Forever

Sometimes I just look at her. And soak her in. 

The pain of not being able to protect her from hurts and disappointments is what makes parenting so complicated and yet wakes you up each day and keeps you going.... trying over and over.

Next week I'll watch as she leaves to have surgery on her foot. 

I couldn't change this part of her story. The book. The prayers. It wasn't enough. 

 

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Blues

Boy oh boy!  I have been getting incredible amounts of support.  I am so appreciative; it's been that extra push to get me going again this Spring. I have been spending too much time internalizing what my mission needed to be.

Along the way, the number one question from you guys:  "Will you be doing a BOY version of the book"?

The Answer: I already did. You see, yes, the book is illustrated in pink.  But that represents me - YOU: the mom.  I had pink dreams...pink hopes.  Pink plans. But Elle was to be what she was to be.  She loves all colors, I bet your kiddos do as well, right?

One of the paramount messages within "Gracefully" is that it didn't matter what I wanted for Elle. My dreams were my dreams.  

Elle will decide what she could be. What she WILL be.  What she is already.

Gracefully is pink...but its message, its soul... is meant for all moms and dads.  

It's a family book. It's a tool.  It's a place to feel better.

It just happens to be pink watercolor ... which feels great after all the blues we all went through, right?

PS: I would love to actually publish Gracefully in the color BLUE too!  I get it :) fingers crossed!

Pink Rain

One of the biggest struggles for me, along this journey has been depression.  I have always dealt with bouts of the disease, but none like the storm I encountered after Elle was born.  

In fact, it's worse than ever in some ways.  I am managing, but now that Elle is doing better, I am more in tune to the whole journey: what I went through.  

My mind is still trying to heal.

 In Gracefully, I allude to depression; I also show a moment in which I felt alone.  

Truly

So here we are: Elle has pushed that line: The horizon.... she runs, kicks a soccer ball and jumps higher than we ever expected.

I was standing watching her, as parents do, yesterday.  Accomplished.  Finished with the brace.

Then I looked: her feet made her run ... differently.

I had been in denial I suppose but just when I thought all the hard stuff was behind us... something else: a new chapter.

And that's just now, today.

What about someday? Will kids notice?  Will she be judged? Teased?  And those are all the nice ways of describing how frightening kids can be to each other.  

I was lying in bed last night.  Okay, in Cooper's bed! (He's starting Kindergarten tomorrow and I've been snuggling overtime lately). I thought... what will she be up against?  

What is before us?

But, truly, will this ever be behind us?

Truly.

 

Gracefully

One day I sat outside Elle's room while she napped, my back up against the wall, and wrote Gracefully. The words came easy. They were crisp, clear. I was the subject-matter-expert. It felt monumental to get them down on paper: they were the words I had needed months before.  

But how would I share this story?  

At Elle's next appointment, encouraged by Brett, I told Dr. Clark what I was up to. He was excited. He got it: I wanted to help other parents.

But did I have enough grace to create something extraordinary?

I looked to my children.  Elle was taking on the journey herself - showing me where pure grace comes from:

within.

And Cooper was there watching over her.

 

Photos by Brandy Cardarelli

 

 

Fireworks

 

The summer was half-over.  We hadn't been outside much; we stayed home most of the time where it was easiest. Safe.  I lacked the personal courage to introduce Elle, and her feet, to the world.

Then our friends Tim and Carol invited us to spend the 4th of July at their house.  We accepted and yet I didn't know how I would ever be able to introduce them and their daughters to Elle's feet and brace.  What would they say?  What would they think?  

Would they think she wasn't pretty?

Maybe it was just easier to hide her legs with a blanket.

We walked into their kitchen and waited for an uncomfortable look or reaction.  I was ready with my lengthy explanation.

They smiled and held her.  It didn't matter. 

They understood.

Book Mark

Dr. Clark reminded us the hardest part was next: successful permanent correction of Elle's feet would require diligent, long-term wearing of a Ponseti brace.  

All day. Every day. 

We would be religious about her wearing the brace.  23 hours a day for 3 months.  Then hopefully just at night.

For years. Until her feet would rest in a neutral position and not revert back.

But what else could I do?  How could I help her beyond that time? What if she were to have a child someday with...gulp...an issue?  How could I monumentally make a difference for her as a mother?

Deep within was a glimmer born in the moment I saw the smile from Dr. Clark.  He had released the paralyzing fear in me.   I needed to do something to mark that moment for all parents or relatives going through a difficult diagnosis of a child.  A way to release the brace of the diagnosis. Of the worry.  Of the hurting. 

I had an idea.  A story.

It would be our mark: Gracefully. A book.


Casted

Elle's feet were in heavy casts from mid-thigh to the tips of her toes.  Cradling her in the crook of my arm wasn't possible anymore; I had to hold her with great care.  When someone generously offered to hold her, I was hesitant; it broke my heart that they might cringe at what they felt on her legs.

The casts were harsh looking.  Rough.  And so incredibly heavy on her tiny 7 pound body. They banged together and pulled her soft skin when she moved.  Baths were tricky and I knew when she cried it could be that her skin was itching... and that I couldn't help her.

We both cried every Thursday when the old plaster was cut off with a tiny but loud saw, only to be replaced with new wet plaster that would harden before we even reached the car.  

For a day or so Elle would cry from soreness from the new adjustment - her soft bones being held in the new position, ligaments and tendons being stretched. We cried together. And sometimes, for me, it was a reminder of her tiny row of pink shoes standing at attention waiting to be worn. 

Five weeks crawled by and the final set of casts were removed.  Her feet, that I had missed holding in the palms of my hands, were resting in a neutral position, no longer turned up and inwards.  

They were beautiful.

 

First Glance

The most precious baby girl was now a part of our family. May 10th, 2012 was officially minted on our hearts.  She had iridescent blonde locks, blue eyes and she screamed until bright red, just like her big brother had. For all the worry, some things were normal, and I could be hopeful.

It was a revelation I hadn't thought about.  I had expected the day to be all about her feet.  Painful and raw.  Thankfully, she was just a baby needing to nurse, a 4am wake-up call worth answering and she rested on our hearts for hours.

There was though, a moment, when she was lifted into this world and the whole room stopped.  I could sense all eyes catching the first glance. 

Brett, by my side the entire birth, drifted quickly over to her side.  I turned, this time over my right shoulder, and asked him if she was ok.

"Yes". 




Pancakes & Bubblebaths

Some pictures are worth more than you could possibly explain.  Before Elle's arrival we wanted to pause, spend a day with Cooper and capture every moment! 

My eyes tell the story. I was trying my best not to worry. 

Photos by Brandy Cardarelli

Clouds

It was early Spring 2012 and Cooper was almost two.  Our relationship therefore was hundreds of moons strong.   I knew that relationship was going to change when his sister arrived.  Would he still know how much I loved him?  That every moon before wasn't to be forgotten?

 And how would Elle fit in?  Our relationship would be different from mine and Cooper's.  It was going to be more complex.  New.

And how would I answer to her?  How would she feel if she knew how upset I was about her feet?  How would I explain why they had unfairly defined her in those early months?

Brett and I had to push through those unknowns and prepare for her with unclouded excitement.  To paint not just the walls of her nursery soft heavenly pink but the ceiling as well.  Blow away the dark clouds and hang new ones made of tulle.

It seemed the storm was passing. 

It was time to get ready.

Photos by Brandy Cardarelli

Pink Sky

I hugged Cooper close and looked out as the sun set over the Blue Ridge Mountains.  It was the last day of 2011 and he was keeping me warm.   Some things change you into someone who can appreciate the love that a child is capable of.

The stone overlook was just high enough of a barrier between real life and the holiday. I was there on the side of the beautiful North Carolina mountains; the valley and city a short drive below.  We had left the past few weeks buried, and for a day, we were gone. 

All I needed now was Brett by my side and my baby boy's arm around my neck.  There we were, looking out at it all.  With a baby girl on her way.

As the evening approached, Brett and I weren't preparing to celebrate.  We were only thinking of leaving one year behind and bracing for the next.  But just as the holidays somehow do, if you let them, magic sparked.  As the minutes ticked down we were feeling slightly anew.  Looking back, I don't know if it was the promise of a fresh start or the shaking off of the past few weeks, but we were approaching a happy new year, again.

Right before dinner, we had some time to wait.  It was unseasonably warm.  The cold was holding off and the sun shattered the sky - giving us one last display.  

There were a dozen shades of pink. 

I knew what mother nature was saying.  

I showed Cooper the horizon.  The next time we would see it so clearly would be at the beach that next summer.  Elle would be with us. 

As a parent you want to give your child the opportunity to run past that line - to reach every corner of what's beyond.  That's why the news of Club Feet was so difficult.  We were being forced to find a solution before we even started. How could we make sure both of our children had the same starting line...

and the same bright sky?

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Perfect Image

As Christmas approached I was going-through-the-holiday-motions. I focused on telling everyone "It's a GIRL" but couldn't share the rest; I could barely tell myself the reality of the situation. 

I never considered that it was okay to share. 

At first I told myself that it wasn't important to say anything about her Club Feet, that no one needed to know yet. 

Terribly, I was making her diagnosis an imperfection.  A secret.

Looking back I couldn't imagine anyone thinking anything other than how perfect our family seemed.  Wasn't it my job to put on that front: loving husband and a beautiful Christmas card filled with amazing images of our perfect son?

I was determined to keep up that image. 

Somewhere deep inside I was keeping tabs on my behavior. I was hard on myself for feeling the way I did.

Was I a horrible mother?

I couldn't picture her feet in my mind.  What would they look like? I knew they would be... disfigured,  bent inwards and around and upside down.  I lived with a constant feeling of not knowing what to think.  I was tied up in the worst kind of knot. 

 I was screaming 'could be worse' in my head.  Yes, and I still know that - but a scary diagnosis is gut-wrenching;  It changes the way you thought your life would play out. 

I needed to snap out of it.  I had to make a new plan: unearth in me the strength to be excited and proud when she arrived. 

She deserved that.  That I knew.

 

Brandy Cardarelli Photography

Brandy Cardarelli Photography

 

A few days after these pictures were taken I looked at the proofs and only saw Cooper's socks.  Why did I put those white socks on him?! 

I wasn't focusing on the right things:  That belly.  And that happy baby boy who probably tried 4 times with his adorable chubby fingers to put those socks on himself.

Breathe

I sat in silence leaving the hospital.  My world was spinning and now I needed to drop Brett off for a couple of end-of-day meetings.  The thought of him peeling away from me at that very moment was excruciating.  He opened the car door and his shoes climbed across the sidewalk towards his tower of work, leaving me to quickly move down the street by myself.

I felt as if I was physically drowning and my life raft just floated away.

I drove slowly down the street to our son's school and sat motionless staring at the empty playground.  Maybe if I didn't move the universe wouldn't see how lost I was.  I could feel everyone else moving though.  Getting on with their lives.  Planning something fun.

 I needed to go inside and grab our little boy but was unable to move from the seat.  I held the car key in my hand, looking at it, as if to say, 'where to from here'?

I scooped Cooper up and I held him as we escaped the concrete.  There was one patch of open grass in the middle of the city.  I could finally breathe.

I extended my legs out in front of me and felt the cool cement bench below.  Cooper ran through the grass as if there were no reason to be sitting. 

A bit later Brett came walking across the grass himself.  He picked me up and walked us to the car.  As he got off the exit for the house soon after he said, "I'm going to walk someone down the aisle someday," almost to himself.

He could somehow see past all of this.

I wasn't so sure.

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A few weeks later Christmas came.

Devastated

"What do you know about Club Feet"? 

The echo of those words will never leave me.  This is how we found out our daughter would be born with a birth defect.  Something that I had only heard about, at the time,  on badly written television shows.  Someone would trip and the joke would be, "what, you got a club foot?".

Tears.

Moments earlier Brett and I had cried tears of joy.  We were having a baby girl!! I can still remember the hot tears running down my left cheek as I turned to grab his hand over my shoulder.  He squeezed it to say, we got our girl!

Tutus, dance classes, pink onsies...it was all coming true. Tulle everywhere - somewhere deep inside I had already planned her first birthday party.  Over-the-top pink everywhere kind of party with cotton candy floating through the air...

 

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