We’re back! Surprises, Medical Mysteries, and a New Way Forward

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Where in the world have we been?

I know, I know, it’s been a crazy long time since I’ve posted.

I have a good reason. Several of them, in fact.

Those who follow me on Instagram probably know the big ones. First, we’re expecting baby #3!

I’m Pregnant!

"We have a winner" pregnancy announcement
When you have two other kids, this is how you announce your pregnancy to your husband — you sneak a quick, hand-drawn card into his iPad cover while he pours his morning coffee.

I found out I was pregnant in early October (hooray!), and the morning sickness started approximately five minutes after the second pink line showed up (booooo).

I’ve always had rough pregnancies — I had hyperemesis with my first, in fact. The only thing that saved me in these last two pregnancies has been Zofran and lots of support from my husband. Even with all that, I am still basically a human vegetable for awhile. I’ve come to accept that and to just be gentle with myself.

sick woman
I spend the first three months of every pregnancy looking (and feeling) like this.

Family Life

Shortly after finding out that I was pregnant, we found a huge leak in our master bedroom and had to move onto the couch for two weeks while we dealt with an infuriating and (unnecessarily) time-consuming round of repairs.

water leak in bedroom

We also had some family come to visit — which was great! — but also took up time and focus away from blogging and other mundane tasks.

And then it was Halloween, and time to take pictures for Christmas cards, then time to welcome all the new arrivals to Post, then the Marine Ball, and blah blah blah — life took over.

Health Problems

The other reason I took some time off is related to my oldest daughter, who started having this weird vomiting thing beginning over the summer.

An occasional episode of vomiting turned into several episodes a week, which turned into every day, which turned into 20+ times per day.

We saw GI, immunology, ENT, allergy, infectious disease, and occupational therapy. At one point, she was on six different medications, with absolutely no improvement in symptoms. In the meantime, the vomiting was getting so bad that I was having to pick her up from school at least once a week.

A medical mystery

The weird thing was that the vomiting wasn’t like full-on retching. It was almost the way a baby spits up. Just all of a sudden, she’d have a few tablespoons of…reflux?…in her mouth. No nausea, no real change in appetite, just complaints about her stomach hurting and all this vomiting.

And it never happened when she was at the playground or doing art or anything she found fun. Often, she wouldn’t even tell us when it happened — I’d just find evidence in the toilet later on. This reassured me that this wasn’t some weird ploy for attention.

And sometimes, she’d get in these…loops?…where it was almost like a tic, she couldn’t stop. We’d be stuck in the bathroom for an hour, and it would just keep happening every 30 seconds or so. Very weird.

After many, many doctor visits and medication trials and allergy tests here in Guatemala, we knew it was time to go back to the US to see some specialists.

More tests

There was an endoscopy, so many blood tests, many more specialist visits, and something called an impedance test, where she was sent home for 24 hours with a probe down her nose to her stomach. We even took out her tonsils and adenoids, wondering if these were somehow related. It was really rough on all of us, but particularly her.

blond child with tube in her nose after endoscopy
My brave kiddo

When allll the tests came back normal, we were left with a diagnosis of something called Rumination Syndrome. Basically, this causes a person to repeatedly and unintentionally regurgitate undigested food…like, a lot.

There are different possible causes, but after a few visits with child psychology, we determined that in her case, the source was likely anxiety and specifically school.

The main treatment option is behavioral, a type of diaphragmatic breathing. Our kid is too little to really grasp this technique, so the doctors recommended helping her learn to cope with her anxiety and basically just waiting for her to outgrow it. It wasn’t harmful in the meantime, even if it is kind of gross.

No more doubts

If I had any doubt that this was the right diagnosis, it all dissolved on one particular afternoon.

It was right after we removed the tube from her nose — that whole ordeal had been really traumatic. But she’d had zero episodes of vomiting all day long. She was happy and energetic.

Late in the afternoon, I asked her to please put her shoes on because we had to go back to the doctor. She didn’t say a word, quietly following directions…and then vomited eight times in three minutes.

Staring at her, I quickly clarified, “Not THAT kind of doctor, this one just wants to talk to you. No pokes, no shots, no tubes.”

She visibly let out a huge sigh of relief. “Whew!” she said. “I was really worried.”

She didn’t vomit again that afternoon…until the doctor asked her how she felt about the tube. (Cue: vomit.)

Survival Mode

For a month, we lived out of suitcases, bouncing around five different hotels. Every week would start as a total mystery — what tests would be scheduled this week? When would we need to drop everything and hike two hours away to see the next specialist referral who could squeeze us in before Thanksgiving?

While the State Department reimburses a lot of the expenses related to a MedEvac (medical evacuation from Post), there are still so many costs that are out of our own pocket while we’re in the US. We were eager to wrap this up as soon as possible, as we literally watched out bank accounts bleed money every week.

Not to mention, it’s just exhausting to live in that sort of limbo, watching your kid get poked and prodded every day, wondering if you’re doing the right thing by putting your kid through all of this. More than once, I wondered if we were creating a problem by looking for it.

On top of it all, my husband could only be there for half the trip, so I was solo for a lot of it, relying enormously on help from my parents. I was also still growing a human being, thick in the middle of the first trimester morning sickness and exhaustion.

Breaking Point

toddler in winter clothing in front of river
Kids can crash so fast — she went from “mild cough” to double pneumonia in just a few days.

It was the night after my oldest had a minor surgery when the baby woke us up at 4 am wailing in pain. We were already exhausted from the surgery and all the worry and stress from the day before, so we weren’t at our best when this new curveball was thrown at us.

A 7 am visit to urgent care showed that the bronchiolitis that the baby had been suffering from for the last few weeks had turned into double pneumonia. And the ear infection we’d been treating for the last week had worsened, and she was now dealing with an about-to-rupture eardrum (ouch).

My baby had been screaming for three straight hours at this point, and there was nothing I could do to comfort her. I was exhausted. I was depleted in every sense of the word.

As the P.A. described the new regimen of breathing treatments and medications we’d need to administer to my squirrely 21-month-old who HATED any sort of medication, I just started crying.

That opened the floodgates and before I knew it, I was sobbing on the nurse’s shoulder. Trying to leave as quickly as possible with a shred of dignity intact, I tripped over my still-screaming toddler, falling hard. Not a great idea when you’re pregnant.

The rest of that visit is a blur, but I remember that they actually escorted me to my car, insisting on helping me carry the (screaming) toddler the entire way, continually asking if I was going to be okay. I honestly wasn’t sure.

Oh, you thought that was rock-bottom?

woman looking haggard at children's playspace
This is what survival mode looks like.

You keep thinking you’re at rock bottom, and then things always manage to get a tiny bit worse.

My husband had to fly back to Guatemala for work. I caught the baby’s respiratory infection and ear infection, and I was absolutely miserable, while still trying to manage the remaining follow-up appointments and nebulizer treatments that both kids now required after the oldest caught her sister’s virus. My oldest also required around-the-clock pain medication from her surgery, so we were having to set alarms through the night to keep her dosing schedule on track. Then the oldest caught some sort of GI bug, and spent the night throwing up. Then my own eardrum ruptured.

So, yea, that’s why I stopped posting for a bit.

Coming Home

small children on airplane gangway
Our fourth international trip, solo, in the last six months. We’re over it.

We were eventually cleared to go home. I flew back to Guatemala with the kids — that’s a whole other story in itself — and we slowly, slowly started to recover.

Everyone got over their various illnesses. We caught up on sleep. My wonderful husband went above and beyond to give us all the food, sleep, and rest we needed to recover.

We had a quiet Christmas and a low-key New Year.

And the whole time, in the back of our minds, we were wondering…what do we do about this whole Rumination thing?

Back Story

I have to back up a bit.

In case it hasn’t been clear, our oldest (age 4) has been attending a Montessori, Spanish-immersion pre-k that is a three-minute walk from our house.

We’d planned on full-time homeschooling this year, based on the lack of good local schools, but literally two weeks after we started homeschooling last summer, her lovely local preschool added a pre-k program. They renovated four new classrooms that were just gorgeous — full of natural light and brand-new, wooden Montessori toys. She’d keep her same beloved teacher. The school also built a new playground over the summer, complete with bunnies and ducks. To top it off, they asked me to collaborate on their curriculum so they could incorporate some of our homeschool materials into their program.

I mean, what?!

Combo-schooling

blond child at wooden storefront reading "Tienda la Favorita"
International Culture Day at Pre-K

With such a great local school option (the Spanish immersion was HUGE for me), it was hard to justify homeschooling. So we sent her to school in the morning, and I supplemented with our own art, science, math, and phonics in the afternoon.

It was working really well…I thought. We had so much fun homeschooling in the afternoon, and I had a little break in the mornings where I could work.

Yup, it was all going great…except the vomiting was getting worse and worse. And my kid started complaining more and more about school, which was so odd since she loved this place the year before.

So when the child psychologist suggested that something about her school was triggering her episodes of vomiting, there was a small part of me that was like, “Ohh…yea, that makes sense.”

Warning Signs

How did we know school might somehow be contributing? There were a lot of little signs.

She’d tell stories that I didn’t really understand. Something about the teacher telling her that if she kept throwing up, all her teeth would fall out (what?). Something about how if the kids are naughty, they would have to put a diaper on and go back to the baby class (huh?).

But four-year-olds aren’t exactly reliable narrators and I have a close relationship with her teachers, whom I chat with every single day at pick-up. They’re lovely. I figured the teachers were hearing similarly garbled (and untrue) stories about me, and I wanted to give these hard-working teachers the benefit of a doubt.

But it was hard to ignore how much my kid was fighting going to school every day, or how tired she seemed afterward. She’s my oldest, maybe this was normal?

Then during her psych evaluation, she sat coloring with the psychologist. When she accidentally colored outside the lines, she looked worriedly at the psychologist and asked, “Are you disappointed in me?” (Trust me, she is NOT getting that at home.) She also talked about how much she didn’t like school.

It was getting harder and harder to ignore the signs — this school, even if it was great on paper — wasn’t working.

Making Plans

So here we were, back in Guatemala, with a kid who had been vomiting (or regurgitating, or whatever you want to call it) up to 20 or 30 times a day.

Keyword: “had been”

Even with all the stress of the last few months, we couldn’t ignore the fact that her vomiting had dropped significantly since she’d stopped attending school because of the MedEvac and then the winter holidays.

She was now only having episodes maybe 2 or 3 times a day. What’s more, her behavior was better. She was kinder, more patient, more energetic. I mean, she is still a four-year-old, and a spirited one at that, but she is obviously happier at home.

blond child building model dinosaur
A happy kid…at home

We tentatively brought up going back to school after the holidays, but she was adamant: “I don’t want to go to that school. It’s too long, it’s boring, and there are too many rules. I just want to go to a school where I can make art without anyone telling me what to do and where I can learn how to make things.”

Well, shit.

But I don’t wanna…

So I am fully equipped to return to full-time homeschooling. I have the curriculum, and we’ve done this before. I know how to do this.

But…I’m pregnant, just entering the second trimester. I’m feeling better, sure, but I’m still not at my best or most energetic.

My youngest has also definitely grown into a toddler in the last few months as well, and she’s requiring more attention. We’re potty-training, ugh. And I have a work project going on that is really demanding, and I am eager to finish it before the baby comes in June.

This just wasn’t the time I wanted to take on full-time homeschool, which let’s be honest, for pre-k means mostly just keeping your kid entertained and engaged. All of her friends are in school during the mornings, there are no local homeschool groups — not even a local public library — and I knew that this endeavor would put a ton of pressure on me.

Doing Hard Things

blond child having tea party with stuff animals
I’m calling this self-directed learning.

But what else could we do? I couldn’t fathom sending her back to a school that was physically making her sick. And I thought back to all the weird stories my kid had told me about school…and I just couldn’t justify it. I’d be sending her to school purely to make my life easier, with no clear benefit to her (and, quite likely, some harm).

I’m particularly gun-shy when it comes to that little voice in your head saying, “This isn’t quite right.” I’ve written before about how I had that feeling once before and ignored it, only to discover that her daycare teacher had been giving her Benadryl to make her sleep (and the director had known and covered it up for months).

So we pulled her out. We’re doing it. Time to homeschool.

What’s Next?

blond girl flying kite
We studied air during our first week of full-time homeschooling. We decorated kites by writing down our wishes for the New Year and then went out to fly them.

How is this going to go? I honestly don’t know.

I know that I won’t have as much time for the blog as before. I know that finishing my work project and various home projects before baby #3 comes are a priority.

I’ve spent the last week staring at an empty Word document, becoming irrationally angry at that stupid blinking cursor, trying to figure out how I can best serve this community, without this blog turning into a personal journal.

And I just don’t know. I don’t know how this is going to go, or what new curveball will be thrown at us next.

So I’m asking for your patience and your understanding as we figure out this new normal. And I hope that through sharing our own journey through health struggles, anxiety in children, homeschool and pregnancy and trying to be a grown-up…I hope that you’ll find something that will help you feel less alone. Because I know we’re not the only family out there struggling to make hard decisions, to do hard things, to just do right by our kids.

Stick with me. I can’t predict what’s happening next, but I know we’re going to be okay.

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6 thoughts on “We’re back! Surprises, Medical Mysteries, and a New Way Forward

  1. Wow. I am so sorry that is quite and adventure and not in a good way. I am glad she is doing better though and good for you for listening to your little voice. It’s so hard sometimes to do what’s best for our kids. You’ve got this super mama. Hang in there, you can do it!

  2. What a trial for you and yours ( but especially you and Evie). Thank you for sharing. Even though I am in the (hopefully someday) Grandma stage of life, I remember the struggles of early parenthood and had three kids in 4 years.

    Keep up the fantastic work, and take care of yourself!

  3. Oh you strong mama, you have certainly had a challenging 2019. Take your time to do you and things will work themselves out in time, don’t feel you need to rush it. As long as you can work out maybe 1 post a week the same day each week (however big or small) Google should still give you love.
    Sending good thoughts your way. I know over here in Australia things have certainly turned rough at the end of 2019. Being pregnant at the same time always throws a spanner in the works. You have friends around the world still cheering you on.

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