A race to "I DO"

As a North Carolina wedding photographer based in the heart of where Nascar was born by bootleggers, and home to old legends who first raced above the wheels. The old North Wilkesboro Speedway sits still towering over highway 421 as a reminder of some of the heritage that came from here, in North Carolina. If you ask, you will find that Nascar is more than just a franchise with sponsors, it has roots within its North Carolinian history. 

It came as no surprise as I was photographing a wedding at the Petty's venue just down the road in Greensboro, that everyone there from staff down to the perfectly smooth brick road, that there was a lot of history walking down that road at the Petty home. Sure, we were all fans gathered at Richard Petty's home, but we were really there to witness the first day D & J made their own start on the track. The biggest race of their lives started this day when they said "I do".

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Topped with pearls & a view she stunned her guests.

The ladies were first in sight as they walked past the old cabin and down the aisle, leading us all to the main woman, veiled & laced, she stole the crowd!

Click photo above to view a few photos in this gallery.

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The victory lap after the couples vows and cheers in celebration, pictures and paparazzi as they all followed us to the reception for more celebrating!

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The day raced by, literally it felt like it happened so quickly! Luckily, there are many, many great photos of the days events for laps and laps to come! It was a marvelous event, hosted at a eye-catching venue, for the most deserving couple! Best wishes for your future, may all your wins be together! 

Warmly,

Nicole

 

This wedding shot alongside photographer, Megan King with Megan Travis Photography.

 

 

Lake Erie love

This summer has been a million pictures full of moments... first moments, last moments, maternity, birth, families wrapped up in each other, reflection, fireworks, a camping trip, a trip to Lake Erie (posted below), weddings, an engagement and more! 

I would love to compliment my website the next few weeks by adding some Fall color, and you! 

I have put forth a lot of effort to spend these coming Fall days behind my camera. I hope to see you on the other side of my lens capturing your moments this season. Maybe for a senior portrait session, outdoor family photos, your engagement session, or upcoming wedding? You can connect with me through the website or e-mail me at nicolehuffman3@Gmail.com.  

Until we connect this Fall, here are photos I took most recently of my family while at Lake Erie. This is what I am framing next! I have realized that I have to print them, frame them and see them daily to enjoy them. Otherwise, my CF cards and hard drive steal all my most prized moments! 

Oh, and I do have a couple great sessions to share from this summer coming soon! Also, I hope you stay in touch to hear about November and how I hope to spread hope in 30 days! 

Lake Erie, Summer 2015

I love the great lakes. I love the shore line and smooth, weathered rocks. The great lakes have no sharks, and that is very good with me! Those of you who know me, know I have a serious fear of sharks (pathetic really!) 

I love how the water and sky meet somewhere in infinity allowing me to feel free enough to dream for a moment. I spent a lot of time dreaming last week. 

These kids filled my memory cards. We ate every meal together and the food was possibly the most sensory linked memory. We had ribs, seafood, Merlefest chicken, I will spare you the rest! 

Roman gave us a scare the day before we left. We thought we lost him, like really lost him for about 45 minutes. There were police, search teams and only a little blue bike parked at the pier. Luckily, it was just a scare and we found him. I think we all took a little something from that day. And though we will never forget Lakeside, I am sure they will never forget us now! 

This story follows up with...

Zack walked in on a woman using the facility in his panicked search for Roman. OOPS! Randy almost ran me over with the van (I did not tell you all this), Roman also went "hunting" down a skunk...no comment! Nora and boo boo were insepperable. 

Zack also flipped in his Kayak in search of beached treasures, I was with him and missed the whole thing because I was trying to get my camera ready to take pictures of him!

 Annie and I were accused of "Stealing" rocks from the shoreline. Annie, Randy, Mike and Caroline almost got kicked out of shuffleboard for being "a little too competitive"! Finally, calling out a store for misspelling the printing on their shirts. It was a greivious error people! 

It was a lovely week away from reality. We cerated our own little world and dreamed every night and loved each day! Until next year... because we will be back Lakeside!

Yours Truly, 

Nicole

 

 

wide open spaces

wide open spaces

baseball

baseball

The rascals, enough said!

The rascals, enough said!

brotherly love!

brotherly love!

Caroline, age 8, pioneering the Great Lakes in her Kayak!

Caroline, age 8, pioneering the Great Lakes in her Kayak!

Cannon ball!

Cannon ball!

Please tell me you caught it!

Please tell me you caught it!

Marblehead Lighthouse, Lake Erie

Marblehead Lighthouse, Lake Erie

Three generations of Huffman bloodline, I love it!

Three generations of Huffman bloodline, I love it!

The closest line to heaven <3

The closest line to heaven <3

The day Roman was, but wasn't lost.

The day Roman was, but wasn't lost.

Because Roman took off his shirt, obviously it was necessary for her to as well!

Because Roman took off his shirt, obviously it was necessary for her to as well!

Home away from home, Lakeside Ohio

Home away from home, Lakeside Ohio

First pop of color, hello Fall!

First pop of color, hello Fall!


# 1

Caroline, our # 1 always and forever,

 

No, I do not have any guilt calling out loud, Caroline our # 1. She was our first child, grandchild and great-grandchild on both my side and Zack's side of the family. She paved the way for everyone, "here comes # 1" we say as she runs past. She turned 8 years old Sunday. Every year is special, important, worth documenting, because she is my child and also because it marks another first for everyone in our family. 

At first I was scared, like I am sure the rest of this family when I was 19 and pregnant with my high-school sweet-heart... however, the moment Zack and I knew we created someone - it was that moment we knew she was the turning point in our young and crazy lives. She was a fresh start that only good was going to come from. And she was perfect in every way from the first moment she was created to her 8 year old-self now. 

This is my letter to my # 1,

Caroline,

If not for you, I am not sure where or who I would be today. I have tried a million times to imagine where it may be, but I promise none of my wonders ever come close to how truly full-filling it is to have become your mother when I did.  Your life brought every ounce of goodness to my life and your dads, so good that we are sure we could not have found anywhere else in this world other than through you, our sweet first. 

You are my best friend. I love you more than the world. I need your kisses 10 million times every day and all the time. Your cheeks are the softest, like fluffy clouds, and your snuggles are warmer than summer. Your love cures all wounds and I need you everyday. I will always tell you these things, like I know I have a million times over, because Caroline, they are true. This is my love for you.

Since that first day you came along, our family has grown twice more. You have a little brother, and a little sister. Roman, he is our only boy and Nora is our preemie power. You see, you each hold someplace special and unique that is in my heart. I love you each to my hearts capacity and each day it grows more. That doesn't mean my love for you has shrunk or even budged since #2 and #3 came along. These days I rely so heavily for your help with Nora or to please share with Roman for the sake of less arguing. I do not mean to divide my attention or to take away from something you may be needing, even something as simple as just your time with me, mom.

Now let me tell you something I don't tell you every day. I am so thankful as a mother to have such a wonderful little girl who is so nurturing to her little siblings. I am so lucky you only have love to give everyone. I am blessed that we have each other. Caroline you are so good for my soul I am not sure how I will take the news the day you decide to go to college or plan dates with friends over dates with me. The first time you go to someone else for advice on life or "need a break" from your mom, could be heartbreaking for me. I know these things will happen and I know it will be alright when you do. The truth is, I have so much fun with you I can't imagine anything different than what we have today.

Here is my promise to you. I will try my hardest to show my love to you every day and give you everything a mother can. I will be your best friend, I will understand when I'm not. I will be excited for new accomplishments, and sad with you when maybe you don't become president at age 10, or convince the world that littering is not healthy for the Earth. I will also be there to help you find other ways to meet goals that mean so much to you, ways you can can succeed in making a difference. Maybe you make some mistakes along the way, but when in doubt I want to show how you can come to me, I'll help you work though it. All of these things can happen, maybe you will be grounded at one point or another, whatever happens, nothing will change how I love you. And lastly, you are always my # 1, my sweet first. No one can take that from us, it's our bond for keeps.

Happy birthday my love,

Love,

mom


3

Today is March 10th 2015.  

On March 10th 2012, Nora was born at 3:33am at 3 pounds, 3 ounces, and 3 months early.  She is my third child and for me, she is my survivor. This third month of 2015, today, is Nora's 3rd birthday!

Last week, Nora went to a check-up at Brenner's and started her on a medicine to help with weight gain. This child has not stopped eating! She has complained of "tummy hurting" a few times. I asked about it and it seems that this is Nora experiencing being full. Of course she has been full before and satisfied, but being truly too full is something new. It breaks my heart and still makes me happy to know she is eating more. She is chewing great and I cannot wait to see the scale rise in numbers this year. 

Yesterday, Nora graduated from the CDSA. As happy a celebration this has been for us, gosh am I going to miss the CDSA coming out and helping us with our therapists, nutritionist and honestly helping me through motherhood as Nora's mom these past three years. I was even more excited when I was asked to stay in touch by sending pictures and even getting together for a playdate. Hum, yes, I would love that! I have been so thankful to meet these wonderful people through Nora. 

This morning, my girls and I woke up to start our morning with cups of coffee (Roman went to Pre-k). I do not give them coffee all the time, but today is a special occasion. Caffeine played a huge role in Nora's beginning days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. So in honor of caffeine, we toasted with cups of coffee. It felt appropriate. 

This third year of life for Nora is like a golden year in my and Zack's eyes. 3 is her year. It is her lucky number and well, it's ours too! 

The past week and nights leading to today I have been thinking a lot of Nora and her birth day. I remember details and few are stuck with me in scars. I asked Zack if he thought I favored Nora because of my scary pregnancy and her early birth. When Nora's name is said it is a tug on a cord that is just reserved to her. He said she was the only child that left me with a matching scar as a result in her birth.  

This evening,

We celebrated together with family and friends to wish this next year full of blessings. Watching Nora take over her party and blow out her candles before her happy birthday song was over was just perfect. Such an example of her strong character. She leads her own path. 

Kangaroo care is just a little different since we left the NICU. She is bigger now, doesn't snuggle as long and she can actually hop around now. 

Nora, 

You were a fighter from the moment you were created. You beat death more than once and I have never met anyone like you, neither has your dad. I think if your great-grandma Huff were here she would say you remind her of herself. And since she has been gone I think we all feel part of her is back here with us since you came along. 

This song by the Avett brother's is my song for you, Nora! Yes, your name is Eleanor who was born in the spring, the miles I drove daily to see you for 77 days, and because you really showed me how powerful I could love someone. I was a child of innocence until you came along and I as well as the rest of our little nest full of family has never been so proud as we are to follow in your footsteps. (This song should play with this blog post).

With as much fight as you have child, I truly cannot wait to see what a difference you make in this world as you grow. Whatever it may be, do not change! You are the tiniest person I know with the capability of making a whole room of adults look small with just one glare. I love it. Reni, Vedi, Vici, seems to fit you well, "I came,  I saw, I conquered". 

Happy birthday Eleanor Francis Huffman,

Love mom

Love mom

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Brenner's again

Last Monday night, I was faced with another hard decision over what I needed to do for Nora. Eating has always been a struggle since her early birth in 2012. It isn't even the fact that she will be three in a few short weeks and weigh a whopping 21 pounds. The only reason she is getting concerned looks from Doctors is because she has been 21 pounds for over half a year. She hasn't gained at all, in fact she has lost ounces. 

The few days leading up to last Monday Nora was eating less and less and forcing what she did get down, back up. Just a couple days passed, and more and more frequently less and less had been staying down. Finally, that Monday evening Nora wouldn't eat. Not a single thing. She kept trying to bring food up, but no one could see anything. "Throat hurt, mommy" she had said to me. I checked her lip color, listened to her breathing. Everything had checked out. Her lips were a nice pink and her breathing sounded clear. I decided I would call first thing in the morning and give her milk for the night. She was excited for her bottle when she reached for it. Instantly, I saw her eyes go from relieved for milk to scared in just seconds. Then, I saw her fear. The milk just poured back out over her lips. She was choking, on milk. Zack and I cleaned her up and checked her throat once more. She was raspy this time. It was all I needed to go on that something was wrong even if I couldn't see anything looking in her mouth.

I grabbed her diaper bag, extra jammies, diapers, toys, phone charger, wallet, and Caroline. The three of us were buckled with readiness and there I found myself driving the 45 miles to Brenner Children's Hospital once more. Something so sudden like an un-planned trip to the E.R. with Nora and going from "okay" to "unknown" has become a trigger for me. Suddenly, there I was again with my baby in an unknown situation, in a hospital I both loved and feared, but needed in order to protect Nora. 

The parking deck echoed as my and Caroline's shoes raced to the Brenner E.R. doors. It was cold and you could hear the cold suck behind us as we stepped pass the sliding glass doors to the check-in desk. It took no time before we were sent to triage, then to our own little room for the moment. Nora's files were extensive but at least each trip back "home" everyone on the floor knew Nora and her story. That's how they said it, her story. They already had her surgeon on the phone getting orders for what the situation called for. It was late, Nora's vitals had been stable since arrival. It was clear to everyone that something was wrong in her esophagus, but it was safe to hold-off until morning when the surgeon could come in.

 Until then, Nora and I were being admitted and they needed to put an I.V. in Nora since she wasn't able to take liquids orally. Fun. Nora hates white coats, latex gloves and any sort of invasion of her person. I had Caroline with us and she was watching as three nurses held down her sister, wrapped her in a fashion to prevent kicking and arms wailing. Nora screamed louder which each breath. Caroline was witnessing her sisters struggles first hand this time, she had never been in the room before. Caroline grew scared and started crying for Nora. I had to hold Caroline so the nurses could keep Nora from hurting herself or someone. Well, as sad as we all were to see the sisters cry for each other, as soon as Nora heard Caroline's cry over hers she sat up so quickly with a look that read "who made my sister cry". Nora's height didn't reach over 3 feet tall but she had the tallest attitude in the room.  As scared as she had been, no one was allowed to make her sister cry. I found that moment amazing, my girls fighting for each other. The nurses noticed this and felt the urge to cry with us.

Monday night, I didn't sleep. I watched Nora. She was sad, uncomfortable and had been trying to tell me as best she could that day what was wrong. I felt helpless in a hospital that night. 6:30 am came with no alarm just the many rhythmic footsteps which told me "Rounds"  was walking in our room. "Rounds" or  also known as Nora's team of specialists. They went over the needs for an esophagram. Nora may have a foreign object lodged, a stricture, or tightening in her esophagus. There was even a chance there could be severe inflammation. An esophagram would reveal the unknown, they thought. 

Nora had never been a willing participant for any procedure. Even at 3 pounds (She sprained her foot from kicking to hard). She was not going to help along an eshophagram. Luckily, her speech therapist from the day one in the NICU heard rumors of her arrival and talked to the imaging department to spread out Nora's schedule to give them more time to work with Nora in a more positive way, to try to ease some fear. No, it didn't work but it was the thought and efforts that make a difference overall.  Nora saw through the plan and retaliated. That had been expected as well. We got through the esophagram which showed evidence of a very wide opening at the top and a very small opening where her original surgery connected both ends of her esophagus. 

Our afternoon was spent in O.R. prepping to go under for surgery. Nora had been convinced with a million Mickey mouse toys by her side, a book and mommy. It was me that was unsure of letting go.  Anethstesia scared me. I been there several times for her anethstesia, but each time watching your child going to sleep and the last thing they see is your face and you know she knew something was coming next, and knowing I couldn't stop it because it was going to help her. Trust me, it's a trigger. I can't help but feel this way. Seperation has never been my and Nora's thing. 

"Ring, Ring, Ring" It was surgery calling up to room 803 to give me a progress report. They had gone in first, with a camera and to everyone's amazement found a big wad of food lodged in her esophagus right where they saw a stricture. They removed the food and would go over everything after surgery. Wow, I thought. Nora knew something, tried to tell me and I still had no clue. 

That evening when surgery was over and Nora was placed back in my arms the surgeon and I talked. She said she didn't expect to find food, but because it wasn't wood or metal it wouldn't have shown on the esophagram anyway. I agreed. We were both surprised. The wad of food was the size of my thumb knuckle to the tip of my thumb. A piece of chicken didn't make it's way down completely and everything headed down afterwards just stuck to the first piece. They did widen the stricture to an appropriate diameter and we were both in agreeance that it was going to help relieve the eating issues. Speech would come in the morning to go over our new diet with a list of foods and tactics to help Nora and her chewing. 

Nora and I made it home on day 3. It served as a 3 day reminder on how quickly things can go from "normal" to "unknown". I wept, you fought. I wondered, you proved. I prayed, you overcame. Nora, my warrior.

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Never alone

Today is February 19th. So many wonderful lives our family celebrates this day. Happy birthday today!

Today, marks three years an angel. Carpenter was born this day in 2012. He was born a little brother, a first son, a first Godson, he was born the 6th grandchild and the second of John Carpenter Vorys. 

Three years have past and we have had celebratory balloon releases, birthdays with cake, memorial letters, memorial flowers and videos and so many things we still do to celebrate his life as we celebrate his siblings and cousins milestones, his are just a little more special! 

Carpenter is an angel cousin, but he is still so active through his family. Would you have guessed so many stories from his cousin Roman  playing catch with Carpenter? Only for Roman to say Carpenter throws the ball to high, or he will help him win the baseball game? One of my favorites was finding "carpenter" style jeans and Roman thinking they came from his cousin. 

 It's hard to think that Caroline has had a steady pen pal for three years now. A box of letters to her cousin sit tucked away for safe keeping. She writes things she dreams up for him, letters of how things are at home on a Wednesday night, or that she knows it's Carpenter protecting her from bad dreams. She has a pillow she keeps on her bed that is called the "Carpenter pillow", so she can hug him every night.

Nora has not forgotten, she often asks about the little baby boy in the angel frame next to mommy and daddy's bed. She names all our family at nap and when we wake up and she knows "Carpenter, my cousin" and "I love my cousin".  

Carpenter is never alone in our house, he is a daily mention, and on some days we get to share stories, some nights we dream of when we can play together and so many things now remind us of him. Carpenter you're never alone. We may not hold him in our arms or be able to kiss his little head but there are days his memory feels so close to us with memories the kids create through playing and telling new stories that include him are more than I could have thought three years ago today. 

Happy birthday in heaven to my nephew, 

Love you Carpenter

 

Another birthday in the NICU

March 15th, 2012. That was the day Nora turned 5 days old and her big sister, Caroline, turned 5 years old. Our family of 5 had a bedside birthday celebration in the NICU with baby Nora. Outside the barrier of the NICU walls in the waiting room Nora had lots of family congregating and excited to meet her and wish Caroline a very special happy birthday. 

Zack and I brought the kids with us to the hospital that Thursday to celebrate with Nora. As a mother I felt as if I had dropped the ball, letting any plans for Caroline's birthday slip as we were still in the beginning of a very long NICU stay. When I got up that morning to dress the two older kids I was surprised to see Caroline was so excited, her birthday wish had already come true, she beamed--she got a baby sister early! I don't think Caroline could know her sparks of happiness and her innocence, actually saved me from a guilt of actually forgetting it would be her birthday the same day Nora was 5 days old. Caroline was not aware that babies don't normally stay in a hospital so long before coming home because her brother took three weeks to come home. To her, she had a perfect and beautiful baby sister and her 5th birthday wish had come true. 

Five years previous to that day I would have never guessed my fortune or the number of days we would spend with our third child in a NICU. Caroline, our oldest, was born at 40 weeks and 1 day. She was home two days later and slept between every feeding. She was so wonderful we decided to have more! Neither of our other two came to 40 weeks and 1 day or even the 39th week. Roman was born with apnea at 37 weeks, thankfully still hanging on to a full-term pregnancy, and spent 3 weeks in the NICU until he decided to quit scaring us and the nurses with his d-sats. Then, Nora came as early as possible and as fierce as her Great-Grandma Huff. I never imagined I would eventually celebrate at least one of each of my children's birthdays in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit!

Zack and I had taken the time to set up a present display on Nora's bed. It was a princess crown and another small gift. We told Caroline her present was from Nora when she walked in. Caroline thanked her little sister for telling the nurses what to buy her for her birthday. It was perfect, she said. Caroline's belief in what Nora could do, "her magic powers," weren't just for Caroline; I needed to believe too. I needed to believe that Nora could overcome such an early birth and so many obstacles. It never occurred to me though that Nora had so many super-powers and among those powers were her ability to shop bedside for her big sisters birthday! I was in love with every sweet word Caroline said about her sister. Caroline has never ceased to amaze me. Through her innocent way of thinking she really had such a mature and insightful message. Nora really was amazing and had super-powers I had never seen in any other human.

There we sat sanitized from the head down so that we, as a family of 5, could gather around Nora's bed to sing Caroline a happy 5th birthday melody. The rest of our guests had come and gone and the rest of the world continued while we sat together consumed with love, spending a birthday at Brenner Children's Hospital. Out of all the gifts I didn't get her that year for lack of time and planning, she got her wish and it was the best gift ever.

Separated

Separated

Waking up in a pool of hot sweat every hour, denying my vocal cords their true strength to just - scream. That was truly what separation was like for me. It was like living without my heart, because my heart was lying somewhere far away from me in an enclosed heated bed asleep surviving off of a million wires. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. This was all Nora could do to keep herself alive, and it was all I could tell myself to calm down.

My eyes dripped with sweat or tears, I wasn't even sure at that point. I just knew it was dark and we were still living in my sister-in-law's house. I had to stay calm. It was the last night of Week One, the night before we would travel the hour home to Wilkes. A big distance from the 5 mile drive we had been graced with so far.

Sleep for me was another wish struggling to happen, but when it came I fell into comas and usually on a pillow of used tissues. I was either fighting sleep for fear of losing her while asleep, or sleeping so deeply I would wake from nightmares and fear. 

Each time I felt reality hit, I would jolt awake.  Like a shell-shocked Katniss Everdeen, I would go over what I knew first. I have three children. Two are here, one is in the NICU. Nora was born early but is alive. Today is... and then I would go over what all I had to make happen to get to Nora's bedside for another day. During the time where I was pretending to keep myself together for the sake of my two older children, my husband, my sister- and brother-in-law and other family, I would quiz myself on my new knowledge of hospital terms and long words with big meanings that pertained to Nora. Things like meconium, secretions, d-sats. I had to absorb every piece of this alternate universe of doctor lingo so that one day I could let myself be trusted with Nora at home, away from doctors and needles and more scars.

When I finally arrived back beside Nora's very modern, transparent box-house, I felt my anxiety dwindle. I do not pretend to know what it was like for my sister-in-law to lose her son, or any other loss mom for that matter. MY daughter was not in heaven but I was so scared it could still happen at any moment. And that fear crept in me all the days she was there. 

The doctors came for "rounds" that morning and discussed Nora's needed weight gain for a necessary and upcoming surgery and goals for after that. The surgery was to correct her esophagus. Instead of connecting to her stomach, her esophagus went down to her lungs and stopped with a bulb end. So her saliva and anything that entered her mouth would go into her lungs if not for a drain tube that had been inserted immediately upon the doctors' findings of this abnormality. This birth defect of Nora's is called Esophageal Atresia with an Esophageal Fistula. She must reach 4 pounds to even be considered big enough for surgery the doctors stressed. The idea was to repair the esophagus with one surgery but it could take two depending on the amount of tissue the surgeon had to work with and the amount of stretch needed to connect everything.

Then the first weekend came. I knew Zack and the kids all needed at least a chance at normalcy, clean clothes, their beds and even a day back to work. It sounded nauseating to me to think I would leave Nora so far away, even if I could come right back the next day. Zack convinced me that she would need some clean clothes and bedding and maybe even some decorations like a mobile. He went on. It was the only rationalizing I allowed in my thought process. She needed clean linens that smelled like home.

I sat there and embraced her as long as he would let me, while I pretended that I didn't notice 5 minutes turned to 10 and so on. Finally, an hour and a half later I let him lead me to the car, miserable, and torn. Nothing hurt like goodbye. It didn't matter that I would be back. We were supposed be co-living still! After all the new overload of information and soaking up as many kisses as possible we were headed to our home in Wilkes for the first time since Nora was born.

I cleaned like a crazy person once we got home, piling up my to-do list so high I would never finish and not have a minute to stop and sob like I desired to do. I called several times to check on her--shift change, updates on weight for the night and anything that might seem relevant for another phone call to Nora's bed. I needed to get through that day so that I could get through the next and the next until she could come home. It was only allowing myself to look forward to the drive back to Nora that let sleep find me.

I was overjoyed with myself for contributing to Nora's need for familiar smells.  My first morning back I brought a white tank top to the hospital that I had so carefully picked out to sleep in the night before. Nurses had told me that it would have my smell on it and it would be good for Nora to lay on. A comfort for Nora. I had also bought a voice recorder that I used to record a song and book I read to her. This way Nora could still hear me while I was calling to check on her from an hour away the next night.

That was the first night an hour away from Nora. It was just like every other night I was away from her. Goodbye was never easy, I struggled everyday and often I had to tell myself to just breathe, inhale, exhale. Just like Nora, I was struggling to survive away from her. 

The Golden Hour

"Beep... beep... beep" I can hear the monitors as if they were still attached to Nora. "Hush... Hush...hush" was the sound of the oxygen that breathed in and out of her lungs. The mechanical synchrony and the murmur of conversations between nurses lulled me. Quietly, unnoticed, Nora passed her Golden Hour--the most crucial hour for a premature baby's life in regards to short- or long-term injury, life or death. We entered Labor and Delivery with a 78% chance of survival and by the time she arrived at Brenner Children's Hospital she was in the 90's. In one hour, Nora moved up a notch to survival.

Still, it was days later when they took Nora out of her incubated house for me to hold and gave us a 30 minute time limit.  Wrapped in warm blankets, she wouldn't have to expend her energy and calories to heat her body more than necessary. I knew the moment I felt her I would cry giving her back. As I sat there holding Nora during my first 30 minutes of bliss, I thought of everything.

I thought of this new NICU life and how Annie and I both should still be pregnant with our cousin babies. Their lives were planned together. I cried. I did not want to separate myself from Nora. I sobbed more. We had become one again. We were both robbed of 11 weeks of crucial growing together, just us two. Her hand laid bruised on my chest and mostly covered with wires, but it looked so amazing. I felt her whole body move with each tiny breath. I felt a tiny puff on my skin each time she exhaled. I could hear my heartbeat through her. She breathed faster than I did. It was different. She was so tiny, her squeal was like the sound of a kitten meowing. It was so soft, I wasn't sure it had been real. It was so real though. I was so in love.

We weren't alone in our NICU room. Zack was with us. He talked to Nora while I held her. He gave her lots of kisses. I romanticized of the first time we would be home doing those same motions together, what seemed a lifetime away. I could see his emotions in his eyes. He wanted to hold her so badly but couldn't let himself just yet. He wasn't ready to trust himself with such a fragile life, his baby. I promised Nora it wouldn't take long before he would realize he needed her just as much she needed him. One thing Zack kept saying over and over, to anyone who would listen, was that Nora was so beautiful, she was just so beautiful.

I knew how badly Zack wanted to hold Nora. Zack knew how desperately I did not want to stop holding Nora. So he sacrificed himself for me that night, that first chance to hold our daughter. He sacrificed himself again and again, as he did all the days Nora was in the NICU. He let me stay, always. Whatever it took for me to be with Nora, that's what Zack did. And when Zack could come he would. He came almost every other day in between working. With his support, there were nights l never left her bed.

By the time the nurse came to place Nora back in her box, I could feel myself overcome with heartbreak. I felt so outside myself giving my child to a nurse. Giving my child to someone more capable and qualified for my child's survival than me, her mother. There was no holding back. I cried because she was alive and breathing-- in a box on machines and tubes, still so bruised from birth. I cried over Nora's life-- and my nephew's death.   I cried because I couldn't have my family all in one place-- and I didn't want to leave. There was so much darkness with the light. Was there a grief over the living too? I was in agony over this fast turn of events that left me...with a life.

That evening was the first time I held my daughter.  She was three days old.

From the beginning, 2012

It was the second Friday during the season of Lent for all of us Catholics. Me, my husband Zack and the two kids went out for a seafood dinner.  The meal had been hot and fresh and the service had been fast for a Friday night. With what was left of our evening Zack and I took the kids to pick out fresh flowers for our Godson, Carpenter, who was stilborn at 24 weeks. His funeral was the next day.

We went home content with the selection the kids picked out. It was time for bed for everyone but Zack. Our brother-in-law, Drew, had come to town and the two decided to stay up later than the rest of us. The seafood had made me sick, but so did everthing with this pregnancy so I didn't think twice about it. Baby Nora's kicks were present and I was exhausted.  Preparing myself for my baby nephew's funeral and having the nerve to show up pregnant as if I were going to somehow be support at that moment, was beyond my comprehension. I had to go, this I knew. There was an unspoken understanding between Annie and me even though I could feel the pain every time she saw my belly. I felt guilty holding my kicking tummy knowing my sister-in-law should have the right to hate me right now. She should still be kicked at and exhausted by the tiny boy growing inside her. Aside from my regular sickness and the thoughts over the next day everything else seemed as it should in our normal routine.

It was 2:06am. I woke up so suddenly with the pressing urgency of needing to pee. I sat up and I felt it. A huge gush of water all over me and the bed. My water just broke. It wasn't a slow drizzle at all. It felt like I lost everything I had in the two seconds it took me to sit up. I started screaming for Zack who was still in the living room with Drew. It took him way too long to walk from the living room as if I just needed a glass of water or something. "Zack, my water just broke". "Are you sure?" he asked as if maybe I meant to ask for that glass of water still. Then he saw me, drenched from the waist down. He ran to get towels and yelled for Drew to watch the kids because he needed to get me to the hospital. "But, you aren't due for like 3 more months"...."I know" I said. I was so scared my body was rapidly shaking. He pulled the van right to the front door and helped me in as gentle as possible to help somehow slow the water from leaving me so quickly. " I don't feel her kicking," I was crying. "It's okay, don't give up yet. We haven't even made it to the hospital." We both knew where our fears rooted.

After yelling our way into a labor and delivery room our doctor arrived and was immediately ready to wheel me off for an emergency c-section. I do remember Zack calling his dad to say my water had broken and we were at the hospital. I remember Zack saying into the phone, "Sorry, don't be sorry, she has a heartbeat". Yes, a heartbeat. Thank goodness. I was barely awake to see the two doors leading me into surgery. "Nicole, Nicole, wake up, meet your daughter." That was the one sentence that pulled me from such a sleep. There she was staring at me, all eyes. I remember thinking how crazy it was that she was staring at me. Did she know it was me, her mom? The rest of her could have fit in my hands, I am sure of it. Beautiful. She was born at 3:07am weighing 3 pounds and 3 ounces.  She was 15 inches long. "2 minutes and we need to head off to Brenner's (the children's hospital)," I heard the ambo driver say. Unfortunately, I already knew that routine from my second child. Somehow, his birth seemed less scary now that this was happening. Two minutes passed as I just stared and watched her, then she headed off in her plastic bubble of a new home. Zack and his dad followed.  I couldn't keep my eyes open.

When I woke I was still in the hospital. I looked over to find Mandy, my best friend since childhood, sitting there patiently waiting. She had sat there the entire time I slept. She had tabs on Nora and Zack, my older two kids and my nurses. She said Annie had beaten Nora to Brenner's and that she, Zack and Randy were all there. Zack's other sister Megan had made it from Asheville to help Drew with the kids and she was there for me and to get me to Nora. I had shaken the sleepy gas out of my system and was ready to see Nora. It didn't take much convincing--my doctor knew after experience I wasn't one to sit idly in a hospital bed away from my baby. 

The NICU world was fast, noisy and overwhelming. Nora was perfect. She was alive and breathing. There was no way I could leave, I literally could not move myself to leave. I told Zack and Annie I couldn't leave. It was okay. I stayed while everyone else in my family went back home to my nephew's funeral. His funeral was March 10th, 2012, the day Eleanor was born.

This is how I became Nora's mother.  And this is how we spent the first three months of her life.  Doctor's rounds, MRIs, surgeries, fearing every day she'd follow her cousin to Heaven--it couldn't have been further from normal.  At first it was scary.  Terrifying.  But since that first day, I've come to learn that normal is a fantasy for the innocent.  We've learned to embrace this brokenness as a family and survive together.  This is real.  This is my life and my journey through motherhood.  Welcome to the New Normal, a sacred place of death and miracles.