The List

 

I have been deluded about grief from the very beginning. It started back when I was pregnant with Annie and there were times when I found myself wishing it was over so I could just get on with the grieving process. I thought, “when she is finally born and if she actually dies, then we can really grieve.” After she passed away I felt trapped. The grief and pain were welling up in me and I remember thinking “once we have her funeral, then we will be able to move on.” That didn’t happen either. The thoughts continued to morph; once we get through the holidays… once we honor her at the rose parade… once we celebrate her birthday… once Iva is born…

After this past Christmas I noticed that these feelings are still very present. In a tearful conversation with my husband I realized that a part of me is always going to feel sad and empty. Since apparently my expectations have been so unrealistic up until this point I have some work to do. I found a grief support group here in town and have been attending for the past couple of weeks. There are only 5 of us in the group, and I am the youngest by over 40 years. At first I thought that because of this I was likely wasting my time. It slowly became clear however that even though every person’s journey through grief is different and everyone’s individual story is different, the feelings are usually the same.

We were given “homework” this week, and I am going to do it here. It has helped to pull me out of myself to hear that other people have these thoughts and feelings, so I decided to be open about it in the hopes that it might help someone else. Our assignment was to list our feelings and thoughts about our loss. I’m hoping that this helps because I often feel lost in a fog of my thoughts. I think actually naming these thoughts and feelings might help clear that fog. Here goes…

  • I feel like I am misunderstood by even the people closest to me.
  • I feel like I’m failing my girls.
  • Dylan tries to help, and I hate that she carries that on her tiny little shoulders.
    • The girls and I were snuggling on the couch and Dylan said “aww, mom! You’re holding all of your girls!… because,.. you know… you are always holding Annie in your heart… Right?” Moments like this happen fairly often, and it makes me happy and proud that she talks about her sister and has a protective heart for her momma, but it breaks my heart when I see her worried and feel like she has to include Annie.
  • I have trouble concentrating on even the smallest tasks.
  • I feel like other people think I should be further along in the grief process.
  • I WANT to be further along in the grief process.
  • Since I have realized that this will never be “over” I have felt so completely EXHAUSTED
  • I am having a hard time accepting that this is part of my identity now
    • Every part of who I am I have chosen. I chose to join the military. I chose to marry my husband. I chose to have a large family. I chose to become a nurse. I chose this life. I did not choose to have a child with a terminal birth defect. I did not choose to be the mother who lost a baby. I struggle greatly with accepting this as being who I am now. When I get an email or message (which has happened often) asking for advice because someone knows someone who is going through a similar situation, or someone just lost a child, it almost paralyzes me. I have been in complete denial that this is who I am. I am unfortunately qualified to give advice on these awful situations, and I endeavor to become better at this. It usually takes me weeks (if ever) to respond to these messages, and it is because I feel these people’s pain so deeply I don’t know what to do.
  • Actually, you know what? Advice is the last thing people need. (well meaning friends and family, please take note)
    • The main reason I blog is not because I just really enjoy telling the world all of my failings and insecurities. Although that part is super fun… It is because when I write, my computer doesn’t try to fix my problems. It doesn’t talk back. It allows me to purge these feelings and the only things it fixes are my spelling errors. If someone you know is hurting in any capacity, I encourage you to overcome your own feelings of being uncomfortable and awkward, and ask them how they are doing. Then, just listen. Don’t offer suggestions, or even worse, a platitude. Most of the time people just need an outlet for their grief. There is no easy solution, no quick fix. This can be incredibly difficult to do. It is hard for people to see someone they love hurting. It is in our nature to try and help them. My suggestion is that a great way to do that is not to try and “fix” them but to let them know you care and just listen.
  • These past few months I feel like I have been dishonoring Annie’s legacy. She taught me so much, and undeniably changed me. Her legacy is one of love and light, and it makes me grateful for each and every day. A lot of those days have been heavy lately, and I have been swallowed in my own grief. I don’t want to waste this precious life…
  • It really sucks that this is who I am.
  • It really sucks that I will be dealing with this grief for the rest of my life.

Even though this sucks, I am grateful for it. I am grateful that Annie was born. Her birthday was one of the best days of my life. It’s amazing that such a tiny little life changed the world. I am unbelievably proud of her. I will always love her and praise God for giving her to us, even if it was only for a day. I am a fallible human being, and am trying to figure things out day by day. I’m so honored by my husband as he loves and helps me, even when he is in the most stressful and demanding season of his Air Force career. (Here he is taking all 3 girls for a jog on a freezing February afternoon so I could have some time alone. He figured out how to fit them all in a double stroller, so he’s smart AND good lookin.)


I am beyond blessed by my daughters. Dylan has grown up much faster than I have wanted. She is patient with my unpredictable emotions and is quick to forgive me when I fail. Harper Lou is hysterical and goofy and brings such joy to my life.

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Iva is the most precious little toddler, and she melts me with her pigtails and her giggles.


I have so much joy in my life and this part of my journey is my attempt to actively focus on that joy while acknowledging and attending to my grief in a healthy way. I’m doing the best I can, and it’s really nice to know I’m not alone. The grief support group has taught me that. It’s strangely freeing to actually list these feelings. These past few months have been confusing, and actually seeking help has started to bring some clarity. Thank you for letting me purge here for the past few years. Writing has been the most productive thing I have done in my healing process, and I’m so grateful for this outlet.

 

 

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The Comfort & Joy

  
I continue to be surprised by the grief process. I should know by now that I can’t anticipate these powerful feelings, but I find myself caught off guard ALL THE TIME. The holidays are such a challenge. They are steeped with tradition and family and love and joy, but they are also constant reminders of our missing piece. I really thought that this blog was complete, but as my family has entered the Christmas season I realized that I still need this outlet. It has been such a relief for me to have a place to sort and document my feelings, and really to process. Many times I have started a blog entry and by the end of it there has been a clarity that has surprised me. I guess I’m hoping for that now… My mind is in a fog, and I guess I’m hoping to clear it out.

Can I begin by stating a few positive things? I have a really great life. I have a husband who loves me, who works tirelessly to better our family, and who loves our daughters in a way that brings me to tears. I have the most incredible girls. Dylan is growing up WAY too fast, she is “addicted to reading”, loves everything girly, and she has been a lifeline for me with her perfectly timed hugs and her meaningful and truthful words. Harper Lou is a little spitfire who is so comfortable in her own goofiness I envy her. She is able to truly be herself without a single thought as to the opinion of others and I PRAY she never loses that. Iva Ray is the most darling little thing you ever did see. She is morphing from a precious, sweet, mild mannered baby into a straight up RED HEAD. Everyone told us when she was born that redheads are firecrackers and they have that reputation for a reason, but Iva defied the stereotype. She was the most calm and gentle baby, until she recently turned one. I feel like someone flipped a switch and now she is making it VERY clear that she has a mind of her own. We are loving every minute of it.

  
I wanted to start with the good stuff because when I write these blog posts I feel like they are heavy, and I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. We all have good in our lives and we all have the not so good. I give Robert a hard time because when we discuss ANY issue in life, from family to our marriage to politics to religion, his contribution to the conversation almost always ends with him saying, “well, it’s a balance.” (which is followed by “the look” from me) Duh. I know it’s a balance. He knows it’s a balance. Life is about finding the balance. This blog helps me do that.

Last year Iva was born a week before Thanksgiving. I felt like I was thrust into the holiday season riding a wave of hormones and endorphins. It was pretty awesome. Of course there were tears when we decorated the Christmas tree, there always are. There are Annie’s precious handprint and footprint ornaments made by the loving nurses who took care of our family in so many ways. There is her birthstone ornament given to us by friends who share our pain in a way that only grieving parents know. There is the ornament Robert bought me while he was deployed during the Christmas before Annie was born, a month before her diagnosis, and on the back is written “I love you Abbey, Dylan, Harper, and ?” So. Many. Memories. These memories are always tucked safely away, but when we open the box and physically touch and lay eyes on these precious things, it’s so intense. Last year was different, because I was cuddling a precious sleepy newborn while unpacking these memories, so there was a beautiful balance. I was so grateful.

I guess I mistakenly thought that it would always feel that way. The first Christmas after losing her was ridiculous, I was a big ole sloppy mess but I gave myself grace because it was the first. I really figured that the second year would be a more accurate depiction of what it would really be like. Now I know that that may not be the case because of Iva. I made this realization last night, and I told Robert that if this is true we just need to keep having baby after baby after baby because apparently babies fix things and that way I can always be happy and snuggly… Cause that’s healthy…

One of my very favorite Christmas traditions we do for the girls is every year we buy them an ornament. I got the idea from my best friend’s mother, and the plan is beautiful. We get them a new one every year and when they are an adult and move out they can have a box full of little trinkets from us to adorn their first tree. We try to find an ornament that speaks to that previous year for them. It started out kind of silly because the girls were really little, Dylan got a sparkly little cupcake because her favorite game was a cupcake decorating game and she called them “pupcakes” and it was adorable. Harper always seems to get some sort of animal, because, you know, she is one… The BEST part of this tradition is that we write a little note and tuck it inside with the ornament so decorating the tree is a walk down memory lane for them and for us. I cry during the reading of almost EVERY note because I’m the mom, because they are growing up so fast, and because I’m also a nut job. I still like to be the one reading them, and I think the girls like to see me cry. It seems to make them feel special to elicit that kind of emotion from me. Also, they are REALLY good at humoring their momma. The ornaments and the notes have gotten more sentimental with passing time. I think there are several reasons for this. The girls are getting older and life gets more complicated with age. Another reason is that our lives aren’t sparkly little cupcakes anymore. I remember buying that cupcake for Dylan, and all I felt was happiness and love. It seems so absurd now, looking back. I was completely unaware of the bliss I was living in. Have you guys seen Inside Out? I saw it with the girls recently and towards the end when Riley’s memories start being multicolored and they realize they need Sadness to get to Joy… HOLY CRAP DISNEY. YES. ALL THE FEELS. I was crying so hard Dylan paused the movie for us. I don’t know if she did it so she could comfort me or because my sobs were tainting her cinematic experience, so I’m just going to claim the former. Ever since Annie was born I feel like all of my memories with my family are multicolored. Dylan’s ornament for that year is a little angel. I took one look at the note, the only note in the box written in Robert’s handwriting because I couldn’t even bring myself to write it, let alone read it aloud, and I passed it to him. First of all, it’s written on a thank you card. I don’t know if we did that intentionally or if that’s all we had on hand, but how perfect. The note reads: Dylan, We had a tough year this year. You were so great, so many times you reminded us of God’s simple truths. You read Annie the book Heaven Is For Real, so she would know where she was going. You hugged Mom when she cried. You were our little Angel. We love you. Mom & Dad.

So simple. So true. So multicolored.

I have been in such a down place for a few weeks now. Decorating the tree just compounded these feelings because there was no one to snuggle. Iva is one, she’s walking, she’s ripping ornaments off the tree faster than the big girls can carefully place them on, and I’m really loving the chaos. But is this how it’s always going to feel? It’s so strange, I was watching the beautiful chaos, crying of course, and Robert sat next to me, put his arm around me and asked me if I was crying because I missed her. My answer was sooooo multicolored. Yes, I’m sad because I miss her. I miss her so much it hurts. I also have so much joy because I have the beautiful peace of knowing I will see her again. I have joy in the ornaments being chucked across the room by my baby. I have joy in the argument over who gets to place the star on top of the tree by my big girls. I have feelings of being completely unworthy of the blessings surrounding me. I have fear that I’m going to screw this up. I have feelings of overwhelming anxiety when meeting new people who haven’t heard about Annie…

That last one is a biggie these days. We moved to Enid in August and Robert is currently in USAF pilot training. I didn’t realize the bubble I was living in until we moved. Robert and I had been in the Oklahoma Air Guard together for our entire relationship. I ended my career right before we moved so I can be here for him and our children, and he is starting this completely new career field. It’s new and exciting, but I didn’t really think about all it entailed. The guard is different than Active Duty in that people don’t move around. We joined the unit as teenagers, we went all over the world with the same people every time, did some really stupid things with these people as well as some pretty incredible things. It has been a second family to us in so many ways. Our Guard Family rallied around us during our season of heartache and it was exactly what we needed. Now, we are in a new place making new friends with people who weren’t there during that time. They don’t know. It’s hard because I have been in the aforementioned bubble so long I don’t have a lot of practice organically bringing up and sharing this huge part of my life with people who don’t already know.

There are a few men in Robert’s training class that are married as well and we have gotten together a handful of times with all of the couples and  the kids. (Sidenote: we are the only ones with kids and these people are absolutely wonderful to our girls) I really like these get-togethers, because we all are living this same life right now. Our husbands are all trainees and they are exhausted and depleted and giving it all they’ve got. We never get to see them, we want to help but can’t, and we are all struggling to find the balance during this temporary period. It is really nice to sit and talk and feel like, Yeah! You GET me! We invited them all over for Iva’s birthday, and although we only invited family and these few couples, the house was packed. The wives were standing together and visiting next to a beautiful matted picture of Pistol Annie that our friends had made us while I was pregnant with her and people had signed during Annie’s memorial service. 

  
As I was walking by I thought I overheard one of them explaining our story to the others in a whisper. I have replayed this over and over and over in my mind. I should have stopped, walked over to them and said “Oh, you noticed our lovely gift? We have the best friends. That was such a difficult time in our lives and we were supported and loved by so many people. Have I told you about Annie?…” Instead I was overcome with anxiety and walked by as quickly as I could. I HATE that I didn’t say those things. I had been waiting to tell them so I wouldn’t feel the weight of the “do they know? Should I say something? Will it be awkward? What do I do?” anymore. I HATE that these wonderful women were unaware that we proudly and lovingly speak her name in this house, and I didn’t allow them the comfort to do so. I will get better at this, but it’s a process.

I think the main reason I feel so heavy these days is the balance is totally skewed right now. Being a parent is hard, losing a child is hard, pilot training is hard, being the spouse of a pilot trainee is hard, and Robert and I are in this together. Together we made the decision for him to be a pilot. This season is temporary, but difficult. He is burning the candle at both ends and the last thing I need to do when he gets home is to unload on him. We both know that this is wrong, I need to be able to talk to him about everything, but this is just kind of how it has to be right now. There is an end in sight. It’s a long way away, but it’s there. I am grateful for a husband who even when he is overwhelmed, notices that I’m not okay. I’m grateful for the support system I have in family and in friends, new and old. I’m grateful for the mental health resources that the Air Force provides. (I haven’t contacted them yet, but I have made the realization that I need to talk to someone who isn’t begging me for food or needing snot wiped off their face in order to attempt to restore the balance) I am grateful for the many colors and many emotions that make up this life. I’m also grateful for long morning naps from my little red tornado so I can sort myself out here… I’m so grateful for the Sadness, and I’m ever so grateful for the Joy.

Merry Christmas.

  
 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kindness 

  If you are finding your way here because of one of these cards, welcome!!! I hope you enjoyed your act of kindness!

I am Abbey, Annie’s mom. If you choose to go to the very beginning and read her whole journey you won’t be disappointed, but allow me to sum up here.

Annie is our third daughter (of four! ❤️❤️❤️❤️) We knew a few months before she was born that she was not made for this earth. We carried her to term in the hopes of a few precious moments with her. She was born on June 26, 2013, and she lived a beautiful and incredible 14 hours and 58 minutes. She spent her entire life surrounded by love, joy, and peace, and it was one of the best days of my life.

Because we knew our daughters fate before she was born, we used that precious time to intentionally plan for her. We planned for every possible scenario. We planned for time with her big sisters, we planned for pictures, we covered all our bases. Most of all we planned her gift of life. We worked diligently with LifeShare of Oklahoma, and because of their hard work and preparation, Annie became the very first newborn infant organ donor in Oklahoma.

We are so incredibly proud of our baby girl and the lives she has touched, including yours. To you it may seem like just a simple random act of kindness, but to me, each act was deliberately performed by someone who loves her. I know her life was small and finite, but this is our way of keeping her memory alive and honoring her. Annie’s entire existence was one of faith, love, and giving, and even if you don’t choose to read her story please consider being a part of her legacy. Do something kind for someone else for no reason other than that you can. Lives have been changed because of Annie, and lives can be changed because of you.

*I would love to hear how someone’s act of kindness impacted your day! I encourage you to go to the Pistol Annie Facebook page and share your story. https://www.facebook.com/PistolAnnieAhern

*You absolutely do not need a card to be kind, but if you would like to perform an act of kindness in Annie’s honor,  email your mailing address to abbeyahern@gmail.com (abbey with an E!) and I would be so happy to mail you some cards.  

The Nurse

  
:::WARNING::: Super sappy- lovey dovey- ooey gooey- OMG we get it- husband lovin post. Dooooon’t say I didn’t, say I didn’t waaarn ya. (sorry, we listen to a lot of Taylor Swift around here)

(Photo by Sarah Libby Photography)

When I was in the final semester of nursing school I was carrying Annie and dealing with her devastating diagnosis of anencephaly. We were planning for her birth, her tiny little life, and her death all at the same time. I was due 6 weeks after graduation, and that is when several of my classmates were planning on taking the NCLEX-RN (National Council Lisencure Examination-Registered Nurse). I had discussed with a few of my teachers and agreed with their advice to plan on taking my exam around 6 weeks after Annie was born, and at the latest by Labor Day. That would give me some time to grieve, process, and then study. I honestly thought that would be plenty of time…

Before I knew it, Labor Day was a distant memory. I thought, lets just get through our first holiday season without Annie and then I’ll take my exam. After Christmas I still wasn’t ready. Then we became pregnant with Iva, and I turned around and we were celebrating Annie’s first birthday. Iva’s pregnancy was so overwhelmingly emotional for me, and when she was finally born I just spent every waking moment soaking her up. Then, another holiday season, my big girls birthdays, and I realized I was rapidly approaching the 2 year deadline. If you go past 2 years you can still take the exam, but you have to repeat your clinicals first. (Uh, NO WAY.) So in true Abbey Ahern fashion, I waited until the very last minute and registered.

It isn’t cheap to register, and I also had to pay for an online review course because I had forgotten everything. I was carrying so much stress and guilt because if I failed this test I would have felt like I just took that money away from my family for nothing. I was feeling guilty for waiting so long to take the test, thinking maybe I should have just sucked it up and done it earlier, and just having a whole lot of “shoulda, coulda, woulda” conversations with myself. When I recieved my email approving me to test it gave me a window from April to July to schedule and take the exam. Again, in true Abbey Ahern fashion, I waited to schedule.

My husband has been in the process of becoming an Air Force pilot in the Oklahoma Air National Guard for the past year and a half. It normally doesn’t take nearly this long, but he’s an old man by AF standards and had to get approved for an age waiver (He’s 32, you have to be <30 when you begin pilot training). He finally got approval and received his start date for officer training, and was scheduled to begin on May 5. He graduates in July, after my NCLEX window closes. In other words, if I didn’t get this test over with before he left town, I would be studying and taking the biggest test I’ve ever taken… on my own with 3 kids. (Please note: I am so blessed with more family and help close by than I deserve, but my testing plans were top secret. If I failed, I didn’t want the added pressure of having to tell everyone right away) I got online to schedule the exam and there was an opening on May 1. I scheduled it, then burst into tears and felt like I was going to barf.

Robert was incredible. I had two and a half weeks to relearn everything I had learned in two years of nursing school, and he understood that. He took the kids and left me alone at home to study as often as he could. He made excuses for me when I didn’t show up to family dinners. Dylan’s kindergarten field trip was the day before my exam and he took Harper and Iva along and chaperoned. I also think he saved several babies from the tiger that escaped that day, but left before the news could interview him… 😉 He also was an emotional support for me, which has been his role for such a long time. I would take a practice test and do terrible on it, then cry because I was convinced there was no way I could pass. He would wait for me to finish my outburst and then build me back up by telling me how proud he was of me and how he was positive I could do this.

The morning of my exam I woke up early and was getting ready. I poured an extra large mug of coffee because Iva decided she wanted to party with me the night before. I realized I wasn’t too incredibly nervous so I tried to psych myself up. I thought “ok, this is the most important day of the past two years.” Then I stopped and almost laughed out loud. That is in no way true. Then I thought, “this is the hardest thing you’ve done in two years.” Again. Absurd. I kept trying to think of how to phrase it, and then I gave up. I realized this is just a test. I either pass or fail. If I fail, I’ll take it again. If I fail again, maybe 3rd times a charm. I just really hoped I didn’t end up like My Cousin Vinny and have to say, “No, for me six times was a charm.”

I arrived at the testing center at the appointed time. They take people back one at a time, and I was the last one to go back. I stood by the window and looked out. It was a gorgeous morning, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and there was a single hot air balloon flying fairly close to the building I was in. The following is my train of thought, and it’s super weird and happened in like, half a second. So don’t judge.

-Oh, how pretty!
-I want to fly in one of those!
-No wait, they’re dangerous. Mom and Dad crashed that one time.
-How cool would that be if this was a sign from God?!
-But hot air balloons mean nothing to me, so I bet it’s not.
-Except for Mom and Dad crashing… Am I going to crash and burn???
-Maybe I should SPECIFICALLY ask for a sign.
-But they are about to call me back!
-He wouldn’t have time to give me one.
-Wow.
-I just made God so small.
-Stop thinking about signs and remember all your dang lab values! Focus!
-Holy crap. They’re calling me.

Thankfully, time and time again, God shows me that He is so much bigger than my doubt, fear, or time restraints. The very first question on my exam was about anencephaly. In my hours of studying and the hundreds of practice questions I had done there was not a single mention of anencephaly, or any neural tube defect for that matter. (to be fair, I only skimmed the OB/GYN review section. I’ve had 4 babies, I know almost all of it from experience) God was with me. He called me to become a nurse and He loved me through it when life got hard. The question of rocked me for a minute and I teared up, but was able to continue without any big episode.

Two days later I got the results of my test. I freakin passed. I honestly never thought I’d see the day. For two years when Rob and I would discuss his upcoming career change and the possible gaps in  pay and training, he would reassure me. He would say “well, worst case scenario if we really need it, you’re only one test away from being able to work as a nurse, so we’ll be ok.” Something that was just a possibility for such a long time is a real, legit thing now. It’s weird, and I don’t really have my mind wrapped around it just yet.

The timing of all of this was so divinely laid out as well. I took my test and was able to get my results with my husband right before he left for his training. Now, the next two years while he is pursuing aviation, I will be able to support him in the same ways he supported me during nursing school. I love that man more than words can say. During the past two years any time someone asked if I had taken my boards yet I would experience a rush of anxiety, guilt, and pressure so I avoided talking about it at all costs. Robert NEVER asked me. He gave me the greatest gift after we lost our daughter. He gave me freedom. He had set our family up financially where we would be fine if I didn’t work. I had the freedom to stay at home with our children. I had the freedom to grieve for as long as I needed to and in whatever way I needed to. I was able to heal from the inside out, so there is no risk of re-injuring that deep emotional wound. The scar is still there and will never go away, but I have such a confidence about the way I have been able to heal. I was able to grieve in a very complete way, and I can’t thank Robert enough for all he has done to help me. He is also going to look super hot in his flight suit, so don’t be surprised if there’s a 5th little Ahern someday…. 🙂

Life is good these days. So good. But the pain is always lurking in the shadows. It’s always unexpected too. We took family pictures recently (yeah, I know, we’re obsessed with ourselves) and my sister had an idea for my parents to sit on a bench and watch all of our little individual families playing. She suggested that my family be playing on Annie’s quilt. It was such a great way to acknowledge her, but it was awful at the same time. We were all playing with 8 happy healthy kids (and a sweet pup) and Annie’s gorgeous quilt was just a glaring reminder of her absence. My family is different. We have a quilt. I held it together for a few shots, but then I just burst into tears and buried my face into Iva’s squishy cheeks. I’m so grateful that we didn’t rush the grieving process, because those waves are manageable. I can rarely anticipate them, but my feet are sturdy enough that they don’t knock me down. Praise God.

  

(Photo by Sarah Libby Photography)

I have also decided to begin a new blog so I can continue to write. I made this decision for a few reasons. Blogging has been such a great form of expression for me, and I love writing. Something I have heard several times is how much people have appreciated the honesty/transparency in this. People really dig the truth, you know? My new blog will be just that. I am guilty of the “picture perfect” social media facade and I think that’s ok, to an extent. The new blog is not an attempt to air all of our dirty laundry or anything, but there is something really refreshing about women being truly honest with their life struggles. I hope it’s a bit more light hearted than Tomorrow Will Be Kinder, but who knows what life is going to throw my way? I hope you read it, and thank you all again for your support these past few years. It has been a true life line.

Abbey Ahern, RN (<—OMG!)

***Our dear friends are still waiting. If you would like to help them please pray both for them and for their son. If you would like to make a donation you can do so here: http://www.gofundme.com/homesweethoma

The Good Life

It has been a long while since I have posted anything here. I felt led to start this blog so many months ago and I have continued to update it with as many details as possible so I could have an accurate account of my thoughts and feelings in this season of life. As time continues to slip by I have fewer and fewer updates to post. Annie’s time here was so brief and her story is far from over, but there just isn’t that much left to say. I kind of feel like Forrest Gump. I’ve been brutally honest, maybe overshared a time or two, and now “that’s all I have to say about that.”
This post is just a big huge thank you. Thank you for listening. Thank you for praying. Thank you for believing. Thank you for being involved in making my little girl’s existence so much bigger than 14 hours and 58 minutes. That means so much more to me than I could ever express here.
Our family has started a new chapter recently. The last time I posted was about being pregnant again and how bittersweet it was. It was incredibly difficult at times and it made me grieve Annie all over again. When the ultrasound was scheduled to be performed on Annie’s birthday I knew it had to be divine intervention. We brought the big girls with us because we wanted the 4 of us to be together all day on that day. I was terrified, but tried my best to stay calm and be brave. When we finally got back into the room, the technician asked a simple small talk type question and I lost it. I started sobbing and felt like I couldn’t breathe. She was amazing and knew our situation so she just handed me some tissue and began her scan. She immediately scanned our baby’s head and showed us a big round perfect skull. It’s funny, but that was the least of my worries. Annie’s diagnosis shattered my false sense of security in this imperfect world that we live in, and I knew that there was a million other things she could find on her scan. I was on pins and needles until she was finished and told us we were having a perfectly healthy baby girl. Then I started laughing… 4 girls!!! Are you kidding?! I laughed for about a week. I love having girls and Robert adores his little ladies. We were over the moon.
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(BTW-how gorgeous are these pictures!? We did a maternity shoot at the Oklahoma State Fair with Sarah, and she knocked our socks off. Per usual.) http://www.sarahlibbyphotography.com

Robert and I went to the hospital alone on the day of delivery. I didn’t know how I was going to be emotionally, and I wanted a few hours with just him, me and the baby. We went into the prep area and I was a nervous wreck. We discussed with our doctor and the anesthesiologists about my anxiety and our history, and everyone agreed to let Robert come back with me from the very beginning. (Normally when you have a C-section, the momma has to go back and get the spinal, get prepped, and surgery is usually underway before the dad comes back) It was so wonderful to be able to hold on to my man during that time. That short period when I’m usually alone can be so terrifying and cold. Surgery began soon after and all of a sudden I heard the whole room erupt with “Oh my God!” “She’s huge!” “Look at that HAIR!” and then the most beautiful chubby face peeped around the drape and I saw my baby girl. They put her on my chest and I just LET GO. My heart hadn’t felt that light in so very long.
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Our darling Iva Ray Ahern was 8 lbs 12 oz, 20 inches long, and had a head full of beautiful red hair. She had some respiratory issues and had to be taken to the NICU, and she ended up spending 4 days there until we were discharged, so nothing went according to plan. We didn’t get our alone time with her, her sisters couldn’t go meet her, I was torn between needing to rest after surgery and NEEDING to be with my baby… It was hard. But we know from experience it could be much, much harder, so we just sucked it up and did what we had to do. 4 days after she was born, we took our baby home. (Insert giant waving MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner here)
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Our big girls FINALLY got to love on their baby sister, and they haven’t stopped since.
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The name Iva means “God is gracious”. God has blessed us beyond belief. We recently did a newborn photo shoot with Sarah and I made this little flipagram with her pictures. I cry every time I watch it because it’s just so freakin beautiful. It’s a miracle that God can take something so wretched and turn it into something so glorious. I am in awe of His power, and humbled that He chose to give me these 4 girls and this man.

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I pray that this blog and Annie continue to reach people. I pray that the mom who just received the crippling news about their own unborn baby’s health and is frantically googling “anencephaly” comes across this story and finds hope. I pray that the Lord continues to use Annie and her sisters for his glory. I pray that Dylan and Harper never forget their time with Annie, and I pray that Iva will always hear of and be proud of her big sister.

Thank you again, for all you have done for me and my family.

Love, Abbey

***Our dear friends are still waiting. If you would like to help them please pray both for them and for their son. If you would like to make a donation you can do so here: http://www.gofundme.com/homesweethoma

The Community

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Robert and I have an incredibly supportive little group of friends. Three of those friends own a T Shirt company here in Oklahoma City called The Okay See. When Robert ran the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon back in March, those friends designed and printed up a T Shirt for him to wear and honor his daughter as he ran. They made enough for our family to wear as we chased him around the city in our cars and cheered him on as he ran the dumbest number of miles in an even dumber amount of time. (He’s super fast and athletic, and I hate him)
I posted pictures to Facebook and Instagram, and several people wanted to know where they could buy a shirt too. We talked it over with our friends and decided that if people wanted a shirt, we may as well do it as a fundraiser for our friends adopting from the Congo. They did a two week preorder of shirts, and I couldn’t believe the amount of shirts that were ordered! My little family was beyond surprised at the number of people who wanted to show us their love and support. It was humbling and inspiring. When the shirts were printed and shipped out, I asked people to send in modeling pics when they got them. I wasn’t prepared for my feelings when I saw each individual picture, nor was I prepared for the creativity of my friends. The pictures show our supporters in several different locations, from family dinners to OKC Thunder playoff games, and from Ada, OK to Guam and Australia.
After I started posting all of the pictures we were getting, we also started getting messages asking where people could get a shirt, or messages stating how sad someone was because they missed the ordering deadline. The boys and I talked it over again, and they were willing to do yet another preorder. You can order one of these shirts by June 21st at http://www.theokaysee.com . We have been so blessed to be able to see the community rally around us, and there is no way to thank you enough, wether you buy a shirt or not. Thank you for all you’ve done for us.
Robert, Abbey, Dylan, Harper Lou, and Annie

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The Feelings

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I feel a little overwhelmed right now, so please bear with me if this post seems to be all over the place. I can’t seem to put two thoughts together, I’m exhausted, and I am an emotional rollercoaster… because I’m pregnant. Yup. Ahern baby #4 is due in November. We are so incredibly grateful for this gift that God has given us. Harper Lou is so excited, and she constantly has a stuffed animal stuck under her t-shirt claiming that her baby is almost ready to “pop out.” Dylan keeps telling us we’ve had enough girls for now, so we need to have a boy. She’s like me, however, and wants to wait until the baby’s birthday to find out the gender. Robert, just like in all 3 previous pregnancies, is taking incredible care of me. He takes over as soon as he walks in the door. He, more often than not in the first trimester, has had to stop somewhere after work and pick up dinner because I have been too tired or sick to cook. He rough houses with the girls, he does cleanup, bath, and bed, all with no complaints. Which is good, because I’m complaining enough for the both of us.

This pregnancy has kicked by butt so far. I haven’t been throwing up or too ridiculously nauseous, but I have just felt like I have been hit like a truck. There are days where I drag myself out of bed to pour cereal for my girls, then I shuffle to the couch where I lay until they start begging for lunch. (Yeah, I know. I’m Supermom.) Then back to the couch until Robert gets home and feeds us, then I go to bed. It’s awful. So on top of feeling like dog crap, I also have a huge amount of guilt. I feel like I’m not carrying my weight. I feel like I’m letting my husband and my girls down. I am very aware each morning of all of the things I should be doing, but most days I just can’t or don’t do them.

On top of all of the physical challenges, I am starting to get to a very confusing point for me in the grieving process. In the first 6 months or so after Annie died, I felt very comfortable in my grief. I felt like my tears and my sadness were normal. In these past few months it’s feeling less and less that way. I’m starting to feel more alone. I really feel like sometimes I can’t distinguish my grief from my pregnancy symptoms, because they are so similar.

 This baby was not an accident. My doctor gave us the green light to start trying for a baby 6 months after Annie was born. Robert and I knew that pregnancy would be difficult emotionally so soon after losing a child, but there were a few reasons we went ahead and tried.  We want our children to be close in age. He and his sisters are all 2 years apart, my sisters and I are also 2 years apart, and we want our own children to have that special intimacy with each other. When this baby is born, Dylan will be almost 6 and Harper almost 4. That’s a much bigger gap than we ever wanted, and we didn’t want it to get any bigger.

The second reason is, I’m not a huge fan of the baby stage. (Gasp!!!!!!) I know. Call me a jerk if you must, just not to my face. With my mood swings these days I can’t guarantee your safety. Don’t get me wrong, the newborn stage is ok, other than middle of the night feedings. The way newborn babies smell is like crack to women, we just can’t get enough, they are the best snugglers in the whole wide world, and they sleep all day. After they get out of the newborn stage, however, they just get really wiggly. They get that weird neck cheese in the folds of their fat little necks so they smell like old milk all day, they spit up all the time, their poop starts to REALLY smell, and you can’t ever put them down. Seriously. When we go to family get-togethers these days, I rarely see my kids. They are running around the whole time with their cousins, going to the bathroom on their own, feeding themselves, and just having a blast. If you have a baby, you can’t put it down. Their heads are wobbly, they get bored after 15 minutes in any particular spot, and they require a lot of hands on attention. After saying all of that, I think it’s obvious that I need to have all of my babies as soon as possible so I can get that stage out of the way.

The third reason we went ahead with trying is because we weren’t sure how to know when you’re really ready. Every time we have decided we wanted another baby we have felt severely unqualified to make that decision. How in the heck to 2 people just say, hey. Let’s make A WHOLE NEW PERSON. It just seems absurd to me. This time we had the “are we really sure we want another baby?” coupled with the “are we emotionally ready for this?” Honestly, the second question was impossible to answer. I am not over losing my daughter. I pray that I am never over it. I always want to miss her. I always want to think about her. For the longest time I was so worried that would I want another baby just to replace her, but I truly believe that that is not the case. I know this because as of right now, I feel more sad that Annie isn’t here with us than I feel excited about this new baby. I’m ashamed to admit that, and as a mother it seems so wrong to feel this way, but it’s true. I pray that my excitement will grow in the coming months, and I’m sure it will, but as for now I can’t even feel this baby move yet. I don’t know it. (see? It’s still an IT.) So most of my feelings are still focused on Annie.

One thing I have been thinking of lately is that I feel like a lot of my physical discomfort could be stress and anxiety related as opposed to only pregnancy. I remember on the day Annie was born, I was full of joy and peace while I was with her, but I was also nauseous and throwing up all day. The nurses told me it was related to the medication I received during surgery which might be true, but the moment Annie died all of my nausea was gone. I truly believe that holding my little girl and knowing her time was running out was enough to make any parent throw up. Once she was gone, I knew where she was and that she had been healed. She was with our Savior and there was nothing at all to be anxious about. Physically I felt fine.

This pregnancy has me riddled with anxiety, but I know all too well that there is nothing I can do at this point. I am trusting, waiting, and praying. I received a phone call recently from my doctor’s office saying they had scheduled my ultrasound for June 24. I flipped open my calendar and noticed that we would be out of town at a family reunion that day. I informed the woman on the other end of the line that we would get back into town on the 25th. She paused and scanned her available appointments. A moment later she piped up, “Ok, how about Thursday, June 26 at 9:30?” I was stunned. June 26 is Annie’s birthday. What are the freaking odds? I was a little shocked so I just wrote it down and hung up. I called Robert and told him what had happened, and he quietly told me that we could change the appointment if I needed to. I thought for a moment and said, “you know what? Every single time I have tried to take control in the past year and a half, God has shown me that I don’t have this. He has this, and He has me.” He has taken care of us and protected us in our most awful storms, so who am I not to trust Him now? I am sure that the day of this baby’s ultrasound will be anxious, terrifying, and full of painful memories. I’m also sure that Annie’s first birthday will be incredibly difficult. Now they will be combined into one day, and I pray that seeing a healthy little baby will lighten our hearts a bit.

I am afraid of what is to come with this baby. There is no guarantee that once one tragic thing happens to you then you are safe for awhile. That’s not how this world works. If anything, I’m positive that more tragedies will come my way. I’m not trying to be depressing, I actually think I have a pretty positive outlook on life, but the reality is that we live in a fallen world. This life shouldn’t be perfect. This isn’t paradise. I don’t feel like God owes me anything because I have suffered a loss. I am trusting in Him and in His plan, but as I’ve stated before, I’m human. I’m trying my best to keep my fear in check and not let it consume me.

Pricilla Shirer was a guest speaker at church recently and she spoke on fear. She declared fear is not of God, and if it is not of God than it must be from Satan. The more she spoke, the more I was completely and totally convicted. I was in tears. I couldn’t believe that I had allowed myself to have a spirit of fear surrounding this pregnancy. God has provided, protected, loved and cared for me and my family in the most incredible ways, some so beautiful I can’t even describe, so how DARE I be afraid?!! He is good. He is constant. Despite my failings, He will not fail. I love the saying “He is not threatened by my doubt, but He is glorified by my faith.” I realize that I will experience the feeling of fear throughout this pregnancy, and that is ok. However, I will not allow myself to ever again have a spirit of fear. I know and serve a God who deserves so much more than my fear.

Something that has helped a tremendous amount in quieting that fear in me is the ripple effect we have seen materialize from Annie’s tiny little life. My family was recently invited to a picnic at OU Medical where Annie was delivered that was put on by LifeShare. We were told that there would be free food and there would be some awards handed out. All I heard was free food, so I said we’d be there. We showed up, ate, and let girls run wild and dance to the Frozen songs playing over the speakers just for them. (They’re kind of a hit with our LifeShare family) We looked around and saw several familiar faces. We saw the nurse who cared for Annie during and after her birth. I will never forget that woman’s face, because she is the one who handed me my daughter for the first time. We hugged and reminisced a bit. Then we saw the chaplain who was there for us in several of the prenatal planning meetings and during our prayer service before Annie’s birth. The nurse who was kind of our liason between all of the different departments working together came. My doctor who delivered Annie arrived and sat with us. Several nurses who were involved in our care showed up. Then I was approached by a woman I didn’t recognize who said, “Excuse me, are you Annie’s mom?” Her name was Ashley, and she told me that her daughter Gabriella was born with anencephaly this past December, and became the second infant organ donor in Oklahoma. My eyes immediately filled with tears as I listened to her talk about her daughter. I can’t tell you how wonderful the conversation I had with Ashley was. How horrible of a circumstance to have to bond over, but I felt like we did. As I was talking with her, I felt understood, like really understood, for the first time in a long time. I could see her pain, but I also saw the joy and pride in her eyes when she spoke about her daughter’s gift of life. Our stories were very different, but so similar at the same time. Her daughter was diagnosed in July, and she had come across this blog in her internet research. That was how she got in touch with LifeShare in order to plan for Gabriella’s donation. As a donor mom, donation has been so incredibly helpful in the healing process. I’m grateful that this beautiful family was able to have the same help.

As the award portion of the picnic began, I realized that everyone receiving an award was part of our “team.” They were being acknowledged for all the hard work and planning they had done to make such an incredible thing like infant organ donation happen where it never had before. Then everyone was gathered for a picture, and I couldn’t believe the visual. There was a big group of people, some of which we had never met, who had all worked so hard for us. I was emotionally depleted when we left, because I was in no way prepared for the events of that picnic. I couldn’t be more grateful.

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Another big thing that has happened is Annie’s LifeShare nurse Shellie has written an award winning abstract entitled; “Pistol Annie, Boldly Opening Doors for Neonatal Donation after Circulatory Death in Oklahoma.” Her abstract was selected to be presented at a conference and Rob, the girls, and I were able to attend. The auditorium was very large and it filled up quickly with nursing students. Harper attracted a lot of attention because each seat had a huge microphone on the back of it for questions so she was shamelessly belting out “Let It Go” until the presentation began. (What is with that movie?!) When Shellie gave the presentation, I just sat in awe of my little girl. She really has opened doors in this area, and if this process has been made even just a tiny bit easier for the parents behind us, it was worth it. Shellie will be traveling to the east coast this summer to present again, and I am so proud to know her and proud of her work!

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Despite all of these positive things our little girl has accomplished and we are able to see, it still really really sucks that she’s gone. I miss her so much. It’s almost routine for my other girls. They see me cry all the time, out of the blue, and they stop whatever they are doing and just hug me until I’m finished. Mother’s Day was ridiculous. I cried during the music part of church, and it wasn’t my typical quicky cry. This was an all out, balls to the wall, sob fest. It started during a song that was praising God for being constant. I just became overcome with pain and guilt singing that. There is nothing I am more grateful for these days. After all He has done for me and all of my answered prayers, you’d think I’d be shouting His praises from the rooftops. He absolutely deserves that. But I’m not. I have been still and quiet. I feel so empty and low, and undeserving of His unfailing love. We made it through the service without any more outbursts (sorry Robert), and went to lunch. All I wanted for Mother’s Day was to work in the garden, so we went to Lowe’s and got supplies then headed home. We worked outside all day, the weather was incredible, Robert looks ridiculously gorgeous when he’s digging, so that was a plus, and just enjoyed our little family. Well, I enjoyed it between cries. I don’t know what it is on holidays. I’m sad every day, but I guess I just feel a little more justified in letting it out on big days like that. I feel incredibly lonely when I cry, because I’m the only one doing it. I know my husband loves and misses his baby girl, but he’s not as emotional as I am. My big girls talk about their sister all of the time, which I love, but their feelings of loss are in no way comparable to mine. So I cry, get lots of sweet hugs, then apologize for awhile.  

I don’t know that I want the pain to ever go completely away. I want to learn to deal with it better, and to be able to live with it. A question I have been getting for a whole year now is, “have you taken your boards yet?” I graduated from nursing school 6 weeks before Annie was born, and after she died I just wasn’t in a huge hurry to rush back to work. We took the girls out of daycare and I became a stay at home mom for the time being. Robert has worked his tail off from the very beginning of our marriage, and he has put our family in a position financially where I don’t need to work. Dylan starts kindergarten in August, so I was just enjoying my time at home with my girls. More and more time passed, and I still felt like my brain was enveloped in this fog of grief. I’m still not ready. It has now been a year since I have graduated, and I still haven’t taken my boards. I am so absolutely OK with this. This is the least of my problems. I love my husband whose only desire is for me to be where I need to be. He has not pressured me one way or the other. He has allowed me to make my own decisions on how much time I need to take to heal, or move on, or whatever. He has actually been selected for a pilot position in our Air National Guard unit and is currently in the deep dark depths of government paperwork trying to get started with training. Once he begins, the girls and I will need to go where he goes, and our main job will be to try and support him as well as he has supported us over the years. For the first time in our marriage, we don’t really have a plan. We’re going with the flow, and it’s a little scary. I really and truly believe God called me to be a nurse, and I loved doing that work. I haven’t given up on that path at all, but I do feel that I’m allowed to roll with the punches a little bit.

Please please please don’t feel like this is a “woe is me” post. I am fully aware that we all have struggles we deal with every day. I felt led to start this blog at the very beginning of our journey, and it was really intimidating. I have never felt more vulnerable or exposed. I have talked about things here that I haven’t shared verbally with anyone, because it’s just easier for me to sit alone in my room and write. God has been stirring in my heart to share these feelings for some time, and I can’t ignore Him anymore, no matter how embarrassing they are to admit. What woman wants to tell the world that she feels weak and out of control? I, for one, like to post my happy pictures of my happy family and show all of you that everything in my life is great and wonderful and deny the darkness. I actually stayed home tonight and skipped my bible study because I felt like total crap, and I have been laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep because this was still nagging at me. Maybe God wasn’t allowing me to sleep until I finally shared what was He had put on my heart. So there it is.

In closing, I want to say something to the dear, sweet, fourth little fetus in my belly:

Hey little baby. I know that one day when you grow up you’ll be reading this and think, “well crap. My mom was super sad and she didn’t even want me.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. I can’t believe I am lucky enough to be pregnant. I am honored to suffer through pregnancy pains just to meet you. I bawled like an idiot when I saw your sweet little heart beating strong and quickly at my first doctor’s appointment. I panicked and made everyone stop talking when it took awhile for the doctor to find your heartbeat at my second appointment, then cried tears of relief when he finally did. I want you more than words can say. Your sisters can’t wait to take care of you. Your dad is already taking care of you by taking such good care of me. This family isn’t complete yet, because you aren’t here. I praise God for giving you to us, and we can’t wait to meet you.

PS- right now, your name is Lil Rainbow. You can thank Harper later.