Tuesday, October 4, 2016


Saturday, Sept. 17: After an 11 hour plane ride, I arrived in Tirana, Albania around 2:30 in the afternoon. I had WiFi/Internet in Chicago and Vienna, so I had been in contact with Nick for most of the day. However, once I landed in Tirana, I was without it and I panicked... Anne had warned me about customs and I was nervous. Once I got to the customs window, I presented my passport- the lady looked at it, asked, "is this your first time in Albania?" Hesitantly, I said "yes" thinking she'd have me searched or something but she handed my book back and said "enjoy your trip"... then I walked through the gate, took a slight left, and there he was in a crowd of people with a bouquet of white and peach roses. He motioned for me to meet him outside the crowd and we hugged (honestly, can't remember if I kissed him- don't think so), and we went to get my bag and walked out to his car. Nick's city's soccer team (KF Tirana) had a game that afternoon he wanted to get to so we left soon after. The skies were clear until we got into the stadium and buckets of rain started falling. I have never seen such torrential downpours of rain. The fans didn't care though- the boys took off their shirts and the cheering only got louder as the thunder and lightening moved in. Eventually, the rain got too heavy, so we walked [ran] back to the car. However, on the way back to the car, we ran into his dad, uncle, and cousin who were headed to the soccer game; despite the rain.The entire car ride (from the airport to soccer game, then soccer game to apartment), I was taking pictures and absorbing as much of the landscape as I could. Tirana is the capitol so it's a lot of buildings, but they're all different [bright] colors: purples, greens, blues, pinks... it's really gorgeous! His sister's best friend agreed to let us stay in her apartment for the week so we decided to head over there and check it out. It was such an adorable space: two bedrooms and a bathroom, kitchen attached to the living room, and a balcony overlooking the street/cafe. After unpacking, and getting settled, we fell asleep and didn't wake up until late the next morning. 


Sunday, September 18: *my birthday* Nick was adorable because all of the sudden, after popping the champagne cork, he went into the hallway and came back in the apartment with a box, asking "what time is?" I had legitimately forgotten the day/date and was like "somewhere around midnight, probably?" so I checked the clock and it was 12:06 am and he presented the box which had an absolutely gorgeous gold and silver bracelet with two diamond hearts at the center. The next morning, we woke up and decided to go to Tirana Lake: it's a man made lake in the middle of the city. Surrounding the lake is a walking path and a park. Coffee cafes are very popular in Albanian culture and it's customary to "take a coffee" with friends in the morning (any time of day, really)... it's a very small [tea] cup filled with a bitter espresso like coffee.. it's thick and dark brown. To be honest, I really didn't like it that first day. Nick even gave me sugar to put in it, and I didn't like it. So then we walked around the lake and walking path/bike path for an hour or two-- just talking. After the lake, Nick wanted to show me downtown Tirana- the President's house, Parliament, the Prime Minister's house. We toured the national museum, he showed me the opera house, and the national clock tower, and Skanderbeg Square- which is, unfortunately, under construction. Skanderbeg is an Albanian hero who led a rebellion against the Ottoman Empire in 1443-1447. Tirana also has a pyramid in the middle of the city which used to be a museum about the communist leader of Albania in the 1980's, but has since been closed. Although people do climb to the top, we did not.

Monday, September 19: The jet lag going east isn't half as bad as it is going west. Therefore, by day three, I had pretty well adjusted to the time zone. So, we went and drank our morning coffee; I still wasn't ready to try it again, so I drank water. Once we finished our drinks, we headed out to the mall.. it is a typical American style mall, only everything is in Albanian. We did have lunch there though and I ended up with chicken when I thought I was ordering beef. Nick asked if I wanted a "chicken hamburger" so I said, "yeah, a hamburger" and when the food came, I realized it was just a chicken sandwich i asked Nick where the hamburger (beef) was, when he told me I ordered a "chicken hamburger", I tried explaining that in the states those are two different meats, but somehow the restaurant and/or translation was not great, so I ate my chicken and quit complaining about it. At the time, I thought it was hilarious. Then we walked around what is the equivalent of 'Mendards' and window shopped the rest of the mall. Nick did end up buying a bike lock. After the mall, Nick took me to meet his best friend, Orlando. We met at a cafe that Orlando and his girlfriend frequent. It seems that everything Nick did made me love him even more, but to watch him with his friend: relaxed, joking and laughing made me so happy. It's incredible to watch someone be themselves, completely with another person. Although there wasn't much English used (Orlando can speak very little), it was apparent that they were having a great time together. This was also the night I got to meet his family for the first time, and they are incredible people! His brother, grandmother, aunt, uncle, cousins, sister, nephews, brother in law, and parents were all at his house ready to meet me. His sister is only a year older than him, so she and I clicked right away. She has two sons: Seadi (4) and Rajan (6) who were shy, but adorable. Everyone was so welcoming, and so happy for me and Nick. His grandmother was overwhelmed with the idea of us together; she really is so happy for us! Neither of his parents know much [any] English but we got on just fine: either Nick or one of his siblings would translate. While we were there, Nick had to switch cars with his friend so I stayed behind and hung out with the women of the house. His grandmother was telling me about her children. We ended up staying the night at his house, which was a lot of fun. His mom cooked a typical Albanian dinner: bean soup (cannellini [navy] beans, tomato pure, water, salt, and onions), "white cheese" (beyaz peynir- from sheep's milk ?!), salad, rice, and bread. Nick and I ate out a lot, and out of all the places we ate, his mom's cheese was the best I tasted; one of my favorite foods!! I didn't go prepared to sleep over, so I ended up borrowing his short and t-shirt; it was nice to smell like him while I slept. 

Tuesday, September 20:  Everyday seemed like paradise, but this day will forever be one of my favorite days (of my entire life). We woke up in his parent's house and he made me a frappuccino to go; it even had milk in it! This tasted much more like what I am used to drinking in the states. It had sugar, milk, and coffee; there was nothing bitter about it! This is the day we visited Kruja castle and the Skanderbeg National museum. We had no real timeline, but getting to the castle was sort of a guessing game: unlike many places in the states, there's really only one road which takes you from one town to another in Albania. However, once you reach the mountain which the castle is sat upon, the roads become less and less clear. It's such a rural part of Albania that it left us questioning if we were headed in the right direction. The road was paved but there were no cars on it, goats and chickens everywhere, and seemingly the only people around were local farmers on their land. So we kept climbing the mountain: going until we couldn't go any further. We decided to park the car and walk the remaining way up the mountain. On the walk to the castle, there was a small market that sold Albanian souvenirs (we stopped and bought some on the way back down the mountain). Once we had climbed to the top, there was a portion of the old castle that hadn't been reconstructed- we explored that area some: climbed stairs to no where, took cute pictures on the rocks, enjoyed the views. The museum is like any other: it chronicles the battle between Skanderbeg and the Ottoman sultan Murad II. Murad is reported to have had 100,000 men and Skanderbeg only 17,500, yet he defeated the sultan after four months of battle. After the museum, we walked around the grounds some more and decided to have lunch. Our table overlooked the valley from which we'd come. However, just below us was a group of people who we concluded were shooting a music video: a man in a top hat was riding a small merry-go-round. We couldn't exactly figure out what was going on but their behavior was such that not much else made sense.. there was a man with a camera following the man in the top hat and a group of others sitting at a laptop off to the side. This was the first time I'd eaten traditional Albanian, aside from the soup and cheese at his parents. We ordered: salad with olives, lemon, cucumbers, onions, and feta, cornbread (it wasn't sweet like American cornbread, but still very good), tave dheu (chicken or beef liver in a tomato sauce), white cheese, and "mixed meat" which consisted of pork chops, ribs, beef patties, sausage. My favorite thing was a pancake with beef and cheese in the middle. If I am ever on death row, I will be ordering traditional Albanian food as my last meal. On the drive back down the mountain, we came to a fork in the road and weren't sure which way to go, so I said to go left (I always choose left). Unfortunately, this was the wrong direction and we found ourselves dead ended into a gentleman's farmland. After turning around, we realized that another car had followed us and it became clear that both cars were not going to fit on the road. It was small insignificant moments like this one that made me fall even deeper in love with Nick: not once did he get frustrated or angry that I'd told him to go left. I could tell he was a little annoyed, but not at me, we laughed about it and he took my hand and kissed it, as he always did when he was driving. Once we got back to the apartment, Nick went out and picked up bagel chips, sunflower seeds, and beer while I showered. Nick had sent me photos of 'Birra Tirana' (Tirana's local beer), so it was only appropriate that I try it. I don't drink a lot, and I definitely don't drink a lot of beer, so it didn't taste any different from other's I'd tasted. He can shuck sunflower seeds with his teeth at an alarming rate. I could have spent every night next to him on the couch talking for hours; it may be my favorite night that we spent together.

Wednesday, Sept. 21: I wasn't sure if we were going to do the cable cars or not, but when we woke up Wednesday, and that's where he drove. I have no doubt we had coffee before -- it was an everyday habit that I should have never familiarized myself with so quickly. I was hoping we'd have a cable car to ourselves but on the ride up we shared a car with four other people. At first, thoughts about the cable snapping and inevitable death is all I could think about, but after a while the spectacular views of the city. countryside, and picturesque landscape flooded my mind and made me forget the height. The trip up the mountain took about 15 minutes. It was an incredible ride, too, because there were houses so far up the mountainside, I can't imagine that those people interact with anyone; I couldn't even find a road leading to their house. I also saw fields of sheep, and shepherds, cows, goats, and [always] chickens. There must have been a road to get up the mountain because when we got to the top, there was a great lodge complete with hotel and restaurant. The brochure said horses, but when we started walking around we realized that was an exaggeration: I saw one horse and it barely look fit to ride, not to mention there wasn't anyone who looked capable of going to ready the horse. Beyond the lodge, it looked like at one time, it could have been an exciting place, but there was an abandoned old hotel and not much else. So, we did what I do best: we ate! Here we ate much of the same thing (why change what's perfect?): white cheese (always), mixed meats, salad, and tave dheu. It was here that I had my favorite food to date: when I asked Albana what it was she said "heavy cream with yellow peppers" -- it was a sweet yogurt with yellow peppers and a salty-brine taste to it.
It was delicious and I could have eaten it forever. To drink, I always order water and I think Nick ordered coke (which is the exact same as American coke). After the cable cars we went back to the apartment and took a nap. I always love hanging out with his sister (Albana) and her sons, so that evening we went to the soccer field built by his brother in law. It's built in a small valley surrounded by cow fields and country houses; it's really quaint, actually. There was a camp going on so we sat in the clubhouse and watched. Albana's husband stopped by for a few minutes and then his mother came to sit with us- she didn't know any English but Nick and Albana were able to translate. As everyone else who met us had done, she wished me and Nick the best of luck together. Albana and I sat and talked about my trip thus far, she asked about future plans between Nick and I... it was really nice to sit and talk with her, as women and as mothers. After the camp ended, Nick and his nephews took the field and shot around until it got dark. Initially, I stayed off the field but once most everyone had left, I joined the boys.Once it got dark, we drove his cousins home and hung out at his parent's house before returning to the apartment, split a bottle of wine, and watched a movie until bedtime. 

Thursday, Sept. 22: We probably should have gone to the beach earlier in the week because Thursday morning was rainy and cold. But we decided to go anyway. The beach is in Durres which is about 40 minutes east of Tirana; along the Adriatic sea. The 'highway' to get there is more the comparable to a two lane boulevard in America: but in it's defense, there are a lot less vehicles on the road. I also did not see any semi-trucks; only buses. By the time we reached the beach, the weather had changed back to sunny and warm enough for a t-shirt and shorts. There weren't too many people there so we walked along the boardwalk. Once at the end of the boardwalk, there were large concrete stairs that we climbed for a better view. The water was beautiful- a bright aqua blue- but Nick said the water was clear and even more lovey in the south of Albania (maybe one day I'll get there). There was a fisherman statue that Nick asked me to take pictures with. He took more pictures of me while I was unaware of it than I would have preferred. Even though I hate my picture taken, I knew it would be a long time before he saw me again, so I obliged. After walking the boardwalk, we stopped for dessert and coffee. The dessert we ate wasn't tiramisu but was more of a sponge cake with chocolate frosting and syrup poured over it (I think it's called ravani but I am not sure). At any rate, it was delicious. As always, the conversation flowed and we laughed a lot. We drove to a cafe called 'Bar-Tirana' which backed onto the beach and from there we walked up and down, hand in hand. There were a few sunbathers on the beach- some of them looked like regulars- skin like leather while others seemed to just be enjoying the day. It was too cold for either of us to go in the water but some others ventured in. Although there weren't many people on the beach, some restaurants still had their colorful umbrellas out. And we passed a place to rent dune buggies and pedal boats. It seems like all we did is eat, and it's probably a fair assessment: eat and rest... but at the beach I finally got to eat fish and shrimp (my favorite)! Mom asked what kind the fish was but he wasn't able to think of the correct English translation so we're still not sure. It was white and mild though; very good! The fish came whole: head attached, scales on, eye balls in the socket (which Nick sucked out and ate). Nick taught me how to eat the fish in such a way that I wasn't eating bone and yet I got the most meat possible. We also had salad, and bread. Nick and his friends took vacation to Durres earlier in the summer and on the way home they stopped at a beautiful scenic cafe that overlooked a dam and a ravine. Being the romantic that he is, wanted to take me there, so we drove the scenic route home. This is where I finally tried the traditional Albanian coffee for the second time and really enjoyed it! I don't know if it was the atmosphere or the recipe, but with enough sugar (two packs), it's was good! Back at the apartment I showered and got ready to go out while Nick ran some errands. I packed a dress I planned to wear out, but decided it was too formal so I wore black pleather pants and a blue tank, and heels. We drove around for a good half hour looking for parking spots downtown, but when we got out, we walked around an area where families could bring their kids to jump on trampolines, play in an arcade, watch a movie... all outside; it was like a mini-fair in the middle of the city.I will never forget what he said to me as we were walking together. Out of the blue he said, "I am so proud to walk through my city with you" I could have died: it's a moment every girl waits her entire lifetime for. What's more is that he has no idea what it meant to me; he was just being Nick, thinking out loud. He says those kind of things all the time and it turns my world upside down.After walking for some time, we went to a bar where I ordered a drink and Nick got a redbull and people watched (which is always fun in a country where the people are some of the most gorgeous in the world). The culture in Albania is such that people dress however they choose. It's a parliamentary representative democratic republic where 60% of the population is Muslim while 17% is Christianity, and atheism was at one point the national religion so there's no dress code imposed on anyone.In fact, it's very easy to forget you're not in America while walking the streets of Tirana. I have to be honest and say I don't remember most of what we talked about because whereas my drink was supposed to be mixed, it was basically straight alcohol and I drank the entire thing. But of course I remember that we went to eat afterward: I will never get tired of ordering the same foods in Albania but this time we ordered beers and different meats. Nick's friends had been begging him to hang out all week so we went back to the apartment where I crawled into bed and he went to play cards with his boys. He wanted me to include the part of this night where he came home (around 2:00/2:30 in the morning) and woke me up-- he swears I was scared out of my skin and had a panic attack.The combination of tipsy, and recently awoken, makes it hard to remember specific details, but I do remember he couldn't stop laughing, and am grateful that it was Nick and no one else in the apartment.

Friday, Sept 23: Nick's uncle had a job to do in a different city, so he had the car. We missed the first bus so we walked, for a long time, into the city. We walked through a large street market; I'd never seen these before (aside from on tv), but venders were selling clothing and souvenirs: everything from tennis shoes, shirts, underpants, to dishes, magnets, and key chains. We stopped in a booth of knickknacks but didn't end up buying anything there. I had been talking about wanting to get a band, as a promise to wait for him in the states. After we walked through the marketplace, he took me into a jewelry store and bought me a white gold band with inlaid with diamonds that I picked out; it's really beautiful. The jeweler asked where I was from and when he told her America, she said I was adorable and I thanked her in the best Albanian I could. We still had some time before we were going to meet his friends for lunch so we went to a roof-top cafe which overlooked the city of Tirana. He ordered an orange soda (which was more like a tango drink we have in the states), We finished our drinks and continued our walk to the bus stop where we caught a bus headed to the mall. Orlando, Nick's friend, picked us up from there and took us to lunch with more friends. It was a gorgeous restaurant where we met his friends: we had our own private gazebo and ordered food to share. His friends ordered wine, but having remembered how silly I get when I drink wine, Nick teased that I wasn't allowed any. Aside from Orlando, his only other friend who understands English is Dana. However, she said I spoke too fast (even when I slowed down) for her to completely understand me. It was awesome how comfortable I felt around them, even though I didn't know the language- over the week I grew accustomed to not understanding the language but instead to pay attention to body language and social cues. I could tell Nick was enjoying himself, telling his friends all about our week together- I think he also got a few jokes out about me without me understanding. But he never allowed it to be awkward; he included me in everything he did: translated the best he could, and enjoyed my company. It was a new, and wonderful feeling, to feel so accepted. I drank a little too much wine (just as I had done a few nights before) but no one minded. Orlando drove everyone home: the boys' girlfriends crammed into the backseat and I sat on Nick's lap for the ride. I really hated to leave because I know, given the chance, we'd all be friends. We changed clothes and headed out to his parents house for my last dinner in Albania. His sister and nephews were there, his aunt, uncle, and cousins were there, as well as his younger brother and parents. While waiting for dinner, Nick asked me to get him some water so I went into the kitchen where is mom was cooking. She wanted me to sample the food, so I tasted a fried something that she had handed me. It was delicious but she didn't know English and wasn't able to tell me what it was. When I asked Nick he said "insides" -- so I am taking that to mean intestines and organs of whatever animal she'd been cooking. His mom also made pasta, cucumber yogurt, grilled chicken, and a sweet bread dessert. It was a bittersweet dinner - everyone was making jokes and having a good time but we also all knew I was leaving in the morning. Albana asked me about the girls, my flight home, and how I'd enjoyed my trip. I miss his her tremendously: she and Nick are close in age, so they are very much alike, and we get on well. I know that if we lived close, we'd be good friends and our kids would be too.

Finally by Friday, Nick's four year old nephew, Seadi, was willing to sit with me and take a picture. We had been working, all week, to get him aquainted with me so I was happy when he agreed. Nick's dad asked about my drive home, from Chicago- although he spoke in Albanian, I immediately knew what he was asking. I sincerely miss the language... it's not a romance language, and it's [honestly] not the most elegant or beautiful, but I fell in love with it and I miss it. **Thankfully, I have an app which allows me to listen to radio stations from around the world so I often turn on Tirana's top radio station. One night. after dinner, (it was not Friday, but I can't remember when it was) everyone filed downstairs (to his uncle's house) to watch one a tv show series that airs every week: the show was in Turkish with Albanian subtitles: without the picture, I had no idea what was happening. But,I wasn't paying enough attention to follow it either way. After dinner, I said my goodbyes: was able to get pictures with Nick's parents, and Albana took us back to the apartment. My idea of packing for a trip home is to dump everything [dirty] into one compartment of the suitcase, close it up, and go home. Apparently, this horrified Nick becuase he insisted on re-packing for me. However, it was getting late so we decided to save the packing for the morning and head to bed. 

Saturday: Sept. 24: My flight left Tirana at 3pm (15:00) so I wanted to be at the airport by 1pm (13:00) which means we had to wake early and pack. Nick made sure to carefully wrap my souvenirs in between t-shirts. Albana gave the girls a soccer ball from the field so Nick found a way to make that fit as well. Furthermore, his mom had made candies and sweet bread for me to take home so those were packed. Traveling to Albania, my suitcase weighed 41lbs (18kg) and returning to the states, it weighed 52lbs (23kg). But, Nick was able to make everything fit. We took a coffee for the last time that morning- I had a frappe and Nick had his usual Albanian coffee. I remember that we didn't say much- I was already struggling with the inevitable separation. As he always does, Nick was trying to cheer me up: making me laugh, kissing my hand and eyes, singing in the car, and making me laugh. He was wonderful when I was in the worst moods of my life. In hindsight, I should have ignored my sadness about having to leave and been present in the moment but my mind was too clouded. At the airport, we ate (as always) and hung outside the departure gates waiting for my flight. When that time came, we hugged and kissed and I started down the hallway for security. I could see Nick watching me as I went through the motions. I also watched him turn and walk away as I passed through security and onto my gate. Before arriving at my gate, I ducked into the bathroom and cried, as hard as I could, in the first stall I came to. And then I cried on the plane, for the entire hour and a half to Vienna. I sat in an aisle seat and am sure my seat mates thought I was crazy, but they never said anything to me. Once in Vienna, I had to go through passport screening (without incident), and then I was stuck there for 16 hours, overnight. This wait time still makes Nick upset, and I wish I could have spent one more night with him too, but I purchased the cheapest tickets available and this layover was probably why they were so reasonable. I had every intention of sleeping; the Vienna airport had actual beds. However, there were no blankets or pillows. I realize I sound very spoiled, but it was freezing, I was sleep deprived, and emotionally unstable. Within the hour of arriving in Vienna, Nick called and that was very helpful. Perhaps people don't know, but airports shut down just like every other business... for nearly 12 hours I was the only passenger in one wing of the Vienna airport. For much of those hours, I danced to Albanian music on the moving sidewalks and in the empty hallways. I finally had internet again, so I trolled Instagram and facebook, ect... I laid down but was never able to actually fall asleep. I drank coffees and ate croissants, walked around different wings of the airport... just trying to kill time. Since I didn't get any sleep in the airport, I hoped to sleep on the plane but that didn't happen either. Instead, I watched four movies, and ate breakfast and lunch. I flew into Chicago, and immediately drove to Anne's house in Glencoe. I debated about whether to drive home or take a nap, and I decided to nap for a few hours. I woke up and went downstairs to tell Anne about my trip. I remember Larry (my brother-in-law) and his dad came to watch the Bears game on the couch, but I fell asleep soon after they sat down. The next morning, I woke up, ate breakfast, chatted with Anne for a while and then drove five hours home. I was able to get in a short nap before having to report at work at 11pm (23:00). I fell asleep at work that night- a nurse politely tapped me on the shoulder to wake me up. And I spent the next week in a depression I really wasn't sure I'd get out of. It wasn't until Nick skyped me on Saturday (?) that I was able to be myself again. 

After thoughts: I wish I had taken the time to make every second last just a little longer: held his hand more, kiss him a few more times, made him laugh more often (I'd die to hear that man laugh just one more time). I wish I could have stopped time, and in the moment, I thought I was doing everything to make it last.

Every chance I got, I was taking video and/or pictures of the streets. Since he lives in the capitol, it's quite Americanized. There aren't too many [visible] cultural differences, although their driving is something out of a horror film. The city is compact, so most everyone walks everywhere. The climate is mid to high '70s, so people were in summer clothes. The temperature rarely drops below 45°, even in the winter nights. 

There were many times when we hung out at the apartment, talking, or watching movies, sometimes just playing games on our phones. These were my favorite. One of the earlier days, we laid in bed and watched a Kevin Hart comedy show. It's hard not to fall in love with someone when he's cry-laughing at jokes he's heard a thousand times. There's something so pure and innocent in those moments that I couldn't help but love him.

Nothing was ever forced, or awkward, between us. It was as if I got off the plane and my soul said, "oh there he is; I've been looking for him my whole life." I've never felt more myself, comfortable, better understood, or more deeply loved by anyone in my entire life. I felt home, safe, complete... I wish I had the words to describe it. I immediately felt like I was right where I belonged... His sister told me he and I acted as if we'd known each other our whole lives. I told her I think we have; our spirits are too familiar.

Nick-isms: "Why do I love you so much? You still haven't told me" 
- He teases me and says, "you're so damn ugly!" (I know he really means the exact opposite). He told me one time "you're probably really ugly, but my love-struck eyes see you as the most beautiful girl"

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Quick update

Caroline "Carly" and Blake are TEN MONTHS old {seven adjusted} today! I cannot believe how quickly the time has flown by; we have been home for five months! They are now 15 lbs, 3 oz and 14 lbs, 13.5 oz!! I sincerely apologize for not being better about my blog; however, most of you are friends with me on facebook, follow me on twitter and/or instagram, and have been keeping up with the girls regularly. 

Greg had a successful kidney transplant on July 15th {we are so thankful to his sister for being the donor}!!! He's had complications within the last few months, but thankfully, none seem to be kidney related and the doctors are working hard to have him feeling 100% again. I remember having nightmares that he would have severe complications and, perhaps, would not make it. Although, he did have a major complication hours after surgery, he is doing better and was not effected by it at all.

The girls have therapy three times a week: they go to speech on Monday, and physical therapy on Wednesday and Friday. I, honestly, don't know where they'd be {developmentally} without it. Speech has helped them eat [full jars of] baby food with a spoon, and to sip small amounts of liquid out of a cup. Currently, they are working with textures in food but aren't liking it too much. Physical therapy has helped Blake to sit, unassisted, for extended periods of time; Carly is almost there but not quite. They are also able to: roll from one side to another, roll onto their stomachs and over to their back, grab for objects with both hands, and are learning how to transition from a sitting to crawling position. Carly's shunt has not, yet, slowed her development but she is just now starting show signs of her IVH (interventricular hemorrhage): the left side of her body (most especially her left arm) is much weaker and much less preferred than her right arm {Side note: children should not develop a "dominate hand" until 3 years of age; both sides of the brain should develop at the same rate, thus, no dominance should be determined until he/she is a toddler}. Furthermore, a preference for one side of the body, at this age, may suggest that she suffered small amounts of right-side brain damage that is effecting the left side of her body. Only time will tell how prevalent the damage is. 

I am truly amazed at how much has happened in the last five {ten} months; our family has been through so much {and the struggles aren't over}, but we have persevered and will continue to do so; I am so proud to be Greg's wife and the girls' mother... It has been a joy to watch the girls grow and learn. I cannot wait to see what the next five months bring {Carly and Blake will be 15 months, adjusted to a year !!!}. 

Thank you for continuing to follow our story! We are, still, so grateful your the help, prayers, and well wishes. God has been so good to our little family.  

PS: Trust me when I say, "I feel like I never have time to sit down and write" {for whatever reason, I couldn't sleep tonight so I took the opportunity to blog}. The girls are still napping twice a day, but I am usually: cleaning, doing laundry and/or dishes, or taking a nap myself during those times. When I do get a free moment to do something, I don't always feel particularly inspired to write, and I am not going to write if I don't feel like it-- nothing worthwhile can come from that. So, with all of the aforementioned excuses in mind, I will do my best to update on a more frequent basis; I've already got one, additional post, outlined for future publishing. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

We're home!


November 4, 2012- April 17, 2013: 5 months, 2 weeks {166 days}
November 28, 2012- April 17, 2013: 4 months, 3 weeks {142 days} 

Angela (our surrogate) was admitted on Nov. 4 and I went to live with her, in the hospital; 24 days later, Caroline & Savannah Blake, were born. They were 28 weeks gestation and weighed 2 lbs, 5 oz & 1 lb, 11 oz, respectively. At 7 days of life, Caroline was diagnosed with a grade 3 brain hemorrhage. After two brain surgeries, she is developing along side her sister and is doing amazing. After struggling with eating, both girls received g-tubes (feeding tubes) on April 5th. 

We live in Dayton, Ohio & the girls were born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-- my husband, Greg, worked while I stayed with our girls in the nicu. On January 7th, they were transferred "closer to home" in Columbus, Ohio, about an hour from Dayton. Greg visited me and our girls on Fridays (after work) & Sundays. 

On January 8th, Greg was diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure. He goes to dialysis 3x a week for 5 hours at a time. Last week, we learned that he has a blood disorder which prohibits him from continuing hemo (blood)-dyalysis. On May 2nd, he will have surgery for a home-dialysis catheter to be placed. The home dialysis will require him to stay connected to the machine anywhere from 9-12 hrs. Unfortunately, while connected, he is unable to move around. He will most likely complete his dialysis while he sleeps but since he works first shift (6:30-3:30), he may have to start his treatment as early as 4:30 pm, everyday*he hopes to find out more at tomorrow's dialysis*

We have been to 4 different NICUs, 3 different hospitals, and 7 different hospital rooms. But, that's all behind us now; our girls are healthy, happy, and awe-inspiring. We are home & can finally be together as a family!!! 

To say that the last five months have been life changing is an understatement. I have learned that there is more to life than myself: as parents, it's our responsibility to teach the world to our kids. I was born to be a mother & a wife; it's all I've ever wanted to do. I've been blessed with the most amazing family anyone could pray/wish/hope for. The past five months have deepened my marriage, strengthened my faith, brought me closer to friends & family, and awakened a sense of purpose in my life.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

G-tube kiddos

Caroline & Blake had g-tubes placed last Friday. If you haven't already, please read, momma's rant, which explains the trouble our girls have with eating. Because of these issues, everyone felt g-tubes were necessary. 

Outsiders, & [maybe] other NICU parents, are unclear about what a g-tube is and how it works. A g-tube (gastronomy tube) is a flexible tube that is surgically inserted through the abdomen and delivers nutrition directly into the stomach.

I understand family & friends being uncertain about visiting the girls because of their g-tubes. It's important to know that our girls are not sick. The g-tubes were placed because of a developmental, not medical, problem. Once discharged, our girls will require no medical attention aside from regularly scheduled pediatric/neurology appointments & developmental clinics. Nevertheless, we will never ask anyone without proper training to operate the pump, or do anything associated with the girls' g-tubes and/or their feeding. 

When our girls are home, and settled, we are more than happy to have visitors! Please don't hesitate to tell us if the g-tubes make you uncomfortable; it's easy to schedule visiting hours when the girls are not eating. During those times (which is most of the day), the g-tube lies against their skin, inside the onesie, and out of the way.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Momma's rant

Our children cannot drink a bottle. period. end of story

>> please STOP suggesting that, "maybe they're just not hungry enough." 

I realize you're only trying to help & really don't know what to say. However, it'd be better if you said nothing at all, or "I am really sorry, that must be frustrating."

First of all, the girls are in a hospital; I assure you the doctors have calculated the correct amount of milk they should be drinking. There is a formula, based on their weight, height, growth patterns, etc... that allows them to feel full during their feeds and hungry 3 hrs later. 

Secondly, the girls are hungry at their care-times. They root around: sucking hands, blankets, arms, anything they can get their mouth on... they are eager for their pacifiers and even the bottle (in the beginning). 

A [healthy] full-term newborn is expected to eat minutes hours after he/she is born. Therefore, the suck, swallow, breathe sequence is an instinctive response. However, preemies (especially sick ones) are not given a bottle until much later in life. Our girls were born at 28 weeks; a bottle was not introduced until Blake was nearly 8 weeks old (36 weeks gestation) & Carly was 10 weeks old (38 weeks gestation). Everything pertaining to eating has been taught to them. Their suck, swallow, breathe patterns are not instinctual. Furthermore, the very nature of their birth is that they were premature, and thus, their bodies are underdeveloped [immature]. 

In addition to her prematurity, Caroline had a grade-3 brain bleed [and is doing exceedingly well]. She sleeps nearly 18 hrs a day. She needs the rest so her brain continues to develop appropriately. Because of this, she sleeps through some most of her cares. The nurses will not wake her to eat. She is on cue-based feeds only-- she will only be given a bottle if she is alert & showing interest. When she is given a bottle, she can drink 5-15 (out of 65) mls before she's exhausted. 

Blake 1 lb, 11 oz at birth; everything about her is small & immature. She has yet to develop the ability to swallow at the same rate as she sucks. This results in her choking, coughing, and drowning in milk. She does not have the coordination to combine the 3 tasks (suck, swallow, breathe). 

Lastly, the girls are now 47 [gestational] weeks old. At this age, they should (I know "every kid is different" -- do not get on me about this!) understand how to eat. We have tried everything we can think of: different nipples, different positions, different people, monomatry studies, reflux studies, formula only, milk only, less amount & more calories, feeding at different times, swaddled, and unswaddled. Occupational therapy follows them, physical therapy follows them, the feeding team follows them; the nurses, doctors, and nurse practioners are all aware of the problem..! 

We have hit a brick wall and have [unfortunately] started regressing. The girls are beginning to refuse the bottles before we can get them to their mouths & we are doing everything we can to avoid oral aversions. 

So, please, think before you speak... things aren't always as simple as they seem.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Final thoughts

The positive response I am receiving from my late night ramblings is overwhelming. Everything I wrote is true, and I am not apologizing or recanting anything. However, I realize that I left many [important] things unsaid. 

First, and most incredibly, I am the mom I've always dreamed of being. It is truly the most unbelievable feeling in the world. Last night's post had a lot of depressed undertones. Be assured, I am not depressed. I have been depressed before, but I am not now. Despite everything that has transpired, I am the happiest I've ever been; my heart is filled with joy. I know there will be a day when we're discharged. I trust Greg's transplant will be successful, and I know we will be together as a family someday soon. The Bible is right (yet again), Love, never fails. It is the only emotion that has carried me through.

I also failed to mention how empowered I feel because of this experience. I have developed a sense of pride that was previously unknown to me. Before the girls were born, I was miserable. I did everything to keep everyone else happy. But now, I simply do not have the time (or energy) to sit and worry about offending someone else. That's not to say my heart has hardened. Instead, I have found an inner strength; a voice that urges me to stand up for what is right. Much to the chagrin of the neurosurgeon, I insisted Caroline's surgery be moved, from Thursday, to Friday (unless it was a true medical emergency). I was not willing to be apart: with Greg in dialysis and Caroline in surgery. Voicing my opinion was something I would not have done before; I would have quietly accepted that he was going to miss her surgery and then never forgiven myself for not speaking up.  

In my wallowing, I never intend to take away, or lessen, anyone else's suffering. No one's pain is less than mine; it's simply different. Many others feel the same emotions, but in a various other ways. There are countless people, with illnesses, who are seemingly overshadowed and forgotten because they suffer silently, or alone. However, my decision to journal does not make my pain any more "real" than those who do not. 

Lastly, I did not mention how thankful I am for Greg. I will spare the sappy, "I'm so in love with him" nonsense ('cuz we all know it's true)... But, he carries the same burdens with him. I often forget that he goes to work everyday (yuck!). After work, he comes home to an empty house, then drives himself to dialysis where he sits for 4-5 hrs, surrounded by elderly, sick people. It is a joyless place. He does it without complaint and self-pity. He focuses on the future and does not let the present struggles drag him down. His faith is unchanged and unshaken. He is an amazing father and husband. He is my inspiration. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

I wish I could explain...

I've strongly debated writing about my experience in the nicu. Part of me thinks, "I should- just for my own benefit." Part of me thinks, "I experience it everyday, no need to relive it when I'm not there." And, still, part of me thinks, "maybe I should- for those who have no idea what it's like." Spending an average of 8-10 hours [daily] in the nicu is not a relatable experience, unless you've done it. So, for all of the aforementioned reasons, even not wanting to do write about it, I will freely write whatever comes to my mind... no exceptions, no apologies; just raw emotion and an uncensored thought process. 

The roller coaster [btw, I detest this description] of emotions from excitement to fear, is draining. The constant noise is nauseating. It's easy for outsiders and visitors to go on with life, thinking of us every now and then. But, the nicu has become my life. I am annoyed by people telling me how to control my emotions, I am annoyed by the constant questions, the expectations, the advice, and the suggestions, "If I was you..." 

I am tired of being tired.

I lie awake at night, because no sleep is better than the nightmares: the nurses can't bring Caroline out of a brady/desat, Greg clotted again and is in critical condition, or his transplant failed and I am left with two girls to raise on my own. I do my best to ignore these thoughts during the day but my subconscience haunts me at night. I hear alarms in my sleep, I wake up drenched in sweat and worried. Yet, I get up every morning and drag myself to the nicu; exhausted or not. I wait for the doctors to round on the girls, never expecting much change: "Caroline's still doing well on room air but Blake can't seem to get off the .1L of oxygen" or "Blake took 7 ccs for me, but that's okay because she's still little, it will click for her one day." 

I am proud of her for those 7 ccs, and I want to have patience and faith that she will get it. But, something inside me wishes Blake would understand 'suck, swallow, breathe' sooner than later. I wish Caroline wasn't so developmentally behind her sister, and that they weren't, both, developmentally behind other kids their gestational age. I pray their lives won't be severely impacted by their prematurity. I try to block out the doctors' warnings about Caroline's future cognitive and physical development. But, at night, I cry and pray she won't have any disabilities. I beg God to give her the ability to walk, to see, to play, and to experience life to the fullest. Anger overwhelms me and I question God, "Why did her brain hemorrhage? What's the purpose in all this?" More than anger though, is sadness. I am sad that Greg cannot visit, I am sad we are fighting the same [emotional] battle separately, I am sad he can't know what I am experiencing (no matter how much I try to explain), I am sad he's sick and without me, I am sad he has dialysis 3x a week for 4 hrs, and I am sad we cannot be together as a family.

The guilt I feel is unfathomable. As Greg's wife, I should be with him. Yet, as the girls' mother, I should be with them. I am constantly torn between spending time with our girls and being with him. When I am in the nicu, I think about him. When I am with him, I think about our girls. I worry that I didn't spend enough time holding them; even if they're held 4 hours a day, there's still 20 hrs that they weren't held. Or, when I need to get away, for a few hours, I worry if the nurses wonder why I am not there to care for the girls. And when I have a 'fun weekend' going home to watch the Superbowl, I feel guilty that the girls are laying in their cribs, alone, in a loud, obnoxious environment. I can't even take a walk through the park without feeling that Greg & the girls should be with me. 

Oh, and I can't forget the jealousy. I am jealous about everything imaginable: parents of healthy babies, parents of babies being discharged, parents of full-term babies, parents who will never experience the nicu, parents whose children are not developmentally delayed, parents who are together in the nicu... yeh, there's a lot of jealousy. 

Many studies suggest that long-term nicu parents suffer from PTSD (post traumatic stress syndrome). I am not suggesting that 1) I can be considered a long-term nicu parent [just yet], or 2) I have been diagnosed with PTSD. However, I am suggesting that spending 130+ days in a hospital setting, 105+ of which are spent in the nicu, changes a person's psyche. Moreover, I believe the girls' stay is almost over (relatively speaking). I want to be calm and excited about their continued growth, while simultaneously, I am reliving a lot of the emotions I did not allow of myself earlier. Therefore, I am having frequent nightmares, night sweats, and anxiety attacks. 

I am always thankful. I would relive the pain, the nightmares, the sadness, and the guilt, one hundred times over to be with our girls. We have suffered, prayed, and sacrificed for these girls. They are true miracles from God. They have a plethora of guardian angels who held & loved their souls before they were conceived [I strongly believe this]. Caroline's neurosurgeon (for her VP shunt) wrote his initials "RG" on her skull before surgery. It was as if her late great grandma, Ruth G,* was reassuring us she would be with Caroline during surgery. Furthermore, we have 100+ people (family, friends, co-workers) praying for our family and sending love through facebook, twitter, and instagram. People cook dinner for us, feed our animals, clean our home, buy us gas cards, send care packages, etc... for this I am so grateful. I am thankful for Angela. She continues to support the girls by providing breast milk, knitting outfits and blankets, and makes me laugh with funny texts. She has become a wonderful friend and I cannot wait for the girls to meet her. 

I am not really sure how to end this. I am not sure if it even makes sense; and I don't care. I did not write it to for anyone's 'viewing pleasure.' These are my thoughts, my feelings, my internal struggles, and I had to express them in the only way I knew how: by writing them down. 

*I have excluded Ruth's last name for privacy reasons.