Special Edition: Thoughts on Our Fourth Anniversary

Friday, May 24, 2019

On May 24, 2015, the day we got married, here is what I knew:

I knew that we were getting married on Kim and Kanye's first wedding anniversary.

I knew that I was taking a year off in between law school graduation (which had happened 2 weeks prior) and the bar exam.

I knew that we would soon embark upon an epic honeymoon that would keep us out of the US until August 17.

I knew that the world was our oyster and that together, we could do anything.

I knew that we were young, but that didn't matter, because the truest, deepest, realest love was on our side (yeah!).

And on May 24, 2015, the day we got married, here is what I thought I knew:

I thought I knew that we would both have careers in international law, which would allow us to live abroad for an indefinite time period.

I thought I knew that we would wait at least 5 years to have biological children, and that maybe we wouldn't even have them at all (we could always adopt after having satisfied our career ambitions).

I thought I knew that maybe we wouldn't even adopt -- maybe we'd just be a really fun aunt and uncle, because having kids seems like it would make traveling and doing-whatever-we-want really difficult.

I thought I knew that we would never live in Oklahoma -- that if we lived in the US at all, it would be New York or D.C.

I thought that I would go back to my 'old self' -- the self that lived abroad, independent and detached from the goings on at home aside from the occasional Christmas or summer holiday.

But on May 24, 2015, the day we got married, here is what I did not know:

I didn't know that soon after we returned from our honeymoon, we would learn that one of our parents was suffering from terminal illness.

I didn't know that on the night we learned of said illness, that I would look at my husband-of-5-months and, without my having to say it loud, he would know that I needed to have a baby immediately.

I didn't know that it would take 10 months for successful conception.

I didn't know that it I would spend the first 98 days of my pregnancy (give or take a few) legitimately hoping to die from HG nausea and depression, most days unable to consume more than a 44 oz. carbonated water with lime.

I didn't know that my career would look literally nothing like I thought it would.

I didn't know a baby would be born unto us who would quite arguably be the most perfect, angelic creature ever known to man -- an atypically developing boy whose story is ever-changing as we learn of more special needs to be met -- and that somehow, despite all of his challenges, I would not change one single thing about him.

I didn't know that we might only have one biological child.

I didn't know that we might foster or adopt as many kids as we possibly can.

I didn't know that the life we would build together would look nothing at all like I had pictured, but that it would be good and rich and full of meaning, and maybe -- just maybe -- better than the life I had envisioned for us.

In short, I didn't know how hard our first four years would be, but I didn't know how good they would be either.

Click here to watch our wedding videos (that I love so, so, much!) parts 1 and 2.

Foster Care Fridays: Thoughts on "The System"

Friday, May 17, 2019

Joe has been taking as many photos as possible to document our experience so we can one day show these to our foster kid(s) and help them understand how hard we fought for them, and how much we wanted them.

My thoughts on reunification are ever-evolving, but they haven't changed since I wrote this post last week.  Here's the thing: reunification is always the goal, until it's not the goal anymore (i.e. until the parents rights are terminated).  But this begs a question I've continued to obsess over this past week: at what point does the parents' behavior warrant termination of parental rights?

Earlier this week, we learned of a recent trial which speaks to this very issue.  To be clear, this trial has nothing to do with us, specifically, but as soon-to-be foster parents, it piqued our interest nonetheless.  Because this court opinion is public record, I am going to discuss some of the facts of the case in this post.

(1) Birth mom struggles with substance abuse and addiction (2) Birth mom has a teenage son who has sexually abused the birth mom's young daughter repeatedly (3) Because of birth mom's substance addiction and dependency, she has lacked the ability to properly care for her daughter and prevent sexual abuse from occurring inside the home (4) Young daughter was removed from the birth mom's custody and placed in foster care as a result of this repeated abuse.

In a jury trial last month, the members of the jury returned a verdict in favor of the birth mom's right to retain custody of her daughter.  That is to say, because the birth mom passed her most recent drug test and, through testimony, affirmed her ability to prevent sexual abuse from occurring between her teenage son (who still resides in her home) and her young daughter (to be removed from foster care and re-placed in the mother's home), the jury effectively said, "Okay, sure - that's fine.  Reunify away!  A pattern of sexual abuse is totally something that we can correct with a slap on the wrist and some casual parental oversight."  I say "casual parental oversight" because the mom works full-time and the father's identity is unknown, which is to say this young girl will spend a significant amount of time alone with her abusive teenage brother.  In other words, this young girl will almost certainly be sexually abused again and again and again by said teenage brother.  And to make matters worse, at a hearing following the jury trial, it became known that the birth mom had failed her most recent drug test, but the judge elected to extend grace to the birth mother and offer a second chance before the daughter is removed again.

Upon learning of this case, my natural, knee-jerk reaction was to imagine the pain in which these foster parents must find themselves; knowing that their foster daughter -- over whom they've diligently watched and for whom they have selflessly cared and loved for an extensive period of time -- is likely surviving abuse on a daily basis, and they are absolutely powerless in this knowledge.  Surely this is the essence of suffering.  But then I catch myself and realize: what about this young child?  What about her pain and suffering?  And suddenly it's too much.  I have such resentment for "the system."

And then I have to ask myself: who do we include in "the system"?  The birth parents?

Yesterday at TBRI training, we sat before a panel of foster families -- beautiful couples who all count among their children a hybrid of both biological offspring and adopted foster kids.  Many of them brought me to tears with their stories, to the point where we felt so appreciative just to be in their company.  We left feeling so dang inspired, empowered, and hopeful -- believing even more so that we really can do this.  But one of them offered a piece of advice that I keep replaying in my head: "You have to know that the threshold for reunification is so unbelievably low.  It is ten times lower than the standard you would have for your own biological kids." She went on to share a story about one of her former foster children who was reunified with his mom, even after the mom testified that there was no way she could possibly take the child to the many therapy appointments that he desperately needs to attend each week.  The son was reunified with his mom, and his therapy is effectively over.

I was particularly troubled by this because my own son is in therapy 5 days a week (speech, physical, and occupational).  The thought of his therapy abruptly coming to a halt despite his dire need for it makes me break a literal sweat.  But then I thought to myself, "What if I didn't have the transportation to get my son to his therapy?  What if I didn't have insurance to cover his therapy?  What if I had insurance, but couldn't afford to make the co-pay?  What if I didn't have supportive family to meet my needs when I can't meet them myself?  What if I didn't have a husband with whom I could partner through all of parenting's ups and downs?  What if my kids' survival depended upon my having a job that required me to work 12 hour shifts, essentially from the time my child wakes up to the time my child goes to bed?  What if --"

You get the idea.  It didn't take me long to put myself in that particular birth mother's shoes.  Would I deserve to have my son removed from my care because of any of those things?  No.  Of course not.    So no, we cannot, for the most part, include the birth parents in our blanket condemnation of "the system."

But what about DHS workers?  Can we include them in "the system"?  I recently read a post in defense of DHS workers, which I will quote below (for context, it was written by a fellow foster care advocate and mom, after a foster son in her community was reunified with his birth mom and then brutally murdered by said birth mom days later):

"[DHS workers] are driving hours upon hours and they are standing in courtrooms and dining rooms and therapy rooms and most of them are FIGHTING.  But let me tell you what they're not doing.  They're not doing this for the money.  They're not working 9-5.  And they sure as hell aren't intentionally leaving children with murderers."

As you might have suspected, I'm not willing to place blame on the shoulders of DHS workers, either.

Ultimately, "the system" is: the system.  Birth moms and DHS workers do not represent the system as much as they exist as cogs in the system's machinery.  As such, birth moms are generally just doing their best with the tools they are given (and many are not given any tools, having aged out of "the system" themselves with zero support or foundation).  And even on the very onset of foster care, I know enough to know that, for the most part, DHS workers are doing their best to make the right choices, too, in spite of the very real fact that they often do not, or simply cannot.

I don't believe it's a foregone conclusion that "the system" will always exist as the infamous broken mechanism that it is.  It will take relentless advocacy, it will call for policy change, it will require voters showing up, it will demand grassroots movements -- I've even momentarily (ever so momentarily) considered running for office on the very platform of DHS reform.  But before I run for office, or knock on doors for other candidates, or speak publicly at forums, or advocate for any of these things on a real and meaningful level (and maybe I'll run out of energy well before I get to that point -- who even knows?), I'm starting from the place from which one must start, and that is within the four walls of my home, welcoming whoever it is we need to welcome and doing whatever work it is that we need to do for that one child or children.

And if you're still thinking, as you read my rambling thoughts, that it's futile, or naive, to attempt to fix a system that will, in a sense, always be broken, as there will always be evil in the world and as a result, children can never be totally safe and cared for all of the time?  To that I say, surely the system can be better than it is now -- much, much better.

So I will start within the four walls of my home and we'll see how far I go from there.  Maybe I'll exhaust my efforts so early that I have to pass the torch to someone else before it's even lit.  And if that's the case, then I hope that by merely sharing my experiences here can educate and inspire someone to carry the torch further than I can.  Maybe someone reading this very post.  Maybe you.

3 Things Thursday: 3 Reasons I Can't Wait for Summer

Thursday, May 16, 2019

3 Things Thursday: the "rule of three" principle suggests that sets of threes are inherently more humorous and satisfying than any other number of things.  On Thursdays I feature random lists pertaining to anything and everything -- grouped in 3, of course.

3 Reasons I Can't Wait for Summer: 2019 Edition

1.  Summer Baking

Whether it's pies, lemon bars, cakes, or just fruit-themed dessert, it seems like summer is the season for baking (until Christmas season, that is....).  We were still following strict FPIES guidelines last summer, but this summer we are restriction-free!  I am hoping we can make lots of trips to berry farms, which will in turn mean more cobblers and pies.  

2.  Trips to the Park

This is likely the thing I'm most anticipating.  Summer nights are made for swinging until dusk (and then retreating home for pie), am I right?  Planning on throwing any and all bedtimes out the window for the next 10 weeks and touring all the best parks in town.  Oooh, and splash pads too -- I forgot about splash pads!

3.  Charcuterie Boards Galore

It's only fair that 2 of my 3 listed items are food-related.  Don't get me wrong -- charcuterie boards should be a year-round concept, but summertime is perfect for snacking/grazing throughout the day (and then ending the night with pie, of course -- have I mentioned pie yet?).  The best part is that kids, in my experience, love snacking on these too and thus they can be a family affairs which is translation for: easy meal times with minimal prep.  Sign me up, summer!  

Wedding Wednesdays: The Most Stressful Part of Owning a Wedding Business

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Wedding Wednesdays: In between law school and the bar exam, I owned and operated a business/creative team that planned 15 weddings in 15 months.  These are the stories I lived to tell.

I'm going to let you in on a wedding industry secret right now:

The most stressful part of owning a wedding business is not navigating unpredictable or unexpected changes of weather.

Nor is it members of the bridal party not showing up on the wedding day because they are in a groomsman's bed.

Nor is it when the groom steps on the bride's dress and rips it right before they make their grand entrance into the reception hall.

Nor is it when the biggest Bridezilla turns out to the father-of-the-groom.

Nor is it when a drunken bridesmaid interrupts the bride on the dance floor to cry about her singleness and you are asked to intervene.

Nor is it when a Wal-Mart employee makes it his personal mission to ruin the wedding day of a person he has never met.

Nor is it when a drunken groomsman makes veiled threats to you because you allegedly didn't smile at him enough during the wedding rehearsal.

Nor is it when a bridesmaid hands you a mop and asks you to clean up vomit on the dance floor and you're like, hi, I have a law degree.

Nor is it when a local boutique hotel double books the wedding reception for 2 parties: (1) your client's wedding, and (2) the Golden State Warriors to review film before their playoff game.

Nor is it when the grandmother of the bride takes exception to the way you have decorated the reception (even though it is entirely in keeping with the bride's aesthetic and her very own requests) and you have to debate whether or not you should physically remove this elderly woman so she doesn't further disrupt the set-up.

Nor is it when the groom walks into your own home unannounced because he has a question and thought waltzing through your unlocked front door would be a better idea than, I don't know, emailing or calling.

No, none of these things -- and I mean to say not one -- is as stressful as when all the other members of the creative team are occupied and you have to be the one to transport the cake from the kitchen to the venue, and that venue is 30+ minutes away.

Your life flashes before your eyes with every speed bump.

Every pothole.

Every sharp turn.

Every stop sign.

Every squirrel that runs into the road.

However, on the other side of the same coin: there is no greater feeling of relief than when you arrive at the venue, park your car slowly and carefully, exit the vehicle in slow-motion, open the rear hatch door as though you are detonating a bomb, and see for yourself a flawless, perfectly in tact, unscathed wedding cake masterpiece without so much as a drop of icing out of place.

Who needs skydiving and zip-lining?

The biggest adrenaline rushes are to be found in the dead center of the wedding industry.

Travel Tuesday: The WORST Worst Trip Ever

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Travel Tuesday: Sharing untold stories of life abroad, continuing to travel domestically and internationally, and leaving nothing undocumented.

I'm going to have to tell this story in a series of enumerated mini-catastrophes, because telling them in the aggregate - as one major catastrophe - is too much for my weary soul to bear, as I'm still recovering from this whole experience.

Here we go.

But first, context: longtime readers of this blog may remember my good friend Erica, co-worker at the US Embassy Vienna turned lifelong friend (we've experienced too much together to stop being friends now -- we're stuck for life).  Erica was getting married in Milwaukee -- a date we've literally had on the calendar for, like, a full year.  However, with all of our foster/adoption deadlines these past few months, I hadn't been as responsive or involved as I would have liked in the wedding planning process.  I told myself it was okay, because I'd celebrate her at the welcome dinner on Friday night and the wedding itself on Saturday night, and that was what mattered most.  Aside from that, Joe and I had not yet spent a night away from our son in the 2 years since he was born, and thus we were looking forward to this parents'-weekend-away with anxious anticipation.  We were even thinking of it as an early 4-year wedding anniversary trip!  Tickets and hotel booked, bags packed, ready to leave on Thursday night.  That is, until....

Spoiler alert: this picture sums up our entire travel experience quite nicely.

Mini-catastrophe #1: Joe ended up not being able to take off work for Friday (tickets were booked for Thursday night) and I had a work conflict come up as well.  To top that off, our childcare fell through on Friday and despite texting every single childcare provider in my phone, I could not find someone to take care of our son.  We had no choice but to change our flights.  However, our tickets were non-refundable.  When I tried to change them, I was told I could cancel them, but even then would receive no refund in return.  There were no changes to be made.  We had to rebook our tickets entirely.  This. Was. Not. Cheap.  This also meant we'd miss the welcome party set for Friday night.  I was bummed, but at least we'd be at the wedding.  That was, after all, what mattered most.

Mini-catastrophe #2: When we showed up to the Tulsa airport early Saturday morning, the security line snaked around and around, seemingly into infinity.  Joe remarked that this was odd for the Tulsa airport (a small airport by all accounts).  As we waited patiently in the security line, we couldn't help but overhear passing remarks about flight cancellations and delays.  "Weird," I shrugged. "At least it's not our flight!"  At least it wasn't our flight, indeed.  That is, until it was.  I looked at my phone and saw an American Airlines alert that read, "Flight delay: 2 hours."

Mini-catastrophe #3: With a now 3-hour wait time until boarding, we sauntered leisurely through the airport in search of breakfast.  Our options were slim: Chili's or Einstein Brothers.  We ended up at Einstein Brothers (shocker, I know), paying $26+ for 2 bagels, a yogurt, an orange juice and a coffee.  This alone was a mini-catastrophe in and of itself.

Mini-catastrophe #4:  Joe's $8 coffee was allegedly undrinkable, so he tossed it in the trash and walked to a different airport cafe in search of something better.  He was greeted by an angry woman who hastily yelled (literally yelled) at him from behind the cafe's counter, "WHAT DO YOU WANT!"  He was understandably shocked and confused, so he stood motionless, contemplating how to react.  She glared with hostility until he responded with his order (a simple black coffee).  At this, she scowled, and may as well have splashed the hot coffee in his face before charging him a whopping $6 for a dixie cup sized coffee.  I assured Joe, "She was probably just having a bad day." In the meantime, I was beginning to wonder about the kind of day we ourselves would have.

Mini-catastrophe #5: Our departure flight kept getting further delayed.  The gate would change, then it would get delayed again, then the gate would change again.  By the time we finally boarded, we knew we would have 15 minutes to make our connecting flight to Milwaukee.  This did not make for a very relaxing flight, nor did the fact that the passenger sitting directly behind us was apparently suffering from the Bubonic Plague and coughing in our general direction every 3.8 seconds.  We ended up moving toward the mostly-empty front of the plane, where our only neighbor was a young man in large headphones listening to Beyonce's Homecoming so loudly that we could hear every beat of every drum (to be clear: this was not a mini-catastrophe, but rather a welcomed bright spot in our otherwise extremely cloudy day).  However, even the beat of the remixed 'Hold Up' couldn't rid me of my anxiety as we landed and taxied the runway, precious minutes ticking away on the clock.

Mini-catastrophe #6: When we landed in Dallas and the plane door opened, Joe excused our way past the other passengers on the plane until our feet hit the tunnel ground at which point we had no choice but to sprint......and keep sprinting.  You'd think the most annoying part of this marathon was the pain I experienced all throughout my body, not having worked out in over 18 months, when in reality it was the fact that bystanders felt the need to call out discouraging remarks to us.  "Oh, you know they're never going to make it", an older woman scoffed as we passed by in a blur.  A separate woman in a touristy getup called out to us, "Hey, if you have to run that fast, it means you're not gonna make it!"  Joe responded under his breath, "What? That doesn't even make any sense?!"

Mini-catastrophe #7:  We ran through terminal B, accessed the tram to transport us across the state of Texas (or so it felt) to terminal C.  I had told Joe, "When we get to the gate as the woman with the boarding passes is closing the door, be sure to crash into her.  When she drops the boarding passes, we can just sail past her and board the aircraft!"  However, it turns out that the pre-9/11 expectations set forth by Home Alone 2 had set me up to fail; we arrived at out gate, panting and wheezing, only to find that the door had closed 6 minutes prior.  The touristy woman in Terminal B's prophesy had come true, and I cursed her under my breath.

Mini-catastrophe #8:  As we stood at the gate, we took our place at the end of a long line of angry and disgruntled passengers who had also missed the flight.  As we inched toward the counter, the airline employee called out to us, "If you're trying to change your flight or get a refund, you have to go to customer service!  You can't do that here."  We let out a loooooooong sigh, picked our bags, and began the trek toward customer service, which was by no means nearby.

Mini-catastrophe #9: Upon our arrival at the customer service counter -- oh wait, where was the customer service counter?  Oh, that's right; we couldn't see it behind the SEA OF HUNDREDS OF ANGRY TRAVELERS.  We literally stared, wide-eyed and mouths agape, at the sight of this.  Somewhere among the sea, a line had formed, but where was the end of it?  We began to walk toward what we thought was the end of it, only to find out it never actually ended.  We walked past gate after gate after as the line stretched on.  Finally, we took our place at the tail end of it, behind what we could only assume was over 200 people, and surveyed our surroundings.  "How are we ever going to get to Milwaukee?", I asked Joe.  By this point, tears of anger and frustration were starting to form.  He shook his head in defeat.  We estimated that it would take hours -- several of them -- just for us to snake to the front of this customer service line.  Joe pulled out his phone to call customer service -- hopefully that would be faster! -- and I pulled out my phone to see if maybe we should just book new flights to Milwaukee (which would be our third set of flights for this one trip) and then apply for reimbursement later.  That's when I saw it: even though it was 2:00 in the afternoon, the earliest we could get to Milwaukee was 11:52 that evening.  The wedding started at 5:30.  There was no way we would make it.

Mini-catastrophe #10:  Mustering all the resolve I could amidst the panic that was settling in, I opened Google maps and typed in "Milwaukee, WI" to see how long it would take to drive there.  Maybe we could a rent a car!  I checked the map's results.  Okay, yeah, we could totally rent a car.  And in a casual 16 hours, we'll be there!  "Let's just drive back to Tulsa," I conceded to Joe with a lump in my throat.  "We're not going to make it."  He nodded, and we left the customer service line in silence.

Mini-catastrophe #11:  We exited the airport and boarded the bus to the rental car facility.  Throughout the bus ride, I stared at the floor, despondent, wondering how I was going to reconcile the fact that I couldn't be at Erica's wedding.  I sent her sister a frantic series of messages detailing our various emergencies and then followed up with a long apology text to Erica that I hoped she wouldn't read until longer after the vows were exchanged.  When we finally arrived at the rental car facility, we collected our luggage and stepped off the bus.  And then, we saw it: the rental car facility looked a lot like the customer service counter back at the airport.  A flood of angry travelers trying to get home and demanding immediate assistance.  We took a long, deep breath, and walked headfirst into the chaos.

Mini-catastrophe #12:  I'm just gonna summarize this paragraph with the number 90.  That is the amount of minutes that we spent in line at Thrifty Rental Car only to find out that they were sold out of cars.  Upon learning this, a murderous glare washed over Joe's face as he stared deep into the eyes of the Thrifty employee delivering us this news.  I, on the other hand, had a rather unexpected reaction -- one of hysterical laughter.  Totally delirious at this point, I began to laugh so hard that I felt as though I was having an out of body experience -- as though I were floating above our heads wondering, "Who are these idiots down there walking around this Dallas nightmare and why are they so helpless?!"  We left Thrifty without Joe murdering anyone, and headed next door to National.

Mini-catastrophe #13:  Same situation at National.  At this point, I began to wonder if maybe we should just live in Dallas.  Maybe this could be our new home.  We could get on Zillow, find a house, call a realtor, and then Uber to said house to make an offer.  That sounded like the easiest solution to me.

Mini-catastrophe #14:  We tried Hertz next.  Same problem.  Standing at the Hertz counter, though, something came over me.  I decided I wasn't going to leave that counter until we had a car that would take us back to Tulsa, back to our son, back to our home, back to a world that makes sense.  "But I'm a Hertz Gold Member," I told the employee. "Does that count for anything?" He nodded, seemingly willing to help me. "What organization?" he asked.  "The American Bar Association," I replied.  Hey, maybe I can threaten to sue Hertz!  I wondered.  Maybe I can threaten Thrifty, and American, and that touristy woman who yelled discouragements at us as we sprinted past her in Terminal B!  Maybe I can threaten to sue every person in this town!  Maybe that'll help!  Perhaps this employee was telepathically privy to my litigious train of thought, because he offered me a rental car to Tulsa for a mere $400.  I sighed.  Is this what it has come to?  I wondered.  Are we going to have to pay $400 on top of the $1600 we've already paid at this point (with our 2 sets of tickets) just to get back to the place we left this morning?  Miraculously, the man then offered something better.  "Actually," he told me, "I could get you a package for $260."  Success.  We booked it, and walked outside to select our vehicle from a row of 16 Chevy Malibus in slightly different shades of gray and black.

Mini-catastrophe #15:  Surprise!  There are no more catastrophes, big or small!  We drove our rented Chevy Malibu from Dallas to Tulsa without event.  And during said drive home, Joe delivered the following monologue which I think serves quite nicely as an epilogue to this saga.  "What a weird day.  We were on a plane, and then we weren't.  We were on our way to Milwaukee, and now we're on our way home.  We paid $2,000 to fly to Dallas and drive back to Tulsa.  We've gone so far, and yet nowhere at all.  We've seen so much, and yet so little.  We lost a day of our life, and aged who knows how many years."

And what a weird day indeed.  In my lifetime of travel, I've declared many trips "the worst trip ever", but among all these "worst trips ever", this was the only trip where we didn't actually go anywhere, and arguably the one that cost us the most: missing the once-in-a-lifetime wedding one of my favorite people.  Maybe I sue American Airlines after all.....

Motherhood Mondays: All about FPIES (Food Protein Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome), Part 1

Monday, May 13, 2019

Motherhood Mondays: Sharing all things birth and beyond, with specific emphasis on FPIES, navigating developmental delays, hypermobility, hypotonia, and more.

I nursed on demand for the first 4 weeks of my son's life, and routinely every 3 hours thereafter.  I knew I wanted to follow the AAP and WHO's guidelines of breastfeeding for 1-2 years, but was looking forward to introducing solids at 6 months, per the same AAP and WHO recommendations.  So when my son turned 6 months -- and I mean to say, on the very day of his 6-month birthday -- I invited my parents over and ceremoniously placed a handful of diced avocados on his high chair tray.  We all waited with bated breath to see what he would do.  And then: nothing.

He wasn't interested, and I didn't push it.

Fast forward a few months and I still couldn't get him to eat solids.  He just simply didn't care.  Still exclusively breastfeeding at this point, I would get mastitis anytime I went longer than 3 hours without nursing (I couldn't get more than one ounce per hour pumping -- my body didn't respond to it), which made it incredibly difficult to go to work.  I would drive home from work every 3 hours, but sometimes if I couldn't get away and went so much as 30 minutes over my 3-hour window, the mastitis would kick in like clockwork (hard spots, 104 fever, shivers, aches, red splotches, trips to the ER.... don't get me started).

After mastitis episode number 14,000, a close friend of mine intervened.  She drove to Target one night, bought a bag full of groceries, and dropped them off at our house with a firm warning.  "You have to get him eating solids.  You have to give yourself a break."  In agreement, I vowed to force solids on him right away, no matter what!

That night for dinner, I made him some of the rice cereal that had come from the magical grocery bag.  It took a lot of coaxing, and he didn't love it, but I got him to take several bites.  An hour later, I nursed him to sleep and laid him down in his dock-a-tot in our bed for the night.  Minutes later, from the couch in the living room, I was just opening my laptop to catch up on work when I heard him scream like I'd never heard before.  Joe ran in to check on him and yelled to me from the bedroom, "He threw up!"

My son had never thrown up in his life (nor had he ever so much as spit up!), so this was surprising to me.  What was even more surprising, though, was the fact that the vomit did not stop.  He threw up repeatedly -- projectile vomiting -- and then began to have diarrhea once the vomiting stopped.  I held and rocked him in a towel for the next couple of hours, bathing him when necessary and trading dirty towels out for fresh, clean, warm ones.  He threw up on me every single time because I refused to put him down.  His body had turned gray and limp and I didn't know it at the time, but he was having an acute "vomit to shock" reaction to the rice.  We stayed on the phone with our doctor all night who offered to come over (which is to say, we didn't make an ER trip) and eventually, my poor, sad, sickly ten-month-old allowed me to nurse him, and he kept my milk down.  Joe and I took turns staying up with him all night because I was so scared he would stop breathing in the middle of the night.  I knew he didn't have a virus or a bug (I knew this in part due to gut instinct and in part because he wasn't running a temperature) and in my heart of hearts, I knew that the rice had something to do with it -- it was just too coincidental.

Over the following days and weeks, reactions continued as we cautiously experimented with more foods.  I was fortunate enough to come across some FPIES literature online during a midnight rocking chair session after yet another acute reaction.  I read through the FPIES symptoms, checking boxes as I went, convinced that this was the awful condition suddenly plaguing our family.  I alerted our pediatrician, seeking her advice on whether or not this could be "an FPIES thing."  She agreed that it sounded likely, though she admitted her FPIES experience was somewhat lacking.

I then reached out to a friend from law school -- an attorney-turned-FPIES-educator -- with a phone call / cry for help, as I had remembered that at least one of her kids had this mysterious FPIES diagnosis.  As I shared my experiences with her, she gave me a wealth of helpful information, including a referral to a Dr. Bird at Dallas Children's Hospital.  This was crucial, as a good FPIES doctor is hard to come by, especially here in Oklahoma.  Dr. Bird, however, serves on the FPIES Medical Advisory Board and is, for lack of a better term, a freaking FPIES guru.  I made a mental note to talk to Joe about scheduling a family trip to Dallas to see this Dr. Bird.

In the meantime, my son's one-year check-up was approaching.  I was anxious to check-in with our pediatrician (whom we LOVE) to give her a face-to-face update on what she and we now fully believed to be a string of FPIES episodes.

Post-FPIES discovery; pre one-year-check up.

Upon our arrival for his one-year appointment, the nurses weighed him and measured him and sent us in the exam room to await our pediatrician's arrival.  When she entered, she bore some startling, life-altering news: our son was failure to thrive.

In the three months since our son's 9-month check-up, not only had he not grown so much as a centimeter, but he had lost weight.

I was simultaneously paralyzed and forced into action by this news.  Although I was just absolutely gutted, hearing the words "failure to thrive" also triggered something within me -- a mix of productivity and advocacy and 'mama bear' reflexes.  Before I left the pediatrician's office, I had an appointment scheduled with her pediatric dietitian, a phone appointment scheduled with a specialist in Oregon, and a new patient appointment with Dr. Bird in Dallas.

In hindsight, I realize this failure to thrive diagnosis really was the beginning of a much larger story -- one that is still being written over a year later, one whose ending is still entirely unknown to me.

And if this is the prologue of said story, then a trip to Dallas to meet with Dr. Bird would be Chapter One.

To be continued next Monday.

Foster Care Fridays: Reunification

Friday, May 10, 2019

Foster Care Fridays: Each Friday I share bits and pieces of our foster/adoption process, answering questions submitted to me on Instagram.  Today I'm answering questions on reunification.

Sitting in our agency during our first meeting, the director told me, "Our reunification rate is 50%."

Later that week, in pre-foster counseling, our counselor (an expert in the local foster community) told us, "Wow - ok, 50% seems really high to me, based on my experiences."

Whether the reunification rate is as high as 50% or not, the reality is that when we accept foster children into our home, we will likely not know the outcome of those children's placement with us.  Will we "keep" them?  Will they reunify with their parents?  Will we keep them for 4 years, only to reunify them with their parents 4 years later?

Reunification is a topic I feel very strongly about.  And it's not something I ever expected to feel strongly about when we started this journey (and what a journey it has been....and we're only getting started!).

Logging training hours for our agency at the airport over the weekend (when you gotta train,  you gotta train)

I guess you could say my staunch support of reunification was born out of others' staunch opposition to it.  I'd overhear fellow foster friends talking about their foster child's birth parent: "It's so ridiculous.  She abandoned her baby.  Who does that?  And now she wants her back 6 months later.  Are you kidding me?  Too late!  You walked away from your kid, you don't get to just change your mind."

Listening to my foster friend's complaints, I would think, of course she wants her back, you heartless dummyThat baby is her child.  Her child to whom she is biologically tethered.  Her child whose cells remain in her body long after the birth.  Of course she wants her baby back.  And who are we to stand in the way?

I realize, of course, that there are plenty of good reasons to stand in the way, the obvious overarching umbrella being: when the child's safety or well-being is at risk.  And my good friend who works as a mental health professional and school counselor often tells me, "The state gives parents too many chances.  I call and I call and I call about certain kids who need to be removed from their homes and desperately warrant placement in foster care.  And I never hear back from the state!  My calls go unreturned, my reports filed in vain."  I believe her, and thus keep wrestling with this question: how much grace do we offer the birth mom?  How much grace is too much grace?  How many chances does the birth mom get before we steal her child from her?  

That's another thing I can't get over  -- this concept of stolen babies.  I recently had the distinct misfortune of listening to a podcast about Georgia Tann, the Tennessee con artist who stole babies from low-income mothers and sold them to wealthy parents (the 'elite' members of society) through her black market (though disguised as legitimate) adoption agency from 1924-1950.  She justified this by reasoning that the parents with whom she was pairing the babies were 'better suited' for the babies -- they could offer them better lives than the poor, struggling biological parents.  So she would steal the babies from the birth moms with a host of manufactured, staged emergencies (telling the birth mom that their baby had a deadly cough, for instance, and that she was a nurse who could take the baby to receive medical treatment, only to never return the baby to the mom) and adopt them out to "better" families in exchange for large sums of money.

Is that what we're doing here?  What makes us a "better" family for these children?  Is it that we're a dual-income, educated couple in a happy and healthy marriage?  What qualifies me to raise another woman's child better than said woman herself?  Is it because I don't struggle with dependency on drugs or alcohol and therefore am a 'better' mom?  I don't want to identify with Georgia Tann's clients in any way and yet I can't escape this fear of what I call stolen baby syndrome.

And then there are the foster parents who fancy themselves the saviors of the poor, and subtly refer to themselves as such when referring to the birth parents ("Oh, they just needed someone to show them the right way to parent, so we mentored them for a while and now they know how to raise their kids a little better.")  I don't want to be like them, either.  

At the end of the day, so much of this is case-by-case determinative.  Maybe our placement will be black-and-white, and if that placement transitions into adoption, I won't ever have to wonder if I'm doing the right thing.  I've talked to plenty of foster-turned-adoptive parents with stories such as those; when I hear their stories and the specifics within their circumstances, not one part of me wonders if they're waking around with "stolen" babies.  Those black-and-white cases are not intimidating to me; it's the gray areas I fear.  It's the gray areas where I think of the birth mom and wonder, did she really deserve to lose her kid and have this random family raise it?  The kid she carried for 9 months and birthed through her own labor? What if we just created social systems to better support these moms so she didn't have to lose her kids in the first place?

I think the most important truth for me to cling to amidst all the gray is this: all foster care and adoption starts with loss -- deep, deep loss.  (1) A child losing its mother - the single most important figure in the child's life.  This is true, of course, regardless of whatever abuse and neglect may or may not be present.  (2) A mother is losing her child -- and I don't care how 'bad' the mom is; all mothers love their children, even the ones who lack the tools to properly care for them.  

Awareness of that loss from which all foster and adoption stars will hopefully allow me to navigate reunification (or the absence of reunification) with just the right amount of grace.  I know it is easier said that done, but maybe if I say it enough, then I will be able to do it.

3 Things Thursday: 3 Things That Are Saving My Life Right Now

Thursday, May 9, 2019

3 Things Thursday: the "rule of three" principle suggests that sets of threes are inherently more humorous and satisfying than any other number of things.  On Thursdays I feature random lists pertaining to anything and everything -- grouped in 3, of course.

1. Wine and Cheese Nights

Is it possible for your preferred medium of art to be the creation of cheese boards?  Is that a thing?  If so, it's my thing.  From shopping for the board's ingredients, to the design of the board itself, to (of course) consuming the contents of the board.... why did it take me 30 years to appreciate a good cheese board and charcuterie setup!?

2. Patio Nights

We may be developing a theme here, but... from the Scratch patio in Norman (above), to Norman's Blu patio, to OKC's Barrios' patio, to the Paseo's Picasso patio.... these Oklahoma spring and summer nights are just made for outdoor dining.

3. Insomnia Cookies

Okay, okay, okay... we're definitely developing a theme here.  Why are the consistency of Insomnia Cookies so perfect?  Does anyone else always get milk with theirs?  My favorites are either the  chocolate chip or the double chocolate chunk.  And yes, my mouth is watering just typing those words.

Wedding Wednesdays: The First of Many Travises

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Wedding Wednesdays: In between law school and the bar exam, I owned and operated a business/creative team that planned 15 weddings in 15 months.  These are the stories I lived to tell.

I woke up at 5:00 AM, got dressed in my favorite Lululemons and oversized J Crew flannel shirt.  It was my second wedding to "do" (outside of my own).  I had stayed up until the wee hours of the morning the night before, making the final cuts on the fabric backdrop that I'd designed and created by hand, and listening to Kanye's College Dropout (particularly "Last Call" - for some reason that was my wedding prep anthem?).

But this story isn't about Kanye, this story is about flower petals, and a man named Travis.


The bride had requested that the flower girl throw purple and white flower petals down the aisle (her main wedding color was purple) but the venue did not allow for real flower petals to be thrown indoors (this was a winter wedding, and thus indoors).  Given the venue policy, I had ordered artificial flower petals from Wal-Mart - the only place that carried the right shade of purple petals at that time.  This had been a somewhat last minute purchase, and because the purple color was backordered, I knew we were going to be cutting it close with the delivery.  I did not realize, however, that we'd be cutting it as close as the wedding day.

The day before the wedding day, I received a notification that the flower petals had arrived at the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market (ship-to-store had been the only shipping option, and my thought process was that the neighborhood markets are less of a hassle to get in and out of; I generally dread the whole Wal-Mart experience).  "Perfect!" I thought, upon receiving the notification. "I'll stop by the Neighborhood Market on my way to the venue!"

Later that night, I sat down to finalize the wedding day itinerary.  It looked something like this:

5:00 AM Wake up, get dressed and ready
5:30 AM Load boxes, crates, and backdrop into car
6:00 AM Leave for Wal-Mart, pick up flower petals
6:30 AM Stop by Lowe's for zip ties, staple gun, dowel rod, and duct tape
7:00 AM Arrive at venue, set up first layer of backdrop
8:00 AM Start on second layer of backdrop
9:00 AM Add third layer of backdrop
10:00 AM Finish with fourth and fifth layers of backdrop
10:30 AM Wedding party arrives
11:00 AM Rehearsal #1 (with bride); Rehearsal #2 (with groom), Rehearsal #3 (with groom)
11:30 AM Hair & Makeup team arrive

And so on......

It suddenly dawned on me, seeing the "6:00 AM" arrival time for Wal-Mart, that maybe Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets aren't open that early?  After all, they don't maintain the 24-hour availability that the Supercenters offer.  I googled, and sure enough: the Neighborhood Market opened at 10:00 AM.  The venue was an hour away from the Neighborhood Market.  There was no way I could leave the venue at 9:00 AM, drive to Walmart to pick up the petals, drive back to the venue, and still maintain the itinerary.  And the venue didn't open until 7:00, so I couldn't get there any earlier.

I momentarily panicked, then immediately transitioned into troubleshooting mode.  15 seconds later, I had a plan: I would simply send someone to the Neighborhood Market to pick up the petals for me and bring them to the venue.

But wait!  The confirmation email said I had to present identification upon pickup!

Okay, I thought.  I'll just leave my driver's license at my house and have Lauren and Alex, my trusty assistants for the day, swing by my house on the way to the Neighborhood Market.  They knew my garage code, so they could grab the ID off the counter and all would be well.

Everything went according to the itinerary's plan that following morning.  I got everything loaded into the car on time, got everything I needed at Lowe's, got the backdrop installed much earlier than planned -- we were running ahead of schedule, and I couldn't be happier.  That is, until 9:46 AM when my phone rang.  It was Lauren.  I had a bad feeling, and answered accordingly.

"What's wrong?"
"We're at your house and the garage door - it won't open."
"Are you trying the right code?"
"Yes, but it's frozen -- it's not opening."

She was right; our garage door doesn't open in cold weather.  And that particular morning, the weather was absolutely freezing.

We brainstormed for a few minutes as to how Lauren and Alex could feasibly get into my house: break a window? Pick the lock? Go down the chimney?

Ultimately, I decided to send them to Wal-Mart without my ID.  Would they even check identification for a $7.50 box of flower petals, anyway?  Even so, just to be sure, I forwarded Lauren and Alex the confirmation email with the barcode for pick-up.  For extra good measure, I logged into my Walmart.com account and changed "pickup person" to Lauren.  And for extra extra good measure, I added an additional pickup person and typed in Alex's name.

All was well.  With the backdrop fully installed and looking exactly as the bride had pictured it (success!), I moved on to florals, helping the florist transfer the arrangements from the giant orange buckets to the centerpiece vessels.

At 10:01, my phone rang again.  My stomach dropped when I saw it was Lauren's name on the screen.  Again, I just had a feeling....

"What's wrong?"
"Hey -- Alex and I are here at the Walmart counter and they won't give us the flower petals -- they say it has to be you since you're the pickup person."
"Did you show them the email?"
"Yeah, we showed the guy the email but he says it has to be you with a government issued identification."

Now, normally I am not a confrontational person.  Like, at all.  But I was in 'wedding mode', and my alter (and very confrontational) ego emerged in full force. "Put him on the phone," I demanded -- monotone, and without hesitation.

I expected to be greeted by a friendly, apologetic, perhaps even sheepish Walmart employee.  I waited expectedly as the phone exchanged hands.  And then: an exasperated sigh, an audible eye roll, and a biting voice.

"Ma'am, the Walmart policy clearly states that we cannot relinquish control of this package unless the customer who purchased the item presents him or herself with a government issued identification."

Speechless and stunned - but determined, nonetheless - I persevered.

"Hi, I understand the policy.  However, I updated the 'pickup person' on my Walmart.com account and listed the two individuals who are standing before you right now.  Can you please access the records on my Walmart.com account?  They can present government issued identification to prove that they are the individuals authorized to pick up the package."

He can't deny me this request! I thought.  It's so reasonable!

Oh, how I was wrong.

"No-I-cannot-access-your-Walmart-dot-com-account!  You either come here with a government issued ID or you don't!"

"Is there a reason you can't access my account?  What is the purpose of offering the ability to amend the pickup person if you can't access it?"

"Ma'am, I don't even know what you are talking about, but --"

"Can I speak with someone who does know what I'm talking about?"

"No, you cannot!  You cannot speak to anyone else!  You cannot have this package unless you come down here yourself and present government issued identification!"

If you're picturing this vividly in your head, please also imagine Lauren and Alex's background voices, evidently falling on deaf ears. "Sir, this is for a wedding!  The bride needs these!  We have to get to the wedding!  These are for the bride!  The flower girl needs petals to throw!  The flower girl is going to be empty handed!"  Then picture Lauren contributing, for extra effect, "Sir, the venue doesn't allow real flower petals indoors!?!!!"

Round and round, I argued with Travis.  Heartless, hateful, callous, soulless Travis.  Occasionally, under his breath, he would mutter the word "bridezilla" to no one in particular.  "She's not even the bride!" I would hear Alex exclaim in the background.  I swore I could detect the sound of Alex groaning, accompanied by the slap of a face palm.

As the minutes passed, my patience waned and the volume of my voice rose higher and higher.  At certain points in the conversation, I was downright screaming at Travis.  Over flower petals.  Flower petals!  And artificial ones, at that!

Eventually, by some miracle, Lauren and Alex walked away with the petals.

But here's the catch: not one of us, to this day, remembers how they got away with it.  Did they alert a manager?  Did one of them knock Travis upside the head while the other grabbed the petals, only to miraculously escape in a getaway shopping cart?  Did I threaten to sue Travis?  Did I threaten to murder him?  Did he threaten to murder me, only to have his boss overhear him and fire him?

I actually think the memory of this incident was so upsetting that the three of us collectively repressed it.  I don't even know.

What I do know is that later that evening, the beautiful bride and her father floated their way down a aisle carpeted in a sea of purple and white, and there was nothing Travis could do it about it then (although a part of me did expect to see an uninvited male guest clad in a blue vest brazenly object during the preacher's "speak now or forever hold your peace" bit).

I would later express gratitude for Travis and the overall Travis experience.  For starters, he is probably, at the end of the day, a tenderhearted human being who was simply having a bad day.  But aside from that, the 'Travis experience' prepared me for the dozen-plus weddings to come, the majority of which would boast their own Travises, each Travis more Travis-y than the Travis before.

Take, for example, the wedding with Kevin Durant... I would have killed to be dealing with Travis and the flower petals during that wedding.  KILLED, I tell you.  KILLED.

But we'll get to that wedding later.  All in due time.

Travel Tuesday: Old Town Spring, Texas

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Travel Tuesday: Sharing untold stories of life abroad, continuing to travel domestically and internationally, and leaving nothing undocumented.

This past weekend, Joe and I were in Houston, and we stumbled upon the community of Old Spring.  When I say "stumbled upon", I mean to say that Joe was driving outside of Houston in water up to his bumper and detoured himself into a town that struck him as particularly quaint and charming.  He took me back later that day (by which point ALL THE WATER HAD DRIED UP because hello, this place is a swamp) and I gasped upon seeing it for myself.  It looks as thought it's set in the 1800s, yet features distinctly modern businesses like a wedding planner, wine and paint shops, various novelty boutiques, home goods, and one of the best diner/cafes we've ever had the pleasure of visiting: Ellen's.  Ellen's was recommended to us by one of the local shop-owners and we loved it so much after eating lunch there that we went back the next day for the exact. same. meal.

The blackberry cobbler + vanilla ice cream combo is incredible.

Little Dutch Girl: a sweets shop we totally would have tried had we not consumed so much cobbler and ice cream.

I couldn't get over how cute the sign was.

Oh...my...gosh: Why Not? Toys.  This place was amazing.  I bought so. much. stuff here.  They offer so many brands outside of just Melissa and Doug (which I love, don't get me wrong), including Euro brands like Janod, and my favorite brand: Smart Games.  I seriously could have spent all day in this store (and almost did, but for Joe dragging me out).

We well may have tried The Loose Caboose if Ellen's hadn't already earned our lifelong loyalty.  But this place does offer funnel cakes, so I do think we'll need to make a stop there next time.

Thad's -- I've got to come back here at Christmas time.  Apparently they turn it into quite the winder wonderland.

The Lana Williams Gallery: very crafty, very Texas.  A cute place to grab a gift (or two, or three).

This Victorian era home houses the Spirit Quest Center and serves as a 'good energy oasis'.  Coincidence that it looks haunted? (I'm sure it's lovely! We didn't go in.)

When I entered the German Gift House, I literally squealed.  So many imported treats from Germany (brands like Knorr, Kinder, Milka, Ritter Sport).  I could have spent all day in here, too!

We can't wait to go back to Spring again.  Since we have friends in Houston, we just might make an annual trip out of it.

Motherhood Mondays: Birth Story (Part 3)

Monday, May 6, 2019

Part 1 can be found here; Part 2 can be found here.

We left for the hospital around 1:00 AM, Joe and I in my car and our doula, Megan, driving separately.  Upon our departure, we quickly realized: we actually weren't sure where the hospital was?  (Rookie mistake, I know.)  Joe called Megan to get directions and I tried to come to terms with the fact that I may have to face a major fear I'd had leading up to birth: transitioning in the car.

I knew from talking to my sister that when you transition, the car is just about the last place you want to be.  Joe promised me he'd try to make the drive to the hospital within 2 contractions, but a combination of our not knowing where the hospital was, followed by a (VERY) unfortunate wrong turn, and the fact that my contractions were progressing faster and faster made for a 4-contraction-long car ride.  And let me just say, although I wasn't quite in transition, the car contractions were just about as bad as I'd feared they would be.

By the time we made it to the hospital, I all but flew out the passenger side door and burst through the hospital's entrance while Joe parked the car.  Upon check-in, I informed the front desk attendant that I was in labor.  Her response?  A flat, lifeless, unimpressed, "And how long have you been in labor?"  I paused for some mental calculating.  "Well, technically, 26 hours."  Suddenly, I had her attention. She looked up from her desk, wide-eyed.  "You went into labor 26 hours ago?"  I nodded, and then -- a contraction.

Now taking me very seriously, she called for a wheelchair.  A friendly, young man wheeled one over and helped me sit.  From the wheelchair, I quickly gave the front desk attendant my name, information, and doctor's name, after which I was pushed into the elevator to be triaged.  My wheelchair attendant warned me before every bump and every turn, and when I inevitably had another contraction a few minutes into our triage journey, he apologized repeatedly as though he were personally responsible for my pain.  I felt safe with this kid and oddly didn't want him to leave, despite our nearing the triage room where the person who was personally responsible for my pain would shortly join me.

Within a few minutes, Joe and Megan arrived, and it was time for my IV -- something I was oddly dreading more than birth itself.  I expressed my anxiety to the nurse who miraculously proceeded to administer the most painless IV in the history of modern medicine.  I was shocked!  And relieved.  What could go wrong now!?

With the dreaded IV behind me, it was soon time for the part to which I was most looking forward: finding out how much I was dilated.  I hadn't been checked yet in my pregnancy, and I was obviously hoping to learn I was at least 'halfway there'.  Sure enough, the nurse checked me and reported: 7 cm!  I was on my way to transitioning.

Once I was taken from triage to the delivery room, I was permitted to labor in the shower on a birthing ball (with a gauze-type cover over the ball, which felt disgusting when wet).  I know from Joe's faithful journaling throughout this experience that he noted the following as he watched me labor, "Jenni is amazing.  It is as if there is no pain.  Jenni is so tough."

Well, let me assure you -- that didn't last long.  I do remember Megan remarking, "You're the chillest person I've ever seen in transition!  I can't believe how relaxed you are."  It wasn't so much that I was relaxed, but I was just so ready to not be in labor anymore that my positive energy knew no bounds.

And my energy remained positive as I progressed from a 7 to an 8 and from an 8 to a 9.  Throughout this progress, Megan had me "give" her a couple sitting-backwards-on-the-toilet contractions before I refused to give anymore.  Joe noted the following quote of mine mid-toilet-contraction, "I hate laboring on the toilet.  I hate it because it works."

And it did work -- it got me to a 9!  But then when hours (yes, hours) passed with no progress, the nurse checked me and announced that the baby was stuck at the anterior lip of my cervix and that that's why I was not progressing further.  She advised me she could manually free the head but that it had to be done mid-contraction, and that she would be required to withdraw her arm in the event that I protested.  I assured her I could handle it, and so we waited for the next contraction.  She began the attempt to manually free the head at the peak of the contraction and -- I couldn't endure it.  I screamed for her to stop, and she did, immediately.  As soon as that contraction passed, I assured her I could do it, and begged her to try again.  Same results.  Same results during the next contraction, too.  I gave up on that idea, feeling totally defeated and surprised by my (perceived) weakness.

I had checked into the hospital at 1:30, dilated 7 cm, and on the verge of transition.  Eight hours later, at 9:30, I was still stuck at a 9.  In hindsight, I cannot believe I spent eight hours in transition.  I was also vomiting repeatedly which worried my doula and nurses since I was going to need as much energy and stamina as possible once it came time to push.  My doula had taught, in our birth classes, that there is a difference between pain and suffering -- that pain has a purpose in birth (i.e. contractions bringing you closer to your baby) and that suffering is senseless (i.e. excruciating back labor that starts from the first minute of labor and serves no actual purpose).  I summoned the courage to say the following, and I remember this part perhaps more vividly than any other part of my labor: "I feel as though the line between pain and suffering has been blurred and I would like to exercise my right to an epidural."  (For context, I had never planned on getting one, but honestly did not believe I could endure any more pain -- I 100% expected to either drop dead, or pass out and wake up after having had an emergency c-section.)

I delivered that line from the birthing ball in the shower (probably around the time the photo accompanying this post was taken).  I was falling asleep (sitting on the ball) between contractions and then waking up at the climax of each one.  I distinctly remember feeling as though I was being tortured and that I had zero control over my body, my circumstances.  Joe talked privately with Megan outside the bathroom door.  I hated feeling (and knowing) that "everyone" was talking about me in a conversation from which I was excluded.  I know now that they discussed the reality that it was way too late for me to get an epidural -- and that I was so close to pushing that it wouldn't even matter (by the time they ordered one and had it administered, I probably would have begun pushing) -- but at the time I truly felt as though they were plotting against me and had zero appreciation for my pain and suffering.

Joe returned to the bathroom, looked me dead in my eyes, and firmly told me I was not going to be getting an epidural.

I don't know that I have ever felt more alone than I did in that moment.

He would later tell me that following the "no epidural" decree - delivered with zero emotion, might I add! - that he stepped into the hallway and cried.

I demanded to speak with the doctor, ready to summarily do away with the we're-all-in-this-together dynamic that had propelled my labor to this point.  Our once harmonious team of three suddenly felt like a two-against-one battle, and I was done fighting.  I deeply resented the two of them and felt completely and utterly betrayed.  I needed this decision to be one that I made with my doctor and my doctor alone.

Once my doctor entered the room, she had already been advised of my request for an epidural.  She very calmly explained to me, "You are dilated to a 9 right now.  You've been in labor for over 36 hours.  You are almost done.  If you insist on an epidural, I can order one for you.  But you are probably going to have this baby before we even have time to get you one."

That was what I needed to hear.  That was my "screw it" moment.  Her words had almost a caffeine-like effect.  I told her I didn't want an epidural -- but at that point, it was my decision.  Not Joe's, not Megan's.  I needed that.  I relocated myself to the toilet, and put in a few contractions' worth of backwards sitting (excruciating....just brutal).  Megan asked me for five; I gave her three, but they were three consecutive ones which was more than I'd given her all night.  Following the third one, I demanded to be checked.  Our nurse checked me and reported to us with breathless enthusiasm "in between a 9.5 and 10!"  Victory was mine.

I immediately announced with conviction that I had the urge to push (I didn't, and this was very stupid of me to say).  I think I thought I could will my body into being ready to push, and I just. wanted. to get. this. over. with.  Up until that point, I had sincerely believed I was going to die (I know that is common for transition), and besides that, pushing had to be better than transition.  And it was better than transition!  Except that I just wasn't ready to push and ended up pushing for two hours straight, making virtually no progress until about the last ten minutes.

I felt so bad at pushing -- like, truly, truly horrible.  I kept apologizing to no one in particular for it (as I'm writing this, I've decided the theme song for my next birth will be Beyonce's I Ain't Sorry).  I also never got to the part of birth where I "shed" my modesty -- I stayed covered the entire time, even though, by that point, I was completely drenched in sweat.  They also offered me a mirror multiple times, which I refused, horrified by the prospect of it (I've since decided that's going to change next time, too).

Looking back to the pushing phase, I still kiiiiinda can't believe that I did it.  I mean, I cannot emphasize enough how truly bad I felt I was at pushing.  There were so many moments where I thought I was just going to pass out and magically wake up with a baby.  But somehow (thanks to the miracle of childbirth and the fact that women's bodies are INSANE!), I did it.  I pushed my baby out, and it was over.

Nearly 42 weeks of HG-level nausea and vomiting, followed by 39 hours of labor (several of which entailed being stuck at 9 cm, may I remind you!), the last of which included 2 hours of pushing, and it was over in an instant.  I couldn't believe it.  It was actually over, just like that.

My baby was placed upon my chest and I was reborn alongside him.