I am also thankful for our family. Meagan brings such joy into our lives - but, let's face it - she also adds a lot of stress to our family. And so far, everyone has taken it in stride. There are tough times, but I think we will wade through them ok.
Reilly, my oldest, has felt most of this stress. I, being an oldest child myself, understand the burden we sometimes put on ourselves.. but Reilly has it times 100. She said she feels stressed with other people sometimes ask about Meagan because her first thought is that I'm back in the hospital with Meagan and she doesn't know it. She says she gets worried when people ask because she is afraid I won't be there when she gets home from school. I appreciate her worry - and I also am trying to teach her that this is our life now - Meagan is here to stay, and so some things like that won't be the same... however, I'm also teaching her that it's ok to not answer questions. It's ok to say "I don't want to talk about Meagan." She is 6.. and while she is a smart little girl, and could probably go off to grad school tomorrow, I really just want her to be 6 and enjoy Meagan - not live in worry about her. I am so thankful for Reilly - she was my first - my baby who taught me everything from patience, to frustration, and most importantly love. She paved the way for me to be a mother.
Kaitlin, my second born is quite the comedian. She has the sarcasm of a 30 year old.. but she is 5. I'm trying to walk the line of disciplining her when it comes out more like "sass"... but also trying to encourage her to use her humor. It's such an important part of life. Where Reilly is intensely serious, Kaitlin can be intensely funny. Her humor has helped us deal with so many of Meagan's issues. Kaitlin, by chance, has the largest head of my normal children - she got the lovely big round head of my mom's side of the family. So she will joke now that Meagan has taken her place -- I have to laugh, because, this is how Kaitlin is dealing with the stress of Meagan. And why not -- we have so many ups and downs with Meagan's Hydrocephalus, and will continue to do so, what does it hurt to laugh a little. Kaitlin reminds us of this everyday, and even though she pushes it sometimes, I'm so thankful for her sense of humor. Sometimes, when things are stressful, the best lessons in humor and taking life in stride can come from this little 5 year old!
Anna, my third, is basically my twin. In. Every. Way. Lord help us. She is independent beyond her years... she can play nicely by herself, and entertain herself.. even if her sisters have everyone else involved in another game. Anna is also my clone.. she looks JUST like me when I was a child. She is a total "mommy's girl"... so there was a worry when Meagan was born because although she already has a little sister, she wasn't as 'needy' as Meagan. Anna has had no problems, though, adjusting to the shift of attention. She somehow recognizes the times when Meagan needs Mommy more than she does... and she takes her independent self, and plays on her own. Her independence is such a gift because it enables her to be 'ok' having to do something on her own - this is an attribute that will do well by her as she gets older especially. I'm so thankful for my Anna - so sweet and in many ways, rough around the edges... but she is so loving. And I'm so thankful that she is able to have the maturity to harness her independence when we need her to most.
Maura, the fourth, is a mess. That's the best, most accurate, and most loving way I can describe this child. :) She is so very helpful and so affectionate, that sometimes, it almost crosses that line and gets her into trouble. She calls Meagan "Baby." If I say "Maura, say Meagan!" ... Maura says "Baby!" Maura knows where Meagan's shunt site is... she always points to it and says "Baby owwwie" and then will kiss Meagan on the head. She is absolutely, 110%, head over heels in LOVE with her baby sister. This is more than I could have asked for because Maura has never been a big sister yet... and the transition with Meagan was going to be a "little" different than it had been for my older girls when a new baby was born. But Maura has just marched right along and bulled her way through any trying times. She has come through all of this amazingly, and I'm so thankful for her strength and her tolerance.
Dudley our dog also deserves some acknowledgement. Yes, he's a dog. But.. he is such an integral part of this family. We got Dudley when I was almost 8 months pregnant with Reilly, our oldest. Matter of fact, when we went to the farm where the breeder was to pick him out, I wore a HUGE large sweatshirt because I was afraid if the breeders saw I was pregnant, they wouldn't sell us the dog (sometimes, and rightfully so, they are afraid once baby comes, the dog will just be given away). We brought Dudley home in December of 2003 and never looked back. Dudley has always acted differently when I've been pregnant - even before I knew sometimes... but in hindsight, he acted VERY differently with my pregnancy with Meagan. I think he knew 'something'... even before we did... and after we found out. He knew something was "off"... the dog would NOT leave my side when I was home. Everytime I turned around, I would practically fall over because a large 80 pound body was RIGHT there, pressed up against my legs. The 4 weeks Meagan was in the NICU, he behaved the worst he ever has - breaking out of his room when people would be out of the house, chewing on things, being hyper..etc. I was a bit worried because Meagan still had to come home and I didn't know how I'd deal with his new found "attitude" and our new baby with so many needs. The funny thing is.... as soon as we came home, Dudley was immediately calm. He came over, sniffed Meagan, licked her on the cheek, and walked away. And ever since, he's been back to his "old self." It's like he knew something wasn't right... he knew a member of his family was missing, and he was ok when he could tell she was finally home where she belonged. I'm so thankful for this dog. He just exudes love and at the same time is incredibly protective of his family. I cannot imagine our lives without Dudley!
I am ever so thankful for my husband, Brian. He is the rock, in many ways, that holds this family together. I may be the Irish/Russian-Aries "hot head" .... but he is the calm in the storm. If he were like me, we would probably go crazy! But he has been amazing in dealing with all of our stress with Meagan. He worries - he outwardly worries. A lot more than I do.... but this is good. We balance each other in ways that are (normally) helpful. He took off 4 weeks from work to be with me at the hospital everyday with Meagan. He held down the fort at home whenever we have had an unplanned hospital visit or doctor visit. He didn't hesitate to ask for more time off when we got our call from Duke, even though I know it had to be really hard for him to approach his bosses again. He always is there for me.. even in times I feel alone. Brian is a great husband, father, and the perfect dad for Meagan. I'm so thankful for his patience, his humor (Kaitlin gets it honestly), and his perserverence and hard work. He has recognized the balance he needs to hold between working hard and being there for his family. Not everyone does that. And so for that, I'm forever grateful.
Last, but certainly not least, I am thankful for our faith. Our faith is who we are - to the core. We may have other attributes, talents, or aspects of our personalities...but none of this would be worthwhile, or even developed in a worthy manner without our faith. Brian and I were both raised in good, well rounded, Catholic families. It is something we held on to through college, and something that brought us together as a couple. Is it always easy? No, of course not. There are times we have questioned our faith - but then there are also times it has been the ONLY thing that has brought us through these times with Meagan. When our Perinatologist asked about not continuing our pregnancy, it was our faith we relied on to pull us through and say no to an obviously selfish and wrong choice. When Meagan was in surgery, it was our faith that kept us strong and got us through her first few days. When we had immense stress on our family and trying emotional times the month Meagan was in the NICU, it was our faith that pulled us out of the darkness, or sat in the darkness with us, if that's what we needed. There are some Sundays we are just so exhausted we don't "feel" like going to Mass... but we still get the house up and make the trek to church... even if in jeans and shirts I'm pulling out of laundry baskets .... because we just KNOW being consistent in our faith is SO important for this journey we are on. And I know as we go along this journey, it will be our Catholic faith that will keep us truckin' along. God will be there to guide our decisions and give us our strength; Our Blessed Mother will be there when times are tough and even I need a break and comfort; St. Gianna and St. Theresa will be there in very special ways to lift Meagan up when she is struggling and push her into the next stage in her life. Being a tight, loving family has something to do with how we have come through our struggles with Meagan and how we will in the future -- but being a faith filled family, who practices our Catholicism without apology has everything to do with us doing so successfully.
Happy First Thanksgiving Meagan Theresa Gianna! You are truly a blessing in our lives and together, this family can conquer anything!