Category Archives: giving birth

The Fall (Or Getting Back Up) – My Messy, Beautiful

Editor’s note: Almost eight years ago, I had a molar pregnancy. I don’t often write about it, but it’s not because I don’t want to. It’s because it’s hard. I mean, really hard. But here I go anyway, because I can do hard things.

I never thought of my body as a vessel put here on this Earth to procreate until my body proved incapable of the task. It was only then that I wondered about the hows and the whys of life and considered the consequences of having a body that didn’t do what it was meant to. It was only then that I shuddered from the sting of failure. Any previous feelings of disappointment were mere ripples compared to the wave that took me under when I couldn’t make a baby.

I’m not a religious person, but I believe in an energy that runs through the universe. It’s what drew me to dance. Very occasionally, moving through time and space allowed me to tap into that force and feel something larger than myself.   Those precious moments of light and connection gave dance significance in my life that went far beyond livelihood (not that I ever earned a penny doing it).

I’m fortunate to have felt light and connection in my life, but they’re not answers to the hows. They’re not explanations for the whys. When my first pregnancy turned out to be a molar pregnancy, which turned into choriocarcinoma (i.e. I wanted a baby but got cancer in my uterus instead), the ground crumbled beneath me. With nothing to grasp on to, I quite simply fell.

It was a bad math equation. A chemistry experiment gone horribly wrong.   A bunch of cells that didn’t do their job. None of it was my fault, and I know that now, but I struggled for a long time to figure it out.

Did having a molar pregnancy make me stronger? Maybe. Did it make me more determined? Perhaps. Did it help me not sweat the small stuff? Hardly.

For better or for worse, it taught me that sometimes falling feels good. That time doesn’t heal all wounds. That loss is lonely but must be felt alone. That in order to be privy to life’s most supreme miracles, we must surrender to our vulnerability.

More than anything, it taught me what I don’t believe.  I don’t believe it was fate.  I don’t believe it happened for a reason.  I don’t believe it was God’s plan, and I don’t believe it made my future children possible.

It might’ve been helpful to have faith in something during that dark time instead of a list of all the things I don’t believe. If I’m being completely honest, what eventually lifted me up wasn’t some grand aha-moment that motherhood didn’t define me; rather, it was the messy, beautiful realization that it did.

Beautiful because making and carrying a baby inside my body was the embodiment of connection and holding that miraculous human life in my arms was the epitome of light. Messy because had I not ultimately fulfilled my longing to have a baby, I don’t think I ever would’ve been whole.

There is a sense of gratitude that comes from enduring tragedy. It’s the appreciation not for the thrill of the fall, but for the more authentic version of you that emerges in the daunting process of getting back up.

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This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

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Filed under aha moment, dance, giving birth, gratitude, mess, molar pregnancy

It’s My Birthday

A while back, Riley and I had a priceless conversation in the car.  It was so hilarious that he occasionally likes to repeat it like it’s a one-act play.  It goes like this:

Riley: Can I help you drive?

Me: No, silly, you have to be 16 to drive.  Are you 16?

Riley: Yes.

Me: Well, if you’re 16, then I’m 50.

Riley: Then you will die.

I’ll never forget this exchange.  That is, unless Alzheimer’s gets me, in which case it’s a good thing I wrote it down.  Today’s my birthday.  I’m 38 years old, which isn’t really old at all.  Unless you ask Riley.  Not only does he think I’m going to die in twelve years, but sometimes he calls me Old Lady instead of Mommy for fun.

To celebrate my 38th year, I’m getting a pap smear.  You heard me right.  I’ve chosen to receive a gynecological exam on my birthday.  (Do you remember when I asked my gastro for a colonoscopy?  If you know me at all, you know I’m capable of unthinkable things.)

If my third decade has taught me anything, it’s that I need to take care of myself. I’m the epitome of good health on the surface.  Case in point, my favorite food is kale.  And if my love of dark leafy fibrous greens isn’t proof enough, I’m training to run a 10K race at the end of October.  (Actually, that might be evidence not of good health, but rather that I’ve lost my mind.)

Still, I’ve had a lot of medical drama.  My personal favorite – besides the numbness in my left ankle, which resulted in me being tasered, er, I mean, having a nerve conduction study (age 36) and the preeclampsia (and subsequent emergency c-section) that made me as swollen as the Pillsbury Doughboy (age 31) – has to be the pre-cancerous polyp they found during my first colonoscopy (age 34).  That was awesome!

The overarching theme of my 30s has definitely been motherhood, and boy did it start with a bang!  I spent my 30th birthday recovering from a molar pregnancy and drowning in depression about whether or not motherhood was even in the cards.  (By the way, I should totally get a 30th birthday do-over, because, as Dylan would say, that was the worst day ever.)  Thankfully, motherhood was in the cards.  Eight glorious, sleep-deprived, and messy years later, my story is much different.  I’m the proud owner of two happy and healthy little boys, both of whom I blame for most if not all of my health problems (at least the mental ones).

Let’s face it, motherhood is perilous.  It’s allowed me to witness and be a part of breathtaking miracles, but it’s also put me in a chemo chair, on the operating table, and on the couch.  My pregnancies and births alone – with miscarriage, choriocarcinoma (i.e. cancer from the molar pregnancy), preeclampsia, sciatica, low platelet counts, blood thinners, and c-sections – were a monumental feat.  (And Dylan wants me to have another one!) Then came the postpartum ventral hernia (back to the OR!), atopic contact dermatitis (any other Mamas out there allergic to baby wipes?), IBS, severe anxiety, more low platelet counts, and suspicious thyroid nodules.

But I’m here, folks!  I’m still standing!  (In my kitchen with a sink full of dirty dishes!)  I’ve accessed the healthcare system in ways I never could’ve imagined, and somehow I’ve come out none the worse for wear each time (it’s a lot easier to put things into perspective eight years later).  All that said, I know the agony of sitting opposite a doctor and receiving bad news, of experiencing loss, of prepping for a surgery for which you don’t know the outcome, and of waiting anxiously for biopsy results.

These days, I have a dream team of doctors who treat my ailments – big and small and utterly ridiculous.  Hematologist?  Check.  Optometrist?  Check.  Gastroenterologist?  Check.  Neurologist?  Check!  But I’m proud of my Rolodex of MDs, because occasionally something happens that truly deserves attention (hello, thyroid!).  In other words, shit can get real, people.  Real fast.

As I watch my parents and in-laws deal with the stress of aging, my dog struggle from worsening degenerative disc disease (now Harry has a neurologist, too), and my kids grow big and strong before my squinting eyes (where are my reading glasses?!), I’m compelled to take the very best care of myself so I can be around to wipe my boys’ butts forever.  (That came out creepier than I intended.)  So I can write help them with their college essays, and join the office of (helicopter) parent relations on their college campuses.  (Okay, that was creepy, too.)

So, I’m getting a pap smear on my birthday, and I can’t wait!  (That might be a slight overstatement.)  Sure, I could’ve scheduled it another day, but I did it today – on my actual birthday – as a reminder and an oath not to take my health for granted no matter how tired, busy, lazy, or scared I feel.  Because, let’s face it, my cervix and ovaries (and breasts and heart and brain and thyroid) might not give a crap that I fancy kale.

All of this “which disease will take me down” talk is kind of depressing.  If you’re wondering why I’m not marking the beginning of the end of my 30s by drinking wine, eating cake, and online shopping in my pajamas, worry not.  The sponsor of the 10k I’m training for is a local bar, and all runners get free beer and wine at the finish line.  Chardonnay for breakfast!  Wahoo!  Also, after this morning’s lady parts check-up, I plan to perhaps possibly probably do a little bit of birthday window shopping before fetching the kids at school.  Maybe.  (Definitely.)   And about the cake?  There. Will. Be. Cake.  Cake will be consumed.

All I want for my birthday (besides expensive denim, a waterproof iPhone case, and a headboard) is for you to take care of yourself, too.  If you do something marvelous for your health, like get a skin screening at the dermatologist (I’m overdue!), schedule a mammogram, or go for a long walk, tell me about it in the comments here or on my Facebook page.  It will totally make my day.

p.s. If you insist on getting me a birthday present, it would really rock my world if you’d “Like” my Facebook page and share it with all of your fabulous Facebook friends.  That would be super cool.

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Filed under anxiety, birthday, colonoscopy, conversations to remember, eyeglasses, giving birth, going to the doctor, Harry, health, molar pregnancy, pregnancy, thyroid

Awfulness

My neighbor across the street just had a baby.  It’s her second child.  Her second girl.  Over the weekend, I saw her for the first time since the baby was born.  She was sitting in a lawn chair next to a bassinet and watching her four-year-old daughter ride her bike around the driveway.

I walked across the street to congratulate her and asked, “How are you doing?”

Her response was refreshingly candid. “Awful,” she said.

Her c-section incision hurt like hell, she was exhausted, her husband was at work (on the weekend no less), and at 4pm, she had only just showered.  She was just seven days into the madness of having two kids.

Sound familiar?

I’ll never forget the depth of awfulness that engulfed me after I brought my babies home from the hospital.  Of course, there was love and bliss and wonder, but the awfulness was there, and it was thick and sticky.

When Dylan, my first, came home, the awfulness came from perpetually trying not to accidentally kill him during any of the following activities: feeding, bathing, diapering, dressing, undressing, strolling, driving, rocking, singing, or holding.  Did I ever tell you the first diaper I ever changed was Dylan’s?  True story.  Figuring out what all of his noises and cries meant, leaving the house with less than three hours notice, changing his diapers without getting peed or pooped on, learning how to fold and unfold the stroller without bodily harm, trimming his teeny baby nails without cutting off any of his teeny fingers, and surviving one long, dark night after another were daunting experiences.

When Riley came along, it was a lot easier to not accidentally kill him, but new forms of awfulness lurked.

There was sibling rivalry, and a result, guilt.  Oh, the guilt!  There was pain.  Recovering from a c-section, or any form of childbirth, is difficult when you never stop moving.  There was sleep deprivation.  Actually, it was more like sleep zilch.  Sleep zero.  (There was a brief period of time in late 2009 when Riley and Dylan took the same afternoon nap.  It was miraculous and, to this day, is one of my proudest parenting achievements.)  There was juggling. Breastfeeding while simultaneously flipping grilled cheese sandwiches, finding “The Big Red Chicken” episode of “Dora the Explorer” On Demand, doing puzzles, getting the Moby wrap on and off without strangling myself, and folding laundry (oh, the laundry!) was hard.  Really hard.  It was chaos.  Period.

Oh, I remember the awfulness.

My neighbor will find a rhythm.  She’ll discover a new normal.  She’ll learn how to juggle, and she’ll eventually feel rested (or at least not murderous) on three hours of sleep.  But right now she’s isolated, overwhelmed, and tired beyond all belief.  Seeing her gave me an overwhelming urge to go shopping.  (For her, silly, not me.)

First, I hit Barnes & Noble for baby and big sister gifts.

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I want another baby just so I can buy more owls.  (Did I just write that?)

I settled on this little guy.

Hoot hoot!

Hoot hoot!

And to keep big sister busy…

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Then I bought a bunch of easy to grab, healthy snacks.

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Last but not least, the cards.

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Inside Mama’s card, I offered to watch the baby or have her older daughter over to my house for a play date with the boys so she can nap or shower or pee or scream into a pillow all by herself.  (I didn’t actually write that last part.)

Ready for delivery!

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Hopefully she can use the bucket in the nursery or elsewhere in the house.

As our kids get older, school days grow longer, sleep comes easier, sanity returns (sort of), and awfulness recedes, we mustn’t forget the Mamas just getting started on this wild ride or the Mamas preparing to climb the next big hill.  We’ve all been there.  For many of us, we’ve been there more than once, and some of us just might find ourselves there again.

Any New Mamas in your life?

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Filed under babies, giving birth, math, New Mama, owls, shopping