In less than a week, I will be a mother of three.
It is like I could leave this blog entry with that sentiment right there. What's going on in my life? Pretty much that.
As I sit here outside with my children, one who is detailing for the 18th time what he wants to do today, one who is coloring my lawn furniture with purple sidewalk chalk, and one who is calmly growing in my belly, it doesn't seem THAT overwhelming...*deep breath*. That, in and of itself, could be the whole blog.
Except you know me better than that.
I haven't written for awhile, which is becoming a bad habit. Usually that means something is going down.
So, here it is.
The last couple months of my pregnancy have gone the way my pregnancies always seem to. I was gaining a ton of water weight, and my feet and legs were awesomely stuffed sausage-esque. I always just blamed it on "the way I am." Every doctor's visit would be the same story, perfect blood pressure, perfect urine screening, "drink more water, get those feet up." Every two weeks I could easily gain between 5-7 pounds. This time around at about 7 months pregnant, I requested to not see the scale or have them tell me what it said. It was too depressing. My first pregnancy, I gained over 100 lbs. My second pregnancy, I think it was over 65 lbs. When I hit 57 lbs. with this pregnancy, I stuck my head in the sand. And I still had 10 weeks to go.
I also started noticing that my stress level was through the roof. My anxiety was exhausting. I was in tears every day, several times a day. Sure, anyone could easily pass this off as pregnancy hormones. Then, about three weeks ago on a Monday, it all kind of became too much.
MONDAY: A few little things at work had been adding up. Being on call is stressful, but it really had less to do with my actual job, and more to do with what I was doing to myself in my own head in regards to what other people were thinking about me. I had no basis for these thoughts, it was like the anxiety was taking over my life. I talked to my mom about it. I talked to my husband about it. I talked to my brother about it. My brother was the one who finally said, "Wow. You really need to change the way you think, and look at things more positively." I may have also said something to him along the lines of often panicking because being in my *ahem* late 20's (or early 30's), I feel like my life is half over. The funny thing is, I have always thought of myself as an optimist. Ha.
That night was rough. Scarlett woke up at 1 am and I couldn't sleep, so I went in to rock her. She usually rocks for a bit, her heavy eyelids flutter, and she is back asleep. Not that night. She was chattering away, grinning, playing with her feet, singing songs, NOT SLEEPING. I watched the clock go from 1:30 to 2 to 3 to 3:30. I started to consider calling in to work the next day, and began the vicious cycle of anticipating what everyone would think. I started to panic. I felt like I was in a cage. I felt like I was in a tunnel. I felt like I was in a tiny, steel box. I couldn't breathe. I started to cry and Mike came in to see what was wrong, muttered something to me about waking him up sooner, and took the baby and sent me to bed.
I laid in bed, sobbing. Barely able to catch my breath, terrified of what everyone in the world was thinking about me and my perceived irresponsibility. I am embarrassed to explain it now, because I can see it now and see the illogical fear and thought process, but at the time...well? It was a panic attack. I haven't had one for years. At some point I must have caught my breath because the next thing I knew, my alarm was going off. Three hours of sleep is better than none, right?
TUESDAY: I was weirdly awake, alert. My head pounded on the left side which started when I woke up and gradually got worse throughout the day. I noticed my left eye twitching. These things are pretty easily to chalk up to no sleep and stress. So I did.
WEDNESDAY: The headache continued with a vengeance. The eye twitch came and went and came again. I worried that families I was meeting with would be able to see it. I had my regular OB appointment that day, and mentioned the panic attack and headache and eye twitch to the nurse. She took all my vitals and like always, my blood pressure was perfect. With no indication that anything serious was going on, she said that I must be dehydrated and asked me to double my water intake (to 2 gallons a day) and try some acetaminophen with caffeine in it. A recheck of my iron alerted them that I was extremely anemic (also pretty normal during my pregnancies), so I received an increased iron supplement. They sent me on my way to Walgreens to pick up all my new meds. I called my mom to tell her about the doctor visit, and mentioned to her something I hadn't told the nurse. I had eaten a chocolate snack cake that morning (not even a good one) and my tongue felt like it was coated in wax. I got some lemonade with my lunch that day to try to get rid of it. The lemonade was fantastic, but the waxy feeling did not go away, and either did the headache. That night, while rocking my daughter, I asked my 5 year old, "can you get Mommy's pills out of her purse and bring them to her?" A shining moment in Mommyland.
THURSDAY: The headache was still there. The eye twitch was still there. The wax coating was still there. I made it to work a few minutes early and decided I would try to look better than I felt. I was putting on eye shadow when I noticed it was difficult to close my left eye. Once again, pretty easy to chalk up to the headache and eye twitch and pass off as allergies.
I went to the morning meeting at work and considered whining about my headache. I went downstairs to get ready to meet my first family for the day. They were of course, very early, and already waiting for me in the lobby. I grabbed my files and my water, and then grabbed a quick bite of a granola bar. I set my things down in the meeting room, and thought I better check my teeth to make sure granola bar wasn't greeting my family before I did. I went in my coworker's office to use her wall mirror, and smiled big to check my teeth.
But my reflection wasn't smiling back.
It was more like a half-sneer. I tried again. One side of my mouth went up, the other side didn't move at all. Flatlined.
My mind raced as I put it all together. Headache. Eye Twitch. Panic attack. Stress. Overweight. Broken smile. My heart fell as I came to the only conclusion I could. I had, at some point this week, suffered a stroke.
I raced to my coworker, J. She was sitting at the front desk. Behind her in the lobby, I could see the nervous faces of the family that was waiting to meet with someone. I pulled her into the copy room and shut the sliding door. "Look at my face!" I demanded. "I can't smile!" I willed my face to comply, but I could tell from the look on J's face, it hadn't worked. I tried to hold back tears. Immediately, two of the worst contractions I had ever experienced shot across my back and towards my belly. J guided me to sit down and called for backup. I remember her explaining that I couldn't move part of my face and that I was having contractions. I remember her talking to another coworker about ambulances and hospitals. We decided J would go with me to the hospital and Mike would meet me there. Relief washed over me with J in charge and coming to the hospital with me. J is level-headed and very calming when I am in a frenzy, and she is also a mom. I thank Jesus for her. (Which is absolutely true, and an inside joke just for her.)
When we arrived at the hospital, they immediately sent me to Labor and Delivery. The nurse explained it is protocol when a woman is as far along as I was. I was hooked up to monitors and immediately relieved to learn that the baby was just fine. Whatever was happening wasn't affecting baby at all. I wavered back and forth between calm and "not-so-calm." My OB had just left that morning for Hawaii. Another doctor from his practice came in and met with me. He said he didn't think from examining my vitals that it was a stroke, but he couldn't be sure. He had a neurologist assist. This meant I was scheduled for an MRI. They asked me if I was claustrophobic. I said yes, but I had been through MRIs before.
What I had forgotten was that last time I had been through an MRI I had to be sedated.
My mom reminded me of this after the fact. Not that I could have been sedated anyway, but at least I could have warned them of giant ball of drama I was about to become. I had my second panic attack that week the second the cold, smooth tube hit my arms. What had been a small steel box before turned into the worse thing my emotionally battered brain could come up with. A coffin. A coffin. A coffin. The thought ran over and over in my mind as I completely freaked out AGAIN. Drama.
Those poor nurses. I apologized up and down. I really couldn't tell you why I couldn't rationalize my way through it. I needed that test. We needed to know what was going on. Mike tried everything he could. Finally, we got through it. It was a combination of the medical staff producing a mirror which made it appear that there was a hole in the top of the MRI tube, and Mike promising me that when this was over, we would go home and watch my tattoo show.
I had recently discovered all 3 seasons of L.A. Ink on Netflix. What?
After the MRI, I was exhausted and I am sure Mike was too. We had been at the hospital all day with no answers. I had been praying over and over that it wouldn't be a stroke. Anything but a stroke. At about 4:30, the neurologist came in and told me I had not had a stroke. I don't know if I have ever felt more relief than at that moment.
The neurologist said he couldn't be positive, but was pretty sure I had a combination of an atypical migraine (causing the terrible pain) and Bell's Palsy.
Check out Bell's Palsy here.
In a nutshell, from what I can tell, it is a diagnosis of elimination. You are more prone to Bell's Palsy if you are A. highly stressed, B. an adult. C. prone to cold sores on your mouth when you are sick or stressed (yes, THAT Herpes...not the other one), and D. in your third trimester of pregnancy. It usually starts with twitches on the affected side of the face and then progresses quickly and mimics a stroke in that half of your face is paralyzed. You can't smile. You can't flare your nostril (just one), you can't raise your eyebrow, you can't easily close your eye. On the plus side, all your wrinkles on that side disappear too.
How had I never heard of this before?
The neurologist then became very serious and asked me to evaluate my life. He talked to me about my anxiety and stress. I have always passed these things off as something I just need to be stronger about. As I have gotten further into adulthood, I can identify some exact thoughts that are on a loop in my brain. "I am a weak person and that is why I allow anxiety to rule my life. Other people are better suited to make decisions because they are more logical than I am. I can't make a mistake because then everyone will REALLY think I am stupid. I am too passive, too compliant, too people-pleasing and soft." These are the negative thoughts that have allowed me to continue going through my days thinking I just needed to be a better, stronger person and I wouldn't have this problem.
And the funny thing about that is, I really don't have a self-esteem problem. I know I am awesome.
The neurologist wasted no time testing my ability to decide what is best for me. He asked me what my plan was for taking care of myself until the baby comes. I, of course, was flabbergasted and panicked. He wanted ME to tell HIM what I needed to do? I fumbled through some things, "I'm on call this weekend, so I guess after this weekend I can ask to not be on call anymore? I could take tomorrow off?" Now it was his turn to be flabbergasted. "Try again." He was almost angry. I could tell there was a right answer, and I had better come up with it soon.
I struggled with the words. "Bed rest?"
"Exactly," he asserted. "At least until your next doctor appointment."
He challenged me to find some better ways to handle stress and anxiety. Then he wrote me a note to stay home, and made sure I understood that he meant it. The nurse who had been checking on me all day came in at that point and reaffirmed what the neurologist had said. "Rest means rest. Lying down with your feet up. No chasing kids! This can get worse, you know."
To be honest, I had done a lot of soul-searching in that bed that day. A lot of things needed to change.
At that moment, I made a commitment to change. Reduce sodium, reduce sugar, no processed foods, drink as much water as I can, make sure there are proteins and carbs in every meal. I would research ways to have a more positive attitude and reduce stress.
Work was incredible. They had already planned to take me off call until after I return from maternity leave, and said for me to take as much time as I needed. They had taken me out of rotation and dispersed my open cases.
The pain in my head and neck and ear was unlike anything I had ever experienced. My eye was running a constant tear down my cheek because I couldn't close it without a lot of thought and I found I couldn't easily eat or drink. But this was an honest and true gift from God. Honestly. This could have been worse. This could have been a lot worse. It forced me to take a look at my life and make some big changes. I completely changed the way I was eating, and I made sure if I wasn't up going pee, I was laying down with my feet up. It's hard not to feel responsible for things going on in your own house, but I had to do it.
At my next doctor's appointment they told me I had lost 9 lbs. That was in 5 days. It was all water. I finally looked at the scale. We decided I could go back to work part time until the baby comes. My boss actually made sure I had an ottoman in my office to put my feet up on and has checked to make sure my feet are up more than once. My doctor moved my scheduled c-section up, in hopes that having the baby would speed up my recovery.
I mostly miss my smile. Another outcome of this is realizing that there is more to who I am than what I look like. Being able to offer a smile is something I am sure most of everyone takes for granted. The day we went to pick up my medications, I had my eye taped shut (hard to shut it on my own) and my giant Lady Gaga sunglasses on. An older gentleman was trying to talk to me about some things that were on sale. I was terrified to talk to him, he would see my broken face. He made a joke. I couldn't smile. I mostly miss my smile.
One amazing blessing I can count is that my daughter totally gets when I am trying to smile. She smiles back.
It is getting easier to face people now. Maybe I am just getting used to it. Maybe I am starting to understand that my face is the smallest part of all of this. In three days, I will be holding my new little man. (It's a boy!)
I will recover. This will go away. I have so much to be thankful for. And so do you. Take some time to be thankful today, doctor's orders.