One Year With Our Rainbow

Today marks one year with our rainbow baby.  Our son, Hunter Emmanuel, is ONE year old today!  I am sitting in a nice, quiet house as I write this, while my husband and mother-in-law are at the park with my son, reflecting on what a beautiful year it has been.  Like most moms, today is an emotional day.  My baby boy is not a tiny baby anymore.  He is entering into the toddler phase and growing more independent with each day.  I think about this past year and how different it was than the year before it.

If you’ve read my blog previously or know me, then you know that we lost our first child, our son Luca Gabriel, in 2015.  And while my grief has lessened, I will always have a pain in my heart – a heartbreak that can never fully be repaired.  Many months of unbearable sorrow after Luca’s death were eventually followed by an anxiety filled second pregnancy with Hunter.  When I got pregnant for the second time, I knew I was as ready as I ever could be, but it was an emotional rollercoaster and I was a mess half the time, worried that all my hopes and dreams would once again be shattered.  I will never forget hearing Hunter’s first cry the day he was born.  He emerged and screamed and the doctor said, “He’s a big boy!” That sound filled the room and brought me so much relief – a stark contrast to the deafening silence when Luca was born still – all two pounds nine ounces of him.  And here was my newest sweet little boy, all eight pounds twelve ounces of him, breathing and crying and looking into our eyes, his warm little body right up next to my skin allowing me to feel every breath he took.  The hospital staff asked us if we wanted to get home as soon as possible or have a longer hospital stay.  I told them I wanted to stay as long as insurance would possibly cover, since I felt safer being around nurses and doctors who could look in on my baby and make sure he was doing okay.

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Looking back on this year, I feel SO grateful.  So incredibly grateful to have experienced this joy – a level of joy that I never would have fully felt if I had not had to say goodbye to Luca.  I think about all of the cuddles… holding my precious Hunter in my arms so many times to nurse him, comfort him, or just simply stare at this perfect being while he slept so peacefully.  Watching his chest rise up and down as he took each breath, many times while I cried silently feeling like my heart could just burst from the love I felt, thanking God over and over for this beautiful gift and praying to keep my baby safe from harm.

I am so fortunate to be able to stay home with Hunter each day.  While this was a big change for me, since I’ve always worked, I cannot imagine having it any other way.  Quite honestly, it’s very difficult for me to leave Hunter with anyone.  Particularly in the beginning, I just could not bear to not be watching over him every second.  There is no one else who could possibly do everything as carefully as I would!  I am sure that some moms may judge me – I hold him all the time and never let him cry.  He slept next to me for months while my husband was deployed, because that was the only way I could ever feel safe, knowing that I would hear every breath he took… if there was an emergency, he would be right there.  If he flinched or made a strange noise, I would immediately wake up.  We even bought an Owlet monitor for him to wear on his tiny feet to ensure that he had a healthy heart rate and oxygen while he slept.  My husband would have bought anything to try to ease my worry.  I knew he had his own worries too.  He stayed in our room until recently, because we just needed to have him near to us.  These were the best choices for us given the journey we are on.

In the beginning, I also felt sad and guilty.  That I was able to take Hunter home and not Luca.  What would Luca think?  Would he feel sad that we now had Hunter?  How would I ever have enough love for both of my children?  Was it okay to feel this happy?  Was it okay to also feel very sad?  Hunter is very much his own person.  I did not have him to replace Luca or to fix my broken heart.  But being able to parent Hunter has helped me to heal.  I can channel the love and yearning I had to give Luca a wonderful life into nurturing Hunter each day.  When I look at their pictures, I can notice some similar features.  Seeing Hunter each day reminds me of Luca in a happy way.  I can imagine what it might have been like.  I think about how much fun they would be having at this age together and it makes me happy to think about what that would be like.

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Luca gave us the gift of appreciating each and every moment with Hunter.  Every second, every minute, and every hour of each day.  When I put him down for a nap or bed, I hug him and kiss him and talk to him like it could be my last chance.  To most, perhaps this is a morbid or scary thought, but I have learned that life is precious and also fragile.

With each day, it gets easier and I am less anxious.  Hunter is so happy and good natured.  He is independent, but loves coming back to mama for a quick snuggle here and there while he plays.  He also has a great sense of humor and loves to make us laugh!  I love watching him grow.  I cherish each milestone and special moment… skin to skin in his first minutes of life, first smiles and laughs, tummy time, rolling over, learning to crawl, making all kind of sounds and now a few words… his sheer joy every time he sees our kitty, Momo, when he wakes up in the morning, his giant grin when Daddy gets home from work, petting my face as I cuddle and nurse him, giggles when he does something silly, clapping and waving and dancing, his love of food and the fun that is meal time… the list goes on!  I do not ever want to miss a thing.

Sometimes I feel guilty for not making time to blog more, since that is one way I honor Luca.  It is hard to find time for anything these days!  My life revolves around naps and mealtimes.  Dishes and laundry pile up more often than not.  However, I feel as though I can also honor Luca by trying to be the best mom I can be to Hunter.  Unnecessary tasks can wait a little, so I can enjoy these days that go by way too fast.  Happy birthday to my precious boy, Hunter!  I love you to the moon and back! ❤

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!  ❤

 

 

34 Weeks

It’s been a looooong time since I’ve last blogged and I’m not proud of it.  Actually, many times I feel guilty for not keeping up with this, because it is a way that I honor my son.  And sometimes that makes me feel like a bad mom.  However, the emotions of this second pregnancy have been overwhelming, and I just haven’t been able to sit down and put my thoughts in order as I would want to.  Not to mention, we moved from one side of the world to the other (while 30 weeks pregnant with a very unhappy cat), and had to get set up from scratch at our new place and figure out things like driving on the right side of the road again and other reverse cultural shocks.

Lately though, I have really felt the overwhelming need to write.  There are and were a lot of moments during this pregnancy that have been especially hard to get through and this 34th week is one of them.  Luca’s heart stopped beating and I delivered him at 34 weeks, so that has been on my mind so much lately.  It’s strange and difficult to experience huge amount of sadness for Luca, excitement for this new baby boy, and tremendous anxiety and fear for the health of this baby all at the same time.  Truly it can be exhausting.

For awhile I postponed a lot of things that I needed to do to get ready for baby like working on the nursery, thinking about clothing, carseats, etc., because I was afraid that if I made those preparations something would surely go wrong and then I would have a carseat in the car and a room decorated, but with no baby.  I’ve finally started to be able to move past some of those fears and have been able to find joy and excitement in getting ready for baby.  I still have those fears, but I am able to focus more on the excitement thankfully.  It certainly helps that I can feel baby move every day, which calms me and assures me that he is well.

Here are pictures of his nursery, which my husband and I just finished painting (I drew and he painted) – alpine themed! 🙂  Now, just waiting for all of our furniture and household goods to arrive from Japan, so we can complete it!

During the earlier months, I was sometimes overcome with anxiety to the point of feeling ill over whether or not baby was okay.  During those months, I went to the hospital at least three times for fear that something was wrong and I had lost this little boy too.  Many of those instances were around the times in my last pregnancy when bad news was delivered.  I was so lucky to have an amazing care team in Japan and a compassionate and understanding hospital who encouraged me to come in any time that I was fearful.  Whether it was those hospital visits or my regular checkups, each time they put the monitor, doppler, or ultrasound on me I felt as though I would throw up in those seconds that I had to wait to hear a heartbeat or see his little face and know he was okay.

Today, at 34 weeks plus six days, we had an ultrasound.  My doctor suggested it both to ease my mind and because he is my new doctor here and wanted to see things for himself.  The ultrasound technician acknowledged our first baby and mentioned Trisomy 18 and said she was sorry to hear of our loss.  I told her some of the markers that Luca had had that led to his Trisomy 18 diagnosis.  She went to each tiny body part of our new baby boy and showed me clearly and carefully that everything was okay.  I started out the exam with the usual tightness in my chest and higher than normal blood pressure – it was this appointment in my pregnancy with Luca that I heard the words, “I’m sorry.  There is no heartbeat.” I couldn’t help but remember that.  My anxiety dissipated with each exclamation of health that she made.  She understood our fears and did as much as she could to calm them – for that I am so thankful.  I am also so thankful that my new doctor has an ultra calm demeanor (he has delivered babies for over 32 years!), which is exactly what I need for this upcoming birth.

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Our handsome little munchkin!

Now that the craziness of moving has settled, I can reflect on how things are in our new home.  Moving to Kansas has been bittersweet.  On the one hand, it’s been refreshing to have a new start in a new beautiful home, and most of all be so much closer to family and our friends in the U.S.  On the other hand, Okinawa was such a special place for us… Luca was born there and the beauty of the island – the sound of the ocean, the many rainbows and gorgeous scenery that appeared –  truly helped to heal many of my wounds and provided peace in my heart.  We left behind an amazing community – a military family of the most wonderful friends who supported us like I could have never imagined.  They let us talk about our son without it being awkward and we all were there for each other, both to celebrate the happiest of times as well as life’s sorrows.  Being on the other side of the planet now, I miss them so much!!!!

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While I love to get out and meet new people, it has been both difficult and awkward with our circumstances.  One of the biggest daily challenges an angel mom or dad has, which I know I’ve mentioned before, is when someone asks, “How many kids do you have?” or “Is this your first?”  I, like others, struggle with how to answer this question every day and my answer depends on how I feel at that moment.  And usually, no matter what, I feel badly about however I end up answering.  If I am out and it’s a completely random person that I won’t see again, I usually just say, “Yes, it’s my first.” to avoid the awkwardness, but mostly because I don’t want to get into it with someone I’ll never see again.  However, I always walk away from that feeling guilty and sad that I did not mention one of my children.  In the other scenario, I meet a lot of people that I will see again or might see again and usually I choose to say, “No, this is my second.”  Sometimes, it’s easy and they don’t ask anything further and it can be nice, normal light conversation.  But, the natural next question is, “How old is your first?”  Then, I say, “He actually passed away last year.”  That person I’m talking to then feels terrible and goes quiet and I then feel terrible for making them feel bad or awkward.  But, to me it’s still worth it to tell the truth.  I always tell them that it’s okay and not to feel bad, which is kind of weird to console someone else about the death of your own child, but I want people to know that he is part of our family and like any angel mom, I like to talk about him, so that is why I answer truthfully.  I also really don’t want to deal with someone talking to me like I haven’t been through birth before.  The best case scenario is when someone asks those questions and is not awkward or quiet.  Instead, they say they are so sorry and/or ask more about Luca.  While I can understand why people would hesitate to ask questions, I am always willing to answer those questions.  To take a step out of your comfort zone to ask someone about their child in Heaven is a gift to any bereaved parent.  It truly makes my day to be able to talk about Luca even if it’s just one sentence.

Last week, I tried out a yoga class at my new gym.  It was titled, “Gentle Yoga,” which it was, but I still had difficulties doing about 80% of the moves maneuvering my legs and arms around my giant watermelon sized belly… it was comical.  It felt good to stretch and at least I did something!  As we neared the end of the class, the teacher changed the music as we be began our shivasanas.  Yoga has been an emotional, but healing part of my grief journey, and as soon as I laid down to meditate and bring an end to my yoga practice, I instantly recognized the song by Israel Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole… “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  I was thankful that everyone else in the room had their eyes closed as I lay there in silence with tears rolling down my cheeks thinking of Luca.

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yoga is difficult when you look like this!

While starting over here in Kansas has been a good thing, it’s also sad to feel that something is missing.  In Okinawa, I kept Luca’s room as a special place devoted to him, and at the moment we are living in an empty house waiting for our things to arrive from Japan.  In Okinawa, I felt so many connections to the beauty of the island that made me feel so much closer and connected to my angel.  My friends and family know that rainbows have always been a sign for me that Luca is right here with me.  I knew it would be different here in Kansas.  And it is.  It is a new place that has a different sort of beauty.  The skies and fields are so vast and the sunsets are beautiful.  I think of Luca when I look at all of the gorgeous clouds in the sky or am just enjoying the beautiful fall weather.  A few weeks ago, we were on our way to pick up my family.  I had been feeling sad that day, just missing my boy and wishing he was with us to greet my family at the airport.  As we approached the airport, a tiny little baby rainbow appeared in the clouds!  The first one I had seen in Kansas!  My heart swelled with joy as I thought of my little angel here with us as we picked up my family.  Turns out they saw it from the plane too and had the same feelings.

God truly knows what we need and when we need it and for that we are truly blessed.  As I pass this 34 week milestone with baby boy, I am trying to keep that in mind.  While I cannot control the outcome of this pregnancy, I know that He will be walking this journey with me and will provide the strength and comfort that I need to carry this baby as long as I can, and bring him into this world into our loving arms. ❤