Friday, October 7, 2011

Four Years of Cael

This Sunday we will celebrate Cael's fourth birthday and pat ourselves on the back for keeping him alive yet another year. 

And it wasn't easy.

In fact, nothing about Cael has ever been easy.  I don't even mean that in a critical way-- perhaps Cael is just really selective and forces us to work a little harder to love him.  You know, to make sure we're all truly worthy.

But Cael has been challenging from the start.  When we decided that we wanted to have a baby in the fall of 2006, Joel and I had no reason to believe the journey we were starting would be so difficult.  Or so emotionally exhausting.  Or full of so many bathroom references.

We were surprised that it took nearly a year for us to conceive him, but when we learned of the pregnancy, Joel and I were both elated.  We made plans, chose bedding, argued over names and I laid in bed at night wondering who this little person would be.  Would he have curly hair?  Would he have Joel's blue eyes or my brown eyes?  What would life be like when it wasn't just us two?

I knew the dog wouldn't be happy.

And then one day at work, I stood up to go to the restroom for the umpteenth time and realized that I was bleeding.  A LOT.  I rushed home and called my first doctor, who I wasn't very happy or comfortable with, and whose nurse told me something I will never forget.

"Well, one of two things will happen.  Either you will keep bleeding and you will miscarry, or you'll stop bleeding and it will be fine.  Give us a call and let us know what happens."

If I didn't have an innocent baby growing inside me, I would have told her off.  Or at least given her a piece of my mind.  Little did I know, my tiny, fiesty Cael was probably giving her the finger in utero.  Sounds like something he'd do.

Miraculously, I didn't miscarry.  I got connected with a new obstetrician that was friendly, attentive and aggressive in monitoring my pregnancy and the bouts of bleeding that continued to plague me throughout most of Cael's gestation.  But once those episodes subsided, we thought we were in the home stretch.  We argued more about baby names and I threatened to divorce Joel if he secretly named the baby Crosby.

And then I got a phone call.

"We received the results of your triple screen, and your baby has a marker for a genetic disorder called Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome (SLOS).  It's a very rare disease, but your baby appears to have a 1 in 10 probability of having the disorder."

So what did I do?  I googled it.  


SLOS was my worst nightmare.  Children born with the disease experience severe metal retardation and a whole host of physical impairments.  It just didn't seem possible that this was the course my life was supposed to take.  Joel and I debated having an amniocentesis to confirm or rule out the disease.  On one hand, we knew that we would have and love the baby regardless of his health, but on the other hand I knew I couldn't spend each day wondering if my son would have a normal life.  We decided to have the amnio and, aside from the pessimistic doctor and terrifyingly large needle directly into my pregnant belly, I felt better after seeing the very detailed ultrasound that accompanied the procedure.  One of the common physical symptoms of Smith-Lemli-Opitz is the presence of missing or multiple fingers and toes.

As soon as the device touched my skin, we saw a little hand.

We counted his five, perfect fingers and a rush of relief came over us.  We joked that he was saying "hello".  Now that I know him, however, I realize that he was most likely trying to break out of his cell or start the wave.

A few weeks later, we received confirmation that Cael was genetically perfect.  I was finally able to relax and enjoy the rest of my pregnancy.  That is, until they told me that he weighed in at 9+ pounds when I was only 34 weeks pregnant.  The human body is amazing, but there is nothing awe-inspiring about birthing a five year old through a 10 centimeter-wide opening. 

But as much as I willed it away, the day came.  My doctor had scheduled an induction at 39 weeks because there was reduced amniotic fluid and all signs pointed to HUGE.  We arrived at the hospital at 4:30pm on October 8th for the insertion of the Cervadil (a string laced with medicine to start labor) with plans to begin a Pitocin drip after twelve hours.

I didn't need it, though.  By 8pm I was getting uncomfortable.  By 10pm I was in pain.  And by midnight, I had 6 heads.  I came into the labor experience very naive and I had it all worked out in my head.  I knew that the contractions would be no problem, because I would distract myself with episodes of FRIENDS and a good book.  Mind over matter, right?

Instead, I vomited nonstop and thought I was on Death's door.  To be completely honest, I remember very little of it today-- just one mean nurse, my water breaking on the floor and the nurse calling for my epidural.  Once in place, that epidural lulled me to sleep and I rested comfortably while the contractions blazed on the screen.  I awoke at 7am the next morning at 9 cm and within an hour and a half I was fully dilated and ready to push.

"Call the doctor!" my nurse shouted.

Somewhere outside of my room another nurse said that he was across town delivering another baby at a different hospital.

"Can you wait for him, or do you need to push now?" they asked me.

"Sure, I can wait!" I responded, in a cheery mood thanks to a few hours of rest and a perfect epidural that eliminated all of my pain but did not leave me numb or unable to move.

What I didn't know was that it would be two more hours before my doctor would arrive.  I stayed cheery for most of that time, allowing Cael to work his way down naturally.  We called family, took pictures and chatted until my cheery demeanor diminished and I could not deny the instinctive need to push.

At 10:51am, Cael was born.  He came out really angry, severely cone-headed and with a nose like an NFL linebacker that had been kicked in the face a time or two.  Joel and I were hooked.

We spent hours staring at him, trying to decide who he looked most like and how we got so lucky.  We experimented with bad baby-talk and took photos of toes and tongues, kisses and yawns.

But those first few days with Cael were hard.  I loved him and loved being a mother, but he would not sleep without being held, leaving us utterly exhausted.  He nursed constantly and left me questioning if I'd missed my life's calling as a dairy cow.  But that sweet face-- oh, how he could melt my heart.

And the same is true today.  We have hard days, and Cael is hard work.  But with his spirit of mischief and curiosity is a spirit of adventure and more intelligence than I ever anticipated.  His inquisitive nature still amuses me.  His wit keeps me in stitches.  His compulsive need to push the envelope sometimes frustrates me.

But that face still melts my heart.

Happy Birthday, big boy.


  1. I remember hearing about all of those things when you were pregnant...glad it all worked out so well and you got your little monster boy :-)



Leave your own "ism". Cael and Graham double-dog dare you.