Saturday, January 29, 2011

On being Anne*

* I realize I said that Rip's story would be the last time I posted before we left town...but I had one more thing to say!

I've been a huge fan of Anne of Green Gables since I discovered her somewhere around the age of eight or nine.  Anne (that of Green Gables) also realized the importance of the "e" in her name...those of you whose name can be spelled several ways completely understand what I am saying here.  The Ann's of the world are just all together different from the Anne's...neither are better or worse, but I am an Anne "with an e", as was she.

I, like everyone else, have spent the majority of my thirty years so far trying to "find myself".  I think maybe in the last two or so years I was finally starting to feel a little more comfortable with who I am...a little clumsy, a little shy, pretty funny when you get to know me (if I do say so myself).

And then this happened.  Bam, world turned upside down.  I don't know who I am anymore, I am scared to death of what the future may hold.  I start to doubt my past.  Even when I think of wonderful memories of my childhood it can make me sad, because I think, "oh, but that girl does not know what is going to happen to her in 5..10..15 years!"

But then I came across a quote from Anne of Green Gables, it reads "I'm not a bit changed--not really. I'm only just pruned down and branched out. The real ME--back here--is just the same"

And it's true.  I am forever changed in some ways...but the real me is still in there, and all of those good and bad things, Rip's birth and death included, that went into making me have just changed my shape a bit.  The real part, the Anne "with an e" part, will always be the same.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rip's Story

I need to be able to talk about Rip and what happened to us and to him.  I have never been able to tell his whole story, and writing it down is really the only way I can do that.  A lot of this story is sad only because of how it ends, but it is important for me to be able to tell it.  This will probably be the last time I write before our trip next week, and it will be a long one, so be warned.

I found out that I was pregnant two days after Easter in 2010.  The two weeks leading up to taking the pregnancy test I had a sneaking suspicion something was up because I kept getting really really hot and I am NEVER hot.  I woke Parke up and told him the news by saying, "Do you really want to go to Costa Rica?" (we had a deal that if I got pregnant, he could go to Costa Rica on a surfing trip...probably not the most mature way to negotiate a baby but there you have it)...after looking understandably confused for a few seconds he was pretty excited.  Ever the cautious one, he warned me not to tell too many people right away.  Ever the wreckless one, I think I called my mom before I pulled out of the driveway that morning. 

Two weeks later I had some bleeding and called the doctor.  They assured me everything was okay but I was on high alert and stayed there for the rest of my pregnancy.

I felt Rip kick when he was about 17 weeks along.  I thought it was the coolest thing ever.  I knew that he was a boy from the beginning, it was just a feeling I had.  By the time Parke got back from his solo babymoon to Costa Rica he could feel the little kicks too, his face the first time he felt Rip move was priceless, he looked so shocked...I remember saying, "well, what did you think was going on in there?"

When I was about four and a half months along I heard the words vasa previa for the first time.  Our doctors explained the condition to us but really kind of acted like it was no big deal.  During the ultrasound Parke asked, "so Anne is okay, and the baby is okay" and the doctor said absolutely.  I was not convinced.  When I got back to my office, I started looking up vasa previa on the internet.  I was hysterical.  I called Parke, I called the doctor back, I called my mom...I kept telling everyone that this meant Rip could die. 

I am hesitant to say this after everything that happened, but from that point on I think some part of me knew.  From that point on, no matter what anybody said to convince me otherwise, something just did not feel right, I could not be convinced that my baby was going to make it.  I've read a lot of books recently from other mothers who lost babies and many say that they had similar feelings...I don't know if it is mother's intuition or what.  That is not to say that I do not think that Parke and I did not fight as hard as we possibly could for Rip.  I can say without a doubt that we did everything we knew to do as his parents to bring him into this world safely.

 I started calling the doctor's office almost daily and occasionally just showing up in tears and demanding that they let me see his heart beat.  My mom came down and asked the doctor all of the right questions, protecting her child and her grandchild the only way she knew how.  I would wake up in the middle of the night and repeat the Lord's Prayer and the 23rd Psalm over and over until morning.

Through all of this, Rip just kept growing and living it up in his little home.  Despite my stress (or maybe because of it) I gave in to all of his demands for salt and vinegar potato chips and blueberry pancakes with peanut butter.  I was now on "modified bed rest" so poor Parke ran himself ragged- killing roaches, painting the nursery, cooking pregnancy friendly dinners-while I sat around with my feet propped up, watching Rip's tiny behind wiggle back and forth under my ribs (he had more rhythm than Parke and I on our best days).

Finally, when I went to the doctor for my 29 week appointment, the decision was made to put me into the hospital for the rest of my pregnancy.  As scary as that was, my biggest emotion was relief.  I felt, for the first time in months, that maybe everything was going to be okay.  Those five weeks in the hospital are now a blur.  I tried to keep a schedule, Parke came morning, noon and night...literally he would be there at 8:30 am, 12:00pm, and 6:00pm every day. My mornings were ruled by the Today show, especially Hoda and Kathy Lee (judge me if you want to, but if you are ever in a fix you will find the beauty of the Hoda and KLG show...pure joy, those two).  I got up and showered and dressed every day.  I had wonderful, fabulous friends who brought food, books, pumpkins to carve. Parke's mama did my laundry and provided chocolate. My family decorated my room so that it was the envy of the Labor and Delivery ward, Mama called every morning, noon, and night after Parke left.  Kevin, the hospital food services guy, did his best to fatten me up, and by the end of the five weeks did not even have to ask what I wanted he knew me so well. 

The highlight of the day was the non-stress test.  Twice a day a heart monitor was hooked up to my ever-expanding belly and I got to listen to Rip's heartbeat for an hour.  Looking back, I am so thankful for that time.  I got to concentrate fully on my baby.  I learned that he got the hiccups at the same time every day.  I learned that he was smart enough to "run away" from that nasty gel and monitor when they tried to track him down.  I learned that my baby had his very own little personality.

The night before Rip was born, 11/11, I hardly got any sleep.  I insisted on getting up early and taking a shower, Parke took pictures of us before going in to the delivery room...we both look pretty good, all things considered.  The actual delivery seems like it happened in another lifetime.  I do remember looking at the clock right before they got Rip out, 7:53am, and then all of the sudden he was in front of us.  Parke and I both broke down.  I did not hear him cry at first but eventually they got him breathing and put him on oxygen.  They showed him to me when they wheeled him away and I just kind of thought "oh, there you are!"

The whole day of Rip's birth is such a blur.  I was on so many drugs.  I remember crying and asking everybody if Rip knew I was his mother... he had to stay in the nursery and I had to stay in my room so I could not get to him.  I remember my mom wiping my face with a cool washcloth and telling me that of course he did.  I remember Parke describing Rip as "a perfect little present"...that used to make me cry when I thought about it, but now I am so glad he thought that about his son, it shows what a good Daddy he is.
The next day I got to really meet my baby.  I cried when I saw him hooked up to all of those machines.  Babies just look so small and vulnerable with all of those wires attached to them.  Parke took so many pictures, and I am grateful that he did.  We have all of those first moments on film, and I see myself and remember all of those thoughts that were going through my head when I really saw him for the first time. 

Over the next few days Rip went through phases where he would breathe on his own, and I spent hours in the Level II nursery, just holding him.  I wish I could write more about those moments but I guess I will just say that they were heaven.  I was in heaven.  I never knew that I could love someone that much.  I know that everyone says that...but it's true.

Rip got sick the Sunday after he was born.  It happened fairly quickly, he went from having a fever to having episodes of not breathing to needing intubation.  Parke and I were there for several of the episodes where he stopped breathing and I have never been through anything so horrifying or felt so helpless in my life.

Eventually the decision was made to transport Rip to MUSC.  I would like to say that those men, the men who came and took Rip in that ambulance, are some of the kindest I have ever met.  I ran into one of them when I was later sitting by Rip's bedside in the NICU and he held my hand and then gave me the biggest hug with tears in his eyes.  It takes a special person to do something like that.

The days at MUSC are not something I feel like I need to go into too much detail about.  They were heart wrenching.  There is nothing worse than watching your child in pain.  I lost it (and I mean LOST it) the first day Rip was there...it was like something out of a movie, I fell on the ground, could not breathe, felt like I was no longer of this earth...and I think after that, no matter what anybody else said, I accepted that Rip was not going to make it.  I think that day I started the process of really letting him go, although the doctors would not tell us that we needed to for several more days.

It would be wrong of me not to also mention Rip's doctors and nurses at MUSC.  There are not words to describe the compassion they showed us during those days.  To look up during the moment you hear the worst news of your life, and see that every other person in the room is also crying because of your pain...I just don't think that happens in every hospital.

We had Rip baptized in the NICU, and I am so glad that we did because even though I have no doubt God would take Rip no matter what, it has given me peace of mind.  What is funny about the baptism is, even though we were in the NICU, knowing that we were losing Rip, surrounded my beeps and wires, all that I could think through the whole thing was that our pastor was leaning on Rip too hard...I guess once a mother, always a mother.

I also have a lot of peace about the way Rip died.  He died in my arms with Parke's arms around both of us.  We were surrounded by people who love us. He was not in any pain.  I talked to him from the moment I knew he was alive and I talked to him until the moment he died.  It gives me a lot of comfort that I was there for him his entire life.  I know without a doubt he knew that his family was there, and that he was loved.  He was loved his ENTIRE life.

So Rip's life on earth ended there, but his story does not. He lives in heaven. He lives every day through me and Parke and our families.  He lives through the people's lives he touched.  I hope he will live through his brothers and sisters.  He changed me in ways for which I can only be thankful.

I am thankful to be able to tell his story.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Better Luck Next Year

Parke and I are headed off on a much needed, much anticipated trip this time next week, and we honestly could not be more excited. 

Unfortunately, my body could not be less bikini-ready.

For once in my life, I could really care less whether or not I look like a whale on the beach, but out of respect to the other vacationers I decided I should really put forth a little effort this week.

Thankfully, we have enough (very very appreciated, but very very cheese and mayonnaise friendly ) casseroles in the freezer to feed a small army, so Parke will not be going hungry this week while I attempt to whittle myself down to tropical island size.

My plan seemed to be going great as I picked my way through the grocery store, only buying the items that I "needed" for the week...

teeth whitener
cellulite reducing/ skin firming cream
waxing strips (area specific)
economy size cat food
economy size wine bottle (good for the heart)
Oprah's Magazine...something on how to live your best life
15 Lean Cuisines (mainly of the pizza variety)

While every other shopping cart seemed to have at least three kids hanging off of it and diapers stacked up to the ceiling, my shopping cart, and me by association, could not have looked more pitiful if we tried.  The 16 year-old check out girl could hardly look me in the eye.  I felt like saying, "Honey, you don't even know the half of it..."

Anyway, I just kept thinking, surely, SURELY, this time next year will be better.  Maybe I won't even need Oprah and economy sized wine...or at least not Oprah.

Are you there God? It's me, Anne.

There have been times over these past few months that I have told God that I hate him (and yes, I did duck out of the way in case lightening struck after I said it).  There have been times I have screamed at God until my throat was raw.  There have been times that I have told God that I give up, that either he is not who he says he is, or he isn't listening.

A friend once told me that in order to have a real relationship, to really love someone, you have to go through every season with them.  She said that is the only way that you can really know them.  Until now, until I lost Rip, I've never really had a reason to be mad at God.  Every season of my life has been a nearly perfect spring.  It comes as no surprise to me that this has been the coldest winter that I can remember having. 

I wish that I could say that God has answered me every time that I have cried out but, honestly, sometimes I have not heard a thing.  But I still believe he is there.  Maybe that is his answer to me.  That despite my anger and my doubt, my faith is still there.  My hope is that faith will keep me hanging on and this cold winter will melt away into another nearly perfect spring.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Help Wanted

Grieving is a full-time job.  Which is really inconvenient when you actually have a full-time job, not to mention family, friends, and other obligations you are shirking because this grief thing is so all-consuming.

I hate that I can be in the middle of something important, only to have one little thing brush up against the tender wound that is grief and ruin the rest of my day.

It seems more than a little unfair to require somebody, who has already suffered through a tragedy, to then have to turn around and work so hard at grieving "successfully". 

The fact is, despite everything else you have going on in your life, grief demands the most attention.  I wish I could put out a want ad, "Life wanted, full-time griever needed". Any takers? Didn't think so.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I think, therefore I worry

Today I tried to write about what was going on inside my head, only to find there was too much in there for me to make a coherent thought, much less write.

Sometimes it seems like there is so much to think and worry about that I can't actually DO anything.

I think about Rip
I think about Parke
I think about having another baby
I think about what if something happens to another baby
I think about my family
I think about my friends
I think about disappointing all of the above
I think about insurance
I think about money
I think about work
I think about never-written thank you notes

I worry about all of the above...

And for today at least, that is the best I can do.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A different kind of miracle

After Rip died, I had several people tell me that I needed to watch the episode of Oprah that tells the story of  this family , who tragically lost their three children to a car accident only to have triplets almost one year later.  The triplets, two boys and a girl, are the same genders as the children they lost.

When I finally sat down to watch the show yesterday, I reacted to it differently than I thought I would.
The story is truly miraculous, and the family is an amazing example of how to stay strong through impossibly difficult circumstances.  The part that struck me though, was the moment when Oprah revealed the triplets for the first time, as a "miraculous twist of fate".  The audience erupted in whoops and hollers, claps and cheers...the same reaction I would have had three months ago.

It was the look on the parent's faces that I identify with now.  They looked sad.  They looked like parents who, although thrilled and blessed to have these three babies, were forever going to miss the children they lost.  For them, it appeared that the cheers of the audience were bittersweet.

I understand that feeling.  I pray every day for more children, it is without a doubt what I want more than anything on this earth.  But I know that no matter how many sons and daughters I am lucky enough to have, there will be an element of sadness along with my joy.  Rip was a miracle, and the children I pray for every day will be miracles too...but they are each their own miracle, and gaining one does not fill the gap of losing the other.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Eleven Eleven

I have always been just a little bit superstitious, especially about numbers.  One of my "lucky" numbers is eleven (mainly because it is the month I was born), and I've always been one of the "those" girls who kisses the clock for good luck if I happen to glance at the time when it reads 11:11.

Because Rip was born via a scheduled c-section, I knew in advance that his birthday would be 11/11 and I was thrilled.  Surely this was a good sign. 

Among the other ways I felt betrayed after he died, it seemed as if even my lucky number turned against me. 

And then it started turning up everywhere.  At first I thought maybe it was like "new car syndrome", you know when you get a new car and then you see that car all over the road when you never noticed it before?  If I looked at a clock, it was 11:11, if I went to the gym the treadmill was stopped at 11:11, if I got change buying lunch...yep, $11.11.

Not long after this phenomenon began, someone told me they believed that when you lose a person you love, that person will "check" on you from time to time.  I believe that those numbers, eleven eleven, are Rip's way of telling me that he is okay.  I've realized that I still have my lucky number, it just means a lot more now.   Rip's birthday was a lucky day, probably the best I have ever had, regardless of everything that happened before or after. 

This may all seem a little far fetched...and it is.  But I think if you will look at this, the first post I wrote after we lost Rip, the time stamp gives me a little more credibility.

I've started kissing the clock at 11:11 again, not for luck, but as a thank you.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Apropos Rainbow

Before I start with this story, I have to give it a disclaimer.  I am writing this blog for myself, so that I can (she says hopefully) look back at this time and see how far I have come next year.  Along the way, I've heard from and about various people who have had a loss and who read this blog.  I know I've tried to find everything ever written by someone who has lost a child in some attempt to find my way.  That said, I write a lot about the blessings I've found even through a terrible time... but most of this is really hard.  Most of the time the miracles are so miraculous because the rest of life while grieving is sad and EXHAUSTING.  I say that because this is not easy, and it is not supposed to be easy...I need to be honest about that.

This week has been especially hard for some reason, some weeks just are.  This morning I woke up crying, the same thoughts going through my head, the same prayers being said...my two emotions are sadness over Rip and absolute terror that I will not have any more children.  I cried silently in the shower, praying to God for some sign, ANY sign that He was listening (I will say this, even in my worst moments I often think about how dramatic grief is...a lot of falling to my knees and crying out to God...sometimes I picture him up in heaven rolling his eyes, like oh geez, here SHE comes again). 

Here's where the good part comes in.  For whatever reason I decided to turn on the computer, something I never do in the mornings.  After that I decided to check my facebook, another odd thing to do when you are crying so hard you can hardly see straight.  There I found that my mom had sent me a picture of a rainbow and underneath it she wrote "You will be here soon!".

Now, I know she sent me that picture because it was taken on an island that Parke and I will be visiting this month.  I know she sent me that picture to remind me of good times to come.  What she did not know is that a baby that comes after the loss of a pregnancy or newborn is called a "rainbow baby", because that baby is the rainbow after the storm.  I prayed to God to give me a sign that I would have more children, opened my computer and found a picture of a rainbow saying "you will be here soon."

So I make a choice.  I can choose to be cynical and believe that God does not have his hands in things like computers and facebook and pictures.  Or I can choose to look for the rainbow.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

I'm Fine

"I'm fine".  The first thing someone asks you when they see you, "How are you?" To which you are supposed to respond "I'm fine". 

I've always been a person who likes to make sure that everyone around me feels comfortable.  I don't want to upset anyone, ruffle any feathers.  So when someone asks me how I am these days, I say "I'm fine".

And I am fine. I am fine for someone who feels like their whole world fell apart two months ago.  I am fine for someone who is constantly thinking about their loss.  I am fine for someone who is repeatedly reliving memories that, while necessary, are not always pleasant.  I am fine for someone who has to continually ask hard questions about their faith, and find a way to get through the doubt and the fear to somehow find my way back to hope and trust.

But I know that is not what you want to hear.  The time has come, two months later, when everyone else has moved on.  The time has come where I am expected to carry on conversations that have nothing to do with loss or fear or doubt.

So I do.  And I am fine.  But it is a different kind of fine than I was two months ago.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Home

When the time came for Parke and me to get married, I chose to put the word "Home" as the inscription on his wedding ring...it was the one word I knew that showed how I felt about him (as an aside, he chose to put the words "no bologna" in my wedding ring...I am probably the only person in the history of the world to have the word "bologna" on my body at all times).

 I was raised in a home so filled with love it was almost sickening, it was the one place in the world I knew I was loved unconditionally.  I am one of the lucky ones for whom the word home equals comfort.

After Rip died, I did not want to go home.  I could not imagine walking back through the door where I'd waited and hoped and dreamed for this baby.  When I told my fears to Parke he said, "You should never be afraid to go home".

And from that horrible day forward I've realized how right he was.  Home is the place where I have again found comfort.  Home is the place where family and friends will come to you in your darkest moments and make you laugh.  Home is where Christmas tree lights and wagging dog tails can ease some of the pain.  Home is where I can go after a long, sad day and sit on the couch with someone who knows exactly how I feel.  Home is the place where the memory of our baby will live forever, because that is where he is most loved.

Home is the place that will change many times over the course of my life, but it is the place I will never again be afraid to go.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Separate Peace

Every year, my parents have a "themed" Christmas...this year, appropriately, the theme was "Peace on Earth".
Here we are being peaceful...even the snowman is flashing the peace sign.

Yesterday was my first day back at work full-time.  Things were going fine until about 4:30 when some poor guy I had not seen for months asked how the baby was doing.  I almost felt worse for him than I did for me when I told him what happened, he looked like he wished the floor would open up and swallow him whole.  I, on the other hand, got angry...really, really angry at everything and everyone.  All of it just seemed so unfair.

For lack of socially acceptable options, I hit the gym.  I pounded out almost an hour on the treadmill, ran like a maniac or someone in a bad 80's movie montage, blasted every angry workout song I had in my repertoire.  After I was done, I felt a little better...or at least less likely to punch out the person on the treadmill next to me.  That might not be what most people would call a sense of peace, but that was as close as I was getting.

My theme for the year is still peace on earth.  The peace I felt a month ago is different that the peace I found yesterday, and I can only pray it will be different than the peace I find tomorrow.

Monday, January 3, 2011

One of these things is not like the other

Most of the time, I try to stay really positive...and most of the time I do feel pretty positive.  But the whole point of me writing this blog is so that I can look back and see how far I have come.  I feel like I need to be able to look back and see some of the bad things in order to appreciate the good.

Right now I need to be sad, even mad, about some things.  It makes me sad that I have to think about what to say when people ask if I have children.  It makes me sad that I can be standing in the middle of Urban Outfitters and suddenly feel like I have been kicked in the gut because I see a pregnant woman.  It makes me sad that I have to worry about how to tell my future children about their brother.  It makes me sad when I think about having another baby, something I know I would not be thinking about, at least not yet, if Rip was here.  It makes me sad to see the people I love hurting.

This song, I think it may be from Sesame Street, has been popping in my head every so often, "one of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn't belong".  That is how I feel when I am out in the world sometimes, I am not sure exactly where I belong...I'm not like the other mothers out there, but I am a mother.  Being a mother to a baby in heaven is really hard work.

I think in time (good old time again) I will find my place, but right now all of this is still very new and raw.  It sounds strange, but I think taking time to feel the sadness will make me more ready to accept the good when it comes.