30 July 2013

Curious Brothers and a Birthday Twin

Oliver and Bennett are super sweet big brothers.  Bennett particularly loves to kiss Avonlea and sing her songs.  He calls her "Adamlee."  

Oliver loves to help with with the baby, by getting supplies I need for her or "entertaining" her when I have to briefly step away.

One evening while we were still in the hospital, the boys came up to see their baby sister and seemed more curious than the first time.

I tried to show them little features about her, such as the bracelet she has to wear in the hospital and her umbilical cord.

The boys were very interested in her umbilical cord as we had many times talked about how babies eat while in the womb.

For Avonlea, the hospital put her tracking/alarm device on her umbilical cord.  It would seem awfully heavy to me but I guess she didn't mind.

The boys were particularly interested in the making of her belly button...

...which led to a curiosity of their own belly buttons...

Bennett: "Show me mine, Daddy."

On a side note, I wanted to put up these picture of my friend Brittany who, pregnant with her baby girl six days after my due date, ended up going into natural labor the morning of my induction.  In fact, since my first name is Brittney, the hospital was initially confused when Brittany came to be admitted.  They thought she was me since my induction was down on the books.  Brittany laughed and said, "no, that's my friend."  To our delight, both of our little girls (Olivia and Avonlea) were born on the same day (within hours of each other) at the same hospital.

It was special to get to see Brittany and her husband while in the hospital.  We joked with our mutual friends how easy we had made it for them to come visit us in the hospital.

I think it's special that Avonlea will share a birthday with another little girl in the church nursery with her.  The girls' friendship started out very close from the very beginning - not only do their mothers share the same name and they share the same birthday, but Avonlea seemed to feel comfortable with Olivia almost immediately as she tried to "root" on her first little friend. :)

26 July 2013

Welcome to our family, sweet Avonlea!

Our baby girl is here!!  The delivery was quick and our bundle of joy is just perfect!!

This mama of a brand new baby girl must catch some shut eye before it's time for another feeding.  But before I go to sleep, I wanted to make sure I post some pictures from our day.

Most of the pictures taken today will come later from my sweet friend and photographer Khimberly Caton who spent nearly all day with us to capture these special moments.

But, until Khim is ready to reveal her beautiful artwork, here are the photos we took of our day:

Admitted and waiting for my IV to start the pitocin and epidural.  The pitocin was given at 8AM. The epidural was placed at 10AM.  My water was broken at 11AM.  And baby arrived with a total of only about 6 pushes at 1:31PM.

Our first family picture with just Mom, Dad and baby.  We chose to name her Avonlea Brooklyn Gamel. The name Avonlea (pronounced \A-vən-lee\) is of Celtic Origin and it's meaning is "a return to childlike faith, simple beauty, noble purity, and compassion for the least." Avonlea is a fictional town in Lucy Maud Mongomery's classic children's novel Anne of Green Gables - one of my personal favorites as a little girl growing up.  Her middle name, Brooklyn, was chosen to honor my younger sister.

The most amazing OBGYN I could ever imagine: Dr. Patterson.  I couldn't ask for someone more loving and thoughtful to go through this process with.  She's not just a doctor, she is a gift from God.  I regularly found myself in tears during my OBGYN office visits, expressing my fears of losing the baby or her being sick.  But Dr. Patterson regularly took extra time to encourage me each step of the way and to reassure me that, despite my fears, I had every reason to believe this pregnancy and delivery would be different than my last one.  And she was right.  Dr. Patterson was my OBGYN with Bennett's pregnancy but was gone the day I came in fearful that he had died in the womb.  So, it was incredibly healing to be under her care - not only throughout Avonlea's pregnancy, but even at the very moment our baby girl arrived.

Several hours after giving birth and after changing to a new room, we invited Oliver and Bennett to come meet their big sister.  

Bennett was particularly proud to be a big brother and hold her for the first time.

Oliver was very curious about his little sister and brought the toy that Brian and I bought several months ago to reveal the baby's gender to he and his brother.

Avonlea was born weighing 7lbs, 2oz and is 19.5 inches long.  It's funny to see the doll the boys gave her isn't much bigger.

Once we were settled and the little boys were returned home to be cared for by my mom and sister, Daddy took out some time to quietly love on Avonlea.

Our sweet girl, who very much favors both of her big brothers, is a complete joy.  Not only does she have lots of dark black curly hair, she loves to coo.  We have listened to her talking and making noise all day long -  music to our ears.

Avonlea will be given a Cystic Fibrosis test tomorrow, right before we are discharged from the hospital.  this test will take about one week to come back.  Thankfully, though, she shows no signs of Cystic Fibrosis or any health issues at all (other than aspirating a little meconium right before birth).  We hope this is a good sign.

Today, we acknowledge again how very blessed we are.  Avonlea is the "grand finale" to our family, our little princess who will be very much loved by her mama, daddy and two big brothers.  We couldn't be any more thankful for this amazing gift.  It's still unreal she is really ours. :)

25 July 2013

Getting ready for something special...

Swollen ankles? Check.
39 Weeks Pregnant? Check.
Changing of the guard with regard to the care of our little boys? Check.

Last day ever of being pregnant?  Check. Check. Check.

It's happening.  In the wee hours of tomorrow morning, Brian and I will be at the hospital to begin the induction of baby girl Gamel.
We chose an induction for several reasons, many of which I can share in another blog post.  But the gist of it is that it seems like the right thing to do for our little family.  

The doctor has monitored me very closely and we do not expect anything to go wrong or be wrong with our baby girl.  But the doctor felt very comfortable with helping calm my fears of baby loss or a sick NICU baby by helping me get this baby out and in to my arms as soon as it was safe.

My greatest desire is to see Baby Girl Gamel's birth be nothing like Bennett's, which was terrifying and so so very disappointing.  Thankfully, my OBGYN (who is like a Saint herself) has reassured me many times that she believes everything will go beautifully and that baby should be just fine.

So, as I close out my last day of pregnancy, I thought I'd share a few pictures of the last few weeks of my pregnancy, according to Instagram...

Recently, the baby has been big enough to hear her heartbeat through a stethescope (benifit of having a child with CF - I actually have a medical-grade stethoscope on hand).  We have all enjoyed comparing my heart beat to the baby's.

This picture is from when Bennett came over to give me one of the toys the boys were playing with and said, "this is for the baby to play with!" :)

Speaking of the boys, Oliver and Bennett's faces light up like it's Christmas each time they walk into her nursery (which is covered in pink).  They love to tell me things like "this room is so pretty!" and "ooh, I know your baby is going to love wearing that hairbow!"  (Bennett often calls her "your baby" but he clearly knows it's his too.)

Sometimes, I think the little boys are just mimicking my excitement.  They know it makes me happy so they enjoy being able to connect with me in that way.  But other times, I can tell that their delight is truly their own delight in what is to come.  Oliver told me yesterday, "mom, I can't even tell you how excited I am.  I don't even have the words."

Oliver has been particularly sweet about being the biggest brother and in wanting to help me.  He asked me the other day, "Mom, is there anything I can get for you?" (a mimic of what his father often asks me) and really really enjoys opening the doors for me when we are out and about.  I think this is a direct reflection of the love and care their father demonstrates towards me every day.  Brian has been one of the best examples of how they should respond to their Mama and baby sister.  I have loved seeing them own their own place as little men in the family. :)

As the countdown begins, I have started making sure everything is ready, including my toes. :)  It's nice for this to be my third pregnancy as it's much less stressful to prepare for a baby.

I have been given lots of little girls clothes from friends so this baby is well stocked with onesies and little dresses.  Although there is much I did not finish before today, I am thankful for Brian and my mom who worked tirelessly the last few days to help us get everything put together in time.

I will absolutely post pictures when she is here.  I am praying most for a safe delivery and a healthy baby.  This is an awesome experience and whatever God allows to happen, I will choose to feel very blessed to be a part of it!

As our royal little princess makes her grand entrance into the world tomorrow, may I just add that I fully expect there to be dancing in the streets and people filling their local pubs in celebration. British flags not necessary. :)  

Ha, I'm kidding.  But I do expect there will, at least, be celebrations tomorrow night within our little family tomorrow night, for sure.  The boys are beyond excited to see their new baby sister!

22 July 2013

Pictures: The boys and their siblings in the womb

Three years ago, on the Sunday of my 38th week of pregnancy, I took one of my last "belly" pictures to document my pregnancy with Bennett (see below).  

38 Weeks Pregnant with Bennett (with big brother Oliver), 2009

This later turned out to be a pretty significant picture as it documented the last day I remember Bennett kicking hard in the womb.  Monday and Tuesday progressed with almost no movement from Bennett.  On Wednesday morning, after a restless night's sleep, I went to the hospital to check on the baby, whom I had firmly become convinced had already passed away in the womb.  

Thankfully, Bennett turned out to be alive so we induced immediately.  This began our journey of having a child with Cystic Fibrosis.

Knowing the picture below was significant to me, I decided to "retake" the photo yesterday, the Sunday of my 38th pregnancy with Baby #3...    

38 Weeks with Baby #3 (with big brother Bennett and Oliver), 2013  

38 Weeks with Bennett, 2009

38 Weeks with Baby #3, 2013

I feel incredibly blessed to have a picture of all three little ones - my two big boys in my arms and my baby girl snuggled inside.  I'm looking so forward to getting another picture like this but with baby girl on the outside! :)

20 July 2013

Family Trip to the Cave - Update and Pictures

In my last post, I mentioned the reasons for the decision we made to not to let Bennett visit the inside of a cave due to his Cystic Fibrosis but I haven't shared pictures of our trip to Austin to visit the Inner Space Caverns.

Our pediatrician, who had heard we were taking a day trip to the Caverns, had suggested that we eat at Monument Cafe outside of Austin on our way to the Caverns.  This turned out to be a perfect place for lunch.  It resembles a 50's diner although it's very modern and has a wide variety of yummy food.

After lunch, Oliver and Brian took a tour of the cave together.  I love how they got a picture while inside.  Both Oliver and Brian came out with lots of new things to share.  Brian's favorite part was when the tour guide asked everyone on the tour to be silent so they could hear the rush of cars on the freeway above them (this is how the Cavern was found many years ago - while they were trying to build an interstate).  Oliver's favorite part was when the tour guide asked everyone to turn off their phones and turned off the lights so that it was pitch black in the cave.  I was so excited that Oliver gained first hand experience with geology, his new interest these days.

While Brian and Oliver took the 1 hour tour, Bennett and I entertained ourselves at Target.  He had a chance to look at the toy section and I enjoyed staying in the air conditioning while waiting for the big boys to be done. :)  I don't have a picture but Bennett's face was esctatic when he was told he could pick out a small toy from the toy aisle in Target.  Oliver was a little jealous that he didn't get a toy.  But we explained to both boys that Mommy and Daddy wanted to make both of them happy but that didn't mean each of them were going to get to do the same thing.  I find myself trying to explain to the boys from time to time, "fair isn't everyone getting the same thing - fair is everyone getting what they need to be successful."

After the cave tour and a visit to Target, we purchased a $6 bag of dirt to sift through to find gemstones (thanks for the idea, Robin Hogan!).  Basically, it was a bunch of cool rocks and crystals hidden in a bag of wet sand.  But it was perfect for our little guys who enjoyed the process of placing the dirty on the screens, using their hands to look for cool rocks and placing the screen in water to allow the sand to disappear.

On such a hot Texas Saturday, it was a lot of fun for the boys to play in the dirt and sand.  And, I'll admit, even Brian and I were thrilled with the rocks the kids found in their bag.  Surprises of any kind are fun.  After that, we went inside to eat some ice cream together.

We really enjoyed being able to take a day trip with the boys.  We have tried to be very intentional with being present with the boys this summer.  Although, we didn't take any vacations this summer (due to my pregnancy), we created ourselves several mini-vacations by visiting local fun spots for kids.

We have tried to explain to the boys that these trips are our special way of being with them before the baby comes as it will gets hard for us to do these things quite as often.  I don't think they get it but, at least Brian and I have the satisfaction of knowing we tried to make the most of our being a family of four...before we become a family of five! 

19 July 2013

Response to a Reader's Comment

"I hate to be harsh but I have CF and what you should have done was have your whole family not go in the cave. Sure Oliver would be upset but that is better then Bennett feeling like a diseased boy. I at one time wanted to scuba dive more than anything. Unfortunately my CF made that extremely dangerous so I was told I could not learn to dive. This made me really upset and if my sister got to go but I didn't I would be mortified." 

This is the comment recently left on my post

I appreciate hearing many perspectives, particularly ones from those who have Cystic Fibrosis. Since I don't have Cystic Fibrosis myself, I recognize my limitations of knowing firsthand what it's like for my body to suffer daily from CF day in and day out.  So, I think hearing from those who must battle CF every day can be very insightful, this comment included.

As I have thought about this perspective of someone with CF, I have considered more about why Brian and I made the decision we did - and my unique role as not just the parent of a child with CF but also my unique role as the parent of a child with a sibling with CF.

For what it's worth, I decided to write more about the difficulties that come with maintaining balance in our family and how we have, up to this point, made decisions regarding these Cystic Fibrosis challenges.

1.) The first thing I would like to share is - Parenting comes with no parenting manual.  And Parenting a child with CF certainly doesn't.

Possibly Brian and I could have made the wrong decision when we let Oliver go to the cave but did not let Bennett.

However, this decision, right or wrong, was not made without serious reflection.

The last thing I would ever want would be to hurt either of my sweet boys.  As a parent, it's excruciating to have Cystic Fibrosis even have be a part of our decision-making process.

I think when considering any significant decision in our family regarding Cystic Fibrosis, Brian and I have to be very clear with ourselves and each other that our decisions could be judged by others as being the wrong ones (we may even come to that conclusion ourselves some day), but we need to be gracious with ourselves that they were intentional ones.

No big decision we make on behalf of Oliver and Bennett and their unique needs is made without intentionality.  Knowing this gives me the confidence that it's not my job to parent perfectly but to parent with the tools, insights and experiences I have been given.  That's really all I can do.

2.) The second thing I'd like to share is a response to this line in the comment:
"Sure, Oliver would be upset but that is better than Bennett feeling like a diseased boy."

I absolutely agree that there is nothing so important that it is worth having either of our children ever feel "less-than", "unwanted" or "unacceptable."

No child with person should ever be made to feel like they are not good enough - whether it be something they lack in skill or whether they be challenged by a disability.

And, within my control, I take great pains to make sure neither of my kiddos would feel this unnecessarily.

However, I'm not sure that I will ever be able to protect my kids from feeling left out or feeling hurt because of what others have said about them or because of what others have been able to do that they cannot.

This isn't a CF thing.  This is a human thing.  Life brings each of us situations where we have or will one day experience grave disappointment, loneliness and sadness over not being able to do or have something we really wanted.  I don't have CF but I know it's like to feel like a "left out" girl or a "less-than wanted" girl.  I'm not sure if there is really a way to prevent Bennett from feeling those very natural and normal human feelings.

So, this is why Brian and I feel it is not necessary for us to ignore the truth with regard to Bennett: Bennett is, in fact, a diseased boy.  He has Cystic Fibrosis.

That's not all that Bennett is.  But that is certainly a part of who Bennett is.  It's not something to be ashamed of.  It's something we must all acknowledge and address, for better or worse.

I believe there is no reason for Bennett to ever feel left out, unwanted or not special.  But we will never be able to take away the fact that God gave him Cystic Fibrosis.  This disease is a part of his life, as well as ours.

For us, embracing the benefits and limitations of having a progressive disease is choosing to accept fully the way one is made.  Brian and I have always felt, from the beginning, there is no reason to hide Cystic Fibrosis.  Instead, we want to acknowledge this is who Bennett is and we love him just the way he is.

Bennett has CF - it's clear by the g-tube he wears on the outside of his body.  It's clear by the enzymes he must take at school during snack and lunch.  It's clear by the activities that we must cut short or not participate in because he must come home to do his treatments.

We won't ever get around the fact that he is a little boy with a serious disease.

However, I agree with the sentiment of the commenter that no one with Cystic Fibrosis should have to feel like that is *all* they are.  And, as a family, we always do things that balance Bennett's need to be healthy with his need to feel accepted.

We made sure Bennett did not suffer needlessly on the day we went to the Cavern.  Fortunately, going to a cave wasn't Bennett's big wish.  He was just more than thrilled to get to do something Oliver was "over the moon" about.  Bennett's excitement came from the fact that our entire family was excited.

So, to my relief, when I asked Bennett if he would rather to go a toy store and pick out a super hero toy instead (Bennett LOVES superheros), he was overjoyed.  In fact, Brian and I think he was much more excited about the new blue Superman toy he got to bring home with him than he would have been had he gotten to see the cave (that's the way 3 year olds work, I suppose :)).

And ultimately, it turned out later that the cave would not have been something Bennett (nor I) would have wanted to do - not because of CF but because he is 3 and because I'm 9 months pregnant.  The walking Cave tour included included walking more than a mile and at several points was very slippery and dark.  It seemed like for such a little guy, it could have not been much fun.  And I know I am thankful not to have had to walk a mile while carrying this baby around. :)

3.) The last thing I'd like to share is that sometimes decisions in one situation look different than another.  I'm not sure Brian and I would make the same decision for our family, with regard to only Oliver and Brian going into the cave, if our children were ages 10 and 12 or 15 and 18 (instead of 3 and 5 as they are today).  The decision we made for our kiddos and for our family was based on what we felt comfortable with knowing the personalities of our boys and their cognitive and emotional awareness of the world around them at that moment.  Certainly, had the boys been in junior high or in high school, the decision may have been different or may have been handled differently.

But we feel that, in the same way that Bennett has limitations and will have to learn to live with those limitations, we don't necessarily want to hold back Oliver from doing what he can do.  I am confident he will have his own limitations in life to overcome.  And I cannot think of anyone more perfect to help him address the disappointment of limitations than his little brother who is learning at an early age how to overcome challenges and see himself beyond his diagnosis.

In conclusion, I will share that, thankfully, while CF did affect our family's decision to have all of us visit the inside of a cave, CF by no means took away the enjoyment we shared as a family on that little trip to Austin that day.  We were all each able to visit the Cave store, buy a few rocks, eat ice cream together and even mine for gemstones while we were there.  All four of us were thankful for the opportunity to be with each other and had a great time sharing in the experience, even if it did looked a bit different than we had first expected.  I'll share pictures of our time in the next post...

17 July 2013

Storm Chasing Class

As I begin to seriously prepare for our life to be turned upside down by a lovely little girl being welcomed into our family soon (aka my due date is approaching), I decided one of the things I wanted to do was post old blog posts that I had started but never seemed to finish. (Would you call this internet nesting?!)

Anyway, this post is about the National Weather Services' Storm Chasing Class Oliver took on February 5, 2013.  Sorry it's only 5 months late...but better late that never! :)

Oliver is SO excited to learn all about tornadoes!

The training was held at the Emergency Services Education Center in Waco.

The class was amazing!  We got to watch tons of tornado videos and learn about the formation of a severe thunderstorm.

The class was filled mainly of men, most in their 30's-80's.  However, Oliver wasn't the only child (although he may have been the youngest).  A Cub Scouts/Boy Scouts group came to the free presentation annually put on by the National Weather Service.  It was an excellent opportunity to learn about meteorology, for child and adults alike.

Although the children enjoyed it, the class was not for kids.  It was a class that educated the public on how to be a Storm Spotter.  A storm spotter is someone who watches severe weather and reports to the National Weather Service (NWS) what he or she sees on the ground.  The NWS explained over and over how important storm spotters are as they often confirm the storm is behaving on the group similarly to the way the meteorologists see the storm behaving on radar.

Mark Fox is a great meteorologist and someone we consider our friend.  We originally met him at Baylor when we just happened upon a table that he was hosting for the Baylor students.  Mark was great talking with Oliver and even invited us to come up to the National Weather Service in Fort Worth (a very cool experience).  So, it was fun to see him again and listen to him give most of the day's presentation.  He was entertaining as well as extremely informative.

Oliver and I learned about overshooting tops, anvil clouds, stacked plates, beaver tails and shelf clouds!  I had no idea how important these types of clouds or cloud movements are to recognizing a severe thunderstorm (guess I just looked for rain and lightening). :)

During the break,

During the break, Oliver took his books to National Weather Service meteorologist Nick Hampshire to ask several questions.  Nick was really wonderful with him.  Nick seemed quite impressed by Oliver's knowledge and interest.  Nick shared with me that he, too, had been bit by the "meteorology bug" at a young age, like Oliver, and had followed his interest to do meteorology as a career.

Mr. Mark and Oliver (wearing his tornado shirt)

Mr. Nick and Oliver

I brought a few of Oliver's tornado books to look at during the presentation.

I also brought colored pencils and paper so Oliver could draw and color tornadoes, which he did.

Most surprising to me was that most of the time, Oliver preferred to listen to the presentation, even if a lot of it was over his head.

I'll be honest, I thought it was fascinating.  I am glad I was the one who took Oliver this year.  I'll probably beg to be the parent (of the two of us) to bring him back.  I feel like I am so highly trained to spot a severe thunderstorm now! :)

At the end of the presentation, the National Weather Service brought in all three local TV stations' meteorologists who spoke about their role in communicating to the community during severe weather situations.

And, to our surprise, Oliver and I learned there is a local storm chasing group out of Waco.  Too bad we never seem to get tornadoes around here!

This group of volunteer Storm Chasers work with Waco's News10 KWTX-TV station when it comes to tracking severe weather.  We really enjoyed getting to talk to this trio and see their pretty cool SUV.

The team even let Oliver sit in the SUV.  Although Oliver prefers "The Dominator," he really enjoyed getting to see all of their tools inside the car.

Oliver was able to meet News25 TV meteorologist Conley Isom after the presentation.  Conley is a really nice guy and knows a lot about tornadoes.  He answered several of Oliver (and Mom's) questions.

Afterwards, Oliver got to see News Channel 25's "Storm Interceptor" van.  (I'll be honest, though, I have no desire to ever been in a mini van when it comes to "intercepting" a "storm".)

I don't have a picture of the neat little certificate we were provided by the National Weather Service after the session but I will add that picture to the post later.  Overall, this was such a great experience for Oliver.

I am so thankful for the National Weather Service, for not just putting on this day of education for the public, but for doing all that they do everyday to keep us safe from severe weather and thunderstorms.  Most importantly, I appreciate all of those sweet men and women who took time to nurture my son's love of storms and to encourage him to keep learning lots of math and science!