Wednesday, May 11, 2016

This Is Where My Mom Took Pictures Of Us...

In just a couple days, we will hand over the keys to our old home to a new family who recently purchased it. It's an exciting, bittersweet time. Tonight, we all went back for a "Farewell Pizza Party" to celebrate, reminisce and more.
To say that a lot has happened in that house would be a gigantic understatement. This was our first home together.  I was pregnant many, many times - starting with Gavin!
We were thrilled to welcome him home to this house. 
(Fun fact: that "Welcome Home" sign hung in our garage every day after that. I always wanted to pull in and remember how grateful I was that we welcomed him home. That sign is now at our new house and it makes me feel the same way.)
We brought Brian home fifteen months later and were so excited to announce to our neighbors that he was coming!
I washed hair in the kitchen sink...
Watched the boys relationship develop and deepen...
Made gourmet meals nightly. Wearing my pearls, of course...
We documented all the "firsts" along the way, including first crawls...
First roll overs...
And first steps!
We celebrated holiday traditions and made so many wonderful memories.
We LOVED our neighborhood and neighbors and enjoyed walking and letting Gavin practice in his walkers on the "open road."
When Gavin died, we welcomed hope into that home...
...and Hope into hearts.

Even though we moved out of that house in July and we've been in our new home since then, Brian was suddenly very emotional about the finality of the house being sold. I wanted to come up with something special we could do as a family to make it a little easier for him. So tonight the kids and I headed over with their sidewalk chalk, Hope's stroller and Brian's bike and we had one last hurrah in the driveway. We also threw a frisbee and played tag in the back yard.
Brian also made chalk "signs" for the new family - hoping they would see it on their move-in day.
We moved inside so Brian could write and "hide" special notes for the new family. He started in his old bedroom...
...and left the note in the closet to tell them, "Enjoy the room - and this was my old room!"
Hope took a spin in her old room...
...and took silly selfies in our bathroom mirror one last time.
She helped Brian write some more notes...
...including one for the landing that said "This is where my Mom took pictures of us."
So I did. One last time...
And when Daddy arrived for the "pizza party" after work, we took our very last family shot. 
We look forward to meeting the folks that will be standing in that spot for their family picture. And we hope that their journey in their new home is half as happy and memorable as ours was.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

I Remember Love...

Here is what I remember...

She was with me all the time.
She never said no when I wanted her to play barbies or house or read to me or play a game.
She rubbed my back almost every night.
She was always so nice to me.
She made the best lunches.
I just always loved being around her.
She is my Mom.

Here is what she says...

"I'm not sure that's really how it went."
And then she'll dispute things that I recall.

Who's right...and who's wrong?

Here's what I think. I think, as Mothers, we may often agonize that we're doing a "good enough" job. Or, we feel guilty for choices that we might deem selfish if they take any time away from the kids. Some of us may go overboard with elaborate parties and gifts for our kids and think that is the best way to show our love. Some of us might only be able to do small things and worry that it's not enough. But here's the big secret I've learned. The best gift you can give your children is your time.

So who's right? I think we both are. My memory is my reality. I remember those special moments we shared and they are burned in my brain above any other memories. And my Mom is just like every other Mom - including me - who remembers the times that she DID say no to playing barbies... or no to one more book... or gave me a lunch I hated and then probably heard about it when I came home from school. For some reason, those times get burned in our brain - sometimes above other memories.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

My wish today is that every Mother, young or old, will let themselves off the hook. It is impossible to be a perfect Mother. It is impossible to say yes to everything. It is impossible to remain physically and emotionally healthy if you sacrifice your needs 100% of the time.

This Mother's Day, allow yourself to see why you are a great Mother. We really can't do it ALL - but that's okay. I think the only person that expects us to be able to do it ALL... is us. Our children may forget their elaborate ninth birthday party - or that you said no to an extra dessert or that new video game when they were fifteen. But they will remember how they felt when they were around you... how you looked when you opened your arms to hug them... how your eyes lit up when you saw them. Basically, what I'm trying to say is this:

Our children will remember the important things.

This Mother's Day, I remember love. And many, many years from now - I hope my children... and ALL of our children... can say the same.

Happy Mother's Day!


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

How Have Six Years Gone By...

Six years ago today. 

Six years ago today I was standing in my kitchen making a huge batch of Gavin's food for the freezer. I remember piddling around the kitchen and feeling a bit weary. This pregnancy was my easiest by far and I had learned to not worry so much about little things. I was, after all, a vet of this pregnancy thing. I had two young boys and now...a daughter on the way. I was trying very hard to not panic about every single twinge this time around. So I continued to piddle as my brain told me to freak out. Not long after that, my brain won. I freaked out and called my OB who told me, "Don't freak out, but I want you to be seen. I'm not so much concerned about the baby as I am about a blood clot." I was having leg cramps and shortness of breath and some cramping. He told me to head to the emergency room since the issues were with my legs and not my baby. For some strange reason, I was comforted by that. 

Six years ago today I remember driving myself to the emergency room more than a half hour away. After calling Ed at work, we both figured this was just another one of those pregnancy checks that was going to wind up being nothing. I remember walking into the Emergency Department and thinking - shoot - for a Tuesday night it sure is crowded. I knew I was in for a long wait. How long, I could have never predicted in a million years.

I posted on my Facebook a little after 3pm:

Is in the ER at the request of my OB. Abdominal cramping, shortness of breath and leg cramping. I told him I'm too busy for this, but apparently breathing is important. Who knew. Waiting to see Darcy and hoping she's okay.

Then I posted this at 5:36pm...
Been triaged twice - but have spent the last several hours in a very crowded waiting room. An announcement was just made to be patient...the hospital broke records today with the number of people being treated. You'd think they'd at least offer us cake to celebrate. I thought of just leaving, but I really need to know that Darcy's okay before I get my butt out of here.

My final Facebook post was at 8:38. After I was cleared by the Emergency Room doctor and it was determined that I did not have a blood clot, they were about to release me. I asked - and then begged - them to please check on my baby. I mean, you have the ultrasound equipment right there, I reasoned. The truth was - I wanted to take the opportunity for a free peek. Any chance I had to see Darcy on an ultrasound was a great day for me. The nurse said he could use the doppler to listen to her heartbeat for me. Ugh. I really was hoping for a visual, but that's fine. When he tried and tried and couldn't find a heartbeat, I decided that he probably didn't use them that much in the ER and just didn't know how to find her. I told him that I could try - I had a doppler at home and had just listened to her the night before. He said he would rather page someone from OB to come down. 
They just "ultrasounded" my legs. Hmmm...I thought the baby was in my belly, but I guess they know what they're doing. I have an IV, have seen the doctor three times (don't worry, Mom), and I'm waiting on OB to monitor Darcy. I will likely be home very late tonight!

When someone from OB came down with a portable ultrasound machine, I breathed a sigh of relief. "Finally someone who knows what they're doing," I thought. I figured I'd get a quick look at Darcy and then make the trip home. I remember feeling disappointed that I missed the boys' bedtime at home.

Suddenly, the room was very quiet.

And suddenly... I knew.

Darcy was gone.

Six years ago today, a stranger I never met gave me an ultrasound that I wasn't supposed to have and as I sat there alone with no one around me told me my daughter was dead. Five and a half months pregnant - and just like that, she was gone.

At first I couldn't believe it. Wouldn't believe it. She was moving that day! This is not possible. How is this possible? What happened to her?

She said they could schedule a D&E right away and I refused. There was no way. The only thing on my mind in that moment was - how in the world am I going to tell Ed. He had been checking in on me for updates and I couldn't lie to him. I can tell you that it was one of the hardest phone calls I ever had to make.

The nurses let me stay in that little room with very little privacy as I cried and cried. And cried. Six years ago today I think I cried six years worth of tears for the daughter I never knew I dreamed of. I somehow made my way home alone and knew that when I woke up the next day I would start a very sad journey.

I am lucky that I have a wonderful, compassionate and forward thinking OB. I called Dr. Langan, who already knew what had happened the night before, and told him that I wanted to deliver Darcy. She deserved to be born - and held - and cherished. He was 100% supportive. Neither of us could have known the shocking path we would take to get her into my arms. For some reason, Darcy did not want to leave my body. I was induced... and then induced some more. He tried all different techniques to help labor along, including a trip to the OR to insert Laminaria sticks. They are inserted into the cervix and, over time, slowly expand to dilate the cervix and induce labor. None of this was pleasant as I sat there day after day - it wasn't pleasant physically or emotionally. But...

Six years ago, my pain seemed like a small sacrifice. A tiny offering to honor her tiny life. And I would do it all over again if I could hold her one more time.

Five and a half days later, just hours before Mother's Day, Darcy was born en caul... which means she was still completely enveloped by the amniotic sac. The doctor had to break it open to remove her perfect, tiny body. It was as remarkable as it was tragic. Both beautiful and heart wrenching. The doctor then realized that it had been a cord accident that took her life. It wasn't the usual type of cord accident - because, let's be honest, we don't do things the "usual" way. Darcy's cord was hyper-convoluted...all twisted up so it was extra long and thin. He'd never seen anything like it - and he's been in practice for a very long time.

We were allowed to keep her with us as long as we wanted, for which I was so grateful. A friend came to take photographs, for which I was also very grateful. And I had to call our funeral director to arrange for him to pick up our daughter when it was time.
Six years ago, I sat in a hospital bed after 5 1/2 days of laboring and was so grateful to have the chance to hold our beautiful daughter. The nurses took hand and foot prints. I memorized every inch of her. I whispered promises into her perfect little ears and told her I'd see her again.
Finally I decided I was ready to let her go. I hated - and felt very resentful of - the kind hospital chaplain who came to take her from us. I hated watching her walk away with strangers to a cold morgue where she would wait for the funeral home. That was one of the hardest parts for me.

Six years ago, we would realize that after 5 1/2 days of carrying her... and 5 1/2 days of laboring to meet her... that we ended up holding her for 5 1/2 hours before letting her go.

That is why the recurring number of 5 1/2 means so much to us. Gavin was 5 1/2 when he died. Hope was born at half past 5. I have come to see that number as a sign from Heaven that I can survive.

Six years ago today, I thought I was having what would absolutely be the worst day of my life. In many ways, I was right. But I also feel thankful to this little tiny girl whose tragic life and painful birth prepared me for an even greater tragedy.

Every Mother's Day since and forever more, I remember my sweet Darcy Claire. I thought, six years ago, that my Mother's Days would never be the same... 

...and I was right. But not for the reasons I thought. Her short little life changed me. And prepared me to love even more. And for that, I will always thank her.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Our Family Heirloom...

Before I even start writing - I need to tell you how important this journal entry is to me. And always will be. My plan is to just write as I think and let it all come out and hope it all makes sense in the end.  It's a journal entry about a chair and all that has fit in it and, well, let's begin....

I remember being in the baby store. A swanky baby store because we were expecting our first child, a son we would name Gavin, and you go "all out" for the first. I remember telling Ed that we really needed to splurge on a great nursery rocker - one that was neutral so we could use it for future children whether they were girls or boys. I instantly fell in love with a chair and knew the second Ed sat in it - and pictured himself holding his son - he'd be sold, too. A few weeks later, the chair was being carried into the nursery. And, after what seemed like an eternity, the son we bought it for would finally be home from the NICU to spend many hours rocking on his Mommy's chest.
The chair became the spot for all the important photos and the "just because" photos and all the photos in between.
I blinked and before we knew it, Brian was sitting in the chair.
Some of my very favorite photos have this overpriced chair as a backdrop. And some of my very favorite memories are the nights I spent rocking or nursing or reading or even sleeping steps away from a sick child. 
Then...our world was turned upside down. Gavin was dead. Dead. I might have found myself avoiding his room - that chair - if it weren't for Brian. Brian took over Gavin's bed and soon we found ourselves sitting there, grieving together, in that familiar chair.

Soon, we were decorating another nursery and the chair was moved again. The very day we brought Hope home from the hospital, we met our photographer friend in the nursery for family photos. 
And the cycle started again creating new memories with the newest member of the family.
That "overpriced" rocker has become priceless. If it could talk... oh, the stories it would tell.

As we settled into our "new life" without Gavin and with Hope, I got a message from a friend. Her brother, who was once the on air host of two PBS shows called "Noodle and Doodle" and "The Sunny Side Up Show," had an idea for a TV show and was wondering if we'd be interested in participating. Sean had always been a fine artist and wanted to incorporate that talent into a show. The concept was to talk to a family who wanted a portrait done - and then follow Sean as he completes the painting. Then, of course, there's the big reveal of the portrait to the family. I had been dreaming of a way to have a photo - not even a painting - that would include all four of our children: Gavin, Brian, Darcy and Hope. That became the theme. We immediately agreed and he set up the shoot.

Sean came over with a camera crew and spent the afternoon at our home.  It was an easy day for us. All we were obliged to do was talk about Gavin and that was exactly what we did. It was (and is) one of my favorite pastimes so I enjoyed the day immensely. Sean took notes and sketched out a plan for his portrait. He said he'd come up with a clever way to include Darcy, which intrigued me very much.

A lot of time went by. Every once in a while I would remember and wonder what was happening with the show or the painting. Then, just a few weeks ago, Sean contacted me and wanted to set up a time to deliver the portrait. He told me a lot had changed. Painting our children had been a very emotional experience for him and he poured his heart into every detail. During that time he also decided his heart wasn't in the TV concept anymore. He needed to get back to painting and creating in the studio. And that's just what he did. He's an extremely talented artist. You can check out his work HERE.

The day came for the reveal and I couldn't wait. I had no expectations - and really had no idea what to expect. I videotaped Sean revealing the painting to me. It was just Hope and I at home that afternoon - Ed would see it soon after (and burst into tears). Watch the video...
Incredible, right? 
Ed and I couldn't wait to show Brian when he got home from school. Here was his reaction...

The details in this portrait are remarkable. It looks as perfect as a photograph! He got every feature of Gavin's right from his smile, his hair, his skin color - and even the visible veins in his temples.
And he perfectly painted Gavin's eyebrows and eyes which were not your typical shape.
Hope's likeness is also spot on from her head shape to her beautiful eye color. He had a lot of photos to use as reference and I didn't give him any input as to what clothes I preferred or anything. I was so happy to see Hope in what was my favorite infant shirt of hers. I always loved how feminine she looked in the dusty rose and ruffles.
He even got her perfect little mouth just right.
His painting of Brian is just incredible. He captured his bright eyes and long lashes - his hair color - his smile...
He captured the entire essence of him, really. 
But I'm sure you noticed the biggest details. Gavin is holding Hope - something we know has probably happened, but we have never been able to witness. Seeing them in each other's arms immediately took our breath away. 
I love seeing their hands together and his arms wrapped around her. 
Seeing Brian squished up next to his brother - like he always was in pictures - warmed our hearts in the most bittersweet way. And, of course, they are all together in that familiar nursery rocker. I'm pretty confident that rocker will always  be in our family. It's become even more valuable thanks to Sean.
 I bet you're wondering how he incorporated Darcy. She is symbolized - as are many other things - on Brian's jacket. The number 5 1/2 is very symbolic to us and that started with her. 
I delivered Darcy in the 5th month of May - when I was 5 1/2 months along - and it took me 5 1/2 days laboring in the hospital before her body would leave mine. Gavin would die at the age of 5 1/2. And my sister pointed out to me when she came to meet Hope in the hospital that Hope's time of birth was written out as half past five. Coincidence? Or proof that connections are deep and strong.

We will never be able to repay Sean for this portrait. It will be our treasured family heirloom, for certain.

I want to end by thanking everyone who participated in Gavin's Usborne "Bookraiser!" It was a huge success. We sold $2,086.88 in books which translated to 219 books sold - and 51 of those books were donated straight to the two organizations we chose. I now have $800 to spend on books to split between the Child Life Department at Nemours A.I. duPont Hospital for Children ("Gavin's Hospital") and the Chester County Intermediate Unit (Gavin's "school" for therapy and teacher services). To say I am thrilled about all of this would be a huge understatement. And so is Brian. The two of them loved to read books together. 
If you missed the speech that Brian wrote and delivered on video thanking everyone who participated, here you go!

I know Gavin is smiling for all the children who will now enjoy new books in so many different circumstances. I'll be buying many copies of the book "Here in the Garden" so the Child Life Department can gift it to any children who have lost a sibling at the hospital. It's a nice alternative to "The Invisible String" which Brian received as a gift from them after Gavin died. Here is the book description from the Usborne website:
"This extraordinary picture book about loss, love and friendship shows that we can always find our way back to a loved one through our hearts and our memories."

The "Bookraiser" is over, but if you feel like you missed out and still want to remember Gavin on the third anniversary of his death with a book, I can make that work. Just message me through this blog or my Facebook page.

Thank you to my incredible niece, Emily, for hosting this great book party in her cousin's memory. And thank you, as always, to all of you. For still being here three years later. For caring about our little family. And for helping us get through each anniversary in ways that bless so many others in Gavin's name.

**Don't forget! You can follow me on Instagram @kategavinsmom and follow me on Facebook at Chasing Rainbows Blog. You can also follow me on Twitter @kateleong.***

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