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The New Normal

It’s crazy how you don’t know what your normal is (or was) until there’s a new normal. I’ve experienced it a few times in my life. Up until 2015, the most notable times were when we moved across the country, then moved to another state, then to another (no, we’re not a military family, we just like to move!) Every city has it’s own feel, and with every new city, there’s a new routine, new people, new jobs, etc. That kind of new normal is fun and cool though, plus it was all planned. 

It wasn’t until a year ago that my biggest new normal happened, and it started with my journey to motherhood. I figured I’d just bop along my planned path (I should have known better!), try to have a baby, get pregnant, have a baby forty weeks later, spend twelve weeks with (her) on maternity leave, go back to work, etc. Ha! Life had other plans. 

Let’s just say 2015, and especially the end of Q3 and all of Q4, really had a lot in store for me.

Get ready, here’s the rundown:

I had a miscarriage nine days into the new year, I got pregnant with my daughter (woot woot!), my husband’s grandma died in June, my dad had an ICU stay over the summer and then he was diagnosed with cancer. I developed gestational hypertension – which then turned into preeclampsia and my daughter had to be delivered at 27 weeks 6 days. She developed a severe lung condition (which thankfully resolved) and spent an extended period of time on a ventilator. My dad fell, had a stroke and/or heart attack when he fell, went back to the ICU where he was also on a ventilator, my daughter came home on her due date in December, my dad died ten days later, my dad’s sister died in a different hospital two MINUTES before my dad died, my husband and I left our preemie (who was on an at-home monitor) in SC with my family while we went to the funeral in PA (one of our daughter’s amazing nurses, Mihaela, stayed with her overnight). I got sick at the funeral, and upon returning to SC on Christmas Eve, had to stay away from my daughter for five days until I got better, so I didn’t get to hold her on her first Christmas!

I mean, really?!?!?! There’s not a very good way to process all of that. Everything I thought or planned went right out the window! There were definitely some awesome parts of 2015. I got pregnant with my daughter, I work at a company that supported my unplanned/extended maternity leave, my husband got a great new job (and they were also amazing about him taking time off when our baby arrived). I got to see my dad over the summer before he got sick. I met amazing people at MUSC who cared for our baby for months and have become our friends, and because my daughter was born early I was able to send my dad pictures of her before he went into the ICU. A few days before he died we got to FaceTime with him so they “met.” 

Still, even with those silver linings, it’s like there’s life before 2015 and life after 2015. I imagined my daughter taking trips to Pittsburgh with me and my husband, visiting my dad, him being a pain in the butt while waiting in line at a restaurant, or complaining that the restaurant didn’t have sugar-free dessert (he was a diabetic). I also imagined him playing games with my daughter, tickling her until she practically peed her pants (or actually peed her pants if she takes after me!), giving her a sweet nickname, the list goes on. Now, none of that will happen.

the new normal

My daughter on the day my dad died, blissfully unaware of the craziness.

It drives me INSANE that I’m the only one who will remember their FaceTime session. I did record the audio from the session and the words are also burned onto my soul. Daddy was getting end of life care, and doctors said he’d die within four days. He was off of the ventilator and receiving comfort care, so I knew I would likely never talk to him again. Still, I said “Daddy, I can’t wait until you meet her! Everyone says she has my mouth, and I have yours Daddy. She’s so sweet, Daddy.” Then he said “Ya, so am I! Please let me go, Steph.” I replied “I’ll absolutely let you go Daddy, I love you!” And that was it.

I remember getting off the phone and being ecstatic. It might sound weird to be happy, but when he unexpectedly went into the hospital and was immediately sedated and on a ventilator, I never thought I’d get to talk to him again. So the fact that I got to talk to him (and see him on FaceTime) and hear him joke with me, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. Even though he was dying, he was still “himself” and he got to SEE his granddaughter. 

My daughter will never know my daddy. I hate that. He was (is) so special to me. I really couldn’t make sense of how somehow in Q4 of 2015, the person who created me and the person who I created were both in the ICU, on a ventilator, states away from one another. 

My best friend, Caleigh, had an interesting theory about the situation. She said she believes that my daughter was born early so my dad could know/see her, and my daughter developed the lung issue to help make me stronger so I could handle everything with my dad, and my daughter coming home ten days before my dad died was so my heart could be full even when he was gone. I don’t know if that’s why it happened like that, but I was pretty darn happy with that explanation. 

Still, it bothers me that, to my daughter, my dad will be known as her “mom’s dad.” Before I was born, three of my four grandparents died. The fourth grandparent died when I was three months old (which, ironically, is how old my daughter was when my dad died. I jokingly told my husband he better be taking vitamins, wearing his seatbelt, and doing everything else to protect himself when our daughter has a 3-month old!). So, I never knew any of them. I’m sure that drove my parents nuts and made them sad. To me, it wasn’t that I didn’t love those grandparents or didn’t care, but I literally just didn’t know them. I refer to them as my dad’s mom, my dad’s dad, etc. And that’s what my dad will be to my daughter. Ugh. How can someone who was so important to me not even get to know the person who is now the most important person to me?!?

I am beyond thankful that my daughter gets to grow up and be close to my fantastic mom and stepdad (who has always been like a second dad. I was lucky that I had an amazing dad and stepdad and that they got along!) My daughter and my stepdad are besties! She loves him to the moon and back, it’s very sweet. Another silver lining.

Beyond my dad’s death, there was the new normal of being a new mom! But, in full disclosure, that seemed pretty easy! There was definitely fear because my daughter was a preemie and because of her lung issue – I was terrified of her getting sick, of her monitor going off, the list goes on and on, but with so much craziness that year, nothing bothered me. Waking up in the middle of the night with her, no problem, pumping ’round the clock – that sucked (no pun intended), but no big deal. I was just so damn happy to have that perfect, sweet baby girl home after everything that she went through and everything my dad had to endure. Nothing could possibly seem like a burden.

As you might imagine, my family was beyond happy to ring in the 2016 year!!! Thankfully this year has been much more uneventful. 

the new normal

Daddy and me at my kindergarten graduation.

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2 Responses to The New Normal

  1. Lauren
    Lauren January 3, 2017 at 6:45 pm #

    Love the article Stephanie. I lost my brother and I hate that he will always be known as “mom’s brother” rather than Uncle Lewis. It’s awful and that was 11 years ago. Your daughter doesn’t know it but she was lucky to get that moment with your dad.

    • Stephanie Feals
      Stephanie Feals February 1, 2017 at 10:57 pm #

      Hi Lauren, sorry I’m just seeing this! Thanks for your kind words! So sorry for your loss! Yes! I totally agree. I’m so glad they “met!”

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