A Little Change

With our little family starting the adoption process again and hopefully adding more members to our adventure, we decided that it was time to update the name because, while the adventures will keep being Lily’s for a while, eventually we hope that we’ll start getting them from someone else’s view as well.  So, from now on, you can find us here…. Giggle & Hugs Image

“Today”

A mom post today….

We were driving to the zoo on Sunday morning and Jess turned to me

“Do you know what today is?  It’s today.”

Such simple words but ones with so much meaning between the two of us – it’s almost like a secret language.  “Today” was the day that we almost lost Lily; the day that our lives stopped in an instant and we got caught up in a vortex where the rest of the world ceased to exist.

We’ve talked about it, ad naseaum, I’m sure.  It’s hard not to when a day just sends your life in the total opposite direction of where it was headed.  But the truth is, the direction spinning really started the day of Lily’s surgery.  It was being pulled into a room by her surgeon and being told about her PVS: laying out the two possible outcomes (that the surgery would solve everything and she would show no other symptoms – which he didn’t think was realistic, or the disease would eventually be fatal).  We stood, against the barrier looking out into the Sick Kids atrium, in shock and crying.  It seemed so unfair – she had only been ours for a week and now we were in danger of losing her.  At that time we didn’t know that the disease was progressive and doesn’t work on any sort of timeline, we didn’t know that a heart-lung transplant was an option, we didn’t know that we have one of the most amazing cardiologist teams in the world, we were just heartbroken.  The next few weeks were filled with so many unknowns – words like chylothorax, pleural effusion and pulmonary embolism became part of our regular vocabulary, and we learned about seizure medications, g-tubes and Cortical Visual Impairments.  Those 66 days changed our lives in ways that we probably don’t even know.

And even now, looking back, there’s no way to describe that time and get it right: the fear, the hopelessness and the anger at the situation that are mixed in with the love, pride and amazement at such an incredible little girl.   Sometimes words can’t do it, but sometimes photos can.

We (I) took tonnes of photos during those 66 days, because I wanted Lily, when she was older, to see the physical evidence of how strong and incredible she is.  But these photos have become my own personal therapy – when I get overwhelmed at the possibilities in front of us, I look at these photos and I can see for myself how bad it was and how far she’s come.

But we’re here, 2 years later.  We’ve learned more words and more therapies and our life is nothing like what we had expected when we first brought home that little girl named Natalia.   It’s might be a crazy life – but it’s our life (ten points to the geeks who can identify that quote).

This week, we’re also asking you to send some health, good transplant thoughts to our friend Alexa.  Alexa is a pretty amazing girl, who has something called a UCD (Urea Cycle Disorder) and she is having a liver transplant to help her get super healthy and strong.  We know that life is going to be a bit tough for her for a while, but we want her to know that we’re thinking about her and rooting her on – she’s totally one of Lily’s heroes!

Pre-Surgery Echo & Lily's first overnight visit

Pre-Surgery Echo & Lily’s first overnight visit

Initials in place - waiting for surgery.

Initials in place – waiting for surgery.

They had to keep her fully sedated to keep all of those tubes in place.

They had to keep her fully sedated to keep all of those tubes in place.

In the CICU - the surgeon had to leave her sternum open for 3 days to allow the swelling to go down.

In the CICU – the surgeon had to leave her sternum open for 3 days to allow the swelling to go down.

Our home away from home...a comfy chair & footstool in the CICU/CCU parent lounge

Our home away from home…a comfy chair & footstool in the CICU/CCU parent lounge

Chest tubes finally removed and we were allowed to walk around the 4th Floor

Chest tubes finally removed and we were allowed to walk around the 4th Floor

Taking in the view on our first escape from the room

Taking in the view on our first escape from the room

Post cardiac arrest - the nurses always made sure she was snuggled up tight

Post cardiac arrest – the nurses always made sure she was snuggled up tight

Constantly monitoring her O2 saturations

Constantly monitoring her O2 saturations

First smile post cardiac arrest

First smile post cardiac arrest

Pensive at 2 years

Pensive at 2 years

Monster Lily

Monster Lily

We've come a long way Bugaloo

We’ve come a long way Bugaloo

Renovation Mode

Guys, Mommy is a destruction queen! For the past few weeks she has been working day and night in the basement of our house to, “get it ready”.

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For a while I didn’t really know what that meant but I do now and it’s a pretty amazing thing. The mom’s have decided that it’s time for me to have some siblings! That’s right, you heard it here first – we are trying to make our family bigger! The mom’s (especially Mommy) have even working on all of the paperwork that they needed to update their home study and our file has officially moved into the hands of our adoption worker Mary. The mom’s keep telling me (and themselves) that it may still be a long adventure until my new siblings come home but the first big hurdle has been passed and so we’re starting to get ready!

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So, while we work on renovating our family, Mommy has also been hard at work renovating the basement so that our new house can fit new family members – apparently they will need bedrooms too. She’s been pulling drywall down and tearing down the ceiling tiles. She’s pulled up 2 layers of carpet and another 2 layers of floor tile and now it almost looks like we have a blank slate. The mom’s keep throwing around words like “wiring” and “plumbing” and Mama C keeps asking when she can have a fireplace (Mommy keeps laughing at her too). It’s all pretty crazy – I don’t even recognize it anymore. She may be my “stay at home” mommy but she is clearly the hardest worker mommy around!

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21 Magazine and Skeptics Be Damned!

A mom post today…

Late last year, during Down Syndrome Awareness week, I saw a picture that the CDSS (Canadian Down Syndrome Society) had posted to twitter of a bunch of their staff sporting these awesome CDSS temporary tattoo’s.

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I sent a reply quickly, not thinking anything would come of it, asking where I could find one. To my delight, I got a tweet back from their design and communication coordinator, Kaitlyn Pescon, saying that while they weren’t actually giving them away, she would make arrangements to send me a few. From there, a lovely twitter friendship was born and Kaitlyn started reading all about Lily’s Big Adventures.

Fast forward a few months and I received a very unexpected email from Kaitlyn: the CDSS was putting together their Spring edition of their quarterly magazine, 21, and she wanted to know if I would be interested in writing an article for them. I was overjoyed, not only because it meant that I got to write for real, but because (as I’m sure is obvious), I love being able to share with people how amazing our lives have been since Lily joined our family. They gave me no real direction on what to write, just a word maximum – which was the hardest part to stick to! It took me several attempts to get the right feel for what I wanted to say: that facing life with a child with special needs can sometimes feel incredibly daunting and outright scary, but that when you become a parent the rest just falls into place. As parents, regardless of our child’s abilities, we worry that we’re not doing enough for them. We bask in their accomplishments and are constantly amazed at how fast they learn and change and grow, but we don’t allow ourselves to feel the pride in our own abilities – to nourish them and to cherish them and to make them feel secure and safe enough to develop.

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And so, now that the CDSS Annual Conference is wrapped up for this year, I can put this article out there for the rest of you to see. It’s not a masterpiece, it’s not going to win any awards and you’re not going to wake up and find me on the talk-show circuit, but it’s just my own little piece of our world, out there for anyone to see…

Adventures in Adopting; Adventures with Lily

And very quickly, on a happy Lily note – we had our latest check-up with our Neurologist this week and she is incredibly happy with how Lily is progressing: it’s been just over a year without any signs of additional seizure activity! She, as always, reminded us that between being born early, having Down Syndrome and her brain injury that she is at a much higher risk for developing additional types of seizures, and so the plan is to keep her on her medications for 4 more years (as opposed to 2 years in a typical child), and then re-assess at that time. Seeing neurology, of all the clinics, always seems to be so incredibly rewarding. It was neurology, after her cardiac arrest, who told us that she was blind and that she wasn’t going to see again. It was her brain injury that kept her in that hospital bed, not moving her left side and keeping her personality hidden from us. But here we are, almost 2 years later and she’s thriving. She can see across the room and scoot her bum over to pull her toy off of the couch; she watches the cat stalk across the room and tries to grab her tail at every chance; she’s figuring out how to make her hands and her feet work together to keep standing in her playpen and she’s babbling up a storm. So, take that Neurology – don’t doubt her abilities!

 

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Reinventing Mother’s Day

A mom post tonight…

I’ve been struggling with this post for a few days, mostly because I just don’t know which way to take it.  I could start by telling you all that I really am not a fan of mother’s day; not because it’s a hallmark holiday, but because mother’s day is always the start of a bad week for me.  Mother’s day and the anniversary of losing Ben go hand in hand and I’m not sure I will ever be able to separate the two – they just happened too close together.  So, I could tell you that in this week, regardless of what else I’m doing or how I may seem, the only real thought running through my mind is, “Ben should be (insert age here),” and the age keeps getting bigger (it’s 6 this year, I should be the mom of a 6 year old), but the memory of him in my mind stays tiny – because he was tiny and he will never get bigger than the little man who stretched out and still was only as tall as my two hands.  I could tell you that even though my mind keeps telling me not to give into the sadness that creeps up around me during this week, my heart just keeps pulling me there.  I never thought, never ever ever, that I could still feel his loss so sharply this many years later, but maybe that’s part of the grief process when you lose a child – instead of being able to look back and see the great things that did happen in their lives, you only really get to see what was lost, of what they didn’t get to do.

Or I could take this post to Lily and tell you how her smile, her amazing giggle and her constant squirming out of arms to reach for the dog, is the perfect antidote to sadness.  On Sunday, when I was missing Ben and Jess was missing her mom, there was Lily, who instantly made us happy again, who brought us away from the grief and reminded us, just by hearing her blow raspberries, that you have to let go and live in the moment.  Loving Lily has made me whole again, in a way that I wasn’t sure was possible after losing Ben – it is all consuming, but it has also come with it’s share of lessons: you can’t look back, you can’t change the past and you can’t be afraid to move forward just because things are scary.  Beyond being the guidelines of life with Lily, these are also the lessons that have helped me heal from that grief.

So maybe, what I really should be writing about it how once upon a time I really did not like mother’s day, but going forward I think I just need to look at it from a different set of eyes – in our house it won’t be about how great mother’s are but about how lucky we are to be mother’s; how lucky I am to get to be Lily’s momma, who challenges me everyday to be more patient and more understanding, and how lucky I am to be Ben’s momma, to know that (insert number of years) later, a mom’s love doesn’t ever stop.

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The Flu, the Army and A Little Extra Physio

Do you know what I’m not such a big fan of? Throwing up.  I mean, technically I do it all of the time, I’m kind of awesome at it, but when I’m not expecting it and it happens all night when I’m supposed to be sleeping I really really hate it.  The mom’s called it a “bug”, which is a really horrible name.  I’ve seen bugs and if that’s what I had then I want to take that up with someone!  The mom’s tried to explain that it wasn’t really an actual bug but a horrible stomach thing that knocked each of us (plus a few other casualties – sorry Randall’s!) on our butts.  First Mama C had it, and we thought she was just faking it to enjoy staying in bed for one whole day, but then Mommy got it a few days later and she passed it along to me! It was seriously bad people…seriously.  Our bodies shouldn’t do things like that, it’s just not right.

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We were a bit worried that this bug would interfere with the big adventure we had planned for the weekend.  You may not know this, but my Pa is a very cool guy.  When he was younger he was in the army and got to go to places called “Korea” and “Japan”, and he hung out with a whole bunch of army people called the third battalion of The Royal Canadian Regiment.  Well last weekend, this other cool guy, Prince Phillip (who is actually married to the Queen!), came to Toronto to give these guys a new flag (it was called presenting them with their new colours, but I guess they’re not as smart as I am because it was clearly a flag).  What made it especially cool was that Pa got to be there and got to sit up close and watch it all happen.  So, the mom’s and I met up with Auntie CC, Uncle Rico, Thor, Ollie & Gramma, and we went to watch the Prince and Pa hang out with the army.  It was so so busy and I was still a bit cranky because of the “bug”, so I didn’t get to see a whole lot of the ceremony, but afterwards we got to watch a military parade and we got to see so many army guys! There was lots of bagpipes (Pa really liked those), and drums (Pa liked those too, he used to play a big bass one), horses and swords and even a canon! I really liked that part – there were so many colours and music.

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I took it nice and easy this week, to make sure that I was feeling all better, but then today the mom’s surprised me with a trip down to Sick Kids.  Luckily I wasn’t there for a bad reason! The mom’s had been asked if I could be a volunteer for a course for a group of physiotherapists.  They were learning something called NDT (neurodevelopmental treatment).  This kind of treatment helps kids specifically like me – with both some physical and neurological challenges.  I got to work with the instructor, an amazing woman named Jane Styler-Acevedo from Acadia University, who was super patient and kind and knew instinctively that I needed some extra time to figure things out.  We worked on trying to get me moving from sitting and standing, because I’m finding it very hard to figure out how to do that, especially because I don’t like using my hands.  By the end of the session, the mom’s had some good ideas of how to keep working with me, plus everyone in the class clapped for me and spent a long time telling the mom’s how cute and adorable I am.  It’s hard work trying to make my body do the things I want it to so that I can be independent but I’m getting very frustrated at not being able to do it.  I keep reaching for things and get very annoyed when I can’t get to them and I hate being strapped into my high chair to eat now because all I want is to be down on the floor playing! Hopefully the things we learned today will help.  Keep your fingers crossed for me okay?

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Other than all of those things, I’ve just been very very happy these days.  I’m chatting up a storm and trying to figure out different sounds.  I figured out how to knock on doors and now I like to think that everything is a door and I want to knock on everything.  I’ve been loving the spring sunshine and especially that we’ve been going on lots of walks with the mom’s and Gus.  I love spending time outside and trying to grab the bushes and leaves – they feel so funny in my fingers, but mostly I love to grab Gus.  He’s so nice and just lets me keep grabbing his fur and his mouth and his ears and sometimes even his teeth.  The mom’s say I’m lucky he’s so patient with me, but I think it’s just a bribe – if he lets me pull on him, he knows that I’ll keep throwing food on the floor for him to eat – we have a good thing going.

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3 x 21: Shifting Perspectives

A mom post tonight…

We’re very lucky to have some incredible role models for Lily within our Down Syndrome family and sometimes I need those role models as much, if not more, than she does. There are times when we’re hitting a milestone roadblock or we’re up to our ears in non-stop vomiting that I find an unmeasurable amount of solace in looking at Lily’s counterparts and enveloping myself in their amazing lives.

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In 2012, the UN General Assembly declared March 21st as World Down Syndrome Day, “to reaffirm that persons with Down syndrome are entitled to the full and effective enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms. Let us each do our part to enable children and persons with Down syndrome to participate fully in the development and life of their societies on an equal basis with others. Let us build an inclusive society for all.” (Ban Ki-moon).

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Last year was our first year celebrating World Day Syndrome Day as Lily’s parents and we celebrated it quietly and with just the three of us. This year we chose to spend the day embracing our lives in this amazing community we are surrounded with. We were honoured to start our day with the Canadian Down Syndrome Society in opening the market at the Toronto Stock Exchange. Though it began a little rough, with an unintentional sleep-in causing us to rush to try and get out the door and then getting thoroughly turned around between the Exchange Tower and First Canadian Place, once we stepped into the broadcast studio we were quickly reminded why we were there. If you looked beyond the “official” types who were there representing different Down Syndrome affiliate groups, you would find yourself immersed in a group of parents and supporters watching, with so much pride, these individuals displaying the best parts of human nature – engaging, kindness, laughter and so incredibly supportive of one another. We had time to speak with a few of the self-advocates and I was filled with so much joy listening to them speak about their ambitions, their careers, their passions – so many of them echoing similar sentiments: that they simply want to educate people about what it’s like to live with Down Syndrome; to show people, who aren’t as lucky as we are, that having Down Syndrome doesn’t detract from you life, it enhances it.

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On this day last year I spent my time reflecting on what Lily’s life was like at the moment – what her diagnosis was bringing to our lives right then. This year I find myself picturing where her life will take her and how I really and truly believe that her life is going to be amazing. There are so many people our there right now- self-advocates standing up to be heard, parents demanding their children not be dismissed – paving the way for the next generation of kids with Down Syndrome. As time passes and each March 21st brings more awareness, I hold on to the hope that inclusion and integration will no longer be catch phrases but will actually be the norm; the hope that when Lily is ready to take the world by storm – as I know she will – the world will be ready for her and truly see her abilities.

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* Special thanks to Trina Hoadley for the amazing photos of Lily, as part of Toronto’s Circle 21 World Down Syndrome Day celebrations. You can see more of her beautiful work here.