June 28, 2011

Cale's First Birthday in Heaven

This morning I woke up to the most beautiful gift from Miles. He had gotten in touch with our amazing photographer to get an early copy of a picture she took at the hospital the day after Finley was born. He had a frame made, and framed the picture for me to open.

This is the inscription on the frame: 

It was a perfect, albeit incredibly emotional, way to start the day. To remind myself of how far we've come, and that Cale will always be a part of our lives. I have lots of other pictures I plan to share from our little celebration of Cale's First Birthday in Heaven, but am too tired (physically and emotionally) to upload and post those right now, so I'll share them later.

It's been a year since we met and said goodbye (for now) to Cale. That doesn't sit well with me because it's been too long since I held him and that time will only increase. But at the same time I'm amazed that we made it a year, and amazed that in that time we've been blessed with the healthy arrival of Cale's brother. There are times I look at Finley and I can easily see the resemblance he shares with Cale. I love that he clearly looks like his brother, but isn't identical to him (that would have been too hard I think). But as wonderful as it is having Finley here in our arms, it's also hard. It's a reminder of what we've missed out on. I miss Cale so much. I always will. Today doesn't really feel like his first birthday. It certainly feels like his day, but Cale will always be our little baby (as opposed to our one year old son). I sometimes struggle imagining him as anything but a perfect newborn. And that's hard at times. I hate that I don't know what he would have looked like today and that he is not here with us as we celebrated him.

A family in my husbands unit recently lost a baby. I've been in touch with the mom, trying to comfort her and give her hope, but allowing her to grieve and not be overly optimistic. Sometimes it's too hard and too overwhelming to hear "it's going to be ok" when your grief is so fresh and raw. And the sad truth, that I've shared with her, is that it is never going to be ok. It doesn't get better. But it does get easier. It's never ok that your baby died and never ok that you have to figure out how to live without them. But you do and life goes on and there are happy times and you are able to enjoy them and eventually you realize that it's gotten easier. She recently asked me when I felt like my old self again. I need to write her back. I probably won't today, but what I need to tell her is that I never felt like my old self. But that's ok. Cale changed me. I'll never be the person I was before him, but I'm not sure if I'd want to be anyway. In the midst of grieving for Cale, I feel I'm learning how to live. How to really, genuinely live. I love more. I love Miles, and Finley, my family and friends so much more. And I appreciate things and people more and search for the reasons I have to be grateful, despite the reasons I have not to be. Some of the most wonderful people I've met or gotten to know (even just online) are people I wouldn't have met had it not been for Cale. Some of my friendships have been strengthened as they have been, and continue to be, tested and tried. And some friendships have faded. But it's shown me that they weren't worth keeping in the first place. I feel that I don't have time, or chose not to have time, for trivial things or trivial people. I'm more assertive, more honest, and more real. I am these things because of Cale. I am a mother because of him. So no, I'm certainly not the person I was before him but am proud of that.

Most of you who read this blog fall into the category of people I truly appreciate and have been so grateful for during this past year. Thank you for to continued support. The prayers, words of encouragement, and above all else the love you have shown our family, the love you have for Cale and for reminding me how he'll never be forgotten.

June 25, 2011

Happy Birthday Harper

Today we went to a balloon release to celebrate a very special girl. Harper Grace Johnson was born on June 25, 2010. She only lived but a few minutes, but she's touched a lot of lives, mine included.

These last few days have been on and off emotional for me. I sometimes am hit with little (and big) waves of grief as I picture our lives a year ago and re-live the day Cale was born, the day we found out he died. Yesterday he received a Happy 1st Birthday Card from Babies R Us. They never got the message. Because we were registered with them and they had Cale's due date on file, it's only logical to assume he'd be turning one soon. You don't assume that the worst happened, and that a family went home without a baby. And after I got a little sad opening the card, I thought of all the other families who will get those same cards, but don't have their baby here with them. We also received a box of formula in the mail. I'm breastfeeding Finley, but must have gotten the formula from being on some list. I also got formula a week or so after Cale died. It was much less painful getting it this time. But again, it got me thinking of all the people who will receive that same box, but it will only serve as a painful reminder of what is missing.

The same day I delivered Finley, undoubtedly one of the happiest of my lives, another family just down the hall, lost a baby and had a leaf on their door. The leaf is a symbol to the hospital staff, and all those who enter the room, that it's not a room filled with happiness, but rather a family who had to say goodbye to a baby far too soon. Ironically, it was the same room in which I delivered Cale. Irony sure can be cruel.

So here we are, just a few days away from Cale's Birthday. We'll be celebrating him that day and plan to always acknowledge him with our family. We want Finley, and his future sibling(s) (God willing) to always know about Cale and the fact that he left a big impact on all our lives, just as sweet Harper did for all those who knew her or are lucky enough to know about her.

Here are some pictures from Harper's balloon release.

Below: Finley with his buddy Sam
They will have to fight over Harper's little sister who is due in September.

June 23, 2011

Pop, Meet Finley. . . . Finley, Pop

We have recently had lots of visits from family and will continue to for the next week or so. My dad arrived yesterday with the rest of my family trickling in over the next few days. Before arriving, he called and asked that we have a camera ready as he wanted to capture, in his words, "Finley's first kiss from Pop Nichols or Grandpa, or whatever I'm going to be called."

So, here we have it, Finley meeting my dad for the first time.

My dad is a very sweet and sensitive man. Even more so with age. When I left for West Point he wrote me a long letter to read on the plane. When Miles and I got married, he read us a letter at our rehearsal dinner. And when Cale died, he wrote the most beautiful letter - all of these filled with nothing but love and the most sincere emotions from his heart. Today, my dad had another sweet letter that he wanted to read to us, I thought it was too cute not to share.  (Kate, get your tissues) 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

My Dear Caroline -

Thoughts on meeting grandson Finley Daren Hidalgo for the first time. And thoughts on seeing my daughter Caroline for the first time since Finley's birth. 

I reflect back on the last 12 months which have been filled with overwhelming grief and some joy. No words can express the heartache of losing Baby Cale and Daren. Happiness has also occurred with the pregnancy of Finley, the safe return of Miles, and the birth of Finley. This time has given me time to reflect on my life and my children, on Caroline and Miles, and their loved ones - Cale, Finley and also Daren. I'm going to write about Love.

When Kate was still in her mother's womb I had doubts of my ability and capacity to share my love with a new child. My love for Rob was so complete that I was afraid that I would not be able to give as much love to Kate and that a portion of the love I had for Rob would be scarified for our new child. What I soon discovered was that my love expanded. My love for Rob continued to grow and my love for Kate was every bit as complete as it was for Rob.

And when my sweet Caroline arrived, my love expanded again. My love never diminished for my first and second child and when my third one was born - it just kept expanding. Caroline, I tell you this because you may have had feelings of concern or even tinges of guilty emotions of a fear that your love and remembrance of Cale would be diminished because of your love for Finley.

I can tell you with absolute certainty that due to our capacity as humans to have our love expand, Cale's memory will remain in your and Miles' hearts forever and the love you have for Cale will never diminish. That's what's so beautiful about the human heart.

I suspect that many time you've entered your room and stopped and touched Cale's urn. The tears flowed as you assured him and yourself that you will never forget him and that you'll love him forever. So, my dear Caroline, rest assured that the expanded love you now have for Finley will never diminish your love for Cale. And Cale's memory will never fade from his parents. Ever.

Also, Finley is the person he is because of Cale. Were it not for Cale, Finley would not be. Finley came into being at this time because of Cale.

I hope all this makes sense to you. Caroline you are a remarkable person. Your love for Miles, Cale, and Finley is obvious and clear. It is so very complete.

I am so very honored to be your Father. I'll love you forever.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

June 18, 2011

Bringing Home Baby

Have you ever watched that showing "Bringing Home Baby" on TLC? Or any of the other billion shows on TV about babies? I sort of have a love-hate relationship with them. They are about babies, so I'm kind of a sucker for getting drawn into them, but after experiencing a loss, I also hate them. I hated watching them as they only follow people with happy outcomes, people who sometimes don't realize how good they have it. They can be a huge slap in the face to anyone who wants nothing more than to bring home a baby. Yesterday morning I turned on the TV after feeding Finley. We were just hanging out on the couch and "Bringing Home Baby" was on TV. Miles walked in the room and asked, "Is this a Baby Story?"  and I said "close enough - it's Bringing Home Baby'" to which he stopped, watched for a second and said "ya know, I see that stuff now and feel a little less bitter." I couldn't have agreed more.

Our Bringing Home Baby journey has been such a long one. It feels so strange that it's over. Yes, this is just a beginning of a whole new journey, but it's still surreal to have finally brought a baby home. Here's a little recap (well, that's a lie - this will be long and filled with lots of pictures) of the past few days and bringing home Finley.

Sunday, June 12th was a long day. By night we couldn't sleep. It wasn't until after midnight that we finally tried to get a few hours rest. We were up by 4am to put the bags in the car, drop Roscoe off with his friends' Zeus and Luna, and head to the hospital. Here's a picture of us right before we left.

We arrived shortly after 6am, but the induction didn't really get kicked off until a couple hours, and a botched IV, later. Since it was an induction and my body wasn't totally ready for labor, they first had to give me some meds to get me further dilated. Then a couple hours after that I was given pitocin.


While waiting for things to progress, I did hit a point where I began to struggle. Not physically, because of the pain, but emotionally. Here we were, nearly a year later, going through another delivery, it was very familiar and at the same time totally foreign. I missed Cale, and was upset about all that he never got to experience. I was thinking so much of what it was like when Miles and I waited in the delivery room for him to be born, knowing that once he was, the only crying would be from us, not from our baby. There were no congratulatory expressions given, no joyous calls or text sent out. It was somber and quiet and not what Cale's birth should have been . . . not what any babies entrance into the world should be. But, as we've learned to do over and over, we got through it.

As for the labor itself, the contractions were manageable until I was about 7cm dilated at which point I opted to get an epidural. I wanted to feel things out and play it by ear in regards to having a natural delivery, but also wanted to enjoy the experience as much as possible. Once the pain was taking over, I knew it was time to get some relief and don't regret that decision. It was less than an hour until Finley was born, so for that last bit of time, the best and most exciting part, I was able to really just enjoy everything, most importantly the birth itself, with no pain.

When it was time to push, we were both SO excited. The moment we had been waiting for was here, and it came somewhat unexpectedly after my doctor checked my progress and said somewhat surprised himself "oh, well, it's time - you ready?"

Eight minutes later, Finley Daren Hidalgo, entered this world, crying, healthy, perfect, beautiful . . .alive. They laid him on my chest immediately and I was just so overcome with everything. Crying tears of joy, I was holding my boy, looking up at Miles, and just amazed at the miracle that just took place.

Shortly afterwords, Finley was taken over to the Panda Warmer (which we joked would be hilarious if there was actually a big panda in the corner of labor and delivery rooms, ready to lick clean newborns and keep them warm before giving them back. . . admit it, that would be pretty hilarious). Anyway, Miles went over to help clean him and dress him and just bask in the awesomeness of his newborn son, all 6 pounds, 7 ounces of him.

 Miles wrapping Finn in his big brother's blanket.

After the delivery, Miles and I couldn't help but talk about how wonderful everything was, but how bittersweet it is to know exactly the sort of emotions and overall experience we missed out on with Cale. And to look at our sweet boy and know that his middle name is that of an Uncle he'll never meet. It's just hard. Eventually, we moved to the Mother & Baby section. Walking over there was a little strange. With Cale, we stayed in the delivery room until we were released from the hospital the next day. But now, here we were going to our "recovery" room, with our baby. It was almost impossible to fall asleep that night. We could have easily just sat up and watched Finley all night, reminding ourselves that he was ours for the keeping.

Ok, enough hormonally driven emotions. On to some more pictures!

Daddy doing some skin-to-skin time, while introducing Finley to Sports Center.

Here's Finley next to one of the pillows we brought. 
We wanted to make sure the hospital didn't try to steal our pillows.

 And here we are getting ready to head home!

Best sight in the world. . . Our little family, headed home.

And here we are, home at last:

Ok, this has become the longest blog post ever. And has taken a couple days to put together, but I wouldn't give up being busy for anything. Thanks for reading!

June 15, 2011

Introducing . . .

 Finley Daren Hidalgo
June 13, 2011 ~ 6:32pm
6 pounds 7 ounces, 20 inches

There is so much more to share, but I wanted to get something posted. Thank you for the well wishes and prayers. Finley is a dream come true.

June 12, 2011

Tomorrow . . .

Well, here we are. The night before the big day. I'm sitting here watching a crappy movie (anything with Cameron Diaz is total crap in my opinion), and Miles is literally scrubbing the base boards as I sit. He started doing that after he finished the dishes. After a long day of washing our cars and cleaning out the garage. Oh and he made dinner.

Jealous? Or nauseated? He makes a really really good housewife. Puts me to shame. Boy, did I luck out.

But back to the big day. . .

I feel . . . .well, I feel everything. Incredibly excited. I can't wait to meet Finley, I can't wait to have a happy outcome to labor, to see what he looks like and how much he weighs. To put him in that car seat we installed today, or bring him home to meet Roscoe. I can't wait for any of it. But it's scary too. Scary to know that things can happen at any minute that you never would expect. Scary to think of the harsh reality we were exposed to first hand and can't ignore.

And it's bittersweet. We are about to meet our baby and welcome him into the world, but that incredible fact is because life didn't go as planned. Because we lost Cale. Our happiness is, and forever will be, intertwined with our grief. It's complicated and never will be anything but. Yet, as much as it makes me nostalgic for Cale and makes me miss him and sad for everything he missed out on, it makes me love him so much more. It makes me so grateful for him - he is the reason we are about to embark on this journey and the reason we have reason to be excited tonight.

I've been listening to this song a lot:

And there will come a time, you'll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
   Get over your hill and see what you find there.
  It's been a big hill, but we are nearly there. . . . 

June 7, 2011

A Happy Heart

Today my friend Priscilla gave birth to her rainbow baby, Samuel Ryan. My other friend Rhiannon and I were able to go meet Sam tonight and just bask in the little miracle and bundle of hope and that he is. And oh, he's so cute. He's a little peanut at 5 pounds, 8 ounces - so precious!

Meeting Sam was really good for both Rhiannon and me who are awaiting rainbow babies. He gives me such hope that despite life's tragedies, happy endings certainly do exist. Thank you to all of you who read about Priscilla and Sam in my earlier blog and kept them in your prayers - hopefully next week we'll be sharing pictures of Sam's friend Finn!

June 6, 2011

One Week Left. . . Hard to Believe

One week from today is my induction. It's very surreal and as the title states, just hard to believe. But I mean that in the most literal sense possible. We have been waiting to bring a baby home and to be a family of three for a long time now. We want nothing more than for Finley to arrive healthy, living, screaming! But it's almost hard to actually envision it. We've been through a full pregnancy and a delivery before. Just didn't get to bring the baby home. So even though the house, the nursery, and our hearts are VERY ready to welcome this little guy, it's just hard to believe that the possibility of that outcome exists in such a short period of time.

A lot of people have been checking in on me and asking me how I'm doing. I'm actually doing better than I thought I would be at this point. I contribute most of that to having Miles home. Having him back has been so wonderful - it has helped pass the time and has been enjoyable to be back together. I think maybe it just still feels surreal and that's why the full wave of emotions haven't smacked me in the face. It's almost like I'm just waiting for the time to pass, enjoying the movements this sweet baby makes, and enjoying being with Miles and eventually the clock will keep ticking and the time will pass.

Some comments that are getting a little annoying are the following:

* Are you Excited?

Really? Does this even need to be asked? I almost think this is a stupid question to ask any expectant mom, regardless of if they've lost a baby or not. I know there is no harm meant by asking, it just gets old (Or I am just getting crabby. Probably both)

* I bet you are ready to not be pregnant anymore! or Are you tired of being pregnant?

Part of me wants to scream "You have NO idea!" - that's the part of me that is incredibly tired of being pregnant. I've been pregnant for 18 of the last 21 months (since October 2009, I've been pregnant all but three months). Both pregnancies culminating at the onset of the Georgia Summer. It was over 100 degrees for the majority of the last week and this week isn't looking much better. It's humid, I can't sleep, I can't get comfortable, and I feel like an elephant. Ironically, the gestational period of an elephant is 22 months. So yes, yes I am ready to not be pregnant.
But there's a flip-side to that. And that's the fact that I AM pregnant in the first place, something that every day I am thankful for. I'm getting to experience a part of life, that while scary and complicated, is incredibly beautiful and special. And I want to enjoy every minute of this time with my baby because you never know when that time will be taken away from you. And even with a happy ending, it's still such a special time to bond and share with your child and I love that. I love the movements, even the painful ones, I love the hiccups, the ultrasounds, the miracle that is pregnancy.

* I just know everything will be ok this time

We hope so. But we don't know that it will be. And people who say this don't know it either. And this comment is particularly annoying as I want to ask "so, did you know that Cale wouldn't make it then?" I get it - people have a good feeling about things and certainly think that we can't have such a terrible thing happen twice, but the sad reality is that we don't know how it will turn out. We hope for the best and we think things will go well - we never would have tried for another baby if we didn't feel optimistic that we could have a happy ending, but please don't be so ignorant to as claim it as a fact that everything will be just fine. On that same token, it'll probably irk me to no end to hear "see, I told you everything would be fine" if everything does turn out fine.

Despite my little tirade above, I do appreciate all the comments and people checking in. I am always so thankful that Cale was (and still is) so loved, and am so grateful little Finn is no different and that there are so many kind people eagerly anticipating his arrival . . none more than his mommy and daddy though :)

June 3, 2011

Lucky in Love

{Warning: This post will be cheesy, and sappy, and all around nauseating. Read at your own risk.}

If there's one thing over the past year that I can say, without any doubt or question, I am most thankful for, it would be my marriage. We may have fallen on bad luck at times, but I feel incredibly lucky in love.

Yesterday, Miles and I celebrated our 4th Anniversary. I know, I know - some of you are probably thinking "ohhh - a whopping four years - big deal," but over those four years we have endured a lot. I could go on and on about how hard it's been to endure the separations the deployments have brought us, or the worry and stress they add. But there are so many others going through the same thing. And yesterday I got to celebrate with Miles and I am so thankful to finally be able to do that. And we have lots of reason to celebrate us because quite frankly, I think we rock.

In light of some recent (albeit a little unnecessary) purchases, we agreed to no gifts for each other this year but to go out to dinner. We exchanged cards in the morning, yet when I came home from work I came home to a dozen roses and a beautiful note. He wrote me a wonderfully touching note on the same paper that he writes me during deployments when he writes me one letter every day he is gone. I know, how spoiled am I? I have tupperware bins full of these letters. His thoughtfulness is one of the things I love most about him.

I loved Miles the day I married him - I think most people should love their mate before taking the plunge, kinda an important prerequisite. But over the last four years, the last year in particular, I've realized the meaning of love and I've realized how important it is to share your life with someone you truly love who loves you in return. I've also realized how much I need him.

After we lost Cale we heard a lot of scary statistics about how many relationships fail after the death of a child. But in those first few days after our loss, I knew it was already making us stronger and bringing us closer together. Less than eight months after losing his son, Miles lost his brother and while losing Daren didn't impact our relationship in the same way as the death of a child, it certainly impacted us as people and as individuals. But through everything, the good, the bad, the joy and pain, our love for each other has been a constant. It's something I know I can always rely on and I look forward to living the rest of my life, no matter what that may bring, with Miles by my side.

These were taken after we went out for our Anniversary dinner.
I couldn't decided which one Roscoe looked cuter in so am including them both.

June 1, 2011

It's June!

It's hard to believe that June is finally here. We will meet our son this month. It's wonderfully exciting and incredibly nerve-wracking all at the same time.

I've gone through the majority of this pregnancy with the support and friendship of two other baby-loss-mommas Rhiannon and Priscilla, who I've mentioned before in some of my blogs. They both live close by and are pregnant and have just become very dear friends as we go through this crazy journey together. Not to say that my friends and family who haven't experienced a loss haven't been a huge support, because they certainly have, but it's really been special, in a very tragic way, to have others who have "been there." I feel like we are able to give each other hope while intimately understanding each others fears and worries. Priscilla is at a similar point in her pregnancy and was hoping to be induced today, but has to wait a few more days so that her little guy Sam can develop his little lungs just a bit more.  I'm so anxious to meet Sam. He will be the first  rainbow baby of our little group to make his debut and it's just so exciting to know that his day is almost here. So for all those wonderful people supporting me as we anxiously await Finley's arrival, please keep Sam and his mom Priscilla in your thoughts and prayers - as well as all those who are in eager anticipation of their rainbow babies.

I do have some good news to share that I hope stays good news. . .at my appointment yesterday, Finley was head down! It figures doesn't it? I've been asking him to move for a few weeks and two days after Miles gets home, he moves. I'm glad he at least listens to his dad! Although I do still worry that he won't stay put. There are times I think I can feel his head again at the top of my belly, but hopefully it's just his little butt. We'll find out on Friday if he's still behaving or is back to being a breechy little fella!