Friday, January 30, 2009

Troubles at Every Turn

The past few days have been bad.

Really, really bad.

I spent most of them crying, holding my head in my hands, and wallowing in despair.

Things are tough in the Soderstrom household. Financial problems have resulted in us having to part with both Brett’s vehicle and our house. The idea of moving while pregnant is daunting, to say the least.

We are still in a quandary as to what to do over the loss of Brett’s Jeep. If you know of someone who has an old “beater” or a dirt-cheap car that runs somewhat reliably, don’t hesitate to let me know.

Since we will be moving to an apartment, I’ve also had to contact the House Rabbit Society to see if our bunnies can be accepted back into the program. Thankfully, it looks like they can be re-fostered. Whether we will be able to re-adopt them in the future is still up in the air.

Brett is taking this harder than I am. Although I love the rabbits very, very much, I know the task of taking care of a child – especially as a first-time parent – will take up my time and energy.

I also know returning the bunnies to HRS will be for the best. HRS volunteers love rabbits as much as we do and will take excellent care of our sweet pets. I just couldn’t abandon them to a shelter where they might be euthanized. This way gives them a great chance to live with caring families who I trust will love them as much as we do.

We’ve known we were going to have to let the house go for a long time. I am, by a social nature, more of an apartment dweller, so the prospect of apartment living (again) is actually quite exciting for me. Not so for my husband, who highly values his privacy.

Not that I’m looking forward to moving. Not at all.

When we learned about losing the Jeep, the world seemed to start crumbling down on me. I don’t know why it hit me so hard. But it did.

Everything has been compounded by this horrible cold that has hit me with a vengeance. Now, in addition to morning sickness and nausea, I have coughing, sneezing, congestion, and the worst sinus pressure headache I have EVER experienced. My head is a ten thousand pound weight on my shoulders.

I cried at work all day yesterday. Just bawled and bawled silently in my office. I cried on the way home. I cried in Wal-Mart. Then, I drove to Mom and Gary’s and cried in front of them for two hours.

I listed the litany of my troubles to Mom.

We are losing our house.
We have to find an apartment willing to rent to people with way-less-than-perfect credit.
We have to move.
We have to send our bunnies away.
We are losing our Jeep.
We have to find a way for Brett to get to work.
Brett may get laid off in July when the baby’s due.
I will most likely get laid off in October when our company merges with three others.
We might not be able to afford even an apartment.
I could lose my insurance.
The baby could have no insurance.
My head is killing me.
I’m so sick.
I’m behind at work.
I just want to give up.

You can IMAGINE how fun that was for Mom and Gary.

They were angels unaware, as always, and comforted me with kind words and spiritual reassurance.

I thought of a note I had sent our Pastor only a few days ago. I’d said, “I am in the pit of despair, in spite of knowing God is in control. Is that even possible?”

But I didn’t need Pastor to answer the question. The truth is no, I can’t be in despair if I believe God is in control.

For the first time in my life, I seem to be surrounded by troubles on every side. And yet, if I trust in what I know to be true, then I have to trust God has His perfect purpose. These trials are designed to stretch, grow, and refine me into the person God wants me to be.

In the past three years, especially, I have learned the ONLY way I truly grow spiritually is through trials. Knowing that, however, does not bring the warm fuzzies when I’m in the midst of testing. If anything, it becomes a beacon – something I can see, know is there, but still seems inordinately far away and unreachable.

As I look back though, I find comfort in how far God has brought me.

Three short years ago, I was ready to leave my husband and start over again. It was through that marriage trial God brought me back to Himself. I experienced a refreshing spiritual renewal that drew me close to the throne of God in a way I had never experienced.

It cemented my faith, illuminated it in a way I can’t imagine living without.

I wonder some days how unbelievers can get through the day. With the run of days I’ve had, if I were an unbeliever, I would just say, “Shove it! (only I wouldn’t say shove it) I’m done with this!”

I’d find the best drugs I could afford, shoot up, blast Coldplay as loud as I could, drink margaritas by the gallon, and go out in a pathetic blaze of glory.

I wonder, as always, WHAT do unbelievers live for, if they believe this is all there is? I can’t even fathom.

Being a believer gives me something unbelievers don’t have. Perspective.

As these billows steamroll over me, I can stand and say, “I believe God is sovereign. I believe this is His purpose. I trust Him to provide for me, His child.” I can pray and know that God hears me. I can watch as God changes me and find the unbelievable freedom that comes from being submissive to what He has planned for me.

I am losing “my” earthly safety net – home, transportation, money, job, insurance, etc.

But, was it ever really “mine” to begin with? Is not EVERYTHING I have from God’s hands? I can do nothing apart from God.

It’s only in despairing moments like these that those words bring comfort – when God is all you have to cling to, you realize the immenseness of GOD – you NEED nothing else to cling to, anything else would melt away.

As my sad story tumbled out to Mom last night, I tried to balance all the bad with all the blessings. Namely, the miracle percolating in my womb. I wondered how I could even be sad for a moment when this growing gift is ever present with me.

Mom and I talked, comforting each other, she begin to remind me that being entrapped by our troubles can sometimes make us blind to the trials being experienced by others.

I remembered back to when I was a fat kid in junior high. I always used to think that kids who were thin had no problems. In my eyes, being fat was the worst thing that could happen to a kid.

As I relayed this depressing news to my parents, I was shocked when they started laughing.

My dad just shook his head. “Everybody’s got problems, kid. Even the skinny ones.”

He told me about kids who struggled in academics while I sailed by with straight A’s - kids in broken homes, while my parents loved each other - kids who didn’t know what they were going to have for dinner, while there was always abundant food on our table.

“I’d say you have it pretty good, wouldn’t you?” He gently chided with a smile in his eyes.

And, so fifteen years later, here I am again. Wrapped up in my own troubles, craving sympathy, and childishly sniffling in the blanket of woe-is-me.

After Mom’s gentle reminder, I found myself thinking of a sentence in Pastor’s recent e-mail to the church family. He said, “This is a time of suffering in our church, some suffering in the shadows, and some suffering in the limelight.”

When I read the note, right away, my mind went to our situation. Pastor knows of our difficulty, and I felt very much like we were one of “those” he mentioned suffering in the shadows (not anymore - as I write this - you will intuit I am not so good in keeping to the shadows).

Pastor was also speaking of some dear church friends who have been praying and preparing for a blessed adoption for years. Now, the adoption of the precious children they have eagerly accepted into their hearts is in serious peril. Our entire church knows of the struggle, and we are all are embracing this couple with love.

They are suffering in the limelight.

I thought also of my cousin Naomi, delivering her baby three months early, and the fears and tears that must wrack her soul at this time. Mom told me of other friends who just yesterday learned their baby had died in the womb. They were, of course, heartbroken and stunned by the loss.

I left Mom and Gary’s feeling strangely emptied and yet uplifted. When I got home, I prayed first for our situation, and then began to list those who are also suffering, going through trials – known and unknown. I found the concern for others dampened my previously woe-is-me spirit, as I lifted these people up in prayer to He Who Heals.

I know I am not through the thickest of it yet – with a baby and a move coming – but I found the old adage I learned as a child still applies. To have true JOY, even in the midst of all this, I should live as - Jesus, Others, You.

This morning, I sang, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy down in my heart.”

And you know, I really do.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pray for Baby Trey

Thoughts and prayers go out to my cousin, Naomi, who delivered her baby yesterday - three months early. The baby, Trey, weighed in at only 1 pound and 14 ounces.

There was great concern in the beginning when his kidneys weren’t functioning. The doctors also couldn’t find any white blood cells which are needed to fight infection.

The good news is that of this morning his kidneys started functioning and his white blood cell count is up!

Please join with me in praying for Naomi, Trey, and the whole Sawyer/Gagliano family as they nurture this new little life!

For more photos and updates, please visit the Praying for Trey website.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Full Circle

On Sunday, I celebrated the one year anniversary of one of the momentous days of my life – Brielle’s birthday. The tiny baby I watched come into this world is now a healthy one year old, toddling, and emitting a laugh somewhere between a bleating lamb and a baby dinosaur.

Brielle is a happy child, and she clearly enjoyed being the center of attention (something I’m familiar with). She was fascinated by the ribbons on the packages and joyfully gorged herself on the baby cake made especially for her by her Aunt Maria. Instead of being over-stimulated (and I would have been), she was whirling, twirling, and content to be picked up or left on the floor to chase after other children.

Sadly, I had to forgo the celebratory cake, cupcakes, and ice cream. My morning sickness, nausea, and fatigue have increased over the past two weeks. As of today, I’m 14 weeks, but I feel more like I did in those first 5 weeks when I had no idea I was pregnant.

I suppose the fatigue is most likely because I haven’t been able to sleep for more than two hours at a time. I sleep for two hours and wake up for twenty minutes, consistently though the night. On top of that, I’m either developing a cold or new-found allergy as my head is as stuffed up as a teddy bear.

People have told me my body is getting ready for early morning feedings and late night crying. And, while I’m appreciative of my present body's consideration of my future body's needs, I desperately more sleep to function.

Yesterday I could barely get out of bed. My head was completely congested, and my tongue as dry as a dishrag when I woke up. My throat burned, and I couldn’t summon the energy to even take a shower. Add morning sickness and nausea to that, and I knew my productivity was going to be 0%.

Oh, how I hate to call in to work! But there was no going in for me. If I couldn’t even find energy to bathe, how in heaven was I going to work?! I left a message, and I hated doing it. This helpless, pathetic feeling is overhanging my mood even now. I just can’t miss this much work – if I do, then how am I going to take off when the baby is born?

So, I just pray that as I head in the second trimester, the worst of it will surge backward, and I can regain some sense of normalcy.

The good news is that I was able to reach my OB. He approved Benadryl as a safe medication to both help me sleep and take care of any cold or allergy symptoms I may have. I practically drunk-dialed Mom (sleep deprivation makes me loopy) and asked if she could get me some Benadryl. Bless her generous heart, she did.

At first, my OB said to only take it right before bed. But, I begged (only children are good beggars) to take one mid-afternoon. He relented, and so for the first time in almost two weeks, I slept!

I woke up feeling groggy, in a medicated fog, but within an hour I felt a lot better. Not 100% (I am still pregnant after all), but so much better. I’m already looking forward to tonight, when I can take another one and sleep like a normal person (at least for a little while longer).

Speaking of only children, I have noticed people tend to look at me in horror when I say we hope to have one child. To me – to us– having this baby is the task at hand, an activity we are thrilled to realize is actually happening. I can’t think beyond this child, this miracle.

However, as an only child myself, I take exception (great exception, really) to the flawed assumption that only children are somehow miserable in that position.

Of course, I have nothing against people who have more than one child. I can’t imagine my own extended family any differently. My grandmother had 12 children, and there’s not one of my aunts or uncles I can imagine NOT being in existence. I grew up playing with my Boehm cousins – Charity, Colleen, Candice, and BJ – and I wouldn’t think my life complete if any of them hadn’t been there to experience childhood’s adventures with me.

I am proud to be an only child. I don’t feel cheated or unhappy even slightly. My parents were married for eleven years before they were able to conceive a child, something I know a little about. I knew I was their miracle. Instead of smothering me, my parents opened the world to my small eyes. I suppose they lavished affection on me, something Mom still does, and I don’t think anything is wrong with loving a child.

They didn’t put me on a pedestal. They didn’t assume I was always innocent (and believe me, I wasn’t). I had discipline and structure, but more than that I had the happy assurance my parents loved me. They never made me feel like I wasn’t enough for them.

We were and are a family, complete, whole, and content.

I wish that same environment for my child. I can only think one miracle at a time. Who knows the future, besides God? I trust He will guide and direct us, but I also rest in knowing that having one child – and being therefore content with what God has given (has given, especially in our case) – is an immeasurable blessing.

So, I urge you not to feel pity for the only child. There is great joy in being one, and there are those of us who embrace it and wish to pass it on.

As I sat on Uncle Billy’s couch at Brielle’s party, trying to forestall the inevitable nausea, I remembered back to the days before her birth, and my incredulity at the miracle of her birth. I never dreamed that - at the first birthday party of this beloved little bundle - I would be incubating my own beloved little bundle. Never imagined it.

Yet there I sat, pregnant, watching the children climb over one another with a sense of wonder. Thinking it was beyond hope, and knowing it wasn’t, I prayed silently that next year my child will share in Brielle’s second birthday. It was strange to think that these not-cousins (as Candice calls them) will be only a year and half apart.

If God wills, Candice and I will see our children grow up together. What an unexpected gift!

As one of the first people she saw upon making her grand entrance to this world, I would like to wish my wonderful, amazing not-niece the happiest of birthdays!

I pray she will grow up healthy, happy, strong and knowing how precious she is to me.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Need to Save Money?

Two of my friends from church, Anouk and Kristie, have started their own blog to help people save money. The site’s mission is “Attempting to be good stewards of the resources God has given us.”

A&K post coupon deals and some of the best cost-savings in the Rockford area. However, some of the deals/coupons are also good in other regions, so it might work for those living out of the area.

Right now, A&K are hosting a poll on the blog concerning coupon use. Head on over and vote – so they can better customize the site!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Ann-Marie and the Very Bad News, Very Good News Day

When my OB recommended I see the new Maternal Fetal Medicine (MFM) doctor hired by Swedes (short for SwedishAmerican Hospital), his reasoning was that I would have an initial consult only.

Then IF I developed any problems (due to my pre-diabetic and hypertension conditions) and had to go to MFM, the doctor would be familiar with my case.

I wasn’t nervous at first. If anything, I was excited to know I would be receiving another ultrasound, my 4th in the first trimester.

The MFM Department is nestled in a tiny alcove which is only accessible by a special elevator in the heart of the pediatric department. As I wound my way through the tangled maze of hallways, I heard horrible screaming.

A nurse passed me in the hallway and smiled at me, “That little boy does not want that shot!”

I laughed and then cringed. I, myself, am not crazy about shots.

The MFM Department was peacefully quiet, and I was the only patient in sight. The newly hired MFM doctor is so new to the hospital that he doesn’t have many patients yet. I filled out my family history, noting my conditions, Dad’s death from a heart attack, and Grandpa Trotter’s death from diabetes.

In short order, I was ushered into the state-of-the-art ultrasound facilities of the MFM. I was in awe to be receiving an ultrasound on such new, sparkly equipment. The ultrasound technician was a warm, fuzzy person, as opposed to the Ice Queen I experienced during my due date ultrasound.

She exclaimed over my pregnancy and then proceeded to take her time doing the ultrasound. I was surprised at her attention to detail. I attribute this to two factors – first, I was the only patient, and she had no reason to rush. Secondly, MFM deals only with high-risk patients, so she couldn’t afford to miss anything.

The technician used three different scopes to do the ultrasound. She spent a little time in 2D, but switched over to 4D (it is called 4D, I asked!) relatively quickly. Baby Sod wasn’t cooperating for many whole body photos, but the technician managed to get me four new photos – one full body shot, a perfect little hand, a precious foot, and an (already) expressive face.

The photo of Baby Sod’s face is my first favorite. In it, my child looks thoughtful, as if orating on some great point. My second favorite is of the alien-like arm, and the long, tapered fingers. The baby has Brett’s hands most definitely. I would recognize those fingers anywhere!

The photos are fun to look at, although a little disconcerting. Several of the photos portray my baby as having a human body and an Impressionist painting for a face. Another one indicated I am carrying my very own Benjamin Button.

At one point during the ultrasound, Baby Sod turned, looked straight out at the monitor and started talking! Well, okay, I didn’t hear any sounds, but the baby was CLEARLY talking in the womb.

Is this my child or what?

Last night, I was telling Brett about the baby’s first conversation with Mommy. Brett smiled and said, “I’ll bet he was saying how much he loves you!”

I shook my head. “This is your child, too, you know. He was probably asking where the remote was, and why he doesn’t get better reception in the womb.”

After the half-hour ultrasound, I was able to meet Doctor K, the MFM Specialist. I was pleasantly surprised he was so sad to have missed the ultrasound. He was inches away from asking me to get back up the table, stopping only when he said it wouldn’t be fair to subject me to two vaginal ultrasounds in one day. (My kind of doctor!)

Dr. K looks way different in person than he did in my imagination. He looks exactly like one of the professors I had at Moody – Dr. McNickle. His appearance wasn’t the only thing that differed from my fantasy.

In my mind, I saw the appointment going another way. I thought Dr. K (who was a woman then) would look over my chart and say, “Well, you’ve got a few risk factors, but you’re going to be okay. Just call us if you have any trouble. Y’all come back now.”

Instead, I spent almost two hours in a consultation with Dr. K who was so interested in my file that he decided to take me on as his patient. He patiently poured over my risk factors and medical history with me (and the medical student who was observing him that day).

She was gorgeous enough to be distracting. I wanted to ask her why she wanted to be a doctor when she clearly could have a career as a supermodel. But she was very sweet, and we definitely hit it off.

Dr. K started making changes to my life right away. He told me I would be going off my oral diabetic meds. Instead, I would be injecting myself with insulin 3 times a day.

I don’t have gestational diabetes, but because I have a problem with blood sugar, he said we are going to act as if I have Type Two diabetes – at least during my pregnancy. Also, because the oral meds pass to the baby and insulin shots do not, it’s safer for the baby if I’m on insulin. After pregnancy, I’ll get re-tested to see if diabetes is still a factor.

My hypertension condition was also a major point of concern. Dr. K doubled the dosage on my blood pressure meds. He’s also arranging for me to see a cardiologist to catch any possible heart conditions.

As I tried to absorb all the information – he dropped bomb after well-meaning bomb of what-could-go-wrongs – he eventually took notice of the look on my face, as I stared dismally down at my two pages of notes.

“We don’t want you to leave here crying,” he said. “But we also don’t want to sugarcoat things for you. When you deal with MFM, we’ll tell you the truth and work to help you as much as possible.”

Don’t ask me why, but the idea of an honest doctor made me feel marginally better.

But not good enough to prevent morning sickness. Which I had. In the new, shiny, clean MFM department. But, they are clearly used to pregnant women, so everyone was quite compassionate.

The good news, Dr. K informed me – desperate to finally give me some good news - was that I would be receiving an ultrasound once a month on the gorgeous MFM equipment. He told me they’ll be doing growth scans, echo-cardiograms, anatomy scans, and all sorts of test that would medically (and covered-by-insurance) guarantee my being able to see the baby in my womb on a regular basis.

“You’re going to get so sick of our office,” he told me with a grandfatherly grin.

“I don’t think so,” I told him. “This office is where I’m going to see my baby grow.”

“I was hoping you’d think of it that way,” he agreed.

I spent the elevator ride back down to pediatrics with conflicted emotions. I’d received a lot of bad news - news that will significantly complicate my life over the next six months.

And yet…

I’d seen my baby in the womb.

Dr. K assured me the ultrasound was “perfect,” and that Baby Sod is developing at the proper rate with a heart beat well within range. I had seen Baby’s Sod’s little spine, all those interlinking bones flexing and moving in sync.

The photos show the impossible. Life formed by God’s hands in the recesses of my womb. Something – clearly something – only God could do.

God brought me to Dr. K, and I know God is managing this pregnancy through the efficiency and expertise of some of the best doctors in the area. I trust and obey the doctors, but put my faith in God. God’s hands to guide the doctors; God’s hands to be evident in the big and small details of my life…my child’s life.

I headed towards the exit and passed once again through the pediatric department.

Echoes in my mind repeated the screams I’d heard earlier, as I realized soon I would be injecting myself with shots of insulin.

I hope Brett doesn’t mind a little screaming.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A New Theme

Well, I’m in a better mood today, having just discovered there is maternity underwear (I know!). I’m now sitting in two layers of stretchy heaven and feeling magnanimous towards the pregnancy-detractors I trounced the other day.

I got to thinking about how easy it is for me to focus on the negative, on the I-can’t-believe-she-said-that morons that inhabit my environment. When, really, I have had some wonderful positive experiences on the other side of the fence.

My friend Nicole, who I have only seen face to face twice, has sent me over a practical laundry list of “frugal mom” tips, along with tried-and-true advice on what to spend the big bucks on and what to get from craigslist.

My co-worker, Nancy, proclaimed in her sweet Southern drawl (despite being raised in Rockton, IL), “Oh, you’re going to get big!”

I took this as the compliment it was intended to be, mostly because it means Nancy does not think I am big NOW. I love Nancy.

My cousin Michelle remarked on one of my baby-news-related blog posts that she would even consider coming to Rockford for this “momentous” event. Since Michelle lives in California, and I have seen her maybe twice since her sojourn to the sunny state, I took great joy in her comment.

Whether she’s able to come or not, the thought of my sister-less cousin considering traveling to be by my side as a stand-in for my own non-existent sister, brought tears to my eyes.

Alice has also offered me great advice. Her first comment on how I shouldn’t worry about being constantly worried, that it was part of being a mother, brought me peace and more restful nights.

Her recent reassurance on the soon-coming barrage of nightmarish labor-and-delivery stories had me grinning.

“I had one of each delivery – one easy and one difficult. I wouldn’t trade either experience for the world, and neither will you. Don’t let the stories get to you. Your experience will be unique, special, and treasured no matter how it all turns out!”

A dear friend at church is also pregnant. She approached me a few Sundays ago, steadying her 7-month belly out in front with one hand. Her three small children raced around her, while her older daughter made a beeline for the teen group.

She wrapped me in a hug, as best she could, and whispered, “Welcome to the party,” with a wry grin.

The earliest encouragement I received was especially needed. After Brett told our Pastor and his wife, I received an e-mail from my Pastor’s wife asking how I was feeling.

I reeled off all my worries and how scared I was. Her response was a sweet spring of relief, “Remember, Ann-Marie, God is the giver of all good gifts.”

Her kind words reflected God’s love back to me, and I realized (again) that God is managing this pregnancy, not yours truly.

Both Carleen and Alice gave me mom-to-be books upon hearing the news. Carleen also helped me brainstorm ways to tell Brett, coming up with a sure-fire, memorable winner.

Another previous co-worker and friend, Julie, officially bought Baby Sod’s first stuffed animal, an adorable gray elephant, along with his/her first bottle and toy.

Heidi, who was out of town during the big reveal, offered to loan me her maternity clothes (and even more books). She also had me smiling when I finally did see her. She stamped her foot impatiently and said, “I have been waiting forever to give you this hug!”

I’ve also received personal boosts from other church friends. One friend sent me an e-mail the other day saying - after she read my blog - she thought of me as “a female Jerry Seinfeld,” which I have to say made my whole day.

My cousin Candice, despite having hard evidence to the contrary, keeps insisting I’ll be a good mom (I’m not so sure myself). “Now, it’s my turn to give YOU the shower,” she told me just the other day.

But the most moving moments, the ones that swamped me with emotion, were completely unexpected.

As Mom slipped the paper off the ultrasound gift, I slid off my chair and into the child-sized chair next to my Aunt Jan, Mom’s sister.

“Watch her face,” I whispered to Aunt Jan.

Aunt Jan looked at me, surprised (but then again, I think I surprise Aunt Jan most of the time). We turned our attention to the front of the room where Mom was bidding Santa an enthusiastic goodbye and distractedly unwrapping her gift.

I have to stop here and give kudos to two very special people.

First, my cousin Beth’s husband Brad, who volunteered to be Santa for our family’s Christmas Eve party this year. It was his first time as Santa.

I had ducked out of the crowded room to retrieve THE gift from where I had hidden it earlier. I ran into Brad, in full Santa regalia, in the hallway.

“Brad,” I whispered, sneaky as a covert KGB agent. “After you hand out all the gifts, could you just wait a second? Brett and I are going to give Mom a special gift tonight. Brett is going to head up there and say you forgot one. Then, he’ll give you a gift. Can you do that for us?”

I have to give props to Brad, who was clearly nervous about his first time playing Santa, hefting a red felt sack that had to be 120 pounds worth of gifts, and listening to his wife’s cousin babbling about secret gifts in the hallway next to the men’s bathroom.

“Sure,” he said, giving me only a semi-strange look.

After all the gifts were handed out, Brad announced loudly, “LOOKS LIKE THAT’S ALL I HAVE.” I almost burst out laughing as he firmly refused to budge from the Santa chair.

Brett sprung up on cue, holding THE gift, and walked through the crowd up to Santa. “LOOKS LIKE YOU FORGOT ONE,” he said, having rehearsed this line in the car all the way to the party.

I will forever be grateful to Brad for playing along with our little game, and playing such a big part in our big reveal. Thanks, Brad!

Additional thanks go to Alice. When I told her about giving Mom the ultrasound in a frame as the big reveal, she gave me a priceless piece of advice. She told me her own pregnancy reveal story had fallen a little flat when her parents failed to realize the photo “gift” was of her baby’s ultrasound.

“Later, I realized our parents weren’t having babies in the age of ultrasounds, so they had no idea what they were looking at. You might want to think about putting a label or something on the frame, so your mom will recognize it.”

I had no doubt that Mom would see the frame, identify the photo, and put two-and-two together. However, I wanted to do this right, (and Alice seems pretty with it), so I printed out a label that said, “Hi, Grandma,” and stuck it across the clear plastic cover.

This turned out to be a stroke of genius, since Mom later told me she thought, “Oh, someone got me frame.” She didn’t even LOOK at the ultrasound, and it was the LABEL that caught her attention! It was the “Hi, Grandma” label that brought the look of disbelief, before the shouts of joy.

So, thanks, Alice.

Back to the magical night, as I sat next to Aunt Jan, Mom opened the gift and (after seeing the LABEL) sought me out in the crowd. When I nodded happily in confirmation, she began to shout, “I’m going to be a Grandma!”

Aunt Jan turned and wrapped me in a hug. She said, “This is an answer to my prayer.”

I noted the word “my.” She could have said “an answer to prayer,” and it would have still been nice. But knowing she has been praying for me, for this specific need, melted my heart.

There was much shouting, hugging, and congratulations coming from every corner.

I watched my Aunt Judi’s eyes fill with tears. Her own 8 year struggle with infertility mirrors my own. She now has four amazing children, three by birth and one by blessed adoption. Still, she knows first-hand the knife-in-the-heart that is infertility.

Earlier that night, she told me how she had read my Crying in Hallmark post and just wept. Now, she was crying with joy over my pregnancy news.

Elizabeth, Aunt Judi’s daughter, approached me with a big grin. Elizabeth was the 5 year old, cherubic-faced, fair-haired flower girl at our wedding. Over the years, she has grown into a lovely high-school aged young woman who is blessed with a lightning fast wit and a vivacious, social spirit.

“I am officially signing up as your first babysitter,” she told me proudly.

In the swirl of activity surrounding me, I caught a glimpse of my own grandma. She sat, slightly slumped by force of her shoulder pain, in the chair at the front of the room. The Bible was open on her lap in preparation of the traditional Rehfeldt reading of the Christmas story.

Two simple tears trekked down her face. This simply display of emotion from my stoic grandma swamped me with feeling, and I was unbelievably moved.

The most unexpected moment happened moments after Mom unwrapped her gift.

Later - my cousin Charity told me - Colleen, her sister, had whispered, “I’ll bet Ann-Marie’s pregnant,” when she saw Brett clomping through the crowd with a gift for Santa.

“Nah,” Charity told her. “Ann-Marie couldn’t keep it a secret for that long.”

(I didn’t think I could either!)

When Mom gave the shout, and turned the photo around for the room to see, Charity shot out of her chair like a rocket and raced over to me. She wrapped me in a hug, and I saw something I’ve only seen once or twice in my life – Charity was crying! She was so happy, she was crying!

As I’ve mentioned before, the Boehms have many wonderful qualities, but over-emotionalism is not one of them. A glance towards her sisters had me in shock. Colleen and Candice were also crying.

Candice was furiously wiping away tears. “I don’t know why I’m crying,” she said. “I’m HAPPY for you.”

“Hey! Why aren’t YOU crying?” She mock-accused me with a grin.

I, on the other hand, couldn’t stop smiling.

At the end of the night, my cousin Aaron’s wife, Linda, came up to me, “Now every time I see you, my heart goes to mush,” she said softly, cementing her place in my heart as a dear friend.

It’s been almost a month since that night, and I still replay the whole scene from beginning to end in my head. I marvel that God gave me the gift of telling my mom and my family in such a wonderful way – the way I had dreamed.

I feel very blessed to have the positive people in my life outweigh the negative in just about every way.

If I thought my family and friends were great before, I just had to wait…

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Variations on a Theme

As I expressed earlier, I have been reveling, grateful to God, in my pregnant state. I have begun to think of myself as being “in the midst of a miracle,” and it is a glorious place to be!

In my joy, I have not forgotten the long road traveled previously. I find myself cautious - when talking about my pregnancy - to use words that convey our struggle, the torturous waiting, and the solid belief it was never something we could have accomplished of our own will.

I do this in hopes that my sisters who suffer with infertility will not, as I once expressed the desire to, “shake her (in this case, my) perfect Barbie head off.”

I was a little nervous about telling a certain co-worker about my pregnancy. She tried for years to conceive by way of fertility drugs and several painful surgeries. It never became a reality for her.

Instead, she and her husband adopted two beautiful children. Her son is in college, and her daughter will graduate from high school this year.

When I approached her timidly, with ultrasound photos in hand, she surprised me by being overjoyed. She wrapped me in a bear hug and exclaimed happily over my alien-like child’s first photos.

She might be a Catholic, and I might be a Baptist, but when it comes to wanting children, we’ve both prayed in the same language. It was a wonderful shared moment.

I can’t say they’ve all been that way, though.

I guess, what I’m trying to say, is that…resentment I’d understand. I can see someone being a little bitter or angry about a pregnancy, because I, myself, have been that way.

What I can’t understand is the rudeness.

Here is the rudest statement I’ve received so far:

“Well, I hope you are prepared, because people are going to judge you. You knew you were not in the financial position to have a child, and you did nothing to prevent it.”

And, some variations on a theme:

“You think you’re tired now, just wait until…”
“You think you feel fat now…”
“You think don’t have any energy now…”

Well, excuse the heck out me for being happy about being pregnant. How about you go rain on somebody else’s parade, okay? Or just shut up. How about that? Why don’t you just shut up?

I was telling someone recently how I’d moved in maternity jeans.

She said, “Well, anyone who is moving into maternity jeans this early doesn’t really need to. I mean, women who do that just think they have a license to eat.”

I am a Christian. This is the only thing that prevented me from letting loose with a stream of words that would have melted her face off. As it was, it took all my self-control not to slam a stapler upside her head.

I consider that a spiritual victory.

For the most part, though, people have shared in our joy, and I’m grateful for it.

We had a scare during a recent appointment when the OB could not hear the baby’s heartbeat. In short order, I was treated to an ultrasound (our 3rd) where the baby’s heartbeat was immediately discernable.

As I breathed out a sigh of relief, I noticed Baby Sod was cuddled in a comfortable position with his/her profile perfectly displayed.

“Aww…it’s so cute,” I whispered happily.

“It is cute,” my OB agreed.

“This from a doctor who’s seen a 1,000 babies,” I joked.

His next words cracked me up.

“Believe me. They’re not all cute.”

As I studied my child’s profile on the screen, I couldn’t help but turn the negative statements I’d heard earlier around in my head.

“If you think your baby’s cute now, just wait until…”

The Real Miracle

“I’m pregnant.”

Every time I speak those words, the clouds part, trumpets sound, and the ground trembles beneath my feet.

My pregnancy is a miracle. It’s as much a miracle to me as Jesus turning the water into wine, feeding the 5,000, and hushing the storm with a word. It’s real, tangible, and solid within me - this living testimony to God’s miracle-working power.

I find myself wanting – needing, even – to share this with just about everybody I meet. When I tell people I’m pregnant, I always say we have been “trying” for eight years. I always use the world “miracle” and say “this baby is from the Lord.”

I am most often in a state of inexpressible joy, although, as you know me, I tend to try to express it anyway.

Last week, our Pastor preached on the healing of the paralytic in Matthew 9. At one point, he spoke of how, after many obstacles had been overcome, the paralytic was finally placed in front of Jesus.

There is no mention of what, if anything, the paralytic said, but Pastor suggested the paralytic might have stood silent and ashamed, being in front of pure holiness, seeing his own sinfulness reflected back to him.

And yet…Jesus comforted him and called him, “My child.” Before Jesus healed him, He did something far greater. He did something only He could do. He forgave the man his sins. Then, He healed the man, and the man walked home that night.

I imagine, at first, the man was overjoyed his physical ability that had been restored. We are, after all, only human and tend to cling to the real, the tangible, the touchable when it comes to what we appreciate.

I don’t know when it fully hit him that he had been forgiven his sins. Maybe it was right away.

Or maybe, like me, it took a while to realize that, while God had given a gift (healing to the paralytic, fertility to me), His greatest gift – the forgiveness of sins – is the one taken for granted.

I have been jumping and shouting for joy over the developing child within me. I have been attributing this miracle to God upon every opportunity. Yet, I stand convicted, because God has given me a more miraculous gift.

He has forgiven my sins! In those words there is a far greater reason for jumping and shouting and sharing with everyone I know. I have been saved!

One day the paralytic and I will stand together in glory - our miracles merely a foot note in history - as we give glory to Him who can and does give the greatest gift – the forgiveness of sin.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

My Other Family

Except for the four years I spent going to college in Chicago, I’ve lived my whole life in the Rockford area.

I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by my mother’s amazing family, the Rehfeldt’s. Grandma Rehfeldt had 12 children and many of them stayed in the Rockford area, so my network of aunts, uncles, cousins, and second-cousins is vast. I love my family. They are unique and precious, and we share an amazing bond clearly bestowed from God.

Unfortunately, in the course of my life, I have not had the chance to spend much time with my father’s family, the Trotter’s. We visited them only one time I remember. I was a little girl the first time, and even though we have wonderful photos, I don’t remember a thing.
The second time, I was a little older, and I remember romping with my cousin Will, playing with Aunt Susie’s cats (it was there we first discovered I was allergic to cats!), and falling in love with Virginia!

My Uncle Jimmy (Dad’s only living brother) traveled to Rockford for Dad’s funeral, and it was then I had the chance to spend time with him as an adult. To my utter delight, I found pockets of my Dad’s personality in my uncle and felt the devastating loss a little bit less.

Uncle Jimmy came back to Rockford a year later, at my request, to walk me down the aisle at my wedding. It was vitally important for me to have part of my Dad there, and Uncle Jimmy happily fulfilled my dream.

Over the past few years, thanks to modern technology, I’ve been able to reconnect with Uncle Jimmy and his family. We both have blogs now, and I’ve been fortunate to keep up with my “other” just-as-special family as my cousins get married and continue to have more and more adorable children.

I know I don’t mention the Trotter’s on my blog as much as I do the Rehfeldt’s, but I want to say that the Trotter blood runs through my veins as strong as anything else. I am eternally grateful for my father, my uncle, his family, and even the grandparents I never met.

God has been so good to me, giving me not one, but two wonderful families!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Fainting Queen

Oh my, I feel faint! (Imagine me in a sweeping southern abode with my hand dramatically pressed to my forehead.)

Apparently, dizziness is WAY common during pregnancy, but since I have high blood pressure (anyway), I dropped like a rock today. There I was - one minute lifting Hannah up so Brett could brush her, and next I’m thrusting Hannah into his arms and lying prostrate on the laundry room floor.

Of course, I freaked out thinking it was this big deal having to do with my stupid HBP, but three pregnancy books and a Google search helped me relax. Apparently, I’m not supposed to just “spring” out of bed, or from sitting to standing, or lift heavy objects (Hannah, by the by, is a lead weight with fur.).

I think it actually scared Brett more than it did me (and not just because he had a plump, squirming, rabbit in his arms). He was very sweet, helping me to get to bed where (kind of scary) it took me almost an hour to feel like getting up again…which I did slowly.

I know I’m being a bit of a hypochondriac, but I’m a Soderstrom now, and it’s their family tradition. Just to be sure, I’m checking in with my OB on Monday. This stupid HBP just complicates everything.

Has anyone else fainted or felt dizzy during pregnancy, first trimester? Advice? Ideas?

Oh, and I have to share a cute comment I overhead at the Soderstrom Christmas Party.

My youngest nephew, Joshy, is ten. After Brett and I announced our big news, Joshy’s mom, my sister-in-law Dawn, explained how our baby will be Joshy’s cousin.

“No, Mom.” Joshy protested. “It’ll be our second cousin.”

As Dawn tried to explain how Brett was “Dad’s” brother, so the new addition would be Joshy’s first cousin, Joshy explained, “No way, Mom. It’ll be a BABY and WAY too young to be our first cousin!”

Isn’t that cute?!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Ducks & Doubts

Wow. I am speechless.

Okay, okay, not really, since we all know that’s simply not possible with the word fountain that is your friend Ann-Marie. But I am so swamped, so overwhelmed with the amount of support and kindness that is pouring in from all sources.

Our long, arduous struggle with infertility seems to have resonated with so many people, and here I was just complaining out loud!

Brett and I just want to thank everyone for your kindness, comments, and prayer. We have appreciated you as you wept with us, and now as you rejoice with us!

I have some strange odds and ends in this post.

First, a miracle that has been in the works for SIX years! My friend (and co-worker at the time) Jill had a baby just a few years after I started working at Girl Scouts. After her pregnancy, she gave me some of her maternity clothes – three casual shirts, two button-down blouses, black sweatpants, khaki pants, and a pair of maternity jeans.

At the time, Jill and I were roughly the same size. The clothes were 1X. Lately, I’ve been wearing 2X clothes, and even though I’d hung out to those maternity clothes for SIX years, I had my doubts that they’d fit. The other day I dug them out from storage in our basement and reluctantly tried the jeans on, and…they’ll fit! There was plenty of room in the legs, although of course, I can’t fill out the front panel yet!

It was a true answer to prayer. Brett and I are very tight financially right now, and the thought of having to drop more money on more clothes made me anxious. Now, at least, I have a pair of jeans! When I get a bit braver, I plan to try on the rest of the clothes.

So, my first “official” request is for maternity clothes donations! If you have any 1-2X maternity clothes that I might borrow, I would be most appreciative! I know it’s a weird size, but it’s what I am, and frankly it’ll be nice to have a reason to be fat(ter).

I went out to dinner with some friends recently when I remarked I just felt so fat (not due to the baby or anything yet, just me). One of my friends said, “Just tell people you’re pregnant. They don’t need to know how far along you are. Just say it’ll be any time now!” I laughed and laughed!

In answer to Wendy’s question, I’ve always thought it would be fun to decorate with ducks! Yellow ducks. It seems so cheerful!

The only exception would be if we know for sure (1% chance) that we were having a girl – and then maybe bunnies. In all the baby decorations we see, bunnies seems to be mostly female-oriented, while ducks are cheerily unisex. And I would hate to give a little boy a complex, you know? We’d want to wait a few years before screwing up the kid on purpose.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, as usual. Right now, if the doctor’s guesstimate is right, on Monday, I’ll be at 10 weeks. That’s not very far, so I need to slow down, I know. So many things can happen, and we’re trying very hard to be obedient to God’s will in our lives. We pray that His will includes a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby, but we are also (as our Pastor always says) trying to hold it all with open hands.

The pregnancy books list all manner of things that can go wrong. I find myself remembering Mom’s physically and emotionally painful miscarriage. My little brother or sister currently resides in heaven, but I worry about my “family history.” The list of worries goes on and on.

But I take comfort in two things. First, something my friend Alice said when I expressed my fears to her.

“Ann-Marie,” she said, as calm as the sea. “Welcome to motherhood. It’s non-stop worry all the time. You’ll worry about the pregnancy. You’ll worry about the delivery. After the baby is born, you’ll worry about SIDS. When they’re in pre-school, you’ll worry about child predators. When they’re in college, you’ll still be worrying. It’s just part of your job from now on.”

I laughed, in relief, her calm assurance reminding me I am not the only person who has ever been pregnant. Pregnancy problems and worries are universal.

The greatest assurance occurred to me only this past week. As I was in bed, rubbing my stomach anxiously, I suddenly felt the peace of God. It was not a peace that said nothing would go wrong, or that everything would be perfect, but it was a peace that clicked in my soul.

This child is not mine. We “tried” to get pregnant for eight years and never could. It was only when God’s timing was right that we were able to conceive. We obviously couldn’t “will” our child into existence, no matter how hard we wanted to. So, the child dwelling inside me is not there because I want it to be (although I do) but because God wants it to be there.

And God takes care of His own, and if He wants it to be there (for as long as He wants it to be there) who am I to worry? If God be for my baby, who can be against it?

So, my prayer continues to be: “Dear Lord, I ask as your child that You would grant me a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. I ask that these things would bring honor and glory to You, and if there is another way for You to bring honor and glory to Yourself, I pray Your will be done. Guide me, direct me, and comfort me in Your perfect plan.”

It’s a tough prayer for many reasons, since the last thing I want is to lose this precious cargo, but I know I need to be submissive to God’s will, no matter what it is. It’s a hard thing to pray this sincerely and without fear, so I would ask you pray for me, too. For all three of us, that God would grant us our desire (ye have not, because ye ask not) but that it would also bring honor and glory to God as the end result.

The next big milestone is our ultrasound on January 8 to determine a due date. Please pray for us!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Season of Miracles

It’s still not real. I mean, it can’t be. Right?

Early December found me exhausted. I was falling asleep everywhere.

I fell asleep at work. I fell behind on vital projects and was called on the carpet in my boss’ office with no excuse for myself. When she tried to figure out what was wrong, I said something very unkind and promptly burst into tears. She sent me back out with tissues, a pat on the back, and a confused look in her eyes.

I would get home in a daze and couldn’t seem to summon the strength to keep up with laundry and cleaning. Several nights I fell into a dead sleep as early as 6:30 p.m. and didn’t wake until the following morning.

I was convinced it was my new higher-dose, time-release blood pressure medicine. The bottle mentioned drowsiness was a condition of the meds. I went to see my doctor complaining about the exhaustion and my sudden aversion to foods. She said drowsiness she could attribute to the meds, but the food aversion didn’t connect with any conditions she could think of.

It has been two months or so since my last cycle, so I decided I would try to fill my nasty, period-inducing medication prescription and see if that would help me feel any more normal. The doctors have always recommended taking a pregnancy test before filling that particular prescription, just “in case.”

So I went to Wal-Mart and purchased my 200th pregnancy test and took it at 4:00 a.m. the next morning. Normally, I put the stick down and come back in the three minutes. This time, I just stood there tapping my foot and waiting.

To my absolute surprise, for the first time ever, I saw not one but TWO pink lines. I just stared. It couldn’t be, could it? I’d taken the test wrong (not many ways to screw that up, but still!) or I was the 0.01% that wasn’t accurate.

In a daze, I bundled the test in Ziploc bag and stuffed it in my purse.

At work, I called a trusted co-worker into my office and shut the door. “I’m going to show you something and I need you to tell me exactly what you see,” I said, furtively. I was afraid to believe my own eyes.

I flipped the bag dramatically out of my bag and shoved it towards her. She studied it just for a second before saying, “Two pink lines.” Her eyes drifted to the guide on the left, and she let loose with a whoop and a common three word expression that includes the Lord’s name.

I shushed her quickly and swore her to secrecy. She hugged me tightly and with tears shining in her eyes before retreating back to her desk.

In full-blown disbelief mode, I called my gynecologist and explained the positive test. “I don’t believe it,” I told the nurse.

Since my gynecologist and his two nurses are well aware of our long struggle, she didn’t even pause. “Come on in, and we’ll do a blood test,” she instructed.

So, on my lunch hour, I went to the clinic and got my blood test. Later, as I drove home over an icy bridge, my cell phone rang. It was the nurse. She told me congratulations and that I was definitely pregnant. I made her repeat it about ten times before I let her hang up.

The rest of the drive home was surreal. The nurse called back to set an appointment for a viability ultrasound. As soon as she said the word “viable,” I imagined all the things that could go wrong. I imagined an ectopic or tubal pregnancy or a blighted ovum or any number of pregnancy-positive-testing-gone-wrong scenario.

I began to pray as I have never prayed before. Besides my dear co-worker, I told my friends Alice and Carleen. They each rejoiced with me, promised to keep the secret, and gave me books on pregnancy. Carleen even helped me brainstorm ways to tell Brett.

A long time ago, in 2003, I thought I was pregnant. I went out and bought the whitest, softest, most life-like stuffed bunny I’d ever seen. After my test (and subsequent tests) turned up negative, I hung on to that rabbit with the promise that if God gave us a child, the bunny would be his or her first toy.

So, that night, I placed the bunny along with a bib that said, “I love Daddy” on Brett’s pillow. When he got home at 11:30 p.m. and ran up the stairs to talk to me, he found the treasures on his pillow.

“Are you pregnant?” He woke me up to ask.

“Yes,” I said nervously. “I know it’s bad timing financially.”

“Are you kidding me?” He climbed into bed with me and wrapped me in a giant bear hug. “This is the best news ever!”

It was the reaction I had been hoping for, and it took a huge burden off my shoulders.

On December 12, we went for the viability ultrasound. We had prayed before the appointment and were prepared to hear that the pregnancy was not viable. In fact, we were so prepared, that when the nurse told us she saw “it,” we both shouted, “Where is it?!”

She gave us a knowing smile and put her hand on mine. “It’s in the right place.”

Relief and a hundred joys flooded through me as I looked at that tiny little curve and listened to the hushed heartbeat on the screen. Brett smiled at me, and the endless thought stream through my head was thank you Jesus thank you.

For a long time, I’d dreamed about announcing my pregnancy at the Rehfeldt Christmas Eve party. But, since infertility, I thought my chances of getting pregnant were so slim, I’d cast aside that dream and would have been happy with ANY time!

Now, the Lord was not only giving us a baby, He was giving me my exact dream of telling Mom.

It just about killed both of us not to tell anyone. Well, Brett broke down and did tell our Pastor, and I told my friend Angie over our pre-Christmas movie night. But we resisted telling any family.

It was more than worth it on Christmas Eve when “Santa” handed Mom a package. She unwrapped it, gave a look of disbelief at the ultrasound photo, and searched the crowd for me. As soon as she had me in her sights, she looked at me questioningly, and I enthusiastically nodded my head. A moment later, she was yelling, “I’m going to be a grandma,” and running around with her hands in the air like a contestant on The Price is Right.

We pulled it off! The room erupted into pandemonium as family members, all familiar with our struggle, converged on us with hugs, laughs, and many tears of joy. It was a wonderful, memorable night that will live forever in my memory. Thanks be to the Lord for this very real, specific-to-me Christmas gift!
We told Brett’s dad the next day, Christmas, with a tiny red onesie that said, “Who needs Santa when I’ve got grandparents?” His family couldn’t have been more thrilled. His dad said he was hanging the onesie in his front window by way of proud announcement!

There are so many more details to this story, and I’m sure I’ll be boring you with them before long. I just wanted to post this unflowery update to all my friends who may not have heard through the grapevine – and by that I mean – my mother.

God has proven to me, once again, that this is His season of miracles!