Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Celebrating Ethan: Days #362-365


Day #362: Dakota//
I know she's "just a dog". But, let me tell you why this one is so special to us. 

Before I even knew I was pregnant with Ethan, Dakota became very protective of me. She followed me throughout the house. She cried when I closed a door, separating us. She growled at strangers who got too close. She began to act in ways that were uncharacteristic for her. 
Throughout my pregnancy with Ethan, she was my shadow. She barked at anything that dared to get too close to me-- from strangers to spider webs. She'd lay her head on my growing belly. She'd lay outside Ethan's room because she knew she wasn't allowed inside, but wanted to be nearby. I'm pretty sure she knew a whole lot more than we gave her credit for. 
I wish you could have seen her reaction when we went to take her home, after Ethan was born. After we came home without him. The dog who had been glued to my side for 7 months stared at me with big brown eyes and refused to come to me when I called her. She looked at Chris, as if to ask, "What happened?" and then took two steps back from me, and laid herself on the floor. 
She ignored me for a week, before everything changed again. 
I was laying face down, sobbing, when I felt one paw touch my shoulder. Then another paw touched my other shoulder. Next, I felt two hind legs climb onto my back. She curled up onto a tight ball, on top of my back, while I cried. She stayed with me. I'm pretty sure she knew a whole lot more than we gave her credit for.
 

I was laying face down, sobbing, when I felt one paw touch my shoulder. Then another paw touched my other shoulder. Next, I felt two hind legs climb onto my back. She curled up onto a tight ball, on top of my back, while I cried. She stayed with me. I'm pretty sure she knew a whole lot more than we gave her credit for. 
In the following weeks, she continued to protect. She could tell when I was starting to feel breathless. She would bolt across the room and crawl up into my lap, and enthusiastically begin to lick my face. 
I suddenly understood while dogs are often brought into hospitals and given to veterans. 
She may be "just a dog", but this little pup loved Ethan. She wanted to be his best friend. And, now, she does everything she can to be mine.


Day #363: Motherhood//

My entire world changed the day that I learned about you.  I adjusted my entire life, pushing things to the side to make room for you. We did it gladly--elaborate vacations, late nights, and rollercoasters just didn't seem as appealing anymore. I completely cut out caffeine, sushi, and deli meats. I swore off beauty products containing harsh chemicals. I cut back on my mileage and stopped caring about my mile time. We baby proofed our house. We adjusted our vacation time. We adjusted our budget. 

I worried about labor sometimes. I knew that, no matter what, it would be worth it.  When the time came, I laid awake all night, unable to sleep with all of the beeps, alarms, and strange sounds. Instead, I listed to your heartbeat on the fetal monitor. I laid awake and listened as you reminded me that you were still there. 

I felt my heart swell with joy the first time that I laid my eyes on you. My breath was taken away by the intensity of love that I felt for you. You completely changed me once again.  I smiled at how much you looked like your dad. And like me.  I would have done anything for you. 

I was terrified to leave the hospital. I had no idea how I would going to survive through the coming days, weeks, months, years.

I hardly slept in those first few months. On some nights, I didn't sleep at all. People had warned me that the first few months would be like that--I just expected that you would be in my arms.  As time goes on, I can't help but feel so proud of you. My love for you continues to grow each and every day. 

The day I first learned of you, I had hoped for each of these things. I never in a million years would have expected my motherhood to look like this; yet at the same time, I'm so thankful for every single way that you have impacted my heart and completely changed my life.  I wouldn't trade you for the world. I'm so proud to be your mom. 

Day #364: Lullaby //"Float down
Like autumn leaves
And hush now
Close your eyes before the sleep
And you're miles away
And yesterday 
you were here with me Ooh how I miss you My symphony played the song that carried you out Ooh how I miss you And I, I miss you and I wish you'd stay Do you ever wonder if the stars shine out for you?
 Float down Like autumn leaves And hush now Close your eyes before the sleep And you're miles away And yesterday 
you were here with me." 
-Ed Sheeran, Autumn Leaves

Day #365 The night before//(The # is accurate--Thanks leap day) 

On the morning of August 15, 2015, I woke up feeling incredibly exhausted. My back was aching horribly, just as it had been for the entire week. I remember laying in bed, tears in my eyes, because I was so uncomfortable! I finally forced myself to get up and to tackle my to-do list. (Chris told me he'd take care of it, but I was determined to help out!) It took me nearly two hours to simply shower, get dressed, and brush my teeth, but I finally made it out the door and to the grocery store. I pushed through and we were able to run errands until about dinnertime.
  That evening, Chris and I made mini pizzas on English muffins and watched and Adam Sandler movie. Chris gave me a back massage, to help ease the pain. Overall, it was one of those productive, yet relaxing Saturdays. 

Around 11:30 p.m. I woke up to my water breaking. It was obvious.  We quickly grabbed our things and headed to the hospital. Upon arrival, a doctor conducted an ultrasound to see how Ethan was doing. As she was rolling the probe over my belly, she asked if I was in pain. I shook my head and told her that I wasn't...other than my back of course, which had been killing me all week. "Well you are having a huge contraction right now," she said with a smile. Apparently, in the words of the medical team, I have an iron-woman pain tolerance. 

We were checked into a room. I laid in bed and rested my eyes, listening to the beating of Ethan’s heart on the monitor. His heart rate was strong and it brought me such comfort to hear. Every now and then he’d get the hiccups and the monitor would pick up the sweet sound.  The night before. 


Friday, August 12, 2016

Celebrating Ethan: Days #355-362

Day #355: Created for impact// 

We used to pray that God would use Ethan to make an impact on the world. At the time, I didn't realize the neat little box that I was squeezing my prayers into. I imagined Ethan standing up for what is right even when it was unpopular, speaking to crowds, spreading hope. I never imagined that he'd be used to make an impact through his short little existence here on earth. But he did. Such tiny little feet left a giant footprint. 

It doesn't make me miss him any less. It doesn't take away the longing we have to hold him one more time. But it does open my eyes to a bigger picture. It pushes me to leave an impact, with whatever time I have. 

Because whether we live 93 minutes, or 93 years, we all live short lives in the span of eternity. Created for impact. 

Day #356: Vulnerability//

Vulnerability is a scary thing. It can be scary to let people into the mess. Into the weak places. The scary places. The lonely places.

For me, I've found that the fear of vulnerability doesn't come from a place of wanting to appear strong. I know I'm weak. I know I'm flawed. For me, the fear comes from a place of wanting to protect people. From uncomfortable from the look of shock, fear, condescension, or dismissal that follows vulnerability. Of wanting to not be a burden. In a way, I guess you could call it a form of pride. 

But there has been such healing when I've reached out and grabbed onto the hand of someone who gets it. We all need a safe place to be transparent on the hard days. In those first months, to talk about the sleepless nights, the plaguing nightmares, the terrifying level of depression. As time goes on, to talk about the triggers, the anxiety, the fears, the anger, the hopes, and even the joys. To find people to link arms with, who help you fight against the darkness. The people who see you, yet love you, at your worst. 

The people who understand. The people who don't, yet still have so much perspective to offer. The small circle, the safe place. 

As I've navigated the minefield of when, where, and with whom to be 100% vulnerable with the deepest corners of my heart, I've been struck by the realization that there is no hiding from God. There is no "pulling it together" and "getting by" for the sake of being less of a burden to Him. For the sake of "protecting". He sees our hears, He knows our thoughts--yet He loves us and sent His son to die for us, even in our sin and brokenness. Even when he's seen us at our worst.

Day #357: Foxes // 

I had known for years that I wanted a woodland themed nursery. When I first picked the theme three years ago, woodland themed decor was hard to find. At the time, it didn't matter--we had no reason to start buying things. Years later, selecting the theme for Ethan's nursery was easy. It had been a dream-theme through years of waiting. 

It seemed like forest-inspired nurseries became popular right around the time we learned we were pregnant with Ethan. Perhaps I was simply more aware of it. Now, everywhere I go I see forest animals, wood stumps, pine trees and baby foxes. They all make us smile and think of Ethan. Chris and I have stopped multiple times in a store to pick up some sort of forest decor and show the other what we found. 


Ethan's first stuffed animal was a little fox (pictured above, center) that a dear friend bought for us. Foxes always make us think of our sweet, little feisty guy.
 

Day #358: The power of community//

Only hours after Ethan passed, I reached out to someone I had never met, but had read their blog and instantly connected with their words. In taking that first step, I was thrust into a community of women who had walked this road before me. People who listened. People who understood. People who could offer a simple, yet incredible powerful, "Me too".

 Weeks later, we attended our very first Walk to Remember. We were blown away by the number of babies that had been lost, just in our little corner of the world. But more than that, we were blown away by the love, the unity, and the instant unconditional acceptance that comes from that simple, yet incredible powerful, "Me too." Over this past year, I can name at least 18 women who have become dear friends to me, following that simple "Me too." And I stopped counting at 18... And then there are those who can't say "Me too", but they do say, "I'm here." As healing as the community of fellow loss parents has been, there has also been healing in watching the bonds of friendship grow deeper with friends who havent walked in your shoes, but have walked their own journeys, and can offer such richness and support to your community. I've seen the value of finding people who understand, but also having friendships with some who don't--but can carry you through and offer unconditional love and support all the same.

To my community--my support system, my family. I'm so thankful to have been thrust into such an amazing place, among each of you.

 Day #359: Conversation pieces//

Not too long ago, a barista asked me what my necklace said. As I told her, she asked a few follow-up questions. I answered, to which she replied, "Oh, I'm so sorry" and turned her eyes downward as if she was very sorry she had asked. I just smiled and said what I've gotten so used to saying each time my words prompt a quick retreat or a downturned eye. "It's okay, I'm glad you asked about him. People don't always do. I'm glad to talk about him." What she didn't know is that my heart filled with joy when she said his name out loud. When she didn't try to skirt around it, shy away from it, or change the subject. When she just asked me about him like he was ours--he IS ours.

For every three awkward responses and instant burned bridges I'm faced with, I get one amazing connection. One person who responds to my answers with teary eyes and a "Really? Me too." It makes being newly deemed "the girl who wish you hadn't introduced yourself to at a party" worth it. 

My collection of conversation pieces had grown a little over the past year, as dear friends have gifted me precious keepsakes. I love to wear them and grasp onto them throughout the day. Special reminders, and keys to open doors. 

Day #360: Family//

Shortly after Ethan passed, we met with a couple who had experienced a very similar loss 6 years before us. We instantly connected with them and couldn't believe how similar our stories were. They were such a balm to my heart.

One of their daughters drew this picture, and gave it to me. She explained that it was of her family, and pointed out each one of them--including her brother who she knows so well and talks about so naturally, even though he went to heaven before she was born. The picture has always been so special to me because it was such a beautiful depiction of family. Your brother doesn't cease to be your brother when he is no longer on earth. Same can be said for your parent, your cousin, your child. Death may change a lot of things, but it doesn't take away the reality that this--this beautiful, messy, unexpected picture--is family.
 

Day #361: Brave//

The word seems strange to me each time I hear it. I looked it up once and Websters Dictionary defines it as "feeling or showing no fear". Yep, that's why it feels weird. 

A lot of things have been called brave. Months of doctors appointments, testing, driving to LA, searching for answers, didn't seem "brave" to me. It was our natural response. Ask just about anyone with a sick child. No one volunteers to go into this battle. The alternative is to sit back and hide in bed, while your child is in danger. That is far scarier than fighting for their life. Continuing to move forward after loss. Getting out of bed each morning, sometimes staying in bed all day, was getting by. Breathing. Not marching into battle; just hanging on even when you weren't sure you could.

We didn't ask to be brave. And we sure didn't meet the description of "feeling no fear". But through it all, my mind continually goes back to II Corinthians 12:9 "My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in your weakness." We are so very weak, so very small. But, because of the power of Christ, we have everything we need. He gives us strength to brave the unthinkable. He alone gives us courage to brave the unknown. Praise the Lord for strength, and a peace that surpasses all understanding.
 

Day #362: Dakota//

I know she's "just a dog". But, let me tell you why this one is so special to us. 

Before I even knew I was pregnant with Ethan, Dakota became very protective of me. She followed me throughout the house. She cried when I closed a door, separating us. She growled at strangers who got too close. She began to act in ways that were uncharacteristic for her. 

Throughout my pregnancy with Ethan, she was my shadow. She barked at anything that dared to get too close to me-- from strangers to spider webs. She'd lay her head on my growing belly. She'd lay outside Ethan's room because she knew she wasn't allowed inside, but wanted to be nearby. I'm pretty sure she knew a whole lot more than we gave her credit for. 

I wish you could have seen her reaction when we went to take her home, after Ethan was born. After we came home without him. The dog who had been glued to my side for 7 months stared at me with big brown eyes and refused to come to me when I called her. She looked at Chris, as if to ask, "What happened?" and then took two steps back from me, and laid herself on the floor. She ignored me for a week, before everything changed again. 

I was laying face down, sobbing, when I felt one paw touch my shoulder. Then another paw touched my other shoulder. Next, I felt two hind legs climb onto my back. She curled up onto a tight ball, on top of my back, while I cried. She stayed with me. I'm pretty sure she knew a whole lot more than we gave her credit for. 

In the following weeks, she continued to protect. She could tell when I was starting to feel breathless. She would bolt across the room and crawl up into my lap, and enthusiastically begin to lick my face. 

I suddenly understood while dogs are often brought into hospitals and given to veterans. 

She may be "just a dog", but this little pup loved Ethan. She wanted to be his best friend. And, now, she does everything she can to be mine.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Celebrating Ethan: Days #348-354


Day #348: Our little fighter//
Ethan was a fighter. For such a tiny baby, he sure had a lot of spirit and spunk in him.

I first felt Ethan flutter at 10 weeks. My doctor said it was unlikely, especially since he was my first. But as the feeling grew stronger and gradually turned into kicks, I knew that I had been experiencing baby flutters.

At one ultrasound, Ethan used both feet to push off the side of the womb and did a complete somersault. The ultrasound tech was in awe. We had a little acrobat on our hands.

After we learned that Ethan was very sick, we were referred to a perinatologist and began a process of multiple exams, regular ultrasounds, and heart echocardiograms. "I guess you never worry about kick counts," I remember our doctor said about a week before Ethan was born, with a smile. Ethan was always ready to put on a show for us. It was as if he wanted to say, "Look at me! Look what I can do! Don't worry, mommy. Don't worry, daddy. I'm still here! Watch me dance!" On the day that we met with the pediatric cardiologist, he noticed that Ethan was in a boxing stance. His little arms were balled up in fists and floated near his face. "Wow! He looks ready to fight," the cardiologist said.
 

And he did. Ethan continued to wiggle, kick and fight, and prove the doctors wrong time and time again. He fought through each week the doctors didn't think he'd survive. He fought through labor. He fought through delivery. "He fought so hard," the nurse told us, after our sweet little baby drifted to sleep and into the arms of Jesus. And he did. He was our little fighter.


Day #349: Always //It's hard to explain how joy and grief can live together simultaneously. My joy does not mean that I don't grieve. My grieving does not take away from my joy. They simply live together, making room for each other.


It can be hard to grasp and often leads to an expectation that you'll be "all better" once you hit a certain day, milestone, or year. But it's different. Not bad--just different. "My missing him won't stop here," I recently said, as I processed the coming days, month, and months to follow. There is no timeline. 


As the world continues to move forward, we will never forget you. While we will continue to move forward into the future, we carry your memory with us, making more room for more joy, more hope, and more love, but never pushing your memory away. 


You'll always be our sweet baby. You'll always be loved. You'll always be missed. You'll always be remembered and celebrated. We love you so.

 Day #350: Our Team//I could see her crying as she walked away. I know she did everything she could not to break down in front of me, but I knew. She was strong for us for hours, but I saw her shoulders heave as she walked out into the hall. 


She had patiently answered every question and calmed our nerves. When the labor turned from "piece of cake" to painful, she kindly reminded me that I'd get through it. When Chris was taken to another room to change, and I was wheeled into the operating room, she continued to coach me. To talk me through it. To help me breathe. When Ethan made his grand arrival, she was there. She was there as the doctors worked to save him. She stayed with us in the recovery room, as we held him and said our goodbyes. She offered to take pictures. She took the only pictures we have of Ethan. She told us to take our time. She never made us feel rushed. She told us we could have as much time as we needed. She assured me that we did everything we could--and that she knows the doctors did everything they could--and I know she meant it. After we said our final goodbye, she and another nurse took his footprints, clipped a lock of his dark hair, kept his tiny hat, and assembled them all together in a beautiful memory box for us to keep. She was there for every moment of Ethan's life and I'll never forget her.

The next day, tears filled the eyes of my second nurse as she said her goodbyes. 
She was there in those first hours after we had kissed our baby goodbye. She was there as we cried. She helped me get out of bed to try to walk for try first times. She sat on the edge of my bed at 3am and listened as I talked about Ethan. She oohed and aahed over his pictures. She took my hand and told me that she had been in my shoes years ago. She was the first to tell me that I'd never ever stop missing him, but that I'd find joy again. I’ll never forget her.

I'll never forget either of them. The nurses who made all the difference.

 

Day #351: Celebrating Ethan//The woodland decorations that were originally intended for my baby shower ended up decorating or church on the day of Ethan's memorial service. A life size tree, complete with cute forest animals, owl center pieces, and edible "acorns", had each been created with love and anticipation by dear friends. I don't think they realized what they were preparing for at the time--but when we were asked if the decor could be used at the service, I couldn't help but think that was the divine purpose all along. 


In the 93 minutes that Ethan was alive, he had managed to make an impact on so many lives. His death, or rather his life, brought 250 people together to hear about Jesus. Ethan had already accomplished more in his short life than some adults do in 90 years. I could not help but feel so proud of our sweet, tiny baby.


 

 Day #352: Home//No one expected us--the young 20-something couple--to be the parents who had made an appointment to make burial arrangements for their son. I watched as multiple staff members at various cemeteries tried to hide their shock, as we stood in response after our names were called out at our scheduled appointment time. It is a heartbreaking scenario that any parent should bury their child.


I have a theory that the process of making burial arrangements adds 30 years to a person's heart. I remember walking out of the funeral home feeling so exhausted--so old. "I just want him home with me," I cried, as we reviewed our arrangements. 
As I thought those words, something occurred to me. This world is not my home. My home is in heaven with my savior Jesus Christ. Ethan is home and one day I will be home with him.

Philippians 3:20-21 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” We all have the opportunity to be adopted as God's children and to call Heaven our home. We just need to fully surrender our lives to Jesus; He is waiting for us to come to Him.


Day #353: Precious Memories//On the day we said goodbye to Ethan, our nurses gave us the most special gift--a beautiful lavender memory box containing photos of Ethan, his little hat, a blanket, footprints, a tape measure that displayed his length, and a lock of his soft, dark hair. My favorite item is his hat. It is the first thing he wore when he was born, and was dirtied by everything that comes with a birth. But that soft, little, dirty hat carried his scent for months. We were very careful not to open the box too often. We wanted to savor his scent for as long as we could.


 

Day #354: Love at first sight//The day you were born was the day that I was convinced that "love at first sight" is not just something out of a fairy tale. I already had a very strong suspicion. I loved you from the day I first learned of you. I would've done anything for you. The day I looked upon your face, you took my breath away. It was the most heartbreakingly wonderful, devastatingly joyful day of our lives.