Sunday, January 29, 2012

More of One Good Thing

So often on a daily basis, I find myself thinking of Hudson, seeing something that reminds me of her, feeling her presence. And so often these days, I find I have less and less time to sit down and write a proper post about these moments. Many times, I just want to acknowledge or remember the moment, without necessarily needing to process it or write about it at length. For a time, I was just sending myself emails when this happened, but it occurred to me that Twitter might be another way I could collect these snippets of thought and memory so that I can go and look at them whenever I want, and I can share them with anyone else who might be interested in hearing more about what this journey of grief is like on a daily basis. So feel free to follow me at @onegoodthings: 

I’ve also included a widget with recent tweets here on the blog.   

For me, this is just another way to stay connected to my girl. And that is surely One Good Thing.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Jackson Update

Thank you all so much for your care and concern.  I'm sorry I haven't had a chance to post an update sooner (and I don't have time for a proper post today), but I just wanted to let you know that Jackson is doing OK.  His RSV never took a turn for the worse, like the horror stories I've heard.  He's had a pretty nasty cough all week long and has clearly not been feeling well, but he's hanging in there.  We realized this morning that on top of all that, he's also been cutting a new tooth.  Poor, poor baby. 

Anyway, thank you again for all the messages of concern and support.  I'm so grateful, as I am every day, for everyone who reads here and carries me during these harder days.  Thank you. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Déjà Vu

Jackson has RSV. He started coughing over the weekend. No fever. He seemed to feel fine. It was just the cough. At first, I couldn’t even tell if it was a different cough from his regular attention-getting cough. Then it got wetter. Then it got more frequent. Then it sounded like it had moved down his chest some. Then he woke up this morning with a runny nose and low-grade fever, but he still seemed mostly in good spirits. Concerned about the RSV going around at day care, I called the pediatrician and she told me to bring him in. He gave her a good demonstration cough in the office and she said it sounded like he did indeed have RSV. She listened to his lungs and heard a little wheeze. His oxygen saturation was 96—not low, but they like for it to be 97 or higher. She gave him a nebulizer treatment in the office, which made the wheeze sound much better and got his O2 up to 97. She sent us home with a nebulizer and some albuterol. (This seemed like the big guns to me—Hudson had a similar crud a few different times, sounding much worse than Jackson, and they never gave us a nebulizer, only an inhaler and a spacer, with a little duck mask to put over her face. But I imagine this doctor, and maybe every doctor, will probably always be a little bit more aggressive when it comes to Jackson). The doctor said the RSV could get worse before it gets better.

I had been posting on Facebook about his symptoms since they started getting worse yesterday. As I waited for his albuterol prescription to be filled, I posted again: “Well, my little pumpkin does have RSV,” along with some more details.

And then it hit me. How horrifically familiar it all was. A child who seemed generally well except for some nagging symptoms that are pretty normal for a kid that age and not all that worrisome. A series of Facebook posts about progressively worsening symptoms and a trip to the ER, with a corresponding string of good wishes. And finally this at 10:24PM on May 10:

Hey, all- Well, Hudson definitely has bacterial meningitis. We’re settled in the PICU at Children’s for the night. We’re obviously frightened but hoping the antibiotics will do their thing quickly. Thanks for all the messages, thoughts, and prayers. Keep them coming. Love to everyone.

How almost nonchalant it sounded. How little we knew about what a terrifying illness bacterial meningitis was. How little we understood how very frightened we should be. How much I believed Hudson would be just fine. 

Well, Hudson definitely has bacterial meningitis.

Well, my little pumpkin does have RSV. 

I know that RSV is not meningitis. I know this. I know that in fact, it is so common that virtually every child gets it once before age two or three. Most kids only get a cold from it. Strep pneumo bacteria are that common, too, living in the nose and throats of just about everyone everyday. Most kids only get a cold from it.  But I also know that RSV can get very, very bad. It’s rare for it to get that bad, of course, but so is an all-out, incredibly aggressive and ultimately fatal invasion of strep pneumo into the cerebrospinal fluid.

Apparently, I didn’t get Jackson out of day care soon enough. Another decision made just late enough to matter. All I’ve been able to think since we got home from the doctor is this:

If this child gets worse, I just don’t know what I’ll do.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Difficult Decisions

They are the very essence of parenting, are they not? They begin before our children are even born. Whether or not to even have a child. Whether to have a second, a third, or more. Whether to use an OB or a midwife, whether to get genetic screening done, whether to have an epidural. And these decisions are only the very tip of the iceberg. After our children are born, the really hard work begins. We make hundreds of different decisions each and every day that will affect our children in some way or another. 

Some decisions are bigger than others. And some have life-changing implications that we never could have imagined when we made them. Like whether to take your sick child to the ER at 4AM or wait for the doctor’s office to open a few hours later.  

Last week, we made the very difficult decision to pull Jackson back out of day care at St. Ann’s after only three weeks.  

For months leading into January, I was waffling back and forth about whether we really needed to put him in school at all. I knew that I would need more time for the extra work that the spring semester at my adjunct professor job at GW would bring, as well as time for packing up the house and getting it ready to put on the market. Let alone some extra time for the longer and longer workouts I would have to do as I prepared for my triathlon in April. But still, I wondered if I couldn’t manage it without putting him in day care. I was worried about germs and separation anxiety and not spending enough time with him during these early months. Maybe I could get a babysitter to come to the house and be with him for several hours a day while I worked or packed or exercised. But two things kept me hanging on to the idea that St. Ann’s was the right thing right now. One was simple economics. St. Ann’s is insanely affordable. Even though I was only planning to have Jackson in school about 25 hours a week, the cost would still be equal to or less than hiring a babysitter, and it meant I could avoid all the hassle of paying taxes and also that I had the flexibility to use more care if needed during a given week without paying anything additional. But the other much more important reason was emotional. St. Ann’s was Hudson’s home for almost half her life. The vast majority of our social circle here in DC revolved around St. Ann’s and our friends with children there. It felt like our family and I missed it so much. I wanted so much to be a part of it again. 

I realized on our very first day of orientation, when I took Jackson in for about two hours, that you really can’t go home again. I guess part of me thought that being back at St. Ann’s would somehow feel like a revival or a restoration, that having another child there would be like more salve on the still-bleeding wound that was left when Hudson died. So very sadly, I had the opposite experience. Although I was so very gratified by how much love we received from the second we walked through the door and so very grateful for the way everyone remembered us and hugged us and remarked about how much Jackson looked like Hudson, I felt nothing but sadness and emptiness every time we were there. As part of our routine, I would bring Jackson in around 9 and nurse him at school so that I could get away with leaving only one bottle for him before picking him back up around 3 in the afternoon. So I spent a good 20-30 minutes there each morning. In his class are five other children. Two are close to him in age—one is two months older than him and the other is two weeks younger. Both are the children of close friends, younger siblings of Hudson’s friends. The other three are nearing two years old. All the babies’ birthdays are posted on the wall and one morning as I sat there nursing Jackson, I had the terrible realization that two of those children were born within the week before Hudson died, one on May 6 and one on May 7 (the day the last picture we have of Hudson was taken). The other was born a few months after she died. As I looked at those children, all of whom are now older than Hudson was when she died, I realized that she would be THAT much older now if she were alive. She would be that big a kid older. She would be more than twice as old as she was when she died. These kids are already stringing words together and napping on cots and drinking from cups and doing things Hudson never grew old enough to do (she was supposed to transition from her crib to her cot on the Monday after she got sick—I’d signed the form that Friday when I picked her up). 

On top of that, I often ran into Hudson’s own peers in the hallways, running and jumping and talking up a storm. None of them know who I am, of course, because we basically haven’t seen each other since Hudson died with the exception of one birthday party and a few occasional run-ins in the neighborhood. I passed their parents, all of whom are our dear friends, whom we do still see not infrequently, coming in and out of school and I could never help but feel so very strange, like too much had changed for these encounters to ever feel normal again. 

I’d hoped I would feel uplifted being back at St. Ann’s, but instead, I felt haunted, sad, and tired. It was a rare day that I did not go back to my car and cry after dropping Jackson off in the morning.  

And from the beginning, I’d been worried about Jackson. Not about him feeling comfortable there—he seemed totally fine from the very first moment I set him down on the floor. He never cried when I left (or even seemed to notice I was leaving) and always seemed happy whenever I picked him back up. But from the first day, I saw the gushing runny noses and heard the hacking coughs, and I cringed. Did I really NEED to leave him there with all those germs? And as crappy a sleeper as he is at home, he’s ten times worse at school (oh, so very like his sister, who once had her picture taken when she’d fallen asleep SITTING UP in the crib because she was so stubborn about napping)—there are too many distractions and noises to pay attention to. On the first day, he didn’t nap at all, and for the remaining days, they managed to get him down here and there by rolling him up and down the hallway in a stroller. But even though he’s a bad napper at home, at least I could manage to get him to take two naps, short ones though they were. I was worried about him getting sleep-deprived, that the bad naps would interfere with the very delicate balance of overnight sleep we’d finally struck (him sleeping straight through from 7 until 4:30, nursing once, and then sleeping until 7 or 7:30. And finally, I was worried about not being able to pump enough milk to even give him a 4- or 5-oz bottle once a day until he turned a year old. I was barely getting 2 ounces per session total, even though I was pumping on both sides. We blew through the milk we’d stored in the freezer in no time and I was really beginning to stress about it. 

So last week, when the director sent an email to all the parents saying that a lot of kids had been diagnosed with RSV and pneumonia, I had to do some real soul-searching about whether we were doing the right thing right now. Not only the right thing for Jackson, but the right thing for me, because really, I’d felt little more than anxiety and sadness since he first started there on January 2. I’d been on the fence about day care for so long that the news of the RSV outbreak really felt like maybe it was a sign telling me to go with my gut and take him out. 

So I did. We gave our notice on Friday. I cried through most of the writing of the email to the director. Not surprisingly, she was so very kind and understanding, saying she could tell it had been hard and “draining” for me. What a good word. She is a reader of the blog, so thank you again, Barbara, for your kindness.  

I still haven’t figured out all the details about how we’re going to manage for the rest of the spring. But I do know in my heart that as hard as the decision was, it was the right thing for us right now. I know because as sad as I was when I sent that email, I also felt utter relief.

Difficult decisions are the stuff of good parenting. Some decisions are harder than others. Some ultimately prove to be wrong. Others ultimately prove to be right. Sometimes we never know. 

I’ll never know whether I made the right decision by waiting to take Hudson to the doctor’s office rather than take her to the ER. It is a decision I will question for the rest of my life. But One Good Thing I can take from that awful experience is that it makes lots of otherwise very difficult decisions, like the one to take Jackson out of school, look much less difficult in comparison.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Jackson at Seven Months

Oh, dear. My poor little boy. For the last two months, his month birthday has fallen both on a holiday and in the midst of craziness, and here I am again, VERY belatedly posting about his seventh month here on earth with us. Nothing special is going on next week (yes, he will turn eight months next week—I am not sure how that is possible, but it is true), so I’m going to do my best to post this month’s news on time.

As for the seventh month, it was full of all kinds of excitement. It started with Jackson’s first Thanksgiving and ended with his first Christmas Eve, with lots of action and adventure in between. He started babbling like crazy, mostly with “bah bah bahs” and began trying to pull up on things (although he hasn’t made a ton of progress there—if he has two fingers to grasp, he can pull himself up to standing, but he’s still a little intimidated to try pulling up on anything else). He started army crawling, which he did only very slowly at first but picked up a little steam over the month. His top two teeth came in (much to my chagrin—teeth on top and bottom have changed breastfeeding forever—OUCH) and he tried solid food for the first time. His first food, like his big sister’s was avocado. He gave the typical “what is this you are trying to put in my mouth?” face, but he took to eating from the spoon almost immediately, never thrusting any of the food back out. This is probably because he was almost three weeks past his six-month birthday before we started the solid foods, thanks to his GI issues. After avocados came sweet potatoes, oatmeal, and pears, all big hits. It has been so strange for me getting back into the swing of making all the baby food. It’s been a long time.

As for adventures, we spent a beautiful afternoon at Mount Vernon during the last weekend in November. The following week was Hudson’s birthday, so we spent some time at the Arboretum that day and took Jackson with us to drop off our gifts to the hospital and the animal shelter. Jackson’s Poppy came into town for Hudson’s birthday, and that weekend, we took Jackson to Zoo Lights at the National Zoo. Not really for the younger set, but I do think he enjoyed all the lights and musical displays. The next day, we went out to Butler’s Orchard to cut down our Christmas tree, and the wonderful Emily Large came with us and took Jackson’s 6-month photos there. You will see below how amazing they are. And then, of course, Jackson met Santa for the first time, a big moment for every kid, even if he doesn’t know it.

He continues to look so much like his big sister when she was this age, both of them still so round and chubby, not moving enough yet to start turning leaner and losing that baby fat, heads disproportionately bigger than their bodies. He’s quite a bit more, er, assertive (as Jessica diplomatically put it) than she was at this age, though. He is pretty bossy about letting you know when he’s not happy with his current situation. But as he continues to develop cognitively, he is learning to spend more and more time entertaining himself without any help from me, which is so neat to watch. He is exploring all the household goodies that are so much more interesting than toys—stainless steel bowls, wire whisks, giant serving spoons, soda bottles full of water. Who wants a toy that plays music when you can play with what the grown-ups have?

It really is hard to believe he’s getting ready to turn eight months old. Where did the time go? I have been thinking a lot lately about how very soon, he will be half as old as Hudson ever got. And then, one day in the not too distant future, he will be older than she ever was. Even though I am glad I did not know what was coming with Hudson, there is part of me that thinks about those milestones with Jackson. I can hardly imagine that he could be gone in just a little more than ten months from now. Obviously, I can’t and won’t live that way, but even the slightest breeze of that thought makes me grab this little boy up and close my eyes and squeeze him tight.

Lots and lots of pictures. Even if the time is slipping away, I will always have these pictures.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Packing Up

Originally, we’d decided to put Jackson in day care this spring so that I would have time for the extra work that would come up at my adjunct professor job at GW in the spring. Then, when we decided to move back to Chapel Hill in the late spring or summer, we knew that I’d also need some extra time to get the house ready to put on the market in March, which means packing up a lot of our extra junk and clutter. 

Well, Jackson was in school for 5-6 hours for four days this week, and I haven’t managed to get much more done than my regular household chores, chores that I used to do on top of working nearly full-time and managing a kid in day care. Finally, I realized that I have just been procrastinating. I told Ed that I thought it was because every room in the house has something of Hudson’s that I’d have to start packing away. But today, I understood for the first time what I’ve really been dreading. 

I decided to start with something I thought would be the least loaded with memory and emotion—sorting through the books in a bookcase in our TV room and deciding which books to give away and which to keep. I was about half done when I looked up, saw the half-empty bookcase, and promptly wept. 

One of Hudson’s favorite pastimes once she started to crawl was to sit in front of that bookcase and pull the books out one by one onto the floor. I can’t even tell you how much time I spent putting books back in their places on the shelves. Towards the end (it astounds me how easily I can say and write that now—“towards the end,” “just before she died,” “when she died”), I had just been starting to teach her to put the books back herself. 

I looked at the half-empty bookcase, and it suddenly dawned on me that Jackson will never get the pleasure of pulling those books down once I’ve packed them away. 

A second later came the realization that when we leave this house, we’ll be leaving the only home Hudson ever knew. The only home we ever knew her in. The only place where she ever opened and closed all the cabinets and drawers and bent up the mini-blinds trying to see out the windows and learned to climb stairs and left handprints on the storm door as she stood with her dear Bess-dog looking out at all the exciting things passing by on the street. Once we leave this place, those memories will exist only in our memories. No more will I be able to open the bottom drawer next to the stove and find the old cardboard paper towel tube I used to keep there just for her to play with. No more will I be able to open the junk drawer and find a sheet of star stickers that she’d used to decorate the Mother’s Day cards we sent out just before she died. No more will I be able to climb the stairs from the basement and remember how I used to make a game of it with her, sticking my fingers under the closed door to draw her attention and then pulling them away just as she leaned over to grab them. 

Even though I know absolutely that moving back to Chapel Hill is the right decision for us and even though I know absolutely that she will be with us no matter where we go, I dread the task of packing up the life we had with her here. I’m not just packing away her photos or her things or the things she played with—that alone will be hard enough, I know. But on top of that, I’m packing up 90% of the memories we ever made with her. When the moving truck is full and we close these doors for the last time, we’ll be leaving behind forever the only home we ever shared with her. 

As with every single step of this terrible journey, I am just not ready for this one. And as with every single step of this terrible journey, I have no choice but to take it.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Muscle Memory

Wow, it’s been a long time since I wrote. Once again, I’ve had several posts bouncing around in my head along with some motivation to write them, but not enough to overcome the vast number of things I’ve had to do in the last week. But I’ve needed to write. I’ve needed it a lot. I’ve also been struggling with words lately. I’ve written about this several times before, how hard it is sometimes to feel so much and yet be at such a loss for how to express it. 

Last week was Jackson’s first week going at St. Ann’s, the same place where Hudson went to school. The first week is an orientation week, where the parent and child go together for a few days and then the parent gradually leaves the child there on his own for longer periods until he stays for almost a full day on Friday. I had already gone up to St. Ann’s one morning back in December by myself, because I feared it might be a difficult visit, and I didn’t want Jackson to sense any anxiety on my part when I took him there for the first time. The first trip was fine—I picked up his forms, said hello to a few old faces and new babies, and just took in the experience of being there for the first time since that very last Friday in May 2010. I teared up, but only a little bit. 

Then came Jackson’s first day. I packed him in the car and drove the mile-long route to St. Ann’s like I’d just done it yesterday, even though I hadn’t done it since that very last Friday, almost twenty months ago. Muscle memory. It was practically automatic. I carried him up the sidewalk to the great heavy doors and waited to be buzzed in, just like I did on that very last Friday. I carried him to the elevator and held his hand out to press the “Up” button, just like I did on that very last Friday. I pushed open the double doors onto the infant hallway, just like I did on very last Friday. I carried him into his room to be welcomed by his teacher, just like I did on that very last Friday. I put his things in his cubby, just like I did on that very last Friday. I signed him into the sign-in notebook, just like I did on that very last Friday. Muscle memory.

I sat with him there in the room for a few hours, playing with him and talking to his two groupmates, both neighborhood kids, children of our dear friends, younger siblings of Hudson’s friends. It all seemed so very familiar and ordinary and yet so unfamiliar and extraordinary all at the same time. 

Later in the week, Jackson was supposed to stay through the lunch hour. The night before, I packed his lunch—a bottle of breastmilk and two small containers of homemade pureed sweet potatoes and zucchini, along with some oatmeal to mix in. I put labels with his name on it on every container. I set the little cooler that we always use for lunch out on the counter so it would be ready to fill in the morning. Muscle memory. 

It occurred to me how incredibly long it had been since I last packed a lunch for school. For a moment, it nearly brought me to my knees. 
One day last week, I was coming back down the hall to Jackson’s classroom from the kitchen and was met in the hallway by a group of older children. I immediately recognized two of Hudson’s precious little friends in the group, looking so tall and grown up, on their way down the hall to the bathroom, which they all were using like big kids now. Confused by my own emotions, I smiled broadly at both of them and said hello in that cheery, sing-songy voice we use with children. Of course, neither of them had seen me more than once or twice since Hudson died, so they had no idea who I was, so they both stopped in their tracks and looked at me rather warily. I heard one of the teachers say to me, “Yep, the gang’s all here!”

I dimly sensed in the moment that my responses were exaggerated, that my smile and my tone were much cheerier than I actually felt. Only later did I fully understand why (aside from the obvious). I knew I was both happy and sad to see them, but only later did I realize that I no longer imagine Hudson among them. I am sad that she is not there, of course, but it is no longer my first impulse to picture in my head where she should be

This realization struck me rather hard. It can only mean that in some small measure, parts of my brain are learning to integrate her absence into this new reality. Parts of my brain have accepted that she is no longer here

I used to say that maybe if I could just start to accept Hudson’s death that some of this would begin to feel easier. And to some degree, I have to say that is true. If it weren’t true, I think my heart would be ripped out of my chest and shoved down my throat every time I drove that one-mile route to St. Ann’s and carried Jackson up the sidewalk and waited to be buzzed in and held his hand out to push the “Up” button and pushed open the double doors and carried him into his room and put his things in his cubby and signed him in and packed his lunch. So in that way, it is easier.

And yet, at the very same time, multiple times each day, I still do a double-take. I still shake my head from side to side as if trying to block out a bad image or make some sense of a thought that makes no sense. I still wonder how in the hell it is even possible that this happened to us, how it is possible that we lost our child, how it is possible that this became OUR life and not the nightmarish life of someone several degrees removed from us. 

Today was my hardest day yet dropping Jackson off. He is totally fine, of course, oblivious both to being left at school without his mother and to my emotional responses to being there. But after I finished nursing him, I just sat there with him in my lap, kissing the top of his head and not wanting to let him go.  I wanted to cry but forced myself not to.

I am grateful for the muscle memory that carries me along that one-mile route and up the sidewalk and into the heavy doors and to the elevator and through the double doors and into the room and through the motions of dropping off a child at day care. 

But the muscle memory can only do so much.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Bright Resemblance Of Thy Face

It is a new year. Again. No more will I say, “My daughter died last year.” Now I will have to say, “My daughter died two years ago.” Each new year takes us farther and farther away from the time when we knew her in life.

But the turning of the year is simply life’s way of moving us forward in the only way we know how, which is just to keep going. And what a difference a year makes. This time last year was still so very hard, and it was complicated even more by the crippling anxiety I was feeling over Jackson’s well-being in utero. Today, we had brunch with friends and watched our sweet Jackson interact with another baby for the first time. Today, we’re looking forward to a year full of fun and adventure, including a trip to Montana and San Diego and a move back home to our beloved North Carolina. Today, the hope we had last year has materialized into joy, even as we continue to grieve so very deeply the loss of our precious Hudson.

Grief and joy, grief and joy, grief and joy. Last year, this year, and every year from now on, grief and joy.

I had already been thinking that under these circumstances, it would be appropriate to repost the photo and song I posted on this day last year, so full it is of both grief and joy for me. Here is what I wrote about this song last year:

Auld Lang Syne, often sung on New Year’s Eve and day, is usually a high-spirited tribute to the importance of remembering old friendships (think of the final scene in It’s a Wonderful Life). But the Dave Francis/Mairi Campbell version of the original old song by James Burns from 1788 (which you may have heard in the Sex and the City movie) better captures the exquisite mix of sorrow and joy that comes with the passing of time, of days, of years, of relationships, of loved ones: the sorrow of longing for times past and for those we loved so much, and yet also the joy of the memories of those days and those beloved ones that live on always in our hearts. I did not stay up to ring in the new year without my girl, but if I had, I would have done so with this song—the very definition of our lives in this new year without Hudson is the terrible sorrow of missing her mixed with the tremendous joy of the memories of the days we had with her.

I was not familiar with the history of the song—it is based on a very old traditional song, maybe first captured in a poem from 1711. These verses from that poem particularly touched me when I read them:

My Heart is ravisht with delight,
when thee I think upon;
All Grief and Sorrow takes the flight,
and speedily is gone.

The bright resemblance of thy Face,
so fills this Heart of mine;
That Force nor Fate can me displease,
for Old long syne.

And then there’s these two verses from the 1788 version from Burns (these are from an English translation of the Scottish version, which you’ll hear below):

We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

Here is the Francis/Campbell version of Auld Lang Syne, along with one of my very favorite photos of Hudson.

Oh, my dear girl. This bright resemblance of thy face so fills this heart of mine.


And then last night, more serendipity. My sweet niece Alice emailed me a video of Hudson I had never before seen. She’d had it on her camera all this time and only recently got a computer that would allow her to download and send it to me. In her email to me, Alice made this observation about the video: “It’s kind of dark, but you can still make out her big ol’ smile!” So true.

Oh, my sweetest little girl.  Always, always, this bright resemblance of thy face so fills this heart of mine.

It’s kind of dark some days, but we can always make out her big ol’ smile.