Agony of Heart

Me holding Noelle the morning after her birth.

The last week or so has been so hard. Beginning the day of the 3 month anniversary of Noelle’s death I’ve had a horrible time coping.

The only way I can describe it is the feeling of extreme discomfort when you have the stomach flu and you writhe around hoping that any change of position will help make you feel better. I’ve been laying in bed sobbing and writhing, waiting to feel better, but I know that no matter what, relief won’t come. When you’re sick, you say, “I’ll appreciate feeling healthy so much more when I’m better” and you have a light at the end of the tunnel to cling to, usually in the next few days. In my case, I lay there clinging to the the thought of reunification with our baby, but it may not come for years or decades. I could have 60 more years without her, and even longer if I don’t shape up and avoid Purgatory.

The longing and ache I feel in my heart to hold, kiss, rock, and touch our Noelle is so acute sometimes that it becomes more than emotional longing – it becomes physical. I laid in bed the other night with Tom and told that my heart is literally broken. I probably need to go see a doctor because the chest pain I have is not normal. I can’t breathe correctly, my heart races, and I just feel like I’ll stop breathing one of these days from the anguish of needing my baby.

My mind is also playing tricks on me, and it feels cruel, but I know it’s just a natural reaction to having her ripped from my arms and my life altogether. I feel twinges in my chest and within a split second I think, “Oh, it’s time to feed her. But where is she? Sleeping in my room? I guess I’ll need to wake her up.” And then reality smacks me in the face and reminds me that she’s not here. She won’t ever be here again. Even typing that is excruciating and I’m trying to hide my tears from the kids so they don’t get upset seeing me cry (which is a whole other issue I’m working on).

But anyway, even the other night I hallucinated and thought she was here. Our two and a half year old, Gemma, has a brown-haired baby doll that she got for Christmas and named her ‘Baby Noelle’. We talk about her baby all the time and she asks me to change her diaper, swaddle her, (no joke – the second I typed that, she walked over and asked me to swaddle her Baby Noelle) feed her, dress her, tuck her in…etc. So it’s almost like I still have my own Baby Noelle, but she’s plastic and Gemma mostly cares for her. The other night I was tucking Gemma in and her Baby Noelle doll was laying in her bed off to the side. I kissed Gemma’s forehead and she said, “Mommy, I sleep with Baby Noelle?” In my peripheral vision, I saw the doll, but for a moment, in my head, she was my Noelle, my real Noelle. I thought to myself, “Oh man. I’m going to have to tell Gemma that she can’t sleep with her baby sister in her bed. This will probably make her upset and she won’t let it go. Maybe I can let her lay with Noelle for just a minute to say goodnight.” As I turned to pick up my real, actual baby, I snapped back into it and realized she was plastic. And I was both scared that I had just thought all of that was real, and happy that it’s still natural for my mind to think she’s here with me. I want to be close to her in my mind and heart. But it’s at such a cost to myself.

Sometimes it’s too much and sometimes I’m ready to bear the pain of it just for the comfort of knowing she was real and she was ours. She was mine. She grew inside of me, kicked me, and rolled around under my heart. She was born in our living room in the most peaceful and beautiful delivery I’ve ever had or ever will have. I nursed her, kissed her, held her, and gave her my all for 3 days. Sometimes, like above, I think that’s still the case for a few seconds, and sometimes I have to convince myself that it ever happened at all. I have to pull out my phone and look at the pictures. I have to close my eyes and remember holding her on my chest after she was born. I remember her screaming her little lungs out and seeing all the smiling faces around me and the comfort that brought – she was here and she was healthy. I remember getting in our bed that night after laying her in her crib nearby. I laid on my stomach for the first time in months and got so comfortable I couldn’t believe it! She started fussing and I thought I’d never sleep but I was so happy to have my Noelle in my arms so I fought the exhaustion and stared at her little suckling self as I nursed her for what seemed like the 20th time that hour. I remember everything if I have enough quiet and try hard enough – which is quite a feat with five other kids. But it’s still not enough. It’s a puff of smoke; a cloud floating by that I can reach for but not feel at all. The need to hold her close to me again is a stabbing pain that I can barely endure.

When I go to the cemetery I sometimes think, “This is my baby buried here. Why are there rules imposed upon me for my own baby? If I want to dig and dig until I reach her little casket, get her out and take her home, why can’t I? She’s mine! Why is there 6 feet between me and her body, or a whole world between me and her sweet soul?” But that’s only because I still picture her as a perfect, warm, pink, beautiful newborn, laying there, asleep and waiting for me. In reality I know that’s not the case – and I don’t want to think of what she may look like now. She’ll always be my sweet, snuggly Noelle, dressed in the white, lacey gown and bonnet made from my wedding dress by a dear friend. But after the anger that she’s so far from me, I realize that the world doesn’t deserve her. I don’t even deserve her. She’s too perfect for earth. She was never meant for this life. No wonder Our Lord wanted her, so new and sweet and perfect. This world is so cruel to Him, even after He suffered tortures and died on the Cross for all of us – they still hate Him. They hold Satanic rituals, they murder millions and millions of babies in abortion, they launch into wars, they fight for perversions of every kind to be legalized and celebrated, they scandalize the innocent, and desecrate the sacred. So it is comforting that, even after the hardest pregnancy I’ve ever had when I thought I deserved the reward of my beautiful baby in my arms, He still looked down and asked, “I’m suffering, too. I need this sweet little soul to come back and console Me. Can I have her until you’re able to be here with Us both?” I would much rather have handed her back to Our Lord Himself, than hand her to the nurse, however kind, in the hospital. But I unknowingly handed her to God hours before that in our home when He came to escort her to Eternity, as we both slept soundly for the first time in days.

As beautiful as the thought of her in Eternity is, as wonderful as it is to name any great saint and think that my daughter is with them and friends with them now, and even as amazing as it is to picture her sitting in the laps of Jesus and His Blessed Mother, it is agonizing that she’s not with me, and I will spend my life here counting the seconds until we are together again.

One last thought: last week I was in the confessional. I confessed my sins and when Father prompted me, I started saying the Act of Contrition like usual. I was not expecting what I felt in that moment. It suddenly hit me, as I said the words, “because I dread the loss of heaven” that there was no other option but to get there. It should be enough to want to please God and commit no sins against Him, but for a weak creature like me, it’s not, and being good is still hard. I’m under no illusions that because my daughter is in heaven that I’ll suddenly be perfect and my soul will go straight there one day. But I also feel that I have to go straight there. There is no other option for me and I will get there because more loss is not acceptable. She must be mine again when I die – that is my only consolation. She is waiting for me and our whole family and she’s helping us be better so that we can all be together again.

– Hannah

I love you so much, my Noelle, and I’ll be with you soon. Heaven knows no time, so for you it will be the blink of an eye before we meet again. For me, it will be an agonizing while, so please give me strength and fortitude to go on. Ask God to give your Daddy & I the graces we need to lead our family to heaven; ask Him to make us all saints, like you. I love you – please help me, my Angel.

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Self-Preservation & Other Gifts From God

Me with Baby Madeline – 2017

The Introduction post I wrote before this was the easy part. All of that was information set in stone. Our names, our jobs/vocations, how many kids we have, who went to heaven…

Now I am wading and sorting through all kinds of emotions, trauma, and PTSD. All of those terms sound so needlessly dramatic. I’ve experienced, and still experience, PTSD from another child related health incident in 2019, and when, nearly a year later, I realized I was still having horrifying flashbacks, crippling anxiety, and extreme fear of any sickness whatsoever (even a cold) it finally hit me that it was PTSD. But I didn’t want to say it out loud because that term, and also the word “trauma” are used so flippantly in today’s society. People, especially teens, on social media will throw “trauma” around when talking about anything at all that upsets them. It’s so common that these words have lost their weight.

Anyway, as I was saying, back in 2019, our almost 2 year old daughter had a seizure. We were out at a roller skating rink birthday party and she suddenly stopped breathing. Her eyes rolled back into her head. I had no idea as I was across the rink skating with our older daughters. I heard the DJ get on the mic and ask if anyone knew CPR. I thought, “Wow, who needs CPR?!” not thinking in a million years that it was one of our people, let alone one of my own children. That happens to other people…right? I looked at the DJ, and then looked over at where our families were sitting. I saw my husband Tom and our brother-in-law trying to get a response out of Madeline and immediately rushed over. Two nurses who happened to be there rushed over with me and were trying to assess her. We all thought she had put something in her mouth and was choking. The nurses apparently realized it was a seizure and were doing what they could for that, which didn’t include CPR, but they didn’t say so. I mean, I get it, they were pretty busy, but I would have loved to know that. So they laid Madeline down on the ground. Not knowing she was seizing, because I thought a seizure always meant convulsions, I assumed she was gently laying her down because she determined there was nothing they could do for her but to make her comfortable while she was dying. People think all kinds of crazy things in shock. I know that a medical professional, or anyone really, would never look at a seemingly choking child and just decide they couldn’t be saved without even trying, but try telling that to a mom in shock watching all of this happen to her child. All of this went through my mind in about 10 seconds. When I decided I wasn’t going to accept that outcome, I started whacking her on her back to dislodge whatever I thought was in her airway. I was so angry and confused as to why these nurses were just giving up. I went into fight mode and was about to start CPR myself (thank you, Shannon Tripp, for teaching me what to do!). When they saw me start to grab her they finally told me what they suspected – a seizure. I was shaking, crying and just seconds before, had started going into self-preservation mode. I remember thinking, “If I am going to lose my child, I will somehow get through this. Somehow. Somehow. I have to. No, I can’t… This isn’t happening. But I have to…” and started preparing for the fact that I would have to walk through the agony of losing my daughter.

I know now that shock was taking over my body. At first, after learning it had been a febrile seizure, and that she would be fine, I thought that maybe I had made all of that up in my head. Because surely if I had truly thought my daughter was about to die I would have been losing my mind with fear, yelling and screaming externally, sobbing uncontrollably and loudly. Right? Like in the movies? Wrong. At least for me. In a true life or death emergency, the shock and the self-preservation that sets in creates a simultaneous dread and fear like you’ve never experienced, along with a helpless calm. I think the calm is your mind and body trying to keep you from imploding. The morning we lost Noelle, self-preservation kicked in immediately. My mind was not allowing me to fully grasp what was happening. It was not allowing me to believe that this was really happening, or that she was really gone. I don’t know how much time lapsed between realizing she wasn’t breathing and them finally pronouncing her dead, maybe an hour? The whole time I had hope, whether I felt it or not, I made myself have it because otherwise I would implode. There was no hope at all, and I can see that now looking back. She wasn’t breathing that whole time, and they did everything imaginable to try to save her, but she was gone. I’ll touch on that more another time.

All of that to say: our bodies and minds are incredible, they keep us going when we need them to, and preserve us when we would otherwise collapse physically and mentally in these horrifying situations. I wish I didn’t know any of this first hand. I wish I could still be on the “but it all turned out just fine” end of PTSD and trauma. But this is my new reality. While I know our Noelle is a great Saint in heaven, and that does give us so much comfort, things did not turn out “just fine” for us left here on earth without her. My husband and I now have to live with all the after-affects of trying to save your child’s life and failing. There are so many regrets, at least on my end. When we lay down at night and close our eyes we have images seared in to our minds of her little body, laying in front of us as I frantically, listened to the 911 operator giving us instructions on what to do with her, and the sirens on the ambulance racing down the street to our house. Tom trying his best to do CPR on our 3 day old, helpless, little infant. Everything from that day happens in my head in slow motion. I cringe for my own body as I remember running full speed 3 days postpartum out of the house to get into the ambulance where they were working on her. I didn’t look, because I was sitting in the front, (and because I was afraid to) but I imagine all the things they were desperately trying to do to save her while I clutched my newly empty stomach and said Hail Mary after Hail Mary in the passenger’s seat of the ambulance. But more on all of that later, too.

God has given us these indirect gifts of shock and self-preservation when He created the first bodies of Adam and Eve. I also know that He must have showered us personally with further graces, blessings, and help that day, and every day since.

“But remember the Lord thy God, that he hath given thee strength, that he might fulfill his covenant…”

Deuteronomy 8:17

Being Catholic, I’ve always prayed to God that He take our children to heaven early, rather than they lose their souls were they to live longer. But I’ve always stipulated, “..but please give us the strength to endure that if You really do will it.” He has been faithful to His word and has strengthened us because we asked in faith. Sometimes, it feels like I’ll fall over where I stand from grief, but overall, He has upheld me.

When I thought about the possibility of ever losing a child before, as parents do in anxious moments, I thought I would just crumble and die with them if it ever happened. I thought I’d spend my days in bed, not eating, not sleeping, not moving. But the reality is, for me, what other choice do I have but to live? To get up and take care of these five other souls in my care? I don’t just want one child in heaven, I want all of them there after long, holy lives if He wills it. I want them to grow up, learn the faith, love it, spread it, live it peacefully and joyously. Not if, but when they do suffer, I want them to do it resignedly and with full knowledge that He will keep them afloat through grace. I want them to know that their one true purpose in this life is to serve God and to know their identity is in Him – their Father who loves and cares for them. They were made in His image and likeness and I want them to rest their souls upon His Sacred Heart, like Noelle has now done. But how can I have a hope of them achieving such happiness if I’m MIA? My vocation is their sanctity and I want them to see, not only their beloved Creator one day, but their sweet sister, Noelle, too. I want our family to be reunited one day – all of us – in eternity, and I’m going to have to work for it: we all are. Noelle is the saintly carrot, if you will, dangling in front of us, as motivation to do better and be better, and we will, by God’s grace.

For the record, I don’t think there is anything wrong with parents who have lost a child and have other kids spending time in bed crying, sobbing even, and I do that sometimes. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or “less than”. It means you’re getting that grief out of you and fulfilling the natural need to cry and release stress. It means you miss your child. My husband has to remind me that it’s normal to break down. But for me, having some kind of motivation, some kind of task (and believe me, I have plenty of them with five other kids) is what has been the best way for me to keep going. Sometimes I do wish desperately that I had a quiet home where no one needed me, just for a few hours, so that I could wallow in my grief and let it out properly without an audience., or an interruption, cutting it short. I do get overwhelmed and sad wishing I had more free time to sit and think about our three beautiful days with Noelle. Those few days are so precious to me and I’m afraid of forgetting the little details about them and about her. I’m thankful that Tom understands my need for quiet and solitude sometimes. He will scoop up all the kids to take them on a walk, or let me go to the cemetery or wherever for some respite. But truly, I’m thankful for these amazing kids of ours who distract me when I need it, who love us so sweetly, and who never let anyone forget that their little sister is a Saint, that they love her, and that they can color a mean picture of her. Haha.

For now, we will wipe five noses, brush five heads of hair, serve five plates of dinner each night, kneel for the family Rosary with five little voices at least attempting to pray, and we’ll remember the missing sixth little one, who would be here being wiped, brushed, served, and prayed with, were she not at the throne of God Almighty, doing her best to ensure we get there one day, too.

Our little Advocate, Saint Noelle, please pray for us!

– Hannah

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My name is Hannah. I’m a Traditional Catholic, wife to Tom for nearly a decade, mom of 5 littles here on earth, and one very sweet baby girl in heaven. We are navigating life after infant loss since our three day old daughter, Noelle Joan-Marie, went to heaven unexpectedly the day after her baptism. We have four older daughters, the oldest being nearly 8 and the youngest nearly 3. Our little boy is 18 months old and is learning all those terrifying boy tricks like climbing on unstable surfaces, scaling the high places, and “conquering” every day objects like his life depends on it. But he is also the kindest, friendliest, sweetest, little guy so all the heart attacks he gives me are forgiven readily of course! My husband is self-employed and also runs and hosts an online show called What Catholics Believe with our Pastor, Fr. William Jenkins. Tom started a blog years ago dealing with conservative issues and the Traditional Catholic Faith. I shared his most recent post, Dear Noelle, if you would like to read that here. I am a stay-at-home-mom and have done some self-taught wedding and promotional videography on the side since 2017. I consider myself an old soul, though the wisdom that usually comes with that is MIA. Just my luck… haha. I savor a cup or two of coffee every day, love antiques and antique shopping, have a special devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux, and could listen to Holy Week chant every day (and usually do).

Losing our Noelle has not been an easy cross to carry, obviously, but I truly feel that God has been training us, specifically me, for the job of carrying it for a long time. I’ve never been “good” at carrying crosses, heavy or light. I flail, stomp, complain and throw a fit internally, and often ask, “why me?” Tom has read every book there is to read about surrendering to Divine Providence, and has adopted the concept happily. I wish I could say the same for myself, but it just isn’t as natural for me. I’ve read some of the books, and I do try, but my own control-freak nature gets in the way most of the time. I have definitely not been perfect, but God gave me some experiences shortly before Noelle was born and died that I think He strategically placed in my life to help me “get there” in accepting His will, however imperfectly. So far, asking Him, “why” in this situation seems pointless. Although we are suffering, so much good has come from Noelle’s sainthood and we are so grateful. Without us asking, “why”, He gave us answers anyway. More on that another time!

So I guess this blog will be a big, boiling pot of stories, lessons learned, ones I’m still learning, processing my trauma from Noelle’s death, grappling with life after losing her, and everything in between. I have no idea if any of this will ever be public. I just know that I need to get it out of me. So far, getting it out and fulfilling my need to share Noelle with anyone who will listen has come about through my Instagram, @hannahnaegele. I’ve struggled with it, though, for a few reasons. There’s not much room to get out all I would like to. I only have space for a few paragraphs at a time and for along-winded person like me, that’s a no-go. Typing with my thumbs is not fun either. But the most significant reason is that, thinking about our daughter as the Saint in heaven she is, and all the incredible things she’s done for our family and others at the throne of God Himself, Instagram is so unworthy to receive her. Instagram is cheap. Maybe I’m putting too much thought into this, but since Noelle passed away, I have only wanted the very best of the best to honor her. I’ve agonized over her gravestone, her holy cards, every detail of her left here with us. So posting my innermost thoughts about her, things I remember, everything I love about her on Instagram or Facebook, it seems wrong sometimes. Not that WordPress is some holy, sacred place or anything, but it’s not the potential cesspool that Instagram can be. Other times I’m just too eager to share her with those close to me, so I do. There are many moms who share their painful journeys through miscarriage, stillbirth, infant and child loss so beautifully on social media, and I am so grateful for them! Reading what they’ve been through and have thought along the way is incredibly helpful for me. I’m just not sure I’m one of those women. I’m not sure what to do, what I’m doing, how to do it, or when to do it. I just know I’m being led on by my love for Noelle. That’s all I know. There’s a lot of back and forth, emotional whiplash, and decision whiplash in grief I’ve learned. Something that seemed wrong one day, felt totally right a week later. Something I wanted one day, I couldn’t imagine doing the next. I need time to think and process before sharing certain things in public. I would much rather talk face to face with people, but having 5 kids, meaningful conversations with other adults are few and far between. So to the computer I go. The old soul in me would love to go to pen and paper, and I will, but I can’t write fast enough to let the words flow as quickly as I need them to like I can when I type. So, for now, WordPress it is.

– Hannah

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