Today is a big day for our little girl. She's turning eight.
For now, she's hanging on to the slippery edge of childhood but she's beginning to shed all of those comfortable things we know and understand. Dress up clothes? Got those. Stories of strong little girls overcoming stereotypes and learning to always do the right thing? Check. Those books have lots of pictures. I like those. These new chapter books which I haven't read yet (and really should be to make sure she's not accidentally reading some Hunger Games-wannabe series)? Not ready for those.
I'm also not ready for the meanness that creeps onto the playground at this age, and how she's making distinctions that a "character" American Girl doll is somehow superior to a "look-alike" doll. Before long, she'll be demanding to wear only Z-Cavaricci's and Units (bonus points if you remember the latter). And I'm truly dreading the thought of managing things like our daughter's access to technology and social media. I'm fairly certain our children will always be able to outsmart us when it comes to technology -- Snap Chat? What the heck is that? I'm probably spelling it wrong. -- and honestly I'm exhausted just thinking about trying to stay ahead of them.
As Wes so calmly pointed out this week, she's halfway to a driver's license now. He's lucky I didn't vomit directly on his shirt.
But we should be excited about these changes, the new doors opening up to her and the opportunities ahead, right? ...Maybe give me some more time and I'll get there.
For the past eight years, I have claimed that each new year is my favorite time in a child's life and I'm sure the ninth year will bring the same revelations. It just sounds so...grown up.
Earlier this year, I discovered the terrible loss of all of our digital photos taken before 2008. I do have small thumbnails of a portion of them, but it's been heartbreaking to me and when I remember it I get upset all over again. To combat my frustration, I began a project to lay each year's remaining photos into annual coffee table-sized books, starting with 2008. I'm now nearly done with 2013, and after the new year, I will tackle 2007 and prior. Wes is so happy I've found what to do with my free time between 9 and 11 p.m.
But seriously, feeling the loss of what was not saved in the form of books or stories has reaffirmed for me that the time I spend here, adding to this photoblog, is time well-spent. It matters. To me, anyway.
So on this big day, I'll share one story I've not yet written down but should before the details are completely foggy. Only those close to me know most of it's details. I spent a lot of time recovering from that long year, but with distance and time, I can now see the gifts where I used to only see the struggle.
It's Ella's story.
At least, this is her story told from my point of view. I am certain her father has quite a lot to tell one day, too.
One morning in early 2005, I took a pregnancy test in the bathroom at my office (third stall to the right on the 17th floor -- why do I remember these things?) The next week, we made a quick trip to Texas "for my brother's birthday" so we could share the news with my family in person. Waiting in line at the airport, I was overcome with nausea and I'll never forget the kind gate agent who helped Wes and I to the front of the line. I'm sure everyone else in the airport was worried I had some awful stomach bug that I was bringing to share on the plane. Nana was pretty worried about the same thing when she saw me eating her (delicious) pasta salad right out of the container as soon as we got to the farm.
Within 24 hours, I was the kind of sick that robs you of your ability function and, so, I was quickly on the phone with my doctor to see what could be done. "Zofran" was the answer but a prescription couldn't be written for an out-of-state pharmacy. Without much debate, we went home on the next plane out of DFW.
I muddled through the next two and a half months, coming to work every day carrying a thermos filled with ice chips and an ever-changing assortment of carb-y snacks in my computer bag. I'm sure my boss was very pleased with my productivity during those days.
So much for waiting until the second trimester to share the happy news... but on the bright side, at each OB appointment I was told what a great sign for the health of the baby it was that I was so sick. Ummm, thanks. It was horrible but everyone told me "hang in there, it'll all get better by 13 weeks."
We were living in Cabbagetown at the time. I had forgotten the house was teal when we first bought it -- I can't find an exterior shot taken after our DIY renovations. Anyway, we loved that house, but it had a fatal flaw: the second bedroom had an exterior door and we didn't feel comfortable making that into the nursery.
There aren't many photos of Ella and me from early pregnancy. This is the only one I could find. It was early enough, in fact, that Wes still thought it was funny that it took me about two hours to get down one toaster waffle. Apparently he also thought this needed to be documented.
Within a week or two of learning we were expecting, we had put a deposit down on the waiting list at College Heights, put our beloved shotgun house up on the market and began house-hunting in nearby Decatur. Me being too ill to bother with brooding over decisions, we plunked down money on this beauty after literally 20 minutes of deliberation. The location was wonderful, I promise.
Our original plans to renovate the three bedroom, one bath house crumbled as we discovered pervasive mold among other issues. Soon we were talking to an architect and figured out it would be the same cost to knock it down and start fresh. So we did.
Meanwhile, the magical beginning of my 13th week had come around and I was still incredibly sick.
I remember it was a Saturday. I woke up at 5:30 a.m. to the Zofran Alarm on my phone, took a look at my bedside clock and had the very clear thought that I could not -- would not -- be able to make it through that day. While I had never considered the idea conscientiously prior to that moment, I knew in my heart that ending the pregnancy was completely out of the question. And continuing to live for one more day feeling so ill -- at that moment -- was also not an option. I woke Wes as the waves of panic began to worsen and told him something along the lines of "either I'm dying right now or I'm really going to hurt myself. I'm scared."
Not knowing what else to do, he called the after-hours line for my OB -- we were both hoping to hear some friendly nurse explain, "This is totally normal. It's hormones. She'll be fine, just put her in a warm bath or something." Instead, we were sent to the nearest ER and I was put on a suicide watch. If that's never happened to you, it's absolutely terrifying. Piece by piece, by wordless orderlies, the room we were in was striped of every item except the chairs we were sitting on. We waited, for what seemed like hours, to see the doctor.
Eventually, I was given IV fluids and also potassium, I believe. Slowly, the world started to make better sense to me. The doctor quietly explained that there was a wonderful program affiliated with the hospital for moms with anxiety and depression (was that what this was?) and if I agreed to be admitted for the night, I would be moved to the head of the line to be entered in a research program that would pay for all of my care.
That night I spent in the psychiatric ward is a story for another day. I cannot write it just now. But the end-result was what we hoped for. The following day, I began seeing a wonderful group of specialists who understood how severe our situation was and got me the right help.
In less than three months, I had dropped 25 pounds and was having intermittent, bonafide contractions, compounded by the panic attacks and constant anxiety. Fearing preterm birth, my doctors (now plural) convinced me to start on low doses of Ativan. It was very clear that I needed round-the-clock care, and since Wes needed to keep his job even if I couldn't keep mine, Nana flew to Georgia to take me home with her to Texas the day I was released from the hospital. A very good friend came over to help me pack my things while I focused all of my energy on eating small bits of a banana.
Taking an open-ended leave of absence from work, I spent the next two months living at the farm with my incredible parents, having a long-distance relationship with my husband and the team of doctors which now included a therapist who I found much more helpful than all of the medicines I was being asked to take.
The mornings were the hardest time. Waking every day in a panic, my first thought was always remembering that I would have to try eating again today. A horrible, endless cycle. But as I began moving around, taking hot showers and plugging away at the knitting projects Nana was coaching me through to keep my mind busy, the days did pass.
A few weeks later, Wes was able to visit for a weekend. I had been for a check up that week with my Texas OB who had placed a note with the sex of the baby into an envelope that we could open later together. As we stood in the parking lot across from Babe's Restaurant in Roanoke, we learned we were having a GIRL. Wes shook his head and uttered one word. "Midriffs." (True story.) And then I'm pretty sure we both cried a little.
By 22 weeks, I was managing to eat foods that resembled an actual meal and started making plans to return home to Georgia and to work. Armed with a variety of new coping strategies and tricks, it appeared Baby and I were going to make it after all.
Friends and family started to plan baby showers, and somewhere along the way, I began to enjoy bits and pieces of our pregnancy. I could feel tiny kicks and nudges from this little person who had already turned our world upside down, months before making her debut. Feelings of dread and resentment were slowly being replaced with feelings of hope and attachment.
The house was also beginning to take shape. Not that I was much help -- I had mostly abandoned Wes when my world simplified itself to the basics of Sleep, Eat, Breathe. He did a phenomenal job, though, and with each passing week, we could imagine life on the other side of these nine months, holding our little girl.
Ella's first baby shower was during our annual, week-long trip to Sunset Beach. I have often remembered that week as the one where I really came back to life.
Surely this is concrete proof that we should all spend more time with our feet planted firmly in the sand.
Settled in back at home, and back at work, plans for Christmas and final touches to the house were finally underway.
I was also outgrowing every piece of maternity clothing I owned. While I ultimately lost 30 pounds over the first 20 weeks...I gained 60 over the last 20 to make up for it. It was glorious to be able to keep food down, even if it rarely tasted good and I still felt ill most hours of the day.
I'm fairly certain this was the last Georgia football game I went to for a few years. Oh how the world was about to change for us.
Note the shirt that I thought was covering my belly clearly wasn't.
Our due date was December 11.
As Christmas rolled nearer and nearer, and Ella was stubbornly staying put, we headed out to a holiday party armed with excellent and welcome advice from my OB to try a glass of champagne.
While it tasted fabulous, it didn't work. On December 20, I asked if I could be induced, fearing spending Christmas in the hospital. That night, while out to dinner, we got the call that I could be worked into the schedule and we hightailed it to Northside with our hospital bag and 50 other useless items that all first-time parents bring along, thanks to the good advice found on Baby Center.
That night was the one and only time I've taken an Ambien. Despite increasingly strong contractions and nurses checking on me every 45 minutes, it was one of the best nights of sleep ever. I'll never take that drug again. I would certainly be addicted immediately.
At 7 a.m., I took what would be my last dose of Zofran and then Pitocin was added to my IV. We spent the rest of the morning watching TLC and chatting with my parents and in-laws who were hanging out with us in the delivery room. The contractions were completely manageable and I remember thinking that labor was no big deal. (Don't hate me. The Universe owed me one at this point.)
Despite how the morning was going, I had a sinking fear that "the real contractions" would show soon and the anesthesiologist might be on a lunch break, so at 11:30 a.m. I asked for him or her to come my way. By noon, nurses were clearing the room of family members so I could get my epidural.
About 10 minutes later, I was certain something was wrong. I felt flushed and was experiencing incredible pressure, with some pain. Worried that the epidural wasn't working properly, I asked for my OB. Having been 6 cm when she checked me 20 minutes prior, she was more than a little surprised to find I was now 10 cm and ready to welcome our baby girl. She asked me to do a "test" push and apparently I passed that one with flying colors. With a look of slight alarm, no nurse in the room and no time to prepare, she hit the call button for assistance and asked Wes to bring over the rolling tray table. I should add that he first cleared an ongoing game with his forearm, sending playing cards flying across the room. I'm sure if she had time, Dr. Martin would have laughed.
After one more contraction, at 12:20 p.m. on December 21, 2005 and weighing a perfect 8 pounds and 8 ounces, Ella was born. It was the most incredible moment and, even though it's cliche to say it, there's simply no way to describe it with words.
I'll attempt to do so with (mostly crappy) pictures instead.
As promised, the nausea left me like a switch had been flipped the moment she was born. All of the anxiety went away, too, and I felt like myself for the first time in so long. That natural high from giving birth was incredibly intensified; I don't think I slept at all the following night.
Due to weeks of rainy weather which slowed construction over the summer, according to my builder-husband, the new house wouldn't be ready for another six weeks. Meanwhile, we made do with a make-shift nursery in our bedroom loft, with gates to keep out curious puppy dogs.
In most of our photos from those days, Gracie's little nose appears. She and Abby were constantly watchful and careful around their newest charge. We miss them terribly, and I think of Gracie, in particular, more often these days now that Brisket is running around the house.
Eventually, I confessed to Wes and my parents that I had stopped taking the Ativan and anti-depressants a month or more before Ella was born. I was worried about the effect they might have on her and I truly felt the talk therapy was better for me than any pill I had been taking. I was at higher risk for postpartum depression, but that thankfully never came (if you don't include a small episode where I launched a casserole dish at Wes' head in a fit of frustration. Oops.)
Eventually everyone stopped looking at me sideways as though some post-baby crisis would appear any minute and they believed what I did -- that whatever force which took away "Anne" while Ella was baking was truly gone now. Like it or not, the 'me' I had always been was sticking around.
...Oh, except I cry at Publix holiday commercials now. Not while anyone's looking, of course...
I remember loving those early days so much, despite the lack of sleep and the big move we tackled when she was just weeks old. What crazy, wonderful days.
In so many ways, that was a hundred years ago, but then again, it was just yesterday. In a blink, little Ella was cooing, then laughing, crawling and picking out her own shoes as she got dressed for school.
Today she's having sleepovers, (willingly!) watching football with her Dad on Saturdays and helping keep her two younger brothers in line -- a constant chore, I'm sure she would tell you.
We are ridiculously proud and fiercely protective of this beautiful girl.
Even before we held her in our arms, she taught us so much about what matters most in life and how it truly takes an entire family to come together and raise a child. We learned how to ask for help when we were falling into little pieces and how there is always light up ahead, even if you can't see it yet from where you're standing.
If nothing else, the two brothers who followed her are a testament to what an extraordinary child she must be to convince us to risk going through that madness again.
Happy 8th birthday, Ella Bella. Now stop growing up so damn fast.