To my baby, on your first birthday

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My darling baby boy,

Today you are one year old. A whole year since that exhausting, frantic, world-changing day when you entered our lives. Today you are a man. Oh no, wait. That’s what you say when it’s your Bar Mitzvah. We still have twelve years until that whole deal. For now, you are still a baby. Officially a toddler. Just saying that word, “toddler,” makes my heart hurt a bit. Weren’t you just this wee little thing curled up on my chest five seconds ago? Please stop growing so fast. I’m not ready.

How amazing it has been to watch you change every day, learning and exploring and discovering. So much development packed into one year. You’re crawling now and so curious about the world around you. I love watching your little brain work as you try to figure out how to shut your bedroom door (a glimpse into what is to come, I’m sure), or how to take an object from one spot and hide it somewhere else (usually in a pair of shoes). You have turned the mundane into the extraordinary. I could sit and watch you all day. For the most part, that is exactly what I do.

The beginning of our time together wasn’t easy. Let’s face it, we were both miserable. You cried all the time. I cried all the time. You didn’t sleep. I didn’t sleep. We threw ourselves a pity party and it felt like the party would never end.

But then it did end.

A cloud lifted and we both decided, hey, this is kinda great. You saved your first smile just for me when you knew I so desperately needed it. And then you laughed, and that was pretty much the end of me. You know that feeling where you’re somehow sad and overwhelmingly happy at the same time? When you feel so much emotion that you can’t even describe it? That’s how I feel when you giggle. Your infectious howl shoots straight through me. How did I create this magical little being? Sometimes I swear I must be dreaming. To be this lucky. There’s a really corny saying: After every storm comes a rainbow. Or something like that. You are the most spectacular rainbow after a really nasty storm. Not a day goes by where I don’t appreciate your many vibrant colours.

As I was going through another round of “what do I want to do with my life” recently, I asked myself, if I found out that I didn’t have a long time to live, how would I spend the time I had left? And the answer was so clear: I would spend it with you. I’m already living my dream life. You are it, baby boy.

I dreamt about you for so long, even when I was worried the dream might not come true. And now that you’re here, you are so much more than I ever could have imagined. I won’t say I didn’t know what happiness was before you came into my life, because that’s kind of a silly thing to say. But I will tell you that I’ve never known this particular kind of happiness. I’ve never felt a more pure sense of joy than when you look at me. Like I am your whole world. Guess what? You are my whole world. You are everything.

What is it that I love about you? I could go on forever, and the list would be much too long. I love your wild head of hair that makes strangers come up to us wherever we go. I love how you scream with glee and crawl to the door when your daddy comes home from work each day. I love that you’re sensitive and gentle with others, without me having to teach you to be that way. I love all the silly sounds you make; they are the sweetest sounds I have ever heard. I love your toes and your fingers, and watching those fingers wrap themselves around mine. I love your kisses, when you finally give in and plant one on me. I love how you make even grumpy people in the grocery store smile and laugh. You’re already making this world a better place and you’re only a wee baby. I think that’s pretty special. You are pretty special.

Sometimes my mind wanders way into the future, and I imagine all of your firsts. First day of school. First sleepover. First best friend. First crush. First love. First heartbreak. So much of life ahead of you. But none of that right now. For now, for a little bit longer, you are still my baby.

Actually, scrap that.

You will always be my baby.

Happy birthday, baby. How wonderful life is while you’re in the world.

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A(nother) bump in the road

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Before the birth of my son, I knew that having a child would be hard. I understood that I’d have some sleepless nights and that I’d be wiping up poop and barf. I understood that my days of meeting up with friends for brunch, or going out for 9PM dinners with my husband would be over for awhile. Although I was nervous for the huge life change, none of it scared me. I’d always had a knack with babies and children and loved being around them, and nothing excited me more than having my very own. I was ready, and I felt prepared. I knew what to expect.

And then I was punched in the stomach with an awful mental illness called postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. And nothing and no one could have prepared me for that.

The research says that around 1 in 9 mothers will experience postpartum depression. But a lot of women don’t recognize it when it’s happening. Many will shrug it off as the “baby blues” a term used to describe the common emotional state most new moms find themselves in for the first several days after giving birth, due to hormonal changes and whatnot. But what happens when the baby blues don’t go away “after 10 days” like Google says it should? What happens when every day feels increasingly worse and you feel as though you are being swallowed whole by this new thing in your life called motherhood? What then?

In my case, I knew something was wrong fairly early on. I’d had anxiety all my life, but never like this. From night one in the hospital, I couldn’t sleep. And I don’t mean I was having interrupted sleep when the baby woke, or only getting a quick nap in here and there. I was not sleeping. At all. Do you know what happens when you stop sleeping completely? You lose your freakin mind. I couldn’t concentrate, my brain frantically racing every minute of every day. Is my baby warm enough? Is he too cold? Is he comfortable sleeping like that? Why isn’t he moving? Why is he moving so much? What’s that sound he’s making? Are his airways clear? How much milk should I be giving him? Is he eating enough? Pooping enough? Sleeping enough? I was overcome with panic and dread.

As the days went on, I continued to sink further into a hole of misery. I felt completely detached from my reality, unable to feel joy, unable to smile, unable to fake it. Everyone was so excited about the baby, wanting to see photos of him constantly, wanting to know what he was doing. It was such a happy time, for everyone around me. And I knew how lucky I was to have this beautiful little healthy baby. I knew that I loved him and cared about him more than anything in the world. So then why couldn’t I stop crying?

I began to feel and act like a zombie, going through the motions, doing the laundry, washing the bottles, getting the groceries, doing what I needed to survive. I was on autopilot. I stopped eating except to satisfy my basic needs for survival. “Wow, you look so great, you can’t even tell you were pregnant two weeks ago.” “Ha, yah, thanks,” I’d reply, not divulging that my secret to post-pregnancy weight loss was a combo of starvation and depression.

My baby, although cute as heck, was not an easy newborn. He fought sleep like it was the enemy, cried a ton, and would scream in pain while feeding due to reflux. I’d bounce him up and down trying to soothe him to sleep while he wailed for an hour, him sobbing, me sobbing, both of us miserable and angry at the world. We were quite the pair.

As the weeks went on, I felt incapable of taking care of my baby. I dreaded having to change his diaper. I didn’t want to take him out. I watched him like a hawk all night long, monitoring every movement and sound, my heart racing out of my chest at the slightest squirm or sigh. One night I heard my husband changing the baby’s diaper, while he screamed hysterically. I wanted to go to him and see what was wrong. I wanted to comfort him. Instead I sat on my bed in the dark, paralyzed, unable to move.

“Are you loving being a mommy?” people would ask. “Remember to enjoy every minute,” they’d say. “It goes by so fast.”

I sent an email to my doctor to tell her how I was feeling and to see if she was concerned. She was. She called me and I broke into tears, telling her how awful the past month had been. She asked me the questions that doctors ask when they screen for PPD/PPA and I passed the test with flying colours. I knew I had it, but hearing it validated by a doctor felt good. To know that this was an actual disease, I wasn’t just making it all up, and that I could get better.

She immediately referred me to see a psychiatrist in the postpartum program. She also prescribed me pills to help me sleep and told me that getting rest, even a little bit, would be critical to my recovery. My parents generously ordered a night nurse to come to our house to watch the baby at night, giving me and my husband the beautiful gift of sleep. As ordered by my doctor, I handed the nurse my baby, closed my door, put in earplugs and took a pill. I cried, feeling like a complete failure. And then, lights out. I slept.

As I began to repay my sleep debt, things slowly started getting better. But it was an uphill battle. I started seeing a psychiatrist regularly who prescribed me medication and monitored my mood. My parents came over for shifts during the day to help out so I could get a break. I began to have some good moments, and then some good days. My little guy saved his first smile for me, and it filled me with joy. Finally, I felt some happiness.

The change did not happen overnight. It was a slow process. I still had multiple meltdowns and full on panic attacks and needed to take drugs to force myself to sleep. This went on for a few months. And then things really got better. I started to feel like I was getting a grip on the motherhood thing and like I was actually really good at it. The things that used to send me into a frantic spiral no longer phased me. The tears stopped completely and I woke up happy to spend the day with my little guy. The dark cloud had been lifted and I felt like myself again. Myself, with an extra 15 pounds constantly attached to me.

Now I can say with full sincerity that I am loving being a mother. There are still hard days/nights/moments, and I imagine there always will be. But as I’ve said to my doctor, I feel like the lows I feel now are more run-of-the-mill new mom temporary struggles as opposed to crippling mental illness. It’s completely different, and now that I’ve been through it, I know they’re not the same thing.

So that’s what happened a few short months ago. In a nutshell. I once again feared for my life, but in a completely different way than I had before. It was horrible. But with amazing support, medical help, and time, I got better. If you’re reading this and are suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety, know that it can and will get better. There is hope. You’re not alone. And you’re not a bad mother.

I know it sounds so cliche, but my baby boy brings me more joy than I ever could have imagined. I stare at him in disbelief, that something so beautiful and special and amazing could have come from me. His laughter makes me forget that anything bad could ever happen in this world. I love watching him grow and change. I love seeing how he opens his mouth in awe over every tiny new thing he discovers, like a light fixture on the ceiling, or a car driving past our house. I love him in a way that I can’t put into words. He is everything. And as I sit here, covered in barf and mushed carrots, I thank my lucky stars for everything being exactly as it is. It may not be perfect. But it’s pretty darn close.

How I Met Became Your Mother

On November 7th, 2016, I  went for an ultrasound to check on my baby. I’d been having issues with my placenta and they were monitoring it to make sure the baby was still getting everything he needed. After the ultrasound, I spoke with the radiologist to discuss the latest results.

“Your placenta is now at Grade 3,” she said. And then she went on to tell me something about overcompensating and getting blood to the brain, but mostly what I remember is her saying:

“It would be my recommendation that you deliver your baby now.”

My heart started to race and my body tensed. What was this crazy lady talking about? My due date wasn’t for a couple more weeks, and everyone had been yammering my ear off about how everyone delivers late with their first babies. I hadn’t yet finished purging crap from my kitchen as the last part of my “throw-everything-out-before-baby-comes” operation. I hadn’t added enough new releases to my Netflix list. I was not ready.

I called my husband and was frantic on the phone. “Some woman I don’t know just told me I should have the baby now, you should probably come meet me in case that happens.” I was mostly half-joking because it seemed so ridiculous, but he came to meet me nonetheless as good husbands do when you tell them you might be close to birthing their child.

I went across the street to discuss the results with my family doctor, who made me feel at ease and said we shouldn’t jump to conclusions yet. My husband arrived and she told us to go across the street (there’s lots of street crossing in this story, clearly) to get a non-stress test (what a funny name for a test you have to get when you’re typically very stressed) and then she’d come by and we’d discuss options with the OB who was on call that day.

I had the test and some time passed, and then my family doc (who delivers babies and was set to deliver mine) and an OB appeared.

“We’ve looked closely at the scans and feel it would be best to get Baby out now.”

WHAT.

They explained to me that the baby could be at risk if we didn’t act sooner than later and then went on to talk about some options for inducing labour and what did I think and what was our decision and…

“Sorry,” I interrupted, “you mean I have to do this TODAY? Or can we at least wait a few days?”

I was told that to prevent any serious complications with Baby, we should act pretty quickly. Unfortunately this meant that my beloved doctor who had been with me through cancer and through everything, would not be able to deliver my baby since she had to leave for a conference the next morning. I was devastated, but I did not appear to have any choice in the matter. We chatted some more and I negotiated and was granted allowance to go home, gather my things, and eat dinner before checking myself into the hospital. So I went home and frantically grabbed things and cried and panicked and ate a big bowl of pasta.

Around 10:00 PM, we got back in the car, picked up my sister, and drove back to the hospital where I checked myself in.

“Hi, I’m being induced for labour and need to be admitted because I’M HAVING A BABY!”

I expected some excitement from the woman at the registration desk, since that’s what happens in the movies and stuff, but she simply made me wait a bit, fill out some forms, and sent me on my merry way.

We made our way up to the labour and delivery floor and were brought to one of the delivery rooms to settle in. I met the resident on-call and OB and was given medication in a not-very-comfortable fashion and had some VERY uncomfortable internal exams that made me scream so loud you probably heard me from wherever you were at the time.

My sister went home to sleep and my husband pulled up the recliner next to my bed so we could get some rest. Unfortunately, it is very hard to rest when your wife is screaming bloody murder the entire night, which is essentially what happened.

The contractions came on very quickly and were only a few minutes apart. The pain was horrendous, but I was unable to get an epidural since my water hadn’t broken, and things needed to progress to a certain stage before an epidural would be on the table. So instead, I just attempted to take deep breaths, and every 3-5 minutes would wail uncontrollably, then try to sleep for about 1-2 minutes, then repeat. At some point I was given morphine, which didn’t really do much except make me feel nauseous.

I stared at the clock and watched the minutes pass, shocked that somehow the entire night had come and gone while I lay there moaning, half-conscious. Suddenly the sun was rising, and new doctors and nurses arrived for the next shift, eager to examine me and make me scream that much louder.

After plenty of confusion and debate between some of the staff, I was finally offered an epidural, to which I replied, YES PLEASE SHOVE THAT NEEDLE IN MY SPINE BEFORE I KILL ALL OF YOU. An angel soon appeared with a very large needle and shot me full of some magical potion that began to numb my lower half. However, the right side of my body decided to be stubborn and continued to allow me to feel the contractions. So I was offered something else that I now can’t remember, to which I’m sure I definitely replied, YES PLEASE. Eventually I couldn’t feel my legs, but still had one spot where I could feel the contractions, and would continue to do so until the very end.

More time passed and the pain continued, but I was so exhausted that all I could think about was sleeping. This proved difficult when the nausea suddenly got the better of me and I began to dry heave, several times. At this point, my mom had arrived, which was very lucky since she’s the person I most enjoy having take care of me while barfing into a bedpan.

More hands being shoved in uncomfortable places, more tears, and very little dilation. So far I was not such a fan of the whole labour thing.

I had been closely listening to the monitor playing the sweet sound of my baby’s heartbeat and noticed it slow down significantly. I started to panic and my sister rang for the nurse who paged the doctor. I was told the baby was still okay and they’d continue to monitor.

Some more time passed and almost no progress had been made. The baby’s heart rate continued to fluctuate. The doctor was starting to get concerned and wanted to give me a different medication that would speed things up i.e. cause even more ungodly pain. Even though I could barely process what was happening, something about this didn’t feel right to me and I asked if we could just wait a bit longer and give nature one last chance to do its thing. The doctor agreed and said she’d return shortly and we could talk about my options at that point. It was now past noon on November the 8th, about 13 hours since the contractions had begun.

Soon after, the doctor returned and poked around some more.

“Stephanie, it looks like you’re fully dilated, so I think it’s time to start pushing and get Baby out.”

We were all stunned, after having been told just an hour earlier that I was still far from the pushing stage. The reality of what was about to happen hit me like a ton of bricks. I had to push a HUMAN out from inside my body. NO THANK YOU.

A bunch of medical staff gathered around me and started preparing their stations. I started to cry.

“I don’t want to do this! Can I just go home? Having babies is stupid, why would anyone ever do this, waaaaaahhhh blerrghhhhh!!!!”

“Ok Stephanie, when you feel your next contraction come, I want you to push.”

“I DON’T KNOW HOW TO PUSH, HOW DO YOU HAVE A BABY, HOW DOES THIS WORK, GET ME OUT OF HERE PLEEEEEEASE GAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!”

My husband sat in a chair next to my head, so as not to faint, and my sister stood next to me, cheering me on. And then, I pushed.

“I don’t think it’s working, I don’t know what I’m doing!”

“Good job! He’s coming! We see a full head of hair, wow! Do you want to feel with your hand?”

“NO I DON’T WANT TO FEEL WITH MY HAND, AHHH OWWWWW AHHHHHHHHH BLEERRGHHHH!!!”

“Keep pushing, you can do this, rah-rah, sis-boom-bah!”

“AHHH THIS IS SO CRAZY, WHAT IS HAPPENING, WHAAAAAAAA!!!!”

“Almost there, just one more big push!”

One more big push. And suddenly I noticed the cries I heard were no longer my own, but those of a precious little boy who had just been thrust into the world.

My baby boy.

He was placed on top of my chest, against my skin, against my scars, against my heart. I held him close and I cried. Everything, good and bad, all of it, had led me to this moment.

I looked at my husband and sister, who were overcome with emotion as well, all of us frozen in a sort of shocked state at what had just transpired and at this tiny guy that was now in our lives.

My sister cut the cord, and he was weighed and measured and given back to us to hold and cuddle. We marvelled at his full head of dark hair. My family arrived and everyone took turns holding Baby E and swooning over him, our perfect little miracle.

I have never felt anything like that feeling of holding my baby in my arms for the first time. I could feel the change inside of me almost instantly, my heart feeling as though it may explode into a million pieces. I didn’t yet know what lay ahead of me. All I knew was this tiny, sweet babe had shifted my identity, my very core, from the moment he took his first breath.

At long last, I was a mother.

Life finds a way

When thinking of what to title this blog post, a post I’ve been imagining writing for a long time, the voice of Jeff Goldblum immediately popped in my head. In Jurassic Park, one of my childhood faves, his character utters the now famous line, “Life, uh, finds a way.” Although referring to dinosaurs and their ability to breed in that particular case, the line came to mind when thinking about my own little (far less destructive) miracle that has found its way into existence, despite the odds.

That’s right folks, the rumours are indeed true: I am pregnant. With a baby (not a dinosaur, in case there’s any confusion there). And not just a baby, but a baby boy. A real, live baby boy. Ain’t that somethin’?

For a quick recap: you may recall that I was taking cancer-fighting drugs that prevented me from having a child. You may also recall that I had a type of chemotherapy that put me at risk for damaging my ovarian reserve. You may not recall any of this, because it’s in your rearview mirror and you are likely thinking about other things, as you should be. But I have not thought about other things. Ok, that’s not entirely true. Occasionally I think about pizza, or last night’s Bachelor episode. But a lot of my brain power has gone to thinking about babies. Wondering if that possibility was lost for me. Wondering if I should take the risk. Researching, reading, discussing, deciding, trying to sort through it all the best that I could.

My decision to attempt pregnancy was not made lightly. It was agonizing. At times, it still is. My anxiety has been sky-high, as I wrestle with nerves around the pregnancy itself after encountering a bumpy start which made me hesitant to share my news. My excitement has been tempered with familiar fears creeping their way back in, fears about my own health and how my survival now feels even more critical. I feel like the last time I got really excited about life, I was hit with a bomb, and I worry (irrationally, but still) that I might somehow jinx this good fortune if I put it out into the world.

But after waiting patiently on the sidelines for the last several years, watching baby announcements flood my social media feeds, celebrating the births of my friends’ and family’s children, I want to enjoy this moment in time, this moment I’ve waited so long for. I want to share it. I want you to know that miracles can happen. I want you to know that good things can happen. But mostly I want myself to know that good things can happen. It is possible. It has to be. It’s happening right now, as I feel my son swimming around inside of me.

Good things can happen.