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Baby on Board

I wrote this on New Year’s Eve but wasn’t quite ready to share it yet. We realized that TODAY everything is going perfectly and that should be celebrated without fear. My heart is full. Enjoy…

Reflecting on the past ten years and oh what a decade it has been!

In 2010 I graduated with my master’s and Ralf and I got engaged. I began my career as a speech-language pathologist.

At the beginning of 2011, we bought our home and at the end of 2011, we got married.

2012 was mostly a year of just enjoying each other and being newlyweds.

I think it was the beginning of 2013 that we bought our boat and started enjoying our sunset cruises around the lake.

I had a health scare in 2014 when I got diagnosed with my lymphoma that turned out to be a lot less serious than we originally thought. We decided to try to get pregnant shortly after and Mason was conceived.

The beginning of 2015 was the absolute hardest time of my life. I lost Ralf suddenly to brain cancer while I was 7 months pregnant. My little man made his debut in May of 2015 and saved me in more ways than he will ever know. He was the force that kept me going and hoping for a better life for both of us. Toward the end of 2015, I met Vinnie in person after connecting through a Facebook group for young widows and widowers. Our connection over similar losses sparked a friendship that grew into more.

In 2016 Vinnie moved down from New York to be with us in Florida. At the end of 2016 we decided to move to a new town where we could start our own story together.

We suffered through our first miscarriage in 2017.

In 2018 we had another miscarriage shortly after we decided to get married. We had a perfect, intimate, and very emotional wedding in September.

The beginning of 2019 brought a wonderful job opportunity for Vinnie. We decided to try again and had our third miscarriage. It was devastating. We underwent testing to search for some answers and received none. Everything was absolutely normal. Mason started asking for a sibling incessantly and so we decided to try one more time, despite being very scared.

Now at the end of 2019 we find ourselves 9 weeks pregnant with a baby whose heartbeat is very strong. This pregnancy has looked healthy from the beginning (as evidenced by my nausea and fatigue). We know so very well that nothing is guaranteed in this life, but we are ending this year full of gratitude and hope.

In my heart I believe that 2020 will be the year that we become a family of four.

2020 will be the year I get to witness Mason become a wonderful big brother.

2020 will be the year that I will get to welcome a new life into this world with my husband at my side, holding my hand, as it should be.

And with all the surprises, new blessings, and challenges that are sure to come our way, the one thing I know for certain is that we will get through it all.

Cheers to 2020!

💙,

Maeghan

Forever Young

We were both just 28 years young when you died. Do you remember how I used to tease you by telling you that you were in your prime and that it would all be downhill from here? Somewhere, in an article most likely lacking any kind of empirical research or actual quantifiable data, one of us had read that men “peak” at 28, while women don’t until their mid thirties or so. As per our usual banter, I’d remind you of this constantly. I’d playfully call you an old man even though you were only a whopping 5 days older than me. Leave it to you to go out at the top of your game – I really shouldn’t even be surprised. Of course I say this jokingly, and yet, I know that somewhere you are smirking to yourself every time you catch me plucking a newly discovered gray hair or making funny faces in the mirror to assess the progression of my crow’s feet.

WE were at the top of our game.

So many years of hard work and dedication to get to where we were, and so much to experience ahead. We had the careers we wanted, our dream home, and our baby boy on the way. Everyone knew you’d soon be a lieutenant, and that you’d continue climbing the ranks in years to come. Everything was seemingly falling into place and life was following our perfectly orchestrated little plan.

Until the unthinkable happened.

I am now living a completely tangent life. When I really stop and think about it, I still almost can’t believe it. So often I ask myself what you would say about the countless changes I’ve undergone since your physical departure. Sometimes I wonder if you’d even still recognize me at all. But then I am reminded that you always knew my heart, and that hasn’t changed a bit. Whenever there is a whisper of doubt, a voice from deep within my spirit tells me how proud you are of me.

Here’s what I believe you already know: I’m happy. I have my struggles and my bad days, life keeps on swinging, but I’m happy. I really, truly am. I miss you always and your name continues to roll off my tongue like butter, often still in the present tense. You are spoken of daily and your son knows very well who his Daddy in Heaven is, although he’s been blessed with a Daddy on Earth who loves him the way you would have. I know that you take comfort and can rest easier knowing that I found a man who loves and cherishes me the way he does.

I imagine you, wherever you are, forever in your prime.

Forever young.

Forever remembered.

Forever loved.

 

Ralf Sunset Boat

From Ashes to Beauty

You were never supposed to happen to me.

This is a love that was not part of my plan.

But then life happened the way it did.

It shattered.

Into a million jagged pieces on the floor.

Fragments of broken dreams that could never fit back together the way they once did.

And they don’t.

But that’s the point.

Somehow you helped me revive the remnants of my heart, by intertwining them with yours.

You gave me the courage to dream again.

To hope for the future.

I can’t promise you that it will be free of pain, but I can promise to hold your hand through every challenge and rejoice with you through every blessing.

I can’t promise you that loving each other will always be easy, but I can promise to always fight for us.

I can’t promise to be the perfect wife, but I can promise to always have your best interest at the core of every decision I make.

I can’t promise that I’ll be here for the rest of your life, but I can promise to love you, to cherish you, to be loyal to you, and to honor you for the rest of mine.

And together, hand in hand, we shall continue to build beauty from our ashes.

 

http://michelleguzman.com/
Photo by Michelle Guzman

Our Struggle with Pregnancy Loss

“I want a brother or sister.”

Words spoken so innocently, so genuinely.

Words that stabbed my heart in a way that he, of course, could not understand.

We were in Buffalo visiting Vinnie’s family. It was also my parents’ first trip to his hometown. We were all together in the van, on our way to drop my parents off at their hotel for the evening.

The car went silent.

There was an unspoken, collective feeling of sorrow.

“Oh Baby Boy, if you only knew.”

I remember when Vinnie and I first decided we’d try to get pregnant. It was shortly after Mason’s second birthday. We knew how much Mason needed a sibling, and we both so desperately wanted to share the experience of welcoming a baby into this world alongside our partner – a milestone we’d both been cheated out of reaching with our late spouses.

It happened pretty quickly. We found out early August, on my mom’s birthday, that I was about 4 weeks pregnant. We were so excited and couldn’t wait to share the news. We told our parents right away, even though it would be several weeks before my first prenatal visit. We also told Mason that Mommy had a baby growing in her belly, a concept he couldn’t quite grasp, but was excited about nonetheless. I remember him lifting up my blouse and asking, “Where is it?”

Five weeks went by and it was finally time for our appointment. Vinnie and I waited anxiously for the ultrasound to begin. The technician explained that she would be checking some of my anatomy before looking at the baby. Everything seemed okay at first, but once the baby was visible on the screen, her facial expression changed.

“Unfortunately, there is no heartbeat,” she said.

We were then ushered to another room where we would discuss options with the doctor. She recommended I undergo a D&C since my body wasn’t showing any signs of starting the miscarriage on its own. We received this news the day after Vinnie and Erica’s wedding anniversary and the procedure would take place on Ralf’s birthday.

Unbelievable.

I was so fearful of the anesthesia and something horrible happening, but I trusted my doctor’s judgement and went forward with the plan. While I was being prepped for surgery, I had multiple nurses offer me condolences for my loss.

“If they only knew,” I thought.

Just a couple days after that, feeling awful both physically and emotionally, we decided to evacuate because of Hurricane Irma and the uncertainty of the storm’s path. Vinnie didn’t want me dealing with the added anxiety of being stuck in a dark, scorching hot house for days. We secured our home, loaded up the car with the essentials, and headed to Alabama to stay with my brother and his girlfriend. All while Mason was sick with a cold and very high fever. It was, to date, the most stressful and challenging time of our relationship.

Six months passed and we decided to try again. It took a little longer this time, but I got pregnant within two months. We were scared but mostly optimistic. I told myself I wouldn’t get too excited until we officially heard the heartbeat. Vinnie and I both lit up when we saw the flicker on the screen.

One-hundred seventeen beats per minute. Loud and clear.

All signs pointed to a viable pregnancy. Although we knew we still shouldn’t get our hopes up until reaching the 12 week mark, we couldn’t help it. We had names picked out. We were making plans for the nursery. We just knew everything would be fine and this would be our rainbow baby.

We decided we wanted to get married before the baby’s arrival.

One week before our second prenatal appointment, we announced the exciting news to our parents and our siblings. We also told them that we wanted to have a very intimate wedding in just 2 months. Everyone was ecstatic and the nuptials were planned in less than a week. Flights were booked. Hotel reservations were made. The venue was contracted. Everything had seemingly fallen into place.

Then, one evening, I started to bleed. I called the doctor’s office first thing next morning and they said I shouldn’t panic because spotting during the first trimester is usually not a cause for concern. I begged them to squeeze me in at some point that day so that we could have some peace of mind, given all that we’d both been through. They agreed. We arrived at the clinic and the technician asked me some questions before performing the ultrasound. I knew what was happening as soon as I noticed that the flicker we’d seen during our previous visit was no longer on the screen.

“Are we missing a heartbeat?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

The dam broke. So many tears.

To top it all off, this happened on Vinnie’s birthday. I remember thinking to myself, “What kind of cruel joke is this? Please tell me how this isn’t supposed to feel personal at this point. How much more will we be asked to take?”

The technician left to give us a few moments to ourselves and then once again led us into another room to wait for the doctor. At this point we were both breaking the news to our parents.

Vinnie looked at me through tear-filled eyes and asked, “Do you still want to marry me?”

“Of course I do.”

The doctor walked in with a look on her face that suggested she knew very well that there were no comforting words she could offer. We discussed options once again. She felt I could “successfully miscarry” this time without surgery, with the help of some medication, since my body was already starting to reject the baby. We decided to take that route because we were in horrible debt from the previous D&C due to my hospital deductible being so high. We picked up Mason from school, went home to quickly pack our bags, stopped at Walgreens for my medication, and headed down to Miami so that we’d have help with Mason while we endured this horrible process.

While I have to admit that I didn’t feel as much physical pain as I’d anticipated (perhaps because of the additional pain meds I was prescribed), the emotional trauma of seeing our unborn baby at the bottom of a toilet bowl, and watching Vinnie fish it out to place it in a receptacle that we would have to return to the doctor’s office, is indescribable. The “specimen” was sent off for “fetal testing” that never occurred because apparently it did not arrive to the lab in time. We never got a clear answer as to who messed up – the clinic or the lab. Regardless, the point is that we never got any kind of closure or explanation.

As difficult as it was, Vinnie and I made the decision to focus our energy on our upcoming wedding. It was an emotional ceremony and a beautiful day filled with so much love. But I know that in our hearts we both silently acknowledged the absence of one special participant.

Trying again is off the table, indefinitely. We are working on our own well being and making sure we each get to a really good place, emotionally and physically, before deciding what we are going do. I know we would love another baby and to give Mason a brother or a sister, but I also know that we can’t continue to experience  so much pain. Maybe, in time, we will find the courage and our perspective will change, but for now we are at peace with the way things are.

We’ve also learned just how committed we are to getting through anything together, as a couple – and that’s a blessing I will never take for granted.

A Love Without Limits

Mason is finally asleep and I am very uncomfortably lying next to him in his Lightning McQueen bed. What a challenge bedtime was tonight! He is currently obsessed with legos and was building a firetruck with Vinnie as I told him it was time to go potty and then night-night. He threw a huge tantrum because there was one tiny little piece missing and he didn’t want to leave the truck unfinished. We tried reasoning with him and explaining it was already late and that we’d look again in the morning because the piece was nowhere to be found, but in true “threenager” fashion he dropped to the floor and screamed bloody murder for the godforsaken lego piece. (Can you tell what a huge fan I am?)

I was left with no other choice but to pick him up kicking and screaming and bring him to his bed. At first it was that defiant, exaggerated, and – for lack of a better word – bratty cry that small children often use when they don’t get their way. After a solid half hour or so, though, it turned into a genuine sob. He cried as if he’d lost the most important thing in the world to him. His cheeks were covered in his salty tears and his little squeals of agony were absolutely heart wrenching. So much so that the disciplinarian in me took a backseat to the nurturing mother that could not stand to see her baby in so much pain. I pulled him close, told him I was sorry he was so sad, and cried with him. Then I held him until he finally calmed down and closed his eyes.

He won’t remember this moment when he is older. Hell, it’ll probably be forgotten in the morning when he wakes up. Lord knows that legos are not worth that kind of heartache and that’s a lesson he will inevitably learn as he faces real challenges in his life, as we all do.

The truth is, it wasn’t about the lego for me. That little white snap block will turn up somewhere in this house and all will be right in Mason’s world once more.

What I was really thinking about in those moments was all the things I won’t be able to protect him from as he grows up. I hope he lives a wonderful life and that future struggles are minimal, but many things will be completely out of my control.

And then I thought about my mom.

What she must have felt witnessing me go through the darkest moments of my life and not being able to make it all go away. Watching me bury my husband with a huge pregnant belly and all the difficult changes I had to endure in such a short period of time thereafter. I know she would have traded places with me in a heartbeat to spare me from the pain I was feeling.

But she couldn’t.

There was nothing she could do other than to be there, listen, hold me as I cried, and support me unconditionally as I started to move forward with my new life. I hope, from the very bottom of my heart, that she knows that was enough and that the gratitude I feel for her during that time of my life is second to none.

And I hope one day Mason will look back on his life and remember a mom who’d do anything for him – even if it meant helping him build the same lego firetruck a million times to see him smile.

 

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Photo taken by Melissa Perez of Simply Captivating

A Call to Action

Written by a firefighter widow who lost her young husband to cancer, this article addresses the link between firefighting and cancer, as well as possible toxicity exposure affecting their loves ones.

I want to share something that many of you may not already know. In August of 2014, I was diagnosed with a form of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma called Mycosis Fungoides. I was first diagnosed by my dermatologist, who I went to see after some strange white patches appeared on my thigh. She performed a biopsy thinking it was probably psoriasis or severe eczema. I waited weeks for the results only to find out that they were delayed because the specimen was sent to multiple labs throughout the country as they tried to confirm what was a very, very rare diagnosis for a twenty-seven-year-old woman. The dermatologist then referred me to a hematologist/oncologist, explaining that I needed a physician who specialized in treating T-Cell lymphomas. I had to wait about 2 weeks to finally see the specialist and at that point all I knew was that I had lymphoma.

I was a MESS.

So scared.

I was already imagining having to go through chemotherapy, becoming infertile as a result and never being able to give Ralf a child, and even worse, leaving him behind to live this life without me.

Then, we were finally able to meet with the specialist and he put our minds at ease. He explained to us that because my skin lesions were limited to less than 10% of my body, that there was nothing to worry about. He went on to assure us that my condition was extremely unlikely to ever progress into anything further. That was the point when Ralf asked if we could proceed with our plans to soon start a family, to which the doctor replied, “Absolutely.”

Mason was conceived shortly after and, much to our surprise, Ralf was diagnosed with a brain tumor just 7 months later.

Once Ralf passed away, I started learning about the rising incidence of cancer among firefighters. One day, I had a thought that I was certain was ridiculous, but something in my gut told me it wouldn’t hurt to ask. So, I reached out to the doctor. Below is a direct quote taken from my email to him:

“When we met, you explained to me that not much is known about the causes of Mycosis Fungoides. I know it’s in no way as serious a diagnosis as my husband’s. However, in the research that I have done as a lay person, I know that my case is very rare given that I am a woman and am in my 20’s. I know this question may be very ignorant and extremely off base, but to your knowledge, are there any environmental risk factors for Mycosis Fungoides? I just find it so strange that both of us would acquire such rare diagnoses in such a short time frame. I couldn’t help but ask myself if having been exposed to his bunker gear, or washing his uniforms at home in our washer could somehow be related.”

This was his reply:

“There is some evidence that [Mycosis Fungoides] may be caused by exposures. Most cases, however, have no clear exposure.”

Now, I know this in no way proves that my condition was caused by exposure to toxins that Ralf brought home on his uniforms. The doctor clearly stated that the cause of most cases of Mycosis Fungoides is unknown. But the fact that it is at all possible, in my opinion, is enough to gain my attention. If you work in the fire service, or are a family member sharing a home with a firefighter, wouldn’t you prefer to know about all of the potential risks that are involved?

I’ll never be able to prove that Ralf’s death was caused by occupational cancer. Here’s what I have learned, though. Primary Cerebellar Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM) – the type of tumor that Ralf had – is extremely rare and accounts for just 1% of all cases of GBM. Ralf was otherwise completely healthy and had an unremarkable medical history. I wholeheartedly believe that toxicity exposure played a large role. And when you consider that cancer is the leading cause of firefighter line-of-duty deaths? I mean, come on.

If you’re a member of the fire service, wouldn’t you prefer to know about the potential risks that you are exposing yourself to, in order to preserve your health? Not only for yourself, but for your family and loved ones. To keep you around longer, not only to share special moments with them, but also so that you can continue doing the job that we know you love so much.

And if that isn’t already motivation enough – what about the possibility of exposing your family to these toxins? Would you knowingly put them in harm’s way? Of course not.

I believe Ralf would have wanted to be more educated on the topic, and I sure as hell wish I’d known more. I will never be able to understand why he had to be taken from us and why we have been left behind to continue this fight, but as Ralf loved to say, “It is what it is.”

Now it’s up to all of us – firefighters, fire families, concerned citizens, and legislators – to listen, to learn, and to act.

According to the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), cancer has caused 61% of career firefighter line-of-duty deaths since 2002.

That’s insane.

The link is undeniable.

And it needs to be taken seriously.

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Photo by Tina Bass Photography

Sources:

https://www.firefighterclosecalls.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/FF-Cancer-Fact-Sheet.pdfhttps://www.floridafirefightersafety.org/state-face-team/face-team-resources/ff-cancer-fact-sheet/viewdocument

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2588262/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/16215876/

For My Forever Hero

As many of you know, the anniversary of Ralf’s passing is approaching.

A few weeks ago, his father spoke at a firefighter symposium in Miami. When he told me about it, I expressed wanting to contribute somehow, but wasn’t sure what I could do. Then, the idea for this simple video came to me.

I share this not to make anyone sad, but rather to hopefully drive home a message that needs to be heard. If it inspires one member of the fire service – or one nagging and loving spouse, parent, or family member – to push for further education of the risks our firefighters face and to fight for the protections that they so deserve, then it has served a purpose.

Trust me, I’ve been there. You don’t actually think it can or will happen to you or the people closest to you.

Until it does.

How I wish that we’d known more, sooner.

As they say, when we know better, we do better.

Let’s work towards that.

,
Maeghan

 

Our Last Supper

Three years ago tonight, Ralf and I shared our last meal in our home together. Spaghetti and meatballs from one of our favorite local Italian joints – Ferrari’s.

I remember it well.

I asked if he would be okay with this dish yet again – because it was a frequent craving throughout my pregnancy – and he agreed. We had it delivered and then we sat next to each other at our kitchen counter, like we so often did. Now when I look back at this moment, I specifically remember resting my head on his shoulder and releasing a sigh of enjoyment as I devoured that first meatball.

“I don’t feel so good,” he said, with a mouth full of pasta.

“What do you feel?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I just feel off,” he explained.

“Yeah, you’ve been studying way too hard. You need a break.”

The promotional exam to become a lieutenant was just one week away. We were so close. He would be through with all the studying, his stress level would drop, and I’d have my husband back. We would finally be able to fully enjoy my pregnancy together. The maternity photo shoot was scheduled. He’d be able to join in on the baby shower planning and help me complete the registry – all of which I’d been doing without him because he was so preoccupied with preparing for his test. He would be building baby furniture and we’d be putting our son’s room together.

Finally.

Just seven more days.

I went to sleep much earlier than he did because, of course, he had to hit the books. Being the extremely light sleeper that I am, I woke up when I felt him climbing into bed hours later.

“Where are you?” he said, as he reached for me to pull me close.

“I love you so much, Maeghan. You really have no idea.”

This was not part of our regular bedtime routine. Sure, he told me he loved me regularly, but this time it was different. His tone of voice was serious, as if he needed to make sure I heard those words that night. It was as if he knew it would be the last night we would share in our bed.

Seven days later, he missed the exam because he was hospitalized awaiting his biopsy.

Eleven days later, he was removed from life support after his tumor unexpectedly ruptured and crushed his brain stem.

Three years later, I love and miss him just the same.

Death and Divorce: Comparing Apples to Oranges

My husband is gone.

Not gone like he stepped out to pick up some milk at the grocery store.

Not gone like working the night shift.

Not gone like on a fishing trip with his buddies.

Not even gone like staying elsewhere for a while as we try to figure out whether our relationship is still worth fighting for.

Gone like…gone….

To read full article, click here.

No such thing as planning in parenting

We’ve been going through a very difficult phase trying to decide whether or not naptime is still a necessity. Mason has never been a sound sleeper, but recently putting him to bed at night has become quite the ordeal.  Even if we start the process at 8:00pm, he sometimes takes over an hour to fall asleep. So, we decided to try skipping the mid-day snooze to see if that would help. Initially, it seemed to be working because he was drifting off more quickly at night, but then he started getting extremely cranky midafternoon. Eventually, I guess, the lack of sleep accumulated because he was absolutely miserable for 2 days straight. We attempted to dine out at restaurants twice over that weekend and had to leave before even placing our orders. Oh, and we received plenty of disapproving glares as we carried our kicking and screaming toddler out into the parking lot….

To read this full article, click here.