Blog Hop: My Writing Process

BlogHop

I was in the middle of this post two weeks ago when I unexpectedly dashed to the hospital to have a baby–who is doing great, by the way! Gosh, he certainly gave us quite a scare.

So let’s try this again…

I’m happy to take part in the “My Writing Process” Blog Hop this week. I was invited by Amy Reade, which is one of the best names I’ve ever heard for a writer!

Amy’s blog, called Reade and Write (again, love the title), can be found at http://amreade.wordpress.com. Her first novel, Secrets of Hallstead House, will be published in July 2014, and she has two more novels on the way. One of the things I like best about Amy’s writing is something that she mentions on her own Blog Hop: “My books have a strong sense of place, so hopefully my readers will want to visit the places I write about.” She does a lovely job of painting a picture for the readers, and I definitely find myself wanting to take a trip to the places she describes.

For this Blog Hop, I’ll answer a few questions about my writing process and then introduce you to three other writers, who will pass the Blog Hop along next Monday.

The questions:

1. What am I working on?

I’m working on a memoir about my first few years as a mom to a daughter with special needs. And I just helped edit a fantastic anthology written by parents, family, and friends of people who have Williams syndrome. Here’s a link to the book on Amazon. And here’s a link to the book on the Williams Syndrome Association’s online store. The book is inspiring, heart-warming, funny, and informative. I think that everyone will enjoy reading this book, whether his/her child has Williams syndrome or not. But I also think it will be especially helpful to those parents whose children are newly diagnosed. It gives you a glimpse into possibilities for the future and also makes it clear that you are not on this road alone. I’ve known about Emmy’s diagnosis for almost three years, and I still learned a lot from the stories in this book. I highly recommend reading it!

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My writing falls into the category of memoir/personal essay. I’ve actually been writing memoir for a really long time–well before I had children. For some reason, I can be brutally honest in my writing, something that can be more difficult for me in conversation because I’m kind of shy. But when I write, it’s all out there on the page. Likewise, my favorite memoirs are the unflinchingly honest ones. (And I read A LOT of memoirs.) I don’t respond to a book as much when I can tell that someone is hiding behind his/her words.

3. Why do I write what I do?

If I don’t write about my experiences, they sit beneath the surface of my skin and drive me bonkers. I’ve always felt compelled to just get it out. And, perhaps more importantly, I like that my personal writing builds a connection to others and sometimes offers them advice, comfort, and support.

4. How does my writing process work?

Wellllll, I commit to turning in a draft of a chapter. I put it on my calendar and stare at the date for a while. I procrastinate on the actual writing for a long time, while still obsessively thinking about the chapter topic–turning it over and over in my mind. And then, FINALLY, I find a couple hours before the deadline and pound it out. Very healthy process. 🙂

And now I’m sending the Blog Hop along to these talented writers:

  • Eva Lesko Natiello is a native New Yorker who wrote her debut domestic thriller, THE MEMORY BOX, as a result of relocating to the New Jersey suburbs with her husband and two children. THE MEMORY BOX is a Houston Writers Guild 2014 Manuscript award winner; it will be released June 2014. Eva is a self-proclaimed curious observationist whose oddball musings can be read on evanatiello.com. She improvs songs as a way to dialogue with her kids. They find it infrequently entertaining. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.  
  • Lillian Duggan is a creative writer, mom, wife, wannabe world traveler, and freelance editorial professional and translator. Her short story, “The Orchid,” was published by www.everydayfiction.com in August of 2013. She’s currently working (slowly…) on her first novel. On her blog, My Ideal World, she writes about her efforts to achieve her goals and make her dreams come true one step at a time while raising two children (www.myidealworldblog.com).
  • Rosanne Kurstedt has a Ph.D. in education, teaches at Fordham University and William Patterson University, and is the author of And I Thought About You (illustrated by Lisa Carletta-Vietes), an honorable mention recipient at the New England Book Festival, New York Book Festival, and Paris Book Festival. She was also the recipient of a 2013 Barbara Karlin Grant Letter of Commendation. In addition, Rosanne writes professional books for teachers, including Teaching Writing With Picture Books as Models (Scholastic, 2000). You can visit Rosanne at her website, at her blog, Kaleidoscope, on Facebook, and on Twitter too! @rlkurstedt

And here’s Theo…awww…

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He’s Home!!

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Thanks for all of your well wishes and words of support! They mean so much! Theo came home yesterday. He spent 8 days in the NICU which, coincidentally, was exactly the same amount of time as Emmy when she was born. Theo had RDS (Respiratory Distress Syndrome) and PPHN (Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn). Emmy, too, had PPHN. Isn’t that bizarre??

It’s probably obvious to parents of children with Williams syndrome that Theo doesn’t have that diagnosis as well. (You start to become an expert at identifying the facial characteristics.) But I can’t get over the fact that both kids had PPHN and ended up in the NICU. (By the way, Charlotte was healthy as an ox when she came out. All 3 kids were full-term C-sections.)

Over the past few years, I’ve become fascinated by genetics. If I had more time, I would study it.

For now, I’m tired and totally spacey. (I can barely put a sentence together. I keep saying to Dan, “Can you get that thing? You know that thing? It’s on the other thing?”) But I am also THRILLED to have Theo HOME!

Oh and I am so thankful for NICU nurses. PICU nurses too. Labor and Delivery nurses too. NURSES IN GENERAL!!!! They took such good care of all of us. Thank you!!

Here are pictures of the girls holding their baby brother for the first time. Charlotte was talking in a sweet baby voice: “Hello, little Theo. Look at your little feetsies!” And Emmy wanted desperately to hug him, kiss him, and hold his hand. She kept saying, “My turn!”

And Theo looks totally different. He lost a bit of weight. We’ll see what he looks like when he fills out more.

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Happy to be home!

Theodore

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I was actually in the middle of a blog post on Monday when I clicked “save draft” and headed to my doctor’s office. My blood pressure had been high for the past few weeks, so they asked me to come in for another check. Sure enough, it was even higher. They sent me to Labor and Delivery, where it was determined that we should go ahead with my C-section, three days earlier than scheduled.

I was nervous about the C-section, but I’m nervous anyway when it comes to surgery. It did seem as if my body was giving me signals that it was time. The high blood pressure was a problem and, sure enough, when the OB opened me up she found the uterine window that we’d be warned about.

When I had Emmy, my uterus was very thin, and we knew that we would have to be careful during this pregnancy. A thin uterus could lead to a uterine rupture, which would be bad news for everyone involved. I was monitored during this pregnancy but, sure enough, when the OB performed the C-section a very, very thin window was there. She also saw my baby’s hand under it, waving. So, yeah, we were advised not to have another after this one…

But here he is! My third baby, Theodore. We call him Theo. 🙂

When they put Theo on my chest, I immediately noticed that he was coughing up a fair amount of mucus. I knew right away that he was going to the NICU. I’ve learned so much since Emmy was born. I know the signs. Theo actually didn’t look as bad as Emmy. When she came out, she was blue, ice cold, and had a strange cry (like a cat with its tail caught). Theo, on the other hand, was rosy and warm, and his cry sounded substantial, though a little garbled from the mucus. But I just had a feeling.

Sure enough, Theo ended up in the NICU. His blood sugar was low, but it looked like all he needed was a little intervention and some time to clear the mucus out of his lungs. I actually felt ok with him going there. It wasn’t ideal, but I knew that they did wonderful things for Emmy when she was born, so I wasn’t as afraid as I was the first time around.

I put on my brave, big girl smile and waited patiently for him to come out of it. And he was doing ok for a while…until he wasn’t.

A day or two later (I can’t even remember…), the doctor came into my room to say that Theo was requiring more oxygen support and would have to go on a ventilator. I couldn’t help myself and asked about all kinds of hypothetical situations. And then I just lost it. Everything came up again. And I mean EVERYTHING: Emmy’s time in the NICU, Emmy’s heart surgery, Emmy’s cardiac arrests; Emmy’s crash onto life support. I relived all of it. While Dan went down the hall with the doctor to watch Theo’s vent get put in, a really sweet nurse came to comfort me. I told her that you can only be brave for so long before you just lose it…and I lost it.

When I wiped my tears and was able to make my way down the hall to see Theo, one of the NICU nurses kindly handed me a tissue and said that it’s been a tough few days. I heard myself say, “It’s been a tough few years.”

I was really down.

When I got back to my room, my sister sent me a text that said she was amazed at our positivity when Emmy was in the hospital last year. She was impressed by our optimism and our faith that everything would be fine. She loved that we cheer-leaded Emmy along to good health. Emmy needed that positivity, and luckily it was radiating out of me.

But now it was harder for me to conjure up that positivity. I just felt completely drained. I guess I never thought I would need to harness that ability again. And I didn’t know how I was going to get it back.

Luckily, a wonderful friend called and talked me through it. She’s a very smart and solution-based person, and she’s also spiritual. All of it helped IMMENSELY.

One of the things that was difficult for me was that Theo’s numbers would jump around whenever anyone touched him or talked near him, including his mama. So I had to leave him be in order for him to get better. I felt so helpless. But my friend had a great suggestion, which was to ask for some of Theo’s swaddling blankets, sleep with them, and then give them back with my scent. That made me feel soooo much better. My spirits came back up, and Theo also started doing well.

So now it’s the slow and steady wait. He’s still on the ventilator, but he’s showing signs of progress. I’m sad and exhausted and still in pain from the C-section…but I’m also positive! I know he can do it. I can’t wait to have him home, and his sisters are SO excited to meet him. Emmy keeps saying, “Theo coming!”

Yes he is, Emmy. Sit tight. 🙂

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The Passing of Time

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I’m so aware of the passing of time right now. Charlotte turned 5 years old  on May 21. Last year, we were celebrating her birthday with my mom and my aunt at home, when I got the call from my husband who was in the hospital with our other little girl–they were going to try and take Emmy off life support in about an hour. She had been on life support for a week and, on Charlotte’s birthday, they were going to see if Emmy’s heart could beat on its own. I was terrified, nervous, and excited. I felt like Emmy had come so far already, and I had confidence that she could pull through. But I was also scared that this wouldn’t go well. Either way, it had to be done. She was starting to bleed from the life support machine.

I gave Charlotte birthday wishes, hugs, and kisses, and hopped in the car. The hospital was about an hour away, so I would hopefully be able to get there just in time. I don’t think my own heart has ever beat as rapidly as it did on that drive. I kept talking to Emmy in my head: “You can do it! Come on, Emmy!”

Right before I crossed the bridge to the hospital, a song came on the radio. It’s called “Keep Your Head Up” by Ben Howard. I’d heard this song a couple times and always liked it, but this time the lyrics affected me differently. I flew over the bridge with the chorus in my ears: “Keep your head up. Keep your heart strong.” I cranked up the volume and, with tears running down my cheeks, sang along: “Keep your head up. Keep your heart strong.” I kept singing louder and louder, willing Emmy to hear me.

I got to the hospital just before she was taken off life support, and it was such a relief when the doctor came to get us in the waiting room. She said Emmy had transitioned off of life support nicely, and her heart was beating on its own!

First we felt joy and relief! Then the exhaustion of the prior week came washing over me. Emmy had gone in for heart surgery on May 16 and, after two cardiac arrests and a crash onto life support, we had been living on pins and needles. We were also trying to make things as “normal” as possible for Charlotte–keeping our promise to celebrate her birthday; trying to devote as much time to her as possible. That day alone, I had made several trips to the hospital. I brought Charlotte in to celebrate with Daddy in the waiting room. Then went back home. Then drove back when Emmy was ready to come off of life support. Dan and I were beyond tired–physically and emotionally–and it would be another few weeks before we were able to bring Emmy home…

And despite all of our hard work last year, Charlotte’s birthday was still kind of a disaster. I think that, emotionally, she is very tuned into us. She could feel that things weren’t right, even though we tried to make the day special. She was a trooper about celebrating her birthday in the hospital’s waiting room, but she also sensed that this wasn’t how birthdays usually go.

This year was much different–thankfully. She had an absolutely awesome birthday, and Emmy was there to celebrate with her.

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Looking at 5 year old Charlotte, I keep thinking of the little baby we met in the hospital in 2009. How quickly it all goes by! It makes me want to freeze time.

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Ironically, during the newborn stage, I wanted time to speed up. We were so tired! We didn’t understand why our baby didn’t sleep. No one told me about that part. Ok, they did, but I apparently didn’t listen. 😉 Now I’d like to go back to that day we met her and learn to take it slow.

I’m constantly caught between focusing on the future and settling into the present. This morning, Emmy was saying funny things at the breakfast table, which is typical for her. She loves to make people laugh. And I found myself thinking, “I can’t WAIT until she’s 10 years old!”

I mean, now the funny things she says are short and sweet: “My birthday too! Need presents! Emmy need presents too!” I can only imagine what a ham she’s going to be as she grows older. But then again…when she’s 10, I’ll be longing to recapture these toddler years.

So here I am at 36 weeks pregnant.

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And on the one hand, I am SO ready! I want to meet this baby, and also I’d like to fast forward through the uncomfortable feelings of the next few weeks (heaviness, lethargy, etc). I’m also nervous about my uterine window holding up and my third C-section. I’ve already been to Labor and Delivery twice over the past few weeks! Once I gave myself an electric shock (by putting my finger in a socket, which was beyond dumb), and the second time I was bleeding (but I’m ok now). So let’s get this show on the road! I’m ready for baby.

Then again…this will probably be my last pregnancy. I really need to try and appreciate these last few weeks. When I let fear and anticipation get the better of me, I live in the future. I want to just end up on the *other* side of everything. I have trouble with the right now.

Sometimes it’s ok to focus on the other side, like imagining Emmy off of life support. That’s an experience that I don’t want to relive.

Other times, it’s better to settle into the present. Time passes whether we appreciate these moments or not. Makes more sense to appreciate them. Hope you enjoy today!

To the Newly Diagnosed

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A couple people whose newborn babies were just diagnosed with Williams syndrome contacted me over the past few days. They found my blog and were comforted by the cute pictures and stories about Emmy, who has brought such incredible joy to our lives.

When you first find out that your newborn baby has any kind of syndrome, it can be a devastating time. You were expecting the experience that you so carefully planned out in your mind (What to Expect When You’re Expecting, anyone?? That book certainly doesn’t talk about Williams syndrome!). And then you find out that the little person you just gave birth to had a secret when he/she was in your belly–and you had no idea. You Google the syndrome and find information that frightens you. There may be serious medical complications, and there will surely be learning disabilities. How could this little baby that you don’t even know yet come with a laundry list of possible problems? It’s the biggest shock of your life, and you’re not even sure where to begin.

And here is where the wedge comes in. A barrier sinks down in between you and your baby, and it’s completely out of your control. You want so badly to lift that barrier. You want to stop the rush of feelings that come at you every day (sadness, guilt, anger, confusion). You want SO BADLY to accept this baby. You want to just “get over” what you’re feeling. What can’t I stop thinking about this syndrome? And then you wonder…When will it get better? When will I stop feeling like an awful person and begin to embrace this diagnosis and accept my own child?

I think we’re expecting a lot from ourselves. We had a certain vision in our mind. That vision was completely turned upside down, and we expect ourselves to just “get over it.” There’s actually a grieving process that needs to happen. You need to grieve the loss of your original vision–the perfect plan that you had in your head. You need to allow yourself to feel every single feeling that comes your way–without passing judgment on yourself.

And then, with time, that barrier will start to lift. You feel yourself getting drawn into your child. You stop thinking about Williams syndrome as much. You start to really fall in love with who your child is becoming. Those old visions that you once had are now replaced by new visions and plans. You get excited at your child’s potential. You see your child blossom into a sweet, loving person, and you can’t believe your luck. You were given this incredible child. You were given this opportunity to stand side-by-side with your child and watch him or her do amazing things. You were brought into a special world that not everyone gets to see.

For me, it was Emmy’s personality that changed everything. Early on, I read that people with Williams syndrome have “a very endearing personality.” They have big smiles and are overly friendly. I clung to those words as if they were my life raft. Everything else I read seemed scary. But “endearing personality” and “friendly” were music to my ears. Please let this be true, I thought.

And then Emmy cried and screamed for 6 long months, and I thought “Well, I guess this isn’t going to be true in our case! There goes that life raft!”

And then came the big smile that turned my world upside down. HOW I LOVE THAT SMILE!!! That was a Williams syndrome smile, and it was big and beautiful and bright. It was a glimpse into her personality.

The next thing to emerge was the friendliness. We’d be sitting at a restaurant chatting away, and then someone at a nearby table would squeal with delight. I’d look over, and a woman would be waving to Emmy and saying to a friend, “She’s so cute!!” I’d look at Emmy, who was happily waving back and grinning.

The thing is that she knows she’s cute. She knows exactly how to draw you in. First it’s the smile, then it’s the narrowing of her eyes and the tilt of her head, and now it’s followed by a phrase. She might say, “Hi. How you doing?” or she’ll call out, “Hi, kids!” or she’ll even blow you a kiss. I mean, she KNOWS what she’s doing, folks. She KNOWS that smile is pure gold.

The other day we had an evaluation at a school with teachers that are unfamiliar to her. In no time, she was putting on a show of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” complete with smiles and hand movements. Anyone watching can’t help but say, “AWWWWW!”

She’s also very funny. If you ask her an obvious question (like “Is that a shoe?”), she’ll give you an exaggerated but joking “Noooooooo.” And then when you respond, “No? Are you sure??” She’ll say “Nooooooo” again, just to get you to laugh. She knows it’s a shoe, but she’s pulling your leg.

And she loves to chase her sister around the house while saying nonsense words like “Beebee beebee beebee.” Charlotte will run away from her laughing until, finally, both girls collapse in a giggling heap on the floor. It’s so much fun to watch.

So to the newly diagnosed I say: Wait.

It will take time to get to this point. And, in my experience, the first year is the hardest. So let yourself feel all of those feelings. Don’t pass judgement on yourself. Just really feel it. Get mad. Scream. Be upset. Say, “It isn’t fair!!”

And then, as the days, weeks, and months pass, things will change within you. You will connect with your child. You will fall in love with your child. You’ll be bragging about how wonderful he is. You’ll be glowing, fresh from the thrill of something new that she has done. And, even though you didn’t sign up to travel this road, it will feel as if this was meant to be–all along.

Inseparable

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These two have become inseparable, and that makes me so happy.

The backstory here is that, during my pregnancy with Emmy, I constantly fantasized about the relationship between my daughters. My sister and I are very close, and I could only imagine how strong the bond would be between Charlotte and Emmy. I imagined them just like my sister and me–sharing secrets and giving advice.

My weaknesses are my sister’s strengths. She’s six years younger than I am, but she’s often stepped into the big sister role on my behalf. I used to be painfully shy, and I would be terrified to return anything to a store. When I was fourteen and she was eight, my little sister marched into a music store on my behalf, walked right up to the register, and said, “Hi. I need to return this CD please.” I cowered towards the entrance of the store and peered around the aisles to see how the return was going. She came back triumphant with the money in her hand. I was always amazed at how easy she made it look. In a way, it was embarrassing to rely on my little sister. But I was also glad that I had someone in my life who would stand by me–no matter what.

Now that I’m older (and maybe a little wiser), I feel like I can pay it back. I’m usually able to give her a glimpse of life experiences before she goes down any road. I dated a couple of guys who were really (how can I put this nicely…?) awful. I like to think that she learned from my heartache and, sure enough, she was able to escape all the bad boys and ended up with an amazing boyfriend, who later became her husband. I’ve also been able to give her advice about her career or her life’s purpose. And, even though I’m the big sister, she still gives me tons of advice too. She’s mature–that kid. (She’s almost 30, by the way…)

I feel as though we have an equal give and take, and I value that so much.

And I saw the same for Charlotte and Emmy.

Then we found out about Williams syndrome, and all my visions of replicating the bond that my sister and I have went right down the drain. I just didn’t know anything about Williams syndrome. I didn’t know how Emmy would act or talk or think. It was an enigma. Would she be able to offer her strengths for Charlotte’s weaknesses, as my sister has done for me? Would she be able to give career advice? Would she know how to keep secrets? Would she even want to keep secrets? And how would Charlotte feel towards her little sister?

Early on, I started looking for stories about people who have siblings with special needs. I did find some very sweet stories. But I also found other stories–ones about feeling ignored by parents or resentful and angry. I found one story that really shook me. It was about a boy who was so embarrassed by his sibling with special needs that, instead of standing up for him, he joined the bullies in their taunting. Every day after school, a few bullies and his own brother made fun of this little boy as he walked home. GOOD GRIEF!!! That was hard for me to digest. If your sibling won’t stick up for you, who will?

All of this has been swirling around in my mind since Emmy was born. I’ve talked to my own sister about it several times. On the day we found out Emmy’s diagnosis, I remember sitting on the phone with my sister, crying, and asking, “But do you think they’ll be like us? What if Charlotte needs advice about her job? Will Emmy be able to give it to her?”

And my sister said the most wonderful thing: “Maybe Emmy will able to give the best advice of all. You just have no idea how she’ll see things. Maybe her way of seeing things will be so different from everyone else’s that her advice will be the most helpful.”

That positive spin really, really helped me.

And as the years have passed, this younger-version sisterly bond has grown very tight. When Emmy was a baby, she and Charlotte had the typical baby-toddler relationship. Sure, Emmy was cute, but she wasn’t able to communicate yet and cried…a lot.

The first glimpse of their close bond came when Emmy was in the hospital for heart surgery about a year ago. Every day, for twenty-two days, Charlotte would bring home a drawing from school that said “Emmy” all over it. If you gave her a crayon, she would just write “Emmy Emmy Emmy” over and over. She got a chalkboard for her birthday last year and, sure enough, the first words she wrote were “Emmy Emmy Emmy.” To this day, almost every time she makes a piece of art, she writes “Emmy” at the top. She doesn’t write “Charlotte.” She writes “Emmy.”

And now, as Emmy has become more verbal, they really have fun together. They playfully tease each other with high-pitched voices, they laugh and roll on the floor, they tickle, they share toys, they draw together; they hold hands.

Charlotte loves to be the teacher. “Emmy, look how I brush my teeth. See that? Now, you try it.”

And Charlotte is such a good cheerleader too. “MOMMY! DADDY! You won’t believe what Emmy just did!!” She’s so proud when Emmy hits little milestones, and she really notices those milestones, just as we do.

At almost five years old, Charlotte has started to develop fears (monsters, darkness, bugs). And wouldn’t you know that two-year-old Emmy has become her protector? If Charlotte is afraid to go to sleep at night, I say, “Don’t worry. Emmy is right here. She can protect you from anything.” And that seems to work!

On her end, Emmy just adores her big sister. We were at the hospital the other day, and someone who works there was named Charlotte. Well, every time Emmy heard “Charlotte,” she looked around frantically and asked for her sister.

Also, Emmy is eager to show her big sister any new thing. If she puts on funny sunglasses or finds a sticker or opens a book, the first person she wants to show is Charlotte.

At the dinner table, Dan and I just watch the two of them banter and giggle. There isn’t much eating going on (Charlotte is repulsed by my food most of the time…), but there is a lot of laughter. It will be interesting to see how their dynamic evolves when a little boy arrives in June. Right now, I am so happy with how close they’ve become. It’s better than I even imagined.

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Blogiversary

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Somehow it’s the 1 year anniversary of my blog…which basically means that TIME FLIES! My first post was about green bagels on St. Paddy’s Day  (Green Bagel Morning), which we dutifully ate again this year.

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I’ve really enjoyed blogging over the past year. I’ve loved the connections that I’ve made with people, and this blog REALLY REALLY helped me out when Emmy went into cardiac arrest after heart surgery last May (You can do it, Emmy!!!). I never in a billion years thought that I would be blogging while my daughter was on life support. It seems almost trivial. Blogging while your kid is on life support?? What??  I’m not even that much of a social media person, so it doesn’t seem to fit my character.

But oh-my-gosh, did it help!!! The messages of encouragement kept me going. And the support was incredible. I felt as though we were lifted through that entire experience on the shoulders of others. I didn’t feel like I was going through it alone.

I still get rattled when I look back on my blog posts during that time. It can bring me right back to that hospital room in a split second. It’s surreal to be so far removed from that experience now–physically removed but not mentally… Never mentally.

I have two favorite posts from the past year. I mulled over These Are The Shoes for a LONG time before I wrote it. Every time I opened Emmy’s drawer, those shoes would stare at me. And every time I thought, “I have to write about this feeling to get it out of me.” I’ve mentioned a few times that writing is like therapy for me. When something eats away at me, it’s all I can think about. And then once I get it down on paper, the immediate relief is unbelievable. Seeing those shoes every day really affected me and then, once I wrote about it, I was able to let it go. Amazingly, the shoes don’t bother me anymore.

My other favorite post is In Love. I LOVE that picture of Emmy. She looks like she’s shining from the inside out. That post represents a divide for me. I felt as though I let Williams syndrome come between Emmy and me for a long time. I was very aware of the fact that she has Williams syndrome. I thought about the implications a lot, and it kept me at a distance from her. This was totally unconscious on my part, but it happened nonetheless. We went through hell during her heart surgery and recovery and, while I would never want to go through something like that ever again, it helped me realize that Emmy is my daughter first and foremost. I no longer saw her as “my daughter, but let’s not forget that she has Williams syndrome.” I saw her as my daughter. Period. End of story.

And even though this blog is called Williams Syndrome Smile, my older daughter Charlotte, and husband Dan, (and the new baby soon!) have all played a significant role as well. I think this is more about life in general. Parenting is a minefield, I tell you. Having a child with special needs might color some of my experiences in a different way, but 99% of the time, I’m doing the normal things that every parent does. My #1 goal in life is to not screw up my kids…and yet I can guarantee that I’m already doing something wrong. (And it’s probably the thing that I think I’m actually doing right!! That’s the irony of it all.)

Thank you so much for reading and sharing, everyone!! I’m looking forward to Year #2.

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Party of Five

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We’re going to have a Party of Five in June! I’m excited, nervous, happy, and hungry.

I’m trying to be calm and zen during this pregnancy, and I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job so far. My pregnancies with both Charlotte and Emmy were roller coaster rides, so I’m doing my darnedest to take everything down a notch this time.

You know how, when you’re young, pregnancy seems like the easiest thing in the world? Here’s how I imagined it at first: You get pregnant. You glow. You eat a lot. You pat your growing belly and smile. You decorate the nursery. You go into labor. You deal with some pain at this point, but you’re immediately given your beautiful baby as a reward. And your life becomes perfect.

(I thought that not only was pregnancy easy, but that parenting was easy too. HAHAHA. I guess I’m an idealist…or naive. Probably naive.)

But, as life has gone along, I’ve seen all different sides of pregnancy. There are the glowingly perfect pregnancies, and I am thrilled for them…while also being slightly jealous. It sounds like most celebrities have perfect pregnancies, but maybe they’re only giving us one side to the story. I’ve also become very close with people who have tragically lost babies, who have had trouble getting pregnant, who have had very challenging pregnancies, and who have found out that their babies needed to have surgery right after mom gave birth.

I also have a very cool friend who delivered her baby BY HERSELF IN HER LIVINGROOM because the baby arrived so quickly. My friend wrapped her baby in her jeans and waited for the ambulance to arrive. This happened in 2012, not in 1970 or something. I will forever be impressed by this woman.

I didn’t expect any of these stories, though. I had one vision of pregnancy, and I thought everyone fell into that category–except maybe .1% of people.

I think it’s important to be sensitive to other people’s stories. I’ve learned this both in pregnancy and in having a daughter with special needs. I’m really drawn to people who are humble. It means a lot to me when someone says, “I haven’t experienced what you’ve gone through…but I get it.” If I had a magic wand, I would get rid of all the gloating in the world. I don’t think it gets us anywhere. I met a mom at a playground once who was trying to one-up me on all the things Charlotte wasn’t doing but that her daughter was doing. Yikes, does that rub me the wrong way! It’s not about putting your story in a better light. It’s about understanding that all of our stories are unique and important. We can learn a lot from others, and I feel so much love for the people in my life who have gone through so much.

So here’s my story: I found out that I had a bicornuate (“heart-shaped”) uterus shortly before I got pregnant with Charlotte in 2008. This sounded like the worst news ever, and I was beyond devastated. I’ve come to find out that it’s not as awful as it sounds. My uterus didn’t form completely when I was born, which is really bizarre because that means I have a birth defect that I didn’t even know about until I set out to have kids! My uterus stopped short of the upside down triangle and, instead, formed into a heart. I know the heart sounds lovely, and so many of my friends tried to put a positive spin on it. But I was REALLY mad at my uterus for a while. I felt like it deceived me.

Of course, I immediately Googled “bicornuate uterus” and devoured all the horror stories. (I’m good at that. I tend to skim over the good stories to get to the real doozies.) The biggest problem is that I could go into pre-term labor.

So for my entire pregnancy with Charlotte, I was a mess. I let my mind go to all the bad places it could go, and I white-knucked the entire pregnancy. Because of the bicornuate uterus, I’m considered “high risk” so I also had a lot of doctors’ appointments and ultrasounds, which just made me more nervous.

You get the picture. I suffered mentally for 9 months. PHYSICALLY, I was doing pretty well! I had some minor issues that had nothing to do with my bicornuate uterus and were all resolved (like the time I fell flat on my stomach at 9 months pregnant…). But I wasn’t listening to my body. My body was doing great, and my mind was a mess. The two things were completely out of sync. It’s funny how my mind can take a life all on its own with zero regard to what is ACTUALLY going on with my body.

All the bad things I had read about through my endless Google searches never happened. Charlotte was born via C-section at 39 weeks, and she was happy as a clam! Such a good baby.

Ok, so you would think that my lesson would be: Don’t let your mind run away without you. Listen to your body. Do things differently next time. CALM DOWN.

Here we go again. I got pregnant with Emmy in 2010, and I started to follow my own advice. Caaaaaalm down. Don’t worry. Everything is going to be fiiiiiine.

I was doing awesome until 7 weeks along, when I had heavy bleeding–the likes of which you would not believe. My mind immediately went back to panic mode. We had an ultrasound that showed Emmy was fine, but I was a nervous wreck for the rest of the pregnancy. I couldn’t get back to that zen place again. Also, Emmy was always measuring small. We’ve come to find out that this is pretty common for Williams syndrome, but we had no idea that she had Williams syndrome until 5 weeks after she was born. So the fact that she kept measuring small seemed odd to me and, again, made me nervous. I was still considered high risk and had all the doctors’ appointments and ultrasounds that you can imagine, which heightened my nerves even more.

But, again, for the majority of my pregnancy, I was fine physically. It was the mental aspect that took a toll on me–again! Even though I swore it wouldn’t.

Emmy was born via C-section at 39 weeks. She had a lot of problems right out of the gate and had to go to the NICU–and then of course we got the diagnosis of Williams syndrome a few weeks later. But we didn’t know about any of this during pregnancy, and I could’ve saved myself a lot of stress while I was pregnant if I just focused on how my body was feeling instead of paying attention to my over-active, always-working mind.

So here we are with Baby #3–a boy! And I have a whole HOST of problems. But I think I have finally learned my lesson. I refuse to let my mind get away from me this time.

The first problem is that I have a thin window on my uterus. Basically, this means that part of my uterus has been deemed “paper thin” and, if I were to go into labor, my uterus could rupture. My second problem is that, because of our history with Emmy, we have to do more in-depth ultrasounds to make sure that there are no heart issues. No one thinks this baby has Williams syndrome (though it would be pretty amazing, considering it’s a 1 in 10,000 completely random event). We’re no more likely to have another baby with WS than any couple would be to have a first baby with WS. But when one of your babies has a genetic issue, they do want to look closely to make there there is nothing else that we need to be aware of. (For instance, if the baby had a Congenital Heart Defect, which is a 1 in 100 statistic, we would have to schedule surgery for after the birth etc.) My third problem is that I’m technically still at risk for pre-term labor because of my bicornuate uterus, so I have to get checked more often than your average patient. And, fourth, this baby has a kidney issue, which is apparently common in boys and nothing to worry about–unless it’s something to worry about…and we won’t know that until we get further along.

Given my history, you’d think I would be freaking out, particularly about the kidney issue. But here’s what I’m doing this time. I’m staying grounded. I’m NOT Googling. I absolutely refuse to Google. I won’t go searching for all the horror stories like in the past.

Sure, I have my moments of worry and panic, but I’m able to bring myself back down again.

How am I getting there? Well, I’m listening to my body. I feel…fat. 🙂 But good and happy and comfortable and calm. I’m looking forward to spring. I’m thinking of all the things I want to do with my girls to enjoy the last memories of the Party of Four. I love seeing Charlotte and Emmy together. Their sisterly bond has gotten so much tighter. It makes me SO happy.

I want to capture this moment of zen and carry it through to the delivery in June. I want to trust my body, which has proven itself before. I want my body and my mind to be in sync throughout this pregnancy. I want to enjoy and remember many moments throughout this pregnancy. And, this time, I want to savor that pregnancy glow.

Pamper Yourself

PamperYourself

Some people have yoga. Others have meditation. I have the mall.

No, not them all. THE MALL. 🙂

I haven’t been to the mall in a while. I mean, I haven’t been to the mall by myself in a while. Sure, we run into the Lego store, chase the kids around a bit, have a quick dinner, and head home. We’ve done that a couple times. That’s not relaxing.

But there’s something that happens when I go into a mall alone. It’s a very particular mall, actually — the one I used to go to as a young girl. The elevator music has a calming effect, the perfume-y smell is enchanting, and the tile under my feet feels familiar. I used to go to this mall a lot as a kid, and it brings me right back to childhood. My cares melt away. I’m a kid again.

I haven’t been to this mall in a long time, though. First of all, I don’t have a ton of alone time to go wandering around malls aimlessly. And second of all, I think about the money aspect. It’s not exactly like I’m independently wealthy. Third, I have 10,000 other things to do with my time — things that are seemingly more productive like cooking, cleaning, working on a project, procrastinating…important things.

Well, I’ve been craving a vacation. The heavy winter has gotten me down, and I’m turning into a shut-in.

Out of the blue, the mall beckoned me with its promises of pampering.

But, no, I argued. I can’t waste time at the mall. I have things to do.

Yes, that’s true. But when are we allowed to pamper ourselves? We jump from one thing to the next and find ourselves way down at the bottom of the totem pole. It’s self-inflicted though. If I told my husband that I wanted to go to the mall alone, he’d usher me right out the door. It’s not that other people are holding me back. It’s that I’m holding myself back. I think of all the practical things that I should be doing, and wandering around the mall with zero purpose is anything but practical. I also feel guilty taking care of myself. How can I possibly spend time on myself when I have other people to take care of?

I watch The Real Housewives (because who can look away), and I see how these people pamper themselves. The hair, the nails, the outfits. Who has time for that? I just reason that their luxuries come from being so rich. Of course they have time to do their nails. Then again, I’m sure there are rich people that don’t take care of themselves like these ladies do…

How much time would it take me to put on makeup in the morning or pick out a cute outfit or do my hair? I actually haven’t gotten a haircut in almost a year for two reasons. One is that I have better things to do than sit in a chair for an hour (so I say). And the next is more practical. I have curly hair, and other girls with curly hair will backup the fact that things can often turn disastrous when someone is cutting into your locks. I’ve had some really weird, eccentric cuts done in a salon because it’s fun to experiment with my hair. So I try and stay away.

But then I’m at the point where my hair is a frizz-ball, my face is screaming for moisturizer, and my clothes are wrinkled. Is this really what it means to be busy? Or is this something else? LIKE NOT CARING ABOUT ONE’S SELF?? (Didn’t I learn anything from this post last year? https://williamssyndromesmile.com/2013/07/15/self-care/)

Enough, I say!! It’s time that I put on my Real Housewives facade and pamper myself.

So, for the first time in a long time, I went to the mall alone. Just me and my thoughts. I took my time eating lunch. I walked into all the stores — up and down the aisles until my feet hurt. I bought some body lotion for my super dry skin. And I just let myself be. I tried not to judge if this was a proper use of my time. I just let myself enjoy it for what it was — a day of pampering.

And, as I drove home, I made the bold move of calling a salon to see if they would take me and my frizzy hair. They had an opening! Funnily enough, getting my haircut wasn’t the nightmarish time-waster that I imagined. It took a half hour and was easy as pie. The hairstylist also happened to be a curly specialist, so I lucked out.

Because I took a little time to do some pampering, I feel completely amazing. That’s all it took. Just a few hours of wandering around a mall plus a haircut, and suddenly I’m rejuvenated for weeks. I didn’t have to spend David Foster’s money (Real Housewives reference) to get to this point. It cost me a few hours and a couple bucks. Totally reasonable.

I think everyone needs to waste time on his or herself every once in a while. And I don’t think that sitting in front of the tv like a zombie or playing on one’s phone counts. I mean really, foolishly wasting time doing something that you wouldn’t normally do — preferably outside of the house. Just waste time for a day and don’t judge yourself. A little pampering goes a long way.

To my husband: This goes both ways, you know? I want you to tell me how you’re going to waste time on yourself one day this weekend. No judgement or guilt allowed. Just some good, solid pampering.

What About Me

WhatAboutMe

I’ve been waiting for this day. Although I certainly haven’t been looking forward to it.

We got our first “What about me?” And it made me feel AWFUL!

Ever since we found out that Emmy has Williams syndrome, I was conscious of how it would impact Charlotte. In the beginning, Charlotte had no idea that there was anything different about Emmy. But, as time has gone by, we’ve had conversations about heart surgery and Williams syndrome and how things are more challenging for Emmy.

Charlotte clearly doesn’t notice any differences yet with Emmy. She’s just her sister. Period — end of story. But now she’s started to take notice of all the special treatment Emmy gets. The additional doctors’ visits, the therapy sessions at school; the meetings with therapists at home.

One wouldn’t think that she would be envious of doctors’ visits, but she is! Charlotte actually loves going to the doctor and dentist. (I’m sure Emmy would gladly trade places in that respect because all hell breaks loose when Emmy senses that she’s going to get poked and prodded by someone.)

And Charlotte is envious of the therapy sessions because they look like fun! Emmy is spending time with really nice therapists who play games with her and cheer her on. What’s not to like?

Well, all the special treatment has started to add up, and it came to a head yesterday when we had an Early Intervention meeting with Emmy’s team of therapists to discuss her goals. Charlotte was supposed to be at school, but it was cancelled. So she got to watch everyone fuss over Emmy some more…and it wasn’t fun for her. She wanted to be fussed over. And in her effort to get attention, she jumped on the couch and tried to get somebody — anybody — to focus on her. Of course, this resulted in a lot of wild bouncing around, and it was hard for me to try and hear what the therapists were saying. It was difficult to manage the situation, but I tried not to get frustrated with her. I know what she wants because I would’ve wanted the exact same thing when I was her age.

The thing is that I’ve been trying so hard to over-compensate for Emmy’s special attention. I wanted to head this off before it started. I didn’t want Charlotte to ever feel ignored. So my husband and I both take her for one-on-one time every weekend. We also signed her up for soccer, gymnastics, and swimming, and we try and make a big deal over all her various activities. My husband even coached the soccer team! I take her for mani/pedis. I read to her. I snuggle with her. I do arts and crafts with her — just the two of us! I try everything in my power to make her feel like she’s special too!

But yesterday when all the therapists left, her face fell, and she said, “What about me?”

She wanted to know, “Why doesn’t anyone get together to talk about me?”

And she’s right. All the outside activities that I do with her don’t compare to the fact that a bunch of people sit in a room and talk about Emmy for an hour. How can I possibly recreate that situation for Charlotte? I don’t know…

I told her that I talk about her and how awesome she’s doing with her teachers all the time, but that’s not the same…

The thing about Charlotte is that we don’t have to sit in a room and talk about how to get her to open a Ziploc bag, or climb the stairs, or keep her balance. She does all of those things beautifully. They’ve never been a struggle for her. Every single goal we set for Emmy yesterday are things that Charlotte has already met. And they all came easily to her. I don’t think I ever had to teach her how to use a fork and spoon. She just did it.

And I’m so conscious of the fact that she is very sharp. This morning, Charlotte was playing with her dolls, and I heard her doing math very quickly! She was saying, “What’s five plus three? Eight! What’s two plus seven? Nine!” I mean, she was QUICK. I was really impressed. And I told her so right away! She’s also really good at gymnastics — very strong and fearless. I watch every gymnastics’ practice. I take videos of her hanging on the uneven bars and send them around to family members. I celebrate her artistic talent and hang up her paintings.

But kudos from mom doesn’t compare to a bunch of people sitting in a room and reviewing her accomplishments for an hour.

So with all of my attention and praise, I don’t know how to recreate that aspect — that type of special treatment that doesn’t apply to typical children. The therapy sessions, the doctors’ visits, and the goal-based meetings. How does an arts and crafts session with mom compare to those things?

If anyone has suggestions, I am all ears! Maybe I can have relatives dress up as strangers and come over to discuss Charlotte’s progress. 😉 I’m picturing my mom with a funny hat on and a feathered mask over her eyes…yikes!

Or maybe the answer is just to keep stressing that things are harder for Emmy and, while these therapy sessions seem like special treatment, Emmy would rather not have to work harder than everyone else. That’s not an easy concept for a 4 year old to understand though. Especially because she notices how Emmy loves getting doted on by her therapists. It certainly doesn’t look like hard work to Charlotte!

I just want to do it right. Like every other mother out there, I have guilt up the wazoo — both for things that have and haven’t happened yet! (I love that I already have guilt for things that haven’t happened yet, by the way. So silly yet so true.) I want to get on the right path, but sometimes I don’t even know where to start.