Because the important moments in life just don’t fit in a status update! I started this blog when I was training for my first ½ Ironman, (70.3 miles) to record what I hoped would be growth and progress but ended up being a huge learning experience. Although fitness is one of the key ingredients to a happy life, it certainly isn't the only ingredient. My blog has evolved to document growth, progress and setbacks in other areas too. From my surprise proposal in Rome and wedding in the fall of 2013, to Mom's devastating stage IV cancer diagnosis and death 2 weeks after I found out I was pregnant. Who knows what shape it will take, but thanks for being along for the ride.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

A Beautiful Day: On the Anniversary of Mom's Death

It has been two years today since I lost my Mom, Paula DeWitt. Anniversaries and birthdays are always a pause for reflection, whether you want them to be or not. This year is not nearly as bad as last year was, and I imagine next year will be even easier. Those of you who have lost loved ones know that not being in so much pain is bittersweet, because when the ache is not as acute, you fear you are loosing them. They are now too distant. In a way, you miss that all-consuming loss, as crazy as it sounds. 

But that pain can be replaced with the lifetime of good memories that you have, with some work, and you can still feel close to them instead of moving on. Who wants to move on with a life separate from them anyway? That's exactly what we don't want to do. My Mom is a part of my daily life and everything I do. I am the Mom that I am to my daughter because she was such a nurturing, sweet Mom to me. 

Mom never judged, chided or even questioned me. She was always accepting, patient and kind. She gave me confidence instead of doubt. She had the patience of a saint and was always happy. If she was ever under stress, it never showed. Instead of worrying, she trusted and knew things would work out. She had contagious, genuine laughter. And, she was fun. 

More often than not now, thoughts of her give rise to a warm, happy feeling instead of the sadness that I used to feel. This was not the case a year ago. When I think of her, I now have this comforting feeling that she is everywhere, close to me and looking down. Always present and never far. I can call upon her wisdom and the qualities she possessed and ask myself what she would do in any given situation. She still provides me with both comfort and strength, her gentle strength.

This anniversary of her death has me thinking of how, even in the end, she lived her life with grace and happiness, no matter what came her way. Because she endured what she did without complaining, I feel like I can weather any storm, and I can do so with a smile, like she did.

What she went through, and what I bore witness to has made me infinitely stronger. With all of the fears and appointments and certainty of her prognosis looming, we still had fun.

On this anniversary, I am reminded that it is possible to be facing the terminal diagnosis of a loved one or yourself and still have a beautiful day. Prior to Mom's diagnosis, I never would have believed this. But now I know it to be true. Because we did. And if this is true, it is also possible to be facing just about any news and still have a beautiful day.

The picture above was taken a few months after her terminal diagnosis. It was a warm, sunny, fall day in southern California. She had undergone brain surgery to remove the tumor. I had googled life expectancy. I knew. We had raised money to move her (and my Dad and brother) to Orange County, close to us and close to better treatment, while my husband (then my fiancee) helped fix up and rent their house in Yucaipa. She had another surgery to install a port, and had started her chemotherapy. 

I remember being struck by the fact that she didn't seem sick. She seemed fine. But we knew. On this day, (which I blogged about here) we had gone to an intention Mass for Mom at St. John Neumann, where my husband and I were to be married in just a few month's time. We didn't know it, but that day was a blessing of the sick which they do quarterly. Just like Mom, many of the people in line didn't look sick either.

When Mom went up to the alter, the Priest touched the side of her head that held the cancer with the oil, and made the sign of the cross. The side that she would lose her sight in just a few month's time. As she was walking back to our pew, I could tell she was overcome with emotion, and was crying. This is one of, if not the only, time I saw her cry from her diagnosis to her passing.

But we left Mass that day with a good feeling. A feeling of closeness. Closer to each other, and closer to God. She described the comforting, cleansing feeling she would get as a child after leaving mass or confession and knowing that she was right with God. And I imagine she felt it that day. "I can still remember the smell of wax in the church" she said. She told me again of the Archbishop, John Henry King, who attended mass at her church in Reading, England in 1958. The Archbishop was walking down the aisle, but changed course when he saw Mom. She was with her Mom, in the middle of the pew, and not easy to reach. Several people had to move as he made his way over to my Mom, a child of seven, to offer her a blessing and pray over her. The whole congregation thought it was a very big deal, and would bring it up for years to come.

"That means you have a cross to bear." Mom would grow up hearing my Nana say. "And he was giving you the strength you need." 
What the priest had just done, knowing what side to bless, brought her back to her childhood and that story we both grew up hearing. "Wow Mom, did he do that to anyone else?" I would ask when I was little. "No, just me! Must have been my red hair." She would respond, dismissively. But she knew it meant something.

As we headed back to the freeway, I stopped at a vegetable stand on a whim and we picked up some items for dinner. We saw this sign urging us to "Have a Beautiful Day" and Mom posed for the picture. At first, the sign seemed absurdly paradoxical, mocking us. But then I remember distinctly thinking to myself "You know what? It is a beautiful day." In spite of the fears, in spite of everything looming, it was a good day. And I shared this with Mom and she agreed, saying "So many people are much more unhappy over so much less."

And I'm reminded now, three years after the picture was taken, that if it was possible for us to have a good day then, it is possible for every day to be a beautiful day, no matter what life throws our way. 

This is not to say that I don't get down or bothered by petty, insignificant things. By toxic, unhappy people or the stress of a busy day. I still fall prey to that, but now it is fleeting and temporary. I can see the bigger picture and I am much quicker to put it in perspective and shrug it off. To turn the other cheek. To smile and remain silent, like she did. Or trust and know that everything will be okay.

For those of you wondering about our doctor's appointment today and an update with our third round of IVF, we were surprised and delighted to learn that we had 3 embryos. Three! I'm going to be uncharacteristically reticent here and just say that you'll have to wait and see what we decided to do with them and the outcome.

Until then, I'm just trusting that it's all going to work out how it is supposed to, and remind myself that no matter what happens, everything will be okay. 

Thank you for reading something so close to my heart.


Friday, October 7, 2016

Egg Retrieval and IVF Update

Image result for and then there were 5

Last week, my scans were showing 11 follicles. I went in for egg retrieval on Wednesday morning 10/5 and was a bit disappointed to be told as soon as I came out of anesthesia that they had retrieved 8. 

Yesterday, we anxiously waited all day for an update on those 8. At the end of the day, I was sent this email:
Out of 8 eggs, 7 were mature and 5 fertilized. Please be in Newport office suite 130 on 10/8/2016 at 10amDr. Frederick will review/update then and possibly do the transfer.
My heart sank. Five? What happened to the others? Perhaps they weren't normal, as egg quality is an issue for me. They certainly would have fertilized if they had the capability, because they used ICSI.

For our first IVF, 7 were retrieved and we had 3 on day 3.
For our second IVF, 10 were retrieved. Of those, 8 were mature and all fertilized. Yet still, on day 3 we only had 2 that were normal. The other six had two polar bodies or were not dividing/replicating. Two, from 8. That means that 5 could give us...none.

But we just need one good embryo.

And so, we wait. Our little embies will not be checked on today. We will not know until our appointment tomorrow if we have any. Yes, there is a very real possibility that we will not have any. Many people have left encouraging comments on my instagram and had several embryos with similar numbers. But my history has me nervous. 

But as worried as I am, I am also an eternal optimist. Already seaching Pinterest for pregnancy announcements that include the big sister.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

It's the Great Pumpkin Cake...

...Charlie Brown! My daughter is 16 months old, so she doesn't grasp the idea of holidays just yet. But that's not going to stop me from diving right in and continuing traditions that I grew up with, or starting new ones that I know she will love. 

Image result for it's the great pumpkin charlie brown

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is a TV special from 1966 and book that I plan to show her this Halloween season and for many years to come. We have a large, inflatable pumpkin and ghost in our front yard that she loves to turn on every afternoon and watch it inflate. She also loves to give the "ghostie" a high five and will touch the pumpkin already placed on our doorstep when prompted.

In this posting, I'm sharing with you a pumpkin cake I made recently. In years to come, I hope to make it for her, having it appear before or after we watch the special. With Pinterest, it's hard, if not impossible, to come up with something new. One search of "pumpkin cake" yields pages of results. The pumpkin shape is easily created by putting two bundt cakes together, but almost every posting creates the stem in a different way. 

Many cakes I found involved making the stem out of frosted green mini-muffins pilled in the center, or by using an inverted ice cream cone. I could tell that they had Pinterest-fail written all over them, especially once I attempted them. Instead, I followed one that called for the top of a small pumpkin with the stem, as the stem.
It was easy, and I used the body of the pumpkin to serve the ranch dressing for the vegetable plate in. If you don't know already, serving vegetables cancels out any calories that come with eating cake.
The cake was super moist, but I sure had a lot of it leftover. If you're not going to be feeding a small army, I would cut the recipe I used in half and use smaller bundt cake molds. Enjoy, and please check out the other blogs in this blog-hop for craft, recipe, DIY or printables based on other kid's Halloween books! 

Halloween Pumpkin Cake
  • For the cake:
  • 2 boxes yellow cake mix 
  • 1 (30 oz/425 g) can pumpkin
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup (60 ML) vegetable oil
  • 4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  1. For the cake -
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two bundt pans. Set aside.
  3. In large bowl, place all cake ingredients. With an electric mixer on low, beat until ingredients are combined. Turn speed up to medium and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Pour the batter in equal amounts into prepared bundt pans. Bake cakes for 35-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into middle of cake comes out clean. Let cakes cool completely.

Original recipe found over at Mom Loves Baking. She has a great recipe for the frosting, but in the interest of time I purchased whipped cream cheese frosting and added red and yellow food coloring.

This post is part of the Kid's Halloween Books Blog Hop hosted by Beyond Mommying. Check out all the other great posts and follow along with #HalloweenKidsHop.Kid's Halloween Book blog hop hosted by Beyond Mommying

Friday, September 30, 2016

And Then There Were 11

On Monday, my ultrasound showed 11 follicles. ELEVEN! That is about the same number I had in 2014 when we did IVF twice. Since my AMH number is half of what it was then, I was prepared for only 4 or 5. For the IVF that resulted in Baby A, 10 eggs were retrieved, only 8 were and fertilized and from that, 2 were developing normally and transferred. The time before, only 7 were retrieved. All we need is one. One good, healthy egg. I left happy and hopeful. My coordinator emailed later in the day to say that my medication was to remain the same.

On Wednesday, I was a bit disappointed to learn that the number of follicles had dropped to 9. I wasn't sure if I had lost two, if they didn't grow, or if it was just a different technician. 

Here were their dimensions:



I was told my blood work looked great, and was to continue on the same protocol, with the addition of Cetrotide every morning for the next 4 days to prevent the larger follicles from ovulating, while the other ones continue to grow. 

And grow they did! Here are my measurements from today's scan (not in same order as Wednesday).



I counted and counted again and was so surprised to see that the number was once again back up to 11. They are mature and ready for the trigger shot when over 20mm, so I'm hoping that the smaller ones will continue to grow. My next appointment will be in two days, on Monday, and I will know at that time when I will give myself the trigger shot, and when I'll go under anesthesia for egg retrieval. Right now, it looks like that will be Tuesday. I'm going into the weekend excited and hopeful.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

15 Months

The day she turned 15 months, she did a 2 hour stint at daycare because the following Monday she was to return full time. She did so much better than we were expecting, and only cried when it was time to go home.
With our matching bracelets from Prague!
We went to the Zoo with grandpa and Glen at the very beginning of the month. In the photo above, her Daddy captured a new, bigger smile that is starting to emerge. I already knew she was a happy baby, but she is turning out to be an exuberant toddler. Don't get me wrong, like all toddlers she is still learning to regulate her emotions and can still be insistent when she wants something, but is easily distracted and moves on.

She started back to daycare full time and when we both arrived to pick her up at 3pm, she was running around with a wide-brimmed hat on. When she saw me, she switched direction and came running toward me, arms outstretched with an "Ahhhhhhh!" But just as soon as she ran to me, she was off and going in a different direction, thoroughly enjoying herself and having divertito. She did cry briefly at drop off all week, but also cried when I picked her up and asked her to say bye to her friends before we left. Her first full week back was "western week" and they brought in a pony! She enjoyed watching from afar, but did not want to get on.
 The next day, they had a balloon artist and she seemed quite proud to show me her balloon rose when I picked her up.

One thing I love about her daycare being right across the street is that if I have to work late, I can go get her! On the Friday before the first day of school, I had to work until 6:30pm. But, I picked her up at 2:30 and she was with me the whole time.

Grandpa and Uncle Glen came out again for a visit from Yucaipa and we went to Pretend City. The last time she was there was a few days after her birthday so she wasn't walking, just scooting. Now, she was able to run off when she saw something interesting to her. We went a bit later than expected, and it was crowded around their water/fishing table with hardly any room for her to fit. But I was surprised to see her wiggle right in between bigger kids and find a fish. This was the first time that she started leading Uncle Glen around by his finger, and she hugged and kissed both of them before they left.

If you don't know already, I have a bit of a craigslist addiction to Little Tikes yard toys. That weekend, I was able to find an 8 foot x 8 foot jumper for her, and sold her small slide/swing for the same price I purchased it for when she was 6 months old.

I visited her twice during my lunch on her first week back to daycare. While it was so comforting and reassuring to be able to observe her happily playing outside when she didn't know I was there, she did cry after I left. The last thing I want to do is make it hard on her, and hard on them so I resolved to not visit for the rest of the month.

We woke up early on the second Saturday of the month and met my friend Stella and her two girls at Pretend City. It was so fun to watch baby A just charge off in a direction when she saw something interesting. After nap-time, Grandpa and Uncle Glen came for another visit. She is starting to really know them, and will take their hand and lead them toward something she wants, like the drinking fountain button pushed. My Dad is very busy with school full time and also radiation treatments for several hours every day. The fact that he makes the 3+ hour drive (round trip) to see her means a lot to me. He very much wants to be a part of her life and growing up. On our way to the park he said that "Grandpa visits are good, but they don't compare to Grandma visits." He quickly apologized for bringing Mom up, but there was no need, as this is something on my mind all the time. Mom would have adored her.

Sunday found us up and out of the house early again, while Daddy slept. He does stay up later than me, and one of the things he always does that I really appreciate is all of the dishes and bottle prep, which these days is just 5 ounces of water, and a bottle for after breakfast. In return, we let him sleep in. We headed out the door for a 3 mile run which is tough when I'm pushing close to 50 pounds with her and the stroller. At the half-way point, I let her our to feed the goats. Goats will eat just about anything, including clothing and cans, so I bet the grapes we brought were a real treat. I let her walk a bit on the trail before putting her back in to finish the run. Our neighbor Ann was out front with her dog and we stopped in for a visit. I love the sense of community we're building on our street.

After her nap, we headed to Disneyland for her first trip! She went on Pirates of the Caribbean, The Jungle Cruise, and had some Dole whip on our way over to Fantasyland. While there, we rode Dumbo together and Dad snapped some photos of us and then we all went on the tea cups.

Exiting Dumbo, I became a bit emotional remembering the picture of Mom and I on the ride when I was two. Disneyland really does score high on the nostalgia factor, and I'm already imagining her taking her children there someday. Ending with the tea cups was perfect because you can't be sad spinning in circles in tea cups.
A few days later, baby and I were both sick with a cough and returned for another visit to Disneyland for just a few hours. One of the things I love most about having a pass is the freedom to go for just a few hours without the pressure to stay all day and "get our money's worth." I can't believe how quickly and frequently she gets sick when back at daycare. She was not sick all summer, and then is already sick her second week back.

I ended that third week of September with the last of my diagnostic procedures before starting our third round of IVF. We had a 7th birthday at Chuck-E-Cheese's in Foothill Ranch and would actually go there again. A previous visit to at a different location had us swearing them all of for...well, forever. But this one was much cleaner and nicer. 

This was supposed to be followed by picking up a "free" playhouse that I found on Craigslist and a visit from my Dad, but getting this playhouse turned out to be a lot more time and labor intensive, and we had to reschedule her Grandpa and Uncle Glen visit. We had to rent a Uhaul, and it must weigh 600 pounds. It stayed in our driveway for a week until we figured out how to get it to our backyard. It is finally back there, thanks to the help of a small army of men we paid. Already, her "free" playhouse has set us back $300. 

She has been enjoying and somehow knows that it is for her. I have fun putting toys of hers in there when she's not looking and watching her discover them. I also love when she takes me by the hand to sit in it, and imagining all of the ways I want to fix it up: adding a light, doorbell, fresh coat of paint, flower boxes, furniture and a mailbox.

The last weekend in September was officially fall, and also unseasonably hot; near 100 degrees in Orange County. Grandpa and Glen came for a visit, and we headed down to a playground on the peninsula in Newport. She was not at all interested in the playground since there was perfect wading water, with a safe, sheltered view of the bay. At first she was tentative, but soon was splashing and stomping her feet, leading Uncle Glen and I into the water with her by tugging on our finger. She has a pretty good grip! The water was crystal clear, and schools of fish just a few feet off were viable. We'll definitely be back.

Things I do not want to forget about this month:
  • Bringing me my shoes (or Dad's shoes) for no reason in particular.
  • How she strokes my eyelashes as she's falling asleep next to me with her bottle, or rubs my arm.
  • How she dances by either alternating between raising her left and right arm (elbows bent), by slowly doing squats, or by turning in a circle.
  • I hid her new Frozen scooter in her playhouse, for her to discover. But, it was dark so when I told her to look in her house and there was a shadowy figure, she was scared and raised her arms to me.
  • She has made an association between the sink in our master bath and washing her hands. We are not sure how this happened, since we use different sinks to wash her hands! She will go in there, open the cupboard below, and then rub her hands together.
  • She now carries her babies with her from room to room , pushes them in their stroller and puts them to bed. She will also pat their backs.
  • Our first trip to Disneyland, all set up for Autumn.
  • Learning to say "no" at our prompting, and getting close to "Hawaii"
  • Faking Daddy out with a kiss at John's place on 9/25, the first day she learned how to pucker.
  • Words she says: Dog, eye, hi, bye, mama, dada, baba.

Friday, September 23, 2016

IVF #3 Underway!

Today is the day! I start my Menopur injections tonight! 

I had an appointment at HRC Fertility in Newport Beach last week for a Sonohysterogram. This was to make sure that when/if we have embryos, that they are going to a good home. I'm not trying to brag or anything, but my uterus "looks great" and I was given the all clear. This was the last test needed, and also hopefully the last unexpected cost. This imaging, which took about 15 minutes, set us back $640. Because it is considered diagnostic, it was not included in the IVF package price.

Although both the procedure and the price were uncomfortable, I left the appointment feeling hopeful. The nurse said it is hard to tell for sure (because the follicles are small and suppressed right now), but it looks like I have 3-4 eggs on each side. This was encouraging to me because for my second IVF egg retrieval two years ago (which resulted in Baby A!) I had 10 retrieved, 8 of which were mature. So if I really do have 8 this time around, we're not that far from where we were, in spite of my AMH level now being .2 instead of the .4 that is was in 2014. For those of you not familiar with IVF or what the medications do, they help each egg think they are the dominant "main" one, so that they each grow large enough to be fertilized. There are no medications, unfortunately, that grow additional eggs. The meds just help utilize what we have.

The following day, I went in for a baseline ultrasound and blood-work to check my estradiol level. Again, everything looked great. I took my last birth control pill on Monday and start my injections tonight! My dosing is 525 IU of Menopur, which I will remain on for six days. I am supposed to inject the medication at the same time every evening. I chose 8:30pm, since she is always asleep before 8pm.

I have three appointments next week to monitor the growth and progress of the follicles: Monday, Wednesday and Friday, all at 7:30am. Fingers crossed! I'll update you in a week.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

IVF #3

We're all set for our third round of IVF, and officially made our first payment the other day. In preparation, I am currently taking 2,000 IU of vitamin D, calcium, DHEA, CoQ10, prenatals with DHA, and the birth control pill. I will start my stimulation medication - the highest dosing I've been on - in just over two weeks. We brought back 3,000 IU of Menopur from Prague, which we will be using, but it really doesn't save us on medication costs compared to our first two attempts because we still need quite a lot more. I'm going to be on two main drugs:

PM Drug Menopur 525IU x 6 days (9/23-9/28/2016)

PM Drug Gonal-F 525IU x 4 days (9/29-10/2/2016)

I jokingly say that the key to happiness is low expectations. But, like with most jokes, there is some truth to it. I have already begun preparing myself for our final IVF attempt to not work. Why? Because statistically speaking, it will not. Due to my age and my low AMH level of 0.2, SART success rates from clinics around the country are only 10-20%.

It is hard for me to believe that we're shelling out ten thousand dollars for something that has about a 20% chance of working.

But the clinic we have chosen, HRC Newport Beach, reports a 50% success rate for my group. I'm not buying it and just don't understand how it really could be 30% higher. Maybe it really is, but the more I prepare myself for a negative result, the less disappointed I will be. That's the plan anyway. Baby A is an HRC baby, from their Encino location, so I can't help but hold out some hope.

However, if we are lucky enough to receive a BFP (big, fat, positive) I will still need to temper that excitement because we are not paying the extra money (upwards of $4,000) to have genetic testing done. Imagine that: We could receive a positive result, only to find out that it does not have the genetic makeup to even survive the pregnancy.

But oh, what if it works. Although that picture of the woman in labor embracing her one and only child that went viral does pull at my heartstrings, I know our Baby A would make the very best sibling.

While we would love to give her a sibling, if it doesn't happen we will rest secure in the knowledge that we gave it a good try. If this last round of IVF doesn't work, I will not regret it, for that reason. While it can be easy (and, fun!) to imagine all of the things that could have been purchased for the same amount, the hope of another child is worth more.

Here is my current protocol and calendar, for those of you who may be interested: Protocol.

Friday, August 26, 2016

14 Months

When we returned from Europe, Baby A had just turned 14 months and was into all sorts of things she couldn't reach before we left, like the counter tops. She was a different little person than the baby we left with. Suddenly sturdy on her feet, she has started running to and fro, for no reason in particular. It really feels like we left with a baby and returned with a toddler. Her Auntie Bex described it best:
It was especially amazing to watch Autumn transform from a baby to a toddler in front of our eyes in just a couple of weeks. All her pics before and early in the trip she looks so small (and adorable), then day by day she looks noticeably more toddler-y until she just is full toddler. I've never watched it happen so fast! You could almost pinpoint the moment! Must be so cool slash slightly sad as a parent to watch your child keep changing so fast right before your eyes!
This month included a trip to Oregon, and a weekend in Morro Bay. Some things I always want to remember about this month:
  • Imitation - Grandpa DeWitt was making hollow noise by knocking his head. She watched and then started hitting herself on the head in an attempt to make same sound. Using our cell phones.
  • At the airport, she slowly walked around in a circle to get dizzy. In Oregon, in play-yard she walked into the playhouse and said "Buh-bye!" and closed the door. She did the same thing before she walked off in volleyball field. Or, the other side of the gate we were putting up for safety with the stairs. We were concerned with adhering it to the wall when she closed the gate, headed to the stairs with my husband and on on the other side and exclaimed "Buh-bye!" And, later in the month when we were sitting in the front and she said that before walking down the sidewalk, or before she closed the bedroom door. 
  • 8/7 Started leading Trevi around on the leash - even down the driveway. Intent on doing it all by herself.
  • Exclaimed "Oh!" when she saw horses we took the gator to see. Tries to honk horn and drive.
  • I was pushing her in the swing and covered my face in peak a boo and she covered her face. Putting the slinky down the ramp and running up and down grandma's new ramp.
  • I love how when she waves, she rotates her whole hand. She can say "bye" or "buh-byeeee" and "Hi" now, and will sometimes say it randomly to people when we are out. If they don't answer her, she will repeat it. She will point to my eye (more accurately: put her finger in it) and proclaim "Eye!" She will also take my hand or my husband's hand and move it in a certain direction if she wants us to do something, like pet a dog.
  • How when we ask "Where is your bracelet?" She holds her wrist out and puts it on display.
  • She was perfect at the wedding reception, and fell asleep right on cue just after 9pm. Although it was noisy, she slept without stirring in her stroller until we were ready to leave around 11:30pm. (Who needs a sitter?) She transferred into and out of the car without waking, and went right down.
  • When she finds a little ledge, like the window in Baja Fresh, she will go sit down. Sometimes, right as she sits she will sigh "Ahhhh..." as if she's really taking a load off.
  • "Ahhhhhhhhhh..." after she takes a drink.
  • I was driving home from work and on the phone with her Daddy. He prompted her to "Say hi to Mommy!" and clear as day, I heard "Hiiii!"

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Mom's Interview

An invaluable gift came in the mail this week. An interview with my Mom, Paula DeWitt, is in chapter 8 of The Crafting of Grief: Constructing Aesthetic Responses to Loss. My daughter is mentioned too, though not by name, as I was only 6 weeks pregnant when Lorraine met with Mom and I at our dining room table. 

This interview was one of the only times that Mom and I spoke about her not being here. See, I still have trouble saying it. About her dying. With all my work that I had done leading grief counseling groups and reading on the subject, it remained the elephant on the table throughout the 14 months of her illness. But that was how she wanted it to be, and I was following her lead. She said early on that she didn't want "any bad news" from the doctors. And so, my husband and I filtered it. We stayed behind after doctor's appointments and asked questions like "How much time are we realistically looking at?"

But talking about death does not need to be negative. The focus does not need to be on loss, but rather on legacy. As you will find in the skillfully formed questions, Dr. Lorraine Hedtke is a master craftswoman, carefully carving out meaning from the mundane. 

Who knew crocheting could hold so much meaning and serve to connect past and future generations of women? 

I read a draft version of the chapter, but have yet to finish a read again. So, if you made it this far, thank you. Mom was a very private person, but obviously granted her permission for this to be used to help others. And that's just what this book will do, in due time. For now, it's hard to read through the tears. Although the focus of this interview, chapter and book is on the positive, and I remember being content that day, I am currently battling regrets that creep in when I think of her, and overshadow our would-be happy memories. From regrets that I didn't take leave from work and stay home with her those last months to regrets that I didn't stop her treatments earlier. 

But how was I to know? And what would she say to counter this? "Don't be silly, Meggie. You did all you could have, and it was more than I could have hoped for or needed. And now that you have Autumn, you finally understand just how much I loved you, and how much I love you still. You wouldn't want Autumn feeling this way, just as I don't want you to shoulder that burden." I just have to let her voice be louder than mine, because I know it's the right one. Besides, the what-ifs will continue indefinitely if I let them. I have a ways to go, and work to do, as we approach the second anniversary of her death on October 8th. I hope to report to you in a few years time that I am past this phase, but still feel as close and connected to her as ever. Because that's the goal of this approach; actively fostering connections instead of "letting go" or "moving on."

I leave you with two photographs of Mom taken three years ago today. Right after she was diagnosed, had brain surgery and moved to Tustin to be closer to us, we walked to the park across the street from their new apartment. We put the diagnosis and fears aside and had a wonderful evening at a production of Hairspray. This is how I want to remember her, and her and I together. And this is how I want my memories and thoughts to be, instead of cluttered with the what-ifs.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Vienna, Prague and Budapest

We took our 13 month old with us for three weeks in Europe and it was an amazing experience. Although we were worried that we didn't know what we were getting into, I would do it again in a heartbeat. This posting is just my travel journal detailing what we did. You can read some of my tips on what to bring and tips on traveling with a baby here. I like to think that someday, she will read this and maybe go back to some of the places we visited.

Day 1- We flew into Zurich from LAX, but our flight into Prague was cancelled. After flying for over 11 hours, we were almost at our final designation...only one more hour+ flight to go. It was very disappointing because we were already boarded when told we all had to de-board. There was a really nice play area in the airport, which we were able to spend some time in while my husband got everything straightened out.
The airline gave us a free hotel which didn't seem bad at first, but the bathroom flooded a few minutes in to my shower. Autumn went down 4pm (home time) and slept until 7pm. She was awake from 7-8pm, but went back down and slept through until morning!
Day 2- We flew to Prague via Swiss air. We were able to board the 777 from the ground which made the size that much more impressive. Walked by my IVF clinic and old town Prague, becoming acquainted with the city we would be returning to at the end of our stay. Found an old catholic church and snapped some pics of my husband throwing her up in the air.  Went to sleep 2pm our time afraid it was just nap, but she slept through until almost 9am! Surprisingly, already adjusted to the time change in spite of the 9 hour difference.
Day 3 - We started our day with breakfast at the Hilton. We walked around toward Old Town, first visit to Gennet, my would-be IVF clinic and ended with a night walk and saw Prague castle up on the hill. It was 9pm, and still light out. We both love walking around and getting a little lost. She went to sleep at 2pm back home which is 11pm Prague time. She was already starting to prove herself as a flexible, easy traveler. Visited a huge toy store called Hamley's.

Day 4 - We had my IVF medication on ice, and took a train from Prague to Vienna.  A woman at the train station told us there was no room for our luggage, but man behind us who was headed to Croatia because "I like to party" said that was bollocks. The next train was sold out, but there was plenty of room for our luggage after-all, and we still don't know what she was talking about. So many beautiful views of the countryside and our hotel in Vienna was perfect. The train ride took about six hours, so it was almost dark by the time we arrived. As I stepped out of the cab, my first view was of a beautiful Russian orthodox church that Putin had visited a few years before, it's gold dome spires reflecting what light was left from sunset.
Day 5- Such an amazing day wandering around Vienna. We walked the whole Ringstrasse! Baby A slept a record 14 hours (9pm-11am) so we got a late start but still saw a lot! Loved Belvedere Gardens, Judenplatz, St. Stephen's Cathedral, university of Vienna and a playground we found.
Baby A had her first spare ribs at dinner that night. We loved the restaurant in the Jewish plaza because there was no street traffic, and Baby A could wander all around. 
Day 6 - Took the subway to Shornbrun palace to meet my instagram friend and her daughter, who was also an IVF baby. Tiergarten, oldest zoo in the world. She was kind enough to meet us in our hotel lobby and help us navigate the subway. We went to Tiergarten, the world's oldest zoo, which was founded as an imperial menagerie in 1752. We walked by the Schönbrunn Palace and beautiful grounds. Then we relaxed at the pool (it was a hot day!) and headed out to dinner in the Ringstrasse.
View from Dinner
Day 7- On our last day in Vienna, we found the perfect Christmas outfit for Baby A before catching the train to Budapest. In the first class section of the train we met an interesting character named Ronald. If anything was good, he would exclaim "That is supa!" I won't tell you what he said if something was bad. Once settled into our hotel, we had dinner overlooking St. Stephen's Basilica. Baby A kept eating the mac and cheese, eating not only what I had reserved for her, but what I was going to save as her leftovers. 
Day 8- Early morning walk - a high of 97 degrees - found Parliament and the Danube. We got a little lost, one of our favorite things to do. Had breakfast and Baby A tried to catch some birds, amazed and surprised when they flew away. She shared her first ice cream cone with me. Quick stop at the park nearby before heading to the pool and an afternoon nap. My coworker/friend arrived with her daughter.
Day 9 - Grabbed Starbucks and an "American pancake" for Baby A. Met Janice and Hope and walked with them to Parliament. Realized, thanks to her GPS, that we have been averaging 6-8 miles a day. We crossed the chain bridge 
Chain Bridge
and went to the National gallery, which is located in what used to be Buda Castle, where the first royal residence was built between 1247 and 1265. We just do not have that kind of history back in the states! Pool time and then out for dinner - Baby A's 1st time eating spaghetti. Woman who sat next to us did not speak English, but loved Baby A and kissed her cheek before we left. There was a quick downpour of rain, and thunder and lightning which continued once we were back at the hotel. Baby A fell asleep at my side watching the sky light up and listening it through our open window.

Day 10 - Hop-on-hop-off bus to Castle Hill. Lunch, walked across chain bridge. My husband watched the girls while Janice and I went for a Thai massage. Everything is so reasopnable here. The hour-long massage cost $40 US, and dinner for the three of us was averaginf $30. Again we had Italian food followed by ice cream. This time, baby A kept going back for seconds, opening her mouth like a little bird. 
View of Parliament from  Buda Castle
Day 11- Laundry day! Yes, this was an exciting day! First, I started with lunch at Nobu in our hotel. I loved it because baby A was going to bed later and also sleeping in. We walked to find the Bubbles laundromat and found a little park on the way. The laundromat served beer, wine and coffee and had children's play area. Walked to Jewish quarter for dinner and found a bar with outdoor patio area down an alley. It was 8:30 pm and children and families still out. Every place, even bars that serve food, have high-chairs. Walked to Fashion street for ice cream. Baby A was hard at work pushing her stroller when a group of women saw her and marveled at, I assume, how stinking cute she was. One woman rushed over and kissed her hand. I am loving how culturally different it is here, and how people are not afraid to show affection toward babies. 

Day 12- More rain! We walked to the central market and Gellert baths.
We stopped in for a cake made in front of us at Kürtőskalács (On a side note, their character looks just like our poo emoji). We grabbed a seat right by the women making the Hungarian specialty, which Baby A loved watching, and the women were kind enough to interact with her as they worked away.

Day 13- Walked to indoor play yard called millipop that was 3 stories high. Afterward, she explored a wooden play yard. I've never seen anything like it! Then, w ducked into a bar for lunch and a woman, who didn't speak any English, outstretched her arms to hold Baby A. She held her for quite awhile, talking to her in Hungarian and showing her things as she pointed. I like to think that someday, she'll encounter one of these people. They'll have a brief interaction, or pass by each other and think "she seemed familiar." Another thought I have is that this is Mom's way of sending her love, or physically holding her in the "real" world. I don't actually believe this (I wish I did), but it is a comforting thought. The Red Bull world championship air races were going on that day; they had been delayed one day due to rain. It was amazing to see the planes racing above the Danube and actually going under the chain bridge! We stopped and watched them on the way back. Again we had Italian food at Cucina for dinner. My husband bought me a Pandora charm of a lion, representing the lion on the chain bridge.
Day 14- Another 6 1/2 hour train to Prague. Baby A was a trooper on the train. Ordered her ham and cheese room service. Nice room - started looking into things to do while here.
Day 15- Astronomical clock and old square. Crossed the St. Charles bridge. Visited Czech senate and Charles IV exhibit. She had as much fun as she did at the zoo, just looking at the peacocks, koi fish and pigeons on the grounds. She pointed to the bird and exclaimed "dooo" We found a great playground on the Vltava river with an unreal view of the St. Charles bridge in the background and stayed for awhile.  We returned to the room around 5pm for a nap (baby and Daddy, while I read and blogged) and then headed out to dinner around the corner at 9pm. It was still light out! As we were waiting for our food, I took her out to the courtyard where they had a daily farmer's market. She found a "friend" a girl of about 4 or 5 who she walked over to, arms outstretched for a hug. The girl didn't speak English, but knew a few important words such as "uh-oh" and "wow." When the girl carelessly tossed some rocks behind her back, Baby A belly laughed. She cried when I took her back into the restaurant, but was easily consoled by some of my potato gnocchi.
Day 16- walked to Petřín Lookout Tower.
 Now this was a hike! Especially for Daddy, who was pushing our sleeping girl in the stroller, weighed down with all of our stuff. About 60 pounds up the steep switchbacks. I climbed to the top of the tower, which is a very small, pathetic copy of the Eiffel tower (really, they were inspired by a visit to it in the late 1800s'). We went in the mirror maze. We were relaxing in the shade, with Baby A was eating fruit when a bee started buzzing around the container. I shooed it away and she though it was the funniest thing in the world and erupted with more belly laughs. Went for Italian food (starting to seem like more than when we were in Italy!) and we were told there was no room at the restaurant. But we pointed to an open table outside and were seated. This became a story we retold to each other for the remainder of the trip. "Do you have reservation? No. That is problem. Why? There's an open table right there." Baby A had fun walking around the small square that the restaurant faced and she even walked a block while we were waiting for food. I realized we were just down the street from the old catholic church we visited at the very beginning of our trip. As we walked up the street, she blew a kiss to a man standing, smoking a cigarette and on his phone. He couldn't help but smile and wave. She has so much fun wherever she goes, and loves interacting with people. 
Day 17- Low-key day. She now knows the way to the elevator and we let her lead the way, and push the buttons. We did some souvenir shopping including a dog for baby A and hand carved and painted Santa for us all.
Day 18- Prague Castle, farmer's market. Dinner by old town square at Hotel Černý Slon. Afterward, we had crepes and sat in the square. Birds flew over and were illuminated by the lights flooding Týn church. I will always be able to close my eyes and picture her like this, toddling around and engaging with people, often pointing up with her middle finger, as they looked up at nothing in particular. Then, as she wandered back to me and outstretched her arms for an embrace a few feet away.
Day 19 - First, mommy and me shopping. Long nap at hotel room, rain and out for pizza with a play area. There was another girl a bit younger than A in there. A walked slowly over to the girl, mouth agape, to give her a kiss. Twice. It was the sweetest thing, but the mom did not speak English  so we couldn't explain what she was trying to do.
Day 20 - Daddy bought us both matching garnet bracelets, as garnets are mined in Prague and will always remind us of being there. We had lunch overlooking Tyn church, and went to mass there later in the evening.

Day 21 - Franz Kafka museum and then some more farmer's market shopping for souvenirs before returning to pack and rest up for our long flight. 

As I finish this blog entry, I'm preparing to return to work on Monday. Traveling for so much of the summer did make it seem to pass by faster, because we were only home for a week total and didn't have time to get bored. But it was worth it. Having so much undivided time with her and my husband, while exploring three new countries is my idea of heaven.