t̶h̶e̶7̶f̶l̶o̶w̶e̶r̶s̶ the8flowers

Moral of the story: Don't name a site after your family size before you're done having kids…


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Triple Negative but Staying Positive 

On August 21, 2015 my life was changed forever when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, specifically triple negative, stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma, grade 3. I’ve wanted to blog about it here ever since, but immediately upon my diagnosis almost a year ago I felt like I was on an out of control train barreling down the tracks at full speed with no brakes. The cancer had control, the doctors had a plan, and my body was just along for the utterly terrifying ride. I was not able to organize my thoughts or focus on anything else but the cancer until the train stopped.

Putting one foot in front of the other, one day at a time.

When I was diagnosed my husband took it stoically, but I cried. He had been telling me since my biopsy that he knew it would end up being cancer; I had managed to convince myself it was probably just a harmless cyst. After all, I was not yet 35, and everything I’d read or heard told me that my years of breastfeeding (many, many years – five children’s worth!) significantly lowered my risk of getting breast cancer. I was nursing my 21 month old toddler at the time (and probably found the lump as soon as I did because I was nursing, but dismissed it for months before seeing my doctor thinking it was just a clogged duct or mastitis). I ate well, I exercised. This simply could not be happening to ME.

Weaning my toddler from breastfeeding was incredibly difficult for me emotionally. We had to stop cold turkey because he could be poisoned by the chemotherapy treatments, but neither he nor I were ready yet. He was not old enough to understand and he cried often. After a particularly difficult time getting him to bed one night early on, I ended up sobbing on my husband’s chest. I’ve broken down a few times since my diagnosis but that night was the biggest and the worst of it.

Almost immediately after my diagnosis I met my team in a revolving door style appointment at the breast health clinic. I sat in a hospital gown on an examination table as one doctor came in after the other to meet me one by one. Some, like my radiation oncologist, I would not see again until 8 months later when I finished chemotherapy with my hematology oncologist and started radiation. Others, like my surgeon, I saw almost immediately as a date for my surgery was soon set. They all met together afterwards to create my treatment plan, and then phoned to tell me what that was. Surgery. 24 weeks (6 months) of chemotherapy. 36 rounds of daily radiation treatments.

My husband was amazing through this entire cancer journey and was by my side for every chemo appointment.

Initially, I panicked. We have no family locally aside from my brother who rarely speaks to me. Unsure of how much of a toll the cancer treatments would take on my body or our family financially, and unable to cope with a lack of support as most of my good friends had recently moved away, I reached out to anyone. Several churches were able to help with meals for the first few months, but after Christmas that support dwindled away. A few strangers on our neighborhood Facebook page signed up to help with meals also, but many others accused me of taking advantage. They chided me for asking for help publicly and told me I should be ashamed or feel humiliated. I did. But cancer is a very humbling experience, and I was very sick from chemo almost immediately. The nausea especially prevented me from being able to cook meals for the family but the body pain and fatigue made it difficult to do anything.

One of my many chemotherapy treatments.

I quickly learned who my real friends were, and even made new ones in the process. I also found that the people who I initially thought I would find the most support from, those with previous experience with cancer in their lives, could not cope with my cancer diagnosis and began to put more distance between us. They took my cancer very personally. At first I was hurt and mystified by this. Now having been through treatment myself I also feel deeply on a personal level for everyone I meet who is going through a similar battle. I want to help everyone, to do something for them, yet feel powerless to do so.

I was overwhelmed by the support we did receive. Matthew was able to get some help with gas money getting me to and from my frequent appointments through the Semper Fi Fund. The majority of my friends are a great distance away, but many of them sent cards, gifts, or care packages. I started a GoFundMe Page, and we received 30 donations, the majority from my friends online. Other friends sent gift cards. I could not have made it without the support we did receive.

Again, the donations slowed to a stop shortly after last Christmas, and we are still currently about $800 short of our goal. We have shouldered the financial burden ourselves, but have barely kept our heads above water. We are now debt-juggling and robbing Peter to pay Paul. I am very thankful for the health insurance we do have, but there were still copays and many hidden expenses. The irony is that last year due to the generosity of friends and more than one charitable donation we were able to give the kids the biggest Christmas they’ve ever had, and this year I’m not even sure yet how we will afford Christmas.

Me on 8/1/15 right before my diagnosis on 8/21, versus me on 3/10/16 seven months later.

One of the unexpected costs from cancer ended up being suddenly needing an entirely new wardrobe. I made it through the first part of chemotherapy without much change, but about halfway through I gained about 40 pounds in about two months. I blinked, and the next thing I knew I had gone up four sizes. For several weeks I did not leave the house aside from treatment because I quite literally did not have anything to wear that fit, including underwear. Several friends donated things from their closets (which was amazing!) but it still ended up being very expensive.

The body image issues have been one of the most difficult things about having cancer. I hate that I no longer recognize myself in the mirror. Occasionally someone scrolls back on my Instagram account and likes a picture of me from a year ago, and when I receive the notification and look at the photograph it feels like a physical punch to the gut. My husband tells me at least I am here to complain about it.

False eyelashes and eyebrow makeup were also added expenses after I lost all my hair.

Chemotherapy was hard, but radiation was in a way almost worse. During chemotherapy, I would get injected, go home, have a few rough days, just start to feel better, and then have to do it all over again. But there would always be a few days in between where I felt semi-okay and could get more done. I also had a very good idea of what to expect for side effects and while none of it was fun, nothing really came as a surprise. During radiation I had to be at the hospital every day, and my weeks started to gain a Groundhog Day movie quality of all blending together. It became difficult to keep track of other appointments or things on my to do list. Wake up, go to the hospital, put on a gown, get zapped by the machine, get dressed, go home over and over and over.

It’s also impossible to predict during radiation how burned each individual will get by the beams (some none at all, some quite a lot) so I had to wait and watch as my skin turned into second and third degree burns, all while still having to show up for treatment every day. I truly believe radiation treatment that never ends would be my own personal version of hell.

My armpit was painful, but my nipple basically melted apart.

Through it all, my husband was amazing. He was at every appointment that mattered including every chemo, he tried as hard as he could to do everything I had previously done while still working full time, he often had to solely parent the children while home, he cooked for the family often while separately cooking for me. He dealt with me on chemopause when the chemotherapy put me through artificial menopause, and somehow managed to tolerate me when I became a monster from steroids. All while (mostly) staying positive for me and the kids.

He says whenever he wanted to leave me he would look at this picture of us. Kind of joking but not really. I was awful on steroids.

Another huge source of support were my older two teenage daughters, especially my oldest, Sky. She shaved her head with me when my hair first started to fall out after my second dose of chemo. She along with her dad did the majority of the cooking for the kids, and both her and her sister Gwen would help keep an eye on the toddler if their dad was at work and I was too sick to do anything. Sky especially took my cancer diagnosis very hard, because we have always had a very close relationship, and her grades at school this past year reflected that.

Subtract 20 years and Sky and I are twins!

Cancer taught me many things. One of the positives (yes there were positives! I tried to find at least one every day, even if it was small) was that cancer has greatly improved my struggle with anxiety. I still have attacks but they are much less frequent. I believe it has something to do with having to focus on just making it through each day and putting one foot in front of the other. I had to stop focusing on the “why” because that led me nowhere. Instead, “it is what it is” became my personal motto and I lived each day with an attitude of gratitude and acceptance.

About a week before radiation ended I asked my radiation oncologist if after treatment I would officially be in remission, and he replied that because my surgery had clean margins and I had no lymph node involvement that I had actually been in remission since the day of my surgery. The chemotherapy and radiation were just preventative measures to make sure it did not come back. On some level I suppose I already knew that, but it felt very huge to hear one of my doctors actually say that I am now cancer free.

Now that I have finished my treatments I’m still waiting for the sense of relief and celebration to come that I’m told by others that I should feel. It is hard to feel that it is over yet; I still have so many side effects that, in a way, it’s still happening. Before cancer I enjoyed hiking with my family and now I am in a wheelchair because my feet can not travel long distances. They sustained peripheral neuropathy, damage to the nerves caused by the chemotherapy. It’s very much like the feeling when your foot falls asleep and then your try and walk on it, I get both numbness and shooting pain along with a burning sensation. Instead of eventually waking up, the more I use my feet by putting weight on them the worse they feel. I can’t make it through the grocery store on foot any more. I can’t stand in front of the stove while cooking and I can’t manage the same level of housecleaning that I did before cancer. And I’m told it could be at least a year, maybe two before it starts to get better because nerves take a long time to heal.

While I might not look the same or feel the same now, I am excited to discover my “new normal” and I am relieved that I can step off the treatment roller coaster. My ultimate goal in treatment was to extend my life as long as possible so that I can be around for my kids, and though I have yet to make it to any of the big survivorship milestones I do feel like I accomplished that. For the next few years I might occasionally worry about it coming back but I refuse to let that worry consume me. I will live my life to the fullest because I am a survivor.

You can fuck right off, cancer. No one likes you.


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The Dreaded C-Word

I was diagnosed with breast cancer this past week, and it’s something I’m still coming to terms with. The doctor who broke the news to myself and my husband said it may take awhile to fully set in. Right now I’m a mix of thoughts and emotions. I’m fine and then I cry at the most random things. I never thought I’d have to think about losing my boobs. I’m actually afraid of my nipples not being there anymore. My breasts have fed and grown five babies, which was supposed to lower my risks of getting breast cancer. I’m also young according to my doctors (35, too young to start regular mammograms yet) and I don’t have any immediate family history. The whole thing just seems so unfair to me.

What we do know right now is that chemo will be involved; because of my younger than typical diagnosis age, the doctors want to treat things a bit more aggressively than normally, and I’m okay with that. I have six kids to live for, and a lot of life yet left to live. I have a choice to treat with radiation and a lumpectomy, or remove one (or both) breasts in a mastectomy. What I chose to do in this following week may rely largely on the results of genetic testing, and if I am a carrier of the breast cancer gene.

We do anticipate some hurdles we will have difficulty in overcoming. I’m worried about our six children, especially the baby who is only 21 months old. When my doctor broke the biopsy news to me, he told me that I would need the support of a lot of friends and family locally to take over my mothering and housekeeping duties while I’m undergoing treatment. I have been estranged from most of my family for almost a decade at this point. My husband being in the military and being from Texas, we do not have close family nearby aside from his mom. My elderly mother in law resides with us, but I have actually been her caregiver for the last few years, and her doctor has recently recommended she start regular kidney dialysis. I do have a few friends, but as is typical with military life, many of the women I have grown close to over the years have already moved on with their husbands to their next duty stations. I feel pretty alone in this, and looking at things realistically we will need to hire childcare and possibly housekeeping while I undergo treatment.

I set up a site at MyLifeLine.org where I will be posting updates that are related to my fight with cancer. Feel free to bookmark and follow along, it will make things much easier for me if I can update my friends, family, and followers in one place instead of having to make separate posts to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, the blogosphere and so on.

Additionally my lifeline site contains an “Angel” tab where you can purchase chemotherapy/post surgery items or a get well gift from my Amazon wish list, or you can also donate directly to our PayPal to help our family’s finances. Radiation is a Monday through Friday schedule for quite some time, and chemotherapy is also going to be very frequent. The cost of gas alone to get me to and from my weekly appointments will be a huge financial burden for us.

I have also reposted the link to my Amazon wish list below: 

Amazon Cancer Wish List

PayPal Donate button is at this link:

 https://mylifeline.org/SnowFlowers/givingangels

Your continued support, prayers, and positive thoughts for myself and my family during this time is greatly appreciated, thank you for thinking of us during our fight!
  


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Pinterest Project with the Kids

Sometimes the kids and I find an idea on Pinterest that seems like it would be fun to try, and today we made an attempt on the Christmas Fireplace.

Like every idea on Pinterest this will either be amazing or fail horribly. Let’s see how we did, shall we?
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The basic idea is boxes, taped together and covered with fireplace looking paper. Famous last words but how hard could this be?

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So far, so good. I’d recommend a team of at least two people for this, luckily I had some helpers nearby. And gosh aren’t they just the cutest?

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It should be noted that we went through a lot of tape for this project. When we ran out of packing tape, we used duct tape. When we ran out of duct tape, we used masking tape. If you attempt this project I’d suggest planning on having at least three rolls of tape handy.

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The Pinterest picture shows plain white paper with individual bricks attached, but ain’t nobody got time for that. I bought a roll of fireplace printed plastic material from Party City. It is thin like a cheap party tablecloth which made it hard to smooth out the wrinkles once glued. It would look nicer and much more uniform if you use the individual brick method, but…that’s a lot of bricks.

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We also used a lot of glue. For the record, the spray can of adhesive Elmer’s glue does not wash off as easily as regular Elmer’s white glue. I’d recommend laying down a tarp. Or doing this project outside. I’m not sure how I’m going to get my linoleum to stop being sticky because straight up soap hasn’t helped my floor or my hands.

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Here I am, adding some finishing touches with the hot glue gun. I didn’t get dressed up for the occasion because it’s Sweatpants Saturday today.

After the last details go on…

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Voilà! A Christmas fireplace is born. Now we just need to hang the stockings!

Total time from start to finish: 2 hours
Difficulty level: You won’t need a college degree, but it’s best for teens and tweens to attempt at least.
Finished product rating: 4 out 5 pins. It probably would have turned out better had we followed the entire instructions completely, but as far as Pinterest projects go, this one was fairly hard to screw up.
Age of enjoyment:The younger kids are super excited about the fireplace, so I’d recommend doing this especially if you have kids between 3 and 9 years old.


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Weeping Angel costume or Cosplay

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My teenager Amara is a Weeping Angel from the BBC television show Doctor Who this Halloween, and we’ve been working on her costume for some time now. We started in June and took our time, we are just finishing up this week.

We started with the dress, I bought some fabric on sale and my sewing machine came out of the closet. I made my own pattern and all in all it didn’t come out too badly for having not sewed anything in ages! I was going for the draped style of the angel’s dress in the Doctor Who show only with longer sleeves so that we wouldn’t need to use grey face paint on her arms. We made a panel in the back because we planned on attaching the wings to a harness using backpack straps that she could wear under the dress. IMG_8405.JPG

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Then we started on the wings. I did a lot of research beforehand and read several blogs that had already made a Weeping Angel cosplay so I had a general idea of what I was going for. We made a paper pattern, which we then traced onto foam board typically used for school reports that we bought in the office supply section at the dollar store. My daughter made four pieces, a front and a back piece for each wing.

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Then she made two “edge” pieces for the top of either wing, and a half “wing” detail for the top of the back side of the wing, since we planned on only doing a bunch of feathers for the front. Finally, we used bent metal coat hangers for support and affixed them to the wing with a combination of hot glue, duct tape, and elmers glue. The front of the wing had a wire on the bottom inside part and the back side of the wing had a wire on the top inside, so that when sandwiched together, each wing had two wires sticking out. The wings were weighted down flat until the glue dried.

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Then it was time to spraypaint our two wing sandwiches!

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Back to the dress. I added a small hula hoop at the bottom hem to create a more rounded statue effect. I added a second underskirt and more pleating to the waist, Then we used black and white acrylic paint to add a weathered look and more detail to the fabric.

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Which we also did to our mask. We initially tried to make our own mask with a plain white mask from the craft store and some clay, but I eventually just bought a premade molded plastic Weeping Angel mask from Amazon for about $12 and then we made some improvements on the basic design.

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Now back to the wings! For the feathers, we cut them out out cardboard in three sizes; short, long, and medium; then attached them with hot glue to our foam base in a layered fashion. (We had to cut out a lot of cardboard feathers. My daughter was not a fan of this part!) We saved cardboard toilet paper rolls and hot glued them to the top of the wing to get a rounded look. Then we added a second coat of spraypaint.

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The wings were attached to a frame we made by attaching backpack straps to a piece of plywood, which we glued some extra dress fabric to, so as to blend in with the dress panel better when worn underneath the dress. The backpack harness was attached with hot glue and then reinforced with a staple gun. My husband drilled holes in the board and then inserted the wires coming out of the wings. The wires were bent flat and he screwed a second piece of plywood on top of the wires, holding them in a bent position. The wings were then painted with the same acrylic paints to match the dress and mask.

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As a final step in the costume creation, we used Rustoleum texture spraypaint in granite color and spraypainted the mask, dress, and wings. This is essentially a spraypaint with bits of rock in it and lends to a more statuesque appearance.

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My daughter thinks our mask’s hair looks a bit like Benedict Cumberbatch from the Sherlock show. What do you think?

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Finished product:

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For a cosplay at a convention I’d probably worry more about hands/neck/hair being a uniform color but for a Halloween costume I think it came out amazing!


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Child sized Cyberman costume or cosplay

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It’s only July, why are we already talking about Halloween?

We have six children in our family plus mom and dad like to get in on the Halloween fun too, so that’s eight costumes! To make it easier on myself I like to break it down to one costume per month or so, which helps both time wise and with the budget!

This year we’ve decided on a family Doctor Who theme! I’ve just completed the costume for our four year old son based off the Cybermen from the BBC television show and I’m so excited to tell you about it.

Materials used:
16 Sheets of craft foam
Mini hot glue gun and
Lots of hot glue sticks (about 140)
Elmer’s glue for priming foam
Spraypaint
Wooden dowels
Modified silver jumpsuit to wear underneath
Wooden yardstick
Pencils and markers
Roll of easel paper from IKEA (butcher paper or a cut open paper bag could work as well) for pattern making
Scissors
Wire cutters
Tape (to add pieces to patterns before tracing onto foam)
Q-tips to wipe up extra hot glue
Round things around the house for tracing (bowls, cups, bottles)

I started by making the big C symbol for the chest and used four layers of craft foam for the circle, two layers for the C and two layers for each of the three triangle supports. Because I made the pattern up as I went along, I used whatever was around the house that was the right size and shape to trace onto paper. In this case I used a large cup for the circles, a slightly smaller cup for the C, and the handle from a soup spoon for the cutout to turn the smaller circle into a C. After tracing onto paper I then cut out my pattern and used that paper pattern to trace onto my craft foam.

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When making the pattern for the chest piece, I traced around one of my sons tank top shirts, and when making the cyber-underwear I started out by tracing a pair of his own briefs. Because I was free handing the pattern I started out making things a bit large and then trimming them down as needed.

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After that I started needing to use a yardstick to even things out and make sure all my lines were straight (ish). To make the chest, I had a front piece, and a back piece (cut down the middle and held back together with Velcro) which were held together by a side piece.

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The idea started out simply. I repurposed the Tin Man Halloween costume my nine year old wore last year to use as the silver under suit. I cut off the tin man chest and hemmed the sleeves and legs into more of a four year old size, added a shoe shaped cutout at the bottom of the leg and sewed a strap of elastic on the bottom of the foot cover.

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The idea was to hot glue the cyber pieces to the jumpsuit when they were done, so I got to work on the two upper arm, two forearm, two upper leg and two lower leg pieces.

(I’m pretty sure my four year old didn’t have very much confidence in my abilities during this process. At first he insisted he would only wear the plain silver jumpsuit without any of the cyberman parts. He later said he wanted to be Batman instead. But he seems happy with the finished product now that it’s all put together.)

I started with a basic shape for the forearm, a flat side and a raised rounded side. For the upper arm I used the same shape but then flipped it to use the raised side on both ends. For the upper leg I extended the forearm shape in width and length. For the lower leg I used the forearm shape but lengthened it and inverted it.

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(Something like this ended up being a lower leg.)

After that it got a bit more complicated with the details. 12 small circles were glued to 12 larger circles for the “joint bolts”. 19 small ovals were cut out for the “vents” and 16 pieces were cut for dowel supports and attached to the “bolts”. Wooden dowels were trimmed down with wire cutters for the upper arms and upper legs detail. Then I used foam scraps to cut out pieces for edging along the upper arms and all the legs.

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Once I had everything finally hot glued in place it was time for the pre-spraypaint prime layer. Paint generally doesn’t adhere to craft foam well, so a trick to prime the foam for painting is to mix one part water to one part Elmer’s white glue and coat the foam. The water evaporates as it dries and leaves behind a film for the paint to adhere to. I painted each piece with two coats of Elmer’s/water (and probably could have done three) then set out overnight to fully dry.

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Next came spray painting! This actually wasn’t that exciting. We literally sat outside and watched paint dry for awhile.

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But then!

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We hot glued all the pieces to the jumpsuit underneath (making sure not to glue the insides of the suit together) and when it was dry, a cyberman was born!

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*For reference, I used this picture when free handing my pattern. I think I did a pretty passable job!

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**While I did most of the crafting here I have to give credit to my 14 year old daughter for her assistance with some cutting and gluing, and both her and my husband for assisting with spray painting. I’m also appreciative to my husband for taking turns with our 8 month old and giving me the time to complete this project! Thanks guys!!

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Birth Story for Miles

This was my fifth pregnancy and was definitely the most difficult. My morning sickness in my first trimester was debilitating and I wasn’t able to even barely function without anti nausea meds. Even with the Zofran still, I ended up losing weight. The nausea got a bit better in the middle of my second trimester, but came back with a vengeance in the third. By the end of my second trimester I had developed hemorrhoids for the first time in my life and they were pretty awful. From late September to the end of October I was in the hospital three times for preterm labor contractions and kept getting sent home to be on bed rest for that entire month, which since we have older kids and it was the month of Halloween, I was pretty miserable feeling cooped up in bed unable to take them out to do any fun stuff. At the start of my third trimester I tested positive for gestational diabetes, and while I was able to control my sugars with diet alone, I still had to deal with the pokes and monitoring daily for the rest of my pregnancy which was no fun. At the start of my last month of pregnancy in the 36th week, I went in for a growth ultrasound and not only was baby still breech, I was told he was measuring three weeks and six days ahead. Due to his size I ended up being risked out of the Birth Center and was told I would need to deliver in regular labor and delivery.

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I tend to land on the crunchier side of birth and after being unsatisfied with Amara’s hospital birth I went on to have Gwen, Allen, and Cole at home naturally. We couldn’t afford a home birth out of pocket this time but the Birth Center seemed like a good compromise since our insurance would cover it. I also have fairly large babies. Amara, my first, was 9.5, her sister Gwen was 9.8, Allen was 11.6, and Cole, my smallest, was still practically 9 pounds (8.14). Being as to how I was proven to have bigger babies rather successfully I didn’t feel it was a medical condition and I was disappointed about having to birth in a regular hospital setting because I had been looking forward to the Birth Center’s home-like atmosphere. During all of this, Matt was very supportive and tried to cheer me up by saying “we can still try to get the best birth experience possible.” I told him that in order to be okay with birthing in the hospital I was letting go of any attachments I had to the idea of the birth experience and just focusing on the outcome (the baby) itself. My midwives scheduled me for an induction on November 29th (the day after Thanksgiving) which I did not bother fighting, because Matt was set to leave with the ship on my due date and I needed him to be there. I had no one to take me to and from the hospital and no other labor support person. At that point I was so physically miserable I was just ready for it to be over also.

On Friday November 22, I went in to the office for a regular non stress test. Baby Miles was slow to kick as much as the nurses would like, and I ended up being monitored for almost an hour instead of the usual 20 minutes, but he looked good on ultrasound, so they sent me home. Saturday night I started feeling somewhat itchy but during the day on Sunday it went away so I didn’t think much of it. Then Sunday night I was up all night scratching my palms of my hands, soles of my feet, neck and chin. I didn’t get any sleep at all and that did worry me. Monday afternoon I was supposed to go in for another NST so that morning I called to ask if the midwives wanted to run a few tests while I was in the office already. The midwife I spoke with said to forget my NST appointment and just come in to L&D so they could induce me. She told me it sounded like I had cholestasis (see http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancycomplications/cholestasispregnancy.html) and it would take a week to get all the blood work back but the risk to the baby if I had it really couldn’t wait that long.

Monday November 25 we went in to the labor and delivery unit around noon after I had showered and gone through the bags for the last time to make sure we remembered everything. I excitedly texted everyone and told them we were on our way to the hospital to have a baby. We packed all our things up to L&D and had a nurse show us to a room but there seemed to be some confusion. There was a new midwife working and she didn’t want to induce me because they don’t like to induce before 39 weeks, and I wasn’t 39 weeks yet until the following day. I felt they were splitting hairs, especially when I already had an induction scheduled for later that week. They hooked me up to monitors, ran some blood tests, and after keeping us there over four hours, the midwife told me it was probably PUPPS (it wasn’t and I knew that, PUPPS has itching but presents itself in a hive like rash, which I did not have) and sent me home telling me to take benedryl. I was frustrated and disappointed. That night I did take benedryl but the only thing it did for me was allow me to take 2 minute naps in between scratching episodes.

By Tuesday I was so exhausted and miserable that I was in tears when I called my midwives to again explain my situation and ask for help. At that point it had been several days without sleep and I wanted relief. The new midwife I spoke to seemed more sympathetic and told me it did sound like cholestasis to her and to come back in to be induced (for reals this time). I remained skeptical and this time didn’t text anyone afraid they would change their minds again. We went back in and by the afternoon I had an IV of pitocin hooked up and was having regular contractions every 2-3 minutes. Several hours of waiting went by and I decided after the several sleepless days it might be a good idea to accept their offer of taking something to help me get a few hours of rest, which I did. I was able to doze off and on throughout the night but whenever I slept my contractions went back down to five minutes apart until I woke up again. My nurses kept coming in and upping my pitocin drip periodically.

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Wednesday was more of the same. No one brought me any food but they did keep coming in to take my blood sugar levels so I sent Matt to go down to the cafeteria and get me food periodically. I was still contracting regularly, but I wasn’t dilating very fast and had stayed at around 75% effacement. The new midwife on call discussed wanting to break my water for me, but at the time I was only dilated to a 4 and I said I would be more comfortable waiting until I was at a 5. I sent Matt down to get lunch and was sitting up in bed when all of a sudden my water broke on its own. It gushed and kept gushing. I called for the nurse and when she came to help me up to clean the bed there was a lot of bloody show. Matt came back in the middle of this and put counter pressure on my back while I sat on a yoga ball for awhile but the way he was doing it was irritating me and I snapped at him. I felt pretty bad about that in retrospect and apologized for it later.

When my water broke, the contractions started getting more intense and more painful right away. I was anticipating that to some extent. When I had Amara in the hospital they also had started me on an IV of pitocin and it had made my contractions much more uncomfortable than my later natural birthing experiences at home. However, they had kept me on the lowest dose of the pitocin that they had started it at, and I was still able to have Amara without any pain medication. This time they had increased the dosage at least five times since they’d originally begun. I was not expecting or prepared for the level of pain I started to go through. I have always told people that contractions don’t hurt if you just ride them out and trust your body to know what it’s doing, and in the cases of my home births I believe this is true, my labor contractions came in waves that I rode out and I allowed them to carry me where they wanted me to go. I didn’t really feel more than the discomfort I associated with menstrual cramps until I was ready to push. But those waves with natural birth were like the ocean on a calm sunny day, and these were like the ocean during a hurricane. I felt paralyzed and was unable to move or change position. The contractions started coming closer together. I felt like I was spiraling out of control. It was at about this point that my midwife came back and offered to check my dilation again. Hoping for good news and an end in sight, I agreed. She told me I was still at a 5, barely. And that was the point that I gave up. The contractions were ripping through me and forcing me to bear down and push before I was ready, and I was terrified of ripping my cervix or causing it to swell and making me need an emergency C section. I started fighting against the contractions trying not to push which only increased my pain level. I was literally screaming during every one, and I ended up begging for an epidural.

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I’ve never had an epidural but everything I’ve read and researched from a natural birthing perspective cautions against them, citing the cascade of interventions that often result in a C section, which I desperately wanted to avoid. So there is that part of me that had three home births that feels like asking for an epidural was admitting failure and defeat. Looking back on the experience now I can’t help but think, “I should have gotten a doula to help keep me focused. I should have made Matt call my friend Paula so she could talk me through it. I should have reminded myself that each time my water breaks I go from halfway there to fully dilated in practically just minutes.” But there is another part of me that feels like the epidural is exactly what I needed at the time. I had been fighting against it to the point where it had become impossible for me to relax and just let labor happen. I could feel myself holding the baby in. The anesthesiologist arrived and started to administer the epidural and asked me to sit on the bed and lean forward and as I did so, I could swear I felt like I was sitting on a head, but I fought against the urge to push, telling myself in my head that it was too soon, the midwife just told me I was only dilated to a 5, I wasn’t ready yet. I was told to lay back down. The epidural started working and I went from screaming to moaning, and then to just shaking. The nurse told me she was going to insert a catheter since I hadn’t peed in awhile and as soon as she got in between my legs she exclaimed, “oh! I see the head,” and Matt went around to look and could see it too. I hadn’t had the epidural more than five minutes at that point. Apparently all I needed was to relax and let things go.

They rushed to get the midwife and when she showed up I reminded Matt that he was in the perfect position to catch the baby. “Last chance,” I told him (since we’re definitely done having babies at this point) it had been in our birth plan for him to catch Cole, our last baby, but he was nervous and things ended up happening really fast during Cole’s birth. This time, the epidural had slowed things down and provided the opportunity. The midwife reassured Matt that she would assist him and then instructed me to push with my contractions. Three pushes and baby Miles was out and delivered by his daddy, then placed on my chest. I reminded the midwife that we wanted to delay cord cutting but I didn’t really need to bother, as the placenta was delivered while the cord was still pulsating. Miles was doing some grunting but wasn’t really crying. He was weighed (10 pounds 4 ounces, my second biggest baby!) and measured (21.5 inches) and was still only grunting, so they took him to the NICU to make sure his breathing was okay. I insisted that Matt go with him because I was being stitched up by my midwife (I had a rather large tear and needed 14 stitches) and needed to recover from the epidural. When she was fixing me up, my midwife told me I had the biggest pelvis she had ever seen, and that I was obviously built to grow big babies! About 45 minutes later and I was allowed to stand and go to the bathroom, then they pushed me over in a wheelchair to join Matt and the baby in the NICU.

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Miles’ breathing was fine and my midwife said it was probably just due to him coming out so fast in just three pushes. In the NICU, when I picked him up and held him he seemed hungry, so we tried to nurse and he latched right away. Champion nurser from the start!

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We were taken back to our delivery room for awhile and then moved to a recovery room on the floor above us. We found a Thai restaurant that was open late since it was past 9pm at this point and Matt ran out to get us a late dinner really quick. The recovery rooms were not nearly as nice as the delivery rooms had been. Matt and I basically felt like we had been shoved in a closet with a bed and a toilet in it. It took the nurses several hours to get me any pain medication and even after 14 stitches all they brought me was a Tylenol. We weren’t checked in on hardly at all (perhaps because we weren’t first time parents?) and we couldn’t wait to get home. Miles was checked out by the head NICU pediatrician and she said he was the most perfect 10 pound baby she’d ever seen! She said in the case of gestational diabetes causing babies to be large for size their heads seem much smaller than their torsos, but he was very proportional.

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I was discharged early Thursday morning but we had to wait on the baby to be checked out and discharged shortly 24 hours after he was born. Thursday November 28th on Thanksgiving we left to come home around dinner time. We drove around trying to find anything open to eat but everything was closed because of the holiday. We ended up settling on getting McDonalds drivethru on the way home.

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Miles’ birth experience taught me an important lesson in not being as judgmental as far as another woman’s birth choices go. It can be easy to get caught up in the “mommy wars” and feel that you “know better” than someone else who makes different choices than you do. But I’ve learned that certain situations are not always as black and white as they might seem to an outsider.

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A Birth Story for Coltrane Keenan

Some background: Coltrane was my fourth birth and my third homebirth. I wrote this the day after giving birth to Cole. I had been in prodromal labor for 2 weeks before he was born on his due date on January 18, 2010, with regular contractions 6-8 mins apart that started and then stopped after an hour and then started again a few hours later every day, for two very long and nearly sleepless weeks. Unlike my previous two homebirths which had zero interventions it wasn’t a natural birth, because we were trying to encourage him to come as close to his due date as we could; I’d been seeing my homebirth midwives Sarah and Darynée at Birth Roots, but also the OBs at UCSD for “high risk monitoring” due to my Gestational Diabetes which was controlled by oral medication without the use of insulin.

The OBs had been pushing me to have a C section starting when I was 36 weeks due to Cole being breech. After several attempts with the midwives to turn him failed, I scheduled a version in the hospital with the doctors to turn him, but the night before my version was scheduled I saw a chiropractor, Gina Caserma at World of Wellness Chiropractic, to administer a chiropractic technique called The Webster Technique. Cole turned head down as I was driving away from the appointment (I literally felt him somersault under my steering wheel) and when I arrived at the appointment for my version in the hospital the next day, the doctors couldn’t believe it. They sent me home but that didn’t stop them trying to schedule a Cesarean section for me, instead now claiming the “risks” of having gestational Diabetes (that was easily controlled with diet and medication still). Not being comfortable with the idea of major abdominal surgery unless it was medically warranted (and I knew that women with GD can birth naturally when their sugars are controlled and insulin is not needed), and having had two natural births at home following my first birth in a hospital that had been full of interventions I hadn’t needed or wanted, I decided to try and avoid a C section if at all possible.

A few days before birth. Do I look tired? You can tell the prodromal labor was getting to me after two weeks of it!

A few days before birth. Do I look tired? You can tell the prodromal labor was getting to me after two weeks of it!

“On Sunday my midwives called me after their birthing class with a few ideas to get my labor going. They felt my body was ready and just might need a little helping along, but Matt still wasn’t thrilled about the idea of breaking my water to induce, so they decided to head right over to my place so we could try a combination of herbs and a foley bulb. We used a tincture of cottonroot bark to help make the contractions I’ve been having come more regularly. Some people suggest using cohosh, but we decided not to risk it because cohosh can raise blood pressure and I’ve already been having touchy blood pressure this last trimester. The foley bulb was new to me. It’s a catheter they inserted into the cervix with a little balloon at the end, which they then pumped full of sterile water. It helps the cervix dilate more. We decided to try the herbs and foley bulb because we wanted to see if we could get things progressing while still leaving breaking my water as a last resort, which Matt was much more comfortable with.

So once the foley bulb was in me and blown up the midwives taped it to my leg and we went for several short walks. The cottonroot bark tincture was starting to make my contractions a bit stronger, but still irregular. After about an hour or two the foley bulb fell out on it’s own, and we went walking again to try and get the baby’s head down more to put more pressure on the cervix to open. After walking we went home and one of my midwives checked me, I’d gone from being dilated at 3cm to being somewhere between 4 and 5 cm. While she was there she said she thought she could stretch me out with her fingers more so she worked on that and less than five minutes later I was at about 7cm. I started having a lot more bloody show. I took a shower at some point which seemed to bring on the contractions more but after awhile I was tired of standing. I sat on my birthing ball for a bit and ate dinner. Several times the midwives commented how funny it was that most women at 7cm would be starting to have a difficult time, I was still laughing and joking and having a good time. My contractions were still getting stronger and starting to become a bit more regular. Matt and I went for another walk to see if we could get the contractions going any better.

When we got home I asked the midwives to check me again and I was at about 8cm. But baby had a ton of water in there and when they pushed on his head he’d move back up into the uterus, his head wasn’t able to put much pressure on the cervix to help out. We all agreed that it would probably be best to break the water at that point to try to get the head more firmly in there. After we broke my water I sat on my ball again with a chux pad and did my best impression of Niagara Falls. I gushed and gushed. It was about midnight at this point and Matt took a brief nap while I watched tv and contracted. Finally things started to taper off in the gushing water department and I realized his head must be acting as a plug so it must be down in there more. Yay! The midwives were all hanging out in the living room at this point in various stages of napping but continued to come check on me while I did my thing in the bedroom. After about 1:30 or so the contractions really started to pick up in intensity to the point where I really had to focus entirely on one when it came. One of the midwives did some counter-pressure on my back for a bit while I leaned into Matt’s lap but it was relaxing me so much I kept dozing in between contractions and I was afraid of falling off my ball, so Matt and I snuggled on the bed for a bit while I tried to nap between contractions laying on my side. That actually made the contractions worse since gravity was no longer working with me, so I sat up against some pillows and I was able to nap between contractions that way for what felt like an hour but could’ve only been 10 minutes, I’m not sure.

After a certain point the contractions became so strong and frequent I wasn’t able to sleep any more. I felt like they were slamming into me one after the other. I started to have typical transition thoughts at this point (I don’t want to do this anymore, ect) and I recognized that and started to wonder if I was supposed to be pushing at this point but I just wasn’t feeling it yet. I had Matt go get the midwives and I wanted them to check me but they said since my water was broken they didn’t want to risk infection and if I felt like pushing I should. The problem was I just didn’t. But I was having a much harder time managing the contractions which were coming every minute or less now. They told me to try pushing to see how it felt. It didn’t feel any worse but it didn’t make me feel better. I was kind of resistant to trying because I was afraid of hurting myself if it was too soon. And I was totally exhausted at this point, yawning between contractions.

Matt was sitting behind me applying pressure to my back but I felt really unstable when I’d have a contraction and need something to lean against. I went to the bathroom because I needed to go poop and that’s when I felt I really started to need to push. I sat there through maybe two or three contractions and pushed a bit before I got up to go back to the bed. But I only made it to the edge of the bed before another contraction hit and I ended up on my hands and knees on the floor next to the bed, leaning into Matt’s lap and squeezing his hand while I pushed. Matt was telling me I was doing a great job, rubbing me and being reassuring. At that point things seemed to move fairly quickly. I felt the baby move down and it seemed with 6 or 7 good pushes he was crowning already. The midwives had me try to pant to avoid tearing and I tried but the contractions were so strong and it was too hard to try to fight against them. I pushed his head out but then it was another minute or two before I felt another contraction and the rest of his body came out. Matt said something I can’t remember but he sounded really happy.

At this point I was so focused on pushing I almost forgot I was getting a baby out of the whole deal and it was almost a surprise when I saw him as they passed him up onto the bed and then had me crawl up onto the bed to lay down and deliver the placenta. He had hardly any vernix on him and looked very pink. He didn’t want to cry at first, and sounded a little congested and just grunted a lot. His eyes were swollen shut from coming through the birth canal so fast and he only had a little peach fuzz on his head. I thought he was beautiful.

I ended up needing stitches, it was only a first degree tear that tore a bit down the perenium. I had Matt take the baby out to his mom while I got stitched up. Afterwards the midwives made sure I was comfy and had eaten and everything before they cleaned up and left us to rest. Matt and the baby and I snuggled and went to sleep for a bit.

Cole, an hour after birth.

Cole, an hour after birth.

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Our first day with the baby he’s mostly just wanted to sleep. He didn’t really show any interest in nursing and didn’t seem to have much of a rooting reflex, so we learned that to get him to try to nurse we had to take his clothes off and really work at getting him good and pissed so that he’ll be awake enough to try. He still doesn’t cry much on his own but has added little grunts and whines into his repertoire and makes little puppy noises when he sleeps. His eyes are starting to swell less and he seems to be finally wanting to look around a bit. It’s been really fun leaning his personality so far.

My body feels very sore like I went through several rounds in the boxing ring and lost. My stitches are painful and itchy and sore, and I’m afraid of tearing them. But all things considered I think I’m recovering fairly well. My bleeding has already slowed down a lot and I’m recovering my strength while resting as much as possible.

Last night the baby kept me up almost all night. On the plus side, he wanted to nurse for almost 5 hours so I’m pretty sure we’ve solved our latch issues over the course of the night. He pooped four times last night also so at least we know all the insides are working good. In the course of the past day he’s already managed to pee on both me and Matt while we were trying to change him.”

With Daddy :)

With Daddy 🙂

 


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Proudly babywearing over a decade!

A phrase I use fairly often in regards to parenting is “when we know better, we do better.” Life is a constant learning experience and I am not the same parent I was when I first gave birth 13 years ago. One of the ways this is apparent is in my babywearing timeline.

Babywearing is, put simply, securing your infant or toddler to your body. The idea of wearing baby so my hands could remain free was appealing to me even in my first pregnancy. Pushing your baby into traffic ahead of you in a stroller also seemed counter intuitive to me, I wanted to keep my baby close and safe.

I started out with a ring sling. These fit over one shoulder. Ring slings have a tail that fits through a series of rings and you pull the tail to tighten the sling.

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This worked great when baby was small, but as she grew, the uneven weight distribution began to strain my shoulders and neck.

Next, I purchased a Bjorn (based entirely on its popularity). These carriers are aptly nicknamed “crotch danglers” because the baby literally hangs by its crotch. I found the straps confusing and difficult to manage so I used it only a handful of times. These are considered hard structured carriers because the body of the carrier is formed and rather inflexible with some padding.

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I later learned this type of carrier can contribute to hip dysplasia. Additionally, hard structured types tend to create spaces between the baby’s body and doesn’t hug the contour of the spine.

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Then I discovered wraps. I attempted to use the Moby which is widely available and fairly inexpensive. The Moby was far to stretchy for me, and I found it difficult to impossible to wrap it tight enough. The baby eventually sagged downward towards my knees. Other wraps like the Girasol are less stretchy and in my opinion a much better investment.

I did love trying out several Asian inspired carriers and eventually owned a Baby Hawk Mei Tai. These have a soft body structure and tie around the shoulders and waist. I preferred the soft structure which naturally cradles and supports baby, but often struggled with the ties, especially when I was alone.

After I bought my first Ergo I was sold on soft structured carriers. There are several brands that are somewhat similar – Ergo Performance, Beco Gemini, Boba. I loved my Ergo because in addition to being more comfortable for baby, it distributed weight evenly and was a comfortable carrying experience for me. The Ergo buckles around the waist and shoulders making it easy to put on and take off.

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We used our Ergo extensively for everything from short trips to long outings.

Our current carrier is a wrap conversion half buckle. It has the body of a soft structured carrier, buckles around the waist, and wraps around the shoulders like a mei tai. Essentially it is the best of both worlds! Plus it has an appliqué of Jack Skellington. I bought it secondhand and it was love at first sight.

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It is an Olives and Applesauce brand custom made from a Girasol Wrappers’ Paradise wrap. It is a standard size 16×16, 2 seat darts, 85″ wrap straps, and a tuckable hood. The Jack Skellington makes it cool enough for even our teenage daughter to wear!

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It’s odd to think about when I realize the first baby I started my babywearing journey with is now old enough to babywear my youngest. In the past 13 years I’ve tried many different ways to babywear and learned what works for me the best. When we know better, we do better, and I will never go back to using a Bjorn again!


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My Journey to raising three special needs kids.

Perhaps it was my youth and inexperience. I was only 20 when my daughter Amara was born, 22 when Gwen came along 21 months after Amara. I was the first person I knew in my social clique to have kids and didn’t have mommy friends or a lot of support. Or it could have just been the way things were done in the early part of the 2000 decade; my daughter Gwen wasn’t diagnosed with Autism until she was four. In 2011 I had my son Cole screened for Autism at 18 months, but back then it really was less straightforward and more like fitting pieces of a puzzle together.

I had a normal pregnancy in the care of midwives and a relaxing, empowering birth at home. Gwen was 9 pounds 8 ounces with outstanding APGAR scores and at birth was the picture of a healthy baby. It was only as she got older that I noticed the differences between her and her older sister. She hated the sling and didn’t like to be swaddled or held close. She never learned to crawl but just scooted around on her butt. She didn’t walk until almost 17 months. She started throwing massive tantrums for no apparent reason. As a toddler she started to bang her head on the floor. But I attributed it to differences in temperament. Maybe I’d gotten the “easy” baby first and a more challenging one after.

Amara was rarely sick and I only needed to take her to her pediatrician for well checks when she was small. We practically lived at the doctors office when Gwen was little. She had constant ear infections as a toddler and ended up getting ear tube surgery when she was 3. Around that same time I expressed my concern that she wasn’t really talking yet (she tried but babbled incoherently) and she passed her hearing screening and then started speech therapy. We did the “crunchy hippie thing” and taught her sign language which she picked up with ease; at three I was signing with her on the bus and a lady said, “Oh is she deaf? How sad.” This was 2003, before signing became more mainstream, and I had to explain, no, she can hear, but has trouble talking, and this way she can express her needs without screaming.

She potty trained but then regressed. And then regressed again. Her doctors assured me it was still in the range of normal for her to be in pull-ups at four. I brought her in because she was having sleep issues and she was prescribed Clonodine. It wasn’t until after her fourth birthday and I made an appointment because she was having massive meltdowns when we would cross the street, throwing herself on the ground in the middle of the crosswalk, that our doctor started to put all the pieces together and suggested an Autism screening. In retrospect I feel he should have seen it sooner. I should have put it together sooner. But I just didn’t know.

She saw a specialist for testing over several appointments and was diagnosed with Autism as a result. I started reading about it and agreed it made sense. At the appointments I asked the doctors opinions on my son Allen, then one, who I was already concerned about behavior-wise. But I was told he was only displaying “typical boy behavior”. After being given a copy of Gwen’s diagnosis the specialist handed me a handful of pamphlets with local resources. I was numb and nodded while accepting them, but I don’t think I knew what it all meant yet.

We went to the library and got books for myself, books for Amara about having a sibling with Autism. I looked through the pamphlets and decided to contact the autism center, they offered free classes and I thought the music therapy sounded fun. I found babysitting for Amara and Allen and took a four and a half year old Gwen into music therapy class. There were a dozen other parents with kids there, most of whom I considered way lower functioning than Gwen. The teacher was friendly and engaging, the kids all participated. Everyone except Gwen. She covered her ears and buried her head in my shoulder and refused to be engaged. I was surrounded by children with Autism and for the first time consciously I observed the behavior of children with Autism. I had to face grouping my own child into the same category as them. I was blinking back tears the entire time. When it was over we left and we never went back.

That was the moment it hit me. I went through a grieving process and it might have lasted weeks, maybe even months before I came to a place of acceptance. It is a sad thing, to let go of the child you dreamt about, the normal one who when you were pregnant with them you’d say “I don’t care what they are as long as they’re HEALTHY.” But I did accept it, and our lives settled into a predictable pattern of speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavioral therapy. I struggled as a single mother working and trying to go back to school, but we always made her appointments top priority. I’m glad I did, because the early intervention brought her a long way!

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When it came time for kindergarten the school said she “barely met their autism requirement” and because she already had an IEP for speech that would cover all her needs, they didn’t want to “saddle her with the stigma of an Autism diagnosis” if they didn’t have to. I didn’t know any better so I agreed. Six months into the school year they graduated her out of their speech program and she lost her IEP. I had to fight the next three years and through moving and changing to two more schools to get it back, while her teachers complained of her running out of class during instructional time, or hiding under her desk, or just shutting down and refusing to respond. I often got called to school to “come manage” her because the schools wouldn’t or couldn’t.

Meanwhile, around the time Allen was three, my father expressed concerns about his behavior, saying to me he suspected Allen might have a personality disorder or be psychotic. He was my first boy so much of his challenging behaviors or oddities I attributed to just what Gwen’s diagnosing autism specialist said, “typical boy behavior”. I also think that so much of myself was tied up working with Gwen’s known diagnosis that it became hard for me to devote any extra attention to Allen’s lesser and unknown issues. It wasn’t until he started kindergarten we started seeing bigger problems. His handwriting was illegible. He started acting out in concerning ways. But when I asked his doctor during a well check, “he seems normal to me”.

Allen’s behavior really escalated when Matt deployed for the first time. When we got the diagnosis of ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder plus suspected PDD/NOS it wasn’t a big shock to me. I had, after all, suspected something since he was only 1 year old. A year later we took him for a re-diagnosis and they kept ADHD changed ODD to Conduct Disorder and added Mood Disorder NOS. I’m still not sure that we have all the pieces and the right answers, but it’s better than nothing.

I didn’t have the same shock and grief. I was coping. I went from Gwen being my special needs kid for years and Amara and Allen being my “normal” ones to having two special needs kids and Amara and our new baby Cole being my normal ones. But then we got to Cole’s 18 month check up and he still wasn’t talking. He had the same “mush mouth” when he tried to talk that Gwen had at his age. And I was convinced we were going to have to go through the same things I did with Gwen all over again.

He passed his autism screening with flying colors, which came as a huge relief. However the doctors did agree he had a speech delay and we started speech therapy. Six months later at a follow up appointment they revised his diagnosis to Speech Apraxia.

Today, Gwen is a loving kind hearted girl. She has an IEP again and with it made huge progress the past two years. She made her first real friends last year in the fourth grade which we were very excited about. Lately we’ve seen a resurgence of behavior problems including fit throwing the likes of which I haven’t seen since she was 5 which we attribute to hormones and the onset of puberty, so we started her back in ABA therapy.

Allen is incredibly smart and is in the gifted program in school, but still struggles with his issues, though currently, we’ve decided to try being medication free. I’m finding the medical institution tends to treat kids like him with meds but there is a significant lack of therapies available, and things I feel would be helpful like ABA therapy aren’t covered by our insurance under his current diagnosis. I’m starting the fight to get his own IEP and not looking forward to it, but I am determined to get him the help he needs.

Cole’s speech has come a long way but the way he mispronounces his words now combined with his age of 3 is quite frankly adorable. He is very smart as well and understands far more than he is able to communicate. We are trying to get him enrolled in Head Start and I anticipate he may end up starting kindergarten with a speech IEP like Gwen had. But we have a few more years until we get there.

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