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Tuesday, September 30, 2008


The argument over whether women should stay home or work outside the home has always bothered me.

It's such a deeply personal decision. There is no "right" answer. Just because you stay home with your children, it doesn't mean you're a better mother than a mom who works outside the home. And vice versa. People from both sides tend to be so judgemental. Some women who stay at home tend to think they are better parents, and some women who work outside the home think stay at home moms have no life.

I have never thought it was black and white. To me, it's a personal decision. What's right for me isn't necessarily right for you.

I chose to go back to work after my daughters were born. I'm not saying it was easy. The first days back were always so hard, and I absolutely dreaded it during the weeks leading up to it. But, once I got in the swing of things I enjoyed it. I've always been very career-oriented and I loved being productive at work.

Yes, my children had to go to daycare. (Actually, Ann Catherine didn't go the first year of her life because she was so premature. She stayed home with my mom instead). I loved the social interaction my children got at daycare. And I loved what they learned. And when I got home at night, Chris and I gave them our undivided attention. No TV, no internet, no reading newspapers - we spent uninterrupted time with them until they went to bed.

But there are cons to working outside the home. If my kids woke up sick during the night, it threw me into a tailspin. What would we do the next morning? Luckily, my parents live here and my mom would help me out. But sometimes they were out of town. Then, I always felt guilty sending my kids to my mom's house for her to take care of them instead of me. I wanted to be the one to console them and love them. At the Foundation, I had a wonderful boss who would let me work from home when my kids were sick. But, sometimes I had an important meeting or something that just couldn't be cancelled. I always hated leaving them.

About six months ago, I felt like God was telling me he wanted me to stay home with my kids. I was confused at first. I had a job that I loved and my kids were happy at their daycare.

Even so, I kept feeling like he was telling me to slow down. I realized that in just two years Ann Catherine will start kindergarten and at that time, she'll have to go to school full time. I also realized that this was time I could never get back. My biggest fear was that five years down the road I would look back and wish I had spent more time with them. At that point, I wouldn't be able to do anything about it.

I started praying, "God, if this is what you want for us, please make it clear and please open the doors." Without going into detail, I can tell you he opened a series of doors for us, and Chris and I realized this was what he wanted for our lives.

A couple of weeks after Swim for Melissa, I told my boss of my decision. My boss, Candy, is also a dear friend of mine. She hated to see me go, but she completely understood my decision. My last day on the job at the Foundation is this Friday. Having said that, please understand that this in no way diminishes my commitment to the Melissa George Neonatal Memorial Fund. It goes without saying that the Fund is an integral part of our lives. Our hearts are with this Fund. Even when I worked full-time at Channel 19, Chris and I were very hands-on with Melissa's Fund. We will continue to do that and to carry out our mission of giving premature infants the best healthcare possible.

I feel good about leaving at this time. In just three years, Melissa's Fund has raised $600,000 for the NICU. Isn't that amazing?! I take absolutely no credit for that. When Chris and I started Melissa's Fund, I turned it over to God and told him he was going to have to carry us, because I didn't know if I could do it. I give him all the glory for what we've been able to do. Also, without the people in the community who have donated to Melissa's Fund, we could not have carried out this mission.

I plan to continue my blog. I started this while I was on maternity leave with Lily as a way to keep viewers updated. I love posting and have created some wonderful "blog" friendships. I've learned that many parents who have walked in our shoes and dealt with the loss of a child or a stay in NICU read this blog. I want to continue to use it to reach out to others.

Please pray for me as I start this new chapter with my girls. As excited as I am, I'm also a little nervous. I have always worked outside the home and I know it will be a different experience. I still plan to send them to daycare a couple of days a week. I would be lying if I said I wasn't excited about using that time to also get some things done. When you work outside the home full-time, it's just impossible to get some things done. I feel like I use the weekends to get all of those other things done, and it gets pretty tiring. Chris is pretty excited about me cooking. Ha - he might change his mind once he eats it :)

Thanks to those of you who have encouraged me. And to all you moms out there, just remember: no matter what you choose to do, if you are doing what you feel is best for you and your family, then it's the right decision.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More Thoughts about Butterflies

I gave more thought today to the concept of releasing butterflies in memory of your child. (Read my post below to learn more about how butterflies were released this weekend in memory of Tori Wilhoit).

I remembered that as Melissa and her family were releasing the butterflies, none of them immediately flew away. They almost had to be given a little nudge and almost pushed out. But, once they finally left the plastic glass, away they went. They fluttered their wings and flew through the air so effortlessly.

I thought of my own daughter and it seemed symbolic. I'm sure she probably didn't want to leave me, Chris and Ann Catherine at first. I'm sure she wanted to stay with us and live here. But once we were able to let her go, she was able to fly away. She was able to leave her sick body that she was trapped in, and was released into something so special.

Letting go is the hardest part. It's not natural to say goodbye to your child. It's not natural to let them go.

I don't think I'll ever look at a butterfly the same way again. As I see that beautiful creature fly, I'll think of my sweet and brave daughter. It will serve as a loving reminder to me of my Melissa and the beautiful being that she is.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Special Party for a Special Girl

I wanted to fill you all in on how it went at the celebration of Tori Wilhoit's life on Saturday.

It was beautiful, sad, touching, painful and inspiring. It was all of those things.

Tori was a brave little girl who fought hard to be part of this world. And during the time that she was here, she impacted all of those who knew her, and those of us who didn't know her personally - but felt like we did.

And even in her death, she is still making an impact.

On Saturday, her parents, Josh and Melissa, held a gathering on what would have been Tori's first birthday. It was so nice for me to finally meet them, especially Melissa. I have felt such a connection to her since I first heard about Tori, and we have corresponded often by mail and email. It was so nice to finally hug her and meet her. Of course, we both cried as we hugged each other. I knew exactly what Melissa was feeling on that day, because I have been there. I know how empty your child's birthday can feel when they are no longer here. I know how empty your heart can feel, as well. As she and I hugged one another, I just hurt for her. Until you have been there, you can't possibly understand how it feels.

Melissa and her family did the most beautiful thing to honor Tori. Melissa had read somewhere that a butterfly was symbolic of a mother letting go of her child. So Melissa, Josh and their families went on the back steps of the clubhouse and released butterflies. It was so amazing just watching them flutter their wings and fly. As I stood there and watched them, I thought of my own daughter and how that sweet angel flew away from us one day. Their flight seemed so effortless, much unlike the pain and struggles she went through on this Earth. It was such a contrast to me and a beautiful reminder of how happy and carefree she is now. Of course, as a mother you want to grab that beautiful butterfly and beg her to fly back to you. But you also realize that once she flies away, she can never come back. The good news for me is that I can, and will, fly to her one day.

I also told Melissa about what we do on my Melissa's birthday. We release balloons to Heaven, and I think it's a wonderful visual for Ann Catherine to see those balloons flying up into the air. I encouraged her to do that as Savannah gets older, so she can see those balloons flying up to her sister.

Once I left, I got into my car and started driving home. I started crying. Really hard. The day just brought back so many memories. I cried because I missed my daughter. I cried because I wanted her back. I cried because it still just hurts so bad sometimes.

At the same time, I'm glad I know where my daughter is. I'm glad that she isn't in pain. I'm glad that she is okay. And I'm glad that I will see her again. Actually, "glad" doesn't even do it justice.

Several of the people who came to remember Tori brought something for the NICU - mostly preemie clothes and blankets. Somewhere down the road, a mother will have an emergency c-section or delivery and she'll bring a premature baby into this world. Because the baby was born so early, she won't have any blankets for her. Once she's admitted to the NICU, buying a blanket for her baby will be the last thing on her mind. She's just praying her daughter survives. Then, she'll walk into the NICU one day, and see a beautiful blanket laying over her daughter. She'll ask the nurse where the blanket came from and the nurse will say, "It was donated."

I know, because it happened to me. I still have that blanket. And because of Tori, another child will have a special blanket. And the child's mother will be so grateful.

To read Melissa Wilhoit's blog and to learn her thoughts about the rememberance of Tori, click here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Celebrating Tori's Life

Those of you who faithfully read my blog may remember a post I wrote in July about a little girl named Tori Wilhoit. (If you haven't, click on "July" on the right-hand side of this page and scroll down to "Tori is Still Making a Difference.")

Tori was born on September 20, 2007. She was immediately taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children, but was moved in November to Vanderbilt. I followed her life on the Caring Bridge website created by her mother, Melissa. This precious baby endured more than any child should ever have to endure. But, through it all, her mother's faith never wavered. Melissa was such an inspiration to me, as was Tori. When she died in March at the tender age of six months, I cried and cried. I had never met this little girl, yet, I felt like I knew her.

This Saturday is the anniversary of Tori's birth. Please lift Melissa and her family up in prayer this week. When you lose a child, each "first" is hard - the first birthday, the first Christmas, the first Easter, etc. But for me, the day that would have been my Melissa's first birthday was by far the hardest. It just brings back a flood of emotions, and reminds you that the sweet baby you brought into the world is no longer here.

Just as my Melissa, Tori's life had purpose. Her life and her mother's faith have touched so many people, and strengthened the faith of those people, as well. Tori is an angel in Heaven and I know she is so proud of her mommy and how she has continued to live, even on the days when it just hurts so bad.

Melissa is having a special get-together on Saturday to celebrate Tori's life, and I'm planning to go. I feel honored to be part of this special celebration. Melissa is asking those who come to bring items for the NICU in honor of Tori's life. Even in her death, Tori is making a difference in the lives of other premature infants and their families.

Please remember the Wilhoits this week as they approach this bittersweet day. Lift them up and pray for them. If you have a chance, click here to read Melissa's blog and learn more about this angel named Tori.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ann Catherine's First Bama Game!

Saturday was a milestone for Ann Catherine. It was her first time to go to a 'Bama game!

My mother offered to keep Lily so we could take Ann Catherine to her first game. It worked out perfectly for two reasons. One, the opponent was Western Kentucky so it wasn't as intense as an SEC game. And two, it was a 6 p.m. kickoff, so it wasn't so sweltering hot.

She had a great time. For the first quarter, she was just mesmerized. The sounds, the sights, the band, the cheerleaders, the football players and the occasional "Mommy, there's big Al!" She played with my binoculars and took some pictures with the camera.

Midway through the second quarter, boredom set in. I mean, there's just so much that can hold a three-year-old's attention. It didn't help that she had to sit in my lap the whole time. So, at halftime we left.

It didn't matter. Being an Alabama graduate, it was very special for me to be able to take Ann Catherine to a game. And as always with her, it was just another reminder of how blessed we are to have her. As she sat in my lap, cheering and shaking her shaker, my mind wandered back to the NICU as it often does during special moments. I remembered that sick little baby fighting so hard to live. Then I looked at her, and saw this healthy and vibrant three-year-old going to her first football game with mommy and daddy. It was really special.

I'm posting some pictures from our fun weekend. One of the best parts was catching up with my best friend, Olivia, who lives in Tuscaloosa (we were in college together). She's Ann Catherine's godmother and I'm her oldest daughter's godmother. Her girls are 5 and 3 and absolutely precious! We went to their house Friday afternoon and Ann Catherine and Lily had a blast playing with them!

And the cute little dog in one of the pictures? That's Buddy, my niece and nephew's new dog (that's my nephew Will holding him). Buddy made his first trip to Tuscaloosa this weekend. All in all, it was just a fabulous time!

Monday, September 1, 2008

A Wonderful Weekend

I just love three-day weekends.

We certainly enjoyed ours. You saw my pictures from our leisurely Saturday morning on my post below. Then, Sunday evening we took the kids' to our friends Steve and Laura's house. While the four of us adults caught up, our kids played. It was so nice coming home Sunday night and knowing we had ANOTHER day to relax.

We woke up today and had pancakes again, and then I just let the kids lay around and play in their pjs all morning. Then, we took them to a park for lunch and had a picnic. They had a blast! I've posted some pictures. Tonight we're going to grill out and just relax before it's back to the grindstone tomorrow. I hope you enjoyed your weekend as much as we did!