Empty Arms, Losing a Child

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In Memory of Sierra RayLeen

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Sierra RayLeen, October 27, 1987

As we approach Mother’s Day, I thought I would share my story of losing a child.  I hear so many stories from other women and it breaks my heart every time.  It brings me back to nearly twenty-nine years ago when I lost my first child, a daughter, Sierra RayLeen.  She came nearly three months early, and only survived for approximately five hours.  It was my first pregnancy, so I didn’t really know what to expect.  I was 20-years-old and was excited to be pregnant with our first child.  We wanted the gender to be a surprise, so we had no idea whether we were having a precious baby boy or girl.  I had been having a lot of problems throughout the pregnancy, especially with bleeding off and on.  I, myself had been born two months early, weighing in at 3 pounds 15 ounces, so it had been a concern throughout my own pregnancy; however after nearly six months of problems, and much of that time on bed-rest, it seemed that the pregnancy was finally going well, filling us with much excitement and anticipation.  I can still remember the first belly-flutters, the ultimate sign that that there is a little being growing inside.  It was amazing, and we couldn’t wait to meet him or her.  I knew early-on that I wanted to be a mother.  My own childhood had been pretty rough, and I couldn’t wait to have a child of my own to love and watch grow up.  It was a dream come true.

That dream came to a screeching halt on October 27, 1987 when I was 6-months pregnant.  I was finally to a point where I wasn’t having issues, and no longer required bed-rest (after nearly three months on bed-rest).  Because of the issues I had experienced, I hadn’t bought anything for the nursery; however on October 26th, I finally went shopping with a friend, and bought several baby “things”.  It felt good to finally start getting ready for his or her arrival.  That night, I woke up around 2:00 am with severe cramping and hemorrhaging.  I called my husband and he immediately rushed home and we made our way to the emergency room.  It was there that it was determined that the “cramping” was actually full-blown labor.  An ultrasound was performed and they were able to determine that I was 7cm dilated, and that the baby’s lungs were not fully developed.  It was not likely that he/she would survive, and certainly not without intervention.  My doctor shared that he could send me to Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) where they were performing a procedure where they would put the mother on a bed that actually tipped upside-down, using gravity as a means to hopefully keep the cervix from further dilating and prevent the baby from being born.  We were told that it was our only hope in the baby surviving, because the lungs weren’t developed.  We mentally prepared ourselves for the ambulance ride up to OHSU in efforts to save our baby; however nearly fifteen minutes later, our doctor came back with news we didn’t want to hear; OHSU was no longer performing this procedure because the survival rate was so low.  We were devastated.   We no longer had an option, so began the wait for the arrival of our sweet baby.

The nurses later came in with a steel tub and towels, placing these items at our bedside.  I was not sure what the purpose of these items were, and in the back of my mind, I feared that the staff would put my baby in this tub and whisk him/her away.  I was young and it was my first pregnancy.  I did not know what to expect and was utterly terrified.  I couldn’t even bring myself to question the nurses as to what the purpose of these items were.  I thought perhaps they would take the baby away (I had no idea what the baby would look like or if he/she would even look like a normal baby).  With each contraction, I grew increasingly worried about the steel tub and its purpose.  I tried to relax as much as possible and focus on getting through each contraction….and, so we waited…

A few hours later, our baby girl, Sierra RayLeen, entered this world.  She was just over 15 ounces and just under 12 inches long.  She was tiny, but she was otherwise perfect!!  Ten fingers, ten toes, perfect little hands and feet.  She was breathing, although labored because her tiny lungs were not mature.  They immediately cleaned her, wrapped her in a blanket, and handed her to us to hold and admire.  I quickly forgot about the steel tub.  I only focused on this beautiful little baby girl and how perfect she was.  The doctor let us have a few minutes with her and then came back in to visit with us.  He reiterated that she was not going to survive; however if we wished, we could have her immediately taken to the nearest neonatal center (several miles away); however because of my blood loss (and my body had gone into shock just prior to delivery), I could not go with her.  He assured me that she would be poked and prodded with needles and tubes, and that none of those things could save her.  We would lose all time with her. It was, to this day, one of the most agonizing decisions I have ever had to make in my life, and something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.  We ultimately decided that we wanted to spend time with our precious baby girl.  We didn’t want to waste one minute away from her.

For over five hours, we held her, cuddled her, and kissed her.  She wrapped her tiny hand around our fingers and would occasionally take a deep sigh.  She never opened her eyes.  We were told this was because I had been sedated while in labor (when my body went into shock); therefore she was also sedated.  We had the most amazing doctor and nurses.  We didn’t know what to expect, but the nurses were so attentive to our little one.  They wrapped her up in blankets and kept her warm.  They took Polaroid pictures of her (this was in 1987, long before digital cameras and since we had no idea we would be having a baby that night, we didn’t come prepared with a camera), and provided us with a “Special Babies” baby book, along with her foot and hand prints.  They are the only physical mementos we have of her, and we are so very thankful that they provided these things to us during that very difficult time.  We reveled in each breath that she took and each squeeze of her hand on our fingers.  Even after she took her last breath, we continued to hold her, knowing how precious this time was.  Letting her go was more difficult than I can express in words.  When do you finally let go of your tiny daughter, knowing that these are the last moments that you will ever have with her?  When we did carefully hand her to the nurses, they treated her like any other baby.  They held onto her like the most precious of cargo.  I don’t think the nurses will ever know how much this meant to us, and I don’t think I could ever truly put it in words.

Going home was unbearable.  Empty arms that only had the chance to cradle that precious “little” for a few moments in time, would never rock her to sleep, or calm her cries in the middle of the night.  It’s a time that I’ll never forget, as it was such a time of darkness and despair.  But, we hold onto those beautiful brief moments with our daughter.  We had a gorgeous baby girl less than a year later, and a beautiful son almost two years after that.  We truly recognize how blessed we were, as many that lose a child, never have the opportunity with another.

My mother, who passed away just a few years later, wrote the following poem for our precious little one:  “Sierra RayLeen, child of my child, you only stayed a little while.  Bands of love wrap around my heart, knowing we would have to part.  Time stands still, there’s no tomorrow, wishing mine, was yours to borrow.  Time goes on, and hearts will heal, but the love of Sierra, we’ll always feel.”  -Grandma Lois

Sierra’s headstone where she lies was perfect in our eyes and we knew it the moment we found it: “She gave so much to be so little, but angels always do”.   Our beautiful angel is gone, but never forgotten.

 

 

 

Wrapped in Love

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Wrapped in Love

 

By now, many of you have noticed that I paint a lot of pictures about mothers and children, primarily babies.  I don’t think there is anything more beautiful, amazing, precious, delicious-smelling, soft, and snuggly than a little baby.  I will expand that to say that I also love baby animals; kittens, puppies, ferrets, you name it, I love it, especially in baby-form.  Baby toes are like little sausages…you just want to eat them up!!!  Not literally of course, but seriously, I want to kiss those little precious nuglets of goodness.  You can’t really do this once babies start crawling/walking, as then they no longer remain clean, and, well being a germaphobe, it just ain’t happening.  For some reason, this brings me back to when my kids were very little, probably 4 & 5 years-old.  It was Father’s Day and they had brought my husband and I breakfast in bed.  It was simply a bowl of cereal for each of us (I love cereal…hello!!!…who doesn’t love a good bowl of Cap’n Crunch?!), they brought up two bowls of cereal and two spoons…it was a precious moment.  The look on their precious, cherubic little faces was priceless.  They were so proud that they had done this all on their own…yes they did.  I’m not going to lie…being a germaphobe, I am always concerned about whether someone has washed their hands before handling something that I am eating, or after shaking hands, etc.  I wanted to enjoy my bowl of cereal that my precious littles had prepared for us…but I let my husband take the first bite, since it was Father’s Day.  He did so, and of course, raved about how delicious it was, and how he especially loved it because it came from them.  I went to take my first bite, when I saw that my husband had a puzzled look on his face and hear him utter, “where did you get these bowls?”….I slowly put my spoon back in the bowl, as they answered “the dishwasher”…which, of course we were both realizing contained dirty dishes, hence the film of grit that he had scraped upon while gathering a spoonful of cereal.  There was also remnants of something on the spoons, the likes of which, I didn’t want to even guess what it could be.  We laughed and “ate” our cereal (and when I say “ate our cereal”, I mean, we pretended to eat our cereal and then dumped it out when the kids weren’t looking).  It is one of those funny moments that you laugh about with your kids when they are older and can find the humor in it all.  It was such a precious moment.  It wasn’t about the cereal, or dirty bowls & spoons…it was about the love that was demonstrated when our precious babies thought  about us on that special day.  There are many other precious days like this, but this is one is one of my favorites, as it was when we were still a strong family unit.  There is nothing more precious than that.  While my husband and I divorced, we each still experienced many other loving moments with our kids.  I watch my son with his kids and see the love that he has for them.  I know he will have many memories of dirty cereal bowls filled with love, and that makes my heart full and realize the many blessings I have in my life.

Hip Mom

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“Hip Mom”

Any mother will recognize this stance.  It seems to be the primary stance from the time your children are old enough to hold up their head, to the time they are too heavy to hold (for any length of time, anyways).  It’s almost a global symbolism for motherhood, as it is a stance used in most, if not all cultures.  Many carry their child this way while they are doing daily chores, shopping, or just snuggling with their child.  It feels to be a method to keep your child close, allowing them to feel safe, and comfortable next to mum; they can see the world around them, but within the safe confines of mother’s arms.  And as the hip pain sets in (due to poor posture and weight distribution), we switch our children to the other side.  For me, since I am right-handed, this often meant struggling to do daily activities with my left hand, not an easy feat for someone that is definitely dominantly right-pawed.

When my children were little, I had a difficult time “letting go”.  It was hard for me to allow them to be independent.  I was afraid of them getting hurt.  I even fretted about them getting dirty, which was ridiculous, because a.) they were children and b.) we lived in the country, where it is simply impossible NOT to get dirty.  My children loved to wander, explore, and yes, get dirty…really dirty.  A few unforgettable moments were when we found our children playing in the cow’s watering trough, sitting in it like a Jacuzzi tub.  As you can imagine, these tubs were not pristine, so I was a little freaked out.  Another time, my children decided to see what the cows’ salt lick tasted like.  As a germaphobic mother, this caused me a lot of anxiety.  Of course, I laugh about it now…as do my adult children.  I did ease-up over time, allowing my children to get filthy (oh so filthy), as they did take nightly baths, so my anxiety-riddled self would feel better knowing they were going to bed clean, free of the day’s filth, well, most of it anyhow.

I believe that part of the reason it was difficult for me to allow them independence early-on, was that it was simply hard for me to let go of them as children; as it meant they were growing up.  I wanted to preserve those sweet babies as they were so precious.  What I learned is that each stage of childhood was a treasure.  It was sad to see them transition from the “Littles” stage, but I also enjoyed watching them grow up into amazing, beautiful, thoughtful, loving adults. As they grew, I grew as well.  I tried to be a better mom each day.  I wasn’t perfect (I’m sure my children will quickly attest to this), but I have always loved them with all my heart and I have always tried to be the best mama I could be.  I believe my children know and understand this as well.  And while I’m no long able to hold my children on my hip, I will always hold them in a special place in my heart.

Snuggles With My Littles

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“Snuggles with my Little”

My kids will tell you that I am extremely affectionate with those I love.  I have been that way for my whole life.  When my kids were “littles” I loved those special moments when they would crawl up in my lap and snuggle with me; their little heads nestled in my neck, and a warm blanket wrapped around us, keeping us warm.  To this day, when I am around someone holding a baby, I will find myself rocking back and forth…in fact, I am rocking back and forth as I write this, just thinking about holding my children. I miss those times.  Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed watching my children grow into amazing adults.  They are beautiful, kind, funny, witty, talented, amongst other things, and I love being around them. But, what I wouldn’t give to have a few moments with them both as “littles” again.  Their sweet innocence, precious personalities, and overall little lumps of sweetness that I could snuggle.  I am truly blessed to have been given the opportunity to be their mama.  I cannot express how much I love them each.

“Snuggles With My Littles” was painted to capture those precious moments with my babies (yes, they are still, and always will be my babies).  While my babies are grown, I now get to snuggle with my grand babies.  You can’t imagine that you can love anyone like you love your children…and then grand babies come along.  They are amazing…and even look a lot like my kiddos, so it’s a lot like snuggling with my babies all over again.  Yes, I am truly blessed.

 

Great Expectations

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Great Expectations

It’s been nearly 29 years since I experienced my first pregnancy. I knew very early on in my childhood that I wanted to be a mom. I was only 19-years-old when I was first married and was pregnant less than a year later. I can still remember the first “flutters” in my belly, proof that there really was a little being growing inside. It was the most amazing feeling and I couldn’t wait to meet my “little”. Unfortunately, our meeting came three months too soon. I was only six months pregnant when I went into labor.  My little’s lungs weren’t fully developed and she survived for less than six hours. It was painful and beautiful at the same time. While we were devastated, we felt fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend those precious hours with our baby girl. A future blog post will be solely dedicated to my baby girl Sierra RayLeen.  “Great Expectations” was created to celebrate the beautiful experience of becoming a mother; certainly the most amazing experience of my life.

Only “Littles” for a Little While

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This is a picture I painted that brought me back to when my kids were still little (all now in their 20s).  It’s titled “Morning’s Lullaby”, referring to the many early mornings I fed and rocked my children back to sleep.  It was an amazing time.  It’s fun to watch them grow into adults (most of the time…I’m not going to lie, the teenage years were not kind a few times).  Everyone tells you that it happens “in a blink of an eye”; however you truly don’t realize it until your kids are grown.  Right before your eyes, they go from a helpless infant in your arms, snuggling into your neck, into a grown-up with children of their own.  My kids are adults, and grandchildren have helped ease the melancholy moments, but my children will always be my babies.