It’s Real.

As we sat across from Dr. Lantos on Thursday evening, I remember wishing I had a script or at the very least, rehearsed what we might say to him. I wanted to impress upon him the pride we have for our daughter while sneaking in appropriate medical prose. He has spent his life’s work on cases and patients similar to Audrey. Was her story unique? Would it be special to him?

Perhaps the most endearing quality about this man – physician, author, speaker, professor – was the way he genuinely cared for our daughter even, and especially, in her absence.

We would ask him a question about his life, but more often than not, he would pull a swift 180 and somehow keep asking about our life and story. I’m talking a feet-on-the-ground kind of humility, folks. An evening that began with a professional handshake ended hours later with the warmest of hugs.

Is it possible that perhaps his ability to provide Palliative Care never ends, even when the patient’s life does? Part of the definition of Palliative Care is to “improve the quality of life for both the patient and the family”. What does it mean for a person to add quality to life? Excellence. Value. Worth. That’s exactly what he brought to our dinner table and thus, to our life.

And that was just over dinner, dear friends…

Let me start out by informing you that Palliative Care Day at OU Children’s Hospital was an all-day event that completely sold out. Registration closed a couple of weeks ago, in fact, they opened an overflow room to allow for additional participants. If you aren’t smiling or doing a little dance, check your pulse! Dr. Lantos provided two of the lectures that Wings for Audrey hosted.

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The auditorium was peppered with healthcare professionals that ranged from neonatologists, pediatricians, NICU nurses, chaplains, PICU nurses, palliative care experts, and many more.

Dr. Lantos isn’t loud or demanding – his topics are. His data often requires a double-take.

He didn’t travel to OU Children’s Hospital to keep us still. He shared his time and expertise with 300+ professionals to push the envelope, to open all of our minds, and ultimately to help us grow.

And that, right there, was the very point of Wings for Audrey from conception.

The truth of the matter is when we set out to raise $100,000 just over three years ago, I was still moving in slow motion through life after the death of our daughter. It didn’t take long, however, for me to go all in. I poured just about everything I had into Wings for Audrey. For the better part of a year, I’m willing to admit, my days, my thoughts, my energy…my life was Wings for Audrey-centric.

And then I realized that no amount of funds raised would make my grief end. Incessant event planning would not bring her back. I allowed myself to accept these truths. Wings for Audrey became less about filling a void and instead a way to honor and tell her story while giving back.

This week was our first Wings for Audrey event. What went into this? Everything really. The death of a child, ultimately. And then, a thousand steps thereafter.

I’m overwhelmed as I look back at what all went into getting to this point. We are profoundly grateful to our family, friends and donors.

To OU Children’s Hospital & Foundation, thank you for believing in Palliative Care and introducing our family to Dr. Lantos. Thank you for your willingness to move forward.

And finally, Dr. Lantos, thank you just isn’t enough. You honored the story of our daughter by sharing your time, expertise and mostly, your self with us and with the State of Oklahoma. Your work is important and you make those around you feel important. You made our goal a reality in a beautiful way – thank you for your gift.

(Miss the original announcement? Click here to get caught up.)

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1 Announcement + 1 Dream

Last week, I promised you an update on Wings for Audrey. Hang with me while I give this the detail it (and you) deserves.

Let’s back up a little, shall we? It was in June of last year, 2016, we all reached our goal of $100,000.

Many of you have been with us from the very beginning. You have followed Wings for Audrey from its conception. Our collective agreement was to fund a lecture program. To educate, inspire and empower those who make it their life’s work to heal children.

As time progressed and discussions turned into potential plans, something was missing.

I, personally, felt a strong absence, although I couldn’t pinpoint what it was.

A year’s time has past. During those months, Wings for Audrey has grown to over $113,500, our third child has become a one-year-old and I discovered what is missing.

The wonderful thing about a lecture program is that it is an investment in the future; it creates the potential for lives to be impacted for the better. My dream is that Wings for Audrey would ALSO honor Audrey’s memory just as it was.

Can Wings for Audrey do both? Be both?

Early this Spring I had a meeting and another this past Monday to discuss just that.

Part 1 is a GO and it’s really exciting:

On November 3rd, we are honored to be hosting the

Wings for Audrey Palliative Care Lecture Series

featuring 

John D. Lantos, M.D., Children’s Mercy Kansas City

Leading Expert in Bioethics & Palliative Care

Bioethics? Palliative care? I know, some of you reading may have checked out when you read those words. Please don’t.

At first, I wasn’t sure how this applied to Audrey’s story. I didn’t understand how hosting lectures on topics of this nature made sense. Let me give you a relatable example…

If you read the story of Audrey, you know her chart was thick. She had a plethora of issues. Each week something new came up. She failed to thrive. Period. But, for the most part, her care seemed to be treated acutely. What I mean by that is she had so many serious conditions, the focus seemed to be on whatever “fire” was burning at the time. Rarely, if ever, did I hear a report on the “whole picture”. I remember one particularly dark day (both literally and figuratively), Audrey’s team came to round on her, I only listened, didn’t make eye contact or ask questions. The team was neutral. Audrey wasn’t well yet she had no fires to put out. She was simply alive.

I spoke to the Nurse Practitioner and said, “It’s like they are giving up on her.”

This was a couple of weeks even before she passed away. I believe this is when a Palliative Care Team would have been in Audrey’s best interest, and ours. A team that views the patients as a whole, to provide an extra layer of care, communication and support.

And an example of bioethics? This isn’t something I have shared much, but I’m allowing you in because I believe it helps you understand a glimpse of what families go through at times.

On Audrey’s last night, you know, when the swarm of doctors were doing everything they could to keep her heart beating? You may recall the last resort was to put her on ECMO. In the chaos and hustle, we, her parents, were asked what we wanted to do. Move forward with ECMO?

I wanted a coach. Someone who could have called “TIME OUT” for us. I turned to one of the doctors and said, “Are we forcing her to stay alive?” Then the same question to Chris.

This was our experience with bioethics. When do you keep fighting and when do you let go? Thankfully, we received a clear answer through medical advisement and deep prayer.

Children’s Hospital at OU has made Palliative Care an important element since Audrey passed in 2014. We are eager to support their efforts and look forward to the brilliant way Dr. Lantos will fill the minds of people from all over Oklahoma this Fall.

Stay with me, team…the second part of Wings for Audrey…remember, the dream?

What I’m asking is a big ask. It’s a huge sell. It’s something that not everyone can easily get on board for.

On Audrey’s final day, we were incredibly blessed with being moved to what is called the Comfort Care Room. Typically, this room is reserved especially and only for Oncology patients and their families. DSC02446On this Saturday, it was not in use, which is rare. Audrey was allowed to be there during last hours. It didn’t feel like a sterile hospital room. It was warm and memorable. Her passing was in a place that our family will cherish forever.

I want to develop a Wings for Audrey Room. A beautiful room that allows families to be with their little one as they take their last breath, or perhaps have passed and the family has just arrived, or even as a room where the family has space to make the most difficult of decisions about their child. Many hospitals have what is called a Bereavement Room, some especially for the NICU.

When I think of this room, I understand how difficult it might be for some to see the value. Hospitals are meant to heal, to save and to promote hope. I agree. AND, our story went differently. We had a daughter who lived a life within the walls of a hospital and her last day was as beautiful as we could have imagined for her. We want the same for more patients and their families whose stories are like hers and spend their last day at Children’s Hospital.

When we think of the whole patient, from beginning to end, how do we value their life even if their heart beats one last time? How can we honor their family? What if there is a place intended for just this purpose?

This dream is even more difficult than you can imagine to bring to fruition. Even a small space is a sacrifice of incredibly valuable resources at Children’s Hospital. It could be years before this might be able to happen, and that’s even IF the idea is approved by all the right powers-at-be.

The naïve girl in me thought this would take little convincing and it would be underway quickly. Patience isn’t really my strong suit, but I will be for this. It is worth it. I will fight for this because she deserves the honor. Because the children and their families who might have to spend time in this room are worthy of it.

For now, the announcement of Dr. Lantos and the lecture series this fall is something for us all to be proud of. We did this together!

As I know more about Children’s allowing us to develop a Wings for Audrey Room, I will let you know.

Thanks for hanging in there, with this post and through it all, gang. You really are the best of the best.

Love + Hugs,

R

Day 81

Three years ago today, she took flight…I honor her by remembering the moments.

I didn’t realize the last time she opened her eyes would be her last. I wish desperately I could bottle her scent. I didn’t catch her last cry or yawn or sigh on video. I didn’t get a warning to tell me I was losing her. It happened before our very eyes, we had no control.

She had been doing well. Well enough to be scheduled to move rooms and go home within a few days. But on Friday, things changed. She started struggling early in the morning and continued throughout the day. She required more and more breathing support, at one point she had to be placed back on the high flow nasal cannula. It didn’t make sense, nothing explained this change. Her chest X-ray appeared the same, a heart echo revealed no changes. Blood work didn’t indicate infection or any abnormal results.

As the day turned to evening, she was stable and resting. We took the opportunity to go eat dinner. Chris wanted to go back to the hospital to tuck her in while I took Cooper home to rest. Not uncommon, and evenings like this had happened many times before.

But this night was different. On this night, my phone rang around 10:45pm, about 45 minutes after I fell asleep. Chris was calm but to the point, “Your dad and I are here. Your mom is coming to get you and Jason will stay with Cooper.”

My heart rate skyrocketed, I could hear it…I felt my pulse drumming throughout my body. It almost hurt. I didn’t follow the rules…instead of waiting patiently for my mother and brother to come, I got in the car, asked a neighbor to come be with Cooper and raced to OU Children’s.

A drive I could do in my sleep by now. A drive that became my daily commute. This drive felt different. I couldn’t get there fast enough.

I ran in. Literally, I ran through the empty, cold halls of the hospital, impatiently kept pressing the “Up” button. Never has an elevator ride seemed so long. Getting to the 7th floor seemed impossible. But in reality it didn’t take long at all.

When the front desk saw me coming, they didn’t stop me to check in, they simply opened the doors.

Those double doors I walked in and out of hundreds of times. This time, on the other side was an outpouring of nurses and doctors and equipment from her room.

I saw my baby. Only wearing a diaper but once again, covered in IV’s, lines, leads, probes, and so much more. Most importantly, she was intubated. Although she had a machine doing the work, breathing for her, it wasn’t enough. She started crashing. When her heart rate reached the 40’s as opposed to her normal 120’s, they quickly administered epinephrine. She responded well. Her heart rate went up, her saturations climbed higher and higher.

At this point, we were confused and frustrated. We hadn’t seen a cardiologist yet but the neonatologist was communicating with him the entire time. The thought was to put Audrey on ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation), a procedure that uses a machine to take over the work of the lungs and the heart. This would allow her body to rest while giving the doctors a chance to learn what the culprit was. But, we were told the risks of ECMO were likely as high as opening her up and doing surgery in her state. There didn’t seem to be a choice.

Everything was set up. The baby rooming with Audrey was moved out. ECMO machinery brought in. Blood, so much blood, was hooked up and ready to go. Just about the time they were going to start, the cardiovascular surgeon, Dr. Burkhart, and the Chief of Pediatric Cardiology, Dr. Overholt, got to her room. They wanted ECMO to hold until they could have a chance to be brought up to speed and analyze her situation more thoroughly.

Dr. Burkhart operated on Audrey back in June during her emergency heart surgery and has been rounding on her daily since then. Dr. Overholt, however, was new to her case. A fresh pair of eyes.

He was handpicked to be there at just the right moment. After careful study of her heart/lung catheter procedure from two weeks ago, he discovered a game changer. He revealed to us that the culprit was not Audrey’s heart, nor was it her small pulmonary veins. It wasn’t her Dandy Walker syndrome. It was microvascular lung disease. Not in just one lung, but in both. Since her heart surgery, they assumed that her right lung likely wouldn’t last. With small, obstructed pulmonary veins on that side, it would have been expected for her to lose the lung completely at some point, living with only her left. Severe microvascular lung disease in both lungs was a new finding that Dr. Overholt discovered. His fresh eyes were able to see something different. Something no one was looking for, because as we were told, it is a miracle that she lived as long as she did. This disease in the lungs is progressive but started when she was in utero, they said.

Heart surgery to fix her Tetralogy of Fallot and to enlarge her pulmonary veins wouldn’t help her lungs. No treatment would save her life.

Plans for ECMO were put on hold. As we met with the doctors, gained a clearer picture of what was happening. ECMO would have given her body a chance to rest, but it would have prolonged the inevitable. Choosing not to do ECMO would allow us to have time with her throughout the rest of the night and next morning while family traveled in to say goodbye.

She remained sedated throughout the night. Her heart rate was consistent and, while too low, her oxygen saturations were stable. The team at OU made us as comfortable as possible, bringing in recliner chairs, water, blankets, and so much more. But sleep didn’t happen. A few minutes of rest here and there were appreciated, but sleep wasn’t important.

The sun started to rise. Another day began. Deep down I knew this was the last morning she would be with us. I knew this day was her last.

Throughout the morning, we cried over her, laughed with each other, played special music, used clay molds and made an ornament of her hand and foot prints, got her “going home” outfit all ready. Late in the morning, the team moved Audrey up to the 10th floor to a beautiful suite called the Comfort Care Room. It was very big with nice furniture. We were asked to go up before her, the ride up with her could be difficult and it was. They had to stop the ventilator during this time and needed to “bag” her manually. She quickly began to desaturate and they knew they needed to quickly get her hooked back up to the vent. Once they did, she stabled out a bit but she was battling. By this time the family had arrived. And really, it was time. She stayed with us as long as she could.

We hadn’t ever had the chance to bathe her. It is something I wanted desperately to do. And they let us. Chris and I got to clean her perfect skin with warm soapy water. To touch her soft head and see her precious back that we never really did. We cleaned under her arms and between her tiny toes, behind her ears and over her many scars. It was such a precious memory. Such an act of love. Bathing our daughter before going “home”. To be clean, to be even more pure than she already was.

We then dressed her. First, a strawberry diaper. These were a signature during her life. Never has a diaper been put on more perfectly. The velcro straps lined up, the flaps around her bottom and legs ruffled sweetly. Then, a beautiful, classic pink outfit, short sleeves and legs, with little flowers across her chest. Her chest…the very area that took her life…adorned with tiny flowers. And, of course, a headband.

She looked perfect. Beautiful. Peaceful. Without struggle. Free of grimace.

At this time, we all held her. While she was still with us. We kissed her. Wept. Hugged.

Our dear friend and Chaplain, Trisha, came to be with us. To dedicate this baby and to pray over her. She was there the day Audrey was born, the day she went into emergency surgery, many days in between, and then on her final day.

Once her family said goodbye, they gave Chris and I privacy while the extubation took place and we helped her go.

The moment the tube was removed, she didn’t breathe once. They gave her to us. A perfect angel.

We cradled her in our arms. Took her in. All of her. We loved her. We sent her to Heaven. We trusted her to the Lord. We helped her fly.

Her heart slowed. Dr. Bhatti, the incredible neonatalogist with us throughout it all, checked her heart rate. It had slowed to about 20 beats per minute.

We told our baby it was okay to go. Told her how much she is and always will be loved. That she changed our lives for the better…for good.

And then she gasped. Though it was a tiny noise, it was loud. It was final.

We all knew in that moment..we knew she was gone.

Dr. Bhatti checked her heart and confirmed it…

At 2:27pm on Saturday, August 16th, Audrey Claire Leslie flew home.

81 days + 46 minutes after she was born, she was gone.

For the next couple of hours, we simply snuggled. Family trickled back in. We took pictures with her.

I laid on the couch with her pressed against my chest and wept, smiled, and felt so much love. I couldn’t move. Not until Cooper wanted to come in.

Cooper said goodbye in the best way he could understand how…he drew a picture and showed her. He was confused and a little detached but we didn’t force anything. He saw her in her final state. We were there with her as a family.

She was clear. Her body failed her and she let us know it was time. She had not one struggle or indication of pain. She simply slept.

When it was time to let her body go, the words poured out of me without even thinking. I just said it without control…

“Now I lay me down to sleep…I pray the Lord my soul to keep…”

And He does.

I want it all back. I want her back. Heaven got the better end of the deal. I want to cradle her close to my body. I want to feel her warmth. All the warmth left her sweet body. She turned cold.

The day was gloomy and dreary, then, almost the moment she passed, the sun came out. Tears from Heaven came down for her, then the rejoice of her through those pearly gates shined with golden splendor down on us. The ones left behind.

A message that she was home. A message that she is whole, healthy and loved. Beautiful in the most perfect place.

I miss everything about her. Photos and videos can’t capture how it feels to hold her.

And I never get to do it again. It’s not right. I hurt all over. My fingertips ache, my heart seems to be missing beats, the pit in my stomach grows and the lump in my throat won’t go away.

Her room sits empty, yet so full. It defines so much about her and her life. We created it especially FOR her, once we knew her. Now, her going home outfit lays sweetly in the crib, next to her tiny wrist splints, photos and her hand and foot prints.

We now get to plan a celebration of her life. Her close family was there to send her home, and now her entire family of friends and prayer warriors can help celebrate all that she was, is and will always be.

I have so many ideas, thoughts of how to celebrate her. I want this week to go slowly, because I know after the celebration it will feel…well, I don’t know yet, but I imagine it will have an overwhelming sense of finality.

The rest of the world will move on. The days and nights will come and go.

But how do I? How do we? Faith, trust, love and sweet peace, I suppose. Just as she was at peace when she went, we too must seek this each and every day.

She will always be our girl. Our daughter. Our son’s sister. Our parents’ grand-daughter, a cousin, a niece, a great-granddaughter, a friend, a patient who was loved and adored.

We all lost her yesterday.

But she isn’t lost, she is found. In all of us. You may not have met her but she knew your love and we all help define her.

Let us all love a little better, be a little stronger, live a little braver. Let her legacy live forever in each of us. Let’s all be better because of her…for her.

When we have her celebration of life scheduled, know that we will share the details.

We don’t know what we need now or in the future, but thank you for all you have done and will do.

Our appreciation runs deep and for a lifetime.

Her story continues, as will writing to her and about her. Keep reading. Never forget.

Stay tuned for a special announcement regarding Wings for Audrey next week. I have a meeting with OU Children’s Hospital on Monday and hope to be able to tell you some important updates.

Parallels

PARALLELS

Parallels. They are everywhere I turn right now. So much about life right now seems to have something deeply rooted.

I’m having a hard time grasping it all and wrapping my heart around what was and is and is to come. My mind is like an overripe fruit that can no longer hold anything in.

The problem is forming sentences. My thoughts and feelings jump all over the place and I feel…tired.

It’s May. This month marks two years since our Audrey came into the world and lived her 81 days. Her life continues to bless me daily. Two years passed far too quickly.

Our little family has been full of life more than usual over the past two months. After a decade away, we have returned to our hometown of Stillwater, OK. Chris and I grew up here. When a wonderful work opportunity for Chris came knocking, we prepared to leave what was our home for 10 years as we became adults and parents.

It’s surreal sometimes, being back in the place that formed and shaped us. So many important people are here and just being near them feels like home. We left behind a group of people who are an extension of our hearts. This was and continues to be hard. Our 81 days with Audrey were beautiful because of so many of these people, our village, stepping in and fueling us. It was bittersweet to sell the home where our baby Cooper became a boy, and the place that housed our emotions during Audrey’s life. There is something almost healing about a fresh start at this particular time. As we prepare for another little girl to join our family, she has a place of her very own. Her room really is hers. She won’t live in what was intended for Audrey. This feels right.

And yet? The parallels continue. This pregnancy has been complicated. The baby is perfectly healthy as far as we can know at this point. This alone is overwhelming. It’s such an incredible thing for a baby to be born healthy, never ever to be taken for granted. At the very same time, thinking of her health can bring on a strange ache about Audrey. It’s hard for me to even put into words.

Almost one month ago, I had stents placed in both ureters because the ureters had collapsed due to my growing uterus, which caused urine to back up severely in my kidneys. Recovery from that surgery has been slow and often incredibly painful. We learned early on that my placenta was very low lying, also known as Placenta Previa. I was hopeful it would resolve itself. It did not. In fact, the placenta continues to be too low and puts me at risk for bleeding should any little thing disrupt the placenta. Additionally, the placenta has grown through my uterus and has potentially attached to my bladder. This is a rare condition known as Placenta Percreta, it is dangerous to mother and baby during delivery because of potential heavy bleeding and hemorrhaging. My team of doctors includes a high risk specialist, a urologist and an OB. Together, they have determined that the best course of action with the lowest risk is to perform a full Hysterectomy at the time of C-Section delivery, taking her at 34 weeks. The urology team will be present and ready to repair the bladder if needed. Doing a hysterectomy reduces the risk of heavy bleeding because they won’t try to separate the placenta. The bladder concern complicates things and we are prayerful that perhaps it hasn’t actually attached, but is just touching.

Delivering the baby six weeks early comes with preparing for a NICU stay. The “party line” is the expect her to be there the full six weeks, but she could come home after 1-2 weeks if she is healthy. Please oh please, God.

This delivery will take us back to the same hospital in Oklahoma City where Audrey was born. She’ll go straight to the NICU where Audrey lived for weeks. And just like Audrey, she isn’t due until June but will celebrate her birthday in May.

I’m working to keep it all in perspective and sometimes it is a lot to take in. Our baby girl is healthy, it is my body that is complicating things. By God’s grace, I have felt pretty calm about it all considering the risks.

I had a box of Audrey’s tiny preemie clothes that I kept for nostalgia, never imagining that we would need them again two years later. Coincidence? Nah…

As I type, these items of clothing, small enough to dress a baby doll, are washing clean. They, too, are getting a fresh start. However, their memory cannot be washed away. And who knows, it may be hard to see Audrey’s baby sister wearing her clothes. I’ll take it all as it comes.

Chris has put together yet another crib, this makes three. So far, only one of our children has slept in the crib their daddy brought to life. Oh, how desperately I want to see this baby girl sleeping soundly in this crib.

May 20th is when our little egg will hatch. I try and try to imagine what the day will look like and, like every other unknown in our lives, I simply cannot.

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Walk by faith, Rachel,” I can almost hear Him whisper, “Remember this. Remember what Audrey taught you. Her gift was and is perspective.

Will my heart grow enough to make room for all three of my children? Will this baby push Audrey to the side? Will Cooper struggle to understand seeing yet another baby sister in the NICU?

Every once in a while, I use Audrey’s name accidentally when referencing this baby and it hurts because I get so mad at myself for it. The closer we get to meeting our Emma, it seems I am mourning Audrey in a new way. My heart is uncomfortably thrilled and broken at the very same time.

In 19 days, another baby will leave my body and become a part of the world. This time, my uterus will go too. I’ll never feel a baby slide an elbow or kick a heel from the inside, nor will I watch my belly dance involuntarily in the wee hours of the morning. My childbearing days are limited to 19.

What a humbling gift it is that I have been able to do this three times. They haven’t been perfect, glowy or easy but they have been. That alone is a miracle.

This song, Small Bump, came on as I typed away, and reminded me of the sweetness of this baby to come. She dances away and I pause to notice and remember the feeling…

As of today, we have all worked together and made incredible progress on funding the Wings for Audrey endowment. $91,150, can you even believe it? They said to expect it to take 3-5 years, but I believe it is going to happen this year. September will mark two years since we started fundraising and it would be amazing if by then, we all celebrated together!

You’ve continued to be there for us. Thank you for helping us keep Audrey’s story alive…for sharing her story. And if you think of it, we would be humbled and grateful for your prayers on May 20th.

Now and always, R

 

 

b l o o m

“12 years ago this Christmas eve, my wife’s brother went into the hospital. January 16th, he went home. But not his earthly home. For months, my wife cried herself to sleep. Their incredible parents experienced something no parent ever should. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, time with God’s presence heals all wounds. So many lives were impacted by this man, his life and his passing. I’ve never known another death to make more of an impact…

…I asked my wife now, 12 years later, ‘If you had to lose all the good, but you had your brother back, would you have him back?”

The entire congregation sat in silence as we awaited the answer she gave our pastor.

“Without hesitation, she says, ‘I’d never want to go through that again, I’d never choose it again. But under no circumstances would I want him back after all the good that I saw God do through it.’ The very worst nightmare in her life, she wouldn’t change because she saw how God used it.”

This was the Sunday before Christmas, one I won’t soon forget. It knocked me off balance. It caught me off guard. The title of the sermon was actually called “When God Seems Uncooperative”. (Click to watch)

You see, I was recovering from an apparent sinus infection, it was tempting to skip church that morning and opt for my cozy, warm bed. But something was tugging at me to pull it together and be there.

By the end, I could hardly hold it together. For some reason, on this day, each point he made hit incredibly close to my heart.

I felt overwhelmed and understood. This wise man literally put into words so many of the things we felt and thought throughout Audrey’s short life. I have learned to seek the joy in her life…her story. I wouldn’t choose it again, but He used her in such beautiful ways.

I wept in the church lobby, completely embraced by my loving husband. We didn’t even have to speak. And then, I just couldn’t turn it off. It had been so long since I cried for her…I didn’t think that was still in me. I have felt so balanced and have moved into a place of peace, but this day reminded me that it never, ever goes away. Nor would I want it to. She was real, she was alive in my belly and, miraculously, in my arms. She will always be our daughter.

I couldn’t stay in the house, I would have crawled into bed with my Audrey Bunny and just cried. So, I decided to be productive and left for Target. I should have known this trip would be different. It was everything I never expected and everything I absolutely needed. I started in by filling my cart with produce, moving to the inside aisles that the Devil himself put there. The bread, cereal, crackers…the most delicious of the groceries! Not two aisles in, I turned and my dear Amy met my eyes and once again, I found myself in the loving embrace of someone I love while tears fell. Of course, she just got it…because she misses Audrey too. While I was a complete mess, Audrey’s nurse and someone who has become precious to me, Kim, turned the corner with her husband and brand new baby boy! We chatted, I met these two important gentlemen in her life, hugged and went about our shopping trips. I nearly entered the baking aisle (judge not, I beg you) when I looked to my left and Sarah was strolling toward me. I told her about this day and she listened to each messy detail and helped bring such a calm over me, in a way that only she can.

It was no accident that these women were there at such a time, perfectly placed. The sermon, seeing the girls, talking to Chris, to my parents and to Carrie…it all just beautifully reminded me that she still lives in all of us. These moments may not come as often as the years pass, but just like the scar where they separated her from me, she is always there.

And I know my emotions were heightened for one reason in particular.

An itty bitty baby girl is blooming within me. 

BabyGirl

A new life has begun…her own story is unfolding. As we wait, hope and expect this baby, I find myself trying to balance out…well, everything.

We wait to learn more about her as her body grows and reveals itself to us and to doctors.

We hope that she will develop in a healthy manner, and thus far, she has.

We expect her to arrive in June.

Sometimes it is hard to think of Audrey and her baby sister at the same time. Sometimes I feel undeserving. Sometimes I feel guilty. Sometimes I feel scared. Sometimes I feel elated. Sometimes I feel hopeful. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with joy.

But I always feel blessed. I always feel love.

I want so badly to shout out that having this baby doesn’t mean that Audrey wasn’t enough. Or when people ask if I have any other kids other than the one I’m growing, I want them to know that this is my third child.

When Cooper asked innocently and logically, “Mama, will we get to keep this one?” You can imagine…I felt all the feels.

I hope so buddy. Can you help us pray that this baby is healthy and will come home with us?

Because how do you reassure a boy who had a baby sister die that this one won’t? He’ll be almost six when she arrives and I just know he will be incredibly helpful, independent and protective.

bloom2

Each of my three children has a story written of their own. No matter how long each one is, it is important. It is valuable. From my healthy, happy five-year-old, and my princess in Heaven, to the rainbow baby taking up residence in my womb…I’m so adoringly in love with them all. I get to tell Cooper this every day, perhaps I should say it more. I don’t get to show or tell Audrey how deep my love is for her anymore. And I’m desperately begging God that the new baby will grow up to know my love.

So we begin 2016 in bloom.  

In other news, I wanted to take a moment to share an incredible update about Wings for Audrey.

In January of 2015, the fund was at $45,672.

Today, exactly one year later…I am humbled to type this number…

$89,170

Wrap your brain around that for a moment. Think of how many people have made this a priority in their lives to be so close to the finish line in just 16 short months.

It’s close. It’s so close, the Foundation is ready to start finalizing the paperwork and solidify how exactly the program will work. We are thinking and praying about this often. Ultimately, we want this to make a difference and an impact all in honor of Audrey. And it will. We need just over $10,000 to make it a reality. And it’s coming…I just know it.

Thank you, from the very depths of my heart, for reading this. It means you care, and for that, I’m humbled and grateful. You’ve been there, on the other side of your screen, through so much. You are helping keep Audrey’s story alive, and this is priceless.

Until I write again…love + hugs,

R

Dress For A Cause Recipient

Dress For A Cause Recipient

Just as we suspected, the nominations for the Label Jane Handmade “Genny” Dress have been beautiful to read. Thank you for nominating these sweet little ladies, they each are absolutely deserving. Choosing the recipient took careful thought and consideration. After reading through the nominations, we have chosen:


ELLA MOORE | NOMINATED BY DENESE KNORI


Ella is rainbow daughter to Melissa and Austin Moore. If you aren’t familiar with this term, a “rainbow baby” is one that comes after a miscarriage or infant death. A baby that brings hope and light after a storm of loss. In March of 2011, Melissa and Austin welcomed their son, Greyson, into their family.  Little did they know, he had an undiagnosed heart defect.  It wasn’t until two days later, when his PDA began to close, that they realized that something was wrong with Greyson.  Denese, a nurse and who nominated Ella, was at the hospital the day Greyson was brought in, limp and lacking life within him. He was transferred to OU Children’s and there it was determined that he had Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome.

Greyson put up an incredible fight. In the end his body succumbed to his heart disease and, only nine months after his birth, he flew home.  After losing Greyson, Melissa and Austin made it their mission to lobby for the state of Oklahoma to make it mandatory for hospitals to perform pulse ox screenings on all newborns prior to discharge from the hospital. This would help detect chronic congenital heart defects.  They also began an non-profit organization, called Greyson’s Advocates, to provide assistance to families with newborns dealing with congenital heart defects.  Melissa personally visits with any family that reaches out or is referred to this organization to provide a medical journal as well as to determine how Greyson’s Advocates can help the family.  Melissa and Austin have poured their hearts into helping other heart families despite their own loss.

In the Winter of 2012, Austin and Melissa found out that God has blessed them with another miracle of life. While they were both frightened of going through the same experience again, they trusted and prepared for their new baby. In September of 2013, Austin and Melissa welcomed a healthy baby girl, Ella, into their lives.

What an incredible story, right? Thank you, Denese, for your beautifully written nomination. And a big thank you to The Moore Family for all you have done for babies and their families in Oklahoma. We hope Ella loves her sweet new dress, we’ll share a photo of her wearing it soon!

Again, we appreciate all of your love and support, thank you for your nominations. All of the Label Jane Handmade “Audrey” Rompers were purchased in a matter of minutes! Amazing. We are getting very close to reaching $75,000, 3/4 of the way there…which means Wings for Audrey will soon be a reality.

Love + Hugs, R

Dress for a Cause | Part Two

DressForACause_PartTwo

It’s time again to announce the second installment of Dress for a Cause. Allow me to introduce you to Label Jane Handmade. Founder and designer, Jordan Gray, has taken little girls’ style by storm. Think Anthropologie in miniature [swoon]! She started her brand in her own home not many months after having her first child, a daughter beautifully named Georgia.

LabelJaneHandmadeJordan hand picks vintage fabrics and pairs them with amazing trims which combine to create one-of-a-kind pieces for baby and toddler girls. In her own words, Jordan says, “My favorite line from the song that has been my mantra this year is, “You make beautiful things out of the dust.” God does that for me and so in my own way I do that for you. I take dusty old fabrics and envision something beautiful and full of life. They are tangible symbols of hope. These pieces represent where I have come from, where I am going and who has won my freedom for me.”

So much care and personality goes into each one, and because fabrics are truly vintage, there is very limited availability. They are pieces of art, to be photographed in and captured for years to come.

Part Two of  Dress for a Cause actually has two parts.

The Genny Dress | 18-24 Months

The Genny Dress | 18-24 Months

First, we want to gift a romper to a special little gal. We purchased one Genny Dress in a size 18-24 month and need your help to determine who will wear this piece of handmade art.  Nominate a recipient by emailing rleslie84@gmail.com. We will announce the winner next Friday, July 17th.

The second part of this installment is an incredible opportunity for you to purchase the Audrey Romper, $78. Label Jane Handmade will release this and the entire summer line this coming Monday, July 13th at 8:30pm CST. There is a VERY limited availability, one each of the following sizes:

The Audrey Romper | $78

The Audrey Romper | $78

12-18  |  18-24  |  2T  |  3T  |  4T

Act fast! The shop opens at 8:30pm CST SHARP and they sell out fast every, single time due to incredible popularity.

Here is the link to shop, set your alarm!

http://labeljane.bigcartel.com

20% of sales from The Audrey Romper will generously be donated to Wings for Audrey. Also, I have the inside scoop and let’s just say there is going to be a surprise in Audrey’s honor!

As of today, Wings for Audrey has reached $72,654 – thank you for making this happen so quickly. It is so close to becoming a fully funded program, keep it up!

We’ll watch for your nominations to rleslie84@gmail.com by next Friday and happy shopping this Monday evening.

Love & Hugs, R