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!|