The last almost twelve years is a blur of inhalations and exhalations, of periods of memory loss and of tens of thousands of moments that flicker through my mind like one of those ViewMaster toys from my childhood. I can sit quietly and access moments as though flicking through a ViewMaster reel…tiny frames of moments that were lived yet seem so far away that I wonder if they really did happen afterall. If it weren’t for the thousands of photographs taken over the years, I suspect the majority of our lives parenting Meredith would be forever lost in the abyss of mind altering exhaustion and unrelenting stress.
Sometimes, my husband and I will remember something out of the blue and will share it with one another. It is as though we have uncovered a long buried treasure. These little episodes of memory recall surface without warning and we are always shocked at how the details spill out once the memory is triggered. We will both try to fill in the blanks and sometimes we nod in agreement and other times, we wonder how our perception of one particular experience can differ so vastly. Of all of the events that will remain unearthed and of all of the events that work their way to the surface like a piece of glass embedded in your heel, there are a handful that stand out and that illustrate the most defining moments of this parenting path. The night we met the Walker family is one of those moments.
In the fall of 2009, we were preparing to bring Meredith to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) for hip surgery as her doctor could see from x-rays that her hips would soon start to dislocate if we didn’t intervene. We knew that this would be a straightforward surgery but all surgery carries risks especially for our medically complex children. I was very stressed in those days and meticulously planned every detail. We would be living away from home for at least two weeks and after a brief stay at CHEO we would be moved to Rogers House (pediatric palliative care home) which would provide transitional care for our little family before bringing Meredith home. At that time, we were still holding Meredith fifteen hours a day and I couldn’t fathom how we would do this with most of her body casted with her legs splayed out resembling a frog.
The surgery went well and we moved into a room shared with another family. Meredith was loaded with medications to help with pain and to keep her calm as the last thing we wanted was for her to fight the fact that she was on her back in a full hip spika cast (both legs up to rib cage). We settled into our room and by evening Tim was heading out for the night to sleep while I did the first shift. The family next to us had a similar arrangement and the mother left around the same time. Not long after, the father of the child in the next bed popped his head around the curtain and said, “Sounds like you have a similar model to us.” You see, Meredith and their son were making their usual noises and I had suspected our roommate was a lot like Meredith. It turned out their son was in hospital to get a feeding tube; a surgery that Meredith had in 2004 at just six weeks of age. Their son, Griffin, had already been through this hip surgery two years prior and so we were able to exchange tips with one another about what to expect and what improvements we might see. It was clear that Griffin’s dad, Dan, had a healthy sense of dry humour and we connected very quickly.
The next morning, Griffin’s dad wheeled him over to Meredith’s bedside so they could see one another. Up until this point, Meredith had never met another child even remotely like her. They looked at each other as well as they were able to and in that moment things changed for us. This little boy and his family represented far more than a chance meeting of a similar family. These things would be revealed in time.
As it turned out, they were heading to Rogers House as well for transitional care. A few days after Meredith’s surgery, we celebrated her 6th birthday at Rogers House. When I talk about defining moments I will tell you that one of the most heart melting of these was when on her birthday, there was a knock on our door and in rolled Griffin (with the help of his mama, Jen) bringing birthday flowers to our girl.
As I reflect on this moment six years later almost to the day, I cannot put my finger on what exactly changed for us but I suspect it was very simple. We discovered that we were not alone in this parenting adventure. At this point, social media was not like it is today and we were very, very isolated in our experience.
Before long, we made plans to get together once our kids were healed up from their surgery. Dan and Jen (Griffin’s mama) also had a two and a half year old daughter. In march of 2010, they made the 100km journey from their home to ours for lunch and to celebrate Griffin’s birthday. He was just three months younger than Meredith. I have never felt more regular than I did that day walking to the park with our new friends and our kids. For once since Meredith’s birth, I felt like we belonged. We went to the park and hauled our kids out of their wheelchairs and down the slides and there was lots of laughter and a sense of normalcy which we hadn’t felt in a very long time.
During this visit, Dan and Jen attempted to recruit us into the parent support group that had started at Rogers House. This was a monthly meeting for parents of children with medical fragility/ life-limiting illnesses and they felt that I, especially, could benefit from this. In those days I was sleeping rarely and found myself on the brink of burnout on a very regular basis. Dan was the primary caregiver to Griffin while Jen worked outside of the home. Dan urged me to give it a try. I attended the following month and very quickly knew that I had found my tribe.
Over the years, we got together when we were able and Jen and Dan came to our home for Meredith’s birthday party each year. Eventually, our visits had become few and far between because neither Griffin nor Meredith travelled well. Dan and Jen also added another child to the mix and so things got more complicated as time went on. But over the years, seeing Meredith with her friend, Griffin, even briefly, brought more joy to our lives than pretty much anything has.
This past spring, Griffin’s parents were given a devastating prognosis due to complications of scoliosis and Griffin was given six months to live. About a month ago, things took a turn for the worse, and Jen and Dan pulled Griffin from school knowing that the end was near. On November 23rd at 5pm, Griffin died at home surrounded by his parents and grandmother. He was eleven years old.
Like Meredith, his traumatic birth outcome changed the course of the life his parents had dreamed for him. The eleven years that he lived proved to be challenging and certainly not without suffering at times. His parents loved him fully and were dedicated to giving him the best quality of life that could be provided. My heart broke in the days leading up to his death. It broke for his parents and all of the people who know and love them. It broke with the knowledge that one of the most influential people in our daughter’s life would no longer be a part of it. One could argue that their time together was brief but duration of time spent together does not reduce its meaning. On some level, I think they recognized themselves in each other.
Griffin gifted our family with connection and a sense of belonging. As a result of their meeting, we were brought into a tribe of parents that share a similar experience and this has broadened our support system and moved us out of isolation. Griffin was Meredith’s only friend who was “like” her and since she doesn’t attend school, he really was her only friend that she spent any time with. When we first met the Walkers, I never imagined that six years later, we would be preparing to gather tomorrow to celebrate Griffin’s life. I will be forever grateful that Dan popped his head around the curtain that night in November of 2009 and introduced us to a whole new world that we had yet to become a part of.
I will miss you, Griffin. Thank you for all that you brought to our family. You will never be forgotten.
It all started a couple of months ago when a pathetic-looking, stray kitten was found under my van. He was in rough shape and in obvious need of nourishment, love and a good once over by a Veterinarian.
The unfortunate reality is we are not pet owners. In the nineteen years that my husband and I have been together, we have owned a total of two cats (a brother and sister) who came together and in the end, left together. They were good pets but not fond of our screaming, unpredictable new baby and so after leaving many clear signs that they were not happy with the new addition to our family, we had to let them go.
Over the years, many people enthusiastically told us how “wonderful” a pet would be for Meredith. They would say things like, “I’ve read that children with cerebral palsy do really well with dogs” or “Wouldn’t it be so nice for Meredith to have a cat?” Yes, I suppose it would be but for most of the last twelve years, the thought of putting any more energy into giving care to another living being or thing, overwhelmed me and we just didn’t entertain the idea for more than about three seconds. We didn’t even have a plant in the house. I was serious about my caregiving tank being pretty much maxed out.
But the last couple of years have been a little less draining and I have been able to work more out of the home. My husband has always secretly wanted a pet but knew that it was a sensitive topic to broach.
So, this little kitten shows up and we try to find the owners but he isn’t claimed. The weather was rainy and windy so we provided shelter, food and water for him and I did what any responsible potential pet owner would do; I made an appointment with the Vet. As cute as he was, he wasn’t coming into our house with those manky eyes and dripping nose. I was actually warming up to the idea, though, and was feeling excited about introducing a kitten to Meredith. An hour before the appointment, our little stray disappeared, never to be seen again. Surprisingly, I felt a little twinge in my heart when he didn’t return.
Fast forward to last week when our friends posted a photo of a little stray kitten that had found its way to their doorstep. They were having no luck in finding the owners but hadn’t decided whether or not they wished to add to their pet family. After checking in with them and confirming that he was extremely affectionate, I offered our home if he wasn’t claimed. Five days ago, we became the proud human parents to a five month old male kitten. This is Tate:
To say I have fallen head over heels in love with this furry, sweet animal, would be grossly understated. I love him because he has taken to Meredith as though he was specially trained as a therapy cat just for her and then hand delivered to us. I am so incredibly amazed at how intuitive and caring he is towards our girl and she is equally smitten with him. When I am holding Meredith in my arms, he lies beside us and then reaches his paw up and places it on her arm. I am not kidding. It is remarkable. Her naps are more settled this week since Tate lies across her legs and she can feel his warmth and beating heart against her. Oh, and that purring…….just makes her smile as soon as he starts. They are a beautiful match and I am grateful they, somehow, found their way to one another.
Sadly, we learned after Tate arrived that one of Meredith’s caregivers is severely allergic to cats and so now that he has settled in so well, she has unfortunately had to give her notice. She is sad to have to let go of Meredith but feels the joy right along with us that Meredith gets to experience what every child dreams of experiencing and that is the love of her own pet.
If you haven’t heard, I recently launched this sweet little book where I share life lessons that I learned when I was blindsided by an unexpected outcome. I wrote from my perspective of a mother of a child with medical fragility but I am hearing more and more from my readers that this book should be read by everyone. I agree. EVERYONE needs to read my book.
I spent a lot of time writing about self-care because as caregivers we cannot afford to be unwell or to get entrenched in the bad habits that could eventually lead to our demise. I was obsessed with my own self-care and health from the day Meredith was born. I knew that I had to be well in mind, body and spirit if I was going to provide care to her for the long haul. Over the last 11 1/2 years, I have had periods of time where I have slacked off or simply couldn’t do all of the things that I knew would support my system because I was too exhausted and stressed to head out for an exercise class or make a healthy breakfast when two gigantic mugs of coffee with heavy cream and sugar seemed to do the trick. And really, is there anything wrong with eating toast and peanut butter for dinner and crackers and hummous for lunch??
In the short term, no. There isn’t anything wrong with getting through the day (or the night) however you see fit. If you have parented like I have, you know all about survival mode. In fact, anyone who has been a parent knows about survival mode. Parents like me, get stuck in that mode for months and even years in a row.
On page 27 of my book, I write:
“If you are further along on the road and have evaluated your own self-care practices only to discover a very low score, it is never too late. Even small changes can yield big results in the long run, such as resilience, a strong immune system, a happier mood and a greater ability to cope with stress. The more you care for yourself, the easier and more natural it becomes………..Practice preventative healthcare so that you do not crumble under the strain of the realities of your life. It is more than possible, it is a necessity and the choice is up to you. Begin now.”
This is where ‘practicing what you preach’ rears its persistent head. I have been slacking in the self care department for a while now. I generally eat whole foods and feel relatively good. The problem is that I have also become somewhat of a sloth and have gotten into the habit of consuming a daily glass or two of wine. I know, I know…….not the worst things I could do but for me and the way my body operates, this “health” regime isn’t cutting it. I am carrying a round many extra pounds and realize that some of my ailments like excruciatingly painful periods probably have to do with a hormonal system that isn’t quite up to par. I know for a fact that starting my day with that glorious hot beverage of coffee (don’t forget the cream and sugar) and ending it with that even more glorious beverage of red wine (or two) is not helping an already over taxed system.
The most interesting thing to me is that the moment we exhaled and settled into the fact that Meredith was fully engaged in a stable, somewhat predictable phase of her life (the first one!), our self-care habits flew right out the window…..almost immediately. It was like we, too, could relax and ease up on the pressures we had placed on ourselves in an attempt to stay healthy and vibrant even in the midst of the stress we were under. And we jumped in to those bad habits with both feet; making up for lost time it seemed. We are starting to get the feeling that these days are winding down and life as we know it will change in the coming months and not in a good way. I know that there are big battles ahead and that we again, will need to be in tip top shape to handle them.
So, I did what any reasonable person would do. I signed up for a 12 week tune -up and balancing program offered by a local integrative health centre. Today is Day 1 of 30 days following the Whole30 program which will be followed by a re-introduction of the foods that might be wreaking havoc on my system. I already know the culprits but choose to ingest them anyway no matter how rotten they make me feel over the long run. Starting today, those culprits have been denied access to my body. Finally the last 30 days is about making this a lifestyle change and maintaining the healthy status I will eventually return to in a matter of 12 weeks. Did I mention I have signed a contract and will be monitored by a Naturopath, a Nutritionist, a Personal Trainer and a Mindfulness Coach? I have had to commit to attend one group meeting each week where different topics are discussed like impact of stress and the role of hormones in our bodies. And finally, I have to attend two bootcamp-type classes per week. I will now be held accountable because I have signed a contract and I have written a blog post so there is no turning back now.
It is humbling to admit that sometimes we need to get on board and practice what we have been preaching. It’s okay to fall off the wagon. The main thing is you eventually get back on not only for YOU but for those you love.
I have some news and decided that this was the best place to share it. This blog has also been neglected and by writing here, I hope to be inspired to write more in the weeks and months to come.
In Chapter 22 of my new book, “What I Would Tell You,” I wrote about letting go and new beginnings:
“You may need to let go of things in your life, things that you desperately want to hang on to, things that feel part of your identity. Often, familiarity and security keep us where we are and prevent us from growing an evolving………..Be willing to let go of certain things to make room for the opportunities that are waiting in the sidelines. Grief is a part of letting go, even if it is for the best and you are unsure whether letting go will lead to new beginnings. Yet every ending does lead to new beginnings even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time. There will be a new beginning. There always is.”
For the last few months it has become clear that it is time to let go of my beloved prenatal education classes. This fall will mark my 10th year teaching a class that I developed and shared with expectant parents that I know made a difference in their birth and parenting experiences. With the launch of my book and my desire to focus more on my celebrancy work as well as other paths I am pursuing, I decided that I would retire from teaching. Although I had intended on teaching until December, I have made the difficult decision to retire much earlier than planned due to unforeseeable circumstances. I will teach my last class in August 2015. THE GREAT NEWS is that Mother Nurture Childbirth classes will continue under the very capable hands of doula extraordinaire, Shannon Bedore , who will be teaching this class in Pembroke (location to be determined) on a monthly basis. Contact me at email@example.com for more information.
It has been a struggle as I know how beneficial these classes have been and frankly, I love teaching especially couples who are embarking on this great adventure of parenting. But my heart isn’t in it as it used to be and that is because I am feeling called to use my skills and knowledge in other capacities namely offering more workshops for women who have experienced difficult/ traumatic births or unexpected outcomes as well as developing workshops for those who care for couples in labour/ birth and who have experienced vicarious trauma as a result like doulas, nurses, etc. Although I have been offering this workshop for 7 years now, I know that there is much more demand and I want to make the space in my life to put my energy into helping women who find themselves living with the aftermath of a difficult/ negative birth. There is much healing work to do in this area and the time is right for it.
I also love my celebrancy work. Creating meaningful, custom ceremonies for families, couples and individuals whether it be in the capacity of new baby welcoming ceremonies, marriages, ceremonies of transition like coming-of-age or croning ceremonies, healing ceremonies, ceremonies for the dying and finally celebrating lives well lived through memorials and end-of life celebrations, has been remarkably fulfilling for me. I am especially drawn to end-of-life ceremonies and hope to offer more of these in the months/ years to come.
I am grateful to the 1000+ individuals who entrusted me with their childbirth education and who taught me so much in the process. It has been an honour and a privilege for me to be a part of such an extraordinary experience in your lives and I have never taken that for granted. I always felt an enormous responsibility as a prenatal teacher and I developed my classes with care and practicality knowing that no amount of education can really prepare someone for their birth experience. My goal always was to help people to have a positive birth experience however they defined that and I know in many cases I met that goal.
And so, thank you to all of the parents who allowed me the time to walk alongside you if only briefly as you moved into your roles as parents and to the professionals who referred their clients/ patients to me. I am grateful as well as a little sad and I will miss you all.
With just under two weeks to go until my first book launch date, I have to say that releasing this book feels like I am about to give birth to that second child we never got to have. This journey of writing for the last three years and attempting to put words down that would hopefully bring some relief to new parents walking this path of parenting has been nothing short of a labour of love. As the words spilled out, I realized that this book had the potential to positively impact not only the new parents whom I wrote it for initially but also everyone who comes in contact with families like ours from therapists, to doctors and nurses to family relief workers, teachers, educational assistants and our extended family and friends who love us.
If writing and publishing a book is akin to birthing, I would say that my pregnancy has been smooth although lengthy. Once the book was completed in early December 2014 and we began the process of editing and preparing it for press, I felt as though my labour had been initiated. Labour was arduous at times but definitely do-able and manageable with the support of my “doulas” in the form of my husband, Tim, our family relief workers and nurses who cared for Meredith allowing me time and space to work on the book and in my friends and family members who never doubted me even when I was certain there was absolutely no way this book would ever reach completion.
Now, just under two weeks from my “due date” I feel as though I am running out of time and I am questioning whether or not I am ready to actually do this and release this “baby” to the world. I feel excited and anxious, vulnerable and empowered. I feel as though I am in nesting mode~ tying up loose ends and getting my summer ceremonies written well in advance in anticipation of the attention my post-book period is going to require. And as all labouring mothers can attest to, even in the darkest most challenging moments, there is always the knowledge that their baby will be born one way or another. There is a point of no return when you realize that THIS is actually happening! Receiving these photos from my publisher last night, made my “baby’s” birth all the more imminent.
My motivation for writing this book was to help those parents living this life in isolation with their child who is dealing with medical fragility or special needs. In the end, if this book makes a difference in their outlook on what lies ahead, if it gives them hope and if they gain a few insights that allow them to be gentle with themselves, then all of the hard work, blood, sweat and tears was worth it. We never know who our children will grow up to be. I am excited to see how my “baby” develops and grows.
Information about buying the book:
For those of you who live in Ontario, here are the book launch dates/ locations:
COBDEN: Wed. May 6th from 7-9pm at the Whitewater-Bromley Community Health Centre, 70 Main Street. Launch and reading!
For those of you locally, who cannot make any of the launches, you can purchase the book directly from me for a limited time. I will also be at Arts in the Park in Stittsville on June 7. A link will be up soon on this website to the publisher’s website where you can also purchase books after May 15th. E-books will be available soon. Don’t hesitate to reach me if you have questions or have difficulty getting your copy of my book.
I admit, I am not the most consistent blogger and for good reason. For the last three years, I have been working on a book. I didn’t write every day in that three years and sometimes I would go months without writing but the act of writing a book was a part of my life for the last three years, nonetheless, and was an undertaking far more strenuous than I could have ever anticipated.
The great news is that my book is finished and will hit the shelves, so to speak, sometime in the spring 2015! To say that I feel a tremendous sense of relief would be an understatement. On top of relief, I feel sheer excitement at the thought of holding MY book in my hands, as well as, sheer terror at the thought of releasing it to the world.
It was so easy in December 2011 to announce that I was writing a book and it was easier still to tell people, “yes, I am writing a book.” Keeping it in the present tense meant that it was an ongoing process and there wasn’t the pressure of what finishing it entailed. But I did finish and for the last few weeks, the book has been edited again and will go through one final edit before heading to the first readers~ those who will provide reviews for the back cover! The cover design will be revealed soon enough and this crazy idea of writing a book will be a reality and I can start saying, “I wrote a book.” I will be a bono fide author.
I know there will be things, after publication, that I will wish I had included in this book. Hopefully, a second edition will come after it is a bestseller 🙂 and additional chapters need to be added.
I am excited to experience the unfolding of the next few months. This website will be completely renovated sometime in February/ March with a brand new blog about our life in this moment on this adventure of parenting through medical fragility. There will also be an option to pre-order and purchase the “What I Would Tell You” book through this website.
A lot in store for this new year of 2015. Bring it on!
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or the Winter Solstice, gift giving and receiving is a part of this time of year. If you know or love a parent/ caregiver of a child with special needs/ medical fragility, you may wonder what kind of gift they would most appreciate. I have come up with my own top ten list of gift ideas. This list can come in handy for Christmas, birthdays, Mother’s Day or any other holiday where gifts might be given or perhaps you can just give a gift for no reason at all.
1) SLEEP: How divine it would be if there were a pill to ingest that would provide the same benefits as 8 hours of sleep. The inventor of such a remedy would definitely be in the running for the Nobel Peace prize or even Sainthood. Yes, I know there are actual sleeping pills but the problem for many parents like me is not an inability to fall asleep. The problem is that we are not able to sleep due to round the clock care giving or lack of night nursing. Until this magic pill is invented, why not figure out a way to give your friend or loved one a few hours of sleep. Take some time to be trained in the care of the child and then offer her 2 or more hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep. There is nothing like a chunk of consistent zzzzzzzzzzzz’s to refresh and rejuvenate a tired parent.
2) MEALS: Believe it or not, bringing a ready-made dinner to a family who is dealing with above-normal drama and busy-ness of life, is more valuable than gold. Imagine calling a parent of a child with special needs/ medical fragility and offering to bring over dinner. If you do wish to give this gift, be sure to find out any dietary preferences and food sensitivities so that everyone can enjoy. You could give a coupon that entitles the recipient to one dinner per week for a month.
3) SELF-CARE: One thing parents like me must do is practice self-care so that we are better able to care for our child (ren). This is often tricky because there is usually little time and little money to splurge on oneself. Giving the gift of a massage, a pedicure, a facial or even paying for an appointment with a Naturopath, Homeopath or a Therapist, will be gratefully accepted. Arranging for childcare while she/ he is attending the appointment will give you bonus points.
4) HEADSET: When our daughter turned 2 years old, a friend gave me a telephone headset for a gift. It had never occurred to me to even think of purchasing one and yet at that time, my only contact with the world outside of our living room was through the telephone. Unfortunately, conversations were kept short as I needed both hands to handle Meredith. My neck would very quickly get a kink and I would feel the aftermath of muscle strain from holding the phone in the crook of my neck while hanging onto my daughter as she thrashed about. This is one of the most practical gifts I have ever received to this day.
5) BOOZE: People are often at a loss for what to give Meredith for her birthday or Christmas. I half-jokingly respond with, “When in doubt, a bottle of wine for the parents is always appreciated.” Seriously, though, sometimes having a glass of wine with a dear friend or your spouse/partner gives that much needed self-induced relaxation/mental break from your life. Disclaimer: I am not promoting the use of alcohol and/or drugs to numb or deny emotions. I am merely suggesting that sometimes a glass of a full-bodied red or a crisp white can be a nice end to a rough day.
6) TRAVEL COMPANION: In our situation, we cannot travel anywhere alone with Meredith. There must always be another adult sitting beside her in the back while another adult drives. For some parents/ caregivers, this is not an issue but that does not mean doctor’s appointments and outings are easy. Offering to assist your friend or family member on trips to the hospital, clinics or other appointments will give them a sense of relief and will take some of the responsibility off of them. They will be able to grab a bite to eat, use the washroom and focus on information being shared at the appointment if they have an extra set of hands and eyes to help out.
7) TIME: As a friend or family member, you may feel helpless much of the time depending on the complexities of the child. It may be impossible for you to even begin to learn how to care for the child in a way that would allow the mother or father to leave the house or go and rest. If you are willing, your time can be a wonderful gift to a parent like me. Offer to hang out with the child for short periods so that the mother can take an uninterrupted shower or bath for example or make a phone call to a friend or work on the book she is writing 🙂 If it is the holidays and company is coming, giving the gift of your time to provide the parent with an extra set of hands for cleaning, preparing food or helping with the care of the children, can be invaluable to them.
8) GIFT CARDS: Retail therapy can be just that: therapeutic. It is challenging for some of us to get out and shop for ourselves and sometimes living in a rural area prevents one from getting to the city to shop. Giving gift cards for places like The Body Shop, Lush, Bath & Body Works, Chapters, Amazon or clothing stores will give the mother, for example, the option of shopping online as well as treating her to something for herself. There is nothing like a new pair of jeans, shoes or good quality under eye concealer to lift the spirit.
9) RELAXATION: Although I am not one to talk, incorporating some types of relaxation into our lives can have huge benefits. Giving a gift of a beginner’s yoga DVD with a mat or a CD of guided visualizations for stress reduction or good quality essential oils can all be gentle reminders of how crucial it is to carve out even ten minutes per day for ourselves specifically for the purpose of finding some peace and quiet. We may not have the luxury of travelling to Bora Bora but we can close our eyes and drift off to our “Happy Place” via a guided relaxation CD.
10) LAUGHTER: There is nothing like a good, side splitting fit of laughter to unleash a dose of oxytocin into the bloodstream and to relieve one of tension and stress. Maybe you are that one person that has a knack to crack up your caregiver friend/ family member. Your inexpensive yet invaluable gift, would be to steal him/her away for an hour or more to just be silly and laugh. This can include going to a movie that you know is bound to bring on the giggles or simply hanging out together and reminiscing about events in your life that make you smile. I have a few dear friends, two sisters and a brother who know how to make me break down into laughter. This might be one of the most priceless gifts you can give.
These are just a few thoughts and ideas that come to mind as we anticipate Christmas Day. I would love to hear some gift ideas that you have loved and appreciated as a mother, father or caregiver of a child with special needs. Leave them in the comments below! And Happy Hanukkah, Joyful Solstice & Merry Christmas to all of you! May your days be merry and bright!
I am awake at this ungodly hour of 4:40am. Eleven years ago at this time, I had been up half the night in early labour. I remember it all quite well but haven’t spent much time reflecting on the day Meredith was born. The last eleven years have left little time for remembering what happened in the moments leading up to her birth and when our lives were forever changed.
Birth is such an extraordinary experience in a woman’s life that the majority of women remember their births in vivid detail while some women spend a lifetime trying to forget it if the birth was difficult or even traumatic. Women are forever changed by their birth experience regardless of the outcome. There is nothing else that challenges a woman more deeply in all aspects of her being and we carry that with us for the rest of lives whether or not we are conscious of it.
Contrary to popular belief, I had a positive birth experience. Some might argue otherwise but from where I was standing, it was a beautiful labour and birth. We had bought our first home in February of 2003 and within weeks, I discovered I was pregnant. Tim and I made an educated decision to give birth at home after an uneventful pregnancy and were in the care of skilled and caring midwives and our doula.
On December 5th 2003, I was up most of the night with mild contractions and called my chiropractor at 6am to come to our home and give me one last adjustment before things really picked up. He arrived at 6:30am and could feel our baby’s legs high up under my rib cage. Once he adjusted me, contractions increased with intensity and once they were coming every 4 minutes, we called our midwife as I knew things were really starting to roll. She arrived at 9:30am and assessed me to find that I was already 4cm dilated. We called our doula, Tammy, as well as our friend, Jessie, who was in charge of taking the photos, to tell them that there would be a baby born on this day. My mom was also on her way to oversee the many tasks involved in a homebirth. It was a beautiful winter morning with every surface (each fencepost, branch and twig) covered in a blanket of sparkling frost.
I recall being amazed by the contractions and at the same time not being surprised by the intensity of them. I had been with 99 women at this point as a doula and had witnessed firsthand, over and over, the sheer power of birth. I was in awe of the fact that I was actually labouring as opposed to supporting someone in labour. It was surreal to be on the other side of the experience.
Our care team arrived and everyone surrounded me with their strength and support and I remember feeling completely safe in the arms of my husband, Tim, and in the sacred space that the other women held for us. I spent the majority of the time labouring upstairs in the bathroom which had a shower, a soaker tub and lots of space. I was most comfortable sitting on the toilet and staring out the window that was opposite me across the room. At about 1pm my membranes ruptured and our midwife announced that I was now 7cm and that we could anticipate our baby’s birth by 3:30pm. I had always planned to labour efficiently so was feeling very motivated to know that I was getting the work done as I had intended.
Labour progressed well and I have flashes of moments during this intense time. Tim never left my side and I remember trying to convey to him the intensity of each contraction but being unable to speak. They were sharp and took my breath away and I remember how helpless he appeared as he tried to do anything to ease my pain. But even though I was washed away with every rising contraction, I felt grounded and strong and not once did I feel like I needed to have pain relief. With that said, I do remember thinking that I could completely understand why women choose epidurals.
I remember thinking I would spend the majority of my labour in our tub but lying in it was excruciating so I spent time standing or squatting in ankle deep water instead. I am a little foggy on the times but I think that around 3pm, my midwife checked and I was 9.5cm dilated with a stubborn lip of cervix that remained there until 5pm. This was probably the most challenging of it all as I experienced insane contractions while at the same time getting an urge to push at the peak of the contraction. I panted my way through the urge to bear down not wanting to cause swelling on my cervix. We tried all kinds of positions and maneuvers but that lip of cervix was hanging on.
Finally, that lip moved out of the way and a powerful urge to push took over and second stage began. By this time I was sitting on the birth stool in our master bedroom and everyone had gathered close to encourage me through each surge. I was so astounded by the power of pushing. I couldn’t believe how my body just took over and I respectfully got out of my way to let it do it’s job. I will always remember Tim telling me that he couldn’t believe the muscles in my back that would tense and appear with each contraction. There is nothing as magnificent as witnessing the incredible strength and endurance of birth.
I pushed for just under 2 1/2 hours by the time her head started to crown. My doula helped me “pah-pah-pah” through the urges to gently ease her head out and I remember distinctly thinking to myself how funny it was that I was the one birthing and not the one guiding a woman with “pah-pah-pah’s.”
Meredith finally slipped out of my body at 7:23pm into the hands of my mother; her Nanny. At that time I was on my hands and knees so I spun around to look down at our beautiful, black haired baby. Oh she was a beauty and I couldn’t believe we had a girl! I was certain I was carrying a boy. What a pleasant surprise!
We knew her name would be Meredith Ocea and so as she struggled in those first moments, we called to her to stay with us. We called to her that we needed her here and that she belonged here with us. As most of you know, things changed in that moment which resulted in the adventure that we ultimately embarked on.
Today, on Meredith’s 11th birthday, I want to focus on her glorious birth aside from the unexpected outcome of it all. I will always be joy-filled that I was privileged to experience pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood.
Most of all, my heart is full of gratitude that we have been gifted with another year of life with Meredith. Happy Birthday, my love. May we share many more.