WHATEVS…

Sierra's online journal

Audiology and why I’m a terrible person July 17, 2013

Somewhere during my third trimester, probably over a bowl of ice cream and certainly while rubbing my belly, I mused to Chris, “Our job as her parents is to help her become the person she’s meant to be.” We had been playing the what-if game that all expectant parents play. (Don’t they?)

What if she hates us? How could she when we’re going to teach her and listen to her and love her unconditionally?

What if she’s gay? I just hope she finds someone to love and grow old with.

What if she decides she want to be a vegetarian like her momma? I’ll be happy as long as she’s nourished and growing.

And I had decided that I would never be disappointed in who Rylin becomes because my only expectation is that she becomes herself. Those parents whose lives shatter when their children choose the “wrong” career or marry the “wrong” partner are surely only devastated because their children have failed to live up to what mom and dad have already carved out for them in their minds. If we just roll with it and watch Rylin unfold into the young woman she is, how could we ever have regrets? I was so confident in my ability to clear my mind of all expectations for her future and remain open to all the possibility that was curled up and kicking inside me.

It wasn’t until her two week check-up that I began to question my willpower to not start to fill in the blanks for what lay ahead for her. “When do we retest her hearing?” I asked her pediatrician. She received a “refer” on the hospital’s infant hearing screening prior to us being discharged. Refer, as far as I can tell, is a nice way of saying “fail” without making new parents feel like their kid is anything less than perfect. Anyway, the staff pediatrician at the hospital assured us that it happens to lots of kids and that “the vast majority of them test normal at the recheck.” We tucked that information away and assured ourselves that Rylin would be like “the vast majority.” So there was nothing to worry about.

“We can recheck right now, as long as she stays quiet like this,” her doctor replied. She pulled out a machine that was about the size of a walkman (yes, I’m dating myself) and put a tiny earpiece into Rylin’s left ear as she dozed in my arms. A few seconds later, she withdrew the earpiece, made an adjustment, and replaced it in her left ear again. And then, she said what I was afraid to hear. “She’s still not passing. I just checked twice.” We were told that additional testing would be required and that a specialist from the children’s hospital would contact us to schedule an appointment.

In the days leading up to the appointment with her audiologist, I convinced myself that nothing was wrong. She probably just had fluid in her ear from delivery still. She startles to loud noises, so clearly she’s fine. Right? 

The audiologist began with a test that, she explained, tests whether or not there is any blockage in the ear canal. There wasn’t. No debris, no fluid…just a clear path to the ear drum. I breathed a sigh of relief, certain that that meant the fluid that was in her ear before—the fluid that prevented her from passing the initial screenings—had drained. She’d pass this test with flying colors.

Next, she pulled out the same walkman-looking machine that Rylin’s pediatrician used in her office. This, come to find out, is called an OAE (oto-accoustic emissions) test. Greek to me. Anyway, she checked both ears. “We like to test both, even though in her case we aren’t concerned about her right ear. We like to gather information from both ears.” The news wasn’t quite what we were expecting. She wasn’t passing on her left ear. But her right ear was behaving in a similar way. Does this mean neither ear works correctly? 

The audiologist explained the final test to us as she affixed tiny round stickers to Rylin’s forehead and behind her ears. In the BAER (brainstem auditory evoked response) test she would attach electrodes to the stickers and those electrodes would measure Rylin’s brain’s response to various tones played through a tiny earpiece inserted into her ear. One at a time; again, both ears would be checked.

We sat as quiet and still as possible, hoping that Rylin would remain sleeping long enough to complete the test. I watched the computer screen in front of the audiologist and wondered what all the lines meant. They’re moving a lot. That’s a good thing, right? About an hour into the test, the earpiece was moved from her left ear to her right. And we continued to sit quietly. Until about 15 minutes later, the audiologist explained that Rylin was starting to stir too much to continue the test. “I was able to rule out profound, severe, and moderate hearing loss.” I felt relief until she continued. “But I haven’t been able to rule out mild hearing loss.” And, again, her right ear (which passed the initial screening) is behaving much like her left. She showed us the computer screen she had been working from and pointed out what the lines meant. “This line here is the sound I played. And this line here is her response to that sound. With normal hearing, you’d expect to see a distance between these lines.” Rylin’s report didn’t look normal. Additional testing would be needed. When we come for our second appointment, the audiologist said, we would retest both ears. And determine whether or not Rylin might be a candidate for hearing aids. Hearing aids? Rylin doesn’t need hearing aids. 

When we opened the exam room door and entered the hallway leading back to the waiting room, I caught a glimpse of my future. A young boy was on his way in. He looked to be about five years old. A bit unsteady on his feet, clutching a toy truck in his arms, thick glasses perched on his nose. The woman walking next to him—likely a speech pathologist—chatted with him and I couldn’t help but notice that his pronunciation was off.

Suddenly, the what-if game took a different turn. What if she really can’t hear? What if her hearing loss affects her speech development? What if she needs hearing aids. I found myself googling to learn more about infant hearing loss. Could infant hearing improve? Could the BAER test results be wrong? Do children with mild hearing loss perform as well in school as children with normal hearing?

I expressed my concerns to Chris. “If both ears are behaving the same, that means her left ear is only barely failing, right?” And what I thought was, “Or her right ear is barely passing.” I admitted that I was worried that she may need hearing aids. I was worried about how others would receive her, how her peers would treat her. Will she still get to be a normal little girl? I watched her closely for signs that she was hearing. She startles when the dogs bark. Her eyes flinch when I replace the cap on her bottle after a feeding. She can’t possibly be not hearing, right?

A week passed between that day and our next appointment. Same office. Same test. Different audiologist. After about two hours of sitting quietly, watching my sleeping newborn with electrodes all over her head, the audiologist turned to me with news. “She is testing in the normal range. She is responding to all the tones I’ve played and I’ve been able to duplicate those responses, which rules out the possibility of it being a fluke.” Both ears. No more retesting. No hearing aids. Completely normal.

I let a tear slip out and broke into a huge smile. I have never felt so much relief.

And then I felt guilt. I realized that despite the fact that I vowed to not plan my daughter’s future for her, I somewhat had. In my mind, she’d learn to talk early and excel in school. We’d whisper secrets to each other before I tucked her in at night. She would tell me long, winding stories about her days and her friends. I hadn’t planned out anything that didn’t seem like a given during my pregnancy. But I had planned enough to be shattered by the reality that a hearing loss could change the things I wanted for Rylin’s future.

I felt like a terrible person for allowing myself to spend the last week thinking that a mild hearing loss was the worst possible thing that could have ever happened to Rylin. I thought back to that little boy at the audiologist’s office and felt ashamed that I saw his imperfections before I saw the fact that he was a happy, well cared for little boy. I felt disgusted that my biggest concern was possibly needing to have my newborn fit for hearing aids when other parents are dealing with much bigger issues than mine. I thought of my cousin and her wife. My cousin was due to deliver her baby girl exactly one month after I was due to deliver my baby girl. But instead, she delivered a sleeping baby ten days after Rylin arrived. How could I have been selfish enough to worry about a possible mild hearing loss when she’s dealing with child loss? Isn’t adapting to a future slightly different than I expected for my child better than kissing my baby goodbye on delivery day? 

I’ve talked to my cousin about my guilt over the fact that she and I got to experience pregnancy at the same time…and now I’m left with a healthy baby and she’s not. I feel a pang of regret when I share photos of Rylin to Facebook because I wish she could be sharing photos of Delaney growing, too. She told me not to feel guilty. “Life isn’t fair at times,” she said. “But the fact you guys have a beautiful healthy baby and we don’t isn’t considered one of those times.”

This post is for Sasha. And Racheal. And most of all Delaney. When life throws us a curve-ball in raising Rylin, I hope I can see past the set-back and remember how blessed Chris and I truly are.

On a related note, my cousin’s grieving has brought her to blogging as a way to get her emotions out. You can read her work here: http://sakoh1113.blogspot.com/?m=1

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The Learning Curve June 5, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — sierrak83 @ 3:19 am
Tags: , , ,

After a 29-hour labor (by induction, post-due-date) including an hour and twenty minutes of pushing, Chris and I welcomed our daughter at 10:30am on Tuesday, May 7. And tonight, while I listen to the metronome-like sound her swing makes and silently pray that she falls asleep soon, I’m reflecting on what I’ve learned from my first few weeks of parenthood.

Photo credit: Heather Katsoulis http://hlkphoto.com/

Photo credit: Heather Katsoulis
http://hlkphoto.com/

1. Blogging at 3am (or any other time the baby is sleeping) is perfectly acceptable. – Or maybe it’s stupid. I should probably be sleeping. I should definitely be sleeping.

2. Sleep as I knew it is a thing of the past. – Friends, family, and medical providers all warned me in the days leading up to delivery day that I should “sleep while I still can.” Not that the broken bouts of shut-eye between trips to the bathroom (thanks to the mini-me dancing on my bladder) felt all that restful. But now I know the truth. That WAS restful. I can no longer squint through bleary eyes to check the alarm clock and then reason with myself that I can make it another hour until the alarm goes off before I really have to go pee. Now, the minute my daughter makes the first coos of her wind-up to fussiness, it’s time to pop out of bed to tend to her needs. And forty five minutes later (if I’m lucky and if she cooperates), I can crash back between the sheets.

3. Fatherhood is sexy. – The way to my heart is to do chores around the house. Bonus points if those chores involve heavy lifting (as defined by lifting anything I can’t…or don’t want to) and/or power tools. Save the flowers and lavish dates. Just throw in a load of laundry from time to time, kill the spider in the bathroom, lug the 50-pound bag of dog food from my car, and repair the fence and I’ll be putty in your hands. It has nothing to do with clean laundry or dead spiders or chores at all. It has everything to do with my partner meeting me halfway and being responsible. Which is why there’s something incredibly sexy to me about Chris changing diapers, prepping bottles, and making silly faces and babbling in baby voices to our girl.

4. There’s no use planning. – As soon as we found out our little shrimp would be a girl, I waddled my way through our local baby store with Chris to carefully select everything we would surely need to properly raise our daughter. We read reviews and worked our hardest at forecasting what our daughter would need and want in her room and elsewhere in the house. And what we ended up with was a bassinet that she won’t sleep in, a sling carrier she screams about, blankets she won’t keep herself swaddled in, a bouncer chair she’s afraid of, and a bather she slides out of. What can you do but adapt? We let her sleep in a travel bassinet instead–one that was handed down to us from some friends…which we almost didn’t accept because we didn’t think we’d need it. Pffft. We shelled out quintuple the price for an Ergo Baby carrier, agreed to not swaddle her, don’t use the vibration feature of the bouncer chair (less scary that way), and, thankfully, Daddy dons a bathing suit and jumps in the tub to hold our girl while I bathe her. So glad we planned for all this.

5. You have to try pretty hard to screw up this whole parenthood thing. – A baby has four basic needs: to eat, to sleep, to have a clean diaper, and to be loved. Fulfilling those needs really isn’t that difficult. I know. It’s only been a few weeks. More experienced parents will likely beg to differ. I’ve mostly just added this one to the list so that I can look back in a few years and mock myself and my naivety.

6. Taking care of (and being kind to) yourself is almost as important as taking care of your child. – During my first few days home after being discharged from the labor and delivery ward, I would find my stomach grumbling only to realize that it was 4pm and I hadn’t eaten anything yet. Which did nothing to help my mood. Not to mention the dizziness my anemia was causing. Chris took that opportunity to remind me that I’m important, too. And I can’t care for her if I’m not caring for myself. It took some coordinating and planning in the first couple of weeks but I’m easier on myself now. I find “me” time–to unwind and be myself. I find “us” time–to maintain a bond with my husband. I find time to nap. I eat three meals a day (usually), get at least 15 minutes of uninterrupted time to shower, and remember to get dressed every day instead of sitting on the couch in pajamas. The icing on the cake will be when I can finally return to the gym…I miss zumba sooooo much and look forward to shedding the 30 pounds I need to drop to be back at my pre-pregnancy weight.

7. Setting goals is important. – I set at least one per day. Easy stuff. Goals that can be attained while tending to the whims of a newborn. Some of my goals over this past month have included…paint my toenails, take a walk, have dinner ready when hubby gets home from work, schedule the pediatrician appointment, clean the bathroom. I don’t get too mad at myself if the laundry doesn’t get folded or dog fur rolls like tumbleweeds across the floor because I couldn’t get to vacuuming. There’s always tomorrow.

8. Work isn’t so bad after all. – Before delivery day, I was counting the days until maternity leave from work would begin. Now, four weeks in to my leave, I find myself hunting for a reason to leave the house each day–even for just a few minutes. One day, I packed the baby into her stroller and walked to the mailbox down the street to mail birth announcements. It took about ten minutes but doing so made me feel like I had a purpose. And that made my day completely, even if my only “purpose” was to turn off the trashy daytime talk shows for a bit. I have begrudgingly realized that going to work is a wonderful excuse to leave the house and am (somewhat) looking forward to returning.

9. Life is too short. – The feeling of “when can I get back to work and return to normal society?!” is coupled with a feeling of “OMG there’s only two more weeks of maternity leave…where did the time go?!” I’m not sure where the time went but I’ve got a month-old baby now. (Or is a 4-week-old not really a month-old child? Maybe she’ll be a month on June 7…?) Anyway, my point is, it’s a blaring reminder that time is fleeting. And I’m doing my best to embrace every minute and be thankful for all the highs and lows.

10. Motherhood is amazing. – I know this because she snuggles her face into my neck when I burp her mid-feeding. And because she grips my finger tightly when I’m getting her dressed. And because she stops crying the minute she hears my voice or feels my arms around her. I talk to her about important stuff all the time. I tell her that she has to take my dating advice when she’s older because “I know stuff…after all, I picked your dad.” I tell her that nothing bad can ever happen as long as I’m with her. I tell her I love her more than anything. I confide in her that I’m still trying to figure out how to be a mom and promise her that I’ll get it down pat before she’s old enough to notice that I have no clue what I’m doing.

 

Dear Rylin April 23, 2013

My husband makes me smile. A lot. Today it was because of an email he sent to me. Which was intended for our daughter. Who is currently receiving mail in my uterus. It made me teary. Admittedly that’s probably just due to the wonky pregnancy hormones coupled with the “is it over yet?!” third trimester crankiness. Even so, I feel the need to share….

DSCN3033

 

Dear Rylin,
This is your father.  I would like to tell you that I’ve spent the last nine months plus thinking about you.  I have dreamt and imagined what it will be like to hold you, talk to you, and snuggle you.  I have thought about watching you play in the yard with your mom, Bob, Gracie and me.  I think about who you will be when you get older and hope that I can guide you to the best life possible.  I want to teach you to be a good person.  Your mother and I are so excited to finally meet you and complete this family.  No matter where your life takes you we will always be there to support you through it.  The big key to all of this is we need you to arrive to begin this journey together.  So if you will kindly get things moving and come see us that would be great.  I love you with all of my heart and soul and can’t wait to take our first jaunt together with your carrier.
Love,
Daddy
P.S. Tell mommy you like MaryBeth for your middle name and I’ll make sure you get some extra candy on your 1st birthday.
P.P.S. Funfetti is the best cake. I’ll make sure that’s what you get.
 

A Bit of Advice December 6, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — sierrak83 @ 12:18 am
Tags: , ,

Dear retail establishments of Connecticut,

My name is not Nessie and I do not call Loch Ness home. I have neither a horn affixed to the center of my forehead nor wings that propel me through life. I do not reside in or around any pot of gold (near or far from a rainbow). I am not some mythical or imagined creature. I EXIST. I’m just a regular ol’ woman. Who happens to be pregnant. And who happens to need clothes. And who also happens to have some advice for you.

1. OFFER YOUR MATERNITY LINE IN-STORE…NOT JUST ONLINE.

Now, I know me and what I like. I know my body and what looks good on it. I know what colors make my eyes pop and what styles to avoid if I want my thighs to look slimmer. Or, I used to. And then the baby made me start drinking more milkshakes and eating more french fries and pickles. Sometimes all together. And then my body started to change. The baby is growing and, okay, admittedly the milkshakes aren’t helping at all, either. But everything seems to fit differently now. I no longer know what size to grab off a shelf because I’m no longer in my own body. I need to be able to waddle my butt into your store and try things on. I’ve never carried a baby and am not quite sure how to get it to fit into a pair of jeans. So help me out. I don’t want to order items blindly from your website, wait for the clothing to arrive at my home, and hope it fits—even if I do have the option to return unwanted items to your local store.

2. STOCK A DECENT SELECTION OF MATERNITY ITEMS.

A maternity “department” that consists of two racks of clothing is not a department. (I’m talking to you, Target!) I get it. There’s not a large market of maternity shoppers and you don’t want to devote too much floor space to maternity apparel because of that. But if your maternity “department” consists of one color/style pants, two styles of shirts, and one style of a dress, why bother? At that point, you’re not selling a selection—you’re selling a uniform. Pregnant women deserve choices, too!

3. DO NOT ASSUME THAT YOUR EXPECTANT SHOPPERS HAVE AN UNLIMITED BUDGET.

If I walk into your store—even if you are a boutique specializing in maternity apparel—and spot a pair of jeans with a price tag that reads $189 (ON SALE!), I am walking out. And maybe kicking you in the shin on my way. We are saving for hospital copays and ultrasounds and baby furniture and maternity leave from work and daycare and diapers and….pardon me, I have to go practice my deep breathing techniques. My point is, I wouldn’t pay $189 for a pair of regular jeans. That I’d wear for years. I’m sure as hell not going to pay $189 for a pair of maternity jeans. That I’m going to wear for 3, 4 months TOPS. Are you crazy?!

4. KITSCHY IS OKAY SOMETIMES…JUST NOT ALL THE TIME.

Just because I’m pregnant doesn’t mean I want to have a floating neon arrow pointing to my belly at all times. It would be nice to have some options for tops that don’t have exclamations printed across them in block lettering. “Spoil me…I’m pregnant” tshirts and Christmas themed nightgowns that shout “Jingle Bellies!” have their place in every pregnant woman’s wardrobe. Don’t get me wrong. But we also have to go to work sometimes. And might need clothing that aren’t so in-your-face. Just sayin’.

5. MATERIALS THAT BECOME SHEER WHEN STRETCHED HAVE NO PLACE IN YOUR MATERNITY LINE.

Maternity pants are sorta like the centaurs of the apparel world; bottom half pants, top half tube top. That little tube top like thing at the top is amazing. It allows you to buy pants that fit your butt and thighs correctly because the top part—where your belly will continue to expand—can stretch. The problem comes in when that top material becomes sheer when stretched. It leaves everything from the crotch up visible to the world if your shirt lifts at all. Granted, most maternity shirts are long enough to cover those sneaky (not-so-) little front panels. But what if I have to reach something on the top shelf at the grocery store? I raise my arms, my shirt goes up, and suddenly everyone in aisle 10 at Stop & Shop catches a glimpse of my skivs. Not okay. The only solution I can come up with is to switch to solid-colored (read: boring) underwear. Which is also not okay. Sure, they wouldn’t be as noticeable through the sheer material but I should not have to give up my polka dotted, striped, and animal printed undies just because I’m going to be a mom! So the only real solution is you consider this when selecting the items you want to carry in your maternity line.

I would greatly appreciate it if you would get these matters cleared up before I venture back into the harsh world of maternity clothes shopping again. Thanks in advance for your cooperation.

Sincerely yours,

A Disgruntled Shopper

 

Weekly Writing Challenge: In an Instagram November 14, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — sierrak83 @ 10:35 pm
Tags: , ,

The Daily Post’s weekly writing challenge this week was “In an Instagram.” Bloggers were asked to tell a story about a moment when our life was changed in a split second. If you’d like to read more about the challenge check out their blog post:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/weekly-writing-challenge-in-an-instagram/

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A Moment of Levity

It was late-October 2005 when the dizzy spells, near-fainting, chills, and vomiting had finally gotten the best of her. “Okay, I’ll go.” Momma allowed us to help her down the front steps and into her Ford Explorer. She clutched the bowl we’d given her “just in case” and waited patiently for us to take her to Johnson Memorial Hospital.

After hours in the emergency department, the doctor came in to deliver the news. The lights in the room had been turned low to allow Momma a chance to close her eyes for some sleep as night had crept in. “She has a large tumor. We’re going to admit her.” More waiting. Then a slow meander up to her room. “Visiting hours are over,” we were informed almost immediately by the nurse on duty. I kissed her goodnight and promised that we’d be back first thing in the morning.

When we returned to her room the next morning, we found her in a johnny. She was sitting up in bed with her back to the door. She smiled when we came in. “I’m not staying here,” she decreed.

“You have to stay. Let them do the tests they want to do to make you better. You can’t just go home.”

She agreed that home wasn’t the right place for her. But neither was Johnson Memorial Hospital. “I want to go to Hartford Hospital,” she announced. Her primary care physician was none-too-pleased as she doesn’t work in Hartford Hospital. But Momma insisted. And Momma gets her way. Within a few hours, we were getting her settled into her new room at Hartford Hospital. I remember lounging in her hospital bed that day, adjusting the controls to incline the back as I crossed my feet at my ankles. Momma wasn’t there at the time—they had her off for another test. My sister Bree and Momma’s best friend Frankie were with me. I remember one of them said something about an oncologist and was met by a funny look from me. “What’s that? A blood doctor?” They book just looked at me.

“You do realize we’re in the oncology ward, right?” Frankie asked.

“Yeah, but what’s that mean?”

“Oncology means cancer.”

I let a plump tear roll down my cheek as the reality hit and the worst case scenario flashed through my mind. Quickly, though, I returned to my youthful optimism. She’d get through this. I just knew it.

The following months are a blur to me. I remember snipets of events—both happy and heart-wrenching.

That Halloween, I brought decorations and a big bowl of candy from home to set up her room for her Trick-or-Treaters—my sister’s boys. They came decked out in their costumes, knocked on her hospital room, and held up their pumpkin containers to accept their surprises from GranMommy. She welcomed them in and let them climb all over her bed while she reclined in the chair and chatted. She was herself then.

As the weeks wore on the tests continued to mount up. Biopsies and blood transfusions became the norm. Chemo started. She lost a lot of weight. The skin on her hands and feet began to peel, no matter how much lotion we applied. Her legs lost a lot of strength so getting up to walk around began more difficult. She was afraid to take her hair out of the scrunchie she had it looped up in for fear of it falling out in her hands.

She had a visitor with her at all times—Poppa, Bree, Frankie, or I never left her side. And we had no choice. Momma was a very private person and insisted on submitting a written request to the hospital that they do not release any of her information to anyone asking for her. “Don’t lose her,” nurses warned us. “If they take her for a test, you make sure you find out where she’s going and when she’s coming back. Because if you don’t know where she is, no one can tell you.” I spent lots of nights curled up in a cot on the side of her bed, listening to her IV pump (which sometimes pumped fluids only and other times pumped “liquid Big Macs” as she referred to the nutrients they gave her when she wasn’t able to keep food down), trying to ignore the nurses who came in to check her vitals every hour, and trying my best to enjoy the “quality time” with Momma.

One day, Momma was feeling especially adventurous. Her mouth was dry and she wanted nothing more than to brush her teeth. Though the sink was only a few steps from her bed, her legs weren’t strong enough to walk her there so we improvised. We swung her legs over the edge of her bed, sat her up, and handed her a spit cup and her toothbrush. After we stepped aside, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and literally did a double take. Her eyes filled up as she took in her reflection for the first time in weeks. Her cheeks and eyes had sunken in, her face was pale, and her hair was a knotted mess in her scrunchie. “I don’t even look like me.” She didn’t ask to brush her teeth again after that.

At one point, she got discharged to the care of a visiting nurse. And after a few days at home, she had to be returned to the hospital. She didn’t want help getting from the living room of her raised ranch to the car, which Poppa had pulled across the front lawn and literally up to the front porch. So she sat on the top stair and slowly lowered herself down one stair at a time. “Goodbye, house,” she said on her way.

At another time, she was transferred to Haven Health—my 47-year-old mother in a nursing home!—to undergo therapy to help strengthen her legs again. She was there for three days and despite the staff’s urging that we leave at the end of visiting hours, one of us was there for three days, too. They didn’t encourage overnight guests which meant they had no cot to offer us. So Poppa moved the recliner from our living room to her new room. During her short stay there, we handled about 90% of her care ourselves. And it was probably better off that way, especially after what I observed on her first night there. A nurse came in to check her vitals and said she’d be back to do a finger prick for a glucose test. When the nurse returned, she positioned herself between where I sat (by the door) and my mother’s bed so I couldn’t see what she was doing. But I heard my mother say, “What’s that? Don’t prick my finger with that!” I questioned the nurse on her way out the door and was told that she was just doing a glucose test. When she left the room, my mother looked at me with huge eyes and insisted, “She used a syringe!” A few minutes later, the nurse returned and produced a lancet for me. “I realized after I left I should have just shown you what I used.” Mmhmm. My mother was sick. Not senile.

It was mid-December and we were back at Hartford Hospital when I finally convinced her to let me brush her hair for her. “I’m afraid,” she admitted. I assured her that even if it did fall out, it would grow back. Poppa sat on the cot strumming Christmas carols on his guitar as I carefully took out her scrunchie and began brushing. When I saw how much hair was coming out with each brush stroke, I moved the trash bin to my feet so I could discretely clean the brush out without her noticing how often it had to be done. But she noticed. She gripped my forearm and gazed up at me with glossy eyes. “It’s okay. Just cut it off.” I did hunt down a pair of scissors from one of the nurses that night, intending to give her the haircut she asked for. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I continued to brush. Carefully. Slowly. Until all of the knots were out. And, sure, her hair looked thinner but she still had a lot of it. And she smiled brightly when she looped it back up into a loose ponytail and thanked me.

We spent New Year’s Eve in the ICU. Her blood pressure was very low and most times she wasn’t lucid. On January 1, 2006, she opened her eyes and whispered something almost inaudible. I moved closer to hear her. She wanted to sit up on the edge of her bed. She said she wanted to feel her legs swinging. I alerted the nurse and was immediately told that she was not allowed to sit up because of her blood pressure; she was at risk for fainting. I suggested that we stand on either side of her to make sure she stayed in place but the nurse still refused. I remember raising my voice and I remember someone (Bree?) suggest I let it go. I collapsed into the recliner in her room, defeated, wishing I could give Momma what she wanted. And then it happened. She moved one of her legs off the bed, opened one eye to look at me, and smiled as best as her dry mouth would allow. She closed her eyes and swung her one leg back and forth. And in that moment, I realized that she may not look the same. And often she doesn’t act the same anymore. But it was that moment that I knew her sarcastic, fun-loving personality hadn’t been robbed by the cancer that coursed through her blood. And sick as she was, she was still my Momma and she knew I needed that moment of levity.

Momma passed away the following afternoon. I’m not prepared to share the details of that day. I may never be. But I was right there with her, holding her hand until after she exhaled her final breath.

Today would have been her 55th birthday. And she would be so pissed if she were to see me getting teary and reminiscing about her final months. She’d rather I be at the casino (which is where she opted to spend her birthdays) or remembering the good times. So I think I’ll go open her bottle of perfume to take a whiff then drift off to sleep while listening to some Kris Kristofferson music.

In loving memory of MaryBeth Kohler

11/14/57 – 1/2/06

My absolute favorite photo of Momma

 

Some Pretty Huge News October 19, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — sierrak83 @ 5:20 pm
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A few people have pointed out to me that I haven’t written in a while. “I’ve had a hard time getting back on track after vacation,” I claim. In fact, the same could be said about not only my blogging but also my diet…. Sure, Chris and I took a trip to Las Vegas in mid-September along with our friend Jen, her parents, and my mother-in-law. But that’s not really the reason why I’ve been hesitant to post a new blog entry. The truth is, I’ve been a bit distracted. By some pretty huge news. News that I wasn’t ready to share until now. If I may be honest…it’s because Chris and I are getting a roommate.

Our new roommate will be moving in with us on or around May 1. And the crazy part is that so far, that’s all we know. Not whether it’s going to be male or female and certainly not its name. We’re not real picky, though…we’re just psyched that the roommate is coming. Psyched but scared, too. We’re not sure what to expect. How will this affect our social life? Our budget? Ah, yes. I didn’t mention. This roommate will not only be living with us rent-free but we’re also obligated to provide him or her with all sorts of stuff…clothing, food…diapers.

Yes, we’re pregnant!

If you know me, you’re probably scratching your head right about now and asking yourself, “But, I thought she said they weren’t ready to start a family yet” or even, “Sierra always said she didn’t want kids.” And now that I’m to this point (almost 13 weeks!) I feel ready to be honest about something else. Something that only three people (Chris, my sister Bree, and my friend Frankie) have known about me all along is this: I’ve always wanted a family. But since I was about 17 years old, and for reasons about which I will spare you the details, I have questioned my ability to have children. I had never tried to conceive. But I was certain it would never work. And rather than admit to friends and family that I may not be able to have what I wanted so desperately, I found it easier to proclaim that I just didn’t want children. That way, every time someone asked us, “No babies for you?” or “When are you two going to start a family?” it made it a little less damaging.

And the question got asked. A lot. I have come to learn that different phases of life bring with them stock questions that everyone seems to ask. During our engagement, it was “did you set a date yet?” And during the first year or so of our marriage, it was “when are you guys going to have a baby?” On that note, I have to interject here. When a couple doesn’t have kids, there’s a reason for it. And that reason is really none of your business. No amount of asking them—regardless of how politely or “cutesy” it may be phrased—will impact the decision that is ultimately up to the couple. Maybe they don’t want kids yet. Or at all. Maybe one (or both) of them can’t have kids. Either way, it’s rude (and often upsetting) to ask! I digress.

Shortly after our third wedding anniversary (in January of this year), Chris and I made a long weekend trip to where we honeymooned in the Poconos—Cove Haven…love them! And the purpose of that trip was to mark the official start of us trying to conceive. We had talked about being ready to start trying. But I needed “an important starting point” to make myself feel okay mentally. After all, we had spent the past 12 years trying NOT to conceive. I couldn’t just wake up one day and suddenly try to do exactly what we’d avoided for so long! Chris didn’t understand my logic but still he packed up the car and off to the Poconos we went.

And January turned into February turned into March turned into April. And, sure, we were having fun. But with each passing month I became more and more disheartened. All the while, we watched as friends and family around us continued to announce pregnancies, have babies, and post photos of their little ones all over Facebook. And we were happy for them, of course. But at the same time, I was left tearily exclaiming to Chris, “Everyone gets to be pregnant except for me!”

In May, Chris decided that we needed to get away. So off we went to spend a weekend in Providence at a quaint little bed-and-breakfast that Chris picked out. It was just what we needed. Time away. Time to just be us, without worrying about anyone or anything else. We came home relaxed and ready to keep trying. And May turned to June.

In June, I met a woman who had a profound impact on me. We were strangers when we both received invitations to the wedding where we met. She was a high school classmate of the bride while the groom is a friend of Chris’. But the seating chart said we were sharing a table and I, fortunately, ended up sitting next to her. Over dinner, we started to chat and I learned that she is the mother of triplets. I asked her if multiples run in her family and her candid response floored me. “No, they were fertility babies.” She told me that her and her (now ex) husband were having a hard time conceiving so she went through treatments to make her family. By the end of the conversation, I had admitted to her that I was afraid I can’t conceive, either. She had given me hope, though, that if I wanted a family, it was possible. Someway, somehow.

In July, I felt run-down…just not myself. And I said to Chris, “I bet it happened.” But the test said no. And I cried. I came to Chris and said, “I’m going to give it until January. That’ll be one full year. And if it hasn’t happened by then, we’ll go see a doctor.” The prospect of needing to go to that length seemed daunting. But if it’s what I had to do to have a family, then I’d do it. I tried to remain optimistic in the meantime. “I bet it’s going to happen soon, though. I just feel it,” I had said to Chris in August.

With our trip to Vegas looming within a few days, I decided to take a test “just in case” before leaving. I didn’t tell anyone—not even Chris—that I was taking it because I didn’t want to deal with the heartbreak of having to tell anyone that it was negative again. So on Saturday, September 15, I woke up bright and early and headed to the bathroom. And I couldn’t believe my eyes. Was that a plus sign?! I immediately burst into tears—happy ones—and asked Chris to come downstairs. I handed him the test and said through my tears, “Everyone gets to be pregnant!”

He took the test from me and immediately went into consoling husband mode, as he’s done after so many tests in the recent past. “Honey, don’t get upset. It’ll happen someday.” Then he looked at the test. “Am I reading this right?!” He asked. I nodded. “You’re pregnant?!” I nodded. And he wrapped his arms around me and squeezed. It was finally happening!

So let me catch you up on what you’ve missed over the past 35-or-so days…. We had our first ultrasound on 10/6; The baby looked like a shrimp and since has been dubbed with the nickname Scampi. And we shared our news with a small handful of people. My sister cried. Frankie said, “God is good!” Chris’ mom’s eyes crinkled with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on her face. Chris’ dad held my hand across the breakfast table while we waited for the waitress to deliver food. My sister’s boys asked if it was planned (yes, DeShawn) and if they could choose the baby’s name (no, Anthony). I’m told that Chris’ twin brother Dave said, “Dude, this is a pretty big deal.” Our closest friends cheered and congratulated Chris on “getting the job done!” But the best reaction of them all was my dad’s.

After leaving the ultrasound appointment, I texted my father to ask if I could stop by to talk to him. And within about 30 minutes I found myself in the living room of the home I grew up in. I asked him to put on his glasses and turn on a light, which he did. I then handed him the ultrasound photo. He stared at it, smiled, and asked, “Uh…where is this?” I got teary so my sister lightened the mood. “Well, it’s not in Chris!” He teared up and said, “This is wonderful news, doll. Seeing you have kids is one of the things I still had to accomplish in my life and I’m so happy for you.” (Unbeknownst to me until that night, my father had been asking my sister for a year or so if she thought I’d ever start a family. And knowing my fears about conceiving, she has been telling him not to pressure me.)

And over the past month or so, as we began to divulge the news to a select few, I came to learn the question that is associated with this phase of life: “How are you feeling?” It’s the first thing people want to know when when they hear the news. And then again every time they see or talk to me again. My typical response is, “Good.” But by that I mean, “I have to eat all day to keep myself from feeling hungry because that’s when I get nauseous. And I cry all the time and for no good reason; Chris is LOVING it. I feel huge and often wonder if I’m visibly waddling, despite the fact that my sister insists I’m neither. But other than all that….Good.”

I’m told the second trimester gets easier. And I do hope that that’s true. But at the same time, I am choosing to see this pregnancy as a blessing. I never thought I’d be here—preparing to be a mom—because I thought it just wasn’t in my cards. And I have spent a long time empathizing with the women who are unable to conceive because for so long, I thought I was among them. I realize that there are lots of women out there that would give anything to be in my shoes so I’m not going to take a second of this experience for granted.

Bree: “Look at the arm moving!”
Me: “THANK GOD THAT’S AN ARM! I thought it was the nose!”

 

Remembering 9/11 September 11, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — sierrak83 @ 5:33 pm
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It was late August, 2001. I don’t remember the exact date. But I remember it was the night before I would move to college. And I couldn’t sleep. Sure, I was excited. But that wasn’t the cause of my insomnia. I was scared. I sat at the kitchen table with my mom, crying over the fact that I’d be leaving home the next morning. And, I was so sure, I’d never be coming back. Momma rubbed my back and assured me that I could come home any time I wanted—as often as I’d like to visit, for summers and school vacations, and even back home to live after graduation.

College Move-In Day

The next day, I put on a brave face as we packed my Dodge Dynasty (plus my parent’s SUV) as full as possible and headed south on I-91. A couple of highways, a bridge, and roughly three hours later, we joined the lines of traffic snaking throughout the CW Post Campus of Long Island University as swarms of freshman lugged boxes, bedding, and appliances from their cars to Brookville Hall. Soon enough, our cars were unpacked, I’d met my roommate, and had posed for a string of family photos before they hugged me goodbye. And suddenly, alone in my freshman dorm room, I wasn’t sure why I had been so scared. Within a few days, classes had begun, I landed an on-campus job at the admissions office, and I had started to make friends.

Tuesday, September 11, 2001 began like any other weekday. I arrived at the admissions office for work at 8am and immediately began stocking the pamphlets that lined the shelves in the lobby. My boss Jeannie, the receptionist was standing in front of the TV in the corner when I came back up to the front desk from the basement where all of our spare printed material was stored. “Oh my gawd,” she’d said in a typical Lawn Guyland drawl, covering her mouth with her hands. Just then, a woman who worked upstairs came running down to the front desk in tears. Her son works at the Trade Center, she said. And she can’t get through to his phone.

Classes were canceled so when I was done at work, I strolled back to my dorm, all the while feeling a sense of relief that none of my loved ones were in the city. It wasn’t until later that afternoon that full-blown panic hit me. The news was on in every dorm room, fellow students were crying in the stairwells, everything on campus seemed chaotic, frantic. The news said that all bridges were closed. As were any westbound roads from Long Island. I felt trapped. Despite pleas from newscasters asking people to not use their phones if at all possible, I picked up mine. This was an emergency, wasn’t it? That’s when I found out that my cell phone wasn’t working. Neither was my land line. I had no way to reach my family. To tell them how scared I was.

Later that night, I got through to my parents and to my sister.

“Are you okay?” Mom wanted to know.

“Did you hear it?” Bree asked.

“Dad, I need you to buy a boat,” I declared. “The bridges are closed and I can’t travel west. So there’s no way out. I need you to come get me. And you’ll have to come by boat.” The request was absurd, I realize now. But it seemed like a logical solution at the time.

The next day, it became even more real to me when I stepped outside. The smell was overwhelming. Burning. And God knows what else. It lingered for about a day then dissipated.

Within a few days, things across campus seemed to calm down a bit. Classes resumed their normal schedules—for the most part. I had one criminal justice course that never went back to normal. The professor, who had introduced herself on the first day of class as the niece of a famous Hollywood director, never recovered from the shock. The first class after the attack, she was visibly shaken. She assigned us some reading then let us leave after about 20 minutes. Over the next couple of weeks, she started showing up to class in her pajamas with her Maltese in tow and proceeded to divulge personal information that her students had no business knowing. She was dating two men. One was NYPD. One was FDNY.  Classes dwindled from 20 minutes to next to nothing. We never discussed the course material or anything from the two text books we were required to purchase. Finally, after a few weeks, she stopped showing up. And us students soon followed suit. We all got A’s from the university for that course. And the professor went on to teach psychology elsewhere a few years later.

Every year on the anniversary of 9/11, our campus held candlelight vigils to remember. And every time I made the trip home for a weekend, I could glance out the window as I drove over the Throg’s Neck Bridge to see the tower of lights that shone where the towers once were.

I didn’t know anyone personally who was lost in the attack. But even still, I was scarred by 9/11. And though I spent the next three and a half years living a mere 40 minute drive from New York City, I only made the trip into the city once. Had that day never happened, I’d like to think I would have taken more advantage of all the theaters, museums, restaurants, and stores just waiting to be discovered in the city. I regret letting the attack color my college experience like I did.

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: V...

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: View of the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty. (Image: US National Park Service ) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)