Monday, June 30, 2008

A New Little Miracle

I am apparently getting older than I like to think.

Two nights ago I stayed up all night - for a total of 39 hours awake - to be a doula at a birth, along with a friend of mine.

This particular couple had researched, studied, and learned a lot and were prepared to give everything they had to a natural, unmedicated birth experience. It was 17 hours of active labor, but they did it - and they have a beautiful baby boy. In the end, it was lucky they had two doulas, because I think we were better able to keep up the energy for hip squeezes, back rubs, creative thinking, etc! 17 hours is an extraordinary amount of time to labor and I am awed by what this couple did. And I say couple because the father was absolutely unwavering in his support, and unlike many fathers he was present both physically and mentally. It was beautiful to watch.

I am still recovering from the lack of sleep (hence the feeling old) but I just feel so blessed to have had the privilege to be present at this birth. It's one of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring events in a person's life and I was there. 

Even more notable - this was the first birth I have been at as a doula since Natalee died.

For reasons both emotional and practical, the opportunity just hasn't presented itself. I was with Tammy when Emmalee was born last August but I wasn't necessarily there to "doula" at that birth like I had her first two. Not in the same way, anyway. The truth is that with small children and no childcare, it's just hard to commit to someone for their entire labor. And I'm sure that emotionally and subconsciously, I just didn't want to do it.

And then this couple came along. And the request was very appealing. A mother due in the summer (when I have easy access to baby-sitting) and I was just to be the back-up for the one week my friend would be on vacation. Easy enough. Still, I went to meet the couple with my friend very begrudgingly, for reasons I'm still not really sure of. Instantly upon meeting them, those feelings disappeared. I felt a connection immediately and really enjoyed getting to know them. By the end of the evening, I was asking if I could come to their birth even if my friend was available. I just felt like I wanted to be there so badly.

As it turned out, my friend returned from her trip Saturday afternoon and this woman went into labor Saturday night. I can't explain the excitement and adrenaline I felt as I got ready to go to her house.

I just knew this was going to be a beautiful, amazing birth. I just knew this woman was going to be amazed by her own strength. I knew she and her husband would be even more bonded than before. And I just knew the labor was going to go fast.

I was right about all except the last. LOL!

In my bag, I packed a guardian angel pin and my bracelet that says "Natalee" with her birthstones. I just felt like I needed them with me to get through the experience. Several times during the labor, things happened that reminded me of Natalee. Some of them had to do with the actual labor itself, others were just little reminders. The couple had an iPod with a birthing music playlist, and at one point I noticed the Lord's Prayer was playing. The same prayer I had repeated so desperately as they worked to save Natalee. And yet, I felt no fear - ever - that this baby would be lost to us. There was one time when I stood above the mother and father as they sat together in the labor tub. I looked down and noticed the light coming in from the window next to them was projecting a small rainbow on the floor of the tub, right next to their legs. Beautiful, and I was reminded of God's love - felt so tenderly in the room.

The mother is a pastor and her faith shines through in all she does. For reasons I am still trying to process, is just seems so right to me that she was the one in my path at this time. 

A couple of months ago, our new kitten crawled into a tree and pulled a baby robin out of its nest, newly-hatched. I watched it happen and stood by, horrified, as this kitten I loved did something so brutal - snatching this helpless little being away from its safe haven and its mother. I tried everything I could to distract the kitten, to convince him not to do it - but he did it anyway, and ran off away from me with the robin. 

A few moments later, my kids told me the kitten had deposited the robin on the ground by their playset. I walked over, and saw that it was hurt, but still alive. Every few seconds its little beak moved, looking around for food. I felt it was looking for help, and I couldn't bear to watch this little baby die.

I made some frantic phone calls but the day was almost over and I couldn't reach anyone for help. I turned to the internet and based on what I read, placed the baby robin into a shoebox with a blanket and tried to feed it some mushy cat food. It continued to hold on, and I continued to think that maybe - just maybe - I could save it. I kept it in the car as we ran errands, and I finally got the phone number of a wildlife rehabilitator in our area who said she would help. I took my daughter inside to her dance lesson and when I came back out, the baby bird had died.

We buried the bird beneath the tree that had provided its shelter, and said a little prayer to God. I thanked him for letting us know this little bird, and helping us try to save it. And I thanked God for reminding us that no life -  no matter how small or how short - goes unnoticed. That all life is important. And I cried as I said the words, not for the bird - but for Natalee. At the time, I thought that was the end of my real life parable. 

But now I realize there is more.

Our kitten didn't meant to hurt the robin, and he didn't mean to hurt us when he took it from the nest. And I still love the kitten, even if I can't fully understand the instinct or reasons why he did it. I want to believe that baby robin was meant to be with its mother, but that just wasn't its destiny. And if it had been safe in the nest, I wouldn't have had the chance to know it and try to save it. And I can't explain how many times my children and I have talked about that robin and the cycle of life.

Today, I had to take my children to the pediatrician for their annual physicals. As we were pulling out of the parking lot, I looked up and noticed a nest on top of a bush, just a few feet from the car. In the nest was a robin, and then I saw a baby robin stick its scrawny little head and beak up out of the nest. It looked newly-hatched too, exactly like the robin we tried to save.

It was comforting to me to see this mother robin and her nest, undisturbed and living life exactly as they expected to. I couldn't save the robin in our backyard, but I still feel such peace and hope when I see another baby robin in this world, being taken care of by its mother. I'll never look at robins eggs and newly-hatched birds the same way.

Such a beautiful lesson in life.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Blessing of Loss

This photo is my hand with Natalee's

It is almost 3am and I am still awake because I have just finished reading a blog - from beginning to end.

I found it through Abby's mom's blog and like a good, heartbreaking book... I just couldn't "put it down" once I started reading.

The mother who writes the blog is named Angie Smith and she lost her baby girl this past April due to an undiagnosed medical situation that was discovered during her 20th week of pregnancy. Audrey was born by c-section a few months later and lived for about two hours. There are a lot of thoughts running around in my brain right now and I don't know how to get them all out, so I'm just going to try to focus in on the ones I think are most pressing right now.

God is good. And even when I don't devote myself to him the way I should, He reaches out to find me and give me a gentle reminder that He is still here, very present in my life.

In one of her entries, Angie writes about the peace she felt as Audrey was born, and how blessed she has felt by the *entire* experience - that where most would be able to see only tragedy, she sees a miracle.

I don't know if I can fully explain how much those words spoke to me. The night Natalee died, I talked to my husband as I drove back home. I had been awake for more than 24 hours to help my best friend labor and then - stunningly - grieve. I don't remember any of my conversation with my husband as I drove, but he later told me, "I could just tell from your voice that you were changed forever."

And I told him he was right, and that I wished he had experienced it as well because I wished he could understand how beautiful that change really was. How powerful. How wonderful. The doctors couldn't make Natalee live, but I witnessed a true miracle that night.

Often, I find myself wanting to talk about Natalee. Sometimes it comes up naturally in conversations, other times it's kind of forced but I bring her up anyway. And I'll go ahead and admit this here - sometimes I push the issue even when I know it will make others uncomfortable. Some people probably think it's my way of working through the grief, or trying to get attention. 

It's not.

It's my way of trying to minister. I just don't think I really realized it until now.

The night Natalee died was the closest I have ever felt to God. Amidst all the pain and grief and pure shock was a beautiful peace. As the doctors worked to revive her and the air in the room grew thick and tense, I turned to prayer. In my heart, I knew I couldn't ask God to let her live. I wanted to, but I knew I couldn't. I didn't know what words to pray, so I turned to the Lord's Prayer and repeated it silently in my head with my eyes closed and my head bowed while I stood next to my friend, who still lay in the bed where she had labored so many hours.

I didn't want to be out of the room when they stopped trying to save Natalee, but I felt a strong pull to ask others to pray too. When I felt it was ok to do so, I stepped into the hallway and broke down. A nurse led me to a private room and told me I had to be strong for my friend, that she was going to really need me. I called my husband and my dad. I asked my dad to pray, but confessed to him that I was struggling because I didn't know what to pray for. He encouraged me to pray for whatever God intended - NOT the suggestion I wanted at that time. In fact, I was purposefully avoiding the Serenity Prayer for that very reason. I was pretty sure God intended to take Natalee and I was kind of ticked at Him for that right then, so I certainly didn't want to encourage him. But in my heart, I knew it was his plan. I prayed that he would help me to be strong and to know how to help my friend.

The medical staff were leaving the room as I stepped back in, and someone was handing Natalee to Tammy. There was such sorrow, and such love in the room. In the hours that followed, I found strength to do things I could never have imagined. As I try to describe those things to other people, I know it sounds horrific to them. Stepping outside of myself and those moments, I can see why. But it wasn't. It was the only time I had with Natalee, they are my memories of her. It was a blessing. It was a gift. It was a miracle.

Tammy's pastor came to the hospital and baptized Natalee. Tammy held her in the bed, and those of us present formed a circle around them to share in the ceremony and to pray. A baptism is usually about asking for God's presence and guidance in a child's life as they grow. This child was already returning to be in God's presence as we stood there, hand in hand, and prayed.

I wish noone would ever have to endure the pain of losing a child. I wish noone would ever have to struggle for the right words or actions to ease the burden for a loved one who is enduring it. But I do wish everyone could know the love and the power I witnessed that night. Death does not win. Love does. God does.

We are approaching the two-year anniversary of Natalee's death, and she is on my mind and heart a lot these days. As Tammy says, it feels like entering "dead baby land" again. The draw to read blogs like Angie's is very strong. Those "moments" are happening more often. It's been a long time since I broke down crying, but I am tonight.

The need to feel the pain is intense. 

Because I know what's on the other side of that pain. 

It's love. Pure, joyful, inexplainable love.

And it's beautiful.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My rant about customer service

Two years ago now we moved into our newly-built house... excited to be here and settling in, but without any money for landscaping. (The landscaping allowance went to things like kitchen cabinets and our really cool but highly controversial kitchen sink...) By fall we had enough money to seed the yard and start growing some grass, and I designed flower beds and lined them with bricks.

But said flower beds have largely remained empty because this is one project I want to get right - really right - the first time.

Back in March as the weather started to get a little warmer and our grass started to green up, I called a local landscaping company. For the time being, I'll leave their name out of this - I want to reserve writing them a letter in the near future. Let's just say though that it is a very well-known, well-established, and well-respected company. It seemed everywhere we turned, people were recommending them because they are reliable, do really good work, and are at least 1/2 the price of many other well-known companies in our area.

The man I talked to was very friendly and explained how they generally do these kinds of jobs, and that they had a waiting list but they would call me by the end of April to set up a time to come out and see firsthand what we needed, work up a design, get an estimate, etc...

The end of April came and went. Then, the end of May. Still no call. Today, nearly half-way through June, I called back.

The woman who answered the phone was nice enough and said that yes, she did indeed see my name on the list, but something about not having enough people and the bottom line... she didn't forsee that they would be able to help me.


Apparently I need to get in the landscaping business, because I'd like to work in a field that is turning away business right now, considering the state of our economy. It seems like every day another business closes its doors in our town because their parent company is downsizing or filing for bankruptcy... and here is a business that apparently doesn't really need business.

All of this wouldn't be so bad if they had just taken the time to call me and tell me "sorry." Now, it's the middle of June and by all rights, we should be majorly SOL. I'm sure there isn't a landscaping company around that isn't booked until winter. She did give me a few names and phone numbers for other businesses, but even admitted she wasn't sure if any of them actually did landscape design, or just cut grass. And then she said that maybe if those places couldn't help me, they would know of someone who could.

Another huh? Excuse the phrase, but who do I have to sleep with to get some plants in my flower beds? I mean, is this really that hard? I'm ready to drop a couple thousand dollars on plants but first I have to go on a scavenger hunt to find someone willing and able to do the work? 

Luckily, we happen to "know someone" who does landscaping on the side. I think there is a silver lining here - she's doing it because she loves it and I think she'll take more time with me to do something that won't just look like every other house on our block. Plus, it's the freakin' middle of June - which means PLANT SALE at the local nursery!

See, I'm trying to look at this optimistically. The seed is half-sprouted, shall we say.

But as Edgar and I talked about this today, we're wondering if we aren't just a bit cursed in the customer service department? Three weeks ago we called an exterminator about the wasp nest on our roof. He hasn't called back yet. Two years ago I did call a different landscaper, one our neighbors used. He never returned the message.

Every two weeks when the Schwan's man comes, he doesn't knock or ring my door bell. He just walks up and automatically puts his "sorry I missed you" sticker on my door. If I don't happen to see him and open the door, *we* miss *him.* I talked to my neighbor - he knocks on her door every time - and she says she typically orders less than I do.

And don't get me started on DirecTV. Three different technicians, three different answers to what our problem is - six months later and still no actual solution. I don't even want to call for another service call, but paying for satellite in 2 rooms and getting it in one is getting pretty silly. (Ah, but no sillier than the set-up the last guy gave us, which requires us to go *outside* and unplug/plug in wires to switch to cable. Problem is, if the satellite is out and we *need* the cable, it's likely because there's a tornado brewing outside. Thanks genius.)

I just don't understand. Edgar and I have both worked in service-related jobs and fields.We both waited tables, worked in fast food, heck even working in TV is like the ultimate of the service industry some days. We get it, we really do. And I think we are bend-over-backwards nice to people. What are we doing wrong? Where's the karma?

Of course, I suck at confrontation... so I'll never actually ask the Schwan's man what's up and we'll probably just try to call another exterminator. Heck, the fact that I called that landscaping company today at all is a minor miracle. But my methods are much more passive-aggressive. I like to talk, and of course, to blog. 

And I hope that karma will catch up.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Remembering Abby

The Internet can make this a small, small world indeed.

Not long after my friend Tammy lost her baby girl at birth, a friend of mine from an online message board sent me an e-mail.

This particular friend also happens to run a website known as "Shape of a Mother" (I have it linked in my sidebar) and had received a story she knew would touch my heart.

It was from a mother in Canada who had lost her own baby girl just about a month before Natalee died. In addition to posting on SOAM, she also had her own blog where she was actively journaling her journey through the grief.

Tammy and I both became avid readers and she and Tammy have exchanged many messages of support and even gifts. Last year, just about two months apart, they both gave birth again to two more beautiful baby girls.

So I don't actually know this woman, but I do know her story and - as intimately as I can without having lost a baby myself at birth - I know her pain.

Today is the anniversary of her beloved Abby's birth. Tomorrow she will remember the day of her death. Two days, countless memories and tears shed and "if only" wishes felt in the heart. 

So today, I am thinking of Abby and of her mother and of the heartache from burying a baby and carrying that pain still two years later. I'm lighting a candle and praying God will bring them peace and comfort, and thanking Him that I too know the story of Abby's brief but beautiful life.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Laptop Lust

About a year ago, Edgar and I walked into an Apple store so we could see firsthand the new "iPhone" that was all over TV and radio.

We were "PC" people but I had worked with a mac in my newspaper job and I had a college roommate who'd had one - we considered it a foreign object at the time.

It just so happened though that on that day we walked into the Apple store, we had also just learned that our HP desktop computer - only 2 years old - needed some expensive repairs and was crashing a slow death. So while we didn't go in looking for a computer, the need for a new one was definitely on our minds that night.

After checking out the iPhone, we wandered over to look at the computers. And an employee approached us and started talking with us and by the time we left an hour later, we were hooked. (Incidentally, Apple store employees do not work on commission but if this guy could have he'd be doing great!) It just made sense, the computer actually worked intuitively. We went back to his parents' house and did a little research, then went back the next morning and bought it. A bit impulsive, yes. We've never looked back though, even when my dad teases me about how he failed me as a father. :)

It was only a few weeks later that my laptop (also an HP, just sayin') died. To this day, nothing will coax it to turn on. We were pretty tapped out but managed to find a good deal on an old iBook on Ebay. It doesn't have internet capabilities and lately the battery won't hold a charge, but it gets me through most note-taking I need to do for stories. At least it does still turn on! It was a year or two older than my old laptop, but miles ahead in terms of usability and general coolness.

So this past weekend we went into the Apple store again. This time we were showing my father-in-law why the Mac is so superior (!) and I got to check out the new laptop, the Mac Air.


It is so far beyond cool. And so amazing that it can do all of the things my desktop can do, and more. It will be a while before I can justify spending the money and by then it will probably be replaced with something even cooler, I just can't wait to see what! I am a full convert. Even my iPod just makes more sense with the Mac. I can make cool movies, my e-mail is great, the only restarts we've ever had to do have been isp-related (ahem... Comcast...) and not computer-related. In short, I love my Mac. And Steve Jobs rocks.

I've been trying to post some of my favorite Apple ads from YouTube, but it hasn't been working. Still, if like 10 of them suddenly show up on my blog, you'll know why.