No other fetal abnormalities found

That’s what I read, when I snuck a peek at the ultrasound technician’s report to my gynaecologist. I was about to stick it right back into its envelope when it hit me:

Other.

I looked one line up, and read that a choroid plexus cyst (14mm x 8mm) had been found in my baby’s brain. What followed was some frantic googling over lunch, where I couldn’t quite decide if I was reading good news or bad news. The good news was that a CPC is apparently not that uncommon, and that it is a marker for chromosomal abnormality in less than 1% of cases. The bad news was, that it is a marker for chromosomal abnormality in less than 1% of cases. I decided to shelve preconceptions until I could talk to Dr Choo about it. In the meantime, I resisted the strong urge to blab “choroid plexus cyst!!?!” to my husband. We didn’t both need our lunches ruined.

A couple of hours later, I sat motionless in Dr Choo’s office while she essentially reiterated google for me. Yes, the cyst is not in itself dangerous, and should eventually resolve. Regardless, the appearance of such a cyst at all means that there is a tiny risk of Trisomy 18. Trisomy 18 is not compatible with life, generally. You have three options: 1) Do nothing. 2) Do an amniocentesis for a 100% positive or negative confirmation of Trisomy 18, but with a small risk of miscarriage due to the procedure. 3) Do a Verifi blood test, which is about 80% accurate.

Then she looked at me seriously and asked, “In the event that the worse case scenario occurs, and your baby has Trisomy 18, what would you do?”

The world blackened and froze, and in that instant the less than 1% probability roared into 100%, a theoretical fantasy so horrific that I started crying just for having to come this close to it. I gave the doctor a non answer.

I left the doctor’s office with time frames and one brochure to look at on the way home. My head was spinning with complex mathematical questions and my gut and emotions were grappling desperately for a place to land.

I picked up my phone to answer my husband’s question: How did it go?

By late afternoon, we’d arrived at the answer. Option 2 was out of the question – unless there were other markers present, I was not going to risk miscarrying this baby. Option 3 sounded like a band-aid on a broken bone – even if it cane back negative, it would do little to remove fear, if fear was my problem. I would still be left with a probability of a probability. And in the event that I were to get two positives for Trisomy 18 going through options 3 and 2 respectively, what then? Would I terminate the pregnancy? (No.) Would I be helping myself deal with the monstrous outcome by knowing of it in advance? (I do not know.) But I did know that the main force that would drive me to take the tests was nothing but bald, bullying fear. And I hate to be bullied.

That left us with option 1.

Do nothing but pray. Do nothing, but fiercely refuse to let a “less than 1%” probability become 2, 5, 50, 100.

Every morning now, I wake up and the first thought that floats to the surface is: “Are my children okay? Is something wrong?” My hands are on my stomach, feeling for movement, reaching for assurance, before I’m quite conscious. Then I wake up fully, and ground myself. And I start praying.

I battle through the day, praying, breathing, praying, keeping that fear firmly in its place, bound tight and squashed under my foot, where it belongs. I remind myself of what I’d seen on that ultrasound: an unbridled, kicking, tumbling, finger wiggling life, one that is fully here, and not to be extinguished. Her hands were my son’s hands. I hold those hands at the forefront of my memory – the clearest snapshot of bright white skeletal fingers, all accounted for, playing an invisible trunpet and signing secretly to me: I’m totally okay, maman, don’t be silly now.

Silly fear is something you become intimately familiar with as a parent. New fears and old ones. It is utterly outrageous, in quantity and quality. At any one time, I can find half a dozen (or a hundred) legitimate and illegitimate things to worry about, when it comes to Michael. And when it comes to the health of our children, the anxiety and pain that we take upon ourselves is usually ten times more intense and disproportionate than it should be. I have stayed up all night worrying about a fever while my son happily slumbers right through it. My husband’s heart nearly stopped (according to him) when Michael had his first bad tumble and cut his lip. A spot of blood turned into a torrential, grisly horror show in the mind of the parent.

But I resent it, this bullying. As I must. I have to view this new fear as just one of the many false, vague threats on my joy as a mother, and relegate it to the “Ignore” folder along with the rest of them. So that is my daily exercise now: firmly showing my anxiety the door, when it threatens to trespass on my property. I am guarding my peace and happiness with all I’ve got.

We have a name for our girl. It means victory. And I am celebrating before the win is announced, just because.

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Sleep Training a 21 Month Old Toddler?

(Spoiler alert: It’s not at all like sleep training a 4 or 6 month old.)

We first sleep trained Michael when he was 4 months old. It was a deeply horrifying but ultimately successful process which I’ve previously documented on this blog. We left our baby to cry overnight a few times until he figured out how to put himself back to sleep without us having to feed him, rock him or offer our fingers for him to suck on. He (and we) learned that he would survive without us. The longest he fought at any point was about 50 minutes. Which, let’s face it, were the longest 50 minutes of our lives, during which our souls (and our marriage) may or may not have died and then resurrected but only just. The key that kept us going, however, was the fact that young babies have a pretty standard awake time, and at some point exhaustion would kick in and down he would go. Thank you God.

At the ripe old age of 21 months, however…!

But first, let’s go back to 4-5 months ago. We were all suffering from a particularly bad night wakening, possibly teething induced, and Ralph made the fatal mistake of taking Michael out of his bedroom and playing with him in an effort to calm and tire the little guy out and put him back to sleep. Previously, this would have taken an absolute maximum of 2.5 hours, thanks again to natural awake times. This time round, we found ourselves playing with plastic toys in semi darkness for four hours, with nary a yawn nor sleepy eye-rub in sight. FOUR HOURS. Apparently, Ralph hadn’t gotten the memo that Michael was now down to two naps and could basically go on for…four hours before getting tired. That fiasco culminated in a desperate circling of the condo premises at 3am, with my little toddler blinking in bemusement at the streetlamps from his stroller as I desperately attempted to jiggle him back into sleep. I marched round and round the pool like an angry, deranged zombie. And it didn’t even work. (I’m getting hives just recounting this.)

Suffice to say, Take Baby Out of Bedroom to Play in the Middle of the Night was conclusively eliminated from our menu of options.

This ability to just stay *#$&*@* awake makes sleep training increasingly difficult. At some point, it means that your toddler can effectively cry it out (or rather, just CRY) for an indefinite period of time. I have no idea what Michael’s current limit is. I hit my own limit on Monday night, after one hour of hysterical yelling. He was showing no signs of giving in, and I was cramping up, lying partially hidden under some bedding which he’d thrown from his crib in a fury.

The sleeping difficulties had started about a week after our move, when Ralph had rocked him to sleep just once, thanks to a bit of fussiness (brought on by adjustment issues, probably). That was all it took, apparently, for our little man to decide that sleeping in our arms was the loveliest thing in the world, and that he could request for such conditions to be repeated by screaming his head off if his toe so much as touched his mattress. After a couple of days of holding my 100 kilo toddler (may as well be) on my pregnant stomach to nap, I decided I’d had enough, and sleep training would officially commence. No biggie. We’d done this multiple times to various degrees for the past year. However, I was horrified to discover that 1) as mentioned, a 21 month old has no reasonable limit, 2) a 21 month old knows exactly what he wants and has an elephant memory, and therefore is a lot more challenging to reprogram than a young baby, and 3) a 21 month old has the shrieking power of a herd (troupe?) of banshees.

I wasn’t sure what to do. Previously, I’d just let my kid cry it out until he conked out in his crib. This time, there was no such conking in sight.

It quickly became clear that I would just have to do what parents do, all the time, whenever things get tiresome: Be more stubborn than your kid, keep communicating the rule, and consistency should eventually win you the war. In this case, the rule was that under no circumstances would he be sleeping on any of us, ever.

So the first day I let him yell for a good one hour, then took him out of his crib without comment (okay, maybe I said something like “NO HUGS maman is not happy with you right now”) and strolled him downstairs for a quick cat nap. I’m not sure who won that battle, but I figured I’d made a small point – that screaming wasn’t going to get him cuddles in the arm chair from now on.

That night, the bedtime fight (historically, the easiest to win, thanks to the biological clock being on your side) lasted maybe 45 minutes. Which was painful, but such a relief that he went down at all, on his own. I may have smirked. Maman 1, Toddler 0.

The next day I was hopeful that nap time would go better. I don’t think it did. At one hour, I had to pull him out again. However! Bedtime got much better – 30 minutes, which is a moderate but clear success in sleep training land. My husband and I smirked.

Starting the next day, naps finally got better, and rapidly so – 40 minutes, 13 minutes, 5 minutes. We are now down to a couple of minutes of protest at every naptime and bedtime, which is basically negligible.

We are incredibly relieved. Especially since Michael’s also been sleeping through the night again. I know that parents are always obsessed about sleep, but there’s a reason for it – there is nothing quite as incomprehensible as a child’s sleep, and also nothing quite as overwhelmingly annoying as when it goes awry. If I could describe it to a non-parent, I would compare it to having a malfunctioning alarm clock which goes off randomly in the night AND DOES NOT SHUT OFF until you have done ten push ups and sung the national anthem backwards. And then sometimes it rings again half an hour later, just as you’re about to finally go back to sleep again, and now you have to do twenty push ups and squeeze yourself into a slightly too-small box that leaves you all cramped and with a backache that only becomes evident the next day. Suffice to say, there is no romance in this.

Anyhow. We win this round! Heh heh heh. Meanwhile, many other battles rage on elsewhere, but at least we are now all resting our weary bodies in our own beds again.

We’re moving!

I just popped in to say: we’re six days away from our house move, and my to-do list is pretty daunting right now. Very little packing has actually been occurring. Most of the work has been annoying little administrative tasks like getting utilities transferred and addresses changed and internet / TV subscriptions sorted out and damaged wall fixed and blah blah… oh, and lots of purging. We are moving from a 1050 square foot apartment to a 980 square foot one, with a particularly small living area, an additional bedroom, two useless balconies and bay windows galore, which basically translates to – no storage. I handed over 4 gigantic garbage bags of clothes to my mother for her to recycle three weeks ago, and every weekend I’ve been handing her more stuff. An insane amount of stuff. I even threw out half of our books (you’d be interested to know, Gina Ford’s Contented Baby book got thrown out immediately *shudder*).

So we’re closing out the year with lots of activity, and an apparently healthy mini-baby. =) Teeny tiny little baby with five fingers on each hand. I didn’t see him/her move, which bothers me slightly, but everything seemed to be in order at 11+ weeks.

By the way, if you thought the Two Week Wait sucked, I assure you that the Four Week Wait between first trimester ultrasounds is absolutely unbearable. That month was the slowest of my life. You sort of mull over that iffy bean-like image for four weeks, wondering if it has sprouted proper limbs etc, and although you obsessively check which fruit your baby most closely resembles each week (“the size of a fig from crown to rump”), that’s all theory. It’s like anticipating a blind date – you know the specs, but don’t really know what the substance of it is going to be until you’re face to face. And then there it was, finally, up on the screen, my baby looking entirely baby-like, with legs raised in that froggy way and ten fingers and ten toes, arms gently floating on a thick cloud of amniotic fluid, pulsing with every assertive heartbeat. It was an assertive heartbeat. I will probably ask that at every doctor’s visit. “How’s the heartbeat?” (Does it look like it may stop?)

I go back one and a half weeks later. I don’t think I will stop being nervous until I feel him/her kick.

20 Months Update

1) Walking / Talking. Basically, not really happening. Since both my husband and I were really late talkers that aspect doesn’t surprise me, but COME ON the walking??? It wouldn’t matter if Michael were a svelte little toddler, but he is not. He fluctuates about the 15-16 kg mark. I’m pretty certain that we are partly to blame for his slow development in this area, because the little man is terrified of falling, and the consequent screaming has us terrified of him falling, so the fear sort of gets reflected back and bounces around and gets all magnified and…it just means that he cannot let go of our hands. Not yet. Not ever????? It’s 90% psychological because when he is really desperate to get from Point A to Point B, he does make the (wobbly) leap but most times he just stands and wails for assistance, because he’s also apparently not too interested crawling anymore. This doesn’t help point 2, which is…

2) Independence. Or should I say, dependence. Yesterday, I found myself yelling (straight up yelling) at my dear baby repeatedly, because I was trying to get the house packed (we’re moving in a month) and he would not stop badgering me for my 100% attention. He couldn’t play on his own, even by my side. There have been periods in his life where he was pretty independent and was able to occupy himself for stretches of time, but this latest clingy season had me totally going bonkers and announcing to my helper that from now on Michael would be “under training”, which just means that throughout the day we try to get him to play on his own, just for short stretches of time. As I said earlier, it doesn’t help that he’s not walking independently, and still needs us to help him get from place to place. Sigh. But there has been a bit of progress, after even just one day of training, so I’m heartened and hopeful that we can uncling him yet.

3) The Pillows / Thumbsucking

DSC_0229

Current baby pillow population: 10

He needs his pillows to fall asleep (not all of them at once, that photo above was just me doing a pillow count), and because he chews on them with a vengeance, my mother is on constant pillow replacement and repair duty. Thankfully, he doesn’t have much of a preference for any particular pillow, they just have to be kinda baby sized and soft and cuddly. It’s all very cute. What’s less cute is that he is still sucking his thumb, which I wouldn’t care about except that after a few particularly intense teething episodes (we are down to the four final molars by the way, YAYYY), his thumb is a war zone. We’re talking splitting flesh and swelling and it just looks really bad most of the time. When it got really bad once, we had to put a band aid on the thumb for a few days, which of course totally screwed up his sleeping for a few weeks, and then after it all healed and we thought he’d been weaned off the sucking, he found his beloved thumb again and we’re back to square one. In case you’re wondering, his other good thumb is not a substitute. I once tried to stuff his right thumb into his mouth and he looked like I’d just fed him an expired pickle. These days, I just try to manage it by cleaning it well and dabbing on lavender oil and lanolin.

4) Sleep. This is not something I like to report on too much, because everything usually changes the day after I hit “publish”. Ha. But for the first time in his life, Michael has been sleeping in. We are now on a 7.45pm to 8am schedule, which is of course total bliss. Bliss!!! For most of his life he was averaging at 6am for wakeups, so this is as good as it gets. When it happened, he started doing one solid afternoon nap (1pm – 3pm thereabouts), instead of a late morning nap and possible afternoon cat nap. Everything feels very reasonable and organized at this stage. But as I said, let’s see what happens tomorrow eh?

5) Food. My kid who used to eat everything I threw at him has finally developed an opinion on what tastes good and what does not. I kind of saw this coming and told my husband so, when he was getting a little too smug about Michael’s unfussy appetite a few months ago. Lately, I’ve had to try a little harder than just cobbling together some hastily cooked meat, broccoli and rice. I find that Japanese dishes tend to go down well in the household, so there’s been more of that. Here are some of the items on the current rotation:
– Japanese curry rice
– Teriyaki anything
– Pumpkin mac & cheese (I have little packets of frozen pumpkin in my freezer which means I can get this thrown together in about 20 frenzied minutes. I should post the recipe!)
– Open faced sandwiches (salmon/chicken mixed with a bit of mayo and avocado, smeared on to bread)
– Spaghetti bolognaise (is there any kid who does not like this?)
– Steamed sweet potato (he has this at almost every single meal)
– Ditto eggs (an egg almost every day)
I do try to be firm about him eating stuff that he doesn’t like, and thankfully he has been a good boy and makes a good effort at forcing it down. We’re still doing a lot of rice because that’s just what is always in the fridge, but I’m trying to give him different options now because he is clearly pretty sick of it.

6) Discipline. This deserves its own post. Suffice to say I have no idea what I’m doing here, honestly. The more I read about how I should be disciplining my toddler, the more confused and unsure I get. Interestingly, we have moved past an initial rebellious phase and are currently in a pretty compliant phase. The kid has started listening to us! It is very gratifying. At times, I just need to raise my eyebrows and a warning finger and he gets it. Other times, I’ve had to talk in my “I’m really serious” voice. And then on the rare occasion, when the tantrum has gone on too long and I’m trying to snap him out of it, a straight up “I’m angry and I’ve had enough of your nonsense” type holler works. The kind of shout that carries over his screaming, and can probably be heard by the neighbours. It is surely not recommended (don’t yell at me for yelling) but it is almost like waking up a snoring, mildly deaf person from a nightmare. He sort of shakes himself and suddenly calms down, and we both move on quickly. For now, that’s where we are. Tomorrow, he’s probably going to utter his first word, “NO”, and then I will have to regroup and restrategize.

7) Songs. The songs and the singing, they never end. He insists on a song for every occasion. I can’t put on his shoes without bursting into a rendition of “I am learning to get dressed…this is how I put on my shooooes”. He signals for a song by peering deep into my eyes and bopping his head up and down maniacally, and then we all scramble to figure out what song he’s requesting. Sometimes just one object or word will trigger it. “Pail” means we have to sing Jack and Jill. “Bread” is apparently a good enough reference for Hot Cross Buns. We are a living musical over here. It is, however, the easiest way to keep him occupied, when nothing else is available, so I’m thankful for it on those car rides where “look at that truck!” stops working.

8) Toilet training. Not even thinking about it.

Baby three

The first couple of weeks after I got the positive test, it felt as if I had time traveled and the previous terminated pregnancy had simply revived itself and I was back on the same road again. Except I wasn’t, and I had to remind myself that this was a different baby, and a different time. Being pregnant for a few months and then not pregnant for a few months and then pregnant again swiftly after makes me feel like I’ve been pedaling around in first trimester limbo for a long time.

I think it was only when I was lying on the bench at the first ultrasound this week, that it sank in that this was a different baby, and that we were here, together, at week 7. It was a frightening moment, watching the black and white shapes move around on the screen, waiting for life or death to be pronounced. Everything hinged on a binary result – beating, or not beating. Flicker of the chambers, or nothing. I’m not sure I said anything in response other than a soft “Oh,” when my doctor told me that we had a good heartbeat. Unlike my first carefree pregnancy and my second devastating one, there was no joy or sorrow. Just a buzzing tension and then a cautious relief, as if I’d been yanked away from the edge of a cliff but was left looking down at the rocks below.

But over the past few days, I’ve been teaching myself to celebrate, despite the possibility of loss. The joy uncurls itself in moments when I am praying, or talking to him/her. Stay. I can’t wait to meet you. You have my whole heart. I won’t let you go. 

I have never been inclined to not acknowledge my own baby for my own protection. To hold my developing child at arm’s length, until things “stabilize”, is not something I’ve ever attempted and I’m not sure I would succeed in any case. It is also the reason why I have never hesitated to share news about my pregnancy before the end of the first trimester. My child is here: fact. There will be no secret squirreling away of bad news. A miscarriage is not an embarrassing back-pedaling. And it is not something I would ever want to bear alone, in silence, holding my grief to myself. To spare myself (or others) awkwardness or sorrow is an inadequate reason for me to envision my child as a senseless ball of tissue. I can’t. And so I will not.

I am this baby’s mother, and the only thing I’m actively working to brush off is my fear.

You are unstoppable. Keep growing and I will see you soon.