Monday, July 25, 2011

31 Days

Today is our Anna-girl's 31st day of life.  Our sweet Samuel died on his 31st day of life.  Samuel died at 9:08 in the morning, so our Anna has now lived longer than our son.  Today I am cuddling Anna a little closer and putting her down a little less.  She's wearing one of the very few clothing items we ever got for Samuel; it seemed fitting for this day.

At 4:30 this morning when my alarm went off to go feed Anna, I stumbled blearily down the hall in a fog.  Once I settled in the glider and was snuggling Anna close, I reflected back on our alarm waking us in the wee hours of Samuel's last day.  We woke to the heavy weight of truth -- our extremely sick son a long hall away from us, another day of waiting for the inevitable.  Our walk down the hall was somber and weighty, tinged with fear and the unknown.  When we entered the CICU, we relieved Erik and Marta, Bryan's brother and sister, from night duty, and within minutes we got the news: this was it.  Samuel was dying this morning.  Walking into Anna's room couldn't have been more different.

And holding Anna was a far cry from holding Samuel that rainy morning.  Samuel was stiff, swollen, artificially paralyzed, hooked up to countless machines, and he smelled of death.  It took 3 people to maneuver his lines and machines so we could hold him without accidentally stopping his breathing machine.  He never moved a limb or opened an eye -- he couldn't on the paralytic.  And holding him was filled with grief.  Anna, on the other hand, I scooped up out of her crib while she engaged in some serious stretches, one of my favorite things to watch her do.  She squirmed in my arms, smelled of the bath I gave her a few hours earlier, made continual grunts as she worked on filling her diaper, cried when I changed her, and breathed the deep sighs of contentment when she was nursing.  Her body sank into the contours of mine, and she exhibited every sign of life and health and well-being.  Looking at her, I thanked God for the gift she is, and I missed my dear, sweet Samuel tremendously.

At 8:00 am, when I was feeding her again, and an hour at which I was holding Samuel nearly two years ago on Aug. 31, I opened my Bible to Job and read the verses we chose for Samuel's grave marker: "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised" (Job 1:21).  The Lord gave us Samuel, and He took him away, and we praised Him still.  Now we are once again in a season of blessing; the Lord has given us Anna, and we praise His name.  She, too, is ultimately God's, and we are thankful for however long we have to love her on this earth.  Whatever this life holds, we will continue to bless His name.  And we rejoice in this season of abundance, "when the world's all as it should be," and it's easy to do.

Since we can't have a photo of all our children together, we decided to put their handprints all in one place.  We originally made this when the boys met Samuel in the hospital.  When Anna was 3 days old, we added her handprint to the top left.

Anna on her 31st day of life

Today is the first day I've been able to get a bunch of smiles from Anna.  I'm so thankful for her life, a beautiful reason to smile!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Declarations of Love

Caleb and Joel LOVE Anna.  Here are a few of the things they've said and done in the last few weeks:

"She's the cutiest pie I've ever known."  -Joel

"I am enjoying her so, so, so much!"  -Caleb

"She's my first best Anna in the world!  You're my first best Momma, and she's my first best Anna!"  -Joel

"Can I keep her company for awhile while you go work on dinner?"  -Caleb

"I love her too much.  I want to hold her forever."  -Joel

"I love her alot.  She's my favorite baby."  -Joel

"I want to hold her as much as I can."  -Caleb

Me: "After two weeks with Anna, how do you feel about having a baby sister?"
Joel: "It's the best thing in the world."

"She's the cutest thing in the whole, whole, whooooooooole wide world!"  -Joel

Whenever we see someone who hasn't met Anna before, Joel runs over to me, grabs Anna's little foot, and escorts us over to the person, positively beaming all the while.  He is so very proud to introduce her and take credit as her brother.  I love watching the joy and pride on his face. 

Caleb likes to read to Anna.  He will sit or lay on the floor next to her and read her entire books, making sure to show her the pictures.  It's absolutely precious. 

I am so proud of these big brothers.  They love their baby sister with a tenderness that melts my heart and brings me great joy.  What a blessed little girl Anna is to have Caleb and Joel for her big brothers on earth!

And while I'm at it, here's a picture of Bryan doing his seminary homework with Anna.  Every night Bryan takes Anna from about 9:30-11:00, which is part of her fussy time.  He reads seminary in her room while rocking her or sets up shop in the playroom.  It's pretty cute to see.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

22nd Day and Photo Interlude

Since Samuel and Anna were both born on a Saturday, I can roughly track what was happening in Samuel's life at Anna's age.  Today marks Samuel's downturn from which he never recovered.  We spent a terrifying (and yet strangely peaceful) couple of hours thinking that Samuel was dying on his 22nd day of life, and from this day until Samuel's death, Bryan and I didn't go home again but stayed at the hospital 24 hours a day.  In many ways, today in Anna's life marked the beginning of the end of Samuel's life.  I don't know if that makes any sense to read, but to me it's a significant day.  From this day forward in Samuel's life, I knew he was dying apart from an absolute miracle of God.  My days of hoping for a baby boy at home to love and care for came to an end, and I began to prepare myself for Samuel's death.  It's sad to me to think that my days of hoping for something in this life were already behind me.  When I look at Anna, I think of how her life has just begun.  I can't even imagine preparing myself to give her over to God.  I don't know how we did it with Samuel.  It was only by the grace of God.

Really I got on today to post a few fun pictures of the last week or so.  So here they are.  We are all clearly smitten with this little girl.  Later I will post some more adorable things her brothers have said.  I love this family so much!

My mom with our three kids on earth
Momma and Anna
Joel on the 4th of July.  He loves corn on the cob!
Me and Caleb on the 4th of July
Normally Anna is swaddled very tightly for naps, but sometimes when she's totally out, I put her down without the swaddling.  Today I came in to find her sleeping like this, and it cracked me up.
Bryan and Anna hanging out in the hallway
Daddy LOVES his little girl!

Caleb staring at Anna

Caleb entertaining Anna with his Cars 2 cars

Caleb driving cars on Anna :)  This makes me laugh every time I see it.  Only Caleb could gently drive cars on his sister's face!
Our Beauty  :)
Joel staring at Anna

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mingling of Joy and Grief

With a newborn in the house, I no longer have the luxury of any margin in my life.  That means I no longer have the margin to edit my postings or a block of time to sit down and write an entry in one sitting.  Consequently, this collection of relatively unconnected paragraphs will have to suffice.  Maybe someday I can write a cohesive entry again.  :)

Having our Anna has been a tremendous blessing and joy, but it has also surfaced a good deal of grief.  We knew that having another baby -- healthy or otherwise -- would likely exacerbate our felt grief, but we didn't know what exactly that would look like.  I've been surprised on more than one occasion at what has churned up grief and what has not.

When Anna was first born, I expected to be overcome with emotions -- both sorrow and joy mingling.  And I certainly experienced them both, but it wasn't what I had anticipated.  The adrenaline of the moment kind of overrode the emotional aspects, and my dips into grief were brief.  That took me by surprise.  Even more surprising was what pulled me under and lead to a torrent of tears.  On our last day in the hospital, Dr. Videlefsky, Samuel's pediatric cardiologist, came to check out Anna's heart just as a final precaution.  Beforehand I hadn't been anxious about it, and I certainly hadn't expected any bad news after holding Anna for nearly two days and seeing her be the picture of health.  But when she was gone for the exam, it felt all too familiar.  I just happened to be journaling about Anna's delivery while she was gone, and about 10 minutes in, I flashed back to the first time Samuel was wheeled away from us at Egleston.  He was going in for his first heart cath, and I passed the time by journaling about his delivery.  The similitude was too great, and I felt my nervousness growing.  I remember how Bryan and I both started to be fearful the more time elapsed with Samuel in the cath lab; as I sat in our hospital room and the minutes ticked away without Anna, that same fear started to grow in my belly and heart.  After about 45 minutes without our baby girl, I looked at Bryan and said, "I'm scared.  She's been gone a long time.  This is too familiar."  His look told me he was feeling the same way, and he acknowledged his uneasiness and anxiety. 

We went for a walk down the hall to peek at Anna in the nursery and to see if we could tell if anything was wrong by reading Dr. V's body language.  But our trip only showed us our daughter screaming her head off and a nurse running tests.  We couldn't tell if the nurse liked what she saw or not.  We went back to our room and continued to wait.  When Dr. V came in about 15 minutes later with a smile and genuine pleasure on his face, announcing, "She's absolutely perfect!", I cannot not tell you the relief I felt.  The moment Dr. V walked out the door, I broke down into body-shaking sobs.  I hadn't even known I was carrying a fear that her heart wouldn't be healthy, but the news that she was perfect was completely overwhelming to me.  Knowing that we definitely weren't headed back down the road we walked with Samuel, knowing our Anna was healthy, knowing we were truly bringing her home, knowing that I wouldn't have to see her hooked up to machines or have her precious first weeks stolen away from me, knowing she was the healthy gift we prayed and prayed for, it all came flooding at me, and I simply bawled and bawled in Bryan's arms.  I cried for joy and relief, and I also cried for what we lost in Samuel, for what we endured, for the boy we aren't holding and kissing and hugging every day.  I had no idea that Dr. V's examination of Anna would even be a big deal to me, much less that it would stir up so much emotion, sorrow, and grief.
Dr. Videlefsky with Anna
My grief has surfaced at other unexpected times as well, like last night when Bryan and I both started singing "Grace Upon Grace" to our screaming daughter as we drove home from small group.  We sang all the songs we would sing to Samuel before telling him goodnight and dragging ourselves away until the next day.  What a different picture: singing to our sick son and having to leave him at the hospital and put 45 minutes between us versus riding in the same car as our daughter who was demonstrating her incredibly healthy lungs.  With Samuel, we were singing to ourselves as much as to him, comforting our own hearts with the words of the songs.  With Anna we were merely trying to quiet her screams until we could scoop her out of the carseat and hold her close and soothe her at home.  What I wouldn't have given to hear Samuel scream, but with his breathing tubes, I only ever heard him cry once, and that was when he first emerged from my womb, and I have no recollection of how he sounded.  With Anna, I hear her screams often throughout the day.  Thinking of singing to our sweet boy made me sad and lonesome for him; it also made me so grateful for Anna's cries and that we even get the chance to soothe her.

There are obvious indicators around our house that a baby resides here: lit up monitors, a carseat that has a blanket in it (signaling it's actually used and not just sitting around empty and purposeless), disheveled burp cloths, a breast pump drying on the counter, a crooked stack of diapers on the pack-n-play, etc.  But there are also subtle signs that life abounds here; Anna's hospital bracelets lie haphazardly on a dresser and a bookshelf, carrying no more significance than a healthy child's bracelet should.  With Samuel, his bracelets were among the very few tangible things of his we had, and they were guarded, wept over, and carefully stored as treasures.  Anna's new outfits, received as gifts, are scattered downstairs.  With Samuel, flowers from people who grieved with us were scattered in those same places.  Our stack of cards say "Congratulations" and not "Our Deepest Sympathies."  My breasts ache with milk that Anna will drink and not in cruel mockery of the child we don't have.  And not a single picture of Anna graces our house yet because we can look at her beautiful face any time we please, but with Samuel his pictures were (and still are) everywhere, giving us glimpses of our precious son in our loneliness for him and in our grief.

A few nights ago, I was rocking an unhappy Anna while Bryan sat on her floor, reading his seminary assignments.  I was thinking about how Anna spends several hours every night crying angrily and how I am strangely unbothered by it.  As I rocked, I noticed Bryan's t-shirt; he was wearing the shirt I had on when Samuel died in my arms.  I pretty much hate that shirt now, but that night I found myself grateful for what it reminded me of: I get to rock and love my sometimes inconsolable baby girl, a gift beyond measure.  What I wouldn't have given to do the same for my son, whom I could only helplessly and gently hand over to my loving God.  That most heartbreaking morning was the only real time I got to hold him.  Anna I get to hold and comfort every night.  What a treasure.  I cannot (and do not) take my moments with her for granted.

When we first came home from the hospital, I spent several days thinking, "so this is what it's like to have three kids at home.  I always wondered."  It wasn't until a few days later that it occurred to me that I will never know what it's like to have as many children at home as we are parents to, for now I am a mother of four.  Though I finally know what it is to have three kids under my care, I now don't know what it's like to have four, and no matter how many children we have, we will never catch up to the number we "should" have.  I will never know what it's like to have all my children at home.  It was a sad thought to me; I can't begin to imagine what life would be like with Caleb, Joel, Samuel, AND Anna.

The night we came home from the hospital, we resumed reading The Chronicles of Narnia with our boys.  It just so happened that the chapter we were on in The Silver Chair was the very last chapter we ever read to Samuel before he died.  The symmetry of that is a little haunting -- picking up with Anna in our arms right where we left off with Samuel. 

We took some family pictures in the backyard over the weekend, and after I downloaded them, I saw an obvious gap.  Though I love the picture of five of us, there is a clear gap where Samuel should be.  Between me and Caleb, there is a Samuel-sized hole.  His sweet little almost-two-year-old face should be there.  His obvious absence made my heart heavy.

I think of Samuel all the time as I love on our little girl.  Anna is not a replacement for him.  She will never be our third child.  Her life reminds me of what we've lost in Samuel's death.  But her life also brings me joy and healing in ways nothing else could.  She soothes the ache in my soul.  Her yawns and stretches and grunts and coos warm places in my very depths.  The time we spend with our eyes locked, staring at each other and memorizing each other's faces, fills me with hope and contentment and peace and joy.  Anna is a priceless gift and a healing balm to our aching hearts.  We praise God for her life and health and the comfort she brings us, and at the same time, we miss our dear Samuel.  Probably those two things will always be true.  Joy and sorrow will always be somewhat mingled.  We will grieve, and we will heal, and Anna will be a part of both.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Few Photos

Lounging on Gab'm

Wrapped in blanket crocheted by her Great Grandma

Wearing her first dress -- which Caleb bought for her with his own money

With her wonderful Gab'm

Smiling in her sleep

Wide-eyed Anna Burrito
With Mommy and Daddy

Family Photo in the backyard
With two brothers who love her

Ok, I laugh out loud every time I see this picture.  And I made it my screen saver.  How cute are they???

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Big Brother Love

Seeing our boys meet their baby sister was beautiful, and watching them hold her and beam with joy and pride was priceless.  They are smitten through and through with Anna. They could hardly wait to hold her and kiss her and cuddle her.  In fact, beforehand they had worked out an order to who would hold her when: First Mommy, then Daddy, then Caleb, then Joel, and then Gab'm.

Sweet Caleb with his sister
In Big Brother Caleb's arms -- and showing off her dimple

One of my favorites -- Joel's loving kiss
Kiss sandwich
Total joy
This is what Joel considers hugging Beauty -- his cheek against hers.  We're continually working on gentleness in his exuberance, but he's getting better and better.  At first he would positively squash her when he'd give her a kiss or hug.
Imitating Anna's yawn

Joel begs often, "Can I hold her?  Can I kiss her?  Can I give her a hug?"  It might have been three seconds since the last time he held, kissed, and hugged her.  Bryan and I laugh that his never-ending need for affection extends to his baby sister as well.  Regularly Joel declares with love in his voice, "She's so cute!"  And yesterday he told me and my mom, "She's not as cute as I expected.  She's cuter!"  Joel has had a stuffy nose the last couple of days, and I've asked him not to hug her until he's better.  It's amazing how many times a completely congested Joel has declared he's all better now and no longer has any germs or sickness.  :)  Just tonight he came in her room after his shower and kissed her on her head while I was rocking her.  Then he turned to leave the room, but a few steps away, turned back around for another kiss.  In the end, he turned back 11 times before going to get in his pj's.  I love his enthusiasm for his sister.

Joel trying to touch as much of Anna as he can :)

It's evident that Anna's health continues to be on Caleb's mind.  The night Anna was born, he cried and cried after leaving our room.  I think it was all-too-familiar for him -- leaving a new baby and his parents at the hospital while going home with my mom and the Thiels.  It took us bringing her home to see him relax a little, but even so he prays every night, "Please help Anna to stay all the way healthy."  He does love to hold her and kiss her, and he is naturally gentle with her, but I still detect a bit of reticence from him.  Today he ran in to give her a kiss every time he walked by her room, and he declared he would kiss her any time she cried.  Slowly I see his reserve beginning to melt away, but he's still guarded.

Caleb gazing lovingly at Anna who is wearing orange for Joel and red for Caleb (Joel's selection)

Caleb and Joel have both been fabulous helpers.  Caleb even looks for ways to help.  This morning I caught him folding a blanket.  When I thanked him, he said, "I saw it and thought, 'I bet it would help Mommy if I folded this,' and I wanted to do it for you!"  And the other night after dinner, he volunteered to sweep up the crumbs on his chair and on the floor.  He said, "I want to help you, Mommy.  I want to do Legos with Daddy, but even more than that I would love to help you.  I will sweep these crumbs up and the floor too.  And if there is anything else I can do, I would love that!"  His sincerity melts me.  That kid is something else.  Joel, too, has loved to help.  He loves throwing away dirty diapers and picking out Anna's clothes (he found the only orange thing she has, no surprise!) and even holding her when she cries.  He seems completely unphased by her screams and even claims to like when she cries.  I thought Joel especially would have a hard time sharing me, but so far they've both done amazingly well.  I wonder how it will be once my mom heads home, and I am the lone adult 5 days a week.

One of my favorite things is to happen upon the boys staring at Anna.  Numerous times the whole family has abandoned whatever it was we were doing -- like eating dinner! -- to just stare at her.  If her eyes are open, we all jump ship on whatever was holding our attention and run to Anna.  It's precious to see her brothers just gazing at her.  I regularly find Joel standing on the crib rail, peering over the edge at her.  It's completely adorable.

All of us staring at Anna-girl

Brothers staring at their baby sister

A dinner break to admire Anna

The boys still call their baby sister "Beauty," and I kind of hope they always do.  What sister wouldn't love to know her brothers find her beautiful and precious?  What a blessed girl she is to have Caleb and Joel as her big brothers on earth and Samuel as her big brother in Heaven!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Anna's Arrival

Our Anna is here, and there are not words to describe what a joy-bringer she is or how beautifully she has been healing our hearts or how utterly enamored with her we are.  She is perfect in every way, and none of us can get enough of her.  We're always trying to steal her away from someone or get in another kiss or scoop her up from her crib while she's sleeping so we can snuggle her.  She is perfection itself, and we are completely in love with her.

Newborns are my favorite.  I have always loved babies, and Anna I have loved with a new vigor and tenderness and unflappable steadiness.  I love when she cries, I love when she nurses, I love when she sleeps, I love when she has a dirty diaper, I love getting her dressed, I love feeding her in the middle of the night, I love her stretches, her fusses, her grumpy face, her "I'm on the verge of screaming" noises.  I love it all, and I can't stop myself from soaking up every second of her life.  This is what I was made to do -- care for a newborn baby.  It taps into the things I love most about motherhood, and it's a place where I am the most content, the most settled, the most peaceful.

As I treasure every second with Anna, I often find myself wondering how I ever survived Samuel's month of life when I couldn't do any of the things for him that I love to do for Anna.  I didn't get to hold, feed, cuddle, or soothe Samuel.  Instead I had to watch him hooked up to countless machines and find the few places on his body I could touch.  I am in awe at how the Lord enabled me to enjoy Samuel's life so much when I was prevented from being his mommy in the way I love to be my newborns' mom.  Only by the grace of God was Samuel's short life so blessed in our eyes.  Only by His power and strength and goodness were we able to laugh at Samuel's side, bond with him, and find those days holy.

As Bryan mentioned, Anna came into the world on Saturday, June 25.  I was actually induced, which I had never experienced before.  It was comical to me that none of my babies were late until the fourth one!  Bryan and I went round and round about induction, but in the end we realized it was the best choice for us.  My OB, Dr. Siegel, was out of town all this past week, and if we didn't induce, a stranger would have delivered Anna.  Normally I wouldn't be too concerned about that, but when I started to think about what bringing Anna into the world would be for us, I realized that Dr. Siegel's presence was very important to me.  He has been my OB through all of my children, and he delivered Samuel.  He knows us, cares about us, is intimately familiar with Samuel's story, and feels like a safe place.  When I considered the swirl of emotions Bryan and I were likely to experience when Anna made her first appearance, I decided Dr. Siegel's presence was paramount.  So though we would never have considered an induction in the past, we agreed to it this time.  Once induction was on the table, I started to consider an epidural for the first time as well.  Though at heart Bryan and I are all-natural people, after Samuel my perspective shifted.  In the end all that matters is a healthy baby.  My "ideal birthing experience" seemed a little trite and rather insignificant.  So I opened the door to a totally different beginning of Anna's life.

And totally different it was!  At 12:35 pm, I was hooked up to pitocin, measuring 2 1/2 cm, and Bryan and I were watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1.  An hour later, contractions started at 2 minutes apart, and they were completely manageable -- no big deal at all.  Almost two hours later I was 4-5 centimeters, and contractions continued to be manageable.  We turned off pitocin, and Dr. Siegel broke my water.  I made a mental note-to-self minutes later: Don't break your water before you're already in significant pain!  My contractions went from no big deal to mighty intense immediately.  It was a rude and abrupt shift.  About 30 minutes later, I got an epidural just because I could -- though I could tell my window for getting one was fast closing.  I didn't love the process of getting an epidural, and Bryan and I had a tense 20 or so minutes when we weren't sure if it was going to work because of my scoliosis surgery when I was 15.  I was stuck laying down (the very worst position for my back labor), and Bryan couldn't provide me with the only relief I know -- counter pressure on my back.  We just had to wait it out through about 10 really bad contractions with no relief.  Thankfully, the epidural kicked in, or it might have been my worst ever labor, stuck on a table with useless legs and no real way to cope with the pain.

Once the epidural was in effect, I could still feel pain, but it was manageable again, and we resumed watching our movie.  Forty minutes later, Dr. Siegel came in and announced I was 10 cm and ready to push.  (REALLY?!?  I watched a movie through transition!!!  That still blows my mind.)  He and the nurse set up the table for about 15 minutes while I marveled that I was just hanging out, waiting to push my baby out, amused at watching them struggle with the new fandangled contraption.  Without meds, I would never have waited for them to get things "just right."  I pushed once very gently, and out came Anna's head.  We paused while Dr. Siegel set up a tasteful picture for Bryan to take, and then I pushed gently again, and Anna was out.  It was the most shockingly calm, uneventful birth.  I still can't believe it.  And though I don't know if I would do it again, it was the right birth for Anna, our baby after Samuel.  It was full of peace and calm and joy.  When I look back, I realize we never could have had this birth without being induced, and though I begged God to let her come on her own, I am glad He didn't.  Instead He gave us what we were asking for all along: a healing, calm, peaceful birth to bring healing to Samuel's frantic, frightening arrival.

At 5:13 pm Anna was in our arms, and we were holding her, and she was screaming her head off -- hooray for healthy lungs!  And we were overwhelmed with emotion but also with adrenaline and the surreal fact that she was here.  I cried silently while I held her, and I was deeply moved when I saw Bryan cradling her in his arms.  What a gift!  What a joy!  What a blessing!  How long we had waited for a baby in our arms.  In fact, June 25, 2008 is when I found out I was pregnant with my first miscarried baby.  Three years to the day of waiting for a little one to hold again.  And Anna fulfilled our longing.

I can't put into words what Anna has done for our hearts already.  She has been the healing balm we prayed for.  She has brought beaming smiles to Caleb and Joel.  She has mended our wounds in ways I didn't know were possible.  She has showered us with grace and hope and peace and joy and mercy.  She is the gift we've beseeched God to grant us.  And we are grateful beyond what we can express.
Final profile picture -- 40 weeks and 2 days.  About to head to the hospital to be induced

Feeling a little anxious; let's deliver this girl and get her here already!
Final family photo before Beauty's arrival
Next time we'll have five people in our family photo
The boys seeing us off to the hospital to deliver Beauty
Our First Family Picture with Anna-girl
A Kiss from the Love of my Life

Anna with Dr. Siegel

Anna through the Bassinet

Bryan looking at his daughter

Mommy and Anna