Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Days of Thanks #7

Today, I am grateful for the healing power of the passage of time. During this week last year, I was in very bad shape, trying to somehow prepare myself for Hudson’s birthday. This year, I am very, very sad. Of course I am. But the weight feels different from last year. Any parent who has lost a child knows that the expression “Time heals all wounds” is just wrong. This wound will never, ever heal. But time does help dull the sting somewhat. I have yet to make it through the actual day, I know, but I feel stronger this year than I did last year as I brace myself for it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Days of Thanks #6

Today, I am just grateful that I made it through (see post below).

First Fever

Well, it happened. I’ve been dreading it forever and it finally happened. Jackson spiked his first fever in the middle of the night last night, and it was just as bad as I’d imagined it would be, although in a different way.
Sleeping through the night never really took (more on that when I finally get to Jackson’s 6-month update, hopefully tomorrow), so I’ve been getting up again to nurse him a few times a night for the last few weeks. Last night when he woke up at about 4AM, I nursed him and when he was finished eating, I put him up over my shoulder to let him burp before putting him back down. All of a sudden, I realized that his neck felt very warm to me. I felt his forehead and it also felt hot, as did the one cheek that had been nestled against my skin. His other cheek felt cooler, so I almost just put him back down (he couldn’t really have a fever, could he?), but then I decided I should check his temperature just in case.

I unzipped his jammies, and as soon as I put my hand on his tummy, it was like I was transported back in time. His skin felt like it as on fire, and for an instant, it was like it was her on the changing table, like I was touching her tummy, so surprised at how hot she was, because she’d never really run a high fever before. It was like I was right back there with her, at 4AM, not knowing what to do. It occurred to me that it was probably just a mild reaction to his shots yesterday, but that was little comfort under the circumstances.

Somehow, I maintained my composure long enough to take his temperature (it was 101.8—not a piddling fever), take him into our room and tell Ed that he had a fever, read my Portable Pediatrician book (I couldn’t remember what temperature was considered problematic at this age), and go downstairs, then outside to the car in my bare feet, looking for his discharge instructions about side effects of the immunizations. I couldn’t find them anywhere, so I sat there and hemmed and hawed for about 5 minutes trying to decide what to do. Ultimately, I decided that if anyone is entitled to a middle-of-the-night phone call to the pediatrician, even an ultimately groundless one, it’s me. So I called. I expected to have to leave a message and wait for a call back, but the answering service connected me straight to the doctor. It was the same doctor who saw Hudson on that terrible, terrible morning last May, but not the same doctor Jackson usually sees now (there are two partners in the practice). She sounded pointedly annoyed, especially after I explained why I was calling. This surprised me—looking back on it now, I am trying to give her the benefit of the doubt and think that either 1) she didn’t realize it was ME and JACKSON (i.e., mother and brother of HUDSON, the child who died from meningitis last May after she herself sent us home to take more Tylenol) or 2) it was four in the morning and she wasn’t making any conscious effort to sound annoyed or otherwise—she was just barely awake. She told me to give him Tylenol and I asked if I should be worried otherwise. She asked if anything else was going on, and I said no, but of course in the back of my mind, I was thinking, “But nothing else was going on with Hudson, either!” She said if he kept running a fever, then he should be seen.

So I hung up, gave Jackson some Tylenol, settled into the bed with him, snuggled him close, and began to sob. I cried and cried and cried. I really hadn’t been afraid, because I did realize almost immediately that this fever could be easily explained. But what I hadn’t anticipated was the PTSD-like reaction I had. The hot tummy. The surprise. The confusion. The decision to make.

All I wanted in the entire world was to have that same decision point with her back. All over again, all I wanted was the chance to call the pediatrician instead of waiting it out until the office opened. Or the chance to go on to the ER where maybe they’d have been more familiar with signs of meningitis and would have caught it in time.

All I wanted in the entire world was another chance to rewrite the ending. Another chance to save her.

Why, oh, why couldn’t I save her?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Days of Thanks #5

I am grateful for modern medicine. Jackson got his third round of shots today and the first half of his flu shot. I feel like I have almost been holding my breath for these first six months, just waiting for him to get these shots so that I could feel like he is at least somewhat protected from all the bugs out there that might get him. I have avoided pretty much any and every event that included being indoors with a bunch of kids (baby yoga, birthday parties, kids’ concerts, etc.) until we got past these 6-month shots.

I don’t write about this very often here, because it is not the purpose of my blog to soapbox about anything (although sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t make it my life’s work to promote childhood vaccination, which is pretty much the only thing that might prevent other children from dying the way Hudson did), and I won’t say much here. Hudson was fully vaccinated completely on schedule. She was vaccinated against the most common cause of meningitis, which is the HIB bacteria—the introduction of the HIB vaccine preceded a dramatic drop in the incidence of meningitis in children in the nineties. And she was vaccinated against the most prevalent strains of strep pneumo, the type of bacteria that ultimately claimed her life. Strep pnuemo bacteria are among the most common in the world—most of us are walking around with some strain of it in our respiratory system right now. Unfortunately (tragically, horrifically, terrifyingly, bang-my-head-against-the-wall-and-shake-my-fists-why?!), there are about 90 strains of strep pneumo floating around, and at the time, only 7 were covered in the Prevnar vaccine Hudson received. Another 6 were added in the months just preceding her death.

Opponents of vaccinations might look at what happened to Hudson and argue that vaccines don’t work. But vaccines DO work. They work, but they are imperfect. Just as we can’t create a bubble for our children to walk around in, neither can we vaccinate them against everything. All I can think about is how much MORE exposed to these life-threatening bacteria Hudson would have been without immunizations.

All I can ever do is offer this mother’s perspective in the debate about vaccines. Any informed choice about vaccines must include the information that children CAN AND DO DIE from these childhood illnesses that we vaccinate against. As parents, I think it is so difficult for us to believe that something as simple and intangible as a bacterium or a virus could claim our child’s life—we think so much more about cancer and cars and choking. And yes, what happened to Hudson is exceedingly rare—of course it is. But so are any serious adverse reactions to vaccinations. I remember another mother who once opened up the comments on her blog for people to debate about vaccines. One mother whose child had autism said this: “The parents yelling the loudest and calling personal choice selfish, are (mostly) the ones whose children do not have autism. For those of you who would ‘take autism over childhood diseases any day,’ yeah, right.” I responded in a way completely uncharacteristic for me, because it was so melodramatic. I said, “For the commenters above who seem to doubt this sentiment, yes, I would much rather have my child on the autism spectrum than have her ashes sitting in the next room.”*

Children can and do die from childhood diseases. They are not routine or always mild. There is a reason we vaccinate against them—because they can kill children (and in most cases, WERE killing children in large numbers before the vaccinations were introduced).

I did not write this to start a debate about vaccinations. I can’t control the comments here (well, I can, but I choose not to), so I can’t stop readers from starting such a debate, but I hope that can be avoided. I just wanted to express (and explain) my gratitude today for the fact that although I can’t protect Jackson against all the terrible things in the world that might take him from me, I can protect him from some of them. I know I will be breathing just a little easier in a few weeks when his immunity from today’s shots kicks in. For me, there is no question but that the benefits outweigh the risks.

*I want to stress here that in no way do I believe that there is ANY link whatsoever between vaccinations and autism, nor have I ever. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Do One Good Thing for Hudson’s Third Birthday

Somehow—and I have no idea how—Hudson’s birthday is here again. Thursday, December 1 is the day she should be turning three. Three. She would be more than twice the age she was when last we knew her. Three seems so very big to me. So very much kid and so very little toddler anymore. An entirely different person than the little girl who had just barely grown out of her baby fat.
Like so many things during this second year, Hudson’s birthday snuck up on me, in the sense that unlike last year, I have not spent the last few weeks brooding over it and dreading it. I’ve known it was coming, but I haven’t felt like digging my heels in the sand and closing my eyes against it like I did the first time. I have no idea what that means—it must be at least the very beginning of what grief experts call “integration,” although the very idea of that still stops me in my tracks. I don’t want Hudson’s death to be integrated into our lives. Ever. Ultimately, it will happen anyway, and the best I can hope for is to not be psychically kicking and screaming the entire way. So I guess I should be grateful that the passage of time has taken some of the sting out of the coming week. But the way I have been feeling the last day or so is warning me that I am hardly out of the woods.

As we did last year, and as we plan to do for every future year as long as we live, we are going to honor Hudson’s birthday by doing some giving. As I explained last year, the very essence of One Good Thing is finding ways in which something good can come out of something so incredibly awful. We will be doing the same things we did last year (read more about it here): taking Elmo toys and Hudson’s favorite books to Dr. Bear’s Closet at Children’s Hospital, donating some yummy dog treats and toys to the Washington Humane Society, and giving again to the National Arboretum, one of our favorite places to visit with our girl, where we (with the generosity of so many others) have placed a bench in her memory and scattered a small portion of her ashes.

Again, we invite you (and anyone else you think might be interested) to help us celebrate Hudson’s third birthday by doing One Good Thing for the world sometime this week. It can be as simple as paying for a stranger’s coffee or dropping a toy off at your local Angel Tree. Whatever moves you will be a wonderful tribute to our sweet girl on her birthday. Like last year, if you are so inclined, please leave a comment here on the blog to share with us what you did. And please feel free to share this with anyone else you think might be interested. 

As I said last year, 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.

Days of Thanks #4

I am so very grateful to my precious daughter for the gift of inspiring us to live our lives fully at every chance we get. Not a weekend day goes by anymore that Ed and I don’t wake up thinking, “What adventure can we find today?” There’s no doubt that we did lots and lots of fun things with Hudson regularly—our many wonderful photos of her are evidence of that—but now, we see it so differently. Now it’s an imperative. Not only do we know in a way that few others do how short life can be, but we also feel that we owe it to our girl to live the best lives that we can, because she will never get that chance. We want our lives and our children’s lives to be full of adventure. And adventure can mean anything from a bike ride to a zoo trip to a Saturday spent at home building a fort or jumping in the piles of leaves we just raked or snuggling up together with a favorite book or movie and a cup of hot chocolate.

By the same token, I am so grateful for my sweetest Jackson (and I’m sure this is not the last time during these Days of Thanks that I will write about how grateful I am for my children), for there is no doubt that his presence in our lives has helped us move beyond just yearning to live our lives fully again (which we found so hard to do with our beloved little girl gone) and actually begin to do it.

Of course, every adventure for the rest of our lives will be bittersweet. Today’s adventure took us to beautiful Mount Vernon, where I couldn’t help but imagine how much Hudson would have loved the sheep and the geese and the water and the Christmas trees and her little brother and just running around in all that open space. But that, too, I suppose, is a gift for which I must be grateful. On the one hand, imagining her in these spaces might seem like focusing on what’s missing rather than enjoying what’s here. But another way to look at it is that imagining her in these spaces just helps keep her close to us, and to me, that can only be a good thing.

Here’s to a lifetime of adventure for us all, with Hudson always in our hearts.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Days of Thanks #3

I am so grateful to have a place that I call home. My family moved around a few times when I was young, until we finally settled in Charlotte when I was almost ten. But my parents moved away from there when I graduated from college, so it never became “home” either—it was not where I went for holidays or visits with my parents. Until we moved to DC in 2007, I had lived in the Triangle for twelve of the preceding thirteen years, either in Chapel Hill or Durham. And UNC Law gave me the first sense of community I’d had since my high school youth group days. (Meeting Ed was no small part of this, of course). So even though I grew up mostly in Charlotte, I list Chapel Hill as my “hometown,” because that is what it is to me. And whenever I go there, I feel at home in a way I have never felt in my life.

So I’m especially grateful that it will soon be my permanent home once again (and hopefully forever this time). I’ve been invited to join the faculty at the law school as a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Writing and Learning Resources Center, which means that beginning in the fall of 2012, I will be teaching first-year legal research and writing at UNC Law. I can barely believe my good luck to have an opportunity to return not only to the town I love so much, but to the faculty of the school that gave me so much.

We will probably move in late spring/early summer. A day will come soon when it begins to really hit me what it will mean to leave the only place that Hudson ever lived with us. I can’t even imagine how that is going to feel. But for now, I feel so grateful to be moving back home, to live so close to my children’s grandparents and a few aunts and uncles, to have only a few more long trips down I-95 to endure, and to be able to give my children such a wonderful place to grow up. I want so much for them to have a feeling of home and community that I never had, and this move will be the first step in that direction.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Days of Thanks #2

I am grateful for an exceptionally beautiful, 70-degree, post-Thanksgiving Friday spent with an even more beautiful little boy who appears to love hiking as much as we do.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Days of Thanks, #1

Like I did last year, on each day from today until Christmas, I am going to write about something for which I am grateful. It was such a powerful exercise, forcing myself daily to engage in a conscious practice of gratitude, even on the days when I felt the absolute lowest during those first holidays and birthday without Hudson.

To start it off, today I am grateful for gratitude itself. I am grateful for the ability to feel grateful in spite of the giant hole Hudson’s death left in my life. I am grateful for the ability to see, recognize, and feel grateful for the things that hole continues to show me about the life that remains. And I am grateful for the power of gratitude to heal. I am counting on it for this next difficult month.

Happy Thanksgiving

We only got one Thanksgiving with Hudson. It was wonderful. I love going back to these pictures and memories over and over again, because they really show Hudson blossoming into the little person we knew and adored before she was so cruelly taken from us six months later. If you haven’t seen them before, I hope you’ll go look at them now. And if you have seen them before, they are so worth seeing again.

Of course, I spent a good portion of today remembering her. Ed, Jackson, and I took a long walk down the gravel lane from my in-laws’ house to the road, Jackson napping in the Ergo, Ed and I awash in our memories of our beautiful girl and wondering what she would be like today.

But thankfully, unlike last year, I also spent some time today snuggling with my precious son, looking forward to the adventures we’ll have with him here for many years to come, and being so grateful for the beautiful gift he has been to my life.

This morning, I was the first one up and I went into my dad’s kitchen for breakfast. He recently printed a ton of family photos and had taped many of them on the cabinets above his refrigerator. As I stepped toward the fridge, I saw that one of the photos had fallen on the floor and was facing up at me. It was this one, taken in her Christmas dress a few weeks after Thanksgiving:

It’s so hard not to focus on what’s missing. She will always be missing. And she will always be missed. But I am so grateful for so much today, not least of which is how much she remains with us.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Our second without Hudson. Tomorrow I will start my Days of Thanks again. I will continue them until Christmas, and I will try to let gratitude be a balm on the still-so-raw places in my heart that throb so during this time of year.

But today, I needed to wallow. I needed a whole day. As it turned out, I got about ten minutes while I was in the shower.
The Merriam-Webster online dictionary has five different definitions for “wallow.” I found each somewhat fitting in its own way for my state of being during those ten minutes in the shower:

1: to roll oneself about in a lazy, relaxed, or ungainly manner (e.g., leaning my forehead against the wall of the shower, shoulders collapsed forward, rolling from side to side)
2: to billow forth: surge (e.g., my tears, snot, and saliva pouring out of my eyes, nose, and mouth)
3: to devote oneself entirely; especially: to take unrestrained pleasure: delight (e.g., allowing myself those few awful moments to do nothing but fall apart completely and practically relishing the terrible accompanying release)
4a : to become abundantly supplied: luxuriate (e.g., becoming awash in waves of grief that I so often have to shut out)
4b : to indulge oneself immoderately (e.g., focusing only on the giant hole in my life to the exclusion of all the beauty that surrounds it)
5: to become or remain helpless (e.g., being absolutely unable to control any of the above)

During the days and months just after Hudson died, I remember so well the physical pain that I felt in my chest every day. I would tell Ed that it felt like someone had their foot planted right in the middle of my chest and was just pressing and pressing and pressing down. During last night’s drive down to Chapel Hill, where we will spend Thanksgiving, I felt that feeling again for the first time in a very long time. And then the traffic was terrible and we didn’t get home until 2AM. And then Jackson woke up and we couldn’t get him back to sleep until 3:30. And the only way we could get him to sleep was in the bed with us, which meant I slept only very fitfully on about one foot of mattress. Then he woke up again. Then he woke up for good at 8AM. Then he was fussy from being too tired. Then I couldn’t get him to nap. When Ed finally took a break from working around lunchtime today, I snapped at him for the first time since I can remember. Being the kindest man on earth, he overlooked that and took Jackson from me. And I got in the shower. And wallowed.

I could sit here and list off all the things I am missing so much right now, all the things that feel like a thousand tiny knives poking me all over, all the things I imagine we’d be doing with Hudson during these days, all the things we’ll never get to do with her again. The list would be so very long and so very sad, and it would all sound so very familiar to you by now—only the details would change.

But what I have been feeling most this past week, what has made up the bulk of the foot pressing into my chest last night and this morning, is resentment. I resent all of you who have never had to feel this awful. I resent all of you for whom these days are filled with nothing but the shimmering, joyful anticipation of the coming holiday season. I resent all of you who get to spend these days with a totally intact happy family, all of you for whom every family photo is complete, all of you who get to hug all of your children tonight before bed. I love all of you, too, but I resent you. And I’m so sorry.

This resentment isn’t new. I’ve written about it here before, but back then I called it jealousy. Jealousy sounds so much more human and so much less awful. But jealousy and resentment are really just two sides of the same coin.

I don’t want to resent you. I don’t want to resent anyone. Even acknowledging that resentment is what I really feel is hard for me. Especially during this season. But as I have said so often, it is what it is.
But I don’t want to live in that place all the time. Or even a little bit of the time. I want to “like” your holiday photos and be happy for the birth your child’s new little sibling and not cringe when I read what your almost-three-year-old is doing.

And so I wallow. But not for a whole day. Not even for an entire hour. No, just for ten minutes, in the shower, alone, where the scalding water will mostly hide the evidence. For those ten minutes, I roll about, I billow forth, I devote myself entirely, I become abundantly supplied, I indulge myself immoderately, I become helpless.

I wallow. And the foot on my chest lifts.  Not forever, but for now.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Here and Now

I’m still here. And my Blogger stat counter tells me that lots of you continue to check in every day. Thank you so much. I remain ever grateful for that quiet support.

Until this morning, I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t been writing for the past week or so. I’ve had several posts percolating in my head, but each day when I think about actually writing them, I feel very heavy.

This morning, all the heaviness came to a head. Thanksgiving is next week. Hudson’s third birthday is a week after that. And Christmas is a few weeks after that. I think I have not been letting myself write because I was afraid that doing so might open the floodgates to a rush of sadness that I’m just not ready for. I am not ready to face it all again without her. I suppose I should be glad that it snuck up on me to an extent—less time to dread it all.

I am back in therapy and the thing I’m discovering that I need to work hardest on is living for today, for this moment. Not dreading Thanksgiving or Hudson’s birthday or Christmas or three years from now when Hudson should be starting kindergarten or sixteen years from now when she should be graduating from high school. I have no control over how those days will be or how they will feel, and there is no point at all in wasting my precious energy (and it is precious these days) worrying about them. I already know how important it is to live in each moment when it comes to my life with Jackson and with Ed—my sweet girl taught me that. And every second, every ounce of energy that I spend worrying about how hard some moment or some day in the future is going to be without Hudson is a second or an ounce of energy that I take away from being present in this life I am living now.

I know this. I know it well. I know it too well, in fact. But it is still very, very hard. In an interview on Fresh Air a few weeks ago, Joan Didion said that growing up in the west around a lot of snakes, they had a theory that if you kept a snake in your line of sight, it wouldn’t bite you. She said she feels the same about confronting pain: “I want to know where it is.” Oh, how well I understand that. As long as I just keep my eye on it, it won’t bite me.

There are two problems with this theory.

The first is that it’s just untrue. It will bite me whether I’m looking at it or not.

The second is that as long as I’m keeping my eye on the pain that lies ahead, I risk missing out on the joy in front of me right now.

It will always be hard. And like everything else, all I can do is keep working on it.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

No Guarantees, No Regrets

The other morning, I woke very early and realized I hadn’t heard even a peep from Jackson all night (even though we’ve been mostly successful with the sleep training, he still wakes once or twice, fusses for a minute or so and goes back to sleep). I knew I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep myself unless I knew he was OK, so I tiptoed into his room. As soon as I got close to the crib, he flinched a bit, but for some reason, I still felt compelled to put my hand on him to see if he was breathing. Of course, as soon as I did, he stirred to waking. I tried to tiptoe back out, crossing my fingers he’d go back to sleep, but to no avail. So I fed him and then he kindly slept for another 3 hours. The next day, I finally borrowed both a breathing monitor and a video monitor in hopes that these things will bring me some much-needed peace of mind when Jackson is sleeping.

A few months ago, Ed and I were out for a walk with Jackson when a woman stopped us to gush over him. As we parted, she said, “Well, you have many years of joy ahead of you.” And I thought, “Only if we are lucky.”

The other day, Jessica and I were talking about how difficult it will be when Jackson grows older than Hudson ever got the chance to. How hard it will be for him to be a daily living reminder of all the things she never got to do. And in the back of my head, I was thinking, “If we get that far.”

At lunch with a friend on Friday, I was talking about how I think I still want to have two more children, so that we will have three living children altogether. I mentioned that hopefully the next pregnancy will not be as stressful and anxiety-filled as this one had been because I’ll be chasing Jackson around and will be too busy to worry quite as much. Yet even as I said the words, I chided myself for so brazenly assuming that Jackson will still be here in another year or two.

The obvious common thread in all of these vignettes is that having lost one child already, I have also lost the unquestioning expectation that my children will outlive me. I have lost the complete and total faith I had when Hudson was alive that she would remain that way long past when I had any ability to know otherwise. I still look forward to all the little milestones yet to come with Jackson, but I have a lot of difficulty actually imagining them. I have learned in the hardest way possible that where our children are concerned, there are simply no guarantees.

This is not the same kind of knowledge that Emily Rapp has. For her, there really is a guarantee, a terrible one. Barring a medical miracle, she knows (and has known for a long time) with near absolute certainty that her little boy will die. Every day that goes by, he slips farther away from her.

Joan Didion just published a new memoir called Blue Nights about the death of her daughter at age 39 from complications from the flu. The thrumming mantra of Didion’s book is this: “When we talk about mortality we are talking about our children.” But she did not learn this terrible truth until she was seventy years old, after her only child had died. She writes of the “ways in which neither we nor [our children] can bear to contemplate the death or the illness or even the aging of the other.” I was 34 when I lost my child. I no longer have the luxury (and only after Hudson’s death do I understand what a luxury it is) not to contemplate the death or the illness of my children.

The impact of Hudson’s death on the way I will parent my living children is immeasurable. Because I don’t have the luxury not to contemplate the death or illness of my children, because I have already faced both in the hardest of ways, I will strive every day to parent with no regrets. This is not like parenting knowing your child will die, but it is also not like parenting knowing he will not die. This is not giving pudding and any other kind of treat every day like Emily Rapp does for her precious son because a “healthy diet” doesn’t matter, but it is also not finding myself, like Joan Didion, years down the road unable to enjoy the mementos of my life with my children because they only remind me of how much I failed to appreciate those moments when I had them. Parenting without regret means documenting every moment I can, because only now do I truly understand how much a photo or a video can help recall a specific moment in time with my child, a magical moment that I want to remember just like it was forever. Parenting without regret means trying to say “Yes” more than I say “No.” Parenting without regret means erring more often on the side of adventure than of caution, contrary to my now and forever impaired instincts. Parenting without regret means telling my children I love them every opportunity I get, even if a day comes where I may not like them very much (and they may not like me much, either). As Emily Rapp says, “Parenting, I’ve come to understand, is about loving my child today. Now. In fact, for any parent, anywhere, that’s all there is.”

I’ve written before that I have very few regrets about our lives with Hudson, and the few that I have are small ones. Now more than ever, I want to make sure that I parent my living children with as few regrets as possible because I know that there are no guarantees.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Jackson's First Halloween

Yesterday, the sad stuff.  Today, the happy stuff.  And so it goes.  And so it goes.

Happy First Halloween, my little penguin.