Adrian Curtis’ Med-Free Birth Story

I actually dreamed of getting to give a blog post this title, and the day has come.

(This is a long post. You’ve been warned.)

Our son was born last week after a tiring cycle of ups and downs. I’ve hardly caught up on my sleep with having a newborn and a toddler under the same roof now, and my memories of his delivery have been swirling back up in chunks, but here’s the story:

The first question most people ask when you explain your labor is, “How long did it take?” It’s hard for me to answer that because my labor with Adrian was spread out over several weeks. At week 37, I was dilated to 4cm, 60% effaced. My OB didn’t expect to see me again after this appointment, but I still kept my schedule with him. At 39 weeks, he checked me again and found me to be dilated to 5cm with 70% effacement. He scraped my membranes at this appointment, and I left feeling a bit nauseous. On the way out, I stopped off at my acupuncturist’s office. We made an appointment for the following morning at 10:30am, assuming I didn’t have a new baby before then.

I went home feeling some irregular contractions, and decided to do some walking and bouncing on the exercise ball to see if that’d bring on anything significant. My contractions got stronger with physical activity, and came as close together one minute. However, they weren’t consistent, ever. I’d experience contractions every two minutes for about 10 minutes, but then I’d have one spaced out to three or four minutes apart from the one before it. It was frustrating, because I’d been trained to understand that true labor is exact; if your contractions don’t stay exactly the same interval apart for at least an hour, you’re not in labor. So, by popular definition, I wasn’t in labor.

I left a message for my OB’s nurse, and she called back and told my husband that though my contractions were not consistent, they were all indeed less than five minutes apart, and that my doctor would like to see me. I’d settled in to take a bath and do some meditation when my husband relayed the news, and I had fears about going back to the hospital. If this wasn’t actually labor, I’d be faced with another stalled situation like I faced when I went in for Kennedy’s birth. I didn’t want to place myself in a situation where doctors and nurses were pushing things on me. I didn’t stick to my birth plan before, but I was adamant about doing it right this time. If I never give birth to any other children, I don’t want regret to loom over me because I never had the wherewithal to stand up for myself in labor and delivery. I sat in the tub and prayed, I asked for a sign of something and got nothing, but ultimately figured I’d go back to the OB just to see if I was dilating anymore.

About 40 minutes later, I was back with the OB, and he confirmed I was dilated to 6cm. I’d dilated one more centimeter between seeing him late that morning, and at about 4:30 in the afternoon. I was clearly progressing through something, so my husband and I agreed to go down to labor and delivery.

Once in L&D, I began moving and staying in motion to bring back and keep my contractions coming. Maybe now they’d get consistent, my water would break, and I’d be pushing out a baby a couple hours later.

They didn’t.

Five hours after my admission, my contractions stopped. I’d dilated a little past 6cm, but overall, nothing was happening. I requested a discharge, and the attending physician advised me that going home wasn’t a good idea. For starters, this was my second child, and labor with second, third, fourth babies tends to go faster than the first. Given that I was so far dilated, if my water indeed broke en route to the house, we could be faced with an emergency situation where baby is born in the car on the side of the road, or possibly at home. I didn’t want a home birth (or a car birth…). She also had a feeling that something might happen during the course of the night, and perhaps my baby would be born in the morning. We went back and forth for a while, but ultimately, I decided to stay the night. I still refused Pitocin as well as an artificial breaking of my water. I also declined all medicines offered to help me sleep except for Benadryl, only because I’d taken it prior in the pregnancy for the same purpose.

Morning came, and still nothing. I looked over at my exhausted husband, told him we’d need to go home, and asked the nurse for discharge papers. Thankfully, they let me go without a fight. I was already defeated, so I’m glad they didn’t come at me with swords raised. I felt embarrassed. I felt like a failure. I felt like I had let my husband down, though he insists that I didn’t:

We grabbed some breakfast at IHOP, went to my parents’ house to check in on Kennedy, and killed a little time before my acupuncture appointment. Acupuncture helped release some tension, and I felt a few more contractions while lying on the table during treatment. I thanked my doctor for his help and left for home. I needed a nap and a shower. I wanted to relish in the environment of my own house. I wanted to give my body a chance to do what it needed to do without pressure, though I’d stayed relatively calm through everything thus far. And I needed to find a safe space to just pray and be still. I took a nap and woke to my husband walking in with a fresh Cobb salad he’d crafted me (Cobb salads were my main craving during those last few weeks of pregnancy). We ate together, snuggled up to watch some TV, and then he asked if I’d like to take a walk with him. We took the dogs and decided to walk around the block a few times. My contractions returned, and once again they were close together. We agreed that if they came closer than three minutes together, we’d go to the hospital and continue walking around the pond there. We knew we were close, and we didn’t want to chance having our baby at home. I also told my husband that if labor stalled again, I’d take the Pitocin. He asked if I was sure, and truthfully, I wasn’t. But after two days of back and forth, my body was tired. I was tired. I couldn’t keep putting him through this. I just wanted it to be over.

It’s 5pm, we’re back in Labor & Delivery, and I’m even back in the same room as before. My mother showed up, much to our surprise, and decided to ride it out with us. I chat with the nurses about what had happened the night before, and I ask if I should just go onto Pitocin right away. The nurse admitting me advises that if I want to indeed stay natural for this process, perhaps breaking the water is a better way to go. Given how far dilated I was (which was 7cm at this point) that’d be sure to kick start things for real, and help me avoid the drugs. I refused at first – and this wasn’t because I had a logical reason for doing so – I was afraid. I used the excuse that having my water broken ruined my labor with Kennedy before, but that wasn’t an informed deduction of my process with her. When my water was broken with Kennedy, I had already been on Pitocin for about three hours. Pitocin is known to make contractions much more intense, so the pain I felt after having my water broken was indeed painful, but beyond what it probably would’ve been had I just had my water broken on its own. Another more glaring reality that I didn’t want to face: The water would have to break at some point, regardless. Delaying having my water broken was like delaying the inevitable end that I claimed to want so bad. Labor hurts, Antoinette, and you said you wanted to do this, so just do it. Thank you, internal voice. Once again, you knew exactly what to say.

I had to wait two hours to have the doctor come break my water. A host of other pregnant women came in around the same time as I did, but they were all progressing through their labors and required immediate care. I sat and waited, and waited, and waited. I got frustrated with myself again, snapped at the nurse whose fault it wasn’t, and finally got the doctor to “crochet hook“ my amniotic sack. “This is when shit gets real,” I whispered to my husband. My mother nodded…

Hour One of Dry Labor:

The first few contractions weren’t so bad, but by the fourth one, I was feeling it. They were about five minutes apart, so I had some time to rest and crack jokes in between them, but they were rough when they hit. I coped by squeezing my husband’s hands and practicing slow breathing. “This isn’t so bad,” I thought, but I was nowhere near the peak of what was coming.

Hour Two of Dry Labor:

At this point, I’m sitting on my exercise ball exclusively. Somehow, the ball helped alleviate some of the pressure in my back. Not by much. Pain was at level 10 at this point during contractions, and I was feeling extremely nauseous. The contractions were also lasting longer, making them harder to endure. I squeezed my husband’s hands, and my mom did things like apply lip balm to my lips and pass me drinks when I asked.

About an hour and a half after my water was broken, the nausea became so bad that…I vomited. Everything hurt so bad, and I’d been pounding clear juices and water to stay hydrated. The breathing I had to do to cope with each contraction left me with dry mouth, and my once freezing hospital room suddenly felt like a sauna. I had to pee at one point, and the walk from the exercise ball to the bathroom felt like miles. Despite what others had said, laboring on the toilet wasn’t any more comfortable. Get me back to my ball I thought. Walking hurt; gravity turned my level 10 pain into 11, and I just couldn’t do it. I shuffled back to the ball as quickly as I could after peeing. The mesh panties and pad they’d given me to wear were soaked in amniotic fluid. I asked for a change, but ultimately decided that I’d just stay commando. They’d only be in the way later.

I remember speaking to the nurse between contractions and not finishing my sentence before the next one hit. Nothing had really been textbook up to this point, but I do remember reading very clearly that labor is progressing when the woman is unable to speak through contractions. I definitely couldn’t talk through these. It was all I could do to intentionally breathe. Around the end of this second hour was when I asked to be checked for progression. I felt more pressure in my pelvis, and was hopeful that perhaps I’d be there.

I was dilated to 8cm with 100% effacement. Only 8?! F—!!!!! The nurse told me not to be discouraged. I was progressing, these contractions weren’t for nothing, and my baby’s position had descended significantly since her last check. She told me to be calm and trust in this process. Fatigue was setting in at this point, but I nodded with her. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. I looked at my mom, and my face must’ve explained it all, because without my speaking she just said to me, “You are almost there, and I’m so proud.” I couldn’t respond. I didn’t know how to feel. I just whispered ever so softly to myself, “I can do this…I can do this…” That’s when my husband whispered to me, “You ARE doing this, my queen…” My cracking heart healed over.

Hour Three of Dry Labor:

At this point, the physical and mental fatigue was taking its toll. I told my husband and mother repeatedly that I wasn’t sure how much more of this I could take. About 10 minutes after I’d been told I was at 8cm, I asked for another check. The nurse found me to be at 9cm, and I heard her call the doctor…”Doctor, she’s dilated from 8 to 9cm in 10 minutes. I think you should stay nearby.”

Is that a good sign? Will I breeze through this last centimeter quickly? Jesus, please, if there was EVER a time for you to step in and save me, it is now. Please…

They left me in the bed at this point (all these “checks” you’re reading about are happening in the hospital bed – not on the ball). It’s not the most comfortable place to be, but nothing really is anymore. From this vantage point, I can see my mom’s face clearly, and my husband is on the other side of the bed, still holding my hand. The nurse quietly encourages me, and I keep hoping that the immense pressure I feel with each contraction is helping me dilate that much faster to 10. The contractions seem to be lasting longer at this point, but it’s hard to tell if they’re just longer, or if they’re doubling up. The nurse is talking me through each one by saying things like, “That was the peak…” “You should start to feel some relief…” “That one’s over…” Yes, I could feel these things myself, but having someone to “coach” me through these painful periods gave me something else to concentrate on. However, as I’m barely holding on to get through the peaks of these contractions, I catch a glimpse of my mom’s face as she’s glancing at the monitor and back at me. I see a look of panic cross her face as she views the monitor, and she looks away from me quickly. I thought, “Oh no. This is gonna be a double…yep, this is a double.” The contraction strengthens to its peak, lessens in intensity a bit, but then strengthens to peak again. This all lasts for about 90 seconds. I’m still breathing slowly with longer exhalations, but that measure is really just for keeping me calm. The pain is what it is and will not go away until this is over.

I gasp and whisper the word “pressure” to the nurse, and she decides to check me again. “You’re about 9.5cm,” she says. I wince. She calls the doctor again and says, “Doctor, she’s at anterior lip. Are you close?” quick pause “All right, thank you.”

“My wife pushes fast,” my husband advised, “so make sure the doctor is ready, please.” (Refer to Kennedy Faye’s birth story to understand why he said this)

Then she turns to me and advises that only a small piece of my cervix is lying in the way. Baby is in perfect position, effacement is complete. She advises that with the next contraction, I give a gentle push – she will attempt to pull the cervix up so that it’s out of the way. I pull my knees to my chest as she instructs, and give the best push I can. It was weak. I was out of energy. Oh, and if I didn’t mention it, I was in the worst pain of my life.

But her strategy worked.

The next part is a little blurry, but a lot of folks started showing up. A doctor, another nurse, a respiratory therapist, a pediatric nurse, and at least two other people associated with baby’s care upon birth. The end of the bed detaches, and my waist is suddenly at the edge. The doctor instructs me to pull my knees back, wait for the next contraction, take in a deep breath, and push with everything I have. It’s go-time, finally. THIS is what I came here for. C’mon, Antoinette, let’s get this done.

In come my knees, here comes the tightening of the next contraction, I take a deep breath, and start pushing. Up until this point, my noise level hadn’t reached much above a whisper, but upon starting the push, I screamed. I let out a feral, raw, maternal scream. I was that voice you hear behind closed doors when a woman is in labor. My entire bottom half seemed to be coming apart. My mom’s face was sympathetic, as well as impressed. She did this twice, and now I was finally getting to see what it was all about.

Another deep breath in, and another push. I gave this one more of me because I wanted to this part to just be over. Suddenly, it was as if the Earth was opening up. I saw the moon and stars, heard a symphony playing, saw a dolphin swim past, felt an earthquake, and oh my gosh, ring of fire, ring of fire, RING OF FIRE. RING OF FIRE.

I couldn’t tell how far I’d gotten, but I kept taking in deep breaths and concentrating on the push. Everyone seemed to be cheering. My entire body was trembling. I was covered in a cold sweat. I’d ditched the gown and was completely nude. I didn’t care who saw or what anyone thought; I just wanted my baby.

Somewhere amidst the chaos, I found my doctor’s voice. She calmly advised that I look down at my baby, whose face was looking up at me with two arms free. “Reach down and pull up your baby, she said.” I paused and looked to my husband’s face. “Pull him out,” he said. I reached down and pulled a slippery, slightly grayish blue, extremely warm newborn out of my own birth canal and up to my chest, and the post-birth euphoria I’d met last time pounded me in the face, heart, and lungs with unbridled, unmedicated intensity. This was the greatest moment of my life.

And just like that, it was over. Placenta came out, breastfeeding went off without a hitch, I got moved to a recovery room, and my family and I got to celebrate our new blessing. I’m still piecing together my observations after this experience, but having done this with an epidural before, and without any drugs this time, I’d have to say that I will choose the med-free route again if we decide to welcome a third child.

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8lbs, 5oz, 21 inches of perfect

I’ll be back to write more about second-time momhood later.

Thankful

Trans Siberian Orchestra is pumping through my speakers, my homemade cranberry sauce is cooling in the fridge, and the smell of green bean casserole is wafting through the house on this beautiful Thanksgiving morning. I have about seven different tasks I need to tend to, which include getting showered to head over to my parents’ house for dinner, but I wanted to stop in and quickly chronicle all that I am grateful for this year.

It’s been a year of twists and turns as the place I was when the year started is vastly different from where I sit now, with only about 37 days left until 2016 is up.

I am grateful to have mustered up courage this year.
I had to defend my thesis for the MBA program, put myself out there for a job I wasn’t even sure I was qualified for, and walk away from certain things and people that I decided weren’t serving me anymore. It isn’t easy to decide to walk your own path, but I stepped out onto my own through redefining my priorities this year, and for that I am both proud of myself, and grateful to have done.

I am grateful for my faith.
I should’ve listed this first, and it’s pretty obvious for anyone who knows me that the aforementioned accomplishments I attribute first and foremost to the grace of God, but my faith carried me through some very difficult and testing times this year. I am so grateful to not resist Jesus, His calling to me, and His will.

I am grateful for my family.
We’re finally adding a new member…! My marriage is back on track! I have the most beautiful daughter imaginable! My parents are spectacular! Nuff said.

I am grateful for this blog.
I’ve ditched all other platforms of social media (more on that later) but this blog is and will always remain my greatest outlet for publicly sharing anything I want. It’s been my baby since my last few days as a 29 year old, and I’ve grown through having it. I love chronicling parts of my life journey here, not so much for people to read about (though I do adore all of my readers) but to have something to look back on later.

I’m also grateful for good food, which I will be chowing down on soon.🍗

Here’s to FOOD COMAS!!

Happy Thanksgiving 🦃

Sullen Girl

“Is that why they call me a sullen girl? Sullen girl…
They don’t know I used to sail the deep and tranquil seas.
But he washed me ‘shore, and he took my pearl and left an empty shell of me.” –”Sullen Girl” by Fiona Apple

Anxiety sucks. I’ve only recently become acquainted with just what this feeling is that’s hovered over me in much of my adult life past age 27. If I had to come up with a metaphor for what this emotion feels like, I’d say it’s probably similar to what Sri Lankans felt like on December 26, 2004 as they watched the ocean menacingly encroach upon their habitat, helpless against the raging onslaught of water that would devour their homes, places of business, streets, cars, friends, and family. Anxiety washes over me like a tsunami, and all I ever wanted to do was bask in the sunlight or sail peacefully with the wind in my hair.

It’s typically been my nature to be open and inviting to others – I’m not this way anymore. I used to enjoy social settings, meeting new people, and putting myself out there. In place of those things I’ve been busy building walls, withdrawing from relationships, and trying to patch up really old wounds that I thought had healed. I always thought that when I reached a point like this I would find myself sad about the shift in my attitude and behavior, but I’m actually really comfortable being this way because it minimizes my amount of emotional risk. I used to scoff at risk before, but now I refuse to take risks. I don’t want to be vulnerable to anything or anyone anymore.

The only place I feel truly safe and calm is at home. If I could lie in bed and eat yummy food and watch Netflix all day without consequence, I would. But someone has to let the dogs out. These papers aren’t going to grade themselves. I don’t want to be arrested for child neglect. Eventually, the groceries in the fridge will run out and I’ll have to go to the store to get more.

When I can’t sleep, I like to sneak into Kennedy’s room, grab her from her toddler bed, and lie down with her in the futon guest bed – there’s something so comforting about getting to snuggle with my baby who isn’t really a baby anymore. I’d do the same with Fabian, but since his body is bigger, he controls the cuddling. I can just grab Kennedy and snuggle with her and she’ll fall asleep no matter how we’re tangled up. Plus, I enjoy the tickle of her soft curls against my chin and nose. I want to soak up these moments now because one day she won’t want me anymore. When she’s a rebellious teenager, she’ll probably tell me she hates me because I won’t let her dye her hair pink or stay out ‘til 3am with her boyfriend. I just hope that by then I’ve found something else to comfort me that isn’t cocaine or excessive drinking or heroin or PCP.

Now, I know that the Christians and religious folks probably wonder, “Why doesn’t she just hand these troubles over to God? Why doesn’t she pray more? Doesn’t she know Jesus can save her?”

My answer to that: I do pray. I do read The Word. I do have a relationship with God and Jesus – a strong one. It is naïve to think that just because a person is going through troubles, they must be lacking in faith. Trials like these are where faith is tested. So-called good Christians are not free from troubles. Don’t look at someone else’s life and assume that everything must be okay just because that’s how it looks to you.

As with all stages in life, this one will pass too. Perhaps it will be in a few months, or maybe it will take me decades to dig out from under. Until then, the walls, distance, and mistrust remain. I’ve been so burned and shit on and it’s finally all catching up to me. I almost wish I could go back in time to 1992 or so and warn little young, bright-eyed, hopeful, friendly Antoinette that she should probably just stop it now, because it’s only a burden to have to keep up later. When you’re the person who is good at offering an ear to listen and a heart to care, all anyone is going to let you do is listen and care; they won’t return the favor. When you’re upbeat and lighthearted, nobody will allow you to be downtrodden or serious. Nobody ever asks the friend who’s a good listener if they have anything to say. Nobody ever reaches out to the girl who’s constantly reaching out to everybody else. Don’t exhibit strength or power in overcoming obstacles because then you’re never allowed to be weak. Helping make someone else’s bad days good means you’re never allowed to have bad days.

Family

I refrain from delving into stories about my extended family much because, well, quite honestly it’s an exhausting and complicated web to untangle before most listeners/readers. My immediate family is simple – me, my husband, our daughter, and my mom and dad. My mother and father-in-law are part of my immediate family too, but I don’t talk about them much on this blog because my father-in-law’s estranged ex-wife (and bio mom to my husband) frequently reads these posts and I’ve solemnly promised not to divulge any of his business here for her to see (I TOLD YOU, FAMILY IS COMPLICATED).

With that being said, I want to explain something about family, regardless of how complicated yours may also be. Our family is evidence of what we come from. To many, that doesn’t matter much because they may be ashamed of where they come from. They may not like the circumstances they come from. Poverty, abuse, and religious practices and traditions are all details. They do not have to define you unless you allow them to. They also don’t have to define your family, unless you want them to.

If left alone on this earth to start anew and construct new traditions, habits, and ways of being, whether you like it or not, you’ll likely look toward what you were told or shown when you were growing up in order to do that. Some of those habits may not be good ones – we don’t necessarily want to carry on a tradition of alcoholism or violence if there’s a history there – but even the most afflicted members of our family still have something to offer us as we piece together the history that brought us into being. Even my uncle on drugs had a generous, caring heart up until the day he was killed. My alcoholic aunt will always be a pioneer on the nursing front in the state of Florida as being one of the first women here to ever be granted a nursing license, despite being turned away multiple times due to the color of her skin. My paternal grandmother didn’t always make the best decisions, but she knew to keep the piece of land that her mother-in-law bought at the turn of the 20th century at a time when women, let alone women of color, weren’t typically able to do so.

My aunt Patricia said it best to me on the phone this morning. She told me that her philosophy on seeing and communicating with family is, “I would rather make the effort to come see you when you’re alive than wait until you’re dead. I hate going to funerals – they’re not occasions to pull together for. Pull together, scrape up some cash, and make the effort for a living person, not a dead one.” Auntie Pat you are so right!

When people die, that’s it. We don’t get a say in the matter, we can’t fight it, it can’t be reversed. The finality of death is major. Instead of fighting death, I’m going to make an effort to fight through misunderstanding and differences while the people I care about are alive. I’ll probably have to apologize for some things I’m really not to blame for, but that’s neither here nor there. The bottom line is, I don’t want to look back on the relationships I have with my remaining family members, ones who it’s safe for me to have a relationship with, and feel remorse over not doing more after they’ve passed away. Perhaps this will teach my daughter something positive as well. I also plan to leave her this photo, because pictured here with me are two people I desperately long to have back in my life, but their time was cut drastically short.

One of the most precious photos ever taken of me. I am pictured here with my maternal grandmother, whom I've written about in this blog before, and my little brother Anthony, who died of SIDS. I'd pay any sum of money to bring them both back...but I can't, and because I can't, my own daughter won't get to know them as living people...just memories and pictures.

One of the most precious photos ever taken of me. I am pictured here with my maternal grandmother, whom I’ve written about in this blog before, and my little brother Anthony, who died of SIDS. I’d pay any sum of money to bring them both back…but I can’t, and because I can’t, my own daughter won’t get to know them as living people…just memories and pictures. This woman sits at the top of the matriarchal branches in my family. Me, my mom, my uncles, my cousins…we all come from her and my Papa. ❤

I do…

It’s my anniversary today. Ten years with the same guy, and six of those married. I’ve been watching anime on Saturday nights with the same guy for a decade. We’ve been laughing at YouTube videos together for 10 years. We’ve had to watch each other grow and change for 10 years.

Please don’t confuse our tenure with endless bliss and fantastical romance. Our love story is a beautiful one, but not because of how much it resembles a romantic comedy – it DOESN’T resemble a romantic comedy at all. This relationship has made us both stronger. We’ve experienced euphoric highs, and pain staking lows. We almost called it quits in 2014.

Six years ago, I stood at an altar with my hands wrapped in his and I repeated the lines that our officiant spoke that were to be my vows. Being that I am a writer, and English is his third language, he told me he didn’t want us to write our own vows. I obliged, understanding the circumstances. However, on this sixth anniversary, one that I wasn’t sure we would make it to just six months ago, I do have some important vows to write…

We said, “I do,” as so many other couples have before and after, but “I do,” continues long after the ceremony ends.

I do reflect fondly on the decision we made to marry six years ago.

I do cherish the family and life we’ve built together.

I do see how we’ve changed, for better and for worse.

I do love that you love my faults.

I do love your faults, too.

I do appreciate that you go easy on me when I am hardest on myself.

I do accept my share of responsibility for allowing our marriage to become what it once was.

I do thank you for being willing to try.

I do want us to have more kids.

I do look forward to our future.

I do…always.

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Why?

My upline coach and Beachbody mentor Laurel has been after me since I joined the team to really get down to the true reason for why fitness and nutrition are so important to me. She keeps pushing me to step outside of my comfort zone and show who I truly am, so I’m going to do my best.

Not every fitness story involves the loss of weight – Some involve the loss of a loved one.

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It’s March 25th, and this is normally a time of year when I am somber, miserable, weepy, and heartbroken. The reason why is because on March 29, 1991, my world was forever turned upside down when my mom’s mom, my beloved grandma, a woman who sat at the center of my 5 ½ year old universe, died. She contracted pneumonia and fluid filled her lungs. She left behind seven children and one grandchild. She was 57 years old. She was morbidly obese.

Try as I might, I cannot ever let go of the pain I connect to this time of year. We lost her over 20 years ago, but in many ways, it feels as if it was only yesterday. Perhaps that’s because I had to live with the aftermath of her passing. In the wake of her death, my grandfather, her widower, slipped into a depression. My mother, her only daughter, battled her own grief and frustration as she tried to find a way to still be a mom, wife, sister, and daughter to her remaining family members while also losing her best friend. There aren’t many women on my mom’s side of the family, so losing our matriarch was harrowing. I became forever scarred at a young age from her passing. It was a lot for my 5 ½ year old soul to carry.

It still is.

I celebrate her life as much as I can. There are photos of she and my grandfather on their wedding day hanging in my living room, and each September my mother and I commemorate her birthday together. However, I also carry an animosity, not towards her necessarily, but definitely towards her mindset. My grandmother made it her life to take care of others. She was an excellent mother to all eight of her kids. I don’t know how she did it, because I have my hands full with just my own daughter. She was a God-fearing woman who sang and clapped and lifted her hands in praise at church each Sunday while teaching lessons of virtue as written straight from the Bible. She was loving and caring. I still long for her soft, warm hugs on days when life overwhelms me. But she never thought to turn inward and do a few favors for herself.

I used to think, “If only she had gotten a gastric bypass…” or “If only we could’ve gotten her a nutritionist.” “If only she could have survived, we could have made things better after she came home from the hospital,” and “If only we could have made things different.” Now that I am a fitness coach, I think, “If only she could see me now…”

The truth is, I do this because I know what kind of damage poor health and obesity can cause. These are avoidable conditions, and I’ve watched them both rip my family apart. I love my grandmother very much (So much. SO much.) but I also think it’s unfair that she left us all to mourn her when we were most vulnerable. It’s selfish of me to say that, but in many ways, it was selfish of her to not take better care of herself for the sake of her family. Dying at the age of 57 is not a normal occurrence. It is not natural. That only happens when you have a serious health condition that debilitates you. A normal lifespan is much longer than 57 years…

So, as I settle into my official new title as coach, I am channeling my passion to see people turn off the path of poor choices for their health and jump onto the path of good nutrition and exercise. I do not want to build an army of terminators. I’m not looking to make anyone into a bikini model or iron man. However, if choking down some healthy greens and sweating it out three times a week keeps a middle aged man alive long enough to see his grandkids graduate from high school, then I’m ecstatic to have done my job. I will always love and miss my grandmother – to the point that it hurts me – but I am working to turn her painful death into a call to action for me and everyone else I meet.

My Best Friend’s Wedding

Me and Allison, circa 2009. We've been friends since high school.

Me and my bestie, Allison. We’ve been friends since high school.

On a warm, summer day back in July 2013, I sat in my living room sorting through boxes of baby items that had been given to me by friends and family. I was 37 weeks pregnant, meaning I could pop at any time, and my newly engaged friend Allison came over to keep me company as I prepped for my baby’s arrival.

We sat on the couch fawning over tiny onesies and tiny baby socks, and we talked of her impending wedding date. She described a slightly rustic scene at one of her favorite places, Big Bear Lake, and then told me that she wanted be to be a part of the team who would help bring this day together in her mind. I sat across from her exhausted from pregnancy and hormones unsure of just how I’d ever be able to do anything else besides pee constantly and straighten up a nursery, but I gladly agreed to lend a hand and ear to my friend who had done the same many times before for me.

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My wedding day, 04/04/09

 

Life began moving really fast after that. I had my daughter not long after that day, and she almost became an honorary member of the bridal party, attending bridesmaid meetings, showers, and building herself into the itinerary of the big day. Meanwhile, Allison juggled the woes of adulthood while also wrestling with the woes of being a bride. We spent many nights hashing out details, ironing out emotions, and happily anticipating what was to come. In those days, I learned a lot about the meaning of true support that friends give. Through holidays, birthdays, bad days, and great ones, true friends always carve out space for one another, even if just to send a quick “I love you” text.

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Team Bride for Allison’s Bachelorette Party

The culmination of all of the planning and anticipation happened yesterday through Allison and Brian’s glorious and lawful union. It was an interfaith ceremony, honoring Brian’s predominately Catholic roots, and Allison’s Jewish ones. With the fresh wooded scenery of Big Bear Lake as a backdrop, they exchanged vows and rings, and made promises to treasure the covenant of their marriage through patience, kindness, and love. I couldn’t help but feel emotional at watching one of my best friends join her life with someone equally as sincere and kind hearted as she is. The icing on the cake was getting to stand with other good friends as she did so.

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Team Bride in Big Bear for the Big Day!

Overall, it was a gorgeous wedding, featuring gorgeous people, and filled with gorgeous emotion. As I jumped around the dance floor, exhausted but still lively, with my baby in one arm and a cup of water in my other hand, it dawned on me that all people should get to witness goodness of emotion as we did. Though life is grand with expensive dinners, fine wines, and fancy vacations, it’s also pretty grand when your heart melts at watching two other people joyfully and willingly link their lives together, or when you can plop your 10-month old baby into a Bjorn and take her out onto the dance floor to cut a rug to Super Freak.

 

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Candid bride.

 

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Allison + Brian Photo credit: Candice Benjamin of Candice Benjamin Photography, http://www.candicebenjamin.com