River's Birth Story

Monday, March 6, 2017

I have attempted this post several times over the past few months and have clearly had very little success. How do I correctly convey all of the emotions that surrounded the birth of our second born? What do I include? What do I leave out? Do I publicly share anything at all? Would that be fair to River? In all of this, I've reread my post on Finn's birth story several times over. Bittersweet how drastically different their births were...

The further removed I get from River's birth experience the more I'm comfortable with actually speaking about it, and the more I actually come to terms with just how FORTUNATE we were with this little miracle. The reality is, his birth is a part of his story. Of OUR story as a family.

So. Now that River is nearly a year old I believe I'm ready to share with you, world. But, I hope you're prepared.

36 weeks pregnant - four days before River was born.
The Birth
The night before River's birth was pretty ordinary. Nathan was working a Middle School dance so it was just Finn and me. I stopped by Sheetz on the way home to pick up dinner for us - a salad for me and a Mickey Mouse fruit pack for him. We ate dinner together and played with the Snapchat filters on my phone. We read, I tucked him into bed, watched some tv, and then went to bed myself.

Around 3 am I woke with the uncomfortable sensation that my right ear was clogged. For about a week prior, I had been dealing with fluid in my ear that would get worse during the night when I was laying down. This night, I was particularly frustrated because it was interfering with my sleep and I decided to take to Google to search for possible remedies. In the middle of my search I felt a strange popping sensation in my abdomen. It almost felt like a rubber band snapping. I lay there for a moment wondering if maybe it was the baby. Maybe he was kicking, or repositioning. But a few moments later I was hit with the realization that my water had just broken - at almost 37 weeks pregnant. I woke Nathan and called the on-call doctor to see what he advised. After describing the situation, he said, "Yep, sounds like your water has broken. Why don't you head on in?"

I called my dad ("Hey Dad... listen, either my water just broke or I just peed myself. Either way, can you come stay with Finn?"), finally got around to packing my hospital bag (HA), and took a shower. I wasn't having any contractions at this point and I was really scared I'd get to the hospital and they'd just tell me to go home because I'd only peed. #embarrassing

We finally made it to the hospital around 5 am. Because it was the middle of the night we had to enter the hospital through the emergency room. We walked in and the ER receptionist said, "Not another one! Are they expecting you?' I stood in the waiting room, embarrassed as at this point because there was zero questions as to whether or not my water had broken. The entire waiting room could tell.

I was wheeled back to the Labor and Delivery Unit and given my hospital gown. I apologized eleventy billion times to our awesome L&D nurse, Melissa, because, as it turns out, having your water break is pretty messy and she basically just had to follow me around as my own personal clean up crew. I got settled in my hospital bed, got hooked up to an IV and the monitor that recorded my contractions and the baby's heartbeat, and pulled up my computer to start working on sub plans for the following week. When I was finally checked, I was only about 2 (maybe 3?) cm dilated and 80% effaced. Still a very long way to go.

My contractions were still pretty infrequent, so Nathan and I watched a couple of shows on Netflix and I started updating a few people on what was going on. After a while, Melissa mentioned I could go for a walk to hopefully help my labor progress. Nathan was starving, and I was too, so I told him if he was going to eat he was going to have to do it away from me. Because my contractions were still pretty bearable, he left to eat and I started aimlessly walking the unit in circles. I'd walk by the nurses' station and look at the large TV that showed all of the contractions each woman in the unit was having. I'd take a guess at which one was me based of my last contraction and how painful I thought it was. The longer I walked, the more painful and regular my contractions became. My last few laps took much longer because several times I would stop and hold on to the wall railing and try to breathe through the pain. On one of my last passes, Melissa told me that whenever I was ready for the epidural to let her know. I told her I was ok so far, and began my next lap. By the time I made it back around I was ready.  Fortunately, Nathan was just coming back in at this point and he was able to help me get back in bed.

The worst part about the epidural, both times I've gotten one, has been having to remain completely still while you're having contractions. Still, we got it done and after a few moments I had extra heavy sandbags where my legs used to be, and only a little pressure when contractions happened. This allowed me to rest for a couple of hours before it was time to start pushing.

After pushing for roughly an hour and a half, I finally asked in desperation, "Is this going to happen?"
The on-call doctor came in and decided to check. "You know," she said, "I don't usually tell people they can't have vaginal deliveries, But that's not how you'll be delivering this baby." After that, they started prepping me for a c-section. I texted my friends and family to let them know what was happening and we were left waiting for an available operating room.

Once I was rolled into the operating room and prepped for surgery, Nathan was allowed to come back. The anesthesiologist took a couple of pictures of Nathan and me as we waited to meet our newest little love. Before long, the c-section was underway. Though I didn't feel pain, I could definitely feel lots of tugging. It was a lot different than how I remembered my first c-section. The doctor said that things weren't right and she needed an additional doctor to come and assist with removing the baby. Finally, another doctor came in. I could hear them talking about how difficult it was and how it wasn't going as planned. There was lots of desperation in their voices, but I tried to be strong and brave and pretend I didn't hear any of it.

I knew something was extraordinarily wrong when I heard the nurses shouting, "Get the NICU. We need help NOW." I didn't even know that River had been pulled out. I started asking anyone that would listen if he was ok. Why wasn't he crying? My anesthesiologist stepped away to see if there was anything he could do to help. When he came back I asked him if River was okay. Was he even alive? I'll never forget him telling me, "You're my priority right now." What did that even mean? I burst into tears as Nathan kept telling me that it would be alright. Finally, after what seemed like forever, the NICU team arrived to take River away. They quickly held him up for us to see, and then just like that, he was gone.

The next couple of hours were so hard. We didn't have any answers about River. We didn't know his birth stats. And to be completely honest, we didn't even know if he was alive. People were calling and texting and we had nothing to tell them.

Finally, the doctor came in to talk to us. She said, "that was the scariest and most difficult c-section of my career." As it turns out, my uterus had a lot of scar tissue from when it healed from my section with Finn. Because of that, it had also contorted on itself, and basically folded over, which made getting River out extremely difficult. Also, due to my trial of labor and pushing, River had descended somewhat into the birth canal, and the only way to get him out was to go back up the birth canal and push him up and out. He was pulled out feet first. He was blue, and he was not breathing, which is why the nurses were so desperate for the NICU team to arrive.

River's first APGAR score was a 0. He was blue, no pulse, no heartbeat, and no reflex response. Five minutes later, he was a 4, with a heart rate of less than 100, irregular breathing, blue extremities, and no reflexive responses. Because he was born not breathing, they had his cord gases analyzed to determine how long he was without oxygen. This would give them an idea of the chances of River having any brain damage or other effects like Cerebral Palsy due to oxygen deprivation. Incredibly, River's cord gasses showed that though he was born not breathing, he wasn't deprived of oxygen during the delivery. Not exactly sure how that makes sense, but we'll take it. The doctor said that it meant River was born 'stunned.' Basically, she said, it's like jumping into an ice cold lake. You jump, and then it takes your breath away until your body tells you you need to get to the surface. She said that the traumatic nature of his entrance into the world caused him to need a few moments to figure it out.

The doctor also explained that because she had to go back up the birth canal to get River out, that the sterile field had been broken. She immediately started me on a triple antibiotic to hopefully curb any bacteria growth that could occur because of that. Finally, she wanted us to know that it was entirely possible that Nathan and I could develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from such a traumatic delivery, so she gave us some signs and symptoms to look out for.

Meeting River
Hours later when we were finally able to go to the NICU to see him for the first time, we were informed he was just coming back from an MRI.
"An MRI? For what?" I asked the nurse who was wheeling me over to see my sweet boy.
River - Born March 12, 2017, 7 pounds 5 ounces, 20.5 inches
"Oh," she replied. "He has a little indentation in the side of his head. We just wanted to get it checked out." I peered over the side of the isolette at the little baby. I could see the indention, about the size of a half dollar and located on the left side of his tiny head. There were so many wires measuring different things, and a feeding tube had been placed down his throat. Because of this, I was not able to hold him. I gently stroked his silky, dark red hair - already so different from his brother's. I did not yet understand the enormity of the situation; what "a little indentation" actually meant in medical terminology. It was mentioned so casually to us, as though it happened all the time. It wasn't long before a doctor appeared in our room and explained to us that the "little indentation" would require a separate set of doctors - doctors that weren't available at the hospital we were currently. Doctors that are Neurosurgeons.  He explained that the reason River had an MRI was to see how the "indentation" was impacting his brain. His tiny little brain. The hospital arranged for a transport to the Children's Hospital at MCV that would take place the following day.

The next day, I was finally allowed to hold River for the first time. The feeding tube had been
Holding River for the first time
rerouted down his nose and the nurse disconnected the tiny wires and placed him in the crook of my arm. I caressed his tiny face and tried as hard as I could to burn his little details into my brain. It wasn't until the transport team from MCV arrived that I started to understand that something was seriously wrong. No less than six people showed up to take one tiny baby. My tiny baby. "Why are there so many of them?" I remember asking Nathan as we, and the rest of the NICU ward, watched them load River into the mobile isolette. We were given some information regarding how to find him at MCV, and just like that, River was gone and I was left without my baby.  

Because I had not yet been discharged from the hospital, I was taken back to my room to wait. Wait for what? Nathan and I decided that he needed to go to MCV to be with River and figure out what was going on. I would be fine. After all, I was just waiting. What could go wrong?

My Recovery
Meanwhile, I was determined to get out and get to my baby. I was told the fastest way to get healing was to get up and start walking. Nathan I would take my IV pole and walk in circles around the postpartum unit. On one walk on Sunday, March 13, I started to feel cold. Like, freezing cold. I told Nathan that I wanted to go back to the room so I could get back into bed and crawl under the covers. I couldn't stop shaking. My nurse came in and took my temperature. It was over 102.5. My heart rate was in the 90s. My blood pressure was low. And my oxygen was in the 80s. I remember watching the nurse as she looked at all of the out of control stats and immediately called my regular OBGYN, Dr. Murray. She came up and examined me. They gave me Motrin to break the fever and heated blankets to help warm me up. Dr. Murray arranged for a consult with an infectious disease doctor, who came and took blood and examined me further. Within a couple of hours, my fever had broken and my stats seemed normal again. It seemed as though the issue had resolved.

The following day, I had another episode. This time, I woke from a nap and knew I was running a fever. I called a nurse in and she took my temperature - 103.2. My oxygen had dropped again, my blood pressure was low, and my heart rate was over 140. This time, I was immediately transferred to the Surgical ICU to be more closely monitored, especially because no one knew what was happening to me. On the transfer, I half-jokingly told my ID doctor, "Please don't let me die." His response made my hair stand up, and still does to this day. He said, "I'm going to do everything I can." Ok, so this must be pretty serious then, I suppose.

Once in the SICU, I had leads placed to monitor my heart activity and given oxygen.  I had more blood work completed and was left to wonder what the ever loving F was going on. In the next couple of days, I had two chest X-rays that showed a collapsed lower lobe of my lung, a heart echo that was clear and two ultrasounds of my legs to rule out blood clots. I spent a few days in the SICU just waiting for answers. And it turns out in the SICU, no one wants you to be independent. You have to call to get out of bed. You have to call to go to the bathroom. You have to call to do anything. It was the worst feeling to be so helpless. Also, though I was in the SICU, I was still recovering from a c-section. I was SO lucky to have a nurse for a couple of nights who had previously been a L&D nurse, so she totally understood my needs. She was absolutely amazing and would come in just to chat with me. She saved my sanity more than I think she will ever realize.

Finally, my ID doctor came in and told me good news - my blood was growing bacteria. The bacteria was later identified to be E coli, and I was given a diagnosis. Sepsis due to E coli with atelectasis. Ugh, just typing that out gives me chills. Once the bacteria had been identified, my antibiotics were switched again to Levaquin to target the infection more precisely. I was given an incentive spirometry to help strengthen my lungs and reinflate the lobe that had collapsed. After another day, I was moved back to the postpartum unit to continue monitoring on a less intense unit.

As the days ticked by, mentally I was going crazy. I hadn't seen Finn since Sunday as he got sick and couldn't come visit. I hadn't seen River since Sunday, and couldn't keep up with what he was going through being so far away. I disconnected from everyone except Nathan and my immediate family. I stopped answering calls and texts because I couldn't bring myself to talk about the hell we were going through. People wanted to know about River and I had no idea. People wanted to know about me and I didn't want to talk. I felt as though I would never leave the hospital.

Then, on March 18, I was finally discharged after having all of my stats stabilized and within normal limits for a couple of days in a row. I had to make several follow up appointments for the next week and sent home with a two week course of Levaquin, but I could actually go home. Nathan picked me up and we went straight to MCV to see River.

River's Recovery
At MCV Children's Hospital, River was seen by Dr. John Collins, a Pediatric Neurosurgeon. He examined River and told us (well, he told Nathan and my dad, and then they called me and filled me in) that River had a depressed skull fracture that was somehow obtained during my labor and delivery of him. It was the first time they used the words 'skull fracture.' My infant had a SKULL. FRACTURE. River would require a few days of observation to make sure that he didn't have any seizures and to ensure that the fracture didn't impact his brain. He was also jaundiced, so he required time under the bili lights to help his bilirubin levels.

Finally, on March 16, River's brain was deemed clear of any impact from the skull fracture and Dr. Collins was ready to discuss treatment options to fix it. I was still in ICU when Nathan called me with Dr. Collins on speakerphone so I could still be a part of the discussion and decision. Dr. Collins presented us with four different options.
1. We could try a procedure he called the "pop out" where they use a hand-held vaccum to suction the skull back into place. The problem with this was that there wasn't much research out there to support it and he had personally never done it. The upside to this option was that River wouldn't have to be put under, but it had to be completed within the first seven days of life.

2. They could put River under and make a small incision in his skull, then use a tool to "pry" the skull back into place. River would have to be put completely under general anesthesia for this procedure.

3. They could cut the portion of River's skull that contained the fracture and flip it upside down, so that the fracture was now inwards instead of outwards. Obviously, this was the most invasive option presented.

4. We could wait and see what nature did on its own as River grew. Baby skulls are highly malleable and it was possible as River's brain grew it would naturally fix the fracture. The biggest problem with this option, however, is that if it did not naturally fix itself we would have to then go to option three, where his skull was cut and flipped.

It seemed like a no-brainer to Nathan and I to try the least-invasive procedure first, which was the "pop-out" procedure. Dr. Collins made it very clear to us that results were not guaranteed, and that he had never personally done it. Still, we felt it was the best option for our five-day old baby.

The following day, March 17, River had his procedure. With only an anti-anxiety medicine, River's skull was successfully pulled back into place with a hand-held vacuum. River now required 48 hours of observation to ensure the vacuum didn't cause a brain-bleed, but he was well on the way to being discharged.

After my discharge on March 18, I went straight to River. It felt so strange being there at MCV. Nathan had his wristband and chatted with the nurses that he'd gotten to know over the past week. He showed me how to scrub in order to get into the NICU, and helped me get a wristband to show I was River's mother. Finally, he took me back to the room where River was. When we walked in, River was swaddled and sleeping. A nurse came in and looked him over and told us that he would need to eat soon. When he woke, I held him and fed him for the first time.  Dr. Collins came in and spoke with us a bit more about the success of the procedure. He told us he had read all of the medical journals he could about using hand-held vacuums for this sort of thing, and had reached out to another doctor that had performed a similar procedure with success. He said that infants born with depressed skull fractures were incredibly rare, so there wasn't much to go off of, but he was happy with the results. As were we. When you looked at River, you could never tell his head had been fractured at all. It was amazing and we can never fully express our gratitude and thankfulness for Dr. Collins and the entire NICU team that took care of River while he was there at MCV Children's Hospital.

River was ready for discharge the following day, on Sunday, March 19. We loaded Finn up and took him to Nathan's parents so we could head downtown to bring our baby home. We scrubbed up, signed in, and went into his NICU room one last time. We fed him, changed him, signed lots of papers, and finally brought our littlest love home to start our lives as a family of four.

One Month Later
River's MRIs 
A month later we returned to MCV to see Dr. Collins for a neuro follow up. Once we were checked in, we were greeted by a member of his staff who had seen River while he was in the NICU. She was marveling at how well River seemed to be doing and told us that since River's procedure, Dr. Collins had actually used the hand-held vacuum to fix another skull fracture in an infant. Our River was a pioneer! Dr. Collins came in and measured River's head (which he explained would be the best way to ensure all was well with his fracture and brain development) and asked us questions about him. He then pulled up River's MRIs from the night of his birth and compared it to an MRI that he had the day after his pop-out procedure. The images are incredible to see. And even more incredible is knowing our little boy has NO neurological effects because of it. Dr. Collins called him, "a miracle baby." To hear those words from a Pediatric Neurosurgeon was eye-opening, to say the least.

We still aren't 100 percent sure what caused River's skull fracture, or caused me to have an E coli infection in my gut. We have theories and guesses, none of which can be confirmed, but we are so, SO thankful to have a beautiful, healthy, happy nearly ONE year old, and equally thrilled that I'm here to tell the tale. We may have had a rough start to his life, but we're ready to spend the rest of our lives loving our little red-headed miracle baby.
Photo Credit: Denise Feagans Photography

The Swing

Monday, September 5, 2016

This morning I took one glance (and sniff) of my house and decided we needed to clean it. The living room is an explosion of Mega Bloks, play-mats, cars and an assortment of goldfish crumbs and I’m-not-sure-what-those-ares. We’re admittedly a little cluttered with baby gear at the moment and it’s about time to pack away the things River no longer uses. Like the swing. The swing that, to be honest, he’s only been a fan of when it’s NOT in motion.

Trouble is, I’m a pretty sentimental person. This swing is the one we purchased during my first pregnancy. It’s the Graco Finley model, and it was perfect because, of course, our first kid’s name is Finley. I had a difficult time packing it away when Finn was done with it. In fact, Nathan did it one day when I wasn’t home to protest, and honestly, that was that. This time, Nathan’s been itching to put the swing away for weeks. And by put away he means hand it over to Sarah and Dylan and our niece, Kensie, who is set to make her debut in December. But just like last time, I’ve been dragging my feet on it. Why? It’s not like River uses it. Sure, he likes to bat at the bears on the little mobile but that entertains him for all of three and half minutes. And the space it occupies would be perfect for the 19-foot wide Jumparoo that’s currently sitting in the middle of our living room.

This morning I told Nathan that I thought it was finally time. When he was ready to pack it up, I’d be ok with it. Just a little while ago, I walked over to the Finley swing. I touched the little grey bears on the mobile and ran my hands down the sleek supports. Then I did something stupid.

I turned the music on.

Instantly, I was transported back three years ago when Finn was in the swing. I cycled through the various songs and allowed myself to feel the familiar weight in my chest - the one that signifies wanting something I can have no longer.

Finn, June 2013
As the melodies played on, I saw that little red-headed newborn with the mittens over his tiny hands to keep him from clawing at his face. I saw the excitement in his face when he would talk to those silly little bears. I heard the familiar clicking of the swing moving back-and-forth-back-and-forth-back-and-forth as he took his first nap of the day.

I remember staring at the crying baby in the swing and wondering, "How do I fix him?" and thinking, "I have NO CLUE what I'm doing here."

One time in the first couple of week's of Finn's life, the lullaby version of Canon in D came on while Finn rocked in the swing. Nathan looked over at me with a look of nostalgia and a sentimental smile on his face. Our wedding song. Playing on the swing that now cradled our son.
"Turn it off." I demanded as tears welled and threaten to spill down my face.
"Why?" He had asked me. "It's our wedding song." He said it like maybe I didn't recognize the tune.
"Exactly. Please turn it off." He looked at me with such confusion but had done as I asked.
I looked out the window and silently wept at what the song brought back to memory at that time. A day of complete happiness and a lifetime of possibilities. The notion of freedom with my husband. Of last-minute dates that could spill into the wee-hours of the morning. The ability to run errands whenever. The every-night possibility of as many hours of uninterrupted hours of sleep as physically needed. Or wanted.

Now here we were. One of us ecstatic that our union had seen the birth of a new Harris. The other feeling trapped by that same human. From that day on, anytime Canon in D cycled through, Nathan would skip it without even casting a glance in my direction. He didn't understand what I was mentally going through, but he could see how it affected me.

Of course, as the days grew into weeks and the weeks formed months, my hormones settled, the chaos subsided, and sleep finally came and I began to find an identity as a mother. The same human I felt trapped by in the first few weeks became the absolute light of my life and my heart grew to love in a way I could never have imagined possible.

Finn grew and we packed the swing away "for the next baby."

When we put River in it for the first time, Canon in D played. Nathan watched me carefully, waiting for a breakdown he was sure would happen.
"What?" I had asked him.
"Are you... ok?" He replied.
"Yes. I'm good." I smiled back. And I was.
This time, the same song that made me mourn my old life stood for something different. It represented the marriage that provided me with a life I love to live - a (mostly) wonderful husband and two amazing little boys that I get the opportunity to mother every day.

The value of the swing is not lost on me. It has seen me in my darkest days and has watched me grow as a mama. It's triggered me, calmed by babies, and now represents a chapter that is about to close. Soon, we'll take the swing down and send it on to my sister and her husband. Seeing it now in our living room will likely be the last time its place is here in our home.

If you had told me three years ago I'd long for the days of Finn's newborn life, I'd have likely collapsed at your feet in a puddle of inconsolable weeps. But it's true. Hearing the songs of the swing play today made me wish more than ever I could hold him as a baby just one more time and tell that scared new mama that it gets better. It gets incredible. The swing knows.

Pregnancy 2.0

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Last July, I found myself staring in utter disbelief at the tiny pregnancy stick that lay on my window sill. Was that a second pink line? How was that possible? Was it defective? I quickly snapped a picture of it on my phone and hid it on top of the bathroom cabinets, hoping to keep it away from Nathan until I was sure. A couple of hours later when the First Response showed a blazing positive and the digital flashed 'Pregnant' I knew for sure.
We were expecting our second child.

With a flutter in my chest I walked into the living room and handed Nathan the three positive tests. He looked at them for what felt like an eternity before finally looking at me.

"How is this possible?" he asked. "Well..." I started to respond before I was quickly interrupted. "No. I mean, HOW is this possible?"

It turns out that the timing for this pregnancy couldn't have been worse. My sister was getting married on April 9 and had asked me to be her Matron of Honor. My due date? April 3. I was thrilled to be able to stand beside her on such a special day for her and our family. Now I was terrified that those longtime dreams we shared about her wedding wouldn't be able to come to fruition because I would have just given birth. I was scared she was going to think I was taking away from her wedding day.

I called Sarah later that day and when she answered the phone, I burst into tears as I told her I was pregnant and due the week of her wedding. She was beyond supportive and laughed as I admitted my fears. Instantly, she started talking about me carrying a baby down the aisle instead of a bouquet. 

Maybe this won't be so bad after all...

A List of Excuses

Friday, July 1, 2016

It has been a long while since I last posted.

Life's been busy.
I've had writer's block.
We run out of internet data monthly.

I really could list many more reasons in an attempt to explain my prolonged absense. I've tried to write numerous times. So many nights I've opened a new page, the cursor blinking at me, fingers hovering over the keys just waiting for my brain to give them the go ahead.

The truth is, I'm stuck. In fact, I have ten drafts saved in my blogspot that I just don't know how to finish. I don't know what I want to write about.

When I first started blogging, it was late at night when I was inspired to start sharing my life with potentially millions of strangers. I had visions of garnering a faithful group of followers, and being able to build my blog into something more.  I wanted to write and captivate people with my words the same way I am obsessed with the words of a handful of bloggers.

I'm not that type of writer, and I'm not sure I ever will be. I'm okay with that. I've come to terms with the fact that this blog will never be the first bookmark someone checks when they log on to the Internet for the day. My dreams sometimes far outweigh my potential. And I'm okay with that, too.

So I decided to take a different approach and blog for me, but still let the world peep it from time to time. I shared my experience with the baby blues, and I openly grieved my mother when she passed away. I let people in when I was vulnerable in hopes that my experiences could help someone in similar situations. Because honestly, in those situations I felt entirely alone. And also, because writing, regardless of how good or not good I am at it, is therapeutic when I'm feeling emotional or have a lot on my mind.

Where does that leave me now?

It's been a year and a half since I've written publicly. Truthfully? I still have a lot on my mind. I have a draft started of how incredibly difficult and amazing I found toddlerhood with Finn to be. I have a draft started of how my second pregnancy was a bit of a surprise. I have a draft started about how much I miss my mom and how my second pregnancy was so different without her. I have a draft saved on River's birth story... on what people didn't tell me about having a second child... how my relationship with Finn is evolving since adding a new baby. The tone of all of those posts is heavy. Real. Raw.

I've always prided myself on being honest. I have never been one to tell people what it is they want to hear, but frequently when I'm being honest and self-reflective it takes a turn into what it is I'm currently struggling with. Not always, of course, but I've always been eager to write when my feelings are overwhelming. It's how I work it all out. But what I don't want this blog to be is a sad, somber grief-ridden place where all I do is mourn, mope and complain, because even though I'm blogging for me, I'd still like people to actually read what I write. I want what I have to say to matter to someone. Otherwise I'd be all angsty in a journal on my nightstand and rip out the pages once my mood has changed. Maybe I'd even have one with a passcode or hide it under my mattress like I did when I was a ten year old. But that's not what I want. And because of that, I have avoided sharing anything publicly in a long while.

I frequently reread my old posts and smile. I remember Finn's birth... his first trip to the beach... ending my maternity leave. I LOVE that those thoughts are there for me to remember, especially now that I have my second baby and I'm realizing I don't remember them quite as well as I thought I would.

So where do I go from here?

I think the best thing to do from here is to jump in, head first, into life as I currently know it. The exciting, real, emotional life that is being a mama to two boys and a wife that sucks at cooking and housework.

I don't know where it's going to take me, but I do hope you'll stick around and find out.

2014: Insert Reflective Inspiration Here

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

It's December 30, 2014. In approximately 26 hours it will be a new year. It's always around this time that I become reflective of the twelve months that have flown by. What did I accomplish? Did I do everything I could to make it memorable? What will I remember about this year 30 years from now?

January 2014

This year in particular has been a mix of highs and lows, of joy and sadness. I know all years ebb and flow, and I've had a rough past few years anyway, but this was the year that the previous four finally came to a head.

Obviously, the big event for me this year was losing my mom in March, and if you've read my blog even a little then you know that this has been difficult for me to come to terms with. Some days my grief washes over me like a rogue wave, sudden and unexpected, and other days I feel... OK. Her absence in my life is physically felt in the way my chest tightens when I think of her, which is quite often. Every single night since she died I lay down at night and think of her before I fall asleep. I imagine her laughing, and growling, and sitting at the table reading. I wonder what we'd be doing now if she were still here, or were never sick to begin with. I wonder if I'm going to die the same way. Some nights I cry, other nights I smile, occasionally I do both. It's a battle I'm sure I'll always fight and tonight, I'm OK with that. I can't tell you if that's how I'll feel tomorrow, but grief and I are on a day-to-day basis.

While my mom's death has certainly been an impacting event on my year and life, there's also been many, many joyous moments that I wish to remember and celebrate as well. Nathan and I started the year with a toothless little baby just learning how to crawl. We're ending the year with a walking, talking, temper-tantrum throwing 19-month old toddler who has somehow managed to gain 11 teeth and found his way in to a part of my heart I didn't know existed - all in the past twelve months! We celebrated another year of marriage, went to the beach (though it was a bit different than I remembered...), went to weddings, celebrated engagements and babies with old and new friends, and survived our first-full year of parenthood together.

Finn learned to crawl in January of 2014

By June 1, 2014 he was walking.

And now he's talking - with about 10 words in his vocabulary arsenal, including "cheese."

Though our year has definitely had sad moments, we are still undoubtedly blessed in this life. Looking forward to seeing what 2015 has in store for the House of Harris!

May love and laughter light your days,

and warm your heart and home.
May good and faithful friends be yours,
wherever you may roam.
May peace and plenty bless your world
with joy that long endures.
May all life's passing seasons
bring the best to you and yours!
-Irish Blessing

Cancer is a Jerk

Monday, November 3, 2014

First, let's get one thing out of the way - all cancers suck. Every single type of cancer that has ever affected any person absolutely, 100 percent, without a doubt sucks. With that being said, however, there is one type of cancer that has had more of a direct impact on my life than any of the others, and that's lung cancer. Lung cancer is what took my mom back in March. It's what made me more familiar with chemotherapy, radiation, and the third floor oncology unit at Henrico Doctors' Hospital than I should ever have been at 24 years old.

I say all this because November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Did you know that? We follow up the pink-themed October with recognition of a cancer nobody wants to talk about. Did you know that lung cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States? It also causes more deaths than the next three most common cancers combined (colon, breast and pancreatic). Isn't that crazy? On top of that, the five-year survival rate for lung cancer is (scroll now if you don't want to know...) is "53.5 percent for cases detected when still localized within the lungs. For distant tumors the five-year survival rate is only 3.9 percent." ( U.S. National Institutes of Health. National Cancer Institute. SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2010.) 3.9 percent! 

 I don't say this to scare anyone. Really, I don't. I write this because it's still something I try daily to wrap my mind around - to understand the disease that took my mother's life and destroyed a part of mine. I say this because I just spent a whole month rocking my pink and supporting those who are facing the fight with breast cancer, but one page turn of the calendar and it seems mighty quiet, especially when you consider how many people lung cancer is going to claim this year (about 159,000). Do people even know what color the lung cancer awareness ribbon is? It's white, in case you're wondering.

I think my family did a pretty good job at keeping my mom's health underwraps. Not a secret, but certainly not broadcasting it. Looking back, I'm not sure we'd do it any differently, but now I feel like I want to share her story, or at least parts of it, for everyone to remember how strong she was; how insanely brave and optimistic she was. 
My mom was diagnosed with lung cancer in October of 2010. She had gone to the hospital because she wasn't feeling right and the doctors suspected pneumonia, only when they took the chest x-ray they found a mass on her lung instead. The scans in the following week showed that the cancer had not spread at that time, which was amazing. She was one of those rare cases where the cancer was caught in a very early stage and her prognosis was positive.

She underwent surgery to remove the lower lobe of her right lung in November (the week before Thanksgiving) and began "preventative" chemo treatments beginning in December. At that time, the doctors were confident all of the cancer had been removed. She finished her chemo treatments in March 2011 and was declared "cancer free" in May, mere weeks before my wedding. 

I put cancer free in quotations because she was, in fact, not cancer free. In January 2011 my mom began seeing colored spots. She went to her oncologist who referred her to her eye doctor who said it was old age and gave her a new glasses prescription. In June, weeks after being "cancer free" my mom had a seizure. It was only then that they found she had lesions on her brain - five, to be exact. It turns out that she was deemed cancer free based only on a chest scan, not a full body scan. Doesn't that seem silly?

Because of the lesions, she underwent ten rounds of radiation to shrink them, and  radiation, for her, was so much worse than chemo ever was. In early September, she went back to check the progress of the lesions and we received positive news - they were shrinking. Because the lesions were now smaller, the doctors decided to have her undergo yet another type of radiation known as Gamma Knife. This type of radiation is much more targeted and was completed in a single six-hour session, but required bolting a head stabilizer into her skull to keep her completely still. It was agony for her, but it helped shrink the tumors even more, so it was a successful treatment.

In October 2012, we received news that the cancer had spread to her liver where she had three small tumors. She underwent several more rounds of chemotherapy to target these tumors, and we learned at her next scan they were not responding. So, they immediately set her up with another, more aggressive chemotherapy. Finally, the tumors were shrinking. Then, she had another almost-seizure, and a scan revealed she had a plum-sized tumor where her other tumors had once been. Because of the size of the tumor and the fact that she had already had such a massive amount of radiation, the only option at this point was to remove it. On December 14, 2012 my mom had brain surgery to remove the tumor.

In summer 2013, the tumors in her brain were back. She went through another round of Gamma Knife involving the head stabilizer, but eventually they had to be surgically removed. She underwent that surgery on August 8, 2013, the day before my birthday. In November, my parents told us that the cancer had spread - it was now in her brain, liver, lungs, and her tailbone.

My mom spent the next few months fighting the good fight but the cancer took its toll. The steroids she was on caused her vertebrae to crack and she was hospitalized several times to undergo a procedure to fuse them together. She was in constant pain, and was losing movement in her legs. She used a walker, and eventually a wheelchair to get around, and in December she was admitted into a rehabilitation center to help regain use of her legs. She came home the week of Christmas, and was readmitted to the hospital New Years Eve. She moved from the hospital to a new rehabilitation center in January. Her stay at this rehabilitation center was difficult. She was undergoing physical therapy but found her strength to wane. She used to say, "When I get my strength back, I'm going to hold Finn." There was never any other option for her, even at the very end. I'm going to spare you the end of my mother's life. It's not something I find value in sharing, yet it's not something I'll ever forget either. Suffice it to say if you've ever seen a cancer patient's last days, you know how horrendous it is. It's haunting, to say the least.

My mom succumbed to her cancer on March 8, 2014, after fighting for nearly three and a half years. In that time frame, she was nothing but positive. When faced with the fact that she would lose her hair, she said, "Hopefully I'll have blonde curly hair next!" She read her devotional every day. She reiterated to those around her, like me, who were afraid that she was, "in God's hands, one way or the other." She was my calm during her own storm.

I miss my mom every single day. Every single day I am aware of her absence in a way that is hauntingly physical - like a weight that just can't be lifted. I think of her all of the time. The other day I flipped through the pages of  a new book and the smell took me right back to the Goosebumps books she used to buy and read with me as a kid. When they turned Goosebumps into a TV show, she was so excited she made us t-shirts and a graveyard cake to celebrate.

I made cookies the other night and when I opened the bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips I immediately thought of making Toll House cookies at Christmas and how she was too impatient to let the butter soften so she'd melt it in the microwave. I used to make fun of how flat her cookies were but would sneak them right out of the freezer when she wasn't looking. The weird shape made them the best to  eat frozen for whatever reason.

Nathan and I got into an argument a few weeks ago, and she was the one person I needed to talk to about it. I would sit in her bathroom on the step of her tub and she would lean against her counter as I rambled on and on about whatever issue I was having. She would listen so patiently before offering up advice that I typically hated because it was right.

She did my taxes, listened to me whine, and made me dinner every Wednesday and Sunday. She visited my classroom just to see it, and growled when she was really, REALLY pissed off. My mom was strong, brave, and one hell of a woman. And lung cancer is what took her away from me.

I bet some of you had no idea the extent to which my mom fought, the agony she went through to continue living the life she loved so much with the people she loved unconditionally. I share my mom's story because she is worth sharing. Her battle is worth sharing, and her strength worth remembering. When you see me rocking my white ribbon this month, know I'm doing it for my mama.

Beachin' vs. Beachin' with a Toddler: 2014

Sunday, July 27, 2014

This past week my family went down to the Outer Banks for a little vacation. Hurricane Arthur attempted to dampen the event, but failed to keep us away for more than the day it took to inspect our rental home. I spent the entire week prior making lists, packing, purchasing unnecessary items, and watching the weather like a crazy person. To say I was excited was an understatement, and when we finally received word Sunday morning that our house was cleared for habitation I was ready to burst. Pack 'em up and move 'em out!

There's really nothing quite like a little R&R at the beach. Except when you have kids. Or even A kid. Then there's really no R&R, unless of course that stands for romping & rolling. Rushing & removing. Ransacking and raging. Certainly no rest and relaxation as it used to be known. I knew being a beach-goer with a toddler was going to be different, but I was not prepared for the difference it would bring to my activities.

Beach with a toddler:
6:30 - Trash trucks are on duty. Hear toddler rustling about. Please, please, please go back to sleep.
6:45 - Toddler sounds the wake up call. Pull him into bed  with us and turn on cartoons. Silently plead with God for 30 more minutes of sleep. Toddler proceeds to crawl over parents and attempts to leap face first off the bed. Cartoons are no dice. We're up.
7:30 - Make executive decision to walk to breakfast. Being the only parents with a toddler means we're the only people up. Can't risk waking the hungover people. Load up with container of gold fish and cup of milk, and strap toddler in stroller. We're off!
8:00 - Order breakfast. Entertain toddler with straw papers, jelly pats, and gold fish (the edible variety) until food arrives. Feed toddler french toast sticks, which are a miss. Too eggy. Neighboring diners wave at toddler. Toddler smiles back and simultaneously pushes all the mushed up food out of his mouth and onto his belly.
8:45 - Decide it's still early enough to walk around without sunscreen. Enjoying the beautiful day when toddler makes retching sounds. Yep, toddler has thrown up all over himself. Exchange "WTF" glances with husband and begin mile speedwalk back to house.
8:50 - Make executive decision to pull stroller's sun visor down to hide toddler from approaching strangers. Nothing to see here, folks!
9:15 - Arrive back at house. Hose off toddler and stroller to remove chunks. Toddler loves it. Screams when the hose is turned off. Tote arching-back toddler upstairs.
9:30 - 11:00 -  Toddler terrorizes house. Attempts to remove plug outlets. Shreds toilet paper. Eats something weird off the floor. He doesn't choke, so whatever.
11:30 - Feed toddler lunch. Most of it ends up in his hair as he's used the lunch meat as a styling product. Pomenade de Turkey.
12:00 - 2:00 -  Toddler takes nap. Parents eat lunch and also lay down for 20 minutes, which turns into two hours. Oops.
2:00 -  Toddler is screeching. Retrieve toddler and attempt to get ready for beach activity. This includes applying sunscreen, seemingly equivalent to catching a greased pig. Toddler laughs as you chase him around. Finally catch him and put on swim suit and rash guard.
2:45 -  Parents and toddler are ready for the beach. Load up the beach bag with snacks, water, sunscreen, hat, towels, toys. Lug all of it and 26 pound toddler across dunes.
2:45 - 4:30 -  Chase toddler, who has no sense of life preservation as he decides to take a stroll down the beach alone. Also chase him as he's chasing the receding ocean water. Attempt to explain that yes, you have sand in your mouth. No, you can't get it out when your hands are covered in sand. No, you also can't rub your eyes when you have sand in your hands.
4:30 -  Toddler has had enough. Nothing at the beach can keep him content at this point.
4:30 - 7:30 -  Bath, entertain, dinner, bedtime.
7:30 - 10 -  Parents finally enjoy the beach... air. At least it smells salty on the deck. Also they drink beer.

Beach withOUT a toddler:
10:00 -  Wake up and check phone. Lazily roll out of bed.
10:30 -  Eat breakfast and put on your bathing suit. Grab a towel, your koozie and a beach chair and off  you go!
11:00 -  Pop the top on a cold one while reclining your beach chair and grabbing your book.
1:00 -  Lunch, and maybe a beach nap, falling asleep to the sound of the waves and seagulls begging for your Cheetos.
4:00 -  Pack it all in and head back to figure out what the rest of your evening looks like.
4:00 - 2:00 am - Do whatever the hell you want.

(Koozie courtesy of jandpaper)

And there you have it.

But really, while our time at the beach was different than any pre-baby vacation, we still had a blast. I loved seeing Finn's reaction to the water (euphoric), and he loved hurling himself into any sand hold he could find. With all of that said, though, we're still keeping our fingers crossed that next year is a teeny bit easier!