Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Your Due Date, Two Years Later

December 16th, the day you were supposed to be born. Two years later. Your ashes sit on a shelf in our house, flanked by stars and dragons, flowers and candles. Oh my dear girl, how I long for you to be here with us, asleep under this roof with your brothers, with your parents who miss you so much. Two years ago, we gathered by the ocean with our closest family and friends and said goodbye to you, tossing flowers onto the outgoing tide. Tonight we sit inside, burn candles, are quiet. I miss you, I miss you, I miss you, my tiny love, my clear bright star.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Service of Remembrance

Today was the annual Service of Remembrance at the hospital where Chiara was born. The nurses and staff put together a lovely service for families who lost babies. There are readings of poems, musical interludes, the reading of all the names, and a time for parents to speak. This was the third year we attended. We brought our boys and sat with another family we met last year. The mom and I made a special connection and we've kept in touch. Her friendship has become very important to me. Being there together made the event far less sad than it has been in the past.

Today I had planned to read a poem during the parents segment of the program, but I chickened out. I read the poem in the car on the way there and I just cried. I didn't have the courage to get up today. Here's the poem I was planning to read:

The Sitting Time
by Joe Digman

Don’t listen to the foolish unbelievers
who say forget.
Take up your armful of roses and
remember them
the flower and the fragrance.
When you go home to do your sitting
in the corner by the clock
and sip your rosethorn tea
It will warm your face and fingers
and burn the bottom of your belly.
But as her gone-ness piles in white,
crystal drifts,
It will be the blossom of her moment
the warmth on your belly,
the tiny fingers unfolding,
the new face you’ve always known,
That has changed you.
Take her moment, and hold it
As every mother does.
She will always beyour daughter
And when the sitting is done you’ll find
bitter grief could never 
poison the sweetness of her time.


Oh, my sweet love, my only daughter, I cherish your short time with me. I miss you so.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

On the Road Again

In April 2012 I traveled to Namibia with a pregnancy test and a package of maxi pads in my suitcase. I wasn't sure which I would be needing, but I was prepared either way. On Easter, I peed on the stick in a camping area toilet at Etosha National Park. The test was positive. You were on your way, cells dividing as I rode around the park watching wildlife. I texted a cryptic message home to your dad. I wrote a postcard to him with a cheetah cub on the front. A new cub was coming.

Here I am, back on the continent where I was traveling when I first learned you were coming. Over two years later, and this time in northern Africa. There have been many tears on this trip. As I got reacquainted with my solo-traveling self, I remembered who I was, who I used to be. I've also had to admit that I've changed since your death, your birth, and these two years of grief. I won't run through all the differences, but overall, I am less happy out here in the world alone these days. I want my tribe surrounding me. I crave the blessed, exhausting chaos of my life at home over the time to think and reflect, the opportunity to observe the world. I'm counting the days until I get home and I will think carefully about leaving my nest voluntarily again anytime soon. I wonder if this would be true anyway. I wonder how much of this is growing fully into my motherhood, and how much is motherhood after loss. I don't suppose I'll ever know.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Place for My Sorrow

I'm honored to be guest writing at Glow in the Woods today. Glow has been a refuge for me throughout the past two years since we lost Chiara. I still visit there weekly at least, sometimes daily. I find strength from the community there, feel understood, feel so much less lonely in my grief when I read the posts of others and get involved in the conversation. It's a place I've made friends who have been very important to me in my loss journey.

Thank you to Burning Eye, to all the contributing writers, to all those that post and circle around the campfire there. I am so grateful for the space that you have created and that you continue to hold for all of us to remember our babies. I remember your babies with you.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

From your Dad, on your second birthday

I asked my husband to write out his account of losing Chiara two years ago. I wanted to confirm my version of events, see what might be different, and wanted to be sure not to lose a single detail of our time with her. It was very hard for him to write her story. He carried a notebook in his bag for two years, to and from work, on vacation, every day, but he just couldn't write it down. Last week, on Chiara's second birthday, he furnished this poem he wrote, describing her birth. It brings tears every time I read it, but it's so beautiful, and it captures the moment perfectly.

Thank you, my Love. We'll forever share this memory of our dear daughter. It is my saddest moment, and while I would prefer instead that we welcomed her living and breathing and full of the promise of a beautiful life ahead, I am so grateful to have shared the sacred moments of her birth with you, to have made her with you, parented her with you (however briefly), and to mourn her with you. It is a privilege. Thank you for the gift of this poem.

Chiara's Birth

Surrounded and yet
never more alone in our pain and fear
on the day we met you
and said goodbye.
From your hidden ocean world into ours
you came, like a human heart laid bare
but without vital rhythm
without a sound
without a breath
without the invisible orbiting hopes and dreams
projected onto children as a promise of our chance to touch the future.
Yours was only the present.
As we held your hands and rocked
and cried
and clutched at our chance to hold you and be with you as your parents.
Still, your birthday.
Forever after a day we will honor our loss
as it is all we still have.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Your Birthday- Two Years

Here we are. Your day, two years later. We call it your birthday, and indeed you were born on this day, the only child I delivered naturally. Born sleeping, some say. Born dead is too hard, too harsh. Born still. Stillborn. Still born.

We waited in the hospital for you to come. I was terrified. What would you look like? What would we do when you came? Would it be physically painful? You came, and there was some pain. And there you were, a tiny, fully-formed baby girl, just so small. Perfect hands, perfect feet. We looked at you together, examined you closely. Held you, sang to you, took pictures of you, kept you with us overnight. You were not beautiful. That is terrible to say, but it is the truth. What is also true is that it did not matter how you looked. It did not matter at all. You were our darling baby girl and our hearts were broken.

I don’t know how we survived those moments, or any of the time since.  I know that before we lost you, I had contemplated the death of a baby and thought that it would be impossible to survive. How is it that you are not so broken that you can never be repaired? How do you get up from the couch? Get out from under the blanket? How do you stop the giant tears, quell the voice that repeats, “dead baby, my baby, my baby, my baby…”.

Two years later, I cannot say exactly how we got here. If you saw us out at a restaurant, or walking down the street, you would not know what we’ve been through. You would not see any of the brokenness. We look normal (whatever that is). We look happy. And we are. There is so much happiness, so much joy. Your big and little brothers make every day an adventure and even when I am tired, or exasperated, I try to remember how lucky we are. We are so lucky. How can it be that we lost you, that we ache for you, and yet still feel lucky? Every time I feel it, I want to spit. Lucky? In some ways, yes. In a very big way, no. But maybe that is how we get better: one foot in front of the other and move forward, visit the therapist, the acupuncturist, the support group, the walk to remember, do the dishes, do the laundry, feed the dogs, feed the kids, vacuum, plant flowers, shovel snow, shop for groceries, go to work, exercise, read the blogs, write the blog, sleep, cry, yell, scream, repeat. Repeat over and over and time passes. One year. Now two.

Your baby girl is still gone. She is a memory, kept in a corner of your house, guarded by dragons, stars hung close by, candles, flowers in a little vase. She is a part of your every day, and she is not. Here, and not. Lucky, and not.

I miss you so much, my sweet baby girl. Your Mama, Daddy, and brothers all miss you so. You will never be forgotten.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Taking You on Vacation

We’d been packing for two days to leave on vacation. This sounds extreme, but we’re essentially camping. We have to pack everything in and out: food, water, clothes, books, lantern fuel, solar charger, kids, their stuff, life jackets, water toys, dogs, dog food, everything. The cars were packed, banana bread baked, plants watered, fridge cleared out, and I was crossing the last items off the to-do list and the to-pack list. I wandered into the bedroom and saw your blanket, your box, on their shelves next to the bed, and I dissolved into tears: the wet, sobby, moany kind. Two years ago at this time I was likely doing the same things, making the same lists. This was in a different house, in a different town, with you growing in my belly.  At that point we knew something might be wrong with you, but not what. We feared we might lose you, feared for your safety, but still believed you would make it. We were doing all we could do: wait to see how you were growing, wait for more information. So we went on vacation, as planned.

Two years later, we have moved house, moved towns, had a new baby, your little brother. You are no longer inside me, but in a tiny bag, on a little shelf, in the northeast corner of our house. There are dragons placed there to protect you, stars to honor you, and flowers to show our love. It is not much for a beloved daughter, but what can we do for you now, but remember and love you? As I packed to leave you were on my mind, and now that it is time to go, I cannot leave you. We are all going: your big and little brothers, your Dad, our dogs, everyone is leaving this house and I cannot leave you alone here. So, I take you out of your urn, put your little bag of ashes into a pink silk bag that used to hold jewelry, put in a red leather heart from your shrine, tuck it all in a zippered make-up bag, and put you in my purse. You’re coming with us.

I see your Dad in the kitchen and collapse into him, “ I couldn’t leave her here. She’s coming with us.” And so you are with us. First on a last trip to the grocery store, then in the boat across to the island, and now on my dresser here. My mind tells me this is a little weird. My heart is simply glad to have what’s left of you close, glad to have us all together in the only way possible for now.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

So I have this scar…

It is at the base of my left leg, down near my ankle, right in the front of my leg. It is raised and red. It looks like a bug bite that hardened, and stayed put rather than fading away.

This scar came around at the same time I lost my daughter two years ago. Inside me, her placenta was clotting. Her cord was twisting. The Wharton’s jelly around her cord was melting away. The blood vessels that made up her web of life support were clumping together and they weren’t getting her any of the things she needed: oxygen, nutrients, blood, the juice of life itself.

While this was happening inside me, the scar was forming on the outside. A scratch from nowhere grew a thick, fibrous cover and refused to heal. It remained inflamed. It stayed a big bump. I have had two caesarian sections and my abdominal scar is not as raised or hard as this bump on my lower leg/upper ankle. As we went through ultrasound after ultrasound trying to learn why our dear girl was not growing as she should, this scar got more and more apparent, harder and harder.

Nearly two years later, it is still present. I sit and contemplate a midsummer evening, my feet up in front of me.  I stare at it, my constant companion since my daughter’s death, my reminder that my body was not OK, was not functioning as it should. I have no proof that this scar and my daughter’s death are connected, but I cannot let go of the notion.  Every time I see it, run my fingers over it, I am reminded of my body’s failure. Of how it failed her.

In 30 days we celebrate (?) Chiara’s stillbirthday. 30 days of remembering that terrible time two years ago, all the fear and anguish of the bad news piling up around us. This weekend, I had my toes painted pink to start this month off. Pink for my girl. Tonight the sky is pink, too. Already darker than just a few weeks ago at this time. It’s the thick of summer, but my heart is heavy. Strange to grieve at this time when the world is so lush with life.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sobbing on the Plane

Since you left I’ve become a public crier. The first months after you died I walked every morning in the dark, in snow, in rain, whatever. I walked as fast as I could and sobbed and I listened to music. I walked through my neighborhood and on trails near my house. I cried out. I was not quiet. I cried in the car, on the way to work, sitting in the parking lot at work, at the gym, in my office, with the door closed, on my way to my car each night with sunglasses on, at the grocery store, in airports and on planes, and pretty much anywhere. I would talk to myself, talk to you. I really did not care who saw me or what they thought. 

This has continued. 22 months later, I walk a different neighborhood, I drive a different car, planes take me to different places, and still I cry. Not so much as in the beginning, but still with force and consistency. At this moment I am sitting in the back of a plane, in the very last row of the plane. I am the only one in the row. I am thinking of you and I am overcome. I am sobbing on the plane. I do not care who can see me. The jets drown out my noise. The flight attendant offering beverages gives me extra napkins to wipe my tears. She makes a sympathetic face. I am grateful. I am still crying, but I am grateful. Grateful for the napkins, for her kindness, for the empty seats beside me, for the loud jet engines, for the memories of you. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Visit with Chiara

Suzanne Pullen led a visualization exercise during the memorial service at the end of the Stillbirth Summit 2014. She asked us to close our eyes, focus on our breathing, and then imagine a place we love, where we feel safe, and to go to that place in our minds. She encouraged us to look around and to notice what we see there. I found myself on Star Island in the Isles of Shoals, a retreat center that is important to my family. I saw myself getting off the boat on a gorgeous summer day, walking down the pier, heading towards the lawn. As I reached the lawn, I saw a little girl. It must be Chiara, but she was older than her 22 months. She could walk, she could talk. She was wearing a white dress, and she was barefoot. She grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the gentle green slope. “Mommy, mommy, come see, come see,” she laughed and ran ahead. I followed, my heart swelling with pride and love seeing this vision of my daughter. I chased up the hill after her. The hill was backlit by the sun. She got there before me, and kept saying, “Come see, Mommy, come see,” As I got closer, I could see her standing there with other people. My Dad, 12 years gone, was there, waving. My Nana, now gone 9 years, was there, too, she was also smiling, waving. Chiara was bouncing up and down, saying, “I’m OK Mommy, I’m OK”. She was waving to me, smiling, laughing. It became clear that I could not reach her. I told her so, told her I had to go, told her I loved her so much and that I’d come visit again and someday I’d come back to be with her for good. I couldn’t reach her, but I imagined holding her close, kissing her face all over, squeezing her tight. I could feel her in my arms, sense her skin under my lips. I told her over and over again how much I loved her. I tuned and walk down the green slope, toward the boat waiting to take me back. She continued to wave, and I could hear her voice telling me, “I’m OK, Mommy, I’m OK!”. She was flanked by my Dad and Nana, who were still waving. There were others standing in the light that I could not see, but I had the overwhelming sense that they were all OK, there was a profound feeling of love, and also an understanding that I could not remain with them, but that they would wait for me.

I have never had this kind of experience before, although I have tried to make myself open to them. I have tried to fall asleep with the intention of dreaming of my baby girl, tried to will this kind of interaction, but I have never received this gift before. I do not know what to make of it. I don’t know if what I saw was a beautiful movie created by my mind, or if I somehow did get a glimpse of my daughter, my Dad, my Nana. I don’t think I will ever be certain, but I am so incredibly grateful for this experience. I will relive it over and over, and I hope to be transported back there someday. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Stillbirth Summit 2014

All the stars for our beloved babies, hanging in the lobby of the conference venue. A beautiful reminder of why we were gathered together.

I am returning home from the Stillbirth Summit 2014. I traveled to Minnesota to participate in the final day of sessions, geared towards parental bereavement. I hated to miss the medical sessions the first two days, but I’d already made a professional commitment by the time I learned of the summit. So, I left home for Denver, CO on Thursday, presented at a conference in Denver on Friday, and then flew to MN Friday night. I got in very late and didn’t sleep well. I woke in the morning with enough time to pump milk for my 1-year old, shower, and head out. I sobbed in the shower that morning like I did back in the early days after we lost Chiara. I was nervous and excited to attend, to meet other parents, to hear the presentations and spend a day focused on learning more about stillbirth and strategies to reduce its occurrence and to support bereaved families.

The conference was excellent. I deeply regret not being there for the entire event. Coming late to any event means missing out on the forming of the community that starts at the beginning. I felt a little like an outsider throughout the day I attended, having not had time to meet people over the first two days. If I am able to attend again (they are already planning for 2017!), I will try to be there the entire time.

Throughout the day, there were 10 different sessions, with topics ranging from participatory research (thanks, Still Life Canada!), to the benefits of exercise for bereaved mothers, to an excellent (albeit too short) writing workshop, to research on bereaved grandparents and siblings, and more. Each session was introduced by a bereaved family member, in honor of their baby/babies. This was very grounding and meaningful, a powerful way to incorporate the dear children that the conference is all about.

I found myself in tears throughout the day, and tried hard to breathe deeply and maintain composure. It was impossible. I know I wasn’t the only person who broke down throughout the day, but I was very surprised at how affected I was. At 22 months out, I do not cry every day anymore. The opportunity to be present with other grieving parents, to be visible as the parent of a child who was stillborn, was pretty overwhelming. At lunch, I was talking with some other participants and one asked me if I was a parent or a practitioner. I stumbled for a moment, “I’m parent, a bereaved parent”. This is just not a hat I get to wear in public very often. I think even my closest friends and family forget this part of my identity these days. To get to be visible as Chiara’s Mom for an entire day was a gift.

I left the conference at the memorial service and drove back to my hotel, sobbing all the way home. I pumped my milk for my rainbow babe. I sobbed some more. I went to bed. I have a checklist of things I want to do when I return home, from talking with my own Mom about Chiara, to calling my legislators about supporting bereavement leave as part of FMLA, to trying to connect with others who are working on legislation to improve services to families after a baby is stillborn, and to improve data collection on the incidence and causes of stillbirth. I am so glad that I attended the Stillbirth Summit 2014. I plan to seek out other opportunities to connect with other bereaved parents, work to advance research to prevent future stillbirths, and to increase awareness of stillbirth. In this way, I will continue to parent the memory of my daughter, my precious girl. Thank you to the Star Legacy Foundation, and all of the staff, board, researchers, practitioners, parents, grandparents, and everyone else who made this important event happen. I'm already looking forward to 2017!

The altar at the Memorial Service end of the Summit