Friday, March 16, 2018

Bye-Bye Mat Leave

Maternity leave is coming to an end. It's going to be an adjustment, and it has us a little anxious. We've settled into a bit of a groove over the last few months, and it's about to get turned upside down.

Hanging in the back yard - March 11, 2018

It feels so different from going back to work after Everett was born. Looking back, it's so clear that Elizabeth was experiencing depression when Everett was very small. Coupled with grief, lack of sleep, and loneliness, going back to work brought some balance. That balance helped everyone. We were able to be somewhat strict about in the office time so that we could get those precious couple hours with Everett between day care and bedtime.

Daddy wear Red Wings & Evie wear Red Wings & Immy wear Red Wings & Mommy wear Red Wings! - March 10, 2018

That will be even more important now. We're going to be back to pumping, cleaning and prepping bottles, doing all the chores at night or on the weekends, grocery shopping, making lunches, and whatever else comes up in limited time. But we can't sacrifice fun time. Play time. Reading time. For an hour or two every day, we need to have that connection with our kids.  Chris needs to commit to leaving on time and putting his work phone away when he gets home, and Elizabeth needs to start with her boundaries in place from day one.  It will be a challenge, but it's important.

One thing Elizabeth got done during this maternity leave is a photo book about Oberon that Everett and Imogen can read. It tells the story of Oberon being born, being in NICU, and coming home. It has pictures of Obie with us and his many visitors. We even ordered two copies so that sticky little fingers won't stress us out. With Everett grasping more and more as he grows, we know questions about Oberon are not far away.

Obie bear and Obie's book

Imogen is enjoying (and demanding) more attention as well. Her smiles are magic and she loves being talked to or sung to. She's rolling and nearly sitting. Her personality is really starting to come out, and that makes it harder for Elizabeth to think about leaving her for hours every weekday.

Officially rollin' - February 27, 2018 

Smiley girl - March 7, 2018

It's a wonderful thing that we have a day care provider that we love. Leaving Imogen with our day care provider also means she gets to spend the day with Everett. While she won't get as much mommy and me time, she will get more sibling time.

We know we are lucky that Elizabeth was able to be off for four months. Even so, it doesn't feel like long enough this time. We'll adjust, Elizabeth will get back into all the projects and relationships at work, and Imogen will meet new friends. There will be bumps, but hopefully they are small ones that we can roll with.

Beasties - March 4, 2018

Four-month-old Bitty - February 28, 2018

Monday, February 26, 2018

(Southern) California Adventure

In mid-February, we traveled to Southern California to visit Chris's brother and his family. It was Immy's first flight on the outside, her first night somewhere other than the hospital or our house, the first flight Evie had his own ticket, and really the first time he understood what was happening (and could talk about it).

We talked about the "trip" starting a week or so beforehand to prepare him for the travel days and not staying at "Evie house" for a few nights. All things considered, he did fabulously. He's old enough for the iPad to be entertaining on the plane when the window shade and tray table got boring, and Immy is young enough that being nursed and cuddled is just fine for her. 

She did have a monster number two after we landed that got all over her, Elizabeth, and the carrier (eek!), but thankfully there was a washing machine readily available when we arrived. Everett had the time of his life just playing with his cousins, swimming in a big pool (even though it was a little chilly!), and checking out all their new toys. His face lit up constantly and it was heartwarming to see. 

Imogen did well with the new surroundings and new people as well. She is alert, but not yet worried about stranger danger, which made for a mostly happy baby for the whole trip.

And that was all before...Disneyland!

Disneyland - 2/12/18

We had a fantastic time. Chris, Elizabeth, and Everett all had fun on rides, meeting characters, and experiencing it all with Matt, Christa, Natalie, and Grace. Imogen snuggled like a champ and occasionally liked looking around before it got too overwhelming and put her back to sleep.

Some people wonder why we'd go through the trouble and expense to take kids so small to a place like Disneyland. "They won't remember it", "they can't go on all the rides", "you'll be so busy taking care of them you won't enjoy yourselves", etc. In our experience, all that is bogus. At two years old and exploding in language, Everett was grinning ear to ear most of both days we spent in the parks (Disneyland and California Adventure). He recognized characters and interacted with them - especially Mickey, Stitch, Pooh, "fire truck," and "red car." After almost every ride concluded he would say, "I want to do it again." He took a solid nap each day, and only really got crazy once bedtime was close (and who could blame him). 

Meeting the main mouse - 2/12/18

Fire Truck (maybe we should watch Cars?) - 2/13/18

So what if he doesn't have clear memories of it in five, ten, or twenty years? We do. And we have lots of wonderful pictures from our trip.

Imogen, while not truly enjoying what Disney has to offer just yet, got snuggled all day, nursed when she wanted, and had tons of face time when she wanted to be awake. Those are pretty great days for her, and it didn't significantly impact everyone else's enjoyment of the day. Note that we wouldn't expect this of a baby a few months older than she is now. If she could crawl, we're sure she would've been fed up with the carrier all day.

Immy awake while Evie napped - 2/13/18

Disney is also (no surprise) extremely gentle with, as they call it, "angel families." The characters and their escorts are all familiar with a situation like ours, and they treated Obie's O with the care it deserves. Yes, there were tears, but we didn't have to explain to strangers what happened. A few short words and they caught on and made sure everyone was on the same page.

The Disney Photographer with Stitch had this idea - 2/13/18

It's slightly more morbid, but we don't want to wait for things our kids will enjoy now and that we're able to provide. We don't know what the future holds, and we thought it would be good for our family right now. So we did it. We have the memories and the pictures, and we can tell Everett how he danced while waiting for the Luigi rid in Cars Land, or how he wanted to hold the shooter on the Toy Story ride but wouldn't let Daddy pull the trigger, how he refused to show Stitch his Stitch shirt, that he called Lightning McQueen "red car" and wouldn't have it any other way, how he constantly wanted to steal "Mommy ears" instead of wear his own (and sometimes made Daddy wear them), how he pointed out Sully on the Monsters, Inc. ride, and how he was mesmerized by drummers there to celebrate Lunar New Year.

Having a blast on the carousel - 2/12/18 

Interacting with the environment with cousin Natalie - 2/13/18 

We can't wait to take him back when he's a little taller and can ride the roller coasters. We can't wait to take Imogen once she's walking. And though we'll probably cry every time, it's nice to make more memories while thinking of Oberon.

First, you meet Mickey - 2/12/18

Then, you take a nap - 2/12/18

"I drive the car" - 2/12/18

Bedtime? What's Bedtime? - 2/13/18

When they ask if you want to rider-swap, again, you do it! - 2/13/18

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Happy(ish) New Year!

2018. Another new year.

We looked back at some early posts from 2017, and it makes it even more obvious how much has changed in the last year.

The largest thing, of course, is that Imogen is here. Between this time last year and now, we conceived, had nine months of pregnancy, and two plus months of a healthy Immy on the outside. It feels crazy, in the best possible way.

Immy - January 2, 2018

Everett's personality, vocabulary, and coordination have grown by leaps and bounds, especially the last six months. He talks in sentences (!), negotiates, and attempts a forward roll (he prefers to try himself instead of being assisted). He is a bundle of energy, and brings so many silly and wonderful moments into the day.

Evie - December 30, 2017

Evie hit a big milestone this month - he's two! If you ask him, he'll tell you, "I'll be two months old." We've tried for weeks to set him straight, but it's just not happening right now. We had a birthday party at The Little Gym, which worked out beautifully. It didn't matter if the weather was bad, we didn't have to clean up, and there was a big space for the kids to run around and burn off energy. As usual, Everett had a blast running around as well as watching the other kids. And it was great for us to watch our friends be parents and see their kids growing and learning.

No, he was not told to be in the center of the circle - January 6, 2018 

Superman! January 6, 2018 

Cake, party people, and our family - January 6, 2018

Everett definitely understands the concepts of presents now, and thoroughly enjoyed opening his birthday goodies (though he did get overwhelmed). He's still playing with his new toys and reading his new books (great job, friends and family!), and we're stashing a couple away for later so he doesn't get bored with everything at the same time.

One of the coolest developments for Everett is his interest in Imogen. He has started being more hands on with her, which requires more vigilance from us - "gentle" isn't always what happens. He has officially held her for the first time, he tries to rock her, wants to kiss her (always asks to kiss her eyes for some reason), and constantly asks about her. 

As Everett grows firmly into toddlerhood, it feels more and more like we are leaving Oberon behind. Even Imogen is older than Oberon ever was, and that seems very strange. Oberon's thirty-three days loom so large over our lives, that it doesn't feel right when a thirty-three day span with Everett or Imogen fails to carry the same weight.

Then again, nothing ever feels truly "right" anymore. Everything is bittersweet, though certain days and moments slide further in one direction or the other. We see Evie (and now sometimes Immy) light up with a huge smile - pure joy. It's a beautiful, life-affirming sight, but it's not really something we expect to feel again. And that feels somehow unfair to our living children. It's something we'll have to figure out how to handle.

Another thing we'll have to handle soon, is Everett asking questions about Oberon. He knows about his brother, but how much he understands about Obie not being here is anyone's guess.

January 20, 2018

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Sometimes Things Hit Hard

It's been a rough season for both of us. Is it because Obie is getting further and further away? Because we're sleep-deprived with a toddler and a newborn? Maybe it's that we didn't get the injection of energy from seeing family and friends in person over the holidays. Or we're experiencing a NorCal December again. The reasons don't really matter, but it has been more sensitive, more raw, more tense than last year at this time.

Us - 12/25/2017

Video chatting family on 12/24/2017

It's a heavy time because of anniversaries and things layered on top of family-centered holidays and traditions. Balancing the sometimes still overwhelming grief with trying to create some holiday magic and wonder for Everett is...exhausting.

Obie Xmas gifts - a holiday we only have because of our boy - 12/9/2017

As we walk around our new home, all spruced up for the holidays, reminders of Oberon are everywhere. In addition to that, there are reminders of the many other babies gone too soon. Whether it's a gift from another loss parent, a holiday card with a missing member, or simply a totem we associate with a baby who died, reminders are everywhere. Sometimes it hits harder - the visual manifestation that other families are going through this grief as well.

 Our little tree - 2017

Holiday cards as decorations - 2017

It sucks.

The weight of it can be crushing at times. This is what it takes to be part of a support community, and it highlights why we must practice self care. We grieve for Oberon, and yes, we sometimes also grieve for other families missing their children. It's natural to feel this kind of empathetic grief, and it hurts. Even with the heaviness of knowing so many stories and witnessing so much grief, we still encourage support groups to help deal with loss. It takes an emotional toll to give support, but the amount of support we've received far outweighs what we gave.

Like everything, it takes time and trials to learn how to find the right balance. Between giving support and taking on too much. Add in how much grief, support, and our family are changing over time and it's just a lot right now. A lot of sadness and heaviness, and then guilt when that darkness clouds the joy and light we want Everett and Imogen to associate with this time of year.

Christmas In The Park - 12/29/2017

This is holidays after loss. This is three years since we held Obie. Teetering between love and heartbreak, and never really knowing which will win the day.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Finally, Time Flies

For years people have said to us, "time flies, doesn't it?" And we'd always say no.

The day we got married didn't fly by - it was an amazing day, but it felt about as long as it was. After Obie died, every day felt like eternity. Even when Everett was a little baby, the days were long. It felt like Elizabeth was away from work for ages, when in reality it was four months.

But now that Immy is here, all of a sudden it feels like time is flying.

Our family celebrating Obie's Bee Day - 11/24/17

Imogen has been on the outside for nearly a month. And that feels a little crazy. She's still very much a newborn, wanting to be held and fed and held and fed. Like her brother, she's a good baby. Don't tell Everett, but so far she might even be a better sleeper and eater. Things can change on a dime, but so far it's been pretty great. She's starting to get the milk drunk, sleepy smiles. She's making more noises and having more alert open-eye time. We are reminded how rewarding it is to see little babies start to learn and understand the world around them, bit by bit (or bitty by bitty).

Imogen - 11/19/17

Everett is also learning by leaps and bounds. It's taken us aback more than once. Because he's in day care, he learns words we don't use much and songs we don't sing. Yesterday, he started signing "Rain, Rain, Go Away", which we did not know he knew (and it WAS a rainy day!). Speaking of singing along, he does that now! It's adorable, and he'll sing along with quite a few songs - ABCs, Wheels on the Bus, Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Thomas and Friends, and Edelweiss. (To hear Everett's rendition of Edelweiss - click here - the crescendo really hits starting around 45 seconds.)

He'll even request songs by name, which can be a challenge. "Things" is "My Favorite Things", "Letters" is "Apple Apple A-A-A", and so on.

He can count to twenty with very little assistance. He LOVES counting books, and one day started reading the numbers to us and eventually counting without seeing the numbers. Shortly after, he started pointing out letters as well. He also starts singing his A-B-Cs to try to distract us from an impending diaper change he is none to keen on. Now when we go out Everett is liable to point out numbers, letters, and shapes that he sees (including octagon, oval, and arch).

Evie's first pumpkin pie (not a fan, but Cool Whip is OK) - 11/23/17

It didn't, but it feels like it came out of nowhere. He repeats phrases immediately and repeats them days and weeks later. He still speaks his own little Everett language that takes a little translating, but Mom and Dad are pretty good at it.

With all this stuff going on (plus the holiday season starting), it was a challenge to find the time and head space to focus on Oberon on his third birthday. We tried, and that has to be enough. We tried to allow each other some time to focus on making things for Obie or posting to social media (#ObiesBeeDay). We did manage to take a family hike at Henry Cowell State Park. This is the first one of Oberon's birthdays where we weren't able to go to Uvas Canyon County Park, where his ashes are scattered. The park is closed due to repairs on the only access road. It may have been a blessing in disguise though, since we haven't hiked in months and Elizabeth hasn't technically been cleared for exercise yet. So instead of a moderate hike to Obie's bench, we had a pretty easy two miles among the redwoods.

Hiking at Henry Cowell State Park - 11/24/17

Evie loved hiking. We showed him the big trees and talked about a river and how the water moves. He wanted to walk around and use a hiking pole like Mommy. While he took to hiking right away, he wasn't exactly great at going in a straight line, so Mommy and Immy went ahead to find a bench for a mid-afternoon snack.  After a couple minutes of meandering side to side along the trail and loudly saying "morning!" to every passing hiker, Evie decided he wasn't going to be left behind, started calling out "catch-up, catch-up" repeatedly, and taking off on an all-out toddler sprint down the path.  After catching up, he was nearly in tears leaving the redwood grove, emphatically asking to continue hiking.

"I go hiking." - Everett - 11/24/17

Speaking of nursing on the go, we have to re-learn how to hike with a small baby. Nursing breaks, diaper changes, the whole bit. There's been a lot of remembering with a newborn in the house. Elizabeth has even started pumping again so Immy can get used to the bottle. All in all, taking care of Immy has been much less triggering than taking care of Evie was at this stage. That's a good thing, but like so many things theses days, it does carry with it the guilt of being further away from Oberon.

Just look at this blog post! The section on Oberon's birthday circled quickly back to our living children. In some ways, we have to accept that's how things are right now. We have to set realistic expectations and be gentle with ourselves. For Obie's third birthday, we feel pretty good about it. And there's still leftover beehive-shaped birthday cake to keep the conversation on Oberon. Hearing Everett say "Oberon birthday cake" is pretty amazing.

Happy Birthday, Obie. We love and miss you dearly. Photo from 12/10/14

Friday, November 10, 2017

Imogen's Birth Story

She's here! She's home!

In the yard at our house - November 5, 2017

Those really are the most important things. In a lot of ways, it feels strange to think back and relive the delivery and the hospital stay. It still felt weird to fill out a birth plan and set expectations. We told everyone who asked - we want the medically appropriate things to be done. That's the end of our birth plan.

Just like with Everett, Elizabeth was induced at around 38 and a half weeks. In this case, we scheduled it so that bitty would most likely be born in October, leaving the November birthday for Oberon.

Elizabeth's parents came to watch Everett, which was a huge help. It was very nice to be able to relax and not worry about Evie while we were in the hospital.

Elizabeth was admitted on a Saturday around 11 a.m. We got put in a room right away, but then there was a big lull (like, over an hour) with no one coming by. Eventually, Chris started roaming the halls to find out what was going on. Long story short, a bunch of people had just come in and were moving along very quickly, so we were simply at the bottom of the priority list.

We watched football and waited. The doctor came in and explained to us the things that might happen. Elizabeth was already dilated 3cm, so no cervical balloon this time (yay!). They started pitocin at about 4 p.m. Grandma and Grandpa F. brought Evie for a quick visit before dinner and bed. He was enamored with the hallways at the hospital and all the things in the room to explore! Not at all out of sorts from Mommy and Daddy being away.

Later in the evening, about 9 p.m. or so, the doctor talked about breaking Elizabeth's water to speed things up. The pitocin wasn't really getting things moving - still at 3 cm. We talked about it, but opted to get some sleep and break her water in the morning, rather than break it late at night and then get zero sleep. Plus, Elizabeth's OB was on the schedule for Sunday morning, so if she delivered after 8 a.m. there was a good chance her doctor would be there.

So we slept. And no one had to get up to console a whiny toddler. Intermittent checks of Elizabeth's vitals did wake us from time to time, but all things considered a pretty good night's sleep for everyone, including bitty who was doing great.

In the morning, the doctor again brought up breaking the water and also an epidural. Since Elizabeth's labors were very fast with Oberon and Everett (once things got going), they didn't want to miss the window for pain relief. It felt extremely odd to get an epidural before the pain set in, but that's what we did. Elizabeth was having contractions (and had been for hours), but she could only feel them when bitty was in a certain position.

Elizabeth's water was broken in the morning, maybe around 7 a.m. Things did not move quickly. Elizabeth's doctor did come by to check on us when she arrived, but soon after was in an emergency C-section and wouldn't be available for some time. Finally, at around noon, things picked up. Again, they told Elizabeth not to push while her doctor got out of surgery and down to the room. This was the most difficult pushing of the three deliveries (who knew that working out really does make a difference?), but still not too bad. Four contractions worth of pushes, and there she was!

Welcome to the world, Imogen Ruby Fiorani Thoma - Born 10/29/17 at 1:23 p.m.

Just like with Everett, Imogen was put right onto Mama's chest for skin-to-skin. She opened one eye, but it took her a while to get the other one open. No one was in any rush to do checks or measurements, and we got a good couple hours of snuggle time.

Bitty was the biggest beastie at birth - 7 lbs 12.9 oz

We were moved to Mother/Baby and again spent a lot of time waiting for doctors and other people to come by. It felt so different than our stay with Everett where there were constantly people coming and doing checks. It was somewhat unsettling - is this what a typical birth experience is like?

Grandma and Grandpa F. brought Evie to meet his little sister the night she was born. He wasn't very interested and preferred to play on the computer and push around the bassinet - but who could blame him? We would have preferred more snuggles, but toddlers have things to do and we get it.

 Troublemaker - October 29, 2017

Grandpa and Grandma F. meet Immy - 10/29/2017

Thoma family - 10/29/2017

Slowly, we began ticking off the required things before discharge. Things like a hearing test, lactation consultant, wet diaper, poopy diaper, and a brain ultrasound. The ultrasound technician remarked that usually she did ultrasounds like this for babies in the NICU, and we felt like responding, "us too."

We didn't see any NICU nurses or neonatologists, a first. The social worker said she remembered us, and Chris recognized one of the pediatricians, but we didn't recognize any other doctors, nurses, or medical personnel in Mother/Baby.

It was bittersweet checking off the boxes on the discharge board. With both the boys the section for the baby was crossed out with the note "NICU" next to it. And there we were, one by one ticking off the must-dos before discharge. Barely 24 hours after Imogen was born, we were being wheeled out to drive her home.

Mommy and Bitty Beastie - ready to go! - 10/30/2017

Everett's delivery was so different from Oberon's, but we still had a NICU experience that was triggering and difficult. With Imogen, it was even more different. So much so that it was in some ways unsettling. Elizabeth had a baby, and then we went home. And no one was worried about her.

She even got to dress up for Halloween and trick or treat at two days old.

Halloween 2017, Yoda, Luke, Ewok, and Leia - May the force be with you.

So far, Immy is doing great. Evie seems to be adjusting well, Elizabeth is feeling pretty good, and Chris is taking care of everyone. We're sure there will be challenges and triggers ahead, but right now we're enjoying this time.

Friday, October 20, 2017

This October

It's October, and there is a lot going on. Sometimes, the best thing for us to do is compartmentalize, and that's certainly been happening lately.

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss (PAIL) Awareness Month. What does that mean for us this year? Similar to the last two years, it means our social media world turns pink and blue. Elizabeth participates in the Capture Your Grief photograph event, we attended the HAND Service of Remembrance, and we participated in the Wave of Light on October 15th.

HAND Service of Remembrance - October 1, 2017

Wave of Light - October 15, 2017 - Everett loves candles now

It's an emotional month, but didn't hit as hard this time. That sounds like a good thing, but sometimes it's hard to tell. The distance between us today and the us that held Oberon is greater. That always sucks. It's very hard to find the balance between being able to function with grief and being guilty that it isn't overwhelming. We still experience moments that overwhelm, but as time goes on they become less frequent. It's a difficult adjustment to come to terms with, but we're working on it.

This kid is in a really fun stage. Language exploding, running and climbing, sometimes listening, and all-around silliness. Yes, tantrums are picking up, but that means he's growing and developing - which is awesome.

Some of Everett's latest hijinks and activities - October, 2017

Especially since he's in day care during the week, we try to make the weekends more exciting. This means lots of trips to the park, bringing Evie on errands, and we took the plunge and signed up for his first activity class. He'll be going at least once a week to The Little Gym, and if it's anything like his trial class it will be a mix of tantrums and all-out loving it.

We talk to him about Bitty, his little sister, but it doesn't really seem to be clicking. We know his life will drastically change in the coming weeks, and we truly hope the adjustment isn't too hard on him.

Elizabeth has officially passed the 37 week mark (and progesterone shots are over!). We've been preparing, but wouldn't say we're prepared. There are still things on the to-do list (like a name), but we may need to face the reality that it won't all get done.

Part of it, we think, is pushing to the side thoughts of labor, delivery, and the newborn period. It gets overwhelming very quickly to think about or hope for a particular story line to play out. Will she need the NICU? Will Elizabeth have complications? Will we get to bring her home? These questions are so real to us, that it just isn't something we spend a lot of time on.

So that leads to...not really facing up to the possibility of a newborn being in the house very soon. We've bought the things and cleaned the things, but we aren't really thinking about it. At least, not yet.

And for now, that will have to be OK. One day at a time, one moment at a time.

And next month? That will be a big one for all kinds of reasons.

Maternity Photos with Abby Alger Photography - and a whiny Everett - 9/16/2017