Thursday, February 9, 2017

Am I Enough? Version 2

Like some of you, I suffer with never feeling like I'm enough. I struggled a lot after Olive passed away with my new identity.  I knew I was a mother, but not having a child on earth made it very difficult for the outside world to see me as one.  It almost felt like I was keeping a secret from people, and that can be a very difficult way to live. Whether you're dealing with feelings of perfectionism, struggling with self-worth, anxiety or just being overwhelmed with everything you have going on, we tend to put on one face even though we're usually feeling like a fraud.

Some of you have commented to me that you weren't sure why I didn't write much when Abner was an infant. Some of that had to do with the fact that I was just plain tired, but most of it was that I was struggling with characteristics of myself that were coming to the surface - things I was learning about myself that I really didn't like. Sleep deprivation and constantly being needed were all things I had been longing for for so long, yet once they were here I was drained of every ounce of energy I had. On top of that I was putting on a smiling face to show everyone that I had never been happier now that I finally had a baby here on earth.

The truth was, I wasn't always happy.

I suffered from postpartum anxiety  - constantly feeling like I could die and then wondering who was going to take care of my family. I micromanaged every little thing - including the way my husband would put dishes away or what pajamas he would put on Abner before bed. If we left 5 minutes later than we had planned, I was screaming like a wild woman. I was trying to control EVERYTHING. There were days when I couldn't believe how ugly of a person I had become. Many nights I would sit in the rocking chair, sobbing while trying to get Abner to sleep for the seventh time that night and the thoughts that would run through my head were anything but beautiful.  I didn't feel like I deserved to be a mother, and felt like at any given time my husband might pick up and leave me because I wasn't a very kind wife.

I would compare myself to other mothers, wondering why I couldn't just take these nights and days with stride. I would look at other peoples relationships with their spouses and think they had it all together.  These are dangerous thoughts and social media only made it worse, yet I couldn't stop.  I had stopped spending my evenings in God's word and had become addicted to researching every thing under the sun trying to convince myself that I wasn't going crazy.

This past weekend I had an opportunity to travel to Memphis for an annual training that my sorority holds every year for it's collegiate members and their volunteer advisors. This weekend they had the courage to start tackling the difficult, and somewhat taboo conversations around mental health and mental illness. Not only was I forced to be vulnerable regarding my own signs of concern and issues, but it made me realize what today's students also deal with. Looking at the young women I had traveled with and realizing that from such a young age children are taught the social norms of how they are "supposed" to be - society's requirements for what makes someone "enough". For as much as I was learning (and as far as I *thought* I had come) I was also finding that it's extremely difficult to reverse all of the negative things you tell yourself.

For instance, over the weekend during a casual conversation about our children, a friend said five words to me that are still lingering in my mind.  She said, "you're such a good mom".  It makes me choke up just thinking about those words because as soon as she said them my first reaction was to say, "no I'm not." Instead, I politely thanked her and told her that meant a lot, even though I'm not sure I believed it.

Or when I returned home Sunday night my house was spotless.  The laundry was done, dishes were clean, junk drawers had been organized, play room shelves had been built and assembled - there was not a piece of clutter anywhere.  Once again, my first reaction was to feel like a failure: my husband can keep a better house than I can. Instead of recognizing that I had been complaining about the clutter for so long that he took the three days he was home with Abner to take care of it, immediately those pitiful thoughts of not being enough crept in.

Here's what it boils down to, for me anyway: I was wallowing in self-pity and didn't know how to get out. It happened for me in late August, that's when I hit rock bottom. I hadn't slept in over nine months, Abner was getting up 7-10 times a night (I felt guilty asking my husband to help because I was staying home and it he had to go to work every day), I wasn't taking care of myself and I honestly felt like I was losing my mind. I felt defeated, helpless and most importantly hopeless. Never in my life had I ever felt more lonely.

That is when I reached out for help. I discussed things with my midwife, I utilized resources that were available to me and I vowed to change my attitude and the way I cared for myself.  I read a devotion that stated, "to truly embrace our circumstances we must decide to stop pleading, "God, get me out of here!" and learn to humbly ask instead, "Lord, why have you brought me here?"

That was in August.  Today I can say that I'm in a better place.  I asked my husband for help and we developed a plan that would allow me to get more sleep.  We made room in our budget for a gym membership so that I could drop Abner off and have some time to myself a couple days a week.  I joined a mom's group and bible study which have been such a blessing to me.  The women I've met have been so real and so raw, helping me to recognize that I'm not alone in this season of life. God has been tugging and tugging at me to start writing again too, so here I am.  Once again, I'm doing this for me - if you happen to read along and can relate to what I share, I am so very thankful to you for joining me on this journey.

It's time to embrace vulnerability.  It's time to return to God and embark on a new relationship with Him.  It's time to forgive myself and to lead with grace.

It's time to believe that I AM ENOUGH.

"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Him who gives me strength." Phillipians 4:11-13

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Little Girl Named Olive

When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you gets fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence.

Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.

Flickers of guilt kindle regret
For all that was left unsaid or undone.

There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.

Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return

All the time.

“To Bless the Space Between Us, A Book of Blessings” by John O’Donohue

Today, out of nowhere, I was stopped dead in my tracks - holding my breath, unable to move for a few moments.  Today, I heard it - I've never heard it before - not in public anyway, only in my head.

"C'mon, Olive.  Come here, Olive - this way, sweetie."

Another family passed us by as we stood in the Tropical Dome at the Milwaukee Domes.  I asked Chuck, "did you hear that?  Did you hear what her name was?"

I've never heard another child named Olive called out in public before.  There was one time, two years ago, while we were in Charleston that a school group was on a ferry with us to go visit an island. Each of the little children had a nametag on and I *swore* that one of the children had a nametag that said Olive.  As a bereaved mother, desperate to see or hear her child's name, I pushed and shoved my way through the line so that I could get closer to that little girl.  I wondered if I looked strange as I walked further and further away from my husband, toward a little girl I didn't know. I wondered if her teacher or another parent would stop me or give me a hard time, but I just had to see her name.  I didn't want to talk to her, I just wanted to see another little girl named Olive.

Her name was Claire.

I walked away as quickly as I had approached her.

How stupid.  How creepy.  How frustrating that grief does this to you.

But today, almost two years later, that desperation was back.  I wanted to see her, that little girl.  I wanted to hear her talk - she looked roughly the same age Olive would be today.  This time I just followed with my eyes and my mind drifted to what my Olive would look like, sound like.  Would she be in a mismatched outfit because she demanded to dress herself this morning, or would she let me have dressed her in a cute pair of leggings and sweater dress - all set for our Saturday morning adventure?  Would her hair be long enough for a cute little ponytail or would it still be kind of awkward and short - just long enough for a barrette?  Would she have wanted to hold my hand today or would she be exploring more of her independence and run off to see what was around the corner like this little Olive was?

I'll never know.

These moments don't come as often as they used to, but when they do come they still surprise me. They still feel heavy. They still leave me breathless.  They just don't last as long.

I'm certain the picture of this little Olive will linger in my head and on my heart for a couple more days - then she'll make her way back to the part of my brain that holds onto her until the next time grief sneaks up and carries me back to what would be.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

I Don't Know What to Buy Her

The month of July is a tough one.  Or at least it has been for about two years now.  For loss families, the days and weeks leading up to the birth and/or death of their child can be tricky to navigate.  Many parents have said that they tend to become anxious, sad and moody.  I can say that in my experience the same holds true. Each day brings new emotions. Last year I thought this year would be better since we would have Olive's brother here with us.  

I don't know that it's easier or better, just different than what I expected to feel.

Having Abner in our lives is amazing and beautiful and we wouldn't change anything.  Yes, I just said that - it's hard to put into words, but even if we had to endure this all over again, my husband and I both agree that this is the way it would be.  That's hard for some to swallow - but the way we look at it, we won't ever get to change it so it doesn't make any sense trying to imagine a different life.

Yet I do.  

There are clearly still times I wonder what life with an almost two year old little girl would be like.  I wonder what she would look like, whose personality she would most take after and whether she'd be a better sleeper than her brother.  In my heart I know her, I have her pictured, I have her figured out. But in my head she's still just a blur of emotions and moments.

The months, weeks and days leading up to Olive's birth and death are very, very vivid for me.  I remember exact dates - my baby shower on May 31st, my husband's birthday dinner at Cafe Hollander on June 5th, our anniversary dinner at Mr. B's Steakhouse on June 18th, July 3rd - the day a dear friend gave birth to her son earlier than planned, July 4th - another friend gives birth earlier than planned, July 15th a college friend gives birth and I specifically recall them responding to my message on Facebook, "you'll be next!" - more July babies followed throughout that week as quite a few friends were due around the same time I was.  July 26th - the day a friend from elementary school lost her husband, July 27th - our last prenatal class where everyone brought their babies and told their birth stories to the two of us that had yet to deliver.  

This month is hard.  Even with Olive's little brother here these days pass me by and I feel myself getting tense as I choke back tears.  

Last year our Olive's Branches Day (coming up again on July 29th!) brought a new friend into my life.  It just so happened she also had a daughter that was born that same July.  She was kind enough to invite us to her birthday party and the day she invited us I happily accepted - that day I didn't feel extra sensitive, and even though watching these babies grow up has been difficult at times, it's also helped me create the version of Olive I know in my heart.  

But yesterday I stood in the store, searching for a gift, when it hit me.

"I don't know what to buy her"

I have absolutely no idea what a two year old girl would enjoy.  I stared blankly at the shelves, not able to figure out what on earth to buy her.  To anyone else they would have just asked the parent what the child was into, or maybe they would have just guessed and hoped for the best. Ironically in June I had attended a 2 year old's birthday party, and I guessed at what to get her.  But come July it's like my brain flips a switch. I was standing in the store, a mother of a child who should be the same age, and I didn't know what to do. 

I will never know what to do.

I moved over to the clothes, which was a bad idea.  For months after Olive died I would bypass any little girl's clothes in any store I was in.  I would take the most round-about way through the store so that I would not have to look at those clothes.  I still try to avoid them for the most part - but today I stood there, holding up dresses and outfits that should fit my 2 year old daughter and I lost it.  I stood in the store, tears streaming down my face and prayed, "Lord God, please give me the strength to leave this store."

I put the dress back in it's place and walked away.  I could not go to that birthday party.  As much as I wanted to celebrate that beautiful child I knew in my heart it would be too hard.  All day I felt sad.  I felt a weight in my chest and a lump in my throat.  And I know it will be here all month.  

Instead of planning a 2nd birthday party I've been thinking about what we can do this year to spread love and joy in Olive's memory.  The truth is that I may not know what to do until that day comes. People always ask if we have anything special planned, and I feel bad saying no.  But honestly, it's hard to think of "special" things to do when the day holds so many mixed feelings. I know once the 29th comes we will once again be blown away at the acts of kindness, and will have no choice but to feel joy in our hearts for the way our daughter's life is celebrated around the country.

Until then I've got about 12 more days of recalling what I was doing and how I was feeling as I prepared to welcome my first child.  I look at Abner and wonder if he'd be here if she were still alive. He's the age she would have been when we found out we were pregnant again.  I can't help to think I'd be too busy (and tired!) to even think about another baby, and then I remember I was too busy and too tired - busy grieving and tired of having empty arms - so I stop and give thanks.  Thanks to God for knowing exactly what we need when we need it.  Thanks to God for these beautiful children and the overwhelming emotions that come with being their mother.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Abner's Birth Story

If my lack of writing is any indication to you how life has been, you'll understand that I've been completely consumed.  Becoming a stay-at-home mom has been more challenging (also very rewarding) than I ever could have imagined.  As this little guy grows and changes, I find that my days are more and more involved.  While this is such a blessing, it's also been quite challenging to find time for myself.

You may be saying, "but, Nicole - you gave up time for yourself when you decided to stay at home", and to that there is some truth.  However, I'm finding that in order to be a better mother, I need to carve out some time each week for me.  I told myself that I was going to be better about writing, and I probably start a couple of blog posts a week in my head never to get them on the actual computer. I'm really hoping that will change as I get into more of a groove here at home.

Since baby is currently napping (which means he'll probably wake up at some point during this post...because that's just life, right?!) I've decided to write the post I get asked about the most:  Abner's birth story.

With this pregnancy we decided to do things a bit different as it related to our back up plan.  When I was pregnant with Olive we used the back up OB that the midwives at our center practice with.  That OB was great, but we wanted someone closer to home and I preferred someone that I could continue to use as an OB/primary care provider after the birth of this baby.  My midwife made a couple of calls as the provider I had my heart set on wasn't currently accepting new patients.  I'm so thankful that she was able to take us on as it made me feel 100% confident in the plan we had in place.

I was due on December 12th, but I knew in the back of my mind that as much as I trusted all of my providers, the closer I got to my due date (actually going over my due date) the higher the chance was that this baby could also aspirate on meconium.  I'd love to tell you that all of my trust was in God, but I'm human - and if there were things I could do here on earth to make my heart and mind rest a bit, I was going to explore all of my options.

When we met with the OB at our consultation we discussed what my options would be as we approached my due date.  We had decided that we would consider having my membranes swept (or sometimes referred to as a stripping of membranes) and if that didn't work, we would induce a week before my due date.  I felt comfortable with this plan at the time and continued on with the pregnancy.

As the weeks passed, my appointments were going well as were our non-stress tests.  Beginning at week 36 I started to go to the OB twice a week to get hooked up to a monitor that would measure baby's heart rate and check if there were any contractions.  The goal was to get baby to move around and increase heart rate a certain amount of times within a 30-45 minute time frame.  In addition to these non-stress tests I was also seeing my midwife each week.  I'm so thankful for an employer who understood and allowed me to leave the office 3 times per week to make sure our baby was getting the best care possible!

Week 38 approached and I knew we had discussed inducing around week 39 if I wasn't progressing.  I wasn't entirely comfortable with that anymore, as I really did want to deliver at the birthing center.  I had talked with my midwife - I was about 3 cm dilated for roughly a week and we both felt comfortable waiting and doing the membrane sweep at week 39 instead.  We scheduled that procedure for Sunday, December 6th.

That morning my husband and I packed a bag and headed to the birthing center.  I was roughly 4 cm dilated at that point and was 39 weeks and 1 day along.  The process of having your membranes swept consists of your provider taking their fingertips and running them along your cervix - really just loosening the bag of waters (which is suctioned to the cervix) and releasing that suction.  If your body is ready, labor typically begins within 24-48 hours - but there is no guarantee as we all know babies come when they are good and ready!

It helped that at that time I was now at 4 cm and having some minor contractions. I felt comfortable that we weren't doing anything unnatural and just trying to encourage my body to move along.  She performed the procedure and told my husband and I to get up and get moving.  We planned a day of lunch and walking around a local outdoor area (thank goodness for a mild December!).  A few hours later we returned to the birthing center for her to do the procedure again - at that point I was already to 5 cm!  Contractions were also getting stronger, but nothing super consistent.  We had hoped we'd be checking into the center, but baby was holding on a little longer.  After a long day we went home and I was in bed by 830pm.

I woke around 130 in the morning wide awake - no contractions, just couldn't sleep (probably since I had gone to bed so early the night before).  I laid in bed checking my phone - email, Facebook, Instagram - anything I could do to stay awake.  Around 3am I decided I should probably put the phone away and try to get a little more rest since I had to work that day (I had been working from home but still needed to be logged in by 8am). I plugged my phone back in, rolled over and felt a sneeze coming on.  I sneezed as quietly as I could, not to wake my husband, and then I felt it - a pretty strong contraction.  I got comfy and shut my eyes to fall back asleep - 8 minutes later - another contraction.  This went on for the next two hours - every 7-8 minutes I had a contraction.  At 5am I thought I should get up, log in, check some emails and wrap things up - these contractions were different.  I knew baby was coming!

Throughout all of this I was very calm - my emotions had been in check.  I was confident in our plan and was certain we were bringing home a baby.  I figured I would stay on my feet and check my email to let gravity do it's work.  From 5-6am I stayed online and while my contractions got closer together, they were no longer as strong. I laid down and they started back up, but by 7am all contractions had stopped.  STOPPED!

What the....???

I started climbing the stairs two-by-two, bouncing on the exercise ball, doing laps around the kitchen - clearly the baby didn't get the memo: I was expecting him TODAY!

I called my midwife and she assured me that labor was in process and I should actually be resting because I was probably going to need my energy!  I had a chiropractic appointment already scheduled that day and since she was in the same office, she agreed to have me come in so she could check baby's heart tones and help me continue to feel confident.  I continued to check email (but did cancel my conference call as I was certain that me groaning to a customer wasn't good for business!)

By the time my appointment came I was having contractions again.  I saw my chiropractor, was adjusted and then stopped in to get baby checked out.  Everything sounded great with him and I was advised to go back home and rest.  We were to have a prenatal group class that night and I told my midwife we'd be attending that class as I wanted to keep my day going as normal as I could.

My husband and I stopped at the grocery store on our way home to grab a couple of things and randomly I would stop in the aisle, hold my belly, breathe through a contraction and then move on. They were stronger, but still very inconsistent.  After the store we went home, I set my out-of-office and laid down on the couch.  Throughout my "nap" my breathing must have changed because my husband asked me if my contractions were strong - he felt that he could hear it in the way I was responding to them, and he was right - laying down definitely brought them back, harder and more frequently. I had only been lying down for about an hour and they were roughly 3-5 minutes apart.  I called my midwife and told her that we were going to be heading to class early so she could check me again.  By 430pm my contractions had gone from 3-5 minutes apart to 1-2 minutes apart - we needed to leave NOW.  But of course, I ran around the house - grabbing things and stalling.  By 5pm we were finally in the car - just in time for rush hour traffic.

The birthing center is about 25 minutes away from our house but that day it took a little longer - thankfully nothing too crazy.  By 545 we had arrived and parked.  I wasn't prepared for what I saw when I walked in.

At the reception desk were the receptionist, all three midwives that were present for Olive's birth, a traveling midwife who was visiting and one of the students who I have known since my pregnancy with Olive.  They were all there - waiting for me - with tears in their eyes they welcomed me in.  It was too much.  All of the emotions came over me and I broke down.  I was going to have a baby...again.  But first, another contraction.

Lord, be with us.  Be with the midwives watching over us and caring for us.  Be with our son and aid him through this birth.  If it be your will, Lord, grant us a healthy, breathing baby.

There are three birthing suites in the center, and weeks before we had decided not to deliver in the room that Olive had been born in.  We wanted a different experience and one that would set this baby's story apart from his sister's.  We got settled into the Sophia Suite and after an initial evaluation I got into the tub to labor.  I kept trying to see if I could feel baby's head, and I could, but in my mind I still felt as though I had a while before he would be here.  My husband was trying to keep our family informed while helping me to stay as comfortable as I could. I kept changing positions (as best I could in the water), doing anything I could to keep things moving.  This labor was already much different than my labor with Olive, as with her I just wanted to sit and not move.  I had forgotten how intense labor was, but I told myself I was going to power through because I wanted this baby OUT!

My midwives were getting ready to leave us to labor, but told us to page them when I felt like pushing.  I remember laughing to myself and telling my husband (after they left the room) that I was no where near ready to push.  Why did everyone think this baby was coming so quickly?  I asked one of them if she would do me a favor.  After Olive died we had gifted her a picture of Olive's feet so she could keep her close to her in her office.  I knew that picture was in the birthing center and I asked her if she would bring it to our suite.  She set it on a table right next to the tub.

With each contraction I remembered how much I hated this part and then decided that I was going to start to bear down a little. I didn't feel like I had to push but thought there wasn't any harm in trying to get baby moving a little further down the birth canal, right?  Once I started to bear down my body took over and went into full fledged pushing.

I pushed for about 10 minutes and then the midwives returned with a cart for delivery.  I STILL was not convinced that I was having this baby so soon (maybe since I had been up since 130am? I must have been out of it!) My water broke around this time and someone exclaimed, "it's all clear!" to give me reassurance that there was no meconium in the waters.  What a relief! After about 15 more minutes of pushing one midwife exclaimed that she could see the head.

Yep, no one had to tell me that baby was crowning - at that moment I clearly remembered that feeling.  The burning sensation I was feeling was awful, but I wasn't going to stop now....I kept pushing as hard as I could.  And then his head was out.  I have never wanted that next contraction to come as fast as I did then. They put a mirror in the tub so I could watch him come out and with the next push - he was here!  My midwife grabbed him, brought him out of the water and laid that SCREAMING baby on my chest.  He was born at 745pm - exactly two hours after we had arrived at the center.

Our midwives were crying, my husband was crying and I was crying, but more importantly our baby was crying - a sound we had never heard before.  It was the most amazing sound we'd ever heard! We stayed in the tub for awhile and after about 20 minutes I was able to cut his cord, my husband took over holding baby and I got out of the tub to get cleaned up and get into bed.

By 830 pm we were all nestled into bed and were able to call and text some family with the news. We still hadn't decided on a name yet either.  We thought we had a name chosen, but then a week before he was born, my husband came up with Abner.  It was a name that I hadn't thought of, but between both names I was leaning more towards Abner (I think he was too).  I had some very specific reasons why I liked the name, which I'll explain a later post. Thankfully we were on the same page, and we settled on Abner for sure.  We also knew we wanted to honor Olive by using Oliver as a middle name.

Abner (Abe) Oliver was born on Monday, December 7th.  He was 8 pounds, 6 ounces (bigger than his sister!) and 22 inches long (2 inches longer than Olive as well!)  He was perfect and we were in love.

*Fun fact: my great-grandmother and I delivered both of our babies on the same exact dates! Both of our firstborns were born on July 29th - 74 years after she had my grandfather, Olive was born.  Our second babies were born on December 7th - 72 years after she had my great uncle, Abner was born.*

Sunday, April 24, 2016

And Then I Left You Wondering....

Wow!  What a whirlwind these last 4.5 months have been.  So many times while on maternity leave I thought to myself, "Self, you should really write a blog post."

I probably started about 30 posts in my mind, but never quite brought myself to sit down at the computer and share them with you.

I wonder now if that was intentional.  The post before my last one, Glass Belly, indicated to you that I was feeling a bit guarded during this last pregnancy.  It was almost as though I was trying to protect this baby in a way I hadn't been able to protect Olive.  And while I recognize that I am the one who started the blog, and I am the one who chose to be so vulnerable from the start - I also recognize that there are moments when I need to be guarded - to hold onto these feelings and emotions until my heart tells me it's OK to let go of them.

Abner (Abe) Oliver Smith joined our family the evening of Monday, December 7th.  His birth was quick and it was healing.  I'm working on his birth story to share with all of you, and that will be released soon. It has been an emotional and beautiful journey as we welcomed him into this family

My first thoughts of Olive actually came on his third day of life.  I should say that I thought of her before that, but memories of her flooded my heart and my mind when I recognized that he had outlived her.  I remember nursing him to sleep that night - still struggling with his latch, wondering what on earth I was doing, feeling very frustrated - and then I stopped.

In my sleep-deprived state I realized he was older than his older sister.  My heart sank.

Here I was - tired, frustrated and sad.  The bond of breastfeeding that I never got to share with her, but I had this moment with him.  All the hormonal feels hit me at once and I broke down and sobbed.

Memories of her usually come in those quiet moments with him.  For awhile I would keep her to myself, but then I began using those moments to share her with him.  Telling him all about his big sister and praying over him that prayer I've shared with you in posts before, "Lord, I trust you with my life and death, and with the lives and deaths of my babies."

Now that Abner is older, and breastfeeding doesn't take nearly as long as it used to, I find those moments don't hit me as hard.  To be honest, thoughts of her come and go and some days I have to dig really, really deep to find her.  I'm certain it's my brain's way of protecting me, protecting him, right now.  After all, he is the one that is here with me.  He is the one that I need to be aware of and tuned into.   There is still room for both - both live in my mind and are loved in my heart, but right now he is who I'm focused on.

I've accepted that.

It took awhile, but I'm ok with that right now.  There were many moments throughout his first 12 weeks of life that I would tell my husband, "I can't wait until these moments pass - until he's older and it's easier."  Those were hard things to admit, but they were true.  A year ago I was begging for the hard days, the sleepless nights and the challenges of motherhood.  Yet, when they arrived, there were days I felt as though I would never get it right - add on top of that the guilt for feeling that way when I so desperately wanted those feelings just months prior -  and I was a hot mess.

He assured me I was allowed to have bad days.  I was still human and just because I longed for those days when I didn't have them, didn't negate the fact that they were HARD days and I was not a bad person for wishing that time to pass.  It's funny because I think back to those moments now and they feel like an eternity ago - much like she does.

Just yesterday Abe and I were out for a walk, and I was telling him all about the walks I took when he and sissy were in my belly.  The way that walking helped me to process my thoughts and feelings. I told him of the days I would contemplate motherhood, especially after Olive died, wondering how on earth I was going to love him as much as I loved her.  It's funny, they say that your heart expands when you have more children.  I definitely have love in my heart for them both, but I love them differently.  I have to.  He's here and she's not.  There are parts of me that he will always have available to him, and parts of me that will be reserved for her and her alone.

Right now we are doing well.  Our journey is taking us into a new season of life - one that will require much more of me, but will allow me to focus all of my energy into these parts of motherhood that I've waited so long for.  More to come on all of that!

Thank you for your patience (and continued support when you thought I had played the worst trick in the world and left you hanging.....) as I got my bearings and finally found it in me to sit back down and continue the story.  All of you have played a role in this journey, and Abner and I pray for you every night during our bedtime prayers "....God bless all of my friends and everyone who loves me and prays for me"

God bless you, friends and thank you for your love!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Am I Strong Enough to Do This?

Shortly after we lost Olive I found myself clinging to my Bible for dear life. I longed to understand what God was doing, why on earth He would take her - I was looking for answers.  I not only wanted to understand why she was gone, but I wanted to understand where she was.  I compared myself to a mother whose child had gone missing - I knew she was out there....but where?  Where was heaven?  How could she be here one minute and gone the next?

I remember the night I read it - the chapter in the Bible that knocked me back to my rightful place.  That was a humbling night, a night I don't think I will ever forget.  I had been reading the book of Job, after all, I felt as though I had a connection to him.  He had lost everything (literally) and I felt like I had lost everything.  I got to Chapter 38 and I stopped in my tracks.  If you have a Bible, or a phone, I encourage you to look it up.  It's not a long chapter, but too long to post  here.

The basis of the chapter is that the Lord tells Job to brace himself and be prepared to answer to God.  God asks him where he was when He laid the earth's foundation? Where was Job when the waters of the seas were contained or when he created the clouds?  He asks Job if he's ever "given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn it's place"?  Basically he is asking Job to humble himself and stop questioning the God of the universe.  It's a beautiful chapter - one I turn to every so often when I'm consumed in self-pity and doubt. 

Here I am, exactly 16 months later, ready to welcome Olive's baby brother any day now - and how foolish I've been lately.  I've not only been questioning God, asking God to give me signs but also doubting Him and His care and concern for me.

Truth be told I am scared.  I felt as though I was losing all confidence.  As the weeks flew by (this pregnancy has gone so quickly for us!) I felt the anxiety and doubt creeping in. I prayed that God would send me some encouragement, and He most certainly did.

Recently I had lunch with an old friend, a friend I haven't physically seen in quite some time, but one that is very dear to me and has often times shared words of comfort and hope just when I  needed them.  She gave me some bible verses to have with me when I am laboring.  I've been reading them each day as I know delivery is just around the corner. It dawned on me as I was reading that the reason for my fear was  not because God had left me, but because I was focusing too much on how I  was going to get through this. Not how God was going to help me through this, but how I was going to handle this labor, how I was going to push this baby out, how I was going to do this all on my own.

Silly me.

I lift my eyes to the hills.  Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of Heaven and earth.  Psalm 121:1-2

This verse, when I read it, quickly took me back to Job 38. My HELP comes from the Lord - the one who made the heavens and the earth!  How foolish I've been thinking that I could do this all alone.  Sure, I suppose one could argue that I'm the one physically needing to endure the labor and physically need to deliver this baby - but the mental, emotional and spiritual strength needed is much greater than the physical strength - and that, that comes from the Lord. 

As I prepare to welcome this baby I am NOT fearful of losing him - let me be clear - while I certainly can't predict the future, I've said all along that I firmly believe this baby is coming home with us.  It has nothing to do with where we deliver or how long it will take to deliver him - it was solely a fear of "am I strong enough to do this?" 

There was a time after we received Olive's autopsy that I believed my body had failed us, that it was my fault. I made up every reason why I was to blame: my body didn't know what to do, the birth canal wasn't wide enough so it cause her cord to compress, maybe I had lifted or twisted wrong leading up to her delivery and it put her in distress.  Any and all ways I could blame myself, I did. 

Looking back, I recognize that I had done nothing wrong.  Our providers did nothing wrong.  The EMTs did nothing wrong.  The hospital staff did nothing wrong.  Olive's death had nothing to do with where we delivered her or how long I pushed for.  It had everything to do with God's will for our lives and the beautiful and amazing way her life would bring Him glory. And as the last 16 months have proven, albeit extremely difficult at times, I am at peace with her life and her death.  It still hurts at times, but I have seen the beauty from the ashes - and part of that beauty is the new life we are about to welcome.

I don't know if we would have had another baby this soon had Olive lived.  I know it will be painful to not have a big sister there to welcome this baby with us, but she's in our hearts and in our minds and will be very present through us in that room on that day.  But more importantly, the Lord of all creation will be very present in that room as well.  His plan has unfolded in a beautiful way - not at all the way I would have chosen (more reason to be thankful I am not the one in control!) - rather "His perfect will in His perfect way."

I can't say I'm entirely ready - but I'm as close as I'll ever be.  I cannot wait to share our news with all of you - and continue to welcome your prayers, love and strength.  Feel free to leave any verses, quotes or words of encouragement or inspiration that have gotten you through a challenging time. I would love to have pieces of all of you with us that day as we welcome our son.

Whenever anything happens, I am there.  Isaiah 48:16

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Glass Belly

When I started writing a little over a year ago I was in a much different place.  This blog started as a result of the pain and suffering I was feeling after losing my daughter.  It was helpful to me to be as open and vulnerable as I could, as a way to help myself - and a bonus has been that others have been educated on what an infant loss journey can look like. 

I knew that eventually life would take us down a different path, and I envisioned that the blog would follow along with us.  To an extent that has been true, but I've learned some things about myself through this pregnancy that I wasn't quite expecting.  While I'm normally an open book (about pretty much everything in my life) when it came time to write about this pregnancy and this baby - I've been a little more closed off.  My therapist refers to it as my "glass belly".  You see, the innocence and naivete of pregnancy and birth is gone.  Since losing my first child, I will never, EVER, experience the innocent bliss that most mothers face when bringing a baby into the world.  I will never be one who knows the statistics of what *could* happen.  I am the statistic.

That has made this pregnancy a bit different.  In the beginning I was hesitant to tell people that I was pregnant, but at the same time knew that we may only get a short time with this baby and to share him with as many people as I could.  But as my belly started to grow, so did my anxiety.  With a growing belly comes many questions: "When are you due?", "Do you know what you are having?", "Is this your first?" Each question would hit me like a ton of bricks.

No, this isn't my first - it's my third, but sometimes I say it's my second.  Truth is I don't always know how to answer.  I usually leave it at that, but often times it's followed up with, "How old are your others?" Punch to the gut.  I often feel worse for making the other person feel so horrible for even asking.  It's a simple question, really.  But the answer is anything but simple.

"It's a little boy." Such a matter-of-fact statement, usually followed with a response of "How wonderful, you'll love having a little boy!"  True, I'm sure.  But I didn't always feel that way.  Truth is I had a feeling all along this was a boy, and while we are beyond excited for his arrival, I was not initially this excited.  I wanted a daughter.  I felt robbed of getting to raise the little girl I had dreamed of, and I knew that she may be the only daughter I ever get.  There was a point when that was not good enough of an answer for me.  People were congratulating us on having a little boy and I remember calling my mother, sobbing, because I didn't feel as happy as they did. 

That may sound harsh, but gender disappointment is real - especially in the loss community.  Please understand that if Olive had been a boy and I found out I was now carrying a girl, I would have felt the same way.  It's longing for the baby you didn't get a chance to raise.  It's shifting your whole mindset to a new way of thinking when you never really got to wrap your head around the other way of thinking.  Some loss parents are upset if they are having the same gender, they want the other gender to help them process that this is a different baby, hopefully with a different outcome.

I've become very protective of my glass belly.  When others ask how I'm feeling or how things are going, I usually respond with a short, "I'm fine" because I'm not interested in talking about the details.  Not because they aren't important, but because they are hard to talk about.  This pregnancy has been fairly easy, very similar to my pregnancy with Olive.  That scares me.  I know that just because things are going well doesn't mean they'll end well. That reality is becoming more apparent to me as the weeks fly by.

I've recently begun my third trimester, and I woke up in a panic attack.  Most mothers are anxious because they only have a short amount of time to get the nursery finished, wash baby clothes and finish nesting.  I am anxious because I may only have 12 +/- weeks with my son left.  I know that sounds morbid, and I suppose it is.  But it's also the world I live in now.  Each week is a milestone for us.  Each week another blessing.

"Lord, I trust you with my life and death and with the lives and deaths of my babies"

This is a prayer that I started praying after we lost Olive.  I had to remind myself daily to trust in the Lord.  Since then, life, death and baby have all become plural.  We have lost two children.  This is my third pregnancy and we still have brought no babies home.  I have to trust in the Lord.  It's my only option.  But it's also a struggle each and every day.

People have commented on my strength, but the truth is I'm no stronger than the next person out there.  I struggle each day to read my bible and make time for God.  I struggle each day to pray meaningful prayers where I'm not constantly asking for things, but rather where the only request I have is that I am open and accepting to God's will for my life.  The human nature in me struggles because I want to bring this baby home, I want to make all the right decisions regarding his care, I want to be the best mother I can be.  But fear, self-doubt, unsolicited advice and opinions of others creep in and I find myself clinging to God for dear life, begging him to increase my faith, calm my nerves and trust that, together, we will get through this - just as we have everything else in life.

I do intend to document the end of my pregnancy here on the blog, and I ask for your prayers as I find the strength to open up and allow myself the same vulnerability I have had with Olive's story. We know that the next few months are going to be very exciting for our family and I pray that God would use me however He sees fit to help continue to educate others and accomplish His goal.

Thank you, as always, for joining us on this journey.