Thursday, June 28, 2012

Isaiah's Story - Part Five

If you are just joining us, you can head back to Isaiah's Story - Part One and follow the links to read the whole story.

We realized that our parents had arrived sometime around the time of Isaiah's delivery.  After spending about 30 minutes with him by ourselves, Matt walked down to the waiting room to get them.  He tells me that he announced that the baby was a boy and shared his name with them.

I don't remember well what was said when they came back to our room to see me and meet Isaiah.  I just remember that feeling of seeing ones you love - how seeing them after something bad happens makes you want to cry.  Of course we wanted each of our parents to have time to meet Isaiah and hold him - to try to memorize his body before we had to let him go.  Having them there was sad, but comforting.  We knew that this grief wasn't only our own - it was collective - and we hurt so much for one another in this loss.

It was hard for me to see our parents hold Isaiah.  They would take on the weight of his little, lifeless body and gaze into his face - and the sadness would overtake them.  Just as we did, I imagine they may have been running through all of the things they would miss about knowing this beautiful child - or questing why this happened - or feeling sadness and helplessness for the loss their children were experiencing in losing a child.  I can't speak for what they were thinking, but I do know that they were grieving the loss of this precious life.  All of this just seemed so wrong.

Many times our parents can help make situations better.  They can advise us, encourage us, or help us.  In this case, they couldn't make it better - and I know they have probably grieved that fact, too - that they couldn't solve this problem for their children.  Yet their presence really, really helped us...and the fact that they got to SEE and hold our child meant the world to us.  Their presence demonstrated the importance of Isaiah's life to them.  They shouldered some of the burden of our grief, and I am so grateful to each one of our parents - for having the courage to face this loss with us.  We love you so very much.  Thank you for being there that day.

It is an odd thing to describe the simultaneous joy and pain we all had when meeting Isaiah.  Even though his death was so sad, we still found joy in learning about his features...falling in love with our new baby, just like the families in the delivery rooms surrounding ours.  I loved realizing that Isaiah looked so much like his Daddy, but that his ears were just like mine.  We also shared moments like this with our parents - unable to ignore the beauty of this tiny body that God had knit together so perfectly.  It was just so hard to fathom that this healthy little boy would never take a breath.

Just as it was hard to watch our parents grieve, it was heartbreaking for Matt and I to see each other grieve.  It was especially hard for me to watch Matt hold Isaiah.  Of course I love my babies, but I especially love the 6 month+ age - when they are changing constantly.  Matt LOVES the newborn phase and loves holding new babies.  I have long since loved watching him with our children when they were tiny - just watching him love them through the way he held and looked at seeing him hold Isaiah in the same way he held and cradled our other children - knowing this was the last time we would get to hold and love him - just crushed me.  Some of my most vivid mental pictures of Isaiah are in Matt's arms.  (a reminder that the spots by Isaiah's nose are from the peeling of his paper thin skin during delivery)

**I'm not sure where in the story I forgot to talk about this, but when I came into the hospital alone during the night, T was the nurse that was with me when I found out that Isaiah's heart was no longer beating.  She walked me through a lot of the initial realities of this journey, and she felt a lot of connection to our situation.

After we'd had the ultrasound and started trying to figure out the version, she was going off shift - but asked if she could come back after the baby was born to take pictures for us.  Of course we were unable to think about any of the things we would want to help us remember our short time with our baby, but the nurses were well equipped in giving us ideas, etc.  The most important, they said, was getting good pictures. 

Usually the hospital would call Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, an international organization made up of local photographers who volunteered to be on call one day a month to do a photo shoot in the case of a stillbirth.  But before they called, T asked if she could be the one to take our photos.  I couldn't believe that someone I barely knew would want to come on her own time to do something so special for us.  Of course I agreed, and I'm so thankful that I did.  T did a beautiful job and gave us all of the photos she took, including many that she edited and the slideshow that many of you saw at the services.  We are so, so grateful for T and the gift of our some ways it is all that we have left of Isaiah.**

Shortly after our parents had some time with Isaiah, we planned for Matt to go home to get the kids and bring them to meet Isaiah.  It was getting late for them - but we knew if we wanted them to meet him, it would probably have to be that night.  So Matt left to go pick up the kids around 7:15pm - to tell them what happened - and planned to return to the hospital with them between 7:30 and 8:00 when our nurse, T, was to return to take photos for us.  

After our beloved golden retriever, Charlie,  suddenly died of a heart attack in November, we had explained to Caleb and Lydia that Charlie's body "didn't work" anymore.  They'd had a chance to see him and say goodbye to him.  We realized fairly quickly that Charlie's death had been a good preparation for this day - not that it was good that it had happened, but we could see that God had used it to prepare our kids to process this unimaginable loss - since we had discussed and answered many of their questions about death since then.

Also - the week before Isaiah died, we had just gone to the funeral for my cousin Jason - who had died very suddenly and much too soon.  We could see how this, too, helped the kids have an understanding of death and funerals...again, not that it was good that this had happened, but God used this experience to prepare them - and we are thankful for that.  One of the first questions Caleb asked was if Jason and Isaiah were in heaven together - and though it was sad to realize they were gone, it was a joyful moment to be able to assure him and imagine them there together.

Matt explains that he went home to pick up the kids (who were being watched by our wonderful friend, S), and sat them down to tell them about Isaiah.  He told them that the baby had been born, but his body didn't work - and his soul was already in heaven with Jesus.  It was a boy, and we named him Isaiah.  He explained that they were going to go to the hospital to meet Isaiah and say goodbye to his body, because this would be the only time we would get to see him.

I am so thankful for the simple words God gave Matt in those moments.  The kids really understood and internalized those words right from the start - and I am grateful that Matt was able to have the clarity of mind to use the words from Charlie's situation to make it easier for them.  I am so thankful he had the strength to share this news...God had grace and mercy for us in so many moments surrounding our loss.

After this explanation, Matt let the kids grab their beloved puppy and bunny lovies and loaded them into the van to bring them to the hospital.  I couldn't wait to see them - it had been such a hard day, and much of the time I just wanted my children around me.  Before Isaiah had arrived, I desperately wanted to "get this over with" and get home to my living children.  But after he came, I wanted to spend as much time with him that I could...for this was the only time that I would get to see him face to face - and I wanted to engrave this time on my memory.

As I waited for Matt and the kids to get back, I wondered how I would be able to remain strong for my family in this loss and how I would even make the most of this time -- the only time our family of five would be together.  How would the kids respond?  How would we respond to their responses?  How would we be able to show our children how to say hello and goodbye to their little brother when we didn't even know how?  My heart melted as they came through the door...

To be continued...

 One of my favorites 

Click here to get to Isaiah's Story - Part Six.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Blog Hop

I am linking up as part of a blog hop with Tesha's Treasures today.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Faith's Lodge

In the weeks following Isaiah's death, many people told us about Faith's Lodge in Northern Wisconsin and suggested we check it out.  Once we got through the first month of numbness, I finally looked into it and discovered that the lodge was built as a retreat center for families who had experienced the loss of a child.  To be honest, a retreat with other people seemed like the last thing we were interested in, but from the website it didn't sound like it was run like a retreat (with speakers and activities), but instead it was more of a destination to get away and remember one's child (and one could decide if they wanted to be involved in the few activities that were planned). 

Knowing that we needed some time alone to process Isaiah's death together without the demands of a two and four year old, Matt and I decided to work at finding child care to make it happen for us to attend one of the couples retreats for infant loss (Well...actually Matt said he would go because I wanted to and only because we knew we could choose to be uninvolved if we wanted to).  ;)  Faith's Lodge also offers weekends focused on miscarriage, older child loss, children with illness, family weekends, etc.

Front and back views of Faith's Lodge

We had the opportunity to go to Faith's Lodge this past weekend, and I don't think either of us had any idea how much it would mean to us.  (Thanks for watching our kiddos, SD Grandparents!)  The group of 7 couples from around the country had all experienced some form of infant loss, and though we were all very different, through that shared experience we bonded right away.  Matt and I were glad to be able to fulfill our need to spend time away just the two of us  (enjoying nature, canoeing in the pond, reading in the library,  resting in our beautiful room, and relaxing and gazing through the telescope in the room at the top of the lodge - the Eagles Nest), but we didn't realize how much we would enjoy spending time with others who are on a similar journey (meals, bonfire, beach, games, etc.).  We had no idea how much we needed this.

Here are some photos of the inside of the Lodge...

 Our Room
   (L) Entry looking into meeting room, craft room
(R) Library in the basement
  Basement stairs and hallways - leading to our room

As far as the programming, it was very much what one wanted to make of it. There was no set schedule except a meal together here or there (otherwise we made things on our own from the pantry or went out).  There were optional crafts to do at our leisure and one two-hour group session on Saturday (but the group of us had already gotten so close, we had discussed most of those topics already). Faith's Lodge is not a Christian organization (as the title may suggest), so none of the activities were led in that mindset - but we were free to include faith as much as we chose to in conversation, etc. 

The Lodge and grounds are beautiful and only about 6 years old.  A huge storm took out most of the trees around there last year, yet the setting is still very serene.

The pond (small lake) and bonfire area

One of the things that I wasn't sure I would get into were the crafts.  They had materials for several crafts to make in memory of our lost children (and some of our getting to know others took place while working on these crafts).  Much more than I thought, being creative and making/looking at our crafts really helped me memorialize Isaiah's life. 

Garden Stone
Bird House 

One hard thing after grief is figuring out how to act around others.  At first people only talk to you about your loss, and then at some point it becomes a taboo subject for some - probably to avoid making you sad (but just so you know - we are well acquainted with sadness - so even if talking about it it makes us sad, we WANT to hear our child's name and know that you think and care about him/us). 

It also becomes hard to know if we can still bring our child up in conversation because it seems like it makes others uncomfortable and it seems like some want us to start "getting over it."  It's hard to smile, laugh, or enjoy time with others because 1) it feels like we will never be able to laugh like we did before our loss and 2) we don't want others to think we are "over it."

Because all of the couples at Faith's Lodge had endured loss, it was totally opposite with this group.  We knew they were hurting right along with us, so the environment was open to whatever emotion we were feeling at the moment and there was no over-thinking how one should be acting/feeling.  There was sharing about our losses and how we were dealing with it, but boy was there much fun and laughter.    

 Hanging out after supper
 The whole gang

Especially the men were surprised at what an awesome weekend it was (and they all admitted that their wives got them to come - and only came because they knew they wouldn’t have to hang out with others if they didn’t want to).  Staying at the lodge gave us all a chance to get to know each other over several days.  Without spending time with other grieving parents, it may be hard to form a friendship deep enough to feel like they could support one another in the future (and this may be especially true for guys).  Forming these friendships at Faith's Lodge paved the way for continued support and understanding.  Especially for the guys (who may not seek support though other avenues like girls seem to - online, groups, etc.), they now have met and gotten to know SIX other guys that have experienced loss - and they can decide to continue to support one another if they'd like.  

This is SUCH an answer to prayer for me - as I've really been praying that Matt would be able to find support through other Dads somehow.  I guess it is up to them if they want to follow through with that, but I'm thankful they had time to get to know one another so they have that option.
The Guys
   The Gals

 So yeah – if you know of someone who has gone through the loss of a child or if you hear of someone who has a loss in the future, I highly recommend Faith’s Lodge.  It was the perfect balance of fun/support with time away together.  The bond with the group was an unexpected blessing. We knew we would be processing grief, but we can’t believe how much FUN we had!  This weekend turned out better than we had hoped and was more valuable than we imagined it would be.

  Hope's Bridge - where we placed our Heart Stones 
    Isaiah's Heart Stone
                                                            Placed among heart stones remembering other lost children

  (FYI - this was not a guided retreat to formally help one through the grieving process - so if that is what you're looking for, a group like Griefshare or something like that might be a good choice.)

   A butterfly outside our room

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Isaiah's Story - Part Four

If you are just joining us to read Isaiah's story, here are the links to the first three parts.  Thanks for reading and caring about Isaiah's life and our journey through this loss.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Inductions have to move slowly so that one's body is tricked into thinking it is in natural labor.  If given too much Pitocin too fast, things can go terribly wrong - even to the point of rupturing the uterus, etc.  

The weird labor complications started with the epidural.  A few hours into my induction, the nurse called the anesthesiologist to come put in my epidural. .  

He was an older, funny man - so much so that I wasn't sure he knew he was numbing up a woman for a stillbirth.  He joked with the nurse the entire time and talked about the fact that he was the most experienced in the hospital and still chose to put in epidurals laying down instead of sitting up -- and he bragged about his successful track record.  After the first poke, he was slightly worried that I may have leaked some spinal fluid (which can cause the spinal headache some have heard about in relation to epidurals), so he pulled it out and tried again one vertebrae higher.  It seemed to work, so he told me to watch for the headache symptoms, and if they occurred, they may have to do a procedure later to clot the spinal puncture with blood to keep me from having a continued spinal fluid leak.

My first hint that something was wrong wasn't the headache, but that fact that the upper part of my abdomen went numb, yet my legs still felt completely normal - even ten to twenty minutes into the epidural.  Soon my midsection and chest started going numb...then my arms...then my hands.  We realized the epidural was moving up instead of down.

The nurses had never really seen this before, so they had me sit up very straight to try to get the medication to go down.  Next I developed terrible itching all over my arms and chest.  Apparently the itching is sometimes a side effect of epidurals, so they offered benedryl (but since I usually get knocked out from the stuff, I refused).  Soon I got an unbearable headache in the middle of my forehead. The anesthesiologist came back a time or two because of these crazy side effects, but he was certain that the epidural would still work fine.  

I tried to distract myself from the labor - but even aside all of the physical issues - it seemed unbearable to think about the decisions we would soon be making.  We discussed the possibility of having a service, but it was Easter week - and we had no idea if the church would be available with the many Good Friday services...or how people would find the time to come around a holiday.  

We agonized over the decision to bring the kids to meet the baby or not.  At first I was pretty sure we wouldn't.  Our daughter had just turned two and our son was about to turn four...why expose them to the this kind of pain?  Our nurses really shared no opinions about any of these hard questions, but B did tell me about losing her younger sister when she was three and a half.  She said that she was never allowed to see her except at the funeral, but her parents wouldn't allow her to ask questions.  She said they are her oldest memories.  Once we realized that our son would probably remember this, we were certain we wanted them to come...not only to meet the baby, but to deal with the reality of this loss together. 

(Since then, we are so thankful for this decision.  Not only will the kids possibly have memories of meeting the baby, but they also have pictures showing that they met and held their little brother.  They know why we are sad, and they know it isn't because of anything they did.  Some have told us that by letting them experience this with us, we are dealing with it in the present instead of putting it off for them to deal with later.  I'm so glad we made this choice.)

As we looked through the book of funeral homes, we had no idea where to start.  We considered the large one that we have seen many times in our community and figured we would go with that, but my Dad contacted some good friends that own a funeral home in Fargo and asked if they knew of any good ones in the cities.  They told us not to go with the large one that they knew to be impersonal, but suggested a funeral home in Eden Prairie that was owned by a man they went to school with who was a wonderful Christian and who would be very supportive to us.  We were relieved to have at least one decision made, and Matt called them to let them know of the situation.

Although we had already decided on burial over cremation, we had no idea where to bury our child.  Though we knew it might be hard at times not to have the grave close by, we knew we probably wouldn't choose a place in the cities because we have no immediate family roots here (and may not remain here) - so we talked with our parents about other options.  Neither of them had plots purchased, though they both knew where they were planning to get them and they both offered to do that if we wanted to bury our child next to them.  It was so unbearable to think about burying our child.

As we continued to ask many questions during this early part of labor, I asked our nurse, B, what to expect when the baby came.  She said the baby would look pretty normal, but the lips would be very red.  She said it would look like they got into my lipstick.  She said the skin would be paper thin, very delicate, and would peel very easily.  But since they thought the baby had passed only that day before, there was a good chance he/she would be in pretty good shape.

She also asked if I wanted to see the baby right away like they do in a normal delivery -- usually they lay them on you right after they are born, etc.  I thought about it and decided that since we didn't know what was wrong, I would let Matt cut the cord and then let them look the baby over quick before we got to hold him and see him.

For much of the morning and early afternoon I remained at 3cm, but finally the contractions slowly started getting worse.  Around 3pm we got another new nurse, K.  She was very gentle and sweet.  Since we were further into the labor process, she spent a bit more time than B focusing on the medical aspects of things than being able to just sit and talk/ask questions, etc.  

Soon the contractions changed from mid-stomach to lower contractions that were causing dilation progress, and I was getting no pain relief from the epidural.  After a LONG afternoon of itching, TERRIBLE headache, etc. and no pain relief, I was finally at 6 cm around 5:30pm and working hard through the painful contractions.  Because of the Pitocin, they were coming every minute or two and lasting a long time.

The nurse finally said she had had enough and went to look for the anesthesiologist to re-do my epidural.  She was frustrated that I was going through this much pain in this situation (and so were we - after earlier telling him that the epidural wasn't working). 

While she was gone, the next contraction got drastically worse.  I was pretty much screaming through them, and Matt pushed the button for help to come.  Since K was off looking for the anesthesiologist, a neighboring nurse heard me yelling and came in to check me.  In two contractions (about 2-3 minutes) I had gone from 6 to 10 cm.  She patted my leg and said - "I think you are about to deliver, honey."  I said "What?  I can't deliver without an epidural!"  Apparently it is very normal to have a quick progress to the end of labor for later babies, but with the induction taking so long, I wasn't prepared to be ready to deliver so quickly.  I hadn't yet mentally prepared for the pushing phase -- especially the pushing phase of a natural birth since I was under the impression I would have an epidural.

(Matt tells me now that I was pretty loud through that time.  I joke with him and tell him not to give me a hard time -- he finally got to see what transition was like in full force...during my first labor with Caleb, he thought I was in transition 12 hours before the baby was born...but it was just the horrible back labor.)  

My nurse, K, and the anesthesiologist came back in and the doctor was following them, but it was obviously too late to re-do an epidural.  They told me to hold my breath and start pushing, but I was so shocked to already be in the pushing phase that it was like I couldn't focus enough to catch my breath.  The pressure and pain were horrible.  Once I focused long enough to know that I just had to "do this,"  the baby came after several good pushes (but I can tell you that I am NOT all about natural child birth at this point -- or at least not natural child birth with Pitocin added into the mix).  Our baby was born at 5:45pm.  All I can remember is the silence...the silence was deafening. 

Once they could see the baby, with an unbearably sad look on his face, Matt's voice caught as he told me it was a boy.  I was pretty certain through the pregnancy that it was a girl, but Matt was SURE it was a boy - and he was right.  My heart broke just a little more knowing these details -- that it would be our little boy that we would never know.

Matt cut the cord, and the nurses took him aside to look and see if they could find out what happened (while I finished delivering and got stitched, etc.).  Right away the doctor said that she could see that his cord was very long and wrapped tightly around his abdomen.  When they looked closer, the cord was wrapped 3 times very tightly around his abdomen, and one time around his right arm.  Directly in the middle of his chest in one of the wraps was a true knot in the cord.  This is not just a loose knot , but a knot that is pulled tight all the way through the cord, stopping all blood flow.  This was the obvious cause of our little boy's death.

Though it was so hard to learn these details, I am thankful that we have an clear answer as to what happened.  This helped us avoid having to have an autopsy and chromosome gives us answers and relieves some of our fears for future children (that it is not something hereditary) helps us understand that there was nothing that we could have done to prevent this...and it keeps us from the terrible reality that many stillbirth families encounter -- never learning the cause of their babies' death.

After the doctors and nurses had looked the baby over and taken pictures to document everything for his file, they finally handed him to us, and we got our first glimpses of our beautiful little boy.  The first thing I noticed was his skin -- he was pink and warm, just like our other babies.  I don't know what I expected - but I didn't expect him to look like them - like he should just open his eyes and wake up.

Even in the ultrasounds I had noticed that our baby didn't have the prominent cheeks and tiny nose from my side, but had a taller face and just a different look.  Our baby boy was beautiful and resembled our other children - but he looked a LOT like his daddy. <3  It was like seeing what he looked like and learning each new thing about him made it even harder to bear that we would never get to know and love him in this life. 

He had the dark red lips like our nurse had told us, and his skin had peeled around the left side of his nose and cheek during the delivery.  At that point it just looked a little red, but as time went on, that peeled part got darker (and you will see it in all of the unedited pictures of him).  His unwashed hair was pressed down and looked almost curly...and he had lots of it (this must definitely explain the heartburn during the pregnancy :).  We could see the constricted area from the cord on his arm.  He was very long and thin.  His feet were extremely long - just like his Daddy's.  He just looked so long for a 36.5 week old baby (but he probably just hadn't evened out with the fat that comes in those last few weeks).

We sat and gazed at our little boy.  I can't recall how we reacted - it is such a blur now - but we just wanted to take him in.  There may have been tears - but all I remember is the absolute love and loss that I felt for my little boy all at once.  Obviously he wasn't there with us -- his body was just a shell, and his soul was already at home with the Lord -- but he was so very beautiful. How could this beautiful new person not be alive?  All of this seemed so wrong.

Since we have never known the gender of our babies before delivery, we always choose two names of each gender - so that when we see our child, we can choose the one we find most fitting.  We had the names Seth and Isaiah chosen for our boy names this time around, and as we looked at him and tried out both names, we were certain that Isaiah was the right choice.  Little did we know how much significance his name would have - even in the next few days - as we were comforted by so many words from the book of Isaiah, and as we thought about our little Isaiah knowing the Lord so intimately, much like Isaiah in the Bible.

All of our children have two middle names - chosen to honor members of our family.  We had our boy middle names chosen even way back when our daughter was born.  Christ (pronounced Chris casually or Crist formally) was my Grandpa on my mom's side and Albert was Matt's Great Grandpa on his mom's side and the middle name of his Grandpa on his Dad's side.  When we realized that Isaiah was already in the presence of his Grandpas - Christ and Albert - we were amazed at how truly fitting those names were. 

Isaiah Christ Albert - a long, but very meaningful name.  Beautiful - just like our boy.

Soon we realized our parents had arrived right around the time of Isiah's delivery and were waiting for us in the waiting room.  This was such a different experience than introducing our living children to our families with joy, knowing we had a lifetime to love them.  Now we still wanted to introduce our beautiful son with pride - as he was our little boy - but there was so much sorrow knowing that we only had a little bit of time to spend with his body here - and that we would spend a lifetime without knowing him.

After spending about 30 minutes with him by ourselves, Matt went to get our parents.  I imagine their walk to our room was much like our "walk" of delivering that day - long and hollow - not knowing how to face this unimaginable loss.

To be continued...

Link to Isaiah's Story - Part Five

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Two Months

You would be two months old today, sweet boy.

Wishing we could snuggle with you and watch you grow...instead we will be visiting your grave.  Though we are missing you so very much, we are also very thankful for God's peace.  Like in this poem, the beauty we see around us does remind us that you are more alive than we can imagine...and yet, we still miss you.

"Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft star-shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die."
--by Mary Elizabeth Frye