Saturday, November 24, 2012

New sisters for the summer!

We were so excited to get a new placement of foster sisters for the entire summer.  They were such a mixed blessing and challenge for our family.  They were age 9 and 14 (turned 15 while with us) and were so much fun!  The placement was only temporary while the girls met several potential adoptive placements, so while they were with us, we wanted to take the pressue off of so much seriousness and make sure they had lots and lots of fun.  We went to the water park, gymnastics classes, martial arts classes, babysitter certification, parties and BBQs, Church and various functions, and involved them in every aspect of our family life.  We wanted to be sure they got an idea of what being part of a healthy family was life so when meeting different types of families, they could figure out what they liked and didn't like.  These girls came from a rough background and had been through some very rough times.  They needed lots of love and nurturing, but most of all FUN!  Our children got along well with them, and although there were some challenges along the way, we did our best and hoped for the best when their time came to leave us for a family that had intentions to adopt them.  We continue to pray and wish the best for them.

One of my fondest memories of the girls was doing their hair.  They were were African American and Puerto Rican, so their hair texture was very different than anything I was used to.  Thank goodness for a blog and FB page called "Chocolate Hair Vanilla Care" because those ladies taught me all the tricks!  In no time, I was braiding and doing cornrows with the best of them.  Yarn extensions was my next project but we didn't quite have enough time to fully tackle that.  Should the girls come back to visit, I promised them them I would do it!

Because of privacy and Social Services laws, I am not allowed to show their faces, but here is a photo of one of our Saturday hair days.  It was such precious time and I always thanked the girls for letting me do their hair.  They have no idea what it meant to me and how special it was, but I hope their new adoptive Mom tells them the same things.  It was sooooo much fun!

Another thing I really enjoyed was getting to spend time with the older one and teaching her all the things a young lady needs to know before entering high school.  We talked about boys, etiquette,she got her hair done, for her 15th Birthday, I took her to get her makeup done perfessionally and appropriately, and taught her how to act her age.  She really blossomed into a wonderful young lady who was ready for High School.  I was so excited to hear about what the future held for her.

We are asked often about our experiences as Foster Parents.  I don't want to paint this picture that everything is rosy all the time.  There are definetely challenges that go along with this choice.  But we have to believe that we are making a difference in the lives of these young people who didn't have a choice to end up where they are today, and for that, we volunteer to do this job.  Some of their stories and life circumstances are horrific to put it mildly, but they still deserve love and someone to believe in them.  Sometimes, the best gift we can give a child is the gift of time and love.  So if you are curious, call your local Social Services and make an appointment to find out more.  I promise they won't handcuff you and force you into anything you don't want to do.  But we do love having a full house!

Catching up on blogging!

It seems to me that it has been forever since I have blogged and after logging in just now, I see that the last time I have blogged or even logged in was July 6th, so it really has been forever - at least in the blogging world!  I know I owe my readers about a hundred blogs - or at least it seems that way.  I will do my best to catch you all up on what has been going on and there has been sooooo much!  So thank you for your patience and your prayers.  It has been about 6 months of ups and downs, adventures and trials, like anyone else.  But I am continuing on my journey of life, and there is more work to be done.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Our little Republicans!

It's no secret that I am a Conservative when it comes to politics and for many reasons, but mostly on issues, specifically Right to Life.  While one of my favorite things on being an American is living in a country where we all have the right to choose whom we vote for, I am proud to educated on the many of the issues that important to me and I take the time to visit my elected officals and lobby for those issues that are most important to me and my family.  This year, this election is so important.  I volunteered my time in many ways, but mostly, we did a lot of things as a family, as we did 4 years ago.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

International SIDS & Stillbirth Conference in Baltimore

In October, I bravely left my family for the first time, and traveled to Baltimore (about 3.5 hours away) for 4 days to attend the 2012 International Conference on SIDS, Stillbirth, and Infant Survival.  One of the organizations that I serve on the Board of Directors for, The Star Legacy Foundation (, was part of the conference.  It was so inspiring to go and meet these interenational researchers and doctors who are making such amazing strides in all the different aspects of the various preventable causes of stillbirth.  I also met some amazing parents, who, like me, are trying to make a difference in their own small way. 

At the Remembrance Ceremony Friday night, I even had one parent and grandparent recognize me from this blog.  I was a little concerned because sometimes, I can be very honest, blunt, and uncensored with my feelings.  But she explained to me that it was helpful for her to read those parts and it helped her find ways to help her own daughter as she was hurting.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Irelynn is 9 months old!

Irelynn just makes me smile all the time.  She is such a happy baby.  But there is also a bittersweetness to this happiness.  I still think about her big sister.  I wonder what she would be doing right now.  I wonder why I am not dressing Irelynn in Savannah's hand-me-downs instead of purchasing everything new for Irelynn.  I think about the unsuspecting comments we get about having another baby and how "isn't it great that we have one of each?"  I know better.  I know people don't mean anything by this.  But it still hurts, even just a little.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Chance Meeting with Baby Bode

Yesterday, as I quickly ran into my neighborhood grocery store to pick up some cookie dough to bake cookies with my family, I ran past a mom shopping.  She has a beautiful little girl who looked about 4 and she was actually 4 as she later told me.  Her mom was a beautiful lady with long curly brown hair and a kind smile.  In her shopping cart, was a baby carrier with a nice chunky little boy in it.  At first, I smiled at how well behaved the young girl was while her mom grocery shopped.  When I would go out with Jeremy, he acted like that maybe 1 time for every 4 or five times, which is why I mostly grocery shopped alone.  As I grabbed what I came in for, I turned down the aisle and headed up towards the checkout lanes.  I walked past the lady pushing her cart again and I got a good look at the little boy.  He had Down Syndrome.

I remarked to the Mom was a beautiful little boy he was and she was very nice and smiled but I'm sure she was curious why I would pay such special attention to her son who clearly had special needs and not to her normal daughter who was just cute as a button and eager for my attention.  She told me both of their names and ages and while I wanted to talk more, my eyes and attention just kept going back to Bode.  He was 10 months old and as tears filled my eyes, Bode's face went into a huge smile at me.

I felt I needed to say something to this Mom, so I carefully explained that we had a daughter with DS who had passed away.  She said she was sorry and I smiled at her and told her she was very blessed.

There are many times that I miss Savannah, but right here and right now, I was faced with what would have been my worst fear - having a child with special needs and being judged by the community around me.  When I was pregnant and test after test seemed to indicate that Savannah had DS, I grew unsure of myself.  Was I strong enough to be the Mom of a child with special needs?  How could I protect her from ignorant people?  How could I watch her struggle as a child not being able to do things that her brother could do?  What was going to happen after Eric and I were gone?  Who would take care of her?  What would her life as an adult be like?  Would she ever find true love, get married, and be able to have children?

As I looked down at the beautiful bright blue eyes of Baby Bode and his face lit up into a huge smile at me, I was face to face with something that for the  last 3 years I have dreamed about and at times, would have bitten off my own arm to experience.  All I saw in Bode's eyes was unconditional love and hope and a life full of possibility.  The Mom looked relaxed and happy to be shopping on a Thursday night with her children. 

Whether or not Savannah was born with DS was irrelevant.  We had accepted that she would have it and planned for her to have it.  We loved her because of it.  When Savannah was stillborn, it was devastating.  Whether she did or didn't have DS didn't matter.  But throughout our experience, Savannah opened our hearts and minds to children and people with special needs, especially Down Syndrome.  We were ready.  We were prepared.  We would have been good parents to her, especially if she had Down Syndrome.  No one wants to have a baby with challenges and struggles.  But I didn't see Savannah's life that way.  I saw her a life full of possibilities and hope.  I saw the opportunity to educate others and do something wonderful.  But I was never given that chance.  She was never given that chance.

Even now, three years later, I miss Savannah deeply.  I miss the lifetime of memories that we didn't get.  I wonder all the time what she would be like as a 3 year old.  Would she be in dance class?  Would she have liked preschool?  Would she have let me paint her nails or teach her dance or gymnastics? Would she still tolerate me with my hair bow obsession?  I still cope and deal with all that we lost that day.  Tears still fill my eyes and my pillow when I think about what could have been...what SHOULD have been our family right now.

And I know many of you are thinking to yourself, "But you have another daughter, a new baby that you can have those experiences with.  Get over it."  But I can't.  It's impossible.  I can't forget or get over Savannah.  She is ingrained in my heart and in my thoughts.  She was my daughter, my oldest daughter and her life ended far too soon.  It ended before it even began.  As I looked up at Bode, I saw the love in his eyes and his smile warmed my heart.  Those were the things that I miss the most about Savannah - those are the little things I would have given anything to enjoy and savor.

So to anyone who thinks that I am not grieving correctly or I need to move on, live my life and feel my feelings and you will never say that to anyone ever again.  You simply cannot understand that pain and hurt and the deep sorrow a Mother feels when her child is not here.  I absolutely adore Jeremy and Irelynn and I cherish every single second with them.  But there is a bright eyed little girl missing from our family and a lifetime of experiences that were stolen from us that we can never get back.  I was ready to be the Mom of a child of special needs.  God made me ready.  But I wasn't given the chance.  I was never allowed the opportunity to show my capabilities in times of challenge.  Why?  We loved Savannah unconditionally.  I would have given my own life in a second to take her place.  I would give my life today for her or for any of my children.

To Bode's Mom, God Bless You!  God Bless You for choosing life for baby Bode.  I'm sure you were encouraged many times, as I was, to terminate your pregnancy because he had Down Syndrome.  God Bless You for putting your baby's life above your own, accepting and loving him, and being the best Mommy to him.  And God Bless You for running into me and allowing me the privilege of experiencing Bode's smile.  It made my heart warm in a way that I couldn't have imagined.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Irelynn turned 6 months old!

Can you believe that Irelynn turned 6 months old already?  What an amazing blessing she is to our family and friends!!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

‎20 Things Grieving Parents Wish You Would Remember

‎20 Things Grieving Parents Wish You Would Remember

1. I wish you would not be afraid to mention my child. The truth is just because you never saw my child doesn't mean he or she doesn't deserve your recognition.

2. I wish that if we did talk about my child and I cried you didn't
think it was because you have hurt me by mentioning my child. The truth is I need to cry and about my baby with you. Crying and emotional outbursts help me heal.

3. I wish that you could talk about my child more than once. The truth is if you do, it reassures me that you haven't forgotten and that you do care and understand.

4. I wish you wouldn't think that I don't want to talk about my
child. The truth is I love my child and need to talk about him or her.

5. I wish you could tell me you are sorry my child has died and that you are thinking of me. The truth is that it tells me you care.

6. I wish you wouldn't think what has happened is one big bad memory for me. The truth is the memory of my child, the love I feel for my baby, the dreams I had and the memories I have created for my child are all loving memories. Yes there are bad memories too but please understand that it's not all like that.

7. I wish you wouldn't pretend that my child never existed. The truth is we both know I had a child growing inside me.

8. I wish you wouldn't judge me because I am not acting the way you think I should be. The truth is grief is a very personal thing and we are all different people who deal with things differently.

9. I wish you wouldn't think if I have a good day I'm "over it" or if I have a bad day I am being unreasonable because you think I should be over it. The truth is there is no "normal" way for me to act.

10. I wish you wouldn't stay away from me. The truth is loosing my child doesn't mean I'm contagious. By staying away you make me feel isolated, confused and like it is my fault.

11. I wish you wouldn't expect my grief to be "over and done with" in a few weeks, months, or years for that matter. The truth is it may get easier with time but I will never be "over" this.

12. I wish you wouldn't think that my child wasn't really a child and it was blood and tissue or a fetus. The truth is my child was a human life. My child had a soul, heart, body, legs, arms and a face. I have seen my child's body and face. My child was a real person.

13. My babies due date, Mothers Day, celebration times, the day my baby died and the day I lost my baby are all important and sad days for me. The truth is I wish you could tell me by words or by letter you are thinking of me on these days.

14. I wish you understood that losing my child has changed me. The truth is I am not the same person I was before and will never be that person again. If you keep waiting for me to get back to ""normal" you will stay frustrated. I am a new person with new thoughts, dreams, beliefs, and values. Please try to get to know the real me-maybe you'll still like me.

15. I wish you wouldn't tell me I could have another baby. The truth is I want the baby I lost and no other baby can replace this baby. Babies aren't interchangeable. Besides, you do not know whether we have fertility problems too.

16. I wish you wouldn't feel awkward or uncomfortable talking about my baby or being near me. When you do, I can see it. The truth is it's not fair to make me feel uncomfortable just because you are.

17. I wish you wouldn't think that you'll keep away because all my friends and family will be there for me. The truth is, everyone thinks the same thing and I am often left with no one.

18. I wish you would understand that being around pregnant women is uncomfortable for me. The truth is I feel jealous.

19. I wish you wouldn't say that it's natures way of telling me something was wrong with my baby. The truth is my baby was perfect to me no matter what you think nature is saying.

20. I wish you would understand what you are really saying when you say "next time things will be okay". The truth is how do you know? What will you say if it happens to me again?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

May 18, 2012

It is nearly 2am as I type this blog and the day has been emotionally draining to say the least, yet I am still awake with my thoughts.  It was 3 years ago today that I last held my baby, her lifeless body dressed in a cute overall outfit and my hands holding that small white bow on her head.  She was beautiful and perfect and appeared to be asleep, only she wasn't.  She was gone.

My heart breaks and tears fill my eyes when I think back to the details of those two days and every single detail of what happened.  For some people, they remember being in a fog, which I think sometimes might have been easier.

As a family, we met out at the cemetery at Savannah's grave site.  We tied 3 big cheery birthday balloons and brought her some beautiful flowers. 

We set off 3 Chinese lanterns, each one carrying one year's worth of pain, sadness, grief, anger, love, hope, and peace up to Savannah in Heaven.

We each enjoyed a bite of Savannah's chocolate cake that her big brother picked out at the same time as watching the lobsters in the tank across the aisle in the grocery store.  It's hard for him because he doesn't remember her and he doesn't have any questions.  He tells me "Mommy, don't be sad. Be happy!"  I tell him that it's OK to be sad that Savannah doesn't live here on Earth, but somehow, it seems above the head of a 4-year old.

Afterwards, we went to the Olive Garden for dinner.  We all ordered food, but really none of us ate it.  We just weren't in the mood, although some Italian comfort food seemed like a good idea at the time.  The waiter was especially nice to us even though we were having a rough time.  With the check, he included a hand-written card that said "May the four of you have a blessed evening."  But there aren't four of us.  We are a family of five.

And we came home and put the kids to bed, prepped for the next day, and went to sleep.  At least Eric went to sleep.  I couldn't sleep.

I was angry and hurt that no one had called or emailed or sent a card to acknowledge that today was Savannah's 3rd Birthday in Heaven.  I was disappointed in my family, in my parents, in my sisters.  I was disappointed in my husband's family, in my friends, in our friends.  I felt like my biggest fear was coming true ~ people were forgetting Savannah ever existed.

I get that people don't know the right thing to say.  I can understand how some people might feel like bringing it up might make me sad.  The truth is, I will forever be sad, especially on these two days, and ignoring it makes it worse.  I WANT to talk about it and I want you to listen.  I NEED to talk about it.  I am on a journey ~ one similar to motherhood.  Once it begins, it never ends.  Jeremy and Irelynn will never know their sister, not in their lifetime.  It's not about me (Shannon) looking for attention.  It's about someone who was part of our family, someone very much loved and wanted, is gone and is never coming back.

Yes, I have another child and I am so grateful.  But I will NEVER stop missing or loving or yearning for my daughter, Savannah.  If I have 10 more daughters, the dates of May 17-18 will always be emotionally draining and sad for me.

What can you do?  Put special dates and anniversaries on your calendar for someone you know who has lost a baby and make the effort to reach out to them and let them know you are thinking of them, that you care, and that you haven't forgotten their child.  And don't be alarmed if tears arise.  Tears are signs of healing, just as loving supportive words and sentiments.  In fact, they help people heal more than you can imagine.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mother's Day Reflections 2012

Mother's Day is just a few days away and I find myself overwhelmed with feelings.  I am so grateful to have been blessed with 2 beautiful children here on Earth, but I am always reminded that someone is missing from our family pictures.  Most of my blog readers are here because you know me personally or you have suffered the loss of a child.  No matter how you found me, I'm glad you are here.

For those who have not lost a child themselves, I'm sure you know someone who has suffered a loss, whether it be through miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS, or SUID.  Our losses are very different, but we all share the same feelings.  We all share a lifetime of pain and sorrow because someone very important to us is missing.  It doesn't matter if you were pregnant for a week or 40, whether you gave birth to a live baby or a silent one, if you brought your baby home from the hospital or your baby lived it's entire life in the hospital.  Mother's Day is a reminder that someone is missing.

I am very fortuate.  I have an energentic little boy and a sweet newborn baby girl to hold on Mother's Day.  But I have many friends who do not.  This day is something they dread all year long.  It's hard to look around and see families with children who are smiling and happy and giving their Mom's handmade gifts and cards.  It's hurtful and I'm sure many of those friends will spend the day at home, away from the reminders of the day.  They are thinking to themselves "Am I a Mother?"

Those friends are just as much Mother's as you or I and they deserve to be celebrated.  They NEED to be recognized and celebrated.

Mother's Day is a day when we recognize and thank our Mothers and Grandmothers.   Some of them are also missing from Earth and this day will also prove to be a challenge and reminder of their grief and loss.

There are still others who dream of being a Mother, but struggle with infertility.  I was here myself just a year ago, and the year before that.  This day is a symbol of something they want so badly but have yet to acheive.  They cling to the hope of the children that are alive within their hearts and in their dreams, but have yet to make their Earthly appearance.

The most thoughtful and compassionate thing you can do on Sunday is to recognize with love and friendship those who are Mother's in the traditional sense, but also recognize and acknowledge those who hold their babies in their hearts.

There is a great organization, Star Legacy Foundation, which I am proud to serve on the Board of Directors.  They have a great page of suggestions of things you can do and say to those around you who may find themselves alone, isolated, or hurting this Mother's Day.  CLICK HERE for a list of Do's and Don'ts on special holidays or just everyday.  I promise you that reaching out to her will have a profound impact and mean more to her than you can imagine.  Speak with love, especially on this day, with these Mom's.  Unless you have walked this road, you really don't know what it's like ~ I promise.

Happy Mother's Day to all Mothers; no matter where your children live, they are always alive within your heart.

~ Shannon

Friday, April 13, 2012

Savannah's Life ~ nearly 3 years later

As we are approaching Savannah's 3rd Birthday in Heaven, I have been reflecting on her life and how it changed me and the lives of so many others.  As I write this, I am still unsure of where I am in the grieving cycle.  I still have bad days and sad days; days when I would give anything to go back in time to May 17th and done something to save her life.

Nearly 3 years later, I have felt a need to release ~ to release some of the anger, release the hurt, release the pain, release the anxiety, release the sadness, and release the grief.  I give it all over to God to guide my heart and my life just a little closer to Him.  I try not to think about the sadness of what was lost in Savannah's life and replace it with gratitude for the time that we did have and what her brief life brought into your world and our hearts.

Savannah is at peace in a world with no pain and no sorrow and although we feel those things here, we look forward to the day when we can all be reunited together again as a family for all of eternity.

I have written about this before, but each of us has purpose and meaning to our lives.  Savannah fulfilled God's purpose, but we still have work to do.  There are people to help, strangers to become friends, and hurts to heal.  We each have a mission.  What is yours and how do you plan to use your life to fulfill it?

Tomorrow, we will gather with friends and family to Welcome Irelynn to the World.  It is bittersweet in many ways, but mostly because we will gather to celebrate Irelynn's life in the same place where we last gathered with friends and family following Savannah's funeral almost 3 years ago.

Cherish each moment with your family and remember to always be thankful for your blessings in life.  If you have a roof over your head, food in your stomach, clothes in your closet, and the love of family and friends, then you are truly blessed.

~ Shannon

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter

Christ is risen!  He is truly risen!

This is our family outside of Church on Easter Sunday morning.

After Church each week, we visit Savannah.  For some reason, today was especially hard.

This was our family Easter picture just 3 years ago, before our world was completely shattered:

 And now, we have a new precious miracle to love and enjoy.  We still miss Savannah every single day, but our hearts have widened to embrace and love Irelynn.  She is so special to so many people.

Happy Easter!  I'm so proud that we have chosen to teach our children that these holidays are not about Easter Baskets and candy, but rather what Jesus endured for our sins so that we could live eternally in Heaven with Him and with Savannah.

~ Shannon

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Happy 3 months to Irelynn!

I cannot believe we are here, but Irelynn is 3 months old!  The time has gone by so quickly.  As I look back, it seemed as though my pregnancy crept by at the pace of a snail, and with good reason.  However, now that Irelynn is here safe and happy and healthy, the days and weeks have just flown by!  I'm torn because I am enjoying every second and at times I wish she would slow down, but I am so eager for the future.  She has developed her own personality, but overall she is such a happy smiley baby!  She loves her big brother, she sleeps 9 hours through the night, and loves to coo and dance to music.

At her last appointment, on her 3 month birthday, she weighed in at 12 pounds, 7 ounces and is meeting and exceeding all milestones.  As for me, I would be lying if I said I wasn't a total mess.  This is not only a milestone for Irelynn, but also this marks 3 months that I have not totally freaked out, wrapped my child in bubble wrap (although the thought has crossed my mind a few times), or refused to leave the house for fear of the world.

I tried to explain this to a friend of mine recently ~ I really thought my biggest challenge in life was getting pregnant.  Once I got pregnant, my worried immediately turned to staying pregnant.  After that, it turned into having a safe delivery.  After she was home from the hospital, I became fearful of SIDS, cancer, car accidents, viruses, and anything that could potentially harm her.  My pediatrician gave me a stern talking to about being overprotective.  It was easy for him to say ~ he had never buried a child or taken just about everything in life for granted just to have it ripped out of your hands when you least expected it.

But just like I did when I was pregnant, I pray to God.  I thank him for today and I pray that he will give me one more day with my family.  I am thankful for the gift of today because tomorrow is never for sure.  Sometimes I have to stop myself from those anxious thoughts once a day and sometimes 25 times throughout the day, but when I pray, it seems to end those anxious thoughts and brings me a sense of peace.  Just like with my pregnancy, I can only control so much and the rest is up to God.  He gave my husband and I three of the most precious gifts ever and we make sure they each know every single day that they are a special gift from God.  Throughout all of the pain and sorrow, we are filled with faith and hope for the future.  I have Savannah and all of the lessons we have learned from her life to thank for that.

~ Shannon

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Life is so precious...

2 weeks ago, after battling kidney disease, Eric's grandmother, Jody, went to Heaven.  It was sad and we miss her dearly, but we find peace in the years of memories and knowing that she is with her husband and Savannah and is no longer in pain.  She was an amazing woman and if you would like to read about her life, here is more:

In recent days, I have reconnected with an old friend who is sadly, battling terminal cancer.  She is in her 30s and has 3 boys.  She is a friend that I met nearly 7 years ago while living in military housing and lives about 2 miles away from us now.  Her husband is still Active Duty Military.  I wish I could do more than reach out with prayers and support and drop off a dinner.  It just seems like its not enough, but I also want to respect and honor her wishes to spend what time she has left with her husband and boys.

It seems like death is all around me right now.  I know that it will happen to all of us at some point.  I just hate to see suffering.  I hate to think about Savannah suffering.  I know that all of our departed friends and family are in a much better place than we can even imagine.  I feel torn at times because I absolutely adore my family here, but I still miss Savannah so much.  I know with each day that passes, I am one day closer to being with her again, but I have also been given the gift of one more day here on Earth; one more chance to right my wrongs; one more day to create memories; one more opportunity to tell the people I love just how much I love them.

As I held Irelynn tonight, I told her all about her big sister, Savannah and how she helped to save her life.  Her eyes got big as she listened to me talk and when I finished, Irelynn gave me a big smile.  I think the girls know each other, somehow.

Irelynn is 2 months old today and is doing so well.  This week, she weighed 11 pounds even, which was great news.  She struggled a little at first and was in the 13-15th percentile for height and weight, but she has since jumped and is now in the nearly 50th percentile!  I can see amazing changes in her face and body.  She is chunking up so well!  Every single moment with her is such a blessing and I will never take a second for granted.  I thank Savannah every day for what she taught me ~ to cherish every moment!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentines Day Reflections...

Today is Valentine's Day.  While for most, it is a day filled with chocolates and love notes, it has a far different meaning for me.  2 years ago today, I hit my lowest point as a person.  It was 9 months after losing Savannah, 9 months following what was my due date when she was still very much alive.  It was 9 months after going through something that no one should ever have to experience - the death of a baby.  Not only had I lost Savannah at 40 weeks and 3 days, but I had also experienced 2 miscarriages back to back.

At the time, I was very depressed and broken.  I felt that I had no purpose left and at times, felt that Eric and Jeremy would be better off.  I struggled to take care of myself and really just wanted to be with my daughter, Savannah.  It was a dark time, but one that I am thankful for.  Had I not gone through that, I would have never been able to get to where I am today.  And now, I am beginning to further understand my purpose as well as Savannah's.

Today, Irelynn is 6 weeks old.  It was exactly 6 weeks ago that my beautiful little girl's life was saved thanks to the education and wisdom I learned from Savannah.  It is also due to the team of experts that I surrounded myself with.  Dr. Collins of the Pregnancy Institute out of Baton Rouge, the Star Legacy Foundation, which I am honored and humbled to be a part of, spreading the wisdom and education they shared with me, and most importantly, Dr. Shwayder, my OB here in Virginia.  He never gave up on me and made keeping me and my baby safe a top priority.  I owe him everything.  While he was NOT involved in anything that happened with Savannah, he made sure he learned lessons from what happened and was just as determined as I was to make sure it didn't happen again.  While there are no guarantees in life, and everyone who is pregnant is not guaranteed a baby, he was just about as close as you could come.  I can say thank you a million times over to him and it would never be enough.  The same goes for Dr. Collins.

This year, as we celebrate Irelynn and Jeremy and our entire family, we look back at where we were as a family and where I was just 2 years ago.  Little did I know on that dark day what was to come,  It was only 2 weeks later that we found this beautiful house, which provided a fresh start for us.  And here I am, holding my gorgeous daughter as I type.  It's always important to remember that when you are at your darkest of times, there is always hope.  I hope that anyone reading this who is currently in a dark place can find hope in their future.  The most important thing that I realized is that my job here on Earth is not done, even though Savannah's was.  She continues to speak through me and I continue to share her story and her life with others.  While I wish more than anything that she was here with us, I can't think of a better place for her to be.

Dear Savannah,

I love you so much, my sweet girl.  We are so proud of you for everything you have done in your short life and everything you continue to do.  You have taught us and countless others many valuable lessons and no matter what, you will NEVER be forgotten!  While I can't wait to see you and hold you in my arms again, I know that I have more work to do here on Earth.  Thank you for being such a wonderful daughter and helping me and our family through our dark days.  Thank you for strengthening my faith in God and helping everyone who knows your name to be a better person.

Love, Mommy

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Baptism Gown Signifigance

The one leap of faith I took while pregnant with Irelynn was to have her Baptism Gown handmade from my wedding dress.  This was something I planned to do with Savannah, but instead, my Mom had saved my Baptismal Gown and we chose to bury her in that instead.  While I had hoped to pass on my Baptismal Gown, there was nothing else I could think of to bury Savannah in.  So, with Irelynn growing well and things seemingly going well, I contacted a local seamstress to discuss the project.

To my surprise, this lady was so compassionate.  It turns out she had lost her own son at the age of 3, so she was very understanding as to my anxiety but willingness to make this leap of faith.  She did an AMAZING job and it's something that I hope another baby girl can wear someday.  There is also enough left over to hopefully make a 1st Communion Dress one day!

I also had my wedding handkerchief that was wrapped around my Wedding Bouquet made into her Baptismal Bonnet.  And the blanket I held her with was Jeremy's Baptismal Blanket.  It was a beautiful joyous day, one that we weren't sure would ever happen, but it did and was such a blessing!  It was a LOT of dress for such a little girl, but you only get Baptized once, right?  God has blessed our family more than we could have ever imagined!

Irelynn is welcomed into God's Family!

Today, February 11, 2012, Irelynn was Baptized.  It was a beautiful Saturday morning ceremony followed by a lovely brunch.  Today, interestingly, is the Feast Day of Lourdes.  This is interesting for a few reasons.  My parents traveled to Lourdes, and my Mom prayed for me and our baby.  She brought back some water and while she was here over Christmas, she prayed over my belly and asked me to drink it, which I did.  It was a very emotional experience and little did I know how much the value of prayer and faith would play just a few days later.  So, how appropriate that Irelynn was Baptized on such a special day!  It was a day we weren't sure we would ever get to experience.

We were also blessed enough to have Father John David Ramsey Baptize her.  He is very special to our family for a few reasons.  As a seminarian, he gave his first homily at the Mass where Jeremy celebrated his Baptismal Rite of Presentation.  Jeremy was Baptized in the hospital as a baby when he was readmitted and facing surgery for suspected Hirshbrung's Disease, which he was later cleared of.  Ironically, the hospital chaplain was Father Dowd.  My maiden name is O'Dowd.  Coincidence?

Later, as a Deacon, John David assisted and participated in Savannah's funeral.  It meant a lot to us that he was so willing to be involved again.  He also comforted us after our 1st miscarriage following her funeral and has become a good friend.  He was since ordained and transferred to a neighboring parish.  We were thrilled that he was willing to Baptize Irelynn and it meant the world to us that things were able to come full circle.

After the Baptism, we gathered with friends and family for a celebratory brunch.  It was a wonderful day and although we were very tired, it was full of memories. 

May God Bless Irelynn, today and forever!  She is such a blessing to so many people and most importantly, has provided all of us with hope and faith.  She is a true miracle and blessing and was well worth all the pain and heartache.  I know that Savannah is smiling down upon her.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sharing Savannah's Life...

For the 3rd year in a row, I was asked to speak on the Parent Panel for the training seminar "When A Baby Dies."  Last week, over 100 people (nurses, chaplains, social workers) all got to hear about Savannah and learn the lessons that I wished Langley had learned.  Every time I have told her story, someone comes up and asks me if my doctor ever apologized to me for what happened and sadly, I have to tell that person no.  Everyone feels badly for the way I was treated, but more importantly, I think people need to hear what happened so if they are in that situation, they can do better and learn from the mistakes and failures of Langley.  This time, my Mom was in town and able to hear me speak and took a few pictures.

It's something that I'm happy to talk about because while sharing Savannah's life, I am hopefully helping to ensure that no one else has to experience what I went through after losing my daughter.  While I realize no one knows the "right" thing to say, there is a long list of things that while well-meaninged, are very hurtful.  The speech was a success and more and more people have let Savannah into their hearts.

Afterwards, my Mom and I headed to the Olive Garden for lunch and a much needed drink.

And here is my "Mommy of the Year" picture!

In case you are wondering or going to be visiting the Olive Garden in the near future, the drink special is called Toasted Marshmellow Amore and is the closest thing to a grown up alcoholic chocolate milk.  It's so yummy I found the recipe and have been making them at home.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Welcome to the World, Irelynn!

I wanted to share with you Irelynn's Birth Announcement.  It was so much fun for me to put together!

Here is the front cover:

This is the inside top of the card:

This is the inside bottom of the card:

And the back of the card:

We called Irelynn "Baby Bunny" and if you ask Jeremy today what the baby's name is, he will tell you "Baby Bunny" and Irelynn is her nickname.  I hope she finds this to be a cute nickname when she is a teenager!

All of these photos were taken when Irelynn was 2-3 weeks old.  Here is a more recent picture (taken at 7 weeks) of our Baby Bunny:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How to Hide a Pregnancy

Probably the most asked question is how on earth did I hide a pregnancy?

First, I'd like to address the why.

After losing Savannah, we were devastated.  I was able to get pregnant 6 months later in November 2009.  We were so happy and told just about everyone.  We had no reason not to!  After all, my issues seemed to be at the end of pregnancy.  I had never had a miscarriage before so I'm sure you can imagine our devastation when just 6 weeks into that pregnancy, I miscarried.  I felt totally defeated.  We vowed never again to share the news until after we had another live birth.  And we didn't.  There were times when I disclosed that we had experienced another loss after it happened casually, but to be honest, each subsequent time I got pregnant, I expected to miscarry again.  And I did.  3 more times.  This just solidified our decision to keep it private.  It seemed the only way to protect ourselves and our family.  We didn't want any one's pity.  We just wanted to be able to one day celebrate the arrival of a new baby.

I don't want anyone, especially Irelynn, to ever think that we didn't want her or want to celebrate her coming.  We did, it was just very difficult for us to talk about it with anyone else.  I eventually decided to do some pregnancy photos and I'm really glad that I did.

Baby showers became very difficult for me to attend so eventually, I just stopped all together.  For a time, I became bitter and jealous of people who became pregnant without trying or who had the audacity to complain about their pregnancy.  It was so hurtful to me each time a new friend would joyously announce a new pregnancy.  Some friends of mine have had multiple children in the time since I lost Savannah.  It's not their fault that they are fertile but it was still a constant reminder of something that I couldn't control and a blessing that wasn't being bestowed upon us.

As the weeks of my pregnancy went by, we just kept things private.  I did everything I could to blend in and not attract attention to myself.  I wore baggy shirts and wore almost nothing that was maternity.  I remember looking at other women who were about the same point as me and they had on all these dresses and tops that just screamed "I'm PREGNANT!"  It was just extra attention that I didn't want or need.

Luckily, most people didn't question it.  I was careful in how I posed in pictures and thankful that in all the weight I put on, I didn't put it on in my face, which would have been a total giveaway.  I wore regular clothes as long as I could, long shirts and sweaters, and wore lots of accessories to attract attention away from my belly.  I tried to find the most obnoxious necklaces thinking more towards the end that no one will look at my belly when I have this hideous necklace on.  Eric says I was in denial, but it became easier to think I was successfully hiding it.  If you look back at my Facebook pictures, either people were in front of me or they were shots of my chest up.

There were a few people who cornered me and I was shocked that they didn't at first believe me when I said I wasn't pregnant.  It was like somehow they knew.  I had some carefully crafted responses.

1.  We don't have any news to share but we are hopeful that we will soon.
2.  I can't believe how much weight I'm putting on.  It must be those darn fertility meds.
3.  Because of what happened with Savannah, we are choosing to keep things private, but we'll let you know when we have good news to share.

I got better at answering questions for those who did ask me.  Most had good intentions but in my thinking, if someone is pregnant and not talking about it, there is probably a good reason why.  Part of my work in the baby loss community has brought some amazing people into my life.  The downside is that I personally know people who have lost their babies at every point throughout a pregnancy so I know first hand, that no one is ever safe.  There is no safe point, such as after the 1st trimester because I know lots of 2nd trimester loss moms.  Michelle Duggar is a perfect example of this.  While I don't want to scare anyone reading this who is pregnant, is a sad reality that I and others have painfully experienced.

Just to throw off anyone who may have been suspicious, we sent out the greatest Christmas Card that was all pictures of Jeremy.  There were a few of all 3 of us, and the funny thing is that I was pregnant in each of those.  But no one said a word about it.

I did choose a few close friends to share the pregnancy with, like a very small handful.  I kept it on a need-to-know basis.  The biggest reason was that I didn't want to deal with all the questions.  When are you due?  Do you know what you're having?  Do you have names picked out?  Are you having a baby shower?  And on and on and on.  All of these are well-meaninged questions but it was just questions I was not ready to deal with or answer.  So the less people that knew, the less I had to deal with, and thankfully, those few people who did know didn't ask me about it.

There are a few things we could have done differently/better.  First was Jeremy.  Of course, we told him about the baby.  He had some issues differentiating between the new baby and Savannah.  We told him not to tell anyone.  When school started, apparently, he opened up about it a lot.  He came home and told us his teacher was questioning him about it.  We had told him if anyone asked him anything about the baby to say "I don't want to talk about that."  And we practiced all the different ways someone might ask him.  It caused a few issues and we ended up addressing it with his teacher.  Everything worked out, but it was clear that Jeremy needed a safe place to talk about Savannah.  We put him in a Kids N Grief support group which he absolutely loves.  It's a place where kids his age all lost someone very special and he is encouraged to talk about it and share his feelings through play.

We also couldn't chose a name.  It was just too emotionally hard and raw because I knew that it could end at any point.  We tried several times but ended up with a list of about 10.  We decided to wait until the baby was born.  In order to help Jeremy, we needed to find something to call this baby so he could understand that it wasn't Savannah.  Very easily, the name Baby Bunny came to me.  Not only is it a super cute name, but Bunny (Bernadette) is the name of my Godmother, an amazing woman who lost her battle with Alzheimer's Disease a few years ago.  She was in her late 40s when she was diagnosed.  Most importantly, she was someone who was very special to me and I have faith is helping to watch over Savannah for me.  If you have other children, I would recommend finding a special nickname as early as you can.

Towards the middle/end, when I had to attend meetings, I used a binder or large bag in front of my stomach.  I just tried my best not to attract attention.  I avoided places like Target and Walmart where the probability of running into someone I knew was high.  I tried to shop at the Commissary on off-hours, like right before they closed.  My life basically consisted of taking Jeremy to preschool and going to doctors appointments.  I did the best I could and hoped that if people did suspect, they wouldn't ask.

For my family, it was pretty easy.  All of my family lives out of state and we don't see each other very often.  I did see some extended family over the summer, but I wasn't showing and thankfully, no one questioned why I wasn't drinking.  Although, I thought that would have been a dead giveaway!  Shannon without a drink in her hand?  Something MUST be up!  But then again, we had been trying every month for 18 months and of course I always stopped drinking just in case.  Although if you are out with friends drinking, it was easy enough to ask for a ginger ale in a cocktail glass with a lime.

I felt like I had the clothes situation really well thought out and was prepared since I was going to get bigger in October/November/December which should have been cold weather months.  Would would have thought that it would still be 65 and 70 degrees in November and December?  Not cool and not helpful to my plan.  I did the best I could and hoped no one would notice.  This is mostly where a lot of denial came into place I think.

Anyway, this is not the right decision for everyone.  I wish it hadn't been for me but the days of being joyful and excited about seeing those two lines on a pregnancy test are over.  We waited so long to have a successful pregnancy and I thought getting to that point was our biggest challenge.  I was wrong.  It became a week by week battle against my thoughts, worries, and fears.  Then having a safe delivery became my biggest fear.  You know what's funny?  Now that Irelynn is here, it hasn't stopped.  I invested in a monitor that clips on to her diaper and sounds an alarm if she doesn't breathe or have belly movement after 18 seconds.  Will it help prevent SIDS?  Maybe or maybe not but it does provide us a small amount of peace of mind, especially when we are all sleeping.

Hopefully, this will help someone else out there who thinks the same way we did.  I wish that we could be excited and joyful just like every other pregnant women but it's just not our reality anymore.  As sad as that it, we have accepted it.  Looking back, there really was no need to tell anyone anyway because we were worried enough for everyone.

When Irelynn was born, we sent out an email to family and friends letting them know first that she had arrived and why we chose to keep it private and not disclose it.  Everyone so far has been understanding and supportive and I'm sure if you asked them, they are probably relieved that they didn't know.  I know some people suspected and we are so thankful for their prayers for us and our baby.  It meant the world to us!  Later, once we were home from the hospital, we announced it on Facebook.  We didn't want anyone in our families to have their feelings hurt because they found out via Facebook that we had had a baby.

Still to this day, when I see people announce their pregnancy on Facebook at 4 weeks, I shake my head.  On one hand, I'm glad they don't have to live with the fear that we do.  On the other hand, I am worried for them because I know that so many things can go wrong, especially that early.  For us, we have learned the pregnancy is such an amazing gift and we were grateful for each and every day because it can end at any point.  In fact, I prayed to God and thanked him for the baby growing within me and I prayed that he would grant us one more day.  Every day I prayed this prayer.  And each day I was still pregnant and felt her move inside me was an amazing gift from God.  I never complained, never took anything for granted, and tried my best to try to live in the present and not the past.  Much easier said than done for sure!

The other downside is the lack of support.  Fortunately, I found some great support online.  There are some great support groups called Subsequent Pregnancy After Loss (SPALS) and several on Facebook, although I was the only one who hid my pregnancy.  I was also contacted by a documentary who was interested in my story.  As tempting as that was and how passionate I am about helping others, I was scared.  What if we didn't have a happy ending like on those shows?

Also, don't waste your time looking on youtube for videos on how to hide your pregnancy.  There aren't any except if you are a teenager and trying to hide it from your parents.  LOL!
So, feel free to email me if you have any other questions and I hope that none of you find yourself in my situation.  It was the right choice for us, but it's not right for everyone.