What Are the Odds

Last week I finally went to get the massage that Brad gave me on Mother’s Day. For some reason I had been putting off going. I don’t know why...or at least I didn’t know until now.

As soon as I was getting settled, the masseuse asked me where I worked. I told her I had recently quit teaching and was now working on making Gathering Hope a nonprofit. She asked what we did and I told her it was for mothers who have suffered pregnancy or infant loss. She asked if I had lost a child and I told her I had and a little about Matthew. She then told me she was in a support group for parents who have lost children while sharing the story of the loss of her son. We talked about loss and the difficulties during the holidays...how the pain of loss is always with you, but eventually it gets easier to carry.

As we talked a little more she said, “You said his name is Matthew?”

“Yes.”

“Where is he buried?”

I told her.

“Did he have a birthday recently?”

I told her he had in August.  She then described the cemetery where Matthew is buried, but my brain still wasn’t going where she was leading me.

“Does he have blue flowers and a dinosaur on his grave?”

“Yes…”

“My son is buried right by your son.”

<insert record scratching>

It suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks.  Where our sons are buried is still pretty bare. There aren’t a many graves and definitely not a lot of babies. I remembered that I had sat at the graveyard this summer, staring past Matthew's tiny grave onto this baby‘s grave. He had been buried there within the past six months or so. I could tell that his grave had many visits and I imagined the tears cried there. I thought of his mama's pain. I could physically feel her pain. I got a piece of paper out of my car and I wrote this mom a note, folded it tightly and stuck it inside the flower vase on the tiny stone. I don’t even remember what I wrote, but a boldness had come over me and I wanted her to know she wasn’t alone. I went home and wrote a blog to her.

I just started blurting out the first things that came to my mind. “I wrote you a blog! I stuck a note in your vase! Did you get it? WHAT?!?” (She must think I am crazy, I thought to myself.)

She had gotten the note but the flowers she watered so often had washed away everything but my name. I guess between my name and Matthew's she had pieced it all together.

We were both in disbelief at the odds. She told me that they felt drawn to that spot because of Matthew and that her four-year-old son plays with the dinosaur when they visit. They talk about him at home. Knowing somebody else thinks about Matthew and says hi to him when they visit means so much. 

When I got back to my car, I called Peyton and told her the story. She said, “You got her name right?”

Of course I hadn't.  I gave her my website so she could read my blog and Gathering Hope’s website, but no, I never got her name.

I went back and read what I had written to her. Basically every question I brought up in that blog post written last July was answered in this short conversation with this stranger who shared so much more than a Sucky Sisterhood with me. She shared a place of grief with me. We stood on the exact same ground and cried for our sons. We looked at the same building, saw the same people and were shaded by the same tree as our hearts broke for our boys. 

No, I didn't get her name, but I’m pretty sure the story isn’t over.

Overgrown

When Matthew died, we planted a little garden in our backyard that was our memory garden. We planted all the pretty plants that were given to us when he passed (by we, of course I mean Brad because I'm not much for gardening). The soil was prime for growth.  Beauty was planted, but later neglected.  It now stands overgrown and definitely not a place of respite.  

Today, I see the garden in our backyard. It was planted with such good intentions.  It was meant to be a place of beauty and a place for me to go to sit quietly and remember my son. Neglect gave weeds the opportunity to start creeping in, one by one.  They didn't pop up all in one day.  They came in one by one, growing slowly until before we knew it, the entire garden was overtaken by tall grass and I couldn't even see what was supposed to be there and what wasn't.  If only I had spotted the unwanted weed and removed it the moment it crept up, the garden would have never gotten to the state of disrepair it is in today.  

I think I'm like that garden.  Much like I neglected the garden we had planted in order to promote healing for my soul, I neglected feeling the pain I needed to feel in order to heal. The thoughts I hadn't dealt with, the feelings I'd pushed aside, the memories I'd suppressed and the lies I had told myself had grown in like intrusive weeds, choking out my spirit. Had I caught them when I spotted them and realized that they didn't belong, I would have been in a different place in January 2017.  I had grown so accustomed to my darkness, it had become my new normal. I didn't remember any other way.  

The past 9 months have been a season of having the ground I've been standing on be dug up, tilled, fertilized, dug up some more, weeded, plowed, bulldozed and I'm still not sure it's ready to be planted in yet.  It's not been a season of loss or grief or anything bad happening.  It has actually been a beautiful, albeit a sometimes painful time. 

God pretty much needed to start from scratch with me.  Sometimes you see a garden and you think, "Yeah, I can work with that," and other times a garden is in such disarray, there's nothing you can do except scrap it and start over (if left to me, that's what all my flower beds would look like).  There may be some good stuff in there, but it's so covered up by weeds and insects that its best to just start all over.

For the past two or three weeks, I've heard the phrase "You reap what you sow" no less than 30 times. I know that's no coincidence.  I'm paying attention to that and have been trying to figure out exactly what that means to me right now. In that garden, I sowed nothing. I haven't pulled a weed out of it in years.  I don't water it.  I don't plant things in it.  Obviously, I have reaped nothing.  I have nothing of beauty to show for what was generously given to us and what Brad lovingly planted for me because I didn't tend to it properly. 

When I sow in hopelessness and sadness, it is what I reap. It's not much of an offering for anyone around me and definitely not something I would like to give to a loved one. If I sow in joy and hope, I am going to reap a harvest worthy to share with the world. When the thoughts creep in like weeds, threatening to choke out the beauty I've planted and cared for, if I'm paying attention, I can stop it before it has the chance. I see it coming and pluck it out by its roots, disposing of it. Simply cutting it down won't stop it from coming back. I have to stop it at its source. 

As much as I hate gardening and dirty hands, I think I'm going to have to get out there and start cleaning up his garden.  It won't be quick, unfortunately (I like instant gratification) but I know that in order to reap the benefits of a beautiful garden, I have to put in the hard work. I have to sweat and get dirt under my fingernails (things I don't like so much). In doing so, I know life lessons will continue to be learned and deeper understanding will come. 

2010

2010

FullSizeRender.jpg

2017

LIVELY

Last week, as I was preparing to leave town for a writing conference in OKC, it seemed like everything was against me. I had sick kids, was extra busy and overwhelmed by all it took to get our family prepared for me to leave for 5 days. If I hadn't already paid for the conference and hotel I would have opted out and stayed home. I didn't have any excitement about coming, really just confusion as to why I’d signed up in the first place.  I had a feeling either the conference would be terrible or really great due to the forces working against my going.

Up until the moment I was walking to the conference door I was dreading it. Within minutes of being there, I felt a peace I hadn't felt all week. I knew this was the space God had reserved for me for the next three days. The information was invaluable. Each day I learned more than I could imagine and was affirmed daily by people through prophetic words and through the sharing of their stories.

On the second day a girl, who sat at my table that day and had brainstormed titles with me the day before, wrote me a note that she kept envisioning a bouquet of flowers when I told my story of Matthew and Gathering Hope. She said I was adding to that bouquet one flower at a time and that there was something inside of me that was about to bloom. Later that day, another woman at my table told me during a break that she kept seeing a picture in her mind of a bouquet of flowers with the word HOPE spelled out inside the flowers. Neither of them knew what the other had said to me. I texted Peyton to tell her about it and she was in the process of messaging back and forth with a florist to figure out arrangements for Gathering Hope! Crazy.

Last night the conference ended with a service with prophetic words and an anointing for each person. I'll be the first to tell you that prophetic word isn't something that I've experienced much and so I was apprehensive.

Wendy, the leader of the conference, had proven herself throughout the week as a woman deeply connected with God’s voice and I had definitely come to trust her throughout the past 3 days. She had a key for each person with a word written on it. Each word God had given her to write but none were specific for any of us yet. As we felt led, we walked up to her and she prayed over us and gave us our word. Many people had gone before me and many of the words I felt could have applied to me. I had a list in my head of what word I would get since I've felt quite sure of my path lately.

When I finally gathered the nerve to walk up to receive my word, God reminded me that I cannot predict His thoughts and plans. My word was the opposite of what I am. I wasn't excited or impressed by it. My word? LIVELY. Really? That couldn't be my word. I'm a lot of things. Lively isn't one of them. I'd seen person after person go before me and they'd literally laugh when they got their words because it was so obvious that it was God ordained. If I believed their word was straight from God, then I had to believe mine was too.

As she spoke my word over me and others gathered to stand in agreement, slowly I started to understand. She told me that though I do not project sadness, my eyes still wore the sorrow of losing Matthew. She said God showed her a picture of a babbling brook. A lively brook. That brook is inside me but it has been dammed up. They gave me permission to release the brook. By living LIVELY, with joy again, I wasn't dishonoring Matthew. Really by living with that deep rooted sadness, I am dishonoring. It's okay to be happy. It didn't mean that I am forgetting him. I felt released to smile again. “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” - Psalm 126:5

I will find the lively girl inside of me again. She's still there. She's ready to emerge like a babbling brook bringing forth joy and life.

She told me that she saw me in Psalm 23 walking beside still waters and through the valley of the shadow of death, fearing no evil. It would be by walking with other women through that same valley I'd find healing for myself while we seek healing for them.

Though I heard other words that I felt better suited me, I cling to LIVELY as a promise. I will emerge, smiling victoriously.

 

Move On!

Since I lost Matthew, I've heard my share of platitudes which were all well intended.  Very few upset me too much because I knew the heart from which they were spoken.  

"He's in a better place."

"God knows what He's doing."

"I guess God needed him more than you did."

"At least you already have children."

FYI, none of these things are helpful cliches to anyone who has gone through a loss, but I know they weren't said maliciously.  

One person told me they were so glad I was having another boy when I was pregnant with Zane so he could "replace the son I'd lost."  No.  Zane's no replacement.  Still, I know she didn't mean it to be hurtful.  

Only one thing anyone ever told to me truly hurt.  It had been approximately two months since I'd lost my son and I confessed to a friend that I was having a rough day.  Confused, she asked me why.

I told her,  "...because of Matthew."  

The words she said next sent me into a downward spiral that lasted for over six years.

"Carol, at some point you're going to have to move on."  

Move on?  What? It had only been two months.  Was I supposed to have already moved on? Was that a thing? Was I not supposed to be sad anymore? Was I wallowing?  Did people think I was ridiculous?  If people wanted me to move on then dammit, I'd move on. 

I took my feelings about Matthew and pushed them down. I set them aside.  Obviously nobody wanted to hear about my sadness or about my sweet baby boy or my feelings.  I was a burden to the people around me and I couldn't do that anymore.  Time to "move on."  

I quit crying that day.  Sure, I'd talk about him sometimes, but it wasn't in a sad way.  It was in more of a factual way.  On August 29 every year, I'd allow myself to have a pity party.  On that day I would take the little box of Matthew's things off of the shelf in my closet, where I'd neatly pushed him aside, and allow myself to feel sad.  I didn't cry, but I'd look at his tiny hat and his pictures and remember him, alone.  I didn't invite anyone in to share in the moment with me.  I knew from my friend that nobody wanted to be burdened by me.  I would make a post on Facebook about him to remember him but not an overly sad or sappy one.  I didn't want anyone to think I was looking for sympathy.  I thought he deserved the courtesy of being remembered, however.  Acknowledging his existence was the least the world could do.  

This went on for over six years.  I'd talk to a few of my friends, fellow members of the sucky sisterhood, about him from time to time but not through tears.  I started to crave the release of my pent up emotions but nothing would make me cry anymore.  I'd pushed them too far down, built my wall too high and too strong.  

When talking to a friend this year about losing a child to miscarriage, she shared with me that someone had told her to move on just weeks after her loss.  Those words triggered something in me that I hadn't felt in a long time.  I felt angry for her.  

"No! You don't have to move on!" I told her.  "You've lost your child. You have every right to be a mess.  Don't let anyone tell you that you are supposed to move on.  You feel what you need to feel for as long as you need to feel it." 

I realized that those words spoken to me had stunted my healing, setting me back years.  Of course we can't stay in the pit forever, dwelling on our pain and not living life but that's far from what we were doing.  Our grief was new and our pain was fresh.  Expecting us to move on was only for them to feel more comfortable; it wasn't for our benefit.  If they'd truly been looking out for our well being, they would have said, "I'm so sorry you're having a hard time.  It's totally understandable and nobody expects you to be yourself again so soon."

Realizing this set me back on the track to healthy grief.  It started my blogging.  It started my passion for talking to women who are going through loss and making sure that they know that "moving on" is only a ploy for those around them who can't handle the tough emotions we are feeling.  

Yes, we will be able to take steps forward, but we won't be the same.  I'll never move on from losing Matthew because to me, that means leaving him behind, and I won't do that again.  I will carry him with me everywhere I go and I am upset with myself for pushing him aside in order to make one person feel better.  

Maybe it's only semantics but I prefer to say we carry on. We carry them with us, we don't forget them. We remember the love and joy they brought to us.  We remember the sadness we felt without them.  We use that pain to help others who are hurting learn to grieve and how to figure out life without their beloved.  We don't move on and leave behind our memories, our pain and our loved ones.  Not for a minute.  

 

August

Though it has been seven years now since August became my least favorite month, it still gets me down and this year seems worse than usual.  Zane, my rainbow baby, will start Kindergarten on August 28 and on August 29, I'll be remembering Matthew on his birthday, the day we met him and the day we said goodbye to him.  It was the first and last time I saw his tiny little fingers and toes.  It was the first and last time I saw the tiniest, cutest little nose and fingernails I'd ever seen. My mind swirls in a million directions, like a frustrating, devastating, painful tornado causing me confusion, guilt and shame.  

I feel confused as to why I still feel like this after all these years.  I've got so much to be happy about.  It's been seven years since I lost my first son, but August draws me in like a hypnotist and my eyes focus on the terrible, lonely days in 2010.  

I remember this week of the month of August 2010. I knew I should be feeling more movement, but my doctor said it was still early and he was small, not to worry.  

I remember going to see her August 27 for a regular checkup and my nurse checking for his heartbeat. She kept moving it to different places but couldn't find it.  She went to get my doctor and they came in with a sonogram machine.  As Dr. Atkins looked for his heartbeat, I watched her face, willing it to show signs of relief instead of the serious expression she wore.  I never saw it.  She sadly said to me, "It's not good."  My world crumbled around me yet all I could do was sit there, watching the life we had built so joyfully collapse.  I don't remember much except looking at her defiantly, angrily, vehemently opposed to the words she was saying to me.  She told me that I'd have to be put into labor and wait until it took effect.  I begged for a c-section. Nothing could be worse than going through all of the pains of labor to come out without the prize that made it all worthwhile.  No.  No other option was available to me.  I had to deliver my son and give him back the same day.  It was unacceptable. Somehow, I managed to drive myself home from Ft. Worth that day.  

The rest of the weekend, I was in bed, unwilling to talk to anyone. For two days I stayed in bed, praying for a miracle, until it was time to go to L&D early Sunday morning, the 29th. I had to walk into the maternity unit, where happy nurses greeted me, expecting me to say something other than, "I'm here to deliver my dead baby." Why was this a thing?  Why was I required to say that?  Shouldn't there be another way? Nobody should have to do this.  

They gave me my epidural early.  The nurse said there was no reason I should have to be more uncomfortable than I already was.  Still in a blur, I made it through the morning on the prayers of my friends and family who were gathered at church that morning, praying for my family.  I felt their prayers.  As the day went on, though, I began to think I was having a nervous breakdown.  My mind was fighting to hold onto my baby.  It was too soon.  He wasn't ready to come yet.  Only 24 weeks.  I couldn't give up without a fight.  My body was in rebellion.  As I fought his birth, nature fought back.  I ended up shaking hysterically, and felt that this must be what a seizure felt like.  I had no control of my body, try as I might.  I couldn't stop my shaking, I couldn't stop his coming, I couldn't save him. They gave me a sedative or something to calm me down and the second my body stopped fighting, Matthew came into the world, weighing just under one pound and nearly as long as a ruler.  He was utterly perfect.  

We were given no reason as to what had happened to him.  The doctor mentioned he had a knot in his cord, but it could have happened after he'd passed.  No answers.  No resolution.  No hope.  No feelings.  No breath.  No life.  He was gone.  This baby who I had spent the past six months dreaming about was in my arms, but this was not how I'd ever seen the moment playing out.  Perfect yet lifeless.  So much smaller than I'd ever imagined but absolutely perfectly formed.  10 tiny fingers, 10 tiny toes.  So incredibly loved, yet he would never get to experience our love here.  How was I supposed to go on without him?  

I felt guilty that I wasn't able to be the happy mother my girls deserved.  I didn't feel like I was of any use to them.  I wasn't of any use to anyone, but it was my girls that kept me going. Without them, I would have wanted to give up.  I feel guilty still today that I can't be 100% present the week of Zane's birthday because I'm thinking of Matthew's upcoming birthday and I'm flooded with sadness.  I have to put all thoughts of Matthew out of my mind in order to celebrate my 4th child, my second born son, my beautiful reprieve from the constant sadness but I feel guilt about that as well.  How can I push him out of my head?  I'm the only one who truly remembers him or cares, I often feel.  If I don't carry his memory with me every second of every day then he will be nothing but a sad, tiny gravestone that people will flippantly walk by as if he never existed. I'm responsible for carrying on his memory.  How can I tell Zane how he's my "favorite boy" when I know he has a brother who would have been just as wonderful?  How can I tell people I have three children and deny his existence, just to avoid an uncomfortable conversation?  Still I do these things, with a pang of guilt every. single. time. 

Then there's the shame.  I feel it in the judgmental comments I hear others say about me in my head.  They come from the people I love today, the people who knew me then and the people I have yet to meet.  

"Why does she focus so much on the past?"  

"She needs to let it go."  

"She needs to move on."  

"She should be thankful for the children she has."  

These words haunt me daily, though I've rarely heard them.  I've heard them used about people around me who have gone through similar situations.  I've heard people judge them behind their backs and I assume the same things are being said behind mine.  These uncaring words that I've rarely heard spoken TO me, still carry so much shame and power in my life.  They make me want to hide my feelings, to not tell people about him.  I don't want people to think I'm a miserable old hag who just can't "move on" because I'm not.  I have learned to be grateful for the lessons he has taught me and to be able to be a support for other women feeling these same feelings for the first time.  It's a terribly lonely path and knowing you're not alone is a huge relief.  I don't walk around in a constant pity party but with a heart full of compassion and understanding for hurting women.  I don't want anyone's pity but I do want my son's life acknowledged and to mean something to this world.  

So August is a hurricane of emotions for me.  I have immense joy and appreciation for Zane who was born just 359 days after Matthew died.  I have an immense feeling of longing for the son I never got to know.  It's confusing and I don't know how to reconcile it all.  I want to be a grateful, celebrating mom but at the same time, I want to mourn the loss of my baby as I walk through these days again and again in my head.  I feel like I'm just running circles in a room that's too small for me.  I'm banging up against every wall, spinning myself into the next.  I guess that's why I want mostly to crawl into bed and not come out until September.  Too much in my brain is screaming and I just want to silence it with a month long hibernation.  Is that too much to ask?  

 

To The Mom

To the Mom Whose Baby is Buried Just Above Mine;

I've sat at my son's grave and looked past his tiny grave marker in to the freshly laid St. Augustine grass planted atop the mound of loose dirt and wondered who you are.  Do you come here and sit often?  I see all the flowers and toys placed lovingly on his grave and know the pain involved in picking out those symbols of your love and sadness, knowing the destination they are intended for.  I know all too well the anger felt in placing those toys on the tiny stone, knowing that all you want to do is to place that toy in their tiny, curious hands.  I know the feeling of hopelessness as you stand in the cemetery, wondering how you are supposed to leave your baby all alone in the old, dark cemetery.  It's a scary place.  They can't be left alone.  You are supposed to protect them.  You also know these thoughts are ridiculous. They aren't feeling scared or alone... Right? You don't know.  You don't know anything.  I can look at the freshly dug grave and feel all of these emotions all over again and I weep for you.  I am so sorry you have to do this. I am sorry any of us have to feel this pain.  Are you okay?  I wish I knew you.  I wish I could ask you if you have people standing beside you.  

I wonder if you ever look over at Matthew's grave and think about us.  Do you wonder if it will hurt less in six years?  Do you wonder what happened to my son?  Did you pick this particular spot because there was another baby here and you wanted to be able to have another child close by?

I'm sorry you've suffered.  I hope you are okay.  I hope you have support.  I pray peace and comfort for your entire family.  Oh, sweet mama, I wish you weren't walking this road, but now that you are, please don't walk it alone.  

Carol

Calling All Sisters

 Girls, it's time to armor up unfortunately. Yes we've been through hell and back but we have to remember how much we hurt and how much we needed help. We are now called to be that help. Did you have that help? Who was it? Who could you call in the middle of the night if you needed something? If you had that person, you were blessed. If you didn't,  what would that have meant to you to know you weren't alone? 

 For 6 years I sat back when I heard about people who had miscarriages, stillborns, or lost babies. I thought to myself, "How sad. My heart breaks for them. I hope they have someone to connect with like I did."   I would pray for them, which is wonderful, but I think we need to step up. I've decided that if I had to go through this pain, I had better make it count. If I can help other moms who are dealing with this pain, then I can at least try to make something good come from Matthew's death. 

 At first it felt weird to send a stranger a message on Facebook when I heard of their loss. I thought they would think I was crazy, but I chose to be obedient to the calling I had. Sometimes I get no response. Sometimes I get a polite thank you. No one has ever been rude. Several have turned out beautifully and I'm so grateful that I didn't ignore that gut feeling I had to reach out. I'm not an outgoing person at all, but this topic is so close to my heart that I can't sit back and do nothing anymore. I urge you to consider stepping out in faith also.  Share your stories with grieving moms, let them know they aren't alone, and you're available to talk. It doesn't matter that your stories aren't the same. What matters is that you are there for them to talk to when they sorrowfully enter the Sucky Sisterhood.  Don't just reach out once and tell them you're there if they need you. Check in on them. They won't reach out for help. They need you to offer it to them again and again. 

 If we as sisters will stand together and let others know we are here and that we aren't afraid to tell our stories, our voices combined will be heard. We are the 1 in 4 who will suffer from pregnancy loss. Our children deserve a voice and our stories can be told without fear of judgment. We hold our pain inside until we are ready to burst as to not cause discomfort to those around us.   The hurtful comments, the judging glances, the pity, and the uneducated drivel that spills from people's mouths make you want to scream. 

 The Sucky Sisterhood not only needs to join together for each other's sanity, but to educate the other 3/4 of the world who have never experienced this loss. The majority of them truly want to know the right things to say and do for their friends and family. Giving them insight to this would be such a loving gesture for the Sucky Sisters now and the unfortunate, unknowing sisters of the future.  

Are you willing to stand up and fight for your sisters? 

 

Mother's Day Mindset

"How many kids do you have?"   It seems like an easy enough question, but I can't stand the awkwardness it causes me to feel. I hate to make anyone feel uncomfortable by answering honestly, but I also feel that if I don't acknowledge Matthew's life, then I'm not being fair to him either. He doesn't deserve to be forgotten, ignored or betrayed. Pretending he was never born does nothing but make those around us feel better, those who never really cared about us to begin with. 

The first time this really sticks out to me was a couple years after Matthew died, on Mother's Day. We were at church when a well intentioned pastor did the cute game where he had all the moms stand up. 

"If you have more than one child stay standing."  Uh oh. I could see where this was heading. Panic.  

"More than 2?" Still I stood, wondering what I would do in the next question. People who didn't know me well would be confused if I stayed standing after the next question. What IS the correct answer? DO I only have 3 children? Then came the dreaded statement. 

"Stay standing if you have more than 3 children!"  Reluctantly, I made my choice. I denied my son. As I sat, I felt the world close in around me. I looked around to see that only one woman remained standing, only one woman with 4 children. Everyone smiled and cheered for the mother as she was awarded a bouquet of flowers for her hard work of giving birth to 4 children. I wanted to scream that I, too, had four babies. I had not only given birth to 4 babies, but I'd had to say goodbye to one the same day I said hello.  Didn't anyone realize what was happening? Did anyone remember him?  

The tears started to fall. It had nothing to do with the flowers, the smiles or the applause. I didn't care about that.  I couldn't face the fact that I said he never existed in front of God, my family, my church and myself so others wouldn't feel weird. I was angry at myself. I had to leave service. I felt like I had betrayed Matthew. Again. 

Since that, Mother's Day has been anxiety inducing for me. I wonder what cute antics will be pulled at church. Will I have to be faced with that decision again?

Mother's Day is for celebrating moms. It's a day to tell our own mamas how thankful we are for them and for our kids to give us cute little gifts they made at school. I used to like Mother's Day, but now I feel a sense of dread leading up to it. I know I'm so extremely blessed, and I feel guilty even saying those words. I have three amazing kids here to celebrate with. I still have my mom and mother-in-law that I love dearly. I know this, yet there is still an ache in my heart that won't go away.

These are words I've never uttered on any Mother's Day because it seems so silly and selfish, when I'm so obviously fortunate. So many would love to switch places with me, to have children of their own, or to have a chance to see their moms one more time.  I know this. It's not anything I haven't told myself a million times, but part of me wants to just crawl into my bed and stay there for the day. I know it's not fair to the rest of my family, so I don't, but the urge is strong. 

Until this year, I didn't think anyone could understand, so I didn't share. I should be able to move on and not feel like this anymore. It has been six years. I wouldn't want to mention it to anyone.  I don't want to be a downer. It just sucks. You don't feel happy, but you want others to be happy so you suffer in silence.  The alternative? You do what makes you happy and make everyone else upset in the process. No matter what, someone loses. Better just me than every else, so I plaster on a smile, not nearly as convincing as I think I am, and go through the events of the day.  

All of a sudden, this year, I've seen others sharing the same feelings. I've heard mom's like me say the same thing. I feel normal. You mean I'm not a major Debbie Downer?  This year, for the first time, I feel like I can speak out loud what's in my heart, without feeling like I'm being a complete jerk for not just being thankful for what I do have, and I AM thankful. 

I wonder if I will ever have my joy restored. I ctch glimpses. Some days I feel better than ever, other days I think it's just going to take some more time. How much longer?

Psalm 13:1   Lord, how long must I wait? Will you forget me forever? How long will you face away from me?

 

 

Quicksand

I sit here alone so many days,

overflowing with thoughts,

needing to share, but I can't.  

Who would I tell? 

Everyone is so busy.  

Nobody wants to hear me complain.

Everyone else has their own problems.  

They don't need to worry about me.  

Mine aren't really problems.  

More like thoughts flying around

like gnats, multiplying by the minute.

I can't stop them,

I just need some help to get them under control.  

He's too stressed.  

She's too busy. 

Everyone's too overwhelmed.  

While they are busy

buzzing around their own lives, 

I find myself stuck.  

Stuck and sinking quickly

into an all encompassing quicksand.  

The more I fight, the faster I sink, 

until the thought of disappearing  

seems absolutely appealing, 

so I let go of my struggling

and give in to the sadness.  

Why did I fight it for so long? 

I always knew I'd end back down here.   

When I've given up all hope,

I feel a strong hand from above grab mine

and pull me gently back to life, 

yet with the strength of a thousand men.   

He holds me while I gasp for air,

crying, sobbing, panicking.  

He soothes me with whispers of love.  

He reminds me who I am.  

He reminds me who He is.  

I am His daughter, whom He dearly loves.  

He is my Father, my comforter, my redeemeer, my all in all.  

He is my rock, my fortress, my strength, my help in times of trouble.  

I'm never alone.  

I never have been.  

He will never leave me nor forsake me.  

When Matthew was buried, He stood beside me, and held me upright.  

When I needed a friend to walk along side me, He sent the right ones.  

When I carried Zane to term, He celebrated with me. 

When I have these days where I'm sinking and feel alone,  

He reminds me that I'm not, 

that I never have been, 

and I never will be.  

 

Lamentations 3:23- Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.

Psalms 30:5b - Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning. 

Pregnant...Again

My doctor told me I'd have to wait a few months until I could try again to get pregnant. It was excruciating. I couldn't imagine getting to Matthew's due date with empty arms and not being pregnant again. I thought I would fall apart.  

His due date was December 19 and as I was out shopping for Christmas decorations, I decided I needed new stockings for my family. For some reason, my heart told me to buy an extra one because I'd need it. Little did I know I was already pregnant and I would not be remembering Matthew's due date alone. His little brother would be with me. 

My entire pregnancy with Zane was scary. I couldn't relax the entire nine months. I was seen at my doctor as if I was a high risk patient, though I don't think I really was. My doctor was as anxious to get my baby here safely as I was. Maybe not as anxious, but pretty close.  

One day during church, I went into the prayer room and prayed over my baby. I prayed that he would be active and I would never have to worry whether he was okay or not because he would move so much. As I moved over to the open Bible in the corner of the room, it was open to Luke 1:41, "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit."  I laughed out loud at God's sense of humor and felt like my prayers had been heard. I know now for a fact that it was. I know now that I should have been more specific in that prayer. I should have asked that he be active DURING MY PREGNANCY, not his entire life. Matthew had seemed to be pretty chill with his movements, but Zane never, ever stopped moving. He moved in the middle of the night, he moved all day, and to this day, he still never stops moving, especially his mouth!! Oh, God hears my prayers and answers them, of that I have no doubt.  

At 37 weeks, my doctor and I were both very eager to get him here. When my contractions started after an exam, I came back in to Labor and Delivery and she went ahead and admitted me. This was around 6:00 p.m. On August 22, one week before Matthew's first birthday. I labored comfortably with an epidural through the night with headphones and praise music. I prayed, worshiped, and thanked God for this gift He had so sweetly given to me and that I was able to redeem my last birth experience into a sweet, worshipful time instead of a deep, dark sadness.  

At 6:16 a.m., August 23, Zane Kenneth was born weighing 6 lbs, 14 oz, but he wasn't breathing well, so as quickly as I saw him, they took him away to the NICU. It was a scary day of waiting to see if my baby was okay. I could not go home empty handed again. I wouldn't survive. Finally, they let Brad see him. When he came back with pictures of him, I couldn't quit staring at him. He was so perfect. 

Zane spent almost a week in the NICU, but was home just in time for us to celebrate Matthew's first birthday. Brad and I picked the girls up from school and we headed to the cemetery to introduce Zane to his older brother. I felt the need to tell Matthew that Zane was not a replacement, as one well meaning, but insensitive woman had said to me during my pregnancy.  "I'm so glad you're having another boy. He can replace the one you lost!"  All I could do was laugh at her absurd statement. He could and would never be replaced. I would never forget him. Zane did not heal my pain, but he did help me regain a new sense of purpose. Matthew will forever be my first son.  He will always be tiny, beautiful and perfect. 

Zane has helped restore my joy. My laughter has definitely returned thanks to Zane. I have said that Matthew must have given him some of his energy, his personality and his words, because there is no way one little person has that much life inside of him without some help.  

I thank God for the gift of Zane, while considering the bittersweet reality that the two would never coexist if everything had gone according to my plans. That's a hard pill to swallow. I have guilt when I feel so glad to have him because it feels like a betrayal to Matthew. It feels like I'm glad Matthew's gone. When I miss Matthew, does it mean I'm not grateful for Zane? It's hard for me to process. 

A new pregnancy brings a mix of emotions.  It doesn't heal the painful feelings of loss.  When you feel that only another baby will make you feel better, don't be fooled into believing that it will fix your broken heart.  It brings on a whole other wave of emotions.  It does help ease the loneliness.  It does distract from the overwhelming feelings of grief.  It does bring sweet joy to your life again, that you thought you'd never feel again, but it doesn't heal the pain of losing your child.  I'm so thankful for Zane and the blessing he is to me and to our family.  Our family would be incomplete without him.  I know that with Matthew, life would have been completely different, and someday, we will meet him and understand what that would look like.  Someday, God willing, we will be together with Zane and Matthew.  What a glorious reunion that will be.  

To The Ones:

This week has been a week of validation.  It's been a week where I've felt again and again that I'm not writing this blog in vain.  I'm not reliving these painful memories for nothing.  The stories I hear are from moms and dads, from friends who don't know how to help, from families watching their loved ones suffer, but are too afraid to say the wrong things.  I feel like there are some words I need to share with you today.  

To the ones who have miscarried:

Please don't invalidate your loss, or the life of your baby.  Just because you didn't carry your baby to term, have the chance to hold or bury your child, doesn't make your loss any less upsetting.  You have every right to grieve, and you need to allow yourself to do so.  It doesn't matter if you lost your baby at 4 weeks or 40 weeks, you still lost your child.  Don't let anyone tell you how you should or shouldn't feel.  

To the ones who have carried the burden alone:

Please don't feel like you're alone.  Even if your family doesn't understand what you're going through, seek out members of the sucky sisterhood to walk and talk with you.  Find a counselor to speak to.  Carrying this pain alone is too much.  Yes, you're strong, obviously.  You've survived the loss of your child, but that doesn't mean you have to stay strong all the time.  Allow yourself to grieve, and on your time table, not anyone else's.  Talk about your child.  Talk about your loss.  By keeping them to yourself, you're only bringing shame and sadness into your soul, which will drag you low.  Believe me, I know.  

To the ones who are trying to conceive after loss:

I know how devastating it is to watch friend after friend become pregnant while your arms are longing for the child that was taken from you.  It's okay to have those uncomfortable conversations with your friends, and if they are truly friends, they will understand.  If they've never been where you are, it may be hard for them to understand, but they will in time.  Forcing yourself to throw them baby showers and shop tirelessly in Babies R Us through baby registries is cruel to yourself.  

To the one who is a pregnant friend of someone with a recent loss:

Please be sensitive.  There is no need to talk endlessly about your pregnancy, your doctor's visits, your baby name books and for the love of God, don't complain about your aches and pains.  There are a million other women who would give anything to be in your shoes at any given time.  Approach the subject delicately, but don't keep it from your friend either.  Don't try to be secretive and tell everyone but her.  That will only make things more awkward between you two.  Tell her in a sensitive manner, but don't continue to discuss it at length afterwards. Most importantly, don't take it personally if she's having a hard time being excited for you at the moment.  It's not about you, it's about her loss, no matter how long ago she may have experienced it.  There is no time limit on grief. 

To the mom who wants to talk about the baby she lost:

Talk.  We worry about talking about our babies because we don't want to upset anyone.  We don't want to be a Debbie Downer or have others view us dwelling on our sadness. Screw that. If you need to talk, find a safe person to talk to. If you truly don't feel you have anyone, try journaling. Write your feelings. Write a letter to your baby. Don't keep those thoughts, that sadness, your grief inside. Talk about his little chin cleft. Talk about her tiny fingernails. Allow yourself to remember these things or you will risk forgetting them forever. As Brené Brown says, "choose discomfort over resentment." You'd rather risk the discomfort of starting that conversation than resenting the fact that you were never able to talk about them. They deserve the dignity of being remembered as the person they were, no matter how tiny they were, or if you ever saw their face. 

To the ones who tell us to move on: 

Sorry, not sorry, but you can take your opinion elsewhere. There is no right or wrong time table to grief. To you, it may seem like we are grieving too long, or dwelling on things we can't change, but that's not your concern and you urging us to move on is not helpful nor is it kind. We lost our child, a part of ourselves, and we will never recover. The pain becomes less raw, but it will always be with us. We will always have that curiosity in our mind of what would happen if our child had lived. How old would they be? What would they look like? What would they be like? We are not only grieving the loss of a child, but the loss of a dream we had for a different future and no amount of telling us to move on will change that.  Great idea, though.  

To the ones who just want to help:

The best thing you can do is to be present.  Let us talk.  Don't be afraid of the pain, don't run when things get uncomfortable and let the tears fall.  You don't have to hand us a Kleenex the moment you see them.  Let them fall, and let us know we are in a safe place with you.  Listen to our stories and let us know that you remember our baby.  Nothing is more special to me, than when people tell me stories they remember about the time that Matthew was born.  Whether it was about him personally, or about something that happened behind the scenes that I never saw, I cherish these people's memories, because I have so few of my own.  I cling to anything I can hear about my boy because those memories are what keeps him alive.  When the memories are gone, he will be gone as well.  Letting us talk about our feelings and our loss is the sweetest gift you can give us.  You have the ability to be so valuable to us, so don't feel like you have to stay away to avoid weird conversations or not mention their names in order to avoid upsetting us.  It's more upsetting for our pain and loss to be forgotten.

Healing Pain

As I've mentioned before, once I get something in my head that I want to do, it becomes an obsession that won't pass until it's done.  My tattoo for Matthew was one of those obsessions.  I didn't have any other tattoos, but I knew that I needed this to keep him with me for the rest of my life.  He was stamped on my heart and in my head, but I needed a visible memory that would keep him with me daily. I decided on the Mother's Love heart (James Avery design) from a necklace I wore daily and his little footprints on either side of the heart.

I'd watched my share of tattoo shows and I had preconceived notions of what my experience would be like.  I thought my artist and I would bond over my story of my tragedy.  Maybe we'd shed a few tears together.  We'd probably come away from the experience best friends or something.  It seems like that's what happened with Kat Von D on LA Ink, at least.  We'd at least hug it out at the end.  I guess that's not how it really goes, too often.  

I'm not even sure the guy asked me why I chose the tattoo.  He worked in silence while I savored the pain the needle was causing me.  I actually enjoyed the pain, which was confusing to me.  Maybe it was because it was a new pain that I wasn't used to and it took my mind off my constant .  Whatever the reason, it wasn't nearly as bad as I expected it to be.  I could definitely see why people liked to get them. It was a weird, sort of healing pain. I just talked to Brad and my friend Casey while the silent, uninterested, un-LA Ink-like disappointment of a tattoo artist did his thing.   

I loved having his tiny feet so close to me at all times.  I didn't take into account that people would ask me what my tattoo meant, and I'd have to have the uncomfortable conversation with them that my son had died, and those were his little footprints.  I always felt sorry for them as I saw the discomfort I caused them as I answered their question honestly.  It was the first time I realized that this was a subject nobody wanted to really hear about.  Even if I wanted to talk about Matthew, I had a feeling that nobody wanted to hear about it.  It was too sad.  I'd make them uncomfortable.  I'd better just keep it to myself.  He was safe there, with me.  I'd never forget him, even if the rest of the world might.  

The more I speak to others, the more I realize that not speaking about this loss is so common. Women and families suffer in silence. They don't speak of their pain, they don't allow it, they don't feel worthy of owning it. They see other's pain as worse than their own, so they push it aside. They don't want to feel that hurt again, so they stuff it deep down, hoping they won't feel it. They busy themselves so that they can forget (guilty!). We need to let ourselves feel. We need to be here for each other to let others know that it's okay to talk. Please don't walk this alone. You have a sucky sisterhood backing you up. You have people who love you. If you don't feel you have someone, message me if you just need to vent. Please don't walk alone. 

Sucky Sisterhood

I quickly discovered after losing Matthew that I had entered the most sucky sisterhood of all times, but a sisterhood whose worth was immeasurable nonetheless.  

My friends and family all had the best of intentions and everyone was so incredibly appreciated, but the people who had been there where I was, who had loved a baby growing inside of them and grieved for the dreams that would never come true for that child met a need for me during that time that no one else could.  They seemed to know the words to say to give me a moment of clarity.  They could give me hope that I'd come out of this on the other side, when I wasn't so sure it was possible.  They were the ones I could call when I was awake crying in the middle of the night and the house was so quiet.  I felt so alone.  So afraid.  So sad. They didn't mind if I woke them up.  They understood.  

These women have no idea how special they are to me and what a difference they made in my life.  They suggested books and songs that had helped them through.  They gave me words of wisdom, affirmation and love that carried me through my darkest days.  Without them, I don't know what I would have done.  Some of them I didn't even know before I lost Matthew, and they became my lifeline.  I'm forever bonded to them because of the love they showed me.  

Now that I'm on this side of the storm, I  am able to meet women who are going through some of the hardest times of their lives.  I can love them like these women loved me.  I can offer them the same advice, support, recommendations and love that was so generously and unconditionally poured out on me.  I will do it again and again and again, and so will they when they get the opportunity.  They won't do it because they want to.  They will do it because they need to.  They have to.  They yearn to.  They can't sit back and see someone hurting like they were and do nothing.  After walking through it, you know what these women need and don't need and you will do anything in your power to help lessen a perfect stranger's pain, because she is now a part of this Sucky Sisterhood that you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.  

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to my sisters who carried me through the crappiest of days (and nights).  

<3 Jenn, Cory, Leslie, Casey, Stephanie

San Antonio

Before we ever had an idea that Matthew was gone, we had booked a vacation to San Antonio for Labor Day Weekend.  Brad had been traveling five days a week for months and we were desperate for some family time.  When Matthew passed away, I was hesitant to go on the trip.  I was definitely not in a state of mind to go and enjoy myself, but I knew it would be good for the girls to get away and have some fun.  I committed to plaster on a smile and move forward with our plans.

"Do it for the girls.  For Brad.  For our family.  Stop thinking only of yourself," my inner dialogue kept telling me over and over again.  "You've been a depressed mess for a week now. Get up and be the wife and mom you're supposed to be."  So I did.  

Brad had tons of Hyatt points from all of his traveling, so we chose to stay the first night at the Hyatt Regency on the Riverwalk. We'd stayed there several times and enjoyed it, but when we got there this time, the rooms we had reserved were all booked.  Since Brad was a Platinum Member, they upgraded us to the Presidential Suite.  We'd never stayed in a room quite like this.  It was like what you see in movies; a separate bedroom, a dining room, two bathrooms, a living room and a full kitchen.  It was the little things that impressed the girls the most. There was a television in the bathroom and the room had a doorbell.  They just couldn't get over it.  While this place was an amazing gift, my heart couldn't enjoy it like I wanted it to.  The sadness was too great.  It was like I was walking around with a heavy blanket over my head, suffocating me more with every breath I took.

We love going to San Antonio.  We've been more times than I could count.  Usually we are pretty tight with our money and refuse the girls most of what they ask.  This weekend, however, we didn't have the heart to tell them no. We went to the wax museum, Ripley's Believe It Or Not, a horse drawn carriage around the city, ate snow cones, went to the Hard Rock Cafe and generally bought them what they asked for.  It was a new experience for them for sure. I knew they needed to have fun and let loose.  I hadn't been a joy to live with lately, for sure and they were struggling to understand what it meant to lose a brother they'd never met.  My mom guilt was high and I just wanted them to be happy.

In the meantime, I'd never been more miserable in my life.  After delivering a baby only 5 days earlier, my body wasn't up for an entire day of walking through the city.  I was cramping terribly and, to put the cherry on top, my milk came in that weekend.  It never crossed my mind that this would happen.  Nobody warned me or, if they did, it certainly didn't process with me.   How cruel it seemed that not only did I have to leave the hospital without a baby in my arms, I still had a bloated, pregnant looking belly and now the reminder that I should be breastfeeding my son, but too bad, so sad... he's dead.  I was spiraling downward fast, but I didn't want anyone in my family to know because I didn't want to ruin their trip.  I'm sure I was much worse at hiding it than I thought I was, but I didn't want to be a Debbie Downer and rain on their parade.  I'd just smile through the literal pain.  I'd be in pain whether I was home in bed or walking through San Antonio.  

The next day we went to Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa.  It was at least a more relaxing time.  The kids and Brad played in the lazy river most of the time and I sat poolside with a book.  I felt like everyone thought I was pregnant because of my leftover baby belly and I was terrified someone would ask me when I was due.  I kept myself covered up in my swimsuit to avoid the inevitable question.  I didn't want to order a margarita anywhere because I thought I'd get judgmental looks from onlookers thinking I was drinking while I was pregnant.

I'd see pregnant women, babies and mothers everywhere I looked and be filled with jealousy and anger.  Did they have any idea how fortunate they were?  I could just imagine them complaining about being kept up at night or their swollen ankles and I would get angry all over again.  What I wouldn't give to be exhausted from staying up with a screaming baby or swollen from carrying around 30 extra pounds of baby around inside my body.  I heard one mother call out to her toddler and his name was Matthew.  I broke out into sobs in the hotel lobby.  I was a literal mess, as much as I tried to pull myself together for the sake of my family.  It just wasn't possible.  

On the drive home, it hit me.  The only way I was going to heal was to have another baby ASAP.  I knew it was going to become my new obsession.  Nothing else would ease this pain except a healthy baby in my arms.  Though nothing scared me more than going through this pain again, I remembered the promise God had whispered in my ear the day of the funeral, that I'd have a healthy son again one day, and I clung to that promise with every fiber of my being.  It was all that I could think of after we got back home.  Was that promise a figment of my imagination? Even if it was real, it wasn't promised that I wouldn't lose another baby before I had my healthy boy. It was a risk I had to take, because my need for a baby boy in my arms was greater than my fear of losing another one.  I needed him because my heart felt incomplete without my unfulfilled promise.  

Sister's Song

I distinctly remember the joyful rush that morning getting ready to leave for school.  Everything was going much smoother than normal.  We were right on time and mommy had her sonogram that day, so that meant more pictures of my adorable little brother.  

I had always wanted a brother.  My 6 year old sister was fun and all, but brothers were different.  They meant playing sports and play fighting and toy cars - all of which were new to me.  I also loved the idea of having a protector.  When I was being bullied, I always imagined having a brother come save me and beat the snot out of them.  

I guess you can imagine my excitement when I found out I would be getting a younger brother.  I was overjoyed! I always looked forward to days like these where mom and dad would bring home more pictures for me to adore.  The last sonogram, I'd gotten a picture of him that said, "Hayley's baby Brother."

In the middle of class, my teacher got a phone call.  "Hayley, your grandfather is here to pick you up," she said to me, expressionless.  You can imagine my confusion as I walked down the stairs.  It was a normal day.  Mom was supposed to pick me up.  

On the car ride home, I kept asking my grandfather, Papa, if something was wrong.  I could tell by his forced smile and unsettlingly calm demeanor that it was something awful.  

"Is someone in the hospital?" I asked him.

"No."

"Is Gigi okay?"

"Yes."

"Is mommy okay?"

"Yes."

"Is daddy?"

"Yes."

"Is mommy's baby?"

Dead silence.  

"Just talk to your mother when you get home," he finally replied nervously.  

Everything after that is a blur.  A sad, teary, intense blur.  I remember my worst fear being confirmed.  He was gone.  I remember sitting on my mom's bed, digging my fingernails into my arm and then running into my room.  

I do have distinct memories of the pain.  I am usually a very open book emotionally, but that day, nobody was allowed to see me.  I cried so hard, I couldn't breathe.  I screamed so loud, my voice was raspy.  

My perfect, innocent, baby brother was already taken from this world before we'd even gotten a chance to meet him.  It wasn't fair.  The future, the life he could have had, all gone.  

My most profound memory from this time is my mom, however.  I watched a part of her leave that day.  Don't take me wrong.  She was every bit of the strong, caring, beautiful mother she was before, but she began to stay at home more.  She didn't eat as much.  Her bright, glowing smile became just a smile.  I watched her heart break and it was plain to anyone who knew her.

One thing I've noticed of late, however, is that I've begun to see her sparkle return.  As she's starting writing about Matthew she's begun to open up to other people.  She's become social again and to see that difference has been amazing.  I think her speaking his name and telling his story has made him real again.

-Hayley

A Dad's Perspective

The Beginning

I'm over 7 years away from the events, so some of it is a little fuzzy and some of it sticks to walls of my soul and feels as new as the past second.  I remember certain events such as the sonogram where we found out we were FINALLY having a boy.  The months that followed after that are hazier.

I know what I was feeling when we found out the baby that would be Matthew was going to be a boy.  We already had two girls aged 6 and 9 and I was pretty sure I had this girl thing down and even though I always THOUGHT I wanted a boy, the realization that it was going to happen rocked me a bit.  "What's raising a boy like?!"

Sure, I obviously know SOMETHING of what it's like to raise a boy since I WAS a boy and I had a little brother, but being responsible for raising boys was something else entirely.  I remember being suddenly anxious and hopeful and...oddly...distant.  Don't get me wrong, I was excited about the news and seeing my wife glowing with the news that we were having a boy was incredible, but nothing felt right.

I had been traveling for work for the previous few months and I had another 6 to go until I was back home for good, so I pretty much chalked it all up to road weariness, I guess.  I don't know if it's hindsight being 30/50 in this case or if I was really being spiritually prepared for what was about to happen, but I didn't engage like I had for my girls.

We started throwing out names for him and nothing stuck or felt right.  Nothing felt real, as if I was naming a ghost.  Despite my wife's obvious baby belly, it just never seemed to click for me.  Surely it was fatigue, right?

The News

I had a break in my travel schedule where I stayed in town for the entire week. Serendipitously we had a doctor's appointment that week to check on the boy's progress. That morning at work, my coworkers and I had filled up my whiteboard with potential names. The Minnesota Vikings fan proposed Ragnar.  The Will Ferrell fans proposed Brick, Ron, Baxter, Champ Kind, etc.  They were flowing pretty well and we were having a really great time with all of it.

The appointment was over my lunch break, so I hopped in the car to meet Carol across town. Nothing ominous or untoward occurred...it was a normal trip to the lady doctor so I was preparing for the general uneasiness I always felt in that office because dudes weren't supposed to be there.  We waited our traditional 20 minutes in the waiting room and finally went back...as always.

The nurse asked us how things were going...as always.

Carol was prepared for the fetal heartbeat...as always.

The nurse moved the wand around her stomach, making small talk...as always.

She smiled cheerfully and bantered as she listened for our little boy's heartbeat...as always.

Upon finding none, her smile broke into silent concern...NOT as always.

It was kind of weird.  I was pretty sure I was hearing the same whooshes and whirs I always heard, but she knew the one thing she was NOT hearing.  She kept searching for another minute, obviously hoping her worst fear for us wasn't happening.

As the nurse hurriedly left to get the doctor, Carol looked at me panic stricken.

“What’s going on?!  Is something wrong?!  Did you hear him?!”

I’m not sure what I said because I was in shock.  In fight or flight situations I tend to turn into Fred Flintstone where my feet move at a thousand miles an hour and I go nowhere.  My mind was spinning.  Surely there was some mistake and the doctor will fix this and we’ll go home with smiles on our faces…as always.

The doctor and nurse charged in within moments with a sonogram machine…their panic only being matched by Carol’s.  The doctor deftly maneuvered the sonogram machine to find the elusive heartbeat.  Her frantic movements slowing with each pass until her shoulders slumped and she mumbled, “It’s not good…I’m so sorry…”

I’m not exactly sure what happened in the next couple of hours.  It was all a blur.  Carol and I had taken separate cars to the doctor because it was going to be routine and I was going back to work and now we took our treks home alone.

What’s Next?

I think I’m supposed to be writing this to give some perspective on what it feels like to go through this from the male perspective.  The thing is, at this point I don’t have anything to add of value compared to what I know Carol went through.  I’m ashamed to even write about it because for the interval between when we got the news and we went to the hospital for the delivery I was sad, but I wasn’t wrecked.  My beautiful wife was completely and utterly devastated, as she should be, and what I think bothered me the most was that I was able handle it.

I shouldn’t be able to handle it.

It is at this point that as I write I feel absolutely terrible about myself and I will regret my behavior until my dying day.  Now, I didn’t make the mortal mistake of telling Carol she should get over it or anything, but I WAS able to act as if life was going on and we’d be OK.  You might read this and say that everything DID go on and we ARE OK, but I don’t think that’s what my wife needed at that moment.  I think she really needed me to understand that our lives had completely changed in an instant…and I didn’t.

Now that I’ve had some time away from it and age/experience has set in, I see where I should have been and how I should have acted.

I don’t know if God was preparing me for this or if I’m a cynical wreck, but as I said earlier, I never got attached to him the way I had for our daughters.  We finally settled on his name a day before he was delivered and neither of us could figure out where his name came from or why we picked it.  That’s just where we landed.  Matthew Lee.

I think in general, for men the baby is somehow unreal until they are born.  There’s a distance between us because, unlike the mother, we don’t REALLY feel the baby until they’ve seen the bright lights of a delivery room.  Mothers are tethered to the baby from moment one while fathers wait a while.

I understand all of this, and I’m considered to be pretty sensitive for a caveman, but I wasn’t really prepared for what all of this truly meant.  I wasn’t ready to comfort my wife and I wasn’t ready for the changes this would mean for us.

The Day

From the jump I have to start by saying this…my family is extremely close-knit and we greatly enjoy each other’s company.  I know, this is a weird way to start under this heading.

I don’t remember the day Matthew was born in anything resembling detail.  I know mine and Carol’s families were around.  We talked and bantered for hours while we waited for the Pitocin to do its job.

When I look back on it, all I can see is me standing off to the side while my wife suffered alone.  We’d hold her hand and kiss her forehead, but she was locked into the horror of the moment and I couldn’t be there.  She had already been at one with this baby boy for 24 weeks and it was all for naught.  She was lying in the maternity ward knowing that she was not leaving with a baby.  The only thing I remember vividly from that day was the pain she was processing was written all over her face and no hugs or words could fix any of it.

As for me, I talked with my family and tried to lose focus on what was going on.  To me it was coping (because I deal poorly with stress) while to my wife I was cutting up while she was dying.  In this situation, I failed to grasp the fact that my discomfort with the stress didn’t really matter.  What mattered was that my wife needed to NOT go through this tragedy on her own.  If only I had understood that reality in the moment I would have saved myself years of self-flagellation and my wife years of resentment toward me.

Several hours into the process, our precious Matthew was born in the most disjointed, uncomfortable way possible.  We were all sitting around talking when a nurse asked our family to leave.  Almost as soon as they left, Matthew was born.  That was the moment.  It was over.  No doctors watching over us, no nurses rushing around; just cold loneliness and confusion.

Our friend and pastor, Tim, had come to check on us a few minutes before and it was a true blessing to have him there to be with us in this hour of need.  He baptized little Matthew and prayed over us all.  Despite being only 11” long and weighing less than a pound, Matthew looked perfect.  The entire situation was incredibly surreal.  We held our boy and cried and made decisions on what to do next that we were woefully unprepared to make.

The Funeral

Funeral and burial costs are overwhelming.  They are especially so when you are nowhere near the vicinity of considering burying your stillborn child.  It was overwhelming and I fretted about this aspect for a couple of days.  We met with the funeral directors (with whom we had unfortunately become well acquainted over the previous year after I lost my father and two grandparents within a 3 month period) to pick out the tiniest casket I’ve ever seen.  We chose a burial plot and I just tried to put the money aspect out of my head.

The day of the funeral, our church secretary gave Carol an envelope.  The church had taken up a collection for us and between that and the funeral home donating Matthew’s casket, all of the funeral expenses were paid.  God is good.

Matthew rests peacefully a few feet from my father.

-Brad

 

The Funeral

The days that followed were a blur.  The hospital gave me the little crocheted blanket that Matthew was wrapped up in.  They also gave me his tiny little hat.  Both smelled like him.  I carried the blanket with me in my purse everywhere I went.  I slept with it at night.  I wouldn't go anywhere without it.  When I lay in bed and no one was looking, I would hold it up to my face, close my eyes and breathe in his scent, pretending he was there.  I vowed I would never forget that smell.  I have broken that vow.

The morning of his funeral, I was in a fog.  I was going through the motions, but I wasn't present.  The girls had written letters to Matthew that they wanted to leave in his casket.  We stopped by the church to make copies of the letters so that we could always have them to remember, which I'm so glad we did.  As we got out of the car at church, I realized, just hours before the funeral, that I had no shoes.  I'd left the house, with no plans to return home for the day, without shoes.  I remember looking down at my bare feet in the church office and it hit me as clear as day that I needed a tattoo to commemorate my baby boy. I didn't know what my tattoo should be, but I knew that day that I needed him to be a part of my body permanently.  

Matthew had weighed only 11 oz.  There were no clothes that I knew of that fit a baby that size, and I was in no mindset to find clothes that would fit him.  Still, I became overwhelmed with the idea that Matthew was going to be cold and so small in that dark box, all alone.  I tend to obsess over details that I can control when my life is spiraling, yet I was so depressed I couldn't remember to put on shoes for my own child's funeral, much less make a decision about what Matthew should wear. Thankfully, my mom, my rock, stepped in to make the decisions I couldn't.  She bought him a soft blue blanket to swaddle him in.  It was far too big for his little body, so she cut it in half, and gave me the other half to keep.  Another connection I had to my boy, which I added to my small collection of memories.  

Brad and I dropped off the letters, the blankets and a little angel bear at the funeral home but we still had a little while before the funeral.  My parents had been building a new home very close to the funeral home, so we decided to go walk through the house and see their progress.  Brad was on one side of the house and I was on another side as I felt a peace pour over me and I heard God's words whisper to my soul.  "You will have another son.  He will be healthy and you won't have complications."  It wasn't an audible voice.  It wasn't someone telling me this.  It was a feeling.  I wasn't praying at the time.  I wasn't asking for another baby.  I wasn't even contemplating another pregnancy.  I didn't know what to do with this information.  I knew I didn't imagine it, but I didn't share it either, not even with Brad.  I just filed it in my "things to ponder" part of my brain, a little disturbed that before I had even buried Matthew, thoughts of another baby were in my head.  I didn't want to ever go through this pain again.  

The service was perfect.  The funeral director made a comment that most services that occur at the cemetery only are very sparsely attended and he was surprised at how many people attended.  I wasn't surprised.  Though it was September 1 in Texas, in the middle of a school/work day, our friends and family showed up for us.  It was basically a standing only service since it was at the cemetery, except for a few chairs in the front for family.  Front and center sat my baby boy's tiny casket.  I think it was hardest for most people, seeing the tiny casket sitting there.  Unlimited,  untapped earthly potential squelched by a tiny eternal box.  It all seemed so unfair.  

Our pastor gave him a beautiful service.  It was the fifth family funeral we'd sat through in the past 18 months.  This was the worst of them all for me, yet as we listened to the music, by Steven Curtis Chapman, I prayed that my friends who were there would hear the message and the music and receive some healing.

After the funeral and after the lunch that our church family provided for us, as we were heading home, it started to rain.  It poured rain.   I loved this because it had rained at Brad's dad's funeral and his grandfather's funeral, so it felt like a good sign.  As we got home, the most beautiful rainbow I'd ever seen stretched across the sky.  I felt like God was reassuring me that my boy was okay, he was safe, and He had him in His arms.  Though I couldn't hold my baby again this side of heaven, I knew that he was in the best hands.  He was in the hands of the one who created him and loved him more than I could dream of.  What a wonderful meeting we would have one day when I cross over into heaven and see that sweet boy waiting to hug my neck.  

https://youtu.be/JmyUgsmCzB4  

August 29, 2010

I woke up early Sunday morning and knew it was the day I had been dreading.  We loaded up and headed to the hospital.  Just as if I was having a normal delivery, I sat in the L&D check in and filled in the paperwork.  I watched expectant mothers pace the floors anxious to meet their new babies.  I heard newborns cry and knew I'd never hear mine have that same privilege.  I was pissed off to say the least.  This wasn't fair.  Why were they making me do this? I didn't want to be here.   

It seems I got an epidural pretty early on in the day.  They said there was no reason for me to be in more pain than I already was.  I asked them to give me something to knock me out so I could sleep through the whole entire day, but they said they couldn't do that.  

Once I wasn't hurting as much, I had a few hours of peace.  It was definitely a supernatural peace.  I found myself singing the lyrics to the song "All Things Are Possible" over and over again.  "I am pressed but not crushed, persecuted not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed.  I am blessed beyond this curse for this promise will endure, His joy is gonna be my strength."  I know without a doubt that the prayers of my church family were carrying me through.  Church service was going on at that time, and I was later told that one dear friend had made a pin or something for people to wear to remember to pray for us.  The prayers worked for most of the day.  I was much calmer and at peace than I should have been.  

As the day wore on, and he came closer to coming, my nerves started getting the better of me. I started to shake uncontrollably.  My hands, my face, my legs wouldn't stop shaking.  I was crying and had no control of my body.  I was acutely aware of everyone around me.  I could hear everyone's conversations.  I couldn't understand why they were able to talk and laugh and carry on with their lives while my life seemed to be falling apart.  My baby would never have a life at all, yet they could laugh.  I almost felt like I was having a seizure I was shaking so badly, but the nurses didn't seem too concerned.  

I remember my friend and pastor, Tim, put his hands on my hands and started to pray silently over me.  As he did so, all the shaking stopped and I was able to calm down and fell asleep for a few minutes.  When I fell asleep, everyone left my room, except Brad.  Within minutes of everyone leaving, Matthew was born.  

In the stillness.  In the quiet.  In the moment of peace, Matthew, my peaceful, quiet, still baby came into the world.  

When the nurse came back in and cleaned him up, she handed him to me.  He was so tiny.  He was so perfectly formed.  I will never forget his little tiny fingernails and his little tiny nose.  Absolutely perfect.  The family who was still there took turns holding him and Tim offered to baptize him.  We all cried and said our goodbyes.  

I'm so glad they had the chance to see him.  I'm glad people thought to take pictures of him.  I didn't think I'd want them, but I'm glad to have them now.  People seeing him and having the pictures help make him real to others, not just to me.  That's what I need.  I need him to exist outside of me.  I need others to know him.  I need others to remember him.  If they don't, I feel like his life never mattered, and that I can't deal with.  I  have to find purpose for living through that ordeal.  

I guess that's what I'm doing here.  If someone can read this and feel like someone understands what they're going through, that helps.  If someone reaches out to me to talk or asks for my prayers, it helps.  I want to be able to feel like I was able to go through this for a reason, or else I can't make any sense of it at all.  

If you've gone through anything similar or know someone who has and you need to vent, tell your story, ask advice or anything else, don't hesitate to message me.  

write your story

It's been nearly 7 years now (wow!) since we lost our baby boy.  It's taken this long for me to finally feel the freedom and boldness to speak his name without a little bit of hesitancy.  I always felt a little embarrassed to talk about it because I don't want to make the person I'm talking to feel uncomfortable.  I don't want people to think I'm dwelling on the past.  I don't want people to feel sorry for me.  I don't want to have to go into the whole story.  I don't want them to feel like they have to listen to my whole story and awkwardly listen.  By not being awkward about talking about him, people don't feel awkward about hearing about him, I've found.  

Telling his story isn't about feeling sorry for myself or dwelling on the past, it's about freeing myself from those chains that have been holding me back.  If you haven't started sharing your story, I invite you to start here.  We have a "Your Story" link on the page where you're invited to write your story.  It's therapeutic to just write your story down.  If you want to submit it for someone to read, I'd be incredibly honored to read  your story as you follow along with mine.  If you want to take it a step further, you can click the permission to publish box, and I can share your story on my page, for others going through similar situations to know they aren't alone.  

When my nephew was diagnosed with a Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia in 2000, we read story after story after story of people going through similar situations.  It helped to see that others had survived the scary situation we were going through and came out the other side. Telling Matthew's story helps me feel like he had a purpose, and that he did exist.  It gives his life a voice, and helps me to feel like he won't be forgotten.  That's good for my soul and I hope to be able to help you find a safe place to tell your story, too. 

FullSizeRender.jpg