March 29, 2012

Remembering the best damn puppy mill survivor ever...

Sadly a month has passed since we had to say good-bye to our beloved furry man.  As anyone who has lost a beloved, whether it be their baby or their special pet, knows it's a very difficult, painful and lonely road to travel.  For me it has once again brought forward all the feelings of grief experienced with the loss of Stella, so instead of grieving the loss of Smeags, who I know in the end was very fortunate, I'm stuck experiencing the emotions of loosing my daughter as well.  I suspect this is how my emotional heart will respond to all future losses, so I better figure out a way to navigate this new treacherous path!

I would like to share my loving tribute to the one, and the only, Smeagol with you all...

Smeags rescued September 2005

Who could have ever imagined the impact one French Bulldog, rescued from a nasty rabbit hutch in the far back of a North Carolina puppy mill, could have on our lives?  Not I!  Smeagol came in to our lives silently, sick, weak and reclusive.  He was mostly bald with elephant skin sagging from his legs from his chronic demodectic mange, his eyes goopy and scared from years of untreated corneal ulcers, broken and worn stubs in place of teeth, toenails growing in to his chubby little paw pads, a bad case of heart worms, collapsed wrists and a very painful looking swayback.  He looked so horribly disfigured and frightening his original foster Mom named him Smeagol, since he looked like Gollum from the Lord of the Rings. 

We nursed Smeags back to health, and as he recovered more and more of his unique and charming personality began to reveal itself.  Smeags found his voice and wasn’t about to be silenced ever again in his life!  Once he began to bond with us, he realized he no longer liked to be left alone, and would caterwaul if he couldn’t find one of us.  If we didn’t come back quickly enough, he would stomp his little legs and release a protest pee in the floor somewhere (his unique form of pay back).  He learned the joys of wallering on his back, whether it be in a dog bed, human bed or in the grass.
He never met a sunbeam that didn’t have his name written all over it and was well versed at seeking them out through out the day.  He always enjoyed sleeping in a comfy bed, but none compared to the luxurious and peaceful sleep he had while riding in the snoozy seat.  Smeags was the most laid back and easy going dog you could imagine (until it was meal time).  He kept us on our toes, made us smile daily and had us all wrapped around his fat little paws.

Smeagol was diagnosed with a brain tumor in November of 2010, but luckily his medication allowed him to hold steady.  During that time he became mostly deaf and nearly blind, but he was still quite a character.  He gave us a few scares where his back legs would go weak and he would suddenly develop a green snotty nose, but with a little medication and a couple of days, he would bounce back like we had imagined the whole episode.  He still enjoyed all the important activities in life: special laser treatments, his favorite foods, car rides, wallering and belly rubs. 

On Tuesday, February 28th, our precious Smeagol took a drastic turn for the worse.  His body just seemed to give out on him from the night before.  He could no longer stand, much less walk.  He had no desire to eat (not even cheese or banana) or drink and only wanted to sleep.  We took him to the vet’s office, where he was loved by everyone, and Dr. Shearer felt his nervous system was shutting down and he was giving us a clear indication that it was his time to go.  We held and hugged him tightly while we cried.  He wasn’t in any pain, and loved the attention, but he just wanted to sleep forever.  So we kissed Smeags good-bye and sent him on his peaceful journey to the Rainbow Bridge.
Smeagol’s story has touched the hearts of many from around the World.  He was often considered an unofficial mascot of the fight against puppy mills in the French Bulldog community as well as for the French Bulldog Rescue Network.  Though he will never be forgotten, and will always be loved, his larger than life presence will be sorely missed by everyone who knew him!
Rest in peace, SmeagUms!  You were truly one of a kind!

Love always,
Maw, Paw, Starr, Willow and QBert




March 9, 2012

The loss of a family member

Once again our family has been touched by death.  I guess I should feel relieved and be grateful that we’ve been able to keep all our family members for the last 13+ months.  After all I know some people who are faced with tragedy after tragedy and feel as though their lives are damned.  


My husband’s Grandmother passed away on February 21st after a sudden series of events leading to her falling and breaking her hip.  Her body needed to be stabilized before they could safely perform surgery to repair the break, but he body was never fully able to recover from the surgery.  She previously had always enjoyed good health and her independence, but that changed shortly after her 92nd birthday  Still, Louise, managed to pack a whole lot of life in and continued to do fairly well with her condition until the last year.  


Louise’s death caught me off guard.  Not so much because she passed away, but more by how it affected me personally.  I’ve known Louise since sometime around 1991, but got to know her better during 1992 when my then boyfriend, his family and I traveled together that Summer.  Louise and I were roommates on two trips that year, so we quickly got to know each other.  Being faced with Louise’s death brought forward all the painful feelings I had experienced deep in my soul when we lost our daughter, Stella.  Yes, I’ve dealt with Stella’s death and continue to work through this life changing tragedy, but once the raw emotions hit I felt like I was being flooded by a tidal wave of feelings.  Suddenly it was like I wasn’t just being faced with one death, but a life time of deaths and loss all compounded together!  I’ve done enough grief work to know that this isn’t an uncommon feeling, or I might have gotten so depressed that I would have felt myself going crazy.  But understanding why I was having these feelings didn’t really help me cope.


Trey spoke during his Grandmother’s service, and if I hadn’t already been feeling the weight of Stella’s passing on my heart, his words brought pain deep in to my soul.  I’ll share an excerpt of Trey’s writings below:

Grandmother’s Eulogy

Death is a mysterious gift.  It brings loved ones together, by separating them from the ones they love.  We’ve all been brought together today because of our love for my Grandmother, and all those whose lives she’s touched.  Her passing is a gift.  Just as her life was a gift.  No one wants to think about their own mortality, but we all know we’re not getting out of this thing alive.  A death in the family is just another wake up call, reminding us that we only have a short while on this Earth.  The amount of time we have here can never be known, and death is nature’s way of reminding us not to squander the time that we have.

My Grandmother was fortunate.  She spent 94 years here, most of which were spent in good health.  My wife and I had a daughter, Stella Grace, who was not so fortunate.  She was born on my Grandmother’s 92nd birthday, and only lived for an hour and 47 minutes.  It’s amazing how many lives were touched by our little girl, despite her short life.  One can only wonder how many lives my Grandmother touched in her 94 years.  And I can assure you that both will continue to touch lives long after they’re gone.  I know that every December 23rd our family will be celebrating the lives of two very special women.

So, if you’re sad, be sad.  But don’t forget to be grateful.  Be grateful for this gift of Life we’ve all been given.  It’s so precious.  I owe my life, at least in part, to my Grandmother.  Had it not been for the birth of my Grandmother, my Mother would not be here today.  Had it not been for my Mother, I would not be here today.  And if I were not here today, my wife would not be carrying, what promises to be the most precious child to ever walk this Earth.  Though I may be a bit biased.
Las Vegas conference trip with Louise ~ 2009

Rest in peace, Louise!  You’ve touched the lives of many people!  Hope you're winning big at the slot machines in the sky!

March 6, 2012

I Survived the Holiday Season!

***This entry was written back in January, but due to the chaos of constant pregnancy monitoring and daily life got in the way of posting this blog previously***

Since mid November of 2010 I’ve been dreading this holiday season.  That’s a whole lotta time to anticipate and fear the worst!  Since we learned about Stella’s declining health just before Thanksgiving in 2010 the holiday season started off on a very sad and depressing note and as we progressed closer to Christmas we were faced with nothing but bad news.  There was no holiday spirit in our house, no joy, no looking forward to future holidays with our little girl.  I was surrounded by a cold, bleak sadness deep to my core.  I tried to focus on the positive, that Stella was still with me, and have hope for my daughter’s future.  I tired to pretend to be in to Christmas by putting up our tree, but the darkness was too much for me to overcome and the fake holiday spirit weighed down on me even more.  My husband finally took over and placed lights on the tree while I sat on the couch watching and choking back tears. 

Then, out of no where, I got sick a week before Christmas.  Stella’s life was no longer in theoretical danger, it was about to come crashing to an end!  I was hospitalized the Monday before Christmas with HELLP syndrome and told Stella was too young and too small to survive and my health was in imminent danger with out her delivery.  If you’ve never found yourself in this situation it’s hard to imagine the willingness to die for your child’s survival, but I was assured her chances of her surviving with my rapidly declining health were slim to none and we would likely both be lost.  From that moment on there was no Christmas!  I spent the week in the hospital desperately praying for a miracle and both proud and tortured by Stella’s will to hold on to my womb with her tiny little being.  She held on for nearly 50 hours while the Doctors did everything they could think of to induce her birth.  She didn’t want to come out in to the World.  She knew it was too early to be born and wanted to stay safely inside my womb, but my body failed her. 

I was released from the hospital on Christmas Day in the middle of a huge snow storm.  The roads were in horrible conditions making the half hour drive a very tense and tedious hour and a half.  Once finally safe back home all I wanted to do was camp out on the couch in front of the fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate and cry, but the half decorated Christmas tree was staring back at me as a reminder of the day and we had all been robbed on any sense of normalcy, happiness or joy.  After my break down Trey stepped in again and threw a few decorations on the tree, hung our empty stockings from the mantle and moved the boxes of Christmas decorations that had been stacked in the living room laying in waiting.  He made a Christmas dinner with the groceries he ran out to get on Christmas Eve when we learned of the impending snow and we tried to take back a little piece of the Christmas we had lost along with Stella. 

We spent the rest of the week dealing with the funeral home, writing an obituary for our baby, cancelling OB appointments and planned a small memorial service for Stella on New Years Day.  All the while I was left wondering how I would ever survive the year, 2011, that lay before me?  More importantly, did I even want to?

Now that we have finally kissed 2011 good-bye and welcomed 2012 I guess it’s safe to say I survived!  It was tough in so many ways.  Some I hadn’t even anticipated being so difficult.  For the most part I think I survived mostly by allowing the currents to take me where ever they chose.  I didn’t fight the drowning sensations of having no control, but I also tried not to imagine where the flow was going to take me.  Maybe I just didn’t care where I ended up, so I had no vested interest one way or the other?  Of course it really wasn’t that simple.  We had become involved in twice monthly Perinatal Loss Support Groups as well as deeply involved in our volunteer work with the March of Dimes, so those both gave me a little direction to help steer my course.

My blasé attitude was forced to take the back burner in August once we learned I was carrying Stella’s tiny sibling.  No longer caring where I may end up or what may happen in my future was no longer an option.  After all now I had to consider the future of this growing being inside of me and could no longer just throw in the towel if I didn’t feel like being part of society on any given day.  But, you may be surprised to learn just how difficult it is to carry a baby after having to say a final good-bye to a previous baby.  Some people seem to think getting pregnant after a loss is such a wonderful blessing that the Mother should be floating around on cloud 9 with a perm grin tattooed to her face.  Oh, how I wish it was that simple! 

In many ways experiencing a subsequent pregnancy after a loss is like placing yourself in front of a firing squad every day and giving them the power to determine your faith with a coin toss.  Will today be the end of this baby’s future?  You begin to live every day faced with fear.  You can no longer hold that blind optimism that YOUR baby will grow to be perfectly healthy and get to enjoy the future you had planned.  Once you’ve had it ripped out from under you once you can never gain it back!  Had I fully understood this I may have planned the timing of this pregnancy out a little differently, but then maybe it’s one of those situations where you think you have a firm grasp on how difficult the situation will be only to discovers it’s far more traumatizing than you could have ever imagined?

Regardless, being pregnant with Sprout along almost the exact time schedule as with her big sister Stella really made our first holiday season a unique challenge!  We grieved for what we had lost.  I ached to have Stella with me for her 1st Christmas. I wanted to erase the painful memories of the Christmas and New Years Day from the year before.  But at the same time I was torn by knowing Sprout was with me and if we got incredibly lucky she would be with us for the next holiday season as we celebrate Stella’s 2nd Angelversary.  It was a big if and it felt like a shot in the dark, but it was the only joy I could find to hold on to.  We’ve been blessed to be able to hold on to Sprout thus far and she’s helped guide me through so that I can say, “I survived the holiday season!”