Reality

A few weeks ago, as I drove Sebastian to a doctor’s appointment, he sat in the back happily singing his “ABCs” and “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”  Traffic was slow as we were following a school bus.  The bus came to stop in front of a neighborhood.  Half a dozen adults were standing on the corner as one little girl climbed the stairs. They shouted, waved and took photos. I glanced in the rear-view mirror at my little soon to be three-year-old. It struck me how soon we would be those parents standing on the corner as my little human headed to Kindergarten.  And then the tears came.  Not because I’m sad about my little boy growing up, but because we should have been standing at the corner for three years already.  Zoey would have been in 2nd grade.

We were on our way to an appointment with a developmental pediatrician.  Sebastian has some motor and speech delays.  Those delays along with some physical issues, led us to get him an evaluation. If you haven’t been to an appointment like this before, all I can describe it as is exhausting.  The mental load is overwhelming at times. I often leave feeling like the worst mother in the world.  We spent two hours trying to answer questions about his development.  Does he point to objects, how many words does he use, does he do xyz?  I don’t know. I defend my inconsistent knowledge of my own child by explaining that we also have a little boy 11 months younger running around and I often get the two confused. Or I’m too busy changing diapers or pulling kids off the stair railing to analyze which hand Sebastian uses more often.  At the end of the appointment, the pediatrician and developmental therapist review their evaluation and recommend further treatment.  They mentioned having genetic testing done.  And I cried again. At which point I felt the need to explain that our daughter died of Trisomy 18.  They reassured us that they aren’t looking for something so serious.  Which I know.  I KNOW he’s fine.  I know we’re doing this to make sure we aren’t missing anything.  But just hearing the words “genetic abnormality” will knock the air out of your lungs.  I can’t remove the memory of all those appointments we sat through while I was pregnant.  Where each one seemed to deliver another blow of bad news.  Where each moment stood still as we met with expert after expert laying out devastating scenarios.

I took Sebastian to daycare and he happily went about his day.

He has been in the habit of taking off his pajamas and diaper at night, though.  I snuck into his room after he’d fallen asleep to find him, once again, half naked. I rolled him to his back and put his diaper back on.  And then tried to pull pants over a sleeping toddler without waking him.  It was easy. He’s apparently a heavy sleeper once he’s out.  But, of course, a moment of panic snuck in. Was he breathing? I rested my hand on his chest and felt the rise and fall of his breath.  After his pants were back on, he rolled back to his side, stuck his thumb in his mouth and went back dreaming about whatever it is toddlers dream about.  I left his room and went across the hall to his brother’s.  Where I found another sleeping boy, his arms tucked behind his head, but one arm bare. He’d apparently also tried to remove his pajamas but gave up after freeing one arm.  After I put his arm back through the sleeve, he tucked his arm back behind his head and I had to stifle a chuckle.  There were my two precious boys, one undressed on the bottom, the other partially undressed on top. But as I turned the knob of his door to leave, the giggles turned to tears once again. I’m sure its perfectly normal for every parent to check if their child is breathing or not.  But is it normal to know the difference between a skin that is chilled to the touch because of air-conditioning and the cold that sets in after death? I knew Sebastian was fine as I tucked his legs back in to his pajamas.  He still moved with me, despite being asleep.  I changed Zoey’s clothes after she died.  And her body had begun to stiffen. I tried to hide my tears from Joe as I got into bed.  Because explaining that moment before bed just didn’t seem fair. I couldn’t though.  Reality is just too painful sometimes.  It isn’t fair to know what it feels like to hold your child after they pass away.  After they die.  But seven years ago, I did just that.  I often wonder what the boys notice—do they know I’m filled with anxiety and terror at the thought of them dying?  Do I hide it well enough that I’m a functional–and not completely insane parent?   Do I give them enough freedom to fall?  Do I over-correct and let them stray too far? I’ll be sending them off on a school bus alone soon enough. And then to college.  And out into this world that is often terrifying.  I would have moved heaven and earth if I thought I could have saved Zoey.  I want to protect my kids.  But I also want to prepare them for this world.  And not smother them in the process.  I don’t want fear to rule my parenting.  I stuff the anxiety away as often as possible and let my kids climb the stairs at the playground—hovering more closely than some parents would. If you see me at the bottom of the slide with a cushion, just nod your head and move along.

You’d think seven years in, I’d realize that grief has a way of showing up even when you think you’re doing fine.  Even in the years that you’re surrounded by the laughter of toddlers.  Even when you think enough time has gone by that it shouldn’t strike you down.  But this morning I still woke up up with a familiar pain in my chest. I’ve been short-tempered and sad.  I should know by now that anniversaries will be hard. While my day to day is filled with the joy of two little boys, the reality is my daughter still died. I know I’ll get through the day and tomorrow will be a little less hard.

We love you and miss you, Zoey Tamsyn.

Dad’s birthday

Yesterday was my dad’s birthday.  Special occasions like that are always tough—I often find myself thinking of him and missing him more than usual. I wonder how we would have celebrated. I wonder what kind of grandpa he’d be to my boys.  I like to picture him chasing them around the yard and playing with their cars. He’d take them for rides in whatever Mustang he had just rehabbed.  He’d point out every plane in the sky to them. And he’d love them fiercely, just like he loved my brother and I.

Losing my dad gave me a crash course in grief. It was more than 20 years ago now and I still grieve. While much has changed in those years, grief is an undercurrent. Its part of my soul now.  Its how I knew I’d survive the loss of my daughter, but would have to claw my way out of dark times.  Its why I chuckle when I hear anyone talk about the stages of grief like it’s a linear process to move through.  Those who have lost a loved one know this is ridiculous—sure the stages of grief are valid but grief certainly isn’t a straight line.  You can find yourself back in any of those stages years later.  I still feel his loss.  I still miss him. I still wish he was here.  As I get closer and closer to the age he was when he died, I’m acutely aware of how young he actually was when he died. And that makes me angry. And it scares the crap out of me.

This year, I decided to join Pedal the Cause and fundraise for cancer research in his memory.  I’m only doing an hour on the spin bike—maybe someday I’ll be able to sign up for the 100 mile bike, but now is not the time.  I still feel like it will be enough of a challenge since I haven’t been on a bike in a year!  If you’d like to support my efforts, cheer me on, or support research for people like my dad and my other friends that have been diagnosed with cancer this year, you can donate at https://www.mypedalthecause.org/riders_profile.jsp?MemberID=154257

In the meantime, hug your parents if you’re still lucky enough to have them.  And dad, I miss you. I love you and I hope you’re watching over my baby girl until we meet again–and I hope you and Zoey enjoyed your Tang sandwich.

Mother’s Day: It’s Complicated

Its been nearly seven years since Zoey was with us.  Seven years since I’ve held her, talked to her, felt her tiny body against my chest.  Things change in seven years.  Friendships, homes, jobs.  My world has stayed similar—same house, same job.  But people have come and gone from my life.  To some, Zoey was real. A few were at the hospital anxiously awaiting her birth.  Some came over to meet her, to hold her.  To others—my new friends—she’s just a story. The daughter I talk about, but they never knew.  A photo above my mantel.  A name tattooed on my wrist.  To the world outside my little bubble from seven years ago, I’m sure she’s hard to comprehend.  Sometimes I wonder what they think.  Do they wonder why I still grieve someone we knew for so little time?  Do they believe that I’m healed and whole now that we have these two beautiful boys?  Do they think Mother’s Day is only a celebration with my sons?

Because it’s not. It’s complicated as are most things.  Today I did soak in being a mom to my boys.  We snuck in extra cuddles on the couch and I just looked at their beautiful faces a little extra today.  I’m so grateful to be their mom.  But I miss Zoey.  She made me a mother and I treasure the one Mother’s Day that I spent cuddling her.

Mother’s Day is hard for a lot of people.  Moms like me who are missing their child.  Women who wish to be moms but can’t.  Women who feel like for whatever reason, that ship has sailed.  Moms who don’t have a relationship with their kids—and the kids who don’t have a relationship with their moms. Those who have lost their moms.  The list goes on.  And I can’t help but think of the boys’ birthmother—what is Mother’s Day like for her? I wonder if she has regrets.  I wonder if she’s found peace with her decision.

I’m blessed to have both my mom and my grandma with me.  They have paved the way for me—persevering through loss and struggle and loving deeply through it all. I’m eternally grateful for the path they’ve paved for me and for their unending love and support as I make my way through motherhood.

To all those who find this day complicated, I hope you were gentle with yourself today.  Sending my love to you.

Seven

Seven. Do you love Moana like your brothers do? Are you riding a bike down the street to see your friend?  Would we be going to your dance recital this weekend?  Or would you prefer soccer because you watch the games every Saturday morning with your dad instead of cartoons?  Would you still enjoy holding my hand?  Would you still snuggle next to me to read?  I imagine we’d have moved on from “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” by now.  Would it be too early to introduce you to Harry Potter?

Everyday I wonder what my daughter would be doing now.  But in the days leading up to her birthday, those thoughts overwhelm me.  Every moment I wonder just how different life would be if she was here. When I think about Zoey being alive, I don’t picture life with a child with Trisomy 18.  I picture her healthy and active.  I don’t imagine the hospital stays and constant appointments that I know would have been part of her life.

And I picture her as our only child.

I know that we would not have adopted two babies if Zoey were alive.  It’s part of the dance between grief and joy. My boys bring immeasurable joy to our lives and I don’t want to imagine life without them. But if I imagine life with Zoey, they aren’t there.

Today we celebrated Zoey’s 7th birthday by taking the boys to the Zoo and for ice cream. I hope she’s watching over us and celebrating with those surrounding her. There was a book I often read to Zoey and read to Sebastian tonight. It’s called Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You. On the final page of that book is my message to her on her 7th birthday and every day:

“You are my angel, my darling, my star…  And my love will find you wherever you are”

Happy birthday my beautiful Zoey. We love you.

Stopping by Zoey’s brick outside the zoo

A few other notes: I often start writing days before I post.  I’ll put thoughts down and then add, change, delete.  I think most people who enjoy writing do the same.  And that’s what I did with this post.  Then, two days ago I read a blog post from a friend.  She wrote about her daughter’s birthday which was April 29th. Many of her thoughts were very similar to mine—in fact I was worried that if I wrote more about Zoey’s birthday, she’d think I’d stolen her writing.  But it also reminded me why I often go to other moms who have lost children for support.  Even though our journeys are different, and we process our grief differently, many of our feelings mirror one another. There’s comfort in understanding that someone else has similar fears and anxiety. There’s comfort in knowing I’m not alone. I’d love for you to read her blog post. You can find the link below. And while you’re there, you can learn more about Genny, her daughter, June, and the June Jessee Memorial Foundation.

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about what’s going on in our lives.  I looked back and my last blog post was from Jordan’s adoption day more than a year ago.  Mostly I think I’ve stayed away because I’m just exhausted at the end of the day. These two little humans have boundless energy. I’m thankful for the bonus time I had with them last year.  But it also meant that I’ve focused nearly all my energy on them.  And that’s 100% where my energy belonged.  But now I need to spend a little time on me. I love these boys and have no regrets, but I also realize I will be a better mother to them if I spend some time handling the complicated emotions that come with parenting two living sons along with a daughter that died.  There has also been so much pain, suffering and conflict in the world, and much of it has left me struggling to process it all.  I need to spend a little time writing and a little time focusing on my health as well.  I’m slowing finding my way back to taking care of me. Finding time and balance is often a challenge. But long story short, I’d like to try blogging again and I hope I still have a useful message for someone out there!

Dear Jordan

Dear Jordan,

Today you legally joined our family and will now share our last name.  To us, this is a formality as you actually joined our family months ago.  You became our son the moment we heard the news that you were arriving.

I wrote to your brother before he arrived, but somehow you joined us before I had the chance to do the same for you.  I’m actually glad though.  This way, I get to tell you a little more about how you already fit into our family. There are a few things you should know about your adoption, the family you’re joining, your birth family, and about life.

First, we are amazed by you.  We did not plan for you.  We were not expecting to adopt again especially within a year of your brother!  We didn’t know we needed you.  But it is clear to us every time we look at your sweet face, that we did, in fact, need you in our lives.  I also want to be clear: unplanned does not mean unwanted.  You are the most amazing surprise. I have a feeling you will bring balance to our family.  You and your brother are going to have so much fun.  He has a big personality and is loving life and I hope you develop the same sense of wonder as he’s showing. You already love watching his antics so I have a feeling you two will share the same zest for fun and laughter.

We want you to be raised in a house full of love and full of laughter.   This isn’t always easy for us since your sister, Zoey, died.  Her loss is felt in our home every day.  She was a beautiful spirit and a beautiful soul and that’s what we want you to know about her.  She showed us what the love between a parent and child should be like.  And we hope we are better parents to you because of that love.  We can’t always control or plan the moments that grief catches us so you will see us crying or you’ll watch the pain cross our faces.  We want you to know that sadness is normal. It’s a part of our life and will be a part of yours at times as well,  but love is worth it. We know there will always be heartache, but that does not diminish the joy you have brought to us.  We’ve often said that grief and joy dance together.   We need both and you help fulfill that need.

We also know you have another family out in the world.  While you won’t be raised by your birth mother and birth father, we want you to know they love you too.  We saw it firsthand when we were in the hospital for your delivery and the days they spent with you following your birth.  We are obviously thrilled they chose us to raise you, but we also understand that you will have questions about why they chose adoption.  We will go into more detail as you get older and I know the answers won’t always be easy to share or easy to hear.  We don’t know everything, but we will share as honestly as possible what we do know.  But please always remember that love was the driving force. I don’t know what the future holds for your relationship with your birth parents or siblings, but we will guide you and help you the best way we can.

We also want you to know that we’ll do our best to help you learn about your culture and heritage.  It’s a new world for us, and I’m sure we will fail at times.  There are parts of who you are that we will never completely understand, but we will do our best to find mentors and guidance when needed.  We will try and we promise to change, learn and grow along with you.

Every adoption story is different. Every family must do what they think is best for them and their children.  Even your journey will vary from your brother’s. We will navigate it the best way we can. We will probably make mistakes along the way, but we want you to remember that we are doing the best we can. We know there will be room for improvement and if you feel we are failing in any way, we want you to be honest.  We will reach out for help, we will try something new.  We want you to feel safe and secure in your story, in our family, and in your place in the world.

We know that our job is to protect you, guide you, and most of all to love you.  We also know that we can’t protect you from everything.  The world you have entered is sometimes harsh.  It’s sometimes ugly and it’s sometimes really hard to take.  As we’ve learned, loving others inevitably leads to heartbreak.  We want you to know it is worth it.  We would do it all again for the moments we shared with your sister.  And we hope the fear of loss doesn’t keep you from loving deeply.  We want you to take any moment that’s difficult and use it to become resilient and empathetic.  And we will continue to believe that love wins. It’s stronger than hate, stronger than fear, stronger than grief.  It’s the most powerful thing we have.

Welcome to the family, Jordan.  We love you.

 

Death Book

Letter

Inside my grandmother’s house, you’ll find a black binder. If you thumb through the pages, you’ll see clippings from the local paper. Obituaries. It’s full of obituaries. I’ve taken to calling it the “death book.”   It’s mostly elderly relatives and friends that lived long, full lives.  But interspersed with obituaries of those like my great-grandmother who lived well into her 90’s, you’ll find some clippings that seem more tragic than others. My grandfather who was in his late 40s.  My father also in his late 40s. If you keep looking, as I did when it happened to be sitting out after she added a page for her friend who died recently, you’ll run across my cousin who was in his 20’s when he was murdered.  I hadn’t seen his obituary or the accompanying articles about his death in years.  It’s particularly striking when you read through and see the words “survived by his mother…” I kept thumbing through until I found Zoey’s page.  Her obituary and the program from her memorial service are preserved under a plastic sheet along with a handwritten note that I hadn’t seen before.

Dear LaVera,

We were so pleased to be able to meet your great-granddaughter, Zoey.  In trying to think of words of consolation for you, I realize that it was your dream of the three clouds that was the most comforting.  The third cloud with a butterfly flitting on Zoey, nestled in her great-great grandmother’s arms is exactly where we hope her to be—with her struggles behind her and looking forward to the day when she is reunited with all of her loving family.

All our love, Margie & Karl

If I heard the story about my grandmother dreaming about Zoey, I’d forgotten it in the haze of grief.  And maybe she never shared it with me.  But imagining my sweet girl cuddling with my great-grandmother, a woman I adored, is exactly what I needed.  Snuggled there on my great-grandma’s lap, she is happy—smiling as my great-grandma Ring tells her how we’d walk to the park and stop for a chocolate-dipped ice cream cone on the way home.

I’ve struggled since Zoey’s birthday. At times the sadness has been just under the surface. There have been other moments where I feel it has blindsided me.  Smacking me down on an otherwise ordinary day. Maybe it’s because I’m watching Sebastian meet milestones Zoey never was able to reach. Maybe it’s the stress of adding another baby to our family and having no control over the process.  Maybe it’s realizing this is the year I should be taking pictures of her on her first day of kindergarten, a little backpack over her shoulders and glittery sandals on her feet.  Maybe it’s all of that along with missing her for five full years now.  All I know is that my heart needed to be reminded that she’s waiting for me, but that she’s in good hands with all those who have loved me too.

My grandmother’s binder is full of reminders of death and tragedy.  But there, tucked alongside the stories of those we’ve lost, are reminders of all those we’ve loved.

‘Tis a Fearful Thing

Tis a fearful thing
to love what death can touch.
A fearful thing
to love, to hope, to dream, to be –
to be,
And oh, to lose.
A thing for fools, this,
And a holy thing, a holy thing
to love.
For your life has lived in me,
your laugh once lifted me,
your word was gift to me.
To remember this brings painful joy.
‘Tis a human thing, love,
a holy thing, to love
what death has touched.

Jehudah Halevi

Unexpected

Sebastian-zoeyIf you’d given me a sneak peek of this point in my life ten years ago, I would not have believed you.  I would have given you a shake of the head and said you had me confused with someone else.  I know plans tend to take at least a few unexpected turns, but somewhere along the way, I tossed my life plan completely out the window.

We spent May 1st at the Zoo celebrating the birthday of our daughter who should have been turning five.  Should have… but didn’t. Because she died. We’ve been to the Zoo on Zoey’s birthday many years since her death.  But that day, we also took our son.  The one we adopted after years of failed fertility treatments.  I suppose nobody imagines the pain of losing a child, the struggle to get pregnant and the twists the adoption process gives you, but there I was wearing my “Zoey’s Crew” t-shirt while holding the most adorable baby boy.

Joe and I talked about Zoey a lot that day.  We remembered how scared we were to go to the hospital not knowing if we’d even get to meet her alive.  We talked about the decision to have a c-section (well, in reality, it wasn’t a decision—there was no question in my mind). We talked about the joy she brought us.  And we talked about the heartbreak of losing her.  We talked about how complicated it is to miss her but be so overjoyed to have Sebastian.  It’s difficult to grasp that he wouldn’t be in our lives if she was alive.  He hasn’t erased the pain of losing Zoey, but he’s brought much-needed light and joy to our home.

The new life plan is messy and confusing. Broken but beautiful.   It makes “expect the unexpected” reality.   I would have never imagined the next step our little family is taking.  Growing again.  We have the exciting opportunity to adopt Sebastian’s sibling, due in September.  Less than a month before Sebastian’s first birthday.  I’m still trying to wrap my mind around having two kids so close together, but we feel this is part of the new plan.  Crazy.  Busy. Complicated.  Magical.

Sometimes the unexpected is more beautiful than you ever imagined.

120 Days

 

Our beautiful baby girl lived for 120 days.  She died just shy of her 4month birthday.

One hundred and twenty days ago we welcomed our sweet boy, Sebastian.  In a few days, he will turn four months.  And the day after that, he will “officially” be ours with the finalization of his adoption.

There are similarities between our time with Zoey and our time with Sebastian.  Long, sleepless nights.  Constant worry.  A million checks to see if that sweet, napping baby is breathing.  And all the sweet moments.  Covering them in kisses.  Looking into their beautiful eyes and telling them how endless our love is.

And though our love for both our children is the same, the passage of time feels very different.  We appreciate and soak in as much time with Sebastian as we can.  We savor his sweet little smiles and his attempts at laughing (currently more of a squawk).  But we knew Zoey would be leaving us.  We spent 120 days knowing each moment could be our last.

Sebastian has been a much-needed light in our lives.  We are ever grateful for this beautiful gift.  But just as time does not heal all wounds, neither does the arrival of our son.  We still ache for our girl.  We miss her every moment.  The dance between grief and joy continues on this Valentine’s Day.

We love you, Zoey.  And we love you, Sebastian.

Welcome, Sebastian!

 

AMP_4742

Our little family’s fairy tale has always been about love, about life, and about loss.  And the next chapter is now being written with the most amazing little human.  It’s quite the story to tell.  I can’t share all the details, but here are a few.

Joe and I were activated by the adoption agency in May.  We were prepared for a long wait and set a deadline of about one year.  If we weren’t matched in that time, we’d stop.  I needed that end date for my sanity.  I couldn’t imagine the anxiety of each passing day with no end in sight.  And let’s be honest—we aren’t getting any younger.

To our surprise, we received a call on June 7. A woman in Florida was pregnant and looking for a family to place her child with after his birth.  We learned she was in Melbourne—the same beachside town we traveled to shortly after learning Zoey’s diagnosis. 

There are a few times in my life when I’ve been left speechless by a phone call.  The day the agency called us to say the birth mother had chosen us was one of them.  What do you say when you’ve been told that a woman looked at your life and decided that she would trust you with the most amazing gift?

Shortly after the match, we began emailing with the birthmother. We learned that she loves to draw, would prefer to live in a climate with seasons and that she’s a sweet girl with a hard set of circumstances. We were matched with her pretty early in her pregnancy so we anxiously awaited each of her appointments to hear an update on this little boy.

A few weeks in, we heard some potentially scary information was revealed on the ultrasound. It was a difficult spot to be for us having been through Zoey’s diagnosis which unfolded in a similar way.  The ultrasound revealed one thing which led to another and another. Adding to the challenge was the inability to ask the direct questions. Thankfully as time went on, we heard the doctors were not really worried about the findings on the ultrasound.  The baby would have extra digits, but that’s pretty minor and apparently fairly common.  We wondered if this was just another reason he’d been matched with us.  I imagine another family may freak out about finding out about a birth defect.  But we’d seen Zoey with all of her “defects” and she was stunning.  Extra digits would just make this baby extra special!

The months passed and we thought the baby may come early so I decided to travel to Florida to wait for his birth. This also allowed me to spend time getting to know the birth mother better. I honestly can’t imagine walking into the hospital as she was delivering to meet her for the first time so I’m incredibly thankful for the time I spent with her beforehand.  The weeks I spent with her were valuable to me and our relationship. I hope she feels the same. It wasn’t always easy hearing her stories.  It’ a life I cannot fathom and the privilege of my own life was put on display. We enjoyed going to the zoo, walking the mall and eating out—we even made the trek to Disney Springs one afternoon.  I also had the chance to go to her doctor’s appointments and was able to hear the baby’s heartbeat.  Music to my ears!

Joe came to town a few weeks later and spent time with the birth mother as well. We all went to the zoo together and also met her mom. Joe and I even made a trip to Disney for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.  While there, we picked Mickey ears with his name embroidered—Sebastian was officially chosen.

On Thursday, October 18—oddly fitting since Zoey was born on a Thursday and also died on a Thursday—that the birthmother peeked her head out the door from her doctor’s appointment and said “are you ready to have a baby? We’re going to the hospital”.

At 10:22 pm, I watched this beautiful baby boy enter the world. He went to the nursery immediately for a bath and warming, but then he was placed in my arms for his first bottle.

We spent time with him and the birthmother in the hospital.  And on Saturday she signed the paperwork that legally placed this little boy into our family.  Welcome to the Waymire family Sebastian Thomas!

We stayed in Florida for two weeks to wait for legal clearance to travel.  On Halloween, we packed up our beautiful little bundle and took him on his first flight!  He was amazing—slept the entire flight!

We’re home now and gradually meeting family and friends.  Mainly, though, we’re snuggling and soaking in every moment with this amazing little boy—our son!  I honestly never thought this would happen.  And even in my sleep-deprived nights, I look at him and can’t believe he’s ours.

Words won’t do this adventure justice.  It really is something you have to experience to fully understand.  To have another woman choose you to raise, protect and love her child is remarkable.  We love our little fairy tale and are so glad Sebastian has joined us on our journey!

My letter to Sebastian can be found here:

https://stillstandingmag.com/2018/11/letter-to-my-new-son-via-adoption/

Photos by Amanda McMahon Photography: http://amandamcmahonblog.com/