Stella's Story: Part 1

Here is the beginning of Stella's Story: Stella's Story: Part 1
The rest is coming soon!

My New Normal

Losing my daughter has forever changed me; I will never be the same, and I don't think my life will ever be what other people classify as normal. I've read several meaningful and encouraging stories by godly women who have lost children, and they all describe life after tragedy as their "new normal."

The past few days have been particularly difficult for me as I adjust to my new normal. It's been harder than usual to find joy in the mundane routines like going to work and even in the more exciting events like going on a date to see Harry Potter (it was a MUST GO, by the way). Not that I don't enjoy doing these things; I do. It's just everyday normalities remind me that she's not here. I don't have a choice but to tackle life with an intensity of mixed emotions that just plain wears me out.

My new normal is having an emotional battle every time we go out for dinner. Going out to dinner is one of my favorite pleasures, but it also causes me to miss Stella a lot. When I'm in a restaurant, I think about how the Eber family wouldn't be going out to eat if we had a newborn at home. I'm saddened by how our "party of four" should be a "party of five." Ely reminded me again of this thought tonight, while we were eating dinner at The Olive Garden (thank you, Aunt Rosie!) We were seated at a round five-top table. The empty chair next to Ely prompted him to announce, "Somebody's missing. A girl's missing. Know who's missing? Baby Stella's missing!" This is one of the only times that I've seen Mike visibly upset in public. Little did he know, but Ely was echoing how I feel all the time.

My new normal is always having the feeling that somebody's missing. It's a little like the feeling when you lose your phone or your keys, or maybe even your dog, but multiplied by a million. And, on top of that, you'll never find what you lost, not in this life anyway.

My new normal is crying all the way to work every day. I feel ashamed that I ever complained about having to go back to work. While I do love what I do, I love my daughter even more, and I would have gladly given up my job to take care of her. During my one-hour commute, inevitably, 104.7 The FISH will play at least several of the songs that deeply touch me, and I'll have tears streaming down my face. I've never really been one to cry much, but let me tell you, the tears flow easily now, even when they're not visible. Now I long to do something more meaningful than web design, something that touches the hearts of those who are hurting. Though, as we sang in church two weeks ago, "Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee."

My new normal is having life and death conversations with my kids on a daily basis and hearing about them having life and death conversations with their friends. While my dear [pregnant] friend Jennifer was watching the boys last night, her daughter pointed to her mommy's belly and told Ely, "Mommy has a baby in there." Jennifer told me Ely lowered his head and sadly replied, "My baby died." Jennifer and her parents cheered Ely up by reminded him that Stella is in heaven. My sweet, sweet boy. At times, my heart breaks more for Ely and Milo than for myself, knowing how desperately my boys wanted to be big brothers. Ely, in particular, is very good with babies. Baby girls have a special placein his heart, and he'll gladly abandon favorite friends and toys to sit on the floor with their baby siblings to roll a ball back and forth or make silly faces.

My new normal is having a room in my house that I can't yet bear to use. Last week, after telling Ely for the umpteenth time that Stella isn't coming back, he reminded me, "but we still have her room." I replied that yes, we did and asked him, "Would it be okay with you if we redid her room?" Ely shyly and sensitively responded, "when you can handle it, Mom." Sometimes I really think God speaks through my boys.

My new normal is navigating the waters of friendship with those who have been blessed with healthy babies. I praise God that not for a second have I been angry, bitter, or resentful toward any of my friends who have recently had or is(Lord-willing) soon to have a healthy baby. I do find myself frustrated, though, when friends complain about what I consider insignificant problems like what room to put the baby in or not having enough help after the baby comes. Yes, these are valid concerns. But, what are these concerns in comparison to the blessing of having a perfectly healthy, beautiful baby?

My new normal is trying to figure out how to answer the question, "How many kids do you have?" Do I say two and not have to go into all the details about how Stella came into this world and left in six short days, or do I say three and explain everything? Two weeks ago, at the Children's Imagine It museum, I was faced with this question, and I just decided to say, "two boys" to avoid the follow up questions. Now I regret what I said.

My new normal is having the incredible burden that God allowed this to happen for a reason, and that I must not waste one single moment that I could be sharing the hope and faith that God has given to me. I keep going back to the line in Matt Maher's song that says, "This is the first day of the rest of your life." Every new day is the first day of the rest of our lives. I don't see the point in living without salvation, and I so desperately want others not to see the point either. I am so human, though, and I fail so often. But I want this part of my "new normal" to stay a part of me.

My new normal is anything but "normal." But it's my life now, and I can't turn back time. Please pray for me as I continue to climb uphill on this new terrain called "my new normal." Although I am spiritually the best I have been in a long time, I get so tired emotionally. My body feels the weight of my emotions, and I'm still having trouble healing physically.

Aaron Shust - You Watch Over Me
"You watch over me in the darkest valleys
You watch over me when the night seems long
You help me to see the way before me
You watch over me; You watch over me"

Psalm 34:18
"The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."

Everything Looks Different

Warning: Slight "Tangled" Spoiler.

Okay, I admit it. I'm a complete sap. Movies really affect me; they always have, and animated Disney movies are no exception.

I took Ely to see the new Disney movie "Tangled" today, and even though it had a happy ending (what fairytale doesn't), it had some really sad and moving parts. Having gone several days without experiencing the consistent deep, stabbing pain of loss, I was hardly anticipating that a trip to the movies would break my streak. But it did.

In the movie, every year the people of the town release flying lanterns to celebrate the lost princess's (Rapunzel's) birthday. On Rapunzel's 18th birthday, there is a scene where the king is crying because he desperately misses his daughter. Cue the tears. Yes, I know I'm identifying with an animated fictional character, but I couldn't help myself.

Then, in the same few minutes, Rapunzel and Eugene sing a song that kept the tears flowing. The main line in the song is "All At Once, Everything Looks Different Now That I See You." I thought of Stella. I thought about how I had a hard time becoming attached to her while I carried her and how I worried that I wouldn't bond with her after she was born. Having decided against prenatal genetic testing, I had no idea what she would look like and the types of deformities she might have. What if she looked strange? What if I was scared by the way she looked? What if I didn't think she was beautiful?

Oh, but if only I had known how I would feel about her. I saw her for only thirty seconds after she was born, but "All at Once, everything looked different now that I saw you." I had an immediate, intense love for Stella that I did not experience with my boys. And she didn't look "normal," but gosh, she was beautiful. And seeing her changed everything.

My whole world looked different the day Stella came into my life, and my whole world still looks different. I cherish moments with my boys, with my husband, and even with complete strangers in ways I didn't before. My perspective has shifted to much more of an eternal perspective than an earthly perspective. I feel so deeply, and my heart has been tenderized, not just to my own pain, but to the pain of others. I'm so much healthier spiritually than I've been in a long time. Nothing matters more than glorifying God with everything I do.

I'm trying to be a better mother, to remember and hold dear the sweet and bittersweet things my boys say and do. I know that God is teaching me through my boys. He is using my boys to both help me hold on to and to let go of my precious Stella. I think their worlds look different, too, now that their baby sister is gone.

Today, I was priveleged to see more of a glimpse of what Milo is feeling (and a little later on, Mike, too.)

Every year, I buy an ornament for each boy that's representative of something from that year. We have a Christmas ornament that's a milk bottle for Ely when he was one. Thy boy loved his milk at that age and did up until about six months ago. It was the end of the world if we ran out of milk. While the boys were decorating the Christmas tree, Milo became enthralled with the milk bottle ornament. He gingerly lifted it from the Christmas tree and brought it over to me.

"I need some of this, mommy," he told me.

"You need some milk, Milo?" I repeated after him.

"Yes," Milo explained, "because I want a baby."

Mike and I looked at each other with tears in our eyes and extended bottom lips.

I noticed that Mike's sad expression hadn't left his face an hour after he and the boys had finished decorating the tree. I encouraged him to talk to me. It's a rare occasion that my introspective husband takes me up on this offer, but this time, he did.

"I was looking at the ornaments, at all the ones with the boys' names on them, and it made me sad. The hardest is the letter ornaments." I couldn't remember what letter ornaments Mike was talking about, so I asked him. He walked over to the tree and showed me his M. "These ornaments. The cookie cutter ones. We all have one. An M, J, M, and an E." And I filled in the blank. No S. "They're on the other side of the tree so I don't have to see them from the couch," Mike finished. More eye welling and protruding lower lips.

As Mike was tucking the boys in tonight, and they were praying together, I heard Milo mention baby Stella. When Mike returned from the boys' room, I asked him what Milo had said. Mike interpreted Milo's prayer to his best understanding. Milo had thanked God that Stella was with him. Oh, Milo. My little three-year-old boy was again echoing his mommy's heart. Glad that our Stella is with God, but so hoping for a [healthy] baby.

"All At Once, Everything Looks Different Now That I See You." Everything looks different for all of us now that we've seen and met our baby Stella. Everything looks different now that we've seen and met God. And He's met us.

Letting Go

"I've walked the valley of death's shadow
So deep and dark I could hardly breathe
I've had to let go of more than I could bear
And questioned everything that I believe
But still even here in this great darkness
A comfort and hope come breaking through
As I can say in life or death, God we belong to you."

Steven Curtis Chapman and Jonas Myrin

Psalm 131:1-2 "My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty. I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul..."

Today, on my way home from the doctor, I began contemplating one of my biggest fears: the fear of the unknown. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a bit of a control freak. I like to know what is going on and when. Like my dad, I love to research, plan, organize, and execute, then start the process all over again. I'm a designer, an artist, and for me, beauty is in the details. I love details. It drives me crazy when details are elusive. The unknown-the lack of details-scares the crap out of me, in all honesty, although at least now I can say it scares me a little bit less.

Although I've always struggled with the fear of the unknown, this year has been the year when my fear would rear its ugly head in a way it never has before.

After two years of trying for a third child and the unknown of whether it would ever happen, I accepted the fact that our family was complete, only to be overjoyed in February when I discovered I was pregnant. Pregnancy is naturally filled with unknowns and worries. When will this nausea and fatigue fade? Will something go wrong before the thirteen-week sigh of relief? Will I have a boy or girl? How will we make it financially after the baby arrives? and the most important one..."Is my baby healthy?" No one is ever prepared for a negative answer to this one; I know I wasn't. The unknowns of pregnancy proved far worse for me than I had imagined they would be.

At nineteen weeks pregnant, during the routine anatomical ultrasound, the doctors began to suspect that something wasn't quite right. We were told that our daughter was measuring small, that they couldn't get all the views they needed, and to come back in a few weeks so they could look again. What was normally a day to celebrate the news of the baby's gender and health began, for us, a plunge into twenty weeks of very frightening unknowns. Each week, as I visited multiple doctors to learn more about my baby girl's condition, additional problems were discovered. Every problem the doctors uncovered led to more unknowns until we were left with the ultimate unknown: will our baby survive?

And if she doesn't, how will we?

Now I'm standing on the other side of the unknown. Now I know how it feels to be "held when the sacred is torn from your life and you survive" (Natalie Grant's Held). Now I know that God will give the grace and the strength and the peace that is completely impossible to believe in or understand when you're not yet faced with a horrific situation.

Being on the other side of this year's unknowns has changed me. I fear the unknown a little less now. God tells us we will have times in the valleys and times on the mountains. Sometimes the valleys are huge chasms with no visible way out. Losing Stella was (and still is at times) a huge chasm for me, but God has been giving me mountaintop experiences with him, showing me how to let go.

I remember how "Let Go and Let God" was a catch phrase in college, and it was so cliche to me until just recently when I realized that the key is to add a "fill in the blank" to this expression. Let go of ________________ and Let God. The blank changes depending on where I am in my own spiritual wallk. For me, this year, not only is it "Stella Rose," it's also " my fear of the unknown."

Believe me, there is still plenty of the unknown out there. I don't know if God will bless us with another healthy baby or if he will add to our family in some other way. I don't how Stella's life will change others. I don't know what she'll look like when I see her in heaven. I don't know some days how I will make it through the day. I don't know. But, I do know that God is greater than the unknown. And that I need to worry less and trust a lot more. Life isn't as scary as it used to be. "As I can say in life or death, God we belong to you."

So, how's the baby?

It's weird how sometimes I can be perfectly calm explaining Stella's death to aquaintenances and even strangers, and other times, something really small sets me off.

Today I had to go to the OBGYN because my incision was separating a lilttle bit in one area, and it was oozing slightly, so I wanted to make sure it wasn't infected. I called and left a message for the nurse to tell her what was going on and ask her if I really did need to make an appointment. She returned my call within an hour, and as I suspected, she wanted me to see a doctor. Two minutes after I got off the phone with the nurse, I aw the OBGYN's number pop up again on the phone. Confused, I answered, and the same nurse says to me, "I forgot to ask you if you're bottle feeding or breastfeeding or if you're supplementing." I took a deep breath, and with my voice cracking, I told her, "Our baby passed away." She was immediately apologetic and told me over and over how sorry she was. Her apologies then turned to concern, and she began firing questions at me. "Are you okay? Have you gotten help? Are you talking to a counselor?" I could barely speak at this point, and as tears were streaming down my face, I forced out, "Yes, I'm okay" and "Yes, we have a great support system at our church." The questions continued on her end, and I'm sure my sobbing answers were really convincing.

I managed to pull it together for the most part as I drove Ely and I to the OBGYN (Ely was at home with me because his tummy hurt), past Kennestone and the bittersweet memories of Stella's birth, wondering if I would ever deliver another healthy baby again.

Not surprisingly, there was a newborn baby and many pregnant mothers in the waiting room. I was okay, then, though. Ely was there, distracting me aloud with his train of disconnected and amusing thoughts. Except for two trips to the water dispenser, Ely was surprisingly calm, rocking next to me, and patting my hand every once in awhile. I think he could sense that it was hard for me to be there.

I met a doctor today who was new to me, Dr. Alarcon, and I can see why some of my friends really like him. Apparently, though, no one informed him of Stella's passing. He was the third person to ask me, "So, how's the baby?" After I explained (again), he apologized for the entire staff, saying there was no excuse for them not to have put it in my chart so that I wasn't asked about it multiple times. I appreciated his apologies, but I still wondered how it is that an OB office didn't communicate this type of information among their staff. I told the doctor who delivered Stella what happened, but maybe she didn't pass it along? The same thing happened during my pregnancy. I'd have nurses tend to me who had not read my chart, and would ask with great enthusiasm, "So, how's the baby?" My own experience makes me think twice about nonchalantly asking routine questions and expecting the canned "good" or "fine." You just never know what people are going through or have been through.

Needless to say, I was relieved to be done with my appointment and on my way home. It was really nice to meet Dr. Alarcon, though, and the conversations I had with Ely on the way to the OB were precious and priceless. I'll save those for another post, though. :)

Life Support

It's been one month from the day we said goodbye to our sweet Stella Rose.

As I continue to heal physically, I mourn the loss of having Stella with me, not only after birth, but before birth as well. Even though I was in serious pain at the end of my pregnancy, I miss feeling Stella push against my belly. She didn't often kick me hard or flip around like my boys did, but she was safe and sound inside of me. At almost every ultrasound, Pam or LeShaun would comment on how happy Stella was in there, and how she was not in distress.

Stella acted like a normal baby while I carried her, sucking on her hand, blinking, opening and closing her mouth, wiggling around. Even though her heart wasn't put together right, it didn't matter as long as she was connected to me. Her heart beat evenly and strong, and although she wasn't growing "on track," she was still growing. I was her life support. My body was keeping hers alive.

In the same way, God is our life support. Despite our imperfections, as long as we are connected to Him, we are alive. We can grow at our own rate, and our hearts beat strongly. He carries us through life's hardships, and He protects us from harm.

As soon as Stella was born-when she was disconnected from me, her quality of life began to deterioriate quickly. She lost the ability to breathe on her own after the heart meds were started. Her little kidneys could not flush the toxins from her body. Her BNP levels (that measure the amount of stress on the muscles in the body) were so high that they couldn't be measured. She couldn't open and close her mouth, suck on her hands, blink, or wiggle around much. Our little Stella was in distress. She was one sick little baby.

When we're disconnected from God, we're no longer experiencing life as God intended. Our quality of [spiritual] life deteriorates quickly. We can't "breathe" on our own or flush out the toxins without Him, without an intimate and personal connection to Him through the blood of his son, Jesus Christ.

My prayer now is that from now on, I will always be intimately connected to my Savior, that He will be my Life Support. It would be dishonoring to Stella's memory if I forget the many truths her life and death continue to reveal to me.

I continue to pray that everyone who knows of Stella will also know the One who is her (and my) Eternal Life Support.

Feeling Alive

I am still marveling at how good it felt to be back in church yesterday and how different I felt. It was like I had never worshiped before, or at least not for a really long time. Every word of every song I sang rang with true conviction, and every song we sang felt like it was written just for me.

"Everyone needs compassion, Love that's never failing; Let mercy fall on me."

I now know what God's compassion feels like. It's amazing and awesome, but really, there are no words to describe it. His compassion does not erase pain, but somehow, His compassion allows me to embrace the pain and yet rise above it in order to hold fast to His great promises at the same time. I'm not sure that makes sense, but that's the only way I can think of how to describe it.

And His Love is never failing. Like Angie Smith said when she first received the news that her baby would not survive outside of the womb, "My Jesus is the same." Reading her faith-filled response took my breath away. Before I knew God, and even as a growing Christian, I could not help but to see God having the same sort of conditional love as an earthly father might have: rewarding us for good behavior and punishing us for bad. Losing Stella and talking with other friends who have experienced the loss of a child (thank you Bethan!) has helped me continue to understand that God does not punish us. He does allow circumstances to challenge us and help us grow, and He gives us the free will to choose how we will react to every degree of trial, whether it be an annoyance or a tragedy. Since God is our perfect Father, He loves us before and He loves us after every trial we face. I am writing this down, because I know there will be times I will be tempted to believe the opposite.

His mercy has fallen on me. I have already seen the many ways His mercy has fallen on me and on my family, and I continue to see mercy fall every day. While I am deeply saddened by the loss of our dear Stella, I am not without hope, and more often then not, I am not afraid of waking up in the morning and facing a new day. "This is the first day of the rest of your life. This is the first day of the rest of your life. And even in the dark, we can still see the light. It's gonna be all right." (Matt Maher, Hold Us Together)

After facing death, there are moments like these when I feel so alive, a new type of alive that I've never felt before. I hope this feeling never fades.


About This Blog

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This is the story of our daughter, Stella Rose, who went to be with Jesus after five days here on this earth. Stella was born with multiple birth defects due to a severe case of Wolf Hirschhorn Syndrome. Although Stella is no longer with us in person, she has changed us forever. Stella's legacy is my journey on a new road without my daughter, and how God is working in our hearts.

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