Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I Love...

Jackson, I love to listen to you sing "Jingle Bells," especially when, instead of saying "Oh, what fun it is to ride," you say, "Old MacFun it is to ride," as if you're singing Old MacDonald. I'm already sad thinking about the time, very soon, I'm sure, when you're big enough to sing the words correctly.

I also love how you say "Yes" so deliberately and earnestly when responding in the affirmative.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Love Is Alive

Today we decorated a Christmas tree for the first time in our new home. And after five years of being parents, we had the help of a child for the first time. Jackson couldn’t get enough of putting ornaments on the tree—he loved every minute of it, concentrating so hard to open the loops on the ornament hangers and finding a good place on the tree for each of the ornaments I let him hang. Throughout most of it, he sang, “O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree” over and over and over (he hasn’t mastered any of the other words just yet).

It has been such an absolute joy watching him catch my love for Christmas. I have been trying hard to share it with him, playing Christmas music all the time, talking with him about Santa and his reindeer, letting him open a Christmas book each night as we count down to Christmas. And he really has taken it all in with gusto.

When we were mostly finished and had started getting dinner ready, this song came up on Pandora:
It was the most fitting ending I could imagine to what had been a very bittersweet afternoon as Jackson and I hung up all our turtle ornaments and looked at Hudson’s picture (he first guessed it was a picture of him). So much sorrow, but so much hope and joy, too.

This is my winter song.
December never felt so wrong,
cause youre not where you belong;
Inside my arms.

I still believe in summer days.
The seasons always change
and life will find a way.

Ill be your harvester of light
and send it out tonight
so we can start again.

Is love alive?

This is my winter song.
December never felt so wrong,
cause youre not where you belong;
inside my arms.

This is my winter song to you.
The storm is coming soon
it rolls in from the sea.

My love a beacon in the night.
My words will be your light
to carry you to me.

I wrote about this song two years ago when I first heard it. It brought me to my knees then, and it did so again today. It started with me facing the stove, trying to wipe my tears away quickly and not let on that I was crying. It ended with me sobbing in Ed’s arms on the couch, Ada sandwiched between us, and Jackson looking on, clearly confused and a little concerned.

I knew this time would come. Up until this point, while I have cried in Jackson’s presence many times, I’ve largely been able to do it without his noticing. I’m not ashamed of crying in front of him, but I do worry about how it will affect him, particularly when he’s not yet quite old enough to fully understand why I’m crying.

He looked at me, brow furrowed as he tried to figure out what was happening, and finally, he said, “Mommy’s crying.” And I said, “Yes, sweetie, Mommy’s crying. I’m feeling a little sad right now. Do you want to give me a hug?” And he came over, climbed into my lap, put his arms around me, and put his head down on my shoulder. We sat there for a few minutes. Then he got down and said, “Mommy needs some medicine!” clearly associating tears with pain, for which he usually takes medicine. Ed said, “Your hug was the best medicine Mommy could get, buddy.”

This moment felt like the beginning of something, a new chapter in this life without Hudson, the one where we begin to try to help her younger siblings understand death, grief, missing, the power of tears, the power of naming our sorrow and sharing it, where we begin to try to help them understand that grief and sorrow are simply another facet of joy and love, and that light will always follow darkness.

Because in our house, love is alive. Even while some remnant of that long, dark winter will always be with us, love is alive.

Friday, December 6, 2013

I Love...

Jackson, I love that in one short season, you've already caught my love for Christmas. Today, you've been wandering around singing, "I wanna wish you a merry Christmas! I wanna wish you a merry Christmas!" I am grateful to you for helping me regain some of the joy of this season I have always loved so much.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Happy Fifth Birthday, Sweet Hudson

My dearest, sweetest girl,

Happy birthday, my dear one. Today you would be five. Five years old. Five years. It’s the fourth birthday we have spent without you, and we have never missed you more. If I have said on each birthday before that it felt like such a big-kid age, none has felt more so than this one. We see photos of all of your friends from when you were little, and we barely recognize them anymore, so big and kid-like they have grown, all arms and legs, no more little baby chub on their cheeks. I wish I could see you at five. I wish I could hear you at five. I wish I could hug and kiss you at five. I wish I could know you at five.

Our lives tumble along, precious girl—somehow the wide world remains unfazed by your absence even as our own little piece feels it so keenly. Your little brother Jackson turned two in May. Although we talk about you all the time, he still doesn’t yet understand who you are. He knows your face and your name, and when prompted, he knows to say that you are his big sister, but he doesn’t yet comprehend what it means for him to have a sister who is not here. When we told him it was your birthday today, he got very excited—he knows birthdays are fun—and kept saying, “Wanna go to Hudson’s birthday?” and “Wanna go to Hudson’s house?” He doesn’t yet have a concept of the fact that he doesn’t actually know you in real life. But what do I know? Perhaps he knows way more than I realize and knows exactly who you are. Perhaps he’s known you for longer than I could imagine. I certainly like to think so. I think over the course of the next year, he will begin to understand more and ask more of the hard questions that I don’t even have an answer to. Where are you? (I don’t know.) Why did you die? (I don’t know.) Why aren’t you with us? (I don’t know.) Can you still see us and hear us? (Oh, I hope so.) Can we still see you and hear you? (I like to think so, if we look and listen very hard.) I only hope that when these questions come, I will find a way to answer them that helps him feel close to you, that helps him feel like you are right there with him all the time, that you are his big sister every step of the way, even though you can’t walk right beside him. I have a feeling you will help me with that when the time comes, just like you have helped me with so many other things in the past five years.

And Hudson, oh, Hudson. Your baby sister Ada was born in August, and she, too, looks just like you and Jackson but in her own little way. Right now, at about three-and-a-half months, she looks much like you did when you were about a month old. I can’t wait to tell her all about you one day. But oh, how sad for her I am that she will never get to know her big sister in life. She will need you so much, and I am so sorry that she will only get to have you in spirit, in her heart. She deserves to have you right here with her, bossing her around, locking her out of your room, hugging her tight while she cries on your shoulder, screaming at her to get out of the bathroom, whispering secrets that only sisters can share. She will need you, and I wish so much that she could have you. I promise you that I will do my very best to make sure she, too, knows that you are always there with her and for her, even when you can’t be right beside her.

So many people celebrated you today.  All your friends from our old home in D.C., where you were born and died, got together today at your bench at the Arboretum to celebrate your birthday. Their moms and dads posted pictures and videos of them eating cupcakes and wishing you happy birthday. It looked like a great party—the only thing missing was you. Like we have in years past, we spent our day together, remembering and loving you in a very special way, by sharing pieces of your spirit with the world. We donated some doggie toys to a few different places that take care of animals. We took a bunch of toys and books to the Ronald McDonald house. On the way in, we saw a little statue of an angel holding a turtle. Jackson handed the toys to the weekend manager and told her that they were for your birthday. I told her your story, and she told me that her older brother had also died before she was born, and that her life was different because of it. That made me sad and glad all at the same time, for although my heart is as broken as ever that you are not with us, the idea that your absence will make all our lives different, in a good way, brings me so much comfort. It is the only thing that does, for what I want more than anything is for your spirit to keep on working its magic, in big and small ways, forever.

We did these little One Good Things, but somehow they didn’t feel quite right—not necessarily that they are not enough, not that they are not “good” enough, but just not quite right anymore. I’m going to keep thinking about new ways to honor the amazing little person you were in the years to come. Your little brother has already started one new tradition for your birthday. He overheard me mention to your daddy that your old friends had celebrated at your bench with cupcakes, and he said, “Want some cupcakes?” How could I refuse? So from now on, we will add birthday cupcakes to our annual celebration of your birthday. I’m sure as your brother and sister get older, they’ll have even better ideas of how we can remember you and honor your life on each first day of December—kids’ hearts are just the right size for those kinds of things.

I miss you more than ever, sweet girl. As I’ve known ever since you died, watching your younger siblings grow and change and flourish only makes ever more evident what we lost when we lost you. We spent a good portion of Thanksgiving weekend decorating the house for Christmas and playing Christmas music. Your brother is already eagerly crooning, “Do you hear what I hear?” and “Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer had a very shiny nose” and snippets of so many others of my favorite Christmas songs. And when your dad plugged in the first string of lights to test them before hanging them outside, Jackson’s face lit up with a huge grin. He has already caught my love of Christmas, and while I am so happy to share it with him, I am so very sad that I’ll never get to share it with you, or hear you sing, or see your shiny smile in the glow of a string of Christmas lights. But One Good Thing is that your face, your smile, your spirit, your heart—YOU—are alive in your little brother and sister. I can see you in Jackson and Ada in so many ways, and I am so grateful.

We will spend the rest of our lives keeping you alive in us, sweet Hudson. As your mother, it is the most important job I will ever have, and next to being able to mother you in life, it is the one I will cherish most dearly.

You are gone but you should not be. But, following your lead, I will cherish what is— that your dad’s and my lives, and so many others, are changed forever because you were in them. Your smile, joyful laugh, mischievous ways, sweet voice, and wise countenance are indelibly burned on my heart-- I would do anything to hear you say “Mama” just one more time. You are gone but you should not be. Thank you for helping me cherish what is. I love you.

Happy fifth birthday, my dear girl. I am going to eat my cupcake for you now. I love you and miss you, always.



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Do One Good Thing for Hudson’s Fifth Birthday

Five. In five days, Hudson should be turning five. This birthday feels bigger, more momentous somehow than birthdays past—unfathomable. It is our fourth without her—unfathomable. We’d be getting ready to send her to kindergarten next fall—unfathomable.

It occurred to me this morning that for the first time since she was born, her birthday falls on Thanksgiving weekend. She was born the Monday after Thanksgiving in 2008. When I left my office on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I did some wrapping up and packing up, because I just had a feeling that I might not be back. It was an odd hunch, because she was not due to arrive until December 10, and first babies are not necessarily famous for coming early. But my hunch was right, and I woke up early on the Sunday after Thanksgiving with regular contractions that increased over the course of the day. She was born at 7:19 the next morning.

And here we are. Five years later. Another Thanksgiving weekend. Another birthday. But no Hudson.

I wrote at this time last year that she felt farther away from me than ever. This year, she feels closer than she has in a long time. That is what grief does to you. What it does for you. I have felt the weight of my grief more acutely in the last few months than I have in a long time. On Friday night, I cried myself to sleep for the first time in as long as I can remember (and woke up the next morning with the accompanying intense ache behind my eyeballs that makes me wish I never had to open my eyes again). And because I feel closer to my grief, I feel closer to my girl. Such an strange ebb and flow.

But here we are at another birthday. Last year, we had to find some new One Good Things to do in honor of Hudson’s life now that we live in our old home again. We again took toys and treats to the animal shelter, and instead of taking toys and books to the children’s hospital here, we opted instead to give them to the Ronald McDonald House nearby. And we made our annual donation to the National Arboretum, where Hudson’s bench and a very tiny portion of her ashes remain (the only portion that is separated from the rest, which sit in a ceramic jar on my bedside table). We’ll do these same things again this year, to celebrate Hudson’s life in ways that we know honor the wonderful spirit that she was and the things that she loved and the people who cared for her in her last hours.  Thanksgiving weekend seems like an especially lovely time to do these things in her memory.

As we have in years past, we also invite you to do One Good Thing sometime this week or on December 1st. And please share with anyone else you know who might want to help us celebrate her life in this special way. And as in years past, if you are so inclined, we would love to hear from you about your One Good Thing, so feel free to leave a comment here about it.

I will end the way I always have: 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. Thank you all so much.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Things We’ve Handed Down

I recently read Liane Moriarty’s new book, The Husband’s Secret. One certainly could not have guessed from the title or description of this book that dead and maimed children would figure so prominently in it, so I dove into it unsuspectingly, only to find myself reading words that I could have written myself as the author describes one mother’s deep grief over her daughter’s death nearly thirty years before. Some of her descriptions were so apt that I found myself researching the author on the internet to see if she herself had lost a child (she hadn’t).

At one point this mother, whose daughter died at age seventeen, wonders aloud whether her daughter would have liked Tupperware parties. The passage continues, “She tried, and failed, as she always did, to imagine Janie as a forty-five-year-old woman.”

And I thought about the countless times in the last three-and-a-half years that I have tried to do this very same thing, tried to imagine what Hudson would look like, tried to imagine what she would be like, tried to imagine what she would be interested in. But even as I watch all of her age-group peers grow up in Facebook photos and videos, I find it impossible to imagine her face, her personality, her voice.

When I read that passage and thought about how impossible it is to imagine Hudson at almost five years old, I was suddenly jealous of this fictional grieving mother. Irrationally and in my head, I yelled at this woman who does not even exist. “At least you have some idea of what your daughter would be like at forty-five! You knew her at seventeen! You knew what she looked like as a grown person! You knew her personality as a young woman! You think YOU can’t imagine what your daughter would be like at forty-five!”

Now that we have two children at home, I find myself trying to picture her here in our lives far more often than I ever did when we had just Jackson. Somehow, the hole where she is supposed to be feels bigger now that we are four instead of five than it did when we were three instead of four. It’s almost like now that we have two at home, it’s what it was supposed to be all this time, and yet it’s not at all what it’s supposed to be.

What role would she play in this barely controlled chaos that is our daily life? Where would she sit at the table? Would her brother idolize her? Would her hair have gotten curlier as it grew or would it still be stick-straight, thin, and wispy like it was the day she left us?

And then there are all the years and questions that remain. What would she be like? Would she be stubborn like me? Silly like her father? Would her hair turn redder as she grew older, like mine did? Would she adopt some of our mannerisms like so many children do? Would we be close? Would she hate me for a time? A long time? Would I pass on to her my worst qualities? My best? How would she spend her life?

I don’t know. I’ll never know. While I’m so incredibly grateful for the seventeen months and twelve days I had to know her, it wasn’t enough.

It wasn’t nearly enough.

Friday, November 8, 2013


Tonight at dinner, a woman at a nearby table was admiring Ada in Ed’s arms. Then she said, “And she’s got a good big brother, too!” I just looked at Jackson, who smiled at her goofily, as he does with most strangers. “A boy and a girl. That’s good.” Or maybe she said “perfect” or “just right”—I have no idea, because I’d stopped listening after “a boy and a girl.” I smiled at her half-heartedly and looked away again.

I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve endured the different permutations of this same conversation over the last few years.

“Is this your first?”

“How many kids do you have?” “How old are they?”

“What are you having?” “And what do you have at home?”

And for some reason, everyone thinks that a boy and a girl is “just perfect.”

And maybe it is for some. But it’s not for me.

Because of course, Ada and Jackson have a big sister, too. We had a girl and a boy (“Oh, perfect!”) when Jackson was born, and now we have two girls and a boy. And it’s not even remotely perfect.

I have entered the deepest period of prolonged sadness over Hudson’s death that I have experienced in a long time. Perhaps it is because the first of her peers celebrated his fifth birthday last month with a trip to Disneyworld. Perhaps it is because her own fifth birthday is approaching in a few weeks. Perhaps it is because I can see her face in her little sister’s face every time I put Ada’s cheek next to mine and look in the mirror.

Mostly though, I think it’s the terrible sense of incompleteness. In everything. We’re supposed to be complete now.  We’re supposed to be done.

Although we hadn’t completely decided before Hudson was born, Ed and I both usually talked about having three children. Two seemed too few, four seemed too many. Three seemed a good number. (“Perfect!” “Just right!”)

After Hudson died, I think I became even more convinced that I wanted to three living children. Having lost one child already, having learned how little control I have over the fates of my children, I felt ever more vulnerable to the possibility of losing another. And if that happened, I didn’t want the remaining child to be all alone, with no sibling to share the grief with, with no sibling to help care for aging parents (and we will age earlier in their lives than a lot of other parents will because we were older when we started—and after Hudson died, we were even older when we started again).

But being pregnant at 37 was a much different, and much harder, experience than being pregnant at 32. That third pregnancy was tougher in many ways than the first. And I didn’t plan on going through the really intense newborn and young infant period four times, either—the crying, the constant nursing, the sleep deprivation—all of that is really different at 37 than at 32, too. And if we wait another two years for another baby, it will then be another two or three years after that before all of our kids are finally semi-independent, before we will be in a position to really do lots of adventurous things with our other friends, most of whom are now done having kids. We’ll have almost seven more years of worrying about childcare, rather than three or four. I’ll be almost 40 if and when we have that fourth, which in and of itself is not a big deal, but when I remember that my own mother died of cancer at 56, the calculus changes somewhat.

None of that really matters, of course, in the grand scheme of things. Those difficulties are mostly short-lived, and compared to the lifelong joy that a fourth child, a third living child, would bring us, they can hardly justify a decision not to have one. And yet.

But that’s not the point. The point is that we’re supposed to be done. I’m supposed to be done. I’m supposed to have my perfect three right now. I’m supposed to be gearing up to send a kid to kindergarten next fall. I’m supposed to be busy explaining to my big girl why Disney princesses are not the end-all, be-all of womanhood. I’m supposed to be protecting my two-month-old from two overly enthusiastic siblings, not just one. I’m supposed to already be asking for tables of five. Already booking plane tickets for five.

I’m not supposed to still be thinking about whether to have another child. I’m not supposed to be weighing the pros and cons of enduring another pregnancy, another infancy. I’m not supposed to be thinking about whether I’ll live long enough to get all of my kids at least off to college.

I’m not supposed to be mourning a child.

I’m supposed to be done.

And yet I feel totally undone. Completely, totally, utterly undone.

I Love...

Jackson, I love the way you expand the syllables when you pronounce certain words. "Flashlight" becomes "flash-a-light." "Blimp" becomes "ba-limp." "Magnet" becomes "mag-a-net." Adorable.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


I have spent the last year trying not to think much about my cancer journey. I just wanted it to be something that happened to me in the past, a little blip on the radar of my life, which has enough big blips without any help from cancer, thank you very much. While I have spoken at a few Team in Training events as a survivor, I have done no active fundraising for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, in part because I just didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t want to be a cancer patient. I didn’t even want to think of myself as a survivor. I just wanted it to be in the past.

But then I got the results of my first post-treatment PET scan. One year after finishing my treatment, the PET scan showed that I am still cancer-free. Four more years of scans like that, and I will be considered cured.

And here’s the thing. There’s a reason that I can practically treat my cancer like I had a long, bad case of the flu. There’s a reason why my treatment was so straightforward and cut-and-dry. There’s a reason why Hodgkin lymphoma is one of the truly curable cancers. There’s a reason why I now get to look forward to a long and lovely life with my husband and kids, both living and gone.

The reason is The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and in particular, Team in Training, whose participants alone have raised over $1.4 billion for blood cancer research and patient support in the past 25 years.

So in honor of my one-year no-cancerversary, I’m embarking on a new adventure with Team in Training. I’m going to train for my first half-marathon, the inaugural Rock ‘n Roll Raleigh race, on April 13, 2014. And I’ve pledged to TNT that I will raise $15,000 for LLS, either on my own or through a team. And while I am pretty sure I could probably raise $15K on my own, experience tells me that it will be a whole lot more fun and much more special if I do it with a team.

So here I am again. Asking you to train with me. Join TEAM STRONGER. Maybe you have always wanted to train for a marathon or a half-marathon. Or maybe you are already a runner, and this is a great opportunity for you to put your habit to excellent use. Or maybe you have no intention of ever running 13.1 or 26.2 miles, but you think you could probably walk that far to raise money for blood cancer research and patient support.

Whatever your reason, I hope you’ll join me. You can join me if you live nearby, and you can join me if you live far away. If you live in a place where there is a Team in Training chapter, you can train with that chapter but still race with me here in Raleigh. Or if you live in a place where there is no Team in Training chapter, you can take advantage of the “flex” option, where you get all the training schedules, etc., but train on your own and race with me. As a friends and family team, we will also have access to some cool perks, like our own jerseys for race day and special coaching sessions geared towards topics that we are particularly interested in.

All TNT will ask you to do is raise $1200 and cross the finish line, and TNT and I promise you that we will do everything we can to help you do both.

If you are game, then you can register here right now. Just click the link, then choose “Join a Corporate or Friends an Family Team.” On the next page, choose to search by “Team Name” and then enter “TEAM STRONGER.” And then you’ll be on your way. Use the code GOTEAMNC to register for only $25 (which will be applied to your fundraising minimum).

Please let me know if you decide to join the team (so we can make sure you are added to the team page).  And if you have any questions at all, please feel free to email me at mhitchcock at alumni dot unc dot edu.

And if you just cannot fathom doing something crazy like this, you can always give your money!  You can donate to our team here.

Let’s all be EVEN STRONGER.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Deep Breaths

Last night, for the first time in our nearly five years of parenting (four years of parenting live children), Ed and I almost called 911 to summon an ambulance for Jackson in the middle of the night. He is much better this morning, and the pediatrician gave us instructions for what to do in case he has a similar episode again, but for a few minutes at about 4:30 this morning, I was absolutely terrified.

Jackson had RSV at 8 months of age, due to my much-regretted decision to put him in day care at St. Ann’s even when I didn’t really need full-day care of any kind. As a result, when he gets respiratory illnesses, they tend to be more severe than they might be for other kids. We’ve had a nebulizer with albuterol refills in our home for about eighteen months now just in case he has an episode of reactive airway disease symptoms. We’ve probably used it five times during those eighteen months, but when we’ve needed it, we’ve been really glad to have it.

Last night, Ada woke up at about 2:15 and couldn’t settle herself back to sleep. I was so frustrated, because she’s been sleeping through the night (from about 8PM until about 7AM) almost every night for the last several weeks. I have been worried that we’ve been relying on the pacifier too much during the daytime, making it harder for her to settle herself down when she wakes up in the night, which, until recently, she’d been doing very well. So I brought her bed to nurse and then put her back into her bed about 15 minutes later after she’d fallen asleep nursing. About thirty minutes later, before I’d even really been able to fall asleep again, she started fussing again. I waited a few minutes, hoping she’d settle back down on her own, but finally she started to cry, and I went in to her room to try to calm her back to sleep. I didn’t want to give her the pacifier (even though I was sure it would work instantly) because I wanted her to be able to go back to sleep on her own, so I just sat by her bed and soothed her with shushing and patting. It seemed to be working for a bit, and she started to settle into “the zone,” but then she cranked back up again. I was trying really hard not nurse her again—I knew she wasn’t hungry and didn’t want her to rely on nursing to get back to sleep either—so I picked her up, walked around the room with her a bit, bounced her some, changed her diaper. Nothing helped. Her crying kept escalating.

Meantime, we started to hear Jackson crying over the monitor. I assumed that somehow Ada had woken him up (although he usually sleeps like a log) and that he was having trouble going back to sleep, too. Then we started hearing him cough and cry and cough and cry. At first, Ed thought he was just mimicking Ada, but when it didn’t change, Ed finally went down to him.

I finally gave up and brought Ada back into our bed to nurse her back to sleep. Once she got quiet, all I could hear downstairs was what sounded like very hoarse wheezing interspersed with panicked cries. My heart seized and started beating very fast. I yelled to Ed from the bed, “Is he OK?” I didn’t get a reply, so I yelled again, louder, “Ed, is he OK? Can he breathe?” Ed said he wasn’t sure what was going on but that he was going to try giving him a breathing treatment. All the while, I kept hearing that terrible sound. Poor Ada was still latched on and trying to nurse through all of this, but I popped her off, stuck the pacifier in her mouth, and ran downstairs.

When I got down there, it was clear that Jackson was having trouble breathing, but it wasn’t clear why. We couldn’t tell if he was just really stuffy (he’d had just some very minor cold symptoms the last few days, and just a little runny nose, sneezing, and mild coughing yesterday) or if his airway was actually constricted, either from mucus in his throat or inflammation in his lungs. He was able to gasp a few words, but again, we couldn’t tell if he was panicking from being unable to breathe or if he was just crying really hard and couldn’t catch his breath. Intermittently, he would try to cough, making a very high-pitched, hoarse, barking sound, which I knew was characteristic of croup. Ed was already getting the nebulizer set up, and I took Jackson, but as soon as we sat down to try to give him the treatment, he freaked out and started crying even harder, refusing to let the mask anywhere near his face. I knew that if he kept at the hard crying, the breathing problem was just going to get worse, so I pulled him close to me and started rubbing his back and talking in a soothing voice, telling him to try to slow down and take deeper breaths. By this point, Ada had started crying again upstairs, but there was just nothing I could do about it. I knew she would survive a hard crying jag. I had no idea what was going to happen with Jackson, so I knew where I had to stay. I heard Jackson say that he wanted some medicine, so I poured him some Ibuprofen and he was able to swallow it, but he still seemed to have trouble breathing, and each breath sounded like a gasp. We had no idea if he was getting enough air or what was going on. Ed said he thought we needed to take him to the hospital, and I said, “Well, do we need to just call 911?” He said, “One or the other.” Again, we just didn’t know what was happening, and I was terrified that if we took the time to get dressed, get everyone in the car, and go to the emergency room, he might deteriorate quickly.

Adrenaline was racing through every nerve ending in my body. Ada was still screaming upstairs. I could barely think about what to do. As I was imagining calling 911, for some reason I was picturing in my head picking up a corded landline phone like we used to have in our house when I was a kid and pressing actual buttons on it. I wasn’t even thinking that my phone, with a touch screen, was back upstairs plugged in by the bedside.

And then I stopped myself. I took my own deep breath. I took Jackson, who was still visibly panicked and frightened, back into the bright light of his bathroom. I looked at his face and his lips and could see that he was not turning grey or blue anywhere, even around the edges of his lips. They looked pink and vibrant. I decided that if we could just get him to settle down and take the albuterol, his breathing would improve. We sat down on the bed again and tried to get him to take the nebulizer. He again freaked out, this time launching into a coughing fit that brought up so much mucus that he choked on it, and we had another near-emergency on our hands. Fortunately, his cough brought it up into his mouth where I was able to fish some of it out with my fingers. But the breathing still seemed labored. We decided we’d just have to hold him down for the neb. Ed held him tight on his shoulder, and I just held the mask in front of his face for a bit, hoping he’d breathe in some of the medicine. I remembered Hudson’s pediatrician telling us once that it can actually work even better if the kid is screaming because it helps to inhale the steroid deep into the lungs. So I just held it there and hoped.

Within a minute, Jackson realized that the mask wasn’t going to hurt him. He let me put it over his nose and mouth and started breathing more slowly. Within another minute or two, he turned around and faced forward on Ed’s lap and held the mask to his own face. This is when I finally knew he’d turned the corner and was going to be OK. He eventually started talking about the nebulizer (he had a classmate at his old school who took breathing treatments regularly, to the point that Jackson would beg us to give him one at home—he actually loved taking them, oddly enough) and other things in the room, and then I really knew he would be OK. Somewhere in here, I’d heard Ada finally stop crying, which freaked me out, too, so I ran upstairs to check on her. The poor thing had just crashed out from all the crying—I, who have never once let a child cry it out for any reason, had just let my poor, tiny, precious 11-week old baby cry herself to sleep. I could tell she was still snuffling in her sleep. It was awful, but as soon as I knew she was OK, I went back downstairs.

Once Jackson finished the treatment, we all went back into the kitchen to get him a drink, and then we went back to his bedroom. Ed asked if he wanted to snuggle in the big-boy bed with Daddy, and he said yes, and then he said, “Mommy snuggle in the big-boy bed with Jackson and Daddy,” and I said of course I would. So the three of us got into the bed and turned out the light. Ed planned to sleep with Jackson the rest of the night, just so that he would be right there if Jackson had another episode. Once the light was out, Jackson started chatting away, petting Ed’s face saying, “Daddy’s scratchy cheek,” and then mine, saying, “Mommy’s soft cheek,” and so on.

As we laid there, all I could think about was laying in bed with Hudson just like this, one night back in May 2010, when she’d woken up again with fever—we’d given her some medication and kept her in the bed with us to make sure that her temp went back down. After 20 or 30 minutes, she sat back up in the bed between us, chatting and playing with the bed rails. I said, “I think it’s time to put you back in bed, missy.” How could I have any idea it would be the last time I would ever put her in bed again? An hour later, she would wake up crying again, her fever having spiked despite the medicine we had recently given her.  Four hours later, we had her at the pediatrician’s office as soon as it opened. Fourteen hours later, she was having a lumbar puncture in the emergency room that would reveal a very aggressive bacterial meningitis infection. Twelve hours after that, she was in a medically induced coma from which she would never wake. I sat there wishing so much that she was there in bed with us, all arms and legs, cuddling and laughing with her little brother.

As I laid there with Jackson, I remembered that night, Hudson chatting in the bed between us just like Jackson was now doing.  I imagined whatever bug causing this coughing fit marching its way across the blood-brain barrier into his cerebrospinal fluid and causing meningitis in him, too, even as I knew how ridiculous that was.  All I wanted to do was bury my face into his little neck and breathe him in.  I held his hand and slowly let the adrenaline seep back out of my bloodstream. He asked for some water, and I got out of bed to get him his water bottle. On my way to the kitchen, Ada started crying again, so reluctantly I gave Jackson his water, gave him a trifecta (a kiss, a snuzzle—which is a nose rub, and a hug), and left him in the bed with Ed.

I went back upstairs to Ada in the bed. She nursed to sleep again, and I contemplated taking her back to her own bed, but I decided to just lay there with her for a while, too. As frustrated as I was with her night-waking (not that night-waking is not totally normal for a 11-week-old—I had just gotten used to her NOT night-waking), I remembered how much I wished I could have just these kinds of moments with Hudson back. I would be able to sleep later. I settled in next to her and listened to her breathe. I could hear Jackson over the monitor still chatting away to Ed. At about 5:30, Ed finally put Jackson back in his crib and came upstairs. I was still awake, Ada snoozing away in the crook of my arm. I was so tired by this point and knew I needed to get at least a few hours of solid sleep, so I took her back to her room and laid her down in her own bed.

Finally, both kids were quietly sleeping again, just as they’d been before they’d roused us two-and-a-half hours before. I crawled back into bed and spooned with Ed, pulling his arm over me and holding his hand tight against my chest, marveling at how fucking resilient we are. Not long after that, sleep overtook me.

We all slept late. Jackson woke up feeling much better, but we kept him home from school to rest and to monitor him in case he had another episode.

I have no idea how I managed to re-gather my wits in the midst of that terrifying scene in the wee hours of the morning. But just as I was holding Jackson, rubbing his back and shushing him and encouraging him to take deep breaths, I imagine now that Hudson was doing the same thing for me.

Friday, October 25, 2013


I will write more later, but I just wanted to let anyone reading know that my PET scan today was clean. My gut was right.  Thanks for the words of support.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Tomorrow I have my first PET scan in over a year, the first one since the scan I had about a month after completing my treatment. Normally, I’d have had another one six months ago, but when I unexpectedly (and wonderfully) turned up pregnant with Ada, we had to skip the intervening one.

Am I nervous? I’d be lying if I said I were. That’s right. I’d be lying if I said I were.

“Really? Not even a little bit?” you may ask.

No, not even a little bit.

Quite frankly, it hadn’t even occurred to me that I should be nervous until Ed surprised me by telling me that he wanted to go to my appointment with me. I hadn’t told him about it, and then when I mentioned it, he asked me to send him the date. I thought he meant so that he could take care of the kids while I was gone, but I told him that my dad had that covered already. Then he said that he wanted to come.

“You want to come? It hadn’t even occurred to me that you’d want to come.”

Hadn’t even occurred to me.

In my head, I’m thinking, “Why does he want to come? He didn’t come to the last one. He didn’t come to any of the clinic appointments over the course of the year when they checked my bloodwork and felt my lymph nodes. Why would he want to—”


Oh. I get it.

He’s worried. Maybe not a lot. But at least a little. Worried enough that he wants to be there just in case the news is not good.

Never even occurred to me. I figured I’d go, get the scan, the doc would say I’m still clean, and then I’d go home and pump and dump the radioactive mess they injected into me.

And in all likelihood that is what will happen, Ed said to me tonight.

And I said, “Yeah. But that’s what I thought when my mom had her CT scan.”

And it’s true. I remember the day, the moment, like it was yesterday. My mom had been having digestive problems for many months before someone finally suggested she get a CT scan. They’d been planning to remove her gall bladder because they couldn’t figure out what else could be wrong. But the surgeon said they should take a look before just taking her gall bladder out. So she went for a CT scan. Sometime in the late afternoon of that day—it was April 16, 2002—I remembered that she was supposed to have the scan earlier that morning. So I just called her up from my office (which I shared with three other people), chipper as can be, to confirm what I already knew—that her gall bladder was bad and needed to come out. What else could it be? They’d ruled out everything else.

I asked her how the scan went. She asked me if I was still at the office. My heart began to race. I said yes, and she suggested that we talk when I got home. My mom never postponed a conversation with me. Ever. I was already on the verge of tears when I blurted, “Just tell me!”

“I have cancer, honey.”

Just like that. I can still hear those four words over the phone, over the many miles. “I have cancer, honey.” I lost my shit completely. The only girl in the office with me quietly got up and left.

I don’t remember the details of the rest of the conversation except that she told me she had pancreatic cancer. I didn’t know much about cancer (who the fuck pays any attention to this before it hits your family?), but I knew that was bad. What I learned over the course of the next 24 hours was even worse—the median survival time from diagnosis was 8 months. My mother died on December 19, almost eight months to the day from her diagnosis date.

I have never written much about the days in between April 16 and December 19 of 2002. Much of it was so horrible that I can still barely believe any of us endured it. These words I am writing now comprise the first effort I’ve made to write about the beginning of that journey. I will probably write more some day. But I’ve mostly wanted to forget about it. The end result was my mom dying, so why remember?

So should I be worried about tomorrow’s PET scan? Experience tells me I should (go in with low expectations and be pleasantly surprised… don’t get blindsided… don’t be a fucking idiot AGAIN). Statistics tell me I shouldn’t (fuck statistics—where were they when Hudson died?). My gut tells me I shouldn’t. I’m going with my gut. (And God, I hope my gut is right).

I never wrote much here about my cancer journey, either. When it began, I had this idea that I’d document it all, the wretched moments and the enlightening ones. And while I did write bits and pieces, I never got into the nitty-gritty of what it was like to be a cancer patient. I will probably write more some day. But I’ve mostly wanted to forget about it. The end result was that I got cured, so why remember?

Really. This is where I have been with cancer for the last year. The first ten days after the needle biopsy on March 29, 2012, were terrifying, because all I knew was that I had cancer, but I had no idea how bad it was. I had a terrible tightness in my chest that I was convinced meant that the cancer had already moved there, but as it turned out, it was just the stress of the diagnosis. We’d caught the cancer early, and I was headed for four months of very straightforward chemotherapy, after which I’d be, in all likelihood, cured.

And so it was. Four months of chemo (yes, they sucked, but in the grand scheme of chemo and cancer treatment, were really not that bad) and I was, as far as we know, cured. I started a new job. My hair began to grow back (and is now this crazy mess of ringlet curls that never existed before). I got pregnant with our third child. We moved into our lovely new house after seven long months of renovations. I gave birth to our third child. My illness seems like something that almost didn’t even really happen, like it was something I dreamed about one time. Sometimes I do a double-take when I remember it really did happen (like when strands of my hair fall into my hand and I am amazed at how long they are).

And here we are. On the eve of my first scan in a year. And am I worried? Who has time to be worried? I am chasing a very active two-year-old boy around, nursing a two-month-old every few hours, remembering my oldest child every time I look into the faces of her younger siblings, and trying to keep my sanity through it all.

I am not my mother. Despite my experience to the contrary, statistics really are on my side. I hit the cancer jackpot.

I am not worried. Really.

Famous last words, right?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

I Love...


I love to watch your imagination at work. Like the other day, when you discovered some new magnets that came with our dry erase board, you put them together and pretended first that they were a shark's mouth, and you fed the other magnets to it. Then you pretended they were different kinds of soda-brown, blue, and white. Then you pretended they were nail clippers and you clicked them together as you "cut" my nails.

I love you how like to play with vowels. Just like the song "I Like To Eat Apples And Bananas," you like to try out how words and songs sound with all the different vowels in them.

I love how you phrase all your statements as questions. Instead of saying, "I want some milk" or "I wanna go outside" or any other assertion, you ask, "Want some milk?" or "Wanna go outside?"

I love, love, love to listen to you laugh. It's my favorite sound in the world right now. And I love happening upon the silly things that make you produce that beautiful sound.


I love the precious squawk you make before you start to crank up for real. It's kind of like, "Hello? I'm still here!"

I love watching you beginning to notice things and stare at them, fascinated.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Everybody All Together

Tonight, after a long tough afternoon with both kids (maybe it’s my imagination or a product of having two at once for the first time, but this Ada kid is giving me a run for my money) and a total meltdown by Jackson, who missed his nap this afternoon but was trying to avoid going to bed like it was his job, I finally got Jackson up on the changing table to put on his diaper and jammies and get ready for bed. He had gone from screaming, crying, and tears running down his face to laughing and chatting in about ten seconds.

He started gleefully shouting the names of everyone in the family. “Daddy!” “Mommy!” “Jackson!” “Baby Ada!” “Bess!”

How could I not notice? How could I not?

No “Hudson!”

We talk about her. Often. Her pictures are everywhere, and Jackson can point to them and say, “Hudson!” If I ask him who Hudson is, sometimes he’ll say, “Sister!” or “Big sister!” Whenever the Iz version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” comes up on Pandora, he’ll say, “Hudson’s song!”

But no “Hudson!” when rattling off the names of everyone in the family. Not that I blame him. “Sister” is still a pretty abstract concept, even with a baby sister now in the house, nursing half the time and crying the other half. “Family” is an abstract concept, too, even for my extremely verbal son, who surprises me every day with the words and concepts he understands.

The book he chose tonight was “A Baby Sister for Frances.” If you don’t remember the Frances books, they are about a little badger named Frances and her family. This one in particular is about Frances trying to get used to her own baby sister. I ordered it for Jackson back before Ada was born. Life gets pretty crappy after Gloria is born (no blue dress ironed for school, bananas instead of raisins in her oatmeal), so Frances runs away to the dining room one night. Her mom and dad talk about her while she’s run away to the other room, about how even though it’s really nice to have the baby, they are just not a family without the big sister. “A family is everybody all together.”

“A family is everybody all together.”

The first time I read those lines to him a few months ago, it was like I’d been hit by a bag of bricks. Everybody all together. Everybody. All together.

We are not. All together. The big sister is gone. Not run away to the dining room table to snack on sandwich cookies. Gone. Altogether.

And yet she is here, isn’t she?

Today I caught myself staring at her Easter egg photo, which serves as the wallpaper on my phone (Jackson looks at it and says, “Hudson!”). She’s always there, behind all the icons. Sometimes I stop and pay attention to her. Many times I don’t. She is just there.

I use some combination of letters in her name and numbers as my password for a variety of things now. Sometimes I stop and think about her when I type them in. Sometimes I don’t. But she is there.

Ada is working her way through Hudson’s hand-me-downs. Sometimes (often) I stop and conjure an image of Hudson in the same pair of jammies or the same outfit. Sometimes I don’t. But she is there, too.

As I wrote in Ada’s birth story, I felt remorse later when I realized that I hadn’t thought much about Hudson in the moments right after Ada’s birth, nothing like the bittersweet moments I spent just after Jackson was born. But as I wrote there, what I have realized is that, much like these other two kids who are here with us living, breathing, screaming, yelling, running, eating, pooping, smiling, giggling, and snuggling, she is so much a part of us that we don’t need to “think about her” for her to be here with us. Maybe that is just a rationalization on my part for what I know and understand to be, finally, acceptance of her death and integration of it into our lives. But it makes sense. We live and breathe her just as much as we do our other kids, maybe even more so.

“A family is everybody all together.” Jackson doesn’t understand this now. He doesn’t understand “family” or “sister” or “Hudson died.” But he will. And when he does, he will know, probably better than we do, that even though we are not together in the way we wish—the way we wish in every single living, breathing second—that we could be, we are still all together. We are still a family.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ada’s Birth Story

We welcomed Ada Rose Hitchcock Chaney into our lives on Wednesday, August 14, at 8:30PM. She weighed 7 pounds, 7 ounces, and was 19.75 inches long. She gets her first name from Ed’s great-grandmother, and her first middle name partly from some other relatives of Ed’s, but largely in memory of her big sister, who also had a flower for a middle name. This is the story of her birth.

The weeks and days leading up to Ada’s birth were long. They are long ones for any pregnant mom nearing her due date, feeling big and swollen and sleepless, but they felt especially long for me. Although I’d been able to stave off most of the anxiety that had plagued me all during my pregnancy with Jackson, the last weeks of my pregnancy with Ada brought many of those fears roaring back. I dreaded the possibility that she might not arrive by her due date, because I feared that my anxiety would just skyrocket at that point. I talked with the doctor about when they’d want to induce, and she said they would probably not let me go past 41 weeks, given my age. But I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it to 41 weeks. We went ahead and scheduled an induction for the day after my due date, but I knew that I could change my mind if I decided I didn’t want to go through with it, and I was just hoping that this baby would follow in her big sister’s steps and come several days early rather than following her big brother, who arrived right on his due date.

I was nesting like a madwoman during those last three weeks. I baked, I cooked meals for the freezer, I organized the basement, I organized the baby’s room (some more), I knitted—you name it, and I was probably doing it. I think I was hoping that all the activity would bring on labor. I know I was hoping that all the activity was a sign of impending labor. At my 38-week appointment, I was about 1 cm dilated, and the doctor went ahead and stripped my membranes in hopes of helping get things going. This, of course, did nothing. At 39 weeks, I was about 2-3 cm. I saw a different provider that week, a nurse practitioner, and because I didn’t know her and she didn’t offer, I didn’t ask her to strip my membranes again. As that week went on, I felt the induction looming large in my mind—I really didn’t want to go through with it, because I was committed to another drug-free delivery and I was concerned that Pitocin would make that difficult. I had acupuncture for the first time the day before the due date. The due date, August 13, arrived, with no sign of the onset of labor, except that I was dilated even more, to 3-4 cm at this point. I told the doctor to go ahead and cancel the induction, that I was feeling OK anxiety-wise and really didn’t want to induce unless the anxiety got unbearable. We scheduled a non-stress test for the baby for a few days later. And although the doctor stripped my membranes again that morning, the due date came and went with no excitement.

Early the next morning, around 2AM, I woke up for no reason, as I had a tendency to do during that last month or so. I lay awake in the bed for a while, trying to decide if the contractions I was feeling were real contractions or just Braxton-Hicks, which I’d been having off and on for a few weeks. I was also counting the baby’s movements, and by 4AM, I felt like I hadn’t felt her moving enough and decided to go into the hospital to get her checked out. This kind of anxiety and overreaction was just exactly what I’d been hoping to avoid, but there it was just the same, just as soon as the due date passed. I went to labor and delivery and they hooked me up to the monitors. The first 20-30 minutes really didn’t look that great—Ada was moving occasionally but not showing any real accelerations of her heart rate during the movements. The nurse said to me, “How do you feel about staying here and having a baby, because in about five minutes, that’s what they’re going to come in here and suggest that you do.” I called Ed (he had stayed home with Jackson because I didn’t want to wake up my sister-in-law and have her come over for no reason—I imagined I would get the baby checked out and be back home in a couple of hours) and asked him to come to the hospital so that we could talk to the doctors and make a decision. Of course, after I called him, the nurse gave me some juice, and I went to the bathroom, and within a few minutes, Ada was bouncing all over the place. During all of this time, I had been having what I was pretty sure were real contractions at this point, although they were still only mildly painful and were very irregular, and I’d also had a fair amount of bloody show. The resident checked me and said I was still about 3-4 cm. She talked to the chief resident and they decided to send me home since it still did not appear that I was in active labor. I asked if it were possible for me to just stay and see if the labor started to progress more, and she said the only way they would let me stay is if I agreed to go ahead and let them do some kind of artificial augmentation of labor. We started planning to go home, and then there was a shift change. A new attending came in to see me and he said that not only was it fine for me to stay if I wanted to, he’d actually prefer it—he said that OBs are anal and conservative and that they’d have preferred for me to have delivered before the due date. Ed and I thought I’d probably be more comfortable laboring at home until things seemed to actually be progressing. The new doctor, who was really very nice, said that if we went home, he would be on shift until 5:30 that day, so if we changed our minds and wanted to come back in, we could do so, and at point, we could talk about some other options besides Pitocin to get labor started, including breaking my water. This seemed like a good compromise to me, so home we went.

I remembered the advice my very first doula gave me, which was to rest as much as possible, so that’s what I tried to do. I laid down in bed and tried to sleep, but the contractions I was having were getting more painful, even though they weren’t getting any more regular. They were anywhere from seven to fifteen minutes apart, and I was still not convinced that I was really in labor.

Finally, close to 4:00 in the afternoon, I was getting frustrated and anxious. Several Facebook friends suggested that perhaps the labor wouldn’t really start to progress unless and until I felt safe and confident that that baby would be OK. I was also worried that once things really did get going, they might go very fast, and I did not want to be faced with the prospect of having a baby in the car. While most women feel more comfortable at home, it seemed like perhaps I would feel more comfortable at the hospital, where I knew we could monitor Ada and get help immediately if we needed it. I also wanted to get back there before the attending I’d seen that morning left his shift, so that we could talk about some things and anyone who took over for him would know about any plan we came up with. So we decided to go back in, even though the contractions were still not regular.

I called our doula to let her know that we’d decided to head in to the hospital. UNC has a volunteer doula program that provides labor doulas for free to anyone who wants one. I decided to go with the volunteer program because I wasn’t totally sure that we needed a doula on the third time around, but I still thought it would be nice to have one there just in case. I’d met her twice already, and Ed had met her once. She was . . . odd, to say the least, and I wasn’t sure I was totally down with her approach to being a doula, but I tried not to let this get in the way. I knew that I had not really connected with her, but she was a volunteer, and I didn’t really feel like I could call up the volunteer coordinator and say, “I’m sorry. I don’t like this volunteer that you are providing to me for free. Could you please provide me with someone else for free?” You know, it just felt like a looking-the-gift-horse-in-the-mouth kind of thing. She seemed like she knew her stuff, and I just tried to ignore her quirks and the fact that I didn’t really like her approach. That was a mistake. When I called her to let her know that we were heading in to the hospital even though the contractions weren’t 4 minutes apart yet, she immediately started trying to talk me out of it. I explained to her that my instinct was just telling me that I should go on in, that I would feel safer and more comfortable at the hospital, but she proposed several doom-and-gloom scenarios and basically suggested that if I went to the hospital now, my chances of being able to stick to my birth plan would go out the window. I mouthed silently to Ed, “SHE’S DRIVING ME CRAZY!” as I simultaneously made arrangements with her to meet us at the hospital later. What I was thinking, I have no idea.

The human body is an amazing thing, though. It seemed that almost as soon as I made the decision to head to the hospital, the contractions started getting more intense and started coming much closer together, well under four minutes. We got to labor and delivery, and thankfully, because I’d already been in that morning and they’d wanted to keep me there in the first place, they skipped triaging me and put me right into a labor room. The resident checked me, and I was already to 6 cm. I was really hoping that the rest of the way would go really quickly, but alas, it was not quite as fast as I’d hoped. Fortunately, UNC had wireless heartrate monitors, which made it much easier for us to keep an eye on Ada while I was laboring.

It was about 5:00 PM at this point. I talked to our nurse while Ed put Hudson’s pictures around the room. Our nurse was fantastic—she was totally on board with drug-free delivery, and she actually sat and read our birth plan through, asking us questions as she went. I was amazed. One of our requests on the birth plan was to have a nurse who was enthusiastic about unmedicated birth, and she assured us that she was a and that when the shift changed again, she’d make sure the next nurse would be as well. She brought me a birthing ball, which I sat on for much of the rest of the evening. The same doctor I’d seen earlier in the morning checked in with us, and since he could see that I was in active labor, he left us in the nurse’s hands.

This is when we fired the doula. The volunteer doula. Yes, we fired our volunteer doula. After we’d gotten settled in, I texted her to let her know they’d admitted me and how far along I was. She texted back that she’d already left and was going to stop and get something to eat along the way. I started explaining the situation to the nurse about how I didn’t really like the doula much, and she immediately said, “You need to tell her not to come.” Ed agreed right away. I hemmed and hawed, saying that I couldn’t fire a volunteer, and I certainly couldn’t fire her on the way to the hospital, but the nurse persisted, reminding me that labor is very psychological and that I didn’t need any stressors or distractions in the room. If the doula was going to be more of a burden than an aid, then she needed to stay home. I relented, and Ed so kindly agreed to call her for me. I was both too embarrassed and also having to concentrate pretty hard through contractions at that point, making a phone call difficult.  I was so relieved once it was done, and I was glad to have two people thinking smarter than I could at the time.

The contractions were getting worse and closer together. A few different times, I went into the bathroom and straddled the toilet backwards for a while, hoping to get my water to break (this position had done the trick with Jackson), but to no avail. We talked about the possibility of having the doctor break my water, and the nurse was really great about explaining the pros and cons of this procedure. I was still frightened enough of scary things like prolapsed cords that I decided to wait it out. Ed was a champ this entire time, massaging my shoulders and back and cheerleading me through the contractions.

At the shift change, two wonderful things happened. First, the attending who came on to the service was one of the two doctors I saw through most of the pregnancy, and I loved her. We were both really excited that she happened to be on call that night and would be delivering my baby. And second, the new nurse was an unexpected gift from the universe. She had recently received her midwifery certification, of all things. We fire our volunteer doula, and suddenly, we get a midwife. And she was fantastic. She sat down on the couch in the room while I labored on the ball and just talked with us for a good half-hour. She was visibly moved when we told her about Hudson, and by the time it was all over, she felt like our friend. Where she really proved her worth was about an hour later, at the very end, when I hit transition. During the last hour or so, I had been in the bathroom again, hoping desperately that my water would break. I was starting to fall apart emotionally, feeling like I couldn’t hang on much longer (a sure sign of transition, but I wasn’t convinced of that), and my legs were beginning to get tired from supporting my body as I straddled the toilet. They were starting to shake, and the nurse suggested that I try lying down on the bed. This idea terrified me a little bit (the pain you know is better than the pain you don’t know), but she made a good case that I needed to give my muscles a break. I lay down on my left side and by this time, my whole body was trembling. I could not stop shaking. I didn’t realize that this is a sign of transition—I’d never had the shakes before—but the nurse did and she paged the doctor to come check me. Meanwhile, she placed one hand firmly on my hip and slid the other hand firmly down the outside of my thigh, a gentle massage that slowly helped my body calm down and stop shaking. It was absolutely amazing, and I told her so.

The doctor that I loved so much came in to check me, and lo and behold, I was fully dilated. I couldn’t believe it. For the last half-hour or so, I hadn’t wanted the doctor to check me because I was sure that I was only 7 or 8 cm along, and I just couldn’t take knowing how much longer I might have to go. So when she said I was complete, I was so relieved. She asked me if I wanted her to break my water, and at that point, I didn’t care anymore, so I said, “YES!” (Hudson’s delivery was similar to this—the doctor didn’t break my water until I was already pushing, and hardly anything came out because Hudson was already in the birth canal). The doctor broke the bag, and I felt the warm whoosh of water and said, “You broke it!” She laughed and said, “I did!”

And then, out of nowhere, I had this incredible urge to push. It was like the doctor broke my water and all of a sudden, the baby was ready to just ride the wave out. I screamed that I needed to push, and both the nurse and the doctor said to go ahead. I pushed once, but I was scared and thought I heard one of them saying something about holding up for a second. I remember thinking that I was going to tear like crazy. I looked up at the doctor and screamed her first name (I was embarrassed about this later), feeling like I needed someone to give me some instructions. But like with Jackson, there was no waiting on this baby. My body was in total control, and I pushed once more and she was out. It took about 20 seconds altogether.

And then, there she was, little Ada, tiny and screaming on my chest. The relief I felt was immense—even having done this twice before, the dread of the unknown can weigh so heavily, and I was just so glad that the delivery was over and that Ada was safe and sound. (Funny—I just went back and read Jackson’s birth story and saw that I wrote almost this exact same sentence at the end of his.) I held her close and spoke softly to soothe her, and I started crying almost immediately, thanking everyone in the room and letting the euphoria wash over me. UNC is wonderful about not taking babies from moms for at least an hour after birth, so Ada stayed right on me for a long time and was nursing within twenty minutes. She looked pretty small to me—her limbs didn’t have much chub on them at all—but her official birth weight was one ounce heavier than her big sister’s. But to no one’s surprise, she looked just exactly like her big sister and brother, as if they were all popped out of the same mold.

So much was different about this labor and delivery. It was so much less loaded and emotionally fraught. This time, I already knew that I could love another child as much as I loved Hudson. I already knew that I could love another child and still love Hudson. Hudson was still present in the room with us, but in a way that felt much more integrated than when Jackson was born, when there was still the very strong sense of a giant hole just waiting to swallow me up. Later, I felt badly that I hadn’t spent much time thinking just about Hudson in those moments after the delivery, but as the time has gone on, I realize that that is what it really means for her to still be a part of our family. She is right there with us, whether we are thinking directly about her or not. And that is a blessing.

In a lovely twist of fate, Ada was born on the one-year anniversary of my last chemo treatment. It’s almost hard to believe that is a coincidence.

And so we keep moving forward, now a family of five, a baby sister, a big/little brother, a big sister, a cancer-surviving mommy, and a daddy who somehow helps us keep it all together every day.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Three (Two)

So this is actually happening.

Five and a half years after we first learned we were pregnant with Hudson.  Three-plus years after Hudson died just as we were planning a sibling for her.  A year and a half after our plans for a sibling for Jackson (and Hudson) were put on hold by a cancer diagnosis and ensuing treatment. 

Finally.  Finally.  Our home is about to have two living siblings in it. 

Even as I say that today, at 38 weeks pregnant, when our daughter could arrive at any time, I am still not entirely sure I have properly arranged all the necessary facts and emotions in my head to help me grasp that after all this time, after all these interrupted plans, our family will have more than one living child.  I have begun writing this post again and again in my head for two months now, and even now, mere days away from the event, I still find myself befuddled both by the actual fact of it and by the ever-flowing confusing emotions that accompany it. 

Two.  Two living children in our house.  All the planning I’ve been doing over the last few weeks, getting ready for the reality of two.  A reality I should have encountered more than two years ago.   Only just now am I exploring how best to help an older sibling adjust to the birth of a new baby.  Only just now am I figuring out sleeping arrangements and child safety seats for two children instead of one.  Only just now am I grappling with how to engage a two-year-old while also meeting the intense needs of a newborn. 

All of this time later, all of this planning for two. 

And yet there are three. 

It’s nearly impossible to believe that Hudson has been gone for more than three years.  Even harder still to believe that we are about to welcome yet another child without her here.   The most potent confirmation yet that no matter how many children we have, our family will never feel complete.  It will never be complete. 

I find myself, in these waning days before yet another life (and lifetime—we have experienced so many in these few short years) begins, feeling much like I did before Jackson was born.  I am waiting, waiting, anxious yet again just to know what this will feel like.  Two years and some change ago, I just wanted Jackson to get here so that I could stop imagining what it would be like to parent a living child and a dead child at the same time.  Now, I just want Ada to get here so I can stop imagining what it will be like to parent two living children and a dead child at the same time.  And what it will be like to parent a daughter again after having lost my first so suddenly and so horribly. 

One thing I know with absolute and unshakable certainty, certainty for which I am so very grateful:  the heart’s capacity for love is, indeed, infinitely expansive.  Before Jackson was born, I was not sure how I would be able to love him like I loved his sister who died before he was born.  And although I recognized at the time that many second-time parents experience this, for me, the feeling was so loaded with other emotions, the most powerful one being guilt.  How could I love him, living, breathing, alive, without slighting her?  How could I love her, gone but still nearly larger than life, without slighting him?  I would never have the opportunity for “special time” with each of them, at least not in the ways that many parents of two try to make room for.  How would I ever make Jackson understand what Hudson meant and means to me?  How would I ever go on living and loving more children without feeling like I was leaving Hudson behind? 

Quite honestly, I’m not sure I have yet answered the last two questions.  Although Jackson knows Hudson’s face (and often mistakes it for his own in photos) and calls her his sister, he’s not yet old enough to know or understand anything else about her, who she is, where she is, why she isn’t here with us, how very much she is still part of our family.  So I don’t yet know how we will do at that.  And no matter how much I tell myself differently, it is very hard not to feel like Hudson is being left behind.  Not necessarily that we are doing the leaving, but that she is being left behind just the same.  I read a blog post recently from another bereaved mother whose daughter died when she was nineteen days old.  The post was mainly about helping others understand how hurtful unthinking comments and careless behavior can be to a parent who has lost a child.  But one thing that stuck with me was this: she said that four years on, she gets up with the exact same sadness that she felt the day her daughter died—she has just gotten better at hiding it (her point being that people always asked how she was in the beginning, but then stopped asking after some time).  The exact same sadness.  I don’t feel that way.  Or at least not what I understand her to mean, which I could be wrong about.  If I woke every day with the exact same sadness that I felt the day that Hudson died, or that next day, or the many horrifically dark days after that…  Well.  I. Would. Not. Be. Alive.  The only hope I had during those days was that it would not always feel exactly like that, and if that had turned out to be an unfounded hope, I would not be here.  Truly.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that I don’t still feel Hudson’s loss acutely each and every day—as a friend recently said, it must be like having an amputated limb, and while I have never had an amputated limb, I think the metaphor is spot on—of course I feel it.  And I feel it in new and surprising ways all the time.  Just when you think you have encountered all the possible ways that the grief could sneak up on you, you encounter another, and have to grapple with the ensuing bleeding.  But just as I predicted very early on, the giant hole that Hudson’s death ripped into our lives, while still the same size absolutely, is smaller relatively, relative to the joy that we are still so grateful to be able to appreciate in each moment of our lives.  As that joy grows, as our lives grow, everything else gets smaller—not absolutely, but by comparison.  This is as it should be in any life, but in my case, it still can’t help but feel like Hudson is somehow being left behind in the midst of it all.

But.  But.  Back to that certainty.  I have absolute certainty that my capacity to love all of my children, here, gone, living, dead, in front of me, in my memory, is infinitely expansive.  Infinitely.  Loving Jackson makes me love Hudson even more.  Loving Hudson makes me love Jackson even more.  Loving them both makes me love Ada even more, long before she even makes it into my arms.  Loving her makes me love her two siblings even more.  To me, this is the essence of family, why people create families in the first place, in the amazing numbers of ways they create families.  We have so much love to share that all we want to do is share it more.  I know that’s how Ed and I have felt from the very beginning. 

Two.  Three.  Three.  Two. 

More.  Ever and ever more.  

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Land Mines

I truly have only barely begun thinking about what it means that I am going to have a chance to raise another little girl. Every time my brain starts to wander into that territory, it veers off unexpectedly, not ready to entertain any deeper thoughts on the matter.

Today, I was forced to dip a toe a little deeper into that water, and yet I was still only scratching the very surface, I think. I finally got down to tackling all of the boxes and junk we’d thrown into the baby’s room in the new house. Not only do I want to get it cleaned up and ready for an actual baby to live in, but I also want to use it as a writing space for the summer, so I needed to make some room.

The room contained several large boxes that have basically not been opened since they were packed from our house in DC over a year ago. I also brought up some other boxes from the basement containing baby clothes, with plans to sort everything out by size and gender (or gender-neutrality as the case may be) so I could figure out what we have for this baby to wear. (You can probably see where I am going with this. This is another one of those posts that just keeps rewriting itself over and over again in new circumstances, I think).

I had already seen some of Hudson’s baby clothes through the sides of the clear plastic boxes I brought up from the basement. Somehow, this was all I was preparing myself for, and it seemed manageable.

But instead of starting with those boxes, the knowns, I opened one of the big cardboard boxes labeled only “Baby Clothes.” And right there on the top, the first thing I saw, were all the 18-24 month size clothing that Hudson was wearing around the time she died. In DC, I’d never been able to bring myself to put them away somewhere, so I simply moved them into the bottom drawer of the dresser in Jackson’s room in order to make way for his clothes. I looked at them from time to time, but for the most part that drawer stayed closed. When the movers came to pack us in DC, it felt almost like a cop out to me that I was letting them pack the clothes in the dresser, another way to sidestep having to ultimately do anything with those clothes I was unprepared to do anything with.

The thing about land mines is that no matter how much you prepare for encountering them, and no matter how many precautions you try to take to avoid them, they can still blow up right in your face.

On top was the grey fleece jacket with the bear ears that she wore so very often during her second and final winter that it was almost like an extension of her:

(I’d originally put this jacket in the box of clothes to be worn again by another sibling, rather than in the special box of Hudson’s clothes that will be only her own forever. Today I changed my mind about that. It’s just far too much hers to ever be anyone else’s.)

Then there were several items I’d only recently bought her at a huge kids’ consignment sale, including the lightweight sunsuit she was wearing in this precious picture with her friend Ellary on the playground at St. Ann’s:

. . . as well as this sweet top that I was inanely worried about getting stained by black beans when I took this, the final photo we have of Hudson:

Some of the clothes from that drawer in DC she hadn’t even gotten to wear yet, because the seasons were still changing and it was not yet reliably warm (we’d planned to take Hudson camping for the first time on the night she fell ill—we canceled the trip well before she ever ran a fever, because the overnight temps were supposed to be in the low forties).

I dug down lower into the box and found a jacket she’d worn regularly as a baby—I’d written her name on the tag so that it wouldn’t get lost at day care:

I shared that last photo on Facebook, with the caption: “Unpacking so much more than mere clothes,” and I am. I’m unpacking an all-too-short lifetime of memories. One of my bereaved-mom friends offered the kind hope for “a time when there is almost as much sweet as bitter in these clothes.”

And the thing is, this is that time. At least I think it is. Yes, finding these clothes when I (stupidly) wasn’t anticipating to (seriously, how does this keep happening?) blew me into a rib-shaking grief wave. Yes, most if not all of these clothes have some Hudson memory attached to them. But isn’t it sweet to have them in our lives again, to share them with Hudson’s little sister, to make new memories in them even as we tell Hudson’s siblings the stories of what their big sister was doing when she wore them? Isn’t that much sweeter than tucking them away in a drawer or a box as if I am afraid of them?

I think so. At least for the time being. I will probably still try to prepare, in vain, for the possible land mine that awaits when I first put one of those items of clothing on my second daughter. And it will probably still blow up in my face. And it will be OK. I’m willing to bet that something sweet will be waiting after the dust settles.

Monday, May 27, 2013

What Memorial Day Is “About”

Today, I posted on Facebook a column contemplating whether Memorial Day should include a commemoration of people like Henry David Thoreau and the many other anti-war activists and conscientious objectors and others who endeavored to prevent or shorten unjust wars. The column prompted some debate about what Memorial Day is “about,” with my two cents being that the purpose of Memorial Day is to honor the dead who gave their lives in service to this country, many of them needlessly in wars of aggression and greed, and that to me, we dishonor their memories if we do not continue to meditate on the need for peace; that to me, it does not take away from honoring the sacrifice of all those who have lost their lives and their families to meditate on the idea that while we are so incredibly grateful for their sacrifice, we are terribly sorry that they had to make it.

As the day went on, though, and I thought more and more about this discussion, it occurred to me that perhaps none of us should presume to say what Memorial Day is “about.” Because I imagine that, like Mother’s Day, Memorial Day is about many different things for many different people—those who have served and continue to serve, those whose family members or friends served and died, those leaders who sent young men and women into war, those of us who have not lost any loved ones in service to the nation but who understand that many of our freedoms, including our freedom to protest unjust wars, are a result of those sacrifices. It may mean to a mother who lost her son in a war she does not believe in something different from what it means to a father who lost his son in a war in which he believed wholeheartedly. So I think when any of us presumes to say that Memorial Day is “about this” or “not about that,” we may risk ignoring the diversity and depth of experiences and emotions that are brought to bear upon the meaning of this day.

So as the day continued, I thought more and more about what this day means to me. Having only a few friends in the military and having never lost anyone I loved to a war, it obviously does not mean to me the same thing that it might mean to my friend, Helen, one of the mothers I have become friends with in this journey of losing a child, my friend Helen who lost her 29-year-old son Joe to an IED in Afghanistan in 2006. It does not mean the same thing to me that it does to Joe’s wife, or to his young daughter and stepson, who lost their father on that fateful day. So what does it mean to me?

As I was meditating on this, I heard an interview on NPR with a chaplain who accompanies the notification officers tasked with the terrible duty of notifying the loved ones of those who have died in military service. The chaplain said that in every case when he has made the walk to the front door of one of those families, as soon as the door opens, before the notification officer can even get a word out of his mouth, the grief has already begun—the sight of the government vehicle in the driveway and the two officers in uniform on the front steps tells them everything they need to know. He said sometimes, family members would see them coming up the walk and simply refuse to open the door, as if doing so would mean keeping their beloved soldier alive.

And when I heard that, when I imagined that moment in my head, that’s when I had at least a better sense of what Memorial Day is about for me. Because what I thought of when I heard that chaplain describe that moment when the grief begins before the officer can even say a word, what I thought of was that same moment when we knew, without anyone saying a word, that Hudson was going to die. We had been waiting for what seemed like hours and hours for the doctor to return and tell us the results of Hudson’s latest CT scan, taken after her pupils stopped responding to light altogether. Finally, the hospital social worker guided us into a private room and sat us down. Then the social worker, two nurses, and two doctors all walked in and sat down in five chairs across from us. It was then that we knew. The words were superfluous. We knew in that moment that our lives would never be the same.

And as I remembered that horrible moment, I had a sense that for me, Memorial Day is about honoring all of those mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and children who have had to open that door, who have known, before any words were even said, that their lives would never be the same. And for me, it is about doing whatever I can do to make sure that no family, no mother, ever has to endure that horrible moment without an unassailable reason. I don’t intend that as a political statement but rather as an intensely personal and emotional one. If another mother’s child is going to die for my sake, if another mother must endure that moment when she knows without being told that she will never see her child alive again, then the very least that I can do on Memorial Day is pledge to do my best to make sure that her child “shall not have died in vain.”