Now This Has Gotten Absurd

Here are some 2017 Freer Walters family stats, in case you’ve lost track.  100% of our family members have been to the emergency room.  75% of us have been hospitalized.  50% of us have worn hospital undies.  We have had around 30 visits with medical professionals in the last 6 weeks.  THIRTY.  These ranged from routine check-ups to cardiology screenings to ER visits to gallbladder surgery.  There have been exactly zero weeks since March where our entire family has been well.   There was a lot of barfing in January and February too, but we won’t even get into that.

Every time I think we are done, something else happens.  A fever leads to a seizure, a cough leads to kinesiology, a stomachache leads to a tiny, somewhat antiquated organ being removed.  It has felt relentless and hopelessness threatened to engulf me.  It has felt ridiculous, asking for prayer over and over, yearning for health amidst the joy and exhaustion a new baby brings.  It has felt like too much for one family to bear.

At one point, I told Jeff I couldn’t handle anymore.  I held my sick child and wanted to be home, in my own mother’s house, not struggling in some foreign country where the air quality and the winter were wrecking us.  This was before I got another cold, before Rayna got the stomach flu, (which thankfully only lasted 8 hours and Jeff handled single-handedly), before Della endured another uphill battle against the common cold.  It turns out, we can handle much more than we ever imagined.

Some of the lessons I have learned these last nine months have been hard, though simple ones.  Perhaps that makes them all the more important and valuable.  Life is not fair.  Choices can have consequences.  We are not in control.

Some of what I have learned this year fills my heart right up.  Our friends and family are with us, no matter how absurdly burdensome we may seem.  Being married to my best friend makes all the hard stuff easier because we’re in it together.  And God provides, even when I can’t be sure he hears me.  My faith has been tested, and through the power of Jesus, I am still standing.  We’re not through it yet.  But we’ll keep fighting, keep loving, keep living.  Pretty cheesy, but that’s what it’s come to.  Love!!!

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In the Winter Weeds

It’s a gray winter day here in Santiago, and I’m stealing a few minutes while both kids are napping to write.  Lately, it feels like I do everything and nothing on any given day. I am in the weeds, as they say, in every area of my life.  There is always more stuff to clean, another meal to be prepared, someone who needs a snuggle or a lesson on kindness, clothes to be washed, naps to be coaxed, yoga to be done, emails to be answered, prayers to be said, etc.  All of this and the Coloradoesque weather of Santiago (we had snow last Saturday and then a week of gorgeous sunshine-warmed days) can have me bouncing from nearly depressed to elated within the span of a few hours. I hate to admit it, but my mood often hangs on how many ounces Adela eats and how willing Rayna is to use the potty.  Most days, I spend a decent amount of time just looking at and laughing with my precious family.  But I also have to put “take a shower” on my to-do list. The indignities and wonder of stay-at-home mom life continue to impress me.

I used to think I knew stuff…I knew how long it took to eat a yogurt and get dressed.  I knew how to fit a workout, a shower, and basic self-prep in before leaving for my day.  I knew how to avoid mountains of laundry and dressers exploding from being carelessly stuffed.  It turns out, I knew nothing.  Now, with two children, the breakfast time table can run from 5 to 50 minutes, and getting Rayna dressed requires the temptation of a TV show (something I “knew” I would NEVER do as a parent).  My self-care/level of frump ranges wildly from day to day.  Let’s just say the majority of my favorite clothes are either maternity or could be mistaken for pajamas.  Last Friday, when I went to pick up Rayna from school, I had clean hair, a little bit of makeup and a regular adulting outfit on.  The jardin director, who I have seen nearly every day for the past three months, did not recognize me.  I am not exaggerating.  As I stood outside the gate waiting to be buzzed in, I had to introduce myself (for the first time since I’ve been taking my kid to the school), and the director gasped and said “Oh Jessie, I didn’t recognize you!”.  Fair enough.

And let’s just talk about laundry.  Between a still-potty-training peach and a darling little ball of spit up, my kids create a lot of laundry.  I am running a load most days, and that part goes fine.  It is the putting it away that gets me.  I find myself looking for my phone under 17 small articles of clothing piled on our bed and there are typically stray socks on the floor in the hallway.  I am so so so thankful for a dryer (a luxury in a country that likes to pretend like winter is just one weekend a year, and thus they don’t need indoor heating nor dryers).  And I’m grateful for the gifted clothes and hand-me-downs that keep my kids from going out naked.  But seriously, the laundry could be my full-time job.

I am also more tired than I have ever been in my life.  In an effort to fatten up our teeny preemie, I have had to sacrifice any dreams of consistent sleep and instead focus on getting her all the calories possible.  Most days, a cup of coffee can lift the fog and Jeff encourages me to nap rather than meal prep, generously making dinner when he gets home or insisting we order take-out (side note: my husband is a saint).  How do I spend my days?  Sometimes, I have no idea.  What I do know is that I have had almost no time for my writing, have been a far less reliable friend than I like, and am often vacillating between a place of stuck and rushed.  Stuck nursing, rushing to get Rayna from school.  Stuck in an uber, rushing to get citizenship paperwork sent.  Stuck waiting for Adela to be asleep, rushing to take a shower before she cries.

A dear friend consoled me yesterday, as I lamented how I’m failing at life, and assured me that no one with 2 small kids feels like they’re doing awesome.  Managing life in Spanish adds to the challenge and being far from family continues to be hard.  We had to cancel our July USA trip because Della wasn’t medically cleared to fly and getting out of the house is still only happening when it is a necessity.  But despite all these things, I’m encouraged by the way we’re managing the trials we’ve faced this winter.  Rayna is thriving at school, dancing and singing her way through the days and fully bilingual at this point.  Adela is growing, slowly but surely, and it is so sweet to see her begin to engage with her world.  Jeff and I support each other in every way, which makes our home feel healthy even amidst the chaos, and we’re all pretty happy just to be together.  Our little corner of Santiago feels like a well-known friend at this point, so despite the weeds, there is plenty of sunshine.  Love!

My Three Dads

As we celebrate Father’s Day, I’m so grateful for the dads in my life.  First, to the one who raised me, who always encouraged me to try to reach my potential and taught me not to fear adventure.  My dad has spent his life serving, whether that be his country while in the military or his community while “retired” and I’m so inspired by his example.  He is the person I turn to when the world doesn’t make sense (i.e. on November 9th) and he never fails to help me see that there is hope when I look at the bigger picture.  From him, I inherited a love of learning and a glass-half-full perspective, and I’m so thankful for his impact on my life.

Then, six years ago, I became the daughter-in-law of another wonderful dad.  Tim makes me glad to be a Walters, and his love for and support of our family has been a constant throughout our marriage.  His example of generosity, commitment, and get-‘er-done style shaped my husband, and I am so grateful for that.  Following Tim’s lead, Jeff is able fix practically anything, cook better than most, and finish even the most trying of tasks.  I could not imagine a better father-in-law and having him as a bonus dad is such a gift.

And then there is Jeff, the one I picked to be a dad to my kids.  I was old enough when I got married to know I needed to be sure I married a good dad-to-be, and Jeff’s silly, fun-loving side was sure to be a hit with our kids.  What I didn’t realize was how important it would be to share the work of parenting with a person who loved me well.  Because of Jeff’s encouragement and kindness, I am a better person and that helps me be a better mom.  With him as a partner, I have agreed to more adventure than I would have ever thought possible, and I am so glad to be sharing this wild ride with him.  Our girls are little, but I have no doubt that they will grow up to be enamored with their father, who loves them and their mama so well.

My heart is so full this Father’s Day, as I think of these three dads and the blessing that they are in my life.  The world needs more dads like the ones I love.  Though I don’t do a great job of being grateful for all that they do, this weekend I say ‘thank you’ to these men.  Love!

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Labor of Love

Sunday the world celebrated mothers and having recently given birth, I fully support this special day of acknowledgment.  Being a mom is a straight up labor of love.  It starts out hard and beautiful (no matter how long or what type of labor you have), and it doesn’t get easier (or is this just me?!).  Having just brought a preemie home, I can say unequivocally that the hardest thing about a new baby is having a toddler:).  But sister love is magical and I’m so happy that we’re all home together and as pretty much any mom will tell you, it is worth all the pain and exhaustion and trial.  It is a privilege and a gift and I am so thankful to be a mom, even when one of my children seems to periodically lose her entire vocabulary except for the word “NO!!!”.  As I start to settle into being the mom of two, I am in awe of mothers everywhere and I hope you all felt appreciated last weekend.

But let’s be honest.  One day of notice is not enough, not even close, when a mother gives herself every day of every year of her children’s lives.  Moms clean butts and feed finicky, messy tiny people.  Then they educate and transport and grow small curious still-messy people.  When those small people get bigger, a mother’s work is not less, just more complex and perhaps a bit more difficult.  Children grow up, but moms keep loving them beyond reason.

There is no better example of this crazy never-ending giving than my own mother. She made the decision to come to Chile for as long as we needed her, which ended up being two whole months.  She left the comfort of the USA for the chaos of life abroad; she dealt with no dishwasher, no dryer, no car, and no community for eight weeks.  She cooked and cleaned, snuggled and comforted, potty trained and prayed like a champion.  She is a mom of heroic proportions and we will never deserve all the love she poured on us during this hard season.

As she got ready to leave Chile, my mom took every single opportunity to help us, encouraging me to rest, watching Rayna so we could go on dates, and demonstrating how like her own saintly mother she really is.  I can only hope to one day love my daughters with such sacrifice and grace.  When I told her how thankful I was, her simple reply was “Anytime.” And I know she actually means that.  There is no bigger gift than the knowledge that no matter where I am in the world, my mom is ready to support me.  Even if it means learning how to use a crazy gas stove and manage the moods of a two-year-old who thinks she’s a threenager.  That is some serious love!

We survived a long season of hospitals and upheaval in large part because my mom stood with us in the mess.  It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t always pretty, but we made it through.  Adela gave us another big surprise when she was released from the hospital earlier than we’d expected and we are happily adapting to the sweetness and craziness of being a family of four.  And God’s perfect timing was evident as my mom got to be there when her new granddaughter came home (in an uber, of course;).  She got to enjoy little Adela just before she went back to NY and looking back, it’s pretty amazing how things worked out.  We are counting our many blessings and so thankful for all the prayers and love sent these last few weeks.  More baby pics to come when I’ve slept enough hours in a row to remember how to download them;).  Love!!!

A Blessing and a Curse

Our baby is in the NICU.  That has taken a little while to settle in.  Adela Grace Freer Walters was born on Tuesday morning, May 2nd, weighing in at 4 pounds 7 ounces, or 2.15 kilos.  Her birth came as a surprise, even though we knew my risk for premature delivery was high.  I was expecting labor to be exhausting and difficult, but it was a completely different experience from the birth with Rayna.  In most ways, it was much easier.  The contractions were spread apart and gentle (for birthing contractions) and I spent the first hour of labor preparing myself for a long road ahead.  When my doctor told me the baby was ready to come out, I really didn’t believe her, because I wasn’t even sure I was in labor.  She assured me my daughter would be delivered soon, but I was in shock, trying to comprehend how she could be ready so quickly.  We were moved to the birthing room and I had Jeff turn on some music because if this baby was going to just cruise on out, I wanted to enjoy it.  The midwife and my doctor patiently waited between contractions followed by a period of pushing that lasted maybe half an hour.  And then, Adela was here.  She was precious and tiny and purple, and after a minute they swept her out of my arms and onto a table to receive oxygen.  Her little lungs weren’t quite ready to handle the environment, and so she was placed in an incubator that held in O2 and kept her warm and snuggly.  She had a feeding tube placed and was tested for all sorts of maladies, and from those tests, we learned she had an infection that was likely the reason I went into labor.

Everything happened so fast, it was hard to take it all in.  Suddenly, I wasn’t pregnant and our child was being taken care of down the hallway.  The experience of having a preemie is something I had read about (especially during my weeks on bedrest) but didn’t really understand.  To me, Adela looks like a tiny version of a perfect baby.  From the outside, I couldn’t see how underdeveloped she was and so it has been hard to accept how much help she has needed to thrive.  Her systems, from her brain to her digestion to her lungs, all struggled at first to adapt to life outside of the womb.  But though she was born 6 weeks early, the doctors and nurses have said only positive things about how she is doing.  And so we count our blessings, that she is being so well cared for, that she is making progress in gaining weight and in eating, that she is being treated for the infection she was born with, and that she made it through her jaundice treatment.  These are all enormous gifts, on top of the simple beautiful fact that we have a new daughter.  And so we are thankful.

But it also feels like a curse, to have our daughter in the NICU.  I want to tell everyone I encounter that I am missing something, that what you see is not all there is to me, to my family.  We are not complete, one of our people is in the hospital, and this is so hard.  When we go to visit Adela, we have to follow norms that sometimes feel ridiculous (moms are encouraged to do skin to skin but dads are not) and other times are simply annoying (like not being able to hold her for an hour after a feeding, just in case it makes her barf).  We have to wait for the nurses to hand her to us and it feels, at times, as though she belongs more to the hospital staff than to us.  She eats on a schedule and so I was chastised for letting her nurse, which sounds absurd except her professional team is more concerned with conserving her energy than establishing nursing.  I get it.  I get all the precautions and the limits and the protectiveness; the babies in the NICU need every opportunity to grow and God forbid something avoidable causes them to struggle.

And with a preemie, setbacks are to be expected.  Yesterday, Adela was out of her incubator and in a crib, bundled up as though she were headed to the Artic.  Even with multiple layers of clothing, a hat, socks and mittens, she wasn’t able to keep her temperature at a good level, and so today she is back in the incubator.  I know in my head that this is not a big deal because temp regulation is a typical challenge for babies born at 34 weeks.  But my heart hurts as this will add days on to Adela’s NICU stay, and so I’ll have a good cry and pray to feel more content about God’s plan with all this.

I know we are so fortunate to have excellent medical care, a baby that is doing well given her age, and especially to have the love and support of our families and friends.  But this sucks.  We are aching for naps with our newborn, the fun of watching her change, and even welcome the sleepless nights a new baby brings.  The limbo that a NICU baby creates is uncomfortable and exhausting: we have a child, but she isn’t with us; Rayna has a sister, but she hasn’t met her; and we have to wait and see just how long we will remain in this trying place.  While we are enamored with our new little girl, we are so done with hospitals and so anxiously await our NICU story being over.  Love!

From Here to There

This has been a very bizarre last month.  One week after arriving home from the USA, I was admitted into a hospital for signs of pre-term labor.  I stayed in that same hospital for more than four weeks, being monitored every 4 to 6 hours for signs of labor.  I was visited by dear friends, hung pictures on the wall of my family, and passed the hours on bedrest.  I watched a series on Netflix about a woman held captive and it hit too close to home; I wrote and read and learned to crochet.  I took my first wheelchair ride outside two weeks after I arrived and up until that trip, I had only left my room to go to an ultrasound.  My family visited me four or five times every week, which included a minimum half hour uber ride for them each way.  I was cared for by the most conscientious, kind midwives, nurses, and doctor, and kept well-fed and rested.  I never showed signs of labor beyond dilation and a couple of days of a belly ache that could have been contractions.

What do you do with more than four weeks to yourself?  I tried to stay busy and tried to stay positive about growing our girl.  Each week that passed made her life outside of the womb more sure, more safe.  I spoke to my professional team and my friends and family, bouncing back and forth between the languages and the cultures all from within my hospital room.  I prayed a lot and tried to stay cognizant of how blessed I was to have both my health and the chance for a healthy baby.  I tried not to think about why this had happened, and tried not to get depressed by the global news I now had time to absorb.

Every day, I waited for news about my mom’s latest adventure in her cultural immersion, whether that was the comedy of making friends with the vegetable seller on our street or the confusion of trying to understand the pre-school teacher’s approach to potty training.  She and Jeff became a team and took such good care of Rayna that I think my kid sort of got used to me being gone.  Jeff remained harried, but was able to get some bike rides in and stayed focused on how valuable each day apart was for our smaller daughter.

And then this week, we decided I could go home.  At 32 weeks, our baby is still very tiny but she has passed some important growth milestones.  I’ve held off this long, and if labor started, my doctor didn’t see much chance that they’d be able to stop it.  We are all hoping for a few more weeks in this bizarre limbo, and the first test was making it through the ride home without going into labor (success!).  I remain on bedrest, which means I’m basically just more work for Oma and Jeff, but they seem OK with it.  While this has been one of the hardest things we have been through as a family, we were always OK, no one was dying or fleeing from war or being terrorized.  Perspective comes in handy when you’re looking at life from here to there.

We’ve grown accustomed to waiting with great uncertainty about what lies ahead and I’d even say we’re OK with it.  God has got this, and the people he has brought around us have helped keep us going when we would have crumbled on our own.  For these good things, and with hope for our healthy baby, we are so grateful.  Love!

A Fragile Balance

I am typically considered a glass-half-full kind of girl.  I hope and expect good things will happen, but when bad things go down, I accept that as part of life and try to make the best of it.  I understand that suffering is a part of every life, that I will have my fair share.  Despite my bend towards the positive, I will admit these ideas about life’s balance of good and bad are sometimes far easier to embrace in theory.

Today, on my 33rd birthday, I write from the hospital bed I’ve been inhabiting for the last 11 days.  I had planned to be preparing for a night out with Jeff, followed by a camping trip with friends to celebrate another year of life; instead, I’m on bedrest in order to give our new daughter the best possible chance to have a healthy start in her life.  I have literally not left this room for 10 days and don’t foresee actually leaving the hospital for another 4 or 5 weeks.  This is obviously not ideal.  I have a small child at home who relies on me for most things; I have a precious marriage where I carry various responsibilities and handle much of the house running; and I have a personal rhythm of life that includes a lot of activity.  But all of these things have been delegated or paused as I follow the doctor’s orders in the hope of a labor closer to our June due date.  My condition is called cervical failure, and it basically means I’m at very high risk of pre-term labor.  I feel completely healthy and this makes the whole hospital experience all the odder.  I have nurses and midwives doing nearly everything for me, even those things I’m perfectly capable of doing myself, all in the effort to avoid gravity, infection or activity starting labor.  I spend the day being brought meals, accepting visitors, and entertaining myself as the hours pass and our baby grows.  While it sounds luxurious, I also had to leverage my birthday for permission to take a shower and was just granted permission because it’s a special occasion.  I haven’t felt the sun, been in my home, or had reliable privacy in 11 days.

At 29 weeks young, our daughter is the priority right now and her family is sacrificing so that she’ll be as healthy as possible.  Oma flew down right after I was hospitalized and has been an amazing support, taking care of Rayna and helping Jeff, all the while negotiating the cultural and language trials that come with Chile.  Jeff and Rayna have adapted to days without my presence, and their visits every other day are my favorite thing  We are all doing fine, and preparing to maintain this strange existence for as many weeks as possible.  One day in utero will be 3 less our new baby would have to spend in the NICU, or so we are told.  We balanced the risk to our tiny baby versus the benefits, and decided that hospitalized bedrest, while seemingly extreme, was something we would tolerate for the well-being of our girl.  And so this is our new reality, one where we live apart and continue waiting to see how things unfold.

Most days, we are full of gratitude that we are not in a tragic situation and there is still hope that our daughter will have time to grow well before making her grand entrance.  Other days, I am just sad, missing my family and the freedom to leave my elegant jail cell.  But on balance, these days are worth all the emotional strain, even the missed time together.  This is what adulting is, choosing to focus on the long vision instead of indulging in what we want now (what I want now, for the record, is to go for a run in the mountains, drink coffee at the park with my family, and maybe end the day with a crisp Saison).  This situation is hard, but we all know there are no guarantees that tomorrow will be as we planned, and we are living that reality.  We are counting each day, grateful that it has passed and our girl is one day stronger.  And I guess that’s all we can do, in this fragile balance.  Love today.  So enjoy your freedom, your mundane burdens, your time with those you love.  These are precious things and it would be a shame to take them for granted.

Thank you to all who are praying for us, who have brought meals, visited, checked in or lent a hand.  We are so glad to be part of a family of friends that care well for each other and we love you all.  Abrazos!