Thursday, November 10, 2016

Summer 2016 in Utah. Also, Megan is a Saint.

Our big trip this summer was an epic excursion to Park City, UT.  Initially, I wasn't super excited about getting 4 small children from Houston to Utah (okay, I was totally dreading it), especially because I knew Rob wasn't going to be able to be there to help.

However my angel sister-in-law, Megan, agreed to send her baby with my brother and be my extra pair of hands for the trip.  I think she ended up getting more than she bargained for...

Plane tickets directly to UT were too expensive (especially when you factor in the cost of a minivan rental for a week!), so we ended up flying to Las Vegas (where we got a pretty good deal on a minivan rental) and then drove up to Park City.
First stop: Lunch at In 'N Out in Las Vegas
Somehow I don't have a picture of all 6 of us in the airport (I probably was too stressed out for a photo-op), but we made the first flight with the help of 3 iPads, a miraculously empty seat adjacent next to me, and lots of knick-knacks and crafts to keep little hands busy.
At 2.5, Caroline could still SQUEEZE into an infant carseat!
In Vegas I went to get the rental car, Megan waited for the luggage, and we all started the 7 hr trip north.  It was long, but with the help of 3 iPads, some candy, and lots of knick-knacks and crafts to keep little hands busy, we made it to Park City.  And Baby Stan was literally the perfect baby--eating when we stopped to get gas, then falling back asleep until the next rest stop.
Happy Girls
Now we could get busy enjoying the BEAUTIFUL scenery, PERFECT weather, and the soft green grass that is all a part of Summer in Utah.
On a nature walk
We went on daily walks and went on (short) hikes in the beautiful mountains.  We visited with some wonderful family friends who now live in Park City.  We spent days at the park, played at the pool, visited the Nicklecade, went to Granny's, and basically had a fabulous time.
Building leaf-boats
Sleeping, swaddled baby.  Not even sweating!
Blockus on the grass--not worrying about sitting in a pile of fire ants!
We named this guy Stanley, the Bear.

For the trip home, Megan and I decided to break the drive up a bit.  We drove from Park City to Draper to see some of our Ellis family and spend the night.  The next morning we drove to Springville to see more family, and then a few hours more to St. George to spend the night in an hotel.
We forgot Caroline's bathing suit top...
The next morning we had some time to kill before making the last leg to Las Vegas, so we stopped at St. George's fun splash pad in their town center.  It was the perfect way to spend the morning.
The kids got to play in the sunshine, get wet,  and run around.  We were even treated to a surprise performance by one of St. George's Glee Clubs!  They taught the kids how to do the Macarena, the Electric Slide, the YMCA, and a few other classic dances.  This little morning in St. George ended up being one of the highlights of the entire trip!

Custard for lunch
The airplane ride home was so smooth I hardly even remember it.  I know that Megan was glad to get home to her ONE child, and I am SO thankful she helped us make the trip, and helped it to be so FUN!
At the airport coming home to Daddy!

Craniosynostosis, Round #2

Almost as soon as Stanley exited the womb, Rob and I knew he had metopic craniosynostosis.

Metopic Craniosynostosis is a rare, congenital defect that causes the front (metopic) suture of the skull to fuse prematurely.  If it's not corrected, it can cause increased pressure on the brain, developmental delays, sight problems, etc.
We were able to diagnose this rare condition so quickly because Savannah was also born with metopic craniosynostosis.  As far as anyone knows, there's no genetic or hereditary cause for craniosynostosis, and the chance of two siblings having it is less than 4%.  Basically, we just won the funny-head-shape lottery!
Stanley, top view
 When the metopic suture fuses early you get a ridge running down the center of the head to the top of the nose, and a triangular-shaped forehead.  This also results in a pinching of the temples and eyes that are too close together.
Front view
5 years ago, when Savannah was diagnosed, the most common corrective procedure was a Cranial Vault Remodel, where the surgeons take apart the front half of the skull, then break and reshape it.   It's a 7+ hour, complex surgery, usually requiring a blood transfusion and at least a week stay in the hospital.  

Now, however, they've developed an endoscopic surgery that can release the suture and any increased pressure.  The surgery takes about 3 hours, and babies can usually go home from the hospital after one day.  Post surgery, babies have to wear a helmet for 6-8 months that will shape the skull as the bone regrows.

We opted to try the less invasive surgery this time and when Stanley was 3 months old he had his surgery.  The process went really smoothly, and he handled the whole thing like a champion.  We're about 2 months into his helmet therapy and are really pleased with how it's progressing.  

Hopefully this is our LAST craniosynostosis experience, and while it hasn't been easy, we count our blessings that it is correctable, that we have great medical care here in Houston, and that God has been watching over our sweet baby through this process.  
Waiting for surgery in his lucky BYU onesie
Right after surgery
About 24 hours later, smiling at home
Bandages come off 48 hrs post surgery, still pretty swollen

Welcome Baby Stan!

Stanley Robert Ellis arrived on Tuesday, May 17 at about 2am.  Right on his due date!
In labor
I had never made it to 40 weeks in a pregnancy before, so at 38 weeks when I started having contractions every evening, I was pretty convinced this baby was coming early.  However, as it got closer to my due date, the contractions stopped and I started doubting if he was EVER going to arrive!
The Stanley Fan Club
Monday afternoon I brought the kids to swim team practice and my good friend, Nikki, offered to give my poor swollen feet a foot rub, making sure to press on all of the pressure points known to induce labor.
Ellis, family of 6!!
We went home, had dinner, and as I was getting the kids ready for bed I started having regular, painful contractions.  Rob came home, we finished bedtime, called my sister-in-law to come stay the night with the kids, and headed to the hospital.
Little man
Contractions started around 7pm, we were admitted to the hospital by 10pm when I was about 5cm dilated, at about 12:45am I got the most wonderful epidural in the world, and at 2am little Stanley was born.
Angel baby
We are so thrilled to have him!

Press Forward!

Last year Rob and I volunteered to be "Ma and Pa" at our church's Youth Conference Trek, where we would lead a "family" of 12-18 year old kids for a long weekend on a pioneer handcart reenactment.  We would be helping the kids push the handcart, camping, cooking outside, and walking about 20 miles over a 3-day period.
Pa and Ma, ready to go!
For the last few years Rob has been in charge of these yearly Youth Conferences, and I was really excited to get to finally be a part of one.  It seemed like they were always great spiritually uplifting experiences.  And a lot of fun!  So, basically, I was totally on board with the idea.

Then, a few months later, we got a little surprise in the form of a positive pregnancy test!  When we did the math we realized I'd be 7 months pregnant by the time Trek rolled around.  My attitude began to shift from enthusiasm to anxiety.  Would I be able physically to hold up?  Would it be safe? Wouldn't it be smarter to just ask some other couple take our spot this time around?
The BEST "Big Brother," Zak
Rob and I both prayed about it, and he felt strongly that we should continue as planned.  I didn't feel a strong answer, but my anxiety mostly abated so we decided to go for it.
"Just keep walking! Just keep walking!"
A few months later, after a lot of hard work and preparation (MUCH more than I had expected!!), we were ready for the trip.

We donned our pioneer-style clothing (which looks EXTRA cute when you've got a big ol' belly...), packed up the minivan, said goodbye to the kids, and headed out to the Houston frontier.
"Pioneer children sang as they walked, and walked, and walked, and WALKED"
Over the course of the 3-day trek, we walked/pulled/pushed the handcart for about 20 miles (through some major mud and water), slept for about 20 minutes, and built some really sweet relationships with really fantastic youth.
An early morning
I learned a few things:

  • I can do hard things.  It was physically much harder than I anticipated.  I was in pretty good shape (for a 7-month pregnant lady), but being on my feet constantly was tough.  But I made it! 
  • God hears and answers prayers.  There were a few times when I was walking that I felt physically maxed out.  My back started cramping and I didn't think I'd be able to keep going.  I said a silent prayer for help, saying, "Okay, Heavenly Father, I'm doing this for You and for these kids.  If you want me to be able to finish this, You have to help me. Please."  Within minutes the cramps would subside and I kept going. 
  • This whole experience was a good metaphor for life.  Sometimes life isn't about having fun or doing what is easy.  It's about doing what you've been asked to do and moving forward to the best of your ability.  Often, when things are hard, we just want to sit on the side of the trail in the mud and let things go.  However, that doesn't help the situation b/c then we're just stuck in the middle of nowhere, sitting in the mud!  We have to keep moving, keep trying, and most importantly, keep involving God in the process.  He WILL help us.  Sometimes we don't notice it right away, but if we keep trying to do our best, before we know it we'll have walked another mile, some friend will show up to help us push our carts, or we'll notice somebody in greater need than ourselves.  
Pa with the kiddos
Overall, while I wouldn't necessarily recommend doing a trek in your third trimester, I'm DEFINITELY glad we did it.  I was so impressed with the youth in our family, and it was a great learning and growing experience for me.  

Another tender mercy: nobody in our family got ANY blisters!!! 

The women's pull