Gosh, it was nearly a year ago that I first shared my thoughts on having a third. It was a discussion that weaved it’s way into many of conversations and debates between Willy and I.
I’ve debated sharing any news here until things felt more real and secure, but ultimately I’ve decided that I lean on this space heavily for support and encouragement and to deny the truth any longer feels weird. Especially because I can’t seem to stop talking about how tired I am.
I’m pregnant. And not that anything has gone wrong or caused any need for concern, somehow this pregnancy feels more fragile.
I’m past the first trimester now, with a due date in March – the first possibility at adding a Spring birthday in our family, which would round out the seasons so that we have at least one in each. Time has flown even in the midst of the worst throws of exhaustion and waves of uneasiness that seem to dictate much of the first several weeks of pregnancy.
Willy, second guessing that vasectomy…
Van, insistant on the baby coming out now so that he can hold it and show it his monster truck.
Hooper, concerned with the baby’s ability to breath while in my belly and innocently confused about how it’s going to come out as he makes a full circle around my body in hopes to discover this hole I told him about. He points to my butt and starts to laugh and all concerns prove fleeting and questions, answered.
And me, trying hard to slow down time to grasp all the changes that await… building a to-do list that includes “find a space for the new baby” at the top… a growing anticipation to know just who this little person growing inside me is going to be…
It’s hard to say that – that this has been the hardest year of my life – because embedded in the difficulties there have been so many blessings. I mean, it’s hard to complain about having most of my spine fused when it was something I signed up to do; meaning I didn’t have an accident and wake up in a post-op bed at the hospital with something fixed that was never broken. Rather, I drove to the hospital with a severely curved spine and walked (::wheeled::) out with a straight spine, and some metal. Meaning, I got something “better” than what I had, even if there was a price to pay.
And boy was there a price to pay.
There was so much I felt in those early days; things I wanted to hold on to and never forget that, as time has passed, I’ve let go of and – begrudgingly – forgotten. Emotions surrounding what it would be like to be handicapped, forever; to watch your family move around you and to be present but not a part of what they’re doing. We take these vows of “in sickness and in health” but we never really know what sickness could entail. To be honest, I don’t know if we could have made it through if what was temporary was actually permanent. I’d like to think so, but you never know. It was hard to watch Willy struggle to do it all: work from home, care for the kids, care for me, and deal with my pain and health in conjunction with his own battles with health anxiety.
And then I gave him the scare of his life when I came down with a stomach virus and completely passed out and collapsed in the middle of the night. If his health anxiety wasn’t bad enough before, I’m sure I put it over the edge. When I came to he was on the phone with 911 and not long after that I was in the hospital, again.
A few weeks before that hospital visit, I had the worst neck pain I’ve ever had in my life. You can take the word “neck” out of that sentence entirely as it’s fair to simply say I had the worst pain I’ve ever had in my life. It just happened to be in my neck. Even to this day, I get a soreness that’s reminiscent and I get anxious just thinking about how bad it could be. I’ve birthed two very large babies under less-than-ideal circumstances with no medication. I’ve also, as you know, had thirteen levels of my spine fused and woke up with blood pressure in the 70’s, which meant I was not allowed to have pain medication for fear it would drop my blood pressure even more. I had a few blood transfusions following that. And even with all of that – the crazy births and the crazy surgery – I can say, with one hundred percent certainty, that nothing has hurt as bad (and for as long) as that pain in my neck.
Then we moved. And I can see now, in hindsight, why my parents – and probably others too – thought we were crazy. Not that it wasn’t the best decision, because it was, but moving is hard. Moving with two small kids is even harder. And moving at a time when you’re not able to lift anything or bend is just damn silly. But, we did it. And, like my spine, we came out on top because of it. We love our new location, we love our new home, and all-in-all, it was worth the trade.
But that’s not to say it went smoothly. Our hearts were shattered the morning we lost Sarah. I still cry about losing her. I’m choked up now just reminiscing about her life and it’s tragic ending. It pains me more to think that people lose children. It all just makes me sad. Sure, we have Jimmie and we love Jimmie, but Sarah holds real-estate on our hearts that is hers and hers alone. Losing her on the last day in our old house made moving all the much harder and more painful. I couldn’t help glancing back in the rear view mirror and thinking that at the very spot her life ended, our new one was just beginning. And doing it without her with us has been hard. Man, the lump in my throat is painful right now. It doesn’t help that today is her birthday…
Recovery from the surgery has had it’s varying degrees of highs and lows; days go by where I feel more-or-less normal only to come crashing down with soreness and pain reminiscent of what once was. What I can say is that through the course of the year, the highs get higher as do the lows, if that makes sense. I’m out of the woods, albeit a few days here and there that require more rest and ice and advil than I’d like.
And so, it’s been a year. According to the PDF my surgeon gave me in the beginning, I’m approved to do yoga now. It also says I can do gymnastics after one year which, as a previous competitive gymnast, I find funny given the fact that my back does not bend (nor will it ever bend) so doing something like a handstand (which I used to do around the house all the time) would actually require some sort of push off my legs to land on my hands since I cannot fathom getting my hands on the floor in front of me at the same time my foot is on the floor. I’ve succumbed to the fact I will never tumble again, which is a little heart breaking because it was something I’d still do here and there at local gyms whenever I had the chance. I’m also allowed to go bowling now. Yes, I’ve had to take the whole year off bowling. Who knew. Other things I’ve been cleared to do: basketball, baseball, roller coasters, roller skating, rowing, and ::cough cough:: pregnancy (you hear that, Willy?). And two things I’ll never be cleared to do: sky diving and motorcycle riding. I guess it’s a good thing I’ve been sky diving twice in the past and have no interest in riding a motorcycle after my gymnastic coach passed away riding one. So that’s that.
My surgery has been more of a physical change, it’s been an identity change. I’ve always been the girl that could swing a bat and throw a ball; hell, I’d kick ass in pull-up contests and could beat many of my guy friends in push-up contests. My body today is not the body I knew before. I’ve had to adapt. I have yet to accept as I’m still working toward what once was. Most weeks you’ll find me at Physical Therapy three days a week, where I keep to an ever-evolving strength program intermixed with some massage so long as the people working there aren’t feeling lazy — that’s the price you pay, I suppose, when you’re a “regular”. I think they have a hard time fathoming why what they’ve been doing hasn’t made me completely better yet. I think I have a better vision of the length of the road than they do. I also think they are cool with me simple being able to do everyday things while – for me – recovery is much more than that (I want to be as close to the person I was before my surgery as possible). And that’s been frustrating, to say the least.
And there are other things – physically – that still bother me. I have absolutely no sensation in my mid to upper back. I have two scars – one from a heating pad that burned me when the cover came off (I couldn’t feel a thing – it took Willy to point out the large blister on my back) and another one from an ice burn (also couldn’t feel a thing). I can feel pressure in the area, but no sensation. The muscles there feel extraordinarily odd, so odd that I don’t even know how to describe it except to say that it doesn’t feel like they fire correctly. My low back gets tired from overuse and I can feel myself walking around hunched over, trying to fight folding over into the fetal position out of fatigue. I get numbness, from time to time, on my left side that creeps around to the front of my rib cage and really just causes me to think about my back more than I’d like. It’s kinda like when your heart skips a beat and then you become super cognisant of every beat your heart is taking. When my back is sore or I have a knot in my neck or my body is fatigued, it consumes my thoughts. And then there are days that I don’t really even think about my back. I like those days.
You know that feeling of returning to work after being off for maternity leave? (And I hope you do. And if you’re in the UK – I’m jealous of your postpartum time off). Anyway, take that reluctance and nervousness and overwhelming feeling of anxiety mixed with fear of change and multiply it. I was not cleared by my surgeon until September to return to work, nearly 11 months after my surgery. His main concern was my ability to perform CPR, which fortunately has yet to happen but is obviously a must have skill in the field of nursing. I was worried about other things: moving equipment, caring for adults when caring for little kids is hard, transferring patients, moving patients, being on my feet for 12 hours, and all that jazz. It’s been an overwhelming process that’s only complicated by my drive to do a thousand other things like getting my photography business to where I want it and a hundred other things I don’t even want to list for fear I’ll start dwelling on the whole process all over again. What it comes down to is this: it will be hard to return to work after so much time off. It will also be hard to get used to a new unit, as I will not be on the same unit I was on before. And I don’t even want to talk about the commute because getting up at 4am and getting home after 9pm is not going to be easy. But sometimes you just gotta suck it up and feel grateful for having a job to return to.
Hoping the hiccups in the months to follow are few and the celebrations many. Cheers, to getting through the hardest year of my life. And special thanks to all my loving friends and family that made so many sacrifices on our behalf and for the handful of you that have been so kind to share your similar stories of recovery with me; the love and support have helped us more than any of you know.
You can read other posts about my surgery here and here.
I remember a time in college where I was bending over to get something out of my book bag. A guy approached me and asked if I was a gymnast or a dancer. I was shocked, for two reasons really; first and foremost, um, get a new pick up line and, second, how the hell did he know I was a gymnast? He went on to say it was the way I bent over with ease and grace and I continued to be a bit weirded out. I wish I could end this short story with “then that man became my husband” but really, I don’t even remember what he looked like.
The point being, there was a time I moved uninhibitedly.
I was a gymnast, a competitive one at that, for years. I was that girl that would do handstands on walls that enclosed the Grand Canyon. I may have done the splits at a bar after being dared and, of course, after throwing a few back. I could also beat my husband, with ease, in a push up contest.
I’ve always taken pride in my body. Not so much in terms of appearance, but in terms of ability.
None of that changed when I gave birth twice to very large babies. I recovered and I went on doing handstands around the house and so on and so forth.
And then came back surgery. I’m far enough along in recovery now that I can do things. To the naked eye, my life may seem more or less normal. My thoughts, however, are plagued constantly by my aches and pains and limitations. I’ve adapted to not bending by bending instead at my knees. And, now, every time I squat down to pick something up, my knees ache and my thighs burn. My body is failing me, yet it’s not that at all. My body is healing and it feels like it’s taking forever. It feels like I live everyday in the body of an elderly woman. I need breaks, I need to rest in bed, I need to ice, hell, I’m two shakes of a lambs tail from switching from Advil to Alieve which would surely put me in the senior citizen category.
Learning to listen to your body; knowing when to push, when to give up, when to ask for help… It’s all a challenge and it’s all a careful balancing act.
Recovery is still very much a part of my life.
*As a side note, thank you to each of you who have also endured a spinal fusion and have reached out to offer advice or encouragement. It’s your words that keep that light at the end of the tunnel lit.
This post is long, long overdue. But, here goes nothing…
-I lost all my pregnancy weight, and then some, while breastfeeding Van. The same happened with Hooper. I know that many struggle to lose the “baby weight” and while this is not a problem of mine, I do feel emaciated. My face looks deflated and I feel like a pole. Hate me for being thin all you want, but I feel far from sexy. And my muscle tone is for shit.
-If I could have any body, I’d love to have hips and butt. Curves are so feminine and beautiful.
-Despite the weight loss, I have a pooch. It feels weird to be so scrawny everywhere else, but then have a protrusion. I hesitated doing any sit-ups in the beginning because I have diastasis recti and read that doing sit ups could make the separation/protrusion worse. I waited for that gap between my abdominal muscles to close, but thanks to my 9+ pound babies, that has yet to occur. I’m not convinced sit-ups would help anyway. Nor am I currently even able to do a sit-up due to my restrictions following back surgery.
-Speaking of working out, I used to think doing some push-ups and sit-ups here and there would be beneficial but now-a-days it seems that people have it down to some complicated recipe of doing a variety of exercises and drinking weird drinks and putting powdered shit into their gross smoothies. I can’t seem to bring myself to board that train. So for a long time after giving birth, I did nothing and felt bad about that too.
-I’m not sure if it’s related to my scoliosis, but I’ve had more back pain since becoming a mom (I’m talking pre-surgery). I’m sure there’s many factors to this (working as a nurse, picking up kids, carrying heavy loads) but, without a doubt, I’m at a greater risk of back pain due to the lack of abdominal support I now have. With my abdominal muscles separated, my back has poor support. I felt very unbalanced prior to my surgery and my spine felt very unstable.
-I battled bad skin for the first part of my pregnancy with Van and had a few bouts of the same prior to starting my period. One pimple is enough to put me in a bad mood some days.
-My boobs feel like balls you can wobble to and fro now that they’re empty.
-Not entirely postpartum related, but my legs are always bruised from something toddler or toy-tripping-over related.
-I grew up doing gymnastics. I spent everyday in the gym, Monday through Friday, for four hours for several years of my child and adolescent years. Even in my college days, when I was coaching competitive gymnastics, I’d mess around and tumble or flip around on the trampoline. Now, I’ve never felt so stiff. I don’t feel flexible and I’m pretty sure that if I jumped on a trampoline, pee would come out. Surgery has made this even worse. It took weeks before I was even able to lift my arms above my head.
-Even before pregnancy, if I could kill for a head full of thick luscious locks and you have a head with thick luscious locks, locking your door at night would be a good idea. I would have starred on one of them 48 Hour Mysteries a long time ago. Leave it to postpartum to take something you hated beforehand and make it worse. Nothing chaps my ass worse than postpartum hair loss. I’m still growing in the bald spots.
-Then there’s the post-surgery shit to add to it… like the scar running all the way down my spine, the burn mark on my left shoulder I sustained after laying on an unwrapped part of a heating pad and could not feel due to the complete (as in, are you touching me?) numbness that covers about half of my back, the fact I cannot work out at all (not that I want to, but it would be nice to strengthen my core to help my back along), my inability to bend (you know how good it feels to twist in such a way that stretches or pops your back? I have that itch constantly but never scratch it… sometimes I think my pain would be substantially less if I could just stretch properly)… but still, there is the good too… Like having a straight spine.
I’ve read other mommy bloggers complain about their postpartum bodies and then end the post with a reminder of all their bodies have done and all our motherly bodies are capable of. Sure, it is pretty spectacular. I still struggle with self-acceptance.
Life rarely goes according to plan. It’s funny because growing up you hear all kinds of advice about making goals and putting together visions of where you find yourself in five years. I’m not opposed, per say. It’s nice to try to keep the train on the tracks and envision what moving forward looks like.
But life doesn’t always move forward, nor is the shrubbery that is the path always beat down and wilted well enough for you to even see where you’re going.
And so, I’ve come to learn that those who are the strongest are those that learn to adapt the fastest.
We all reminisce of our childhood, where presumably we were all cared for and fed and given valued guidance and love along the way. And then, when you become an adult, you celebrate the fact you can care for yourself. I’ve always valued my independence and am in no way blind to the ways my parents raised me to appreciate such.
This road to recovery has a lot of the aforementioned shrubbery. It’s hard to know if you’re even on the path, and thus, I’ve had to learn to adapt. Everyday I dig deep to hold on to a perspective that I believe in; you know, the whole glass half full perspective? And, for me, it’s a challenge.
For my children, on the other hand, adapting seems to be their second nature. No matter who walks in the door to care for them, they welcome them with open arms. I know my children are too young to know my struggles, but I’ve thanked them a million times over for their ability to adapt and adjust and allow others to do for them what I felt only I knew how to.
It’s an eye opening experience to relinquish control and allow others to do your job in the absence of any training. What I’ve learned is that it all gets done and no one dies.
There were days I was stuck in bed overhearing others trying to find Hooper’s blanket when I knew where it was. Or days I heard others trying to figure out what Van was pulling at their leg for and, without even being in the room, I knew what it was he wanted. And, you know what? It didn’t matter. They figured it out. My children are not books written in a language only a mother can read. And that truth has been very humbling.
Rolling with the punches. Adjusting. Being humbled time and time again. Hashtag: things words cannot express my gratitude for.
I get asked a lot about how my recovery is going and I never know quite what to say. Like most things in life, there are good days and there are bad days but dumbing it down to that cliche doesn’t speak to the actual experience of recovery.
And then I came across “The Spoon Theory”.
The Spoon Theory was written by someone who has Lupus. The girl gives her friend a bouquet of spoons and has her talk her through her typical day. Each daily task comes at the cost of one of the spoons; taking a shower, for example, makes one spoon drop from the bouquet. And one by one, as the friend accounts for each event in her typical day, a spoon disappears.
You see, when you’re healthy the possibilities seem limitless. Never before have I looked at taking a shower as a task as opposed to a privilege.
Recovery has changed that for me.
Living daily life with a disability forces you to live very deliberately. Almost every decision is a calculated one and my reason for choosing one thing over another depends greatly on my pain and / or limitations. When I shower, for example, depends on when I’ve given myself my daily neck treatment (I have an ultrasound machine at home I use to massage heat into the sore tissues in my neck). The gel gets all over my hair, so when getting ready, it’s something I have to take into account. I also have to take into account when I took my pain medication last (the heat from the shower will make me pass out if it’s too close to the time I took my pain medication). And I thought getting out the door with two kids was hard…
For a long time, I had difficulty raising my arms up over my head. Washing my own hair just about used up all the spoons I had. Blow drying my hair was / is nearly out of the question. Today I’ve gained mobility back in my arms but due to my bending restrictions I am still unable to properly blow dry my hair.
And so, caring for myself – and, in turn, feeling good about myself – has been a challenge. It feels like it’s been years since I’ve had the freedom to wear whatever I want. In 09′ I was pregnant, in 10′ I was breastfeeding, then in 11′ pregnant again, then in 12′ breastfeeding again, and then surgery in 13′. I’ve resorted to leggings, slip ons, and an oversized cardigan I can fit over my back brace.
Recovery has made me let go.
Would you believe I bought Crest White Stripes for the sole purpose of feeling like I’m doing something to help my appearance?
I digress. Back to living deliberately.
I went to run a couple errands by myself the other day. Sounds like normal life, right? It was during one of my I’m-feeling-better waves so I always take advantage and usually do more than I should; I dip into tomorrow’s cluster of spoons, if you will.
When I get into my car, I watch how far I open my door. If I swing it all the way open, once I’m inside sitting in my seat, I’ll be unable to lean over and close it. I keep the door just barely cracked and squeeze in so I can close it on the third rock: rock it back and forth once, twice, and with a third rock, I get my door closed.
I drive an SUV because I’m a mom in Southern California. The gear shift is up by the wheel and I dread putting it in reverse. As soon as I do so, my scapula on my right side feels funny and I immediately start wondering if driving is something I should be doing. I remind myself of the PDF my surgeon gave me and I try to picture the word “driving” with the words “one month post op” next to it. I’m three months post-op and I remind myself it’s okay.
I drive and listen to music. Nirvana comes on and I turn it up loud. It feels like forever since I’ve been alone. Between having family by my side or, more recently, the nanny we had to hire to come in to help, the days when I could simply get away and be with my own thoughts feel like long ago.
I want to go shopping for shoes. It’s been ages since I’ve been able to try any clothes on (just getting dressed once a day costs me a spoon) and a pair of moccasins I had prior to surgery somehow mysteriously disappeared. I pull into the shopping center to discover the store has moved.
I put the car back in reverse and I get that weird feeling in my right scapula again. I go through the same imagery as I did before, “Driving – – – one month”. I feel the weight of the chip on my shoulder as I drive out of the parking lot having stopped but not having crossed a single errand off my list.
I head to CVS to return some medicine we had bought for Hooper only to get home and find that the bottle had already been opened. I crack the door open and do my typical slide down off the seat and I close the door using my whole body. Because I’m not a fan of potentially poisoning my son or of spending twelve bucks on something we never used, I wait in line to return it. They give me cash back and I immediately remember I had wanted to pick up some hair gel and bobby pins too. I make my way to the hair aisle and as I near the gels I can feel the muscles in my neck starting to tighten. I glance back at the line of three people behind the only open register and I leave without hair gel or bobby pins for fear my time is limited. It was going to cost me an extra spoon.
I get back in my beast of a car and rock the door three times before closing it. I put the car in reverse and confirm that, indeed, my neck is sore.
I make it to the shoe store I had originally intended to go to. I slide down off my seat and close the door, again, with my whole body.
I walk into the store with my purse hanging from my shoulder. It’s the first time in three months I’ve dared to let it actually hang from my shoulder as opposed to caring it under my arm like a clutch. With the soreness creeping in, I immediately start cursing myself for the extra little things in there that I don’t need: the raisins that are starting to feel like rocks, the two pairs of sunglasses that are starting to feel like their actually sitting on someone’s face… someone’s face whose head is in my bag.
I scan a couple aisles of shoes. I try on some slip ons. I try to pretend that I’m normal as I turn left and then right in front of the mirror, carefully checking myself out like I used to. I see another pair I like and I curse my size for being the box on the very bottom, other sizes that are as useful as peanut butter to a kid with a peanut allergy stacked high on top of it. I carefully maneuver it out and try to ignore my urge to reach up and stop the box on top from falling. I’ve learned it’s not worth the pain later and better to let the damn box fall. This has bled into watching my kids jump on the sofa. I sit as far away as I can with my fingers crossed because I know they’ll shoulder the tumble better than if I were to sit there and try to break their fall.
I decide it’s time to go despite the fact I have not made it down all the aisles I’ve wanted nor have I tried on all I was interested in. I decide the shoes and boots that require any lacing up or buckling can be saved for another day, another spoon. I walk toward the exit where I see an older woman and her even older mother coming toward the entrance. We’re going to meet at the door at approximately the same time and I’m hoping they’ll get the door for me. Those pesky big, heavy doors are my nemesis. I can see by the look on their faces, however, that I am expected to be the doorman; I am young and deceivingly hearty. And so I get the door for them, awkwardly pushing it open with my whole body as my feet kinda shuffle under me. I try my best to hold it for the duration it takes for her to get her walker through the door. I watch as the door just misses clipping her ankle. I don’t feel bad, rather, I feel pissed. I just used another spoon and I didn’t even get anything out of it for myself. Pain can you make selfish.
Rock one, rock two, rock three, and I shut the door and start the car. I have one stop left.
I walk into the bank and am pleased to see there is no line. It feels like karma is back in my corner. I make my way to the teller, tell him what I want to do, and he asks for my ID. I flip open my wallet and when it’s not where it usually is I remember that Willy had taken it when the paramedics came to take me to the hospital the week prior.
He tells me he’s going on his break and I sit down in the chair and wait for Willy to bring me my ID. I’m fighting feelings of anger toward Willy for having not put my license back in my wallet and as I feel those negative emotions come over me as I sit and wait and wait, it dawns on me that that’s not me, it’s my pain, and it’s trying to take me down, trying to take me over. I would never blame my husband – my best friend – for having my license after saving me from falling after I completely lost consciousness and getting me to the hospital. My pain, on the other hand, has no friends. No loved ones. No family. My pain could give a shit about what’s fair or right or humane. My pain is an asshole; it preys on my patience, it preys on my otherwise fun-loving spirit.
Willy calls me to tell me he’s in the parking lot and I’m immediately pissed off that he expects me to get off my ass and meet him there to get my license. He says something sweet and cute but I truthfully don’t even hear him. My pain has made it so his words fall on deaf ears, his smile on blind eyes. I start to say something snappy but I catch myself and hobble back toward the bank, back through the heavy double doors. There is a short line now and I wait.
Recovery has changed me. I hope I will never be the same. These days, I live deliberately and I hope that when life does return to normal that I can remember these burdens, these pains. Normal, healthy people don’t know how good they have it.
Everyday we all make choices. For the healthy, these choices are made more unconsciously but for the disabled, all decisions are conscious decisions. When you have pain or limitations, you’re constantly having to assess the gas in your tank. If you run on fumes you have to deal with the fear your car may break down the next day, or worse yet, the reality your car won’t start the next time you get in it.
I find myself feeling constantly torn between having feelings of gratitude for having a nanny to help with the boys, the laundry, and the dishes and feelings of frustration that I cannot care for my own home independently; that I have to rely on someone else, always. It doesn’t feel so wonderful when it’s not a choice. Offer me a nanny when I’m fully capable but feeling lazy and you’ll probably see me beaming from ear to ear. But take away my ability to do things on my own and suddenly all I want is the freedom associated with independence.
Like many other with disabilities, pain, and / or limitations, I hate having to stay behind. I’ve missed birthday parties, days at the beach, gatherings at wine bars, day trips. Like The Spoon Theory states, having an illness or disability is – in itself – a lifestyle. It’s hard when you are your own dead weight.
I know I am not alone. The author of the spoon theory has Lupus. I’m recovering from major spinal surgery. But even motherhood is a disability in some sense, isn’t it? I mean when you have small children, you too must slow down, strategize, skip aisles of shoes and leave without trying on all the shoes you wanted to. For me, this was one of the biggest adjustments of becoming a mother; the realization that your life is no longer yours. So I guess we’re all in it together to some extent. We all have our handicaps.
When the pain subsides, I return to me and I see things for what they are. I’ve always prided myself for my ability to keep things in perspective; all the more reason I hate my pain for infiltrating my good attitude, for cracking my code so damn easily.
Health is such a gift. I hope I never lose sight of that.
I snapped these pics the other day standing in the same position; looking left, ahead, right, and down. I think it’s fitting to pair with this post because really, any situation can be seen many different ways. Recovery is not only a curse, there have been many blessings too.
A few weeks ago, Willy put Van down for a nap and took Hooper with him to go to the grocery store. As he walked out the door, I recall how he begged and pleated with me not to pick Van up if he wakes up early from his nap. Internally, I rolled my eyes, and reminded him that I have to use a straw to drink out of a cup because physically tilting the cup up is too painful.
And that’s how life had been in those first few weeks.
I spent the better part of my days in bed, turning from left to right every couple of hours when the pressure on my bony hip grew to be too relentless. I secretly celebrated two days after I got released from the hospital when I was able to turn and reconfigure the pillows entirely on my own. Between the pain and the twisting/bending/lifting restrictions, it wasn’t easy. But these days, I’m trying to celebrate the small things.
If I didn’t celebrate the small things, I’d fall into a depression. I can guarantee this to be true because there have been entire days where I couldn’t stop crying, where I practically drowned in the tears of a self-pity party. Hooper caught me in one of these moments and was so genuinely concerned, so fearful, and I couldn’t suck it up; the depression weakened me to the point where I couldn’t even fake strength in the face of my own children. That’s not a testament to my weakness, but rather to the depression’s strength.
I have to remind myself often that I had a major surgery and I have to constantly cut my body some slack for taking the time it needs to repair itself. Recovery has been a trying experience.
Willy and I blew up at each other the other day. We both were more or less ignorant about what to emotionally expect in the face of recovery. What ensued was a long drive and a discussion on perspective. I have to remind myself on a regular basis that I elected to have the surgery I did. Sure, surgeon after surgeon told me it was necessary but ultimately it was me who said when. At the moment, we’re struggling with the space between; trying desperately to deal with pain and limitations and a ridiculously chaotic household in light of the fact that what is our reality today will not be our reality a few months from now. Countless friends and family members have stepped in to help and what I’m realizing is that more than food on the table or entertainment for our boys, we need perspective and patience; A reminder that what we’re going through is indeed temporary. The truth is that all of us – you and me – are in a state of transition.
Everything is temporary.
I reminded myself of this notion when I gave birth to Van and felt like a hungover college student (due to the sleepless nights, of course) for the first three months of his life. And now, more than ever, words have never rung truer. The space between is a road we all must travel, but the further we travel, the more the gap closes. And the more the gap closes, the more you realize it was all temporary anyway.
I was baffled when the man behind the counter said “two hundred”. And yet, as I was shuffled from one waiting room full of people to the next waiting room full of people, it dawned on me that they have this surgery business down to the same way as a farmer herding his cattle. It didn’t feel real until I made it to the final room and Willy was asked to wait for me somewhere else. At that point, I followed a young man who quickly led me to a gurney and encouraged me to transform from street walker to patient as he reminded me, like us medical personal always do, “gown opens to the back”. And just like that, I looked just like the person next to me, who wore the same hospital gown and sat anxiously awaiting her fate on a different gurney.
The doctor came over to talk to her and pulled the curtain to give a false sense of privacy. I overheard that she was about to undergo a crainiotomy for some sort of leison pressing on an optical nerve. I used her crainiotomy to lessen the fears I had about my own spinal surgery. I mean, she was having brain surgery. All I could imagine were those eggs sizzling on a frying pan from those commercials in the 90’s that reminded us what our brains were like on drugs. Not that there was any correlation. But then I heard her doctor say, “Not to worry, crainiotomys are actually quite simple procedures and the pain post operatively is minimal… nothing compared to what the spinal patients have to go through”.
Just the words I needed to hear.
And then it was my turn.
Suddenly my little guerny was surrounded with people. A pre-op nurse struggled to chime in and collect my medical history, of which there was none. The anesthesiologist had a student with him. I let her try to place my IV. She missed twice before the anesthesiologist stepped in and insisted on doing it himself. I saw my surgeon at the end of the gurney talking to Willy. He asked if I was ready, I gave him a nod, not really knowing if I was ready or not; “As ready as I imagine I’ll ever be” would have been a more honest response.
Someone asked if I’d like something put through my IV line to “calm down”. I wasn’t noticeably anxious, but I gladly accepted. They pushed some versed through my IV line and as they started moving the gurney down the hall, my mind became a bit cloudy and I surrendered. I glanced around the operating room and then the lights went out; not literally, but figuratively.
My surgery was supposed to take 4 to 6 hours. Willy waited, fighting his own anxieties, with my dad in a waiting room. It took 8 hours.
When I came to, I was in pain. A lot of pain. There were a lot of people around me again and I quickly realized I was back to where I started only with a lot of pain and surrounded by people who were no longer strangers to my body. My blood pressure was low and I was given some extra fluid through my IV line, which had been switched to a central line in the jugular vein in my neck. I also had an arterial line in my left wrist, two drains coming out from my back, a foley catheter to drain my bladder, and pumps on my legs to prevent blood clots.
I spent two days in the ICU. I was told I lost a total of 2L of blood (the average woman has about 4L of blood) and I was given 4 units of blood as a result. My blood pressure remained in the 70-80’s (120 is normal) and I was given several bags of added fluid.
I looked like a balloon. My eyes were so swollen I couldn’t open them. I couldn’t even tell you what that ICU room looked like. In fact, my ICU nurse came to visit me days later and I recognized him only by his voice. My stomach was incredibly distended and painful and I had horrible pitting edema on both of my lower extremities.
It felt like forever before they were able to give me something for my pain (pain medication causes your blood pressure to lower, so they couldn’t give me anything until my blood pressure was under control). When they did, I got a button and was told to press it whenever I needed something for pain. Then I was nauseous.
Two days later I was transferred to the less-acute spine unit.
Before my surgery, I had anticipated bringing my lap top to the hospital to write and surf the web and pass the time. I remember thinking immediately how silly that was. I was in no condition to even sit up in bed, let alone put coherent thoughts together. It’s been nearly two months and only now am I able to sit down for any length of time to put write my thoughts down and it has taken several sessions to finish this post.
I stayed on the spine unit for another 5 days before being transferred to another hospital for an inpatient rehab program. I stayed there for an additional 5 days before finally coming home.
It’s been a long, trying, road. Recovery is not easy. A few people have called me brave, which makes me laugh. I’ve cried and cursed a lot. I’ve felt weak and frail and defeated. I’ve had episodes of depression and, even worse, episodes of withdrawal when I tried to stop taking my pain medication.
I’m not even close to the end of the road. Technically speaking, it takes the spine an entire year to fuse. But I do rest easier knowing the worst is behind me. There are plateaus that are sure to come that bring with them frustration and doubt, but the worst is behind me. The worst is behind me, the worst is behind me, the worst is behind me. Like a ruthless teenager writing standards on the chalkboard in high school, I need to say it repeatedly to bang it into my darn head. Really though, the worst IS behind me. Right?
The details: On October 10th I had 13 levels of my spine fused due to curvature from scoliosis (thoracic 62 degrees, lumbar 48 degrees). Because my curve was progressive in nature, surgery was required. My curvature did not cause me pain or limitations. I was told that they had to fracture each vertebrae on both sides for a total of 26 fractures so that the 27 screws and 2 rods could be placed. I gained an inch and a half in height and lost a chunk of weight due to the pain medication I was on. I have to wear my back brace for a few more weeks. Recovery takes about 6 months. Feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comment section below.
Planning a major surgery reminds me a lot of planning for another child. They are the same in that I have this impending feeling of doom looming over me; that feeling that things are about the change in a major way first for the bad and then for the good.
Just like those final weeks of pregnancy, my surgery has been consuming my everyday thoughts. The sense of uncertainty is the same; is everything going to be okay, how will the kids handle not having me like they’re used to, how will my family deal with caring for my household, how will I feel handing over my household… The sense of wonder is the same; how will I feel, how will I look, how will I recover…
And, I’m nesting. It’s crazy. I suddenly feel this mad rush to get everything in order. I have multiple to-do lists; one of them even has “clean out email inbox” on it. You know you’re in trouble when cleaning up your online mess makes the list… I mean no one even sees that mess. Other things I want to do: clean out the kids drawers (I can just see someone else dressing my kids in clothes that are too small because ‘they were in the drawer’… and God forbid they be put in clothes that are too small), stock up on things like paper towels (because God forbid we run out), organize my closet, etc, etc. I’m becoming a raging lunatic, I tell ya.
It dawned on me that I’m scared. And just in saying that out loud I get that choked up feeling in the back of my throat. My life is not only about me anymore and it’s scary to think of my family… my loving husband, my two perfect boys… all while I’m being put to sleep and a surgeon, with my life in his hands, cranks on my spine and reconfigures it using nuts and bolts. It’s terrifying.
The uncertainty, the wonder, the fear… it’s been consuming me. And like a light bulb, I realize now why I’ve been zooming all over the place as of late; I’m trying desperately to pass the time.
But the time has come. Ready or not.
Tomorrow will be the first of a few guest posts I have planned from some awesome friends
that have been so kind as to fill in in my absence. I also have quite a bit of catching up to do… more bits + pieces for the last few months, portraits of the kiddos to share, our last trip to Palm Springs that I have yet to post, some Insta-meets, some photo sessions, a final post on breastfeeding, and a new travel series I want to start… I thought you would be hearing some crickets, but turns out I’m so behind that I’m ahead. Ha!
In any event, please keep me and my family in your thoughts this week. And thank you, always, for your love and support.
So that’s a picture of an x-ray of what my back looks like today. It may be shocking to you, but it’s an image I’ve seen for years and years. I was first diagnosed with scoliosis when I was an adolescent. I went for check-ups and knew that, down the line, surgery may be part of my reality.
And now, it is.
The last time I saw a spine surgeon was seven or eight years ago, before I was a mother, a nurse, or a wife. I was told to come back the following year for another x-ray and, well, life started moving as fast as highway signs on the freeway.
I had to go on maternity leave early when I was pregnant with Van. I was in the worst pain ever. I don’t know how much of that was specifically related to my scoliosis, but given the fact I had significant diastasis recti after Hooper, my back had very little abdominal support prior to getting pregnant the second time. And a second 9+ lbs baby didn’t help matters, either.
And so, my spine has kept moving. So much so that I have seen two different well-renowned surgeons that have both told me I need to have surgery.
I’ll be having surgery in the middle of October. It’s a major surgery. I’ll be in the hospital for 7 days and will be on ridiculous bending/lifting/twisting restrictions for a few months. I’ve been told to expect to feel like I’ve been run over by a semi truck. I won’t be allowed to lift anything heavier than a coffee cup for the first few weeks and it will be months before I’m allowed to pick up my littlest loves (which also means it will be months before I lift Van in and out of his crib, high chair, car seat, etc… It’s going to be a rough road). Ho hum.
Life is going to be hard for a bit. I worry not for myself, but for my family. Willy will have a lot on his plate and the boys’ world will be flipped upside down. I’m trying to prepare mentally and physically as best as I can, but it’s hard to know how to plan for things you can’t envision.
I’ve invited a few friends to guest post in my absence. I’m quite behind in posting anyway so it might be a nice time to get caught up. But if it gets quiet around here, you know why. I’ll keep you updated as my surgery date draws nearer, but please send good thoughts my way.
Those who follow me on Instagram know I was recently in Palm Springs for some much needed girl time. I returned back just a few days later with Willy and the boys’ and had an awesome time hanging out with this beautiful family, but there will be more on that later.
I had been feeling so down and out after weaning, wondering when the funk would pass. I knew it was hormonal, but having the knowledge of the culprit did absolutely nothing in terms of digging myself out of the hole. I cried for two days. And I napped, which sounds dreamy – I know – but it was more of the depressed I-don’t-have-energy-to-do-anything kinda nap as opposed to the physically drained I-earned-a-nap kinda nap.
It lasted two days and even though those two days felt like marathon days, in hindsight it passed pretty quickly. Like having a newborn, when you’re in the trenches, not only do you not see the light but you don’t even know if you’re walking in the right direction. For all I knew, life was getting darker. Looking up depression after weaning, like everything else, was both a blessing and a curse; cool, I’m not alone… Ho hum, sometimes this lasts months?!
We had that nice weekend I spoke of here and a few days after that, I hit the road with my best friend.
And there’s nothing like the open road with your best friend. There just isn’t.
Sometimes when I’m away from the kids it feels like all I do is talk about them. But while our children came up in passing, we talked about so many other things: memories, work, dreams, travel, our husbands, things we are working on around the home, design, photography. We threw around quotes we had come across that made something clear that was a bit fuzzy before and we talked about some of the new documentaries we had watched. We listened to music, pulled over often to stretch our legs, and threw stuff in the back of the truck as if we had assistants back there to sort it all out for us.
It was just what I need and right when I needed it.
So please excuse the next few posts as I get caught up on sharing some photos from our adventure. There were no kids, so – ya know – we stopped a lot and drove a lot and photographed a lot.
Take that, you evil mom guilt. I’m not even feeling guilty about a
There’s nothing in the world like a best friend. When I’m with mine, it feels like the stars align. Things that are normally a chore are no longer a chore. Parenting responsibilities become shared and picking up after her munchkin doesn’t feel the same in terms of “work” as picking up after
We celebrated my birthday by heading to the beach, again. Minus the influx of teenage girls in scantily clad bikinis talking about making out with boys*, it was a b-e-a-u-t-iful day. Nothing beats a good day at the beach, right? And Van seems to be transitioning out of the shoveling-sand-in-his-mouth-phase, so that’s cool too. We headed to Neptune’s Net for a bite to eat afterward and then drove home along PCH admiring the view. Sometimes another year older doesn’t feel so bad…
-Jack Kerouac always tickles my soul a way no other can… “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road”. Looking forward to an upcoming road trip with my bestie in August. It’ll be like old times.
-Google searches this week have included the following: how to get your infant to stop biting you while breastfeeding and how to effectively punish a toddler. And, also, a fun spin on last post’s “why do mom’s” search… top three searches starting with “why do dads”: 1. leave, 2. yell, 3. matter. It’s a sad day when you have to turn to google for reasons to why your father left.
-I’ve jumped on board the smoothie train. Not for myself because, um, gross. But for Hooper. I shopped for a couple recipes here but have been simply blending spinach and berries because he likes it, will actually drink it, and would otherwise never touch spinach even if it were dipped in chocolate.
-A friend of mine has taken on the role of Camp Director for a fantastic camp for a fantastic cause. He has almost reached his goal in raising the money necessary to make it all come to fruition, but needs a little more help. If you have a second, check out this video. And if you feel compelled to donate, good vibes will surely come your way.
-Alix and Dottie, the lovely ladies behind Modern Kiddo, have invited me to join their blog as a contributor. I’m incredibly honored and have been having a blast working on my “Widdle Wednesday” features. You can check out an interview they did with me here and you can check back on the Modern Kiddo blog every Wednesday to see my feature.
-There was a time that Willy and I made a deal. He wanted another dog and I thought he was absolutely insane. Knowing a second dog would take a lot of time and attention, I told him we could get one so long as he stopped playing fantasy sports online. It’s been over a year and we don’t have a second dog, so you can guess how that all panned out. The internet is a funny place and arguably, a big ol’ time suck. We all have our online things we like to do: shopping, sports, news, blogs, recipes, asking google why your father left, the list goes on forever. I found this story fascinating; This guy dedicated himself to one year without internet in hopes it would strengthen his creativity and help him be more productive. What he found with this: the problem was himself. His problems were there with or without the internet, they just manifested in other ways in his offline life. It was an interesting read and the video is well done as well.
-I don’t share much medical or nursing related stuff on here, but I thought this article was an interesting read. It talks about how, in the age of modern medicine, death has become viewed as a medical failure rather than life’s natural conclusion. Food for thought.
-For those with a sick kind of humor, this video will give you a good laugh. I love the little old lady who says, “Oh my gosh” and then instructs him to “hold on to the cart”. She’s my favorite.
-I never did see a better looking nursery than this. And lo and behold it belongs to the son of Max Wagner, a fantastic photographer who continuously inspires me. Makes Van’s nursery look like something that fell out of an elephant’s butt. And of course Morgan, from The Brick House, had a hand in it because she’s one of those everything-I-touch-turns-to-gold kinda of phenoms. I have such a girl crush on her; She’s such a riot. If you haven’t checked out The Brick House, you should. Even if you’re not into interior design, homegirl is sure to have you rolling around in giggles.
-Oh yes, last but not least… I’m taking the plunge. More to come on all the behind-the-scenes blood, sweat, and tears but I’m hoping to start my photography business within the next few months. I’m offering some mini-sessions this weekend for those that are in the southern Cali area. Interested? Shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you all for your encouragement and support along the way. It’s taken me several years to grow balls big enough to make this dream a reality.
-I sent my first email to my travel to Cuba dealer. It’s illegal to travel to Cuba from the US, but we did manage to find a legal way to go the first time we went. I refer to our helper as our dealer, cuz traveling is like a drug to me. It’s the first email in what I hope will be many.
-Got a free moment? I’d love your vote for The Dairy Queen award. I know, it makes me seem like either a frozen yogurt guru or a cow. I am neither. The lovely mom of Elliot that I donate my extra milk to nominated me for the award.
-When I was a young girl, I wanted so badly to be a mom. Well, really, I just wanted a baby. There was an old man that lived next door to us with his own children and grandchildren. He happened to have twin grandchildren. He’d walk them everyday and when he’d see me playing in the front yard, he’d proposition me in his heavy accent, “dollar for baby?”, and I’d run inside begging my mom for a dollar. I would have not brought this story up except for the fact some lady tried selling her 3 year old on Craigslist. You can read the story here. You have to admire her ingenuity. I mean if you buy can anything from a prostitute to a lamp on Craigslist, why not a baby? Or better yet, a toddler? There’s one way to combat the terrible twos/threes. Craigslist, for the win. And because you can’t win them all, she’s pregnant again.
-Listening to this record by Paul Simon over and over and over again. It’s one of my favorite records. It has some of my most favorite versions of some of my most favorite Paul Simon songs.
-When I googled “Why do moms”, the top three search results today are: 1. kill their children, 2. get postpartum depression, 3. eat the placenta. Yesterday, the top three were 1. yell, 2. do everything, 3. hate video games. It’s my new daily search. Perhaps “sell their children on craigslist” will creep up the ladder soon.
-I know, I know, I’m sharing a lot of trailer renovations. I’ve already alluded to my itchy feet, so what’s new? Check out this renovation. I wish I could smell that cedar through my computer screen. You better believe it made me pop on over to craigslist to find a baby for sale for a little hunt of my own. I may or may not have made a phone call and sent a couple emails.
-I received the sweetest gift in the mail, including a onesie similar to this, a shirt similar to this, and this cutie patootie badge similar to this, from Fritha. You can check out her etsy store here.
-Please welcome my two new sponsors: I’ve worked with Truly Sanctuary in the past and, though I know I shouldn’t be biased, Ron and Beth are two of my favorites. I have a girl crush on Beth. Homegirl is so funny. You must follow along on her instagram feed. I smell a Truly Sanctuary giveaway in the not-so-distant future. Also jumping on board is Melissa from Fawn Over Baby, a beautiful blog for all things baby. I love this nursery that she featured, especially the books in that vintage crate next to that little yellow chair… so cute. She also does fun style boards, like this one for tribal girl finds and this one for the little fellas. Her DIYs are also super sweet. Please help me in showing my sponsors some love. Stop by give em’ a virtual high five.
-Van’s teething. He’s got at least three teeth coming in. It hasn’t affected his sleep at night, but he wakes up crying and has been skipping some naps. Ho hum.
-Oh yes, and lastly, a plea. Votes over on Top Baby Blog have been reset. Care to take a second and click on the link below? I know, I know, broken record over here. Thank you all for your support. Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend.
Wearing: vintage dress from one of my girl crushes Lyndzee who opened up an instagram shop, @thriftarchaeology, to sell some of her vintage finds. I never argue with a breastfeeding friendly dress. It’s super comfy too. She updates her shop often, so be sure to follow along. I’m in love with my new-to-be woven purse, a recent thrift find.
Joy, photographer and mama to four beautiful children, will be hitting the road with her family soon. Their trailer is all kinds of crazy cool. They’re having an estate sale to sell many of their belongings and she just so happens to live a hop skip and jump away so you better believe I’ll be attending.
Realized that when anyone asks, “Where did Van go”, he will be associated with Vincent Van Gogh. Hash tag: the things you don’t think of when you name your kid.
I replied to most of the comments on the Preschool Debate post. Thank you to all who shared their opinions. I think we’ll wait until at least 3 to start Hoop in preschool.
Family time: Willy took three days off of work to spend with us and it was heavenly. We went to the zoo the first day, the science center to see the Endeavour the next day, and then to the beach on the last day. I’ll post pics soon.
Love this quote: Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and the thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself.
I got in the car to go to work the other day and as soon as I put the keys in the ignition, my hazard lights started blinking. I turned them off only to find that my left turn signal was on. Then I realized it sounded like I was in a wind tunnel; my air was on full blast. It’s the little things my little munchkins do that I find at a later time, when they aren’t present, that makes me miss them so. I wanted to run back in the house and squeeze the butt of that little sleeping toddler until it bordered on abuse. But off to work I went.
This video has me thinking two things: 1. This mom is all kinds of the mom I want to be and 2. I can’t wait to take my kids to the dentist.
Have you heard of Spilled Milk? It’s a photography blog that features 18 different photographers. Each week they follow a new theme. It’s absolutely lovely and features one of my favorites, Oana Befort. I’m still following along with the You Are My Wild project which, in my opinion, knocked it out of the park last week.
Dreaming: Willy’s mentioned a few times that he’d like to go somewhere in the near future. For us, “go somewhere” involves a passport. I spent much of my early adult years exploring this great world of ours and when Willy and I started dating, I took him along for the ride. My hope at the time was that I would plant a seed for later adventures, and alas, that seed has sprouted. We’re talking about returning to Cuba because it was *incredible* the first time. I’d like to frolic around Havana in this dress. Now who wants to buy it for me?
Check out, Aisle three: There was a time I thought of getting a barcode tattoo. It was fleeting. Nevertheless, when I saw this shirt, it reminded me of that thought. All my thoughts about tattooes are fleeting. That’s why I don’t have any.
Lookout, Pauly Shore: Did you know they created a Biosphere in Arizona? I haven’t been, but I know Willy would LOVE to go. He’s into that science shit. It looks pretty amazing.
Saw this beautiful rug last week when I made my way through Target. Wishing I had a room to put it in.
Please welcome: I have a new sponsor and I’m totally smitten with their stuff. I’m such a sucker for a good romper. True story: I have countless rompers that I’ve put on the boys’ that Willy has vetoed because he says they’re too girly. I’ve handed them on to friends with little girls. But this romper is making my ovaries throw out more eggs than the Easter bunny.
Loved this post from Naomi. I think every mom out there can relate. Reminds me of this post I wrote. Why do we scrutinize each other?
Bad mom award goes to…. drum roll… muah. I locked Hooper in the car, with my phone and keys, after his gym class. I called the tow company but when the sweat beads started making waterfalls down his poor pink cheeks, I called the fire department. It was the worst part of my day, but at the very least, Hooper was pretty stoked to see the fire truck up close and personal (as a side note, there’s nothing like watching four big burley guys work together to get a locked door open only to be shown up by the pip-squeak of the AAA guy who, alone, opened the door with his little tool thing in seconds flat). Before this happened, Van knocked over our full length mirror and managed to cut himself on one of the thousand pieces of glass that was on the floor. Does that mean I get the bad mom award seven years in a row? If so, that sucks.
I’m loving on this song too. Such a beautiful intro.
Wanting to do this DIY when the time fairy chooses to grace me with her requested presence.
Supporting this documentary and all it stands for.
Side note: Thank you all for your thoughtful comments on yesterday’s post. There was some great dialogue and I felt a lot better after reading what ya’ll had to say. My favorite part about blogging, hands down, is the support we can all give one another. So cool. Thanks for inspiring me and for supporting me.