This Is Me

I live in a world that is not my own that I succumb to in many ways. I live by a code that leaves me to find joy in the small things in life. Not take advantage of anything. Love and learn from everyone I meet in my journey. And especially to learn what it means to be selfless in more ways I thought possible. I am a Army wife. It is what I do. I have a love hate relationship with what I do. But do I regret it? No way.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Here we go again...

Melinda Mae Photography.
Well, tonight is it.
Tonight is the last night daddy will be spending the night in our house for a while.
As many of you know or have seen, about a month ago we made a trip back to the US, Colorado to be exact, for my baby brother's wedding.
Ironically, it also happened to be when we "celebrated" our one year anniversary of moving to Europe.

I had a great blog post going about all the things we've seen, learned, experienced, missed, and even overcome while living in a country where we are totally exposed to the international masses and forced out of our comfort zones in every way possible.
While all that is still something I want to write about there is now a new underlying factor playing a role in how the rest of our time here in Europe will go....

Melinda Mae Photography.
When we reenlisted and accepted the assignment to move here, it was with the notion that this duty station would be, finally, a time we could all be together as a family and although the work John has to do is time consuming and harder than we're used to at Bragg (go figure!), we were willing to take that risk just for the fact that, minus missions, he'd be home virtually every night.
Something not all us military families get or are ever guaranteed on a daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly basis.
We've been married seven years, and easily over half our marriage we've been separated by deployments, schools, missions, all the way down to work related field exercises.
Melinda Mae Photography.
It's normal, it's part of it, and oddly you very quickly get used to it.
You learn to live with the three different  "you's" that evolve out of this lifestyle.
The 'married' you, and the 'alone' you.
Thirdly, even, the 'alone mommy' you.
The biggest challenge of this lifestyle is the constant back and forth between those three people and hoping they show up at the appropriate times (does not always happen!).

One of the other caveats we were given/told when moving to Belgium is that "the likelihood of you deploying is very, extremely small, we have to tell you it can happen, but, it won't...."
Don't you love scenario's like that?
It's like practically putting a target on your back.
We naively went along with it living in complete ignorance of what could potentially happen.

A few days after arriving in CO for my brother's wedding, we got the call, that we got that one luck of the draw.
John's deploying again.
For the fourth time.
It hit us like ten tons of brick.
Man, let me tell you the questions that swirled around in our heads...
Where in the world did this come from?
What happened to our three years of "getting away" to be a family?
Especially our new family of four?
Honestly, just plain and simple, why??
Melinda Mae Photography.
The news came even harsher when we were told he'd be leaving within weeks of our return date to Belgium. So not only is he leaving for a year nine months, he's leaving pretty much right away minus some pre-deployment training in Germany.

So what to do.....that was the question.

After the shock wore off, what was supposed to be our vacation (and celebration of my brother) at home with our families, turned into a scramble for information so we could make the best decision for our little fam.
Last time John deployed, as many of you know, we were still stationed in NC and it was pretty simple and clear to us that Brynlee and I moving back to CO with our families was hands down the way to go.
But this time....??
Our home was in Belgium.
Not a 6 hour plane ride, or a 24 hour drive away from everyone, but an ocean and a completely different world away.
We were borrowing a car, car seats, even beds for our kids while in CO visiting....we were in CO on vacation, not to potentially move.
Do the kids and I stay there in CO and not even go back?
Do I go back and stay in Belgium by myself and the kids?
What would we do with our house and stuff?
Can we even break our lease (we had to sign a three year lease)?
What are the costs of putting things in storage? Do we sell our cars?

So many questions, so little answers and having to make a judgement call.
We hailed in our support system and immediately coveted all input, prayers, and suggestions our family and friends had to offer as we went through every scenario we could think of.

Did I mention we were there in CO for my only brother's wedding?!?
Horrible timing. HORRIBLE.

We spent the rest of our free time leading up to my brother's wedding weekend, silent.
John and I would go out, using and abusing the amazing babysitters we had available, but the more silent riding we did without our kids, the more everything sunk in and the more broken we became.
There were times where we just sat in the car or at a restaurant table in silence and seriously cried.
No words. Just exhausted, jet lagged, teary eyed and frustrated hearts.

Melinda Mae Photography.
One of the things we realized almost immediately upon hearing this news was that Bennett will be almost exactly the same age that Brynlee was when John left for deployment #3 (six months old).
That stung SO hard.
John missed so much.
Crawling, first holidays like Christmas, first birthday, walking, first words.
Are we really going to do this all over again? Exactly the same way??

The other hard part, that is completely uncharted waters on our end is that Brynlee is totally going to understand and know what some of this means now.
We've gotten away, for far too long, with Brynlee not really understanding what it really is that daddy does (she thinks he goes to work and plays with puppies) and when he's left we've taken advantage of the fact she has no real sense of time, and can just explain all the fun things we'll do while he's gone and she rarely gives it a second thought.
We've worked really hard to keep her little world as protected, pure, and easy as possible and that's actually a huge burden to carry when you are at it alone (bless you single parents out there, I just can't even....).
Melinda Mae Photography.
To our hurt we've sacrificed and worked so much so that she knows nothing but the love of her father, whether he's physically there or not.
Now.....well, now I guess we will see how well we did.
Simply, we are just terrified of how that will impact her this time.

Her father though.
The sense of "abandonment" John constantly brings up just hurts, because that's not what this is, but it's his internal struggle of dealing with his childhood and past, although there is absolutely no relation between the two.
He'll sit and just watch her play with tears in his eyes.
Something as simple as putting her to bed or dropping her off at school has now become an emotional burden he just can't shake without breaking down.
Knowing that she'll know is just ripping us both up.

How do I feel about it?
Honestly, I feel more confident than not, because I've done this with her before, granted with help, but it's not totally new territory.
Melinda Mae Photography.
However, I wonder if she's going to have to grow up a little bit quicker than I want because I'll rely on her help more than I normally would.
I know she's capable and I know she's old enough to be a help, but she's still a baby to me.
My baby, my first born.
One that I want to never grow up, let alone almost because she has too.
I am prepared for her to have questions....ones that I/we might have to have a real "come to Jesus" meeting with myself (and daddy on Skype!) to be able to answer.

Not to ignore the original reason we went to Colorado in the first place, my brother and his beautiful fiance, Kelly, got married on September 12th, and it was perfect.
Allison Easterling Photography.
It was so amazing to watch my baby brother be such an adult, haha!
I couldn't be more proud of Drew as the person he's become, let alone now as a married man.
Kelly has been such a fabulous participant and selfless servant when it has come to our family and extended family.
She's seen us all at some really raw and honestly some of our most lowest times and she's been nothing but a consistent support and rock for several of us when we really needed it.
They are a fantastic couple and I cannot wait to see what's in store for them, it's going to be so great!

After the wedding day, we had three days left in Colorado to decide what we were going to do.
The more I prayed, critically thought out the pro's and con's, talked to my family and confidants, the more I felt that I wasn't ready to leave my home in Belgium.
I can list all the tangible reasons why I wanted to go back, I mean come on now, it was our stuff.
But for some reason I just couldn't not go back despite all that going back meant.

Melinda Mae Photography.
John and I boarded the plane with the kiddos, back to Belgium, and arrived in Brussels the next day on a gloomy misty/rainy day.
Boo rain. Boo reality.
There are things here in this country--shoot, this continent-- that drive me crazy and I don't understand (if I hear "it's the Belgian way" one more time, I'm gonna....), but there's something about it that I'm totally drawn too.
There are days where I look at our situation and I cry without even meaning too, feeling so hopeless, alone and already defeated.
Then there are other days where I feel empowered.
"I will not break. My family is safe, we are strong, I can do this. Failure is not an option."
Ha, who am I kidding, sometimes this hopeless vs empowered struggle is an hourly changing event.

I'm taking advantage of this situation to learn.
I'm not sure what it is I'm going to or needing to learn, but I'm open...
I'm half wondering if doing it is what my lesson will be.

I want to be clear I don't post our business like this for sympathy or attention.
This is really just an avenue of venting for me and also so those of you that need some late night reading fodder can have something entertaining to feast your eyes on.

In all seriousness though, what I do covet from you is your prayers to 1) keep my husband and his dog, Rex, safe, 2) keep all our soldiers there with him and deployed elsewhere safe, and 3) to cover and protect the families, like ours, left behind, waiting for our daddy to return.

"We live by faith, not by sight."
2 Corinthians 5:7

Melinda Mae Photography.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Bennett Ryan Christian is here!

It's amazing how after a birth, no matter how it went, how epic it can feel.
Epic in good and bad ways.
When Brynlee was born I remember our doula, Dorris Ann, and our Centering nurse coming to visit us at the hospital the next day seeing how we were doing.
If you have read or heard Brynlee's birth story, then you know what a long road of physical healing I was just starting to head down after her birth, and I told Dorris Ann that I didn't know how it was possible people wanted or willingly had multiple kids after what I had just experienced, telling her I was NEVER going to go through that again.
Belinda, the nurse, in all her southern glory quickly replied, "Oh honey child, it'll never be like that again. That little girl lubed up that slip 'n slide of yours so well you'll be farting out babies."
Chateau Domaine de Seneffe,
Seneffe, Belgium
Melinda Mae Photography
Well, fast forward, and here we are pregnant in Belgium.
It's true what they say-you forget the pain and after a while think, oh I could totally do that again.
During my whole pregnancy though, I couldn't help but think back to that conversation wondering what in the world I had done by being pregnant again.
What was I setting myself up for this time!?
I have so many regrets of Brynlee's first couple months of life because I was in so much physical pain that I didn't bond with her like I wished I had, I was so focused on my own self hurt that I didn't cherish her or hold her as much as I could have or should have, I plainly didn't give her my "A" game she totally deserved and needed because I physically and mentally couldn't handle it.
Talk about a long physical and emotional post partum road, let alone our third deployment months after her birth.
As glad as I was about this pregnancy I couldn't help but revert back to the first and only other experience I had with this situation and worry that the same thing was going to happen again and how was I going to handle it differently so I wouldn't have these regrets and sad feelings.

My goal with little man's birth was to remember it and enjoy it.
So much of Brynlee's actual birth I seriously don't remember and have to rely on my mom, mother in law, and John's memories to get the whole picture.
Considering I am in a different country with different circumstances and whole different set of characters this time around, I prepared and set myself up for what I thought was the most easy case scenario of birth, that wasn't a csection, where I would obviously allow myself to go into labor whenever he was ready, but I outright wanted the epidural this time, hoping it would help me not only enjoy the birth of our son, but also remember the joy of it.

Picking up Aunt Karla
at the Brussels Airport.
My Aunt Karla traveled here to Belgium to be my surrogate mom, grandma, and live-in help while we anticipated little man's birth. She was really here to be my and John's insurance policy in case he wasn't immediately available and to be Brynlee's buddy for whenever John and I would be gone.
What a blessing she was (and is!) during this whole story.
The first week she was here it was typical Belgium, raining most the time, so while Brynlee was in school, Karla and I busted out random house projects I never got done, helping me get the house as set up as possible before the pandemonium came.
The second week of her stay was also John's busiest, not only hosting but participating in the certification process for the K9 dog handlers, but also having to do one of the major kennel inspections with his "higher ups" all on the same week as my due date, pretty much meaning he was MIA from home until I went into labor.
This second week of her stay also started the first of two weeks off of school for Brynlee due to spring/Easter break, so I relied on Karla heavily for keeping Brynlee and I occupied while we waited for me to go into labor and luckily the weather fully cooperated--total sunshine!
Our Mons, BE day
exploring the city.
There was lots of baking, crafts, gardening, a trip to Paira Daiza Zoo, visiting the infamous "cheese lady," Thea, from Gouda, an all girls breakfast date in downtown Mons with Jessica which included hiking around Mons, trying anything to induce labor of any kind, to no avail.
Per John's request, "it'd be nice if he didn't come before Friday" due to his work load that week, however I did nothing to really prevent it.
I'm sorry but when you are done, you are done, gotta get this baby out!

The morning of Friday (John wins), April 10th, around 5 am, I woke up to some minor "leaking."
Nothing serious in my mind and although some contractions were here and there, they were nothing worth being concerned about.
John went in to work that morning for kennel care then came home shortly after and just hung out with us ladies.
Neighborhood walk before leaving for
the infamous doc appt. 
I was 40 weeks and 2 days and had a doctor's appointment later that afternoon at 12:20 pm, so we all puttered around the house doing oddball things to pass time until my appointment time-even putting Brynlee in her wagon and taking a good walk down our street to pass time.

***A difference here in Belgium/Europe is how they handle you being past your due date. My doctor best explained it as, "Let the baby choose his birthday."
Unless medically necessary they won't medically induce you here, my doc telling me they'd discuss induction options if I still hadn't gone into labor no sooner than 10 days past my due date.***

Throughout the morning contractions were coming more often, but nothing hard or consistent enough to really be bothered by.
John and I finally loaded up in the car, prepared for our doctor's appointment, and also prepared not to come home from the appointment. Minor contractions or not, my time with my aunt being here to help was slowly dissipating and things needed to get going, so we were going to request my membranes be stripped at this appointment either way. My doctor had previously agreed she'd do this for me at this appointment because of my "situation" (not having family here, and having limited help available).
While sitting in the car on the drive to Epicura in Ath, contractions definitely got worse.
With Brynlee I had horrible back labor and these same feelings were coming back so I found that reclining and stretching out on the ride helped me not feel so pinned down to my seat with no comfortable way to sit.
We got to my appointment and was seen around 1pm where the doctor checked me and said I was "maybe" at a 3-4 cm dilation, but the leaking wasn't my water, just the plug, so nothing really official yet as far as she was concerned.
I sat up and got off her doctor's table and boom.
The hardest contraction I had so far hit so hard, fast and out of no where that it all but sent me to my knees right there in her exam room.
She sent us upstairs to maternity to have the contractions monitored.

After about 30 minutes of laying there with the belly straps, nothing was really happening, nothing too hard or fast like in her office, so the midwife (the maternity wards here in Belgium are run by midwives, not doctors) unhooked me and told me "it's a patient bebe, no worries, go home, take a bath, relax, we have time..."
Kinda discouraged I leaned up and got off her table and boom, again a contraction, hardest one yet, hit fast and hard and again almost sent me to my knees. The midwife had already left the room so I sat there alone for a while, trying to compose myself and then slowly waddled out of the room and met John down in the cafe where he'd gotten us lunch.
The more I sat there trying to eat the more my back was throbbing to where I decided to eat standing up and pretty much torture all the Belgians in the hospital lobby with my contraction relief antics.
I told John the midwife said to go home and relax, so we went to the car (where we got our first Belgian parking ticket, yay!) and that's about as far as we got to going home.
I told John I wasn't comfortable going home (about a 20-25 minute drive) and I didn't feel like I was really at a 3-4 cm dilation. I'd been that before with Brynlee and it never felt like this. So while taking breaks during contractions to hold onto benches, trees, anything to brace myself we made it back to the hospital where Melinda, our photographer, met up with us.

While John hashed out parking ticket woes with the hospital info desk (who hardly spoke English) Melinda did her best to distract me (bless her heart!) while I hung out in the lobby continuing to make my presence very well known to the local Belgians sitting and waiting around there as well.
I told John I really wanted an exercise ball or something to just sit and relax on so we went back up to Maternity to request one.
I didn't make it half way down the hallway when finally "the" mother of all contractions hit and this time I did hit my knees and just started screaming.

Midwives came running and brought me a bed and wheeled me into the "Fire" room where they checked me again. The midwife, Maude, who spoke just a little English, checked me again and said I was maybe at a 3 cm dilation and that's where I started getting really agitated.
I (barely) got up off that bed and said/yelled/told John and them that there was just no way it was a three, no possible, physical way. I told them if this really was a three then I wanted my epidural now, I didn't care if it was too soon, I had never felt this, this early on when laboring with Brynlee, and I was not going down that road again.
They said ok, but would have to draw some blood and have it run by the lab real quick, so it'd be about a 20-30 minute wait for it to happen.
With that time frame in mind, I requested to use the water tub to try to relax while waiting for the epidural.
Again, they said sure and told us they'd be right back to get us when it was ready.
I continued getting harder and faster contractions and after what felt like an eternity (according to John it was about 30-40 minutes) they said that the tub was ready and we could go.
We started walking down the hall and I saw a midwife ahead of me turn into the "Earth" room.
If you've read my previous blog post you know this room meant, the "all natural" room where no medicinal equipment is present for labor relief of any kind.
This specific moment, the best way I can paint you a mental picture of myself, is to picture a dog on a leash being drug in a direction he doesn't want to go.
Haunches down, pulling away, regardless of how hard you pull at them....

I saw them walk into that room and immediately was like, "No! No, no, no, this is the wrong room. I want the "Water" room, tell them John, this isn't right, no, not going in there, no way!"
I'm not sure how it happened but somehow they got me in there.
Contractions were hitting harder and harder and it seems like everything started happening at once, as soon as I entered that room.
Maude, (who was probably 100 lbs dripping wet) man handled me over at the edge of the tub ledge, checking me again and said I was at a 9cm dilation.

3 cm to 9cm in 45 minutes, wait, what?!

"Too late, it's too late, no epidural. But it's ok, this is normal!"
No, Maude, this is not normal. This is NOT ok.
I went ballistic.
"I asked for epidural an hour ago. You have to give it to me. I asked for it, I said I wanted it, John this is not ok, tell them! This is not ok! This is not NORMAL! My water hasn't even broken yet!"
Apparently it broke pretty much the minute I entered the room and I was pretty much standing in it, I just didn't know it.
That's how out of it I was.

Poor Maude and John kept trying to get me to focus off what was obviously not going to happen and onto actually birthing this baby.
I will admit to you I did not cuss at any time during this labor experience, however I did let them know I hated their country and I wanted to go home. I think that's the worst it got, and thankfully Maude either had no clue what I said with her limited English or she didn't care cause she knew I wasn't in my right mind.
(I also spent the rest of my stay apologizing to every staff member I recognized for that horrible comment....sigh).

Unfortunately I was the typical psycho woman in unmedicated labor who had lost all sense of control.
John would try to tell me to relax and breathe, I'd yell at him to quit talking to me.
He'd try to rub my back, I'd yell at him to not touch me.
He'd tell me to focus on my focal point all the while he was covering it with his hand in order to lean over and talk to me, so he got told to go away.
Poor guy, seriously.
Not my proudest moment, but thankfully he gave me a pass.

Within minutes of my water breaking somehow they got me up on their circular delivery table on my knees.
I held on to a sling they had hanging from their ceiling which became my BFF for the rest of this experience.
It's true what they say about when it's time for the baby to come, your body just does it, whether you are ready for it too or not.
Between contractions I actually felt half way human, but when they came, there was no control, that sling in the ceiling got a full work out from me, and rest assured that thing is anchored in brilliantly somehow.
Pushing began, and his head came out and the contraction stopped.
Maude sat there holding his head, talking French to him, while we waited for "the last push" contraction to come.
"Bonjour bebe! Bienvenue!"
Finally the contraction came and Bennett Ryan was born at 5:53 pm, 7.1 lbs and 19.5".
While still on my hands and knees, after barely 5 hours of labor, they handed me my son, between my legs, where I sat on my heels just holding him close, not believing what had all just happened.
He didn't cry, he was wide awake looking around, and already sucking on his fingers (the dude is an eater, for serious!).
I couldn't believe how quick after he was born how the pain (kinda) went away.
Maude, bless her!

Bless Maude, she was smiles and happiness the whole time while dealing with my craziness, and she totally shared in the joy with me handing me our son and giving me a huge hug while I just sat there, holding him, in complete awe and so relieved in so many ways.

One of my biggest fears with delivering little man, regardless of how his birth went, was tearing like I had with Brynlee. My first question after handing Bennett off to John was, "How bad did I tear?" prepared for the worst.
I was so relieved when they told me I'd only need one stitch and that the scar tissue from her birth was still in tact and not re-torn.
After the stitch we were put on a "real" bed and taken to our hospital room for our stay.
Little man latched on the first time no problem and has developed quite the name for himself being quite the eater, actually gaining weight before leaving the hospital.

I was so glad to have had Melinda there to capture these moments for us.
These pictures were so important to me since I wasn't going to have any family there to share in the birth of this babe.
Everything happened to hard and fast that these pictures paint seriously the perfect picture of all the stress, pain, agony, relief, and joy that came with little man's arrival.

The hardest part was not being able to personally communicate with anyone in the US to let them know what had happened! We were assured when we stayed at the hospital we'd have access to their WIFI to facetime/skype with family back in the States. Unfortunately, Belgians/Europeans love their weekends and so since he was born so late on a Friday afternoon, the information desk with our WIFI ID and password were already closed for the weekend! We had to rely on Karla to pass on information for us until we got home to communicate ourselves! The wait was ridiculous.
After he was born all I wanted to do was talk to my mom, and I couldn't even do that!

Melinda came back the next day when the Pate's brought Aunt Karla, and most importantly, the new big sister, to the hospital to meet Bennett.
The pictures really speak for themselves, so no words needed, except Brynlee's first words upon seeing baby brother was, "Can I pet him? Can I hug him?"
Brynlee has been just amazing.
I love that little girl so much it hurts.
I had cried some serious tears worried that my little gal would resent me for all this change to her world.
I love that she continuously proves me wrong when I worry about her and any changes we put her through and how she handles it.
Every morning since we brought him home, the first words out of her mouth are, "Where is baby brother?"
Once she got used to the idea that babies cry and it's ok that they do, she seems to be totally fine with it all. Having Aunt Karla then Grandma Connie here has helped because I've obviously been a bit MIA in her world, but having them here to distract has been a godsend while I figure out my new normal with two little loves.

The recovery from Bennett has been a complete opposite experience than with Brynlee. Granted the damage was less, but I was able to get in and out of bed very easily pretty much immediately after his birth. I was able to shower, on my own, without pain or help which was a huge relief.
The contractions while breastfeeding seemed a lot harder and more painful than I remembered with Brynlee, but they were gone by the end of his first week.

So what's it like, culturally, giving birth here in Beligum?
The main differences that stand out...
We really liked that once Bennett was born they wouldn't touch/take him in anyway until we physically handed him over to them, letting us hold him as long as we wanted with no rush.

They don't bathe the baby for at least the first 24 hours if not longer depending on what you want, allowing the vernix layer that is on the babe when born to soak in. This probably seems gross, but it really wasn't as much as I thought it would be. Bennett got a bit of a wipe down post birth, but we left him alone, unbathed, for almost 24 hours until we knew we had visitors coming.

When they do bathe the babe, they do a full baby dunk, umbilical cord and all! Contrary to what they tell you in America, they seriously dunk them in to where the only uncovered by water part of them is barely their face. Bennett LOVES his baths. We learned a lot watching Maude bathe him. We did have to deal with some of the umbilical cord stink until it came off, but the boy seriously turns to butter when immersed 95% into the water. They put them in pretty warm water too, 98F is what we measured it too. His spastic limbs immediately go limp and float and he just stares with the most relaxed body composition ever.
Sweet Maude, the midwife
who helped deliver Bennett.

They don't circumcise and seem shocked when you bring it up. We are choosing to circumcise Bennett, but because it's not something they do culturally here, we have to go about it very differently than in the States. I honestly wish it was something we could have done at birth because then we'd probably be done with most the healing of it by now, instead he'll be just shy of a month old when he gets it done, which I'm not thrilled about, but we'll get through it.

They do all the baby's blood work and tests, typically done at birth, at different appointments post birth after you leave the hospital. His blood work was done the day after we checked out of he hospital (parking ticket #2, yay!!! uuugghhh, not a huge fan of his birth city at this point) and his audio/hearing test was done when he was 13 days old.

The hospital experience is very different, in that once you and the new babe are established and found to be ok, they seriously leave you alone unless you ask them for something.
We really enjoyed this.
Nothing annoyed me more after Brynlee's birth than it being in the middle of the night, finally getting her/or myself to sleep, and them wheeling her off to do some test or some screening of some sort or being woken up to check to see if you've peed yet or not. Here, if you needed something, you just called and asked, they'd get it for you, then disappear unless you called them again for something.

They also take away post birth pain medication pretty quick! I had an IV for about half an hour post birth and that was it. I had to request anything else which was taken orally from that point on.

So what's happens now with a US baby born in a foreign country?
First, we had to register his birth with the city commune in which he was born, which was Ath, Belgium. There we got his Belgian Birth Certificate.
We have since scheduled our appointment with the US Embassy in Brussels to go apply for his US citizenship, social security number, born abroad birth certificate, and passports.
We will also have to get him a Belgian ID like the rest of us had to get.
The babe will be very documented in his first few months of birth!

The experience as a whole has been so learning, and although leading up to his birth I had nothing really positive to say, I'm ecstatic that it all ended so well.
Now the real fun begins.

**All professional photo credit goes to Melinda Mae Photography.**

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Story of Baby Boy Christian

So I'm finally ready to sit my butt down and get this crazy ride of pregnancy while overseas out there for everyone to be entertained by!
Considering he could really come any day now, it's about time!
I've referenced the "finding out" of the pregnancy in prior posts, but there are some fun details I left out since those posts weren't really focused on it specifically, so to backtrack and recap:

John left for ALC in May-June, leaving B and I to travel around to CO, OK, MS, and FL seeing a ton of friends and family along the way.
John and I had been talking on and off about trying to have another baby once we originally got back to NC, knowing Brynlee needed a sibling and when would be the best time to try. We actually even had the talk about her being an only, especially since before Germany orders came through, John was one foot out the door to get out of the Army and go back and finish school.
The last thing we wanted, if he got out, was to have another kid or one on the way.
So once Germany came into the picture and we decided to go for it, I got off the pill when he left for Missouri and that was that thinking by the time we got to Germany and settled the medication would be out of my system and we'd see what happened.

John left.
B and I traveled.
John got home.
Plans in motion for Germany were in full swing, and it took a friend calling me out on it to realize I could actually be pregnant.
I kept pushing it off, thinking there was no way and I wasn't even sure I was late at all, but Steph kept nagging me that my time frames seemed off and I needed to double check.
So I went to my calendar and flipped back to the previous month...nothing...flipped back again...nothing...flipped back again....and finally there was the last cycle I had which was right when John left for Missouri.
Well dang, I guess there is really no other explanation.
I went and got some tests and took one when I got home.
It immediately came up positive and I literally laughed out loud.
What in the world.
I'm moving from this continent in less than a month.....I went out and showed it to John who was so shocked it was almost offensive, haha.
He literally laid on the couch, staring up at the ceiling, and muttered for a good two hours.
It wasn't until the next day that he even acknowledged it and said he was excited, poor guy.

It seemed almost as soon as we found out, the nausea and bloating set in.
Something I hardly ever experienced with B.
Suddenly meat and dairy, I couldn't even look at them.
I lived off ramen, ritz crackers, sprite, saltines, and gatorade for pretty much the rest of our time in America.
Having our home packed up for Europe definitely didn't strike any sympathy notes.
As I mentioned in my previous post, my uncle died shortly after we found out, and I'm still just so thankful I got to share this news with him before he passed.
With our limited time in the States upon us, I was able to get in to see a doctor a few days before leaving for our post move leave to Oklahoma/Colorado. Here I was able to get a memo from the Army Clinic stating I was indeed pregnant and the estimated due date was early March.
Here's where it kinda gets comical and kinda pathetic all at once!
Despite me being on the pill and John being gone, the clinic wouldn't really listen to me about the estimated due date not being accurate because it was being based off my last cycle.
I know that's what they are supposed to do, but it wasn't physically/scientifically possible since John wasn't here!

Me: "I know you are saying early March in these papers, but I'm just telling you that's not possible, my husband was gone to a school in Missouri."
Nurse: "Well my dear, that may be true, but we have to go by the scientific information you gave us, not your word. It's no offense, it's what we have to do."
Me: ", ok. I'm serious though, it's not even scientifically possible to have this gestational age or date..."
Nurse: "I understand what you are saying, but with you leaving and not being seen here, we can't determine that, so we have to document the conception date discrepancy in your papers so people on the 'other side' are aware and can figure that out when you get there."

I'd like to take this moment to say thanks to all "those" Bragg women out there that make the rest of us with "conception date discrepancies" look like hoodlums. Appreciate it.
So I left the clinic with a memo in hand for my next health provider "on the other side" stating that yes, I was pregnant, with a March estimated due date, although gestational age is undetermined.

I also got a plethora of information from the clinic about giving birth in Germany.
What all my options were, how they "do things" there, etc. This left me feeling, although still nauseous, pretty confident and happy with how things turned out and was ready to take on this craziness head on.

We went to Oklahoma for my Uncle Rick's funeral and I was able to talk to each of my family members one on one about being pregnant this time around, which was something I didn't get with Brynlee.
I actually told everyone as we were headed out the door with my parents to get in the car to drive back to Colorado.
The best response to the news was by far from my Uncle Darrell, who without skipping a beat immediately asked who the father was. Considering my "conception date discrepancy" it pretty much was a family joke from that point on, haha.
My parents had no clue until we arrived at their home in Colorado and we were having prayer for dinner when John prayed/thanked God for the new baby joining the family.
They were shocked of course and all of us were very hyped on emotion having just come from the funeral and with our little family getting ready to move so far away.
We had B parade her big sister shirt everywhere else she went to "tell" people our news, some getting it right away, some not (cough, cough, Scott, cough, cough).
I also got to tell the news to my two college girl friends who were also both pregnant at the time. That was exciting and something I think we all thought would probably never happen with all the distance and circumstances that geographically separate us.
By the time of our "good-bye" party everyone knew and we were able to really celebrate just life in general with all our family and friends before leaving.

Three days before our flight from Colorado Springs to Ramstein, Germany, John got a call.
A call that literally changed everything.
Suddenly we weren't going to Germany anymore, we were now being sent to Chievres Army Air Base in Chievres, Belgium and arrived there on September 11.
This duty station change will be a whole new post in itself, so to stay on point, this changed everything as far as baby as well.
Everything I knew and was expecting about giving birth overseas in an "American" hospital were now out the window as I was now in Belgium being told I would be given a referral to go find a hospital in the local French economy and was provided a list of hospitals with doctors names that spoke "some" English.
We picked a local hospital, Ambrose Pare in Mons, Belgium, that was recommended to us, that had SHAPE (the NATO base) liaisons,  and was closest to us at the hotel we were still living in at the time.
We arrived for our first appointment on October 1st and were greeted by a doctor that spoke ZERO English. Talk about a great introduction of what was to come!
With the translation help of a SHAPE liaison, the doctor was at least able to do an ultrasound to measure and determine how far along I was.
We finally got a definitive time line, the doc taking 4 weeks gestation away (I felt very vindicated!), putting me at almost exactly 13 weeks pregnant, due April 8th, his Papa's (and future sister in law) birthday!
What was really neat about this appointment is that John never saw Brynlee on an ultrasound past 8 weeks gestation, so he was very fascinated about the identifiable parts on the screen and pictures!

One thing I really appreciate about our hospital experience here in Belgium is once your pregnancy is validated they schedule your entire pregnancy's worth of appointments and ultrasounds right then and there so you know all the way to your due date when everything is going to be. It made it easier to have John be able to come to "major" appointments knowing when they all were going to be!

We went back a few weeks later and met our assigned doctor, who spoke fairly good English--enough where we could communicate fairly well for the most part.
One of his very first questions to us before we even sat down was, "Do you speak only English? No French?"
Um, no. That's why we were assigned to you, because you speak English......right!?"
"Well yes, but my English is not that great, but that's ok, it will be fine."
Um,'s to hoping?
Since it was our first initial visit with him, he did an ultrasound himself where almost immediately I saw the "proof" that we were indeed having a little boy! 
He later on confirmed the gender and John was just so excited. 
"One and one and done!"
Upon further discussion with the doctor we asked him about Belgian/French cultural differences when it came to hospital care, pregnancy, delivery, post delivery, etc.
Considering I never used a doctor with B, only midwives and my doula, I had a ton of questions let alone cultural ones. 
Our doctor's response, "It's a little too soon to be asking questions like that..."
Wow, ok. We don't think it's too soon to be asking anything like that considering we don't speak your language and aren't from your country, but ok?

My next appointment, again was a few weeks later and this is where I started learning a lot about how different this pregnancy was going to be because of the cultural differences. 
At this appointment (first one by myself, driving there and accomplishing this without an interpreter or spouse was a HUGE win in my "new to Europe" book!) I received what they call your ONE book. It's a book that has all your pregnancy information inside and you are "required" to carry it with you at all times. 
It was also at this appointment where I learned that the blood test for toxoplasmosis is done once a month your entire pregnancy, not just the one time like in America. 
I met with my doctor's nurse for the first time and she spoke virtually zero English, so we Google Translated pretty much the entire time and continued to do so for the rest of our appointments.

At this point in the pregnancy everything was pretty smooth sailing and normal. 
Nausea went away, finally started looking pregnant, not bloated. 
Started to feel flutters and could eat normally again. 
By December flutters were no longer in my vocabulary to describe how this baby moved. 
More like ninja mosh pit child. 
All day and all night this little boy moves, twists, summersaults, and karate chops my innards to the point of being woken up in the night and not getting much sleep, earlier on sometimes being most comfortable sitting up sleeping on our couch. 

On December 8th we had our first "real" ultrasound where the in depth measurements are done and documented.  John came this time too, which he didn't get to do with Brynlee, and we actually decided to bring her along as well, so it was really neat to see how they both processed it all. 
John was mainly just fascinated at how in depth the pictures could be, wanting to know what everything was, and to make triple sure it really was a boy.
While Brynlee, and her Doc McStuffin loving self, stood by me on the table, holding and kissing my hand, telling me "It's ok mama."
We all had a first this time around as well, getting a 3D ultrasound done on little man.
Under military Tricare, and most of America from what I understand, getting one or two ultrasounds is pretty normal for a normal pregnancy.
So far, to date, I've gotten an ultrasound every appointment and 3D ultrasounds at both of our "main" ultrasounds which is something I never got with Brynlee.

Up until this point little man pretty much does whatever he can to hide his face and not allow us to see much above his shoulders. We managed to get one 3D picture where his face was somewhat exposed, but in my opinion 3D pictures are kinda weird, so I wasn't sure what to think much about the 3D pictures we got!
This appointment I also brought my birth records to the doctor to read over. 
He was hesitant to "allow" me to have a natural delivery after how I explained my labor and delivery of Brynlee went. 
I think a lot of this were things lost in translation because of language barriers, which started adding to the frustration of how things were going with our doc/patient relationship. 
I felt like I was explaining things over and over and over, the simplest way I knew how, and he still didn't understand what I was saying or in what context I was trying to explain things in.
This frustration continued to grow over time, to the point where I would dread doctor appointments, I was extremely unhappy and very unconfident in giving birth again, especially the way I wanted with my own preferences.
The more appointments we had the less excited I felt about being pregnant at all, and that was a hard pill to swallow. I kept telling myself it's because it's a different culture, don't be a "high maintenance" American, suck it up and embrace this as an adventure of something new and different....and something you now know you won't want to do again here! 
I do appreciate how lax and chill the people here are around pregnant women. 
Unlike in America, they definitely do not coddle you, treat you "special" or different because you are pregnant. At first I wasn't sure what to think of this, but as time went on I kinda preferred it! They just leave you alone and let you do your thing. 
As long as toxoplasmosis and any other tests they run come back normal, they don't bug you about a thing. Which in the negative side is, they also do not offer up any information either unless you ask.
Well I had tried asking before and got shut down, so I really was checked out of the whole experience and the closer his due date got, the more dreaded about it I became.
To the point where I was questioning any kind of birth preferences I had at all, just so I could go in, have the baby go out, and just not have to come back.
Almost like a business transaction. 
It was starting to make me really sad and it didn't really get better from there...

January was the typical glucose test, nothing culturally different about that.
I was assured by now that a natural delivery was ok but now he wanted to see all my post partum paperwork with all the healing issues I had, which has actually been probably the #1 thing I was weary about the most. 
John left the month of January, right after B's 3rd bday, for a school in Texas, so she was my date for the next appointments!
As I've shown on FB and said before, she just loves Doc McStuffins, so she is always fascinated with what we do at these appointments. Even during my monthly toxoplasmosis blood draws she would just sit there and watch quietly/intently and then sing me the "I feel better!" song after and would make sure to double check my bandaid and give me check ups when we got home. 
Here was another example of doctor/patient not clicking.
Because of John leaving the country, and me staying behind in a foreign one, I was way out of my comfort zone. What do I do if something happens? What will I do with B? Where do I go? So I voiced my concerns to my doctor at an appointment.
"If something were to happen you can always call an ambulance."
"Ok, well what's the phone number for that?" (BTW it's not 911, haha).
"You don't know that number?"
"Um, no, I wouldn't be asking for it if I knew it.... Where do I go if something happens while he's away?"
"You come here.....??"
"WHERE here?
"Well if it's during the day the main entrance and if it's at night, the emergency entrance."
"Ok where is that?"
"On the side of the building..."
"Which side?"
This went on forever. 
Felt like a huge game of "Ring Around the Rosy..."

Into February I became concerned about little man's positioning. 
The larger he got the more I tried to identify parts and became curious when I kept having the largest lump I could find always being on my right side.
I was worried he was transverse, so my next appointment when they did their usual ultrasound I was very relieved to know he was head down, but facing sideways, so his bum was always sticking out on my side. 
He was pretty much sitting like a "7," with his feet floating off to the other side of me, hands still blocking his face, but not making as much movement as his body and bum. 

The month of March is when everything, again, changed!
John was home from Texas finally, and I went in for a routine check up and toxoplasmosis draw (starting to bruise from all these monthly blood draws by this point!).
That's when my doctor told me he "just realized" that he wasn't going to be in the country the week of or week after my due date because of Easter holiday (they seriously take two weeks vacation/holiday for Easter, Europeans love their holidays!) and asked me again, if I knew or had learned any French.
I told him no, I hadn't really had time to learn any and I was caught quite off guard that he was just now realizing he wasn't going to be there after we'd known my due date since October. 
His response to this was, "Well, this could be a problem."
Oh, the things a pregnant woman in a different country than her own, loves to hear!
He goes on to say, "Well, there are only two other doctors here that speak "medium" English, and they are going to be on Easter holiday as well except for these two days during these two weeks. So, let's hope you go into labor early (another thing every pregnant woman longs to hear?), you go into labor on one of these two days they are present at the hospital while I'm away, or use your last month of pregnancy learning as much French as you can."

**Sidenote: We did attempt to learn some French birthing words when our English speaking landlord was at our house one day. John asked him for the French word for "push," and well, Google Translate that one and hit the "speaker" button on how that's pronounced in French. We didn't ask for anymore word help after that and I seriously had to leave the room after that one.**

Um yeah, we are done here.
This was kind of the final straw for me which sent me straight into the SHAPE (NATO base) clinic to ask about possibly being switched to a different hospital or doctor this late into my pregnancy (I was 34 weeks at this point). 
The midwife we have at our clinic is from England and was so nice in helping me get a consult done at a different location to see if I could get in or if I would even like it. She also assured me I was not being a high maintenance American (at least that's what she said, ha!) and that she understood my insecurities and unhappiness with this impending birth and that finding somewhere and someone I was comfortable with was key.
I had a doctor appointment that next week in a different city called Ath (pronounced "ought") at their local hospital, Epicura, where I met our new doctor, Dr. Den Hollander. 
She's from The Netherlands and is fluent in French, English and Dutch and was very hands on in answer any and every single question John and I could possibly think of. 
She also was much more in control of things, going out of her way to set up a hospital tour with me, making sure someone would be there for the tour that spoke English and could answer our questions, taking me to the maternity ward herself to show us where it was, etc, which is something my previous doctor never even brought up or offered to me. 

I went on a tour the next week with another American gal that just moved here and is due a week after me, with her second as well.
The maternity ward at Epicura is 100% run by midwives with doctors really only present at pushing/delivery for medical purposes. If the baby comes out fine, they said it's normal for doctors to not even touch the baby but just check off things are good and go on about their day elsewhere. 
They have three different types of delivery rooms Earth, Water, and Fire.
Earth is a room where there are no medical interventions of any kind present in the room, it's for all natural births and if this were my first kid would think it looked like a torture chamber.
Considering it was not my first I was totally fascinated.
A five step up, 4-6 person jacuzzi birthing tub, more tools and contraptions on the wall, hanging from the ceiling than I would ever know what to do with. A pull apart circle shaped bed with all sorts of bars, stools, and lifts to help you find a position that best suits you.
The Water room (which is what I'm going for) has the same options as the Earth room, just on a smaller scale but also includes the medicinal equipment necessary if a epidural or other medicines are requested. 
The Fire room, well, it's for the women that go into labor, don't want to feel a thing, so they give you a bed, hook you up, and you just do what they tell you to do when they tell you to do it (this probably would have been me if I had stayed at Ambrose!). 

I left the tour feeling the most excited I had felt this entire pregnancy, hands down.
I felt inspired, I felt in control (finally!), and I actually looked forward and was motivated looking towards his fast approaching due date instead of with dread and no confidence in myself or my body.

I filed the insurance papers to switch hospitals and it was approved the last day it could possibly have been changed, on my 36 week day to the day.

I've been back for one other appointment since and although they still do the monthly toxoplasmosis blood draw, the ambiance is so different there I can't help but just look forward to having this baby. 

I'm so blessed to have carried him and I hate how often I took it for granted this time around.
Although still a total womb ninja, here at 39+ weeks, he's already been so go with the flow with all the events that has led up to this moment, I can't help but look forward to his arrival now. He's resilient and I can't wait to see how that translates when he joins our family. 

We've been so generously blessed by the friends we've made here and the friends and family we left behind in the States, I can't help but smile, even on our down days, knowing that there is greater good going on here. 

My Aunt Karla, flew into Brussels last weekend to be with us/Brynlee for a few weeks surrounding his, hopefully sooner rather than later, birth date. Considering she and my late Uncle Rick were the first to know of his existence brings it totally full circle for me and I couldn't be more blessed than I am right now.

This road to April hasn't been easy, things non-baby related have made this time almost seem unbearable, but here we are. 
And now that Karla is here, we stay busy and we wait....
As my doctor puts it, "Let's let the baby choose his birthday..."

Come on little man, we are ready for you! 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

And A Time to Let Go...

While I'm fully aware of how I did not accomplish my goal of updating everything by the end of the year like I wanted and said I'd do, I have to throw it out there kinda set myself up for failure. 
Sometimes things you are ready to write about doesn't mean it's the right time to do so.

My last blog post I told about the excitement of discovering new life coming into our family and not long after this news I got the call I knew was going to come but never was sure when, where, or how it would was going to come.

Yesterday, February 9th, is what would have been my Uncle Rick and Aunt Karla's 30th wedding anniversary and I'm almost glad I didn't write this blog out right away like I planned and am sitting down to write it now at such an amazing milestone.

With our pending move, I was actually becoming very nervous and anxious about leaving my family behind. 
Many might think I'm crazy, "You're moving to Europe, shut your face!" 
I got that one a lot actually.
While others were more like, "Well, yeah duh! You are moving across the world!" 
Especially since I just found out I was pregnant on top of everything else, but none of that was actually it at all.
I have been away from my family since I got married, so although this further distance was obviously a big change, the elephant in the room, for me, was who am I not going to see again when I'm gone for this length of time?
Kinda morbid I know, but you can't make big decisions like this and not think about it, trust me!

I'm extremely close to my family.
I've been told my family and I are almost a rare "breed" in that we are all so close and connected. 
My brother and I are the only children on my dad's side and on my mom's side, there are only four of us kids, so to me, my cousins are more like siblings, aunts like second mothers.
Uncles were as close to second father figures to me as you can get. 
We all each have had our own unique relationship and how we all handled each other, despite how crazy it was, it's honestly all I've known and wouldn't prefer it any other way.

It's hard to put into words sometimes, the unique relationships we all have, but the best way I've found to put it, especially now, is when one of us celebrated, we all celebrated. 
When one of us cried, we all cried. 

When Rick initially got sick, I'll be the first to admit that I didn't think it would become what it did. As time progressed and things weren't working as hoped I listened to the phone calls and read the blog updates, but somehow I still refused to think that things were becoming as dire as they were.  
As our time in NC was coming quickly to a close, the failing health of my uncle was the one unknown I had in my mind that I didn't know what to do about. It still felt unsettled, unchecked, unvisited and I didn't know how to handle it and I didn't know how to go about it. 
I finally took my mom's advice and wrote my uncle an email (I wish I had hand written it now in retrospect because it sounds so informal, ugh) telling him how I felt and just things I wanted him to know. 
Thanking him for his children, his wisdom, his support of especially me and my own child, his grace, his support as one of my husband's #1 fans-hands down, his patience, and most of all his example, especially in his faith.
This is also when I told him I was pregnant again.
I wanted and needed him to know because that's the type of family we were, we told each other everything. I'm really glad I pretty much smashed any of the unwritten rules on breaking pregnancy news on this one, no regrets whatsoever.

Ten days after my email, Rick died at his home in Duncan, OK on August 16th, about a week before we were scheduled to leave NC and head to CO for our pre-move leave. 
John and I had already made plans to hang out with some friends and our kids "one more time" the next day at a water park, so we kept our plans as is, since at the time there was literally nothing we could really do, hoping it'd be a good distraction.
After a day of being out in the ridiculous NC heat, that was the weekend I finally kinda lost it.
I was exhausted from getting ready to move, I was starving but couldn't stomach anything but ramen and ritz, I was totally hormonal-pregnancy or not just with everything that was happening and on our way home from the water park I had to have John pull over the car. 
I jumped out onto the lawn of our apartment complex, holding onto a stop sign post, and just puked my guts out all over the side yard to our building.

I left John and B in the car, walked to our house went straight into our master bath and just sat on the floor, sunburnt and in my "already getting too tight" swimsuit, and bawled my eyes out literally gasping for air. 
I don't remember what all was going through my mind while I sat in there, but I do remember that part of me was physically overcome with such sadness I felt almost claustrophobic, but yet another part of me was so relieved that the pain was done and gone, that I couldn't help but smile and sometimes laugh. 

I sat for a good hour before I resurfaced with some decent composure.
After I had my "moment" John and I went into "get there" mode, meaning a lot of things had to change and a lot of things HAD to work just right in order for us to rearrange ourselves to move out even earlier than expected and be there for not only his funeral, but with my family.

Anyone with military life experience knows the possibility of things going exactly to plan is pretty much non existent. But I'm living breathing proof to tell you it IS possible, and I'm pretty sure that this circumstance is the only time it'll work out as it did. 
The port in Charleston had room on an earlier shipment to get my car to Germany earlier.
Airline tickets/seats were rearrangeable to a different destination without much hassle.
Plans slowly fell into place, and before I could really grasp it, we were on the road with NC in the rearview mirror for good headed to Charleston to drop off my car at the port then hop on a plane to OK.

So funerals. We've all been there done that. 
I, however, hadn't been there or done any of that in a lloonngg time....and not concerning someone I was this close too. 
It wasn't even my own father and the roller coaster of emotions that day was exhausting.

However, his funeral was perfect
My uncle and his family's presence in their community was so innately intertwined that the service had to be moved to a larger church in town to fit the several hundred people that were in attendance.
What was unique about where/how my uncle passed is that he was the recruiter for the local hospital in Duncan. Most of the doctors treating him were doctors he recruited there. So the outpouring response from the hospital was just amazing. 
The church and friend community the Buchanan's have built up around themselves over the years was just mind boggling. Really there are just no words and I think that was almost as emotionally taxing as the funeral itself.

I agreed to take pictures of the service for my aunt.
One of the hardest but most honored tasks she's ever asked me to do.
My family keeps kodak in business when it comes to picture taking so I knew this was, oh so very important to all of us.
My favorite part of the service, among the many, was all the hilarious stories that were told (laughter has got to be the best medicine in these situations and I know he wouldn't have wanted it any other way) and also the testament of my uncle's faith that was shared over and over by every single person that stood at that podium.

My uncle's life served it's purpose in that, even in death, the sharing of Christ and the gospel was the primary goal and it was beyond all means met.

My cousins and my aunt are amazing people, you guys.
While Rick was battling cancer, Ashleigh was in/graduating college, getting her first job, making it out on her own. Aaron was in med school at OU and graduated three months prior to his dad's death with his DDS. Aaron's wife, Kimberlee, unwaveringly supporting and by his side every step of the way.
Karla in all seriousness was so strong even when beyond the feeling of weak in every way imaginable.
I wish there was a way I could write it out to portray what I've witnessed in this family. 

When the funeral was over, the church empty, and the music with picture slideshow of his life stopped, I remember just sitting there in a huge empty sanctuary wondering, what now?
We all went to Karla's house where over time people kept stopping by and staying so it became a huge friend and family get together with all of us sitting around talking, eating, laughing, crying...everything. 
And it was fabulous and I think what we all needed.
The people and friends of Duncan, OK were so gracious to all of us out of towners. 
Opening their homes (and pools!) to us as we took over Duncan for a weekend.

Since the funeral a lot has changed on my end and I'm going to address all that in a later post, sooner rather than later, promise.
But one thing that I'm so thankful remains the same is I still have my family. 
We may be one less, which I'm still kind of grappling with since I'm not even there now to figure out what that really means, but the memories we have will literally last forever, no cliche or exaggeration.

With all our laughter and tears, Uncle Rick, we love you and miss you ever day!