Thursday, August 3, 2023

Be Still

 In Dom's birth story post I briefly alluded to my expectation of giving birth and him needing to just hold on because life wouldn't be slowing down.  I'm starting to think this blog should be named "God had other plans". But I do suppose that is the whole idea behind the name of this blog, to persevere in running the race God has planned and set before us. In all of its ups and downs.

So yes, God did have a different race set before us than the one I envisioned. From day one, Dom was a baby who wanted to be held and, more specifically, wanted to be nursing. He was reluctant to be with anyone other than me and was nearly impossible to put down.  I wouldn't call him colicky because as long as he was with me, and likely nursing, he was fine.  That is until he was about two weeks old. He had been particularly inconsolable and clearly uncomfortable for most of the day and I remember thinking "oh no, this is when the colic is starting."  I wrapped him in my ring sling that night and walked in circles while listening to the Sunday School Podcast until he fell asleep. He whimpered throughout the night and wasn't eating as much as normal. Early the next morning he had a large green vomit.

Dom had already struggled with reflux, but this looked different. I was worried but also aware of my tendency to overthink things. J suggested I call the pediatrician after hours line. Dom was supposed to have an appointment later that day but I didn't want to wait because Dr. Google had already told me of all of the horrific things that could happen if I did. The nurse on the line was kind and calming. She had me take his temperature and called our pediatrician to ask for guidance. They decided the best course of action would be to get him checked out at the hospital and to hold off on feeding him for now.

When we arrived at the ER we were seen pretty quickly and the ER doc checked him out. He quickly identified a large hernia and attempted to manually correct it. He was surprised by how stubborn it was. Meanwhile, he also ordered a number of imaging tests to identify the cause of the green vomit and rule out anything serious. 

The first test was an X-Ray of Dom's bowels. It was pretty awful to watch. He was strapped to the board while they fed him a fluid that they could see travel through his system as they rocked him back and forth. He was crying and the fluid wasn't doing what they wanted it to do.   Afterwards the radiologist told me his initial reading of the results was that Dominic has malrotation and would likely need surgery.

We were then taken for an ultrasound of the hernia. Just as the tech was putting the goop on Dom's belly, a nurse came to let us know the urologist who viewed the imaging results wanted to take him into surgery now.  This is when things felt much like a whirlwind and started to move very fast. I had multiple people asking me to sign things and telling me what malrotation is and how they planned to fix it and oh yeah that giant hernia that is still there needs to be taken care of too and the risks of anesthesia at such a young age, but it shouldn't be an issue because the surgery shouldn't go for more than 4 hours.

Meanwhile in my head I am bitterly remembering the arduous process of getting on the schedule for Baptism at our church and how Dominic hadn't been Baptized yet. I hand the Holy Water I have in my purse (because I've been traveling with it in case of emergency) to one of the techs and explain to her the Rite of Baptism and that if anything goes wrong it is the first thing she is to do. She was surprisingly receptive. And then the tears came. I continued to sign paperwork about all the things that could go wrong and watch as my tiny baby is wheeled away on a bed with a team of people surrounding him. The people at Children's Plano were all so caring. I received the most loving embraces and reassurance from each member of the team, including the surgeon. I remember them telling me with most sincere faces that they would care for him like their own and I believed them.

I whispered into his ear and kissed him and put my head on his little two week old body. He was so tired from crying and not eating all morning. And off he went.  I believe it was around 12:30pm. The staff brought me a pump and a two ounce bottle to catch milk. Thankfully, I had brought my own hand pump and larger bottle, so I replaced the two ounce with the eight ounce and managed to fill it twice. They were very accommodating and began storing any milk I pumped.

While the morning was whizzing by I was in communication with J and my mom. J had been with the other kids, but now needed and wanted to join me at the hospital. My mom came to pick up the boys from school and stay with them. I messaged the rest of my family with an update and a plea for prayers. J arrived and a tidal wave of tears flowed from me. They were tears of relief to have him here and also fear for our tiny baby. 

At 2:10 I received my first update letting me know they started the procedure and he was stable, warm, and hydrated. At 2:58 I received a message saying "Hi Mommy. He is stable and we are still working".  At some point the nurse who had been sending messages stopped by the room to let us know her shift was ending and a new person would be sending updates.  J passed the time by watching videos of the Ladd's procedure they were doing (J watched intently, I mostly just glanced periodically). I passed the time by worrying and crying off and on. At 4:06 I received a message saying "Surgeon still operating, everything is going well, baby is doing wonderful". And then came a painful 2 hour communication desert. 

During this time, my sister stopped by with dinner for us and a big, long, needed hug where I could just crumble into my big sister's arms. She told me that on her drive the Matt Maher song Leaning was playing and I was reminded to lean into the comforting peace of our Savior. I returned to the room and we ate dinner.  We finally received another message at 6:00 saying "Finished with the belly and starting on the hernia. Baby is doing well."  I was a little surprised and disappointed there was still a significant piece of the surgery to be completed, remembering the anesthesiologist telling me anything under three hours was not of concern.  The three hour mark was passing us by. At 7:30 the surgeon came by to let us know he was out of surgery and being moved to PICU where we could go up to see him. 

Walking into the PICU was a mixture of relief and shock. I was so glad to see our sweet boy, but not prepared for the amount of machines and wires surrounding his little body.  The surgeon gave the PICU team a synopsis of the surgery, letting them know the hernia had been a major problem and resulted in needing to resection part of his intestine. She emphasized the hernia was the hardest case she has seen in someone so small and she had needed to call in a second surgeon to assist. I later learned that his particular malrotation was rare and one that was newer for her to operate on. He would remain sedated and on a breathing machine.  

J went home to help reassure the worried siblings and I settled in for the night. Throughout the night Dom's temperature dropped over and over and at points his pulse would take dives. That combined with waking to pump, I didn't sleep much. They lessened the amount of pain meds they were giving and placed him on warming bed which helped with his vitals.

J arrived back at the hospital for rounds the next morning. The plan was to slowly reduce support from the O2 machine as well as continue to reduce pain meds and start to wake him. They also wanted to place a PICC line to give him TPN (IV food) since he would not be able to nurse for a few days. The person placing the line recommended I leave because Dominic was likely to cry during the procedure and while he could handle babies crying, it broke him to see the mother cry. So I left J with the holy water and Baptism instructions and he assured me there would be no need to use it.   I took a long walk around the campus and prayed a Rosary and reflected on the meaning of giving Dominic's care to God the Father first and trusting in His perfect will.

The line was successfully placed and Dominic made slow progress towards reducing his need for breathing and O2 support as well as began to wean off of the sedation medication.  As this happened he slowly started to wake up.  He also started to pee, which was a great sign. However, he didn't like having his diaper changed and would hold his breath whenever the nurses were doing this. It was nerve wracking every time. I loved our PICU nurses. They provided encouragement and words of comfort and so so many hugs.  

That afternoon, he was stable enough for me to be able to hold him and it was the best feeling.  He pretty much stayed in my arms from that point on unless a nurse made me lay down in bed or if it was J's shift. My mom came to visit so J could spend some time with the worried siblings.

Dominic continued to have green gunk (bile) sucked through the tube that was going to his stomach and we needed this to be gone for a substantial amount of time before we could reintroduce breastmilk.  By bedtime on day 2 at the hospital, he was not impressed with not being able to eat. Being more alert was a blessing, but hearing him cry for food was heartbreaking. 

He had a rough night with waking and realizing he hurt and was getting hungrier. Unfortunately, the amount of green getting pulled from his stomach was increasing. The hospital team didn't seemed worried by this and said it was a sign his intestines were starting to work again, just slowly so they were backing up and causing green to be in his stomach. Meanwhile I was learning how to hold a baby attached to what felt like 100 wires, pump, and not drive him crazy with milk in his face that he couldn't have. 

It was day three and J had a special surprise for Zilla, they would be headed to the UT/OU game together at fair park. J debated calling off the trip, but Dom was doing so well and this would be such a special time for them they decided to keep their plans and got to see UT trample OU. 

That evening J and I switched places and I went home to see the kids. Leaving the hospital was hard. All the thoughts and what ifs were flooding my mind. The nurse told me she was glad to see me going to get a good night of rest and assured me all would be well. Dom had a good night with J and they started to see him poop some, which was a great sign of progress. It was day four at the hospital and Dom was off all major pain meds and was taking only Tylenol and antibiotics in addition to the TPN. I went to Mass with the kids and (thankfully) my mom. After Mass, we had Father Michael say a prayer over our family for Dom. It was a needed dose of peace. 

When I returned to the hospital, Dom had been moved out of the ICU onto a regular floor. While I loved that he was making progress, the nurses here were far less hands on and also didn't like me sleeping in a chair while holding him.  So I got really good at waking up anytime I heard the door open. I struggled more with pumping because he was getting more and more agitated and wanted to be held most of the time. I was glad I brought my Freemie from home, or there is no way I would have been able to keep up my supply. 

On day 5 at the hospital I was given the go ahead to feed him an ounce of milk from the bottle. It was a huge relief after a very difficult night. From here, he continued to make beautiful improvements and eventually moved back to nursing.  Never in my life was I so happy every time I saw poop. It was wonderful. The kids were able to come up at one point to say hi and J and I switched places again. We switched back the next day so J could return to work. After arriving on October 6th, we were given the green light to go home on October 12th.

I am so grateful for all the love and support that was poured out over us throughout this week and the weeks after. So many friends provided meals for us and our family stepped up offering care for our kids.  And the prayers sustained us through it all, providing us with an overwhelming sense of peace. There were moments of fear and sadness but there was so much peace. Especially in the openness to God's plan.

It's amazing to look back and see where God was in all of this. And more importantly to look back and see that God was calling me to "Be still, and know that I am God". I was ready to fling myself into motherhood of five. I started seeing clients the day before Dom went into the hospital. I was ready to convince Dom he was a kid who was comfortable with being put down often, because well, it felt like a necessity. I was ready to have another kiddo like Betty, who slept amazing from day 1. I was ready to hit the ground running. I was absolutely not ready to find ourselves back in the hospital knowing that J had spent much of the summer in the hospital with his mom. But God, well he knew better. He knew I needed to Be Still. To stop and take in the moments with this new precious soul. To sit with him, to hold him, and to let God redeem some of the pain of the past year. To spend more time in silence and prayer and trust.  God knew. He always does. He is always good, in all things.

Monday, June 5, 2023

Dom Dom Dom Dommmmm (to the tune of Beethoven's 5th)

*Grammar note*: I wrote most of this using speech to text, because 5 kids. There are definitely some errors.

Remember how the last time I wrote one of these I joked that it would be the last blog entry?  Well, joke's on me!  God had a bigger and better plan in store, and that was in the form of our little Dom Dom.  

This birth story is going to be more like a pregnancy story, as this pregnancy and birth was in the context of year full of changes and loss in our family. The birth story is not complete without speaking to this loss.  We found out that we were pregnant in January of 2022.  It was a bit of a whirlwind realizing that we would soon be keeping up with 5 kids!  We announced to my mom, mother in law, sister’s family, and brother’s family while celebrating Zilla’s birthday. Later that night, we spent part of the evening talking to my mother in law about what it would be like for her to live with us and 5 kids. The plan was for her to move into the home we had bought together as she moved towards retirement.  She certainly thought we were a little ambitious, but was also excited for the journey.  I was excited to have her closer in the coming years. 

The pregnancy moved forward as normal.  We explored the idea of a home birth and birthing center birth with much excitement but ultimately, when Jason’s job offered a pregnancy benefit of paying $0 if we birthed at his hospital, decided we would move forward with that plan.  I was a little meh about this decision but also on board. I have, after all, done this 4 times and was well aware of how my births go. 

In May, we received the most difficult phone call of our lives. Nina, my mother in law, had asked us to call her. I was certain that she was calling to let us know she was ready to make the big move to Dallas to begin her life here with us. But instead, she let us know she had been going through multiple tests exploring lesions on her lungs.  We soon learned she had lung cancer. Over the next month Jason traveled back and forth between Dallas and Houston helping to transport her to and from doctors and care for her as her health declined.  We lost her in June and it was devastating. I’ll never forget holding Zilla in my arms as he cried when I told him we were going to make a trip to Houston to say goodbye to her. She was his person. 

Meanwhile I struggled with God, wondering why we were losing such a wonderful woman, whom my kids absolutely adored.  In all honesty, there were times I was angry. From afar, and without the chance to see Nina myself, I wondered why we weren’t pursuing treatments faster or more aggressively. It was harsh and certainly came from a selfish place, but I simply didn’t want to lose her.  But with prayer, God softened my heart and helped me to see He did not want longsuffering for her.  And in this I became open to the idea of my own sadness and grief. I so desperately wanted her there for this pregnancy, this birth, and to be in Dom’s life. She’s been a staple in all the others, it was hard to let go of this vision. But slowly I offered God this hurt and trusted He knew what to do with it better than me.  If the deepest moments of grief, spared suffering for Nina, well then it was worth it.  

I’m getting off track, but I say all of this because I remember people checking on me about how pregnancy was going and truthfully it was like my pregnancy was just happening in the background. I would tell people that I was pretty sure one day the baby was just going to fall out and I was going to be like, oh yeah, well hang on kid life isn’t slowing down.  Dom, of course, had other plans once he got here, but that’s a whole separate post altogether. 

In the midst of the loss and transition, I wanted to do everything I could to keep Nina a part of our journey so that Dominic would have a sense of knowing her, even without having met her. It’s why we ultimately gave him the initials DLF, so that it could be something they shared.  And as the day of his birth approached, I continually reflected on the role she played in welcoming our other kids into the world, especially the ones who were born in Michigan, and wondered what it would be like without her calming presence. You see, I am what some people might describe as an anxious person, but Nina just never seemed frazzled by anything. It was a nice and quite frankly needed balance in my postpartum wild hormonal state.    

Week 40 of pregnancy rolled around and terms like “induction” started getting brought up.  I was starting to get that anxious feeling. My husband’s hospital was not known for being the most “non intervention” friendly hospital around and because of the high volume of patients they see, take more of a one size fits all approach. The NP whom I had been seeing each appointment leading up to Dom’s birth kept gently letting me know that many of the things in my birth plan may not be allowed and they would almost certainly want to induce by week 41.  I was, admittedly, a little bitter that my very likely last birth was going to be stressful and possibly everything I didn’t want in a birth. Not the end of the world, but I was not feeling the most optimistic. 

At 41 weeks I waddled into a MFM appointment at 9am where they checked for progress and they “clocked” me at 3cm and the midwife insisted I immediately go to the hospital for induction with a cocktail of medications. I was crushed but also not ready to give up advocating for myself.  I asked her for a membrane sweep as this had previously jump started labor for 2 of my previous births and was hopeful my body just needed a little reminder that it was time. She reluctantly agreed, but said that I needed to go straight to L&D to start meds after the sweep.  I told her I needed to go home first to switch cars with my mom but would come back, though I preferred to wait 24 hours to give the sweep a chance to work seeing as she hadn’t given me any compelling medical  reasons for getting the baby out asap. She looked at me rather suspiciously and stated “well I will have to put in my chart that you are noncompliant”.  It was….uncomfortable, and quite frankly I felt like I was being threatened in some weird way. 

I called my mom and Jason on the way home in tears. The idea of induction medications scared me.  After 4 pregnancies I really didn’t want to throw in an unknown. I just wanted to do what my body knew how to do.  Jason and my mom both encouraged me to just listen to my body. Jason was fully on board with waiting 24 hours despite her “threat” and my mom was willing to help any way we needed it. They both encouraged me to call my NP and discuss the situation with her, so I did and left a message. 

Meanwhile, I started to feel consistent contractions. I didn’t want to get too excited because I had had false labor in the past, and my last sweep involved a short stint of false labor followed by the real deal the next morning. So I was cautiously hopeful. My mom left for a funeral and Jason anxiously watched me pace around the room. As long as I was up and walking or bouncing on an exercise ball the contractions were coming strong and consistent. Eventually they were coming close enough together that I told Jason we should head towards the hospital, as it was a 30 to 40 minute drive.  On the way there the contractions lightened up and I was worried I had jumped the gun.  The last thing I wanted was to walk into L&D without strong contractions and then be told I have no option but to start induction. Because of this, we decided to walk around the hospital for a little while prior to reporting to labor and delivery. My contractions were coming back and getting progressively stronger. I began to stop walking during contractions and Jason asked if perhaps it was time to get checked in.  I agreed and we headed to L&D. 

The nursing team was very confused when I arrived because I was supposed to go straight there for induction but had gone home and was now contracting on my own. Uncertain of where I should be sent, they decided to put me in a triage room. I was told Jason would have to wait until I was admitted into a room before joining me. It was a busy afternoon and all of the labor rooms were full, so I was told it may be a while. It was around 2pm. 

By some happy accident, Jason found his way back to the triage room and the nurse was kind enough to let him stay. She started the external monitors on me, told me they usually require mom's to stay laying back but since this was #5 she decided I knew what I was doing and as long as they were getting a reading I could move around. Unfortunately, the way my belly grows in pregnancy makes it very hard for the monitors to stay in place unless I'm completely still so she had to make frequent trips in to readjust. Thankfully, she never requested that I just stay still, because that wasn't going to happen.

It was about 2:30 at this point. A midwife came in to check me and I was 4cm. Stop me if you've heard this before, but I was disappointed by this number. At this point the contractions were STRONG.  I was doing ok for the most part and Jason and I had started praying a Rosary. At about the third mystery they let me know a room had opened and I was being moved to the labor and delivery room.  It was as they were moving me in the wheelchair that the contractions started feeling extremely painful. It was about 2:45.

Once we arrived to the room, it was very difficult to transfer to the bed. The new nurse was attempting to hook me up to the new external heart monitors and I was having none of it. I told Jason I was going to need an epidural because these contractions hurt way too much for being what was surely only 5 or 6cm. Afterall, they had just checked me and I was a 4. Rather than questioning this statement or agreeing, he simply told me the baby was probably about to be here. I thought he was bonkers. Jason started calmly but firmly mentioning to the nurse that she should get a doctor to the room rather than fiddle with the monitors on my stomach.  Soon I was loudly mentioning how I was feeling a lot of pressure. A lot. The nurse was frantically paging a doctor to get to the room.

At 2:58 Jason sent a message to friends and family that I was pushing. I distinctly remember the nurse continuing to try and get the monitors wrapped around me. I am pretty sure I swatted her hand away and told her it wasn't going to happen. There would be no heartbeat found near my stomach area, the baby was in the birthing canal. At 3:05, Dominic arrived. 

I did my customary apologizing to the L&D nurses for yelling at them and anything mean I had said.  The nurse who had been trying to get the heart monitor around me told me there was no need to apologize and that was the most amazing birth she has been a part of and told me I was incredible.  The nurse who had helped us in triage came by to see if I had really already given birth. She looked at me and said, “nah girl, we don’t do that around here. That’s wild.”  Jason and I joked that if the two nurses compared notes about me they would think it was two different people and I sent my sister a text to describe the great distance between triage me and transition me; 'polite, Rosary praying' me very quickly became 'frantic, hitting your hand away' me.   An hour or two later my NP called me back to see what questions I had and I let her know they were no longer relevant because he had arrived. She was floored. 

I also realized just how in tune my husband is with me. Honestly, it is humbling to realize how much he trusts my body to do this whole process, even more than I do myself. Looking back I see how he didn’t ask me at any point to question myself or speak over me, but at the same time he knew when I was truly in labor, when we were definitely in need of checking in, and when I was in transition and ready to push.  I don’t know if he felt calm internally and maybe it is just in comparison to how wild I felt at times, but he just seemed so sure.  He later told me there are obvious tells that I have, especially when it is pushing time, which is why he started to urge the nurse to get a doctor. Anyways, I really love it and love him.  

We were moved to the maternity ward and it was a mostly typical hospital stay. Compared to our Michigan births, there was much more in and out of nurses which wasn’t my favorite. It seemed like once an hour. I was very very ready to go home. 

When we arrived home the kids were all so excited. We had brought home a baby doll for Bethany and she was so proud to sit by us with Dom Dom while she took care of her baby.  And a huge thank you to my mom who picked up all of the kids on Friday and made sure people got to and from baseball obligations the rest of the weekend. We couldn’t have done it without her! 

I truly can’t believe our little guy is 8 months old already. Some of our favorite nicknames for him are: Dom Dom, Dom Bombadil, Tofu, Dominator, Chunk, and Chungus.  We love you so much, little guy and we know your namesake is praying for you daily.