Thursday, November 16, 2017

Cardiology/Pregnancy Update

I had my cardiology appointment Tuesday and got some pretty good news!

There are no structural abnormalities with my heart, which means this is pregnancy-related and will not require any medications or procedures post-baby. That was our biggest fear so we were so relieved to hear that!
My second big concern was that this doctor would say labor was too risky and that I would have to do a c-section. He said that as long as my numbers stay relatively stable during labor he thinks I should be perfectly fine to avoid a c-section. Another win!

Especially since my heart rate climbed up into the 170s the other day and was hanging around in a steady 120s during that appointment.

The "bad" news (still feels great considering that those two big fears were dispelled!) is that this is a neurological response to something but we just don't know what. Most of the usual suspects have all come back looking great so that leads him to suspect that this might be some kind of allergic response.
There is a very tiny group of women out there who have a prenatal vitamin allergy that results in this same neurological response. At first I didn't even consider this possibility because I have been taking prenatal vitamins for five straight years, but then we talked about it and it does seem semi-plausible. I started taking this brand for the first time during this pregnancy. It made me feel terrrrrrible during the first trimester (but most do) so I switched to some nice junky gummy vitamins. Once I ran out of those I took a cheap brand I got for free, and then I started this brand when I finished those. I can't say with any certainty when I started this brand, but I can definitely say that it was around the time all of these symptoms started.

Because this has nothing to do with my heart's physical makeup (or the baby's positioning!), all we can do is wait it out. I have stopped taking those vitamins (so far with no discernable changes as my numbers were still garbage at my midwife appointment) and am officially on bedrest after my latest "fainting" episode. The cardiologist is hopeful that the strain of pregnancy is elevating these symptoms profoundly and thinks that both my heart rate and blood pressure should be back to normal levels within a few months of giving birth.
I am pretty distraught imagining the first few precious months spent feeling like this, but all I can do with that is just pray that things start to feel better right away.

I am very tired of feeling like I'm having a heart attack, and of the dizziness, fatigue, and headaches that usually come afterwards. I'm tired of not being able to take care of my own chores, tired of not feeling up to playing with my babies, tired of stressing about the financial aspect of all this, tired of not eating chocolate, tired of waking up in the middle of the night to pressure and shaking in my chest, just tired of all of this.
This has been such a rough road and I am so grateful for all the prayers and support we've gotten. I am very much looking forward to the moment I hold my baby and know with absolute certainty that he or she really is okay in spite of all this, and I am so ready to start living a normal life again, this time as a family of six... and hopefully right away, not months after delivery!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Christmas Countdown, Picture-Book Style!

I’ll have a newborn this holiday season so I’m taking it easy on myself and our advent calendar each morning will just tell the kids where to look for that day’s “new” book, starting December 1st. Between library books (which I have requested and am HOPIING we will get in time, hence there being more than 24 just in case!) and the books we own, it should be a piece of cake to read a new spiritually-focused Christmas book each day in December. (Plus lots of secular favorites thrown in for fun!)

I will be tackling library books first because I like to get holiday books read and returned very quickly so more people get a chance to enjoy them throughout the season, so these are not in any special order, but here ya go…

1. Mary Engelbreit’s A Night of Great Joy… the story of the first Christmas, except the illustrations are precious and make it a group of small children putting on a Christmas pageant. I think this one is my kids’ favorite first-Christmas book and there is no extra story to it so the illustrations are clearly the reason =]
2. Christmas is Here… This is the first Christmas story, told via words from the King James Bible, and the illustrations show a family enjoying a live nativity performance.
3. Itsy Bitsy Christmas… this one is new to my family this year, a sweet Max Lucado story about two little mice discovering through Jesus’ birth that sometimes even the small are special and important.
4. The Legend of the Candy Cane… This is a cute story that turns the candy cane into a spiritual symbol, and we’ll definitely be enjoying candy canes when we read it! I found some great junk & dye-free candy canes last Christmas and I’m planning to get the same ones this year.
5. The Crippled Lamb… Another Max Lucado story and such a sweet one, about a little lamb who isn’t able to go with the others because of his crippled leg, but is therefore present when Jesus is born.
6. The Christmas Donkey… A sweet little Golden Book about that first Christmas from the perspective of the donkey Mary rode to the stable.
7. The Christmas Cat … Also about the first Christmas from the perspective of the animals- in this case, a stable cat baby Jesus was extra fond of.
8. What is Christmas?... I like that this simple rhyming book brings all of the fun secular traditions in Christmas back around to the ultimate reminder that Jesus is still the most important part of Christmas.
9. God Gave Us Christmas … One of my absolute favorites. I love all of Lisa Tawn Bergren’s books and this one is another sweet explanation of the importance of Christmas mixed in with beautiful illustrations of Little Cub and her family in their beautiful arctic home.
10.Who Built the Stable? … My kids loved this fun rhyming book last year so I will definitely be borrowing it again this year.
11. Christmas from Heaven… We haven’t actually read this one before but I’m looking forward to trying out something new!
12. Room for a Little One… Again, the first Christmas from the perspective of the animals in the stable. Everybody liked this one last year so it’ll be fun to read it again.
13. Wombat Divine … Wombat is having trouble figuring out what part he should play in the Christmas play… a simple reminder of the story of the first Christmas.
14. Mortimer’s Christmas Manger… We haven’t read this one yet but it sounds great!
15. On This Special Night… We haven’t read this one either…
16. A Christmas Goodnight…or this one.
17. Listen to the Silent Night… or this one.
18. Miracle in a Shoe Box… This one is a little long for the girls but A enjoyed it last year. It’s a precious story about Operation Christmas Child boxes, which our family is especially fond of.
19. M is for Manger... This is a cute alphabet book with a different aspect of the first Christmas for each letter.
20. B is for Bethlehem… Same premise as the book above, but slightly different! =]
21. The Berenstain Bears and the Christmas Angel… My kids are big fans of the Berenstain Bears books so this one of course had to make the list!
22. Penny’s Christmas Jar Miracle… This is another one we haven’t read yet but it sounds great and I’ve heard great things about it!
23. The Best Christmas Gift EVER!... This is a very simple rhyming book in which some favorite Veggietales characters remind us of the true meaning of Christmas.
24. The Donkey’s Christmas Song… Another fictionalized first Christmas tale from the perspective of the animals. The kids loved this one last year but Ryan grumbled about it and said “This is quite a stretch” ha ha.
25. Goodnight Manger… A cutesy rhyming board book saying goodnight to each of the wild and crazy animals present at that first Christmas.
26. Christmas in the Barn… Another one that’s new-to-us and sounds great! Plus, Margaret Wise Brown’s books are almost always a hit.
27. Baby’s First Christmas… This one was really fun last year, comparing a baby’s first Christmas to Jesus’ first Christmas… definitely seems pretty fitting for our own family this year!
28. The Tale of the Three Trees… This is not technically a Christmas book but since one tree is made into the manger, I like to read it in December. I also think it makes for a truly excellent reminder that Christmas lead to Easter, and just why both are so important.
29. There Was No Snow on Christmas Eve… Eve Bunting is another whose books rarely disappoint. We all read this one earlier this month and it was very short and sweet (Ryan’s favorite kind of children’s book) with nice prose (my favorite kind) and great illustrations of baby Jesus that very much captivated our baby-on-the-brain kiddos.

And just for fun, a few of our secular favorites (and new picks, too!):  Mary Engelbreit’s Nutcracker // Llama Llama Jingle Bells // The Night Before Christmas // Christmas Cookies // A Homemade Together Christmas // Christmas in the Big Woods // The Spirit of Christmas
Any children’s Christmas favorites you recommend?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Pregnancy / Tachycardia Update

There has been so much going on lately but I’ve felt too terrible to share any of it. I’m feeling decent right now so I’m typing it all out (and a few other blog posts to pre-schedule too, I know you were concerned ;])! This is really long and probably more information than most of you want, but I have several friends and family members who want all the details and this is the easiest way to share it. Feel free to skip all this if you aren’t interested!!

I have always had low blood pressure. My mom has super low blood pressure too and I’ve never thought twice about it until this pregnancy (though you might recall that I had it pretty bad during my second pregnancy!), which had by far been my easiest pregnancy until recently. I’ll start by saying that I had a really rough summer. I have Solara utarica, which is a mild sun allergy. I have memories of feeling sick after spending hours in my grandparents’ pool, which is not that shocking since it was hot out and I was probably not hydrating well and such, and I thought for a while I was maybe allergic to chlorine or something until I started doing aqua aerobics at an indoor pool and had none of the headaches or exhaustion afterwards… so I just moved on. As the years went on, something kept going on and it seemed like I spent my entire summers “sick” and grumpy (angry, if I’m being honest), and covered in rashes and hives. Ryan and I would excitedly plan a hike for weeks, I’d pack up lunches and charge my camera battery, and then we’d get a few minutes into the hike and I’d sit down feeling dizzy and itchy and need to go home. I finally got a diagnosis a few years ago and it has helped immensely to know that was the culprit for all my awful feelings and now I have a big dorky hat and wear that, sunglasses, and hoodies any time I am not in the shade during sunny days. This summer it got exceptionally bad—I would spend the entire day with my skin burning and feel dizzy, headachey and fatigued just from checking the mail—and we hoped it was only worse because of pregnancy because it was literally debilitating. The skin stinging-feeling and rashiness would of course be because of the SU but I’ve never felt so fatigued and dizzy from such a short amount of sun exposure so Ryan and I both wonder if those were actually early symptoms, possibly just triggered by the sun exposure.

Aside from that, and some bleeding in the first trimester, this pregnancy has been pretty easy. No major sciatica or morning sickness, none of the awful carpal tunnel I’ve experienced in the past, great iron levels… truly, my easiest yet. And then it suddenly wasn’t.

I started to have this extreme fatigue + dizziness going on and since this is my fourth pregnancy, I knew this wasn’t normal. I brought it up at my next midwife appointment and they explained that this is normal because of the blood volume change right around that time… but other possibilities would be blood sugar and iron level issues. It was time for my gestational diabetes test any ways, so I expected to get a call telling me numbers weren’t right in one of those areas. Numbers were great so I went about my business and put my feet up as often as possible, still finding very little relief from the symptoms… which started to get worse and worse. I was finding myself lying on the couch for an hour or two at a time, feeling like I would pass out if I tried to get up, and then repeating that again after a super simple task like making the kids’ snack or moving the laundry to the dryer… and Ryan kept telling me I was gasping for air in my sleep.

Then I had a midwife appointment where my blood pressure was in the 70s/40s. The nurse shook her head and said, “That can’t be right.” I told her, “I’m pretty sure it is. I feel like I’m about to pass out.” She had me lie on my side and brought be water and snacks, even though I had just eaten and was plenty hydrated, and each time she took it after that it was in the low 80s over 40s or 50s. Baby’s HR was totally fine at this appointment so we talked about not driving much, lying low, and just watching symptoms to see if anything in particular seemed to be triggering things. I started paying better attention to my symptoms and realizing the blood pressure drops were occurring after tachycardia (high heart rate) episodes.

Sometimes my heart will start racing and shaking for no real reason at all. I’ll be sitting at the table eating dinner, relaxing on the couch reading to the babies, lying in bed asleep (always on my left side), standing at the counter making lunch, riding in the car, whatever, and I’ll feel fine and then suddenly my chest feels like I’m running. It gets hard to breathe, my legs get tingly, my eyes start pulsing like the veins in them are about to pop or something, all kinds of weird things. Sometimes it gets so intense I can actually see some of my chest veins twitching in time with my heart-racing. Once the heart racing stops, my blood pressure plummets and I feel terrible. Dizzy, lightheaded, on the verge of passing out, sometimes nauseated, and usually crazy fatigued. I tend to have two different kinds of episodes. One kind is just a minute or two long of intensity, a heart rate of 130-150, and then an hour or two feeling like my blood pressure is too low. The other kind is a long period, like 3-4 hours, where my HR is just slightly elevated, 100-115ish, and then I don’t really feel the low BP side effects but I feel exhausted, like I really overdid it working out, for hours afterwards. Also, Ryan was showing the kids one night how putting a flashlight on your hand makes your skin bright red. They wanted me to do it too and Ryan and I were amazed because we could see a bunch of veins through mine. I have been wondering for weeks now if that’s a pregnancy thing or if that was specific to this heart stuff.

The next two appointments resulted in similar BP readings (but still great for Baby) and my midwife started to get concerned. After another super low BP + high heart rate reading on 10/24, my midwife was thinking this is SVT (superventricular tachycardia) but had no idea if this might be something I’ve always had that’s been exacerbated by pregnancy or if it occurred during this pregnancy and asked me if I’d please go to the ER and have them do an EKG. That was Ryan’s birthday so I asked if we could at least have dinner first and then I went in while he put the kids to bed. My vitals were only taken twice and were normal both times, and my EKG looked great, so they sent me home within a few hours. I was there for an EKG, not to be admitted, so even though I was bummed that the episode I had while I was there wasn’t recorded to give us a better picture, and that they hadn’t checked on baby at all during that time, I was basically fine with that.

10/26 I had some bleeding (no big deal, just a burst blood vessel that was likely caused by the blood pressure ups and downs) and once again, high pulse and low BP. The midwife referred me to a cardiologist who couldn’t get me in until 11/14 so she called me and told me to just go to the ER if I felt bad enough between now and then, and have them admit me to labor and delivery for monitoring. She was feeling really concerned about my numbers at that appointment but there just wasn’t much we could do aside from seeing the cardiologist.

I woke up gasping for air on 10/28 and Ryan said, “That’s enough. I feel like you’re dying all night. Let’s just go to the ER.” His aunt had just come to stay with us and help with the kids so we went to the hospital with a fully packed bag, expecting to be admitted. I felt fine on the drive there and we even joked with each other that this was all I had to do to get us a free date night. The ER did another (perfectly fine) EKG, didn’t send me to l&d, and still didn’t monitor my BP or HR as much as I thought they should have… so I was again sent home a couple hours later.

On 10/30 I “fainted” (that seems like the wrong word to me but that’s what they’ve been calling it) and hit my face and belly on the door frame. I couldn’t get a hold of the on-call midwife so Ryan’s aunt took me to the cardiologist to get my Holter monitor put on, and then drove me up to the midwife’s office where I was hooked up to the monitor for 30 minutes and deemed fine. I didn’t see my regular midwife and she had no idea what had been going on, which was actually really upsetting for me. She said my blood pressure was “a little low” when I considered it GREAT considering previous numbers, so then the nurse looked back at the notes and said “Oh, wait! Look at this!” Then she said I was hungry and hadn’t been eating enough that week. Well, I had had a bowl of oatmeal with two pieces of bacon and an apple for breakfast… but also, if you don’t know Ryan’s aunt, I will just say that I was eating like a king and that answer really irked me. I mean I was eating these amazing gluten free dishes of homemade lasagna, chili, pizza, meatloaf, Italian sausage… hunger was definitely not the issue. Even still, she said I needed to go have another big meal after I left and sit with my feet up. 

Unfortunately my skin reacted TERRIBLY to the gel they used on the Holter monitor. My chest was covered in burns and blisters, and patches of raw skin, and two of the leads fell off during the 48 hours. I tried sticking them back on with band-aids and tape but nothing would stick, I think because my actual skin was coming off in those areas! The monitor came off on 11/1 and my chest skin felt so awful all day. I couldn’t get the gel all off without scrubbing but everything was so burnt and blistered it hurt to even gently rub it. That night I got in the shower and cried and shrieked while Ryan scrubbed at the gel until it was all gone. My chest ached and burned so much, it was crazy! But Ryan’s aunt gave me some good coconut oil and that helped immensely. Everything was still red and blistered for a few days after that but didn’t hurt or keep getting worse at least.

I woke up with a full bladder early on 11/2 but felt basically fine. I went to the bathroom, still felt fine, and then “fainted” again and hit my belly on the sink, hard enough to leave a huge and painful bruise. Ryan’s poor aunt woke up and I got a call asking me to come into the midwife’s office in like 20 minutes so she jumped around getting the kids ready and drove me over there. My blood pressure and heart rate were setting off alarms and my belly was so tender that it brought tears to my eyes any time baby moved, so she sent me to the hospital to be monitored for four hours. Four turned into eight or nine and my BP and HR set off alarms that whole time but Baby’s HR was once again perfect in spite of all of it. I had a heart ultrasound which looked great, another EKG which looked great, and an hour of telemetry monitoring which set off alarms I think 12 times. (A normal heart rate during pregnancy is somewhere between 70-90bpm. My rates have been anywhere between high 80s- high 140s)

At my appointment on 11/7, Baby and I were monitored for 30 minutes. Baby’s HR looked great the entire time. Mine was in the 130s twice and was otherwise 107-114. I made a comment at 107 about it being “great” and my midwife said, “You know it’s bad when a high number makes you feel good.”
She still hasn’t been able to get any results from the cardiologist at this point so she put in the induction request and we will for sure be meeting Baby D during week 39.

I’ve been doing lots of lying around because of all this and I’m mostly too dizzy to do much of anything but keep my eyes closed… but when I’m not feeling as bad I am reading (Knocked Up Abroad and Blessed by Birth for nonfiction, Abomination for fiction), writing/journaling, watching Castle with Ryan (about a murder mystery author who is shadowing a detective as he writes his next big hit. I wouldn’t call it clean, but it’s somewhere in the middle of the road. It has had quite a few really good murder mysteries in it so far [we’re in season two] but without all the gore), and verrrrry occasionally getting things done. I am normally really involved with the kids and I have been so upset about how little I’m enjoying with them right now. I’ve probably read them ten books in the past two weeks (thank goodness for Ryan’s aunt and mom having lots of book-readin’ patience!) and we haven’t been playing outside, going for our walks, homeschooling, hardly any of our usual activities. I think I’ve played LEGOs and baby dolls a couple times each, and that’s pretty much it =[
Also, I miss chocolate so much. I am fantasizing about post-baby See’s Butterscotch Squares.

I’m very ready to be done with all this (my midwife thinks it’ll either completely end or at least taper way down once baby comes) and I am dying to hold my baby and know for sure that he or she really is okay in spite of all this… and then we just have to wait and see if my tachycardia issues normalize post-birth and decide from there what our next plan will be (unless the cardiologist says something more serious needs to be done, which I highly doubt).

I will gladly take lots of prayers for healthy and safety for Baby & me, for a smooth and easy induction, and for the tachycardia symptoms to end after baby comes!!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Pregnancy 4, Week 36

Originally found and then modified via That Mama Gretchen

Slowly running out of shirts... note the belly attempting to escape from the bottom!
How far along: 36 weeks!

Gender predictions: We still say girl, almost everybody else still says boy... but B said "her" once this week and I said "he" once this week so ya never know!

Fitness: NOTHING! I am mostly just lying on my couch dizzy.

Best moment this week: Because of everything I've had going on--extremely low blood pressure, tachycardia (elevated heart rate), debilitating dizziness and fatigue related to both-- Ryan's aunt flew out same-day to help us out this week and Ryan and I got a little "date" when we ran to Target for a couple of hospital bag items and then to the library to pick up my holds... though I did then feel like I might die.
Also, she made my kids animal-shaped pancakes almost every day... here you see an at-at walker from Star Wars and a horse.

Also also, my newest book released this week!

Worst moment this week: Where to begin?! I was in the ER for EKGs twice, fainted and hit my face + belly (though baby was monitored for 20 minutes after and was totally fine), wore a Holter monitor for 48 hours and found out it was inaccurate since two electrodes kept coming off, then fainted again and wound up with a huge and painful bruise on my belly and spent a day in the hospital getting a heart ultrasound, more EKGs, and a whole lot of monitoring for Baby and me! On top of general shakiness, dizziness, and heart-might-be-exploding? feelings! Ready to be done. So, so ready to be done.

Movement: Not as much now that we're out of room, but enough to reassure me through this mess. Also, not necessarily movement, but I tend to have three contractions after each tachycardia episode.

Cravings: None that I recall 

Aversions:  None that I recall 

Queasy or sick: Several times, but I think mostly related to the dizziness.

Looking forward to: The end of this insanity! They tell me it should all taper wayyyy down, if not end entirely, after Baby arrives. I'm tired of feeling so "sick" all the time and even more tired of worrying worrying worrying about how all of this is effecting Baby D.  

What the kids think: They spent last night practicing holding a baby. They also memorized Welcome, Baby and are excited to "read" it to him/her when they finally all meet! 

Books, movies, etc we’ve enjoyed this week: Your Pregnancy Devotional // Your Pregnancy Week by Week // Praying through Your Pregnancy // Welcome, Baby // Blessed by Birth (yep, rereading my own book!!)

Freezer Cooking: Zuppa, turkey chili, taco meat, jambalaya rice, banana walnut muffiins. Ryan's aunt also made me lots of bone broth and Ryan and I picked up fish sticks and a frozen lasagna when we went to Target. 

Miscellaneous: Kindly please keep Baby and me in your prayers this week! 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Book Review: Total Christmas Makeover

I'm all about devotionals these days and start every morning with one. I just published my book of Christmas essays which means I was editing and formatting Christmas essays for months before that so I've been very excited about Christmas this year.

I was incredibly excited to get the opportunity to read Total Christmas Makeover and was not disappointed. If you're looking for a kind of devotional that will help you center your heart on the spiritual side of the holiday, this is a really great pick!

Melissa Poelstra touches on many perspectives in Total Christmas Makeover but I think my favorite part is the reflection questions that move your heart into a deeper place of introspection and revelation.

The devotional spans 31 days so I highly recommend starting it on November 25th and finishing it on Christmas... and, perhaps best of all, I think you can easily get something out of it even if you're reading the same devotional each year.

*I received a free copy of this book from LitFuse in exchange for an honset review.