Friday, July 29, 2016
There are a lot of songs I listened to after Charlotte died that I can't hear without feeling like throwing up because they so vividly remind me of those days after she died. I can't remember how those early days felt without physical pain. It was so shocking, and it hurt so much that she was gone, and I never want to feel that way again so I do my best to avoid triggers that will take me back there.
When I think of her birth, however, the song I always hear in my mind is The Frames version of "Falling Slowly." Even though I don't want to remember the days immediately after sometimes I want to remember her birth. And when I hear "Falling Slowly" I am in the room where Charlotte was born, sunshine streaming in the window, watching it all from above. As far as I understand this seeing from above is a response to the trauma of being there. I can see myself, I can see everyone who was there, but I can't go back there unless I am a silent witness hovering above. And every time I am there, watching events unfold, this is the song I hear.
I've missed Charlotte so much lately. This time of year is always hard for me. My birthday is in a week, and turning a year older when Charlotte didn't live longer than a few hours still bothers me. It's incomprehensible, really, that we have gone on, that we have aged, while she never did, and never will.
Saturday, July 2, 2016
When I talk about Charlotte's life and her sudden death people usually go back to one point: you don't know why?!
Every time I tell her story that is the follow up question, even though I always include within the telling that fact.
It shocks and upsets people to hear an infant on the verge of life can suddenly go backwards and re-enter the gates of heaven it has just exited.
There has to be a reason. There has to be a concrete fact behind the death so they can use that fact to prevent it happening to them or someone they know.
I too asked why. Over and over. Desperately. Quietly. In a state of remorse and guilt. In a manner that can only be described as begging.
And then I began to seek peace. Through the Bible. Through prayer. I asked the burden of why she died to be lifted from my shoulders, because I knew I wouldn't be able to answer the question, and continuing to seek an answer that does not exist would eventually drive me mad.
I can't point to the exact moment when peace entered my life. It might have been gradual. Often that's how God works the big changes in our hearts and souls. If he dropped all of the peace we need on us all at once we would crumple under the soul change, but he does it gradually so that we may adapt to our changed hearts.
I have to admit, having peace about why Charlotte died doesn't feel like I expected it to.
I don't know what exactly I did expect, but it wasn't this complete absence of struggle. I almost feel like it's not my battle anymore. I still approach the question in my mind, but when I pull it to the forefront I instantly shrug and think, "That's not my problem anymore." It's like I literally transferred the question to God. Or more like I asked him to take the burden of constantly asking why from me and He granted it.
I'm also in a place - temporary or not - where I don't think I'll care why she died once I get to heaven. I thought that would be my first question. Off the heaven elevator, into the arms of Jesus, my baby girl by my side, and then" Why did she die, Lord? Why? Tell me, now. Before we go. Before we join the feast. I have to know."
But after the Bible and book studying I've done in the last year I no longer think that's how the conversation will go. Instead I think I will be so happy to be in heaven, so in awe at finally being in the presence of the King, I won't care why Charlotte died. That huge earthly incidence will suddenly be put into heavenly perspective, and the why won't matter so much as how it changed me and made me behave.
I believe that if the bitterness of grief overwhelms then one has lost their way and needs to be gently guided back to life. I believe that if staggering loss becomes the focus of a life instead of a point of change then one has missed an opportunity for growth. I believe that out of great pain incredible growth can come if we allow it.
I don't think God purposed Charlotte to die, but I do think He allowed her death to shape me and make me more Kingdom minded. I know who I was in 2010, and I know who I am now, and I attribute much of the growth in my faith and belief in God to Charlotte's death.
I would not have turned my faith inside out and examined my relationship with God if she hadn't died. I would have continued as I was, knowing the church was there, knowing God was there, but never in a state of need. Need like water, or food, or sunshine. Need like, I'm not going to get through this day, or night, or minute, if you don't sit with me. And He did, and the church did, and I refined my ideas about who I am and what I want.
On heaven and earth.
In our home.
In my life.
When that becomes your sole focus it changes everything. How you speak, how you think, how you act.
And how you feel about the big whys.
How do you feel about the unanswered questions in your life? Are you holding onto any big whys? How would your life change if you let go of finding out the answer to your whys?
"Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4: 7 (NLT)
If you are seeking peace know that I believe it can come for you too.
Friday, June 24, 2016
On the train a week ago a man sat across from me and we began chatting. Ainsleigh was keyed up after our adventure into the city to see Elmo Live so she chattered at him as well. I explained that it was my first time going to see Elmo Live, even though I was not with my first child.
"Oh, really?" he said. "How many do you have?"
Without thinking I replied, "three."
He nodded. "I have four! Your other two must be boys then."
I shook my head. "No. I have a four-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl. 2, 4, 6. It's a bit much," I laughed.
"But you love it," he said.
"Of course," I responded. "Of course."
I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT CAME OVER ME!
I lied to a complete stranger about my kids and then the conversation took an awkward turn, because I couldn't keep up with my lie. It was the strangest thing. When B was little I would say I had two sometimes because I couldn't bear not to. But most of the time I have both kids with me so I can't do that anymore. I like to pretend I have a living six-year-old, but if B heard me do it he would call me out quicker than quick and I would look really crazy.
"So," he continued the conversation, "your oldest girl doesn't like Elmo?"
"Ahhh, um, nope. She never was into Elmo. No."
We stopped at two stations then he asked about schooling.
"We love the private school at our church, but we pull our kids out after kindergarten and teach first grade on at home. So we'll do that this year. I mean, we love the school, but we've only ever been through the preschool program. And, well, kinder. Hmmm."
I attended to Ainsleigh for a moment and hoped the loud rattle of the train would disguise my inability to keep track of my own story.
The man congratulated me on my educational efforts and our conversation wandered on from there.
I can't believe I pretended Charlotte was alive for twenty minutes on a train carrying me away from the city and back to my everyday life. Maybe I did it because I was so outside of my normal routine, and if that train could somehow transport me to the life I crave it would be one where all my children are living, and two were waiting at home for me with their father.
Yesterday I was crying about I don't even know what. It was a hard day, I read a really sad book, and tears came crashing out at the end of the day. And in the middle of the storm I asked myself, "why am I so sad?" and the answer that floated to the surface was, "Charlotte. She's gone."
Since she died her absence has been at the base of every tear and sad emotion, even when it seems as if she should have nothing to do with it. She is my catalyst; a constant thread of sorrow in a beautiful life. Sometimes I need to pretend she is with me because it hurts too much to remember she is gone.
I have three children. I birthed three children. One couldn't stay. Two did. Sometimes that's too much sorrow to share with a stranger.
Sunday, November 30, 2014
The grief, the grief. It's different now, but I can feel it pressing in at the base of my neck, trying to find a way to my spine where it will wind itself tightly so I can't stand, so that it literally reduces me.
It's all too much right now. Everything makes me sad.
The thoughtless words at Thanksgiving.
The place setting I didn't get to make. The name I didn't get to type.
Realizing that a baby dies three pages into the book I just picked up. Really? Must babies die in books? Isn't it enough that they die in real life?
Preparing our first Advent.
Writing, "pick a gift for a toy drive in memory of Charlotte" as an Advent activity.
Placing two tiny dairy free chocolates in every little box, tucked inside the daily verse.
During this time of year I turn to her again and again, but she's never where I expect her to be.
There is space next to the tree, there is space at the table, there is space in every Christmas card, and I waste so much time wondering why I feel so bereft, like I am missing a vital part of me when the answer is obvious: yes, yes, that's right, it's her. She is always missing.
I am so excited for Christmas this year. I'm excited about Advent. I'm excited about presents. I'm excited about B singing in front of the church for the first time (though at this very moment he is absolutely refusing to do anything but stand in stunned silence every time he is pulled from Sunday School to practice).
But just when I feel overwhelmed with excitement the grief swoops in to remind me that life is complicated. Or maybe it's that grief complicates things. The bitter tang of missing forever taints the sweet moments.
I'm writing this from the couch. Empty mug on the couch cushion to my right, Charlotte's spot - empty for the first time since she died - to my left. I moved her things for Ainsleigh's birthday. Don't ask me to examine how that felt; I don't think I can. Her things are on the bookcase now, which is fine. I think. Still in the living room, just not in the center of things. I'm going to put Christmas things in her spot, but right now it's empty, which is strange and foreign. I've looked to that spot to see her face for five years. Her never changing newborn face.
It all seems impossible. This will be our fifth Christmas without her. I can't believe my heart is still beating. Do you ever wake in the middle of the night and have to remind yourself that this - outliving your child - really happened to you? Do you ever pull the covers up to your chin and repeat over and over, I had a baby that died. I had a baby that died. I had a baby that died ... because it reminds you and reconnects you to what happened?
So often I say that Charlotte died, or that she waits for us in heaven, that it is routine somehow, easy to say, but the truth of it can get lost in the easiness, in the misleading lightness of words, so in the middle of the night I stretch my feet until I can feel the burning cold of the untouched sheets at the end of the bed and I whisper into the dark, I had a baby that died. I had a baby that died. I had a baby that died ...
Friday, June 13, 2014
I wish I could explain to you what it's like to miss Charlotte. How there is flex to grief, times of quiet between deep, engulfing lost in the wilderness nights. How unexpectedness is the king of emotions in this particular hierarchy. The tiniest, innocent moment can make the missing and wanting almost unbearable.
There is a ballet recital at church tonight. My friend uses her talent as a ballet dancer to minister to others and the year end finale when all of her classes perform is happening right now. There is a certain little four year old who should be dancing this evening. I thought about going because I want to support my friend, but I didn't want to put myself in a place where the unexpected could knock me sideways. A little girl running down a hallway in a tutu giggling and excited could make me cry for days.
Or at least it would have six months or a year ago. I seem to have lost my ability to cry. Well, that's not true. Seeing The Fault in Our Stars pulled a few tears out of me.
Last night I went to the monthly support group that meets at a local coffee shop. It's so good and necessary to have an in person support group for those who have lost babies. I've been grateful for it so many times. I felt a little out of place last night. I think that's more to do with me than anyone else, but it was discomfiting to feel uncomfortable. That's the place, and those are the people, I'm always supposed to fit with. So why do I feel like I don't fit?
I think part of it is just a tiredness. I'm tired of living without Charlotte. I'm tired of explaining to doctors my history every. single. visit. I'm tired of remembering what I was like before Charlotte and wondering who I would be had she lived. I'm tired of being a mother who has buried a child. But that's just life. Being tired of it doesn't make it go away. I don't get to decide I don't want to do this anymore. And I'm afraid saying I'm tired of it will come across as wishing Charlotte hadn't been, and that is definitely not true. I just want her here, alive, running around church in a tutu.
I think I've written this post a thousand times. Grief sends one spinning in circles that never end. Circle after circle after circle. From why to some acceptance to sadness to happiness to bitterness to why to resolve ... emotional cycle after emotional cycle. And at the center of it all is a little girl who I wanted to watch grow up. I still can't believe I'll never see her dance on this side of heaven.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Easter Sunday, 2010
I felt held today.
I felt your prayers.
I opened cards and read e-mails with thankfulness and gratitude.
Thank you for remembering that tomorrow we should have a little girl bouncing around the house excited to be four and reveling in a day all about her.
It's still all about her, just not in the way we imagined.
I was patient with the kids today. I was kind. Way, way more than yesterday. I know that was you and the prayers you rained over our house and family.
I couldn't have spoken or acted with such kindness today without Jesus on my side.
I don't feel well. I can't stomach much food. I am nauseated, shaky - that might be the fault of the diet pepsi I've been drinking all day - and focused on the nervous feeling deep inside that something horrible is coming and I am helpless to stop it.
May 13th is hard in a different way. May 13, 2010 was my last innocent day. My last happy, joyfully expectant, thrilled to be in labor day.
Mother's Day, 2010 - with my nephew
The nursery was ready.
We set up the co-sleeper.
It was the last day before grief tore into our lives and ripped everything we thought we knew and understood about life and faith and hope and statistics to pieces.
I miss that girl, that May 13th me. I hate that girl too. I hate her surety that everything is going to work out, that the cards are aligned and will fall where she expects.
This doesn't get easier. The day to day does, but the birthday that isn't really a birthday that we call Charlotte's day because it's a confusing mix of birth and death is always difficult.
I wish Charlotte's birthday was more than a day to get through.
Every time I look at the clock I think
x more hours
at this time I was ...
Then I think about my theme for this year. Or maybe goal is a better word.
Find the joy.
Four years ago at 7:40 pm Charlotte was alive.
Find the joy!
Not very long, but she lived.
Monday, April 28, 2014
Thursday, April 17, 2014
I am working on a second book. A much longer, more detailed, very personal memoir. IF I ever finish it it will be for sale, but that book is an entirely different creature. I want Unexpected Goodbye to reach as many people as possible. I think the best way for that to happen is to offer it for free. Now, if you want to download a copy you'll have to purchase it from Amazon. That is the best and easiest way for me to manage things and protect myself.
Unexpected Goodbye is my heart on the page. It's the words I wish someone had told me after Charlotte died. Please share it. Please pass on the link. And please remember that it is my work. Please give credit where it is due. I put hours of work into Unexpected Goodbye. I spent two years writing and revising the book. It is one of the ways I honor and remember Charlotte. If one person benefits from Unexpected Goodbye it validates my sweet girl and her short life on this Earth.
You can find Unexpected Goodbye at the top of the blog or just click HERE.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
I cut lilacs from the front garden this afternoon and put them in vases around the house. Lilacs, lavender, lilies, and columbines all grow in our yard. And they all remind me of Charlotte.
Red columbines sitting in a glass vase on the beside table next to condolence cards and a medicinal smelling bag filled with ace bandages and breast pads. Overflowing vases of lilacs on the first Charlotte's Day; a memorial that should have been a birthday. The lavender my midwife photographed on the morning Charlotte was born. The lilies that bloomed just after she died. Calla lilies, like the ones we had at our wedding.
Flowers from the yard. Flowers that were mostly planted and thriving when we moved in. Within the stunning beauty of the countless varieties that can bloom, petals quietly fluttering in the wind, I see Charlotte. Of course she comes to mind. Flowers blossom for such a short time, it's hardly a revolutionary thought.
And for some reason I can put flowers in vases all over the house if they come from the yard, but a bouquet from the florist with certain blooms can send me reeling. In my mind there is a distinction there, one I cannot fathom or understand.. Trauma and memories have rendered this distinction within my brain, and so, it is. I am not sure anything can change it. Expect, perhaps, time. Time has a marvelous capacity to erase and erode. Even when we don't want it to.
Monday, April 7, 2014
Hey there, year four. I don't like you.
I really wanted to focus on the good this year.
How long we had Charlotte.
How exciting it is that she is in heaven waiting for us.
But I can't control the way I feel. Not when it comes to this at least.
The flashbacks make it too hard.
We're six weeks out from Charlotte's birthday.
How can life feel so hard already? And why can't I control it?
On Thursday night we went to a seminar for parents of children with hearing loss. It was a really good seminar, we learned a lot about how to help Ainsleigh. At the end, in a flurry of introductions and conversations, a woman said, "I can see you're expecting." I didn't respond, because what I had to say wouldn't have been kind. When we left the room J said, "be a duck, let it roll off your back," but of course I haven't been able to do that.
Because I can feel myself letting everything go. I can feel myself not caring. I try to do something other than care for the kids and house, but at the end of the day all I want to do is put my feet up, not work out.
It's getting warmer out. It's the perfect weather for walking. But I have that swimming through syrup everything is overwhelming feeling going on and most days - to be completely honest - the thought of getting everyone dressed and out for a walk is too much.
I was in great shape when we were in Hawaii, a year and a half ago. I want to get back there, but I don't have the motivation right now. I've had three babies in four years and my body is done. I usually bounce back quicker than this, but this time I'm not being very careful. (Lately I've been thinking about grace and comfort and food, and how God is my comfort not food, but my thoughts on that are half-formed at best.)
What it all boils down to is this:
I feel bad. About everything.
I hate spring.
I want to love it, but I can't.
I don't want the kids to grow up with bad memories of spring. I'm trying. Although right now my trying looks a lot like yelling because the house is a mess again. I can't control how I feel so I try to control everything and everyone around me, which doesn't work for anyone. We played outside for hours today. I hope they remember that I tried to engage, that I did my best to be present.
I wish I could say, four years in, okay, that's fine. I'm just going to do the grief thing gracefully and calmly this year" and have it be true.
I feel pathetic, and so very sad. At least I have enough clarity and hindsight to know that this is not as bad as the first year. I feel like there's hope in recognizing that.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
I didn't hear the sermon at church on Sunday. I was in the cry room with Ains. I meant to feed her before church, but I was slow, and sleep deprived, and didn't get it done. There is a television in the cry room so the sermon can be viewed, but I still didn't hear it.
The cry room at our church has been a place where I have felt both welcomed and shunned. I could write three thousand words on that room, but this is one of the (few) topics I can't write about. There's about three thousand reasons for that. One is that I don't want to write something that can be misconstrued. So let me set this post up by letting you know that small room in our big church is a complicated place for me.
And for those of you who don't know what a cry room is, it's a small room for parents who don't put their little ones in nursery. It is not meant for just anyone who is crying. Although I have often thought it would be nice to have a cry room in various public places. Break down in the middle of Target because Easter dresses are on sale and you wish you had a baby to buy one for? Head to the cry room! Anyway, I often start with Ainsleigh in the service, but she doesn't always make it through without being disruptive (she just has to scream to go to sleep).
This Sunday I didn't hear the sermon because I was talking to the women in the cry room about Charlotte. Someone was asking me questions, and I answered as honestly and openly as I could. I credit the Lord for giving me the ability to answer intense, difficult questions about grief in a concise, clear manner without becoming emotional. I know it isn't easy to ask the questions, and I appreciate those who are open and brave enough to ask what everyone else is thinking.
What's it like to lose a child?
Do you feel guilty?
Do you blame yourself?
How do you work through it?
What's it like?
What's it like?
What's it like?
That is the question everyone comes back to. That's the one thing everyone wants to know. And all I can say is, "it's hard, impossibly hard, to wake up the day after your baby dies and know you will spend the rest of your life missing them and wishing for their presence." etc. etc. etc.
There are so many articles and blog posts on the wrong, and sometimes thoughtless, things people say when the dead baby card is dropped into a conversation. But I've experienced kind words and meaningful conversations too. Sunday's conversation opened a door to a room in my heart I didn't know was there.
I finally have an answer to the question of how I am able to be at peace with Charlotte's death. I'm going to throw out some difficult thoughts here, and if you are not a person of faith they may be hard to understand. You might even think me naive or stupid. I hate being thought of as naive, or stupid, or willfully ignorant, but I am going to put the fear aside because I really want to share these thoughts.
You may have noticed that I've been writing about faith and my belief in Christ more often. It's always been a part of me, but when I began writing here my faith was on shaky ground. It has taken me this long - nearly four years now - to figure out that I still believe in God and trust Him with my life.
So, deep breath everyone, here are the conclusions I came to on Sunday:
I believe God is the author of my life. I believe He has a plan for me and that He is in control of that plan.
I believe that God numbers our days.
Therefore I believe that God numbered Charlotte's days. And for some reason, the number he selected for her was one.
On Sunday one of the women in the cry room said, "If Charlotte was meant to live until she was 21 it would have happened no matter where she was born."
Yes. Yes, yes, yes.
J and I made a considered, prayerful decision to have Charlotte out of hospital. We did not feel compelled to birth elsewhere. Every concern and question we raised was answered satisfactorily and competently. We felt secure in our decision. I believe that secure feeling of peace was from the Lord.
He numbers our days.
He is using a little girl who was only meant to live one day to change and shape my life and the lives of others.
Charlotte was only meant to live one day.
I couldn't have changed that.
And from that belief comes a difficult question:
God could have saved Charlotte. Why didn't He? Why did he choose one as her number?
And that is something I don't know. That is the point where I choose to lean into my faith and believe that I am in the hands of a wise, caring, loving God who is shaping me and my life. Just as he shaped Charlotte's life.
I choose to trust the Lord and His decision to leave us with more questions than answers about Charlotte's birth. I believe there is a purpose for that which I cannot see right now.
I find comfort in my faith.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
It is comforting to know that God has this swirling chaos that we call life in His hands. I can't tell you why bad things happen. I can't tell you why babies die. I can't take your pain away, or ease the ache of empty arms. But I can tell you that I find deep solace in my faith, and my belief that I will see that little girl of mine in heaven when my days are up. This isn't all there is, friends. This broken world is not my home. It doesn't have to be yours either.
I know it's hard to be the one with the dead baby. I know how it feels when someone asks you about it and you don't want to answer because it hurts too much. When people honor Charlotte by asking about her I try to answer because I hope doing so will help the person asking gain understanding. And sometimes - like last Sunday - it allows me to discover something new about my grief.
So thank you to those who ask the brave questions.
Thank you for treating me like a mother to three children.
Thank you for making space for Charlotte.
Thank you for trying to understand.
Saturday, February 22, 2014
Jon and I took a class on herbal antibiotics this morning at the birth center where Charlotte was born.
I hesitate to write about that place because my words have been twisted, my motivations criticized, my intentions questioned. All I can say, over and over and over, is that we acted with love.
I believed wholeheartedly that was where we were to go. You don't choose to birth out of hospital because you want the easiest route. I still believe the hand of God guided us there. We see a singular event, but He sees the whole map and He is the creator of that map. I choose to trust the hands that made me, even when it's so dark I can't imagine day will come again.
Through our decisions lives were altered. I hate the shameful pall that hangs over Charlotte's birth; that heavy, awkward burden I carry. I exhort others to lay down their guilt, but I can't shake mine. Nearly four years after Charlotte died people hear her story and experience heart and life changes. I believe that's why she was born.
As I sat in the kitchen of the house where Charlotte was born I took notes, I listened, I learned, and I felt the weight of what happened to us. The heaviness and darkness of trauma. The dreams we left in that place.
I'm still angry I didn't get to experience the postpartum haven I expected. During the class a stack of wooden trays on top of the refrigerator caught my eye and I found a well of bitterness in my soul. I ate breakfast off one of those trays mere hours before Charlotte died.
I wanted lunch and dinner too. I wanted a baby who lived more than an hour. I wanted her life - her dreams, her hopes and her sorrows. I wanted more. I hate that some believe I could have had more; that I chose death for my daughter out of selfishness and naivete.
Things that I read, words that were said to my face, condemnations that were whispered when my back was turned are etched in my heart. When I can't sleep I run my hands over the carvings and defend myself. I don't know if that need to defend and protest will ever go away because the markings are deep and I visit them often.
Though there is trauma in that place there is comfort as well. The walls hold the echos of Charlotte's first heartbeat. The wood floors supported my pacing feet as I labored. I learned a lot in that house. I became a mother there. A mother. Then a grieving mother. But first, a mother.
And as the days lengthen and winter unfurls into spring I hope this birthday will be easier than the last. I hope for kindness and the relief of having space to remember without accusation and criticism pulling me to a darker place. I want to celebrate Charlotte's life this year. I want to find joy in who she briefly was. I want to pry the negative words from my heart so something positive can take root and begin to grow. I believe there is light everywhere, even in death, and this year I want to seek it out.
Saturday, January 4, 2014
This is an ongoing series where I periodically post a partial or whole chapter from the book I'm writing. This evening I counted 15 complete chapters. I think that calls for a little celebration.
I hate myself. I hate how I look. I hate how I feel. I hate my attitude. I've never been fat, but I've always felt fat. I've struggled with how I look, which is so unoriginal and common. I could write one thousand tangents about culture and image, but that's not what this is about.
This is about me, and how every ounce of self-loathing I carried spilled out of the box I kept it in the day Charlotte died. Everyone struggles with image. There is at least one thing everyone – even the narcissist – hates about themselves. As a species we are always trying to improve and better ourselves. I have never struggled with my weight, but I have always hated how I look. I've often wished I was thinner and more toned. Smaller even. I've always wanted to take up less space in the world. This wish gained prominence in my life after Charlotte died.
I bought stock in the idea that if I was smaller I would be better. I would belong. My school days would have been easier. My life in general would have been easier. There would have been less mistakes, fewer embarrassing moments, and more accomplishments. When Charlotte died my insecurities ballooned and took over my life. I coped poorly. The first weeks after she died intense grief rendered me unable to eat, but I soon regained the ability to eat massive amounts of food when stressed.
I didn't lose all of the weight I gained with my first pregnancy before beginning my second. When I see pictures of me after Bennett was born – on our holiday card, on my blog – I stare at my round face with shame. I don't take pride in my body for carrying and birthing children. I hate it because I feel like it let me down.
Bennett's birth was traumatic. I didn't watch what I ate, or how much I ate, after he was born. When I was four months postpartum I contracted a horrific flu and dropped quite a bit of weight in a short amount of time. I began walking with a neighbor. The walks were long; an amazing panacea I did not know I needed. I poured my heart out as we walked the broken sidewalks between our houses and downtown.
Friends are with us for seasons. Some are with us for short seasons, others for many. In that season of getting my feet under me as a mother to a living child and learning who I was going to be – because becoming a mother really is akin to shedding one self and adopting another – I needed her particular wisdom and kindness.
Walks with that friend eventually developed into mornings at the gym with another friend. (Until we both conceived and spent most gym mornings with our heads hung low, breathing shallowly, trying not to hurl on the treadmills.) I worked really hard to get to where I wanted to be and by Bennett's first birthday I was there. My weight was less than it had been during my university days and I felt good about myself – possibly for the first time since my teens. I was fit, which mattered so much more than thin.
In January of 2013 we went to Hawaii. Shortly after our trip I found out I was pregnant with Ainsleigh. I went a little crazy food-wise. I can justify eating a lot when I am stressed and I justified myself in and out of the grocery store and through drive-thru lines like a person possessed during my third pregnancy. I was scared to death to be pregnant again. And when my gut feeling that our third baby was a girl was proven correct via the mid-pregnancy ultrasound I went beyond scared to death. I don't even know what that place is called, but it exists, and let me tell you it is bleak and dark.
During Ainsleigh's pregnancy my thought process went something like this: I did everything I possibly could during Charlotte's pregnancy to keep her safe. Look what that yielded, a dead baby! I am going to do what I want because I'm stressed and scared. Something has to make me feel better. Something has to ease the anxiety. I'll eat whatever I want. Bring on the cheeseburgers, tacos, and deli meat. I don't care.
I didn't care about myself. I didn't care about how much weight I gained. All I wanted was to get through the pregnancy. I didn't think about anything but doing whatever I felt was necessary to get through to the end. Caring meant investment. I invested in Charlotte. I put my whole damn heart into that pregnancy; into making sure I did everything possible to grow a healthy baby. It didn't matter. She died anyway.
The summer after Bennett was born, when he was nearly a year, I joined a local support group for parents who have lost babies. When I was nearing the end of my pregnancy with Ainsleigh a mom spoke about how we make choices because we want to avoid grief, but at some point one has to put down the cookies, or set down the glass of vodka, or walk away from the countless avoidance tactics one employs to hide from emotion, and deal with the grief which is causing the behavior.
Those words were so convicting. I don't know how to do that. I've worked through a lot of my grief, but I've hit a wall I don't know how to get around or over. I want to like myself more. I want to take better care of myself. But when I have a hard day – when Bennett is difficult and Ainsleigh won't stop crying – my thoughts turn to food. I wonder what I can eat to ease the pressure in my head a little bit. I hope eating something will make me so happy I'll stop hating myself. Because that's the core of the issue, right? I don't like myself, so I don't take care of myself.
There is something about the pain of losing a child that brings forth every insecurity. I don't know if I'll ever be rid of the feeling that I did something wrong. That I fell down on the job. That I failed Charlotte. I'm trying to work out how to stop calling myself stupid. I'm trying to turn to prayer instead of food. Friends instead of food. God instead of food. Love instead of food. Kindness instead of food. There are so many things and people that can lift the spirit. I want to reshape my habits so I love more and eat less.
Part of grieving is becoming a new person. The transformation can be positive or negative. Now that I have two living children I want to make sure my transformation is positive. I want my children to see joy, peacefulness, and contentment when they look at me. I think it is okay to show them sorrow. There will always be elements of sorrow in our lives. The story and life of their sister will always be spoken of and shared, even though it makes us cry.
But I want the everyday mama my children interact with to speak joy and find happiness as often as she can. I want them to grow up knowing they are beautiful and loved, and that God is the ultimate comforter. I want them to know they don't need a crutch to make it through the difficult times, but if they want to use food every now and again when things get rough that's okay too. I have to change my attitude and words until what I want them to know becomes my heart truth.
Charlotte's death has forced me to grow immensely. I'm not the person I was before she died, and I'll never know what I might have been like had she lived. When I take the time to really look, to peel back the layers I put on as protection and defense, I see a person I quite like buried beneath the avalanche of negative words I pour on myself daily. It is okay to love myself. It is hard to do, but I am learning how so I can show my children the way.
Saturday, December 7, 2013
Last night I posted the following on the facebook page I maintain for this blog:
We went to J's holiday party for his work this evening. When asked how many children I have I said three without hesitation. And when we were talking about babies I included Charlotte. I talked about my births and trauma during labor and delivery. I was honest about my experience. In the middle of the conversation I wondered if I was saying too much, but most of his co-workers know our story. I want to make space in these conversations for all my children. So I do. I'm open about what we lost. I'm honest and unapologetic when I talk about her. And I think that's okay. This is who I am. If you ask me about my children I will tell you about all of them. And I will show you a picture on my phone that includes all three of my children because it's important to me to include her. I refuse to pretend Charlotte didn't exist because the fact of her death is uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable to talk around and over the subject of her. I refuse to ignore what happened, and the more resolute I become the less the world expects me to. I hope my determination gives others the freedom to speak. It's okay to talk about our children and how much we miss them.
I wanted to share it here as well because I can't stop thinking about grief, the holidays, and how hard this time of year is. Earlier this week I wrote about how to cope with the holidays and grief for the 12 Days of Christmas series on the blog All That Love Can Do. There's some great remembrance ideas and giveaways going on over there, go check it out!
You might not be able to, or you might not want to, share your grief at a holiday party, but I want you to know I'm willing to listen. This space is always available if you want to share your story.
In fact, I would like you to share your story. When we go around the circle at the in person support group I attend the impact of hearing everyone's stories one after the other is huge. The strength and tears in our voices shakes the room and reminds me I am not alone.
Every baby matters. I want to hear about yours.
Thursday, November 7, 2013
Our family is so blessed. We are being loved and served well during this time of transition. From friends who stop by at the perfect moment with cupcakes and kiddos to distract the Bennett whirlwind, to the gifts that keep arriving, (I admit, gifts are one of my love languages) to my mom who has given up days to help us manage our lives.
Three birds for three babies
Custom bowl - three eggs for three babies
I am waiting for grief to wash over me. If I have learned anything in the past 3.5 years it is this: grief is circular and thinking one is beyond a certain stage only guarantees a swift and painful fall into darkness. But it may not come for a while. I cried enough tears while in labor my heart may not have any more just yet. There have been a few tears while nursing as the quietest, sweetest mama/baby moments find their existence within those frequent feedings, but it's very different from the early days with Bennett when I wept absolute buckets.
Having a deep net of support beneath us is helping immensely. There are so many in my life who know and understand this confusing path, and those who have not been to this particular place of deep joy and great sorrow have been silent witnesses and strong shoulders. I've always felt that we are blessed to know and feel so much love as we build our family. Thank you for celebrating Ainsleigh, spoiling Bennett, and remembering Charlotte.
Sunday, October 13, 2013
I ordered Julian Barnes Levels of Life from the library because I read that it was about the death of his wife and the processing of grief. The first two sections I couldn't figure out what I was reading, or why, (Barnes writes about ballooning and photography as well as grief) but the third section, oh the third section. I want to quote the entire thing here, it's just that good, but I'll settle for telling you it's a must read. And if you can't get through the first two sections, which are small (the entire book clocks in at 128 pages) skip over them and read the third. Barnes writes honestly about friends who disappoint, his thoughts of suicide and his feelings about grief. Even though he is writing about the death of his wife as I read I thought, here is someone who understands.
And here are a few bits I just have to share:
"This is what those who haven't crossed the tropic of grief often fail to understand: the fact that someone is dead may mean that they are not alive, but doesn't mean that they do not exist."
"Grief is the negative image of love; and if there can be accumulation of love over the years, then why not of grief?"
In one passage Barnes talks about going out in public again: "After a few months, I began to brave public places and go out to a play, a concert, an opera. But I found that I had developed a terror of the foyer. Not of the space itself, but of what it contained: cheerful, expectant, normal people looking forward to enjoying themselves."
I remember that terror well. I can still recall how it felt to meet a friend for lunch shortly after Charlotte died and admit I needed to grocery shop, but hadn't been able to manage it yet. She followed me across town, pushed my grocery cart through the store, helped me make decisions when I couldn't, loaded my groceries, then me, into my car. I still have moments when the terror overwhelms me. Every time I am invited to a group for young moms at our church I say, "no, thank you," because I can't fathom willingly walking into a room where people are likely to ask over and over how many children I have.
"Nor do you know how you appear to others. How you feel and how you look may or may not be the same. So how do you feel? As if you have dropped from a height of several hundred feet, conscious all the time, have landed feet first in a rose bed with an impact that has driven you in up to the knees, and whose shock has caused your internal organs to rupture and burst forth from your body. That is what it feels like, and why should it look any different? No wonder some want to swerve away to a safer topic of conversation. And perhaps they are not avoiding death, and her; they are avoiding you."