Wednesday, July 27, 2011

An Ounce of Prevention

Jackson got his first big shots today: Pentacel and Prevnar. The Pentacel vaccinates against Hib, DTaP and polio. Prevnar protects against invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD) caused by streptococcus pneumonia bacteria. This is the bacteria that took Hudson’s life.

I know many people have wondered whether Hudson was vaccinated. The answer, if you are one of those, is yes: she was fully vaccinated and totally on schedule. She had received all the scheduled doses of Prevnar when she died. At the time, Prevnar covered 7 strains of s. pneumo bacteria. In the months just prior to and after her death, the vaccine expanded to include another 6 strains. And there are more than 90 different strains of the bacteria—it is one of the most common bacteria in the world, colonizing in all of our noses and throats regularly. A small number of these strains are known to cause most IPD, so these are the ones the vaccines focus on. I am under the impression (because I can’t remember an exact conversation) that the strain that killed Hudson was not included in either the Prevnar7 or the Prevnar13.

I remember very well when Hudson got the Prevnar vaccine—the nurse told me it was the one that usually stung the most, and this always proved to be true each time she got a dose. I remember the first time she got it, at two months, her face screwed up into an angry cry and turned bright red and it took her several seconds before she exhaled with a giant scream. It was awful to watch and I felt so sorry for her.

I have never opposed vaccinations and never even considered not vaccinating my children, but given our experience with Hudson, I became militant about vaccinations. Even though the Prevnar vaccine didn’t save Hudson, it wasn’t because it was ineffective—it was just incomplete and imperfect. The strains it did protect her against were the ones that most commonly cause serious disease, so certainly it was doing the job it was intended to do, since she never got any other major illness except an ear infection or two.

There was no question that we would get Jackson vaccinated, fully and on schedule. And true to form, he screamed a lot harder from the sting of the Prevnar than from the Pentacel.

But this post isn’t actually about vaccines. It’s about my old nemesis, the what-if monster. Yes, again.

By getting Hudson vaccinated (and breastfeeding and washing my hands incessantly and feeding her healthy food and so on and so on), I thought I was doing everything I could do to keep her safe from serious infectious diseases. I never imagined I’d be in a position to try and prevent her from dying from one.

Recently, several different friends have posted on Facebook about their kids having high fevers like Hudson did, and taking them to the emergency room or urgent care when those fevers hit 104 degrees. And I didn’t. I thought about it, but I didn’t. So I’m thinking again about why I didn’t. Why did I react differently?

What follows is the very first thing I ever wrote after Hudson died. I wrote it about 10 days later, after both memorial services and after Ed and I had left town to get away for a few days down in Belhaven, where we were married. I started writing about exactly how everything went down with Hudson that fateful weekend, my brain trying its best to process it and figure out how and when all hell broke loose.

In the early morning on Mother’s Day, May 9, 2010, Hudson woke up screaming. It was around 1 or 2AM and she was at full bloody-murder pitch. She had been fussing off and on throughout the day, a little bit clingy– we thought maybe she had some molars coming in. She had been sucking her thumb a lot lately, at times other than to go to sleep, which was her norm, and her thumb was always at the back of her mouth– hence, the molar theory. Saturday morning, I had taken her to her first music class. We had missed the previous two because we were out of town for the first one and then had the start time wrong for the second one. After the music class, I realized I was fairly close to the Value Village thrift store– I had been looking for some sturdy closed-toe sandals for her to wear to school, so I headed over there before going home. Didn’t find anything at Value Village, but saw a CVS next door and decided I should finally get around to buying some non-recalled baby Tylenol. Pretty much all but the CVS brand had been recalled, so that’s what I bought.

So even before she went to bed on Saturday, I had considered giving her some Tylenol just because she’d been so fussy and I figured those molars were just bothering her. But I didn’t– she went down like usual, I think, but then roused a couple of times between then and when she woke up for good, just fussing. Ed and I talked about whether we should get her up and give her some Tylenol, but she went back to sleep on her own each time. But when she started screaming, I knew something else was wrong. I went into her room immediately and was relieved to find that the poor thing had finally just gotten her chubby, precious little leg stuck between the crib bars and she had woken up and couldn’t move. Every time I tried to extricate her, she would scream some more. So Ed came in and we turned the lights on. Poor Hudson was still wearing her winter pajamas– these were white fleece with blue snowflakes on them. We hadn’t gotten around to buying any summerweight ones, but figured we kept the house pretty cold and didn’t put any blankets in her crib, so she was probably fine. But the extra fleece did not make leg extraction any easier. Finally I realized that I just needed to straighten her angle a little bit and once I got her body more perpendicular to the bed, her leg slid right out. I changed her diaper– it was pretty loose stool, but nothing I worried about– and her little knee was fiery red. I could tell she had probably been stuck that way for a while and wondered if the first few times she had woken up, she was already stuck but just not awake enough to fuss much. So THEN I gave her some Tylenol, figuring her knee was probably pretty bruised and sore and I wanted to make it feel better. She curled up on my shoulder like she always did at bedtime and we sang our song (“Hark the Sound”)– I can’t remember if she giggled at the “Don’t Go to Dook” part– probably not, since she was so sleepy. But I put her back down and she went right on back to sleep. I did not realize that the next time she woke up would be the beginning of the end of her life.

About an hour later, she woke up crying again, and I couldn’t imagine that she’d gotten her leg stuck again. And I was right. Instead, she was absolutely burning up inside her jammies. She had never been a kid to run much fever, even with ear infections, but her little body was just radiating heat. I took her temp and it was about 101.5. Again, about as high as her temp had ever been, but still not a really high fever for a toddler. But given that I had just given her some Tylenol for another reason about an hour before, the fever still concerned me a good deal. I couldn’t give her anymore medicine for a while, so we just stripped her down and laid her in the bed with us and she went back to sleep. I can’t really remember the rest of that night (I remember the next night very well, still), but I know I gave her some more medicine as soon as I could– I never took her temp soon after giving her the Tylenol. Maybe I should have. But she seemed to perk up for a little bit each time, so it seemed like it was working. But she spent most of Mother’s Day pretty much stuck to me. We tried to get her to lay down for a nap or two since she’d been up so much, and she would lay down for a little bit, and then start to fuss, so I got her out of bed and just let her sleep on my chest while I watched TV. We spent a fair portion of that day like that– in retrospect, once we realized her illness would claim her life, I was so very grateful for those days of being so close to her. Somewhere around lunch time I took her temp again and it was up over 102. She was still eating and drinking, but that temp was pretty high to me, and her right eye looked ever-so- slightly swollen, more just a very, very slight droop actually, so I decided it was time to call the pediatrician. She didn’t call back for close to an hour, and I talked with her about Hudson’s symptoms. She asked questions, most importantly whether the fever was responding to the medicine– I said that even though I hadn’t kept taking Hudson’s temp after giving her the medicine, she did seem to perk some each time. She asked whether Hudson had any other symptoms, and the only thing I knew of was a very mild runny nose– but again, it was nothing compared to some colds/URIs Hudson had had in the past. Then there was her eye. The doctor asked questions about it, mostly whether there was any goop oozing out of it– Hudson had already had pink eye three times that year, so we knew what pink eye looked like. This was not it. The doctor said she didn’t think we needed to go to the ER– she said even if Hudson’s temperature was 104, we wouldn’t need to go to the ER as long as it was responding to medication.

Well, I remembered what she had said when later in the afternoon, Hudson’s fever spiked to 104. It was too early to give her any more Tylenol, but that temperature scared me to death. I called Jessica first to ask her what I should do and she wasn’t home, so I left a message. Then I called my sister– since she had raised nine kids, I figured she’d seen plenty of high fevers and would know what to do. She said that I should put Hudson into a lukewarm bath to cool her down, and that that’s what they’d probably do to her at the ER, or worse, they’d put her into a tub of ice. But she said I knew my own kid and if I thought we should go to the ER, then I should take her to the ER.

I will remember the decision I made next for the rest of my life, even though I know, based on what we learned later, it’s 99% likely that had we gone to the ER on Sunday afternoon, they would have sent us home and we’d have ended up right back where we did the next day, anyway. Except having been sent home once, I guess it’s possible I would have been reluctant to even go back on Monday, although at that point, we were worried about Hudson refusing to eat or drink and were mostly trying to get some fluids in her.

So instead of going to the ER, I drew a lukewarm bath. Hudson generally loves the bath, so I figured this was probably a good plan. She wasn’t crazy about the colder water, but she got used to it and eventually started playing and splashing like she usually would. While she was in the bath, Jessica called and we talked a bit– she told me (I think my sister had said this, too) that if we had some Motrin, we could alternate the Tylenol and the Motrin on a shorter timeframe, every three hours, rather than 4-6 for Tylenol and 6-8 for Motrin. She also said that the fact that Hudson’s eye was slightly swollen made her even more comfortable that this was some kind of infection in her sinuses or ear/nose/throat, because kids often get associated eye infections with those.

We didn’t have any Motrin, so as soon as Hudson was out of the bath, we took a walk to CVS with her in the stroller and Bess alongside. Hudson loved to be outside– she had just learned that word in the last week– and had a ball identifying and pointing to all the new words she was learning– airplane, helicopter, rock, car, bus, truck, ant, bee, flower... so many words. So she enjoyed the walk– she seemed in much better spirits. We had no idea it was the last walk we’d ever take with her. Though we are never given the chance to do this when someone we love dies suddenly, I wish I’d appreciated it more, remembered every moment, every word she said, everything she pointed to. We bought some Motrin, again the non-recalled CVS brand, and headed back home. I gave her a dose and within a short time, her temp was all the way down to 100.4. She ate a big meal– I think we had taco salad that night, so she was scarfing the rice and meat and avocado. With such a big appetite and her temp back down so low, I figured we’d turned a corner and were heading back into well-baby territory. She went to sleep easily, which was no wonder after her ordeal the night before. Ed and I both breathed a little easier.

Except that at 11 that night, she woke up again. Her fever was back up to 102, so we dosed her and kept her in the bed with us for a bit. She perked up immediately, to the point that she was sitting up in the bed trying to chat with us. It was almost midnight at this point and we all needed our sleep, so I went and put her back down in the crib. She went right to sleep without a problem. But she was up again at 2. Fever was back up to 102. We dosed her again with the alternate medicine, her fever went down a touch, and we put her back down. At 3 she woke again, with the fever raring back up to 103. Since I had just given her the fever medicine at 2, I couldn’t give her anymore. We brought her in the bed with us and turned the light on– every time I touched her, she screamed. We figured she was just exhausted and tired of being messed with– one or the other of us had had our hand on her forehead and cheeks pretty much constantly for about 24 hours. She had had enough of it, so we thought. I thought again about going to the ER, but at this point, it was 3 in the morning, and the doctor’s office would open 4 hours later. I figured if I could get the fever back down somehow, then we could wait it out. It’s another decision I’ll question for as long as I live– although all indications appear that they still would not have made much of the illness at 4AM on Monday morning, I will still never be able to know that for sure, or whether starting the course of IV antibiotics 12 hours earlier would have saved her life. This knowledge, or lack of it, nearly cripples me sometimes. Even though I know it is not my fault, I still wish I could just rewind and do it differently, just to see if it could have made a difference, and we could have returned to our old, amazing life with our amazing little girl. Although I imagine not a day will go by for as long as I live that I don’t think about this, I can only hope that one day, I will be able to let go of it. I know there is no point, but it is still hard not to consider.

So I put her back into the lukewarm bath– she protested at first, and each time I cupped some cool water and splashed it over her, but she was generally nonresponsive, and just leaned her head over onto my shoulder with her eyes closed as if to say, “Mommy, I just want to go to sleep.” I asked her if she wanted any of her toys, and she said, “No” to each one. That’s the point at which I really wish I had listened to my mommy instinct– I knew that something was very wrong, but I just didn’t know what. Kids run high fevers all the time, I knew, but my kid usually didn’t. Why, why didn’t I listen?

We kept her in the bed with us after that– the fever did come down, but I think it was back up to 102.7 by 6AM or so. I waited until 7 on the nose to call the pediatrician and she said we could come in at 8. So we got Hudson dressed and tried to feed her breakfast. She took two bites of yogurt and refused anything else. We went to the pediatrician’s office and our poor girl was just not herself. She barely made a fuss when the nurse came in, although she did cry at least a little bit. When the doctor came in, her first comment was “She is SICK,” because little Hudson was laid out in my arms with her head all the way back and was not bothering to sit herself up or get more comfortable. The doctor looked her over, looked in her ears, which were perfect (this startled me– I had been hoping all of this would be linked to an ear infection and we could get out of there), the whole nine yards, and nothing.

My account stops Monday morning, halfway through the pediatrician visit. After I had gotten that far, I remember posting on Facebook something like this: “Mandy is finally writing. And it is even more painful than I thought it would be.” It was so horribly painful because writing down every moment of that weekend only highlighted each and every opportunity where I could have made a different choice that might, just might, have saved Hudson’s life. It’s not just about the decision not to go to the ER at 4AM. It’s also about why I didn’t take her to the ER when the fever first spiked to 104 on Sunday. Or why I didn’t at least call the pediatrician back and ask what to do. Why, when the fever spiked up a degree and a half only an hour after I gave her medicine, I didn’t at least call the pediatrician and ask what to do. Maybe she’d have said to get our asses to the ER. Or why, if I didn’t call the pediatrician, I didn’t at least look in my “Portable Pediatrician” book, where the section about fever says plain as day that the fever is not the concern—it’s what’s causing the fever that you should really be worried about.

I have never shared the above with anyone. I’m not even sure Ed knows I ever wrote it. I saved in its own separate document and I have only read it twice, once some time ago and once again today. When I first wrote on the blog last summer about these fateful decisions, I didn’t give this kind of play-by-play. I hit the highlights, and everyone told me that they would have done the same thing I had. And I just kept thinking, “Well, they just don’t know the whole story. They don’t know all the different places where I could have, SHOULD have, made a different choice. If they really knew the whole thing, they would be wondering what in the hell was I thinking.” Maybe so. Maybe not.

But I’m not writing this to have you all reassure me again that I did everything I could do. Really, I’m not. I know now that no amount of that is ever going to make this go away entirely. And believe me, it has gotten better—I am not plagued by this in the same way as I used to be. It’s just that sometimes certain things trigger it (like vaccinations or hearing about high fevers) and I have no choice but to go through it all again. Jess tells me that she does the same thing with her mom’s illness and death—sometimes she just has to let herself go back through every moment, every phone call, every decision point, again. Even though it can never change the outcome, I think telling the story over and over is just part of a process I have to go through, part and parcel of the grief.

It sucks. I can’t even describe how much it sucks. But I have accepted that it is just part of the process. A process whose purpose is to help me one day accept that no matter what I do, there are some things I will be unable to prevent.

No matter how hard I try or how much I wish, I can’t vaccinate Jackson against the entire world. Oh, that such a vaccine existed.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Brother and Sister

Some photos of my babies looking so much alike.  What a gift.

How I wish I could have photos of them together.  

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Jackson at Two Months

I remember thinking when Hudson was this little that clichés are clichés because they are true: they just grow so fast at this age. Jackson is two months old today, and it’s unbelievable how much he is growing and changing right before our very eyes. At his one-month checkup, he weighed 11 pounds and 14 ounces—this is 5 more ounces than Hudson weighed at her TWO-month checkup. Granted, he had a one-pound head start on her at birth, but there is no doubt that he is growing at a much faster clip than she did. Just from a rough guess based on our scale here at home, he probably weighs about 14 pounds and change now, so he may have slowed down just a tiny bit from the pound-a-week rate he was growing at before, but not by much. Already, much like his big sister, he seems to much prefer standing with his weight on his legs to sitting down—anytime he is in the bouncy seat, I see him planting his feet at the bottom and stretching out his legs like he is standing up. His hair is too cute and most of the time, it stands up on his head like a little faux-hawk. His poor little face is suffering from a little bit of yucky acne, but only around his mouth and chin—he is a bit of a messy eater and is also a master of gastrointestinal pyrotechnics, so a lot of milk hangs out around his mouth, even though we try to clean his face regularly. I hate for anything to mar his beautiful little face.

It’s been another wonderful month with our boy. We took Jackson for his first trip to the National Mall, where he saw ducks for the first time. Then his Grandma and Grandpa came to visit and we ventured out to the National Harbor, where he saw Peeps for the first time. We think he was slightly more enthralled with the Peeps this go round, because they are much more colorful, but give him a few more months and I’m sure the scales will tip the other way. We also took him to Lake Artemesia in Maryland, where we saw some turtles gnawing on lilypads in the water.

Eating and sleeping are still adventures. He is a champion nurser, but he tends to gorge, so he eats really fast and hungrily, often choking and spluttering, and frequently gulping down air bubbles that I can hear on the way down. I usually burp him two or three times during a feeding, and every time I turn him upright, I close my eyes and hold my breath—I know there will be spit-up, and it’s always just a question of how much. We go through burp cloths and outfits (for us both) like water around here. The grunting and writhing during sleep does seem to have settled down at least a little bit, but at this point, he’s already acclimated to sleeping in his crib, so it seems silly to bring him back into our room only to move him back to the crib in another month or two. But I do still miss having him sleep close to me.

He is getting more and more stubborn about going to sleep, but I keep having to remind myself that he is only 2 months old—he’s got plenty of time still to learn to fall asleep on his own. But we still work on it. Usually for naps, I swaddle him and bounce him gently on the exercise ball until his eyes get heavy. About half the time, I can then lay him down in the crib with the pacifier and he’ll nod on off to sleep. The other half the time, I have to go back in two or three or four times and put the pacifier back in (this is why I HATE pacifiers, but both my kids have had major sucking reflexes and had no trouble going back and forth from the pacifier to the breast—I only hope that we’re as lucky with Jackson as we were with Hudson and are able to get rid of the darn thing by 5 months or so). Lately, he has finally begun to notice when we leave the room and has started to follow us with his eyes as we do, so that complicates things. A few times a week, he still naps on my belly after he’s finished eating, and I get to stare at his sweet little sleeping face for an hour or so. His nighttime sleep seems to be headed in a good direction. He usually sleeps for a solid six hours from about 8PM until around 2AM. On a few good nights, he’s slept a straight ten hours. We’re getting ready to start a “dream feed” with him, where we give him a bottle of breast milk in his sleep right before we go to bed to see if that can tide him over until morning on a regular basis.

Just like Hudson, his baby fussiness seemed to peak right around six weeks and then he really turned a corner. Now he spends most of his days happily staring at my face, the toys hanging from his bouncy seat, the colorful sea animals on his activity mat, or the ceiling fan. He fusses only when hungry or tired, and we can finally easily distinguish between the two cries. His favorite spot is the changing table. He loves to look at our faces, and particularly loves when we razz at him. He’s razzed back at us a few times, but not on purpose. We sing a lot: “The Wheels on the Bus,” “Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” and pattycake—all songs that require a lot of movement, so we do a lot of clapping, rolling and throwing our cake in the pan, rowing our boat, and opening and closing the bus doors. We sing a lot of other stuff, too, everything from showtunes to Prince to Coldplay. Every day when Ed gets home around 6, he dances around the kitchen with Jackson in his arms, staring raptly up into his face—it is so very precious to watch.

He is smiling more and more. He has even laughed a few times, but not regularly yet. His breath quickens whenever he gets excited. We spend a lot of time talking back and forth to each other—I respond to every smiley “Aaaoooooo!” of his with my own “Aaaoooooo!” and lots of other words and noises. He is already a big fan of peek-a-boo, too.

The car seat is still hit or miss—he has not yet fully learned that it is indeed a happy place for dreamy sleeping, not a torture chamber for endless screaming. But he is coming around, especially now that he notices the Very Hungry Caterpillar hanging from the handle and the big mirror in front of him where a little baby mimics his every move.  I am sure it won’t be long before the car seat becomes our napping fail-safe, just like it was for Hudson—if all else failed, we could always get her to nap in the car.

It’s never easy, as every month that passes is yet one month farther away from the time Hudson was with us. But it amazes me how much Jackson manages both to be his own unique little person and also to help us keep Hudson so close in such special ways. I can only hope that I am doing all I can to help him feel unconditionally loved for just who he is, by me, by his daddy, and by his big sister.

Jackson at One Month

Friday, July 22, 2011

You Are My Sunshine

I had one of those special moments with my two kids a few minutes ago.

I only recently discovered children’s music on Pandora and today, during the hour between 5:30 and 6:30 while we were waiting for Ed to come home, the hour at the end of the day where Jackson is tired and ready for his bath and bottle and bed, the hour where I always have to find some good way to entertain him, I turned to it for the first time. I was on the sofa with Jackson sitting on my legs facing me with the Boppy supporting his back. I had been singing silly pop songs to him for a while, but he tired of that and had just started to get a little fussy when I remembered Pandora. I grabbed my Blackberry and created an Elizabeth Mitchell station.

The first song was “Here Comes My Baby,” which I’d never heard before. Although it’s a jilted lover’s song, these lyrics brought Hudson to mind:

In the midnight moonlight I’ll be walking a long and lonely mile.
And every time I do, I keep seeing this picture of you.

So I was already thinking about her when the next song came on. It was “You Are My Sunshine.” Before the words even floated in, I was already in tears. I kept my composure and sang to Jackson as best I could through the chorus:

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray
You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away.

But I couldn’t hold it together through the verse:

The other night, dear, as I lay sleeping
I dreamt I held you in my arms
When I awoke, dear, I was mistaken
So I hung my head down and cried.

How many times has this happened to me since Hudson died? By the end of the first line, I was sobbing.

But by the beginning of the second, Jackson got this huge goofy grin on his face and immediately I was laughing as hard as I was sobbing, thinking about what I had written the other day about how he always seems to know when I need a smile, and that maybe his big sister has something to do with that.

My little sunshines. One here with me on earth. And one who is not here but is shining on me every day nonetheless.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bath Time

Jackson loves the bath just as much as his big sister did. We’ve started him on the same nightly ritual we had with Hudson, with a nice warm bath before a bottle and bedtime. In not too long, we’ll add books in there, too. As you can see, he’s as big a fan as she was.

At first, we were using the baby tub on top of the kitchen sink downstairs, but this past week, we moved it upstairs into the bathroom, where we always bathed Hudson. Which means that the little blue tub that lived on our bathroom floor every day for most of Hudson’s life finally lives there again. It still has the remnants of Hudson’s diaper cream on the bottom on the toddler side—her teacher at day care was always a little overly generous with the diaper cream, and much of it ended up on the bottom of the tub. Ed scrubbed it and scrubbed it but couldn’t get all the white off.

Lately I have been grappling once again with the reality that Hudson is never coming back, that I will never see her again, that I will miss her each and every day of the rest of my life. Every moment of every day with my sweet boy reminds me of my sweet girl. He’ll keep hitting all the milestones she did, and I will remember. And one day, he’ll start hitting milestones she never reached, and all I will be able to do is imagine.

Only a little over a year out, I am already so tired of missing her. I don’t want to have to miss her for the rest of my life. I don’t want memories and imaginings. I want her. I want her here. Every minute of every day, I want her here.

But I can’t have her. All I get is memories and imaginings, and somehow I have to learn to live with that. For the rest of my life. So for today, I will say that I’m happy that the little blue tub lives on our bathroom floor again. But I hope that white diaper cream stain never disappears.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Jackson’s Birth Story

I can’t believe it has taken me this long to finally get around to writing this, but at this point, I fear I will begin to forget things if I don’t get it done now.

As many of you know, the wait for Jackson’s arrival was long and excruciating. But my labor and delivery with him was anything but.

I finished up work on April 29, knowing that May was going to be an emotional month in many ways: Mother’s Day, the anniversary, Jackson’s birth. And since Hudson had arrived nine days early and Jackson was measuring several weeks big, I was convinced that he would be born early, too. So much so that my dad and I agreed that when he came up for the memorial at the Arboretum for the one-year anniversary of Hudson’s death, he should just stay until Jackson was born. Little did we know this would be another week and a half.

At my 36-week OB appointment, the doctor checked me and said I was about 1 cm dilated and 50% effaced and that she thought I would deliver within two weeks. I tried, unsuccessfully, not to get too excited about that, but by the next week when I was full-term, I hadn’t progressed at all, so I began to wonder how long the wait would actually be. At 39 weeks, I was about 2-3 cm, but still not thinning out anymore. The OB told me that he’d stripped my membranes a bit when he checked me to see if that would help get things going, but nothing happened in the next day or two except some spotting. On the third day, I started to lose my mucus plug, which really got me excited, but still nothing happened.

In the middle of all of this, I was going for non-stress tests twice a week—once a week from 36 weeks on is standard for women over 35, but I asked if I could go starting at 33 weeks, and by 35 weeks, I asked if I could go twice weekly. The tests basically involved monitoring the baby’s heart rate for 20 minutes and then checking my amniotic fluid levels. While they were very reassuring in the beginning, as we got closer to the end, we started to have a few blips here and there, where Jackson’s heart rate wouldn’t accelerate enough after movements, so that started to freak me out (as if I weren’t freaked out enough already).

On the Sunday before Jackson was born, I finally tackled organizing the nursery. I’d run out of every other possible nesting thing I could do, and all of those boxes of clothes were sitting on the floor, making it hard to walk from the door to the changing table, and books and toys were piled up on the edge of the crib. After I finished with the room, I told Ed that maybe Jackson would think we were now ready for him to come. Then I started crying and said that maybe I was the one who felt that way.

The next morning, I had another blip on the NST. I knew that if I went overdue, my anxiety was going to skyrocket, so I called an acupuncturist and made an appointment for the next day, which was my due date. I told her that if I didn’t show up, it meant that I had gone into labor, and she said that had happened to them before. Later that day, I sat down to write about the experience of having finally readied the nursery for Jackson. My contractions started about a half hour later, at around 4:30PM.

At first, I was skeptical about whether this was really labor, just as I had been with Hudson (you can read Hudson’s birth story here). The contractions began very mildly, just like menstrual cramps. This time, they started in the front, in my belly, whereas with Hudson, they had started in the back. This was a good sign, as I had been terrified of having back labor with Jackson, since he had been turned posterior for quite a while and I’d been having some really sharp back pains whenever he moved.

I was still sitting at the dining room table on the computer when the contractions began, and I decided to start timing them. They were coming anywhere from 6-10 minutes apart, but were not getting stronger yet. Dad came into the room and I told him that I thought I was having contractions, and he got all excited. I called our doula, Michele Peterson (who was amazing, in case you are looking for someone in the DC area), just to let her know that I thought labor might be starting—she has a one-year-old, so I knew she’d need to make arrangements for child care, etc. I decided to wait for an hour before trying to call Ed, just in case this was not the real thing, but when they were still coming pretty regularly by 5:30, I called him at the office. He was out for a run, of course. I tried him again and again over the next half hour or so and finally got him and told him I thought I was in labor. He was about to head home anyway. In the meantime, Dad and I took a walk, again just to make sure this was the real thing—Michele had suggested that sometimes walking can make the contractions go away, but they didn’t, so I was pretty sure this was it.

Ed got home and we all ate dinner. I had nothing but a bowl of chicken noodle soup and some saltines—I was thinking I was headed toward a long night with contractions and would need the energy to get through it and eventually to push Jackson out. I ate light, but as it turned out, I would probably have been better off not eating at all.

After we ate, we settled in to watch the second Lord of the Rings movie. Dad had never seen the trilogy (Ed and I have watched it about a dozen times), and we had watched the first movie on Sunday night. All during this time, the contractions had been getting worse—stronger and closer together. I was sitting on top of the exercise ball for most of the movie, rocking back and forth and breathing through the contractions, which were about two to three minutes apart at this point. At around 10PM, I called Michele to touch base and see what we should do. Things were going WAY faster than they had with Hudson—with her, I was having contractions for about 15 hours before they started to get bad. With Jackson, they started to get bad after about 4-5 hours. The last thing I wanted was to get caught at home or in the car ready to push him out. Even though we live only five minutes from the hospital, I decided I thought it was probably time to go in, just in case, and she said she would just meet us there. Good decision, as it turns out. I could probably have labored at home for another hour or so, but if I had, it would have been a great big rush to get admitted and deliver Jackson at the end. When I told Dad we were going to the hospital, he said, “Wait, we don’t get to finish the movie?!” He was joking, of course, but it was pretty funny given how long he’d been sitting around waiting for Jackson to come, asking me every day if I thought anything was happening.

By the time we got to the hospital, it was about 11PM. I’d planned better this time than last time and packed two separate bags—one for labor and one for postpartum. When we had Hudson, we walked into labor and delivery at 2AM carrying huge amounts of stuff, including two trash bags full of pillows and blankets. The nurses looked at us like we were nuts. This time, we had one suitcase, one pillow, a backpack, and the exercise ball—much more reasonable. My contractions were pretty intense by this point, so I was doubled over at the check-in counter, trying to breathe through them with one arm out so they could put an ID band on me. My OB walked up and remarked that I looked pretty uncomfortable. Hmm, ya think? There was some debate about where they were going to put me, because their four assessment rooms were full. I was under the impression they were just going to take me to a delivery room to get assessed, but instead, they took us into a triage room with three or four beds divided by a curtain. I looked at Ed and said, “I really hope we’re not having a baby in here.” He told me not to worry about that right then. Fortunately, though, my OB came in fairly quickly after I’d changed into a gown. She checked me and said I was at 5 cm. I said, “Wow, that’s not bad!” (Compare this to last time, when I checked in at the hospital after 19 hours of contractions and the resident told me I was 5 cm, and I curled into fetal position and cried, “No!” because I couldn’t believe I hadn’t progressed any farther than that). They admitted me and moved me into a labor and delivery room, and I sat down on the birthing ball with my arms resting on the bed while Ed set about putting Hudson’s pictures in strategic places around the room. I was so grateful to have her there with us.

The nurses hooked me up to a heart rate monitor. I was OK with this, because I had already decided that the more information we had, the better. When I wrote our birth plan, I explained up front what had happened to Hudson and that I needed all the staff who worked with us to constantly reassure me that Jackson was OK. I did ask them to turn the volume down, though, because I knew I would panic if I heard it slow down (which would be totally natural during labor, but I knew it would make it much harder for me to relax if I was listening for that all the time). Ed started massaging my lower back during the contractions. At some point, Michele called up and said that the security guard wouldn’t let her and my dad in. Apparently, I was supposed to have made some kind of list of folks who could come up. We resolved that quickly and they both came into the room. Dad saw immediately that things had progressed significantly, so he kissed me and said he would just wait in the waiting room. (As it turns out, he’d brought the LOTR DVDs we’d been watching with him, so he had something to keep him occupied).

The contractions were extremely painful by this point. The position I was sitting in (kind of folded over the edge of the bed) made it tricky to keep track of Jackson’s heart rate the whole time, but at some point, I stopped caring, because I was deep into the hard work of labor. Michele and Ed took turns massaging my lower back, because I wanted them to bear down hard to provide counterpressure to the pain I was feeling, and their hands got tired easily (as it turns out, they were rubbing so hard that they rubbed a blister on the left side of my back, which popped later that morning—I still have a little battle scar there). Michele had also brought a rice bag that one of the nurses was kind enough to heat up for me, and I tried to keep that folded between my legs and my belly for some pain relief there.  I was terrified that I was going to be sick.  I had not meant to have so much food on my stomach at this point.  Luckily, I never threw up, but I did have awful reflux through the whole labor at the hospital. 

This went on for a little while—I’m not exactly sure how long, because I don’t know what time we actually ended up in the delivery room. I was doing pretty well with my deep breathing, and I remember that I was moaning a fair amount and talking to myself (mostly saying, “Relax” and “It will all be over soon.”) At some point, a resident came in to check on my progress. This was not pleasant at all, because it required me to change positions, getting up on the bed and laying down on my back, none of which I was happy about. The contractions were extremely close together at this point, so I was only getting a little bit of a break between each one, and it was not nice to have to spend that break getting checked. The resident said I was about 7cm, and I said, “Oh, shit.” This was the first time that I felt a bit panicky. Seven centimeters is pretty far along, but it also meant I wasn’t in transition yet. I probably knew that I wasn’t in transition yet, anyway, because I was still pretty with it at that point, whereas transition kind of transports you to an excruciatingly painful la-la land. I was feeling pretty tired and a little faint at that point (because I was breathing so deeply for such a long time), and I began to wonder whether I would have enough energy to make it through and push Jackson out. I had no idea how close I was to that happening.

Our fabulous labor nurse, Ann, got really bossy at this point and said, “OK, Amanda, we’re going to the bathroom.” (They didn’t know my nickname—we hadn’t been there long enough for me to even tell them). I remember thinking she wanted me to go to the bathroom because sometimes that can help things along, but she had something else in mind. She said, “OK, I want you to straddle the toilet backwards, facing the wall, and do a few contractions there. We’re going to get this baby to rotate and come down.” I thought she was insane, but I was in no position to argue and was really glad that she was bossing me around. They brought me a pillow to prop my head on against the plumbing above the toilet. I was incredibly uncomfortable, but sure enough, about two contractions later, I felt my water break. I later learned that my water broke at 1:05AM, a mere eight and a half hours after my first contraction. I never felt my water break with Hudson, because it didn’t break on its own. With her, I was already fully dilated and pushing before they finally broke my water so that she could descend the rest of the way. This time, it was the craziest feeling. It felt exactly like a water balloon popping inside me, and I felt the water gush out. I said, “I think that was my water!” and Ann said, “Good! That’s what we wanted!” Somewhere in there, I remember saying, “Wow, Ann, you’re my hero.” But then everything went off the rails. Well, not really—everything went exactly like it should have, but I felt like I was going off the rails. Which meant I was in transition. The contractions immediately got worse and I started to feel that rising sense of panic like I couldn’t handle them. I started to cry while I was still straddling the toilet backwards—crying is a sure sign that a laboring woman has hit transition.

Again, Ann took charge and told me to come out of the bathroom and do some contractions standing and swaying side to side next to the bed. They raised the bed as high as it would go so I could prop my upper body and head on it as I swayed, but it still wasn’t quite enough. I was so exhausted at this point that it was hard to hold myself up and still breathe through the contractions, but I kept hanging on. Michele was working hard to get me to focus—she kept telling me to look at her, at which point she would try to get me to breathe with her. This worked fairly well for a little bit, but it’s difficult to describe how out of control I started to feel. At one point, Ann told me to try to stand and lean on Ed and sway some more, and I did that, but I still couldn’t get comfortable and relaxed enough. Finally, they lowered the bed and Ann told me to get on top of it, on my knees and facing backwards toward the elevated head of the bed and do some contractions there. I was really panicky at this point and was having a hard time staying in control of myself. She kept telling me how close I was to meeting my little boy and that we needed to get him to come down some more. I kept saying, “Come down, little boy, come down,” as I cried through the contractions. Michele told me to look at Ed, who was standing just behind the head of the bed, so I kept trying to look at him and concentrate on his face in order to regain control of myself. I remember a few times (that we laughed about later) where I looked at him with my eyes open as wide as I could get them, as if by opening them wider, I could somehow see him better or concentrate harder. I remember thinking how crazy I must look and later when we talked about it, he said he’d had to stifle a laugh once or twice because I did, indeed, look totally nuts.

I started feeling the urge to push, but it felt different than with Hudson. With her, the urge to push was obvious and I knew exactly what it was. But this time, it was all so commingled with the pain of the contractions that I wasn’t really sure how much pressure I was feeling. Ann asked if I wanted the doctor to come in and check me, and I guess I said yes, because I remember her paging the doctor, “probably for delivery.” When the doctor came in, I said, “I guess you want me to lay down, don’t you?” I really didn’t want to lay down on my back (again, in sharp contrast to my labor with Hudson where I started on my back and was terrified to change positions), but I did. I was flat on the table and the OB checked me and said I had just a tiny lip of cervix still there. I asked if I could push to remove it (which I had done with Hudson) and she said yes. So I pushed that one time, expecting to feel relief upon pushing, like I had with Hudson, but I didn’t, which made me panic again. I said, “I thought it would feel good to push, but it doesn’t! Maybe I’m not ready to push yet!” What I didn’t realize is that Jackson was already ready to come out. My chanting of “Come down, little boy” had apparently worked better than I’d realized. I was still laying flat on my back, and I remember asking if this was how I was going to push and wondering aloud if I shouldn’t change positions, but all of a sudden, I couldn’t do anything but push. The urge was overwhelming and my body wouldn’t do anything else. I was really panicking now, because I had no idea what was going on. I was pushing and screaming (like, a LOT), and the doctor said, “Amanda, calm down. Let me get my gloves on.” I have no idea why she didn’t already have gloves on—she had just checked me, but she must have taken them off after that, not realizing that I was literally going to deliver a minute or two later. I looked at her like she was crazy, because I had absolutely no control over what was happening at that point. My body had totally taken over and I was just along for the ride. I remember saying to no one in particular that I was scared, but again, it was only because things had gone so much faster than with Hudson and I really didn’t realize that he was about to come out.

The rest of it is just a blur. All I really remember is pushing, screaming at the top of my lungs, and staring in wide-eyed terror at the doctor. Then, what seemed like seconds later (I’m told it was about 5 minutes from that first push until he was out), the OB told me to reach down and grab my baby. And I did. And all of a sudden, the moment I had been imagining in my head for months and months and months, the one image I pictured over and over again to calm myself whenever my anxiety got overwhelming—all of a sudden, that moment had arrived and I was living in it. My beautiful little boy, covered in blood and gook, with a big mess of dark hair, was sitting on my chest. My water had broken at 1:05 AM, and he was born 40 minutes later. I felt such immense relief, both that the delivery was over and that Jackson was alive and safe on the outside. He sat with me for about 15 minutes while the OB gave me one small stitch for a tiny periurethral tear, and then the nurses took him a few feet away to weigh him quickly and get him into the hospital’s system. They brought him right back and as soon as I put him to the breast, he latched on and started nursing immediately (and he can thank his big sister for giving me such good experience with this—it made all the difference because I knew exactly what to do). Ed came and snuggled in the bed with us and once again, we were beginning a new journey in our family, this time with our precious Jackson, who brought light into some of the darkest corners of our lives.

I wrote before that it took a bit after he was born for the euphoria to wear off enough for our new reality to sink in. I looked over the foot of the bed at the picture of Hudson in the Arboretum and began to cry. Certainly I was crying for all that would never be, for our family of four with only three, but I was also crying for joy for all that I had right there in the room with me: a family of four with a beautiful new little boy, an amazing husband, and precious memories of the little girl who will always be the big sister. It will never be enough, but I was, and remain, immensely grateful for all that it is.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hard Work

Life with an infant is hard. Not to state the obvious. I think, like labor, that there is some evolutionary process that makes parents forget how intense these first few months are. The constant cycle of nursing, sleeping, changing diapers, cleaning up spit-up, doing laundry, pumping milk for bottles that Daddy can give Jackson, washing and sterilizing pump parts and bottles and nipples, waking two or three times a night with a hungry baby, trying to find time to shower and eat and, if we’re lucky, get something together for dinner. It’s a very labor-intensive process, for sure.

I went for my six-week OB checkup last week and the doctor started to take me through an inventory of questions they use to try to identify postpartum depression in recently delivered moms. I had to stop her after the first question, which was “How often are you able to laugh and see the light side of things?” or something like that, and the choices were “As much as I used to,” “Not as much as I used to,” or “Not at all.” I told her that it’s nearly impossible for me to answer a question like that because my baseline is just so far off from a normal postpartum mom. What does it even mean to say I can laugh or see the light side of things as much as I used to? I don’t really have any idea. She scrapped the inventory.

Life with Jackson as an infant is just so very different than life with Hudson was. It is significantly harder, not because he’s a more difficult baby (he’s not at all), but because of all the heavy weight that comes with the baggage of grief. It is hard work mothering an infant. It is even harder when you’re mothering a dead child, too.

For one thing, living these days with him makes me miss her so much more, in so many ways. As I wrote a week or so after he was born, every little thing he does reminds me of what she was like and what our lives were like with her as a tiny baby. Each time I plop him onto the changing table to get dressed or into the crib for a nap or into the bouncy seat so I can shower or into the Ergo to calm him down or onto my lap to sing “The Wheels on the Bus,” I remember. And on top of that is the sheer fact of her absence, the persistent hole in our lives where she should be, where we can barely even imagine her anymore because we have no idea what our lives would be like with two children. A constant thrumming rumbles under every moment of every day: “Hudson… Hudson… Hudson.”

And I struggle every day with trying to live in each moment, to be here with my sweet boy as I still cling so desperately to his sister’s memory. I try hard to remember how lucky I am to be alive, to have Ed and Jackson here with me, to have my memories of Hudson. I feel awful anytime I feel frustrated or get the urge to complain, because I know both what it means to lose a child and how very, very fortunate I am to have one.  And I don’t want to miss out on a single second of Jackson. 

And finally, these days are such an emotional struggle because they remind me of all the hard work we did caring for Hudson—all the labor of these early days, all the hours spent making all her food from organic ingredients, all the nights I got up at 2AM to pump during the last few months of that first year, even though Hudson was sleeping through the night, because I was determined that she get nothing but breastmilk for a year, all the hours I worked at night after she went to bed so that I could leave work at 5PM in order to pick her up from school and spend the evenings with her. Of course, I don’t begrudge my girl one bit for any of this, nor do I begrudge Jackson the work we’re doing for him now. Every second of every day with my children is worth the incredible reward we reap from working so hard. I guess what I am experiencing now is probably most closely akin to anger. Anger that we did all that hard work for 17 months and 12 days, that we did everything we were supposed to and more, but we don’t get to watch our girl grow up. We never get to see the fruits of all that early work, all those things we did to lay a strong foundation for raising a healthy, curious, engaged, loving child. All of it was just ripped out from under us when Hudson died. I feel betrayed by the universe, I guess. I remember running into a neighbor a few weeks ago when out for a walk with Jackson. She said something like, “Well, you have many years of joy ahead of you,” and I remember thinking, “Well, if we’re lucky.” Because I know that we can do everything right but there are still things that we just can’t control.

But through it all, I am so grateful for my children. Jackson is such a gift—he often seems to know exactly what to do when I am having a difficult moment. Almost every time I begin to cry in front of him, he is ready with a smile in return, and I end up smiling through my tears and thanking him. Maybe it’s just coincidence. Or maybe I just look funny to him when I cry. But he looks most like his sister when he smiles, and I like to imagine that she is giving him a little nudge at just the right time.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


As Jackson has begun settling into a bit of a routine in his days, I have found myself reminiscing more and more about our routines and rituals with Hudson, all the everyday ordinary moments that I loved so much.

Like his big sister, Jackson loves the bath, so to help settle him down during the witching hour between 6PM and 7PM, we’ve begun giving him a bath each night, after which he gets into his jammies and gets a bottle of breast milk before bed. I have found myself thinking so much about our evening routine with Hudson and how very much I miss it. Today, I found myself wanting to read this post I wrote last year (oddly, last July, on the two-month anniversary of Hudson’s death) and I thought maybe you’d like to read it, too. Maybe some of you will be reading it for the first time; others may be reading it for the tenth time.

I could read it over and over and still it would never be enough. It is still unfathomable to me that it has been almost fourteen months, a vast majority of the amount of time Hudson was with us, since I last splashed and laughed with her in the bath, since I last watched her flip the light switches off, since I last heard her say “Mama!” from the top of the stairs, since I last read Goodnight Moon with her and sang “Hark the Sound!” while she snuggled into my shoulder.

Truly, it still seems like just yesterday that I did these things with her. And truly, it is still so very hard to believe that I will never do these things with her again.

Two Months: Remembering

I have been waiting until today to write about another of my favorite memories with Hudson: our evening rituals. Not sure why I have been waiting, except that this seems like the right way to mark each passing month. Memories are a double-edged sword—they keep her close, but they also make me long for her to actually be close. And I worry about losing them, too. This is at least one way to keep them alive.

When Hudson and I got home from picking her up at school, I usually set immediately to getting dinner ready so that when Ed got home, we could all eat and still get Hudson to bed at a reasonable hour (at our house, this was 7:30 at the latest). I started pulling things out of the refrigerator and cabinets and Hudson set about doing any number of things. Reading books or playing with her toys in the playroom, which was right next to the kitchen. Climbing in and out of the rocking chair in the living room (she’d say, “Rock, rock, rock”). Chasing Bess around or just standing with her by the front storm door (I kept the front door open and the storm door locked so the two of them could watch the world go by outside. It was one of their favorite activities). Pulling all the dishtowels out of their bottom drawer and putting them back in (it finally occurred to me to put the good dishtowels up in a cabinet and put the ratty ones in that drawer so I didn’t have to wash them all the time before using them). Opening all the cabinets and pulling out the pots and pans (often so she could climb in herself). Making use of any number of kitchen utensils that I kept in the lower drawers for her to play with (with me having to wash any of these before use, too). Balling up pieces of paper and putting them into the trash can (or at least trying to—the cabinet had a toddler lock on it, but she’d seen us put trash in there so many times, she wanted to do it, too, so she’d pull it open as far as it would go and just drop the paper inside.)

When dinner was ready, I said, “OK, let’s go to your highchair!” and she would immediately wander over there. I put her in and said, “It’s time to wash hands!” She held her hands out, one by one, while I wiped them with a wet paper towel. I put her food and a cup of water (poor kid never got juice—she’d probably had 2 or 3 cups of juice total in her whole life) on her tray and she got busy. With gusto. My biggest irrational fear was that she would choke on something (I mean, really, who the hell sits around worrying that their kid will get meningitis, damn it?), so I still cut her food up pretty small even at 17 months. This is probably why she shoveled huge handfuls in at a time, though, because she couldn’t get a decent mouthful of food otherwise. Oh, well.

Lots of nights, Ed wouldn’t quite make it home for the start of dinner, so when I heard him come up the stairs, I said, “Who’s that?! Who’s coming?” and she broke into a grin and kicked those little feet up and down, knowing Daddy was home. He opened the door, peeked his head around, and said, “It’s Daddy!” (this was one of Hudson’s favorite lines from one of her favorite books, “Daddy Hugs”—she got such a kick out of the first page where the daddy comes in and says, “Here I come! It’s DADDY!”) Hudson laughed and let herself be kissed, but quickly got back to the business of eating, about which she was very serious. Her only bad habit was that she loved to watch Bess eat food off the floor, so she often purposely held her hand or her spoon out and dropped food on the floor, looking straight at us the whole time, waiting for a reaction. All she usually got was, “Hudson, food goes on the tray, not on the floor, please.” When she was finished, we took her tray away, but often she apparently did not think she was done, and would keep fishing food out of the pocket of her bib. The girl loved to eat, I tell you.

We washed hands again and then we asked, “Hudson, what time is it?!” She smiled and said, “BATH!” If Ed was home, he took her upstairs to take a bath while I cleaned up the dinner dishes. When I heard them wrapping up and walking over to her room to put on her pajamas, I knew one of my favorite moments of the day was coming up. After she was in her pajamas, she walked over to the top of the stairs, leaned her face against the baby gate, and said, as loud as her little voice could manage, “Mama!” (Her daddy taught her this trick—he taught her all her best tricks, really). I can still hear it in my head as clearly as if it had happened last night, but it is one of those sounds I fear losing the most. I dried my hands, climbed up the stairwell on my hands and knees, and gave her a snuzzle (cross between a snuggle and a nuzzle—it was really just a nose-rub) and a kiss through the bars of the baby gate. Then I stood up and took her into my arms and we gave each other a great big hug before her daddy took her into her room for storytime. This is one of those moments I go back to many, many times every day.

If Ed wasn’t home, then I would take her upstairs for her bath. I usually let her climb the stairs on her own, either on her hands and knees, or, in the later days, with great big steps while holding on to the spindles in the railing. At the top, I closed the gate behind me and we went into the bathroom. I put her toddler tub in the bathtub and started drawing the water and told her to go get a washcloth. She wandered out of the bathroom and into her room, opened the cabinet door in her dresser, and grabbed a washcloth (or, usually, several). I grabbed a towel and we went back to the bathroom, where I told her to pick out her toys. She poked through her bin of tub toys—mostly squirting sea creatures and one plastic turtle with three building blocks for his shell—and picked out a few, which she threw into her tub. Then I sat on the edge of the tub, pulled her into my lap, undressed her, and plopped her in.

This was undoubtedly Hudson’s very favorite time of day. She had the undivided attention of her mom or dad, lots of water, and tons of toys. I picked her squirty toys up out of the water, set them on the edge of the tub and then launched them back into the tub with a flick of my finger and a “Wheeeee!” while she laughed and laughed. She pushed the squirty toys under the water, squeezed them and watched them make bubbles, and then pulled them back out to squirt. She stacked the building blocks on the turtle’s back or used them as cups to pour water. But the thing that got her giggling the most, her very favorite thing, was splashing. She kicked her feet or flailed her arms, throwing water everywhere, and I would exaggeratedly shriek and hold the washcloth up to protect myself, saying in a high-pitched voice, “No, no!” She just laughed her little head off and, egged on, would do it some more—the cycle of my shrieks and her laughs continued until I’d had enough (she would never have had enough).

Every other night or so, we bathed her with soap and washed her hair. Once she was good and soapy, we stuck her in the Bumbo seat on the floor of the tub (no, not filled with water) and pulled the handheld shower head down from its perch, turned it on, and rinsed her off. When she was littler, she LOVED this--she couldn’t get enough of it (see video below). As she got older, and actually minded getting water in her eyes, she liked it a little less, but still got a kick out of playing with the sprayer.

When we were all done bathing, I said, “Ready for shaky shaky?” In more recent days, she said, “No!” and shook her head because she wasn’t ready to get out of the bath. I grabbed her tight under the armpits and lifted her up, saying, “Shaky! Shaky! Shaky!” and she kicked her feet and wiggled to help shake the water off. Then we twirled around and I laid her down on her towel, which was waiting on the closed toilet seat, and wrapped her up, saying, “Baby burrito!” And then I swooped her up and we looked in the mirror and I leaned her in so she could give herself a kiss in the mirror. We did this exact sequence every time I gave her a bath. Then we sat down on the toilet seat, finished drying her off, and brushed her teeth (not a favorite activity). Finally, as we left the bathroom, she loved to flip the light switches off in the bathroom and the hallway before we headed into her room.

Once we got her jammies on, I sat down in the rocking chair and set her on the floor. We kept all our regular bedtime books in a pile on floor to the right of the rocking chair. In earlier days, I set her on my lap and I picked the order of the books, but later, she liked to pick which ones she wanted to read each night. A recent favorite had become an extra copy of a photo book we had made for her grandparents for a Christmas present—we called it the “Hudson book.” We looked at each page and picked out and named Hudson (at all her different ages), Mommy, Daddy, Bess, and all the other relatives in there. Some other bedtime favorites were Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, (complete with Hudson’s motions of smacking her head when “one fell off and bumped her head” and wagging her finger when the doctor said, “No more monkeys jumping on the bed!”), Goodnight Gorilla (she loved, loved, loved that pink balloon) and Hush Little Baby (she picked out and named the birds, the moon, the bear—lots of her favorite words were in that book). And of course, the finale was Goodnight Moon. Usually Ed and I had to pick that one up ourselves when it was time for storytime to end—Hudson loved the book but she knew it meant no more stories, so she rarely picked it up herself. She often fussed at us when we tried to pick it up, but that never lasted long once we opened it up. She positively adored the great green room and everything in it. We picked out all kinds of things: the clock, the house, the cats, the balloon, the three little bears, the bowl full of mush, the stars, and much more—she could say many of these words by the time she died, too. But her favorite activity had become finding the mouse—she practically wanted to skip over the pages in between the green room pages, so she could get back to the mouse. She knew exactly where it was on every page, but would look up at me, smiling and sucking air through her teeth, waiting for me to say, “Where is it?! Where’s the mouse?!” and then she’d point to it excitedly, and I’d say “There’s the mouse!” And she’d start flipping ahead to where she could find it again.

When we got to the “Good night stars, good night air,” I would soften my voice, and then finish “Good night noises everywhere” with a whisper. By this time, she was usually already curling up on my shoulder with her thumb in her mouth, ready for her song. We finished our bed time ritual with one round of “Hark the Sound,” her head tucked under my chin, me swaying gently on my feet. When I got to the end of “I’m a Tar Heel born, I’m a Tar Heel bred,” instead of “Go to hell, Dook!” I whispered, “Don’t go to Dook!” which always earned a smile or a soft giggle. Then I hugged her tight, kissed her cheek, and put her down on her tummy. She turned her head to one side, thumb still in mouth, and I tucked her little polar bear and panda bear up under her arms on each side, and she closed her eyes. I said, “Good night, my sweet girl” and closed the door behind me.

On the day Hudson died, her blood pressure and other vital signs were pretty unstable throughout the day. The doctors had talked with us about the possibility that her body might not even make it through until the evening, when they were planning to do the second brain death test, even with all the medications and monitoring they were doing to try keep her alive and stable until then so the results would be reliable. We assured them that if she crashed, we did not want them to take any extraordinary measures—we knew our girl was already gone, but we just wanted a little more time with her before we would never be able to see her again. I didn’t leave the room that entire day. Knowing that this might happen before the planned hour, Ed and I took some quiet time alone with her earlier in the afternoon so that we would feel like we’d had a chance to say goodbye, just in case. We talked to her, cried over her, told her how much we loved her—I remember telling her that there were so many things I wanted to say, but I didn’t know what they all were right then, so I just had to trust that she knew. And Ed told her that we knew she would still hear us when we talked to her for the rest of our lives. Then we read Goodnight Moon. On each page of the great green room, I said, “Where’s the mouse?!” and then pointed to it myself and said “There’s the mouse!” We said, “Good night stars, good night air, good night noises everywhere” and then closed the book and said goodbye to our beautiful girl. We were fortunate to have more time with her and a chance to say goodbye to her again later that evening, but I will remember that most precious moment for the rest of my life.

As parents, it seems we often focus on remembering and documenting “big” moments—Christmas mornings, birthday parties, first steps, and the like. As I’ve said here many times before, now that Hudson is gone, it’s the ordinary, everyday moments that I miss the most. And it is these that I most want to remember.

We love you and miss you so much, my sweet girl. This memory of you is my One Good Thing on this otherwise very bad day.

Friday, July 8, 2011


It’s been almost a week since I’ve written anything here. I have several posts floating around in my head, but no real motivation to write them right now. In the past when I have gone long periods without writing, it has been because I’ve had little inspiration, usually because I am just feeling really sad and having a terrible time getting any perspective on the grief.

But this time, I’ve had little motivation to write because quite honestly, I haven’t needed to. It has been a pretty good week. And I am working really hard at being okay with that. It is still a struggle, but it is becoming a tiny bit less so each day. And for that, I’m grateful.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Diaper Bag

If you read here regularly, you know that I have struggled with what, if anything to do with Hudson’s diaper bag, which holds all the clothes she was wearing on May 10, the day she was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with the infection that would take her life. Her maroon fleece sweatshirt with flowers embroidered on it, navy pants with whales on them, a light turquoise polo-style shirt with puffed sleeves, a pair of socks, and her little pink Nike tennis shoes, a Christmas gift from her Grandma that she wore every day. Plus diapers, wipes, and the other usual things one finds in a diaper bag. And the discharge report from the pediatrician from the morning of May 10, ordering us to return the next day to check in. An appointment we would not make it to, for by that time, Hudson was in a coma from which she would never wake.

Again and again, I tried to somehow deal with the diaper bag, which sat under Hudson’s memorial table in her playroom for nearly a year. I tried to deal with it when I rearranged that room to accommodate my new sewing habit. And again when I washed all of Jackson’s clothes and all the other baby gear we would be reusing for him. And again when I finally organized the nursery the day before I went into labor with Jackson. But again and again, I couldn’t bring myself to empty it.

So when Jackson was born, I still had not done anything with the diaper bag. And I also couldn’t bring myself to buy a new one, because it just seemed so wasteful. So for those first few days, when we went to the pediatrician, we took some diapers and wipes in a ratty old tote bag from our rather large collection. The next week, we were preparing for our first trip to North Carolina. I realized in the days leading up to the trip that we really needed the diaper bag and I kept promising myself that I would empty it so we could use it. By the night before we were supposed to leave, I still hadn’t done anything with it. Ed offered to help, saying we could do it together, and I said that would be fine, but still, it didn’t get done. I told him we’d have to deal with it in the morning before we left. The next morning, as I got out of the shower, he came into the bathroom and asked me what I wanted to do with something that was in the bag—I can’t even remember what. I told him I was surprised he had started taking it apart without me. He said that he had put the pediatrician’s report in the recycle bin—I didn’t want that, did I? I said, “I don’t know” and before I knew it, I just burst into tears. He felt awful and so did I. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t bring myself to empty the damn thing. He said we didn’t have to, and so we didn’t. I did, however, finally move it out of the playroom and into the closet in the nursery. I don’t know if that was really any kind of progress, though.

So on the way out of town, we stopped at Buy Buy Baby and bought another one. I tried to find one that I liked that was different from the one we already had, but ended up buying an identical bag—it had all the features I liked and was simple. There was a reason I had bought it in the first place. And I liked it just as much this time as I had before.

Last Wednesday, I picked Ed up from work because he had several large things he needed to bring home that would have been unmanageable on the train. I took Jackson upstairs to say hello to a few of Ed’s colleagues who had not yet met him. I took the diaper bag with me in the stroller basket, knowing I might need it while I was up there. Somehow, it didn’t make it back home with us. We have no idea where it got left behind, but it is lost. There was nothing of real value in it except the nursing cover that I used when Hudson was little, but that has only sentimental value, as I have abandoned those things altogether this go round.

So we were left yet again with no diaper bag. Again, I threw some diapers and wipes and a burp cloth into a tote bag in a pinch yesterday when I had to go out. I’d been trying to decide if losing the brand new replacement diaper bag somehow meant that we were just supposed to use Hudson’s.

Ed’s folks are in town this weekend and this morning we were getting ready to head out for the day. I was changing Jackson’s diaper in the nursery and Ed came in and asked where the makeshift diaper bag was so that he could refill it. I sighed and said, “I’ll just go ahead and empty Hudson’s and we can use that.” I walked over to the closet and bent down to pick it up, and honestly, it was almost like how people say their lives flashed before their eyes. I touched the bag and felt almost electrified—in an instant, I mentally catalogued its contents and flipped through a series of sad images conjured by them. And then dissolved into tears again. I dropped it and said, “This is crazy! It is a totally visceral reaction!”  Needless to say, we left it there and took the makeshift bag with us today. 

I theorized before that maybe keeping the diaper bag like it is somehow preserves a moment in time for me, a moment before all hell broke loose and our lives changed forever, a moment when Hudson was here. Or maybe it’s just another form of denial—as long as I don’t empty that bag, there’s still some crazy possibility that Hudson can come back and we can use it again for her. Or maybe it’s just a PTSD-like reaction.

I don’t know what it is, but I don’t guess it matters, either. I don’t think I’m ever going to empty it. So it’s time to buy another one. Again.