Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Star Legacy Awards

In the beginning of December, I received an email from Lindsey Wimmer, founder of the Star Legacy Foundation.    She informed me I had been nominated for three Star Legacy Shining Star Awards, one for Stillbirth Awareness, one for Stillbirth Education, and one for Stillbirth Advocacy. I was nominated in three categories where all the other nominees were MDs, PhD's, RN's or CEOs.   I immediately searched the email for words like "LOL" or "just kidding"...maybe even a "Not!"   But, there weren't any.     I wondered if there had been a mistake, and I figured my lack of qualifications would come into play when voting began, where I would simply be weeded out from the more deserving, well-qualified candidates.   However, mid January, I received another email.  I was the winner of the Stillbirth Education Award.  Um, excuse me, what?   Not only was I the winner, but she was excited to meet me.   Really?   Me?     I didn't go to med school or nursing school.   I don't have any fancy credentials to tack onto my name. I'm just a mom with a blog.   Really, when it comes down to it, it's just ONE blog post.   I didn't head up a research project.   I didn't start a clinic.  I didn't create a program at a hospital.   I just wrote a letter and followed its ripples. 

From the very beginning of all of this, I have always felt uneasy.  I don't take compliments well.   I always look for external reasons for my success, and it's always been difficult for me to feel worthy of praise.   My sister says this is called "Imposter Syndrome", where, despite your own hard work and actual deeds, you still feel like a fraud - like you're going to be "found out" and exposed for not being as great as everyone has been saying you are.   I have this pretty bad.   I have all of my life.  And I was being forced to face it head on because I had been asked to fly to Minneapolis to accept my award.   I thought seriously about not going.   Just, letting it pass by and hiding under my sheets.  My family refused to let that happen.  I decided if I was going to go, I would need someone to go with me.  So, I asked my sister, Allison.  In case you don't already know this, my sister is pretty hardcore.  She's a decisive, take charge kind of gal, and she was the perfect person to take with me on this trip.  She has been my and Kenley's most outspoken advocate since Day One, and it was really only fitting she come with me.   After all, it was at her request I even wrote the letter in the first place.   

So, last Friday, I flew three and a half hours from my home in central Florida to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Going from a subtropical location to The Great White North in the middle of February was quite a shock for me.   (Leaving the airport in Minnesota, I noticed the cars in the parking garage were all coated in a white dust.   It took me longer than I care to admit to figure out why.  Hello....Florida Native!)  Fortunately, Allison had given me a knee-length parka rated for the coldest winter temperatures, so I was all set.  I pulled the faux-fur-lined hood over my head, shoved my hands in the pockets, and I was good to go.   She had arranged for a town car to take us to our hotel, which was nice.   My name was spelled out on a sign for me to see as I walked to baggage claim because she thinks of things like that.

The hotel was less than 15 minutes from the airport.  Getting out of a Suburban as a first-time parka wearer was probably a hilarious sight to see, but I did it.   All around the hotel, pushed up in piles from the pavement, were what looked like the tops of giant snocones - minus the colored syrup.   What was this strange substance?   Allison infomed me it was snow, and boy was it cold.  I propped up the wooden K I brought with me to get a picture and then uploaded it to Instagram and Facebook with a #mysterytrip hashtag.   

After we settled into the hotel, we decided to head over to the Mall of America, which was about 10 minutes away in Bloomington.  Allison whipped out her Uber app and Frances arrived about 8 minutes later to whisk us away in his Chevy Volt.  I'm not sure what I was expecting at the Mall of America.   I knew there was a rollercoaster inside and that it was really, really big.   The mall itself was four stories of stores that followed a circular loop.   Most of the stores were just regular mall stores, several on repeat.  There were about three Claire's, two Victoria Secrets, and three hundred and sixteen shops that sold baseball hats.  As far as shopping was concerned, the mall was pretty standard, just in a larger scale.   The unusual part was what was in the middle of the loop.   Starting at the first floor and going all the way up in the center of the mall was Nickelodeon Universe - an indoor theme park complete with at least two roller coasters (one with spinning cars), a merry go round, a ferris wheel, and other miscellaneous rides and games.  Giant Lego transformers and dragons wrapped around the entrance.   There was even a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ride that whipped people around on a giant nunchuck.

 After the sun went down, music blared through the center of the mall and all the rides lit up to the beat.   If I hadn't grown up a stone's throw from Disney World, that would have probably impressed the heck out of me.    That's not to say the mall wasn't a great time.   It was.   It's one of those things that you just have to do if you're in the area.   We finished up at the mall and got back to the hotel around 9:30. I had good intentions of staying up Slumber Party Style with my sister, but those good intentions went right out the window when I fell asleep watching TV  after ten minutes.   I'm an animal.

Saturday morning dawned sunny and below freezing....because,  you know....Minnesota.   Allison and I ran some errands to get ready for the gala that evening.  As we did, I started to realize what was actually happening.   I was 10 states away from home, in 8 degree weather and wearing a parka I clearly didn't know how to operate, for the sole purpose of accepting an award I was convinced I had won by mistake.   I could just picture myself giving my name to the people at the entrance and being turned away because my name wasn't on the list.   Who did I think I was anyway?   I spent most of the day convincing myself that I wasn't a fake and that I hadn't traveled all this way for nothing.    

Back at the hotel, Allison and I got dressed for the Gala, slipping rhinestone stars into our hair for Kenley.  I fastened a new silver K around my neck and put the wooden K in my purse.   With Kenley properly represented, I was ready to go.   Another call to Uber and we were on our way.   

The Star Legacy Award Gala was held at the Green Acres Event Center, which turned out to be a cross between a ballroom and a barn.   It was very cool.    It was getting dark when we arrived, and the front of the barn was lit up with blue lights and the parking lot was covered in slick, white ice, which gave the scene a Winter Wonderland kind of vibe.   I carefully hobbled on my heels across the ice to the door, where the warmth of the inside greeted us like old friends.  A long, thick wooden table sat in the middle of the entry with two ladies holding lists.   Here it was...the moment of truth.   "Rebecca Wood".   Lo and behold - I was on the list.   Allison and I were handed two drink tickets and had our picture taken with the wooden K in front of the Star Legacy backdrop.   This was legit.   


We made our way upstairs, where people had already started to gather.  Ladies in coctail dresses sipping wine and men in suits shaking hands.    We found our table and I took a minute to look around.  The room was actually very beautiful.   Wood beams formed an arc in the high ceiling where three massive chandeliers hung from the center rafter.   Along the walls were ecclectic decorations.  On one side of the room, sat an old fashioned upright piano, on the other, a giant white stone fireplace.  Along the back wall hung three brightly colored paintings of cows.  Yes, cows.   They were awesome.   The whole place was very funky country.   


The front of the room housed a band and a presentation screen, which scrolled through facts about stillbirth - reminding me and everyone else why we were here. 


Take a sip of wine.  "Stillbirth claims more infant lives than prematurity and SIDS combined."   Admire the paintings on the wall.  "The amount of children born still each year is equal to a 747 jet full of people crashing every five days"   Glance around at the crowd.  "Federal Funds dedicated to SIDS research: $17 million, Prematurity research: $298 million, Stillbirth research: less than $3 million."   Realize just how very needed your mesage is.    Hope you are doing it justice.

Allison and I took pictures of the K around the room.   She had the centerpiece at our table dedicated to Kenley, which made me tear up the first of many, many times that night.  As we were milling around waiting for the evening to start, a woman came rushing over to our table.   She put a camera in a bag next to my seat and said excitedly, "Are you Rebecca?  I am so glad to meet you!"   Her name was Shannon.  She is on the Star Legacy Foundation board of directors and she was the one who nominated me.  In all three categories.  She said she couldn't decide where I fit best, so she put me in all three.   During dinner, we chatted about our children.   Her daughter, Savannah, died due to a prolapsed cord, which caused her to get involved with the foundation.  Like many Heartbroken Mothers, Shannon wanted to make a difference in her child's name.   I also talked to the couple on the other side of Allison, Michelle and George, who lost their son Nicholas in 2001, prompting them to start the Angel Names Foundation, which helps families cover burial expenses and also raises money for stillbirth research.   Here's where the world gets really small.   When I was preparing my presentation for the students at DeBusk, I thought I should probably get together a resource sheet, full of organizations and helpful websites.   I searched the internet for those things, and came across Angel Names.  I thought it was a perfect organization to include, so I put it on my resource sheet.  And, here the founders were, sitting across from me at the gala.  



As the dinner dishes were being cleared away, the MC called ffor everyone's attention to begin the awards ceremony.   My heart immediately leapt into my chest.   "The first award of the evening will be the Stillbirth Education Award," he said.   Of course.  Of course, I get to be first.  Of course, I don't get the benefit of watching other people go before me to see how they handle things.   As he read the nominees, I took some deep breaths and made sure my shoes were securely on my feet.   "And the winner of the Star Legacy Foundation Stillbirth Education Award is...Rebecca Wood"   I stood up.   The world stopped.   I walked to the front of the room as the MC read my bio where no less than six people were waiting for me.  The beating of my heart pulsated with Kenley's name.   I shook a hand.  I shook another.  And another.  I was handed a beautiful glass award.  I paused for a picture.   And then, "If you'd like to say a few words, we'd love to hear them."   

Man.  I should have prepared.   I honestly have no idea what I said.   I know I said Kenley's name.  I know I said I wrote what I wrote so families like mine would be able to have the memories they deserve.  I know I said how much I hated February.   And, I walked away.   And people clapped.  For me.  For Kenley.   For the message that is her legacy.   As I made my way back to my table, a woman hugged me and told me she hated February too.  And we cried.  And then we smiled because we knew someone else knew what this feels like.   When I got back to my seat, a piece of caramel and chocolate cheesecake was waiting, and I wasn't a fraud. 


The other awards were given out.  The advocay award went to an RN at the table behind me who works with families in the area.  I gave her a hug and told her thank you.  I told her she's so important in the lives of the families she helps.  She said, "I hope so" and I told her, "The fact you are here proves it".   And that's when I realized I belonged there too, that I was like almost everyone else in the room.     Someone who just wanted to bring a voice to the voiceless.   I was a mother doing everything she could to make a difference on behalf of her child.   I didn't have a fancy title...unless you count the title of Mom...but I belonged there nonetheless.   

I introduced myself to Lindsey and she told me she loved my letter and video and congratulated me for winning.   We talked about the foundation and how I could help with its cause.   Allison and I are working on partnering with some of her contacts, in addition with some others, to make the letter into a Continuing Medical Education credit, which is really exciting.   We also talked about becoming a Champion, which is basically holding our own Star Legacy fundraiser in our area.   That will be happening in the not-so distant, but -still- kind -of -distant- because -it's- a -big -task, future.   

It was awe-inspiring to be in a room full of so many people making such a difference in stillbirth research and awareness.   A room full of people who cared as much about breaking the silence as I did.  The Star Legacy Foundation is doing great things.  The money they raise goes right to the research facilities and organizations doing groundbreaking work in relation to stillbirth.   A current project is a National Stillbirth Database, which will help organize stillbirths by cause, genetic factors, mother's pregnancy, and other variables.   This can be a vital tool in finding correlations and taking steps to reducing stillbirth in families.  I am so honored to have been recognized by this organization as someone who is making a difference in the stillbirth community.   

Like any mother in my situation, this is all for my baby.   Every word I write.  Every presentation I make. Every award I recieve.  They are not mine.  They are Kenley's.   All of this - every last bit - is because my beautiful raven haired daughter entered this world silent and still.   And, while that breaks my heart over and over and over again, it also brings me some peace.   Good is happening in this world because our children inspire us.  To move forward.  To speak out.  To make a difference.  Every mother and father in this community, whether they are on the forefront of change or not, is a warrior.  And, while I hate that we have to know each other, I am beyond honored to call them my brothers and sisters in loss.   

At the end of the evening, we said our goodbyes.  I exchanged information with Michelle and George.  I'm hoping to collaborate with them in the future on some things.   I friended Shannon on Facebook, because that's how you do, and we headed back out into the cold, Minnesota night.  

But, it didn't seem as cold as it should have.   I think it's because I had a Star to keep me warm.  


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