Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Peace Be With You

One week ago, we welcomed Aaron Michael into our arms.  Today we laid him to rest, trusting that he will now rest peacefully in the arms of God. 

Despite the cold rain that fell all day today, we have been surrounded by nothing but warmth and beauty from all those who celebrated Aaron's life with us.  Father John conducted a Mass that was truly beautiful and was exactly what we had wanted for our son.  He has treated us with so much compassion and done absolutely everything in his power to help two grieving parents celebrate their child.  He spoke from his heart and his sincerity was evident in every word that he spoke.  The woman who helped coordinate all the elements of Mass is one of the kindest souls I have ever met; she shared a piece of her heart with me and worked so hard to make sure everything today was as perfect as it could be.  The folks from the funeral home have truly been a blessing throughout this process and have gone above and beyond more times than I can even count to help us honor our little boy.  The sweet ladies who prepared a small luncheon for our friends and family to enjoy following the burial provided us all with a place to meet and spend some time together after saying goodbye to Aaron. 

We also had so much support from family, friends and coworkers who came to celebrate Mass with us...and so many more prayers from those who couldn't join us today.  I don't know that I have ever been one who can honestly say that I've ever personally felt the power of prayer before, but that is the only explanation I have for the peace and comfort that we have felt today.

We are, of course, grieving the fact that we never got to bring our son home, but at the same time Chris and I both feel calmer tonight than we have at any point during the last week.  We truly feel that we have passed Aaron's spirit into the arms of God and that his earthly body is resting comfortably in its proper place here.  The peace that has brought to both of us is like nothing I could ever have expected.  Truly, I expected to battle a lot of emotions today, but I did not expect peace to be at the forefront.  

I know that in the weeks to come, this peace may sometimes be overshadowed by the grief and the loss that we will continue to feel for the rest of our lives.  We will never forget that our sweet son was taken from us in time that we felt was all too short, but my hope is that we will always be able to find our way back to the peace that we feel tonight. 

(I do plan to post all of the details from Aaron's service, maybe later tonight or tomorrow, but this was on my heart and I wanted to share it, perhaps to help others who are grieving our loss alongside us tonight.)

"How're You Doing?"

I honestly have no idea how to respond when someone asks "How are you doing?"

There are some who are asking because they just do not know what else to say.  There are others who are asking because they care and are curious, but wouldn't know how to respond if I told them what was really in my heart.  Then there is a select group who are asking and who genuinely want to know how we really are doing and are prepared for whatever answer I give.   (I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this assessment, if you've ever been on the receiving end of this question in a similar situation...you have probably already figured it out.)

For now, each group gets a different answer.  The first group will get the standard, "We're doing okay, really."  The second group gets the slightly more honest, "Well, we're as okay as we can be."  Then there's the third group.

The third group has only a handful of people in it and they are probably the only ones who will ever get the truly honest answer when they ask me this question.  Some days, the honest answer is one of the above.  Right now, the honest answer can vary from day to day, hour to hour, and even minute to minute. 

I have moments that feel shockingly normal.  For just a split second, life feels like it hasn't really changed forever.  Almost as quickly as they come, those moments pass and I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt and betrayal for even having those moments.  I do believe that someday we will find a "new normal" but for now, I'm not ready to feel normal.  These moments make me feel like I'm not grieving my son like I should or that I somehow love him less when I have them.  

There are also moments of devastating, crippling grief.  These are the times when I can't stop the tears and the sobs just won't let me catch my breath.  These are the moments when I am hurting and angry and there is a real physical ache to have my baby back in my arms.  In these moments, the thought of "normal" doesn't even exist for me and I can't imagine a world where it would exist.

The rest of the time...I just feel numb.  It's like I am just existing in some weird "twilight zone" where everything around me looks just like it always has, but nothing is actually the same.  I find myself frequently just staring into space...I have no idea what I am thinking about or where my mind has gone, but I'm not really here at those times.  This is when it is easy to lie and say, "We're okay."  It's less painful than stepping outside of my numbness to find an honest answer.

I know, in my heart that we are not okay and I suspect that even when I tell people this, they probably know it isn't true.  The reality is this:  we get out of bed each morning, we all get fed and dressed.  Then we try to get out of the house for a little while.  We'll come home and eat the food that friends and family have lovingly provided for us (and thank God for that!!).  Then the girls take a bath, get their story time and go to bed.  Chris and I stay up for hours doing random things until we are finally so exhausted that we have to try to get some sleep.  We wake up in a few hours and do it all again. 

So the answer to the question is this:  We are functioning, but we are not okay. Not yet. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

So Many Questions

One of the hardest conversations I have ever had in my life started this afternoon with my oldest child telling me, "Mommy, I just want to cry because I miss my baby Aaron so much."

I have posted several times in the last few months about how we have handled all of this with both girls and our approach has always been pretty straightforward.  Despite the honesty that we have maintained with them, we are still very careful that they will rarely see us cry about all that has happened.  It isn't because we want to hide the sadness or tears, it is because they are still babies themselves and we don't need to add any stress beyond that which is unavoidable.

So when Tori climbed into my lap this afternoon with tears streaming down her sweet little cheeks and told me that, I was caught a little off-guard.  Thankfully Chris and Abby were both nearby and we got to turn it into a fairly positive family moment, but it was a rough one.  I scooped her up, hugged her tight and told her that it was perfectly fine if she felt like crying because it's okay to be sad.  We let her know that Mommy and Daddy are sad too and sometimes we have to cry just like she does.  We also made it a point to tell her that it's okay to be happy too, because Aaron is safe in Heaven with God and knows that we love him very very much.  Abby was snuggled into Chris's lap and would occasionally come over to pat my cheek or look up and say "Heaven? God? S'okay Momma."  

I honestly can not remember the whole conversation or exactly how it went because I was so moved by her emotions and overwhelmed by my own - my intense grief over the loss of my son, but also the equally intense love I have for all three of my children.

We ended up spending nearly 45 minutes comforting her and answering so many questions.  She wanted to know if God was going to hold him and snuggle him for us, if he would give him kisses good night, and if God had a special crib waiting for Aaron in Heaven.  She wanted to know how Aaron got from here to Heaven and if someone had helped him get there -- then she said she thought that maybe Grandma used her wings to fly down and pick him up because if he tried to get there himself he might get squished by a car or truck when he crossed a road.  She wanted to know if Aaron could hear us in Heaven and wanted to know why we can't hear God talk to us but He can hear us talking to him.

We have tried several different times to try to explain what will happen at Tuesday's funeral and struggle with explaining the casket to her, but we've let her know that we'll be going to church to pray to God and ask him to always keep Aaron safe for us.  We've let her know that when people die, their angels go up to Heaven and we bury the box so their bodies can rest safely here.  (To this, she responded adamantly that Aaron was in Heaven, not still here.  So we left that one alone for now.)  She knows that the toys she and Abby got for him were sent to Heaven with him.  She and Abby both plan to release a balloon for him at the cemetery on Tuesday...Tori thinks he would like a blue one and Abby insists that he's getting pink. 

She also decided tonight that he needed something else to to snuggle, so we suggested that we could get him something and put it on top of the ground where we will bury his box.  She tapped her chin thoughtfully for a minute and informed me, "Umm...no I don't think that's going to work.  But, we can do this - let's bury them in the sand next time we go to the beach when it gets warm and then Aaron and Grandma can come get them from the beach!!  But you have to put them in a box first so it doesn't get dirty!!!"  I have no idea where she came up with that plan, but it seemed important to her...so looks like we'll be burying something on the beach next time we go.

She did eventually get settled down and we went on with our day.  There were a few more random questions since we went to purchase a crucifix and a rosary for Sunday's service, but overall she seems to be satisfied with her answers for now. 


I've been staring at a blinking cursor on a blank page for a few minutes now and can not, for the life of me, figure out what it is that I want to say tonight.  Honestly, I had hoped that we would be in bed by now but a combination of insomnia and a 3.5 year old who woke up covered in urine and vomit delayed that a bit.  It isn't that we aren't tired, because we are and we absolutely need the rest. 

But as long as I'm awake, I can find something to work on or something to do...anything to keep my mind busy.  I even rearranged our computer cabinet and organized our tax documents tonight because I ran out of legitimate tasks that actually needed completed right now.  It's just easier to keep making up excuses to stay awake than it is to decide to get some sleep.
When we start preparing to go to bed, that's when I start to feel the panic rise up.  In the dark, in bed...all I can think about is the baby that is supposed to be sleeping in the pack-n-play at the foot of our bed just like his sisters did.  It helps me remember what his weight felt like against my chest but that also reminds me that my arms are so empty without him.  Going to bed forces me to realize that I can roll over and sleep in any position I want because there is no longer a big belly or a baby forcing me to sleep on my side.  As much as I hate sleeping on my side, I loved feeling him shift around inside of me and feeling his little hiccups bounce around.  Now there is nothing there but the memory. 

Everyone has told us in these last months how incredibly strong we are ... tonight, I don't feel strong.  I feel empty.

I was looking for a quote tonight and this is what I found.  I want to believe it, with all my heart I want to believe that all of this grief and this pain is all for something greater.  On the good days, I am even comforted by the thought.  On the bad days, it's harder.  Today is one of the bad days...today, I just want my little boy back in my arms. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Time Marches On

I'm not sure I even know what it is that I need to say tonight, but I feel like I have to try.  I can almost guarantee that it won't be eloquent and it might not even make sense, but that's okay.

It's been three days since we had Aaron...in some ways, it feels like it's already been ages ago but in other ways, it still seems like it was just yesterday.  In an even bigger way though...it's hard to believe that we had him at all and that he's really gone. 

We weren't exactly prepared for him to make his arrival as quickly as he did, so I think that contributes to the feeling of shell-shock that we both have right now.  It just seems that, all of a sudden he was here...and then he was gone.  And in reality...that is kind of what happened.  Although we were incredibly blessed and grateful to have 22 hours with our little guy, that is still just the blink of an eye when it comes to spending time with your child. 

It just doesn't seem possible that our baby died three days ago and yet life continues to go on in such a normal way.  What I'd really like is for the world to just stop for a little while to give me a chance to sit down and cry and not have to continue doing all of those things that need to be done.  There is, however, a part of me that knows if I allow the world to stop for too long, it just might not get started again too easily. 

While I feel like silently falling apart on the inside, the world continues moving on.  It is almost like I am watching everything happen in front of me, but I'm underwater and just moving forward takes so much extra work.  I see everyone else going on with what appear to be very normal days, but for us there is nothing normal about them at all. 

Today, we decided that we had to get out of the house for a little while.  We stopped at Burger King to grab lunch and we were "those people."  The ones with the two year old who keeps trying to sneak off and the four year old who had a total meltdown and cried loudly in the middle of the restaurant; she has never, ever done that before.  She freaked out because we packed up their food and told them they could finish in the car because lunch was taking so long and we were nearly out of energy to handle it well.  As we walked out of the restaurant, three different people commented to us, "Aww...someone's upset."  and "Aww, the little queen looks unhappy." and "Aww...must be naptime."  We said nothing, just smiled and kept walking.  But what I wanted to scream was, "No! She isn't tired and this isn't a tantrum...her brother is dead and we all feel like screaming and crying just like she is doing."  Then we went to Target to pick up my prescription and a few groceries (oddly, they were part of an extreme coupon trip that Chris and I had planned to do on date night Tuesday).  The girls weren't particularly well-behaved there either and we had another meltdown, but to anyone watching us...it would have appeared just the same as any other toddler freaking out on any normal day. 

I have been so absorbed these last few days in this whole list of things that need to be done and phone calls that had to be made. I'm a little more okay when my mind is busy and I'm actively working on something, but when I stop and have time that isn't occupied by details or by my girls...that is so much harder.  A perfect example - I didn't go to bed last night until 5am.  I was up working on drafting his birth announcement/memorial card, finalizing funeral selections, sending emails ...I wouldn't have been able to sleep anyway, so I thought I should at least put that time to use.  My hope had been that I would be so tired that I could just fall into bed and sleep, but it didn't happen that way and I'm glad I have a husband who is always there for me.

I knew ahead of time that this period would be hard, but I wasn't prepared for how much "normal" would still try to exist.  I think that is part of what is leaving me feeling so unsettled right now...our life has been forever changed, but when we came home from the hospital...everything still looked the same.  Our daily routine hasn't changed much, our bills still need paid, our pets still need care, our children still need our love, the laundry still needs done, the dishes still get dirty...and the list goes on.  It feels like the world doesn't even know that our precious baby is gone and it hurts so much to try to figure out how to function in that world. 

I know it isn't entirely rational and I know that we have literally hundreds of people who are praying for us and hurt deeply for us.  We are truly and deeply grateful for all of those prayers and there is no doubt in my mind that those prayers have helped carry us through. It's just hard to stand here and watch life continue to swirl around me while I feel so lost.

The Faith of a Child

One of the questions that we have been asked most in these last few days is "How are the girls doing?" Honestly, we have been blessed with children who are wise beyond their years and have brought us more comfort than we ever thought possible.  And, for now, they truly seem to be doing pretty well.

Throughout this journey, we have truly tried to be as honest as possible with the girls on a level that was developmentally appropriate for each of them.  I have no idea what the "right way" to do all of this is, but judging by the feedback we've gotten from them, I can say that I'm at least pretty sure we haven't done it the "wrong way." 

The basic approach has been to let them both know that the baby had a boo-boo on his head and that meant that he was going to die (we have been VERY careful not to ever tell the girls that he would be "sleeping" because that is just inviting nighttime issues).  They knew that he would go to Heaven to be with God, Grandma, and all the balloons that they have accidentally sent sailing toward the clouds over the last four years.  They knew that they would get to meet him at the hospital but that we probably wouldn't be able to bring him home. 

Lately we have been trying to explain the concept of the funeral.  We've let them know that we'll get to go to church and say some prayers for Baby Aaron so that we can talk to God about keeping him safe and snuggling him for us.  They seem okay with this and both girls are thrilled at getting to talk to God about their baby.

Sometimes we wonder if all the preparation is sinking in and we just aren't sure how much the girls hear, understand and retain.  As it turns out...apparently they are listening more than we realize...

Tori saw the car that Chris built sitting on the kitchen table this morning and asked about it.  So we explained that we were going to take it with us today so we could send it with baby brother when he went up to Heaven.  Her response?  "But he's already in Heaven with God...how are you going to get it to him??"  Huh...the kid has a point, I suppose. We went on to explain that he is indeed an angel now, but we would send the toy up there for him to play with in Heaven.

Then Abby saw his blanket sitting on our bed from last night.  She jumped up on the bed and began digging around in it, demanding, "Baby's banket?? In nere? In nere?  Baby in nere??"  So we explained that, no it was just his blanket and he was up in Heaven.  To which she nearly shouted, "Heaven!!  God!! God!!  Baby Heaven. Ok." 

So... to answer the question...I think the girls are gonna be all right.  They seem to be aware of all that is going on but certainly don't seem to grieving about it in the way that adults do.  They can recognize that we are sad and seem to sense some of what we are feeling, but they really don't show it outwardly much right now.  They ask their questions, get their answers and go on with what they were doing.

For them, they are sad that their brother isn't here with them but seem to know and truly believe that Aaron is safe and happy in Heaven with God.  Sometimes I wonder why we worry so much about the kids, because at times like these, the faith of a child is what we should all strive to attain.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Aaron's Day

This is part two of our son's story.  It is even longer than part one, but he deserves every word and more.  I don't ever want to forget a single moment that we spent with him and wouldn't dare to leave anything out here. These words are as much for me to remember his life as they are for me to share them with you.  We thought that once he passed, we would only get to spend 10-12 hours with him before it would be time to say our goodbyes and lay him in the arms of the gentle men from the funeral home.  Instead, we were blessed with twenty-two incredible hours with our little man.  In the time span of less than one day, our lives were forever transformed and we were graced with feeling all the love that should've lasted an entire lifetime.

Aaron was placed on my chest right after he was born so that Chris and I could see him.  (Chris even got to cut the cord like he did with both of his daughters.) I don't think there is any love in the world quite like the love that a parent feels for a child.  Even when that child appears less than perfect in the eyes of the world, when you are looking down at the life you created, all you can see is beautiful.  You might register that something is different and you take note, but it is just another part of the child that you love.

He was wrapped up in a hospital blanket and was sporting one of the hospital's hats (still didn't have all of our bags in the room at this point!!) We continued to hold him while everything from labor was finished and cleaned up.  They took his measurements (16.5 inches long) and brought in a scale to weigh him - he looked so chubby that we couldn't believe he really only weighed 4lbs3oz so the nurse weighed him twice to be sure! (Unfortunately, he wasn't a candidate for any kind of organ or tissue donation, but it is a comfort to know that the transplant organization was contacted.)

Then it was time to give our little man a bath and get him ready to meet the family.  (Somewhere along the way, Chris had managed to communicate to our families about what had happened in the last hour and they were able to head for the hospital.) We didn't get to do the baths for either of the girls, but knowing that this was going to be the only bath that Aaron ever got from Mommy and Daddy made it such a special experience that I will always be grateful we got to share with him.  The nurse stepped out and we had all the time in the world to clean him off, admire his long brown hair (seriously, it was almost 3/4" long!), cover him in lotion (though I have to admit, I had forgotten how little it takes to lotion such a tiny body and he may or may not have ended up with a bit much!) and get him dressed.  He got to wear one of those impossibly tiny newborn diapers and a special "Little Brother" onesie that we have had just waiting for nearly three years to be brought out for our firstborn son.  (Since none of the ultrasounds had ever been 100% positive on gender, we decided a few days ago to pack some boy items just in case!)  We covered his little head with fresh gauze and put on one of the hats that his Mommy made for him (his Mommy can admit that while they were certainly not crochet-perfect, there was one that fit his tiny head just perfectly).  Then we swaddled him in a soft little blanket that we picked out nearly five years ago when we discovered that we were expecting Tori...we were so excited when we first found out I was pregnant that we bought an outfit and blanket for each gender.

After Aaron was all dressed, Chris headed out to find those sweet big sisters so they could meet little brother.  They came in so enthusiastically and couldn't wait to jump up on the bed with Mommy and Baby.  We explained right away that we had gotten a surprise baby brother instead of a sister and although Tori had been adamantly opposed in the past to a baby brother, she didn't seem at all troubled by the change.  The girls really didn't ask many questions, but the questions they did ask were so very very sweet.  Tori wanted to know why he was sleeping, so we explained to her again about the baby's boo-boo, how he had died and gone up to Heaven to be with God.  Abby kept pointing and asking, "Seeping? Baby seeping?"...then "Shhh.  Momma Shhh!!  Qiet! Qiet!" She may not be terribly big, but she was awfully determined that we were going to act appropriately around her new baby brother!  While it was just the five of us, a local priest came in to say a few blessings and offer his sympathies. (The nurse who had been with us through the labor was also a Catholic and called her own priest to come over for us.)

After thoroughly checking him out and discovering the new baby dolls he brought for them, Tori was ready to bring her "friends" back to meet her brother.  She was determined that Auntie Julie should be first, but we convinced her that maybe we should let Mamaw meet Aaron first.  So the girls and I walked out to the lobby to meet my Mom and bring her back.  From that point on, Tori pretty consistently introduced her brother as "Baby Karen" despite a bunch of reminders that his name was Aaron (at some point, I'm pretty sure she decided to just be silly and ignore what we had to say...because she's almost four and that's kind of what they do).  After Mom got to spend some time with her newest grandson, we let Tori choose who came next (truthfully, that way we didn't have to choose order!) and each of the aunts and uncles got to come say hello to her "Baby Karen."  Tori and Abby served as little tour guides and were delighted to get to walk through the halls to help bring everyone back to meet her baby. 

When everyone had been in to meet our son, my sister-in-law (who also did our maternity photos not so very long ago) was ready to get some absolutely precious pictures of us and our new baby.  I said it before with our maternity photos and the same is true of our newborn pictures...she did such an incredible job of showing just how much joy we all felt for this little life even among all the sorrow.  I honestly don't think I will ever be able to find words that will accurately describe just how much these photos mean to me; she took the time to send us a few tonight so I could share them with those who were eager to meet our little boy and I can already get a sense of how much I will cherish these pictures for the rest of my life.  As I type this, it has been only eight hours since he left our arms and seeing his little face pop up in my email tonight meant more to me than words can describe.  I could sit and just stare at his perfect little lips and tiny smushed-up nose for hours and having the pictures to let me do that is absolutely priceless.

By the time we finished with our visits and all of the photos, it was past 11:00pm and while the girls were clearly getting tired (Tori even climbed into the corner where we had all of our bags and sort of crashed on top of them for a few minutes), they were so well-behaved and so excited to meet their brother.  As a mother, I could not have been more proud of them and how well they have handled everything.  We got ready to say our "good nights, love yous and sweet dreams" and get our hugs, kisses, nose rubs and head-butts.  As Tori climbed up on the bed, she took my face in both of her little hands to tell me, in her most grown-up little voice, that she was very sorry but it was time for her to leave right now and she would see me tomorrow. 

After that crew headed out, we had a few hours to eat some of the OB floor's famous turkey sandwiches and drink the Coke that our nurse specially requested for us at nearly midnight (they typically have only Sprite and juices on the floor but since I had initially asked for one, she made sure to go find four of them for us).  After a little relaxing, we got a wonderful late night visit from one of my closest friends who came to meet our little boy and check in on us. 

We knew we wouldn't sleep much the rest of the night because we honestly didn't want to miss one second with him and I don't think he left our arms for more than a moment from that point on.  So we got in quite a few hours of snuggling and watching some particularly awesome late night TV...by that, I mean some "Home Improvement", "George Lopez" and a little "That 70s Show."  We did get to curl up in the bed for an hour or so to take a quick nap before breakfast though.  Shortly after that, another friend of mine came up for a visit on her way to work and dropped off an amazing keepsake pendant kit for us - turns out the timing was perfect because it had just arrived in the mail the day before!

We initially thought we would only get to spend about ten or twelve hours with Aaron and had been expecting to say our good-byes early in the morning.  As it turns out, the hospital really truly recognizes the value of the time that parents get to spend with their baby and placed absolutely no official limit on our time with him.  So we spent the morning snuggling and making all of our keepsakes (handprint impressions, our pendant kit, footprints, and a plaster mold of his tiny little fingers).

My doctor came in to check on us at about lunchtime.  She wanted to know what name we had settled on and we shared with her (because we hadn't known what we were going to name him when she left after the delivery); I had completely forgotten that her own son's name is also Aaron.  She asked how we were doing and gave us our prescription for a really really high dose of folic acid, which I will be on for the remainder of my childbearing years.  (While it isn't a guarantee that it will prevent this from happening again in the future, it would at least significantly reduce the recurrence rate.)  She gave us both hugs and asked to see us in her office in a few weeks.

We talked with the care coordinator/grief counselor shortly after that and decided that we would call her again at 3pm so she could make contact with the funeral home.  I'm not sure I would have ever really been ready for that step, but it seemed like setting a time was the best thing for us to do.  Honestly, we spent most of that time curled up in my tiny hospital bed, dripping tears on Aaron's tiny little hat while we told him all the things we thought he most needed to hear.  At 3:00pm, we called to let her know that it was okay to start the process.  We filled out the paperwork that needed done so she could call the funeral home.  She also made an extra set of tiny footprints for us and then stepped out to wait for the funeral director to arrive.

We took this time to get Aaron ready for the next step in his journey.  We gave him a fresh diaper, changed the gauze on this head, trimmed some of that long brown hair, and changed him into the outfit that we wanted him to wear.  Neither of us were particularly concerned with what babies are "supposed to wear" when you bury them, because truthfully, you just shouldn't have to bury a baby.  So we chose the outfit that we picked out so many years ago that we would've brought our first son home in...a little baseball onesie that said "Daddy's Home Run Hero" and some little red and gray pants.  We left his tiny feet bare because none of the rest of his family likes to wear socks...so why would he? We wrapped him in the blanket that I made and the blanket that my mom made and just held him tight until the funeral director arrived. 

He came in and talked to us for a few minutes, then stepped out to give us a little time.  We said a prayer together, just the three of us.  We told him for the hundredth time how much he is loved and always will be.  We covered that sweet little face in kisses.  Then we had to tell him Goodbye.  We handed him to the care coordinator who laid him in that little bassinet and then they left.

To see your child go through a door and know that you will never feel his weight again in your arms and never get to kiss his tiny little face is a feeling that I'm not sure I even want to describe.  It's an important part of the story and I don't want to leave it out, but even sitting here typing it is almost more than I can bear.  It is to feel the very physical pain of having a piece of your heart leave your body and being powerless to stop it.  Believe me, I wanted nothing more than to jump from that bed, tear him out of that little cradle and never ever let go again.  In those moments after he left, my arms felt so utterly empty.  Chris brought me the blanket that we'd had him wrapped in and it was at least some comfort, but I'm pretty sure that empty feeling is here to stay for a while.  Despite the fact that we have been trying to prepare for this for months, it is impossible to prepare for that kind of pain.

The door closed behind them and all we could do was sit and sob for a little while.  What else makes sense in that moment? Once we got calmed down again, we began to pack our things and get ready to come home.  Once again, the care coordinator was there to help us and she even 'overlooked' the rule about being discharged in a wheelchair...honestly, being wheeled off of that floor with no baby in my arms would have nearly undone me and I think she understood that.

We made it home and were greeted by our beautiful little girls, a very enthusiastic dog, a very stressed-out cat, my mother and my brother-in-law.  Tori immediately wanted to know about the baby, so we reminded her that he had gone to Heaven and didn't get to come home with us.  Thankfully she was satisfied by that and went on with whatever she was doing.  Abby saw the blanket I had held on the way home and asked "Baby in nere? Baby in nere?"  So we had to show her that it was just his blanket and told her about the baby being in Heaven too...I doubt she really grasps it, but that seemed to satisfy the matter for her.

Tori made sure to let my mom know that "Mommy and Daddy are home now, so you can go ahead and leave."  So we got the girls dressed, headed to FedEx to drop off our info for the Duke study and decided that we were all going to Applebee's for dinner.  To be sitting in a restaurant having dinner just 24 hours after giving birth and just three hours after watching your baby be wheeled away by a funeral director is an almost absurd experience, almost like a bad dream from which you hope to be awakened any minute. We didn't wake up though; instead we came home, hugged our girls tightly and put them to bed.

Chris headed to the garage to make a little wooden car to have put in the casket with his first-born son (when we were expecting an Aurora, he had been working on her music box) and I sat down here to record what has happened in our journey during these last 32 hours.

Despite the pain, despite the tears and despite that nagging empty feeling...I still know that we were blessed by the time that Aaron Michael was in our life.  I have no regrets about choosing to carry him for as long as God allowed, even though that meant the pain of having to say goodbye.  Even when the tears have fallen or the sobs escaped, I still felt an indescribable joy in the blessing of carrying such a perfect, innocent little life. He will always be our first-born son and will always be in our hearts. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Aaron Michael's Birth Story

Chris and I welcomed our son, Aaron Michael, into the world yesterday on 2-19-13 at 6:30pm. Our little man weighed just 4lbs3oz and measured 16.5in long.  Though he was born sleeping, he was such a handsome little guy with blue eyes and a whole lot of brown hair just like his daddy.

This is his story...and it's gonna be a long one!  (And no...I didn't mistype...we had an Aaron instead of an Aurora...more on that below.)

We had our regular weekly checkup Tuesday afternoon and since I'd been having some sporadic contractions here and there, I went ahead and had the doctor check me to see if I was dilating.  At that time, the answer was something along the lines of "Meh, just barely."  We made our usual grocery stop on the way out of town and noticed on the way home that those sporadic contractions were a little more intense and a little more frequent.

At this point, I should mention that Chris and I had a date night planned for later Tuesday night...babysitter at the house, hotel room booked, steak dinner calling our names.  By the time we got home to get our bags and drop the girls off with my sister, the contractions were unmistakably closer together and admittedly stronger...but I really really wanted my steak dinner, so we headed out of town to go on with date night.  I could still talk and walk through them...so it couldn't have been much of anything, right?

Fortunately, "out of town for date night" also meant "heading to the same town where my doctor's office is located" because it didn't take me long to realize that those mildly irritating contractions were coming every four minutes and lasting about 30-45 seconds.  Since the doctor's office was closing in about ten minutes, I called to see what my doctor wanted me to do (secretly hoping that she would tell us to time them for a bit...maybe long enough for a steak...then come on in to be checked).  Instead, she wanted us to head to labor and delivery right away.  (At this point, I should also mention that my first labor with Tori was eight hours and second labor with Abby was two hours...so I suppose she had reason not to want me to delay.)

Despite my last shred of denial, Chris and I both knew that we probably weren't going to make it to date night and since it was already dinnertime, we stopped at Arby's so I could use the restroom and Chris could get a sandwich.  We joked a little about me having the baby in the restroom while we waited for the food...little did we know how close we actually came to doing just that!

We got to the hospital and headed upstairs.  I really really expected them to tell us that I was at about 3-4cm and had some time so we didn't even bring up our bags or anything.  The nurses at triage were waiting for us (apparently our doctor had warned them that I was a bit of a speedy deliverer) and had me head to the restroom for a urine sample. As I stood up, I had the suspicion that my water had just broken.  About five minutes later, my doctor sped in to check things out (literally I think she power-walked over from her office across the hospital).  We were talking and joking while she was checking things out...sure enough my water had broken.  Next step was to check how far dilated I was...still I expected maybe a 4-5 at this point.  Her exact words, "Well...you're complete because I'm feeling baby parts here.  Not sure exactly what, but I'd say you'll be pushing in about five minutes."  Into a wheelchair and down the hall we go...Chris admitted later that the nurse was practically running because he was having a hard time keeping up.

We got to the room and our doctor didn't bother breaking anything down for labor; she decided that delivering in the bed would be best (I happen to agree).  We had the two most incredible nurses with us and my doctor just sat on the side of the bed.  It was so incredibly relaxed and perfectly suited to exactly what we needed it to be.  At one point, I distinctly remember the doctor telling me that she could see the baby's face...to which I stupidly replied, "You've got to be kidding me. This just doesn't seem like it's really happening."  Her reply..."Well, Katie, it's not your liver, spleen or kidneys...so I'm thinking it's baby."  Have I mentioned that I absolutely love my OB and could not have had such an amazing experience through all of this without her??

We continued to chat between contractions and push when I needed to.  We even waited a little while to get started so they could send someone down to our car to get our camera (remember when we thought we'd have time to go get them??)  Aaron (who we were still calling Aurora at this point) continued to kick and was doing his very best this whole time.  But he was in an impossibly awkward position of trying to come out face first and after about twenty minutes of pushing, we couldn't hear his little heartbeat on the monitor anymore.  I love that he held on so long and I really love the fact that he kept kicking at the monitor every time the nurse put it on my belly between contractions.

After another ten minutes of pushing, our son was finally born and placed on my chest for us to meet.  He was beautiful and his little face looked so much like his sisters' did when they were born. Since we had decided to participate in the Duke University NTD research study, the doctor started to collect cord blood while we held and talked to our baby.  As she was clamping, she said "Um...is that a...? It looks like we have a little boy here!" Sure enough...I was holding our first son.

(Part two about "Aaron's Day" will be next.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


I know I haven't been writing very often; some of that is because I don't have a lot of quiet time for it (unless it's 1:00am and I'm the only one awake, kind of like right now) and some of it is simply because I'm having a hard time finding the right words these days.

We've got just thirteen days left until our induction is scheduled on 3/4.  Even as I sit here now, and I got out of bed solely for the purpose of trying to put some thoughts down, I'm still not sure exactly how I feel about that fact.  

There is, of course, the part of me that is just like any other mother - so excited to finally meet the life I've been carrying inside of me for the last nine months.  That part of me can not wait to feel the joy of finally cradling her in my arms, holding those tiny little hands, counting all ten tiny baby toes, introducing her to her older sisters and snuggling her tight to my chest. 

There is also the part of me that is so very scared of labor, just like I was with both of the other girls.  There is a very normal fear that comes with it and I think, at one point or another, most moms would really just prefer to skip over labor and delivery and get right to that whole "holding your new baby" part.  That's kind of where I fall right now.  Don't get me wrong...I had absolutely beautiful labor experiences before and wouldn't change a thing about either one, but I had the same feelings in the weeks leading up to them. 

The rest of me is filled with anxieties about all the factors that are unique to Aurora's birth and life.  I know that we have done as much planning and preparation as we could possibly do.  I know that no amount of anxiety and lost sleep is going to change a thing.  I know that there comes a point when I really do have to just let go and trust that things will happen as they are meant to.  I also know that we have an overwhelming amount of prayer and support to help us through whatever happens.  And I know that when all is said and done, we will still have had the opportunity to celebrate the life of one very special little baby.

That special little life is what makes every second of pain, anxiety and fear absolutely worth it.  I have no doubt that the joy, love, and grace that she will bring to our lives will far outshine all of those other moments.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Unconditional Love

Happy Valentine's Day! I've been wanting to put together a post with some of the maternity photos that my sister-in-law did for us a few weeks ago and today seems like the perfect day.  Is there any love more pure than that of a mother and father for their child?  :)

I am so happy that we were given the opportunity to have maternity photos done and would absolutely recommend them for other mommas, especially those facing a similar diagnosis.  They are not only beautiful but she did such an amazing job of capturing all the happiness and joy that co-exists with even the most difficult moments of grief that we've been working through.

   The bracelets in these two images were made by a woman whose daughter Eden was born sleeping after 38 weeks of a healthy pregnancy. "Eden's Wings provides a tangible symbol of healing, hope, and remembrance to bereaved parents through our handmade bracelets." 
You can visit her site at http://edenswings.blogspot.com/

We got so many beautiful images and as much as I would love to share them all, I'm just not entirely comfortable sharing the ones with our full faces or my other girls in them.  For the same reason, I also want to say that my sister-in-law gets total credit for the awesomeness of the images but, with her permission, I am choosing not to share her name or the name of her studio.  Feel free to contact me (OneAngelsJourney@gmail.com) if you know that you live in our area and would like some more information on getting in touch with her. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Mommy Guilt...in the middle of the night.

It's just past midnight and I can't sleep.  Even though we went to bed almost two hours ago, here I am wide awake with a mind that just refuses to give up and get some rest.  At this point, the only thing more irritating than being awake when the rest of my house is quietly slumbering is the fact that I'm not exactly sure why I'm still awake.

After reading all the news stories I could handle on my phone's tiny little screen, I decided it was time to just get up and see if I could figure out exactly what is on my mind.  I'm not sure I'll discover anything terribly important, but at least maybe after I get it all out, I'll be able to get some rest.

We had a doctor's appointment yesterday that went reasonably well.  The last week hasn't gone especially well, pregnancy-wise, and I was pretty anxious going into the office, but overall things are going as well as can be expected.  The doctor ordered a non-stress test as a precaution and, while it didn't necessarily ease my mind, she seemed to think it went okay. So there isn't anything specifically baby-related that's eating at me.

I know I'm a little peeved that I forgot to pay one of our bills on time and got hit with a $35 late fee..but that's not the first time it's happened so I sincerely doubt that is the cause of this ridiculous insomnia.  I have always tended to freak out a little over stupid things like that, especially when there is no good reason for me to have forgotten, but again, not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.

Chris and I also talked a lot tonight (before his body finally gave in and fell asleep) about some of the random things that have been frustrating me lately.  I know some of it is just the normal hormonal grumpiness that happens when you're 38 weeks pregnant; unfortunately it's just amplified by about 1000 given all the factors that have come into play with this particular pregnancy.

To be fair, some of the irritability is totally justified (ie- when people say one of the countless stupid things that people tend to say when they just don't have anything useful to offer) but some of it is pretty irrational.  I suppose that at least I can recognize when I'm being ridiculous and tend not to snap back at those times, but I have found myself having to walk away from more than one conversation simply because I wasn't sure what was going to come out of my mouth if I didn't.  I do know that people mean well and want to help, but when I get in this mood sometimes I just wish everyone would leave me alone so I don't have to try to respond tactfully.

I actually think my role as a mother is probably pretty near the top of my list of "funk factors" right now.  With everything that is going on in our lives and fighting the constant battle of my own emotions, some days I can't help but feel like a complete failure as a mommy.  There are quite a few days where we will sit in our jammies (or Cinderella gown if you are Tori), watch movies all day and do nothing resembling anything educational.  There are days where I know I am short-tempered and don't give them the patience and kindness they deserve.  There are days where the only thing that I really want to accomplish is to get back in bed.  On those days, I hate myself and I hate the fact that my kids don't have the mom that they should.  It's not that I actually climb back into bed or that they are ever mistreated, but I can feel myself falling far short of who I want me to be.  My resolve is always "Do better tomorrow."  Sometimes, that works and there are days where things are wonderful and you would never know that there was anything out of the ordinary in our household.  Unfortunately, that isn't always the case.

This is one of my biggest frustrations with this entire situation.  It doesn't just affect me or Chris or the baby...it affects Tori and Abby too.  (For the record, I know it also affects our parents, siblings and extended families but I am no mood to further contemplate that right now.)  As much as we try to strike a balance between shielding them from this entire awful reality and trying to use it as a learning opportunity for dealing with life, emotions and loss...sometimes it feels like we couldn't be doing a worse job of finding that balance.  I know that it isn't entirely reasonable to expect that the girls wouldn't be affected by all of this, but it seems like there would be some way better than just stumbling along blindly and praying for the best. 

We are human and I know we will make mistakes, but it is such a helpless feeling to know that you aren't doing what you want to do or being who you want to be.  I want so badly to be in control of all of this and to be able to balance my own grief with that of my husband and the needs of my children.  I want things to be "normal" at home even in the midst of chaos, but when I look around and see that things are still often chaotic no matter how hard I try...it's hard to accept that I am not nearly as "in control" as I would like to be.

(As a side note, I realize that this post got really long and I apologize.  I considered cutting out most of my thought process until I got to the last few paragraphs - because when the tears started falling, it was pretty clear what was bugging me tonight - but it was important for me to walk through it.  Plus, I timed how long it took me to read what I wrote -yes, I am that crazy sometimes...and since it was just about three minutes, I figured that anyone who cares enough to follow the blog would care enough to spare three minutes.)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Gift of Milk

Those of you who know me also know that I am a huge advocate for breastfeeding.  Both of our girls nursed until about 13-14 months and received nothing but breastmilk for the first six months of their lives. It's important to me for a lot of reasons, but primarily because there is no doubt in my mind that it is the best nourishment for a baby to receive.  (Let me also say this so that I don't offend or get attacked, I understand that there are legitimate reasons that some women are not physically able to breastfeed or why they may only be able to do so for a short time.  This is why formula exists and that's fine.)

After I had Tori, I was blessed with the ability to have a ridiculous abundance of milk.  By that, I mean we were able to donate several hundred ounces to the Indiana Mother's Milk Bank (more on them below) and Chris still ended up having to throw away about 400-500 ounces because it was too old to donate (I have no idea exactly how much he threw out because I didn't want to see it and made him promise not to tell me...since then, I've realized that I probably should have just made a private donation to a momma somewhere.)  With Abby, I always had plenty for her but since I wasn't working at the time, I didn't end up with quite so much left over and ended up donating about 100oz to mom in my hometown (for the record, it was not a positive experience and I urge caution if you do choose private donation).

This time around, my body has no way of knowing that Baby Aurora isn't likely to need my milk.  One of the cruel realities of mothers that lose an infant at or shortly after birth is that our bodies don't get the memo and will go right on with the original plan of producing milk for the baby that should need it. That often leaves us mommas facing the physical discomfort of a chest full of milk on top of the grief that we already feel.

Instead of wasting such a beautiful gift, my plan is to pump and donate milk for as long as my body will cooperate.  I know that the odds of being able to maintain a milk supply long-term aren't terribly high, but I do know that there will be milk.  And I know that there are babies in NICUs who need that milk.  That's where the Indiana Mother's Milk Bank comes in.  "IMMB provides pasteurized donor human milk by prescription or physician order to hospitals and outpatients throughout Indiana and the Midwest.  Premature and ill infants in hospital neonatal care units are our highest priority." (http://www.immb.org/)  They make donation incredibly easy and do great work in getting that milk to where it needs to be.

Unfortunately, the bags needed to donate milk can become expensive very quickly so when I first decided that this would be my plan, I contacted the Honeysuckle Company (http://www.choosehoneysuckle.com/) to see if they would be willing to help us.  I had received a sample of their bags with Abby and was very impressed with their quality and customer service; I was not disappointed this time around.  I immediately got a response from the president of the company who said that they would be more than willing to send us a packet of bags to get started and to simply let her know if we needed more in the future.  I have been so touched not just by her generosity, but in her sincerity in offering her prayers and kind words to us in the weeks that have followed my request. (As a side note, they also have baby food bags available for storing homemade baby food!)

Even in the face of something so painful, it is incredible to see the blessings that can be found if you just take the time to look for them.  There is obviously the blessing that will come to the babies who will eventually receive the milk.  But there is also the blessing that we have received in being able to share our story, which reached a whole new audience when our story was shared on Honeysuckle's Facebook page, and the blessing we have received in feeling the love and generosity of strangers who want to help us along in our journey.

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Sister's Gift

Chris and I have long had a name picked out that we had always thought would belong to our third daughter.  It's one of the few that we have agreed upon and even shortens to a nickname that would go perfectly with her sisters'.  So when we first found out that we would be having a third child, we knew that if we were having a girl her name was covered.

Before we knew this baby was to be a little girl, we just used "Baby" anytime we talked about the baby in Mommy's tummy.  This included nightly in our prayers with the girls; then one night, Tori stopped me and said "No, no, no!!! Her name is Aurora!!  You have to call her by her name and her name is Aurora!!"

Aurora is not the name we originally had picked out and wouldn't necessarily have been one on our list, but Tori has remained adamant that this baby's name is Aurora.  If she catches me slip up and say "Baby," she will almost always correct me.  If we ask her about the baby's name to see if she has changed her mind, she has remained consistent that little sister's name is, in fact, Aurora (except for a time or two when she told me that it should be "Cinderella"...usually when she is wearing her Cinderella gown).

Given her insistence, Chris and I thought that we should maybe consider Aurora as a name.  We had all but reached a concrete decision, but the other night I started questioning it and wondering how I felt about choosing a name for our angel that we wouldn't normally choose for a baby.  So Chris and I sat down to talk about it...and that man never ceases to amaze me.  He said it so simply, but could not have said it more perfectly:

"Tori isn't going to be able to play with her sister and she isn't going to be able to teach her to walk like she wants to.  There are so many things she won't get to do...but she can do this.  She can give her a name."

I got tears in my eyes then, just like I did now as I retype his words.  There could not have been a more perfect way to sum things up.  So between the wisdom of my husband and the enthusiasm of my oldest daughter, they have picked a beautiful name for our beautiful angel.


"We can only appreciate the miracle of a sunrise 
if we have waited in the darkness."
~Author Not Known~

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Beneath the Ice

The best way I can think of to describe the way I'm feeling is to have you imagine that you are walking across a frozen lake.  You walk cautiously, but continue to move forward and occasionally pause to breathe in the quiet beauty surrounding you.  Suddenly, the ice before you opens up and you find yourself falling through.  Before you realize what has happened, you are underwater and can do nothing but struggle to bring your head above the surface once again.  This is my attempt to get back to the surface.

Things have been pretty uneventful lately and I have found myself feeling almost at peace some days.  Yesterday, however, we were traveling to see family and about a mile from our destination, we found ourselves sitting at an intersection waiting for a funeral procession to pass.  I found myself quietly sobbing in the front seat as the hearse passed and I realized that all too soon, we would find ourselves following the car carrying our daughter.  Thankfully, the girls were occupied by a DVD and I had a short drive to pull myself back together, but I know by now that once I start crying, the tears will wait just below the surface until I finally deal with it.

So here I am and although I don't usually find myself in tears when I'm writing, I can't help but choke back the sobs.  It isn't that I had forgotten about the funeral or that I am in denial about our reality right now, but staring down the timeline for taking your child to the cemetery is painful in a way that I can not even describe. In all of the discussions and planning, I have been working so hard to handle the practical details that I haven't really let myself walk through what that day will actually look like.  This is why. I don't want to.  I don't want to walk that path more than once.  Ever.

Among the tears and pain right now, I also feel tiny little hiccups just above my left hip and what I assume is a little butt pushed firmly into my rib cage.  Maybe she hates it as much as I do when I cry and is offering her best distraction.   It's almost like that's her way of letting me know that, for now, she is still here with me.  I am grateful for those reminders of her life; I am grateful that she is such an active baby and frequently makes her presence known.  I am grateful that I've been blessed to have nine months with her and pray that she will be content to hiccup, wiggle, kick and punch right where she is for the next four weeks.  Because I will never actually be ready to say goodbye.