Monday, March 31, 2014

My baby as a wind-up toy

Before Magpie was born, I used to think of a gestating embryo as a wind-up toy: as this fantastical creation that had a certain amount of energy that might fizzle out at any moment. 

From a prior blog post during my 7th pregnancy: 
 "I still have some moments where I perceive this baby as a wind-up toy, one that was better wound up than any of the previous ones, but that will still inevitably run out of steam, move sssslllloooowweeer and slllloooowwweer until it finally comes to a complete stop.  
[The embryo] sure wasn't moving slower and slower yesterday, though. Yesterday, this baby looked like a maniac. Looked like it would squirm out of my hands if I were holding it and shimmy across the floor and out the door.
"I know there is no evidence for the wind-up toy theory, except for the prior losses. I think a lot of the wind-up theory actually stems from a failure of imagination on my part. From the fact that it seems incredible that two cells, an egg and a sperm, could come together and make something that would then take on a life of its own. Have all this energy to grow and divide, and grow grow grow, and now move! Twisting and turning inside of me."
The aliveness of that baby was beyond my imagining then. And now that Magpie is here, almost 18 months old, whirring around our apartment like a dervish - toddle toddle toddle at breakneck speed, always so busy, my girl! - it remains beyond my imagination. 

But she is definitely here, and it certainly does not seem she is about to run out of energy anytime soon. And yet still sometimes, I think I conceptualize her as some living version of a wind-up toy. Sometimes I tiptoe in to her crib while she is sleeping, just to check - is her chest still rising and falling? Is she still "wound up"? Yes, she is still living, so far, always. And when she is awake there is no question, as she is on the go constantly, exploring, climbing, oh my goodness this weekend actually jumping up and down on the couch (how is that even possible at her age?!). Just as I saw in that very early ultrasound, when she was 9 weeks and 5 days along, she is a mover, my girl. She is still, as she was then, a bit of a maniac.

And I as her Mama am still stunned in some way that she could ever have come to pass. Still in awe that she could be with us now, so here, so fully present, so undeniably alive.


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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tips for traveling overseas with a toddler

We've just returned from our two-week trip to the Middle East, which involved a 13-hour flight each way and an 8-9 hour time change. I have to say, as a mom of our very, very active 17 month old, Magpie, I was not looking forward to my kiddo being confined on the plane those many hours, and the time change was also nervous-making.

But Magpie did great with the trip - handling the jet lag like a champ and tolerating the flights quite well. What a relief!

So I wanted to share what worked for us, in case it could be of help to others.

The main rule I would state is that to successfully survive a lengthy plane flight, allow yourself to break your usual parenting rules.

This suggestion breaks down into the following categories:

1. Snacks. We always travel with snacks, but we are usually pretty health conscious in what we choose. For the plane trip, we threw that out the window and packed snacks with high appeal and ease of delivery, adding a few mini boxes of sugar cereal to our typical fare of  lentil chips, cheese sticks, and dried fruit. We also packed mucho formula powder (Magpie has drunk Baby's Only brand), so that if the milk overseas tasted "funny" to Magpie she'd have a comforting and familiar beverage available. So advice is, bring snacks, lots of snacks. Lots of different snacks if you can.

2. We still use a pacifier with nap time and overnight. We have been moving toward weaning her from them but decided to wait until after this trip. At home, Magpie can only have the pacifiers at nap time and bedtime. On the plane flight, we allowed her to have pacifier anytime she wanted it. This resulted in a pretty pacified kid.

3. Activities - we don't usually let Magpie watch videos or play on the iphone, ipad, etc. However, for this trip, we downloaded a few Baby Einstein videos and a couple of early toddler counting and other games (I found "recommended" video games for her age group, even though I think screen time isn't really recommended at all before at 2. I also bought sticker books, coloring books, washable crayons, and a small new toy. The idea was to have some quiet and stationary things to do with her when she started going nuts with the sitting still.

Secondly, be very thoughtful about your seating on the plane.

In specific, I'd recommend:

1. Pony up for a seat for your kid. If they are under two you don't have to, but your life will be so much easier. I promise you this is true. For previous flights, we have always flown with her on our laps. Her having her own seat was a life saver. * Edited to add: that said, Magpie did not sit in her seat for take-offs or landings. These were experienced exclusively in daddy's lap using the infant seatbelt (she hates being restrained, and she would not tolerate it in her own seat).

2. Choose your seats on the plane wisely. We opted for the first row in economy going, and we scored an empty seat beside us to boot. These were golden. Magpie was able to stand and "play" in the bigger space afforded by being in the front row and the extra seat let her lie across and  sleep better. That said, coming home, we were stuck behind another row with no extra seat and we coped ok. But it was easier with the front row extra room and extra empty seat, by far.

So that's the plane flight recommendations. There is also the significant time change to contend with.

My number one recommendation for successful and quick adaptation to the time change is that you start preparing for the shift ahead of time.

For departure: We started adjusting Magpie's naptimes and bedtime several days ahead of our departure, moving both an hour later each day for about 4 days ahead of our trip. This caused some fairly suffering in our household because Magpie clung to her wake up time for three of those days, even as the sleep times moved later. But it started her in the direction of adjusting and I think reduced our suffering on arrival at our destination. We also skipped her nap entirely the first day at our destination just due to circumstances, so she was one sleepy girl by that first night. The happy result? She slept really well on the new schedule, waking up the first two nights at 3am at the time of our destination (7pm here), but quickly settling again and sleeping through the rest of the night. By the third night, she just slept through.

For return: We failed to heed our own advice and didn't pregame anything with Magpie in terms of adjustment. We've been home 6 nights, and she is still not sleeping well and is waking several times a night, so this is not the recommended course of events. It is getting better, but in hindsight, I wish for all of our sakes that we'd started moving our bedtimes/wake up times back in the right direction (it was a 9 hour change coming home), rather than wait to tackle it on arrival back in NYC. Live and learn.

Those are the main suggestions I can think of. What about you guys? What has worked when traveling internationally with little ones? Please chime in in the comments!


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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Weekly weight-loss: week 16, return from vacation

So I've been out of town for two weeks. Far away in the Middle East. I was excited for this trip and wanted to enjoy it fully. At the same time, I didn't want to do too much damage to the weight loss efforts I've made over the past three months. So I was hoping to strike a balance of not going hog wild, but also not missing out on interesting foods during our travels. Instead, I decided to plan carefully how I would handle eating on our journey. Seemed foolproof, but as is often the case, there ended up being a major difference between what I planned to do and what I did.

What I planned:
  • I brought several Jenny Craig cereal packets and non-frozen meals (a combination of the tuna/chicken lunch kits and the southwestern chicken and rice, for any Jenny Craigers who are reading) because I figured I could fit them in occasionally over the two-week trip as a way to limit some of the calorie onslaught of eating out for two weeks straight.
  • I packed my workout clothes and running shoes, planning to work out at the hotel gyms every day that it was possible.
  • I told myself that I would not eat at buffets because they tend to cause me to overeat. I would order off of a menu and just have a reasonable portion of whatever my choice was. If I needed to eat at a buffet, I would choose one or two items after looking at everything first, and keep my portions reasonable.
  • I told myself I would only eat when actually hungry and that I would try to make healthy choices.
Sounds good, right? Might have been, if I had actually done any of it. Instead...

What I did:
  • I never ate a single morsel of Jenny Craig food the entire journey, instead carrying all that food around two countries and then bringing it back home again. I just couldn't bring myself to eat it when there were so many interesting foods around, to be honest. 
  • I exercised exactly once, running on the treadmill at our first hotel for about 20 minutes. Otherwise, we did do a bit of walking some days, and the last several days we played in the pool daily with Magpie, but I wouldn't call any of this strenuous.
  • We ate buffet food for at least two meals every day (usually breakfast and dinner). So many choices!! So delicious!! This was mostly because Magpie only had a limited length of time she would sit quietly and waiting for someone to prepare a meal, especially when they weren't very speedy, typically meant she was done with sitting by the time the food arrived. Lunch was often ordered off of a menu, and some of the dinners were entertainment/business dinners (each of these a multi-course food extravaganza at which I was forcefully encouraged by the hosts to eat more! and have another dessert!).
  • Many times I ate when I wasn't really hungry because there was so much tasty food around and I wanted to try it, or Will and Magpie were eating, and seeing all the food was too tempting.
Needless to say, all signs pointed to my diet being, at least temporarily, doomed.

The divergence between my plans and my actual behavior became apparent pretty much immediately. I quickly opted to just surrender to the process. I didn't want to be obsessive or miserable or feel deprived, and so I decided to just accept that I would likely gain weight while we were away, and I would deal with it after we returned home. I hoped not to gain too much, because I knew it would be frustrating to come home more than 5-7 pounds heavier, but honestly I had no idea how far over I was going. I just told myself I would let myself have a good time (yes, including daily Middle Eastern treats like kibbeh and umm ali) and then get back on the wagon diet-wise when I got home.

But darned if despite the food intake - which I'm telling you, was not insubstantial - my clothes felt looser by the end of the trip. And in a continual absolute craziness of events, when I went in to Jenny Craig on Monday night for my weigh-in, I somehow actually lost weight on our trip. I have no idea how this is possible, but according to the scale at Jenny Craig, I lost a whopping 4.8 pounds.

Weekly Weight Loss
Starting BMI just after Thanksgiving = 25.2 (officially overweight)
Week 1:     - 4.4 pounds (back into normal BMI territory, less than 25!)
Week 2:     - 0.8 pounds
Week 3:     - 3.6 pounds
Week 4:     out of town so no Jenny food and no weigh-in (Christmas travel madness!)
Week 5:     - 4.4 pounds since last weigh-in
Week 6:     - 2 pounds
Week 7:     - 1.6 pounds
Week 8:     - 1.4 pounds
Week 9:     + 0.4  pounds
Week 10:     -4.2 pounds  
Week 11:     -0.2 pounds  
Week 12:     -3.0 pounds 
Week 13:     +1.2 pounds
Week 14:     away in the Middle East
Week 15:     away in the Middle East
Week 16:     -4.8 pounds (what the???!!!)
Grand Total: 28.8 pounds lost (BMI = 20.4)

Total surprise over here. A very happy surprise!

Color me pleased but bewildered. At this point, I think I've given up on trying to figure out the fluctuations on the scale. Several weeks here at home, I've measured every single bite, eaten the Jenny Craig recommended 1,200 calories a day (which is not much!), and lost almost nothing or gained a bit. Then I travel, eat multiple sizable buffet meals a day (with bread! oil! sugar!), and come home almost 5 pounds lighter. It's incomprehensible. My Jenny Craig consultant is convinced I underate while traveling, but that is really not what my perception was. I asked Will for his impressions, since he was there too, and he said that not only did I not undereat, he thought I indulged myself, without going totally overboard into binge territory. So it's weird. Good weird, but weird. Obviously, water retention, hormones, etc., have a lot to do with the ups and downs the scale shows, but I guess I didn't think it would vary this much.

So we'll see what happens in the next week or so as my body readjusts to the time change, being home, etc.. I'm more than half expecting to see a big apparent "gain" next week, just because this apparent "loss" seems so precipitous, and not in line with the food intake. 

But as long as things stay reasonably stable, it appears that I'm just about done with losing weight and am close to or have arrived in maintenance land!!! If I lost 5 more pounds I would weigh what I did in high school. And if I lost anything beyond that, I think I'd look scary. So somewhere around here seems just fine. 

Of course then the trick will be (no small feat) to figure out how to keep things in this same ballpark weightwise, plus or minus 5 pounds. From everything I've read, it seems that maintenance is the most challenging part of weight loss - how to keep the weight off for the long-term.

But for now, yay!!!! I really can't believe how far I've come since December! And what a fantastic surprise to find out that our two weeks away didn't equal weight gain! 


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Monday, March 24, 2014

To the Middle East and back

We have been gone the past couple of weeks on a trip to two countries in the Middle East - a mix of giving work-related lectures and attending meetings with some time for holiday thrown in the mix. Magpie handled the long plane rides and time change(s) well. She also ate like a champ, which made me a happy mama.

I was anxious about the long plane rides with my very active girl, especially so because I knew that Will and I had to get off of the plane and be ready to work the next day. Magpie, though, exceeded my expectations and did really well. I will write another post on what worked for us to make the plane rides and time change adaptations a success (two keys are that we broke a lot of our own rules to make things as easy, entertaining, and stimulating for her in the confined space as possible, and we tried to start the time change adjustment in advance of our trip).

Because we had a work component to some days on our trip, we had to use local babysitters for the times when both Will and I needed to be off-site at the same time. I was very nervous to leave Magpie with someone I hadn't put through my usual vetting process (typically for a new sitter, I check references, work from home the first day or two, observe via nanny cam, etc.). I was afraid that Magpie would be very anxious to be left with someone she didn't know and that she and I would find the entire situation rough. But again, she did fantastically. Both actual hotels we stayed in had a kid's play area with toys that I was able to take her to ahead of babysitting time and get her acclimated to. We purposely brought a few of her favorite books and stuffed animals along from home, which I think also helped. Those few times I had to use a sitter, I had them "get to know" her with me for twenty minutes or so (all I could do, typically) and then have them take her to the play area, which made me feel like there would be more oversight of her care and also more for her to do than being holed up in our hotel room(s).

On the vacation part of our trip, we went more off of the grid and spent time in a Bedouin camp in the desert, drove up into a mountain region, and also traveled to a coastal area. Will and I are pretty adventurous travelers and have been to numerous developing and developed countries together, but this was the most "off-the-beaten track" trip we've taken with Magpie in tow. Costa Rica is the only other trip that comes close (we took Magpie there when she was 3 months old), but as a country it seemed much more developed than some of the areas we were in on this trip. One of the big take home realizations for me this time was that my tolerance for risk has vastly changed now that Magpie is with us. I feel so keenly our responsibility to her to keep both her and ourselves safe. So I spent a lot more time white-knuckling various situations (e.g., driving in general, self-driving off-road into the desert, handling numerous non-childproofed stairs, ledges, cliffs, etc.) that I previously would have taken more in stride. Will, meanwhile, seemed unperturbed by everything, and we were therefore sometimes not on the same page about certain decisions, like his penchant for handing Magpie raw veggies to nibble when we were in places with substandard water and hygiene availability. I'll probably do an entire post on this in the future, but my elevated cautiousness was a notable change for someone who has been to Africa several times and enjoyed various other adventure-type trips.

As you'll see below in the pictures, Magpie was a hit with the locals. Her name is very similar to a Muslim name, which made her even more popular, and meant that people would ask for her by name constantly at our various destinations. So she was our little ambassador. Customs seemed to be different in the two countries we traveled in than in the U.S., in that strangers would continually walk up to us and start touching Magpie and often try to take her from me and hold her (see pics below). It was shocking at first, but I think over time she and I warmed up to it fairly well. Needless to say, no stranger has ever tried to take Magpie from my arms in NYC!

We are home as of this weekend and working to help Magpie adjust back to Eastern Standard Time from a 9 hour time change...It's a process...

It was a lovely and fascinating trip. And it is so, so nice to be home as well.

More soon.


Magpie at Bedouin encampment

Magpie with local girls in rural mountain region

Magpie called all the camels "Doggie!", and yes, this picture was taken while riding on a camel

Sand dune

Magpie pets a "doggie!"
Hanging out with a local man

Mountain goat

Magpie sitting on steps; mama hoping she won't fall off of them
goods at one of several souks we visited

Magpie in the arms of another local man during the work portion of our trip


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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Bed Head

Wowza, all the sudden Magpie has a lot of hair! Here's a recent post-nap shot. Rockin' the bed head! I love my girl : )


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Friday, March 7, 2014

Pardoxes of gratitude

In this weird upside down way, I think we are actually fortunate that we went all the way to the mat before conceiving Magpie. We traveled to, and lived in, a zone of despair for over a year before my pregnancy with her. By that time, we had been through 7 IVFs and 6 miscarriages, and we lived our days with the full-fledged belief that we would never have a biological family. And then, miracle, we became pregnant with Magpie, and stayed pregnant. And so because of that, because we didn't struggle a little and then get pregnant from our first or second IVF, because we went to the end game and then experienced a miracle to conceive and carry our little girl, I haven't had any of the experiences that some of, less infertile? friends have had...(oh dear, sounds like I'm invoking the pain Olympics, but bear with me). What I mean is that some of those I know who have suffered, but didn't ever get to the absolute nadir that we had gotten to remain sad that their pregnancy experience was "ruined" or are bummed they couldn't get pregnant via regular intercourse, which would have been so much more romantic. Well, yeah, that would have been nice.

It's sort of, I guess, similar to the idea that if you have stage I cancer, you have room to be bummed you faced cancer at all, but if you have stage IV cancer, and are truly convinced you will die of your disease, but then somehow get a pass and you make it into a lasting remission, you may be paradoxically less upset you dealt with cancer at all and are just thankful your life was spared. As a psychologist treating a number of people with varying levels of significant medical illness, I have seen this phenomenon.

There's probably a psychological term for this that's evading me at the moment.

The silver lining of going all the way to believing that you will never get out the other side, and then staying for a significant time in that terrible place, is that when you do make it out, by some miracle of God or science or both, you are just plain grateful.

Sure it would have been nice to just have sex and get (and stay) pregnant. And sure it would have been nice to just do one or two IVFs and get (and stay) pregnant. But that wasn't in the cards for us. And because that is so far from our reality, I don't really even mourn those things. They are so distant from our experience that they have become foreign to me, which is strange to realize but true for us. For us, it just feels like all indicators pointed to a hopeless outcome. I remember one commenter even writing to us late in the journey (anonymous, of course), "Maybe it's time you see the writing on the wall? You've had the best clinic in the country transfer chromosomally normal embryos and given you every hormonal supplement they could to enable your body to support the pregnancy. And it just didn't happen." 

And they were right, although the comment really stung. We were in this hopeless, seemingly interminable cycle of IVF, pregnancy, miscarriage. Wash, rinse, repeat. With no end in sight. It was horrible. To then be gifted with a child, conceived of our own gametes, and whom I was somehow able to carry inside of my body for nine months... well, that seemed like a miraculous turn of events, and many in our medical team would probably agree.

So in this strange infertility paradox, all of that pain, all of that difficulty has led us to actually feeling greater satisfaction, more immense gratitude, than if our baby had come much more easily***.

Funny how life works sometimes, isn't it?


***Still not a recommended course of events, if you have any choice in the matter.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Weekly weight loss, week 13

Plugging along over here in weight-loss land.

Effortwise, it was a pretty good week. I was adherent to my calorie limit throughout the week, although I included one Cooking Light slow cooker meal (eaten with Will over a few different dinners). But even with this, I weighed the meat and carefully doled out the appropriate calorie amount (Good, Mo!). We also ate out Saturday night with friends, and it was the first time I've done a group eating out scenario. I didn't special order everything like the other times I've eaten out but I did try to watch my portions and not eat anything crazy. It was difficult to estimate calorie count, since I didn't have anything I could easily guesstimate in terms of calories (typically I play it very safe when eating out and get some kind of plain protein and steamed veggies, but this time, we were at a Dominican restaurant, and I had a few bites of arepas, and a few bites of paella, and a couple of soft tacos). I skipped dessert, didn't have any alcohol, and figured it should all be reasonably ok.

I also hit the gym a few times this week, which is brand new for me, and this past weekend, when I couldn't figure out how to get the interval program working on the treadmill, I decided to just run for 20 minutes. Was shocked to find I was able to do that and maintain a 12-minute mile pace. Really slow, I know, but I haven't really worked out in any sustained way in over a year, and at that point, I was definitely not running for 20 minutes straight. So I was surprised and thrilled. Sunday, I followed it up with a run outside with Will and Magpie and Moxie - and this time ran for 24 minutes straight! I thought I would die, but lo and behold, I did not. Instead, I ended up really proud of myself on the exercise front.

I was NOT feeling confident about the weight loss this week, though. My legs felt heavy and swollen from running, I ovulated Sunday or Monday (and the last time I ovulated is also the last time I showed a gain on the scale), and the restaurant meal was a real wild card. Also, last week, I lost 3 pounds! Seemed destined that things might not go well. All, in all, I figured all bets were off.

And, well, the scale reflected my concerns. Somehow, despite everything, I *gained* 1.2 pounds. There is NO WAY, by the way, that I consumed an extra 3500 calories at that dinner. Absolutely no way. So there is definitely something funky going on with me and the scale this week.

Weekly Weight Loss
Starting BMI just after Thanksgiving = 25.2 (officially overweight)
Week 1:     - 4.4 pounds (back into normal BMI territory, less than 25!)
Week 2:     - 0.8 pounds
Week 3:     - 3.6 pounds
Week 4:     out of town so no Jenny food and no weigh-in (Christmas travel madness!)
Week 5:     - 4.4 pounds since last weigh-in
Week 6:     - 2 pounds
Week 7:     - 1.6 pounds
Week 8:     - 1.4 pounds
Week 9:     + 0.4  pounds
Week 10:     -4.2 pounds  
Week 11:     -0.2 pounds  
Week 12:     -3.0 pounds 
Week 13:     +1.2 pounds (akkkk!!!)
Grand Total So Far: 24 pounds lost (BMI = 21.2)

I'm trying not to get demoralized by this week's scale number. It feels like a HUGE gain. We leave at the end of the week for an overseas business trip, which is exciting, but stressful, and continuing with the weight loss is a major stressor of the trip. But I will just do my best and we'll see where things stand when I get home and back in the weight loss saddle.


photo credit:

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Infertility in the present tense?

In so many ways my life is complete now that Ms. Magpie is here. And I feel like for the most part I strike a pretty good balance juggling the past and the present, acknowledging the sad times and uncertainty, the grief leading up to our daughter's arrival, but not dwelling there. And also relishing the gratitude and feeling of wonder that she has now arrived so fully - plunk - right into the center of our lives. Generally, my reproductive history feels similar to other non-striking aspects of my personal stats: I have freckles, I'm right-handed, I am pear-shaped, I wear glasses, I struggled with infertility and loss.

But sometimes infertility rears its head up again and proves that while dormant, the pain associated with our history hasn't entirely gone away.

This weekend was one of those times. One of my neighbors who has a child Magpie's age and I were talking and she let me know that she is expecting her second child. Makes sense, Magpie and friend are 16 months old now, optimal spacing between siblings in a normal non-infertile situation, etc. I felt a teeny tiny pang, but not much. I was OK, I thought. But the longer my neighbor talked, the more painful it felt. She let me know that actually she and her husband had been shooting to get pregnant two months from now, but they are "so fertile" (unfortunate actual quote) that they got pregnant right away. Ah yes, me too, I hate when I get pregnant sooner than I planned! (please note sarcasm). At another point she said something that led me to think that maybe there had been one prior pregnancy before the one resulting in her current child and she clarified that no, they'd tried twice, gotten pregnant twice, and would be having two optimally spaced kids.

There is a chasm I've felt before that sometimes opens up between me and another (fertile) person; well, right then and there, I felt the chasm appear and then expand, her on her side taking for granted that you can plan for a child and get pregnant and everything turns out just fine, and me on the other side thinking every second is a precious miracle not to be taken for granted, something wonderful...and precarious. We stood on each side of the chasm talking, except she didn't even know that the divide was there.

And with the awareness of the gulf between us, I felt that twinge. That old familiar pain. That sense of, wow, what would our lives have been like if we had gotten pregnant - and stayed pregnant - when we first tried, six years ago? If we hadn't lost the six pregnancies, if we hadn't had all the failed IVFs, all the heartbreak, all the financial strife, those months and months of absolute hopelessness after our sixth loss when we didn't know what to do or which way to turn?

Of course, not productive, these thoughts. But the whole situation pricked at this place in me that is usually silent.

We are who we are, the grateful and astounded parents of Magpie. And at the same time we are not the people, not the parents, who we would have been. For good and for bad, this journey has changed us. And surprising to me, some grief remains. Dormant, quiet for the most part, but present still.

And standing there, on my side of the chasm looking across at this other woman, I thought of those of you still struggling to have a child. I wish for every one of you still in the trenches that your time there be short. I wish for you to learn what you can from the trenches, because I suppose that since you are there anyway, there are some gifts that can come from suffering. But may your stay be brief and a baby come into your arms soon, ever so soon.


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