Monday, January 31, 2011

Celebrating "Beauty"

After finding out that we're having a girl, Bryan and I asked the boys if they wanted to pick a new nickname for the baby.  Joel thought for a minute and came up with up a keeper: "Beauty."  So now our little girl is affectionately known as Beauty.  We've been celebrating her life a lot the last couple of weeks, and I'm still getting used to the idea that she's a girl!  Both boys wanted to use some of their Christmas money to buy her a gift.  Joel picked out a little pink bunny, and Caleb picked out some cute little dresses for her.  It's adorable to see their enthusiasm.  One night we went to Rita's for pink colored Italian ice -- though the boys ended up picking a nasty looking army green mint chocolate flavor.

The day after we found out that we're having a daughter, the Thiels threw us an "it's a girl!" party.  They had us come over for pink desserts -- strawberry ice cream with pink coolwhip, strawberry topping, pink sprinkles, and pink lemonade.  It was pretty precious.  Though I hope my daughter is not dressed in pink every day of her life and I secretly hope she's not crazy about the color, I thought the pink party was great.  Here are a few pictures of the fun we've had:

Bryan also made family pancakes this week.  He made a special pancake for each of the four of us and one for Beauty too.  We've recently fallen in love with Mo Willems Knuffle Bunny books, and he made a different character (or phrase as you will soon see) for each of us.

It has been so fun to celebrate our hope for this little girl.  Bryan and I still don't make any assumptions that we'll have a little girl to bring home with us, but we are grateful for this time to enjoy her life and celebrate her regardless of what the future holds.  We certainly hope that in 5 months we have a healthy baby in the house, but no matter what, it is a gift to rejoice in her life now.

And while I'm at it, here are two other pancakes from Bryan's recent creations.  The first is a LEGO version of Lando Calrissian from Star Wars, and the second is Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Sacred Place

Last week we were able to spend some time with Kaleb Hardin's family.  We attended the viewing and then the next day spent several hours after the funeral with the family and their guests.  Though I felt some apprehension about stepping into their pain when our loss wasn't that long ago and when the story is close to home, I am so, so glad we went.  I feel like we were invited into a sacred place -- the aftershock of a child's death and the immense grief of a parent for a son.  It's a place most would fear to tread, but for us, it was holy ground, and we were honored to be a part of it.  I felt so privileged to sit with April and Tyler, to share tears with them, to remember the beginning of our boys' lives at Egleston, to talk about the hope of Heaven, to smile about the ways in which our sons brought us joy.  It was healing for both families, I think.  Another Egleston family was there, too, with their precious 17 month old daughter, Sarah Beth, and we all loved watching her cruise around and seeing her be the picture of health despite a severe heart defect and another surgery looming in the not-too-distant future.  I think it was good for our three heart families -- with very different stories and outcomes -- to reconnect, and I felt God's presence there as we remembered, hoped, and grieved.

Thank you, Hardins, for inviting us into your grief.  We are better for it, and we are praying continually for you.  I love to picture Samuel and Kaleb both enjoying Heaven and fully healthy and alive.  Someday, we will get to see it firsthand, and as Stephen Curtis Chapman's pastor said after the death of his daughter, Maria, our boys are more a part of our future than they are of our past.  We love you, Hardins, and our prayers will not stop.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Kaleb Hardin

This week Samuel's first friend from Egleston's CICU died out of the blue.  Kaleb Hardin was Samuel's dock neighbor for about two weeks.  He was born 10 days after Samuel, and his parents are the first ones we started talking to once we lost our tunnel vision, and we saw more than our own pain at the hospital.  His parents, Tyler and April, and his grandparents, Jerry and Sharon, were there everyday I can remember.  We would talk to them while washing our hands in the huge silver sink outside the CICU, and when we were locked out for some procedure and anxiously waiting to be let in, we would commiserate in the hallway. 

I remember when another baby died on the CICU, and we were all kicked out for an hour.  We gathered in the hall and sat in silence for awhile, thinking how that could (and probably would for Samuel) be us someday.  Another day as I was going into the pumping room, Tyler and April were just outside and asked about Samuel.  I burst into tears and told them it was only a matter of time, and I can still see their looks of horror.  They posted prayer requests for Samuel on their caring bridge page that night.  A couple of days before Samuel died, they asked the CICU desk if they could come see us at our dock and break the "only 2 people at a bedside" rule.  They bravely came over and saw Samuel (who looked awful) and told us how sorry they were and that they were praying.  Jerry, Kaleb's grandpa, came by himself one night shortly before Samuel's death and left abruptly in tears.  It was close to home to see another baby dying when your own was on the brink of life and death. 

I was thrilled when I found their family on facebook a few weeks later and was able to track with Kaleb, whom we had been praying for from the day he showed up at the hospital.  Kaleb was the "K" we referred to during Samuel's life, and he was doing so well.  I loved seeing pictures of the chubby, smiling baby who was Samuel's first friend.  The last I had heard about Kaleb was his 1st birthday in August, and he was doing great and had had a good cardiologist appointment.  So I was shocked when I saw on facebook that he died on Sunday night.

As soon as I read the news, I burst into tears.  I was sitting next to Caleb doing homeschool, and he was immediately concerned.  It took me several minutes to be able to tell him what had happened, and he just leaned over, wrapped his arms around my arm, and rested his head on me in sorrow and comfort.  He stayed that way for a long time. 

The last few days I haven't been able to stop thinking about Tyler and April and what they're going through.  They are on my mind almost every moment.  I slept fitfully Monday night, waking six or seven times, always with the Hardins on my mind and heart.  I would wake praying for them.  Even when I was sleeping, I was dreaming about their family and praying for them all the while.  It made me think that this is what many of our friends must have felt for us when Samuel died.  I know people carried some of our burden for us, and we are praying to be able to do that for the Hardins.  When I woke for about the fifth time on Monday night, I thought, "Lord, thank you that I'm not sleeping well.  May this mean that Tyler and April do sleep soundly tonight and that their dreams are peaceful, quiet, and renewing.  When they wake in the morning, may their first thought be that You are with them.  Let us carry some pain for them."  I know what we feel on their behalf is nothing compared to what they feel without their precious 17 month old son. 

I have been thinking a lot about the other heart parents we know and imagining that they feel horrified by Kaleb's death.  It's a dreadful reminder that this could happen to them too, and I know they hurt for the Hardins.  From this side of having already lost a child, my horror is not at what I might have to live through but is at what I know the Hardins will have to live through and are living through.  These are the dreadful days of funerals and making decisions about burials, coffins, and other such appalling things.  These are the days no parent should have to face.

Today I have been a mess.  I've talked to Bryan on the phone a couple of times, always through tears and chokes.  Joel asked me, "Mommy, why are you like that?" and then proceeded to say, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry" repeatedly when I told him I was sad about Kaleb Hardin.  I was supposed to call Sharon, Kaleb's grandma, today, but I couldn't even think about it without bursting into tears, so I had to ask Bryan to call instead.  Bryan asked me, "Are you sad for them, or are you sad for us?" and I said, "Both."  I am terribly sad for Kaleb's family.  And I am terribly sad for us.  Our loss is fresh, and so I can put myself in their shoes quite easily.  And I miss Samuel.  Alot. 

The one thing I continually cling to is that God has shown Himself so abundantly faithful to us in our grief and loss.  He has revealed Himself in ways I couldn't have known to long for.  He has sealed our hearts to His.  I feel so richly blessed by Samuel's life and by our grief.  And I can hope the same for the Hardins.  They are already clinging to God with all their might, and I know our good God will be faithful to them as He has been to us.  I am praying that they too will find that their Valley of Weeping becomes "a place of refreshing springs where pools of blessing collect after the rains" (Psalm 84:6).  I know God will not abandon them, and I know He is the great Healer.  Oh, Lord, please heal their hearts.  Amen.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Dear Samuel

While we were in Dallas the first week of January, my mom gave me several hours one day to spend how I wished while she played with Caleb and Joel.  I spent part of the time at Starbucks writing a letter in my journal to Samuel.  When we were seeing Judy, our grief counselor, she suggested that if we ever got pregnant, it would be a healing exercise to write a letter to Samuel about the new baby.  So, I did.  Here it is:

Dear Samuel,                                                                        January 5, 2011

      Oh, my sweet boy, how I love and miss you.  I often wish you were here for me to love on, kiss, hold, get to know, learn what makes you happy and what makes you sad, cuddle you close at bedtime, hear you babble, watch you toddle around, see you wave hello and goodbye, savor every hug, enjoy you watching your brothers play and wrestle, chase you around the house, teach you what not to touch and put in your mouth, and just be with you.  I wonder often what you would be like.  What would your personality be?  Would you be calm and quiet like Caleb?  Silly and spirited like Joel?  Or completely different from either?  Someday I look forward to learning how God wired you, my sweet third son.
      We are in Texas now for Daddy to take a seminary class.  We've been to Pennsylvania and Arizona already.  I keep thinking how different this trip would have been with you along.  We saw June a couple of days ago, and I get lost in thought watching her.  I wonder about you as I observe her in life.  When she would hug me and bury her head on my shoulder, I would close my eyes and dream of holding you, my sweet, sweet Samuel.  She can wave, say a few words, communicate what she wants and doesn't want, and all the while I thought of you.  What would you be saying?  What would you think of June?  Of all our busy travels?  I watch Matthew and Ashley keeping up with three kids, and I I wish I was so tired from chasing you through Gab'm's house and rescuing you from whatever danger you've found or from walking with you through the zoo.  I wish I didn't yet know this new stage of parenthood with no sippy cups, diapers, pull-ups, or gear when we leave the house.  I wish parenting wasn't so easy these days, and I was wrangling my brood of three through these holidays.
      But when I think of you in Heaven, I never un-wish that for you.  I know you are perfectly, supremely happy and full and lacking absolutely nothing -- not even me.  And I am so glad for you.  I couldn't wish more for you than the everything you have.
      The biggest news in our house is that I am pregnant again.  Your little brother or sister is growing in my womb.  You and this baby would be 23 months apart -- how far apart Caleb and Joel are.  I can imagine that if you had lived, we would have been trying for this fourth child as a playmate and friend for you.
      This baby can never replace you, Samuel.  You will always be our third child, our precious son.  I wish this baby could grow up knowing all three of his or her big brothers.  If it's a boy, we will use Samuel as his middle name in honor of wonderful you.
      Sometimes it's hard for me to think of this baby growing where you grew -- where you were safe and protected and your body could depend on me to pump your blood, where your defects didn't really matter.  I hope this new baby is as safe and protected as you were in me and that he or she comes out able to breathe and pump blood and live fully in this world.  I hope I can watch this new baby grow and think of you all the while and what a gift you will always be to me and your dad.
      It makes me very sad to think our family will never be all together in this life.  There will not be a single picture of all of us.  Any picture of our new baby will be without you.  We will never be a complete family on Earth.  How I hope and pray all your siblings trust Jesus, and we can all be together in Heaven.
      Samuel, how I miss you.  I wish you could be with us as we hope for this new baby.  After you, I know there are no promises for a healthy baby and for life, but I hope for it, and I wish you were here hoping with us.
      Whatever is ahead with this baby, I have learned through losing you that God will be enough to see us through it.  He will give us what we need for each day as He gave us what we needed each day of your short life and each day without you.
      I love you, Samuel.  I am so glad you're my son.  I will treasure you in my heart always, sweet boy.  Merry late Christmas in Heaven.  I have no doubt it surpassed every conceivable Christmas I can imagine.


Friday, January 14, 2011

And the Verdict Is...

We had our appointment today!  Phew.  We got to see "Tad" for a long time while the sonographer looked at every possible thing.  The brain, spine, bones, kidneys, etc all looked good.  The one thing they couldn't get a very good look at is the heart.  Baby is still quite small and is positioned in a difficult spot for good heart pictures.  They didn't see anything to cause concern at this point, but we really won't know any specifics until we see Samuel's pediatric cardiologist in three weeks.  I was disappointed to not get more info on the heart, but Bryan saw it as an answer to prayer.  He really doesn't want unnecessary speculation and feels like we've been spared the drama of "Well, we'd really like to see ________, but sometimes it just isn't clear yet at this gestational age.  We'll look more in a few weeks...."  After all the changing diagnoses with Samuel and all the ups and downs of those changes, we are happy to have no news for the time being.

We did find out that we're having a....
GIRL!  I am still in shock a little bit.  Bryan has predicted a girl from the beginning, but I have resisted believing it.  We have boys.  And on Bryan's dad's side of the family, in three generations, there have been 17 boys and only 3 girls.  The most recent girl is 24 years old!  So I kind of figured the odds were against a daughter.  However, I am THRILLED that we're having one.  I would have been equally thrilled with a boy.  I told Bryan that I will be asking at every sonogram if she is still a girl.  It's going to take awhile for me to really believe it.  I burst into tears when the sonographer told us, and every time I hear Bryan tell a family member on the phone, I start to cry again.  I called my mom shortly after the appointment with every intention of telling her myself, and I got as far as, "We're having a..." before I started crying and thrust the phone into Bryan's hands because I couldn't spit it out.

When we got home, we set up a little scavenger hunt for the boys to find out the gender.  They traipsed through the house following clues and eventually came to the bathtub where pink balloons were hiding.  Their reaction was completely anti-climactic because they were so enamored with the balloons that the girl factor barely phased them.  A couple of minutes later, though, they were both beaming and so proud and excited.  They're going to be GREAT big brothers to a baby sister.  Caleb has wanted a baby sister ever since I can remember.  With each pregnancy, he has consistently said he wants a sister.  His wish is finally coming true.  :)

God was gracious to us today in granting us a lot of peace before the appointment and even an abundance of joy during it, as we waited for news on baby's health.  I am sure some of that peace is because many of you were praying for us, and for that I cannot thank you enough.  Thank you!  We went to dinner tonight to celebrate, and tomorrow we're going to go get some special dessert as a family to celebrate some more.  We're thanking God tonight!

17 weeks pregnant

Thursday, January 13, 2011

An Upcoming Peek at "Tad"

I woke up anxious this morning and had a hard time shaking it.  I am sure it's because of our upcoming ultrasound when we will get our first peek at baby's heart and an idea if this baby, too, will have a heart defect or other anatomical problems.  On top of the uncertainty about the health of this baby is the uncertainty of whether or not I will actually have the appointment.  The Atlanta area has been completely snowed and iced in since Sunday night.  I have gone no farther than my backyard in four days.  Bryan has now ventured out twice for work related things, and both times he has commented on how treacherous the roads are.  Not knowing if we'll actually get to see "Tad" (Caleb's nickname for the baby) has compounded the uncertainties and my nervousness.

It's been five weeks since my last appointment, and that time has passed in relative calm and peace.  We've been exceedingly busy with travels to Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Texas, and I haven't had a lot of time to dwell on this upcoming appointment -- until being snowed in, that is.  Really, until this morning, I haven't been very anxious at all.  That's partly because I know there's absolutely nothing I can do about baby's anatomy, partly because I can't possibly speed up the days and learn anything any sooner, partly because I am happy to rest in this time of not knowing when there is no definite problem and my pregnancy is "normal," and mostly because I know God is good and faithful and enough for whatever is ahead. 

But today when I think about what the appointment may hold, my stomach knots up, and I feel a little quesy.  I can't help but remember how I felt the morning of Samuel's 19 week ultrasound.  I woke up completely anxious -- after having experienced no fear about baby's well-being since my 12 week check-up.  That morning I was pacing the house I was so nervous, and my heart was pounding out of my chest.  I think God was preparing me for what we would learn in a couple of hours.  And I can't help but feel some of that now as we get ready for our equivalent appointment with "Tad."  The fact that we will likely be navigating icy roads doesn't do anything to help my uneasiness.

But the truth is, it's all in God's good, capable hands.  He has not been blind to the formation of this baby as we have been.  His hands have been and continue to knit our little one together.  He has not made any mistakes as He has shaped and formed our baby.  Whatever we learn at our ultrasound will be a glimpse into the life God has planned for our child.  And I can rejoice in God's perfect plan, even if it isn't the plan I would design.  We may get bad news.  But the bottom line is that God will be with us just as He was with us through my pregnancy with Samuel and his birth and life.  There is no story too big for God, no pain too deep, no fear too mountainous, no grief too wide.  He can hold it all in His hands, and He can and will grant us what we need to walk through whatever is ahead.  He IS enough.  And I can rest in that even as my stomach churns and my heart races.

When we went to our 12 week ultrasound, we expected to learn something about baby's heart, though that did not end up being the case.  That morning I purposefully put on a necklace someone gave to me that says "hope" and has the reference for Psalm 34:17-19 on it.  As I encircled my neck with it, I thought to myself, "I am putting on hope and knowing God is with us.  I know He is near to the brokenhearted and rescues those who are crushed in spirit."  I saw it almost like putting on the full armor of God that Ephesians talks about.  The necklace was my reminder that God is my armor, my rescuer, and I can trust in Him.  I plan to wear the same necklace when we go to this ultrasound, to remember that I can trust in our good God.

The God who made Samuel and blessed us with his life is also making "Tad."  There is no life God could create in my womb that I would not want to love.  We will love and cherish any child God grants us, and I look forward to knowing our "Tad" a little better whenever our appointment ends up happening.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Our Second Christmas without Samuel

I didn't know what to expect as we approached another Christmas without Samuel.  I figured it would be easier than last year, and I was right, but I wasn't sure what grief would look like a year and four months after Samuel's death.  As we unpacked our Christmas boxes, I was surprised to find Samuel's stocking, and it brought on a wave of grief, as did pulling out all the special things we filled it with last year: letters to Samuel from me and Bryan, symbols of the gifts we gave in Samuel's memory, and memory cards from those who gave in Samuel's name last year.  In many ways, seeing that stocking hung from our fire place brought me back to the pain we felt last year, reminded me of how raw last Christmas was and how heartbreaking it was to face a such a momentous first.

But I am so glad we have that stocking, that Samuel remains a part of our family, that we can hang his stocking for us to see and for the boys to see that Samuel still matters to us, we still miss him, he still belongs in our family.  We spent an evening as a family looking through the Samaritan's Purse and World Vision catalogs, picking out what gifts to give to others in memory of Samuel and then picking out symbols of those gifts to put in his stocking.  Joel chose to give 5 fruit trees to a family in a third world country which will provide them with food and a means of income.  Caleb chose to give money to help save the lives of mothers and newborn babies in countries where medical help is limited.  We got some play fruit and a tiny baby doll to go in Samuel's stocking as a reminder of this year's gifts.  I love that this is a family tradition of ours and a way to continue to honor our Samuel in this life.

It was painful but healing to see ornaments of each of our children as babies hung on our tree -- Caleb as a newborn, Joel as one, and Samuel, too, with all the apparatuses he needed to breathe and live for those 31 days.  Looking at Samuel's face almost always made me sad, but it also made me thankful for his life, for how he has changed my life, for the gift of loving him so deeply.  I am glad we have an ornament of our precious third son.  Again, it affirms his place in our family, no matter how much time goes by.

We have traveled A LOT this Christmas and New Years season -- in fact we are still in the midst of those travels -- and there hasn't felt like a lot of time to sit and simply grieve.  At the same time, it's been so wonderful to see and hug so many people we love and to have something to put our energies into that is life-giving.  As we have visited many places, it moved me deeply to see our Samuel framed on my sister-in-law, Marta's, wall of family pictures.  I am touched that she would love her nephew enough to give him a permanent place on her wall, in the frame of pictures of our family -- a photo of me and Bryan, one of Caleb, one of Joel, and one of Samuel.  Most people don't do that, and it blessed me to see that Marta considers Samuel a lasting member of our family. My mom, too, has pictures of Samuel framed in her house, and I love that.

It has also blessed me deeply when the rare family member refers to the baby I am currently carrying as my fourth child, acknowledging Samuel's place as my third.  In contrast, it has hurt a surprising amount when someone who knows me and our story unthinkingly calls this new life our third child.  It sends a pang right through my heart to think that others don't give Samuel the place we give him -- the place of a son in our family.  I am sure my friends all mean well, but I could never forget that I already have a third child, and knowing that others can hurts me, rational or not.

One of the most poignant parts of grief this season has been seeing our precious niece, June, who was born 16 hours after Samuel.  I love that child with a fierce love and cannot resist scooping her up and holding her.  She is SO big now that I can hardly believe it.  She walks everywhere, babbles constantly, says a handful of words, can communicate what she wants (and doesn't want :) ), and gives the world's best hugs.  Every time she reached her little arms up at me to be picked up, I wanted to run away with her and keep her forever.   And when she would bury her head on my shoulder and throw her arms around my neck, I wanted to cry for joy and sorrow.  I cannot believe our Samuel would be so big, would nuzzle down into a hug of his own volition, would smile gleefully for the camera, and would be getting into everything he could get his hands on.  It's hard to imagine our lives with a busy 16 month old running around.  I am so very grateful for June and for the picture she provides of what Samuel might be up to in Heaven.

I have noticed once again that as more time lapses between my blog entries, I get more and more removed from my "real" life.  The weight of grief begins to tug mightily on my heart, and I am more subdued, more tired, more irritable, and more intolerant of the little things of life.  It reminds me how important it is to continue to grieve intentionally, to record our journey without Samuel, to acknowledge what I feel and face.  Once again, I find that this blog is life-giving and healing, and I find myself grateful for a God who already knows each heartbreak, each hope, each broken expectation, each longing, and that He is a God who can comfort and ultimately heal them all.