Friday, January 30, 2009

Geneva's Birthday

Geneva Kate, wearing her dad's wedding ring as a bracelet.

The boys and I made a chocolate chip pound cake this afternoon. Yum! It's Geneva's birthday cake. Most of you didn't get a chance to meet Geneva because she only lived for 9 days, but she would have been 6 years old today. I say would have and not should have because I know she lived for exactly the amount of time God wanted her to. I wouldn't change how things happened. But I miss my daughter every day just the same.

It used to be that having and losing a child was something that I talked about all the time. I think maybe I wanted to reassure myself that I had really had her. It was a way for me to possess her and prove she had been mine because I never did get to bring her home from the hospital. (It is a crummy feeling to go the hospital pregnant and come home un-pregnant with no baby to show for it--like it didn't happen at all.) Maybe it was because Grieving Mother was such a huge part of my identity for the first couple years and I didn't think someone could understand me if they didn't know about my lost girl. Sometimes, I talked about her because a stranger would ask how many children I had and I would say two, then explain the reason they only saw one kid with me was because the other had died. I realized this made them feel uncomfortable, but Geneva could have peeked in on me at a moment like that and think I'd forgotten her if she weren't mentioned. That idea seemed horrible.

Eventually, I grew comfortable with the idea that she knew I loved her and missed her. I became more things than Grieving Mother once again. I learned that people are irreplaceable. I learned that grief carves out holes in our souls, making more room for the joy that will eventually come, filling in the empty spaces. I learned that people assume you are strong because something bad has happened to you.

"Oh, you must be so strong," people would say when they found out my daughter died.
"I don't feel strong," I would think. "I feel like singed paper; I could crumple in on myself right here and be blown away by the breeze," I wouldn't say. There was no point in arguing with them. I didn't have the energy for it anyway.

My own theory is that when we most need to change, something terrible happens that can't help but change us. My other theory is that some things just don't get explained in this life and learning to stop looking for a reason is the point. I learned that terrible things are also really wonderful. I learned that moving forward is different than moving on and that part of moving forward sometimes involves stopping. And crying. But enough about me. I want you to know a little bit about Geneva.

Geneva means juniper. The juniper plant is one of the most tenacious in the world, clinging to life against all odds even in hostile environments. (Her dad knew this should be her name the instant we knew she was a girl, long before she was born.)
Kate means pure. (She was certainly that.)

Geneva Kate had a rough entry into life. At only 20 weeks in-utero, all the amniotic fluid cushioning and protecting her tiny body inexplicably whooshed out, leaving her fragile skull pressed mercilessly against her mom's pelvic bones. Her little lungs lost the opportunity to practice moving in and out with fluid, preparing them for the air to come. Her mom's doctor told her there was very little chance she'd survive to be born at all. He said most babies in that situation didn't make it past 2 weeks in-utero and that terminating the pregnancy was a valid option. Her mother and father disagreed. So, Geneva and her mom spent the next month hanging out on the couch, laying down at all times. It wasn't fun, but at least they were together. Then, Geneva's placenta ruptured, so she spent the next month with her mom on a hospital bed with monitors and wires and nurses who didn't know what privacy means.

Miraculously, Geneva, the scrapper, lasted 8 weeks in-utero without any infections before being born at 28 weeks. She weighed about 3 1/2 lbs. and was 13 inches long. She had a pretty good head of light brown hair--just like her big brother's. When she was born around 5:30 a.m. on January 30, she was whisked away to be cleaned off and given a temporary oxygen mask before being brought back to her mother. In the hallway, she cried once. It was the only time her mom ever heard that sound. Back with her mom, Geneva looked up into her eyes and her mom knew she was smart. It was the only time she ever opened her eyes and saw her mom. Then she was taken by very capable and loving nurses to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where she would spend the remainder of her life. In the first 24 hours, her heart stopped and both her lungs collapsed and a geneticist informed her parents that she most likely had Down Syndrome. It was a long first day. Everything about Geneva's life felt both long with struggle and short in time.

All the medical things that had to be done to keep Geneva alive are blurred in my memory now, but they were not pleasant. She was so helpless. However, she did manage to squeeze her dad's finger once. Geneva was on strong paralytics to help her keep the tubes in her lungs and the IV in her head in place. She couldn't even open her eyes or move her tongue. But she managed to squeeze her dad's finger and he knew she knew he was there. In the hospital, when she could find her voice to speak, her mom told Geneva how many people loved her. Her mom prayed over her and read aloud to her from 'Little Women' by Louisa May Alcott. Her mom thinks she liked it. Geneva died at 11:58 p.m. on February 8th.

Geneva, squeezing her dad's finger.
It seems clear from her story what a fighter Geneva was, but you can't know yet about her other dominant quality. She was the most peaceful person I have ever known. I'm an antsy sort of person in general. You would think that I'd be going completely berserk laying flat on my back for 2 months, but most of the time I felt calm. I didn't even drum my fingers the way I've done compulsively since I was at least 15. I had thought it was the Holy Ghost, calming and comforting me through my trials and I'm sure He was there, too, but as I walked out of the hospital just after letting Geneva go, all my fidgetiness came back. It was only then that I realized it was her presence that was so soothing. Everything about her life was stressful, but I was always calmest when I was with her--wires, beeping monitors, and bustling nurses notwithstanding. That's what I miss most about her--how good it felt to just be near her.

While I held Geneva in my lap during what I knew would be her last hours in mortality, I wrote a little song for her. All my children have one. Here is Geneva's song. It's what we'll sing before we eat her birthday cake. The dashes represent our 2 syllable last name.

Geneva Kate -- --, our precious little girl,
Geneva Kate -- --, we're thankful you came to this world,
To teach us to be humble, to show us purity.
Though your body is so frail, your spirit strengthens me.

Geneva Kate -- --, our precious little girl,
Geneva Kate -- --, we're thankful you came to this world.
We'll do our best to be like you and live with God again.
We're thankful we know it's true that families never end.

Geneva Kate -- --, our perfect little girl,
Geneva Kate -- --, we're thankful you came to this world.
Our family: 6 years and 8 days ago.


Jessica said...

I have been thinking about you a lot lately. I know you are strong even if you don't feel like you are. You are brave, strong and faithful. Heavenly Father knows what you can handle and he knows he can count on you! I will say an extra prayer for your family and Geneva.

dubby said...

Happy Birthday, Geneva, and in eight days, you can celebrate your birthday into heaven.

Melissa said...

I have been thinking about you and Geneva all day. What a precious little girl - I was so lucky to spend time with her. Some of the most peaceful moments of my life were spent by her side in the NICU. Thank you for giving me that opportunity. I love you!

Karen said...

You make me cry. You are the best Mommy ever...immediately I feel an overwhelming need to write each of my children a song. Maybe our 2 little girls are in heaven somewhere playing together. I hope so. Sending all kinds of love your way on this special birthday.

Stephanie said...

I'm so glad you shared that. What a blessing to have a family like you!

GrowingRopers said...

i think Jessica picked the perfect word...faithful. your faith amazes and inspires me. i love you so much. a very happy birthday to Geneva. what a blessing and beautiful little girl!

Dianna said...

I'm glad you shared that too. It really made me think a lot. As sad as it is, I'm glad that I've gotten to hear/learn about that experience. :)

We Are A Happy Family said...

I have slways loved when you talked about Geneva. She truly is a valiant daughter of god. We wish you a wonderful day and a great party for Geneva. You are wonderful with great strengths that I admire so much.

Charity said...

Thinking about you ya

kendralu said...


The G Fam said...

What a beautiful tribute to a simply amazing and beautiful little girl. She is an absolute little miracle. What a beautiful experience it will be to be reunited with our little one! I long for the day. I am a grieving motherx2, which makes me kinda doubly blessed and doubly sad. Anyways, she is BEAUTIFUL! I hope you know you are in our prayers this night. I know the peace of sweet Geneva will be felt by you as you need it.
Heart hugs,

Urban Tangerine said...

My Sweet Sister,
Geneva Kate is well loved, well remembered and well honored. I loved the get-to-know you about Geneva. I learned some new things. Also the parts about sorrow carving out more room in your heart and people thinking you are "strong" when something hard happens to you. Most of all, I am so happy that you were able to identify and enjoy Geneva's spirit and personality. The Lord gave you something so beautiful and so tangible to cling to. I love how you celebrate Geneva's temporal debut and eternal life. I'm sure she's counting the days to be with all of you again.

Julianne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zoo Keeper Mom said...

You have got tears running down my face. What a sweet angel, that Geneva Kate. I am touched and amazed at your story about how calming an influence she was on you. What a wonderful gift. Thanks for sharing this with us -- and I wish I could hear the tune to your little one's song! How lucky your children are to have such a musically gifted mother. I still remember the tune and some of the words to your song that went "I thought we were the wise ones, our love built upon the rock...."

I miss you. We played Sequence the other day, and it reminded me of playing that with you and Chris in your cute little place out here.

Holladay Family said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Holladay Family said...

What an amazing post. I still think about her. She is still with us, with her amazing spirit. She is loved and definitely pure. She melts my heart. How appropriate she spent her earthly life in the month of Love. Happy Hearts day. :)

Lagos Family said...

I just thought I would let you know....I went walking with you this morning, and ever since you told me (I dont quite recall how long ago) that YOU had a GIGANTIC belly when you were pregnant with Tommy...and that you had finally posted pictures on your blog...I HAD TO SEE. ..... WHY OH WHY did I HAVE TOO go read your blog at this time?!?! I am in a pretty quiet computer lab on the JMU campus, surrounded by other students... BALLIN MY FREAKIN' EYES OUT! And STILL I am struggling to contain my emotions. Jenny, you may not have felt very strong, but I am not quite sure I could go through or handle the lot the Lord has given you. (And I hope my words to not come back to me) But really, it takes someone VERY strong and VERY faithful and AMAZING to withstand and overcome much of what has happened to you. I love you! You are an amazing friend and example to me. I definitely look up to you. SuperWoman!