Friday, February 27, 2015
Like I said in her birthday post, people seem to think that life - and greif - is a linear progression. There is a mistaken belief that the further out you get from your loss, the easier it gets to handle. That is simply untrue. It doesn't get easier. The pain doesn't dull. The heartache doesn't hurt less. The emptiness left behind doesn't fill. Grief doesn't change on its own - YOU change, and as a result, you learn how to adapt to what grief throws at you.
I have compared grief to an ocean, and I still think that is pretty accurate. When you are first thrown in, you don't know how to swim at all. The waves toss you like a rag doll. Your lungs fill with icy salt water, and you feel like you are suffocating. Your feet can't find the bottom and you can't stay afloat. You are exhausted from just trying to breathe, and there are days you honestly feel like you are going to die. Yet, somehow, you don't. Somehow, you learn how to move your arms and legs in a sort of rhythm that helps you first tread water and then actually begin to swim. Your muscles becomed toned and stronger, and they are able to keep you moving through the water even on the stormiest of days. The ocean hasn't become shallower. The waves haven't become less choppy. You have just learned to swim.
Sometimes, even after learning how to navigate the waters of grief, you still get tired. Your arms and legs ache from constantly pulling yourself through the waves. Some days, you feel so weak, your swimming skills do you no good. Approaching holidays and birthdays are a major cause of weakness. You can be a strong swimmer with an effortless stroke, but as a milestone approaches, you suddenly lose the ability to swim. Your rhythm is thrown off and you realize how hard you've been working just to keep moving. It's so easy to spin out of control - to lose yourself in the churning water. Sometimes, it doesn't even take a major date to make you falter. Sometimes, your muscles give out because you saw a child at the mall who reminds you of your daughter. Sometimes, your head slips below the water because you notice a Pinterest pin that includes her initials, or you hear a certain song on the radio, or you see a rerun of a TV show you watched while you were pregnant. Sometimes, you just simply forget how to swim for no reason at all. Sometimes, your heart catches in your chest just right and you sink like a stone simply...because. The Ocean of Grief has no pattern. It is chaotic and frightening. You just have to do your best each and every day to stay afloat and, if you're lucky, to actually swim through it.
To those of you on the shore, I might make this look like it's getting easier for me. I keep my head up. My strokes have become long and lean. I am making "progress", which to you is swimming more and sinking less, but really, there is no "progress". There is only today. Today, I am swimming, but tomorrow, I may be sinking. I might swim successfully for weeks, and then sink for days. I might swim for 5 minutes and sink for an hour. I really never know how each moment is going to be until I am in it. Understanding that is the biggest key to understanding grief. It doesn't get better or easier. I just become more skilled at nagivating the waves, and so I can do it for longer periods of time without drowning, but that doesn't make it easy.
So, no, this year is not easier than last year. Next year won't be easier than this year. It's never easy.
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
I think it's natural to think of grief - and really all things in life - as linear. Everything has a starting point, an ending point, and a forward moving progression between them. Right? No! In reality, the only thing in life that is actually linear is time - and even that theory is simply still a theory. Nothing is linear. Nothing progresses from start to finish in a logical order. Relationships are intermingling paths that constantly criss-cross between intimacy and estrangement. Learning requires a back and forth weaving of information, interaction, and experience. Even career paths progress in tangles of work and opportunity that often double back on themselves and omit steps altogether. Life's start is birth and its finish is death, but the inbetween is anything but linear. I don't know why we keep putting this stipulation on grief of all things!
I think we need to stop thinking of life and all things in it as something to progress through and start thinking of it as something to simply experience. We have to stop putting judgements on ourselves and others regarding where we "should be" and just take time to focus on where we actually "are". We aren't ahead or behind. We don't need to slow down or catch up. This straight line we keep trying to keep ourselves attached to doesn't even exist. Life isn't a straight line. It's a jumbled and knotted string, and as we live it, we will return to the same point many times. We will skip over other pieces entirely. We will loop through and twist around. We will loosen knots in some places while tightening them in others. We will do all of these things in the order that makes sense to us. Sometimes, we may need help and other times, we might need to work through it on our own. But, however we decide to wade through our life is the right way, and someone who is frustrated with the way you have decided to untangle your string is simply trying to distract themselves from their own knots.
I'm tired of judging myself and of where I am "supposed to be" by now. I am tired of giving myself a hard time for still being sad sometimes. I'm tired of other people assuming they understand my knot when we clearly have different textured string. So, I'm done. I refuse to bend to the Linear Theory. This is where I am. This is the point in my string. I am untangling as best as I can just like everyone else.
Today is Kenley's birthday. She is two years old. Two! She's not a baby anymore. I don't even know how I am supposed to picture her. I am still completely devastated that she is not here to celebrate her birthday. I still cannot bring myself to "celebrate" this day where I make a cake and sing "Happy Birthday", and I am not going to let myself feel bad about that. I'm not going to spin myself into a cloud of self judgement because I have been made to feel that things should be different by now, that I should be different, that my grief should be different.
Happy Birthday, Kenley Evelyn.
"I'll love you forever. I'll like you for always. As long as I'm living, my baby you'll be."
Monday, February 23, 2015
You'd think that with all of my writing, I would have worked through the more difficult moments. You'd think I would have written everything I need to write and sorted through what I need to sort by now, but that's not true. It's not even close to true. There are moments I can't bring myself to think about for more than a few seconds. There are moments that hurt so badly that I have to keep them in an armored box, far away from my conscious mind, or they will break me.
Writing and talking about her has certainly helped keep that armored box free of clutter. I've been able to move many memories out into the open that way. Some memories that used to stab merely prickle now, but there is still quite a bit of darkness in that box. There are still several memories that hulk inside there, powerful and frightening and covered in pain. Memories I keep trying to bring out into the light, but just can't. They are too heavy, too sharp, too painful. The moment my hand clasps around them, their spikes shoot through me, tearing me to ribbons.
I know people want me to be finished with grieving, and that they don't want to know about the armored box. They want to think the worst is behind me, and that there is only growth and light in my future. But the truth is, the box exists. It exists deep within me and it contains pain I am not brave enough to feel or strong enough to sort through. How it felt to sit in a hospital for hours, knowing she was gone, yet was still inside me. How it felt wondering what it was going to be like to give birth to my dead daughter. How it felt to walk into the delivery room swollen with death. How it felt to wake up empty. How it felt to hold her in my arms that night, so still and pale and silent. How the sound of my own anguish still echoes in my ears and reverberates within my soul. What it was like to roll over in my bed, knowing I had just seen her for the last time. How it felt to reach over the railing of my bed for my husband's hand in the middle of the night, knowing I would find him desperately searching for me too. How it felt to go from two to three over the course of 8 months and then back to two in less than 8 seconds. How the world seemed to fall away from us in a gray and foggy swirl, and how the two of us just continued to spin as we clung to each other in sorrow and fear. How I don't know the color of her eyes because I never saw them open. How I only know what her feet look like in photographs, but how, every day, I still see her face, her beautiful face, white and slack-jawed. How I will only ever know her face as a face of death, and how that breaks my heart more than anyone can ever imagine. What can you do with memories like these? You certainly can't live with them on a daily basis. It's just too much. It's why we all have a box.
The box stores them for me. It keeps these memories from pulling me into the darkness. It protects my heart from the onslaught of pain these memories hold. It's simply impossible to feel all of this all of the time. It would kill me.
I know I need to get them out of the box. For the past several months, I have felt the need to talk about them, to share them, to bring them out into the open. But, there are no words for them. They are so primally painful, there are no words. There is only pain and dark. There is only brokeness. There is no way I can communicate how they feel without being misunderstood, without people thinking I have succumbed to the darkness, without people seeing me as irrevocably broken. There is no way I can revisit them without bathing myself in their agony. To deal with them, I have to feel them. And I just can't. Even two years later, I am not strong enough. Even just dipping my big toe into their icy, black waters sends me reeling backwards in pain. And so I leave them there. Closed up in that armored box. I can feel them stomping around. I can hear their screams. They want out. And I can't release them. I don't know how, and even if I did, I am not sure I would want to.
Maybe one day, I'll be strong enough for what lies inside that box. Maybe one day, I'll be able to work through the blackness beneath the lid. Today is not that day. I don't expect tomorrow to be that day either. I expect that box to always exist, to always shield me from the harshest memories in one way or another.
I wish I was stronger. Better yet, I wish she was here.
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Several months ago, I installed the Timehop app. For anyone in the dark, Timehop accesses any Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter posts for that specific date for as long as you have had an active account. So, when you pull up today's Timehop, you can see your various posts made on that date for as many years prior as your accounts go. I first noticed it last summer when people started posting them as Throw Back Thursdays. It was fun to see that little bar at the top "One year ago", "two years ago", "Six years ago". For most people, Timehop was a fun way to see what they were doing way back when, a nice bringer of memories. Almost like re-reading a daily online journal.
I installed Timehop for one reason and one reason only. I didn't really care what I was doing a few years ago. I didn't really need to have my pictures pinpointed as being taken and posted "three years ago". I didn't have to see what YouTube link I thought was hilarious on that specific day.
I wanted to see her.
I downloaded Timehop specifically so I could reread posts I made about Kenley's pregnancy. So I could see photos I shared of me pregnant. It was purposeful. It was calculated. I did it for her.
It's funny. So many people are often so afraid of talking about our children because they don't want to remind us about them. However, we often go out of our way to remind ourselves...as if we could actually forget anyway. When the initial shock of losing our child wears off, when the white hot pain dulls and the jagged edges of our hearts start to soften, we begin to realize how we are drifting further and further apart from them. When something so central to your being becomes a memory, you will do anything to keep that memory alive, even if those actions cause you pain.
Every day, I search for her on Timehop. From July to the end of February, I check daily in hopes of catching a glimpse of her in the midst of the trivial. (From March to June, she's sometimes still there, but she's already been made into a memory by then. She's not alive in those posts, and while they are still special, it's just not the same.) Yet, every day, I scroll over to that yellow little app and tap my finger with my heart in my throat. I hold my breath just a little during the two seconds it takes to load. Will she be there today? It's not unlike hoping to see that cute stranger in the coffee shop that seems to follow your morning commute. You never know. You hope. You wish. You dream. But, you very well might walk away empty handed. The screen flickers to the feed. Somedays, I see simply a photo of my cousin's wedding or a status about how much I hate Survivor. And, while those are fun, they aren't the reason I'm here. That happens on the days where I scroll through the feed and I see her, my little ninja. A funny status on how much I hate being pregnant. There you are! An update on a doctor's appointment. Hello, beautiful! A photo of my swollen belly. Jackpot!
February, however, plays a dangerous game with me because I know my posts with her alive are dwindling. I know there will come a day soon when I will check Timehop and it will be announcing her death. Still, I check. Still, I seek her out. Every. Single. Day. Because she is my baby. Because she should be turning two years old one week from today. Because she's not here - but she is, even just a little bit, there.
I take what I can get.
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Two years ago, February gave me yet another reason to hate it. It stole my child from me. February will always be the month Kenley died. It will always be the month where everything I was was swept away, where I was broken down into nothing, and where I had to relearn how to live in a world without my daughter.
This year, February hit, and I didn't notice right away because I was so wrapped up in getting the Heartbroken Mother video finished. After I had finalized the changes, uploaded it to Youtube, and breathed a huge sigh of relief, February sucker punched me in the gut. I watched the final video as a Heartbroken Mother instead of a critical video maker, and I just fell apart. All those babies. All those mothers. Each of them with a February of their own. And then, as the video closes, my beautiful Ninja shows her face, and I see the reason behind it all. The reason February is so soul crushing for me.
There's a weird haze I walk around in during this month. A fog that clouds everything except for one thing: a countdown. That countdown is all I can see. Today is February 10th. That means that I had 14 days left with her. 14 days of being blissfully unaware that she was tangling herself in her cord. 14 days of excitement and expectations. 14 more days to organize her nursery, to make plans for her, to imagine her birthday. Tomorrow, it will be 13. Then 12...11...10....all counting down to the day where I lost her forever. To the day where the life I thought I had turned itself into a cruel and twisted reality.
It's difficult to pull myself out of this fog during these days. It's hard to ignore that countdown, which ticks in my ear, loud and looming. Every day closer to the 25th is one day closer to the worst day of my life. How do you go about your day normally when you're inevitably taking steps towards heartbreak?
I try to remember the flipside of February. It's Kenley's birthday. She deserves a birthday. She deserves to be celebrated. She deserves to be thought of with joy and love, and not just sorrow and anger. So, I try to plan events which make me think of her with happiness. I try to plan things where my heart feels full instead of impossibly empty. Last year, my wonderful photographer friend, Jeanee James, took family photos of us on Kenley's birthday by her tree and then we all went out to dinner. This year, in addition to continuing our picture tradition, I plan on making a bear at Build a Bear and inserting a heart on which I have recorded her heartbeat. I will give the bear to Piper on her first birthday in April as a way of bringing my two girls together. Thinking about doing that makes me excited for the day as opposed to filling me with dread. I think that is the key with these types of birthdays. It's important to plan something that honors your baby, but is also something you can enjoy doing.
Regardless of how I am looking forward to taking pictures and making a bear, I still don't want February 25th to come. I still don't want to countdown every day until that day. Giving that day purpose does not really distract me from the reason I have to search for meaning in the first place. Kenley should be turning two. She should be running around in a new outfit and pigtails. She should be getting a tricycle for her birthday and singing "Let it Go" at the top of her lungs. But, she's not. Instead of planning a party with gifts and guests, I am planning a way to remember her. Instead of organizing toddler party games, I am organizing a day full of "meaning" so I don't fall apart. There is no way that anything will make this okay. And this is only year two.
Thursday, February 5, 2015
When I wrote "A Letter to My Doctor" a few weeks ago, I had no idea it would have the span that it did. I am so excited the post has reached so many and continues to make a difference. Because of the chord the post struck with people, I wanted to create something that would be even more meaningful and have even greater of an impact.
I thought that if the letter was powerful by itself, then a video would be even more powerful. It would show real people affected by loss. It would help connect the viewer with the true emotions felt by parents when their baby dies. It would make the letter human. I decided to ask the babyloss community to submit pictures of their children for this project, and was blown away by the response. Within the first hour of posting in two Facebook groups, I had dozens of emails, all from mothers who jumped at the chance to be a part of this, and who, more than anything, want their story told and their baby remembered.
I did not limit the video to pictures of babies born still. Some of the babies in the video lived for minutes, hours, and even days. Some passed away from birth defects, infections, illness, or SIDS. Honestly, for me, it doesn't matter why these children are gone. What matters is that they are - and they are so very missed, so very loved.
90 children appear in this video. 90. Let that sink in for just a moment. 90 children of Heartbroken Mothers. Some of the pictures were professionally taken, some were snapped with a personal camera, some have been retouched, but all of them are the most sacred possession each mother has of their child. Every picture in this video has been sent to me in good faith that I will tell their story honestly and with fidelity. Every picture is the result of a mother going out on a limb to support a cause by sharing the most vulnerable part of her motherhood, her baby's birth and death. This video is not just a video of me reading my blog post. This video is the heart and soul of every mother who has lost a child. When you watch it, remember that. Remember just how loved every single one of these children are. Remember that these pictures are all we have of our children. Remember how brave each of these mothers are to share their story and their baby with you.
Please Note: This video is "unlisted" on Youtube, and can only be accessed through this embedded link. If you share, please share the blog post and not just the YouTube link.
In order to share this video in a group setting such as a face to face support group, or with hospital staff, please let me know you are doing so. You may email me at Kenleyninja at Gmail.
If this video moved you, please consider helping out a worthy cause. The US Cuddle Cot Campaign is dedicated to make sure every maternity ward in the nation has a Cuddle Cot. One of the beautiful Heartbroken Mothers from the video is working with the Campaign to bring a cuddle cot to her local hospital. You can check out that link here. Every hospital is required to be up to code in all sorts of areas, but they aren't required to have a Cuddle Cot. Help get one into every hospital so that the next Heartbroken Mother (and there will be many) can have as many precious moments with her baby as possible.
Some of the resources mentioned in the video:
The TEARS Foundation
Still Born, Still Loved
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
The Sweet Pea Project
Cherishing the Journey
The Brianna Marie Foundation
Return to Zero (movie)
Also, check out Carly Marie's Project Heal. I hadn't realized I didn't add it to the video until I had already published it. Carly Marie does beautiful photography to remember our babies!
Once again, thank you for watching the video, reading the letter, and remembering the babies.