Distance

Today, while I was tidying up our bedroom, my 20 month old reached into a bathroom drawer and pulled out a bag my mom keeps at our house filled with essential toiletries. My parents (and in-laws) live across the country, but my mom used to (pre-COVID) visit frequently. To avoid buying new toiletries whenever she arrived, we started keeping a bag for her so that it would always be ready for the next trip.

My heart was heavy when I saw that bag. Who knows when the next trip will be? We canceled our trip last month as well as the upcoming one in July. She canceled her trip in June. The big unknown is August. Will she come out for this baby’s birth? She has been such an integral part of each child’s early days that I have no idea how we will handle it alone. And if school doesn’t open in the fall, how will we handle a newborn and a 2 year old while homeschooling a preschooler and kindergartener?

There are so many things to worry about. If she travels, are we putting her at risk for getting COVID? Would she need to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival? Would she be stuck here for the second surge of this pandemic? What if my father gets sick and she is unable to be there right away (and would she need to quarantine upon arrival)? Is she at higher risk of getting COVID around my kids than she would be at home?

Of course I want her to be here, but I also feel that it would be a selfish request. We’ll talk more about it as the date draws closer, but I’m going to prepare for the newborn days without her.

This pandemic has highlighted the distance between us. My husband and I have lived away from our families throughout the entirety of our 13 year relationship. We moved to California a decade ago. There have been times when it felt farther than others, but we always knew we were a (relatively) short flight away from home and our families. COVID-19 has changed everything. Flying feels so risky and it seems silly to endeavor it when we are so carefully sheltering in place in every other respect. I don’t see this changing any time soon, and the prediction is that this is going to last months to years. My hope is that our families stay healthy during this time, but I also recognize that we don’t have limitless years left with our parents and it is such a shame to missing out on time when they are well and able to enjoy their grandchildren.

So much to be sad about during this unprecedented time. For now, I’m going to keep my mom’s toiletry bag tucked in the bathroom drawer, hoping that her next trip is not too far away.

Pandemic Pregnancy

When I became pregnant, COVID-19 wasn’t even a thing. It was mid-December and I don’t recall hearing anything about what was happening in Wuhan until January at the earliest. So it was probably a thing, and there were cases, but the thought of closed schools, clinical work on hold and shelter-in-place were not on my radar. I was honestly mostly focused on the application process for private school for my two oldest kids. They were (and I recognize how ridiculous this sounds) applying for entry to pre-K and K, and my biggest worry was where they would be going to school the following year. Now I’m doubtful that they will even get to attend said school in person, but that’s a topic for another day.

On February 25th I screened positive for Trisomy 21 and perseverated over that for a week until my normal cell-free DNA results.

We slowly began to take precautions at work to screen for COVID-19. It began with questioning patients prior to their visit to see whether they had recently traveled from Wuhan (this eventually expanded to all of China, and as everyone knows that question soon became obsolete). We also asked about cough and fever. Carts with PPE were positioned outside of these patient rooms.

I developed a cough on March 6th, which was terribly awkward to have while everyone was on high alert regarding COVID (for the records, I have had a negative COVID-19 PCR and also negative IgG and IgM antibodies). One of my patients even sent me a personal note saying that he was worried about me because I had been coughing (I wore a mask in every patient room during this time) and seemed short of breath. I had to, with some embarrassment, tell him that I was short of breath due to climbing 3 sets of stairs while pregnant. Fortunately he was a patient I knew quite well.

I had an ob appointment March 10th and my ob was pretty close to 0% concerned about COVID. She told me the reports out of China were reassuring. Pregnant women seemed to fare well and there were no cases of vertical transmission. She also told me to drink a glass of wine, which was interesting because she usually errs on the conservative side (also for the record, I did not drink a glass of wine).

My close colleagues, however, were more concerned and ended up encouraging me to drop one of my higher-risk duties – seeing patients in the hospital. I stopped doing that the week of March 2nd. The week of March 9th I made a huge pivot in my career and left one of the clinics I had worked at for 6 years. Too many things weren’t working out. I was losing staff, knew I wouldn’t have any when I returned from maternity leave again (it was a drawn-out nightmare the last time) and was so exhausted from pregnancy and turning 37 that I knew it was finally time to call it quits.

March was a month of major upheaval. Our world paused in March – with school canceled starting March 12th (initially only for two weeks but that eventually progressed to no school for the rest of the school year) and shelter-in-place coming 5 days later. Everything was being canceled. It was such a crazy time.

We largely stopped seeing patients in person, with my last real clinic held on March 16th. Everything has been virtual since. To be honest, it’s been challenging. Some conditions in dermatology are easy to treat virtually (acne, for example). Other things, like checking over someone’s skin to look for skin cancer, are impossible. I have been seeing 1-2 patients a week for skin biopsy and evaluation of more serious rashes, but always wearing ample PPE (I have my own that I cycle through). We have just started talking about opening up clinic more robustly, and I am concerned about the plan (or lack thereof). It doesn’t sound like anything is changing, other than spacing out clinics and appointments to encourage social distancing. Of course, we are asked to wear PPE, although it is unclear whether this is readily available.

Normally, I wouldn’t be too concerned. But last week, at my follow-up ob visit, my doctor was suddenly very concerned. She told me there had been new reports of COVID-19 found in placentas, IgM antibodies in newborns, vertical transmission (from mom to body), second trimester miscarriages, stillbirths and premature births. The numbers of reports were small, but there was definitely more alarm. Moms are tested at the time of delivery at our hospital and COVID-19+ moms are recommended to separate from their newborns. Having had three kids, I can’t imagine how heartbreaking that would be.

In sum, I’m starting to worry about ramping up capacity to see more patients. I’m not reassured by the plan currently in place and now I’m much more anxious about doctoring while pregnant. At the same time, I feel a bit silly, because I don’t work in an emergency room or ICU, and certainly don’t do any high-risk procedures (any biopsies I do near the face are usually relatively quick and nothing compared to an intubation). I also feel a strong obligation to my patients. I know how scary it can be to have a spot that you are worried could be a skin cancer, or a rash that keeps spreading. Our patients have been so wonderful these past few weeks, understanding that we are taking every precaution to keep them safe, but I certainly don’t want anyone waiting months to be seen. Since I am taking maternity leave, I would be gone until early 2021. Finally, I care deeply about my colleagues. Although they might not be pregnant, they could have co-morbidities or take medications that make them immunosuppressed, live with elderly parents or in-laws or immunosuppressed children and spouses. I don’t want to burden anyone else with having to see my patients because it seems to imply that my pregnancy is more important than their personal circumstances.

It’s an uncertain time for all and I don’t envy our management who has to make some tough decisions moving forward. For now, I’ve reached out to my ob to see if she can give me some clarity on making a decision. If need be, I’ll reach out to my colleagues to see how to best mitigate risk. I’m taking leave at 35 weeks so essentially only 13 more weeks to go. Hoping those 13 weeks are as smooth and uneventful as possible!

Parenting after infertility

Tuesday was my anatomy scan for my fourth child. (I know this doesn’t sound like a typical infertility post, but bear with me.) I was a nervous mess. My husband came with me but wasn’t allowed into the room because of COVID precautions. My ultrasound tech was a woman of few words, who mostly complained about having to wear her surgical mask all day (another COVID precaution).

Some women announce their pregnancies the second they know about them, with elaborate pregnancy announcements and social media posts. I’m in the other group – moms who worry every step of the way. It’s exhausting. As soon as I find out I’m pregnant I worry that I will miscarry in the first trimester (for the record: I have never had a miscarriage). I hold my breath at every ultrasound until the doctor finds the heartbeat. I worry about the results of my nuchal translucency/first trimester screen (perhaps for good reason: I have tested positive – false positive – for Trisomy 21 twice now). I hold my breath waiting for the cell-free DNA results (normal 3 of the 3 times I have had to take this test). The anatomy scan is the worst, because by 20 weeks I tend to look pretty pregnant so people know, and how would I break the news to everyone that the baby had some terrible congenital abnormality that was incompatible with life? It sounds ridiculous as I am typing this out, but this is the world inside my head. When I was pregnant with my first, I refused to wash any of the clothing we had purchased for him until late in the third trimester. I couldn’t imaging folding it all up and putting it away if something terrible happened. With each pregnancy, I have worried about the baby not moving enough. With my first I vividly recall drinking orange juice at night and jostling my belly around to get him moving. Perhaps that is why he was born a night owl! Just today I took a 5 minute break to lay on my side in bed because I hadn’t felt this baby move in some time. Last year, my best friend lost a baby at 31 weeks. It was every mom’s worst nightmare. My heart aches for her, thinking of how she waited for labor to start days after she had learned that her baby was not okay, and ultimately delivered a stillborn baby. I flew out to see her right after the birth and there were no words to remedy how unfair and cruel the world can be.

My struggles have been minimal by comparison. I had hypothalamic amenorrhea and stopped getting my period for a decade. When I got married and decided to have kids, it (surprise!) did not suddenly make an appearance. In retrospect, I can summarize the story like this: I had hypothalamic amenorrhea and started eating more, gaining weight, and working out much less in order to promote natural fertility. I eventually got pregnant with minimal assistance from a fertility clinic. My subsequent pregnancies occurred without any intervention. However, the period from May 2012 to March 2014 was so more stressful than that paragraph reflects. I had no idea why I wasn’t able to get pregnant. I knew hypothalamic amenorrhea was playing a role but what if (a) it was irreversible and (b) there was something else? What if I would never be a mom? What if I had messed up my body so much that I would never carry a baby?

Once you have had any degree of infertility, you never take being a parent for granted. My first wouldn’t sleep. He had a strong startle reflex and broke through every swaddle combination we tried. He would cry all day and night unless we held him. I remember being exhausted to the bone, crying on the phone to my friend, telling her how guilty I felt for not savoring every waking moment after everything I had been through to have him. This has been my thought process on repeat for every child and for every step of the way. Every decision I have made for them has been fueled by the knowledge that their lives may not have been if things had worked out differently.

I know how fortunate I am to have these children. Once you are pregnant with your fourth (and to some degree your third), people start commenting on your reproductive decisions. “Isn’t the world populated enough?”, “Yeah, probably not a good idea”, “Why would you have another child?”. Quite frankly, it’s rude. In the same way I was hurt and offended when I couldn’t get pregnant and people asked me when I was planning to have a baby, I am hurt and offended by these comments. I don’t push back though – I’m never going to convince people who say those words out loud to consider another viewpoint. I know how much my children mean to me and my husband, and that’s all that matters. Although I would have preferred not to have gone through those years of infertility, I am grateful that they provided me with this perspective.

No more cornflakes

Today is Day 38 of no school for my kids and Day 33 of shelter-in-place. It’s 1:48am and I am up again. We’ve been battling bedtime with one of my kids for what seems like an eternity (a year perhaps?). With the extra time at home, less need to be at work first thing in the morning, and generally more exhaustion, I have started falling asleep on the floor of his room (his preferred sleeping arrangement) more often than I would like to admit. After sleeping a good 3-4 hours, I find it tough to seamlessly transition to my own bed. Thus why I am up right now – writing for the first time in ages.

The past few weeks have been an adjustment, to say the least. Before I go into details, I first have to say that we have been very fortunate. My husband and I are still employed and no one we know or love has been ill with COVID-19, despite much of our family living in New York and New Jersey.  I work at a hospital but my department has made patient, faculty and staff safety a priority, and this has helped to relieve a lot of exposure anxiety. I am also 19 weeks pregnant and my colleagues immediately volunteered to take over some of my riskier patient care responsibilities, as the evidence regarding COVID-19 and pregnancy continues to evolve (fortunately, it has been mostly reassuring, but we are learning more each day).

We are very blessed and acutely aware of this, but also affected by the monumental change that occurred in our lives these past few weeks as well as the uncertainty regarding the future. What began as a two-week hiatus from school after there was a confirmed positive in the larger school community was gradually extended, until they just recently announced that school would be out until the fall. Summer camps have started to cancel. There is talk of the 2020-2021 school year looking dramatically different.

I do feel fortunate that my children are young (1, 3 and 5). Mostly they have reacted to the news with glee. For them, it is an extended vacation and their parents are home all day on most days (I am currently going into the office one day a week for essential procedures). They say they do not miss school or their friends. We live in a warm climate where they can go outside each day – even if it is only in our backyard or a short trip around the neighborhood. But I do worry about the change in structure. This week in particular was tough became it came with some change in behavior. My 1 year old is undergoing a sleep regression – often crying before bed, waking up in the middle of the night (he woke up as I was typing this), and a few mornings waking up before 5am. My 3 year old finds his way into our bed more often than not (perhaps related to my falling asleep on his floor most nights?). My 5 year old, who is generally very well-behaved, started to act out this week. Small things, for sure, but they pile up quickly when my husband and I are home all day, trying to fit work into any snippets of time we can find, and generally exhausted/operating on fumes. Parenting 3 kids 5 and under while both working full-time was hard at baseline and then COVID happened and it seemed almost impossible. (But I remind myself daily that at the height of my struggle with infertility I would have prayed for this conundrum. No matter how many kids I’ve had, there is no way to forget that burning desire for motherhood, the disappointment that came with every negative pregnancy test, and the fear of it never coming to fruition.)

And yet. Today was a hard day (also a hard night, it seems, with 2/3 of the kids already up 2 times each) and I started thinking about one of my favorite books from childhood – No More Cornflakes by Polly Horvath. I had forgotten the general plot and had a good chuckle when I read the Amazon synopsis: “Hortense seeks the advice and friendship of her eccentric Aunt Kate when her mother spends her days eating cornflakes and hopping around in public, pretending to be a rabbit”. It is about a girl growing up in a changing household – her mother is pregnant (and apparently losing her mind?  I should go back and read this now that I am an adult), her older sister is out more/becoming more independent, and she finds solace in a deepening relationship with her quirky aunt. The one thing I vividly recall, even decades later, is her aunt’s advice to find an “oasis”, a small ritual you have for yourself each day – one that is yours and only yours, one that brings joy always.

I love this concept even more now. As our world has become smaller – confined largely to the walls of our home – as our social interactions have become non-existent, as our opportunities for experiences, vacations, etc., have dissipated before our eyes, how do we find solace in our day? What can we do to bring a sense of peace, calm and fortitude into our lives? I’ll be thinking about this deeply in the next few days, as we continue to refine our daily schedules, to bring small rays of sunshine into our lives.

For now, I am trying to focus on the positives. I have had the opportunity to experience staying at home with my children (I went back to work with all 3 when they were ~4 months old). They have had the opportunity to experience a different childhood (I sometimes joke that it is my childhood) – one without planned activities, playdates, structure. We, as parents, are working on encouraging more creativity and independent play. We are trying to find small pockets of time for ourselves while the kids are awake, so that we don’t have to cling so desperately to the post-bedtime hours. My 1 year old’s language has taken off exponentially now that his brothers are home full-time. My 3 year old rode his bike for the first time today without training wheels. My 5 year old has been reading on his own and doing math. We are eating at home every night (we always ate together, but did often eat out) and I am so incredibly fortunate that my husband cooks for us every day. We are finding the time to complete random items on our to-do list that always fell to the bottom of our busy days.

One day, as long as everyone stays healthy and safe, we may look back on this time with some degree of fondness. I wonder if it is the closest we will ever be as a family. Soon, if we are still sheltering in place and socially isolating when this fourth baby arrives, we will be even closer!

Maternity leave in review

In two days I’ll return to work after my third maternity leave. That’s one job, three pregnancies, three maternity leaves and three “first days back at work”. My first post on this blog was about returning to work after my second was born (see October 2016 archives) and now here we are again! In honor of this occasion, I wanted to spend some time (kid naps allowing) to reflect on the past few weeks.

This maternity leave started earlier than planned when my contractions started the morning after my last day of work. I had been expecting at least a few days (if not weeks!) of extra time to wrap things up, but baby had other plans. I subsequently spent the first 3-4 weeks wrapping up work. I know that sounds really terrible, but it was actually okay. Everyone knows that newborns don’t sleep, so it gave me something to do in the wee hours of the night, and it was something that would definitely prevent me from dozing off with the baby. I am also fortunate to have a lot of support staff and they helped me make phone calls to patients (since that’s not something that can be done in the middle of the night!).

My husband didn’t take his paternity leave right away, so it was a bit of a whirlwind. Even though we had family helping out, if I had to do it again I would ask him to take a few weeks off in the very beginning. It would have been immensely helpful to have a bit more overnight help those first few weeks and I would have probably been able to take some daytime naps without the baby! It seemed pretty stressful for him to work while so sleep-deprived and this definitely led to more bickering than usual. Fortunately, things improved with time (and sleep!).

We briefly had a night nurse helping us out…until she fell asleep holding the baby. I couldn’t believe it. As my husband always says “why are people so bad at their jobs? You have one job – learn how to do it right!” So I guess another thing I would do differently is not hire a night nanny. Yes, it was helpful to have someone hold the baby for a few hours overnight, but I did enjoy doing the bulk of evenings since so much baby bonding happens during that time. I also found that I didn’t rest easy when she was over, perhaps because I was worried about the above. Fortunately, our little guy persevered and now his sleep isn’t as atrocious (although it is definitely nowhere near ideal for having to go back to work!).

My older kiddos have done really well with their new little brother. Toddler Y (our middle child) had a tough time those first few days, but now he is sweet as pie. One of our major challenges when I return to work will be carving out individual time for all three kids. Right now, the older kiddos have independent activities on Saturday mornings, and I plan to build onto that time.

One of the highlights of maternity leave was seeing a lot of family. My mom spent a few weeks with us right before and after Baby Z was born – not quite as long as the last time, but just the right amount of time during the hardest days. We also had both of our families visit on separate occasions and I was able to visit home twice (the last time for 3 weeks!) during maternity leave. The kids have a blast around family, so it was so nice to see everyone on multiple occasions.

Another highlight was meeting an awesome group of moms with kiddos around Baby Z’s age. I have excellent mom friends whom I met shortly after my first was born. Some had second babies so I didn’t feel the need to branch out much with Toddler Y. But this time around I knew that Baby Z would need some baby buddies and went out of my way to meet people. Well, this group of moms is just awesome, and it’s been great getting to know them.

On an organizational front, I did a TON around the house. I cleaned out the whole attic, donated and threw out a bunch of items from all throughout our home (trying to get a head start on minimalism for 2019!), made headway on two home improvement projects we have been working on, had the guest room painted, reorganized the guest room/soon-to-be Baby Z nursery, cleaned out the entire shed and organized all of the kitchen drawers. I gave away a ton of baby things we no longer needed, worked on Baby Z’s scrapbook and first-year album and also researched and toured a slew of private schools in the area. I did much of this with the baby strapped to my chest, but needed a bit of assistance for the manual labor.

Of course, the highlight of maternity leave was the hours upon hours I got to spend with Baby Z. I wore him almost constantly in a sling (now carrier) during the daytime hours. He often slept in bed with me overnight (not necessarily by choice, but we made sure the bed was as safe as possible for infant sleep) and he accompanied me to appointments, a handful of work meetings and a slew of errands. He’s an excellent eater, and I will forever be grateful to my employer for allowing me to have all of this time with him.

When I return to work, he will be about 4.5 months old. I know international readers will balk at how little that is. However, having had all of my children in the US, I feel so incredibly fortunately to have had 4.5 months of paid maternity leave, as well as the assurance that my position is stable. When I return, I’ll be able to set time aside as I wish to pump and to adjust my schedule as needed to make this year as manageable as can be. In fact, I’m returning part-time this month, and I am so very grateful to be able to rev up gradually.

I will always be sad about leaving my baby. What will it be like for him to not be strapped to my chest all day? (Honestly, probably not as bad as it will be for me!) I will worry incessantly about something going wrong while he is out of my care and I will miss his little noises and tiny fingers and sweet smile. I will stress out trying to give everyone attention in the few hours we have before work and after work/before bed. But I have faith that it will all be okay. Not easy, but okay.

Many moons ago, when I was obsessing about going back to work vs not going back to work (not really an option for me at the time but an interesting hypothetical argument) and then obsessing about daycare vs nanny, the one thing that stuck with me was reading that kids will thrive with a decision as long as the parents are happy with that decision. So I always focus on the positive aspects of my job and the positive aspects of their relationships with other caregivers.

I also have this to get me through: my older kids are alright. They’re happy little clams, in preschool now. My oldest is four. If we repeat his life cycle 4 more times, he’ll be twenty – an adult! In other words: time flies. As my children have grown, I’ve had (some) opportunity to think about who I am independent on them, how my husband and I interact independent of them, what I will do once they leave. Yes, I am not very far in and they are still very, very small and very, very dependent, but there are snippets of time when these opportunities for thought arise. When they have arisen, I have always been very happy to be working. This is what has worked and been okay for me, but it may not be the best case scenario for anyone else, and that’s okay too.

So in less than 48 hours, I’ll be waking up and changing out of my pajamas first thing. I’ll put on make-up, grown-up clothes, triple check my bags to make sure I have my work things plus my pump things, and then I’ll leave my sweet little baby behind. First I’ll have to convince my older kids (who have been out of school for three weeks!) that getting dressed and leaving the house early is also a good idea. I am not sure which of those feats will be harder! And in a few weeks time, doing this will be the new normal, and these lovely (and hard) maternity leave days will be a distant memory!

36 weeks + 1 day

Almost to the finish line and I have so many mixed feelings about this:

  1. Incredulity – I can’t believe this pregnancy is almost over – where did the time go!?
  2. Panic – How are we ever going to complete our to-do list before the due date? I have so many things I want to accomplish before the baby gets here. Some minor home improvement projects, wrapping up everything at work (I am so behind – it seems insurmountable!)
  3. Anxiety – Labor is not the most pleasant experience so I can’t say I’m necessarily looking forward to that part! We also almost didn’t make it to the hospital when my second was born, so I’ve been thinking about scheduling an induction this time around. I do prefer to go into labor without intervention, but didn’t love how chaotic things felt with my last delivery.
  4. Exhaustion – I’ve been staying up late to get things done and work has been super hectic because patients keep calling to make an appointment before I go. I feel guilty leaving them for so many months (although have amazing colleagues who will see them while I’m out) and keep saying yes, even though the days are long. Also, my belly is getting heavy and being on my feet during the day is exhausting!
  5. Worry – Will baby be healthy? Will my older kids be alright with the new addition? How will we handle the sleep deprivation? What if this baby also has colic (like my first)?
  6. Sadness .- This may very well be my last pregnancy (definitely will be, according to my husband!). I know I’ve been incredibly blessed to be pregnant 3 times (especially after my fertility struggles the first time around), but it does make it sad to think about closing the door on my childbearing years.
  7. Excitement – Another newborn! I can’t wait to see and hold him. I wonder what he will look like. I had a growth ultrasound yesterday (still being monitored because of the false negative toxoplasmosis result) and they estimated that he was 6 lbs 9 oz. I couldn’t believe it! That’s like a real baby! He was so cramped in there – space is certainly getting tight.

In other news, our (current) littlest guy started preschool 2 weeks ago. It was ROUGH in the beginning. He had a tough time adjusting. As it happened, he wasn’t able to attend the first 3 days we had enrolled him because he woke up sick on the first day of school! We couldn’t believe it. This kid has been the healthiest since birth (despite a germ-y older brother), but of course he had to wake up with a fever on his first day. Fortunately, our nanny was available to help us out. However, she had other plans the last two days of the week, and my husband and I had to work, so we threw him right into the deep end – he stayed for the whole day those first two days! He was always so tired when we picked him up. And he cried…a LOT.

So the following week, we decided to stick with the half-day schedule. I wasn’t sure how this would fly with my oldest (they are at the same school but different classes, so I didn’t know if he would be confused/upset if his brother was picked up earlier), but he did great. We told him his little brother couldn’t stay the whole day yet because he was too small, even though he really wanted to. Drop-offs were still tough that first half of the week (he even angrily hit a teacher one morning after I left!), but he soon began to adjust to the schedule, and started to cry less and less at drop off.

This Monday, the sweetest thing happened. He clung to me like he always does when we arrived at school. But when I told him that it was time for me to go and that he should stay with his brother (they have a joint playtime in the morning while all the kids arrive), he took a few steps towards his big brother with tears welling up in his eyes, held his hand, and tried his best to look brave. He turned around to look at me when I left, but he didn’t bawl for the first time! And since then, it has only continued to improve. Today, he walked away from ME when I dropped him off, and happily took a spot next to his brother on his yoga mat.

Overall, he’s adjusting REALLY well and I am so happy this happened before the new baby comes to town. They’ll have their summer break soon, and then we’ll need to decide whether it’s time to enroll him in the full day schedule!

Here are a few books I found useful to prepare your little ones to start preschool. Both kids really loved these books during their transition periods, and I think they very plainly lay out the emotions kids may experience when leaving their parents for the first time.

Worried and kicking

It’s been 5 days since I learned about my possible toxoplasmosis infection and I’ve just been a rollercoaster of emotion:

  • doom and gloom: worst case scenario congenital toxoplasmosis situation. How will we adjust to having a severely disabled child? Is this fair to my other children? How will our lives change?
  • denial: this MUST be a false positive. I don’t spend time around cats, I don’t eat meat, I have barely eaten raw fruits and vegetables this pregnancy and never without washing them. Then I think about the one time our cat lady neighbor picked up two packages for us while we were away. This was back when I was very early pregnant, 1-2 mo. What if one of her cats pooped on the packages and then I grabbed them? Is this enough contact to transmit toxoplasmosis? Would my IgG be positive if this were the case?
  • anger: why did my ob check this lab? There seems to be no clear guideline to doing so (for asymptomatic patients without exposure risk). I switched to this ob primarily to have the same person I saw for regular visits deliver my baby instead of a resident (to clarify: not because I didn’t think they’d do a great job, but because I would prefer for residents I work with not to see me in labor. Although, two residents did deliver my second and I can barely remember who they were) but now I’m having second thoughts. Should I have stuck with my original group, who didn’t check for toxo because it’s not standard of care? Now I’m on this wheel of test after test after test (what I’ve been trying to avoid since my first induction for suspected pre-eclampsia) and I’m mad at myself because it’s of my own doing. I also wish she had a clear algorithm in mind. If she sends off a test, then she should have a clear plan as to what to do if it’s positive or negative. Yet, I know that this is not always true in medicine, and this is how we learn.

My husband is a level-headed, pragmatic individual. He is not worried at all. He says that worrying won’t change the situation. There is literally nothing I can add to the situation by worrying, and I need to relax and wait to see what the doctors say next week. I have an ultrasound scheduled and will follow up with high-risk ob the day after (by phone at least). I wish I could be reasonable like him and not worry, but I have a tough time doing so. I worry about the need for invasive testing or treatment which could be dangerous to the baby. I worry about being in a perpetual state of worry (is this the ultimate sign of anxiety or what?) during this pregnancy. I worry that the baby will need unnecessary testing when he’s born. And I think about what it would be like to have a baby with congenital toxoplasmosis – how different from my prior newborns. How will I handle that on top of having a newborn and 2 toddlers?

In the past few days, the baby has started to kick more. He was moving early on this time around, but his movements have been much more intense and exaggerated. I like to think that he’s telling me not to worry, to calm down, that he’s alright. I hope this is true. Only 3 more days until I have my ultrasound. I pray that everything is normal.

Bad news

This month has been hectic. It started with a lovely get-away (without kids!) for my husband and I. It was lovely. We were away for a week and were able to sleep 10-12 hours per day, finish both our conversations and our meals, lounge leisurely by the pool (under an umbrella, of course), walk along the beach, read, and simply be.

As always, I returned home with a desire to incorporate some of that into my daily life: taking a few minutes per day to just be together, reading more for fun, enjoying leisurely meals, exercising. Except we came home to a 1 year old and a 3 year old and two full-time jobs so none of the above happened.

It’s also a busy time. I’ve been taking advantage of my second-trimester energy to complete a few projects, including submitting plans for a minor home renovation. I’ve also had a pesky cough since our time away and though it would go away but it didn’t, and the coughing would often rob me of my energy and cause me to feel even more tired than usual. To top things off, my oldest came down with hand foot mouth disease (HFMD) and was home the entire week prior to a flight I was taking solo with both kids. He was in pain and cranky the entire week (apologies to all of the moms I counseled on HFMD by saying it was merely viral and would blow over) and, the worst part of all was that he wouldn’t sleep through the night! So the first few nights my husband and I stayed up with him. And then my youngest got a fever (but fortunately did not erupt into HFMD) and then HE wouldn’t sleep through the night.

So I set off with both kids in recovery ALONE on a 6 hour flight and it was by far the worst flight we’ve ever had. My kids have traveled a lot because even though we don’t live close to family, I think it’s so important for them to spend time with them. They are usually shockingly well-behaved. I come prepared, keep them entertained, and they generally keep their crying and tantrums to a minimum. But last week was a different story. Both kids were on the mend, I felt like crap from a combination of not sleeping as well as fighting off this cough (oh and being pregnant), and they wouldn’t nap! So we kept things pretty together until the last 30-45 minutes. And then when the plane landed, all hell broke loose. Both kids wanted to be carried but I only had two hands and had to carry the carry-on bags (we only had travel backpacks with us but it was a lot to juggle!). Then my oldest started throwing a tantrum about everything – he didn’t want to let me into the aisle to organize our bags, he didn’t want his brother to sit by the window, and on and on and on. Meanwhile, I’m frantically trying to organize everything while his little monkey of a brother is climbing over the seats. My oldest won’t move from his spot so I tell him “I’m going to pick you up and sit you down here so that I can grab everything” and do just that. He loses his **** and starts yelling “Mommy you HURT ME!”. Meanwhile, I’m dying.  As calmly as possible, I tell him it’s time to get off of the plane. A very nice lady helps with one of our bags, I carry my youngest off the plane, and my oldest begrudgingly drags his bag and follows behind, complaining all the way.

At the gate, I have to find and unfold our stroller, which was a waste of effort because neither kid will sit in it (but at least I can pile some bags on it). The oldest is crying and blocking people as they walk off of the plane while the youngest just wants to be held. I hightail it out of there with the oldest hitting me on my backpack and throwing the world’s greatest tantrum. We are the last people off the plane and the pilots are begrudgingly walking behind us because (I learned on another trip) they can’t leave anyone behind when they leave the plane. Awesome. And then, to top it all off, I have to walk approximately 20 minutes with one kid in my arms and one kid whining the whole way because we have landed at a huge airport, at possibly the furthest airline!

It was a total disaster. I saw my parents at the exit, handed the kids off to them, and then walked off to baggage claim to burst into tears. I could tell the security guard knew I was going to lose it because he let my parents follow me to the baggage claim to help out with the bags.

Until yesterday, I thought that was the worst thing that had happened. Then, my ob called me. Before I left, I had a few third trimester labs drawn. Apparently, one of those labs was toxoplasmosis. I had already had this checked in January (at 7 weeks) and both IgM and IgG were negative. For some reason, my ob rechecked it. She admitted that this was controversial – that many people don’t recommend rechecking due to low likelihood of infection in our area and false positives. But then she told me that I had a new positive (IgM, with IgG still negative). She wasn’t sure what to make of it. She had spoken to the high-risk obstetrics group at my hospital and they would follow up with me and likely have me return for an ultrasound, as well as labs, maybe an antibiotic, etc. She told me not to freak out so I promptly did just that – freaked out.

Toxoplasmosis!? That’s one of the terrible infections we learn about in medical school that can cause a slew of problems in newborns. WTF!? But I don’t own any cats…and I’m a vegetarian! I couldn’t believe it. I did what I always tell my patients not to do – turned to Dr. Google, and PubMed, and every person I know who is an obstetrician or infectious disease expert. I received a slew of responses: it’s probably nothing/a false positive, you definitely should not ignore this, you need serial ultrasound monitoring, they need to test the baby, there’s nothing you can do anyway because you’re 24 weeks along.

I’m also a bit annoyed at my ob. Why did she check it if it’s controversial? Her exact words were “I’ll probably change my practice after this”. And I am not entirely sure she knows exactly what to do at this time. She referred me to the high-risk ob, and that person called me, but I’m traveling and can’t be seen tomorrow, and she’s going to be out of town next week. The ID expert I spoke with told me to get labs ASAP, but the ob told me it wasn’t time-sensitive. Her exactly words were “I’m going to be blunt with you because you’re a doctor: if this is a true infection, there’s not much you can do at 24 weeks”. But shouldn’t it matter if it’s a true infection?

So I’m just waiting here, anticipating the worst. And it’s made me realize that I’m done having kids. I always thought I wanted a fourth, but pregnancy is too tenuous and stressful. I think about the experiences I’ve had with my kids – my pre-eclampsia scare with my first and him being in the NICU after birth (the briefest NICU stay ever, but seemed like the longest to me), my positive first-trimester screen with my second and having to see genetics for additional screening to rule out a chromosomal abnormality, and now this with my third. I pray that he will be healthy. That this is either a huge misunderstanding (false positive) or that he does not catch this infection. I’ll have an ultrasound in one week and hopefully will have some additional information at that time – and hopefully it’s all good news.

Charley horses and baby kicks

A few days ago I woke up with a terrible muscle cramp in my right leg. It woke me up from my sleep, which was aggravating because I really love my sleep. But it was also incredibly painful! I had completely forgotten about Charley horses during pregnancy, but yes, it is a thing that happens.

(Speaking of things that happen: here’s another one no one told me about. After my second delivery, I experienced terrible uterine contractions – almost as bad as pregnancy – whenever my newborn nursed. This is apparently a thing. When you nurse, oxytocin is released, leading to uterine contractions. Because the uterus has less muscle tone after your first delivery, this contraction is often quite mild – it definitely was for me. However, with each subsequent pregnancy, they become more intense (as uterine muscle tone increases). I was literally doubling over in pain after my second was born, so I am NOT excited to experience this again!)

I have also started to feel this baby kick. At first (around week 17) it felt like very light flutters. It still feels light, but I am certain now that it’s the baby. This makes everything feel more real. We bought baby’s first outfit yesterday. I can’t go too crazy (I already have 2 kids’ worth of boy clothes) but I definitely wanted him to have a new hospital outfit.

I also have his anatomy scan this week. I am always so worried about this test, but trying to stay calm before the ultrasound.

 

My nanny is drinking pregnancy tea

This hurts my heart because she’s preparing for her second round of IVF and I feel like a terrible person for having two children already and now being pregnant with a third (and I haven’t told her about this yet, although I’m pretty sure she’s figured it out). It hurts my heart because I remember those days very vividly – wondering why everyone seemed to get pregnant so easily and why it was taking me forever. What was wrong with me? Would I ever be a mother? I wore fertility bracelets, temped, took supplements, checked CM, joined a yoga for fertility group, set up a meditation corner in my bedroom to relieve stress, started acupuncture, and on and on and on. And I think: how much harder would it have been if my job was to take care of small children? And how conflicting it must be when that job is paying for your opportunity to have your own child.

In addition to my nanny, I haven’t told a lot of people I’m pregnant yet, but there are two people in particular who I should have told but I have not. They are very dear friends to me. One recently miscarried in her first trimester after deciding to have a second child, and the second is undergoing her second round of IVF, having failed a first in an attempt to have a second chid. I should have told them, but didn’t know how to break the news directly after they announced what they had been through. And, to be honest, distance and our busy lives make it easy to evade. But I am 15 weeks tomorrow, so it’s time. And eventually I’ll need to tell my nanny, who likely already knows. I only hope that in a few weeks to months she shares the news that she’s expecting as well.