Congrats on the Baby! ps: YOU HAVE CANCER. Balancing Cancer and a Newborn

All was perfect in my world at 10:45pm, 02/03/12.  You see, because that marked the birth of our first baby – Grace. Until you have a baby I honestly believe you don’t really understand life the way a parent does. I was immediately blown away with my emotions around this little bundle of joy. She was so quiet, peaceful, and naïve to all the joys and heartache of the world. The enormous feeling of responsibility to protect this child and start her off on the right foot, was with me right away. Little did I know, my power and ability to protect my baby Grace was going to be so quickly and so mercilessly taken away from me…or so I thought.

I will NEVER, NEVER forget the extreme fatigue I felt when returning home from the hospital with Grace. I will NEVER, NEVER forget how ill I was in the middle of the night – the night before going to the emergency room. I felt so helpless. I was sitting on the bathroom floor, nursing Grace, balling my eyes out, feverishly on fire, trying to clean up my mess from getting sick and thinking- I CAN’T DO THIS!! I am not a “can’t” person. My mom and husband can attest to this. I always astound them with the things I say I am going to do and actually accomplish but this felt hopeless to me. I had never had that feeling before.

Everyone kept telling me that being tired was normal. I knew this was not anywhere close to a normal-new-mom-tired. The fatigue came on in October 2011. I remember trying to make it to work an hour away and it took me sometimes up to three hours because I had to stop and sleep several times just to make it. Many nights would pass at the end of my pregnancy with lifting my head long enough to literally scoop the dinner Ryan made me into my mouth and then, as if I were as helpless as Sleeping Beauty, crashing back down to the pillow in complete surrender. I kept thinking man, I hope this goes away with birth. How can I ever take care of a newborn when I can’t even take care of myself? Birth came, my body blew up even more like a balloon, my fatigue got worse, and I felt like a crazy person the first two weeks trying to take care of Grace.  Soon after a cascade of events featured in Something was Wrong led me to being without Grace for the first time.

The night before my surgery Grace was not allowed to stay with me.  My mind kept racing in this endless sad loop of my first night in the hospital:

  • Where’s Grace?

Safe with my mom and Ryan’s parents.

  • How’s she eating? I’m nursing her and don’t have any reserves built up yet.

Formula and a bottle. AHHHHHHHH! More on this in another post.

  • Are people letting the kids hold her?  They’re only 5 and 3 and I don’t feel comfortable about it yet.

Yes. Dammit! That was my one request going into surgery- please don’t let the kids hold her. I felt very betrayed as I was helpless and it was my only request.

  • Is everyone washing their hands? She is being dragged in and out of doctor’s offices and a hospital. Is she going to get sick?

Everyone was hand washing to the point of their hands bleeding. Yikes. Gracie never got sick though! YAY!

  • Grace needs her mom’s heartbeat to sooth her. Is this messing up a critical mother-daughter bonding time? Will there always be a disconnect because of this?

In retrospect, it was one night without her mommy and she was and still is okay. Grace was with me everyday of my ten day hospital stay except one. Most of the time she was under my arm and bonding with me. I think it is me that initially felt like I missed out. I don’t remember those days. I was very drugged and my only memory of them is in pictures that are pretty painful to look at. I say they are painful but at the same time it is pretty damn cool that little Gracie, three weeks old, was as quiet as a mouse for nine days so she could be by her mommy. Pretty incredible in my opinion. My first real memories coming out of my drugged state were so bizarre. Ryan was wheeling me around the hospital and I had Gracie in my lap. People kept congratulating me on the birth of my baby. It was a really odd feeling because that was not why I was there and at that point I knew the result of my surgery and it was cancer.

  • I am in the hospital being sent pictures of my baby. I AM SUPPOSED TO BE SENDING THE PICTURES.

It was so sweet that I was getting pictures while Grace wasn’t with me but it was very hard for me. I didn’t know what time was going to bring. I didn’t know if I was going to make it out of surgery okay. I didn’t know if she was going to have her mommy and if I would be going out looking at a picture.

The balancing act was about to begin. A few days into my hospital stay the doctor came in and gave me the results of my surgery. All my mind heard was you can no longer nurse then it reverted to the thought, Congrats on the baby! ps: YOU HAVE CANCER. All of the above racing thoughts switched off and I went into some sort of bizarre survival mode. I started making one of my silly lists in my mind again.

  1. Number one priority…ME. WHAT? WHAT!? I have never made myself the priority. Now I have a child and my first thought is, I have to be the priority! Yes, harsh reality but – yes! If I don’t make myself and my health number one Grace and Ryan will never get the opportunity to be number one priority in my life because I won’t make it through this and be healthy for them.
  2. Maintain a positive attitude and happiness. It is critical to a child’s development to be surrounded with positivity and happiness. I want a happy child. Must keep Grace happy. Must teach her strength and grace through the hard times. I want her to look back at pictures of this time and know that she made it grand and gave me incredible strength to conquer this hurdle. I want it imprinted in her mind that you don’t have to let illness consume you. You can make a choice to have your reality play out in a positive light even though it may initially seem devastating.
  3. Okay, I can’t nurse Grace anymore. Must find the best formula on the market and deal with it.
  4. I am going to be in chemotherapy 8-5, M-F for 3-4 months. Make sure Grace can be with me.
  5. Keep moving so I have energy for Grace.
  6. Be with Grace as much as I possibly can. Don’t let others take over unless needed. This is going to be hard enough, I don’t want to add the feeling of not being able to raise my child.
  7. Expose, experience, and teach Grace as much as possible. Make awesome memories with her. Take a lot of pictures. Take a lot of pictures. Take a LOT of pictures.
  8. Regain my sense of power to protect my little one, raise her, and nurture her NOW. Nothing is being taken away from me. I am being given an enormous gift in disguise.

Surgery, chemotherapy, and a newborn were all very challenging but we had a lot of help and support (to be written about at a later time) that made it not so bad. Looking back, this has made us a very, very strong family. I feel like my cancer was a success and a blessing. I concentrated so hard on my list and it worked. I plunged forward and have my health and the most awesome little girl I could have ever asked for.

Reality changed!

Congrats on the baby! ps: YOU HAVE CANCER is now……

Congrats on the baby!! ps: SHE IS SO, SO COOL!!!!

Congrats on beating cancer!! ps: YOU WERE SO STRONG, POSITIVE, AND DID A DAMN GOOD JOB WITH YOUR KID!!

Everyone has the power to change their reality. Whether you are able to get out and muster up the energy to be active or you are bound to bed. Make your list. Empower yourself with the ability to change your reality. There are many things you can do from a hospital bed or a chemo chair. There are many ways to find happiness and a positive light even in seemingly dark situations. Empowering yourself to change your reality may just shock the hell out of you. You will see things in yourself and others you never thought was possible. I think this applies to everything in life.

Here are some photos from our hospital stay. The last one is celebrating Grace’s 4 week birthday. Every week we celebrated on the Friday she was born at 10:45pm. I would make her balloons out of straws and Kleenex :). It’s all I had access to. :)

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