Tuesday, September 30, 2014

one year

My dearest Will,

One whole year.

One year ago, I had no idea how much love my heart could hold.

One year ago, I didn't know the joy that awaited us.

One year ago, I laid eyes on you for the first time and fell head-over-heels in love.

Frankly, I'm not sure how it's already been a year. It feels like just last week we were heading to the hospital on an unseasonably warm September morning, assuming we'd be there all day and night waiting on you. But you blessed us with your presence a mere two hours after we got into our room. What a lovely surprise!

Your laugh is infectious. Your cheeks are practically edible. You are just all-over squeezable and delicious. Seriously, I could just sit and kiss you all day long. You might object. But I might try.

I can't even describe how you've completed our family. It's a crazy thing, actually. When I look at the way WE thought things would go, you never actually should have been a part of us. We would have been done at Hannah. And then we would have been done at Charlie. So to have you in our lives is beyond a gift. And as much as it looks to us like you never should have been here, God has always known you'd be the baby to complete our family. He has had plans for you since before creation. Big plans. Good plans. And lucky for us, plans that included life on earth with us.

One of my greatest joys is watching your big brother and sister love you. They waited a long time to have a little sibling! And the excitement they had when they came to the hospital one year ago has not waned. They still simply adore you! They love to see you when you wake up in the morning. They love to play with you when they get home from school. They want to hold you and feed you and read to you and lay with you. You're a lucky little brother. :)

Thank you. Thank you for being you and being ours. I love you to the moon and back and can't wait to see what this next year has in store.


Video of Will's first year:


Sunday, July 20, 2014

12 years

I officially rang in our 12th anniversary by waking up my snoring husband at 2:00am to let him know he'd forgotten to put on his cpap mask.

Romantic, right? ;)

Ah, how things change in 12 years. I remember celebrating our dating anniversary every month. We also celebrated every 100 emails (a pretty big deal in the pre-texting, pre-Facebook world we lived in) all the way to 2,000-something. Lots of flowers, lots of gifts. We even had a big fancy date on our 1-month wedding anniversary. Ha! Now we sneak out for a couple hours of drinks and appetizers and tell each other to please not waste money on a card. :)

Would I go back and change how we did things?

Not for a second. I love how we celebrated each other then. I love the things that were important to us. I love that I have stacks of greeting cards from those "young love" days. I love that the couple in that photo had no idea what awaited them, but they were in it together regardless of what came their way.

I also love where we are now. I love how the years have changed us. I love that we have three littles to share this day with.

It's also so great that in the grand scheme of things, 12 years is just a drop in the bucket. We look back on the first chapter of our marriage and marvel and how things have changed and how much we thought we knew back then. But I know that in 12 more years, we'll look back at this point in our marriage and think the same thing.

So my dear, happy anniversary. We've got a good thing going. Here's to the next 12 years, and another 12 years, and 12 more after that. Love you.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

two years

The other night we were at a friend's house for a birthday party and someone mentioned that the Belmont Stakes horse race was going to be on that evening. Isn't it crazy how the smallest thing can trigger grief? All of a sudden I was transported back to the evening of the Belmont Stakes in 2012. I was pregnant with Charlie and had started spotting. I was unable to get a hold of my parents for the longest time because they were having a Belmont Stakes dinner party on their deck. That stinking horse race will forever be linked to my miscarriage.

Two years ago began the darkest few months of my life. You'd assume my darkest days came after Hannah was stillborn. And we definitely had really hard days. And weeks. And months. But there was still hope somehow. We knew we'd make it through and that God could somehow use tragedy to restore things. But miscarrying Charlie was a whole different monster. Our grief was compounded. Having a baby after a loss should have been so redeeming. Instead we experienced such a whirlwind of hurt. It's hard enough to live in a world where one of your babies has died. Now I had lost two. Half of my children were not part of my family on this earth.

Emotionally, I was a wreck. I was still grieving Hannah and had spent 14 weeks trying to survive the most nerve-wracking pregnancy-after-a-loss experience ever. And then it was over and I had another baby to mourn. Not to mention how traumatized I was after the experience itself. I was completely unprepared for things to happen naturally before I could even see my midwife. I was not prepared for any of it--the contractions, the blood, nothing. Afterwards, I could hardly bear to look at pregnant women or babies. What had I done to warrant going through this twice, when so many people just floated along through life without ever having to experience such loss?

Physically, I was sure I was broken. After Hannah, I could tell myself that it wasn't my fault. It was a fluke. I couldn't have done anything to prevent it. But then it happened again, and I wasn't so sure. There had to have been a reason my body was losing these precious lives. The two losses had to be connected somehow. I had very little respect for my body--it couldn't do anything right. Maybe Jack and Leah were my flukes and I'd never carry a live baby to term again.

Spiritually, I was confused. I never doubted that God was with us and I don't feel like my faith was necessarily tested. And I knew that I needed to hang onto the same Jesus who had carried us through Hannah's death if I had any chance of surviving Charlie's. I thought of the line from "Held": "To think that providence would take a child from his mother while she prays is appalling." I guess I was rather appalled. I spent nearly every moment of the 14 weeks I was pregnant with Charlie so sure that something was going to go wrong, but then when it DID, I was still shocked.

My status as wife and mother were marred. My marriage was in the rockiest season it had ever seen in its 10 years. Some of it was loss related. Some of it was just horrible timing because it added to the mess of that summer. My children had to deal with the fraction of me that I had the energy to give them. It was never enough and I hate that I missed even the smallest parts of their growing up years. It was such a fine line between being grateful for the kids I was blessed with on this earth and being angry that I wasn't allowed to mother the two that were waiting for me in heaven.

Eventually, by the grace of God, the fog began to lift. I distinctly remember going for a walk on a really beautiful day in September and thinking, "Life is still good." I felt like I could breathe again. Hope slowly came back into the picture.

Steven Curtis Chapman's album Beauty Will Rise has been extremely healing, as it is the first album he released after the loss of his daughter Maria. The song of the same title in particular speaks so beautifully to the transformation that happened two years ago. It's SO hard to see anything beautiful in the midst of the ashes. But when you look back, you can see that those ashes were not, indeed, the end. God has so much more for us after the hard stuff. I love the line, "We will dance among the ruins." The ruins don't go away. We just change how we deal with them. I will never stop missing Hannah and Charlie. But we are not held down by the grief that sidelined us. He continues to carry us through it. And I think the beauty we can see now is more amazing because of the ashes we've endured.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

6 months

Hi sweet boy!

You turned six months a couple of weeks ago. You've already been with us for over half of a year?! Insane. Beautifully insane, but still--time flies.

The other day you were bouncing away in your little activity center and Jackson decided to play peek-a-boo with you. And you laughed and laughed and laughed! Jack continued to do silly things and you continued to crack up. It was such a beautiful sight and sound! Your personality is totally starting to shine and it's so fun to feel like we're getting to know you better. You're interacting more and becoming increasingly aware of your surroundings.

The last few weeks, you've been sleeping so well--like a good 10-hour stretch before you wake up to eat. Bravo, young man--that's not something Jack or Leah did until they were almost a year old! It's things like this that make it obvious how much you're growing up! That and seeing pictures from when you were brand new. ;)

You're eating real food, and it's so much fun. You love trying new things and making big messes. And since we're doing Baby-led Weaning instead of spoon-feeding, you're trying a much bigger variety of food than Jack and Leah ever did this early. You've had chicken, apple, avocado, banana, pork tenderloin, quesadilla, red pepper, cucumber, celery, toast, pancake, and more. I love watching your face when something new makes it to your mouth.

Jack and Leah continue to simply adore you. You are the first person Jack wants to see when he comes home from school. :) It will be fun when he's home for the summer and can see you all day long! Speaking of summer, we're dying for some warmer weather. We've been teased a few times, and you love being outside. Can't wait until we can do that more often! You know, until it's too hot. ;)

I love you, my delicious little man! Can't wait to see what the rest of this first year, and beyond, holds in store. Thanks for making our days so fun and for being a light in our lives!


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Seasons of Hannah

I was talking to a friend a couple of weeks ago and told her that I am feeling very distinct seasons of grief around Hannah. Although I always miss her and wish she were here, there are some seasons when I can be grateful for the journey and for what God has done through her little life. And we really have found joy through the pain. But sometimes I'm in a season of anger and sadness, and I think that's where I am these days.

I am angry that she'll never be a physical part of our family. I hate that our family will never feel complete to me. We knew we were done having babies after Will and I was okay with that until he got here. Now it's so hard for me to know that we're done. But I also know that ten more babies wouldn't make me feel done either. There are babies who aren't here. They will always be missing.

I am sad that I'll never get to hold her and kiss her and make her smile. Having Will is such a huge blessing, but it has also made me hyper-aware of everything we have missed with the babies we lost. And that's so frustrating and unfair.

The logical part of me can identify the things that we wouldn't have if Hannah hadn't died, and I know deep down that I am truly grateful for it all--fellow babyloss friends, a different outlook on life and parenting, a stronger relationship with my husband and children, and sweet baby Will. But when the logical part of me loses to the emotional part, I think, "I don't CARE! I want HANNAH!"

Hannah should be two. I can remember what two was like with Jack and Leah. And I see two around me all the time in children who were born around the same time Hannah should have been. I can very clearly imagine what Hannah would be like right now. I can picture the hand-me-downs she'd be wearing. I can picture the Elmo cake I'd likely have made for her birthday party.

I know this will all be redeemed someday in eternity. And for now I have to trust the One who redeems things even while we're still here.

Monday, January 13, 2014

3.5 months

Dear Will,

Well, shoot. I'm debating whether or not I should tell you that Jack and Leah both got letters every month, starting with their due dates. I could just let you believe that 3 1/2 months is a perfectly acceptable time to receive your first "letter from mom." I mean, you're the third baby. You might just have to get used to this kind of thing.

The truth is, you've pretty much turned our world upside down. In a really great way, of course. In fact, you're by far our easiest baby (don't tell your siblings). But the last 3 1/2 months have been full of every emotion possible, and the time has flown by.

I often say that I could write a very long list of ways you are different from Jack and Leah, and it really started with your arrival. Your brother and sister decided to enter the world "fashionably late." So when I received a due date of October 2, I knew we'd probably meet you closer to the middle of the month. But BAM! Contractions started on September 29th and you flew into the world on the 30th, a whole TWO DAYS before you were "supposed to." And that "flying into the world"? Second way you're different from your sibs. They took their SWEET time coming out to meet us, allowing me to labor for 30 and 28 hours. You? A respectable 11 hours, thank you very much. So appreciative, little guy. Really.

Also, you were the littlest of my living babies, at a petite 9lb 3oz. :) But you STAYED little for so much longer, which was actually kind of sweet. It was as if God knew that we needed to enjoy this newborn phase a little extra long since you're likely our last baby. But really, your "littleness" was a bit of a concern for a few weeks. In the few days after you were born, you lost a little more weight than they like to see (1 full pound, or 11% of your body weight), and you were kind of slow to put it back on (whereas Jack and Leah were back above their birth weights at their one-week appointments, you took a full month to get there). But we eventually figured everything out and you started gaining appropriately. And your length was never in jeopardy, that's for sure! At your two-month appointment, you were in the 38th percentile for weight and the 86th percentile for length. Not surprising. :)

There are many more differences, but you're still a typical baby in many, many ways. You sleep....like a baby. But it's great, actually. I am often reminded in the middle of the night that this will be the last baby that we "get" to do this with. And God has a special little measure of grace for sleep-deprived moms, so it's all good. And you are absolutely delightful when you are awake. Lots of smiles and giggles and "talking." Jack and Leah adore giving you hugs and kisses and holding you. You're a very lucky boy!

As you'll likely hear about as you grow up, this has been a long few years for our family. In fact, I did the math, and by the time you were born, I had been pregnant for 20 of the previous 29 months. Ha! Enjoying this non-pregnant state even more now. :) You will grow up hearing about a brother and sister that came before you. Babies that paved the way for you to have a place in our family. We wanted those babies, but God had different plans. He knew that YOU were the one that would complete us. You are such an amazing gift, Will. I can't imagine having anyone else sleeping on my chest right now.

The other day in the car, we were talking about something that happened over a year ago. Leah was confused and thought it had happened more recently. I said, "No, that was last year--Ava was a baby and Will wasn't born yet." Jack said, "Mom! Don't say that out loud!" I said, "Why? He wasn't born yet. I wasn't even pregnant with him yet." He said, "Will has always been a part of our family!" So true. You've always belonged.

Love you to the moon, sweet boy! Thanks for being ours.

And let's see how long it takes for me to write your next letter....


Monday, October 07, 2013

Welcome, Baby Will!

I'm sitting here on my due date. Ever since we found out that another baby would be joining our family, we've looked forward to October 2nd. But we also assumed that we'd go past that date, since both Jack and Leah were born after 40 weeks. So imagine how delighted I am to be sitting here with my baby sleeping right next to me! Sweet baby boy decided to join us a couple of days early. This is his story.

I woke up at 2:30 in the morning on Sunday, September 29th with some sporadic contractions. I had actually gone to bed noticing them, but I was able to sleep through them for a couple of hours. I was awake from 2:30 until 5:00 and they went from 10 minutes apart to nearly nothing, so I went back to bed until the kids woke up around 7:00. We laid low all day Sunday, having contractions once in a while. By the end of the day, I was beginning to think we had another long labor ahead of us. I labored with Jack for 30 hours and with Leah for 28. I had really hoped to cut it down considerably this time. :)

I went to bed on Sunday night, again having some contractions that were manageable enough to sleep through for a little bit. By around 1:00 am, they were strong enough to keep me up. So I sat on my big exercise ball and listened to music and timed contractions. I'd had a feeling that things might pick up overnight, so I'd told Dan he should probably sleep downstairs so I didn't have to keep things quiet or dark. Contractions slowly progressed from 8 minutes apart to 5 minutes to 3 minutes. I knew they'd get stronger, but I was surprised at their frequency. I had been in contact with my midwife Kathrine for a couple of hours, and I woke Dan up at around 4:30 to help me. After an hour or so, we decided that we needed to make a decision about going to the hospital because if we missed a certain window of time, we'd wind up in about an hour of morning rush hour traffic. No thanks! So my dad came over to be with Jack and Leah and we left for the hospital at about 6:00 am.

We got to the hospital and checked in at the triage desk. A nurse hooked me up to the monitors for a little while and Kathrine checked me. I was at 3 cm and she could tell that the baby was still pretty high and needed to rotate a little bit in order to help me dilate more. I was a little bit discouraged at the number, and again was convinced that this meant another marathon labor ahead of me. Dan, Kathrine, and I walked around the hospital for a little bit to try to get things moving. Contractions had slowed down considerably since we'd left the house.

Once we were back from walking, I got back on the monitors for a few minutes and we chatted with Kathrine about what to do next. Since I wasn't progressing very quickly and I was at risk of getting over-exhausted before it was time for the real show to start, she suggested maybe going back home to rest (with a prescription for a stronger antihistamine to help me sleep). I knew this was a possibility, but I was also a little discouraged. But I was exhausted and knew that resting would be good. Before we did anything, she said, "Let me check you one more time." So she did and while she was, she said, "Hang on, I'm going to strip your membranes." So she did that and said, "Before I send you home, I want you to walk around for 30 minutes and come back here and we'll talk." So Dan and I left again and headed to get some breakfast. It was immediately evident that the membrane stripping (just the process of separating the bag of waters from the cervix--my waters were still in tact) definitely ramped up the contractions. I had three before we even left the building (we were headed to get breakfast in one of the Children's Hospital buildings), and I could hardly sit or eat without having to stop and focus on a contraction. After about a half hour, we headed back to my midwife. It was about 9:00 am at this point.

I again spent a little time on the monitors and Kathrine checked me. She said, "Okay, I'm happy with this. He's definitely starting to drop more. Let's see if we can get you in a room." I asked what my dilation was. "The number isn't important." I told her she sucked. :) But YAY, I was getting in a room and not going home!

We got into our room around 9:45. At 37 weeks, I had tested positive for Group B Strep. It doesn't mean much to carry it, but it's something that can be transmitted to the baby during delivery, so I had to have a round of IV antibiotics during labor. If things could be predicted well enough, they'd do the round of antibiotics exactly four hours before delivery. Unfortunately, we had no idea when he'd come. So they did the first round at 10:00 am and made plans to do a second round at 2:00 pm. My doula/photographer/cousin Renee came shortly after my first round of antibiotics were done. I continued to labor through extremely strong contractions. At one point I asked one of my nurses what my last dilation had been. She said 3-4 cm. I was surprised that was enough of a change to get us into a room, but pleased that it was better than nothing. But still--these felt like 7-8 cm contractions, NOT 3-4 cm contractions. That made me nervous.

After laboring for another hour or so, Kathrine checked me again. She said, "Oh, this is perfect. You're completely thinned out and soft, and he has rotated and dropped. Wonderful. Let's get in the tub!" I said, "Seriously? What am I dilated to?" She said, "The number doesn't matter. Let's get in the tub!" I told her she sucked again. :) As the tub was filling and the room was being transformed into "go time" mode, I overheard the nurses talking. They happen to need the actual numbers for my chart, and I heard them say something about 5-6. I thought, "Centimeters? There's no way I should be getting in the tub at only 5-6 cm." I know that sometimes the water can slow down labor, and that's really the last thing I wanted. But deep down, I would trust Kathrine with my life, so I trusted that she thought it was a good time to get in.

I got into the birth tub at around 11:35. The water felt amazing. The contractions didn't feel very different to me versus how they felt out of the water, but I could tell that the water helped me relax way more during the time between contractions. After being in the tub for about fifteen minutes, and during a particularly strong contraction, I said, "Um, urge to push! That can't be good!" In my head, I was still only 5-6 cm and I knew that if I felt the urge to push before I was completely dilated, I was going to have to fight that urge or risk making my cervix swell. Kathrine said, "That's fine--just go with it. Trust your body." So I let my body push involuntarily with the next couple of contractions. Before I knew it, his head was right there. And my bag of waters was still intact, which was amazing. I pushed out his head with one contraction and the water broke at that point. The rest of him came in one more push. (After Kathrine untangled the cord from around his neck--a nuchal cord is what took Hannah's life and I was fearful of seeing it again, even though it can happen and not be an issue at all). It was the most incredible feeling in the WORLD. I immediately pulled him up on me, and according to the photos that my cousin took, I started crying and stopped sometime a couple hours later. :) He was a little blue, which is common for water birth babies, since their head is still under water while their body is being born. And since the water had literally JUST broken, he had the amniotic sac stuck to his body. It was so crazy. (The fact that my water didn't break until his head was born was also good news on the Group B Strep front. They wanted the antibiotics in my system for at least four hours. We only got two. But Will never actually came in contact with the birth canal--he had the bag protecting him the whole time!)

William Joseph Bennett was born at 12:03 pm. I had gone from 5-6 cm to 10 cm in less than 20 minutes. And he was born about 10 minutes after I had the urge to push. From when I consider active labor started, he came in a reasonable 11 hours. Thankful he didn't follow in his siblings' footsteps on that one. :)

Once the umbilical cord had stopped pulsing, it was clamped for Dan to cut. We were separated and Dan was able to have some skin-to-skin time with Will while I got out of the tub to deliver the placenta. And while our experience up until this point was so ideal and amazing, the next 24 hours were a bit of a doozy. I ended up bleeding a little more than they would have liked, which made for a very "medical" postpartum recovery period. All in all, I lost about 2 1/2 liters of blood, but I luckily never needed an infusion.

Shortly after I delivered the placenta, Kathrine brought it over to me and said, "I need to show you something." She pointed out the cord going into the placenta and said, "This is what's called a Velamentous Cord Insertion." Basically, instead of the cord going INTO the placenta, it just attaches to the outside. (I had heard of it before because it's one of the issues they found with Grace, of The Missing Grace Foundation, after she was stillborn). It's (obviously) not always life-threatening, but it is concerning and it's something that should have been caught in an ultrasound. Kathrine said, "Let's just say this little guy had a guardian angel, and I think we both know who it was." And we cried. I looked up some more information about it when we were in our room later. When a VCI is caught via ultrasound, they will often induce labor early to avoid the chance that the placenta and cord will detach from each other. There are also often complications if a labor goes on too long. So what I got from that was that God clearly had his hand on this baby, and the fact that I went into labor on my own before 40 weeks and had a considerably shorter labor than my first two babies was not at all a coincidence. I was also initially frustrated that it hadn't been caught, but I after thinking about it, I believe that God was protecting me from knowing about it. It would have been one more anxiety-producing contribution to this pregnancy. It was as if he said, "Will is going to be fine. There's no reason to make Erin worry about one more thing."

All in all, this whole experience was very healing. No, it doesn't mean that we're that much more "over" losing Hannah or Charlie. But we have safely welcomed a rainbow baby into our family, and we couldn't be more thrilled to have him here!