Spreading the Love

Dear Ruby,

Back in June, I wrote to you about an article I had read by a woman recounting the day she successfully gave birth to a living baby girl 15 months after her first daughter was stillborn. Her story brought your Dad and I so much hope. Because of her, it was easier to believe that one day, we would be in her shoes.

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 3.47.37 PMThat same woman stumbled across my letter to you when it was featured on BlogHer.  It turns out, she is the founder and curator of Pregnancy After Loss Support.com, an online magazine that offers support services for women trying to conceive, are pregnant, or are parenting after loss. She reached out and invited me to be a monthly contributor for the magazine and of course, I said yes.

My first article was published today. It’s called I Am A Mom: http://www.pregnancyafterlosssupport.com/i-am-a-mom/.

Thank you for giving me the strength to write it.

I love you,

Mom

Self-Preservation

Dear Ruby,

We’ve made it to the third trimester. I feel huge, sore, achy and lucky that I get to feel so uncomfortable. Your little sister is moving constantly and getting stronger everyday. With that comes much needed reassurance and a new wave of anxiety. I am hyperaware of her every move – the motion, the frequency, the strength – and hyperaware of every second she lays still, a result of the guilt I feel for potentially missing red flags that may have saved you.

Ever since our recent visit to the emergency room in December, I’ve been haunted by the trauma of that silent, knowing drive to the hospital on May 12th. The scenario was all too familiar: the panic, the frantic running out the door, the waiting to hear a heartbeat. As if I needed another slap in the face reminder that nothing is guaranteed. Message received, loud and clear.

Thankfully everything turned out well this time, but while the episode is over, the memory is still there, fueling an all-consuming fear of losing your sister too. The loss community would call this a “trigger,” a situation that reignites grief or exasperates fear/paranoia. I call it life.

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A few weeks ago your Daddy and I attended a birthday party for one of our best friends. It was a great get together filled with many of my favorite people, their kids, easy conversation, and endless smiling. So why did I feel so utterly alone? It was our first real social outing since the hospital scare and I found myself longing for you more deeply than I had in months. I had imagined you being a part of these events and playing with these kids so many times. In the moment though, your absence was all I could see.

I listened as my friends talked and laughed about their kids; recounting hilarious one-liners, stories behind bumps & bruises, and milestones achieved. I realized that I felt alone because I was alone. I was the only mom at this party who smiled and laughed and listened with genuine interest about everyone else’s kids, but had no stories of my own to contribute. I didn’t belong to the same club they did…yet.

At one point, a bunch of the kids and Dads were having a dance party. I watched them scoop up their daughters and twirl them around while your Daddy stood there, his childless arms at his sides. The scene was so joyful and endearing, until it wasn’t anymore. I’m ashamed to admit that it crushed me to my very core. A trigger. Life was happening without you.

Your Daddy finally picked up your cousin and joined in on the fun. I tried to tell myself that it was ok because one day he’ll be able to dance with your sister. Yet, allowing myself to indulge in such fantasies felt dangerous, even though I believed with all my heart it was true.IMG_4378

This journey doesn’t have a roadmap, Ruby. From one day to the next, I’m really not sure how to navigate between my grief, fears, hopes or dreams. I do the best I can. I don’t want to live a life that’s dictated by grief, but I’ve found that there are times when the concept of living presently and with purpose must include moments of reflection on what’s been lost.

Even though I am not made of glass, I must remind myself that I’m not yet unbreakable. My wounds are too fresh.

And so, in addition to taking time to appreciate moments this year, I’m also making a commitment to self-preservation. I want to remain positive and strong, but I must also give myself permission to not always wear my happy face. I believe that “everything will be ok,” but I must also remind myself that it’s ok to not be “over it”…today or ever. I don’t want to be the person everyone feels like they have to walk on eggshells around, but the ones closest to me will understand.

At times, I’ve been worried that self-preservation meant that I was weak or giving in to grief, but there is strength and power that comes with being completely aware of how you’re feeling in a moment and facing that emotion head on.

This doesn’t mean I’m succumbing to my fears either. After all, “fear does not prevent death, it prevents life.” I know that being so afraid and anxious will not keep your sister safe and so I’m seeking out productive ways to deal with those feelings: a walk on the beach, some mindless TV, or writing to you seem to help.

I am choosing to be kind to myself. It’s the best way I can think to honor you while preparing to be the best mom I can be for your sister. I just want to make you both proud.

I love you, Ruby,

Mom

For Ellie

**This post is dedicated to Ellie Rae Wilson. #shinebright**

Realities and Resolutions

Dear Ruby,

Last December, I was four months into my pregnancy with you; blissfully unaware of what was to come. As usual, we were home for Christmas and I vividly remember sitting on my parents’ couch and feeling you move for the very first time. It was a moment I’ll never forget – I only wish I would have savored it half a second longer. At the time, I was too busy planning future moments with you to fully cherish present ones.

I won’t make that mistake twice.

We’re wrapping up the holiday season now, but greeting cards are still pouring in daily. My refrigerator has come alive; dressed in the adorable faces of our friends and family’s kids. For weeks, my Facebook newsfeed has featured little ones lighting menorah candles, sitting screaming on Santa’s lap and opening presents. Families have made memories this holiday season that will be relived in graduation and wedding toasts and traditions were started that will carry on for generations.

Ruby ornamentsI miss you more today than yesterday because we didn’t get to be one of those families this year. Your face is not on my refrigerator. Instead of watching you open presents Christmas morning, we decorated your grave with 18 red roses while O’ Holy Night drowned out the sound of our tears: a new, unwelcome tradition. We didn’t get to complain about you making a mess of our living room floor with your new toys and wrapping paper. Our living room remained uncomfortably clean.

On top of missing you, last weekend we had a bit of a scare with my current pregnancy that included a night in the emergency room, lots of tests and finally, a strong suggestion by our doctor to cancel our holiday travel plans. I’ll spare you the details of what happened, but everything is OK for now. Nothing matters more than that.

In the midst of the “most wonderful time of the year”, we’ve been left with more harsh, unavoidable realities and I, for one, am ready for a fresh start.

Despite everything that’s happened, I have a lot of hope for 2015. A new year offers new possibilities and new dreams to be realized. It is not about forgetting the past, but living presently and with purpose. With a clear understanding that “now” is all we’re guaranteed, for me, 2015 will be all about savoring moments, big and small, and you’ve helped me get started on this resolution already.

Baby #2I’m 23 weeks into my pregnancy, but we’ve known for the last month that you’re going to have a little sister. Your Daddy and I feel incredibly blessed to have heard the words “it’s a girl” twice in one year.

Every two weeks since September we’ve gone to the doctor and waited with baited breath to hear the sound of her heart beating. That split second when the audio is flipped on and life fills the room is a moment of unexplainable joy and relief. There is no song more beautiful.

Every night, I crawl into bed and surround my growing belly with pillows and blankets. I sink into the softness and roll onto my left side as your sister begins her nightly flutter routine. It’s the best part of my day, every day. Her movement lulls me to sleep and she is the last thing on my mind as I close my eyes. There is no feeling more beautiful.

I don’t pray often (read: ever). Since I’m not overly religious, it can feel forced. However, over the past 7 months I’ve continually come across this prayer:

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“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace…

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As much as I wish it were different, Ruby, there is only so much that’s within my control. I did everything “right” during my pregnancy with you and I still couldn’t save you. I’m doing everything “right” during this pregnancy and I still end up in the emergency room.

Life just happens, Ruby, regardless of our plans. So this is the year of moments. I will appreciate each one and I will savor them for you.

I love you,

Mom

Irony and Thanks

Dear Ruby,

I am so torn about how to feel this Thanksgiving. It has never been easier or harder for me to reflect on what I’m thankful for. I’m not thankful that we lost you, but I am thankful for what losing you has taught me. That irony is not lost on me.

Today I remembered a quote I came across this summer: “Sometimes it takes sadness to know happiness, noise to appreciate silence and absence to value presence.” Channeling this philosophy, I’ve made peace with the irony.

I am thankful:

For your Dad. He is the backbone of my happiness, my heart, my soulmate. I have never felt luckier that I get to go through this life, for better or for worse, with such a strong, courageous, kind man.

IMG_4061For our family and friends. I say this every year, but this year I’m thankful because they quite literally brought us back to life. They were there to pick up the pieces on “the worst day” and they have continued to cheer us on and give us hope ever since.

For your sibling. Recently, I’ve felt the first flutters of this new life growing inside of me. I am thankful for those moments of reassurance, I am thankful for the 18 weeks he/she has been with us and pray for decades more. I am thankful for every appointment we can hear their heart beat. I’m thankful that all the dreams we had of raising a little one can still be realized.

For heartbeats. Each day since the worst day has been one step out of darkness. I am thankful that I get the opportunity to experience life. I am thankful to know pain because it gives me greater appreciation for joy. I am thankful to know loss because it gives me greater love for life.

For music. Because it sings my sorrow so I don’t have to speak it all the time.

For nature. I’m thankful for sunshine and cool breezes and hummingbirds and butterflies and ladybugs on your Dad’s arm at the cemetery. These are all things that make us smile and allow us to feel your presence.

And most of all, I’m thankful for you.

FullSizeRenderI am thankful for the 38 weeks you were alive. I am thankful that I got to hold you and kiss you and see the face I dreamed about for nine months. You have taught me the meaning of a mother’s love. You have taught me what it means to have “mom strength”. I’m thankful that I can still feel you close, that you are not lost to me. I’m thankful that you continue to be a real, tangible part of my everyday.

Today and always, I’m thankful and proud to be your mom and I love you more than you will ever know.

Happy Thanksgiving, Rubes.
Mom

A Letter from Wednesday, August 20

Dear Ruby,

Today I woke up and hugged the blanket Bubba knit for you, as I do every morning. Its softness reminds me of your cheeks, almost silky to the touch.

I started today like any other day: I showered, brushed my teeth, washed my face, and picked out what I was going to wear to work. While my routine was the same, today was different. Today, I am pregnant.

I promised myself earlier in the week that I would wait until Friday to take a test. Today came and anticipation got the best of me.

Sure that I was setting myself up for disappointment, I sat staring impatiently as the test strip slowly unveiled two red lines. I am not disappointed. I am pregnant, Ruby.

I’m ecstatic, I’m terrified, I’m shocked that it happened so fast, I’m lucky that it happened so fast, I miss you.

Part of me was scared to tell you because I didn’t want you to think that this changes how much I wish you were here. If anything, it makes me miss you more. But something tells me this is not an eerie coincidence, Ruby. You’re going to be a big sister, an IRISH TWIN even, and in my core, I believe you wouldn’t have it any other way.

My eyes swelled with tears. I heard your Daddy turn over in bed behind me, “Do you have news for me?”

“I think I’m pregnant…” I told him, shaky.

He literally jumped out of bed to look for himself. Two lines means positive. Disbelieving, he read the package instructions to confirm that I was right. (I was.)

“Holy $&*t,” he says. Us

We hugged for a long time because that’s all we could really do. We are two grieving parents simultaneously mourning our loss and celebrating another life. We hugged knowing that you are irreplaceable and that everything will be different this time, but elated at the thought of bringing home your sibling.

After some quick math, we figured out the due date would be April 29th…Uncle Chris’ birthday. I felt more at ease knowing that May would still be your month. There’s something poetic in that. But I am 4 weeks pregnant, with a long 36 to go. Cautious excitement, we decided, would be our motto.

How can I make time move faster? Will I be able to separate this new pregnancy from yours? I ran 3 miles yesterday, should I have done that? Is everything OK in there? I had beer and sushi on the road trip, I should have been more careful. Will you help me through this?

I hesitated about writing you this letter. Couldn’t I just visit you at the cemetery and let you know the news? Ultimately, I decided that the purpose of these letters is to capture our family’s story. For nearly six months, that story has been one about accepting heartbreak, seeking recovery and embarking on a path toward healing. Today, our story found a new character. And while it’s scary to introduce this new character for fear of “the unknown”, I cannot deny that their existence changes everything.

I don’t know why you died. I never will. I will never be “ok” that it happened. I will always feel robbed of the lifetime of memories we didn’t get to make. I will always think it is unfair. But I woke up this morning after many months of asking myself “why” and for the first time, I felt like I had a reason.

It makes me think about the song, “For Good” from Wicked (though I’m partial to the Glee version).

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“I’ve heard it said, that people come into our lives for a reason.
Bringing something we must learn.
And we are led, to those who help us most to grow, if we let them.
And we help them in return.”

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Maybe I needed to learn that not everything is within my control, that nothing is guaranteed and that every day we wake up is worth celebrating. Maybe I needed to learn to appreciate heartbeats. Those sorts of lessons come at no small price and we paid handsomely.

But today, there is a life growing inside of me that simply wouldn’t be there if we hadn’t gone through all of this. Maybe you knew before we did that this was how it was going to be. Maybe this is your reason. Maybe this is “why”.

I’ll always wonder. You’re going to be a great big sister, Ruby.

I love you,
Mom

Syndicated on BlogHer.com

A Letter From Dad

Dear Ruby,

I love you so much. Four and a half months later, I cry less but I miss you more. I sit in your nursery when I can’t sleep until I can convince myself that I hear you.

My mind tells me you’re lost but my soul knows otherwise; I can feel you with me everyday.

Five years ago, hours before Mom and I drove 2,000 miles from Chicago to San Diego, we ran the Chicago Half Marathon. It was your Mom’s idea. Chicago Half MarathonWhen we started training, I couldn’t even run one mile without throwing up. Somehow, miraculously, we were able to work up to our 13.1 mile goal by September 2009. Crossing the finish line was an accomplishment I’ll always remember.

A few weeks after you passed away, Mom found another half marathon for us to run in your honor – the Celebration Run. I knew I wanted to do this even though it meant starting from scratch again. And, just as expected, running that first mile was a doozy. After working up to a couple miles, “Aunt” Meg sent over a running program with long weekend runs. Sunday’s were 3, 4, 5, 6, etc. Oy.

Sometimes I’m pretty sure you’re with me and other times it’s simply undoubtable. Setting out for the 3 mile run, I had my gps app and spotify playlist all queued up. Just as I started moving, my phone froze. The apps kept closing and none of my songs would play. Irritated, I turned it off and ran with no mind numbing distractions. During this run, my gasping for air was so loud that I couldn’t ignore it; it was clear, unmuffled. Struggling up hills and trying with all might not to stop, it hit me. Each breath I gasped for were breaths you couldn’t take. These were breaths I was privileged to gasp. I decided that each inhale and exhale were for you. Not only would I train to run the race for you, I would take each breath along the way for you. You were strategically reminding me why I was doing this.

I continue to feel you with me every mile. Sometimes I even picture myself carrying you in your ergo while I run. Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 5.01.46 PMThere is something undeniable about how working myself to physical exhaustion takes attention away from mental chatter and towards something greater. It takes me to a place closer to you where I can hold you again, just like I did on May 13th. Recently, I’ve been so exhausted after my runs that I notice myself talking out loud. Paying closer attention, I’m talking to you. How much I love you, how I want to be a good dad to you and a good husband to mom. It’s in times like these that you don’t seem lost at all.

I’ll run with you always. Please don’t stop letting me hold you.

Love,

Dad

Universal Truths

Dear Ruby,

I’ve been thinking lately about how I have a lot of reasons to be mad at the universe. Most obviously, the fact that you didn’t get a chance to have a full, beautiful, complicated life (and all of the domino heartbreak following that one simple fact).

But also, for all the other non-“you” things it robbed me of.

Like the innocence (or ignorance) of knowing pain like this existed. Like playfulness or the ability to be carefree – I’m so much more serious and introverted these days. Like the ability to be unselfishly, unabashedly happy for friends around me having beautiful, healthy, babies.

That one really gets me.

I find myself wanting to say, “You have no idea how lucky you are and I pray that you never do.” And while I don’t feel an ounce of bitterness or resentment towards them, its impossible not to feel profound sadness that our story ended so, so differently. It’s envy, period.

Yesterday, I finished reading The Fault in Our Stars on the plane home from “Aunt” Susie’s bachelorette party in New Orleans. It was a quick read – taking only the 4 hour plane ride to finish. The story was beautiful and tragic – one where you know exactly how it will end, but you read with idle hope nonetheless.

One part in particular sparked this letter to you and closed the proverbial book on my “be mad at the universe” moments of late. The main character Hazel, who is dying of living with cancer, asked her Dad if he believed in Heaven. He said:

“Sometimes it seems the universe wants to be noticed…I think the universe is improbably biased towards consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys the elegance of being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it- or my observation of it- is temporary.”

Days later, Hazel gets lost in thought during support group and writes:

“I was thinking about the universe wanting to be noticed and how I had to notice it as best I could. I felt that I owed a debt to the universe that only my attention could repay and also, that I owed a debt to everybody who didn’t get to be a person anymore and everyone who hadn’t gotten to be a person yet.”

Hazel’s reflection about her father’s philosophy mimicked the feelings I had in the hospital bed on “the worst day”. I felt (and still feel) like I have a duty to be conscious of everything moving forward. Awareness of life’s ups and downs and experiences and “eerie coincidences” is observing the universe…and you. The only thing that would make you not being here worse would be refusing to acknowledge that you were here ever.

I am eternally grateful that I get (present tense) to love you. And I get to love you because you were real in this universe and now, in another.

Be a good girl in your universe – I miss you,
Mom