Sometimes Love Is Messy

Eliza, after enjoying her first chocolate chip cookie I have been wanting to write about this for months, but haven't been able to find the words. This is an emotional topic for me, so I am just going to jump right in...

One of the hardest things about the first year of Virginia's life was the lack of anger other people had about what had happened to her.

There were common catch phrases that I heard frequently.

God's plan is hard to understand, isn't it?

The sun will come out eventually. It always does.

God is always in control.

It's a blessing that God trusts you and Findley enough to be Virginia's parents.

Looking back, there is nothing wrong with any of those comments.

What I take issue with is that very few people wanted to understand what had actually happened to Virginia. No one wanted to believe that something so grievous could occur in modern America, much less in their own home town. Acknowledging how it happened meant realizing that it could have happened to their baby, too.

Southern culture dictates to some extent that we don't talk about hard things. All of our doctors are dedicated, smart men. All of our hospitals are worthy of our trust. God doesn't give you more than you can handle. Well, what happened to us wasn't a good thing. It was a grievous crime. And unfortunately it happened at the hands of someone who was a pillar of the community, further complicating people's emotions.

What Findley and I felt was righteous anger, a very Biblical emotion. And what we needed were friends who were angry and outraged with us, just as if Virginia were their own daughter.

I am the daughter of two doctors. I am the daughter-in-law of a doctor. Malpractice used to be a dirty word in my mind, too. I thought plaintiff lawyers were ambulance chasers, people who sued McDonald's because their client was too stupid to gage the temperature of their coffee before taking a gulp.

This road would have been much easier if Virginia's injuries had not been preventable. So much of our pain is because someone's actions caused her suffering. She was denied the chance to live a healthy life before she ever entered the world.

The hardest moment for Findley and me was not at the twelve hour mark when they told us she might not make it, but at the thirty-six hour mark when my OB (who was not on call the night Virginia was born) entered the room with tears in his eyes to tell us what had happened.

That at 11:05 pm her heart strip started to look troubling. She was getting tired.

That at 11:45 pm her heart strip became 'non-reassuring.'

That by 11:45, he would have delivered Virginia had simple interventions (like putting me on oxygen, turning me on my side) not improved her heart tracings

That around 1:00 am, things went from bad to worse

And that after 2:15 am, she went into a 'terminal bradycardia' (a very slow heart rate that would have killed her had she not been delivered). She wasn't delivered until 3:08 am.

He went on to say that there was almost nothing written in my chart and that he had no idea where my nurse had been during all this or why no one had intervened.

At the moment we learned all these details, the world seemed to crash around me. I felt like I had let her down. She had been struggling for hours and no one had been watching. Bless her heart, she had held on as long as she could.

All these 'details' matter very much to a mother and father living out a true nightmare. What happened to Virginia was like being hit by a drunk driver or being struck by a stray bullet because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. A tragedy in every sense of the word.

But very few people wanted to talk about these things. They wanted to hand me a chicken casserole, assure me that they thought Virginia seemed totally fine, and head back to their car.

In February of 2004, I went to see one of the pastors at our church because I was really struggling. He spent the first fifteen minutes telling me how worried he was about a very trivial issue with one of his children. I could tell he was very distraught over it.

As the conversation turned to me, I told him what the doctors were saying about Virginia. That she would probably never walk. That she would probably never talk. That she would have seizures the rest of her life.

"Hmmmmmm. That's hard," he said. "But the Bible never promises that life will be easy."

I went on to tell him how it had happened. (And to be honest, it hurt that he didn't already know. But that's the culture. No one talks about messy things.)

"Hmmmmmm. That's hard, " he said again. "But God is in control of all situations."

All this from a man who had just spent fifteen minutes confiding in me that he was worried about how one of his small children would acclimate to high school. I should have walked out because it certainly wasn't helpful counseling, but I was too polite back then. Too intimidated by this figure of authority. Too meek to ask him for what I really needed, which was for someone to share my outrage. For someone to want to do something about it.

We have a good friend who just went through a divorce. She confided in me a lot about all the things her husband had been up to, and to be honest, part of me didn't want to hear it. It was heavy stuff and there was a time when Findley and I both really looked up to her husband. We thought they had the perfect life, the perfect marriage. We didn't want to admit that if her marriage could fail, then ours was vulnerable, too.

We didn't want to choose sides or get our hands dirty. But you know what? We did. Because we love her. And loving her meant embracing all that she has been through and weeping over all the injustices she has faced.

Findley and I have lots of friends who understand that sometimes love is messy. They have been more than willing to help carry the burden of our anger, no matter what that looked like. Our minister was afraid that by acknowledging my anger, he would give it roots and it would take over. He was too afraid to let me be mad at what had happened. But I have realized that the opposite is true. The more people who help carry the load of our suffering, including the righteous anger, the lighter that load will become. So to all my load carriers out there, thank you from the bottom of my {messy} heart!

Coping Skills

IMG_6556 I have lots of different coping skills. My iPod is one of my favorites. This was taken about 6 p.m. on Saturday. Virginia was mad because Findley had turned off her movie in favor of the Auburn game. Wills sounded like a broken record, alternately asking when dinner would be ready and what he could snack on in the meantime. The dogs were barking- also hungry- and Eliza was literally sitting on my feet, fussing for me to pick her up. And Findley, you ask? Findley was calling for me, wanting to know where I was. Didn't I hear all the chaos?

No, actually, I didn't really hear it all. I was aware of it, but the specifics were a little muffled because they were competing with the likes of Otis Redding and the Rolling Stones. Sometimes music is the only way I can make it through the dinner hour.

Virginia used to scream constantly in the car. Well, she used to scream constantly, period. But the car was much worse because we had very limited options for how to attempt to soothe her. On one seemingly endless drive to see my parents, my mother suggested Findley and I stop and buy earplugs so we wouldn't have to listen to the crying.

I was horrified.

"Mom, how could you even suggest such a thing?" I shouted into my cellphone. "Don't you have any compassion? This is my baby and she is hurting. She doesn't have the choice to block out her pain, so why should I have the choice to tune out her expression of it? I need to be here for her."

"Yes," said Mom, ever the practical member of my family. "But you need to get here in one piece, too."

Over the last six years I have come a long way in my ability to function in the midst of Virginia's suffering. I know when she can't help her tears because of her brain injury or related pain and I also know when she is just a kid pitching a fit. There are times (like Saturday afternoon) when I do what I can to cope and reach for my mood enhancer of choice.

But there are other instances where there is nothing I can do to protect my heart from what she is going through. It doesn't matter how many closed doors separate us or what vacation I have to look forward to just around the corner. No amount of Pinot Grigio or items purchased from J.Crew.com can create a carefree mood when Virginia is in pain.

This has been a rough few days. We were planning to go out of town, but had to cancel for the second weekend in a row because of a sick child. I guess Wills is pretty good at sharing everything with his Sissy.

Virginia's fever virus has turned into a sinus infection with major nasal congestion. When she is trying to hold her mouth open to breathe, her jaw has a much greater tendency to get stuck open. It probably happened forty times yesterday, and each time is excruciatingly painful for her. It gets stuck open for about 15 seconds, her eyes tear up, she screams out in pain, and there is nothing I can do but try to force her jaw back in place as I mentally say every cuss word I know.

Watching her suffer is awful. If one of my other 2 kids had their jaw lock open, we would be in the car on the way to the ER. But poor Virginia. There is nothing anyone can do about it that isn't already happening, and she just has to live with it.

Findley and I had planned a special dinner last night. He grilled steak and veggies during the day while I made guacamole, salsa and margaritas. He dragged the hammock down from the top of the yard so we could enjoy the beautiful night air and be close enough to the house that the baby monitors would still work.

Well, after the day Virginia had yesterday, neither one of us felt like celebrating the arrival of fall. She screamed for over an hour going to sleep. (I just want to clarify that my other 2 kids do cry, but it's different. It doesn't affect us in the same way. There is a difference in a 'I am being stubborn and don't want to go to bed' cry and a soulful, sorrowful 'My body won't hold still so I can sleep and I am in pain' cry.)

I was trying to keep my spirits up while she was crying, but it is hard to see your child suffer. I knew Findley would be disappointed if I jumped ship on our plans, but I just didn't think I could shelve the heaviness in my heart last night.

I was in the kitchen, heating the food up, when he came out of Virginia's room after successfully helping her fall asleep. I looked at him, about to explain that I didn't have any coping skills strong enough to erase the past twelve hours from my memory.

But before I could say anything, he said, "It's ok, honey. I think there are times when sad is the only way to feel."

So we put the food back in the refrigerator and cleaned up the kitchen. We went to bed early in anticipation of another early, early morning awakening. No, it wasn't exactly the festive evening I had been trying to create, but as I fell asleep, I felt very grateful for the connection that Findley and I have. For the way that we have tackled this together. For the way it has made our marriage stronger instead of fragmented.

Last night we separately came to the same conclusion. That the best coping skill is knowing when not to try to cope at all. Last night we identified Virginia's pain as the monster that it is, all the while acknowledging that there will always be brighter days (and nights) ahead.

The Ripple Effect

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I want to preface this post by saying that I am a dweller. Sometimes I harp on things for too long when what I need to do is move on. My father is also a dweller, but thank goodness, Mom and Findley are not. To give you an example, the night before my wedding, my father, my sister and I sat in my room for hours, crying hysterically and lamenting that life was about to change. A shadow appeared in the doorway about 2 a.m. It was Mom. We tried to get our emotions under control, to shove the crumpled kleenex under the bed, but we knew we were busted.

"I just have one question," Mom said as she rubbed her tired eyes. "Do you want to marry Findley?"

"Yes," I cried uncontrollably.

"That's all I wanted to know. I'm going back to bed now. I love y'all."

She left the three of us to our sob fest and went back to bed. The appropriate move, I might add.

I like to drag out my good-byes. When it's time to leave, Mom puts her bag in the car, gives me a hug and hits the road. What she does in five minutes, Dad or I could make last a good hour or two.

I want to acknowledge to my readers that I know I dwell on the hard stuff too much sometimes. I make the same point about what we go through over and over. But I want this blog to be honest and I have discovered that when I try to write something I don't feel, the words just don't flow. So, if you don't like to attend the occasional sob fest, you should skip this post!

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The last week has been very hard for Virginia. She hasn't been sleeping well and that causes everything else to trend in the wrong direction. When she is tired, we spend our days dancing on eggshells, trying everything we can think of to keep her from breaking.

In case you have missed this, Virginia loves movies. I know why- they are entertaining for her and she can maintain some level of independence while watching them. She watches about three movies a day- the first in her bed starting about 4 a.m. when she wakes up, the second around lunch time, and the third starting about 4 p.m. to keep her from self-destructing as the afternoon wears on. I used to feel guilty about this, but I have come to realize watching movies is something Virginia loves and that I am not a bad mother for letting her enjoy them.

Now the confession. On a hard day, it is almost impossible to get her away from her movies. If it is pretty outside, she will always go on a walk, but anything else is asking too much of her. I know lots of children who don't do well without a good night's sleep, but I just want you to understand what I am talking about here. She routinely sleeps from about 9 pm- 3 am, waking several times in between. What I am describing here is not simply 'tired,' but rather the kind of complete and total exhaustion that causes your body to begin to shut down.

We are tethered to our house, to the den, to the vast collection of Disney dvds. And even the 42 inch can't always cause the screaming to cease.

Yesterday I found some ceiling stars in the clearance bin at Hobby Lobby and thought Virginia and Wills would love to put them on their ceilings. I carried Virginia upstairs and we started to put them on Wills' ceiling. She yelled and yelled. So we went back downstairs to her room, thinking that maybe she wanted to do her own ceiling first. The yelling got worse.

So into the den we went. I popped in The Princess Diaries. Finally quiet. Smiles. Even some laughter.

It isn't that she doesn't like putting stars on her ceiling, but when she is so tired, I have to be respectful in what I ask of her. I can't forget how her body must feel at the end of the day.

By the time I pureed her dinner, she was too tired to even eat. Findley came home and gave her a warm shower, hoping that would soothe her. It didn't. She was so miserable by the time I put her pajamas on, I could hardly hold her.

She cried in bed for about an hour before she was finally able to fall asleep.

The effects of this on Wills and Eliza are many. They have to listen to the screaming and be ignored while Findley and I handle something too dark for them to wrap their little minds around. And when Virginia is screaming, I am not a good mother to them. I am sad and angry. I don't want to play hide-n-seek or patiently sing ten songs at bedtime.

Yesterday was also date night. Do you think we had a romantic evening? We were so deflated from what we had just been through, I don't even think we could taste the food. As much as I try to seek the middle ground and find joy in the good things (like dinner at Mud Town with my favorite person), there are many times when I can't.

I hate that I can escape (at least physically) while Virginia is always stuck in the horror of what happened to her. She never gets a break from what she goes through and she won't until she gets to heaven.

On some days, like yesterday, Findley and I still can't believe how this happened to her and we struggle to wrap our minds around just how much she suffers. It seems impossible that all of our lives (but chiefly hers) have been impacted so much.

For the most part, it is no longer the shock, anger, or sorrow over what happened to Virginia with which I have trouble dealing. It is trying to survive today that sucks the life out of me. It is hard to move on from something that is ongoing.

Every morning we have to get up and start all over again. It's not like the stomach bug or the terrible twos. Yes, some days are better than others, but nothing is simple around here. Nothing.

For us, there is no turning the kids loose to play in the backyard or stopping to eat at Wendy's on the way home from church. Unfortunately, it is way more complicated than that.

Every single aspect of our lives has been impacted by what happened to precious Virginia. Nothing escaped unscathed. During the hard moments, I can only pray that the hope in my heart will never die. Pray that the effect of this on Wills and Eliza will be compassionate hearts, not cold souls. Pray that the ramification for our marriage will be strength, not brokenness. Pray that as a result of the suffering, our family will celebrate happy moments together, not run from them. And pray that Virginia's spirit will not be crushed under the weight of what she endures.

(I tried to warn you this would be a hard one. I am sure in a few days I will regret my vulnerability.)

Have You Seen This Couple?

Have you ever seen the before and after pics of the presidents? Apparently, the stress of the presidency can really take its toll on your body.
Clinton before and after his 2 terms
George W. Bush before and after his 2 terms
Whenever Findley and I take Virginia to see one of the specialists at Children's Hospital, they always ask us how we are doing. (At first I thought we must look pretty ragged, but then I realized they ask all parents this same question.) They want to know if we are holding up under the stress and taking some time to rejuvenate ourselves. I understand why they ask these questions (I think the divorce rate for parents of kids like Virginia is about 90%), but none of my friends with three typical kids have time to take care of themselves. How could we?
Findley and I are doing great. We really are. But in case anyone needs a laugh, I would like to demonstrate that having three small kids (and one with pretty significant special needs) is just as stressful as running the greatest nation on earth for 8 years. Findley laughs almost once a week because the people in his office have no idea how old he is. He actually told the truth once (31) and no one believed him! I tell him it is just because he exudes so much wisdom!
So.... here we are eight years ago at our rehearsal. (Not the best picture, but our wedding pics aren't digital.)
And here we are after 2 terms in office....
Standing in line at the Dumbo ride is no British Virgin Gorda, but we couldn't be happier. (And for what it's worth, I think we look tired resilient!)

Keeping Me Honest

Wills has an uncanny ability to know when I am keeping something from Findley and he always lets the cat out of the bag. Findley isn't very observant about my clothes. He is always complimentary, but he usually has no idea if I am wearing an outfit that I have had since 1997 or if I am wearing something new. Wills just cannot understand that I don't always want Findley to know if my clothes are new. He is so polite he just can't stand not to comment. "Daddy, doesn't Mommy look beautiful in her new shirt?" or "Look, Daddy. Mommy's wearing the dress she got in the mail yesterday."

In December of 2008, a woman backed into the side of my car at Wal-Mart with both Virginia and Wills in the car. It didn't do any damage to my car, so I didn't tell Findley. The next night all four of us were driving around looking at Christmas lights and Wills started saying, "right there right there right there" while pointing at the door where her car hit mine. I wasn't totally sure where he was going with this, but then Virginia started laughing hysterically. I looked back at her and she gave me a knowing glance that said, "He's about to tell on you." I hoped that Findley wouldn't be able to understand what Wills was saying because he was only 2, but the next thing out of his mouth was, "Right there is where that lady hit our car at Wal-Mart." Clear as day. I still haven't lived it down.

Those of you who are local will understand this. For the rest of you, sorry, but it's so funny I have to tell it. There is a rather large building project proposed for our neighborhood. It has been the subject of much heated debate at our house. Findley is in favor of the project for obvious work-related reasons. I, however, am not. He has requested that I stay off the front lines of the fight against the project and wear a disguise at city council meetings. Check.

On Friday I took Wills and Eliza to eat lunch at Gilchrist. Wills had a great time- he even got to sit at the counter, his favorite place. As we were walking home, we went into this little shop because I heard there was a new petition to sign against the project. It took less than a minute. When we got home, we realized Eliza had dropped the chew ring she had been holding in her stroller. It could have been anywhere along the route home or she could have dropped it at Gilchrist. But what does Wills announce to Findley, who had come home to grab lunch?

"I bet Eliza dropped her ring in the Charlotte store. You know- where Mommy went to say no to the big buildings they want to put in our village."

I guess I better be on my best behavior!

We had another relaxing weekend. Eliza and I walked to the grocery...
The ice cream man is becoming a Sunday afternoon ritual.
He has Fudge bar down to his socks
Still loving her swing set.

Don't Rush This Mama

Everyone keeps asking for more pictures of Eliza, so here you go. Because you can tell from the pictures, I will go ahead and confess that she still sleeps in her bassinet. I am never one to embrace change and I just can't bear the thought of her sleeping in her own room. Also, Eliza has been sleeping 13 hours at night since she was 5 weeks old. Why would I want to change that? Findley has quit asking me when we can move her upstairs because he knows better than to rush a mama!
Mom, I am way too big for this bassinet!
But I sure am happy in it!
And... for the sake of comparison, I've grown a lot in 6 months!
Trying to capture the hair on her head that stands straight up. We call her "fuzzlet."