12.16.2013

The Best 2 Years

Today is mine and Ben's 2nd wedding anniversary.

The other night I asked him which were really the "best 2 years" for him, his mission or being married. He laughed as he replied that it was no contest, our marriage easily beat his mission.

This is saying a lot, because my husband loved his mission. He misses the people he served and many of his companions a great deal. But, The experience of being united with and committed to another individual for the rest of eternity is an experience that beats all others, hands down.

These past two years have been, quite frankly, exhausting. We've moved 4 times. We've buried a child. Ben has graduated and started his career. We've spent 105 days in the NICU before finally bringing our beautiful son home. All this and so much more has happened within 24 months. I could not have picked a better person to face it all with.

He has done his best to keep me smiling through it all and been there to hold me when I fell apart.

Benjamin is my angel.

I made this video for him. It tells the story of our past two years in pictures.

I'm a sucker for romances. But of all of the stories I've read of and seen, this love story is my favorite.


video


5.27.2013

The Rogue Organ

So, these past couple of weeks. . . wow.

I don’t even know of any way to preface this whole story, so just pull your safety restraint so it is snug and keep your hands and legs inside the ride at all times. This is going to get bumpy.

So, on May 13th I went to Instacare with a sore throat. They put me on antibiotics for Strep.

We’d been trying to get completely moved out of our Brigham City apartment and into Ben's grandma’s house (She's still in the nursing home, but we're hoping she can come home soon). On about the 15th or 16th, I ended up lifting a box that was too heavy. My stomach tensed, Jack gave a good kick and I kinda panicked that I was hurting him so I twisted weird and hurt my back pretty badly. I'm not sure that I mentioned that I have a fracture in my lower spine that has been causing me grief for years. This just really aggravated it and I had to take it kinda easy for a couple of days.

On Monday, the 20th, our Brigham City landlord called up and was putting pressure on us to get completely moved out of the apartment ASAP. Ben had to work, so I called up my mom and we spent the day cleaning up the apartment. I was trying to be careful so that I didn't further injure my back. Then Ben and I went over again that night and, with some help from his parents, got things completely finished up. I went to bed that night completely exhausted,  knowing I had probably over-done it and anticipating being sore the next day.

I was surprised to wake up at about 5 am with a bad pain in my lower right abdomen. I immediately thought of Jack. We called the hospital, but the on-call doctor was one that I had previously had a very bad experience with, so I just said that I’d wait and call back during normal business hours.

I drove Ben over to work in Millville and then went to my parents’ house in Providence to rest. I called my doctor’s office back around 9 and the nurse thought I may have a bladder infection, so she asked me to come in and give a sample.

I drove over to the hospital, gave a sample and then went to Lee’s to pick up some cranberry juice, because I’d heard that it can help with bladder infections. After just walking straight in to give the test, driving across the street and walking straight in to purchase the juice, I drove back up to Grandma Allred's to take some medication I’d forgotten that morning. I was so exhausted and in so much pain that I couldn't even get out of the car to walk into the house. I called up Ben and he was really worried.

I finally made it inside and called the nurse back to find out that the test came back negative. Now I was really worried that there was something wrong with Jack. I called the nurse back again and she told me to go into Labor and Delivery, just in case.

By this point, Ben had called my mom and asked her to drive him to me. I called him up and told him about the change in plans, so we got straight in the car when he arrived and drove to the hospital.

After admitting me, it didn't take them long to figure out that I was having contractions. They gave me some medicine that got the contractions under control and then focused on figuring out what was causing them. (Apparently, lots of different kinds of illness or stress can cause premature contractions) They ran blood tests and figured out that my white blood cell count was a little high. I had a mild fever, that stayed around 99.6. They thought it might be my appendix or gall bladder, so they ordered a complete ultrasound of my organs.

The ultrasound was painful and took over an hour.  I would have to hold my breath while they pushed very hard right on the spots where I was hurting the most. In the end, they were able to locate all of my organs, besides my appendix. They said that since they couldn't find it, it was likely not a problem, because if it was swollen they should be able to find it. Quick side note: Organs in the lower torso are difficult to locate on pregnant women because the baby just kind of pushes everything to the side haphazardly.

They decided to keep me overnight for observation. After going over my symptoms in the morning, the nurses seemed confident that I just had a really bad stomach bug, because there had been one going around. Dr Horsley (my OB) seemed to agree with this, but he decided (was inspired) to have a general surgeon come and look at me before they released me.

I was feeling pretty silly by this point. What kind of crazy, paranoid pregnant lady rushes to the hospital with a stomach bug? I really just wanted them to release me so I could go home and suffer this out with what was left of my dignity.

Then the general surgeon, Dr Weiss, came in. We liked him immediately. He is so awesome at making you feel completely comfortable while talking to him. He’s very competent and obviously knew what he was talking about and he was quirky enough to keep things from feeling intense.

After just talking, he seemed to agree with the general stomach bug consensus. Once he started pressing on my abdomen, though, he became concerned and said that he couldn't completely rule out appendicitis. So, he did something for what I later found out was only the second time in his long career: He ordered an MRI on a pregnant woman.

I went into the MRI convinced that it was a serious waste of time and money. Why wouldn't they just let me go home and sleep this off? Ben, on the other hand, was excited for the MRI. He's really into electronics and his wife was about to spend some time inside of a giant, complicated robot! Woo-hoo!

His enthusiasm was contagious. By the time they wheeled me over to the machine, I was pretty excited. This might actually be fun!

It turned out not to be fun at all. It was super claustrophobic, I had to hold completely still for a half hour. It was so loud that they put ear plugs on me. Then they would have me hold my breath for 20 seconds at a time. This may not sound like long, but it felt considerably longer when I was feeling slightly panicky and every deep breath hurt. The longer I lay there, the more excruciating the pain in my back became. My first thought was to sing a hymn in my head while I had to hold my breath. Unfortunately, my panic led me to sing the hymns too fast and then I still had time after I was through to keep holding my breath and, with nothing for my mind to focus on, it became nearly impossible to keep from breathing.

I then tried a different method that actually worked really well. During the breaks in between the deep breaths, I would think of a destination, then, while holding my breath, I would imagine Ben and I having the time our lives at that place. I would keep picturing more and more details until they told me I could breathe again. We went hiking. We had a picnic in a beautiful meadow. My favorite was going to Hogle Zoo and eating cotton candy while we rode the train around to look at the animals and then rode the carousel, where I was on a tiger and Ben was on an ostrich. I believe I received inspiration from the Holy Ghost for this. I was inspired in my moment of great need to know what to do to bring me peace.

Fun fact: MRIs actually emit very little radiation because they use giant magnets. This makes them safer for little babies who are trying to grow.

After the MRI, They wheeled me back to my room and I took a shower to prepare to go home. While I was in the shower, Dr Weiss came and told Ben that I did indeed have acute appendicitis and would be having surgery within the hour. It would be too risky for Jack to do the surgery through a scope, so thy would need to open me up and do it the old fashioned way. We were both shocked that I actually was going to need surgery. One of the first things I said to Ben was that I needed a blessing.

Ben's Grandpa Haws and Uncle Nate showed up to help just in time. The orderlies came in to take me to the OR at about the same time. They kindly stepped out for a moment as I received a blessing. It was beautiful and the Spirit was so strong there. During the blessing, the full weight of what was happening began to sink in. I started crying. Dr Weiss had explained that, while he had never had it happen, this procedure did carry a risk of pre-term labor. At only 22 weeks, I knew that Jack would not survive that.

They just wheeled me down in my hospital bed. Ben came with to meet with the anesthesiologist before the surgery. He explained to us that I would not be going completely under for the surgery. It was safer for Jack if I received a spinal block and remained awake throughout the procedure.

I was near sobs as I hugged Ben tightly one last time and told him that I loved him.

Then it was off to the operating table.

The spinal block is given by a huge shot right in the lower spine. It was quite painful, but it began to work immediately. It completely deadened me from my torso to my toes. I could not feel or control anything. I was paralyzed. They had to put my legs up on the table for me and situate me as I lay down. They hung a blue sheet thing in front of my face so that I could not see what was going on.

The most terrifying thing for me was that they weren't even monitoring Jack throughout the surgery, just once at the beginning and again at the end. The fact was that if anything happened to him, there would be nothing to be done. I never stopped praying for him the entire time.

If you ever are given the option of staying awake through your own surgery, I recommend that you decline. Although I couldn't feel any pain, I could feel a whole lot of strange pulling and tugging. There was even one point where a nurse said, “Oops.”

I’m not even joking.

I had full confidence in Dr Weiss, though, and he didn't seem concerned, so I decided not to be either.

Dr Weiss asked me if I wanted to see my appendix. I hesitantly said, “Sure.” He quickly brought it over the sheet blocking my view.

It was ugly.

One of the nurses told me that she’d seen a lot of appendixes in her day, but that mine was definitely a very bad one.

At one point, the spinal block began to wear off. I could feel some strong pinching near the top of my torso, and Dr Weiss said that my muscles were pushing back. Then they put something in my IV and I transformed into the best patient ever.

I was telling everyone how awesome they are. I was thanking them for doing this for me. I was telling them how wonderfully kind they’d been. At one point, Dr Weiss replied, “Well, we couldn't have done it without you.”

All of this before they’d even stitched me up.

After surgery and a little time in recovery, they took me up to the Women and Baby floor and my parents had showed up to check on me.

The rest of that night and Thursday was a blur of blood samples and doctors and nurses and vitals and IVs and random alarms going off when I got in a deep enough sleep that my breathing slowed.

It was also filled with my favorite noise of all time: My little Jack’s healthy heartbeat.

There was some very scary stuff on Thursday, when they were concerned that I may have blood clots in my lungs, but it doesn't look like I do, so I won’t go into that.

Suffice it to say that Friday morning was my birthday and I woke up bright and happy and ready to be released. I’d been going over the list of what was required for release and trying to show off for the nurses.

“Look at me, I’m keeping real food down now!”

“Look at me, I’m walking unassisted down the hall!”

“Look at me, I’m smiling and happy and obviously doing better than I was before!”

Finally, my doctors okayed me to go home.

Since then, there has been a whole lot of sitting around and popping pills (all of which are approved for taking while pregnant).

For the rest of my pregnancy, I’m not allowed to lift more than 10 lbs, do any sort of repetitive movements involving my torso (like loading the dishwasher) or anything else that requires any kind of exertion. I’m at a much higher risk of having a hernia, so I've got to be very careful, because, c’mon, a hernia AND childbirth? Not even cool.

It’s going to be a long 4 months, but I am just overwhelmed by the miracles that I've experienced.

If they had released me, believing that I just had a stomach virus, I would have gone home and not gone back to the hospital until the pain was bad enough that I was physically incapable of walking. By that point, the consequences would have been devastating for me and especially for Jack. The contractions would have continued, as well.

I can’t even bring myself to think of the “what ifs” of this situation. I am certain that there were angels surrounding us throughout this experience. My doctors were guided and Jack and I were protected.

Whenever I start to be weighed down by these current trials, I find hope again in the Gospel. The eternal perspective it provides means that you are never without hope and reason to rejoice, no matter the circumstance.

I think Elder Jeffrey R. Holland  puts it very well in this video:



4.10.2013

Godspeed

For those of you who haven't heard yet, we are expecting again!

It's been an emotional roller-coaster, but this is truly a different child and a different pregnancy. My morning sickness was much more mild and has gone away almost completely now.

I am so in love with this beautiful child.

I've been blessed with a compassionate doctor who has been very sensitive to my situation this time around. I've had 3 ultrasounds so far, the first one at 6 weeks, and they checked on everything. For reals. They were checking blood flow to me and the baby and the angle the baby was at and so much more.

Both me and the baby are perfectly healthy.

Here's the thing: This is week 16. This is the point where I lost my Joseph.

This alone would be very difficult, but we are also in the process of saying goodbye to Ben's grandpa, who we both love very much. I keep thinking about him seeing Joseph and I just fall apart.

I am so grateful to know that he will see our Joseph. He will be able to talk to him face to face and tell him how much his mom and dad love him.

This is something that I know that Joseph already knows, but which I would give anything to be able to say directly to him. The thought of someone who I know being able to bring that message to him for us is so beautiful and comforting that it hurts.

I know that Grandpa Allred understands this love very well. He and grandma lost a newborn son many years ago, and he still tears up talking about it. They have three living sons, but lately when asked how many children he has, he has been saying, "Four sons." He knows that he's about to be reunited with the son he's missed for about half of a century.



I long for the day when I will get to see grandpa again. I know that he will be healthy and happy and no longer struggle to remember things.

Considering that he dedicated his life to working as an elementary teacher, principal, and an incredible grandfather, I don't think it's much of a stretch to assume that he will also be surrounded by those pure souls who are on the other side of the veil, my Joseph and his son, Kent, being two of them.

I am grateful beyond words for my Savior, who broke the bonds of death.

This life is just a beautiful, but finite, portion of an infinite plan for each of us.

But, even knowing this, missing those who we are parted from is the most difficult part of mortality.

So, I dedicate this song to my Joseph. It's one that I've sung to him many times since sending him on his next journey.


My love will fly to you each night on angels' wings. I know that one of those angels will soon be Grandpa Allred.

As far as anyone who knows him is concerned, he has already been an angel here on earth for years.

I'm also grateful for the example of his loving, eternal companion. She's made it obvious that she understands this is just a temporary separation from the man that treats her like his queen.

Love is eternal.

2.22.2013

Balm in Gilead


I've gotten into a routine. It's a rather monotonous one, but routine is good. It makes the days go by faster.

It is especially important to have a routine while Ben is gone for about ten hours every week day.

These last few weeks I just haven't been myself. I totally snapped at Ben yesterday. This is not like me. I'll elbow him a bit and suggest things here and there, but I always try to be respectful when I do so. Yesterday, the dragon came out. The worst part is, he was only trying to help.

I knew that part of the problem was that I'd been less diligent with my scripture studies. So these past couple of days I've put a special emphasis on that.

Then today, an answer came in the most unexpected of ways.

I started really thinking about my little Joseph and full on sobbed for over an hour. I got out his memory box and went through his things. As I did so, I just talked to him through my tears. I told him how much I love him. How I miss him. How empty my arms are without him. How perfect he is and always will be. How grateful I am for him.

As I tried not to get any tears on his ultrasounds, the peace finally came.

I didn't even realize all of this was building up in me until I released it.

Once I showed my wounds, my Healer could apply the balm again.

Mourning someone you really love is like receiving a very serious wound yourself. It takes awhile to initially heal, and that's some of the most visible, difficult pain. But then you have to continue on with your bandage changes and physical therapy. If you get lazy, it will be fine for awhile, but then it will all be a whole lot worse. If you try to ignore signs of re-injury, you may end up with an infection.

Sometimes I forget to talk to God about how I'm feeling. I forget that I still need him to walk me through this, daily. I'm still healing.

My Savior felt my pain. He has never stopped reaching out to me through all of this.

jesus-holding-girl[1]

If I let Him, He will hold me through it all.

1.22.2013

IKEA Dreams

This is not going to be an exciting post.

I am a very different person than I was a little over a year ago when I got married.

I am definitely happier, but also undeniably more boring.

Once upon a time I traveled the western U.S. In my time I've done everything from a midnight hike through grizzly bear country to going on a date with someone off of E Harmony. (Out of the two options, I strongly recommend the hike.) 

Now I work full-time from home as a small business Workers Compensation auditor. The most exciting things in my life right now are going to Zumba and watching Downton Abbey with Ben. 

Well, I guess that's not completely true. We are also in charge of Sunday School for a very lively and diverse group of 14-year-olds. That will sure keep you on your toes.  

The most exciting event this month, by far, has been the purchase of an antiquated washer and ancient dryer. I smile every time I take a short break from work to go start a load of laundry, without having to journey into the arctic outdoors or pay money that should be going towards buying my new clothes instead of cleaning the ones that I already own. We have a top loading washer and I secretly love when I have time to load it and observe as it finishes filling up with water, and then be hypnotized as the clothes are pulled down into the sudsy, dingy water, only to watch new ones come up in their place, all while being transported by the smell of the detergent to somewhere very clean and . . .

Whoa. Sorry about that. I kind of got carried away for a second there.

Speaking of being transported, Ben and I have been longing for a vacation. Between my job and his student teaching right now, the time is hard to come by. 

I'd been day-dreaming all day about being somewhere with real sunshine, not the cold, dead kind we have here, when Ben came home and we started looking up vacation ideas. I've been thinking of Denver for awhile, because its close and I want to show Ben the mountains there. 

Then Ben said the words that I've been hoping to hear since we were engaged: Disney World.



"Really?!" I exclaimed.

"Sure!" said Ben, "It would be fun to go before we have kids with us."

I immediately started looking up planes and hotels and looking at dates that we could make it happen.

I was on the edge of my seat when the inevitable happened.

"WHOA. A ticket for one day in Disney World costs HOW much? Um, dear, I don't think we can do that." Ben said, pulling me back down to earth.

With slumped shoulders, I sighed and said, "Yeah."

"Maybe we could do a smaller trip," Ben went on, trying to cheer me up, "We could go down to Salt Lake or IKEA or something."

Friends, IKEA is my new Disney World. 

Who knows? Maybe, if I save up enough money, I could even buy a really complicated shelf!

Is it practical? No. But my Swedish blood just cries out for it.


Yessss.

This is the life.

Seriously, though, life is good right now. It's all pretty cut and dry.

Simple.

One day, when we're paying a month of school teacher salary to get us and our five children into Disney World, and they take turns crying or whining the whole time, I'm going to turn to Ben, smile, and say, "Remember when we went to IKEA for our vacation?" 

I imagine he'll get a wistful look in his eyes and reply, "Yeah. That was a great day."

Then we'll hold hands as we herd our children through the happiest place on earth, all the while knowing that true happiness is more likely to be found in things that are far more simple.

Along that same train of thought . . .


11.21.2012

Random Acts of Kindness for Joseph

I am super excited about this post.

Joseph's due date is coming up next Thursday, the 29th. This is a date that I've been trying to ignore, but which keeps creeping into my thoughts. I've been feeling very apprehensive about it. Ben and I are going to go to a Brian Regan show in our town two days later to cheer us up, but the day itself is one that I've been dreading. I had no idea what to do with it. My basic plan was just to put my helmet on and brace for emotional impact.

Then someone recommended that Ben take the day off and we do something in honor of Joseph that day and just spend it together. As I tried to decide what we could do, nothing really clicked.

Then it dawned on me: Service!

Specifically, I started thinking about the small acts of service my son, Joseph, would have done throughout his life on earth. I decided that we are going to spend this one day dedicated to doing random acts of kindness in Joseph's memory.

Here's where YOU, Mr./Miss/Ms./Mrs. Blog Reader come in.

I would like to invite you to join us. You don't have to dedicate your entire day to it, but if on Thursday, November 29th you could keep Joseph in your thoughts and look for some way to serve others as you go about your day, in honor of Joseph, it would mean so much to us. Then, if you could either post on here, or on Facebook or send me a private message containing what you did, I will compile all of it together for our own safe keeping in Joseph's memory box.

My reason for this is really quite simple. Every parent wants their child's life to have purpose and meaning and to be a positive force for good in the world. Ben and I have the same wishes for Joseph. This is the closest I can come right now to hugging my son and the best way I can think of telling him how proud I am to be his mom.

As I said, your act/s of kindness can be as big or small as you please. Some ideas we've had to get you started thinking are:

  • Tape quarters to a vending machine or parking meter with a note for people to take them if they need them
  • Scatter spare change around a local playground 
  • Slow down to let that person merge into your lane
  • Help someone load their groceries into their car and then take the cart back into the store
  • Go visit a widow
  • Bake something to take over to those neighbors you don't know and then take a few minutes to get to know them
  • Call your mom
  • Buy a gift card for a store and then turn around and give it to the next person in line
  • Go through a drive-thru and pay for the meal of the person behind you
The possibilities are endless! Just keep your eyes open throughout the day and opportunities will pop up. 

Thank you in advance. This idea is one that has brought me not only comfort but real happiness. If I could just ask one more favor of you, please share this idea with others. I want to see how many people I can get involved. Feel free to pin this or share it on Facebook.

Thank you guys for your love and support through all of this.

So many of you are angels in my life.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Ben and Steph

and


11.18.2012

Beautiful Heartbreaks and New Beginnings

Today is the 5 month anniversary of when we held our son for the only time in this life. His due date is next week.
It has been long and difficult and there were times that were so dark.

But I think I'm finally beginning to see light again.

Ben called me up on his lunch break the other day, like he always does, and after just a few seconds he started laughing. When I asked why he said, "You just sound like you. Your voice sounds like you do when there's nothing wrong."

My squinty smile has returned.

I'm not quite there, but I'm almost "me" again.

I won't go into details, but suffice it to say that these last 5 months have been very rough. I was a different woman. I didn't laugh at things that would have cracked me up before. I was super irritable. I had no desire to be social. I even stopped cleaning our home.

Finally, I recognized that I needed help.

There's a stigma around seeking help that shouldn't be there. I know the scriptures say, "Be thou perfect", but no where does it say, "Become perfect completely of your own accord and don't you dare admit that you might have some issues that are too big for you to tackle by yourself. Thou shalt man up and shut up."

So, I'm going to do the unthinkable
.
I'm going to admit that I went to therapy.

I know, I know, try not to avert your eyes from the unashamed crazy chick here.

I went to LDS Family Services and they paired me up with a therapist who helped me understand that I was experiencing what is known as "complicated grief", which is not a permanent condition, but it can lead to much more serious things. She respected my desire to avoid "happy pills" at all costs. She gives me advice on things to do to work through my feelings regarding losing Joseph. Best of all, it helps me feel like I am actively doing something to fight the darkness that wants to take me down.

And you know what?
It's working.
I'm gaining new perspective.

I'm still me, only better than I ever was. It's after we climb the steepest mountains that we are the strongest people.

I can honestly say that right now, this minute my life is really beautiful.

I hope you'll watch the video at the end of this post and recognize the strength that you've gained from your mountains. Maybe you're climbing your steepest mountain right now. If that's the case, keep climbing. Keep praying. Keep loving.
And ask for help.
Ask Heavenly Father.
Ask your friends. (My best friend/husband has been by my side constantly)
Ask anyone you need to.

Because, why on earth would you try to climb Mount Everest without anyone to help along the way?