Thursday, October 3, 2013

Maggie May's Birth Story

Leading up to Maggie's birth, I had a lot of mixed emotions.  One was the ever present Mommy guilt.  I was having such a hard time with the fact that my me and Ray time was going to come to a screeching halt.  I love our son so much-- he's such a kind, funny, loving soul and I feared I couldn't love Maggie in the same way.  I loathed the fact that I wouldn't be able to pick him up for several weeks after the birth and I was super concerned about what he would think of this new little (crying, nursing, pooping) being in our lives.

The other predominant emotion was fear-- fear of a natural labor and delivery.  As her due date approached, I kept thinking-- "What the hell am I thinking?!  Do I really want to do this again?!"  No matter how you go about it, giving birth is hard--period.  And because I'd already been through a natural birth with Ray, my innocence was gone and I thought I knew what I could expect.  Rather than being empowered by my wisdom, I was afraid of it.  Logically, I knew I could handle whatever came my way (thank goodness for pain coping hormones!), but emotionally, I was having a hard time.  No amount of reviewing my Bradley Method workbook or re-watching The Business of Being Born could relieve this.

On Monday, September 9th, I had my 39 week appointment with our midwife, Susie Meeks.  We went through the usual routine (checking my urine, blood pressure, fundal measurement, etc.) and then we got to the point where she was feeling for baby's head.  I looked at her face and saw concern.  Out came the heart rate doppler and sure enough, baby had turned breech.  With it being so far along into my pregnancy, we were super worried about what this might mean in terms of our plans for a home birth.  After Susie left, I went about doing everything I could do to get her to turn-- breech tilts galore and even laying on an inclined ironing board with my feet above my head (which is super uncomfortable by the way...).  I saw my chiropractor and made an appointment with my acupuncturist.

On Tuesday, Susie and I went to see Dr. Shawn Stallings, a Maternal-Fetal Medicine physician specializing in Perinatology.  Basically, we wanted to consult with him to see if baby and I would be good candidates for an external version.  This is a (very uncomfortable) procedure where the doctor manually tries to get baby to turn.  There are risks involved in having this procedure performed, including placenta rupture and having the baby go into distress, which could lead to an emergency C-section.  Needless to say, I wasn't thrilled to have to think about having the procedure, but if it meant she might turn and we could have the home birth we envisioned, then so be it.  The ultrasound showed she was still breech, and given my healthy birth history, we were indeed fantastic candidates for the version.  An appointment was set at Centennial Women's Hospital the next morning at 10am.  I really struggled that night.  I cried and cried, incredibly afraid that we may be facing a C-section. And in my fragile state, I am ashamed to admit that I was irrationally mad at my daughter.  She clearly had room to turn, so why was she playing with us so?!  (I know, I know... it sounds crazy, but this is honestly what I was thinking...)

The next morning, before we were supposed to show up to the hospital, I met my acupuncturist at her home.  She worked her magic and amazingly, in the 90 minutes from the time I saw her to the time I was hooked up to the ultrasound machine to check Maggie's position, she had turned.  Susie, Rich, and I all screamed with joy!  Dr. Stallings looked at me and said, "What did you do?!"  I said, "Acupuncture!"  Thank you, thank you, thank you Peggy Watson!  From there, Rich and I went on an afternoon lunch date-- our last one before Maggie made her appearance and we became a family of four.

Keep in mind that in addition to the roller coaster of emotions we were feeling regarding Maggie's breech position, I was also experiencing early labor signs starting Monday night.  I woke up about once every hour Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights with mild contractions.  I was also slowly losing my mucous plug.  When Susie checked me on Thursday afternoon, I was 3cm dilated and 80% effaced.  Thinking back to Ray's birth, once I got to 4cm with him, he was born within 2 hours, so I was confident she would be born that night or early the next morning.

With Ray at his nanny's house, our dog with friends, our home freshly cleaned, and all my birthing supplies accounted for, I felt free to let the labor process begin.  Two hours after Susie left, my contractions started to ramp up.  We called Susie and our doula, Lauren Cardwell.  Lauren arrived at 7pm and Susie and her assistant, Cindy Duncan, arrived at 7:30pm.  At this point, I was working through the contractions in the living room, sitting on the birthing ball while Rich helped with the lower back pain by pressing into my hip bones and Lauren was working her magic with aromatherapy and massage.  The atmosphere was peaceful and calm.

Susie checked me at 7:50pm and I was 4cm, 90% effaced.  We moved into the bedroom.  By 9:35pm, I was 5cm, still 90% effaced with a "bulging bag of waters."  With Ray, my water didn't break until right before he was born, and with Maggie, my water broke around 10:15pm while Rich and I were in the shower.  The hot water felt awesome and I love that my water broke in a place where no cleanup was involved!  My mantra became "Open up. Let go."  I was really trying to surrender to encourage the labor process.

After my water broke, Susie told me that she wouldn't be checking me until I felt the overwhelming urge to push (checking after your water breaks can lead to a greater risk of infection to baby).  I kept waiting and waiting for this feeling and it just wouldn't come.  I started to get shaky, had to go to the bathroom a lot, and I headed into transition. When I started to feel a little pushy, Susie checked me.  I was 9.5cm, 100% effaced with Maggie at 0 station.  That overwhelming urge to push still didn't come.

I lost track of time, but I knew that this labor was going on longer than expected and I was exhausted.  Lauren encouraged me to get some rest through the wee hours of the morning.  I'd heard of women losing dilation, and I feared that this would happen if we didn't charge ahead.  I expressed this fear to Lauren and she assured me that that only happens if a woman is in danger.  Resting would not jeopardize the progress we'd made thus far.  So, I gave in.  The house became silent as everyone tried to rest.  I was laying on my side in the bed with Rich next to me.  Lauren was right there too.  My contractions spaced out, but when they came, they were so intense.  I grabbed Rich, often shouting out, "Wake up!" as I frantically searched for his hand to place on my hip to help with the labor pains.

This goes on for what feels like hours and I start to think that this will never stop.  Light started to peek through the window shades.  I looked at Lauren and said, "I think I need to cry."  She responded, "Well, then, let's do it." And I just sobbed.  This is so incredibly hard.  So much harder than my first birth and the mind fuck of it all is that we're told over and over again that your second happens much faster than with your first.  Lauren looked me in the eye and with her calm, reassuring demeanor told me about the birth of her first child.  She shared that when she arrived at the hospital at 1am, she was 9cm dilated, but baby wasn't born until 7am, so she could relate to and completely empathize with what I was going through.  Her sharing this with me gave me strength.  She also told me that she was a firm believer in the power of the morning and we were going to shift the energy in the house.  She commanded Rich to get up, get some coffee on, wake up the midwives, open the shades, and put on some energetic music (I chose my Justin Timberlake station on my Pandora).  We were going to have a baby this morning!

Susie checked me at 6:40am and discovered that Maggie's descent was being held back by a forebag.  What this means is that when my water broke, it broke at the top of the bag, but the bottom part remained in tact.  Susie swiftly broke my forebag and Maggie immediately descended.  Susie worked to push back the remaining lip of my cervix and at this point, I'm ready to push.  I'm in a side lying position and although I'm elated that this is almost over, I am still incredibly exhausted.  It literally takes every ounce of energy I have to push Maggie out into the world.  And it hurt.  Way more than I remember with Ray.  The ring of fire was way more intense and so that I didn't "blast her out," I really had to slow down and breathe my way through it.

When she finally emerged at 7:10am (to a JT song followed by Michael Jackson's Bad), I felt immediate relief and the first words out of my mouth were "We might want to reconsider having that third."  Everyone laughed.  Rich was crying with joy.  She was beautiful with a perfectly round head. Her umbilical cord was unbelievably short and thick-- the best we could do was lay her on my thighs while the cord blood pulsed.  Finally, Rich was able to cut the cord and he was able to hold her while the midwives attended to me.  The placenta was born 10 minutes later.  I was in pretty great shape with only a first degree tear on my left side.  Once I got stitched up (with a Pitocin shot and Cytotec suppositories to boot to stop some excessive bleeding), I was finally able to hold her.  She nursed immediately and to my pleasant surprise, her latch was a solid one.

My friends and family remember what a hard time Ray and I had nursing.  The poor kid didn't get back up to his birth weight until after he was over a month old.  Maggie blew past her birth weight (8 lbs, 8 oz, 20.5 inches) in one week, weighing 8 lbs, 12 oz.  At her two week well baby visit, she weighed 9 lbs, 6 oz!  Go us!

With Ray, I had a fast and furious birth once I got into active labor, but the postpartum period was really challenging.  With Maggie, I faced the biggest challenge of my life (being in transition for 4.5+ hours is no joke!) in bringing her into the world, but so far, my postpartum experience with her has been relatively stress free.  She nurses and sleeps well, except for when she's gassy.  And we're bonding well.  My fear of not being able to love her like I love Ray has been erased.  I love her more with each passing day.  I so appreciate her gentle, easy going demeanor and it doesn't take away from the love I have for my son.  Having Maggie has taught me that a woman's heart, just like our bodies, is miraculous in its ability to expand.

I am so thankful for my two beautiful, healthy children and my amazingly supportive husband.  I am also so grateful for our amazing birth team.  You all are truly doing God's work and in the wee hours of the morning on Friday, September 13th, you were my angels.

I'm still reconsidering the prospect of a third and for now, I'm just settling into being the mother of two, which is just as it should be.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

"Good" baby?

"He's such a good baby."  Something we all want to hear, right?  But the opposite of good is bad and how can a baby be bad?  I may be thinking about this too much, but indulge me for a second...

I admit that we have been blessed with a baby that doesn't have colic.  I know parents that have colicky babies have momentary incendiary thoughts of throwing their babies against a wall to make it stop...(yes, I said's true, but rarely talked about).  A baby that's experiencing discomfort to the point of constant screaming isn't a bad baby, they're just having a really hard time and we're helpless to fix it.  

I want to challenge our labeling children as "good."  All kids are inherently good and from God.  How about we challenge ourselves to really think about their positive characteristics instead of lazily letting the word "good" come out of our mouths?  I've caught myself doing it and I really have to slow down in order to share that Ray is "joyous," "happy," "smiley," "curious," and "healthy."

Just like it's been brought to our attention that there are positive ways to talk to girls to reinforce the value of their minds rather than the importance of their looks (describing them as smart instead of pretty, asking them what they're reading, what their favorite book is, what their favorite subject is in school, etc.), I think it's important as a new generation of parents that we're conscious of how we're labeling our children.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Get Lucky

Imagine an absurdly tight green T-shirt on a guy you've never met, emblazoned with a leprechaun, several four leaf clovers, and the words GET LUCKY.  It's St. Patrick's Day and this man has just waltzed into your house with a six pack of beer in hand, sporting what I can only describe as a green plaid cabbie's cap.  As he approaches the friendly faces around the kitchen, the first words out of his mouth are, "Hey guys.  Note to self...when buying a T-shirt, you might want to try it on first."  His eyes are kind, emanating a mischievous sparkle as he lets out this wonderfully contagious laugh.  Little did I know that this stranger, this self-proclaimed tight T-shirt wearer would one day be my husband.

This is the story of how Rich and I met.

In 2008, I purchased a beautiful, fully restored  Queen Anne Victorian in the diverse (meaning sometimes hip, sometimes scary) neighborhood of East Nashville.  I'd been living in a townhouse my ex-husband and I purchased in 2004 in the coveted 12th South neighborhood, but I felt it was time for a change.  I wanted a place where I could entertain, that was open and inviting, had character, but was still modern.  After looking at several possibilities with no spark, the minute I walked into this house, I knew it was the one.  Amazingly tall ceilings, crown molding, white oak floors throughout, a coffered ceiling in the kitchen, three brick fireplaces, stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, a huge backyard with a lot of  

Two hard working gentleman about my age, Shane and Chris, had taken the property on as a real estate investment, looking to renovate it with the thought that Shane and his wife would move in.  Because of this, the house wasn't your typical flip.  They took great care with the details and there was obvious pride in their work.  They were extremely smart and resourceful-- in fact, they came into some perfectly good granite that a snooty high-rise development downtown wouldn't use due to some silly, barely noticeable imperfections.  These guys took that granite off their hands for FREE.

During the months the guys worked on the house, they befriended the guy across the street.  That guy, Dave, is Rich's best friend from college.  When the guys came into this granite, they were looking for someone that could help them cut and install it.  In talking to Dave about it, he immediately thought of Rich.  Although he was currently in the depths of running his own steel fabrication business, he was in the granite business for about three months years earlier....hmmmm....would Rich be willing to help?  

Although open minded and ever willing to lend a hand, Rich wouldn't agree to help until he saw the project-- would it be worth his time?  Upon stepping through the front door, he was so impressed that he wished he could buy the house.  Of course he would help!  So, Rich showed the guys how to cut the granite and helped them install it.  He also engineered several other items in the house and became friends with Shane and Chris.

Flash forward to March 17th, 2008.  Closing day.  Upon signing the 100th piece of paper and promising my first born to Countrywide (ha!  joke's on them!), Shane shared with me that they were having a St. Patty's Day party at my house and asked if I would like to come.  (I know this sounds strange, but since I wasn't ready to move out of my townhouse right away and Shane and his wife needed someplace to rent, we brilliantly decided to switch places, with a move in date in April.)  People that worked on the house and neighbors would be in attendance.  I happily accepted, looking forward to meeting new faces.  

Of course, I had to have my wing women, so I asked my two best friends to join me.  Looking back, I love that two of my nearest and dearest were there to witness me meeting my future husband!

After flirting a little at the house party, I rolled with Rich and some other folks to 3 Crow Bar in Five Points.  It was there that Rich talked of WWII  (thus learning that he had his private pilot's license...very sexy) and bought us Irish car bombs.  He wasn't the kind of guy I usually went out with (not a musician or starving artist which was my preference for years after my divorce), but there was just something about him I couldn't ignore.  

After years of fielding the singles scene, I had sworn off accepting a date invitation by text.  I mean, who texts to ask a girl out?!  If you're really into me, pick up the phone and call me damnit.  But rules were made to be broken right?  The very next day, Rich texted, asking me if I wanted to go to dinner.  We made plans for the following night.  Thank goodness I made an exception to the "do not ask me out by text" rule!

We closed the restaurant down on that first date talking, laughing and really connecting.  Rich felt so comfortable to me, like I could breathe in and let my shoulders relax for the first time in years.  I left to go on a hard-earned President Club's Trip to Mexico that Sunday and we talked on the phone every single day.  My friend Jessica laughed and said, "He must be really into you because guys don't like to talk on the phone that much."  She was right.  He really did like me.  And I really liked him.  Our conversations were worth every penny of that subsequent $400 cell phone bill.  He's been an integral part of my life ever since.

We now live in the house the brought us together.  We have a beautiful son, two cats, a dog, wonderful neighbors, an ever-expanding circle of friends, and a whole lot of love for each other.  He is my best friend and soul mate.  I am so thankful for the convergence of forces that brought us together.

This Saturday marks four years of that fateful meeting.  We celebrate every year by hosting friends at our house with a traditional Irish meal, libations, music and a lot of laughs.  This year will be no exception.  In fact, we're looking forward to getting Ray into his celebratory green onesie. 

Rich, I love you.  Happy 4th Anniversary, babe.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Because of Sarah

Rich's best friend from college lives across the street.  Essentially, he's the reason we met in the first place, but that's a story for another time (it's a good one though!).  He met the most amazing woman New Year's Day 2010 and we now have the honor and privilege of calling her our friend and neighbor.  You know those rare instances where you feel an instant connection with someone, that you just KNOW you're on the same wavelength?  Well, Sarah is one of those people and I feel so good every time I spend time with her.

Sarah is a writer and with her innate inquiring mind, she asks the greatest questions.  While pregnant and glowing, she asked why I thought my pregnancy was going so well.  There were several things I listed off and after some additional probing, we moved on to another topic.

During a walk with her today, soaking up this incredible (yet freaky) springtime weather, she reminded me to blog about what I shared with her.  I know every woman is different and they experience pregnancy in their own way, but I have to tell you, I LOVED being pregnant.  (This is where those of you that had difficult pregnancies and really don't want to read my somewhat Pollyanna take on being a vessel for life can hit the little x at the top of your browser.)

Here is what I believe contributed to such a positive pregnancy experience for me:
  1. I am married to the most incredibly supportive husband and we were both in absolute agreement that we wanted to start a family.  He did whatever I asked of him (such as finishing projects to ease my ever increasing nesting anxiety, going to weeks of Bradley birthing classes, being open-minded to a home birth, letting me bring a new furry family member into our home....the list could go on and on!).  As far as husbands go, I really lucked out.
  2. I took supplements daily-- prenatal vitamins, omega 3s (sooooo important to get DHA for healthy brain development in babes!), vitamin D, calcium/magnesium (this helped tremendously with the night leg cramping) and the all important probiotics (helps ward off Group B strep and starts you and baby on the road to preventing thrush if you're breastfeeding).
  3. I religiously saw my acupuncturist.  I see an amazing woman that specializes in helping women become pregnant, guiding them through pregnancy and helping them recover postpartum.  Peggy at Five Element Acupuncture in Berry Hill has kept me balanced throughout what I know can be the biggest roller coaster ride of a woman's life.  
  4. We hired a doula and we absolutely adore her.  Not only was Jolynn an amazing birth partner (helping us prepare and guiding us through the labor process), she gives the most incredibly healing massages and incorporates energy work into the mix.  I saw her once a month for a massage my entire pregnancy and I think this is why I never experienced the kind of aches and pains that a lot of women experience.  
  5. Pet therapy.  Seriously.  We adopted a little dog, Milo, when I was in my 4th month and he's such a little comedian.  That dog kept me smiling and laughing throughout my pregnancy.  So much so that when we got to our birthing house and my contractions really started intensifying, I said to Rich in a whimper, "I miss Milo."  
  6. I didn't drive myself crazy with too much information.  I didn't read What to Expect When You're Expecting.  I stuck to devouring empowering birth stories from Spiritual Midwifery and anything else written by Ina May Gaskin.  Rich and I also read a book that showed Ray's development week by week.  That was it.  By limiting my intake of information, I was able to stay relaxed and keep positive. 
  7. I wasn't freaked out about consuming caffeine or having the occasional drink.  I kept my caffeine to one cup of coffee a day and after my first trimester, I did have the occasional glass of wine.   
  8. We empowered ourselves to make our own decisions regarding how we wanted our son to come into the world.  This required a lot of research on our part and being incredibly open minded, but what transpired with our home birth experience with The Farm Midwives was more than we could have hoped for.
  9. I felt the loving, reassurance presence of my grandmother throughout my pregnancy.  I was very close to my father's mother and when she passed in 2009, I missed her sooo much.  Still do.  My beloved grandfather passed one month after her.  They were the stuff old love stories are made of-- met on a blind date, married one month later, stayed married for 65 years "until death do we part."  It was because of her that we named our son Ray, after her father-- Ray Erwin.  I think she smiles down on us daily.
I'm so thankful for friends like Sarah.  Because of her, I was able to really reflect on this experience with gratitude.  Hopefully, there are little tidbits in here that could help another expectant mother.  

Sarah, I look forward to the day when that expectant mother is you.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Fairies and Angels and Pumps...Oh My!

When the Boob Fairy came to visit, I had no idea what I was in for.  Our midwife, Joanne, jokingly said the Boob Fairy would come to visit me between Day 3 and 4 after Ray was born and boy was she right!  I literally watched my boobs grow before my very eyes.  Porn star style.  But these boobs were NOT sexy.  Yes, they were huge, but they were painful.  Very painful.  Engorged with the new milk my body was quickly and efficiently producing, Joanne said that the body doesn't know if it's producing milk for one, two, or three or more babies, so it just produces A LOT until your baby starts to regulate the supply.   

And then there's figuring out the all important latch.  Unfortunately, on the day he was born, I let Ray feed with a horrific, gumming, chewing latch that left me in tears wailing the words..."This isn't sustainable!" I was wondering how in the hell women do this!  And some do it for years...what the hell?!

Then, the Boob Angel entered into my life.  Our wonderful doula, Jolynn Lewis, left us the number of a lactation consultant before she left, telling me how awesome she was and that she answered the phone at any time night or day.  So, at 10:30pm  I got the Boob Angel on speaker phone, hoping she could walk me off the ledge.  It took THREE of us to figure out how to get Ray to latch properly (me, Rich and our good friend Stephanie that played the role of our postpartum doula).  Rich jokes that it was like trying to diagnose the engine failure of an off-road vehicle while at the top of a snow covered mountain-- it felt as if our lives depended upon figuring this out!  When the proper latch was achieved, I sighed in relief and we all felt like we had accomplished something momentous!

The Boob Angel, Jackie Randolph, visited for an in-home consultation after we returned home from our birthing house.  After watching Ray nurse, it appeared we were on the right track.  After days of icing my boobs down after feeding, massaging them to help prevent duct blockages and compressing them to move the milk down at every feeding, my supply finally regulated and my boobs were no longer frighteningly large.  So, Ray and I settled into feeding every three hours.  That's eight feedings per day totaling five plus hours per day.  

Thus, breastfeeding became my full time job in addition to consuming enough calories to maintain my milk supply.  I know that eating high calorie foods without guilt sounds fun, but honestly, it's been hard for me to not only find the time, but to eat that much.  And for those of you that know me, I LOVE food, but I've never been one to snack throughout the day or emotionally eat, so getting enough calories each day has been tough.  Thankfully, when family's been in town to help, it's been much easier to get the calorie intake I need, but left to my own devices, I have to make sure that the right foods are pre-prepared and high calorie snacks are at the ready.

Unfortunately, at our well-baby check up last week, it turned out that Ray still hadn't gotten back to his birth weight of 8 pounds.  He weighed in at 7 lbs, 8 oz...a half pound shy of his birth weight and behind where he needed to be.   (Apparently, most babies achieve their birth weight after about two weeks.) All in all, our doctor wasn't too concerned because Ray was well hydrated and not jaundiced, but instead of feeding every three hours, she recommended we switch to an "on demand" schedule.  He began feeding about every 2 hours (that's 12 feedings per day!) and at times, he would cluster feed (which means that you could be feeding for up to 2 hours at a time!  Holy hell.).  I felt that I was doing everything I could to help the situation and sure enough, at our weigh in today, he's up to 7 lbs, 12 oz, but again, still not up to birth weight.

So, we called in reinforcements and I'm working with the Boob Angel again.  Enter the breast pump.  This thing is a trip....and I thought I felt like a diary cow before now!  We're trying to increase my supply, so I've started pumping after each feeding.  What's crazy about the body is that it responds to the demand.  So, even if there's not a ton of milk coming through the pump right now, I should see a huge difference in 48 to 72 hours.  

This breastfeeding thing is serious shit.  No joke.  I realize that the benefits of breastfeeding well outweigh the challenges, but amazingly, I think it's been harder for me than having a natural childbirth.  I was soooo ready emotionally and mentally to have a natural childbirth, but nothing could have prepared me for how difficult breastfeeding has been for me.  

However, on the upside, similar to my pregnancy license, I think we nursing Moms have a breastfeeding license.  This means is that we can whip out our boobs when necessary because it's all in the name of nourishing our babies.  Case in point, last weekend, I had to nurse Ray at our friend Dave's house.  Is pulling out my boob in his living room something I would have EVER done before?  Uh, no.  (Dave is Rich's best friend from college!  Awkwaaarrrrd.)  But now that I'm my baby's sole source of sustenance, it's no problem.  Of course, I try to remember that not everyone has gotten as comfortable with my nipples as I have (Cover up Kara!), but it's been really freeing to do what I have to do when I have to do it.  After all, it's for my sweet baby boy and despite how frustrated I've been with this process, he's totally worth it.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Human mistake or Holy miracle?

After much waiting, we heard on Thursday that Ray's test results for PKU came back normal. In processing our experience, I really felt compelled to ask the specialist why they took the approach with us that they did.  Going from blood from the newborn screening test, they discussed Ray's condition in the affirmative without having a confirmed diagnosis.  Why was that?  Wouldn't a more logical, conservative approach be something along the lines of..."Come on in, let's retest him, we'll see what comes back and we'll take it from there...but in the interim, do you have any questions?"  I understand that Vanderbilt is a teaching and research hospital, so maybe that has something to do with it, but the whole experience left us feeling like we'd been slammed into airborne debris due to the wrath of a tornado.

So, when Natalie called to share that the third and final test was normal, I asked her "How many false positives have you encountered?"  Astonishingly, in her four plus years of experience, she's only seen one other false positive and that was with a patient they were already treating.  They've NEVER seen a false positive with an outpatient.  We're the first.  Wow.  In learning this, I guess I have to give Natalie and the over eager team the benefit of the doubt.  If they've only seen one other false positive in over four years, then I can see why they took the approach that they did.

We quickly spread the good news to family and friends along with this mind-blowing news about the rarity of Ray's case.  My brother-in-law's response really got me thinking...Was this purely a human mistake or could this be a Holy miracle?  Did Ray have PKU and by the grace of God, through all the prayers that were lifted, did God take this disorder away from my son?  Or is it just a statistical outlier?

I wouldn't call myself a religious person.  I haven't been to church consistently since I was a child and I had a born again experience in college that was short-lived.  However, I do consider myself a spiritual person and a firm believer in miracles.  Is this God's way of showing us His power and love for us?

What do you think?  Have you ever experienced a miracle and felt God's hand in it?

Sunday, January 22, 2012


...stands for Phenylketonuria.  (Yeah, try and say that three times fast!)  Because Ms. McDavid was such a phenomenal AP Biology teacher in high school, when we got the call on Friday from Vanderbilt Children's Hospital saying that Ray's newborn screening for PKU came back abnormal, I was able to recall a few things.  Genetic disorder...missing an enzyme that processes phenylalanine...warnings on yogurt, gum, Diet Coke...but, that's about it.

This sweet-voiced woman on the other end of the phone said that we needed to retest Ray for PKU and could we come in at 4pm?  We'd get the results back that day.  After a quick feeding and with my pulses racing, Rich, my mother and I got the diaper bag packed (which we subsequently forgot in our haste), snuggled Ray in his carrier and got on the road to the Children's Hospital.

My mind was racing and I was freaking out.  Our midwife said that the heel stick test she did  sometimes needed to be redone, so wasn't that just the case here?  My Mom assured me there was nothing to worry about.

Upon arriving, I'm immediately feeling resentful because a hospital environment is exactly what I didn't want for Ray.  I'm irrationally envisioning germs everywhere, dancing around my newborn. 

We check in and are met with a triage nurse that weighs Ray, takes his measurements, etc.  Even though she's nice as can be, I'm immediately annoyed.  She starts telling us that they work with PKU families all the time and she would be seeing a lot of us.  Then she starts oozing compliments about the PKU specialist, Natalie-- how sweet she is, how she's a new Mom mind just can't wrap around what she was saying.  I mean, weren't we just here to retest?!  Ray didn't have this for sure, right?

From there, we go into an examining room and Natalie comes in.  Cherubic-faced with long dark hair and beautiful blue eyes, she calmly starts to walk us through what PKU is, the metabolic biology of it all, what happens if left untreated, pathways for treatment, etc.  Again, like the triage nurse, she's talking in affirmative, telling us about support groups and a local Foundation that was formed several years ago by PKU parents.  All I could think is, "WTF?!  This is all happening so fast!  My son is healthy.  Just look at him!"

Babies with PKU cannot process phenylalanine (we'll call it phe for short), thus turning it into tyrosine.  A normal level of phe in you and I would be 1 and a normal level of tyrosine would also be 1.  For individuals with PKU, their levels range from 2-6 for a mild case and 6+ for a more severe or "classic" case.  Turns out, the heel stick test they received yielded a level of 2.7 of phe in Ray's blood.  If left untreated, the high levels of phe cause brain damage and lead to mental retardation.  (For more information on PKU, see this comprehensive March of Dimes article.)   

When we ask Natalie if the results could be wrong, she says she rarely sees a false positive.  I'm dumbfounded, completely overwhelmed.  I understand that this is a treatable disease through a special diet, but how can this be?!  PKU occurs in about 1 in 25,000 births, so how is it Rich and I could have passed this on?  Turns out both parents have to be carriers and off-spring have a 1 in 4 chance of inheriting the disorder.

Natalie asks if we have questions, but I can't process.  Dietitians are brought in and introduce themselves with big, toothy smiles, saying "We'll be seeing a lot of you"...but I'm thinking, "I don't want to see a lot of you!"  A bright neon sign is flashing through my mind-- SPECIAL NEEDS---over and over again.  We have a child with special needs?  How can this be?  What about when he goes to daycare?  What about school?  What about his teenage years and into adulthood?  

They need to take blood from his tiny arm, so Rich goes with Natalie to have that done while I stay in the examining room with my Mom, crying my eyes out.  Turns out they tried one arm only to have to draw blood from the other, so he came back with two tiny band-aids on both arms.  When they come back, I try my best to keep it together.  Ray must know that I'm having a really hard time, so he provides some comic relief by farting loudly as if on cue several times. 

Right before leaving, Natalie comes back to tell us that the machine that processes the blood samples only processes ONE sample at a time and it takes 2.5 to 3 hours.  Unfortunately, the machine is acting up and while we were initially told we would know the results that evening,  it looked like we wouldn't know until the next day.

That night, I'm spent.  Rich is too.  I have a pounding headache that wouldn't go away.  My eyes are swollen from so much crying.  We are still processing.  We alert friends and family as to what's going on and immediately, prayers are unleashed into the Universe. 

The next morning, we try to remain present and in the moment while awaiting the call from Vanderbilt.  We don't hear from Natalie until about 10:30am only to get news that the machine is still acting up and we probably won't hear word until Monday.  Sigh.  How is it in this age of technology that test results can take 48 to 72 hours to process when I can mail a letter and have it get to its destination in less time?!

Fully expecting to hear from Natalie on Monday, on Sunday evening we're surprised to see the Vanderbilt number show up on my phone.  With my heart racing, we put the call on speaker and to our cascading relief, the results came back NORMAL!  OMG.  I immediately cry in relief and a tangible shift of energy radiates throughout the room....ahhhhh.  Wow.  I guess we're one of the rare cases of a false positive!  We were instructed to come back to do blood work for a third time just to be sure, but we're feeling extremely positive that sweet, brave baby Ray does NOT have PKU.

All of this has left us light, jubilant and incredibly thankful.  I know that if he did have a positive reading for PKU that Rich and I are uniquely equipped to handle such a challenge, to embrace it, learn from it and do whatever we would need to do for the health of our son.  However, we are sooooo grateful that this is one challenge that we don't have to face.  This roller coaster of an experience has only brought us closer together as a family and has reconnected us to the power of prayer and the undying support of our friends and family.

To everyone that prayed for us, THANK YOU.  We felt your prayers lifting us up these past 48 hours.  Your thoughtfulness, compassion and love means more to us than you will ever know.