Whew boy! There's been some funky stuff going on with Blogger, no? We're glad to be back up and running...hope it lasts! And we hope you enjoy this submission from Carlee. I love the concept of processing grief through creativity. And how creating something for her unborn child helped Carlee come to terms with an uncertain future. Thanks for being here, Carlee...
On my blog, The Polka-Dot Umbrella, I share sewing projects, some recipes, and the occasional thrift store find or tip. I really love to sew, and sharing my projects with an audience bigger than my friends and family has been so rewarding. There is something so satisfying with taking a piece of two dimensional fabric, and creating something with structure and form that is beautiful and useful. I love seeing my friends, and especially my children, using or wearing something that I have made for them.
Two years ago, just after Mother's Day, my little family faced some tough news. I was pregnant with our second child (another boy, yeah!), and after several abnormal ultrasounds and one echocardiogram (which is basically a fancy ultrasound for the heart) we learned that our expected son had a rare heart condition called Ebstein's Anomoly, and that it was very serious. Kids with Ebstein's have problems with the tricuspid valve on the right side of their heart, the part that is responsible for pumping blood to their lungs. Since babies in the womb don't send blood to their heart to be oxygenated, it was difficult to predict what would happen after our son was born and the blood started flowing to his heart. The other problem is that this condition leads to an enlarged heart, and can compromise lung development because of lack of space.
After we left our first appointment, we were pretty crushed. We were so excited to welcome a second child into our little family, and I never expected that we would be faced with any health problems. So many babies are perfect, and I completely expected that mine would be as well. While the last two years with my first son hadn't exactly been easy, I had never been in a difficult situation like this before. I felt too young to deal with something so serious, and like many of us in tough times, I didn't know if I would be able to hold it all together. Since there was nothing we could do other than monitor him closely for the remainder of my pregnancy, our coping strategy was to avoid thinking about it. Fortunately, we had lots to keep us busy! We had an almost two year old to chase after, and additionally, we were preparing for a cross country move for my husband to start a PhD program just weeks before my due date.
Once we settled into our new apartment in New England, the reality of the situation started to weigh down on me. While my baby was inside my womb, he was safe and 'healthy', but there was so much uncertainty about what would happen after his birth. We were told to expect anything from immediate death after delivery, to a best case scenario where he could breathe on his own, and would only have a limited stay in the NICU of about one month. The closer I got to his due date, and later to his scheduled induction, the more anxious, fearful, sick, and full of grief I became. Preparing for the birth of any baby is stressful, but when I was pregnant with my first son, all my feelings of anxiety were overshadowed by my excitement to meet my tiny perfect child. This time I was dreading the birth, because I worried that his birth also meant his death. I wondered how I could go on without this new baby, and how I could continue being the mother my older son needed.
Just days before my son was born a couple of things happened that helped me to gain peace of mind. First, my husband, assisted by the bishop at our church, gave me a blessing. The second thing that really helped me prepare for his birth was to sew. Maybe this sounds trite, but this was a really big step for me. It is true that I really love to sew, and I worked on quite a few projects during my pregnancy. I made a tiny toddler backpack, a purse for a friend, several pairs of leather baby shoes, dresses for my friend's daughter, and a handful of other projects. I had done lots of sewing, but what I hadn't done was to sew something for my baby, for this baby with an uncertain future. We hadn't set up our crib, washed baby clothes, or unpacked the car seat. Essentially, what I had done was prepared myself for his death, but I hadn't started preparing for his life.
One night, I took a deep breath, and started to sew. I made something simple. It was something that he could wear at the hospital if he stayed there for awhile, but more importantly, I hoped it would be something he could wear when he came home to live with our family. The little white cotton kimono top and linen pants were nothing fancy, but they were for my baby. Maybe it sounds silly, but by the simple act of sewing for my child, I started to expect him to wear what I had made. I started to visualize what he might look like. Maybe he'd look just like his daddy, or be an exact copy of his older brother, or maybe he'd be his very own man. I started thinking about how nice it is to hold a newborn baby, and breath deeply that smell that only the very newest babies still have. And I started to think that I might get to the chance to watch my child grow, develop, and live.
We have a happy story to tell here, and things went smoothly with his delivery. Both his lungs and heart stopped after birth, but thanks to the highly skilled professionals, he was resuscitated and kept alive with the assistance of a ventilator, lots of medicine, teams of highly trained professionals, a handful of tubes, wires, and probes, a feeding tube, prayer, and what seemed to be the constant sound of beeping.
|Just a few hours after his birth.|
|Meeting his older brother for the first time.|
Bringing our son home from the hospital was something I worried we'd never get the chance to do. Life at home with a newborn that requires lots of extra attention (20+ doses of medication a day, bottles with breast milk plus formula for extra calories, and tons of appointments) was tricky, but honestly I was so grateful to have him that it felt so manageable.
His first Sunday home, I carefully dressed him in the clothes I had made him. When I was sewing their seams, I didn't know if my child would ever be able to wear them. But I had faith that he would, and seeing him dressed made me feel like this is what being a mother is all about. I think sometimes as women and especially mothers, we want to fix things for those we love. We wipe running noses, tie loose shoe laces, kiss skinned knees, and try to do everything we can to ensure that our children have only the best experiences. But we can't control everything. We face unexpected illnesses, bullying at school, and as my mother assures me, children get older and start making their own decisions and there isn't always much we can do.
Being a mother means so many things, and this includes being strong for my family, even when everything feels overwhelming and impossible. Sometimes it's about stepping forward on paths that are still dark, and having only a few feet lit in front of me. It's also about learning to have faith that my children will see the good things of the world, from handmade baby clothes, to everything their futures have in store for them. And for me especially, it's about remembering that being mother to these two little boys, one perfectly healthy and one with a 'broken' heart, is a gift and a privilege.
Find more of Carlee (and her clever friends!) at The Polka-Dot Umbrella.