Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Birth Story

A young mother tries to stay still, despite the waves of fear and excitement coursing through her body.

The needles and medical instruments all seem much larger than she imagined, but she is not the same girl who started this journey eight months ago and so these things are no longer cause for (much) concern.

She knows that no amount of fried chicken and sweet tea consumed, no number of TLC's A Baby Story watched, no amount of diligent internet scouring has prepared her for this moment-the moment she will meet you, her firstborn.

And she is right. For when that moment comes, when she sees you for the first time, she said is no longer she. She is, and will always be, we.

This story could be almost anybody's, but it is ours, my sweet Rip boy. And while everyone who graces God's green earth has a different ending to their story, your birth story, like many others, is a miracle.


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

"Good" Grief



I wrote a post using this same title soon after Rip died. 

At that point I was trying to figure out the whole grief thing, and felt like I was failing miserably. Looking back, I was doing pretty darn well- which is to say I was getting up each morning, putting one foot in front of the other, breathing in and out. I was living. I was doing my best. And when you are at rock bottom, that really does mean something.

Fast forward six years and, through no desire of my own, I’ve gotten better at grief. Or, actually, I’ve just gotten better at being a parent to a child who does not live on this earth.

I remember that first October, my first Infant Loss Awareness Month. I was such a nervous wreck that if I didn’t say or do the right thing, nobody would know how much I loved my son. The same went for his birthday, the day he died- really every day. I felt such a need to prove my love, that I had not, would not, forget Rip that I worried constantly if I was doing it right. 

Somewhere in the past years Rip became such a way of life for me that the fear went away. Just as I’ve become a more confident mother to Gracie and Sam as they grow, the same is true of my relationship with Rip. He is separate from me in the hardest way possible, and yet with me in ways that my other children will never be.

The last couple of years I’ve used the day Rip died to ask others to do something good- and it was great, so many people sending funny and touching stories remembering our boy. But, every year I worried nobody would. And it made that day feel heavy (heavier) than it already did. 

So this year, our family has decided to do something nice for someone each day of Rip’s life. Secretly. It takes all of the pressure off and still allows us to spread the good thing that he is and forever will be.

It is a blessing and a curse to be someone who looks continually for the good, because sometimes it can be awfully hard to find. But this is how we choose to put the good in to our grief this year. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Because of a Brown Dog

I remember the weight of your fat belly in my hands, and the velvety soft of your ears and nose. And the puppy breath, but never the teeth. You were never a chewer- just one of the many things that set you apart from the rest.

From the beginning, you had your master. You loved him best, and you respected him most. 

And then there was me, maybe half mother, half sister- you respected me almost none but I think that’s why we had a little more fun. Where you were always aware of your place with your master, you were very rarely so with me. Many times you made your 90lb self very comfortable directly on top of me. A not-so-silent brown shadow who followed my every move.

There was a time when my belly grew big and I had to go away for a while. You visited me outside this new place and walked along my wheelchair. You brought normal to its very opposite.

When I came home everything was different. Your master had to go back to work and so you were left to stand guard. We moved from room to room, me crying, your eyes worrying and tail thumping. You never left me.

Eventually my belly grew big again and this time we brought home something new. You were not impressed.

One day your master set this newest loud creature on top of you. You let out one of your loudest sighs and gave a resigned thump of your tail. 

From that day your role in the family was a little more in the background. But as the little creature grew bigger (and unbelievably, louder) I would occasionally find the two of you curled together. Her feet using you use the worlds most dependable step stool, her head on the warmest pillow.

By the time he came into the picture you were fully on board. You withstood tail pulling and hair grabbing with a full-on doggy grin. These were your people and you loved them with your whole heart. 

Yesterday was your last day with us. You and I took one last ride over the bridge, air blasting and windows down. Even though you did not feel good you loved the wind blowing in your ears. We did not discuss that time I accidentally rolled your head up in the window and then panicked before I could get it out. We just played some good tunes and smiled at each other in the rear view mirror.

You got to say goodbye with your head in your master’s lap, exactly where I know you would want to be.

What I hope you know, 

Is that we know how to love unconditionally

We know how to go to the bathroom with someone watching our every move

We know how a warm body after a hard day makes all the difference

We know how to sleep through one choosing to groom himself directly beside our bed

We know how to forgive

We know how to keep going

We know, really, how to be a family

All because of a brown dog.

We love you Dock Brown. Always and forever, buddy.



Wednesday, September 21, 2016

C is for Complicated



I came across an article yesterday by Lisa Ling entitled, “Why I regret my c-section”.

Articles like this always give me a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I don’t-can’t-regret my c-sections because for me there was really was no other way.

The condition I had with Rip meant that “natural” childbirth would mean imminent death for my child. And, honestly, my first c-section didn’t phase me in the least. After 6 weeks on hospital bed rest and all of the joys and tragedies that followed my body and what it did and did not go through were the least of my concerns.

When I got pregnant with Gracie shortly thereafter my extremely respected high-risk doctor told me I was not a candidate for a VBAC because the risk for uterine rupture- putting my child’s life and my life in danger-was too high. Tell that to a mother who just lost her baby and I will show you a mother who signs a consent form faster that you can get a pen uncapped.

It wasn’t until after my c-section with Gracie that I started to have some feelings of-well, I don’t really know what.

For me, “the more you know” does not turn out to be a good thing on the operating table. The second time I knew what to expect and for someone who likes to be “in control” (insert hysterical laughter here for all things pertaining to childbirth) being literally tied down to a table is fairly panic-inducing. Okay really panic-inducing. 

After my healthy baby girl was born (hallelujah!), I had complications that resulted in a really gory, painful eight weeks post-partum. Let me tell you, if you want to test your partner’s love for you- have an extremely nasty issue that you yourself cannot care for. That’s love. 

It was not fun. It was hard and scary and also for me, somewhat in perspective because I had a living, breathing child.

Ling’s issue was somewhat similar, a nasty infection after the birth of her second child. She has every right to feel regret about the way she birthed her child, and to talk about it…but the thing that gets me is that at the end of her article and of so may of these c-section articles is the statistics on c-sections in this country. And she does a very good job of pointing out that some are medically necessary but there is a large rise in others that aren’t and surgery is a big deal and comes with risks and shouldn’t be entered into lightly. Which is all so true and I agree wholeheartedly. 

But at the end of the day, the light that seems to be cast in the articles is that c-sections, even when medically necessary, are the wrong way to go. Like, sorry you had to take the losers way out.

Many articles I’ve read go to great pains to talk about how c-section babies have more incidents of asthma (which Gracie does have) and don’t get certain bacteria passed to them at birth that are needed to help fight allergies. Basically its another breast is best argument but with much higher stakes.  So yeah, I have some complicated feelings about my c-sections.

I would absolutely not choose to have a c-section if I had the choice. But I don’t. Didn’t. So I can’t regret it. Don’t. Didn’t.

 I’ve had three of them. The first allowed me 7 days with my son. I have two additional living children. I guess that’s the bottom line I wish they would put in these articles.

Let’s try to avoid generalizations and leave it to individuals and their medical professionals to come up with a plan. It may be complicated, but in my book any method of receiving a healthy baby is a good one.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Day in the Life

If its her, I hear the tell-tale creaks coming from her room and then the tip-toe walk (who knew that could be inherited) skittering towards our room. Her index finger jabs my cheek one, two, three times before I haul her in the bed and I can see her smiling in the dark as I half-heartedly tell her she needs to sleep in her own bed. At  age four, she sleeps somewhat like a real human and I rarely feel her after she falls back asleep.


If its him, I am jolted awake by my name being shouted from his room. Not a cry, mind you, but a demand. When she was his age I let her cry it out. Now I am entirely too tired for that. I drag him into bed with us with his two huge stuffed animals (“Ha-ha-lellujah" the turtle, and “Wog” the frog) at which point he buries himself so close to my body he once again become an extension of me. I love the smell of him so much I really don’t mind.

If its both, the adults will sleep in fits and bursts while they arrange themselves in various tangles and shouts of discomfort until it is light outside. Sometimes they look so alike and are so perfect in the moonlight I (almost) wouldn’t have it any other way.

If its neither, I war with myself for hours whether get up and check their breathing. The neurotic me almost always wins.

Morning is a race- get dressed, eat your breakfast, don’t hit your sister, he didn’t hit you that hard, the dog will not drink your milk, honey let’s go, let’s go, LET’S GO, Mama wouldn’t have to yell if you came the first time, where are your shoes (bow, bag etc. etc.)

Coming and going is my favorite- they sing funny songs to each other and tell me their secrets and fears (Him-"Me cared monsers” and Her- "Mama, what happens if you learn to drive and you don’t know where you are going”?)

Each day I walk them into school and see their faces light up and their teachers' (his the same that taught her at that age) faces light up. There is nothing more beautiful than finding people who love and teach your children this much while you are away.

For six hours I work and think about them, I anticipate their faces and their little bodies until they are all mine again.

She is older and more quiet about her hugs these days. She recently asked me if I could come later so she could play longer. I miss the squeals of joy when I walk through the door but I still catch the light in her eyes when she sees me. 

He is all smiles and happy dances when he sees us. After an extensive goodbye to all of his friends we are finally on our way.

There are fights over toys in the car, always.

Home for snacks (he wants whatever she wants) and all of the toys come out of the toy boxes. Legos, blocks, and much to his daddy’s horror- “Babbbies” (Barbies) are favorites. Fights, yes, but also surprising sibling sweetness.

Daddy comes home to make dinner while I give baths. Bath time can be lots of fun but also often resembles the movie Gremlins. Daddy swings them around in their towels after bath. Someone inevitably cries. 

She takes approximately 2 hours to put on her pajamas. Honey put on your pajamas, put on your pajamas, PUT ON YOUR PAJAMAS, Mama wouldn’t have to yell if you would PUT ON YOUR PAJAMAS!!!

We eat as a family. She eat two bites, he eats two plates.

I put him to bed. We pray, we rock, he snuggles with his turtle and his wog and gets in his crib. I wonder how I got so lucky.

I put her to bed. We pray, we (still) rock, I tell a story, she gets in bed and I wonder how I got so lucky.

Then again sometimes they don’t go to bed and I wonder if I will ever get so lucky.

Their daddy and I got to bed.

If its her, I hear the tell-tale creaks...

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Ghosts of Parents Past

I’ve found, as I would assume any parent who has been a parent for more than two minutes has also found, that the highs and lows of parenting swing drastically and dramatically. Within the span of a couple of minutes I find myself holding my little people in my arms smugly smelling their sweet heads, and mere moments later I am having an out of body experience where those same little people are attempting to claw one another’s eyes out and their shrill voices literally leave my ears ringing.

I love them, dear God I love them beyond all reason- but this crazy pendulum swing of parenting…sometimes I feel like one of those old cartoons where the character takes off and his clothes are still standing there, suspended in the air. I’m those clothes, two steps behind whatever emotion my child has bolted onto next.

One such experience happened, quite unfortunately, on a very small plane this past weekend. My younger brother got married-and that was lovely, and we are all very excited to welcome my new sis-in-law to the family- but the travel was far so we decided to split it up and take both a plane and a rental car to reach our destination. The journey there was relatively uneventful (save some threats of vomit from Gracie) and we arrived unscathed.

Neither child napped on the car trip to the airport on the way home so I was elated when Sam immediately fell asleep in my arms upon take off. I glanced over at Gracie was happily playing on her iPad. Right here. Here is where I smiled over their heads at my husband. “Let’s order a drink” I mouthed. I took a selfie. A SELFIE. That’s right…I got cocky.

Our drinks were delivered. Gracie ordered apple juice. I watched as the flight attendant filled the juice cup to the brim, attempting to stop her but decided to be the “fun mom “ (remember how that worked out on the day I let them dress as elves?) and let it go.

No sooner had a cracked open the can of my $10 airplane beer when Samuel woke up.

Sam is an easygoing kid. By far the calmer of my two. But, occasionally, when he wakes from his nap he embodies what I think is what people are referring to when they say, “Don’t poke the bear”. To say he roared to life would be an understatement.

You could almost feel everyone in the tiny plane tense.

I jumped up so hard I hit my head on the overhead bin. Sam’s foot shot out and knocked over Gracie’s entire cup of juice, soaking her book bag and iPad. She began to wail. 

Parke offered up Sam’s juice cup (to help his ears). Sam threw back his head, also cracking it against the overhead bin.

The flight attendant came over, asked Sam if she could hold him- rage doesn’t really describe his response.

Parke offers cup-Sam throws himself against bin

Backseat neighbor begins singing “Farmer in the Dell” - Sam attempts to claw her eyes out

Parke offers cup- Sam throw himself backwards

“I. Don’t. Think. He. Wants. The Cup.” I hiss

You always turn on your allies in stressful situations.

Parke settles down with Gracie (and drinks my beer…which I sort of deserved) while I walk Sam up and down the teeny aisle, kicking heads right and left while he wails.

Why I wore wedge sandals I will never know. 

We dodge at least ten people headed towards the restroom- I curse their small bladders on the hour long flight (go before you come people).

Finally, finally, finally…we are to “prepare for landing”…Sam flings himself wildly about until we bump to the ground at which point he pops up and smiles at the lady he nearly maimed earlier.

He calls out cheerful “bye, byes” to anyone he can make eye contact with.

The four of us stumble off of the plane, Parke and I like soldiers out of battle and Sam and Gracie running ahead, bobbing and weaving and laughing hysterically. 

Somewhere, there is a little ghost of us still on that plane, getting ready to cheers over the head of our sleeping toddler.

Poor little dumb mama

Friday, May 13, 2016

Red Plate Special

You may or may not have seen the plate…its red and has the words “You are special today” around the edge. It was a big deal in my house growing up, handed out only on birthdays or other noteworthy occasions. It was thrilling to reach the dinner table and find yourself deemed worthy.


Last weekend Gracie and I traveled to my parent’s house to watch my baby sister graduate from college. I won't even get into how old this makes me feel. I was luxuriating for a few extra minutes in bed (I should have known) when I heard Gracie screaming from downstairs. What I heard her screaming was “I. AM. SPECIAL!!!!!!” 

Evidently, she was having a class 5 brat attack because she found out that my sister the graduate would be receiving the red plate that day. In true fashion my dad was reassuring her that yes, she was special, while my mom was telling her in an “ain’t nobody go time for this” tone that it just wasn’t her day. I decided on the middle of the road approach and took her little rear end outside to explain that while she was, in fact, special so was everyone else. And it was not a red plate special kind of day for her.

I was pretty horrified by her behavior but the more I thought about it…I think I may act that way myself sometimes. Maybe I don’t throw myself on the ground and scream, but I do expect special treatment. As many times as I say I don’t want to be “that girl”, I, mostly subconsciously, expect people to treat me with white gloves because my child died. Five years ago. 

Don’t get me wrong- I will always grieve Rip. And I will die trying to make a wonderful, positive legacy for him. But wanting someone to know about him so they will treat me with a “you poor dear” reaction is doing neither of those things. I find myself thinking that the world owes me because I have suffered the very most of anyone ever. Which of course of I haven’t. Not by a long shot.

Yes, losing a child makes me “special”…but everyone has something (or things) that make them horribly, awfully special. I know people who have battled infertility, lost one or both parents, faced impossible situations with their living children…lost children. Sometimes more than one of these things. 

I was given an impossible amount of love and comfort when I needed it most. The one thing good thing I can take from grief is the ability to help others through theirs, not drag them into mine, but to truly take what I have learned and make their journey easier.

I pray daily for my children not to encounter the darker things life has to offer, but at the end of the day, I can’t protect them from everything. What I hope to teach them is that no matter what life has in store for them, good or bad (and Lord, let it be mostly good)…everyone is special. I hope I can teach by example so that they learn its not always about them. And when your day is done, always be willing to pass the red plate.