have to go into the NICU. I passed it. Then I was told that if I passed 36 weeks I would be in the clear to have a c-section done safely. I passed that too. And then I spent an entire night in the hospital being observed because, in the words of the resident, "Your baby is doing great, but your uterus is not", and that was the last straw. We scheduled Charlie's birth 18 days before my actual due date and hoped I'd make it until then.

I did. He was delivered under ideal conditions, his mummy and daddy were mentally and physically prepared, and the surgery went without a hitch.  I was extremely lucky to have an OB that was kind and understanding about my limitations, and an OR team that wasn't phased by a mother with a broken back and pelvis.

As if the lives of several people hadn't just changed forever, within moments of being born, Charlie had found his thumb and was sucking away at it happily. Matt watched his every move with tears in his eyes. When they brought him over to me, he nuzzled right in to my neck. And that's when my whole new world started turning.

27 January 2014

Week(s) in Review: Home Sweet Home

Yeah, I know it's been forever since I posted an "In Review" piece. And to be honest, a LOT has gone on. Let's recap:
  • - I'm pregnant!
  • - We are having a boy! This photo is how we told everyone; most people got it, but there was some confusion as to whether or not it was twins.
  • - We went to Walt Disney World on our Christmas vacation!
  • - We survived Winter-Ice-Stormaggedeon-Pocalypse 2013 while visiting family in Ontario!

But I think the most recent event merits the winner of today's subject award: We bought a house!

We knew we would have to move from our apartment to have the baby (it's an adult only building) and we were looking at continuing to rent. But then Matt got word that he'll be in Edmonton bouncing from position to position for the next 5 years or so, and we figured why rent for so long when we could become responsible homeowners? So we did!

No, it wasn't as easy as all that, but it did end up very positive for us. We have purchased a new townhouse in the north of the city near the base. It's got all the bells and whistles, including hardwood flooring and granite countertops. It's 3 bedrooms and 1.5 bath - the perfect size for us, particularly since I will have to clean it... eventually. The complex itself is only around half finished, so when I say it's brand new, it's really super shiny new.

Matt and I are very excited. Neither of us have ever owned a home before, and we feel both grown-up and scared stiff at the same time. So many new changes will be coming in the next few months. The good news is that we can be all moved in by the end of February, so there will be some time for us to relax and get settled before the baby arrives to change everything again.

"She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid."
It has been a super experience with this company. I got to pick out my colour package for what I wanted inside, and tomorrow I get to go choose my blinds which they will install for us before we move in! It's like playing The Sims, but actually being able to live in it afterward.

My only concern left is: will the duct tape on my couch match the flooring in the living room?

17 January 2014

Flat-Out Friday: Baby Shaming

Stop me if you've done this before: You've just dressed to go out, and you turn and look in the mirror. "Well, I guess it won't ever look like it did on the mannequin," you think with a sigh before heading out the door. With me so far? We all know that's body shaming, and we ALL know that it's wrong, that we shouldn't do it to ourselves, and that it isn't healthy.

I have a confession to make: since I got pregnant, I've reverted back to doing it. Except now, it's more like "baby shaming".

It started innocently enough. I was trying on clothes in a maternity store in November when the sales lady asked me how far along I was. "15 weeks", I declared with a smile. And for that, I got an "Oh." Oh? Who says OH? People who are judging you based on how you look, that's who. And with that seed planted in my mind, it has been a daily battle ever since. I even made a face and excuses when my own mother asked me for belly photos so she can see the baby's progress from three provinces away.

Does it matter that I'm not 5'9" and skinny to begin with so that my perfectly round belly can be seen above the waistline of my designer lowcut jeans that still fit me? According to the lady who works in an industry where she sees pregnant women every single day, it does. Does it matter that my belly isn't actually perfectly round at all, but kinda slopes out from underneath my heart until it gets all wibbly down around my belly button? Oh, you bet it does because it isn't shaped like the little pillow they give you for trying clothes on.

All right then. Find me the pillow that's been run over by an armoured car. Find me the pants that will take away the swelling that just gets bigger as I grow, and will even out the places where my abdominal tissue has been eaten away by lumps of injured and calcified flesh. Find my the shirt that, at 6 months pregnant, will make me look like the classically pregnant lady and not just like someone trying to cram themselves into whatever they have in the closet. Betcha you can't, because it doesn't exist.

At my check-up two weeks ago I finally hit the weight I was when I first got pregnant. That's GAINING IT BACK, folks. I lost weight consistently until I hit the 4 month mark. Constant sickness and an sudden aversion to many foods will do that to you. So you would think that in my head I would know that I'm gaining weight safely, naturally, and that if anything, my baby might be a bit on the small side.

You would think that. But no.

I have to go in for the Glucose Tolerance Test on Monday - the stage 2 one with the waiting and the fasting and all that jazz. Apparently my sister and my mother both had to do this test, so it's probably just genetic that we were all a little elevated in our blood sugars during pregnancy. The way I broke down and cried when I found out, though - well, I thought I was a monster, that I couldn't even grow a baby properly, that I was a general waste of humanity. None of my logic - my previous injuries, my healthy weight gain, my genetics - helped at all. I was baby shaming in the highest degree.


Inside me right now is growing a beautiful baby boy, and he will be loved and cherished. So his mum should feel the same way while she helps him grow, social norms and expectations be damned.

Yep, that's Christmas Daleks and the TARDIS on my shirt

To the lady at the maternity store: I am creating life and I am magnificent. 
To all the pictures on the internet: I have strength and courage beyond imagination.
To all pregnant ladies and mothers: My beauty will shine through every time my child smiles.
To myself I will add: I will remember this every single day.

15 January 2014

From One Survivor to Another

This week I was asked by a dear friend to send along a note of encouragement and support to one of his family members who was unlucky enough to experience something similar to what I did two years ago. This request was very humbling but I agreed right away. Today, I would like to share what I sent with all of you. 

(PS: the recipient is a giant Doctor Who fan - I couldn't help myself.)

... two years ago I ended up being as incredibly unlucky as you. I was crossing a street in Medicine Hat on the green light when an armoured car went through it. I ended up with three broken vertebrae, three complete breaks in my pelvis, a broken leg, broken ankles and feet, and a lot of messed up stuff in my head. It took me a long time to get better, but I wanted to write to you to let you know a few things:  
  1. IT CAN HAPPEN. It may not be 100% or occur exactly the way you expect it, and it may take a lot longer than you want it to, but with faith and courage you will suddenly reach a point where the measly 1% left won't matter anymore, and you'll be left with the raw strength and willpower that comes from doing something most people would find too painful to bear. I can walk, I can dance, I can bear children. No one believed I would be able to do this when my accident first happened. I did, and now I can.
  2. Besides, you should congratulating yourself. YOU'RE A SURVIVOR! No one will ever be able to take that away from you. You experienced something awful and you are kicking its butt every single day just by being here and fighting to get better. 
  3. Speaking of which, YOU ARE THE ONE FIGHTING THIS which means you have the freedom to do all kinds of things you wouldn't normally do: cry, scream, be sad, have a rough day. But it also means that somewhere deep inside you have the power to laugh, smile, dream about the future, and make plans for when "it's all over". Don't feel guilty about your feelings. They are yours and there is no one else in the room who can understand exactly why you are feeling them. 
  4. So, the best thing for you and your loved ones is to LET EVERYTHING OUT. Don't bottle your feelings, and don't ask your family and friends to bottle theirs. Everyone right now is grieving, all in their own ways, and getting through that grief so you can get to the hope that lies underneath is a huge step in figuring all this stuff out.
  5. KEEP YOUR BRAIN STRONG. Sure, that's easier said than done in a hospital where all the walls have dumb medical equipment on them that remind you of all the pain you've already been through, but try. Do crosswords, have someone read aloud to you, play games, solve puzzles: there are so many options, especially with the free wi-fi courtesy of the hospital, that there is no reason why you should ever be lying in bed confronting your memories if you don't want to. That being said...
  6. LET THE PROFESSIONALS HELP. That is what they are there for. Don't think of them as strangers or be concerned that they might think your fears are silly. They are not the ones that survived the traumatic experience; you did. Tell them everything, no matter how ridiculous you think it is (including how scared you are of needles). You'd be surprised how healing having someone listen is. I guarantee it will drain you at first and you won't want to talk about your sessions, but understand that you don't have to until you are ready.
  7. People will ask (if they haven't already) "So, are you better now?" My response was always a very simple and firm, "No". You don't need to apologize for your answer or qualify it in any way. If they don't know you well enough that they ask you insensitive questions like that, don't waste your time. LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO PUT UP WITH DUMB PEOPLE. (See also #3)
  8. It's been two years since my accident. I have seen countless doctors, mental health professionals, physiotherapists, etc., and the one piece of advice I can safely offer about all of this is that NO ONE PERSON KNOWS ALL THE ANSWERS
  9. I'm sure right now you're feeling more like a prop than a patient, as all the decision makers whisk in and out and spout random bits of your medical history at you. Don't let them make you feel like that. ASK QUESTIONS. If someone doesn't know the answer, ask the next person that comes in. Ask the same questions over and over until they either send someone in to talk to you directly or until you get a satisfactory reply. Everyone has opinions - it takes a keen patient to differentiate between those opinions and solid medical fact. The professionals I got the most useful info from were always my physiotherapists, so even if the question wasn't directly related, I'd still ask them. As a group they really like fixing things - it's why they became physiotherapists in the first place. If they don't know the answer or if there is a problem you need dealt with, they are the best people to help you "fix" it.
  10. Once you get answers to your questions, you'll begin to feel like you're taking charge of your own healing. This is good because NO ONE CAN HEAL YOU BUT YOU. You have to be in charge of it. That means telling your physiotherapist that today hasn't been a good day, or letting your nurses know that you are uncomfortable and need help to move. But it also means that on good days you push yourself as far as you can. It means having achievable goals and believing you can do just a little more than yesterday. And then at some point out of the blue you will be able to turn the corner into your hospital room and walk up to your mom without any help, who will insist on taking pictures even though she's crying and can't really see the screen. And then, a little after that, you'll be sleeping in your own bed at home and nothing in the world feels better than that first night at home. Nothing.
My own recovery was full of setbacks. Yours will be too. But I hope that this advice helps you push through them. Each one will peel away a little more of who you think you are, and when you reach your 99% point, you will be shiny, you will be strong, and you will believe you are the person that your mother always saw inside you. Every one of the steps you take now you are taking for you. Make the most of them.

Feel free to email me back if you have any specific questions. Like I said, I've done all this stuff and I not only survived it, I beat it up, stood on top of it, and shouted "I HAVE THE POWER!"

One last piece of advice: If you have a really bad day, one that you can't possibly see the light in, remember the 9th Doctor staring down the Daleks. You are the Doctor and this is part of your reincarnation. Tell those Daleks exactly what will happen if they mess with you. Like I said, don't hold anything back.

I'm sure you will make a grand Time Lord. Welcome to the Survivor's Guild.

All the best,