Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What a Long, Strange Trip it's Been

Ok, so it's only been 9 days since Quinn was born, but given all we've experienced in that week and a half, it feels like a lifetime. Shortly after my last post about Quinn's birth, the nursery pediatrician came in to let us know that he would be moved to the NICU because he had failed to get his jaundice and breathing under control. Despite expecting a long NICU stay upon our little dude's arrival, we were still pretty devastated. They suspected an infection and wanted to get him on antibiotics as soon as possible as a proactive measure. Infections and illnesses in newborns are serious business, especially in preemies and infants with Down syndrome.

Sad little guy...
One of the most challenging aspects of his NICU stay was that I had been discharged even though Quinn wasn't allowed to go home. Brian and I decided to spend that first night by our little guy's side, trying to sleep on the painfully narrow bench (Brian slept on the floor) amidst the constant beeps and whirs of the machines in the room. Because Quinn was under the billi lights, the function of which was to break down the high billirubin that causes jaundice into smaller particles for his liver to process, he wasn't allowed to eat or be swaddled. Naturally, he wasn't too thrilled about this prospect after spending the last 8 months snuggled in the dark and quiet. So in addition to the machinery, we also were forced to endure his unhappy grunts and whines. Thankfully, our nurse Priscilla was amazing and took great care of all of us (looking back, I think we needed more from her than Quinn ever did). She was constantly reassuring and positive, patiently reminding us that, despite the wires and tubes sprouting from our dude's body, he was in good shape and would be on the mend soon.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Mighty Quinn: A Birth Story

If you're already a parent, you know your kids are the ones really calling the shots. On Monday afternoon, Quinn made that apparent with his early and unexpectedly quick arrival. Just when I thought I would be pregnant forever, I woke up at around 2am with a pretty intense, but short-lived contraction. I know that this tends to happen toward the end of pregnancy, so I ignored it and fell back asleep, but this continued for most of the evening. At around 5am, I decided to get up, take a shower, and start timing the duration and frequency of the contractions. They hurt, but there was absolutely no pattern to them at all. Most labor and delivery rooms have a strict policy that laboring women are not admitted until their contractions are 4-5 minutes apart and at least 60 seconds long. I was nowhere near there, so I decided to head into work. I needed to help my students prepare for their finals and, after laboring with Atticus for 19 hours before any real progress was made, I felt like I had time even if this was the real thing.

At work, I had a few more contractions, but they were irregular and infrequent, despite their intensity. My students would notice me pause and grimace occasionally, and a few made jokes that they weren't fully qualified to deliver a baby. I laughed it off and told them that it's not like the movies and labor doesn't happen that quickly. Nevertheless, I put in a call to my doctor. She told me what I was suspecting: it was likely prodromal, or false labor, but she wanted me to come in and be monitored to make sure that the baby and I weren't in any distress. I figured I'd be slapped with an order for bedrest and a prescription to assist with the pain. I called in for a sub, hopped in the car, and drove to the hospital to see my doctor, texting Brian along the way to let him know what was going on.

When I made it to the doctor's office, the contractions became pretty frequent and painful. My OBGYN wasn't in the office that day, but another doctor in the practice came in to check on me. The look she gave me was one I'll never forget: it was a mixture of shock, urgency, and a how-the-hell-did-you-not-realize-you-were-in-labor? I was almost fully dilated and the baby was coming. Soon. They ordered a wheelchair to send me downstairs to labor and delivery and told me to call my husband and order him to hurry or he would miss it. When we got downstairs, the delivery room was already packed with a whole team, including the delivery doctor. Within the hour, Brian made it, I pushed a few times, and Quinton Robert Emil Mennes was born at just 35 weeks, over a month early.

Weighing in at a healthy 6lbs. 13oz. and over 18 inches long, we spent most of the day in shock. How did this happen so quickly? How was he so healthy for being born so early, especially after such a terrifying pregnancy? How the hell did I manage to teach three classes that morning, drive myself to the hospital, and deliver a baby before lunch? We asked and attempted to answer these questions for hours, telling and retelling the story to anyone who would listen. It really was like the movies, and had I decided to stay and teach my 4th period (like I really wanted to), I probably would have delivered this baby in an ambulance or along the side of the road. Turns out our little dude was in a hurry to meet us.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Sneak Preview

Technology is amazing. We went in for yet another follow-up ultrasound to check on little dude and everything looks great! Not only is the plueral effusion minor and static, but his previously dilated kidney is back to normal and the calcifications on his liver and stomach have disappeared. We were smiling from ear to ear, to say the least. What's more, our ultrasound tech decided that since we've been through the ringer with this pregnancy that she would do us a solid and take some 4d ultrasound pictures for us. Women pay tons of money for this service (Despite the fact that these ultrasounds cost us a small fortune each time we go in, they're medically necessary and not for vanity's sake), so it was pretty cool to get this added bonus yesterday.

May I present to you your first glimpse of the Mighty Quinn...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Giving Thanks

This year Brian, Atticus and I were lucky enough to visit my dad and his wife, Barb in their beautiful Colorado home for Thanksgiving. We adore the mountains and dislike the cold, so we were in heaven with moderate temperatures and stellar views from their front porch. Normally, I'd throw on my chacos and hike Garden of the Gods (which is a mere mile from their house) or plan an excursion to a remote mountain pass, but the third trimester of pregnancy and excessive exertion don't mix, so we settled for a more relaxing experience this visit. We drove to 11-mile canyon and poked around, took Atticus to the "North Pole," a Christmas-themes amusement park, watched entirely too much football and indulged in copious amounts of holiday food. The best part, however, was the chance to spend time with my family, especially my dad, since we only get to see him a few times a year. We miss them already and can't wait to get back this summer. Until then, we'll have to relive the experience through pictures:

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Silver Lining

The past few weeks have been a haze of worry and stress. Brian and I found ourselves going through the motions: wake up, eat, work, eat, sleep, repeat. We tried to smile around others and remain upbeat. We attended weddings and visited with family. We worked late and met friends for dinner. We took walks and went trick-or-treating with Atticus. But we were never truly present for any of these things because of the hypotheticals weighing on our minds. 

You might remember my last post describing our latest doctor’s visit, in which the cardiologist said Quinn’s heart looked good but there was fluid around the lungs. Our OBGYN called later that afternoon to express her concerns and essentially said that we should hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Since she’s typically not the gloom and doom type, we took her advice to heart and began to mentally prepare ourselves for further testing and observation, knowing that it could very well end with a worse-case scenario. People were asking us about baby showers and gifts, and my students were anxious to hear all about this little one. I told people what I knew and asked that I be given some time to process our latest information: that Quinn might not make it. That this fluid was serious and, coupled with his Down syndrome, if he did pull through, it could be a long and terrifying process.

I underwent a series of blood tests to check for viruses that could be causing the fluid and calcifications on his liver and stomach, and all came back clear. Then yesterday we went in for our now-weekly ultrasounds to get a better look at the fluid and see if it had spread. The ultrasound tech came in and chatted us up about baby names and older brothers, then showed us pretty good images of Quinn’s face and even the hair on his head (pretty cool how strong these machines can be), but Brian and I were in a fragile state and couldn’t truly enjoy any of it. We couldn’t bear to look at these sweet, adorable features in a child we could lose. The longer she worked, the quieter she became, until we could cut the tension in the room with a knife. The doctor spent what felt like days looking over the images before coming in to talk to us. And that’s when he told us….

…everything looks fine. The fluid is minimal and of little concern. It happens relatively often in babies with Down syndrome and is contained to one side of the lungs and in no way interfering with his heart. The calcifications on his liver and stomach are still present, but have not grown, and therefore are also of little concern. They are also associated with Ds and clear up on their own in time. He’s right on track for growth and seems, for all intents and purposes, to be a healthy, happy little guy who should arrive right on schedule without any medical intervention. We don't even need to go in for weekly ultrasounds anymore; he said he'd see us at the end of the month.

We both broke down into tears. We’re so used to receiving bad news from our doctors that it was hard to believe what this one was trying to tell us. Our son is fine. He will survive. He will be healthy. He will be amazing. And it’s crazy to believe that I ever took him for granted, that I ever thought, even for a brief and fleeting moment, about ending this pregnancy when I received his diagnosis. Now Down syndrome feels like blessing compared to all the other things that could have been. 

Because of Quinn’s diagnosis, I know there will be more scares like this. The medical world will become a constant presence in our lives as a result of Down syndrome, but it’s a sacrifice we’re both willing to make if it means we get to be parents to this little boy. These experiences have brought us to love this child with such ferocity that it sometimes hurts (and in the face of all these health scares, the pain is even more profound). Even though we haven’t met him yet, we feel like we already know him and are surprised by his resilience. He’s clearly as stubborn and determined as the rest of his family. We're on track to meet him in two short months…we can’t wait.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Gnome Sweet Gnome

Let's be perfectly honest with each other; this blog has been a bit of a downer lately. It's also been pretty focused on Quinn, though for obvious reasons. That said, we do have 2-year-old who is mad cute and deserves a little love right now, especially since his Halloween costume is so rad. So without further ado, may I present to you, Atticus the Gnome:


Monday, October 29, 2012

Positive Vibes Needed

We went in for our fetal echocardiagram today, which was an important appointment to check the structure of Quinn's heart and see if he falls into the 47% of babies with Down syndrome with a congenital heart defect. All our ultrasounds looked good in this area, so we were relatively optimistic about the exam. Granted, every appointment seems to come with some semblance of bad news, so I was a nervous wreck going in.

First, the good news: dude's heart is awesome. This was a huge relief and we couldn't have been happier. Of course, that happiness was short-lived, as we were right to expect the usual bad news. Turns out that Quinn has fluid build-up in his chest, also known as pleural effusion. There are a number of underlying causes, the most common of which is a heart defect. Since this was already ruled out, we're left to wonder if this is the result of a virus (remember the scary spots we found on his liver and stomach?), poor lymphatic drainage, or simply a manifestation of the Down syndrome.

Our OBGYN called a few hours later to explain what this means for the rest of our pregnancy. The scariest scenario is that the fluid build-up could become more widespread, resulting in a condition called hydrops. About 80% of hydrops cases are fatal, but the later in pregnancy they develop, the better the prognosis. As a result, we now go in for weekly ultrasounds to monitor the pleural effusion and ensure it doesn't get bigger. We're also now in for a long NICU stay and will have to deliver at a hospital with a neonatal surgeon, just in case. There's a very high chance that I will be induced early to treat the pleural effusion asap, but we can't do anything too soon or Quinn's lungs will be fatally underdeveloped. All in all, we're left in yet another state of hypotheticals of which we have zero control.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

John Franklin Stephens is a Badass

You've likely come across the public outcry regarding Ann Coulter's use of the word "retard" to describe President Obama. It was top news on CNN today and, given my new-found role as special needs advocate, I immediately informed myself on this recent injustice. This lack of class is nothing new from Coulter, who frequently uses terms like "raghead" and "tent monkey" to describe those of Middle Eastern descent and even said of 9/11 widows, "these self-obsessed women seem genuinely unaware that 9-11 was an attack on our nation and acted as if the terrorist attacks happened only to them.  I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much." Though while I was reading about this latest incident of foot-in-mouth, I found myself cursing Ann Coulter (pretty typical behavior, actually) and using words that I can only say inside my head to describe her. She is a vile woman and one I try to ignore based on her own hate-filled ignorance. But this time around, she struck too close to home.

In the midst of my frustration, I came across John Franklin Stephens' "Open Letter to Ann Coulter" and found my anger abating due to his well-written and moving response. Not only does this 30-year-old Special Olympian (who also happens to have Down syndrome) eloquently address Coulter's inappropriate statements, but he manages to do so without anger or bitterness. He manages to do so in way that makes me so proud of who my son can become. It was a powerful moment. And hell, he made Ann Coulter look even less human (didn't think it was possible) simply by being more so. As one commenter said, "Mr Stephens, it is people like you who will change the world. Responding to close-minded ignorance with a thoughtful open-hearted invitation to understand makes you a better man than most and invites others to follow suit."

My sentiments exactly...

John Franklin Stephens

Houston Update: our feelings, months later

You might remember my previous post regarding our first few months in Houston, where I shared with you the good, the bad, and the ugly of this giant metropolis. It was an honest reflection of our time here up to that point, but I feel like we’re far enough in to truly reevaluate our feelings about this city.

Things we like:

Last time I started my post with a list of the things we like about Houston. Rain, amenities, great food, proximity to family and cost of living were all celebrated, and still are. But I’d like to add a few more, as things are finally starting to look up a bit:

-Access to the best medical care in the south: This is one of those things you hope you never have to worry about, but if and when you do, you have a whole new appreciation for top-notch facilities. Even as the bills are piling up, we already feel like we’re in the best place for Quinn’s care should he need any serious interventions at birth and beyond. Even services like Early Intervention (EI) therapies and special needs education seem to be more advanced in Houston than in surrounding areas. I know that we would be a bit more nervous about Quinn’s impending arrival if we were still in Austin, even though we adored our former doctors, but people here are just better-equipped to handle any serious issues should they arise. 

-Our house and ‘hood: At first we were on the fence about this one, and there are still a lot of things we would change if we could, but as we spend more time (and less money) in West Houston, we realize that it really is the best place for us right now. First, we’re so incredibly close to work. Less time in the car means more time with my family (or in my bed). Second, I suddenly understand the appeal of suburbia. Sure, there’s not a ton of charm in strip malls and perfectly-landscaped lawns, but good god is it cheap. And we need cheap right now. We moved here to save money, and it’s nice to know we can do that and maintain a level of comfort that would be impossible to uphold if we lived in the Heights. Our house isn’t huge, but it’s perfect for us, and the playground and Hershey Trail are within walking distance. Since we’re also really close to Westpark Tollway, which takes you directly to Central Houston with no traffic or red lights in about 10 minutes, we’ve made a point of heading to the cooler parts of town every weekend. So we’re experiencing Midtown, the Heights, Montrose, and Downtown without the high cost of living or the daily commute to work. It’s the best of both worlds. We’re also very lucky that Atticus adores being in the car. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

I'm Feeling Lucky...

After watching Notre Dame's very close victory against Stanford today (we're not even going to discuss Texas' dismal performance against OU), we felt like celebrating the luck of the Irish with pancakes for dinner. The unconventional time for breakfast foods takes me back to my childhood, when my mom would make pancakes or french toast for dinner as a reward for making the honor roll or winning the big game.

So I head into the kitchen with pumpkin pancakes on the brain. I will admit, I used a box mix. Don't judge. I'm pregnant and looking to do the least amount of work possible for my food lately. There were two columns of instructions on the box depending on if I wanted 6 or 12 pancakes. Honestly, I wanted somewhere in the middle. But for six pancakes I needed one egg, while twelve required two was quite the dilemma. How the hell do you come up with 1.5 eggs? Throw half of one out? It seemed wasteful, but in the end I figured it was less wasteful than tossing 4 uneaten pancakes, so I cracked the first egg into the bowl. Enter the double-yolked egg:

Not only did it solve my baking conundrum, but apparently this occurs in 0.1% of eggs and is seen in many cultures as a sign of impending good fortune. Considering we're celebrating the luck of the Irish with exactly 9 pancakes (requiring 1.5 eggs), we've decided that it MUST be a sign that our luck is changing for the better. We could use a win, after all.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What to Say to Parents Struggling with a Down Syndrome Diagnosis

I love this blog for a number of reasons. First, it allows me to release some of the tension and trouble I’ve been carrying around with the whirlwind of information, doctor’s appointments, and late-night online research sessions. My emotions bounce back and forth like a yo-yo and writing helps me feel grounded. But it’s not all selfish. I also enjoy sharing this journey with you all. It’s good to know that I don’t have to have these conversations a thousand times, that you’re all getting accurate and updated information directly from me instead of as hearsay from someone else, and that so many of you have read the posts and sent your thoughts and words of support our way. It feels as if we’re not going through it alone. 

As the weeks tick by and we gain some perspective on Quinn’s diagnosis, I realize how difficult it is to be in your shoes. What do you say to someone who has just received life-altering news? How do you react? The answers aren’t simple, and I’ve actually spent a fair amount of time thinking about this myself over the past few weeks. The reality is that there’s no “right” thing to say or do…the emails and phone calls and messages are all unique and offer the support and love that we so desperately need right now. That said, I feel like an instruction manual into this situation would have been helpful, as the one thing we heard more than anything else was, “I don’t know what to say.” I wouldn’t have either. I guess I still don’t. But this won’t be the last time you’re faced with this issue. And who knows, there might be complete strangers out there who stumble across this blog hoping for instructions on how to offer support  to someone who has just learned that their child has Down syndrome. It’s with that in mind that I came up with the following tactics (and if you said/did one of the things on the “DON’T” list, it’s ok. I’m not harboring any hostility or anger because, as I mentioned, I wouldn’t have known how to react either. This list is simply based on my reflection over the past few weeks and what helped us the most. We love you all, no matter what your response to our news may have been).

Thursday, October 4, 2012


We went in for a follow-up ultrasound to check on Quinn’s heart and kidneys and to make sure there were no other red flags. While one of his kidneys is still dilated, his heart looks great, which is good news. The bad news is that they found white spots/calcifications on his stomach and liver. The doctor (not our OBGYN, but a specialist in Maternal Fetal Medicine) said it could be a result of a viral infection, but told us it’s probably related to Down syndrome. Either way, she encouraged me to get tested for infection and dodged my questions about worse-case scenarios. She left us feeling  more than a little shaken up with her awkward bedside manner. We assumed she was hiding something from us and waiting for our regular OB/GYN to share the bad news with us. This was at the end of the day, so naturally our regular doctor would learn nothing about the appointment until today.

Enter Dr. Google. After much research, I learned that these calcifications are not especially common in babies with Down syndrome and often point to a larger problem. In our case, we’re most worried about CMV, a virus that causes birth defects and even death if transferred prenatally. It’s common in daycare centers and rarely causes symptoms in healthy adults, pregnant or not. Toddlers who contract the disease show mild flu-like symptoms, identical to what Atticus has had the past few weeks. We assumed it was a string of colds since it’s his first foray into the world of germy daycares, but now we’re not so sure. We worried and stressed and fretted all night, assuming the worst. There’s no treatment in utero or any way to know how strongly he would be affected, so we're naturally scared for our little guy. We know that he’s at a greater risk for health problems as a result of his Down syndrome, so we worry about his ability to recover from something so catastrophic. C'MON universe! Two serious sources of birth defects? Really? The past 24 hours have been absolute hell.

But my regular OB/GYN just called to calm my fears. She knew instinctively how worried we must be and let me know that the doctor we saw during yesterday's ultrasound has been known to terrify expectant moms with a pretty crappy bedside manner. She said my experience as a teacher, nanny, and daycare worker means I've very likely already contracted CMV before and my body is therefore immune. This means there's very little chance of passing it on to Quinn, even if Atticus had/has it. She said while the calcifications are not necessarily common in cases of Ds, it does happen and is likely the reason for their presence. Also, she reminded us that we should be celebrating the fact that Quinn's heart still looks great, which should not to be taken for granted. This is excellent news.

This is not to say that we're out of the woods. There will be more tests, more worries, and more complications as the weeks go by. The calcifications could be a sign of something more serious, but our doctor feels that this is unlikely, making further testing for this issue unnecessary and invasive. So for now we're feeling loads better than we did last night and ready to celebrate the small victories, like a healthy heart and the reality that Down syndrome is not the worst-case scenario.

We have a baby coming, y'all. And he's gonna be adorable...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Suburban drives

Yesterday Atticus and I took the long way home from school to listen to music and feel adventurous. The kid adores the car and music, so it was really a win-win. I've been listening to a lot of Milo Greene lately, namely this song:

 and this one:

We were contemplative and taking in the scenery of West Houston. I know, most of you are wondering what scenery I'm talking about, and I haven't painted a very positive picture of this part of town over the past few months, but I grew up around here and I know where to find beauty. There are trees and trails and well-kept yards that make some of the nearby neighborhoods a blast to drive through. Plus Atticus got a kick out of the many, many school buses we saw en route. That kid loves anything with wheels.

And then, as I was thinking this exact phrase, "Wagon Wheel" by Old Crow Medicine Show miraculously started playing on the iPod. I say miraculously because I had it set for Milo Greene, so how it switched gears without my doing is beyond me, but it seemed like what we both needed. That song cheers me up every time I hear it and when I turned around, Atticus was having a regular hoe-down in the carseat. He was tapping his feet, clapping his hands and bobbing his head to the fiddle and I got the biggest shit-eating grin on my face. God, I love bluegrass. Apparently so does my boy, which makes me one proud mama.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dark Thoughts and a Lack of Sleep

Sleep. Oh, how I took sleep for granted. I’m so physically and emotionally drained by 9pm that I can barely keep my eyes open. But 2am always arrives and I jolt awake like clockwork. What seems so much clearer in the daylight hours, all my research, all the reassurances I can give to my fully conscious mind about the future of my child and my family become groggy and clouded in the wee hours of the morning. My hopes that my joy in this pregnancy and the excited expectations for Quinn will be restored are dashed by the darkness and the silence. And my already frantic inner dialogue does nothing to quell my fears, especially when I’m left alone with my thoughts and there’s nothing to distract me. I am terrified.

I’ve learned a lot of great facts about kids with Down syndrome…they are sweet and more like typical kids than they are different. The Ds community has taken huge strides toward achieving a better quality of life in the past decade, and Quinn has a greater chance of attending college, reaching a level of autonomy, and even getting married than another child with his diagnosis even 10 years ago. But all the positives can’t erase the fact that, statistically, we’re in for a very heartbreaking and challenging road. Here are just a few of the things that kids with Ds face in their lifetimes:

Saturday, September 22, 2012

One Day at a Time

I have a feeling that this blog will see a lot more action in the coming weeks, as writing is so incredibly therapeutic for me. The past few days have been a roller coaster of emotions in which Brian and I will go from sobbing uncontrollably to suddenly reaching a moment of acceptance and back again. I assume this will be the norm for us as the weeks progress.

Yesterday I found a box of baby toys in Atticus’ closet that had not been unpacked from the move. As I lifted the cardboard flap, I was overwhelmed with the most soul-crushing sadness I have ever felt. You see, the two years following Atticus’ birth were the happiest of my life, and seeing those toys transported me back to our humble Austin home with the big backyard and owl-themed nursery, where we were surrounded by friends who were always just a phone call away. It left me with a feeling of homesickness and a worry that I would never be that happy again. So I cried in mourning for the life I knew, until Atticus looked at me quizzically and said, “Mommy’s crying” and gave me a huge bear hug, which immediately snapped me out of my self-pity. And in that moment I knew that the grief would end someday and that just because my second child will face more challenges than most kids, it didn’t mean that we would be any less happy. In fact, my obsessive research into the subject suggests that children with Down syndrome serve to bring more happiness into the home than parents and siblings ever thought possible. Divorce rates are lower, feelings of empathy are stronger, and the sense of "family" takes on a whole new meaning. And that thought gives me peace.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What's To Come...

I knew I was pregnant the moment I conceived. Call it a woman’s intuition or a case of mother-knows-best, but I knew. As the weeks went on and I could finally take a pregnancy test and receive reliable results, Brian and I stared at the giant plus sign and I said, “I told you so.” As things progressed, I also knew I was having another boy. Friends and family members would wink and say, “oooh, what if it’s a girl this time?” And I would smile and nod and join in the what-ifs, but I always knew deep down that Atticus would be getting a little brother. And when our doctor confirmed this at 16 weeks, I just shrugged at my own intuitive nature.

So when I got the news today about our son, I was shocked that I didn’t already know….

It all started at our 20-week ultrasound. It’s supposed to be a fun glimpse at the life growing inside, a check of basic anatomy, and a reassurance that all is well. For most moms it is. Our doctor found that our little guy had slightly dilated kidneys, but she wasn’t worried about it too much. Even so, she sent us off for a level II ultrasound the following week, just to make sure that it wasn’t anything serious.

Brian offered to come with me, but I took my doctor’s reassuring words to heart and told him I’d be in and out in no time at all. He had just started a new job and couldn’t realistically make every single appointment. I did a little research into what dilated kidneys could mean, and learned that it could be anything from a temporary fluid build-up that corrects itself before birth, to a marker for Down syndrome. As I was lying on the table with the unbearably cold ultrasound jelly smeared over my abdomen, it became clear to me that the ultrasound tech was looking for other signs of Down syndrome. She measured the heart, the level of fluid behind the neck, the length of the arms and legs, and the shape of the pinky finger. She said very little as she worked, then told me the doctor would be in soon to talk with me. It turns out that in addition to the dilated kidneys, the baby also had an echogenic intracardiac focus. This is a calcification on the heart muscle that usually, like the kidneys, clears up on its own and isn’t a cause for alarm. But it’s also another marker for Down syndrome, and coupled with the kidneys, was therefore a cause for concern.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

I Won't Touch your Belly if you Don't Touch Mine

Pregnancy is one of those rare moments when your body is not your own, and everyone expects you to be ok with it. And only a pretty marginal section of the population can truly understand what I’m talking about. Not only am I playing host to a growing human being who, much like a [very cute] parasite, is making himself cozy and freeloading on my resources, but people also want to tell me exactly what I need to do for the well-being of the baby (though they are wise enough to disguise this a genuine care for me as well). I really don’t mind these things and find them comical most of the time. But as any pregnant woman in the modern age is well aware, there’s entirely too much paranoia surrounding what’s actually the most normal thing in the world. 

Women have been giving birth since the beginning of time. Obviously. But visit any message board on or and it’s full of crazy-ass women telling other, more suspecting women what terrible people they are for wanting to eat a turkey sandwich (according to many doctors, deli meat should be avoided during pregnancy due to the miniscule risk of listeria. My guess is that you’d have a better chance of contracting mad cow disease from your cat than actually risk ingesting listeria, and I tend to ignore fear-mongering, especially in the pregnant and vulnerable). I do get it, though. Even though pregnancy is as old as the human race itself, it’s only become a predominantly low-risk condition within the past century. Death during childbirth was common before the advent of modern medicine, and infant mortality rates are much lower than they were even 30 years ago. Our technology has enabled us to recognize potential problems before they become dangerous and monitor high-risk pregnancies with significant success. That said, sometimes knowledge is the opposite of power.

Take the case of alcohol during pregnancy, for example. My grandparents likely washed down every dinner with a martini and a cigarette, and I’d be shocked if this practice changed while my grandmother was pregnant with her children. In fact, when I was expecting Atticus, Brian’s mom gave me a book on prenatal care that was published at some time in the 1970’s. Along with advice to eat well and exercise, there were also suggestions to keep cocktails and nicotine to a minimum of 2-3 per day. Fast-forward to today and women are expected to not only abstain from cigarettes and alcohol, but also deli meat, soft cheeses, smoked meat, sugar substitutes, large fish, caffeine, aspirin and ibuprofen, cold medicine, and even herbal teas. Some doctors even suggest that pregnant women avoid hot baths and showers, bumpy car rides, and third-trimester travel. These are good steps to take in general, but a glass of wine after a stressful day will not cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in my unborn child unless I intend to follow it with two or three more and then repeat that practice every single day. A cup of green tea will not cause preterm labor, and I can move that chair from one side of the room to the other without killing myself or my baby. 

I think things have gone too far in the name of “safety.”

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Our First Months in Houston: a Reflection

Well, we’re officially settled and back at work and finally able to take stock in our new home. Our friends want to know how things are going and how the city is treating us…let’s just say it’s been an adjustment.
Change is tough. We spent the past year finding fault in Austin in the hopes that it would make the transition to a very different city a little easier. And for the most part, we kept an open mind before the big move. Now we realize how much we took our former home for granted and that all the little things that bugged us about Austin (the traffic, the high concentration of fixed-gear bikes and hipster bars, the cost of living) were blessings compared to what we’ve seen in the suburbs of West Houston. That’s not to say it’s all bad; there are definitely some perks. Maybe I should start there.

Things we’ve liked:
It rains here. I know, right? Austinites might not even know what that word means since it happens so infrequently in Central Texas. But yes, rain is awesome. We have a yard with grass and beautiful landscaping that will not die because of that glorious liquid that falls from the heavens like the nectar of the gods. My skin is appreciative of the humidity and, despite the mugginess that can result from rain, it keeps the temperature down so it never reaches 110 degrees.
Dear god, the food here is good. I mean, really, really good. I’m used to restaurants that make fancy drinks and focus more on ambience and décor than on the food itself. Here, it’s the other way around. Sure, I’m in a strip mall (see later in section of things we don’t like), but the food is amazing. By far the best of many types of cuisine, all very close to my house. Granted, this will make me fat. At this point, I do not care. It’s one of the few things I enjoy here.
-Cost of Living
Things here are cheap. Our mortgage payment feels more like an Austin daycare payment, and our daycare costs are still less than our mortgage. On top of that, we’re both making significantly more money than we did in Austin, therefore justifying our decision to move. Our debt will be paid off in no time and we’ll actually get to open a savings account. In case you are unfamiliar with the term, it’s a place you can put extra money and allow it to accrue interest. This concept is foreign to me.
Brian gets to work with his dad everyday and I’ve been able to see my mom, sister, and niece more in the past few months than I have in the past few years. It's great being so close to the people I love and, since we really haven’t made any friends yet, they’ve been our social network.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Agnosticism 101

As we embark upon the next great journey in our lives, Brian and I worry about a number of things: will we find friends in the suburbs of Houston? Will our liberal views mark us as lepers in a largely conservative community? And most recently, will our lack of religious faith go so far as to shun us from society?

You see, Brian and I are agnostic, a word that many, many people in this country misunderstand. As a result, we don’t talk about it much. Part of that is our mentality that spiritual beliefs in general shouldn’t be thrown in others’ faces. Also, people get mad or worried and want to save your soul and/or hide you from their children. 

So before we make the move to Houston (where I’m already receiving invitations to church functions), I wanted to take the time to spell out our agnosticism and clear the air. Let’s start with common misconceptions…

What agnosticism is NOT:

·      Atheism
·      Devil worship
·      An excuse to do whatever the hell you want

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Lake

Once a year, my father's side of the family gets together in an historic cottage in Holland, Michigan for a reunion of sorts. When Atticus made his first appearance last year, it marked the 5th generation of our family who has attended this yearly gathering that we have lovingly dubbed "The Lake." Yes, it's important enough to earn an definite article. Situated in the historic Ottawa Beach neighborhood along Lake Michigan, the house itself is well over a hundred years old with the amenities to match. It sleeps 20ish people (more if you count the year Brian and I bought an air mattress and slept on the screened-in joke), but boasts only two bathrooms and one shower. There's no heat or AC, virtually no insulation, and the floors have bowed in the middle after over a century of wear. It smells like mothballs, is in terrible need of redecorating, and there's always sand in the beds no matter how many times you wipe your feet. Sure, we could rent another cottage along the boardwalk, but it just wouldn't be the same lake experience. And despite the aforementioned qualities, it's memories make it as comfortable as a 5-star hotel. Maybe even more so.

Over the years, we've started some die-hard traditions, including a near-nightly trip to the old General Store at the edge of the boardwalk for vintage candy and blue moon ice cream, or the a short drive south to Sagatuck, MI to visit art galleries and the Soda Fountain for old-fashioned sodas and root beer floats. But our real purpose is to soak up the sun on Ottawa Beach during the day before watching it set over the water at night (usually bundled up in sweaters because, unlike Texas, it cools down in the evenings, making the weather absolutely perfect).

This year was extra-special because we got a chance to lay my grandmother to rest by spreading her ashes along the sand dunes at sunset. It was a beautiful way to say goodbye to the woman who made these traditions possible each year, though it will never be the same without her.

We just got back this afternoon and I am already waxing nostalgic because it will be another year before I can return. But enough from me...check out the pictures below to get an idea of just how cool this place is:

Oh yeah...we also took my aunt and uncle's private jet. NBD

Flirting, as usual
The youngest pilot ever
"Driving" a Model T
At the Gilmore Car Museum

Blue Moon Ice Cream
Family time

Chasing birds with Hannah

Papa Gogo!

I could eat those cheeks

Big Red Lighthouse
Walking the pier with Dada
Family Jam Session

Boardwalk to the beach

Here we go again!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

10 Young Adult Novels That Don't Suck

As a middle school English teacher, I've read a lot of young adult literature and, quite frankly, there's a lot of crap out there (I won't even climb on my anti-Twilight soapbox). Navigating the muddy waters of YA lit can be akin to, well, teaching middle school, but there really are some amazing reads in this genre. As a result, I've compiled a list of my favorites. Some are old standbys, while others are recent publications. They all deal with a greater theme worth discussing and a style that even grown-ups can appreciate. And for those of you who were racking your brains for ways to connect with your adolescent daughter that don't involve vampires or LMFAO, you're welcome.

1. The Outsiders, by S. E. Hinton
Hinton's requisite novel of classism and coming-of-age tells the story of Ponyboy, an orphan from the wrong side of the tracks. He and his fellow greasers are constantly at war with the Socs, the West-side rich kids who enjoy picking fights with the poor kids in town. Not only is the story a timeless struggle of classism and the danger of stereotypes, but the non-stop action and relatable characters make this one hard to put down.

2. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
The original dystopian novel for kids, The Giver is set in a futuristic world without choice or true emotion. The main character, Jonas, begins to see that things can change for himself and his people after being given an honored, yet painful role in his community. Lowry took her time writing two sequels to the novel, Gathering Blue and The Messenger respectively, and once you reach the ambiguous ending of the original, you'll be scouring your local library for the next volumes in the series. 

Friday, March 2, 2012


It's official, people. The person who claimed that Houston was akin to America's nether-regions (and not the fun parts) is packing up and moving back. Before you judge the decision and take the same close-minded attitude to my hometown as I have these past 12 years in Austin, give me a moment to explain our justifications and why the idea has us really, really excited.

First, some background. Brian has been working as an Environmental Investigator for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality since 2007. It was his first job out of college and one he adored until his workload became excessive. Now he's stuck in a position that he idealistically thought would make a difference in Texas' environmental quagmire, only to learn that he has little to no impact on changing things for the better. We know who's running this state, and they don't really care about water quality or suburban sprawl. So when Brian's dad offered him a job in his insurance brokerage firm, he couldn't pass it up. It's much better money with a chance for advancement, but the gig is in Houston because there's not really market for risk management here at home. It was a tough decision, and in the quest for acceptance of our new future, we've had to spend time examining what we want in a city.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Book Review: The Dovekeepers

I'm a literary snob. I admit it. I'm an English teacher and book critic who turns her nose up at most fantasy, true crime, and so-called "beach reads." I watch television to zone out and be entertained, but I read to be inspired and informed. So when I came across Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers, my first instinct was to pass it by. It's not that Hoffman isn't a serious writer (she has currently published over 33 books, to date), but her style is one I typically avoid because it's almost too accessible. Her typical work is to literature as romantic comedies are to film; not bad, but not terribly cerebral either…until now.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

DIY Scrabble Coasters

I was cleaning out a few cabinets that Atticus managed to explore the other day, thus reminding me that it was time to get that mess in order before I have to pick up old batteries, cat toys, and CD's (you remember CD's, don't you?) from the living room floor for the third time in an hour. In the process, I came across not one, but two Scrabble games. Seeing as how I don't think I've ever played either, I pondered over what I could do with the extra Scrabble tiles and came up with an easy and ingenious notion to turn them into coasters! After perusing Pinterest for some loose instructions (which delayed the start of this project for another hour because, let's face it, that site is addictive and amazing), I came up with a plan of action.

Behold, the Scrabble tile coasters! So easy! So affordable! So aesthetically pleasing for your coffee table!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

To Make Up for my Long, Unexpected Absence

I know, I know…I've been a terrible blogger. It's been nearly two months since my last post and you probably assumed I had either dropped off the face of the earth or (more likely) allowed the holidays to consume me like a bad fruit cake from your Aunt Maude that you really don't want to eat but, hey, it's there and you don't really feel like cooking anyway. The latter is more accurate, though at times during the season I felt like the former was more appealing. What's odd is that I typically love Christmas, but something was amiss this year and I honestly couldn’t wait for it to end. And here's why:

1. It was the first time I wasn't someone's granddaughter at Christmas.
For three consecutive years, I've lost a grandparent, starting with my Grandpa Bob in 2009. Then, last December I said goodbye to my Nonnie. And this year my Gummy passed on Thanksgiving, though I am thankful I was with my father and sister when it happened and we could seek one another's comfort. Christmas is a time for grandparents and, even though I lived away from them for most of my life, they often came to visit us or vice versa. Even when they couldn't, I could always count on a card, cookies, and even a hand-knitted ornament from them to help ring in the season. This year was oddly empty without any of them around.