A Second Birthday

IMG_8279

Grace Louise would be two years old today. She’d be spunky and full of personality. She’d be walking, talking, and finding her own way through the world. She’d have a favorite toy, a favorite movie, a favorite food. She would be getting excited about her third Halloween, and she and I would be doing lots of fall-themed crafts and baking together. She would spend lots of time playing with the little girl next door, who is only a year older. I wish I knew what she would look like at this age – would she still look so much like her daddy, as she did when she was born? Would she have a full head of thick, dark hair like her brother does?

Last year, Trey and I spent this day huddled together. We struggled to get out of bed. We delivered a care package to our hospital for the next anonymous couple who lost their precious child. Grace’s name was on our lips all day. I was only about four months pregnant with Oliver, but couldn’t yet visualize what our little family would look like. Sadness weighed us down. We held our breath and waited for the day to be over, but were simultaneously terrified about her special day being gone. It was hard, all around.

This year is a little different. I woke up at 7:30 to the sound of my son playing happily in his crib, and was greeted with a big smile when I went to get him. With every fiber of my being, I wanted to curl up in bed and stay there, but I have a little boy depending on me for food, clean diapers, love, and smiles. So, we got up and played. Our goal on this day is always to do something kind for someone else, in Grace’s name, so we baked some cookies and wrote a card for a friend’s very ill wife. We took pictures as a family of four, Oliver’s first real introduction to his big sister. I still feel the heavy weight of sorrow, but this year, our boy lightened the load. He was the one always smiling, and encouraging us to smile.

I’m tired to my core, numb from mourning. I am out of words to describe what this day means to us and to the many others that love Gracie. I am not able to adequately verbalize what is in my heart tonight, but it is all for her. In remembering our beloved daughter, I am also reminded of the generosity and kindness that we were shown in those first, horrible days. Thank you for the flowers, the food, the private messages, the prayers, and the love. Thank you for mourning with us, and for thinking of our daughter. More than anything, I don’t want her life to be just about her death. I don’t want this to just be “something bad that happened to us.” When people think of my family, I want them to think of my hilarious, sweet-natured son with the vibrant blue eyes, and my beautiful daughter who made me a mother, taught me so many lessons about unconditional love, and brought my family closer together. Two children, equally important, equally acknowledged, equally loved.

Each fall, the Orionid meteor shower lights up the sky. The display is at its peak between October 20th and 22nd. When we celebrate Grace’s birthday each year, the night sky will be alive with shooting stars, falling for her. The sentimental part of me wants to believe that this is Gracie telling us that she loves us. We sure love her. So Happy Birthday, darling girl. We thought about you all day, though that’s nothing new. When he’s old enough, your brother will know all about you. He will speak your name, as we do, and on your birthday, he will celebrate your life.

IMG_9119 IMG_9122 IMG_8571 IMG_7557

Advertisements

A String of Hard Days

timeflies1Yesterday was the first of a long string of painful anniversaries. Though I can’t be certain, yesterday was likely the two-year anniversary of the day my daughter’s heart stopped beating. Two years since I felt her moving and gently kicking inside me. Two years since I last held the hope of a perfect family untarnished by sorrow.

Two years ago today, we heard the words that brought us to our knees: “I’m sorry, but I don’t see a heartbeat.” Just like it was yesterday, I so vividly remember collapsing in my husband’s arms, heart and soul destroyed. I remember the pained, confused, anguished look in his eyes, and I’m sure he saw the same in mine. Two years ago today, our world changed forever. We began the long process of saying goodbye to the little girl we were so ready to meet. We called the people we loved and broke their hearts. We cried until our bodies couldn’t produce a single tear more.

Today is hard, and there are more hard days ahead. Tuesday will be Grace’s second birthday – the day she silently entered the world, the only day I got to hold her in my arms and kiss her sweet forehead, the day we had looked forward to for so long. It is also the day we left the hospital without our child. The 26th is the day we stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our families, surrounded by flowers, and marked the beginning and end of her life with a small, private service. The 31st is the day we said our final goodbye at the back of a cemetery in that horrible crematorium. The 2nd is the day she finally came home, where she belongs. An “anniversary” is supposed to be a joyous occasion, reason for celebration. I wish I had a different word to describe these days.

Two years ago, we heard the same thing over and over: “This, too, will get better with time.” Nobody tried to convince me that the pain will ever go away (because it won’t), but so many people did tell us that it would get better. From my position two years ago, I just couldn’t (and didn’t want to) believe that they could possibly be right. No matter how much time has passed, how can a mother ever get up and walk away from the death of her child? How can she continue being in the world? But they were right. I still carry deep, ugly scars, but I’m not bleeding any more. There was a time when I was leveled every Sunday, because Sunday was the day that Gracie was born. Eventually, Sunday was just another day. Then, I sat quietly and mourned every month on the 19th and 21st. Eventually, a 19th passed and I hadn’t noticed. Each time I healed a little, I felt enormously guilty. “How could I possibly forget that yesterday was the 19th? I’m a terrible mother, already forgetting my child.” I couldn’t see it happening, but I was healing. Two years in, I still have plenty of hard days. There are a handful of songs that predictably shake me and can make me cry in the middle of the canned foods aisle. Sometimes a movie will cross my path that is just too hard to watch because it too closely mirrors my pain. It’s still hard to see little girls who are Gracie’s age, to know that those mothers were pregnant at the same time as I was, but got to bring their girl home and watch her grow. Christmas will always be bittersweet, as her absence is noticed beside her brother, in the light of the Christmas tree. I still hold too much bitterness and vitriol in my heart, but that’s getting better, too. I’d like to get to a place where I have no anger, no resentment, and very little sorrow. In that place, I miss and mourn my daughter, but completely celebrate her short life. I’m not there yet.

Just as we will always celebrate Oliver on March 28th, we will always celebrate Grace on October 21. But maybe there will come a year when we don’t also mark October 19th (and the 26th and 31st and November 2nd). Maybe there will come a year when those anniversaries pass unnoticed, and maybe there will come a year when I don’t feel guilty about letting them pass. Maybe. With Oliver, I have so many firsts to celebrate, so many milestones to mark. For Grace, I have a finite number, and most of them are sad. I don’t get to celebrate the day she took her first steps, but I can think of her a bit extra on the day she died. I don’t get to celebrate her first words, but I can think of her on the day of her memorial service. Those are the only milestones I have, so I will hold on to them as long as I can. It’s not about making her existence all about her death – it’s about taking every opportunity to remember the girl who holds such a special place in my heart. So today, that’s what we’re doing. We’re thinking of Gracie, holding Oliver a little tighter, and spending time together as a quiet family of four.

{If you haven’t read Gracie’s story, take a few minutes and help us remember our sweet daughter. Say her name out loud. Read about her life here.}

For the Night is Dark and Full of Terrors

7541f5c2784164e9d1d8c05bbe3a318aIt’s been quite a while since I’ve written here, but I’ve been a bit busy with my beautiful little boy. He’s nearly six months old now, and I don’t know where the time has gone. Every mom says this, I’m sure, but he is just the best little baby. He’s slept through the night since he was only two months old, he’s happy and calm and even-tempered, and he always has a smile for his mama. Even after all that we’ve been through, I tell myself everyday how lucky I am.

Still, parenting isn’t easy. I worry constantly that I’m not doing enough to challenge or stimulate him, and I feel enormous guilt when I leave him to play happily alone so I can get some work done or clean the kitchen. From the moment he was born, I’ve worried about keeping him safe, keeping him alive. Like all new moms, I check on him multiple times throughout the night to make sure he’s still breathing, and my heart stutters with every little cough. For me, however, this fear goes beyond what’s normal for new moms. For the first several months of his life, I was tormented each night with nightmares about his death. Most nights, I woke up searching the covers, certain that I’d fallen asleep with him in the bed and that I’d smothered him. It would take me quite a while to wake up enough to realize that he was safe and sleeping in his crib. Many times, my frantic searching would wake up Trey, who quickly learned the best ways to calm me.

As the months went on, this problem only got worse. One night, I flew out of bed and was screaming at the top of my lungs, having imagined that I’d dropped the baby and he was dead. Can you imagine waking up to a panicked, screaming wife? Poor Trey. When he finally woke me up, I collapsed in his arms, sobbing from the intensity of the fear. Each time I woke up in a panic, Oliver was safe and sound, but the very next night, it would happen again. I love him so deeply; I can’t bear the thought of losing him, too. There’s still a very big part of me that believes that I won’t ever get to be a mom, at least not for very long, so I’m just waiting for the day that my second child is stolen from me. Each time I have the nightmares, Oliver’s death is caused by something I’ve done, some way that I was neglectful or not watchful enough. I know this is tied into my complex feelings of guilt over Gracie’s death, but no matter how many times I tell myself that it wasn’t my fault (or how many other people tell me the same), I can’t ever truly believe it.

Eventually, when Oliver was reliably sleeping through the night, I should have been finally getting some rest, too. But my dreams kept me from sleeping well. Pressured by my family, I went to see my doctor. She prescribed some antidepressants, which didn’t work, and suggested I see a therapist for postpartum anxiety and PTSD, which I didn’t. The dreams became less frequent, but at least once a week, Trey wakes up to find me in a frenzy, often tearing through the covers in search of my baby.

Though the nightmares aren’t coming as frequently now, they’re every bit as intense as ever. Late last week, I had a dream that I was at Oliver’s funeral. It was held at the same funeral home that hosted Gracie’s funeral, but many more people attended this time. Like before, Trey and I sat huddled together, alone in the front row. Oliver’s tiny body laid still and silent in his open casket as a clergyman said words I couldn’t hear. When the service was over, I picked up Oliver’s casket and carried it out of the funeral home myself. He was mine to carry. I woke up, tears streaming down my face. (Even now, the images from that dream bring me to tears.) I checked on the boy and finally fell back asleep. A few hours later, my usual nightmare struck. Still asleep, I flung my body across Trey’s and screamed, trying to roll him toward me, convinced he was lying on the baby. During the day, I try very hard to strike a good balance between being a careful, watchful mom and being overly worried. I want him to grow up to be a happy, independent, confident boy, not burdened by my fears. Most days, I think I walk this line pretty well, but at night, I can’t control the wave of fear that comes rushing out of me.

IMG_9253A few days ago, I rewatched Hook, thinking about Robin Williams. It’s a cute movie that brought back childhood memories. I enjoyed it until close to the end, when Peter was recalling his childhood. As an infant, he was lost and came to grow up in Neverland. When he was old enough, he flew back to his family. As he peeked in their window, he saw that they had a new baby and had forgotten all about him. I lost it. What would Grace see if she peeked in our window? Does it look like we’ve forgotten all about her? That we have a new baby and don’t think about her anymore? Some days, it must look like this from the outside. I smile and laugh, I kiss and hug our son, and I don’t cry as much as I once did. To my great shame, I even answer “yes,” when strangers ask me if Oliver is our first baby. I don’t carry my heartbreak across my face anymore, so it would be easy to believe that I’m “over it.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Although we don’t talk about her as much anymore, I think about my daughter every day. Although I can see new babies without crying, I still break down when I hear certain songs. As the great Smokey Robinson said, “Now if I appear to be carefree, it’s only to camouflage my sadness. In order to shield my pride I try to cover this hurt with a show of gladness. But don’t let my show convince you that I’ve been happy since you decided to go…”

If you’re looking in my window, sweet Gracie, I hope you know that I will never forget about you. You will always be my first baby, my sweet daughter. I love you, and I always will.

Mother of Two

family_v1This day last year was among the worst of my life. When I read back over the blog post I wrote, I instantly connect to how broken I felt. I wanted to pull the covers over my head and hide. Really, I just wanted my baby girl. I still do, desperately, but things are very different now. As I sit in my living room and write, I look to my right and see my loving husband holding our beautiful son. I’ve finally begun the journey that I’ve waited so long to take. I spend all of my waking hours (and many of my sleeping hours!) caring for my gorgeous boy. I work hard to breastfeed him, even though it’s not going well. I change his dirty diapers, bathe him, kiss his sweet cheeks, and rock him to sleep. I am his mother. I wouldn’t give up this experience for anything in the world. Is this my first Mother’s Day, or my second? I don’t know how to answer that. One response takes something away from Grace, and the other takes something from Oliver. All I know with certainty is that this is my best Mother’s Day.

Trey made sure that this was a special day for me. He woke me up with banana pancakes and bacon in bed, followed by cards and presents. (I have a few little mother charms that I wear on a necklace, but the chain I had was way too long, so he got me a new chain. Hooray!) I took a mid-morning nap with my two favorite fellas, and we went for sushi with my mom. I’ve loved every minute of the celebration, but I had everything I wanted before I even opened my eyes: I have my son. I got to spend this sunny Sunday with the man I love, the boy who will someday call me mommy, and even got some time in with my own awesome mom. What more could I ask for?

The world looks so much brighter, just one year later. If you’d told me a year ago that I’d be so happy today, I don’t think I’d have believed you. With a heavy heart, I think about the women who spend today in agony, impatiently waiting for it to be over. I know what that feels like. I know the raw feeling of heartbreak, feeling like you’ve been robbed. I’ve spent this day in the depths of fertility issues, and I’ve spent it mired in loss. This is not an easy day for so many women, and it’s a complicated one for me. I am tremendously grateful for and in love with Oliver, but I also yearn for the little girl that lives in our hearts. I carried her urn with me today as we went for sushi, because she belongs with me. I wish I could give her a kiss and tell her that I love her, because I do. I always will. She is mine, every bit as much as Oliver is. As you give thanks today for the mothers in your life, don’t forget the ones with broken hearts. It may be too cruel to wish them a Happy Mother’s Day, but a simple “I love you” goes a long way.

I’ve held a lot of jobs, starting when I was 14. I’ve been an orthodontic assistant, a teacher, and an editor, but mother is without a doubt the best job in the world. I truly love every moment, even the ones at 2 a.m. or the ones covered in poop. I’m grateful that I’m able to stay home with him, love him, and raise him. Oliver is the coolest kid ever. He’s calm and happy, alert and aware, and seems like he’s always thinking deeply about something. I miss him when he naps. I stare into his face, into his blue eyes, and think about what kind of kid he’ll be, what kind of man. I’m trying really hard not to be one of those moms who thinks that everything her child does is precious and perfect, but let me tell you, it’s HARD, man. He’s just so damn awesome. He’s already changed so much and is growing like a weed…it makes me a little sad. There is already a big stack of clothes that no longer fit him. We’ve had to adjust the straps in his car seat so that they fit him properly. He’s not that sleepy newborn he once was. He holds his head up amazingly well for his age, and before I know it, he’ll be smiling, rolling over, crawling, and then walking away from me. There are so many amazing things to come, but I’m already sad about the ways he has changed. I guess this is just a lesson on the importance of savoring every moment.

A few nights ago, I woke up for a 4 a.m. feeding. The house was quiet and dark, Trey was sleeping, and one of the dogs was snoring. I sat in bed with Oliver, and he was wide awake and looking back at me. When he was done eating, I laid him on my chest and he tucked his sweet little head under my chin. It was one of those moments. Me and my son, together in the dark stillness. I felt overcome with the strength of my love for him, and for Trey. My beautiful little family. Happy Mother’s Day to the many kinds of mothers in the world. Happy Mother’s Day to my wonderful mom, who gives so much of herself and is already such a wonderful Pete. Happy Mother’s Day to my stepmom, Sveta, and my mother-in-law, Sheila. Happy Mother’s Day to my friends and family in various stages of motherhood, and to those who have lost a child. To that last group, be strong, but know that there are just as many moments when you’ll feel weak. It’s ok. Lean on those you love, and lean on me. Happy Mother’s Day, for all the wonderful and complicated things that it means.

To my children, I love you. You both made me a mother in such different ways. I will be your mother forever, beyond the end of my days and beyond the end of yours. To my husband, I love you. Thank you for always standing strong by my side, and for walking with me through this incredible life.

 photo 1        photo 4

I can’t watch that without sobbing hysterically…

“Baby mine, don’t you cry.

Baby mine, dry your eyes.

Rest your head close to my heart,

Never to part,

Baby of mine.”

18 Months

DSC_0008_01Our firstborn has been on my mind quite a bit, as she would have been 18 months old today. Our lives have changed in so many ways in the last year and a half. Even though I’m so enormously grateful for our little boy, my arms still ache to hold our little girl. I see Gracie when I look at her brother. They have the same slender fingers, and very similar facial features. Though she looked decidedly feminine and Oliver definitely looks like a boy, there is a strong family resemblance (i.e., they both look just like their daddy). By now, Grace would be walking and talking. She’d be looking more like a little girl and less like a baby. She’d have her own little personality; what kind of girl would she be? Would she be calm and aware like her brother? Would she be fiercely independent or a bit more snuggly and clingy? Are we different parents to Oliver than we would have been to Grace, simply because of our loss?

Now that Oliver is here, wishing for Gracie is tricky. If she were alive, we wouldn’t have gotten pregnant again so quickly and wouldn’t have Oliver. How can I wish for a version of the world that doesn’t have sweet Oliver in it? It’s complicated. Still, I’d give anything to kiss my girl, to parent her as a toddler, to watch her grow.

Mother’s Day is less than a month away, and this year promises to be so much happier than last. I will hold and kiss my son, think about my daughter, and spend the day with my husband. I will take pictures of my little family, and maybe make impressions of Oliver’s hands. I won’t sleep in, I’m sure, since Oliver will only be six weeks old and extra sleep isn’t in the cards for new moms. I’ll be grateful for my exhaustion. I’ll hold Gracie’s urn and dream about what should have been. Even though this Mother’s Day won’t be as simple and blissful as it is for some moms, it is a day I have been yearning for and looking forward to for so many years.

I’m overtired and don’t feel able to properly convert my feelings into words today. More than anything, I wanted to mark this day, since I know that we’d be celebrating if Grace were here. Happy half-birthday, baby girl. Your daddy and I love you and miss you every day. I wish you could meet your little brother; I know you’d be such a good big sister.

Due Date

IMG_2106Welcome to the world, sweet little boy! I’m overjoyed to introduce our son, Oliver Hudson.

I’ve been counting down to this day for nine months: it’s Oliver’s due date. April 10th. Though I knew that my doctors wouldn’t let me reach 40 weeks of pregnancy, this was still the date that we had in our minds as his birthday. Instead, we’ve been new parents for nearly two weeks now, and the experience has been so much more than I ever expected. We’ve been waiting to be parents for more than three years, and the road has been bumpy, to say the least. Now we’re here, with Oliver in our arms, and it has been worth every tear and every second spent waiting.

IMG_1986In mid-March, my fabulous OB went ahead and set the date for my labor induction: March 27. We were to report to the hospital at 7 am to begin the process of welcoming our boy into the world. One week before the big day, Oliver decided that he was no longer comfortable head-down and started to turn transverse (sideways). Obviously, babies can’t be born that way, so talk of a c-section began. Happily, when we arrived at the hospital, he’d turned head-down again and everything was looking great. The nurse took my medical history, started me on fluids, and began the Pitocin drip. Labor was pretty uneventful and my progress was slow. My OB broke my water around 1 pm, and we were terrified to see meconium in the fluid. Had he inhaled it? Would he need to stay in the NICU? The nurse assured us that it looked fresh and isolated, that it was common, and not to worry. We sure tried. The hours ticked by. I had to be induced with Gracie also, and that labor lasted for about 18 hours. Since Oliver is our second child, everyone assured me that things would go much faster. I was unconvinced. The doctor seemed sure that he’d be born by dinnertime, but I knew from the get-go that he wouldn’t arrive until the wee hours of the next morning. I just had a feeling.

As it turns out, I was right. Labor was moving very slowly, and he just didn’t want to come down into my pelvis. The nurses tried everything to speed things along. When my regular OB left for the night, I was 7 cm. By that point, I’d been at it for more than twelve hours, but I was doing just fine. A new nurse came in, as did a new doctor, and we kept on truckin. Two hours later, I was still at 7 cm. Two more hours went by, and I was still at 7 cm. The doctor and nurses knew that I wanted desperately to avoid a c-section, so they let me keep going. Oliver’s heart rate was steady and normal, and he showed no signs of distress. One of the most vivid memories I have from the night Grace was born is the silence in the delivery room. Where most parents get to hear their child’s first cry, we heard only our own. I have longed for that moment when my boy announces his arrival. I wanted the doctor to set him on my chest. I wanted to look into his eyes and say hello, only seconds after his birth. Aside from the fact that I was terrified of the recovery from a c-section, I didn’t want to be robbed of that moment yet again. So when labor stalled at 7 cm, I begged the doctor to let me keep going. I was fine, the baby was fine…we were in it for the long haul.

Around 3 am, the doctor came in to check on my progress. To my immense disappointment, nothing had changed. Seven damn centimeters. Fifty percent effaced. Zero station. The doctor was unwilling to keep waiting. It had been more than six hours with no progress. She told us that it was time to perform a c-section. She said it with such authority and assuredness that I didn’t feel like I had a say in the matter. Looking back, I wish I had argued a little bit more, though I don’t think it would have changed anything. I’d been stuck at 7 cm for so many hours with zero progress, so what good could a few more hours have made? Trey gave the ok, and they started prepping me for surgery. I sobbed and began shaking as my dream for Oliver’s first moments disappeared. At the end of the day, all that mattered was that he was born healthy and screaming, but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t disappointed. I was crushed. I tried to focus on the fact that I’d be meeting my son within the hour, but it was hard. Trey suited up for the OR suite, and I tried to calm myself. By the time they wheeled me out of my room, I was shaking violently. (I had the same physical reaction during my labor with Grace, so at least the shakes didn’t surprise me this time.)

IMG_1994They wheeled me down the hall into the cold, stark, white OR. I remember thinking how dingy and old the ceiling tiles looked. The anesthesiologist stayed near my head and calmly explained everything that was going to happen, and then narrated as we went along. They raised the sheet near my mid-section, and Trey was finally allowed in. When they were satisfied that the anesthesia was sufficient, they began. I was still shaking so violently that I wondered how they’d ever be able to make a straight cut, even though I knew that my bottom half was probably still. I held Trey’s hand and cried as the pushing and tugging began. Earlier in the day, the nurse had warned me that because there was meconium in the fluid, they wouldn’t stimulate the baby right away so they had a chance to suction his throat before he cried. She told us not to be worried if he didn’t cry right away. After a few moments of quiet surgery, at 3:41 am, someone beyond the curtain announced, “He’s born!” Only a few seconds later, we heard the sound we’d been waiting for: our child’s first cry. He was here. He was fine.

There are so many different kinds of tears a person can shed. I’ve cried tears of sadness, happiness, frustration, and heartbreak. During those first weeks after Gracie died, I shed a brand new kind of tear. I’d never experienced such grief and loss, and my cries were just as foreign to me as the situation we were in. I’d never cried that way before. When Trey and I first heard our son cry, we looked at each other and I burst into a brand new kind of sob. (I’m glad there were no cameras allowed, as I am certain that it was not a pretty cry!) The moment was surreal. It felt more like a dream than reality, and I had a hard time connecting with the fact that my little boy was just on the other side of the curtain. They took him to the warming table, where he continued to cry the most adorable, polite little cry I’d ever heard. Trey went to meet him and the nurses had to tell him that it was ok that he touch the baby…this was his son, after all. I waited alone while they cleaned and weighed him. (8 pounds six ounces, 20 inches long. Near-perfect 9.9 APGAR.) A few quick minutes later, Oliver was bundled in standard-issue baby blankets and placed in Trey’s arms. Trey brought my son to me and placed him on my chest. I remember thinking right away how much the baby looked like Trey, but he still didn’t feel like mine. It took me hours to truly feel like he was my child, and not just a cute baby on loan. I asked Trey to take Oliver off my chest, since I could get a better look at him when he was in Trey’s arms. (Plus, I loved watching my husband hold our son. Instant little family.)

As the nurse suspected, Oliver was sunny-side up, facing my naval rather than my spine. This explained his inability to fully engage in my pelvis. I could have kept laboring for hours with no change. His face had been pressed hard against my stomach, and when the doctor made the incision, her blade nicked his cheek. She apologized profusely for cutting him, but we didn’t care. The mark would heal and he was alive. What else mattered? (Trey said that even if it didn’t heal, “chicks dig scars.”)

They finished stitching me up, and lifted me off the operating table and back into a bed. Finally, after years of waiting, I got to properly hold my little boy in my arms. I don’t remember the ride back to our hospital room. I suppose my focus was directed at the beautiful new life in my arms. I no longer cared about the change in birth plan, or the recovery ahead of me. I had my little boy, and he was beautiful and perfect. Back in our room, Oliver met one of his grandmothers (my mom), aka Pete. The nurse took him from me and gave him his first proper bath. I wish I could remember more about these first few hours. I got a little sleep, and Oliver was taken for his first round of pokes and prods. At 7 am, twenty-four hours after admission, we were moved up to the maternity floor. We said goodbye to our extraordinary L&D nurses, and left the labor ward much happier than our last visit.

IMG_2024The hospital was under construction and lots of other women decided to have their babies all at the time, so the maternity ward was full. We were taken to an “overflow” room. Private but tiny. Once my bed was in there, there was barely enough room for a chair and Oliver’s tiny cot. The hours passed quickly thanks to constant visits from the nurses. Trey went home to shower, nap, and tend to the dogs, a hail storm passed over the hospital, I got out of bed for the first time, and made my first attempts at breastfeeding. Before long, our nurse told us that one of the proper maternity rooms was available, and that we’d get to move. Hallelujah! Our new room was about four times as large, and had a pull-out couch and a rocking chair. All great news since we had so many people who wanted to come meet our sweet boy. We settled in for the long haul: we’d be there until Monday.

The days passed slowly. We watched a lot of TV, I nursed nearly constantly, we took a lot of pictures of our beautiful son, we had lots of visitors, and the nurses came and went several times an hour. (They tell you to sleep when the baby sleeps, but the nurses won’t leave you alone long enough to let that happen!) The hospital food was atrocious, so we were grateful that my parents and friends kept us well-fed with food from the outside world.

IMG_2028I struggled quite a lot in those early days with breastfeeding. My milk was very slow to come in, and Oliver never seemed satisfied after eating. He began to lose weight a little bit too quickly, so the nurses wanted us to supplement with formula. I felt like such a failure that I nearly reached my breaking point. I remember desperately thinking that I am incapable of doing anything right for my children. I can’t conceive on my own, I couldn’t keep my daughter healthy and alive, I couldn’t give birth to my son without surgical intervention, and now my body wasn’t producing enough milk to keep him healthy and thriving. Maybe parenting is just something I’m not meant to do. We met with the lactation consultant, all of our nurses helped me get a good latch, and we tried pumping. None of it helped. It was obvious that Oliver needed more in order to grow, which is of course our priority, so we gave in and started a supplementation IMG_0740routine. Oliver isn’t the problem; he’s a natural at getting a good latch, and if my supply were strong enough, he’d be big and fat. He lost more than 10% of his birth weight, which is the magic number for doctors to start freaking out a bit. Nearly two weeks later, we’re still struggling to put weight on him and are having to supplement after every feeding. I can deal with the sleep deprivation, the c-section recovery, and the poopy diapers, but I’m having a really hard time dealing with my breastfeeding issues. I feel like things are slowly getting better, and I’m hopeful that we won’t have to supplement forever. I’m determined.

IMG_0749Monday finally came and we were released from the hospital. I relished every second of walking out of that building with my child. I remember the empty, hopeless feeling of leaving without Grace, so putting Oliver in his car seat was a special moment. We pulled into the driveway, carried Oliver inside, and closed the door. We were finally home, finally a little family. We’ve spent the last two weeks as typical new parents. We’re tired but we don’t care. Even after enduring loss, I love him more than I thought was possible. When he cries at 3 am and I’m dead on my feet, I look at his face and don’t feel a single iota of annoyance or frustration. I am immediately struck by his beauty and my heart swells with the need to take care of him and soothe his cries. Oliver is such a calm, steady little boy. He’s incredibly aware and alert for such a young baby, always looking around and seeming to be fascinated by his surroundings. He sleeps very well, almost too well. Most of the time, he’d sleep IMG_2099for eight hours if we let him, but I have to wake him every 2-3 hours so he can eat. Gotta put some weight on that skinny minny! He’s a very sleepy eater, which is yet another breastfeeding obstacle to overcome. We worry over every little thing, like every other new parent. Is his poop the right color? His umbilical stump fell off so soon…is that bad? What’s wrong with his goopy eyes? Why does he sound so congested? We’ve been to the pediatrician four times, and are headed back tomorrow for our fifth visit. (Two of those were simple weight checks, and one was a sick visit for his poor little eyes.) We’re trying to walk the line between taking responsible care of him and not worrying too much. I’m also trying really hard not to flood my Facebook wall with endless photos of him. Sure, we think he’s adorable and precious and perfect, but there’s a limit to the number of photos our friends and family can see before they start getting annoyed with me. Hopefully I haven’t already reached that number! Trust me, people…I’m showing incredible restraint!

IMG_0797Tomorrow, Oliver will be two weeks old. These have been two of the most remarkable, wonderful weeks of my life. I am amazed by the beautiful being we have created. I find myself sneaking peeks at my husband and feeling more in love than I’ve ever been. He’s been such a IMG_0779wonderful partner through everything, from our lowest lows to our new highs. Our family and friends have been so generous with their love, in ways both big and small; I feel wrapped in a cloak of their support. Trey has been lucky enough to get to stay home with us for these two weeks, and I’m so grateful for that. His presence has meant that I get to focus on breastfeeding and diaper changes, instead of dishes and laundry. He’s helped me in and out of bed when I’ve been in pain. (Word to the wise: don’t let yourself run out of pain meds three days after someone slices your stomach open.) He’s tried to calm me down when I’ve felt frustrated with breastfeeding. He’s made me dinner, kept the house clean, and has had such a positive attitude. He’s gotten to be here for so many “firsts,” and we’ll both be so sad when he goes back to work on Monday. I suspect that I’ll be sending him lots and lots of photos each day! We’re only two weeks into such an important chapter in our lives, and I have to keep reminding myself to pay attention and enjoy each moment. It’s gone by so fast. Oliver is incredible. He has such a big personality already. He loves to spread and stretch his fingers, he does huge, full-body stretches when he wakes up, and his bottom lip quivers big time when he’s unhappy. He’s peed on me a few times and pooped on Trey once. He doesn’t seem to mind the dogs, who are perplexed by him. He doesn’t really like bath time. He loves to be bounced, so we sit and bounce on the yoga ball when he won’t settle. I haven’t been able to get a great picture yet, but he frequently raises his eyebrows and wrinkles his brow in the cutest way. Each day brings something new and wonderful, and I find myself loving him more than I did when I went to sleep the night before. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.

I wish Gracie were here to meet her little brother. I wonder what she’d look like now, at 18 months old. She’d be such a good big sister. I look forward to watching Oliver grow and change, and I will think of Grace often when I look at him. They look so much alike. I love my two babies and am so proud to be their mommy.

(I’m sure that I’ve missed parts of the story, and I’m certain that I’m not as coherent as I usually am. I’m a bit tired!)

photo

Tomorrow

February 24I’m back, friends! This blog has been quiet since Thanksgiving, when I joyfully announced that we’re expecting a son. I have had a hard time writing during these last few months for a number of reasons. When I was pregnant with Grace, I wrote every week, marking the milestones and recording my pregnancy. Even though I’ve always enjoyed writing, blogging my pregnancy felt like something I did for her, something special. Since announcing my second pregnancy, I’ve been in a months-long, permanent state of holding my breath. I’m not normally a superstitious person, but I catch myself being careful about what I say or don’t say about our son. I haven’t shared his name widely (though many people do know), I haven’t posted many updates on Facebook, and I don’t say anything hopeful about the future without knocking on wood. Those superstitious tendencies have left me paralyzed when it came to writing here. How can I write about Grace without including my son? How can I write about my son when I feel too terrified to say anything? Thus, my silence.

These nine months have been filled with anxiety and terror. I started out feeling much calmer than I expected. We had a brief scare at the start of the pregnancy, but once we passed that hurdle, everything was ok. As the weeks went on, the anxiety started to slowly creep in. By the time I reached the third trimester and were within range of when we lost Grace, my anxiety skyrocketed. I’ve had more ultrasounds than I can count (sometimes two a week, I’d guess a total of 30). I’ve had lots of non-stress tests, weekly visits to my OB, and weekly visits to my perinatal specialist. They’ve kept such a close eye on me, purely in an effort to quell my fears. Grace’s death was merely an accident, unlikely to reoccur. There was no genetic condition to monitor. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is anything that could have kept me from worrying. We lost Grace in the matter of five minutes. If we were going to lose our son in the same way, there’s not much that anyone could do to prevent it, and I have been painfully aware of that.

Still, I’ve enjoyed getting to see our son as often as we have. Trey has attended almost every ultrasound. We’ve seen our son hiccupping, making kissy faces, clenching his fists, and practicing breathing. He’s been such an active little boy, having little dance parties in my belly. I spend lots of time staring at my belly, watching the jabs and waves, relishing every little movement. As thrilling as it is to feel him move, my fears creep in here, too. Each time I feel him move, I think, “Was that the last time? Will I ever feel him again?” Then I do feel him, and the thoughts circle back again. The rational part of my brain knows that Gracie’s death was only an accident. I know that it’s so unlikely that the same thing will happen a second time. It was unlikely in the first place, so two instances in a row is bordering on impossible. But 100% of my pregnancies have ended in stillbirth. 100% have ended suddenly and knocked me off my feet. I feel neurotic and silly for it because my brain knows how unlikely another loss is, but my heart remains unconvinced. Even now, less than 12 hours from my induction, I struggle with the ability to connect to the reality of the situation. Chances are incredibly high that I’ll be holding my son in my arms this weekend, but I just can’t bring myself to believe it. I’ve spent more time than I care to admit thinking about how I’ll handle it when our son dies. Not if, but when. What will I say to the people who have supported us? What will his funeral be like? Will I mourn him as deeply as I mourn Gracie? I catch myself thinking this way and though I wish there were more hope in my heart, it’s difficult. Every now and then, I feel a wave of excitement and joy, accompanied by the certainty that everything will be ok, and that our son will be healthy and alive. I think about the moment I hear him cry for the first time, and I’m overcome. I envision the nurse placing him in my arms, and I’m sure that I’ll be unable to see his face through my tears. I think about what it will be like when everyone else leaves the room, and it’s just me, my husband, and our son. A jubilant new little family. But as soon as I picture that moment, another image pops in: the sad picture of Trey and I, alone in our hospital room, holding Gracie. A sad, broken little family. My fear and pain have a stronger hold over my heart than the hope and joy, so the excitement never sticks around for long.

When we lost Grace, I was amazed, touched, and overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support we received. So many people reached out to us in sympathy and shared our loss. This pregnancy has given me a second opportunity to feel blown away by the love that surrounds us. Earlier this month, my mom threw us a very fabulous baby shower. Our house was full to the brim with family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. I’ve attended quite a few baby showers in my day, but the feeling in our home that day was something I’ve never experienced. Everyone there seemed so genuinely excited and hopeful for us. I felt enveloped in love. These were the people who cried and mourned with us, back again to cheer and smile with us. We received thoughtful and generous gifts not only from those at the shower, but from so many others across the city, state, and country, who simply wanted to let us know that they love us. What an amazing feeling. There have been many ways that our marriage has been touched by tragedy, hurt, and loss, but in so many other ways, we are incredibly lucky. Lucky to know such wonderful people, and luckier still to be loved by such wonderful people. Just as Grace was loved before she was born, so too is our son. So many people are hoping for updates and photos. So many want to come see our boy as soon as we will let them. He is already so loved.

Tonight is my last night at home with my husband, just the two of us. (Four if you count our cutie pie dogs.) After tonight, the next time we sleep in our bed will be with our son nearby. At 6:30 tomorrow morning, we report to the hospital to induce labor. I will be exactly 38 weeks along, and although he could feasibly keep baking for another two weeks, we are beyond ready to meet him. (Plus, the ultrasounds reveal that he has a gigantic head, so it’s a good thing that he’s coming early!) The house is clean, our bags are packed, the car seat is installed, the nursery is ready, and it is time. This has been a very long road. We’ve been trying to start our family since early 2011. We’ve spent 17 months trying to conceive and I’ve spent 18 full months being pregnant. At long last, we’re so close to bringing our child home with us. I can’t wait to be so exhausted that I can’t think straight, to be happy when I get three minutes to myself to take a shower, to clean up poop and puke, and to hear him cry just when I thought I’d gotten him settled. All of those moments that push new parents to the edge of tears will fill me with gratitude and exuberance. (And probably tears. Let’s be real here…) I want to feel his little head resting on my shoulder, his fist clutched tightly around my finger. I want to hear that first, life-affirming cry. I want to watch him grow. We are so grateful and excited to be parents again, to give all of the love we have to our little boy.

I’m not the praying type, but if you are, please keep the three of us in your prayers tomorrow. I promise to update you when I can, but I’m sure that it will be a while before I update this blog again. (I’ll be too busy spending every waking moment staring at my son’s face.) Watch for his birth announcement on Facebook. Thank you for all the ways you have laughed and cried with us, and mourned and celebrated. We love you guys. I’m off to spend a few quiet hours with the man I love, thinking about the little boy we’ve created and will soon get to meet. I can’t wait to hold you, my sweet boy.

(Trey sent me a text message tonight with a video from Annie. “The son will come out tomorrow. So you got to hang on till’ tomorrow, come what may! Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow. You’re only a day away!)

Enhanced by Zemanta