Today’s the day for a dip in the lake

Guess what I did this weekend. I brought Baby Bear to the lake, and he went in the water!

Sounds like a pretty typical weekend for those dealing with this hot New England summer (I’m NOT complaining, bring on those beach days…at least on weekends, when I’m not sitting in an office).

For me, this is anything but typical.

My family is lucky enough to have access to a cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee during the summers. A place to sleep, a place to sit on the sand or float in the water pretty much any time we want. Nice, right? Except, in the almost five years since becoming a mom, this is the very first time I’ve brought my child to the lake. I’ve been up there with family, friends, cousins, cousins kids, nieces. I’ve been up there pregnant and not pregnant. I’ve been up there prior to being a mom and after becoming a mom. But never have I been up there with my child. Until this weekend.

Quinlan was born towards the end of lake season. By the time the following summer rolled around he was still admitted to the hospital. The following summer when he had finally been discharged, he had a trach, ventilator and g-tube. All of which make it hard (not impossible, but hard) to make the one and a half hour drive to NH, stay overnight, never mind taking a dip in the lake. Again, not an impossible task, but one that never seemed like a viable option for us.

I had often thought about what trips we could take as a family. It was a short list. Renting an RV so we could drive a good distance but still be able to keep his ventilator, battery, O2 monitor, and g-tube plugged in. And, of course, keeping track of where all the closest hospitals would be at all times. We looked into renting a house for a week. Again, an easier vacation so all of his machines could be plugged in most of the time. This would involve checking with the renter to ensure electrical outlets were up to date and could handle multiple machines being plugged in continuously. This could be doable. And yes, still mapping out exactly where the closest hospital was located. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to take him on vacations. It was far from that. It’s that being the parents of a medically complex child, especially one that requires being plugged in at all times, literally plugged in, puts a bit of a different spin on “vacationing”. No vacation is easy with kids. In fact you usually need a vacation from the vacation (from what I hear from others but am slowly learning for myself). To leave the comfort of your own home, where you know where every extra trach is, which drawer every piece of gauze or medical tape is kept, and having a nurse as another set of hands and eyes watching over your child, that’s scary. If you’re lucky, you may have a nurse or two that will come on vacation with you for a couple days. But I’m guessing having multiple nurses abandon their day to day lives to vacation with you is rare, and no one can blame them.

Packing up Baby Bear for two nights away was a bit of an ordeal for me. Not because I’m new to packing up a child, but because packing for two days when it doesn’t include a hospital stay, extra g-tube, ventilator battery and ambu bag seemed surreal. Yes, I certainly overpacked. Did he need 12 bibs for two days? No. Three days, maybe, but I still could have gotten away with far less. This new “normal”, which actually IS “normal” for many, is something I’m still getting used to. (Next time I’ll cut the number down to 8 bibs).

It’s not easy to sit here and feel fully excited about doing this “typical” activity. Something I can say I’m finally able to do, that I’ve wanted to do for years. In my mind that makes it seem like there were no firsts or “finally able to do’s” with Quinlan. Or that the activities we did do with Quinlan I wasn’t excited about. Clearly that wasn’t the case.

I guess it’s just that every new experience that I’m able to say “yes, I’ve done that” makes this new world of ours seem that much more real. Real in the sense that our “abnormal” is being replaced by “typical” and that comes with all sorts of emotions.

Sometimes I still feel like I fit in better with the “abnormal” than with the “typical”. Is that normal?

💚Mama Bear

Today’s the day to forget the wean and chill

A new realization has hit me. Something I’ve been told over the last 2.5 years and have “heard”, but haven’t really been applying to my life as I probably should be.

It started a couple weeks ago when I decided I wanted to wean off of my med (aka chill pill). I talked to my doctor about it and she was all for it, as long as I felt okay with it. My thought was “Well, yeah I’m okay with it. It’s a low dose. I’ve been feeling better in terms of major anxiety. Let’s wean!” So, I proceeded to take my chill pill every other night, instead of every night. Okay great. Here we go.

About a week later, I started noticing that I was feeling a bit more sad, breaking down more than I had been, more anxious, thinking back to more of the sad times with Quinlan, more of the angry “why” feelings instead of the proud “wow” feelings. Hmmm, okay, well this hasn’t happened in a while. I know grief comes in waves but this just seemed different.

It didn’t occur to me until a day or so later that I was having withdrawals from the meds. WTF! I did not see this coming. How did I not expect to feel a change?! It’s so obvious, yet it wasn’t on my radar. Duh!

After talking to a couple people and mentioning how I was feeling (and realizing it is withdrawals. Again, duh!), a couple things made me come to this realization (don’t worry, the actual realization is coming, I know you’re waiting in utter suspense).

First, a close friend of mine asked the simple question “why are you coming off the med?” Seems like an easy question to ask and answer. I quickly replied “Just to see if I can cause I don’t want to be on it forever”.

Okay so there’s that.

The second point that was brought to my attention is from a complete stranger. A friend of a friend I met at a bereavement conference I attend once a year. She told me she got this pep talk from a great friend of hers, and it hit me, in a good way: “You have been through a trauma that nobody should have to endure, and most cannot even fathom. It’s your reality so you’ve adjusted and somehow, on some level, come to view this as normal. It’s not fair and it’s not normal. GO EASY ON YOURSELF. If the goals you set for yourself take a little longer to reach then that is OKAY. You got up today, you did your best. You’re in the early days of this trauma of losing your child. Go easy on yourself.”

Like, woah. Realization (that I’ve “heard” a million times): GO EASY ON MYSELF.

It makes sense. It really truly does. But, how does one do that? It sounds easy, but to actually do it, consistently, every day. Do you know how hard that actually sounds to me? Probably part of the reason I’ve “heard” it for so long but actually just realizing now that it needs to happen. I’m not talking about “taking it easy” like leaving dirty dishes in the sink overnight “to soak” (as my husband likes to call it) so I can relax for a few minutes, or sitting down to watch some mindless tv when the baby has a few toys to keep him occupied. Those things I have no problem doing, as many can tell you. It’s the deep down, in the core, mindfully making myself ACTUALLY go easy thing that needs to happen.

When my friend had asked me the simple question of “why” and I replied “cause I don’t want to be on it forever”, well, that’s a silly answer. Why do I feel the need to prove that to myself right now? Two and a half years of grief after losing your child is no where close to forever. Really, it’s just beginning. If I can’t wean right now, then I can’t and that’s fine. In the words of a complete stranger, my new normal is not normal. I’ve been through a trauma that nobody should have to endure, and most cannot even fathom. If I can’t reach that goal right now and it takes a little longer, that’s OKAY.

I’ll be honest, most of the time I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that I am a bereaved parent. I lost my child. That doesn’t happen in my world. That’s not normal. But it is my normal. So, if treating myself a little easier, maybe be a bit vulnerable, well then so be it. I have to realize that’s what has to happen.

And, so yes, if I need to stay on my chill pill for now, it’s the least I can do to actually go easy on myself (and still leave the dishes in the sink, and watch Real Housewives. Don’t judge.)

💚Mama Bear

Today’s the day for my own war – PTSD

Two days home sick with Baby Bear. Multiple temp checks. Multiple doses of Tylenol given. Two appointments at the doctor. One poke of his little finger and a swab of his nose. All the cuddles.

And some PTSD triggers to boot.

Damn, this whole PTSD thing is real.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Before living through my own experiences with PTSD, I expected it to be what I’m sure many people think. Something you are diagnosed with after something horrific, crazy, blood shedding, like war. Men and women coming home after being in the midst of battles, fighting for their lives, seeing things one should never see. You hear about these heroes coming home and not being able to function because they are mentally going back to that horrible place and that horrible time. Before going through it myself, this is what I thought of when I’d hear the term PTSD. Something that sounded incredibly difficult and life changing, but something I assumed I would never experience because I was never going to war.

Well, let’s take another look at the above:

– being in the midst of battles (medical battles) – CHECK

– fighting for their lives, seeing things one should never see (my child being poked and prodded, hooked up to machines, medically paralyzed, not breathing) – CHECK

– not being able to function because of mentally going back to a horrible place and a horrible time (needing medications for anxiety/depression, not being able to go to work, etc) – CHECK

Apparently, I’ve lived through my own version of war where PTSD is real. A war all too many experience for many more reasons than I had ever imagined.

Some PTSD symptoms I’ve dealt with have mostly been anxiety (hence the medication, my “chill pill” if you will) and trying to get certain thoughts out of my head, ones that I’m pretty good at deflecting as quickly as possible, most of the time, but it’s never easy.

A couple examples of triggers for me have been: ambulances at night, for one. First it makes me think about the red lights I saw coming up the street the night Quinlan passed, waving them down to get inside as quickly as possible. After getting passed the red lights trigger, I always question who is in the ambulance. Is it another child fighting for their life? Yuck, not a great thought.

The hospital where Quinlan was taken (and where I saw him for the last time) is another big one. This is a trigger I had to conquer head on when I was taken there, by ambulance at night (red lights) shortly after Baby Bear was born (there’s a couple triggers right there tied up nicely and handed to me with a bow). That was a jump in head first type of situation. Hormones plus triggers. Talk about a long night. All is good, thankfully, and I was able to kick that trigger in the rear (although I still hope to never go back there again).

Another trigger that I’d say sounds the oddest (if there is such thing as an odd trigger) is a particular album. Taylor Swift’s 1989 album. I would listen to the cd in the car on my way to the hospital to visit Quinlan when he was first admitted, before we knew the hell we would soon be experiencing. I hear any song from the album and I immediately go back to sitting in the car, usually on Rte 93 stuck in traffic, thinking about the early days when we thought that time was just a quick bump in the road. Clearly it was not just a bump. It sucks because I really like that album. That’s the thing with triggers, it takes away certain parts of your life that seemed so normal before. Something as simple as an album.

Now that Baby Bear has gone through his first real illness, the first illness since dealing with Quinlan’s illness, I’m trying my hardest not to assume he’ll end up in the hospital (for 10 months). Or thinking we’ll be adding a whole list of specialists that he’ll now have to see. Having him tested for RSV made me cringe. RSV is what put Quinlan back in the hospital, where he stayed for 10 months. I know it’s a completely different situation (and those words go over and over in my head) but that’s where my mind now goes. My sick child, apparently another trigger.

It’s tough. It’s real. It’s not always a physical breakdown that the world can see to know you’re dealing with it. It can be something as small as hearing a specific word that takes your breath away and puts your mind in a place you don’t want to be. It can be talking yourself out of it, knowing it’s a trigger, and remembering that it’s going to be okay. Or it can be something like taking medication every day to attempt to make it go away. All tough stuff. But unfortunately, all normal.

Figures one “normal” aspect of my life has been dealing with the “abnormal”.

💚Mama Bear