Adulthood: An exercise in unfairness

This last year has been unfairly difficult. At a time when my six-year-old daughter is obsessed with fairness, or rather, the unfairness of the world, I’ve found it harder than usual to come to terms with the same thing myself, lately.

Things aren’t fair. We all learn this at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later in our lives, so that we can also learn how to deal with that fact and move on with life in a productive and happy way. Dwelling on unfairness into your adulthood just sets you up for a life of disappointment and frustration. Life is not fair.

Sometimes it’s pretty much impossible for me not to list all the unfair things that have happened in the last year, even though I know it does me no good. Right off the top, of course, there’s cancer – also known as life’s big Fuck You to fairness. No one can tell me why I got cancer. Every so often, when I can’t sleep at night, my brain starts listing all the possible things that might have caused it, like childhood exposure to contaminants, or adulthood exposure to contaminants, or maybe I dyed my hair one too many times, or maybe I ate too many pesticides, and the list goes on and on and on. There is no smoking gun, but I somehow got cancer, and it wasn’t fair. And so far I have beaten cancer, which, of course, also isn’t fair, if you happen to be someone else who isn’t as lucky as me.

And sometimes I think about how my kids are growing up without much contact with our extended families, and without that family tribe that I see around me in other people’s families, and it makes me sad how that’s unfair for them. Or I selfishly wish I could just leave the kids with their grandparents for a night so I can have a tiny one- or two-night vacation with my husband wherein we can sleep and recharge and maybe ride bikes together, because that’s one of those things that only grandparents can do… but no. Not an option for us. Difficult year or not, we are not able to recharge without asking far more of our friends than we are willing to. I want to be six and stamp my feet and slam a door and yell about the unfairness of it all. I try not to.

Yes, I would like to own my home…

Last year we nearly decided to buy a townhouse. We shopped, we looked at places, we even put in an offer on a place, but when we sat down to go over the actual monthly costs of home ownership over renting, when considering expenses like the depressingly large amount of money we spend on daycare, we realized that we could not afford it.

Between us Adam and I make what could be considered a very reasonable income if we lived almost anywhere else in the country. The kind of income that, on paper, means we are perfectly capable of home ownership. But due to a combination of unfair things, like the cost of homes in the Metro Vancouver area (the perfect 3-bedroom townhouse for our family is listed at around $400,000) and the extremely large chunk of money we pay for childcare, it’s out of the question, at least until daycare is no longer such an expense.

And here’s the (unfair) kicker: when daycare is no longer an expense, there will be a brand new skytrain in our neighbourhood, which will effectively drive the housing prices of our current area, the one we want very much to stay in, outside of a reasonable price range. It also means that buying now would be a good investment, because the skytrain is going to drive prices up. But we can’t. At least, not and be able to continue to do fun things like eat food..

Most days I am serene and calm and have come to terms with that. Some days I am just depressed about it.

But the most challenging and unfair thing I’ve had to deal with in the last year has been completely unexpected, and unfair in ways I never could have imagined.

Relationships – They aren’t fair

It’s a part of the promise you make in any serious relationship to take care of each other, even (and especially) when one of you is sick. We certainly had to call on that promise last year when I was going through chemo. As rock-solid as I was mentally and emotionally about the whole thing, I just wasn’t physically capable of a lot of things, and Adam had to step up and take over with much of the day-to-day running of our house. What had been a partnership tilted in one direction for a while. It wasn’t fair, but that’s what it was.

And then, sometime in March, I started to feel human again. I was finished chemotherapy. The effects were starting to disappear and I could feel my energy slowly coming back, along with a new sense of ownership over my life. I was so happy to be returning to normal, and the entire cancer experience had me actively evaluating my life down to the tiniest detail: Is this worth doing? If yes, then why not just go ahead and do it? If no, then abolish it completely. My willingness to commit to things I wanted to do had skyrocketed, and I wanted more than anything to get out in the world and DO ALL THE THINGS.

While all this was happening, Adam was going through unexplained, undiagnosed, mystery abdominal pain. It left him often incapacitated, exhausted, and unable to function at a normal level. There were many nights when I’d come home from work and send him away to lie down while I handled kids and dinner. There were weekends that we stayed mostly close to home and made no plans because we never knew if he’d feel up to doing anything (and usually he didn’t).

Chronic pain had taken over his life, and the fact that doctor after doctor couldn’t tell him what was wrong pushed him over the edge into some bouts of anxiety that just made everything worse. He went through the fear of cancer, gallstones, kidney stones, heart problems, ulcers, digestive issues, and every other abdominal issue he, or the doctors, could come up with.

It started in January, before I was even done chemo. It continued on into February, and then March. By April, I was starting to feel like I was at about 80% of my former energy levels, and he was in too much pain to function as a partner for a good portion of the time. We had effectively switched places on the see-saw of relationship balance: I was doing my best to keep everything together, taking on more work at home and with the girls while taking care of him. None of it was fair.

By May and June he wasn’t doing any better, and doctors still told him that they didn’t know what was wrong with him. He wasn’t happy being the mystery abdominal pain patient. By that point, though, he had at least come to terms with there not being something life-threatening wrong with him, and he wasn’t going to emergency every few weeks. But he was still in pain, and it was still giving him a lot of anxiety, and making him exhausted almost all the time.

I was still holding the fort, and still feeling more driven to get out and do things. I managed it okay most of the time, but sometimes the unfairness of it all came back and hit me hard, and I broke down. It happened more than once, and it made life hard. All the while I just wanted to get on with living, and I felt like I couldn’t because I was being held back, taking care of someone who should have been living it with me.

I can see, now, something that I’ve never really been able to see before. I always took for granted that of course we would take care of each other if we were sick. Of course we would. Because we love each other and that’s what you do. And when I was going through chemo last year, Adam took care of me. And when he was hit with chronic pain issues, I took care of him. Unfairly, his chronic pain has been an ongoing problem for longer than my chemo was.

I can’t speak for Adam on this, but what I realized in the last few months, while trying to keep everything together and feeling so keenly how imbalanced we were, is that this is much more difficult than you ever expect it to be. Of course we take care of each other. But when the imbalance goes on for a long time, you start to wonder how long you can actually do it. When you don’t have other family around to help you out, you wonder how people manage. And then that corner of your brain that likes to throw intrusive thoughts at you (you know, the one that screams inside your head brutally inappropriate statements that should never be heard by any human being and make you ashamed that you even thought them) for just a moment breaks through and tries to suggest that everything would be easier if you had fewer variables in your life. And by variables it means people. And then you beat it into submission for even suggesting that you’d think that, because no, you will not be abandoning anyone who needs you, dammit! Even writing about thinking thoughts like that is difficult. I don’t want to admit to that sort of self-perceived weakness…

But now I get it when people have reached that point, when they’ve had too much unfairness, when the imbalance has gone on for so long that the intrusive thoughts aren’t intrusive anymore. And then they have to leave, for their own sake. Where I used to think, “how could anyone leave someone they love when they need them so much?” I now understand. I’ve only had the smallest taste of that feeling of overwhelming imbalance, and I know that it will end, and that there will be more times in the future when Adam takes care of me, and when I take care of him. Relationships are not static. Sometimes, though, when there’s no end in sight, I can understand why sometimes people have to leave. I get it.

I can see the end of the imbalance now. He’s been feeling better, mostly, for the past month. They have ruled out all the major abdominal problems that could have been the cause, and are fairly convinced that it’s probably muscular, in the abdominal wall, and exacerbated by stress. Of which he’s had NONE in the last year, am I right? And his bouts of anxiety have lessened, although it’s certainly been a good lesson in the impact anxiety issues have on individuals and their close family members. But we’re coming back towards the centre, when we both contribute in different but mostly equal ways to keeping our family running.

I keep thinking that there will be some kind of marker, a turning point, something I can look at and say with surety, “This is the end of our year of suck.” This year hasn’t been fair. I’m ready to be done with it. But maybe instead of a specific point in time where the sucking ends, it will just kind of fizzle out and our lives will be normal, happy, and uneventful for a little while.

In an unfair world, that’s the most I can ask for.

Life after cancer: Trying to find a balance

It has been just over two months since my last chemo session. Although Adam has has unexplained abdominal pain for three months now, I’ve been doing my best to start fitting some normal activities back into my life. I took two good, long road bike rides to kick off my training for the BC Ride to Conquer Cancer that I’m doing in June — one on the weekend, 32km or so around North Vancouver, East Van, and Stanley Park, and another on Tuesday, riding home from work in Gastown to Port Moody, which is around 25km. This week I had my first-ever actual guitar lesson, since I’ve reached a point in my playing where I would like to improve my technique (or possibly even learn some). My brain is starting to feel like it’s firing on all cylinders, finally, after months of a forgetful haze where I felt like every thought was being dredged through molasses.

The clarity in my mind has been a welcome change, especially with regards to work. I started a new job a month before I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It was another month before I started treatment. Instead of going through the usual process of learning my new role, picking up new skills needed for the job, learning internal processes, and figuring out where I fit in the grand scheme of the organization, I got distracted by things like confirming a diagnosis, going through test after test, getting a treatment plan, unexpectedly weaning a toddler earlier than planned, and actually starting chemotherapy. It was difficult.

My memory is muddy, what’s this river that I’m in?

I kept on working as much as I could through the chemotherapy experience because it gave me some focus that wasn’t the cancer, or how terrible the treatments made me feel. Looking back now, with a clear head and a different perspective on everything, is a strange thing for me. Instead of that six months of figuring out where I fit, I’ve found that my first six months at work are a haze. I feel like I’m effectively starting at this position now instead of last August.

This week we had a retrospective discussion about a project that I worked on over the winter (though not in a principal role) and I couldn’t remember what I did. I know there were things that I did to support the project, and I remember being involved in it, but it’s like there’s a hole in my memory — a gap where the details should be. Looking back on that with a clear head it’s become obvious that the entire six months of diagnosis, tests, and treatment are a muddled haze of feeling physically awful, incapable, and forgetful. It’s frustrating to have a shroud over my memories.

Once again I feel incredibly lucky to be working with the co-workers and organization that I am, because they can’t have known how useless I would be during treatment, but they put up with me anyway. They gave me things to do, they respected the fact that I wasn’t at 100%, and they gave me the room I needed to get better without making me feel like I was a burden. And they barely knew me; I never had a chance to really prove my value before this all began.

Now that I’ve started to feel more like a functional human being, my lack of capacity over the past six months has started to bother me. I feel like I actually just started this job a couple of weeks ago, and my lack of real contributions up to this point had me feeling a bit depressed and anxious over the last few weeks. It’s frustrating, this feeling that I’m so far behind where I should really be after eight months of a job. I have to remind myself that six months of that time — the six months I normally reserve for learning and settling in to any new job — were commandered by captain cancer. I’m back at square one, starting fresh and new, and trying to find my place, to fit into the appropriate gaps and figure out where I can contribute the most with my skills and strengths. I’m finding it a challenge, though, and have had to fight a bit of anxiety/depression over it.

I didn’t expect that the experiences of my treatment and its side effects, like the mental fog I had the entire time I was in chemo, would only be accessible as memories through a translucent curtain. The memories are there. The detail is not. I’m glad I wrote about it all, because otherwise so much of it would have been lost. I can’t entirely recall how I felt emotionally, although I have body memories, like the drugs burning my veins, and the thick headed feeling I got from the extra saline they pumped into me before the port was installed, and that queasy feeling in the back of my throat that was my constant companion for months, and how the chemo side-effect drugs made me shaky. The physical memories may be more clear than the experiential ones.

But moving on to some random thoughts…

Jennylee and family
We’re getting on with our lives as best we can.

By some coincidence, although it does represent my tastes, for my three PET scans I chose three Canadian bands to listen to while the radioactive dye made its way through me: Delerium, Barenaked Ladies, and the Tragically Hip. This is a random detail that amuses me and that I want to remember. I couldn’t tell you why, or why I need to write it down here; I think I just want to make sure I don’t forget.

Today I started to wonder a bit about blood and organ donation: can I still donate blood or organs when I’ve had cancer? After doing a bit of research I found that, for some blood cancers (like Lymphoma, which I had) they don’t allow you to donate, at least not in some countries. I couldn’t find an absolute rule for Canadian blood donors, however. Either way, in Canada they do want you to be at least five years in remission before you donate blood.

As for organs; well, I couldn’t find much on that at all, except that maybe you could donate organs but maybe not. I couldn’t narrow down the exact cases for either side.

This makes me strangely sad. The idea of donating blood is currently a disturbing one, just because the physical memory of IVs and such make me queasy and uncomfortable and makes my arms feel a bit sore even though they’re not. However, I wouldn’t rule it out in the long term just for that reason. For as long as I can remember, though, I’ve had an organ donor card or been registered for donation. The knowledge that pieces of me could be used to save another person has been comforting to me. It didn’t occur to me until today that that could be taken away because of cancer.

But at least I can still happily donate my body to science when I’m done with it. Dear family and friends; in case I haven’t mentioned it, please donate my body to science, should the opportunity arise and I don’t need it anymore. I mean it.

Otherwise in our lives, Adam’s been sick. We can’t really get back to a normal life until he’s not in pain anymore. That likely won’t happen until they figure out what’s wrong with him and it’s kind of exhausting for both of us. But in the meantime we do the best we can.

After chemotherapy ends: Where’s the kaboom?

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Chemotherapy has been over for a month now. I’m in a strange post-treatment world. Chemo ended, I’m effectively in remission (complete response, I think?) and there is no fanfare or acknowledgement of it other than within my little family. The oncologist will see me in a few months to see how I’m doing. I had my post-chemo PET scan on Tuesday, which was uneventful. There’s nothing else to report, and I’m supposed to go back to life as normal.

But life isn’t playing fair, I guess. Not that I believe life ever plays fair.

This week has been particularly difficult, and I have struggled with writing about it. I’m not sure why, since writing about things helps me deal with them. But that’s how it is.

I’m still not fully recovered post-chemo, even though my last treatment was February 11. I am still more tired than I normally would be, although I feel better as time goes on. I knew this was how it would go, though. It might take a while until I feel mostly normal again. I’m just not there yet.

I’ve had a head cold since about Tuesday. Mildly irritating, but not a big deal. At least I can treat it and not be worried about getting a fever. It’s just a normal, annoying, run-of-the-mill cold. Lyra and Pandra both have the same one. Not that it’s really slowing them down at all.

Adam and Pandra
Adam and Pandra cuddling on the couch, with boots. Because that’s how she rolls.

Adam has been suffering from moderate to severe abdominal pain nonstop for the past week (at minimum – he’s had some kind of undiagnosable abdominal pain since January. Yay.) As of now, he’s been to Emergency a few times, talked to our doctor (who seems to think it’s in his head, which is oh so helpful), talked to another doctor, and has finally been referred to a general surgeon to discuss more diagnosing options. It might be a gall bladder issue. It could be a severe ulcer of some sort. Or maybe it’s both. Perhaps it’s neither, but instead something else that we haven’t thought of or considered. The Internet likes to tell us it’s Cancer (thanks, Internet, but we didn’t really need your opinion… you think everything is Cancer).

What we do know is that he’s in enough pain that he’s afraid to eat and has lost around 25lbs in two months, he doesn’t seem to be able to control it with diet, activity, or inactivity, and that it seems to come in waves of attacks, taking him from mild to moderate to severe pain with unknown triggers. If it’s gall bladder, it could be fatty foods. If it’s ulcer, it could be stomach acid. But the patterns aren’t settling into predictability, so it’s frustrating.

I worked from home on Wednesday to take care of Adam. Then he had a pretty severe attack the next day, which meant neither of us slept much on Thursday night, and I had a massive fail getting out the door with the girls on Friday morning, so I missed my train and was miserably tired. I stayed home that day too, but to rest; it helped some.

I also discovered, on Friday morning, that someone had rifled through the glove box and console of our car overnight. They hadn’t stolen anything though. Apparently CDs aren’t worth stealing anymore. Even if it was an opportunistic thing (they didn’t break a window, so it’s fair to say we forgot to lock the car that night) it was a bit upsetting. Good thing there’s nothing of value in the car, anyway, and they didn’t have tools or time/incentive to pull our nice-ish stereo out of the car.

Of course, with Adam in extreme pain for a good part of the week, everything else has become more complicated. It’s demoralizing to watch him and not be able to fix it, which I’m sure he understands after having me in chemo for months. On top of that, I have to be ready to drop everything and take him to the hospital at any moment, which means trying to secure someone to watch the girls if it comes to that. Finding short-notice childcare is a challenge when most of our local friends have kids of their own, or, you know, lives, like normal people. My friends are awesome. I have had to lean on them too much, though.

I am so very tired of asking friends to be on-call in case we need help. I’m tired of us needing so much help. I’m tired of being too tired to fully commit to anything I do. I’m too tired to proof-read.

And all the tiredness and the frustration and the needing support from friends and the illness and the inability to commit to anything is wearing me a bit thin. I’ve been kind of wavering between exhausted, extremely grumpy, and vaguely sad for the last week. I remember the vague sadness, and that dull tightness in my chest that makes me feel like breathing is harder than it should be. If I don’t take care of myself, it turns into something else. And while it’s been a long time since I’ve been depressed, I can recognize some of my own tells. I’m not — don’t panic or anything — but if I don’t pay attention, I might end up there. So I’m trying to pay attention.

Apparently having cancer and going through chemo can’t make a dent in me (or my hair, which is coming back in force), but being hit with a bunch of new issues right when everything is supposed to get better because ‘yay cancer-free’ is enough to make me just a little bit broken. I haven’t even had time to lament the fact that I haven’t felt any internal fanfare for my not having cancer anymore. Where’s the kaboom? There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom.

I wish I believed in karma enough to think that, after this last year of mostly crappy things (I checked; it’s been twelve months of predominantly crappy things with some nice things peppered amongst them), good things of equivalent value were due to happen to us. Sadly, I don’t. Not that I don’t think that things will get better; I know they will. But neither do I think we’re owed anything by the universe. Stupid universe, quit making me grumpy.

Sometimes things get hard to deal with

Lyra and Adam at my chemo
It was nice to have my family hang out with me during chemo.

The last two weeks have been, to say the least, extra challenging. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so keenly the gap in our lives that exists because our extended family is four provinces and three time zones away.

Before chemo on the second of December, I could feel dread growing. In the words of the tenth Doctor, I did not want to go, and the sense of impending badness kept building. But I did go, of course, and Adam and Lyra both accompanied me. Lyra was curious about it, and I wanted to demystify the process a bit for her, so she came along and watched, and learned, and played with Adam while I sat in my chemo chair and felt my thought processes slow to a crawl. It was nice to have her there; but it was still the worst chemo session I had been through to date.

We went back home, and I proceeded to feel exhausted and awful for a couple of days. The highlight of the week was my work Christmas Party on Friday the 6th — you can’t not have fun at a 20s Murder Mystery. Adam and I were grateful for a night out without the girls, and we both had a good time.

On Saturday, things started to go downhill. I hit my lowest energy point in the cycle, and could barely find the energy to get up off the couch. I let Adam sleep as much as I could, so he could recover from the party, and played games and watched movies with the girls. And I ordered groceries online for delivery the next day, because we were running out of food and nobody had the energy to get to the grocery store.

Sunday morning the groceries arrived, and Adam took Lyra out for an Adventure Day at the Vancouver Aquarium while Pandra and I stayed home. My energy was still very low, but I could manage chasing a toddler around for the day in the house, even if she was a bit cranky. I basically didn’t leave the house from Friday night after the party until Monday morning, though, and it was not good for my health.

Chemo cycles and emotional well-being

I have discovered, after three hits of chemotherapy, that I have a definite mental health cycle that comes with it. I get distracted and start to dread going in for chemo a few days before I’m due for the next session — and it stresses me out. Right after chemo, I feel dopey, slow, and stupid which mostly just frustrates me and makes me a bit angry. But those low energy days that fall on the weekend after my chemo? Those are the worst.

Those two days become a strange emotional feedback loop. I don’t have any energy to do anything, so I sit on the couch and rest. This gets boring fast. Once I’m bored, I start to feel unhappy, and I know it’s because I’m bored. I try to think of something to do, and get overwhelmed at the thought of it, so I don’t do anything, and then I start to feel depressed because I am bored. And once I’m depressed about being bored, I get more bored and frustrated. And then I start to look for people outside of myself to talk to, preferably in person. Except that it’s the weekend, and it’s December, so everyone I know is exceedingly busy doing family/holiday things, and they don’t have time to just show up at my house for a cup of tea or to hang out for hours with no real purpose. So I feel more lonely, and send out a sad, basically pointless call on various communications channels for someone — anyone — to come visit me. i know it’s pointless, because those vague requests for visits have never successfully attracted a visitor. And then I feel sorry for myself on top of the bored depressed inertia.

I don’t like feeling sorry for myself, but once I’m there, it’s really hard to feel better. I start feeling worse about everything that crosses my mind. I have trouble imagining when chemo will be over and remembering how it feels to not feel as bad as I do at my lowest point, and it’s painful and demoralizing. I look at my daughters and wonder where I’ll find the energy to play with them, because there is no reserve left. I think about how it’ll feel to be able to think straight and write clearly and hold a fork without shaking again, and I get frustrated that everyday things are so hard.

All of this was weighing on me heavily. And then I started to think about Christmas.

I love Christmas usually. This year, though, it’s complicated. Mostly because of the cancer thing.

They’ve finally scheduled my IV port surgery. The original requisition got lost somewhere, so the hospital never called me. I was suspicious about that. Once they realized it had be lost, my doctor resubmitted a requisition and I heard back within a couple of days when my surgery was booked for: the morning of December 24th.

I’m looking forward to having the port for chemo, especially after my last session. My arm felt like it was burning for a week or more, and the chemo took an extra two hours just for the one drug that burns my arm, because they had to dilute it with lots of saline and then slow down my intake of it. I have crappy veins and I’m sensitive to the Dacarbazine. The port will make it better.

But I really don’t want to have surgery the day before Christmas. It’s a fact, and it can’t be moved up (my doctor apparently tried, but no luck). I don’t want to be sedated on Christmas eve. I don’t want to be recovering on Christmas day. And I didn’t really want my next chemo session (December 16th) to be without a port. All of these things added to my general unhappiness over the past couple of weeks. And then five days after Christmas I’m back in chemo. And I won’t see much of my friends because they’ll all be busy with family, and our extended family other than Adam’s brother is all in Ontario. I’ll be too tired or in recovery to do anything fun. I want to make the best of Christmas… but it’s hard, and thinking about it just makes me kind of depressed.

So this was all on my mind over my lowest point in my cycle, when I am most prone to loneliness, depression, and feeling weak and useless.

And then Pandra got a fever.

She had a cold already. But sometime over the weekend, a fever developed, and she was absolutely miserable. She started waking up and not being able to go back to sleep because of the discomfort, and Adam was the only one who could take care of her. He took Monday off so he could do just that, since I need to avoid illnesses that include fevers. And then she was the same (or worse) on Monday night. And through Tuesday. Adam took her in to the doctor’s office, where they found that she had an ear infection in both ears. Her inability to sleep, and her obvious ongoing pain, became much clearer. Wednesday, she seemed to be feeling a lot better, and we were relieved to be thinking about sending her back to daycare on Thursday morning. But then Wednesday night her fever came back, and she spent more of the night awake than she did asleep.

Five days straight, Adam had to get up multiple times in the middle of the night, for hours at a time sometimes, to take care of a baby, and then miss work the next day to take care of a baby. If I could have taken over, if I had been allowed to, I would have in a second; the feeling of utter helplessness while I watched her feel so much pain, on top of coughing and crankiness and exhaustion, and not being able to cuddle with her or do much of anything to make her feel better… it just broke my heart. And watching Adam take on all that responsibility, and get more and more exhausted and delirious with lack of sleep, was beyond frustrating. There’s only so much SuperDad the world can ask from one person, and he was getting close to a breakdown. It got tense.

This is Pandra demanding that Adam get her dressed and take her out of the house. She was persistent.
This is Pandra demanding that Adam get her dressed and take her out of the house. She was persistent.

We kept her home on Thursday as well, and she slept some during the day. The antibiotics for the ear infections seemed to finally be working, and she was feeling better. Pandra hadn’t left the house since Friday of last week, and Adam hadn’t been out since Sunday — they were both going stir crazy. She finally bullied Adam into taking her out for a walk. She was feeling pretty much normal (if exhausted) by the end of today, and there was finally no sign of a fever. But Adam has already missed four days of work and his office Christmas party. We are hoping beyond hope that Pandra sleeps through tonight, and there is absolutely no fever to be found. And I’ve managed to catch Pandra’s cold (although not the fever) even though we tried so hard to avoid it.

So now I’m out of the depression phase, but I’ve got a cold, and I’m grumpy, and I’m starting to count down the days to my next chemo session with a growing sense of unease. Adam is exhausted and grumpy. Pandra is getting better. And Lyra just keeps on keeping on. Our friends are going above and beyond, doing things like bringing us dinner and delivering groceries when we need them. They are all beautiful people who we love dearly.

But I have to admit that this week is one of the times I’ve felt like having family nearby — family that could take Pandra overnight, or help us take care of her when she’s sick occasionally so Adam doesn’t have to miss so much work when I can’t pick up the parenting slack, or sleep over at our house for a day or two so we can escape to a hotel room and get a solid night of sleep alone — would make a world of difference. Usually we make things work. And we will get through this rough patch, too, with the support of our friends. But so much pain could have been alleviated with the help of someone who could make that extra commitment that you can only ask of family.

Most of the time I can accept that this is not something that we have access to. But this week, it’s been hard.

And life goes on.

Happy new year and welcome to 2013!

Lyra dressed the family up as Butterfly Dragons for Halloween this year.
Lyra dressed the family up as Butterfly Dragons for Halloween this year.

The new year arrived for me with a terrible bout of the flu. I got sick on January first and spent the next week alternating fevers, chills, and whole-body aches. I even got Adam to stay home from work for a day to take care of the girls so I could just be sick. I should have made him take two days off, but I felt guilty so I sent him to work. Fortunately for me I have local friends who were willing to help keep Lyra entertained.

When I was finally on the mend, both Adam and Lyra caught it and were sick for days. Pandra caught a milder version of it; she only had a fever for one day instead of three, fortunately. In retrospect, she may have just been teething and had a mild cold. The rest of us suffered from all the usual flu symptoms — aches and pains, fever, nonstop chills, and a headache that didn’t go away for about a week.

Yes, the first two weeks of 2013 have been challenging. But we’re on the mend now — just working on evicting the bronchitis that followed the flu. We’re all nearly better, finally.

Although I’ve missed the standard beginning-of-the-year timing, this still seems like a great time for a family update. Welcome to the Silvers Year In Review!

Sporting the 'Vancouver Mom' uniform - babywearing rain poncho, baby, coffee.
Sporting the ‘Vancouver Mom’ uniform – babywearing rain poncho, baby, coffee.

Jenny

I’m half-way through my maternity leave and trying not to think about going back to work yet. The idea is scary, and the complicated future I’m looking at is just plain terrifying. My 1.5 hour commute is going to be awful with two kids in daycare, and then in September Lyra will be starting full-day Kindergarten, which means she’ll need after school care. I haven’t started looking for daycare options yet, but I realized this week that I must do so soon if I want to get this figured out. That means I have to think about work to some extent, because I need to know what the big picture is going to look like before I can sort out the little details. Thinking about it is overwhelming on the heels of the flu and bronchitis, so I haven’t dealt with it yet.

Otherwise, I’ve started to feel a bit too ‘stay-at-home-mom’-ish, so I’m trying to find all sorts of random web projects to fill the void. I’m volunteering some web work for a local mountain bike organization, I’m working on some rewrites for a friend’s website, and I’m setting up another friend’s new website to support her creative work. None of this is really fulfilling, but at least it’s something to pass the time and keep me a little bit sharp.

What I want is a creative project, but I can’t seem to come up with one that interests or excites me. I had one idea, but it required external input that wasn’t really forthcoming, so I’m abandoning it for now. Perhaps it will be revisited someday. In the meantime, I’m wracking my brain trying to come up with a creative, interesting writing project.

I’ve also decided to take up running, because I haven’t been able to get out on my bike so much lately. I’m doing it properly with a learn-to-run clinic, and hoping I don’t hate it too much because exercise is good for me. I’ve been out once so far, and ouch. I need to get on my bike more once the season gets better. I’m weak and don’t want to ride in the wet and cold weather.

Instead of exercise and creative work, I’ve been playing with children when they’re awake and playing Civilization 5, Red Dead Redemption, and Mass Effect 3 when they’re not. Perhaps not the most fulfilling use of my time, but it’s sure a lot of fun. Oh, and Lyra makes me play Bastion sometimes so she can watch me play.

Adam shares his joy at finding a remote controlled astronaut.
Adam shares his joy at finding a remote controlled astronaut.

Adam

Adam is enjoying his no-longer-new job. He’s been there for more than a year now, and it’s keeping him interested and challenged, so he’s overall pretty happy with the state of affairs. He’s also playing various games — Super Mario Galaxy and Zelda: Twilight Princess with Lyra, and MechWarrior Online.

He’s been avidly following all the space/science news, of course, with the Mars Rover and Canadian Chris Hadfield up in the Space Station, among other things. Lyra gave him a microscope she found at Value Village for Christmas. It’s fantastic; brand new in the box from 1971 or so. He hasn’t had a chance to really use it yet, but he’s looking forward to looking at very small things with Lyra’s help… once she figures out how to properly look through it.

The more Lyra grows, the more I think he enjoys spending time with her and sharing his enthusiasm about things with her. She knows the names of all the planets and can identify them because he’s shared his astronomy love with her. They bond over things like Transformers and video games they can play together. It’s lovely to watch him share these things with her, and watch her respond so enthusiastically. The two of them have a blast together. He’s a great daddy.

I’ve been making him put Pandra to bed more often lately, too, in the hopes that she falls for it someday. It hasn’t been entirely successful yet, but I’m stubborn. Unfortunately when it comes to Pandra, daddy means playtime, not sleeptime. We’ll just have to keep working on that.

Lyra and Swoop the Quetzalcoatlus have many adventures
Lyra and Swoop the Quetzalcoatlus have many adventures

Lyra

Ah, Lyra. Four has been a fantastic year for her. She’s clever and learning how to be effectively manipulative, as clever children do. Her current obsessions include dinosaurs (there are so many of them that didn’t exist when I was a kid, and she knows them all by name), Deadmau5, collecting realistic animal toys — the toy-like ones just aren’t suitable in her eyes — and playing video games. She has her own Chrome profile and can click on appropriate bookmarks to take her to her favourite games, or to Youtube to find good live videos of Deadmau5 shows.

It’s so much fun watching her learn language. She asks what words mean all the time, and sometimes we struggle to explain them. When she asked us why New Year’s Eve was important, we couldn’t answer her. It felt like a learning experience for us… Arbitrary dates are very hard to explain, and when we tried it became even more meaningless.

One of the funniest things she does lately is tell jokes. They’re usually terrible at best, or make no sense whatsoever, but that’s what makes it so awesome. Her first joke she learned from a cartoon dog on the PBS Kids website:

“Why do cows have bells? Because their horns don’t work!”

Everyone laughs when she tells this one, so it’s become a staple in her story-telling. We’ve heard it so many times now that we’ve begged her to learn new jokes. And that’s when she makes up her own jokes that don’t make any sense:

“When cats laugh water comes out of their noses!”

Still pretty funny, but in a different way.

I’ve made her get into the new My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic show because of my own love of My Little Pony. Fortunately for both of us the show is AWESOME, and provides some fantastic female role models and realistic situations in a magical pony setting. She enjoys it and has a bunch of the toys. Sometimes we play ponies together and I’m reminded of the times I spent fabricating a My Little Pony world with depth, drama, and endless storytelling opportunities. I still have those ponies in storage. I’m anxious to share them with her and her sister.

She’s grown so much taller in the last six months that people comment on it regularly. She’s now 43″ – close to four feet tall — and still the same weight that she’s been for almost two years, but stretching out and growing up.

Four is a great age. It’s once again the best age she’s ever been. She’s becoming such an interesting little girl.

Kitchen sink bathtime!
Kitchen sink bathtime!

Pandra

At six months old, Pandra is still developing her own personality. It seems like she’s going to be more active than Lyra, but I can’t be sure. She has an infectious grin that hints at mischief and always reaches her eyes. She’s comfortable being passed around to whomever wants to take her. Her favourite person in the world is still Mommy, but her big sister Lyra is definitely right up there and always makes her laugh. And she loves playing with her Dad, of course.

She’s on the verge of crawling now, and can hold herself sitting upright for a long time. She only topples over now if she’s reaching for something and forgets to keep herself up. As for crawling, she can get around by dragging her body across the ground, but she’s also up on her hands and knees rocking back and forth all the time — it’s only a matter of time before she gets it figured out.

As of this past week, Pandra has four teeth — two on the top and two on the bottom. Her newfound top teeth help her make the most irritating grinding sound in the world. I try not to let it bug me, but it makes me crazy when she clacks them together and grinds them against each other. Even thinking about it makes me shudder. But I can’t really blame her – a week and a half ago, there were no top teeth there. It’s all new!

She’s also just starting to copy things. Just today I noticed she was trying to wave back when someone waved at her. She understands when I make the sign for milk (and say milk) — I know because she gets crazy excited and tries to attack my shirt with her face until I make milk available to her once I’ve said it. She might even be signing it herself soon.

Pandra still looks like her sister did at the same age, but she’s got her own features too. She’s so much bigger than Lyra was — she even fits appropriately-sized baby clothing! Her cheeks, while still huge and ridiculously cute, aren’t quite as crazy as Lyra’s were at the same age. There is no question that these kids are related, though. Some photos make it impossible to tell which is which.

It feels like this time in Pandra’s life is going by so much quicker than it did with Lyra. Maybe it’s because I’m busier, keeping two kids happy and healthy instead of just one. Time is going faster. If I think about it too much I feel melancholic. But I love having this year off to spend with her and her sister.

2013

And so that’s the family as of the beginning of 2013. This year is going to be a lovely one. We have plans to travel back east for a family visitation. We’re hoping to get some camping in with the girls, and do some little weekend road trips to random destinations. We’re getting a puppy in the springtime. There will be adventures!

I don’t know exactly what’s in store for us this year, but we’re a happy little family unit and whatever we do together will be fun. Even if it’s just staying home and playing video games with each other.

Birthing the baby dragon

Baby Pandra
This is Pandra. She looks almost exactly like her sister did at that age. It’s like we had twins four years apart.

It started with the strawberry pie.

They were fresh, local, in-season strawberries, and when I bought them I knew we couldn’t just eat the entire basket, so I decided I should make a strawberry pie. I put it off for a couple of days, but finally pulled some pastry dough out of my freezer, thawed it and rolled it out on the afternoon of Friday, June fifteenth.

But I wasn’t yet ready to eat the strawberry pie on Friday. Instead I put out an open invitation for people to join me in eating the pie on Saturday. Naturally, there were folks willing to partake in the pie, and so Saturday evening was devoted to pie eating before and after dinner, in the company of friends. It was a mighty tasty homemade strawberry pie.

We went to bed around 11:15 on Saturday night, much like any other night. I was uncomfortable, but no more so than I have been at night for months. I went to sleep and didn’t wake up for about an hour and a half.

At 1:15, I had strangely woken up on my own and heard Lyra’s door opening. She came out of her room to go to the bathroom. She was having trouble with her nightgown, so I got up to help her and put her back to bed with no real issue.

With Lyra back in her bed, I realized that my stomach was feeling kind of upset, and hoped it wasn’t because of the excess of awesome strawberry pie. When my stomach started cramping harder, I considered that it could theoretically be labour… or maybe not. I was too uncomfortable and awake to go back to bed so I went to sit on my computer for a while.

There wasn’t much going on online, it being 1:30am, and I was restless. I kept standing up and sitting back down, pacing up and down the hall, and just feeling crampy and yucky. At one point a friend sent me a message on Facebook asking what I was doing up, and I told him that it was possible — just possible, mind you — that I was in labour. Or my stomach was upset. After which I got up from the computer again and decided to run a bath and wake Adam up. It was 2 a.m.

I woke Adam to tell him that I was either in labour or had a really upset stomach. He wanted me to confirm which it was, naturally, but I wasn’t totally willing to do that yet. I told him I was going to run a bath and see if it helped me feel better, and that I was leaning towards it being labour, and he got out of bed.

The bath made me feel better, but it didn’t change anything otherwise. I kept rolling from one side to the other (beyond awkward in our tiny bathtub) and thinking that I wasn’t totally ready to be in labour yet. I finally caved and had Adam time the contractions, knowing that I had to come to terms with being in labour, since all signs pointed to it.

All the paperwork and instructions from the midwife suggested that we should call when contractions were regular, 4 minutes apart, lasting for 1 minute each, or something along those lines. When Adam started timing them, they were pretty regular (two or three minutes apart) and anywhere from 30 – 45 seconds long. So they were close but short. I was confused – I had only really been in labour for about an hour or so, and I expected a longer build-up of occasional contractions and pre-labour and all of that. I did not expect to be having contractions so close together and so early into the process, even if they were shorter than they had to be.

I wasn’t yet ready to call the midwife. It wasn’t yet 4 a.m..

The contractions were already pretty strong, and I was wandering around from room to room trying to find a way to get comfortable. Adam woke up Lyra and called a friend to let her know that we’d probably be dropping the little girl off at her house around the corner, and then we decided to call the midwife. It was around then, I guess, that I wandered back to my computer and sent a tweet: Labour? Yeah, pretty sure it is. Ow. The internet tells me that it was 3:52 a.m. when I sent it.

Lyra is concerned
Lyra rubbed my back during contractions and asked me if I was okay. It was incredibly sweet.

I remember being on the floor in the office at one point with Lyra asking me if I was going to be okay. I remember telling her that I was going to be fine, and that the baby was coming. She was rather concerned, and wanted to help somehow, so Adam told her to rub my back. It was pretty much the sweetest thing ever.

We called the midwife at that point, and she talked to me for a few minutes before saying we should wait as long as we were comfortable before going to the hospital. I was fine with that and went back to my fast, short, close-together contractions while Adam packed Lyra up in the car and took her to our friend’s place down the street. I think he was worried to leave me alone, but I have to admit that before I noticed he was gone, he had come back.

I was in contraction limbo for the next couple of hours. I moved from the office to the living room on the couch. I would look out the window from time to time and be surprised to see that it had moved from the darkness of night to pre-dawn light to dawn when I wasn’t paying attention to it. Adam asked me a few times if I was ready to go to the hospital yet, and I kept putting it off. I must have given in sometime around 6 a.m. – I remember climbing into the car and thinking that I really wasn’t looking forward to the drive, but at least it was early on a Sunday morning so there wouldn’t be any traffic…

Onward to the hospital

The drive to New Westminster’s Royal Columbian Hospital was uneventful (there were contractions; they weren’t fun), as was checking in to the hospital itself. We were put into the only labour and delivery room without a window and were told by a nurse that the midwife was on her way. We settled in for another round of contraction limbo and waited for the midwife, who didn’t arrive for a couple of hours I guess. I still had no sense of time, and with no window in the room I was beyond reality.

Stink, the octopus
This is Stink the Octopus, one of Lyra’s animals that she let me bring to the hospital so it could keep me company. Stink made me happy.

There hadn’t been much change by the time the midwife arrived. She checked me over and said that I was at 4 cm. They hooked up the monitor for the baby — since I was trying for a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After C-section) they have to monitor the baby for the entire span of labour — and put in an IV. Those are, I’m told, the primary differences between a VBAC and a vaginal birth for someone who hasn’t had a c-section. There are possible complications in a VBAC, so they prefer to be prepared with the IV, and they want to monitor the baby much more carefully than they would otherwise.

Once the monitor was hooked up, we could hear the baby’s heartbeat. Nonstop. For the entire duration of labour. We were to become very familiar with that 150 bpm sound…

The midwife also suggested I try dancing with Adam during contractions to help get through them. They were strong and required all of my focus. It seemed to help manage them, although I wouldn’t say it made them any less painful. It just made it easier to cope.

When they brought the hospital breakfast, I tried to eat some oatmeal, but everything made me queasy… or at least, contractions made me queasy. I stopped trying to eat after a few mouthfuls, knowing I would probably regret it later.

An unknown amount of time went by. At some point, the midwife checked me and said nearly nothing had changed, so she decided to rupture the membrane (aka break my water) in the hopes that it would move things forward. I swear it looked like she used chopsticks to do it. Once that was done, in theory, labour was supposed to move ahead — my cervix would dilate further, the baby would move down more into the pelvis, and we could go ahead and get the baby out of me.

In theory, anyway.

And then nothing changed for a long, long time

More time went by. The midwife kept checking on me and finding that, although I was still having regular contractions, nothing else was progressing. My cervix had basically stalled around 5 cm, I was utterly exhausted, and contractions were still every couple of minutes. And the baby’s 150 bpm heartbeat filled the room.

I guess sometime around 11 a.m. or noonish, the midwife offered an epidural so I could take a break. I had been having strong contractions nonstop every few minutes for around 11 hours. I remember holding on to Adam and saying “I just want a break”.

We didn’t have a birth plan beyond ‘have a baby at the end of the process’, so there were no preconceived ideas about going drug-free or no epidurals and so on. I was perfectly happy to take the midwife’s offer and get at least some form of rest before figuring out what to do next. So they called in the lady with the drugs and got me hooked up and lying on the bed. And I managed to get a bit of blessed sleep.

The in-labour epidural feels rather different from the one they did when I had the c-section with Lyra. I could still move my arms, and if I needed to I could move my legs a bit, although I wouldn’t have trusted myself to stand. With the c-section, I was completely without sensation from the upper chest down.

Variable intensity control
We were all pretty sure that if we played with that dial we could vary the intensity in the room, but we didn’t want to mess it up, just in case things got a little too intense.

I continued having contractions, but with the epi in I just didn’t feel them. It was a huge relief to get bits of sleep. I started to feel a bit hungry, but by this point the discussion had turned to the likelihood of my having to get a c-section if nothing progressed soon… It was starting to look like it might be the only option. The midwife decided to ask the on-duty doctor to come by and check me out (he who would be performing said c-section, should it go that way) for his opinion. She put in a call to have him stop by and see us.

We, however, were not at risk, by any stretch of the imagination. The baby’s heart rate was still going strong at 150, unchanged for hours. There was nothing specifically wrong… things just weren’t moving they way they ought to. That put us at the bottom of the list for the one doctor on the floor who had to visit a whole lot of other people — all of whom were having their own issues, more urgent than ours.

It was many, many hours of limbo before the doctor could make time to see me. By the time he did come in, I was starting to feel contractions again. I could only feel them on one side of my pelvis, which was weird. It started as pressure on the left side of my pelvis, and slowly, after a while, became more and more uncomfortable.

The doctor finally came by to see me. When he checked me out, he noted the same thing that the midwife had — I was still around 5 cm dilated, maybe 6 cm. He took a look at the scar from my previous c-section and commented on how invisible it was, then asked me who the doctor was that had done it. I couldn’t remember her name — I told him it was a woman in North Vancouver who had a really short name — and he guessed who it was. As soon as he said her name I confirmed it. He planned to tell her she did a great job the next time he saw her. I felt weirdly proud of my almost invisible c-section scar and the awesome doctor who did the work on me…

We discussed what was happening with me at that point, and where we thought things were going. The general consensus was that we were heading for a c-section, which I thought was both a disappointment and a relief. I was so very tired by that point I just wanted to have the baby out of me. It was late afternoon, and I hadn’t slept for more than a half an hour at a time since basically a day and a half earlier. And contractions are hard — they tire you out!

Time to try something else!

The doctor and midwife decided to try Oxytocin for two hours, just to see if that would get things moving the way they were supposed to. I was happy to give it a try, but also exhausted to think that it would be another two hours before we decided if I was having a c-section. I had pretty much resigned myself to the idea, had come to terms with it, and was ready to move on.

And so they plugged me into the Oxytocin, and the contractions got stronger and more frequent. I was still under the epidural, but it was wearing off and I was starting to feel the contractions stronger as time went by. They were pretty painful, actually. A friendly nurse upped my epidural, but that didn’t help. She then brought me the nitrous. I was a big fan of the nitrous. It made anything and everything bearable — I could still feel the pain of the contractions as the epidural wore off more and more, but when I breathed through that Darth Vader mask of awesomeness it just didn’t matter so much. It made dissociation even easier than I usually find it — and I can be pretty good at dissociation.

And so it went for another 1.5 hours. But the baby… she didn’t like the Oxytocin so much. There were a couple of drops in her heart rate as the stronger contractions kicked in. Nothing that required an emergency intervention, but after it happened a few times, the nurse decided that we should stop the Oxytocin drip just to be on the safe side. She turned it off after about an hour and a half of Oxy time. The midwife came back from getting dinner, and I was feeling contractions basically full-on (the epidural had worn off almost entirely for pain relief). I was leaning on the nitrous tank to get through the contractions, which were stronger than ever.

I noticed during one particularly strong contraction that, even through the laughing gas, I was feeling an overwhelming urge to push. I didn’t, but when I came out of that contraction I told the midwife exactly that. She decided to check me again and see if anything had changed… and things had! I was actually at 10 cm dilation.

They called the doctor back in, and he confirmed things. Up until that moment, I had basically given up on the VBAC and was assuming things were going to c-section territory – we all had, including the midwife and the nurses. It was evening, I was exhausted, and when the doctor said that we should go ahead and deliver this baby in the usual way, I remember that I thought I don’t know if I can do that. I really didn’t want to have to recover from a c-section again, though, and there was no way I would express any doubts aloud at that point. Some part of me was still stubborn enough to see it through — and that part of me is louder than the tired, doubting, scared part of me was.

So it’s not going to be a C-Section after all?

I don’t really know what time it was by the time we decided to try and deliver the baby. I can only say that it was evening. Adam told me later, when I asked, how long I pushed for — not long, maybe half an hour — so it must have been after 8:00 p.m. when we made the final decision.

The first thing I had to do was get the baby to move down. She wasn’t where she should have been, and I could feel that she was in the wrong spot. I learned pretty quickly how to push — it involved a lot of holding of the breath — and I felt her position change. Every time I pushed, I could feel it when I was doing it right, because she moved and I could tell it was right. It was hard — so much harder than just coping with the contractions had been up to that point, and that wasn’t exactly a walk in the park.

The midwife said something about having to make a cut because I was going to tear, and told me she was putting a topical freezing cream or something on. I’m not sure I would have noticed either way. I was both more inside my own body and more disconnected from pain than I had ever felt before. There was only moment after moment of push, then breath, then push, then breath, then take a break between contractions and refocus on what I knew was coming next. I was hyper-aware of my body and there was a lot of pain there, but my brain decided to brush it aside, force it to the back of my mind and just focus on the work that I had to do. Accept the pain and move on to what’s important: evict the baby from my body.

I could hear the conversation Adam and the midwife were having about the baby’s head showing, then going back, then showing again. It was strange, but motivating – I knew when I pushed and they saw the top of her head, I was doing things right and that it would be over at some point. There was no soon — there was only infinite now. But someday now would be not about evicting a baby.

When I finally pushed enough that she came out, it was like an intense pressure had just completely disappeared from my body. I was so relieved that, when they showed me the baby, I didn’t really care that I couldn’t see if it was a girl or a boy. I didn’t care that they were taking it over to check it out and make sure all was well. I didn’t even hear if they told me if it was a boy or girl. The baby cried, loud and strong, and I knew that she was okay, but I couldn’t really think. I could only feel, and all I felt was an overwhelming sense of relief that I was done trying to force a small person (who had proven throughout the day that she did NOT want to come out) through an even smaller opening in my body. I was relieved, I was happy, I was done with pushing (the placenta was a breeze after the baby experience) and that was all that mattered.

Jenny and baby Pandra
I finally had something to show for all of my hard work!

I got back on the nitrous while the midwife stitched me up. I remember making at least one joke… something about crazy hippies… and they gave Adam the baby while I underwent repairs. Our baby girl had been born, and she was healthy and looked exactly like her older sister did on the day she was born, which was weird. And I didn’t have to recover from a c-section this time around, which made me happy now that I wasn’t actually in labour anymore. She was born at exactly 9:00 p.m. on Father’s Day, June 17th. I had been in labour for 20 hours, and had slept for approximately 1 hour before I went into labour. I don’t think I’ve been so tired ever before. Adam didn’t look like he was in much better shape. But we had a new baby, so everything was lovely.

Naming the dragon

Lyra had us calling her new sibling Baby Dragon, so it only seemed right to keep a piece of that memory. We chose Pandra as the new baby girl’s name — a name that means chief dragon and is related to Pendragon. Her middle name, Galen, means calm — because that heartbeat just stayed the same, hour after hour, no matter what we seemed to throw at her. She was born at precisely 9:00 p.m. on Father’s day: Sunday, June 17th. I don’t think Adam minded giving up his Father’s day for that.

Sleep is for the WEAK!

… and the very, very lucky.

The holidays pretty much destroyed what few sleep habits Lyra had developed to date, and the first two weeks back at work became a huge challenge. We were able to get her to bed, but she would wake up often, and after midnight all she wanted was to nurse in her sleep. Let me tell you, that begins to chafe a bit after a while. I’ve been spending most nights in her room with her, and when I try to cut the nursing in her sleep off she would have screaming fits of rage and frustration. It drives you to drink.

To complicate matters, about a week and a half ago I went to visit family, and shortly after Lyra’s nap she woke up, nursed, and promptly threw up all over me. It was extremely unpleasant. This was followed by five days straight of tossing her cookies around 3am (although she also managed to throw up twice on her uncle Jordy as well). There were five nights in a row where I was sleeping with her, she woke up, coughed, and cookies were tossed all over me, her bed, or the floor. That’s five nights straight of combination epic nursing and using me as a soother (ow) followed by sickness. The weird part was, in between she seemed perfectly fine: happy, energetic, no fever. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong. She absolutely loved those 3am bathtimes. I wasn’t as big of a fan.

The daycare told us that nearly all the kids had it, and no one knew what it was.

And then Adam got sick. Although it manifested itself a bit differently, we are pretty sure he caught the same thing that Lyra had brought home from the daycare. He was sick for a good week, bad enough to stay home from work. I took Lyra to the doctor, who didn’t really know what was up and told us to wait and see how it worked itself out. That was Wednesday, and on Thursday the daycare sent notice home that the kids and many staff members had the Norwalk Virus. Joy of joys.

I still hadn’t fallen sick, at least not of the virus, but I had reached a point of exhaustion that I don’t think I’ve felt in years. Between Lyra waking up every couple of hours and having screaming fits or throwing up on me, and trying to hold things together at home with a sick husband on top if it, I could barely think anymore. In my weakened state, I caught a small cold – sniffles and sinuses, but thankfully no tossing of cookies.

By Thursday, though, Lyra was better. Adam was still not really well until Sunday. And I’m still just tired and sniffly.

After yet another night of Lyra having tantrums because I didn’t let her nurse nonstop, we had to figure out another sleep plan. I read the No-Cry Sleep Solution a month or two ago, and decided to take some ideas from it and see if I could piece together a plan for convincing the little girl that sleep is not the enemy. Last night was an initial attempt at implementing it. The main problem is that in order to get some sleep, I usually lie down in Lyra’s room with her when she wakes up. I’ll try to stay awake so that when she falls asleep I can climb back into my own bed, but I mostly lose that fight and the night passes. She sleeps longer when she has someone in bed with her. I can’t entirely blame her – I sleep better with someone else in bed too.

When I fall asleep in those times when I’m trying so hard to stay awake, I sleep terribly. I’m restless and I have bad dreams and I wake up frequently because I really want to climb back into my own bed. It makes me cranky sometimes. The grand plan (as it stands right now) is to get her back to sleep without lying down with her, which sounds simple enough. Unfortunately for me it means that she wakes up more frequently, so last night went something like this:

Asleep on the floor9:00pm Lyra’s bedtime
11pm 1st wake-up, back to sleep in 10 minutes.
My bedtime was somewhere between these.
12:30am 2nd wake-up, back to sleep in 15 minutes
1:30am 3rd wake-up, back to sleep in 15 minutes
3:00am 4th wake-up, back to sleep in 10 minutes
4:30am 5th wake-up, back to sleep in 20 minutes (I think I may have dozed off with her this time. It’s hazy.)
6:00am 6th wake-up, back to sleep in 10 minutes
7:00am I had to actually wake her up to go to daycare. She would sleep till 8am happily at this point.

(note: Back to sleep means she fell deeply enough asleep that I could leave without waking her. She’s pretty touchy at the best of times.)

Now that I’m looking at the list, it’s a bit scary. The longest stretch of sleep it seems I got last night was an hour and a half. No wonder I felt like a zombie at work all day. The sleep I did get, however, was deep and felt truly restful. It was in my own bed, and it was comfortable and cozy and under my down duvet.

What makes last night a success to at least a small degree was the complete lack of tantrums, and the fact that I somehow settled her reasonably quickly and still managed to go back to my own room. In theory, she’ll start to sleep for longer and longer, until eventually she sleeps through the night… whatever that means.

Yeah, my girl, she’s not so into the sleeping thing. I plan to keep track of the awakenings for the next while (however long I can keep it up I guess) to see if there’s any improvement. If there isn’t… well, I have no idea what to do next. I’ll worry about if it comes to that. I’ll just be happy to see her return to her old 3-hour sleeping spans. Five hours would be amazing.

It’s like juggling feral cats!

There’s a lot going on this week.

On Sunday Adam’s bank card didn’t work at Tim Horton’s for breakfast, so he called the bank. They confirmed that his card had been compromised. When they went over recent transactions and found a $400.00 withdrawal from a bank machine in Quebec, we were not impressed. We were less impressed to learn that, while the bank will refund us the money, it would not be immediate and there would be paperwork, and it would likely take a few weeks. Naturally, this is around rent cheque time, and our rent hadn’t yet been removed from our account – and we were now short.

Fortunately for us I had a cheque for some photography work I had done that I hadn’t yet put into my photography account. I deposited that to cover rent, and promptly started wondering how I was going to pay for Adam’s birthday present next week. Still haven’t figured that one out.

For the moment, we are in limbo with the bank account stuff. Adam’s card doesn’t work, so he needs a new one, which means going in to a branch to pick one up. This was his plan for this morning before work.

He woke up this morning feeling kind of crappy, but then he’s been feeling on and off crappy since Lyra’s birthday or so in early July, so I guess he didn’t think much of it beyond “I feel crappy.” He hopped on a bus to head down to the bank and had to get off two stops later due to extreme nausea. He walked over to our doctor’s office and got in to see her pretty much immediately.

The Doctor expressed some concerns about him having lost weight, and decided that it’s probably been the same thing wrong with him for the past month. She ordered a barrage of blood tests and the like, and sent him off to the lab with instructions to avoid Lyra and stay home from work until they know what he’s got, in case it’s something bad and contagious (Norwalk?) or something along those lines.

Off he went to the lab, which is just upstairs from the doctor’s office. They took a few vials of blood, and then he passed out on the floor. He tells me that he lay there for about fifteen minutes until he felt up to walking home. Our apartment building and the lab have one small building separating them… he was in pretty rough shape.

Since then, he’s been hanging out at home, mostly sleeping and feeling terrible. I left work a bit early to pick up Lyra and bring her home – normally he picks her up after work. She’s doing okay – she doesn’t seem to have whatever it is that he has, right now. Still, we’re playing it safe and he’s not spending much time with her, which really sucks for both of them.

Adam has an unknown illness that might be serious, is hopefully treatable, and may be contagious, but we can’t do a thing until we know what it was. And some asshats stole our bank card information and then stole cash from out of our account the day after was due to come out. We’re just lucky it hadn’t yet, or it would have bounced. Or maybe it did and we just don’t know it yet. I have no idea how it works with this bank, I haven’t bounced a cheque in years.

My stress levels are slightly elevated. Also, I need to eat my dinner before I develop a blood sugar imbalance.

Sleep heals

Lyra slept last night from 11:30pm until 7:00am. She did not wake up once coughing, or to nurse, or anything. I think I feel so much better today because I got that 7 hours of sleep uninterrupted. Adam was sleeping on the couch, since he’s now sick with what we have, so Lyra and I had the bed all to ourselves. We were still all snuggled up together, but in the middle of the bed, which was nice.

So today I’m barely coughing, my throat doesn’t hurt nearly as much, my nose is nearly cleared up, and I don’t have the headache or that wiped out feeling anymore. I’m so excited I’m going to go out this afternoon and get some air and exercise. The sky is clear, the sun is shining, and it feels like springtime. Whee!

A mommy blog moment

Lyra is asleep in my lap, so I’m going to take the opportunity to write.

I’ve been working on getting her to nap in the bassinet. It isn’t really going quickly, or all that well, to be honest. Most of my successes are either short-lived (she stays asleep for fifteen minutes then wakes up terrified and crying because she’s alone) or few and far between. I think she’s slept for longer than fifteen minutes during the day maybe twice ever. Tonight, since I’m going out to the Muddbunnies AGM, I’ve given up trying to get her to nap elsewhere. It is better for her to have slept and be happy for her daddy while he gets to take care of her on his own for the evening. We will return to trying the bassinet again tomorrow.

In developmental news, I think Lyra is getting closer to crawling every day. She can hold herself up off the ground on her arms and legs, in a crawl position, just fine. She doesn’t yet have the coordination to move forward, but you can see that it’s coming along. She also loves sitting up, and is starting to launch herself forward onto her hands from sitting when she wants to reach something out of her reach. That’s really just a step away from launching into a crawl. I’m both excited at her imminent mobility and afraid of the repercussions. I’m hoping that my mom can come over sometime soon and help me re-organize the apartment to make it babyproof. Things like the old bassinet have to get moved out, as well as the change table, and we need to find a solution for Lyra’s clothing collection. At some point I really must pick her up a small dresser or something.

It’s amazing to watch her change so quickly. When she learns a new skill, it’s instantaneous, and she knows it – as soon as she’s figured out how to do something, she can do it, without seeming to need practice. There’s something awe-inspiring about watching how a human develops skills so naturally, and it makes it so easy to celebrate things that I would have previously taken for granted – like sitting up unassisted, reaching for things and trading them from hand to hand, putting her arms up to indicate she wants to be picked up, and that sort of thing. To see the moment that she first figures it out, and to see how she can do it from that moment on is something amazing that never occurred to me as being so before. I’ve never spent this much time with a baby before, so I’ve never had the opportunity to see this sort of development first-hand.

Sure, I’ve raised plenty of kittens and puppies and the like, but it really isn’t the same, in that sense. Kittens and puppies develop fast – they can already walk within days of being born. There’s something entirely different, though, about watching and helping a creature of your own species learn how to be. Lyra has always been a small person in my eyes, and watching and helping her discover how to be that person is inspiring. I helped bring this little person into the world, and that is just amazing.

On the other hand, of course, I get these occasional flashes of fear – fear that something could happen to her, the kind of fear that makes my stomach churn and my heart sink and my mouth dry – and fear that something could happen to me, the kind that overwhelms me with sadness at the thought that I might miss her growing up, that I might not be there to help her when she needs me, to the point that I nearly want to cry thinking about it. There is so much emotion invested in this little person sleeping on my lap that it’s impossible to explain to anyone else adequately. And I’m not someone who worries about the worst that could happen any more. I used to be, but I taught myself to be calm, and not to worry about things, and to look on the bright side, just like Monty Python told me to. I feel like I’m a better person for that. But these waves of fear that appear and then vanish in a moment – they’re visceral; subconscious, even. And maybe I’m a better person for having them, too.

Then I look at Adam, and I feel this sense of love and accomplishment that I’ve found someone so good for me as he is. I went through a lot of rough and disappointing relationships before we got together. I was promised or engaged three or four times before him – and I feel lucky that none of those worked out, because looking back, none would have been the right person for me, and some would have been the entirely wrong person. I feel like he’s my partner, my equal, and my balance, and now we have a daughter together – the natural progression of a relationship that has been going on for twelve years, from a solid friendship, to lovers, to parents. I have no fear that after we’ve raised our child(ren?) we will still have that solid basis that we built our life together on. We have evolved together this far, it isn’t that much of a stretch to assume we will continue to do so, with a little work. The work isn’t that difficult for us, as long as we remember to do it. I don’t think it will be a problem.

So here I am now: a mommy, a wife, and still myself – just evolved a little more, and excited about everything to come. Life is good.