Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Grace's Birth Story

::Be forewarned, this is an incredibly long post. Sorry about that...::

Grace was scheduled to arrive May 9th, 2012. She was to be 38w4 in gestation. My OBGYN felt this was a respectable gestation, whereas I was anxious to have this baby as soon as it was physically safe for her to be born.

This is a weird thing to admit, but being in the land of baby loss, I'm super conscious that many of my beautiful friends had perfect pregnancies until the very last moment... Where there had previously been perfect heartbeats and consistent movement, there was no longer. I insisted I did not trust my body to provide me with a living, keep forever baby even though Jack had arrived safely.

In late April, Scott had let me know he would be leaving town for a few days for a series of meetings for work. I had asked him repeatedly not to go because I was starting to lose my ever-loving mind. Then I learned about Becky's Evelynn. Becky and I were the exact same gestation as one another. Both lost our first born sons within days of one another in January 2011. We were pregnant together with our rainbow baby girls. I would happily check her blog to see her updates and was looking forward to seeing her daughter a week or so before I was to meet Grace.

Then the worst happened, and Becky lost Evelynn. And I lost my mind. I grieved hard, as so many of you all did. I think when you've been through something as traumatic as the loss of your baby, it binds you to those in similar circumstances in a way people who haven't felt this can never comprehend. Because my heart knows what Becky went through in those days, my body felt physically pained. I was beside myself, not knowing how to make sense of any of this. I still can't.

And in my own selfish way, it heightened my fear that Grace might not make it either.

And so on the first of May, I kissed Scott goodbye as he left for work, and let him know I would alert him if anything changed at my appointment. He promised he could be back quickly, but begged me to keep Gracie in until Thursday when he would return- after which she was free to come as she saw fit.

I arrived with plenty of time to spare for my 1:40pm appointment and yet there was a screw up with the new ultrasound waiting area and I found I was still waiting for my name to be called an hour after my scheduled appointment. I could feel Grace moving, and I was furiously texting/emailing some friends and Scott as well to help the time pass.

My phone alerted me to a new email. I opened it to discovered an email from FutureMe.Org, a website which allows you to email yourself at a specified date in the future. I wrote about it here.

Wow, huh?

One moment- a full year earlier, captured in time. It takes me back to exactly the moment I wrote it, when I knew things were bad, but was hoping a year from now they would be better. And here I was, 37w3 pregnant with Jack's little sister.  A mere week from when I was to meet her.

Finally, I was in and out of our ultrasound which Grace passed with flying colours. The ultrasound technician was in a rush, and had turned off the machine before I could ask for a print out of my ultrasound of baby girl. I was released to go see my OBGYN.

I did the pee stick thing, weighed in (yikes!), and then sat in the clinical room awaiting my doctor. I rehearsed what I might say to her. I was going to ask for my section to be moved up until Thursday or Friday. I was too anxious to comprehend another weekend of pregnancy, and I just didn't know if I could do it.

Then my OB walked into the room, and being the wonderful doctor she is, asked me how I was doing. And all my plans for calmly asking her to move my section date up flew out the door and I began to sob. I told her I wasn't doing well, not at all. That I felt like I didn't have confidence in my body to do this, to bring Grace into the world alive. I told her of Becky and of Evelynn and my fears. I distinctly remember telling her I felt as though I was playing russian roulette with Grace's life and that I as tempting fate by keeping her in. And that I just need my baby to make it. And I bawled.

My OB listened as I wailed on, and carried out her required diagnostics. She checked my blood pressure as I choked on my tears and let me know my blood pressure was elevated and while it was likely due to my hyperventilating, she would be re-checking me at the end of my appointment. I tried to calm down, reclining as Grace's heartbeat was checked. Perfect. I sat up and we continued to chat. My doctor went through her data- we were a week earlier than we had discussed, I had forewarned her I was prone to losing my shit at the last minute and that she thought I had done well to get this far before freaking out. She mentioned she would prefer me to be another week pregnant before the section as it was somewhat early, however not alarmingly so. That baby would likely be okay if we had to deliver, but risks of NICU time and wet lungs would be elevated. I told her that if baby absolutely needed to stay in, I would try my best but that if she was ready, then I was ready too. My OBGYN was so supportive of my concerns and never once dismissed me as irrational. I honestly felt like we were in it together, if that makes sense?

She checked my blood pressure one last time, and told me that while it had lowered somewhat and was likely elevated only due to my crying, I had earned myself a trip to L&D triage to be monitored. She also let me know she was working that evening, so if I would require a section, she would be here to do it. So by 3 o'clock I was sliding off the bed and heading down to L&D.

I called Scott and gave him the update. I honestly thought I would check into L&D, my blood pressure would be fine, and I'd be sent home. I told Scott not to leave his meetings, and promised to update him. I furiously emailed my friends, very much thinking they would send me home.

The photo I texted to Scott while I was in triage. So Charming
My OBGYN had called ahead to triage and let them know I was on my way. I was strapped in for the NST and blood work was collected to rule out pre-eclampsia. As I suspected, my blood pressure had returned to normal levels by the time I was re-tested. I stayed connected to the machine for a long time listening to Grace's rhythmic heartbeat. I debated as to whether to call Scott and interrupt his golf game ( I realize in retrospect this is so lame and I should have just called him home, but I didn't want to get him worked up for nothing, you know?).

Finally, just after 4 the resident came to check me. She told me she could see I was having contractions and asked if I could feel them. Only some minor twinges and having experienced labour before this was nothing to get worked up about. So then she checked my cervix and told me I was a loose one (a loose one centimetre, not a "loose vagina". ha! Now that that's clarified...). She mentioned I had "measurable contractions" and had suggested I go home to wait out the labour, assuming it would't take long.

After starring at her and not speaking for a minute I told her I was having a repeat section and was not supposed to be in labour because of rupture fears. She kinda shrugged it off and asked if I were going to try vaginal.. Um, nope! She told me she would discuss with my OBGYN and get back to me with the suggested route. I was given water to drink to see whether it would help the contractions subside.

This was when things started to get real- because I know I'm not supposed to be in active labour, because I know my husband is 2 hours away and it is rush hour to boot. Not to mention one of the Triage nurses came in to collect pre-op bloodwork just after the resident left, so I had a sneaking suspicion this was it.

I called my mother who started freaking out. I told her in a very stern voice she needed to calm the f down because I needed her to be on standby to get to my house in Toronto (from her home in the country an hour away) to get my stem cell collection kit, our camera and my phone charger and bring it to the hospital. She agreed then got off the phone with me.

The resident reappeared and let me know that it was nearly 5pm and my OBGYN would be down shortly to discuss her recommendations with me. I told her about Scott's location, and she suggested I call him in. She smiled and wished me luck.

I called Scott and let him know. He said he'd head home immediately and I let him know I had next to no phone battery. I think it was still hard to believe it was really happeneing- because we had joked about it... Because he had asked that this not be the case (not that it really matters, but we joked Grace would chose to join us in the most inconvenient time possible... For him, this was SUPER convenient for me. ha).

My OB came into triage and after reviewing the notes from the resident, asked me how I would feel if today were Gracie's birthday. Between the GD, the large size of the baby, my fears of rupture and also the elevated BP episode, we had too many strikes against us to risk keeping her in any longer. We discussed possible complications but she assured me she would let the NICU team know of her imminent arrival and that barring any unforeseen emergencies (i.e., emergency sections), we would be meeting Grace within a couple of hours.

I called back to my parents and my mother freaked out and said her pants were in the dryer (?). I told her to put on another pair and get her ass to my house to gather our things. Patience was not my virtue on this day! I gave her a list of stuff I needed since I had packed my hospital bag, but hadn't put my makeup and daily-use stuff in there. I didn't even have my camera (which explains the lack of photos here). She rang around like a crazy person trying to find a working pen (because obviously...) she cried and my dad wrestled the phone from her. Being more relaxed, he found a pen, wrote down the list and told me he loved me and was so excited for us. My mom found her pants.

It was half past seven when a nurse shift change was to take place, and so I was kept in Triage until after the shift change occurred. Scott arrived just before the move which couldn't have been more perfect because my phone battery had died just after he arrived in the hospital parking lot.

I called my parents from Scott's phone and let them know we would be in L&D. My sister and one of my brothers arrived to provide moral support and we laughed about my mother being absolutely out of her mind. It did help a little, but in all honesty I just wanted to spend a few minutes with my husband while we awaited Grace's arrival. Our last moments as a family of three with Grace soon making it four.

At 8pm Scott confiscated my cellphone as I was prepped for surgery and consent forms were signed. i sent my last email to my besties and told them I would see them on the other side.

My parents had not yet arrived, but were enroute from our house so they would be there any moment. We were offered an emergency back-up cord collection kit in the event they didn't make it in time and I was wheeled off to the OR to begin the prep around 9pm.

We arrived in the recovery room- as far as Scott could move forward with me until after the spinal block had been administered. There was a woman being wheeled in with her moments old son just as I kissed Scott goodbye and I fought back tears. I told Scott I was jealous of her- I was jealous she was in the euphoric moment of holding her son, and that I just wanted to be back there, in that moment with my own son.

Scott joined me once the numbing was complete and the divider in place. I was a ball of nerves and yet I have never laughed as hard as I did in that moment. Scott, who is entirely self-conscious of taking his shirt off, had walked into the OR in his jeans, work shoes, and a hospital gown worn backwards, entirely open in the chest. Because he had done this with Jack- skin to skin, except the previous gown was neither mesh nor transparent like this one. I laughed, my anesthesiologist laughed, and my OB giggled wondering what the hell he was doing. But he was a man on a mission- ready to meet his daughter. Sure did help break up some of the tension, though.

Back off ladies- he's all mine
There was a soft knock at the door as a nurse handed Scott the cord kit my brother had received from my mother and he had run it to the OR, knowing we were moments from needing it. Scott was handed our camera and also Jack bear, my mother knowing I would want him here, too. Scott tucked him next to my head.

This photo makes me tear up. It brings me right back to that moment in time. That fear remains so vivid to me. 
It was only a few moments before I started feeling the familiar pulling and pushing behind the curtain, and I knew she was nearly here. I was crying really hard. Out of fear, out of excitement, out of the familiarity of all of this hope.

And moments later, at 9:20pm, Grace Jack McCannell came screaming into the world. I cried. Scott cried. All three of us, crying together, while Jack looked over us.

Family of 3+1

I know Jack was there in the delivery room.  I honestly felt he was there on that day, in that OR, with us- joining us in welcoming his baby sister into the world. I could FEEL it. I could feel him.

Finally getting my hands on her. My two babies, together.
As for what came next, well we didn't exactly have the sit and see approach we had planned with Grace. Far more interventions occurred than we had planned in order to ensure she would remain healthy, but that's a story for another day. For now, I can only say thank you for reading this terribly long birth story. Your reward is this photo of a super fresh, brand spanking new, squishy Grace.

Fresh from the womb.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Boy Frozen In Time & Liver Recipient Update

I've been trying to attempt to describe the change I feel about Jack now that Grace has arrived. It wasn't as though I actually think he's "imaginary", but rather I think it's about how he will always be a tiny infant to me... He'll never be more than 8 days old.

In my memory, in my mind, in video, and in pictures- never more than 8 days.

On the night he was born

I hate that.

As I watch his sister grow out of her 0-3 clothes (because OMG, she weighs like 30lbs now? A slight exaggeration, but honestly.. My husband commented I have definition in my arms... I wonder who I can hold responsible for that?), I am getting further and further away from him. I can't go back, I know I can't go back, but still. 

He's still there, just frozen in time. January 9th... January 11th. Dates he was declared, donated and gone. I know he's "here" with me the same way I now understand how it's possible to feel my heart burst with pride and adoration for the little suckling baby on my breast while simultaneously grieving the little guy who I wish would have done the same.

Just before we packed up and moved a couple weeks back, we received some unexpected mail. There was the Trillium Gift of Life envelop and contained within it was a cover letter letting us know that attached to this paper was a letter from Jack's liver recipients mother.

Over the past 18 months, I wondered about this little boy. We knew so very little about him, and while I would be lying if I said I hadn't "Google-investigated" to see if I couldn't locate more information about him (anyone reading this that I work with would laugh about this... I Google EVERYBODY!), we honestly didn't know whether he had lived or not.  I eventually convinced myself it didn't matter either way... Because I was terrified that perhaps that other little guy wouldn't have made it either, and I would feel even worse somehow that my little boy wouldn't be considered a hero.

But he is a hero. The other little boy? He made it. He turned two whole years old on July 4th. He was born healthy, and then a few days later he wasn't. Not unlike my own son.

He lives with my son's liver within him, and he's doing well. A miracle in it's own right.

As thrilling as it was to know the recipient lives, it actually brought out some suppressed feelings. First, I wasn't expecting the letter- mere days before what would have been Jack's 18th month of life, had he made it. I'm still pissed we didn't get some forewarning- a phone call, a letter in the mail letting us know that a letter was coming. Because it likely wasn't something I should have received and opened alone. Because it brought me to my knees with anguish and tears.

My husband was angry. I was angry. For irrational reasons: the other parents? They were 22, unmarried and the baby unexpected. None of this matters- there are worse formulas for parents than that. (Side rant: I actually don't care whether people are married or not, makes no difference to me.) But it's the irrational part of my brain which thinks we deserved to keep Jack because we played by all the rules- we were married as society tells us we should be. We have well-paying jobs. We are nice people, I swear we are! My husband is the happiest person and people love him the instant they meet him... I took my prenatal vitamins. We planned for him. I diligently went to every appointment... Gleefully vomited nearly every day. All to ensure the best possible outcome. And it all went to shit anyway. What is it they say about the best laid plans?

You know what it really is? It's not anger. It's jealousy. We did everything as we were meant to and still can grasp that we lost him. But as I tried to explain to a friend last week, it wasn't like it was their baby or our baby. It was never one or the other. Jack was going, and on his way out his liver was donated. It just happened to be a perfect fit for the other little boy. There are no rewards for good behaviour, nor punishments either.

It's just so damn hard to accept that my perfect life went to hell in a hand basket, and yet there are some people never touched with this type of grief. Some people who think it only happens to other people... Those same people who told me in the early days that Jack was in a better place? I'd like for them to feel for just a second what it feels like to be me. To experience life after the death of your child, to experience a liquid, thriving daughter in my arms while my son exists only in memories frozen in time. Preserved for all of eternity.

I'll write more about the letter later. I'm still processing it.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Eleven Weeks Old

How on Earth it's possible my little lady is eleven weeks old already is beyond my comprehension.

If I weren't plagued by baby-brain, I might be able to invert the photo so you could read her shirt... "My Dad Rocks"...

To think eleven weeks ago she was still snuggled all comfy in my belly, neither of us aware she would be joining us that same day... It's crazy.

I owe you a birth story, and I promise I'll get to it... Next week.
See, I set a deadline for myself, now I have to do it.

I have a great reason for being absent from the blog for the past couple of weeks. We finally moved! We moved July 6th from Toronto into our dream house 45 minutes west of the city. We have a pool now, and with this incredibly hot days it's been absolutely fabulous. Of course I haven't been able to locate my bathing suit, so I've been swimming in a t-shirt and a spare pair of Scott's swim shorts.. 

Yup, class all the way. 

Seriously though, this country air certainly agrees with Grace, who has slept through the night 4/9 nights we've lived here- waking only once the other nights for a feed session.
Snoozing 1/2 way through the day yesterday.

Because how can you keep growing cheeks like these if you're not constantly latched?

I'll update again soon. I hope you're all doing well. And although I know she's not reading, Becky and her family are never far from my mind.

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