Tuesday, November 12, 2013

American Film Circus, er Market

For every independent filmmaker, the dream and ultimate goal is to secure world wide distribution. But any TRUE independent…and I’m sorry, George Clooney I love you, you are not an independent filmmaker… but those of us who have to get creative to find funding in the first place will tell you that it’s an uphill battle from concept to completion.
This year, for the first time, we found ourselves in the right time and the right place with a feature film in the can and package ready for potential buyers. We had just experienced a very successful month on IndieFlix, a killer review from Cinema on the Rocks and two highly receptive screenings. American Film market was just days in front of us and we had done our homework. We had our one sheets, our synopsis, DVD copies and copies of our 18 band soundtrack in hand. But this was our first AFM, hell this was our first film market period. To say we were a bit doe-eyed would be an understatement. Because being ready and being prepared are not the same thing.
Luckily, the AFM is very helpful. They have a full page dedicated to who’s going to be there, what they are shopping and how to get into contact with them. They also have a full page dedicated to a first-timers “How to” guide.  So early October we made our game plan and our hot sheet of companies we wanted to meet with and how to get a hold of them. We were told by a colleague that we didn’t need to purchase badges ($245 for one day or close to $1000 for the week) because all of the handshaking and deals happened on the main lobby that was free access to all. So we did not purchase a pass and just worked on making appointments.
We sent our meeting requests to 17 companies with two contacts each. We had responses from 5 companies and 12 people, and met with three.
Our first meeting was with After Dark Films. This is a company that specializes in genre film and has a high success rate for those films. We had chatted with them a bit before our meeting and then again that morning to confirm. They had only watched 1/2 of the film when we met, but they were excited about it which was reassuring. They were super excited about the 18 band angle, but we don’t have any A-list talent so they have to sift through the rest of the market and see what’s being pitched before any decisions can be made.  At least a month, so we shake hands and move on to our next meeting.
Next up was Spotlight Pictures. Spotlight is not a distributor. They are a sales agent, the middle man that takes the film to the next market and launch the sales.They explained how this works, and talked to us about their process as a company. They currently have four James Franco films in their roster, so this is the sort of company you want representing you. Especially because they do what you can not: take your film all over the world and negotiate a sale. Another successful meeting but again, no deals are struck and it’s at least a month before they’ll know if they want to represent the film or not.
There was an un-official meeting with a documentarian and Home Video distribution from Germany. She took all of our information, noted our story and shared a coffee with us. She was very nice, but I’m still not sure what her angle was.
The next day was World Wide Entertainment. They are the company that picked up fellow NW Film “Divination” and took it to Red Box. This to us meant we were interested in their company because they’ve taken care of a filmmaker we know personally. That may seem like a silly reason to trust a company, but for us, personal relationships matter. Knowing that there’s a filmmaker in our home town that trusted them enough to take their film gives them a leg up on our trust scale.
The rest of the week was full of other meetings, orientation for our editor at IATSE and then a day of rest before we hit the road for our 19 hour drive home. The best thing about the insanity is that AFM is not unlike the networking events hosted by Seattle Film + Music. It’s not unlike the privately hosted screenings we’ve held for our films, or that other filmmakers have hosted for their own. AFM is one large social networking and hustling event. It’s intimidating, but manageable. And once you overcome the fear that you’re just an independent filmmaker you remember, so are they. Everyone is just trying their best to make movies and get them in front of an audience. And that is very reassuring.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Food Glorious Food

So that was fun.

We are on WIC to supplement Ondine’s nutrition. For any mom who’s ever had to purchase formula, you know exactly what I’m talking about. That shit’s expensive. $17.99 on sale for the SMALL can. And she can go through two in a week. Even the grocery checker exclaims “that’s highway robbery, you’re feeding a baby!” ever time we go in. So we went to WIC to help us out. But because it is a state program, they have certain expectations that are really based on some dude- who’s never had children- his idea of what a child should be able to eat. So at exactly six months of age they decided she needed to start solids. Not based on what a doctor said she was capable of, but what the state of Washington thinks she’s capable of.
Well sure, why not. Any google search will tell you that kids shouldn’t start solids before 4 months so 6 months is absolutely when a child should start. Never mind what the baby’s body is telling it.
But like good parents, we asked her surgeon and doctor and they said that it should be ok but to be super mindful of the pallet. If it gets clogged clean it, if she gets food in her nose wipe it out with a soft cloth. Start with something bland like rice cereal and then move onto foods one at a time, test to see if her body reacts adversely to anything before you try a new food. 2 tablespoons max should be given at most feedings. So we tried.
Of course she was confused at first. Rice cereal was clearly not her thing. Not only did she struggle with the concept, but she HATED the taste. She tongued it all out of her mouth.
We tried in this order: carrots, green beans, peas, oatmeal, squash sweet potato. Oatmeal & sweet potato seem to be her favorite. She actually really enjoys the flavor of the foods. Mmmm is the sounds she makes. But…
If she swallows wrong or gets too much in mouth at one time… Disaster. Most children are messy when it comes to eating. Ondine is no exception. But most children don’t take a bite and have it come instantly out their nose.
For anyone who’s had a brain freeze from your favorite ice cream or had someone make you laugh at the exact moment you take a gulp of your favorite drink, you understand the sudden pain of that. But you’re an adult, or at least old enough to understand the pain is fleeting and you’re going to be ok. Now imagine you’re a baby, you reasoning skills have not been developed and all you know is that every time you open your mouth to accept a little food, it hurts. Tears and screaming is your only way of expressing.  So meal time is now a challenge, and not a pleasant one.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Homecare Adventures

10 days post stitches and ALL kinds of fun. In not sure if its an oversight by the hospital or the nurse or me for not asking. But they forgot to tell me how to change the tape on the stints. It should be pretty standard except that the rubber bands are literally sewn in. Hmm. Challenge accepted.
I managed to figure out how to stretch the bands without snapping or cutting them and get the old tape off. But this process was a good 20 minutes at a time. Then you get to lube them up with some sort of jelly safe for a baby and her nose. Never mind the screaming that happens once you get them back in her nose or the ripping she does at her cheeks to get the tape off.
I have a lot of parents try to pat me on the hand and tell me that they understand. No. You don’t. Unless you have a child with a medical condition that requires constant attention, you simply don’t. I recognize you’re trying to make me feel better, but as I’ve mentioned before, until you know what it is to hold you child praying that the choking will pass because there is NOTHING you can do to help, you don’t understand. I appreciate your empathy, but please don’t give me advice because you simply don’t understand.
Once I mastered getting the tape on the stints and the tape on her cheeks, there was a new challenge  each morning: Find the damn thing. Ondine woke up a few days ago and the stints were MIA. Sheer panic. Had she thrown them somewhere? We’re they in the crib. Please God tell me she didn’t swallow them!
Four days go by. It’s the Monday after we noticed them gone and they suddenly and mysteriously appear on the changing table. But not in a diaper or something. Oh no just casually hanging out near the wipes.  I’ve decided this is the ongoing “WTF happened to that” syndrome. It means you hand the baby a toy or something and seconds later its completely gone. Weeks later the garden gnomes have returned it and all is well.
We kept at if for a few days after we found them, but frankly they became more of a hassle then they were worth. We decided it was not worth it to make her cry over anymore. We have plenty to make her cry just being a regular baby. The struggle with the cleft, well lets try to make this as easy as we can and let her BE a regular baby.
Goodbye stints. Goodbye tape. Until we meet again at years end. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Stitch Free, the Return of the Tape

So excited! August 19th and the stitches (finally) come out. This was a longer than normal stitches in situation due to schedule conflicts. The doc was out when we were in so to speak.  But huzzah they’re out! …
And the tape is back.
We knew she would have to have stints- little plastic tubes- to help her nose keep its formation after surgery. We forgot that there would be tape again.
She was NOT a happy camper.
Well such is the way of it. We don’t often like things thrown our way. More often than not we are fully prepared for one challenge and life throws us a curve.
For Ondine, the challenges will be life long. I have friends who are so excited. They think her journey is over. I don’t have the heart to explain there are at least two more surgeries.  This one was substantially cosmetic when you get down to it. The future holds a much more significant and difficult surgery. But we can only face them one at a time.
So for now, we will dutifully put her new device in and e the mean parents. Because the rest of her life she won’t remember this pain.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pre Op Count Down

Monday July 22nd was our pre-op. It was a bit overwhelming, as they tend to be when there’s more than one stop. We first met with the surgeon and his assistant. They told us roughly what to expect and complimented her progress so far. I guess if there was a poster child for NAM molding, Ondine would be it.
Next up was the social worker, I think to best judge our mental state. Since Ondine is such a chill baby 90% of the time, we passed with flying colors. Though I can’t help but feel an ant under a microscope during them. I talk too much trying to show how awesome we are at parenting. It’s exhausting but I know what kind of power a social worker, even a friendly one, can wield so I ‘m not taking any chances.  Finally the nurses, to go over the Post-Op process and feeding. They ask us to feed her without her device in.
Ondine has become so accustomed to her device that it’s essentially become a part of her mouth. Think about it. You’ve had tape on your face since you were two weeks old and a retainer in your mouth covering a hole since you were 3 weeks. 4 months later the adults in their infinite wisdom decide it’s time to take this away. She screamed, she couldn’t eat, she’d smack the bottle away. She wanted nothing to do with it but she wanted her device back in. I’m so glad the nurse came AFTER the social worker.
Dejected and exhausted, we’re sent home with instructions to leave the device out as often as possible. This lasts until she wakes up again. Half a bottle of spilt milk and hysterical tears later my husband and I both decide that’s enough. Tape, device, bottle. And silence. The sounds of a happy baby getting enough to eat without any trouble. I’ll risk the trouble later.
Next night was the blessing of our first feature film. It was only appropriate to bring short stuff with us, she did after all make her presences known one week into production. And while we celebrated with our cast and crew, Ondine journeyed with us. A few people commented on how lucky we were to have her with us. Many of our film friends have been following her journey and it was their first opportunity to meet her. I think it surprised a few that we included her but having grown up on film sets myself it was only logical. Ondine’s journey is our journey. For the last year we’ve been making a movie. During that time we’ve also brought a child into this world. Post production for both has been a nightmare with taping, editing, surgery consults and very little sleep for both. But at the end of the evening we realized that the one prepared us for the other. So with two days left until surgery we celebrate the completion of our first feature and anticipate the next step in the journey for both Ondine and us.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Now & Then

Two weeks. It’s crazy to think there was time in my life when I didn’t know how to change a diaper, much less change the medical tape that molds her tender tissue day by day. But in two weeks my precious Ondine will have her first surgery.
A lot of folks see her, and her device that looks like different things to different people. some ask if its oxygen, some recognize it on sight. nearly everyone assumes I can’t wait for surgery. That’s not entirely true.  I’m a little scared.
When she was first born I asked “can you see her face?” I must have asked multiple times, I honestly don’t remember. But I asked enough for my mom to bring it up one night when I broke down. She looked at me, telling her in tears how beautiful I thought my daughter was and gently reminded me I asked. And when the answer was yes and then the follow up was “does she have it?” The answer was yes. Then my mom asked me if my heart didn’t break a little. The answer was yes.
And then I saw her face. Her perfect little lip shaped beautifully like a heart. Strong legs that fully extended and pressed against my belly.
Her neck was so strong she lifted her head to look around moments out of the womb. She was perfect. I know I’ve said that before. I’ve written a lot on it. And I realize that all parents find their own children to be perfect. But in that moment I was challenged.
Now, 3 months later- hours of sleepless nights, days of frustration followed by moments of perfect glee we are just about there. So of course as our new journey begins I look back to where it all began. I’m shocked to see the changes. Because I’m with her everyday I hardly noticed them. Her whole face transformed. Her eyes became more clear, her nose formed a real structure and her perfect little lips got even closer together.
So we wait. Patiently for the OR to open its doors. A whole new set of challenges await us. But I’m ready. I think :)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

When the First Baby Laughed

Laughter can cure all that ails you. Laughter cures fear and mends broken hearts. Laughter lifts your spirit and shakes off despair. Laughter gives you strength through pain, and celebrates your heart. A child’s laugh is a diamond that cuts through all trouble and gives hope for the future.
Ondine laughed today.  And The day before. and will again tomorrow. Weather  it was the funny faces we made, or that we elicited joy from her tiny form, she laughed.
Each day is unique, some good some bad. Somehow that small laugh made all our struggles vanish. That small laugh restored hope on a weary soul.
“When the first baby laughed for the first time, the laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about. And that was the beginning of faeries.”  I’d like to think the first laugh for each child becomes a faery. for how else do you explain the magic laughter of a child.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Counting Down the Days to See Her Smile

Most of the time, Ondine is so chill that everyone compliments me on how lucky I am. I protest that I’m just proactive in attending to her needs so she seems more chill. But the medical team seems to think so too so maybe I am that lucky. We are 50 days out from surgery and it feels like we’ve come a long way. But the journey is far from over.
Every week since she was 2 weeks old we have taken Ondine in for molding. Molding of her lip, now molding of her nose. Every week we adjust the device. Somedays she cries, somedays she sleeps right through. Today we added a piece of tape to press down the middle section of her lip just bellow the nose. She didn’t cry, she screamed.
Maybe she was hungry, maybe she was upset that it’s hot in Seattle and we don’t have AC. Maybe she was hurt by the device and couldn’t express it any other way. But she screamed. She screamed when she was on the exam table, she screamed in my arms, she screamed until she was exhausted and a cuddle on my chest seemed to dissipate it for a minute.
The doctors see her every week and comment on her progress. They’re great doctors. So kind and helpful. Anything I could need and they are there for me. But they aren’t the ones who have to put the tape on her cheeks. They aren’t the ones who take a wet cotton-swab to rub away adhesive so you can change the tapes on her device so she doesn’t accidentally swallow pieces. They aren’t the one who has to swaddle Ondine because she’s too strong and jerks so violently away from the tape that the threat of damaging her eyes is very real. I am. I am the mean person who tortures her and she looks at me with big wet eyes that ask one question: Why?
I’ve had to get creative to help expedite the process, otherwise I break down in tears myself and have to walk away for a moment.. I created a portable medical kit out of a diaper wipe container that goes wherever Ondine goes now. It’s more of a stock pile in case she rips tape off her face, which she does any time she’s angry.
I’m blessed that she has started to pacify herself with her fingers by sucking on her hand. The thumb-sucking doesn’t work because the device is in the way. She tried at the docs office today but it just wasn't the same. It took her until she had nearly cried herself to sleep plus a bottle plus a car ride before she actually settled down. Her brow was furrowed in sleep. She was anything but relaxed and I just sat there and cried. I cried like I cried when I went to visit my own mom.
My mom had taken the device out to let Ondine rest and I cried because it wasn’t fair. My mom got to see her smile. My mom got to see her at peace. And when I had her I had to be the adult and keep the device in, so she never really rested. I cried because I was jealous that I might never see her smile.  Silly I suppose. But it was how I felt at the time.
Just a few days ago she started to smile for real. But this device ruins it every time. She smiles for a moment then remembers that she’s not that comfortable, that there is this tape pulling her checks towards her nose, that there is a piece of metal and plastic pushing her nostrils open and a final piece of tape pulling her lip down. Molding her face for the future. But today… I just want to see her smile.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Wedding Bells

Last Friday was Ondine’s first ever Wedding. There was some deliberation about what to do if she got fussy so as not to ruin her Godmother’s special day (Sean and Amy are now officially hitched!). Godmother #2 had offered to babysit since both Collin and I were set to be a part of the bridal party long before we even knew we were pregnant. The worry was that with the addition of the nasal pieces she might be more fussy than her normal chill baby state.
This kid lives to defy odds.
Comfortable in her baby Bjorn with “Aunties” Jill & Chelan in the back row (strategic location for a quick exit) the wedding begins. Mommy and daddy pass by and she is passed out cold in her pink party dress. Go team!
Of course to rapidly follow is the reception. I realize more everyday that a baby is like a hot potato that no one wants to let go of. Gimme-Gimme is the name of the game and after dinner once dancing started she was passed from one oohing woman to the next. Everyone wanted time with her. I came back from the bathroom to find her in the arms of a woman I never met- no Collin in sight. “Excuse me that’s my baby.” I said.
“Oh that’s alright, she matched our table.” said the grandma-type. “I’m ok. You go have fun.” Well alrighty.
It was how the entire night went. If they didn’t want time with the bride and groom, they wanted to check out their goddaughter. She got a dollar dance with the groom and with the bride (a little unfair because no one wanted to cut in on the infant) and danced with mom and dad a line dance. Our good pal Miles sang his epic “Milkshake” song and then it was time to get going.
Note to new moms: If you want your infant to sleep for a solid 5 hours and then most of the following day, take them to a wedding.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Baby In Waiting

3-5 months. That’s what they told us for surgery. And we’re right on track. Ondine’s molding is going exactly to plan. And we are now scheduled for July 25th. She will be 17 weeks old.
You know, caring for a new born is never easy. I want to slap moms who say to me it’s the most beautiful thing they’ve ever done. While every day I love my daughter more and more, it’s also the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Compound the regular care schedule with weekly hospital appointments, add a combination of pain and uncomfortable medical devices that must be worn 23 hours a day and then you have an idea of what this takes. We are by no means the only parents with children who have special needs. But I’ve also noticed that not many people talk about those needs or problems. I’ve been directed to find support groups that sound more like an AA meeting than supportive  parents who are going through the same things.
This week Ondine was given the additional nasal part of the molding. The tissue inside her mouth has moved nicely and the gap is now less than 5mm apart.  They congratulate me on the progress and discuss the next phase: adding two pieces if metal to hold her nostrils up.
Up until now, Ondine has really only been bothered by the tape. She sleeps through 90% of her appointments. Not this time.
Ondine dozed once we had the device out for molding, but it was only temporary. The metal pieces are attached to little soft waxy pieces that look like lima beans. Her nostrils sit on the divet while the bulbous part pushes up on the inside of her nose. This is to form her nostrils for breathing and cosmetics. Ever had a pencil up your nose when you were a kid? Now imagine being an infant that can’t complain with words. So you scream.
It’s her most stressful appointment to date. I pick her up and cuddle her, bouncing a bit to comfort while I listen to the doctor explain where we are and where we go from here. I look at my pretty girl, her device looks more like a mask now, like a little baby Bane or something. While I hate every minute she has to wear it, I also realize it’s essential for her to be prepared for surgery. So I bite back tears and carry on, thankful she wont remember anything. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Step One: NAM Molding.

Yesterday Ondine was fitted with her NAM molding. She’s such a chill baby even the doctor commented on it. “I think he might be the easiest baby we’ve ever fitted.” And she must have been. The molding was like a binkie, she loved it. It was the tape on her cheeks she didn’t like. But she fell right asleep afterwards and we made our way to the nursing floor.

We checked in pretty quickly and the nurse did the normal weight/growth check and then proceeded to watch in wonder as Ondine wolfed down 65ml of milk as if it was nothing. She did her little fake burp, I insisted on a real burp and fell back asleep. This is my hope that she continues to be so chill every time she gets a fitting. Wishful thinking, I know.

So now this device. They call it an appliance. Since I can’t blend a smoothie or toast bread in it, device seems more appropriate. It’s not dissimilar to a retainer for post-braces in orthodontics.  Only it has this button that sticks out her mouth  that you use to hook tiny little rubber bands to and attach to her face with tape. It’s frankly awful. But again, I have a super baby. She doesn’t seem to mind. Praying for a quick molding so that we get her through this before she realizes what’s going on.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Struggle for Air

It’s 5:15 am on a Saturday. The only thing I can do is type a note on my iPhone while my baby girl sleeps. What’s that? Put her back in the bassinet you say? I’d love to. Except she has a bilateral cleft pallet. That’s easier said than done.
I’ve previously written about the heart break and fear my husband and I went through during my pregnancy because doctors scared the shit out of us with the news that our child would have a bilateral cleft lip and possibly a pallet as well. Even more recently I talked about the process of delivery. But no blog I’ve read, no doctor I’ve spoken with could really prepare me (or my husband) for caring for a newborn with a cleft.
It not that different I suppose. You wake every 2-4 hours to feed/change/cuddle. There are giggles at her precious sounds and complete frustrations when nothing you do will console a screaming baby.  There’s the normal fears of am I a good parent, what if I’m doing it all wrong?
None of that compares to the fear of holding your helpless baby in your even more helpless hands as she stretches her neck gasping for air.
Hence I sit in a recliner at zero dark thirty, with no Oscar nomination in sight, and my 3 week old slumbering at a slight angle on my chest so she can breathe a little easier. We discovered this brilliant little trick at the hospital when one of the very clever nurses tilted her bassinet ever so slightly so that she wouldn’t choke if she threw up, and to ensure that anything in her mouth went where it was supposed to go: down her throat and not into her nasal cavity.
I guess I should explain. A cleft pallet is essentially a hole in the roof of the mouth. It means the barrier between the nasal passage and mouth is MIA. This leaves her open to fluid in her ear canal, problems with sight if milk clogs her tear ducts, and the very real possibility of her choking every time she eats which is about every 2 hours.
But in spite of all of that, the fear, the frustration, the sheer panic that wakes me after 5 minutes if she gurgles instead of breathes is worth it. Because her voice is the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard, and her deep blue eyes see right through my soul. Because right now I have a flesh and blood angel sleeping peacefully over my heart.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Journey Begins

If I thought I had a lot of doctors appointments during my pregnancy, nothing compare to the first two weeks of Ondine’s life on earth. Or what’s to come over the first year of her life.
The first post hospital visit was a visit to Seattle Children’s Hospital craniofacial unit. This was my second visit, Collin and Ondine’s first. This appointment isn’t what were hoping for. We’re hoping for a meeting with the surgeon to discuss the trajectory of her surgery. Nope.
1st up are the nurses. They check weight, length and skin color. They have me feed her to watch and judge if she’s eating correctly. Turns out Ondine and I are pros at bottle feeding. You see, a cleft lip & pallet child can’t nurse. It’s been one of those ongoing “I’m an unfit parent” internal conflicts for me. And everyone else wants to tell me just try to breast feed. I want to scream “I can’t!” But the reality is she can’t. It’s not her fault any more than it is mine. She can latch, but because there’s a hole in the roof of her mouth and a gap in her lip she can’t get any suction.  It’s been hard for me to come to terms with but I refuse to formula feed if I can avoid it so our schedule is pump-store-feed-repeat. It’s painful and exhausting but it has to be done for her sake.
Next up is the social worker. I panicked slightly when they told me I had to meet one of those.  Luckily she turned out to be a fabulous woman whose purpose there was to make sure I had the tools I needed to care for my child. Her job is to be there to support us if we have questions, help us navigate insurance if necessary and anything else we could think of. She was the first social worker I’d ever met and trusted from minute one.
Finally the pediatrician comes in. She takes the exam even further checking reflexes, ear canals eyes and all the other standard healthy human tests. Ondine passed with flying colors. Then they were able to answer a few questions but not the main one. The answer is still 3-6 months and we won’t know until you meet the surgeon.
So we head into Easter. We have not yet met the surgeon, but we’ve met his team.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Painful Joy

3 am wake up.
During the course of pregnancy I’d come to recognize this as my nightly bathroom break, or perhaps it was time to shift to the other side because baby had decided it was time to practice her ballet bar then.
This was very, very different.
I couldn’t breathe at first. I sat straight up an immediately regretted it. My husband slept beside me and I didn’t want to wake him up in a panic if it was another false alarm. I grabbed my phone, flipped on the stop watch and started timing.  Contractions: 5 minutes apart, lasting for a minute… 20 minutes.
They had us practice in our birthing class holding ice in our bare hands to feel the pain and breathe through it. Sounds crazy but that ice burns like a mo-fo and without that mental prep, I could see how it was easy to grab the nearest intern and roar for drugs before you rip out their heart. I’m luckily stubborn enough that it worked. Time to wake up the husband.
“What?! What’s wrong!”
“It’s time.”
“Are you sure? We can call the midwife.”
“No. It’s time.” 10 minutes or so later my husband and my mom had me in the car and we were on our way.  It was the most painful car ride I’ve ever endured. Not sure if it was the pain or my mom and my husband cracking really bad jokes to take my focus off the pain. Either way the drive sucked big time. Mom dropped us at the front entrance. I’m praying the doors are unlocked because I really don’t want to waddle through emergency and then up to the birthing center. Luck was on our side.  Contractions: 4-5 minutes apart, lasting for 1 minute for the last 45 minutes.
My husband checks us in at Swedish Hospital in Ballard and fills out any paper work not already prepared in our birthing plan folder. The midwife comes in and they get me into a gown, explain that they still have to check my cervix to determine if they should keep me for now or send me home.
“You made it to 5 cm dilated before coming in? I’m impressed”
“I told you I have a high pain tolerance.”
The first thing they did was put me on antibiotics with a locked IV in case I needed a bath or shower during the process. About 2 weeks prior I had tested positive for Group B Streptococcus (GBS) which is normal and occurs in 25% of healthy adult women, but can be harmful to newborns. Ergo, antibiotics.
For the first several hours not a lot happened. Meaning I did a lot of breathing and bracing through contractions. Friends started to show up. My vitals were taken, we monitored baby and the routine parade of medical professionals made their presence known to me, who they were and what their specialty was. I was tough. I can handle this. Just breathe.
Around 12 hours I broke down.
I was ready for an epidural. I felt like I had failed. I had wanted so desperately to have a drug free delivery, and with my scoliosis, it was incredibly risky .
I even had second thoughts when my midwife came in, asking her to check how dilated I was because if I was getting close enough to push then it wasn’t worth it.  Then the mother of all contractions hit me and I couldn’t breathe at all.  I was on all fours screaming in my pillow until it passed. I collapsed on the bed and sobbed. I didn’t care anymore, I just wanted to pain to stop. I held my husbands hand and waited for the anesthesiologist. What seemed like hours later, I woke up. I had finally gotten some real rest. I was able to joke again, tease my husband and hold his hand. I couldn’t feel my legs at all, so they turned off the epidural. I’d need to be able to feel at least a little in order to push.
When the pushing came time, it wasn’t at all what I expected. In the movies I see the crinkled faces and the screaming anguish. But I was drugged and couldn’t feel my legs. I felt the contraction, but barely. Time to push. To me, it felt like I was doing sit ups for an agressive trainer who wont take no for an answer.
With one foot in my mothers hand, the other in my mother in laws and gripping my husbands hand so hard I might break it, I pushed. Ten seconds. Breathe. Repeat.
I’m not sure how long this took, maybe thirty minutes, maybe an hour. And then she was here. Ondine Evelyn Neal, 8lb 15oz, 20inches long. She was purple, and crying. But she cuddled onto my chest, set foot on my belly and was a part of our life from here on out.
Everything else sort of faded away.  Pain didn’t matter, and while the doctors were busy sewing me back together in spots, I was completely distracted by the most beautiful face I’d ever seen. I was now a mother.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Waiting for Baby

There is this thought that birth is like it is in the movies. I am here to tell you that is a dirty lie. It’s NOTHING like it is in the movies. I should know better, being a filmmaker. We practice in the magic of illusion everyday. But I also have this hopeless romantic faith in fairy tales and happy endings so I can justify my naiveté here.
Early Sunday March 17th I pulled myself out of bed. “Today’s the day!” I thought. Anticipation since July when a sudden and surprising little bird made her presence known. It was our delivery day. Our little peanut had been right on target every week for growth and there’s no reason to even think she won’t come on time. Saint Patrick’s Day was finally here and we were determined to encourage her to hit her holiday. Both her dad and I missed our holidays by one day (4th of July and Thanksgiving) so we didn’t want her to suffer the same irritation.
I had decided I would refuse C-section unless medically necessary for personal reasons. My husband and I had also discussed at length the pros and cons of drugs during the labor and decided a natural birth (unless medically necessary) was also on the books. So we began our Sunday with a game plan. Operation Baby Drop was a GO!
I was feeling contractions and could time them but there is this numbers rule they give you in preparations to judge when it’s best to ACTUALLY show up at the hospital. 4-1-1. Contractions are 4 minutes apart lasting for a minute for at least 1 hour. I have an absurdly high pain tolerance so I called the midwife and she told me I would really be able to tell the difference, so wait. Contractions: 10-15 minutes apart lasting for 30 seconds.
First, a nice… long… hot…
Bath. Where was your mind?  My two girlfriends picked my mom and I up. The four of us headed to Bella Nails in Ballard. We made our appointment and walked to Cupcake Royale. What’s a birthday without Irish Crème Cupcakes? Or Whiskey Bacon Cupcakes? This is an Irish baby damnit, she’s got to start it out right. Back to the nail salon and we all pampered ourselves. There is rhyme to this indulgence. There are pressure points on your feet that can induce labor. Of course it would have been awkward if my water had broke there, but hey we were on a mission. Alas, baby has enough of her stubborn Scottish mama (Me) to stay right where she was. Contractions: 10 minutes apart lasting for 30 seconds. I’m not unsure these are just really powerful Braxton Hicks at this point.
Onward we went to the Freemont Sunday Market.  We mingled, bought things we had no intention of buying until we got there, and I got my photo taken with the best baby buggy in the world. Still my baby wasn’t encouraged enough to make her appearance.  Time for lunch, er… dinner.
Normally a spicy meal is in order. But seeing as A. I’d been eating Pho and Indian food my whole pregnancy I didn’t think it would do the trick and B. It was St. Patrick’s Day we opted for home cooking. It’s sacrilegious to eat anything other than corned beef and cabbage in the Neal house on St. Patrick’s Day. My mom had recently shared her recipe with my husband who then took that and ran with it creating his own fabulous concoction.
The boys had been busy playing Halo and making the meal while we were out so it was time to head home. Contractions: 7-10 minutes apart lasting for about 30-45 seconds.  Still thinking these might just be my uterus doing push-ups in preparation for the marathon.
The Godparent couples (we have two) and some more close friends showed up and it was a regular Irish gathering. We talked, they drank, played games and ate delicious food.  We went for our second walk up to the elementary school and back. During the walk the contractions increased in intensity and I was happy for the pain. “This is it!” I thought.
As soon as I sat down to time them more specifically they went right back to being strong Braxton Hicks. Lame. I consulted the midwife again, emphasizing my pain tolerance and again being told that I would really be able to tell the difference. That the reason so many women have “false labor” pains is because they’re not listening to their body. “Trust me, you’ll know when it’s time. You wont have to ask, you’ll just come in.”
Several hours and rounds of Cards Against Humanity later, it was time to say goodnight to our friends. Contractions: 5-8 minutes apart lasting 45 seconds.
Well, it was time for bed. The sun had set on St. Patrick’s Day and I felt a little sad, but equally happy that our little girl had decided that she was going to do things on her own schedule.  Perhaps it’s delusion, but I thought to myself it was an encouraging thought knowing she was exerting her independence even before she’d left my body.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Open Letter to my Friends & Family...

My dearest family and friends.

I had my latest ultrasound today and baby is right on target, a little big but you’ve met Collin so you know that’s not surprising. They tell me she’s right on target and that she’s in the 84% for grown. Healthy and strong, and a wiggle-fritz as my mother likes to say.

I’m writing to ask for a little prayer. Some of you may already know that she is expected to have a cleft, but to what extent is still unclear. If it’s just a lip, it’s mostly cosmetic and she can have surgery at about 3 months and be done with it. If it’s a pallet, it means many more surgeries throughout her childhood to allow her to breathe and eat and speak properly. I would be eternally grateful if you did two things and both prayed for her healing while she’s still developing (God made the world in 7 days, in 9 weeks He can heal an unborn child). But the second is equally important to me. 

I ask that you take a little time and look at some images online of cleft lip children and infants, especially if you plan on attending me during labor or shortly after. It would brake my heart to see disappointment on any your faces and I want her to feel unconditional love from the moment she sets foot in this world. I want her to know that no matter what the challenges that face her, her family and friends will always love her.

This is hard for me to write because it’s so incredibly personal, and I’ve been down playing it. The truth is that this is a very very common thing in American births, 1 in 700 to be exact and it’s also incredibly treatable. It is typically hardest on the parents and family, and not the baby. She likely wont even know there’s anything wrong at all, just that we love her. So I ask you to pray for her, pray for us and prepare yourselves in case this is indeed a challenge that God wants us to face head on.

Love always,