"...suffering is one of the universal conditions of being alive. We all suffer. We have become terribly vulnerable, not because we suffer, but because we have separated ourselves from each other." -- Rachel Naoimi Remen

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Elementary Escape Room - Football Theme

Today our oldest invited five friends that came over today to celebrate his birthday!  I had made an escape room for an event at work that was a huge success and felt inspired to share the fun with the family!  Of course, my husband's assistance was needed since I was not a subject matter expert in football, the desired theme.  

Here's how it went:  we told the boys:  

You are the managers for the Eagles in Superbowl 52.  We just found out that Tom Brady deflated all the footballs and Nick Foles asked you to go back to the locker room and get a regulation football that is not deflated.  You run back to the locker room and are looking for the ball when Bill Belichick, coach of the Patriots, tries to cheat again by locking you in the locker room. 

Help Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles make it to Superbowl 52 by
  •          getting the fully inflated football out of the birdcage,
  •          and unlocking the locker room by sliding the small silver keys under the door!

Bill Belicheck said he knew someone’s birthday was coming up soon and used the birth date (month and date) as the code for the first lock which is in a small blue bag. 

That bag has some tools that will be useful to help reveal all the rest of the codes that unlock each of the locks and help you save the game and escape the locker room!

 1.  117 (for November 7) unlocks the first lock on a blue bag, which is hidden in a an old jewelry box.  Inside the bag there are a bunch of invisible ink pens with UV lights on the tips to reveal the clues to unlock each code.  There is also a paper with the “work” to unlock the code.

2. The clue asks the kids what the roman numerals are for Superbowl 52.  Then they use a worksheet decoder to reveal what numbers the letters LII correspond to.  299 unlocks the next lock which is on an aqua bag. 

3.  Inside the aqua bag are a bunch of puzzle pieces.  They have to put together the puzzle, which is this picture, which is from their locker room prior to the Bills game this season: 

4.  Then, the clue directs them to find the player who’s leading the prayer and that his weight unlocks the birdcage where the fully inflated ball is held. (On the roster, the kids can find out that Malcolm Jenkins weighs 204 pounds)

5.  Inside the bird cage, the boys find the fully inflated ball and a final clue.  There is a worksheet of football words to unscramble. The kids are directed to find the 4-letter word that unlocks the glass jar. Nick doesn’t want this to happen to him today. 

6.  SACK unlocks the glass jar where the keys are hidden. The kids have to slide the keys under the locker room doors to escape the room and help the Philadelphia Eagles win Superbowl 52!

Everyone had a blast!!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Gritty Grit

Pop on far right, cousins & uncles harvesting tobacco, 1987.
Recently, I drove past a tobacco field. I recall, August is the time for tobacco harvest.  I'm overcome by a peaceful smile and memories flood back quickly.  They're altogether pleasant.  First, I thought of Pop.  Then, I thought of tobacco worms and that smell of tobacco leaves.  My uncles in the top of the barn calling down, jumping around.  Bravely.  Fun.  Hot and sweaty.  I'm reminded of one of my uncles in the stripping shed in the dead of winter; I call him the Philosopher. 

In this moment, I remember those days so fondly.  It feels like a runners-high washes over me. 

And yet "fondness" and "peaceful" aren't at all the vocabulary I would have used to describe those times during those times, some twenty years ago. 

Why is it that my reaction to the sight of a working tobacco farm is so profound? 

Memories from our adolescence are fascinating like that.  

Today, when I see a working tobacco farm, I'm reminded of one of the great things that I know in my core is a fundamental part of what makes me who I am. 

As a child and teenager growing up on a tobacco farm, I was far from proud.  My dad and his brothers farmed tobacco throughout their childhood and early adulthood.  My dad continued farming until I was 16, hanging onto the extra cash the crop afforded my family - using those dollars to put my siblings and I through Catholic grade school.  

Tobacco, for those of you who haven't raised it, is an incredibly difficult crop.  Planted in May, harvested in August and hung through the fall, tobacco leaves are then stripped in the winter, bundled and sold.  

I remember hiding behind the plants one hot summer day, as a public school school bus drove by - hoping to not be spotted out there, actually doing work.  

I remember heading to the "stripping shed" after indoor track practice, homework and dinner were complete.  It was 10th grade and I was having a great track season back then, which is perhaps why those memories of the Philosopher are so well etched in my mind. 

The difficulty of the tobacco crop left us worn and gritty.  My mom bought special soap for us to clean our hands.  But, she never apologized that we had to work so hard.  Maybe she wished we hadn't needed to do it; but maybe she also knew it was good for us, in more ways than one. 

Grit is defined by dictionary.com as an abrasive granule.  The hard work from the tobacco fields and barns left us covered in grit. 

Grit is also defined by dictionary.com as an "indomitable spirit."  

Grit's become quite the buzzword lately. A hot topic with an excellent TED Talk by Angela Duckworth, where she explains how grit influences future success more than talent.  Duckworth describes this essential quality as "passion and perseverance toward long term goals."  There are countless other writings today, including the Forbes article which enumerates the 5 characteristics of grit: courage, conscientiousness, endurance, resilience and excellence. 

Duckworth concludes her TED talk with a call for more research and the conclusion that experts still don't know what exactly creates grit in our children. 

Well, I know that raising tobacco throughout my adolescence left me gritty.  

I recall a pre-race conversation from my teen years where my dad encouraged me that he knew I could win because I worked harder than the competition, just like I did on the farm with him.  Some twenty years later, I can still see the pride in his eyes when he told me this.  

I learned early on that hard work produced results, both on the track and in my studies.  But I never thanked God for the privilege of working on a tobacco farm.  There weren't explicit lessons on the fields or in the barns.  We didn't talk about science or math, we didn't talk much at all.  I simply observed what it took to get the job done and did my best to do the same.  I don't ever remember complaining.  We actually had fun, particularly hanging tobacco in the barns, covered in sweat and grit, working hard.  Throughout those winters, the Philosopher and I debated God and poetry, and he taught me to question everything. 

I can see how this grit has served me well throughout my life.  Not as smart, but harder working than my classmates, I excelled in college.  Grit may well be the only reason I made it through medical school; where I felt largely out-rivaled, but determined to persevere.  Today, I wouldn't change a thing, as I enjoy a successful career in medicine.    

These days, I'm proud to be a farmers daughter and thankful for my experiences in raising tobacco as a child and teen.  I see that time in my life as critically formative in who I am today.  

Now, I find myself wondering how, in the absence of a tobacco farm, to create in my sons this sort of grit.  I know they need it.  Not only will they grow up in the entitlement generation, but their parents are both physicians.  Their lives lack very little at all.  They have everything they need and most of what they want, almost all the time.  We're abundantly blessed from a financial standpoint.  I wonder, does that actually disadvantage my children when it comes to the development of grit?  I worry... but I won't let it.

My husband and I believe strongly that this is one of the greatest challenges we parents of today collectively face.  Even those without financial luxuries face the culture of immediate gratification that is prevalent in our society.  Immediate gratification stands in direct opposition to perseverance toward long term goals.   

Did the American dream of providing a better life for our children than we enjoyed somehow get warped into creating childhoods free from tears, sweat or challenges of any kind?  I contend, we have gone too far. 

When things come quickly for children, those characteristics of endurance and resilience are not built or tested.  Which is one thing when a child has a particular talent in one area but another thing entirely when everything comes quickly because their parents have protected them with an artificial insulation from reality.   When children don't have the chance fail, they never get to pull themselves back up again.  I believe the possibility of failure is an absolutely essential opportunity for today's youth. 

And so, my husband and I have been fretting ever since I drove past that tobacco farm a few weeks ago.  We know a tobacco farm isn't required make our boys gritty.  

What will be those things? 

My parents didn't seek out hard farm work to create in me a strong work ethic.  They raised tobacco to make a living, we worked hard to survive; it was essential.  Although my family today doesn't have the financial impetus for this kind of tireless motivation, we must still courageously pursue excellence.  

We must know that sometimes our kids won't like us for it.  They may be embarrased, frustrated, and they may not understand.  They certainly won't be thanking us in the moment.  They may whine, mope or complain that their parents are the only ones this "mean."  But, we must continue to unapologetically seek out challenges for our children.  We must watch them fall and not immediately rush to help them back up again.  It'll be good for them, in more ways than one. 

This will be counter-cultural.   But, we know their grit depends on it.  And if their success depends on their grit, then we're going to stand back and let them get gritty.  

When reflecting on your own childhood, what experiences do you think shaped you the most?  Which left you gritty?  

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Why I'm not breastfeeding

First things first, this blog is in no way intended to be professional medical advice from a licensed physician.  

It is, as usual, my true story; the musings of a hormonal mother of three; my interpretation of my current state (either of which could change at any moment).

It may also be accurately interpreted as this: permission to not feel guilty for using formula with your newborn! 

Breast is best.  Yes, I know that.  [Got that message a few hundred articles ago.  I won't link any here, because, quite frankly, I don't want to look at or read any more of those.] 

Breast is best.  It's best for baby to get the best protection from bacteria and viruses in our community, and it might even prevent things like diabetes.  

Breast is cheaper too.  My not even one month old, who's currently taking 4 oz every 3 hours, will finish this jumbo container of formula in about 8 days, and it sells for $35!!  

Breast is natural... and breastfeeding can sometimes help mother and baby bond.  

But what you won't read, or these days even hear in public conversation... is that breastfeeding is hard work.  Breast feeding sucks... (literally; pun intended.)  The newest love of your life, who was completely dependent upon you to thrive for the first nine months of life, continues to require your service through breastfeeding.  

It's awesome, and I know many women who successfully solely nurse their children for months or years.  These women should be very proud, as I am of them, for their commitment.  They worked hard to provide for their babies and should feel great about that!  

Unfortunately for me, and many women I know, though, it's not awesome when it doesn't come easily for a woman.   And those mothers have every right to feel great too.  

When I had my first child, I was able to nurse him right away.  He was a champion sucker!  Although he loved to nurse, there was really no part of it that I enjoyed.  On my end, it did not improve our bond.  Sometimes, I dreaded feeding time (which came every other hour in the beginning!)  I was riddled with five bouts of mastitis - an inflammatory breast condition which gave me fevers of 103 on several occasions.  Nursing was painful when I had mastitis. When I didn't, it was just plain tiring.  Exclusively breast feeding leaves mom doing most of the work at night - although my husband would change diapers and soothe cries too, and he sometimes gave pumped milk bottles at night just to give me a break.  

Although nursing is lauded as natural, it didn't really feel natural to me unless I was in my bedroom.  I wasn't comfortable nursing in public without a cover.  The real challenge came when I returned to work.  I had to pump 2 or 3 times per day and my supply could not keep up.  Without the adorable baby on my lap, I just couldn't produce.  I looked at his pictures, called home to hear him cry, and drank 4 liters of water per day, but nothing helped. 

My milk supply dwindled, as did my spirits.  For the first time in my life, I felt inadequate. 

Those feelings of inadequacy were foreign to me and I kept them secret for a few weeks until I finally was brave enough to share them with my husband.  I had no reason to, but felt ashamed.  I was disappointed in myself and didn't understand why I couldn't do better.  The stress was terrible, and it made me resent work.  

Ultimately, with a lot of empathy from my husband, I gave up nursing as my breast milk supply declined to nothing, around his fifth month.  

For my second son, who was a domestic newborn adoption - breast milk was not an option.  (Yes, there are breast milk donors but we were not interested in that option.)  So, formula it was.  Our second son has done excellent on formula since birth.  

...and bottle feeding formula was so much easier!!

With this, our third son, I am technically able to nurse.  However, I knew I wanted to resume my rheumatoid arthritis medication which is toxic in the breast milk, so I elected to not nurse.  

I elected to put myself first!  Much about mothering is sacrificial and most of those sacrifices have been made pretty willingly by me.  But this one, I just couldn't do it again.

The thing is, a lot of things are best for baby.  As I've said before on this blog, knowledge is power - powerful.  These days, it seems, parents are inundated with information.  The internet can be our enemy in this way.  We're bombarded with guidelines which stack up like a tall order of impossible expectations for high achieving women and men everywhere. 

As Melanie Haney, blogger at thefrozenmoon.com, eloquently puts it,
"...sometimes, life in this generation of motherhood can feel like martyrdom.  And it shouldn’t.  I gave birth four times, with an epidural, and I formula fed four babies – which is to say, I chose my own sanity over what society expects from me.... I chose to let my husband share in the intimacy of feeding our children, while I shared in some of the sleep that we were both so lacking.  There’s about as much shame in those choices for me, as there are special awards or trophies for women who deliver naturally and choose to exclusively breastfeed until they’re good and done. Which is to say – there’s none."

We must be thoughtful and purposeful about our choices for our family.  There will be some recommendations which we cannot or chose not to follow.  There will be others that we embrace. 

Here are some less popular "bests:"

It's best for baby to not watch any TV.  I'm proud to say that neither of our children have sat and watched a full TV show before the age of 1.  For both my boys, I think they were about 15 months before they had that pleasure.  Limiting screen time is something my husband and I feel really strongly about.

Back is best.... and an empty crib is best.  Our 19 month old is still sleeping in an empty crib.  I imagine this might seem excessive to some, just like breastfeeding at 19 months might seem excessive to some.  But I say both are great, if you can make it work. 

Along the lines of feeding, I happen to believe that fresh food is best.  I really don't like the idea that produce with a shelf life of three years being my baby's first food.  So for both my babies, I've made almost all of their food.  It might seem like a lot of work to some people (like breastfeeding does to me), but I actually find making baby food quite rewarding, and easy.  I've used a "baby bullet" and pureed and froze most of my boys' food from age 4-12 months.  I am very proud of this and think it's "best," but I also completely understand that it isn't for everyone.  I certainly don't judge my jar-feeding friends.  Nor do I think they have anything to feel guilty about. 

There are countless accurate reasons to tout the slogan, "breast is best," and I really don't mean to detract from that. 

If you aren't sure what's right for you and your baby, I encourage you to do your research.  I encourage you to try to nurse.  But I also beg you to not lose sleep, to not feel guilty, and to not be ashamed if you cannot or chose not to breastfeed.  Motherhood is hard work - be thoughtful, but don't beat yourself up!  And don't let anyone else (or any silly blog) beat you up either!!

Baby P number 3 is strictly formula fed.  So far he's healthy, and I pray he stays that way.  Technically I have a "good excuse" to not breastfeed, but even if I didn't, I'm not ashamed to say or to share:

I simply did not want to nurse. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016


It was as close to love at first sight as any story I've ever heard.  About ten years ago now, a fourth year medical student and a medical intern ventured separately on medical mission trip to Costa Rica.  One short week later, they were together, and have been ever since. 

Yes, I'd fallen fast before, but it was different this time.  And it's been different ever since. 

Our love, at the beginning, was all the fun things that young love is "supposed" to be... what young people all over America expect it to be. 

We got engaged pretty quickly by today's standards, and then had a bit of a long engagement.  Married just before I started my first real job. 

Ours had been a long distance relationship up until about two months after we were married.  Two independent stubborn physicians cohabiting made for a tumultuous first year of marriage.  We fought often; although I can't remember the content of even one argument.  Of course there were frequent misunderstandings over money - I'll tell you the funniest of stories.  We had combined accounts and his type A personality puts mine to shame.  We were just learning how to navigate shared finances, and like I said, I had just started my first job with an Attending's salary.  So we had an agreement, that if we planned to spend more than $200, we would run it by each other first.  At the time, I worked a "7 on, 7 off" hospitalist schedule, which means you work a week straight of 12 hour days followed by a week off, continuously throughout the year.  Let's just say that the bank account always knew when I was on my seven days off stretch.  I'd do long runs and shop - what else was there to do back then!?  So the story goes, my hubby comes home from work one day and asks, "What the heck did you do today!"  He reminds me of our "$200" agreement, and I confirm that yes, I remember that plan.  He looks at me like I must have lost it... and I explain, I didn't spend $200 today.  I spent $100 at target, $75 at the grocery store, $200 at the bulk food store... and I don't recall for sure but probably another $50 at Michaels and Pier I.  I thought I had followed our rule; he thought otherwise.  Once I understood, I was happy to comply ;)

There have been not so funny misunderstandings along the way too, but that's the nature of  a relationship, and thankfully we've only had a few really hard times. 

One challenging time came after my miscarriages.  I needed him to know how desperately I wanted to mend our family with adoption.  He kept talking in hypotheticals, while I was ready to actually move forward.  I was thankful that we were talking - we'd been talking about adoption since before we even married - but it had always been a distant, far off possibility.  In the anxiety and depression that followed five miscarriages, I knew deep within me that I needed and wanted to explore adoption for our family - really dig in and explore it.  I was ready before him.  My hurt had been deeper than his.  Fortunately for both of us, he was able to understand relatively quickly and started with me on the journey that brought us to now.  

This time reminds me of one of our wedding scriptures, Ecclesiastes 4:12, "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."  When we embarked on the journey of marriage, I knew that our commitment to each other and God would be our strength.  But just like there's a difference between when you carry your first pregnancy to term, and you think you know that a miscarriage would hurt, versus when you're on your seventh pregnancy and you know in a much more profound way how big that hurt would really be; there's a difference between knowing your bond will be tested, and actually having it tested.

Through our secondary infertility, I could have been wrecked... but I wasn't, because I had my partner, my husband, my best friend (yes, that's all the same guy).  And my God.  We were a strong cord of three strands that withstood the storm, and I know I couldn't have made it on my own. 

It honestly never crossed my mind at the time, but I guess it's possible too that we could have been wrecked.  Just like money and sex, I imagine infertility can tear some couples apart.  We were made stronger though.

Why?  Because we met each other where we were.  It did not come naturally.  It was hard at first to admit that our hurt was different.  Not because he loved those babies less.  Not because I wasn't as strong as him.  But because our experiences were different.  Men experience the loss of miscarriage differently than women, not necessary less, but it is just not the same.  When a tiny human grows and dies inside you, its a unique experience for women.

Fortunately, my partner and I, we reconciled that reality relatively quickly.  It was okay to respond differently.  It was hard to meet each other where we were, but because we wanted to, and because we knew we needed to, we found a way.

This is one of the many reasons I prefer the term "partner" when talking about marriage and spouses.  I guess it's my feminist streak, but I've never really liked the word "wife."  In my mind it just carries so much connotation that doesn't resonate with me, who I think I am, or who my husband expects me to be. 
I'm not the kind of wife that needs push presents or valentines. (Although if you're buying, I'll happily take a plant or some jewelry ;))
However, I am big on cooking dinner and having it on the table at 6:30pm, not because it's my duty as his wife, but because it's important to me that my family be healthy.  We also believe that the dinner table is one of the most important places for a family to regularly gather. 
He is the kind of husband who gets up for middle of the night baby feedings and crying.  Because he wants to; because we both expect it.   
We are both providers.  We are both nurturers.  Our responsibilities are shared.   
I could go on... but, the point is, I'm not a big fan of that romanticized idea of love and marriage, or that traditional idea of what a wife ought to be. 

I was fortunate to learn about marriage as a partnership even as a child.  That's the kind of marriage my parents had.  They argued regularly about money, their work or hobbies, and where we'd spend the next holiday.  But they laughed even more often.  They worked hard in the fields making sure they could finance our education.  They stayed up late talking about how to guide us through adolescence.  We sat around the dinner table every single night having deep discussions about what was on our minds, and what was happening in our family or the world.  My parents taught me that commitment can be both hard work and lots of fun.  Our family adventures put that lesson into practice over and over again throughout my life. 

Unfortunately, I've learned as an adult that not everyone has the advantage of such an example.  It saddens me that there are some kids who've never been part of, or even really witnessed, a nuclear family.  What blessings I took for granted for so very long.

So, I'm thankful today and always, that my partner and I, we both seem to have what it takes to be loyal and committed. 

Love, it's necessary, but not sufficient, for a long and strong marriage. 

In the context of marriage, love is a verb, it requires action; it's not just a feeling or an adjective, describing something pretty you've placed on the mantle.  I think I knew that ten years ago, but now I really know it. 

Our love, this kind of marriage bond - it's deeply resilient.  Maybe it's not as pretty as the movies.  Maybe this is the closest our eight year anniversary is going to come to PDA, an anniversary card, or present (and even this is four days late).  But, it's the kind of woven partnership that I longed for; and I believe it can truly stand the test of time.  I think it can last a lifetime.

I don't look forward to much of anything about growing old, except about how I'll look back on now... like I look back on us eight or ten years ago.  Will I see us in 2016 as still so na├»ve and restless?  In love, but not coming close to knowing what it really means to love, the way we will in 2026 or 2046?  I definitely look forward to that kind of wisdom!

Right now I smile as we laugh, more than we cry or fight; knowing that we can always count on each other.  Truly respecting our differences, while also celebrating our collaboration as we face this very difficult world together. 

What hard times will come?  In a decade, or two or three or four, what will I be reflecting on then?  Unsurprised and proud, but also humble and thankful that we made it through that, too...?   

As we agreed the other night in bed, there is no one else on earth I could even fathom going through this with.

Partner, I look forward to taking this walk with you. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

"Third, and final."

I've caught myself saying this a lot lately...

It comes in response to the common line of questioning, "Oh!  When are you due?  Is this your first?"  I've started replying, "No, it's my third, and final." 

I hadn't planned to say it that way, but ever since I said it the first time, it keeps coming out that way; and the more I say it, the truer it sounds! 

I guess maybe it goes without saying that I'm not a very good Catholic.  Yes, I'm still technically a Catholic even though it's been several years since I took the blessed sacrament, and I did not get married in the Catholic church.  Nevertheless, I still have a deep respect for Catholicism.  It's a big part of what I like to think is a pretty strong spiritual foundation within me, and you won't find me bashing very many Catholic practices.  I still meditate on the "Hail Mary" during many of my (albeit, infrequent,) runs.  And the first thing I wanted to do when I heard some heartbreaking news about a very close friend of ours' baby being in the NICU, was go to the next Catholic daily mass I could find.  Because, being on my knees in front of a tabernacle is still some of the most intimate and reverent prayer I know.  

So, what I'm saying is that much of Catholicism still resonates deep within me.  Along that same line, I truly believe a number of Catholic teachings.  For example, I'm a supporter of Natural Family Planning.  And although I'm not sure I totally agree with it, I definitely understand the Church's thinking "against" birth control and sterilization.  Because, in general, I agree with the ideology of not interfering with God's will.  There are many instances in our modern lives where I definitely think that we have too many opportunities to get between ourselves and God.  There are countless roadblocks between His will for our lives and our actual walks, which supposedly are walks with Him.  If we truly want to follow Christ, we have to let Him in, you know.  We have to discern His way, and attempt to follow it, however uncomfortable.  Although there are many instances where I support the use of birth control (and have used it myself), I also think there is the chance to blindly use this modern convenience and ignore God's calling.  I tend to agree with the Catholic church, in so far as it encourages us to be wary of this potential pitfall. 

However, after discernment, I have chosen to use birth control a few times throughout my family journey because I felt it was our best choice to protect ourselves emotionally and physically.   

As is true with most things in life, I don't see this issue in black and white. 

My most recent reason for needing birth control was after my diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis, where I needed to be put on a medication (methotrexate) to get my disease in remission.  This medicine is very dangerous if you get pregnant.  So, I was on birth control while I was on the drug and had to go off it months before trying to conceive the precious baby who's currently in my womb.  

During this pregnancy, my rheumatoid has not been flaring, but I can't say it's been in remission either.  I miss the medication very much; I felt so much better on it and, I cannot wait to get back on it.  I plan to do that as soon as possible after giving birth and will also choose to not nurse this baby so that I can take it (it also crosses the breast milk and can be dangerous for baby outside the womb).  

Furthermore, while I'm trying hard to not complain (for fear of sounding ungrateful), this pregnancy has been hard. 

The last time I was seven months pregnant (well over five years ago now), I had no idea how easy I had it.  I'm guessing most who've experienced these factors would agree: 
Pregnancy, when you're in your late 30's is definitely more challenging than when you're in your early 30's.   
Pregnancy, when you have two kids is completely different than when you have none.      
Pregnancy, when you have rheumatoid arthritis, is achy and stiff. 
Pregnancy, when you've had five miscarriages is scary 
I keep thinking that after I hit the next pregnancy milestone, I'll finally let go and feel "home free," but then as I turn each corner I find that I still do not feel carefree, like I did this time five+ years ago...  I simply cannot un-know what I know now.
At 36 years old, in my seventh pregnancy, with a 5 year old and a 15 month old - I'm blessed more than I could have ever imagined.  I'm thankful every single day - and I praise God and pray that this pregnancy continues to term and brings a healthy boy into my family and home. 

I wouldn't change a thing.   

I have the utmost respect and adoration for the great privilege I have right now to have a baby inside me...
But, I'm also exhausted. 

My partner and I, we're open to God's plan for our family.  And if He calls us to have more children in our family, we'll welcome the opportunity to foster or adopt more children. 

I am just not sure my body, or my mind, ever want to do this again. 

Maybe that makes me a bad Catholic, but it's true. 

(Please remember that although I'm a religious and highly spiritual person, this is not a religious or theological blog... it's a therapeutic journal and an honest sharing of our family journey, ours alone.)

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Do you believe in Miracles?

Recently, our Sunday school class was talking about some of Jesus' early miracles and then asked if anyone had ever witnessed a miracle.  I stayed pretty quiet...

The Catechism says a miracle is:
a sign or wonder, such as a healing or the control of nature, which can only be attributed to divine power.

Practicing medicine has led me to believe that there are no modern day miracles.  I've seen young people with horrible malignancies, patients with several different kinds of cancer throughout their lifetimes, and the nicest of folks die slowly from ALS or Alzheimer's.  I have never witnessed any of these people having experienced a miraculous healing.  Illness can be very mean.  It can be relentless, and feel unfair.  And I guess I think it makes more sense to believe that God, no matter how much he might want to, won't move us around like a chess piece and intervene with a miracle.  I believe Jesus performed miracles when he walked on this earth, and I suspect the saints, like Mother Teresa, have indeed as well.  But for most of us, I don't think it's wise to sit around waiting for a miraculous healing. 

Yes, I've seen people be cured of disease.  The "miracle" of modern medicine and the power of great technology and science allows for much of that.  I believe God's hand has guided those scientists and physicians who've created effective treatments, preventions or cures for such diseases.  I'm a big believer in the power of prayer to help our loved ones have the strength to endure those tough treatments or long days.  I believe God engulfs us in his love along our journeys. 

But if you want to talk about miracles, I think they're more subtle today than they were in Jesus' time.

I've seen what I've called the "calm before the storm," when a dying person on hospice has a few lucid hours right after their son arrives from Illinois.  Those tiny grace-filled hours felt like a miracle.  I've seen that kind of mercy several times, and held the hands of those beautiful dying people.  It's probably the greatest honor of practicing medicine. 

Sometimes, "blessings come in raindrops." (Laura Story)  But never have I seen God sweep down and save anyone who I knew from a medical standpoint was going to die.  Not saying it's never happened before, just not in my experience.

[Please note, this is simply my opinion and no attempt at theology.] 

Why am I writing about this today?  Well, lately I've been pondering about this quite a bit.  It's fascinating to me how people have reacted to my thus far healthy pregnancy.  I haven't been offended, and I don't mean any of this in a negatively judgmental way, it's just that these comments plus life itself have made me very contemplative.  One common mention is about how adoption is a cure for infertility.  As nice a sentiment as they intend, unfortunately, I know this simply isn't true.  I've held the hands of many who've adopted... and are still infertile.  Those stories of families who conceive while or after adopting, are memorable, which makes them feel more common than they actually are.

I've been pregnant seven times, and I'd hardly call that a miracle.  One of the strangest things about life, I've found, is how equally truthful disparate thoughts can seem.  For instance, when I think about all the ways that a pregnancy can go wrong, it seems amazing to me that it ever goes right.  And yet, in the wise words of my obstetrician, "there aren't seven billion people in the world for no reason."  Sperm and eggs come together every day, all over the world, to make tiny humans.  I imagine for a moment the plight of some of those babies in their wombs and soberly know that no one is calling them a miracle. 

In our case, I feel like our pregnancy, which has now made it six months with relatively good health, is an awesome privilege that I cherish dearly, but no miracle.  Certainly, God's hand is upon us, and I'm ever thankful for his wonderful providence in our lives.  I'm praying like crazy that this baby continues to be healthy and that I deliver a live baby boy in a few months.  And I do believe in the power of prayer.  But I also believe that this is part of God's great design, just like the five deaths that preceded it were.  I just can't believe that God intervened this time and not the five times before. 

In part, I believe that our healthy baby in my womb is still living due to some darn good medicine and science - both of which could still betray me at any moment. 

What feels a lot more like a miracle to me, is the hundreds of small events that had to line up just perfectly for a homeless woman in LA to find my family in the burbs of PA, and give us her baby. 

I'm equally thankful for all three of my boys and the unique paths that brought them into my life.  God is good, all the time.  If this one that I'm carrying now dies tomorrow, I'll still be thankful for God's hand upon me.  If this baby never makes it home, it won't take away from God's providence over us one bit, but would anyone call this pregnancy a miracle then? 

It's just semantics, whether they or we call our baby boy a blessing or a miracle.  I'm certainly not offended if you choose the later, I'm delighted either way.  Just sharing my thoughts as they tumble around in my hormonal brain. 

Being a mother, even more so than being a physician, is the greatest honor of my life. 

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Not so "phantom" Kicks

I'm convinced that the second best thing about being pregnant, and making it to at least the second trimester, is feeling the baby kick.  (Naturally, the best thing about being pregnant is the whole human being growing inside you thing.) 

Baby kicks are one of the not-so-insignificant-things you miss out on in adoption.  The biological mother has the baby in her womb.  Fortunately for us, we know that our adopted son's older biological brother talked and sang to him while he was in the womb. 

This baby that I'm carrying now, his oldest brother has named him or her "little apple."  Little Apple gets hugs and kisses from the big guy most nights.  And biggest brother talks to him pretty regularly.  Plus, even when someone's not using my anterior abdominal wall as a megaphone, Little Apple hears us talking all around him.  When he comes into this bright new world, he'll likely have some recognition of our voices. 

Little Apple kicked hard, for the first time several weeks ago, when his littlest big brother stepped on his head.  Neither Mommy nor Little Apple liked that much. 

Yet, it was a thrill for me. 

As you know, I've experienced real baby kicks with my first pregnancy, sometime around 20 weeks, which is pretty common.  In my second pregnancy, I thought I felt her kicking but lost her at 16 weeks which is about as early as you might feel a baby kick, so those sensations may not have really been her. 

After that, I had the sensation of "phantom kicks," for which I've named this blog (see my first explanation of this via blog, here), with some regularity.  As I explained back then,
Much like phantom limb pain, a pain an amputee feels after he looses a limb, I imagine this sensation has come to me, and others, as a subconscious reminder of what once was.  Although I'd never heard the term before I started using it, you can do a google search and find other moms, those who've lost and those who haven't, who use this phrasing to describe similar feelings.
My memories are fuzzy now, but I believe I had phantom kicks through most of the five pregnancies I lost.  I was embarrassed about this, ashamed really. 

I knew they couldn't be real.  It was too early for them to be real.  I didn't even tell my husband at first. 

I knew they weren't hallucinations.  That's one of the funny things about being a physician, and a patient.  I think I can say with confidence that I'm not a hypochondriac.  But having an abundance of medical knowledge definitely influences your thought processes when you do have medical symptoms.  For instance, when I had my first flare of Rheumatoid arthritis, I knew pretty quickly what the possibilities were.  I hoped for a viral migratory polyarthropathy but knew with the stiffness, that a chronic disease was more likely.  Unfortunately, I was right.  When it comes to mental health, however, the medical knowledge that you know in your brain is even harder to interpret. 

As a general rule, I don't suffer from anxiety.  I'm on the care-free side of the spectrum.  Things that probably should worry me, generally don't.  Rose colored glasses; my daddy's daughter.  Call it what you want -- it goes back to that whole excessive optimism blog I posted recently ;).  All this to say, that when I began to suffer from anxiety, which was triggered from grief over multiple consecutive miscarriages, I didn't recognize it at first. 

I felt crazy... and yes, I know that's a word we shouldn't use when talking about people who suffer from mental health problems.  But, since I'm talking about myself here, and trying to be honest, that's how I felt. 

I didn't want to admit it.  I didn't understand why these little bursts of panic would hit me like a small train, over trivial things.  I think I've explained this before, but most commonly, my version of panic attacks would occur when someone would ask me if I was pregnant, or if we "wanted more kids," or when someone would tell me their miscarriage story.  My heart would race and I would feel claustrophobic.  I couldn't get enough air.  "This is irrational," I would tell myself.  And no rational ME would step in or take over.  Once I got outside, I could breathe a little better. 

Then the baby would kick like crazy.  He or she would go nuts in there.  And that would make me smile, or it would make me cry.  But either way, I would usually start to calm down.

Phantom kicks came at other times too, when I was driving or doing nothing.  They felt like real baby kicks.  Even when I wasn't pregnant, sometimes I would get them.  But they made me worry that I had a psychiatric disease.  As a physician, I knew that they weren't equivalent to a hysterical pregnancy.  I was pretty sure they weren't hallucinations. 

At some point along this continuum, I told my husband. 

Near the end of it all, the first time I met my therapist, I told her. 

That's when I told her that I was also thinking about blogging.  She encouraged the blog as a therapeutic journal and suggested Phantom Kicks as it's name.  It seemed like a perfect fit!  Bravely, I began.   

When I got pregnant this time around, I started having phantom kicks around 8 weeks. 

I started having real kicks between 15-16 weeks.  They came slowly, irregularly, and usually only when a 25 pound toddler stood on Little Apple's head.  I was craving more.

Now, I have these lovely kicks every day.  What a delight!  They are the best.  They make me smile, no matter what I'm doing when they come upon me. 

I'm not sure who woke me up first this morning (a Saturday) around 0540.  Was it the toddler cooing on the monitor, or the baby in my womb kicking my iliac crest?  I couldn't be mad at either of them.  All I could do is smile.