Sisters

I broke the rules. When you are pregnant, you are supposed to want a happy healthy baby. You’re not supposed to want a boy or girl. Just healthy. At least that is what everyone told me. With Sprout, I did just want happy and healthy. I was excited to see a little girl on the sonogram, but I would have been just as excited to see a little born.

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Just a few months before Sprout turned one, my sister lost her battle with cancer. I had been there with her, at the end. Through the nights when the pain would not cease, when we gave her as much pain medication as we dared. I was there, the night she begged me to give her enough morphine to end it all. I can say, I was one of the few that were there.

Her death changed everything. I know that seems cliché, but words fail me when it comes to describing what her death did to me. It felt like a meteor had slammed into the world, and everything was in chaos. Nothing was the same.

When the grief started to subside, when I could see through the tears and think of life after… I was possessed by a single thought. We had to have another baby. And we had to have a little girl. Sprout had to have a sister.

Hubs was leaving for Afghanistan, and I could not bear the thought of another pregnancy without him. I did not want to see him miss the birth of his second child. So much time was taken from him and Sprout, I refused to take time away from him and his next baby.

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The thought of the next baby carried me through that deployment. He would come home, we would be a family, and then we would expand it. The baby would be a girl. The baby had to be a girl.

At the same time, I planned for more pink blankets and socks, I wondered if I was damning myself. If by wishing for a girl, I wasn’t wishing for a healthy baby. What if the most painful lesson of my life would be to lose a little girl. To lose Sprout’s sister.

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When the pregnancy tests turned positive, despite everyone and everything, I wished for a girl. I hoped for a girl. I knew if we had a boy, I would want to try again, and I doubted my body’s ability to carry a third baby. So while I said I wished for a boy, and imagined a dark-haired little boy. I wanted a girl.

You see, only a sister gets you. Only a sister understands you, as a woman, on a primal level. Only a sister is there to fight with you, make things better with you, to lean on and to be leaned on in turn. My life has been affected by my sisters. Sprout needed that.

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When the tech pressed the wand into my belly, and confirmed that Pudge was indeed a girl, I was relieved. I was ecstatic. I was overjoyed. When she had Carl and Sprout leave the room, to call a doctor in, to talk about something she had seen, I lost all of that. Every good emotion I had left when the tech talked about my cervix, and funneling, and early labor. The doctor assured me everything was fine, and I would make it to my due date. But she asked me to book an appointment with my OB, after we moved and settled in, as soon as possible.

I knew then that I was at risk for losing my little girl.

We drove across the country a week later, and I drove most of those 3,000 miles with one hand pressed to my belly. She was kicking then, shoving her feet into my ribs and my bladder, and I counted everyone. I stood on the Continental Divide, some of the prettiest country I have ever seen, with my hands pressed to my belly, trying to keep Pudge in.

And a few months later, it was time. The epidural failed. Then she came so fast the nurses did not have time to set up the bed. The placenta was slow in detaching. It felt like the universe sending me a sign, do not do this again.

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I knew, laying in the hospital with a duplicate of Sprout, that my time in the land of pregnancy was over. But it did not matter. She had the same measurements as her sister. The same face. A few weeks later her eyes turned brown, and her hair does not have the blonde streaks in it.

Pudge is old enough now to play with her sister. They build sandcastles together, paint together, color together, make playdo cookies and run around in the grass outside together. Sprout leads Pudge around, teaching her how to kick a ball, how to hold her baby dolls, how to sneak into my room and get into the candy I stash in my nightstand. I have found Sprout in the crib, surrounded by toys, playing as they wait for me to get them up for the day.

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They fight. Already they scream at each other over toys. Or who gets to sit in my lap during the movie.

The bond is there though. They build it every day. It is my fondest hope that their bond gets them through the rough parts of life, and is there during the good.

~Jennifer

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The Girls of Summer

I had just enough time to meditate this morning. Just a few minutes to calm the cyclone that beats a never ending path through my head. I have lists of mantras pulled up, things to chant. But today my mantra was simple, “I will not wallow.” I will not wallow in my grief. I will live today as best as I can, because I do not know what tomorrow will hold.

I repeated that mantra, over and over again during the day.

I didn’t grasp it; it didn’t settle until this afternoon. I spent most of the day faking it, hoping neither of the girls saw the cracks in my armor. But after Pudge and I took a nap, we all went outside. The weather is warm; it was hot this afternoon. Summer is here, at least in my corner of the world.

I am a sun worshipper. Not in the sense that I tan, I burn and then peel. But when the sun is out more, when the weather warms up, I feel more… alive. More me. I packed away my vitamin D lamp in March. I have enjoyed the spring, watching the sun spend more and more time in the sky, watching the grass green up again, the plants start to grow. There was something different about today.

Maybe because I forced myself to notice the warmth, and the sunlight streaming through my fingers. The hummingbirds are out now, buzzing around and chirping and fighting over the feeders. Maybe that is it. Maybe it is the sight of my girls, growing and thriving, maybe watching all the hard work of parenting slowly come to fruition.

The girls played in the sandbox, in their playhouse, with the neighbor’s dogs. I found my center again, with a camera in my hand. When I stood in front of my camera case, I picked up a lens I have rarely used, I didn’t shoot that many pics this afternoon. I didn’t take that many pictures, I put my camera down to play with them instead, to build castles and eat play food brought to me with dirty fingers.

When it was bath time, and the toys were put up and the playhouse closed, they smelled sweaty. Dirty little toes pit patted across my kitchen floor, and I ignored the sandy footprints. A bubble bath, clean pajamas, and our day was done.

I will not wallow in my grief. I will live for today. I will live for the hope of tomorrow. I will enjoy every moment in the sunshine and in the rain and in between. I will take pictures, build sand castles, color on the sidewalk, paint with bright colors, made bead necklaces. I will pick up homeschooling, and guide my lion cubs through lessons and play time. I will rock a baby to sleep and let a big girl sleep on my shoulder when she has a nightmare. I will put together a summer camp for my girls, and sign up for soccer lessons and eat too much candy. I will drink lots of coffee.

The girls of summer are here. And I have to play in the sunshine with them.

~Jennifer

 

Specs:

Nikon D7100

Focal length: 35mm

Aperature: 3.5

Shutter Speed: 1/250

ISO:100

 

Grief

Sometime, shortly after my sister died, someone told me the grief would change. I was almost bleeding my loss during this time, the grief was turning into anger, and there were days when it felt like someone was digging a scalpel into my ribs, trying to separate the bones and dig out the places where I carried my emotions.

I took this to mean it would get better, that I would stop hurting so much. So I waited, and waited, and waited, for it to get better. It never has. Grief is not present every day, I do not spend hours staring at her pictures, or her jewelry where it hangs on my Mom’s bedroom wall. It comes and goes; gone and then back again, threatening to pull me away like a vicious undertow.

But my grief is not gone.

Grief, I have found, make me angry. Once I am doing crying (for that moment), I have to do something, anything. The anger makes me restless, and I find myself cleaning the school corner at 11 am at night. Writing fanfiction until I can see the light of dawn creeping over the horizon. Or chasing down unsuspecting Alliance players, across a battleground in World of Warcraft until my eyes are gritty and I cannot focus my eyes to see the screen.

Last night, as I surfed facebook, wasting away a few minutes after the girls fell asleep, I found a picture my sister had tagged me in, before she was even sick. And so I found myself scrolling through her wall, until I came to one picture, posted a little over a week before she died. It was Sprout, sitting in a recliner, with a little mouth open wanting food. We were in Texas then, I had come for a visit and stayed as long as I could.

She posted that picture, along with a couple others, a little over a week before she died. It was probably the last time she was on facebook, before she became too weak to even sit up and scroll through the pictures and well-wishes and prayers and all the positive energy that was pouring in to her wall.

One of the last things she did, was post a picture of my firstborn.

Seeing that picture, everything hit me. The phone call where I told her and Mom I was pregnant, the calls where I asked for advice about morning sickness, maternity clothes, foods to avoid. The shrieking and giggling and “I TOLD YOU SOOO!!” screamed into my phone when I called to tell them Sprout was a girl.

The mounds and mounds of baby clothes and blankets and socks they had bought, and how I had to buy another suitcase to get them home when I visited that Christmas, my last trip anywhere before the baby was born.

And the toys and clothes that waited for us when went to Texas, when she was barely able to walk, but insisted on buying things for Layla. Of the final day, when we had to leave, when I had to go back to my life in Georgia, when I had to leave my Mom’s house, knowing I would never see my sister alive again.

With those memories comes the knowledge that she is gone. There is no coming back. All the things we would supposed to do, we will not get to do. Everything that was supposed to happen, has not. And my life changed course forever when she died. I can divide my life into before she got sick, while she was sick, and after she died. The memories of my first year with Carl, of a long deployment and a first pregnancy, are mixed with the memories of her diagnosis. Just a couple of months after him and I reunited on a parade field somewhere around 1 in the morning; her cancer was terminal, and we got the you need to come home phone call. Her death stands as one of the most monumental moments in my life, nothing has been the same since.

And the grief continues to come. It has changed, leaving and then sneaking back in. But it is still there, still digging in under my ribs, making it hard to breathe. Or maybe I cannot breathe through my tears. For in the worst moments, I cry so hard I nearly puke, I almost always end up bent over the toilet, heaving in gulps of air as the anger and bile rise in my throat.

Her birthday is this Saturday. A day I always called her, to tease her about growing old, about gray in hair or crow’s feet around her eyes; will come and go. And I will not be able to call her. I kept her last voicemail in my phone, and the day I upgraded my phone and lost her voicemail was a painful day.

I want to spend the next few days curled up in my bed, under the blanket she took to chemo. But my girls will not let me. The baby she loved so much, and the baby she would have loved just as much, need me. So I will do what I did the morning she died. I will follow my girls, and let myself fall into their world; where death has not touched them, where even rain is something to be celebrated, and the sunshine is a gift to be treasured.

 

~Jennifer