Monday, December 31, 2012

December 31, 2012


It's amazing the difference a year can make - the difference that a year has made.

At this time last year, I'd barely begun to grieve. The new year loomed, and I hated it. I hated the idea of leaving the only year in all of past and future history that my daughter would ever be alive on this earth for. Leaving the year that I've come to think of as her year felt wrong.

But of course all my kicking and screaming could not stop the calendar from rolling over to 2012. And while I dreaded the passing of days that brought me farther and farther from Eve's life, this year has proven to be a blessing.

2012 brought me so much. It brought me our son, our rainbow baby whose sweet, silly smiles I cannot get enough of. It brought the beginning of healing from losing Eve, although not the end of it. It brought challenges that will, in the long term, I think, prove to have grown my husband and I stronger and closer together. It has brought new, precious friends into my life, introduced by our children in Heaven or by a mutual love of art-making. It has brought an awareness of courage and strength and patience that I never imagined I had. It brought more art, and more words.

2012, in spite of all my trepidation, has been a gift.

Even better, on this last day of the year looking forward to 2013, I have hope, and I have peace - things I did not have on December 31, 2011.

So what about the new year?

I've thought about choosing one word as a focus for growth in 2013, but I can't find just one that fills the part. Instead, I have discovered a phrase - "be here now." I am excited to see where it takes me.

Keeping that phrase in mind, I am looking forward to watching my son grow, and feeling my marriage grow stronger. I am hoping for a deepening of faith. I am planning new art adventures. I am wanting to let go of the anxiety that invaded my life on the day Eve died, anxiety that has at times been crippling. I am praying for further entering in of the freedom God so recklessly offers.

Thank you for joining me in the incredible, insane, terrifying, wonderful journey that 2012 has been, blog friends. Your words encourage me more than you know. Here's to another year of being brave together.

My love to you all.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

In Which I Get Angry at the Ones Who Judge the Grieving

Does grief make you uncomfortable? Good. It should. Because death is uncomfortable. Death is strange and unpredictable and scary and inconvenient. And because death is these things, so is the way we deal with death. Grief is not comfortable for anyone, including the griever - but it is necessary.

Want to know who it helps when you tell a griever to get over it? Exactly one person - yourself. It leaves you feeling helpful and self-righteous, but at best it is useless to the one who has lost, and at worst it harms them and stifles the healthy process of grieving.

You think that grief that has gone on longer than makes you comfortable is complicated grief (a mental health diagnosis that I think is unrealistic and unfair)? I say that complicated grief is the grief that has been suppressed, often at the advice of people like you, and is forced to come out later in very unhealthy ways - like alcoholism, drug abuse, eating disorders, anger, and a variety of other addictive behaviors.

So your suggestion to "get over it"? It is essentially a suggestion to halt the healthy, natural, and needed process of grieving - which may take years, and may never be fully completed - and so force the sadness to turn inward and become septic instead of being outwardly expressed in a healing manner.

Grief exists for a reason. You don't like how I allow my grief to run its natural course? You get over it - or at least keep your mouth shut. If you can't muster up a bit of sympathy or manage a polite "I'm sorry," then both you and your grieving friend or family member would be better off if you said nothing at all. Your guilt trips are not wanted here.

Do you think you'd grieve "better" (which is really your code word for faster and more conveniently), or that you have dealt with your own hardships "better"? If you feel healed, then good for you. But grief is not a competition. Stop trying to turn it into one. There is no one right way to do it, so quit heaping guilt onto other grievers about their feelings. I'm tired of hearing of these hurtful things being said to my grieving friends, and of having them said to me (much more occasionally, thank goodness). Comparison is useless, so cut it out.

Nobody wants to feel grief. But for those of us who have lost and have the courage to grieve healthily - we do this because we have to, not because we want to. Certainly not to put you out, so quit acting like that's what's going on. This is a matter of survival.

Want to be actually helpful? Here's what to do - shut your mouth and open your heart. If a griever has trusted you with the intimate vulnerabilities of their loss, listen and acknowledge. No matter what you think they "should" be feeling, this is what they are feeling. So pay attention, and keep the judgements to yourself. How can you be sure you know what's best for them anyway?

Does that make you feel uncomfortable? Good. Like I said, that's normal. Death sucks for everyone, and so does grief. Deal with it.

"But Jesus doesn’t turn away the grievers. 'Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.' I am called blessed. And I’m promised His comfort. This is blessed assurance. It’s like a great big sign at the foot of the Cross that says: 'You Belong Here.'" - Molly Piper

october 15th candle

When Christmas Feels Like Too Much

UntitledI was dreading this holiday season.  If you're reading this, then by now I'm sure you know why -- because last year, just days before Thanksgiving, my daughter died.  To have to face the holiday cheer so soon after her death felt harsh and cruel.

So this year, I expected the first anniversary of her death and birth to somber the Christmas season.

But it hasn't.  And, and the same time, it has.

Here's what I mean:

In spite of my grief, I find myself looking forward to Christmas.  Maybe it's because death has touched me so intimately that I can cherish every opportunity to celebrate.  And maybe it's for our newly born son that I want to start creating meaningful, enjoyable holiday traditions.  Whatever the reason, I am looking forward to Christmas Eve service, to singing carols there, and to gifting presents on Christmas Day and wearing Christmas-y colors and spending time with my family.

And yet . . . her absence is everywhere.  The gap in our family becomes ever more obvious the closer we draw to Christmas.  Some of the worst of it happens out shopping.  I can't resist swinging by the baby section of stores to see what cuteness might be gotten for our little guy.  But no matter how sweet the boy clothes are, the girl clothes are always sweeter.  And worse, the stores are now carrying baby-sized holiday gowns for girls.  Every time I see them, every time I see the tutus and ruffles and sparkles, my heart breaks a little more.

Oh, those dresses.  I can picture her wearing them too clearly, and it hurts.  It hurts.

Christmas shouldn't hurt.

UntitledAnd yet, for so many of us, it does.  It hurts because our babies are dead.  Because children were gunned down by a broken young man in their elementary school.  Because our parents or kids or spouses or friends or grandparents or other much-loved ones are missing.  Because we are tired.  Because the season, for whatever reason, is just too much sometimes.

So, while I am still looking forward to my son's first Christmas, I can't wait for it to be past.  Because, if she had been born alive around her January due date, this would have been my sweet girl's first Christmas, too.  I should have been buying her one of those very dresses, should have been wrapping presents that her little nearly one year old self would have torn at with unabashed glee.

What is it about Christmas that highlights the should-have-beens?

Today that knowledge of what should be and isn't is just too much.  As much as I will enjoy this second Christmas without her because her absence has helped me appreciate me these opportunities for celebration so much more, I will enjoy the post-holiday calm even more.

And really, that's okay.  It's okay for Christmas to feel hard, and okay to enjoy it in spite of -- or perhaps because of -- grief and sadness.  And it's okay to forgo Christmas dinner and take a nap instead.

But still . . . I don't know if this will ever get any easier. It feels like I miss her more all the time.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Pictures of Before

From the very beginning of this new life in which loss and grief are major players, I’ve had difficulty with photographs.  I love taking pictures, especially self-portraits, and I take them almost constantly.  So when our daughter died abruptly and without known cause, it hurt to return from the hospital without our daughter and see the photographs from Before.  I felt like they had betrayed me.  Shouldn’t I have known that something so horrible was about to happen?  Shouldn’t there have been a warning hidden within those photographs?

I combed through them, looking for some sort of sign of the horror that had come upon us so suddenly.  I had taken pictures up until the day she died . . . but of course there were no warning signs in them when I searched them from my new life in After. . . .
Today I am writing over at Still Standing Magazine!  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Connecticut in My Heart

“I am learning to see. I don't know why it is, but everything enters me more deeply and doesn't stop where it once used to. I have an interior that I never knew of... What's the use of telling someone that I am changing? If I'm changing, I am no longer who I was; and if I am something else, it's obvious that I have no acquaintances. And I can't possibly write to strangers.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, from The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

So, Connecticut.

When I was putting my son down in his bassinet yesterday morning after feeding him, hoping to steal a couple more hours of sleep, a young man was murdering twenty children and several more adults at the elementary school that has now earned the kind of fame that no one wants.

Nearly thirty dead, twenty of them children, suddenly, senselessly.

How are we supposed to live in a world where things like this happen, and happen often?

As a person who has experienced the sudden and senseless death of her own child (although not at the hands of another, thank God), this tragedy has hit me hard. It has entered me deeply, as Rilke wrote. Because I know too well at least some of what those children's parents are feeling, will feel forever, and the knowing makes me feel physically ill. December 14, 2012 is a date now seared into those families' brains, the day that their lives were brutally delineated into Before and After.

I wish I didn't know this.

It hurts my heart. It hurts to know what kind of battle those Connecticut families have been forced to fight. It hurts to know how the rage and fear that grief brings will now mark their every hard-drawn breath. How the person each of them once was is gone forever, gunned down alongside their children. And it hurts to understand that because my own daughter's death was relatively merciful, I don't know the half of it.

There is nothing that can be said, no comfort to offer these parents that words can spell. All I can say is - I'm sorry. I am so, so sorry, you Newtown families. It is not right, that you are going through what no one should ever have to.

I grieve with you and for you. I am praying that God will meet you here, in the midst of this terrible, unfair trial. My hope is that you can bind together in the face of your mutual losses, that you can become a community of grievers and find some measure of healing in that, and in Him.

This world is a horror sometimes.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It's Not Christmas Without You: 8 Holiday Gifts for Grieivng Parents

It's Not Chrismtas Without You

In my experience, the holidays can be a difficult time.  Between the pressure to buy the perfect gifts, to cook the perfect meal, and have the perfect celebration filled with perfect feelings, expectations and emotions are running high.  And that's for those whose holiday table isn't missing a place.  Factor in the absence of a much-loved and much-wanted child . . . and, well, the holidays can feel downright dismal.

Last year, Christmas fell about a month after Eve died.  Suffice it to say -- I was not looking forward to the holiday.  I did everything I could do avoid any and all Christmas cheer, but my husband and I did visit family.  When the time came to open presents, I got the best gift ever.  My six year old niece, under her own power and with her own money, had donated to the Ronald McDonald House in Eve's memory.  And let me tell you -- that recognition of Eve's absence, not to mention the beautiful and extravagant generosity of my niece, meant everything

So I got to thinking about what other gifts might help fellow grieving parents enjoy the holidays.  And here's the result -- a list of beautiful gifts for bereaved parents that will uplift and, more importantly, offer that precious recognition of the little ones lost.

1Personalized Sand Drawings

Eve's Peace Dove

Carly Marie offers comfort to fellow babylost parents by drawing their names in the sands of Australia's beaches at The Seashore of Remembrance.  Her exquisite sand drawings cost between $6.00 and $20.00 AUD.  Carly Marie has a variety of different types of drawings to choose from -- from names in the sand to Christmas butterflies to peace doves like the one pictured above.  I love collecting the different types of sand drawings for Eve.

2Personalized Jewelry


Personalized jewelry is a great way to remember babies gone too soon.  I purchased this particular necklace from PatriciaAnn Jewelry Designs, and it has been very comforting to wear.  I have since received other pieces of jewelry that recognize both of my children, and I cherish every one.  Held Your Whole Life also provides free remembrance jewelry for bereaved mothers.

3.  Artwork


While as an artist I may be biased, I think that artwork makes a great gift.  Some of the bereaved mothers that have purchased prints of my work have described it as soothing, healing, and calming -- all of which are so important to the grieving, especially around the holidays.  I offer pieces that are specifically about loss and grief as well as many other uplifting originals, prints, and cards like the image above.  You can check out my artwork on Etsy hereBeyond Words Designs is another great artist to purchase loss, pregnancy, and family pieces from, as well as handmade baby books designed for miscarriage and stillbirth mothers. 

4.  Custom Remembrance Items

on Eve's first birthday

Any custom remembrance items, either handmade by you (as this little quilt was, given by a friend on Eve's first birthday) or purchased, are always a huge blessing.  Some of my favorite online shops that provide such items are Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Baby Boards.

5.  Books and Music

books for Eve's birthday

There are many wonderful books written on loss and grief, and some specifically on the loss of a child.  I know that such books have provided me with much needed comfort and support and ideas on ways to cope.  Some of my favorite loss books are A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser, I Will Carry You by Angie Smith, and A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis.  You can find more book ideas on my Goodreads page.

Music has similarly been a huge gift to me.  It has helped me to cry when I needed to and couldn't, to worship when I wanted to but didn't have the words, and to be joyful when it was time to be joyful but I couldn't muster up the courage.  My two favorite albums that convey the reality of living simultaneously in hope and sadness are You Deliver Me by Selah and Beauty Will Rise by Steven Curtis Chapman.

6.  Calendars


I always feel like a calendar is a can't-miss gift.  Beautiful and useful, how can you go wrong?  My 2013 calendar featuring twelve frame-able fine art replications of my artwork, Beauty For Ashes, is currently for sale here.  The Lost For Words calendars from Carly Marie and Franchesca Cox are also a beautiful option, filled with amazing photography and quotes from bereaved parents.

7.  A Special Ornament


Last year a friend gave me a special angel ornament in memory of Eve.  It was small, simple, very beautiful -- and meant the world to me.  A bereaved mother's greatest fear is that her child will be forgotten, and a special little ornament or decoration in memory of the one that is lost is such a great gift.

8.  Donations in Their Name


There are so many wonderful non-profits out there working for babyloss awareness, support, and prevention.  I think that a donation ton one such charity in the name of a baby gone too soon would make a very sweet present for a bereaved parent.  Some of my personal favorite organizations are Sufficient Grace Ministries, the Sweet Pea Project, Molly Bears, and Cora's Story.

There you have it!  So now it's your turn -- what are your top gift ideas for grieving parents?  Also, be sure to visit Small Bird Studio today, where I'm giving away a copy of my favorite book on grieving. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Shopping

from CarlyMarie

The plan was to collect a new Christmas ornament for each of our children every year.  It seemed like a fun tradition to celebrate both our living child and our dead one.  And really, I thought that I was doing well with my daughter being gone from me for the second Christmas.  After all, this year I'd get to celebrate with a living baby in my arms.  And while that does not in any way "fix" the absence of Eve, that is something very, very good.  Something worth celebrating. 

But when I stood at the mall kiosk that sells personalized ornaments yesterday, that now-familiar heaviness lay itself across my skin.  Because it really can't be called fun, to try to shop for a memorial ornament for your daughter when you can picture too clearly the adventurous one year old she would have -- should have -- been.

It reminded me too clearly of the time I tried shopping at a craft store for supplies with which to make a scrapbook for Eve.  All the miniature pink strollers and baby bibs and stickers that said "Welcome to the world" rubbed rough against my raw heart.  Nothing seemed right for a stillborn baby.

And so it was with the ornaments.  All of the baby ornaments were too pastel, too sweet, and all the rest of the ornaments too silly.  They had no weight to them, and I want anything associated with her to have weight, because she did.  

I happened upon an ornament at Target while running errands -- a single porcelain feather, dangling from a piece of twine.  I bought it because I was afraid that I'd forget to go searching for one in the busyness of life with a newborn, and because really the search wasn't anywhere near as enjoyable as I'd expected.

Here's what I had imagined -- that, with Jacob in tow, I'd go to the specialty Christmas shop that opens up at one of the plant nurseries here every year, resplendent with every kind of holiday decoration imaginable.  I'd wander among the decked trees and find that one magical ornament that would connect me to my daughter, that would make it feel like she wasn't dead at all.

Except that she is dead.  Nothing, nothing in all the world can make that not so.

So I bought the porcelain feather, and really, it's kind of perfect.  It could be an angel wing's feather, or have fallen from a bird, and both birds and angels make me think of her.  And it has weight

I believe that my daughter -- the part of her that counts, that part that makes her her -- is alive with God.  That gives me great comfort.  I like to picture her as a girl of perhaps ten years old or so, dancing and singing and playing games with Jesus and all the other gone-too-soon children, laughing through eternity.  It is my hope that I will see her again. 

But I miss her.  Oh, how I miss her.


Friday, November 30, 2012

The Sacred Wrong

I wanted to write a post about how I feel better.  About how now that I have birthed a breathing, screaming rainbow baby boy, things feel different.  About how when I look back on this pregnancy, I can see that I was an anxious, crazy, hormonal, emotional, grieving mess.  That I was not myself. That I am so relieved to no longer be living in a place of such deep anxiety.

I wanted to write about how I am myself again, but that it is a new self than one year ago, before my daughter died.  About how I feel okay with that.  Glad, even.

But I've come to know many other mothers who have also had babies die, and I still read their stories.  And here's the thing -- I feel better, there has been healing . . . but there is a missing part.  An aching hole in my heart, and in the universe.  It's a hole of absence -- and not just of my daughter, but of all the daughters and all the sons that just barely were and now aren't in this world.  A hole of gasping grief for those babies that are gone.

I am feeling that emptiness today.  I am not even necessarily expressly sad, but there is a yearning within me, a sort of communal keening of my heart in tune with all the other hearts that have lost.

If I didn't believe in God before, death would make me believe.  Because there is nothing more unnatural, nothing more sacredly wrong feeling, than death.

That is what I am feeling today, I think -- the vacuum of the sweet and beautiful souls taken by the ugliness of death.  Just as I was writing this post, I learned of yet one more woman who has recently experienced the trauma of babyloss, the hurt that just shouldn't be.  

We are living in a beautiful world broken  by ugliness and death.  I have become much more sensitive to, much more aware of that brokenness since becoming a bereaved mother. How could I never before see how much pain people and animals are carrying? And while I do have hope, a very real and living hope in a vibrant, dynamic, and loving God . . . the void created by that pain, and especially by my daughter's death, still yawns wide within me.

This will never feel okay.

on Eve's first birthday

Thursday, November 22, 2012

In the Art Studio + Shop: Black Friday/Small Business Saturday Updates

It strikes me that I haven't done an art update in quite some time.  Given that I have some special holiday happenings in the art shop, and that the holiday shopping season starts tomorrow (I can't believe it's already that time of year again!), I figured that I should probably pop in a little update before tucking into a quiet Thanksgiving day.

In the Art Studio 
{in progress} 

Between the arrival of our sweet rainbow baby and my gimpy (but slowly healing!) arm, it's been hard to get some good art time in, as expected.  But a few weeks ago I did manage to start a new piece -- featuring my second ever mixed media boy!  I wanted to try making some boy art to hang up in Jacob's room.  And frankly, there are precious few pieces featuring boys in the mixed media world, at least in my experience.  I'm quite pleased with how it's going so far -- my first attempt at a mixed media boy looked a bit too womanly for my taste.  

making some backgrounds 

I've also been having some fun prepping background pages in my two art journals.  I'm not really "good" at art journaling -- meaning that I've tried it in the past and quickly grown bored.  But lately I'm feeling the pull to have a space to be extra messy, and to try new things.  Besides, going nuts with paint and a brayer feels really, really great -- and it's quick, which is good for squeezing in during baby cat naps.  

The pages above are from a journal I'm making for Jacob.  Inspired by Tam of Willowing, I thought it would be a fun and meaningful gift to give Jacob when he's older.  Right now it's mostly little letters to him written over painted pages plus photos and random other things glued in, and it's been a lovely new challenge to assemble.  

In the Art Shop


I have a few fun things happening in the art shop for the holidays:
  • every purchase from my art shop from now through January 1, 2012, will come with a free fine art postcard of your choosing (just let me know in the "notes to seller" box at checkout)
  • I am offering a sweet discount bundle of fine art cards (above), which make great Christmas/holiday cards -- you can mix and match any combination of images from my shop on 16 amazingly high quality, frame-able cards
  • you can find all my holiday-themed art in a single handy section, here
Also, my newsletter subscribers are receiving an awesome exclusive discount code good through Saturday, November 24.  It's the biggest coupon of the year, which is totally fun.  And it's not too late to get in on the action -- you can subscribe to the newsletter here.  I'll be resending the discount code again on Friday for new subscribers. 


I hope that you have an amazing Thanksgiving, American folks, and that this weekend is a sweet and peaceful start to the holiday season for all.  I know that the holidays are not the easiest of times for some, but I hope that they surprise you in a beautiful, unexpected way this year. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dear Eve

on Eve's first birthday

Yesterday was your first birthday.  Or what would have been your first birthday, had you been here to celebrate it.  Instead, you are safe in the arms of God, which is the best place of all to be.  I am glad that you are His, and that you are home, but I still miss you.

I have been dreading your birthday since you died.  I didn't want a whole year to have passed, but of course it did, far too quickly.  It seems like just yesterday that I was holding you in my arms.  I expected this day, the first of a lifetime of birthdays without you, to be terrible.

But it wasn't.  Sunday, the one year anniversary of the day you died, was very emotional and difficult.  But your actual birthday ended up being quite lovely.  I wore purple and put on a little makeup in your honor and spent the day visiting with various friends, going for a walk, and hanging out with your brother.

Every time I thought of you, it was only the happy memories that came to mind -- the way your hair was already dark and unruly like mine, the sweet pucker of your lips, the way your daddy buzzed you over to me making airplane sounds, the just-right weight of you in my arms even though you were so, so tiny.  I remembered how much I loved you with this impossible love that made me believe in God all the more, and how happy and proud I was (and still am) to be your mother, even though I don't get to do the typical mothering things for you.

So when I look back on your first birthday, it feels happy

I didn't expect that.

I think I figured out why your birthday felt so strangely lovely.  I remember, back in the hospital with you one year ago, thinking that this was the easy part.  That the hard part of the-rest-of-our-lives lay ahead in the grieving of you, and behind in the losing of you.  But being with you (and when I say "you," I realize that it was not really you, but your body) -- that was easy.  Because although it was sad, although you were devastatingly still and silent, it was still good.  It was you and I and your daddy, our little family, and although you weren't truly present, it was the best we'd get for the rest this life, and so it became enough.

I remember feeling safe there in the hospital, with you so far and yet so close, with the future conveniently deferred.  I'd survived birthing you, and death had not, as I'd feared, made you monstrous.  You were my daughter, my firstborn, and although you were dead I had the mother glow.

I think that I have it still.

Because so much has happened because of you.  Knowing you, and saying goodbye, have changed me -- are changing me -- and in more positive ways than I ever could have hoped for.  Because of you, the way I think and act and feel and wait and love and speak and believe are different, better.

And did you know -- my friends and I, we are donating 100 books to the hospital to help other bereaved families in your name.  One hundred families helped because of a girl that never breathed?  If that's not a miracle, I don't know what is.  It blesses my heart.

And something else -- my beautiful friends, both those from Before and those from After, who I met because of you, they remembered your special day and were not afraid to speak your name.  My church family again showed what church really should be, entering the mess with God's great love to embrace me and remember you.  I realized that because of how they have responded to your death has helped me to trust people, to trust what they say, in a way that I never have quite been able to do.  Gift upon gift from you, because of you.

So here I am, one year later, still missing you but so very, very blessed because of you.  I wish that you could have stayed, sweet girl, but death is not the end and one day we will be in God's arms together.  Sometimes I wonder if we already are together -- if God is outside of time, along with Heaven, then could it be that we are all already home, just that our bodies haven't quite caught up?  That my soul is both here and there at once?

It's crazy how much difference a year makes.  That truth is both terrible and beautiful.  A year ago, I wasn't sure that God hadn't forsake me.  Now, it seems to me that no one else but Jesus could possibly make sense of this mess of a world we live in.  I'm glad you are with Him.

I don't know how to end this letter to you, sweet girl.  I opened up your memory boxes today and took out all the few things that belong to you -- the casts of your hands and feet, the wispy locks of hair, your tiny footprints.  You were so small, so terribly small, all three pounds and three ounces of you, but you have inhabited my life in such a big way.  I am grateful for you, and I love you (and your brother) more than I knew was possible.  Happy birthday, my sweet girl.

“It is in the dark that God is passing by. The bridge and our lives shake not because God has abandoned, but the exact opposite: God is passing by. God is in the tremors. Dark is the holiest ground, the glory passing by. In the blackest, God is closest, at work, forging His perfect and right will. Though it is black and we can't see and our world seems to be free-falling and we feel utterly alone, Christ is most present to us . . ."
~ Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

on Eve's first birthday

on Eve's first birthday 

on Eve's first birthday 

on Eve's first birthday 

on Eve's first birthday 

on Eve's first birthday

on Eve's first birthday

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Incomprehensible Reality of Rainbow Motherhood

I wonder if the collection of items currently sitting on our kitchen table might come across as rather strange to someone who doesn’t know me well. The formula samples, the how-to book on newborns, the envelope of infant-related coupons – these all make sense, because the presence of our recently born rainbow baby in our home is obvious.

But then there are the collection of books on late term and neo natal loss, and a gift that was given in memory of the baby who came before the more obvious, living one. And when the books on dead babies are sitting side by side with a book on living babies . . . well, the situation becomes even more incomprehensible. . . .

Today I am writing over at Still Standing Magazine!  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

When the World Was Shattered

Eve's flower butterfly 

Well, it's here.  

On this day one year ago, we found out that our daughter had died before she was born.  

On this day, I found myself ushered into a community of shared grief that I never imagined existed. 

On this day, my heart and my sense of security (false though it was) were shattered.  We are still picking up the pieces.  

Honestly, I thought this day, the first anniversary of Eve's death, would be easier.  Even though I've been dreading this day for months, Jacob's arrival seemed to have eased the pain enough that I expected to navigate this first of the first anniversary days without tears.  But now I'm realizing that he was only distracting me from it.

I'm not ungrateful for that -- he is the best distraction a bereaved mama could hope for.  His life is a source of healing.  But his presence does not and will not and should not make up for Eve's absence.

And so the tears fell as I nursed him early this morning, remembering how November 18, 2011, unfolded.

I remember almost everything about that day with perfect clarity.  How I wore a sweater I hadn't worn in ages because it showed off my 31 week pregnant belly so perfectly.  How I ran errands as snow began to fall -- first to the bank, then to the craft store, and then to buy the Best Husband Ever a bread knife for his birthday.  How I was buoyed by the singular joy of pregnancy everywhere I went, how I shared our daughter's due date and how we hadn't yet decided on a name with the strangers who asked.

I remember coming home after my morning of errands, cars sliding all over the roads as the snow began to accumulate on the yet untreated roads.  I remember how I relaxed after a week of intense art-making, how the Best Husband Ever and I sipped hot cocoa and faced off in a computer game and watched Seinfeld together.

And then I remember how I noticed that our baby hadn't performed her usual nighttime tumblings.  How I tried to remember the last time I'd felt her move, and couldn't.  How I guzzled apple cider to try to wake her up, then called my doctor.  How my husband and I changed back out of our pajamas at 11:00 that night to travel through the still-falling snow to the hospital.

I remember checking in at the front desk of labor and delivery, how slow the receptionist seemed to be responding.  I remember how that was the first time I felt a nauseating flare of panic sweep through me, how I wanted to scream that my baby might not be okay and you have to help her now, damn it.  How we were ushered into a room and I giggled as I shyly slid out of the bathroom having changed into the open-backed hospital gown, the urgency somehow having left me as quickly as it came. 

I remember how the nurse searched and searched for the sound of a heartbeat.  How she said that the baby might be hiding, and I wondered how a baby could possibly have room left to hide in at 31 weeks.

I remember smiling at my doctor as she came into the room, how she didn't smile back but looked so, so worried.  How she, too, searched, this time via ultrasound, and found nothing.  How the perfect form of our baby was devastatingly still on the ultrasound machine's monitor.  How my doctor came to the side of the bed and told me what I could already see for myself.  How she and the doctor left me and my husband alone and the silence and questions were too much and all we could do was breathe and hold each other.

I remember how my doctor came back into the room after a little while to discuss our options.  I remember how appalled I felt when I realized that I would still have to deliver this baby, and how terrified I was of doing that.

I remember how my doctor shared that her first baby was stillborn, too, how he had died just like mine -- without warning, without known cause.  How grateful I felt that of all the doctors in the world we had this one who knew

I remember leaving the hospital feeling dazed and dizzy, knowing that we'd be coming back in one day to begin induction.  How those twenty-four hours stretched before me like an eternity of hell that I was not equipped to navigate.  (This is why I decided to donate books for Eve's first birthday -- to help other bereaved parents beat back this darkness, to make them feel a little less alone.)

How the nurse pressed a scrap of paper with the hospital's phone number into my husband's palm and said that she was so sorry, that we were in shock, that it was all so unfair.  How I clutched my husband's hand as we left. 

I remember how returning to our home made me feel sick at how much our lives had changed in the space of an hour.  How I couldn't sleep, the first night of weeks of insomnia.  How I was afraid to touch my belly, where death now resided. 

I remember how helpless, how alone I felt.  An abject loneliness that is deeper than words can tell.  That I still feel sometimes. 

I remember how I wanted to die, how I longed for it.  How I'd rather die than give birth to this tiny little being who'd barely lived.  How I wondered how we could go on after she was out of me, and how I could possibly survive giving birth to a dead person. 

The only thing I can't remember is when I felt her last kick.  This not-knowing will haunt me forever.

And now, here it is -- one year later.   

It doesn't feel like it's already been a year.  I can still taste the fear and shock and bitterness of it all so sharply. 

But we have survived.  Because of our friends from Before, and my new friends from After.  Because of the grace of God pulling me along when all I wanted was to lay down and die.

The one hope that lights my way through the endless grief of babyloss is that one year ago today, our daughter was born into the arms of God, never having tasted the pain that living in this world can bring.  I miss her and miss her and miss her, but I am so grateful for that. 

Happy Heavenly birthday, my sweet baby girl.  I love you.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Miracle Babies

6 weeks + 2 days

This week I started to become less gracious feeling about Jacob.  I swore after losing Eve that this would never happen, that I would never feel frustrated with our living children if we came to have any, but of course my humanity has set in and the honeymoon is wearing a little thin.  Not because Jacob's done anything wrong, and not because I love him any less, but because I have been trying to "get things done."  Writing, exercise, a bit of art -- each day I'm on the lookout for an hour in which I can give myself one of these things. 

He hasn't been cooperating, of course.  He just doesn't like to nap during the day unless it's in my arms.  And given that one of my arms is weak, that leaves me with only a single fully functioning arm with which to take care of him and try to get some of my own stuff in.

Obviously, his needs win every time.  As they should.  But between that and dwindling sleep fore me (several times this week I [rather foolishly, no doubt] sacrificed sleep for writing or art-making), I've been feeling a bit more cranky.

Until this morning.

After even less sleep than usual, Jacob and I were enjoying some post-nursing cuddling.  I got to thinking about how Eve was our miracle baby.  We'd been told to expect me to be infertile as a result of my battle with disordered eating.  And then, unplanned and yet so wanted, Eve came into being against all the odds.  A miracle, I called it.  Our miracle baby.

And then she died, and we conceived Jacob right away.  Meaning that I likely am not (thank you, God) infertile after all, although time will tell for sure.  Which, I thought to myself this morning, probably makes Jacob not a miracle baby.

But then I felt his skin soft against my own, my skin that is so calloused by 30 years of fighting for hope in this sometimes hopeless world, and I realized -- he is most definitely a miracle, every inch of him.

The way he came into our lives in the reverberations of disaster . . . the way his every breath heals a bit more of my grief-shattered parts . . the way the slate depths of his eyes seem to be a window into God's own heart -- a miracle, without a doubt, and worth every bit of sacrifice.

I can't believe I doubted it even for a moment.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

In Which I Start to Learn to Love the Unexpected

5 weeks + 5 days

I wouldn't go so far as to say that Jacob is on a schedule, but in the past six weeks I have come to expect a certain routine. He eats every two to three hours, then I cuddle him for a bit before I change him and put him down for a nap in his crib. When he wakes an hour or two later, we do it all again like clockwork.

Except when it's not.

It's strange how I resist him when he shakes things up. Like last night, for example. He was "supposed" to be sleeping, so I spent a half an hour trying to get him snoozing so I could sleep, too. Finally I realized I might be able to make us both happier faster if I tried nursing him again, even though it wasn't what he "should" be doing according to his routine. So I did, and he went to sleep much more easily afterward.

I'm trying to learn this lesson now while he's too young to remember my stubbornness and be hurt by it, because he's only going to buck those shoulds more and more as he grows. And I want to give him the grace and freedom he needs to be unexpected, to make his own choices. One of my goals as a parent is to say "yes" to this wonderful little boy as often as I can.

I think it's going to be a long education. I find it far too easy to say "no." But it will be well worth every lesson.

My children have already taught me so much in their short lives. I love how that works.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

This Time Last Year


At this time last year, we were enjoying an uncommonly warm and un-snowy autumn, I had just begun counting gratitudes, my parents were visiting, and the Best Husband Ever and I were looking forward to meeting our first child in two months' time.

Only we didn't have two months left.  We had a week.  Seven days before we would receive the worst news parents can get.

It doesn't seem possible that this horrifying thing was headed our way and we didn't know it.  It seems that something so huge and life-altering should come with ample warning signs.

But it didn't.  She was gone before we knew that miscarriage isn't the only sad way a pregnancy can end.

Sometimes I don't know how we're supposed to live now that we know that the worst could strike in an instant, without warning, and even without cause.  It's overwhelming, sometimes, that new knowing.

And yet there's good in that horrible knowing, too, because it makes me able to see the wonder around me more clearly, to see the blessings while they're still here.  Before I was always looking to the future, eager to move ahead, blind to the beauty of the moment.  Now I can see it, and I'm grateful for that.

I'm trying to trust God to help me with the rest of that new knowing that isn't so easy to live with.  This is a work in progress.

I can't believe it's already been nearly a year since I held her.

* * * 

Book update: Forty-six books have now made their way to me in celebration of Eve's first birthday.  Amazing!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!! 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Books For Eve's First Birthday: An Update

Books for Eve's 1st birthday
I am feeling so many things.

Floored.  Grateful.  Humbled.

Less than a week after I shared my thoughts on how I planned to celebrate Eve's fast-approaching first birthday in Heaven, 44 copies of When Hello Means Goodbye made their way to our front door.

And that's not counting the copies that I ordered.

But that's not all.  When I went to order my copies, I discovered that they were sold out.

We made Amazon sell out of books for Eve's birthday.

Books for Eve's 1st birthdayI'll say it again -- I am floored, grateful, and humbled.

I am so excited to donate these books to help the moms and dads that will unfortunately but inevitably need them.  I am so honored that you all decided to partner with me.  Thank you.

But these books mean more to me than just a nice thing to do.

Each new shipment of books that arrives on our doorstep makes me feel like another person has said, "Yes.  Your daughter lived."

Each book is, for me, a symbol of the weight she had in this world: small, but powerful.

Thank you for giving me that, friends.  It means everything, because sometimes her physical presence in our lives feels so fleeting that it seems like it never was at all.

If you'd like to donate books but are daunted by their sold-out status on Amazon, no fear!  Feel free to back order them.  I back ordered my own copies, so there's no danger of them arriving too late.  You can send a book (or books) via my Amazon wishlist, and check out my original post for more details on what this is all about.

Also, if you are ordering three books, be sure to change your total to four because the fourth book is free.  This three-for-four promotion doesn't show up until the last page of checkout.

Thank you again, friends!

Books for Eve's 1st birthday

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Small Made Big

baby shower

If you have been reading this blog for a little while, you might remember that a few months ago, when I was still pregnant with Jacob, I was put on bed rest due to a threat of preterm labor.  My doctor informed me that she fully expected Jacob to arrive early.

So my friends and I moved up the mama blessing we had started planning in lieu of a traditional baby shower, which had originally been scheduled for September 30.  If I remember correctly, we celebrated with a hasty mama blessing party just a week and a half after my doctor shared her opinion.

We had a beautiful time.  A group of precious women gathered in our home to laugh and eat and pray.  They spoke my son's name, and my daughter's.  It was absolutely perfect, and just what this crazy, grieving, stressed out pregnant lady needed. 

But then I didn't give birth.  Days passed, and then weeks, and it seemed clear that my doctor was wrong.  I grew frustrated and then irritated.  Because we had rescheduled the party at the last minute, some friends I had wanted to celebrate couldn't make the new date, and it seemed that all the rushing around and stressing and rescheduling had been for nothing.

But today I had a different thought about the situation.  It struck me that Jacob was born on September 28 -- two days before the original blessing party date.  If we hadn't rescheduled, I wouldn't have been able to celebrate this baby with my friends and family before his arrival.  And I had desperately -- if nervously -- wanted to.

And then something else occurred to me -- maybe God knew that . . . maybe God knew that I needed to have a pre-baby party, and provided.

It seems impossible.  The thought of it certainly brings me to knees, because how could the God who made all of Everything be bothered to care about something as silly as my baby shower?

And yet He does, I think.

Isn't that just like Him?  It's so easy to believe that He's only concerned with the big issues, or with that other, "more important" person over there.  But really, He's into the small stuff, too, into the smallness of my life (and yours) specifically.

And maybe He's even into the small stuff more.  Because that's where real life happens -- in the nitty gritty, the mundane, the unseen.  And really, His presence in the small things of my life feel more miraculous because they are small. 

I don't know why I keep forgetting. 

"The Lord said, 'Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.'

"Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave."

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Celebrating Eve's First Birthday: Want To Help?


Eve's birthday has been on my mind.

It's coming up too fast.  November 20 is nearly here . . . how can it already have been one year?  It seems impossible.  And yet it is.

I've been thinking a lot about what to do on her birthday.  A few months ago, I intended to throw her a little birthday party and invite our close friends.  But lately that feels overwhelming.  So I think we will probably celebrate instead as a family, just the three of us remembering the fourth.  Maybe we will blow out a candle for her.

I also would like to use her birthday to give back.  We received amazing care from the nurses and doctor who supported us through Eve's induction and stillbirth, far beyond what I would have thought to expect.  I feel so blessed, because I know that not all stillbirth mamas are so lucky. 

However, I do have one regret.  I am very sad that I never took photos of Eve myself.  I brought my camera to the hospital, but didn't know if it was okay to take pictures.  And honestly I was so exhausted by the end that it seemed like enough to leave the matter in the hands of the professional photographer who generously volunteered her time and heart to recording our daughter's image.

But now I wish I had known that it was okay.  I wish I had taken some myself.  And I wish I'd known in general that it was okay to do whatever I needed to do to enjoy her, mourn her, and make memories with and of her.

As a result, in honor of Eve's first birthday, I would like to donate copies of the book When Hello Means Goodbye to our local hospital for infant bereavement care.  I discovered this book shortly after Eve's stillbirth, and wish that I had been able to read it the day before she was born in preparation for her arrival.  The book is basically a how-to manual for navigating the early days of babyloss, helping bereaved parents make important decisions that they only have a very short time to make and that must last a lifetime, yet that they are often not equipped to make due to grief, exhaustion, or just plain old not-knowing.

I wish I had read this book in the eternally long day that spanned between the night we found out that Eve had died to the evening that we checked into the hospital for induction -- partly because I didn't know how to plan for this huge and horrible event, partly because I had no idea what to expect physically or emotionally, and partly because so I would have known that it is okay to make memories of your dead child.  Even though our hospital staff took such loving and beautiful care of us, providing us with many keepsakes that I treasure, this book would still have been a huge help to my limping, terrified heart in the very early days of this new life as a stillbirth parent.

Would you like to celebrate Eve's birthday in this way with me?  I'd love to collect copies of When Hello Means Goodbye if it's on your heart to participate.  The books are fairly inexpensive -- less than $6.00 US per copy -- so even if you contributed a single book, collectively we could make a huge donation!  If you would like to send a book, you can purchase one or some via my Amazon wishlist.  If you have any questions or trouble with the wishlist, send me an email at epiphanyartstudio (at) zoho (dot) com.  Maybe if we collect enough we can donate books to OB offices or even other hospitals, too! 

Baby Girl November 20, 2011-12

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dwelling in Miracle

3 weeks + 6 days
It's moments like these that I've longed for, that I drink in greedily because they're already too fleeting; he's already growing so fast.

The house is quiet. Evening drops. I breathe him in, breathe out love and gratitude.  I just finished feeding him, and now he's fallen asleep on me, his chest against mine, his milk-sour breath tickling the hollow of my collar bone.  His small body is warm on mine, and it seems strange and mysterious that he could have been living inside me so recently.

He sings in his sleep, and giggles. My heart twists and melts.

How I wanted to have this with his sister, too. This very specific napping situation is what I dreamed of before the world was torn by her leaving of it.  It's what I mourn. I wish I had held her body like this when she was born, but I was too afraid of ruining what little we had to enjoy of her; she seemed too fragile.

I am so sad that we missed having this with her -- well, that we missed everything with her, of course, but especially this. But the flip side is that missing out on her has made me appreciate the quiet splendor of these moments with her brother all the more.

The truth is that knowing her -- and not knowing her enough -- has made me a better mother to this boy than I would likely have been to her. Without her leaving, I would never have fully appreciated the miracle of these small, slow moments. I am grateful for this unexpected gift she left behind, even while I regret the reality of my weakness.

I always expected the early months of motherhood to be hell, to be utter loneliness, a dreary trudge for an unseeable finish line.  But instead this slow, still time of just he and I is so sweet. I can't get enough. And it's because of her, and the work that God is doing in me because of her, that I can see the quiet miracle that I am living in.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

In Which I Think Deep Thoughts About Birth

I've been having feelings about Jacob's birth that I can't resolve.  There is something about that day that I can't figure out, that I keep coming back to.  Something that feels a lot more like the day that my daughter was born dead than I like to admit.

Here's how it went:

On Friday, September 28, I woke up around 5:00 AM to contractions that felt different from the ones I'd been having for weeks.  These were painful, made me stop and breathe deep.  I got up, timed the contractions, and two hours later called the hospital with a report that the contractions were coming every five to seven minutes, and hurt quite a bit more.  A half an hour later my husband and I traipsed into Labor and Delivery for what felt like the millionth (and we hoped would be the last) time of this pregnancy.

The nurses hooked me up to the monitors and watched for a couple of hours.  I think they might have sent me home, except Jacob's heart rate kept decelerating with the contractions (due to, we discovered later, the cord being wrapped around his neck). So instead they admitted me and my doctor broke my water around noon and labor picked up fast.  I chose to get an epidural to save my broken arm stress.  As sitting up to receive the epidural put me into transition and pain that left me no recourse but to sob brokenly on my husband's chest, I was so grateful when the medication began to take effect. 

Within a couple of hours it was time to push.  This was the part that had me most scared.  I don't know why -- I suppose I was afraid that he might get stuck there.  It didn't seem possible that a baby could leave my body still living.

As I began to push it quickly became apparent that the epidural was not going to cover the pain.  I felt every inch of him coming out, and he was only 6 pounds 14 ounces.  I screamed and cried my way through it -- and I'm still not sure if it was all due to the physical pain.  It was as if the pain created a window in my soul to let out the unearthly howling of grief that I have so been longing to release this past year but couldn't quite figure out how.  As I labored, I was both there and not, partially living out past suffering.

When Jacob was born at 4:45 PM after about forty-five minutes of pushing, he was beautifully, impossibly alive. When they put him on my chest and our skin met for the first time and I shouted my gratitude and I drank and drank and drank the beautiful sight of him in, I think a part of me died.  I left a part of my very self behind when he arrived, a big part -- just like when his sister was born.

Is that always how it is, when babies are born?  I thought it was only reserved for the agony of stillbirth, to have the person who you were so brutally ripped away, but now I'm not so sure.  Do we as mothers always emerge from birth with the selves we thought we knew rent and resewn into something new?

This, I think, is what I can't stop thinking about, four and a half weeks later.  I didn't know it was happening at the time, but when I look back to the day of our rainbow son's birth, I can see a very clear delineation of before and after.  I am not the woman I was before that day.

It feels a lot like grief.

Let me be clear -- I am not complaining.  I would give up whatever I lost to have him here again and again, just as I would never undo Eve's life even if it meant being saved the pain of her death.  The cost to my person was worth the births of my children, a thousand thousand thousand times over.

Still, I can't stop my mind from going back, from comparing her birthday to his and wondering how they could feel so similar even while being drastically different in the result.

I don't want to call his birth traumatic, but I can't think of a better word.

But maybe that is just how birth always is?  The meeting of hope and pain and effort and grace, and in the end you trade part of who you were to have this precious, tiny person come through you?  And really, it's not just a baby that's born into the world, is it, but a new you as well?

These are the things I am thinking about, chewing at, and, really, marveling over.

It is 3:30 in the morning as I write this, needing to let the words out.  I look over at the little boy that so recently entered our lives but feels like he has been here for always, so tiny and beautiful, with feet like his sister's and eyes like his daddy's, and know that this is all holy mystery. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Holy Ground

11 days old
I write this with the most precious boy in the world snuggled up in my arms. He giggles and gums in his sleep and I try to grab hold of this moment, his fleeting tiny-ness, knowing that it can't last, that it is already gone.

And I wonder -- how am I so blessed? To have him here, with us at long last, is pure treasure.

At first, I was afraid he would die, that he would slip away as quietly as his sister. I couldn't trust that he would breathe and keeping breathing if I stopped watching him and willing life.

But I've had to let that go. Or else I wouldn't sleep, and sleep is precious now because it helps me to love and care for him better. And really, it's not all that healthy to hold tight to fear, to draw it close. I don't want that for him, for me, for our family.

So I take a zillion photos to remind me if his now-ness later and let the rest go (or try to).

I love being this boy's mama. I love it more than I thought I would, or could. I love how he looks like his daddy, and how I catch glimpses of his sister in him. And I love how God is using the knowing of this little boy to grow me into a better version of myself, in spite of all sleep deprivation, just as He used the knowing and releasing of my daughter for the same sacred purpose.

This ground is holy.

Sunday, September 30, 2012