Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Your Sound Bites, Our Suffering

   Recently, the state of New York passed some new abortion laws. It was emotionally very hard for me to scroll through Facebook to see many inflammatory "articles" or commentaries from clearly biased news sources or Facebook personalities being shared over and over again. I read comments from people filled with outrage, decrying that they would NEVER murder their child. Murder is a very loaded term. And it is all too easy these days to speak in sound bites - which might catch everyone's attention but also shows a lack of consideration for the nuances of life.

   I didn't see as many articles "celebrating" the new law that would allow women to "murder their children right up until birth" (although I am sure there are those people out there), but I did see friends who are staunch supporters of a woman's right to choose comment about their support for women's access to increased reproductive rights.

   I try not to begrudge people their views, whether they are the same or differ from mine. However, I think the way we talk to each other and about each other can be completely devoid of empathy or sympathy, and downright shameful. It is all too easy to draw attention with click bait headlines, to not check the veracity or bias of a news source, or to speak from upon a high horse about what you would do in a situation you've never actually been faced with. Or maybe you have been faced with it and made a different choice, but does that give you the right to be hateful to someone else who might not have had the "strength of character" or support system that you did?

   I don't think we should ever celebrate the ending of a life, whether it is due to an abortion or executing a prisoner on death row. It is a very serious decision and one I think most people *in their right mind* wouldn't take lightly.

   The thing is, there often aren't easy answers in life. Damned if you do, damned if you don't, as the saying goes. Every decision carries impacts - some we can foresee, and some we never could have guessed.

   Hailey has been gone for a little over two years now, and yet when I picked my four year old son up from preschool on Valentine's Day, he was sobbing. Couldn't catch his breath, tears soaking his face, and a heartbreak reflected in his eyes that NO child that young should know. Why? Because he missed Hailey. Because it was "Love Day," as he calls it, and they were talking about love words. And he wanted to "hug Hailey and smooch her" but he couldn't because she was in Heaven. He sobbed that he wanted her to grow big. Can you imagine what seeing my son's grief, on top of my own, did to me in that moment? How he felt, at just four years old, to know a pain he can't even comprehend the enormity of?

   As parents, we want to do everything in our power to protect our children. We dread the age when kids stop just openly loving everyone and start to notice differences. We want to strangle any kid that looks at our own child sideways or makes them feel excluded.

   When we decided to try for another baby after losing Hailey, we knew there was a one in four chance the baby might have the same terminal genetic disorder and if so, wouldn't survive long after birth. I don't regret any part of my time with Hailey, but I have spoken honestly about how she suffered. And we suffered. And clearly we are ALL still suffering for having lost her.

   When Hailey was sick, my son lost me to the hospital for the four months she was alive. The few times I left to go home for visits, I could barely hold it together to even just sit and hold him and watch a kid show with him. Or play blocks. I'd sit with him for ten minutes, then have to excuse myself to my room to sob for twenty minutes, and then I'd return to try to sit with him for ten more minutes. And even for that little time I was at home with my son, I felt wracked with guilt for leaving my daughter's bedside for even a moment. THINK about that. Look at your own children, and really try to imagine yourself in my position. I can't imagine how we would have managed or what balance we would have found if Hailey's battle had been a longer one.

   Thankfully, when we did get pregnant with another baby girl, we were able to undergo genetic testing and found out our second daughter did NOT have Hailey's terminal genetic syndrome. I don't know what decision we would have made if she had: I prayed night and day that I wouldn't be faced with that. Some days, I think I know what I would have done, but I can't say for sure because I thankfully wasn't put in that position to have to find out for sure. Would I have spared the baby his or her physical suffering after birth, or placed more weight on sparing us ours for a baby who wasn't destined to survive? (I am not discounting aborting a baby as physical suffering to the child).

   So, this post isn't to put forth an argument against abortion or for reproductive rights because I don't think people really change their minds on their core beliefs. What I hope to continue to provide is some perspective so that people can rediscover their sympathy and empathy. To understand that life isn't black and white and that the flashy headlines and dire soundbites wound people who are likely already hurting. As I sit here writing this blog post, I remember EVERY SINGLE PERSON who made inflammatory posts or comments when the New York abortion law was signed. I read all of the comments your supporters made. I am wondering if any of you are reading this blog post now, and if you are really HEARING me in your HEART.

   Be pro-life, but PLEASE don't decry murdering babies. Be pro-choice, but PLEASE discuss abortion with the solemnity and respect it deserves as a decision to end a life.

   And PLEASE know there are people and families who hear your words - and while the ones who support you may high-five you, and make you feel self-righteous or justified - the ones you've hurt will quietly go to bed with tears in their eyes and an ache in their heart. Because they just spent Valentine's Day trying to console their son who desperately misses his baby sister. Because they are thankful their second daughter was born healthy and they weren't faced with making an awful decision for which they STILL don't know what they would have chosen. But perhaps most importantly, because they fear what is becoming of the world around them.

   PLEASE speak with love and a grateful heart. For all of our heartbreak in losing Hailey, if this blog post can give some real-life perspective and soften the words of even one person in the abortion debate (notice I didn't say change the opinion of - just SOFTEN the words of), I can draw a good deal of comfort in that.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

We Are ALL Entitled...

Entitled:/ adj. / Believing oneself to be inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment. 

I'm not quite sure when the idea of entitlement took center stage in today's society. So often, we hear of the younger generations feeling "entitled", or of men or white folk being such simply by virtue of being born. No matter the frame of reference, the connotation always seems to be negative.

For example, you may say something that someone disagrees with, and they may cooly reply to you, "Well, you are entitled to your opinion." You can tell what they think of you then!

The only thing I would say any of us are entitled to in this life isn't even life itself, because I would argue that my daughter deserved to live as much as anyone else does. In death, Hailey taught me that the only thing we are truly entitled to is not so much our opinions, but our feelings.

I deserve to feel how I feel, because my experiences are mine and they are authentic to me. Take grief, for example. We all have a different relationship with it, which is part of why it is hard to come up with the perfect thing to say or do to comfort someone who is struggling with loss.

The truth is, you cannot tell someone how to be or not to be because then you are taking from them the one thing they are entitled to: their feeling of grief. You can stand beside them, and hold them, and love them and encourage them, but do not deny them their authenticity.

By the same token, while you are entitled to your feelings, do not give them away. So much of what I hear on TV or see online is written in a "click-bait" fashion. People shouting headlines to scare you or enrage you, or make you shake your head in despair about what the world is coming to. If you react to such emotional baiting, you are giving yourself over to fear, anger and sadness. You are allowing the writers of those headlines to own those pieces of you.

So this holiday season, my hope for everyone is that you feel entitled to your emotions. I hope you share with all of us pieces of your love, joy and happiness. I hope you are cautious about letting others steal you into a frenzy of negative emotions. And if you are trying to process through grief and loss, I hope you are surrounded by people who love you enough to love you through it, and at your own pace.

With love and a grateful heart.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Breastfeeding while Broken

People talk a lot more openly these days about breastfeeding struggles, for which I am grateful. I have friends who couldn't breastfeed their babies because of medication they needed to be on. I have others who tried their best, but they couldn't produce enough or their work schedules got too hectic to keep up with pumping. Whether you feed your baby breastmilk or formula, from the breast or from the bottle, are deeply personal decisions and I have no politics in that game. What I would like to speak to is the struggle of breastfeeding while broken.

A few years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child (our son), I actually wondered if breastfeeding might "fix" me. You see, at thirteen years old, just as my body was blossoming into womanhood, I was molested by an older man. That experience damaged both my sexuality and my view of my own body. I looked at my chest as a source of unwanted attention and something that needed to be minimized or contained, in a sense. So when it came time to figure out how I was going to feed my baby, I thought the act of breastfeeding might help me "rebrand" (to use a term from my ad agency career days) how I related to that part of my body.

Unfortunately, trying to breastfeed was not the experience I'd been hoping for. My son was born via emergency c-section and had to go to the NICU. Perhaps this contributed to our troubles, but it took a case of mastitis weeks later for me to realize he wasn't properly latching when I nursed him. As a first-time Mom, I was exhausted and scared but my husband encouraged me not to give up. We decided that I'd try exclusively pumping, which offered the added benefit of allowing my husband to help with night feedings.

But the first time my husband tried to help me figure out getting hooked into the double-pump, hands-free nursing bra, I sobbed. I am sure all of the post-delivery hormones didn't help, but that moment made me feel so dehumanized, and shook the ghosts of my molestation so many years ago. This was not the healing journey I'd imagined. It was something that was being done to me. But I persevered while my husband tried his best to support me. I am grateful to him for nagging me as much as he did to visit with a lactation consultant because with the help of that wonderful woman, by the time he was three months old, I was finally able to latch and nurse my son at the breast! Yet, he weaned himself from me completely by the time he was nine months old, so our time together was perhaps brief.

When I was pregnant with Hailey, I wondered what our nursing journey would be like. I unpacked my multiple breast pumps in advance, preparing for the worst. Similar to my son (but for different reasons), Hailey too was whisked off to the NICU at birth. But, that didn't stand in our way this time. From the start, nursing Hailey was effortless, and my heart soared in appreciation for that gift from her. We went home, happy.

Then, as you all know by now, Hailey got sick. We ended up in the NICU. She grew too ill to nurse, and the breast pump re-entered my life. I didn't greet it as the enemy anymore, but appreciated that it had allowed me a bridge to feeding my son and could now hopefully do the same as I pumped and stored my breastmilk for when Hailey was well enough to drink it.

I think people maybe wonder what it is like to lose a child. The horror and pain of it, of how they could possibly survive. Many folks have told me they don't know how I do it, but they are part of the answer. All of you indulge my writing, which helps me heal. But I can tell you right now that perhaps the single hardest part of losing Hailey was trying to maintain my breastmilk in the hopes she would someday drink it. Just typing that now, two years later, makes my heart constrict with anguish and the tears are pouring down my face.

In the face of the deepest grief I have ever imagined, the only respite I found was when I'd manage to fall asleep. But I'd have to set an alarm, or kindly ask the nurses to wake me, every two to three hours to pump. Every two to three hours, around the clock, the horror of our situation would assault me all over again. It got to where I never wanted to go to sleep. I could manage to stay in the pain if I stayed awake. I'd go numb after a while. But sleeping and then waking up and having my soul crushed over and over again like some horrific groundhog day almost broke me completely.

I barely ate. My milk supply dwindled. On this mid-term election night, I am reminded of election night 2016 when I was so exhausted, I fell asleep with the pump running. I woke up hours later to my nipples torn to shreds, yet less than half a blood-tinged ounce of milk in each bottle. I forced myself to eat at least a bit more, even though I wanted to puke every time I smelled food. I forced myself to sleep a bit more, even though waking up was agony. To give up on my milk supply - to let it go completely - was to me, giving up hope that my daughter would live. I HAD to keep going, even though I think some of those closest to me worried about what my efforts were costing me in terms of my sanity.

In the final days of her life, Hailey actually made the strongest rebound to date and we thought we might be able to bring her home for Christmas. The doctors told me I could cautiously start putting her back to my breast. At first, only after I'd pumped all the milk out, so she could get back in the hang of suckling without the danger of choking. She did well, so then I actually got to full-on nurse her! Despite all she had been through, Hailey did great. I was SO proud of her, and so overjoyed. We had fought so hard to have that breastfeeding experience back, she and I, and perhaps in that sense - I'd finally received the healing I'd hoped for from that molestation incident all those years ago. Breastfeeding had become this special, life-sustaining, pre-eminent bonding experience. I cherished more than even before what my body could do for our children.

But sadly, that euphoria was short lived. In a matter of days, Hailey's lung collapsed because her heart was giving out. And then we lost her.

My husband couldn't handle making the funeral arrangements, so I did that. What I couldn't handle was making arrangements for the gallons upon gallons of breastmilk I'd pumped. I wanted someone to be able to use it, but I just couldn't emotionally face the fact that it would never go to Hailey. (I can tell you now that it did go to support two other babies - one who was adopted and the other whose Mom couldn't produce her own milk).

Almost 11 months after losing Hailey, our family was blessed with another daughter, who is also a nursing champ like her big sister. But we've not gone without our struggles either. We've faced frequent bouts of thrush over the past year, which stresses me out to no end and sends me into a sanitizing tizzy. We've made it though. And as we approach our second daughter's first birthday, I realize she has been weaning herself from breastmilk much the same way that my son did years ago. I guess once our kids get their hands on solid food, there is no turning back!

I wrote this post today because from time to time, people who know our story ask me for ideas on how to support other friends who are on their own NICU journey. There are a few books or gifts I can recommend (and really, who doesn't get sick of hospital food?!), but really, the number one thing I can say is to try and find a way to support that NICU Mama who is pumping. Who is trying to nurse. Who is trying to make milk to feed her baby when she can barely feed herself because her mind is fractured with anxiety and her heart may be breaking with grief.

Offer to serve as her alarm clock for pumping sessions. Text her to keep her company in the middle of the night. Help her to not feel so alone in those quiet and dark hours when the hospital is quiet but for the beeping of the monitors surrounding her child. If you can visit the hospital, offer to help clean her pump parts so she doesn't have to leave her baby's side. Or just because we all get tired of cleaning pump parts. (And oddly enough, hospitals don't seem to stock the materials for mamas to clean their pump parts, so you could bring a wash basin, soap, etc. with you!). And if that NICU Mama is barely holding onto her sanity as her world falls apart, give her the grace to know it is okay to do one thing to save herself. To stop pumping and to try to get some rest when she can.

Hell, do all these things for any new mama trying to feed her baby. But especially for NICU mamas. Be there then, and I promise you she will never forget it.

With love and a grateful heart.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Life Is...

What I have on my heart to talk about isn't anything y'all haven't heard before, but I think sometimes we can all benefit from a little reminder. A life well lived is one in which we all help each other. Because we only see of people what they allow us, and as the saying goes, many times folks are fighting a battle we know nothing about.

I think back to the one Christmas we had with Hailey. We found out on December 23 that we were going to lose her, and in an effort to clear our minds, we left the hospital and took our two year old son to the nearby mall to look at all of the holiday decorations and to ride the carousel. To outsiders looking in, we were just a happy young couple enjoying the season with our son. I remember thinking just that as we walked through the mall. That everyone around us had no idea we had just been handed the most horrific news of our lives.

I have another friend who has a hard time walking into the restaurant where her family gathered the morning she lost her mother. She can't help but stare at the table where they sat that day.

We all notice the person who is cranky in the grocery check-out line, and maybe sometimes we catch someone looking downbeat at the gas pump, but do we ever wonder why or do we just write them off as sour people? Do we offer them some grace? Look them in the eyes and offer a smile or a sympathetic word?

I heard Melissa McCarthy being interviewed on the radio this morning about a new movie she is in where she doesn't play a loud, comical, outgoing figure but rather a woman who more-so puts on a type of armor to face each day and keep people at bay. Melissa talks about puzzling out how to play a woman who lived much more on the interior, and I was touched to hear how she really started LOOKING at the people around her and truly wondering about what they were facing inside...the stuff she would have no way of knowing about from just looking at them. The stuff we all have.

We have no idea, when we start out each day, our capacity to positively impact someone else's day. A lot of times we never even find out when we have. I think that because I have grieved Hailey so publicly through this blog, I've had a unique opportunity to hear from folks we have touched or helped in some way, and I am always so incredibly thankful to the people who choose to share that with me.

Sometimes, I hear we have touched people in big ways. And other times, it is through something so small but perhaps timed so perfectly that it feels like serendipity. In these moments, I marvel at how something I might barely remember saying or doing really changed the course of someone's day or week or even year. And I think, there really must be a great Being out there who loves us all so much, to give us the capacity to connect and lift each other up in these ways.

Just yesterday, I got to experience a special moment in this regard. A friend of our family who still lives in Kansas is helping to collect blankets out there as part of my blanket drive for Hailey this year. Yesterday, she received a donation that was left on her porch with a note saying how thankful the person was to be able to participate in our drive because they'd recently lost their own child and the blanket the baby was wrapped in has come to have great meaning for them and to serve as a source of comfort. They were happy to do something positive to pay this forward, and I teared up when I noticed they lost their child on what would have been Hailey's second birthday. It reinforced for me how much we are all tied together in this fragile thing called life.

So stepping off my soapbox, I will say I GET it. I get busy in my own life, frustrated with my kids, stuck in my own problems or just in traffic...and I need to remember to slow down. To really LOOK at people instead of writing them off because I'm so busy with my own stuff. Because it is like another old saying goes, when people are looking their worst, that is when they need our best. And we are not human without connection.

With love and a grateful heart.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Competitive Complaining

I know that people are competitive by nature, but I never thought the temptations of one-up-man-ship would extend to the arenas of hardship and grief. Who would want to corner such a market?! And yet, all too often, we try.

Since letting Hailey go Home, I've met many new and wonderful people. Some are women who lost their child in utero. They often think their grief can't compare to mine, since I delivered and held my baby for four months before we lost her. I've also met and spoken with one woman who lost her otherwise healthy son in his early twenties due to a tragic accident. I thought then and still believe now that my grief is nothing compared to hers. More recently, on what would have been Hailey's second birthday, I met another woman who was choked up because that day was also the seven month anniversary of her mother passing. She - like I am - was best friends with her mother, and I cannot imagine the depth of grief she must feel, nor could she imagine mine. The sad fact of the matter is that grief does not tolerate comparison: it is hard on everyone and we all experience it differently.

The same goes for hardship: I see this a lot in the military community. It is a hard lifestyle and not for the faint of heart. It can easily build resentment, and this often manifests in little and big ways. We get competitive with each other about how bad our most recent relocation was: I had more items broken than you. Or, we arrived at our new duty station to discover the builder hadn't finished our new house. We establish a hierarchy of suffering: Oh - your family just finished your third deployment? We just finished our fifth. My husband didn't even meet our fourth child until she was five months old. Who really wants to win the gold medal in misery?! Why do we fight for this?

As women and mothers, we are also hard on not only ourselves but also each other. We are all just struggling to survive and raise healthy and sane little people, yet we judge each other. If something isn't hard for us or it isn't a particular bridge we've had to cross (yet), instead of granting Susie So-and-So a bit of grace, we judge. I don't see why Elizabeth hasn't potty-trained her youngest yet. A three year old in diapers - can you believe? Or, I can't believe Janie lets her son watch so much tv in the evenings. My Jack just loves sitting with his books and toy trains. 

To be clear, I am guilty in every one of these categories. But here's the thing: yesterday was Mental Health Awareness Day and that is what inspired this post. Ask yourself, does it matter if something isn't hard for you if it is hard for someone else? Does it make their suffering any less genuine? Your sympathy or empathy any less available? Because we were all born with different genetic code, and we were all raised by different parents. Maybe some of us lucked out and don't have to struggle with depression and/or anxiety. Maybe some of us hit the jackpot and had caregivers who equipped us with the best tools for tackling life's challenges. And maybe some of us lost both those lotteries.

If something is hard for someone else, respect that. It does NOT take away from your own narrative, whatever that may be. What is hard for you is hard for you, and what is hard for them is hard for them. No competition. We are all just trying to do our best to live and be happy, and I know that our sweet Hailey Grace wouldn't want me using her suffering as some way to score points in some grief battle that no one will ever "win".

So next time I see someone struggling, I'm going to try harder to judge a little bit less and help a little bit more. With love and a grateful heart.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Running from the Pain

I think it has been almost a year since I've posted here. It is hard to find the time when your husband is deployed, you have a toddler and then a newborn. Needless to say, a lot has happened - much of it good - and maybe I will catch up on blogging about all of it at some point. But for now, what's on my heart is the idea of learning to live with pain.

When Hailey passed away, everyone was so kind. It is hard to know what to say to a woman who is burying a child and I'm of the school of thought that there is no wrong thing to say. Just show up. That alone means the world, and even if you say something that might not help me, I know you offered it in the best spirit possible.

One such statement that I heard often and struggled with was when folks would acknowledge that the grief of losing Hailey would always be with me. They are absolutely correct, but at the time, my pain was so searing and I wanted to believe that I could survive losing my daughter. That I wasn't burying myself whole along with her. That life wouldn't always feel so overwhelming as it did then, and that with time, my little family could discover some new form of normal where we could still laugh and find happiness in our days.

I believe it is human nature to push away from pain and even simple discomfort, and I was standing face-to-face with a lifetime of it to come. Me. The gal who never even ran a full mile until I was well into high school because I didn't like the wall you have to push through to settle into a pace. I'd just give up and go do something else.

I've written here before about running and how it has become my special bonding time with Hailey, but the truth is, I didn't pick it up until my late twenties and to anyone who asked, I never would have claimed it as a hobby, nor would I have pretended any skill. It was just something I did because I enjoyed being outside more than in a gym, and it allowed me to eat and drink as I pleased without gaining weight. I had no aspirations of 5ks, marathons (half or otherwise) or even the simple act of timing myself.

But after Hailey passed away, running took on new meaning for me. When faced with living with a lifetime of soul-scorching grief, I decided to do something I don't know that I've ever really done before. Something to which I think much of our society has become so averse. I embraced the pain and the discomfort. I did that emotionally through writing this blog, and by never discounting Hailey's existence when I talked to folks in person. With running, I did so by pushing my boundaries. I made sure, with every run, that I pushed myself to exhaustion, whether it was by speed, distance or resistance. Every time it hurt and I wanted to quit, I thought of all Hailey endured to stay with us for as long as she did, and I pushed on. For the first time in my life, I didn't give up or back away because it was uncomfortable.

The other day, I was in the middle of one such run when I was reminded of something Tony, that guy who created and leads P90X, said during the Yoga workout. He is talking the audience through holding a difficult pose and he says something so simple and yet, I have since found it to be so profound. He says something along the lines of, "Settle in. You are going to be uncomfortable. Everyone in this studio (holding this pose) is uncomfortable. But that's okay."

It was overwhelming for me to think about living with my grief, and sometimes it still is. And you may be struggling with your own issues: challenges with your kids or an impending divorce or a tough job. But you don't have to run from it or so desperately search for a solution. It is okay to take a deep breath, grab on to the struggle and just settle in for a while. Know that it will be tough, and that it will hurt, but that it does you no good in the long run to push it away or try to solve it so quickly. Because you are strong enough to embrace your pain and at the least, just keep putting one foot in front of the other until one day, you look up and realize you've formed a new normal.

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.