Weekly Update

Wide Eyed

As I mentioned last week, my focus will be away from the blog for a bit while I take my creative writing class. However, I thought I would share my first assignment with you: writing a profile of myself as a writer, sharing literary and life influences. Consider yourself warned, it is long.

As the sun dipped low in the sky, our mom called us in from the backyard, where we were submerged in the world of imaginary play. If it was summer, the chirp of crickets filled the air, signaling that night had arrived. If it was winter, we unlaced our skates, quickly putting on our boots before freezing air stung our toes.

We trudged up the hill, beckoned by the warm glow of the open back door.

After racing to put on our pajamas and vying for the best spot on the couch, we were quiet, ready to listen to our latest book.

No longer on the couch, I found myself barefoot in the grass, blue dome overhead. I listened to the narrative of Laura Ingalls Wilder, also a Midwestern girl with, needless to say, the best first name. I listened with wide eyes as she described a panther that silently stalked the family from the trees. I fell asleep with the sheets pulled tightly over my head to protect me from the panthers, though they still found me in my dreams.

While Ingalls Wilder captured the magic of the wilderness, Beverly Cleary captured each conceivable emotion of childhood through her character, Ramona.

I related to Ramona on so many levels. The way her mouth got dry when she was in trouble, the rising anger when her classmate Susan copied her owl, the love-hate relationship she had with her sister. I wished I could be as free-spirited as Ramona. I was in awe of how she acted on her impulses; how everyone knew exactly how she was feeling. Hidden in the mass of my siblings, I did my best to stay under the radar and away from the limelight.

“She ran from her conscience and from God, who, as they said in Sunday School, was everywhere. She ran as if Something was coming to get her. She ran until her lungs felt as if they were bursting with the smoky air.”- “Ramona the Brave,” Beverly Cleary

I also ran, but not from God. I ran until my lungs pleaded for oxygen and my legs drowned in lactic acid. I ran as my brain worked to convince my body it was not dying, despite the S.O.S. messages being fired between neurons. I ran.

My parents required me to do a sport freshman year of high school. Since I lacked hand-eye coordination, I joined the cross-country team.

The thing about running is you have a lot of conversations with yourself.

“Walking is so great. I should appreciate it more.”

“But you know what’s even better? Lying on the couch.”

“No driver! Don’t wave me through! I just wanted a minute to catch my breath. Gah, now I have to keep going. Screw you and your nice manners, you wonderful human, you!”

Through running, I found my voice. I had endless conversations with myself. I listened to plenty of conversations in my brain. I was both the participant and the observer.

Though I wasn’t writing yet, I came to know my voice well.

I continued reading, with “To Kill a Mockingbird” as my favorite book. I was inspired by Atticus Finch, going against the grain to take a stand for what he believed.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”- “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee­­­­­

Poking around in the peritoneal cavity of cadavers was as close as I was going to get to climbing inside of someone else’s skin.

In college, my days were spent pouring over anatomy and physiology textbooks, memorizing foreign words. I was captivated by the language of medicine. Mitochondria. Zygomatic bone. Patella. Cytoplasm. Lacrimal gland.

I told my friends I was going to name my first child, “Mitochondria” because I thought it would make a beautiful name. “Ria” for short. We all snorted with laughter as we downed our 10th coffees, cramming for the latest exam.

After I became a nurse, I worked on the blurry line between life and death, finding out for myself that fairy tales don’t have happy endings.

The prince fights cancer, not a dragon. Like the fairy tale, the prince doesn’t give up. He remains “Full Code” and undergoes CPR three times to try and make it to his daughter’s high school graduation. But the prince doesn’t win; cancer does, and the princess is left to attend their beautiful daughter’s graduation alone.

I ran, facing the emotions I had suppressed while doing chest compressions, the depressing fairy tale ending, the reality that medicine couldn’t fix everyone. I ran until I could face my nightmares, no longer about panthers. I ran until I was okay.

Working a rotation of all three shifts, night and day blended; time warped. Reading at this time was not books. It was charts.

“56yo Female, presents with confusion. History of liver cirrhosis, MELD score 32, jaundice noted bilateral eyes. Rectal tube placed. Lactulose Q2hrs. Will continue to monitor.”

“Alert and oriented x2. Oxygen sats 90%, HR 136, BP 80/40. Primary doc paged to notify. Will monitor closely.”

Will continue to monitor. Will continue to monitor. Will continue to monitor.

I got married and learned that despite what I had been told, I was able to get pregnant very easily. Very as in, the night of our wedding, easily.

While pregnancy came easily, labor and delivery did not. Avery was born blue. The NICU team huddled over the incubator, where it took four attempts to intubate her. I watched as her oxygen saturation dropped dangerously low, the same pit forming in my stomach as did when participating in a code.

Except this was my kid, and now I was a mom, lying naked on a hospital bed under fluorescent lights, almost as vulnerable as she was. I was supposed to protect her; but instead, I helplessly watched as she struggled to take her first breath of air.

Though she was little, she was fierce. After her intubation, they were able to clear her airway. Three days later, we left the hospital. My world crashed. I morphed from having complete confidence in myself to absolute terror that I would accidentally kill my baby. Life seemed scarily fragile. Avery didn’t seem too shaken.

As a new mom, I prioritized sleep over reading. But when I returned to work, I listened to books on my commute. I was relieved to learn that I wasn’t the only person overwhelmed by motherhood when listening to, “And Now We Have Everything,” by Meaghan O’Connell.

I was inspired to resume running after listening to, “Girl, Wash Your Face,” by Rachel Hollis. “Lean In,” by Sheryl Sandberg, gave me the push I needed to leave my cushy job in cardiac research to challenge my brain with oncology research. I questioned the narrative I had created about my life after reading, “Braving the Wilderness,” by Brené Brown.

“The mark of a wild heart is living out the paradox of love in our lives… It’s showing up in our vulnerability and our courage, being both fierce and kind.”- “Braving the Wilderness,” Brené Brown

What better way to practice being simultaneously fierce and kind, than in the battle against cancer?

When I worked in oncology research, my mind was filled with beautiful words. Pembrolizumab. Nab-paclitaxel. Daunorubicin. Atezolizumab. Drug names that for some, meant a cure. For others, simply hope.

“These spots could be cysts. But if they are cancer, this is very bad news.” I listened as a young Indian doctor delivered this news, her big eyes sharp, her lilt lyrical, her news, terrifying. I watched as the wife squeezed her husband’s hand, trying to offer support on a journey only he could take. And I read the scan results three days later. Cancer.

With that, finally, I began writing. I wrote because I didn’t like the ending my patient was being given. I didn’t like the ending any of my patients were given. I wrote, for fear of what my ending would be.

Oftentimes, life doesn’t make sense. It is full of tragedy. It isn’t governed by the rules of fairness. But when I write, I can coax my brain to put the disjointed pieces of thoughts and emotions together, create a story, discover meaning, or at least, start to understand.

I journaled about motherhood, about work, about the darkness that coexisted with the light.

When we moved from Minnesota to Florida, I started a blog to keep my relatives updated. It was great because I no longer had to repeat the same stories when I caught up with people. But better, I uncovered a hidden passion.

I like the process of creating a blog post. Finding inspiration in a book I am reading, a podcast I’m listening to, a moment in nature, or simply a thought that crosses my mind as my brain is flooded with endorphins during a run. My words spill onto the screen, as I ferociously try to capture everything before I forget.

After leaving the word vomit alone for a bit, I edit.

Edit. Edit. Edit.

Edit, until the thoughts that were hazy have come into focus. That is my favorite part.

Weekly Update

What I Didn’t Know

When I was pregnant with Avery, I was bombarded with information from other parents, wanna be parents, and non-parents who believed they were experts anyway.

About half of what I heard was horror stories of labor and delivery gone wrong. The other half was parenting advice and warnings that my life was going to change forever.

The horror stories and warnings always wrapped up with the final sentence, “But it’s the best thing that will ever happen to you.” No one really elaborated further on this point.

Most of the things I was told and warned about were and are very true.

Labor is not for the weak of heart… the unfortunate news is that if you are weak of heart (like me), once you are pregnant, the baby has to come out some way.

Sleep deprivation can cause your entire world to crash down; and, it’s something you don’t fully understand until you are hallucinating that you are holding your crying baby only to be shaken awake by your husband to find yourself rocking a pillow.

And yeah, you go from being a fun, youthful person who loves to stay up late at classy parties (or on bar roofs), who has a successful career, and a flourishing social life to a pathetic old person who gets excited about going to bed at 8pm, any sleep stretch longer than 2 hours, and a $20 dollar off coupon on diapers. DIAPERS. Your life boils down to sleep and excitement over diapers, the vessel you pay a lot of money for that contains your childs bodily fluids and is promptly tossed in the trash.

All of the warnings were true. And to be honest, despite the 24/7 advice and warnings I was receiving, they left out some important details.

For example, why didn’t anyone tell me about how you go from having a nice car to a car that literally contains probably 3 pounds of crushed up goldfish packing every crevice. Melted fruit snacks are scattered throughout your now junky form of transportation and act as a traveling lint roller… becoming covered in dirt, grime, and goldfish crumbs in their journey around your car.

Or that some babies go through a phase where literally no diaper known to man will contain their explosive poops. This phase lasts months. And you panic, thinking something is horribly wrong with your child’s GI tract. But in fact, this is normal.

Repeat after me: “Explosive poop is my new normal.”

I’m still disappointed that kids don’t have some sort of warning that goes off before they puke. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve caught kid puke. IN MY BARE HANDS. Actually, I can tell you because it was very traumatic and I have it burned in my memory. Three. Once on an airplane, once in a restaurant, and once in a car.

And no one thought to mention how weird kids are.

Examples from our household:

-Well first of all, kids hate sleep and have to be prodded to eat. If that isn’t weird, I don’t know what is.

-Alice informed us she will only eat cucumbers on Saturdays. (I take advantage of the fact that she never knows what day it is)

-This conversation was overheard at the dinner table:

Child: “You gotta kill pigs so we can eat bacon.”

Parent: “Don’t you feel bad about that?”

Child: “Yummy yummy in my tummy”

-One of our children, I won’t name names, conned the other child into wiping her butt after she pooped.

-Alice thinks the word “lit” means sick and uses it frequently to describe people who are ill.

-Every month or so, I find my children playing the game, “Our mom is dead”. It is rather morbid, but at least they seem happy without me.

-One child, after admiring her poop (in the toilet, thank goodness), announced “it’s my lucky day!” and walked away. I’m still wondering what exactly she was pleased about. The poop? Getting it in the toilet?

Of all the loads of advice I heard, no one was able to accurately capture and communicate the magic that kids bring to life. No one really elaborated on the, “But it’s the best thing that will ever happen to you”

Kids are an invitation to pause and consider why we don’t dance more or sing at the top of our lungs. They ask genuinely deep questions that make us rethink how we live.

They give us an opportunity to dig into our deepest places. To find out how patient we really are. How we act during sleep deprived, stressful situations.

My favorite part about kids though, is how brave and resilient they are.

It starts early. When they learn to walk, they literally face plant and get back up to keep walking. MULTIPLE TIMES.

Have you face planted recently? It hurts.

If I were to go back and give myself one piece of advice about parenthood, it would be: “You have very little control. Stop fighting that and embrace it.”

From day one, Avery persistently taught us that she would do things in her own time. The first time she taught us this is when she arrived NINE DAYS LATE. I’m still pissed.

Then we were concerned that she wasn’t crawling when most babies were. So we got her evaluated, only to be told, “There’s nothing wrong with her. Find what motivates her and she should start crawling soon.” The next day I set a bowl of puffs on the floor across the room from her. She crawled across the room as if she knew how to do it earlier and simply chose not to.

Out of the caution that only a firstborn child (of an actuary) can have, she walked around on her knees for a few months before she got on her feet and started walking like a normal kid.

Most recently, she went from refusing to put her head in the water to deciding to start swimming. Like, swimming across the pool on her back with very little coaching.

Here’s the thing. Kids do terrifying things on a daily basis. They trust us when we say that putting your head underwater won’t kill you. They pet dogs that are larger than them. They go off to school, leaving the people who have kept them alive and figure out how to navigate.

As I watched Avery swim across the pool on her back, with a big smile on her face that she maintained even when her head dipped under water, I thought to myself, “Dang, that’s pretty brave.”

I watched as she attempted to show off her swimming tricks and got endless nosefuls of water (the worst). And yet, she exuded such joy. She was so proud of getting over her fear of swimming… and she loved it.

Kids do things like this on a daily basis. Their days are full of opportunities to try new things. Sure, opportunities for failure, but also, brimming with opportunities for success.

Adults come no where near to the amount of new experiences that kids have per day. In part, this is because we are seasoned. We’ve lived a little longer. We know how to walk and talk.

But have you ever considered…

When did you stop trying new foods or foods that you thought you didn’t like? And why? Is it because now you just know everything about what you like and hate?

And when was the last time you tried a new activity? Or went out of your comfort zone and talked to someone new?

Just because we are adults, doesn’t mean we have to stop learning, trying, and being open to failure.

Yeah, kids are a lot of work. Life changing. Weird. Sometimes annoying.

But without a doubt, they are the best thing that has happened to me. They’ve infused my days with new ways of looking at life. They are funny. They remind me what it means to be human, and have taught me a heck of a lot more than I will ever teach them.

With that, I’ll leave you with a question that they left with me:

When’s the last time you did something scary?



Weekly Update

Avery Marie 5.0

I remember snippets. It was a cold day. I think there was snow. I hadn’t been feeling quite right. I figured I was fatigued or had a bug. But just to be sure, I stopped at a CVS to pick up a pregnancy test. It was three weeks after Chad and I married and barely a week since we had returned from our honeymoon.

“This will probably be something I laugh about after I take it and it comes back negative,” I thought as I waited in line for the cashier to ring me up.

The next snippet in my brain flashes to watching the pregnancy test turn positive in our apartment bathroom in downtown Minneapolis. I shouted to Chad, “uh… you better come here.”

Instead of thinking, “wow, I’m pregnant,” I thought, “Dang, I must have a brain tumor” (a very rare reason pregnancy tests are positive when in fact the woman is not). Chad of course believed that the pregnancy test couldn’t possibly be right, so we stopped at Target to pick up five pregnancy tests and red Gatorade.

Five positive pregnancy tests and half a Gatorade later, the statistics were clear enough for Chad to be convinced that I was pregnant, and a state of shock set in.

Avery’s pregnancy was not an easy one. It was full of nausea, vomiting, and fainting spells. I lost 10 pounds in the first trimester. I fainted in the heart transplant meeting at work (yes, it is super embarrassing to faint in front of a group of cardiologists).

I fainted on the bathroom floor in front of a very concerned Chad. I insisted I hadn’t fully passed out as he hurried me to the Emergency Department. “Well do you remember when I slapped your face?,” he asked.

I was incredulous. “No. Why would you do that?”

“To wake you up.” This is what happens when you put an actuary in a medical situation.

Needless to say, I was anxious to give birth by my due date. But consistent with her feisty and stubborn personality, Avery arrived nine days late.

As I lay laboring in the hospital bed, I wondered out loud, “I don’t know. I don’t think I’m ready to be a mom. What if the baby hates me?” My midwife looked down and smiled, “You will be a great mom. Your baby will love you and you will love her, just wait and see.”

I had assumed that once Avery popped out, I would be filled with eternal joy and everything would make sense, and we would live happily ever after. I expected her birth would be peaceful. There would be soft lighting, classical music and tears of joy.

Instead, I lay writhing on a hospital bed, buck naked, while a team of 2 doctors, a midwife, the entire c-section team, neonatologist, and NICU team watched, aided by very fluorescent lights for their optimal viewing pleasure.

I added to the zen by glaring directly at the doctors and loudly asking, “Why is there a finger up my butt hole?” To which the doctor apologized, “Sorry ma’am, I’m trying to prevent you from tearing.” What a chivalrous guy. Classical music and soft lighting my a**.

I was told that the baby was in trouble and I had one last shot to push her out before they were going to rush me to c-section. I somehow mustered enough strength and was soon greeted by a very blue creature.

In my nurse brain, I classified the situation as bad. I watched as they attempted to intubate her three times, with her sats dropping into the 50’s. Fourth time was the charm, and they sped her out of the room with Chad following closely behind.

After I was stitched up, the room cleared. It was just me and my postpartum belly which was disappointingly not flat at all. A timid aide poked her head in the door to ask if she could get me some toast.

I was pretty sure I was a mom now, but I didn’t see a cute, cuddly baby anywhere in sight. Toast in this moment didn’t make sense. I wanted my baby, not toast. So I declined.

Two hours later I was wheeled to the special care unit to meet Avery. Luckily her intubation was short lived and she was able to breath on her own once they suctioned a mucus plug out of her lungs.

They wheeled me up to an incubator and informed me that this was my baby. I peered inside. I saw a chunky, beat-up baby, with adorable fuzzy hair.

Cute, but blonde. Couldn’t be my kid.

The kind NICU nurse tried to teach me how to breastfeed. But, Avery just wanted to sleep and so did I. After an hour of futile latching attempts, Chad wheeled me back to our room, leaving fuzzy blondie behind. “See you in 2 hours!,” the NICU nurse called behind us. What a joke, I thought as I shook my head, I push out a baby and I don’t even get to sleep to recover?

Parenthood wasn’t what I expected. For me, there wasn’t an immediate joy or love.

It was around 3 months when Avery started smiling and interacting more, when my heart melted and I fell in love.

She patiently taught me that kids are resilient. That I don’t need to be a perfectionist to be a good parent. That formula isn’t the devil, and in fact worked just fine.

She taught me that peek-a-boo is hilarious (because the adult looks like an idiot), and to giggle like a maniac. She reminded me that it’s okay to cry when you’re sad, and to scream in delight with excitement.

The emotions of kids haven’t been dulled by societal norms. In fact, nothing about kids is really bound by norms. They march to the beat of their own drums. And that, is admirable.

We are coming up on Avery’s FIFTH birthday. She starts preschool on Monday.

She is no longer a pot-bellied toddler. Her legs are long and browned by the sun. Her sentences are no longer 3 words strung together, she speaks in rivers of words, effortlessly constructing stories (or bossing us around). Thank goodness she has maintained the same deep and infectious giggle of babyhood.

She has definitely acquired the first child personality. She stands with her hand on her hip and bosses us all around, while carrying on a conversation over her play cell phone.

She is sweet and gorgeous, courageous and cautious. She can negotiate like a terrorist. She’s firey. She’s stubborn in the best and worst way. The girl will go places, mark my words.

The midwife was right. I love Avery and she loves me. Maybe we followed a non-traditional path to get there. She patiently and stubbornly taught me who she is, and in learning who she is, I fell deep in love.

Happy Birthday, Aves!