a baby shower

posted on: Tuesday, April 22, 2014

this is not a post about what i did this weekend. this is a post about what i did TWO weekends ago. we're really breaking new ground here. 

last saturday, my friends threw me a baby shower. it was absolutely beautiful. the flowers were gorgeous. the food was amazing. the setting was idyllic. every detail was perfect. and somehow, they managed to pull it all off after changing the date once, and the location twice. the shower was originally going to be held at the beautiful home of one of my attending physicians. when i got admitted to the hospital, the date was moved up a few weeks and the location was moved to the hospital so they could bring the party to me. when i was discharged the week before the shower, they moved mountains--and the baby shower--so that i didn't have to go back to that hospital any more than i already had to. god bless them. 

the threat of premature delivery tends to put a rush on having a baby shower, especially when it's your first baby and you have literally nothing that you need. granted, had Lyla been born that early, she would have stayed in the NICU for quite some time, and we'd have had time to get what we needed. but the unpredictability of it all was stressing me out. i hadn't even packed a hospital bag or bought a single diaper before i was admitted to the hospital back in March. the thought of leaving the hospital with a baby and having to stop by Target for essentials on the way home just made me want to vomit. dramatic? yes. but when one is growing a human, small concessions for drama must be made. 

these are not the things that cause the world to stop spinning on its axis. of this i am acutely aware. not having loads of baby gear doesn't even register on the Richter scale when compared to say, planes going missing or avalanches or sinking ferries. but as i've said before--and i'm sure i'll say it again--just because it could be worse, doesn't mean it doesn't still suck. 

my friends hooked me up in a big way. by the time they had finished, i was completely set. right down to the lanolin and the Boudreaux's butt paste. and the gifts are still trickling in. 

i feel loved and cared for in a way that is difficult for me to put into words. i'm not always comfortable being taken care of. as a physician, i feel more at home being the caretaker. this whole experience has stretched me in that regard. not only have i been completely removed from my role as a lifesaver, i also can't go to the grocery store for myself or lift a jumbo pack of toilet paper. 

in the broad scheme of things, baby showers are pretty minor. but it was still important to me to have one. i feel lucky to have people in my life that know me well enough to know that, and love me enough to make it happen. my friends made sure that, despite how complicated my pregnancy has been, it was still as "normal" as it could possibly be. 

now i sit here at home, surrounded by baby gifts and baby gear, and things are starting to feel a little more normal. my belly is getting larger and more cumbersome, which makes it harder to move around...and easier for me to resign myself to bed rest. every time i start to feel like a beached whale, i stop and say a little thank you that i've made it this far. gotten this big. 

yesterday i hit 30 weeks. this milestone was huge for us, as it meant that we got to rip up the consent we had signed for Lyla to be enrolled in a NICU research study. the details are unimportant, but the point is, she no longer qualifies for enrollment, because she is TOO BIG. god it feels good to be able to say that. but for the record, she can feel free to plateau around seven pounds...for the sake of my lady parts. yikes. but damn it feels good to worry about lady parts again. for such a long time, i was worried about feeding tubes and brain bleeds. those worries are starting to fade, a little at a time. and i must admit, when compared to worrying about a baby in the NICU, i can handle worrying about perineal tears and hemorrhoids. 

bring. it. on.

when the truth is ugly

posted on: Monday, April 14, 2014

by Charles Swindoll

looking back on growing up, if there was one principle my dad tried to hammer home, it was the importance of controlling your attitude. he hung that quote from Charles Swindoll on my bulletin board in my high school bedroom, and referenced it incessantly. so much discussion about attitude prompted many a concealed eye-roll on my part, but apparently, it stuck. 

it took me a really long time to realize the difference between controlling your attitude, and squelching your feelings. 

for years, if i had a negative or ungracious thought or feeling, i would toss it aside as quickly as i could. can't let negative circumstances stand in the way of having a positive attitude, i thought. but i've since learned, there is something to be said for a good wallow. 

just because you end up in a place of gratitude, where you're thankful for your blessings, doesn't mean you have to completely glaze over the truly unfortunate aspects of your current situation. just as it is possible to experience incredible joy and debilitating sorrow in the very same moment, one can also have a positive attitude while feeling all those hard feelings. you can have them both. 

this is something that is hard for many people to understand. over the past month, i've beat my head against the wall during many a phone conversation where the person on the other end was trying their hardest to persuade me about all the positives of bed rest. it could be worse, they'd say. i say, just because it could be worse, doesn't mean it isn't still shitty. it's as though they were afraid that if i lost sight of the positive, even for just a moment, i'd try to nosedive off the top of the building. so many times, i felt like screaming just let me be angry! let me mourn! allow me to feel it!

before my existence was reduced to being the incubator of another human being, i was a(n incredibly overly dramatic) person with goals. hobbies. pleasures. a career that i loved and had worked really hard for. now, that career has been postponed. i’m trying to do a few things while on bed rest in order to receive some credit for residency during this time, but there will still be months to make up. IF the baby is born early—say around 35-36 weeks—i might actually have a shot of getting back from maternity leave and being able to make up the missed time before the August 31st deadline. if the baby isn't born until her due date, or even if she makes it to term (37 weeks), i won't have time. if i don’t finish my residency requirements by August 31st, i have to postpone taking my board exams until November 2015…and graduation will be delayed even further as well. 

it’s a hell of a trade-off: either a healthy, full-term baby, or the career i've worked so hard for. i can’t have both. 

i know that having a healthy baby is supposed to take priority, and maybe it’s incredibly selfish of me to even say this out loud, but i’ve worked really hard for a really long time to now be faced with the possibility of it all getting screwed up. this whole bed rest thing has got me feeling like I...me...Emily...have become secondary to this whole process. like my whole existence revolves around incubating this baby and keeping her safe. i feel ignored. it feels like all the advice and encouragement i'm getting is centered around me setting aside all my wants, hopes, and desires in order to be able to bring this baby safely into the world.

taking care of my baby comes at the cost of taking care of myself. my muscles have atrophied to the point that i'm losing weight. sleeping at night is incredibly difficult when you're barely expending any energy during the day. i was strong and healthy and capable before getting put on bed rest. now i feel like i am none of those things. i knew that pregnancy would require me to surrender my body to this process, but this feels a little extreme. 

there’s a part of me that wants to do this for her, to keep her safe, to give her a chance to grow. but there’s another huge part of me that is just so pissed off that I have to. not everyone does. why me? i get angry at other pregnant women, going about their daily lives, able to protect and grow their babies while still having their own life and existence. i laugh bitterly at the irony of it all. i was hell-bent on clinging to my identity after having a baby. it was of the utmost importance to me to not lose myself in the process of becoming a mother. and now here i am, completely lost for the sake of my baby girl.

i haven't forgotten how fortunate i am. how i've managed to stay pregnant for 5 weeks longer than anyone thought that i would. how the Air Force is paying my way and alleviating any financial worry. how i'm finally home and how much better that is than being in the hospital. how incredibly great my friends and family are, and how so many of them seem to know the exact words i need to hear at the exact moment i need to hear them. there is still so. much. to be thankful for. and i am.

my overall attitude is positive. i will get through this. i can do it. i AM doing it. and i'm trying hard to believe everyone who tells me that she is worth it. most days i do. but those feelings that creep up in the background? i've finally learned that i'm allowed to feel them. to talk about them. to share them. if for no other reason than to let others know that it's okay to feel things like this. it doesn't make you a bad person. it makes you a person of texture. capable of the full range of human emotion. 

it's something that no person or circumstance can take away from you...this ability to feel. so do it. even when it hurts. 

28 weeks

posted on: Monday, April 7, 2014

how was your weekend? mine was rather eventful, to put it mildly. 
on Friday evening, my docs decided that i could go HOME from the hospital. (!) 

they had been hinting as much all week, but i tried very, very hard not to get my hopes up. i was all too familiar with the almost indescribable feeling of disappointment that comes after hoping to go home and finding out (yet again) that you can't. so i buoyed myself against the disappointment and decided to stick to my countdown: 45 more days till 34 weeks. then i could go home. 

not much had changed with me and the babe that resulted in this momentous decision. my cervix showed no change--which was good. and Lyla had gained almost a pound, which bumped her into the 2 lb. range--a huge NICU milestone. other than that, we were status quo. ultimately, my docs just decided to let me shoulder a bit of responsibility. the biggest difference between being in the hospital on bed rest and being at home on bed rest is distance: you're farther from the delivery room (and the NICU) if things start to go south. the hospital is 20 minutes away from where we live, but they took my mental health and our family situation into consideration. staying in the hospital for a "what-if" situation makes you crazy, your pets crazy, and your husband crazy. god bless those docs who advocated for my sanity. 

there's always the worry that patients won't actually STAY on bed rest if they're home. for some odd reason, people seem to be really worried about this for me. (; i'll admit, it's tough. there are many, many more things calling my name to be done at home. but friends, i have seen the other side of the coin, and it ain't pretty. i am highly motivated to do whatever it takes to keep myself out of that hospital until at least 34 weeks. preferably 35-36 weeks. if this kid decides to go to term or beyond, we may have some words. because hell no. 

to continue with the weekend recap, on Saturday, we bought a house. (!!)

after i got my orders last week, saying that we were staying in the area for a good while longer, our home search got even more intense. Friday afternoon, Nick and i FaceTimed as he walked through houses, so i got to see his face and hear his excitement as he found our house. he was ready to make an offer that very moment. twenty minutes later, when we found out i was getting discharged from the hospital, we made plans to see the house together the next day. (since i'm allowed to spend 15-20 minutes a day on my feet but NO MORE THAN THAT) 

we fell in love with a sweet little blue cottage in our very favorite neighborhood that happens to be right across the street from a playground. it has hardwood floors, a yard with a fence for Waylon, a workshop out back for Nick, and a huge walk-in closet for me. our offer was accepted, so--pending an inspection--we're homeowners! 

it's truly amazing how much life can change--for better or for worse--in a 24 hour period.

i get to drive my car today for the first time since March 11th--back to the hospital to attend a Childbirth Education Class. frankly, i'm a little terrified that they won't let me go back home. the PTSD is understandable, i suppose. last time i drove myself to the hospital, i ended up staying there for 25 days. (side eye. alllll the side eye.)

today marks 28 weeks: another huge NICU milestone, and the beginning of the third trimester. this is the start of my first week of bed rest at home. the sun is literally shining, birds are literally singing, and the high is supposed to be 75 degrees. my dog is cuddled up next to me, i'm still pregnant, and it feels like all is right with the world. 

i'll take it. 

the roller coaster

posted on: Tuesday, April 1, 2014

babies make bed rest better. especially Dexter.
being put on bed rest for the past three weeks is not the worst thing that has ever happened to me. not by a long shot. but it's no walk in the park, to be sure. at least not for people like me. people who find things like "sitting still" difficult.

there have been incredibly challenging, emotional moments of crippling depression, flanked by moments of profound gratitude for how good i have it.

part of the challenge is enduring. ten months ago, when i was with my dad in the hospital, things happened quickly. on a monday, he had a stroke. tuesday, we flew to florida. by wednesday we knew he wasn't going to survive. thursday, we withdrew life support. friday, he died. a big part of the pain was dealing with the shock of it all. but there was mercy in how quickly it all happened. we were able to begin grieving.

this time, time is working against me. the weeks are short, but the days are so long. made longer by riding this roller coaster of emotions. up and down, over and over, all day long. joy. depression. fear. hope. grief. gratitude. 

fear that, despite the bed rest, our baby will still be born too early. we know too much--are too familiar with all the possible complications. spending eleven years of your life learning medicine means you can't just unlearn everything you know about premature babies and the challenges they face. some babies do really well. some don't. we know about them both, and don't have the luxury of ignoring the horror stories.

hope that our little girl, with all her spunk and fire, will defy the odds. that she would thrive, no matter how early she's born. hope that she'll cook for a good while longer so she doesn't have to struggle. 

grieving the loss of the pregnancy i had hoped to have. no one goes into pregnancy worrying about spending months on bed rest. until it happens to you. you worry about stretch marks. heartburn. childbirth. hemorrhoids. you worry about looking terrible in maternity clothes. but once you're sentenced to bed rest, all you can think about is all that you're missing out on. both in pregnancy and in life in general. 

grateful for three more weeks than we had when we started. grateful for friends and strangers who have sent packages, food, movies...which have turned into smiles, warm fuzzies, hope. grateful that i'm active duty Air Force, that my entire hospital stay is covered, that i'm still getting a paycheck. grateful to have finally gotten next year's assignment--and that it's here, in San Antonio, where my husband will be. grateful that my bosses have faith in me and my abilities, and are helping me graduate with as little delay as possible. grateful for friends and family that are taking care of my husband and our dog. grateful for visitors, from near and far. grateful for no more contractions. grateful for 3D ultrasounds. grateful for a baby that is still growing...in utero. 

there are still so many unknowns. the uncertainty is torture. my body has been wracked with sobs more times than i can count. 

but when i stop to count my blessings and be thankful, it's undeniable. we're in good shape. and we are loved. so that's something. 

on pondering parenthood

posted on: Tuesday, March 25, 2014

being confined to bed rest for 10 weeks feels a lot like a prison sentence. i say this without hyperbole, if i'm being honest. there are lots and lots of people who can't get out of bed and are stuck in the hospital for one reason or another. but most of them don't actually feel like getting out of bed. there's an entirely different element of difficult in that, but to be confined to a bed when you feel perfectly fit for living life as usual...well. that's another matter entirely. 

the quickest way for me to feel hot tears springing to my eyes is for me to think about all the things i am currently unable to do. i won't make a list for you now, but let me assure you: it's very very long. 

the key to mental survival is diversion and distraction. keep your hands busy. think about things that are far enough in the future to be well removed from your mental to-do list that keeps getting longer and longer from all the things currently left undone. 

so i've thought a lot about parenting. 

ours is a culture that scoffs at those who would seek to prepare for big life events in advance. marriage. having children. being a doctor. these are things that one couldn't possibly know anything about until you're there. in it. doing it. we're much more likely to plan for a wedding, a birth, a med school graduation, than for the events that follow. but i would argue that it doesn't hurt to think about it. mentally traverse the road on which you're about to embark. explore different schools of thought. premeditate a little. so that when you're finally there and it's all hitting you at once, you've at least thought about it a bit. there's no way to fully prepare, to be sure. but a start is a start, yes?

Nick and I had a brief engagement--5 months. our med school schedules didn't really allow for any kind of formal premarital counseling, so we improvised. we bought a book with a stupid title--Don't Get Married Until You Read This!--and every Saturday morning, we cozied up in a Chicago coffee shop and thumbed through the pages, asking each other questions from the book. questions like who will handle the finances? when do you envision us buying a house? who should be responsible for cooking, cleaning, housework? and are you gay and just marrying me to cover it up? sometimes the topics seemed ludicrous. others spawned some really great conversations. it was one of my favorite things about that time we spent in anticipation of our life together--the way we both committed to preparing for our life together.

we've sort of taken to parenting in the same fashion. there are a few baby books we're committed to reading, but there have been other timely HuffPost articles, Netflix documentaries, Modern Family episodes, etc that have all sparked some great conversations too. 

there's a comfort in these conversations for me. especially when so much of the parenting is being done by me and me alone right now. talking to Nick about how we hope and plan to raise our daughter helps me to feel like we're in this together. it reminds me that, someday soon, there WILL be life outside the four walls of room 508. and that this is temporary. it should be my mantra: bed rest is temporary. parenting is forever. and to all who have admonished that your life is over once you have kids, i would argue that my life will begin again when hers does. bringing our baby girl home will be such a sweet, long-awaited moment for all of us. our lives will never be the same.

and thank god for that. 

photo: unknown, via Pinterest

lyla mae

posted on: Friday, March 21, 2014

i've been a bit of a hot mess this week. the emotional roller coaster i'm riding has not been kind to me, and i'm sure the pregnancy hormones aren't helping. i've had a hard time focusing on the positive. strike that. i've found it impossible to focus on the positive. i know there ARE positives. but the negatives are just so overwhelming. i'll write about the roller coaster at some point. once i can do so without comparing myself to Bosnian refugees or sounding so whiny.

for now, let's talk about my baby girl. Lyla Mae. 

we had picked her name back in December, before we knew she was a she. Mae after Nick's sister. Lyla because we liked it. once we knew she was a girl, we second-guessed ourselves. naming a person seemed like such an overwhelming responsibility, and we decided we'd wait until she was born before committing to a name. so we could get to know her first. make sure it fit. after 8 hours on labor and delivery, listening to our tiny escape artist roll around and evade the heart rate monitor, kicking furiously at the toco monitor, making my abdomen look like something straight out of the movie Alien...we decided that Lyla was perfect for our sassy, spunky babe. and we figured her valiant efforts to vacate the womb should be rewarded with a name; an identity. and we've never looked back. it just feels perfect. 

one silver lining is that i've had a lot of time to lie here and get to know my daughter. little things, that might've gone unnoticed if i were still caught up in the busyness of my every day. like how she likes to curl up in a little tiny ball on one side of my uterus when she's sleeping, making me look lopsided from the outside. and how my entire abdomen moves when she's awake and wiggling around. she has plenty of fluid to swim in, and she's loving it. every now and then, a tiny foot will poke at me on one side or the other, and will keeping poking if i try to poke back. (it's like the early days of Facebook...) 

my uterus is funnel-shaped as it pares down to where it meets my cervix, and on ultrasound, you can see that this funnel is where she likes to stick her tiny hand. as if she's literally trying to claw her way out. when she's not making a break for it, her hands are up by her face, by her ears, in her mouth. ultrasound is truly amazing--and i'm thankful for the glimpse of my baby girl it has given me.

she's feisty, and a fighter. but she's sweet, too. as best i can tell, she's a lot like me. and i've come to a place where i'm happy enough with the person i've become that this makes me proud. 

another silver lining is all of you. i am all too familiar with feeling overwhelmed by the love and kindness of strangers who would seek to bring you comfort in a crisis. once again, thank you all so much for your words and your support. thank you for helping bear our burden, and for your prayers. we've shaken our fists at the sky a lot over the past two weeks, but we were never promised "fair". as unfair as all of this seems, in the wake of the events of the past year, we carry on. we have to. 

thank you for making the journey a little less dark and lonely. 

10 months // 25 weeks

posted on: Monday, March 17, 2014

i've had more tears than words today, as i've laid here in this hospital bed. until i'm able to better string my words together, this is something my Granddaddy wrote today. his preacher's heart beats raw as he pleads for some mercy from the God he has so faithfully served all his life. 

as for me, though the past year has made me feel like a fool for doing so, i fearfully dare to try and hope for my precious baby Lyla Mae. 


Encouraging Words from Phillip Morrison, #56, March 17, 2014
Oh, Dear God in Heaven, Please….

I don’t know whether to begin this special issue of Encouraging Words with an apology or an alert, but think I should tell you that this one is different. Ordinarily I would be thinking of words of encouragement I might pass along to you, but this time I’m crying out for your words for my family. I seldom cry, and when I do my sobs are usually so muffled no one knows. But this morning, on this day that has such special meaning, in the shower, I wept tears I could not control, tears so copious they seemed to rival the output of the shower head.

Ten months ago today, my daughter Bryn and her children made the most heart-rending, gut-churning decision any human being has to make for another. For four days husband and father had been barely alive. Physically fit, active men in the prime of life are not supposed to suffer fatal strokes, but Keith did. Every test, every high-tech image, every consultation with Mayo Clinic doctors ended with the same conclusion: Keith would never again be Keith – not in this world. Heroic medical efforts and fervent prayer efforts combined were not enough. With a courage I had to admire from a distance, Bryn, Emmy and husband Nick, Joe and wife Melissa, Annie, Jesse, and Abby said their goodbyes, allowed Keith’s life to end naturally, and organs to be harvested to enrich and perhaps save the lives of others.

That was ten months ago today. And today Keith’s daughter – our granddaughter, Dr. Mary Emily Kreidel Fleming – is lying in a hospital bed in the mammoth San Antonio Military Medical Center where she is an Air Force physician. She is in her twenty-fifth week of pregnancy with her first child and our first great-grandchild, and will have to maintain bed rest for at least another eight weeks. I am so glad that when Emmy and Nick knew they were having a baby girl, they went ahead and named her Lyla Mae, because her name reminds us all that she is a real person. Not quite ready to leave the safety of the womb or the security of the umbilical, the ultrasound clearly shows a person, a lithe, feisty baby girl, eager to get on with life. We’re not praying for a blob of tissue, or even for a fetus; we’re praying for baby girl Lyla Mae.

My prayer in the shower this morning was hardly the longest or most eloquent I’ve ever uttered, but it was without doubt the most honest – Oh, dear God in heaven, please… please… please.

I don’t mind telling you that when our prayers for Keith were not answered to our liking, our faith was strained if not shattered. The fact that God apparently did not answer the prayers of his servants long ago or even the prayers of his own son in Gethsemane did little to ease our pain. I’ve tried to learn from the Old Testament book of Job how to act when family is taken, but how does family act when their Job is taken?

Both of our daughters were students at Abilene Christian University when Keith called one night to talk with me. “I would like permission to marry your daughter,” was his nervous request. It didn’t help him a bit when I blurted out, “Which one?” We quickly sorted that out and gave it a special place in our family lore. I always introduced Keith as our son-in-law so as not to confuse people, but we really thought of him and loved him as our third son. We don’t expect to ever get over the pain of Keith’s death, but by the grace of God we will get through it.

Thirty years ago, when Emmy was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where her parents were missionaries, Mary Margaret and I made our first trip to see our first grandchild. As we were leaving to return to our home in Memphis, a scene from Alex Haley’s television series Roots kept filling my mind. Remembering how the slave Kunta Kinte had held his baby daughter Kizzy high above his head and told her she was seeing the only power greater than herself, I took Emmy to an uncrowded section of the international airport in Rio, held her over my head, and pledged to always live before her in a God-honoring way, and to always remind her that God is the only power greater than she. Lyla Mae doesn’t know it yet, but she has a date with her great-granddaddy.

There’s something about the tribal custom of a Kunta Kinte that reminds me of the aged Simeon holding the baby Jesus and praising God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation…” (Luke 2:29-30).

Oh, dear God in heaven, please… please… please.
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