You know how in the middle movie of a trilogy things really, really suck for the good guys? Think about "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" or "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back". In the middle chapters of those epics the story feels like an endless dark battle, and you're not sure what will become of them. That's how the years 2014 to 2016 felt for us.
When Beatrice turned one, we began to try for a second baby. We both felt strongly about wanting another, and a sibling for Beatrice. My fertility doctor suggested we try the old fashioned way for three months. In some cases, conceiving and carrying a child to term can act like a reproductive reset button for previously infertile women. Due to my age, however, she cautioned us to come back in for a consultation if we weren't pregnant after those few months. Come to find out, my body didn't come with a reset button like that. Upon discussion, the doctor recommended we try the same protocol through which I had conceived Beatrice: injections and IUI (Intrauterine insemination). In my heart, I felt sure it would work again. Four failed treatments later, with every unsuccessful cycle my devastation grew and my hope diminished. I could write whole chapters about this, and one day I might, but suffice it to say, infertility is excruciatingly heartbreaking to endure. The price a woman pays is unjustly high, emotionally, mentally, and physically. I look back and think about where I was in limbo as a mama musician. If I had been touring at the time, I would have had to cancel almost nine months of dates to have my treatments. The way fertility protocols work, your appointments are scheduled day to day, with frequent blood-work and ultrasounds. There is really no option but to stay close to home. It's funny how these sorts of things often work out just like they are supposed to, isn't it?
We met with the doctor again in July 2014. She told us in no uncertain terms that the odds were not in our favor, and we had reached the end of the road. Due to my age, IVF (in vitro fertilization) would be our only remaining option. During that season, I recall saying to David that I will know in my gut when I am able to let go of hope and stop trying. Gratefully, I never reached that place. I began my first round of IVF on my 40th birthday. Four weeks later, we found out I was pregnant with Hollis. We felt indescribable joy and gratitude, and Beatrice was over the moon to be a big sister.
I've written extensively about the craziness that ensued during my pregnancy and the years following, so you can search out the gritty details if you're interested. The simplest version I know that isn't just a list goes something like this: My pregnancy with Hollis had complications. He was healthy and growing great, but I was diagnosed with a condition called Vasa Previa. There are two types, but mine involved his tiny fetal blood vessels growing and embedded across my cervix. Simply put, if my cervix dilated at all, he would bleed out and die, and they couldn't save him. Diagnosis of the condition is rare because the cases are most often discovered when a mother delivers vaginally and the baby dies. Upon diagnosis, I was suddenly hospitalized at 31 weeks, and Hollis was miraculously delivered alive via C-section at 35 weeks. At birth, he couldn't breathe due to wimpy white boy lungs. Hollis spent 11 days in the NICU, about a week of which were terrifying. He came home safe with us at last on May 16th, 2015.
I was released from the hospital 5 days after Hollis' birth. On the night I arrived home after a month away, Beatrice had a seizure in her crib and was taken by ambulance to Children's. David carried her lifeless and limp body into our room. I will never forget the sight. I don't have words to convey the level of hysterics I was in as the ambulance pulled up and wheeled my daughter into the ER while my son was upstairs struggling to breathe in the NICU, and I had just been released that evening. I had come completely undone. It turned out Beatrice had a febrile seizure from fever, and was going to be fine, but the trauma of that time in our lives has taken a marked and intense toll.
We spent the quiet summer mostly at home, relishing the calm, getting to know Hollis, and adjusting our bearings with the man-to-man defense that is parenting more than one child at a time. Beatrice was set to start her first year of preschool in August. The day before Meet the Teachers, David suffered a partial spontaneous retinal detachment and had emergency surgery. That medical ordeal coupled with the separation of school would serve as the trigger for Beatrice's dormant trauma surrounding Hollis' birth. It would be nearly eight months before we saw the joy come back to her eyes and heard her laugh again. I can't properly iterate the devastation and heartbreak of that time as her mama.
In the spring of 2016, I had an oral surgery go sideways on me with ample complications, including nerve damage and my jaw going numb. Not a great outcome for a singer! Come May, David and the kids were in a car wreck, thankfully unharmed but for the totaled car, and the next week our hotel was washed out by a flash flood during the Kerrville Folk Festival. Hollis had major surgery in June on an issue we were aware of from his birth, and July found David having the first of two major cataract surgeries, partially due to the previous detached retina. As I drove him home from surgery, in a haze of trauma and exhaustion, I slammed my van into a large cement pole in the parking lot of Walgreens while getting a prescription he needed. To this day, I cannot believe it happened. Not to be outdone, August gave us the gift of a second cataract surgery- for his other eye. And the icing on the cake was when his other retina spontaneously detached on September 23rd, 2016 and he was again rushed for emergency surgery. I remember the date because I had a show at The Blue Door that night.
I'm not generally known as a negative person, so please don't hear me whining. A ton of other hard and somewhat insane things happened, but this is the highlight reel as I best recall. It was the worst of times, and it was the... worst of times. The hits just kept on coming, but no one was paying us royalties. I do believe suffering is relative, and there are people with much, MUCH harder paths than we faced. That being said, I won't diminish what we went through or the toll it has taken in the years since. We spent those years barely surviving. Motherhood was about keeping my people ALIVE. Music was the thing I longed for to help me make sense of it, but it was all too harsh and fast and too much to process in real time. And again, isn't it peculiar how things work out? I don't know of ANY. WAY. HUMANLY. POSSIBLE. I could have been on the road and managing touring through those years.
And in the lonely dark middle of the night with my not-sleeping babies, I wondered if I my career had met its end.