Roanoke, Week 3: Finding Balance

Hello from Roanoke!

img_2193.jpg

Yep, we’re still here. Three weeks down, one more to go.

This past week had us feeling a bit more like locals. We now no longer need to use GPS to get us to the local ADA accessible playground, we have a favorite breakfast spot, Bea and I have explored the Roanoke River Greenway several times, and Ziggy is now a regular at a puppy play center. We’re finally getting into the swing of things just as we’re starting to pack our bags to leave. Continue reading

Advice for a Family New to a Pediatric Stroke Diagnosis

Originally published on October 16th on the American Heart Association Support Network blog.

1

No one expects to hear that their child has suffered a stroke. When a stroke diagnosis is given to an infant, child, or teenager, often the first thought is: “…but, wait, strokes only happen to the elderly. How can my child have had a stroke?” The first hours, days, and even months following that diagnosis can be overwhelming, confusing, and downright scary.

I should know. My son had three massive strokes at birth.

I’m now four years into my journey of parenting a perinatal stroke survivor. After a year of living in a pretty dark state of mind, I dusted myself off, dove into researching how to best care for my son, and have transformed myself into a confident caregiver of a child with special needs.

As part of my transformation, I’ve found myself helping other parents through this uncertain journey. When I’m approached by a family new to a pediatric stroke diagnosis, here’s what I tell them. Continue reading

Verbal Or Non-Verbal, That Is The Question

Is your child verbal?

How would you answer this question when you can understand the handful of words that your “non-verbal” child has and know that he can answer yes and no questions with 95% accuracy? Man, oh man, I struggle with this.

Sol’s language center was completely wiped out by the three strokes he had at birth. We’ve always firmly believed that he is not cognitively delayed and that he understood everything we said to him, even though his expressive speech was severely delayed. He started to have words after we did our first round of hyperbaric oxygen therapy and his expressive speech has exploded since we did stem cell therapy back in March. To date, we figure that he has somewhere between 20 – 30 words, has just started stringing 2 words together, and, like Bea, will speak in his own language. (Sometimes I think Bea understands him as I will frequently find the two of them conversing back and forth.) Continue reading

NAPA is Magical

On Day 1 of our 3 week intensive at the NAPA Center, which stands for Neurological and Physical Abilitation and is located in Los Angeles (and Sydney and soon-to-be Boston) and NOT Napa Valley, I proudly posted a photo on Instagram of Solly kicking butt and standing (with assistance) during the first hour of his intensive therapy. A Mama of another CP kiddo quickly posted: “NAPA is magical! I hope you have a great experience.”

I smiled as I read her comment, thinking to myself – yeah, yeah, I’m sure it’s great, but we’ve done intensive therapy before and I’m pretty sure I know how everything will go.

Nope. I was wrong. That Mama was right. NAPA is the most magical and amazing place on Earth. Solly made the most gains I’ve ever seen him make in a short time period.

Continue reading

Sweet Bea

For some time, I’ve wanted to write something about having a baby after a having perinatal stroke survivor, but even nine months after having Solly’s little sister, I am still struggling to wrap my mind around the experience and put it into words. Deciding to try and get pregnant after having Solly was just one hurdle: the nine months that followed was a long stretch of managing self-blame, worry, and anxiety while trying to relax and “enjoy” the pregnancy. Oh, and on top of that, I was still taking Solomon to endless appointments, researching treatments for him, and planning alternative therapies for the year.

After Solly was born, I couldn’t imagine having another child. Even though I knew that nothing I did caused his strokes, I couldn’t help but blame myself for what happened to him at birth. My body was supposed to keep him safe, but instead it let something awful happen to him. How the heck could I risk this happening again?

But, as Solly began to grow and thrive, Mike and I knew that we wanted to add more love to our family and we decided to rely on faith and medicine to try and give him a sibling as quickly as possible. After interviewing several OB/GYNs (mad love to my sister for connecting us with the right one) and having extensive tests run which found that I have multiple clotting disorders, we were on our way to baby number two in a high-risk pregnancy. I was on extra plant-based folate, a daily baby aspirin, and a daily shot of Lovenox, all steps to reverse any potential clots. At first, we saw the doctor every four weeks, then after 20 weeks, it was every two weeks, and then at 33 weeks, we were seen twice a week with ultrasounds each time to make sure the baby was still growing. I had a lot of great support, especially from other Moms who’d had a baby after a stroke survivor, however at each appointment, I was convinced the doctor would find something wrong or wouldn’t be able to find a heartbeat. (I think Beatrix caught wind of my anxiety, because during an ultrasound at 14 weeks, she threw her hand above her head and gave us a thumbs up.)

For the two months leading up to Bea’s birth, I basically lived in a yoga studio, attending several prenatal yoga classes each week because it was the only time my mind could relax and I felt like I could connect with the baby growing in my belly. Aside from the month when Solly was in the NICU, it was the most anxiety-filled time of my life.

At 38 weeks along, we went in for a scheduled cesarean. I pumped myself up: I was ready to have our little girl. I was in great spirits the morning of, despite Solly having kept both Mike and I up most of the night before. I was still in great spirits as we registered for our hospital stay and as the nurse brought us up to the pre-op area and even as the anesthesiologist walked us through possible complications (oh, you know, just possible paralyzation from the mid-back down, nbd) that could arise with the combination of my clotting disorders and the spinal block needed for the c-section.

When the nurses started to ask about Solomon, though, and our birthing experience with our first child, I lost it. I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. At that point, I realized how much I had been blaming myself for Solly’s strokes and how much I hadn’t dealt with that guilt.

For any Mama reading this who’s struggling while pregnant after having a perinatal stroke survivor, here’s some advice from someone who’s been through the experience:

  1. Find a supportive obstetrician. I cannot stress this enough. Our doctor was calm throughout our pregnancy and never made a big deal over anything, which helped keep my anxiety in check. Before we went back for the cesarean, he prayed with us, which is exactly what I needed in the moment, and he even joked with us a bit during the procedure, which is exactly what I needed in THAT moment. Do your research, interview, and go with the doctor that feels right to you. Don’t settle.
  2. Find emotional support. If you aren’t getting the support you need, find a good therapist to help you sort through your emotions. I didn’t do this until after Bea was born (because only weirdos get therapy, right?) and it’s my one regret of the pregnancy. I think I would have been able to relax and enjoy the pregnancy had I seen a therapist during it.
  3. Get advice from other Mamas who’ve been in your shoes. A Facebook group that was immensely for me was Pregnancy After Perinatal Stroke.
  4. Work it out. Yoga or any other exercise will help keep your mind in a good place.
  5. When it’s time to give birth, tell the hospital staff about your previous experience. Because I broke down when telling the nurses about our birth experience with Sol, they filled in any staff member who would work with us during our hospital stay. There was never any question if I got paranoid about something Bea was doing or not doing and every staff member approached us with lots of compassion.

Despite having nine months full of anxiety and a slight breakdown before giving birth to her, Bea’s birth ended up being easy with no complications. We couldn’t be happier with the bond that’s developing between Solly and Bea and we look forward to watching them help each other grow and thrive.