Monday, January 21, 2013

lullaby and goodnight

Like most women, I didn't sleep well during pregnancy. My nose was always stuffy. I couldn't get comfortable. And I had to pee every couple hours. This pregnancy pillow helped me a lot. I don't think it helped Andrew very much, but he was okay with it.

Fast forward to the end of my pregnancy...contractions started in the middle of the night, stealing precious hours of sleep. Harriet was born at 4:19 in the morning, so I obviously didn't sleep that night either. We had originally planned to keep Harriet with us continually during our time at the hospital, but we were exhausted and the nurses kindly took her for a couple hours here and there so we could rest. And so it began...

No one expects to get much sleep during the first few months of their child's life, and neither did we. Harriet slept in a cosleeper next to our bed which I loved because I heard her cries immediately and was able to nurse her in bed. It also allowed me to check on her several times an hour (you think I'm joking) to make sure she was breathing. Pregnancy had been scary but now that my child was here and I had fallen in love with her, I was terrified of losing her. Several times during those first six months, I walked around our house, praying a shield of protection against SIDS over this space. Between the anxiety, the frequent nursings, and those squeaky little grunts newborns make, we didn't sleep much. Again, that's pretty normal. But there were times in those first couple months when she'd go sixteen hours without sleeping at all. That's not so normal for a newborn.

I started wondering if we had a challenging sleeper on our hands when she was about four months old. It just seemed to take forever to get her down. And she woke so often. She would sleep if she was nursing or being held, but if she was set down somewhere, she had trouble. There were plenty of times when I would be nursing her and stand up, walk over to her cosleeper and lay her down without unlatching her. I would balance precariously with one knee on the bed and my elbows on the desk, allowing her to continue to nurse until I very slowly unlatched her and eased myself into bed. During one of these scenarios, she started to cry when I unlatched her, so I put my face right down by hers and shhhhhed to try to get her to fall back asleep. She latched onto my bottom lip. I was so desperate for sleep that I just froze, afraid that she'd wake if I pulled away. It hurt like crazy! She gave me a fat lip...and woke up an hour later.

We moved her into her own room when she was six months old. It's a lovely nursery, my favorite room in the house. I would love to sleep in there.

Andrew was a big proponent of moving her to her own room, but the night that we actually made the switch, I gingerly laid her in the crib and then brought him upstairs to see how tiny and precious she looked. "Take her out of there!" he said, "She's way too little! It's so sad and tomorrow is your birthday. Do it a different day!" But we stayed strong and left her room, leaving Murphy behind to watch over her. He stayed in the nursery with her at night for a couple months, her guardian brother dog. 

People often asked us if she was sleeping through the night yet. "She's working on it," we would say. We just assumed she'd eventually figure it out. But month after month went by with very little progress. Now she's thirteen months old and she still sleeps like a newborn.

We have tried white noise. We've tried white noise plus one fan. White noise plus two fans. No white noise. Just the fans. Complete darkness. A nightlight. We've tried her door open and closed. We've tried having her sleep in our bed. We've leaned a vibrating baby seat up against the crib. We've put a vibrating chair massager under her crib mattress. We've slept on her floor. We've patted her back, sang to her, bounced her, walked her, brought her into our bed. We've tried tylenol, teething rings and two kinds of teething ointment. We've turned the thermostat up and and we've turned it down. We've dressed her in different types of clothing. We've put a sippy cup, a blanket, and a stuffed animal in her crib. We've let grandparents try. We've changed up her diet. We've changed up my diet. We weaned her completely. We watch for her tired signs and try to put her down at the perfect moment. We've taken her to two pediatricians and a chiropractor. We've gotten two different prescriptions for acid reflux. We wear her out with playing and fresh air. We've kept multiple sleep logs and journals. And we let her cry it out.

Crying it out is a controversial topic. I won't go into that here, but I will say that our research (and our hearts) told us that it wasn't the right choice for our family. But when everything else had failed us and Andrew was working a long stretch of nights, I felt I had no choice. So for two or three weeks, I let her cry it out. I would go in at increasing intervals and check on her, lay her back down, pat her back a bit, and remind her that she was okay. But she would not be soothed, let alone soothe herself. During that period of time, only once did she actually cry herself to sleep.  I was sort of shocked when she stopped crying, so I went in to check on her. She was asleep standing up with her arms and head resting on the crib rail. She had vomited and pooped. This wasn't the first time she had puked or filled her diaper while crying it out, but it was the last. This technique works for lots of families, but it didn't work for us. We were done.

I posted on Facebook about Harriet's sleep a couple weeks ago, asking for prayer. That night, she slept eleven hours straight. The next night was great as well. Since then, we've had good nights here and there (waking only once or twice) with plenty of ugly nights in between (waking three to six times).

Harriet's naps have always been a struggle too. She usually gets two half-hour naps. Some days she only gets one. We always try for two naps, but they often fail completely. We used to drive her around during her naps sometimes but there were plenty of times when I'd drive for forty-five minutes before she'd doze off, and then I'd pull into a parking lot and she'd wake immediately. It's not uncommon for us to try to get her down for a nap for an hour, only to have her sleep less than ten minutes.

As you can probably tell, this has been quite a struggle for us. I have resisted blogging about it until now for two reasons. First, focusing on it makes me feel so discouraged. Second, I feel really sensitive about this topic. In some ways, I feel like a complete failure in this area. I feel like getting a baby to sleep should be a simple thing, but I can't do it. No matter how hard I try, I lose this battle. Everyone has ideas about what we're doing wrong. The vast majority of these ideas are shared lovingly and with compassion. Please keep them coming. I'm not asking that you stop trying to help us. But it's still tough to be so stumped. I feel like people (some people, not everyone) must blame me for Harriet's sleep issues. I hear the voices...

"If they had only..."
"They never should have..."
"If it were me..."

It's hard not to internalize it. It's hard to feel good about myself as a mom when my daughter is so exhausted that clipping her fingernails upsets her to the point of gagging. It's embarrassing to take Harriet to someone's house and have to leave prematurely so that we can drive her around during her nap.

I cannot imagine a life where you don't dread nighttime, where you put your baby to bed and then snuggle up on the couch with your husband to watch Downton Abbey and have a bowl of ice cream. When Harriet goes to bed, we don't do anything. We don't even flush the toilets for fear of waking her. We share about our days in whispered tones and then we go to 8:00 or 9:00 because we will be up again in just a few hours.

Like I've mentioned before, my anxiety has taken this issue and run with it. I often lie awake at night, just waiting for her to wake up. My heart beats so fast and with such force that falling asleep is totally out of the question. This lack of sleep has caused my hair to fall out, my skin to break out and my weight to yoyo. It has affected my ability to process information quickly, to make decisions and to think rationally. It has caused my emotions to run amuck. It has tricked Andrew and I into thinking that we are on opposing teams. It has caused me to question whether prayer really works.

Things could be worse. They could be much, much, much worse. This is a thorn in our side. It could be a dagger, but it's not. It's just a thorn. But we feel the thorn's prick all day long and it affects everything we do. I am not complaining. It sounds like I'm complaining, but I'm not. Last night, after Andrew had fought the good fight for fifty minutes, I took over. As I rhythmically patted her back and sang to her, I smiled and I felt at peace. God has given me this girl. I cannot imagine a better life than the one I have. And there are moments when wisdom overcomes exhaustion and I realize that Harriet's lack of sleep means I get more moments with her than a lot of parents get with their kids. It doesn't matter so much that those moments are at 4:00 in the morning. So I keep patting her back, shhing her gently, and singing...

I cast all my cares upon You. 
I lay all of my burdens down at Your feet. 
And any time...I don't know...what to do...
I cast all my cares upon You. 

I really, really don't know what to do. Some days are really good. And other days, I feel like I'm unraveling. Harriet had an MRI last Monday. It was originally ordered because her head was growing too big too fast for the doctor's liking, but the sleep clinic said that they would also be very interested in the results. The imaging showed everything to be normal. We are so grateful for good results. We have a consult with a sleep specialist on February 1st. I will keep you updated. We have a great team already. Harriet's grandparents have been wonderful about coming over some mornings so that Andrew and I can sleep in. My mother-in-law answered my tearful phone call a couple weeks ago at 6:00 in the morning and came straight over. We are so glad that we'll now be adding doctors to our team.

Thanks to all of you who have joined our team by praying for us. We are so very grateful. I am no longer able to pray that Harriet will sleep, that she will have a good night, that this problem will be solved. I just can't bring myself to say those words. I am instead praying that God will allow us to retain our strength and uphold our joy no matter how long this struggle lasts.

Friday, January 11, 2013

to do list

A few years ago, I was reading every infertility book I could get my hands on. I scoured websites looking for tips and tricks. I figured there had to be some magical secret that would bring me a baby. I'm a list person, so I created a Word document and started to compile suggestions from eastern medicine, western medicine, and other women who had been there. Some of these are specific to my condition, polycystic ovarian syndrome. I want to remind everyone that I'm not a medical professional. I am not suggesting you should do any of these. Neither am I discouraging you from trying them. This post is purely for entertainment. Here goes...

1. Eat two tablespoons of cinnamon per day to lower blood sugar. I literally bought three giant containers of cinnamon at Costco and scooped heaping tablespoons into my mouth. More than once, the way-too-strong taste overcame me and I coughed, creating a reddish brown cloud that covered everything around me in a layer of cinnamon and spit. It was so, so, so gross. But I did it. Then one day my acupuncturist told me that only a specific type of cinnamon lowers blood sugar. Not the Costco kind...dang.

2. No multitasking. I was never very successful with this one. As I write this, I am eating a cookie and doing squats...yeah, I know.

3. Think positively - picture yourself being pregnant, tell yourself that you are looking forward to being pregnant in the next few months, etc. This one was way too painful. It felt like I was playing a mean joke on myself. I totally understand why it would be valuable and I hope to do it the next time around, but a couple years ago, thinking positively was beyond my scope.

4. Get regular acupuncture. I have always struggled with needles, but getting stuck at least once/week (sometimes as many as 15 times/week) during treatment cycles can cure you of that pretty quickly. I had seen an acupuncturist once before for reasons unrelated to fertility. It was actually a pretty pleasant experience. She put about four needles in my hands and feet and let me lie there for about a half hour, listening to Enya or something like that. But this time around, a friend recommended her acupuncturist, so I thought I'd give him a try.

He is the sweetest, most gentle, fatherly man. I always felt very comforted by him emotionally but no one has ever put me through more physical discomfort than this guy. He is serious about his needling. Once or twice per week, I visited his serene clinic with the lovely music and calming lighting, where he proceeded to treat me like a voodoo doll. "How deep are you sticking those needles?" I asked through gritted teeth as he jabbed me in the stomach and hips. "About an inch and a half," he said calmly. Sometimes he would stick me with thirty-something needles in a session. Other times, he would pick this dreaded spot on my shin that hurt like crazy...and twist the needle...way too many times. He often shook burning herbs around me, leaving me smelling like I'd been hanging out with Snoop Dogg and Justin Bieber. Even worse were the times he hooked the needles up to mini jumper cables that were plugged into an electrical box. They sent small (his word, not mine) electric surges into the needles that made my face and hands twitch with every pulse even though the needles were in my legs and feet.

Thankfully, he talked non-stop about his life story, his family, something he heard on NPR...all of this helped distract me. He was way too smart for me and I constantly lied when he asked if I had heard of this historical figure or that jazz musician. His wife was usually at the clinic and he would often give her awkward tasks like massaging my stomach or arranging the towel just right to give me privacy. And despite the pain, the long commute to the clinic, the awkward moments when the towel slipped, the financial cost, and the many stories that were way over my head, I always felt genuinely liked and cared for by this couple. One day, during an especially low time, I asked my acupuncturist if there was a point he could needle for hope. "We'll see what we can do," he said. I'm pretty sure he was making it up as he went, but I think it worked. And several weeks later, I was pregnant.

5. Do a full-body herbal cleanse. If you aren't depressed about your infertility yet, this will do it for sure. I visited the office of a homeopath where she asked me lots of kind, insightful questions about myself and listened like a therapist would. Then she had me lie down on my back on a massage table and hang my right arm straight out to the side. She set jars of supplements on my chest one at a time. With each supplement, she would push down on my arm to test my strength. She said that I was stronger with certain supplements and weaker with others. This was very bizarre and difficult to believe but also difficult to dispute. Then she convinced me to purchase these prenatal vitamins and a tub of powder for my prescribed cleanse. One hundred and fifty dollars later, I was on my way, trying to figure out how to explain this to Andrew. It was going to be a challenge. Speaking of a challenge...the cleanse itself was misery. I was only allowed to eat leafy greens, apples, and these gross shakes. I remember going to a baby shower at work and not even being able to eat the cake because of this stupid cleanse. Nothing like adding insult to injury. Some people swear by these things. I guess I'm just not that strong.

6. Use a hot water bottle at 110 degrees for 20-60 minutes on your belly between period and ovulation. Didn't do it. I wasn't sure how to take the water bottle's temperature. Plus, I haven't had a period in ten years and I don't ovulate, so...

7. Use castor oil packs on your belly three times per week for 45-60 minutes at a time for 90 days. What even is castor oil? Sounds gross. 

8. Cut out cold foods. This one is surprisingly a challenge for me. In fact, I craved cold foods during our IVF cycle. Probably just because I knew I wasn't supposed to have them.

9. Stop eating peas. A friend told me that there's this part of the world where fertility is extremely low. Apparently they eat a lot of peas there, and some scientists are making a connection. I like peas, but I rarely eat them now. 

10. Egg whites, turkey get the picture. Apparently the egg whites are supposed to act like cervical mucus and basically create a slip-and-slide for the sperm. I'm not joking.

11. No more sugar. Sigh. Do I even have to explain how difficult this one is for me? My sugar cravings have always been super powerful. On more than one occasion, when unable to find sweets in the house, I have poured sugar directly from the canister into my mouth. Even worse, we aren't just talking about refined sugars. Fructose (fruit sugar) is bad. Lactose (milk sugar) is even worse for people with PCOS. Carbohydrates contain sugars. I'm supposed to eat low-fat protein, non-starchy green and white vegetables, cold water fish and seafood, white meat poultry, eggs and limited amounts of certain fruits. This actually sounds delicious. I love these types of foods, but it's the convenience factor that gets me. And the sugar cravings. Those don't help.

12. Lose 5-10% of body weight. Nursing was my diet plan and personal trainer in one. I pumped a lot, WAY more than Harriet could have ever used, so I lost my baby weight fairly quickly and I recently weighed less (by a pound) than I did in college. I felt so great. But then we started weaning. The weight is slowly but surely piling back on, and I've got to do something about it. Having a small child and living in a very cold part of the country makes it difficult to exercise, so I've got to get creative. The other day, I tried to do a kickboxing video in my living room. I stepped on a toy and almost fell. Harriet was freaked out and wanted me to hold her. And the dog was attacking me.

There are so many more. So, so many. I do my best. Sometimes my best is pretty impressive. And other times, my best is crap. As I was drafting this post, I started to notice myself heading in the direction of self pity, as in, "it's such a bummer that I even have to think about this stuff." But then I realized that most of these things should be on all of our to-do lists, fertile or infertile. Why did I even consider complaining about about having to take good care of my body? 

The egg whites...that's a different story.

Friday, January 4, 2013

a century

My grandpa turned 100 on December 15th. He was born in 1912, the youngest of 12 children. His parents traveled to America by boat from a German colony in Russia, then took a wagon the rest of the way. When they got here, they dug a hole in the ground, tipped the wagon upside down on top of the hole and filled in the gaps with mud and sod. They lived in that makeshift structure while they built something more permanent. My grandpa was born in that sod house. He lived on a farm, taught in a one-room schoolhouse, sang in a men's quartet, traveled the world, raised five children, and helped build a submarine. His 100 years have been fully lived.

I volunteered to speak at his birthday party. Here's what I said...

"When I think about my grandpa’s life, or at least the quarter of it that I’ve been able to witness, I think of three things: family, service, and hope.

The first thing, family, comes to mind right away because my grandpa has always been very committed to his family. I spent quite a bit of time at their home as a child and those days are some of my sweetest and most vivid memories. I remember feeding ducks at the arboretum, watching puppet shows in the park, and picking raspberries in the backyard. I remember watching cartoons together and eating pistachio pudding. I remember warm meals and wonderful conversations about what it was like to grow up a whole century ago. I couldn’t get enough of those stories.

I was kind of a theatrical kid. I loved attention. And my grandparents were my absolute biggest fans. Whether there happened to be an ice-skating show on the tile in their basement, a circus on the tire swing in their backyard, or a concert in their living room, they never missed a show. My grandma would pop popcorn and my grandpa would buy it from me. We would make tickets, and I’d tear them their rain checks. Then they would sit and watch and smile and clap, wholeheartedly, without distraction. For them, there were no cell phones to answer, no tasks to check off their to-do lists. In those moments, and there were a lot of them, I was it."   

[Here's where I started getting a little choked up.]

"I remember Oprah asking parents of young kids -  “Do your eyes light up when they walk into a room?” No question – my grandpa’s eyes always lit up when he saw me, and they still do." 

[And here's where I started sobbing. I tried to keep it together but it was useless. I literally had to wipe some snot off my face. And then from the front of the room, sitting beside my grandma, my grandpa said, "You're doing great." That's when I really lost it. Such a sweet little statement from a man who loves me a whole lot. That little kindness just did me in. Eventually I got it together...well, sort of.]

"There’s no greater feeling for a little girl, or a grown woman for that matter, than having someone love you that much, so much that their eyes light up. My grandpa really, really, really loves his family. I’m sure the other grandchildren have felt this. I’m sure they’ve seen my grandpa’s eyes light up too.

The second theme, service, is something that many friends, family members, neighbors, and even strangers have received from my grandpa at one time or another. My grandpa has always been a masterful fixer. No malfunctioning toaster or broken car could beat him. His determination, brain power, and especially his love for helping others allowed him to repair almost anything. Just this past year, he fixed a clock for my husband and I. He also loved inventing things. If someone had a task that wasn't going very smoothly, he would create a tool or some sort of contraption to help them, using just his brain and the stuff in his shop. But my grandpa’s service hasn’t been limited to repairs and inventions. He has always loved helping others – mowing lawns, driving people where they needed to go. Years back, he even won the Good Neighbor Award. I think he definitely deserved it.

The third thing, and the most important thing, that comes to mind when I consider my grandpa’s 100 years is hope. My grandpa wasn’t a spiritual person when he and my grandma married in ­­­­­­­1940. But my grandma faithfully prayed for him every day, and the rest of us joined in as we became old enough to develop our own relationships with God. It wasn’t til my grandpa was 88 years old that he gave his life over to Christ. He was baptized later that year. There were many times when we wondered if it would ever happen. But one day, with tears in his eyes, he told us that he had put aside his stubbornness and decided to let God in. That night, he prayed the blessing over our meal. It was the first time any of us had heard him pray. I can’t express the joy we felt in that moment. 

Even at 88, salvation created a unmistakeable change in my grandpa’s life and demeanor. He has always been kind, funny and caring. But his voice softened. His heart warmed. His eyes brightened. Joy, patience and gentleness flowed out of him, and still do. Today, my grandpa is one of the biggest prayer warriors I know. I am certain that on any given day, he and my grandma have prayed for me, for my husband, for my daughter, and for the rest of our family. 

Some of you may have people in your life who you feel are beyond hope. Some of you may feel that you yourself are beyond hope. But my grandpa’s life is proof that no one is beyond hope. His life is proof that an old dog can learn new tricks, that transformation can take place at any stage of life, and that prayer really does work. This, to me, is the most important part of my grandpa’s legacy. This hope is something that sticks with me and that I share with others often. Thanks so much for allowing me to share it with all of you today. But most of all, thank you, Grandpa, for being a good man, a man of character. For being a man of your word, a family man, a man of God. We love you dearly."

I wanted to share pieces of my grandpa's story with all of you because, first of all, I just really love my grandpa. And secondly, because this is a blog primarily about infertility, loss and parenthood. Sometimes I forget this because it happened so many years before I came along, but my grandparents know what it's like to lose a child. Their son, Richard, was born perfectly healthy. Just a few days later, while finishing up their hospital stay, Richard was very upset and crying when a nurse tried to calm him with a bottle. Apparently, she was rather forceful with her efforts. Baby Richard aspirated the milk into his lungs and died. I cannot even begin to imagine the agony my grandparents suffered as a result of this senseless tragedy. I have asked them about my uncle Richard but not very many times. I wonder how often they think about him. I wonder if their hearts still ache sometimes. I wonder if they look around the room at family gatherings and think, there should be one more. And I wonder if at ages 100 and 93, when heaven can't be far away, my grandparents look forward to a joyous reunion with their son, the son whom they barely got to meet, the son whom they have missed for nearly sixty years.

I will leave you with these sweet pictures of Harriet and my grandpa, each showing off their latest milestone.

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