I know it's October... but I didn't want to forget that 4th of July we went to the Rose Bowl stadium, watched some wicked motocross, tried my first funnel cake, and sang in the fireworks to Hey Jude by a rather smashing Beatles cover band.
The irony of hearing a cover band for a British sensation on a
completely American holiday was not lost on me. And it was fantastic.
Afterward we all met up at Sonic for hotdogs and slushies.
"How have you been?" "How are you guys doing lately?" "Really. How are you guys doing? How's Jas?"
How are we doing? How much do you know? How much do you want to know? How much should I share? All of it? I'm not sure what to say...
"We're good. Jas is doing great, healthier than he has been in so many years."
On Feb 10, 2014 we lost a baby, and almost... me.
I remember looking up to the sky, seeing all the blue and the tops of palm trees and light brown roofing tiles, as firefighters raced me down the stairs outside our apartment. I was very worried that I was only in underwear under the green blanket covering my body—oh yeah, my body—it was continuing to writhe in mind–numbing pain. But also there was this state of resignation to the pain, like my threshold had been reached... Or maybe elevated—like a wave of exhausted, confused, adrenaline seeped through my veins and poured over my alarm cells, or whatever it is that tells your body it's filling up with blood. It was as if I wasn't in my body, and I really really wanted my thread–bare favorite tribal sweater. Delirium. Delirium plus pain.
Only minutes before, back up in our bedroom, these same firefighters could not find a pulse or blood pressure. Jason let them know I was just a day away from 7 weeks pregnant. The taller, bulkier EMT, before he even came to hover over me on the floor at the foot of our bed, stated loudly and matter-of-factly "Sounds like it might be ectopic pregnancy."
Once in the ambulance they continued to try to find pulse/blood pressure, with no luck. The siren reeled and I remember being incapable to keep myself from moaning over each bump... and there never was a bumpier ride than that one in the back of the ambulance, flying to the hospital. So many bumps. So many hands. So many heads and voices. So many pricks and sticks and stings from repeated attempts at starting an IV. Now, reflecting back logistically there were just two heads and four hands... oh but on that day, from where I lay, there were so many.
Jason passed a friend out on a walk with her son as he followed the rig in our car. The little boy was pointing and saying "Look mommy! Firetruck." Then our sweet friend spotted our car following behind the ambulance, Jas saw her confusion, panic. He shouted from the car "Geri's in there!" "What?! What can we do?!" "It's serious! Please pray!" and then we were gone. Turning out of our complex and speeding down the street.
This round of invitro fertilization was rocky. It was almost as if everything that could go wrong... did, totally did; making the already difficult journey, the White Cliffs of Dover of emotions and guarded optimism and the sea of needles and needles and suppositories and needles and waiting and holding breath, all of it, feel like trudging through waste–high molasses. The short story: A–fluid filled my ovaries after the extraction (brutal introduction to days of brain–melting pain that is Fluid Being Where Fluid Shouldn't Be—and then trying to drown myself with water and Gatorade and Vitamin Water to get the fluid out... ? This I'm still trying to understand. But I did it). B–They had to take from both testicles because the sperm count was very low, both doctors were nervous about the success of the outcome at this point. (C–Roughly four weeks after my emergency Jas would have one as well, one in which he almost lost his left testicle as it had swelled to triple its size, became rock hard, and inflamed with pain... you can ask him more about this issue at a later date... if you really want to. Spoiler: he didn't loose the whole testicle, just the epididymis.) We ended up with 5 viable embryos. Transferred two, froze three (that part was the best part). D–After the transfer, we experienced another "low positive" and yet not as low as last time. This brought with it a current of old emotion and memories. I remember thinking it might have been better to have no positive at all, over the extra blood draws and the waiting and the not exhaling until the phone rings. And then there was the call and the levels had more than doubled. We were pregnant! "We were pregnant" with a million exclamation points! And also "We were pregnant" in a whisper, with a smile that held only half a heart and so much caution.
From the beginning we had tried to keep this as secret as possible. We thought it might be fun to surprise everyone with happy news. (Or that it might be better to privately grieve together, should there be the opposite.) We had our list written—all those we were excited to tell after our first ultrasound, coming up on Wednesday. It had been pushed back a week. I was already feeling very nauseous. And this strange sick feeling had made me so happy. To me it meant something was happening, someone was growing.
Then Monday morning came and Jason was taking a final exam. It was eight o'clock. I woke suddenly and clutching my lower abdomen. So much nauseous pain. I dropped my legs to the floor and staggered to the bathroom. I didn't know what to do—sit or kneel, sit or kneel? I sat and held the garbage in front of me. Nothing happened, but more pain, more intense. I knelt. I dry–heaved. I clumsily laid on the cold, three foot by four foot, bathroom floor. I pulled my knees closer to my body. I slowly crawled out of the bathroom and down the tiny hall (can I call it a hall?) until I collapsed by the kitchen. I whimpered and wretched because I was so so nauseous and so so weak and so close to the smell of the garbage can. Somehow, I'm not sure how, I found myself back in bed. I let myself fall in and out of half–sleep.
Then it was ten o'clock. Jason must be done, right? There were time limits on those tests, right? Feeling the last bits of lucidity escape me I fumbled with my phone and texted something about not feeling well and needing help. There was another hour left of the test, but for some reason Jas had been flying through the questions with ease. He hadn't turned his phone off before the exam (which was unusual) and he read my message. Something whispered it's urgency to him, he scribbled answers to the remaining few questions and ran from the room to his bike. Forgetting his white–coat, his keys in its pocket.
The door was locked when he tore up the stairs to our apartment. He knocked and pounded and rang the doorbell. I could hear the ringing and the pounding and I imagined myself getting up and opening the door—but I couldn't lift my head. My phone chimed, he had texted. Slowly and with so much concentration I turned my phone to the side and read "Locked. Can you come let me in?" I answered, although I don't quite remember typing, "I can't. I'm sorry."
And he was off—running across the complex, to the front office, and racing back up the stairs with the extra key. He bounded into the apartment; I was jostled from my half–slumber. He was talking too loudly, asking questions. "You're whiter than your pillow. Stay awake, ok. Nope—don't close your eyes." He was calling Dr. A (our fertility doc) and they were insisting I come in to their office... NOW. I couldn't imagine walking down the stairs and getting into the car. There was hardly strength to strength to register words, let alone respond. If I moved I wretched, or I needed to. Please can I close my eyes. I just need to rest. Please?
Jason tried to talk me into getting up, gently at first, then demanding we go. I said I would, I just needed to rest for a minute more. Just a few minutes more. He pulled a pair of shorts half way up my legs, the movement excruciating. I moaned and breathed, so shallowly.
By eleven thirty Jas had called the doctor's office again and they urged him to either get us in the car and on our way to their office, or call 911. He pulled his arms around me and sat me up. "We need to go, we need to go now. Here, let's get you sitting up. Can you–"
I woke feeling so comfortable, as if someone had found the reset button... and then came the pain, again. I was laying side–ways on our bed now, half on/half off.
"Geri? Geri. Hey, hey you." I nodded. "You passed out. I tried to get you to sit up and you passed out." He let me lay there a little bit longer, then tried to help me up again—slower this time. I remember standing, taking note that I really couldn't feel my feet on the floor. But ok. I just had to–
This time I woke on the floor at the foot of our bed. How did that happen? Why was I here? Reset. Jason's eyes were wide, his face pale. "I'm calling 911. Don't move. Don't try to get up." I began a feeble attempt at moving. Why was everything so... heavy? Why couldn't I move my arms? "But I need my sweater." Jason was already talking to dispatch. "My sweater, please can you get my hoodie?" Jason continued talking, suddenly, too soon, there were sirens. Desperation flooded me. Underwear! That's all I have on! My sweater! Please! My "sweater. I need it." Jason shook his head and said something about I didn't need it. I focused all my attention on insisting. He said he was getting a blanket.
Then there were firemen in our apartment, in our bedroom. Talking loudly and bluntly and saying the words "ectopic pregnancy"—words I had read about a few weeks before. I would need surgery. That's what I knew. That and something about a fallopian tube. "Can you roll to your side? Good. That's all we can do while we wait for the stretcher."
Jason was on the phone again, this time with our close friend/neighbor, who lived at the front of the complex and had heard the sirens and had a feeling they might be for us. "Aubrey. Hi. Yes. It's Geri. She's in a lot of pain, and weak. She's so pale, whiter than our sheets. She passed out twice. She seized the last time, threw up and stopped breathing, it was longer. They can't find a pulse or blood pressure. ...I don't know, maybe an ectopic pregnancy. We're getting her to the hospital. Pray. Please pray."
I had seized?
I was on a stretcher. I was in an ambulance. I was being lifted from the ambulance, then rolled into the ER. I lost more of myself. I remember seeing sky, then ceiling, then a dark room with a curtain and IV poles. I remember more poking and stinging, but duller, more fuzzy now.
Then there was a deep, insane, stabbing in the crook of my right elbow. I cursed. I yelled it. Loudly. The male ER nurse moved to the left elbow, this time with ultrasound. I prayed. I prayed and prayed, more fervently than ever before, for a successful IV. Somehow, by miracle only, there it was and then another. And we moved on to the ultrasound.
The vaginal ultrasound from someplace deeper and darker than hell. I was that person screaming in the ER—that person you see on those doctor dramas on NBC or TNT or USA or TLC or wherever. I was her. And the ultrasound tech lady shook her head and tried her best to hurry, but there was "oh! so much fluid." So much blood.
By the time they were wheeling me to the OR for surgery I was grateful to go. They made me repeat back to them my situation, to be sure I understood and was aware. Oh. I was aware. I ached for the sweet relief of anesthesia. We winded down hallways and there were faces and arms and ceiling tiles and faces and Jason "I love you so much, Sweetheart. Everything will be ok. Ok? You're going to be just fine. I love you." and then there were stained–glass tree branches and sky above me. Under any other circumstance it might have been pretty, but I hated that stained glass. It was an impostor in this clinical place. I wanted to throw up. So nauseous.
Double doors opened and a wall of stainless steel whirled in sight. A long stripe of shining, metal tools. I consciously looked away and tried to blink back that vision. Focus on anything else. Focus on the gentle cadence of the doctor's voice. He was older, gray. There was a confident calm about him. I decided I liked him. I needed to like him. More people were in the room. I realized I'd long since been stripped of all clothing and my green blanket. I guess I didn't need my sweater, I thought. I was laying on a table. I was naked, and I didn't care.
Then there was nothing. I woke in a hospital room feeling that much time had passed, not knowing where it went.
I don't remember very much of the hospital stay. I do remember Jason, overwhelmed by stress, trying to find a way to get back to the school to study/finish finals and at the same time not leave me alone at the hospital. I was helpless. I needed someone to hold a styrofoam cup in front of me to drink because I physically could not move. I remember several sweet friends who quietly sat beside me, holding cups and straws near my inclined head.
I remember the first night, pulling my heavy eyes open—seeing my friend Aubrey sitting at my side, bent over herself, head in hands, and shaking. Ohh, she's sad. She's crying. She must know... I lost the baby. And I felt her love and if I hadn't been fully depleted of energy I might have cried too. And I fell asleep.
There was also Naarah, who spent the night on an awful chair/bed, to whom I slurred about having more sleepovers and watching Duck Soup and giving me a round of applause should I be able to pass gas.
And more sweet friends and flowers. My little room became a garden.
It's blurry, most of it.
My mom came, I got to go home, more flowers, so much love, so many meals and letters and care packages from family and people around us, from my sweet young women, from people who knew.
I'm not sure why this happened—I am sure it wasn't coincidence (an ectopic pregnancy through IVF is like one in thirty–thousand, an ectopic pregnancy placed where mine was—where it could stay longer and grow bigger and cause the most destruction, was even smaller odds). I am sure of the miracles we found on our right and on our left—Jason's phone was on, he was able to come to me when I had a matter of hours to live, his thoughts were clear and movements sure, the EMTs were there in no time at all and were able to call it what it was from the start, Brad (Jason's dad) happened to be in the area and met him at the ER to take care of paperwork so Jas could take care of me, the kindest, most capable OBGYN was at the hospital and ready to perform the surgery, and I lived. I lived.
I'm not sure why this happened—maybe someday I'll understand a little better, but I'm so grateful for the angels that were placed in our path, the outpouring of prayers and love.
After the dust cleared, after a few more complications, and finally, finally, a bowel movement, a different pain settled upon me. An internal pain, a dark sadness, a debilitating anxiety. I waited for night to walk outside. I couldn't look at my phone, I tried to hide it away from me. I was afraid of social interaction, afraid of having to try—I was too exhausted to try to be chipper or to explain how I felt. It was all so uncomfortable. It was like I swallowed a tea kettle. All tight and compressed. All gasping for breath through the tiniest of air holes, and only able to let out a high whistle. There was this yearning, this need, to write it down before the insurmountable pressure blew the lid off the kettle and bursted open my stomach, as well as my heart.
I guess with trauma commonly comes depression and anxiety also. It came. It tackled me to the floor and sat on my chest. There was a black hole where a baby used to be, it seemed all hope and light had been swallowed up in it as well. I wept for empty arms and empty promise and a thick–ropey incision at the base of my stomach.
I tried to get back to life. It was so hard. Laden with almost crippling anxiety and marinated with sadness. I meditated. I prayed. I tried to use my phone again. I read the Book of Mormon as if my life depended on it. I counseled. I sought refuge on the sand at the beach or high on mountain tops. I talked with friends. I tried to take pictures again, I tried to enjoy it. I tried to move on. I tried to try.
A friend told me about her time with depression and anxiety, how all she could do was lay on the couch and cry daily, sometimes unable to attend her classes. Then, she said, there seemed to be a glimpse of happiness, then a window... after more time there became a door... then, almost without her noticing the walls holding her hostage were lifted. Sometimes there would be regression, but only for a time, and it grew shorter and shorter and farther between. Until one day it was ok. She was ok. And, after much more time, and yet almost as if suddenly, she realized she was whole.
By the end of April I was catching glimpses of my window. By the end of May I had found my door, and I could smile again, even laugh, not always—but I knew I could, it was a possibility.
Now there is still anxiety. I'm still a little socially frightened and awkward, but I feel more myself. I'm getting stronger and more capable. The panic attacks have dissipated and the sadness has seeped away for the most part.
There's still the racing heart and self–doubt. But there is also hope. My caving–walls seem to have lifted, and the steps back seem to be much shorter and farther between.
After more time I'll probably be whole. Different. But whole.
And we'll try again. We have three beautiful embryos all frosty and waiting (that was the best part, remember? Our three tiny miracles in a petri dish).
When it's time, we'll try again.
How have we been? How are we doing? Do you really want to know? It's kind of a long story...
"We're doing fine. Jas has been so healthy, healthier than ever. We've been so blessed, really. I'm alright too."
In honor of wedding season being in full swing I decided to post this lovely San Diego wedding, while I'm hard at work on current projects. What a privilege it was to photograph this sweet couple's wedding!
In searching for a unifying gratitude activity for a Young Women's Wednesday night activity I fell upon this feathertastic printable from www.sarahjanestudios.com (she's pretty much awesome at everything). Miss Sarah Jane to the rescue!
We had the girls cut feathers and write on the back of them what they were grateful for… for every other girl. In the end they all had a pile of feathery complements and warm fuzzies. We told them to tape them to a string for a colorful garland or use them as decoration on binders or in lockers.
I saw some of the sweetest things being passed from one girl to another. They were all smiles. It was perfect.
Because I had an extra sheet of feathers I decided we should probably have some feathery festive thankfulness on our wall too.
And I plum ran out of feathers… Turns out there's so much to be grateful for.
Since we moved to southern California we've created a bucket list of sorts, and as our time continues on and will come to an end next August (gasp!) we've decided it's high time to start checking some items off... Camping on the sandy shores of the beach was one of the top things on that list and we were lucky enough to share that experience with our favorite family of Anderson's we ever did meet, just before they packed up and moved all the way to Maryland.
The whole time we were there we all kept saying "Why did it take us so long to do this?" "We've lived here for three years... and this has just been here that whole time... what have we been doing with our lives?!"
Ohhhh, that's right. We've been wasting our lives away going to school and work and getting transplants and stuff.
Like a bunch of idiots.
We should have been camping at the beach!! (and this is coming from the couple who has been camping twice throughout their marriage of almost 6 yrs—well three times for me if you count Girl's Camp... and that was a week of roughin it in the mountains with like a million teenage girls, so yeah, we're going to go a head and count that.)
It was THAT amazing.
So was Jason's hair, which got crazier and crazier as the humidity set in—but don't you worry, he owned that fro.
There are so many awesome things about beach camping that I could go on and on all day (or for roughly 37 minutes, just ask my sister Audrey who got the prize of hearing allllllll of it because she happened to be the first one to call me while we were on the way home, you're welcome Hepburn) but that could get mighty boring and redundant... so I've made a list.
The top most awesome things about beach camping are as follows (and in no particular order):
5. being all "at one with nature" and stuff without all those sick bugs and creepy crawlers
4. waking up, opening the door to your tent, and putting your feet directly into the soft sand—no shoes needed... EVER! (can life get better?? I mean really...)
3. hanging out by the fire, telling stories, checking tide levels and times, roasting marshmallows and starbursts, doing the Carlton Dance in the moonlight with super cool party people, then laughing until your stomach hurts because theres just enough light to know you should be pretty embarrassed, but you're with your bffs and that's what makes you happy enough to be dancing like a fool in the first place.
2. campfire food is good food, with a side of ash
1. leaving the tent window open and falling asleep to the sound of crashing waves and the gentle sea breeze wafting through the tent
While we were packing up we were dragging our feet at the thought of just going right back home to Fullerton. One night just wasn't enough! The fun can't be over just like that, can it?! So we asked ourselves: If we drove all the way to Point Mugu... we probably better drive the rest of the short way up to Santa Barbara...
And if we drive all the way up to Santa Barbara... we might as well find Wheel Fun Rentals, rent a Double Surrey, ride up and down the beach boulevard, and take pictures of everything we see...
And if we ride around on the Double Surrey (that turns out to be a little bit broken and comically difficult to peddle) for a couple hours... then we're going to be pretty pumped to take our helmet off...
And after we finally get our helmet off... we might realize that the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley is right over the hills and it's probably breathtaking this time of year (because really it's breathtaking, no matter what time of year)...
And once we're getting our breath taken away as we drive through the Santa Ynez Valley... we'll come to find that the sweet and sleepy Danish town of Solvang is basically at our fingertips and if we neglect to continue our adventure on to the windmills and delicious bakeries we'd need a swift round–house kick to the face...
And if we do all this and see all that... then we'll have lots of memories to share with three of our best friends in the whole wide world and a few more checks for our bucket lists.
So I'd say you can give this mouse a cookie any old day.