Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year, New Me

One year ago today I was roughly 10 weeks pregnant, preparing to go out and celebrate the new year with my husband.  I was probably just waking from a nap so that I could make it until midnight.  We enjoyed a nice Mexican dinner out (because that's what I was craving my entire 1st semester) and went to see a favorite comedian downtown. One year ago today I had big plans for 2014 - it was going to be "our year", we were planning to go on one last big trip and then the rest of the year would be dedicated to our growing family. One year ago today I was naïve to what my 2014 would really look like, my head was clouded with the blissful innocence that comes with pregnancy and the uncertainty of what motherhood would bring to my life.

Now that I've had the whole year to reflect on, it's bittersweet to be honest. I've actually been thinking more about the new year than I did about Christmas.  For as much heartache that we experienced this year, I'm a little sad to see 2014 go.

This year started with a fun announcement to family and friends that we were expecting Baby Smith, an announcement that many had been waiting years for! We traveled to Arizona for Spring Training as we normally do - except this trip we found out that our extended family was growing too!  Then we came home and found out my sister was pregnant, and later we would find out that my sister in law was pregnant.  Other friends and family would also make big announcements along the way - what a fantastic year to have a baby!

May brought us a much needed trip to Belize, a "baby moon" if you will. My husband and I explored the island, reconnected and enjoyed some peace and quiet before baby.  As I layed in bed last night thinking about that trip I was reminded of the amazing food, the kind and congratulatory people we would meet along the road who would exclaim, "congrats, mama!" as I would waddle by with my growing belly. We hit the 30 week mark while we were there - 10 weeks until we'd meet baby.  In reality, 10 weeks until we'd also say goodbye.  I think of the sweet mama-to-be that I met on the flight from the island to the mainland, she was due in September.  I wonder what she had, and if she remembers me the way I remember her.  She'll never know that my baby didn't make it.

We were honored by family and friends who would shower us with love, gifts and well wishes.  They helped to put finishing touches on our nursery and made sure our shelves were stocked with all the necessities we would need to welcome this sweet child.

Then the day we had been preparing for - the day we became parents was finally upon us.  A terrifying and amazing day all wrapped into one.  I got to watch as my husband became a father, I immediately fell deeper in love with him and my heart grew a million times bigger when they laid that baby on my chest.  I had dreamt of a daughter my whole life, and here she was!  Just as quickly as she came into this world - she left us to go be with Jesus.  In 36 short hours I went from being a mother to being a bereaved mother. In the first week after my daughter was born I had watched her struggle to breathe, held her as she was carried off to the angels, purchased the only dress she would ever wear and said goodbye to her as her shell laid in a casket. 

Not the warmest welcome to motherhood, that's for sure.

Yet 5 months later I sit here thinking about how our life has changed because of her. My faith has been rocked to the core, yet never in my life have I been so committed to God, knowing He is truly the only lifeline I have from this life to the next. There is only one way to see my daughter again - and that's through the One who gave us both life and has been in control from the beginning of time. My marriage is stronger than ever, I can honestly say I love my husband more today than I ever thought possible. For as much heartache as Olive's death brought, I wouldn't trade that small amount of time with her for anything (well, except maybe for more time with her!) If God asked me today to do it all over again, I would - if it meant that I got to be her mom.

The same friends and family that showered us with love and gifts before baby have opened their hearts to us yet again - this time in the form of love and prayers.  The amount of people that Olive's life has touched literally brings me to my knees.  Friends near and far have rallied behind us, showing us a support that I honestly never knew existed.  You, dear friend, whether I know you in person or not - whether we've been friends for 30 years or 3 days or have never even met - you have touched my life in ways you will never know.

My "friends" list on Facebook and Instagram looks a lot different than it did one year ago today.  While it saddens me that many of these friends are in my life because of our angel babies, I'm also honored and privileged to know them and be a part of all of this with them.  I know that sounds weird - and don't misunderstand me - I would never choose to be a bereaved parent over one that isn't; but if I have to be a part of the "club" I'm honored and so incredibly humbled that I get to go on this journey with the people I have met.  It's almost as if there are no words - well, there aren't - to explain the sense of community and identity that I feel from some of these women (I shouldn't discriminate - the dads are pretty amazing too!).  Each and every one of them has experienced a pain and heartache that can't be described - it can only be felt, and each one of us feels it differently.  I pray none of you will ever have to feel this pain - but reality tells me that someday, some of you may and I'm thankful that there are resources and support to see parents through it.

So even though 2014 brought a lot of sadness and grief, it was also the year I became a mother - and that changed me - forever.  Watching 2014 make it's way out the door saddens me because at least 2014 feels familiar.  It might not be a good familiar, but I know what I'm working with right now - I know where my heart is, I've gotten accustomed to the pain and even though lugging around a heart as heavy as mine is exhausting, it's become who I am.

When I wake up tomorrow it's almost as if I'm being forced to move on - which I know isn't a bad thing, but I don't know that I'm ready. While I have hopes and dreams for 2015, I'm leaving myself open to the will of God, and trying to remind myself of my new motto, "His perfect will in His perfect way." My prayer for 2015 is a prayer for wisdom and discernment, a prayer for strength and peace, a prayer that I'll be able to continue to see the hand of God in everything.  I also pray that you continue to join us on this journey, that our story helps to open up the closet that infant loss hides behind and allows us to begin a new conversation. I pray that we all can open our hearts a little more, that we can be vulnerable together and that love will lead the way.

Blessings for a healthy and happy new year - thank YOU for the incredible love and support you have shown our family in 2014.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Family Photos

Before Olive was born I prepared, like any good mother, for how I would announce our baby's birth.  I saved coupons as they came across my email for all of those popular online photo shops, I intended to splurge on sweet announcement cards that would tell the world of our son/daughter's birth, and I contacted a former high school classmate to schedule ahead our newborn photos.

The announcement of Olive's birth did not happen as I had planned.  Rather than beautiful cards adorned with a sweet newborn in a cute crocheted hat, our announcement came in the form of a Facebook post indicating that while our  adorable newborn had made her way into the world - she, just as quickly, was about to make her way to heaven. What a whirlwind those days were. That was five months ago. 

A couple of months later that dear sweet friend from high school reached back out to see if my husband and I were ready to have that photo shoot.  It wouldn't be the shoot we originally anticipated, but it turned into exactly what we needed. 

I wanted to find a way to incorporate Olive into our annual Christmas card photo. To take it even further, our wonderful friends at Tony Just Photography asked if we would be open to an idea they had. When we left the hospital the day Olive passed we were given a box of her belongings. There wasn't much, but the little we do have are now some of my most cherished memories. I find myself going through that box most nights, smelling her blanket, holding up her gown to see how little she was and running my fingers over the mold of her feet. 

While many mothers have nightly rituals of brushing teeth, tucking in their little ones and saying prayers - my nightly rituals involve closing my eyes, breathing in what's left of her and asking God to, in whatever way He's able (since I don't know how it works in heaven) to allow my kisses and love to reach her. 

We met up in early November on a sunny fall day. They started by taking some stunning photos of the two of us and then we moved to a nearby park so my husband and I could have some privacy while we went through Olive's belongings. 

Tony and Vicki found a way to capture my husband and I in some very intimate moments remembering our daughter. Since I can't possibly send each and every one of you that kept us in your thoughts and prayers this year a Christmas card, I wanted to share some shots from our first family photo shoot. 

I have no idea how one goes about capturing the essence of a family when 1/3 of the family is in heaven, but I'm certain we all felt her presence that day. I can't thank them enough for their amazing support, and for giving this grieving mama beautiful photos to create an album that will help ease the pain on days my heart feels the heaviest. 

To you, dear friends, the love and encouragement you've shared with us is incredible. This holiday season especially - the notes, messages and packages you've sent have warmed my heart more than you will ever know. 

We wish you a beautiful and blessed Christmas filled with hope, love and peace. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Wrong Baby

Whew, December sure has hit me with a vengeance!  Between the dark evenings, gloomy skies and colder weather - my mood has been less than cheerful (to put it nicely).  If I thought I was feeling sorry for myself before, self-pity has taken on a whole new level this winter.

I sent out my Christmas cards today, and I really struggled with it this year.  I wanted to find a way to appropriately recognize Olive in our holiday photo and also acknowledge those that have shown us so much love and support.  As I was designing them I found myself feeling down that other families were busy picking out photos that would be just perfect this year and I was struggling with how to sign them. Something so simple, yet so heartbreaking.

Before we had Olive, when we were trying to decide on a name, I would find myself writing out our family names to see how they would look, to see what fit: With love, Charlie, Nicole and Olive Smith
Yet, the moment finally came where I needed to sign our cards and I realized that we would forever be The Smiths or The Smith Family - I will never send out a card with our children's names on it. The only way I know how to include our WHOLE family is through a generic signature.

No matter how many more children we have, our family will never feel complete. 

For Christians, the season of Advent is one of preparation.  We are preparing for the birth of a Savior, the birth of a King - the birth of a baby.  It's not just the birth we find ourselves preparing for, though, it's His return - when, in all His glory, He'll bring us all home to Him in heaven.  Every year I find myself rushing through Advent - in the hustle and bustle of our society's version of the Christmas season - and every year I get so overwhelmed that my soul ends up feeling underwhelmed.

This Advent was going to be different.  Or so I had intended.

Lucky for me, the season is still here and even though I'm a bit late to the game - I'm vowing to practice the stillness my soul is longing for.

The birth of a baby is a beautiful thing, isn't it?  Those times are times of great anticipation, times of great joy.  I had expected the birth of my baby to be all of those things and more.  I had expected this Christmas season would be one of wonder and promise.  It is, indeed, but I've been focusing on the wrong baby.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that I don't want Olive on my mind (not that I could control it if I wanted to) but she's not coming back.  I will never know baby Olive the way I intended, the way I thought that I would. No amount of longing for her will ever bring my soul rest - not the rest or stillness it desires.  In fact, the longing I feel for her actually brings me more sadness, more grief and more disappointment - because the longing will never be fulfilled.  If, at least for this Advent season, I put as much time, effort and emotion into longing for Jesus - well, I can't even imagine what that could do for my soul!

It's not just Olive that I'm allowing to rule my heart and mind this Advent season - the birth of other babies, the birth of my unborn babies, babies that are new to our family and babies that will soon be here - these babies are on my mind so regularly it's actually become debilitating.  I've become so focused on these other babies that I've failed to recognize the ONLY baby that matters right now.

For a child will be born unto us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

Here is a baby that can offer exactly what I need - and more.

Wonderful Counselor - I have been seeking advice from other grieving parents, from my therapist, my pastor, my husband and other friends.  While this advice is helpful, no one has the exact answers I'm looking for. True counsel comes from God, from His son who came to this earth in human form to offer us salvation. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him - the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord. Isaiah 11:2  As Pastor John Barnett puts it, "true wisdom from the wonderful counselor knows that: In weakness is strength; surrender is victory and death is life." I need to pray more - to be quiet and still and allow God to reveal Himself to me - that may be through other people, it may be through His word - I haven't really been giving Him the chance lately, and I need to be better about that.

Mighty God- I have learned that I cannot bear this burden on my own. I am certainly trying to- and failing miserably. Who am I to question God? Who am I to demand answers? Why do I think that anyone on this earth can offer me the strength and peace I need? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:28-31  The maker of the universe is available to me 24 hours a day 7 days a week, and yet the amount of time I'm actually seeking Him out - honestly trying to connect to Him - is pathetic, to be frank.

Eternal Father -  Parents often find themselves not giving in to every desire of their children. Sometimes beautiful lessons have to be learned through pain and heartache. Children tend to believe that they know better - their parents are being unfair or unkind.  How many times have I looked back on a decision my parents made and later realized it was for my own good?  Please don't mistake me in thinking that I believe God is "teaching me a lesson" or that Olive had to die for God to prove a point.  No, that's what our human minds would like us to assume - but Olive's days were numbered just as mine are. For some reason, unknown to me in this life, Olive's sweet life was always meant to be short. I do believe her time with us was meant to serve a purpose, although unfair to us, God - in his infinite wisdom - had other plans. I can choose to get stuck in her death or recognize the beauty in her life - and the lessons that can be learned from it, if I only open myself up and allow God to reveal himself to me in this way. Now glory be to God! By His mighty power at work within us, He is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope. Ephesians 3:20NLT

Prince of Peace -  Peace - what I long for the most this Christmas season.  I have been searching for peace, and the few times I believe I'm starting to find it is when I'm at church or searching God's word for answers. Then I go back out into the world and allow myself to believe the lies that I would be at peace if only I had my daughter back.  I begin to believe that true peace on this earth would be living a life that goes according to what I wish - a life without pain, a life without sorrow, a life where all of my heart's desires would be fulfilled.  Interestingly enough (though not a life I could ever create for myself), my daughter has the peace I desire.  Olive is celebrating Christmas this year only knowing a peace we all long for.  Olive's first Christmas is with Jesus - what is more peaceful than that? Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27 I need to remember that true peace comes from God and I can rest assured that one day I'll be celebrating Christmas with my beautiful baby and the baby who saved us both!

I've gotten a lot of grief this year for not having anything on my Christmas list.  What I want this year cannot be purchased at a department store and Amazon doesn't have it in stock.  What I WANT this year is 4 month sleep regression, piles of laundry filled with sleepers covered in spit up and early morning feedings. What I long for and NEED this year is counsel, strength and peace - and those things can only be received through one tiny baby - not my baby, not your baby, not my unborn babies or the babies you long for in your life.  No, these things come from the one baby we tend to forget most -a baby who was born into poverty to a young and terrified mother - a mother who knew from the very beginning that her child's sole purpose on this earth was to die so that we could live.

I don't doubt that my holiday will still be filled with sadness, grief and pain - but I hope and pray that through those human emotions I can make more room in my heart for the truth and promises that come from a small manger in Bethlehem. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Facing Life - Head On

Thanksgiving is over - just like that, and now we move on to Christmas.  The holiday season always seems to be so rushed and overwhelmed, but this year even more so.  My husband and I host Thanksgiving each year and this year was no different, even though I questioned whether it would be a good idea or not.  I had my moments, for sure, but overall I think I needed to stay extremely busy that day in an effort to not fall apart.

That morning the turkey that I had purchased fresh was now partially frozen.  I scrambled trying to figure out how I was going to get it thawed in time, go to church and still make sure that dinner would be ready around the time I told everyone we would be eating.  I did what came naturally - I called my mom.  I needed advice, and it was about the third time I had called her in the past day or so - "How many pounds of potatoes do you think I need?" "Should I put this turkey in warm or cold water to thaw?" "Can you bring me this? I forgot to get it at the store."  You get the drill.

When I hung up that morning, already full of emotion, I couldn't help but cry.  Olive would never need me like this. She would never host Thanksgiving at her house.  I'd never get a frantic phone call wondering if the turkey would be done, if she had the right ingredients for something or be able to reassure her that everything would be perfect. 

The day brought many moments like that.  Having my newborn nephew in the house felt strange at times.  He is the first baby to come to our home since losing Olive - it felt natural and unnatural having him there - I longed to hold  him and then when I would my heart would feel heavy.  We put together these fantastic care packages for families who will be spending their holidays in the NICU this year - but even as good as it was to help it still didn't change the fact that I'd rather have my daughter here.

Later that weekend we dragged out all of the decorations and began trimming the house for Christmas. When did it become December?  How can it be that 4 months have already passed?  One would think that grieving gets easier with time - but I've found the exact opposite to be true.  In two days time I have successfully decorated my house for the holidays, packed up the rest of the nursery, gotten invited to my first baby shower since attending my own, been asked (for the first time) if I have children and later today I'm attending bible study where a woman and her baby (born the exact day as Olive) will attend as well.  Talk about an emotional rollercoaster. 

The difficult part is how I feel about all of this.  My house has never felt emptier, I have no idea what gift to buy off the registry - especially since I just packed similar things away just days ago, had to make a stranger feel awful when I told her I had a daughter in heaven and have no idea what emotions will trigger when I see a baby that is the exact age my daughter should be today.  Do I run away?  Do I not go to any of these things? Some days I dream of just waking up and buying a ticket to anywhere - packing my bags and just leaving.  The problem is that though I may physically leave, I still carry my brain and all it's baggage wherever I go.  So I face it - head on.. 

And it sucks. 

In the words of my friend Missie, "major suckfest".

So, here I am this morning - a typical Tuesday for most - but one that I'm trying not to let debilitate me.  Every day is like this - not knowing the challenges of the day, what twists and turns will come - will it be a good day or a rough day? I'm sure this is all a normal part of the grieving process, and I don't share these things for sympathy or to make anyone else feel badly about something they say or do around me.  I share these things because that's what I said I was going to do when I started this blog.  I share because it's how I'm feeling - and even though you may not know what to do or say to make me feel better - it's OK. It's not your job to make me feel better, but it is my job to face each new day and anything that it brings.  Life still goes on - baby showers occur, babies are born and I get asked simple and polite questions about whether or not I have children.

Some days I face it well and some days I don't - I just ask that you be patient with me and understand that it's all a part of the life I'm facing.  I try and live it gracefully - but then I have nights like last night where I sit and cry in a McDonald's parking lot over French fries and a coke (after a workout - don't judge). One minute at a time turns to one hour at a time which turns to one day at a time.

Go to sleep, wake up, repeat. 

I know there are brighter days ahead, I truly believe that. Heck, I've even experienced some of those days - but the holidays - the holidays are going to be hard, much harder than I think I even anticipated.  Think of this post as a head's up of sorts - just know that my heart is broken and there is no amount of holiday cheer that can unbreak it.  I know many of you will try - and for that I am eternally grateful, but please know that the best thing you can do for me this holiday is just let me feel what I need to feel. There are bound to be awkward moments, emotional moments and maybe even angry moments.  I don't know how to do this - or do it well - but I'm trying.

And some days trying is just surviving.

Monday, November 24, 2014

An Attitude of Gratitude

Late last week a friend posted the following on Facebook: Stop and take the time to be thankful in the very moment you are feeling ungrateful.

Sadly, when I read that, I was feeling ungrateful that my day wasn't going as well as I had hoped.  In all honesty, I've always tried to live life this way - but have needed the reminder more often.  So, I was thankful to that friend (even though she had no idea I needed to read that) for sharing that reminder.

I've been using this phrase and replacing the word ungrateful in different circumstances.

Stop and take the time to be thankful in the very moment you are feeling angry.
Stop and take the time to be thankful in the very moment you are feeling depressed.
Stop and take the time to be thankful in the very moment you are feeling impatient.
Stop and take the time to be thankful in the very moment you are feeling sad.
Stop and take the time to be thankful in the very moment you are feeling guilty.
Stop and take the time to be thankful in the very moment you are feeling weak.

The holiday season is approaching and many of my friends are preparing for "firsts" with their new babies.  I would be lying if I told you that the flood of holiday photos with sweet little babies wearing Santa hats and darling dresses didn't make my heart hurt.  I'd be lying if I told you that every time I "liked" one of those photos on Facebook that it was an automatic click of the thumbs up button for me.  Truth be told, I often have to scroll through those statuses/photos a couple of times before I go back and like them.  It's not that I don't actually like them, but envy begins to set in and I have to remind myself that the baby is really cute, the picture is really sweet and it's no one's fault that I don't have a baby of my own to post pictures of.

Stop and take the time to be thankful in the very moment you are feeling jealous.


My husband and I have hosted Thanksgiving for quite awhile now. It has become my favorite holiday and I love having my whole family together.  Growing up, since my parents were divorced, I often had to spend my holidays traveling back and forth - from one side to the next - only getting a short amount of time at each stop.  Between my parents, my grandparents, my step-parent's parents - there were so many people to visit! It truly brings me so much joy to have my whole family under one roof!  It's the only holiday I get this, and I live for those moments.

I love the week preparing for Thanksgiving.  I enjoy doing all the shopping for the meal, preparing the meal, watching holiday movies, starting to listen to Christmas music, getting goodies for the service project we always do and then ending the week trimming the house for Christmas. When I was pregnant I would try and imagine what this holiday season would be like with a baby. 

Would I finally allow people to bring side dishes so that I wouldn't have to do as much?  I was secretly excited for an excuse to sneak up to the nursery to rock the baby to sleep in the midst of the holiday hoopla. I pictured myself sitting in the rocking chair, the door closed but the holiday chatter still loud enough that I could sit back and enjoy the laughter from a silly joke that my grandpa told or hear the roar of the group when someone scored a touchdown. Then, after everyone left and the house was quiet again we'd build a fire, put on some music and watch our little one become mesmerized by the twinkling lights on the Christmas tree.

No, the holidays won't be anything like I imagined it to be this year. Being thankful can take some effort sometimes, can't it?  I've struggled quite a bit these last 4 months to find things to be thankful for.  Yet there are many things, right in front of my eyes - each and every day - that I have to be thankful for. It's often just remembering to "stop" long enough to reflect on them!

I am thankful for the support of so many family and friends - the constant outpouring of love is still so appreciated.  I hope you all know how very much I love each and every one of you and keep you in my prayers.  I am thankful for a supportive work environment - co-workers who understand that Mondays are therapy days and I'm still a work in progress.  I am thankful for my amazing therapist, who I look forward to being with and feel a thousand times better after I leave her office.

I am thankful for this incredible group of mothers I found on Facebook - women who were strangers but a year ago and today have become one of my greatest support systems.  Mothers who respect me, encourage me and give me hope for the future.  I am thankful for my midwife - a woman who took care of Olive and I for 40 weeks and kept me calm (and still keeps me calm) in some of my most difficult moments.  A woman whose door is always open to me (what other practitioner would invite you to her hospital room after SHE had surgery so that you could just come hang out and vent?). 

I am thankful for the network of parents we've met through Children's Hospital, other bereaved parents that have reached out  and new friends that I'm certain will become lifelong friends because of the bond we share.  I'm thankful for my church family - especially our incredible pastors who remind me weekly (sometimes more) that they are continually praying for my husband and I.

I am thankful that I've got the energy and motivation back to start taking care of myself again - and for special people in my life who are helping to keep me encouraged in my physical needs. I am thankful for my sweet neighbor and her friends who have welcomed me into their bible study and keep me encouraged in my spiritual needs. I'm thankful for a God who looks past my weaknesses and the "what's in it for me" attitude I so often have -  a God who loves me and reminds me that things don't have to be so complicated.

I am thankful for my husband.  I am more in love with him today than I ever thought possible.  He is patient, kind and forgiving.  Lord knows I haven't been the easiest to live with the last 4 months (4 years?), but he understands that we grieve differently. He doesn't bat an eye when I don't know what I need, what I want or what I'm feeling.  He's doesn't change my radio stations (even though I know he'd rather listen to rock than Christian rock), even if he needs something he doesn't interrupt me if he sees I'm reading my bible and he only rolls his eyes once when he comes upstairs and sees I'm watching a cheesy Hallmark holiday movie (hehe).  I am thankful when he opens up about Olive or shares a song that reminds him of her.  I love how many date nights we have set up in the next month and that whether we're out in public or hanging out at home we find ways to reconnect and prioritize each other.  He truly is my best friend.

I am thankful for our little lovebug that made us parents.  Olive was a baby who was in our hearts and on our minds long before she was even conceived.  She was the perfect answer to our prayers and I am so thankful that she is our firstborn.  Her life has taught me more about myself than I ever knew possible.  She brought my husband and I closer and our families closer. Her life helped make friends out of strangers, and God continues to amaze me at the beautiful miracles he's allowed from both her earthly and heavenly life.

Stop and take the time to be thankful in the very moment you are feeling happy.
Stop and take the time to be thankful in the very moment you are feeling strong.

So whether I find myself sitting in my car screaming at the top of my lungs, laughing with my husband, feeling green with envy as I scroll through Facebook or feeling accomplished after a hard workout - I'm trying to stop and show gratitude in each of those moments.  It doesn't happen every time - (remember when I said I was a work in progress) - but it's happening more frequently, and I really can see and feel a difference in my attitude.

Stop and take the time to be thankful in the very moment you are feeling anything.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

To Whom Would I Go?

One year ago tomorrow I found out I was going to be a mother.  I awoke from the most peaceful dream that I had just delivered a healthy baby, and knew that would be the day.  I had been anxiously testing for a week or so before that - but I would never get discouraged at all of those negatives, I knew that month was the month.  That morning, November 21, 2013, my feelings were confirmed - I was going to be a mother.

Looking back, I wonder if I would have reacted differently if I had known that I would only get 36 precious hours with my daughter. I mean, none of us are guaranteed any specific amount of time on this earth, right?  But we assume.  We assume that our children will outlive us, that we will outlive our parents and that our parents will outlive our grandparents.  When things happen "out of order" it throws us for a loop. 

Which brings me back to my question - would I have been just as joyful knowing that God needed parents for Olive for just a short time on earth?  Would I have fallen to my knees giving thanks to God that morning if I had known that my role as a mother would not be like my friends?  If I had known that my days of motherhood would be filled with tears and grief and heartache - what would I have done?

I'd like to tell you that I would have been just as happy - praising God for blessing me with the honor of being chosen as her mother, regardless of the time I got with her.  I'd like to tell you that I would have worshiped and praised Him for thinking me worthy to have any time at all with that sweet baby.  But I can tell you that wouldn't have been true.  I would have thrown up my hands, I would have wailed and bargained with Him.  I would have spent more time throughout my pregnancy dreading my due date instead of enjoying the little moments, the sweet flutters, kicks and hiccups.

Earlier this month I had begun experiencing emotions that I haven't felt in awhile.  Month 3 brought me to my knees - literally - but again, not in the praising and worshipping sense, more like the "why me" sense.  I have been angry and overwhelmed this month.  I have taken on more than I can handle - trying to return to "normal" faster.  Saying yes to everything, trying to fill my time with more obligations - trying to make myself feel needed and wanted.  I felt, when Olive died, that I had lost my identity.  Everything I thought I was supposed to be was no longer, so I attempted to return to my pre-Olive life in an attempt to make things fall back into place again. Month 3 came and I felt like I had hit rock bottom - like things were out of control again. 

How did I get here? 

How did this happen?

I often think of Job - a man who literally lost everything, and yet in the midst of it all, faithfully replied "Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?" Job 2:10 NIV

If I had known that my life was going to be where it is right at this exact moment I would not have been as faithful as Job.  I'm still not as faithful as Job, and my problems aren't nearly as severe as his were. I am trying - really hard to be more accepting of my life -to take these burdens and bear my cross faithfully, full of hope and trusting that God will fulfill his promises to never leave me or forsake me.  Even in this. I'm tired, I'm empty - but I will never stop trying to be more faithful.

Someone recently asked me how I can stay so committed to following God in all of this.  It's interesting because not being committed to God was never an option for me, it's never even crossed my mind.  I have doubted Him, I have questioned Him, I have believed at times that I could have done a better job than He - but I've never, not for one single second, considered a life without Him.

I'm reminded of Jesus' ministry when he was teaching and preaching - telling people things that were hard for them to understand, things that didn't seem to go along with how they thought things should be.  Many people began to turn away from him, as it was easier to believe this Jesus-guy was kind of strange - talking about taking his body and blood and being the bread of life - crazy-talk, right? 

At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the twelve and asked, "Are you going to leave too?"
Simon Peter replied, "Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life. We believe them." John 6:66-69 NLT

To whom would I go? 

Who else do I have as an option?  Myself? My husband? My family, friends or therapist?  Of course these people are great listeners, offering advice and encouraging words - but none of them can offer me the opportunity to see my daughter again.  Not a one.  There is only ONE way for my little family to be reunited someday - and that's through this crazy Jesus-guy who takes me down paths I don't understand and does things I don't always agree with. Paths where I think I know the way and then He makes us take a sharp left when I was trying to go right - reminding me both of His love and His control.

So - here I am on November 20, still tired, still broken and still sad - slowly allowing the empty parts of my life to be filled with the hope and promises of God. My hope is that tomorrow I'll be able to wake up remembering fondly that cool November day that I got the best news of my life. Instead of a heavy heart - I am going to have a joyful heart and praise Him just as I did that day, exactly one year ago.  Praise Him for giving her life, for choosing me to be her mother and for taking good care of her until I'm able to see her again.

*The title of this post is taken from a devotion I recently read, The One Year Book of Hope by Nancie Guthrie

Thursday, November 13, 2014

It Could Be Worse

After three weeks it finally happened - I had my first rough day at work.  Ok - not my first rough day ever, but since I've been back.  It's interesting how perspective changes after losing a child, you realize normal everyday "problems" shouldn't really feel like problems at all.  Yet today I found myself getting frustrated, wondering why I felt like I was the only person fixing issues and dealing with cranky clients. In the grand scheme of things, these "problems' are not really THAT big of a deal.  We make them into big deals though, don't we?

I'd like to tell you that I live in a new world where I never complain and thank God for my blessings every single day.  I'd like to tell you that after suffering through loss like this that I appreciate the little things at any given moment.  I'd like to tell you that small things don't shake me anymore.

But I don't.  And they still do.

Being back at work allows my brain a break from the grief, but work has it's own stresses.  After a stressful day at work I get to come home and pick up where I left off grieving. I came home today to do just that, but I turned on the news and that all changed. I've suffered an unimaginable loss - but I still need to put things into perspective too.  It could be worse.

It can always be worse.

I had a bad day today and my daughter died 3 months ago, but today, today there are others suffering too.  I read a story today of a young father who not only lost his wife shortly after childbirth, but he also lost his premature son at 4 days old.  Today I read about a local baby that passed away in the NICU right next to a sweet friend's son - that baby was 20 days old. This week people are burying spouses, siblings and friends.

There are people wondering where they are going to go to escape the harsh bitter night, mothers wondering how they are going to feed their children, people being persecuted and dying because others don't believe in the same things they do. There are families who have never drank clean water, and parents who live in other countries to work and provide for families they see once every two years.

People are suffering.

And I had a bad day.

Let's be honest - most of my days still stink, but I have a good-paying job that welcomed me back with open arms.  I have a car that runs and is paid off.  I have a warm home and clothes on my back.  I have food that is going bad in my refrigerator because I decided I'd rather eat out than eat leftovers.

I had a bad day today so I'm drinking a glass of wine, flipping through Facebook and I'll probably complain to my husband when he gets home.  I might start a fire or take a warm bath to relieve my stress.  When I'm done, I'll snuggle up with my dogs until it's time to climb into my warm bed and drift off to a peaceful sleep - a sleep that won't be interrupted by a grumbling stomach, bullets flying overhead or dropping temperatures.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not making light of my problems or yours.  We've all been given our burdens and crosses to bear in this lifetime. If you're having a bad day like I am, you're entitled to your feelings and shouldn't feel bad or guilty for them.  Maybe, just maybe (if you're anything like me), you need a little perspective. 

Tonight - if you're inclined - just stop for a moment....and pray.  Say a prayer for all those that are hurting or are suffering great loss.  Pray for the sick, the needy, the hungry and the persecuted. Remember others who are living lives that we can't even imagine -lives that don't include the beauty and joy that we have taken for granted. After you've prayed for those people - don't forget to give thanks for what you do have.  Give thanks for this day that you've been blessed with - and join me in trying again tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Not Your Ordinary Monday

I've been back to work for two weeks now, and life feels to be falling back into some sort of routine again.  I actually enjoy waking up in the morning and making my way into the office.  I thought I would want more time at home - but I'm finding that there is a good balance of being around people again and having some down time to just work at home in peace.  To an outsider I look like any other employee of the company - I go to work with my coffee mug, check emails, sit in on some conference calls, meet with clients and go home.  I've even caught myself believing that I'm just a normal employee back at my normal job living a normal life.  And then I have days like Monday.

While the rest of the work world was going about their emails and conference calls I was just leaving therapy to go pick up my daughter's autopsy report. If that's not a snap back to one's reality, I don't know what is.

For three months I had been preparing myself for that day. For three months I have been convincing myself that this happened days before I delivered, as some of the doctors had mentioned in passing at one point. Like any other grieving parent that hadn't slept, I took those comments and I held on to them - I told myself that must have been what happened.  I told myself that because this had happened days prior - that someday, should I become pregnant again, we'd be able to see this distress or "catch it" before it got this bad and save our next baby. 

You see, there will be no normal pregnancy for me again.  God willing, if I'm able to have another baby, I know that those 40 weeks will be filled with anxiety and uncertainty.  There will be no naivete with another pregnancy - once infant death has rocked your world, there is no rest. I now live with the reality that I am not exempt from another loss just because I suffered one already. There will be no rest until I have a healthy crying baby in my arms.  That's my reality - that is something my husband and I have to mentally and emotionally prepare for. But, knowing that any other pregnancy I may have will be monitored more closely than this one had been, I found comfort believing that we'd be able to "catch" this if it had indeed happened leading up to Olive's birth.

What I learned on Monday is that I had a perfectly healthy baby.  A baby with organs that were healthy and the right size for her.  A baby whose body was structurally perfect, a perfectly plump and healthy baby.  What I learned on Monday is that there were two sections of the umbilical cord that had bruising and looked as though they had been compromised "shortly before birth".  Two spots where blood flow and oxygen were cut off from my perfectly healthy baby.  Two spots that, at some point during my labor, began the slow process of killing my child.

What I read, sitting in my car in front of Children's Hospital, was this:

Healthy Baby.
Damaged cord.
Cord that was attached to my placenta, which was attached to my uterus, which is a part of my body, which was her lifeline....failed.
My body failed.

This reality hit me like a ton of bricks.  I couldn't help it - how did I not know this happened?  What kind of mother can't tell that her baby is in distress? I replayed that day in my head over and over again.  Was it a position I labored in?  Should I have listened to my midwife and walked more instead of sitting all scrunched up in a chair or on the toilet? If I had walked more maybe the lip of my cervix wouldn't have been stuck on her head. I should have done those lunges they told me to do. Who doesn't listen to their midwife?  Me.


That night I went to church.  I didn't want to go anywhere, but I knew I couldn't stay at home.  If I stayed at home that night I would beat myself up and I needed mercy. I needed grace.  I needed truth.  I knew it wasn't my fault, I did - but I didn't have an answer to my own question.  If it wasn't my fault what really happened?

I was a blubbering mess in church, but I left there feeling a little better.  I still didn't have many answers, but I felt a little better - until I got home.  When I returned home I found my husband standing in the kitchen reading the report.  What would he say when he realized I failed her? Failed us?

Instead of telling me that he never wanted to have babies with me again (which is what I felt like he should say to me because the doubt started to creep back into my head and clearly I can't be trusted to birth a baby) he told me he was happy there was nothing wrong with me.  He told me that he was so relieved that there was nothing genetic that we have to worry about.  He told me that he believed in me and in my body - and that yes, we will be cautious and anxious and worrisome when we/if we become pregnant again - he told me that this was not my fault.

We went to bed that night like any other Monday night, like the "normal" couple we still are, taking the last 20 minutes of our day to read before calling it a night.  I opened my devotion book to the next page - which was focusing on God revealing himself to us through the Holy Spirit.

His Spirit searches out everything and shows us even God's deep secrets. No one can know what anyone else is really thinking except that person alone, and no one can know God's thoughts except God's own Spirit. And God has actually given us his spirit (not the world's spirit) so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. 1 Corinthians 2:10-12 NLT

"Significant suffering leaves us with significant questions. Before the hurt invaded our lives, perhaps we were content for our understanding of God's sovereignty and his way of working in the world to be fuzzy. But now the issues are not theoretical. They're very real, and we want real answers. We want the truth, not just clichés or religious-sounding pat answers. This is when we need the Holy Spirit like no other time, when we're facing an uncertain future and trying to make sense of it all."

It hit me.

If I say I trust in God and remind myself daily, Dear Lord, help me to believe and trust your perfect will in your perfect way, then I need to believe this was bigger than an accident, this wasn't just the odds being against us.  If this was just the odds then what was the point? If this was an accident then God wasn't in control, and since I believe he has been in control this whole time, then there had to be more. I do not believe I will EVER know the real reason this happened, but I do believe this happened for a reason.  I believe every life has a reason and a purpose.  Some of us get 75 years for that purpose, some 36 hours. Olive is not the first person on this earth to die and she won't be the last. There was a plan for her life, and I had a role.  My job was to create her, grow her and birth her.  My job was to bring her into this world for the 36 hours she had to make her mark. My body did it's job.

Is that the perfect answer? No - not for my human mind, anyway - and it's certainly not as easy to believe, trust and live God's truth - but I'm a work in progress. Her 36 hours somehow fit into God's perfect will in HIS perfect way. I know the only way I can continue to move forward is with and through Him.

"Questions about the suffering in the world send so many on a search for truth. They study world religions, travel to sacred places, seek out secular saviors. But the truth - God's wisdom and an understanding of the big picture - is not something that can be discovered with our minds. It is something that can be revealed to us only by the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit does not reveal the truth to those who are on a mere intellectual exercise without their hearts or wills engaged. God reveals himself to those who earnestly seek him. As he dwells within us and as he illumines our understanding of his Word, he helps us understand the "wonderful things God has freely given us."

I pray God continues to open my heart and mind to his truth.

*Direct quotes from "The One Year Book of Hope" by Nancy Guthrie

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Feeling is Healing - Part 2

Shortly after I started this blog I did a similar post to this one where I shared some of the constant feelings that are a daily part of my life as a bereaved mother. Each month brings something new - new feelings, new thoughts, new fears - I keep praying for a new reality, but we all know that isn't going to happen. My reality is this: I am still mad, still sad, still confused, still hopeful and still thankful. 

Today marks three months since Olive came into our lives. Sometimes these three months seem like eternity, and other days I can breathe in her smell and feel like it was just yesterday.

I'm mad.

I'm mad at the random driver on the street who doesn't use his blinker, the person who doesn't hold the door open for me as I'm walking into a building, the cashier for being so cheery.
I'm mad that there are already "Baby's 1st Christmas" ornaments flooding the aisles of stores I shop at.
I'm mad that I don't get to dress Olive up as a little green olive for Halloween this year (complete with a pimento hat!)
I'm mad at myself for being so critical of my postpartum body.
I'm mad at myself that I continue to live in this postpartum body and don't do anything to change what I don't like.
I'm mad that I had 12 weeks at home and only in the past 3, when it was finally time to return to work, my mind and body decided to boycott sleep.
I'm mad that my exhaustion is due to the same lingering thoughts that continue to wage war in my head instead of newborn sleep regression.

I'm sad.

I'm sad that I don't have my baby.
I'm sad when I see pictures of babies Olive's age, knowing that she'd be reaching some of those same milestones now: smiling, cooing, holding her head up better.
I'm sad that the heartache of losing her feels like it's being replaced with self-pity.
It makes me sad when I meet my friend's babies, and realize that the play dates I dreamed of, the friendships I anticipated our children having and the new bonds we would form as mothers will never happen - at least not with Olive.
I'm sad that I'm missing out on more than just motherhood, but a new sisterhood that is only shared with mother's of earthly children.
I'm sad that I haven't experienced a sleepless night pacing the floors, rocking a baby.
I'm sad that I don't get to experience breastfeeding or blowout diapers.
I'm sad that I'll never know if she likes baths, despises tummy time or gets the hiccups because she eats too fast.
I'm sad that I can't feel her little fingers around mine, hear her noises as she sleeps or wipe a tear from her eye.

I'm confused.

I'm still confused about what to do with the nursery.  It's now half packed (which I never should have done alone), and as much as I thought that was the right thing to do, now I'm not so sure.
I'm confused about what I need from my family and friends.
I'm confused about what I need from my husband.
I'm confused about what my husband needs from me.
I'm confused about what to do for the holidays - how do I properly acknowledge our daughter in our holiday card, preparations and celebrations?
I'm confused as to when we should have more children.
I'm still very much confused by the realm of heaven.

I'm fearful.

I'm fearful that the fact we still don't have autopsy results means that something is wrong with me.
I'm fearful that the months without her are becoming harder - time is not healing this wound, it often feels like it's making it worse.
I'm fearful that I'm becoming more angry, bitter and judgmental towards people or situations rather than forgiving and understanding.
I'm fearful that God is losing his patience with me because I am trying so hard to stay close to him, yet I still struggle at times with trusting him. (I know God isn't actually losing his patience with me, but I feel that way sometimes because I know I'm losing my patience with me! - see what I'm thankful for below)

I'm hopeful.

I'm hopeful that God's plan is unveiling itself even if I don't completely understand it.
I'm hopeful that reading my bible and spending time with God throughout the day will continue to strengthen me and give me the wisdom and patience I need to accept that plan in it's own perfect way, in it's own perfect timing.
I'm hopeful every time I leave church.

I'm thankful.

I'm so incredibly thankful for each and every one of you.
I'm thankful for the stories you share with me - stories of sadness, pain and hope.
I'm thankful that I'm not alone on this journey.
I'm thankful for new friends I've met - even if we've only "met" through Facebook or email.
I'm thankful that my husband is patient with me - it's not easy living with a hormonal rollercoaster for a wife.
I'm thankful for our sweet dog, Layla, who seems to know exactly when mama needs someone to cuddle with.
I'm thankful for the cards, notes and messages letting me know that 3 months later you are still thinking and praying for us.
I'm thankful that Olive's life and death has made it's way into your dinnertime conversations, your daily interactions, your bedtime prayers.
I'm thankful for a best friend who makes sure there is something in my mailbox every month on the 29th - reminding me that Olive is having the best birthday ever!
I'm thankful that even though I don't understand heaven, have a faith that is tested and a soul that is weary - I have a savior that is forgiving and gracious.

You see why I refer to it as a rollercoaster - these are DAILY thoughts. Daily joys. Daily pains. Daily struggles.

One minute at a time turns into one hour at a time which turns into one day at a time.

Try to sleep.
Wake Up.

I know that this past month has been emotionally exhausting - I returned to work, we welcomed my nephew into the family and are preparing to welcome a niece soon.  Friends and family members are having major surgeries, the medical bills finally stopped and the holidays are fast approaching.  My mind is racing, my heart is heavy and my body is tired - I've been thrashing about in the wound instead of sitting still in it. 

I don't like feeling this way, but I also recognize that it's a part of the process.  The goal is to grow from it - even the ugly parts. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for continuing on this journey with me.  XoXo

Monday, October 20, 2014

Twelve Weeks Later, I am a different Nicole

Usually I find myself writing to you from a sad place or moment that triggered something deeper, something that leads me to need healing.  I can find that here, this is where I lay it all out and hold myself accountable to those feelings.  It's easy, most days, to want to dig a big hole in my heart - one that's bigger than the hole already there - and bury these feelings deep down.  I know, as well as you do, that burying them doesn't do any good.  Eventually they'll make their way back to the surface, and at that time, it might be too late.

I've noticed that about myself through these past 12 weeks.  I've never been someone to hide my feelings but when it comes to loss like this, there were times I felt that hiding them would be easier.  Easier than facing my fears, easier than having to explain myself, easier than crying every single day. If I could just shove those feelings down, choke back all of those tears and put on my happy face maybe I would believe it myself.  For some people that may work - for a while, at least.  Not me.

I'm returning to work tomorrow.  Months ago I would have told you that the thought of returning to work made me want to throw up.  Today I find myself looking forward to it.  Don't get me wrong, I'm still very anxious and uncertain of the unknown, but isn't that how we are with any new situation?  I may be returning to the same workplace with the same co-workers, but I'm not the same Nicole.  And it took these 12 weeks for me to see that.  It took these 12 weeks for me to really be honest with myself and allow myself to grieve properly, to come to peace with all of this. 

I've had some really low days.  I had days that I needed to lay in bed until 11am, force myself into the shower where I would just sit and let the water wash over me.  Who needed soap?  I wasn't going anywhere.  I just needed the shower water - to wake me, to wash me, to refresh me.  The shower became my hiding place - where I could cry, wail and collapse.  A place where I could feel sorry for myself. The first few weeks after Olive's death I would sometimes take multiple showers, just so I could escape.  Those were the weeks I couldn't bring myself to talk to God - we were beyond talking - all I could do was yell at Him.

Man, did I yell.

Twelve weeks.  Twelve weeks ago my life turned upside down.  And I'm still standing.  I'm still here, still broken, but still here. But HERE looks a lot different than it did twelve weeks ago.

Today showers serve their normal purpose.  Today I don't lay in bed as long or cry as often.  Today I can find joy in the every day.  Today I'm on speaking terms with God. Lucky for me, He's a forgiving guy.

He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver. I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:13-19-22

It's so very easy to get caught up in the sadness and grief.  I still find that there are days where I feel awful, but those days are also different than they were 12 weeks ago.  Back in early August those awful days were driven by heartache, now they seem to be driven by self-pity - the "woe-is-me" attitude.  It's so easy to deceive yourself into thinking the world is against you - that every Facebook picture is meant as a dagger to your heart, that every "unfair" circumstance is a punishment from God.  I have allowed the devil to tell me so many lies, you wouldn't believe the things I have contemplated believing!  Yes, every day is still a battlefield.  A battle of wills - but I'm stronger now than I was 12 weeks ago.

I am a different Nicole.

My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word. Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me and teach me your law. I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I have set my heart on your laws. Psalm 119:28-30

God and I have a new relationship.  We've always had a relationship, but it's different now - which is why I'm different.  It's a relationship that is a work in progress, a relationship I've learned isn't secure if I only pay attention on Sunday mornings.  A relationship that can't survive if I only spend a couple minutes each night talking to God as I fall in and out of sleep. 

Could you imagine what your marriage would be like if you only talked to your spouse one hour a week?

What if you only had a 5 minute conversation with your client or customer each day?  And during that 5 minute duration you were only half paying attention?

It's hard to have a relationship with someone if you don't feel like they are paying attention, or you don't feel like the love is reciprocated.  I have chosen, the last 6 weeks or so, to see "the hand of God in everything" - and what a difference that makes!  He's in the changing color of the leaves, the vastness of the skies, the rain that falls and the wind that chills.  Even though my human brain can't fully comprehend everything He controls, I know it's still controlled.  This world, this life, my life - He's in control when everything feels out of control.

I've learned that my relationship with God is one that I have to work at like I do any other relationship in my life.  In the past it's been a relationship of give and take - He gives, I take.  And after I took, I gave him none of the credit.  I have a wonderful marriage, supportive family and friends, good health, a beautiful home, money in my bank account - all things I thought I controlled.  Sure, I would praise God every once and awhile for those blessings - but I took them for granted, foolishly assuming that the marriage was there because I worked at it, the money was there because my husband and I hadn't foolishly spent it, I was healthy because I worked out and ate right.  Don't get me wrong, those things are important - and I certainly have a role to play in all of them, but I don't have ultimate control.

You learn that when your marriage is rocked to the core and you have to depend on your spouse more than ever.  You recognize that when what should have been a simple birth that you budgeted accordingly for now triples in cost, draining much more out of your bank account than you had planned for. You learn that when the very creation you lovingly created is taken from you in a moment's notice. 

Dependence on God isn't a sign of weakness, but rather the strength I need to get through another day. So, while I'm uncertain of what tomorrow, next month and next year will bring - I know that God's hand is in all of it. In church on Wednesday this song was sung - the message came at just the right time, as it often does. 

The perfect wisdom of our God
Revealed in all the universe.
All things created by his hand
And held together at his command.
He knows the mysteries of the seas;
The secrets of the stars are his.
He guides the planets on their way
And turns the earth through another day.

The perfect timing of his ways
Along the path of righteousness.
His Word a lamp unto my feet;
His Spirit teaching and guiding me.
And, Oh, the wisdom of the cross
To save the helpless and the lost-
He chose the fool to shame the wise
That all the glory might go to Christ.

Twelve weeks ago this would have just been another hymn - today it's my prayer. I hope it becomes yours too.

O grant me wisdom from above
To pray for peace and cling to love,
And teach me humbly to receive
The sun and rain of your sovereignty.
Each strand of sorrow has its place
Within this tapestry of grace.
So through the trials I'll choose to say:
"Your perfect will in your perfect way."

*"The Perfect Wisdom of our God" 2010 Gettymusic

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Auntie Nicole

To my sweet nephew and unborn niece:

It wasn't too long ago that your mommies shared the good news that you were coming!  What an exciting time for our families - new babies to love on, cousins that would grow up together to become lifelong friends.  My heart rejoiced that our lives were taking us all down this path together and that I'd be able to share stories and swap ideas with both of your mommies.  It made me so happy that I wasn't going to go through this alone.

It's been 11 weeks since your sweet cousin Olive went to be with Jesus.  Your mommies came and showed us love and support, but deep down I wondered what her short life and death meant for them as well.  I wondered how I would be able to show them the same love and support when it came/comes time for you to be born. 

The truth is, this has been hard. 

I struggle daily with how to show them support without seeming like I'm over-doing it or making anyone think I'm doing it because I feel like I have to.  I struggle with how I'll get through the first holidays or watch babies so close in age to my Olive grow up in our family.  I struggle with how to be the cool, fun aunt and still be Olive's mommy at the same time.  I battle thoughts in my head that Olive will be replaced or overlooked because she is no longer here. As Olive's mommy, my only job left is to protect her memory. So my promise to you is that I will share her with you.  I will tell you of your cousin Olive and how much fun you would have had together!

I want you to know that you are loved.  I've loved you from the moment I found out about you, but it may take some time for me to show you love the way I want to - the way you deserve. 

Baby E - I want so much to wrap my arms around you and snuggle you and take in your beautiful smell. Sweet boy, I'll get there - I promise.  Being in the NICU with you brings back too many difficult memories, after all, you're in the room right next to where your baby cousin was.  The beeping of the machines, passing the hallway where she was carried home to heaven - it's all so overwhelming right now.  Your uncle got to hold you last night, he held you for the both of us.  He later said to me, "how can anyone be sad holding a baby?"  My heart breaks that I've not felt the weight of you in my arms yet - but I am sad and scared. Let me assure you that the thought of holding you isn't what makes me sad. I didn't get to hold my own baby for very long and that makes me sad.  I'm scared that holding you will somehow erase the weight of her in my arms.  I know that is so silly, but it's how I feel right now.  I know that I'll come around - I just ask that you be patient with me.  And know that when I do finally hold you, I probably won't ever want to put you down!

Baby girl - when I found out that Olive would have had a little girl cousin to grow up with my heart broke.  It broke for her, it broke for you and selfishly, it broke for me.  We didn't know that Olive was a girl before she was born, but I knew that Olive's other cousin was a boy and that eventually we'd find out what you were too.  I had hoped, that whatever you were that you were the same as Olive  -so when we found out that you were indeed a girl my heart was heavy for what could have been. I secretly hoped Olive was a girl before she was born and I would daydream about buying you both all kinds of fun, girly things.  I dreamed of family vacations visiting one or the other, where the two of you would play all day and then fall asleep giggling at the thought of something so silly just like I did with one of my cousins. I imagined when we would find out what you were that I would go to the store and send you a package from your cousin and I - letting you know that we were patiently (or impatiently) awaiting your arrival.  The truth is, I can't walk into a store without covering my eyes as I pass the baby section. I can't bring myself to buy you a dress or cute tights with ruffles on the butt - not even a pink toy. But I'll get there, I promise. And after I'm able to practice holding Baby E for awhile - my hope is that my arms will long for you too. 

I know you're little now, and won't even know or remember that I didn't hold you right away or send you a frilly dress at the announcement of your gender, but I know and it makes me sad.  It makes me sad that a part of our family will always be missing, sad that you'll never know your cousin Olive, sad that none of us will get to see all of you grow up together the way we had hoped.  But I'm also very excited- excited to see the joy you will add to our family, excited to watch you grow into extraordinary people, excited for the love and healing you will bring to me and your uncle.

Be patient with me. There will most likely be a day, maybe months or years from now, when I'm stopped in my tracks at something you do or say. I may find myself watching you do something that will bring tears to my eyes, or hear you call out to your mamas and wonder what my life would have been like if Olive were still here.  I'm sure that I'll hear her in your laughs and squeals, and that I'll feel her in your hugs and kisses. 

And it will make my love for both of you grow deeper and deeper still.

Auntie Nicole

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Olive's Life Story, Part 2

I don't recall how long Olive was on my chest.  Our midwife was toweling her off and patting her back since she had yet to breathe.  After a moment, they took her and laid her on the bed to suction her nose and mouth.  Her body looked limp.  Her eyes were open, but she was not present. I could see meconium coming out of her mouth and nose as the midwives all chanted, "Breathe baby, breathe."

I was holding my breath.  They asked us to talk to her, "talk to your baby, Nicole."

I sat there.  Silent.

I looked up at my husband, his face as confused as mine.  We both sat there and watched as they tried to save her.

I finally spoke, "C'mon sweet girl, let mama hear you cry."

"Sweet baby, you can do it - just let us hear you cry."

"Oh God, please....let her cry.  Please God, I'm begging you, let her cry!"


I heard one midwife say that she was having a hard time getting a suction on the oxygen mask.  Then the paramedics came.  It was at that moment that I knew she was going to the hospital.  The promise we'd be eating dinner with our baby was gone.  She was leaving - I would not get the birth I had wanted.

In the midst of the craziness, everyone remained calm.  They attempted CPR, but were unable to intubate her due to the fluid in her lungs.  One paramedic was on the phone with an ER doc at the hospital asking what they should do.  I wanted to scream at him, "how do you not know what to do?!" But I didn't.


They told us they needed to move fast as she had already gone too long without oxygen. My husband got his shoes on and left with them.  I lay back on the bed wondering what just happened.  Sirens.

I was told that I would be released from the birthing center once I was cleaned up, had gone to the bathroom and eaten something.  I tried to do all of those things as quickly as I could.  I needed to get to my baby.  She needed her mommy.  I still could not comprehend what had happened.  I knew, having an out of hospital birth, that there may be a chance one or both of us would need to be transported to a hospital.  We had mentally prepared for this.  We HAD NOT prepared for the worst - to us- a hospital transport was the worst.  Death was not an option.

As I was getting cleaned up my husband called.  He was using phrases like "do not resuscitate" and "call a chaplain to baptize her", he was talking like she was going to die.  One doctor wanted to call time of death but another found a weak pulse. That meant they were able to move her to the NICU.  He told me she had gone about 30 minutes without oxygen, she still made no sound. My daughter was not going to die. I told him to just have them stabilize her and I'd be there as soon as I could.

Silence.  I hung up the phone and one of the midwives asked if I wanted to pray.  I said yes, and so we prayed. 

I went to the bathroom and they brought me some toast with peanut butter to eat.  The last thing I wanted to do was eat, but I knew if I didn't, they wouldn't let me leave.  I gagged down the toast.  They sent someone in to sit with me, a sweet woman who I would later realize belonged to a Facebook community of mothers that I had previously joined.  She sat in the rocking chair while I ate my toast.  I thanked her for sitting with me and asked her if she had children. 

I called my parents. I told them that they had a granddaughter, but that they needed to meet us at Children's hospital.  It didn't look good.

About that time I was told that I was able to leave - with strict instructions to take care of myself.  One of the midwives and a doula drove me to Children's.  I was wheeled up to the NICU and found my husband and inlaws sitting in the waiting room. My husband looked so sad.  There didn't seem to be much news, other than she was stable and on a cooling blanket, where she would stay for the next 72 hours.  Our midwife had arranged for us to get a room in the NICU so we could sleep there and be close by.

My husband wheeled me into her room, we still hadn't named her.  There laid "Baby Girl Smith" with wires and tubes, but she was gorgeous.  The most beautiful baby I had ever laid eyes on.  My daughter. I asked the doctors some questions about what they were doing.  At that point we just got pretty general answers - she was stable and they would monitor her over the next few days to see how she was doing.  I held her hand, she squeezed back.  My husband would tickle her foot and she would curl her toes.  Later they would tell us that she didn't have these reactions, but I felt it - she felt us.  I will not let anyone take that away from us.

I told her that mama was here and that she was so beautiful and strong.  I told her how much I loved her and that there were a lot of people praying for her.  My heart was heavy - but full.

When we returned to the waiting room there were many more people - my grandparents, parents, siblings and other extended family.  The waiting room would remain full for the next 24 hours - we were so loved.  That evening I went to bed hopeful.  We went back to our room and chose a name for her - a name I had been in love with, even though my husband had been unsure.  As we spoke, we agreed that Olive Elizabeth was perfect.  My husband went back to see her one more time and to tell the nurses that Baby Girl Smith had a name.

The next morning we received a phone call from the on call doctor who had treated Olive in the ER.  She informed us that the initial ultrasound of her head showed severe tissue damage in her brain and the EEG had shown no brain activity at all.  I believe that started to solidify things for my husband.  I, on the other hand, was still holding out for a miracle.  Surely God would save our daughter.  I prepared myself that she may have some disabilities, but death was still not something I would entertain.

That morning I took a shower and as I looked down at my empty belly I fell to my knees.  "Take me.  Take me instead.  I can't do this.  I am not strong enough for whatever this is - I did not sign up for this."  I wished she was back inside me - where I knew I could take care of her.  Afterall, when she was in my belly - that was the safest she had ever been.  Even though these doctors and nurses were well trained, they WERE NOT her mother.  I was her mother.  I couldn't save her anymore.

Throughout the day I was either at her bedside or with family.  My husband chose to either be at her bedside or by himself.  He was beginning to shut down and I could sense that this was going to be a long road.

That afternoon we were given news that there was more organ damage than originally thought.  Olive's pH levels were off, her blood pressure was weak and they were increasing her meds, even though they thought that was really just a bandaid.  The doctor didn't sound hopeful.  That made me so angry - why were all of these people talking to me like my child was going to die?  This was Children's Hospital - they save babies all the time, and babies much smaller and weaker than mine.  My baby was full term, a whopping 8 lbs 2 oz.  She had good color and we had a healthy pregnancy - just use the machines and medications that you have available to you and SAVE MY DAUGHTER!  It was that simple.

It was not that simple.  That evening we were told that we needed to make some difficult decisions.  Olive's cooling blanket had begun to warm her.  She was unable to maintain her body temperature and that was when we knew she was losing her battle.  Our pastors came.  Olive was baptized, many people were able to meet her and pray over her.  They were able to hold her hand and kiss her sweet head.  She was so very loved.

The doctors told us that we needed to decide when to move her to a more simple ventilator.  Once we did that, we would be able to hold her until she passed.  We might have hours, we might have days - no one knew for sure.  The only thing that stuck in my head was holding her meant letting her go.  My husband wanted to move her that evening, he felt like we knew our fate and just needed to face it.  I, on the other hand, couldn't bear to do it.  We hadn't slept more than a few hours in the last two days, we had barely eaten and were still running off of adrenaline.  If we were going to get the possibility of a day or more with Olive, I wanted to be rested and able to hold her all day long.  And then I told him the truth - I was mad at God.  I was so very angry at Him.  I didn't understand how He let me carry her for 9 months, feel her moving inside me.  How could He let me go through 15 hours of labor and birth her in a beautiful and peaceful birth and then take her away from me?  I would not give her back that easily. 

We stayed at her side until midnight that night and then decided to get a few hours of sleep and move her in the morning. 

At 1:00am our phone rang.  I will never forget that call.

"Ms. Smith?"
"The doctor is requesting you and your husband at Olive's bedside."

I hung up.  My heart sank.

My husband was already awake.  I put on my robe and we made our way downstairs.  They told us what we already knew.  Olive's blood pressure was dropping and she was maxed out on the medication they could give her.  She had spared us both and made the difficult decision for us.  She was ready.

It took about an hour and half for them to get her ready - they removed as many of the tubes and things that they were able.  A sweet nurse came in and made a mold of her feet and some other crafty things.  Things I knew they were doing for us so that we would have memories.  My heart broke.  We hadn't even made memories yet!  All of our "memories" involved terror and heartache, hospital machines beeping at us and a lifeless child.  Now we'd be sent home with a small box of "things" that they would call hers, her "belongings".  Old people have belongings, people who have lived a full life have belongings - babies don't have belongings.

They put her in a gown and wrapped her in a swaddle blanket that I had packed.  These were items that we were supposed to put our healthy baby in.  Items that would keep her warm in the birthing center - extra items in case she pooped or peed on something else she was wearing.  These items were not packed for her to die in.  Yet that's the purpose they would now serve.  She was going to die, and these "items" would become part of her "belongings."

They escorted my husband and I into a private room with a couch that pulled into a bed.  Shortly after they brought her in to us and laid her in my arms.  What a glorious feeling!  The weight of that sweet baby felt so right - so natural.  This was the weight I should have felt moments after birth, and now I was clinging to her, not knowing if I would have minutes, hours or days.

They got us situated and left us.  I told her how proud I was of her and how much we loved her.  I apologized that we would never paint our nails or go shopping for princess dresses.  I thanked her for making me a mommy.  We fell asleep.

I awoke to a doctor coming in to check her heartbeat.  It was still there, so she left us alone again.

I remember thinking that I was so very tired, but I couldn't bear to sleep.  I wanted to soak up every minute that I could.  I stared at her, I touched her cheeks, her nose, held her hand.  How could this be happening?  Flashes of everything I was losing were staring me in the face - she would never learn to ride a bike, never go to school or learn to tie her shoes.  She would never have a first date, a bad grade or a boo-boo.  I would never attend a field trip or girl scout meeting.  Birthday parties for Olive were now going to be about celebrating how old she would have been, instead of how old she is. How were we going to do this?

The doctor returned again and found her heartbeat. They left us.

I moved her over to my husband.  I wanted him to experience the weight of her on his body, in his arms.  I wanted him to be able to have that memory too.  I wanted to see him hold her- something I had dreamt of for so long.  I wanted to see him be her daddy.

The next time the doctors came in, it was harder for them to find her heartbeat. They sent 3 more doctors in before they found it. I knew it must be weak. I knew it wouldn't be long.  We were not going to get the days we had hoped for - 2 hours was all she was going to give us.  I could tell.  Each time they came in, more and more life had left her body.  I could see it in her color and feel it in the temperature of her hand.  We didn't have much longer.

My husband fell back asleep.  Trying not to wake him, I had our final mommy/daughter moment.  I told her that it was Ok to let go, that she should go be with Jesus.  I knew He was waiting for her and she was going to be so very happy.  No pain, no suffering, no fear - just paradise.  I held her hand and we did what we would have done every other night had she been able to live.  We prayed.

Now I lay me
Down to sleep
I pray the Lord
My soul to keep

If I should die
Before I wake
I pray the Lord
My soul to take

It's OK sweet girl.  Mommy is here and we will be OK.  I love you so much.

The doctor's returned.  I heard her ask a nurse for the time.  5:25.


They removed her tubes and turned off the machines.  For the first time since that moment at 5:18pm, 36 short hours prior, we had the opportunity to just hold her.  As soon as she was free I brought her to my chest and clung to her.  My husband had his arms around us both and we just sobbed.  Sobbed into her lifeless body.  After I held her for awhile I gave her back to him.  We just sat there, holding our daughter's shell.


About an hour later the doctor's returned, we discussed a few things and took her back to her room in the NICU.  We called our family and tried to sleep.  At this point it was 6:30 in the morning, I didn't know what that day would hold but knew I needed to try and sleep.  When we left the hospital we were given a pink and purple box of her belongings - the thermometer they used to check her temperature, the smallest little blood pressure cuff that I'd ever seen, a diaper (not used), her name bracelet - Baby Girl Smith, the mold of her feet, the hat, gown and blanket she was in when she died.

Those "belongings" have become the very things I now use to comfort me.  Every single night I open that box.  I hold her gown up to me, I run my fingers over those little feet and I bring that blanket up to my face - just to breathe her in.  Her smell is hospital smell, but it's still her smell.  Every night I take myself back there, every night I tell her that we're doing OK and that I wish her sweet dreams.  Every night I ask God, even though I'm certain it works differently in heaven, I ask Him to let her know I love her. 

I know she doesn't need my love anymore.  She has more love than I ever would have been able to give her on this earth. But I still ask.  I ask Him, even though I know she is happier than she's ever been and loved more than she could ever have imagined, I ask Him to give her a little extra.  He doesn't have to tell her it's from me - since that's probably not how it all works up there, but in His own heavenly way, I ask Him to do this.

And I will for the rest of my earthly life. 
This is the only physical connection I have to her.  This gown, hat and blanket have her DNA on it - making her real.  She was here, albeit a very short time, she lived and she died.

My arms may be empty but my heart is full of love for her.  My daughter.  My firstborn.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Olive's Birth Story - Part 1

Two months ago I was in labor, it was a day I had both longed for and dreaded at the same time.  I was anxious to birth her, especially since we had made the decision to birth at a birthing center rather than a hospital.  A birthing center meant no major interventions, no pain medication - a decision I was confident in, but still anxious for.

My labor started around 2am on Tuesday, July 29.  I woke up with what felt like strong menstrual cramps, went to the bathroom and went back to bed.  I had been having contractions since the day prior and since I could still rest, thought I should get sleep while I could.  That only lasted 20 minutes.  I woke back up and knew that day would be the day we would welcome our baby.

I got up, trying not to wake my husband or the dogs.  I wanted to walk around and let gravity do it's job.  I paced around the kitchen for an hour or so before sitting on the exercise ball.  The contractions were anywhere from 3-5 min apart and lasting about a minute each.  I called my midwife around 4am and we decided I would continue to labor at home and call her back in an hour or so.  I was able to rest on the couch in between the contractions, but around 4:30 I thought I should wake up my husband. 

What an exciting morning! We called our parents and told them the news - I remember my mom crying to me because she had been sick and was so sad that she wasn't feeling well and I was going in to labor.  I told her it would be fine and I would call her when the baby had arrived.  My inlaws prepared to get on the road and make the drive from Illinois to stay with our dogs.  My husband and I showered and packed up the remaining items we would need to take with us.

At around 5:30 I lost my plug and knew that things were progressing. I had no idea how far along I actually was as I hadn't been checked internally at any of my prenatal visits.  We left for the birthing center around 6am.  I remember saying goodbye to our dogs - and promising them that we'd return with their baby brother or sister.

I knew I needed to eat something, but wasn't hungry.  Traffic wasn't too bad, but I remember wondering what I looked like to cars that passed by - holding onto the side bar of the door, the faces I was probably making.  I tried to eat some frozen berries in between contractions and drank as much water as I could.

We arrived to the birthing center and my midwife checked me.  I was 100% effaced and 4.5 centimeters dilated.  She wanted me to walk around as much as I could - and I knew it would be good for me, but the last thing I wanted to do was walk.  We settled in to our room and stayed put.  My husband got me some food and kept refilling my water bottle.  I sat in the rocking chair listening to the Mumford & Sons Pandora station - rocking and saying to myself "down and open".  I wanted to move the baby down and allow my body to open to welcome her.  After drinking so much water, I needed to use the bathroom - at that point walking was difficult.  I decided to just stay on the toilet and labor there.

Sitting there allowed my hips to open more and there was a nice cold wall I could rest my head on in between contractions.  I actually fell asleep in between each one.  My poor husband - just sat there with me.  We didn't talk much but I knew he was there and that was all that mattered to me.  At some point a midwife came and asked if I wanted to take a shower.  We thought the water hitting my back and belly may feel good - and boy was she right.  I was able to stay in there for awhile and could hold onto the shower bars while doing lunges to try and move the baby - as she had flipped to a different side and wasn't quite in the position we wanted her in.  After the shower I returned to the toilet - "down and open".

Around 1pm I moved to the tub to labor there.  Oh, what a wonderful feeling.  I felt like I was floating and could just sit and let my belly feel the water around it.  I don't recall how long I labored there for, but I believe it was a couple hours.  All throughout the day, both mine and baby's heart rates were good and strong - no signs of distress from either of us.  My husband just continued to fill up my water bottle - the last thing I wanted was to drink water, but the midwives kept telling me that I would feel better after delivery if I was well hydrated.  From the time I was on the toilet my body was bearing down - I wasn't pushing, but I could feel my body tense up and bear down through each contraction - almost like a dry heave.  Since I had been doing that for hours, the water I was drinking was burning as I felt almost like I was experiencing acid reflux.  They brought me in something else to drink to try and help with that.

After the tub I went back to the bed to try and get in different positions to move the baby.  She still hadn't flipped to the other side and the lip of my cervix was over her head.  I remember being shifted into different positions to try and move her and when that didn't work my midwife had to reach in, while I was pushing, to try and slide it over her head.  It took awhile, but eventually we made it.  Since the baby was now in a better position I moved back to the shower.  This time I just used the bars in the shower to hold onto while I pushed in a squatting position.  The gravity helped, although this was, by far, the hardest part of my labor.  

There were only a few times that my head would start to wonder how much longer this would take - never once did it tell me I couldn't do it though.  As soon as I would let my mind wander, I'd bring it back - "down and open".  There were times I felt like my body would rip in two, it hurt and it burned but I knew I could do this, I felt strong and confident in my body's ability to birth her. I remember one midwife telling me that after 2 more contractions I could move back to the tub and deliver my baby.  Those 2 contractions seemed to take forever, but when she told me that we'd be eating dinner with our baby that night, I knew I was in the home stretch and I just wanted to hold that sweet child!

After those two contractions were through and her head was crowning, we began to move (waddle) back to the tub.  Just before I was to get into the tub I started to bleed so they moved me back to the bed and told me I could get in the tub and soak after I had the baby.  My dreams for having a water birth were gone, but at that point I didn't care - I just wanted to meet my baby.

There were no clocks in our rooms, so I had no idea what time it was - other than the midwife's reference to dinner time, I assumed it was between 4-6pm.  I remember being extremely sweaty, and feeling like I smelled awful - I believe I even apologized for that (of course, I would!).  I continued to push and her hand came out with her head and I was so relieved that her head was out.  I felt my midwife wiggling her around and turning her to get the rest of her body out.  At 5:18pm they laid that slippery baby on my chest.  I couldn't believe it - we were parents!  We just held each other, held her and cried.

At one point the midwife referred to Olive as 'buddy' so I thought she was a boy. I kept asking what we had, what was it? One midwife replied, "didn't you look?"  Finally I saw that she was a girl - "we have a daughter?  It's a girl?"  I was overjoyed.  Most people, including us for awhile, thought we were having a boy.  Secretly I was dreaming for a daughter, so when I realized she was a girl, my heart rejoiced!  This is exactly how I imagined it - a peaceful labor, a strong and confident delivery  and a baby girl with a strong heart rate.  She looked at us, but she didn't cry. 

We would never hear her cry.

*I'm choosing to end this part of the story here - as the 29th of the month seems to be a tough enough day for me.  I will share the remaining moments in Olive's life in another post.  Today, on her 2 month birthday, it's important for me to focus on the positives of her birth story.