Friday, October 2, 2015
Sunday, September 20, 2015
Loving you is like trying to hold smoke. I feel your heat in the absence of fire. You fill my lungs. And I am sometimes so filled with you, I can't breathe. My hands are rough and gritty from soot, but you are not here. Only remnants of you. Only flashes of what should have been - flickering through my thoughts like a broken filmstrip. I hear you whisper my name and I lean in, searching my brain for traces of you. For your entire life, we shared the same space in the universe, and sometimes my heart forgets to beat without you. And in that skip, that jump of irregularity, I feel you. That is your home - that pause between beats - miniscule and infinite at the same time. That gap where you grow up in flickers and flashes. You are my empty space.
You are the hesitation between the question "Is she your first?" and my response. You are my moment of readjustment when I see two sisters walking together, the brief shimmering of a tear I don't let go. You are the seconds of darkness before I fall asleep and the fuzzy grayness of the world as I am waking up. You are the rise between inhale and exhale, and the dip between the reverse. You are the moments before the moments. Always and forever. You are my empty space.
Friday, July 3, 2015
Monday, June 15, 2015
In case you don't have time to read the entire article, it is basically a Loss Mom's letter to another woman who sat in awkward silence after asking about her children and learning her first born son had died. The mom said she didn't really care that she made the woman uncomfortable because she's not about to deny the existence of her child. I am right there with her, although I do hate the sad eyes and downward glances. I think, as a society, we push all pain out of the public eye. I think a big part of why baby loss is so taboo is because people are just so uncomfortable with death and grief in general. Add to that the loss of a human that had yet to begun to live, and we're talking serious silences and seat squirming.
I'm one of those people that when one of my statuses is shared, I like to click over and see what was said about it. When one person shared it, one of their friends commented that they really don't know what to say. A similar situation had happened to them and they weren't really sure what to do. That's perfectly understandable and quite admirable to admit and want help with. I imagine a lot of people outside the loss community might feel the same way.
So, here's a typical scenerio and how you might respond:
You: Is she your oldest/ only child?
Her: No. She has an older sister who was stillborn.
You: I am so sorry for your loss. (smile, while asking...) What was her name?
Her: Her name was ________
You: That's a beautiful name. Optional: If you'd like to tell me about her, I'd love to listen.
That's it. That's all you have to do. She's already brought up her child. She is already letting you know she is comfortable talking about her...or at least that she wants to. She wants you to know that the child you see isn't the only child she has. Asking the name lets her know you acknowledge her baby as important and loved. Most likely, she will glow in telling you the name. She might get misty eyed, but you didn't make her sad. Bringing up her loss didn't make her sad. Living in a world without her child makes her sad, but she's not on the edge of sadness all the time. She finds joy in her life, she does. Losing her child broke her heart, but it didn't break her.
When you talk to her, don't think how horrible everything must be for her. She can see that in your eyes. She can tell that you are feeling sorry for her. Don't. She doesn't want your sympathy. You don't have to comfort or console her. She probably already has a grief counselor. She just wants someone else in this world to know her child existed. You might think it's morbid to be discussing her dead child with her, but she doesn't. She's happy someone is willing to listen. To her, there is no difference between her children other than the fact she can hold one and not the other.
Most likely, she will steer the conversation into what she's comfortable with. She might volunteer what happened to her child and she might not. If she doesn't though, don't ask. Other than that, talk to her like you would any other mother talking about her children.
I think a lot of people might get uncomfortable in this situation because they think the conversation is going to be all about death. Honestly, we don't really want to hash out all the details of our child's death with a stranger. We don't want to tell you our hospital horror story. We don't want to relive those terrible moments with you. We just want to include all of our children in a conversation when someone asks. That's it.
Be honored she is willing to share her child with you. She fully understands how you might react, and she is still willing to put herself in a vulnerable situation with a complete stranger. That is how much she loves her child. That is how important talking about her baby is to her. She's not concerned with your uncomfortableness because you were the one who asked. She didn't come racing up to you to say, "hey...guess what....my child died."
If you're friendly enough to bring up a woman's children in casual conversation, then you have enough people skills to handle this. You do. One out of four women experience the loss of a child either in pregnancy or in early infancy. One in four. The baby loss community is getting stronger and more outspoken. More and more women are feeling comfortable talking publicly about their loss and their children. There is a good chance your casual conversation may take this turn.
Don't feel sorry for her.
Don't change the subject or try to end the conversation
Just talk to her. Listen to what she has to say. You'd do it for any other mom on the playground. Do it for her too.
Friday, June 5, 2015
I am forgetting her. I am forgetting the heaviness of her in my arms. I feel it now only slightly, when it used to weigh me down like rocks. I am forgetting her face and her tiny hand. I see them in her pictures, but those pictures aren't her. Those photos are wonderful, but they don't capture the true beauty of my little girl, and I can no longer fully remember it. I can no longer fully remember my own child, and it feels like I am losing her all over again.
Her sister has taken over my life, and I am immersed in changing diapers and cutting fruit into bite-sized pieces, in singing songs and reading board books over and over and over. I can remember all of the words to "Giraffes Don't Dance" but not all the details of my firstborn.
How did this happen? How has my brain somehow let her slip away?
I have looked at her pictures so many times, those are the images I see when I close my eyes. The black and white baby with her hand over her left eye. The side pose with the bear and the bracelet. The curled up child in the long sleeved gown. Those are the pictures my brain remembers, but I can't see her. The real Kenley in my arms. The real face I looked down on. The real hand I held. The real head covered in black hair. Those images keep pulling farther and farther away. I try so hard to keep them with me, but they won't stay. They are leaving me. Silently slipping out the back door of my mind.
How long will it be before she is gone completely? Before all I know of her is the four pictures that aren't really her? Before I can no longer feel her in my arms? That day is coming. I only had two hours with her. Thirty six weeks and then two hours. It's not enough time to burn enough memory. It's not enough time to make her stay with me. I reach out for her with desperate fingers, but I can't take hold.
I'm losing her. I'm losing her. I'm losing her.
And my heart is breaking all over again.
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Here's what works for my family....
....uh......well....I haven't actually figured that out yet. Laundry and dishes pile up at lightning speed and never actually really seem to be clean for more than three seconds, in addition to the piles of questionable cleanliness that just keep getting rewashed because I never put them away and can't remember. Grocery shopping is often a leap of faith, as I really don't have the time or energy to actually meal plan and kind of just make educated guesses in the middle of Publix, which often results in a cartful of raw chicken, crackers, bananas, and the occasional frozen pizza. At least once a week, my dinner is handed to me from a window. (Ok...twice a week....and let's not talk about it.) Part of this is because my husband works nights and pulls in 20-30 hours of mandatory overtime a week, leaving my disorganized self in charge of everything. Part of it is because I have never been very good at following through with housework. And part of it is because I would just rather take Piper to the zoo instead of tackling the whites and darks.
However, for my own sanity, I have made a plan for the summer to get myself on track. A good part of the issue is that we have way too much stuff. I think most people have way too much stuff, honestly. I mean, do I really need a giant plastic ring that can microwave potato slices into chips? Do I need six sets of pot holders? 10 mixing bowls? Four winter coats? (in central Florida?) Clothes that won't fit me unless I lose 50 pounds? (In that case, wouldn't I just then want to buy all new clothes?) I am buried in stuff, and this summer I am digging out. I shall call this summer The Great Purge of 2015, and nothing is safe. I am going to follow the KonMari method which involves gathering all of like objects together as opposed to sorting room by room. You only keep the things that "spark joy". I'm an emotional person....I can easily go through a pile of clothes and determine the ones that spark joy. I can tell which mixing bowl is my favorite. Which set of silverware is the most pleasing. I can do this!
I have recently re-organized my classroom. Often, when you move into a new classroom, there are a lot of things that have been left behind by the previous occupants. This, in addition to two years of being absent at the end of the school year and dealing with subsitutes who shoved everything into a cabinet and called it a day, my classroom was a wreck. I have spent the last month going through everything. If I hadn't used it in the last year or so, or it didn't make me happy, I chucked it. Often times, I gave it away to students, which made me feel a little like Oprah. "You get an old workbook...and YOU get an old workbook. EVERYONE gets an old workbook!" With three days left in the school year, my cabinets are clean and streamlined, and it is glorious. Glorious!
Our society hoards stuff. Maybe not always to the extreme of the Hoarder TV shows, but we surround ourselves with things. Electronics. Clothes. Toys. Linens. Kitchenware. Gadgets. We buy, buy, buy. And then we buy containers to organize it all. When I would run out of hangers in my closet, I went to the store to buy more hangers. When my tupperware containers spilled out of their drawer, I purchased a drawer organizer to keep them tidy. But then, when I saw how much more room I had, I bought more tupperware. When my mixing bowls and measuring cups couldn't fit in one cabinet, I rearranged a second one to squeeze more in. I can't do it anymore. I can't keep living under the weight of all this stuff. I am D O N E.
The Great Purge of 2015 has already begun. Every single item of clothing in our house is being cycled through the laundry room and is finding its way into the guest bedroom. Once my unnecessary and joyless items have been sent to the thrift shop, I will move into the kitchen and tackle the plastic chip ring and his redundant friends. From bowls to DVDs to shoes, everything will be judged and tossed or kept accordingly. I will show no mercy. I have none left to show
I cannot explain just how extremely excited I am. How so unbelievably lighter I feel just having my classroom clean and organized with literally 1/3 of the stuff it had before...and how completely free I will feel when the house is the same. I'm telling you people, simplification is the way to go.
Less is more.
It's not just a saying - it's the secret of life. Tell your friends.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Why Firework? When I went back to work the following school year after Kenley died, we had a training on something I really can't remember, but for some reason, we went through the words for this song in small groups and then were supposed to discuss any connections we made to them. We listened to the song whole group first. And as I listened, my eyes welled, my heart raced, and I felt the familiar rise of sorrow as it bubbled from the pit of my stomach and spread across my chest and into my throat. "Keep it together", I thought. "Don't lose it in front of everyone. Be stronger than this." I don't know if anyone was watching me. Probably not. But if they had been, they would have seen the struggle. The deep breaths. The blinking eyes. The clenching and unclenching of hands. It's a weird little dance we do. It's like being inside a tent about to be blown away by a hurricane, and all you can do is pull in all of the ropes at once to hold it all together. I made it through the whole group listening, but when we broke into smaller groups and people started to discuss, I lost it.
Do you ever feel like a plastic bag
Drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?
Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin
Like a house of cards, one blow from caving in?
Do you ever feel already buried deep six feet under?
Screams but no one seems to hear a thing
Do you know that there's still a chance for you
'Cause there's a spark in you?
I mean, come on? How could I not identify with those lyrics after losing my daughter? I felt useless and without purpose. I felt like a failure. I was a mother in heart but not in life and I had no idea what I was supposed to do with myself anymore. Six months out from her death, I was still so raw and open and hurting. My wound was still oozing. My bones were still healing. I was young in grief and I was still figuring out how to walk through life with this pain that I realized would never really go away.
You don't have to feel like a wasted space
You're original, cannot be replaced
If you only knew what the future holds
After a hurricane comes a rainbow.
I felt like nothing. I felt exactly like wasted space. Like nothing I did would matter because I had failed at keeping my child alive, so what good was I? And I wanted a rainbow with every fibre of my being. I couldn't even fathom what life would be like for me if I couldn't have more children. I ached to hold a baby. I ached for the child I lost and for the child I didn't know would be coming soon. It was hard for me to believe that a Rainbow would be in my future. I honestly couldn't imagine being happy again.
You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July
'Cause, baby, you're a firework
Come on, show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go, "Aah, aah, aah"
As you shoot across the sky-y-y
Baby, you're a firework
Come on, let your colours burst
Make 'em go, "Aah, aah, aah"
You're gonna leave 'em all in awe, awe, awe
Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon
It's always been inside of you, you, you
And now it's time to let it through-ough-ough
'Cause, baby, you're a firework
Come on, show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go, "Aah, aah, aah"
As you shoot across the sky-y-y
Baby, you're a firework
Come on, let your colours burst
Make 'em go, "Aah, aah, aah"
You're gonna leave 'em all in awe, awe, awe
Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon
Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon
So, yeah. Basically, I needed to show the world that I was more than sorrow. I had light and brightness still inside me, it was just buried in sadness. I needed to push through the darkness to find my light again. It seemed like a daunting task, but something that I knew needed to be done, and I didn't really know where to start.
Since then, I cannot listen to Firework without thinking about how I felt that day. I cannot hear those words without remembering how deep in grief I was, how much I hurt, and how lost in life I felt. You'd think I would hate this song, but I don't. I actually love it. I love it because it validated how I was feeling and made me realize that how I felt was normal and okay. It gave me hope that life might not always be so hard and painful. It gave me a reason to love my past while being hopeful for my future. A Katy Perry song did that. Who knew?
This song is a trigger for me for sure, and I know it. I will always tear up when I hear it, and I certainly wasn't expecting to hear it on the way to work, starting my morning with a good, solid cry. But, honestly, that's just the way life is now. The New Normal includes crying at unexpected times, sometimes in public.
I have worked very hard to get to the point where I don't hurt all the time. I think of her often. I miss her daily. But, my pain is not as sharp and not as loud as it once was.
Grief takes maintenance.
We all have wounds we care for. Wounds never fully heal and that repoen at unexpected times. Wounds that we have to learn how to redress when the bandage is suddenly ripped away. Some are more severe than others, but we all hurt. We are all triggered, whether it's a song, a smell, a place, or just a tone of voice. When we are taken by surprise, we just have to remember that we hurt because we love. So, we keep loving, we keep hurting, and we keep healing the best we can. It's all we can do.
Monday, May 4, 2015
Last year, I celebrated Mother's Day with a three week old Piper. WIth her snuggled up against me, I felt braver to venture onto the internet than I had the year before when I avoided it like the plague. My Facebook wall was peppered with joyful wishes for me, which was very bittersweet. As much as no one wants to hear it, it's hard to be entirely happy on days like that - days where your motherhood is celebrated and you are a mother without all of your children. There's an even greater sense of incompleteness on a day devoted to mothers. I can imagine children who have lost their mother feel a similar disconnect.
The child who made me a mother will never be with me on Mother's Day - or any day. Which is why those "Happy First Mother's Day!" wishes last year cut me to the bone. I got several. Dozens. Happy FIRST Mother's Day. First? No....2013 was my first Mother's Day. 2013 when I sat in my house, foggy headed and glassy eyed, two and a half months after the worst day of my life. 2013 when I was terrified to visit social media at all because I knew the Mother overload would have sent me over the edge. 2013 when I can't even remember if anyone wished me a Happy Mother's Day because I was in so much pain, but I know it was few and far between. But, 2014 rolled around wrapped in a Rainbow, and suddenly I am a mother. Suddenly, well wishes poured from the sky. Suddenly, my motherhood was okay to talk about and okay to celebrate because I had a living child.
Granted, not everyone knows what to do with another person's grief, and mine was very fresh. Most likely, people just didn't know what to say. They just didn't have the words - or even know if I wanted the attention. I can't fault people for being silent in 2013 because everything was so new for all of us. But, I can say, had I been recognized that day, had my wall been filled with Happy Mother's Day wishes, I would have felt a little less alone and a little less broken. I would have felt like my Motherhood was something to be celebrated just like everyone else's - because it is. I would have been so very grateful that people saw Kenley as who she was - my child - as opposed to what happened to her.
Two years have passed since that true, First Mother's Day. This year will be my third. I have two children. One, you can see plain as day. Laughing, crawling, and covered in applesauce. The other, you have to look more carefully to find, but she is always there. She is in the owl satchel I carry to and from work evey day. She is in the owl lanyard that holds my classroom keys. She is in the Kenley's Playlist on my iPhone that I listen to when I need to feel connected. She hangs around my neck every day in a necklace with her name and birthstone - and has since my first week home. She is not absent; she is just not as easily seen. But she is still there. My baby. My first reason for celebrating Mother's Day.
Yesterday, the loss community celebrated Bereaved Mother's Day - a day set aside to celebrate the mothers who don't have all of their children with them. Mothers who walk the line between two worlds, balancing between what they feel in their heart and what the rest of the world sees. Mothers who might feel uncomfortable or afraid to celebrate Mother's Day a few weeks later because they aren't sure they feel like a mother - because so many others tell them they are not. Maybe not so blatantly with their words - but more subtlely with their silence. While I love the compassion and care surrounding this holiday, the attempt to include bereaved mothers in the celebration of their motherhood, it still pains me it has to exist. Baby death is still so taboo that women who experience it feel like they aren't real enough mothers to participate in Mother's Day. People outside of the loss community aren't sure how to recognize women without all of their children, and so they don't. Hurt and forgotten, we have created our own holiday to heal our hearts from a pain so many just don't understand.
I am bereaved and I am a mother, but I didn't do anything special yesterday. Mostly because this weekend was a crazy weekend - but also partly because I don't want a special holiday. I don't want to celebrate my motherhood in muted tones away from the masses. I want to celebrate my motherhood with everyone else. All of the Bereaved Mother's Day events I saw posted on Facebook were beautiful. Names were written in the sand. Trees were planted. Pictures of moms were posted holding name or a framed photo. It's a very healing day, and I am not knocking it at all. It just frustrates me that those things can't be incorporated with Mother's Day - that Bereaved Mothers feel the need to pull away because their own version of motherhood isn't as accepted or honored by the mainstream.
I am no more a mother today with Piper in my arms than I was before she was born. I am no more a mother today than the day I took my very first pregnancy test that set me upon this road. Kenley made me a mother. The ways I get to be her mother vary greatly from the ways I get to be Piper's, but I am still a mother to both of them. I became a mother in July 2012, and although my circumstances changed that following February, my status as a mother did not. This year will be my third Mother's Day, not my second. I say this not necessarily for myself, but for the women out there celebrating their true First Mother's Day this year with empty arms, for the women receiving First wishes when it's really their Second, and for the women who had children before their loss and are wondering if the Mother's Day wishes include thoughts of their missing babies.
We are all mothers. Those of us who have lost babies and those of us who have not - none of us are more or less of a mother. Death does not take away our motherhood. It cannot tell us who we are. It may shape our roles as mothers, but is does not change the fact we are one. For those of you who have all of your children in your arms - Happy Mother's Day. For those of you who do not - Happy Mother's Day.
Celebrate who you are as a mother. Celebrate your children. Celebrate the path that has lead you to where you are - because our children do indeed make us better people, regardless of whether or not we can hold them.
Monday, April 27, 2015
Saturday, April 25, 2015
I am a big sister to an amazing woman. Growing up, we definitely had our differences. With four years between us, we never really were quite in the same world until we were adults. When I was in elementary, she was a toddler. In middle school, she was a child. In high school, she was a tween. But, she was still my little sister. I still loved her - and we did have great moments together in between our bickering. When I was old enough to watch her while my parents went out, we would always work together to clean the downstairs for them. Once, we decided to bake them a cake. Being our extremely intelligent 12 and 8 year old selves, we made frosting out of crisco and food coloring. Because... isn't that how you make frosting? We played in our backyard together. Our tree house had our names carved above the door. Once, after my mom had purchased the very rare package of Oreos, I came downstairs for a cookie snack only to find the box of cookies open and all of the cream scraped from each and every one of them. My little sister had created a softball sized wad and was eating it in the recliner like an apple. I am pretty sure she was on my list for quite a while after that. Sibling rivalry is a sacred bond. It really is. And only people with siblings truly understand that.
I had always envisioned having two kids. Maybe it's because I come from a family with two kids, or maybe it's just because that's what I thought I could handle. Either way, two was my limit. And I do have two kids. I have two beautiful little girls. Mike and I have decided we aren't going to try to have any more children. For various reasons, but mostly because pregnancy is so hard on me physically and both of us emotionally. Something I am really having trouble coming to terms with is the fact that, although she isn't one, Piper is going to grow up being an only child. She has an older sister, but will never experience what that's like. Kenley will be loved and spoken of often, but she will always be Stardust. She will always be a whispy memory passed down to Piper in stories. She will always be an eternal black and white baby, still and silent in four framed photographs. That breaks my heart more than you can imagine.
I want my daughters to be able to play together. I want Kenley to know how annoying it is to have a little sister rummage through her closet. I want Piper to know how comforting it is knowing her big sister has been through what she's going through and can show her the ropes. I want Piper to wish she could go with her big sister when Kenley heads off to kindergarten. I want Kenley to hold Piper's hand the next year when they go to school together. I want them to grow up and realize the best friend they could ask for lived under the same roof as they did all that time. I want so many things for my girls that they will never have.
Instead, I have to figure out a healthy and natural way for my youngest to know her sister. Instead, I have to worry about other kids thinking she's weird if she talks too much about her big sister who died. Instead, I have to watch her miss out on having a sibling here with her. Instead, I have to have my gut punched over and over again when someone assumes she's an only.
To be clear, I don't think there's anything wrong with being an only child. Mike's an only - and he turned out pretty great. Only children tend to be confident and independent - two things I very much want for Piper. But, the fact remains, she's not an only. She will have the experiences of one, but she isn't one.
As someone who whole-heartedly believes in being the most honest self you can, this is a very difficult concept for me. It upsets me greatly. Maybe you can't understand why. Maybe you think, "Well, you can always change your mind about having more kids." The thing is, I don't want more children. I don't want to be pregnant again. I don't want to adopt. The only reason I would have more children would be to give Piper a sibling, and I really don't think that's a good enough reason to have them. It makes me feel extremely selfish, but it's the way it is. Our family is done.
Piper will grow up being an only child, but not. And my sadness not only comes from not having both of my girls together, but in depriving Piper of the type of relationship that is so important to me personally. My sister has become my greatest advocate and best friend, and it hurts that Piper and Kenley won't get that. It hurts that Piper will live her life without her sister and they won't get to know each other like they should
To be blunt, it just sucks. One more thing to suck in a long list of things that suck.
Two years have passed since we said hello and goodbye to Kenley. Two years. As time has passed, and our family has expanded, I have begun to realize very clearly that I am not the only one missing out on that beautiful dark haired little girl.
This little girl is too
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Losing Kenley affected me in more ways than can be counted. It changed who I am as a mother. While pregnant with Kenley, I imagined the life she'd live and my role in it. Being a teacher and seeing so many different parenting styles and their results, I had created an image of the type of mom I wanted to be. Having a strict bedtime, eating the dinner that is provided, doing homework, making and keeping commitments. I wanted Kenley to be respectful and responsible. I realize now that I was thinking more of a teacher and less of a mom. All those things are important, yes. Schedules and consistency are indeed key to creating stability in a child's life, but there is so much more to a child's life than where they work on homework and whose turn it is to empty the dishwasher. Losing Kenley made me realize just what childhood is because it caused me to think about all the things she's going to miss. She'll never go to the park on a sunny spring day and race down the slide 17 times in a row, screaming with laughter. She'll never splash in mud puddles, squishing slimy brown muck between her tiny toes. She'll never curl up on the couch with her family, a Disney movie, and a huge tub of popcorn. She'll never eat a piece of pizza. There are so many parts of being a kid that she won't get to do....so many parts that have nothing to do with raising a responsible child. There is more to life than setting boundaries and making chore charts. Before Kenley died, I envisioned only the parts of motherhood that involved how I wanted to guide her into being a productive person. Who knows, had she come out of me screaming and breathing, all that rigidity may have melted away when I gazed into her eyes. But, losing her definitely resest my Mother Button. When Piper came along, I had a much greater vision, one that included moments unscheduled and unfettered.
I am on the threshold of Piper's childhood. I can peer into it much like looking out from your doorway into the wide, wide world. Right now, her memories are starting to figure out how to form. Right now, she is on the verge of being able to know and understand what is really going on around her. And, while I do want her to have stability and consistency, while I want her to grow into a responsible person who understands boundaries and expectations, I also want her to feel like her childhood was....Epic.
"Make it Epic" A good friend of mine recently gave me this advice when I remarked to her about the wonderful experiences her high school senior girls have had throughout their childhood. I have known these girls since they were five, and the last 13 years have shown them grow into fabulous young women. I asked my friend how she did it. How did she create a childhood that not only prepared them for their adult lives, but also made them look back into their childhood with wistfulness and joy? She made it Epic.
Now, before you get lost in the current mindset of lavish birthday parties with bounce houses and petting zoos, elves on the shelves creating chaos for an entire month, and family adventures to Disney World complete with costumes and character dining, let me explain what I mean by Epic. The definition of epic is "particularly impressive or remarkable", which for sure is what all of those things are, but those things aren't what make a childhood Epic. I mean...they help....but they don't have the market cornered.
My parents first took me to Disney World when I was 9. We were there for over a week. I am sure we witnessed dozens of shows and magical moments. You know what I remember? I remember eating tacos for dinner with our friends before a miscommunication between our parents resulted in them going to wait by the car and us spending the next five hours looking for them throughout Magic Kingdom. I remember my mom accidentally saying "UV" instead of "RV" when talking about taking a camper across the country and our family laughing hysterically. That's it. Two things. A week and a half in Orlando and I remember two things...neither of which really have anything to do with a magical experience. In my childhood, I remember having a Wizard of Oz birthday party when I was 5 or 6 and playing "Pin the Heart on the Tin Man". No bounce house. No $20 goodie bags for my friends. A woman dressed as Dorothy did not come to my house to "complete my experience". I pinned a red paper heart onto a sketched out tin man, and I thought it was awesome. I remember creating an "apartment" with my best friend in her sunroom, playing with an unplugged phone and pretending to order Chinese food for the dinner party we were about to throw for her cat. I remember my first real bike was purple with a white banana seat, but I learned to ride on a smaller pink Barbie bike with plastic wheels, and the best thing about my new purple bike was the smell of its black, rubber tires. I remember coming home from school a few times a year to a random present laid neatly on my bed. Maybe a new outfit. Maybe a book. Maybe a new box of crayons and a fresh pad of white paper. Just because my mom was thinking of me. Epic doesn't have to mean excessive. It means memorable and impressive - and kids remember, and are impressed by, the darndest things
You know that saying "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans."? That phrase could not contain any more truth. Life is not a grand scheme coming together. Life is a series of little moments that we choose to either participate in or watch happen to us. Childhood is not something that has to be be orchestrated into greatness....because greatness can happen regardless. Is it fun to have an elaborate party or fancy bento box lunch every day? Sure. Is it necessary to have a wonderful childhood? Nope. Childhood can still be wonderful...and yes, Epic....without excessive elaboration.
So, how do I Make it Epic? How do I give my daughter a fabulous childhood without breaking the bank or breaking my back? A childhood she remembers with fondness? Easy. I love her. I think about how any random moment could be the one she chooses to remember. I spend those five extra minutes at the park even though I know I need to go get dinner started. I buy the fanicer hair ties even if they are slightly more expensive because they are sturdier and she feels proud of herself when she can twist them in on her own. I make couch forts with her using the good sheets and bring her a pop tart on a real glass plate. I use our paintbrushes to wipe away the dirt from the tree roots in our back yard with her because she's pretending to be an archaeologist. I bake her cupcakes on her half birthday and put notes in her lunchbox. I don't have to create a monumenous occasion in order to be Epic. I just have to recognize that every moment has the potential for Epicness. It just depends on my willingness to take it there.
Make it Epic. Piper's first birthday is approaching, and her party will be at the park where we planted Kenley's tree. Piper won't remember a darn thing about her first birthday...it's just for me...but it will still be Epic. We won't have anything fancy. Probably just a few sub rings, some cupcakes, and a couple of veggie trays. Piper will get passed around from family member to friend, and might even get a chance to roll in the grass. She'll point excitedly to the balloons we have set up on the picnic tables, and we'll take pictures of her
Friday, April 17, 2015
As a compromise, I will do the best I can to fill you in on what this last week has been like for me, and I will hope it is enough.
The story of last week truly begins on February 25, 2013 when I learned the beautiful little girl I was getting ready to deliver had become entangled in her extra long umbilical cord. The actions of my doctors and nurses were caring and compassionate, but were not as informed as they could have been. No one told me to bathe her or to change her clothes. No one told me to take pictures of myself or Mike holding her or to call in a professional photographer. I only held her twice for less than half an hour each time. Since I had no idea what I was doing and no one told me what I should do, I missed out on valuable memory making experiences. I don't fault my hospital staff at all. Every single doctor and nurse I had treated me with such love and care. Our family was met with nothing but kindness. But, the reality is, the lack of information led to missing out on time with my little girl - time I can never get back. Because of this, and because so many other hospitals and staff are grossly unprepared to handle the delivery of a stillborn baby, I knew I wanted to do something to make a change. I didn't know what I could do until my sister asked me to write a letter to the second year med students at her Alma Mater. I thought, "This is it. This is my chance. I can make a difference in a few doctors' lives". I had no idea the reach of the letter would expand like capillaries across the country.
A few weeks after the letter first posted, my friend Carla called me to tell me a conference she was helping to put together in San Diego wanted me to open it with my letter. A cross-country trip to talk about my little girl? Sign me up! Carla is the mother of a beautiful little boy, Luca, who she lost just a week and a half after we lost Kenley, and an adorable Rainbow daughter Elia born a few months after Piper. Our journeys have been very similar in time and emotion. The difference is, Carla's hospital experience was not handled with the love and care that mine was. It's not my story to tell, but you can read about Luca and his family here
My week began bright and early on Sunday morning. Well, early at least. It's not very bright at 4:45am. I had said goodbye to Mike when he left for work the night before and my mom and I loaded a sleepy Piper into the car so she could drive me to the airport. Dropping off and picking up at any airport is a speedy endeavor, unless you want to be screamed at by someone in a bright yellow vest, so my goodbyes to my mom and Piper were quick. (I knew I would miss my little one so much - but I wasn't prepared for the next few days of not seeing her. That was hard!) I got through security fairly easily and arrived at my gate with time to spare and a latte that had involved waiting in a 50 foot line. (worth it) As I sat at the gate waiting to board a plane to California, the gravity of what was happening really began to sink in. Because my child had died, I wrote a letter. Because the letter struck a chord with people, I was on my way to San Diego to read it in front of a conference of doctors and nurses. Kenley's death had set off a chain of events I would have never imagined, and here I was, smack dab in the middle of them, in disbelief. It's hard to get excited about something that is the direct result of losing your baby. It's hard to celebrate something that came out of tragedy. I tried my hardest not to cry in the airport, but I was unsuccessful. I missed her so fiercely in those moments, it was almost tangible, and tears fell down my cheeks despite my best efforts to contain them.
The flight there was uneventful, despite being filled with a college cheer leading team who had just won 8th place at the Orlando Nationals. "Goooooooooo Tigers!" San Diego greeted me with a cloudless sky and a comfortable dry heat. I waited for Carla to pick me up under a giant "Balboa Park" walkway.
|Outside the airport|
When she pulled up with her wife, Gina, and her rainbow in the backseat, I loaded the suitcase, hopped in, and we immediately made our way to my first San Diego Farmer's Market. If you're wondering what that's like, I'll tell you. It's booths upon booths upon booths of delicious food. Ripe and juicy Pink Lady apples sitting in green cardboard bins. Sizzling saffron chicken slathered in tzatziki sauce and wrapped in soft, warm flatbread. Giant, homemade cookies with flavors like Peanut Butter and Jelly and Maple Bacon Pancake. Fresh squeezed strawberry basil lemonade. The Farmer's Market was my first step in eating my way through San Diego, and it was glorious.
Even though I had only met Carla in person once before and this was my first time meeting Gina and the little one, we fell quickly into an easy friendship. There's a bond that forms between people that have experienced the same trauma. The trick is expanding your bond past that trauma. I think we did quite nicely! After the farmer's market, we went back to their house and their two crazy dogs, who are adorable mutts and are so smart, they can get into the freezer by themselves. (I was just as impressed as you are) We talked about our lives both with and without our children. Like me, Gina is a teacher (a pretty awesome one, I might add), and we swapped war stories. Before heading over to Ocean Beach to witness my first San Diego sunset, I practiced reading my letter. Because there were three of us there - who were not only emotionally invested in our children, but in this conference as well - I had to go through it in stages with discussion in between. We only cried a few times and we all determined I was ready.
As ready as I was going to be.
So, we headed over to the beach to see the sunset. We drew Luca's and Kenley's names in the sand and watched as the waves washed them away. We had dinner at a nearby Mexican place, which I thought was decent, but brought profuse apologies from Carla and Gina as being "not real Mexican food". ( I thought they were crazy until we ate at City Taco a few days later....holy guacamole, Batman!) As it approached 8pm (11 my time), I realized I needed to get some sleep, as it had been a long day, and tomorrow was going to be big.
|The reasons behind this trip|
|Kenley's California Sunset|
|Me and Carla the night before the conference|
7 am rolled around faster than I would have liked. I got up and put on my green flowy shirt I had bought especially for the conference. I applied make-up (foundation AND eyeliner!) and attempted to get all of my hair going in the same direction. I was mostly successful. I slid my letter, all typed up on index cards, into a canvas owl bag my friend Chrissy had given me, along with a framed picture of Kenley and her West Coast K for the parent panel. I slipped on my shoes and was good to go. When we arrived at the hospital and walked into the auditorium, I was greeted by several women who shook my hand and seemed so excited for me to be there. They thanked me for coming and were visibly happy I was going to share my letter with everyone. That is when it truly became real. I was here. In San Diego. At the UCSD Perinatal Bereavement Conference. About to read A Letter to My Doctor in front of a whole bunch of people. What is life?!
|My new shirt and awesome owl bag!|
I was first up. The opener. I was going to set the tone for the entire conference. No pressure, right? I walked to the podium amidst the sounds of shuffling papers and adjusting seats. I looked out into the audience and saw what one would expect to see at the beginning of a conference. A whole bunch of people, some paying attention, some not, but all there to learn about supporting families who experience the death of their baby. I prefaced my speech with a quick intro that even though it was addressed to a doctor, it really applied to any support staff. And then, I began. "Dear Doctor, I know this isn't what you expected today." My heart danced in my chest at first, beating fast and hard. But, as I read, a calm sense of purpose came over me, and it became effortless. I read without fear or anxiety. All of that washed away, and I shared my heart - and my little girl - with a group of strangers. Near the end, I noticed that not one person was looking at their agenda or scrolling through their phone. Every eye was on me - and every eye was wet. "With Sincere Thanks, the Heartbroken Mother" was met with warm applause. I did it!
I went back to my seat for the next part of the conference, and no sooner had I sat down than people were already coming up to me, thanking me for speaking. One woman told me she also lost her daughter, Sequoia, and that what I wrote touched her heart. The rest of the day was spent thanking people for thanking me. Several people even told me that what I said was going to make them better at their job. One woman talked to me for 15 minutes about how important my letter was for her. It was surreal. I felt such purpose, like I had truly made a difference.
The parent panel later was just as fulfilling. There were seven of us, all with different stories. Kenley was the only baby who had never taken a breath on the outside. Many of the other babies spent several days or weeks in the NICU. We all told our stories and talked about what was helpful and what was not. I emphasized the importance of memory making, since I missed out on so much of that. The question and answer period was very brief - as I can imagine no one really knew what they were supposed to ask. All in all, I think we gave them a pretty good idea about what families experience and need to experience when faced with their child's death.
|Parent Panel. If you look closely, you can see me up there in the green.|
The end of the conference brought a sense of relief and accomplishment. I felt a huge weight lifted. I had done what I had come to do. I had shared Kenley and the letter and was a part of a catalyst for change. I have to mention here the amazing work both Carla and Gina had done for this conference as well. Both have been working diligently on a resource pamphlet for families, which includes both in and out of hospital support. It will be a valuable resource for any family experiencing the worst thing imaginable. Carla, being the awesome person that she is, even put One Pink Balloon on there! Change will happen - and it will be because of Luca and Kenley.
I spent the rest of my stay in San Diego hanging out with two great friends and their adorable baby girl. In true Rebecca fashion, we arranged our days around what we were going to eat! Breakfast at a place called Snooze where I had a Graceland Pancake (PB and banana) and the best greek yogurt and granolla you can expect to put in your mouth. Lunch at the infamous In and Out Burger, which was indeed delicious, but for all you jealous East Coasters, tasted very much like Steak N Shake. Dinner at City Taco, who makes their own tortillas from scratch and uses all local and fresh produce. I had a shrimp taco with cliantro and a chipotle pork belly taco - both delicioso! In being good hosts, Carla and Gina would always ask, "Do you like to eat ____?" to which I would reply, "I like to eat everything." (Except tomatoes in sandwiches and hardboiled eggs...blech!) We wandered around Balboa Park and I went to my first Trader Joe's.
|The Botanical Gardens|
|An Owl in the courtyard at Balboa Park|
|Clearly, the best coffee shop ever|
|Pretty pink flowers everywhere in Balboa Park|
|Eating my way through San Diego involved this piece of wonderful|
Our last night was spent in Ocean Beach, a very free-spirited place full of rainbow painted RVs and their dreadlocked, bare chested owners. As we walked to dinner, the sun set behind an acrobatic yoga class in which 10 couples pretty much performed moves straight out of Cirque de Soleil, and a mass of people taking advantage of a bunch of free hula hoops. THIS is California! I swear, if houses didn't cost half a million dollars, I'd move there in a second! We ate dinner at a burger joint called Hodads. I ordered a mini-cheeseburger basket. The mini turned out to be a bold faced lie and I had about three meals left over, which we ended up giving to a hungry homeless woman outside of the evening farmer's market.
|The not-so-mini burger|
It was a great trip, indeed, but the best part was that Kenley was everywhere. Everywhere. From the moment I left that conference, my Kenley radar must have been up because I saw her all over the place. Stores with owl necklaces and T-shirts. Ninja knee socks in a window. K's wherever I turned. I didn't spend more than one waking hour without seeing something. I felt connected to her like never before. For the first time in two years, I felt mostly whole again. I know that won't last. I know the emptiness will still creep in every once in a while. In reality, the emptiness is really always there, but doing what I did this past week helped me feel it less. It's hard to explain, but it's why most loss moms get involved with a charity or even start their own after the death of their child. Helping others helps us. Making a difference in the name of our child keeps the walls of our hearts from caving in - much like the inner poles of a tent. A Letter to My Doctor is my pole, keeping the walls of my heart in place.
|Double dose of Kenley in the Photography Museum at Balboa Park|
|A mother's day card I found in my travels this week|
Ideally, I will continue speaking to hospital staff. Ideally, the letter and the video will be used in an educational setting to help doctors, nurses, and support staff deal with the delivery of a stillborn baby in an informed way with grace and compassion. Honestly, I have no idea where I will go with this next or where it will take me. But, I hope this is just the beginning of great and wonderous things that can happen because of my Little Ninja.
Finally, I have to say thank you - to all of you. Without you, the post would never have gone viral. WIthout your love, support, and willingness to share my message, we would have stopped at the 50 or so med students for whom the letter was intended. You have made this happen - and I am so grateful - from the bottom of my stretched out heart.
|Mike took the top picture at sunrise and I took the bottom at sunset one day. Kenley Coast to Coast!|