Lola’s Elmo Garden Party Theme Birthday Party

Lola turned two in April, but we purposely waited until last weekend to have a party to celebrate, until all of the adults in our families were fully vaccinated. I’m glad we did, as it was a beautiful 80 degree day and we were able to soak up the sun while all being together again- something we hadn’t done for about a year. Not only that, but the apple blossoms were in full bloom on the trees on our berm for only that day, which fit perfectly with our theme of an Elmo Garden Party.

This winter, Elmo became Lola’s favorite (by the time of the party, he had been replaced by the crew from Frozen, although she’s thankfully still a fan), so when it started to look like vaccines would be available by spring, I began thinking about having a party. Daydreams of warm weather, flowers, being together, and celebrating our little Lola gave me something to look forward to while we were stuck at home.

I got my craft on in the days leading up to the party, working here and there when I’d find a few minutes, to make the little Elmos, the Pin-the-nose-on-the-Elmo, the balloon garlands, and the fringe wall, which I made out of plastic table cloths. I love this kind of stuff. It’s mindfulness at its best. Keeping my hands busy and focusing on a project that produces an end result is incredibly calming for me and I love when it all comes together.

I kept the food easy with fresh fruit, caesar salad, pink lemonade with fresh citrus fruits, turkey and havarti sliders, and little bags of chips. Grandma Vicki of course brought cupcakes and I ordered beautiful sugar cookies from the ridiculously talented Sweet Q’s Cookie Co. To complete the garden party theme, I got some fresh flowers from the grocery store in the colors closest to the theme and made arrangements in several sizes.

To say that the day was special is an understatement. Complete with games and playing in the sun, it felt so good to all be together again. My only regret is that once the party started and we were hanging out I didn’t stop and make sure that we got photos of Lola with all of the family and one of just the three of us (or four with Finn, but his cooperation is often limited). I’m glad I at least got a few of her enjoying her cookies, opening some gifts, splashing around in the sprinkler and pool, playing Pin-the-nose-on-the-Elmo and running around with her cousins.

Infertility Awareness Week

Infertility Awareness Week is April 18-24. In the past year, infertility has become a bigger part of my life than I had ever expected or wanted.  

I’ve been pretty open about my cancer diagnosis, treatment, and on-going health issues as a result on my blog, but for some reason, I chose not to share until now that all this year we have been struggling to get pregnant. 

This summer, with the guidance of my oncologist and reproductive medicine team, I paused my hormone therapy so that we could do another embryo transfer with our remaining embryo. 

Everything that was an obstacle last time was SO EASY this time around. My body had completely reset itself, it seemed, after delivering Lola, and so what literally took a full year in order for my body to respond just enough to meet the lowest level recommended for a transfer the first time, all happened right away this time and we were ready for a transfer immediately. 

Covid and the uncertainties that came with it brought a new set of challenges this time around that we didn’t face with the embryo transfer with Lola. Obviously, if I or Nate were to be exposed or contract Covid, the transfer would be canceled, resulting in time, money, hormones, energy, and potentially the embryo, being wasted, depending on what point we are in the process. So, as cases began to rise, we postponed the process until I got approval in August to teach remotely, which made it easier to minimize exposure, as Nate has also been working from home since March 2020.  

On October 22, 2020, we had our second and last embryo transfer. 

Somehow, because we had faced one obstacle after another before, yet still we got pregnant, it seemed like this time would be an easy guarantee, and I admit, I got cocky. I had begun thinking and planning in my head about this second baby, picturing Lola with her sibling, and our family being complete. This person was so real to me. Every little symptom I noticed I added to the tally in my mind that led me to believe I was pregnant, fortifying my confidence that this embryo transfer would again result in a baby. I remember telling my therapist at the Cancer Center so calmly that I really felt good about the outcome, but that if it didn’t work out, I felt at peace because we already had Lola. 

Our two embryos after doing embryo preservation before beginning chemo.
Our embryo that resulted in Lola.
Our second embryo.

Yet, when we got the results through MySanfordChart from my blood draw 11 days after the transfer, I was devastated to see my HCG was less than 1.2 (less than or equal to 5 is a negative test result). We had waited until my lunch break to check, so we could look at it together, and I remember emailing the nurse to confirm that the results meant I was in fact not pregnant and lost it when I got the response. Somehow I was hoping they’d say I had interpreted the test incorrectly and everything was great. 

I cried hysterically through my lunch break and prep period that (thankfully) followed, and then had to put on a happy face, even though the redness and puffiness of my eyes and cheeks likely gave it away, even through Zoom, that I had been crying, and I had to teach my last class of the day like nothing was wrong. As if I hadn’t just lost our last embryo and the hope and comfort that came with it for the last five years. Something about knowing it was stored safely away until we were ready to use it was so comforting. Coming to terms with it being gone, knowing that Lola had once been just a tiny embryo, was a huge loss.

In the months that have followed, we haven’t been able to get pregnant, including two IUI cycles, which are far less invasive and physically taxing than IVF and, given my age, would yield about the same success rates. Once the school year is over, we will likely try a couple more times with IUI.

Infertility is exhausting. And heartbreaking. And maddening. And isolating. It is physically and mentally taxing. It is depressing. There were days that I couldn’t stop crying after our first IUI. I don’t think I really processed the weight of the loss of the embryo until those months later when we relived the devastation of another negative pregnancy test. 

Even between Nate and me, it affects me to the point that I think about it at least a few times every single day, whereas it seems like he is able to set it aside. Maybe it’s just because it’s my body and that every little thing I feel or notice immediately reminds me. Every time I look at Lola, I am more and more grateful for her, as it seems like we truly beat all odds and it’s nothing short of a miracle that she is here and ours. 

I’m not sharing this story now to seek pity, but I have learned that so many other couples are also struggling with this. 

In fact, Everlasting Hope has found that across the US, infertility affects close to 1 in 6, rather than 1 in 8, which is the common statistic. In North Dakota alone it affects over 33,500 people. 

Not one couple has the same experience with infertility, but we experience the same pain when we see pregnancy announcements, or when people ask invasive questions that our culture has normalized about when we are going to have a baby or give our existing child a sibling. People do not mean to be hurtful, but it IS hurtful, and sadly, so often couples suffer privately or are just not ready to even verbalize the pain they are experiencing. Maybe that’s why I needed to wait to write this. I couldn’t find the right words for a long time, but now it feels helpful and healing to tell my story, and with it being Infertility Awareness Week, I’m hoping that maybe some good can come out of it.

This is why awareness is so important. If we can help others who haven’t experienced infertility know what it’s like, it can bring about empathy and a realization that they might not know the full story of why some of their friends or acquaintances aren’t growing their family. It can make them more likely to support or even FIGHT for legislation that would provide insurance coverage, as infertility is the only disease that is not covered by insurance across most of the country. 

Like cancer, infertility is a club that no one wants to be in, but that really has the most amazing members. Through friends who knew my story and had connections to a non-profit called Everlasting Hope, I was introduced to Tara Brandner, the founder and a nurse practitioner and IVF patient, who asked me to write my story and testify during two committee hearings of the 2021 North Dakota House Legislative Session. This bill would have provided insurance coverage for infertility and fertility preservation for cancer patients. Although the bill did not pass, this was an empowering experience and I am amazed by Tara and her tenacity to continue to fight until all patients have access to care. I am proud to know her and have taken part in this. 

Tara and Everlasting Hope are hosting a number of online events for the week, featuring fertility experts, including two of my doctors, who will be sharing information, tips, stories, and creating awareness. I will be taking part in one on Saturday. Those experiencing infertility can chat with us, ask questions, or simply watch to connect and know that they are not alone. If you cannot attend live, all of these events can be viewed later on the YouTube channel as well.

I’d like to invite anyone who is, or loves someone going through fertility or someone who they suspect may be going through infertility to join us. 

Letter to My Little Lola on the Eve of Her Second Birthday

My Sweet Lola Judy, 

Somehow putting you to bed tonight feels so significant. I am putting my baby to bed and in the morning you will wake up a two-year-old. I just want to make time stand still. 

This week I looked through all the photos of you on my phone from the past year and it hurt my heart that already there were memories or moments that I had forgotten. 

I don’t want to forget anything. 

I want to remember every second of these days. I want to remember how it feels to scoop you up in my arms and how you curl your body into mine when I hold you, how soft your cheeks feel against my lips and how sweet your baby breath is. I don’t ever want to forget how your tiny little hand feels clasped around mine and how your hair smells when you’re sleeping in my arms. 

I don’t ever want to forget what your voice sounds like right now and how hearing you say, “Mommy!” makes me feel so abundantly grateful to be your mom. I don’t ever want to forget how funny you are and how the bridge of your little nose crinkles when you laugh. I want to seal in my memory forever the way you look when you’re sleeping and when you first wake up. I pray that the image of you swinging your arms as you walk and dancing in your diaper will be permanently stored in my memory. Please don’t let me ever forget how sweet you look and sound and how amazing I feel when you reach out your arms to me and ask, “Hug?” 

Somewhere, over the course of this year, you went from a baby to an itty bitty person and knowing that these changes happened before my eyes in a way that I saw them everyday, yet they were still so subtle that I couldn’t always know when something was going to be the last time, makes me ache. The first year went so quickly, but I think the second maybe even quicker.

I love how much you’ve grown this year and I’m so proud of who you are. While there are days when I catch myself saying that I can’t wait until this or that, I will always stop myself, knowing that those days will come soon enough, and I while, yes, I look forward to watching you grow and seeing who you will become, for now, I just want to savor who you are today. 

Love forever and ever, 

Mommy

Bringing Blogging Back

Because 2020- and, truly, 2021 thus far- has been hard on us all, I’ve been doing some thinking. One of the results of said thinking is a plan to try some new things this year, including with my photography business. Since writing has always been something I enjoy (English teacher here!), this seems like a no-brainer, but finding the time to balance full-time teaching with part-time photographing, all while running around after a curious and feisty just-about-two-year-old (she literally drew on the back of my laptop with colored pencil while I started writing this) and an equally demanding and often times disapproving five -year-old corgi hasn’t been easy – pandemic or no pandemic.

However, because I think it can be good for both me personally and professionally, I am committing to bringing blogging back this year. And no, I can’t say that without singing it to the tune of Justin Timberlake’s “Bringing Sexy Back”. Now you can’t either. You’re welcome! 🙂

So, my first session of 2021 and my first blog post features a friendly face who is no stranger to my followers, as she’s been a friend of mine since grade school and one of my most loyal clients, allowing me to capture her beautiful family since it was born.

She also happens to be our realtor, whom we worked with buying and selling our old house and buying our current house last year right before everything shut down. Since it had been nearly five years ago since we had updated headshots for her (one of the first sessions I shot in our old house where I converted an extra bedroom into an in-home studio), she asked me to do some new ones for her, and I was beyond excited to hop back on the photography bandwagon after a bit of an intentional hiatus during this partial hybrid/partial remote academic year that I’ve honestly been just trying to survive. We spent some time last Saturday in the beautiful Park Company offices giggling like we were 16 again, as that was the first time I had seen her in person in basically a year. Here are some of my favorites. If you’re in need of some headshots or images for your brand, I’ve decided to offer a new session that’s just for professionals. Check it out and let me know if I can take care of this for you! And if you’re in need of a realtor, give Jamie a call.