In the spring of 1998 we found ourselves newly married and expecting our first daughter with much anticipation. My husband Ron and I fought together through the morning sickness that never went away, the mounting pressures of bringing a new little one home and beginning a life together that would ultimately test our strength as a couple, and be immersed in loss.
As my pregnancy progressed, so did complications. I was sick. I had never felt so sick before, but I was willing to do and go through anything if it meant our daughter Carol Lynn was born healthy. In my 6th month, I was diagnosed with preeclampsia. I fought through it and made it to my routine doctors visit on April 23, 1998. It was the first morning I was able to get up and out of the house in two weeks, since I had been put on bed rest at home. I was so very swollen. None of my maternity clothes fit, and my shoes wouldn't budge on. Ron had to work that day and just couldn't be there, so my mother went with me. When I look back, I am so grateful that my mom was there with me. She served as our rock, not just that day but in the coming days, months and years.
My doctor took one look and knew that I was in trouble. My face and body were so swollen that I was almost unrecognizable. When they took my blood pressure, the doctor hurriedly told me that I had to have Carol Lynn that day, that if I didn't I was in grave danger. She quickly left the room to gather the needed info to admit me. The room was silent. I looked at my mom with tears in my eyes. “You have done enough, it will be fine Shannon. It's time for this baby to come.” My mom smiled at me. With her words, I took a deep breath and I knew everything was going to be OK. My doctor did one last ultrasound before sending me to the hospital. Carol Lynn was going to be small at 32 weeks, but she looked great. There was nothing that showed up on the ultrasounds then nor before that would signal to the doctor that she was in trouble or that she might have complications.
I was induced and surrounded by family when at 4:00am on April 24, 1998 a nurse came running and yelling into my room. Ron bolted upright, drowsy from sleep. My eyes hadn't even focused yet when the nurse pulled all of the wires out of the wall behind my bed and the loud sirens began to blare. “You have to push Mrs. Olson, you have to push now!” More nurses came running in and my doctor yelled for more help. I did as I was told. Ron looked terrified. At 4:15am April 24, 1998, Carol Lynn Olson came into this world…. silent. She wasn't breathing on her own, her heart was not beating. They placed her in the bed next to mine, and a team of doctors and nurses worked on her for 15 minutes. Once they had her heart beating, they rushed her out to place her on life support and to do a chest x-ray. Mine and Ron’s families were out in the hallway when Carol Lynn was rushed out of our room in the arms of a doctor. No one could tell them what was going on.
I will never forget the look on the doctor's face. He was young. He didn't look like he was old enough to be a doctor, but he was so sweet. He held my hand when he told Ron and I his name. I don't know to this day what his name was, but I will always remember his face. He told us that Carol Lynn was born with very little lung tissue. She had all of her fingers, toes, and vital organs, but yet she would never, could never, breath on her own, and she had gone far too long without oxygen to her brain. We had two choices. We could either life flight her to Cardinal Glennon, however the doctor felt she would not make the flight, or we could remove her from life support and say goodbye.
We choose to remove her from life support. Ron and I didn't even look at each other yet we said it at the same time. It was the right choice for us. It was the hardest choice I have ever had to make. The doctor gave her 20 minutes once she was removed, and told us that she would pass quickly.
I don't know who told our families. I don't know how they were told. But they all were there when Carol Lynn was brought back into our room for us to say goodbye. We were given a stethoscope to listen to her heart beating. Everyone held her and gave her the love that they could. Twenty minutes passed, thirty minutes passed, two hours passed. Carol Lynn's heart was still beating, and she tried to breath every few seconds. Carol Lynn was given 20 minutes to live off of life support; she fought for two hours and thirty three minutes. She passed away in my arms, surrounded by family and their lifetime of love.
“Oh God. I realize as a woman how lucky I am. I was there when that wonderful creature drifted into my life and I was there when she drifted out. It was the most precious moment of my life.” Steel Magnolias
I can't tell you when Cathi Lammert walked into our room, but oh how we needed her. She made it ok to love Carol Lynn, to hold her more after she was gone. She took a lock of hair, hand and footprints and pictures of our beautiful daughter that we have framed in our home. Cathi was our lifeline. Cathi saved us from the deepest, darkest time of our lives. She saved my life. Without her I would not be here. I know to some that may seem like a dramatic statement. However, when I left the hospital, when the funeral was over, when everyone else's life got back to “normal” and the silence set in, it was Cathi's voice that got me out of bed, got me though my grief, and took from my mind and heart the raw, painful need to give up.
Ron and I attended Share meetings for about a year after losing Carol Lynn. For me, it was a time to get out all of the things that angered me. Meetings also gave us an opportunity to see and feel that we were not alone. We were not social outcasts; there were others that were going through and had gone through this nightmare of losing a baby. The couples that we met at those meetings are still some of our closest friends. While we don't see each other nearly enough, we will always have the bond of being the “Class of 1998.”
We gradually stopped going to the parent meetings. I think we knew that we were ready to move forward. I know some of the parents we met continued to go for a few years after their losses. I think just like our losses, our need for the monthly meetings was different. We began down the road that brought us Alexander in 2000 and Lillian in 2003. Both pregnancies were hard, and filled with bed rest, doctor's visits, medications, and ultrasounds each week. I almost lost both of them due to complications.
After Lily was born, I felt the overwhelming need to get back to Share. I started out volunteering in the office by helping the office staff file paperwork, stuff envelopes, do mailings etc., and then I began helping with the walk in October. When I was asked to chair the national Share Walk for Remembrance and Hope, I felt that was my chance to help all of those other parents out there. I could help give them another place to remember their babies. I jumped at the chance! With help from a close friend (who was part of the “Class of '98), we chaired the walk until 2008. The sight of all of those balloons, the t-shirts with the footprints and all of the baby's names, the larger and larger crowd that would come each year, my time as Walk chair was so very bittersweet.
In between kids, and walks, I also became a Share Companion. I found that I had much more strength than I thought I had. In the midst of training, I learned that my much-loved father in law had ended his life. I didn't know if I could go on and be a Share Companion, but the grief that I had over losing Carol Lynn and my father in law compelled me to help others… in their memory. Beginning the journey with parents from all walks of life, all ages, all religions, the common bond between them and I, are our losses. Each time I walk into a hospital room, before I open the door, I speak to Carol Lynn. I ask her for strength and understanding and to give mommy the ability, no matter what, to help the family that I am about to meet. I know she listens. I know she is there with me when I meet the babies and take their hand and foot prints, and take their pictures. I know she is there when I kiss their little hands and tell them that Carol Lynn will meet them and make sure they are ok.
In 2006, my mom passed away after a more than 20 year battle with cancer. Again, Cathi was our twinkle light in a dark moment. One of my mother's last wishes was that Cathi officiate her funeral. She didn't hesitate; Cathi did an amazing job. She remembered my mom for who she was, and she led the funeral with times of laughter, just as my mom would have wanted. I realized as Cathi was bringing to a close the memorial of my mother, she was not only free from the cancer the she fought for so long, she was also now with her babies that she had lost so many years ago- two sets of twins, both stillborn, whom she was never able to see nor hold. Her loss, was so very much mine. She needed Cathi at the end of her life to bring her to her children…. Cathi is so very wonderful at that. Share, Cathi, and the many who work and volunteer for Share help bring us to our babies. They give us our safety net, our peace.
After my mother passed away I began working at the national Share office as the executive administrative assistant. I had the opportunity at that time to see Rose, Jeanna and the other office staff in their everyday quest to help families and caregivers. It was amazing working alongside these great women. While my time working as a staff member was brief, just 6 months, I will always cherish the memories and knowledge this gave me.
This July, I was given the opportunity to come back as a Share companion, something I truly have missed. Now, I not only do it in memory of Carol Lynn and my father in law, I do it for my mom.
This past April, Carol Lynn would have turned 14. I found myself unprepared for this milestone, and this birthday hit me hard. There are times it seems like yesterday I held her. I can still feel her skin, I can still smell her. While the raw grief has been long gone for many years, at times I can still physically feel it when I hear a song, or look at her photograph or when Alex or Lily ask about her. 14 years later, I still miss Carol Lynn each and every day. We do not visit her grave as often as we used to, but I don't think that she is there. I feel her now as I write this; I feel her with us.
I was asked the question “Why do you continue to stay involved with Share?” It is simple really. Why do those who have traveled far and wide always feel at home when they arrive? Share is my home, my place where love has been given and shared. Share is my life boat. Ms. Cathi and the Share staff have been there in my darkest hours; they have seen me, my family and my husband at our best and at our worst. Share has given us hope, love, and understanding. Share is home in my heart. You always come home.