What I Read – February and March 2015

Daddy Lenin and Other Stories – Guy Vanderhaeghe (McClelland & Stewart, 2015)

I’ve read one book by Guy Vanderhaeghe (The Englishman’s Boy) and, honestly, remember almost nothing about it. This short story collection focuses mostly on men, usually working class. They are well-crafted stories but I did find them repetitive.

The Thing Around Your Neck – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Vintage Canada, 2010)

My first by Adichie and I truly enjoyed it. The stories had great variation and interesting settings and characters. I was impressed by Adichie’s skill at moving between male and female narrators and between settings, all well- drawn. This collection had me looking up Nigerian history and politics, which I think is a good thing. I appreciated that she assumed her readers would know  this or would figure it put, rather than talking down to the reader or over-explaining. I’ll definitely read more of Adichie.

What I Want to Tell Goes Like This – Matt Rader (Nightwood Editions, 2014)

This short story collection centres around Vancouver Island (particularly the Comox Valley), both past and present – and sometimes blending the two. The historical stories are interesting and well-researched and it’s especially interesting to see how the stories connect, but I enjoyed the stories set in modern day better. While this may simply be a personal preference, I did feel that the characters in those stories were more fully developed.

The Woefield Poultry Collective – Susan Juby (Harper Collins, 2011)

Like me, you may be familiar with Susan Juby from her young adult books. The Woefield Poultry Collective is for adults but it isn’t necessarily that far off being a young adult book. It’s a fun, easy read and not much more. The story is told by the four main characters as they begin to work together (some more reluctantly than others) to work a long-neglected farm. My main problem was with the character of Prudence, the one who brings all the others together. Frankly, I found her overly perfect. Her “flaws” were of the type to be endearing rather than annoying. If the book has a main character it’s Prudence and so I kept waiting to learn something more about her, something that would make her a real person, but never got it.

The Flying Troutmans – Miriam Toews (Vintage Canada, 2008)

Toews is an excellent writer and The Flying Troutmans demonstrates that. She moves skillfully between comedy and drama, mixing the ridiculous with the tragic. The book shares some themes with Toews’ mostrecent novel, All My Puny Sorrows, but is a little lighter. I did find the character of Thebes, who is a child, was so quirky as to be unbelievable. Her older brother seemed much more realistic to me. With him, Toews really captured the fluctuations of a teenage boy – sweet and playful one moment, angry and distant the next, and he himself doesn’t quite know why.

We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Anchor Books, 2014)

Told you I liked her! This tiny book is an extended essay adapted from a lecture. Adichie explores the concepts and misconceptions of feminism and why we should all call ourselves feminists – without disclaimers or apologies. I especially liked the section where she discusses being feminist while also enjoying being feminine and wearing pretty clothes.

I had this book with me at the hospital. Thinking ahead to my daughter’s future can be scary when I wonder what that future world might be like. I just hope to raise a girl who knows how smart and valuable she is.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Barbara Kingsolver (Harper Perennial, 2007)

I love Kingsolver’s novels and I probably would have found this interesting as a magazine article. Basically, it went on too long and it got pretty repetitive. Kingsolver has one major thesis and stretches it out over an entire book. By the time I was halfway through I kept thinking, “I get it. Eat local. Do you have anything further to add?” Some of her stories are funny and engaging and fascinating. Some are a little preachy. She has some solid advice and some that just doesn’t apply to the part of the world I live in. And I just don’t know that I’m ready to give up bananas.

Collected Stories – Peter Carey (Vintage Canada, 1999)

To be honest, I didn’t finish this book. I love Peter Carey’s novels but this story collection was grotesque. I felt gross reading it and so stopped about halfway through. Many of the stories have interesting and creative plots and scenarios and settings but each one had something that just made me feel terrible and I wasn’t sure what the point of much of it was. This was a disappointment.

A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki (Penguin, 2013)

Loved this one. I’d been wanting to read it for a long time and had heard many rave reviews so when a friend brought it over (along with dinner!), I was excited. I even stayed up reading it one afternoon when I should have been napping. (Sleep when the baby sleeps quickly became read when the baby sleeps.)

Home – Marilynne Robinson (Harper Perennial, 2008)

Part two of Robinson’s Gilead trilogy. Robinson is a truly gifted writer. More than once I found myself marvelling at the fact that a book with very little action could be so enthralling. But she creates characters so vividly that I really felt like I was peeking into a real family’s life. You don’t need to have read Gilead first but it does offer a more thorough background on who these people are. I also found it interesting to read Home knowing Jack’s secret – something his family doesn’t.

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Pearl at One Month

Wearing a dress for the first time.

Wearing a dress for the first time.

IMG_1989I can hardly believe a month has passed since Pearl’s arrival. There was so much emotional upheaval leading up to her birth that in many ways life feels a lot calmer now. My life certainly has become very focused. My goals each day are to keep myself and Pearl fed and if I also manage to accomplish something more, like laundry, I feel that’s a lot!

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Pearl is eating and growing like crazy! After a bit of a rough start with feeding, it was a proud moment when she not only got back to her birth weight but passed it. Peter and I often wonder how such a tiny thing can eat so much but the frequency of diaper changes probably helps!

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Pearl’s favourite things are eating, sleeping, pooping, and cuddles. She’ll easily sleep while being held but doesn’t always stay that way when transferred to her own bed. We’re learning the tricks though and, hopefully, she’s getting used to her bassinet. She actually will sleep for a few hours at a time at night, which is awesome. Less awesome is the fact that she’s the loudest sleeper I’ve ever heard! While she sleeps, we’re awake listening to her! I’m hopeful that it’s a stage and won’t last forever.

Stripes the Healthy Heart Tiger and Pearl

Stripes the Healthy Heart Tiger and Pearl

I’ve started reading Pearl a story each morning, which is lots of fun. We do a kid’s story and then at other times in the day, I just read aloud to her from my book. Really, she just enjoys the sound of our voices. She also likes music and has so far enjoyed The Beatles, Arcade Fire, and The Band. She seemed less thrilled about Hozier or Mumford & Sons but she loves when Peter sings to her.

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Truthfully, it can be hard to tell what Pearl really likes and dislikes. She smiles at her own farts but not much else so far. She makes some pretty fantastic faces though, including a terrific suspicious face. It’s amazing how fun it is to just stare at her. She likes to stare back too.

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I’m steadily recovering physically. It’s certainly a difficult thing to go through the most major surgery of your life and then take care of a newborn and I couldn’t have done it without Peter. My pain is a little better every day and I’m only on the occasional painkiller now. I have yet to have a pain free day but the last weeks of pregnancy were uncomfortable too. I am really looking forward to being able to be active again. It feels like a long time since I’ve physically been myself. On the plus side, I can reach my own feet again. We’re going for lots of little walks and it gets easier all the time.

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Pearl’s first visit to the pier.

So this is month one. I’m so thankful for my little family and that God has put us together.

 

 

Pearl’s Story – Part Two

It was about half past nine on Monday night when Peter and I got to the hospital. We were sent to an assessment room (a curtained-off corner) where I was hooked up to a fetal monitoring system while I waited for a doctor to see me. The curtains weren’t soundproof and so we couldn’t help eavesdrop on the woman next to us. Her water had also broken before labour started and her doctor was sending her home to await labour naturally. If it didn’t start, she would come back in the morning and they would induce her. Thinking we would be given a similar option, Peter and I agreed that we would hold off on inducement as long as possible.

A resident determined that it was indeed my water that had broken. A nurse brought me lemon tea. We watched the paper measuring my heartbeat and baby’s grow long enough to reach the floor. Every hour, Peter dashed out to the lot to pay for our parking spot. Finally, at one in the morning, we decided to pay for twelve hours.

“Watch,” I said, “As soon as you pay, they’ll send us home.”

Just before 1:30am, the doctor I had spoken to earlier on the phone came in to examine me. She had a portable ultrasound machine with her and she confirmed what the resident already suspected. The baby had moved.

For weeks, I had been told by multiple doctors and ultrasounds that our baby was head down. More than one doctor commented how low the baby was, how much pressure I must be feeling. And I was. It made perfect sense that baby’s head was crammed against my pelvis because that’s where my back ached and that’s why one leg seemed to swell more than the other. (In my last weeks of pregnancy, it became very obvious that baby was hanging out on my left side. I looked pretty lopsided, especially when I sat down.)

But at some point, possibly that day, possibly after my water broke, baby had moved. Our little one had pulled back up and now, instead of being head down, her shoulder wanted to come out first. Baby was breech and the doctor was telling us they would have to deliver by c-section.

All along I’d said that I wanted to birth my baby as naturally as possible but that, bottom line, I wanted what was best for the baby and for me. It was 1:30 in the morning and a doctor I had never met before was telling me I needed to have major surgery. Because my water had already broken, the clock was ticking on when this baby needed to be born. The immediate concern was that the umbilical cord could drop and baby’s life line might get cut off. There was no way I was leaving the hospital that night.

Peter and I had a few minutes to discuss but the decision was made. We had to do what was best for our baby.

“What’s the date?” I asked. It was now February 24th. It was our baby’s birth day.

From there, things moved quickly. The resident explained what would happen in the c-section, possible risks, and I signed the forms. The anesthesiologist came in to explain how the anesthetic worked and how it would feel. The nurse who’d brought me tea came in to insert my IV.  Another nurse brought me a biohazard bag to store my jewellery in and I took out my contact lenses. A pediatrician came in and explained the measures they were taking to be ready for our baby’s arrival. A team would be in the operating room with us, ready to deal with any immediate issues and she would be taken immediately to the NICU for monitoring. Peter went with him to see where she would stay.

By 2:30am I was in the OR, slumped forward “like a panda” (according to the anesthesiologist), getting a needle in my spine. Peter had been taken to changed into scrubs and seemed to have been gone a long time.

“Will my husband be here soon?” I asked plaintively, suddenly filled with fear that Peter was lost somewhere in the hospital and they would start without him. The nurses reassured me and reminded me that the doctors weren’t all there yet. I lay down on the table and felt my legs getting tingly and heavy until I couldn’t feel them anymore. The anesthesiologist did the ice cube test on me – I could feel a wet object on my skin but not the cold. I was numb up to my chest. I saw the doctors arrive, hands held up in front of them as the nurses helped them put on their gloves, and someone set up a curtain so I couldn’t see my lower half. In one corner, a team of pediatricians were prepping a newborn bed, complete with monitoring system. It wasn’t until later that I realized they were preparing for the possibility that our baby would be born without a beating heart.

My upper body seemed to shake uncontrollably but I squeezed Peter’s hand tightly and the anesthesiologist told me that this was normal. Apparently, it was much worse for women who had already been in labour and then had to have a c-section.

The operation started just after 3am and at 3:19, I heard a voice call out, “It’s a girl!” They took her straight to the pediatricians in the corner for her vitals to be checked. Peter went to see her and when he reached out to her, she grabbed his finger. The anesthesiologist held my hand and I listened to my baby’s cry.

And then they brought her to me and put her in my arms.

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She was here. She was ours.

I got to hold her for about ten minutes before the pediatrician gently reminded me that he had to be the bad guy and take her to the NICU. Peter went with her and, again, the anesthesiologist held my hand. Honestly, she was amazing and made my experience so much easier. She alternated between asking me questions and telling me stories about her sons and grandchildren and it was exactly what I needed to keep my mind from wandering into worry. All together, the surgery took about an hour, most of that time spent stitching me back together. Peter came back before the end and then I was taking to a recovery area to wait for the anesthetic to wear off. Before I was wheeled up to my room – still in bed – I got to make a stop in the NICU and hold Pearl skin-to-skin for the first time.

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That first day was hard. Pearl stayed in the NICU and I went up to our room. My first attempt to visit her was nixed by the nurse due to my dizziness and nausea so Peter went down to visit her alone. When I felt better, we were able to go down every couple of hours – Peter pushing me in a wheelchair while I pushed my IV pole in front of me. It was wonderful to hold her and terrible to leave her. But by that evening, the doctors told us she was well enough to be in our room with us.

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My two most loved people.

My two most loved people.

The next morning (Wednesday) Pearl had her appointment with the cardiologist. Since I still wasn’t very mobile, Peter took her while I waited anxiously and tried to nap.

“The cardiologist says her heart is 100% healthy,” Peter told me as he came into the room. He placed Pearl into my arms and I cried. I don’t think I could ever describe that moment – the intense happiness of it combined with the release of more pressure than I ever realized I was carrying.

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We stayed in hospital until Friday. The doctors wanted to wait until Pearl was three days old to do an ultrasound of her kidneys, plus I was still recovering from surgery. I slowly graduated to walking around the room to walking down the hall. By Friday we were ready to go home but for those first couple of days it was great to have the support of the nurses as the three of us got used to each other. Being there for a few days meant we were able to take advantage of the hospital resources and got to visit a lactation expert and a physiotherapist.

Being in Vancouver also meant that we got lots of family visits. Pearl got to meet her grandparents, her cousins, all her aunts and uncles, as well as her great-grandmother and one of her great aunts. She is a well-loved little girl!

Friday morning, Pearl had an ultrasound of her kidneys. While they weren’t able to tell us anything definitive yet, they also found nothing to concern them now. She’ll have a follow-up ultrasound in about 6 months and we have a few warning signs to keep an eye out for but over and over again we were given good news and told that she was healthy.

God is good. He has held us in the palm of His hand through these days and He continues to do so.

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Friday afternoon we got Pearl dressed for the first time (and realized even the newborn stuff I’d packed was too big for her!) and headed out into the sunshine for the first time in days. We missed the ferry but Pearl didn’t mind. It was dark by the time we were back on the Coast but we drove along the highway, describing the sights to Pearl, telling her our stories, driving along the main street to show her where she lives, until we reached out little house on the water. We were all home.

 

Pearl’s Story – Part One

At 3:19 in the morning on February 24th, Pearl Isobel joined us in the world.

At the end of January, following a routine ultrasound in week 34 of my pregnancy, I received a phone call from my doctor. The ultrasound results were slightly abnormal – there was fluid gathered around one of the baby’s kidneys. He had recommended me for a visit to the Fetal Diagnostic division at BC Women’s Hospital. There I could have a more thorough ultrasound and it would be determined whether or not it was safe for me and baby to have our delivery on the Coast.

Early February, we headed into the city and spent a day at the hospital. We met with about ten different doctors that day, including a genetic counsellor who took the most detailed family history I’ve ever had. Each doctor was gentle and compassionate and took their time to explain as much as they could. Over the course of my pregnancy, I had nine different ultrasounds (including one on my leg to rule out blood clots) but that day was the longest. For two and a half hours, I lay on a table, first in one room, then another as they used different machines. At one point, I actually fell asleep. At least six different doctors came in and out and carefully checked different parts of our baby’s body.

We got to see her squished little face, jammed down low in my pelvis by this time. And when the doctors tried to determine gender (which we had decided to wait to find out) they found that she was too tucked up to say for sure.

At some point, it became clear that they’d brought in another doctor to look specifically at our baby’s heart. One side was noticeably larger than the other, they told us. While some difference in size is normal for unborn babies, the difference in ours was greater than they liked to see.

When we’d heard there might be something wrong with her kidneys, it was scary but I thought, “At least there are two. At least it’s not her heart.” But here we were and they were telling us something else was wrong. Something more serious.

We met with two more doctors who carefully went over the ultrasound results with us. Baby’s kidneys were enlarged but this was a common enough problem in infants and children that they didn’t seem to be overly concerned. Now, we were all focused on our little one’s heart. It was possible her aorta was not functioning the way it should be. This would mean heart surgery after she was born. At my late stage of pregnancy, it was impossible to say for sure how serious it was. They recommended that from 38 weeks on, I live in Vancouver so that I could deliver at the hospital there and they could be prepared to give her whatever medical treatment she needed.

This gave me just over a week and a half to get our house ready for our baby and to finish my last days at work. It was a hard, sad week. The more I learned about our baby’s abnormality, the more fear I felt. Even if she had the surgery and it went well, would she ever be able to run and play like other kids? Would it be something that plagued her for the rest of her life? Would it shorten her lifespan?

It’s hard to understand God in times like this. I tried to remind myself that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle but I also knew that, honestly, I couldn’t handle this. I didn’t have it in me to watch my child suffer. I wasn’t sure I had it in me to parent a child with severe needs. But God also reminded me in that week that it isn’t about finding strength within myself but instead learning to lean on His strength. I think God does give us more than we can handle. But He never leaves us alone to handle it and that’s how we get through.

On the Sunday that I left Sechelt, Peter and I asked the elders of our church to pray for us. Along with other members of our church community, they gathered around Peter and I after the service and they prayed. Hard. If this was a cheesy movie, I would have felt some dramatic leap in my belly or someone would have had a vision or heard voices. Instead, there were a lot of tears and then Peter and I went to the ferry. But our church was in action and the prayers were spreading.

Since I was still two weeks from my due date with no signs of labour, Peter and I decided that he would stay home for an extra week to work while I went ahead to Vancouver. He carried the number of a water taxi around in case I went into labour over night while the ferries weren’t running and I prayed that the baby would wait at least one more week.

What amazed both of us though was how much peace we felt in that time. We were nervous and scared but we also felt profoundly that God had us in His hand and that He was in control of the outcome. Whatever that may be. Nothing had changed but I believe that God simply calmed our hearts and we felt extraordinarily comforted by knowing how many people were praying for us and our baby. It’s not a time I would want to relive but I also don’t think I’ve ever felt the body of Christ so strongly and so wonderfully as I did in those days.

Peter arrived in Vancouver early Saturday morning. It’s rare that we’re in the city without a list of things to do and so we decided to try and enjoy our time together there. My parents treated us to dim sum – Peter’s first time – and we got the added bonus of a surprise lion dance in the restaurant.

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The weather was beautiful and we spent the afternoon walking the sea wall at Stanley Park and watching the Mounties on horseback bust pot smokers on the beach. (Looking at these photos, I’m amazed at how huge I was!) That night we used a cash gift from Peter’s co-workers to go out for dinner together.

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Sunday morning, we went to church with our brother and sister-in-law. The sermon that morning was from Daniel 3 – the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. As we left the service, both Peter and I commented on how timely the message felt for us. This verse in particular stood out to me:

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

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These three men had complete faith that God could rescue them. Yet, at the same time, they declared that even if God chose not to – if He chose to let them die in the furnace – they would continue to worship Him alone. This is the faith that Peter and I prayed to have. To worship God and believe in His power in the midst of our own fiery furnace, no matter the outcome.

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I was hoping that Baby would arrive that weekend. While my brother and his family were out of town, we had their house to ourselves and it seemed like the perfect time for labour to begin. As well, at my last hospital visit, the doctor had told me they would likely want to induce me at 40 weeks. There was some concern that, due to our baby’s structural abnormalities, it would become more dangerous to continue the pregnancy past 40 weeks. So Sunday afternoon was filled with a visit with friends, as long a walk as I could manage, eating pineapple, and drinking raspberry tea.

At about 4 am that night, I woke up and felt like something had changed. I’d been having false labour contractions for several days but Monday morning they became stronger and more frequent. I had made plans to spend the day with a friend but decided to hang around and see if real labour would start. Not to mention that I was suddenly not that eager to be apart from Peter all day.

By mid-day, the contractions had subsided and so we went for a walk in Kerrisdale (I’d been craving a DQ blizzard for months – something you can’t get on the Sunshine Coast!) I was pretty uncomfortable but labour didn’t seem imminent so we drove out to UBC to visit our friends. All I wanted to do was sit around but I knew walking would be more likely to jump start things so we went for a walk and I even pushed her baby stroller for a while.

At about eight o’clock on Monday evening, we had just finished dinner and we went upstairs to peek at our friends’ pet ferret before we said our good-byes. As Peter held the sleepy ferret and I walked down the hall toward him, I felt a gush. I paused.

“I think I either just peed my pants or my water broke,” I said.

We said our goodbyes quickly and drove home while I called the hospital. Because I was being cared for by a team at the hospital rather than a single doctor, I had to call a paging system and then wait for a doctor to call me back. When I did get a call back, it turned out to be the wrong doctor so I had to call again and wait again and then explain, again, who I was, why I was calling and what was happening to me. Peter and I began to gather our things, getting ready to go to the hospital. When the doctor called back, she told me what I expected – go to the hospital to be assessed. They would determine that it really was my water that had broken and I would most likely be sent home again to wait for labour to start.

We threw our hospital bags in the car but expected to be back in about an hour. Instead, we didn’t leave the hospital until Friday.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s exciting conclusion!

(Here’s a sneak peek:)

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