Friday, 12 April 2019

A New Perspective

I wrote shortly after Cooper passed away in 2017, and again on his due date the following year.  It seemed only fitting that I write, once again, in April of this year.

This seems to be the time of year when I feel the courage and drive to put my thoughts together in a more formal way.  It has become almost a yearly reflection of how Cooper has changed and shaped me and the direction of my life.

This post will be quite different, as I am quite different.  Last year I lay in bed on Easter Sunday and not much was certain in my life.  It was as if a bomb had gone off in the
“life plan” that I had up until 2017.  I wasn’t entirely sure what my life would look like, but I tried to simply live in the moment and remain positive.  Thinking too far in the future seemed scary, like it could all get ripped away from me if I tried to plan anything.  I made the decisions that felt right in the moment, and tried not to think too deeply about anything.  Yes I had met someone special, but even that was something I often took a step back from, not wanting to get too close or too serious too fast.  Everything was uncertain at that point in my life. Was I ready? Had I really healed? Had I processed everything enough?

I did allow myself to feel the pain of what had happened to some extent, but mostly I think I was likely still numb.  Last year, as April approached, so many friends and family asked me if I had plans to celebrate Cooper’s birthday in some way.  The truth was- I didn’t.  Did that make me a bad mom? I planned all Kinley’s parties, yet as Cooper’s birthday approached, I didn’t want to think about it so I pushed it away. I didn’t plan anything until the day his birthday arrived and I finally decided I would reach out to some people to see who could come and simply let off a few balloons.  It was completely last minute, but it was all I could handle in the moment.  Looking back, I’m not sure I had really dealt with the loss the way I have this year. 

This year when I have felt down, or sad, I have looked at pictures, made a photo book, and most importantly, let myself cry with the person I now love and trust completely to be vulnerable with.  I have opened up about each and every painful thing I experienced; from calling in a panic to the nurses to “HELP” when I was alone with Cooper and he started to turn blue and struggle to breathe, to the moments sitting alone at appointments where I was told things I couldn’t wrap my head around.  “He could come out totally fine needing a few braces to straighten his feet, or more likely, come out with a neurological genetic disorder which could be either manageable, or cause him to not be able to eat or breathe.”  I told him how I stared blankly at the genetisist who was trying her best to explain something not even she fully understood, panic setting in.  I sat with social workers they sent to me, at first wondering why on Earth I would need a social worker because MY son was going to be fine, only to later realize as they handed me tissue boxes that this might not turn out the way I envisioned.  I spoke of the sleeping pills I had to take, and the hours I spent laying awake, searching for answers- in my own mind and on Google- that could somehow make sense of this wrench someone had put in my plan.  I cried to him about the moment I knew he was gone and had to listen to the doctor declare his death, to choosing an urn and leaving the hospital without him.  He held me, and unlike most, he unfortunately understood my pain on so many levels.   

I say wrench in my plan because that’s what it felt like at the time, a wrench, a bomb, a sudden left turn when all your life you knew that you would be heading right.  But that’s not what it was.  It was in fact the opposite.  It was a gift.  Cooper was a gift.  He was my savior.  His 6 day life caused a sudden left, which turned out to lead me down the exact path my life was meant to take, I just never would have known it.

I was a fighter, I still am.  Which can be both good and bad.  I think I would have always fought for my marriage, albeit a marriage that was perhaps never going to work.  I worked hard to convince myself I did want the marriage since I had beared a child with that man, but that was never the man my soul was meant to be with.  I read every marriage book I could find, went to 4 different cousellors, and spent hours researching what could be done to make a marriage work.  Initially I thought that’s what Cooper would have wanted.  I realize now Cooper would want me to be happy, and he was one of MANY signs leading me away from a situation in which I would never be truly happy. 

Only now as I am living such incredible happiness, safety and security, am I beginning to understand the true purpose of Cooper’s life.  I never knew the feeling of unconditional love in my marriage.  I walked on eggshells, trying to minimize conflict while also trying not to fall victim to too much abuse without standing up for myself.  Now that I am away from that, fully away from conflict and in an environment with nothing but love and respect, I exhale and I thank Cooper.  His short life had the most loving and incredible purpose.  It takes a truly special soul to agree to live a short 6 day life in order to save the life of his mom, and send her on a journey to find true happiness.

That’s all I can share for now, without revealing too much of what will eventually become a book.  A book which will tell my story.  The story of enduring extreme adversity in a marriage that was never meant to be.  The story of meeting and falling in love with a man who has endured and overcome more than anyone I know.  A truly special soul who treats me better than I could have imagined. The story of losing a child but taking on two more children who I truly love as my own.  The story of finally feeling safe to feel and share all the pain I went through with someone who has been through similar, different, but similar pain.

This year I did make plans for Cooper’s birthday.  I didn’t make them alone, because it still hurt a lot, but I made them as a team with the love and support of this incredible man.  We had breakfast as a family, a new family of 5 in the home we will all live in together.  We jumped on the trampoline as a family and laid down on it looking up to the sky telling Cooper we loved him. We went to the park together and met up with one of my best friends who has always been there for me.  My two biggest supports, my mom and dad, came over to be with the kids so we could go to the NICU to drop off a donation.  I cried in the hallways that I walked so many times while Cooper was alive.  Sometimes we need to cry, and I’ve realized that in the right moments, that it is necessary.  On that day, that was the right moment, and it was all I needed.  We came home to decorations and balloons in the house, and made cupcakes with Kinley.  We did Sparklers in the backyard and Kinley went to bed so easily that night.  I lay down at the end of the day with this incredible man, beside a bouquet of flowers he had given me, feeling so completely loved and satisfied with the day we had. 

Things aren’t so uncertain now.  There’s a new plan, and I’m not scared by that.  This time I feel it’s the right plan, and I thank Cooper for that everyday.  I can’t end this without also thanking Danielle.  The man in my life had a first wife, the mother of the kids I now look at as my own.  She too, left this Earth far too soon.  I know she is with Cooper looking down, thrilled that the plan they both had is taking shape. 

I can’t wait to see what the next year will bring.  I am hopeful for so many great things, but also always willing to take on more adversity because I know in the end, it’s a gift- a bomb in the moment, but a gift in the end that will leave lessons I could never have learned otherwise which will help shape a life that I know will ultimately lead to true happiness.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday.  A happy day, spent with family.  Though I'm not "religious", I do know that for those who are, this day marks new life, a resurrection.  Last year, Easter Sunday (April 16th) was a day I dreamed about for 9 months.  It was certainly symbolic of new life.  Whenever someone new saw my pregnant belly they would undoubtably ask "When are you due?" With a smile on my face, anticipation in my voice, I would always respond "Easter Sunday".

That new life came about a week and a half before Easter Sunday, 2017, in the form of a baby boy with the most beautiful blonde hair.  For 6 days, listening to him breathe, watching him close, being his mom- it was my new life.  Though his life didn't become the one I envisioned; hockey skates on his feet, smiles on his face as he chased his big sister around in the backyard, he left a bigger impact than most could ever dream of leaving.  He wasn't there on Easter Sunday in the way I predicted, but his life resurrected my own.

Cooper has given me a new life.  He didn't get to live his life very long, but I live a new and better life for him and because of him everyday.

Cooper taught me that no matter what you think your life will be, there might be a bigger plan.  In an instant, a plan you had can change drastically.  Life will change.  Things might seem to go "wrong", but they are only wrong if you have expectations.  Things going "wrong", might actually be things going "right", you just don't always have the perspective to see it that way in the moment.  He taught me to stop planning for the future and be happy in the present.  We need to stop putting expectations on life to be a certain way.  Expectations lead to disappointment.  I expected that Easter 2017 would be spent with my new family of 4, I was so wrong. If I had put expectations on this year, they likely would have been wrong too.  I have no idea what Easter 2019 will hold, I can have hopes, but I certainly don't expect anything.  Even when things don't go as you may have thought they should, it's part of a bigger plan.  Stay the course, trust the course.  Be happy in each present moment without looking too far ahead.  Cherish what you have today, tomorrow will always be unknown.

Cooper taught me that I'm stronger than I ever thought before.  When my Grandma died a few years before Cooper arrived, I was too scared to be with her when she died.  When my mom was going in for a surgery once, even though it was minor, I refused to go see her at the hospital.  I thought painful emotion was something to run away from.  As if avoiding facing it head on somehow meant I would avoid feeling anything altogether.  I know I can handle the pain now.  I know holidays will be hard, but I don't run away from doing hard things.  Baby showers will be hard, celebrating Cooper's birthday will be hard, Easter will always be hard.  I will embrace the emotion, identify why I'm feeling it, express it in a way that feels right- but then celebrate with a bigger smile knowing I feel these things because I loved my son and it's okay to feel.  I'm strong enough to feel, and still be okay.  I will be there for every hard thing in the future, I'll never run away again.

Cooper taught me about why people come in and out of my life.  Some people are in our lives for a long time, others only for moments.  Some people come into your life to be heroes, to help you in certain stages of your life, to teach you that you are loved and supported, and to be part of your army.  Others come into your life to be villains.  They too, teach you important, yet difficult lessons.  If we didn't have villains and hardships, we wouldn't learn nearly as much, and the heroes wouldn't be nearly as powerful, inspiring or prevalent.  For those in my army, who have been close to me, teaching me and guiding me through 2017, the year of more hardship than I could have imagined, I know why you were there.

Corey- I needed to meet you. You came into my life seemingly by chance.  However, I'm not so sure anymore that we get given people as important as you, simply by chance.  You were a friend I never could have lived this past year without.  I needed a friend who knew what it was like to lose a child.  I needed a friend who lived around the corner who I could call on when I needed a couch, a listening ear, or just somewhere to go.  I was supposed to be on maternity leave, I never imagined I would need to find a daycare for my daughter so last minute.  You introduced me to yours, and she (Beth) became a security, a place of safety and love for my daughter.  She was a constant, when everything else was so inconsistent.  There is no chance you or she were by chance.  You were part of the plan, the plan that I never saw coming.

Beth- I was terrified to give Kinley up to anyone else's care. Sending a child to daycare for the first time is tough on the most secure of moms.  To have to do that just months after losing a child was difficult to say the least.  Meeting you, after visiting many other facilities, I knew instantly that this was who I was meant to entrust with the care of my daughter.  You put me at such ease.  I never worried in all the mornings I had to bring Kinley to you.  You loved her as one of your own, and provided the home-like environment I knew Kinley would be most comfortable in.  The other kids became Kinley's friends, and your home became a part of Kinley's life that I knew I could rely on.  When days were hard, I'd turn on your webcam, or get a video or picture from you and see my girl's smiling face and know that things were still somehow okay.  I needed you, Kinley needed you, and I have nothing but respect and appreciation for you.

There are so many others- I truly have an army.  Some are people who I've had and needed since the day I was born, others who I have only met recently.  I leaned on you all, at all different times, for all different reasons.  You are my heroes in this life of hardship and villains. You make me smile, you make me feel supported, and you are the people I know I met for very special reasons.  I will always be here for each one of you, in any way you need me.

There are two people with highest rank in my army.  I'm not sure who has highest rank in a real army- is it a General? A lieutenant? I'm not up on that knowledge, I'll have to Google it.  What I do know is that there are two people leading my army and that is Kinley and Cooper's Grammy and Papa.  My mom and dad.  They take heroes to a whole new definition.  They have opened their home and their hearts to me during this broken year and made me feel so whole, so loved, and so supported.  Life can be a battle at times, but with an army of heroes as big as mine, I can overcome anything.  The love I have for my parents is beyond measure, they are truly the two single best people I know.  The combination of their opposing strengths has proven to be everything I could have needed.  I am so blessed to call them my parents and my heroes, you two will always have rank. 

There are others who are no longer in my life, who I met for other reasons.  They too, were important people who taught me important lessons.  Villains are necessary.  Every story must have them, it is how we choose to respond to them, that gives the story a happy ending.  I'm still waiting on my happy ending, but I know it will come.

Easter Sunday 2018. I woke up alone and that's okay.  I had no expectations of anything different this year.  Cooper isn't here, Kinley isn't here, my ex husband isn't here.  Yet, it's still a happy day.  Cooper is here in spirit, Kinley is with her dad and extended family and will be home tomorrow, and the rest of my army is a phone call or text away.  I'm at peace reflecting and trusting that I am exactly where I was meant to be today.  Today is still a day symbolic of new life.  Every day I'm building my new life, putting the pieces back together, trusting the course.  There are new people in my life now.  Good, amazing people, who I may have otherwise never met.  People who have brought happiness I never would have experienced.  I've learned lessons and felt strength I never had before.  Cooper is with me in spirit every single day, reminding me to keep putting my best foot forward.  From Easter 2017 to Easter 2018, I experienced more loss and more turmoil than I ever could have imagined, but I'm a better and happier person than I was before any of it.

Thank you army, thank you Cooper, and thank you new life.  Let's stay the course, because it's bound to be something I never could have planned.  I'm ready, and surprisingly... I'm actually very happy.

Happy Easter everyone.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The Changing Process

I haven't known how to release the things that are inside me.  Yes writing is my usual outlet- but I haven't wanted an outlet.  All I've wanted is my son to be home with me.  Every time I tried to write and share a post on my Facebook, I deleted it.  It felt too real, too permanent, too scary- as if posting about losing Cooper meant I was accepting that it happened, which I don't think I was ready to do. Thankfully my husband, who isn't typically one to share, was able to find words at a time when I simply couldn't.  He didn't know it, but by him being the one to write and share in those early days, he gave me the time I needed to process.  I have known for the past week that eventually I would need to write, I was simply waiting to reach that point in the process. For me, it took a bit longer, but I'm there now.  I'm ready.  Ready to accept, ready to share, ready to heal.

I have gone through so many emotions in the last 2 weeks, and had so many powerful, life changing things happen that I'm confident I'm not the same person I used to be.  I think about things I did even just a few weeks ago, and it seems like a different lifetime ago.  That person decorating Cooper's room, shopping for last minute postpartum items, and day dreaming of bringing home her perfect baby boy, was completely in the dark.  She had no idea that there was something very different in store for her life, and her son's, and it wouldn't be even close to what she was envisioning.

The feelings have been all over the place.  Initially- denial.  Opening my eyes in the morning, convinced for the first few moments that it wasn't actually real, that it was just a bad dream.  The words of the doctors, geneticists, and social worker weren't sinking in.  They were coming out muffled, and I wasn't registering that they were intended for my ears.  I was continuously waiting for the moment when they would change into words I was willing to accept.  Each time someone new walked into my hospital room I told myself this would be that moment when they would tell me they got it wrong and he was going to be just fine.  I was scared to go see Cooper because seeing his little fragile limbs and the tube in his mouth confirmed what I just didn't want confirmed.  I didn't want to respond to messages, post anything, or even look at my own child- I just wanted to lay perfectly still in my bed with my eyes closed until the situation was different.

Next came questioning.  The 'whys' and the 'if onlys'.  I was desperate to make sense of it, but those thoughts and questions only frustrated me and truly served no purpose. I had already been assured over and over again that this was something Cooper always had, and was always going to have, and there was nothing I did or could have done that would have changed the outcome.  As his mother, I found that (and still do find it) incredibly difficult to digest.  I wanted there to be some question that I could come up with that when answered would make this all easier to understand, as if somehow if we understood, then maybe we could fix it.  I asked every single question I could possibly come up with but there just didn't seem to be answers.  There might never be answers.  The best one I have been forced to hold on to is "it just wasn't meant to be".  If we do get answers in 3-6 months when genetic tests come back, we will use those answers to plan for the future, but it won't change how I see Cooper.  I no longer need answers for Cooper, I just know he was here to touch lives and he didn't need long to do it.

Once I had come to terms with there being no answers, it was time to bond.  I was a new mother after all and he was my baby boy no matter how many days he would spend on this Earth.  Not wanting to see him, turned into not wanting to leave his side.  Barely seeing the baby behind the tubes turned into seeing every single feature and recognizing him completely as my boy.  I took in everything about him- he had my ears and my nose, his dad's dimple chin and cowlick, and the most beautiful blonde hair I'd ever seen on a newborn.  The amazing NICU nurses who did "my job"- taking care of my son- allowed me to help.  I changed his diaper, washed his hair and put lotion on his skin.  I knew I needed to soak up every second of doing those motherly things that I certainly would have just taken for granted had I been able to bring him home and do them hundreds of times.  I stared at the monitors that tracked his breathing and heart rate. When he had his "dips" as the nurses called it, inevitably every hour or so, I held my breath while they suctioned his airway, and only started to breathe again when I knew he too was breathing okay.  It was during this bonding time that surprising things started happening.  I went from not really wanting anyone to see Cooper, for fear of it being too hard, too real, or too scary, to all of a sudden wanting the whole family, including Kinley, to have the chance to know and love him. I became excited to see him every time we walked into the NICU and so proud of him every time someone new expressed how precious he was.  The tenderness in Kinley's eyes as she stroked his hair and kissed him made me surprisingly happy, though tearful, but happy that she got to meet her little brother. That week turned into making memories with him rather than mourning what should have been.  We brought in things from his room so that his space in the NICU, the only place he would ever know, could look a little bit like the room we had spent so long perfecting for him.  We took dozens of pictures and tried to smile with him, making his short life a happy one.  Though this bonding stage made the next stage WAY harder, I am SO glad I did it.  I'm so glad I fell in love with my son.  It's a love I'll never fall out of, and a love I'll treasure forever.

Next came the hardest part.  The part that I hope is the single hardest thing I'll ever have to experience in my life.  It wasn't the decision that was hard, that was somewhat easy, it didn't even really feel like a decision.  Parents want what is best for their kids, and it was made very clear to us that this would never be a happy life on Earth for Cooper.  He would never eat on his own, would never walk, would always need breathing support and would likely never live outside the hospital. They could prolong his life, but that would simply prolong his suffering.  Seeing him suffer was impossible and I was ready for him to be in a better place where he wouldn't be in pain anymore.  I knew it would be hard- actually, in my first stage of denial I was sure that if this was in fact real, there was no way I would be able to endure this part of the process.  I had even said out loud "There's no way I can hold him when he goes".  But then it all changed.  I realized, I was Cooper's mom and if ever there was a time to be strong and face the toughest task life can give, it was now.   No matter how much it would hurt, we were his parents and there was no way we wouldn't be the ones to hold him when he went.

On his last day with us, he opened his eyes a couple times, and it was so nice to see those eyes and say hi to him and tell him how loved he was.  He had family with him the entire last day, taking turns holding him and saying goodbye.  David and I bathed him and a photographer came in to get beautiful photos of him before and after taking the tubes out.  The first 12 hours off the machines were peaceful.  They were quiet- so quiet that we had to keep checking to make sure he was still with us.  We cuddled him, listened to music, sang to him, and told him how much we loved him.  David told him about the new legs he was going to get soon and how much fun he was going to have running around in Heaven.  I told him that we would always love him and that he didn't have to be scared and could go whenever he was ready.  I won't describe the last 2 hours before he finally peacefully drifted away from us because they were terrifying and beyond painful.  I will simply say that having endured that, I'm different.  Traffic, bad weather, spilled coffee, little arguments-- no big deal.  I've done "big deal" now, and nothing will ever be that bad anymore.  I know I have strength I didn't know I had, and that whatever happens in this life, I'll be okay.  We had music playing the whole 14 hours.  Different songs came on the whole night, none of which we selected, they were playing on random.  Cooper passed away during a song called "A Thousand Years" by Christina Perri.  The same song I walked down the aisle to.  The words, which I had heard many times before, suddenly took on a whole new meaning. "One step closer"...with every word in that song, I was watching him get one step closer to peace.  I had to stay so brave that entire time and just focus on my love for him. By the time the song was over, I knew he was gone.  I felt at peace that he was where he was supposed to be, even if where he was supposed to be wasn't where I wanted him to be. The song lyrics are below:

"Heart beats fast
Colors and promises
How to be brave
How can I love when I'm afraid to fall
But watching you stand alone
All of my doubt, suddenly goes away somehow
One step closer
I have died everyday, waiting for you
Darling, don't be afraid, I have loved you for a thousand years
I'll love you for a thousand more" 
I did wait for him, everyday of those 9 months felt like I was waiting for him.  I loved him for 9 months and 6 days, and will love him for a thousand more years.  I hope he's not afraid, I hope wherever he is, he is happy.  I had made a picture for his wall in his room before I knew anything was even potentially wrong and it said "Be brave little one".  He was such a brave little guy.  Keep being brave, Cooper.  Mommy will be with you again one day.  

The last part of this journey was the most unexpected part.  The outpouring of love and support was far beyond anything I could have imagined.  I expected that my friends and family would help me through this, but I didn't expect just how many people would feel touched by Cooper and reach out to us.  I have felt bad that I haven't always responded as I've been dealing with each stage of this grief, but I have read every single word and the love and support has kept me strong in all the hard moments.  I want to be able to thank everyone but I'm not sure my thank yous will ever be enough. I'm not sure anyone will ever understand the overwhelming impact all the support had on me.  I heard from people I never in a million years would have expected to hear from, and I was just blown away every day.  I simply can't believe the kindness and the generosity that was shown to us. It's hard to stay sad when you're constantly being shown so much love.  I hope each and every person knows how moved I was to know Cooper's story was being shared and that so many people cared.  It took my broken heart to a very warm place, and I felt Cooper's presence so strongly through all the love I was receiving.  I will be forever grateful for every single person who supported us in this- it made SUCH a difference.

I feel like I'm on the other side now.  Things are quieting.  Easter Sunday, my due date, the family holiday I dreamed about him being a part of for so long, has come and gone.  Cooper isn't here, but his impact and legacy are here to stay.  I worry sometimes when things feel relatively normal.  It doesn't feel right, it's like I don't want to move on.  I don't want to stop talking about him.  I don't want his memory to fade.  I know I will think about him every single day for the rest of my life. Some of those thoughts will be sad and painful, but I'm hoping and trusting that with time they will become easier. Even when there is hopefully another baby, Cooper will not be lost.  I am so thankful for him and for the love and support we were given.

I am a different person now.  I am Cooper's mom.  I am strong, loved, and supported and I'll never forget any of this.  Thank you, Cooper.  I love you.

A New Perspective

I wrote shortly after Cooper passed away in 2017, and again on his due date the following year.   It seemed only fitting that I write, once...