Draining the Swamp

Over at Still Standing Magazine, I’ve begun a series of articles detailing the process of Eye Movement and Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy so others can understand the steps and gain insight to what it can do to soothe symptoms of PTSD.

As I continue my grief journey (yes, it still hurts. No, I won’t get over it.), I’m meeting many lovely mothers who are struggling with life-altering anxiety. I struggled with anxiety, too. It was debilitating. Nightmares and panic attacks and strictly structuring the day just so I could function like a normal mom. Living that way was nothing short of Hell on Earth. 

Everyone’s grief is unique and there are many ways to heal. EMDR isn’t just for the grieving or the traumatized; it can also help those with generalized anxiety. One dear person in my life shared that EMDR helped soothe her overwhelming fear of flying. Another said it helped her friend adjust her feelings about her divorce. I’m sharing the link to my article here from Still Standing Magazine to enlighten partners and friends, and bring hope to all the mothers who are having less than a full life. 

http://stillstandingmag.com/2017/09/draining-swamp-using-emdr-therapy-treat-ptsd-baby-loss/

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This One is for my Littlest

I have had the honor in joining a team of amazing humans to write and share my journey of grief and healing on Still Standing Magazine. 

Trauma comes in many forms and has lasting effects. It wasn’t Reece who caused the trauma but losing him. For such a tiny human, he has had such a powerful impact on my life. 


Today my post went live and I look forward to speaking loudly about our story so it may help other mothers and fathers. Anxiety is Hell on Earth. You don’t have to live here. 

http://stillstandingmag.com/2017/08/living-in-a-swamp-ptsd-after-baby-loss/

A Tale of Two Hearts

She slipped through the door, just a blur of blue as I continued to sob.

“You told me your baby was due right before Christmas. I want to give you this little Christmas ornament so you have something to hold and something to remember him by.”

She handed me a lacey glass heart with a baby blue ribbon. The texture made my brain hum as I rubbed my fingers over the edges. 

“Can I tell you a story?”

The nurse named Nikki pulled up a stool and sat, her legs folded in listening. And I told her about our bonus baby, how he was conceived despite all the odds, how we had rearranged our lives for him, bought a house and a minivan, moved to a new city. 

Hours later, I clutched the glass heart as we left the hospital. We waited for the elevator down from Labor and Delivery, my red fleece jacket stretched taunt over a belly full of Reece. The next night he would be born, we would say hellogoodbye, and the glass heart would hold a spot next to his box of cremains. 

When I started back to work, I hung the glass heart on my rear view mirror. It was a simple way a piece of Reece could come with me every day. It grounded me when I stressed about running late and reminded me of what really mattered in life. An added bonus was that it helped distinguish my van from all the other grey Honda vans in any parking lot. Even at work, there was a van exactly like mine. 

Then there was a day. Mother’s Day weekend the boys and I were headed to a plant exchange. As a gardener and budding horticulture nerd, I lived for plant exchanges. I could meet other gardeners and share an interest that had nothing to do with motherhood or children. The boys were playing in the van while they waited for me. I was digging one last plant for sharing when Dane approached me.

“Grant broke this!” He handed me a chunk of my glass heart. 

I ran to the van, addressed my three year old, and crumpled into a pile on the garage floor. The very first gift I had received from Reece’s birth was shattered. I sobbed uncontrollably. My boys watched in mild shock. My three year old kept chanting “I sorry. I so sorry, Mama.”

The grief kept pouring out in heavy waves in my open garage. My literal heart was broken. My metaphorical heart just shattered, too. There are so few gifts from Reece’s time on Earth. Especially gifts from others. 


A month later, our family was on vacation in the Black Hills. Like all tourist destinations, we stumbled upon a glass blowing shop. Dane and I went in while Ryan stayed with napping Grant. Inside, my breath caught when I saw the same delicate lace technique on small trinkets. 

We watched a drinking glass be created and then I asked the woman about the skill behind the tiny pieces. I told her I used to have a heart made in the same style, but it had been broken. She sat down and began to heat her tools, happy to amuse me. 

As I watched the skinny rod of glass melt, my eyes welled. Reece’s glass heart was made this same way. My glass heart, my sweet baby boy, both gone. She looked at me and I smiled as the tears rolled down my cheeks. 

“Ha! Sorry,” I said, wiping my face. “This is just so neat to see. The ornament I had was so special because it was given to me when we learned our son no longer had a heartbeat.” 

“Oh, that’s a terrible day,” she said, looking from me back to her work. 

“Yeah. Some days are still hard.” She nodded. I watched, entranced, while Dane wandered the shop and fingerprinted all the cases. He wanted to buy a penguin. He wanted to buy a snake. He saw a frog that would be cool to have. I price checked them all. For a boy of six, I was not going to buy a glass trinket of any price. But these were exceptionally pricey. 

After about ten minutes, the glass worker held out a glass heart. I beamed with pride. 

“That looks just like the one I had. What’s the price on something like that?” I held my breath, prepared for a number I wasn’t willing to pay. 

“Oh…twelve dollars.”

My heart skipped a beat. I stood among expensive artwork and she wanted twelve dollars for a custom piece. That’s when Dane pipped up. 

“Hey! That looks like the heart from Reece that Grant broke! Except it had a blue ribbon.”

“Blue ribbon?” She mumbled to herself and rummaged through a drawer. She pulled out a spool of ribbon. Blue ribbon. 

“How’s that?” She held it up by the ribbon for Dane to see. 

“Yeah!”

I paid, thanking her profusely, telling her she had eased my heartbreak over the loss of a thing. 

She shrugged and nodded. She didn’t fix my broken heart. She had offered me a new one. The loss of Reece broke my heart. And it didn’t heal so much as I grew a new one. One that is deep and tender and holds space for the broken people. 

There are good people in this world, readers. We sometimes aren’t sure how we can help a hurting soul. But everyone has something to offer. Even stoic glass blowers in the Black Hills. 

You Might be Praying Wrong…

A few friends and I have been talking about the grieving process lately and the things people say.

“I’ll be praying for you.”

Have you told someone that you will be praying for them after a loss? A child, a pregnancy, a mother, a brother, any kind of loss.

You might be praying wrong. Yeah, you. Have you been praying we will just stop being sad? Have you been praying that one day we’d just stop grieving altogether and that would mean we were healed?

It’s uncomfortable to see someone in pain and so people just naturally want to wish it away. But how could we not be sad? How could losing someone just suddenly not affect us anymore? It’s insane for anyone to think you could ever just suddenly stop grieving a loss. Grief is love with no place to go. Grief is the price of loving someone. If they were loved, they are grieved.

“I don’t know how you do it.”

I don’t know how I do it either. But I do know I don’t have a choice. I go on because I have to, I have other people who need me. My husband, my friends, my two children at home. I am sad he died but I am not sorry I was chosen to be his mother. I am still his mother. My grief for Reece has become part of who I am.

If you are a praying person, pray for the ache that person feels to manifest into something good. Pray that they grow to become compassionate BECAUSE of their pain. The loss happened and I assure you, they won’t forget and nor would they want to.

True healing is simultaneously experiencing grief and gratitude. Pray that person can live gracefully while experiencing both. Because loss can turn people bitter. Loss sucks. Pray that as the waves of grief recede and they wash up on the beach, that the place they land is a mostly beautiful place.

 

“Everything happens for a reason.”

Stop saying this to people. Seriously. Stop.

It is THE STRUGGLE with death and grief and the challenges to our assumptive world views that causes growth. The struggle. Not the death itself. It isn’t because my son died that I have become stronger, more outspoken, more compassionate. So do not misunderstand. It is rising from the ashes of my world on fire. I am not lost in my fire. I am forged in it. My strength was not gained from his death, but the fight to find joy after experiencing hell on Earth.

The grief will always be part of my life-that is my unspent love for my littlest boy. Don’t pray my grief away. Grief is not the enemy, it’s the first step to gratitude. If we are not aware of what we have lost, how can we measure what we have? Gratitude comes from the work and the growth of seeing who he has made us become. He is still very much a part of our lives. And we would be less without him.

IMG_1863

An Open Letter to a Friend

Dear friend,

First, let me open this letter with asking for forgiveness of my curtness last evening. In our communication, I had to keep my responses short to protect myself. As I saw your post about baby number three, my head started to swirl. With two boys already in your house, my grieving heart began to race. Will this be a third boy? The short video clip attached to your baby bump pictures (my goodness, you are so cute!) revealed the gender. I clicked on it. As the trail of firecrackers trickled down the line to the bucket, I prayed for myself and chanted in my head. Pink pink pink, please be pink.

It wasn’t. Blue. Blue smoke. Another little boy will join your family. Three little boys. My heart fell to my feet. I remembered my own gender reveal party for my third baby. His blue smoke, my shining baby bump, the crowd of friends chanting as I did just now, pink pink pink!

Except my chanting was not in celebration but in self-preservation. I had three boys, two excited big brothers, a whooping husband, and a baby on the way. I remember it all.

I never got to live the rest of the story the way I had planned. My sons never got to hold their baby brother or invade his personal space on a daily basis. They never complained about his drooling or hair pulling or his non-stop crying. They tell me they miss him and they want him alive. Little Grant keeps telling me to go to the hospital to give Reece some medicine so I can bring him home from Heaven. He even dares to talk about a new baby, but that just isn’t a direction our family will go. Dane talks about adopting a baby into our family and won’t take “no, sweetie,” as an answer.

I am so sorry you are my first friend with three little boys. You are a good friend and have been nothing but loving.  Firsts of any kind are hard for the grieving. In these last 20 months, there had yet to be a family with three little boys. I’m sorry it had to be you. It isn’t really you; the struggle is the contrast between us. This surely is a fate neither of us could have ever imagined. And you are due in November. There is always this sense of foreboding when someone’s baby is due near my baby’s birthday. I can’t really explain why. Territorial?  A sense of salt in the grieving wound as someone’s happily welcomes a new healthy baby during the days surrounding your baby’s death and subsequent birth? Perhaps it is both. And a sense of being forgotten, as I want the rest of the world to be a bit quieter and dimmer on those days. Discovering he was dead inside my body will always be the hardest day of my life. That day will always come back around on the calendar, year after year. His death day. And then his birthday. With no dash in between.

I feel like I’m sitting on the other side of the glass at the zoo, watching you celebrate another boy. And soon enough, I will get to see your life unfold just as it should, with a healthy new baby, adoring big brothers, and a proud husband. Little snips of what our life would have been like to have a baby boy right before the holidays. A November/December baby is a very special thing.

And while I would never, ever wish for another person’s baby to die, I just want to undo the death of mine. The joy you celebrate reminds me of my pain. It reminds me of what I did not get. It reminds me that my son died and that my big boys never got to hold their brother.  I want to slide of out this experience  like a snake skin. But this knowledge IS my skin. And this IS the story we have about Reece. It isn’t the love I have for him that hurts. The pain comes from wrestling the unfairness in life, of coping with the death of someone we were only just getting to know. The pain is boldly facing the truth in life: that it is fragile, often taken for granted.

Thank you for loving me well, even when my grief twists into jealousy. Life after baby loss is full of confusing turns and unwelcome surprises. As your friend and fellow mother, I will say this.

IMG_1530A house full of boys is an adventure. The noise, the dirt, the wrestling, and the Legos, I wouldn’t trade the BoyMom life for anything. I pray that your baby boy arrives healthy and loud, filling his lungs with cold Earthside air the minute he is here. You deserve the best that parenting has to offer. And while it is hard, thankless work, it is the best work there is to do.

Congratulations, my friend.

 

A Little Something

I followed the notification to a tag with my name on it. Still Standing magazine was calling for contributors and my friend thought of me. I pondered it, began piecing something together in the quiet moments when the boys were watching a movie or playing quietly together over a mountain of Legos. In three days time, I had a good start on my application. 

Also in three days time, the process for submissions closed. Just over. In the middle of things. (I’m sensing a continuing theme…) I was upset. As I stared at my application, I got a strange tingle. I poked around the website. They were still welcoming guest posts so I picked a little something and sent it in. It got accepted. Goosebumps and chills as I read through the email. 

My post goes live tomorrow. Read it here.

http://stillstandingmag.com 

I’m honored and humbled to be among such warriors.

The Heart Babies

This Sunday, May 7th, is International Bereaved Mother’s Day. A post from the Carly Marie project asked loss mamas to photograph and submit an image with our hands over our hearts. Those babies we have lost are carried in our hearts. As I pondered over the project, it occurred to me that I couldn’t narrow it down to one photograph. My heart baby goes with me everywhere. Like here: 


The space aches because it is always there and forever unfillable. We are their mothers. Are. Just as your mother is still your mother after her death. She does not cease to be your mother. She is not erased from having been. Nor are our children. Our children remain our children even after their death.  We are always mothering our heart babies. That’s the unfillable space. It is because of his absence that there is the presence of space. Like a balloon that is full of only air, and yet the presence of the air is what makes the balloon take up any space at all. The ballon skin itself actually has a very small claim to the space. But we know that the balloon isn’t empty. It isn’t an emptiness but a presence of absence. 

Perhaps it will not always hurt the way it does sometimes, but even a year and half after his death, there are still intense moments for me. Deep longing and sadness because I want all my sons together. The sting of feeling cheated out of knowing him more and watching him grow. I want Reece here on Earth.  I’ll be pulling into the garage, and I hear a song and I’m sucked under a wave of grief. I clutch my chest and cry with my head pressed against my minivan window. Alone, I have a moment of gut-wrenching sobs in the half dark of a shut garage. Something bumps my scab and it tears open and begins to bleed again.

Broken heart tissue never heals back into normal heart tissue. When I hear of tragedy befalling someone, my new heart throbs, the new tissue rippling with strength. My inner compassion wells, I am compelled to help. That’s Reece, my heart baby. 

I was deep into practicing yoga while pregnant with Reece. He hated the slow down. He especially hated “child’s pose” which I still find delightfully ironic. After his loss, thousands of tears were shed for him on my yoga mat. 

A transformation has taken place. The unfillable space takes up a spot in my heart. The living tissue pulses around the place where it cracked. For me, there was no atrophy of function. Quite the opposite. My heart is now more alive and aware than ever before. Reece did that. He came, he left, and it’s because he was ever in our lives that I am wide open. I am transformed, implanted with an unfillable space. 


Nothing will fill it up. Not new clothes, not food, not exercise, not returning to work full time. Not even a new baby. It is just there. Some things cannot be fixed or filled, they can only be carried. I’d rather carry my empty space for Reece than be able to fill it in with something as though he was never here. Having to give him back just before he was ready for others to meet him is a struggle for me as a mother. I fear that others will forget him. He is with us every day as the boys and I ride in our minivan. With my oldest wanting to ride in the third row, Reece’s seat is left open. Not empty, but open. 


I recently went to visit a friend I haven’t seen since Reece’s funeral. As we talked, she announced that she had something for me. She handed over a fleece tied blanket in blue and green, a size and style that matched the other two she had made for my boys when they were born. Now we had a matching set of three. 

As I drove home, what happened had time to sink in. She had asked me at his funeral if I wanted his blanket still, given the circumstances. I had said yes. 

That was a year and a half ago. Surely she could have given the blanket to another mother who had birthed a healthy baby boy. I would have been none the wiser. And yet, all this time she had kept the blanket in her house, waiting for a time together, no matter how long. In the deep grief of losing her husband, she perhaps understands the unfillable space. The presence of absence. My heart baby, Reece Michael.