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This is the final installment (for now) in my infertility series.  I have delayed in posting it because the emotion is  still raw.  I do want to pause to give thanks for the number of personal notes I have received in response to my writings.  There have been words of encouragement, stories of hope and similar struggles and gratitude for having the courage to speak out.  Writing has always been an outlet for me, and I am glad to have a made a small impact on others, if only for a moment.

For DH and me, our miscarriage experience brought to light the fact that we were “trying.” They say ignorance is bliss, and we certainly found this to be true.  We were well aware that we were taking no precautions to prevent pregnancy, and at least 15 months had passed in this manner. We probably should have been concerned, but I think it helped that we were terrified by the notion of a second child for at least half that time period.  The fact that pregnancy #2 occurred without overthinking it was, well,  lovely.

Now we were determined more than ever to give J a baby brother or sister.  I, for one, was not looking forward to “trying,” but it ended up being less stressful than I anticipated.  DH was 100% on board, and it was like an unspoken agreement between us. I charted only once to make sure my cycle had not changed.  My periods were still like clockwork every 28 days with ovulation occurring around day 15. Seemingly perfect. Twelve months went by without success, and my OB-GYN urged me to go back to the reproductive endocrinologist. I was, after all, 35 and the clock was ticking.  Fifteen months went by, and this time it was DH who was dragging me to the RE’s office. What pushed me over the edge were the results of a blood test my OB-GYN ran. Anti-muellerian hormone, or AMH, is a substance produced by early ovarian follicles. It is thought to be an indicator of a woman’s remaining egg supply, her ovarian reserve. The normal range is 1.5-4. My result came back at 0.6. Time to see Dr. Magic.

The RE was not concerned with my AMH value quite yet. He said, it being a new test, there was a lot of potential for error if not performed by a reliable lab.  He sent me for a very thorough panel of bloodwork via ReproSource in Boston. All my values, including AMH, fell within the acceptable range, and my egg retrieval score was good, meaning average for my age. On my 36th birthday, I had a repeat HSG, and this was also normal. DH’s swimmers were deemed plentiful as well. We were so normal that we were given a diagnosis of “unexplained infertility.” Our recommended treatment plan was either continue on our own or try fertility drugs in an effort to speed up the clock.

We chose Clomid, which I took one time while trying to conceive J. As you may recall, I hated it.  I experienced all the listed side effects- hot flashes, night sweats, bloating, headaches, breast tenderness, extreme irritability. It was an evil little pill, and I was not excited to give it a second try.  I started my 5 days of pills and waited for the ugliness to begin. I waited. And waited. And waited. Still, I felt nothing. I told the doc as much when I saw him for my follow-up ultrasound.  My ovaries told a different story.  I had several mature follicles in each ovary. Sneaky Clomid!

The protocol is to have extra friendlies every other day while tracking luteinizing hormone with an ovulation predictor kit. Once the luteal surge is detected, ovulation is anticipated to occur the next day.  They gave me a lab slip to go for a pregnancy test 2 weeks after my surge. Not one for unnecessary bloodwork, I called the office the day the lab was due and told them I was going to skip it as I had taken several home pregnancy tests in anticipation and had yet to get a BFP. The secretary agreed but urged me to go if AF did not arrive within two days.  I decided to take one more HPT, and this time there was the faintest positive. When I looked back at the previous day’s test, there was also a very faint positive I had missed. Oh glorious Clomid!

I quickly snapped a pic of my test and made J pose for this adorable picture with her Cabbage Patch Doll (mine from my childhood). The shirt was handed down to us by her cousin, and I was saving it for a time when it rang true. I sent the pics off to DH and hopped in the car to get my bloodwork done.  DH was ecstatic. I was cautiously optimistic.  The projected due date was Oct 9, the day before DH’s bday and a week before our anniversary and my birthday. How could this fail?

A slight miscommunication between the hospital and lab resulted in a delay in receiving the results.  The blood test came back positive, although the HCG level was low. My progesterone, on the other hand, was through the roof, indicating that I had ovulated more than one egg.  My second blood test two days later revealed that the HCG had more than doubled so I was cleared to go one week before my next blood draw. I was feeling pretty confident at this point. My breasts were sore and enlarged. I was having minor cramping in my expanding uterus as I had with J. My belly was hard and swollen likely due to all the progesterone on board, but I preferred to think of it as a little baby belly.

And then it all fell apart.  I received a phone call after my third blood draw informing me that my HCG levels had remained low and had not come close to doubling as expected. The doctor was concerned I may be experiencing an ectopic pregnancy and wanted me to come in for an ultrasound the next day. DH was out of town on business, and I had to break the news to him on the phone. I also had to arrange for childcare for J so I could go to the ultrasound by myself. DH and I stayed up late talking on the phone and googling “HCG not doubling” and “ectopic.” We clung to hope from stories of other women with low HCG or suspected ectopic pregnancies who had gone on to birth healthy babies.

When I finally went for my ultrasound, all hopes were dashed. Although my HCG was rising just a tiny bit with each new set of bloodwork, the number was less than 500, grossly below what one would expect at nearly 6 wks pregnant. The words “not a viable pregnancy” passed from someone’s lips and attention turned to determining whether the pregnancy was in-utero or ectopic. They were unable to make that determination.  Two doctors and an assistant probed me. They debated it while I held my breath and pressed my lips together hoping to hold back the tears for a few minutes longer.  I was sent home with firm instructions to call the doc on his cell phone and report to the ER if I experienced any severe right sided cramping. I was to come back in two days.  The worry was that if the pregnancy was in the tube and continued to grow, it may rupture my fallopian tube and cause me to bleed internally. This is one of the leading causes of maternal death and not something I wanted to experience.  Also, as someone who has a hard time getting pregnant, I could not afford to lose my right tube. I did not go home with a picture of my suspected ectopic, but it looked similar to this.

Because my HCG number was still rising, I  felt a glimmer of hope. Maybe this baby was in my uterus and was a late bloomer? I didn’t want to feel pressured to terminate a pregnancy if there was still hope, so I turned to my OB-GYN for further guidance.  I found her to be more personal and sympathetic than the RE. She took the time to explain what the HCG numbers meant, why mine indicated a failing pregnancy and my options should it turn out to be ectopic. Talking to her was like a breath of fresh air.  I may have mentioned earlier that my RE is slightly cocky, and he has every right to be. He is very talented at what he does. However, as appreciative as I was for the close monitoring, I was not ready to herald him champion for saving my tubes just yet.  I simply wanted him to pause for a moment and acknowledge my loss. Was this too much to ask?

DH accompanied me to our next visit which fell on Valentine’s Day. Seriously! DH has long been boycotting VDay as a commercial holiday, so I was not expecting candy and flowers, but this was ridiculous! They were still unable to make the call,  and the HCG number continued to creep up, so it was getting urgent. The recommended protocol was a shot of methotrexate. This is a chemotherapy drug that would effectively terminate the pregnancy to stop it from growing. If it became too large, I would require surgery and risk losing a tube. Still, no one wanted to inject me with a chemo drug if this was a natural miscarriage waiting to happen. So I was send away again.  I was told not to panic over bleeding as this was sure to occur, but to call with significant right sided pain. I experienced both and ended up having to call my doctor at home on a Sunday evening. Fortunately, the pain was not severe enough to be emergency-worthy, but my next appointment was moved up to 7:45 am on Monday.

We had arranged for childcare for J, but she woke up with a fever. So the three of us piled into the car- my pursed loaded with children’s ibuprofen and tylenol- and drove in silence to the office.  My HCG numbers had fallen significantly over the weekend. What was troubling was the spot that was still clearly on my right fallopian tube as well as the right sided pain I was having. I opted for the methotrexate shot and spent much of the morning waiting around to see if my liver was healthy enough to allow this option. Finally, I received not one but two injections and was sent home to rest. Except that I had a sick child, so rest was not possible.  In fact, all three of us ended up getting sick, which was a welcome distraction from the nightmare of the previous week.

As before, time was relentless in its insistence to march on and on and on. I may or may not have thrown a tantrum over planting some peach trees, which I refer to as my miscarriage trees. I remember reading somewhere that it was therapeutic, and I was planning on planting some fruit trees anyway. J named them Ariel and Belle. Please remind me never to ask her opinion on baby names or, surely, she will end up with brother Kristoff or sister Rapunzel.

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We are still trying, and I am not going to lie to you, it is the pits. Most days, I am ready to move on from this chapter in my life. Should God entrust us with another precious life, I will hold him or her to my bosom, breath in the heavenly scent of baby and cry tears of joy. And should we remain parents of one, I will look at my little J with pride and adoration, as I have for the last three and a half years, and know her love is big enough to sustain me.

* * *

Good news, my next post will be significantly more uplifting as I am going to write about J’s Ariel Pool Party (because every three year old needs a pool party).

 

(`blit-ed): used as an adjective to describe something that has a condition that makes it weak or unable to grow

There is an old saying, “New house, new baby.” A coworker reminded me of this when we moved into This Old House at the end of May 2012. At the time, I thought perhaps she was crazy or, at the very least, oblivious to the absolute chaos surrounding our move. For a reminder, click here, but I will quickly summarize. In 4-6 weeks time:

  • My parents came to visit, which prompted a lot of home projects as a precursor to their arrival.
  • During their visit, nanny had to be terminated after she confessed to repeatedly stealing- get ready for it- vodka from our bar in order to self medicate. She claims she did this after hours, but this is clearly every parent’s worst nightmare.
  • Impulsively purchased a new house and began the whirlwind of home inspections, appraisals and mortgage paperwork that followed during the ten day options period.
  • Frantically prepared our beloved home to put on the market. Sold in less than 2 weeks time.
  • Also frantically searched for a new nanny, a process which took over a month.
  • Packed up entire house, mainly during nap time and the wee hours of the night and, often times, by myself as hubby was out of town on business three times during the month of our move.
  • Moved into new house and promptly began pool/patio renovations. Oh, and it seemed like everything else started to unexpectedly fall apart!

At the end of all this, I collapsed into a heap and DH and I were lucky to still be on speaking terms. It was a VERY stressful time, and procreation was the furthest thing from my mind. That is until, at the end of July 2012, I began to wonder if I might actually be pregnant. I was spotting at the time and had been for several days before my expected period. This was not unusual for me. I have seen multiple doctors through the years for breakthrough bleeding. This spotting went on for five days without turning into a full-blown period and was accompanied by breast tenderness, extreme fatigue and a strange cramping in my uterus. In short, I felt exactly as I had when I was pregnant with J. I hunted through my medicine cabinets for a home pregnancy test, held my breath and peed on the stick. I was struck by the ridiculousness of it all and was about to shove it back in its wrapper when I noticed two pink lines indicating a BFP. At this point, I nearly fell off the toilet. I felt such a rush of emotions.

Oh yes, a baby!

Oh no, what terrible timing!

Oh no, I’m bleeding! I must be having an early miscarriage.

I picked up the phone, dialed the OB-GYN’s office, described my situation and they wanted to see me right away to draw blood for a quantitative HCG blood test. Meanwhile, I scrambled to draw a picture announcement for J to give to DH and cried as I delivered the good/terrifying news.

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My blood work came back positive and my HCG doubled as expected in the first four weeks of pregnancy. However, my progesterone levels were lower than expected, and I was started on progesterone suppositories and scheduled for an ultrasound at week 8. In my case, the suppositories were inserted once daily at night. They were a bit messy and intensified pregnancy symptoms such as breast tenderness, nausea, bloating and night sweats. They did, however, stop the bleeding, and I began to feel more relaxed about this pregnancy. During this- the longest three weeks of my life- the pool/patio renovation continued, and I also flew to New England for my nephew’s first birthday party. I told very few people about my pregnancy due to the bleeding but broke the news to my sister ahead of time in case I needed to seek medical care while home. Unfortunately, the bleeding recurred during the plane ride over, and I spent several days on bed rest hoping for the best. My ultrasound was scheduled within a few days of arriving home, and I was realistic but hopeful.

I had a transvaginal ultrasound, and as soon as the results became visible on the screen, I knew the news was not good. My uterus looked like a big black abyss. There was no comforting heartbeat to be heard. My OB-Gyn politely searched my uterus while questioning me to see if I might be off on my dates. She knew I was not. There was a big black circle indicating a gestational sac, but no squirming bean inside. “I’m sorry,” she said, ” I don’t think it is going to work out this time. Looks like a blighted ovum.” She offered to recheck in a week and go over our other options once we had time to digest the news. I waited for her to leave the room and began to cry. Even though I knew this was wrong from the start, I could not stop the tears from falling.  I sat in the back seat of the car with J while DH called person after person telling them our sad news. I may have managed to croak out a few sentences to my Mom, but didn’t feel like speaking to anyone else.

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A blighted ovum, or anembryonic pregnancy, is when a fertilized egg attaches to the uterine wall but the embryo fails to develop. It’s kind of like a house with an open door and all the lights on. You keep ringing the doorbell, but no one is home.  I went off my progesterone supplements and immediately started bleeding. I wish I could say I waited out miscarriage. I usually prefer to do things the natural way. But somehow, waiting felt morbid and disruptive. I had a D&C one week later.  It was a relatively quick procedure. I had some minor pain for a few days, bloating that made me look at least 5 months pregnant and night sweats that forced me to sleep on a towel until my body rid itself of all the pregnancy hormones.  Life went on. I continued to go to work.  I chased after an active toddler.  The only real change I had to make was that I could not go in a swimming pool.  This may not seem very devastating except I spend 50% of my working hours as an aquatic therapist, was accompanying my daughter to water babies swim class 1x/wk, and we had just completed an 8 week pool-patio renovation.  Bah humbug! The day after my D&C, we had friends over  to swim (clearly DH’s idea), and I dipped my toes in the water while covering up my bloated belly the best I could.

I had two very sad days surrounding my miscarriage- the day of my ultrasound and the day of my surgery. I spent most of those two days sleeping. And then, to my surprise, time carried on. It did not have the decency to stand still for me and my tragedy. I was as busy as I ever was. And I coped a little too well.  I did not give myself a whole lot of time to mourn, reflect or relax.  I talked about it, of course, with a few trusted friends and family members, but the rest of the world was unaware of my pregnancy, and now did not seem the time to tell them about it and its demise. I discovered that the subject is awkward and people- including myself- are not sure how to react. There are those who know but choose not to say anything lest it upset you. There are others who check in too often – “How are you feeling?” “Do you need to talk?”- to the point that you want to remind them that you still have a life to live if only they would stop bothering you. Except you don’t because they are just showing concern the only way they know how.  And then there are those who have been through it before.  Those are the best kind of people. They need say no more than, “I know,” and give you a reassuring hug or glance. And you know that they do know and that is the most consoling of all.

Of course, I would be remiss if I forgot to mention the large category of people who say, “Well, at least you know you can get pregnant.” This includes just about everyone. And while extremely annoying and not the least bit comforting, it is the truth. I could get pregnant, and I began to want to try again…

I must admit, the decision to set forth and procreate made me a little uneasy. What if I wasn’t ready to be a Mom? What if I was no good at it? I’m a planner by nature and wanted all the details to be perfect. I needed a little push, and it went something like this:

DH (a little over a year into our marriage): Hey, when are we going to have kids?

Me: I don’t know. Do you think we are ready yet?

DH: I don’t think we’ll ever be ready. Might as well bite the bullet.

And so, in January of 2009 we began trying to conceive- abbreviated TTC from here on out. Also, in case you were wondering, DH refers to “Dear Husband.” I’ve discovered that one must quickly learn a new code language when TTC.  Not sure if its tantamount to being in a special club or if all the extra friendlies leave little time for anything else, including full pronunciation of vocabulary. Anyways, I promise to keep you up to speed.

DH and I went on a ski trip to France in February of 2009 and had romantic notions of conceiving while on vacation. After all, vacation extra friendlies are quite extraordinary, don’t you think? Sadly, when we returned to the States,  I joined the Bump and discovered this thing called an ovulation calculator. The calculator tends to assume that all women have set cycle lengths with ovulation occurring smack dab in the middle. This is not exactly true, but still a good tool  for beginners or those who don’t have too much trouble TTC. The ovulation calculator told me that my fertile window actually took place when we arrived back in the US and DH had the flu. It was only our first month of trying, but already,  I felt the pang of missed opportunity.

By the second and third month, I had the ovulation calculator down pat, and had somewhat customized it to my own cycle. I was able to feel ovulation pain, called mittelschmerz, so felt like my body was on the right track. My period, referred to in the TTC world as AF (Aunt Flo), came every 28 days like clockwork. I had read that it is best to have extra friendlies, a.k.a. BD (the Big Deed), every other day during your fertile days. Naturally, this was exactly what we did. In retrospect, I approached it like an important job- which it definitely was- while sacrificing the usual romance. This determination is not unique to me. I had other friends who were TTC, and we were all completely baffled as to why our respective DHs were not always on board with this schedule. Is this not every man’s dream? Or is it really the chase?

By the forth month, at DH’s suggestion, I resorted to peeing on ovulation detection tests. These track your LH surge. Luteinizing Hormone, or LH, is what triggers the ripening egg to mature and break through the follicle leading to ovulation. This surge is detected 24-36 hours prior to ovulation and helps pinpoint the two most important days on which to BD. We were sure this was going to work!

By month 5, I consulted with a coworker, who I knew had also been struggling to conceive, and she helped me to begin charting. I purchased a basal thermometer, which you stick in your mouth at the very moment of waking, all the while trying not to make too much movement so as to accurately capture your lowest daily body temperature (BBT). It is the most accurate way to detect ovulation, as the BBT will rise on the day following ovulation and then drop off when AF arrives. I charted for a total of 6 months. I will hold off on going into the craziness that this caused me. It is a topic for a whole other blog post. Given how type A I am, I can guarantee that my charts were perfect and full of encouraging pregnancy signs until my period inevitably arrived 28 days later.

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By month 8, I visited my OB-GYN, who assured me that I would get pregnant, and it was too early to panic. I was feeling really discouraged at this point, and didn’t really have anyone to talk to about it. It is one of those things people don’t tend to discuss. Just the fact that you are TTC is TMI. DH was encouraging, but did not share my worry, and I was starting to feel very lonely in all this. By months 10-12, I slowly started to open up about it  and discovered a whole secret club of gals struggling to conceive. They did not simply tell me to relax and let it happen. They acknowledged my fears, shared with me their insight, and I was eternally grateful for the company. While, on the inside, I wept as friend after friend got pregnant with no problem, I really rallied for the girls in my club and rejoiced at their successes. It gave me hope.

On month 12, I revisited the OB-GYN who was no longer lighthearted about my lack of success. She ordered a hystersalpingogram (HSG),which is an X-ray in which they insert a catheter into your uterus and inject saline with dye in order to visualize your fallopian tubes. The radiology tech thought my uterus was locked down tighter than Fort Knox. After much trying and a lot of pain on my end, she was successful in inserting the catheter.   My fallopian tubes looked flawless.  With a negative HSG, I was started on a first round of Clomid on cycles day 5-9 and referred out to a reproductive endocrinologist (RE).  Clomid is a fertility drug which stimulates the ovaries in order to induce ovulation in those who don’t ovulate naturally or to enhance maturation of the follicles in those that do. There is a small chance of multiples, as it may encourage more than one egg to be released during a cycle. The Clomid gave me hot flashes and made me want to rip DH’s head off. I did not like it one bit, and it did not result in success, so I was a little bitter about the whole experience.

By month 14, I made it in to see the reproductive endocrinologist. He was charming and cocky and made fast friends with my DH. They talked baseball and business until I tapped my fingers on the desk and reminded them that the fate of my fertility lie in their hands. DH was sent for a semen analysis, and we both were put on an antibiotic Z-pack just in case.  As we were at least $1000 out of pocket at this point with no clear diagnosis, we held off on scheduling my follow-up with the RE until after my next AF.

Except, it never arrived! At month 15, I actually waited a whole five days until after it was due to discover that glorious + sign known as the BFP or Big Fat Positive.  My hands were trembling while I presented DH with a card and envelope containing the test. Except, I made the mistake of presenting it to him while he was working from home and had to wait an agonizing ten minutes before he opened it.

We held our breaths for nine weeks, suffered through two incidences of bleeding, and then finally saw our beautiful bean, beating heartbeat and all. At 37 wks, our perfect angel arrived, and all was forgotten. My unexplained infertility seemed a minute detail on the road to parenthood. Stress? First baby jitters? Who cares. I was a Mom and never happier.

 

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Recent events in my life have led me to this decision to blog about a personal matter.  You might say, why Nicole, you blog about personal matters all the time. You blog about your home, your daughter’s birthday-for goodness sake, you blogged about your septic. Who does that?

While discussing your bathroom habits (and publicizing it to all your Facebook friends) does demonstrate a certain lack of modesty, what I want to talk about is more heartfelt. I’d like to share my experience with infertility.  Before I begin, I feel like I have to issue a disclaimer. I feel that, because I do have a beautiful, amazing daughter, I have to tell you that my case is really not all that bad or uncommon. I have known women who have tried for 10+ years before having a baby.  Some, after much grief, give up this dream and never have a  child to call their own. I have known several women who have lost their babies late in their pregnancies, one who opted to carry hers to nearly full-term. Others are afflicted by heartbreaking repeat miscarriages never to discover why they could conceive but not carry.

I feel like I have to tell you how blessed I am, and that I have no right to complain. Yet, what I really want to say to you- those who are going through it like me- is that you have all the right in the world to feel however you want to feel. If you want to wallow in a box of Kleenex – Gray’s Anatomy style- please do so. If you want to kick and scream and loudly announce your anger at the injustice, be my guest. If you want to lie in bed forever, I wouldn’t blame you. Each person’s experience is their own.  Who am I to judge? Just know I’m rooting for you to get back up because YOU want to.

I know my experience has changed me. I can’t say with certainty for the better or the worse. I do know that part is entirely within my control. So I am taking a first step towards making it something positive by announcing my intention to share what I have learned.  I am somewhat of an expert on the crazy and not so crazy things you can do to boost your pregnancy chances. That is useful to any couple with baby fever. And for those of you who are trying and getting frustrated or dealing with a pregnancy loss, sometimes it is just nice to know there’s someone else in the same boat.

I hope you will bear with me on this journey, however long it takes.

Thanks,

Nicole

Gravida 3, Para 1

Nicole Austin, TX

I promise you this is my last installment. I am completely Dora’d out, and J has moved onto princesses anyway. She has informed me that she is having a Princess Ariel pool party this summer, a Princess Sofia birthday when she is 4, a Princess Rapunzel party when she is 5 and a Princess Aurora party when she is 7. Really need to work on her counting.

Decorations for J’s party were really easy. Earlier in the week, I had used this online kit from Shery K Designs to make cupcake toppers for J’s at school party (Yes, this child celebrated her birthday with not one, not two, but three separate parties. Soooo spoiled).

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Also in the kit are pendant flags, which I printed on card stock and hung on the fireplace and in the dining room.

The giant Dora and Diego balloons were a huge hit with J who dragged them around the house for weeks.  They were purchased at Party City.

Our friend Rachel works for a company that specializes in personalized invitations and stationary. She surprised us with three huge personalized Happy Birthday banners- two I hung in the entry way and amongst all the Explorer Stars in J’s hallway. The third I used to dress up the coloring table. You can buy yours here. The Dora and Diego coloring pages were downloaded at Nick Jr.

The cake, Explorer Stars activity and prize box and party favors were displayed on the entry way table. It was not long before someone put their finger in the cake! The cake came from HEB. It looked nice enough and was less expensive but not as tasty as a custom cake. I really need to either cultivate a dormant talent within me for cake decorating or make good friends with someone who rocks in this area.  There was also a copy of Dora’s Birthday Surprise that I intended to use as a guest book, but, alas, I forgot to make this announcement.

For food, we had Mexican. Some of the menu items included: Tico’s Taco Bar (a full taco bar with all the fixings), Isa’s Empanadas, Fiesta Flautas and Diego’s Animal Rescue Center (cheddar and pretzel flavored goldfish, Teddy Grahams and animal crackers).  I had full intentions to label the food with the corresponding character, but I ran out of steam at the end. I still think it would have been very cute.

Despite the cold and THE cold, the day was a great success.  I don’t know if I can be easily convinced to throw another large party next year. I may again require a two year recovery period. But if anyone can melt my resolve, it would be my sweet little Juliette. Love her to pieces.

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Finally, the week of J’s big birthday party had arrived.  And we almost did not make it! Several things conspired to get in our way.  First, the lower field of our septic’s leach field went out. Please click here to view my previous septic woes. We still had one functioning field, but septic issues are certainly not welcome when you are about to have 30-40 people over who, inevitably, would like to flush the toilet without issue.

The second was that Juliette came down with a cold and managed to have a fever which kept her out of school on both the Thursday and Friday prior to her party.  We went back and forth to the doctor’s to get tested for ear infection, strep and flu. All negative. J, herself, remained in high spirits throughout. However, I felt the need to proactively send an email out to her class to let the parents know that although she was fever-free and the party would go on, we would certainly understand if anyone wanted to drop out to avoid potential germs.  No one really did.  Getting sick is a constant thing in daycare. I think most everyone else has made peace with that.

Third, and most importantly, despite a beautiful fall here in the ATX, the weather on that day never really rose above freezing.  This put a huge damper on the planned activities, namely the Dora map adventure ending with a piñata and play time on J’s house with a slide. We were also going to borrow a bouncy house, but it was just too cold.

Not easily deterred, I abbreviated the map adventure and added an indoor component that required searching for Dora’s explorer stars. Dora’s explorer stars are cute pastel stars with faces on them that have the points of the stars rounded off. Needless to say, I did not have the time to cut out a bunch of stars on the night before the party. Instead, I found some foam stars at WalMart. They were red, white and blue- leftover from the 4th- so not ideal, but they had to do.

To start the activity, my helpers rounded up the kids, got them to quiet down for a moment or two, and each was handed their Backpack or Rescue Pack.  I explained to them that their first mission as Explorers was to find the explorer stars hidden in plain sight throughout the house. Inside their backpack was a magnifying glass to help them find the stars. Each Explorer who brought back at least one star could pick a prize from the prize box.

Next, we bundled up the kids and headed outside for the map adventure. I informed the kids that Swiper had stolen the birthday piñata, and we had to follow the clues on the Map in order to get it back. We had go through the Dancing Trees, around Crocodile Lake and onto to Play Park, and there we would find the birthday piñata.

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For the Dancing Trees, I had good intentions to actually go out and pin faces to my trees. Alas, I ran out of time, but I did have the kids take out the maracas in their backpacks and dance to the Coconut Conga. In the Dora TV series, that is how they get the Dancing Trees to open up a path to allow them to pass. I used the video below as my inspiration.

For Crocodile Lake, I placed a blue sheet in our fire pit and placed a blow up crocodile on top.  Actually, it was a blow up alligator ring toss game, but I figured three year olds would not be so discerning.  We did not play the ring toss game due to the cold, but we did need to find a way to get around the crocodiles safely. Fortunately, each kid had a flute in their trusty backpack. They played their little hearts out, which lulled the “crocodile” to sleep and allowed us to walk around without incident.

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Finally, we arrived at Play Park.  We were supposed to take our Dora and Diego blow outs out of our backpacks and sing the “We Did It” song, but it was really cold, so we went straight to the breaking of the piñata.  Each kid got at least one turn before the adults helped to liberate the candy.

The kids really wanted to play on J’s playscape at this point, and the parents really, really wanted to get back to the warm house, so cake time it was. I think the kids had a great time despite the weather. My only regret is not taking more pictures. But chaos does tend to ensue with that many three year olds!

I had not planned on a part IV, but I cannot NOT discuss the decorations. So I will gear up for one more blog entry before I conclude this chapter. Until then Explorers.

DIYBackpackRescuePackFavorBags

I’ll be honest. After engineering over 20 Backpack/Rescue Pack invitations, I was pretty beat. But I knew my work was far from done.  The fear in inviting your child’s entire class to a party is that either a) no one will show up or worse b) everyone will show up. I had my work cut out for me if I was to entertain a bunch of three year olds. I thought a Dora map adventure might do the trick. I planned to follow the general format of the show and sent the kids out into my big back yard to search for the birthday piñata.  Why do they have to find the birthday piñata.  Well, Swiper stole him silly.  You really need to keep an eye on that Swiper.

There can be no map adventure without Map and Backpack. I knew I needed to fabricate both of these.  Also, there would undoubtedly be things we would need to do at each of the stops on the map. This solved the dilemma of what to make for party favors. Clearly, each of the girls needed Dora’s Backpack, and each of the boys needed Diego’s Rescue Pack. Inside would be all the items needed along the way. Once we reached our final destination and broke open the piñata, the bags would be very handy for storing all the candy.

As you know, there are many crafty mommas out there. I pinned several Backpack/Rescue Pack party favor bags on my idea board here. Some of my favorites were:

Using orange and purple lunch bags or gift bags such as these Rescue Packs by Reading Confetti

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Dying Oriental Trading backpacks purple as with these Backpacks by Googly Eyes and Glitter 

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Using drawstring backpacks such as these seen on Etsy 

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Or reusable grocery totes such as these on Mission Decorate 

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I really liked the idea of the kids having a wearable, reusable bag so I narrowed down my options to drawstring backpacks or reusable grocery bags.  I found both purple and orange totes and purple and orange drawstring  backpacks at affordable pricing online. Ultimately, I went with the drawstring backpacks as they were larger and could actually be worn as a backpack.

For Backpack, I used the template found at Nick Jr. to trace the face onto the drawstring bags using Elmer’s Painter’s Pens. I traced the template first in pencil and then went over it using a fine tip sharpie. I used paint pens rather than fabric paint to fill in the color so that the work could go quicker with less chance for mistakes. The downside is that the paint pens are opaque. This was not much of an issue for the red mouth but required multiple coats for eyes and eyebrows and just did not provide the coverage that fabric paint would have. Still, I think they came out pretty good.

For Rescue Pack, I also used the template from Nick Jr but needed to resize and tweak it a bit.

Map needs to go inside Backpack.  I used the Nick Jr map template above photocopied on one side of 8 1/2 x 11 white paper and photocopied a map of my own drawing on the other side. I searched and searched for an easy map template. The best I could find was this. I used it as a general template and then did separate image searches for the stops I chose for J’s adventure: The Dancing Trees, Crocodile Lake and Play Park. The last stop is actually J’s playscape, so I just drew that from memory. It came out pretty good for someone who doesn’t draw, and might help someone else out in the future. For PDF versions, please visit my free printables page.

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Inside the backpack were the items we needed for the adventure: a Dora or Diego magnifying glass, Dora and Diego maracas, a mini flute and Dora or Diego blow outs. More on the specific purpose of these items in the next post.

The finished product can be seen below.

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Again, I will not lie to you.  This is not a quick, easy project. Because I did not trust myself to free hand the face and was very careful with the paint pens, each bag took some time. I made 20 and was very thankful for one particularly long nap both J and D took one Sunday afternoon. J often sat at the table next to me coloring while I would knock out 1 or 2 bags. If I were to do it again, I would STRONGLY consider printing each of the faces in color on iron-on transfer paper.  There are several face template files available to purchase on Etsy and would have been well worth the money. I think this may have been 10x easier. Hindsight is 20/20.

Stay tuned for Party III- Party Time to find out how our adventure went.

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