health

It’s complicated

Actually, the technical term is “High Risk,” as in this mom just joined the honorable ranks of having a high risk pregnancy. It’s a title I have no interest in earning.

I am the fourth of eight children, so I have spent a fair share on my life around pregnant women, and women sharing their epic tales of bringing these little miracles into the world. For my mother and the majority of her family (a large sample size, encompassing some thirty-odd grandchildren), babies came late and babies were hefty. “Bos babies” we called them – usually in the 9-10 pound range. And generally healthy, which we always acknowledged as a blessing from the Lord.

My pregnancy began very normal and very healthy. Baby has always been measuring well, and apart from a small concern over dilated kidneys, everything was going swimmingly. I felt amazing (still do), and wondered what all the fuss was about over how awful pregnancy can be. I never got sick my whole pregnancy, and sleep was harder for my husband than for me.

Given how things were going, and my family history, I fully expected a huge, late baby, just like my mom had. I was just shy of 10 pounds at birth, and my husband was just over 8. My biggest concern was whether or not the doctors would let me go beyond 41 weeks and wait for spontaneous labor. I registered for larger clothes, assuming the baby would never even squeeze in newborn clothes and would fly through to 3-month outfits. I completely ignored my due date and just assumed I would go well beyond, attempting to prepare myself for that “home stretch” I had always been warned about.

For that reason, when 31 weeks rolled around, I presumed I had ten weeks left – at least. I saved all the baby prepping for the very end, assuming I would have tons of time on my hands waiting around and would need something to occupy myself. I had no baby stuff, no baby furniture, the car isn’t ready, I’ve taken no classes, and the bag isn’t packed. I had time, and I was pacing myself. My baby shower was anticipated to be late in August, three weeks before my due date – later than usual, but August was a busy time for my family and it was most convenient.

Thursday, July 13, all that changed dramatically.

By the grace of God alone, we happened to schedule a Level II ultrasound for July 13. As I mentioned, the baby’s kidneys had been very *slightly* dilated consistently since our 19-week anatomy scan. At that time, the doctor said that dilation could have been a marker for down’s syndrome, but thought it was unlikely. After prayer and consideration, we decided the test for down’s syndrome was too risky, and it wouldn’t change anything for us. We decided to put off any special testing and just monitor it.

We had gotten a number of follow-up ultrasounds, and the dilation remained consistent. The doctor recommended at that point it was more likely to be a slight blockage, and suggested we simply take a closer to look to determine if we should consult with a pediatric urologist about care after birth. Worst case (and least likely) scenario, there was some kind of blockage and the baby would have to have surgery to relieve it.

At that point, we felt like we were not acting out of fear, and rather felt clear-headed going in to get the Level II ultrasound. We felt that it would be wise to meet the specialist now, so we could see if we are comfortable with him or her in the event the baby needed treatment.

The truth is, God had been guiding us and leading us ever since the 19 week scan to get to this appointment, because what we learned there was a total coincidence and we would not have found it if we got the Level II after the initial 19 week scan, or if we had taken any different course of action.

On July 13, we sat down and the doctor took all her measurements: kidneys, heart, spine, umbilical chord, blood flow, amniotic fluid levels, head, torso, femur, arms – everything. We came into her office and sat down for her report.

The good news is, the kidneys are very very slightly dilated, and it is something she is not worried about. It is a very common occurrence, and will simply be checked on again once the baby is born; they usually clear themselves up. She didn’t even find it necessary to refer to us a specialist because she found the possibility of requiring surgery was so remote. We were relieved, and it was what we expected. We we still relieved.

But then the meeting wasn’t over. She informed us the baby was measuring smaller than she would like. She double-checked that I had my due date correct: September 12. She informed us that the head, femur, and torso size were all measuring in the 5th percentile for its gestational age (I was 31 weeks, 2 days; baby was measuring at about 29 weeks, 4 days). She advised us that any time the baby measures less than the 10th percentile, that’s a red flag. And this is a problem.

It could indicate the baby is not getting sufficient nutrients from the placenta, so the baby needs to be watched very closely from here on out because a placenta problem increases the risk of stillbirth. Her recommendation is daily fetal kick monitoring, and twice-weekly nonstress tests, along with weekly ultrasounds.

Needless to say, we were overwhelmed.

I had my regular doctor’s appointment scheduled for the very next afternoon, and wanted to make sure she got the report in time to discuss this all with me then. When I went in to meet with her, I was very much hoping for advise along the lines of “This is a precaution/ it’s very common/we could be wrong/we are just being careful.” That is not what happened.

She told me my baby has been diagnosed with symmetrical intrauterine growth restriction: in layman’s terms, the baby is not growing well and they don’t know why. (My cousin Hannah – RN extraordinaire – says, “You have a crappy placenta and a small baby.”) It’s very rare and very serious.

I asked my questions and got my answers:

  1. Why is this happening? What can I do to help? Answer: We don’t know and there is nothing you can do because you didn’t do anything wrong. You eat right, moderately exercise, don’t smoke or do drugs. Not even bedrest or changing your diet would do anything. You have gained 30 pounds already this pregnancy – you are not malnourished! It’s just not getting where it needs to go.
  2. Could you just have my due date wrong? Answer: I’m confident with the due date. The first two measurements at 10 weeks and 19 weeks are the most accurate calculation of that due date, and the baby was measuring within just a few days of what we set then based on your last cycle. The due date is not off, and certainly not by this much. Similarly, although there is always a margin of error in ultrasounds, a margin this significant is not the culprit. There is something going on.
  3. Are we just being careful here, or do I need to make sure the nursery is ready early? Answer: You need to make sure the nursery is ready early. And you should move up that baby shower.

That afternoon, we decided to start steroid injections to encourage lung development in the event I would have to deliver early. I walked across the street to the hospital and monitored the baby with a nonstress test and took my first shot. The next shot was administered 24 hours later. I got my aggressive schedule of appointments, scheduled all the way through September 8, but my being pregnant still on September 8 was a long shot at best.

In a matter of 24 hours, my whole life had gotten turned upside-down. I hardly knew how to feel, but I felt everything. I still do.

I went from fully expecting a late, fat baby to hoping I get a live baby. The doctor set a target date for me to keep the baby inside until I can hit 37 weeks – August 22. The first milestone before that is 34 weeks – the date at which I can still deliver at my local hospital instead of UCONN. But even before that, every day, and every hour, the baby is inside, presumably growing but certainly moving – is a miracle and I am grateful for every one. Every kick, I tell the baby it’s doing a great job and encourage it. I have no idea if this is sane or not but it’s all I have.

In a matter of a couple of days, my family has already come together with helping hands to prepare for this baby which apparently could make an appearance at any time. My mother and sister-in-law – a new mother herself – cleaned and prepared the dresser for the baby and gathered up the smallest clothes they have (my niece Luciana – a little miracle, too – has already outgrown some things!). My father and brother worked on my new car to get it ready. My other sisters took me out to dinner, and then went and bought newborn clothes for our little miracle. I had nothing small enough for an early, small baby.

My boss has also been insanely supportive. Word-for-word his email to me after I gave him latest update was “You and the baby come first, no exceptions.” I have friends and family praying for us and offering us any support we need. Can God bless us anymore?

My goals at this point are to focus on gratitude, balance, and taking things one day at a time. Every day the baby is in there, we are doing better. I am two days shy of 32 weeks. We are already SO much farther than SO many premature babies who end up doing SO well. We live in an area with some of the best medical facilities in the world, and in a time when babies born well before this point are brought up healthy and well. We have amazing doctors in whom I have great confidence; the OB who discovered the problem and my regular OB were calling and texting each other all day to make a plan for me and discuss my test results. It is very reassuring to have a team on my side.

Then there is the miracle and God’s timing in all of this, and the fact we discovered it at all. Normally, we would not have had a growth ultrasound at this point. The only reason we were there that day is because of what turned out to be an inconsequential kidney question, which we did not address earlier. If we hadn’t learned about this problem now, we would not have nearly as many options as we do at this point and who knows what emergencies we would find ourselves in. God has already been guiding us and leading us to this place, and he is still in control now. We get to check the baby all the time, and get to hopefully see problems before they get out of hand.

The other good news is that I am perfectly healthy. I have no signs of pre-eclampsia (something that could accompany or cause IUGR), and no diabetes. There is no immediate risk to me, and that means time is on our side. Until the baby starts showing signs of distress, or the growth drops off, the baby is safe in there and I am in no danger. That is fantastic.

I woke up at 3:00 am this morning and couldn’t sleep until after 4:30. I wait to feel every kick and every squirm. I had heartburn and was grateful for it: hopefully it means the baby is growing enough to interfere with my digestion! I am probably one of the few pregnant women who wishes she had more stretch marks, and longs for the scale to rise. The irony is, whenever I told people my September due date,  they would always sigh and say, “Oh you have to make it through the SUMMER! That’s rough.” Now, I wish I had it rough. I am completely serious. This pregnancy has been so easy on me and I am so small; I am not swollen or uncomfortable. Other than the anxiety this is causing me, sleep is not a problem at all. At first I thought everyone was just being very negative and it bothered me; now I find myself hoping they are right.

It is very strange what a few hours and a few doctors appointments do to your perspective.

The last piece of my mental strategy is balance. It is very easy to go to extremes with a “high risk” label and news such as this. On the one hand, I could be cavalier and just deny there is anything to be worried about. But every medical professional I have consulted with advises me I am not going to carry to m, and the steps we are taking are responsible and reasonable and the best things to do. I don’t want to take the shots, turn my house and my job upside down to try to get ready for this baby early, and spend hours upon hours in doctors appointments. I don’t want an early induction or c-section. I wanted a totally different situation, but that will not be best for the baby and there are reasonable things to do in response to this news.

On the other hand, I could become obsessed. I find myself already shutting down the search browsers to hunt for more information. I cannot dwell. It does no good and I need balance. It is no good for my marriage and it is no good for my health. I want to maintain – for now – as much normalcy as possible. I asked Massimo that we not give up the other hobbies, appointments, and events we have already scheduled, out of a hyper-focus on the “what if” in our heads all the time. We are going to go to work Monday morning, and leave in the evening. He is at a hunting course today to work towards getting certification for his first bow hunting season this fall. He finished his guitar Friday. I am going to plan on going to my friend’s bridal shower next weekend. I am going to make grocery shopping lists and go on dates and try to maintain my sanity as long as I can. The unknown is the hardest part, but clearing my schedule won’t change that.

At this point, I am emotional and worried. But trying to stick with my plan: gratitude, balance, taking things step by step. I appreciate prayers, and offering this little one to God is all I have. The more I consider the miracles of his timing, and his creation inside me, the more my heart is overwhelmed by his mercy. I am mostly telling this story to ask for prayer, and to explain if I seem out of it. Also, to explain why I might suddenly drop off the face of the planet. It is not personal, and the network of prayer and love the Internet provides will be greatly appreciated every step of this journey.

Keep Baby Barbi in prayer. Thank you.

15 answers for 15 weeks

  1. I am due in September.
  2. I am actually seeing it as a positive that I will “have to make it through the summer.” I have fewer pregnancy clothes to buy, won’t have to lace shoes or even put on socks. I will wear dresses and flats, and live in either air conditioning or the pool. #winningallday
  3. I am now in my second trimester, but had an extremely easy first. I never got sick, dealt with a few weeks of exhaustion and mild nausea if I didn’t put some food in my mouth every couple of hours, and that was it. I got my energy back well before my second trimester started and had such an easy pregnancy, and I was pretty shocked when the doctor actually found a kid in my belly!
  4. I feel amazing. Every once in a while, I get worried or anxious. I had bad heartburn for a few days that is now under control. I literally cannot tell you how easy this has been so far and how insanely thankful we are for that. No trips to the emergency room, no special instructions. Just a boring,  easy pregnancy. Thank you, Lord!
  5. It doesn’t matter if it was “planned,” does it?
  6. We don’t know the baby’s sex.
  7. We won’t find out until it is born.
  8. We don’t think we are stronger or better or have more will power than those that do find out. We want to be surprised for ourselves.
  9. The nursery does not have a color because there is no nursery. We do not know where we will be living when the baby arrives, and if it is our current home the bassinet will hopefully fit in the corner.
  10. We will both return to work outside the home after the baby is born.
  11. We are extremely grateful to be surrounded by supportive family, all of whom are fighting over how much free babysitting they will be allowed to provide. We are overwhelmed by love and support!
  12. We do have names picked out. Ask next time I see you and I will be happy to share.
  13. I do not know how this baby will be fed, but it will be fed.
  14. We accept all offers of free baby supplies. Between my brother’s baby, our home, my parents’, and my in-laws, I can almost guarantee every item will be well-used and appreciated! And we promise to pass along any extras to others in need.
  15. We are super excited and blessed. Massimo is already an amazing father and takes care of me and loves us like crazy. We are enjoying every day left before we have a child to tote around, but also greatly looking forward to meeting this little person. #humblebragpro

-D. E. Barbi Bee

“Bring that down to a one.”

After shaking our hands and introducing himself, the surgeon sat down, clipboard in hand and light-heartedly asked, “So how nervous are you right now?”

I ran through a quick self-evaluation. How nervous was I? Up until just a few minutes ago, when I sat down in this cold, hideously yellow exam room, with its thin table/bed that looked like it could have been recovered from the ruins at Chernobyl, I have been surprisingly calm. But now, alert and slightly shaking, I was admittedly anxious.

“Probably like a six, on a scale of one to ten.” I answer.

“Okay, let’s bring that down to about a one,” he jokes. This comment would set the tone for the rest of the appointment: comments that were slightly comedic, mildly dark (“I could have cancer, he could have cancer, but I don’t think that you have breast cancer in that spot.”), and a whole lot of casual C.Y.A. At more than one moment in the appointment, I thought to myself, “Was this a waste of our time and money?” But I never said it out loud, and was able to justify that if I had not come here, I would have worried and wondered for months.

In March, I had to make the call to Massimo that my doctor had found a lump in my breast during my annual exam. Between that day and my appointment with the comedic surgeon, I had gone through a weeks of visits from a series of mental roommates – some welcome, others not.

The first to stop by after we learned that this lump existed was called Faith. She was, as she always is, wise and free-spirited. Faith assured us that all we needed to do was invite her over, and she would happily stay with us. She said we didn’t need anyone else besides her to get through this. I politely declined, assuring her we would get through this.

Next to come over when I said goodbye to Faith was Pride, who introduced himself as Responsibility. Of course, true Responsibility calls himself “Humility,” so I should have known better. Nonetheless, I spent some time at home and at work with Pride, who constantly reminded me that this could cost us a fortune. “You have a high deductible plan,” he said. “And your emergency fund was really not for tests, surgeries, and treatments, was it? You always said that was in case of a ‘car accident,’ Deborah, you didn’t plan for this! What if this is bad?”

Pride was relentless. I admit I should have shooed him away quickly, but he made some excellent points. Massimo and my mom assured me time and again that this is not the time for financial decisions; this is the time for health care decisions – the two should not be mixed. I eventually told Pride to leave, but before he left, he apparently called his friend, Fear, to stop by.

Fear came by for just a little bit at first, but his real power came after the ultrasound, when he teamed up with his sister, Self-Pity, and their friend, Logic. When this mass first came to our attention, I could easily brush it away as “probably nothing.” Logic, at that time, seemed my friend. Logic told me that most of the time, for someone my age, a lump was just a cyst or just plain tissue. “This is more of a hassle than cause for concern,” Logic told me. I let him stay on the couch for a week.

The day of the ultrasound, Logic sent me off on a great foot. The whole thing went very quickly. In fact, maybe too quickly. The tech took her pictures, left to speak to the doctor, and came back with him. He took more pictures, spoke for about 30 seconds, and left. I looked at the technician with confusion, hoping my face would convey my inner voice screaming, “What do I do now?”

She smiled at me and said, “You’re all set.” That’s not really an answer, lady.

The doctor said a few words that stood out to me: “Your age,” “Not a cyst,” and “most likely a fibroadenoma, which is benign.” That’s really all I had. He mentioned something about a surgeon, or biopsy, but it went very quickly. I walked out feeling like a two out of ten on the worry scale: pretty good.

We went home happy, and it wasn’t until a few days later, when my doctor got the report and decided to refer me to a surgeon for a consult that the visitors showed up again.

This time, Logic seemed to get along better with Fear than he had gotten along with me before. Logic explained very clearly the following facts: 25-year-olds, statistically, are just about as low-risk as one can be. But if a 25-year-old did get cancer, it would (statistically) be breast cancer. And if a 25-year-old did get breast cancer, it would be bad (physically and financially), and even if she survived, it may affect the safety of her having children some day.

Then Self-Pity chimed in and expressed her concern that of course I deserve a long, healthy life with my husband, and that I deserve to have children and raise a family and et cetera et cetera. I knew she couldn’t be right, and after a couple days of that malarky, Massimo set her straight and she packed her bags.

Massimo, of course, was amazing through all of this. I don’t know if he didn’t notice our unwelcome guests, or he was just better at ignoring them than I was, but I told him time and again that if there was a description of how I would like my spouse to act in these circumstances, I would base it off of him. He was amazing. His strength and support – both silent and spoken – were amazing.

When we finally acknowledged the roommates that we both hated: Fear, Logic, Pride, and Self-Pity, we got on a united front and kicked them out once and for all. With them gone, we had room to invite Faith over to spend the week with use before the surgeon appointment. Faith also brought over her friends Joy and Hope, and we all got along splendidly. Sure, in the back of our minds we were always wondering what would happen, but it was more of an intangible, almost (stress the almost) weightless thought, than an unbearable burden.

The only small frustration in those days shared with Faith, Joy, and Hope was planning. There was always a “what if” factored in to making plans and spending money. “What if I need a biopsy? What if this drains our account?” But Hope would chime in and say, “Even still, it is well.”

The day of my appointment went by in a flash. When the comedic doctor left after a brief exam, we couldn’t stop grinning and holding hands. I felt every breath come in and out of my through with such clarity. Joy rode in the back seat with us on the way home from the surgeon’s office, grinning just as wide.

Now, almost six months later, my follow-up appointment next month is practically routine. I learned a lot from those weeks between discovering the lump and being dismissed from the yellow office. I learned that worrying does one hundred percent nothing. I learned that no matter how much good I think it does, the sick feeling in my stomach, a result of fear and concern over things I can’t control, really sucks the joy out of every day.

I’m extremely thankful for all the Lord did for us in those weeks and since. Even though we got an excellent outcome from out tests and appointments, if it had been less than that, we still would have been safe and secure in our Savior’s arms.

Walkers, Rise Up!

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Even walkers can take workout selfies, just like runners.

I finally live in a town with sidewalks, and I have plenty of extra time during the summer, so, naturally, I have taken up the practice of walking 2-4 times a week. In the last month, I have walked a total of 30.4 miles over 8 hours and 19 minutes, burning 3,109 calories. You guys, I’m so pumped. I feel really good about this. I bought new clothes and everything.

The problem is that I can’t brag about it because I’m walking, not running. If I was a runner, it would go all, “Oh hey, I’m thinking of going for a run later. Do you think this rain will let up in time?” “Oh, you’re a runner? No kidding! Me, too. Are you doing the 5K for the Fourth of July? Let’s exchange routes and our favorite warm-up stretches.” And we would be great friends and have mutual respect for one another.

As a walker, though, it goes like this: “Do you think this rain will let up? I’m thinking of working out later.” “Oh, do you do yoga?” (Come on, I’m trying to do something significant here.) “No,I’m walking.” “Oh. Are you pregnant?” (Seriously?! No.)

So in this world, the only work-outs worth bragging about are yoga, running, and weight lifting. (Don’t believe me? Check Instagram.) Everyone else is not cool and pregnant.

I want to live in a world where walkers and runners get mutual respect. I want to live in a world where I can say, “I’m getting my walk on. #workout #fitspo #business” and I will be the envy of everyone sitting on his or her couch instead of moving. I want to inspire, and proudly brag about my workouts without reserve. I want that world! And so I say to all you walkers out there: Rise up! Stand proud and declare your love of walking and that this is a totally legitimate and serious exercise. Spread the word! And get stepping! You are just as worthy as those runners. Don’t ever look down at your feet, moving at a pace of 4 mph or slower. Walk on, little feet. Walk on.

Just to drive home my point that walking is just as good as running, let’s do a little side-by-side.

                                                                                Walking                                     Running

Burns More Calories

Than Binge-Watching Netflix                            X                                                         X

Gets You Out of the House                                 X                                                         X

Requires Special Workout Clothes                  X                                                        X

You Have to Wear Sneakers                               X                                                        X

You Get to Know Your Town                             X                                                         X

You Have To Awkwardly

Pass Strangers on the Sidewalk                          X                                                          X

There’s an App for it                                               X                                                           X

Improves Your Health                                          X                                                          X

You Can Take Workout Selfies                            X                                                           X

You Sweat                                                                   X                                                           X

You Feel the Cool Breeze

On Your Face                                                              X                                                           X

You Can Talk on the Phone

at the Same Time                                                       X

You Look Awesome                                                  X  

You Can Go To The Library

or Store and Carry Stuff Home                              X

Your Earbuds Fall Out                                                                                                              X

You Spit Up Drool and

Look Ridiculous                                                                                                                           X

You Get Weird Injuries

And Have to Go To Rehab                                                                                                         X

So, runners do tend to lose weight faster, and can get a medal for running a marathon (There are also a lot of reasons not to run a marathon.). But is that really worth it? Is that really enough to totally make us walkers feel like lame losers? At least walkers have something in common with their grandparents! So that’s all I need. Running is painful and stupid. And you get cramps and want to throw up. Walking is beautiful and it rocks!

Start the  movement! Walkers, arise!

-debarbibee