What Postpartum Anxiety Feels Like

Friday afternoon. Pouring rain on the tail end of a week of nonstop rain, and I was exhausted from trying to keep the kids occupied inside for a week. Will was finishing his lunch and I went upstairs to get things ready for naps since we were already running behind. After laying Bridget down on the bed, I headed downstairs to get Will and bring him up. I found him sitting on the dining room table, the contents of my wallet strewn all over, and three $20 bills torn to shreds in his lap.

In an instant,I went from zero to blinding, furious rage. I grabbed Will and practically threw him off the table, screaming at him for tearing up Mommy’s money. I yanked on his arm, dragging him up the stairs and spewing a verbal tirade of anger and frustration until we reached the top of the stairs and the fury just….evaporated, and was immediately replaced with shame and regret.

“I’m so sorry, Bubby. Mommy is so sorry she yelled and pulled on your arm.”

“It’s okay, Mommy. Do you remember that I love you?” Guilt, guilt, guilt. My poor, sweet little man.

After some stories and songs and snuggle and kisses, I put him down for his nap and sat down on the couch to nurse Bridget in hopes she’d pass out. Mindlessly scrolling while she nursed, I came across an article about postpartum anxiety. It said that one of the major symptoms of PPA is rage. I’d never heard this before and it never occurred to me that what I was feeling was a postpartum mood disorder. I wasn’t having trouble bonding with Bridget. I didn’t want to hurt her or myself. But there was a constant, seething rage always just barely under control. Until it wasn’t. Until my toddler tore up my money. Or my husband had the audacity to leave the house to get gas and a mocha on a Saturday afternoon while the kids napped. In those moments, the rage would rise up and take over, spitting out angry and harsh words. I thought it was just a character flaw, that I needed to go to confession again for my impatience and irritability and resentment. As I clicked around, reading more about postpartum anxiety, I realized that this was my problem. (Not to say I don’t have plenty of character flaws, but that isn’t what was going on here.)

I hate asking for help. Hate, hate, hate it. I want to have it all together. I want to be competent and collected and never need help for anything. More than I want that though, I want my children to know how loved they are. I want my husband to know how loved he is. When my children remember their childhood, I want them to remember feeling safe and loved and cherished. I don’t ever want them to think that I resented or felt burdened by them. And I needed to ask for help in order to love my husband and children unconditionally and joyfully.

It sounds melodramatic, but my voice was shaking and I had to blink back tears of humiliation as I made the call to my midwife’s office, asking to come in to talk about my anxiety. After meeting with me, the midwife prescribed a low dose of Zoloft, which I started that day.

Two weeks later, I felt like a different person. The rage and resentment that had become my constant companion started to dissipate. Though I can sometimes feel them reassembling like clouds before a storm when certain triggers present themselves (ahem, screaming toddler), they are manageable. I can recognize what is happening and stop myself. Before, it was an almost out of body experience, seeing myself screaming and knowing I needed to stop but not being able to.

I started to notice other symptoms as I got better. I had felt brittle, as though I would shatter into a thousand pieces if someone tapped me in the wrong way. I was white knuckling my way through everyday, hanging on and hoping no one would bump me, and completely destroy my tenuous grasp on holding it together. It was as though a glass wall no one else could see floated along between me and the rest of the world. Everyone else went about their business, and it seemed as though I did too. But the glass wall kept me apart from the rest of the world, and behind the wall, I dragged an enormous weight behind me, just trying to do normal things.

I remember the exact moment when I realized that I felt better. It was akin to the day you wake up after a bout with the flu, the fever having broken and your body no longer aching. The return to normalcy is a striking relief after having suffered through the previous days of sickness. “I feel normal again!” I told my husband, on more than one occasion. The general feeling of overwhelm, the invasive thoughts (“What if I trip and the stroller rolls into oncoming traffic?”), the obsessing about whether or not the kids’ crib mattresses are going to off-gas and give them cancer- it all dialed back from a 10 to a 2. I still think those kinds of things, but I’m able to move on instead of fixating.

I don’t remember experiencing this after Will’s birth and I don’t know why I did after Bridget’s. Maybe it was the perfect storm/cocktail of moving a week before she was born + a husband with less than a week of PTO after her birth + houseguests twice in the following month + a freezing cold winter that made it difficult to get the toddler out of the house + and a baby with nursing complications and a hospital admission for RSV. Maybe not. Maybe it was just a hormonal thing. I do know that in the very worst of it, I remember thinking that maybe we would only have two kids after all, because everything was terrible. I was resentful of and angry at my husband and infuriated by every obnoxious toddler behavior. Really, the only person in the world who wasn’t pissing me off multiple times per day was Bridget. Getting help has made a huge difference for me, but also in our family dynamic.

In the wake of postpartum anxiety, I’ve wondered how many families are smaller than they would otherwise be and how many marriages have ended because of untreated postpartum mood disorders. Even though we have made huge strides in this area, it’s still very easy to fly under the radar undetected. Growing and giving birth to and sustaining a whole new person is a huge undertaking. Take care of yourself, too, mamas!

 

Long Time No Blog

…..2 months and 2 days, to be exact.

Parenting two little ones has turned out to be a big fat lesson in humility, especially in the I-can-do-all-the-things arena.

A few days after my last blog post, I got the most recent round of revisions back from my editor and got to work on them. Because the kids are not (for the most part) napping at the same time, figuring out how to get the work done was a real treat. Happily, Bridget is a great night time sleeper. She usually sleeps from 8:00-4:30ish, nurses, and goes back to sleep until 8:00. I started  getting up after she finishes nursing, around 5 or 5:30, and writing until Will wakes up around 6:45. It does make the late afternoon/witching hour stretch looooong when you’ve been up since 4:30, but I’m not a night owl and at 11 pm, I lack the higher order thinking skills to write a book. Every free moment (and some not so free moments in which Bridget perched on my lap while I typed one handed), I’ve been working on the book revisions and I turned them in last Friday, only a week late, huzzah! My editor said she expects this latest round to be the last set of significant revisions and that after this, there should be only minor changes before it’s finished. I had no. idea. how much my manuscript would change from initial concept to publication, and truly, how valuable a good editor is. I expected she’d work out kinks like awkward sentences, but she has shaped the manuscript into something so far superior to what I initially handed her and really pushed me to better writing.

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Early morning writing & coffee & milk drunk baby.

On the home front, I potty trained Will using the Oh Crap! method and I think I am pretty safe to say he is daytime potty trained at this point. (I know. I just jinxed it.) He’s still in a diaper at naps and nighttime because ain’t nobody got time for unnecessary night waking. He really enjoys telling me he needs to poop and that he needs to watch Wild Kratts while sitting on his potty to “help me ‘relass.'” He’s getting to be such a big boy!

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What? You were hoping for a potty picture?😉

Bridget is 4 months old and continues to be a doll baby sweetheart, a champion nighttimae sleeper (although a less accomplished napper), and just goes with the flow. For example, napping on the deck table with Atlanta Magazine for a pillow while her brother plays:

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Unfortunately, my poor, sweet girl has continued to have health issues. I did a total dairy elimination for a month but it didn’t help with the eczema. I called her pediatrician in hysterics on a Friday night because:

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We tried steroid cream for two weeks, which cleared her right up. Unfortunately, a few days ago, the eczema started creeping back and she’s got a yeast rash. We are now on a new steroid regimen, a lotrimin/diaper cream regimen, and back in disposables until we get the rash cleared. This sweet child hasn’t even complained about all her ailments. I tell the husband on a daily basis that I am so grateful for her and her overwhelming sweetness. She has been my ray of sunshine in an otherwise difficult time of moving and winter and challenging postpartum recovery, and I am so very thankful for this bundle of joy.

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7QT- Everything Under The Sun

1. I took Bridget in for her two month well baby visit this week and everything is fine, except her terrible eczema and cradle cap. Her pediatrician thinks it may be an intolerance to cow’s milk so I’m off the dairy for now. The lack of half and half in my morning coffee is killing me. I am currently using Silk Almond milk creamer, and it’s okay but a little too sweet for me. Several people have recommended So Delicious coconut creamer, so I’ll try that next. All I can think about is cheese plates and Kerrygold butter. Did you know that English muffins have milk in them?  Selfishly, I’m hoping this will jump start some weight loss since the post partum scale is not budging.

2. Being a “retired” teacher, you would think that I would be on top of preschool application deadlines and the like. But you would think wrong. We are totally behind the 8 ball on this. I’m torn on what to do. There is one program I want him in, a Catholic Montessori school, but it’s 25-30 minutes away. There’s a little neighborhood preschool about a mile away that I went and looked at on Friday and it was fine, but I wasn’t blown away. But we could walk. I’m waffling back and forth between putting him in the Catholic Montessori program and just accepting that I don’t have time to come home during his school day and plan to do errands or shopping over there, but am I going to hate my life if I need to have two kids in the car by 7:30 am everyday? Should I just go with the close and easy neighborhood preschool even though I wasn’t as impressed with that one? Annnnd applications are due this week so I need to make this decision stat.

3. I know the basics of Montessori education and am familiar with some of Maria Montessori’s philosophy but since Will may be going to a Montessori school next year, I decided to join in on the Montessori 101 group’s year long study/guided tour using three of Montessori’s books. My inner nerd is loving it.

4. Kelly recommended Ina’s beef bourguignon recently. I made it this week and I concur! It’s super easy, mostly hands off, and came out delicious. Good enough for company but the 2-year old packed it away without hesitation. I made it before receiving the bad news about dairy so now I’m trying to think of how to replace the butter in the recipe.

5. The return to running hasn’t gone so well, mostly because it’s too cold for taking the kids in the BOB (I’d be fine with just bundling Will, but Bridget is too little to be out there in freezing temps) and the husband’s work schedule doesn’t allow for it during the week. So, he graciously agreed to let me buy a treadmill for the basement. I’m doing some research but would love any recommendations on models. Probably looking to keep it under $2,000 and need something with a locking/safety mechanism. This one maybe?

6. We finally paid someone to hang the TV above the fireplace and the visual difference now that there’s no longer wires hanging everywhere is striking. So, do I decorate this mantle? Leave it clean and bare? (For reference, we are having the room painted white and will likely paint the brick as well.)

 

Doesn’t the sifter hanging out on the right look chic?

7. I’ve had simple, white linen window panels on my list for the living room but it hasn’t been a top priority since we put in blinds right away, and had to buy a large rug, and pay to hang the TV, and still need two side tables and a secretary desk for this room. This afternoon, a woman sent an email to our neighborhood listserv offering up four white, linen, fully lined Pottery Barn panels in the perfect length for our living room. Best believe I jumped on that immediately! The husband picked them up this evening and they’ve even been freshly dry cleaned. This score might be the most exciting thing to happen to me in the last month. Pictures coming just as soon as I can get the husband to hang them.

Go see Kelly for more!

 

On Losing My Ish in the Costco Parking Lot

We’ve been snowed in since last Friday. (I started this post on Wednesday. Due to the failure of a certain pair of small children to nap simultaneously, ever, it took awhile. But we haven’t been snowed in for over a week. Thanks be to God.) It was fun and cozy at first, then we got a little bored and then my extroverted socialite toddler started longing to get out and stretch his legs somewhere. Combined with the fact that we ran out of milk at breakfast and only had 3 eggs left, I decided to take the kids to Costco to grab a few essentials. All went smoothly at Costco and Bridget was still sleeping when we got back to the car. Will asked, “Go to Target?” hopefully. Mostly because he didn’t want to go home yet, I think. Since all seemed calm, I tossed the groceries into the back of the car and wheeled the cart back around to head into the Target.

Almost immediately, Bridget started fussing and I could tell she was working herself up. I knew she was probably getting hungry so I grabbed a box of Kind bars off the shelf, pushed us over to the home goods section and parked myself on a little loveseat set up with a Valentine’s Day vignette. (Totally what the store manager had in mind, I’m sure.) I tossed a Kind bar at Will and proceeded to nurse Bridget. There I was, congratulating myself on what a bad ass, experienced mother I am. Look at me. Nursing this baby on the display furniture in Target, simultaneously managing the toddler (with a little help from a glorified candy bar and the iPhone), and giving zero shits if anyone is looking at me. I am winning at this motherhood thing.

Back at the car, I strapped Will into his seat. (He is always first in and last out due to his propensity for being an elopement risk.) On the other side of the car, I went to open the door and- surprise!- the person next to us parked so close, it was impossible to open the door far enough to get Bridget’s carseat back in. By now, Will was crying and shouting, “Go home! Will too hungry! Go home!” on repeat. Despite the fact that it was clear there was no way the carseat was going to fit through the barely cracked door, I tried to ram it in there a few times for good measure. Shockingly enough, Bridget wasn’t happy about this strategy and started wailing, just as an irritated looking woman in a Suburban pulled up to wait for my spot. I could feel the panic/frustration/rage rising. What the hell am I going to do? Am I just supposed to sit here and wait for this dumbass to come move their car while my kids scream? Why in the name of God is that woman waiting for this spot? There are 50 available spots slightly further away from the door. MY GOD, PEOPLE.

I somehow managed to put the carseat in the front door on the other side of the car, shove it over the seat into the back seat, and get it clicked into the base. Bridget’s hysteria was rising in tandem with my own and Will had not let up one bit on his scream-chanting. “Go hooooome! Will too hungryyyyyyy! Mommy hurry! Mommmmmyyyyy! Go hoooooome! Mommmmmyyy!”

The tidal wave of anger and frustration came crashing down and I screamed at him, “Be quiet, Will! I’m TRYING! I’m TRYING! Stop saying that and JUST BE QUIET!” As I drove out of the parking deck and onto the street, silence descended on the car following my outburst of rage.

Then a little voice came from the backseat, “I sorry, Mommy.”

Shame, guilt, and regret replaced my fury immediately and I apologized profusely to my little boy for screaming at him. How can my fuse be so short with this child who I absolutely adore and dote on? I think everything about him is endearing and charming, including traits that I’m sure the general public may not. I love the way he demands, “Mommy tuck Will!” when I put him in his crib and the way he declares, “Will comin’!” when his daddy heads outside to do something. I even think it’s cute when I ask him to stop banging something into the wall and he resumes banging, slightly more gently, and upon being reminded that we do not bang inside says, “Will just tappin,’ Mommy.” And yet. One minute of obnoxious behavior in a stressful situation and I completely lose it and scream at him, like everything that’s gone wrong is his personal fault and done on purpose.

“It’s okay, Will. Mommy is so, so sorry she yelled. I love you. I’m sorry. You’re my best boy.”

“Mommy too frustrated. Mommy, Daniel [Tiger] say ask for help.”

“Thank you, Will. Mommy was too frustrated. I love you sweet boy.”

Silently, I thought, Yeah but when you’re the mommy, there’s no one to ask for help. 

This whole debacle took place three days ago and I’ve been going over and over it in my mind. Partly out of guilt (although I don’t think Will even remembers it), but partly because when Will helpfully instructed me to ask for help, it reminded me that I have, more times than I would like to admit, shouted, I need help. It’s usually in my head and not out loud but still, I think this many, many times each day. My first inclination was to tell Will that there’s no one for Mommy to ask for help. But of course, there is. As soon as the situation turns stressful, I completely forget about God. (Makes sense, no?) Seriously, it did not even occur to me to pray in the midst of this debacle. And this is typical for me. I am the queen of I-can-do-it-and-I-can-do-it-without-help-look-how-competent-I-am. Motherhood is making is abundantly clear to me, over and over, that I cannot do it without help. That I am not self-sufficient, and that left to my own devices, I fail to love  even the people most precious to me.

So. My Lent is going to be focused on reliance.

When I was flipping out about our house situation, my dear friend Sylvia suggested the prayer, “Mary, Mother of Jesus, be a mother to me now.” And during the housing fiasco, I prayed that prayer 100 times a day. It’s kind of slipped my mind lately, but I think I need to bring it back. It seems particularly fitting for the struggles I’m having right now. I am attempting to remember to pray this every time my temper flares with my toddler or I want to beg my baby to please just. go. to. sleep.

I’m also planning to read Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart. My best friend recommended it and I ordered it a couple of weeks ago but haven’t had time to get into it, so it will be Lenten reading.

That’s the prayer piece of things. I haven’t worked out the fasting and almsgiving part just yet but I have a week and a half to figure that out!

 

 

Bridget’s Baptism

Bridget’s baptism was last Sunday, with her godparents flying from Chicago and LA late Friday night. We’d planned to all go to Mass together on Saturday evening and then have some dinner back at our house. In keeping with our recent Life Theme, the husband woke up on Saturday morning throwing up with a fever and body aches. So instead, we were fabulous hosts who did not see our guests until the actual baptism. My merciful parents came and picked Will up for a sleepover on Saturday, after he woke up from his nap. 

When I got him out of his crib, I asked, “Do you want to go play at Nana and Babu’s house and spend the night there?” Zero hesitation; “Yes, please!” 

Waiting for Nana and Babu to come free him.

When my parents showed up, I was worried he would freak out when it was time to actually leave without me. I need not have fretted. “Bye bye, Mommy! Mommy no comin’! Will goin’ wit Nana and Babu! Bye bye!” I had been hesitant to foist him off on my parents, but it ended up being a good decision. The husband was completely incapacitated in bed and I don’t know how I would have showered or gotten Bridget ready with Will home. 
I was sure there was no way the husband would make it to the baptism, but in the morning he dragged himself out of bed and got dressed. He was still super sick and miserable but no longer throwing up, so he met us at the church and stayed for the ceremony and some (horrendously bad iPhone) photographs afterwards, and then went home to lay back down. The reception was at my parents’ house, so it was actually quiet at our house. 

Bridget behaved beautifully during the actual baptism, cooing at Father as he poured the water over her head. Her behavior during the post-baptism pictures was less beautiful, but you win some you lose some I guess. 

     It was so wonderful to see my dear friend and former (like 11 years ago!) roommate, Margaret, who is Bridget’s godmother. Bridget’s godfather, Nick, made the trek from Chicago and we figured out that he is one of only two people, besides us, to be at both kid’s baptisms. His wife, Kate, is Will’s godmother and she crocheted the beautiful baptismal gown both kids have worn. 

Kate wasn’t able to make it, because she was a little tied up with her three small children.  I missed her terribly. However, several of our other friends/former roommates came and we had a blast drinking mimosas made by my dad and watching the kids run around together. 

  

Welcome to the Church, Bridget Marie!  

 

{SQT} The Plague Edition

1. It appears the plague is not done with us yet. I heard a suspicious noise coming from Will’s room around 11:00 last night, while I was trying to nurse little Miss Night Owl to sleep. I sent the husband in there and sure enough, Will threw up all over the crib again. The husband bathed him and changed him and put him in bed with me to snuggle while he went to clean Will’s room up. I’m sure you’re smarter than me and can see where this is going. Yup. He threw up in our bed. Happily, Bridget was taking a 20 minute cat nap so I bathed Will again while the husband got to work on the second bed change/room-Lysoling of the evening. It was a fabulous night’s sleep with Will in between us and Bridget in the co-sleeper and me frantically using hand sanitizer everytime Bridget woke up and I had to nurse her. At 5, Will decided he was a “Hungry boy! Hungry boy!” and urgently needed saltines. Ahh, I love the feel of saltine crumbs in my sheets. Now I am starting to feel sick. If it were possible, I would wonder if I was pregnant, that’s how exhausted and queasy I am.

2. I had my 6 week post partum visit with the midwife this morning. Everything looks good and she cleared me to start running. Just as soon as I shake the plague.

3. Since I’m just a barrel of laughs lately, there’s more fun news. You may remember that Will tested positive for one of the gene mutations associated with cystic fibrosis as part of his routine infant screening through the state. (There are two mutations. Children that have only one of them have cystic fibrosis approximately 2-3% of the time.) Happily, Will is healthy and doesn’t have CF. Unfortunately, Bridget also tested positive for one mutation. We found out Tuesday and I took her in for the “sweat test” that identifies the disease itself yesterday. We had to haul all the way back down to Children’s for the test, and I didn’t have childcare for Will, so he had to come along. I’ll spare you the details on what a debacle it was. Let me just note that I forgot the damned nipple shield, Bridget screamed and screamed and refused to latch without it, and Will poured his raisins out all over the floor and then ate them off the hospital floor while I was occupied with Bridget during the test. (Which, come to think of it, probably has something to do with the plague situation.) Anyway, we should have results from Bridget’s test next week. Prayers for her health are much appreciated.


My sweet, hungry little thing. Also, I look ten years older than I am in this picture.

4. Having been in the hospital 3 days of the last week, and seen so many very sick babes and their families, I cannot stop thinking about what it would be like to have a seriously and chronically ill child. Their (and your) whole life is consumed by hospitals and tests and doctors. Last week, I attended the funeral for the son of a friend from high school, who had a rare and fatal genetic disorder. Sweet Jack was only 3 months old. He spent his whole life in the hospital and never came home to the nursery my friends had prepared for him. But he was so loved by his parents who went to him every single day, prayed for his doctors and nurses and healing, and cherished him as their beloved son. I cannot imagine carrying that cross and my friends’ love for their little boy is such a lesson to me in unconditional and sacrificing love.

5. Bridget’s baptism is this Sunday. Her godparents fly in from Chicago and LA this evening. I pray we are all better (or at least not vomiting) for the big day.

6. I am obsessed with Petite Soul’s Bandit Cap. That little elfin tip! Alas, they’re all sold out. But my friend Maggie tagged me in their Instagram comments yesterday and they are releasing a new, terry Bandit next month. I can’t wait to buy Bridget allthebonnets.


7. I’m running out of steam, Bridget wants me to pay attention to her, and Will is waking up. So go check out Kelly’s for some hilarious quick takes on quitting the internet.

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The Plague Upon Our House

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About a week and a half ago, Will started running a low-grade fever and was a little grumpy. He didn’t seem to have any other symptoms, so I gave him some Tylenol and kept an eye on it for a couple of days. Then he started coughing and sniffling and a couple of times he coughed so hard I thought he was going to throw up. Finally, I called his pediatrician and she had us come in, where she told us he had bilateral ear infections and croup. Sometimes you think you are being the cool, experienced mom who doesn’t call the doctor every time her kids sniffles. But really you are being a deadbeat mom who doesn’t call the doctor when her kid has an ear infection and croup. Whoops.

Shortly thereafter, Bridget started sniffling and struggling to breathe through her nose when nursing. I was worried about her catching what Will had, but she had no fever and no other symptoms so I mostly just salined and NoseFrieda-ed and sat in the bathroom with the hot shower running to help clear her out. However, things soon moved into her chest and she developed that barking seal cough. Hearing a tiny baby cough like that is pitiful.

We’d planned to take the kids to the aquarium Saturday morning and Will was very excited to “see bish!” I was nursing Bridget one last time before we packed it up and she launched into a coughing fit that she just could not seem to stop, gasping for breath, her red-rimmed eyes watering and bulging out. I called the pediatrician (even though I’ve called them approximately 73 times in the last two weeks) and they told me to bring Bridget right in. Poor Will- just kidding little man, we’re going to the doctor instead. Get excited!

The pediatrician was confident that Bridget had RSV, and told us to take her straight to the ER at the children’s hospital. (Mid-appointment moment of levity: As the doctor was examining Bridget and she was wailing, Will got super upset and slapped the doctor’s leg, shrieking, “NO HURT BRIDGIE!” While I would discourage him from hitting people, especially his doctor, it was adorable to see him “protecting” his little sister.)

My parents met us at the hospital to collect Will and kept him all weekend for us. We spent most of the day in the ER, where Bridget received a couple of albuterol treatments to no avail, and was then put on supplemental oxygen since her levels kept dropping below 90, the threshold for acceptable. Seeing your little one with tubes up her nose and wires dangling from her body is heartbreaking.

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Around dinnertime, her levels stabilized but we were admitted anyway because they require 24 hours of monitoring after receiving oxygen. Bridget was a champ, slept like a dream in the hospital despite the incessant checking of vitals, and made it all night without requiring supplemental oxygen. We still had to hang out all day Sunday though, and were finally discharged around dinner time. When her nurse unhooked all her wires and tubes and set her free, Bridget gave her a huge smile.

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I’m so grateful to have my little girl home and on the mend!

Everyone is still sniffly and congested, but we were confident we’d turned the corner and were wrapping up this sojourn to Sickville. Until we found Will covered in dried vomit in his crib this morning. Poor thing had no idea what happened. “Doodle [the dog] pooped in Will’s bed!” he told us. Um, no. But good guess. So we are apparently not out of the woods yet. Bridget’s baptism is this weekend, so I’m hoping and praying the plague decides to depart before then!