Two years ago today I was admitted to the hospital with preeclampsia. Initially my perinatologist told me they just wanted to watch me over the weekend. Instead, I ended up giving birth to the girls 5 days later. Avery, Lily, and Zoe entered the world at 7:03, 7:04, and 7:05 am on December 20th. Their combined birth weight was only 4 pounds 4 ounces! If you read back to the following post from December 2007 you can read my account of those days leading up to and soon after their birth.
Here I stand 2 years later...two years! How does that much time go by so quickly? I never thought the NICU would feel just like a long, bad dream...but it actually kind of does. I thought I would remember each and every one of those days (121 for Avery and Lily, 291 for Zoe). I do remember a lot...there are some experiences that are so traumatic and so emotionally charged that you can't possibly forget them. I remember a lot of the good things from those days: first time holding each of the girls, first time Zoe was taken off the oscillator, then the vent, then cpap; when each of the girls moved to the step down nursery, the first time we got to bathe each girl and touch them for more than just a diaper change...there are lots of good memories. And there are a lot of not so good memories, the hard and challenging parts of living in the NICU, being scared to call the nurses to check on the girls out of fear of what they may say, the hospital administration that kept Zoe's hearing impairment teacher from coming into the hospital, the times the girls were so sick we didn't know if they'd live another night. And I of course remember the discharge days...those were magical, emotional, almost out of body experiences. Such elation at actually bringing the little girls home...both times it was just incredible.
So here we are two years later, we've got two amazing little girls with us here and one beautiful angel watching over us. 2008 has been difficult...losing Zoe has been by far the greatest tragedy to hit our family. I thought their premature birth and the following months were the worst...but Richard and I have been down to the deepest lows in the last 10 months...I personally have been in such dark places I didn't know if I'd ever feel "like myself" again or if I even cared to. What has kept us going, and kept me going is our faith in God, our innate desire to honor our daughter who died way too soon, and the laughter and joy that is brought into our home daily by Avery and Lily. Their personalities have emerged in such beautiful ways this year. I know I am often guilty of speaking about them as a unit, as one, as opposed to the separate and unique little girls that they are. So I'd like to spend a little time on each girl individually.
My sweet Lily...so petite still, such sparkly blue eyes and rosy cheeks. Her hair is thick and straight and almost reaches her shoulders already! It often seems that Lily picks up things only after Avery does...but that isn't always the case. The difference is that Lily doesn't always require the approval and attention of us when she learns something new. Don't get me wrong...she is a performer! She loves music and dancing...almost any kind of music will get her little hips swaying and her tush shakin'...from classical to African drums to Allison Krauss and Tom Petty. Lily loves playing her flute, the piano, and the little guitar at Mimi's house. She has a huge heart for animals, she always wants to lay down with Abby (our 13 year old pug) and wants to pat her and help feed her; she loves seeing any other dog or kicky kack (kitty cat) that we come across; she tells you when she hears birds chirping; likes to look for piduhs (spiders) and yaby bugs (lady bugs)...and she has a special affinity for camels and monkeys. Lily also loves her baby dolls, she will lovingly lay them down put a blanket over them, give them a paci and a bottle and say night-night. She'll even pick them up and burp them. Lily has a lot of energy and loves to climb and run and ride her rocking horse like she's Annie Oakley. She also likes to climb up on top of the pillows piled on the bed and jump off backwards! She'll wave to Zoe's picture and say "watch Yo-ee" and then there she goes. When you ask her what she's doing she'll tell you she's being a "dare debil" (dare devil). Lily loves being outside, she'd stay outside all day long if we let her and once she's out you had better keep an eye on her 'cause she's fast and she's always on the move. She also loves the water. She didn't necessarily like the swimming lessons I put them in this Spring, but she can float, roll over with her face in the water and roll back over to her back. She loves to splash and kick and "yay back" (lay back) in the bathtub and she loves the handshower to be turned on so she can take a shower like Daddy. Lily has the most infectious laugh you've ever heard...the kind that should be recorded and used in commercials or movies and you are sure to get a good laugh when Daddy tickles her with his beard...she loves this about as much as she loves being chased around the kitchen. She'll say "mada do eet, cwall, kicky kack" which translates to "mama do it, crawl around like a kitty cat and chase me". I never believed that this little girl would eat "normally" because she had such feeding problems as an infant, but now she'll each rice, chicken nuggets, and broccoli by the pound and drink her weight in milkshakes and let me tell you...this girl loves cookies and m&m's. Avery tends to be the one that wants you to notice when she does something for the first time...and is often the first one to say a word or sing a song...because of this there is a tendency for people to ask Avery to say or do something and not always Lily...but Lily is always paying attention and she'll be over on the other side of the playroom with her baby doll or her book and you'll hear her say or sing whatever you're asking Avery to do. It's like she's saying "Yeah, big deal, I can do it too." She's a very proficient signer and still uses many of the signs she's learned even though she can say the words too. Lily is very social, she's always the first to warm up to a new person and will usually flash that precious smile within a few minutes. She is also a little sneaky...she's quite the paci thief and poor Avery will be all snuggled in about to go to sleep and then Lily who you think is sleepy too, will sit up, and slowly reach over until she gets right to Avery and snatch the paci out of her mouth. Most times Avery doesn't care, unless it's bedtime and she's sleepy. She's cute too, when she gives something to you ...like a piece of garbage to throw away, or a chewed up raisin she doesn't want to swallow...she'll say "kack you" (thank you)...so polite! Avery did something for her today and she signed thank you and said "kack you Awee, kack you." Such good manners for such a little girl! Sometimes I look at Lily in disbelief that she's my daughter...I just can't believe that I actually had anything to do with creating such a beautiful, happy, compassionate, and loving little girl.
Avery is a little less high energy than Lily. She'll want to sit right next to you, hand twirled in your hair, and just snuggle. She usually has to be touching some part of me and more than likely wants to be picked up so she can entwine her hands in my hair. Don't get me wrong, she likes to run around and play and scream just as much as Lily...but she likes her downtime too. She loves to read books and also likes music and dancing. She loves to show off new things she learns like when she learned how to "skip" and "jump" and "twirl". She loves to sing songs and will often just break out into song at any point. She's so cute singing the first 3 or 4 words of a song..right now it's usually "fosty snowman" or "sanka caus comin' to town". Avery also has this incredible memory. We'll have a Baby Einstein movie on and if you've watched one or two or a thousand of these, you know that with each segment they play a new song instrumentally...she can pick out what the song is and sing the words even though there are no words sung in the movie. She also knows exactly when the song is about to come on by remembering what comes right before it. The other day we took the girls on a drive south of Atlanta and walked around and got a quick bite to eat. We walked on a trail and saw our first waterfall and we met a couple of dogs along the way. Later that night Richard was sitting with her and she recounted the entire day, in order, in two or three word phrases...oh and did I mention she counted to 13 (she skipped 11) but still! She did it without prompting, she was just sitting in the playroom with this great little wooden toy with five pegs and different shaped rings to put on each peg. As she put a shape on the peg she counted. I did not witness this event but Richard did and was calling for me to come see. Since then she's done it around me, but hardly ever if you ask her to. Avery does not miss a thing. I remember when the girls were infants Lily would fuss a bit more than Avery and I always worried that Avery would be neglected because Lily was always getting picked up...but I think that's just part of her personality, she's an observer. She's also a little cautious, she waits for Lily to "approve" of a new person before she'll venture over and when she tastes something for the first time she'll barely touch her tongue to it, that is pretty funny to watch. Avery, like Lily, loves being outside. She loves to climb and slide and dig in the dirt. She loves the water and can float like Lily and also roll over and swim underwater and then roll back over to float. She didn't care too much for the ocean and the sand, but loves the pool and the bathtub. She's got olive skin and chocolate brown eyes. Her hair is finer than Lily's and has some curl to it in the back so it's growing a bit slower than Lily or Zoe's did. She loves the people she's most comfortable with...whenever Namo, Mimi, or Alice come over she'll scream and wave her arms and stomp around in a circle, it's like her welcome dance or something...so cute and sure makes the receiver pretty happy. She saw Mimi walking across the yard headed to the door and Avery says to me "mada, open da door, wight now, open da door" then she stands next to the door and sayd "it Awee" telling Mimi (who is on the other side of the door) that she's on the other side waiting for her...she wanted me to let Mimi in immediately! She can be pretty stubborn and demanding (I can't imagine where she got these qualities from!) but she's also so sweet, so cuddly, and has a cute little sense of humor. They both will sometimes say something and I can't figure out what it is so I'll just repeat what they say to me and they'll both just crack up laughing like they've got some inside joke going on. It's funny, she's only one minute older than Lily and yet she'll act like the big sister. Taking care of her, sharing her milk. She's so kind, so sweet, and again I'm just amazed that she's mine!
It is safe to say that all three girls love eachother very much. If Lily wakes up before Avery and I take her out of the nursery, in about five minutes she's saying "Awee, mada get her, Awee". Both Avery and Lily talk to Zoe, wave to her pictures, share their snacks with her, ask her to watch them when they do something for the first time and blow her kisses. When Zoe was here she always kept one if not both eyes on her sisters, she wanted to be in on what they were doing and was very much a part of every second. I like to think that she's up in Heaven, doing the same thing...just in a different way.
Zoe, will always be my sweet little warrior princes, I will never know why I was chosen to be the mother of an angel on Earth. And I never, ever thought that once we got home from the NICU that I'd have such limited time with her. I honestly thought the worst was behind us, that she couldn't possibly get sick enough to die once she got home. She was so strong...so courageous, so calm, so happy. You can't possibly measure the ability she had to love and to share this love and her laughter with everyone. Her green eyes just sparkled. Even when she was teeny tiny in the NICU, nurses, RTs, and even others who saw her photos would comment on how deep she'd look at you with her eyes. More than one person would say they felt she could see deep into your soul with those eyes. She was so laid back, rarely fussed and if she was tired, she'd just lay down and take a little cat nap wherever she was...but more often than not she wanted in on the action. I remember taking her to our sessions with Linda at the Speech School and sometimes Lily and Avery tagged along. They'd be on the other side of the room with Mimi, playing quietly (sort of) and Linda would be trying to get Zoe to locate specific noises and sounds she was making when all Zoe would do is look for her sisters, especially if there was any boisterous laughter going on..she wanted to play! Once she could sit up without refluxing the whole world opened up to her...she could play with so many toys, she loved the little play table and piano and she had this little ladybug that she always loved. I always think of Zoe when I see a ladybug. I will never forget the bedtime routine we had...Richard or I would get her bathed and tucked into bed, feeding hooked up and she'd often fall right to sleep. Then we'd give Avery and Lily their last bottle and put them down. I'd go back to Zoe and she'd be awake again, it's like she knew I wasn't distracted by her sisters and could spend a little one on one time with her. I'd lay down on the bed next her co-sleeper so that our cheeks would touch and I'd sing to her...I always sang the same four songs and then I'd hum them (Hush, Little Baby...Brahms Lullaby...Silent Night...and Amazing Grace) Usually by the time I sang all four and hummed two of them she'd be asleep. She'd just be sucking on her paci, both hands up at her mouth, sleeping so sweetly. I always loved how Zoe woke me up each morning...she'd kick her right leg and make this "huh, huh, huh" sound in her sweet little husky voice and when I rolled over or opened my eyes she'd squeal and smile. What a beautiful way to wake up! I would give anything to wake up like that again. It's been said over and over how many people Zoe touched during her short 14 months and continues to touch and it still amazes me...there are moments that people still write to me about, even now, that they call their Zoe moments when they feel they've been given a message from her or had some experience where they are sure it was her or her spirit speaking to them. I love hearing about these moments. I long for more of my own. Hopefully as I walk along this long, long road of grief I'll begin to relax, my body will loosen and therefore my heart and my mind so that I can receive the messages she's probably been sending me all along. I do have moments here and there that I think are Zoe moments but sometimes I'm not sure if I just want it to be her so badly that I convince myself it is...or maybe it really is her.
When the girls were in the NICU we had to learn how to love and bond with our babies before we could even hold them...we had to learn that love is felt even when a physical bond has not yet formed. I feel like we've had to go back to this understanding with Zoe. That even though she's not here in body to be held and kissed, we can and will continue to love her and feel her with us. I also remember during the NICU days questioning whether I loved the girls enough because I hadn't had that first moment of holding my own babies and had heard all kinds of stories about how wonderful that moment is (usually right after birth) I didn't have some euphoric experience after birth...my emotions were mostly fear, fear that I wouldn't take any of them home with me. I finally know there is no question that I love my girls more than anything, that the depth of my love for them can not begin to be explained or quantified. There is no symbol or act that could ever truly encapsulate the enormity of my love for these three precious angels.
Lily, Avery, and Zoe...you are my life, my heart, my love forever and ever! Happy Birthday!
I thought I'd make a little that was then, this is now photo display:
a hat...then and now
Avery Ruth above at birth, below at 23 months