12 July 2017

A Quick Recovery

I really am completely fine. "God handed me a gift, then took it away before I could open it. It tripped me up, but I didn't break any bones. I didn't even fall all the way to the ground. I caught my balance and kept on walking." I can't express myself verbally, I can only find words when I express myself in writing. I want to record two things today: That I'm okay. And this baby's pregnancy and birth story. Because that's all I have with this baby.

To be honest, I never really trusted my fifth pregnancy. I know they say that every pregnancy is different, but - whatever - not for me. Of my five pregnancies, I've been sick as a dog for three of them. We're talking regular vomiting, 8-10 Tums-a-day-heartburn, and insane nausea in the first trimester. I never forget for one second I'm pregnant. As soon as the first trimester sickness disappears, I've got a belly. And three times, I gave birth to a living child. For two pregnancies, I had no or, in this case, mild nausea and tiredness. Sometimes I felt so normal, I forgot I was pregnant. Both these experiences ended in miscarriages. So I've had my reservations since the very beginning. As I said in my last post, It was a surprise pregnancy, even now, looking back at my fertility charts, I have no idea how we pulled it off, but two days after my missed period, a pregnancy test showed up positive. At first I was really frustrated because I wasn't ready to be pregnant. I'm losing weight, I want to go on a trip somewhere fun for my 10 year anniversary in the spring. But I came to terms with it rather quickly, although I still worried. Now I can finally get my minivan! But I didn't tell many people. I better put some mulch down in the gardens when I hit the second trimester, before my belly gets too big. But that's not something I shared with anyone.
I am going on a girls' crafting retreat this weekend and I was too nervous to share the news, whereas normally I can barely keep being pregnant a secret. But I wasn't sure if I could hide the tiredness being in such close proximity. I was scheduled for my first prenatal visit at the doctor this week, so I called and asked if we could tack on an ultrasound.
"We usually wait until the second trimester. Why do you want one in the first trimester?"
I had a hard time putting it into words. "I just want to see the baby." I pulled out The Trump Card. "I've had a miscarriage before, and I would just feel better if I could see the baby now."
The big M-word put the nurse on high alert. She scheduled the ultrasound and ordered immediate blood work.

The blood work results came back on Wednesday. They were bad. I knew then.

My progesterone levels were low, so the nurse started me on some medicine, but my HGC levels (the pregnancy hormone) were really low too. She carefully explained that if the pregnancy were lost by a reason not related to my progesterone, the medication wouldn't be able to help.
I went in for some follow up blood work two days later. The results were dismal. The message the nurse sent me through the doctor/patient website portal included "What to do if you have a miscarriage" instructions. And so I waited to give birth to my second dead baby.

It's really tough, waiting to have a miscarriage. Every cramp, every twinge, every feeling of wetness triggers a bit of a panic. I tried to run some errands on Saturday morning, running to the bathroom every 10 minutes to see if the bleeding had started. I treated myself to some lunch, and since I was by myself, curled up in a corner booth near a window and got a chocolate milkshake. Comfort food. Emotional eating in preparation for what I knew was coming.

The bleeding started late Saturday afternoon, the contractions that night, but the real pain didn't start until Sunday morning. The pace-around-the-house, squat-down, close-your-eyes-and-focus-on-breathing contractions. I went to the hospital for my first miscarriage when we lived in Chicago and it wasn't the greatest of experiences, so I opted to stay home this time, especially since I had an appointment and ultrasound scheduled for Tuesday anyway. This time wasn't like my first. The contractions built and built and built and then they just ended. No obvious grand finale. No tissue, just regular bleeding and then the contractions diminished, going from anxiety-building, pace-the-house pain to frustrating, I-just-want-to-get-back-to-normal pain. "I guess it's over," I told Matt with a fistful of Ibuprofen. I avoided taking anything up until that point. It's hard to explain, but every moment was all I had left with my fifth baby. I wanted to experience it, even if it was painful. But after it became obvious that the contractions had changed purpose, it all just became too much to handle. I drowned my pain and collapsed in bed in a heap of exhaustion. By the time I woke up, the contractions were over.

I passed some tissue long after the contracts had ended, but I never had an obvious "remains of pregnancy" the way I did with the first - which was even only obvious in hindsight. First trimester losses appear to be very well destroyed by the body. I imagine this makes it infinitely easier to bear. My Tuesday ultrasound revealed an empty uterus. The doctor has no concerns. There is still a lot of bleeding, but the achiness has ceased.

I spent weeks in suspicion. I had four days to prepare. I locked myself away in my room all Sunday to recover. The pain is gone, the pregnancy tiredness is gone, I'm back on my regular supplements to ease my never-went-away-after-Theodore-postpartum-probably-just-regular-old depression. Other than a maxi pad, I feel totally normal. I'm 30-years-old. I've had five pregnancies. Two miscarriages. One child with Down syndrome who had open heart surgery. I think I'm really strong. I think I'm really good at handling life's curve balls. I'm back on the "not pregnant or nursing" bandwagon. I'm headed back to the gym tomorrow, I'm back to working on my writing, I'm back to the original plan Matt and I hashed out for Baby #4 (pregnancy #6?!). I do hope to get a minivan out of this anyway, though. Phew, three kids in a mid-size sedan is one difficult life lemon to swallow.

09 July 2017

The End, Again.

Written at 12:24am on Sunday, July 9, 2017

We were pregnant. But I'm having a miscarriage. I'm eight or nine weeks, I can't remember exactly, but the thought of looking at my planner to figure it out, and seeing all the little numbers for the next two months lined up neatly, remembering when I excitedly wrote them down, is depressing. After a long day of cramps and spotting, I'm getting contractions. The pregnancy was a surprise, I had planned to get pregnant in the spring. Studying my NFP chart, I have no idea how we got pregnant, it just doesn't make sense. I was frustrated with God at first, frustrated that my weight loss plans and 10 year anniversary trip plans had to all be shelved. But I quickly came to terms. Babies bring so much joy and those first four months are really special. I became excited to pick out names and fold newborn sizes and watch Abigail and Eleanor and Theodore love on a little newborn. But now I am feeling the familiar pain of contractions and I don't understand why God threw this at me only to rip it away.

This evening, Theodore was throwing a small ball at the bookshelf with the intention to get it stuck. When he succeeded, he toddled over to me and explained his situation in his most serious of babbles. He reached for my hands, but I stood up and walked away. He started balling. He collapsed on the floor.
"Come here, Theodore!" But he didn't. I returned from the kitchen with a step stool in hand and set it down in front of the shelf. Instantly his screaming stopped. He practically ran to the step, climbed up, and grabbed his ball.
"'Ere itis!" His prize held up in the air.
"This is a perfect analogy for God, Theodore," Matt chimed in from the kitchen. He cooked dinner. He was doing the dishes. Because I was on the couch crocheting and waiting for the contractions to start. "God doesn't always give you what you think you want because He wants to give you something greater than your wildest dreams."
And over and over again Theodore threw his ball on the bookshelf and climbed on the step to retrieve it. "'Ere itis!" Such joy. Such pride.
Matt said it to Theodore, but really God said it to me. I have no flipping clue how giving birth to yet another dead baby can possibly lend to something greater than my wildest dreams. But I'm just going to trust.

05 July 2017

Summer School Curriculum for a Kindergartner with Down Syndrome - Review

We've been hard at work doing our summer homeschool for three and a half weeks now, so I feel a bit more confident about offering a review of the materials we are using.

A. Mapping out lessons ahead of time is the most important part of summer homeschooling. It takes me less than an hour on a Friday afternoon to map out and gather materials for four days worth of work for Abigail. It makes school run way smoother and gives me accountability on days when I'm not in the mood or she isn't in the mood and we skip a subject or day.

Using my planner or a blank notebook instead of a proper lesson planning guide was a good choice. At first I regretted not having purchased one, but once I got the hang of what I was doing, I was fine. Having a place to keep everything organized is also very important. I bought this binder (under $10 at the grocery store). If you can make one at home to save money, great, but if buying a new items helps, it's worth the money.

B. Dry Erase Sleeves
These inexpensive dry erase sleeves are the second most important piece of our summer curriculum. I don't know if it's the reduced friction, how fun markers are, or just getting to erase the page when she's done, but Abigail is significantly more motivated to work when her sheet is in a dry erase sleeve with matching marker. It doesn't increase the number of pages she does a day, but she moves much quicker and more happily through her least favorite subjects this way.

Her handwriting is also better and we do almost no hand-over-hand when using these.

Ahh, that beautiful grip makes me swoon!

1. Math
Summer math is going over spectacularly. Abigail loves math and the materials I got were spot on. Her book is expensive for a math book (I paid $15 vs. $5 for other comparables, but right now Amazon has it listed for $11), but was totally worth it. It most closely follows the worksheets she brought home from school during the year, so she's very familiar with what is expected of her. She dives in and usually only needs little help and direction from me to complete the worksheet.

We also have found great success using a worksheet I found on Pinterest, and using flashcards to make up an addition problem.

Abigail loves math, so we do 2-3 worksheets from her book and one activity per day. The activity is 3-4 addition problems using counters in one of the above methods or we'll count to 100 by 1s and 10s.

Eleanor wanted me to take her picture with the poster. The poster was worth it too.

2. Writing
Writing wasn't going very well when we first started, but I modified it the materials and now she loves it. It turns out I could have put together her handwriting curriculum much cheaper. Her Handwriting Without Tears book was also pretty expensive ($14 vs $4-5 for a basic tracing book), but I sprang for it because it written by an occupational therapist and went over the nitty-gritty on how to actually write the individual letters.

I thought Abigail would benefit from the letter breakdown, but she is not. This book is her least favorite part of school. If we don't use the dry erase sleeves, we do the worksheets 100% hand-over-hand. It's slow and painful.

This $3.59 tracing book I got at my local grocery store (Meijer) for Eleanor, actually, combined with this $8 ream of handwriting paper is the most effective writing course for Abigail right now.

This one was hand-over-hand. It was also a bit long for her to complete in one sitting.
I write out a short story with sight words Abigail already knows or her name, address, and phone number. We put them in the dry erase sleeves and she actually enjoys them. Per day, we do one page that I made up and then as many of the Tracing Trails pages as Abigail wants, it's usually about 8-12 pages (4-6 pieces of paper, front and back). I decided to shelve the formal book for the year - I'm saving it for another year or another kid.

3. Reading
Reading was a mixed bag - some good calls, some bad - plus I overestimated how much work we'd do each day with reading. Overall, the materials I got were super cheap, so the bad calls weren't much of a financial hit.

This little book series was totally worth it at about $15 per set of 25 books. We could have gotten away with just one series, it turns out, since First Little Reader's Level A is harder than the set she was using in school, but, really, you can never have too many books anyway.

We read one book per day. I tried to do some activities based on the books, like matching verb flash cards to the right pages, but she wasn't understanding. I also tried to have her make up sentences using flash cards I made up or a package of inexpensive flashcards ($2.99) on Amazon, but she wasn't getting that either. I don't know how they teach reading in school, but I am not doing so hot replicating it at home.

I had to remind myself of my goal (help keep what knowledge she's got), so we've paired down reading to one book per day and then twice a week, we run through the bag of flashcards her teacher sent home for the summer, which she already knows.

Then once a week we'll do some activities with flash cards to have her unscramble the letters in her first and last name (separately) and the numbers in her house address instead of the school flash cards, and the last day per week, we'll go through the alphabet and talk about what sound each letter makes.

Abigail happily "reads" books on her own for at least an hour per day anyway, in addition to the times Matt and I read to her, so she is getting a ton of healthy exposure to books even if I've paired down the formal curriculum stuff.

4. Extras
Basically, none of the extras were worth it.

Sensory sensitive girl hates the pencil grips.

We have used this blue wall hanging about twice in 3.5 weeks. Abigail has a hard time getting the flashcards into the pockets with her fine motor skills issues, and she doesn't even really want to stand up and move around, she wants to sit at the table and get to work. In fact, I made up a word sounds game that involves walking around and rolling giant dice that she does not like either.

The calendar was cheaply made and is now completely destroyed. The girls were playing school each morning and it just took so much abuse that it gave up and died. I don't want her to lose her days of the week and months in the year, but I'm not sure what direction to go.

Lastly, we also don't need a formal school area. Since the table and chairs were something we already owned, there was no cost to be lost. But if a lack of proper school space was ever a concern, please know that I could easily move this upstairs to our kitchen table and be just as successful. School is not so loud that it would wake the baby.

We spend about 30-45 minutes per day doing school and Abigail is always the one to initiate when we're done. We do school for four days per week and then try to do a field trip on Friday. (It's pretty hit or miss on whether I feel like chasing all three of them for a few hours in public.) The girls often ask to do school again throughout the day and always on the weekend. Sometimes I break out the Tracing Trails and dry erase sleeves, sometimes we read books or play a game, or sometimes I throw them outside. I don't want anyone getting burnt out, and I don't want the girls getting bored with the books.

I tried to do some summer homeschool with Abigail last year, getting Catholic Icing's Preschool Curriculum, but every attempt I made left everyone frustrated. Now that I'm trying again and simply imitating what she does in school, I'm actually successful, and I've really come to realize how much specialized training a special education teacher really has. I cannot teach Abigail because I don't know what I'm doing. It really solidifies my confidence in our decision for her education. It also confirms for me that the more involved I can be in her daily school, the more I can support it at home.  Local public school + an involved mom is definitely how Abigail will get the most out of her potential.

It also makes me realize that I could homeschool Eleanor if I wanted to. I think I have it in me to give her a good education, at least in elementary school. But I also realize that I don't want to homeschool her; it's not my first choice. I think she would get a better education when taught by an educated, experienced teacher who enjoys his or her job. I still don't know if we'll do public or private Catholic school, but thankfully I have a few years to decide.

In the meantime, we are just going to keep chugging along this summer with the goal to keep Abigail's skills tucked safely away inside of her.

02 July 2017

LuLaRoe Leggings vs. Agnes & Dora Leggings: One Girl's Opinion

I don't usually, actually ever, talk about fashion on my blog, so my regular readers are probably going to be surprised to learn that I'm seriously addicted to LuLaRoe clothing. It's - no exaggeration - pretty much all I wear.

I love LLR for all the same reasons all the other stay-at-home moms love it: It's soft, comfortable, generously cut. I can bend and move and sit on the floor without embarrassing myself. I feel pretty when I wear it. My weight can fluctuate and I don't have to keep buying new sized clothing. Leggings with tunics (Irmas) and maxis with t-shirts are so comfortable, I feel like I'm in sweatpants, except I'm way prettier. And when you look and feel pretty, people are way nicer to you when you're hauling three children around in public.

I even have some leggings and dresses for the girls, and they are hands-down, their favorite clothes. "Mama, where's my purple pants?" Eleanor whines when they're in the wash.

A few months ago, Matt's cousin started posting some pictures of herself is some wicked cute clothing, but it wasn't quite LLR. Before I got around to asking her where she was shopping, she announced that she was going into business as a consultant for Agnes & Dora. I'd never heard of the company before, but a quick Google search revealed them to be an LLR competitor. Immediately intrigued, I entered her leggings contest and won!

I've washed and worn my starry A&D leggings multiple times now, and I do have to say, I am equally addicted! Each company's leggings have their own pros and cons that, in my opinion, put them in a tie for my favorite pants.

Softness: A&D! By a skosh

Both company's leggings are super, incredibly soft. When I piled a bunch of LLR with my A&D leggings, closed my eyes, and dug my hands through them, I had a very hard time determining which was the softest. They were all so buttery, as they like to say! But when I forced myself to make a decision, I opened my eyes and was holding my A&Ds. Conclusion: A&D leggings are a skosh bit softer, but it's not enough to alter my decision. As Matt would say, it's an inconsequential amount.

Prints: LLR!
Both companies have a myriad of different prints, ranging from loud and bright to soft and feminine. You can get flowers, animals, geometric prints, logical, illogical, and solids from A&D and LLR. But LLR offers specialized seasonal and holiday prints, and even have a multi-year licensing deal with Disney right now. If I was looking for "pretty leggings" or "pink leggings," I'd look at both companies, but if I needed black cat leggings, I'd go to my LLR consultant first.

Wash: Tie!
My American LLR leggings (center, above) and my A&D leggings arrived within two weeks of each other and both have held up equally well being machine washed and line dried.

Waistband: Tie!
Each company handles its waistbands a bit differently. Theoretically, I like LLR better, but in actual wear, I didn't notice a difference. I certainly wouldn't base my purchase off the waistband.

Price: A&D!
A&D leggings sell for $22. LLR sell for $25. $3 is not a deal breaker, especially with the exclusivity of the prints, but if all things were equal, I would pick A&D.

Sizes: Not enough data
I want to talk about it, although I don't have enough data to offer any real opinion. LLR has two sizes of leggings: One Size (OS) and Tall & Curvy (TC). OS leggings are recommended for sizes 2-12 and TC are 12-22. Some of my OS leggings fit me great. Some of them fit me tight. I have one pair that is cut a bit differently and the waistband rolls down when I bend over to pick up a kid. It is really frustrating for a buyer to have such inconsistencies in sizing. BUT, on the other hand, I love how flexible the sizing is. I'm at a point in life (the childbearing years point) where I gain and lose large amounts of weight often and I'm sooo very tired of having a stack of totes in the basement filled with different sized jeans.

As a reference point, A&D sizes are as follows: XS is 0-2; S/M is for sizes 4-12; L is 14-16; XL is 18-20.

Since I only have 1 pair of A&D leggings, I can't speak very well to their sizing. I can say that my S/M A&D leggings are bigger than my most generously cut OS LLR leggings, but not enough that I really notice.

In Conclusion...

I'd say the two companies are tied. I would base my decision to buy something on the pattern. Whoever has the print I like the most wins my money!

For LuLaRoe, I recommend my friend and Abigail's therapist from Chicago: Rachel Hodges
For Agnes & Dora, I recommend Matt's cousin, Amanda Solt
Both girls are friendly and helpful, have great product in stock, and they are not paying me to mention them!