Tuesday, November 30, 2010

30 Days of Thanks—Day #6

I am grateful to my dear, sweet, incredible child for a gift that no one else could have given me. All my life, I have suffered from a dearth of confidence—despite my achievements, my good values, the high quality of my friends, and all other objective evidence that I’m a pretty good person living a pretty good life, I have lived most of my life just waiting for everyone to uncover the “real” me and see that I’m just a fraud and not nearly the person everyone seems to think I am.

Until I became Hudson’s mother. So many people have told me again and again over the past six months that I am an amazing mother. Unlike so many times before when people have said similar things about my academics or my work or other parts of my life, this time, I believe them. As I’ve written before, becoming Hudson’s mother brought more meaning to my life than anything I’d ever experienced. But just as importantly, it allowed me, finally, to see myself as others saw me, to actually have confidence in who I was and what I was doing as Hudson’s mom. Of all the things I have ever done and all the things I have ever been, I feel certain that I was really, really good at being Hudson’s mom. I feel certain that I was a pretty great mom, actually. As I’ve also said before, I have very few regrets over things done or left undone in Hudson’s life, and the few that I have are about trivial matters. I have no regrets about the big things. I am so grateful to my girl for giving me such an amazing gift when she was born. In all the dark days that still remain, particularly the ones where I fear I may often question my judgment as a mother, I will try to remember this gift Hudson gave me and remember that I did pretty okay the first time around.

Thank you, my girl.  Mommy loves you so much. 

Hudson's Birth Story

It is hard to believe that at this moment two years ago, I was in pretty active labor, working on my Lamaze exercises, and finally notifying everybody that the baby was probably coming in the next 24 hours. It is incredible that it was only two short years ago, and even more incredible that we’ve been without our amazing Hudson for more than a quarter of that time. How is that even possible?

There will be lots and lots of writing tomorrow, so for now, I want share Hudson’s birth story, for those of you who have never read it on the Tarheel Turtle blog, which I started during my pregnancy with Hudson and kept, rather halfheartedly, until she was about 2 months old. It seems appropriate to recall those moments today, and, as one of my friends suggested, to try to draw on the same strength that helped me through a drug-free labor and delivery with my precious Hudson as I figure out how to labor through tomorrow, and too many tomorrows after that, without her.

Our little one is three weeks old today, and while I have a quiet moment between feeding, changing, soothing, cuddling, playing with, and gazing at that amazing creature, I wanted to capture my memories of how she came into the world before they escape me forever. There are a few mildly gory details, so consider yourself warned.

On November 17, Ed and I went in for what had by then become weekly obstetrician appointments. I was just turning 37 weeks and so was considered to be full-term. Much to our complete surprise, the doctor checked me and told me I was already 2 cm dilated and about 70% effaced. Ed and I were both in shock-- just five days before, my cervix was totally closed. If anything, we were preparing for the baby to be born late, as many, if not most, first babies are. The doctor said the dilation and effacement didn't really mean anything-- many women walked around for several more weeks in that condition. Nonetheless, as first time parents who had not yet even gotten around to purchasing a CAR SEAT yet, we were totally freaked out. And I had several projects that I needed to finish up at work before I would feel comfortable going out on leave. I worked furiously the next few days, and we took an uncharacteristic weeknight trip to Babies R Us to buy the car seat two nights later. We then went on a shopping spree for all the remaining baby stuff we "needed" that weekend. The whole time, I was just hoping the baby would not come too soon! One of my colleagues at work just laughed at me, saying I was the only 37-week pregnant woman she'd ever known who was trying to keep the baby IN instead of trying to get it OUT. When I went in for my next appointment on November 24, nothing had changed, but the doctor immediately said, "Whoa, the baby's head is low!" Once again, I could not believe that she could already feel the baby's head. But she said I could still easily go another two weeks or even beyond the due date before delivery.

But I had a feeling-- I don't know if it was just a hunch or, by this point (since we were finally prepared with all our baby stuff), wishful thinking -- but I was starting to feel like the baby was definitely not going to wait until the due date to arrive. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (about 4 days before Hudson was born), I started having Braxton Hicks contractions, which are basically fake contractions that are simply getting your body prepared for the real thing. They were totally painless, but a little uncomfortable, as they made me feel like my abdomen was kind of being squeezed momentarily in a vise. The weird thing about them was they were extremely regular-- they were coming about 4 minutes apart for most of the day. I called the doula and we agreed that it was probably nothing (she was planning to go out of town for Thanksgiving weekend, an arrangement we'd already totally agreed upon, but she was going to feel awful if the baby came early and we had to use her backup instead). But still, I had this feeling. Before I left work on Wednesday, I cleaned up my desk, threw out the food in the fridge, sent wrap up emails to people about the status of my projects, put in my final time entries, and left, thinking it was unlikely I would be coming back until the spring. Turned out I was right.

The next few days passed uneventfully. Ed and I had a nice Thanksgiving dinner with friends here in D.C., drove out to a farm in Maryland that Friday to cut down a Christmas tree, got the car seat inspected and finished putting together the Turtle's room and other stuff on Saturday. We went to sleep Saturday night and by this point, I had reconciled myself to the fact that the baby was NOT coming that weekend and that I was going to have to go back to the office Monday.

I woke up about 4AM to go to the bathroom. It was dark in the bathroom and I was groggy, but I just happened to look down at the toilet before I flushed and realized I had passed a lot of what they call "bloody show" (I won't get any more detailed than that-- if you want to know more, you can look it up!), which is among the signs that labor really may be imminent (although again, it's never a sure thing). As I went back to bed, I felt what I thought might really be a contraction-- the same tensing/squeezing feeling as I had gotten with the Braxton Hicks contractions, but this time accompanied by what felt like mild to moderate menstrual cramps. Our doula, Sarah, had stressed over and over that if you wake up feeling contractions, you should immediately try to go back to sleep because the business of labor is long and hard and the more rest you can get ahead of time, the better. So I didn't wake up Ed, and while I tried to go back to sleep, but while I dozed, I kept feeling the contractions and for at least an hour, kept checking the clock to see if they were coming regularly. They seemed to be about 10 minutes or so apart at that point. I did catch a few extra hours of sleep finally, and when Ed and I both woke up around 7:30, I told him I thought the baby might be ready to come that day, but I wasn't sure. The contractions were still so mild, and having never had another baby before, and having friends who had gone for a week or more with regular mild contractions but no baby, I was convinced it wasn't the real thing.

I kept timing them and they were coming anywhere from 4 to 6 minutes apart, fairly regularly, although sometimes they would stretch for longer periods and sometimes would come even more frequently. But they didn't appear to be getting much worse, which would have been a sure sign that I was really in labor. I called Sarah around 10:30 and told her what was happening and we agreed to check back in periodically throughout the day. In the meantime, Ed and I both spent a few hours doing some work in hopes we could wrap up anything critical in case this really was the real thing. Most of the day passed that way-- I didn't really want to call anyone just yet because I just wasn't sure if I was really in labor and didn't want to get anyone excited for nothing. So I got busy decorating the house, hoping to have it all done in case the baby was on its way.

Finally, around 7 or so, the contractions seemed to be getting worse, but they still weren't coming like clockwork. They were bad enough that I could no longer talk during them, and during several phone calls (because by this time I figured I should start putting people on the baby alert), I had to put the phone down for a minute so I could do my Lamaze breathing through the contractions. It was so wild. I called my dad, and, believing there was no way the baby was going to come before the next afternoon, told him he could probably wait and come up first thing in the morning-- his goal had been to be at the hospital when the baby arrived, and given that first babies usually take a LONG time to actually come once they've made their intentions known to do so, I figured he was safe arriving around 10AM or so. Little did I know. . .

I checked in with Sarah around 10PM and she could tell that something had changed when I could not talk through the contractions anymore. We agreed that Ed and I would spend an hour of quiet time at home focusing on our exercises to see if we could manage without her for a while longer-- we'd both been so busy calling people, etc., we hadn't really been doing our breathing or other comfort measures, so we figured we'd try them before having Sarah come over to help. But by 10:45 or so, the contractions were getting worse and were regularly coming about 4 minutes apart. We started to get worried that we'd need to go to the hospital sooner rather than later (I had been advised by the doctor to come in when they were 5 minutes apart, but had already told the doctor I was going to try to labor at home as long as I could and would probably not come in until they were 3-4 minutes apart), so we decided to have Sarah come on over.

In the meantime, I got in the shower, which helped tremendously, as I was able to direct the shower head massager straight to my back and belly, where things were getting seriously painful. The shower also helped to relax me in general-- I had spent the last several days wondering why, exactly, I had decided to go for a natural birth. While I had made the decision early on to try, I couldn’t really articulate my reasons why—it just seemed like the right thing for me. But as the contractions got worse, my resolve began to weaken—what was really the big deal about getting the epidural? More than 50% of women having babies use them. I hardly knew a single person who hadn’t had one. So anyway, the shower helped calm me somewhat, and I got into a zone with my slow breathing while we waited for Sarah.

Sarah arrived sometime between 11 and midnight. She sat quietly with us for a while, and encouraged Ed to take a nap for a bit. He tried, but couldn’t do much more than doze. Sarah had brought her rice bag—a large sock filled with rice that she heated up to apply to my belly or back—and it was awesome. Her saying was always that while you can’t take away the pain, you can change the sensation of the pain, and the rice bag was great at that.

At some point, I remembered that she had told us that keeping your bladder and bowels empty was also a good way to relieve some pain, as it would remove some pressure and keep making room for the baby to come down. So I went ahead to the bathroom and “emptied” both—not really emptied, but definitely moved some things around. (And having contractions while sitting on the toilet is really just not fun). Lo and behold, the contractions really kicked up afterwards and were coming 2 minutes apart or closer. My water still had not broken by this point, but we decided with the contractions that close together, we should probably go ahead and head for the hospital. Ed started loading up the car while I labored through the worst of the contractions I’d had so far (but little did I know how much worse they would get). I was in a lot of pain and definitely starting to doubt my decision to deliver naturally. Once the car was loaded up, I got in (hot rice bag on my belly the whole time, mind you) and we headed for the hospital. It was about 2AM at this point.

We arrived at the hospital and Ed and Sarah both needed to park, so Ed dropped me at the front entrance. I felt a little weird going into the lobby alone (and having serious contractions at this point), so I sat down on the bench outside and breathed in the cold air. About 5 minutes later, Ed and Sarah walk up, carrying a dizzying array of things I’d decided I would need in the hospital, the most conspicuous of which were the big red exercise/birthing ball and a huge trash bag carrying pillows for Ed and me, and a quilt for Ed in case he needed it to sleep. After the front desk made Ed and Sarah both sign in and get photo badges, we headed up to labor and delivery. When the charge nurse saw us and all our stuff, she said, “I sure hope you are getting admitted.” Here I was, leaning over the counter and moaning softly in pain as contraction after contraction hit me and she’s doubting whether I’m going to get admitted? It should have been obvious to anyone that this was neither a false alarm nor the very early stages of labor where they would likely send me back home to wait it out.

Anyway, they put me in a triage/assessment room and hooked me up to two monitors, one for the baby’s heartbeat and one for contractions. They would only let one person in the triage room at first, so Ed stayed in there and Sarah sat in the waiting area. I went to the bathroom and passed a lot more “show,” which freaked me out, but led me to believe that I was pretty far along. The stupid bed in the triage room would not incline and there was no way I could lie flat on my back, so I kind of turned on my side and was terribly uncomfortable. I was in a LOT of pain at this point and my resolve was really weakening. I was hoping a doctor would come in and check me and tell me that I was 7 or 8 cm dilated—then I might have felt like I could make it. Instead, the resident came in to check me and said I was dilated 5 cm. I immediately gasped, “No!” She said, “Is that good?” (she definitely thought it was), and I said, “No!” I totally lost it and burst into tears. Ed says I curled into fetal position. I remember telling Ed tearfully, “I have to get the drugs—I can’t do this. I can’t. I can’t.” He said he would support whatever I wanted to do, but asked me if I wanted him to get Sarah and I said yes. Fortunately, they let her in to the triage room along with Ed (I think they were a little shell-shocked seeing a woman in active labor who had not had an epidural—I don’t think they were used to seeing women in the kind of pain I was in). She talked me off the ledge a bit at that point, and told me that I was way more than halfway there—more like 2/3 to ¾ of the way there, and that once they broke my water, I would “cruise” the rest of the way. I was still skeptical and was really considering throwing in the towel. To make matters worse, another nurse kept asking me if I wanted anything for pain, that it was too late for Demerol, but that I could still get an epidural. She continued to ask this even after being told, more than once, that I was trying to do this without drugs. Again, it was almost like they couldn’t even understand the concept of a woman who wanted no pain relief. After about the fourth time she asked, I finally said, rather desperately, “Do I have to decide this right now?” I was on the brink and knew I should at least wait until I got to a labor and delivery suite and into a more comfortable position where I could focus on my exercises. And part of me didn’t want to let Sarah down. I knew she would support whatever decision I made, but I also knew that she wanted to help me achieve my goal of delivering naturally, and that she would feel like she had failed if I didn’t. The nurses told me I wouldn’t get any drugs until I got to the L&D room anyway, so I had a momentary reprieve from my self-preservation instinct, which was telling me to GET THE DRUGS! NOW!

Finally, after about 45 minutes in the triage room (with very little explanation as to why it was taking so long for them to prepare an L&D room for me), they were finally ready to move me to and L&D room. I was so out of it, I did not realize until later that the nurse had me walk down the hallway in nothing but a hospital gown—I was terrified of having a contraction while standing, and of course, had two on my way to the room and had to lean over and hold onto the handrail on the wall for about a minute each time, trying to breathe my way through the pain. The nurse, Barbara (who would be our nurse for most of the rest of the labor), asked which childbirth classes I had taken, and when I said Lamaze, she started reminding me about breathing tips: “Did you take your cleansing breath?” and so on. A little annoying, but I was glad she at least seemed to know something about it.

At last, we reached the L&D room, and I asked if I could get in the shower before they hooked me up to the monitors again, and Barbara agreed. Sarah put the exercise ball into the shower for me to sit on and I got in, and used the shower massager head to try to “change the sensation” of the terrible pain I was experiencing in both my belly and my back. I was also starting to experience a lot of pressure, feeling like the baby was really pushing down, and it was awful. It was a different sensation from the pain of the contractions, but it was equally uncomfortable (to put it very, very mildly). And because I had to support myself on the ball, I couldn’t get into a very comfortable position—the shower was pretty small, and I tried to lean my head against the wall, but it was cold, hard tile. I stayed in the shower for about 45 minutes (so I was told—I was past the point of having any sense of time whatsoever at this point) and was convinced that it was not helping. At one point, I clearly remember saying to Ed, “I am completely miserable.” I don’t really remember getting out of the shower, except I recall wanting to get to the bed as fast as possible— I remember Sarah had to stop me and tell me to let her dry me off.

Most of the rest of the labor is a blur, with a few moments of clarity. Ed would probably be able to correct some details and the order in which things happened, but this is how I remember it. Sometime after I got into the bed, I remember we started talking about the possibility of getting a doctor to break my water to make the process go faster—again, I was already feeling a lot of terrible pressure, like I wanted to push, but they couldn’t let me push until I was fully dilated. I remember we got Barbara to come in and check me, and I was already up to 8-9 cm dilated. At that point, I basically gave up on the idea of the epidural—I figured either that it was too late to get it (not the case, I later learned) or that I had made it this far, so I might as well suck it up. I think it was then that we asked if there was any way they could go ahead and break my water, but Barbara said she could feel the membranes of the amniotic sac right on the baby’s head, so there was really no point in breaking my water yet (at least I think that’s what she was trying to say). I was desperate at this point—somehow, the breaking of my water had become my only hope, the holy grail, and I wanted it DONE. Barbara said something like, “You know, when I was in labor, I was 9cm dilated and they broke my water and it didn’t make any difference.” Even in my haze, I was with it enough to say to her, “That is NOT helping!” I guess she left the room then, because I remember that at some point, I was wailing that I really felt like I needed to push, so Sarah buzzed the nurse’s station. Barbara came in and checked me again, and told me to push down on her fingers with the next contraction. That did the trick and I dilated the rest of the way. After that, I started pushing with each contraction, and it felt great.

Finally, we were all desperate to get my water broken. Somehow, a resident came in to check me and she said of course we could break the water, and that it was probably only the amniotic sac that was keeping the baby from dropping the rest of the way into the birth canal. But apparently, my doctor had given instructions to wait until she arrived before they broke my water. The nurse had been telling us for a while that they had paged my doctor and she was on her way in—but they had been saying this for a long time, it seemed, and she still hadn’t shown up. Finally, the resident decided they shouldn’t wait on the doctor anymore, but she had to find my nurse before she could break my water. My nurse had apparently gone on break (while I was 8-9 cm dilated, mind you) – a different nurse stopped in but told us she couldn’t do anything, because she had her own patients to attend to.

At last, the resident and the nurse were in the room at the same time, and they broke my water—very little came out. After that, I don’t remember a whole lot except the pushing. Sarah was holding up my right leg and Ed was holding up my left, and I was grabbing my thighs and pushing forward with all my strength. Sarah and the nurse kept trying to instruct me to push with my stomach and diaphragm and not with my head, but it was really hard to figure out how to do it right! I remember I kept worrying about bursting a blood vessel in my head or cutting off oxygen to the baby, but I couldn’t figure out how not to make the blood rush to my head. I did three full pushes with each contraction, rested a little, and then let everyone know another contraction was coming, and we’d go again. I recall beginning to feel very faint at some points and wondering how much longer I could sustain this. I remember Sarah kept looking down between my legs, and I asked her what she was looking at. She said she wouldn’t if I didn’t want her to, and I almost laughed—I was not concerned about that at all. I just wanted to know what we were looking for, and was hoping we were looking for the baby crowning, because I hoped that would mean I would be finished soon! But I didn’t need any help to know when the baby was crowning—I remember that moment with absolute clarity-- although it hurt like hell (there is a reason they call it “the ring of fire”), I remember being amazed that I could actually feel it. It was hard to believe it was really happening at that point.

Then, at some point, I was aware of a lot of commotion in the room, and I could tell they were breaking down the end of the bed, meaning they were getting ready to deliver the baby. But I was really in another world by then, so all of this was happening only at the very edges of my consciousness. I was told later that I only pushed for 30-40 minutes—again, I have no concept of this at all. I have a vague recollection of people telling me to push, and then suddenly, they were holding this baby up in front of me. I don’t remember if it was screaming (Ed said yes) and I don’t remember anyone telling me whether it was a boy or a girl (I’m sure they did). I looked myself and immediately turned to Ed and said, “It’s a girl!” and started crying (that is, I started crying happy tears, rather than tears of pain). Even though I never really admitted it and would, of course, have been just as thrilled to have a boy, some part of me really wanted a girl, and I was so happy. The next thing I remember is that I started struggling to get out of my hospital gown, which Ed had tied pretty snugly in the bag—I was trying to rip it off, because they were going to give Hudson (she had her name long before she was born) to me and I had read how skin-to-skin contact during these first few moments was really important to successful breastfeeding. I finally got the gown off, with help, and they placed that precious creature on my chest—all of a sudden, it was as if the previous 12 or so hours had not even happened. I didn’t notice that she was covered in blood and goop (I saw this only later in the photos of these first moments)—all I saw was an amazing little person whose life was now entrusted to me. I was overwhelmed and overjoyed. They left her there for a long while—pretty much the entire time the doctor was stitching some minor tears (my doctor had finally arrived about 10 minutes after Hudson was born, so all she got to do was stitch me up—a not-so-nice job since the lidocaine kept failing on her, or more importantly, ON ME!). Then they took her for a few minutes to weigh her, etc., and then brought her back so we could try breastfeeding. After a few tries in a few different positions, we figured it out. It was not as easy as I had expected it to be (and as it later became), and I was both relieved and astounded when she finally latched on.

Finally, all the doctors and nurses left the room for a few minutes and Ed and I were suddenly alone with this creature we had made. She was swaddled in a hospital receiving blanket and a little hat, and was completely asleep. She had apparently worked as hard as I had and was ready to rest. We were tired, too, obviously (I had been awake for 27 hours at this point, and had labored hard through about 12 of them), but were filled with such love and joy, we could hardly breathe, let alone think about sleeping. We were beginning a new path on our journey together with our beautiful daughter, so we just took a deep breath and enjoyed the moment.

Monday, November 29, 2010

30 Days of Thanks—Day #5

I am so grateful to everyone who has shared a link about Hudson’s birthday remembrance and everyone who has already let me know about the amazing things they are going to do to honor our girl’s life. At the end of the day yesterday (a long, sad day that I may write about later), I felt as if joy might prove itself to be elusive forever. I felt nothing but sadness. I felt as though I were carrying the One Ring or Voldemort’s locket around my neck—except that I couldn’t make the feeling go away by taking the damned thing off.

And then I wrote my post about remembering Hudson’s birthday. And the messages and comments and shared links started rolling. And I was lifted yet again, by the many, many people, a vast number of whom I don’t even know, who have witnessed Hudson’s story and want to share it and want to honor her life. Just when I think I cannot be humbled anymore, I am humbled again.

And just like that, that feeling I couldn’t shake was gone. I had been dreading today, thinking I’d have to carry around that same dark weight all day long. But thanks to you, I didn’t.

Prenatal Yoga

Thankfully, my first prenatal yoga class was gentle with me—not just with my body, but with my spirit. I tried yoga for the first time about a month after Hudson died, hoping that it would be another way to seek some healing. I found the physical challenge of yoga to be amazing, but the mental and spiritual challenge proved to be too much, at least at that time. So soon after Hudson’s death, I found it very difficult to quiet my mind in the way one needs to do to really benefit from yoga—in all four of the classes I attended, I ended up crying at some point or another. I found the savasana pose the most difficult—this is done at the end of the yoga practice, where you lie flat on your back and sit quietly in meditation for an extended period. First of all, it is called the “corpse pose”—you can imagine all the associations I made with that. But mostly, it was just hard to spend that time alone with my pain while also in a room full of people. During savasana in the last class I went to, which was a beginner’s yoga workshop, the instructor played a version of Pachelbel’s Canon (a longtime favorite of mine and my mother’s) with a children’s choir singing “Alleluia” along with the melody. I started to weep and could not stop throughout the entire pose—I was overcome not only by the beauty of the song but by the sadness of knowing that I would never get to hear my sweet girl sing in a children’s choir. I would never know if she would have liked singing like her mama. It is really hard to find a way to manage all that sorrow while in the middle of yoga class.

So I was more than a little intimidated to join a prenatal yoga class. I didn’t do prenatal yoga with Hudson—I was so busy with work during my pregnancy with her that I rarely made it home in time to eat, watch a few minutes of TV to calm down, and then go to bed. I wanted to try it this go round, but have been afraid of what it would be like. Would I be surrounded by a room full of chatty, happy-go-lucky pregnant women? Would the instructor constantly be asking us to focus our intentions on the life growing inside us? Would I spend the whole time crying?

As with so many things in the grief process, the dread of the experience was far worse than the actual thing. In fact, it was a pleasant experience. There were only four other women in the class, all way more pregnant than I, and no chatting at all before or after class (thank goodness). At the beginning of the practice, the instructor asked us to silently dedicate our practice to some intention and only if we wanted to—I tried to focus my energy on my love for Hudson and for the Penguin. Not once during the entire practice did she even mention pregnancy or our bellies or anything related to the fact that it was a prenatal yoga class. Until the end. Until the savasana. At that point, she read a meditation about the love between a mother and a daughter—I felt the tears spring and just let them fall quietly behind my closed eyes. I wish I could remember the final sentence of the meditation though—I thought I had committed it to memory, but now it escapes me. But the gist of it was that such love cannot be created from nothing—it is born when a child is born. Indeed.

I think I will go back.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

30 Days of Thanks—Day #4

I am grateful for this blog. I am grateful to have a place to write all of this down and try to make some kind of sense of what is still so incredibly senseless. I am grateful to have a place that lets me be, for the most part, myself, without expectations or self-reproach. I am grateful to have a place where people who know me can come and see how I am doing, so they can understand that no matter how much time has gone by, no matter how “okay” I seem on the surface, no matter how many steps forward I have made, I am still grieving. Deeply. Acutely. Painfully. It is important for them to know that. It is important for them to know that as happy as I am that this baby is coming into our lives, its appearance will not just make this pain go away. It is important for me to always have a place where I can come and express my love for Hudson and my continuing, terrible grief over her death right alongside my love for the Penguin and my hope for the future.
I really never dreamed the internet could be life-changing, but it has been.

Do One Good Thing for Hudson’s Birthday

It’s almost here. I can’t stop it from coming (as if doing so might mean that Hudson had never died). In a few days, Hudson’s second birthday will be here, but she won’t. Somehow, we will have to find a way to live through that day without her. Somehow, we will have to find a way to honor her life while we still so deeply mourn her death. Somehow.

After much thought and discussion about how to commemorate Hudson’s birthday on December 1, Ed and I came to the conclusion that for us, giving of ourselves in some way or another is the very best way to honor our sweet girl. We figure that it is also the surest path to more healing. And most importantly, it helps us live Hudson’s message of One Good Thing: we can’t have her here with us, but One Good Thing that we can make of such a terrible loss is to keep her memory and her life alive in the world that she adored.

Because we can’t give her any gifts this year, we collected several of Hudson’s favorite books and several Elmo dolls, and on Wednesday, we will drop them off at Dr. Bear’s Closet at Children’s Hospital where Hudson died. Dr. Bear’s Closet is where the hospital collects donated toys and games for children all over the hospital who are undergoing difficult treatments; it also stocks the hospital’s playrooms.  Hopefully these gifts will put a look on the faces of many children not unlike the one you see below:

Hudson opening her beloved Elmo

Because Hudson loved animals so much, and in particular, her beloved Bess, we are also donating a collection of dog treats and toys in Hudson’s name to the Washington Humane Society on Wednesday.  Hopefully some more dogs will be able to feel Hudson’s love in a different and special way.

And finally, because Hudson loved the outdoors, and especially the National Arboretum, where we took her for many a day of adventures in all seasons, we will visit the Arboretum on Wednesday. We plan to sprinkle a small portion of Hudson’s ashes there—while we struggled somewhat to decide whether to leave any of Hudson’s ashes here, we finally decided that DC is the place where we shared our lives with her, and we would like to have a place here to visit with her whenever we come back. And of all the places in DC that we could think of to do this, the Arboretum is the most beautiful, the most peaceful, the most serene, and it is the place where we shared some of our most special memories with her. Most recently, about a month before she died, we took a long hike through the Azalea Collection and took some beautiful pictures of her both there and in the central meadow (the picture above of Hudson hugging Bess was also taken at the Arboretum, last winter in the Asian Collection). The Arboretum is so special to us that we have not been able to go back there since Hudson died—her birthday will be our first visit there without her.  It seems only fitting that we leave a small part of her (and therefore of ourselves) there, as we remember and honor her very special life.   

There is some talk of drastically reducing the Azalea Collection, so Ed and I will also be making a donation to the Arboretum in Hudson’s name. (And if you’d like to make a donation to the Arboretum, I’ve posted a link to the right to do so).

In the spirit of One Good Thing, we’d like to invite everyone to help us honor Hudson’s life by doing One Good Thing sometime this week. This can be any act of kindness you can think of, for a child or other person, a friend or a stranger, an animal, the outdoors, whatever comes to mind. And if you are so inclined, please feel free to come back here and share your One Good Thing for Hudson’s Birthday by posting it as a comment to this post.  And please feel free to pass this on to others who might want to participate. 

(And many, many thanks to the anonymous reader who helped us crystallize this idea in our own heads—we’d been thinking in this direction, but that comment really helped us put it together. Another grieving family did the same to honor their sweet boy’s birthday, and while blatant imitation feels a little strange, I figure the world can always use some more kindness).

We can’t stop it from coming. We can’t bring Hudson back. But in the spirit of the lesson she taught us, we can continue to help her light shine in the world by finding the One Good Thing, and this week, that means doing One Good Thing.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

30 Days of Thanks—Day #3

I am grateful for a few hours of deep, uninterrupted sleep. Since Hudson died, the combination of grief and pregnancy has left me a largely restless sleeper for six months. I don’t have trouble falling asleep at bedtime, but I often wake up around 2AM, have a hard time going back to sleep, and then sleep fitfully the rest of the night, tossing and turning and waking frequently (and worrying that I am keeping Ed awake, too). And I spend a lot of those waking hours letting my mind wander to places it shouldn’t (like the hospital, how we are going to celebrate Hudson’s birthday in a few days, all the things that could go wrong with the Penguin).

Last night, I woke up a few times to go to the bathroom (one of these days, I will stop drinking full glasses of water after 8PM, especially when I am pregnant), but each time, I felt as though I had slept a full night’s worth in a few hours. Maybe it was the long day of cooking, eating, and entertaining little ones, but I slept hard, without dreaming or even moving, it seemed. Each time I woke, I remember feeling thankful for being able to sleep that hard. My poor body needs it badly.

Blessings come in the simplest of packages—I just have to recognize them.

Friday, November 26, 2010

30 Day of Thanks—Day #2

I am grateful for my siblings. My older siblings, two sisters and a brother, are from my mother’s first marriage, and my dad adopted them when he married my mom, but we never consider each other half-siblings. All three were with us at the hospital when Hudson died and we spent the several days thereafter at our house in D.C. One Good Thing that has happened in the wake of Hudson’s death is that our family has become closer than it has ever been, and we have taken every opportunity to be together that we can. We celebrated our Thanksgiving today, since Ed and I spent yesterday at the Chaneys, as we have done since we met (with the exception of the Thanksgiving before Hudson was born, because at 38 weeks pregnant, I was a little too uncomfortable to drive 10 hours roundtrip). I spent the day cooking, talking, and laughing with them in the kitchen, Christmas music in the background, with the intermittent help of eight of my nieces and nephews. We’re now in the middle of a rousing game of Taboo. It feels good.  Thank you, Diane, Laura, and Jason.  I love you. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving, Sweet Girl

Last Thanksgiving was the first and last we ever got to spend with Hudson. Thankfully, like so much of her life, we made the most of it. It remains one of many precious memories for which I am grateful today.

Thanksgiving Day was the day Hudson took her first tentative steps. She was five days from her first birthday. I was sitting in front of the fireplace at her grandma and grandpa’s house and her daddy was sitting a few feet away. She’d been “walking” with the help of hands for quite a while at this point (she had been practicing “standing” on her legs since she was very young—she preferred standing to sitting from as early as about three months old). We’d tried a few times before Thanksgiving, and a few times earlier that day, to get her to take a few steps on her own, but she just wasn’t quite ready—as soon as we’d let go, she’d plop down on her bottom. But on this day a year ago, all of sudden, with much of her extended Chaney family present, her dad pointed her toward me and let go of her hands, and she just toddled right over to me. We were stunned. I remember shouting, “She did it! She did it!” because no one had been watching except her dad and I. Everyone turned to look, and I pointed her back to her daddy and off she went.

Then she promptly decided she had no interest in walking at all for the next month, at which point, on Christmas Eve, again at her grandparents’ house, she started walking for good. I guess she just really wanted to get her legs under her, because once she started walking, she never wobbled and she never looked back. That’s my girl.

By this time, Hudson had become quite the climber.  She loved to climb in and out of chairs, on and off the sofa, up and down the stairs—she was constantly looking for opportunities to practice her skills.  I did not do her any favors on Thanksgiving Day by putting her in a dress (I realized early that dresses are not very practical for crawlers, but it was Thanksgiving and I couldn’t resist this cute, simple, brown corduroy number I found super-cheap at Kohl’s), but she didn’t let it hold her back.  I don’t think I ever got a full picture of her in the dress because, well, she was just always on the move, that girl.

I’ve written before about our girl’s voracious appetite and sheer love of food.  Never was it on better display than at Thanksgiving.  She tried everything—turkey, dressing, mushrooms and wild rice, smoked venison (compliments of her grandpa), cranberry sauce, and I’m pretty sure there was a lot more that I just can’t remember.  And, ahem, her grandpa would not stop feeding her sweet potato casserole. Not that I blame him.  Spoiler.  As you can see, eating was truly a favorite activity.   

Hudson’s grandma and grandpa live out in the country, on a long gravel lane, at the end of which is a farm with horses and a pond full of ducks, geese, and a few swans.  We spent much of the Thanksgiving weekend last year exploring all the adventures down that lane.  On this particular day, we traipsed through several feet of woods to get closer to the ducks and swans—we had some bread crumbs in hand.  The birds were happy for a while but at one point, one of the swans got a tad aggressive and rushed us—we had to hightail it out of there.  We spent the rest of that walk on the safety of the gravel road, taking pictures with our beautiful girl. 

We had two tricks to get Hudson to look at the camera.  The first was to tell her to say hi to Mommy or Daddy, whomever had the camera.  The other was to ask her, “Where’s Mommy?” or “Where’s Daddy?”  The result was a lot of pictures where she’s either waving at or pointing at the camera.  Case in point: 

On another day, we took a walk with Grandma and Grandpa all the way down to the end of the road to visit the horses.  We took some of our very favorite pictures of her with them that day. 

Hudson had never seen a horse before, but was smitten from the start.  Fortunately, this particular horse was happy for some love.  There was another one across the road who was not quite as nice—we had to keep Hudson’s little fingers clear for fear of a nip. 

This is one of our favorite pictures ever taken of Hudson.  These photos that capture the sheer joy she felt and shared with the world are priceless, in the truest sense of that word:

As these photos show, last Thanksgiving was the beginning of the magical time of year that the holidays have always been for me. She was just so full of life and exquisite happiness—I’m so grateful that we had the chance to catch so much of it on camera. Even though looking at her photos always tends to fuel my ever-present disbelief that she is gone, it’s only because they are such truthful representations of the incredible spirit that she was.

On this Thanksgiving Day, the first of far too many ahead without our Hudson, I am grateful for many, many things. But more than anything else today, I am grateful for every single moment of the 17 months and 13 days of Hudson’s life, for every single moment I got to be her mommy, for every sly grin, every grubby face, every wave at the camera, every squeal of delight, every precious footfall, every snotty nose, every dirty diaper, every middle-of-the-night waking, every tantrum, every “No!” I am grateful for every single moment of every single day of my daughter’s short life—the memories I carry of each of those moments are what sustain me this Thanksgiving and will sustain me for the rest of this life without her. I am grateful that I have very, very few regrets about the time we spent with her. Although I would do just about anything to have her back, and although the pain of living without her is worse than anything I could ever imagine, I wouldn’t trade a single second of the time I had with her. The joy, and the memory of the joy, is still far bigger than the pain. And that is One Good Thing.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. And Happy Thanksgiving, my sweet girl. We miss you so very much. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Parallel Universe

That is what this feels likelike I am living in an alternate reality. I guess I’ve felt somewhat like this since the beginning, but as the holidays and Hudson’s birthday have crept nearer, I feel it even moreso. Everything around me seems familiar: the jingle bells in Christmas songs playing at the grocery store, the smell of greenery waiting to be sold, the cold, crisp air and overcast sky, the party invitations, the holiday sale coupons in the mail, the tear-jerking Christmas commercials on TV (thank goodness for DVR), stores’ holiday decorations strewn from ceilings and everything else that will stand still.

And yet nothing seems familiar at all. My child is dead. It is the day before Thanksgiving, and I spent it at home alone doing laundry and baking, instead of making lists and meticulously packing the dozens of little things one must remember when traveling with a toddler, while trying to keep an eye on said busy toddler in the meantime. I made some white chocolate Chex mix and all I could think about was how much I wished Hudson were here to nosh on some. Tomorrow morning, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will be on, but Hudson’s not here to watch it with me like I used to do when I was little. We’ll spend the day with Hudson’s grandparents, just like last year, but she won’t be there for us to enjoy. She won’t be here in the coming weeks to celebrate her birthday or help us put up the Christmas tree or watch A Charlie Brown Christmas or learn to sing Jingle Bells. She’s just… gone.

Truly, this very often feels like I am just outside of myself, outside of this life, looking in on it and wondering what is going on there. Because surely this can’t really be my life. I find myself looking ahead to future events and picturing her in them before I can catch myself and remember that she is really gone. That she is never coming back. This just can’t be my life. This just doesn’t happen.

I’m clearly suffering through a fresh round of denial. I’ve never had a day where I didn’t feel a moment of utter disbelief that this really happened, but it has gotten worse again lately. I no longer wake up in the morning with that first thought of “Was this all just a terrible dream?” But there’s no doubt that part of me is still hoping to wake up one of these days and be back in my old life, where Hudson will be with us tomorrow scarfing down turkey and dressing and sweet potatoes. Where she will be celebrating her birthday next week with Elmo cupcakes her mommy made for her. Where she will learn for first time about the excitement of opening stocking on Christmas morning.

It is clear to me that part of me still harbors some insane desperate hope that if I hurt enough, if I long for her enough, if I write all this down enough times, somehow I can make my way back through that barrier that separates this life from my old one, and I can have my girl back.

Oh, how I want her back.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Holiday Cards

I’ve spent several hours the last few nights scouring the internet, looking for some kind of card that might be appropriate for us to send for the holidays this year. I suppose that we could just bag the idea of cards altogether this year (after all, we’re already skipping Christmas Day), but if anything, what we’ve been through this year makes us want to try even harder to stay connected with our friends and family. And while painful and sad, the process of putting together a holiday card that serves as both a memorial for Hudson and a symbol of our hope for the future is somehow healing, too.

And yet, how to do that? As with Hudson’s birthday, I am so utterly unprepared for dealing with a task that is usually so filled with joy when I am filled with so much sorrow. I pored over card after card, looking into the happy faces of beautiful babies and children, peering into the lives of cheerful intact families, weeping again for all that we have lost, for all that we will never have again. Because as long as we live, in every photo that ever appears on one of our holiday greetings, our sweet girl will be missing. And I just don’t understand how that is possible. It’s excruciating.

There’s a radio station in town that started last week playing all Christmas music all the time. In any year before this one, I would have been all about it, cranking that station up and singing along with every tune. Last week, as I was flipping through the stations, I caught one refrain of Nat King Cole singing “The Christmas Song” and began to weep. I turned it off right away. Now when I change the channels, I skip quickly through that one. I’ve been wondering if I’ll be able to listen to any of my beloved Christmas music this year—I have a ridiculous collection of Christmas CDs (again, a passion I inherited from my mom, who probably had more than a hundred). The one album I thought I might actually want to listen to was Sarah McLachlan’s Wintersong. Ed gave it to me the year before Hudson was born, and I put it on a playlist with other Christmas music to listen to while in labor. Sarah’s non-traditional version of The First Noel/Mary Mary got me through one the most intense moments of my labor with Hudson—it was almost two years ago now, but I remember it like it was yesterday.  It is obviously a Christian song, but to me, in Sarah’s hands, it is a beautiful, thundering ballad that also pays tribute to the power of a mother and the amazing experience of giving birth to a new life.  (You’ll have to forgive this terrible video collage—if you want to listen to the song, close your eyes.)

Like much of her work, the Wintersong album seems to capture my mood, and this life, perfectly—mourning and hope all rolled into one.

On a break from the holiday card project tonight, I drove up to the store to grab some milk. I flipped through the stations, pausing on the all-Christmas station long enough to hear Sarah’s voice singing a song from Wintersong. It wasn’t The First Noel (somehow I doubt her version would ever make it on a mainstream radio station), but for tonight, it didn’t matter. Hudson was just helping me remember—sorrow, but also hope.

Sorrow, but also hope.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Different Take

Last Monday, after my post about our final moments with Hudson in the hospital, Jessica sent me an email describing some of those same moments from her perspective. When I read it, I felt, as always, so incredibly grateful to have her in my life, because even though she did not realize it, she captured much of what I felt about those moments but did not manage to express exactly. For even though I mentioned it briefly, what I think I failed to capture when I wrote that post was that along with the terrible sadness of those moments, there came a great sense of peace. Of all the horrible moments in the hospital, those are the only ones associated with any sense of peace—every other memory still fills me with anxiety and ties my stomach into knots. Thankfully, my best friend saw and conveyed what I had forgotten. With her permission, I want to share her message with you. (She told me that sometimes when she reads what I’ve written about her in the blog, she comes off as a deeper person than she imagines herself being—hmm…see what you think).


This is one of my favorite blog entries you’ve done....

Yes, it is very sad and it does make me cry as everyone said... but I just read it over again after reading it the first time last night and thinking about it a lot over night... and I cried again... but there is something very uplifting and positive and wonderful about it too... the love between a mother and a child is an unbelievable bond and there is no more powerful image of that bond than the position/hold you describe.

The image that comes to my mind from that time in the hospital... after we had all drifted out of the room and left you and Ed in there to have your final time, several of us stood by the nurses’ station waiting. When you finally came out you weren't crying, if anything you had a look of joy on your face. You told me how absolutely wonderful it felt to hold her like that. You said that it just felt perfect. At that one moment you had a measure of peace. It doesn't take away all the unpeaceful moments that proceeded and followed and continue to follow and haunt you today. But for that instant Hudson was helping you rest in peace. And as surprised as I was initially to see that response I totally got it... I have held my children that way so many times and it never fails to calm me and bring me peace. Although it’s not a familiar pose with our parents, I had so wanted to hold my little mom like that. In those last days, I kept pulling her whole upper body up off the bed and into my embrace to try to feel that. Unfortunately she was never fully disconnected like Hudson was... she had the breathing tube pulled but everything else remained attached... if I had known then I would have asked for that... just to be able to hold her fully one more time (as she has held me so many times).

And I can’t tell you how many times in Elliot’s first year of life I sat in my glider rocker and let that little body snuggled in (fortunately my second was more snuggly than my first who was more like your first) provide me all the peace I could take from it. And you will have that again and the penguin will benefit from it as much as you - a gift from Hudson to you both.

And there is also no doubt the comfort and peace it brought Hudson to be in that position for her last days of awareness of this world. There is a reason why any child who is ever hurt, sick or feels bad or sad immediately wants to be in that position - tucked into mom’s safe arms - where somehow, no matter how wrong the world actually is, it feels ok... and warm and safe. I too am so glad you had that time with her - for her sake and yours.

Another thought I have to say... you should feel no regret about bustling around the room, packing things up, while Hudson’s body lay on the bed. That too I remember being surprised about at the time... I was fully prepared to pack up that room without you so you wouldn’t have to... but you wanted to. That child, that sweet little body, was your girl... why should you feel awkward being around her body even after the spirit had left it?... that body had been part of your body... that spirit is still part of you... that was the impression it gave me then - not a callous disregard for a body in the room, but rather a very healthy approach to death... a respect for the beautiful life that had been, and the body that in that moment still was.

I can’t tell you how many times in the past 6 months I've thought of your expression and words when you walked out of that room after holding her for the last time - amid all the horrible images of those days, that is one of peace... one I like to go back to... one I think of every single time I hold my children that way... and wish you could still be holding Hudson that way.

Thank you for this post. I hope at times it will bring you peace... not just sadness.

I love you,


Thank you, Jess. You can be certain that I will come back to this message again and again to be reminded.   

Sunday, November 21, 2010

It Takes a Village (Part Two)

I started a post titled “Nothing New To Say” and was simply going to refer you to Friday’s post, because at first, it seemed to me like it has been one long sad weekend of the same: I just want her back.

But then I realized that it wasn’t true—well, not totally true, at least. Yesterday, I got together for the first time with my Brookland moms’ crew since a few weeks after Hudson died. This is the group of women who I met for the first time when Hudson was about 2 months old and I organized a weekly meeting at our neighborhood coffee shop for any mom who was on maternity leave and needed to get out of the house. All of our babies were born within about 4 months of each other, with Hudson being one of the oldest. That weekly meeting turned into an occasional playgroup, babysitting co-op and go-to get together group for Halloween and birthday parties. About half of us ended up putting our kids into day care at St. Ann’s together, where we then picked up a few other moms who joined our group, too.

The last time we all got together when life was normal was the Friday before Hudson got sick—we all met at our local Tex-Mex restaurant for happy hour. It was there that we took the last photo we have of our sweet Hudson, nom-nomming on her yummy black beans and practicing using a grown-up spoon.

The next time we got together was about three weeks after Hudson died, to celebrate the 40th birthday of one of our mamas. We went back to the same Tex-Mex place, and all the husbands and babies came. I was overly optimistic about my ability to handle such a situation. It did not go well. The longer I sat there thinking about how completely fucked up it was that all the babies were there except Hudson, the more and more stunned I became. I somehow kept it together until we left, but barely.  I knew it would be a long time before I could be with all those babies again. 

Since then, I’ve seen several of the moms (and sometimes the dads) off and on, usually without their babies, unless I ran into them at the market or elsewhere in the neighborhood. I’ve seen a few of the babies here and there—all of them are now older than Hudson was when she died. The oldest have just recently hit their second birthdays. Every time I run into one of the babies, I am struck by how much they’ve grown—their legs are long and lean, much less baby-like. It is so hard to have reached a point where I can’t imagine anymore what Hudson would be like now. So much happens between 18 and 24 months—the ways she would have grown physically and developed cognitively are now beyond my ability to picture in my mind.

But that’s not what I’m meaning to write about (it’s so easy sometimes to get so caught up in the grief that I forget about the gratitude). About a week ago, one of our mom friends emailed the rest of us to see if we wanted to get together for a ladies-only lunch—no kids, no husbands. A few weeks ago, I had emailed the director of the day care at St. Ann’s and asked her to put the Penguin on the list for a spot next fall. Just the act of writing the email exposed a mountain of raw feelings about how much I miss that place and all the people in it—just another layer of the loss (there are so many still to be revealed). So the idea of getting together with all my mom friends, whose company I had missed so much, was really appealing. I immediately responded that I would be there.

As the lunch drew nearer, I got more anxious. Had I overestimated my readiness for this again? How would it feel to be in my moms’ group again when everyone else still has their children and my child has died? Would I burst into tears just seeing them all together in the same place? Would I need to just “act as if” and try to seem somehow normal through it all?

Well, I needn’t have worried. Seven of us met at a pizza joint downtown and sat around a large round table. Three of us are pregnant with our second babies (along with two others who weren’t there—one just had her second a few weeks ago, and the other is due with her second several days from now). At one point (or maybe two), I did cry, but just a little, and shared with them my fear that I would break down and cry in the middle of it all, to which they all replied, “But that’s just fine, Mandy! You can do that!” And even though I knew that was true, it was still good to hear that my crying didn’t make them uncomfortable (that is really the main fear I have when this happens around other people—I worry that it makes them feel bad or awkward or embarrassed or unnerved). Or maybe it did, but they were still OK with it.

The thing is, I could talk about Hudson without fear or self-editing. Everyone there knew her, and knew her well, and everyone there misses her terribly. No one there would ever expect me not to talk about her or about my feelings about her. Everyone there was happy to talk about her, too.

We talked about anything and everything, and most importantly, we laughed, for almost three hours before we all realized that our partners were probably wondering where the heck we were (and that the waiter really wanted us to get out). It was wonderful.

In hindsight, I think I probably did a fair share of “acting as if,” but that was a lot more for my own benefit than it was for theirs. I remember having a few of those moments where I was looking at myself from the outside and thinking, “Who is that girl? Because I certainly don’t feel as animated as she seems.” One of my friends, whom Ed and I see more frequently, as we get together with her and her husband fairly regularly, told me afterwards that she was really glad that she reads my blog, because after the last time we got together for dinner several weeks ago, she would have thought we were doing really well. And we talked about how it really is possible (thankfully) to feel terrible pain at some level almost all the time, but to be able to take breathers from the worst of it every now and then. I told her that I had learned that important lesson as early as the first hours when we were in the hospital—the body can really only take so much at one time, and without those breathers, I would never have survived the past six months. The pain is always there—it never goes away. Many times, certainly at least once a day and often more frequently, it is overwhelming, and I have to let myself feel it. I have to cry and wail and shake my head and bang my fists and kiss her pictures and hold her things. But when the pain is just simmering rather than boiling over, I can breathe. I can remember Hudson and smile. I can laugh. I can be silly. I can hope. And even when those moments are only fleeting, I am grateful for them.

But what I am most grateful for is a community of women who understand that I can (and must) feel (and be) all those things at the same time. Thank you, mamas.  I am glad you are in my life.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I Just Want Her Back

These are the words that I kept repeating to myself over and over again as I went about my errands today. I want to shop for a Christmas dress for her, like the technician at the vet told me she was doing—she saw my necklace with Hudson’s name stamped on it (without asking anything about it) and started telling me about how she saw something like it on Etsy, and how she shops on Etsy all the time for things for her daughter. At Target, I want to buy supplies for her birthday party. At REI, I want to get her some colorful fleece booties to keep her feet warm this winter. At Costco, I want to sit and have lunch with her and then stroll around the store with her while she entertains everyone who walks past. And to get her some fleece footed jammies in a 2T size with Christmas trees and reindeer on them. And maybe the Elmo Christmas song book. I want to take her to the Christmas on Ice display at the National Harbor, for which I must have heard ten radio ads in the car today. I want to take her hiking on these cool fall days. I want to play with her in the piles of colorful leaves in the backyard. I want to take her to ZooLights at the National Zoo, which was advertised on the back cover of the zoo magazine that came in the mail today. I want her to try her first hot apple cider. I want to take a family photo of the three of us and Bess for this year’s holiday cards.  I want to bake and decorate Thanksgiving turkey cookies with her this weekend so that she can take them to her grandma’s house next week. I want to listen to Christmas music with her and teach her my favorite songs. I want to knit a stocking for her. I want to tell her about her little brother or sister who is coming in May and teach her all about penguins.

I want. I want. I want.

I know this is the time of year where I am supposed to be thinking about how grateful I am for everything that I have. And I am. Grateful. For everything that I have.

But I just want my little girl back. I just want my Hudson back. I Just. Want. Her. Back.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


In what has now become a ritual period of sleeplessness in the middle of the night, it occurred to me last night that today is exactly two weeks before Hudson’s second birthday on December 1. Which means it is almost, not quite, but almost, exactly 2 years since Ed and I went had some professional pregnancy photos taken. I was 36.5 weeks pregnant, and Hudson was born 9 days early, so these photos were taken just two weeks before she was born. Three days later, we went to our 37-week OB appointment and learned that I was already 2cm dilated and 70% effaced. We freaked out, given that we had not yet even bought a car seat to bring this baby home in. We spent the next several days on wild shopping sprees, buying all the essentials we did not yet have, crossing things off our list left and right. We got the car seat installed that weekend. We were as prepared as prepared could be.

I’m not sure if we have ever shared these photos beyond a very few close family members and friends—as you can see, they are very intimate and personal. And yet, I felt the need to share them today, because as you can also see, we were already so in love with our child and so obviously in love with one another. Before we ever even bought the rest of the baby gear, we were prepared. Prepared to be parents, prepared for our lives to change forever, prepared to love that baby like we’d never loved anything before, not even each other.

At this same time last year, I was in high gear preparing for Hudson’s 1st birthday party. I’ve always believed that it is so important to really celebrate birthdays. My mom made me feel so very special on every birthday, and I wanted my children to feel that same way, to have one day that is all about them. I’ll write more about Hudson’s birthday party later, but the other day, I was cleaning up some clutter and I found a notepad with my shopping list and to-do list for the party. I had so many different things in the works—a monkey smash cake for Hudson, monkey cupcakes for everyone else, a homemade personalized party hat for Hudson, CDs with Hudson’s favorite songs for everyone to take home as party favors. Two weeks before Hudson’s birthday last year, I was busy. Busy preparing to celebrate the birth of my incredible child, who had changed my life in ways I could never have imagined before she was born, who had made me want to be not just a better mom, but a better person, who had finally made me understand the value of loving myself so that I could better love others.

And now. Now it is two weeks before Hudson’s birthday again and I have no idea what to do. I am not busy preparing anything, but I feel like I should be. How do I prepare to celebrate the birthday of my dear child who has died? I most certainly want to celebrate it, or maybe commemorate is the right word, because frankly, I am in no mood to celebrate—I know many parents do continue to have parties with cake and balloons and all those kinds of things, but that is just not for me. At least not this year. I have had many ideas and thoughts about what to do, but not one of those ideas does any justice to the extraordinary spirit that Hudson was or to the profound impact that she had and continues to have on my life every single day. How could anything? When I have a party to plan, preparing is easy—party planning I know. Party planning gives me lists that I can delight in crossing through. But preparing to honor my precious child’s birthday after she has died is just something I never dreamed I’d have to do. No list will help me here.

I’ve never been so unprepared for anything in my entire life.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


In a world where everything seems anything but, “normal” is a very comforting word to hear. I am far too drained from yesterday’s post to write anything substantial today (and thank you all so very much for all the love and support since), but I’m just driving by to say that I heard from our perinatologist today that the results of the Penguin’s early genetic screening were “well within the normal range.” To be exact, our risks are 1 in 5000 for Down Syndrome and 1 in 10,000 for trisomies 13 and 18. And we hit 13 weeks today. So while I know all too well that there are never any guarantees, our risks of things going wrong keep dropping. Even having been on the worst end of the odds when we lost our precious Hudson, that is still a relief.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Rest in Peace

This post has been a long time coming. I have started it and stopped it in my head a million times. I stop because I get overwhelmed by the sorrow of this particular memory of the hospital. And I think I stop because I am afraid that sharing this memory somehow means closing some door that I am not ready to close. I have no idea why today suddenly seems like the day. I think I just finally feel like I can’t carry it around by myself anymore. This is by no means my worst memory from the hospital—it is just the saddest, and the most poignant, moment of those four days—indeed of my entire life.  (And I say this partly by way of warning so that you can stop reading now if this is not a good time).

The pose you see in this photo was not a customary one for Hudson. All through her days as a young infant, I kept waiting for her to start snuggling with me like this routinely, for her to rest her head on my shoulder for comfort and warmth. But not my girl. She practically came out of the womb holding her head up, and from that point on, she always wanted to know what was going on around her, and that required that she be upright and paying attention. I have no idea what inspired her to rest her head on me in this photo—I know it was taken at Thanksgiving, so maybe the cumulative effects of the long, exciting day (when she took her first tentative steps) and a big meal just got the better of her and she decided to take a rest. I’ve cherished this photo ever since I first saw it, though, because it’s one the few I have of us like this (beyond the first few days of her life). I cherish it even more now, for reasons you will soon understand.

Hudson started feeling bad early in the morning on Mother’s Day. After waking up a few times in the night with a fever, I figured she needed plenty of rest to help her get over whatever bug she was fighting off. She was fussy and whiny, as kids tend to be when they don’t feel well, and insisted on being held most of the day. So when she wouldn’t nap in her crib, I picked her up and brought her out to the glider and let her sleep on my chest, with her head tucked in on my shoulder, just like you see above. It worked like a charm—she napped soundly there off and on throughout the day. The following night and morning, about which I’ve written more times than I care to remember, were even rougher than the first night, and we were up and out the door at 7:30AM Monday morning for our early trip to the pediatrician. After that visit, the doctor sent us down to the lab to get bloodwork and a chest x-ray, where Hudson continued to rest in exactly that same position while we waited to be called for our turn for each procedure. We loaded her back into the car, not surprised that she sacked out in the car seat pretty much immediately. She was such a tired little monkey and had been poked and prodded at all morning after having a really fitful night of sleep. Once I got her back home, I took her straight to her crib to put her down for some more sleep. She rested there for about 10 or 15 minutes and then began to fuss, so I brought her out the glider again, where she spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon sleeping on me, interrupted only a few times by my asking her if she would try some water from her cup, to which she replied with a feeble “No.” She stayed in that position while I called the pediatrician again to ask if I should be concerned that she had not eaten or drunk anything since 7PM the night before, at which point the doctor sent us on to the ER to get fluids, just in case. The entire time at the ER, standing in the triage line, sitting in the waiting room, talking to the triage nurse, she stayed in that same position. In fact, when we finally saw the triage nurse, I made of a point of the fact that she’d been in pretty much the same position all day, hoping it would be a red flag that would get us seen sooner rather than later. It worked. We were finally seen about 2 hours after we got there, and Hudson was admitted with a meningitis diagnosis Monday evening.

Little did I know that I would be unable to hold my girl like that again while she was alive. I said to Ed afterwards that I was so grateful, both for Hudson’s sake, and my own, that she spent her last two days of consciousness snuggling with her mommy, resting in my arms. Because the next three days are a terrible nightmarish blur with too many awful frightening points of clarity, many of which I’ve written about before. Once Hudson was hooked up to an IV and other gadgets, we were unable to hold her in our laps or do much more than just sit by her and hold her hand while she was still conscious. Once she was sedated, and later in a coma, we could lay on the bed beside her. But we couldn’t hold her. The one time we tried, with the nurses’ assistance, to pick her up off the bed so that we could hold her in our arms, the experience was fraught with peril, setting off alarms left and right, bringing four or five nurses in at once to try and fix the line that had been broken somehow in the process. Needless to say, it was only so comforting.

How I longed to hold my sweet girl during those terrible days, to comfort her, to be comforted by holding her close. I didn’t get the chance again until it was time to say our final goodbyes. We had said goodbye once before, earlier that day, not long after our endeavor to hold her, when her system appeared so unstable that we just weren’t sure when it would finally give up. We wanted to be sure that we had said what we needed to say to her and hugged her and kissed her so that we wouldn’t be forced to do that in another nightmare of alarms and rushing around. But then came time for the real goodbye. Her little body had held on, supported by a dozen different machines and medications, for one brain death test on Wednesday night and the repeated test on Thursday night. We had known at least since the middle of the day on Tuesday that the injury to her brain from the infection had been catastrophic. We had known at least since late Tuesday and early Wednesday that she could no longer breathe on her own and that her brain was not even performing a basic function of regulating her temperature. We had known since Wednesday night that her brain showed no signs of any activity and that nothing was likely to change between that first test and the second test that would occur Thursday night. Ed and I have discussed before that in some ways, she “died” several different times during those days—over and over again, we got new information, each piece more cataclysmic and irreversible than the last. Until it was finally time. The doctors had told us that once the second brain death test had been performed, they would be required to declare her dead and to remove all life support not long thereafter. We could have some time with her before they did it, but not a lot.

We had decided that anyone in the family who wanted to could be present when they disconnected everything. By this point, I had bared the rawest parts of my soul to total strangers as I wailed in the waiting rooms and walked zombie-like through the hallways of the PICU, eyes staring at nothing in particular. There was no way to orchestrate these final moments with Hudson “just right”—it just had to be whatever it was.

Once we got word that the final test was over (my dearest Ed somehow managed to be present for the entirety of both tests—he just felt like he needed to see for himself, and we have never really spoken of those moments since then), and after some mix-ups and explanations with the new attending on duty about how everything would actually happen, everyone came back into the room. We asked the nurse to turn off all the monitors. Everyone who wanted to gave Hudson a kiss and then formed a half-circle around the bed, arms around each other (I’m certain in some cases, they were literally holding one another up). Ed and I sat on the bed next to our precious girl and waited as the doctor and the nurse pulled out each tube and disconnected every machine. I remember hearing sniffles around me. I remember sitting there with a half-smile on my face, amazed for the moment that I did not feel the need to cry, and then thinking about how in Steel Magnolias, M’lynn describes this same moment when they disconnected her daughter’s life support, saying, “There was no noise, no tremble, just peace.” And that is what I felt at that moment—somehow, I just felt peace. All I wanted was for them to get all that stuff off of her so that I could hold her.

And that is what I did. As soon as everything was gone, and she was back down to just her diaper, I scooped her up in my arms, cradling her like I had when she was a tiny infant, with her head in the crook of my left elbow, pulling her close to me. I remember thinking how incredible it felt to hold her again, to feel her weight in my arms, to snuggle her close. I hadn’t been able to do that in over three days, the longest time I’d gone since she was born without doing that. Ed and I sat with her in our arms for the longest time, until finally everyone else drifted out of the room and left us alone with her. Still, I didn’t cry.

Until I put her up on my shoulder. I turned her upright and rested her head on my shoulder and for a fleeting moment, I could pretend that none of it had happened, that the last three days had just been an awful dream, that she was just sleeping peacefully on me like she had on Mother’s Day and the day after. Finally, the tears fell. They turned into sobs, as I realized that it was all real, that my gorgeous, amazing child was dead, that once we left the room, I would never get to hold her again. I rocked back and forth with her on my shoulder, crying for her, crying for us, crying all that would never be.

We continued to hold her, first one of us, then the other, then us both, until it just seemed time to let go. I laid her back on the bed and pulled the blanket up to her shoulders. All the swelling from all the fluids they had been pumping into her had finally receded and she looked like herself again. I was so grateful to get to see her that way. She looked like she was sleeping.

We cut locks of her hair for everyone in the family who wanted one and talked with the nurse about making her handprints and footprints and the mold of her hand. And then I really have no idea how the rest of it went. Somehow, we started packing up the room, cleaning up all the debris of a three-day stay in the PICU, balloons, books, toys, clothes, phones, food, trash. Somehow, we carted it all out. I think about it now and wonder how in the world I participated in that, when my child was lying dead on the bed in the center of the room. I’ve felt regret over it, thinking of how we bustled about as if she were no longer even there. And I honestly can’t remember leaving the room for the final time. I can’t remember if I lingered at the door for one last look at her. I hope I did, but I really don’t recall. I think I was just on autopilot. I don’t know that there was any other way to be.

But what I remember, what I will never, ever forget, was the feeling of her resting on my shoulder, both in our glider at home and there in PICU as we said goodbye. Every time I see a child resting on a parent’s shoulder in that same way, I remember. Such an ordinary, typical pose for them. Such an extraordinary memory and meaning for me.

Rest, my sweet, sweet girl. Rest in so much peace. Mommy loves you.