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 too 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

Monday, September 25, 2017

My Pregnancy Is Not An Invitation Into My Personal Life

It's amazing the things people say. It's even more amazing the things people say when you're visibly pregnant.

At 7 months pregnant:
  • "Wow, you must be due any day now - you're so big!"
  • The next day, "You're so tiny!"
  • A medical professional: "Your chart says you are measuring small." No one had ever told us Elizabeth was measuring small, and it turns out she wasn't. We were told baby was, "definitely not small."
  • A medical professional, the next day: "Your belly is so small!"
First of all, commenting a pregnant woman's size is incredibly rude. We're not saying it's rude to talk about these things with people you are very close with. It's natural to compare pregnancies and experiences with loved ones. It is not normal for acquaintances and people you are meeting for the first time to feel like they can comment on your body. 

About 32 weeks pregnant with Oberon, Everett, and Bitty. A lot depends on the style, angle, and where her hands are.

We're pretty sure this would be annoying even without our history. But being parents after loss, it's downright infuriating.

Comments about Elizabeth being big are stressful because she was bigger than average when pregnant with Oberon. She had extra amniotic fluid and Oberon was big for his gestational age. Neither of those things were good things.

Comments about Elizabeth being small are also stressful. Babies that aren't growing within the expected ranges can have medical reasons for that low growth. 

You would think that at least medical professionals, especially those that work with high risk patients, would keep these kinds of observations to themselves. Inevitably, they don't.

When people are meeting for the first time, there's this moment when the group is trying to find a topic. The weather comes up, travel stories, the usual. Enter, a pregnant person. All of a sudden, the pregnant person's personal life is latched onto as the obvious topic. This happens, a lot. 

Sometimes, Elizabeth is able to deflect gracefully before things get awkward. Sometimes, other people talk about their own families and she can simply smile and nod and then walk away. Other times, people are persistent. Peppering her with questions and ignoring the one word answers and closed-off body language. 

She knows she risks being perceived as rude, but it's just getting to be too much. She didn't bring up her personal life or her family, the only reason it's being discussed is because she's visibly pregnant. That visibility leads coworkers, flight attendants, receptionists, restaurant workers, baristas, and random strangers to launch into personal questions. Every single day. It's exhausting. 

A lot of the advice is to answer these people honestly - people shouldn't ask questions if they aren't ready for the answers. But answering honestly also puts Elizabeth in a difficult situation. Lie, or tell the truth and deal with the emotional avalanche that comes with it. Or don't say anything, look like a crazy person and still deal with the emotional avalanche.

Did we mention it's exhausting? Because it is.

Not everyone wants to talk about their personal lives. Especially not as "small talk." Not everyone has simple, happy stories. Some people might love talking about the complications and tragedies and differences in their personal lives. We promise, if that's the case, these people will bring it up on their own - you do not have to drag it out of them. 

In general, we could all be more respectful with personal questions. But for now, we'd settle for people not using a pregnant woman's body as an invitation.

Why write this? If you're reading this, we probably wouldn't mind talking to you about this pregnancy (we're kind of an open book). But that stranger in the office, airport, or coffee shop? Take a beat before you assume she wants to talk to you about her pregnancy, her body, or her family.

You made it to the end of a rant post! Thank you for listening, here are some pictures of Everett playing. We totally dig it when people ask us about Evie at the park! <3


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

So Long, Summer!

Just like that, we're heading into Labor Day weekend, into football season.

All smiles at the pool - 8/26/17

The weeks are flying by, and we are all a little overstimulated. We had Chris's birthday, Elizabeth traveling for work, Elizabeth's birthday, a big house party, meeting lots of neighbors, and a quick weekend trip to SoCal. Not to mention that both of us have pretty intense work obligations this time of year.

Oh yeah, and we got lice!

Whenever we think we'll have some down time, it just doesn't happen. We haven't had time to sit down and settle on a name for Bitty. We haven't put closet doors in our bedroom yet. We haven't been hiking in months.

All that said, it's been an enjoyable summer. Everett enjoys things like cake and presents this year, and he participates in video chats which brightens up work trips (or working late).

Playing at playgrounds and in the back yard - August, 2017

We took the time to walk around and meet the neighbors. It was very nice to introduce ourselves to the people who live on our street. We invited them to our open house party and quite a few took us up on the offer. Of course, inviting them into our home meant opening up to questions about Oberon. Chris was more vocal about it than Elizabeth, but it was good to get our story out there. We don't want to hide him, but it's still difficult to talk about in small talk situations.

The open house was a wonderful day. It actually felt relaxing and enjoyable to spend time with the people we share our life with here. So much so, that we didn't take a single picture! There were kids playing in our yard and adults having happy conversation. It felt...good. If you'd asked us a year or two ago, we wouldn't have been able to say for sure whether we'd ever have a day like that again. Whether we'd ever feel comfortable in a group social situation like that again. We're not sure whether it's that many people already knew about Obie, or that we were in "our space" where Obie is everywhere, or simply that more time has passed. It's never going to feel normal to have a child that isn't alive. But it's also our reality, every day, and has been for coming up on three years.

Hanging in Obie Corner - 8/2/2017

The visit to SoCal was a little hard on our hearts. Seeing our nieces interact with Everett is so joyful, so wonderful, that we can't help but wish Oberon was growing up with the cousins too. We miss him. And we feel guilty when life takes up so much space that we don't give him the attention he deserves.

 Mom: Did you just eat sand? Evie: No...yes. 8/26/2017

29 weeks with Bitty - 8/29/2017

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Keep Growing

So much is changing, and suddenly it seems so fast.

Our house is nearly where we want it to be. The to-do list is getting very short, and that feels awesome. We’re starting to really settle into our new home. Finally trusting that yes, this is indeed our house and our home.

Everett has been upgrading too - a water table! 7/23/17

Elizabeth’s body is changing too. Her belly is swelling to accommodate a growing (and kicking!) Bitty. Pregnancy aches and pains exist, but they aren’t too intrusive. She continues to be monitored closely (so far, no red flags). It’s hard to compare how she feels physically between the three pregnancies, because the circumstances were so drastically different. Emotionally, it’s markedly less intense - veering into disconnected. There’s so much pulling at our attention and time that there just can’t be as much focus on the pregnancy, or on grief. It makes it easier to get through the days without breaking down, but it carries with it some guilt.

24 weeks with Bitty - 7/23/17

Everett’s changes are the most visible. He is learning new words all the time. He is getting more brave climbing and running. It’s such a joy to watch him figure things out, to watch him be proud of himself. As we barrel through toddlerhood, it’s clear that Everett won’t stay little forever, won’t stay a baby.

At this point, many parents would be tempted to say something like, “stop growing!” or “he’s growing too fast” or “I wish he would stay little forever.” Not us. Definitely, not us.

We know what it’s like when a child doesn’t grow, and stays little forever. It’s not an outcome any parent would actually wish for. It seems like an innocuous thing to say, but it isn’t. We aren’t the only loss parents who react badly to sentiments like that.

Watching Everett grow and change is the most rewarding part of parenting. Providing love and support may be the number one responsibility as parents, but helping our kids grow and change is a close number two.

All smiles at the Happy Hollow playground - 7/29/17

We never got past love and support for Oberon. We made decisions that were best for him and our family, we gave him as much love as we could while he was alive - and there’s so much leftover that we continue expressing it now.

With Everett, and now Bitty, our biggest hope is that we get to help them grow and change for the rest of our lives. We’d never wish for it to slow down or stop.

4 generations in Michigan - 7/7/17 

Hanging out with cousins, refusing to sit still - 7/8/17

Playing and learning at Impression 5 - 7/9/17 

Hanging with old friends at Impression 5 - 7/9/17

More friend time in Michigan - 7/9/17

 Evie's first solo amusement park ride (Happy Hollow) - 7/29/17

Horsing around on the way to the grocery store - 7/30/17