Sunday, September 8, 2013

Our Other Children

Adaline is three. She recently said to me, "Mommy, I will never forget the Day of Charlie." She doesn't remember everything, but she remembers enough that it will stick with her forever. She remembers riding in the truck and asking if he was okay. She remembers Mommy and Daddy "crying and crying over and over and again." She remembers the screaming and the sadness and that we went to live with Nanny. Sometimes she asks me , "Remember when we used to live at Nanny's house? Why did we not live at our house then?"

It's hard to hear the things she says sometimes. Sometimes I'm busy, and I don't want to think about Charlie right at the moment she wants to talk about him. Often she will ask to look at his pictures and she will say things like, "Please show me my brother. He is always my brother and I cant see him if you don't show me." And stopping in the middle of my day to walk her out to his grave site or look at pictures or talk about him often times breaks my heart in ways that I can't even explain to her. She, unlike us grown-ups, can't pick and choose what times she wants to grieve and when she doesn't. She doesn't understand that it's not a good time to start weeping and have the rest of my day thrown off by extreme sadness. She just wants to remember her little brother.

The worst is when she tells strangers at the store about her little brother. People "ooh" and "ahh" over the twins and then ask her how she likes being the big sister and she will say something like, "I've been a big sister forever. I have a Charlie too and Ill always be his big sister." And then people will say, "Oh, my, you have another one too?" Yes. Yes, I do. He's with Daddy. Or he's at home, or at my mom's or whatever. But now she's getting old enough to ask me why I said that. As we were walking away from someone yesterday she said, "Charlie's not with Daddy, Charlie's in his spot in the ground where his picture is." And the lady looked at me very confused. Smile big smiles- that's what I try and remind myself to keep from being this crazy lady with twins and a toddler weeping in the middle of the produce section at Kroger.

One of the things that has come up in conversation with my mom and my husband lately is how and when we are going to explain Charlie's death to the twins. We walk back to see his grave regularly, and even though they are only 8 months I know that at some point we will need to explain to them that he was their brother. And at some point that they are rainbow babies, born just shy of one year after him, conceived just 5 weeks after his passing. And how will they feel? What questions will they ask? Will they think things like, "If he hadn't died, I wouldn't ever have been born." Because it's true- we never would have tried to have another baby any time soon if we hadn't lost him.

Having kids is so awesome and amazing, and even though I've been at it for a few years now I still don't think Ill ever get used to the idea that your emotions can't always be kept where you want them because kids have questions. And I have to answer them, even if it's not a good time for me.

Friday, July 26, 2013

1309 Brighton Road

It's taken me a long time to go back remembering the house that had been there my entire life with any tiny sliver of fondness. It was the place where I spent my last day with my son, sure. But more than that it was the place where I lived with my Dad when I was young, where I got my first broken bone, where I made my first pie from scratch, where I learned how to make taffy and where I was allowed to stay up all night watching My So Called Life marathons that my parents would have never let me watch.

It had a perma-smell of moth balls, fried okra and salmon patties, roast beef in the crock pot and potpourri. And every now and then, if she felt fancy, that sprinkly stuff that you put on the carpet before vacuuming. It smelled like cherry pie, microwave-roasted peanuts in the shell, homemade biscuits, and the waffle iron. The yard always smelled like a mixture of roundup and roses. The carport reeked of motor oil and gasoline. This house had more smells than any home I have ever remembered living in.

In the warm months, it was hot and sticky because they were cheap and didnt believe in using air conditioning, even during the high summers in Alabama. So, all the windows were wide open and throughout the day you couldnt keep track of how many times you'd hear the squeaky spring sound as the screen door opened and the loud slam of it shutting. It was a lot of times.

In the cold winters of Alabama, it never really gets much below 40 degrees. But they kept the heat cranked. Along with this fake fireplace that supposedly let off heat but was really for looks. It hung on the wall in the den and had a metal screen in front of it with a plastic fire that had a rotating light inside. It kind of always smelled of burning plastic. But I would get so excited when they turned it on. The den is where they spent most of their time, in recliners, watching tv.

Their house was set up in a way that you could run around in circles, through the kitchen to the tiny bathroom, through their bedroom, to the hallway that went to all the other bedrooms, through the living room, and the back to the kitchen. We spent so much time in that kitchen. My Mimi was no Martha Stewart, but she knew the basics of how to make stuff and I can honestly say that before she died she'd brag like it was one of her life's greatest achievements about how she taught me to cook. And it was- she was proud of it. She passed away in the den of that house when my oldest daughter was just 6 weeks old. It was the first major family death of my life.

The outside of the house was olive green with maroon shutters and a black roof. It had a front yard that was to the left of the driveway. The driveway, where Daddy and I poured concrete to make it a little wider so that Mimi's red Chevette wouldnt kill the grass every time she pulled in. My little 4 year old handprints are still there, right next to my Dad's 22 year old handprints. The front of the house used to have a weeping willow until 1993 when they cut it down and planted red and yellow tulips and lillies in its spot. The front of the house, like any good southern home, was lined with bright pink azaleas and purple pansies. The side of the house was filled with baby pink knockout roses, dark purple calla lillies and pink buttercups. Oh, and of course, the boat and RV. I spent so many nights I sleeping in the RV as a kid. Papa was so proud that he finally had a real RV. The whole time my dad was growing up they had a modified Lay's potato chip truck. It smelled kind of like a mixture of the lake and moldy carpet.

The back yard held a red and white, rusty, polka-dotted swing set from my fathers childhood, where I played as a kid. The back porch was bright red and took up most of the yard. It was constantly littered with maple leaves and was the inspiration for the maple seeds (otherwise known as helicopters)  that are tattooed on the top of my feet. When you walked down the steep porch stairs and into the back yard you were right between two pecan trees, where we gathered pecans every other year. You couldnt walk out there barefoot because the ground was so filled with pecan shells, from the ones that we tossed aside because they were no good. The clothesline was just beyond it, and I remember all the times that Mimi ran out in the rain to get her clothes, barefoot, saying fake curse words the whole time because the pecan shells were digging into her feet. She'd come inside and say, "Jack, you've got to get a rake to those pecans. Ive tore my feet apart." And  he'd sit in his recliner flipping through all the channels on the tv and respond, "Or, you could wear shoes."

It's hard to remember that backyard so fondly and smile. That backyard is a place I can only return to in my memories. Not only because of Charlie's death, which does indeed prevent me from ever returning, but also because my grandfather has since sold the house. I have so many wonderful memories there. And as beautiful as all of those memories are, I keep waiting for it to stop being the back yard that I woke to find my son dead in. The pecans I stepped on while running to the truck to rush to the hospital. The house I spent our last day in. The calla lilles we dug up to take home. The the knockout roses I'd picked the day before to take to my grandmother's gravesite. I wish to return to it being a simple, innocent place where I grew up, where I learned to cook and how to sew and can fondly remember my grandparents without the my son's death casting a shadow upon the 28 years of memories I had there before he was born.

It was such a beautiful place to grow up, I wish I hadnt lost two of the people that I love the most there. But to  be honest, there is no good time or place for someone you love so much to die.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

April showers bring May flowers

April was awful, let me just start by saying that. It was filled with the memories of all the things we didn't do right, conversations of guilt, and fights with my husband that have escalated like none of our others.

All the growing and healing and self care I had done was just gone. We had so many hard things to get through: the memories of the days leading up to his death,  anniversary of us finding him not breathing, the anniversary of his burial, and remembering how all of it felt when it was actually happening. But worse was trying to process our grief and our progress, realizing that we are happy despite this terrible tragedy  and feeling like we were the people who had forgotten and moved on.

It's hard to be okay with the idea that we could be happy without him. There is an incredible amount of guilt knowing that we have, in some small ways, moved on. We were so wrapped up in how awful everything felt that we forgot to be partners, forgot to be good parents, and forgot about all the promises we made to ourselves about caring for one another.

For this past month, it hasnt been about progress- it's just been about making it through alive. It's just been one hellish day after another with that same feeling as last year, "When and how can I just get out of this?"

And then today this tulip bloomed, on the cracked earth above where he will forever lie, and my heart warmed to the idea of happiness once again.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

As I lay them down to sleep tonight....

Today the twins are the exact same age as Charlie was before his breath was stolen in the night.

Things will not go the same way twice, I tell myself.
Tomorrow is Ada's birthday and nothing can go wrong, I tell myself.

No monitors in the world will help me get through tonight without getting up time and time again to check. And that moment of hesitation before I realize that they are still breathing, still alive, is the part that gets me every time.

I flash back to those moments when I realized what was happening that morning. I can't do it all over again. I can't survive it twice, I just can't.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Well, it finally happened. I always knew it would- I've been waiting for the panic to arise, and honestly I've been surprised at how calm Dave and I have been since the twins' birth.

I turned 29 on Friday. We made an impromptu trip to Louisville, spent all day at the science center and then went to dinner. It was our first dinner out as a five person family. We sat in a crescent shaped booth, and the babies were right next to me. Next to Dave. Next to each other.

I sat down, figured out the appetizer I wanted, looked around and momentarily forgot that they were there. That happens sometimes, and I always look around quickly for them and make sure they are still breathing. It's just my second nature. I saw Callie breathing. I put my hand on Wendy's chest, nothing.

Her face was cold. Her hands werent moving. Her eyes werent darting under her eyelids. Her face was so cold. And I panicked. My head was shaking, my mouth was saying words, "No, no no no no no no" that I couldnt hear. The whole restaurant stood still, I felt like a camera zoomed in and it was just my face looking at Charlie all over again. Blue streaks appeared, her jaw felt tight like when I tried to open his, I put my hands on her face and squeezed her cheeks, whispering, "no, no, no, not again. Not again."

And Dave took my hands and said, "Holly, she's fine. She's breathing." It all happened in a matter of seconds, I imagined something was wrong but it wasn't. I lost my shit. Out in public. I was sobbing, and people were staring. Adaline was hugging me, and Dave was looking at me like I was crazy. Because for just a moment, I was crazy.

Welcome to year 29. In the past 5 years I've gotten married, moved to a farm, had 4 children, buried one child, and seen both the best and the worst days of my life. And it's just part of life that the worst day sometimes overshadows everything else.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Appropriate Response

"We lost our son last April to SIDS," is something I have to say to people fairly often.

Well, I don't have to say it, but it's something I say a lot of times in response to "Oh, I bet Daddy wants a boy!" and "Are these your only three?" The appropriate response is, "Im sorry," "Wow, that must be really hard," or maybe even "I don't know what I would do." Because, honestly, no one knows what they would do if they lost a child.

It's so easy to think you know. In the past few months I've heard or read some responses that people think are appropriate that just really - mainly people eluding to killing themselves if anything like that happened to them. Don't you think I've thought of that? Contimplated it? Hell, even planned it down to the last detail and then beat myself up for ever thinking it would be okay to put my husband and daughter in that situation.

Don't say to me, "Oh, I'd jump off the bridge if something happened to my baby," because aside from the fact that suicide has been tempting enough, it makes me feel like you think I didn't love my son enough because I haven't killed myself in grief. Honestly, you don't know that you would jump off a bridge or have to be committed, or lose your mind, or any of the other things that people regularly say in response to hearing about child death.

How can I act normal? Because I have to. Because there isn't another option. I have three other children that need me to be normal, a husband that needs support just as much as I do, and a community that expects me to reach out if I need something instead of just spiraling inward to the point of mental breakdowns or suicide.

And because I choose to. Because while losing my baby is about the worst thing I can imagine, it would be so much worse for my family to lose me too. Life goes on- there are times when it doesn't feel like it, but it has, and it will continue to. The whole world doesn't stop every time a baby dies, regardless of how unfair that might seem to grieving mothers whose world has come to a complete standstill.

So next time you hear about someone losing a child, losing a parent, losing their dog- just don't tell them what you would do if it was you. Because it's not you.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Happy Birthday, Charlie

I should have a huge mess to clean up. Wrapping paper all over the floor, tablecloths to wash, dishes to do, trash to take out, and me scrambling to make room in my freezer for leftover birthday cake that no one would take home because my friends don't let their kids eat sugar or food coloring, both of which I love to put in birthday cakes. 

It would have been chocolate with baby blue icing and dark blue trim- blue icing between each layer, so that when you cut the cake it was brown, baby blue blue, brown, baby blue blue on the dark blue plates. Three tiered, with the top layer removable so that he could have it in front of him to blow out his first birthday candle and put his hands all in the icing. I even had a glittery blue "1" that was leftover from Adaline's first birthday because I finally found a pink one for her cake and decided to save the blue candle for "one day when we had another baby." The room would be full of way too many red balloons that my dad would have made a whole production about blowing up, because he's famous for carrying his helium tank to all of our parties. And it wouldn't be a birthday party without him singing at least a couple of lines of "Happy Birthday" in the helium voice. 

Instead, today I walked out to my son's grave and remembered the day we buried him. I stood in the very same spot I stood at his burial, underneath a tree branch that is now home a wind chime made out of angels. I'm not sure where it came from, and even though we don't believe in angels, I cant bear to take it down. As David and I walked out to the graveside  we both remembered how frail and weak we felt as we walked out to lay him to rest. It all felt so unfair, and it still does. It still is. 

We should be celebrating, but instead we are remembering his very short life and thinking of all the things we will miss out on. All the birthdays, all the firsts, all the memories that we should be making with him- all these things that we expected to be doing that we can't do. We can only hold the memory if his incredibly short time with us and try to focus on what we do have, not what we have lost. We try to spend our days being grateful for our children and that we have made it through the past year with our relationship and our lives in tact. But not today. 

Today we grieve: not only the loss of our son, but for the loss of all the things that go along with having a child. For his first birthday and his 30th birthday, for his wedding day and his high school graduation day. For his first steps, his first soccer game, and his first date. We grieve the child that we lost because he was amazing and special and we fell in love with him, but we also grieve the life that we wanted so badly for him to live. And today is just one of the many birthdays he doesn't get to have. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Babies in a bucket

Charlie's birthday is on Saturday, so Im working on a letter to him. Thankfully, I have these girls to help me through the week.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Callie and Wendy's Birth Story

*warning: contains detailed information*
If you are tagged and you don't want to read this, I promise it won't hurt my feelings. I just thought I'd share this story with some of my closest friends, other mom's, and ladies who may one day give birth. Also, due to the fact that there are two babies, and things in our lives were completely different this time, it is a long story.

The pregnancy
The circumstances of getting pregnant this time were much different from my previous two pregnancies. In the past, we were trying, but not with any real motivation. This time, we were really trying and extremely hopeful. I was very lucky to have gotten pregnant on the first attempt, after losing our son to SIDS and being in need of a great deal of hope in our lives to move forward. I was using ovulation strips, and I tested positive on a Friday, a negative on Saturday, and just for fun I took one on Sunday. It was also positive. I thought they were bunk, and just told myself I'd never use them again. Little did I know, I likely ovulated two times, which is fairly common during times of stress and after not menstruating for a long time.

During the aftermath of Charlie's death, David and I found ourselves looking up at a chunk of rainbow in between dark clouds in the sky on two separate occasions. Those two days were beautiful, and I'll never forget the little bits of color that brought smiles to our faces during such a tragic time. The look on David's face when Shondra, our longtime ultrasound tech, told us that we were having two babies is forever burned into my head. She said, "There's two!" and I thought, "Two what?" Shock, awe, excitement- all around disbelief. We were having not one, but two, rainbow babies. Rainbow babies are what babies are known as when they follow a pregnancy , birth, or child loss. While it was overwhelming and a little scary, it was incredibly exciting and a little perfect.

My pregnancy went swimmingly well. As we prepared our lives for a whole house full of girls, we tried to push back the thoughts of preterm labor or the idea of them being born too early. I made lists, restrictions for myself, and did everything I could to make sure that I was aware of the causes of preterm labor. When I made it to 35 weeks, and we were cleared to deliver at our regular hospital, there was such an incredible sense of relief that washed over the both of us. Perhaps that relief led to a relaxation that triggered labor, because at 35 weeks, 1 day I went into labor. 

The Birth
Most of my latter days of pregnancy were pretty slow. It was hard to move around, and I didn’t have a lot of energy. But, David and I had rearranged the whole kitchen on Thursday. Let me rephrase this: I pointed where I wanted things to go, and David moved stuff around. We had this idea that the inclusion of a kitchen table in our lives would minimize the mess that Adaline made and give us a place for family time each evening. So on Friday, David worked outside for most of the day and I had sat around and played with Ada and watched some horrible television programming. Finally, I got up and cooked dinner to be had around our kitchen table in our newly arranged kitchen. Roasted chicken, collard and kale greens, roasted root vegetables, and steamed mushrooms. We ate, laid around the house and fell asleep early.

I awoke to needing to go to the bathroom and felt very well rested. I assumed I'd been sleeping for several hours. It was 11:30- we had been asleep for an hour and a half. David was wide awake as well, and he laid in bed and read comic books on his newfound love, the Nexus 7. I was on the couch watching netflix, and as I was drifting off, and it felt like one of the babies kicked me in the cervix. I thought it felt mighty low, but turned over and attempted sleep. But then I felt a warm gush and stood up very quickly to realize that my water had broken. I called out to David, asking him to come and letting him know what happened. We immediately began packing, gathering things up to leave. My water was just leaking away, but I wasn't having any contractions. David called our family and Aundria, our longtime friend who is also a midwife. She had agreed to be with us for the birth. Since my previous labor had been only 3 hours, we were in a rush. I was not going to have these babies in the back of my minivan.  

I took the other half of the Dramamine that I'd taken last January on the way to the hospital to keep from being nauseous. We got on the road, and I began to have very mild contractions. Adaline was in the back of our minivan and had woken up. We told her that the twins were coming, and that she would get to meet them soon. When we arrived at the hospital, she was very excited. The nurses began strapping me in to the monitors to get the babies heart rates, and my contractions were picking up but still pretty mild.

The nurses told us that our family had arrived, so we sent Adaline with grandparents and Aundria joined us in the room- OB room 5. There are 6 rooms on the floor, and we have now birthed in 3 of them. I was anxious to get the typical hospital routines over with, so that we could get on to the birthing. Since I've had GBS twice and my test results had not yet come back I knew I had to have the antibiotics. The first nurse who came in to stick me stuck me in a weird nerve ending in my wrist that caused a sensation like an electric shock to go down my hand. The second nurse got the IV in quickly, and we started the antibiotics for the GBS. My contractions began to become a little more intense, more like my uterus was contracting across the bottom than just up and down. My legs began to shake, and I felt very cold. As the iv emptied, I was finding myself ready to get into the shower and feel the relief of the almost hot water. My OB arrived, and after a quick ultrasound confirmed that Baby B was still breech, and that we'd have to do a breech extraction after A was born.

As my contractions grew stronger, David and Aundria stayed closer to me. It seems like I went in and out of the shower several times, finding comfort in the water. As the contractions came on, I'd lean on David and get through them. Every now and then Aundria would let me know that it seemed like they were getting stronger, and I felt like I was getting close. As I stood in the shower, I could feel Baby A's head moving down through the birth canal and I began to feel the urge to push with each contraction. I sat on the toilet and I felt relieved that I was off my feet but that there was not additional pressure on my bottom. Two babies in my belly threw me off balance more than usual, and I was afraid to squat, for fear that I'd tip right over. I was ready. I knew I couldn't resist the urge to push any longer, so Aundria went to tell the staff and I climbed into the bed. A quick check put me at 8cm, so I got back out of the bed and my OB left the room, assuming it'd be an hour before I had a baby. Aundria caught Baby A in the shower just a few minutes later at 4:08am, and put her up to my chest.

She was white, covered in vernix, and so tiny. Fragile. And then loud. Her bottom lip trembled, and then she made the same kissy face that Adaline made when she was born. I handed her to Dave and moved to the bed as my OB made her way into the room. The moments after I got into the bed both all blur together and are something I can remember so clearly. I remember looking at my stomach and realizing I was going to have to do it again, that there really was a second baby coming out. I felt so torn between looking at and wanting to hold the sweet baby I'd just given birth to, and knowing it was time to move towards getting her sister out. I looked between my legs at my trusted OB, who I was quickly realizing was about to cause me a lot of pain. I was so tired, and I just didn’t want to do it. There were a lot of people in the room, all looking at my vulva. I wanted to take a nap.

As my OB inserted her hand inside of my body, I suddenly wished I had opted for some pain relief. For the first time in three labors, I wanted to scream about how badly I wanted drugs. Thankfully, the process went very quickly, and although I wanted medication in the 4-5 minutes it took to happen, I am glad I'd not chosen the epidural. Baby B had turned transverse, so my OB just flipped her into vertex position with the help of her partner, who simultaneously performed an external version. I felt the urge to push and I pushed through one contraction. The nurses standing around me we are being extremely verbally supportive. At the next contraction, I felt her head crown, and her body come out very quickly. Baby B was born at 4:28 am. She laid on my chest for a couple of minutes- white like her sister and just as tiny. Then, out of nowhere she was taken to the warming bed to have fluid suctioned out. I delivered the placenta, and my OB, Aundria, and I looked it over. It was very cool- and huge.

Afterbirth/NICU stay
I was feeling okay, and I was anxious to find out what was happening with Baby B. As always, I wanted a shower and to get up out of the hospital bed. I got up, got in the shower quickly, put some clothes on, and made my way out to the nursery to see Baby B and David as Aundria was kangarooing Baby A (hospital policy does not allow us to hold babies in the hallways). After a few minutes I realized that I wasn't okay- the after pains were going to be worse than the last labor. I was sure it would pass, so I slowly made my way back to my room and put Baby A to my chest to nurse. Within a few moments, my pants were soaked through, and I was bleeding a lot. The pains were growing increasingly stronger, and I just wanted it to quickly be over. Aundria was with me to let me know it wasn't abnormal- but everyone wanted to be pressing on my belly. And it hurt, and I was stressed out, and I was exhausted. I still wanted to just have everything be perfect and be holding my two babies and taking nap. I opted for a pitocin shot, hoping that it would speed things along and allow me to take control over my body and to be able to focus on our baby in the nursery.

David was really upset about Wendy's (baby b) condition, and when he came into the room it was clear that he'd found out that they intended to transfer her to Kosiar Children's Hospital NICU. Our new family would be separated. It's scary to have a kid in respiratory distress after losing a child. He laid with Calliope (baby a) as Wendy was being looked over by the Kosair transport staff. I was still having pains, and not really able to get up. I was really angry with my body for not cooperating because I wanted to be a part of what was going on with Wendy. The exhaustion was closing in on me, and I could see that my nap was far away. Finally, I began to pass clots. Each time, I'd feel a huge sense of relief. David left with Wendy, and things began to settle down. It was just Calliope, Aundria and me. I'd grown quite dizzy, and couldn't really get up and move around. After finally getting most of the clots out and changing my bedding, I finally got a nap. In hindsight, I should have let Aundria rub on my belly and get all the clots out much more quickly, but I was stressed out and it was hard to deal with the pain.

My hospital released me that evening on a day pass to see Wendy and Callie stayed with my Mom at the hospital where I gave birth. When I walked in, she was covered in tubes and cords, naked on her belly underneath a warmer. She had a ventilator, an ng tube (feeding tube), an IV, a heart monitor, respiration monitor, and an oxygen sensor all on her little 4 lb, 11 oz body. She was unable to be picked up. Over the next couple of days, as I was separated from her and David was with her, it became quite clear that she would stay an Eleanor Wendy and that the baby that was with me would stay Calliope Jane. We originally thought we'd see which name fit which baby, but we weren’t going to rename babies after the experience we were having.

When Callie and I were finally released on Monday, I took her to Louisville to my Mom's house so that David and I could switch off being with Wendy in the NICU. Between this and the three days I'd spent separated from Wendy, I was operating on very little sleep and having one baby in the hospital and one out was difficult. Callie spent one day out of the hospital and then her temperature dropped and she was unable to get it back up on her own so she was admitted into the NICU as well. Her billiruben levels were pretty high, and she had to be put under strong lights, but she was okay.

It was when Callie was admitted that I realized that my babies weren’t sick, there was nothing “wrong”- they were just preemies. Most preemie babies experience similar problems and each day closer to their due date brings them a step closer to being able to go home and able to physically function like a full term baby. We spent a total of 10 long days and nights at the NICU, which would have been impossible without so much support from our friends and family. It was really hard, but it was amazing to watch the progress that their little bodies made each day. The NICU staff was amazing, and we were able to bring them home yesterday knowing that they are both okay. Now we have all three of our girls at home, and we are all cozed in awaiting a winter storm. Ill make sure to get some more pictures posted soon :)

 Wendy with Daddy 
 Wendy in her gloworm blanket
 Callie, one day old
Their first time together