Capture Your Grief Day 24: Siblings

Skye was my first baby. When I lost her, I did not have other children to hold and hug and cry with, at least not from my own womb.

I did, however, have five little girls I had all but birthed. My five younger sisters were my first “babies”, I had been as much a part of raising them as my mom and dad. I had seen their first moments of life outside the womb, I had helped with 4 of their 5 births. They will always be my babies more than my little sisters, there is a 10 year gap between me and the oldest, 18 years between the youngest and I.

It was hard on them, I believe, when I got married and moved out of the house. As my sister Grace said on my wedding day, tears rolling down her cheeks right before I headed up stairs to say my vows, (she was 5 at the time) “I’m losing my sister!” I always tried hard to keep that from being so, to reassure them that I would always be there for them, even if I didn’t live in the same house. I tried to include them in everything, do something special on their birthdays, include them in important life events.

We found out I was pregnant right before we moved to Colorado, and they were heartbroken. They used to talk about me having a baby and being aunts (my brother had 2 kids, but he had lived out-of-state for years) and being able to be hands on with their niece or nephew. As hard as it was for us to move home when our business failed, my sisters, in their innocent child minds, were thrilled that I would be home in time for their niece to be born and I would once again be in their lives on a daily basis, living in the same house for a little while. They were so excited when I went into labor and anticipated what the next few hours would bring as the baby would be born right there in the house. Nobody was as excited to hold Skye and love her as they were, each of them being tender little mommies and in love with babies in general.

Then it all went wrong. In the commotion of going to the hospital at the last-minute to deliver and the ensuing drama, nobody really thought about those poor little girls waiting at home for their niece to arrive into the world. Nobody had time to sit with them and ask them what they were feeling. As we all waited for Skye to get better and come home, each person was engrossed in “adult worries”, I don’t think any of us stopped to think about how they were coping. They could not visit the NICU while Skye was there, it was cold and flu season and school age children were not permitted, especially not five at a time. They had to settle for pictures and videos, and the hopeful promise that they would get to hold Skye when she was better.

She never got better. In the midst of my grief, in the very throes of my loss, during the private family visitation on October 14, 2008, my sisters got to meet Skye for the first time. She was in her little coffin. They would never get to hold her. Even Josh and I finally got to hold her at the very end as she passed, but these tender little girls would never have the bittersweet joy of holding her, only lightly touching her tiny fingers and kissing her lifeless features ever so gently. I have a picture that makes me cry every time I see it to this day. For the very first time I glimpsed the real, tangible pain they had been experiencing while all the adults had been busy with their own worries. I saw written on their faces the devastation of loss, and they were so young and so deeply affected by the tiny baby they had never met. They were 13, 12, 11, 7, and 5 years old. The picture speaks so painfully for itself.

Clockwise from left: Nevada 11, Noel 13, Naomi 12, Neryah Grace 7, Nalana 5.

Maternal Instincts

 I am the second of eight children. My older brother is two years my elder and my little brother is three years younger than I am. I have five little sisters ranging closely in age from fourteen down to seven. I was ten when my first sister was born. There was just enough of an age difference for me to develop a motherly role rather than that of a sibling, for the most part anyway. That motherly instinct carried on with greater and greater intensity as each child was born and I matured.

 My father’s occupation off and on through the years as an over the road truck driver helped nurture some very unique circumstances as I was growing up. With my father gone so much and so many little children to tend, I naturally stepped in as my mother’s right hand. I was at that age where helping is still fun and I felt grown up and privileged to be trusted with such tender little balls of life. From the age of four or five I had begged my mother for a little sister, someone I could play with and have little things in common like my brothers always seemed to share. Of course, my mom and dad had three and that was more than enough. Why they decided to have more is a whole different story, but at the time, my mom never dreamed she would ever have another baby. She told me so and one Christmas she got me a Kid Sister doll, they were very popular the year I turned five. She hinted to me that she was going to get it and I tried to tell her I wanted a real sister, not a doll. Come Christmas morning there was a big tall box next to the tree and I opened every present but that one, intentionally avoiding it. When all the other presents were opened my mom handed me that one and I began unwrapping it, hoping that it would magically be something else, but sure enough it was the doll. I started to cry and everyone was baffled. I guess I felt that by giving me that doll, it was a sure thing, I definitely was not going to get a real little sister. I got over it after a couple days and named the doll Sidney. I felt bad, that I might of hurt her feelings by crying and saying I didn’t want her, so I made it up to her by playing with her all the time and letting her sleep with me for several nights instead of my favorite toy cow.

 However, five years later my dream was realized when my mom gave birth to a chubby pink and white little girl with dancing blue eyes that squinted into slits when she smiled because her fat little cheeks took up all the space. I was elated. I helped with everything, even diaper changes didn’t bother me. I was so happy to have my little sister. I was by her side constantly, played with her, often took her out of the crib first thing in the morning before my mom or dad could get to her. I loved that moment when she blinked up at me with sleepy eyes and rubbed her face in my shoulder and smelled as only a little baby can. She was warm and cuddly and I would hold her for a few moments before handing her to my mom to be nursed.

 I could not believe my luck when thirteen months later another little girl followed. My first sister, Noël, was bald and blond, but this new bundle had a mop of brown hair. I was excited that there was another sibling that would have brown hair, both my brothers had been born with blond hair as well as Noël. A few months later, however, Naomi lost a lot of her baby hair and it came back in quite blond with just a hint of ruddiness to it. It didn’t matter, I loved them both.

 I’d take them both outside to play and passers-by would mistake them for twins, they looked so alike and were so close in age. They thought I was their young mother. It was an innocent mistake, I’ve always looked several years older than my age and I was very tall. At twelve I was many times mistaken for being sixteen and seventeen, not really because of my physical appearance (I was very late in getting my womanly curves) but my maturity level. I didn’t take this as a compliment, though. I felt self-conscious and awkward. It was at this time that I had my first negative feelings about being the motherly figure, but for the most part I still enjoyed my sisters and taking care of them.

 The girls were one and a half and almost three when a third little girl was born. Nevada was another blond, blue-eyed cutie and from rather early she showed an energetic and easygoing personality. I was thirteen, just beginning to enter that stage of adolescence where chores become distasteful and independence is sought with a rebellious vengeance. Being that I was very sensitive to my parents wishes and not a huge fan of getting punished, I only dabbled my toes in this stage of life at first. I still loved my sisters and caring for them but there was sometimes a tiny spark of that sibling rivalry that flared up when their needy-ness infringed on my growing desire for space. I was taking on more and more responsibility as my father’s job took a toll on my parents’ relationship. They were spending so much time apart with only a few hours at a time of him being home. He began taking my mom on over night trips about once a week. I was thirteen, my older brother was fifteen, we were very capable of holding down the fort while she was gone. I could cook quite well and had been doing so for several years, usually making dinner for the whole family even when Mom was home. My natural sence of responsibility kept things running fairly smooth.

 I must add here that I do not in any way feel regret or that I was cheated by maturing so early in this way. It has helped me through many things in my unique life and I consider it a blessing today. At the time, however, I began feeling like I was too much a mom figure and when I had wanted a sister this was not what I’d had in mind.

 We moved across country from Colorado to Kentucky and my mom found out she was pregnant again. At this point the pregnancy was not planned but she was going to make the most of it and embrace the situation. She gave birth to another little girl, Neryah Grace. My mom has always been the type to do that, charge in, get her hands dirty and get things done. I admire that. About to turn fifteen, I was in my full-fledged rebellious state. My dad was no longer trucking but I had spent so much time being the right hand that it was not easy to break the pattern. I was the automatic go-to person for babysitting and childcare. Having that many little children made it difficult to pack them up and make a simple trip to the grocery store. Our vehicle was not as big as it could be and there just weren’t enough car seats or room for them. We couldn’t take everybody and I usually stayed home with one or two. This was my decision at first. I was very shy and introverted as I’ve mentioned in my previous post (My Western World) and it was easier for me to stay home and babysit. I also have the habit of bottling things up and many times my parents didn’t even realize I resented being left out. I don’t think I fully realized it most of the time.

 At sixteen I was in my own world. I was in love for the first time, nobody understood me, I knew what was best for me and Mom and Dad didn’t. My youngest sister Nalana came along and while I still played a huge part in my sisters’  lives and loved every one of them fiercely, the instinct to spread my wings was creating a huge tension. I have always been close to my parents, especially my mom, and this teenage conflict both wore on our relationship and ultimately made it stronger.

 By the time I left the house and went out on my own at twenty, I was ready to be free, make my own choices, but mostly to relive the years I felt I’d lost as a teenager. This would not have been so bad, but I crammed it all into less than a year and was soon on a fast track to a lot of really bad decisions. Where I had once dreamed of having ten kids when I was little, I now swore I would never have even one. I knew I was living hard and there were possible consequences that could occur unexpectedly, but I promised myself that even if it meant going against what I was taught and believed in my heart, I would not be trapped and tied down by an unplanned and unwanted baby, no matter what.

 By the time I met the man who would become my husband I was twenty-one, a confident young woman with an adventurous side that had just started to blossom and flourish. I had lived on my own in Colorado and Texas, states away from my parents and siblings, being as carefree as I could and having minimal responsibilities. I moved back home to Kentucky, planning on being there for a few short months before heading out to Arizona or back to Texas. I had a few bills to catch up on and a love interest who had just moved back to Chicago, a mere eight-hour drive from my parents’ house. I’d live at home, pay off the bills, and go on my next adventure. Marriage and children were the farthest thing from my mind.

 Things happen when we’re not expecting them to and with the least expected person. I got a job in Louisville Kentucky because there weren’t any to be had in my line of work (serving) in the rural area my parents lived in. The two-hour drive complicated my breezy plan to work for four months and move on as a lot of money went to gas getting back and forth. The drive also made me start looking for living arrangements closer to work. One thing led to another and I found myself hanging out with a guy from work, and then falling in love with him. Mine and Josh’s story is also something for another post, but things moved quickly and five months later we were married.

 My husband is a wonderful man, he has his faults, but he is my soul mate, my provider, my best friend. I felt like I’d known him for years when I met him, he was just so candid and comfortable. I felt safe and protected and still do. He was and is everything I had always wanted in a man but never dreamed I’d find. I feel many days like I dreamed him into existence, that’s how perfectly he fits my personality and character criteria. Ironically, while I find him incredibly attractive, he is very opposite physically what I had imagined myself falling for. He is the type of man you know will always be there for you, no matter what.

 I found my views on becoming a mother changing. There is something about finding your soul mate that puts many things into a brand new perspective. I saw how wonderful and gentle and protective he was over my sisters. I marvelled that he was this way even having been an only child. He made me want to share our love with a child of our own.

 Even with these new feelings I was apprehensive though. No matter how I tried, I could not get excited about some one else’s baby. I did not coo over other babies or want to hold them or partake in the general fanfare that results in a baby entering the room. I was a server and children were a huge source of aggravation when their parents thought them too cute to keep them from throwing food everywhere, food that I would later clean up, usually with little more than spare change or a dollar as a tip for my trouble. I still wanted no part of kids in general and it worried me that I would be a bad mom. Everyone assured me that I would be a great mom, but a part of me inside doubted that.

 Regardless of my doubts, my desire to have a baby matched my husband’s and a year after we were married we started trying. We got pregnant immediately, first month off my birth control. We were both scared and excited. Everything in our relationship had always moved so fast and this was no exception, but we had a “now or never ,come what may ” attitude and we took the plunge.

 The things that took place in our life during that pregnancy cannot even begin to be detailed here. To give an extremely short version, we moved out to Colorado, opened our own restaurant, came up against many issues, gave up due to irreconcilable issues with our business partner and his dishonesty, came back home to Kentucky, and lost almost everything we owned in the process. We were left with basically our clothes and dishes. We sold everything to move back home. It was a huge blow, but we counted our blessings, we still had each other and our daughter was due to be born in a little less than a month. We could not even begin to be prepared for what happened next.

 Again, the details of my first daughter’s birth and short life can’t be recounted for lack of space and time. Elizabeth “Skye”  was born with a previously undetected condition that is so rare it remains undiagnosed. She had a compromised immune system, possibly resulting in, or a result of, a skin condition where the top layers of her skin were coming off at birth and she had to be kept in sterile isolation. For seventeen days we watched helplessly as she lived in pain in her NICU isolet and we held her for the first and last time on October 13, 2008 as she took her last breath. The days and months that followed are mostly a blur.

 I was told over and over that there was nothing I could have done, all my prenatal tests had been normal, it had been a perfect pregnancy. Other than a bit too much unavoidable stress, there had been no sign of complications. If you have ever suffered loss, you know there is nothing anybody can really say, especially in the loss of a child for a mother. Your sole obligation was to love and nurture and protect the little life inside you. I felt there must be some thing I could have done, something I should not have missed. My premonition about being a bad mom haunted me every single day. I was empty, lifeless, living but not alive. I had somehow failed my little girl. All my past actions and resentments with children and my little sisters tortured me.

 The doctors said there was a chance that the condition was genetically passed down from my husband and I, but they never found hard proof of that. There was also a big chance that it was a fluke one in a million thing. Either way, I ached to hold a baby of my own but could not even dream of going through it all again. We talked about trying again down the road after getting some genetic consultation but I did not want another baby, not really, I just wanted Skye. My list of regrets was ten volumes long and heavier than the universe. I just wanted to dissolve into nothingness and cease to be.

 You can imagine how unexpected it was to find out just six weeks after burying my daughter that I was pregnant again. This was not planned. In fact, I felt panic rising up in me and threatening to take over. I had not even begun to grieve and it was way, way too soon. The old premonition accosted me daily, hourly even, and I lurched back and forth between longing to hold my own child and fear of not loving it like I loved Skye. I could not dream of loving anything ever again, let alone as much as I loved my little girl. But here I was, and like my mother before me, I rolled up my sleeves and tried to make the most of the situation, although I doubt I was nearly as graceful or as stiff of upper lip as she had always seemed to be.

 I made a pact with myself. I would not wait for my baby to arrive before I embraced it’s life. If all I would ever have with this child was the time it was in my womb, then so help me, I would make every single day count. While everyone around me seemed to treat me like a bomb, to be handled gingerly, lest I explode with another bundle of pain and emotional agony, I fully embraced the uncertain life growing inside me. More than take extra good care of myself and undergo extra tests and monitoring, I began bonding with my baby, talking to it as if it was already here and could hear me. I can’t really explain how hard it was to do this knowing there was a possibility that what happened to Skye might happen again. My biggest regret was that if I’d only known what was going to happen, I’d have spent more time cherishing the time I had with my first angel, and I was determined I would not relive that regret in this situation.

 I found out I was going to have another girl and was both thrilled and crushed that all the baby stuff could be used by another child. It was Skye’s first, and even the little two dollar thrift store hand me down was sacred. I felt very alone during this time. As I said, the grieving process had not even had time to begin, not only for me, but for my family and his. My husband especially was having trouble, he had to go to work and keep life going and this new pregnancy was almost more than he could handle. He dealt with it by being very detached from the pregnancy for the first six or seven months. He had been very hands on with my first pregnancy and he was almost negligent with the second. I do not blame him or resent him for this, I am just stating a fact. He was not the only one who did this, almost every family member and close friend on both sides did the same thing, or that’s what I perceived at least. I realized from the beginning that this was my journey. I loved and nurtured my unborn baby all the more because of it.

 Lack of time, once again, keeps me from detailing a lot of the pregnancy, but by the last two months both my husband and my mother were right by my side, sharing the last leg of the journey with me for better or worse. My mother in law also played a huge part, albeit a little farther off due to living distance. We were like a well coached team when game time arrived.

 The moment they put my perfectly healthy little girl on my chest, just seconds old, is the single most happy moment of my life. I don’t really expect that to change until I get to Heaven and am finally able to hold Skye again. The incredible bond I have with my second daughter, Christian “Faith”, is even stronger and more fulfilling than I thought it could ever be. The old premonition of being an inadequate mother is long gone. From day one I’ve been able to effortlessly anticipate her every need and want as if she was speaking them to me with words. I accurately predicted she would sleep completely through the night from the first day. I actually had to wake her up to eat at night for the first month, then I just let her do what comes naturally. She sleeps ten to twelve hours straight through. She is an incredibly good and easygoing baby, she loves to communicate with me and her dad. She plays by herself for long spurts or sits quietly with me while I write or paint or do chores. It is as if we’ve been good friends forever, maybe because we have, at least as long as she’s been alive.

 She is my world. I would fight for her or die for her, but I live for her every day. I have finally come to know the deepest meaning of “maternal instinct”.