Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Maddie's Birth Story

There are many things in this story I wish I could forget or erase or change, like, the fact that if I had known what Maddie was going to bring to our family, I would have only cried tears of joy the night we found out about the Down syndrome, but changing it wouldn't be true to the story. It's taken me a while to get the whole story out, and the only reason that I am writing it is for Madelyn. I want and need for her to know that I always loved her, and I always will. This is her story, just from my point of view, and as painful as some of the story was for me at the time, the reality is that I had closed myself off to be able to see the amazing things to come from this little girl. Madelyn and Aiden have opened my eyes to a world that is better, kinder, and full of possibilities and I will forever be grateful to them for that. I started writing this back in August, but held back from finishing it until now. It feels right to finish it now, as we get ready to write a new chapter in her life, one that will start off by celebrating Madelyn the way we should have a year ago.

Madelyn Elizabeth Williams, 1/27/10

I have often thought about writing Maddie's birth story, to have it down somewhere so that I could release it a bit. That day was filled with so many different emotions and it's still a little hard for me to make sense of all the things I was feeling that day, and sometimes still feel today. When I think about her birth there is always a "before" and an "after". Somewhere in there the world, and my view of it, changed.

Madelyn has Down syndrome. I said it, or rather, wrote it. Looking at the words on the screen and reading them still seems like some sort of dream to me. Down syndrome. In the early days after hearing this, my mind would race and play that sentence over and over in my head. Madelyn has Down syndrome. Down syndrome. Down syndrome. Down syndrome. Over and over. It makes me feel breathless. Not as badly as it did in the hospital when the pediatrician said it, but similar. Down syndrome. It's like ripping a bandaid off, reapplying it, and ripping it off again. It doesn't sting as badly as it did the first time, but it still hurts. Those two words pop into my head randomly during the day. Not as frequently as they used to at first, but it's still a daily occurrence. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I'm just the mother of two children, then it comes and smacks me in the face, Down syndrome, and I'm breathless again. It always takes awhile for me to get my breath back. I don't ever want to tell her birth story to the point that I am numb about it, but releasing it a little so that I can breathe sounds a little freeing to me. So here goes:

I knew early on that Maddie was going to be a lot different from her brother. I had all-day morning sickness and nausea with Aiden, and with Maddie it was worse. However, with Maddie I began to lose weight. I didn't start putting on weight until somewhere in the 3rd trimester. By the time I delivered, I had only gained an additional 7 lbs. from my starting weight. The midwives were never concerned about Maddie's weight, and said that she would get all that she needed from my body and that I shouldn't worry.

Maddie moved much differently than Aiden. It's funny how much you can tell about your child before they are born; how their movements tell you a story about them before they are even brought into this world. Aiden was very active, pushy, demanding, and never backed down. Maddie was a little gentler, slower moving, and more cautious. She never pushed back and mostly just moved in my belly with glided movements.

I also had Braxton Hicks early on in my pregnancy with Maddie and knew that she was going to be early. How early, I was unsure of, but I knew she would be early. With Aiden I thought I was going to be pregnant for-ev-er (and he was 8 days late)! So when I went into labor on January 27th, two weeks early, I wasn't surprised (never mind the fact that I was walking up and down two flights of stairs with a two-and-a-half year old on my back while carrying a basket full of laundry all morning).

I always wanted a little girl, I dreamed of having a little girl. The day I found out that we were having one was one of the happiest day of my life. I couldn't have been more ecstatic. I was soaring for the rest of my pregnancy. All my dreams were coming true. Things were perfect. Normally, I am a worrier. I worry about things that aren't likely to happen, I focus on them, obsess about them, even though there's usually nothing that can be done to prevent it. So it was unusual for me to feel like nothing could go wrong. Nothing could have prepared me for the shock I was about to receive. I was about to be blindsided and I had no idea.

There were things that happened during Aiden's birth that I wanted to make sure I avoided again for Maddie's birth. With Aiden I had a C-section and I'm still not entirely sure why. So for my second pregnancy I switched to a group of midwives, who were wonderful! I also did not feel like I had any choices or support during my delivery with Aiden, so I hired a doula for Maddie's birth as well. This birth was going to go my way; I was determined to have a successful VBAC and was going to stack the odds in my favor.

Early that Wednesday morning, I got up and started doing laundry. I knew I was getting close to my due date and wanted to make sure I had some essentials clean so that I could pack them in advance for the hospital. Aiden didn't like to be left alone upstairs while I was doing laundry, so I put him in the baby carrier on my back and took him to the basement with me. While going down to put in the first load of laundry, I started to feel contractions, but just thought they were more Braxton-Hicks. I came back up and Aiden chose that day to decide that he wanted to start peeing on the potty. At first I thought, "Sure, nothing else is going on today. We'll try it." The morning continued on, laundry, big boy peeing in the potty, up and down the stairs, more Braxton-Hicks. After a little bit, my friend, Lindsay, called. I decided this was a good time to lie down, drink some water, and relax a bit since the contractions weren't going away. Half way through our conversation, I realized that the contractions were getting stronger and more frequent. It was time to hang up, put Aiden's diaper back on and call Grant, the doula, and the midwives to give them all a heads up.

With the anticipation of her impending arrival, I was growing more and more exited, building things up in my head. Imagining the first time we would get to look at her, the first time I would be able to hold her, see Grant hold her, listen to her cry, and the first time Aiden would get to see his baby sister. I was on cloud 9, and nothing could bring me down.

I labored at home for a few hours, Grant came home and helped me finish packing, and our friend Meredith came over to stay with Aiden while we went to the hospital. The doula was going to meet us at the hospital in an hour, since we figured it was going to take us that long to finish packing, drive to the hospital, and get checked in anyway. The contractions were 5 minutes apart and intense. Things were happening fast, or so I thought.

They checked me at the hospital when I came in, I was only 2 centimeters dilated. Originally, they wanted to send me home to labor for a little longer, but I knew, I knew this was it, that there was no going home; my baby girl was coming. They decided to let me labor at the hospital for a couple of hours and recheck me later.

We wandered the halls, and each floor of the hospital, stopping for contractions. The funny part about it was that we were at the WOMEN'S hospital, where babies are born everyday, and yet, when I was walking and laboring in the hallways, people would stop and ask if I was alright. Doctors, nurses, orderlies, all stopped to ask if I was ok. I thought, "Of course I'm fine, I'm just in labor! How have you not seen this a million times before?!?"

The contractions were getting more and more painful and coming one on top of another. The midwife rechecked me and I hadn't made much progress. They decided to give me some morphine to help me rest for a little while. Their theory was that the morphine would either stop the contractions all together and I could go home, or that they would relax me enough that I would dilate more and be rested for later when it was time to push. Either way, I was supposed to be asleep within a half hour.

Grant decided this would be a good time for him to go and get something to eat so that he would be ready for everything else after I woke up. I agreed that this was probably the best time for him to go and our doula agreed to stay with me. I lied down on the bed and tried to relax. The room was quiet, the lights were dim, and my eyes were shut. However, the pain wasn't subsiding and I was only growing more uncomfortable. Fifteen minutes later, as I was trying to breathe through the pain, I had our doula talk to the nurse. The nurse blew us off and told us that I needed to wait another 15 minutes. Grant eventually came back and when he did he found me writhing in pain on a collapsable bed that was falling apart in the triage area (because I hadn't progressed far enough to be taken back to labor and delivery). Our doula asked the nurse to please page our midwife so that we could see what was happening. The morphine was having the opposite effect. In the half hour between getting the morphine and the midwife coming back in, I had dilated 7cm, but I could feel every single intensified contraction that went along with it. I was at 9cm and I felt ready to push. There was a huge commotion due to the fact that I hadn't been moved into the labor and delivery suite yet, and as I was yelling that I needed to push. I had the midwife, the doula, Grant, and the nurses telling me not to.

We got back to Labor and Delivery and I was finally able to push. I'm not sure how long I pushed for, but what I do remember is that Maddie got stuck, just as Aiden had, and her heartbeat was dropping quickly. They were telling me again to stop pushing. I felt like they were telling me that I had to stop a train, mid-track, with my bare hands. There was no way I was going to be able to stop it. They pushed her back up inside me to turn her a little hoping this would help her out. Her heart rate slowly began to come back up and they let me push again. It didn't take long. Her slippery little body was placed on my belly and she was here. After 8 short hours of labor, she was here.

I cried. I cried because I was happy to finally see my daughter, to hold my daughter in my arms, I cried because I had found new strength within myself by having a successful VBAC, and I cried because this was how I had envisioned Aiden's birth and I felt like I was making up for what had gone wrong during his birth.

I lied there, holding my sweet baby, crying, and admiring her. The nurses took her and cleaned her up, got her apgar scores, and handed her back to me. She was the tiniest little thing I had ever seen, weighing in at 5lbs. 15oz. She was wrinkly, and squished, and I remember thinking she looked like my baby pictures.

I could tell something was different about her, though. At first I thought that she looked different from Aiden because he had been a C-section, or that he was bigger, so I didn't say anything. I examined her a little closer and asked why her ears were both folded in the middle. The midwife assured me that it was because of labor and that there was nothing to worry about. I was told that they would correct themselves and that Madelyn was fine, I shouldn't worry about it. But, I knew something was different. I couldn't put my finger on what it was, but there was something that someone wasn't telling me.

We were taken back to a recovery room and spent an amazing first night together as a family. I was so elated that I stayed up until about 2am just looking at her, admiring her, and cuddling her. With Aiden, I had been so scared of him and of myself as a mother. It was wonderful that night being able to know that I didn't need to fear my own mothering abilities with Madelyn. I knew what to anticipate with a newborn and knew that I would be able to rise to the challenge. Instead of feeling that panic I did with Aiden, I felt calm and content with Maddie. I was ready, and confident, and just wanted to take my little peanut home.

Maddie was already such a different baby than Aiden had been. She was quiet, and calm, and never fussed. She was just as content to hang out with Grant or in the bassinet as she was in my arms. She was beautiful and perfect and I was soaring!

I felt great physically after giving birth as well. With Aiden I was sore for weeks and recovery was a long and slow process since I had had a c-section. But, with the VBAC, I was up out of bed 5 minutes after giving birth. I got to change Maddie's first diaper, something I couldn't do with Aiden because it hurt too badly to even shift weight in bed, let alone get out. I got to give her her first sponge bath, something the nurses did with Aiden. And, it didn't hurt to nurse her since there were no stitches for her to lie on. Maddie and I were bonding so quickly. I felt that I missed out on all of those things that had seemed to take longer with Aiden.

The next morning, I remember the nurse coming in and checking on us. I had been up early, took a shower and got out of the hospital gown into some normal clothes. I even put on a little make-up since I knew we'd be having visitors and there were lots of pictures to be taken. The nurse came in twice that morning to check on us and I remember vividly her saying, "I just don't know where that pediatrician is. He's supposed to be here this morning and he knows he needs to come to your room." She said it so emphatically that it made me feel a little uneasy. Something was up, there was no reason that she would need the pediatrician to come in so quickly in the morning. It was a giant red flag, but when I looked at Maddie, I just saw a perfect beautiful little girl... what could be going on?

When Aiden was born, the pediatrician came in and told us that he had a heart murmur, and would need to be seen by a cardiologist. I thought maybe she had the same thing, that's what I prepared myself for. Nothing major, she'd get checked out and I was sure, would be fine. There was nothing to worry about.

Eventually the pediatrician came in. I was excited to see him and have him tell me that my little girl was perfect, that he didn't have any concerns and we could go home as soon as we wanted. He seemed a little uneasy, hesitant, and I thought, "Here we go... heart murmur... cardiology... yeah, yeah yeah, we've been here before, things are fine, nothing to worry about, I'll set up my appointment as soon as we get home."

I was smiling, laughing, joking, why wasn't he? He sat down and started to speak, "Your daughter has Down syndrome." The air was sucked out of the room. Trying to catch my breath, "What?". "Your daughter has Down syndrome." I was gasping for air. "Do you have any questions?" "What?" "Do you have any questions?" I couldn't understand what he was telling me. How did he know? How could he be sure? Did he have the right room? Where is the air, and why can't I breathe? I'm dreaming, this isn't happening. He's not talking about my daughter. I was in shock. I looked at Maddie, and thought, "He's lying. He doesn't know what he's talking about." What he said after that is too fuzzy to remember, but before I could talk he was gone. He just left. He couldn't deal with telling us and he left before we could ask any questions, before it had time to sink in, before I could feel the pain, before I could breathe.

I wanted to throw up. I wanted to take my daughter and leave, I wanted him to take it all back. He had to be wrong. No one came into our room for a while after he left. I sobbed. I looked at Maddie, this couldn't be true. How could I not see what he was talking about? I had worked with a little girl who had Down syndrome when I was in high school and Maddie didn't look like her. She looked like my baby pictures.

The pediatrician had said something about a chromosomal test, he said that it would come back positive, but I could hold out hope. I looked at her ears, I looked at her neck, I looked at her eyes. I could see it. I knew. I knew he was right.

Immediately, the guilt came flooding in. Had I done this to her? If I hadn't wanted another baby so badly, would this have happened? What kind of life was this precious baby going to have? Would she hate me if she couldn't have the kind of quality of life that "typical" children had? Was she going to have to work harder and get less in return? Was Aiden going to blame me and hate me when he was older because he was going to have to be her guardian? Would he willingly give up opportunities to take care of her? Did I want him to? Would he hate me because he didn't have a "typical" sibling? Is she going to get made fun of? Is he going to get made fun of? How do I help them cope with this possibility? How do I teach them to rise above it? How do I navigate this new "special needs" world? Was my family going to be disappointed in me, and in my new family? How was this going to change us? Would we crumble under the pressure? Was Grant going to blame me for this the way I was blaming myself? Was Maddie feeling all of this pain along with me? Could she sense how I was feeling? How could I be so crushed, but still so in love with her at the same time?

I wasn't ready to tell anyone. I couldn't find the words to tell family. I didn't want anyone I told to tell anyone else. I wasn't ready to have it out there in the world. What people needed to know was that we had a darling little baby girl and that she was healthy, and sweet, and perfect. I needed people to respect my timeline for letting the news out. I needed to be able to feel supported from the core people we told before I was ready for the news to get out. I needed to control it because I felt like I was in a tailspin. My whole world had just been thrown upside down.

My Mom was with Aiden and I couldn't tell her first. I had to wait until Aiden was down for a nap before I told her. I didn't want him to worry, or be sad, or know that there was anything to be sad about. I called my step-mom, I needed my Dad to know, but knew I wouldn't be able to form the words if I talked to him. My stepmom, Barb, was in the middle of Meijer, grocery shopping when I spewed it out. She sat on the phone with me, cried with me, hurt with me, and then said, "We're just going to love her to pieces, the same as we would have done before, and she will know that." Relief washed over me. It made me feel stronger. Barb was there carrying me through, others quickly joined her, my Mom, Grant's family, Aiden, my Dad, friends and extended family. They were there loving us and loving my little girl, when I felt like there was no moving forward.

Aiden finally came to meet his baby sister. It was magical. He showed me the true meaning of unconditional love. He loved her instantly and magically. He showed no fear. He was so proud of her and to be a big brother. She would never be seen in his eyes as anything less than she was... his baby sister. He showed me there was nothing to be afraid of, and that it was okay to love this little baby because she was mine. She was the same baby I had bonded with for 9 months. The same baby that I had read and sang to at night while I was pregnant. She was my little girl. He gave me strength and showed me the way.

The next couple of nights were filled with a lot of grieving, feelings of guilt, and gut-wrenching pain, but every time I looked at Madelyn, I was filled with love. I've said it before, but it was never, ever hard to love Maddie, to love my little girl, but learning to love the Down syndrome has been a process. In the beginning it was hard to see the future, to know what to wish for for my daughter and my family, but as the year has passed, that's become a distant memory. I have learned, from watching other children and adults with Down syndrome, that Madelyn can lead a fulfilling, meaningful, life, and I am so lucky to be able to have a front-row seat to watch her bloom. Maddie has opened up a whole new world for me and as this first year of her life comes to a close, I can honestly look back and know that there is nothing I would change about her. We are so lucky that she chose us to be her parents, to be her family. And, even though I know it won't always be easy, what I do know is that we will always love her, just as we did before she was born.

Happy Birthday Sweet Little Madelyn!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Grant's 30th Birthday

Grant's 30th birthday was this week. It wasn't a huge celebration, like he had planned for me, but we did go out to dinner and I made a Heath Bar Cake for him. His celebration was more in the present that I got for him than the actual day. However, had I been able to get everything done, it would have been one heck of a birthday surprise! My original intention was to plan a great weekend getaway to New York City, go see a Broadway (or Off-Broadway, or Off- Off- Broadway) play, do some sight-seeing and be back before Grant had class on Tuesday. Grant has never been to NYC and I thought that this would be a great time for him to go, see a great production, and remember why he loves (and chose) Theatre to study in the first place. With all of the work, and frustration, on his prospectus/dissertation lately, I thought it might help inspire him a little bit. Unfortunately, due to some extenuating circumstances, a blizzard, and lack of knowledge on my part, I decided the best thing to do was to get him a gift certificate for a Broadway play. That way he can help plan it, and I'm not worried that he's going to hate whatever play I pick out for us to see, and it will be a little nicer weather when we finally get to go.

We came back from dinner and watched the last couple of episodes of the last season of Dexter with our friends and had cake and ice cream. I wish that I would have been able to pull everything off for a big surprise, but despite that, I think he had a great night.

Things have been pretty busy here, the normal appointments, shuffling everyone to and from school, etc. Maddie had an appointment on Friday to have her hearing re-screened, she passed with flying colors, and she also had her thyroid tested again. We won't know the results for a few days, but I don't think there's anything to worry about.

We've been busy trying to get things in order for her 1st birthday party next week, and so far, I'm falling behind. I guess that's pretty typical though, I seem to like pulling things together at the last minute. Click the link below for a little preview of what's to come for her birthday!

Maddie's 1st Birthday

I can't believe it's only a little over a week until my sweet baby turns one! I think of all the things I was busy doing last year getting ready for her impending arrival. The furry of trying to make sure everything's clean and ready and prepared, so that when it happens the whole world isn't in disarray. It's a little of the same this year, preparing for her birthday, but I'm not waiting for contractions to start at any minute.

I'm excited to be able to sit back and reflect on all that has happened this year, and to finally be able to celebrate Madelyn like we should have been able to do a year ago. This year will be just that, a celebration of her and the day she was born. No more dwelling on the what-if's and the unknown, because while we were busy worrying about those things, Maddie was busy growing and learning and showing us that there was nothing to worry about and that she was so much more than we ever thought. I'm excited to celebrate these things about her and to fully see her for her, for being my daughter, Aiden's sister, and a wonderful, enriching part of our family!

Friday, January 14, 2011

The ONEder Fund

I have no words. Please, watch the video below, donate, and spread the love for Maddie, Nella, and all the other 400,000 individuals living in the U.S. with Down syndrome. (Also, check out Maddie waving at around 5 1/2 minutes in!!)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Shine Bright

*small disclaimer: this is a long post. I tried to condense it, but with over 500 pictures taken while on vacation, it was impossible to get it much smaller.

I have been struggling to write this post because this Christmas has meant so much to us. I'm afraid I won't be able to fully articulate how significant this year was. Last year was so full of hope and promise and dreams. Not only was I pregnant, but there was an anticipation of what was to come, and an open door of possibilities. Right after Maddie was born, I was afraid I had lost that, but I have so fully gained all of that back plus a newfound feeling of gratitude and appreciation. I knew Maddie would change our lives forever before she was born, just as her brother had done, but I had no idea how far she would stretch and push my heart to grow and love.

Which brings me to the title of this post and the title of our Christmas Card. Shine Bright. So much has happened this year, and this is what I'm taking from the whole crazy ride. Shine bright, embrace our differences, celebrate them, cherish them, and don't be afraid to be who you were born to be. I never thought that one tiny, dependent person would be the one to show me this in such a short amount of time, but she has. I want my babies to learn to shine bright throughout their lives, to never be afraid to be themselves and to know that they are fully accepted just the way they are.

On a side note, you should head on over to Kelle Hampton's blog, HERE, to see how she is helping others with Down syndrome to Shine Bright, as well. Donate if you can, or are moved to, she's not asking for much, whatever you can give, all the money raised goes to the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). She started with a goal of $15,000 and $5 donations from every state in the U.S. and beyond have put her above her goal 3 times already, and she's reaching for the stars! Her next goal is $63,000 (for the 3 sets of the 21st chromosome), but my guess is she's going to have to raise the bar again! And on a personal note, it has been amazing for me to feel this sense of community with everyone who has donated. I check the site multiple times a day to see how fast the donations are pouring in. It shows me how much good there is in this world, and that I don't have to be so afraid of the people who will not accept my daughter, because there are many, many more people who do understand and accept her than don't. I am thankful and grateful to Kelle for opening my eyes to this.

So, on with the rest of the post...

This year, for Christmas, we went to Florida with my Dad and Step-Mom, Barb, my brother, Austin, Grandpa Mac, and his girlfriend, Joanne. When we started talking about going, I quickly realized that it had been over 10 years since I spent an actual Christmas Day with this side of my family, and knew it had been too long.

Both kids did an amazing job on the plane ride. Aiden was happy to have some videos to watch, sit in the seat like a big boy and look out the window.  Maddie fell asleep during take-off and woke up 15 minutes before we landed. I don't think it could have gone more perfectly! Unfortunately for me, Maddie being asleep the whole time severely limited my mobility and I spent most of the 2 1/2 hour flight just holding her, and trying not to wake her up. However, both kids were happy, no one cried even a whimper, so I really have nothing to complain about.

Aiden was so excited to go to Florida. We talked for weeks about what Florida would be like and even watched some YouTube videos about manatees, dolphins, alligators and of course sharks (because the kid is OBSESSED with sharks) to prepare. So when Granddad picked us up from the airport, Aiden's natural first question, was about when and where we were going to see sharks. When he found out that we probably wouldn't be seeing any sharks he turned his attention to things we could do... like swimming.

Maddie was happy to stay inside and play with blocks... the water and weather were too cold for her.

For years my husband has not really cared about sports. It's one of the things I liked about him while we were dating. I didn't have to devote an entire day to watching football, we could go do other things together and enjoy our day. However, there is something about the Steelers that has drawn him in (ok, I have to admit, they've kinda drawn me in, too). You know that saying that people can't ever change? Yeah, well my husband is proving them wrong. He is so obsessed, in fact, that he had to find the game on the internet and watch it while we were gone.

When Tom and I were little and going to Florida with my Dad every other year for Christmas, it was tradition that the weather would turn bad and inevitably be "one of the coldest" periods that Florida had had in years. It never failed. It was as if the second our plane landed the weather would turn cold and as we were taking off to go home, the weather would warm up. Well, this year was really no different, but Aiden didn't let the cold stop him from pretending to swim.

And Maddie enjoyed reading books indoors with her Granddad.

We busily prepared for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day when we got down to Sanibel Island, wrapping presents, stopping by the grocery store, and making cookies. A note (that Aiden attempted to sign his name to), cookies for Santa, and carrots for the reindeer were left by the (brand new) fire place, but I just realized that we didn't leave any milk out... oops. I hope the Big Guy didn't hold it against us.

If you look closely, you can see his "A" and "i"
Christmas morning came quickly and I was so excited to see Aiden's face when he had seen that Santa came to visit. He's a bit shy and apprehensive, but had no problems warming up quickly. He was excited to see that Santa and the reindeer had eaten some of their treats, but couldn't figure out why he had left anything. *Note to self: Next year make sure Santa finishes cookies* But, he was excited that he could eat the leftovers, especially since it was the first thing he had had all morning to eat... cookies for breakfast, every 3 year old's dream come true!

Maddie was happy to just be held and look cute in her Christmas pj's. And, in case you can't tell, yes, her pj's have a little tutu on them... so stinking cute!!

Christmas morning love.

Aiden was done with the love and ready to open presents.

He was a good elf helper and passed out all the presents. I was happy that this was no longer my job.

Maddie and her new "Maddie the Mermaid" that Aiden gave to her as her Christmas gift. She loves her!

Grandpa Mac and Joanne, getting into the Christmas spirit!

Aiden enjoyed all of his gifts, which included a belt and wallet that he asked Santa for. However, apparently Aiden didn't specify what kind of wallet he wanted from Santa and instead of getting him a nice black leather wallet, like he envisioned, Santa got him one with a shark on it. Aiden's first reaction was, "No, not one like this! Like Daddy's wallet!" Santa... fail. However, since then Aiden has forgiven Santa, and now loves his wallet... whew!

While we were in Florida, Austin found himself with a nephew who didn't want to leave his side. Aiden followed Austin everywhere and wanted to do most of the things he was doing. Austin was such a great sport, and seemed to enjoy hanging out with Aiden as much as he did.

Here's just a sleeping baby who was too sweet not to take a picture of.

And then I regretted it, because it woke her up.

Mimi and Aiden taking a nap together. I don't think Aiden had to sleep by himself during a nap once while we were there! He was in heaven. Only now, he thinks every time he takes a nap, that someone has to sleep with him.

It also seemed that my husband found the right family for watching football with. One night we went to a bar that had a private section for only Colts fans! It was pretty amazing to be on this tiny island and have so many people come together as fans to watch the game.

One day we walked over to Periwinkle Park, which is a camp ground on the island that has a bird sanctuary in the middle of it. We were all excited to see the birds, but unfortunately, it was so cold they had to move the birds inside. Luckily, the woman who does the bird shows decided to show us some of the birds anyway. (Please note, we are all in our winter coats... it was pretty cold).

We also went to an outlet mall close to the Island and had a day to play while my Dad flew back to Indy for the day to work (crazy right?!?). Aiden followed Austin everywhere and just couldn't get enough of him!

We had never taken Aiden putt-putting before, but Dad and Barb knew of a place that we could go that had live alligators, and since this was one of the things we had talked to Aiden about before coming down, we knew we had to see them. And, the putt-putting was tons of fun!! Aiden had a blast!

Putt-putt is a lot harder when you're carrying a sleeping baby on your chest.
Out to dinner at a Jazz Club with the whole family. It was fun to get dressed up and do a little dancing. Aiden was in heaven and loved watching the band play with Granddad. There was even a trombone player who came down and played right in front of him very quietly while he sat on Granddad's lap. He was amazed, to say the least! Maddie had a good time, too, being held by Mimi and admired by other people dinning in the restaurant. Then she fell asleep in my arms and was content the rest of the evening. I love that she's still in that stage, where she can fall asleep and be content in my arms despite whatever else is going on. It's the most comforting feeling for me, and I can't even imagine what it feels like for her.

Granddad and Aiden playing one of Aiden's favorite games after getting out of the tub, "Wanna 'mell 'em?!?" Granddad played along, however I'm not sure he had just gotten out of the tub!

On our last day there, we were scrambling to fit things in. There were so many things left and we wanted to make sure we squeezed them all in before leaving. So in the morning Aiden and Granddad went fishing, then we rode bikes to the beach, because you can't go to Florida without going to the beach, rode home and spent the rest of the night packing up to go home. Unfortunately, Mimi wasn't feeling so well and she spent the rest of the night in bed trying not to infect us all with her cold.

Unfortunately, the day after we got home, New Years Eve, Aiden, Maddie, and I were all sick.  We spent New Years Eve in the E.R. with both kids, since the doctor's office was closed for the next 2 days. Aiden ended up having a double ear infection and an Upper Respiratory Infection, Maddie an eye infection, and later developed into a pretty nasty Upper Respiratory Infection, and I got a little bit of everything. Grant worked New Years Eve and so our celebration of the New Year didn't happen until New Years Day. We didn't do much, but did have some yummy fondue!

This year has been so full of life and love. I have stretched myself further than I could have ever imagined, but what I am taking away from it, I will forever be grateful for. I can't wait to see all the things that these two little beings will show me, and how they will challenge me to Shine Bright in the next year. It was a great way to celebrate Christmas and the end of an amazing, challenging, fulfilling, year!