"Life isn't about surviving the storm...it is about learning to dance in the rain." Anonymous

Monday, December 1, 2014

Five years

I love and hate December 1st.  I hate it because it is a painful reminder of the most devastating loss I have ever encountered.  I love it because the person I lost was born that day.  In the true fashion of grief, my emotions are conflicting.  I have learned along this journey that there is no rhyme or reason for grief emotions.  Happy one minute, sad the next.  Guilty for the happy moment.  Blessed to see the other beautiful things in your life, but always wanting the one not here.  Mad at the world, but thankful to be a part of that crazy, mad world.

Today is my Elizabeth's fifth birthday.  Five years ago, we were heartbroken and devastated.  I can't think about that day and this journey without crying.  In fact, I am crying so hard right now as I type.  Oh my, I have learned so much about so many things.  I guess you can say that she has taught me along the way.  I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be sitting here five years later writing a grief blog and talking openly about my story.

I think the biggest lessons I have learned are:
  1. I have absolutely no control over my feelings, but I do have control over what I do with them.
  2. I have a village of people to talk to.  I have met this village over the past five years.  I probably would have collapsed without them.  We hold each other up.
  3. I am not to blame for any of this.  I think when the loss of a baby happens, the people grieving try so hard to find a reason or someone to blame.  I chose to blame myself.  My body was the one that failed.  My placenta decided to implant in the wrong place.  My  beautiful little girl was perfect, but lived in an imperfect womb.  I don't know when the blame went away, but some time over the last couple of years, I came to realize that I am not at fault.  I would have done ANYTHING in my power to change what happened.  Anything.  Some things are out of my control.  That doesn't mean the whole situation doesn't still stink.  It is really horrible.  And horrible things happen everyday to well meaning, good people.  I have commented before that I wish God would write my plan down and put it in my mailbox so that I could be prepared :)  That is just not the way this life works, though, is it? 
  4. I would do it all over again, just to have the time I had with her.  Of course, I wish the outcome could be different and I could have her every single day.  But, I would never wish our time had not happened.  She was a living reality for the time she lived in me.  I have those memories and they are precious.  I had a favorite maternity shirt and I remember feeling her somersaults.  She would have been a gymnast, like her sister.  I have never felt such movement, ever!  I have a memory box that has grown every year, because we add to it all the time.  I never knew that I could parent a child who is not here.  I have learned to do this.  To cherish seeing her name in print, to remember her birthday, and to speak her name whenever I can to whomever will listen.  She was special and yes, I would do every single wonderful and heartbreaking minute all over again.
  5. Anyone who doubts that an unborn baby has an amazing story to tell just has not listened long enough.  Their stories are incredible and they impact everyone--their doctors, nurses, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, and especially their parents.  Every day in the US, 70 babies are stillborn, which means that every single day, 70 families are devastated and 70 sets of parents are sitting in a hospital grieving a loss that affects every aspect of their lives.
A couple of years ago, I wrote about the elephants and how they come together in support of each other when one of their tribe loses her baby.  They all lay their trunks on her in silent support
 and none of them move until she is ready to get up and walk away. 

What wonderful creatures!

 I have also made reference to the "mean wells" - those people who really do mean well, but can say things that are not supportive at all. 

Occasionally, I look through Elizabeth's memory box.  I can't do it often, but when I do, I am reminded of all the people who have taken the time to say her name or write her name in a card.  The day after she was born still, my daughter's 2nd grade class sent me this:

 
 
 

Each child traced his or her hand and wrote a message on it.  Then they made them into a bouquet.   Many of these precious 2nd graders even wrote Elizabeth's name in their message :)    My heart is so full reading these.  Elephants come in all shapes and sizes, don't they!  I have my own village of elephants who have gotten me to where I am.  And where I am is right here, still standing, somewhat broken but strong.  I am here and everyone around me, including the mean wells, have gotten me here.  They have each been a part of my journey.
 
 
Happy 5th birthday, my sweet baby.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Beautiful reminders




Two weeks ago, I took my husband and kids to see an old family cemetery that sits on some property that is owned by my great uncle.  I grew up knowing about this cemetery and hearing stories about all the relatives that are buried there.  That may sound a little crazy, but am from south Georgia and every South Georgia family that I know can tell you all about their relatives and where they are buried, too. 


This particular cemetery sits behind the most beautiful little white one room church called Jordan Chapel, named for my great great grandfather, who built it.  The cemetery is older than the church, with many headstones that aren't legible anymore.   A cotton field surrounds both the church and the cemetery, making it one of the most incredibly beautiful and peaceful places in the world.


Over the past year, we lost 2 members of my family....my great uncle and my cousin, both of whom are now buried at Jordan Chapel cemetery.  That is what brought us there 2 weeks ago.  I had not been there in a long time and we spent some time looking at the various headstones and listening to my daddy tell us stories about the  people he remembered growing up.


It wasn't until right before we began to leave that I noticed this...











In the midst of several family plots marked by last name, there was this one all by itself.  As you can see, it is a small grave.  The headstone read the baby's name, Thomas, with the inscription "beloved stillborn son".  The year of his birth was 1941.  But those aren't the things that caught my attention.  My mind and my heart were drawn to the pot of fresh flowers that someone has lovingly put on his grave.  Seventy three years later, someone is still remembering this baby.  This beloved son, born during an era when many mothers were not enouraged to name their stillborn babies or to see them or to mourn openly.  This baby Thomas was given a name.  And someone out there remembers his name and thinks of him and brings flowers to his grave.


My heart was full.  It drove home what I already know.  That as long as I am here on this earth, my daughter is remembered. 


I think sometimes I worry that I will forget her and her specialness.  This was a reminder that she is part of me always and forever.




Friday, August 8, 2014

Milestones

Wow, it sure has been a while since my last post!  Sorry about that....for some reason, I haven't had the inspiration to write this summer.  I am not sure why.  That happens to me sometimes and I can't just write something for the heck of it just to post something.  I need to FEEL like writing.  Does that make sense?


Summer is ending and my two older children went back to school yesterday.  I always get a little melancholy about this, but especially this year.  We were taking the usual first day of school pictures.  Making them smile and hold up signs that read "5th grade" and "7th grade", which they did not approve of!


They left for school with my husband and the house got quiet and then it hit me that there was definitely something missing.  There should have been a 4 year old little girl wearing hairbows and carrying her first backpack, holding up a sign that read "Pre-K". 


There are so many things that bereaved parents lose when their baby dies too soon.  The loss is so deep.  It is the loss of what could have been that is so hard for me.  I want to know her so badly.  Sometimes, this is what keeps me awake at night--the fact that I feel that I don't know her.  I know the idea of her and I know what she means to us.  But, I wanted to know HER--her favorite color, her favorite toys and songs.  Would she like to dance or would she rather play soccer?  These are things I lost.  Today, I feel that loss very deeply.  Instead, I am sitting here feeling like I missed her first day of school.


I hope she knows that her mom is thinking about her and that this week is a milestone.  I am proud of her.  Proud of the fact that she was mine, if only for a short time.  I guess I don't need a sign to remind me of that fact.  It is just that this experience has been so hard and it has taken me a while to figure it all out. 


Peace and hugs....

Thursday, May 8, 2014

What makes a mother?

I have been thinking alot about Mother's Day this week, with it coming up on Sunday.  I know most moms in the babyloss community have probably been thinking about it too.  Maybe dreading it, maybe not.  Either way, it is in the minds of many mothers.


My stillborn daughter did not make me a mother.  Her older sister has that distinction.  What she did make me is a better mother, or so I hope.  She taught me what it means to really BE a mother.  Ironic, because I never brought her home.  I never gave her baths at night and never read Goodnight Moon to her.  I have never had to put bandaids on her scraped up knees or  mend her broken heart.  I have never been able to paint her fingernails pink or enroll her in ballet.  When I think of the things I would have done with her, as her mother, the part of my heart that stays forever broken starts to hurt.


She came into my life so quickly and left much too soon.  And in that short, short time, she changed me.  She taught me so much more about being a mother than I could have learned from anyone else.  The lessons she taught aren't found in parenting books.  You see, they could never do justice to this.  There is no book that tells you how to live without your baby.  How to wake up every day and remember that she is not here.  How to handle seeing 4 year old little girls, knowing that for the rest of the day, you will remember your little girl who would be 4.  The books don't tell you how to honor that baby and her short life.  They certainly don't make mention of the fact that many of the world's best mothers are mothering babies that they can't hold.


Those lessons I have learned from her.  If it weren't for her, I don't know if I would look at the rainbows and the tulips in the backyard, or the white butterflies the same way.  I don't know if I would hug my children, her siblings, as tightly as I do.  She taught me that love is fierce.  And love is stronger than death.  And love doesn't go away.  She showed me the lengths that I would go to in order to keep her alive in everyone's hearts and minds.  I am her mother and it is up to me to remember her and honor her.  I do that everyday in the ways that I treat others and the ways that I love her daddy and siblings and grandparents. 


I am her mother and she is my daughter.  I am so very proud of that fact and will be thinking of her and her impact on me, especially this Sunday.    Much peace to all of you this weekend. 



Thursday, April 3, 2014

Dancing in the Rain

I was reminded the other day of one of my favorite quotes.  It is actually the quote at the top of this blog...."Life is not about surviving the storm....it is about learning to dance in the rain."  It is an anonymous quote that I read years ago.  I have always liked it.  It always made me think of strength in hard times.  This quote took on a completely new meaning for me after my daughter's stillbirth.


I spent alot of time just getting by.  In the first days, I thought I was doing really well if I got up and took a shower.  I made myself do that.  After the first 2 or 3 weeks, I made a deal with myself....
                       
    I decided that I could do anything for 15 minutes each day.  My "anything", the thing I dreaded most was being "normal" for 15 minutes.  That meant I would not be sad for 15 minutes.  Not let my sadness bring me down for a whole 15 minutes.  I could do it.  Fifteen minutes and then, I could go back to being sad.  As long as I knew I could go back to bed if I wanted or spend the afternoon crying if I wanted, I could handle the 15 minutes. 


I know it may sound completely crazy, but it gave me something to focus on.  A goal for the day.  Sometimes, my fifteen minutes involved reading a fun magazine or a book that made me laugh.  Sometimes it meant catching up on my favorite soap (which is Young and the Restless, BTW :) )  I watched the clock most of the time and when the time was up, I went back to being sad.  I don't know if this makes sense, but I needed the time of being sad.  I needed to feel what I was feeling.  I needed to have that time with my baby, thinking of her and mourning her.  There were days when I couldn't wait for the 15 minutes to be over, so I could get back to reality.  I needed to stand in the storm, so to speak.  To be knocked over by the hurricane force winds that kept pounding me.  I was in survival mode and I needed to survive the storm that was my loss.


An interesting thing happened.  I don't even know when it did, but it happened.  It was so gradual that I never even noticed.  I stopped watching the clock.  I stopped counting the 15 minutes. I don't even know when I noticed that I had begun spending more time each day doing something happy.  Of course, then I felt guilty that I had been happy.  But I shouldn't have.  I guess you can say that I was learning to dance again.  I just didn't know it. 


Even though the storm of that awful time had passed, nothing was the same.  Nothing ever will be the same.  So, I had find my way of being normal again.  Many people call it the "new normal".  I guess you can say it is like dancing in the rain.


I read something the other day that a friend posted on her facebook page.  She was talking about rainbows and how you can't see a rainbow unless you have had the rain and the sun.  I love what she wrote.  It is so very true.  My daughter has brought me so much sunshine.  Her life and death have taught me so much about myself.  If it weren't for her, I don't know that I would be the person I am.  She shapes me everyday.  She has taught me so much about dancing in the rain. 


There comes a time in life, after something gut wrenching and horrible has happened, that you have to make some decisions.  Are you going to sink in the horrible hole that is grief or are you going to swim in the vast ocean that is life?  Are you going to let the storm knock you down or are you going to get out there and dance right in that rain? 


I have chosen to dance and it is a wonderful dance filled with hope and laughter and gratitude, and yes, sadness.  This dance is mine and my daughter's...it is what we are doing together. 


I hope you learn to dance again, too, and that the dance is precious and sweet and honors your baby the way that you want it to.



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What is love?

I read such a great article today.  It was an article that was about love and Valentine's Day.  The Huffington Post had asked for people to send in pictures that depicted true love.  Someone had sent in a picture of herself and her partner in the hospital on the day that her daughter was born still.  The picture is not a picture of what most would consider lovely.  It is certainly not a happy picture.  It is a picture of two parents grieving together.  Loving their daughter together.  Being together.


When I saw the picture and read the article, there were several things that came into my mind.  One was an image of my husband.  My quiet, wonderful, six foot three inch tall, past-football playing husband silently binding my breasts after our Elizabeth was born still.  That remains, in my mind, one of the most powerful experiences of my life.  I remember that he cried as he wrapped the tight bandage around my breasts and helped me put the cabbage leaves in.  I had so much milk coming in.  I remember him saying how wrong it was that she would not be able to drink it.  It was my birthday.  And when he was finished, he said, "I am sorry your birthday can not be happy."  It was the most masculine thing he has ever done.  It was also the most loving.


The other thing that came to mind when I read that article and saw that picture was the amount of love I felt for my daughter every day that I carried her, especially on the day she was born.  I was so many things that day....scared, devastated, heartbroken....but most of all, I was in love.  Completely, utterly, crazy in love.  I still am.  I love that little girl so much that I cry as I type this.  I loved her.  I love her.  I will love her every single day of my life. 


There are many people who never have the opportunity to appreciate true love.  I have.  I know what it means to love someone so much that I would have truly sacrificed everything in order for her to live. 


I realized tonight that I hold something amazing....I hold her story.  And it is a powerful one.  Each of us has a story to tell.  I think the ones of us who live the shortest times have the biggest stories of all.  They touch so many people.  My Elizabeth touched me like no one has ever or will ever again.  She brought out the most tender part of her daddy's heart and she opened my eyes and my heart and makes me appreciate the love around me. 


That is love.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Butterfly Effect

This week, my 12 year old has been studying World War II at school.  It has been an amazing week, full of alot of lessons and stories of bravery.  On Tuesday, she went on a field trip to the Breman Museum and heard stories about the Holocaust.  It has been a very impactful week.  She had to write a journal each day about something she learned from the day that really made an impact on her.  On Tuesday, she wrote about the butterflies.


Butterflies.  They are a symbol of hope and peace.  A symbol of rebirth and of the soul living on.  Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was a doctor known for her work with death and dying.  I am a nurse and am very familiar with Kubler-Ross's stages of grief.  Dr. Kubler-Ross wrote a book, The Wheel of Life, A Memoir of Living and Dying, about her post war visit to the site of the Maidanek concentration camp, which is in Poland.  She spent time in the area where the children had lived and she saw clothing and shoes and the signs that they had been there.  And then she saw the butterflies... they had been carved into the walls with pebbles and fingernails.  There were hundreds of them. Twenty-five years later, after listening to hundreds of terminally ill patients, she came to the realization that the prisoners in the camps must have known that they were going to die. “They knew that soon they would become butterflies. Once dead, they would be out of that hellish place. Not tortured anymore. Not separated from their families. Not sent to gas chambers. None of this gruesome life mattered anymore. Soon they would leave their bodies the way a butterfly leaves its cocoon. And I realized that was the message they wanted to leave for future generations. . . .It also provided the imagery that I would use for the rest of my career to explain the process of death and dying.”


Butterflies.  I don't know if I have written yet about the butterfly that followed me one day, shortly after my Elizabeth was stillborn.  She was born in December, which is not the season for butterflies.  But, one came to me just after Christmas, on a day that I was feeling especially sad.  Just out of the blue, it flew around me, getting really close to me.  I didn't think too much of it at first.  To be honest, I really didn't think of much at all then.  I was just blank, pretty void of all feeling for a while.  I went through the day just waiting to go to bed, so that I could forget about how much I hurt. 


My butterfly didn't waiver.  It stayed with me for a while.  I am not sure how long, but it was long enough for me to finally take notice that it was odd to see a butterfly in the middle of winter.  I don't know if you believe in messages, but I do.  I think that beautiful little creature was a message to me from my sweet girl.  She woke me up out of the fog.  That butterfly got me outdoors for a little while each day, in hopes that I would see it again.  It lifted the fog which had become my everyday so that I could hope for a little more.  In hindsight, I guess you can say it was the start of the long healing journey that I am still on.


This week, I have thought alot of my butterfly and of the butterflies that were drawn on the walls in Poland by those dear children.  I have seen other butterflies, some of whom lingered and made me smile, but none like that one.  What amazing creatures they are to inspire  those precious children in the Maidanek camp to dream of hope and the desire to share that message for the future.  Such an incredible creature....so incredible that it has become a symbol of hope for dying people and for those like us in the babyloss community who wake up every single day missing our little children.  Those of us who are searching for something to show us how to spread our wings and fly again, amidst all the sadness, in the hopes of finding our own "new normal."