Dreams

The other day Brian was helping me in the kitchen as I prepared dinner when he looked at me with glistening eyes and said, “What would she be doing now?” He didn’t have to specify who “she” was or what exactly he was asking, I already knew.

“She’d be talking. Not a whole lot. But several words by now I’m sure.”

“Would she be walking?” He asked.

“Walking? She’d probably be running by now.”

I watched the corners of his lips turn up just slightly, like his proud smile was some kind of secret he was trying to keep inside of him.

This pride we feel is an interesting thing, and not easily understood by those who have not been where we are. To think about all the growing and thriving she could be doing right now if things had been different brings so much mixed emotion. The most apparent and obvious are the negative ones, the pain, the longing. The ones that form tears in my eyes and an ache in my heart. But there’s a pride in imagining her growing up, and the joy that would have brought.

Sometimes, for the briefest of moments I pretend it was all different. I ignore the fact that she never came home from the hospital and let myself imagine what it would be like if she were racing around the house with our dog, Lana in tow. My ears fill with the symphony of tiny footsteps and excited squeals. I close my eyes and watch her black hair bounce in the air as she plays. Oh, it feels so good to imagine how those curls have grown since the day she was born. I sit there in that joy for just a moment. And then…

The weight of the world falls back onto my shoulders, and reality floods all my senses like a rising tide, washing all my dreams away.

But that imaginary joy, it still left its mark on me. A hope for what is to come. On that day when that little girl turns around and sees me standing at the gates of heaven. One sweet day.

Until then, I will do my best to thrive here. To build something beautiful from the wreckage that became my life nearly eighteen months ago. And I’ll dream, because no amount of anguish can take that from me.

I’ll dream about life on this earth. I’ll dream about growing old with my sweet husband. I’ll dream about having more babies. I’ll dream about having a farmhouse with a bountiful garden. I’ll dream about finally living next door to my best friend. I’ll dream about holidays surrounded by family.

But most of all, I’ll dream about her until I won’t have to dream at all.

I’m scared of feeling relief.

I posted two days ago about picking the day we would pack up Aria’s room. I haven’t been able to stop the topic from swirling through my mind ever since.

I felt strange after setting the date. I liked the certainty in knowing when that day would come. I could prepare and brace for it, and that felt like a good thing. There was also a lot of sadness as I thought about the reality of never seeing Aria’s room again. It’s the place I run to when the sadness overwhelms me and I need to feel close to her. It is the only place on this earth that I feel totally surrounded by her, and to lose it is incredibly tough.

There is some part of me that looks forward to the day we will pack everything up. I have known for over eight months that this day was going to come. I have spent a really long time dreading this day. It’s been a huge dark cloud that looms over me every time I walk past her room, or spend a few minutes sitting in her rocking chair. I have to constantly remind myself that much like Aria, this room would not be here forever. So a part of me looks forward to no longer having to walk through life fearing this day. I want to let go of this because I have carried it on my back for so long and I just want to feel a little lighter.

But how can I want this? Seeing all the hope we had poured into her room get packed up into cardboard boxes is going to shatter my heart. How could this ever be a good thing?

I guess what I am trying to say is, I feel like letting go of her room is a lot like letting go of her. I know that is far from the truth, but it’s a tough feeling to shake. I don’t want to dishonor Aria’s memory, and I don’t want to distance myself from her. I don’t want to be happy about letting go of something so connected to my memories of her.

And yet… I have hope. I have hope that packing up and starting over in our new house will bring us a lot of joy. I have hope in the possibility of a few of Aria’s things eventually finding their way back into our home, to be used for her future siblings. I have hope that doing all of these hard things will bring us one step closer to a brighter future.

When past and present collide: On new beginnings and old wounds.

Brian and I spent all of Labor Day weekend on a mission to find a house in Texas ahead of our move in a few short weeks. We went from house to house, trying to shorten our long list of prospects. Finally, we brought our list of over twenty homes down to two. They both had pros and cons, and were such similar houses that it made the choice incredibly tough. Brian loved certain things about one house, and I loved certain things about the other. We had reached a fork in the road.

As we picked each house apart, room by room, trying to determine which would be the one, the stress of the entire weekend began to well up inside me. I was so afraid of choosing the wrong house. This is such a big commitment, and a huge decision. I didn’t want to do the wrong thing. There was something so familiar about this feeling. I had been here before, only a million times worse.

The last few times we made major, life changing decisions we were sitting at a conference table across from our team of doctors and nurses, while I was nearly seven months pregnant. We were sifting through so many different options, trying to save our daughter all while protecting her from any unnecessary suffering. We tried to make the best decisions we could as we fought for her life, but despite our best efforts – we still lost her.

So here I was, sitting across from my husband talking about floor plans and paint colors, trying to tell myself this wasn’t the same, but the stress felt so familiar. I looked Brian in the eyes and asked if we were doing the right thing as tears began to form in my eyes. He immediately began to change his tone to a happy, confident one. He told me he was excited, this was good, and we were going to make the right choice.

I tried to stop the next sentence from escaping my lips, but I couldn’t hold it back. “But the last time we thought we were doing the right thing, Aria didn’t make it.” I knew this wasn’t the same, and I didn’t want to ruin Brian’s joy by bringing it up, but I felt like I was sitting in that conference room all over again.

With the utmost understanding and compassion, Brian grabbed onto my hands, and assured me this was not the same. He said it multiple times as the tears fell from my eyes until he could make sure I was really hearing him. This was not the same. Our story was not going to take another horrible, unimaginable turn.

The next day, after a much needed night of rest, we both agreed on a home and confidently put in an offer. The nervous hesitation still lingered around me, but as soon as we heard that the sellers had accepted our offer, joy exploded.

I’m excited that we will soon be the owners of our first home. I can’t wait to start unpacking, decorating, and making it our own. This home will soon be a place filled with many wonderful memories, and I am so ready to begin.

I have heard it said before, that there will come a day when the pain and trauma of your past will coexist with the joy of your future without negating it. I have a much better understanding of that phenomenon now, and I’m grateful for it.

It’s still tough to leave Florida, because we began our journey with Aria here, and this place holds so many memories of her life. But we will always carry her with us, and leaving here does not mean leaving her behind. She is still just as much a part of this new chapter as she would have been, if she were still in our arms.

We are still the Rose family of three. Two on earth, and one in heaven, ready to take on Texas.

The winds are changing.

Something has happened over the last few days. I’m suddenly feeling more like my old self.

For the last seven months, we felt really stagnant. We didn’t have much to focus on or look forward to. So we just did our best to pass the time.

But we aren’t passing the time anymore. We’re actually losing track of it. Days are flying by, and the weeks ahead seem closer than before.

I think this is because we finally have something to put all of our energy into. We are packing up and moving to Texas in two months, and suddenly our worlds have become consumed with planning, house hunting, and researching fun things to do in our new city.

When this opportunity first came up, Brian and I spent a lot of time contemplating if he should go out to Texas for the job interview. We wondered if it was too much to take on so soon after Aria’s passing. We didn’t know if we could handle such a huge life change on top of everything else. We really agonized over the decision, and were so scared of making the wrong choice. We agreed that Brian would just go to the interview, and we would pray for God’s will. And everything just started to unfold from there.

As I look back on that time, I realize that we did exactly what we were supposed to do. This new opportunity was something totally unexpected, and completely out of the blue. Everything happened so seamlessly that I know this was part of the plan.

I know in my heart that this change is going to be really good. For the first time in a very long time, I’m excited. Really genuinely excited. And that feels so, so good.

Part of me wants to interrupt this post with a little pessimism, and go on about how moving is stressful and that I’m scared this joy won’t last, but I won’t. I just want to cling to this moment for as long as I can.

Checking in: 5 and a half months later

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I tend to talk a lot about specific events, memories, and topics or thoughts related to life after infant loss. One thing I’ve realized that I don’t do very often is explain where I currently am in this journey. I wanted to give you a little more insight into my daily life, and how I’m processing things five and a half months after Aria’s passing.

This phase of my journey feels a lot more consistent, and slightly more predictable. The first few months post loss were filled with so many extremes. I was either immensely happy or completely consumed with sadness. There was no middle ground. It felt as if I woke up in a scorching dessert, and only few hours later, I would find myself in the middle of a blizzard. It wasn’t a very comfortable place to be in, and it was ever changing.

As time went on, I noticed the happier moments seemed to last a little longer, and the sadness became a little more manageable.

Then suddenly over the course of a week, all the joy I had built back into my life felt like it was completely ripped out from under me. This was triggered by a few things, but I think the icing on the cake was a bit of disappointing news we received from my doctor. The days that followed were some of the ugliest and darkest times of my life. For a moment, I completely stopped caring for myself and felt like I was back at square one. I totally fell apart and started shutting down.

It has been almost three weeks since then, and while rebuilding has been a very slow process, my life has started to return to equilibrium. I feel pretty steady, and sometimes that makes me feel a little numb because I had gotten so used to living with such extreme emotions. But now, instead of constantly switching between two extremes, there is a constant undercurrent of sadness that flows through me. It doesn’t necessarily negate all of my happy moments, but I can feel a slight bitterness in everything I do.

There are still overwhelming moments, and I cry almost every day. Yet I’ve found that those bursts of intensity aren’t completely debilitating like they once were. They seem to press the reset button and provide me with a small surge of strength.

I know I still need to work on interacting with the world a little more – I spend a bit too much time in solitude. But I am also attempting to overcome a lot of anxiety, while still guarding my heart. It’s ok to put a little distance between myself and potentially difficult situations, but I’m also constantly challenging myself to overcome something every day. Baby steps (or Aria steps as we often call them) are the key to moving forward without getting too discouraged.

Overall though, I would say the process of mending this broken heart is underway. Yes, I’m still deeply hurt by the loss of my daughter and always will be, but I am still happy in a lot of ways. There aren’t many words to accurately describe this place I’m in, so it’s a little hard to fully explain. This process is so fluid, and impossible to put into a few simple words. However, If I had to simplify it all, I guess I would say that I’m doing well, just not all the way.

I will also say this – I love and miss my sweet girl more and more each day. That is one thing that has only grown in intensity, and always will.

Finally, before I end this post I would like to say a quick thank you to my sweet friends, who got me out of the house this week for lots of laughs and good times. But most of all – for always letting me talk about Aria and reminding me that I am more than enough. It means so much more than you know.

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Saying goodbye to his little girl: A father’s love in pictures

This coming Father’s Day is the first for my husband, Brian. With all of my heart, I wish it were drastically different for him, and that our daughter was here to celebrate with us. I wish she could finger paint a Father’s Day card, and help me make him pancakes for breakfast. I wish he could walk along the beach holding hands with the little girl who made him a Dad. As much as my heart aches, I want to celebrate my husband this Father’s Day. I want to honor the beautiful connection he shares with our daughter. I want the world to know that death does not negate his role as a father.

I took a photo of Brian kissing my belly just before our daughter’s birth, and a few photos of him with our little girl shortly after. Aria Noelle Rose was with us for a little over an hour, then quietly passed in my arms. I took these images as Brian said goodbye, not because I wanted to remember the pain, but because the love in his eyes was incredible. He cared for our little girl with every ounce of his soul. For me, the emotion in those images are the very definition of fatherly love.

He has granted me permission to share these images with all of you. They are very personal, and raw. I ask that you view them with the utmost respect for his vulnerability in these moments.

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Our hope in sharing these images is that they help break down the stereotype that men do not grieve as much as women. We want to send the message that there is no shame in grieving, breaking down, and crying.

If you know a bereaved father, please reach out to them this Father’s Day. Let them know you are thinking of them, and their child has not been forgotten. Our society too often neglects bereaved fathers. Many men walk a very difficult path after loss, because they don’t feel they are allowed to be as open with their feelings. There are also far less opportunities for grief support for men than women. If there is one thing Brian and I want you to take away from this post, it is that fathers grieve too.

To every bereaved father, It is our hope that you are able to find a way to celebrate on Father’s Day – no matter how small. You are an incredible Dad, and you deserve recognition.

Fatherhood, from the very beginning. (A wife’s perspective)

With Father’s Day rapidly approaching, I have started thinking a lot about fatherhood, especially as it pertains to bereaved fathers like my husband. A few days ago I recalled a phrase I’ve heard several times through the years.

“A woman becomes a mother when she learns she is pregnant, but a man doesn’t become a father until he holds his child for the first time.”

You know, I really hate that phrase. I’m not a father, but it even feels like a slap in the face to me. It’s so dismissive, and really belittles the incredible connection that men share with their unborn children. This is the very reason men have such a difficult time understanding their emotions while grieving the loss of a baby, whether it happens early in pregnancy or shortly after birth.

Let me tell you this, my husband became a father the moment he learned I was pregnant. His journey began when our daughter was the size of a sesame seed. I can say this with great confidence because I have walked this path alongside him every single day of our daughter’s brief life, and beyond.

When I was just five weeks pregnant with Aria, our doctors warned us that our pregnancy may not be viable. They couldn’t find a heartbeat, or any evidence of a baby inside the gestational sac. My hormone levels, and the date of my last menstrual cycle led them to believe I should have been far enough along to see much more development than that. After a week and a half of worry, Aria finally allowed us to see a glimpse of her on the ultrasound, and her rapidly beating heart.

But while we were in that limbo period, waiting to find out if I had miscarried or not, I watched my husband behave exactly as a father would. He drove home from that doctor’s appointment with tears streaming down his face. He was already in love with our child, and we had only known I was pregnant for a week. The thought of losing this baby was devastating to him. In that moment, to tell him he wasn’t actually a father would have been grossly inaccurate. He had never met our child, he didn’t know if we were expecting a boy or a girl, and he didn’t even know if this baby was going to survive – but he was a father.

He fathered our daughter throughout my entire pregnancy. He took care of me as I battled horrendous bouts of morning sickness, and fetched whatever food I could stomach at the moment without a single complaint. He enthusiastically helped me assemble her nursery furniture, and even made a shopping trip to Babies-R-Us on his own. He spoke sweetly to my belly, and loved feeling her little kicks. He prayed for her, planned for her, and hoped for her from the very beginning.

When our daughter was diagnosed with CCAM at our anatomy scan, he stood bravely beside us. He went to every single high risk appointment, which involved two hours of driving once (and sometimes twice) a week, and a lot of time away from work. I never once asked him to do that. In fact, I told him not to worry about it every. single. time. But he felt very strongly that Aria needed him, so he was going to be there. That, my friends, is what a father does.

By the time Brian held Aria in his arms for the very first time, he had already been a father for months.

And let me tell you one more thing about fatherhood, it does not end.

He did not stop being Aria’s father when she took her last breaths. He did not relinquish that bond when her heart beat for the very last time. In fact, his love for Aria has grown exponentially, and completely transformed since she left this world. He is still her father, and he still fathers her – no, not in the typical way, but in a way that is unseen to the naked eye. He is fiercely protective of her memory, and constantly searching for ways to grow her legacy.

He is Aria’s father – he has been from the moment she was conceived, and always will be.

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Brian after setting up Aria’s crib – November 10, 2015