An Unexpected Gift

I had to write this short post today, because I am just blown away by a beautiful gift we have just received.  I say a “short post” because I am one day away from my due date with our rainbow baby and so incredibly tired and a bit uncomfortable, but this truly made my week and I have to recognize this amazing person!

One thing I have learned from experiencing the grief of losing a child is that there are a lot of people who you barely know or who you’ve never even met who offer you strength, love, and the most generous acts of kindness. I could go on and on about how incredible many of our friends and family were during the most difficult times.  I can never thank them enough.  But what was most surprising to me was the help and support from people we barely knew or had never met.  We had people brand new to my husband’s squadron who brought us meals and were unafraid of our weary, blank looks, our tears, and our inability to make small talk at the time.  We received cards and gifts from near and far from friends of friends, church members from back home, or others who we had never met, but who wanted to comfort us in our time of need.

Okinawa will always hold a special place in my heart, since Luca was born there. Anyone who knows me or has read this blog or my Facebook posts knows that rainbows remind me of our angel the most.  Living in such a beautiful place was a gift from God where I could feel connected to my son as I witnessed some of the most gorgeous sunsets, scenery, and most of all the rainbows that appeared to me so often shortly after Luca’s death and on other special or difficult days like Christmas and my birthday.

Now we are happy living in Kansas, but I will always miss those things about Okinawa.  Recently, I saw photos that friends back in Okinawa posted or shared of a spectacular double rainbow.  One picture, in particular, was shared on many pages of the full arc of that double rainbow over the ocean in an area we frequented.  I tracked down the person who took the picture (never met her) and messaged her to see if I could buy a digital version of the image or order a print from her.  Her name is Jen. Most of my own rainbow pictures were taken on my phone and I thought this would be such a beautiful photo to hang in our new home to remind us of our Luca and Okinawa.  I didn’t mention Luca or exactly why I was interested in the photo, but nonetheless, Jen later messaged me back asking for my address and said she would like to send me a framed canvas version of the photo – no need to pay, just pay it forward to someone else.

Well, today I opened my door to find a package that I fully expected was one of the thousand things we ordered off of Amazon prime, haha!  Instead, it contained the canvass of the rainbow and it is absolutely stunning!  Again, I just cannot believe the kindness of this woman I have never met who gave us such a generous gift that has so much meaning to our family.  Take a look!

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(Excuse the wrinkled sheets and not quite fully decorated bedroom!)

I am so grateful for people like Jen who really prove to me over and over again that there is so much good in the world.  Do you know someone who is going through a difficult time and you are not sure if you should reach out, write them a note, bring them a gift or a meal, or carry out an act of kindness?  If you can, then you should.  I guarantee they will appreciate it and will take great comfort in your efforts and friendship.  I look forward to finding ways to pay this kind gesture forward to someone else soon.  During those most difficult times, actions always speak louder than words.  Thank you again, Jen!  You have a gift for photography and we will cherish this photo forever!  ❤

 

 

Luca’s Story – Part 8 – Labor of Love

I feel like I have been holding off on writing about Luca’s birthday, because I’m afraid of not writing it beautifully or perfectly enough.  It was the biggest day of my life, next to marrying my handsome husband, and I want to depict it well.  However, all I can do is be real.  Disclaimer: this post is about childbirth, so if that’s not your thing, don’t read on!  But, I must write about it, because this day was the most beautiful and special of days to me.  The entire experience with my husband and my beautiful boy will forever help to heal my heart.


 

In my last post, we had just found out that sweet Luca’s heart had stopped beating.  After the doctor gave my husband and I some time alone to process what we had just learned, she came back to discuss the next steps.  As I mentioned previously, most people don’t ever really think about the fact that even if your baby dies, you must still go through labor and delivery in the majority of cases. We had already discussed this scenario and decided that I wanted to be induced immediately, so that we could meet Luca as soon as possible and see him in his best condition.  The doctor told us she would notify the hospital staff.  In the meantime,  and we could go home and take our time to talk to our families and pack a bag, then come back to the hospital, so that’s what we did.

My husband drove us home.  We had arrived separately to the hospital for the appointment, but I was in no condition to drive myself at that point.  We called one of the military chaplains on the way home and he invited us to come to his office.  We stopped at the chapel on the way home to pray with the chaplain.  If I am being honest, I will say that at that moment, sitting with the chaplain and hearing his words did not comfort me.  I felt like none of his words were penetrating and nothing made sense.  We were trying to do the right thing… to pray for Luca and try to get through this and heal ourselves, but everything was just confusing and sad.  We got home and I sat on the couch while my husband called his boss.  We couldn’t call our families yet, because they were all sleeping with the time difference.  We went upstairs and began to pack a hospital bag.  How do you even pack a hospital bag when you know it will be the only time you’ll ever spend with your child?  I packed about 10 outfits because I had no idea what would fit him since I knew he would be so tiny. As we were getting things together, my nurse Katie, who had been helping us since we started going to the U.S. Naval Hospital, called us.  She told us that she thought the hospital staff coming on shift first thing the next morning would be a much better fit for our situation.  The midwife the next morning was one who I had requested, and Katie highly recommended that we wait until then in order to have the best experience.  I didn’t have to think twice to agree to her suggestion.  While I wanted to meet Luca as soon as possible, I wanted his day to be peaceful and perfect and I trusted Katie’s opinion more than anyone at that hospital.  It was vital for those surrounding us to be respectful and compassionate and Katie assured me that would be the case that next day.

We told our families that night and comforted each other as best as we could.  We notified our doula and photographer that we would need them the next day.  There really wasn’t much to say and I was too exhausted to talk to many people.  It was actually good that we stayed home that night because I fell right asleep and slept the whole night.  Katie told us that the hospital would be calling between 5-6 a.m. the next morning to confirm when we should come to the hospital.

The next morning, my husband handled all of the hospital coordination and we arrived to the hospital around 7:30 a.m.  I was completely overwhelmed walking into the building.  I remember a friend tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a hug as she spotted me in the entrance area and I know I must have looked like a deer in headlights… with my hospital bag and pillow under my arm getting ready to deliver a baby that I would never bring home.

At the same time, I was really excited.  I was so eager to see his sweet face and hold him and smell his sweet baby smell!  It was such a strange mix of emotions.  Looking back, I don’t think I cried as much that morning.  I think I had run out of tears.  My husband and I were both in “game time” mode and just ready to hear about the next steps.  After checking in, we were brought to our room, which was the same room Katie had told us she would try to secure for us – a nice big private room all the way at the end of the hall.  On the door hung the symbol of a leaf, signifying to all medical staff that we were experiencing a loss, so they could act accordingly.

As most parents know, labor is a lot of waiting around!  When we arrived, there was plenty of paperwork to do, and lots of discussion to be had.  After that, our midwife discussed induction options with us.  At 34 weeks pregnant, my body was not showing signs of being ready for labor, so induction was absolutely necessary.  Induction for the purpose of delivering a stillborn baby is completely different than an induction of a 40 weeks pregnant lady who just needs a little nudge in the right direction.  She told me I had two drug options: Cervidil and Cytotec.  Now, please note that I’m not a doctor or an expert, so I am simply describing all of this as I remember it and from my own perspective.  The two drugs had differences.  Cervidil was – generally speaking – a gentler approach.  The induction would take longer, but it was “less aggressive” and gentler on my body.  Cytotec would work more quickly and tended to be more aggressive (and therefore painful).  I had read and watched documentaries that talked about how terrible and even potentially dangerous Cytotec was (go ahead and google it), so I quickly chose option number one, Cervidil.  We told the midwife and she left to go secure that for me.  I didn’t think twice about it until she came back and told us that unfortunately, the hospital was OUT of Cervidil!!!!  You have got to be kidding me.  If you live on this island, then you understand how ridiculous and almost comical that is.  We have regular issues at the military commissaries (grocery stores) where they will be out of milk and yogurt for weeks.  I couldn’t believe it, but then again I could – typical Okinawa!  Because shipments from the U.S. are not frequent and take so long to get to Japan, she said she had no idea when the hospital would get more.  She offered to call nearby Japanese hospitals to try to get some, but warned us that the Japanese hospitals usually did not carry that particular drug.  I asked her to please call, but she came back with no luck.  My only option to meet my son any time soon was the Cytotec, so I nervously gave the go ahead to administer the induction.  I have to say that I truly appreciate how straightforward my midwife was.  She explained everything in detail and answered every question I had.  I never felt rushed or pressured to make a certain choice.  It was extremely overwhelming at times to make these decisions and a couple times I just asked her, “If you were me, what would you do?”  I appreciated her kindness and nonjudgemental feedback.

I believe they had to give me several times the amount they would have given a full term pregnant woman, because they really had to kickstart my body into labor.  When the medication was administered I wasn’t having any contractions.  By about 40 minutes later they picked up and quickly!  I went from zero to one thousand in less than an hour.  My midwife had warned me that it was not going to be pleasant.  She knew that before all of this I had wanted a completely natural birth.  She told me not to judge birth based on this birth, because the amount of medication I had to take would make it so much more intense and painful.  She wanted me to know that if I had another baby in the future, I could achieve my goals and not to be discouraged.  They were so right.  The contractions were so intense.  I wasn’t surprised so much by the pain of each individual contraction (hey, I knew labor wasn’t going to be a walk in the park), but I really had no gradual build in my labor.  It went from nothing to me being out of my mind so fast.  And, the worst part about it was that I had no break in contractions, they were one after the other.  I had no chance to relax and prepare for the next one, because it was already there.

I was induced at 11 a.m. and made a commitment to myself that I would try my hardest to stick to my goal of working through everything on my own.  I told the nurse not to even mention an epidural to me – that if I decided I wanted one, I would let her know.  I wasn’t ruling it out, I just wanted to make my own decisions.  She respected my wishes.  I worked through the contractions as best I could for about five hours.  My doula, Amanda, and my husband were wonderful, helping me into different positions, playing my hypnobirthing CD, rubbing my back.  Amanda was so great at reassuring me and helping my husband know how to best support me.  At one point, she suggested that he take me into the shower because the warm water would help me to feel better.  I had just blow dried (and straightened) my hair that morning (hey, I had lots of time waiting around!) and the whole time I was in the shower I was yelling “DON’T GET MY HAIR WET!”  Poor husband!  Haha.

After five hours, my midwife came back and asked if I wanted to know my progress.  You’re damn right I wanted to know my progress!  Unfortunately, I was only three centimeters dilated (and I had started at one). I felt so frustrated and defeated.  I could not stand the constant pain – my husband later told me that the screen monitoring my contractions was just basically a flat line way up high, showing that it was just contraction after contraction after contraction with no dip or break. I told the nurse to give me the epidural.  Now.  She went to go get the anesthesiologist, but came back and said he was “unavailable” dealing with an emergency in the ER (there is only one on shift at a time here).  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!  I told her she needed to (please) figure something else out, so she brought me morphine (or something similar).  The rules were much different for me because Luca was not alive – they did not have to worry about medication like that putting stress on the baby, so I was permitted to have pain killers.  I was also able to sneak a few snacks, since the likelihood of an emergency c-section was very low for me.  The morphine gave me almost instant relief.  I finally could take a breath and rest a moment.  It also made me pretty loopy!  When the anesthesiologist finally arrived, he was a serious dude and started giving me some spiel about how he was going to put a needle in my back and it would be painful, and I said something like “YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW PAIN!!!”  Men.  Didn’t even feel the needle.  Thanks, morphine!

The painkillers quickly wore off since that was supposed to be just enough to hold me over until the epidural.  The epidural gave me relief for a little while, then about 45 minutes later the pain started creeping back, particularly on my left side.  I just dealt with it for awhile, because I had no idea how epidurals were supposed to be anyway, but eventually I told the nurse that the epidural did not seem to be working.  She called the anesthesiologist and he said he could come try to adjust the epidural.  Before he arrived, my midwife let me know that she would have to check me again soon and if I had not made progress, we would have to talk about either breaking my water or administering Pitocin, another induction drug. The doctor walked in and had me turn on my side so he could try to fix the epidural.  It’s amazing how so many people get to see ALL PARTS of you when you’re in labor and you just don’t care!  At that very moment, my water broke.  Everywhere.  Like, we’re talking out of the movies, people.  I literally had no idea what was going on, but then my midwife happily exclaimed, “Your water broke!”  I was mortified that this young doctor man had witnessed what looked like a category 5 typhoon went through the room.  But, on the bright side, the Cytotec had worn off and my water breaking naturally meant that my body was taking over now.  I was getting closer to meeting my baby!

I definitely need to take a moment to talk about how amazing my husband was during my labor.  He took care of me all day catering to my every need – rubbing my back, holding my hand, massaging my feet and hands, reassuring me.  He put my socks on and took them off about 1,000 times.  Fed me ice chips.  He remained calm through everything and didn’t hold it against me when I got cranky.  He will always be the very best husband and daddy in my book and I can’t ever thank him enough. ❤

Whatever the anesthesiologist did seemed to help for a little bit, but then the epidural wore off again.  I guess it just wasn’t meant for me, because all the pain came back eventually.  After some more time passed and things were getting intense, the doctor suggested I turn onto my left side because the pain was more severe on that side.  Perhaps the epidural medication would go to that side if I moved that way.  My husband helped me slowly but surely roll over.  It felt like that took forever to move, because it was so painful to change positions.  As soon as I got onto my side, I could feel my baby drop immediately and there was a lot of pressure.  I just knew he was ready to arrive!  Of course I started freaking out, and my midwife calmly confirmed that I was ten centimeters dilated and ready to have my baby!

Maybe I’m the only one, but at that point when I realized I was about to give birth, I started to panic.  I just wasn’t sure I could do this!  I hadn’t done this before!  How would I know what to do?  I was feeling every contraction (thanks for nothing, epidural!), but to be honest, I am really glad that the epidural did not work out.  It wasn’t what I had wanted, and now, I was really able to feel the slow build of each contraction and work directly with my body, breathing through each contraction and making progress each time.  And because this was normal labor and not me on drugs anymore, there was a nice break between each contraction where I could collect myself and get ready for the next one.  It was like my body was telling me to just let it do what it was supposed to do.

Those last 30 minutes were really intense, but truly amazing and powerful.  I think having that experience really helped me to cope with our loss and bond with our baby.  After just two or three pushes, I heard my midwife say as he was being born, “Here he is! Grab your baby!” and I did!  I picked him right up and put him on my chest and it was pure love.

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Kristi James Photography


It is my hope that somehow my blog can reach others going through similar struggles.  I want them to know that they are not alone.  Stillbirth affects about 1% of all pregnancies and about 24,000 babies are stillborn in the U.S. each year.  That is 10 times as many babies who are lost each year to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), another terrible cause of infant death that is much more well known and widely discussed (cdc.gov).  Additionally, around 1 out of 2,500 babies are affected by Trisomy 18 (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov).  We can be glad about the fact that most pregnancies result in healthy babies, but let’s also not forget the thousands of families who quietly struggle through this type of loss on a daily basis.

I will pause for now, because I feel that I need a whole other post for the time that we spent with Luca.  It is my wish that by writing about his birthday, people will learn that while it was a very sad day, it was also incredibly joyous.  I love when I can share my birth story with others – to celebrate Luca, or to simply be a normal mom and compare the ups and downs of labor.  To be continued… ❤

 

 

 

 

Getting Away

Normally, I try to post weekly to this blog, but with being on vacation and gearing up for Thanksgiving, it’s been a busy week!  Since I do this blog mostly for myself, I’ve made it a rule that I will never rush through a post for the sake of getting it done.  I really want to take the time to organize my thoughts, so for that reason I’m sorry I missed posting last week!

Last week, my husband and I managed to get away and take a vacation to Kyoto in mainland Japan.  We haven’t had a real vacation in quite some time, especially just the two of us.  He did take me on a work related trip back in July, but since it was an evacuation for a huge typhoon, I am not counting that as a vacation!  Anyway, with everything that has happened this year, including funeral expenses for Luca and my husband starting a busy job, vacation just hasn’t been at the forefront of our minds, but I knew we really had to plan something for ourselves, so we succeeded in booking a last minute trip to Kyoto and I’m so glad we did!

To me, Kyoto is like the New England of Japan – so much history and beautiful fall weather and foliage.  We lucked out and I think we were there for the peak of the foliage.  I had seen pictures of Kyoto, but didn’t believe that it was actually going to be that beautiful.  I was wrong; it was even more gorgeous than I could have imagined!  We climbed Monkey Mountain, rode a rickshaw through Arashiyama’s bamboo forest, enjoyed a traditional kaiseki meal, participated in a traditional tea ceremony, and toured so many gorgeous temples and shrines.

While it was so nice to have a relaxing time with my husband, our vacation always highlighted that Luca wasn’t there with us.  I imagined carrying him around in the baby carrier everywhere we went as he happily took in the surroundings.  I thought about how our trip would be so different if he was here.  We would trade our late dinner dates for early nights in to tuck him into bed.  I would have had to bundle him up in warmer clothes, since it was much chillier in Kyoto.  Most of the time, I was able to smile when I thought of him, but sometimes the solemn silence and peacefulness of the temples we walked though and the surrounding natural beauty gave my emotions nowhere to hide.

On our last full day in Kyoto, we had a wonderful, friendly guide, Ayano-San.  She is a student at a Kyoto university and is part of the Good Samaritan Club, which is a group of students who volunteer their time as tour guides in order to practice their English.  All we had to do was pay for her meals and entrance fees to the various tourist spots.  It was Ayano’s first time being a tour guide by herself and she was amazing!  She asked me ahead of time if there was anything in particular that we wanted to see aside from the packed schedule she had suggested for us.  I had heard about certain temples that had special areas and rituals to honor babies and wanted to find these places.  I looked online, but couldn’t find much information, since everything was in Japanese.  I was hesitant to ask Ayano, since it was such a sad and sensitive subject and most Japanese people who hear about Luca do not want to talk about it, as I’m sure they have no idea what to say or how to react, not to mention with the language barrier it’s impossible for them to know what to say.  However, I took the chance and told Ayano I really wanted to find these places.  She was so mature for a 19-year old and worked so hard for us tracking down the answer to our one request.  She found two temples to take us to in order to learn about how Japanese people honor their babies that have died.

One place we went to was Sanjusangendo Temple.  This was a huge Buddhist temple, built in 1164, that is best known for the 1,001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy.  While Kannon is the Japanese name, Guanine is the Chinese name, which means “perceiving the cries of the world.”  This temple was absolutely incredible.  I wish I could have taken pictures of this amazing sight, but no photography was allowed.  (Google it!)  While I am not Buddhist, I am always so interested in learning about other religions, particularly in Japan since we live here.  And, I welcome anyone to pray for my baby or send him good thoughts. 🙂  One of the monks explained to us (with Ayano’s translation help) that the temple offered three wooden tablets (Ayano called them amulets) – a thin piece of wood with Japanese writing – one for adults, one for babies, and one for ancestors.  We selected the one for babies and the monk asked us to please write Luca’s name on it.  Then he had us carefully pronounce his name so he could rewrite it in Japanese, so that he would know how to pronounce it when he prayed.  The monks at that temple would keep this amulet to chant a sutra and pray for our Luca for one week, then after that week, it would be burned.

The other temple we went to was Tohfukuji Reigen-in Temple.  This temple practices Mizuko Kuyou, a Japanese Buddhist ceremony, which roughly translates to “water child memorial service.” This ceremony is a way for Buddhists to recognize children lost from miscarriages and stillbirths and honors Jizo, the god responsible for bringing babies to “the other world,” where the baby can then be reborn into the future.  In the past, mizuko (“water child”) were buried under the parents’ home, and are believed to go from the water of the womb back to their natural form upon death, and flow into the natural springs of the earth.

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Reigen-in Temple, Kyoto

We were permitted to enter a special area of the temple where parents displayed small statues of Jizo in honor of the children they had lost.  (This is similar to what we saw.)  The tiny statues all had red bibs and other personal adornments like tiny hats and other little items that each family had left in memory of their baby.  The bib and adornments are set out to thank Jizo for saving the baby from an illness, or to ask him to protect that baby.  It was incredibly emotional for both me and my husband to see all of these little memorials to so many babies that had been lost who were just like Luca.  Luca’s room is our special place to remember him and I felt like the parents who had placed those statues there were proudly telling us about their babies, just as I do when I show someone Luca’s room or tell his story.  Everything was placed with such care and I could tell that each little decoration had such special meaning to the family that had put them there.  It was truly an honor to spend time in this temple and learn how many Japanese people honor their babies. It was sad, but comforting to know that we were not alone in both our sorrow and our wishes to remember our child.

With the holidays quickly approaching, I worry about how we will handle them without Luca.  Already, the stores are getting more crowded and crazy and I have to admit it can give me a lot of anxiety.  When I attend events with a lot of strangers or run to grab groceries when the commissary is packed with people, I tend to get pretty anxious, sometimes to the point where I feel like I need to get away immediately. For some reason it just stresses me to be around so many people who don’t know about Luca.  They are going about their day, toting their kids around, happily running their errands, or getting irritated with life’s smallest annoyances, while I am carrying this enormous sadness that they do not know about, or that can’t be talked about.

After visiting all of these temples and shrines, I read about some of the Buddhist teachings, like this story here.  As this story teaches, I must remember that even though many times I feel like I am the only one who can understand such suffering, that is not the case.  So many others have experienced terrible losses in their life.  Like all of the parents who placed Jizo in that temple for their own babies.  And probably many of the people who I walk by at the grocery store or post office every day.  I’m trying to remind myself, lately, that I can help myself through those anxious moments by reminding myself of these things… and also by telling people I encounter about Luca, which makes me the happiest.


When I was on my way to teach this week, I encountered this beautiful butterfly!  I really do see butterflies EVERYWHERE I go – this is proof!   And they always remind of my angel.  This one hung around for awhile and let me get very close to him.  I didn’t notice until after, but his right wing looked different than his left wing.  This actually had special meaning to me, because my sweet little Luca’s right arm was different than his left. Because of his diagnosis, the radial bone in his right arm never grew properly.  It is difficult for me to talk about, but at the same time this little butterfly reminded me of those tiny little arms and sweet little fingers and toes. How I wish I could kiss them again!

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I had another happy moment this week when my cousin, Kristin, surprised me with a message that she and her two sweet little boys visited Luca’s grave.  This made me so happy!  It really warms my heart to know when Luca receives visitors, especially when it’s his two little buddies, Bodi and Bryson.  I bet Luca was smiling down on them!

I am so thankful for our family and friends who can visit his gravesite while we live so far away.  This year has really highlighted how far away we are from family and some days that can be really difficult for that reason.  To our family and friends in the U.S. – we miss you so much and wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!  And to our friends who are like family here in Okinawa, we are so grateful to have you in our lives and look forward to spending the holidays with you Okinawa-style. ❤

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Okinawa “fall” weather