Striped & Scarred & Stretched & Sublime & SUPPORTED ( my 4th Trimester Bodies Project Experience)

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Support: to give approval, comfort, or encouragement to. To be actively interested in and concerned for the success of…
synonyms: comfort, encourage, sustain, buoy up, hearten, fortify, console, solace, reassure

Before I had my son, during my pregnancy, I felt that I had very little support…don’t get me wrong, I had A LOT of people that were excited for us, happy for us, people that couldn’t wait to squeeze our precious baby and shower us with gifts. But the people I needed, the people/women/mothers that I worked hard to find we’re ultimately the ones that would get me through my pregnancy, birth, postpartum and Motherhood as it is today.

These are amazing women that know the struggles, both emotionally and physically of entering into Motherhood, who show compassion and support all because they are passionate about it and want to see others have a great experience. Sometimes, a better experience than they did.

I was the first of my close friend group to be having a baby, I was one of the very few women in my family planning to breastfeed ( neither my mother, her mother or my husband’s mother had ever breastfed) and I was the first to be attempting a home birth. For all of these realities, I needed to look out of my “box” for support. I was suddenly flooded with friends with kids that I had known from the past or just met, I started joining groups like Le Leche League for breastfeeding support and gaining knowledge from my midwife about birth and breastfeeding. My husband of course was tremendously supportive of all of my wants, needs and plans. But when it really came down to it, I needed more. I discovered online support like Birth Without Fear where I was able to read hundreds of stories of women that had traumatic births, beautiful births, loss and joy and everything in between. It helped me learn that no experience was the same and we all have our unique story to tell. Most of all I learned that I could go through all this and feel more than ordinary doing it, I could feel empowered as a women and enter into Motherhood with strength and confidence.

My due date came and passed.

These resources became even more important now, going post-dates was very normal. I waited confidently that my baby would come on his own time.

At 41 weeks +3 days, I was starting to lose it. I scheduled a visit with my back up OB and got an ultrasound to make sure everything was looking normal. He was perfect and estimated to be 9lbs. I thought…”ok, no problem…these are usually over estimated by a pound or more”. We all agreed ( including my midwife) that we were not going past 42 weeks. My induction was scheduled for later in the week.

The next days were very emotional for me as I felt my home birth slipping away. But the morning of our scheduled induction I went into labor on my own. 14 hours of early labor at home, a check-up from my midwife and a long relaxing day resulted in slow progress. We decided to head to the hospital. I thank God that I was in active labor when I arrived and labored naturally and fairly quickly for 18 hours. I was fully dilated for 7.5 hours with no pressure, no need to push and my boy was not in the least bit interested in moving down. I consented to a C-section and immediately started to grieve the birth I wanted but didn’t get to have. I had an amazing, strong and beautiful boy at 9 lbs 8 oz and 23″ long. For that I will always be grateful. I certainly can’t argue with success but I pray for a VBAC with our next baby.

Shortly after shedding the weight of an almost 10 lb baby and nursing was going great, I lost the majority of the weight I had gained. But my body was revealing to be much different. I would see my body in the mirror, see my scar, my stretch marks and all of the loose skin that was once stretched around my son. I had never felt more beautiful in my skin than when i was pregnant. Now, I wasn’t sure what to feel about it, but I knew I didn’t feel confident anymore and I didn’t feel beautiful or sexy anymore. Thinking about anyone seeing it, even my husband, was down right embarrassing. I realized I was never prepared for this part, I had never found my support for this part.

Thankfully, I found Ashlee Wells Jackson and her amazing calling, The 4th Trimester Bodies Project. I would find myself reading the stories and scrolling the gallery of pictures of real, raw, beautiful mothers daily. My confidence began to grow again. My self-worth began to increase again. I wasn’t the ONLY mother out there that looked, felt and WAS different now. I felt supported in this new body of mine. This project truly inspired me and I knew I needed to be a part of it in hopes to help grow the project and help inspire others as well.

I was blessed to participate in the project on March 8th, 2014 which was so special to me because it was my son’s actual due date. Meeting Ashlee, her daughter Nova and her business partner and make-up artist Laura Weetzie Wilson was such an exciting honor. Our session was very relaxed, comfortable and focused on myself, my son and our story. We chatted casually about natural skin care and healthy lifestyle while my son and Nova played and I was pampered with hair and make-up. The shoot itself was quick and my interview was a fantastic way for me to tell our story. I only wish I would have prepared myself better for it…once the camera was on I sort of froze up. I know that I have my own unique experience to tell, but I also know there are many women with much more painful stories than mine and many with very healing and joyful stories.

This is the picture chosen for the gallery and eventually the book.

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I had a hard time choosing an image out of the many that Ashlee took. Mainly because I am still struggling to see my body look the way it does now. I look at this image and wish I would have looked confidently at the camera, in a “look at my body now! Look at what it did!” kind of way. Instead, I see a women that is confident in mothering but is still hiding herself. I am thankful to see that, it’s the reality that I am still on a journey of self-discovery and of self-love. I don’t know how a few months, more pregnancies and births or years will impact my body in the future. But I know now that there is support there for me to turn to.

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Thank you Ashlee for your support, for spending your time dedicated to this message and for spreading love and empathy among women.

Our Plan that didn’t go as Planned, the story of Lochlan’s birth

I might as well start from the very beginning…
Anthony and I married on August 6th, 2011 after dating and creating a home together for 4 years.

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Our home at the time consisted of 2 “matching” cats, Pip (I owned previous to our relationship) and Rocky who we adopted together as a kitten. Anthony is a HUGE Rocky Balboa fan and his family is all from Philly…so I let him name the cat Rocky instead of our poor future son. That way one day I would be able to tell him “no we can’t name our son after the cat!”

Once settled in our home prior to our marriage, we began talking to a breeder of Great Danes. I have always wanted one and as a newly graduated Vet Tech at the time, I was ready! Our breeder’s female was pregnant and we were so excited to be getting our puppy. Her due date came and passed…she was not pregnant and instead going through a false pregnancy. It was surprisingly heartbreaking at the time, it was as if we had a miscarriage! Soon after she became pregnant for real, this time ultrasound confirmed, and our 1st born baby boy was born on the 4th of July, 2009.

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We brought him home at the end of August and watched him grow into his 160 lb body over the following 2 years. His name is Zen and he was our 1st pride and joy, we take him just about everywhere with us and we never get far because of all the attention he gets from people.
Now skipping ahead to what this post is really about…

June 29th, 2012…I woke up at 5am and just knew I had to take a pregnancy test. The previous 5 days or so I was having some strange thoughts about being pregnant, like in Yoga class the Monday prior I was meditating and having thoughts about whether or not I should do sit-ups while being pregnant. At the moment I thought it was odd to be thinking of such a thing. I also had a dream that I was bowling while 6 months or so pregnant…I don’t even bowl. These intuitive thoughts led me to ask my co-worker for a pregnancy test she had left over when she found out about her soon-to-be son. I took it home that Thursday night and that Friday early morning is when I sat straight up in bed and just knew I had to confirm it on that pee stick! Anthony and I were not really trying and not being the most careful at the time either…I wasn’t even supposed to get my period for another 4 days or so (and I was always on time). As I watched that pregnancy test, I was in complete shock as it turned to the pregnant blue plus sign in just a couple seconds…there was no doubt! I think I stared at it for several minutes in disbelief and unable to move or react. Once brave enough I walked out of our bathroom, looked at Anthony still sleeping and said in a sweet, drawn out voice “Huuuunnnnneeeeyy…” I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him react as fast as he did! He flew up out of bed, blankets and sheets flying “what, what WHAT!?” I climbed into bed and put that pee stick right in his face and said “look!” Well, he didn’t have his glasses on yet and with tired eyes had no idea what he was looking at! He asked what it said and I said we were Pregnant! He was shocked as well, but in a good way. He grabbed me up and held me for what seemed like a very long time, just in silence and love. We weren’t exactly prepared for this, but whoever is right? Over the course of our work days I checked in with him to make sure he was handling the news well and my heart was content because he was even more excited than I was in those moments.
One of the first things I did was contact a birth center I had been interested in for a long time prior, they wanted to see us for a meet and greet session whenever we were able and then would not actually see us for an appointment until I was 9 weeks along. I had been filling Anthony with natural birth, midwife and home water birth information for quite some time, so he was not surprised when I wanted to pursue the birth center and it happened to be about an hour drive from our house. Our meet with our Midwife was wonderful, we left the birth center feeling so comfortable and excited to be birthing there.

Our first official appointment revealed good and bad news. Good news was our little baby had a good strong heart beat that we heard for the first time, it was amazing. Bad news was that due to financial reasons the birth center would be closing after 10+ years of operation. The easy decision at the time for me was to have our midwife come to our house for a home water birth, now to get Daddy on board…

Over the several weeks and continued monthly visits he came around to the idea, grew comfortable with the plan and was an awesome advocate for me when family was worried about our decision to birth at home. My first trimester was like most mommy’s, could not wait for it to be over! Nauseous all the time, hard to eat or drink anything and tired. We went to Atlantic City (from Michigan) for our 1st year anniversary in August and I wish I could say I had a good time…the only good part was the waffle makers at the hotels we stayed in (not something my healthy eating habits would normally allow, but I had to eat something and it made me happy at the time).
Also around that time I did a quick ultrasound on myself (standing) at work, just to take a quick peek…it still wasn’t real to me. Then I saw our little peanut and it took my breath away; I was sooo shocked that there really was a baby in there!

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Second Trimester was amazing! I loved being pregnant, loved showing off my growing belly, I felt great, best energy I’ve had in a long time and I felt the most beautiful I’ve ever felt in my life! Our 20 week ultrasound day came and Anthony could not stand to wait till birth to find out if our baby was a girl or boy. So I made a deal with him…He would get to find out on his birthday and his birthday party became a gender reveal party with family and friends.
So at our ultrasound I had the tech write the gender in his birthday card and seal it and also write it on a blank card and seal it for me to give to the cake baker. I had a cake made, inside was either pink or blue and we were going to cut the cake together at his party to reveal what baby was! It was so much fun, but of course Anthony still couldn’t wait. I let him open his birthday card the night before…his prayers were answered and he was getting his BOY! Family and Friends gathered and we ate blue cake!

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The following months moved along as time and life do normally.

I flew to Chicago for a girls trip with my mom, sister, aunt and grandma…of course lots of money was spent on this little boy and I have a souvenir photo of him in my belly in front of “The Bean”.

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Christmas was a very exciting time for everyone to start showering baby with lots of gifts and we imagined what next Christmas was going to be like with a 9-month old baby boy, we couldn’t wait!

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Following the Holiday festivities, came 3 baby showers thrown for this already spoiled little Mister! We are so grateful for all the hard work, thoughts and love put into these showers and all of the wonderful gifts we received!

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At 36 weeks along I was really excited to do some professional maternity pictures. Anyone that knows me, knows that I love to be in front of the camera and I’m not afraid to show a little skin either…or they may say I’m not very modest-oops (But it is always tasteful). It’s shocking for me to look back and see how big my belly was getting by this time and to think I was still pregnant for 6 more weeks after these pictures were done! These were right before I started exploding with stretch marks, that I now proudly wear!

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Due Date came and Went….Our birth tub had been set up for about a week now and everything was ready to go for our peaceful home water birth.

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People said…”are you sure there aren’t 2 babies in there?” I was sure….I was surprisingly comfortable too…I was pregnant for 2 more full weeks after this picture…I was ready to meet our boy.

Right around this time I was off work, sitting at home resting and relaxing as much as I could and bored as heck, waiting around for labor to begin. Many nights I woke to strong contractions that turned out to be false alarms. This was the hardest part of my pregnancy by far…I’m not the most patient of people and God was certainly testing that and teaching me how to be. One day I had turned on A Baby Story on TLC, which I tried never to watch because it often showed birth in a way that I was not preparing for. But I’m thankful for watching this particular episode because the name Lochlan was born. I said it over and over in my head, out loud and yelled it a couple times in my “angry mommy voice”…just for practice. I texted the name to Anthony and immediately he texted back with “I love it!”. We had thought baby boy’s name was going to be Landon for a while now, but we would decide for sure once we saw him. Now it was between Lochlan and Landon once he showed us his sweet little face.

As days still passed frustration was setting into both of us heavily. The Monday of 41+ 3 days, I woke up around 5 am with uncontrollable emotion and fear…I just could not believe this baby didn’t want to come out! I was most upset because I could feel MY BIRTH slipping away. I spoke with my Midwife that morning and decided to see my OB to have an ultrasound done and make sure everything was looking well enough to continue.
That afternoon, we had a very positive appointment with our OB, ultrasound showed high fluid levels still, baby was happy and healthy and estimated at 9lbs…oh boy! Our OB stripped my membranes and claimed that would get labor started very soon, he said I would be fine having this big boy at home and that he hoped to not see me after this. I was 1 cm dilated that day and about 70% effaced.
The days continued with no more signs of progression. Wednesday my Midwife came for our normal weekly visit and checked me again, no change in dilation but thinned out more. We all came to the agreement that I would not go passed 42 weeks and therefore my induction was scheduled for the following (Thursday) evening. Induction was the second to last thing I wanted to experience, C-section was the last. Anthony took the tub down, boxed it up and sent it with our Midwife that afternoon. I cried for hours…
The following morning at 4am REAL labor contractions started. Apparently that was the eviction notice this baby needed! I called our Midwife and she planned to come over around 11am. Contractions were about 10 minutes apart still but definitely different than ones prior. My mom came to visit and brought yummy breakfast and I continued to relax and focus through each contraction. Throughout the day they became as close as 5 minutes apart, staying consistent and increasing intensity. I declined another cervical check when our Midwife came over because I didn’t want to get discouraged. Anthony brought all of our birth tub stuff back into our room just in case we were staying home.
Around 4 pm things were still seeming slow, contractions were now back to 10-15 minutes apart, so Anthony and I just decided that it was best to go to the hospital that night. I hoped we were going to be able to use very little intervention to get things moving once we got there. Rest time was over, I was scrambling to get things ready to go while Anthony went to pick up my dinner of choice…knowing we would not be fed at all at the hospital. I ate a huge portion of my favorite pasta and shortly after ACTIVE labor started!
Our 15 minute drive to the hospital was frustrating, miserable and funny all at the same time. We joked that this baby boy could not make up his mind! My contractions were very intense and 2-3 minutes apart the whole way there. I could hardly check myself in and was taken right to our delivery room. Walking down the hall we were introduced to our nurse for the night and I explained that this was as far from my plan as I could get and that we were planning on a home water birth with our Midwife. I will never forget the words that came out of her mouth and how it made me feel, she quickly answered “Well…you are safer here anyway”. It took every ounce of my being to not turn around and run out of there…sometimes I wish I still would have.
Thank goodness I had typed and printed several copies of my very specific birth plan wishes! Although, now I’m told it was the worst thing I could have done…Jinx! By the way answering 100 questions while trying to labor is pure torture…
I agreed to have a port placed in my arm and to wear external monitors around my belly but declined everything else…and to me these were bad enough. They both drove me crazy as a moved around the room. Once questioning was complete…probably 2 hours after getting settled in, my cervical check was 3 cm, I was excited.
I continued to do everything I thought I knew how to do, listened to my body, stayed inside of myself, used meditation and prayer to get me through each and every contraction. I felt so empowered and proud of myself after every contraction was complete, reminding myself each time that it was another one closer to meeting my son and I would never have to feel THAT contraction again. After a couple hours I had developed a good pattern of attack on how to handle my pain, Anthony frequently reminded me when I would break my breathing pattern for a grunt or scream. I curled my toes as hard as a could and kept my mouth open as I breathed out every contraction as if to blow it away with my breath. I remembered open, relaxed jaw meant open cervix. Thank God it was working…my next cervical check only 2-3 hours later I was at a 7! By 3 am I was at a 9.5, with just a small amount of cervical lip left. I couldn’t believe I had done so well, neither could the staff on the other side of the door. Our nurse told us how surprised they all were that I progressed so quickly. I never really knew that I had gone through transition and I was glad. I was proud of myself once again and Anthony never left my side.
By this time I had in my head that I would be meeting my baby soon (probably around 5 or 6am). My contractions were further apart now, around 10 minutes, but extremely intense and lasting 2 minutes each time. I will never forget how awesome it felt between these contractions…I fell asleep almost every time! I had this “high”, endorphins surging and soothing me…I can actually say that I loved those moments (which for hours now I had no perception of time). There was even a moment in between that I felt so good I was in the bathroom fixing my hair and telling Anthony to have the camera ready cause baby was coming soon and I wanted to look good for that “love at first sight” picture.
Well…that’s when we continued to wait some more. I continued to have control of my pain and conquered each contraction like I was climbing a mountain, never the same mountain…lots of really steep mountains. By far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Hours past unknown to me. After 3 more hours I was checked again and was the same (9.5, considered fully dilated because the Resident could move the cervical lip around babies head). I stood in the shower for 20 minutes with the hot water scolding my back, Anthony was concerned it was actually burning my skin but I of course kept telling him it wasn’t hot enough. It felt amazing. I never wanted to get out, expect until I was sweating and over heating so terribly that I was ready to get out.
After 2 more hours of moving, repositioning, sitting on the ball, squatting, etc. Baby boy was not moving down into position. I still had no pressure or urge to push after 5 hours. So I agreed to let them break my water. Hindsight I think I would have not had this done. I knew that I wanted it intact until it broke on it’s own because baby had his cord wrapped around his neck (seen on ultrasound that Monday) and I wanted the bag of waters to serve as a cushion. But we can only do what we think is best in the moment…it was a huge gush, and with every contraction another huge gush. I thought I had done the right thing and hoped baby would now want to come out very soon.
Hours past, again with no change in baby’s position and no urges to push. My OB came in…I’m sure you can guess what he said. I sat on the ball and wouldn’t look at him as he told me he thought this was going to end in a C-section. I was now angry and told him I did not do all this incredible work for things to end that way. He was fine with letting me go as long as I wanted because baby was handling everything fine. This is the time I wished I would have had my Midwife there or at least on the phone…hindsight. She was actually never on my mind that I remember at the time. Why? Couldn’t tell you…I didn’t know what else to do. I was asking my nurse why he wasn’t budging but not getting any answers except that I was doing everything right (she has had 2 C-Sections, so really couldn’t help me), I was never told what position he was in, that may have helped me think of a better position to put myself in (I think he was probably posterior, as he had been in the end weeks of pregnancy).

Then advice from Midwifes on staff came through the door…what I would have given for an actual Midwife to come through the door. I was told to lie on my left side for 45 minutes. This was the first time I was even lying in the bed besides for my cervical checks. After that 45 minutes I would need to get up and do 2 other exercises, hoping this would help him move down. Anthony saw this as his opportunity to go update family in the waiting room (now around Noon and about 16 hours of Labor) and get something to eat. Next time I will remember to pack him better snacks, but again we planned on being in the comfort of our own home.

I was alone for about 20 minutes, I laid there praying. I was losing control of my emotions and the pain of every contraction. Hindsight makes me wonder if that’s what I needed to do, I wished I had support there to tell me to keep fighting. Suddenly I felt a huge rush of what I call God-given intuition…it was time to set MY plan aside, it was time to meet my son.
Anthony came back to my side and the poor man couldn’t even eat his sandwich he had finally gotten because I told him to get the nurse or the doctor or whoever and take me for that dreaded C-Section. I cried hysterically once I heard those words leave my lips. I told Anthony that I was most concerned about how baby would nurse, him being alone and not skin-to-skin with me immediately and I feared postpartum depression because this was so far beyond my original plan.
I could care less about my self at that moment, surgery itself didn’t scare me…after all I had seen C-sections done on dogs and cats hundreds of times as a Vet Tech. I told myself this decision, this C-section does not define me, it does not mean failure. I have to remind myself that still everyday even 5 months later.
Once this decision was made, I lost control over my pain…I would not have described my 18 hours of active labor painful, was it hard? Hell YES!! But I ROCKED it and I made sure I told that to everyone I saw in that hospital. They agreed.
I was not an emergency surgery, thank you Lord, but that meant I had to wait…again. 2 more hours of what I now believed to be unproductive contractions (I had previously repeated to myself “pain is production” over and over and “God is my strength” through every contraction). This was by far the worst part. People rushed in to prep me for surgery: shaving my girl parts and placing a urinary catheter (with no drugs) was the most painful part of all and I hope to never experience that again! I chewed on some chalky, nasty antacid tablet so I would not vomit the gallons of water I drank over the last 18 hours; I’m so glad my nurse let me drink all the water I wanted. I laugh now thinking I said I would walk down to the OR and quickly changed my mind and wanted to stay laying in that bed to be wheeled down. Baby boy had the hiccups all the way down the hall into the OR. The nursing staff laughed with me about all of his movements they could see in my belly…baby boy was still perfectly content.
The last, worst part was getting my spinal. Not the injection itself but the fact that I had to be shoved flat on my back hugely pregnant on a hard table hardly wider than my hips. I screamed like you wouldn’t believe. Anthony wasn’t in the room yet, at the time I wished he was holding my hand the entire time, now I’m glad he wasn’t, it would have scared him. I laid there for several seconds and felt as my feet went numb and then traveled up my body. Finally instant relief. I could never describe how wonderful that felt at the time, but still wish I could have gotten that feeling as my baby was born naturally. My eyes darted around the room looking for Anthony, it felt like forever that he wasn’t there. Finally he was at my side and was afraid to touch me due to the “sterile field”. I grabbed his hand and pulled him in as close as I could to my head poking out of that blue drape, saying “I don’t care! Hold me!”. Minutes later, there was our big baby boy…

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I remember thinking as they took him to get cleaned up, “that’s my baby?” I had no idea who he looked like. As I heard his distant cries I broke down crying myself and wanted to have him in my arms so badly. I think Anthony was cheering and telling me things like how proud of me he was, but I was so overwhelmed that I can’t recall any of his words or emotions. Finally, what seemed like far too long (maybe 5-7 minutes in reality) Anthony brought him over to me and I was able to touch him and kiss his sweet little cheeks.

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That was both wonderful and incredibly hard all at once, I wanted to hold him so desperately. I told Anthony he needed to take him and do skin-to-skin immediately. Anthony was reluctant to leave my side and the nurses were not so willing to let him. But I was adamant about my wishes and one very kind nurse made it happen.

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I know we will both cherish these pictures forever. This was such a special moment for my Husband and his son, I am glad that they were able to experience it. I was so relieved once baby was out and I knew he was safe and happy with Anthony…now I was able to almost take a nap while I was being sewn up on the operating table. My OB came and sat by me once he was done and congratulated me, told me what an awesome job I did and in “me” fashion I interrupted asking him if he would do a VBAC next time around. He said he would. He later mentioned that a scheduled C-section next time would be a smoother recovery, I told him I didn’t care. I was thankful to have FELT my 18 hours of drug-free labor and would do it all over again for even a 1% chance to have a vaginal birth.
Once I was in recovery, Anthony was rolling our baby in the room within minutes and was so excited to tell me that he would have no trouble nursing because he was already trying to on him!
I finally had my baby in my arms, it was an amazing moment. The nurses helped me latch him on and he went to town getting his first meal. I watched in awe as he knew exactly what to do and I waited for his eyes to lock with mine. When they did, I knew he would be the most important thing I have ever accomplished in my life. He became my whole world in one split second.

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Lochlan Joseph Gallagher was finally here! At 9lbs 8oz and 23 inches long! Born at 2:35pm on 3/22/13, exactly 42 weeks. He was pure perfection. He has been the most wide-eye, alert, strong and GOOD baby I’ve ever known. We love him more than we could ever measure. Our journey continues and I will share it with you here!IMG_0633

I want to thank GOD for supporting me through pregnancy, labor and delivery and blessing us with the most precious life gift, a healthy and strong baby boy. I want to thank my Husband for being my rock through it all, for loving me so much and supporting the way I wanted to birth. He is the most amazing dad! I want to thank our Midwife for our wonderful prenatal care and support after birth. I want to thank our OB for being a great surgeon when we needed it. I want to thank our family and friends for their love and support. Lastly, I want to thank Birth Without Fear Blog for being such a huge part of my mindset in planning this birth experience. I was able to experience a little bit of every kind of birth and I stayed strong through it all. Thank You!