Love, Joleen

Monday, July 25, 2016

Feeling Blessed After Our Second Miscarriage

Friends, it has been a really hard month. All the emotions that a person can feel, I have felt. I'm sure more than a few of you did a double take when you read this title, but this is my truth. I am sitting here feeling blessed after our second miscarriage. Please bare with me as I share the whole story.
On Saturday, June 18th I spent the late afternoon photographing an nontraditional Bar Mitzvah. It was loads of fun. Afterward, I visited the Motherland [Target] for last minute Father's Day cards and a pregnancy test. A quick visit to the loo and I left with a smile on my face and a secret in my bag -- it was positive! I was so excited that I barely even gave it a second glance before tossing it in my purse and two-stepping all the way to the car. We were pregnant! I immediately called my sister with the good news. I knew that I wouldn't be able to wait to tell my husband. Sunday was Father's Day and this was going to be the best gift EVER. If ya'll know me at all, I seriously cannot handle surprises. They literally burst from me. So, when I got home I sent him back out on a false errand or other while Benjamin and I signed our cards. I had picked up an extra from the baby and included the positive test inside. We basically assaulted him with our gifts when he got home! Hah. Everyone was very excited. 
The following two weeks I was anxious but mostly excited. I felt "more pregnant" than last time. I had symptoms that made me nearly positive that this baby was a girl. Heartburn, fatigue, pregnancy-related acne. I was so sure this was going to be our Rainbow baby [after miscarriage]. I really was. I had downloaded the apps again and started stalking the birth boards. I felt the normal anxiety that women feel during the first trimester but I honestly didn't feel like a miscarriage would happen again. When the 6 week mark came and passed, I quietly celebrated a milestone we hadn't made the last time. I made our first ultrasound appointment at a new OB's for July 5th at 7 weeks. The boys came with me and we were really excited at the probability of getting to hear the heartbeat together before I left a couple days later for California.

The appointment did not go well. 

The sonographer quietly said that the baby was measuring just 6 weeks which wouldn't have been a total alarm at that point but was to me. She said that while we could see the gestational sac and yoke sac, there was no heartbeat or fetal pole. (After this appointment I read a LOT about what you can or can't see and hear at such an early stage in pregnancy and while this is definitely something worth noting, it didn't signal the end at the time.) Following the ultrasound we met with the doctor who was not very positive. He said that it didn't look viable and initially wanted me to come back in 48 hours for followup blood work. I explained that I was leaving in two days for California, where I was attending a wedding and co-hosting my sister's baby shower. He explained what the following days could be like. I mostly kept it together. After he met with us, I saw the nurse for my blood draw. She ended my appointment with, "I'm sorry". I was not okay. 

The next day I was at home with Benjamin when they called to say that my HCG levels were over 15,000. This typically means that they should have seen the fetal pole and heard the heartbeat. It was not a viable pregnancy. The baby had stopped growing at 6 weeks. I could come in for a D&C or wait for a "spontaneous miscarriage" like I'd had in February. I thanked the nurse for calling and burst into tears. I honestly can't even remember that day except for two outbursts of anguish, which terrified my son. It's so heartbreaking to think about having to tell him that the baby was with God now. When I would cry out he would come running, "Mommy are you laughing? What's funny, Mommy?" Nothing. Nothing would ever be funny again, ever.
After much consideration, I decided that I would opt for the natural discourse and still make my solo trip to California. I knew that it would be my only opportunity to see two of my sisters before their babies come in August and September and it was important to me to attend my cousin's wedding. After speaking with my mom, who is a Hypnobirthing instructor and Doula, she reached out to a colleague of hers who does 3D/4D ultrasounds. We set an appoint for that Sunday while I would be in town, to have a follow up ultrasound. Having this appointment after the wedding and baby shower are honestly what helped me get through those events. I couldn't help but hold onto hope that maybe it would show growth in the days that followed. Maybe I had gotten my ovulation dates wrong. Maybe HCG isn't that important. Anyway, I went to the wedding (beautiful) and I helped my family throw my sister a fun fiesta-themed baby shower. But at the end of the shower, when I used the restroom, I had passed the yoke sac. This was confirmed the following day (July 10th) when I had my followup ultrasound - my mom and best friend by my side. I honestly don't even know how I got through those days. All I wanted to do was get back home to my boys. My flight was scheduled for Monday night (overnight) to get home early Tuesday morning. 

Monday was the start of my breakdown. For the first time all week, I was on my own while my best friend worked and I was in her apartment. I couldn't stop crying. I don't know how I even made it to the plane to be perfectly honest. The flight was awful. I thought I was going to have a panic attack during take off. My anxiety was through the roof. I was so happy to be home and hug my husband and son but that week was one of the darkest places I've been in my life. Two sweet friends visited me and brought us food the day I got back and then it was Game Over. I spent the rest of the week on the couch, in pajamas, crying. My sweet, sweet son. He just went with the flow, playing and snuggling me. When I wasn't crying, I was reading. I literally read Divergent and Insurgent in 2 days. I wanted to be in denial. I couldn't read enough. (I've read 5 books so far this month, ya'll.) I've been Depressed before and this was so bad I thought I would never come out of it. Grief, whew. It was debilitating. To top it off, I still hadn't started bleeding and I was feeling increasingly more sick. Friday another girlfriend invited my over for an impromptu girl's night at her house. Ben and I both thought it would be a good idea to go so I got dressed and made my way over. I'm so glad that I went. Talking and being with women -- it was so helpful. The margaritas didn't hurt! By Sunday I was starting to feel like myself again, emotionally. I couldn't seem to shake the sick feeling though. 

Then last Monday (June 18th) I had a maternity session out at a farm around 40 minutes away. On the drive back I called my mom and was telling her how I'd been feeling. I was worried I had given myself an ulcer or something like that. She suggested I call my OB. Long story short, I ended up going in for more blood work. I would've been 9 weeks at that point. They called first thing the next morning for me to come in for an ultrasound. My HCG had risen to over 30,000. The ultrasound confirmed that the gestational sac was holding on -- this is called a blighted ovum -- so my body really did think I was still pregnant. Sigh. At this point I really needed to move on and continue the healing process so I decided to go ahead with the D&C, which I had on Wednesday. 

I am so incredibly grateful for my grandparents, family, and friends who have helped us over the last two weeks. The meals, treats, flowers, shared tears, warm hugs -- I am overwhelmed with feelings for "my tribe" right now. I know how blessed I am.
I'll be sharing more about how I've been coping this month and about our plans moving forward. For now I want to talk about my 2016 "one little word" -- Blessing(s). I've been thinking about it a lot over the last week. How interesting it is that that's the word I chose this year, with the mantra "to be a blessing; to count my blessings". On my darkest days I asked myself how I could ever feeling hopeful again. Blessings? What blessings? I'm talking about my darkest days, ya'll. We all have them. When you're throwing yourself one heckuva pity party and you don't even want to look for the good. 

But I *am* blessed. I know that I am. This situation, though absolutely heartbreaking, has brought my family closer together. My husband and I are stronger than we've ever been before. We're "doing life" together, and life includes "the good, the bad, and the ugly". It includes happy times as well as heartache and loss. God has used this situation to show me how very loved I am. He's shown me how he's blessed us with friends like sisters and given us family to hold us up when we are weak. He's shown me how blessed I am to be married to a man after God's own heart. He's shown me how blessed I am with the miracle that is our son. And I know that He is using these losses to grow my heart for Him. It is my biggest prayer that sharing our story of hope and healing is a blessing to you as well. 
"For I know the plans I have for you," says the LORD. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." 
Jeremiah 29:11
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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

4th of July Weekend

We took full advantage of my husband's holiday weekend and I'm pretty sure that, yes, we did all the things. This was Ben's fourth consecutive year running the Peachtree Road Race (the largest 10k in the country, with a staggering 60,000 participants!) on the Fourth of July, through Downtown Atlanta. Benjamin and I tagged along to the Georgia World Congress Center to pick up his bib on Saturday and then spent the entire day accumulating the most steps I've walked since wearing my FitBit. Phew. Our entire weekend was filled with family fun. I'll let the photos speak for themselves.
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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Fun With Pipsticks!

Ya'll, I am so excited to tell you about one of my new favorite subscriptions - Pipsticks! If you're a sticker lover like me, this monthly pack of awesome goodies will bring you so much joy. If you like stickers but have no idea what you'd do with them, keep reading for a few of my favorites ideas.

"Designed to electrify the imaginations of sticker lovers everywhere, Pipsticks delivers a perfectly curated pack of stickers to your doorstep - or mailbox as it may be - each and every month."

This sticker club takes me right back to my 90's childhood, when I was filling sticker books and trading with my BFF. I am so excited to be able to share that fun experience with my son! Pipsticks offers several monthly subscriptions. The Kid's Club Classic comes with 15+ sheets of stickers, 1 postcard, and 4 sheets of craft paper. For those of us pretending to be grown ups, the Pro Club Classic includes 15+ sheets of stickers, 1 postcard, and 1 quote card. Both sticker pack subscriptions are $14.95 a month. There are Petite clubs too. You can find the deets here.

We recently received our first Pipsticks Pro Pack to share and it was so much fun to go through! For the last 8 months or so, Benjamin has enjoyed "writing" pen pals (#benpals on Insta) and sending snail mail. He decided he would use his stickers on a letter to his cousin, Aiden.
Perhaps my favorite thing about the pack is the postcard, which comes with a ready-to-send stamp and plenty of room to decorate. Decorating the front definitely took me back to my sticker book days and offered the same relaxing experience my adult coloring books give me. It was super fun and I can't wait to send it in the mail!
 Here are 5 ways to use your awesome sticker subscription:
  1. Snail Mail - Pipsticks makes this super easy for you! Just decorate, keep your message short and sweet, and stick it in the post.
  2. Planner / Agenda - If you're a planner, the variety of stickers are a great way to decorate your pages.
  3. Free Printables - There are tons of fun and free printables on the Pipsticks Blog! I especially love the Incentive Charts and Stick 'em Up Placemats. So fun!
  4. Art Journals - Use them in your own art journal or traveler's notebook. Kid's will love them for this too! Benjamin has had his own art journal, where he practices skills, for the past two [tot] school years. Peeling and sticking is excellent for developing those fine motor skills in toddlers. Give 'em a blank page and let them have at it.
  5. Decorate #allthethings - There are so many fun ways to use stickers to collage all your favorite things. Check out these Sticker Bomb Hangers, these DIY Sticker Crowns, and Superhero Wrist Bands. For a fun DIY for yourself, purchase a clear iPhone case and sticker bomb it! 
Whatever you decide to do with your sticker subscription, have fun with it! I'd love to hear some of your ideas in the comments!

*I received a Pro Pack from Pipsticks in order to review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Thursday, June 9, 2016

WeLoveATL and Atlanta History Center Scavenger Hunt Instameet

Every year Instagram "hosts" a worldwide meetup, where people come together in their own [major] city and go on a photo adventure. This year WeLoveATL teamed up with the Atlanta History Center to create a unique scavenger hunt for Atlanta's Insta meetup. Ben and I were thrilled to enjoy a rare-ish date night day out and attend. We took MARTA Downtown from Perimeter and caught up with everyone at the Five Points station. The event was free and each participant received a packet containing directions and photos taken throughout Atlanta's history. 
From that very spot we compared the old photographs to the current city view and then took a walking tour with our photographs. It was such a fun concept and a great way to learn about and explore this city that Ben and I have adopted as our own. There is a great article about WeLoveATL and Living Walls (another Atlanta favorite) on the Bitter Southerner. Also, be sure to check out more from my Atlanta City Guide.

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