Thursday, October 28, 2010

Is it Friday yet??

Is it crazy that to me Thursday nights seem a bit like Christmas Eve?? The weekend is so close I can smell it, and I can hardly wait!! As you can probably imagine, we don't get much "down time" around here, and this weekend is no exception.

Tomorrow night we're going to try and keep things a little bit low key. The usual "Friday Pizza Night", and we're going to attempt to construct this cool Haunted House made out of...brownies!! (Can you say SOLD?!?)

Saturday is going to be a really big's Homecoming!! It's coming a bit later than usual this year, but I've got a freshman & a senior to help get ready...and they're both girls!! Yikes!! The day will start bright & early with a breakfast & parade at the school, followed by the football game at 11:00. Have to get my son to his soccer game at 2:00, then come home and break out the curling irons, makeup, nail polish, and lovely dresses! Once we see the girls off at around 7:00, the rest of us are heading to our trailer down on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland to close it up for the season. This was actually a very exciting purchase we just made about a month ago, so we're counting down (already!) to the Summer of 2011!

Sunday will be grocery shopping day, moving some furniture given to us by my amazing Dad & Stepmom, and then it's time for Baby's 1st Halloween!! I'll save her costume as a surprise for Monday's post because it's really too precious for words and will be much better in picture form.

I'm sure, as usual, this weekend will fly by in the blink of an eye as they always seem to do. But I always try and take at least a moment or two to just pause and really soak in the moment. In spite of all the rushing and craziness, this is truly the "good stuff". The times that I'll be looking back on years from now and wishing to get even one minute back. So here's to Halloween, and here's to Homecoming, and here's to living in the moment!!

** a bit of last minute bonus, exciting, amazing, can't wait to celebrate daughter just learned she scored a 2020 out of 2400 on her SAT's!! SO incredibly proud!!

Happy (early) Halloween Weekend to everyone!!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I knew you were waiting for me

I have a best friend. I'll call her Maria (not her real name). Maria and I have known each other since birth. Literally. Our moms were best friends, and we were born two weeks apart. We grew up doing absolutely everything together. School, doctors appointments, playdates, everything. We were raised as sisters and occasionally fought like sisters. We both loved our Easy Bake Ovens and our record players (realllly dating myself with that one!). We were obsessed with the movie "Grease" and would play the soundtrack over & over in her basement singing along at the tops of our voices. Most of my childhood memories have her in them, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

I remember when I told her I was pregnant as a teenager. She did not take it well. There were several people whose support meant a great deal to to me, and most of them, unfortunately, were the ones who took the news the hardest. Not to say she ever suggested I not have the baby. For what it's worth, we were both raised in traditional Catholic homes and the "a" word was never discussed. I do have a distinct memory of her punching the brick wall outside my house when I told her. So yeah, you could say she was...well...disappointed. She was always a bit of a mother hen to me, and I know she disagreed with alot of my choices. Still, she was always and remains the person closest to me and never stopped loving me.

When B was born, there was no-one else in this world I even considered asking to be her godmother~Maria was it. She was truly touched and honored, and has been an amazing influence in the lives of all of my children and I love her with all of my heart.

In many ways, Maria ended up living a bit of a fairy tale. She married her high school sweetheart. They bought a beautiful home and several years later, found out they were expecting. I'll never as long as I live forget the phone call I got late one night. "Michelle, are you alone?" "No..." "Well go in another room by yourself!" After doing as she'd asked, I said "Ok...what's going on?? What's wrong?? Are you ok??" Her response? "I just took a pregancy test and it was positive! What do you think that means??" I could only laugh.

Although she lived hundreds of miles away at the time, I'm thrilled to say I was there within hours of her son's birth nine months later. Shortly after he was born, they moved back home, and several years later, she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. She was an amazing mother, not that I ever doubted she would be. She is kind and loving and patient and amazing. Then, almost five years ago, the unthinkable happened. She found out she was expecting again, and we were all thrilled. However, following one of her routine tests, the doctors discovered an abnormality. The baby suffered from something called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. They told her two things for certain: A) He would almost certainly be born prematurely and B) He would be a very sick little boy in need of much medical attention. To say this news was devestating would be a tremendous understatement. She tried to stay as positive as possible, and began seeing specialist after specialist. I accompanied her to one appointment and was truly amazed by her strength and courage.

On June 24, 2006, her son was born at approximately 26 weeks gestation.  I will never forget her call to me that day. She was so incredibly calm. She told me he was here and asked if I would please come see him as soon as I could. I couldn't get to the hospital fast enough. She was still resting, but said her husband would take me down to the NICU to visit with the baby. My son having been in the NICU 4 years prior, I was thankfully prepared to a degree. But the moment I laid eyes on him my heart sank. He was gorgeous. Looked just like his big brother. But he was so incredibly tiny, and hooked up to so very many machines. I asked the nurse if I could please touch him and she assured me it was fine. I reached down, brushed his tiny little hand with my finger, and then the most amazing thing happened. He grabbed my finger and squeezed. In my heart, I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that this was his way of telling me to stay strong, and to please look after his mom. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. Two short days later I received another call. The baby had passed. He was just too tiny and his heart was too badly damaged. I was at a complete loss. I was angry. I was devestated. I couldn't for the life of me comprehend how something like this could happen. And at the same time, I was spellbound. By Maria, and her strength. She had just lost a child, yet she was a pillar of courage. She made two requests of me. One, she asked that I phone a number of people we knew to pass along the news. Second, she asked me to speak at the service being planned for the baby several days later.

The first seemed simple enough. Although an unbelievably difficult thing to communicate, these were some of our dearest friends who were sure to be incredibly supportive and loving. But asking me to speak at his service? I didn't know how~or if~I could possibly find it within myself. I called another dear friend of mine to explain my dilemma. And her words were exactly what I needed "You WILL do this. You will do this for HER. You will do this for HIM. You CAN do this." Somehow, mostly inspired by Maria's strength I believe, I was able to give a beautiful memorial that I think honored his memory perfectly. Since his passing, we have participated annually in the Heart Walk in that precious little miracle's memory.

About six months after his passing, having been reassured that this was a random tragedy, she conceived again and miscarried at approximately 14 weeks. The pain was still so raw from her prior loss, yet she once again perservered. I am thrilled to say that she gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy last spring (who was also a bit premature, but thriving ever since) and is currently expecting another (surprise!) girl at the end of January. She is currently 25 weeks, and did inform me she was having some contractions over this past weekend. I worry about her and pray for her but trust that God will take care of this precious baby girl.

Maria has, in many ways, been my one true soul mate. I have seen her at her best, her worst, and loved and admired her every step of the way. I believe that just sharing in her journey has helped me have a much greater understanding and appreciation for all that is good and important and beautiful.

Please join me in praying for the safe arrival of her sweet baby girl this winter.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fall=Family & Fun

Fall is my absolute favorite time of year, no question. I love that chill in the air, the gorgeous fall colors. I love pumpkin picking and hayrides and hot chocolate and warm blankets. And most of all, I love being surrounded by my family. Since I feel like I am largely defined by my family, and since fall is the season of thanks, I would like to devote this post to them, and trying to explain to the best of my ability the impact each of them has had on my life so far.

My oldest daughter, B, turned 18 years old this past spring. For lack of a better way of describing it, I am the person I am today due in most part to her. As stated previously, learning of her impending arrival was one of the greatest shocks yet greatest blessings of my life. While I repeatedly questioned my readiness as a mother at that young (and admittedly selfish) age, I could not deny the unbelievable bond I felt with this child from the moment I learned I was expecting. I was constantly hugging my belly, talking to her, rocking her while still in the womb. I read to her and made her countless promises. There was never so much as a shadow of a doubt in my mind that this baby would be a girl although we never had any ultrasound confirmation. And when I was induced one week early (due to her father's scheduled departure the following week for basic training), all it took was one look at that gorgeous, screaming, chubby 8 lb 8 oz baby girl to change my life forever. B has had an amazingly outgoing, charismatic personality from day one. She's been making people laugh since she learned that specific behaviors solicited the reaction she was looking for. I have been blessed to watch her grow into the most beautiful, intelligent, responsible, hardworking, loving, caring young woman you can possibly imagine. She is in her first year of community college, has been in a loving relationship with an incredible young man for a little over a year now, and is still contemplating career pursuits. But the truth is, I am already bursting with pride and am so very honored to call myself her mother.

B was only 14 months old when she became a big sister for the first time. A was born on a sweltering July day in 1993. She was the polar opposite of her big sister from the beginning. She was born at a healthy 7 lbs, 15 oz but did not arrive screaming like B. The cord was wrapped around her neck several times, and for what seemed like an eternity, the doctors and nurses attempted to resucitate her. After what was actually only a minute or so, she began to scream and unfortunately didn't stop for most of her first year! Unlike B, who would smile at random strangers and happily go off with anyone if we let her, A quickly developed a preference for me and my mom. By preference I mean that if anyone else at all tried to hold her, talk to her, or basically come near her (her father included), she would scream. She was a tiny little thing which also concerned us as her big sister always had a "layer or two" to spare! The doctors assured us she would just be a little small for her age, and sure enough, at age 17, she only stands at about 4'9. Although she no longer screams at those she's unfamiliar or uncomfortable with, she is definitely very selective with regard to those she chooses to let into her "circle". She is sweet, quiet, and loving, and above all else, one of the brightest young adults I have ever seen. From the time she was in kindergarten, she has had an insatiable passion for learning. She developed a discipline and commitment to her academics that continues to amaze and inspire me to this day. She is currently a senior in high school and is looking at several reputable colleges in hopes of pursing a career as a Neonatologist. She was valedictorian of her middle school and is currently ranked first in her high school class. She has received numerous awards. This kid is going places, my friends. And I am so honored to be along for the ride.

Several years after the births of B and A, we welcomed the arrival of AB (I know~the letters are confusing!). AB was born the week before Christmas and what a gift from heaven she was. The happiest, most easy going baby I've ever seen. She has always been a "girl on the go"~she can't be still for more than 2 minutes at a time!. As a baby, it was her "Johnny Jump-Up" (a mechanism that hung suspended from a doorway that provided countless hours of jumping & bouncing)~~and boy, did she love that thing. She was far & away my most "girlie girl", always wanting to wear pink and play princess. Even as a toddler, one of her favorite household objects was the mirror, and now as a teenager, it still is to this day! She's always had a flair for the dramatic, and actually spent her middle school years at a local school for the arts as a drama major. She is quite the social butterfly, and has had a circle of friends around her at all times since she first entered preschool. She is sweet and kind and helpful. She can be a bit of an "airhead" at times, but is usually one of the first to laugh at herself. She loves sports and there isn't much she hasn't tried. She's partcipated in basketball, volleyball, cheerleading, gymnastics, soccer, swimming, and will be trying softball for the first time next spring. She is currently a freshman in high school and such a beam of light in our family.

On a cold winter day in 2002, my little man finally arrived. N was 4 weeks early, and although a healthy size, still experienced some problems due to lung immaturity. He was in the NICU for about a week and a half, but has had Mama wrapped around his finger from day one. He was a sweet, happy, lovable little boy who spent the first couple years of his life obsessed with Thomas the Tank and the Wiggles. He has always had a passion for music, and was quick to start dancing anytime he heard a beat. He developed an early fascination with the guitar and still loves it to this day. He continued to follow the "little boy playbook" and became enamored of cars, trucks, and all things sports. He has been playing t-ball/baseball since the age of 5, and has also tried soccer and basketball. He also loves watching sports and is a huge fan of all of our local professional sports teams. He also recently caught the movie "Rudy" on television, and has now also developed a bit of an obesssion with Notre Dame. He is thoughtful, caring, and has the most gorgeous blue eyes (and long eyelashes!) you've ever seen. He is a Mama and Grandma's boy, and since this past February, his most cherished role has been that of protective big brother.

Little miss A (yes, another A) was born this past February after the most tumultous pregnancy one can imagine. As previously explained, she was an IVF baby, and as anyone who has gone through IVF can tell you, there is very intense monitoring throughout the first trimester. I was only about five or six weeks along when they first disovered a problem which was later diagnosed as a subchorionic hematoma. Although I'm still not sure I ever completely grasped this, my best understanding is that it is caused by a "tear" in the placenta, and the most prevailing symptom is bleeding. And bled I did. Throughout my ENTIRE preganancy. I spent the entire 33 weeks and 4 days that I carried her fearing for the worst. I had countless trips to the L & D unit of my hospital, too many unscheduled doctor's visits to remember, and said thousands of prayers for the safe arrival of this little miracle. And so it was, in the very early hours one Saturday morning, at 32 weeks, 5 days, that my water broke. I spent the next 6 days in the hospital being monitored before she was born prematurely. Our little angel weighed in at 4 lbs, 10 oz and was more perfect that we could've ever dreamed. She too spent almost 2 weeks in the NICU and did extremely well in her time there. Since that time, she has been more than catching up, and is now the chubbiest, happiest, most amazing bundle of joy in the world. She is the apple of everyone's eye, and as doted upon as one baby can possibly be.

Last weekend, myself, my fiance, and all the kids (including my oldest's boyfriend who is now like a member of the family) did our annual pumpkin patch trip. There was a hayride and pumpkin picking and apple slinging and animal visiting and fritter eating. It was one of the most joyful and blessed days in recent memory for me. To be surrounded by these incredibly amazing, wonderful, individual personalities and know that they are a part of me and always will be is the most fulfilling feeling in this world. My heart bursts with joy. My cup truly runneth over.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A History of Me Part 3 (I promise to wrap it up here!)

Over the past 2 months, my recipient family & I have exchanged countless emails. We have continued strengthening our bond, and building what has undeniably become a true friendship. My fiance and I discussed how wonderful it would be to be meet these amazing people in person, and so we made the suggestion to see how it might be received. I am thrilled to say it was welcomed with open arms (as I dreamed it would be!) and we began making travel arrangements!

And so it was that several weeks ago my fiance, our daughter, & I made our way out west to meet our recipient family. I had numerous people inquire as to the potential awkwardness of this situation, and I can honestly say that was never the case (at least for us!). We embraced the moment we saw one another and spent the entire day together as you would with your oldest and dearest friends. We were given a "mini tour" of their city, treated to several yummy meals (including a most delicious margarita!), but most importantly, had time to talk and get to know one another better. They could not have been more kind, hospitable, and generous, even going so far as to give our daughter a precious stuffed toy and myself a beautiful painting by a local artist. I presented her with a charm I'd worn throughout my IVF cycle, in the hopes it might bring her the same luck and blessings. That visit, short though it was, will always remain a cherished memory.

I must admit one of the most difficult aspects of this process thus far has been deciding where to "draw the line", so to speak. What I mean by that is even though we've agreed to keep this an open arrangement, I very much want to give this couple the respect and privacy they deserve, while still remaining open to anything they feel comfortable sharing. Our legal contract stipulates that we be made aware of any resulting pregnancies, birth information, health issues with the potential child(ren), and have at least several annual updates. I have no concerns whatsoever of this becoming an issue. But it is so important to me to not become too overbearing or intrusive, while still hoping to remain "involved".

As of this month, our recipient mom has begun the birth control pill stage of her cycle (still find that so incredibly ironic!) and we are beside ourselves with anticipation and excitement! In another interesting turn of events, we recently learned they will be coming here for their transfer! Apparently our clinic has much higher success rates with both the thawing of the embryos as well as the transfer success rate itself. The procedure has been slated for early December.

We feel so incredibly blessed to have been led to this couple, and have absolutely no doubt that this union was destined to be. Just as I hear many infertile women speak to the injustice of some incredibly unfit, undeserving women being able to easily conceive and bear children, I too find it beyond comprehension that so many beautiful, loving, compassionate women are denied the role of mother. One look in this woman's eyes, and I no longer saw a stranger I'd met online, but the mother of these future children.

Further affirmation that God is most certainly good.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A History of Me Part Deux

Having made the decision to donate our frozen embryos to an infertile couple, we contacted our clinic to determine the next steps in the process. I assumed that we would be working together with our clinic to place the embryos with a deserving couple. I was wrong. My clinic informed me that once our decision had been made, the only measure they took was to agree to hold the embryos until we decided where they should be placed. The responsibility of finding a recipient couple was in our hands alone.

I must admit I was initially taken aback by this, not to mention incredibly intimidated. How would I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that we were making the right choice? And more importantly~who was I to play God and decide which couple was most deserving of this opportunity? I felt like having been through IVF, I'd been given just the tiniest glimpse through the infertility peephole. Having seen firsthand the hope, the heartache, the relentless emotional rollercoaster that existed in this sacred world, did I dare venture back into it, knowing I might be able to give just one person what could potentially be the answer to their prayers?

I decided that I needed to know more, needed to have a better understanding of what some of these women had experienced. I spent countless hours on the internet reading websites, blogs, anything I could get my hands on about living with infertility. I shed countless tears, my heart aching for these women I didn't even know. Weeping tears for the children that would never be theirs, or in some cases, the children they lost too soon. It was on one of these sites that I first saw her. The woman who would forever become a part of my life. I read her tale of heartache, how after her struggle for years with infertility she finally conceived through their one and only round of IVF in the hopes of having a genetic child. The joy they experienced upon learning she was expecting, only to have their world come crashing in about 6 months later when their beautiful daughter was born severely prematurely, and taken back to heaven a short time later. I felt an instantaneous bond with this woman that words cannot explain. The pain I felt for her was the pain you feel for a dear friend, someone with whom you share an inexplicable connection.

The memory of this woman stayed with me as I searched the websites provided by my clinic which handled the still evolving process of embryo donation. I searched page after page, profile after profile, and nothing seemed right. Nothing seemed to fit. In the course of all of my research, I'd located another website not provided by my clinic called Miracles Waiting. Upon registering on their site, I started reading profiles and was literally breathless. The same woman I'd found on one of the blogs~the woman with whom I'd felt an immediate connection~had placed an ad on this site. Sitting at my desk at work, tears started streaming down my face. It was her. I've never felt more certain of anything in my life. This was the woman I'd been looking for.

I immediately emailed her to introduce myself, to find out if this could truly be the answer to my prayers. After several exchanges, I learned that she & her husband had all but given up hope on the possibility of embryo adoption. In fact, they had begun to take the steps toward domestic adoption. I felt my spirits deflate. While extremely grateful and forthcoming, she requested some time to reflect so that she & her husband could be sure they were making the right decision. She asked to have the weekend to consider, with the promise to respond by Monday. Naturally, I could not deny her this request. I sincerely appreciated her honesty. But while I still hoped for the best, I felt as though I also needed to prepare myself for the worst.

Over that weekend, I started reading several other profiles in the event this woman felt as though she wasn't able to proceed. I came across another profile that caught my eye, and after several exchanges began to feel a connection with this woman as well. My emotional investment was now at an all-time high. I had two women with whom I felt a bond, but I would only be able to potentially help one of them. That Sunday evening, I received a response from the woman I'd initially contacted telling me (much to my delighted surprise) that they would very much like to accept our offer! I was elated. And just as quickly I was hit with what felt like a blow to the gut. I now needed to tell the 2nd woman I'd been in contact with that our initial couple had accepted. I had never given the other woman any type of definitive commitment and she was very much aware that I'd previously been in contact with someone else. But it did not make the delivery of this news any easier. She handled it with the utmost respect and gratitude.

Now that the connection had been established and we had been undeniably led to one another, it was time to officially start the process that would forever change both of our lives. And it is there I will continue tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A History of Me

I must begin my story with a bit of a disclaimer. I find myself at this particular crossroads under the most unique of circumstances. For almost two years now, I have been a part of the heartbreaking yet unbelievably inspiring world of infertility. However, I did not reach this place wearing the same badges of bravery and resilience that virtually every other woman on this journey has earned.

I officially entered the wonderful world of motherhood at the tender age of 19. I was one of those "irresponsible teenagers" that I've heard infertile mothers curse time and time again for their ability to so easily conceive while their repeated prayers and attempts continued to be in vain. For what it's worth, and I realize it may not be much, I have at times suffered feelings of tremendous guilt for that very reason. Why me? Why should I have been able to get pregnant so easily at a time in my life when I was completely unprepared for motherhood? When there were countless women out there who wanted and deserved it so very much more? I also understand that this could lead to the inevitable question of why I didn't then consider adoption, therefore helping to fulfill one of these women's dreams. I have no easy answer. All I knew was whether we planned it or not, whether I was ready or not, this baby was coming. And I was going to be her mommy.

My beautiful, chubby little angel arrived in the spring of 1992, and was followed a year and a half later by my precious little peanut. Two years after that my sweet little princess arrived, and finally my handsome little man arrived on a cold January day in 2002. Four kids and ten years later, I was sure I was done having children, and had a tubal ligation. Chapter closed. Or so I thought.

As we all know too well, "life happens", and in 2006 I found myself a single mom. My primary focus remained, as always, my family. The last thing I was looking for was another relationship. Which, of course, is always when the opportunity seems to present itself. I met the man who would become my fiance and fell more deeply in love than I ever imagined possible. He was 11 years my junior, had never been married, and had no children of his own. After 2 years of being together, we were engaged. And as I was rapidly approaching the big 4-0, we decided that if we wanted to have a biological child together, there was no time like the present.

And so it was that Michelle~aka "Fertile Myrtle"~inexplicably entered the world of "infertility".

In the winter of 2009, we scheduled an appointment with an RE, and were quickly informed that my tubal ligation was in fact irreversible. IVF was our only opportunity to conceive. We followed a relatively standard protocol, and were blessed to produce a total of  13 follies. Seven of those 13 fertilized and made it to the day 5 blastocyst stage! We decided to transfer only one, as I'd proven to have no issues with fertility in my "previous life" and were therefore convinced that however many we transferred was how many we'd get! One tumultuous pregnancy later, our precious little pink miracle was born. I was head over heels in love once more, and truly felt as though my life was now complete.

Fast forward to July 2010. We received a letter in the mail from our clinic informing us that our 1 year storage fee for our remaning 6 frozen embryos was about to expire and we now had a decision to make. Our choices were: pay $400 to store them an additional year, "dispose of them", donate them for research, or donate them to an infertile couple. My fiance's immediate reaction? Donate them to an infertile couple. My immediate reaction? Fear and disbelief. Let's take these options and dissect them one by one. Pay to continue storing them? No logical reason to do so other than perhaps procrastination. We'd already decided our family was complete. Dispose of them? DISPOSE of them? One look at my sweet angel's face and this was not something I was even remotely willing to consider. Next? Research. Donate them for research. On the one hand, I felt very strongly about this option. I feel like there is so much good to be accomplished by such a courageous choice. Yet I also knew it was not a choice that I personally was willing or able to make.

And then there was one.

Several heartwrenching, soul searching days later I knew what needed to be done.

Tomorrow, I will continue the story of our amazing journey thus far. A journey that led me to a missing piece of my family that I never knew existed.