There are things, as expected, that my disabilities prevent me from doing but my heart yearns for. And, as expected, my joy in motherhood far surpasses these minute disappointments. Also as expected, Jason helps me find a way around my disabilities and we find a way to satisfy my heart. Since we came home, I've longed to hold my bundle of perfection like this, over my shoulder, but having the limited control I have, I knew I couldn't do so safely. So Jason placed her solidly over my shoulder and I rejoiced in feeling her heart on mine.
And then there are moments like this. I'm trying to think of what to say but I can find no words... I don't think words are necessary, though... the picture expresses my feelings more clearly than any vocabulary.
This photo is the one I put on my birth announcements and the several responses to it commenting on how impressive it is that she's "already smiling", made me curious about what the normal age is to begin smiling. Google tells me it's 8 weeks and this shot was taken at 5 days!! She can't focus on people yet and doesn't smile in response to external stimuli, but it's definitely an expression of her feelings. I often watch her dream and the variation of her expressions is fascinating... she purses her lips and gets angry, shakes her head and frowns in frustration, gapes her mouth and crumples her forehead in extreme sadness, then all of a sudden breaks out in a huge grin.
Being able to watch her dream is one benefit of this brain injury I've become poignantly appreciative of. For years now, I've appreciated the help it's given to others-- promoted safety, prevented injury or death, inspired people-- but now I've come to covet a gift it's given to me. I've never been comfortable doing nothing, but now I spend hours just holding her and staring at her. Imagine if my career were still in full action... I'd always be on the move, doing emails or returning phone calls while I breastfed. So much of this treasured time I'd miss out on. Lucky brain injury! :)
A few days ago I was gazing at her asleep in her crib and it struck me: I get to keep her!!!
Aka Little Miss
So my labor couldn't have been more perfect.
On February 20th, at 5 am I had a little bit of strange discomfort. At 6, I woke Jason up and he googled what I was feeling. We concluded they may be contractions. They kept coming so at 9, we called my doctor and she told us to go to the hospital to see if they were contractions because we were unsure of my capability to feel. Sure enough, my contractions were already 4-5 minutes apart. They became incredibly painful, but the further along I got, the more horrible simply waking up and having them hand me a baby became (which would be the case if they had to do a c-section as they'd need to put me all the way out). Of course the risk of seizures was our main concern, but the fact that I began first thing in the morning gave me a good chance to avoid that as fatigue and lack of sleep greatly increase that risk.
At 2:30, my contractions changed: I could feel my body trying to expel its inhabitant, so the doctors taught me how to push. I kept trying but my pump doctor was right; I pretty much made no difference, so the doctors assumed it would be a long delivery and left me alone with Jason and one nurse. But then my body took over and the doctors were called back in. They rushed to put on their smocks and by the time the first doctor got to me, he said "Don't push", but my body could couldn't be convinced. He literally was holding his hand on her crown trying to postpone her emergence until the other doctor got her smock on. At 2:58, she couldn't be contained any longer and presented herself. I was closing my eyes and pushing and when the doctors knew she was coming, they very kindly insisted I look. It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen.
I'm thankful to have been awake not only for the amazing experience of seeing her enter the world, but to have gotten to share the experience with my wonderful husband. He cut the umbilical cord, held my leg; the experience together was twice as meaningful.
All the nurses and doctors were amazed how quickly my delivery went for my first child. (I expect that for my next ones I'll just wake up in bed and there will be a baby) It normally takes people 3-5 days to begin to make milk instead of colostrum, and I was full of milk already yesterday morning. My dad called me last winter and said, "Since Greta (my sister) doesn't have a partner and your body doesn't work properly, maybe she could have your baby for you?" (He's so cute). Yesterday I gave him a good finger wag and said, "My body works just fine!"
And Little Miss. She's already an overachiever. The average weight of babies born in the US is 7.7 pounds. River was 8.4. Usually babies need to be taught how to breast feed. She clamped onto my nipple while we were still in the delivery room. And the goal for yesterday was 2 poops and she took 4. Not only is she an over achiever, she's unique with a shockingly blonde full head of hair.
Yesterday I was resting with her skin on skin, and it was the closest I've felt to heaven. No amount of gold medals could come close to matching this feeling. Pure contentment. I want to say with a light frosting of excitement for the future, but that's not it. I'm just purely content in the now, as if it would last forever. I'm a loving person but I didn't know this much love was possible.
Sorry it's been so long. I'm just fat and happy and nothing really exciting has happened! I'm due February 24 so I'm pretty ginormous, but I continue to have a very easy pregnancy. The circulation in my right side doesn't work properly so I have one enormous foot and kankle, but other than that I could still easily forget I'm pregnant... when I'm sitting, standing has become quite the ordeal!
The plan was to induce me the week before my due date to make everything as prepared as possible. I can't have an epidural because of the placement of my pump and if they need to do a c-section, they need to put me all the way out, so she wanted to have the staff and equipment all scheduled and ready. But then my neurologist said I'm a seizure risk and extra straining or a long labor causing fatigue will greatly increase the risk. So she's going to let my body tell us when it's ready as if she induced me, it may take a long time. Little Miss is head down and ready to emerge!
The remaining concern she has is that I may not know when I'm in labor. I still can't feel her kicking (although my stomach goes crazy once in a while) and when they did a non-stress test, I had a contraction and didn't know. Jason's concerned that my water may break and I'll just say, Honey, I peed my pants. We have an appointment this Monday and next Tuesday and we'll plan accordingly based on how I'm progressing.
And the book is in the final stages before publication. This timing couldn't be more perfect!!
In planning out my clinic schedule, I've come to a strong realization; it will be so much better to not have to travel with the arrival of Little Miss! So I've decided to offer a discount for places near by. Normally my rate is $1500 a day for 8 sessions, but for anyplace within 150 miles of New Milford, CT, I will come for a minimum of 4 riders for $175 per session plus the IRS mileage rate which is 56 cents per mile. Email email@example.com if you're interested.
I received a couple of emails voicing concern that my decision to self-publish would leave me without the professional guidance required to produce a good book. I thought that many people may have the same thoughts so I figured posting my reply on my website would ease all of the concerned minds out there.
I've actually signed on with a small publishing company. It's perfect. It's local, so we can sit down and discuss options, look at samples, have a personal relationship. The owner is allowing me to publish the book in its enormity but providing me with all the professional guidance and influence I need.
But the best thing is he was actually a dressage horse owner and rider! So he knows of me and understands my need to try to give back to the public what I can. There's a slightly eerie aspect to this story too, something that makes me think perhaps it was meant to be... he's in the process of writing a book now in which the main character happens to be a dressage rider who makes it to the Olympics. The very morning he was going to begin to make inquiries into who he could get to give input on the actual details of making it to the Olympics, someone contacted him on my behalf! It sounds as if he's totally horsey, but to my knowledge this is the only book touching on horses he's ever written. He's written children's books, slightly naughty adult novels, has co-written many different genres, but here we are, perfect timing to work together. And the fact that I can help him will reduce my costs as well as he's willing to trade some of his help for mine. Perfect.
I'm looking into the requirements for self-publishing and they're more expensive than I'd anticipated so Jason said "Is it really worth the expense of publishing the book? I don't want to end up out of pocket for it." My response was,"Yes, honey. It's worth the expense; I want to publish it. Think of how many tens of thousands of dollars the people have given me over the years-- for Young Riders, Courtney's Quest to get me through two World Cups and the Olympics, my medical fund, and then Courtney's Quest Continued to help me toward the Paralympics. I want to try to give back what I can to the many people who care about me."
You unknown people have been so good to me over the years; I know I can't repay you, but I can try to give you something you've shown you want. Of course I misunderstood him; he wasn't suggesting to not publish it, he just wanted to make sure we're doing the proper research to get the best price, but I thought it would be good to express my heart to all of you.
Because my sole incentive for writing this book is an effort to give back to all those who've constantly supported me through my few highs and many lows, my book is very long. I could have an editor trim it down to make the purchase of it less daunting, but I'm afraid to take anything out that the remarkable public may find intriguing. I feel that those who want to know my story-- my target audience-- can have all the details, and I'll just have to accept that some people may be daunted by the length and not buy the book.
Here is the prologue-- it's not completely ready for publishing yet so this may not be exactly what appears in the book, but it gives an idea for those who may want a taste of what the book is like. It's written in more novel form that simply listing what happened when. The story takes us through my start, the loss of my passion and getting it back, my good World Cup and my embarrassing one, the Olympics, Myth's heart problems, the false drugging conviction, Myth's and RV's deaths, my accident and trying for the Paralympics. Then the epilogue tells of my current state of being and mindset.
(I can't figure out how to properly format it so bear with me!)
It's 1:30 am Friday, April 26, 2012 and I’m lying in bed. I tell myself that if I pretend the right side of my body works properly, maybe it will. If I simply forget about the effects of my brain injury, perhaps my body will forget, too. Mind over matter.
So I try to nonchalantly roll onto my left side. My shoulders turn an inch but the right side of my body is like dead weight. Like half of a cadaver. Every single morning my body confirms its inability to function normally and every single morning I'm surprised. That a miracle hasn't taken place. That overnight my brain hasn't figured out how to heal itself.
Sometimes I have dreams that I forgot my cane, without which reality necessitates a person hold onto me. I’m loping up long pavilion steps and my sister and husband are standing at the top cheering me on. The steps become bigger and my strides easily match them, the wind blows my hair, the sun peeks through the clouds. It’s like one of those ridiculously cheesy movies with two lovers running towards each other in slow motion, except I’m not running towards anyone. I’m just running.
I reach over for the glass containing Xyrem, the one sleeping aid the doctors have found that works on me. The drug boys dump in girls’ drinks to make them unable to fight off sex: the date-rape drug. It's made a horrendous flavor in order to prevent this misuse but it's worth it. I need sleep.
Today I ride in the Houston CPDI, my first para dressage show and a qualifier for the Paralympic Selection Trials. People comment that it must be so frustrating, depressing, infuriating to ride at my current level—walk only—when three and a half years ago, I rode in the able-bodied Olympics. I never even think about it. I have different struggles now but they absorb my focus as much canter pirouettes or one-time flying changes used to. Work on what you can control.
Waiting for the drug to kick in, I ride the pattern of the test I do tomorrow. As I do the night before every show while waiting for sleep.
At 6:45, I swing my legs off the bed and push myself into a sitting position. As my right heel presses to the ground, my leg begins bouncing up and down like a person does when they’re nervous or impatient. Doctors call it clonus due to the spasticity caused by my injury, but I refer to it as Thumper as that’s the sound it makes. When it subsides, I pick up my cane and carefully walk to the bathroom thinking of the two things I’m currently working on: shoulders back and butt in.
I pause in front of the mirror and smile at my reflection. The right side of my mouth lags, doesn’t rise as much as the left. My left eye scrunches properly and, although my right eye is clearly trying, the cheek simply won’t rise enough to finish the task. Jason, my husband, comes in and says, That’s getting better. My reflection nods in reply. Small steps.
I look into one eye and then the other and my brow furls. I will return to the Grand Prix ring, do a second Olympics. Maybe I’ll surprise the equestrian world and have a sudden miraculous recovery. In the meantime, para provides an excellent way to appease my competitive heart in what my body can do now.
My show clothes are strategically placed in the closet at shoulder level to allow their retrieval. Righty, my right hand, pulls them off the shelf as the more I use him, the more my brain will remember how to communicate with him, and Lefty throws them onto the bed as Righty still lacks the ability to release. I sit on the bed to pull on my sports bra and shirt and lie down to do my underwear and britches as my lack of balance prevents upright dressing.
We’re staying in the Solana senior living home and as Jason, Koryn-- my working student in the barn who’s also become an ideal personal helper—and I make our way to the elevator, an elderly gentleman stops me and comments on how cool my cane is. I act shocked that he can see it because it’s camouflage. He leans in, conspiratorially looks around, slides the handle from his cane and shows me that it’s a flask. Impressed, I ask him where he got it and he says he made it, he makes all sorts. He has time. He smiles a toothless grin, gives a salute and shuffles away.
Time. Something I’ve never had enough of and now that I have it, I’m afraid of having too much. I’m very thankful that I have a great many other things within which I can invest myself. I teach riders. Am writing a book. Write monthly columns for a dressage magazine, am a mentor for an online journaling program. Ride. Paint and make clay sculptures. Do lots and lots of therapy. And more therapy. I’m never bored.
I will get better.
We pull into the showgrounds and the scenery that’s as familiar to me as the backs of my hands appears: several twenty by sixty meter riding arenas on brilliant beige footing surrounded by booths for the judges. Flowers and bushes decorate the perimeters and small paths of footing lead from one area to the next.
When we walk into our aisle, Sydney Collier is peering into the stall of our shared mount, crutches supporting her five foot frame and her pink hair adding a bit of color to the otherwise bland horse show. She’s fourteen and was born with Wyburn-Mason Syndrome, had a stroke during brain surgery followed by several more strokes. She was left with bilateral hemiparesis and is blind in her right eye.
In the week that I've known her, she's never made a complaint about her circumstances, revealed an iota of resentment. She bubbled over with joy when she told me about the therapy dog she's getting and cracked up as she told an anecdote of one of her frequent falls-- the time she broke her collarbone. She's dear and sweet and joyful. Pure pleasure to be around. She instills the feeling of a good mood that settles on you for no particular reason.
Months ago I asked a woman why seeing me always makes people cry and she said that witnessing the joy with which I still view life despite my hardships is extremely touching. Now I understand. Seeing the joy with which Sydney views life humbles me. Inspires me. Solidifies my need to take advantage of this wonderful life.
She’s never had the chance to experience life outside of being handicapped whereas in my thirty-four years, I’ve ridden in the Olympics, danced on table tops, gone sky diving, jumped into water from fifty feet. I've lived life to the fullest so it makes sense that I can be content, but there are some things she'll never be able to do. Instead of wasting her time complaining about the unfairness of what life has dealt her, she chooses to be happy. Proves that we all have that choice.
When it’s time to get on, Koryn climbs onto the mounting platform with me and hands my right leg over the saddle to Jason who places it in the stirrup while Lendon—my trainer for seventeen years-- holds the horse’s head.
Koryn leads me into the stadium and my natural instinct to focus only on me and the horse prevents me from looking around. But when she lets me go and I walk up the centerline to start my test, it feels like I’ve returned home. There’s been a storm outside and I’m battered, perhaps I was captured and beaten, but I’m home.
Thought some people may get a kick out of seeing my enormous girth! Other than needing almost constant guarding for fear of doing a timber, I continue to have no symptoms and am greatly enjoying all of the preparations. My sole craving is gum!
I also just began an online creative writing class because I so enjoyed writing my autobiography, and although I seem to be able to write about things that actually happened, I don't have an iota of creativity. So I thought it may be something I could learn!
As far as the horses, I couldn't be more thrilled with the progress of our three boys as well as Koryn. I have Koryn do tests regularly even though we won't show until summer because they highlight weaknesses. Shanghai, the four-year-old, came to us at the end of July and in October, doing Training 3 was a struggle. Now First 3 is easy! Bimini, the 10 year-old who wants to go go go, had a major improvement in rideability for about a month and then started flipping his head. He's one of the most joyful horses I've ever had the pleasure to work with, makes me smile every lesson, so he was clearly telling us something was wrong. He's been barefoot behind and sure enough when we put shoes on him, the head flipping went away.
And Koryn's mentality continues to impress me. I've been focusing only on the basics with Fargo, the 12 year-old, and finally the other day I stopped her mid lesson and said we need to talk: this horse is supposed to be the one for her to learn the tricks on and I'm only schooling corners and stretching. I admitted it would be hard for me and against my nature to move on to tricks without perfecting the basics but gave her the option to try. Her immediate response was no, what we're doing is very important and she'd far rather learn correct training. Another thing that's made me feel so happy, relieved and proud of her is that the people she's teaching RAVE about her. Whereas in the past my working students would teach my clients and I would keep an eye on things and provide input to guide their training, with Koryn I'm unable to do so, so I can't tell you how it thrills me to be told she's articulate, clear and comes up with great solutions right away. And they tell me when she rides, she reminds them of me, even the way she says "good boy"! Yes, I'm so thankful to have the opportunity to bring her along and the horses on whom to do so.
I wrote a brief bit on Facebook about a task I'm working on, but many of you may not know: what's been keeping my days satisfyingly busy for the past 2 1/2 years is writing my autobiography. And now it's finished.
Although I'm fairly confident in finding a publisher, I'm afraid they would try to take out a great deal of the horsey detail in order to allow it to be a book for everyone as my story is deeply personal in more than just my horse-life. This would defeat my purpose in writing the book; I'm writing it not to make money, but to try to give back to the public who've shown me astounding support-- emotional and financial-- from when I was twenty and went to Young Riders, through both my great and my embarrassing World Cups, the Olympics, my erroneous drugging conviction, Myth's and RV's deaths, my brain injury and attempt at the Paralympics. Through all of it, the public has stood by me... firm, unchanging, loving and supportive. They've shown me they're interested in my story-- you've shown me you're interested-- so I don't want to take a chance of being forced to edit out what the current readers I've asked to give me feedback (who are the sort of amateurs I'm writing for) find riveting.
Therefore I've decided to self-publish. It will take a while to get out a satisfactory book as I need to figure out how to design my cover, lay out the many photos, decide on the font and page layout, work with an editor, etc. etc. etc., and my guess is that you all know what a perfectionist I am. But it's in the works. Thank you for always being there, through my few ups and many downs. Thank you for supporting my many Quests. Thank you for supporting me. It sounds impersonal when a rock star says to a crowd of fans "I love you", but now I understand what they mean and it's very personal. I may not know many of you individually, but I love you all. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
So pregnancy is super easy! Sometimes I forget I'm pregnant and look down to see the enormity of my belly. Then I'm struck with the the thought, Holy cow, there's a little person growing in there!! I'm sure when she comes out it will be a wee bit harder! I'm very lucky to not have any pregnancy ailments. I get tired but no more than usual as my body still refuses to acknowledge the value of sleep.
Otherwise life is great. Since I can't travel, my siblings are coming to me for the holidays and my dad just came for a visit as he wanted to see me "with child". Jason and I are having fun preparing the nursery and have done a complete organization overhaul that's years overdue to make room for the loads of child stuff.
Koryn has made very good improvement in all three horses; it's such a joy to see. Originally I thought I'd teach her 3-4 times a week but that's really not necessary. With most people the same lesson is required a couple times, but with her, each time I go back, she's mastered what we worked on in our last lesson so 2 times a week is perfect. The other day she asked me how I knew what I said to do would help because it did help but wasn't logical. I said "I don't know; it's just what I would have tried when I was riding." It's inspiring to have the instincts I had riding transfer into teaching.
If you're interested, don't forget to check out her blog! www.korynstaehling.wordpress.com