Monday, November 15, 2010

Likeness

Shalom is starting to open her eyes more frequently. She is so gorgeous. 
But, I can't get over the fact that Shalom is the spitting image of her big sister, Shiloh. The resemblance is uncanny. I love that every time I look at Shally, I also think of Shi.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Baby Shalom

Andreas and I are delighted to announce the safe arrival of Shiloh's baby sister

Shalom Eve Simon

November 7, 2010 at 6.36 pm
5 pounds, 3 ounces
18.5 inches long

Shalom was born prematurely at 35 weeks, 2 days due to low fluid levels. She currently resides in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with minor respiration issues (due to prematurity), but we hope to bring her home by the end of next week.

Shalom (שָׁלוֹם)- a Hebrew word meaning peace, completeness, health, prosperity, and welfare, or safety of an individual. It encapsulates a reality and hope of wholeness for the individual.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Modern Dog Magazine Photo Contest

Please vote for our care Bear -here-. He deserves some recognition for being our savior/Shiloh Bear!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Shiloh's 2nd Birthday

Andreas celebrated Shi’s 2nd birthday in a speccy Barcelona park


This day has come so swiftly
Snuck up on me once again
Everyday you’re gone, an eternity
Yet it feels like just yesterday

I wish you were here with me, Shiloh
To blow out these two pink candles
And fill my heart with love, not sadness
To be on earth, instead of just my angel

I love you sweet baby
Happy second birthday 

Monday, October 25, 2010

I couldn't resist...

Look at that smile!
Oh... and she's totally got my Jew nose (check out that bump)! Craziness!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Bad, the Good and the Inevitable

THE BAD: 
First Betamethasone (steroid) shot at 2pm yesterday (to speed up fetal lung maturity in case of preterm delivery) = slight decrease in fetal movement and fetal heart rate = me scared shitless and annoyed that I was not informed of this earlier = me frantically researching it last night = waking up every two hours to see if she is still alive = humungous headache this morning, but thankfully, a live, active baby.
Second Betamethasone shot at 2pm today = anxiety = another sleepless night


Side note: I think we need to invest in one of those $3000 Tempur-pedic mattresses so my poor, hardworking husband can get some sleep. Ya know, the ones in the commercial where you can jump up and down on the bed with a full glass of wine sitting on the other side?! So, when I'm up at 12, 2, 4, 6 and 8 am shaking my belly, he shouldn't feel a thing, right?


THE GOOD: 
From 32 weeks onwards, the baby should have heart rate accelerations to 15 beats above resting heart rate, for 15 seconds, every 20 minutes or so to show that she is "reactive" (this concept is still a bit of a conundrum to me. Isn't she reactive if I poke my belly and she moves? I guess it's more of a reactive heart rate thing though since heart rate doesn't always increase if she moves.). Anyway, she was uncharacteristically sleepy as I was doing my monitoring yesterday (thank you, steroid shot...), so I told Andreas to come talk to her. The minute he started talking, her heart rate shot up from 145 to 170! Isn't it incredible that she not only recognizes her daddy's voice, but that she responds with an increased heart rate! C'est complètement incroyable! 


THE INEVITABLE: 
I miss Shiloh profoundly. I wish she were here to experience this all with us (not all of the drama, of course. If she were here, there wouldn't be any drama!). Especially because people are constantly asking if I have other children, how old they are and what sex they are. I always say that I have a daughter, that she'd be almost 2. People never pick up on the past tense though. It's just as well. I always end up crying and running away if I have to talk about her not being here.


I'm in awe of the fact that I'll be celebrating her 2nd birthday- alone (sniff, sniff)- in just 5 days. It feels like an eternity without her, but it also feels like she was born just yesterday. Time is so strange. In reference to the bizarreness of time, I found this quote that resonated with me: "The flower that you hold in your hands was born today and already it is as old as you are." -Antonio Porchia, Voces 1943. It hits home.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Xavier's Fridge Friends

Michelle Swords at Hangin' with Xavier on the Fridge took these cool photos of Shiloh's name in fridge magnets. All part of what I call my artistic grief therapy. What a fantastic idea. I love them! 
If you'd like to have your angel's name done, send her an email.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Shiloh's Candles- Infant Loss Remembrance Day Collage

Here's the collage of all the candles lit in memory of sweet Shiloh (and too many other angel babies) for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day (Oct 15th). The week of Oct 15 is to remember all babies born sleeping, those we have carried but never met, those we have held but could not take home, and those that came home, but didn't stay. 

Thank you to everyone who remembered to light a candle and take a photo of it! I absolutely love having these constant reminders that Shi has touched so many peoples' lives.

This year, I received candle photos from all over California (SD, SB, LA, SF, Berkeley, Monterey), Utah, Ohio, Alabama, New York, Hawaii, Australia, The Netherlands and Germany. If you still have a photo that you haven't emailed to me, please feel free to do so- I will add it into the collage!

And, if you'd like to check out last year's collage, please click here.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Shi's baby sister

Shi's baby sister is definitely a face toucher. Her hand was in front of her face the entire hour we were at My First Peekaboo trying to get some good 4D shots, despite my calisthenics, constant rolling from left to right and the tech's belly tapping! What a cheeky baby. She's so perfect with her chubby cheeks and her button nose. Ooooh, I just wanna eat her up! I hope to meet her real soon- healthy and alive (I have to keep saying it so it comes true- it's all about the chi.).

Also of ironic interest- the ultrasound tech recognized Andreas and me because she had visited Shi's website ages ago and was so touched by it/our story/our bravery etc. She left us a comment and wrote us a letter (but apparently never sent it!). I'm elated that Shi's left a mark on so many peoples' lives. It's so bittersweet though, and never fails to bring tears to my eyes, in addition to a smile on my face.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Oct 15th- Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day

Dearest Friends and Family,

Today, Oct 15th, is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day and we are missing our Shiloh intensely. Please join me and Andreas and light a candle tonight from 7-8 pm, in memory of Shiloh and all of the other angel babies. Our sweet angel Shiloh was only with us for 9 months, but she touches our lives everyday, inspiring us to love more deeply, live more gratefully and cherish every moment.

I would love if everyone could take a photo of the candle they have lit and send it to me for my Infant Loss Remembrance collage.



Love to you all,
Rachel

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Broken

I feel so broken inside
Torn into miniscule pieces
By the lack of your solidity
The barrenness of my arms

Nothing erases the pain of your loss
And day after day
I wish I could go back
        back to two years ago
      To protect myself from who I am today

Because now, it’s as if I
      see with only one eye
      breathe with only one lung
      feel with only half my heart

I am only half here
I am only half gone

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Blobity blob.

Ach. I just feel like such a blob. Like a large vat of pink, blobby jello. I can barely make it up the stairs. I feel really useless. Screw teaching, screw research, screw cleaning the house. All I wanna do is eat, sleep and mope! Blahhhhhhh.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

It's all good.

I'm feeling really tired again lately. Maybe lethargic sums it up better. I finished up my teaching over the last two weeks and it seems that now, since I have a bit of free time, my past insomnia is hitting me like a ton of bricks. It's OK though, as I have a week to recoup before I start teaching again. 

Things have been going well, luckily. I had a bit of a scare the other day because I couldn't comprehend what I was seeing on the monitor (continual acceleration in heart rate up to 195 for about 10 minutes), but I had it explained to me by two very competent doctors, so I'm relieved. Originally, I believed the monitoring was stressing me out more (due to episodes such as the above), but I now realize that it's actually allowing me to sleep more soundly (and less fitfully). 

I had my two ultrasounds and NST on Friday. The baby is in the head down position and the cord is only between her legs. She has been having a few, very mild cord compressions, but nothing compared to what it was when the cord was draped around her neck. I'm hoping that she stays head down so she doesn't create any new loops. I'm currently 31 weeks, which means that I get my steroid shots next week (32 weeks). 
I'm thrilled. I'm still taking things day by day, but it seems to be going more quickly now. I can't wait to have her healthy and alive in my arms. Let's see if I can make it to 37 weeks.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A break from all the negativity

I've been feeling pretty good the last few days. I was told that the nuchal cord around this baby girl's neck has been resolved, for the time being at least, so I'm not currently having cord compressions during monitoring (although the cord is still between her legs). I really hope it stays this way. Dr Collins did say though, that the critical time is 32 weeks where she goes into the head down position. We shall see. I'm attempting to stay positive.

I've also been really distracted with teaching over the last week and will continue to be until mid November. I've been going full force: Mondays to Thursdays 12-5.30pm, and on Fridays, I have my standing doctors appointments. I find that this distraction is beneficial to my sanity, and I'm still able to pay attention to the baby's movements during the day. So, yea, things are looking on the up and up. I've been reflecting on the concept of chi/qi lately: "with our energy, emotions, intentions, we can directly influence our environment", and trying to incorporate it into my everyday on-goings. I think it's working for me.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Non-stress testing is so stressful

I started my non-stress testing today at the peri's office. It's pretty much exactly like the home monitoring I do at night, except she also does an ultrasound to look at amniotic fluid levels. I asked her to look at the cord as well (which is what I care about the most). Long story short, the nurse seems not to know her ass from her elbow. She attempted to evade my questioning with smiles and positivity. I let her off easy. This time. I feel so frustrated. Silly me. I thought I'd get more comfort from these weekly tests. I can't seem to catch a break. Or maybe my expectations of the medical community are just too high. Whatever it is, I'm so tired. 


*On a positive note, I've been feeling kinda sexy lately. Sexy at 30 and at 30 weeks. I'm trying to come up with one positive thing a day, however small. Here's mine for last week and for next: sexiness. Check me out. Bow chicka bow wow.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Peri schmeri, who needs em?!

My Friday appointment with the peri was ridiculous. I feel like every time I get information from one OB, it's completely contradicted by another. It leads me to believe that, instead of being lead by fact, they are simply being lead by opinion. Some OBs are just stuck in their ways, won't venture outside the box, or are too lazy to keep up with current research. Blah. I've had it. 

Nevertheless, I feel compelled to share a little about some of the things my peri was saying while at the appointment. And for the record, I will also say that I came into the appointment under the pretense of decreased fetal movement due to cord entanglement (which I said for billing purposes only, although she is entangled in her cord).... well, they kept me waiting in the lobby for over an hour. Now what does that tell you? At any rate, doc wasn't surprised to see me. I think I give him so much grief at every appointment, that he just expects my visits once a week. One of the reasons I am able to give him so much grief is because I'm not one of those acquiescent, naive moms who takes everything he says as kosher. I'm a PhD student in Biology, so I know what research is and how it's conducted. He can't be blowing smoke up my maternity shorts. 

The appointment started off as it typically does- I relayed my worry about the cord being wrapped around the baby, said she's having decreased movements, he starts the ultrasound, confirms where the cord is (same place as Dr Collins found it), and then launches into his well rehearsed speech about how everything I'm seeing and feeling  (regarding cord stuff) is normal. "The cord can't be floating in front of the baby the entire pregnancy", "The cord placement is totally normal- we see it draped over the baby's neck and between the baby's legs all the time", "The so called cord compressions you speak of are normal in every pregnancy- they aren't cord compressions, rather the reaction of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system to a halt in movement".... I had made the mistake of telling him that I flew to Louisiana to meet with Dr Collins, who has been studying cord accidents for over 20 years, in order to start the home monitoring. He called Dr Collins a "quack", "not a real OB", the list goes on. I couldn't believe the statements that were coming out of his mouth. I even photocopied all of the paperwork Dr Collins gave me regarding cord pathology, but the peri refused to take it from me. I went into his office and left it on his desk, telling him that he needed to look Dr Collins's Pregnancy Institute website up and read all of his peer-reviewed studies. He ended the conversation by saying, "any quack can have a website".

That was enough for one day. I felt like I was leaving the circus. I did march on up to reception though and make weekly appointments for non-stress tests and 2D ultrasounds for the next 5 weeks. I will also be getting my steroid shots and an amnio before 36 weeks. I will have this live, healthy baby in my arms, even if I have to personally mow down the entire OB community to get my way. Ain't nobody gonna hold me down.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

If he says no, just come to me.

I had a great appointment with my OB this morning. Essentially, she said that if my perinatologist won't do something I think I need to have (for example, a non-stress test before 32 weeks), we will go around him. "If he says no, just come to me"--sweetest sound to my ears. She's willing to do it all- NSTs whenever I want, checking me into the hospital for as long as I want, giving me steroids to help mature the baby's lungs, giving me an amnio at 32 weeks to check lung maturity, helping me go into labor... she's so freaking awesome. I also got my husband to call that administrator and get the DL on my account info and *exactly* how to use the home monitor.


Ah. I've momentarily been put as ease. I can breathe. Thank goodness. I was ready to check myself into the loony bin.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Quick update

I've been battling with this home monitor since Sunday afternoon. Dr Collins said it would take a week or so to get it 'working smoothly', and I had no idea what he meant (how hard could it be?!) until I actually tried to transmit a file. Problems I've encountered thus far: not having a landline to hook the modem up to (who runs things through landlines nowadays?), keeping a consistent heart rate with that huge probe doppler thing (it's pretty clumsy for a hospital grade piece of medical equipment), not being able to track down the administrator that sets up my account (he's so damn elusive!), not being able to transmit the files properly (why is the machine shutting off and turning back on by itself?), not being able to login to my account (is it even set up yet?)... blah, blah, blah. 

Nonetheless, there are two pieces of good/decent news: 1) I must have done something right with the transmission (after having multiple tantrums and frustration cries) because Dr Collins was able to successfully view my first strip (although he didn't get the text message alert notifying him that I have uploaded a strip- administrator, where are you?) and, 2) the baby's heart rate sounded good. She continues to have some cord compression (so it's somewhere on her body), but Dr Collins does not consider them 'decelerations' per say. I guess I have to relish the good news, even if they are just minor things. Man, I think I need a glass of wine....


N.B. This is not my strip (cos I can't access mine right now!). This strip shows a major deceleration and would require delivery.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

It's official. Thank G-d for Dr Collins.

Well, it's official. Officially sad and tragic actually. Cord issues DO recur in subsequent pregnancies. I'm living proof (amongst the other 1200 women who've been studied!). For those of you who aren't aware, my beautiful and flawless daughter, Shiloh, was born sleeping at 39 weeks, 5 days gestation due to an umbilical cord accident in Oct 2008. The cord was wrapped so tightly once around her neck (nuchal cord) and once around her body (body loop) that my OB couldn't even slide her fingers underneath it to free Shiloh after she was born. Her arms and neck were indented from the pressure of the very organ that was meant to sustain her life in utero. How ironic. *As I write this, tears are streaming down my face. Did this really happen to my daughter?* I miss her terribly.

Now, I'm pregnant with number 2. A little sister for Shiloh. I only wish she were here to experience it. I've been conflicted the entire 28 weeks. I'm scared out of my mind (which I previously thought was unsubstantiated, but due to prior experience). I wake up 5 times a night to make sure she hasn't passed away during my sleep. I freak out and think the worst if she is moving too much or too 'hard'. I contemplate running to the hospital every time she has the hiccups (yes- hiccups are ONLY related to cord compression. If your baby has hiccups, the cord IS being compressed one way or another, at least at certain times). Sometimes, when I'm really deluded, I even think this baby is Shiloh, that I've been given another chance with her (I haven't told ANYONE this before, and I feel awful just saying it). Yes. I'm a full-blown nut job and it's starting to wear thin on my being.

But the point of this post is actually to write about my appointment with Dr Collins. I just returned from my trip to Louisiana (a few hours ago!) to meet with Dr Collins regarding the home monitoring for this baby. He is such a passionate, caring man and one that truly wants to rid the world of unnecessary infant death. So, he gave me an ultrasound and hooked me up to the monitor for 30 minutes to check the baby's heart rate and to see if I am having contractions. I'll just get to the point- he confirmed my worst fears. There is cord compression (the baby has been having hiccups 2-3 times per day for 5-10 minutes each for the last 2 weeks) and she’s even having minor decelerations. The cord is possibly being compressed in one or all of three different places. Right now, it is between her legs, around her back and draped over her neck. It's not 360 degrees around any body part, but it's enough to cause her to lay on it or squeeze it at certain times. Now, the decelerations are only 10-30% and she only had 10 in 30 minutes, so he says the baby is ok for the moment, but if it gets worse- 50% and 30 in 30 minutes- I need to deliver. He wants me to get weekly, high-resolution ultrasounds to see what the cord is doing. So my fears are substantiated and now I'm beyond terrified. I want to get this baby out now. A.L.I.V.E. 

My OB is totally on board with whatever I want to do, but my perinatologist (who has the high resolution U/S) is not. I had to jump through hoops at 25 weeks to get him to do another U/S to check where the cord was. I begged him to start the non-stress testing at 32 weeks, instead of 34 (which was a compromise- I wanted to start at 30). He believes that the published work on stillbirth is not peer reviewed and has a biased population. He doesn't believe that cord accidents recur and doesn't make an effort to read the available literature (of which there is plenty, which has been peer reviewed by over 30 medical academics, thank you Dr Collins). I'm über-worried because I know he's going to resist when I tell him I need weekly ultrasounds. I feel a tiny bit confident that I will have the home monitor to fall back on for more accurate self-interpretation, but I'm still scared out of my mind. I need the support of these OBs and the hospital, not for them to put up a force field, and I hate that I have to singularly be so damn proactive. Doesn’t everyone want a baby to be born alive if its demise can easily be prevented? I’ll never understand how ignorance can be blissful for the medical community.

To be continued….

Sunday, September 5, 2010

LoveLE Maternity Photos

My 'LoveLE' friend, Autumn, an aspiring maternity photographer, took some maternity photos of me last week (25 weeks). Here are a few for your viewing pleasure.
video

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Detached

I feel so detached
    Detached from you
    Detached from this new life
    Detached from reality
    Detached because of fear
         Fear is so incapacitating
         Its icy fingers grip my heart
                    My mind
An uncompromising grip
I wish I felt differently
I wish this fear didn’t taint my thoughts
      Hinder my grieving for you
      My bonding with your sister
I’m so sorry, babies
                            But, I love you through this fear
                                                   I just hope that you feel it

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

You are my heart.


After having woken up with vivid dreams of Shiloh on the brain, feeling very emotional and missing my Shi so strongly, I walked out of my front door last weekend to find this watermark on my porch:


Thank you for letting me know that you are always near, Shi. I love you to bits. 

Monday, June 14, 2010

Afraid

I’m so tired of being afraid all the time. I wish I could just go to sleep and wake up seven months from now with a live, healthy baby in my arms, and my 2 year old Shiloh running around the house. But no. Instead, I’m always expecting the worst, in everything. If Andreas isn’t home in time from surfing, I picture him unconscious, face down in the ocean. If he is late from work and doesn’t call, I automatically assume he’s at the hospital because of a car accident. If I sleep on my right side, instead of my left, I worry that something will happen to Shiloh’s sibling if caught up in the cord. I’m even afraid because I am verbalizing my fears. What if they come true because I say it out loud? Am I jinxing myself? G-d forbid anything else happens in my life to drag Andreas and me down. I don’t know that we’d survive it. We are barely surviving as is.

I’m so tired of being afraid all the time. Will this ever change? I’m not able to enjoy one of the most enjoyable times in my life- pregnancy. I feel so robbed. Robbed because I don’t have my daughter, robbed because I don’t have my father, robbed because not only have these vital people been ripped away from me, but my happiness and hope have been ripped away as well. I don’t want to talk about “when the baby is born” (I actually get angry when people bring it up!), I don’t want to know the sex, or buy maternity clothes, or give the child a name, or set up a nursery, or put my name on the waiting list for daycare one day. I can’t do it. I did all of this for Shiloh, and look where it got me…. look where it got her.

I’m so tired of being afraid all the time. And it’s only going to abate once I deliver a healthy, live baby, not abort. Then I’ll be sleeping on the floor of the nursery, listening for breathing, worrying about SIDS instead of SADS (like a friend recently informed me). I’m fearful of even talking about this, so I’m going to stop now. 

I will though, be so bold as to say that fear is equally as encompassing as grief. But just like I don’t want to have to grieve anymore, I don't want to be afraid anymore. Unfortunately, neither of those wishes will come true. Like my grief, my fear will be perpetual, my fear will be on the forefront.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The baby that isn't here

Life carries on, whether I sink or swim. Nobody is waiting for me to catch up, to catch my breath. It seems like nobody talks about the baby anymore. The baby that isn't here. The baby that would have been a year and five months soon. The baby that could fill this gaping, ragged hole in my heart. The baby whose loss created this hole. 

I've been having new bouts of grief. I've been missing Shiloh so intensely lately. I cry at the drop of a hat- every ridiculous commercial, every dramatic show, every minute reminder of baby Shiloh, makes me ball. It's almost a relief though. I've actually been sort of angry and disappointed in myself because I haven't been able to dedicate as much time to Shiloh as I have in the past. I'm avoiding the pain because it makes me feel hopeless. To say hopelessness is a terrible feeling does not do it justice, and if you've never felt it before, I mean, really felt it from the deepest darkest pits, then you just cannot comprehend the utter unwillingness to live. But, maybe you can somewhat grasp why I attempt to avoid (emotionally) going back to this past. 

I look at my life now (busy, busy, busy- back to work, school and reintegrating myself into society) and contrast it to my life from October '08 to March (refusing to get out of bed, incessantly crying, hating everyone and everything), and I can't believe the complete 180 I've done. I can listen to music and enjoy it. I'm able to shoot the shit again. I can go to parties. Food doesn't just sustain me, but tastes good. I can sit at my office at school and actually be productive. I can (sometimes) hug my husband without thinking about the baby that isn't filling our arms. 

I'm actually kind of progressive. I've come a long way. But that doesn't mean that I miss my sweet baby Shiloh any less. It doesn't mean that I don't think about her every minute of the day, even when I sleep. It doesn't mean that I don't want people to bring her up in a casual conversation. It doesn't mean that I am emotionally stable, even though I may look it. It doesn't mean that people should ask me how I am and expect a superficial answer (don't ask me how I'm feeling if you don't want to know!). I guess I just want people to talk about Shiloh more. Just because time moves on for everyone else, doesn't mean it does for me....

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My trooper, Bear

An entire day in a cat cage at the vet.
General anesthesia.
4 teeth gone.
Other teeth cleaned.
Down to the root.
Shaved leg patches for IVs.
A catheter.
A swollen face.
A bruised ego.
A broken heart.
Copious pain.
Indefatigable moaning.
He truly is a Simon.
Overcoming adversity is our motto.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Secret Garden- January

For the first meeting of the month we thought we would speak about the holiday season and how you coped. What was it like for you? Did you do anything special in your child's memory?


As we expected, the holidays were harder than any normal day. Dec 12-Jan 2nd is the time when families come together to celebrate each other, and of course, we weren't  able to do that. Shiloh is always in our hearts, but she isn't here with us. It wasn't our first holiday season without Shiloh (she was born in Oct 08), but it was the first time that we were able to not only mourn her loss, but to enjoy the time that we spent with her, to relish in her beauty, her perfection, and to feel grateful that we did have her, if only for a short time. It was also the first time that Andreas and I celebrated a holiday all our own- Chrismukkah/Weinukkah. We hung Shiloh's (and dad's!) photos and lots of angels, on our Weinukkah tree and hung up a baby stocking (with Hanukkah gelt) for her. My mom even got baby Shiloh a stuffed animal Hanukkah doggie (he wears a yarmulke and holds a dreidel in his paw!). We are just now really learning how to make Shiloh a part of our lives (albeit, not how we wanted), by occasionally putting aside our grief, and appreciating the gift she gave us- the gift of her brief presence. 

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Shiloh's Totem


a ladybug crawls across
my sunglass lens,
out of focus, from the inside
I take them off to get a look at her,
she crawls across my hand
so tiny and so perfect,
no spots on her shiny back
I smile at her and make a wish
she flies away,
up to the sky
up to the day
* This poem is from my wonderful friend Sara. She gave it to me for Shiloh’s birthday in October and I’ve been reading it once a week since. Thank you Sara, for being there for me through these last 15 months. Your friendship has been an unyielding force (in a good way, of course!).