Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Sophie turns FOUR!

My sweet Sophie Beth turned four yesterday. We celebrated in the usual family style--breakfast, presents from Mama and Daddy, play with new presents, out to lunch at the restaurant of her choice (Chick fil a, where we were joined by Honey, Poppa, and Nana), and a birthday treat at dinner. In between she received phone calls and cards and even a balloon delivery from NeNe, Uncle Mike, and cousin Mac. Happy birthday, Sophie!

This has been such a fun year with you. You loved your first year of ballet and doing "easy school" (as you call preschool) with Mama. You want to be one of the big kids but you also love to play with Nora. You have a sweet relationship with each of your siblings and I love to watch you all interact together. You are still shy sometimes, and are my most cautious child--but that doesn't mean much in our family of crazy kiddos. ;) You can be fearless, too. Whenever I hear the phrase "she may be small but she is fierce" I think of you! I love you, precious daughter of mine!

A tradition in our family: birthday breakfast (usually made by Daddy), served on the special plate!

Annie wanted to buy her a present with her own money. She settled on a Frozen sticker book, which Sophie adores.
her present from Mama and Daddy: a princess doll castle (and books, of course!)

and this is the look you get when you ask for a smile

petit fours

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Funeral

Since we first heard David’s diagnosis at nine weeks, this was the day we had dreaded most of all. The day we would have to let go of David’s earthly body.

We decided to have a family-only graveside service. We knew our friends and co-workers and neighbors would come to support us and celebrate David, but it just seemed more fitting to limit this particular time to family. It was easier for us, and especially for our children, to only have people they knew very well at the service. We had an informal visitation at the funeral home first. David’s siblings all wanted to see him. They had drawn pictures and written cards for him, and we tucked those in the side of his casket. His bonnet was on backwards so I had to have that turned around. Then other family members came to see him. The children were so proud to show off their baby brother. They have been such an encouragement to us throughout our journey with David. They can’t imagine anything better than him going to heaven with Jesus, and their childlike faith is a treasure to us.

Here’s an email I got from Papa Gene (Jacob’s great-grandfather) after the service: “In the stressful beauty of these days with you and our David, I enjoyed a surprise Christian mountain top experience yesterday. When we first walked into the lobby of the funeral home, the room was filled to capacity with David’s family. But all by himself Jacob spotted me, immediately ran over to me, took my hand and told me he wanted me to see David with him. Held my hand and led me straight to see little David in a most beautiful way. He stood by me in solemn reverence as we both appreciated and loved his baby brother David. It spoke volumes about this young child man and your parenting. Thank you and please thank Jacob for me.”

We buried David in a beautiful christening gown and sweet little booties that were given by a local baby boutique. On his head he wore a little fitted cap that was made just for him by a friend of Honey’s, and then over that a handkerchief bonnet made by his great-grandma, Mama Rita. He was wrapped in one of the many beautiful crocheted and knitted blankets we received (we ended up with five and that was perfect—one to bury with David, and one to give to each of our other children in memory of their brother), and we tucked in a blue baby Bible and his little white lamb lovey that the children had been taking turns sleeping with for the past several months. His casket was made by Trappist monks in Iowa—handcrafted from oak and prayed over as it was being built. (link here—the monks have a holy ministry through their casket building and we were thankful for this beautiful cradle for David’s body to rest in).

We left the funeral home and went to the graveside. We had requested David’s casket be closed before the service, and we laid a bouquet of white roses on his casket. They were the only flowers I wanted. Our pastor began the service, and then the Gent read Revelation 21:1-5 over David. Our pastor reminded us of God’s promises and faithfulness and that we will be reunited with David. How thankful we are that this is not the end. Then we listened to a recording of David’s great-great grandfather (and namesake) singing “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” (And next to my chair, Sophie danced her little recital dance to it.) The music was perfect and made the service very personal to us. We all recited the Lord’s Prayer together, and then our pastor gave the closing prayer. Our extended family left and the Gent and kids and I stood by the casket for a few moments. I put my hand over David and released his earthly body to the ground, and his soul to heaven. It may have been the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I am so thankful for David’s tiny life, and for the extra days as he waited in the womb past his due date. What precious time we had together as he grew inside me. As his name means, he is my beloved son. May his memory continue to bring a reminder of the true shalom peace that comes from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Ten Years

Ten years ago today we celebrated this. We joined our lives together and started a new family. We have lived life fully these past ten years--five moves, law school, four amazing home churches, old and new friendships, three jobs, countless trips to the beach, thousands of books read, and at the top of the list, six precious babies created, one beautiful boy adopted, and a dozen foster children we've loved. We have walked roads no one wants to walk. We navigated a broken and painful system with Jacob, that resulted in him leaving us for a time and then returning. We buried a child eleven days ago. This is not what we planned for our tenth anniversary. But we know that God is faithful and that He keeps His promises. He brought us together all those years ago and He has not abandoned us. Even now, He is working all these beautiful and painful things together for our good. How thankful I am for each moment of these ten years.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Happy Birthday, Jacob!

Jacob turned SIX yesterday! We are so very thankful for each birthday we get to celebrate with this precious boy we now call our son. His first few birthdays were happy memories for him, but carried much uncertainty for all the grown-ups in his life. What a beautiful gift to receive his final adoption decree just before his fourth birthday and know he would be part of our family officially.

Jacob is full of life and energy and jokes and sweetness. He loves to be outside, play baseball, read books, cut up paper with scissors, and play card games. We celebrated his birthday with a special family breakfast, presents (Annie bought him chapstick with her own money, Mama and Daddy gave him two Lego sets, a new card game, and a collection of Harry the Dog stories), a dentist checkup, lunch and ice cream at Chikfila, an afternoon with Daddy out at our new land, and dinner and cake! What a day!

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Hospital

Soon the nurse wheeled me back to my room. She helped me clean up a little. Our hospital has a family support unit and we had met our family support nurse already and talked with her on the phone weekly as we waited for David’s birth. She joined us and gave David a bath at the end of my bed and helped us get ready for visitors. She played an integral part in making our hospital stay smooth and easy and her compassion and understanding was so helpful as she walked through David’s death with us.

As a somewhat-quick aside, before David was born I worried how we would handle his body and introducing him to all our family if he had already died. It turns out we treated him just as we had all our other babies. We bathed him and dressed him and swaddled him and held him and rocked him and talked to him. It really wasn’t strange at all. He was our son and we wanted to show him off to those who loved him. I think there is a lot of squeamishness in our culture about death that didn’t exist in previous generations. It seemed perfectly natural and appropriate for us, his family, to care for his earthly body. I had told the kids earlier that if David died before they had a chance to meet him, he wouldn’t look any different right away, that his body would just look like a baby doll and that they could still see him and hold him if they wanted to. They did not ask if he was alive and so we did not tell them at that time. That night Annie asked my mom if David only lived for one day, and mom told her yes, that David was in heaven now. When we got home the next morning, Sophie asked where David was and we told her “in heaven with Jesus.” Nora has patted my belly questioningly several times—“David, Mama?” And I remind her that David is in heaven now. This is what the kids had expected all along so it was not a surprise to them. The Gent talked with them that afternoon, explaining that David had died soon after he was born and that his soul—the part of him that lives forever—was in heaven with Jesus. He told them that David’s earthly body was at the funeral home and that we would have a funeral in a few days. At prayer time that night, we reminded them that someday we will all be in heaven with Jesus, together. And that David would have a perfect heavenly body.

Back to our hospital stay.

Annie, Jacob, Sophie, Nora and the grandparents came first. The kids were so precious coming in the door. They were so excited to meet David. They brought flowers for Mama and a balloon for Daddy, and pictures they had drawn and sealed in an envelope and stamped with our return address. They came over to the bed where I was holding David, and were adorable and reverent looking at him. They had waited so long for him to be born and seemed a bit in awe that he was finally here. They all wanted to hold him so they took turns sitting in the rocking chair and cradling him. I am very glad that they were all able to have that experience. Even though the memories will be fuzzy at their young ages, they will have the pictures and our stories and they will remember that it was a precious family time, and that they were included in every part of David’s story.

Each of David’s grandparents held him. His aunts and uncles and great-grandparents and cousins came. Our pastors prayed with us as I held David in my arms. Even some sweet friends who had gathered to pray and support us throughout the day were able to meet him.

We moved from the labor and delivery floor to the women’s unit, away from the other moms and babies at our request. Our family support nurse took foot molds of David and helped prepare other mementoes. A photographer from Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep came and took memorial photographs. Friends from church brought dinner, our pastor came by again. Gradually everyone left and it was just Mama, Daddy, and David.

We made his footprint over Revelation 21:1-5 in my Bible. We snuggled in my bed together, the three of us. We wept as we listened to Sandra McCracken’s We Will Feast (link here), a song about making all things new by my dear friend Jenn, and a Natalie Grant song about the King. And we rested in the eternal promises of our Savior.

We put David’s bed between my hospital bed and the Gent’s couch and slept surprisingly well. David’s body was able to stay with us the whole time, thanks to our family support nurse and the use of a cuddle cot (a cooling pad for use in infant loss). In the morning we were ready to go home, or at least as ready as we could be. We held David one last time, and then entrusted him to the care of our family support nurse to be released to the funeral home. I held the flowers from the kids and was thankful my arms were not empty. Coming home as soon as possible was the right thing for us. My children are the best therapy. They needed their Mama and I needed them.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

One Week

One week ago today, I was in the intense part of labor and getting ready to meet my son. Yesterday, we celebrated his life and laid his earthly body in the ground. The Gent and I stood over his tiny casket and let go of him. I know our beloved David is with the Lord, that Jesus Himself is watching over him, that David is in the company of the saints and angels. And Noel and Zion are there with him.

I am thankful that David did not suffer through this life on earth, that he never knew the troubles and agonies of the world. I do not wish him back. But oh, how I miss him. I miss the weight of him in my arms. I hope I never forget how it felt to hold him. 7 lbs, 4 oz and 18 ½ inches of baby sweetness. I miss his tiny fingers curled around mine and his long fingernails and his perfect little toes. I miss the mouth that looked like Daddy’s and his squished little nose. I wish I knew what color his eyes were.

I never want to forget the proud looks on his siblings’ faces when they each got to meet him and hold him and rock him. It didn’t matter to them that he wasn’t perfect. It didn’t matter to them that his soul was already in heaven when they got to meet him. They sat and they rocked him and they loved him, just as he was.

For my Bible reading this year, I am reading through the New Testament, just one chapter a day. This year I wanted to slow down and really focus and meditate over the truths of this part of the Bible. My reading for the day David was born was John 20, about Jesus’ sacrificial death on our behalf. And the reading for Wednesday morning, John 21: the resurrection. There is a beautiful poignancy to the timing of those readings. I had to let my son, my David, go. But he left me to be resurrected into eternal life. There it is again—that promise of eternity—just when I needed it most.

1 Corinthians 15:19-22 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

1 Timothy 4:10b We have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

Hebrews 6:19-20 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

David's Birth Story

At 41 weeks and 4 days, David had shown no interest in making his appearance. I was only dilated 1cm. I knew that oftentimes mothers whose babies have anencephaly don’t go into spontaneous labor and that induction was a likely possibility this time around. The Gent and I went to the hospital Monday evening about 8:30pm and I started with oral doses of Cytotec. My doctor felt that this was our best option for staying with as natural of a birth experience as possible. (I had spontaneous, natural deliveries with all three girls, and that was what I was hoping for again. I like to stay mobile and in control and I have thankfully always found labor pains to be manageable as long as you are prepared and determined. Note that I did not have super-long labors that tested my fortitude—Sophie’s was the longest and the intense part was only about six hours with her.) The Gent and I had weighed the pros and cons of different labor and delivery options and I had decided I wanted to go natural again. I knew that my body would just take over and do what needed to be done and felt it would be less emotional that way; if I’d opted for an epidural I think that would have just opened up my mind to a lot of fear and anxiety about what was to come when David was born. I don’t know if that makes sense or not, but that was my thought process.

Back to the hospital. The Gent and I were able to sleep a few hours Monday night. I didn’t really think the Cytotec was doing anything, but when I got up and started moving around about 6am contractions did start to pick up. We had chosen not to do any monitoring, because it wasn’t going to change our labor plan. My doctor didn’t think I was in active labor yet, but I had progressed to 3cm overnight. I thought I was in active labor but didn’t argue because I wanted to eat breakfast and also because I thought maybe I was being too optimistic. (I was trying to avoid Pitocin and being hooked up to an iv.) My doctor said I could have a piece of toast and continue drinking water. At 9am my nurse checked on me and said I had made a little more progress and she thought the Cytotec was all the push my body needed to get labor going. I took my fourth dose of Cytotec at 9am, confident that labor was now underway but knowing we could reevaluate at 1pm and add the Pitocin if needed.

Then I moved on to my favorite labor-coping strategy of DENY DENY DENY. (Ignore contractions, do not time them, talk to my mom, the Gent, the Gent’s mom, and various relatives and friends who dropped by to support us.) I did try to move positions every 5 contractions or so. I did a lot of standing and swaying, rolling on the birth ball, and some leaning over the bed and having the Gent put pressure on my lower back (a little bit of back labor). David’s labor felt most similar to Annie’s. Eventually about noon the Gent and I took the walk I had been putting off and strolled around the hallways. And pronto, intense contractions requiring my concentration and some deep breathing.

We went back to our room, I put on a hospital gown, and resumed my labor position of leaning my head against the Gent’s shoulder, holding and squeezing one of his hands, and moved from deep breathing to humming. When the contractions got very intense my mom joined in, too. I really couldn’t do labor without my mama there.

About 12:30-1pm I called the nurse and said we’re getting close. My doctor came back to check me and agreed I was now in active labor and at 8cm. She left, the nurse left. I asked the Gent to call the nurse back and told her my water was about to break and I would like her to stay in the room from now on. :) She had been very good about just letting me do my thing but by then I was worried that my water would break and I would immediately want to push and would not have any medical people around!

Sure enough, my water broke in another contraction or two. Unlike with Nora’s birth, though, I had no immediate urge to push. Instead, like with Annie’s birth, the contractions spaced out to about five minutes apart and were much less intense. I sat up in the bed and breathed through them, letting my body finish opening up and getting ready for birth. Our sweet birth photographer arrived and began snapping away. After some time (maybe 20 minutes? I really don’t know), I started to feel some pressure and the nurse said yes, it was time to start pushing. My doctor came back and we started with my least favorite part of labor. And Laura Story’s Blessings started playing on the David playlist I had made. We had been listening to music reminding me of God's love and faithfulness and steadfastness all morning.

I hate pushing. I always have and I’m pretty sure I always will. I have now birthed four children so I think that is enough to be statistically significant. Pushing with David felt different right away. The girls were all born in 2-3 pushes. He was not. I pushed a few times from a reclined position. I didn’t feel he was making much progress so we switched to squatting. I could feel him moving even in the birth canal. All the kicks and wriggles during my pregnancy were so treasured, and these last movements were, too. Squatting helped some, but I got tired and reclined back again. I curled up around him to push and his little head was born. He came face first, which is not unusual for babies with his condition. I thought okay, that’s why this was harder to do this time, now he’ll be born and I can hold him.

Little did I know, the scary part was to come. I pushed and nothing happened. We tried a few different things, but I could not move him at all. I felt so helpless. His shoulder was stuck (shoulder dystocia) and I couldn’t do anything. My doctor called for backup, the anesthesiologist came and asked me a few quick questions, and the nurse threw a blanket over me and started wheeling me to the OR. They got me back there and got ready to give me nitrous oxide so they could deliver David. I remember telling the nurse that I just needed him to be here. She thought I meant the Gent and she assured me he was coming. I meant David.

Mom and the Gent arrived and the anesthesiologist put a mask over my face. David’s birth is a little fuzzy to me because of that. I remember two doctors jumped and put pressure on my stomach, while my doctor turned David’s shoulder and delivered him. The Gent tells me they put David on my chest right away, as I had asked them to do. They gave me a few breaths of oxygen to clear my head. Someone wrapped David in a blanket and put a little hat on him, and my first clear moment is cradling him in my arms, and looking at his precious little face, bruised from the birth. I could see that he wasn’t breathing, and all the medical people had distanced themselves to finish up their tasks. I was so glad he was out, but felt cheated that he had lived up until the moment of birth. David never took a breath. He passed from the safety of my womb straight into the arms of Jesus.

P.S. More to come as I write to process.

P.P.S. Despite the trauma of David’s birth, my body is healing very quickly. No complications, no stitches. Small mercies.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Introducing David Shalom

May 2, 2017
When he opened his eyes, the first person he saw was Jesus.