Saturday, March 28, 2015

Even When It Feels like I'm Drowning

This post might be all over the place, so bear with me. I'm about to get really raw and vulnerable.

I don't want Lily to be seen as a "sad thing that happened to me." I don't want other people to look at her life and death and only see her death because of the dark shadow it has cast over my life since March 2010. I don't want to not live fully and honor her with my every breath, each a breath she will never take. I want her to bring happiness to my life, rather than take it away.

And she does bring me so much joy. She has brought me so much more beauty than pain. And I do know I am living in a way that brings her honor and God glory and that I am doing many beautiful things because of her.

However... I feel as if I will never be whole again. I know I will be in Heaven and that God will wipe away every tear from my eyes. But here... on Earth... I fear I might never feel only happiness again, without the tinge of sorrow.

There is a certain kind of loneliness in grieving your child without a spouse and in not having another child born either before or after the child you lost. I know I have friends and family who love and miss Lily, but not in the way I do, not in the way only a parent can. And I have hope that I will one day have another child, but who knows when and if that will ever be. I don't even have any prospect of a man in my life and it's difficult for me to picture finding someone that "fits" with me. It is so hard. SO HARD. to see people who had a loss around the time I did go on to have one, two, or even three more children since that time. And here I am, still single and without a child to raise. So many people who have a loss are able to go on and have another child to help fill their empty arms shortly after. I know that having another baby will never, ever replace Lily or completely take that pain and ache away, however, I imagine that there is a healing that comes only when you have another child. It's been FIVE years for me. I have been feeling forgotten by God. I know I am not, but I wonder why He finds it best to keep me single and childless still, all these years later.

My soul is weary in the waiting and wondering if I will ever have another child to call my own. I'm tired of feeling that oh so familiar, yet unwanted, pang of jealousy when I see what seems like everyone around me be given the gifts that I long for - marriage and more children. I'm burdened by the ache of loneliness I feel when it seems every other woman has a strong arm around her except me. I'm afraid that no man will ever "get" me or want to marry me. I'm weighed down from what it's done to me to miss my daughter for 5 years now. I'm tired of feeling like people think I am strange or unhealthy in how I express my grief and love for Lily. I'm tired of feeling like I have to work at making her "count" in other people's minds. It makes me sad when it seems other people avoid me and my posts about Lily, when I see them commenting all over other people's posts. I know people say, "it's just Facebook," but behind every Facebook account is a person. And it hurts to feel avoided. It hurts when I wonder if people think I'm a "Debbie downer" or that my posts are depressing. Even though they have no idea what it's like to walk a mile in my shoes. I feel alone in my feelings and like people just don't get it. Sometimes I just don't even want to explain myself about things... like why it would be hard to go to an Easter egg hunt because my child isn't here to participate. Or why I wouldn't want a living child to share a birthday with my daughter, when it's one of the only things I will ever have of her and it would be a bitter reminder each year of everything I'm missing out on. I feel like people think I'm mean or selfish when they have no idea how hard this is for me to carry. I'm just worn.

This is just me being (maybe too??) honest. I am far from perfect (anyone who knows me well is thinking, yeah, no kidding). But seriously, I don't want this blog to be a place where it seems as if I have this grief thing "figured out." Or that I never struggle. I want to be authentic and real and want others to be encouraged, even in their trials. I know that I have not always responded in a gracious and loving way while grieving Lily. I am trying to figure it out still.

People have asked me many times about Lily's father and if we are still together, what happened between us, and what not. I struggle with knowing what to say because I don't want to say too much or not enough. It's a very private grief and apart from losing Lily, the deepest and longest-lasting, most excruciating pain my heart has ever felt. The anguish reaches clear to my soul, the innermost part of my being. The wound is deeper than the sea. I have been haunted by "what ifs" and "if onlys."

Maybe in the future, I will share more. In fact, I believe fully that I will because I believe part of the ministry God has for me in the future is to reach out to others experiencing similar things.

What I will say now is I felt God ask me to give him up, to place that relationship in His hands. The Lord saw best to take that relationship away. Had Lily lived, things might have turned out differently. But, I have complete peace in knowing God asked me to let go of him.

Now, I always assumed it was because He had someone better suited for me. And maybe He does. But, I don't know that. I struggle at times wondering why God has not brought me my husband yet. I will be 26 this year and always pictured myself getting married very young, late teens or early twenties. I never imagined I'd still be single at this age. I also never imagined that after having Lily I would still not have another child 5 years later. I almost felt like God would certainly fulfill those dreams, after I had experienced so much pain. I don't know that I'll ever get married.

But, here's what I do know... I know that I would rather be single forever and in the center of God's perfect will for my life than having settled on the wrong person for me. Because here is the thing, HE (Jesus) is the right one for me, first and foremost, before any other guy. And purity is not just waiting for the "something better" or "someone better," but realizing HE (Jesus) is our something/Someone better, even if an Earthly Prince Charming never comes.

I have had relationships in the past where I could have gotten married had I so chosen to, but I am so thankful that the Lord kept me from choosing that path. And though it is painful and very lonely at times to wait for a man that I don't even know if he exists, I would rather honor the Lord and my future *hoped for* husband than give my heart away to guys who were never meant to have it.

I desire to seek to honor God in this area, no matter the cost. Even though I struggle with wondering why I still have these feelings for Lily's father and why God hasn't just taken them away, even after all this time, even though I was obedient in surrendering that relationship.

I have to believe it's all for a greater purpose. I have to thank the Lord for having anything to surrender to Him. I have the opportunity to deny myself and what my heart wants because I know what my heart wants is not God's best for my life. I have to trust that He has me still single and childless for a reason. That doesn't take away the pain or keep me from questioning at times. But I trust my loving Father. Even if I never get married or have a living child, I will trust that He is still good, still loving, and still has a perfect plan unfolding.

I'm singing this over my soul when the questions make me feel like I'm drowning:

This beautiful poem was shared with me by a friend and it has been such a blessing to me in this time of waiting...

Desperately, helplessly, longingly, I cried:
Quietly, patiently, lovingly God replied.
I pled and I wept for a clue to my fate,
And the Master so gently said,
“Child, you must wait.”
“Wait? You say, wait!” my indignant reply.
“LORD, I need answers, I need to know why!
Is Your hand shortened? Or have You not heard?
By faith, I have asked, and am claiming Your Word.
“My future, and all to which I can relate
Hangs in the balance, and You tell me to WAIT?
I’m needing a ‘Yes,’ a go-ahead sign,
Or even a ‘No’ to which I can resign.
“And LORD, You promised that if we believe
We need but to ask, and we shall receive.
And, LORD, I’ve been asking, and this is my cry:
‘I’m weary of asking! I need a reply!”
Then quietly, softly, I learned of my fate
As my Master replied once again, “You must wait.”
So, I slumped in my chair, defeated and taut
And grumbled to God, “So I’m waiting…for what?”
He seemed, then, to kneel
And His eyes wept with mine,
And He tenderly said, “I could give you a sign.
I could shake the heavens, and darken the sun.
I could raise the dead, and cause mountains to run.
“All you seek, I could give, and pleased you would be.
You would have what you want-
But, you wouldn’t know Me.
You’d not know the depth of My love for each saint;
You’d not know the power I give to the faint;
“You’d not learn to see through the clouds of despair;
You’d not learn to trust by knowing I’m there;
You’d not know the joy of resting in Me;
When darkness and silence were all you could see.
“You’d never experience that fullness of love
As the peace of My Spirit descend like a dove;
You’d know that I give and I save, for a start,
But you’d not know the depth of the beat of My heart.
“The glow of My comfort late into the night,
The faith that I give when you walk without sight,
The depth that’s beyond getting just what you asked
Of an infinite God, who makes what you have last.
“You’d never know, should your pain quickly flee,
What it means that, “My grace is sufficient for thee.”
Yes, your dreams for your loved one overnight would come true,
But, oh, the loss if I lost what I’m doing in you!
“So, be silent, My child, and in time you will see
That the greatest of gifts is to get to know Me.
And though oft’ may My answers seem terribly late,
My most precious answer of all is still, ‘Wait.'”
-Russell Keller


Friday, March 27, 2015

Ain't Even Grey, but She Buries Her Baby

Over the past couple days, I have been reading through tears the precious words in the guest book from Lily Katherine's Celebration of Life Services, which were 5 years ago yesterday evening and this morning.

Each entry has different handwriting, representing Lily's uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, great-uncles, great-aunts, great-grandparents, and friends... all people who share their forever love for her and their support within the pages of this sacred book. They express how they will always miss her, how she has impacted their life, how they wish they could have met her, and how they have the hope of one day seeing her.

Oh how I will always cherish these tender and heartfelt words to my beautiful baby girl. I wonder how often these people think of her now. I hope they do. I can't bare the thought of them not caring about her anymore.

This is part of what my Uncle Time wrote in the guest book: "God uses tragedy to bring us to our knees, not to punish us, but to love us... Your wound will become your gift in time. Lily will always be your inspiration in your Earthly life." She is my gift and inspiration indeed! But I sure do miss her like crazy.

Today, March 27th, was the day I left a piece of my heart in the ground in Virginia. I was just barely out of my teens when I buried my baby.

"Lord make me a rainbow, I'll shine down on my mother
She'll know I'm safe with you when she stands under my colors, oh,
And life ain't always what you think it ought to be, no
Ain't even grey, but she buries her baby
The sharp knife of a short life"
-The Band Perry

This is something I wrote to Lily when I shared on my blog in 2010 about her Celebration of Life Services: "You have changed me forever, sweet girl. Know that I will never, ever forget you. I will always miss you. Always love you. There will always be a hole in my heart because you aren't here with me. But, I know you're with Jesus, and that brings me great joy! Every one I meet will always know about you. How you changed me. How you changed my life. Your siblings will always know how they have a big sister named Lily. No matter how old I get, I will cherish your life and the memories I have of you. You will forever be a part of me, no matter where I go. No matter what happens next, you'll always be my little girl. Always." These words make me choke up because 5 years later, I still feel them just as deeply, if not more so.

Here are some other posts about the month of March that I've written in years past that you might be interested in reading:

Spring is Coming...

One Last Kiss...For Now

Taking Her Home

In Honor of You (Lily's Celebration of LIFE Service)

Days Nobody Remembers

The Master's Fingerprint (the Day of Lily's Burial)


Monday, March 23, 2015

Babyloss Comfort Boxes

For a few years, I have been working on babyloss comfort boxes to be given in honor and memory of Lily Katherine to the Birth Center where she was born. This has been a project for my mom and I to do for our Lily girl. My mom supported me in many ways in bringing this dream to a reality.

I didn't just want to get random things to fill the boxes, but carefully and lovingly selected each item over a long period of time. Every few months, as I decided upon something, I would order it online or purchase it when I saw a good deal or had a coupon at Michaels or somewhere. There were so many options and so many things I would have loved to include, but I did my best choosing the items I find most important and special.

I considered what I would have appreciated having when I first lost Lily. My desire is to provide the information to help unprepared families make the important decisions while in the hospital, in the first hours after their loss, choices that later will not be regretted. I partly want to do this because of my own regrets and because I want to share the things I am thankful to have. I also want to provide the families with gifts to honor their little ones and other special items to help them heal in the days after leaving the hospital.

I wasn't sure how to go about giving these boxes, who to contact about it, etc. I have heard of others trying to give similar boxes to their local hospitals and being rejected. I guess part of why I hadn't done it yet is because I was afraid of being rejected. God worked it out for me to get in contact with the sweetest lady who is a nurse at the Birth Center. She set up a time with me to bring the boxes on Lily's birthday. I had shared with her what would be in them and she set up a meeting in a conference room at the hospital for me to share my boxes! I was also able to bring red-velvet cupcakes for the L&D staff.

I want to share the boxes to keep a record of it for myself and to hopefully inspire others who want to create similar boxes. If you are interested in making something for your local Hospital, call the L&D floor, the Chaplain, or someone else who can assist you. I am thankful that the staff at the Birth Center where Lily was born are so amazing and want to help the families who have lost babies in whatever way they can.

Here are the boxes! We gave five for Lily's 5th birthday. :)

I wanted the boxes to be simple and sweet and appropriate for both genders. I found the boxes themselves at Michaels and then my mom and I chose lace, ribbon, and little butterfly embellishments to dress it up a bit. I wanted it to have a personal touch.

Here is what the inside of the boxes looks like.

I wanted the boxes to have a "butterfly theme," so you will notice butterflies throughout. Butterflies symbolize new life, and our babies have new life with Jesus.

I included a page called, "What's Included in This Comfort Box," with an explanation for each item. As soon as the box is opened, the page is on top, along with a special card underneath with a butterfly stamp on it.

I got these special heartfelt sympathy cards for the boxes, specifically made by Lost for Words Card Line for babyloss comfort boxes. Again, there is a butterfly.

This is what I wrote inside the cards. I wanted the personal touch of a handwritten note, and of course had to include who the box is given in memory of.

What else is in the boxes along with photos of the items described:

-A little lamb, which symbolizes innocence and purity, to fill their empty arms. Lily and Katherine both mean "pure and innocent," and Lily's stone has a lamb on it, so lambs are quite significant and special to me. And a little lamb is perfect for any precious baby. My mom and I selected a ribbon with the word "baby" on it in many colors to dress up the lambs. I found the lambs at Tuesday Morning and the ribbon at Michaels.

-A copy of “When Hello Means Goodbye” to help them make important decisions and to bring comfort in the days ahead. I encourage them before leaving the hospital to read the pages about seeing and holding their baby, taking pictures, and gathering keepsakes. Also, I mention that the sections on decisions to be made, autopsies, funeral homes, burial or cremation arrangements, and memorial gatherings are important as well. I tell them that I know that it will be painful and difficult to even think about these things, but I urge them now to consider all their options. I think some people who unexpectedly lose their baby are in a state of complete shock, which is why I want to "think for them," and help them do things that they don't realize how important those things will become to them later. I stressed this to the nurses when presenting the boxes, to make sure they understand the importance of this. I got these books online at "Grief Watch."

-A “Now I Sleep” CD, which is a beautiful piano instrumental CD, specifically made for babyloss parents. The artist is a man named John Albert Thomas and he has generously worked with me to provide the CD's at a discounted rate.

-A journal to share their pregnancy memories, birth story, write letters to their baby, or anything else they want to share. The journal has a butterfly and flowers on it, both of which remind me of Lily. Writing has been a huge part of my grief and healing journey and therefore I hope to encourage others to write as well. I found these journals for a great price online.

-A baggie for their baby’s beautiful hair. I put a tiny plastic bag inside the baggie for a snippet of hair, so it doesn't get lost. I got both the baggies and plastic bags at Michaels.

-Forget-Me-Not flower seeds to plant in honor of the baby they’ll never forget. I'm sure these can be found at many stores.

-A packet of tissues for their tears. Again, these can be found at many stores. 

-A “Remembering Heart” necklace, which has two parts, the tiny inner heart can be kept with their baby for burial or cremation and the outer heart can be kept or worn by the mother or father. This is such a special way to have that connection with their child. Many parents later wish they had done something similar. I got this necklace online at "Grief Watch."

-A heart candle to light in remembrance. I can't remember specifically where I got these, but similar small candles can be found at many stores.

-A beautiful art card specifically for such comfort boxes from the lovely Stephanie of Beyond Words Designs (her daughter Amelia was also born sleeping, just five days before Lily, on March 11, 2010). Stephanie is one of my favorite artists. This card can be framed, included in a scrapbook, etc. Stephanie generously donated these.

-Information on one of the local to Raleigh infant loss support groups, Covered in Love. I also included information on another local to Raleigh group, ParentCare. 

-A Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep brochure. This is one thing I wish with all my heart I had known about! I got these in bulk directly from NILMDTS.

-A keepsake impression kit for baby's hand or footprint. I found these at T.J. Maxx. I'm sure similar things can be found online or in many different stores.

-Special butterfly cards (one for handprints and one for footprints). I created these myself with papers and stamps I found at Michaels (I made sure they were acid free). I want to encourage the families to get more than one set of original foot and handprints, for grandparents and other family members, or just to keep for a scrapbook, etc. This is one thing I really wish I had done. Also, I wanted them to be able to have their baby's prints on beautiful paper (again, the butterfly theme). The only original set of Lily's prints that I have is on a paper with the leaf with the teardrop. It's such a sad and painful symbol to me, so I don't want them to always have to see that when they look at their baby's prints. It is a common symbol used in hospitals to alert doctors and other medical professionals that there has been a loss in that room and not to go in and say something like, "Congratulations, how's the baby?"

This is the leaf with the teardrop that I'm talking about on the paper with my only set of Lily's prints (which I am sooo thankful to have).

"The leaf with the teardrop reflects both intense suffering of loss and hope for the future. Though fallen, the leaf maintains its vitality, symbolizing hope. It cradles the teardrop with its upturned edges creating a sense of comfort. As seasons change, so do feelings. Just as there is winter and spring, there is sadness and hope."

Here's another photo of what the box looks like on the inside. It is full of special items. I also included my blog link with many resources available, such as songs, books, movies, etc. I hope they will visit if they are looking for resources for their baby's memorial service or for comfort in the days ahead.

Here I am sharing the boxes at the hospital on Lily's birthday.

And here are my mom and I with the nurses and our boxes. You can see lots more photos from Lily's birthday and read more by clicking HERE.

This has certainly been a long labor of love that has been finally brought to fruition. It was rather satisfying to finish and deliver the boxes. I prayed over each box, that God would put it into the hands of the people He desires to have it. It made me sad thinking about how long I've been working on these boxes and how the families who will one day be receiving them most likely have no idea that such boxes even exist, let alone that they will have the need of one. But God knows them and their baby and He wants to comfort them. I hope to comfort others with the comfort I have received (2 Corinthians 1:4).

I can only do so much with my time and resources and honestly feel as if five boxes sadly only scratch the surface of this great need. However, when we are faithful with a little, God can do a lot! I'm just waiting to see what He will do next!

I don't know if I will ever hear from the families who will receive these boxes, but I pray I will. I included my blog address, in hopes that they will come here and find more support and reach out. I hope they know their baby is cared about, even by me, a stranger.

I hope this will be just the beginning of giving boxes to the Birth Center! Now that I know what I want in the boxes and have connections there, I pray the Lord would continue to open up the doors to serve families experiencing the loss of their precious baby. Lily's legacy continues to blossom here on Earth.


5-Year-Old Girls

Someone I know told me on Saturday that they took their grandson to a little girl's birthday party. Her name is Lily and she just turned 5. She had a Frozen-themed party at a bowling alley. I hate not knowing Lily at 5, I hate not knowing what she would like, I hate not being able to throw her a birthday party, and that I'll never meet the friends she would have had.

And I've been seeing photos of 5th birthday parties posted by people I know who had children around the time I had Lily.

These things prompted me to write the following poem about my should-be-5-year-old....

5-year-old girls should bring boisterous laughter and constant chatter
Glitter, baby dolls, and pigtails should be what matter

5-year-old girls should never leave you alone
Instead of silence gripping your heart as you talk to a stone

5-year-old girls should love Frozen, dressing up, and American Girl too
Not leave us wondering what we're missing and who

5-year-old girls should no longer be babies
Rather than a question mark of a lifetime of maybes

My 5-year-old girl will never be 5
But in Heaven she waits, that's where she's alive


Friday, March 20, 2015

Lily's 5th Birthday Celebration!

Lily Katherine's birthday was absolutely precious! It is amazing to see how the Lord perfectly planned out every small detail to make it memorable and special for my family and I as we love and miss the little girl who would've been turning 5. *If you are reading this through email you will want to click HERE to view the post so you can see all the videos.*

This birthday was fulfilling for me in that I was able to do many things for Lily that I have wanted to do for literally nearly 5 years. There has been so much preparation over a long span of time. FYI, this is a very long post with lots of pictures. :)

Here is sweet Lily girl's special spot decorated for her birthday! I sent the items to my grandmother "Bumma" and she and my Aunt Ellie got everything ready and decorated for me to my specifications lol. I live 4 hours away from my hometown in Virginia where Lily is buried and it's hard not to be able to do it myself, but I'm thankful others are willing to help me. I am not this way about anything else in my life, but when it comes to Lily, I like things "just so." My grandmother knows and understands this, as she has lost a baby daughter herself, but we were joking about my "bossy instructions" haha.

Thanks to my friend Elise who took these lovely photos for me on the evening of Lily's day. Isn't the sunlight gorgeous? It's a balloon with a 5, a "you're so special" balloon, and a "birthday girl" balloon, all with colors and symbols that remind me of Lily. I also sent a little cupcake that looks real, a garden flag with butterflies and flowers, and I ordered a fresh bouquet of pink roses, white lilies, and baby's breath (some of them are still blooming). Someone else left the orange/pink lilies (I'm pretty sure I know who).

The weather on Lily's birthday was absolutely gorgeous! It was perfect, in my opinion - sunny with some clouds and in the mid 70s. I am thankful the Lord blessed us with lovely weather. It was also nice weather in Crozet where her stone is. Her day was on a Monday this year, so it felt like the 14th and 15th was her birthday weekend, since the 14th was her due date. :)

I actually wasn't too disappointed this year not being able to be at Lily's special spot because I was there last year and because I had things I wanted to do in Raleigh (where I live and where Lily was born) this year. Hopefully we can be at her spot again next year on her 6th birthday.

On Lily's day, we woke up and had coffee and breakfast and got her beautiful butterfly balloon blown up. Have you ever seen such an awesome balloon? I've been wanting to find one like it for a long time and finally did. The guy who blew it up and put the string on it acted as if it was his masterpiece to choose the prettiest string. :)

We (my mom Ginny, sister-in-law Kala, and I) completed the finishing touches for Lily's day and then left for the Rex Birth Center (we were scheduled to arrive at 11 a.m.), where Lily was born. After many years of wanting to go back there for multiple reasons, it finally happened. We were delivering our five comfort boxes (for Lily's 5th birthday), we made red-velvet cupcakes for the labor and delivery nurses, and I took gifts for the two wonderful nurses I had when I delivered Lily.

Here I am right outside the Birth Center with the boxes, cupcakes, and gifts. And I am wearing my shirt that I got specifically for Lily's day, with the brand name Lili Rose. Read more about that special story by clicking HERE.

My mom and I were nervous about how it was going to feel being back at the place where I had all my appointments and where Lily was born. It's a Birth Center that is connected to a hospital and has a medical plaza right next door, which is where I had my prenatal care. It was a strange feeling being back there, especially on the same date Lily was born.

This is the building where I had my prenatal care.

My sister-in-law and I making the red-velvet cupcakes for the nurses the night before. Red-velvet because of my Valentine's-themed baby shower and how we now have red-velvet cake each year on Lily's birthday.

The nurses said the cupcakes were delicious, which makes me happy they enjoyed. :)

So much thought went into every aspect of Lily's day... I chose colorful cupcake wrappers, found this box for the cupcakes, among other small details.

The comfort boxes that are to be given to other families walking through the loss of a precious baby. I will be sharing much more about these soon in another blog post. But I have been thinking about what to include and gathering a few items at a time over almost 5 years!

When we arrived at the Birth Center, we met the lovely nurse, Sandra, that I have been communicating with about the boxes and she took us up to a conference room where other nurses were waiting.

We passed by the waiting room where my family sat waiting for Lily to be born on March 16, 2010.

One of the most special parts of Lily's birthday was having a reunion with one of the nurses who cared for me on the day my baby girl was born. As soon as I saw Lanie, I couldn't keep from bursting into tears, seeing her familiar face and knowing she is one of the few people in this world who actually got to see and hold my beautiful girl. Lily is not just a story or a picture, but real to her, if that makes sense. She was there on the day that should have been one of the most beautiful in my life, but ended up also being one of the most painful.

For almost 5 years, I have wanted to see again the two nurses, Lanie and Shannon, that I had and thank them for their care. I guess I just wasn't emotionally prepared yet, wanted to wait until I took the boxes, and honestly had no idea how to go about it. I am thankful that after so many years, Lanie still works there, and even though Shannon no longer works there, I was able to send a gift along to be given to her as well (she wanted to make it on Lily's birthday, but unfortunately could not).

Seeing Lanie again brought me much healing and closure. In my mind, it's almost like she was stuck back in that hospital room on the day of Lily's birth. So I cannot even fully understand or describe what seeing her again did for me, but I know it was needed. It was like a release for me. She also said it was good for her to see me now and to see I'm doing "okay." They sometimes will hear from the families that they cared for who lost babies, but not all the time, and they like to know how they are. 

I honestly had no idea if Lanie and Shannon would even remember me, but it was so sweet to hear the nurses say that they never forget the families who have lost babies. And not only that, but I found out Lanie has been reading my blog some over the past couple years! That was so cool to hear! What happened was I met another nurse who works at Rex at a Remembrance Ceremony for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month in October 2012, and she apparently passed on my blog information to some of the other nurses.

Here are Lanie and I hugging... after 5 long years.

The nurses were so sweet, asking about my necklace with Lily's handprint. I was also able to share with them her foot and handprint. Lanie was actually the person who took her lovely prints for me, my most treasured keepsake.

I didn't fully know what to expect at the hospital that day, but it was amazing! I was able to share my comfort boxes with several of the nurses. I explained each item and why I chose that item. I shared my experience, my suggestions, and answered their questions. They were so attentive and listened to what I had to say. They shared their own ideas for providing better care to the patients at the Birth Center experiencing loss. I enjoyed being able to have a conversation with them about it all. They asked me about Lily's birth story and it meant a lot to me because I always love talking about her. My mom and I might also be getting more involved with the bereavement aspect of things there, so that is so exciting! 

Here are my mom and I with our boxes given for our Lily girl with the lovely nurses. It is incredible to me to see how much they truly care! It takes a special person to have the heart of a nurse.

After presenting the boxes, I was able to give Lanie the gift I've wanted to give for a long time.

Lanie is such a dear woman (as are all the nurses we met)! I could tell she was truly touched by my gift and card.

I love Willow Trees, so I selected one for my nurses with a woman holding a little lamb. Lambs are special to me because they symbolize innocence and purity and that is what Lily Katherine's first and middle name means. Her stone has a lamb on top.

With the Willow Tree, I gave them a card that I have had waiting to give them since 2012. Someone designed this card specifically for me when I requested it.

On the inside of the cards, I wrote:

"Five years ago on March 16, 2010, you were there when I said both "hello" and "goodbye" to my beautiful daughter, Lily Katherine. I will always remember your compassionate care and the dignity you showed my baby girl. Thank you for caring for the little lambs, both those who stay on Earth and those who go before us to Heaven. With Love, Hannah Rose Allen" and then I shared my blog address. This explains why I chose the Willow Tree I did.

This picture makes me smile.

After we finished up in the conference room, Lanie and Sandra offered to show us the courtyard area where they will be making a new beautiful and peaceful garden for families to go to when they hear bad news. The view of the courtyard is actually right across from the room where I had Lily.

The view of the soon-to-be new garden behind us.

Speaking of the room where I had Lily, I have wanted to go back to that room for years. It's like I knew I needed to face the fear of being there again. I asked if there was any way I could see it, and they checked to see if anyone was in there. Apparently, they asked at the perfect time, in between one patient being in there and another who was about to be in there.

Here's the visitor pass from the day Lily was born, which is now in her scrapbook.

As we were walking through the L&D floor, I asked, "it's over there, isn't it?" And the nurse Sandra said it was. I remembered. Room 235. The sacred room where Heaven met Earth and my baby girl was peacefully and silently born into this world. I burst into tears when I went in there, at the familiarity of it, yet knowing how much has changed in the last 5 years. This room will forever hold a piece of my heart, when I heard those words that would mark the rest of my life, "I'm so sorry... her heart is no longer beating." This room is where I cried from the depths of my soul and labored for hours. It's where her body left mine and where I saw her face for the first time, after months of longing and anticipating. It's where we took her foot and handprints, dressed her, and kissed her. Oh room 235, you have haunted me for 5 years and now I have faced you again and realized you aren't as scary as I had feared. You are sacred. You are beautiful. Other happy mothers go through that room with joyous deliveries like I had expected. You will always be where Lily Katherine Allen-Ball, my daughter of Heaven, who was called to a Heavenly purpose, was born.

I remember watching this clock tick by, hour after hour, as I awaited her arrival.

Some of the furniture in the room is different now after all these years.

Lanie, my mom, Kala and I all outside room 235, holding Lily's prints, outside the very room where those prints were taken. We were all there that day. We all share those memories.

As we were leaving the hospital, the nurses pointed out this special tree that they light up in October for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, in memory of all the babies in Heaven. Isn't that so sweet? I will have to go see it this October. 

"There is no foot too small that it cannot leave an imprint on this world."

We said goodbye to the nurses, though I hope to see them again sometime soon, and headed over to Cracker Barrel for lunch. It is my favorite restaurant and a tradition to eat there each year on Lily's birthday. :)

After lunch, I had a 2:30 p.m. appointment at....

Yes, you saw that right. A tattoo parlor! I got my first and only tattoo, a memorial tattoo in honor of both Lily and Luke. I have wanted to do this for nearly 5 years! I will be sharing more soon about my tattoo in another blog post. I loved writing Lily's birthday as the date. :)

Here I am nervously waiting haha.

Kala was in charge of taking photos and got this one of the pin the tattoo artist was wearing that says, "tattoo time" lol.

Here is my tattoo artist, Nate, making suggestions to me and giving me his opinion on where exactly my tattoo should go. He prepared a stencil to go on before the permanent tattoo.

This must have been right when he started (look at my nervous face ha). I was scared about how it was going to feel and was really worked up. Thankfully, my artist was patient and kind but did tell me I needed to calm down lol.

Holding my mom's hand during my tattoo because you're never too old to want your mom.

After I realized the pain wasn't as bad as I had feared, I actually enjoyed the experience. Don't get me wrong, it did hurt, but he took breaks and it was over within 10-15 minutes. The experience was emotional for me, thinking about permanently making Lily (and Luke) a part of me. I said to him while he was doing my tattoo, "this hurts, but it's nothing like the pain of living without her for 5 years." He was a really kind and sensitive person and said he couldn't imagine and that he has friends who have lost children. It was special to be able to share about who Lily is and what the date means to me.

As you can tell by my face in this picture, I wasn't so scared anymore. He told me I did a great job staying still and calm. I was even talking during it, but squeezing my mom's hand.

I noticed right away that his hat said "Memorial Tattoo." I thought that was cool since that's what I was getting. He also started tattooing just a couple months before Lily was born.

Almost ready!

Seeing my new ink for the first time!

Thanks for my tattoo, Nate! I've been joking with some friends how funny I look in my pink lacy shirt getting my elegant Lily tattoo by this big, burly tattoo man. I am going to give him a thank you note and take the opportunity to share my blog with him... wonder how often that happens? lol

I got my beautiful baby girl's name permanently written on my wrist, as a reflection of the forever mark she's made on my life. The heart as the dot on the "i" is in honor of the first child of my heart, Luke Shiloh. Lily and Luke's stories are so intertwined, so it's only appropriate they are honored together in the same tattoo. I went from not wanting anyone to know about them to now wanting the world to know they are my children and I am their mother. Lily's name was one of the only things I could ever give her, one of the only things that's hers. It speaks of her existence and value. Whenever I glance down, I am reminded of my love for her and the work God has done in me and so many others through her life. Her name is right above my pulse, which reminds me of something my best friend once said to me, "Her heart beats with every beat of your own." Yes. In a letter to Lily that I wrote and read to her at her Celebration of Life Service, I said, "Sometimes it feels like people are already forgetting you, but I won't forget. So don't feel like you're missing out on all the fun, because wherever I go, there you'll be too." This is just another way for me to keep that promise to her. I'll live my life for the both of us. I have thought long and hard about this and decided that her 5th birthday would be a special milestone day to get it. I wanted my tattoo to be tasteful, simple, and elegant. It's a "conversation starter" and I look forward to people asking me about it and being able to share her legacy and the love and hope of Jesus Christ. I am SO pleased with how it turned out and had quite a pleasant experience at the tattoo parlor. The tattoo is actually in my own handwriting, which makes it even more special! Hopefully, if I have more children in the future, they will be raised on Earth and will always be with me, but this is a way for me to have my first two precious babies forever with me! Side note: I am wearing the sparkly pink nail polish that my friend Tracey gave to me called "I Lily Love You."

After we finished at the tattoo parlor, we went to Whole Foods to get coffee. I saw these roses and lilies in a bouquet there and had to take a picture.

We took our coffee over to the WRAL Azalea Gardens, one of my favorite places in Raleigh. 

We were there at 4:24 p.m., Lily's birth minute. I started crying thinking about how 5 years ago at that very moment, Lily was in my arms.

At around 4:30, we left to pick up Lily's birthday cake at 5! The place was in a really neat building that reminds me of Williamsburg, Virginia.

Here is Lily's 5th birthday cake! It is red-velvet of course, a tradition each year on her birthday, first started because of my Valentine's-themed baby shower. My friend Sarah recommended this lady who makes cakes in my area and when I wrote her to tell her what I had in mind and what the cake was for, she was so touched by Lily's story that she offered to make the cake for a greatly reduced price. What a blessing! There are 5 butterflies for 5 years of her life with Jesus (butterflies are edible). Pink for my baby girl and white for purity and innocence. My pure butterfly who flew away to Heaven and Eternal LIFE. It's hard to know what to write on the birthday cake of a child whose in Heaven, but I thought this would be perfect. Her life and her birthday still deserve to be celebrated! The cake was so moist and delicious! 

I waited to have cake with my sister, brothers, and dad too. Here is my family singing "happy birthday" to Lily before eating her cake. It was very sweet... Though, after we sang and the room grew silent with only the flicker of the number 5 candle, it was then my heart ached for the little girl who will never be that age who should have been there to blow out her own birthday candle. 

God painted the most beautiful of sunsets for us on Lily's birthday!

March 16 was free cone day at Dairy Queen. I said it felt like the entire country (and other countries too) was celebrating Lily with us. My brothers, sister-in-law, mom and I went to get our free cones in Lily's honor. I got swirl. :) A lot of other people have told me they had a cone for Lily on her day.

My good friend Amanda and her daughter Gracelyn also went to Dairy Queen on Lily's birthday/free cone day and had ice cream in her honor. This little video is Gracelyn singing "happy birthday" to Lily. Makes my heart melt to know Lily was honored and remembered on her special day by so many people. It brought tears to my eyes to see her little girl wish mine a happy birthday. Could Gracelyn be any cuter?

Amanda wrote: "For you and sweet Lily! Celebrating a very special birthday today! Happy 5th Heavenly Birthday Lily! Love Gracelyn and Amanda... We had a lot of fun celebrating Lily's birthday. Lily is definitely remembered and thought of by so many. One special little girl!"

This is my cousin Daniel's son Owen wishing Lily a happy 5th birthday in Heaven. Daniel is 4 months younger than me and Lily was born 3 months after Owen. Boy and girl cousins almost the same age apart! Oh how we dreamed they'd grow up close buddies like Daniel and I were. Each year on Lily's birthday, Owen takes a photo like this. It is bittersweet to see him growing up through the years and to know Lily would be the same age, but she'll never grow up. I am thankful for these photos on her birthdays - such a bittersweet way to have Owen and Lily in photos "together." Owen's mom is so kind to remember to do this for me and Lily Kat.

Rachel wrote, "Thinking of a sweet baby girl celebrating her 5th birthday in Heaven! We think of you and Lily often, especially today! ((Hugs))"

My sweet friend Chloé in New Zealand (she drew Lily's gorgeous memorial portraits) surprised me with a beautiful video of people around the world wishing Lily Katherine a happy birthday. I was so touched that she would be so thoughtful and definitely cried watching the video. 

She wrote, "For me, one of my biggest fears is that I'll be the only one who remembers that Hope and Poppy ever existed. With Lily's 5th birthday, I wanted to try and do something for your mama's heart to ease that fear and let you know that even though no one knew her like you, or could ever love her like her mama, she is being remembered and thought about all across the world. She's not forgotten."

One of my biggest fears also is that Lily will be forgotten and the more time passes, the more I feel that way. I am thankful for friends who assure me she won't be. Friends like this help take a little of the bitter our of the bittersweet of Lily's birthday.

Chloé's video description: "It is my friend Hannah's baby girl's 5th birthday this March 16th, and 5 years since she was welcomed into the arms of Jesus. This year I put out a request to people I know to take a photo wherever they are in the world to celebrate Lily Katherine's life and legacy so her mama could see how far her little girl's life has reached."

My brother and sister-in-law were so thoughtful in giving a contribution to an organization close to my my heart called He Knows Your Name in honor of Lily on her birthday. Loved how they did that! Her life is impacting people in so many different ways.

"He Knows Your Name Ministry exists to honor every child with a name in life and dignity and honor in death." Check them out on Facebook or their website!

Oh, and also, Joseph and Kala treated my family to Papa John's Pizza for dinner on Lily's birthday, like they did last year. I used to enjoy that pizza once a week before my classes at the LifeCare Pregnancy Center, so it reminds me of Lily. :)

The letters, cards, stickers, etc. I received from friends and family. Kala and Joseph gave me the most perfect card ever. On the outside, it says, "Fallen flowers are flowers still." And Kala wrote something beautiful on the inside: "I thought this card was made for Lily when I saw it. Though she may be fallen here on Earth, she is alive and clothed with her dwelling from Heaven. Ever our flower, ever His bloom. Love, Auntie Kala." I love how she called herself that! She always takes the time to pick out the best cards and write the most touching things!

My sweet friend Bonnie sent me this lovely bookmark for Lily's birthday, along with an encouraging letter (like she sends every month). It matches the folder she sent me for my speaking notes. She knows I love the color purple and butterflies. "I believe" that Lily girl's life has purpose. "I believe" He's working all this out for our good and His glory.

Lily's birthday celebration began on Thursday evening, March 12, when we had our annual party with our good friend and neighbor and her two kids. Her daughter, who is turning 12, shares a birthday with Lily and was born at the same hospital. We've become good friends with them over the last few years and I'm thankful they want to celebrate Lily's life as well. My sister-in-law and I made red-velvet cupcakes for the celebration and as we do each year, we gave "A" a gift in honor of our girl. She loved it. Each year, as she grows older, she likes different things and it makes me wonder what Lily would like as she'd grow up. When "A" says her birthday is March 16, it makes my heart sink a little to know I'll never hear those words come from the lips of my daughter. I took Lily's prints to have her a part of the evening.

My friend Lisa shared this lovely photo with me and wrote: "Celebrating the life of sweet Lily. Happy birthday!! Thinking of you today Hannah."

My friend Naomi shared this photo and Facebook and wrote: "Thinking of you today and remembering your precious daughter, Lily"

My dear friend Hannah shared this video with me for Lily's birthday.

Thank you to everyone who thought of Lily and I on her special day. Every card, letter, gift, call, text, email, comment, etc. was much appreciated!

Read the birthday blog post I wrote this year: Her 5th Birthday ~ My Heart Will Choose

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