imageAshley

Mother to Keira Jocelyn

Born August 22, 2012
Departed December 5, 2012

Akron, Ohio

9 January 2013
A year ago today, there was a girl sitting in the Cleveland MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station). She was cold. Young. Over caffeinated. She was curled into herself as if protecting something that lived deep inside her. She was scared. She was humiliated. She waited four cold, embarrassing hours, looking at the people she should have followed as they did what she always dreamed she would– protect and defend their country. That girl was me.

My recruiter drove me to the restaurant where my casual boyfriend (at the time) worked. I had called him on my way home and delivered the words that stuck in my throat. “Patrick, I’m pregnant. I’m not leaving. I’m coming back.” His reply was shattering in its complacency and calmness, “Well, I’ll be able to make you that curry….” He was referring to a dish that he’d promised to make me before I left to pursue my dream. I was supposed to be a Seabee in the Navy. To build forts and barracks and operating stations for the military. He had run out of time, and so had I.

Patrick and I had met at a bar 4 months before I was supposed to leave for the military. We had a tumultuous relationship from the start, everything from drama with ex-girlfriends to several “break-ups” that never actually happened. I was nineteen. He was twenty-eight. He had been in the military for almost seven years. We had nothing in common, save for the fact that we were both chefs for a living, and we both blocked out wretched memories at the same dive bar in the dive town of Akron, Ohio. I fell in love with him the moment I met him. I was trashed. Patrick’s logical personality prevailed and he was good to me without going overboard. After all, he was newly single and I was supposed to be gone with the Navy for 5 years, at least. And then, on the cusp of greatness, I received news that, to me, was devastating. I was pregnant. Against all odds. Not only was I on the DEPO shot, I had been binge drinking continuously and chain smoking while working out neurotically for months. I was terrified. Patrick took the news far better than I expected when I called him from MEPS. He had been married before, while still in the military, and scarred by the experience. He never wanted children, nor did I. After all, I had plans. I was young, and healthy, and strong. I had better things to do.

Patrick brought a bottle of rum with him when he came home that night. I stared at him enviously. Three drinks in, we began to talk. Patrick wanted me to abort. I did too, but I had qualms about it. I was adopted, as a toddler, by an incredible family who treated me like I was pure gold. I wanted to put the baby up for adoption. Patrick quashed the idea as soon as I brought it up. I quote, “My flesh and blood will not be raised by some deadbeat junkie who just wants them for the tax break.”

So I had a choice. Take the “easy way out,” as I called it at that time, given my options, or raise my child alone. And then, in a moment that stopped my heart and changed my life completely, Patrick looked at me and said, “We’re gonna keep it, aren’t we?”

His voice carried a tone of trepidation I had never heard from him before. He was scared. Patrick is the strongest person I know, to this day. And he was scared. I was terrified as words I could not stop fell from my lips. “I think so,” I replied.

I think so.

Eight days later, I found myself sitting in a doctor’s office, as my incredibly sensitive and sweet technician told me she would be performing an ultrasound. My heart broke. My life changed. Inside my flat stomach were a set of perfect, tiny, flailing limbs attached to a tiny, nut-shaped body. A giant noggin. She said a whole load of things I don’t remember, but I remember these words, “Eight weeks along, and perfect” attached to a feeling of something along the lines of, “Oh God, it’s real. It’s alive. It’s moving.” I was in love. I came back home from my job at a sushi restaurant to Patrick, sitting on the couch with the same numb expression creasing his face I had seen since I met him. I said, “Baby, look. Look. Look.”

He looked, and he looked, and he looked at the ultrasound pictures. Understandably, I didn’t see the instant joy on his face that I had experienced during my doctor’s visit. I did, however, see the same fear I had felt. The same echoing thought of, shit, nothing will ever be the same, ever again.

Patrick carried me through those first few weeks. He kept me sane. He kept me peaceful. We shared a car at the time, and we drove each other to work and picked each other up. We didn’t talk much about it for those first few weeks. And then, things became real. My mom and dad, who I had previously distanced myself from, were a constant source of support for me. They called and texted every day. My big brother, Cory, newly married, who has always been my best friend and always will be, was the same rock that he’s always been for me.

Patrick worked his ass off. I did as well. I had to learn, that, even at five feet and nine inches and strong for a female, I had to take it easy. There was a life inside of me that I had to treasure. Patrick kept me sane. He kept me safe. He made sure I never picked up anything that weighed more then ten pounds. He made me laugh. I will never cease to remember how strong he was for me, even in the midst of his terrifying indecision. Life went on, in an entirely different way. We came home early each night, sat and watched TV. We didn’t go out every night. Patrick pretty much stopped drinking in an effort to help and me that means more to me than he will ever know. He was certain that I was carrying his son. He became more and more accustomed to the concept, and a light began to twinkle in his gorgeous blue eyes. And then the day came. I was twenty weeks pregnant. Patrick came with me for the ultrasound. Both of us were thrilled to see our son. But then, as we watched our healthy baby kick violently about on the ultrasound, the technician told us that I was carrying a girl.  A girl.

A girl.

No, a daughter.

Our daughter.

We were shocked. 

We were disappointed for a fraction of a second until we realized what she had told us.

A daughter.

A perfect, precious baby girl. Our baby was a girl. A baby conceived by two people, utterly lost at that point in their lives. Two people struggling, yearning for comfort and the physical warmth of being with another person. A baby who was thoughtlessly and against all odds, created. We had made her, and she had changed us. And she was a she.

We fell in love with her instantly. Through constant thought and the help of an iPhone app, we decided to call her Keira. Keira Jocelyn.

We were informed that she was missing an artery in her umblical cord, and that complications might ensue. Through a fetal echocardiogram and countless other tesst, we were told that nothing was wrong. She was just so very perfect. 

I popped, and started to look very pregnant. I considered myself huge, although everyone always commented on how tiny I stayed.

We got engaged.

I popped again.

Patrick took a job as the executive chef of a restaurant that was just starting up. I left my job to work as his sous-chef. I was 8 months pregnant, working full time in a badly ventilated, ninety-nine degree (on a good day) kitchen, in July. I was miserable. I stopped working in the middle of August due to a labor scare. Late at night on August 21st, 2012, my water broke. I called Patrick at the VFW, because his phone was dead. He rushed home, and rushed us to the hospital. I received an epidural, and the doctors all told me I would need a c-section, given that Keira’s heart rate was dropping with every contraction due to her two-vessel umbilical cord. However, when they checked me again, I was 10 centimeters, and Keira was ready to meet us.

At 12:15 p.m. on August 22nd, 2012, after an exceptionally easy 12 hour labor and literally three quick pushes, Keira Jocelyn was born at a squalling five pounds, eleven ounces. She was perfect. Scored perfect on all her tests. And goddammit, was she beautiful.

Her father was ecstatic. So was I. We were surrounded by our families and good friends. Keira. 

Keira.

Keira.

The first grandchild on either side of our families.

She was the most incredibly intelligent, content baby. She had golden peach fuzz for hair, and my giant eyes, although they were the same strikingly beautiful blue as her father’s. 

We had never thought we would be this happy. She molded us both into far better people than we could have ever hoped to be. We held her, loved her, shared her, for three and a half perfect months.

And then the unthinkable, unlikely, unfathomable happened.

Patrick and I put her to bed at 10 p.m. on December 4th, 2012. We had been at a concert over the weekend, and Patrick’s parents treasured the opportunity to keep her. We had never spent that much time away from her. Patrick came home from work, and looked at her sleeping contentedly in her car seat. He debated whether to wake her up or let her sleep, and in the end, he decided to hold her. Little did he know, it would be the last he would look into her eyes, a beautiful reflection of his own. She fell asleep on his chest, content as always, and they looked so peaceful sleeping together that I took three pictures of them, and he eventually decided we should all go up to bed. She woke me up around 5 a.m. on December fifth as always, cooing and flailing her long, incredibly strong arms and legs. Patrick went downstairs to sleep, as he had to work early, and I fed her about 3 ounces, as per usual for her morning snack. I woke up around 8 a.m.. Keira was peaceful and perfect next to me, as always after her morning nap. I turned, and kissed her cheek, as always.

Cold.

So cold.

That’s the first thing I remember.

She was on her back.

She looked completely normal. 

But she was cold.

I tickled her cheek. I kissed her. I blew a raspberry on her belly. Nothing. I knew. 

I knew. 

I knew.

I immediately began infant CPR, which I was trained in. Nothing. She was so stiff, so cold, so fucking cold. I screamed Patrick’s name as loud as I could. Once, twice, three times, and he was thundering up the stairs. He grabbed Keira and began CPR on her as well. He yelled at me to call 911. I couldn’t find my phone. He called them. He was calm in a way only someone who has been trained to save people’s lives under the most horrifying duress can. I ran around the house, screaming.

The police showed up first. I have no idea how long it took for them to get there. The entire process is such a blur. I remember that the female police officer who responded was cold. Cruel. Accusing. I remember that I was still screaming. She was screaming back at me, “Where’s the baby? Where’s the baby, dammit??” I couldn’t answer her. Patrick, as always, took care of everything. I have a hazy memory of her being put on a stretcher outside our apartment. She looked so small.

We both knew where she was. She was gone. Gone.

I remember telling Patrick on the ride to the hospital that I was going to die. It’s all I could think of to say. We knew, we knew, we knew. I kept trying to vomit. I was squeezing Patrick’s hand as hard as I could, and yet I still felt like there was nothing I could hold on to. We pulled up, parked, walked in a haze I cannot remember. We were directed into a tiny room, a room with pictures, a room for people who would be leaving the hospital without hope. It reeked of pain and despair. A doctor came in, crying. She told us, “Keira has passed away. I’m so sorry. I’m… I’m so sorry. God. She is so beautiful.”

Empty.

We numbly followed her or maybe someone else into a room with an adult-sized hospital bed. She was wrapped in a patchwork quilt, lying in the middle of the bed, looking as inconceivably small as the day she was born. We stumbled in. We sat. I picked her up, and she was so unbelievably cold, so incredibly heavy. I kissed her head and I drenched her perfect face in my tears. Patrick held her as well.

Our families came in, sobbing. 

Grieving.

She was passed around, and she was loved. She was kissed and snuggled and loved, as she was her entire short, perfect life. 

We had so many nicknames for her.

Tiniest. Tiny. Tinybaby. Muffin. Muffiniest Monster. Biscuit. Babiest Biscuit Muffin Monster. The Bakery. Babiest Bakery. The Pastriest Muffinest Fartiest Biscuitest Muffin Pants of all.

And only very rarely did we call her Keira. 

We left the hospital at some point. I kicked my family out. I may have sworn at them, I may have been cruel, I don’t remember. I know there was a Chaplain and a grief counselor there, but I didn’t talk to them. The police questioned both of us separately. I don’t remember what they said, or what I said, but I remember the medical examiner eventually coming in and telling us it was, as far as he could tell, SIDS.

I remember my brother, whose wife was five months pregnant with their first child, a girl, coming in and wrapping me in his long arms, sobbing quietly into my neck. My dad’s company bought him a ride to the hospital from his work, almost an hour away, in a town car. I saw him cry for the second time in my life. Patrick was rocking back and forth, crying. I never thought I would see him cry. Ever. He was, and still is, the strongest person I have ever known. My brother and his wife, her mom, and her brother, who is an incredibly close friend of mine, were there. My parents were there. Patrick’s parents were there. Everyone was sobbing. And then, as I held Keira in my arms and looked at her, I realized that she was gone, and it was time for us to go.

It had been cloudy as we rushed to the hospital that morning, dreary, and cold. And yet, as we trudged hand in hand to our car to return home, the sun had broken out from behind the clouds, a rush of warmth and beauty that I could not, would not appreciate. Nothing was beautiful to me anymore. Everything was utterly, completely f***ed. Patrick asked me if I was hungry. I shook my head, and he pulled into the liquor store.

Things get even hazier from there. 

We dove into a bottle of bourbon with a frenzy, hoping to take the edge off this pain, to even forget for just a second what had happened. My dear friend, referred to as “Auntie Lexie,” due to her close relationship with Keira, came over. We all sat on the floor in the living room. Patrick was holding Keira’s pacifier in one large hand, a drink in the other. We alternated between sobbing, laughing about how loud baby girl used to fart, and just sitting, silent, drinking. Waiting. Waiting for it to become real, waiting to stop thinking that someone would soon come to the door with her in her carseat, waiting to accept that the tiny angel who saved our lives was gone, forever.

The next couple of weeks passed in a slow, dreary fog. Our families and friends were incredibly supportive, bringing food and comfort without us even asking. We slept on the floor together, neither of us could face getting into the bed where Keira had taken her last nap. We cried, and dried our tears, and cried again. Patrick went back to work a few days after Keira passed, simply to get his mind off of it, even for a moment. I was shaking too hard to do my job. The memorial service was beautiful, I think. I truly don’t remember much, but I do remember the outpouring of love and support we received from even total strangers. Everyone looked shocked. Everyone look devastated. Everyone realized that this isn’t the way things are supposed to happen. Keira should have had to bury us someday. This… this just wasn’t the right way… it just wasn’t fair.

Over a month has gone by since Keira left us [at time of writing]. I have the distinct pleasure of seeing her in Patrick’s eyes every day, but we miss her. 

God, do we miss her.

My brother, a professional photographer, framed many of the pictures he took of her, and we have set them up all over our house. We have casts of her footprints, and a tiny mold of her hand. We have set off a flaming lantern for her, cried for her, screamed for her, whispered her name in the night, and although we are broken, we lean on each other for strength. 

Every day is different. Some are okay, some are nearly unbearable. We have only just begun our journey without her, but we will make it. But all along, we will miss her.

We will remember her.

We will always, and forever, love her.

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