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Happy First Birthday Zoe Bear!

Before going to bed last night I told myself that today would be a positive day.  Zoe’s birthday is a joyous occasion–a day to celebrate her entrance into the world.  The 22nd is a day to mourn; the 14th a celebration.  Obviously I didn’t exactly feel the same way when I woke up this morning.  I vacillated between angry and depressed two dozen times between 7 and 830, going from crying to wanting to cursing everyone and everything, back to crying.

But you know what?  Today was actually a good day.  Tuesday is usually a non-gym day because Carter has music class in the morning and it’s nearly impossible to squeeze both in.  But last night I made the decision that as soon as C woke up we’d drive to the gym so I could get a quick but brutal 45 minutes on the elliptical in before heading straight to music class.  I knew I would need it.  The entire way there I cursed my decision–I should’ve just stayed at home in my pjs, preferably in bed, crying.  I even debated dropping Carter off at playcare and then hiding in the handicap bathroom upstairs at the gym and just crying for my 45 minutes instead (sadly, it wouldn’t be the first time I did something like that).  But I forced myself to exercise and it was the best decision I could’ve possibly made.  Climbing off of that machine, red-faced, out of breath, legs rubbery and sweaty (choosing to go an extra 10 minutes instead of showering–I’m sure the moms at music class really appreciated that decision) I never felt so good.  Those endorphins really did their job.  I was able to listen to my cool down song twice without crying.  After grabbing C, I climbed in the truck and listened to “Three Little Birds” on the way home without crying (but with C bitching the entire 3 minutes–“I want Carter songs.  I don’t want Mama songs.  I want Carter songs.  I don’t like this song.”).  I got through music class with the 5 week old baby right next to me without crying.  I got through pretty much the rest of the day without tears.

There were a ton of other things that got me through today besides the endorphins.  Like the amazing necklace my 323 moms got me.  It’s a purple butterfly with Zoe’s name and birthday inscribed on the back, along with three little birds to represent her song.  A wonderful heartfelt birthday card with personalized messages from each family was included.  Everyone’s texts and comments and messages letting me know they’re thinking of us today.  A friend from college is getting married in May and I spent naptime today making plans with two of my other college friends for a mini-reunion that weekend, child-free.  It’s the first time I’ve felt truly excited for something in a long time.  My bi-weekly chat with my Irish twin just happened to be today and we had a great talk.  The weather was gorgeous.  Lurch didn’t pee in the house, and if he popped then he ate it so at least I was never the wiser.  The kids were good (even if C was a complete asshole since he decided to not nap today).  My favorite Girl Scout cookies finally arrived, so I helped myself to a row of Tagalongs (merely because they’re amazing, not because of depression).  I made a delicious birthday cake for Zoe, even if it did turn out crumbly, lopsided and ridiculous looking.  We released a paper lantern in honor of Zoe’s birthday (which Jeff had the brilliant idea that instead of each of us releasing one, each year we should light the number of years she would be.  He’s so brilliant).  

It was a good day.  It was a fitting way to celebrate Zoe’s birthday.  No moping, no crying, no wallowing in self-pity or punching things–just cherishing the things we do have, the things that are going right.  It’s not the way that I thought today would go when I woke up this morning, but it’s the way I hope every February 14th is.

My favorite part of the day?  When we went outside to light the lantern and J saw a star in the sky.  She chanted, “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight.  Wish I may, wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.”  And instead of her usual wish to be a fairy or a princess, she wished that Zoe was still alive and celebrating her birthday with us instead of as an angel.

It’s moments like that.

Aside

Optimistic.

It’s funny because this morning as C and I walked to music class, I realized that I was in a GREAT mood. I think it was a combination of being well-rested and being outside. C slept through the night two nights in a row, which has been a rarity lately. Fingers crossed that this strange sleep regression at 28 months is over–Mama obviously needs her sleep. And although damp and chilly, it felt good to be outside after being trapped in the house for the last three days because of an ice storm that never materialized. And, since it was in the high 30s, being outside and NOT freezing my ass off added to my cheerful mood. I’m sure J returning to school after 4 days off so close to winter break also had a tiny effect 😉

So as I walked along I was practically skipping, I felt so good. Optimistic. I just feel like this is the month we’re finally going to get pregnant. This is the month we’re going find a cute, snuggly puppy. This is the month we’ll find out where we’re headed (even though I know we won’t–not until February. But I wasn’t going to let that small fact bring me down).

As I walked along I thought about how I should probably write a short blog entry just to show that I really am fine most of the time. I’m not actually falling apart 24/7 like it may seem. 99% (okay more like 85%) of the time I’m coping well.

And then at music class a mom came in a couple minutes late. She’s someone I know–someone between an acquaintance and a friend. It just so happened that she had a baby last Tuesday and this was her first time seeing the moms in the class since then (including myself). She walked in, sans baby belly and sans baby, to a loud chorus of, “You had the baby!! Where is he?!” My stomach dropped to my toes. Flashback of my first morning returning to story time at the library nearly 11 months ago. Remembering the dread I had felt all morning. Working up the courage to actually go. Walking in and hearing the exact same chorus. But instead of smiles and “He’s with my in-laws” like today, there were tears and condolences. Flooded with memories of that same scenario being repeated over and over again everywhere I went. And even when it didn’t play out, there was always that dread that this would be the day someone would comment.

It just goes to show how far I’ve come in the last 10 months and 23 days. Instead of needing to excuse myself so I could cry in the bathroom, I just breathed it out. Instead of it ruining my day and leaving me in a blackhole, I shrugged it off. Not easily and not without strong feelings of jealousy, but I did it. I didn’t let it consume me. Although I’m not skipping around and whistling like I (practically) was this morning, I’m still in a good mood. Still feeling optimistic. It was just a reminder that things will never be prefect. That there is never a moment I’m completely safe from being caught unaware. But as time goes on, being caught off guard isn’t AS mood-altering as it has been in the past.

Because it’s going to be a GOOD month.

Groundhog Day

11 months is approaching quickly, which means Zoe’s 1 year anniversary is closing in. Besides the obvious despair and depression, I feel bored. I need a purpose. A hobby, a job…something. I need something to keep me busy. Something to look forward to. The kids are getting older and better at occupying themselves (and playing together, which is a godsend). The dog is self-sufficient and rarely needs anything. I’m sick of watching TV, I’m sick of surfing the internet, I’m sick of Facebook.

I think part of the problem is winter. I hate being cooped up in the house, but I also hate being in the cold (even just going back and forth from the car). That and we’re in a holding pattern for everything–where we’re going next, if Jeff will be around, why I can’t seem to get pregnant, whether or not we’re going to get a puppy we found up for adoption or if the foster family is going to keep it, when VW is going to buy my station wagon back. It’s like I’m frozen in time. It’s Groundhog Day–every day is exactly the same. Jordan and I make a run for the bus. Carter plays with his trucks. Him and I make the 22 minute drive to the gym where I attempt to give myself a heart attack on the elliptical. We drive the 22 minutes back, singing along to Sesame Street. He plays with trucks. We have lunch, read the same 4 books and then it’s nap time. I wander around aimlessly while he (sometimes) sleeps. He gets up, we play trucks. Jeff comes home. Jordan comes home. 3 hours until dinner. Dinner. One hour until bedtime. Books, songs, cuddle, sleep. 2 hours of zoning in front if the TV. Finally, my favorite part of the day, the part I look forward to all day long–blissful sleep. Then repeat. For all of eternity.

I need a change. More specifically, I need a baby. I need to feel the relief of finally getting a full night of sleep consistently, of finally being on a schedule, of being thankful for an hour a day all to myself during nap time. I need Zoe.

Or, since that is impossible in every way, a baby in my belly. Something to look forward to. Something to help me appreciate everything exactly the way that it is, before it all changes forever. A better reason to not do anything but lay on the couch than boredom/depression. A light at the end of the very long, very dark tunnel. Throw me a bone.

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Thankful.

Today marks 9 months.  Right now at this exact moment in time 9 months have passed since we sat in that tiny conference room surrounded by the best doctors we could ever hope for, doctors who did everything they could for Zoe, doctors who were giving us our pitiful options.  9 months since we had to make the most impossible and devestating decision of our lives.  9 months since the moment our lives changed forever.  9 months since experiencing the most excruciating and indescribable pain.  9 months since being told we made the most selfless decision a parent could ever make and that it was the right decision.

For the most part we’re all doing okay.  Sometimes it’s hard to think about how things should be…to try to make sense of why it happened.  That’s something that I grapple with every day—why?  If everything happens for a reason I still can’t puzzle this one out.  And I have to come to terms with the fact that I’ll probably never know why.  But this post isn’t about how I’m doing; it’s about being thankful for every single thing that I do have. Without everything on this list, plus millions of other things that I’ve forgotten or never even realized, I never would’ve made it through these last 9 months.

I’m thankful…

  1. …for my family.  Jeff is the best husband and father, hands down.  The kids and I are so lucky to have him.  I have two amazing, wonderful children (who are complete shitheads.  Like the one who was up at 545 am, dancing and twirling in her room.  Or the one who is supposed to be taking a nap right now, but instead is in his crib belting out a hilarious rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle”) that I wouldn’t trade for the world.  I have a dog whose face just makes me want to smoosh him.  It’s not complete…it’s not perfect…but it’s mine.
  2. …for the Army.  Moving was one of the biggest factors in healing.  Being able to have a fresh start, especially so soon after everything, helped tremendously.
  3. …for my friends.  For the ones who have been through similar stuff and the ones that haven’t.  For the ones near and far.  For new ones and old ones.  My support system may be small, but it is powerful.
  4. …that I can hold a baby.  I held my first baby about two weeks ago and I honestly didn’t know how it was going to go.  I knew for weeks beforehand that it was going to happen and I didn’t know what to expect.  But I did it, and not only did I survive it, but it felt good.  There was sadness, sure, but there wasn’t any anger or jealousy.  It felt good to hold a teeny tiny baby.  It felt good to see him smile and coo.  To sing to him and cuddle him and kiss him.  But mostly it felt good to have that monumental hurdle over with.  To now know that I can hold a baby without falling apart.  To have that trepidation dissipate.  It just felt good.
  5. …for the gym.  In the beginning that was all that held me together.  To put on a pair of headphones, blast music and workout so hard that I couldn’t think about anything at all beyond taking my next breath.  Now the days that I need that are few and far between, but they still happen.  And every single day I end my workout with the same song, one that makes me think of Zoe.  It’s my favorite part of the day.
  6. …for my tattoos.  I love both of them.  I love their location.  I love their meaning.  I love being able to look at them and think of Zoe.  I love when people compliment me on them.  I love when people ask me about them because it gives me a chance to explain them without it seeming awkward.
  7. …for this blog.  I still don’t like talking about my feelings.  I’ll talk about Zoe, about the situation, about anything else except how I’m doing.  And that holds true for absolutely everyone in my life, in person and online.  I really need to go back to writing more often.
  8. …for my life.  Every single part of it–good and bad, big and little.  It’s our experiences that make us who we are.  Ever since Jordan’s health scare 6 years ago, I’ve appreciated the little things and have been grateful for what I have.  I try to see the good in everything and everyone.  I try to not complain or sweat the small stuff or dwell on things that can’t be helped.  I try to not judge.  I try to have a sense of humor.  Because at the end of the day we only get one life.  Bad shit is going to happen to everyone; it’s inevitable.  It’s how we handle it, what we take from it, that makes the difference.  The very first time I watched Friday Night Lights the voiceover from Coach Taylor at the end of the first episode gave me chills.  Who would’ve thought it would have such a large impact on my life 8 years later?  I know I post it all the time, but truer words have never been spoken:  “Give all of us gathered here tonight the strength to remember that life is so very fragile. We are all vulnerable, and we will all, at some point in our lives… fall. We will all fall. We must carry this in our hearts… that what we have is special. That it can be taken from us, and when it is taken from us, we will be tested. We will be tested to our very souls. We will now all be tested. It is these times, it is this pain, that allows us to look inside ourselves.”
  9. Mostly though I’m thankful that I’m still here.  That 9 months have passed and we did the impossible:  survived.
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Happy half-birthday Zoe Bear! And yes Jeffrey, half birthdays are a thing on this house, no matter how much you try to deny them.

6 months. Wow does time fly. So much has changed since we lost you. The big things–a new home, a new state, a new car, new friends, new adventures. A ton of little things–your brother now talks just as much as your sister; J started first grade; a billion and one other things I can’t think of at the moment.

How are things up there? Have you started crawling yet? Both of your siblings were very late with all of their gross motor skills. I didn’t think either of them would crawl, that they’d skip right to walking instead since it was taking so long. Turned out they were just a bit late to the game, that’s all.

What makes you giggle? For J it was the sound of a zipper going up and down. Man, that used to crack her up! C loved (and still does) any funny noise we make. Nonsense words are his favorite. That and tickles. Tickles are an easy way to get a spectacular giggle out of both of them.

Are you happy? I don’t think you could possibly beat your brother on that one. Carter takes his Canadian roots very seriously and is the happiest, most laid back kid ever. Your sister on the other hand is…well…fun. Let’s go with fun. Are you a mix of the two? Are you a people-lover like your siblings were at your age? They definitely didn’t get that trait from your father 😉

Any teeth? I’m an awful mother and am unable to remember when either of your siblings started sprouting them. How dare I forget something so significant?! It’s recorded somewhere…I’m just too lazy to look. Especially since your brother and sister are actually playing very well together at the moment and I’m terrified that if I move they’ll notice me and the peace and quiet will stop.

Are you sleeping through the night yet? You would be if you were in this household, that’s for sure! Cry it out starts at 6 months here and doesn’t end til you know only to cry if you actually need something. Mama values her sleep. If you can’t get on board, then you get sold.

Please don’t tell me you hate riding in the car. I’m still traumatized by months and months and months of your brother screaming every time he was strapped in his car seat.

How about food? Found anything you enjoy yet? Your brother loves food so much that the very first time we put that spoon to his lips and he got his first taste of “people food” he started shaking like an alcoholic craving a drink and he hasn’t looked back. We made you half a birthday cake since today is your half birthday (even though your father doesn’t believe in half birthdays. Which is why I don’t think he should get a piece of your incredibly-messy-but-hopefully-very-delicious half birthday cake). But let’s be honest–I wouldn’t let you have a bite of it any way. No desserts til you turn 1! Both of your siblings destroyed their first birthday cakes at their photo shoots and are now sugar-holics. No idea where they get that one from 😉 And then you can follow in your brother’s footsteps and start screaming “WHOOPER!!! WHOOPER!!! WHOOOOPPPPERRRRRRR!!!!” the moment you’re strapped into the high chair for dinner. That phase lasted a good 3 months and I do not miss it one bit.

Hopefully someone is singing songs and reading books to you. Both your brother and sister love books and songs and can’t get enough of either. I’m a bit sick of princesses and trucks though, so hopefully your tastes are a bit more diverse.

The details don’t really matter though. What matters is that you’re happy and no longer suffering. Although I would give anything in the world to know every single detail of your personality, I never will. And it is what it is. Just know that we love you and we miss you. And although disastrous looking, your half birthday cake was absolutely delicious. Happy 6 months Zoe Bear!

The results.

I’ve been feeling very on edge the past few days.  I’ll be perfectly fine one minute and then highly irritable the next.  I was attributing my moodiness to the fact that I have spent practically every waking moment with Jeff, J and C for the last two months straight and the family time is beginning to get on my nerves.  Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love all three of them, but the lack of a schedule is beginning to drive me insane. Scratch that–completely driving me insane.  Everyone (minus myself, of course) is sleeping until 9 am.  The kids are staying up until 930 pm.  We need to get back to a 730/830 schedule.  Jeff needs to get back to work.  Jordan needs to make some friends.  And Carter needs to be back on his schedule so he can stop being cranky.  I love my family, but two months is entirely too long to never not see them (how do you like that sentence??  See, I’m going so crazy that I can’t even form coherent thoughts anymore).

At least that  was what I’ve been blaming my moodiness on.  But as J is watching a mini Jake and the Neverland Pirates marathon (“Jake and the Neverland Pirates…and ME!!!!!” My insanity train is gaining speed…) while C sleeps and Jeff works in the basement, I’m still feeling irritable.  I started working on some DIY projects I have on my plate, but am just not in the right mood for them and I feared they were only going to make my mood worse.  And then it hit me…do I need to write??  To take some time to confront my underlying feelings about Zoe?  Because Lord knows that unless I sit down to write about it, I blatantly gloss over anything I’m feeling.  It’s probably definitely time for a heart-to-heart.

So, the results.  Man, all of this happened so long ago that I’m not even sure if I can remember it in the proper order.  Basically, I finally bit the bullet and called the decadent affairs office at UVA around the 110 day mark (this all happened while we were still in Virginia.  I think the week before the movers came?).  I really didn’t want to make the phone call; I felt like I was badgering them, even though the window they gave us was “60-90 days”.  But at the same time I was worried that we had slipped through the cracks; I didn’t want to be forgotten about either.  The person who answered the phone at decedent affairs (doctor?  receptionist?  I have no idea) checked my file and said Zoe’s autopsy was indeed complete.  According to their system, a letter would be mailed to us within the next week stating the autopsy results were in and a doctor should be contacting us to go over them.  He suggested going ahead and contacting the doctor ourselves now since sometimes people slip through the cracks, just as I had feared.  And I’m not in anyway blaming anyone or bitter about that; they kind of have more important things going on…like trying to save all of their patients that are currently alive.

After hanging up the phone with decedent affairs, I then called Zoe’s main NICU doctor from UVA, Brooke.  I left her a voicemail during which I immediately burst into tears and could barely get out what I was trying to say.  It was incredibly mortifying.  I don’t know where it even came from–I had been perfectly fine prior to making the call.  I’m sure it was just everything catching up to me.

Brooke called back a short time later.  Her first question was to ask how we were doing.  I hurriedly reassured her that we were, in fact, doing fine, contrary to how I sounded in the voicemail.  That was two months ago and I’m still embarrassed by that message.  The she dove into the results.  Or, I guess I should say, lack thereof.  Basically, there were no answers.  There wasn’t anything discovered in the autopsy that could give us more of a clue what happened.  Zoe was born with a thick heart, but no reason why.  It was all very anticlimactic.  I didn’t feel any different after having the results than I had previously.  And I think that’s part of what took me so long to update everyone–it didn’t change anything.  The results don’t matter.

Jeff was very dissatisfied with the lack of answers.  Obviously.  We still don’t know how or why it happened.  Or if this something we need to worry about going through with another child.  I, on the other hand, was perfectly fine with the unknown.  Not until we heard the words “we don’t know” did a huge weight completely lift off of me.  I don’t know what I would’ve done if she had come back and said, “I’m so sorry, but you did this or that wrong during the pregnancy and that’s what caused the problem.”  Or “One of you have a major genetic flaw and are very likely to pass this onto another child so we recommend not getting pregnant again”.  Or “It’s highly likely J or C also have a thick heart and may drop dead at any second”.  Or any one of a million other answers that meant we caused this.  We inflicted all of this pain on Zoe.  worked out too hard or slept wrong or the doctor-prescribed-pills I took for morning sickness during the first trimester caused this.  Because any of those answers would have been unbearable.  I wouldn’t have survived.  It might have been anticlimactic, but not knowing was a-okay with me.

Brooke said that she was going to pass Zoe’s case on to a cardiology geneticst at UVA.  Just because she didn’t see anything didn’t necessarily mean there wasn’t an answer to be had–it just wasn’t anything obvious.  She said to expect a call from him within a week.

True to her word, the geneticist called about a week later.  He was absolutely phenomenal and both Jeff and I are disappointed that we won’t be working with him.  He explained that there is a very fine line on which we must balance.  We need to look into finding an answer, but at the same time not go overboard with it.  The first step is for all four of us to go to a cardiologist to have all of our hearts checked out.  If none of us have an undiagnosed heart condition then most likely the question train stops here.  Most likely it was just a freak happening.  If the cardiologist does find something in any of us, well then that’s a whole different ball game.  We explained that we were in the process of moving and he said that he would put together a list of cardiology geneticists in the KC area for us.  He also recommended getting a copy of Zoe’s full health records for ourselves to make things simpler every time we see a doctor.  He said that if UVA tries to charge us for the records to let him know and he would request them instead and send them to us himself.  See why I was disappointed we won’t be working with him?

With all of the moving we haven’t had a chance to get a referral to a cardiologist.  Zoe’s autopsy results came in the mail last week, and with it a letter to give to our PCM explaining the situation and the recommendation for all of us to get echoes and ECGs.  Hopefully that will make the process easier.  I’ll find out for sure on Tuesday when I see J’s PCM for her school physical…

The actual autopsy is filled with a bunch of medical mumbo jumbo.  I’ve tried to read it about a dozen times but can’t make it more than two or three sentences in before I give up.  Her final cause of death was cardiomyopathy, which just means “diseases of the heart muscle”.  She was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is slightly more specific and means a “thick heart”.  Since this can occur at any time and to anyone, there aren’t any signs or symptoms, it’s important for myself, Jeff to get checked every 3-5 years and J and C every year.

I cried pretty much the entire time I was writing this.  Just goes to show that I really did need this.  Hopefully this was therapeutic enough that my mood will return to how it normally is–mostly good with only a few bouts of unexplained irritability. After all, I am female.

Zoe’s Tree Planting.

I finally opened the photos from Zoe’s tree planting. I hired a local photographer, a friend of my someday-sister-in-law (if my brother ever gets his act together and actually proposes before she wises up and dumps the doofus!) to come out and take pictures for us. It seemed a bit weird to hire someone, but I didn’t want to ask any of the guests to take them, plus I wanted everyone who was there to actually be in the photos. I’ve been super anxious to see them. The CD arrived a few days ago (no fault of the photographer’s…we needed an address first, hahaha) but the moment I saw it my excitement was replaced by another emotion. Not dread…not sadness…not depression. Anxiousness maybe? I can’t even put my finger on it. This was it: the final photographs.

It wasn’t just that it was the “end” of it all either. I wouldn’t say I’ve been avoiding thinking about Zoe, but I’ve been focused on so many other things at she hasn’t been at the forefront of my mind like she was the for the first two months after her death. And looking at the photos meant reliving it again. Confronting the thoughts I’ve continuously pushed away.

We went to the library in town for the first time today (this has something to do with Zoe, I promise!). I misread the schedule online so we got there just as story time was letting out. Being confronted with all those moms with multiple children all of varying ages brought everything rushing back. There were babies and toddlers everywhere. That and the teeny tiny 2 week old baby that was there. Tears sprung to my eyes watching the mom corral her two other children while breastfeeding the baby at the same time. That wouldn’t be me right now (Zoe would be 5 months on Thursday and on a rigid schedule by now 😉 ) but it SHOULD have been me 4 months ago. This was the first time I was in public with the kids in a child-centric setting and I was totally unprepared for its impact on me. What a surprise.

After my experience at the library this morning I decided I was done procrastinating looking at the pictures. It was time. And looking at them turned out not to be emotional for me at all. Granted that could’ve been due to the fact that I HATE Jeff’s laptop with a passion (seriously, I’m incapable of using anything that’s not a Mac anymore) so I spent the entire time muttering swear words under my breath instead of focusing on the photographs. But whatever the reason, I’ll take it. I smiled remembering how J crawled into the hole and walked all over Z’s ashes when I asked her to place the bear at the bottom of the tree. I remembered reading the poem that came with the butterflies and recalled how perfect it was for our situation (and wished my copy of it wasn’t packed away because I can’t remember exactly what it said). I shook my head remembering a couple of inappropriate comments made…like when one of the kids threw a shovelful of dirt in the hole and yelled, “Die, bear, die!!!!” while laughing maniacally. How we got started 20 minutes late because unsurprisingly one of the Sunday clan was running behind. How amazing Jeff’s pulled pork tasted and that it turned out to be the perfect amount of food. How I made Jeff wait until everyone was there to drop the tree into the hole, instead of doing that part earlier in the morning. How we told Tyler a 6 foot oak and instead he showed up with a 20 footer…about 20 minutes before the tree planting was supposed to begin. How creepy it sounded when I passed out the butterfly envelopes, hearing their legs/wings scratching at the paper, trying to get out. How the majority of the butterflies didn’t have use of their wings yet and plopped straight down to the ground when we released them so we had to be careful walking on the grass so as not to trample them. I was just happy that the majority of them were alive! It probably wouldn’t have been a good omen if all 30 butterflies were dead upon opening the envelopes…

But mostly I remembered how nice it all was. The weather was perfect. Everyone was able to make it, minus just a few people. We spent some great quality time with family and friends that we don’t get to see often enough. We were able put our baby girl to rest in a beautiful, peaceful way. There are a handful of times when Jeff comes up with a REALLY stellar idea, and this was one of them. I’m glad we have the tree to come back and visit every time we go home to see how much Zoe has grown. I’m glad we had to wait for a few months for the weather to warm up so we had time to come to terms with our grief. I’m glad I hired someone to take photos and that she had the brilliant idea to get a group shot at the end (although I do wish it would’ve occurred to me to get one of just the 4 of us too. And that I had taken a photo of just the kids by the tree before we left. Those would be great family photos to mark everyone’s growth as time goes by! Guess I’ll just have to start that tradition the next time we go home…). I’m glad that all of our friends and family were able to participate in burying the tree, her legacy. I’m glad we did this.

My favorite moment of all was when I asked J if there was anything she would like to tell Zoe after her ashes were spread. She looked at me and said, “No. I talk to Zoe a lot at night before I go to sleep. I tell her all kinds of things then.”image

The “What-Ifs”…

It’s been awhile. About ten billion things have happened, all cementing the fact that moving/stress/a new environment is definitely the way to take my mind off of things. And timing-wise it all worked well. Going through everything we have the last few weeks on top of still majorly grieving any earlier would have been impossible. I needed time to process Zoe’s death and to go through the roller coaster of emotions. But any longer to dwell and I would’ve gone crazy. I haven’t cried in weeks. I think of her often, but never with gut wrenching sadness. I still have times when I have to catch my breath when she slips into my mind, but it’s not completely debilitating. I’m over the worst of it. There are still going to be plenty of bad times, but I’m okay. We’re okay.

All of it made me wonder what it would’ve been like if we had a 4 month old to worry about on top of it all. How would my sleep deprivation effected my dealing with the unbelievable stress of our stuff packed like shit? Seriously, I can’t even describe how horribly our stuff was packed. For me the icing on the cake was our 50 inch plasma TV (which is in the military moving contract that it has to be crated) shoved into a box the packer made by taping broken down boxes together. He didn’t even wrap it in paper before sticking it in there (not that it would’ve survived even if he had used paper, but still!).

Tv

Tv

When we were finally blessed with the 2 most amazing packers I have ever seen on Friday morning (the day we were supposed to be leaving, not still packing and loading) to completely repack our house, exclamations of “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?!” and “YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING!!!” were heard all morning. We were continuously asked if it would be okay if they took pictures to show their bosses and other professional packers the shitshow our boxes were.

Box that popped open all by itself.

Box that popped open all by itself.

This is how the majority of our boxes looked.

This is how the majority of our boxes looked.

How all of my lamps were "packed". Lightbulb and all.

How all of my lamps were “packed”. Lightbulb and all.

My TiVo. In a suitcase.

My TiVo. In a suitcase.

image

At least this box had paper…even if the breakable things weren’t wrapped in it…

I asked Deshawn what he thought the worst part was and he told me “The kitchen, hands down. They didn’t use a single piece of packing paper in any of your kitchen boxes.” Just so you know, every single plate, cup and bowl we own are glass. I know Jeff’s breaking point was when we discovered his $1,000 dress mess uniform crumpled in a ball at the bottom of a box under a bunch of shoes. Especially sncece he had specifically told them to pack it with care.

The dress mess is under all that crap.

The dress mess is under all that crap.

I have never seen him so angry in my entire life. I nearly lost it when I found my iMac desktop at the bottom of a box under a bunch of other stuff. It goes without saying there wasn’t any paper in that box either. All I can say is thank god for Jason, our driver. Even at 6 pm on Thursday night when he was running around like a madman trying to repack our house himself, not knowing if he was going to get paid for his hard work, and Jeff and I were beyond caring and told him to load everything as-is, we’d just buy new stuff, he said “Absolutely not. I still care about your stuff and I’m not letting it all get destroyed.” Sorry babe, but Jason is my new hero.

I can’t even imagine how things would have gone if I was waking up every 3-4 hours to breastfeed Zoe on top of the whole ordeal. I was already sleeping like shit from the stress of it all; that would’ve made it even worse. If you know me well you know that I can be a real bitch when I don’t get enough sleep, so I can only imagine what my repeated messages to the moving company would’ve sounded like. I tried to keep it civil in the beginning, knowing it wasn’t the contractor’s fault, but by the end it WAS their fault because they didn’t do anything to remedy the situation, even though we gave them a full 36 hours notice to fix the problem. When the second crew (aka two guys) was sent out to fix the problem and one of them was from the original crew, I called TMM in a panic and requested more/different people. I was told, “Well I’m 99% positive there isn’t anyone else to send. Everyone is booked so I’m not going to try. You’ll just have to hope that they retrained him and now he knows the way he packed before is wrong.” Okay I need to stop thinking about this. I’m getting all worked up again…

And what would’ve happened with the cleaning? The truck pulled out of our driveway at 11 am. Move out inspection was at 2. Fortunately we had the presence of mind to hire a cleaner, so instead of heading off to a leisurely brunch while J was in school, C was at hourly and hired help cleaned our home, we pitched in instead. We finished in the nick of time. What would we have done with Zoe though? I wouldn’t have put her in hourly, figuring she doesn’t talk or walk so she wouldn’t trample on our adult time, hahahaha, so I wouldn’t have been able to help clean (or at least not as much). Would we have finished in time?

What about on the road? How would we have split the kids? Would Jeff FINALLY have had to take a child during a PCS?!?! We were already stopping every 2-3 hours for fuel, so feeding her wouldn’t have been an issue. But would she have followed in her brother’s footsteps and hated riding in the car and screamed the entire 1100 miles?

How would the different sleeping arrangements in the camper effect everyone? J would be on the table, C would still be in the bottom bunk, Roman would be in bed with Jeff and Zoe and I would share the top. Would Roman be less annoying since he was on the bed? Would J still be sleeping til 9 am if she was in the middle of the camper? Would I have broken my neck trying to climb in and out of the top bunk?

And the biggest what-if: housing. Housing for students is a cluster fuck. It’s all on a first-come first-serve basis. Houses can’t be filled until the last class gets out. Move companies are completely booked. There are two housing areas that are available immediately, Old Oregon (which is tiny) and Infantry Barracks (which is historic, doesn’t have a garage or a yard, and in an apartment setup so half of the units are upstairs). If you want any of the newer housing you’re looking at a 2 week wait. And then an additional 2 weeks after that for household goods. It’s only 11 months so we already knew we were going for Infantry Barracks. And the moment I walked into the first house we looked at I fell in love. High ceilings, real wood floors, open…it’s gorgeous. image image imageEven if I had the choice of the new housing, I would’ve picked Infantry. However–we’re on the second floor. It’s barely possible with a 140 pound dog and a two year old. There’s no way we could’ve done it with a dog, a 2 year old, an incredibly lazy 5 year old (I’m already bracing myself for all of the complaining…) and an infant to boot. Lugging the stroller up and down. Having to carry her (and Jordan). Not possible. So what would’ve happened if we would have had to wait for other housing? Or for a bottom unit to open up? And the bottom ones are only 3 bedrooms–would we be able to make that work?

I am not in any way shape or form trying to insinuate that things are better because we didn’t have to deal with the stress of a 4 month old. That never once crossed my mind. I would still give anything to have her here with us; we would’ve figured everything out with her just as we did without her. I just wonder how it all would’ve been different. Just like every time we move and we have to make a choice between our top two housing choices–how would our experience differ if we had chosen the other one? If we had lived on post at Fort Riley? If the adorable house in Narberth had called a day earlier saying we were approved and we moved in there instead of the second floor apartment in Philly? If we had lived off post at Lee? I don’t regret any of those choices (well maybe the apartment in Philly…that was just awful), but I do wonder how completely different our experiences at each duty station would have been. And that’s just a house.

Oh and we do have results from the autopsy. Bottom line: no idea. More to come about that next time…

The solution? Moving.

As I was driving C to the Children’s Museum this morning I realized that Zoe would be 4 months old today. And I’m okay. Unlike the previous months I didn’t wake up in an awful mood this morning, not knowing why. It hasn’t been on my mind constantly for the last week, knowing the date was looming. I’ve finally solved the problem on how to not dwell on it–MOVE! I have been completely wrapped up in moving. What do we need to pull out (ha–who am I kidding…what do *I* need to pull out. Jeff is completely and totally useless when it comes to moving) to survive for the next month without our stuff? For the beach? For an empty house? In the camper? What are we going to eat? Wear? Watch? Do? What do we need to clean the house? What can I sell/donate? What route are we taking? Where are we stopping? When are we leaving? Those and thousands of other questions need to be answered. And once I finally sit down and stop moving for the night I’m utterly exhausted. I barely have the energy to zone out in front of the TV, let alone think about the upcoming milestone and what it means.

And now that I do have time to think about everything, now that the packers are (finally) at the house and zooming through all of our worldly possessions, I’m okay. It’s difficult to imagine how things would be if she was with us. She would be 4 months old and becoming an actual baby now, not a blob. I’d be getting more sleep. She’d be starting to fall into a routine. So unlike the early days when I knew that everything would be different because I would be a sleep deprived zombie, now I have idea what things should be like. My first thought is now no longer “how should this be” every time I go somewhere or do something. My brain is finally beginning to accept that this is normal. My heart doesn’t stop every time I see a teeny tiny baby. I’m not insanely jealous of every mother is see with three kids.

Of course that’s not to say that on Friday when all of our stuff is gone and we say goodbye to this place that everything won’t come flooding back and I’ll have a breakdown (or ten). When I take our traditional goodbye picture in front of the house and there are only two children instead of three. When the 22nd comes. When the 14th of July comes. When we show up at Leavenworth and qualify for a 3 bedroom instead of a 4. When I meet a mom whose baby girl is 4 months old. And when any (or all) of that happens, it’s okay. Because I know now that this is survivable. That the bad phases are just that–phases. And although what happened will never be okay or right, it is what it is. We’re different people because of it. Hopefully better people because of it.

People who commit horrific acts have always baffled me, and now even more so than ever. People like the Orlando shooter who have obviously never experienced any kind of senseless tragedy. If they had they would never want to inflict that kind of pain on anyone else. I am dumbfounded by what our society is becoming and hope now more than ever that people will come to their senses. Develop empathy. Appreciate the preciousness of human life–all human life. There’s enough “natural” tragedy in the world–why would you intentionally cause harm to others? All I can hope is that my children could never fathom intentionally causing harm to others, physically or mentally. And if they are ever in a terrorism situation they’ll have the presence of mind to stay calm and do what they can to help keep others safe. It’s a sad world we live in now and the only way we can fix it is to raise the next generation right. It’s a simple as following the Golden Rule: treat others as you wish to be treated. Respect. I saw this somewhere (probably Pinterest) awhile ago and it stuck with me. It’s especially relevant today and a lesson I hope to instill in our children. And in ourselves. imageHmmm, kind of got off topic there. Nobody should be surprised.

75%

I’m doing just fine 95% of the time.  Well I guess technically it would be 75% of the time–the 8 days between the monthiversary of Zoe’s birth and her death are nearly impossible to get through.  And it usually takes me about half of the day on the 14th of the month to even realize why I’m such a shitty mood.  I may not consciously be aware of the date (as a stay at home mom I can barely tell you what day of the week it is, let alone the date!), but my subconscious certainly knows and my mood is absolutely horrendous.  For those 8 days I’m short tempered, sad, irritable and don’t want to talk.  So in other words a complete joy to be around.  Although then again I don’t know how much of that is different from every other day of my entire life…seriously how anyone puts up with me is a mystery.

I think part of the problem is that I am doing so well the other 3 weeks of the month.  I feel like I’m healing and getting better…and then the 14th through 22nd rolls around and I’m right back to where I started.  I know that’s not true; I’ve made a ton of progress.  But it just feels like any progress that it seems I’ve made is completely wiped clean on the 23rd.  I have to start from scratch again.  And I think that’s why those days are so rough; it feels like the other 22 days of the month are just a lie.

Now that I’m over the hump for the month of May things are going well again.  We’re still anxiously awaiting the autopsy results.  The coroner’s office told me 60-90 days is typical for infants and we officially passed the 90 day mark on Sunday.  I’m going to give it the rest of the week and then call on Tuesday.  I don’t want to be a hassle but I really would like some answers.  Even if the answer is “Sorry, we need another month for more results to come back”.

We’re going home this weekend for Zoe’s tree planting.  I can’t remember if I mentioned this before or not, but Jeff had the absolutely brilliant idea to plant Zoe’s ashes at the bottom of an oak tree on my dad’s property.  Then she can grow and thrive like she was unable to as a baby and we have somewhere to visit her.  Not that I need a place to go, but you know what I mean.  So on Saturday we’ll have our tree planting “ceremony” (for lack of a better word) with immediate family.  We’re also going to release butterflies.  I know it’s super cliche, but I don’t care.  We’re going to have a photographer come out and capture the moment for us.  I think it will be nice.  I’m actually really looking forward to it.

Someone recently posted on the local army wives page that their daughter (who passed away from the flu when she was 9 months) would have been turning 3 on such-and-such date.  She was looking for a little girl with the same birthday who was also turning 3 to send a gift to.  I absolutely adore that idea.  I think it would be great to give back to someone in need and to celebrate Zoe’s birthday in a positive way.  There was a ton of feedback on the post and a few people mentioned how they write a letter to their deceased child, put it in a balloon and release it on his/her birthday every year.  That’s another tradition that I want to incorporate.

Honestly I don’t really have much to say.  I just felt the need to write a post when I’m feeling good–not in a pit of despair like every other time.  To let people know that we’re doing just fine.  Slowly but surely.  Surviving.