Williams Syndrome Convention

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We drove for 9 hours to get to Columbus, Ohio…with 3 kids in the car. When we first signed up to attend the Williams Syndrome Convention, it seemed like the drive would be palatable. But as the days inched closer, I kept turning to Dan with fear in my eyes and saying, “I think we should reconsider…can we cancel?” I was freaked about that drive.

Well, as Theo loves to say, “Weeee DID IT!”

And I’m so glad we went! It was worth every minute in the car and then some.

When we first arrived at the hotel, Dan and I were totally out of sorts. It took us a while to get the stroller out, grab our suitcases from the car, and chase kids around the lobby. The kids were anxious to do everything immediately!

As we were checking in and trying to calm them down, Charlotte started to notice all the people with Williams syndrome in the lobby. We had already been to a Williams Syndrome Convention in Boston in 2012, when Charlotte was only 3 years old, but she didn’t have any clue about Williams syndrome at that time. Now at 7 years old, she understands a little more about it, and she started to take in the sight of all the friendly people in the lobby.

It’s interesting to see how the week has an effect on you. When we went to the Convention in Boston, Dan and I were at first overwhelmed by the friendly nature of people with Williams Syndrome. Emmy was only 1 year old at the time, so we didn’t have a strong idea of how social she would be. Plus, we’re quite reserved ourselves. So when people started approaching us right off the bat to have a chat, we were a little thrown off. As that week went along, we totally embraced the culture and loved every second of the friendliness. There’s something so awesome about someone remembering your name and greeting you with absolute joy every time she sees you on the elevator. We missed that feeling of joy like crazy when we got back home.

Just like us, Charlotte wasn’t used to the friendliness. As she looked around that lobby, she said cautiously, “I think I’m the only person here who doesn’t have Williams syndrome…”

“You’ll see lots of people here,” I said. “Can you tell that Emmy has Williams syndrome?”

“No, definitely not,” she replied.

Charlotte just sees Emmy as her sister. She doesn’t really think about Williams syndrome.

Later at dinner that night, Charlotte seemed to really ponder the idea of “Williams syndrome.” I could see her working over it in her mind as she sat next to Emmy in the restaurant booth. She was studying her face.

Finally, she said, “Mom, I can see it.”

“Huh?” I asked.

“I see it in Emmy. I see it in her lips.”

As the days went on, Charlotte met many people with and without Williams syndrome. I could visibly see her grow more and more comfortable with everyone’s friendliness. She allowed herself to loosen up and just enjoy all the different personalities. I have a very boring saying that I tell her all the time that kind of sums up life: “Everybody’s different!” We use that one a lot, especially when kids on the playground ask why Emmy is smaller than everyone else or why she can’t run as fast as the others: “Everybody’s different!” I’ve noticed that it’s a good way for Charlotte to close out a conversation with a kid on the playground who keeps prodding her about Emmy. Who can possibly argue with “Everybody’s different!”??

During the week, Charlotte went to a YMCA camp (organized through the Convention) and made a bunch of friends — mostly typical siblings of people with Williams syndrome. She really got along with these kids nicely! Every night she was bubbling over with stories about her new friends.

Emmy and Theo also went to camp in the hotel. There were all sorts of activities for them to do throughout the week. I think Emmy’s favorite part was meeting Batman. She has no fear. Ever.

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While the kids were at camp, Dan and I attended sessions and learned a lot! I have to sheepishly admit that I thought I was pretty much an expert at Williams syndrome after 5 years with Emmy. There is SO MUCH more to learn! There were plenty of people with grown children in their twenties and thirties who still came to learn — and perhaps mostly to share their stories with others.

My favorite session was the exact same favorite that I had at the Convention in Boston: the sibling session. When you hear brothers and sisters talk about their siblings with Williams syndrome, it immediately brings tears to your eyes. It would be IMPOSSIBLE not to cry in that room. They see their siblings like no one else can. And they’ve become more tolerant, understanding, and patient people because of their siblings. Many of them go into teaching, physical therapy, or music therapy. Many of them volunteer at Williams syndrome camps, and many of them were volunteers at this Convention. Imagine learning the beauty of volunteerism as a young teenager? That has to change your life.

The siblings said that coming to these Conventions every couple of years really helped them to better understand their own brother or sister with Williams syndrome. They encouraged us to keep bringing all of our kids because it helps the typical siblings to comprehend Williams syndrome and helps to foster understanding and appreciation of their brothers and sisters, instead of frustration or resentment.

So of course Emmy and Theo had a great time at the Convention. They just played and had fun all day. Theo didn’t know why we were there because he’s too young. I think Emmy is starting to understand Williams syndrome just the tiniest bit, but it’s still very much of a foreign concept. But we didn’t know how Charlotte would react. I know it sounds silly, but being surrounded by friendly people can be overwhelming. Of course, it shouldn’t be that way. In a perfect world, everyone would be friendly! But our society is generally more closed off, so it’s like being in an alternate universe when you’re surrounded by social people who approach you without reservation.

To our delight, Charlotte had the most amazing time. She declared that it was the best vacation she’s ever been on!! She really, really loved it. Kudos to the Williams Syndrome Association for putting together an awesome Convention that had my 7 year old gushing!

On the last day, we were standing in the lobby checking out, and several adults with Williams syndrome came over to talk to us. One woman pointed at my kids and said, “They are so adorable!!” Then she looked closer and said, “Which one of you has Williams syndrome?”

I was surprised to see Emmy raise her hand right away and say, “I do!”

I’m not sure that she knows what Williams syndrome is, but now it’s official — she definitely knows that she has it.

We can’t wait for the next Convention! Especially Charlotte.

A Potential Answer

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Theo came home tonight! And we have a potential answer. He did a barium swallow study today, and the speech pathologist noticed that he was close to having his drink go down the wrong pipe. Apparently some kids, particularly those who have had laryngomalacia, can have trouble with accidentally sending their food/drink down the wrong pipe. If he did have food/drink go down the wrong pipe, that could’ve caused a throat infection, which could be what he’s experiencing now. The only problems with this theory are that (1) the throat culture did not grow bacteria and (2) our doctor came in at the end of the day to say that he thinks that the swallow study was influenced by the fact that he just had surgery and, therefore, we can’t rely on this conclusion.

But guess what…a bunch of really scary tests came back negative. Also, the cardiologist did an echo and confirmed that he *does* have a heart murmur (which didn’t show up until now because apparently some heart murmurs show up in toddlerhood!!), but she said it was common and nothing to worry about.

So now that we’ve ruled out a bunch of scary stuff, I’m finally breathing a sigh of relief. The swallow study may not have been accurate, and this may not be the *exact* diagnosis. We’ll have to work with the pulmonologist going forward to get to the bottom of this. But for now, I feel much better that we’ve been able to rule things out, and I’m SO very happy to have him home!

Thank you for thinking of us!!! ❤ It’s been quite an ordeal…

Theo Found the Playroom

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Today, we moved to a new floor in the hospital, and Theo was super happy to find the playroom! He’s been tied up to wires, but today he finally broke free for a bit and RAN and RAN.

We still have more questions than answers. He’s had a lot of bloodwork and other tests as well. They’re testing for everything under the sun. One of the doctors thought he heard an issue with his heart today, so they’re even bringing in cardiology tomorrow. Hopefully that’s just an extra precaution, considering our history.

There is still a lot of mystery surrounding his condition, and he continues to have excessive mucus in his throat and lots of drool. The good news is that the tests are being done, and they’re trying to leave no stone unturned.

If they do find something, I hope it has something to do with magical powers…… 🙂

Thanks for your well wishes!!

Theo Update

Hi Everyone:

Just a super quick update because I know we have many sweet people who are thinking about us (thank you!!!!). The surgery went ok. The doctor found the laryngomalacia that we suspected and snipped a teeny bit (no big deal). Other than that, he found a ton of fluid in Theo’s throat and lungs. He sent the culture in, and we’ll get those results in 3-5 days.

We were in the recovery room, and Theo was pretty miserable (of course), but we felt like he was doing pretty well (all things considered). I offered him an ice pop because he was refusing to drink, and it fell on the floor, so he started crying. But as he started crying, all that mucus got stuck in his throat, and he couldn’t get behind it. He kept trying to breathe again, and it wasn’t happening. I started cajoling him to breathe again, and then he turned blue, and I screamed, “HE’S TURNING BLUE!”

Luckily, a bunch of nurses came running over. One gave Theo mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and then they pumped some oxygen into his lungs, and he started breathing again. It was a big scene and, of course, reminded us of when Emmy went into cardiac arrest in the recovery room. (Why does this keep happening???)

He was then transferred to the PICU, and then there was a lot of talk of getting a pulmonologist in because Theo seems to have issues with not only his throat but his lungs as well. Just an excess of mucus all around. So now we’re undergoing some tests and trying (yet again) to get to the bottom of this issue. Theo is stable but still miserable, and the fluid is so loud. You can hear it when he breathes. Poor little guy.

Thanks for your thoughts and prayers!! I’ll keep you posted!! ❤

Tomorrow is the Day

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Thank you, everyone, for your sweet words and wishes. I can’t believe that we’re on the Eve of another potential surgery. I say “potential” because we’re scheduled for a bronchoscopy, which is more of a look-see. But if the doctor sees something minor that he can fix, he’ll do it. The doctor won’t know what he’s dealing with until he performs the procedure, so we’re kind of on pins and needles in that respect.

As such, it’s being treated as a surgery. The document I have in front of me with the details for tomorrow reads across the top: “SURGERY 11/10/15.” The sheet also tells me that Theo can’t eat or drink past midnight. We have to be at the hospital at 8:00 am, and the procedure is scheduled to begin at 9:30 am.

In the photo above, I put that shirt on Theo 5 minutes before I snapped the picture. Can you see how his shirt is covered in drool? Also, you may be able to see the excessive saliva in his mouth. This is more than just teething or other typical baby stuff.

I’m incredibly depressed about the procedure tomorrow, but I’m also thankful that we may finally get to the bottom of this. I’ve been so worried about him. Lately, he’s been waking during the night, coughing on the mucus in his throat.

I’ve been going through the whole “It’s not fair!” cycle, and I’m trying to get out of my own head and just accept it. I stood in front of my bookshelf for a while (I love books and probably have way too many…), trying to find something to read that would pull me out of myself. I found Byron Katie’s Loving What Is and got into bed, prepared to read. What fell out of the book was a printed list of high-risk obstetricians from our insurance company. My husband had written some notes at the top because he was the one who printed the list for me…when I was newly pregnant with Theo. The pregnancy was high-risk because I had a uterus with a “thin window,” as they say, and I needed to be monitored. I guess I turned towards this book when I was worried about my pregnancy.

And now that we made it through that stressful pregnancy, we have a sweet little guy with an adorable laugh. Truly, his laugh is awesome. More of a chuckle, really.

So here’s what Byron Katie says in her book: “If you want reality to be different than it is, you might as well try to teach a cat to bark. You can try and try, and in the end the cat will look up at you and say, ‘Meow.’ Wanting reality to be different than it is is hopeless. You can spend the rest of your life trying to teach a cat to bark.”

I want reality to be different. I don’t want Theo to have this problem or ANY problem. I want many things that aren’t part of reality. And the realization that I have no control over reality is PAINFUL. It actually hurts to sit in certain feelings that belong purely to reality and are not up for manipulation or debate. But I guess I have to accept that I’m not going to teach a cat to bark (although I’m sure I could find something on YouTube…).

Thank you so much for thinking of us. I really appreciate it. And I’ll keep you posted when we know more.  ❤

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Here We Go

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I’ve been wanting to post about this for a while, but I’m so stinking depressed about it that it’s hard to find the words. I also have been trying, unsuccessfully, to put it out of my mind and not obsess. (But I’ve been obsessing.)

It looks like Theo will have to go to the hospital for a bronchoscopy on November 10. When Theo was about 5 months old, I noticed a wheezing sound when he breathes. At the time, it was diagnosed as laryngomalacia, which is basically a floppy larynx and no big deal. It happens to some kids and, as they get older, the problem resolves itself. Sure enough, when Theo was about 8 months old, it seemed to go away. I didn’t hear the wheezing anymore, and the doctor confirmed that it had resolved.

Then this past August, when he was 14 months old, he developed a much different sound when he breathes. It’s quite loud, and it sounds like he has mucus in his throat — like a gurgling or purring. At first, we weren’t worried. We figured it was a cold. Then it didn’t go away. And it got louder. We’ve seen several Ear, Nose, and Throat doctors. We treated him for allergies (both seasonal and food), asthma, and reflux. None of those treatments had any impact on the sound. Plus, one of the treatments involved medicine that seemed to make everything worse. He had so much mucus and saliva in his mouth that he couldn’t even swallow.

So here we are. Theo is 16 months old, and the sound is as loud as ever. Furthermore, he has started occasionally choking on his food and, when he coughs, it sounds as though he’s fighting a lot of mucus. (Although this mucus has never come up.) But the Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor confirmed it was there by looking down his throat.

Well, now the ENT has to look further to get to the root of the problem, and the only way he can do that is through a bronchoscopy, which means we have to take Theo to the hospital and put him to sleep with anesthesia. Which reminds me of the last time we put one of our children to sleep with anesthesia, and all hell broke loose. (I can’t even bear to go back and look at the posts right now to link to them. But, in May 2013, Emmy had heart surgery and went into cardiac arrest afterwards.)

I’ve been trying to avoid the bronchoscopy. I’ve been trying so hard to solve this problem without any invasive procedures. But it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen. My amateurish investigative work isn’t getting us anywhere.

The two prevailing theories right now are that (1) Theo might have scarring in his throat or a narrowing in his airway from when he was intubated in the NICU (2) Theo may have a congenital anomaly called a “vascular ring.” Both are pretty hardcore.

Keep in mind that Theo seems fine. He’s growing nicely. He’s talking and laughing and dancing and having fun. He has all the energy in the world, and he actually doesn’t seem at all bothered by this throat issue. Even when he chokes or coughs, he just keeps going. (The rest of us practically have a heart attack every time…)

So what can I say? It stinks. I’m trying my darndest to be positive. But it stinks. And I’m super bummed that we have to go down this road. I just want everything to be all sunshine and roses all the time, you know?? Especially when it comes to my kids.

Well, our pre-op appointment is on November 3.

So here we go…

Why Words Matter

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I don’t read baby books anymore. With Charlotte, my first born, I read them diligently. I wanted to know when she would be rolling over, standing, and saying her first words. I didn’t really worry about her meeting those milestones, but I wanted to know what was in store for us. When we found out that Emmy has special needs and then when she started missing her milestones, I couldn’t bear to read the books because they served as constant reminders of the things she wasn’t doing yet.

And, often, it wasn’t so much what they were saying as how they were saying it. I would see gentle reminders that some babies just develop later than others, accompanied by words like “Your baby may be normal!” There were reassurances that even if your baby wasn’t meeting milestones, things would most likely be ok. There were broad ranges for milestones and, as long as your baby fell into those ranges, everything would be fine.

But what if your baby didn’t fall into those ranges?

Then I would see words like “Talk to your pediatrician” or “Contact a doctor.”

So everything seemed happy and cheery when your kid was meeting milestones but, if not, you knew that there was bad news lurking around the corner.

There were two camps. The children that were developing “normally” (this word is used all the time) and the children that weren’t. If you were in the first group, the implication was that things were going swimmingly well! But if you fell into the second group, it sounded like things in your life were about to get pretty miserable.

But I have to say that even though Emmy didn’t meet all of her milestones, our life is far from miserable! She is an absolute joy to be around — milestones be damned. No, she didn’t fall into the “normal” (I hate that word) charts, but she has enriched our lives beyond belief. I could gush about her all day but, to sum it up in a word, she’s awesome.

So now I have an almost-10 month old baby, Theo, and I haven’t opened a baby book.

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After years of physical therapy sessions with Emmy, I know a lot about how children develop — more than I ever dreamed I would know. So I have many of the milestones filed away in my mind and, while I don’t obsess over them, I am aware of them. Theo is on schedule, but I still ended up breaking my rule and did a Google search to find out whether standing comes before or after crawling. And that lead me to a page about walking. And here is what I found:

“Most babies take their first steps sometime between 9 and 12 months and are walking well by the time they’re 14 or 15 months old. Don’t worry if your child takes a little longer, though. Some perfectly normal children don’t walk until they’re 16 or 17 months old.” (Baby Center)

“Some perfectly normal children…”

Isn’t it funny that I haven’t looked in a baby book FOREVER — for this reason alone — and then, on my first search about milestones, these are the words I find?

Why are we calling children “perfectly normal”? And for that matter, what about the children who aren’t deemed “perfectly normal”? What about them?

And then, on the next page, the inevitable dismal line:

“Don’t fret if your child is simply taking her time. But if your child doesn’t stand with support at 12 months, can’t walk at 18 months, or isn’t able to walk steadily at the age of 2 years, bring it up with her doctor.” (Baby Center)

Can’t you just hear the threatening music? So now we know that if things don’t happen by a certain timetable, something scary may be lurking around the corner…

Well, what was lurking around our corner was Williams syndrome! And it hasn’t been bad at all! Her beautiful smile is a Williams syndrome smile, and it lights up our lives every day.

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But, beyond all of that, let’s revisit the words “perfectly normal,” and let’s look at them in terms of a child who is typical.

The first word, “perfect,” is a heavy word. We throw it around a lot, but it is heavy. When you strive for perfection, you will always fail — every, single time. Nobody is perfect. Perfectionists always feel like they’re doing something wrong because, until they’re *absolutely perfect*, nothing is ever right. And because they can never achieve the status of *absolutely perfect*, they end up constantly unsatisfied. So a perfectionist, like myself, is often caught in a trap of inevitable failure. Cheerful, huh? 🙂

Perfectionism can be debilitating. It stops you from doing tasks. If I don’t have time to arrange everything on a shelf perfectly, I won’t even put one thing on the shelf. I had to ask my husband to unpack my boxes (we just moved) and put things on the shelves anywhere he wanted because my desire to have things just so was getting in my own way.

I REALLY try not to use the word “perfect” — especially around kids. However, it’s a word that often pops into my mind. If Charlotte carefully writes her name at the top of her paper, it certainly looks perfect to me! But I don’t want to put that on her. So I choose another word. Or if Emmy puts on her socks the right way, it certainly looks perfect to me! But, again, I pick another word.

And after the word, “perfect,” we have another favorite of mine — “normal.” Someone once said that “normal is a setting on the washing machine.”

What’s the opposite of normal? It’s abnormal. Do we really want to call a child abnormal?

I like to use the word “typical.” As in, “typically children develop like this.” But if they don’t, that’s totally ok too. Everyone is different. That’s what makes life interesting.

I feel like there’s a lot of fear around milestones. You’re either developing “perfectly normally,” or all hell is breaking loose. There’s no grey area. I want to share that, in our case, things went as far from “perfectly normal” as you can get. We are all the way at the other end of “perfectly normal.” But I want to let you know that things over here are pretty great too! In fact, they’re magnificent. 🙂

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