Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Just the 10 of Us

"At the end of the day, there are some things you just can't help but talk about. Some things we just don't want to hear, and some things we say because we can't be silent any longer. Some things are more than what you say. They're what you do. Some things you say because you have no other choice..... And not too often, but every now and then, some things simply speak for themselves." Meredith Grey, Grey's Anatomy

Last February, I volunteered at the local Go Red for Women "Casting Call" event - I had planned to work the "giveaway" table.  Little did I know (and trust me, I did not prepare accordingly) that I would be sucked on camera by local AHA staff to tell my SCAD story.  I was nervous and wished I'd dress up a little more, done something with my hair or at least put some lip gloss on.  But Brian was home with an ailing (and pukey!) Cameron, so really, it's a miracle I made it out the door at all for my volunteer commitment.  Two months later, I received an email notifying me I was a "semi-finalist"... for what exactly, I wasn't sure.  As I skimmed the email, I recalled my storytelling at the mall and got really excited.  A few weeks later, I told my story again, this time over the phone to four women at the America Heart Association's National Office.  I spoke for about 20 minutes. And when I was done, there was silence. And a couple sighs, a few "wows" and then, some questions. And then a few weeks after that (and pending a background check to make sure I'm not cray-cray), I received the official notice that I'd be one of the Real Women volunteers included in Go Red for Women's 10th Anniversary Celebration.  That was May, and I've been sitting on this for what feels like forever! I couldn't wait to share what I thought was the next step in this crazy journey of mine.

And then, in August, I went to LA to meet my sister spokeswomen. Getting on the plane was tough and I didn't know why.  I have been flying since I was three and have NEVER been nervous about it.  As the plane took off, I was a wreck - and the older woman next to me thought I was motion sick and offered me a barf bag :)  I politely declined and looked out the window as tears rolled down my face.  And then it struck me - I was going to meet 9 women exactly like me.  Who were probably living a "normal" life - working or raising a family or both.  And then, heart disease threatened to break them. And somehow, they each found the courage to not only move forward, but use their own survival to help others.  On that trip, I realized that no matter what exciting events would come in the next year, I'd already gotten to experience the best part.  Nothing could possibly live up to sharing 48 hours with the bravest, strongest, sweetest and most resilient women

The ten of us account for: one stroke, two heart transplants,  a congential heart defect, birth control induced heart disease, chemotherapy induced heart failure, two SCADs, post-partum cardiomyopathy, and five heart attacks. One of us is waiting for a heart. One of us has battled breast cancer too.  Some of these women make my experience sound like a stroll in the park. The youngest is 22 and the oldest is 51. I'm pretty sure we have close to 20 children between us. We are the 1 in 3 women who are afflicted with heart disease. We are (for now) the 1 in 2 that survived. I have said it before and I'll say it again. THIS IS WHAT HEART DISEASE IN WOMEN LOOKS LIKE. It is the #1 killer of women. Period. If you haven't been personally affected by it, you will be.  And this is why we share our stories.  

"Human beings all change. Not what they are but who they are. We have the power to change what we do with our life and turn it into our destiny. ” — Elie Wiesel

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Another Voice (Guest Blog #1)

First, a few housekeeping details.  For those of you who've diligently read my blog posts since the beginning, you'll recall that I've learned that when I'm ready for them, the universe dishes out some pretty good lessons/reminders.  In my last post, I struggled a bit with this journey.  And then, at a conference, I saw this amazing, AMAZING video. While it certainly wasn't the organization's intention, I received a good kick in the pants about the future BGS. 

So - you've been listening to me talk for months.  I wanted to share another perspective and I've invited a few people in my life to guest blog for re-BIRTH.  So, welcome my friend Annie!  We met through our employer in 2008 and have very complimentary personalities (i.e. we don't put up with each other's BS).  While our lives have taken us to very different places, we continue to share a wonderful, honest friendship.  And she is one of those people who loved my son before he even arrived - which makes her a keeper.  We'll never see each other enough, which means we'll never get sick of each other :) 

Take it away, Annie.

When Rachel and I met in 2008, in typical girl fashion, we had to size each other up for a few weeks before we decided that we were both awesome and we needed to be awesome together. We were working at Habitat for Humanity, my first “real” job, and in just a few short weeks, we became fast friends. 
 Rachel and I bonded over a common goal. That goal was to better our community, city, state and world in whatever way we possibly could. We share a passion for nonprofit work, as well as the very annoying need to keep ourselves as busy as humanly possible. Many times we have talked about combining my creativity and love for planning events with her strong skills in nonprofit management and development; we just know we would be the dream team J.  We have plotted and planned about our dream nonprofit and how we could start it. Some day, I have every intention of realizing that dream.
Throughout our friendship, I have gone through many ups and downs. She has been there for me through my first, second, and third jobs, my transition from a nonprofit to corporate setting (basically a career change in my case), multiple moves, including my final move when I bought my house at the age of 26. And of course, she helped me navigate between break ups, make ups and everything in between. She was always there to listen to my drama of the week and enlighten me with her words of wisdom. Even if those words were, “Oh Annie, stop being a donkey,” which, though it might not exactly have solved my problem, it always put a smile on face and made me stop and take time to realize that whatever was going on in my life might not be as earth shattering as I had originally thought it was. I was so appreciative to be able to lean on Rachel during this part of my life. Over time, Rachel became someone I looked up to, even though she is just a few years older than me.
When Rachel told me she was pregnant with Cameron, I couldn’t have been more thrilled. I had been pestering her since the day after she became a “Mrs.” to have a baby. She was going to be my first friend to have a baby, so naturally as Rachel’s belly grew so did my excitement. I got to meet Cameron the day he was born. He was absolutely perfect and I could just see the love pouring out of Rachel and Brian. I felt so fortunate to be there for this very special day. For the next week or so, I enjoyed all kinds of adorable pictures of Cam via text and of course, on Facebook.. 
And then came the day I received an awful text – the day that Rachel re-entered hospital. I was worried, but I just figured it was something that the doctors would give her medicine for, send her home and she would move on with her life.  As we all know, I was very wrong. Even after getting a few more details, I didn’t quite understand what had happened; I just knew that at this point in time the roles in our relationship might reverse, at least temporarily, and that I would need to be there for Rachel to lean on. This was a concept I was not exactly familiar with because as long as I had known Rachel, there wasn’t much she couldn’t handle.
That being said, when Rachel was able to go home and was making her way through the healing process, I watched her become Rachel times 20. Not only did she confirm everyone’s predictions of becoming a wonderful and loving mother to a beautiful and happy baby boy, she went above and beyond to learn everything there was to know about what had happened to her. Armed with this information, Rachel’s passion for improving her community/other’s lives shined through. She located other SCAD survivors, became involved with the American Heart Association (AHA), and made connections on a national level. Watching Rachel accomplish all of this in less than a year was completely inspiring. That wasn’t all though; she also started her blog, planned her very first and successful “Heartiversary” fundraiser, and shared a very personal part of her life very publicly on stage with Brian and Cam (who, of course, stole the show) at the AHA Heart Ball. 
During one of the many “heart to heart”(pun intended!) conversations,  I told her that the reason I never gave her the standard “I’m here for you” or “Call me if your need anything” is because of two things: First, the friendship that Rachel and I have formed doesn’t require me to say that. She knows I will always be around if she needs a shoulder to cry on or someone to tell her stop being a drama queen. Second and most important, Rachel won’t break…not because she feels like she can’t, or she is too stubborn to accept help, but because Rachel has refused to see herself as a victim. She has turned her misfortune into an opportunity to raise awareness for SCAD, has started educating others on the importance of funding research for heart disease, and most importantly, she has been supportive of others when they desperately need it. 
Watching Cam become a little boy rather than a baby, seeing Brian continue to be not only an amazing and supportive husband, but now a caring and loving father, and watching Rachel start to realize her potential as an inspiration to others living with heart disease and/or their families, makes me extremely proud and grateful to be a friend to their family. 
Before this happened to my friend, I didn’t think it was possible for women my age to be affected by things like heart attacks. I thought they were a concern for the elderly and/or unhealthy. Being a part of Rachel’s journey made me realize the importance of supporting heart disease awareness and research AND the importance of taking care of myself. Hearing this story from someone my age makes it real. I look forward to supporting Rachel in any way that I can, and witnessing the huge effect she will have on our community, city, state and world…just like we always talked about!
 "A friend is one who knows you and loves you just the same." - Elbert Hubbard

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Seventeen Month Itch

"I close my eyes when I go to bed
And I dream of angels that make me smile
I feel better when I hear them say
"Everything will be wonderful someday"

Promises mean everything

When you're little and the world's so big
I just don't understand how
You can smile with all those tears in your eyes
And tell me everything is wonderful now." - Everclear

Motherhood must make you a little crazy.  Just when your child is at the height of exploration, beginning to fight for independence, learning to speak and becoming a little person (or little terror), you think about having another one.  Or maybe it's just me..... but for some unexplained reason, the possibility of Baby Girl Siebert (BGS) has been dancing around in my head for the last few weeks.  Perhaps it's because I've run into a number of families who've fostered to adopt.  It could be due to the reality that Cameron is less and less baby every day.  A third possibility is that one of my SCAD sisters just gave birth to a healthy baby girl (and both mom and baby continue to do well).  As we get closer and closer to settling into our new house (fingers crossed), I feel like we get closer and closer to the reality of BGS. I'm sure it's a combination of all of these things... whatever the case may be, it appears that I'm itching.

And with the itching has come alot of unexpected tears. In fact, I think I've cried more in the last two weeks than I have in the last year. At one point, I sobbed at the kitchen table after a really great meal with Brian and rehashed the same old tale that we've known for some time- that there won't be anymore pregnancies in my future.  A few days later, I cried into the phone with my mom.  And to some extent, I'm sure they both must have been thinking (and did mention, rather gently) that this notion has been the "truth" for quite some time - so, why am I still sad about it?  I've tried to be optimistic about the truth, but sometimes, the truth is a difficult pill to swallow.  And I suppose the tears really aren't just about embracing the truth - they are also about fear & stepping into the unknown. 

I know what to expect from pregnancy.  I am endlessly thankful & lucky to have had that experience (as uncomfortable and swollen as I was!).  I don't know what to expect from fostering and/or adopting.  There is a parade of "what-if's" & "how-to's" trotting in circles, getting tangled up in my mind. What if I don't make enough time for Cameron when BGS arrives? What does childcare look like for two kids? What if I make a mistake (this is bound to happen!)? What if I favor/like/love one kid over the other?

I had my semi-annual cardiologist appointment yesterday - everything seems to be stable :) I'll stay on the same medicines and continue the same heart healthy activities.  I'll have my 2nd "heartiversary" appt. in March 2013 and at that time, will take another stress test to look for improved heart function. When the questions portion of the visit came around, I promptly burst into tears (again, oy, how embarrassing!) and asked rehash the baby-having conversation.  I think my doctor was just as surprised as Brian and my mom, given my previous resolution to move forward with adoption.  And apparently, what I needed to hear him say (again!) and what he said was that pesky truth.... MY PESKY TRUTH.... that the risk is incalculable.  I started to feel soooo silly for all the boo-hooing I'd done for the last few weeks.  I already have the answers to my questions.  Brian reminded me that I'm a chronic over-thinker and really, we are at our best when we tackle life together.

I hope you don't find this post redundant. I'm reminded that the journey doesn't happen on a "straight path" - there are ins and outs, ups and downs, and steps backward. Scared or not, sometimes we have to just forge ahead in hopes that what we seek is just around the bend.  And more often than we make time for, it's okay to stand still and appreciate where we find ourselves presently.  Last night, Cameron and I counted cars.  I sat and watched as he pushed the bubble mower up and down the driveway.  We ate our dinners together. I gave him a bath and rocked him to almost-sleep.  I listened to him babble happily as he drifted off for the night. And as I fell asleep last night, I couldn't help but feel TWO things - surprisingly content with standing still along with a tiny touch of excitement while considering Cameron as a big brother.

"I took my love and I took it down
I climbed a mountain and I turned around

And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
'Till the landslide brought me down

Oh, mirror in the sky
What is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail thru the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

Well, I've been afraid of changing
'Cause I've built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Children get older
I'm getting older too" - Fleetwood Mac


Monday, September 3, 2012

Frogs, Snails & Puppy Dog Tails...

.... That's what little boys are made of! I mean, just look at this mischievous grin -

Cameron is approaching the 17 month mark.... wow, where does the time go?! Really, it feels like yesterday that he was a drooly, toothless butterball.  And now he's this walking, babbling (and well, still drooling) little boy.  He loves cars (cahs), trains (chuggah-chuggahs), and buses (boose) as well as every book (boo-k) he can get his hands on.  Other words in his vocabulary include mama, dada, gammah (grandma), Moh (for mowgli), pizza (clearly this came from gammah), banana, berry, meelk (milk) and water. Speaking of water, this kid loves the bathtub and rarely keeps the water in the tub.  He also adores pictures of animals, but is rather intimidated by the real thing. A few weeks ago, Brian and I took him to a park I used to frequent as a child.  We visited with cows (mooh), horses, goats, pigs (onk), chickens and peacocks.  Cameron was most taken with the chickens until the cock-a-doodle-dooing began.

He was not pleased about the following photo op:

Earlier this week I took him to daycare as usual and a somewhat startling event occurred. We were following our current morning routine - stopping at Russell's for a cup of coffee, listening to NPR while driving into the city and pointing out "beeg cahs!" along the way.  When we arrive at day care, we stand on the sidewalk and watch more cars drive by - some people are even nice enough to honk or wave.  Cameron appreciates these things and usually gives a squeal of delight.  Usually we walk down the hallway and I deposit a slightly uncertain Cam in his classroom.  He'll get a little upset as I turn to leave and as I walk toward the exit, I can hear his tiny wahs and the occasional "mama?"  But this week, I put him down and to my surprise, he walked over to the table and took his seat to have breakfast.  No fussing, no tears, no angst.  In fact, I'm pretty sure he was casting me a look that said "Ugh, come on, MOM.... buzz off so I can hang with my friends." So as he started to eat his breakfast (cereal with milk and blueberries with his own spoon!) I turned to leave.  Still no fussing.  I left the classroom but couldn't resist peeking in one last time. He was eating and chatting with his buddies.  As I walked to my car, I realized that I felt WORSE than when he cries for me.  All of a sudden, I had become the mama of a big boy who didn't need me to stick around and cuddle him or reassure him.... he was comfortable with his friends and teachers and would be perfectly fine without me.  What a happy and sad realization to watch your child confidently gain some independence.  It's also clear that I'm going to be a batshit crazy person when Cameron leaves for college :)

Later that same day, it was my turn to put Cameron to bed.  Since we don't fit so well in the rocking chair these days, I usually just stick him in his crib and let him fall asleep on his own.  For some reason, I decided to lay in the regular bed next to his crib and wait till he drifted off. After tossing and turning a bit, he popped his head up to see what the heck I was still doing in his room.  And then, much to my surprise, he stuck his chubby fist through the crib rails and grabbed my thumb.  I wrapped my hand around his and listened as his breathing slowed and the fidgeting stopped.  I swear, he must have a toddler sixth sense.  It was the sweetest little gesture and a good reminder that even though he's not a baby anymore, he's still MY baby!

“Through the blur, I wondered if I was alone or if other parents felt the same way I did - that everything involving our children was painful in some way. The emotions, whether they were joy, sorrow, love or pride, were so deep and sharp that in the end they left you raw, exposed and yes, in pain. The human heart was not designed to beat outside the human body and yet, each child represented just that - a parent's heart bared, beating forever outside its chest.” ― Debra Ginsberg