Expecting a baby after years of struggle

Since 2009, Jen has gone through four miscarriages, an ectopic pregnancy, multiple rounds of fertility treatments, the loss of a fallopian tube, and her husband underwent urological surgery. Now, after seven years, Jen is happy to be 8 months pregnant with a baby girl, Emersyn. We spoke a few weeks ago about what it’s like to be on the other side of infertility after years of struggles.

Photo credit: http://ashleykemper.smugmug.com

Caitlin: So last fall you find out that you are pregnant, for the 6th time. At that point, are you cautiously happy?

Jen: Every time.

Caitlin: You feel happy and excited every time?

Jen: Yes, like you’ve said, I’m cautiously happy. I think, maybe this is the time. Maybe this is going to be it. But of course in the back of your mind, there’s always that constant paranoia. I worry I’m going to go to the bathroom and I’ll be bleeding. That’s the mindset. It took me a long time to feel relaxed with this pregnancy. When we found out it was a girl, I was like okay. Maybe I can relax.

Caitlin: Those milestones make you feel like, okay, maybe this really is going to happen?

Jen: Every ultrasound is huge. We had one at four weeks, we had one at six weeks. Then another at eight and then another nine, fifteen, and eighteen weeks. It’s wonderful to see her on that screen. She’s healthy and she is okay but at the back of my mind, I’m wonder, when is the other shoe going to drop or something bad going to happen?

Caitlin: Do you feel scared, even now?

Jen: Yes.

Caitlin: I think that every pregnant women does, to be honest. I didn’t have any trouble getting pregnant, but it was the same sort of thing for me. Every ultrasound it felt a little more real. I was like okay, this is happening. You’ve gone through so much, so I imagine why that anxiety would be just multiplied for you.

Jen: What a lot of people don’t realize is, 65% of first pregnancies end up in miscarriage. (With our first pregnancy) I said okay, maybe we were a part of that 65% and everything after will be fine. Maybe it was just a fluke, and then it kept happening. At some point you realize, something is not right. It was hard to want to try again. It was hard when we found out that we were pregnant this time.

I kind of had a feeling, we had ran half of a marathon over the weekend. Something just felt off. And my husband said, maybe you are pregnant. I took the tests and it was instantenous. It was one of those, okay how is this one going to go?

Caitlin: You’ve always been open about your struggles to have a baby. You share your story on Facebook and on your blog, kyleandjensmith.blogspot.com. Why did you make that decision and how did that work for you?

Jen: Well, we didn’t talk about it the first time that it had happened. That was really hard. Only our family knew. So, since then, I’ve tried to tell people what we were going through. I couldn’t imagine going through everything that we’ve been gone through and not talking about it. I think it makes it worse.

My husband said if you’re comfortable with sharing, I’m on board. I think when you haven’t been in the position that we’ve been in, it’s kind of hard to understand why we are so open. It’s a comfort thing. It’s something that happened. I don’t have to walk around with a smile on my face because people know what’s going on and and they understand. It just made it easier knowing that people did know.

I also think, it’s an educational thing. I don’t think people understand how common this is. They don’t realize, one in eight couples deal with infertility and pregnancy loss on a very recurrent basis.

We’re trying to help others that are going through the same thing and dealing with it. Not knowing where to go, what to do. What programs are available to help them? That’s helped me. If I  can help someone else by sharing our story, then I’m perfectly okay with that.

Caitlin:  For people maybe who have friends or family who are dealing with infertility. What do you think is important for them to know? For them to be the best support for their family member ?

Jen: Just be good at listening. If someone in your life is dealing with infertility, just listen. Let them cry, let them get their feelings out. For me, that was huge. I called my sister and she let me go off on a rant if I was having a bad day about it. The little things can make all the difference for someone who is going through it.

I think some of the hardest things for me was one of the family members or friends getting pregnant, and they were afraid to tell me. Don’t be afraid just tell me. It made things so much harder, if you apologize a million times.

Caitlin: I feel like that puts you into a really awkward position. You shouldn’t have to be reassuring the pregnant person.

Jen: My sister got pregnant when I just had had a miscarriage. She texted me, tell me to call her. I called her and said, “You’re pregnant aren’t you?” She got real quiet and she said yes. She began to apologize.

Being pregnant is not something you should apologize for. Just because someone else has problems doesn’t mean that we don’t have the ability to be happy for somebody else. People need to understand that. We don’t lose feelings for everyone who is able to have kids.

Caitlin: Now you are on the other side. You are one of the lucky ones to be able to pregnant. What has it been like for you switching roles here?

Jen: It’s very surreal. I wake up every day, I’m like okay, this is happening. I will say, though, it doesn’t take away all the pain I’ve been through. We have five babies that are not here. That kills me every single day. To wonder what could have been. I still think about those other ones. We are very lucky, but she doesn’t replace the ones we lost.

I want to be an advocate for those who are struggling. Yes, I am on the other side but at the same time, it doesn’t negate everything that has got us to this point. We’ll never forget that.

Caitlin: That’s a part of who you are know, I imagine.

Jen: It is, very much.

Caitlin: What are you most looking forward to now?

Jen: Everything. The next milestone. I have my glucose test coming up and people joke about how hard that is.

Caitlin: Oh, that’s nothing after what you’ve been through!

Jen: Yeah, I’ll sit there, I’ll be fine.

I’m excited about all the little things. Having her, teaching her, and supporting her. It’s the little things that we’ve wanted since we got married almost eight years ago. We are so excited and our families are so excited.

A lot of people didn’t think it was going to happen and I can’t blame them. I didn’t think either. I thought it was just going to be disappointment after disappointment.

Caitlin: What do you think you’ve learned about yourself on this journey?

Jen: I’m a lot stronger than I give myself credit for. With my first miscarriage, I was like, I cannot do this again. I can’t keep going, I can’t go through that again. I realized just how determined I was to make this happen.

I’m tough, I’m strong, and I can push through for myself and Kyle. It made us grateful. I wouldn’t change anything.

Image courtesy Jen Smith

Photo credit: http://ashleykemper.smugmug.com

A foster mom at 22

This summer I came across a blog post that immediately caught my eye. It was about a 22 year old woman named Allison and her fiance who had just become foster parents to a little girl. I think it takes extraordinary generosity and bravery for two people as young as Allison and her fiance to open their home to a child in need. As it turns out, Allison (pictured below) and I have some friends in common and she agreed to chat with me about her experience so far.

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Caitlin: So, you’re 22 and you’re a foster mother. That’s pretty unusual! What inspired you and your fiance to even be interested in being foster parents?

Allison: We had heard an advertisement for it on the radio when the House of the Good Shepherd was recruiting foster parents about a year ago. They had an orientation coming up, so we talked about it, and since we both love children it seemed like a great fit.

I particularly have a connection to children because I taught dance for years. Also, there’s ten years between my younger brother and I so I’ve really been exposed to children a lot and I love working with them. This seemed like a great way to help a child who was in a less fortunate situation.

So about a year ago we went through the training. This involved a 12 week course that included home studies, inspections, and background checks. Our initial goal was just to provide respite care, as needed. Respite care is temporary care for children who are in the foster care system when their foster family needs a short break, for whatever reason.

Since we became certified, we have cared for four children in respite care between the ages of 9 and 13. About four months ago, we had Sweet Pea* for respite care over a weekend and really enjoyed her company! She’s a young, outgoing girl, so you can imagine the fun and entertainment she provides. When we were told that she needed a new foster placement the following week, we decided to take her in full time.

Caitlin: So, how much time is there between finding out she needs a home, and her moving in with you?

Allison: We had a little less than a week. In this particular situation, we had great contact with her family which made things a lot easier. Typically, the agency is the middleman between the foster family and biological family. But, in our circumstance, we were fortunate to begin to build a relationship with her family to make sure that we were well enough prepared for the transition. I mean, as prepared as you can be.

Caitlin: What do you hear from people when they hear you’re 22 and a foster parent?

Allison: You know what I found, actually? When I’m out by myself with Sweet Pea, I understand what a young, single mom feels like. It was really hard to get over the way I felt people were judging me. I think people see me with Sweet Pea and make assumptions. When they find out I’m a foster parent, they’re attitude changes and they are very supportive of it. That’s great, but I think it should make people think twice before they judge someone.

Caitlin: This is probably such a broad question, but how did your life change?

Allison: It’s really difficult to prepare yourself for that transition. As much as I was around children growing up, there’s nothing that gives that preparation for taking on a child full time and, of course, there’s no manual that come along with parenting. So, you take a lot of trial and error.

But, I would say the biggest adjustment was time management. I work full time as Manager of Business Development for Washington Street Properties, I own a dance wear store, I own a photo booth business, I had just stopped teaching dance for the summer. I also won the title of Miss Thousand Islands a few weeks after she came into my care. And, of course, I’m engaged so I had that relationship along with family life and friends that I had to juggle with her and her schedule – day care, swimming, dance, gymnastics, etc.

I knew it would be difficult for her to be taken from everything she’s known so I thought distractions like dance and gymnastics would be a good way to help her adjust. To learn that change can be a good thing.

We got her on a Sunday so I took Monday off because I didn’t think it was fair to her to be sent right to daycare. I also was fortunate to have my Mom watch her the rest of the week to help with the adjustment. My parents are really supportive and are just as attached to Sweet Pea as I am. She’s just a doll. So, that week was just us getting to know her and getting used to a new schedule.

And, of course, with any child, you have to handle behavioral issues – especially with a child who’s been through several different homes. It’s mostly testing to see what the boundaries are. Sweet Pea didn’t have many boundaries in any of the homes she’s been in, so it was difficult for her to adjust to a schedule, stability, and consequences for actions. So that was difficult for her and for us to figure out.

Caitlin: So, you guys have done some really fun stuff. You took Sweet Pea to Disney World. What a dream!

Allison: Yes, before I took Sweet Pea in I was already planning to go on this trip so when she came along, it was perfect timing. I was so excited to be able to give her the opportunity to experience something so magical. She didn’t know where we were going until we got there. She said she had heard of Disney and had seen commercials for it on TV, but she didn’t know what to expect at all. She saw the castle and all the rides and was just amazed by it. My little brother also joined us for the trip. The best part about it for me was just seeing her reaction and watching her take in the whole experience.

Caitlin: Oh my gosh, that’s so cool. What’s been the most rewarding part of the experience for you so far?

Allison: Just having her in my life is an amazing experience that I feel very blessed to have had, but I am particularly happy to be involved with all of the progress I’ve seen her make. When she came into our care she wasn’t used to having any structure or stability so that’s something we’ve been working on. She’s come a long way and it’s so rewarding to assist in creating a better life for her.

Caitlin: Do you know what the future holds? Can there be a day that comes and she’s gone? Or could she be adopted at some point?

Allison: It’s difficult to say. Generally, across the board for foster care, it’s something that’s scary to think about. Things can change at any minute and you really don’t have any control over that. You can make suggestions, but you really have no way to sway things one way or another.

With Sweet Pea, it’s difficult to see what the future holds. I can say that if the opportunity for adoption was made available to me, I wouldn’t hesitate to move forward with it. But if it doesn’t, she will always remain an integral part of my life in some capacity. It’s very important for me to build a relationship with her family so that I will have the ability to stay involved.

Caitlin: How do you guard your heart in all of this? I mean, do you?

Allison: It’s something that’s been discussed a lot between my fiance and I. For me, it is natural to treat her as if she were my own, whereas he feels that she should be treated differently. I can’t replace her mom and I would never try to, but at the same time, she’s very young and needs the nurturing and care that a mom would provide. Because of that, I’ve tried to build a strong relationship with her to be sure she’s developing in a way that’s appropriate.

As a foster parent, you work hand in hand with a therapist and case workers who provide advice that is crucial in a situation like this. They’ve encouraged me to build that relationship so she has someone who is safe for her. Someone who is going to provide the safety and structure that she needs.

So as we’ve bonded and built up our relationship, I’ve realized that it’s impossible to guard your heart against the things that could happen. It’s important to take things one day at a time and trust that everything happens for a reason. It’s just my hope that by keeping a great relationship with her family, if she goes back to them, they’ll allow me to still be in her life.

Caitlin: I think being a foster parent is such a noble cause. When I think about whether or not I could be a foster parent, those are the things I think about. I mean, your heart might be broken at some point in the process. What advice would you give someone who was thinking about being a foster parent?

Allison: There are a lot of ways to be involved besides being a full time foster parent. For example, there are Court Appointment Special Advocates (CASA workers). In this position, you volunteer to be assigned to a child and become the eyes and ears of the case. You go to home visits and court cases and  try to access the situations in each case as best you can and then report to the judge. They attempt to be an unbiased source who is working on behalf of the child.

Also, when we first started, we just did respite care. This helps to ease concerns about attachment because you only have the child for a few days. However, if you really enjoy working with a certain child, you might be given the opportunity to have the same child for respite care multiple times.

There are also volunteers for transportation for children in foster care. Volunteer Transport Services in Watertown is very helpful when transportation becomes difficult.

But, if someone decides they want to be a full time foster parent, I think they need to realize your job is to do what’s best for the child, although that might not always feel like what’s best for you. You tend to see one side of the case, but there’s two sides to every story.

You still might end up with a broken heart at the end of the day if things don’t go the way you hoped, but you have to understand that there’s a reason for the choices that are made and everyone has the child’s best interest at heart.

Caitlin: How does having a young child in your home impact your relationship as you plan to get married? I guess you really get to see what kind of parent your partner will be.

Allison: Yeah, we have had different opinions on what a “mom” is versus a “foster mom” and a “dad” versus a “foster dad.” My fiance has been much more guarded with his relationship with Sweet Pea to try to protect his heart. So if the day comes that she has to move on, he wants to make sure he’s not attached to the point where it’s too difficult to let go.

Caitlin: He must be worried about your heart, too.

Allison: Yeah. I’m her primary caregiver so I spend a lot more time with her. I think that’s definitely a concern of both of ours. I’ve built up such a strong relationship with her that will not easily be broken.

You certainly do learn things about how someone interacts with children. Our approach is unconventional but is an eye opener before marriage.

Thank you so much Allison for taking the time to chat, and most of all, for your generous heart. You’re an inspiration to all of us to consider what more we can do in our own lives to help others. Best wishes to your family!

Image courtesy Allison

*named changed for privacy

 

10 years and 2 kids later

Think back to when you were 19 years old. What were you doing? What was important to you?

I was a sophomore in college. I had just chosen my new major and was just about to get together with my now husband, Rob. Thinking back on it now, a lot of the important puzzle pieces of my life came together that year. But, really, I was just a kid.

That’s where we find Jessica in today’s post. 19 years old, a sophomore in college. And pregnant.

Jessica shares what she felt in the moment and what’s she learned ten years and two kids later.

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Caitlin: So, you became pregnant when you were 19, unplanned and unexpected. Tell me about finding out you were pregnant for the first time and some of those details you’re willing to share.

Jessica: Yes! Well, I was starting my sophomore year of college and dating (my now husband) Kevin for about eight months at the time.  I had recently gone off of birth control because of mood swings, and we had unprotected sex once when I became pregnant. I can very vividly remember, haha. I obviously should have been protecting myself, but my first appointment with a gynecologist as a teenager determined I had a tilted uterus, which is not terribly uncommon, but my uterus was tilted at a different angle from most. The gynecologist told me it would lead to trouble getting pregnant.

Back to the unprotected sex, I had started training for lacrosse season that spring, and so when my period was late I kept thinking that it was because I was running more. One morning I decided to pick up a pregnancy test, my very first one, and immediately started crying when I read the positive result.

Caitlin: So, tears can mean so many things. What emotions were you feeling? All of them?

Jessica: Honestly, probably not any on the joyous spectrum, but instead mostly shock and confusion, with some “what am I going to do” thrown in there.

Caitlin: So, how did you decide what to do?

Jessica: I only told a few of my closest friends in an attempt to gain some perspective. I did not tell my mom though because I knew she would be supportive to the point of excitement, and I wasn’t processing the pregnancy just yet. You know, EVERY decision in that situation is life-changing. You cannot undo anything.  And so in hindsight I knew what my decision would be, but I wanted to get there myself.

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Caitlin: I think it’s a great way to explain it. Do you remember what your biggest fears were at the time?

Jessica: Honestly, very selfish fears, like how I would miss out on experiences and opportunities, how I was not ready to settle down, and how I had no clue what I was doing.

Caitlin: So, you and Kevin decided to get married. How did you make that decision?

Jessica: Again, I am going to be brutally honest, but I never made the decision.  It has been something that I have struggled with for years.  It was just sort of assumed by (I guess) our families and us that if I was going to have a baby, we were going to get married.  Sounds crazy, right?  But it all happened in such quick succession that it’s almost a blur.

Caitlin: I know you’ve struggled some with feeling like you’ve missed out on things that most young people get to experience because you were married with a baby at the age of 20. If you’re willing to talk about it, can you share some of that?

Jessica: Sure!  Actually, one of the first things my mom said to me when I told her that I was pregnant was that anything you can do without a baby can be done with a baby. It still astonishes me that she said this, because in my experience, there are so many things you cannot do once you have a baby. You are always considering someone else who is completely reliant on you. This can be very limiting if you are not ready to take on that responsibility. In hindsight I don’t feel like I missed out on any experiences, but that is perspective that I’ve gained over the years. At the time, the experience of young motherhood was isolating.

Caitlin: So, the important part, tell me about your baby girl and what it was like being a new mom so young?

Jessica: I realize how cliché it might sound, but she is the love of my life. She is a miracle, and if I would have never gotten unexpectedly pregnant, I would be missing out on this precious soul that brings so much quality into my life. Even when she was little I would say that I genuinely enjoy hanging out with her. She has such capacity for kindness and humor (although I have to hide my giggles when she cries during Disney movies).

Like I said, the experience was isolating, because no one around me was going through it. But in a way, I am actually incredibly grateful for that, because I never asked anyone else for advice. I approached everything with her from the perspective that she and I would figure it out together. This allowed me to evaluate my own comfort level with aspects of mothering; for instance, I breastfed Cambrie for eighteen months, and it gave me such confidence.  It also keeps me from giving other mothers unwarranted advice. My usual go-to is, “You’ll figure it out.” Everyone is figuring it out.

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Caitlin: Yeah I think that’s great. We’re at a time in our lives now where SO many people are having babies and I can see how easy it would be to compare yourself to the people around you. I think it’s great that you were able to just do your thing. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention your second baby girl. What was it like being a mother for the second time at a little more typical an age (although still kind of young)?

Jessica: Haha, yes, thank you for reminding me! Harper is the complete opposite of Cambrie. She is rough and tumble, and is still learning the empathy that Cambrie seemed to be born with. My dad actually calls Harper the Heartbreaker because of her personality. She is certainly my wild child, but it is so much fun because she adds such a dynamic to every situation, even the mundane.

One thing about having both Cambrie & Harper on the younger side is that I sort of took for granted getting pregnant and having healthy babes, whereas our friends who are having their firsts now have a completely different appreciation than I did.

Caitlin: Did you ever feel judged by other people for having kids so young? And getting married young?

Jessica: YES.  Absolutely. When I was pregnant with Cambrie I would never leave the house without my engagement and/or wedding band. I felt like it would give people the wrong impression about me, that I was irresponsible and what have you. But even that experience really encouraged me to decide what kind of person I wanted to be. In a way, I was projecting those insecurities because I felt them myself.

But the older I get, the less self-conscious and critical I am. People and circumstances are so complex, and there is so much gray in the world. It doesn’t serve anyone to assume anything. Nowadays I welcome any questions about how old I am, how old my daughters are, what I am doing in my life, because I am happy and content with those things, even if it took me all of my twenties to get there.

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Caitlin: Ah, excellent point to wrap up. What have you learned about yourself in the last ten years that you’ve been a mom and wife, however unexpectedly?

Jessica: I’ve learned that life has a way a giving us what we need when we need it, and whatever path you choose will serve you. There are no right or wrongs, just choices. It’s all about kindness and humor and deep breathing.

Images courtesy Jessica

 

The first day of kindergarten

First of all, I can’t believe some kids went back to school before Labor Day. I always remember Labor Day as the final day of summer and being equal parts bummed and excited that school was starting the next day (okay, mostly excited.) But, last week a lot of kids went back to school. So, I wanted to talk to a mom about her experience sending her little one off to school for the first time.

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Caitlin: Did you do anything special to help your son, B, prepare for kindergarten?

Jessica: We talked about kindergarten A LOT! B didn’t attend preschool so this is his first experience leaving me every day to go somewhere else.  We drove past his school a lot, and  we also would walk there in the summer and play on the playground.  We wanted him to be familiar with the school and I think it helped that he experienced some of those things with me and my husband, Hans. So, it was in his safe zone and he felt comfortable which I think helped him prepare to go up there for his first day.

Caitlin: Any trouble sleeping the night before?

Jessica: Haha, well B didn’t seem to have any trouble sleeping.  I kept waking up in a panic and looking at the clock to make sure we didn’t oversleep since we weren’t used to being on any type of schedule! Usually the mornings that we have something to do, my kids sleep in and we are late so I didn’t want that to happen the first time I was sending my boy to school!

Caitlin: So, tell me about that morning, getting ready and then finally, saying goodbye?

Jessica: Well, Monday was his orientation. The rest of the district began school on Monday, but kindergarten only came in with their parents and met their teacher. For some reason I was more emotional facing this day than I was on Tuesday when he went without us. We made a big deal about Monday. My parents came over in the morning and stayed with my daughters, Lila and Kensley. We took pictures out front and both Hans and I went with him to his orientation.

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On Tuesday, he was ready. We put the girls in the stroller and headed up to the school. Once we are there, we give kisses and B goes into the school yard and we stay on the fence and watch him walk in with his class!

Caitlin: Who was more nervous, you or him?

Jessica: Ha, well it’s funny. When B was little he would scream if we left him. We couldn’t leave him in church nursery without a huge fit when we walked out. Over the years, as he has gotten older, he has gotten better, but we usually only leave him in familiar situations (church, family, close friends), so I was really nervous watching him cause I didn’t know what to expect. B is typically pretty shy when he doesn’t know someone so watching him in a whole new world where he knew no one made me nervous for him because I thought he would be nervous. But, he totally played it cool and I was the one sweating it out!

Caitlin: What was the first day like for you, at home without him?

Jessica: My three year old daughter, Kensley, is loving the one on one time with me. There aren’t many days that I get to spend time with just her so now that B is in School and Lila (9 months) is taking her morning nap, Kenz and I get some quality time together. I am excited for this the most.  I really feel like it will be very valuable to her and also to me.

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Caitlin: What was the first day like for Brayden? Did he come home with any good stories?

Jessica: He loved it! He didn’t necessarily come home with any good stories, but he did come home with his shirt on backwards! After taking off a smock he must have gotten mixed up and put his shirt on the wrong way. Hans and I just laughed. He also was excited to let me know that one boy in his class had a Paw Patrol school bag (that’s his favorite show). It’s cute to see the things that he picks up on when I am not around!

Caitlin: That’s so funny he came home with his shirt on backwards. How cute! How was sending your first child off the kindergarten different than you expected?

Jessica: Becoming a parent has taught me more about myself than I ever would have thought it would. It’s hard letting go and putting your child in the hands of another person (or people) to teach them and help them grow. Naturally, I worry about how he’s doing without me. I wonder how he’ll interact with his peers since he isn’t under my wings. I’m learning a lot about myself. I’m learning what it means to give my cares over to God and trust that He has us where he does for a reason.

When B was little and scared to leave us we would always quote Joshua 1:9 to him. We actually have it hanging on his bedroom wall as a reminder. And whats funny is that I’m now reminding myself of that same verse that I’ve memorized with him for the last few years! “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Caitlin: I love that! It’s amazing how much we can learn through guiding others, and I imagine that’s especially the case with children. Now that you’ve been through it, what advice would you give other moms who are getting ready to hit this milestone or are going through it now?

Jessica: Embrace it! It is a really fun and exciting time. It may be a little overwhelming, but it’s worth it and soon it will be the new normal. Watching my boy come out of school excited and filled with confidence makes my heart happy. Watching him grow and overcome fears is so rewarding. It makes the hard times worth it! It all happens so fast so my advice for parents – especially myself- is to pause and take it all in. Enjoy the crazy because one day we will all miss this stage!

Do you have any advice for moms and dads sending their kids to school for the first time? Any funny memories? Share in the comments sections, let’s talk!

 

ChitChat: First Day of School

My strongest memories of the first day of school are also my oldest memories. I was the youngest in my family, so I grew up watching all my big brothers go off to school and I couldn’t wait for the day when I could join them. I remember when I was going into first grade my mom had taken us shopping for new school clothes. My brothers, appropriately, got new Umbros and t-shirts. I, on the other hand, got a wool Minnie Mouse sweater with matching pink and purple polkadot leggings (pictured above). I was SO excited to wear that outfit that I insisted on wearing it on the first day despite the fact that it was early September and still very warm out. My mom relented and I wore it and I was so hot all day, but at the same time, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so cool again in my life.

So, today I’m introducing a new featured called ChitChat. Each month I’ll ask a panel of people one simple question and they’ll share their thoughts, memories, and opinions. This month I asked, “What memories do you think of when you hear ‘first day of school?'” (Check out some of their back to school pictures at the end!)
Chelley panel
Chelley: First day of school means so many things for me. I think I’ve forgotten exactly how I felt about it  in high school because it was just the day when two-a-days stopped, and field hockey practice  moved to once a day after school. But as a child… it elicits such joy and anticipation. Wanting  to hold my father’s hand and let it go simultaneously. I know I would walk away from him, and,  though I think he didn’t ever see it, I would look out the window and watch him go- his suit  jacket unbuttoned and his boots lightly dragging on the pavement from the preschool building  to the mail building of Meadowbrook School.
I can remember how cool I felt taking the bus (even though my parents were totally following in  their car), and the sound of a brand new zipper opening and closing. The smell of plastic from a pencil case. New markers and glue sticks and freshly printed name tags on our desks. Presenting book reports, using highlighters I didn’t need (yet) and getting the classroom job of clapping the erasers. The first day of school held such promise for the year… and I still have that anticipation. As I move into filling out paperwork for kindergarten for my own child, I smile at the school shopping, LL Bean monogrammed backpacks, choosing the first day outfit… and cringe at the thought of letting her hand go from my own.
(Read more of Chelley’s writing at AisforAdelaide.com)
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Mary: September, 1957, first day of first grade, walked to school with 2 big brothers and then left alone in a classroom of 75 children and one scary nun.  I knew my friends Helen and Frank who lived on my street, so that was good, but the class was so big I hardy knew how to find them.

One girl was crying and wouldn’t/couldn’t stop in spite of being ordered to by the teacher, who was becoming more and more annoyed (I thought I saw smoke come out of her wimple, although I didn’t know it was a wimple at the time) and the kids were growing more and more nervous until–suddenly–crying girl made a run for it!  Off she ran, out of the room toward the back stairway to freedom!  Off ran the good Sister, furious that she had already lost control.  Seventy four 6 year olds sitting with hands folded on their desks, hoping Sister wouldn’t return, but alas, return she did, with crooked wimple, beet red face, exclaiming “The little brat kicked me!”  Yikes!  At least that’s how I remember my first day of school. (P.S.–The “little brat” spent first grade in public school)

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Steve: I would rate my feelings toward the first day of school as neutral, leaning towards negative.  It was the best school day of the year other than maybe the last day, or maybe the day before Christmas break, or some random day like Acceptance Day or Purple Gold Day.  It was the end of summer, which was heartbreaking, but you couldn’t help but be excited for the first day.  What will your new teachers be like? What will the girls look like?  You got brand new clothes for at least the first three days and the workload will be light.  The first day of school is great.

But, sadly, the first day of school passes, and soon it’s like you never left.  As a kid I unfortunately regarded school as a punishment rather than the gift that it was.  But I still don’t see how you’re going to convince a 9-13 year-old otherwise (that’s the age group I’m thinking of because the summers before you were expected to have a job were the best).  When you spend your summers out in the woods biking, fishing, rope-swinging, catching frogs, vacations down the shore boogie boarding, eating ice cream, catching crabs, and suddenly you’re stuffed in a classroom and forced to learn…I think I’ve explained enough why my feelings lean toward negative.

Colleen Panel

 Colleen: Believe it or not I’m pretty sure the only “first day” of school I can actually remember might have been my first day of school ever. I have a vague memory of being upset because my mom left, and a boy came over and showed me a book to help make me feel better, and it worked. I honestly think I might have been 3 years old, so I guess it really goes to show a little kindness goes a long way!

Moira panel

MoiraDread!! Actually I don’t know if that is how I felt back when I was in school, but that is how my 35 year old self feels when I think about the first day of school. I also have memories of being really excited, mixed in with a lot of nervousness. What classes will I have? Who will my teachers be? Will my friends be in my classes? What should I wear the first day? Those feelings definitely continued into college, and nursing school later on in life. I think the first day of school is daunting no matter your age.
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Leslie: Since I was a single parent, a good bit of the memories were dropping my son off before school, not about the school itself. I just remember looking forward to and having fun doing the back to school shopping once we got the list. We would head to the store and just buy everything. I was proud to be in line. I always found it a fun time to be together and made me feel that this was really one small part of the joys of being a mom. My son probably hated it. It was sad to me when he got old enough to go himself and with his friends.  But of course that needed to happen.

And a personal funny memory of a first day of school – one of our neighbors had an exchange student from Spain.  However, just before school started the neighbor went into the hospital and needed emergency surgery.  So, I had to be become the exchange student’s “parent” for a few days. This included the first day of school and helping the student to ride the school bus. I took my newfound temporary responsibility very seriously. So, after the high school student boarded the bus I actually followed the bus to the school to make sure he was okay, hoping not to be seen, the whole time laughing to myself.

Theresa (not pictured): One of my sons wasn’t thrilled about going to school. When he came home on his first day of school, I told him I bet he had fun and that I missed him. He didn’t even answer me. On the morning of the second day of school he told me “Mom, I won’t go to school…. You’ll miss me too much and I’ll worry about you.”

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Hartley: I had to call my mom regarding this. My memories are mostly me being nervous, but she recalls me being excited — I always liked school. However, she agreed with my recollection of being nervous for college.  I must have blocked this out, but the first college I attended was in the middle of Massachusetts, and it was really close to where my aunt, uncle, and their kids live, so my mom planned on my family staying there the night before move-in day. But apparently I was so nervous I made us stay at a hotel down the street from their house so I could, I don’t know, lay my clothes out the night before and be assured that no little kids messed with them? Like I said, I must have blocked it out. Too nervous.

What are your memories from the first day of school? Any good stories your kids brought home? Let’s talk! PS. Check out some first day of school pictures below!

Chelley and her dad on the first day of school

Chelley on the first day of school

Moira and her sister on the first day of school

Moira & her sister on the first day of school

 

Hartley on the first day of second grade

Hartley on the first day of second grade

 

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On expecting baby number two

To hear my friends tell it, expecting your first child is one thing, and expecting your second is a whole other animal. So, I was interested to talk to Colleen just a few days before she welcomed her second baby into the world (Colleen is already mother to 18 month old Nicky) about what’s different, what’s the same, and what’s the most exciting.

Caitlin: So, to begin, tell me about your first pregnancy and your first baby.

Colleen: So, I definitely always wanted to have kids. That was really my number one thing that I ever wanted in life. I was super excited my last pregnancy. I knew I was having a boy and we were just really excited. We didn’t know what to expect and I did have a pretty easy pregnancy. I don’t think anyone can ever have an easy ninth month, but all things considered, it was easy. So, 18 months ago today, I was nine months pregnant and feeling it.

Nicky was an easy baby when he was born. I had a c-section, that wasn’t easy, but nothing went wrong.

Caitlin: How was this pregnancy been?

Colleen: This time I was a lot more sick at the beginning. Last time I didn’t have any of that. Last time I did a lot of prenatal yoga and even regular yoga which I think really helped me feel better. I haven’t had any time this pregnancy for that. Not even once. Now, I’m dealing with a back issue that’s making it a lot harder to get around. And, not to mention, I have an 18 month old son that I spend all day chasing around. You know, so that’s a little tougher. But, this pregnancy hasn’t been terrible.

Caitlin: Does expecting a girl feel different from when you were expecting a boy?

Colleen: Well, yes. I am thrilled that we’re having a girl! I feel lucky to get to experience being a mother of a son, and a daughter as well. I’m the only girl in my family and just seeing the relationship I have with my mom, and even with my dad, I’m glad that our family will have that, too. And another thing that I liked about having a girl is that my husband, Josh, didn’t grow up with any sisters and he always seemed like he didn’t know what was going on with girls. It’s like I’m the only girl he knows.  So, I think it will be good for him, and also good for my son to have a girl around. I think it kind of softens a guy a little bit, and I’d like that for both of them.

Caitlin: That’s so funny and I think it’s very true. I heard someone say once that she was even more excited with her second baby because since having his first, he understood how wonderful it is to have a child. Have you felt that way at all?

Colleen: Yes, we both feel that way. We say all the time we can’t believe we get to have two. Especially right now our son is so funny, he’s talking, he’s doing all these crazy things every day and it is really, really exciting because before I couldn’t picture how much I would enjoy being a parent. And now I know and it’s almost like it’s going to be double the fun. I mean, not that we’re so naive to think it won’t be more difficult and more busy, but I don’t really focus on that part of being a parent. I know it’s busy. We can deal with it. In general, it’s just fun.

Caitlin: Have people been warning you about how hard life is with two?

Colleen: Yeah, I feel like people warn you about a lot of things. But, for me, when you have kids, you change, and you just do what needs to be done. And you don’t think, oh this sucks, and I’m missing out on all this other stuff. It’s just your life.

About having two, a lot of people warn us about finances.

Caitlin: That’s silly. What can you do about that?

Colleen: I don’t know. There’s nothing you can do with any of the warnings people give you. Oh, they’ll say having one is like… I forget the saying, it’s stupid. It’s something like, “Having one is like one and having two is like twenty.”

Caitlin: That person probably never had twenty kids.

Colleen: (laughs) Yeah, good point. So, yeah, we get a lot of warnings. Just like last time. It annoys me, but it drives my husband CRAZY. When I was pregnant with Nicky people would always ask him if he was nervous. And he would always say, “No, I’m not nervous! I’m 35 years old, I have a car, I have a job, why would I be nervous?” And it’s kind of the same thing this time.

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Caitlin: So, your son is really young. Does he have a clue he has a baby sister on the way?

Colleen: I don’t know. He points at the baby’s room and says her name and he does touch my belly and say baby and sometimes he’ll even give my belly a kiss, which I did NOT teach him. But, I can’t imagine he really understands what’s about to happen. And I would actually say that that is what is most different about being pregnant this time. Even though I know giving him a sibling is the best thing that I can do for him, I feel guilty all the time that he won’t know how much he totally changed our lives and rocked our world and I could cry right now thinking about it. But, people say that that happens all the time and then when they come home from the hospital they never think about it again.

Caitlin: Is there anything else that makes the pregnancy different from the last?

Colleen: One thing is I do worry about the health of the baby a lot more. When you never had a child, you can’t imagine how much you’re going to love it. And it would be a lot harder and more heartbreaking now that I understand that if the baby has health problems. That’s one worry I didn’t really have last time that I do this time.

Caitlin: Does it feel like the stakes are higher?

Colleen: Yes, that’s exactly what it is. The other thing is I hope I get as much one on one time with both of my kids as I have with Nicky.

Caitlin: What are you most excited about?

Colleen: I’m most excited to see what she looks like and to see how Nicky reacts to her and how my husband reacts to her. I don’t think he realizes what it’s going to be like to have a daughter.

I’m happy to share that Colleen gave birth to her baby girl, Anna, just three days after this conversation. Both Mama and baby are doing great, and big brother Nicky is adjusting well. Congratulations Colleen & family!

 

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What’s your best advice for expecting baby number 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on? Did you find you felt differently each time? Let’s talk!

He Said/She Said: A Military Family, Part 2

Today we’ll get the other side of the story on this week’s He Said/She Said. You can check out Part 1, Robert’s story here.

Meta became a military wife in her 30’s after she was well established in her career, and a home owner. The military took her out of the South and dropped her off in Upstate New York at Fort Drum a few months after her wedding. A few months after that, her husband deployed.

Once Robert came home from deployment, Meta got pregnant and gave birth to a little boy, Bo. A few months later, Robert deployed again.

Meta talks about what it’s like to be the spouse and parent who is left at home during deployments. Although I hope this is obvious to most, I want to point out that each military spouse is different and this is simply Meta’s story. But, as a former Army Wife, I think most military spouses will find something in this story they can relate to. And for those who have never loved someone in uniform, here’s a little glimpse into the highs and lows of being a military family. 🙂

Caitlin: The Army baptises you fast. Your husband deployed just nine months after you got married. I talked to your husband about the difference between deploying as a single soldier and then as a soldier with a wife and kid. What was the difference for you between having your husband deploy before and after you had a baby?

Meta: Completely different deployments. Both were hard in their own way.

His deployment in 2011, we didn’t get to communicate very often. We emailed, never Skyped. We would talk every weekend or every other weekend.  One time we didn’t get to talk for three and a half weeks.  As someone who loves to talk, especially to my husband, work was very important for me. It became an outlet.  I would go to work and talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. Because I would come home to no one. I didn’t have many friends yet, so the communication thing was hard.

It taught us a lot about what we could get through. I was miserable at first. I felt a distance from my husband that made me ache. Once I settled in and made friends, it got easier. But, I learned a lot about myself during that deployment.

Caitlin: You learned your strength.

Meta: I did. I also learned a lot about letting go. While I like to have a general plan, the Army taught me you can plan as much as you want, but it’s bound to change. I plan, but I don’t set my heart on it.

This most recent deployment, having a child, I couldn’t sulk. But, we talked every day, sometimes twice a day on Skype. And my husband could see our son, Bo. I think it helped me to be able to have real discussions with my husband. He would get up at 3:30am his time to talk to us on Skype.

Caitlin: That’s so nice.

Meta: I know. He’s such a good husband and a good daddy.

It was really important for Bo to see and hear his Daddy on Skype. It was hard. There were times I would cry because Bo would try to share with Daddy and try to hand him things through the computer. Those things tug at your heart.

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Also, on this last deployment, five days after he left, I had a miscarriage. It just so happened that he called me when I was sitting in the emergency room when he got to Afghanistan. I said, I’m going to have to call you back, I’m bleeding and I’m in the emergency room. So, I needed him a lot. I needed him to talk to. It didn’t even have to be about the miscarriage, I just needed to talk to him.

Caitlin: Saying goodbye before a deployment, what is that like for you? Specifically with a child.

Meta: At the deployment ceremony, I’m trying not to cry, but I’m still crying. I was trying to take as many pictures as possible with them together because I knew he’d be coming back to a completely different child. And at the time, because I was pregnant, we were trying to figure out the plan for where I would deliver, would I work? And I was scared. I was pregnant and I had a nine month old. And I was like, how am I going to do this without him? It was all scary, but I had to focus on Bo.

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Caitlin: What was the reunion like?

Meta: (laughs) Oh, it was fantastic. It was very different from my first deployment. It was all about me. So it was huge difference. Last deployment it was all about me, and this time it was all about Bo.

I told my husband, when you get home, I want you to step back and I want Bo to come to you.

I wanted him to greet Bo before he greeted me, because it was about Bo. Bo was the one who didn’t understand why he was away and why he couldn’t hold him or touch him.

Last deployment, Robert came home in the evening and this time I think I had to get Bo up around 4:30 in the morning because they want you there 2 hours prior to the ceremony which was at 7:30.  By the time the ceremony started Bo was pretty tired and he definitely didn’t understand all the people, the band, the noise but he was pretty interested in all the soldiers.  At 18 months old though, he had no idea what’s going on or that his Daddy is standing in formation.

Once they released everyone and Robert was trucking it towards us, I leaned down and let Bo stand up and backed away.  Bo started to cry because he was tired, but Robert kneeled down on his level and Bo just went into his arms and wrapped his arms around his Daddy’s shoulders.  As a wife who wanted to touch her husband and have him wrap his arms around her and give her a big kiss, being a mother and feeling this need for them to have their moment first was so important to me and I felt that superseded whatever I might need.

When Robert left, Bo wasn’t walking yet and he’d only ever seen him walk on Skype, so watching my husband have his son walk into his arms for the first time was beautiful.  It was all just beautiful.  There were tears from both of us.  We sat for a long time before we left.  Bo just wanted to hold on to him and of course, Robert didn’t want to let go either.

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Caitlin: So, your husband is getting out of the military soon. What are you most looking forward to?

Meta: No deployments! No deployments. He will be home. I do feel a little jaded when it comes to deployments when I see people post on Facebook, “Oh my husband is gone for the weekend, I miss him so much.” And I’m like, “Really?” (laughs)

I’m looking forward to joining the world where I miss my husband when he goes away for only a weekend.

Caitlin: What will you miss about military life? I know, from my experience, there’s a lot of good that comes with the military.

Meta: Yeah, for sure. I’ll miss the camaraderie most. The spouses I have become friends with have been similar to me. There was a group of women that I became close with during Robert’s 2011 deployment and as is the way of the military most of them had a PCS and weren’t here for the last deployment, but most of us still stay in contact. We miss each other. I have wonderful friends and family, but the women you meet in your military life, they tend to become your family very quickly. The friendships happen faster and some of them become extremely strong, it’s a bond you share.

By the way, I’m not saying these friendships are better and that you lose your friendships with other best friends. These friendships just seem different, almost forged out of necessity. They know what you are going through, they are experiencing it or have experienced it firsthand. They know the lingo, they understand the upheaval, they know the truth about what happens to your soldier while they are gone. They understand the emotional roller coaster and how hard it can be, not only when your husband leaves, but when he comes home too!

I’m not saying your family and non-military friends don’t try to understand, they do, but honestly, it’s very hard to explin, it has to be experienced. It’s just different with these women. You are truly Battle Buddies. You step in for each other. That person can lean on you, shed tears with you, laugh with you and when your spouse can’t be there and you are so far removed from your family and other friends, you need them because they lift you up and help support you just as you do for them. Because of the stress and pain of what you are going through, these bonds form.

Caitlin: What’s your best advice for spouses who are the ones left at home during a deployment?

Meta: I was fortunate to get to be a stay-at-home mom during this last deployment and travel. I would advise spending time with your family. That’s what helped me through the last year, too.  My parents flew me and Bo down to see them several times last year. My mother-in-law also flew us to visit her.  I’m very lucky.

If you can’t go to your family, find other spouses that will be your family and get involved and get out of the house.

Also, getting to talk to my husband daily on Skype was huge. Oh, and take lots of pictures. Lots and lots of pictures.

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My husband and I often talk about how we wish we had met when we were younger because we could have had more children by now. And we wish we had more time together. But, on the flip side, I’m really glad that I have only had to be a military spouse for a quarter of his career. I’m thankful that we’re getting out and my son and any future kids we have won’t have to go through anymore deployments.

 

It takes a lot of work and a lot of strength to get through military life as a family, in tact. Some of the strongest families I know are military families and I have a ton of respect for the way they do what needs to be done and come out better for it on the other end. Do you have experience with the military? What parts of this rang true for you? If you don’t have experience with the military, what surprised you the most? Leave a comment and make my day 🙂

 

He Said/She Said: A Military Family, Part 1

Wooo hoo! I’m starting a new series today on Vital Chatter called, He Said/She Said. I’ll talk to two partners about the same topic to get their differing points of view.

For the first installment, I spoke with Robert and Meta, a married couple in their 30’s who have a two year old son named, Bo.

Robert has been in the Army for 19 years and is currently a Staff Sergeant who works as an ammunitions specialist. Robert has served overseas five times, three times in Afghanistan and twice in Iraq, including a 15 month deployment during the 2007 “Surge.” He has been married to Meta for four years, so he was a single soldier for his first three deployments, he was married for the 4th, and had a son at home for the 5th. Robert is retiring next year.

Caitlin: You were a single soldier for most of your career, including your first three deployments. How does that change deployments when you have a wife and baby at home?

Robert: Dramatically. It changed things dramatically. I mean, I have a family, parents, siblings, grandparents, and they care about me, but having a wife and son, it was different. Really different having someone to come home to.

I was surprised how difficult it was to get on the plane and leave. BUT, it also made it that much more gratifying when I got off the plane, coming home.

Caitlin: I think people who aren’t familiar with the military are surprised to hear that soldiers often want to deploy. Did that change for you once you had a wife and child?

Robert: Oh yeah, absolutely. I think wanting to deploy, especially when I was single, is because life is so much easier over there (during deployments).

Caitlin: How?

Robert: It’s the little things. You don’t have to pick out what to wear. You don’t have to worry about cooking your meals or going to the gas station or buying groceries, or any of the little things. That all goes away. Everything is taken care of for you.

And then when you come home, wow. On my first deployments, it was difficult for me. I noticed myself straining to reintegrate back into society, essentially. When I first got back, I remember going to a restaurant by myself and I was sitting there and ordered my food and all of a sudden I just got overwhelmed with people around me and I had to get up and leave. Because I couldn’t deal with it.

Over time it’s gotten better, especially with this last deployment. It was much easier to reintegrate and I think a big part of that had to do with my wife, Meta, and my son, Bo, just being here for me. I had something to focus my attention on.

Caitlin: So, your last to deployment (to Afghanistan) was when your son was nine months old. What was that experience like for you?

Robert: It was devastating. It was pretty rough. The reality of how dangerous a deployment can be really hit me hard when I realized my life with my wife and son was at stake. I was never more terrified than getting on the plane to leave and leaving them here.

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I mean, that’s our job. I mean, I’m a jumpmaster, and I’ve jumped out of an airplane 63 times. That doesn’t scare me. I’m a thrillseeker. And on my previous deployments, it never crossed my mind that that I might not come home. This time, it really was hard.

During the deployment, we Skyped every day. I think it helped, but it also stressed both of us out. There were many times we got attacked while we were Skyping. And my wife could hear it and would be like, “What is that?” And I’d just have to say, “I have to go.”

I never worried about it until I had something I really wanted to come home to.

Caitlin: Yeah, the stakes were higher.

Robert: Yeah, definitely.

Caitlin: What was the reunion like? I mean, as hard as the separation is, the reunion has to be that much sweeter.

Robert: I was so emotional. I couldn’t wait to get out of formation and run to Meta and Bo. All I wanted to do was go to them.

I really felt that sense of pride of coming back home. I made it through the deployment. It was the last one and now I’m going to be with my wife and son.

I picked Bo up and he just latched on to me. He wouldn’t let go.

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Caitlin: You know, I think people have an idea of what it’s like to be part of a military family, but what is something that you think people would find most surprising.

Robert: I think that the servicemember is at the disposal of the military 24/7. It is not uncommon to get a call at 8pm and have to rush in. We’re soldiers 24/7. I’ve been called in on Saturdays and Meta has had to just grow accustomed to that.

Caitlin: My husband was in the Army for six years and was suddenly deployed while we were engaged and it was unclear whether or not he would be home in time for our wedding. And people could not believe that he wouldn’t just get sent home for our wedding.

Robert: Right, exactly.

Caitlin: So, you’re going to be retiring soon. What are you most looking forward to in civilian life?

Robert: You know, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. It’s definitely that if I travel overseas, it will be on my terms. Maybe I’ll have to travel for business, that not that kind of business. Not the kind where people are trying to kill you. I am very much looking forward to that, just knowing that I won’t be in that situation anymore.

Caitlin: What do you think you’ll miss the most?

Robert: I’m going to miss a lot about the Army. I’m going to miss leading soldiers, I really am. I have loved being a non-commissioned officer. That sense of camaraderie. That’s something that is born in the Army and that once you make a friend, especially the guys you’ve deployed with, it’s one of those things that lasts a lifetime.

Caitlin: What’s your best advice for balancing work and family and getting through the hard times?

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Robert: The thing that I think helps with Meta and myself is that we’ve always had this saying, “Always kiss me goodnight.” So, we always talk it out. Sometimes the talking gets heated, but at the end of the day we love each other and we’re doing everything we can to make it work. So, we have that good night kiss and it’s like, hey, we’re going to get through it.

Stay Tuned… on Thursday I’ll talk with Robert’s wife, Meta, for her side of the story!

Heartbreak and Hope: Dealing with infertility

Sometimes the most important topics are the hardest to talk about. I think infertility is really high on that list.

Did you know that about 10% of women in the United States will struggle with infertility? So why aren’t we talking about it? Well, because, it’s really, really hard.

That’s why I’m so honored that Jacqueline offered to talk to me about her fertility journey. If you are struggling with fertility, I hope, in reading this, you’ll find some strength from Jacqueline’s words and realize you are not alone. And, for the rest of us, I hope we’ll learn something about how to be there for our friends and family in this very difficult journey.

Caitlin: So, Jacqueline, first of all, thank you for talking about this issue that I know isn’t easy to discuss. Can you start by telling us a bit about your journey with fertility?

Jacqueline: My journey started about eight years ago. We had been married a few years and had decided that it was time for us to start a family of our own.

A year and a half later, when trying on our own hadn’t worked, I decided to talk to my ob-gyn and asked a few questions. My doctor started me on the process of just checking everything out and seeing if there were any medical issues.

All the tests kept coming back good. Neither of us had any issues. They could find no underlying reason of why we weren’t able to conceive. That was great news.

The doctor suggested that we see a fertility specialist to move things along. We discovered that our insurance covered a good portion of the infertility procedures, which was wonderful. The costs are quite high for both the procedures and the prescriptions.

We had just gotten started when we learned that our insurance was changing carriers. No more awesome coverage! Yikes. We had to move fast so we jumped right into IVF. We basically had to put all of our eggs into one basket, so to speak. One shot.

During this process we also got accepted into an IVF trial so we were fortunate enough to get two shots. Two baskets, Ha!

Unfortunately neither procedure worked. It was a very quick and  head spinning process. We were back to square one.

We moved on to doing IUI next, which was a little more manageable when paying out of pocket.

Caitlin: What kind of emotional toll does that take?

Jacqueline: It’s definitely a roller coaster. Because you go through so many different stages. You start your cycle and you’re both really pumped. You’re like, “This is it! I feel good!”

In the beginning I had to give myself shots of hormones, sometimes twice a day.  Your body is so full of hormones so quickly that it definitely puts you into a crazy brainfog after the first week of shots.

My husband felt very helpless during this process. He knew what a toll it was taking on me.

I often had to take a lunch bag with my dosage in to work. I kept it from my bosses and co-workers. You have to give yourself shots the same time each day and the syringes have to stay refrigerated at all times. I would give myself shots in the ladies room and sometimes in my car. I felt a little like a drug user on occasion sneaking around. (laughs)

The doctors keep close tabs on you during this process and you are in the office almost every other day getting blood work and ultrasounds.

Oh, and they want you to relax. “Don’t stress out,” they say.  Easy to say, not so much to do. After all of that, they do the procedure and you have to wait two weeks to see if you’ve conceived. When the two week mark would start to get close I would tell my husband “Oh my gosh, this might be it. This might be it. I feel good. I don’t feel like I’m getting my cycle.”

And then you do. It’s definitely a heartbreak. You just kind of…. ugh.  I can’t explain the feeling. It was just heartbreaking for both of us.

When you include your family in on it, you feel like you’re all rooting for the same team so it was kind of like, “Ah crap, now I get to tell everybody that it didn’t take.“

So, eventually, I stopped telling people when I was doing cycles. It kind of trailed off after a while. It got a little harder each time it didn’t happen and I thought, “You know what, that’s okay if I don’t tell them.” Because they’ll be thrilled when we say, “We’re having a baby!”

So, it got to the point when that I stopped including my mother in on it because I know that she was having a hard time. It’s just as heartbreaking for a potential grandmother as it is for her daughter and I know she didn’t want to see me hurting. Eventually, I just kind of started keeping it closer to home and it made it easier when people stopped asking because then I didn’t have to say out loud that it didn’t happen again.

And, I would cry. Not always, but it was sometimes just a thirty second cry and you’re kind of like, okay, I’m all right. Put your big girl pants on.

So, it was like nonstop. You’re still on the hormone surge and then you get your cycle, and you’re back at the doctor, you’re not even okay yet with the fact it didn’t work and they’re already talking about the next one.

So, you kind of zoom into the next one and you do it all again. Occasionally I was just too exhausted or the numbers just weren’t good and we would have to take a month off.

Caitlin: Why do you think this issue is so hard to talk about?

Jacqueline: You know, I’m not really sure. I think part of you is kind of surprised that you haven’t been able to conceive and why it’s hasn’t been easy to do. I always thought all it took was going off of birth control and having a few glasses of wine with the hubby.

I think talking about it is tough because you don’t know how to bring the subject up in common conversation. You don’t want to get that head tilt and “Aww” expression. That’s a killer. My husband says it makes him want to throat-punch somebody.(laughs)

A close friend of mine had made me her confidant in her infertility journey. She had gone through it way before I ever began my journey. She had kept me pretty close in her struggle. I am happy to say she was blessed with a beautiful little girl.

So, even though I knew about that, I still thought as soon as I went off birth control pills I would get pregnant the next month. You need other people to talk to.

The frustrations and heartache that a couple can go through each month… you both have the same feelings. We would try and stay positive for each other. My husband is my rock, but it is good to vent to a friend when you need to let off a little steam. It saves your sanity.

After I had finished my IVF rounds and had moved onto IUI, I found out that two of my girlfriends were going through the same thing. One of them was even going to the same doctor! That was a real wake up call for all of us. We saw each other every week but nobody was talking about it! Once we started the conversation it was such a relief to know that we all felt the same things and were having the same struggles. It was good to laugh about the insanity too. It makes it all a little easier to swallow.

Caitlin: Do you still feel disbelief that you’re going through this?

Jacqueline: As many different processes that we went through, IVF, IUI, um, yeah. I am still surprised that nothing has worked. I still have hope. I’ve never lost that, but I do have to say, it’s frustrating. I gave up coffee, I gave up chocolate, I gave up sugar, gluten, alcohol, ate only organic, you name it, to make sure that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I read up on everything to educate myself on alternate reasons for infertility. So, there’s still a little disbelief that you feel like you did everything right and everything that you could do and nothing happens.  It’s definitely frustrating.

Caitlin: Since you last did IUI, what’s been the gameplan?

Jacqueline: We kind of took a break.  After years of trying and years of fertility, we were both kind of numb.  It took us a while to get back to the point that we were ready to try again.  It got to be a lot mentally and the hormones were taking a toll on my body. We both decided that I would benefit from a break and a detox. I felt like I was beating my head against a wall.  It was somewhat of a relief because there wasn’t that constant pressuring and wondering. So that was a good thing to do for both of us.  Now, I get fertility acupuncture treatments and we are just having fun trying on our own.

Caitlin: Tell me about acupuncture.

Jacqueline: I actually went at first for allergies. It was suggested that I not take any over the counter medications during fertility treatments to better my chances. This also led me to learn more about my body and to look deeper into what I was eating and into my environment. I am very proactive about my health and have actually become more mindful of how I treat my body whether its food, sleep, exercise- its all related to your total body health. I wanted to know that I was giving myself the best chance that I could to conceive. My husband joined me in this process, I could not have done it without his support. I am currently seeing a fertility acupuncturist and she prescribes herbal supplements that support the fertility process. It’s a holistic approach, I am so much happier with this approach.

Caitlin: What are your thoughts on adoption?

Jacque: I’ve always thought adoption was a great option for anybody. When it come to us as a couple, we were so concentrated on conceiving ourselves, it wasn’t something we really talked about or really looked into. Recently, we have started to look into it. We sent off for information to a couple places that were suggested. One issue we have had is the fact that the adoption agencies suggest that you should come to grips that you are most likely not going to conceive on your own before starting the adoption process.  I’m not sure either of us are there yet.

Our doctor also suggested an egg donor, as another option.  It’s hard to wrap your brain around what to do next when neither of us has a clue. Usually one of us is stronger when the other needs a hand up. Right now, I think we both feel a little lost in the process.

Caitlin:  You mentioned earlier that you had met some friends who were also dealing with infertility. Have they been able to have children yet?

Jacque: Yeah. Actually, all of them were lucky enough to conceive! It just kind of happened one after another after another. And some of them are even on their second child now. It’s wonderful. Everybody had kids now.

There’s nobody who is still in our boat. I do feel a little bit like we are on our own little island now.

But, fortunately, I couldn’t be happier for any of them. Like, serious tears when they told me they were pregnant. Because you know how it feels… the JOY they must have felt when they got the thumbs up that they were pregnant.

Caitlin: Do you think it was hard for them to tell you?

Jacque: I hope not, but I can imagine if it were me telling them, oh god, yes. Yeah.

I’m thrilled for them, but I can see where telling somebody who is dealing with infertility that you’re pregnant would be really hard.

Caitlin: It must be hard for you to hear, even though you are genuinely happy for your friends.

Jacque: I can’t lie, it’s a weird emotion. You’re elated that your friend is pregnant and then time goes on and maybe a baby shower comes up and you’re out shopping and you’re wrapping the present or something silly like that, and I’ll start crying.

It happens like that. It’s not a direct sadness, it’s more of a trigger. It’s really hard to put into words. And it’s not directed to the pregnant person or the baby or anything like that. It just brings up a sadness. It’s just really hard to explain.

I just think that it definitely helps to talk about stuff. It helps the soul I think, to let it work through the things it needs to work through.

And I think it’s hard to articulate to your friends or family what you’re feeling or what you’re trying to say, but if you kind of just sit down and talk, it’s a wonderful thing. You’re not burdening them. They genuinely care, as you do for them.

Caitlin: What do you think is the best thing people can do to support someone they love who is dealing with fertility issues?

Jacque: You know, that’s a really hard question. I found that for myself, there was a fine line between letting people know what was going on and keeping it a secret and that’s why I didn’t tell a lot of people because I was trying to keep my emotions out of it. That didn’t work.

So, I think that probably if you know somebody that is going through fertility, just let them know that you’re accessible to talk to. Be there for them in a gentle way and be mindful of the person’s feelings.

Though you may have good intentions, don’t bring it up at a party. I’ve had people corner me over the dessert table and start asking me a million questions. There is a time and a place, and that’s not it.

Caitlin: Yeah, I guess people don’t really know how to act sometimes with the tough stuff. You don’t want to pry, but then at the same time, you don’t want your friend or loved one to think you don’t care. It is hard.

Jacque: It is tough. I wish I had the answer. I supposed gently checking in is a nice thing.

Caitlin: What advice would you give someone who is dealing with infertility?

Jacque: Be your own advocate and do your own research. If you decide to go to an infertility clinic, research your doctor and ask around. You need to have a good support group with your doctors and know that they care about you, that you’re not just a baby notch on their belt.

If you are considering going the holistic route, the same thing holds true.

With your spouse or partner, good communication is important. I know sometimes, as the woman, I felt alone and that was tough for him. Your partner is going through it with you, don’t forget that. Maybe not physically, but they are going on the same ride as you are and it’s important to know that they’re there for you and to let them be there for you.

Caitlin: What have you learned about yourself in this process?

Jacque: I realized that I have a lot of drive when it comes to doing what needs to be done. I’m not the wuss that I had thought I was. It’s been a lot of hard work. I mean, when you give up your morning cup of coffee, that’s tough! (laughs) We have both learned that we are a strong couple and we can make it through anything.

We will make wonderful parents, God willing.

 

Have you struggled with infertility? Any words of wisdom to share?

Image credit: Corey Taratuta

The most magical time

Caitlin: So, to begin with, tell me about when you became a mother. How old were you, who are you mother to?

Molly: I was 22 when I had my 1st, fraternal twins, a girl and a boy, Gina and Ian. People often asked me what it was like, being a mom to twins, but I had nothing to compare it to, so it just seemed to be the way it was, so to speak.

Caitlin: Did you always want to be a mom? You were pretty young!

MollyI did always hope to have kids, I even named Gina after all my dolls – I saved that name for 1/2 my life! I WAS a young mom, but in the early seventies, that was the norm.

Of course, the situation with my son was complicated, being born with so many different diagnosis’.  THAT was what made it so very challenging, but, not knowing anything else, I just buckled up & jumped in. As they grew, and his needs were so all encompassing, I had to make sure Gina was equally busy, and had as much as much of my time as he did – certainly kept me crazy busy.

I had a planner, it went everywhere with  me – we did scouts & swimming & softball and any activity for the both of them.

Funny story, at Thanksgiving a few years ago, I asked what they remembered about that most hectic time in our lives, and, imagine my surprise when they said “Every day at 5:30 you called time out to watch Barney Miller, and said we had better be blinded AND bleeding if we were going to interrupt me.”

Caitlin: It’s funny what we remember!

Molly: Ya, all that craziness, and they remember my selfish act, LOL

Caitlin: I don’t know, it sounds to me like keeping sanity! Tell me about your son Ian’s situation.

Molly: So, when they were born, Ian 1st, the doctors said nothing to me, except that the boy had a mark on his back. They would have the pediatrician check it out in the morning. I had 12 hours of bliss before they came in and shattered our lives.

We were told Ian had spina bifida.

Molly & Ian

Molly & Ian

So, because they were early, I had twins and came home empty handed…<sniff> Gina lost birth weight, and they were in 2 different hospitals. We’re talking 41 years ago, and his chances weren’t good..he developed hydrocephalus secondarily to closing his back.

During his childhood he had 6 shunt revisions, because, they ARE mechanical, and “will break down” as we were promised, but then, because of the paralysis caused by SB, he had kidney problems, SCORES of orthopedic problems, and then STOOPID incidentals like a hernia and allergies.

It was surgery after surgery, and he took it like a champ, UNTIL he mutinied.

In 7th grade, he had to have a surgery repeated, it was a bitch, but he had his right tibia broken, in order to realign it, and was casted (again, always in a cast, that one). One day I noticed that the cast was rotated 180 degrees. I KNEW he had re-broken it, pin and all, detached.

When he saw the x-ray he actually THREW his crutch at it and had, for the first time ever, a melt down. He was hysterical and had to be carried out kicking and screaming.

I got scared, a whole NEW kind of scared. He was ranting about suicide, he even tried to jump out of the car – SO I called his pediatrician, (my she-ro) and she visited with us and said it was time to make some decisions. As it turns out, there is a point, where continued surgeries can cause more damage to the id, than benefit to the body.

He had some spinal surgeries, and urological stuff lined up, it wasn’t going to be anything but medical maintenance and there was no end in sight. So, at 13 years old, (HE) we all decided to accept that he would grow to be a wheelchair user, and be the best there ever was at it.

I always tried to teach him that he had to live his life as though he were “affected by” and NOT “afflicted with” spina bifida.

Caitlin: I love that way of thinking of it.

Molly: Now, he’s got his degree, has become successful in his field AND has become an actor (you should rent Cedar Rapids, unbelievable).

Caitlin: How did you handle all that as a young mother?

Molly: I don’t know, Cait, I really don’t know. God gave me a gift, in the way I handle crisis’,  I go into a fugue state, and it can last for years, but I “git ‘er done!” Ian taught me way more than I ever taught him.

So, now let me tell you what I’ve learned as a grandparent.

Everything, every cliche you’ve ever heard, is true. It’s much better the second time around.

Molly & Luca

Molly & Luca

Caitlin: In what way?

Molly: Priorities change. You learn that it doesn’t really matter if they don’t eat their peas.You pick your battles. You really SEE the beauty of their bodies, their synapses, their newness in discovery.

You have a more relaxed approach, a bigger appreciation, when you’re not worried about homework or schedules, I delight in observing Luca, the curve of his chin, the beauty of his shoulders.

His take on all things is new, and fresh, and not at all what we, as jaded adults, see or feel. He never stops talking (NO idea where he gets THAT) and is very affectionate and imaginative. We play all day long, pretending, then reading, or just conversing.

Of course, the other cliche is that I can send him HOME! (laughs) I’m with him, probably 4 out of 7 days, my house or his. He was born in France, and I didn’t get to meet him until he was 5 months old.

Caitlin:What was that like? Meeting your grandson at 5 months?

MollyMeeting Luca, at 5 months, when they returned from Paris, was the most magical moment I’ve ever experienced. I remember I was very, very careful not to be too effusive, or loud, to just hold him, and whisper to him. I laid him down, and examined every little nuance of him. There’s truth to the Welsh proverb: “Perfect love sometimes does not come until grandchildren are born.”

Caitlin: Okay, SO, let’s go back a little bit. You were a new mom, to TWINS, with one affected by spina bifida. What do you think was your greatest success as a mom to young children?

Molly: I think, as far as Ian and his crisis’, I was given a drive, and even, an anger, and managed not to be intimidated by all had to learn. I ended up going back to nursing school and finishing as a surg tech, so I got to scrub in and assist in the same surgeries Ian had, with the same surgeons! So, that was very rewarding. It was like doing road work instead of book work if you get my drift.

I learned early about kids, being people, with curiosities and their own “special needs.”  I drew strength in being able to enlighten others, and had such pride in Gina, who certainly did not enjoy a typical childhood, but enjoyed life, to be sure. She grew up learning patience and compassion.

I have wonderful memories of “downtime” with the two of them, rolling around on the floor, laughing, playing ,bonding. Make no mistake, there were times I thought they’d kill each other, and I let them!

Caitlin: Does Gina ever comment on the difference between Molly the mom and Molly the grandma?

Molly: Oh, yeah, I told her we’d be chatting, and asked her what her thoughts were, and she said I’m an entirely different person now. She loves that Luca and I have our own mutual admiration society, and razzes me about how lax I am now ( I MADE her eat her peas!)

Caitlin: It’s so interesting, because I see my mom with her grandchildren, and they adore her (as do her children). I try to remember what it was like for me as a kid, compared to how she is with them. It’s hard to remember, though.

What have you learned about yourself through your time with Luca? How has it changed your life?

Molly: I’ve learned (or am reminded) that what you say can affect someone permanently. The way you make someone feel is ingrained. I choose my words carefully, because I’m helping to mold a very special someone. I’m less hasty, much more cautious.

Caitlin: With the perspective of being a parent for 40 years and now a very involved grandparent, what advice would you give young parents who are in the thick of it?

Molly: Pay attention. Live in the moment. BREATHE! There’s a reason for cliches, they’re all true, It DOES go by in a blink, and if you’re hurried, you’ll miss it.

It’s the most magical time in my life, right now, and I am well aware. I treasure it, and am convinced it’s why I was born. I am just so overwhelmingly grateful.