Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Rise...and Shine...

In a town near and dear to our heart, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, there is a beautiful park. The park is home to a bandshell, a small ball field, a gazebo, historic monuments paying tribute to fallen war heroes... and a playground. Right across the street is the library where we spend a lot of our time. We've never been to the playground. I'm sure it's lovely.
Gavin's school where he made friends, made progress, took chances and finally took steps is in Phoenixville. Do you know that one of the first settlers to this area would sit in his home on a hill and look down on this yet to be named town and fantasize about the old Egyptian legend of the Phoenix bird? You know the story - how the Phoenix dies in a burst of flames only to rise from the ashes in glory? Isn't it ironic that Gavin would make his progress in and leave his mark on this town? Our own "Phoenix" story.

"A mythical bird that never dies, the phoenix flies far ahead to the front, always scanning the landscape and distant space. It represents our capacity for vision, for collecting sensory information about our environment and the events unfolding within it. The phoenix, with its great beauty, creates intense excitement and deathless inspiration." 
- The Feng Shui Handbook, feng shui Master Lam Kam Chuen 

The park in the center of town, Reeves Park, was named after the Reeves family who owned an iron mill named "Phoenix Iron Company." It is no coincidence to me that the Reeves family was known for their inclusive hiring policy. They hired immigrants fleeing from war and strife in Europe... people from all different races and religions... and those who had fled from slavery via the underground railroad. Their family philosophy became their company culture - "At Phoenix - It's The People That Make The Difference." 

That philosophy has trickled down to the town that was aptly named Phoenixville. The people are what makes this town. I have experienced this first hand. This town embraced Gavin and supported our family. Many children that are still in Gavin's old school in town are benefitting from his Trust Project. Some are even making incredible strides using Gavin's walker and stander and more. This is an amazing town.

So, back to that park...

I used to avoid parks that couldn't accommodate Gavin as he got older and more aware. It hurt my heart to think of him feeling left out - and I hated the thought of him watching his brother play from the sidelines. But I also knew that accessible playgrounds were a fortune and didn't expect them everywhere we went. It was what it was. So as we often parked in front of Reeves Park to go into the library, I would sigh as I remembered that this wasn't a park I felt comfortable taking Gavin to. And what a bummer that was - in a town that loved him so much.

Just recently, Brian, Hope and I were headed to the library when we passed the park. Upon seeing the playground, Brian asked, "Mom - that isn't a 'Gavin' kind of playground, is it?" and I sadly answered that it wasn't. 

You know I don't believe in coincidences by now, right? 
(If not - I don't.)

Just a few days after Brian's comment, I saw something on my Facebook newsfeed and just knew I had to get involved. And I knew that you would help.

The local Kiwanis club in Phoenixville has entered a "Legacy of Play" contest. Kiwanis International has partnered with Landscape Structures for this contest and the Phoenixville Kiwanis club has entered. If they win, Landscape Structures will give them $25,000 in playground equipment which will be installed in conjunction with their club's "Kiwanis One Day" event which, no coincidence, is held in April. If the Phoenixville Kiwanis club wins, they will build an all abilities playground right in Reeves Park.

I can tell you right now - having an all abilities park in this town would be a game changer. Children from Gavin's own school would benefit. Local physical and occupational therapists could utilize this playground for fun therapy in the sunshine. My own children could play on this playground and feel comforted that their big brother would be happily playing beside them if he were alive. And my anxiety and heart sick feeling every time I pass this park on my way to the playground... the market... or church will cease. It would be a game changer - for so many. Not to mention, how beautiful would it be to continue the inclusive legacy of the Reeves family who were known for their compassion and respect for the outliers in their town.

Can you see where I'm going with this?

I'm not looking for money. I'm looking for thirty seconds after you finish reading. I know one thing for sure. Between me and all of you, we can all vote once to get Phoenixville in the finals and in front of the judges. The ten submissions with the highest number of votes by noon (EDT) on May 27th (this Friday!) will become finalists. Then it will be up to a panel of judges to select the winning club. Do I hope that the judges see this post and feel the passion I have to make an accessible playground a part of the history of Phoenixville? And in a small way, part of Gavin's story in this town? You bet I do. Do I hope they will feel inspired by one little boy and his giant legacy and choose this town? Wholeheartedly. 

It can't be underestimated how transformative it can be when children have a proper place to play. Please - open your hearts to the children of Phoenixville. Show them that love from strangers can help them rise...and shine...just like the Phoenix itself.

Here is all you need to do:

Click THIS LINK to get to the voting page. When you scroll down it should start with "The Kiwanis Club of Phoenixville...." Scroll down further and click the orange VOTE button! Again, voting closes this Friday, May 27th, at noon and you can vote once a day between now and then. You can watch the page to see the ten finalists and the ultimate winner (Phoenixville, of course) - but rest assured that I will keep you posted!
Thank you, as always, for caring about our little family... and this little town that loved Gavin!!

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.

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