A Family Like No Other

A Family Like No Other

From Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul

A Family Like No Other

After growing up an air force brat, I knew about moving into a new home every three years, starting new schools in strange places, and making new friends only to leave them behind. I vowed never to marry into the military.

Six months after marrying A1C Mark Norris, the air force moved us from family, friends and safety to the unknown wilds of Alaska. We were together on the honeymoon of a lifetime.

I missed my family, but we soon grew to depend on another military couple, Kevin and Amy. It was nice having friends to celebrate holidayswith, to do errands for you while you were ill, or even to shovel your driveway when your husband was stationed in another part of the world.

After Amy gave birth to twin boys, Mark and I decided to have a baby. Getting pregnant wasn’t easy, but after a round of fertility drugs, we finally saw that pink plus sign on the pregnancy test!

I couldn’t wait to call our families! The next call was to Amy, followed by more talks through the weeks, as every little twitch required Amy’s pregnancy expertise. She always reassured me that everything I was experiencing was normal, until one night I started spotting. I went to the hospital, where I was given an ultrasound. The doctor smiled at me. “How do you feel about twins?”

We were anxious to tell everyone we were having twins. I was sure my pregnancy would be easy, just as Amy’s had been. However, that wasn’t the case. Almost immediately, all-day sickness set in. I lost a lot of weight and went on bed rest at twenty weeks gestation.

The military was wonderful to Mark during this time, allowing him to take me to my doctor’s appointments. Our military friends were just as great. They would drop by to visit. Some would bring dinner. Amy brought me information on multiple births and raising twins.

One night, while Mark was involved in a military exercise, I felt a gush of liquid. I knew that thirty weeks was too early, and called Mark’s squadron in tears. He met me at the Elmendorf Air Force Base hospital emergency room, and, the next morning, I was ambulanced to Providence Hospital, a better-equipped facility for premature deliveries.

Even as the neonatologist explained the risks to us, I was sure that things would be fine. As an unfamiliar doctor was talking about an emergency cesarean section, I went into a fog. My mother wasn’t there! Nothing was as I had planned, except having Mark by my side.

Our babies were born at noon in a cold, sanitary operating room filled with a dozen or so strangers there to save their lives. I didn’t get to see my babies, hear them cry or hold them before their tiny bodies were rushed through a window into the neonatal ICU. After waking up from the surgery, I was wheeled into a room where Hailey and Zachary had bright lights beaming down on them, while tubes and wires attached every part of their wrinkled bodies to lifesaving devices.

As I looked up, a skylight revealed the first snow of the season. It was so beautiful, so pure. I was filled with love and fear. Through an open window, we could see a statue of a saint holding a small boy in his arms. For me, the view was symbolic. It meant that my babies were held in the arms of the protector. Our prayers together began that instant, with Mark uttering words meant only for God and myself.

As soon as she heard that I had given birth, Amy appeared with helium-filled balloons that proclaimed, “It’s a girl!” and “It’s a boy!” This lifted my spirits as I drifted to sleep.

The following morning I noticed that Zachary’s balloon had fallen slightly lower than Hailey’s. A nurse from NICU rushed in, taking us to a neonatologist standing beside Zachary. Things weren’t going well. By dinnertime, the balloon had nearly fallen to the floor. We were summoned back to the NICU for a last chance to say good-bye to our son.

Zachary died in Mark’s arms, just after being told it was okay to go to heaven.

During the night, the news had traveled through our circle of friends and up the chain of command. A military chaplain was with us for support. He arranged to have the Red Cross fly our parents up, and even guided us through funeral arrangements. Mark’s squadron commander came by, telling him not to worry about returning to work but to take care of his family first. The Airmen’s Emergency Fund provided funds for the funeral.

I can never repay our military family for the love and support they gave us during our time of loss. Mark’s buddies from work were granted permission to leave duty to console Mark, and Amy came to me. While our relatives were on their way, our military family provided the immediate comfort we needed. Amy even went to our house, returning the double items meant for Zachary, so we wouldn’t have to face them on our first night home.

We received orders to move to McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas. Hailey remained in the hospital growing stronger, and came home on her actual due date, December 16. By the end of February, we were packing up for our move. Our Alaskan military family saw us off at the airport, as we took off to build our family in Kansas.

Before we left, I looked over to the corner of Hailey’s room. There it was, her balloon, still fully inflated and floating over her crib as she napped peacefully.

Ann Hail Norris

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