To read the story of our precious Harlynn Renae, start here and follow the "next" links at the end of each post. Thank you for coming and sharing with us in this journey.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Due Date

Today started as a cloudy, rainy morning outside. I think, of course, it's fitting and symbolic. Today was Harlynn's due date. Today I would be 40 weeks. Today....two weeks ago today, we buried our beautiful baby girl. It was cloudy and rainy outside, and within the very depths of my heartbroken soul.  Yet the sun is breaking through the clouds to remind me it's still there and to remind me of the bright spots that will always remain in my heart, even when the clouds consume me.

Yesterday I was very emotional, simply in anxiety about today. Today was a day I looked forward to from the moment I saw that little pink plus sign on the pregnancy test in August. A day I knew would fill this home with joy, and forever change how we lived as a little family. Today I would hear the little cries of my baby girl, my Harlynn.  Yesterday, as these thoughts filled my mind, I thought of the injustice of how all of that hope and excitement has turned to dread and despair. I gave birth to death. That has indeed changed our little family. Instead of the cries of our baby girl, I hear my own sobs and shed my own tears. I watch for the tears from Brent's eyes. I explain to Haley why Harlynn is in Heaven and we must always remember her. Remembering her is all we have.

Before 10 am yesterday, I had been through the coffee shop drive thru, been to the cemetery to eat breakfast at my daughter's side, and hit the garage. It was a busy morning. (I clipped the frame with the side view mirror...I will now be pulling in to the garage forward instead of trying to be cool like my husband and backing in...) I tried to stay busy throughout the day. Yard work. Laundry. Errands. Shopping. Cleaning.  When I came home from an unsuccessful, frustrating two hour shopping trip, there was a box by my door.

In this box were three books I ordered. One is a devotional book for toddler girls. I had been looking for something I could read with Haley that was written specifically to get her toddler mind gears turning in relation to what Jesus is all about. We'll see if my ambitions prove fruitful. The second book was the Children's version of Heaven is For Real. I wanted her to know about where Harlynn is. Heck, I wanted to know about where Harlynn is. Therefore, the third book was the adult copy. Heaven is For Real.  Thank you

I sat down on the sofa and started reading. I started reading and didn't stop (save for eating dinner, answering a phone call, and having to explain to Brent why I was crying so hard) until the book was finished. 163 pages - I read cover to cover, prologue, epilogue, about, etc. - every single word, sometimes going back and re-reading to make sure I just read what I thought I had. I cannot tell you the transformation in my heart upon finishing this book.

I am a Christian. That (hopefully) is no secret. I believe God is good, God is love, and God sent his son, Jesus, to die a horrific, cruel death on the cross to save and atone each of us for our sins that we have and will commit. I believe in hell, and I believe in heaven. I've read all the passages. I know all the hymns - How Beautiful Heaven Must Be, I've Got A Mansion, When We All Get to Heaven - I grew up singing these songs. I can't explain what I'm trying to say - but basically what it boils down to is this: I believe in all of these things, but I never stopped and thought long enough about them to believe them.  Yeah, yeah, streets of gold, blah blah, pearly gates, sure thing, being with Jesus.....Val. VAL. Face-palm, Valerie, stop and think about what you're saying. Stop and think about what you claim you know. Stop and think about Heaven.

I read this book and cried through a lot of it, but two points really hit me. Not hit me like a "duh, you idiot"... Hit me with a wave of peace. Thank you, God, for this very sentimental, very tangible answer to my pleading prayers. Thank you.

According to Colton, the little boy who spent time in Heaven during his do-or-die surgery, Jesus wears purple. Jesus is the only one in Heaven who wears purple. Also, Jesus is the first person everyone sees.

Harlynn never saw or realized color while she was in my womb. While she was rolling, kicking, and practicing karate in my belly - she never saw any rainbow of color. She never realized what color was. But according to Colton's account of what Heaven is, upon her entrance in to Heaven, the first color she saw worn by the very one who embraced her and held her close - was purple.

The second "punch of peace" I'll call it, was when Colton met his sister he never knew his parents miscarried. His sister knew who he was. She recognized him, she embraced him, she loved him. Dear God, I want so badly to believe Harlynn knows who we are. That she longs to be with us as much as we long to be with her. That she loves us. That she knows how very loved she is by us.

Did I totally fall apart and bawl? Yes. Were they tears of sorrow? Somewhat, yes. But mostly, they were tears of release - of comfort - of a sense of closure. An answer. A tangible hope.  Is it real? I don't know. The Bible doesn't give me chapter and verse of Harlynn's entrance in to Heaven. I do know that Jesus is real. I do know that Heaven is real. And I'm willing to bet Colton didn't make any of this up.

Today is still going to be hard. I'm still going to think about the what-ifs, the why's, the many unanswered questions. I'm still going to miss Harlynn. I'm still going to wish she was here, with me. With us. But I feel a sense of peace I haven't been able to feel since learning her heart was still three weeks ago. I feel like...dare I say...I feel like Harlynn has given me more than just a longing to be in Heaven to be with her, but a solidifying hope and purpose for really believing in everything Heaven is. In everything my life on earth means. In everything my God did for me so I could end up there, with Him. With her.

I feel like I finally get it. I've been a Christian for umpteen years, and I finally get it. Heaven is for real, which means Jesus is for real, which means He died to save me, which means with Him for me, who can be against me? Which means...I am loved. I am cherished. I am not suffering through this alone, or in vain. He is in my corner, and the very cracks in my shattered heart now seep hope right alongside the hurt.

There is a purpose I cannot put in to words. There is a hope I cannot explain. There is a peace that I know only within me. Harlynn, sweetie, I know you're okay. Eventually, Mommy will be too.

Next: Our Stillborn Storm
Prev: The Cemetery

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Cemetery

When we had Haley two months premature, she stayed in the NICU for 30 days. I drove to the NICU in the morning for feedings, vital checks, snuggles - and I was there almost all day. Every day. For 30 days.  I remember thinking Why me? (I wrote a recollection about one night in particular here.)  I was exhausted, I was longing to just have my baby at home, and I thought it was so unfair that all these other parents got to leave the hospital with their babies, and here I was having to come visit mine every day in the NICU.

I need you to understand typing the last sentence of the previous paragraph was very hard for me. Given the alternative, given where I have to go to visit Harlynn, I realize I didn't have it so bad three years ago.

To visit Harlynn, I have to drive to the cemetery. A trip I tried to make a few times, but was unsuccessful because of the flood preparation.  A trip that finds me not in the midst of isolettes or nurses, not among machines monitoring the life and breath of babies, but among stone markers. Among silence. Friday, yesterday, I finally made it. All the way to her grave site.

Her grave site.  The words alone sting.

When I pulled up, the first thing that struck me was the pile of dirt. "Dirt" is such a dry, empty word. At least it is for me now. It's still so fresh, losing her. Symbolically, the freshness of the entire ordeal was captured in the fact that her grave is still dirt - not grass, not stone, but raw ground.  I got out of the car and walked over, forcing each step, because my knees didn't want to bend. I saw her name and picture on the marker the funeral home provided. I choked out a "Hi, Sweetie" before the tears clouded my eyes.  I didn't have time to break down, though, because a minivan pulled up and parked in front of my car.

A mom got out from the driver's seat while her husband and son stayed inside. She was there to visit another son, I found out. He was still underneath snow, so she couldn't do what she had wanted at his grave. She crouched down next to me and said, "Hi." All I could say was, "It sucks that any parent would have to come here." She nodded. She told me her son, two sites away from Harlynn, had a brain tumor and passed away during surgery when he was 13 days old. My throat caught a knot. She looked at Harlynn's marker and asked, "Was she stillborn?" I nodded. "April 10th, that wasn't very long ago." I nodded again. She patted my knee and said, "I'll let you visit." She walked back to her van and they drove away.

I can't tell you the tangle of emotions I was feeling. Here I finally made it, after days of trying, to visit my daughter. Someone else came to visit their son, and couldn't because he was still under too much snow. While my heart ached for her - and every parent that has to endure this - I wanted time with my baby.  Harlynn was under a pile of dirt. I wished she were still on the riser from the funeral. I wished I could see her casket.  I fought the urge to start digging. I fought the urge to just lie across it and weep. I fought the urge to stand up and there in the middle of the cemetery just scream, "WHY?!" I sat down, thankful for the dry grass next to her, put my hand on the dirt, and cried.

When I could pull myself together, I took out the first little children's Bible Haley had when she was just a baby. I opened it up and told Harlynn I was going to read it to her. As I started reading, I realized she probably had already met the very people I was reading to her about. She probably already knew these stories, and in more detail than this little children's Bible shared. I turned to the story of Jesus' birth, and caught my breath in my throat. Do you see the color that adorns the angel's wings? I know it's just a children's Bible, with someone hired to produce the illustrations, but I found such comfort and reprieve in seeing it - purple.

When I finished reading, I told Harlynn about the beautiful day and how I would have walked her around our neighborhood in the stroller. How neighbors would have come out to meet her, and offer their congratulations on such a beautiful little girl. How her sister would have wanted to help push the stroller. I told her as much as I could about Haley, and what a good big sister she is. I sat there for an hour.  I confessed to her I didn't know how to do this - I wasn't sure what to do at a cemetery visit. I told her I hoped she could have a window down from Heaven once in a while to see how much her mommy, daddy, and sister love her. I begged God to let her know who we were, to let her hold us all close in her heavenly heart and to recognize us before we're ever able to see her again.  I stood up to leave, but found my legs once again unable to move. They felt so very heavy as I walked back to the car. I didn't want to leave her. Not again. Not ever.

I got in the car and turned to stare back at the dirt. I talked to her some more. I shed a few more tears. After a long while, I finally found the strength to turn the key and drive away.  As I headed out, I saw wild turkeys walking around. It was comforting and bizarre at the same time.

I was relieved I was finally able to spend time there. Relieved, and completely and totally drained. I had to lie down for a nap after I got home, because I didn't have a single ounce of strength left within me.

I went back this morning to see her again. Yesterday after leaving, I wished I had taken some of the dirt with me. It might seem weird - well, it does seem weird - but I wanted to keep some. This morning I drove back to spend some time with her, and gather some dirt. When I got to her site, I saw deer tracks next to where I parked. I noticed her casket spray had been nibbled on as well. Sure enough, there were deer tracks across her site.  Apparently she had a few animal visitors prior to my arrival.

I put some dirt in a jar, and filled a baggie with some as well. I told her my plans as I was filling the containers. The dirt in the baggie we'll use with the potting soil when we decide what to plant in her honor. The dirt in the jar will share that space with one of the roses from a bouquet from her funeral that I'm drying now. I know it seems strange, but if I had to "commit her to the ground", I wanted a piece of it. I wanted the ground to share.

I brushed some muck off her marker and kissed her little picture. I told her how much I loved her, and that it was another beautiful day. I told her what we would be doing today, and how we all wished she could be with us. As I was talking, I was gobbles. I smiled and shook my head. I told her the turkeys apparently had more important things to talk about than Mommy did.

I sat in the car for a long while again before I could leave. I blew her a kiss and drove away.

Thank you, Lord, for the smiles. Thank you for the sunshine. Thank you for showing me that you're holding both my daughter and me at the same time...that you've been holding us both through all of this. Thank you for my precious Harlynn.

Next: The Due Date
Prev: Purple

Thursday, April 25, 2013


He said it all and more to the point than I could. Go see for yourself here. This is what we deal with, what we try to process, every minute of every day.

I do have reminders. Constant reminders. The bruise on my arm from when they drew blood is fading, but still present. The pain and discomfort from recovering from a fast and furious delivery is very evident, daily. Trying to keep my shirts dry from lactating. Producing food for a baby I should be feeding, but who isn't here.  My belly. The very belly that I felt her moving in constantly, to the point where I nicknamed her "Jackie Chan", is hollow. It's still big, but it's empty. My ring-less finger. I couldn't wear a ring in the end of pregnancy because my fingers were too big. When I finally could get it on, after wearing it for just a few days, the stone snapped off my band. I just want to wear my wedding ring. I want the world to know, to see by my hand, I have a man who has stood beside me in the darkest days of our lives, and whose strength, faith, and poise are more important to me than they were nearly ten years ago when we walked down the aisle together.

Oddly as it may seem, I crave these physical reminders. I would carry this bruise to eternity if I could. These physical aches and abnormalities are all I have to hold on to. I proudly carry the scar from Haley's cesarean birth, and I would proudly carry each of these physical reminders of Harlynn's. Your life was not in vain, baby girl. Mommy will fight tooth and nail to make sure you are remembered and treasured for always.

Despite these physical reminders, the biggest reminder of all is the quiet. There is no baby crying in my house. Daddy isn't making remarks about a smelly diaper.  Haley isn't yelling at her little sister to stay away from her toys. We're not being woken up at night by infant squeals. Quiet.

In that quiet, we wonder. What would Harlynn have liked? Would she have slept a lot? Would she be fussy? Would she grow up to love dolls, or toy cars? Teddy bears or dinosaurs? What would her giggle sound like? Would her hair be curly like Mommy's, or straight like big sister Haley's? Would she sing? Draw? Love to read? Would she fawn over her Daddy like Haley does? Would they fight each other for attention from him? Would she let me teach her how to knit? Would she drive her big sister nuts, or melt her heart? Was she a snuggler, or because she moved so frequently, would she just want freedom to flail around?

We will always wonder. We will always grieve for the things we'll never know. We will always question each stage, each anniversary of her birth, each anniversary of her due date, each milestone we live without her.

I haven't been able to get to Harlynn's grave site yet because of the flood preparation. I did get close, when I drove the van around the barricades and into the cemetery, but because of all the sandbags and equipment tearing up the roads, I couldn't get there. I nearly got stuck, and had to turn around and sneak out again. I just want to read to her. I want to sing her a lullaby. I know I can do it anywhere, at any time, but I feel like I need to be there. With her body. Away from the quiet of home. Away from people. Away from "normal" life going on around us.

I was going through pictures and videos on my phone last night.  I found the picture I took of the dress we had Harlynn buried in.  It was the dress my parents brought me home from the hospital in, 32 years ago.  I couldn't think of anything else that would make me seem all that closer to her as she rested in such finality. My parents got to bring me home in that dress, and though we would have given anything for the same outcome, it seems fitting that she say goodbye to her earthly home while wearing it.

I also came across a video I took of Jackie Chan Harlynn making my belly move in all sorts of ways. She was a little spitfire. I watched it and wondered how she could be so healthy and active one day, and inexplicably have her heart stop beating the next. I swear I felt her kick me several times first thing that fateful Tuesday morning. I even commented to Brent as he and Haley were getting ready to leave for the day, "She's going crazy."  Then the contractions took over, and I couldn't feel anything aside from them the rest of the day. I had no idea. We had no expectation. Like Brent said, this was never an option.

This Tuesday was a hard day. Tuesdays will probably always be hard. I had to stay up until 12:16 again Wednesday morning, though I was so very tired. Wednesday was even harder than Tuesday. It snowed again - it has snowed every Wednesday since she was born. This was probably the last snow we'll get for a while, but it was, in it's own weird way, comforting. I was glad for it. As blessed as the day was, it was still a rough one. My daughter would have been two weeks old. Every day I think of the would-have-beens. The should-bes.

I decided to cash in a gift card and get a pedicure yesterday. I had my toenails painted purple. For Harlynn. I'm not sure what it was that prompted me to have purple be Harlynn's color. I've never really been a fan of it, but for some reason I just knew that in order to honor her, we had to use purple. There was no question yesterday as to which color I would choose for my toes. Purple. As the woman painted my toenails, I thought of my sideways pinky toe, and how Harlynn shared the same feature. It seems so insignificant - a polish color - but my heart filled with love and remembrance as I saw my quirky toe being painted purple.

There is a verse I have always loved, and used as my "life verse" for so many years. Colossians 3:2, "Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things." I find my mind is fixed on heaven. I dream of it, I long for it, I try to picture and imagine all it is and will be. I especially want to know what Harlynn is doing, who she has met, how she adores Jesus. In that, I've found that as each day goes on, it gets a little easier to draw nearer to God. I take one little step closer, I trust Him a little more, and I open my ears to hear what He has to share.

Lord, tell me, does Heaven have purple?

Next: The Cemetery
Prev: Pieces

Monday, April 22, 2013


My heart is in pieces. It broke the moment I found out Harlynn's heart stopped beating, and though I try to repair it, put it back together, it slips...and each piece shatters again. Even in the peaceful moments, even in the gracious smiles, the aches pulsate through the holes. The hurt finds its way through the unguarded cracks.

As we drove Haley to a play date yesterday, so she could catch a break from her parents and her own toys, she asked me, "Mommy? Is your heart broken?"  Yes, sweetie. It is. It's broken for me, and the child I will never hold. It's broken for your daddy, who lost one of his daddy's girls. It's broken for you, because you are such an amazing big sister, and you can't even experience it for your three year old self to understand. It's broken for you that you have to see your Mommy so sad. I'm so sorry, sweet girl.

Yesterday was a hard day. I can't articulate all of why, though I know the reasons. Yes I shared smiles. I even laughed a few times. It's a difficult balance, and one I'm sure I'll never maintain - if people see me smiling and laughing, they'll assume I'm doing better. They'll assume I'm moving on. It will confuse them if they see me smiling and laughing, and then they see me shedding tears, or crumpling into an emotional heap. "She was fine yesterday...?"

Will people be annoyed when I talk about Harlynn months from now? Will they tire of me missing my child?

Frankly, I don't care. I can't care. Everyone has hurts, everyone has struggles, and each one is so personal. So individualistic. Even for those who have walked the road of losing a child, each story and each situation is so different from anyone else's. I can't understand anyone else's pain or agony simply because we have this tragedy in common. I can only understand that their pain and agony exist, and rightly so. I pray people understand that in my case. In our case. My broken heart, and all of its pieces, are real. It will never fix completely, it will never be whole until I meet the One who gave it to me in the beginning. There will always be pain that seeps between each piece, even in the midst of joy.

Yesterday I felt very vulnerable. Very fragile. I wanted so badly to go to church and sing songs and just pour my heart into worship. Instead, the physical pain kept me sitting down. The emotional pain kept me in tears. And the spiritual pain kept me distanced. I'm jealous, folks. I'm jealous He has my baby girl, my Harlynn, and I don't. He welcomed her into His loving arms, and I held her lifeless body. I want so badly to draw near to Him and find His comfort, but I'm so hesitant to seek Him.

Don't set her down to carry me, Lord. I'm not mad at you, but I am. Don't make me seek you, because I don't have the strength to go looking. Just show up. Just. Something.

This morning after everyone left the house, I went and took the pictures the nurse took of Harlynn out of the little bag they were in. It was so hard for me to look at them after coming home. They're not edited. They're very real, almost gruesome, shots of Harlynn and her lifelessness. When a baby is stillborn, their skin is paper thin and it wears away during delivery and afterwards.  Their lips are red or purple, almost like they're wearing lipstick. It's not easy for just anyone to see. Today, though, I wanted to see the pictures. I wanted to look past the worn skin, and see how beautiful she was. See how real she was. Remind myself how perfectly pouty her little lips were. See that she had my toes - the funky little pinky toe that lays sideways instead of straight. It was much cuter on her feet than on mine. I wanted to see all of her.  I found myself "awww" ing over her little features.  I'm so glad I have those pictures, hard as they may be to see sometimes.

I knew today in general would be a challenge. Brent went back to work today, Haley is at daycare, and I am at home. I have lots of plans to keep myself busy today. Some of them even involve a little bit of pampering.  Before I ran my errands or indulged in spa treatments, I had one stop I was going to make. The most important stop of my day.

I got in the car and headed to the cemetery. I couldn't stand that it has been nearly a week since we laid her to rest there, and I haven't been back. I wanted to go today. I wanted to sit with her, and be as much of her Mommy as I could.  I was headed south when I saw the blockades.

No, no, no...Please don't have it closed off....

I turned the car around and took a different route, further south, directly to the entrance of the cemetery. Road closed. The city is doing preparation for the flood we're expecting, and had the street blocked off so they could dike. The flood. The natural occurrence that makes everyone sick of living here once a year. The swearword flood.

I parked the car in front of a house and watched them work a while. I could see the gate to the cemetery directly in front of me, open, yet I couldn't get in. I considered walking. They were all in hardhats and vests - would they yell at me for infringing on their work space? If I walked in, how far would I have to walk to find her grave? Would I be able to find it?  Would they chase after me if I ran past them? Could they make me leave?  I didn't have the strength to find the answers.

I called the cemetery, hoping they would tell me there was a back entrance I had somehow never known about. There wasn't one. "Maybe try to come back tomorrow...."  I hung up. I fell apart. It's one thing not to be able to hold my baby. Not to be able to have her with me. Now, I can't even sit at her grave site. I can't be with her period.

I was experiencing two simultaneous meltdowns. One of sitting in my car, crying, and just repeating, "Lord please, Lord please, Lord please...." over and over again. I don't know what I was asking for. I may never know. But they were the only words I could muster. The other meltdown was taking place in my head; it was the meltdown I wanted to have, complete with a few choice swear words. Hitting something. I heard myself speaking, "Lord please...." and continued with that meltdown instead. Crying behind the steering wheel, watching the city workers who had no idea a grieving mother was mere feet from them, longing to be even as close as they were to my child.

Reluctantly, I turned the car around and drove away. "Mommy tried, Harlynn. I'm so sorry. Mommy tried." 

I ran my errands. I came home. I sat down to type.

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. ~ Isaiah 41:10

May it be so, God. Please.

Next: Purple
Prev: My Sunshine

Saturday, April 20, 2013

My Sunshine

" comfort all who mourn, 
and provide for those who grieve in Zion -
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair." ~ Isaiah 61:3

Even in these darkest of days, we have had rays of light. We've experienced moments of beauty and hope. We have seen joy and comfort as we've walked through this long tunnel we found ourselves journeying through beginning just a couple of weeks ago.

There have been many things that have struck me in these last few days, that of course I never entertained the thought of before. I'm living moment to moment, and have realized that this is not a loss that will follow me simply from one moment to the next, but I will carry the heartache of losing Harlynn for the rest of my life - however many years that turns out to be. Years. When Haley graduates high school, goes to college, gets married....Harlynn won't be there. This is an enduring loss. I cannot wrap my mind around it.

It's been said (to us) that it will get "better" with time. I've decided I hate hearing that. I believe there will be days it won't be as hard as others. Days where I'll be able to revel in the sunshine. Days that it will be easier to smile and where praise will roll off my tongue rather than sputter. I do not believe it will ever be "better" not to have Harlynn with us. I don't believe it will ever be "better" knowing her big sister Haley doesn't get to share in sisterly bonds and giggles. There will be days that are better than others, no doubt, but I cannot accept that this will ever be "better".

Yet in the depths of our grief and the intensity of our heartache, we have seen and experienced bright spots. We've shared laughter. We've shared gratitude. We've shared love.  I hope over time, I have the memory, energy, and chance to share all the unique stories of the special "earth angels" God has placed in our lives to help us through this. Most of them are too humble to realize how special they indeed are. Today, I want to share the story of Michelle with you. (And I hope she's okay with that...)

Michelle is the friend of a friend of a friend. True story. This is how the 6-degrees-of-separation finds real life application. She was connected with my friend, who asked her to take pictures of Harlynn for us. Harlynn had her pictures taken and was already at the funeral home by that time, but my heart had been burdened by who would take pictures at the funeral. Being as though our time with Harlynn was too short, I wanted every available opportunity to forever capture the two days - two short days - we would honor her before her burial.  Michelle agreed without hesitation to take care of photography for us. She may never understand the impact she had on my entire family simply for being available.

I can't speak enough good of Michelle. Upon meeting her, I just knew she was as genuine as a person could be. Even in such an emotional setting, I could tell along with being compassionate and gentle, she was a fun-loving. She's the kind of person when you meet them you think, "I want to have coffee with her. At least every other Saturday."  She took amazing pictures of the visitation and the funeral, some of which I'll try to post here in a minute. I told Brent she was a photographing ninja - we had no idea she was anywhere, and when you look at the pictures she seemed to be absolutely everywhere. Ninja.

The reason it was so important to have pictures taken didn't really make sense to me until I saw them. I knew I wanted memories captured on film, yes, but when I saw the pictures Michelle took, I realized why.  These were more than just snapshots. These were moments frozen in time. I look at them and I can see and know and experience exactly what I was feeling, what I was thinking, what was happening in that one moment. When you have to say goodbye to your precious child, having time stand still means more than you can imagine. As painful as the days were for us, and as hard an event it was (and still is) for our little family, having these frozen moments is such a blessing. I wish I could explain the conundrum of having such a painful event captured on film and finding myself thinking, "this one is one of my favorites" but you have to believe in the existence of a balance between the two extremes. Just look...and see if you can see what I mean.

Even when I don't know what to say (now, for instance) I hope you're able to see what I mean. These pictures are a treasure, and ones we wouldn't have were it not for Michelle. She preserved the un-preservable for us. She is a gem of a human being. She has walked this road with us in a most powerful and irreplaceable way. She was the one who was meant to take pictures for us, I have no doubt. She was the friend of a friend of a friend. Now, she is simply a friend. I love her not only for what she did for our family, but for who she is as a person, and I have told her as much. I only hope she realizes it's true.

I don't have an awesome camera, I only have a decrepit android phone with a finger-smudged camera lens, but I'll be sharing a couple of snapshots from today. Today has been another ray of light for our family. Firstly, the sun shone. Most of you are thinking, "Of course it did, it's April 20th..." Here in the North Pole, though, we're having the longest winter of anyone's life. There is still snow on the ground. There is still snow in the forecast for the coming week. We all want to shoot Punxsutawney Phil. The sun shone very brightly today and we - I - needed it's light.

Haley and I had a mother/daughter breakfast date this morning. I took her to Perkins where we shared some scrambled eggs, she enjoyed her pancakes, and I had some tasty french toast. I was told to got to have a conversation with her fork, who happened to be wearing a pancake hat. He told me, in his deep fork voice, that he was feeding Haley and wanted to poke my lips. I declined his gesture. Haley made me laugh. Real belly laughs. She has always been a gem, of course, but I so needed her sweet, innocent spirit to spend some one-on-one time with me today. After breakfast, we went home and she immediately put on her new bathing suit. And cowgirl boots. Her daddy and I love her so much. We thank God for her. She has been a ray of light every day, and today especially.

When I was pregnant with Haley, I always sang "You Are My Sunshine", and that is still my song for her today. Dear, sweet Haley:

You are my sunshine ~ my only sunshine
You make me happy ~ when skies are gray
You'll never know, dear ~ how much I love you
So please don't take my sunshine away.

This road is a long one. It hasn't been easy, and it won't be. There will never be anything that can be done to repair the wounds of Brent's and my and Haley's hearts as we try to figure out what life without Harlynn looks like, when we so looked forward to life with her. But praise be to God who has given us these treasures - these people - these moments - filled with His light, and shining glimmers of hope into our aching souls. He will comfort us, He will carry us, and He will bring us in to His light every time we choose to see it.

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Prev: The Longest Road

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Longest Road

Yesterday was a day no parent should have to experience. No friend or family member should have to be called on for support. Yesterday, we laid our precious Harlynn Renae to rest.

It has been one week. One week since I went in to labor and delivered a beautiful baby girl, who was never able to take her first breath outside my womb. Never able to feel my kiss upon her forehead. Feel her daddy's whiskers upon her cheek. Our baby girl who would never hear her sister's sweet, high voice, telling her how cute she is. One week. That my baby would die before ever physically feeling our touch, before ever hearing our voices, before ever being comforted in our arms - I can't wrap my mind around it. I can't help but feel she died so alone. So coldly. Please, dear God, please somehow let me know she knew and felt every ounce of love we had for her. That we always will have for her.

As Brent and I went to bed last night, I felt like I should stay awake until 12:16, the time I delivered her. I don't know why. I don't know what comfort that brought, if any. It's one more thing for me to hold on to I suppose. One tangible thing I can control since Harlynn is no longer tangible to me. The box of mementos we brought home from the hospital sits undisturbed on our entry table. It's full of tangible reminders and I can't bring myself to lift the lid. The booties I finished knitting for her mere hours before going in to labor. Her footprint. The swaddling blanket we took to the hospital, and they wrapped her in for pictures. I came home with a box....instead of my baby.

Sunday evening, as a wicked winter storm swept our area, we had Harlynn's visitation. Despite the weather, we had droves of people show up in support. Brent and I were moved by all of the hugs, tears, and prayers that were shared with us. I lost it a few times. What mother wouldn't? Every person who came and showed us love was so special. Some made me cry harder than others. Some made me laugh. The fact that they braved the weather meant even more. Each individual was proof that God puts people in your lives for a reason. Even if it's just a hug, it's a divine reason. We needed that night. When the evening was over, we drove home, having had to cancel Monday's funeral and reschedule for Tuesday due to the weather. Only in North Dakota...

It was a decision I didn't want to have to make, but it turned out to be a blessing. Monday was a break. A day I could just be with my thoughts and emotions, raw as they were. As much as I didn't want to have to reschedule Harlynn's service, I was so thankful for one more day I didn't have to bury her. One more day she wouldn't seem so permanently gone. One more day. I needed my space. I needed to not be smothered by the affection of others. I needed a break. I don't think our uncharacteristic weather was an accident. I spent the afternoon and evening in fits of tears. I soaked Brent's shoulders with sobs and relied on him to hold me up as I collapsed in my emotions. I held him close and prayed I wouldn't become more of a burden on him. My wonderful, amazing husband. I can't imagine having anyone else alongside me, alongside Haley, as we go through this journey.

Yesterday, our worst experience of losing Harlynn came full circle. We were gathering to mourn her loss, and commit her to the ground. I can't even type the words without feeling the weight of my grief resting in the knot in my throat. When we walked in to the church and I once again saw her tiny casket at the front, my heart just sunk. Sweet baby girl, how I longed to have you in a bassinet. How I longed to have you wake me up every two hours in the middle of the night. How I longed to be covered with your drool, and even your messy diapers. But instead I had to choose a permanent resting place for you. I'll never be woken up by your cries. I'll never be rushing to wash your clothes due to a blow-out. I'll never be able to hold you, save for one last time as we carry your casket to the cemetery. I bent over and kissed her casket. I told her I loved her. I sat down in the front pew and just stared at the tiny pink box that would forever hold my Harlynn.

The order of events is somewhat a blur. I know there were lots of people there in support of Brent, Haley, and me. I couldn't bring myself to look at any of them as we walked into the sanctuary. My legs were moving to the front of the church, but I felt like jello. This whole experience, I've felt like I've just been running under water. I can't move, let alone in any particular direction, and everything is moving so fast around me. This has been the longest road I've ever been called to walk. We made it to the front and I sat down, mere feet from my baby girl. I kept hearing Haley's words from earlier ringing in my ears, "Mommy, just open it! I want to open it to see Harlynn." I had to fight the urge to just grab the casket and run. Anywhere. This can't be happening. I can't be saying good bye.

Before long it was over. It was time to place Harlynn's casket in the hearse. Brent and I stood and I heard him take a deep breath before he bent over to pick his daughter up. I placed my hands on the casket as he wrapped his arms around it. We turned to walk outside. He stopped walking and his knees buckled as he let out a heart-wrenching wail. Every ounce of agony we've felt over the last week was expressed in that brief moment as he stood there, holding that tiny pink casket. He caught his breath. We slowly walked to the hearse and placed her inside. I bent over and kissed her again.

Once back inside the church, people had begun lining up to hug us. I wish I could remember everything people said, but the truth is I don't remember most of it. I remember pieces. I remember seeing my doctor and weeping once again on her shoulder. I remember seeing my 35 under 35 classmates, one after the other, filtering through the line to support me as I cried into their arms. I remember seeing people of immeasurable strength and faith shedding tears right along with us. I remember seeing complete strangers. Then I remember it being time to go to the cemetery.

"Commit her to the ground" I believe were the pastor's words. They stung so harshly. This was it. My daughter was going to be buried. Underground. The ceremony was brief, as we stood on the snow-covered ground. Just after the pastor finished speaking, the sun broke through the clouds and shone on us all. I remember thinking, "She finally gets to see it." I stood there for a long while, just staring. I didn't want to leave. If I left, it was all over. Over. I bent over and placed my hand on her casket and lost control. I wept into my scarf as I wished I were holding her hand instead of the pink fabric lid. I tried to catch my breath, but I couldn't. I sobbed. I felt Brent's hand on my back, and it was comforting to feel something. Anything. I stood, kissed the casket one last time, told Harlynn I loved her, and eventually told Brent I was ready to go. As he took one step sideways, I squeezed his hand. I lied. I wasn't ready. I didn't want to leave her. Ever. I would have stood out there for hours. Days. I wanted to crawl into the ground with her. Don't make me leave my baby. Eventually we walked back to the vehicles. I turned to watch her one last time. The sun still shone, and her tiny casket looked even smaller there in the middle of the cemetery. As we drove away, I put my hand on the window, wishing for one more clutch of her hand. Wishing I never had to leave her. Wishing this had all been different.

I can't describe how much this hurts. How much my heart aches. I can't describe to you how my arms literally ache as they themselves long to be holding her. Now that we've had the funeral I feel like we're expected to move on. Like since that chapter has ended, we should just turn the page and start going on as normal. Everyone else will. And that's okay - I know life will go on around us. I know every day will continue to tick, no matter what we go through or experience. But I have no idea what to do. How to move. Where to start.

Without the support of family, friends, and strangers, we wouldn't have fared at all over this last week. I don't think people realize how much just being there for someone else means. We literally have been held and carried by thoughts, prayers, words - and I'm sure it seems so insignificant to those who share them, but they have been instrumental to us. Please don't stop. Please also understand that while sometimes we'll need a shoulder, other times we'll need space. No one knows what to say or do, including us, and know that's okay.

I told Brent on Monday, as I so intensely grieved, that I felt the Lord grieving with us. I don't think it's hocus-pocus, and I can assure you it isn't wishful thinking on my part. I have literally felt God's heart breaking right along with us. He knows. He has counted every tear before I've shed it. He has walked my road. He knows the pain and agony. There will be times where His arms are the only ones I'll be able to find, to hold on to. Despite this immeasurable, unimaginable heartache we've experienced, Brent and I know we have been so blessed. At every turn, we've had people right where they were supposed to be, right when they were supposed to be there. There have been no coincidences. God has placed pillars for us to lean on along this entire journey. I know He won't abandon us; I know He hasn't. I thank God we know Him, because without his grace, peace, and comfort, we would have no hope to continue. Harlynn is in His glory, and while I would still give anything to be telling a different story, Heaven has been made all that much sweeter knowing she is there, waiting for us.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Horrible, Blessed Truth

What's the hardest part? That question gives the false impression any part of this is easy. I find I'm asking myself, "Was I there for others who have been through this? Have I comforted the grieving? Have I helped anyone who has suffered this kind of loss?" I don't think I have. It's not something anyone is ever planning on facing. It's not something anyone ever anticipates dealing with. When it happens, I certainly don't want to think it could happen to me.

But it has. I have to deal with it. Our daughter is dead.

That word is so awful, isn't it? It just hangs in the air. I heard a nurse use it while she was talking to us about "next steps" and the word itself knocked the wind out of me. So final. So irreversible.

This week has been a whirlwind. There are times I wake up and think, "Oh good, it was just a dream." But it wasn't. I remember the morning after when I woke up in the hospital, I felt her moving in my belly and I thought, "Everyone! It's okay! She's moving around inside of me!" But it wasn't her. She was no longer there. I was no longer pregnant. It wasn't okay.

I have relived that moment of Harlynn being placed on my chest a million times. Her body sunk right into mine. She was so peaceful. She was so beautiful. She bounced up and down on me as I wept. How could this be real? How can I be holding my baby girl, and she's dead?

When the doctor, after viewing the ultrasound, said there was no heartbeat, I remember just putting my hand up to my face - I couldn't cry, because I was thinking, "It's okay. Her heart is stopped, they can fix this. They can fix this. They'll do something." I don't know why I was thinking this. I couldn't think anything else, though. The doctor gave us a few minutes to discuss how I wanted to deliver. She had said, since I was only at 2 cm, it would probably be a very lengthy process to deliver vaginally. I interrupted her to say I wouldn't be able to emotionally handle a vaginal delivery. We would do a repeat cesarean. She left the room and Brent and I held each other, crying. Somewhere in the conversation and contractions my mind had realized it couldn't be fixed. There was no bringing her back.

The contractions grew so strong, so fast. The noises that were coming from my mouth were so guttural. I had never heard myself do that, and I couldn't stop. The nurse kept trying to prep me for surgery. I asked if I could stand up to fight through a contraction. She and Brent helped me up off the triage bed. I immediately crouched down, hovering above the floor. I reached across the width of the bed and was literally biting the mattress. I wanted nothing more than to just be strong and quiet, and breathe through the pain. But I had no control. Within no time, I couldn't tell one contraction from another. They were incessant. The nurse asked if I wanted her to check how dilated I was. I shook my head. "Isn't there something you can give me to make these stop?! I can't do this. I don't want to do this!" She left the room at one point to get a bedside pan for me and it was almost immediately after she came back in the room that I determined I was going to stand up and get back on the bed. I slowly stood. My legs were shaking. I was still making noises. Hollering. Wailing. I tried to talk. "My water just broke." She asked if I felt like I needed to push. I lied and said no. The doctor came in and after seeing and hearing all that was going on, said, "Val, get back on the bed and let me check you." I don't know how I got on the bed. I don't know if I had help or if I somehow just made it climbing back on. The doctor checked me and said, "Val, you're complete. She's completely dilated. We need to get her to the delivery room."

"Val, you're complete."

No. No, I'm not. You're going to make me deliver this baby, who I don't get to bring home with me. Who I'll never get to breastfeed. This baby who I will have to put in a coffin instead of a crib. I am NOT complete. I am broken. I am shattered.

My eyes had been closed through all of the intense contractions, and were closed still as they wheeled the triage bed to the delivery room across the hall. I don't know much of what happened next. I was clinging to Brent. How he was able to even stand up when I was just pulling at him, I don't know. I was wailing so loudly. I was pushing and trying not to with each wave of pain. Someone administered an intrathecal. They were trying to explain to me what they were doing and I didn't care. "Just do it! Just do it!" I cried. I still couldn't open my eyes. I laid back down. I pushed. Four contractions, and fifteen pushes.

"One more push and you'll have a baby." But I won't. I pushed her out and felt the wave of pressure leave my abdomen. "Beautiful baby girl. She just looks like she's sleeping. Dad? Did you want to cut the cord?" He didn't answer...he just somberly reached for the scissors. After the cord was cut, they placed her on my chest. She was warm from being inside me. She was heavy. She was real. And she was gone. I kept pleading in my head, "Just cry! Just cry! Whimper, make a noise, anything!"

After I had held Harlynn for a long while, I asked Brent if he wanted to hold her. At first he shook his head, but then he began to nod, as he cried. I handed her over. He gazed at her. You could see the longing in his eyes - he was thinking the same thing I had, "If I just can make her cry, she'll be okay..." I put my head in my hands. There was no way this could be real. Everything was fine. What happened? Why? I looked back over at Brent, and saw how lovingly he looked upon Harlynn. His daughter. Our daughter. Haley's baby sister. My heart just broke for him. He's such a good daddy. Harlynn, your daddy is such a good daddy.

Eventually we let the nurse take her for weight and length measurements, and then take her to the nursery to clean her. Brent and I held each other. We wept. We comforted each other. We tried to process what had just happened. I reached for his hand and we prayed.

Later the same day, we had pictures taken of Harlynn. We held her again. We wept over her. We let Haley see her. That was so tough, but we didn't want to have regrets on any of our parts years later that she couldn't "meet" her baby sister. I would look across the room at the little cart that had the blanket pulled over Harlynn's face and just yearn, long, for a peep - a noise - a breath. Later that night, Brent and I knew we had to say goodbye. We had to let her go. We walked over to her and pulled the blanket back. We held her hand. We stroked her hair. We kissed her. We wept more. We told her how loved she was. I told her, over and over, I was so sorry. So, so sorry.

We told the nurse it was time. She took Harlynn out of our room. We will never see her on earth again. The last time I carry my baby, she'll be in a casket and I will place her in the cemetery. Her baby book will be a registry of people who attended her funeral. None of this makes any sense. None of this seems possible.

I was so angry. There was no one to blame. There was nothing to point to. But my baby is gone. It was several hours later into the next day that I was able to reflect and see how God's hand - the very hand I was angry with - played such a gracious and loving role in the entire situation. Harlynn's heart had stopped beating a while before I had gone in. The fact that I decided to go to the hospital despite being told it wasn't sounding like real labor, was a blessing. I had contemplated toughing contractions out at home. I reached a point where I couldn't do that, though.

When I delivered Haley by emergency cesarean at 32 weeks, I felt like I was robbed of her birthing. I wanted nothing more than to deliver Harlynn vaginally. When we got to the hospital and found out she had died in my womb, I knew that vaginal delivery was out of the question. Emotionally, physically, I wouldn't be able to handle it.

God knew better. Had I gone in to the hospital any earlier, there would have been no choice but surgery. We couldn't save her, but we could save my need, my emotional need, to deliver her the way I wanted. The fact that I went in and labor progressed so rapidly was a blessing. The fact that I chose not to tough it out at home was even more of a blessing. It would have gone so fast, and no one would have had time to take me anywhere - plus, I wouldn't have been warned ahead of her birth that she would be stillborn. That would have been far more traumatic for me.

The nurses, even the doctor that were there when we went in - everyone was there who was supposed to be. The timing was blessed. The care I received afterward was second to none. Each nurse I had was a God-send. She was exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed her. I had two doctors come to my room - the doctor who was my OB when I was pregnant with Haley (and who had seen me twice during this pregnancy) came in and held me as I wept. She cupped my face in her hands. The doctor who ended up delivering Haley and who was my OB during this pregnancy came in and held me as I collapsed in her arms, again, weeping. She just held my head tight against her. These were doctors. The fact that they even stopped by, and made me feel like a person instead of a chart number - I can't even tell you the value of that experience. These two women I have always been fond of, but now, I can't even express how important their roles in my life are.

Our church family - our wonderful, amazing church family - once again surrounded us with love and support. So many friends, family members, complete strangers, surrounded us with support. I commented to Brent that it's one thing to have people share condolences and feel bad for us, but people are literally grieving with us. Alongside us. It's surreal.

Today, Harlynn's death notice is in the paper. Tomorrow her obituary will appear. Tomorrow is also Harlynn's visitation. Monday is her funeral. I'm not sure how I'll make it through either. Yet, I know I will. I will never forget Harlynn, my precious baby. I will never recover from losing her. But I will go on and aim to be the woman I would have wished to raise her to be. I will be Haley's Mommy, and I will do a damn good job. She will know beyond a shadow of a doubt she is always going to be Mommy's special girl. I will be Brent's wife and make sure not a day goes by where he isn't assured of how wonderful, amazing, and strong he is. I will mourn, and I will cry, and I will break down at every remembrance of my precious Harlynn...and I won't apologize for it.

Sometimes these things happen. It wasn't that God willed Harlynn to die. It wasn't that it was His plan to break our hearts. God wouldn't will this suffering on His children. Sometimes, these things happen. He has her now, of that I'm sure. If she can't be in her mommy's arms, I can't think of a better place for her to be.

Harlynn, your mommy and daddy can't express how much we love you, or how much we miss you. Your sister Haley can't communicate how she longs to be able to play with you, and how sorry she is that you died. But we all long to share in your peace, your dwelling, and your dancing with the angels. One day our hearts will be mended, and we'll see you in your perfect form, and we'll be together, praising the One who brought us through the tragedy of losing you. We will celebrate with you, baby girl.

Next:  The Longest Road
Prev:  If I Could Save Time In A Bottle

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

If I Could Save Time In A Bottle

It's my Dad's favorite song, by Jim Croce, and it continues, "The first thing that I'd like to do, is to save every day till eternity passes away, just to spend them with you." Oh baby girl....if only I could. If only.

I'm raw with emotion. I'm not sure what emotion(s) I'm feeling, I just know that every ounce of me hurts, aches, and feels so stung. So very, very stung.

I felt like what I was experiencing wasn't right. I called the hospital and told them I was coming in. My contractions, though inconsistently timed, were so very painful. I arrived and was admitted. We knew from the moment we arrived, essentially, something was wrong. They couldn't find her heartbeat on the fetal monitor. We hoped we were misunderstanding. The ultrasound confirmed her heart was no longer beating. Our baby girl had died within my womb. After everything had been perfect, flawless, and she was such a perfect baby - she was suddenly gone. I don't know that I will ever forget the doctor's words: "I'm so sorry, but I don't see her heart beating."

We didn't answer. We couldn't. We were all looking at the screen, with the motionless chamber. We all knew the sickening, wrenching truth. She was gone.

Brent called our family to let them know...sharing the news we never wanted to explain. I had to decide how she would be delivered. I thought a cesarean was the only logical answer. I couldn't emotionally handle delivering her otherwise. They called a team together and were about to prep me for surgery.

That's when the contractions intensified and would not stop. I was trying to be tough and quiet, but I was in so much pain and the contractions were so strong and close together, I don't think I got a break. I was clinging to my husband - the room was full of people, but he was the only one I could focus on. He helped me through each fit of screaming pain. I was hollering, and most directly in his ear. I didn't understand how they got so bad so quickly. I tried to get back on the bed, as I had been squatting to try to fight through the contraction pain. They needed to get me wheeled back to the OR. As I stood up and fought through another contraction, I felt my water break. That was a feeling I had been longing to experience. When it happened then, it was the last thing I thought I wanted. Water breaking was supposed to be representative of a new life, but in that moment it was representative of the life that should have been, and wouldn't be. And there was nothing I could do. Nothing. This mommy couldn't do a damn thing to save her baby. My heart was broken long before my water was.

As soon as that happened, and from the intensity of my contractions, everyone knew I wasn't making it to surgery. This baby was going to be delivered in a hurry. I was begging, pleading, with everyone in the room to make the contractions stop. I couldn't do this. I didn't want to do it this way. I didn't have a choice, though. My labor was moving so fast. No one expected it. But it was happening. I pushed during four contractions, and she was out. They asked if I wanted to hold her. I nodded through my sobs.

They placed little Harlynn Renae on my chest. She was beautiful. She had so much hair, and she looked so much like her big sister, only fuller-faced. She looked so perfect. She felt so soft and as she was wrapped in the swaddling cloth, I was trying to look over and memorize every single one of her features. Trying to understand why I would never hear her cry. Never change her diaper. Trying to understand why I would have to plan her funeral rather than her first birthday party. I don't understand any of it. We don't know why her heart stopped beating. We don't know anything, other than the fact that she's gone.

We held her, Brent and I, for quite a while. I held her hand. I kissed her forehead. I told her how much we loved her, how much her big sister loved her. I tried to keep her wrapped in the blanket, as if keeping her warm was making her comfortable. The weight of holding her against me was far heavier than I expected. I didn't want to give her up, to watch her be taken away. I didn't want any of this to happen the way it did. I was supposed to have a full-term, healthy, crying baby. I was so proud to have made it to 37 weeks. Yet there, holding her, I would have given anything to deliver prematurely if it meant she would be with us.

We believe she is in the best possible place - Heaven - and we take comfort, though minimal right now, in knowing we will be reunited with her again. We are struggling to wrap our minds around what happened. We can't fathom how our over-active baby girl suddenly left us without reason. We can't determine how to accept we don't get to take her home with us. We don't get to hear her cry, coo, giggle.

Today has been a blur. An emotional blur. I keep wanting to wake up and realize it's all been a bad dream. I want to bring my baby girl home. Sweet, precious, Harlynn. Now, I'll have to pack away the baby clothes and swaddling blankets. Put the bottles back in storage. Cling to the sight of her perfect little face. Live without her.

We don't know what's up ahead for us. We don't know what decisions to make, or what decisions are even out there needing our attention. We don't even know how to grieve. The support, love, and prayers we've received has far stretched beyond our expectations. We know we are loved, and we know little Harlynn was loved in circles outside of our little family. To all of you who have shared your love through words, visits, gestures - your support is unmatched. We can't appropriately thank you for how you've been there for us - with us - through this.

We believe God is good. We believe He has a perfect plan. We believe He is with us as we mourn this intense, inexplicable loss. We believe He is holding Harlynn, and sharing with her how loved she was, is, and always will be. I would be lying to you, though, if I said I wasn't questioning His plans, if I said I wasn't hurt in my belief, or if I said I wasn't devastated. I am broken. I prayed I would be spared this pain, this experience. Instead, I'm left turning to puddles of tears, missing my sweet baby girl. Wanting nothing more than to have her alive and well. Watch her smile at her daddy. Watch her torment her older sister.

My precious Haley...I know you don't understand. I know you may never understand. You're still the best big sister in the world. We are so blessed to have you.

My precious Harlynn...our hearts ache so intensely for having lost you. My prayer is that you knew, in whatever fashion, how very loved you were and are still.