Monday, July 21, 2014

Grace and Beauty: Kiera E.

She has blond hair, and a wide, friendly smile.  The colors and lines of her figure are beautiful, and her clothing is always neat and stylish.  Every summer, she packs her husband, five children, and three dogs into cars and airplanes, and transports them hundreds of miles up the east coast.  Her children are also beautiful and stylish.  Over the years, friends and acquaintances have not hesitated to express their admiration for Kiera and her five perfect children.  

I, too, admire the lovely smiles of Kiera and her family.  I am also impressed by the ease with which she tackles the day to day management of such a large life. My own family is far smaller, with fewer responsibilities beyond caring for our children.  While most days we manage to find happiness and nourishment, we do so without the aplum of Kiera E.  We make it to the beach, but our feet are bare and our clothes are wrinkled.  We forget to pack lunch and so we eat strawberries and drink milk for lunch.  Kiera and her family give me hope that one day, my little men and I might also be organized.  


We sit, side by side, in beach chairs.  Her oldest daughter cradles Jaime, while Kiera holds Cameron.  By the water, Tristan holds the hand of another of Kiera's daughters, who is gently guiding him toward the shallows; keeping him safe and content.  Two more of her children, a girl and a boy, bound up, and announce that they're going to the snack bar.  The boy, who is only seven, asks what he can get us.  His sister suggests an ice cream for Tristan, if that's ok with me. It is. While the children run to fetch us iced teas and ice creams, I talk to Kiera, and seek her comfort and guidance on some of life's challenges.  With an open heart, she willingly shares her thoughts and experiences.

This scene occurs several times a week lately, and it is during these moments that Kiera E. truly inspires.  She is endlessly committed to spiritual growth and kindness; traits which she encourages in her children.  My life is very full, and most of the time, when I give, it is to my children.  Kiera's life is far fuller, and yet she and her children find the opportunity and strength to give to everyone they meet.  It is my hope that her grace and beauty will rub off onto me and my little men, and that we, too, may find the strength and courage to live our lives in service to others.  

Monday, July 14, 2014

Grace and Beauty: Leslie C

Sounds of laughter filtered through the open windows of our nursery.  Neighborhood children were enjoying the stretch of the summer sunlight into evening hours, as I tucked my children into bed for the night.  Our neighborhood is small, and I easily recognized the voices.  With Jaime in my arms, I leaned the rocking chair toward the window, and watched a very pretty little girl with freckles, and a giant bow in her hair, drag a puppy along the sidewalk. 

"Come on!" She said to the dog, with exasperation, encouragement, and love in her voice.  Her friends stood by, waiting, until finally the little girl, who is Leslie C's daughter, decided to adjust her tactic, and asked her friends to go get her brother.  A few moments later, he appeared, and together they lugged the obstinate puppy home.  I smiled at the sight of the two siblings working together, and said a little prayer that my three children would grow to be as kind and loving to one another as the C's children.  

A few hours later, Cameron woke, screaming, because he had soaked through his diaper.  I pulled him out of bed, and began a fruitless search for a clean sheet.  I looked at the pile of laundry spilling out of the bathroom closet, and sighed in defeat.  I lugged out the pack n play, and set it up in our bedroom.  I changed my son and set him in it.  We all slept fitfully in our unfamiliar surroundings.  

At first light, we surrendered and started our day.  I was exhausted, and Cameron was cranky.  I decided that the boys and I would hide away inside, in our pajamas all day long.  I excused us from life on account of my having so many small children to look after; of course things like laundry fall by the wayside, and sometimes that means lazy days.  I grabbed some leftover pizza for my breakfast, and tossed Tristan a banana and sippy cup of milk.  As we munched, Tristan played with his toys, and the twins rolled around on the floor.  I sleepily perused Facebook.   An update from the Groovy Gator, Leslie C's children's boutique, caught my eye.  A group of cheerful children, clad in adorable, bright-colored clothing hung around a lifeguard chair.  The status announced that the shop was open, and ready for shoppers. 

I glanced at my three children.  I didn't need to go to the Groovy Gator, because their perfect beach-ready outfits were already hanging over a laundry basket; Leslie had brought them to us a few weeks earlier.  I thought about Leslie, and her beautiful, kind children.  She's raising three kids while running a business, and launching a clothing line.  Suddenly, my excuses seemed absurd.  I dropped the pizza and put on my bathing suit.  I dressed the kids in their Groovy outfits, and away we went.

A few hours later, when a friend of my mother's saw us at the beach, she asked me how I possibly did anything with three children so small, and so close in age. I responded with my usual line about having lots of help.  In my mind, I was thinking of the beauty and grace of the life of Leslie C. and how it made my own challenges and responsibilities seem so small, and inspired me to face life with enthusiasm and joy.  

Grace and Beauty

On any given day, I can be spotted transporting my three small children around Aquidneck Island.  We go to the beach, we visit relatives, and we run errands.  I wear one of the babies in an Ergo, and the other shares  a double BOB stroller with his big brother. The people we meet stare for a moment, while they reassure themselves that yes, this mother is vastly outnumbered by her babies.

"Well, you have your hands full, haven't you?" they say. "How on earth do you do it?"  
I respond with an oft-rehearsed line about loving motherhood, and accepting help from friends and family.

  I don't take the time to explain what I mean by help.  Much of it is given consciously and willingly; smiling friends and family who cuddle my babies and entertain my wild toddler, and who shower me with strength and support.  Sometimes, however, the help is not so obvious.  Some of my benefactors work as a role models, unaware that they are spreading strength and inspiration into my heart.

In an effort to better answer those who are curious about where I find the strength to care for my three little men, I've decided to write a series: "Grace and Beauty." Each post will honor a woman whose grace and beauty have filtered into my life, and transformed into courage and guidance.  I would like to say I will post weekly, but it may be that fate has other plans for me.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Day Like Any Other

It hasn't been too long since I've written, but a month has passed since I last published any thoughts.  The end of June and the beginning of July have been a series of disruptions ranging from sleepless nights and childhood fevers to the death of loved ones, and relapses into serious illness. Today was no different, and we endured both sleeplessness and tragic news.  Even so, each morning we rise, done our swimsuits, and head to the beach.  We have only three months in which to roam the sand, surrounded by loved ones; drenched in sunlight, wind and salty spray. Wasting one of these days in doors feels, to me, like a grave offense.

Last night, our son's brain endured a massive, painful transition.  Or, at least, this is what we imagine must have kept him awake until 4:40 in the morning, only to rise a few hours later, with a noticeably stronger grasp of language and vocabulary.

"Please bring the toenail clippers to me, Tristan; they are not a toy for children," I asked him, in the groggy and disoriented voice of one who hasn't had nearly enough sleep in several days.

He squinted at me for a moment, and then, in a thoughtful voice, said, "No."

"Tristan, you are going to hurt yourself, please bring me those clippers." 

This time he paused only briefly, and a note of jubilee entered his tone. "No," he said.

"Tristan, can you bring that to Bella?"  This would be my last attempt to persuade him to surrender the clippers willingly, and I was already moving toward him.  A glint of playful challenge entered his eyes, and he tucked his toy behind his back.

"No," he said, happily, backing away. 

As of now, I remain quicker and more flexible than him, and it was quite easy to snatch the toenail clippers out of his tiny hands.  He may have shrieked, but I don't remember.  I'm also unsure of what I did with the clippers, other than placing them somewhere out of reach.  These memories are among many that exhaustion has stolen from me. All I can really recall about the two hours that followed this exchange is a strong urge to sleep.  It's still with me.  The urge to play in the sand and splash in the waves was stronger.  The urge to write is stronger, now. So we went.

  My three little men filled their lungs with fresh, sea air, and stretched their faces into smiles and giggles.  They hopped in between cool shade and bright sunlight, and they ran along the edge of the ocean.  They were wrapped in a thousand hugs, and heard countless voices cover them in love.

Like so many days, recently, today was punctuated with difficulty and loss.  It was lived through the foggy, half-vision of fatigue.  It was colored by the deep hues of Aquidneck Island shores in July.

Tristan learned to defy me, and we went to the beach.  I will think of everything else tomorrow.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Summer Birthday Party

My mother's side of the family is large and rambling.  While common genetic roots have a role in our unity, there are other players involved.  To explain exactly how and why a person is considered family can be confusing and tedious.  The subject is sometimes broached when all other topics have been exhausted, and conversation is starting to wane; but most of the time, cousins are cousins whether they are first cousins, second cousins once-removed, cousins through marriage, or even just the child of our mother's sister's oldest and dearest friend.  The same goes for aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.  Grandparents are called by their given pet names (Nana, Pop-pop, etc.), whether or not they are your parents' parents.  

During the winter, family meetings are scattered and brief; but the during the summer months, the island swarms with relatives of all kinds.  

At the end of June, I brought my children to the twelfth birthday party of cousin Ollie.  It was a pool party.  Even with my mother there to help, wrangling my three little men, and keeping them alive and safe, proved nearly unmanageable. It was a moment in which motherhood dragged me along behind her, tearing my ego to shreds, and humbled me to accept help from older and wiser mothers.   I felt sure that everyone present was sighing to herself, thinking that I was foolish and unprepared for the demands of parenting; far too irresponsible, and overly entitled.  I couldn't make eye contact with anyone.  Instead, I begged their forgiveness and gratitude while blushing, and pushed screaming infants into the arms of various aunts and cousins as I dashed after Tristan, who seemed intent on death by drowning. 

On the way home, Tristan smiled at me.

His smile made me smile, and in one swift movement, my perspective changed, and my heart lightened. Tristan had had a wonderful time. Cameron and Jaime had nestled in loving arms of cousins and aunts, while my firstborn and I swam in circles for over an hour.  My cousins and their children had laughed and played, and enjoyed hotdogs, hamburgers, and Hoodsie cups.  Everyone may have been critiquing my parenting skills, but they probably weren't; even if they were, their thoughts were born from love, and the day was full of joy.  

It wasn't my finest moment as a parent, but luckily, my goal is not to be the best parent in the world.  My goal is to raise compassionate, humble, and happy children.  With the help of my family, I may have a chance of achieving it.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Birth of Jaime Loomis and Cameron Whitford, Part III


I awoke the morning of December 31st to find myself in the antenatal unit with my husband sleeping soundly on the couch next to me.  The room was large and pleasant looking.  A nurse came by take my vitals and monitor the babies.  Other than explaining that someone would return at 7pm, she had very little to say. She was followed by a woman who wheeled in a breakfast cart, and then left, without saying a word.

I sat and ate the first meal I had had in days, and texted my mother from Court's phone, begging her to bring me my son, and some fresh clothes, as soon as she woke.  I fell back to sleep, and awoke to a text that she and my mother-in-law were on their way. A few moments later, there was a knock on the door, and the sound of my mother's voice.  My heart leaped. I craned my neck, and stretched my arms toward Tristan, for whom I ached.  The poor child took one look at me and turned immediately away, clinging to his grandmother.  I felt a tightness in my throat. 

"You did the same thing when I went to have your brother," my mother said, kindly.  She went on to tell me that Tristan had had a stomach bug over the weekend, and had been up vomiting two nights in a row.  I felt tears rolling out of the corners of my eyes, but pushed them away, so as not to frighten him further. Very slowly, he warmed to me, until finally he was brave enough to sit on my bed.  I sent someone to fill a bottle, which he drank in my arms, and fell asleep.  We napped together until it was time to for him to leave.

Tristan and me on the last day of 2013.

What followed was a period of relative calm.  The days continued in very much the same manner as the first.  I was fed three nutritious, vegetarian meals a day, and slept soundly each night.  (One of the mothers in the online mothering group had sent me a pregnancy pillow; a kindness for which I will be forever grateful.)  The doctors and nurses were, for the most part, extremely kind and helpful, but wholly without answers.  Court stayed with me, and our parents brought Tristan to see us as often as possible.  After four days, it came to light that I was to remain in the hospital until the arrival of the twins, or as long as six weeks.  

That afternoon, Court went home to be with Tristan, while I weathered a snowstorm alone in my hospital room.  I began to feel as if my contractions were again strengthening.  I thought that maybe this was a psychological response to the prospect of staying in the hospital for another month and a half.  The nurse on duty seemed to agree with this theory.  

With this in mind, when Court came to visit me the following day, I sent him home, even though I was again feeling intense discomfort in my abdomen.  A few hours later, the nurse came in with a doctor.  She said she had a feeling I should be checked, just in case.  I agreed. 

"She's at 6," said the doctor quietly but quickly, snapping off her glove.  Again, the room sprang into action, and again, I started shivering and crying.  

"You're 32 weeks, and you've had the steroids, your babies are going to be just fine" everyone kept reassuring me. 

"My husband isn't here, we have to wait for my husband," I pleaded back, as I frantically texted and phoned Court.  

As he sped along the highway, a team of nurses began prepping me for a caesarean-section. I was wheeled into an extremely bright, harsh room with what seemed like a thousand people.  There was a team of doctors for each baby, and one for me.  I started to panic.  I was given a spinal, and still, no sign of Court. I began to babble to the anesthesiologist, who did his best to offer reassurance and calm.   

I was lying on the impossibly narrow metal slab, with a pale green sheet draped in front of me, curtaining my numb lower half from view, when I saw Court making his way toward me.  Relief flooded through me, followed closely by a wave of intense nausea. I alerted the anesthesiologist, who was more than a little concerned, but was, evidently, up to the challenge.  He helped me successfully vomit without choking. 

A few moments later, I heard the surgeon telling his intern to really put her weight into it. 
"Baby A is out," someone called.  I waited tensely until I heard a tiny, infant cry. 
"Baby B is out!"
Again, I waited, and again, I heard a tiny wail. 

This seemed to take several minutes, but later I learned that the boys were born within moments of each other, at 9:46 in the evening.  It was Saturday, January 4, 2014. Baby A weighed 5lb2oz, and baby B weighed 4lb2oz.

After I was reassured that the babies were both alive and well, and breathing on their own, they were rushed off to the NICU. 

I was alone for several hours after that, but it was ok; I felt peace, and relief.  Finally Court returned, and I was brought to meet my children.  A doctor from the NICU explained everything I needed to know, and Court and I decided on names.  I was wheeled back to my room, and given something to help me sleep.

It didn't work.  Court slept soundly next to me, while I remained alert and restless at 3 o'clock in the morning.  I called the nurse on duty and asked to be taken to the NICU.  When I arrived I asked when I could hold my children, and begin breastfeeding.  Jaime (baby A) was having some trouble breathing, so he couldn't try to nurse, but I could hold them both immediately.   One at a time, I was given each boy, and then left alone.  I sat, in the dark, and held them against my chest and hummed, and as I hummed, I prayed.  

Three and a half weeks later, Jaime Loomis and Cameron Whitford were healthy enough to come home. Tristan was uncertain at first, but has since come to love them fiercely.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Birth of Jaime Loomis and Cameron Whitford, Part II

returned home from that first trip to the ER confused and anxious.  The doctors had told me that my chances of delivering in the next two weeks were less than 5%, and also emphasized the lack of research in support of bedrest.  I was given no instructions for at-home care.  This contrasted sharply with what my body was telling me.  I vented my distress to an online group of mothers, whose advice and support I had come to trust and value.  One of the mothers in the group, Raf, is a labor and delivery nurse.  I described to her my symptoms, and she said it sounded like the combined weight of the babies was putting pressure on my cervix, causing it to dilate.  She advised self-imposed bed rest and lots of water. 

I tried to follow her advice,  but without the support of a doctor, it was very difficult to resist chasing after my one year old at a family Christmas gathering.  My contractions grew stronger, but never regular.  They came in waves, and then stopped for hours.  I was wary of the chaos of the emergency room, and determined not to return until labor was absolutely undeniable.  Instead, I continued to keep Raf updated on my symptoms.  On Sunday afternoon, she started telling me to return to the hospital.  My contractions still weren't regular, but they were very close together and increasingly painful. 

I don't know where my husband was, but I remember being alone, lying on the uncomfortable white couch in our formal living room, clutching the iPad, and waiting for him to return.  I still wasn't entirely convinced that it was time to go, and when he finally arrived, we discussed the matter for an hour so longer.  After all, the doctor had told us we had a 95% chance of lasting at least another two weeks.  I phoned Newport Hospital, where I delivered Tristan, and asked if I could come in for a quick check.  The labor and delivery nurse who answered was alarmed by the sound of my voice, and advised us to go straight to Providence.   Around nine in the evening on December 28, 2014, we packed our belongings, and headed in.  

During the hour or so that it took us to get to Women and Infants, it became clear that we had made the right decision.  My contractions were now strong enough that I was writhing in pain, and I could no longer talk through them.  Still, at times they would slow, and when they did, I became full of doubt over whether we should have left Tristan and made the drive.  

Eventually we were ushered into a small, decrepit cell in triage (as I mentioned, this section of the hospital was under renovation), and again, my cervix was checked.  

The stages of my dilation are a bit hazy to me.  I'm not sure if I was 2cm on my first trip, and 2.5 when I arrived on Sunday, or 0cm on my first trip, and 2cm on Sunday.  In any event, I wasn't very dilated. Court and I were relieved but bewildered. Having delivered a baby only fourteen months earlier, I recognized the strength of what I was feeling.  I was offered morphine, which I readily accepted.  An hour later, I was still in pain, and a doctor checked my cervix again.  I had dilated to 4.5/5cm.  This is the cusp of active labor.  The room suddenly buzzed with action.  

My breath became short, and, on the monitors, the babies' heartbeats raced. The doctor by my bedside pointed this out to me, gently asked that I remain calm.  I began babbling, one minute optimistically, afterall, my water remained unbroken, and I had read about the high survival rates of babies born at 31 weeks gestation; the next minute in terror, guilt, and disbelief.  I clutched Court's hand in my own and threw myself helplessly into his gaze.  The firmness and nearness of his presence stopped the manic stream of chatter, and instead, I settled into a bizarre pattern of gasping, laughing, and sobbing.  My skin prickled with goosebumps and I shivered, though I don't remember feeling cold.  I was given various medications and fluids, both intravenously and orally, the explanations of which were lost to me.

At some point I was wheeled into a windowless room with an obstetrician from my own practice.  I remember her as tall, with blond hair, and a confident voice.  She explained to me that I had been given a shot of steroids, to help the babies lungs grow, and magnesium, which, in addition to helping stave off labor, would help prevent potential brain bleeds, which were common in preterm infants.  There was also an NSAID, of some sort, which was helping to prolong labor, I think.  She introduced a doctor from the NICU, who kindly and reassuringly explained how the neonatalogists would protect and care for my babies, were they to arrive that evening.  I remember her as a very calming presence, but I can't recall a word she said.  

I was wheeled to yet another windowless room, which was somehow even darker than the first.  My pain increased, for which I was administered Stadol, a drug which I will never again accept.  I lost all sense of reality. I faded in and out of consciousness, and could not determine when I was dreaming, and when I was awake.  The person in the chair next to me transformed from my husband to my mother, and at one point, even my father-in-law. I kept whispering for them not to leave me, and asking for reassurance that I was awake, and alive.  Meanwhile, nurses filtered through, administering drugs and fluids, and begging me to sleep.  Unfortunately, my pain and fear would not subside, and I remained awake, confused and incoherent.

Eventually, slowly, the Stadol wore off, and I began to understand that my contractions had slowed and I was no longer dilating.  The room came into focus, and I saw that I was in labor and delivery.  Labor had been successfully halted for the 48 hours necessary for the medications I'd been given to take affect on my unborn children.  

I was wheeled to a fourth room.  I still had very little idea of what was happening, or what was to come, and I missed Tristan terribly.  Even so, I was giddy with relief to be in a room with a window, and a sofa bed for my husband.  We watched television, and finally, I slept.