empowerment

My Jonah’s Journey: A True Overcoming

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Meet Jonah. He appears to be your average, sweet, curious, hungry, loves to poop his diaper 11 month old, right?

Would you believe that, on the day he was born, March 12, 2013 – this was Jonah:

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Jonah Anthony is my son. This sweet, precious boy came into the lives of my husband and I by surprise.

I thought I had the flu. I struggled for days wondering why I kept getting sick – and then there’s this little clock inside your mind that only women understand that goes “ding” – and the light bulb brightens. You take that walk through the drug store aisles almost hiding your face thinking so many different racing thoughts. You see, I already had two children. I was divorced then re-married. My husband already has 3 children. We weren’t planning it – but after that little walk through the CVS I came home and I waited. Then it happened.

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So of course. It began over again – pregnancy ,the cravings, the weight gain, the constant need to barf while sitting at my work desk because somebody decided to microwave fish for lunch (I curse you! I curse you!)

We finally saw his little heartbeat. My belly grew. We found out he was a boy. We named him almost right away. We saw him in 3-D.  We waited for our due date: April 5, 2013.

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Out of the blue after months of anticipation – growing into the idea of being a mommy again, feeling his kicks, wondering about him – what would he be like, falling in love with the way he would roll around and cause me heartburn – wake me up at midnight before he was even born – something we did not see coming – happened.

On March 12, 2013 I went into labor on my own after long day at work. When I went to the hospital I felt for sure they would send me home. Within an hour – I was told it was time to go. Heading for C-section. It was his time, 4 weeks early.

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Jonah was born on March 12, 2013 at 8:15 PM. He weighed 7 LBS even. I heard his first cry and I began to sob. I could see his red hair from the operating table. His sweet, tiny legs were kicking…

Then I noticed something different than what happened with my other two.

Jonah stopped crying.

I immediately knew something was wrong – I got to see him for about 5 seconds. I gave him a kiss. I cried at how beautiful he was – he looked just like his father but with my mouth. It was happiness – yet anxiety. I waited for word while in recovery.

My husband came in about 2 hours later. Jonah was not breathing well. He had been taken to the NICU. He had Respiratory Distress Syndrome due to being premature. His lungs were not ready to be born yet.

It was not until the next day at noon that I was allowed to see Jonah. I was taken by wheel chair to the NICU where I went to be by his side. I only had one picture of him since he had been born – this one:

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I immediately broke into tears when I got to his side. The picture I had seen was not what I saw when I first came into real contact with my son. This is what I saw:

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My beautiful boy – the one that had been kicking me, that I had wanted so bad to meet, that innocent little being – was covered in tubes, wires, monitors that kept blaring. I sat by his side and I sobbed like I have never sobbed before. The nurse came up to my husband and said “that is a normal reaction from mothers”…

What mother would not sob at the sight of her son in a tiny box – his eyes barely open, his skin pale, his hands penetrated with IV needles.

I started to wonder if it was something that I did wrong. Why did I go into labor so early? Was it because of the pneumonia and flu I had two months prior? Was it the medication I had taken? Was I not healthy enough to hold him inside?

Now this wonderful creation of ours – was suffering. I was not allowed to hold him immediately. I was, however, allowed to stick my hand inside his incubator and touch him. His skin felt so soft to mine. My heart was alive with love – yet petrified. A terror I cannot describe.

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Jonah had to undergo a procedure where a breathing tube was inserted and lung suffactant was entered into his lungs artificially to help him learn to breathe on his own. It was 4 AM – on March 14, 2013. We waited and waited – my husband sleeping on the couch, my mother sleeping on a cot at my feet. The doctor finally knocked on the door – Jonah was doing well. He had taken great to the procedure and was learning to breathe. I could finally hold him.

Our first moments were full of blaring monitors and difficult wires – meandering around his heart leeds in order to get him to my chest. Yet it was beautiful. He raised his head. He recognized my voice. I immediately began to cry.

I was to be released a few days later. We were informed Jonah would not come home with us. He was losing weight, he was still unable to breathe room air without the help of Oxygen. He also became jaundiced.

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Days passed. We would often come by the NICU in the middle of the night. We simply could not sleep wondering about our little boy. If we happened to time it right – we were able to stick our hands in and actually feed him ourselves.

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Slowly, at least it felt to us, better updates were coming in. At first his blood oxygen level was only 40%. He was coming into the 70’s. His oxygen eventually made it into the 90’s. Whenever it would lower, the monitors would go off, and naturally, we would jump and wonder why. Each day meant, if progress was made, another wire would come off. I remember that I could start to see his actual features – he had been so covered, I could not see his mouth, nose, or cheeks.

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Then there was the beautiful moment his father held him for the first time. I cried watching. He cried and smiled and laughed.

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I left the hospital on March 16, 2013. I left on the elevator with no baby carrier – just my luggage, my husband, and a heart drowning in pain and an ill feeling in my stomach. I was leaving him behind. How could I? There was no space at the hospital for me to stay – so we would journey up each day to see him and be with him for hours upon hours until we knew our little boy could come home. I could not wait to introduce him to his siblings.

My hands were cracked and bleeding from washing with hospital grade soap each time I even wanted to merely brush my skin with his.

Then on March 20, 2013, we walked into the NICU and found this:

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He was breathing on his own. He was free of monitors, tubes, leeds. His sweet face was so clear to us now. We could hold him at will, take his temperature, change his diaper, feed him, rock him, sing sweet nothings to him.

Lullaby…and goodnight…go to sleep little Jonah …

Our little trooper never gave up. From the moment he cried when he came out of me – to the moment he stopped crying because he could not breathe – through each moment we reached through a tiny hole just to touch our baby – grasping at a tiny bottle hoping he would eat even 10 little mls – this little boy fought to survive.

Jonah came home with us on March 21, 2013 – 9 days after he was born. In thinking of what we had been through – which we never expected – we were so blessed. Some wait months, some do not come home at all. We prayed and prayed. We said so many thank you’s, took so many crying breaths just wanting our son home in our arms.

And he came.

The Lord blessed us with this sweet surprise. From that moment that I saw the two pink lines (so not the flu)  to today – Jonah is such an inspiration. Our sweet, beautiful boy is thriving. He is high functioning – and registers on a full term scale – not a premature scale of development. He is trying to take steps. He says Mama with his face bright as he reaches for me in the mornings.

He plays peek a boo with dada.

These are the moments that for days we thought – we may never see. Somehow through it all, God blessed our lives with this sweet boy that was able to fight almost the impossible – when he had just been born. Our hearts hurt for other families that never get to take their babies home. After going through this and seeing my boy through glass and wires – I pray nightly for others in the same position. We are so thankful to the amazing doctors whose knowledge, compassion, and care brought our son back to mommy and daddy’s arms.

In just 9 short days, Jonah will be 1. We are celebrating with a whale themed party for Jonah and the Whale. We joked I looked like one when I was pregnant with him. He will have cake. He will have love. He will be hugged, and kissed, and cherished. For this is the boy that came into the world and fought to live. This is the boy that to this day – inspires me to be a better person, mother, friend. This is the boy that has taught me to cherish ALL of life’s moments – big and small.

This is our Jonah. Our miracle. Our overcomer.

Happy Birthday, Baby. We love you.

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Listen Up: A Song I Wrote (and I’m PROUD!)

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Back in January – I wrote a post entitled “Memory That Moves Me: Co-Writing a Song.”

It just so happens that today’s prompt is asking me – have I ever written music or been part of a band?

I should mention, and sometimes I laugh about it, I was once the bane of my choir teacher’s experience. She knew I couldn’t sing – heck I knew I couldn’t sing. I would often lipsynch during performances – every once in a while a note would come out of my mouth and you would hear somebody in the alto section yell “SOMEONE IS SINGING SOPRANO!!”.

Yep. That was me. The tone deaf one who simply wanted to find her way somehow into the music world – but I could not sing. I could play the piano. I was also a poet – but a singing voice?

Uh, no. If I showed up at an American Idol audition – I would likely shatter a window or Ryan Seacrest’s make up.

Music does not fit me well. This is where having a dream – and believing in it – is powerful and important.

My favorite artist is a rock star out of Brooklyn, Ariel Aparicio. I learned about his music on Twitter – and I was hooked from the beginning.

We developed a friendship via Twitter and e-mail and I found myself helping him promote his music by showing up at his performances or by working on his website and promotion materials. One day I got the guts to ask – would you perhaps entertain a dream of mine – writing a song together? Color me excited when he immediately said yes.

I wrote the lyrics. He wrote the music. He presented me with the recording for my birthday back in 2010. I will never forget the moment I heard it. For today’s prompt I share with you the only involvement I’ve ever had with a band or with writing music. The song is entitled “I Need You” – and the brilliance behind it still brings tears to my eyes to this day.

I took that wish my heart held true for so many years – and found a way to make it happen. With the wonderful, generous personality of the oh so talented Ariel, and the poetic side of me – we came up with this wonderful rendition of what I will forever call “my song” – because I helped write it.

Introducing the dream I never gave up on – “I Need You.”

I Need You (Lyrics by Jennifer Stephens, Music and Vocals by Ariel Aparicio)

This lonely heart, it cried alone.

These tears, they dried – dried to stone.

This bed it, it felt no soul – of my – my very own.

 So lonely. It tore my life apart.

 

In truth I never knew

My life and then came you.

These scars are fading.

These scars are fading.

 

My scars are fading.

 I need you.

 

I spent so many days waiting

For a hand to take my soul sayin’

You’re not alone in your corners prayin’

I will take your – your pain away

 

In truth I never knew

About peace and then came you.

These scars are fading.

These scars are fading.

 

My scars are fading.

 I need you.

 

Lesson learned by knowing you

The way your words they teach me truth

I can’t go on, I can’t be new

These lessons learned by knowing you

 You only can mend my broken heart

 

In truth I never knew

About peace and then came you.

 These scars are fading.

My scars are fading.

 

In truth I never knew

My life and then came you

 These scars are fading

These scars are fading

My scars are fading….

 

I need you.

I need you.

I need you.

I need you.

I am An MD: Master of Determination

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Very soon I will be guest blogging for Dancing with Fireflies. This blog is very dear to my heart as I appreciate the writing, topics, and challenges that come along with it. Having been sick the past few weeks I’ve been missing her Weekly Writing Challenge. Today, I am partaking. The question: what is your expertise?

I would love to be able to have an actual MD. The truth of the matter is I actually have a Masters degree in Counseling.

But I love to give myself credit as being an MD: Master of Determination.

My expertise is in never giving up. Life can hand me the most unusual, difficult, and emotionally draining situations and it’s my strength, persistence, faith, and determination that help get me through these plights.

It would take me an entire novel or memoir, pages and pages of blogging to explain every life event that I have gotten through and learned from. It would take me years, I suppose, to explain each of the ways I have gained strength from not giving in to the worst of experiences. I have not only become a wiser person – my ability, or should I say expertise, as a person who persists to believe in miracles, second chances, in the idea that failing at something does not make you a failure: it is a lesson learned to benefit from. Failing never makes a person weak. Failure is an opportunity to become stronger – to overcome (thus the purpose of my blog – to empower myself and others to never give up or not allow the curveballs that life throws at us to become strike outs – yet home runs).

So, my friends, in response to this challenge I give you a new bumper sticker idea…

(Sidebar for new followers: I love to come up with bumper stickers – I find the humor and creativity almost inspiring in itself.)

Imagine the back of my Prius with the following:

“I’ll be Back: I am the Determinator.”

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An Open Letter to Doctors: Stigmas Are Negative Messages

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Stigma (Noun) Defined:

“A set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something.”

Dear Doctors:

I understand your profession requires skill, strength, patience, and dedication. I am in no way undermining your work or your place in my life and the many things you have done to save me. Yet still, I wish to write to you openly today to express my sincere sadness, anxiety, and humiliation over recent treatment I received in the medical field because I am part of a stigma.

If you have not yet read my Pathway to Freedom, I encourage you to do so.

My struggle with opiate dependence and my journey to recovery has been no secret. I chose not to hide behind the curtains of secrecy that often come with facing a chemical dependence on prescription pain medications. I have sought therapy and help with my anxiety associated with parting ways with opiates on a regular basis. I have become a bigger and better person, I am stronger. My entire blog is dedicated to my journey as well as to mental health in general – relating to others, helping others, listening and offering support.

Just recently I came down with a weird set of symptoms that I could not define. Severe back pain coupled with another severe symptom I would rather not blog about.

Oh do not laugh – I know I blog about EVERYTHING – but for the sake of those who may be eating dinner, let’s say, mine was not exactly staying in – severely. This continued for two weeks.

I am new to my area. I moved here to be closer to family in September 2013. I have an OBGYN here, a pain management doctor that I parted ways with recently, a therapist, and a psychiatrist. I had yet to find a primary care physician and decided this time around instead of spending hundreds of dollars at the emergency room or at urgent care – I would finally make a relationship with a family doctor.

Their introduction was fantastic. They were kind, fast, and very attentive. My lab results were in within 24 hours. I was called personally. Another set of labs would take longer – but I would be informed, they said. At no time during this appointment did I request any narcotic pain medication. I simply asked for answers.

Upon finding out that my results were all negative for anything major – the back pain was so severe and the other symptoms continued so I sought out the help of the emergency room for a catscan. These results were negative for anything that needed immediate attention. I called my new doctor and let him know and asked him for other suggestions. I then saw a stomach doctor as well as an orthopedist. During these visits it was discovered that I have a severely sprained back that is causing continuous muscle spasms. It’s possible I have a torn disc in my lumbar region and my entire insides below are simply traumatized. Once again, despite the pain, I did not ask for and was not prescribed any narcotic pain medication.

Color me shocked when yesterday – a courier stopped by my door. It was no sooner than the orthopedist that my primary doctor referred me to found the sprain and other issues – that this letter came into my hands. It was from my new primary doctor. It read, in a nutshell, that my previous records had been obtained and my prescription history reveals I am known as a “doctor shopper” – an “addict” and am no longer allowed at their practice or to be treated at any of their facilities in the city.

I just about fell over.

I have never once in my life doctor shopped. I am very much against this practice. My previous medications were obtained legally and for medically proven specified reasons by the same set of doctors at the same practice. While I did go through withdrawals upon stepping off the medications this is not uncommon for a patient who has been on such high doses for such a long period of time. Within the letter was a flyer to a recovery center “go and seek help” it said. Funny it was the same recovery center I went to in December to be evaluated to be sure I did not need any further treatment or to see if I even qualified as an addict at all.

Allow me to digress but the results from the addiction specialist confirmed that I am not an addict nor do I have any addictive tendencies. My prescription records were scrutinized for 3 hours as was I before this determination was made.

My question to you is – why would you ever trash a patient like paperwork through a shredder without asking them for an explanation? 

You are subjecting innocent people to the biggest problem: a stigma.

I believe this sends a negative message. Denying medical care to a person without questioning or further investigating what you see on paper is very irresponsible, humiliating, and heart breaking to a patient who – since you never asked or cared enough to know – worked very hard to get to this point. I also forgot the part where I asked you for narcotic pain medications.

Is it because I came into your office and said I was in pain? Because I told you I was making you my primary doctor that you went and got all my records and jumped to a conclusion without going straight to the source – or for that matter, allowing an ailing patient to defend herself?

It is very disturbing to me that patients can be so easily ignored and kicked to the curb by medical professionals that are supposed to protect them. While I did not disclose my previous history to you in my appointment – it is because I am still learning to trust medical professionals after my recent experiences. I wanted to build a rapport and have you understand and know me before I opened up to you. This is quite possibly my fault – I’m sure, because you are not emotionally attached to me and you had never met me before that day, that you automatically assumed that I fall into the same category as those who abuse the system in order to obtain controlled prescriptions for recreational use.

I am not one of these people.

Your snap judgement has caused me heart break, anxiety, and distress that is truly unnecessary. It is a very lost and lonely feeling to know that a doctor you were trying to use as your family provider no longer wishes to provide to you based on a stigma – without any defense from an innocent patient.

While I did take up this issue with the Executive Director of the practice in question and with the doctor himself – I am writing to all doctors that work in any field where this may be an issue. It is one thing to tell a patient that because of their history you cannot provide controlled medications – yet you can still treat them in other ways.

It’s another to completely kick a patient out of your facility based on paperwork. I am a human. I am further than words, prescriptions, and whatever other reports you obtained that may have painted me in a light that you did not appreciate.

Through it all, I never have requested any controlled medications from that practice or any other provider. Would it hurt you so bad to bring a patient in on your precious time and ask them to elaborate? Is it truly against your will to find compassion because I thought that was part of your oath you were asked to take when you became a doctor?

Holding patients as stigmas causes such negative feelings of humiliation and distrust. I now have to search for another provider and am worried, scared, and anxious I will never be able to receive treatment for true problems because of a difficult past that I worked very hard to correct and to be frank – I was never wrong or abused the system in the first place.

I beg you to question yourselves as you practice each day. While I understand you keep emotional distance from your patients – it does not mean that you cannot dig deeper to better understand the measures a patient has taken to willingly fight a very difficult disease that, in my case and in many, is involuntary.

Please do not subject innocent women like me – innocent men, adults, adolescents, to feeling as though they are so abnormal that you cannot even treat them for a simple sinus infection, or perhaps give a simple referral because I need to see a doctor that is outside of your scope of study. Allow patients to feel welcome, understood, and above all: not judged.

I never got a phone call, an office meeting, or a personal voice message. I got a typed letter that was clearly copied from a template with a scribble of a signature on the bottom. This completely hurt my feelings and makes me question the integrity of doctors in the medical field who claim they are all for supporting patients in every way – including recovery.

This is not supportive or understanding – this is judgmental, unfair, and will affect me greatly now and in the future as I learn to work forward from this. This could affect anyone who may not have been as strong or in the position as myself to be able to recover at the pace that I did. You should reach out your hands – never take them away and leave your patients feeling desperate, uncared for, and worthless.

I never lied to my new doctor. He, however, lied to me when he said he was happy to have me join the practice.

That could turn any person in need of help into such a shameful place that it may have more negative effects than you ever intended.

I hope this message gets across to as many doctors as possible. I understand you hold high standards because you are licensed. I realize that others hold you to that standard and you are monitored- yet the realization is, people who have fought addiction whether it be now, in the past, or in the future – are still human beings with souls. We are far more than statistics – and a piece of paper or file folder you can just shred and throw away.

Let that be a lesson taught that maybe a patient can teach you – rather than you teaching the patient. Sometimes we’re wiser.

Because we’re people too.

Somebody Saved Me Today: But Who?

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I was driving innocently today. I had just dropped off my two oldest children in Stafford, VA to go back with their father. I was in my Prius compact car, enjoying the winter wind through my window, while listening to Zak Bagans’ song “In My Dungeon”…

Sidebar (see brilliance below):

I noticed out of the corner of my right eye – an 18 wheeler on the exit ramp coming onto Interstate 95 South.

Have you ever been to Virginia? On Interstate 95? Wacko drivers. Avoid it. 

Still enthralled in listening to my favorite song of my very brilliant idol I noticed something was off.

This 18 wheeler had nothing on the back of his bed. His bed was high. He was coming off of the exit ramp at a good 50 MPH. I was in the middle lane. It struck me then like something out of an 80’s sitcom when the answer to the question just suddenly appears within such a short time span. He was not stopping.

This truck continued to swerve and he was coming into my lane.

“He doesn’t see me. Oh my God. He doesn’t see me.”

Prius owners unite: we understand we blow the concept of the “blind spot”.

I was clutching the wheel in a panic. There was nowhere to go.

But wait. There was.

Before I could blink and say “I love cats” – I was underneath the bed of his truck. My compact Prius wedged between his bed and tires.

I began to beep. Scream.

What good will this do me NOW?

Ever seen National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation?

It can really happen. My life began to flash before my eyes. I could see my children’s faces, hear their laughs. I saw bright lights around. I could hear my husband’s voice “You’re my everything”…

Oh my God. I’m dying.

This was it. I was about to see the pearly gates of Heaven – witness the miracles that so exist from those who speak of near death experiences. For us Ghost Adventures fans, I was about to become one. This was my day. February 17, 2014. Age 34. She loved coffee, scary movies, her husband, her children, football, beer and nachos. I could see my obituary.

I had one out. While saying a Hail Mary – praying like I had always been taught in my Catholic church that I hadn’t visited in years after many thoughts of wondering about my faith – I was praying like I never had before.

Dear God: please, I am going to swerve to the third lane, I cannot see out my side view mirror. Please, don’t let there be a car. Help me.  I cannot leave my babies. I cannot leave my husband, my family, my kitty cat Macy. Please.

I gave myself an ultimatum. I kept my hands gripped to the wheel and I swerved.

Today my friends, I witnessed a miracle.

As it turns out an angel in a gold Honda Civic had stopped traffic in the third lane. He had seen my plight. He had stopped them 1/4 of a mile back to allow me time to swerve back in the lane without hitting anybody. My car went off the road – and then something took control of my hands. Instead of hitting the guard rail – I went back onto the road, and stayed in the third lane. I did not overcorrect. I did not hit anybody. My car had not a scratch.

Neither did I.

It’s like an umpire yelling when a man on 3rd steals home base:

YOU’RE SAFE!

I immediately began to sob. Still shaking I called my husband to hear his voice. I called my mother to hear hers.

Now home and on my couch with a cold beer I wonder:

What was it that saved me today?

Somebody knew it was not my time – and they made sure of it.

Could it have been my love of the song I was listening to keeping me calm?

Could it have been the thought of my husband, children, and family?

Could it have been that amazing, thoughtful gold Honda Civic?

Or was it something deeper?

I should have died today. I saw the lights, I heard the sounds, there was really no way to avoid it.

Yet I did.

A guardian angel, perhaps. A keeper of my soul.

Regardless, I’m home. I’m home where I’m obviously meant to be now.

To February 17, 2014: today was not my time. Someday it will be – but it was not today.

To the driver of the Mack Truck: learn to pay attention. You could have killed this mother of 3. And knowing me, and my love of the paranormal and Ghost Adventures, I would have haunted the living crap out of you.

Life is good.