The Time I Went Away

I went away for a year. I’ve decided I’m ready to tell you where I’ve been.

It’s been a year. I can say that in so many ways. It’s been a year since I blogged, a year since I shared my recipes and stories and silly things. It’s been a year. Like, it’s been the year of years. The highest highs. The lowest lows. The biggest leaps. The biggest yearnings to God from the deepest, rawest parts of my heart. The biggest answers. The biggest losses. And a gift like no other.

It’s been a year of very boring food. Sorry, folks, but that’s the truth. If you come here for gluten-free inspiration, you’ll be sad to know there was a disproportionate amount of gluten-free chicken fingers, little smokie sausages, and potatoes lazily baked in the microwave, dressed with a pathetic little dollop of butter and pre-shredded cheese. 

When I left you last, I was gloriously making camp-side gluten-free delicacies and tasty treats. I talked about the peaches and the meatloaf and the fun paper plates. I failed to mention the fertility medicine’s hot flashes that, coupled with the 100-plus heat of the day, almost caused me to pass out several times. Or that just weeks prior, I sat in a doctor’s office with The Professor and learned there was a five-percent chance of every having a baby without medical intervention.

By the time I was working on the camping posts, I’d been on the medicine a few weeks. It was a strong and nasty drug, as fertility meds are known to be. But hey, when you’re tricking your body to artificially perform every reproductive task it should do on its own, you deal with it. The meds became stronger and stronger with each dose – both the dosage was increased and they had a cumulative effect – and soon I was on survival mode, both mentally and physically. No more blogging. No more Swoon Designs projects. No more social life. No more creative dinners. But lots of crying. Poor Professor. He was a trooper.

Before, I would have felt like a failure. But I didn’t, honestly. I felt like a warrior, stealing herself for battle, fighting for something bigger than my blog posts. Like those new Disney princesses or something.

A few months later, I lay awake in bed, waiting, wondering and praying my heart out. During the month I endured the meds, the shots, the embarrassing doctor’s appointments that had somehow become routine. Now all there was to do was wait until the appointed moment to check to see if our efforts worked. Finally at 5 a.m., I tiptoed out of bed, slipped into the guest bathroom so I wouldn’t wake up the professor, and peed on a stick. And this happened.

test

 

It was a moment like no other. Like when your knees buckle under you, but because of something good, not something bad. An answer to so many prayers. I cried, I took pictures, and then walked softly into our bedroom and whispered into The Professor’s ear, “I’m pregnant.” He was asleep and he confusedly gave me a high five. The Professor has a history of inappropriate gestures at important moments (don’t get me started about our first kiss or on one of early dates where he shook my hand when he saw me), so I went with it and high-fived him back, and slipped into bed to snuggle. And everything was right with the world.

I called my doctor the next morning and they rushed me in, hugs all around, and on to the blood work to start monitoring the pregnancy. The Professor and I talked logistics – cancel his school trip over the summer. The baby will be here by that time. Should we tell our family in two-and-a-half months at Thanksgiving? 

A few days later, tears welling up in my eyes, I listened over the phone as my doctor explained that the blood work showed that I wouldn’t stay pregnant. As lovingly and gently as she could, she told me to wait for it to end.

It took a week. It wasn’t a normal period. I went from not bleeding to blood pouring out of me, puddling into my shoes. I cried in my office and then went home to shower. I curled in bed and put to sleep all the dreams I had for this child. 

There aren’t any nice ways to describe a miscarriage. It’s not sad. It’s not hard. It’s not unfortunate. Those don’t do it justice. It’s death. Death, plain and simple. Death inside of you. It’s not just your knees buckling, but your whole body buckling, unwilling, unable to hold you up. It was a death we grieved, me especially. 

This was a battle, and we knew what we signed up for. We lost the pregnancy so early, we were able to try again the next month. So we did. Another cycle. Another set of drugs. Another insemination. 

Four weeks later, it was 5 a.m. again. It was time to take the walk to the guest bathroom and pee on the stick. I did. The same thing happened. Excitement, hope, and another loss. Another death deep inside me. Another baby we’ll meet someday in heaven. Dreams unrealized, hope delayed.

It was worse now than the day we were told we’d only have a five percent chance of getting pregnant without medical help. Now we had medical help. I had a team of doctors and nurses and PAs who I saw sometimes three times a week. We knew each other. I could look at an ultrasound and actually know what I was seeing. I could eyeball follicle diameter. We had all the medical help, and what we learned is we could get pregnant, but we couldn’t stay pregnant. And that seemed hopeless.

We decided one more try and then we’d take a break for a little while. By now, our budget was stretched thin. My parents were coming up to visit a lot since I was too sick from the meds to do house work and cooking. They conveniently had groceries in tow each time they came.

This time, I’d done some research and asked to add progesterone to our cocktail of drugs. The internets say low progesterone can cause early miscarriages and it wouldn’t hurt anything. Four weeks later. 5 a.m. Another test. It was positive again. By this time, I was callous and cautious and maybe a bit bitter. No pictures of the positive test. I glanced at it, winced with the anticipation of another month of pain, and threw the test away.

But something happened. The first day’s blood work looked positive. Two days later even better. Two days after that, even better. Two weeks after that, the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard. A heart beat. Two weeks after that, still a heart beat. If we could make it two more weeks, to 10 weeks, and there was still a heart beat, we would be out of the woods and back in the general population of risk. A 10 weeks, we heard it again. Eight weeks after that, “it” became a “he.” 

Eventually I looked like this – taken on my due date.

due date

Eight weeks ago, we welcomed our son into the world. He’s here. He’s beautiful and perfect and I love him with a fierce and beautiful intensity, so great that it took me by surprise.

Our journey to parenthood wasn’t nearly the journey that some endure, and for that we are so thankful. It still was the most difficult thing we’ve ever done. 

I’ve learned a lot of things. One of those is to have grace with myself. That extends to the blog. I’d like to do more blog posts, specifically about fertility treatment, infertility, childbirth. His birth was scary and ended in an emergency c-section.There are so many stories – both lighthearted and serious – to share. They’ll come slowly and irregularly. There are beautiful stories of how God sustained us, how friends loved us and how we made it through.

I just invented a new salad. That might appear someday. It had roasted pears and a whole-grain mustard vinegrette and bleu cheese and candied pecans. Maybe some posts on all the make-ahead meals I made and have since eaten. Maybe some more cat stories, although Charlie is an only cat. Pippa joined the circle of life. First by preferring to be outside at night to catch mice. Later by being eaten by an owl. 

But for now, I am here, listening to the sweet coos and cries and occasional screams of an answered prayer.

Experts Series: How to Travel Alone…Even if You’re a Girl

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It’s the next installment of my summer Experts Series featuring cooler, more interesting people than me.

This week, I’m excited for you to meet Alex. Alex and I are pretty close. You’d be pretty good friends with her too because she’s just that great. Among Alex’s many talents is her persistence in keeping in touch with me. Sometimes I fall into a cave of solitude and she comes and finds me and reminds me to interact with the rest of the world. In the rare moments I call her and don’t get a response for days, I inevitably hear these words when we do finally talk, “Sorry. I was out of the country.” To which I always reply, “Of course you were.”

Alex is a fearless world traveler with more stamps in her passport than most will get in a lifetime. All the pictures below are Alex’s. She loves to travel and is savvy about the whole operation, particularly about going at it alone.

I hope you enjoy Alex’s tips on how to travel, even if you’re a girl.

Ask people the one thing they really want to do, and most would agree it’s to travel.  There’s something about getting outside your everyday and exploring God’s amazing creation. I love my life, but I live for the next adventure.

This isn’t easy when you are a girl and don’t always have someone to join in your grand adventures. Over the years and after many trips and even a four month internship in Spain, I’ve learned that if you want to travel, you can’t always wait for the right timing or even the right partner in crime.

In my travels, I’ve been to: New Zealand, Austria, Virgin Islands, Switzerland, France, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Belize, Guatemala, St. Lucia, Germany, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, England, Canada, Kenya and a few others. This includes going to Chile, Portugal, Wales, and Spain all alone.

I can’t say it’s ideal to travel alone as a girl, but that should never stop anyone from living a dream or making a few memories.  All it takes to get started is picking a place and making a plan. It’s never going to be perfect or easy, but that’s what traveling is about…expecting the unexpected! 

As a girl who loves to travel, I want to share just a few of the tips that have helped me the most, especially when having to do it alone. 

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Decide where to go

Is it national or international?  Don’t let the thought of having to get a passport or maybe even a visa stop you from crossing the border.  Maybe you worry about getting lost, not knowing the culture or more importantly not being able to communicate.  None of these things should ever stop you because no matter where you go, you are always going to encounter the unfamiliar.  You have to put yourself in the mindset that you are there to experience a country and not be an outside observer.  As long as you are prepared to engage and come with a plan, you will be fine. It’s all about the attitude.
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Always be prepared

As a girl traveling alone, you can never be too prepared.  Do your research, ask questions, make a plan. One of my favorite resources is TripAdvisor.com because you get some great reviews from actual travelers and don’t have to rely on other sites that just want to sell you something.

Some other things to consider when traveling alone and to get together before you take off are:

  • What do you want to see?
  • Do you want adventure or relaxation?
  • Transportation Plan/Backup Plan
  • Get a guide book or get familiar with the safe areas of the place you are going
  • Leave your agenda with someone at home…let them know your schedule along the way.
  • Always carry some cash…not every place has an ATM.  Most of the time you should be able to pull out cash or use your credit card but they will probably have a fee.
  • Be aware that you may not have a ton of access to internet, but know that most foreign countries have great internet cafes…perfect to connect or even get some local recommendations.
  • Make a copy of all your documents front and back and email them to yourself and family member…passport, credit cards, driver’s license, debit card.
  • Don’t wear fancy jewelry…or anything that will draw extra attention to you.

One thing that I would definitely say has been a highlight of my solo trips has been joining up with some kind of tour group.  Even if you don’t like travel groups, most countries have free walking tours to join for a few hours to explore the city and get you familiar.  Plus, they are usually pretty inexpensive because they are supported by tips and not a set price.  Look up the tour before you go and reserve a spot.  I have joined several and have been impressed every time by the guides and also the fun people that you can meet.  

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You are never alone

One of the most daunting things about traveling alone are the times where you don’t have anyone to talk to, to laugh with or maybe even freak out with.  I know the thought of exploring alone sounds scary, but it can actually be a bit of a blessing sometimes.  Not only do you get to do what you want to do, but it opens you up to meeting new people.  You’d be surprised how open people are to you when they see you traveling alone.  Take advantage of the opportunity to start a few conversations and maybe even make a new friend. 

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Be Smart

As I mentioned before, you can definitely expect the unexpected.  It’s not always a bad thing, and truth be told, you are likely to get a pretty good laugh when looking back. 

Again, when you are alone do your best to blend in.  Stick around the areas with a lot of people, don’t wear anything flashy and be ready to be approached.  You would never imagine, but people are more likely to come up and talk to you while traveling.  I look back and think about the time in Greece where someone asked me to marry him in the middle of the metro station, the time in Spain where I was approached for the time and ended up in a conversation about the history of America, and even when I made a friend from Australia who I stayed in touch with for over a year. 

It’s a mixed bag of experiences…but don’t freak out…just take it all in.

I sure hope that someone reads this and sees what kind of possibilities are out there and maybe takes the next step in planning a fun get away…whether it be half way across the world or even just a short drive away.  Once you get started…you will never want to stop.  Next stop for me is Brazil and Argentina!

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Thanks for reading! Don’t forget, if you work up the courage to go on a trip based on reading this article, and everything in the world goes wrong and you think you might be part of a Chevy Chase vacation movie, it’s not my fault. That stuff just happens sometimes. Be prepared, use common sense and listen to your intuition.

Whole

A few weeks ago,  I blogged about name cards I made for friends whose twins arrived at 26 weeks and were in the NICU.  The cards were made to be bright and encouraging and to remind Jamie and Zach that a large community of friends and family around the world were in that hospital room in spirit and in prayer.

From the beginning, Bennett had a harder time.  He endured many surgeries in an effort to make his little body work – to make him whole.  Yesterday wholeness came.  But not in the way we prayed for.  Bennett passed away yesterday.  He is free from tubes and pain and bright lights and the broken parts of his too-unformed body.  But he has left a big hole.

So please say a prayer for my friends – for their little girl who is still the Rocky Balboa of preemies and for their hearts, their marriage, for everything.

Swimming, the Olympics and Chick-fil-A

Trust me, we’ve all seen it.  An Olympic swimming race – the top competitors from around the world.  They’ve competed to come to the Olympics.  Then they’ve competed to get into the finals.  Now they are swimming for gold.  Pundits debate the merits of this top contender and that top contender, and everyone knows that the gold will belong to one of the two.

The race starts.  It’s nose-to-nose for the two favorites.  But inevitably, there’s a few who lag behind.  They can’t keep up throughout the race.  They finish painful seconds behind the gold and the silver and the bronze.

As I watch the races, I think about those swimmers – the ones with no hope.  To get to this moment, an Olympic race, they have won many races.  They have been the favorites excitedly talked about by pundits.  They are the best in their country, and that is no small accomplishment.

They didn’t change.  They didn’t dive into the Olympic pool and suddenly lose all their skills.  It’s simply that when swimming with one group of swimmers, they are the fastest, fiercest swimmers. When swimming with another group, they simply can’t keep up.

I’ve been thinking about that and the Chick-fil-A debate.  Because, you see, I’m a lot like those Olympians.

In some groups of friends, I am the most liberal person in the group.  In other groups of friends, I am the most conservative.  Both are uncomfortable for me because I know my position on the Chick-fil-A issue (and no, I don’t care to share it here), and my position is actually moderate, at least I think so.

There is a lot of discussion about the extreme sides of this debate.  There is an expectation that people are the top two swimmers or the bottom, when in fact, I think most of us are somewhere in the middle.

It’s easy to idolize the people you view as the front runners and trash the people you view as the late finishers – the people you most agree with and the people you least agree with.  Some people will see me as the golden child – the one at front of the race.  Others will see me as lagging behind, backwards, from the country whose best was not good enough.

Because I have a diverse group of friends, I have heard a lot of opinions.  Many of them have underlying anger or sanctimony or pride.  I know these are important issues.  They hit us at our core beliefs and values.  But I hope that as we answer difficult questions, we will have grace.  That we would debate issues with love, not hate.  That like the Olympians, we would all go back to our corners of the world better for the experience of being in a pool of people so different from us.  (I’m not advocating us all becoming lukewarm in our beliefs. I think we can talk in a spirit of mutual betterment.  We might not agree, but we may realize that we’re less front runners and less late-comers than we all thought).

I’d rather the pundits not talk about me.  I don’t want to be the center of their attention.  I want to build relationships.