Siena's Story: Leigh's Perspective

Waiting for Siena
Not long after Siena's birth, Heidi asked me to write my story about Siena.  I kept waiting for the "right time" - when inspiration struck, when I had plenty of time to really think and process what happened, when I had more than 30 minutes of "free time," when....  You know how that is, right?

About mid-March, I realized the "right time" hadn't arrived because I was afraid to write.  I wasn't sure that whatever I wrote would be enough to give proper due to Siena's life and what it has meant to my family and me.

To tell Siena's story, I really have to go back to Kenna's story.  Heidi and I met at a Baby & Me ECFE class when our oldest children were just three and nine months old.  We soon discovered that we lived in the same apartment building.  It didn't take long for us to become friends and get together to let the babies play (aka let the moms talk to another adult!).  We even planned a joint graduation party for our husbands' college graduations.
Fast forward about four years, during which we'd all moved and taken different jobs.  My husband and I were expecting our second and, since it had been four years since we'd taken a child birth class, Heidi offered to give us a refresher course.  I still remember her talking about planning for the unthinkable - i.e. what if mom and/or baby die.  We moved though that awkward conversation as quickly as possible.

And then the unthinkable did happen.  The day we brought our second child home from the hospital, Tim called to say that Kenna had died.  Heidi was about 30 weeks along.  Kenna was born the following week, and honestly, the few months after that are pretty hazy to me.  Because our baby was so new, it wasn't a good time for me to visit Heidi.  I do remember going to Kenna's memorial service, Tim holding our baby so gently, and planting flowers.

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Leigh & Eva at Kenna's Memorial Service
Time doesn't stop - although I imagine for Heidi and Tim it sometimes felt like it did - and ever so gradually we all adjusted to a new normal.

Fast forward again, but this time about ten years.  During that time, we'd again all gone through more moves and job changes.  Miraculously (and I do mean that in the sense of a God-given miracle), by 2013 we were all settled in the same town, in stable jobs.  In fact, we live less than two miles apart!  The first winter Heidi and Tim lived nearby, Heidi experienced an early second trimester miscarriage.  It was definitely hard on them and the kids - especially their oldest - and I do remember thinking that this late of a miscarriage was something different than Heidi had experienced before.  It never crossed my mind to be concerned that another pregnancy wouldn't go normally.

So, you can imagine how excited everyone was when she and Tim announced that they were expecting again - and the baby would be due about the time of the early second trimester miscarriage.  The timing just seemed so right - where God closes a door, He always opens a window, right?

From the night Heidi hemorrhaged in mid-September until Siena's birth on January 14, so much happened.  Siena's prognosis changed, sometimes daily it seemed; the doctors' recommendations varied, sometimes from one phone call in the morning to another one in the afternoon; and Heidi's restrictions fluctuated, though overall tending towards the "take it easy" end of the spectrum.  It was a rollercoaster ride, simply put.

Despite this, I have to admit I felt an ever-increasing sense of hope.  Hope that Siena would be born alive.  Hope that her lungs would be developed enough to give her a fighting chance at life.  Hope that her bladder and kidney diagnosis would be uncomplicated.  Hope grew to a level approaching certainty as we counted down to January 14.

During the four months until Siena's birth, I really felt like we [family and friends] put forth such a team effort.  We all worked so hard to give this little girl a chance at life, whether watching Heidi's kids while she was in the hospital or at doctor appointments, helping with meals or some housework, or just being a listening ear.  There were days I wanted to tear my hair out with so many extra hands running around - and days I felt like a revolving door for kids.  (At one point, I had 13 kids age 11 and under roaming my back yard and house - my three, Heidi's five, two little friends, two neighbor kids, and a baby - and I was the sole adult in charge).  But I'd do it all over again, with the same hope that Siena would have another opportunity to live longer.

Heidi had a scheduled c-section, given all of the complications known and unknown, so my husband and I were at the hospital about the time Siena was born.  Heidi and Tim had asked my husband to take pictures, no matter what happened, and I felt a sense of urgency to get in to the hospital when we hadn't heard anything by about 11:00.
Not long after we arrived, Tim asked my husband to come in quickly (though he didn't realize we were actually at the hospital).  I guess I knew at that point that Siena was probably not doing well.  It perhaps shouldn't have been a shock when Tim's sister came to tell me, not much later, that the ventilator wasn't working - Siena's lungs were not developed enough.  I couldn't help but cry, and was relieved that there was another small waiting room to hide in - my purpose in being there was to support Heidi, Tim and the kids, not fall apart.

Leigh with Logan and Siena
Once we were aware that Siena was not going to live long, the adults started taking kids back one at a time to hold Siena.  I'm glad that I was able to get a chance to hold her, too.  There is something profound about holding such a tiny body - it made her life, though brief, so very real in a way that Kenna's could not be for me.  Similarly, having extensive pictures - those taken by my husband, in addition to those taken by Heidi and Tim - has helped remind us all that Siena was and is a person.  When my grandpa was dying, it was important for him to hear us say, "It's okay to let go."  Perhaps it's the reverse for an infant - having the chance to create memories and acknowledge her existence are ways to hold on to the idea that she is real and not let her die, in a sense.

Heidi and her family have certainly had their ups and downs of grief since January 14, but I've felt like a much more informed friend, and one who can better roll with the punches.  I visited Heidi at the hospital just before she was discharged and, like our conversation is wont to do, the topics varied widely.  At one point - and I have no idea now what caused it - we were both doubled over laughing.  A nurse walked in, and we immediately sobered - as if laughing could have no place when a mother just sent her baby to the funeral home.  (In retrospect, I'm guessing that nurse wasn't appalled, and there isn't much she hasn't seen.)  But that fit of laughing was a way to release denial, grief, mental and emotional fatigue.  That's not something we were able to do after Kenna died.

Siena's life and death, hard as it is, has also helped deepen my children's understanding of life, friendship, grief, faith and death.

My kids were so excited about a baby - new life.

They sometimes had a difficult time accepting all of the extra help that we gave Heidi and Tim - sacrifices made in deep friendship.

My oldest took it very hard when we learned that Siena likely had some issues - grief coming from loss, and unmet expectations.

My second child is much like Kylee (Heidi's third) - her response was that everything would be alright, that God wanted Siena with Him in heaven, that all was okay with the world even though we were sad - deep and abiding faith.

Eva (left) and Kylee at Siena's Funeral
My youngest just had lots of questions, such as what Siena looked like - the physicality of death.

Sean and Logan at Siena's Funeral
Do you have a Siena story to share?  We would be happy to post it in this space, you can e-mail your story (don't email any pictures initially as the attachment will probably shoot the email to my junk folder) to workplayread @ gmail . com (no spaces).  Be sure to mention Siena in the email title so I don't delete it.  Long and short stories are welcome!   Thanks!

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