Mark & Peggy's Story December 17, 2014 16:28
Lynn's Story November 28, 2014 16:27
In 1997, after suffering from two miscarriages, I found out I was pregnant. It was a complicated time in my life to be honest but the realization that I was lucky enough to have my own little miracle growing inside of me was amazing. I made sure every single day that I did everything possible to make sure I would not have to yet again say goodbye. On March 24, 1998 I gave birth to my “little man”. Devyn was perfection. He had a head full of dark silky hair and beautiful skin that was like satin. He was beautiful. We spent our first hours together and I just held him and when the nurses offered to give me a break and rest and take him to the nursery I refused. I didn’t want to let him go. I began to feel ill while spending our few days at the hospital. They treated me for the high fever I began to run but told me it was all normal after childbirth. We went home after our few days and I questioned whether I was up to it because I felt so sick but I figured the nurses and doctors wouldn’t have sent me home if it were that bad.
Once home, we settled in together. I didn’t have much strength to move around much so I just rested and had him sleep on me. It’s crazy how although I didn’t know that our days were numbered together I acted as if they were. I couldn’t put him down. I couldn’t be without him. I luckily started to feel better. On our ninth day together I was nursing him and noticed that when he was done he had a mouthful and milk and wouldn’t swallow– it was mother’s instinct. I immediately got into the pediatrician and the doctor said he was slightly dehydrated and that we should go to the hospital to get an IV with fluids and see what was going on. The minute we got to the hospital and they began what should have been a simple procedure of starting an IV was the beginning of the end. They told me that he needed to be airlifted to the nearby children’s hospital. Once there they told me that they were trying to save him but that he was in major organ failure. That night was pure hell and I witnessed his body give up. The nightmare wasn’t stopping. He had seizures and then the machines began to scream as he flat lined numerous times. The next day as I walked back into the room through the cold steel doors I remember seeing his doctor standing at the sink washing her hands and I still can’t hear her words in my ears but I heard her tell me to go to him. Everything had changed when I turned the corner. He was laying there still hooked up to the machines but things were quiet and nobody was rushing around. There was a rocking chair at the foot of his bed that wasn’t there before. They asked me to sit down and then once again the words came that I couldn’t hear out loud but instead deep crushing words felt inside. I watched as they unhooked one last tube and then he was in my arms finally. I hadn’t held him since the day before. I had held him for nine straight days. He was still so perfect. I was then saying goodbye. I don’t know how long we were in that rocking chair together but I remember being put into a wheelchair with him and they took me to a private room. In that room I held him until for as long as I could. They came later and took him away. I had to leave that hospital without my life….without my heart.
Fast forward to when I started to breathe a little again. I met my best friend and we married a year later. He is my rock. I was so happy to begin a new chapter in my life and we knew immediately that we wanted a family. We began to have miscarriages. They were devastating and I felt defeated but strangely what I realized was that there was a numbness to it all. We were then in the hands of a fertility specialist. A few failed cycles passed but then came the news and it was TWINS!!! I’m breathing again. This is all worth it, I thought…..until the brakes were hit again at 17 weeks. I was in labor and the numbness came back. They managed to stop the labor and after a few days sent me home to spend the rest of my pregnancy in bed. I made it to 35 weeks and 2 days and in December 2002 we welcomed Kyle and Kailyn. They spent the first couple of weeks in the NICU for preemie related issues and although it was nerve wracking to be back in a place that I left without my child once I guess my mind knew they were coming home. Their first couple of years in regards to health were rocky at best. We spent many nights at the hospital with bouts of pneumonia with Kyle and Kailyn’s seizures. They were described to us as febrile seizures but they were complex instead of simple seizures and they were scary. Right before Christmas one year Kyle had just been released from the hospital after spending a few days there with pneumonia. We got him home and settled and got both he and Kailyn down for a nap. I ran to the grocery store and no sooner did I walk in the door Duane was calling me to tell me that Kailyn was seizing and that it was bad. He already had called 911. When I got there they were already working on her. This one was different though. It wasn’t stopping. They let Duane ride with her in the ambulance while I left Kyle with a neighbor. When I walked into the hospital it was the horrific nightmare that I once had replaying in my head again. There was panic running down the hallway towards me. It was the doctors, nurses and my husband and my baby girl. She was breathing through a bag that they were pumping and when I saw Duane’s face I hit the floor. The next thing I remember was that they had finally stopped the seizure after 55 minutes and she was now on life support. We spent the next couple of days in that same place I silently begged not to go back to. The place where I had already been before too many times. Her neurologist had conversations with us about if and when she comes off life support what we may possibly be faced with. Everything we knew about this sweet little baby girl who had just learned how to finally walk in her adorable white leather Mary Janes and all the times we got to hear her say “Daddy” and “Mommy” might be all gone. When they weaned her off the oxygen support and gradually brought her back we saw the same little girl with the water sprout of hair wearily pull herself up in the crib. She had a fire inside of her though and crushed the odds. In no time she was back to everything we nearly lost and once again I could breathe.
In 2006, we decided to add to our family. We were surprised when we found out we were pregnant so quickly after all of our previous struggles. We were shocked when we found out it was twins again! I held my breath most of the pregnancy. I was so afraid of all that I knew could go wrong but the pregnancy sailed by without many problems. We made it to 36 weeks and 3 days and in July 2007, Colin and Connor joined our family. Everything from the beginning was so easy. They were in my hospital room before I was…no NICU…not being whisked away. Duane and I joked to each other how easy these babies were in every way. Clearly my guard was down. And then it all changed. Par for the course, it was a Friday and Colin had a cold that seemed to be quickly headed to his chest. Knowing my kids track record, I knew he would have pneumonia by the next day and of course it was a Friday and the doctor was closing soon. I had my best friend and neighbor’s husband who was a firefighter and EMT come over to listen to Colin’s lungs. He said all clear. A little time passed and my instinct was screaming at me. I got into my pediatrician and although he also said his lungs were clear something didn’t seem quite right. He sent us for a chest X-ray to rule out possible pneumonia. We got that taken care of and home we went. That evening when my pediatrician called us and I was assuming he would be telling us that we needed to go pick up a prescription because it was actually pneumonia I knew the minute I heard his voice that something far more serious was going on. He hesitated to tell me anything other than to ask where Colin was and that we needed to get him packed up and to head down to Scottish Rite and that a doctor was waiting for us. I demanded he tell me what this was all about and I heard the words “mass” and “head of oncology”. The minute we walked into the hospital the tests began. In the middle of that night as Colin slept on my chest and Duane sat next to me the doctor came in and said that things were not hopeful and that because of what it was and where the mass was he probably wouldn’t survive.
I knew in that moment that I wouldn’t survive having to hold a child in my arms again that had stopped breathing and that I would have to say goodbye to. After more tests they told us he had Neuroblastoma. The next couple of days were spent figuring out what to do. We brought him home to wait for him to get over the cold he had because they couldn’t operate on a sick baby. It gave them more time to also run tests specifically for Neuroblastoma to see if the cancer had spread. Things actually started to look hopeful and that it even might be completely benign. It’s the only cancer that can actually transform itself from benign to malignant and vice versa. The surgeon was hopeful that is was completely benign. Surgery day came and we waited for the news. It wasn’t benign which would’ve been the best news but we were told they got all of it and the surgery went well. Colin spent the next two years going through a battery of tests and in the end he was diagnosed as cancer free with a 90% survival rate. We have watched him learn to ride a bike, have his first day of school and so on. He continues to amaze us with everything he does.
It’s all very surreal what we’ve witnessed in the last sixteen years. The memories and flashbacks have always played through my mind like a movie real. I can still hear noises and voices but it all seems like someone else’s sad and tragic story that I’m remembering. I’ve kept it all in a place inside of me not quite letting it completely sink in for fear of completely falling apart. I absolutely have had to keep putting one foot in front of the other and making sure to force myself to take a breath each day.
So this is my story. I have never figured out quite how to comprehend it all really. The vision of this park is emotional and amazing all at once. I never found a way to memorialize Devyn. Everything that I tried to come up with didn’t feel good enough and felt forced. I have always felt that if I gave my permission to take it all in I would be closing those chapters of my life. The possibility of this place existing where I can reflect on Devyn and to celebrate Kyle, Kailyn, Colin and Connor will possibly be a sense of peace that I thought would never find.
Lisa's Story September 19, 2014 16:26
I have always admired the strength and faith of Christy, one of my closest friends. We met several years ago and connected because we both had miracle micro preemie boys born only a day apart. Her son, Mason, was born 13 weeks premature, and my son, Hayden, was born 12 weeks early. Christy’s joyful story, however, cannot be told without remembering the loss of her daughter, Alexis. You see Mason was a twin, and although he survived, his precious sister did not. I have often viewed her as the pillar of Christian faith for I believe a true test of faith is someone who embraces God despite great tragedy in life. I looked at Christy as this amazing Christian woman who survived something I never could–the loss of a child.
We do not openly admit our fears as adults, but I will share with you mine. I was always terrified of losing one of my precious children. Maybe I had this fear a little more than any other parent because I worked so hard to have each of my children. For my first born, Hayden, I spent 8 weeks in the hospital with the doctors trying to prevent my son from coming too early. I viewed it as a miracle from God that I was able to make it to the 28th week of my pregnancy. Once born, my son spent the first 8 weeks of his life in the NICU growing strong enough so that my husband and I could take him home. Hayden is my first and glorious miracle from God. My second born, Maddie, was another fierce test of endurance. At my 16th week, my husband, Jeff, rushed me to the hospital because I was having painful contractions. Once at the ER, the doctor parked me in the hallway and told me there was nothing he could do. He said nature simply had to take its course. My husband and I embraced each other and cried and prayed together. Miraculously, the contractions stopped, and I was released from the hospital. As a precaution, my perinatologist placed me on bed rest for the next 5 months. This was a very difficult and stressful time for my husband, son, and me, but we survived. And more importantly, so did my daughter. This time I made it to my 36th week. Maddie is my second miracle and gift from God.
My family’s third miracle was our precious Emma. After having our son, my husband and I were very worried about having another micro preemie. We had always wanted a big family so I brought up the idea of adoption to Jeff. He embraced the idea, and we eagerly signed up for an adoption seminar with our local adoption agency. After much prayer, we decided to adopt Internationally, and we completed all the necessary paperwork. We were told that we would have our child within 6 to 12 months by our adoption agency, and in three months time, we were matched with our angel Emma. From here, however, our adoption process came to a complete halt. Our 6 to 12 month time frame stretched into 2 and a half years of red tape. Throughout this process, we never gave up hope, and we had many people praying for our Emma to come home to us. During our wait for Emma to come home, Jeff and I were surprised by my pregnancy with Maddie. We often said during this time that Maddie was a blessed distraction from the sluggish and stressful process of trying to get Emma home to us.
Our third miracle and gift from God was when we received the notice that our Emma could finally come home. We were thrilled to have our family complete and our second daughter home with us. Emma immediately embraced myself, my husband, and our two other children. In fact, Hayden and Emma were instant best friends and did everything together. Our joy, however, was to be short lived for Emma’s time with us was very brief. After only being part of our family for 8 months, Emma was seriously injured in a fall. Once again, our family and friends gathered to support us in prayer as they had with Hayden and Maddie. We pleaded for one last miracle, but it was not meant to be. Our precious Emma passed two days after the accident. I found myself shocked and drowning in sorrow. I never felt anger at God, but I felt abandoned. Did I ask for too much? Was I being selfish asking for another miracle? He had given us so much already. Was I not thankful enough for all that He had given my family and blessed us with? I was so confused. Why was this happening to our family?
It has now been over four years since our Emma went to heaven. It has been an incredibly hard journey, and we have felt unimaginable grief. But, we have not been through this journey of healing alone. We have felt God’s presence in our lives, and he has sent our community and friends to embrace us. Where was God in all our pain and sorrow? Right beside and watching over us. He brought us comfort and helped mend our broken hearts when we could not see past the pain. He was there when my dear friend, Christy, made all the funeral arrangements for us, sent the e-mails notifying our friends, and led us through this path she had once walked. God spoke to our friend Brooke and led her to gather our neighborhood community of friends to raise the money to cover all the funeral costs and medical bills for Emma so that our family would not have to suffer financially. God was guiding each of our friends, neighbors, and even strangers who sent us cards with words of comfort and promises of prayers. God’s love was also in our community of friends and neighbors who daily brought us meals for three months to nourish my family when I could barely take care of myself. He was in the arms of the friends who were always there to just hold me when I was overwhelmed with heartache and tears. He was also working to lead my friend Stephanie to start a prayer group who met weekly for months to just pray for our family. He was there when one of my friend’s called me to tell me to look outside at the most amazing double rainbow that stretched over our neighborhood. It was so glorious that the rainbow even made the local news. (I have never seen a more vibrant and perfect rainbow in my life!) My husband, children, and I ran outside to see God’s beautiful artwork. Once outside, my son started jumping up and down saying that the rainbow was from Emma. Afterward, he ran inside and recreated the rainbow with crayons and wrote a beautiful prayer on his paper. God was with us when Emma’s preschool planted a Weeping Cherry Tree in her honor in the preschool garden with a memory stone placed underneath and again when the preschool dedicated their Christmas tree in her honor. They called it Emma’s Angel Tree and each of the teachers made different angel ornaments in memory of her. The tree was placed in the city’s Christmas Tree display for all to see. God was also there when my friends raised the money to buy three beautiful hand painted bronze butterflies to be placed on Emma’s headstone. One butterfly to represent each of our beautiful children. My dear friend Christy knew I had been saving to buy these, and she reached out to our network of friends and raised the money to have these placed on what would have been Emma’s fourth birthday. God was also there when my girlfriends reached out to me and had a special remembrance and prayer gathering on the one year anniversary of Emma’s death. His presence was there as we prayed and remembered the special girl that Emma is.
The presence of our Glorious God is with us now as his perfect plan unfolds for The Children’s Park of Georgia. I know that it will bring such great comfort and peace to many. I look forward to recognizing and celebrating the lives of ALL my children there. The precious time we have with them is truly a blessing
Pam's Story - A Labor of Love August 22, 2014 16:24
Thank you for allowing me to share my story.
I have thought about for many years a way to preserve the memory of my baby girl, Courtney Elizabeth, who passed away shortly after I gave birth to her on June, 22nd 1977.
A long time ago, you might think to yourself…one would think the memory would not be so vividly etched in my mind…
Well, it is profoundly there and after this many years, it’s more than likely not going to lessen. Yes, the pain has gotten easier over the years, but not the memory of this precious and beautiful child. So this is my story for Remember Georgia’s Children
I write with a heavy hand as I reflect on the chain of events that took place 31 years ago, partially as a therapeutic moment for myself and partially with a heartfelt desire to help comfort others who have gone through a horrific loss or death of their child.
What goes without saying is that children are not supposed to die before their parents do.
Memories are so important especially when a child passes from us, no matter what age the child leaves this world. They are simply ‘our child’ and the pain of losing them is something I’ve never experienced again in my 50+ years. I write this in honor of my daughter. And, it’s an honor for me to be able to share what I dealt with in the unnaturalness of burying a child.
I suffered a miscarriage in 1977 and was so very hurt because I longed for a child of my own with my ‘then’ husband, Michael. A miscarriage to me implied that I had somehow made a mistake in carrying my baby. Miscarriage is painful enough as those who have experienced one know all to well. There is the loss of a child.
Becoming pregnant shortly thereafter was exciting and the pregnancy went well. It went so well, in fact, that I was way over due in delivering. Three weeks in fact, which should have been a red flag, so to speak, but apparently the doctors didn’t view it that way at the time.
I went for my last doctor appointment on the afternoon of June 21st and the attending physician in the group that examined me told me that he saw no signs that I would go into labor any time soon. Furthermore, if something didn’t happen soon, labor might need to be induced. I was told to go home and wait and see what happened and we would make a decision in a couple of days. Dejected and miserable at being so very pregnant, and swelled, I went home to begin very hard contractions that had very short breaks in between, about two hours later that afternoon.
This was not how I had understood that labor started…another red flag. The classes and books just didn’t read this way.
No stranger to physical pain due to rough menstrual periods and years of Cluster/ Migraine headaches, I knew in my heart that something was wrong. But then it was my first full term pregnancy, so I reasoned that my labor and delivery was just destined to be ‘different’ or at least not average.
Different it was, to say the least. Soon after arriving at the hospital, and being examined by the doctor on call, he ordered and x-ray of the babies positioning since my baby had not dropped into the birthing position. He then informed us that he was going home to get some rest and would see me sometime around 7:30 or so in the morning. The thoughts raced through my head of how can you leave me in such pain, but he assured me that the anesthesiologist would be on their way soon for my epidural.
In the meantime I was taken to radiology by an attending labor/delivery nurse.
My pains were so intense, that I could barely lie still for the technician to get the views they needed. I cried to the labor nurse who stayed with me, and was obviously of age, knowledgeable and experienced, “how can I possibly go until morning like this?” I was doubled over on the x-ray table and just in continual pain and I’m sure the annoyed x-ray tech thought what a weak thing I must be. The kind nurse said emphatically, “Honey, you won’t last until morning, we will be getting your doctor back in here well before the morning.” I just wanted them to understand that this was horrible pain that just didn’t seem right.
Back in the labor room, I felt the urge to go to the restroom to urinate and when I did, my water broke. It struck me odd that the massive amount of liquid was greenish gray in color but again I reasoned that I might have mis- read that page of one of my many expectant mom books.
So, back to the bed to try to lie still with a fetal monitor put in place, and what seemed like an eternity, when an epidural was administered. Shortly thereafter, my husband was watching the monitor and questioned the erratic reading…
Things changed quickly and I was rushed to the delivery room and apparently my doctor was on his way back to deliver our baby.
In the wee morning hours of June 22nd, at around 2:00 am, I delivered a baby girl, who we had chosen to give the name Courtney Elizabeth. Courtney sounded like a strong but feminine female name and Elizabeth was for my mother and grandmother.
Vividly aware of urgency and an impending emergency in the room after she was delivered, It began to ‘sink in’ that something was wrong. There was a muffled gurgling sound from her and all in the room went into frantic action with their attention turned away from me and toward my new born. I remember thinking, ‘fix her’ please, so I can hold her and see her! But instead it seemed the attending medical personnel blocked my view of her across the room as they frantically worked with her. Hurry, I thought, I expected to see my new born move and above all cry. But she just lay there like a lifeless baby doll…
Now what, I thought? My husband had elected not to be in the room for the delivery. Could someone explain to me what was happening? Then the moment came when Robert Mitchell, a doctor that I had seen only a few times during my pregnancy, came to my side and said, “I’m sorry, your baby didn’t make it.” Everything seemed so surreal and dreamlike but my logic kept telling me, full term newborn babies don’t die…I just cried out and uttered begging words of “please don’t put me on the maternity floor!”
I’m sure I must have been given an injection to calm me as we left the delivery room for my next destination. It seemed like an eternity before I would see any of my family. And then there was the something administered to ‘dry up my breast milk’,
But then I thought why would I need that milk anyway? My baby was ‘gone’…
As a Christian, my faith was greatly shaken and I started asking why had God taken my child? What had I done so bad to punish me this way? I was in so much mental pain that I wasn’t very aware of the physical pain at first. My mother is really the first person that I remembered at my side, holding me and sobbing, as she said, “honey, I’m so sorry, I’ve always been able to make things OK for you and this time I can’t. Ironically, I wanted to apologize almost for not ‘doing well’ with giving she and my dad a grandchild that they had hoped and prayed for.
I stared into the night after I was alone in the hospital room and ironically could see the nursery where the new babies were. How odd and cruel I thought and asked the nurse to please close the blinds. For whatever reason, even though given sleep medication, I fought to keep my eyes open.
I can’t remember at what point I vaguely heard that my baby girl had died following Meconium aspiration. I had read the word meconium in reference to the first bowel movement after their birth. How does this happen? Courtney had been so over due in being born that she had expelled the meconium in the birth canal and had aspirated it before she could be delivered. They had tried to resuscitate her but to no avail. She was in fact ‘in trouble’ when the monitor reading was erratic.
As the hours wore on, I asked my dad and husband to please go and dismantle everything we had so lovingly created in the nursery for our new baby for when we brought her home. Furthermore I asked them to close the door before I came home.
Minutes crept by, hours dragged on and I couldn’t close my eyes. Well meaning people came by and I just couldn’t bear to talk to them very much. I didn’t want to hear their words of condolence. I just wanted this to be some kind of nightmare and wake up with my baby in my arms. Instead people around me were looking into funeral arrangements and burial plots and what Courtney would wear for the burial.
A christening gown was decided upon by my mother-in-law. How ironic, I think now…a christening means to welcome one into the church and given a name. She had her name but her ‘welcoming into church’ would be Heaven.
And so it was, a funeral home was chosen and Courtney’s little body was taken to be prepared for viewing and we proceeded on with what one does when a child dies.
One of the physicians in the OB/GYN group that I used commented that I should not go to the funeral home or funeral, under any circumstance. I remember looking at him with what must have been dagger like eyes and thinking, you try and stop me, from saying goodbye to my child.
The time came for me to be taken to the burial of my baby after spending time beside her petite little casket to ‘greet’ people as they came to pay their respects. It all seemed very odd to me that people were ‘visiting’ and making conversation.
The time came for me to be taken to the cemetery for the burial and grave side service and I was ushered into our car parked directly behind a pale yellow Cadillac. How unusual, that our baby’s nursery was decorated in yellow Through massive tears, I watched as my young teenage brother and brothers-in-law’s acted as pall bearers and carried the little casket down the steps and put into the back seat of the ‘would be hearse’. The procession began the long drive and by this time pain medication was wearing off. I quite frankly could hardly sit still due to a quick cut emergency episiotomy, that I later found out was the culprit of my physical pain. But that didn’t even rival the pain I felt as I longed for my child. One well meaning lady, our pastor’s wife, even came to me and commented on what a beautiful name we had chosen. “You should use that name for another child.” It struck me so odd that she should say that with two lovely young daughters of her own and certainly not having the same name. Why would I give the name I had selected for this baby girl to another child??? I just wanted to disappear and not hear one more word about how Courtney was now an angel with the Lord.
Going back home was torture and I cried almost every waking minute. I prayed to dream of her upon falling asleep. In the hours I was awake, I would just sit in our living room most days with no shower or make up and sob and stare into space.
It’s been an interesting journey after burying my baby girl. It changed my life at a very young age. I process time differently from others. You see I watched life come and go within a very brief period of time. So, I’ve viewed ‘time’ and the value of it in a different way from most. I have wanted to experience or work at as many various things as I could. I have difficulty in being still or not doing something productive.
My life is different now. I went on to have a beautiful, talented, and Godly daughter, Lyndsey Brooke on June 17th 1978. Just one year and four days after giving birth to Courtney.
Ironically, Lyndsey has shared with me on many occasions that she feels that someone, a sister or sibling, is missing in her life…
Courtney and Lyndsey’s father, and my marriage became more an more rocky over the next several years and we eventually divorced when Lyndsey was 18, after 23 years of marriage. I’ve read that few marriages can survive after the death of a child. Ours was never the same after experiencing the pain. It is very hard to not blame each other in some way and more difficult because each person is grieving alone and can’t seem to help the other partner with their grief process.
Never thinking I would marry again, I was introduced to a wonderful man, Tim Cavender, who I’ve been happily married to for 10 years. He has cried with me and stood by the graveside of Courtney and even knelt by her little heart shaped monument to clean away the grass clippings and dirt that had settled there on the pink marble.
He has loved me and my living daughter, Lyndsey with a heart as big ad Texas.
It’s been 31 years ago. Time does heal, as they say, but memories don’t fade. And they shouldn’t, you know…
One of the most profound things ever said to me was from my maternal grandmother Annie Childers, my “Mama Childers”, when her 60+ year old son died of Lou Gherig’s disease. I went to the funeral home and she just reached out and held on to me tightly and we wept together. She whispered to me, “you know this pain, don’t you honey?”
It was a moment that she an I shared that despite the age of our children at their time of passing, child is a child, no matter how long you have them in this world.
My sweet baby girl, Courtney Elizabeth; your forever in my heart and always on my mind.
Appreciating the opportunity to share, Remember Georgia’s Kid’s parents, friends, families an supporters
Christy's Story August 1, 2014 16:22
My story begins in 2004 when I was pregnant with twins and enjoying every minute dreaming of what life would be like with them. We had already started decorating the nursery and purchased a double stroller, car seats, baby gear and about every book written on the subject of twins. I was considered high risk because it was a twin pregnancy but everything seemed to be going fine. On the afternoon of June 30th, 2004, 24 weeks pregnant, I went to a regularly scheduled checkup. I was a Senior Programmer/Project Manager for BellSouth at the time and I had been on my feet an unusual amount that day. I was tired but nothing was strange about that. I was ready for the usual routine check and follow up in two weeks. This time though, the ultrasound technician said she wanted to get a second opinion. A Physician’s Assistant came in the room and confirmed the ultrasound tech’s concerns. They said I had a shortened cervix and I needed to go to the hospital right away. My husband had just had oral surgery that day and was in no condition to drive. So, I went home, packed some things and drove us to the hospital.
Upon arrival, I was immediately admitted, given IV administration of Magnesium and put in “Trundelenburg position” (basically the bed was inclined at about a 30 degree angle) for two days. It felt like torture. The weight of the babies pushing down on my chest and the magnesium were an awful combination. I was scheduled for an emergency cerclage for Friday morning but never saw a doctor until the morning of the surgery. Friday morning, the high risk perinatologist finally came in to check on me before surgery. He said I did not have a shortened cervix anymore but they would go ahead and do the cerclage anyway for extra protection and I would be home by the weekend. There were no complications during the surgery; however, that evening, after the surgery, the sack for Alexis ruptured. For the next two and a half weeks I was on restricted bedrest in the hospital. I was told to drink a lot of water and hopefully the sac would get back to normal level. During this time, I was able to get injections of surfactant to help the twin’s lungs develop. Unfortunately, the amniotic fluid leaking out triggered contractions. After holding off labor for so long, the doctor decided to deliver the twins at 26 weeks and six days.
Born so premature at 2 lbs/14 inches each, they still seemed healthy. They were initially breathing on their own, both with 8/9 Apgars. We have a picture of Alexis holding onto my husband’s finger just after she was born. We were encouraged it would be a long road but they should do okay. Because of the c-section, it was policy that I had to go back to my hospital room to recover for 12 hours. I was going crazy to see my babies. It seemed like all of my family had been up to see them but me. Thirty minutes before my 12 hour restriction was over, I received a call from one of the NICU doctors. I was told that Alexis had taken a turn for the worse and I needed to come right away.
For the next five hours, my husband and I (along with family and friends rotating) gathered around sweet Alexis’ incubator. I was begging God out loud to please let her stay and pleading with her to fight harder. I remember just saying over and over “you can do this baby girl, hang in there, I’m right here, please fight!” She wasn’t getting any better. Then, I remembered an article that I had read from the Reader’s Digest while on bed rest. It was the story of a set of preemie twins who were having a very difficult time until they were placed in the same incubator. Then, they began to recover and thrive. Alexis and Mason were in two separate rooms and down the hall from each other. I begged and pleaded with the doctors to let them be put together. In a great act of compassion toward me, the doctors agreed and we took all of her wires and tubes and wheeled her down next to her brother. With their help, I laid Alexis next to her little baby brother. Finally, their sweet spirits (so strong I could feel them) were together next to me just as they had been the months before in pregnancy. I waited for her to rebound. I waited for a miracle. At this point, I began to understand she wasn’t going to make it. The doctors and nurses had granted me this amazing kindness so that we could all be together to say goodbye. I prayed over them but I have no idea what I said. I remember vividly the agonizing crying of my mother when Alexis passed. I remember thinking that she was getting out what I felt inside, but I could not cry. I could barely breathe. I remember just wanting all those wires, tubes and tape off of Alexis. They weren’t doing any good any more. As a first time parent, it was such a shock to lay eyes on my children for the first time. To become a bereaved parent on the same day, was more than I could process. We all took turns holding her and then went to a private room where we were able to bathe her and spend more time together but I could not bring myself to say goodbye. I just told her I would see her again.
One of the hardest things I ever had to do was leave the hospital without the babies I had when I checked in.
In the months following, my son had to fight hard to hang on to his life. There was no time to grieve the loss of Alexis because we were terrified of losing Mason too. That is one thing any parent who has experienced a loss can tell you. You develop a hyper sense of what is at stake and the worst that can happen. That sensitivity remains with me to this day. Mason was in the NICU for 3 months and I was by his side from 11 in the morning until 11 at night. I was only kicked out for the nurses’ shift changes. He had battles with a brain bleed, hydrocephalus, urinary tract infections, necrotizing entercolitis scares, and more. One week before his due date, we finally had our homecoming day. Tara, one of our favorite nurses, who worked trying to save Alexis and routinely watched over Mason, made a special trip to see us off. It was the most glorious day I can recall. We were overjoyed at the victory to finally leave the hospital with our son. Mason left the NICU with a diagnosis of Auditory Neuropathy. At the age of four, he received a cochlear implant and he is a happy, thriving ten year old today.
In 2009, my husband and I welcomed our third child into the world. Meredith Alyson Zeigler was born full term with no complications in pregnancy or delivery. The middle name Alyson is the combination of the names Alexis and Mason. Both Mason and Meredith know about Alexis and ask about her from time to time. I sometimes find myself staring at them both and wondering what she would have looked like today.
I founded Remember Georgia’s Children Foundation in 2005 because my heart ached for a way to recognize the life of my daughter. Alexis’ life on earth was so short yet she forever left an impression on the lives of those who held her, loved her and had to let go of their dreams for her. I also wanted to celebrate the miracle of my surviving son. I had this very strong urge (I believe a calling) to visit a park that didn’t exist. A cemetery didn’t fit (it was too depressing) and the parks I could find were just empty green spaces without meaning or playgrounds.
After much research, I came across The Children’s Park in Tyler, Texas. The purpose of the park was to celebrate the lives of all children – those who have passed AND those who are living, those with special needs, and those perfectly healthy. I got on the phone and contacted the founder Jennifer Carson. We talked for three hours on the phone and I knew then that this was the park I was desperately seeking.
Who Will This Park Serve
First, my passion for this park is fueled not just by my story but by the stories of other families I have met (and continue to meet) along this journey who have also lost a child (from very young to adult ages) and have never found a place that felt “right or good enough” to honor their child’s life. There are a lot of hurting folks out there that put on happy faces but inside they long to find peace, acceptance that they are not alone, and recognition that their child’s life, no matter how short, was important. Further, this park will be a place where children who have lost a sibling can come to terms with their very big emotions of grief and then go on to do what kids do best which is play. That is exactly what was described in a letter about the Tyler park.
Second, this park is so important to me because I know how important it will be to the children who will be celebrated in it. My kids talk about it daily! Children get so excited when they see their name on anything. This park will feature the individual names of thousands of children on engraved stones lining the sidewalk. As one man in Tyler, TX told us on a visit to their park, “There is just something so special about this place. You walk in and feel such a sense of peace.” It is a place children love to visit to play and feel special, a place great for long walks, great talks and quality family time.
Last but not least, this thoughtfully designed park will feature special areas for parents who are struggling and feel alone in their own journeys whether it be grieving a lost child, struggling with the challenges of a raising a special needs child or just coping with the challenges of parenting in general. We all go through times when we could really use a beautiful, safe, quiet place to process, be restored and find peace. It’s important to me that our community have a place like this.
How has the park vision and support developed
Since the beginning, I am in awe at how this story has unfolded with the right people, events and God’s perfect timing.
We would not be here today were it not for the perinatal loss director of Northside Hospital – Aimee Alexander. She encouraged me when I first told her about the idea that was on my heart and became my first board member. She has since moved to Texas, but I will never forget all that she did for me and Alexis. I know there are thousands of families in metro-Atlanta that will recognize her name. She had one of the hardest jobs imaginable and she was amazing at it.
Finding Jennifer Carson, from the Children’s Park in Tyler, was an incredible start to develop the vision but we had no money. Then, my dear friend Karen Clark had a unique opportunity come out of the blue and she chose to bless us with seed money.
Soon thereafter, I met Cherokee County Native Sandi McDoogle Anderson at Canton First United Methodist Preschool because we were the only two mothers in the “Tea and Tissues” room whose kids had a hard time separating. As she talked about her precious son Will, I knew right away that that we were kindred spirits. She is a true southern lady who loves her children with the fierceness of a mother bear. She joined the Board and has worked tirelessly by my side in meeting after meeting to make this park happen. Since joining the board she has also welcomed two beautiful girls into the world Sydney and Kathryn. Sandi brought on board her sister Alison Higgins. Ali has been instrumental to introducing us to the Cherokee County business community.
Thanks to Sandi’s introduction, we have recently added two well respected members of the community to our board: Tim and Pam Cavender (AKA – the official Mr. and Mrs. Claus to the Govenor’s Mansion). They are passionate about this cause because Pam experienced the tragic loss of her own precious baby Courtney Elizabeth in 1977. The pain of this loss remains with her to this day.
Lisa Hootselle, joined our board the same time Sandi did and has been a critical part of our success. I often refer to Lisa as my soul sister because our paths have been very similar. Though we did not know each other, we both graduated from Harrison High School in Kennesaw a year apart and her son Hayden was born the day after Mason (July 19th, 2004) also 12 weeks premature. Her daughter Maddie is also close to the same age as my daughter Meredith and they are the best of friends. Lisa was eager to help with the park out of her own immense compassion and perspective of parenthood. In 2010, Lisa, Sandi and I flew to Tyler, Texas and met with the founders of the Children’s Park there. It was an opportunity of a lifetime for us. Sadly, 5 months later, Lisa and I would share yet another bond as bereaved mothers when her three year old daughter Emma had a tragic accident. Lisa has been dedicated to the park vision from the start but now she has a complete vision of the peace and comfort that she and so many will receive to celebrate the lives of ALL of their children in the same place.
Sarah Weitzenkorn was a former TV news reporter and long-time mutual friend of Lisa and I. We were so thrilled when she caught the vision and joined our board to share her wealth of expertise in 2010. She has two beautiful children – Ben (8) and Anna (6).
Sarah has been instrumental to the progress of the Children’s Park of Georgia. She is one of the most dedicated and productive people I have ever met. When she takes on an action item it is as good as done. She also has the unique perspective of full cycle family struggles as she is now responsible for her mother who has early onset Alzheimer’s Disease.
We are confident that this park will be built. It is a matter of engaging people to partner with us to their unique abilities. Some are blessed with vast resources and powerful networks while others may have time and in-kind gifts to contribute. By using our God-given gifts together, we will build something really special to encourage families and children.
For me personally, it is and amazing privilege to be a part of something so important. I am energized from every email and call I receive telling me what this place will mean to their family. A successful businessman and major contributor to the park in Tyler once told us that out of any project he has ever contributed to, the Children’s Park was the one that he was MOST proud of. I can tell you that is saying a lot. This is going to be a treasure and legacy for Georgia.