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Our story…the brief version

My daughter was born at 31 weeks gestation…she was early and low birth weight at two pounds and fifteen ounces. But that’s not how she died. She was a fighter. She made it through all of those terrifying moments that a first-time mother has nightmares about.  All of the oh-so-scary words the neonatologists described to me hours before I gave birth to this tiny miracle. So, how did she die? That is a perplexity for me, as well. Her autopsy reads “accidental death by positional asphysxia”. But, her NICU doctors, Dr H Kinney in Boston, and myself believe the answer may lie somewhere more along the lines of SIDS. However, the medical examiner in the state where my beloved Kaley died told me in very specific terms, “I do not recognize SIDS as a cause of death in my County”. Oakland County Michigan, that is.
Let me tell you this before I go any further. If you do not know these intimate things in which you are about to read about my life and my story…you likely do not know me nearly as well as you thought that you did. This is the deepest, heaviest, and most difficult struggle that I have endured in my life. It did not stop my life from continuing, it just forever changed and molded me into who I am today.
You see, I was away from the comforts of my home and my typical surroundings. We had been in Georgia for a week visiting my parents around and during Christmas and left the morning of December 26th, for Michigan to visit my ex-husband’s family for a brief weekend before heading back home to upstate NY. We arrived in Michigan late on the 26th and I had to go to the ER because of a very bad bladder infection. I think few potty breaks, long hours on the road, and poor choices in beverages were my downfall here. We arrived back at my ex-mother-in-law’s home around 4am. I went to bed and my ex-husband put Kaley to bed. This was completely out of character and routine for our family. Since Kaley’s discharge from the NICU, my ex-husband was stationed in Afghanistan for the first six months of her life. I have only and always been her bath time and bedtime buddy. Never once, had he put this sleeping beauty to rest. But this night, I let him. I was not aware until the following morning that he had put two king-sized pillows in that pack-and-play.  At 9am on December 27th, 2003, I sat up because I didn’t hear her. He went to check on her and came immediately back in our doorway with her lifeless little body across his arms. I didn’t have my contacts or glasses but I could see from where he was, or either I just knew…and I lost it. I screamed at him to call 911 and at the same time I took her from him. I laid her on the kitchen table and began to check her airway and perform CPR while he spoke with dispatch. I guess I never noticed that my ex-mother-in-law was not home and had left a message on a note, explaining that she was gone to get a few groceries for the lunch that was planned with other family members along with a gift exchange. My mind was blank, yet racing…I was sick!
It all seemed like forever before help arrived, but I suppose in actuality it wasn’t as long as it felt. As soon as the first officer was there and had taken my Kaley, paramedics arrived and were able to help him further. I was lost, alone, and again, SICK! I mean I was actually sick. I ran outside barefoot in the snow and was physically sick to my stomach. They tried everything…osteo IVs…they rushed her to the same hospital I went to the previous night. But, they didn’t tell me they were leaving. I was inside being asked questions, while at the same time, Kaley was being transported without my knowledge to the hospital. When I realized that the ambulance was gone, I tried to find my keys. I was still barefoot and in pajamas. We were escorted to the hospital at that point. Again, the doctors and nurses there tried everything also. It simply was just too late. It was, right? But no one asked me about organ donation…they are supposed to do that right? That is what they do on TV. This was NOTHING like TV!! This was a complete nightmare…my worst nightmare. I’m so lost, this cannot be real!! There was nothing anyone could have done. The doctor came in our tiny, tiny room and barely made eye contact. He said that he did everything possible but there was nothing more that he could do and he was very sorry for my loss. A chaplain asked me if there was anyone that I needed to call. My parents!! Oh my heavens, how am I going to tell my Mama and Daddy, my precious parents that I had just left the previous day that their only granddaughter…their first grandchild…I had to make the dreaded phone call to my parents but couldn’t find the words to tell them she was gone. How do you say that? Then it hit me that I would have to breathe “those words”…my child was gone. I literally just could not speak the words, they just would not come from my mouth. My ex-husband had to tell them and I could hear my poor Mama scream over the phone. It was like a knife to another piece of my heart, ripping.
At that point, I had no idea what was awaiting me. I was in shock and dazed. We went back to his mother’s house (via the back seat of the police officer’s patrol car…he “didn’t want us to drive to the hospital”) and it was swarming with people. My ex-mother in law’s home! There was a crowd there, the ex husband’s two brothers, their wives, and each of their multiple children, along with His grandmother and grandfather, mother and father. Also, there were a handful of city police and about three detectives. I was in shock and had no idea what to do or say with the sight of the chaos in the house. But apparently when there’s a death in the home that is not expected due to illness, age, etc…it has to be investigated. So I was separated from my ex husband and we had to write individual written reports of our accounts. They had already gone through my vehicle and every document and belonging in it. They were upstairs emptying my suitcases one by one and bagging things that they wanted to take. They went through every personal article of clothing, all of my makeup, anything that you can think of…they basically destroyed it. They did not merely “peek” through my belongings, they ransacked everything as if they were burglars. They took ALL of my Kaley’s belongings and refused to give anything back. I was very grateful for the Botsford General Hospital for giving me Kaley’s earrings in a small, sealed urine cup…something so personal, so HER. Leaving her at that hospital morgue was so extremely difficult for me. No one had understood what I felt like at that moment. I was a NICU Mama!! I had to leave my precious newborn daughter everyday of her life for five weeks. She was healthy, she overcame that…now she’s gone?! I have to leave her again? For eternity?? From there, all I wanted was MY family! Wouldn’t happen though. After they finally left the house, my ex-husband’s family were eager to proceed with their Christmas lunch. They did. Following their lovely meal, they gathered in the formal sitting room and continued in true holiday spirit and fashion by exchanging and opening all of the wonderful gifts they had for one another. All I needed was to be on a plane to Georgia, fast. I needed my family. I needed to see my daughter….at least one more time. We were not allowed to leave the state of Michigan until the autopsy and toxicology report was completed and released by the medical examiner. The detectives even took my leisure mystery novel that I brought along to find time to read…reading it cover to cover to ensure it had nothing about child murder in it. There was absolutely no rhyme, reason, or protocol followed for how to best handle the grieving parents at a home setting. But that’s my story, or at least that’s my nightmare….how it began. I buried her as soon as we were able to leave and have her flown to Georgia, New Year’s eve 12/31/2003. My hometown funeral home, my family church, family and very good, close-to-my-heart people of such a small town gathered around and comforted our entire family and helped in many ways that I cannot find ways to possibly thank each individual person. I have found over the years that it is difficult for most to hear me speak Kaley’s name. I do not know the exact reason for this. I want to still be proud of my child that is no longer here, just as much as the one that is here…my son, Cobey. Distance and time is irrelevant to a mother’s heart. Pride and love does not ever change when a mother thinks of her child or children. It never makes me sad or upsets me to hear my daughter’s name spoken, I’m grateful to know that others think of her life. Not a day goes by that I do not think of Kaley. I miss her greatly. I miss all of the wonderful things that she would be doing, the obstacles she would overcome, the joys she would experience. I was robbed of my future for my daughter, our experiences together and all of our “firsts”. But, I do not cry and feel sorry for myself each day that I awake, I am just grateful that God chose me to be her mother…for the experience was worth it all.