Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Climb

Talking about death and dying sucks.  No one wants to talk about death in general, let alone their own - and who would want to when we're all so busy living?  Generally speaking, I think we pretty much all avoid thoughts of our own demise and busy our minds with anything and everything that keeps our thoughts from straying.
Since becoming a parent and a heart attack survivor (practically in the same breath), I'm pretty sure that not a single day has gone by where I don't think about my life and death.  As I've spoken with other survivors of disease, trauma, accidents, etc., it seems that most of us are in this boat.  We want our experience to mean something - we don't want what happened to us to be an accident or twist of fate.  We search for reason and meaning and truth in hopes that something we stumble across will explain to us all of life's mysteries. It can't possibly be that we were in a random place at a random time and something randomly awful happened to us.
I recently came across the term "felix culpa" - latin for "happy fault." Wikipedia describes this as "a series of unfortunate events that will lead to happier outcomes." Religious people come to associate the term with the Christian concept of "original sin" while the Oprah Magazine shared Martha Beck's "The Choice You Have to Make When Things Go Terribly Wrong" - this is an interesting read, if you have a minute.
I'd really like to think that I've *handled* my heart attack well (*thanks for the terminology, Olivia Pope). I was 28. Life felt normal. I was floating along, checking the boxes - grad school, marriage, baby, blah blah blah.  All wonderful things - so, so wonderful. I don't remember being scared of much - because I was busy living my life. But heart attacks really hurt.  And they're scary - because you actually feel your body struggling to survive. And then I continued to be alive, but I almost died and everything seems upside down and dark and twisty. All of a sudden, life felt delicate, fragile and easily extinguished. My whole life, up to that point, I'd never felt such a disturbing concept (and perhaps, that makes me luckier than most?) 
Living didn't stop. It just looks a little different now - the way I spend my time, the food I eat, the things that I let worry me (and especially, the things I don't).  I had to overcome my fear of public speaking to share this experience with other women. The mixed blessing is thinking about everything perhaps a little harder - but the new part of the normal has worn away and now it's just life again.
I bring all of this to the surface now for a few reasons - our choice to bring Emelia into the world wasn't undertaken lightly. There are other SCAD survivors who've made the decision we made - there are many MANY others who will not carry another child post SCAD. Some doctors advise one way while others take another route.  EVERYONE has an opinion (especially those who aren't asked.....). I can't wait to welcome this sweet girl and make Cameron a brother - but I'm still scared.  My fear didn't evaporate or hide behind a future of endless possibility. It just sort of co-exists with the excitement, hope, anxiety, delight and a bazillion other emotions that overwhelm pregnant ladies day by day.
Perhaps one could draw the conclusion that she is part of my "felix culpa" - my lovely & amazing outcome after a rather crappy health scare.  I wish I could say I wasn't scared of what's to come - but really, what parent isn't scared for themselves or their kids?  I hope for a healthy, happy baby and a boring post-partum (at least health-wise). There's not much else to do but enjoy all the moments I have and look forward.

Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waiting on the other side
It's the climb
The struggles I'm facing
The chances I'm taking
Sometimes might knock me down
But no, I'm not breaking
I may not know it
But these are the moments that
I'm gonna remember most
- The Climb, Miley Cyrus (yeah, I know, but she makes a good point)

Monday, May 25, 2015

BecauseHope2 - The Rest of That Story

The idea of Emelia (much like her brother) took up residence in my heart and mind long before she'd taken up residence in my belly.

I'd spent the first two and half years after my heart attack trying to ignore this.  We'd had enough conversations with enough cardiologists who knew pretty much nothing about SCAD to understand that nobody had any idea of what could/would actually happen should we decide to get pregnant again. In my earlier years of survival, there weren't studies and virtual registries and SCAD Survivor Facebook Pages & chat forums - there were autopsies and sad widowers, motherless families and an intense medical conundrum.  It was only my kind OBGYN who advised us not to make any permanent decisions - after all, Brian and I were 31 and 29 respectively, in the summer of 2011.

And so, we enjoyed our little family and watched our little boy grow from a baby to a toddler to a boy, soaking it all in because it really does pass in the blink of an eye.  We scoured the internet, and met with professionals and talked to friends trying to figure out what the next step would be.  We decided that fostering to adopt seemed like the way ahead and so we spend the majority of 2013 preparing our home and reshaping our lives to welcome another child.  Our first and only foster children arrived in late August 2013. You can revisit that here.

On a warm fall afternoon in September 2013, a co-worker and I met for our weekly walking meeting in Tower Grove Park. The leaves were obviously thinking about falling but summer was hanging on for dear life. We ran through our agenda, giving updates and making plans, before checking out with a personal update.  I had to chuckle when she asked for chocolate because she knew I ALWAYS had some on me during "that time of the month"- which, after years of working together, was the same time for many of us in the same office.

Except that, as I scanned my calendar, I realized I was three days late.

And it would be another three days and a small fortune spent at the drugstore before my body confirmed I wasn't pregnant. But, in that six days, I guess you could say the damage was done.  The idea of Emelia had drifted beyond my heart and mind - I could see her in Brian's face and Cameron's face and in my own reflection.  She had taken up residence in my voice every time I deflected questions about our family planning. She had started twinkling in my eyes (again much like her brother). I mulled over the best way to tell my sweet husband I wanted to reopen the can of worms before I realized that no grand announcement was actually needed - though exasperated (and often referring to life with me as "riding on the crazy train"), he already sensed I needed to figure this out.

We spoke with my regular doctor, my highly revered cardiologist and my trusted OBGYN - who all listened to us, advised us of an "unknown" level of risk and agreed to support any decision we made. Trusted OBGYN referred us to a much sought-after high risk Perinatalogist  who could *easily* juggle the torches of my second pregnancy. It would take another three months for this doctor to review my medical history, draw vials and vials of blood for testing and tell us, quite bluntly, that we had the green light from him to get pregnant.


Brian and I were supposed to go back to work that day. Instead, we sat on the floor of our family room, eyes glazed over, trying to comprehend the tsunami of change headed in our direction. After years of hearing enough "I don't knows" which sort of really means "no", hearing a "yes, and..." was breathtaking. Shocking. Time-stopping. We had information. We had a plan for treatment.  We a team of doctor ready to support our decision.  The shock of it all is that there was no need to jump into the unknown.  We merely had to take each other's hands and step forward together.

It would take another nine months (complete with wacky pregnancy apps and a bittersweet miscarriage) for Emelia to find her way from twinkling in my eye to taking root in my belly.

"Sometimes we make the process more complicated than we need to. We will never make a journey of a thousand miles by fretting about how long it will take or how hard it will be. We make the journey by taking each day step by step and then repeating it again and again until we reach our destination.Joseph B. Wirthlin