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 na├»ve 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.