There's something that feels familiar and quite nice to be wide awake at 3:40 am. Holland and I usually had our best moments together every night around this time. Insomnia is a funny thing, while exhausting I am grateful to have had those sweet, quiet moments with her while she was inside me. Although my womb is now empty I can still feel her near. She graced her presence yesterday afternoon at 2:52 pm. Is it weird to say that it was one of the best days of my life? Maybe. March 11th will always be the day she passed away... But more importantly the day she lived. Sure it was only for a little over an hour however the amount of love, comfort and healing that happened during that hour was magical.
Waking up yesterday morning I didn't expect to go into natural full blown labor. Due to the weight of the extra amniotic fluid on my uterus I was used to having contractions here and there. I had been in the moment of "is this it?" for a while. It's when I felt the prompting at 9:00 am to kneel in prayer and ask for peace, comfort, guidance and if it be thy fathers will, to allow Holland to live just for a brief amount of time so that Parker and Bobby could meet and lock eyes with our sweet girl. After saying that prayer I continued to get ready for my 10:45 am Dr appt. Timing the contractions was interesting. I have never gone into labor on my own and feeling my body do what it was meant to do felt empowering. I always told Holland that I would follow her lead. I let her guide me. 10 mins apart. I was anxious to get to that appointment.
On the way to that drs appt Bobby helped time my contractions totally expecting them to die down. So did I. We talked hypothetically, "IF this is it...what's the plan...?" Parker was in school. My sister Stacey was 3 hrs away. Am I dilated? Shut up brain...this isn't it. 7 mins apart. Of course it's raining cats and dogs. I love the rain. Harry Potter weather. Perfect. While waiting in the lobby for my name to be called I felt a sense of calm yet nervousness. I think this is it. Again brain. Shut. Up. This isn't it. Denial. My dr saw how uncomfortable I was and in just the few mins that we were talking she decided to check me. "2cm." She said. (I had an appt on Monday to check with swelling in one of my legs and when she checked me then I was a tight 0) Holy crap. This is it. I feel it. After seeing her I had another dr appt with my perinatologist at 11:30 am. She suggested to go see him, chat, check Holland on the ultrasound machine and go from there. "Remember if this is labor it can take a while."..... I am my mothers daughter...if this was it it wouldn't be long. Cue the denial.
5 mins apart. Before the ultrasound wand hit my belly I was so nervous I'd see a still heart. This is how I found out Kennedy had passed less than a year ago. "Thump thump thump". Holland is still with us. Sigh. He told me that my placenta was in the same condition as last time. Not good. He told me to get over to labor and delivery and get checked again to see if I've progressed. Walking over to the labor and delivery building Bobby and I let out so much uncontrollable laughter. The nervous kind. He made a comment about being a little disappointed that we might miss our Friday afternoon food truck date. He knows me. I love him.
Contraction. Still 5 mins apart. Walking down the hall to be monitored was so familiar. I had done that same walk last March. This time felt different. As I started to sign in, waiting for Bobby to get his name badge and meet me in there I felt someone touch me. It was her. The incredible nurse who I had connected so strongly with after I had Kennedy. Seeing her took my breath away. She hugged me. It felt so good. I let out a laugh cry. "Do you remember what I said to you last year?" She asked. "Yes. That if we met again it was meant to be." I'm convinced that she is one one my earthly angels. In that moment the denial washed away. Today is the day. This feels right. I let her know how often Bobby and I talked about her over the course of the year. She really is so special to us. I have never quite connected so strongly with a complete stranger like how I did with her. I told her Bobby was going to lose it when he saw her. In he walked. "No. Way." He said. Followed by laugh cries accompanied with hugs. His denial washed away in that moment as well. While waiting in the triage room she stayed with me. 5 mins apart. 12:30 pm. "Let's get you checked by the doctor." Sounds good to me. Bobby and I decided to have him leave to go pick up Parker and grab my hospital bag at home. I texted my sister Stacey and told her to head up north just to be safe. The plan was set. Bobby left. The dr, an intern and my angel nurse were now in the triage room with me. We chatted about the years events, my journey with both Kennedy and Holland. Sometimes when I talk about them I feel like people look at me a little crazy... Or think I'm crazy. I smile. I laugh. I give my perspective. I have learned and am continuing to learn so much. Before she checks me I tell her that I tend to have quicker labors. But I've only ever been induced with pitocin. I've never gone on my own but my gut was telling me it would be faster. While checking me I see the look on her face. "I think you have great instincts. Why don't you call your husband and have him turn around. You're at a 7."
What!??!?! Oh Brooke. When will you learn to just trust your feelings. I knew waking up it would be today. Denial. I knew I should have grabbed my hospital bag and put an extra house key under the mat. Denial. Good thing I ate that protein bar on the way to my drs appt...we weren't getting our food trucks today. I call Bobby. He lets out a nervous laugh...maybe cry. I couldn't tell. They ask if I want an epidural. My head is screaming yes but my heart is whispering no. In my birth plan I wanted to try to do it natural for as long as I could. To feel her and work with her in making her debut. We were a team her and I. Did I want fetal monitoring? Yes. No. I don't know. Did I want to see or hear her pass away through a machine? I hate surprises. But I'm scared. Maybe not knowing with help motivate me to get through labor. We decided to check on an ultrasound machine how she was holding up. Bobby walked in the room just in time. Before looking at the screen I prepared myself again to see a still heart. "Thump thump thump". She's still with us. My heart smiled. That's all I needed to go on. Even if she passed during labor I knew I would be okay. This was farther than anyone had expected her to live.
In writing our birth plan we included a few different scenarios. The one where she lived through labor and the one where she passed before she could take her first breath. We always hoped and prayed to hear a cry. Our ultimate dream goal was to get Parker in the room fast enough to meet his sister. However we knew the chances were extremely slim so we planned for another still birth. We knew how that one worked. We had done it less than a year ago. In that exact same hospital room. Knowing I was already at a 7 I squeezed my legs shut and prayed just for a little more time. I needed to get a few things in order.
1. Find someone to get Parker.
2. Let family know.
3. We need a camera. (Ours was conveniently packed in my hospital bag at home. 20 mins away.)
4. Call someone from church. (I wanted her to receive a name and a blessing if she was born alive. If not I wanted/needed a blessing.)
5. Pray with Bobby.
1. Check. 2. Check. 3. Our new nurse Kathy let us know that ironically she had a camera with her because earlier that day she took retirement pictures for her friend. Check.
Contractions. 3-4 mins apart. Parker was here. He walked in and my heart about jumped out of my chest. He looked around the room and said, "I remember this." A part of me wishes he didn't have such a vivid memory like me. Something that I have learned is both a gift and curse. But he seemed ok. A little confused as to why we were in that room again so I asked. "Do you know why we are here today?" He looked at me and cautiously answered, "...to see Holland on the machine again?" I knew he knew why I was there but I could tell he didn't want to say the words so I did it for him. "We did see her. And guess what. Her heart is ok right now. And you get to meet her in just a little bit." He smiled. Bobby and I laugh cried. (You probably have noticed that we do that a lot.) Parker has always been curious enough to want to know what's going on but knows when to check out mentally if it gets to be overwhelming. I asked him if he wanted to say a prayer together before he went back out to the waiting room. He nodded. Bobby, Parker and I sat close to each other on my hospital bed. It felt so good to have my little family together in that room. I felt Kennedy close as well. She was preparing to greet her little sister and guide her home. Parker said the prayer. It was such a sweet prayer. His are always the best. He talks to our Father in Heaven with such confidence and comfort. Something that took me way more than 8 years to master. He prayed that I would be ok. That Holland would be born alive but it was okay if she wasn't. That he knew she would go to heaven with Kennedy and they would be together. My contractions were about 2 mins apart now. I gave Parker a big hug and told him how much I loved him. He walked out of the room smiling. Bobby and I needed to see that smile. While Bobby walked Parker to the waiting room to sit with one of our good friends the doctor came in to check me. "She's fully dilated." I heard. I knew it...I had known it for awhile but was resisting to do anything until I checked each thing off my list. 5.Check. Ok. I'm ready now.
It was about 2:30 pm. While the room was being quickly prepped I was talking out my feelings (shocker) and getting my mind ready to do this. Natural. The panic started to creep in. Can I do this? This is going to hurt. A lot. Accept it. You've gone this far. Don't doubt your strength. It's just you and her. A team remember? I asked Bobby to put some music on. I hate silence. Pushing while everyone stares at you is my form of torture. I need noise. Silence is too loud. Silence is deafening. He asks what I want to hear. "James Vincent McMorrow." I said. He looked at me with satisfied eyes. I listened to him while delivering Kennedy last year. I wanted something peaceful and familiar. Watching everyone suit up for battle was so synchronized. Like a dance. Each nurse had a job. These were my people. They made me feel safe. Before starting to push I let them know that we weren't going to let sadness take us over no matter the outcome. Not to feel awkward around us and that we were so grateful that they were able to be here with us today. I may have also apologized for any noises and messes my body made. They all laughed. But Bobby laughed hardest. He knew me. It's something he knew I was serious about. I was happy that there was humor in the room. Humor has always helped me sort out my feelings. It's allowed me to give everyone around me a clue that I was okay. I had accepted Hollands journey months ago. Grief doesn't own me. Sorrow can't swallow you if you learn to accept the now and learn to live in that new normal. I also knew my Heavenly Father knows me very very well. He knew when to make my heart feel light. And that's exactly what he was doing.
Legs in stir ups. "On the next contraction. Push." The doctor said. "You can do this." I heard. 1. 2. 3. Go.
No. No. No. My brain was screaming. Why did I want to do this natural again?! "You're doing so good. Breathe through the contraction. Hold it. Push." Holland. Holland. Oh my gosh. I am going to meet her in the matter of minutes. But this hurts so bad. Fight or flight. "I can't do this." I said in between a contraction. "Brooke you can." Said Bobby. There was so much pressure.
***before telling this next part I have to say I debated on whether or not to include it but this is her birth story and one of the more significant moments I'll want to remember***
I can't quite describe the sound that came next. I remember watching an episode of Bill Nye the science guy when I was in 5th grade. A few kids were throwing things off a building and calculating their speed and velocity. An egg, a feather, a pencil and a GIANT water balloon. The sound I'm trying to describe sounded like a mix of that giant water balloon hitting the cement with the sound Shamu the whale at sea world makes when he jumps in the air and splashes the audience. My water didn't just break...it EXPLODED. Everywhere. "It hit the back of the room!" Someone yelled out. I opened my eyes. Everyone was DRENCHED. Dripping. They were in the splash zone. "Can you just wipe it off my neck and face shield?" The doctor asked a nurse. We all looked at each other and laughed so hard we almost forgot what we were doing in that room. "Remember my apology before we started pushing?" I said. "I double that apology!" Still laughing I thanked my Heavenly Father for that moment of comic relief. I told you he knew me. During the let down of the laughter and clean up I felt another contraction. Let's meet our girl. Pressure. Push. Push. I felt her. This was it. I didn't even contemplate what she was going to look like or if I'd ever hear that cry. I just wanted to hold my girl. Breathe. Push! Pause. "She's here Brooke!" Whispered a nurse. I closed my eyes. They placed her on my stomach. "She isn't breathing yet." She said. "It's okay. It's okay." I replied. I could hear Bobby crying. I still couldn't look. They took her over to the table. Bobby went to be with her. I saw flashes of light. Pictures. Good. I heard a faint squeak. She's breathing. She's alive!? SHES ALIVE. I asked Bobby "How's our girl?" "She's so cute. She's breathing." His eyes were filled with tears. Happy tears. "Do you want to hold her?" Asked a nurse. "Yes. Please." Get Parker. My brain said. The doctor covered my legs up and the nurses quickly cleaned up any visible mess so Parker could come in. I watched as they swaddled Holland. When the nurse handed her to me I lost myself in her. "You're still here with us baby girl. You're such a fighter. I can't wait for Parker to meet you." I told her. Her eyes started to open as I talked. She knew me. She knows me. Her eyes were like dark blue sea glass. She was curious I could tell. They handed me some oxygen to place under her nose for comfort. Parker walked in. I cried.
The one thing Bobby and I had only dreamed about was about to happen. I watch him walk to the side of my bed. He wasn't afraid. He wasn't worried about the mass of people in the room. He was on a mission to meet his sister. He locked eyes with her. It was over. My heart couldn't grow any larger. Bobby and I looked at each other and felt the same thing. Joy. "Oh my gosh. She's so cute! Can I touch her?" He wanted her. As he spoke she opened her eyes wide and searched for him. "Hi Holland. It's me Parker. I'm your brother and you have a sister Kennedy too!" How can this be happening!? I thought. She wanted to see her brother. I can't even explain in the right words what their connection looked like. But you could feel it. Everyone could. This moment helped heal the loss we felt last year with Kennedy. All my Parker has ever wanted was to feel what it was like to be a big brother. Holland allowed him to feel that. Holland gave Bobby and I the opportunity to witness it. Our hearts were being mended. Carefully stitched back together. We knew our moments with her were brief. I let Parker and Holland guide the way. He sang "I Lava You." (From the Disney Pixar short) He told her about heaven and that Kennedy was there. He told her that he was going to be sad when she left but that she was going to be an angel. He kissed her. "Mom she loves me!" He said. She will always love him and we will always love her. I felt her slowly slipping and knew I didn't want Parker to witness her last breath. I wasn't sure I was even ready for it. He said his goodbyes and kissed her hand. It was a sweet sweet moment. It didn't feel like a forever goodbye. Because it wasn't.
In between the time I delivered and Parker was bonding with his sister. She was able to receive a name and a blessing. Something all baby's receive in my church after they are born. Technically she didn't "need" it because she wasn't going to be a "member" but I wanted to do something special for her. To memorialize that fact that she was alive. A couple men from my church placed their hands on her and during the prayer a rush of peace fell over me. This was a moment I didn't think would ever be possible for Holland. Just another reminder of how loving and sweet our Father in Heaven is. I listened to every word. Every syllable in the prayer. "I bless you Holland that you and your sister will make an impact on this earth." They already have. And I plan to do everything I can to help them. If it be as simple as helping others, writing, speaking or sharing. Anything to use their memory for good. I am so grateful to have experienced that moment. It's something I can look back on and feel the love my Heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ have for my girls.
As soon as we got Parker settled and out of the room you could see Holland slow down her fight. Her purpose was met. She gained a body and met her family. I looked at Bobby and said "...your turn." He was nervous. I handed her off to him and he took her over to a chair near the window. I noticed it wasn't raining anymore and the clouds seemed to break up. The sun was shining through the window, hitting Bobby and Holland so perfectly. I asked a nurse to take a few photos of them. I wanted to remember how he looked at her. She stared at him. They were connecting. I cried quietly. I knew how important this moment was for him. A Mom is able to bond with her baby while in utero. We feels kicks, hiccups and movement. Heck I could tell you both Holland and Kennedy's personality as if I had raised them to adulthood. Fathers don't get that luxury. Sure they get to feel the kicks but it they're from the outside. Disconnected. It's when they lock eyes with their baby that their souls connect. This was healing Bobby. He didn't seem as clenched up as he was last year. Like his insides were being eaten by battery acid. There was an ease to his face. Acceptance. Grief. Loss. But to accept is to move forward. He was letting feelings he had been so afraid to acknowledge wash over him. A moment I had prayed months and months for. I don't think I could fully explain how much I love this man. The boy I fell in love with when we were 16, naive and clueless. But I'll save those feelings for another time.
The nurses asked us if we wanted to get her cleaned up and weighed. My sister Stacey was almost at the hospital so we thought that now would be a good time. Bobby never left Hollands side. He walked over to the warming table and observed the nurses working on our girl. Stacey walked in just as they were finishing up their charts. She was there last year with Kennedy. She walked in the same way and it felt like déjà vu. For a moment I couldn't look at her because I felt that familiar sadness. She walked over to Holland and smiled. "She's so cute!" She said. "Can I hold her?" The nurse swaddled Holland back up and handed her to her Aunt Stacey. Someone she was named after. I've named all of my kids after my siblings. Parker James (My brother Kenny) Kennedy Ryan (my brother Ryan) and now Holland Frances (my sister Stacey). Don't worry Lauren and Jenni I'll make sure to have two more kids somehow, someway and keep up with the tradition. I love my siblings so much and it only feels right to include them in naming our children.
Bobby left to go get our camera and my hospital bag. He knew I was ok and he so desperately wanted to get pictures of her. Special pictures. Ones with the camera we purchased after Kennedy passed away last year. Our first lesson on how important memories really are. Stacey sat in a chair and said "I think she's almost gone." A nurse came over and checked her heart rate. "She has a heart rate but she isn't breathing much. It's almost time." I felt ready. Stacey handed her to me and I kissed her face. I opened her blanket and peeked at her chest. A faint heartbeat. I love you. I love you. She looked so peaceful. I once again I let her guide me. A few minutes later I asked the nurse to check her again. She was gone. "You have good instincts." I was told yet again. "She is gone." I took a deep breath. My eyes filled with tears. I was almost happy Bobby wasn't there to witness her last moments. He didn't need to focus on that part of her. In his memory she needed to still feel alive.
We were able to get the room set up to bathe and dress her. Bobby walked in. I looked at him and he knew. He came over to her and said "She is so so cute." I loved hearing people say that because my mind was repeating it over and over. I was able to get up and help prep her for a bath. It felt good to move. The upside to delivering natural is that you can get up and feel mobile. Something I'm still so proud of. Opening her blanket and examining each body part felt like a gift. She was perfect. Ten fingers. Ten toes. Yup! She had ten toes. Not 12 like we had anticipated. To be honest Parker was a little disappointed about that part. He was really looking forward to seeing those extra toes. She was everything we were told she wouldn't be. I was able to photograph Bobby washing her face, arms, legs and feet. He was so gentle. So loving. It felt so special to be able to love her in this way. I handed the camera to Stacey. Bobby and I were able to bathe her together. A moment I'll never forget. Something we wish we would have been able to do with Kennedy. But I guess that's the positive side to experiencing loss again. After losing Kennedy last year we had a list of things we wished we could have done with her. We were able to remember those things and do them with Holland. We had a little outfit the hospital provided that we were able to dress her in. She looked like the most perfect little doll. For the next 30-45 mins we tried to capture every moment.
Stacey said her goodbyes to us and Holland. We found out that I was able to be discharged that night rather than having to stay until the next morning. Again, another upside to delivering natural. I wanted to be with Parker, in our home, in my bed. After Stacey left Bobby and I said a prayer. Each. Separately. Something we did with Kennedy last year. It was our way of saying goodbye to her. To feel thankful for the tender moments we experienced that day. Having some time together just the three of us felt so good. Her coloring was starting to change very quickly and we wanted to be able to hold onto the memory of Holland while she still looked like ....Holland. Those quiet moments with just us felt the most peaceful. We talked. Laughed. Hugged. Kissed. They were perfect.
One thing that Bobby and I most regretted with Kennedy was that we didn't wheel her to the morgue ourselves. Instead we watched her little bed be wheeled out of the hospital room alone. It never felt like a proper goodbye. So we asked if we could wheel Holland to the morgue after we were discharged. The nurse said she had never heard a request like that before. Well today has been full of firsts for a lot of us. I thought. I just knew we needed to do it. Together. As we prepped to go home we collected items we could remember her by. The blanket she was swaddled in, the beanie she wore, her outfit, hospital bracelet, hand and foot prints. Etc. The weight of our too soon goodbyes was starting to fill my mind. Still holding her I made sure to photograph each of her features with my mind. I kept kissing her and telling her how proud of her I was. Just like the grinch, my heart grew 3 sizes that day. Which made me feel a bit of anxiety. How was it going to feel driving away from the hospital? Bobby loaded up our things in the car. Were we really going home? Parker. I smiled just thinking about hugging that boy. As I sat in the wheel chair and we walked out of that very sentimental hospital room, the one that helped create so many memories. I felt gratitude. Gratitude for the staff of nurses and doctors who were so warm and kind to us. They never made us feel like our girls were just a number. They felt like family. Gratitude for the visitors who stopped by to bring food, gifts, love and support. Gratitude for the peaceful spirit that filled up that room. So much comfort was felt in a place some people might want to run from. That room was love. Goodbye room.
I held Holland while we were being wheeled down to the morgue. Our departure destination. This felt okay. This felt right. When we got to the double doors of the restricted area I knew this was it. I told her how much I loved her and kissed her face one last time. Handing her to Bobby was so. So. Hard. He walked her over to her little bed and laid her down. We stood there for a second and froze. I don't think either one of us was ready for that empty walk to the car. We let out a brief cry and I blew a kiss. Even though it was difficult to say goodbye to our daughter it felt like the perfect way to end the journey together. On our way to the elevator I told Bobby "...you know that moment. The one where the new mom gets to hold her baby in the wheel chair out to their car. This felt like that moment. I am so happy to have felt that."
Our arms are empty but our hearts are so full. Even though our time with Holland was brief we couldn't have planned her birth any better way. I feel the love of our girls and I know they are near. Their memories will never be forgotten and I will do my absolute best to honor them. How grateful I am to be given the opportunity to love and be the mother to those perfect little spirits. I will miss them every day until we are again reunited but I will not let time, distance or grief waste their purpose.