Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Moving to the Country, Gonna Eat a Lot of Peaches

This upcoming weekend is Labor Day weekend!  It also marks the 1 year anniversary of us living in this house.  We moved from a suburban, golf course community with sidewalks and a neighborhood pool, to an old farmhouse on 40 acres of land, and very few neighbors.  Needless to say, it was a little bit of an adjustment, at least for me.  My husband and the boys fit right in, as if they had been living here the whole time.  But, I was rather apprehensive about moving.  It just seemed so secluded.   However, I can honestly say that it has been a blessing!  I find a lot of joy watching my boys run around outside instead of sitting in front of the TV.  They are very good at occupying themselves outdoors...finding every mud puddle possible, looking for bugs, making inventions, riding scooters, swinging, playing with the animals, etc.  We have had our fair share of home improvements to take care of, and we are no where near finished, but that's part of the fun, right?  My husband was looking forward to mowing the grass because our previous HOA required us to pay for lawn service. However, he quickly realized that this was no small job.  We don't mow all 40 acres, but he still has an extremely large area to maintain on a weekly basis!  Take a look at this beautiful land.  I mean, THIS is why we moved.  So much room to run!


Before we moved, I would randomly get the song, 'Peaches' by the band The Presidents of the United States of America stuck in my head...the chorus says "Moving to the country, gonna eat a lot of peaches".  And, I still find myself singing it every now and then!  I guess you could say it was kind of my theme song for a while.  We planted a peach tree...so hopefully in a few years, I WILL be eating a lot of peaches!
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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

My Personal Struggles with Infertility

I wish I could apologize to anyone who ever previously told me about their infertility troubles because I feel like I didn't have much compassion for women who were having trouble getting pregnant.  At least, I never had ENOUGH compassion.  That is until I faced the struggles myself.  When we decided we wanted to start a family, we tried for 3 months, then got pregnant with Chase.  No problemo!
Sweet baby Chase

So, of course I just assumed it would be smooth sailing the second time around.  WRONG!  We tried for several months, then I started to get a little worried.  We tried for a few more months, then the worry increased.  I started googling the dreaded word “infertility” and learned a lot…some good and some bad.  I don’t know if it was too much information because sometimes ignorance is bliss.  The more I learned about issues that can cause infertility and the more stories I read about other couples having troubles, the more freaked out I got that I was never going to get pregnant.  

Apparently the magic number is 12 months.  If you have tried to get pregnant for 12 months and it hasn’t happened yet, then it might be time to consult a specialist.  So, that’s what we did.  We scheduled an appointment for a consultation, met with the doctor. I happened to have a 9 cm fibroid on the outside of my uterus, so he said it that this benign growth definitely seemed to be my problem and once it was removed, I should get pregnant easily.  Perfect!  Finally, I had answers to my questions, and seemingly an easy fix.  I had the surgery, and waited the recommended 3 months to allow my body to heal, then we were back at it…trying, and trying, and trying again.  Charting ovulation, taking my body temperature, eating healthy, and on and on.  Still no baby.  So, I called him again.  "Hello, doctor..."  This time, he recommended a little help from some drugs to stimulate ovulation.  I took 3 rounds of Letrozole with no luck.  This drug was very similar to Clomid.  From what I have heard, it seems Clomid is more commonly known, however, my doctor said he had better luck with Letrozole and there seemed to be fewer side effects.  

When Letrozole failed to help get me pregnant, we then decided to continue with the infertility treatments and proceeded to do 3 rounds of IUI (intrauterine insemination).  I was not prepared for the physical or emotional toll that IUI would take on my body and my mind.  First of all, it involves lots of drugs, both oral and injectables.  Poking myself in the stomach was not exactly fun, but when my husband had to give me a shot in the booty with a giant needle, I thought he was going to pass out.  And, the actual procedure was so much worse then the preparation.  The cramping I experienced after the insemination was INSANE!  I'm talking, cold sweats, nausea, dizzy, migraines, and the list goes on.  It was terrible.  I never would have guessed that this seemingly simple procedure would cause me to feel the way I did physically.  And, the mental/emotional stress was a whole other issue.  I could have put out a California forest fire with all of the tears I shed over those 3 years.  Even though I knew friends who had gone through infertility treatments, I was not prepared for toll it would take on me.  

I had such a sense of guilt about everything.  Why couldn't I give Chase a sibling?  Am I not a good enough mother that God thinks I can't handle another child?  What's wrong with me?  What's wrong with my husband?  STOP STRESSING!...When you stop trying so hard, it will happen.  Excuse me?  HOW can I stop thinking about it 24/7?  That's just not mentally possible.  Until my eggs dry up and I start menopause, I will not be able to stop thinking about it no matter how hard I try.  And, then I had guilt about the time requirements of all of the infertility treatments.  Time I should have been spending with Chase, but instead I was driving 70 minutes round trip to the doctor's office a couple of times a week.  Sometimes I would drag him along, but he was so very curious and I didn't want to scare him when I would have to get my blood drawn or have any other tests.  I was doing all of this for him, in a way, because I wanted him to have a sibling so very badly.  He would love a baby brother or sister.  But, the guilt was still there, no matter how much I tried to justify it.  

Eskimo kisses

After 3 failed attempts at IUI, all of the emotional stress made me want to take a break from the infertility treatments.  We decided to just chill for a few months and take a step back.  We wanted to enjoy the summer and not be worried about doctor appointments and ovulation schedules.  Towards the middle of the summer though, I started to get the itch again...I want a baby, I want a baby, I want a baby.  

"Hello, doctor..."  This time, he agreed it was time to start the procedures for IVF (invitro fertilization).  This was big time.  Lots of shots, drugs, egg removal, fertilization, implantation, bed rest, endless blood tests and sonograms.  But, I had had time to clear my mind and I was ready to take the IVF bull by the horns.  It was 2013, and that September marked Adam and my 10 wedding anniversary.  To celebrate, we had planned a beach vacation without our son.  This was the longest we would have ever been away from him, so that was a little nerve wracking!  But, in any case, we both needed the break, and the time together with no distractions.  We were set to leave on Aug 10.  I  was scheduled to start the IVF stuff when we returned.  I was just waiting on my period so I could call the doctor and he could tell me when to start poking myself with the needles and swallowing the pills.  I thought my cycle was going to start around Aug 5...but it didn't.  So, I waited another couple of days, and still no period.  At this point, I was getting really mad at my body.  I was finally at peace with the fact that I was going to have to do IVF, and now my stupid body won't even cooperate so I can start the necessary drugs!  What is the problem!?!?!  Was I pregnant?  No way.  I took a pregnancy test.  Negative.  Yep, that's what I was expecting.  After you take 20+ tests that are ALL negative, you just assume the next one will be negative too.  So, I waited a couple more days.  Still no period.  I took another test.  This one was positive.  Ok, now I'm just annoyed.  What is going on?  What is the universe doing to my poor mind?  There is no way I can actually be pregnant, so this test must be wrong.  

"Hello doctor..."  They suggested I get a blood test to confirm, but they said that if the home pregnancy test showed up positive, then most likely I was pregnant.  OMG.  OMG.  OMG.  Are you kidding me? What are the odds?  I still couldn't believe it.  I wouldn't let myself get too excited because I kept thinking there is no way that I just got pregnant on my own after trying for over 3 years and numerous infertility treatments.  So, the day before our 10 year anniversary beach extravaganza, I found out I WAS PREGNANT!  I just stood there in silence with a quiet tear trailing down my cheek as the nurse confirmed over the phone that the blood test was positive.  Finally.  My prayers were answered.  Finally.  I happened to have a "big brother" shirt that I had purchased a couple of years ago in anticipation of getting pregnant, so I quickly found it, dusted it off, and put it on Chase (I told him it said "king of the world"). I took some pictures of him, and quickly printed them off before Adam got home.


I really wanted to surprise Adam, so I put them in an envelope along with a letter thanking him for all of his support through all of the struggles we have had over the past few years.  At the airport early the following morning, I gave him the envelope.  He read the letter then looked at the "big brother" pictures and after taking a moment to let it resonate, in amazement, he said "HOW?"  I laughed and cried tears of joy because I thought the exact same thing.  How...after all these years and so much stress and so many tears?  We will never know why.  But we will forever be grateful.

Newly pregnant during our anniversary vacation

I had always heard of women who had such a hard time getting pregnant the first time, and then after doing IVF or some other form of treatments, their 2nd, 3rd and subsequent pregnancies came easily, and often times were very surprising.  But, to have had no issues getting pregnant the first time, all of a sudden it was like my body forgot what to do.  I felt very isolated because I had not known anyone to face infertility the 2nd time around.  So, if you are reading this, and feel like you are alone, I want to let you know that you are not.  There are women out there who have had 3 babies, and want a 4th, but for some reason it's a struggle.  There are women who can't get pregnant at all, with no explanation as to why.  There are women who get pregnant right away, but can't seem to carry the baby to term.  With so many struggles, it's amazing there are any healthy babies born at all.  When you are young, you just think about how NOT to get pregnant, so when you shift your focus onto opening up your heart to a baby, it's really saddening when it doesn't happen.  

Now, I used to get so frustrated when people would tell me stories of miraculous pregnancies because I thought, that's great for them, but what about me?  I was honestly happy for other couples who could get pregnant easily, but it was also an overwhelming sense of jealousy.  So, I am writing this story, not to gloat about my miraculous pregnancy, but to hopefully provide some inspiration to those out there who are struggling.  You never know what will happen.  I would have bet money on the fact that I would not get pregnant on my own.  I feel for you, I pray for you, and I have so much more compassion for you then you will ever know.  If nothing else, I just want you to know that you are not alone.  So many women out there are going through similar issues, so please find someone to confide in and don't try to navigate this journey alone.

Our first picture as a family of four

Proud big brother...FINALLY!
 Staring at my baby boy in disbelief that he's mine.  
Beckham Charles, we waited a long time for you!

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Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's Disease is a degenerative brain disease and the leading cause of dementia.  According to www.alz.org, Alzheimer's Disease was the 6th leading cause of death in the United States in 2015.  I have a personal connection to Alzheimer's Disease and dementia because my father passed away in 2014 from complications brought on by Alzheimer's.

Charlie Johnson was a funny guy, always one to share a joke, whether it was appropriate or not.  He was an amazing athlete, even playing in multiple softball leagues up until his brain wouldn't let him anymore.  He was the smartest man I knew and an amazing pediatric dentist who helped countless children.  He touched so many lives in both his work and through coaching numerous sports teams that my brothers and I played on.  And, he was the best daddy a girl could ask for.

He was 50, and my mom had noticed that he seemed to be a little more forgetful then normal.  When confronted with a question about why he forgot something, he would just chuckle and say, "I have C.R.S. disease!"  CRS stood for Can't Remember Shit.  That's my dad.  Joking about anything and everything.
Charlie the jokster...his belly wasn't quite as big as mine!

Time went by and my mom convinced him to see a doctor.  A cat scan revealed that a large portion of his brain was missing.  It was just black space on the image.  Such a frightening thing to process. How could this happen?  How could part of your brain be GONE?  After doing a lot of research, and thinking about what might have caused this, my dad was given the diagnosis of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).  It is often associated with boxers or professional football players who have several repeated blows to the head or concussions.  My dad was not a professional athlete, but once my parents sat down and tried to figure out how his brain just disintegrated, they realized that he had an unusual amount of hard hits to the same part of his head over his lifetime.  He was in a few fights growing up and he played football very aggressively in high school.  As an adult, he was hit in the head with a softball, ran into a fence post while trying to catch a fly ball, was accidentally hit with a post hole digger, fell through the ceiling and hit his head on the toilet.  It was pretty amazing how all of these seemingly minor injuries added up to create one very big problem.

The movie, Concussion, with Will Smith really hit home with me.  If you haven't seen it, it's worth renting, even if you don't have a personal connection with brain disorders.  The movie showed a lot of aggression from the men affected with CTE.  That is one thing I am extremely thankful that my dad was never affected by.  He was as loving his last day as he was all of the other days of my life. He definitely got frustrated with his disease.  He would get angry with himself and also with others.  But, he never ever raised a hand, or even raised his voice towards anyone.  Both CTE and Alzheimer's Disease can only be confirmed postmortem.  They have similar symptoms, but was later confirmed in my father's autopsy that he had the neuropathological findings of Alzheimer's.

My mom took care of him for a long time.  Much longer then I would have been able to if I was in her shoes.  Providing the amount of care and supervision that a person with Alzheimer's Disease requires is indescribable.  It's constant, no breaks, no relief.  Much like a toddler, you can't turn your head for a second for fear of what they might do.  When it got to be too much, she reluctantly found a home that had availability.  This was not your usual nursing home though.  She found a man and his wife, who lived in a regular house and rented out the extra bedrooms to patients with dementia.  They took care of them, cooked for them, cleaned them, and were there at the house all day and all night to ensure the patients were safe.  It was amazing!  Our family became very close to the couple taking care of my dad.  I was in awe at their level of patience, taking care of not only 1 person with memory problems, but 3 or 4 at a time!  My mom visited him every single day.  The only time she wouldn't see him was when she was out of town visiting me or my brothers.  The doctors all said that since my dad's body was very healthy, there was a potential for him to live a very long time.  Most people with Alzheimers are much older, so other organs shut down and cause further complications.  But, with an extremely healthy 60 year old, it was a different story.

My parents on their 40th wedding anniversary

However, in 2013, shortly before my youngest brother's wedding, my dad had a stroke.  In a matter of minutes, he went from walking around and telling jokes, to sitting slumped over in a wheelchair, not speaking a word. It was extremely hard to see him in that state.   He started physical therapy, which helped tremendously, but he was never able to walk again, and he only whispered a word here and there.  He lived another year before he aspirated on some food and got pneumonia.  He was not able to recover because his body was extremely weak at the time.  My whole family: mom, brothers and myself were able to be with him when he died.  We all stood around him holding his hands and combing our fingers through is hair.  It was the saddest moment of my life watching my father, who was always so strong and protective, in such a weak and vulnerable state.  Even though it was extremely hard, I would do it again in a heartbeat because to be able to be there with him, letting him know that I love him and that it's ok, was just an amazing gift.

My Dad with his supporters (who were nicknamed Charlie's Angels) at the 
Alzheimer's Arkansas walk to raise money and awareness for the disease.

If you have a family member or loved one that is dealing with Alzheimer's or CTE, my heart goes out to you.  In a way, I felt like my dad died multiple deaths.  I experienced grieving when he no longer said my name, when he was forced to give up his beloved softball games, when he couldn't hold my son, when he couldn't walk or talk anymore, etc.  With a lingering disease like this, it's a long road for everyone involved.  Find some sort of support to help you along.  I was contacted by an old high school friend, who I hadn't talked to in years.  Her father had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and she was reaching out to me because I could relate.  In the beginning, I was happy to think I was helping her deal with her father's diagnosis, but in reality, she was so much more of a support system to me then she probably knows.  Just having someone who truly understands what you are going through means the world.  So, don't go through this alone.  If you don't know anyone personally, there are support groups out there specifically for family members of dementia patients. Sometimes it's just nice to know you're not alone.
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Miscarriage

After having so many problems getting pregnant the 2nd time around, I pretty much knew that I would only have 2 children.  I accepted that, but I had always wanted 3 kids, so I decided not to go on birth control after Beckham was born...and I thought we would just see what happens.  If I got pregnant, then that would be wonderful, but I wasn't expecting anything considering my past.


Well, I was pleasantly surprised because when Beckham was 11 months old, I found out I was pregnant!  Awesome!  I was super excited!  This would complete our family, and we would live happily ever after!  I was wrong.  Again. Everything was great, I didn't feel nauseous, I didn't feel tired yet, I was thinking this 3rd pregnancy this was a breeze.  I had my first OB appointment at 7 weeks.  They did a sonogram to get measurements on the baby, but they couldn't get a good view, so they did a vaginal sonogram.  They got what information they needed, and I got to see that precious little heart flickering on the screen.  That is such an indescribable moment when you see that this alien growing inside of you is really alive!  The doctor said everything looked great, so I scheduled the next month's appointment and went on my way.  Later that day, I had some cramping and bleeding.  The nurse had warned me to expect it after a vaginal sonogram, but this seemed like more then just spotting.  When it got heavier, I called the doctor's office and they told me not to worry, it was just from the sonogram and it would go away in a day.

That night, I couldn't sleep.  The bleeding continued.  It got heavier.  More cramping.  The next morning I called the doctor the minute her office opened.  The nurse again tried to reassure me that bleeding is very common after a vaginal sonogram, but I told her that this was NOT normal, and I need to see the doctor IMMEDIATELY.  She said she'd call me back.  I waited, and cried, and waited and cried.  A couple of hours later, I called them back.  I was furious that I was having to track down this nurse who didn't believe me.  Finally, she agreed to let me come in and see the doctor.  I still think she didn't believe me, I think she was just realizing I was not going to give up until I was seen by the doctor, so she needed to let me get my way.  I tried to compose myself as I waited anxiously in the waiting room.  They called me back and after a quick exam and another sonogram, it was confirmed that I had miscarried.  Luckily, my body was shedding the lining and I didn't need to schedule a DNC, so the doctor just did a little clean up while I was there.

To see your babies heartbeat one day, and then have it scraped from your body the next day was horrifying.  When I was having trouble getting pregnant with Beckham, I often wondered which would be worse:  to never be able to get pregnant, or to know you can get pregnant but not carry the child to term.  I can honestly say the miscarriage was 100 times worse then the infertility.  I was only 7 weeks, but I already had so much love for this baby.  Because I didn't have any issues with either of my other pregnancies, it didn't even cross my mind that I would have problems.  I completely took for granted that things would be ok.  We had already started looking up names, and deciding how we would get the boys to sleep together since we only had 3 bedrooms.  I was thinking of fun ways to tell the boys that they would have another sibling, and wondering how I was going to juggle the youngest 2 being only 19 months apart.

I am a huge fan of April Fool's Day.  I think it's so fun to play innocent practical jokes, so I had made a short video to send to our immediate family that announced our pregnancy.  I was going to send it out on April Fool's Day to see if anyone would think it was real or not.  Well, the joke was on me because instead of laughing at my brother's witty responses to my joke, I was laying on the table with my feet in stirrups getting my baby's remains pulled out of me.  It's heartache like I had never experienced before.  That's right.  I miscarried on April Fool's Day.  Ah, the irony.

We decided to continue to try to get pregnant again for another year.  That year came and went, and finally, I am at peace with our family just the way it is.  I have a wonderful husband, who has supported me through good times and bad and very very bad.  And, I have 2 amazing little boys who light up my life in so many different ways.  I still remember my due date, and I get a little sad when it rolls around, but I have so much else to be thankful for.


If you are going through, or have been through, any sort of miscarriage, I empathize with you.  For me, I have felt better with time.  I had to allow myself to grieve and be sad, but little by little I have found happiness again.  I tried to distract myself by focusing on my family, and that helped.  But, it's hard to prevent myself from wondering what might have been.
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Well hello there!  My name is Niki, and I am a wife and mother of 2 boys.  I live in Kansas City, and I decided to start a blog as a creative outlet for myself as well as a way to share things I am passionate about with others.  I have never had a facebook account (until now) because I felt like I often got a false sense of who a person was just by looking at their "perfect" profiles.  So, I plan to do my best to keep it as real as possible here.  I'll talk about the good and the bad, the fun days and the hard, want to pull your hair out days.  Hang in there with me!  I'm just getting started with this blogging thing, but hopefully it's a good fit for us all!
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