Gestational Trophoblastic Disease

Here’s a post about GTD that I wrote for Courageous Mothers Blog! ❤

Courageous Mothers Community

GTD. What’s that, you wonder? When you’re preparing for or expecting a baby, your mind is full of acronyms like BBT (Basal Body Temperature), AF (Aunt Flo), DPO (Days Past Ovulation), BFP (Big Fat Positive), FTM (First Time Mom), PG (Pregnant), and OBGYN. If you were to Google the acronym “GTD”, it’s likely that the first result is a link to the American Cancer Society’s website. Strange, isn’t it? Usually when a person thinks about pregnancy, it doesn’t include the word cancer.

Gestational Trophoblastic Disease is a group of rare tumors that form as a result of a pregnancy. While the tumors are usually noncancerous, some forms of GTD can become malignant and spread to other parts of a woman’s body. That’s right, a woman who was hoping to grow a precious baby inside her could end up having a tumor grow instead.

There are two main groups of GTD – hydatidiform moles (molar pregnancies)…

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patience

“Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable.” ― L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

It’s said there are 5 stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I’ve questioned this theory recently, because no matter how much time passes, a parent can never fully accept that their baby is gone.

Denial is what makes your experience feel like a nightmare. You wonder if it really happened, or did you just imagine it? Of course this didn’t happen to you, it only happens to other people. When you lose a baby, it’s easy to feel denial because there’s a lack of physical evidence that they ever existed. Often times there are no photos, no clothing or toys to serve as sweet reminders, and there are no memories to reflect on. How you you grieve someone you had to say goodbye to before you ever had the chance to say hello?

Anger is what makes the experience begin to feel real. You feel angry that your baby is gone and that a part of your heart and soul is gone, too. You feel angry that there is nothing that could have been done to change the outcome. Angry that you never saw this coming. Angry that your body betrayed you and your baby. Angry that no one can make you feel better. Angry that you were robbed of memories with your child.

Bargaining is your desperate and failed attempt to regain control of the situation. Wishing that you could trade in your life so that your baby would have one. I begged God to undo the nightmare. I said “I want my baby back” so many times I sounded like a Chili’s commercial.

Depression becomes a constant. Your new normal. It’s what makes you feel impossibly empty. Depression makes you dread the night, and dread the dawn. I cried every night when I got into bed because I wasn’t ready for the day to end and for all my thoughts to catch up with me. I woke up in the middle of the night crying and reaching for my belly. I woke up the next morning crying because I wasn’t ready for the start of another day, knowing that a new day took me further and further from the day when my baby was growing inside me.

I’m starting to think that the possible 5th stage of grief is patience. You won’t ever fully accept the reality that your baby is gone because it’s too heartbreaking, but you will learn what patience means. Patience is learning that the only thing that can make you feel better is time. It’s learning that you are not in control and that holding anger in your heart serves no purpose. Patience is learning that you can overcome the most unimaginable heartache one day at a time.

xoxo, Mommy

To my angel baby. Thank you for making me a mama! 💕

Wicked (Awesome) Stepmom!

Stepmomming is so hard, but so rewarding. It’s like having all the perks of being an aunt and all the complications of parenting…but with your hands tied behind your back. I love them like I would love my own children but feel like I’ve had to maintain this invisible boundary that says I’m not their parent. Heavy on the STEP, light on the MOM. You feel awkward at events where people assume you’re the mom. When someone in public compliments the kids, do you say “thanks!” and move on or do you go into an explanation that you’re not actually their mother but you’ll pass on the compliment? When you meet new people, you don’t want to jump into the “I’m actually their stepmom” conversation right away, but you also don’t want to make the kids uncomfortable or feel like an imposter. It’s a delicate balance of wanting to be an involved stepmom (sans the wart on the nose), and also wanting to avoid looking like the creepy nanny in the movie “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.”

I’m so fortunate to have a wonderful husband who supports my relationship with his kids in whatever manner the kids and I find comfortable. There is so much joy in sharing a life with them. Their laughter, creativity, and kindness leave me in awe on a weekly basis. I love watching them succeed at school and activities. We share our own traditions, like making fairy gardens each spring. They absolutely have changed my heart for the better. I’m a better person because I know and love them, and I think I’ll be an even better mother because of them.

Then there’s the heartache that comes with it. This week I reminded my stepson that it was Mother’s Day this weekend and asked if he’d made his mom a card or present at school. He looked at me and said he didn’t know it was this week. Then with a puzzled look asked “wait, does Mother’s Day include you?” My heart soared just knowing he considered me at all, but I also never want him to feel uncomfortable or take away from his mom. I told him “it doesn’t have to include me, but that is your decision to make.”

I can say with certainty that I’ve been a wicked awesome stepmom to these kids – most days anyway! But I can also say, I’ve had a really hard time building a relationship with their mom. Meeting each other in the beginning was so awkward…for both of us I’m sure. We share kids now and at some point both loved and married the same man. I suppose it can either give you a common ground to stand on, or it can become a breeding ground for insecurity, jealousy, and negativity. In this case, I’m sad to say it created the latter in me.

When I picked up the kids from school yesterday, my stepson handed me his backpack and his Mother’s Day gifts for his mom as he ran to the car. I looked down at his carefully drawn hearts and inscription “Mommy+Me=Love” and it softened my heart. For years, there’s been so much tension between his mom and me. Like it’s somehow become some sort of competition between us…either her or me. But why haven’t I considered our mutual love for these kids to be common ground? Then the answer hit me as I looked back down at that card. She has what I long for most which caused jealousy to build up in my heart. Beautiful children with the man I love. Handwritten Mother’s Day cards. A love for her kids and from her kids that knows no limits.

All the bad blood and toxic feelings flooded out of my pores. When I saw her later at a baseball game, I prayed that God would soften my heart and give me a way to repair all the damage and hurt between us. And without me even realizing what I was saying, I asked if she wanted to join us for dinner after the game.

We all enjoyed a pizza dinner on a patio and got to enjoy a beautiful night with our wonderful kids. Later, we exchanged some text messages apologizing for hard feelings and how events, words, and misunderstandings created a huge complicated knot we didn’t know how to unravel. And just like that, we’ve started working on unraveling it together. The best gift that I never expected to receive has turned my first and worst Mother’s Day into a pretty awesome one. Wicked awesome.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:31-32

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Blindsighted by Guilt

Since I was little, I have always loved being around dogs. Growing up, if you asked what I wanted to be, my answer would likely either be veterinarian or She-Ra Princess of Power. My parents were always concerned I’d end up with a house full of animals if I were a vet, which ended up being the case regardless of my profession. My husband laughs that I’ve introduced him to friends and coworkers by telling him their dog’s name before their own. In my opinion, a house is not a home without a dog.

We had 3 dogs throughout my childhood. Since college, I’ve adopted 6 rescue dogs. Just like children, they all have different personalities, issues, health problems, and strengths. Dash, a black and tan dachshund, is my loyal protector. He had a rough start to life and has many fears and triggers but in ways he knows me better than almost any person in my life. He’s been by my side when I was sick or sad and never fails to make me feel better. He’s got more nicknames than I can count, one for every one of his personalities.

Dori, another black and tan dachshund, is beautiful. Far and away the prettiest dachshund I’ve ever seen. I should have named her Scarlett O’Hara because she has that much sass and spunk. She has epilepsy, gave birth to stillborn puppies and required surgery to remove the puppies she miscarried but couldn’t deliver, she was heart worm positive, and at some point (perhaps during birthing?) had her pelvis broken in 5 places. She’s a MESS but hilarious at the same time. Anxious, annoying, affectionate, unapologetic and unafraid. She absolutely loves my Dad more than anyone.

BatBat (Stellaluna) is a small 5 pound chihuahua that knows no fear. She kicks grass, cuddles/smothers you with love, and guards the yard like a Rottweiler. She gives high fives and loves when you sing to her. Even though she has 4 legs, she runs on 3. Won’t get out of bed in the morning until you sing to her and rub her belly.

Zoe, a dachshund/chihuahua mix, is my love bug. She’s probably the easiest going dog I’ve ever had. She’s happy in all situations – loves to cuddle, play, lick, run, sleep. She follows me pretty much everywhere. Wouldn’t hurt a fly unless it got between her and her food bowl. Her favorite thing in the world is to go to our family farm, run around through the grass and hay, and ride a four wheeler with me. She used to love chasing squirrels in the back yard, but her vision has been getting bad over the last year or two.

Last week, we learned that Zoe has a condition called SARDS (Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome) which has caused vision loss. That vision loss resulted in her getting under my feet two weeks ago when I was moving laundry, and I accidentally stepped on her foot and she yelped. The next day she was limping and in pain. She got better with some rest but was in pain again a few days later. I took her to the emergency hospital last Tuesday, then to the vet again on Thursday. We decided to do a CAT (shouldn’t it be DOG??) scan to check for injuries and to rule out a tumor causing her vision problems. The scans showed no tumor – hallelujah! But it did show a small disc injury which is likely causing the nerve pain in her front leg.

It’s really difficult to not place blame on yourself when bad things happen. I blame myself for not knowing Zoe’s eyesight had gotten so bad as a result of SARDS. For accidentally stepping on her paw and causing her pain. For not knowing when or how she injured her back. I blame myself not knowing something was wrong during my pregnancy. For having a defective egg that was possibly the cause of the molar pregnancy. Honestly, I’m just having a tough time being inside my head lately. I find myself submerged in podcasts, books, and TV shows trying to escape the emotional pain and negative voices in my head. I’m realizing that you can’t escape or hide from the grief when you self-blame.

There are times when we think the waves of guilt and grief may drown us. We struggle to keep our heads above water and over time we get stronger. Each experience gives us practice, strength, and knowledge so that when the next wave comes crashing down on us, we can successfully swim against the waves of guilt and grief without being pulled under.

Maybe I need to learn some life lessons from my precious dogs. Become fiercely loyal like Dash, unafraid and unapologetic like Dori, loving and happy like Zoe despite having to navigate through darkness, and learn how to set emotional boundaries around what is ours and what is not ours like BatBat. The grief, pain, and memories are mine, but the blame is not. Yesterday, I talked about our baby for the first time without breaking down in tears and it made me realize I’m not drowning anymore.

I know now that we never get over our losses; we absorb them, and they carve us into different, often kinder creatures.

Today there’s a soft, kind voice echoing inside my mind saying “Beloved, do not make war against your own heart. Love yourself fully – even with your wounds, even with your broken heart.”

Nesting

Mother’s Day. The dread set in about a month ago, thinking about the Sunday when my *mostly* flat and empty belly will serve as a reminder of the pain I’ve been through. A reminder I’ll never hear my baby call me “Mommy.” Or smell it’s sweet newborn smell. There won’t be Mother’s Day gifts made of my sweet angel’s footprints or hand prints. It’s an ache so deep, I swear it’s left a scar on my heart and soul.

Today, a woman in my support group posted a sweet message about International Bereaved Mother’s Day which is observed the Sunday before Mother’s Day in the United States. How did I never know this day existed?

Honestly, I’m thankful for this day. I’m thankful for a day when I can think about and talk about my baby that is no longer with me. That child is still my child, and they forever changed my heart. That baby made me a mom. Even if I never got to see its face, kiss its soft cheeks, or count its toes…I am still a mom in my heart and I long for the day when I get to see my child’s face.

It’s been a wonderful day, better than I could have imagined my first Mother’s Day! My husband and I went to a spin class this morning. We (finally) booked our honeymoon! We spent the rest of the day listening to music as we cleaned up around the house and did some much needed yard work. As I was working in our flower bed, I peeked inside our birdhouse. We had a family of birds nesting there the first summer we bought our home, but a few weeks ago, I decided to clean out what remained of their nest in hopes that another family would move in this spring. Sure enough, a new bird has made a nest in that birdhouse.

I’ve been so scared thinking about trying to have another baby. I’m worried it might turn out in another molar pregnancy. Or possibly a chemical pregnancy or blighted ovum, both of which seem common after a molar pregnancy. I’m absolutely terrified to feel that pain all over again. How do women find the strength and hope to try again after they’ve been devastated? I’m learning you don’t ever forget that loss. You learn that a new baby doesn’t replace the baby you lost. You’ve learned that you can survive the worst heartbreak imaginable and not completely give up hope. I guess what I really need to do is clean out that nest of worry that’s been built in my mind and make room for something new.

If you are a bereaved mother, I’m sending you love. If you know a bereaved mother, give her a hug today. She matters, and the one(s) she lost matters.

“On Mother’s Day I can thank of no mother more deserving than a Mother who had to give one back.” – Erma Bombeck

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Green

IMG_0308My favorite color has always been green. One day when I was a kid, my mom saw me sitting on the curb. She came outside to ask me what I was doing and noticed a lizard warming itself on the sidewalk next to me. It was surrounded by a rainbow of M&M’s. I’d tried feeding the lizard all the different colors and I couldn’t believe he wasn’t interested in the candy. “He doesn’t even like the green ones!” I said, convinced green tasted better than the other colors.

My love for the color was a well known fact by the time I got to kindergarten. My favorite outfit was an all green dress. I had a green bedspread, a green radio, and Patio Green was my favorite Rainbow Brite character. During a spring road trip to visit my grandparents in the hill country, my mom questioned why green was my favorite color. I was confident in my answer – “because it’s God’s favorite color!” She asked me how I knew that and I replied “just look around, everything is green!”

This week I traveled to Colorado for work and despite some cold weather over the weekend, spring has started to turn the landscape green. Last night, I had some time to explore and I found myself driving toward the Rocky Mountains drawn by their majestic peaks reaching up to the clouds. The sun peeked through the thick clouds and small beams of light stretched down onto the mountains and valleys below. As I was driving, I wished for a good place to pull over so I could take in the view. Within seconds, I drove past a sign indicating a scenic overlook at the very next exit. I pulled my rental car into the parking area and walked over to a park bench. It was a breathtaking view and I could feel my heart start to beat harder in my chest as tears filled my eyes. Have you ever had moments like that? When you’re overwhelmed with the beauty of the world we live in? It makes you feel so connected with the earth and so small at the same time. I reached for my phone to snap a picture, wishing I had brought a better camera with me to better capture the moment that filled me with so much emotion. In that moment, I noticed a man to my right setting up his camera on a tripod. I asked him if he’d be willing to share one of his photos with me. He said he’d be happy to email me one and I explained how I had stumbled upon this overlook. He told me that he’d found that location by using an app called “The Photographer’s Ephemeris” which shows you on a Google map the locations that the sun and moon will rise and set with respective times. It’s amazing to me that the path of the sun and moon drew this photographer to the exact location I was emotionally drawn to.

God doesn’t make mistakes. Everything we go through is a part of His big plan. Of course, we have the ability to make our own decisions, but they become part of a bigger picture. One of my favorite movies, Serendipity, describes this far more eloquently than I ever could with these words “…life is not merely a series of meaningless accidents or coincidences…but rather, it’s a tapestry of events that culminate in an exquisite, sublime plan.” We are all God’s masterpieces. Every person we meet and every experience we have shapes us into the person we were destined to be. Just as water dug the depths of the Grand Canyon, life carves us into the masterpiece of God.

My little angel would have been born in August of this year. For those of you who don’t know, the birthstone for the month of August is peridot which is a light green stone. Now I wear a small peridot charm on a necklace every day to remind me that God didn’t make a mistake. He put that baby in my life for a reason and he’s shaping me into a person I wouldn’t have become without having this pregnancy and loss. A loss so painful at times, it takes my breath away and tears instantly form in my eyes. But just like the green of spring, God brings the promise of new beginnings.

“My friends, consider yourselves fortunate when all kinds of trials come your way, for you know that when your faith succeeds in facing such trials, the result is the ability to endure. Make sure that your endurance carries you all the way without failing, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 11:19

Dream Weaver

Almost 3 years ago, a dear friend of mine introduced me to the man I now call my husband. I’d been single or dating for several years, and people had told me that I was being too picky. Perhaps that was the case, but I didn’t see a point in settling for anything less than butterflies. I was actually happy living alone. I had a good job, wonderful friends and family, a beautiful house, and 4 sometimes well behaved rescue dogs. Looking back now, it’s hard to remember what my life was like before I met Bill. There’s been enough love, laughter, and happiness to fill up decades of life – which somehow makes the memories of my life before seem far away. Enough love to make 3 years seem like 30 years in the best possible way.

Along with finding this kind, handsome, funny man, I also gained 3 wonderful stepchildren. Before Bill I wasn’t sure that I wanted children of my own. I was happy being “Aunt Teri” and spoiling my nieces and nephew. Becoming a stepmom seemed like a promotion from aunt. Three more children to love, laugh with, and learn from – with a bonus of them living in my home half of the time. Just like their dad, these kids changed me for the better. They made me want to create the best possible life for them. I found myself more excited to shop for clothes for them than myself. Getting manicures and talking girl talk with my oldest stepdaughter. Planting fairy gardens and falling into a world of make believe with my youngest stepdaughter. Helping my stepson learn how to ride his bike and practice baseball and soccer in the back yard. Watching how they light up my husband’s eyes with love. And before I knew it, a desire began to burn inside me. I want to be “Mom.”

Bill proposed to me in our backyard in August of 2015. He said he wanted to propose there because that’s where we would make a lifetime of memories together. There would be good times and happy memories made in our home, but we’d also face hard times and sadness there together. We got married a year ago today, and our wedding day was one of the happiest days of my life. I walked down the aisle to Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver” in a beautiful lace gown as the man of my dreams laughed at my surprise song choice, teared up, and shot finger guns at me. We shared our first dance to “Wedding Bell Blues” and enjoyed celebrating our love and marriage with friends and family. We’ve had so much happen in our first year together as husband and wife, and the words that he said during his proposal ring more true to me now than they did that day. We’ve had lots of happy memories, and unfortunately already faced grief, sadness, and loss. He’s given me a precious baby and held me as we mourned our child. He’s loved me on days when I was having a hard time loving myself. He’s held me together when it felt like our world was crumbling around us. He’s pushed me to get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other. Every day he makes me want to be a better person.

Bill encourages me to learn new things and pushes me out of my comfort zone. He helps me realize what things in life are important and that time spent in a bad mood is time wasted. He believes the best in people even when they don’t deserve it. He puts his family before everything else. His daily actions are like love notes if you take the time to read them – making me a breakfast taco every morning, washing my car and filling it up with gas when he notices it’s low, fixing things around the house, helping me finish tasks so we both have more free time to enjoy together and with the kids. Things I notice and appreciate because it wasn’t too long ago that I found myself having to do it all alone.

It really does seem like he was weaved from the stuff my dreams were made of. And my goal every day is to make his day a little better because that’s what he does for me. That’s what love does…it changes you for the better.

Bill, I love you so. I always will.

Soul Cycle

CruzToday was all about stepping out of comfort zone! A couple of weeks ago, a friend asked if I wanted to try a cycle class with her. She kindly signed me up with a free class pass she’d received, and I took my first ever Soul Cycle class this morning with her and a long time friend. As I rode my bike between these two encouraging and strong women, my mind finally quieted and my body and heart got a chance to take control. Sweat and tears poured down my face and it felt so amazing to let the emotional pain go for an hour.

I’d been really nervous about taking the class and trying something new. But that nervousness grew this week when I started an audio book called “What Alice Forgot” which is about a 40 year old woman who passes out in a spin class, hits her head, and wakes up with no memory of the prior 10 years. She wakes up thinking she’s 29 and pregnant with her first child…due on August 8th. The exact same due date for Baby Z. Given that I’m likely to be the person to get injured or pass out, I went into class with my only goal being that I’d make it through the whole hour without having to be carried out by a paramedic. I MADE IT! I crushed that goal, had fun, worked hard and left wanting to sign up again soon.

Afterwards, I had lunch with my friend and we went to a local no-kill animal shelter to complete a volunteer training course and walk some of the dogs. We learned that they process around 18,000 dogs a year! There were buildings full of dogs, cats, and bunnies waiting to be fed, walked, loved, and adopted. I’ve hit my maximum number of adopted rescue dogs at home, so it felt nice to have a way to help other homeless dogs in a different capacity. I walked a dog named Cruz around the facility and was amazed at how happy and excited this dog was just to walk around and sniff. There really is nothing like a dog to remind you how to live life. To enjoy the sunshine, the grass under your feet, and a friendly person to join you for a walk.

My heart feels so grateful and full tonight! Reflecting on the different ways people have encouraged me to heal. To stand next to me and encourage me to push myself to meet a goal I never thought I’d reach. Pushing my body out of my comfort zone. Meeting dogs that haven’t given up hope on the world even when the world hasn’t been kind to them. Interacting with people who make it their job or passion to help the dogs find homes or even just a 20 minute walk in the sunshine.

The world really is full of wonderful things, and I am so happy and thankful to have people and animals in my life to open my eyes to the beauty. Life goes on and we just have to keep moving our feet.

Return to Skinny Pants

If you read the title of this post with the tune of the Enigma song “Return to Innocence” in the background – GOOD. Because I’ve had that song in my head the whole day thinking about writing this post!

Can we all agree that the changes to your body during pregnancy are amazing and weird at the same time? The first inkling that I was pregnant came on a Friday morning in November when my breasts no longer fit into my bra. As long time chairperson of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee, this was NOT NORMAL for me. I was somehow patient enough to wait a few more days to take a pregnancy test. Well, I say patient…mainly I wasn’t ready to feel disappointed at the chance the test might reveal a big fat negative. The following week I got my big fat positive. I was so excited to get the news just before Thanksgiving so I could share it with my family in person over the holiday weekend.

As the next couple of months went on, my breasts and waistline grew as fast as my excitement. One January afternoon I decided to go into Motherhood Maternity to buy some jeans because I was no longer able to wear my normal pants and it was too cold to wear dresses on a daily basis. Looking back, I remember both the sales lady and a nurse at the doctor’s office giving me strange looks for wearing maternity pants so early on in the pregnancy. Now I know that my uterus had expanded much faster than a normal pregnancy but everything I read kept feeding me that “every pregnancy is different” line. Since I was a big baby born at 9 pounds 3 ounces and currently stand 6 feet tall, I just assumed my belly would get bigger faster because I was likely to have a big, fat adorable baby.

The weirdest thing about miscarriage is having your body return to normal(ish) when you only expected to get bigger. Normally, I’d feel happy about fitting into a smaller size pant but that wasn’t the case anymore. Even as someone who previously enjoyed being small breasted, I hated trading in my recently acquired, comfy big girl bras. I had felt so beautiful and special when I was pregnant and now my body was betraying me. Reverting back to the body it used to be and trying to erase my pregnancy and excitement.

My closet has become a storage area for my 3 maternity shirts, jeans, cup size C bras, pregnancy pillow, and a small wooden box containing all of the lovely things that were intended for Baby Z. I keep all of it because I really hope I’ll be able to use them all again soon. But I am terrified of reliving this nightmare, of losing another baby, and losing myself in grief. How do you ever fully enjoy a pregnancy after a miscarriage? How do we return to innocence?

Maybe the motivation lies in the lyrics of the song stuck in my head:

Don’t be afraid to be weak
Don’t be too proud to be strong
Just look into your heart my friend
That will be the return to yourself
The return to innocence.
If you want, then start to laugh
If you must, then start to cry
Be yourself don’t hide
Just believe in destiny.
Don’t care what people say
Just follow your own way
Don’t give up and use the chance
To return to innocence.
That’s not the beginning of the end
That’s the return to yourself
The return to innocence.

 

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