Wednesday, March 15, 2017

tell his story

Today I stood in front of a roomful of people and told Reece's story. 

If someone dared to tell me that I'd have the courage to do that two years ago, I don't know if I'd believe them.  Sure I was, and continue to be, very vocal about my loss.  But it's one thing to write it out.  To expel the haunting thoughts that swirl in your head at night as you try to fall asleep, but can't, because you are all-consumed with your grief.

It's one thing to grieve out loud.  To redefine grief.  To tell the world about your loss.  To write about it, blog about, email about it.  It's one thing to post things on Instagram, to hashtag #anchorsforReece, and send up balloons on his birthday.  It's one thing to tell your friends on Facebook what a tough day you're having, because the grief beast is sitting on your shoulders.

It's a totally different thing to stand in front of a room of strangers and take them down that path.
The thing with MY grief process is that, for the most part, people had a way out.  Don't want to read about it?  Don't click the link.  Don't know what to say?  Don't comment.  I tried to be polite about it in person.  I tried not to burden others with my not-so-easy-to-talk-about-in-casual-conversation story of babyloss.  And when it DID come up, unexpectedly, and I had to explain that I had lost a baby, and they were left stammering, not knowing what to say, or how to deal with the dead baby information they just received, I tried to guide them through it.  I had responses on the ready.  "It's okay.  It's not okay that it happened, but it's okay that you asked," often worked well.
But today I told his story to roomful of people who didn't know.  They didn't know that I wasn't going to tell them a happy story.  I didn't want to drop an anvil on their heads; I wanted to ease it down gently.
Sadira and I were invited to the Worcester County March of Dimes kick off, and with Sadira by my side, I told Reece's story.
I wanted to get it right.  For so many years I've attended events like this, and I cannot for the life of me, ever remember hearing a story of loss.  I remember the stories of the triumphant NICU babies turned chubby faced toddlers.  I do not remember the story of the grieving parent.  So when Jessica Hales from the March of Dimes asked me to speak, I wanted to do it justice.  I wanted to get it right for Reece, and Kallie, and Charlotte, and Abby, and Brooke, and Sydney, and Jeremiah, and Olivia, and Nicholas, and so many other babies whom we had to give back to heaven.  I wish their smiling faces were showing up in my Facebook newsfeed today, but they're not.  So I wanted to get this right. 

Today I told Reece's story...

"Good afternoon.  My name is Nasrene Mirjafary and this is my daughter Sadira, and we're here to share what the March of Dimes March for Babies means to us.
Three years ago today I was almost halfway through my pregnancy with my second child.  Like any second time mother, I was a little less anxious than the first time around, and busily prepping and planning for life with a new baby, a boy we were planning to name Reece.  My partner was looking forward to another chance at parenthood, after the tragic and sudden death of his eldest son in 2011, and my daughter was eagerly awaiting her chance to be a big sister.

When you have one trouble free pregnancy, you are often lulled into a false sense of security that any other subsequent pregnancy would be just as worry free.  When I started having some minor complications in March, it was nothing that a few reassuring trips to the hospital “just to be sure” couldn’t fix.  Baby Reece continued growing at each obstetrician appointment, and my daughter even accompanied me on a doctor’s visit to hear her brother’s heart beat.

We had no reason to worry that we’d have any different of an outcome, other than a full-term, healthy, baby boy.

On the morning of April 30th, 2014, I very suddenly and almost unknowingly, went into labor.  At just 22 weeks gestation, before paramedics could even arrive, Reece was born into my own hands, with only me present.  He lived outside the womb for 6 minutes, and then passed away just as quickly as he came into the world.  It was simultaneously the most beautiful and devastating day of my life, the only day I had to spend with my son.

Within days of Reece’s birth and death, my friends and family, both near and far, mobilized to show their support.  Nationwide March of Dimes walks were being held the very weekend after, and from Connecticut to Virginia to California, our friends showed up to show their love and support, at a time when we were all feeling so powerless.  As a grieving parent, I cannot begin to express how that show of solidarity and support in those early days helped me.

Babyloss resources on the March of Dimes webpage became a means for me to heal.  Connecting with other parents who had lost children provided me a network of support that I could not have otherwise found on my own.  Because although the sad statistic still exists that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss, the even sadder fact is that these losses are often not even spoken about or acknowledged, making it even more difficult for loss parents to grieve.  An alarmingly high statistic of marriages and relationships cannot survive babyloss, and ours unfortunately became one of them. Having a network to validate and support my feelings, and learn to cope during a time as difficult as that was essential.

When the one year anniversary of Reece’s birth and death was coming up, I struggled with how to acknowledge the date.  My daughter, Sadira, was adamant, “Mom, we have to celebrate his birthday.  Even if he is not here with us, we have to celebrate.”  We decided there was no better way to celebrate than to form our own March of Dimes, March for Babies team, just as so many of our friends had done the year before.  As anchors had become Reece’s symbol, and “Anchors for Reece” the name of a blog that I kept after my loss, Team Anchors for Reece was our obvious choice, and we celebrated his birthday that year with a team of 45, and raised over $9,000 in walks all over the country.

We kept the tradition going last year and moved our walk from our home in Baltimore City, to this walk “down the shore” to include local family members and friends, and were once again warmly welcomed into the March of Dimes family.

When you lose a baby, you don’t only lose your child that day, you lose their first steps, their first word, their first day of kindergarten, their first time riding a bike.  You lose birthdays, and celebrations, and graduations.  By coming back to the March for Babies year after year, gathering with our friends and family, raising funds to honor and celebrate my son, the March of Dimes has given us back an opportunity to make memories.  We are not only able to remember Reece, to celebrate his little life that ended way too soon, but we are also able to raise funds to ensure that in the future, no other families have to suffer a similar loss. 

I am so appreciative that the Worcester County chapter of the March of Dimes has given me the opportunity to tell our story.  While it does not have the typical “happy ending” that I know we all wish to hear, it is still an important story to tell.  It is a story of resiliency, community, and hope.  Our road has been a tough one but we’re so proud to be with you today in remembrance of Reece and to officially kick off the 2017 March for Babies season.
Thank you."

If you'd like to make a donation to March of Dimes team Anchors for Reece, please click here: make a donation.

If you like to join team Anchors for Reece (you can pick your own walk location), please click here: join our team.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

you would be one

You would be one.

Instead you were born too soon.

When they used to say to be "you'll never forget, but you'll learn to live with it," I didn't believe them.  I thought every day would be as unbearable as it was shortly after you left us.  I dreaded every Wednesday, every 30th, every milestone that you would never reach, every holiday that you would not celebrate.

It felt like every day was a struggle, because it was.

At some point during this year, I noticed the good days began -- by a very small margin -- to outweigh the bad.  Glimpses of the mother I used to be started coming back.  And although I am forever changed from your death, I am a better mom to your sister, Sadira.  I love more intensely, listen more, and am more present than I ever was before.  I don't believe it's necessary to go through trauma to appreciate every aspect of life...but it certainly provides a little perspective.

The truth is, the every days became bearable.  And then normal.  And then relatively easy.

But the bad ones, the ones where the bear of grief rears its ugly head, are SO bad.  They catch me off guard.  I feel unprepared.  I forget all of my coping mechanisms that I had to acquire so quickly after you died.

I cannot handle it.  I cannot catch my breath.  I cannot think.  It overwhelms me.

And it's so discouraging, because I sometimes feel as if I've come so far, but these moments send me reeling.

My grief has changed, but my love is unwavering.

I often think about who you would be today.  I think about what you would be doing.  Would you be walking? Talking?  What foods would you like?  Would you love music like Sadie did?  What color would your eyes be?  What about your hair?

I will always feel robbed that I never got to discover these things about you.  That I never got to see you interact with Sadira.

The day you were born and then died, I remember holding your tiny hand in my fingers.  All I could think to myself was, "I shouldn't be holding your hand right now.  This is the hand I should hold 18 weeks from now, on your real birthday.  This is the hand that should grow bigger, and grasp things, and put everything in your mouth. This is the hand that should reach out to mine when you take your first steps.  The hand that should hold Sadira's as she helps you cross the street.  The hand that should grip a pencil, learning to write letters.  The hand that should hold handlebars as you learn to ride a bike.

I shouldn't be holding your hand right now."

There will never come a day where I do not think of you, or who you would be.  There will never come a day, when I don't look at children at your would-be age, and think, "who would he be?"  There will never be a day when I don't stop wondering, and wishing I had gotten the chance to know you better.

I love you, precious Reece. I am sorry that we didn't have more time.

I will always wonder who you would be.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

who am i?

A couple weeks ago I was working from home when I got a frantic message from one of my friends.

"I'm at work.  They are having a little party for a co-worker of mine who's expecting a baby.  They are due around when I would've been due.  They just announced to the whole office that it's a girl, they just found out. Everyone is happy for them, but I feel so so angry.  Not at them, but just at the situation. I can't even look at them without feeling rage.  And then I feel badly for feeling angry."

This wasn't the exact message, but it was something like this.  This friend had reached out to me when she miscarried not too long ago.  She realized, like so many of us who experience loss realize, that this loss was much greater than she ever expected.  She even said she felt grief like she felt when she had lost a parent.

It's a real thing, y'all.

I tried to comfort her as best as I could.  I tried to tell her that her feelings are normal, and validated, and that she will not feel this way forever, but it's OKAY that she feels this way now.  That it's better to quietly excuse herself and protect her heart, than torture herself to try to sit there in silence, bearing it. I told her that I completely understand this feeling.  It is so strange and foreign and awkward.  A feeling so different from how she (or I) ever would've experienced before loss.

These feelings made me feel like a monster, the first time I experienced them.

Who am I now?

Before loss if a friend told me they were expected, I'd be thrilled for them. I'd gush congratulations and ask for any details.  Due date?  Are they finding out gender?  How are they feeling?

After loss I smile, say congratulations, and quickly try to change the topic.

Before loss if a friend had a new baby, I'd visit at the hospital, or at home within the first week.  I'd bring a gift or a meal.  I couldn't wait to get my hands on a new baby.

After loss I feel like a horrible friend for wanting to avoid coming to visit at all costs.  I don't want to hold a brand new baby.  They give me terrible anxiety.  The last time I held my newborn son he died in my hands.  I don't want to visit anyone on a maternity unit.  The last time I was there I left with a memory box, not with my baby.

Before loss if I saw your out with with your several-months-old baby, I'd ask how she was doing.  Was she sleeping trough the night yet?  Ask how you were holding up.  Remind you that you're doing a great job and you'll find your groove soon.  Comment on how cute she is.

After loss I might shoot you an obligatory smile, but I avoid the baby talk at all costs.  I'm getting better, but I'm still not so great at it.  If a friend is around me with their infant, I'll talk about anything except the baby.  I find myself avoiding eye contact.  Look past the baby.  Or just shoot a forced smile and walk away.

It really depends on the day, but mostly, I'm just not the baby person I used to be.  That part of me is gone.

For now.  Not forever, hopefully.

It's like I don't know myself at times.

What kind of a monster doesn't want to be around a brand new baby?  What kind of mother avoids them at all costs?

It made me feel horrible for a long time.  I know how shitty it is. It's not my friends and family's fault that Reece died.  Their babies have nothing to do with mine!  I know this logically.  But in the moment, when faced with a new baby I just freeze.  And I'm just standing there, trying to avoid looking at the physical reminder that my baby is not in my arms too.

I'm no longer the person that will make small talk about your infant in the line at the grocery store.

I'm no longer the person that will offer to hold my friend's baby when they are trying to juggle too many things in their arms.

I'm no longer the person that asks all of the questions about when the baby is due?  Or asks, do you think it's a boy or a girl?

I'm not the person that wants to come over and see your new baby.  The newer they are they more they rattle me.  Once they are a few months old, I've been able to deal a little better.

But brand newbies are still my Achilles' heal.  No matter how hard I try to convince myself otherwise, my gut tells me to run away.  The last time I held a tiny baby, he died.

Who am I these days?


Last year between April 30th (the day Reece was born) and September 1 (the day Reece was due), there were 27 babies born in my circle of friends and family. Twenty-seven.  Eighteen of them were boys.  My newsfeed on Facebook felt like a constant reel of happiness that everyone else got to experience with their new babies, while I wrangled my grief like a lion tamer.

It was pretty torturous, but I've worked really hard in the past year. It's not as bad now.

A year ago this week my cousins Ashleigh and Brandon had their baby boy.  I was at the beach just 40 minutes away from them, but I couldn't bring myself to go visit.  I just couldn't do it.  I wanted to, and I felt like a giant jerk for not being able to, but I just couldn't do it.

I didn't want baby Mitchell to be the first baby that I held after Reece.  I was afraid that I'd feel those horrible angry, resentful feelings, and I didn't want to feel that towards my sweet little cousin.  I waited. Weeks, and then months.  And then I test-held a co-worker's baby one day.  And while it was difficult, I did it.

So, Sadie and I drove down the shore and I met Mitchell.  And there were parts of it that were so hard for me.  It makes me cry all over again just remembering.  But Ash was so kind and sweet, and let me meet him on my own time, and comforted me when I cried. Cried with me at times. Our boys were supposed to be just two months apart.  We were going to dress them alike, and we were so excited that they would be so close in age.

I was so proud of myself when we drove home. I did it, and I loved baby Mitchell.  And when I started having bad feelings, I reminded myself how much I loved him, and our visit was good.  I was good.  I felt a little bit like the Nasrene I used to be.

This weekend we'll head back down to the beach to celebrate Mitchell's birthday.  I know I will always look at him a little differently, just as I will look at ALL of those 27 babies born during those 4 months of 2014.  Because he will always remind me of Reece, and how Reece isn't here with us.  But it makes me smile to think about the things that he does now, and how Reece would be doing those things too, if he were here with us.

It's a weird dichotomy.


A couple months ago two dear friends of mine and I made plans for dinner.  We had a great night, enjoying the first steamed crabs of the season, then topped it off with frozen yogurt and some laughs.  It was a great, great night with two people I love very much.

And at the end of our time together, they gently told me they had some news to share.

They are expecting their first baby.

This can be tough news to receive for someone going through loss. But on that day I was SO THRILLED for them.  Like, truly HAPPY.  It felt good to feel the way I USED to feel, pre-loss, about receiving news of a new baby in my extended family.  I think most of it came from the fact that they were so gentle with me.  They were kind, and considerate. They took account of my feelings. Instead of just reading some generic announcement on Facebook, that can feel like a punch to the gut, they made a point of being gentle with me.

They helped me heal so much, because by being kind and considerate of my emotions, I was able to react the way I USED to...with genuine happiness for them.

It's true that loss has changed me.  And I will continue to have experiences that feel "out of body" for me, where I don't react the way I used to.  And I'll never get used to that--it will always feel startling and strange.  But at the same time, I will celebrate Mitchell's birthday this weekend with smiles and hugs. And I am thrilled for my friends and their pregnancy, and look forward to meeting their new baby in November.

It's an immense relief to feel glimmers of the person I used to be.

I hope she keeps coming back, I like her.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

the difficult question

It's happened more times than I can count, but the times that really sting are the ones that stand out in my memory.

Most recently it happened while I was at one of Sadie's dance classes.  The girls were practicing their performance pieces, and I was standing at the window to watch.  One of the dads stood there watching as well.  I know most of Sadie's dance friends' parents really well, but this dad is quiet and soft-spoken and often keeps to himself.  He always smiles a hello, and although he comes all the time we've never really spoken to one another at great length until that day.

We were discussing the upcoming recital, and how well the girls have been progressing when it happened.

"So, is she your only one?" he asked me.

I struggle with this question, because yes, technically, she is my only child here on earth.  But saying that always makes me feel horrible.  Yet explaining that I had a child who was born prematurely and passed away makes other people feel uncomfortable.  And usually these conversations happen in very casual circumstances.  Situations where people don't want to hear things they deem "depressing."

So I bit my tongue, and simply replied, "yes."

I try to be a little abrupt with that response.  So people don't pry and try to get more info.  Sometimes it works.

But that day it didn't.

"Why?  You don't want to have another one?" he asked.

What do I say to that? I haven't figured that part out.  So I just sort of said nothing.

"You don't want to start all over again, huh?" he said with a smile.  "Babies are a lot of work, but they are worth it!"

Who are you telling, buddy.

It's at this point, where I can't tell him the truth.  We've gone too far.  I can't tell him that I had a son, last year in fact, and that his name was Reece.  That if he would've been born around his due date he would 9 months old right now.  That I constantly look at babies around the age that Reece should be now and think how differently my life would be if my baby had had the privilege of being here as well. That I was looking forward to all of the "work" he would've been.  That I absolutely know he would've been worth it.  That I have his crib and his glider and ottoman that still sit in my basement in their boxes, along with a bunch of his clothes, cloth diapers in a mailer box that I still haven't been able to open, and the awesome stroller that I got for a steal of a deal off of Craigslist.

That it absolutely kills me when people ask me this question in front of Sadira.  And inquire as to why I haven't, "given her a brother or a sister," as if I'm purposefully denying her the life experience of having a sibling.

I don't tell him any of this because then he will be horrified and say, "oh my gosh, I'm so sorry," and will walk on eggshells around me.  I don't want to be that person, but at the same time, I don't want to deny my baby that I miss and wish I would've had a chance to see grow up.

That day I didn't cry, I didn't say much in response, I didn't even look him in the eye.  I just kind of muttered a quiet, "yeah," and let it be before I walked away.

I didn't lose it.  I didn't cry.  I didn't even have to step outside and get some air.  I was rattled, but I managed to keep it together.   That's not always the case, but on that day I managed to keep it together.

But I felt sad for the rest of the I had denied Reece, when I had the chance to tell a bit of his story.

This scenario has happened so many times in so many different situations.  There are times where I'm not caught off guard and I confidently hear myself saying, "actually, yes, I had a son last year, but he passed because he was born prematurely." It's in those situations that I feel most proud of myself.  Usually the person who asked the question feels horrible, and gives me that "horrified look of shock" that I've come to be quite familiar with, and I usually start having to console them.  I usually find myself saying things like, "It's okay. It's not okay that it happened, but it's okay that you asked."  Or, "No, I don't mind talking about him, I love talking about him, because it's the only thing I can do to remember him."  Or in some scenarios, the person who asked confesses that they too, had some sort of experience with babyloss and there is a moment of shared understanding.  Regardless, these are the times where I feel I'm on my A-game.  I not only am able to acknowledge Reece, but I'm able to talk about it.  To be an advocate and put a face to babyloss, so to speak.

I feel proud of myself when I feel that I've honored him.

But there are some days I'm just not strong enough.  And that's the part that sucks.  Where I just don't have it in me to have the emotional, personal conversation with someone who is usually an acquaintance at best.

I need to do better.

One of Sadie's dance teachers, who has become a friend to me and has confided her own babyloss story with me, shared this article with me recently: To the Mom I Didn't Mind Making Uncomfortable at the Playground.  And it spoke to me so perfectly.

Somehow that short article made me feel validated enough in sharing Reece's life the next time someone asks.  So I won't feel so badly about making someone else feel uncomfortable that my child died. Because it's okay to ask, and it's okay for me to respond truthfully.

I feel like I need to respond truthfully next time. Not only for myself, but also for the other loss mothers, and for the mothers struggling with infertility.

But mostly, for Reece.

I'm going to do better.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

on mother's day

I've been a bit silent around here lately.  It wasn't intentional, it just kind of happened.  I found that sometimes through this process I'm just fine.  And I can talk, and write, and talk, and write, with no problem.  The words just dive right out.  But sometimes I feel like I regress back into how I was feeling last year.

Choked up, both literally and figuratively.

And even though I want to keep my commitment of writing every week...I just can't sometimes.  It's overwhelming.

I had a feeling this would happen.

Reece's Day was April 30th.  It was preceeded by a March of Dimes walk for babies in honor of Reece the weekend before and the weekend after.

Somewhere amidst those weekends it was also Mother's Day.

Sometimes it feels cruel to me that Reece's Day has to be so very close to Mother's Day.  A day that honors motherhood so very close to the anniversary of when I had to say hello and goodbye in the span of six minutes to my second child.  It feels wrong to celebrate the act of mothering when I didn't get to mother him in the way I had hoped and planned, just days after coming off of his anniversary.

And some may say, "At least you have Sadira.  You're still a mom."

To that I say, "But I'm Reece's mom.  I'm still a mom because of him also."

I remember everything about Mother's Day last year.  From waking up and facing the numb realization that it was indeed Mother's Day and that my son was no longer with me, to choking down lunch and making small talk with my family in an attempt to "be normal."  I remember holding onto Sadira as much as possible that day, not because Reece's death somehow made me more grateful for her--I've ALWAYS been grateful for her--but because I knew she was grieving too, and her little heart was still trying to understand why she wouldn't get to see her baby brother grow up.  As her mother too, I wanted to take that pain away.

I remember late in the evening I was aimlessly surfing the internet, scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, when a picture of a smiling, happy, beautiful, blond woman showed up as one of my "People You May Know."

I DID know her.  She was an old friend from college, and her name was Marisa.  One of those people who was just as beautiful on the outside as she was on the inside. In the picture she was smiling brightly, standing sideways with a pregnant belly. She held a sign that said, "20 weeks, halfway there!"

I clicked on her page. Saw her beautiful pregnancy pics, and realized that we were probably due right around the same time.  She was due mid September, I was due September 1st.

Except I wasn't "due" anymore.  Reece had died the week before at 22 weeks.

I didn't feel jealousy.  I never felt jealousy seeing pregnant women, and I still don't.  I just feel sadness. Deep, pure sadness.  I don't want their baby, I want my own back.

I remember in that moment, scrolling through the few photos of beautiful, pregnant Marisa that I could see, and saying a purposeful prayer.  I remember asking God to keep her and her baby safe and healthy.  I remember praying and begging God that He let everything go right for Marisa and her baby girl.

I still do this today.  When I see my pregnant friends I don't feel jealousy. I worry for them. I don't want them to go through what I went through.  I want their babies to be born healthy and happy.  And I don't want the bear of babyloss grief to ever be something that they experience.

I wanted to friend request Marisa, but I didn't.  Not because I didn't want to be friends on social media, but because I didn't want to be a babyloss mom in her life at that particular moment, when she should be happy and worry free.  I didn't want my fresh grief to be the first thing she saw of me, after not seeing her for ten years, and especially now that she was expecting.

And that was that.

Months later, in October, I was visiting my friend Laura in New Jersey for the Walk to End Alzheimer's.  She was another college friend, also whom I hadn't seen in years, also a friend of Marisa's.  Laura was no stranger to grief and loss, and during a stroll through the park in her neighborhood we got to talking about loss, and grief, and more specifically babyloss. She happened to mention that I was one of several friends of hers who had lost children that year.

"Really?" I said to her.  I was finding that I felt the same way, but I thought that maybe it was just because more people openly talked about it to me.

"Yes," she said.  "There was you, another friend of mine, and then most recently Marisa."

I had to stop in my tracks.  I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

I remembered that baby! I prayed for that baby!  I was invested in that baby, even if only from a distance!

How could she be gone, too?

I didn't even make it back to Maryland before messaging Marisa.  I wrote to her that same night, from the room I was sleeping in at Laura's house.  Soon after I heard back from her, and my heart just broke all over again.

Marisa's beautiful daughter, Charlotte Madison, was born full term, ten days after her due date on September 20th.  Marisa said she had had an uncomplicated pregnancy and easy labor, but Charlotte had aspirated meconium during delivery.  In her words, "her heart rate was fine the entire labor and there was no meconium noticeable in my fluids so there was no indication she was in distress until when she came out.  It was a horrible flurry of activity in the delivery room, they took her from me right away but still were telling me she would be okay.  After an hour and 45 minutes of them working on her, she was gone."

Even today, I read these words that Marisa wrote and hope that they change.  I know the outcome of the story, but I still hope that if I read them one more time, the outcome would be different.  I heard the same thing when I first spoke to Kia and Debi.  We know our stories, and we know how they end, but somehow we hope that when we tell the story again, the ending will be different.

Marisa and I have formed a friendship over the past six months. She is part of the sisterhood that I've written about in the past. We've reached out to one another on particularly difficult days, and we've provided one another understanding when it feels like no one else understands. I am so so grateful for that.

In one particular exchange of messages, I was having a rough day, and we were discussing the "good" days (which are really just the "bearable" days when you're in grief) versus the bad days.  She said this, "Usually when I have one of those days though, I find the next day, or two days later, I have a really "good" day.  I mean "good" relatively of course...but there are some days where laughing doesn't feel foreign and forced..and sometimes even fleeting moments like that in the really fragile days.  I hold onto them so ferociously..that's all we can do."

This has stuck with me and helped me so much. Not only then, when I first read, but also now.  There are days where laughter doesn't feel foreign or forced.  And I DO hold onto them ferociously. Marisa is right. 

There are days where I can see my progress.  Where I think about where I was last year and how far I've come to get to today.  And I realize that probably down the line, on Mother's Days years from now, I will be happy that Reece's Day is so close to Mother's Day.  I will be happy to have the connection between remembering him and celebrating motherhood.  I will appreciate that they are in the same season.

But I'm not there yet.

There used to be days where I didn't think I could make it through the week.  Where just surviving through the day felt like an unthinkable task. The responsibilities of getting up, getting Sadie to school, going to work...all of that felt unbearable.  But now I do it again.  And it's not so difficult.

There used to be Wednesdays where I would stare at the clock in the morning.  Waiting for the hands of the clock to hit 7:30am when Reece was born, and then holding my breath as they ticked forward to 7:36am when he died.  I would end up in a pile of tears every Wednesday morning and struggle to get through the day, buoyed forward only by the love of friends and family who would wear #anchorsforReece and post their pics, or send me sweet texts, reminding me that even though he's not here, they didn't forget him.  They're not afraid to say his name.

Wednesdays used to be my least favorite day of the week...the day I dreaded because my grief would stare me right in the face, every Wenesday morning as I looked at my reflection in the mirror.

Some Wednesdays (like the most recent few) are still very hard, but there are plenty of other Wednesdays that are not.  I remember Reece, I wear my anchors, but I am content.  As Marisa said, there are Wednesdays "where laughing doesn't feel foreign and forced."  I celebrate him.

I imagine that sometime in the future, Mother's Days will feel like that again. They will once again be happy days and not painful ones.

But I am not there yet.

Mother's Day will ALWAYS remind me of Marisa and Charlotte, though.  It was the day I first day a picture of them, together.  The day I first saw Marisa's picture after so many years had gone by, and the day that I prayed for Charlotte.  And ironically, my own mother's name is Marisa, so Marisas are on my mind on a day where moms are celebrated.

But also on Mother's Day, I think about the people who have said "at least" to me. What would these people say to Marisa, who's first experience of motherhood was that of losing Baby Charlotte?

I'll tell you what I'd say to them, I'd say, "She is Charlotte's mom. She is still a mom because of her." 

I have been a single mom, I have been a mom in a relationship, I have been a stay at home mom, I have been a working mom, but the single most difficult role in motherhood that I've ever experienced is that of bereaved mom.

When you have a baby, and you are a mother for the first time, you look forward to your first Mother's Day.  It's the first day where you "count!"  It's a new holiday that you get to be included as part of, instead of only celebrating.

What, then, of the first time moms who are bereaved?  How are they celebrated?

I will tell you.  You celebrate them the same way.  You wish them a happy Mother's Day.  You say their child's name.  You send a card.  They are walking the cruelest of paths in motherhood, so please do not shy away from acknowledging them as a mother.

Marisa, and Kia, and Ashley, and all of the other moms who experienced their first Mother's Day as a bereaved mother, I applaud you, I love you, and I celebrate you.  And I know that one day in the future, as we continue to work through this together, we will truly celebrate the Mother's Days ahead.  Not only with a brave face and an obligatory smile, but also with laughter that is not forced.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

on the eve of Reece's day

Because a picture's worth a thousand words.

Remembering Reece

April 30, 2014

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

for the mother who's baby died

If this title applies to you, I am so very sorry that you are here, reading this.  I know the feeling of living in an alternate universe following the death of your baby.  Everything in your life appears the same, your belongings, your home, and the people in it...yet nothing in your life feels the same.  Nothing is different.  Everything is different.

If you've very very recently experienced your loss, you may still be feeling that "numb" feeling.  For me, this lasted for about three days before the severity of reality came crashing down around me and the numb wore off.  Do not be afraid of the numbness.  It's there to protect you for a reason.

If you are still in the hospital, and have the opportunity to do so, spend time with your baby.  Take pictures.  This may not make sense to you now, but trust me, in the future you will treasure any tangible memory that you have of your child.  Refer to your child by his or her name, ask your family and friends to do the same.  Ask the hospital to allow you time to dress your baby, or swaddle them in a special blanket.  Then keep these items.  You will be grateful that you did.

Allow visitors to visit you and meet your baby, if you feel up to it.  I am so grateful for my friends and family who were brave enough to come to me in the hospital the day my son was suddenly born and died prematurely.  I will forever be grateful that others got to meet and experience him, if for only a very very brief time.

If you are religious, or have a particular religious affiliation, have the hospital contact their religious staff or your own pastor/priest/rabbi/imam.  I never felt more betrayed by God than I did the morning that I lost my son, but a visit from the hospital priest helped center me.  Weeks later his words began to make sense and provide comfort to me. 

I am just so overwhelmingly sorry that this happened to you.

Let's talk about you.

You are going to experience such a roller coaster of emotions as you come to terms with this loss and learn to live in babyloss and grief.  But my number one piece of advice (because everyone loves to give new parents advice, apparently even ones in loss) is to protect your heart.  Protect it ferociously.  If you don't feel ready to leave your house for a few days?  Don't.  If you don't feel like accepting a million phone calls and explaining what happened?  Don't.  If don't feel like you can go to those places that you went so often when you were pregnant?  Don't.  If you don't feel like you can handle going to a baby shower?  Don't. (I still can't and it's almost been a year.)

Don't do anything you don't have to do, if you don't feel ready.  This is a new world you are now navigating.

People will understand.  And if they don't?  Too bad.  You need to protect your heart. 

There is only one thing that you are going to be able to think about for quite sometime and that is the fact that your baby died.  I hate this for you.  I wish more than anything I could change that.  Going about your daily routine will be very difficult at first.  All around you there will be signs of the life you had before your baby died.  Things you never even imagined would bother you, will sudden reduce you to tears.

You will feel very alone.

You are not alone.

It's going to feel like everyone else gets to keep their baby, and you did not.  The unfairness of it is staggering.

But you are not alone.

A dear friend once texted me on a particularly rough day, "remember, there are other babyloss parents all around you, you just don't know it. They are sitting in traffic in the car beside you on the highway.  They are in line in front of you in the grocery store.  They are all around you.  They are surviving and you will too."

Realize that the first time you do something will be the hardest.  The first time you run into a pregnant friend.  The first time you go back to work.  The first time a well intended acquaintance asks "where's the baby?"  The first time you get an email reminding you to update your baby registry. The first time you get a bill from your hospital stay.

The first times will always be the hardest.  Allow them to break you down. Allow yourself to cry.  You will learn, and over time, you will get better at this.

I know that it doesn't feel like it.  And I also know that you shouldn't have to explain this awful nightmare to anyone, but it will come up.  And it will be horrible at first.  But it WILL get easier.

One thing that I heard over and over again in the weeks following my son's death was that "you'll never forget what happened.  You'll never get over it, but you'll learn to live with it."  And at first that sounded so, I'll NEVER get over this?!  How can I live like this?!  But, I assure you, it's true.  And now when I hear that line, it feels comforting...because I have learned to live with it, over time.  Over lots of time and therapy.  But I don't want to forget it, because I don't want to forget him.

I got 22 weeks with my son while I was pregnant, and the 6 minutes that he lived after he was born.  I don't want to forget a moment of that. 

Let's talk about the people around you.

There will be people around you who want to help. Allow them to.  Let them run errands for you, do laundry for you, prepare dinners for you.  You would be receiving this special treatment had your baby survived, and you need it even more now that your baby died.

There will be kind, sweet, well intended people who will say all the wrong things.  You won't even know what "the wrong things" are until the words come out of their mouths and hit your ears. Initially you'll be extremely hurt.  They will try to come up with a reason why this happened.  They will search for ways to explain this away, to explain the unexplainable.  They will say things like, "God just wanted your baby more," or "you can always try again."

They will not understand how hurtful this feels.  I didn't know it, until I experienced babyloss myself.  I cringe at some of the things I said in the past to friends who experienced loss.  Not because I didn't care, but because I didn't know better.

That's what's hard to remember...these people want to help you. They are trying to say something that helps you explain away what happened.

But in reality, the words that will mean the most will be, "I don't know what to say, I'm just so sorry."

These people who love you will not realize that you are desperate to talk about your child.  They will try to avoid the topic, as to not hurt your feelings further.  They don't understand that you are living without your child every single day.  You are well aware that your child died.  If they mentioned your child they are not bringing up a sad memory...they are acknowledging his or her existence.

They will not realize how beautiful it sounds to hear them say your child's name.  So, tell them.  Let them know it's okay to talk about him or her.  Just last week a mom at my daughter's school told me that something that day had reminded her of Reece.  It was totally unprompted and came out of nowhere, and it completely made my day.

Let's talk about the people who you need to have around you.

The most precious people around you will be the ones who learn to sit in silence with you.  They will sit with you in your grief, and in their own way, they will take on a part of it for you, even if they don't understand exactly how you feel.

These people will be so valuable to you on the most difficult days.  Don't feel bad "dumping" your grief onto them on your worst days.  They can take it, they are brave.  They will not try to fix you, they will simply be an ear for you.  Just by being there, they will help you immeasurably.

Connect with other babyloss parents.

You will soon realize that there is a great chasm between parents who have lost babies, and parents who have not lost babies.  I have had the experience of being on both sides of the chasm, and it is starkly different.  There will simply be parents who do not understand your grief, and have no idea even how to understand your grief.

By connecting with other babyloss parents you will feel less alone. You will realize that your feelings are justified.  You will feel like someone understands.

After my son died, I was pretty vocal about speaking out about my loss. As a result of that, I was connected with other babyloss parents.  Some who were public about their loss, and some who were private.  These fellow mothers have helped me get through the darkest of days, because they too experience them, and they completely understand.

If you don't know any fellow babyloss parents, find them.  Call your hospital and ask about babyloss support groups. Find them online.  There are communities on Babycenter and the March of Dimes website for babyloss parents.  Explore these.

Read the blogs and stories of other parents who have lost their children.  Realize that you are not alone in your grief, even though you may feel like you are.

I realize the title of this post leans itself towards mothers, but that's only because I only know the experience of being a mother, and not a father; however I am certain that much of this applies to babyloss fathers as well.  Dads often get lost in the mix.  Acknowledge that this is a loss for dads too.  Invest in your relationship.  Consider your spouse and his grief process.

Bereaved parents face a higher rate of separation and divorce. I never expected to be one of the couples that didn't "make it" through loss. But unfortunately we didn't make the cut.  Walking alone through grief haunts me every day.

Consider your other children, if you have them.  They are grieving in their own way.  Provide them an outlet to talk about their deceased sibling.  Whether it be coloring, or writing...don't forget that they feel this loss too.  Try to be open with them when you are feeling sad.

Grief sucks.  There is no way around it.  But I've found that trying to avoid it is impossible.  You can only delay it for so long.  There is no way to move past the horrible scary feelings unless you face them.

I am so so sorry.

I hope I'm being kind enough to you right now.  When I go into "explanation mode" I often sound like an instruction manual.  "Do this, don't do this. Say this, don't say this."  I'm not trying to do that.

Please know if I were there with you I would hold your hands, and hug you, stroke your hair, and cry with you.  I'd sit there in silence with you for as long as you needed me to.  I would make you hot tea, or a cup of coffee if you needed it and listen to you vent.  I would hug you more.  I would let you cry on my shoulder until our eyes were red and puffy.  And when all that was over I would let you know that even though you don't feel like it right now, you WILL be okay.  It is not okay that this happened.  It is horribly horribly unfair...but YOU will be okay.

My goal in writing this is to let you know, I understand.  I have been in your shoes. 

You will survive this.

You are not alone.