Thursday, March 31, 2011

Growing with Beauty

Last Friday I saw both the perinatologist and my ob again.  The boys actually came to the ultrasound with Bryan and I so that they, too, could get a peek at Beauty.  It was hard to get a good look at her face because her legs were right in front of it, but the boys enjoyed seeing her nonetheless. 

They measured my amniotic fluid again, and it was even higher than last time, so I do officially have polyhydramnios.  My abdomen measurements support this as I measured 32 weeks pregnant when I was only 27 weeks.  So, I am measuring a full five weeks ahead.  I look pretty darn pregnant.  In fact, today a man at Bed, Bath, and Beyond asked me, "How many more months do you have?  Or should I say weeks, days, hours?"  Despite the extra fluid, the perinatologist seemed pretty relaxed about the state of affairs.  His biggest concern is preterm labor, as is ours.  He did tell us that two-thirds of women with polyhydramnios have no known cause for it, and though Samuel's heart was a cause for it last time, in all likelihood there is no real reason for it this time -- especially since I passed the glucose test and do not have gestational diabetes.  Bryan and I are both feeling pretty calm and unconcerned about the diagnosis.  I continue to have some apprehension about Beauty's lungs being fully developed when she arrives, mainly because of how underdeveloped Samuel's were, but otherwise I'd say we're resting easy.

Because of my extra fluid, once I reach 32 weeks I will begin twice weekly doctor's appointments.  I did the same thing with Samuel.  I will see my ob on Mondays for a non-stress test where they strap a belt around my belly and monitor Beauty's movements and heartbeat, and then on Fridays I will have an ultrasound to measure fluid, look at the blood flow to the umbilical cord, check to see she is not under stress, etc.  It's rather inconvenient to arrange childcare twice a week, but the upside is that we'll know how she's doing on a very regular basis.  And we'll get lots of ultrasound pictures of our cutie.  :)  Actually, one of Samuel's 3D ultrasound pictures from a year and a half ago is on the bulletin board at the perinatologists', and I love to look at it and even touch it when I walk by.  It's very faded, and soon I'm sure they will take it down, but it's strangely comforting to know my baby boy is gracing the wall of somewhere other than our house.

As I entered the third trimester today (28 weeks) and as we prepare for Beauty's arrival, I am getting more and more excited about meeting her.  We are picking out a paint color for her room and are in the process of transitioning it from Samuel's room to Beauty's room.  Every day it is a little less Samuel's as we paint swatches on the wall, organize the closet and put her few girl clothes front and center, and pick out paper with which to make and frame her initials.  Last week I called it Beauty's room once, and Caleb was immediately bothered.  He said, "It's not Beauty's room!  It's Samuel's room!"  I told him I was feeling kind of confused about it and wasn't sure what to call it.  I explained that it was Samuel's room, but it will be Beauty's room, and I never know what to name it.  I asked him what he thought we should do, and he decided to call it "the baby's room."  I am happy for him to do so, but it doesn't really satisfy my confusion.  I finally decided to call it Samuel's room until we truly transition it to her room -- paint it, change the decorations, put up her initials, etc.  Even if Samuel was alive, we would move him into another room and turn "the baby's room" into Beauty's room.  Once upon a time it was Joel's room, and we moved him out to make room for Samuel.  So it is a room that would have held Joel, Samuel, and Beauty, and therefore it doesn't feel so heartbreaking for it to cease being Samuel's room.  Part of the closet is allotted to Samuel's things -- the keepsakes I sorted through awhile ago, the blanket we wrapped and held him in while he was dying, the lovely afghan my grandmother knit for him while he was in my womb, etc.  It will be sad to have his life relegated to a corner of the closet, but at the same time, it feels like a natural part of healing and grieving.  And his picture will stay in the room as will the wooden block with all his birth stats that my brother's family gave us shortly after he was born.

I do find myself missing him a lot lately.  Today when Beauty gave me a particularly sharp kick, I started to call her Samuel, and it made me sad.  I have been trying to envision what life with four would be like -- a 6 year old, 4 year old, not quite 2 year old, and a newborn.  When I think about it, my head spins a little.  I wish we had gotten the chance to live that chaos though I wonder how crazy it would have beeen if Samuel wasn't a healthy boy.  No doubt our world would be surprisingly different if Samuel had lived but still required intense medical care.  Despite how much I miss him, I do love thinking about him healthy, happy, and complete in Heaven. 

These are days in which I try to live in peace and joy and make the most of this time I have with my daughter.  There are no promises that I will have many, many days to spend with her, so I am cherishing each day I get -- with hopes of abundantly more.  Bryan and I are mentally preparing for 8 more weeks of pregnancy instead of 12 since Samuel made his entrance 3 1/2 weeks early, and my fluid levels mean an early birth is likely.  So we're working hard to prepare for her arrival, to finally settle on one of the two names we've narrowed the list down to, and to increase the boys' independence and responsibilities.  We are living in hopes of a healthy baby and many changes ahead, and we are trusting God to be God.  In the days before our daughter makes her arrival, we are thankful for a God we can depend on, that we don't have to live in fear, and that He created this little one exactly as He saw fit.  We can't wait to see her for ourselves.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Beauty Update

I had an ultrasound this afternoon to look at our Beauty girl again.  Boy, is she cute!  The sonographer checked her stomach measurement which they had been minorly concerned about last time, and it was completely normal.  In fact, it's now above average.  So that was certainly good news.

The news I wasn't so happy to get is about my amniotic fluid.  With Samuel I had polyhydramnios -- too much amniotic fluid -- and in all likelihood that was because of his heart defect.  Today I learned that my amniotic fluid is once again high.   High amniotic fluid can be an indication that 1) something is wrong with the baby's heart, 2) something is wrong with the baby's kidneys, or 3) the mother has gestational diabetes (diabetes only during pregnancy).  So far, both Beauty's heart and kidneys appear to be normal.  So we will wait and see if my gestational diabetes test is positive.  After discussing the results with me, they actually had me go back in the ultrasound room to remeasure the amniotic fluid, and the second time they were even higher -- and she measured me twice on my second go just to be sure, with the second of those measurements the highest of them all.

Should this condition persist, I will be at risk for preterm labor.  That is concerning given Samuel's under-developed lungs.  Lungs are the last organ to develop in pregnancy, and though Samuel was 36 1/2 weeks (nearly full-term), his lungs looked like a baby born at 26 weeks (which I will be next week).  I did ask if polyhydramnios is related to poor lung development, and the NP told me that it's actually the reverse: too little amniotic fluid can result in poor lung development.  At least that was a relief.

The doctors are clearly concerned about this new state of affairs, but they are not alarmed.  I would say that fairly accurately describes how Bryan and I are feeling as well.  It makes me nervous to know that something is going on that can be indicative of heart defects and to know we're at risk for an early birth and therefore the possibility of under-developed lungs.  Repeating any of the diagnoses we faced with Samuel is not something I am keen to do.

Most of all, this has reminded me that nothing is certain or promised in regards to Beauty.  It makes me work to open my hands back up and hold her loosely before God, knowing she is His, not mine.  Bryan and I have never assumed we will have a healthy baby to hold, love, and raise at the end of this pregnancy, but slowly over the last months, I have begun to think that Beauty will probably be the baby we have beseeched God to grant us.  Today shook that a little.  Regardless, God is enough NO MATTER what is ahead, but I am praying for smooth sailing.  :)  We covet your prayers as well.  We want to rest in the peace that God is good and faithful and sufficient.  I want to live by the mantra that kept me sane and peaceful during Samuel's life: "You will keep in perfect peace him whose thoughts are fixed on you" (Isaiah 26:3).  And I don't want my history to make me panicky or fearful or anxious.  I simply want to trust God to be God, and I want to confidently follow where He leads.  In all likelihood, Beauty is healthy, and my amniotic fluid won't have a significant impact on her well-being or her life when she makes her entrance.  And I don't want to waste the upcoming weeks in fear or trembling.  Instead I want to treasure her life and the time I have with her in my belly, and I want to rest in my good God.

A couple of weeks ago -- 23 1/2 weeks pregnant

Ultrasound pictures of Beauty at 25 weeks:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Grief Heavy Week

Last week was unusually grief-filled for me.  With Beauty on the way, we have a lot of projects we hope to accomplish before her arrival, and one of them has been hanging over my head for nearly a year and a half.  All of the precious things we have from Samuel's short life are in a keepsake box the hospital gave us when he died.  When we got home that day, I just put it on the floor under the picture window in our room.  As notes, cards, letters, and gifts arrived in the days following his death, we started to put them under the window too, until pretty soon it was an ungainly pile of nearly every tangible link we have to Samuel.  It continued to mount, and I continued to avoid organizing it and sorting through it.  We read every word that came to us in those days, but I didn't know what to do with them afterward, so to the pile they went.

For over the last year, that collection of things has been on my mind and not just as an eyesore.  I knew I needed to go through it all, order it, and put it away, but I shuddered at the thought of actually doing it.  So it just sat there.  Once we knew Beauty was coming, my burden for the pile grew, and two weekends ago I finally tackled it.  I went through Samuel's box and found his hospital tags, his foot and hand prints, his socks which were the only article of clothing he ever wore while alive, a picture the NICU took of him in his first hours of life while we waited anxiously in a post-delivery room, the blanket he laid on the last week of his life in the CICU, the once white but now bloodstained prayer pillow case someone gave us that is covered in verses and the meanings of Samuel's name, his newborn birth statistics from the hospital, the molding of his foot, the sign I made with his name on it that hung above his bed, and numerous other keepsakes.  Going through them was heartrending in many ways.  I am thankful for every little treasure we have from his life, but holding them, smelling them to see if any scent of his lingers, and remembering the overwhelming joy at his birth as well as the incomparable pain at his death was difficult and exhausting.

After I went through his memory box, I reread every letter and card we received and organized them in a large file box as well as a shoebox.   I was touched anew at the kindness of our friends, our church, and even strangers.  So many letters that were meaningful at the time were healing afresh, and I shed a lot of tears pouring over those pages.  I even found one Chili's gift card that we missed the first time through.  For those hours, I felt like I re-entered the world of intense grief: loss, sorrow, heaviness, ache, weariness, and tears engulfed me.  When I finally finished sorting through everything, I was completely exhausted and felt like I needed to sleep for the rest of the day.  It took a lot out of me.  But, I am glad I did it.  I am grateful for the reminder of God's incredible care for us and people's genuine displays of love and compassion.  And I am glad to look under our window and see a cleared out space with just a memory box, a shoebox, and a file box waiting to go into the Samuel's closet (or is it Beauty's?  I am struggling with calling it Samuel's room or Beauty's room as both names seem to neglect the other precious life) once I clean it out.

A few days later was the year and a half anniversary of Samuel's death.  I was heavy-hearted all that day and just plain lonesome for my baby boy.  It is hard to believe that so much time has elapsed since we were in Samuel's presence.  A year and a half sounds like a significant amount of time, and feeling so far removed from his life makes me sad.  In some ways I feel thankful because we've experienced much of the healing I expected a year and half to bring, and in some ways I feel heartbroken that it's been so long.  Time is a friend and an enemy in grief as it softens the wounds of loss but also pulls us away from the one we love.  I picture Samuel stranded in an ocean, and the current of time pulls me ever farther from him, my body drifting helplessly away from my son.  Though the waves push me closer to land, they take me from what I treasure and long to cling to.  I know time is part of this grief journey, but sometimes I find myself resenting it while other times I am on my knees in gratitude for its gradual lifting of pain.  The year and half anniversary was a grief-laden day for me.

A couple of nights later, I woke up around 4:30 am and couldn't go back to sleep for thinking about Samuel and our days when he was alive.  I kept playing through our routine in the first weeks of his life when we still came home at night to sleep.  I started thinking that in a few months I will wake up at some crazy hour every night to nurse Beauty.  That reminded me of how awful it was to have to wake up in the middle of the night to pump during Samuel's life.  We would stumble in the house around 8:00pm after a full day at the hospital, barely in time to kiss Caleb and Joel goodnight.  Then we would sit down to a very late and quiet dinner, too worn out to talk about our day or even fill my mom in on what happened.  Usually that was followed by writing a blog entry and trying to stay awake long enough for a late night pumping before crawling into bed in complete exhaustion.  Around 3:30 am, my alarm would go off, and I would wake up to the horrible realization that our baby was in the CICU, and his life was by no means certain.  I would have to turn on the lights to pump, all the while dreading the phone call I was going to have to make to the CICU to see how Samuel was doing in the hours since we'd last called to check on him.  Then Bryan or I would have to fully sterilize all the equipment and go downstairs to put the milk in the freezer, my stomach in knots every second about the impending phone call.  Once I finally picked up the phone, my hands and body were usually shaking, fearing what news we might receive.  On more than one occasion, we got very discouraging news about Samuel in the night, and that meant staying awake longer to call back for an update and fearing the worst in every minute of waiting.  Then our alarms would wake us early, so we could shower, eat breakfast, spend a short while with Caleb and Joel, and leave in time to make the 45-60 minute drive and arrive when the floor opened back up after shift change.  Living that day over and over in those weeks was beyond tiring.  It was completely unsustainable.

In some ways, it was easier once we were at the hospital 24 hours a day.  Even though we climbed in bed at 12:00, woke at 5:45 to see Samuel for about an hour before shift change and to pump, and then tried to steal an extra 45 minutes of sleep (yeah, right) before eating breakfast, showering, and getting back on the floor when it opened, it wasn't as taxing as being away from Samuel all night long.  I knew bad news was coming while we were at Egleston full-time, but I also knew we were only a hallway away, and my attention didn't have to be so divided.  Anyway, remembering all of that kept me awake the rest of the night, and I was in a bit of a daze the next day.

All in all, last week was the hardest grief week I've had in some time.  I simply miss our Samuel.  I wonder if Beauty's arrival will spark a whole new wave of grief.  I've read from numerous sources that the gift of a new, healthy baby can be extremely difficult in terms of grief.  I have no doubt she will be part of our healing, but I anticipate she may very well be part of our grieving too.  Grief is a strange road, and no two roads are the same.  I am thankful for this journey God has faithfully carried us through thus far, and I am thankful that more healing is ahead.  I am grateful for the little girl who is kicking me with surprising force while I write about her big brother, and I am glad that God will be with us in the healing and grief that accompany her arrival.  Strange as it may sound, I thank God for the grief He has brought into our lives and for the ways He has used it to shape us, to change us, and to shower us with love.  I wouldn't trade our grief for a suddenly healed and joyful me.  The journey of healing and hurting has been an unexpected gift, and I believe it will continue to be a blessing in my life.