Thursday, June 30, 2016

5 years

It's 12:06 p.m.
Five years ago, at this very moment, I was at the grocery store. I was three days overdue with Mila and I knew that she might arrive at any moment. It was a hot, summer day and we needed a few things before the holiday weekend and/or before I went to the hospital and left Charlie and Sofie with my parents. Plus, we just needed to get out of the house.

I arrived home, put most of the groceries away and was texting Chris about his plans for the afternoon. As I was typing, my water broke. I was shaking with excitement . . . she’s coming! I called my parents to see if one of them could come over. Chris was on his way home and I was shoving towels in my pants as I tried to make my four year old twins some lunch before I left to have a baby. It was nuts.

My parents arrived, took over the lunch preparations, and Chris and I grabbed our bags for the hospital. My mom graciously told me not to worry about my soaked pants and the towels I had shoved in them. I threw them in the laundry and knew she would be washing them the minute I left. That's how she is.

I remember how we anxiously drove to the hospital, how hot it was, and how I couldn’t believe we would be meeting our baby girl so soon. 

I think now about how surreal the rest of Mila’s birth story is, how no woman ever imagines she will check into the hospital in labor, and wake 13 days later from a coma, deeply aware that things will never be the same again.

I can’t breathe today.

I’m making lunch for my four, beautiful children, and I can’t breathe as I stand in the same place on the same day of the week that my labor began five years ago. My PTSD after losing Mila and almost dying from sepsis after her delivery is almost always well managed. Almost. It’s days like today, the day I went into labor and the day before what would have been her fifth birthday, when my chest feels tight, when my throat and eyes well up all day because I just can’t believe our baby died.

The anniversary of Mila’s death and the memories of that devastating summer always cut right into what would normally be a time of celebrating the 4th of July, enjoying time home with my kids, Chris’s relaxed work schedule, and taking advantage of Minnesota’s beautiful summers. I can’t press pause on soccer games, camps, appointments, or neighborhood parties. Heck, I can’t even sit here long enough to finish a thought before someone in the other room is crying, fighting, or just dumped a bowl of cereal on the floor. Most of the time I feel so fortunate to have these children and these distractions, but today, and tomorrow (on her birthday), I just want to be alone with my girl, with my memories, with my trauma, and with my self.

This year is also feeling especially tough because it is a milestone year. Mila would be turning five and going to kindergarten in the fall. I’ve held by breath this year as I’ve watched friends take their kids to kindergarten round ups, sob and reminisce that their babies are growing up too fast or that it’s their last kid to go off to kindergarten. Mila would be going too, and had she not died, she would probably have been our last. 

I would be sending her to school with Charlie and Sofie and some my friends' kids, too. Sometimes I see Mila's shadow frolicking around with the other little siblings as if she's here, too. Then I blink, and she's gone. Sofie often tells me she wishes she had a little sister. I hate that I have to remind her that she does.

Every day, I see Mila's face in our home. Every day, I feel her loving, protective spirit. It's as if she's walking with us for the rest of our time here on earth. This is why we are participating this September in the Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep Remembrance Walk. Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep is an organization that provides free professional photography to families who have lost a baby. These photographers take beautiful pictures of the family and their child during the last moments of life or after the child has passed. 

The pictures our NILMDTS volunteer photographer took of Mila are my memories of her. They are the reason I know what my daughter looks like. After doctors told us they could not revive Mila, I was rushed into surgery. I held her briefly, but I have no memory of what she looked like then. These photographs have saved me from a lifetime of agony, wondering what she may have looked like. Because of these amazing pictures, I know who Mila is.

Would you like to support this very important organization and our walk this September? Click on the link below to make a pledge for our team "Walking With Mila". 

Would you like to walk with us? If so, please email me or sign up below. 

Happy 5th birthday, dear Mila. 
As long as I am living, my baby you'll be.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

It's complicated.

Grief is complicated. Parenting is complicated. Parenting through grief is super complicated. Yesterday was a day that I am not particularly proud of. I yelled at my kids, shamed my son for accidentally smacking me in the face, and asked the tired and hungry babies to please shut up while they were screaming at me from their high chairs. I joined Sofie's class on a field trip to the fire department, but really wished I could have just gone for a massage. I threw toys on purpose because they were in my way and I was tired of stepping on them. I finally got out of the house in the evening to attend my baby loss support group (which I hadn't been to in months), but the heaviness of my day made talking about Mila even harder. I cried all the way home, wishing things weren't so hard some days.

Life is hard.

My mom and sister and I went to see the movie This is Where I Leave You a few weeks ago. It's about four adult siblings whose father has just died. The movie is all about relationships and I sobbed through the whole thing thinking, "Life is so hard some times! Marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Balancing work and home is hard. Friendships are hard. Losing a child is hard. Going back to school is hard. Having an aging spouse or parent is hard. Ugh. It's a really good movie, but ugh.

The thing I feel so awful about right now is that my grief has paralyzed me in times when I feel I should be more present, more responsible, more attentive, more creative, more thoughtful. Grief makes it almost impossible to process or cope with anything out of the ordinary. I want to rejoice in my children and the beautiful blessings they are, but I am stuck. I am tired, and I always feel like something or someone is missing. I want to create happy memories with my family; taking trips, playing, crafting, singing, dancing, but I am exhausted and overwhelmed by the idea of simply keeping four children safe and healthy. Earlier this fall, Sofie wanted to join Girl Scouts with all of her friends, but I convinced her that it would make our week too busy. The truth was that I was too tired and overwhelmed to commit to anything else. Now she feels left out and so do I. Grief makes me want to isolate and hide, but this time I kept something really fun from my daughter and I can't make it right. Would I be a better parent if I wasn't full of regret, grief, anger, and sorrow? I'm pretty sure.

I feel like Charlie and Sofie got the best of me. I was thrilled and grateful beyond words to be their mama. I felt like after years of infertility and an excruciating miscarriage, I had been given the world. I was alive. Their first three years were filled with laughter, silliness, creativity, and attention. Then, I wanted more and things went horribly wrong. Ellis and Julian are such blessings and I want to give them the same experiences that their older brother and sister had, but I am a different mama now. As a licensed teacher, I have all of the education and tools to create a positive, loving, early childhood for them, but grief and self pity rear their ugly heads at least once a day and I am toast. I have lost some of my tolerance, patience, and compassion for others, including my own husband and children. Now, when I see the mom ignoring or yelling at her kids in public, even though I still judge her a little, I can relate. I think, "That poor woman must really be hurting." I get it. It's not easy being responsible for other humans, and then to have to be cheerful and positive all the time while your heart is broken?

I've become a mama bear (even more than I was before). When your child (or children) die, you will do anything to prevent it from happening again. I can't stand to see my children hurt, left out, or bullied. I have started to speak up for my babies in ways I never knew I would have to. I've yelled at the neighbor kid for pushing Sofie around. I walked to the bus stop to scare the 5th grader that thinks he can force Charlie to the back of the line or push him into oncoming traffic. I stopped a car in the alley that was driving too fast and told the driver that my children are playing outside and if I ever see him driving like that again I will call the police. Booyah!

I just don't want my children to hurt like I do. I want my kids to feel normal, included, and loved. I want to be enthusiastic and fearless. I want to fight for them and for their dreams. I know, life is full of disappointment and hurt and it can make us stronger, but I'm not there quite yet. A dear friend of mine shared the idea that if we want to enjoy our time on earth, we must delight in every moment. Every moment. Pain or joy, it is all part of the soul's experience . . . the human experience. I wish I could remember that.

I guess what I want to tell every friend of mine, every parent, every teacher, every family member, is that I'm trying. I'm trying to show up. I'm trying to remember the best ways to teach and discipline my children. I'm trying to remember your birthday or anniversary. I'm trying to remember that I'm not the only one in pain. I'm trying to smile and live in the moment. I'm trying to take care of myself. I'm trying to be understanding and patient.

I'm trying.
And tomorrow I'll try again.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Three years

Tonight Chris commented about how even the weather can trigger such strong memories and feelings. Three years ago we had just celebrated my sister's 29th birthday. I was 40 weeks pregnant and ready to pop. I was hoping that Mila would arrive at any minute. I was really ready to be done. Four days later, I went into labor. My water broke at home after a trip to the grocery store with Charlie and Sofie. It was a gorgeous, sunny, summer afternoon.

I have a confession to make. Well, some people already know this, but to the general public it might be a confession. Up until a few months ago, I took doctor-prescribed anti-anxiety drugs. I started taking Sertraline in 2009 after struggling for almost a year with irritable bowel disease. I realized that anytime I was anxious or stressed my gut churned and burned. I was extremely sick for many months and was at the end of my rope, treatment wise. My doctor and I agreed that an SSRI (anti-depressant or anti-anxiety med) might help my mind from sending my body the message to go nuts every time I felt a little nervous or afraid. Thankfully, the medication, along with going gluten and dairy free, helped. I have been in remission from Ulcerative Colitis since August, 2010.

This winter I decided to go off of the anti-anxiety drugs because, thanks to more dietary changes (Paleo!) and making time for some self-care, I felt I didn't need medication to feel peaceful and at ease. Besides, the medication made me feel totally numbed out and exhausted. At times it even made me feel suicidal. Believe me, the last thing this busy, grieving mama needs to feel is suicidal. It was so scary!

So, the reason I'm sharing all of this is because for the first time in over four years, I'm feeling my feelings. For real. Since 2009, I've been numbed out on anti-anxiety meds. I haven't had a deep sense of compassion, empathy, sadness, or joy since before we conceived Mila. When I woke up from my coma, after Mila died, my doctors made absolute sure that I took my Sertraline every day. Not only was I in a state of complete physical and emotional shock, but I was taking meds to make sure my body didn't freak out after so much trauma. Today, off of my anti-anxiety meds and feeling my feelings, I wonder if I haven't finished grieving because, for the two and a half years after we lost our baby, my true emotions were somewhat inhibited. 

My mom cries at everything. My sister cries at everything. Now that I am off my meds, I cry at everything. I cried at Sofie's dance recital this spring, and she wasn't even on stage yet. I cry at commercials, while listening to Disney's Frozen songs in the car, and when I think a child might be the victim of bullying or discrimination. I've never cried in front of my kids, ever! Now, I can't control the water works!

Sometimes it's funny how sensitive I've become, how real I feel now. It's actually refreshing. But the reason I'm writing, the reason I'm going to hit 'publish' and then say, "Crap! What was I thinking?" is because I need people to understand that I'm not amazing, brave, or inspiring. 

I don't know how I'm going to handle Mila's birthday this Tuesday with all of these emotions. I'm feeling overwhelmed. I don't want to celebrate and smile and take the kids to the zoo. I want to crawl under my covers, scream and cry for as long as it takes, and then sit quietly with my baby girl in my heart, listening to her tell me that she's with me, that she's always with me. I want to listen to the songs by Ingrid Michaelson and Mat Kearney that remind me of the permanent emptiness and survivor's guilt I feel. I want to punch my pillow and pull out my hair in anger and disbelief that this happened to me, that it could happen to anyone. Then, maybe later in the day, I can get a hug from my caring husband, smile at my sweet kids, and thank God for the life I have, that I have life.

To the world that sees me now, I'm the mom with two sets of twins. No one who has just met me knows about Mila, about our pain and struggles, but every time someone asks me how I ended up with two sets of twins, or marvels at the uniqueness of our family, I think of Mila. It's all because of her. I just wish everyone knew about her, about how she is the connection between the first and second sets of twins.

She is the reason we are who we are. It is her name that is always on the tip of my tongue.

Happy birthday, my sweet girl.

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)

e.e. cummings

Monday, May 5, 2014

We made it.

Today is a good day. The sun is shining, the babies are sleeping, the house is somewhat clean. Sure, it's not even 10:00 a.m., but so far so good. Right now, I feel at peace.

Yesterday was a different kind of day. It was Ellis and Julian's first birthday. We had a party with grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. My friend and gestational carrier brought her family and we celebrated these wonderful miracles that she helped bring into the world.

At the end of the day I watched some TV and then went to bed. I cried myself to sleep for the third night in a row. Chris asked me last night what was wrong and, honestly, I'm not sure. It's a lot of things. It's always a lot of things. I miss Mila. I wish we had been able to give her a first birthday party like Ellis and Julian's. I feel guilty for wishing she were here when we have been blessed with these amazing baby boys. I feel sad that I didn't carry Ellis and Julian and courageously deliver them like I did Charlie, Sofie, and Mila. I feel relived that the first year with my second set of twins is finally over. I feel sad that we are never going to have a baby in the house. I feel  bad that I didn't feel as happy this last year as I was when Charlie and Sofie were babies. Losing a baby and the ability to conceive does this to you. I feel all of these things, and then I feel ok for a while, and then it happens all over again.

I'm not going to lie, it's been a very difficult year. My rainbow babies (the living babies that follow a loss much like a rainbow that follows a storm) remind me all the time of Mila, of her life and her death. When I feel challenged as a mother, I blame our struggles with infertility and loss and I feel so sorry for myself. Instead of focusing on the new life we have been given, I focus on the storm. Losing Mila and almost dying myself felt like a hurricane that leveled everything for me. Everything. Our new life is wonderful, but I am still rebuilding.

As I adjust to the life I've been given (as opposed to the life I sometimes think I should have), certain things have to go so I can make room for what really matters. Put simply, I'm trying to take care of myself and my spirit rather than spending so much time living up to other people's expectations, standards, and rules. My mantra lately has been "No judgement and no rules!" Sure, balance and boundaries are important, but so is flexibility and understanding. For a while there I wasn't making room for love and understanding. I dismissed all that I've been through. I ignored my intuition and gut-instincts. I tried to compare myself and my experiences to others and let other people guide my thoughts and decisions. The more I did this, the worse I felt. I like to blend in and follow the pack, but now I realize that I must pave my own road.

Obviously, I can't write an entire blog entry in one morning. It's afternoon now and it's still a good day. A new and lovely friend came for a visit. I shared some of these thoughts with her and I feel good that I am starting to express myself without fear. Julian took his typical 30 minute nap and will keep me company for the rest of the day, crawling around the house and then banging his head on my leg until I pick him up. Ellis will nap for a while longer and then wake up happy, ready to play. We will go for a walk and meet Charlie and Sofie at the bus stop. I am grateful for this life.

I love the idea of living in today. Today I am free and I am loved. I am nourished physically and spiritually, not because I am following rules or doing what others say I should do, but because I choose to take care of my body and my soul.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

bouncing back

It's been over seven and a half months since our twin boys, Ellis and Julian, were born using a gestational carrier. Just now, almost eight months later, I feel like I am finally adjusting. I've been wanting to write so much, but couldn't find the time, energy, or enthusiasm to get started. Then there were some technical and logistical difficulties as well: a crappy internet connection due to an old router, not having a quiet space to sit down with my laptop, and with the ease of all other forms of social media, who needs to blog? I think I need to blog. I forgot how cathartic and relaxing writing can be. Right now, it's less than ten days until Christmas, 4 days until our first family Christmas celebration. I should be baking, wrapping, cleaning, or sleeping. But no, let's get caught up on the blog instead.

Julian Christopher and Ellis Nolan were born on the afternoon of May 4th, 2013. Ellis, also known as baby B, was starting to lag behind his brother due to umbilical cord issues. Blood wasn't flowing back and forth to Ellis, therefore he wasn't getting all of the nourishment he needed. Our OB decided at 34 weeks it was time for them to be born. Both babies were breech as well so our amazing gestational carrier had to have a c-section. Neither of us had experienced this before so we were both really anxious. While we waited for our turn in the OR, we took pictures, prayed, took a quick tour of the hospital, and prayed some more. Another wonderful friend was also there for moral support since our GC's husband was on a flight home from a business trip in Europe. The prep and surgery was smooth and we couldn't wait to meet our boys. I was sandwiched between my beautiful friend on the operating table and Chris, all of us hugging and squeezing hands. Julian was born first and let out the most incredible cry I had ever heard. It was the most awesome sound and I wept with joy that he was born, and that he was alive. Ellis came out next with a cry as well. I scream-cried tears of joy, relief, and a gratitude words will never explain. Chris and I were rushed over to the warmers where our 3 and 4 lb. boys were being assessed. Ellis weighed in at 3 lbs. 12 oz. and was such a little fighter. He never needed oxygen and was breathing on his own right away. Julian weighed 4 lbs. 11 oz. and needed oxygen for over a week as he not only screamed when he was born, but breathed in a lot of fluid.

The babies and I camped out at the NICU for 17 days. I never thought I would be able to handle having my babies in the NICU (This was a task for stronger, more faithful mamas), but I did it. The nurses finally made me go home after living at the hospital for a week. I returned every day to feed and care for our boys and then most evenings Chris would go see them while I tucked Charlie and Sofie into bed. The NICU days passed and finally we brought our tiny gifts home with us on May 21, 2013.

Once we were home, it just felt like deja vu. We had done the tiny twin thing, only this time I had not just given birth. I was exhausted, but I felt so much stronger and more capable than I did when Charlie and Sofie were newborns. This was just one more blessing our friend and gestational carrier gave us. She took on the burden of pregnancy, childbirth, and recovery so we could have these babies. She bounced back so beautifully I couldn't believe it! I was reminded again why she was the perfect person to help us on our journey. It truly believe she was picked by God to do this incredible task.

So, to summarize the last 7 months with Ellis and Julian, I would say it's been difficult, challenging, amazing, fun, and beautiful. I've cried because I didn't think I could handle four children. I've screamed at Charlie and Sofie to just give me a minute of silence. I've gazed in amazement at these babies that look so much like Charlie, Sofie, and Mila. I've thanked God and our GC over and over for the chance to parent these boys even when I didn't know if I would be cut out for it.

Today I feel like I have come out from under. It may sound weird, but I'm getting used to Ellis and Julian being here. The truth is, I wasn't sure they would ever get here. This all just seemed too good to be true. Let's just say that if ever there was a reason to believe in miracles, in a higher power's plan for us, this would be it. I have to be honest. There have been days when the babies were screaming at me to be fed and I just wanted to sleep, or eat my lunch, or pee. In these moments I thought, "If Mila were here I wouldn't have to deal with any of this crap." Sometimes these babies make me miss our little girl more than ever. Most of the time these babies remind me that Mila is right here with us, orchestrating this miracle of life and love.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Here I am . . .

First off, let me apologize for not writing more often. I didn't realize that my blog meant that much until people started asking me for an update! I'm flattered and now feel a little more pressure to keep it up! So, here I am, finally!

I've been trying to figure out what has kept me away from the blog for so many weeks, but I can't put my finger on it. My mind feels so full of thoughts, hopes, dreams, and fears as we wait for our baby boys to arrive. I don't think I could land on one thing to talk about so I just didn't write anything. Even now, I'm not sure what to say, so please forgive the rambling. :)

be willing to believe in miracles!

I know most of you just want to know how the pregnancy is going, and we could't be more grateful for what has been an uneventful, twin pregnancy. This week we are 30 weeks along! Our boys have been flipping around inside Cathy's belly for weeks, so we hope they settle head-down before delivery. If they don't, we could be looking at a c-section. Lots of people ask me if our carrier has children of her own. Yes, she has three. An eleven year old and seven year old twins. So, she and I both have done the twin thing before and neither of us has had to have a cesarean. We really hope that doesn't change! We have also worried about pre-term labor as this is very common with twins, and our carrier in particular, but there have been no indicators of any labor happening any time soon! (This, I believe, is a gift from God! Please keep the prayers coming, we REALLY want to take these boys home with little to no NICU time.)

happy easter!

While we wait for these little miracles to arrive, we have been super busy nesting and trying to enjoy our last days with just Charlie and Sofie. We had a really nice Easter. I've been singing with the band at church and I just love it! It's seriously a bucket list kind of thing for me. (Although my dream was to sing backup for James Taylor, I'll take this instead!) I'm also busy decorating the baby's room. It's been a challenge to get started with this. Decorating means it's really happening. Decorating means that if things don't work out, I will have to undo what I did. This was one of the worst things about Mila's death. I had planned, organized, and decorated for this little girl, and she never came home. So, this time we have bought very little. We got car seats this weekend and I bought a changing table from Craigslist that I painted a sunny yellow color. That's about it. We had a lot of baby stuff from Charlie, Sofie, and Mila, so there isn't a lot we need yet, besides two cribs. (Charlie and Sofie's cribs were recalled several years ago and we had to get Mila's crib out of the house right away as it was one of the most painful sights when I came home from the hospital.) I have a few pictures of my progress in the boy's room, but the cell phone I'm using right now is a dinosaur and takes awful pictures. What you can't really see in the photos below is that the walls used to be a rich orange color and are now a light, airy turquoise. The pocket door between the nursery and the kitchen has been painted with chalkboard paint for baby doodles. The bottom picture also shows the changing table (which still needs a charcoal gray cover to match my decor). It's all coming together and it makes me pretty psyched to welcome our boys home.

orange walls (i loved this color!) 

light and fresh, but still a work in progress.

So, I think that's all I have for now. Waiting to see if everything works out okay is so hard, but I'm trying to imagine it all working out just fine. Our sweet Charlie said to me recently, "Mommy, I KNOW that these babies are not going to die like Mila did." Ughh. I felt like I had been punched in the gut. How did he know exactly what I was thinking? It's what I'm always thinking! What if these babies die? What if just one of them dies? My therapist explained it so well to me the other day. It's like the world is asking Chris and I to get back on the scariest, most horrifying roller coaster we have ever been on. Only this time, we are blind-folded and we don't quite know how the ride ends. We are preparing for the ride of our lives. We are excited and terrified. We believe, however, that we will get off. The ride will come to an end. And there, our babies will be waiting for us.

Thanks again for reading, and for your love and prayers.

Talk to you soon,