Mothering Caroline Grace

learning how to be the mom of an angel


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A Day at the Zoo

This past weekend, my husband and I went away to the city to spend some time together.  We visited the zoo, and as we went to the visitors center to get a map, we saw a group of about 4 children with special needs and their parents.  The children were in the type of wheelchair that I only dreamed of needing for Caroline.

Something struck me when I saw this group.  I felt a sense of camaraderie with them, even though I carry Caroline in my heart.  I am the mother of a child with special needs, even though no one can see it.  I thought it was wonderful that they had all found each other and were able to have a beautiful day at the zoo together.  I didn’t have support from other parents like this when Caroline was here with us.  I felt an urge to talk to them and hear their stories, but I held back.  I didn’t want to disturb them, so I kept walking.

We got our maps and came out of the visitors center, and they were gone.  I asked my husband if he had noticed the children, and he gave me a knowing smile.  Of course he had.  Caroline is always at the forefront of our minds, and seeing those families was a glimpse of what could have been if she was still here with us.  


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How Pregnancy Announcements Feel as a Bereaved Mother

As the mother of a beautiful, sweet, wanted daughter who left this world too soon, I struggle with hearing that friends and family are pregnant.  Instead of hearing that they are expecting and beginning to glow with happiness, I hear:

“My perfect little life continues to be perfect.  Just wanted to shove that in your face while you grieve.”

“I know that your hopes and dreams for your daughter were shattered, but I wanted to let you know that my hopes and dreams for my child are very much intact!”

“My baby is still alive and yours isn’t.  Just thought I’d let you know.”

Each announcement is a stab in the heart and leads to an hour of crying in bed, holding one of Caroline’s stuffed animals tightly in my arms.  I feel really bad about reacting this way.  I’m really not the jealous type.  I want to be genuinely happy for them, and at times I am, but that initial news is always hard to swallow.  It is another reminder of what I’ve lost.  I spiral into a crying mess, missing my daughter, watching the world continue to turn when I want to hit the pause button, and it prevents me from feeling truly happy.

I am grateful for the texts and the emails that let me process the news on my own.  A phone call or in-person announcement doesn’t give me the opportunity to bury my face in a pillow and cry, which is what I need to do.

I am hopeful that there will come a day when I don’t feel crushed by the pregnancy announcement of a close friend.  I don’t know if it will take a living child of mine for this to change, or if I will always have a hard time learning that another life is coming into this world, a world that my daughter could not stay to enjoy with me.  I hate being fragile like this, but this is how I feel.  And you know what?  I have every right to be fragile right now.

I have wounds that I will tend to for many years to come.  With those wounds comes fragility, but also strength.  I am a survivor of the unimaginable.  I am the mother of a child in heaven, full of love for my beautiful, sweet, wanted daughter who left this world too soon.

 


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Turkeys and Shoppers

Today is the biggest shopping day of the year, which means that my husband is hard at work.  I am instead at home, sitting at my computer with the heated throw that my husband got me (I’m always cold) and sipping on some hot tea.  I have homework to do that I’d like to get done before he gets home, but first I will write.

Thanksgiving was a hard day, even though on the surface it was a lovely day.  We slept in, ate a big breakfast, took a nap together, went out for dinner, and then watched football before going to bed early.  It was a bittersweet day that I did enjoy but went to bed sad, wishing I had needed a high chair at dinner and could have dressed Caroline in a turkey outfit.  Instead, we decorated a small Christmas tree for Caroline and put all of her ornaments on it.  There is a void in my heart that cannot be filled by anyone but her.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays and this is the first time it has been both happy and sad.  That is the reality of being a bereaved parent – you are always a little happy and a little (or a lot) sad.  The two emotions coexist in a way that was never possible before.

I am so thankful for my daughter.  She has taught me so much and led the most meaningful life.  She helped me to believe in miracles again and inspired so many wonderful things.  She made me a mom and for that I am forever grateful.  I love her so much, always and forever.

I am also thankful for my husband, who has been my rock of support through the best and worst year of our lives.  If not for him, I surely would have quit my program and abandoned my life here.  He is my shoulder to cry on and my inspiration to keep moving forward.

Yesterday, me and the husband were talking about long lines for store openings.  I have never been one to go out shopping on Black Friday – I hate crowds and long lines.  However, I thought that there was one person I would have braved the crowds for – Caroline.  Or another child someday.  If there was some toy that my child wanted for Christmas, and the only way I could afford it was to go out on Black Friday, I would do it.  Being a mom drives you to do things you never would otherwise, because you love your children so much and would do anything for them.  If I could have died for Caroline so that she would have the chance to live a long life, I would have in a heartbeat.  However, I was not given that option.  For some reason, God wants me to stay here while my baby is in heaven.

All I can do now is try to keep moving forward, making Caroline proud when I can.  I anxiously await the day when we are reunited and the void in my heart is once again filled.


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Eight

As television starts back up again, it is time for a post that I have been thinking about for a while.  I have always been a fan of Grey’s Anatomy.  I have often thought back to a scene where Cristina talks to Meredith’s therapist and tells her about Meredith’s pain level.  At this point in the show, Meredith has lost her mother, her father has never been there for her, and she is barely hanging on.  Derek doesn’t understand the loss in her life and the support system that she needs.

 

 

Since my daughter died, I have thought that this same fact is true for me.  I live my life at an eight.

 

I am willing to bet that the same is true for anyone who has lost a child.  On a pain scale of 1 to 10, we are always at an 8.  This is beyond the comprehension of everyone but those closest to us.  They are the ones that notice that we live our lives at an 8.  They are the ones who know that the smiles, while they can be genuine, are hiding the deep sadness that comes when a part of you has left this world.  Caroline is my first thought in the morning and my last thought as I fall asleep.  I try to be strong for her and put on a brave face, but sometimes I have to sit outside in the sunshine to feel close to her.  Sometimes I have to run out of the building at work to burst into tears because I can’t stand pretending that I’m okay for one more second.

If you are reading this because you know someone who has lost a child, be the friend who notices their pain.  If months have gone by and you think that they are doing okay, know that they are not.  Give them a hug and the chance to tell you how they feel.  They live their life at an 8, but you can make that 8 a little easier to bear.


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Looking Up

Miss Caroline seemed to have a preoccupation with the ceiling.  Sometimes there was a clear reason for her to be looking up; the fluorescent lights in the kitchen were soothing to her and always managed to help when she was upset.  Other times, we would just be sitting around the living room, rocking her back and forth, and she, very often, would look up.  I don’t think it was reflexive; she was very capable of following faces with her eyes and tracking things as they moved across her visual field.  There was usually plenty of activity in our house to look at, especially when she was awake and everyone vied to take a picture or talk to her or stare into her deep eyes.  Still, she would look up.

I like to think that there was a reason.

That her angels were with her and she was looking up at them.

Of course, I will never know during my time on this earth if this is true, but this is what I believe.

When I found out about Caroline’s diagnosis, I started reading.  I read family stories and research articles, and then moved on to books.  I started searching for evidence that heaven is real and that children have a special place there.  I have always believed in God, but the doubts creep in when your child is facing a fatal diagnosis and you can’t imagine why God would allow it.  This mother needed to know that her baby would be okay.  One book in particular really resonated with me.  It is called Touching Heaven: Real Stories of Children, Life, and Eternity, by Leanne Hadley.  In some ways it was a difficult read; it is written by a children’s hospital chaplain about her experiences with dying children.  However, I walked away from this book with some comfort that Caroline wouldn’t be scared when she left this world, and I don’t think she was.

Another book that I read about heaven was Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, by Eben Alexander, M.D.  The scientist in me was drawn to this account by someone who should be the biggest skeptic of heaven there is.  In the book, he describes his near death experience while fighting bacterial meningitis in a coma.  He argues that there is no way that what he experienced had anything to do with his brain, as it had essentially shut down due to the attack it was facing.

These books gave me some support and comfort, but I think the answer had been with me all along.  I have to think that there is a point to all this.  That there is a higher power and that souls are real and eternal.  Through my journey with Caroline, I saw the way that she inspired so many people.  I was upset that I would not get the time that I expected with my little girl, but she did more in 58 days than some people do in 58 years.  Her lifetime was short but fulfilling.  She showed me God’s grace.  I miss her so much, but I think she is happy and playing in the sunshine in heaven.

It is now my turn to tell her story and continue the work that my amazing little girl started.  I will look up, the way Caroline taught me.


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Music

There are a few songs that always make me think of Caroline.  Sometimes they make me smile, and sometimes they make me cry, but they all are carried in a special place in my heart.  Sometimes music is the only way to put your finger on a feeling that you can’t quite describe.

This first song was my anthem during Caroline’s pregnancy: Brave by Sara Bareilles.  It played on the radio on the way to the hospital and while there, we found her singing it in a concert while flipping through TV channels.  I don’t think that was a coincidence.

 

This next song touched me both before and after Caroline was born: Let Her Go by Passenger.  I remember hearing it on the radio after getting Caroline’s diagnosis and bursting into tears.  I had the same experience a few weeks ago when it was again on the radio.  I didn’t want to let her go but I didn’t have a choice.

 

This final song reminds me of the love I have for my daughter: All of Me by John Legend.  It usually makes me smile, but occasionally leads to tears.  My husband claims that I ruined the song for him because I told him that it reminds me of Caroline and now he cries every time he hears it.  I don’t think I ruined it though; I think it’s the perfect love song for our little girl.

 

Missing you, Miss Caroline.


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Miracles

My daughter is such a miracle.  She had such an impact on the world in her short time here, but she also taught me and my husband so much about love and miracles.

When we found out about her diagnosis, it was crushing.  We cried for days, mourning the life we dreamed of living with her.  We named her Caroline and decided that we would make every memory with her that we could during the rest of my pregnancy, and we did.  I started a journal and made notes about doctor’s appointments as well as what was going on in our lives and how I was feeling, emotionally and physically.  We bought the essentials that we needed for the hospital, packed our bags, and waited as we approached full term.

Doctors prepared us for the worst.  First we didn’t know if she would make it to term.  Then we didn’t know if she would be stillborn.  Then we didn’t know if we’d have minutes, hours, or days with our daughter.  It seemed that the most likely scenario was to go home from the hospital without her.

We prayed to have some time with Caroline to show her that we love her, and that she would not suffer.  I never prayed for her to be healed.  I can’t say exactly why I never did.  Perhaps because of my faith in medicine and her doctors.  Even more so, perhaps because she was perfect the way she was.  I couldn’t ask any more of her than to be the beautiful person she was meant to be.

It was a miracle that Caroline was born alive.  Her OB cried along beside us, as she didn’t even need any resuscitation.  Having minutes with her was another miracle.  Having hours with her was yet another miracle.  Taking her home from the hospital was another miracle.  Having the time at home to care for her and love her and meet more of her family was another miracle.  Having both of her parents holding her tight while she passed from this world to the next was another miracle.

Caroline had a special message to send to the world.  She showed us that life is precious and delicate and should never be taken for granted.  She also showed us the beautiful strength she was given to survive well beyond the time predicted with her diagnosis.  She made us parents, and showed us the meaning of unconditional love.  When my husband first brought Caroline to me after she was born, I remember looking at those big, bright eyes and being amazed by the miracle in my arms.  What a miracle it was to be her mother.

Every baby is a miracle.  Every baby is here for a purpose, and every baby matters, even if the only life they knew was that in their mother’s womb.  Being Caroline’s mom has been the most difficult experience of my life, but more importantly, the greatest joy I have ever known.