Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Happy Birthday, Kenley

Dear Kenley, 

Today is your birthday.  Happy Birthday, Little Ninja!  Today, you would be one year old.  Today, you should be strapped in a high-chair smashing cake and frosting all over yourself.   Today, you should be tearing open presents bought just for you.  Today, I should be marveling at how big you have gotten, how smart you are becoming, and how much of a difference one year can make.   I am still doing that last one, just not in the same way as I wish I was.

I can't believe it has been a year.   Three hundred and sixty five days of waking up without you, of going to bed without you, of living my life without you in it.  There is something about this mile-marker that makes it seem even more real - even more final.  It's not like I have lived all this time in denial, thinking it might all be a dream (although I wished it was).  Every single day has been a harsh reality, even the foggy days at the beginning.   But, there's something about today that solidifies everything.  You are gone, saying goodbye before saying hello.  Even a year later, there are still some things I can't bring myself to think about.  Even a year later, hot tingles of sorrow rise in my chest and tears well in my eyes when thoughts of your beautiful face dance across my mind.  And I realize, that will never change. My eyes will never fully dry when it comes to shedding tears for you, my baby girl.  As the years go by, as more and more of your birthdays pass, I will never stop missing you.  I will never stop aching, and I will never, ever stop loving you.   .  

Today, we are going to go visit your tree.  Allison came down from Virginia, and your grandparents are in town too.  We are going to go take a family photo next to the tree.  My plan is to do this every year on your birthday - as a way to document how our family grows with you still very much a part of it.  I hate that today's pictures will have an oak tree in them instead of a chubby little one year old.  As I think about it, waves of sadness sweep over me, hot and thick, and I have to catch my sobs in my chest before they spill out and get everywhere.  I do that a lot, you know.  I work hard every day to keep my sorrow under control.  I can't say it's really gotten easier.  Easier is not the right word.  I've just gotten better at doing it, I suppose, which is a good thing considering otherwise, I'd be a blubbering mess 24 hours a day.

I think people see me and think I'm handling things fairly well, and I have to say, that's probably very true.  At first, I didn't realize how strong I was.  I didn't see that quality in myself at all.  All I could do was to feel the overwhelming pain of losing you.  But, after arrow after arrow pierced my heart - and I didn't die - I realized just how strong I really was.  What makes me strong is my love for you.  A mother's love is truly the strongest force on the planet, and its power is what has held me together through all of this.  

You are my firstborn.  You are the one who first made me a mother, and I am so grateful for every single second I had with you.  Now, as your sister kicks inside me, I remember that it was you who kicked first.  It was you who nestled into my heart and prepared me for motherhood.  I wish you could be here to watch our family grow.  I wish your sister could play with you as she grows up.  I wish so many things, to list them all would take the rest of my life.   I can't even say all of the things that are in my heart because they are too big, too many, too much.  Sometimes, even I am at a loss for words, little one!

I will end this letter to you with the words that will always make me think of you, "I'll love you forever.  I'll like you for always.  As long as I'm living, my baby you'll be."   Sweet dreams, my darling Kenley.  Happy Birthday.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

One More Week

I am having a really hard time lately.  As Kenley's birthday approaches, my anxiety increases.  I am having flashbacks of that last week of her life.  I think about going to the doctor for that last happy check up, hearing her heartbeat, and talking about keeping my blood pressure down so we wouldn't have to induce early.  I remember the baby shower my co-workers threw for me in the school library, with the sign "Welcome Baby Kenley" hung up over the bookshelves.  I remember the owl cups and napkins and the wonderful gifts I opened.  An adorable green owl table lamp, several stuffed owls, and countless onesies.  I remember my friend placing her hand on my belly at the end of the shower and Kenley giving her a swift kick in the palm.  That afternoon, when I had my feet up as ordered, I had a little bit of crampiness, which I wrote off as Braxton Hicks.  (which it probably was)   I remember talking to my sister on the phone about how swollen I was and her saying to me that I wouldn't make it full term.  Kenley was going to come early.  Horrified at having to shift my sub plans, I said, "She'd better not!  I'm not ready!"  That weekend, Mike and I sorted through all the things we had gotten so far and organized the nursery.  We took a trip to Target for some last minute items.  A friend and I purchased some colorful ribbon and spent Sunday afternoon weaving that ribbon around the bottom of Kenley's crib - something I'd seen on Pinterest as an alternative to a bedskirt.  That day, I'd noticed Kenley was very quiet.  I couldn't remember if she'd moved lately, but I was sure she had.  Obviously, I'd just missed it.   Sunday night, I was starting to get nervous, so I found an old stethescope and tried to find her heartbeat.  I thought I did at the time, but it turns out it was only mine.  I didn't know it yet, but my little girl was already gone.   I'd find out the next day at my doctor's appointment.  An appointment that should have been routine and quick, where I should have heard a steady "whompa-whompa-whompa" and gone on my merry way, instead became the catalyst that threw me into a nightmare.

I feel like I am reliving that week now.  Like I am watching myself in my memories - an audience member in a horror movie who knows the monster lurks behind the kitchen door while the main character happily skips around in the rest of the house.  Watching as she makes her way to the kitchen, unable to stop her.  And I'm also afraid that monster is just waiting to come back for me - and for Bean.  As I count down these last few days of Kenley's life, part of me fears that Bean's life is on the line as well.  That somehow, none of my babies can ever make it past February 25th.  I know this is irrational, but I can't help it.  Nothing about any of this has ever made any sense anyway.

I don't know what her birthday will bring.  Many of the ladies in my online groups say that the anticipation of the date is often worse than the actual day.  While that was true for Halloween and Thanksgiving, it wasn't for Christmas, and this date is so much more important than any of the others.  In any child's life, the first birthday is celebrated and considered special.  Next week should be a day of joy and excitement.  A day where I marvel over how much my baby girl has grown and matured.  Instead, it will be yet one more day of silence.  One more day she is gone.   One more day in a chain of forever.  This week should be the week I am running around trying to get her birthday party organized.  I should be shopping for snacks, deciding on a recipe for her cake, and getting decorations together.  This weekend should be filled with happiness and parties.   Instead, I'll spend this week feeling just as broken as those first foggy days.   

Yesterday, I had a really tough time keeping myself together.  I cried, ragged and hard, several times.  Today, has been just as difficult.  I'm trying to stay calm and focused, but my mind is not my own.  It wanders off, floating away from me.  Like a pink balloon.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Purple Leaf

I am not afraid of my house burning down or being kidnapped in a bad neighborhood.  I'm not scared of being involved in a mall shooting, or my class failing their standardized tests, or slicing my fingers while chopping vegetables.  What terrifies me is that purple leaf.   The small, laminated picture fastened to the outside of a hospital room door.  The soft, olive green background framing a slightly wilting purple maple leaf.  The silent signal that this is a room of sorrow, of loss, of pain.  It seems so harmless - a small plastic square slid onto the side of the door frame, just above the room number.  

It's just a picture of a leaf.   But it's not.  It is the ending of dreams.  It is the breaking of hearts.  It is the screams of pain and agony that stir from a deep, dark core you had no idea even existed inside you.   It is the isolation from the world you should have been a part of, but are not.   That purple leaf - telling everyone that joy has passed this room by, that death and stillness lurk inside.  

That purple leaf meant that nurses walked into my room with a warm whisper and shimmering eyes.  It meant comforting hands on my arm that held no child.  It meant filling out a death certificate instead of social security information.  It meant a complete and total change of protocol that nobody can imagine having to make.

I hated that purple leaf.  When I had to walk the empty hallway to begin healing from my surgery, I would notice it stuck to my door - a room on the opposite side of labor and delivery - reminding me, and everyone else, what had transpired within me.  There is no baby.  There is no joy.   There is only an aching silence and a shattered soul.

As I get closer and closer to Bean's arrival, I can't stop myself from thinking about that leaf.  Will it be on my door again?   Will I get so close only to fall so far?  The thought of the purple leaf sends chills of terror down my spine.  Sitting in the hospital, holding Bean cold and still like her sister, is more than I can bear.  

There is no remedy for this fear other than experiencing a delivery without the leaf.  No amount of other people's comforting words or stories will take it away.  I will be afraid of the leaf until the minute Bean is in my arms, red-faced and crying.   

Right now, Bean is poking around in my belly.  Squirming and wiggling, growing and thriving.  Right now, I am doing the very best I can to keep my thoughts focused and positive.  There is no valid reason for Bean to repeat her sister's fate, but then fear has never been valid.  Fear is slippery, slimy, and sinister.  Fear whispers in your ear with a hiss, sliding into your heart and soul in a winding river of blackness.   Sometimes, you can build a dam strong enough to keep it at bay, but that only lasts for a while, and then it all comes crashing down.

My beautiful Kenley came into this world with a purple leaf.  I can't change that.  I can't get her back and I can't even guarantee her sister's safety.  All I can do is wake up each morning and love my girls with all of my heart as I take one more step closer to that hospital door.   So, that's what I do.  I love.  Hard and fierce.  And I hope it's enough to keep that leaf away.