Friday, November 3, 2017

When Christmas Doesn't Feel Like Christmas

Some of you may be groaning at the title of this post because it is only November 3. We are barely past Halloween and you may be worrying that I'm bypassing Thanksgiving all together. I promise you this is very much NOT the case! This Thanksgiving will take on a more special meaning for us than ever before because we will finally be welcoming Hailey's baby sister to this world, and we have so very much to be thankful for.

BECAUSE of the fact that I will be having a baby at Thanksgiving, and I know those first few weeks with our toddler son and a newborn will be a blur, I'm trying to get all of my Christmas shopping done now, wrapped, and shipped off to where it needs to go. Maybe this is also part of that nesting/homemaking thing that can afflict women at the end of their pregnancies - who knows. But I'm embracing it.

BECAUSE, too, last year Christmas didn't feel like Christmas at all.

I spent the second half of October in the NICU with Hailey. And then all of November. By early December, our sweet little fighter had actually mounted her biggest recovery to date, and my husband and I were cautiously optimistic that we might actually be able to take her home by Christmas. As I spent all my days with Hailey, shopping on Amazon was a life saver for me in terms of tackling gift giving for our families.

For what felt like the longest time, I held off on buying Hailey any Christmas presents because I wasn't sure if she would live to see the holiday, and it broke my heart to think of the presents sitting idly by if she was never to play with them. But as she continued to improve, I cautiously purchased a handful of gifts for her.

On the morning of Saturday, December 17, I woke up at home beside my husband. Hailey had been stable and doing well enough that I'd taken to spending the evenings and overnights with my husband and son to provide our family with some balance. We'd been invited to a neighbor's house for breakfast, but I was lagging behind to finish pumping breast milk for Hailey when the hospital called.

The nurse practitioner on the phone sounded somewhat calm as she told me my daughter's lung had collapsed, but I could sense the frenzy going on in the background. It took me a moment for my brain to process. I obviously knew that wasn't good news, but I wasn't quite sure of the implications. I asked if my daughter was, in that moment, dying. Quite honestly, they didn't know. I was told a lot would depend on how the next number of hours went. In shock, I called my husband home and we rushed to the hospital to find our daughter who had just been doing so well suddenly hooked up to more wires and tubes than we'd ever seen before (and we'd already been through a lot!).

Hailey held on for the next few days, but she wasn't doing well. And then on December 23, we found out this last setback was one our beautiful, strong daughter wasn't likely to surmount. Her heart had given out faster than anyone had ever seen in a child so young.

I remember dazedly walking through the halls of the Children's Hospital, all decked out for the winter holidays. I remember feeling sad, mad and utterly distraught that I'd been foolish enough to give in to hope and that I had just bought Hailey Christmas presents. I remember thinking, how on God's green earth does anyone find out two days before Christmas that their child is going to die?

I remember thinking of my son. I remember my husband and I discussing how best to love each of our children through the tough days and weeks ahead. I didn't want to leave Hailey, but we took some time away from the hospital to try to think more clearly, and to take our son out to enjoy at least a little bit of the Christmas season. Mainly, that meant we took him to a nearby mall to see Santa, and to ride a two-story carousel as many times as he wanted. He was two, so he was easily entertained and made happy by all the Christmas lights and the crowds of happy people.



You know that saying about being kind to people because you never know what they are going through? That day, I felt like we were THOSE people. I marveled that to anyone who saw us then, we were simply a young family of three. A Mommy and Daddy taking their son out on our holiday break. How could any of them guess we'd just been told our daughter was dying? We rode the carousel with our son. We tried to smile, for him. We were numb.

We spent Christmas together, as a family of four, in the NICU.

Grief in and of itself can be so isolating, but when yours hits on a holiday or some other occasion when the rest of the world is out celebrating, it can feel so much worse. So much more lonely.

But in the end, I actually took comfort in the fact that we were losing Hailey at Christmas because I've always felt it is a time when God in Heaven is closer to us here on earth, as we all stop to love each other a little better in celebration of Jesus' birth.

We waited until December 30 to remove Hailey from life support. She didn't have much time left with us regardless, but I chose the day. I wanted to ease our daughter's suffering --- to finally give her some small measure of peace. To acknowledge how hard she'd fought to remain with us for as long as she had. And to let her go to be with Our Father when I felt him nearest to us. It somehow felt wrong to make her carry her burdens into the new year.

Hailey's going home was one of the most painful and most special moments in my life. As I've written about before in this blog, Hailey blessed us with every last wish we had for her. We removed her tubes and she got to sit with her big brother one last time. He got to hold her, hug her and kiss her cheek. And then my husband and I got to hold onto her as she passed quickly from this world with a gentle sigh. She didn't struggle. She didn't seem scared. She seemed relieved.

I have wondered for these past many months since losing Hailey how I would feel this Christmas. If the holiday would forever be tainted for me as a time of great sadness and loss. I think a wonderful part of this journey in healing is that we have been blessed with another child who will be in our arms when the holiday comes around once again. This new child will never replace Hailey, nor is she meant to. Rather, I see her as a gift FROM Hailey...a third child I'd otherwise never expected to carry.

So yes, it is November 3 and I am embracing Christmas. I am shopping and I am wrapping gifts while I listen to Christmas carols. And with every breath, I am thinking of our dear, sweet Hailey Grace and praying for this new life that is about to emerge. And that I won't be too much of a disaster the final week of this year. But if I am, that is okay, too. Few things are as immense as a parent's love for their child. Death cannot change that.

With love and a grateful heart.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

"Hope" is the Thing with Feathers

“Hope” is the thing with feathers 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

Despite the fact that I opened this blog post with a poem, I've never been one for poetry. I even switched my college degree away from English when I realized how many 400-level poetry classes I would have to take to graduate. I much prefer when people are more plainly spoken, and often times when we would dissect the meaning of a poem in class, I thought people were clearly just making stuff up. Everything seemed so open to interpretation or hidden meetings and it was too abstract for me. 

That being said, I still find the odd poem that speaks to me. Usually they are the more popular ones because as mentioned above my appetite for poetry is not that deep, and "Hope" Is The Thing With Feathers by Emily Dickinson falls into this category. I've always liked her message that hope springs eternal in our chests, but I like this poem even more now for its embodiment of hope as a bird. 

As with poetry, I never used to be overly fond of birds, but now I have an attachment to them in regard to Hailey. The first time I ever heard the hymn "His Eye Is On the Sparrow," I fell in love with it. I think I was 13. And all these years later, when my daughter got sick, it was one of the songs I'd often play for her, or sing to her myself, in the hope of bringing her comfort. I told her she was one of God's little sparrows. 

On Christmas Eve of last year, as my husband and I had just received news of how dire Hailey's case was and sat alone in the doo-wop, diner-styled hospital cafeteria trying to decide on a plan of care for her, we both heard "His Eye Is On The Sparrow" playing from some still-unknown source. My husband and I had teared up --- we'd each felt it was a sign that God was with us in that awful moment. 

But today is October 18, 2017.  Exactly one year ago today, I was first rushing my then six-week old daughter into the hospital because she'd thrown up a funny color. I remember the feeling of unease I had, driving through the dark myself while my husband remained at home with our son. I was worried...the night felt particularly ominous and I remember telling myself not to overreact. I tried to remain calm.

As our days in the hospital turned into weeks and then months, and the symptoms piled up, I fought to maintain hope for my daughter. There were days when doing so felt utterly daunting. I had to search hard for any little positive bit of news to sustain me. 

*

After Hailey passed away, there was one thing people would say to me that scared the hell out of me. "A piece of your heart will always be missing," they would acknowledge. I understood the positive intention behind the words and didn't blame the people who offered them for the terror they caused me. Because I wanted to believe that my husband, son and I could be okay without Hailey here with us on Earth. I wanted to believe that we could move forward. That we still stood some hope of being a happy family --- just one with a very special angel looking over us from Heaven. But I didn't know. I couldn't be sure. Thinking that a piece of my heart would always be missing made me feel like I would never be whole again. It made me feel panicky. 

I am here to say those folks were not wrong. A piece of my heart will always be with Hailey. I won't ever be the same as before I lost her. She has been gone for almost 10 months and while I can go two or three weeks in a row and be fine, then I will wake up for a day or two in a row and just feel so weepy and heartbroken for my sweet girl, and for us. 

But I don't see myself as permanently broken, as I once feared I would be. Because I fought, alongside my husband, to maintain hope for our future as a family. I sit here, 34-weeks pregnant with Hailey's little sister in my belly. Something I couldn't fathom a year ago. I'd planned to be finished having children after Hailey was born --- so this baby is a miracle that wouldn't exist if not for her big sister. And I wonder how I will feel when I finally hold this baby in my arms --- and how much of a mess I might be all over again for having lost Hailey. But I will embrace that moment when it comes and find my way through as I have with everything else. With faith and the loving support of so many family and friends. 

It is a brave thing to hope. Audacious even, as President Obama once said. 

We cannot know what tomorrow brings. We can fear the negative possibilities and threats of failure that tend to run rampant in a mother's worrying heart, or we can acknowledge the equal opportunity for beauty in all its forms...the best ones being those we often never even could have imagined for ourselves. I choose hope. For myself, and for all those whom I love and know are facing their own struggles. 

With love and a grateful heart. 

 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Horoscopes, Hindsight and HIM

The past few years, it has been hard to get to church. It's true that I never enjoyed going much until my late twenties, when I stumbled onto some joyful and invigorating church communities and my now husband introduced me to the enriching environment a small group/Bible study can provide.

But, moving around with the military can make it hard because every few years we have to start the church search all over again. And having kids can make getting to church hard, too. When my son was very young, his feeding and nap schedule never seemed to work out with the distance we had to drive to attend a church we liked. Then as he got older, his rambunctious spirit sent shivers down my spine at the thought of getting him to sit through a service. And I had to drop out of not one, not two but three different Bible studies because my normally happy son wouldn't tolerate the free care provided by the Bible-study organizers.

Then Hailey was born. And I spent all my time in the hospital, and many tearful moments in the hospital chapel. It was a beautiful place filled with desperation, hope, love, empathy...I miss it and often wish I could go back. It was a room filled with golden light and it made me feel like I was sitting inside a star. It is where I spent Christmas last year...I think it is the only year in my entire life that I didn't formally attend church in celebration of Christ's birth. I just sat there myself in the hospital chapel and prayed. And on December 30, it is where we baptized Hailey and let her go home to be with God.

I've gone to church since then. Only formally for Hailey's funeral mass. But other times, just to sit in a church and pray. To feel closer to God, whom I've never stopped talking to, and now my daughter in Heaven. But I kind of knew that wasn't enough.

So a few days ago, when a friend here in Georgia asked me to go check out a new church with her that she was curious about, I agreed to go if the church could provide childcare for our kids (especially since both of our husbands are away and not around to help right now). I felt like maybe my friend's invitation was a sign, and maybe it was time.

Believing people look for signs --- whether you believe in horoscopes and look for them to be true, or you believe in God and look for Him to be true. Skeptical people struggle with the idea of signs and balance them against logic. Did your horoscope really come to fruition, or did you look for ways to make it so? Am I truly receiving signs from my daughter that she is still with me, or from God that He wants me back at church, or am I being fanciful because my heart longs for it to be so? Or is it all hindsight, it being 20/20 after all?

I don't know. But I couldn't have predicted how my visit to this new church would go. The pastor started the sermon talking about recent events in Las Vegas, which I figured was par for the course. What I didn't anticipate was that the rest of his talk would veer into the pain of losing a child. Or the compassion Jesus feels for us in such a moment. Oh and that friend that I was checking out the church with? The thing that first brought us together was that she has lost a child, too. So we both sat there, next to each other, in that church for the first time, and we both felt so stunned. And so moved.

The pastor spoke about believing in God and in Heaven and how our children will greet us again someday. He relayed a story he once read, written by a woman who imagined twins in the womb. They enjoyed their lives in utero, but as they aged, the quarters became more cramped and they began to sense a change was coming. One twin embraced it and was excited for birth, but the other felt nervous. He wondered, "how do we know life exists after birth? How do we know our mother really exists? We've never met her. No one has ever come back to tell us there is more after this life in here."

But of course, we all now know life does exist after birth and it is wonderful. And I look forward to discovering the beauty of life after death because I hope I will see Heaven one day, and my daughter's spirit made whole. On Sunday, I felt God pulling me close to Him and I'm thankful He'd still make such an effort for me. I look forward to spending more time in His House so that I may know Him better now, while I'm still here on Earth.

With love, and a grateful heart.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Make Your World Small

When your child endures a lengthy stay in the hospital, their treatment bay or room (if you are lucky enough to be granted one) becomes your world. You learn all of the doctors' names and know who is on rotation. You make friends with the nurses and always hope you are staffed with a familiar face. You figure out when the hospital cafe stops serving coffee and which day of the week your favorite meal is served in the cafeteria. It can be hard, at times, in the midst of deciphering medical jargon and evolving diagnoses, to remember a broader world exists outside the hospital walls.

I grew so accustomed to our hospital routine that even now, months after sweet Hailey has passed away, I miss the comfort of the routine we found for ourselves. I miss holding my daughter. I miss the social conversations I had with the nurses. When Hailey was well enough for me to sleep back at my house with my husband and son, I miss the routine of calling the hospital on those nights around 9 p.m., when I knew the evening nurse had just weighed my daughter. Every new ounce gained was a victory of enormous proportions, and we always celebrated together. I knew everyone was rooting for my daughter, and for us.

Fast forward to this past week. On social media and in the news, I viewed many opinions about the controversy surrounding NFL players taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem, the debate reignited by some fiery remarks made by President Trump. I am touched by the patriotism so many feel for this country, and wish more of these folks felt moved to serve in our all-volunteer force. I feel proud of the men and women who do serve in our military to protect the many freedoms we hold dear. I feel disheartened by the racial divide that still exists in our country today, which I see born out not only in national protests and news headlines but also in the broken hearts of neighbors and friends who have to worry for the safety of their children simply because of the color of their skin.

Having recently had to evacuate our own home for Hurricane Irma, and having had to endure only 24-hours of life without electricity with a rambunctious but healthy toddler, my heart is shattered for the people of Puerto Rico. They are citizens of this country (although their need is the same even if they were not!), and yet they have had to endure unspeakable hardships while awaiting our aid. Their needs are immediate. They are without food, water, power and running low on gas. Hospitals - including children's hospitals - are running out of the diesel they need to keep sick children alive. I pray that everyone who has found time to debate taking a knee also finds it in their heart to give to the people of Puerto Rico and those others recently impacted by natural disasters.

For my friends who have felt disheartened by recent events, I would like to say a few things. First, as my husband pointed out, just because we disagree doesn't mean I dislike you. I think many of us have lost the ability to listen to opposing view points with an open heart. Truly, I'm not above that struggle. But listening with an open heart is the only way we can learn from each other. Just because a truth is not YOUR truth, doesn't mean it isn't true for someone else. We all walk different paths and should not discount each other. When talking with someone else with whom you disagree, try asking more questions rather than making heated statements.

Second, and most importantly, people can still be good if you give them the opportunity NOT to disappoint you. I admit to feeling disheartened like many others with what is going on these days, but all I have to do is simply think back to my journey with Hailey and all of the many kindnesses people showed us. I think back to how desperate my heart felt in those days, and how small my hospital world with Hailey was.

And so in closing, I offer you this advice: make your world small. Tune out all the noise and the people who don't matter. Surround yourself with people who lift you up until you feel brave enough to take a chance on strangers again. Focus on what you CAN do to be the change you want to see: practice listening with an open heart, give to people in need, and let your voice be heard through action...volunteer, vote, LOVE.

In my house, we hung a shelf made by my husband on the wall across from where I run on the treadmill. On it sits a portrait from our wedding day, when we looked out on the world with love in our eyes and hope in our hearts. Next to it is a picture of Hailey taken in the hospital, sleeping in my arms --- chosen specifically to remind me how hard our daughter fought and yet that she still found moments of peace amidst it all. Beside her, there is a tiny glass jar with a bird perched above it, to remind me the Lord keeps his eye on the sparrow. And an angel and lantern as well, to always help guide us. All of this, and the sound of our son's laughter echoing through the hallways of our home, keep my heart lifted in times such as these. Hailey taught me we can all find peace amidst the struggle, and use it to stay centered. With love and a grateful heart.
.

Monday, September 4, 2017

On Her First Birthday, A Legacy of Love


At this time last year, I was in the hospital, preparing to give birth to Hailey. She was born on September 5, 2016, and it was an easy if cheesy joke to quip that I labored on Labor Day. Unlike her big brother, she cried the moment they pulled her out of me and I remember sighing in relief to my husband and exalting, "Oh thank God, she is healthy!!!"

Little did we know how wrong I would soon be proven. Above is a photograph of a few of the items by which I remember Hailey today. The outfit her big brother picked out for her and that she wore home from the hospital. The little lovey bear she clung to once she was readmitted to the hospital a month later, never to leave again. A lock of her hair, which now separated from her head looks like a dull brown rather than the strawberry blonde luster we originally knew it by. And a tiny locket the hospital made for us, with a shrunken image of Hailey's little hand print.

It would be easy to sit here tonight, on the eve of my daughter's first birthday, and write about all that we have lost. I certainly feel it in my heart as my grief threatens to pull me under. But I think a better way to pay homage to the joyous occasion of my daughter's birth is to think about all that I have gained through her.

Thanks to Hailey Grace, I have made new friends. From the staff at the children's hospital who cared for us, to fellow NICU parents, members of our Army community, and folks we've met since moving to Georgia, who were brave enough to befriend me despite the fact that I'm going through one of life's worst moments....I am so thankful for all of you.

I have had my faith in humanity bolstered by the many acts of kindness folks have shown us. From the woman who cut my son's hair for free when she heard it was for his sister's funeral, to the old high school acquaintance who gifted me the most stunning bouquet for Hailey's grave...people really do care.

I'm thankful I have gained a deeper relationship with existing friends through their many gestures of support, from cross-country trips to attend Hailey's services, their words of love, their continued outreach to make sure I am okay and their patience when I sometimes take too long to respond.

And, my relationship with running has evolved from a necessary evil to my cherished, prayerful time with the daughter I will always miss, but will always carry in my heart.

Thanks to our journey with Hailey, I now possess and even deeper appreciation for my husband and son. My husband, for his steadfast and positive outlook on life and for the mutual support we have provided each other through some of life's darkest moments. (The enormity of the balance he provides my life is so keenly felt now while he is deployed!). And if I ever thought I couldn't cherish my son more than I already did before, I was wrong. The twinkle of joy in his eyes, the sound of his laughter and his bright and inquisitive nature have all helped me continue to get out of bed each day and look forward to the future.

I have learned to take nothing for granted. Good health, a cool breeze on a warm day, even bad things that later turn out for the good...I now have better patience for God's plan. Even though I may still sob for missing Hailey, I can look back upon our journey with her and see the small gifts along the way...that we got to enjoy a month at home with her, believing we had a happy, healthy family. That she didn't die at her lowest point in the hospital, when she was so emaciated and sickly-looking. I'm not sure if I could have survived losing her looking like she did then...with barely any life left in her eyes. Instead, she held on and gained weight and I got to see her rosy cheeked and bright-eyed and a more healthy size before we had to let her go. I was confident from the way she looked at me then that she KNEW the love we held for her.

Our sweet Hailey was full of gifts, even in her passing. My husband and I prayed that after we removed Hailey's breathing tube that she wouldn't struggle or suffer greatly. We prayed that our son would get to hold her one last time, and that we would get to hear her voice once more. God, and Hailey, allowed us all of that. She held on just long enough for one last visit with her brother, and moments later in my arms, her voice let out the softest of sighs that everyone in the room got to hear before I literally FELT her soul leave her body.

The moment I felt Hailey leave is the closest I've ever felt to Heaven, and yet since losing her, I've also felt so much more in-tune with the world around me here on Earth. I look for signs from my daughter, and connections I never would have noticed before.

When Hailey was alive and fighting the good fight, there were a few songs I used to play in an attempt to bring her comfort. One of them was an acoustic version of How Great Thou Art. Well, a few weeks ago after my husband deployed, I fell asleep praying to God and Hailey. And during the night, I dreamt so vividly of How Great Thou Art being sung like I'd never heard it before...first by one singer, then by a duet, only to close with the magnificent joy I could only attribute to a majestic, Heavenly choir.  I knew it was like nothing I could ever hear on Earth, and I felt like I'd received another gift from my daughter.

For the rest of my life, I will remain in awe of Hailey's spirit and strength. I will remain thankful for these many gifts with which she continues to bless me. She has taught me how to survive, how to choose love, how to embrace my sorrow but also search for a healthy way forward.

On the occasion of Hailey's first birthday, I'd like to celebrate her short but impactful life with a fabulous idea from a dear friend. I'd like to launch a Random Acts of Kindness/Pay it Forward Campaign in Hailey's memory. The rules are simple: by following this link, you can download cards to hand out when you offer an act of kindness in Hailey's name. They include a link to Hailey's story, as I've written it in this blog. They also include a link to a Facebook page entitled Honoring Hailey, where I'd love it if people would post about the things they've done for others in our daughter's memory. Please help us expand her legacy of love --- it is the best gift you could ever give my family, I promise.

With love, and a grateful heart. Happy 1st Birthday, dear, sweet Hailey Grace!!!


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What We Need

Sometimes in life, we are lucky enough to receive what we need, when we need it.

I think back to our time with Hailey in the hospital, and the days when doctors were considering diagnoses that would have meant prolonged suffering with little quality of life for our daughter before she passed away. These scary moments allowed me to feel thankful when Hailey's heart failed her quickly, and her suffering was greatly reduced from what it could have been.

I think back to the days shortly after Hailey passed away, when a good friend asked to host a half-marathon for Hailey's half birthday. At first I was daunted by the prospect of participating, as I felt as Hailey's mother, I must. But we all ran the miles over a few days, and the half-marathon turned out to be the best thing for me. Running got me moving, and it morphed what had been a laborious hobby of mine into my cherished bonding time with my daughter. I'm 25 weeks pregnant now with Hailey's baby sister, but I'm still running my miles each week, and talking to Hailey the whole time. Whether out loud or in my head, I tell her I love her every 30 seconds or so while I run. I push myself harder for her. I pray for her forgiveness that I couldn't give her a better life, and I ask her blessing and support to help me to be the best mother I can to her big brother and baby sister.

I think of last night, when I lay in bed by myself, missing Hailey. I cried as I looked through pictures of her, and wished my husband was here to give me a hug. I started to Google support groups for folks who have lost a child. I haven't been to one before, mainly because I knew after losing Hailey that we were about to move and I didn't want to go through something that raw with folks and then have to tear myself away to relocate across the country. And so last night, with my husband deployed halfway across the globe, I thought maybe I could find one.

People have been so, so kind since Hailey got sick and then passed away, but sometimes all that can help is just talking to someone else who is walking a similar path. Even though I might usually feel emotionally at peace with losing my child, I still ache from missing her. And now I don't have the physical proximity of my husband to hold me and let me know he feels the longing for our daughter as well.

It can also feel very isolating at times...to feel this curse of losing a child and to feel like you are the only one you know who has gone through it.

Unfortunately, I didn't stumble onto any nearby support groups. Attending would also require the logistics of a babysitter for my son since I'm on my own for a bit...but today, THE VERY NEXT DAY, I got what I needed. A friend reached out because she knows someone here locally who has also lost a child and asked me if I'd speak with her. My heart leapt at the thought and I eagerly agreed. I know everyone is at different points in their lives (and in our case, journey of loss), and this woman and I may or may not click, but it made me so happy to have this opportunity to connect with someone else who has been there. Even if it is just for one meet up...although hopefully we can become friends! At any rate, I just felt blessed when this happened today, and thankful to the universe.

With love and a grateful heart.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Invisible String

If you haven't heard of it, The Invisible String is a children's book I first became acquainted with while I was in the hospital with Hailey. A kind person brought it by as a resource to help my young son through the impending loss of his baby sister. The book itself doesn't focus on loss, but the love that connects us all, no matter what, near or far.

This book just reentered our lives once again, through the kindness of yet another, as a gift to our son upon his third birthday. I think in this instance, it will help our little boy feel connected to his father, even though Daddy is traveling to the other side of the world for a while.

The significance of this book and its emergence in our lives is not lost on me. In fact, I've thought about it quite a bit, especially as I've heard from so many of you over the past number of days as we've endured a health scare with baby #3 right before my husband departs. And while many of my posts speak of faith in the midst of this challenging road we are on, I want to write this post in part for the people who do not follow a faith, but DO follow their hearts.

At numerous points over the past number of months, I have been so touched by the many ways in which people have lifted us up. Not the least of these is when I hear from folks who don't profess to pray or put much stock in religion, but offer up their heartfelt hopes for my family, in whatever way they can. They are letting me know that invisible string of love reaches even further than I often know.

The absence of that string --- that sense of humanity and love that connects us all --- is perhaps one of the worst feelings I've ever felt, and one I came into contact with a few days ago. When the nurse practitioner at my OB's office told me she was referring us out to specialists due to two abnormalities on the baby's anatomy ultrasound, I begged her to find a way to schedule us before my husband's deployment. She said they'd see what they could do, but I will admit I didn't have great faith in her statement after the way the entire appointment had been handled. I checked back in later that day, and the next day. No news whatsoever, and our timeline was quite short. I asked if I could call the specialists myself to see about the appointment and they gave me the number. I didn't want my husband going to war, worrying we might lose another child. I was heartsick and desperate.

I called the specialists' office and spoke with the most heartless person I've encountered --- really the ONLY one --- since we lost Hailey. She told me she wouldn't speak to me, wouldn't give me an appointment, and that they would only deal with the referring doctor's office. I calmly replied that I understood that, and believed they should have already had my referral in their possession for a bit of time, but just wanted to call to explain our situation. I told her we had buried our daughter in January, that my husband was deploying in days, and that I didn't want to be trying to track him down with potentially bad news as he leapfrogs across the globe to his final destination. The woman curtly replied that she understood and told me the doctors would "get to it when they get to it", and hung up.

I felt so crushed, I cried. It wasn't that they couldn't fit us in --- that, I could understand and accept if I had to. It was that the woman didn't care, wouldn't take my name, wouldn't even LOOK. My suffering was simply a nuisance to her. I understand rules and regulations exist for a reason (I did marry into the military, after all), but it all just felt so cruel. Like every painful moment we had been through didn't matter at all. She at least could have been more gentle about shutting the door in my face, rather than slamming it. I felt disconnected from the world around me, in suffering, in lack of understanding, desperately reaching out for that invisible string. In that moment, dejected, I gave myself up to the world and whatever else it might subject us to.

It wasn't that I feared what may be wrong with the baby. Of course I felt worried, but that bit of stress I'd already agreed to give up to God and our Hailey-in-the-Stars. Baby #3 would either be okay, or she wouldn't, and we would face it either way, just as we did with Hailey. Any control I tried to exert was out of an aching concern for my husband's heart. It is already hard enough for him to leave us for this deployment (and for us to see him off) and if I could move mountains to spare him any suffering, I will always give it my best effort. And I did. Apparently to no avail.

But then, the following day, after I'd already given up, I received a phone call from the specialists. Apparently the doctors had finally gotten to our file, and were willing to give us the next available appointment, which was on Monday. Excitedly, I asked my husband to clear it with his command. Then I spent the weekend praying to God and Hailey-in-the-Stars, and trying to truly enjoy some of our last days together with my husband.

At our appointment on Monday, I found out from the woman conducting the ultrasound that we had been referred to them not just for the two abnormalities I'd been told about, but a third as well. My heart dipped. There was a kidney concern, a heart concern, and (news to me!) a concern with the nuchal fold measurement. The nuchal fold measurement can pertain to Downs Syndrome, but luckily, I already knew from the genetic testing we'd done earlier in the pregnancy that baby #3 does NOT have Downs.

I clutched the necklace around my neck --- one I wear in remembrance for Hailey --- and prayed through the whole ultrasound. The tech was very sweet and kindly obliged us and turned on the 3D function to show us our daughter's face. It is too early on to have the fatty baby cheeks, but I knew seeing her face would do our hearts well and help us to bond with our daughter throughout whatever storms we might be about to weather. Here is our little beauty!

And then the time came to meet with the doctor. I wondered what the odds were that both the heart AND kidney (it was just one that had been off) could be okay.

My husband and I received a blessing we often prayed for with Hailey, but so rarely ever received. GOOD news!! Whatever the odds were that everything could be okay, they were! I don't know if our issues from the first ultrasound were due to old equipment, a bad tech, the baby's poor position that day or likely some combination of all three, but who cares!! Our daughter --- picked out by both God and Hailey-in-the-Stars --- is okay! And please know, for all those parents out there who don't get the news they were hoping for, I understand. We've been there. So I don't offer our proclamation lightly or without sensitivity for the broken hearts of others. I just need to embrace our good days when we have them.

With love and a grateful heart: for this good news, that it could be shared in person with my husband, and for the invisible string that connects us all.