Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Leila's Hello and Goodbye

Leila's birth was an experience I will never forget. The amount of love, pain, joy and grief were overwhelming that day but I wouldn't ask for it any other way.

Around one o’clock on Thanksgiving Day, I informed Will that I'd be making a quick trip to labor and delivery to have the on-call doctor check things out. I had been having regular contractions for a few days, been on bedrest to try to help them subside, but it didn't seem to be working. I was confident I’d be coming right home after so we could join our friends for Thanksgiving dinner. I arrived and was placed on a monitor to watch the contractions, and sure enough, they were coming every four minutes. The doctor asked that I stay a few hours, and I knew in my heart it was time to call Will and have him meet me there. Our friend Ashlee picked up Dallas so he wouldn't miss out on the holiday festivities, and Will drove to the hospital. He walked into the room and told me he had a feeling this is where we’d end up that day.

Around seven o’clock that evening, we decided it was time to allow Leila to arrive. Though we could have gone home and waited, the chances were that I would remain in early labor for a week or more as the contractions I was having, combined with Leila’s inability to contribute to the progression of labor, were uncomfortable and not causing further dilation. The doctor began medical intervention to help my body prepare to deliver, and from there, it was a waiting game.

Being that we were completely unprepared to deliver so early, we had to rely on friends to bring us the things we needed for her birth. We were brought the teeniest outfits that could be found, blankets, even make-up for me so I could feel at least a little like me when she arrived. We were even brought a turkey dinner since we missed our Thanksgiving! We are very lucky to have the amazing friends that we do. The willingness to drop their lives and help ours was incredibly touching.

Much of Friday was a blur for me. We slept as much as we could, and I was kept fairly sedated as my anxiety levels were rising as her arrival became closer. I do remember we watched a LOT of football the whole weekend, just as Will had wanted. I also remember sneaking bites of leftover turkey dinner when I was advised to remain on a clear liquid diet. Friday evening rolled around, and I had progressed to the point where delivery was imminent. My epidural was administered and I was advised to get a little rest, that Leila would be making her entrance sometime in the middle of the night. We made calls to our close family and friends that we had decided would be present for her birth, as well as the awesome photographers who so graciously offered to capture her journey into the world. I was given some medication to help me sleep and drifted off.

I was awoken around 2:30 am to Will and Rachel “oooh”ing and “ahhh”ing at the contraction monitor. “Oh, here comes a BIG one!”, “Oh my gosh, look at that one!” I was amazed at their amusement, as I couldn't feel much of anything! A few moments later my doctor came to check my progress, and confirmed that Leila would be arriving any time now. I prepared myself, held Will’s hand and was surrounded by the people I love as she entered the world at 3:25 a.m. on Saturday, November 24th. She weight one pound, six ounces and was 11.75 inches long.

Leila took a few short breaths, and blinked her eyes before the Lord called her name and she left her earthly body to fly with the angels. Pastor Alex came in to bless her, as we all held hands and wept. It was a beautiful, heartbreaking and life changing experience. 

I was able to help bathe her and dress her. We wrapped her in her football blanket, complete with a Ducks bow, and held her for a day and a half. The three of us lay in bed together and watched the Ducks beat the Beavers in the 2012 Civil War, and I will forever attribute that win to the fact the Leila arrived on game day. She was Oregon’s guardian angel.

Sunday morning around eleven, Will and I left the hospital and drove to the funeral home to say our last goodbye and send Leila off on her next mission: to guide her Mommy and Daddy through the rest of this life.
I will forever be grateful for the way our daughter has touched our lives, and so many lives around the world. My love for her is stronger than I ever imagined it could be, and I will keep that love in my heart all the days of my life. My dear friend said to me yesterday, “God makes childbirth and loss so devastating so that we always remember.” I will always remember.

Thank you for sharing this journey with us. It’s not over. There will we days ahead of sadness, of grief, and of happiness, and we are so lucky so have so many kind souls to share those days with us. God bless you all.

It broke my heart to lose you, but you didn't go alone. Part of us went with you the day God took you home.

Leila Grace Chapman
November 24th, 2012
3:25 A.M.
1 lb. 6 oz.
Mommy and Daddy love you.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Letter to My Baby Girl

My dear, sweet baby Leila Grace:

Just typing your name fills my eyes with tears. My tears are for happiness, that I get to spend my holidays carrying you and loving you. They are also tears of sadness, that this will be the only winter season we will get to spend together. You birthday is getting closer with each second. I cannot wait to hold you in my arms and kiss your little face, and am scared breathless of the moment I will have to let you go. I'm reminded daily by the people who love us that I am strong and brave, but I've really never felt so small. How will I ever say goodbye to you? How will this world keep turning when you leave it? The phrase "Life Goes On" is really hard to believe these days.

There are so many things I wanted to teach you. To do with you. To share with you. You are your daddy's and my first little girl. We were ready to paint walls pink, to fill drawers with tutus and bows. Your dad wanted you to learn the rules of football (because I can't seem to grasp them) and cheer his teams on with him. Your brothers looked forward to rocking you to sleep and chasing the boys away. I'm so so sorry that you will not be here for these things. My heart breaks at the thought of how short your life will be, and how many experiences we will not have together.

But what about the things you have taught me? The lessons I have learned in the short time I have had with you are some I may have never learned without you, and I cannot thank you enough.
  • Unconditional love: A love that is so strong, my heart can hardly hold it (don't worry, I've managed to squeeze it in). A love that prevails over any obstacle, unplanned trial and rainy day.
  • Selflessness: Some people wonder why I have put myself through the pain and consequences of this pregnancy, emotionally and physically, for a child that will not survive in our world. Because that child is MY child, and honey, I would gain 100 pounds and endure a week long labor for five minutes with you.
  • Acceptance: To truly believe that God has a plan for me, and for you, and to turn this journey over to Him. To understand that I am only given a life I'm capable of living, and even more precious, been entrusted a life that is so fragile and important because He believes I am equipped.
  • Appreciation for the little things: Some of my favorite time are the quiet ones at night where I can lie in bed and watch you dance around in my belly. It's almost a game; you will move all about and as soon as I look down, you stop! I believe with all my being that you are able to comprehend more than medicine says you can. You respond to my voice, to sound and movement. In a normal, healthy pregnancy, I wouldn't be nearly as thankful for that. You are truly a miracle.
We have a little less than three months left together, if all goes as planned. In the last week or two, our time has been threatened with worry that we may not get that full three months, but I will stay hopeful that the Lord will bless us with that time. I will also be hopeful that we will be granted even a little time on this earth together. If the remainder of this journey does take some unexpected turns, I pray for the strength to remain flexible and accepting. You are safe in God's hands. As I carry you, he carries me, and we have to trust in Him.

Forgive me for crying as mush as I do. I know you would much rather I smile, but some days that is a very difficult task. Please continue to remind me every day of why I chose to accept this beautiful, heart wrenching challenge and the smiles will come.

I love you more than I ever imagined I could. You are one special little girl, and I'm so lucky you be your mother.

Always and forever,

Monday, November 12, 2012

Tools of the Trade

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m working diligently to evolve my faith. To become closer to the comfort that God has to offer and to accept Him in my life. Some days, that can be a difficult task. Some Sundays, I feel a bit out of place sitting in those aisles among so many God-fearing people. I watch the woman on my right, lifting her arms up to the sky and singing her heart out. I listen to the man to my left pray out loud with no hesitance, and speak to God as though He is standing right there in front of him. I am not quite there yet. I feel like the black sheep, and often question what I am doing there at that very moment.
In today’s service, the sermon was about God choosing His faithful followers to do His will; He blesses those who live in strong Christian faith, those who “walk the walk and talk the talk”. The pastor cited the story of Mary, a righteous teenage girl who was hand-picked by God to carry our savior, Jesus Christ. She lived her life with high morals, and because of her purity, was deemed worthy of carrying such a special child.
I immediately thought of our baby girl; a child whose existence is so significant, so full of love and joy, but also so much pain, struggle and grief… why did he choose us? Are we being blessed, or punished? I certainly haven’t lived a pure life, and I haven’t followed the rules when it comes to being Christ-like.  I chose to leave the Catholic church I was raised in when I was fifteen years old, as soon as I was given an option. Between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five, I have made a lot of mistakes. I have certainly sinned, I have been selfish and immoral, and if I were in God’s shoes, I wouldn’t exactly see me as a prime candidate to embark on such a journey. Then I remember this: I may not be the most faithful Christian by definition, but I do know God, and God does not call the qualified, he qualifies those he calls. Each day since we received Leila’s diagnosis, this experience has felt like less of a burden and more of a blessing that is teaching us love, selflessness, understanding and acceptance. I believe this shift of outlook is due to the fact that I am learning to use the survival tools that are available to me, God being one of them.
The Chinese meaning of the word “Crisis” is danger and opportunity. If and when God calls you, there is a pretty significant chance that the road He places you on will be riddled with potholes, speed bumps, cracks and forks. When you come across one of those obstacles, remember that courage is not the absence of fear, but the overcoming of it.  The end of that road holds rewards, beauty and fulfillment. You were chosen the live this life, and though you may not always feel prepared for what is handed to you, you will be given the tools not only to survive it, but even succeed in it. It is up to you to use them.
As I continue on my journey in this new relationship with the Lord, and similarly, my journey with Leila, I must have courage. I must accept my fear of being the black sheep, realize that I’m likely not alone in that fear, and move forward regardless. As time passes, I will continue to utilize my tools, and I will become more skilled with them. I may be fumbling a bit now, but like any craftsman, the skill level must start at zero and be perfected with experience. Not everyone will find God in their life, or even try, but I’m giving it a shot. Like a Swiss army knife, from what I hear, He is a pretty handy tool to have around.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What Makes a Mother?

I thought of you and closed my eyes.
And prayed to God today.
I asked what makes a mother and
I know I heard him say,

A mother has a baby.
This we know is true.
But God, can you be a mother
when your baby's not with you?

Yes, you can, He replied
with confidence in His voice.
I give many women babies.
When they leave is not their choice.

Some I send for a lifetime
and others for a day.
And some I send to feel your womb
but there's no need to stay.

I just don't understand this. God,
I want my baby here.
He took a breath and cleared His throat
and then I saw a tear.

I wish I could show you
what your child is doing today.
If you could see your child smile
with other children and say,

"We go to earth to learn our lessons
of life and love and fear.
My Mommy loved me, Oh so much,
I got to come straight here.

I feel so lucky to have a Mom
who had so much love for me,
I learned my lesson very quickly.
My Mommy set me free.

I miss my Mommy, Oh so much,
but I visit her each day.
When she goes to sleep,
on her pillow's where I lay.

I stroke her hair and kiss her cheek
and whisper in her ear,
'Mommy don't be sad today,
I'm your baby and I'm here.'"

So you see, my dear sweet one,
your children are okay.
Your babies are here in MY home
and this is where they'll stay.

They'll wait for you with ME
until your lesson is through.
And on the day that you come home,
they'll be at the gates for you.

So now you see what makes a Mother—
It's the feeling in your heart.
It's the love you had so much of,
right from the very start.

Though some on earth may not realize you are a Mother,
until their time is done.
They'll be up here with ME one day,
and know you're the best one.

This poem was shared with me on Leila's Facebook by a fellow mother of an angel. When people question my reason for carrying a child that we know will not survive on our earth, my response is that no matter how long her stay, she has been our little girl since the day she was created and that has not changed with her diagnosis. Though we may not hold her in our arms forever the way we planned, we will hold her so closely in our hearts and as long as she is thriving, we will share her life. This poem describes this perfectly.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Art of Smilemaking

Emerson said: "Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him."
If that was true of Emerson, isn't it likely to be a thousand times more for true of you and me? Let's cease thinking of our accomplishments and wants. Let's try to figure out the other person's good points. Then forget flattery. Give honest, sincere appreciation. Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise, and people will cherish your words and treasure them and repeat them over a lifetime - repeat them years after you've forgotten them.
- Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

My morning started out rough. I didn't sleep well, woke up late, forgot it was "business casual" day at work and had no clean black pants (at least that fit me these days), Dallas tested my patience just a bit more than usual in the car on the way which was enough to push me over the edge.

I decided to counteract my nasty attitude with coffee and something overly sugary to eat from my favorite local coffee shop. I typically avoid this place in the morning because it is laden with giggly teenagers from the high school directly across the street ordering their single shot, extra caramel blended frappes with whip, and the line is about 80 deep. I decided to brave it today because I really needed the pick me up. I walked through the doors to meet a brunette girl, probably about 16 years old. She turned to me and spoke (in a beautiful English accent, might I add), "You are lovely." It was such a sincere compliment. She didn't say "nice handbag" or "I like your shoes", she said "You are lovely, and it came from one of the teenagers that I normally resent the presence of in my coffee shop. I didn't compliment back. I could have, I wanted to. She was a very cute girl with her make-up nicely done and was well put together, but I didn't want her to feel my praise was obligatory. I chose to simply smile and thank her.

When I got in the car and headed to my office, I immediately thought of a book each person on my team keeps a copy of on their desk; How to Win Friends and Influence People. The book was given to each us by our manager and in recent department meetings, we've been discussing one chapter per week. The excerpt quoted above is from the chapter called "Fundamental Techniques of Handling People". The chapter is all about giving honest, sincere admiration to the people around you and truly making a difference in the way they perceive themselves. It's not about shallow flattery, or trying to get ahead. It's about being "that" person, the one who really means it.

Carnegie also states, "Try to leave a friendly trail of little sparks of gratitude on your daily trips. You will be surprised how they will set small flames of friendship that will be rose beacons on your next visit." Next time you are at your local coffee shop and your drink was made well, tell the barista you're impressed. If your child runs to you, beaming, with a picture they just drew in hand, tell them how proud you are as well. When you see someone do a good deed for a stranger at the store without looking for recognition, let them know it didn't go unnoticed. Bubble with appreciation for little things that people do; it really is contagious and can start a ripple effect that can make 10 more people's days just a little better. If we all try to be "that" person every day, imagine how many more smiles can be created.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Love for Leila Grace

I've decided to set up a Facebook page for those who want to follow Leila's journey a bit more closely. Although I write in my blog regularly, there are often thoughts I want to share that don't necessarily warrant a whole entry and this is where I can do that. It also gives me a place to dedicate specifically to her and her supporters, rather than my personal Facebook page.

I invite you all to "Like" the page, share it, and also share stories of your own experiences or those you may know of with anencephaly, a poor prenatal diagnosis or the loss of a child. There are so many beautiful families that I have come across and would love to help out, feel free to do so here as well!

Thank you all for continuing to hold our hands and hearts!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Learning to Let Go

It's just before 7:00 on Sunday morning. For the first time this season, the sun is rising before me. I was woken by Leila, who seems to sense the time change better than any of us; she has been going full steam since about 5:45. As usual, Will sleeps soundly next to me as I stir. His biggest complaint about me is that I hate to be the only one awake in the morning. Once I'm up, I'm up and that means he should be too. I subtly creep up next to him, wrap my arms around him, squeeze, sigh heavily and wiggle. Shortly after this routine begins, he asks me what time it is and when I respond with an hour that's too early for his liking, he groans. "I didn't mean to wake you", I'll say, although we both know me well enough to know otherwise. This is the way our mornings usually begin. Today, I decided to be the good wife and move out to the couch before I began to write.

When I'm alone with my thoughts, they tend to be focused on my pregnancy, on Leila and her birth in just a few short months. I don't try to change that, though it sometimes leads to more heartache than I anticipated. This morning, I thought a lot about the day she'll be born. Will I continue with my plan of a scheduled c-section and hope that it allows her to survive for a while? Will I turn the day over to God and wait for her to come on her own and risk losing her in the process? What will she look like? Will I be scared? Will I be excited? What will she wear? How will the boys react to her? What if she is born still, like so many are? How will I control my emotions long enough to enjoy our time with her? I let myself ask these questions, reel over them, change my mind about them. I'm also learning that although I may make a decision, the blink of an eye could take my choice away. I cannot expect that the day of her birth will go just as I would like. I have to allow myself to be flexible and understanding of the Lord's plan, and let go of control.

Yesterday, Will and I were talking about football and my lack of ability to understand the game. I told him that I didn't grow up watching it, and he seemed shocked. "Your dad didn't make you sit on his lap and watch the games with him?" I told him no, we went to football parties with lots of other kids and they would send us off to play so they could watch, uninterrupted. He responded, "If I had a daughter, we would watch football together all the time"... and then he caught himself. "I hope she's born on a Sunday so we can watch football together, even if it's just for a minute".

This experience, much like football, I fear I will never be able to wrap my mind around. What I can do, on the other hand, is try to enjoy it as we ride it out. There will be disappointment, loss and pain but if I let go of the fear, there will also be so much love and joy.

Each day I carry Leila is a day closer to "Goodbye", but it's also a day closer to "Hello", and although that's something I may never understand, I will pray for the strength to accept.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Letters of Love

I've been collecting the messages that have been sent to me by friends and supporters over the last few weeks. I read through them when I'm feeling "not so tough". A little reinforcement really helps when you're feeling like the smallest person on earth. My friends have told me they have been inspired by me through my words here, but don't realize theirs enlighten me just as much. I'm glad to share my gift of writing with you all, but wanted to share some of the other beautiful words that have been gifts to me, as well as put them all in one place for me to re-read when the need arises:

"May all the love in your life and God's strength hold you. And remember- when you're going hell, keep going. "

"I love you always and wish you strength and super human healing powers"

"You are a strong woman filled with love and though this may feel like a test in life, you have already passed with flying colors ."

"Things like this don't happen for a reason. This SUCKS. Life isn't fair. Acknowledge my grief, acknowledge my pain, cry with me, hold me, hear me! Validate my fears. So I'd say to you to please scream, cry, let your emotions just POUR out. It doesn't matter what you do - just FEEL."

"In my humble opinion, you have your mother's heart inside of you She would have never let you go if anything came in the way of you".

"When I was told you were going to name her Leila I was instantly touched, it's a name I have always loved ...meaning night and dark beauty in Hebrew."

"Know that you will see her along with your loved ones that have gone and she will be greeted with open arms and joy by the almighty Father and a throne of angels, taking her place along side of them. "

"I nanny for a family with a kid with special needs and every night we send out a healing light to friends and family who might just need a little extra positive thought going their way. We have been sending many many healing lights towards your family."

"You two took me back to church, and made me realize just how precious life is. She is the luckiest child in the world to be blessed with such strong, loving parents. Take the time to count the four amazing blessings that you have running around you, and take the time to count the blessings in each other.

"I think maybe the best definition of living a "full life" is being loved the way you love Leila. I know how hard I've worked, for so long, to try to live into the fullness of life, in spite of having never been loved that way by another human being. I believe this is the most important part of God's perfect design for our life, and you've already fulfilled that."

"Philippians 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

"Words can not truly express my deep sorrow for you
I can only imagine the agony and pain you're going through
But there are still people who care, to pick you up when you are down
And when you need a shoulder to cry on, please know that I'll be around
And if you need to talk, or yell, or scream because you're just so upset
You can yell and scream at me, just as long as you dont forget
That someday I will need someone to pick up my pieces too
Because "Goodbyes" never come easy after saying "I love yous"

"It is amazing what a child can live through while in side of our bellies where we, as mother, truly can protect them from everything."

"God chose you to carry her until she was ready to be with him. And what better choice than you? Sweet, loving, nurturing, caring and such an amazing mom. She is just as lucky to have you as you are her."

"Being pregnant is such a beautiful blessing. The feeling of a small baby growing inside you. As they kick, move and somersault in your belly. The best memory is you are carrying an angel."

“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.” -Tolstoy

"Dear Heavenly Father, please embrace Emilee and her family in your loving arms. Give them strength for things that are hard to understand, patience during time of hurt, love when times just seem unbearable. Please help comfort them and help with the most difficult decision that no one wants to have to make. Help guide them through this difficult time. In Jesus name amen."

When God calls our children
to dwell with Him above,
We mortals sometimes question
he wisdom of His love.
For no heartache compares with,
the death of one small child.
who does so much to make our world,
seem so wonderful and mild.
Perhaps God tires of calling
the aged to His fold.
So He picks a rosebud
before it can grow old.
God knows how much we need them,
and so He takes but few.
To make the land of heaven
more beautiful to view.
Believing this is difficult
still somehow we must try.
The saddest word mankind knows
will always be Good-bye.
So when a little child departs,
we who are left behind,
Must realize God loves children.
Angels are hard to find!

This is just a piece of what has been sent our way, amoung countless offers of love, prayer and support. From the bottom of my heart: thank you, thank you, thank you. This is above and beyond amazing, when "I love you, what can I do?" is more than enough.

God bless,

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween 2012

Yesterday, we enjoyed our first and likely only Halloween with Leila. It definitely didn't start out the way I had hoped! Not only was I recovering from a horrible stomach flu, and still feeling pretty weak and queasy, but on my way to drop Dallas of for school and head to work after being home sick for two days... the Oregon rain got the best of me (and my car). The road conditions combined with bumper to bumper traffic led to a lovely "fender bender". I'll admit, my driving skills have never been the best, but I've been pretty lucky at avoiding accidents for the most part. Karma caught up with me that morning. I got slapped with a $300.00 ticket for following to closely (who doesn't follow closely during rush hour!?), a $500.00 deductible, and inevitably a steep incline in the cost of my insurance. Yesterday, I was struggling to justify a $4.00 coffee... lovely.

After a ride in the tow truck with Quimby the dog (he attends every call, I suppose), and about a half hour with the rental car company (thanks for the upgrade! I'll go ahead and keep your 2012 Buick LaCrosse, will you take a smashed up 2005 Sentra for trade?), I made it to work. It was the day of our monthly All Hands meeting, where the whole company comes together to review our goals, our mission, and to hear someone speak. Yesterday, Mark Hornibrook, the founder of our company and his son both spoke. The message was about how things do not always go as you plan, but you ultimately end up where you are because of the path you were put on by God. I felt and overwhelming compulsion to pull Mark aside after the meeting and thank him. He has been battling stage four cancer for the last year, and his faith has been a real inspiration to me. I told him that I felt it was a true miracle that God put me here at this company when he did, right before "Hurricane 2012" struck my life. Had I been with any other company, the events of my personal life would have not only devastated me, and would have also left me jobless. We sat in his office and cried together, but they were not sad tears. We talked about God's plan for me and for Leila, and the trust we have in it. I've found a real home in Precoa and am very lucky to be a part of such an amazing work family.

After leaving work, I hurriedly picked up supplies to turn my son into Davey Jones and headed to Tualatin for Trick or Treating. If I may say so, I did a damn good job!

Will and I walked Dallas through the neighborhoods for a good hour, collecting candy and watching the kids. Each time I saw a little girl all dressed up, I couldn't help but smile. One in particular, a little lady bug no older than about a year and a half, really got me. She toddled around the driveway, not much caring about making it to the front door, as her mother tried to direct her. I thought about how I will never get to do that with Leila, but was so grateful for that mother and her daughter. They were really enjoying those moments and it was beautiful to watch. Will squeezed my hand as we admired them. Soon after, we walked to a house that was tucked back behind other homes but had their lights. On Halloween, that means one thing: candy! Dallas walked up to the door and as it opened, I recognized the woman's face. It was my obstetrician, Dr. Olmstead. As soon as she saw me, she pulled me in for a great big hug. She told me she doesn't get many trick-or-treaters with her house being so far back, but it made her night to see us. It really made mine too. God has a funny way of making us smile sometimes.

Returning home with a pooped pirate and a pillowcase full of cavities, we all retired from Halloween 2012. Another day of ups and downs, but ultimately ending with a smile. As always, I'm grateful for what I have. My son, my love, our little girl and our crazy life.

Captain Dallas, Super Mommy and trusty sidekick Leila!

"Vern and Tammy Lynn"