Saturday, March 29, 2014

Just call me crazy....

A subsequent pregnancy....I write this post not to convince you that I am crazy (I already know that) but in hopes that someone else reading this may feel a sense of normalcy. I write based off my own experiences and conversations with other women. I realize everyone has different experiences and I am in no way am I trying to generalize the experience of a subsequent pregnancy.

If you are a mother who has experienced child loss and not yet embarked on the journey of a subsequent pregnancy, this post is not meant to frighten you. I only write so that if you experience some of these things, you won't feel alone. All the anxiety, sleepless nights, and tears are completely worth the joy I experienced holding my rainbow babies. Even though a subsequent pregnancy is emotionally hard, I would do it time and time again. In hindsight I wish someone would have forewarned me that a subsequent pregnancy would be a rollercoaster that not many can relate to.

This post is for the mother who is experiencing a subsequent pregnancy and feels alone....for the mother who has experienced child loss and is worried about what a future pregnancy holds....for the mother who has delivered her rainbow baby but felt a little crazy and wondered what was wrong with her. So unless you can relate to one of those scenarios, you will probably read this and be convinced that I really am crazy.

I am not an expert on the topic of a subsequent pregnancy, but I am currently in my third subsequent pregnancy so I feel  somewhat "qualified" to talk about the subject. I talk with many women about their child loss & subsequent pregnancy experiences and I've come to the conclusion that unless you've been through a subsequent pregnancy, you can't relate to the feelings the grieving mother experiences. Even though I've delivered two healthy babies and Bristol died 4 yrs ago, that doesn't seem to change the way emotions erupt in a subsequent pregnancy. I thought it would get easier with each subsequent pregnancy, but somehow it hasn't worked that way. Each of my subsequent pregnancies has been different and I have struggled with different things. Maybe because I know how many things can go wrong in a pregnancy, I feel I am tempting fate once more. Once your heart has been broken by child loss you never forget that pain...and going through a pregnancy again feels....wrong, weird, hard, emotional, abnormal, crazy...I'm not sure what word to use....

I've thought about writing this post for some time now, and today is the breaking point. I know 6 other women who are currently pregnant in a subsequent pregnancy, and struggle with some of the emotions I'll talk about....guilt, anxiety, fear, depression, detachment.....and yet, even though we all have similar feelings and there is some comfort in that, it still doesn't feel right. Maybe because we base our expected pregnancy emotions off the 'normal' pregnancy. After all, there is no handbook or What to Expect When You're Expecting After You've Held a Dead Baby to guide you through a subsequent pregnancy. Instead we are often left struggling with these emotions alone. Subsequent pregnancy support groups are not common and not every woman is able to attend such a group. (I attended one in my first subsequent pregnancy and it was truly a wonderful resource for me.) And due to the nature of 'crazy' feelings and thoughts, a grieving mother is often apprehensive about discussing her true feelings for fear that you will judge her and/or walk away wondering what's wrong with her and why can't she be happy.

So let's start off by saying that NONE of the feelings a mother feels in a subsequent pregnancy means she is not happy to be pregnant. She is happy, excited, and thrilled at the possibility of having another baby. However, because she has experienced heartache in the realm of pregnancy, her fears may overshadow her bubbling excitement and hide her "baby on board" shirt. So please don't judge her, or question her actions or words. She may be struggling and the best thing you can do is practice grace and bless her with open arms....just watch out, she may collapse in them with tears.

Too often people try to comfort the mother by saying things that aren't helpful. I realize your intentions come from a good place, but let me just say that your words may not have the affect you were hoping for. Here are just a few examples....
* have faith: Please don't mistake fear & anxiety as a lack of faith. I know that I have relied more on my faith during pregnancies than at other times in my life. While I trust that God is good all the time, I also know He is always in control. So while I desperately want to believe that I will hold a healthy baby in my arms, I know that God is in control when that dream doesn't come true. Just as a cancer patient may lose their battle, fearing the worst doesn't mean you lack faith. Here's an alternative statement: "I know God has a plan for you & this baby. And I'm praying he answers your prayers for a healthy baby."
* relax, don't stress, it isn't good for the baby: Believe me I am trying to relax. I am trying to enjoy the pregnancy. But I can't lay aside my underlying fear all the time, no matter how hard I try, it still creeps up. And the last thing I need to hear is that something isn't good for the baby. I don't need to worry about something else that could possibly harm my baby when I already feel guilty for the one I lost. 
Try: "This must be hard for you. I will keep you in my prayers. What can I do to help support you?"
*things will be fine, try and enjoy the pregnancy: Unfortunately the mother who has experienced child loss knows all too well that things can go wrong in pregnancy. Their naivety is lost in a subsequent pregnancy so blanket feel good statements are not helpful. The best advice I have is to just avoid those statements. Instead, ask how they are feeling and when their next appointment is.  

My own sort of crazy....

I've talked with enough women to know that I'm not completely alone in some of my experiences throughout a subsequent pregnancy. So take what I say for what it is....these are things I have experienced. Maybe you can relate, and maybe you've experienced something else. But I know you won't read any of this in a pregnancy I'm praying that my disclosing will only be helpful or reassuring to another mother in this 'club'....

In my first subsequent pregnancy I used to tell Brad about some of my feelings & the nightmares I was having. But instead of being supportive he looked at me like I was crazy and told me to "stop it." His attitude didn't change and I found myself talking less to him about what I was experiencing....I'm not trying to bash him, but I think a subsequent pregnancy, just like child loss, affects the man and woman differently. So if you're husband looks at you like you're nuts, please email me ( and try not to let his actions/words bother you. He is probably struggling in his own way and doesn't know how to communicate that to you since men want to be fixers.

Blood. I find myself looking for blood every time I go to the bathroom. Yes, every time. I will even turn the light on at night, convinced that I am miscarrying. I'm not sure why I do this- and I feel crazy every time I look, and even more so admitting it- I've never experienced a loss this way so it seems completely irrational...but at the same time I can't help myself. My only rationale is that I've convinced myself the pregnancy will end in heartache so I look for the first possible sign.

Fear. I am excited at the possibility of having another baby, but I have a hard time believing that the positive pregnancy test will result in a healthy, alive baby in my arms. I am terrified of having to say another goodbye. I'm pretty sure it would kill me and that I wouldn't survive another heartache. I so desperately want to believe in a happy ending, but fear grips my heart and I struggle to emotionally accept the pregnancy.

Anxiety. I worry about everything, it's a constant battle. I try not to and I may have good moments, but there is always a little voice in the back of my mind reminding me of the what ifs. If I'm not tired/nauseous/craving something, I worry that I'm no longer pregnant. I worry about lab results and ultrasounds send me over the edge with high blood pressure and near panic attacks. If I don't feel the baby move, I convince myself the baby has died. I may drink a coke to see if I can get the baby active, but then I worry that the coke will somehow harm the baby and then feel guilty about worrying and drinking a coke. Then I worry that the baby will be so active he/she will wrap the cord in a knot or around their neck. I try not to worry, but it's always there. I find myself turning to prayer a lot...

Sleep. This is one 'symptom' that literally had me wondering if I was losing my mind until I confessed at a subsequent support group. After I confessed my nightmares another woman reached across the table to grab my hand. With tears in her eyes, she reassured me that she too had similar dreams. What a blessing. I needed to hear that. I needed to feel normal in the most abnormal period of my life. Nightmares...sleep was a struggle, and when I slept I often woke from horrible dreams. My dreams consisted of holding/seeing dead babies, of hearing babies cry but never being able to find the baby or soothe the baby, of reliving the feeling of delivering a dead was awful. I would wake from these dreams in panic and convinced the baby was dead. There have been times I would take a pregnancy test in the middle of the night just to see the positive result, or used a fetal Doppler to hear the baby's heartbeat. These were lifesavers for me. This is one of those unspoken things...when people ask how you are doing, they don't really want to hear how crazy you feel or awful dreams like this....and I can tell you that when I've confessed this to family or friends, they get the deer-in-the-headlight-look because they don't know what to say. (bless their hearts, what do you say?!) But I know I'm not alone, so hopefully my confession helps a mother feel normal about the roller coaster of a subsequent pregnancy.

Guilt/Excitement. I want to be excited about the new baby but when fear is overwhelming, I feel guilty that I'm not announcing to the world my pregnancy on Facebook or wearing "baby on board" shirts. I feel guilty that my excitement and anticipation is balanced with fear and anxiety. I wonder if that means I love the baby less, or if that makes me a bad mother? But I know in my heart that I love the baby so much that I'm not sure I could survive saying goodbye. I struggled with having a baby shower during my first subsequent pregnancy, but was finally convinced to have one prior to my due date. After the shower I looked at everything, then packed it up in bags and closed the closet door. There was no nesting period. It's not that I wasn't excited, but I didn't want to set myself up for heartache. I felt guilty that I was already failing my baby by not being a good mom. And if it hadn't been for a handful of girlfriends I would have had nothing ready for my baby. They washed the clothes, put together the crib, put the car seat in my car, and packed my hospital bag. I was afraid that if I did those things, I would jinx it and then have to deal with putting those things away after the baby died. Even now in my 3rd subsequent pregnancy I find myself doing the same thing. I have two boys and we are pregnant with a little girl. I will have good moments where I have bought cute girl clothes, then come home and hide them away in my closet. I shake my head thinking I'm being ridiculous, but then I hear the little voice in the back of my head....

Detachment.  I find myself saying things like, "If we make it to the due date...." or "If we have a baby..." I have difficulty accepting the pregnancy and then feel like the ultimate failure as a mother because I have convinced myself this pregnancy will end in heartache. I've tried to hide my baby bump and pretend I'm not pregnant. When people ask me how I'm feeling I usually respond with, "Pretty good." Then think to myself, I'm pregnant? You mean I didn't each too much pizza and that isn't a gas pain? When planning things in the future I have to make a conscious thought about how far along I will be in my pregnancy (if it continues) and then pencil it in. I don't want anything to be set in stone because I know it's not guaranteed that we'll have a baby.

Don't call the least, not yet....
These are some of the 'big' issues I've struggled with throughout my subsequent pregnancies. Maybe I've scared the crap out of you. Maybe you think I've totally lost my mind. Or maybe you can relate to some of the above scenarios. Either way, please don't judge me or any other woman who has gone through a subsequent pregnancy. It's hard and 40 weeks is a long time to be on an emotional rollercoaster. I have to find humor in some of the things I do, I have to laugh at myself because if I don't I may cry. But I pray that at the very least someone reading this will be reassured they aren't crazy, and turn to prayer to help you through.
1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV        
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you

Philippians 4:6-7 ESV         
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus

Revelation 21:4 ESV         
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

1 Peter 5:10 ESV         
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

John 14:27 ESV         
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

It's not business, it's personal.

A friend of mine recently experienced a miscarriage and my heart has been hurting for them...It's funny how God places things on my heart & I feel compelled to write about it. Then, this week I received a Doppler request from a special couple. They have experienced 3 miscarriages and are currently pregnant with their 4th pregnancy. They have no living children. She wrote to me thanking me for the service Beats for Bristol provides. She told me how her family, friends, and her doctor brush aside their losses and don't validate her feelings of grief, guilt, devastation, and anxiety. Her doctor has the business-as-usual attitude about pregnancy loss and she is tired of hearing
the common go-to responses people so quickly use.....
*Miscarriages are common, almost everyone experiences one.
*You're young, you can have another baby.
*Something must have been wrong with it, so it's better this way.
And on and on they go....I'll give people the benefit of the doubt that they often try to be comforting or reassuring, but in their ignorance, they are usually the opposite to the grieving mother.
I reassured this mother that her feelings were valid & while miscarriage may be statistically common, it doesn't take into account the personal side of that pregnancy.
So let's get strait to the point....
Miscarriage is different for everyone.
We experienced an early miscarriage prior to our pregnancy with Bristol. And while it was a loss, it was a different experience for me personally. We didn't know we were pregnant until after the loss had happened. I never had a positive pregnancy test, and therefore I never emotionally attached myself to the pregnancy. So when our loss happened, I was shocked...but also somewhat detached (if that makes sense). But working with women who experience pregnancy loss, my heart hurts every time I hear thoughtless or cold remarks, or talk to a mother who feels isolated because her feelings aren't socially accepted. People openly grieve all types of losses- pets, jobs, relationships, cancer- but apparently we aren't allow to grieve the loss of a baby because it's common. I don't care what statistics say, losing a baby, pregnancy loss, miscarriage - whatever you want to call it- is not normal or common.
It's personal. And everyone has a different experience.
To the couple who has been trying to conceive for months, years even, miscarriage can be heartbreaking. To the couple who has undergone rounds of fertility treatment, miscarriage can be devastating. To the couple who has experienced prior losses, miscarriage can be traumatizing. And to others, it may mean something else.
The instant a woman is pregnant, she starts planning for her baby. Dreams begin and hope fills the heart. So when a pregnancy ends, those dreams & hopes are shattered. Nothing can get them back, and nothing makes it better.
So instead of downplaying miscarriage, or treating it like a regular, daily thing- think about what you say-
and how you say it.
Simply say, "I'm sorry. I will keep you in my prayers."
Don't remind them that statistically
25% of pregnancies end in loss.
Who cares about statistics when it's you?
When talking with my friend she told me what her brother said about her loss. I don't know all the details surrounding their conversation, but my heart jumped in my throat when she said he told her, "It was just a miscarriage. Get over it." What hurtful words and (in my opinion) immature & ignorant perspective. That attitude reminds me of The Godfather  and a clip from You Got Mail (1998 Meg Ryan movie). But if you think about it, people have the "it's not personal, it's business" attitude when it comes to a lot of things. Unfortunately, as our culture evolves, it seems we drift away from the personal side of things....and some things need to stay personal.  
So in the spirit of Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) let's get back to being personal. Life is precious. And all of us have hopes & dreams that are personal to us. Instead of, it's not personal, it's business attitude, let's embrace, it's not business, it's personal attitude. Because whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Still Standing

Today is Bristol's 4th Heavenly birthday. It's hard to explain how it seems like yesterday and so long ago at the same time.

But this year, for many reasons, was different.

Each year I seem to have my breaking point a few days before her birthday (the 18th), and last year I was a total train wreck for 3 days straight. I remember sobbing so hard driving home from the cemetery that I didn't think I would survive. The kind of hurt that makes you physically ill. Last year, the deep pain of knowing that I never kissed Bristol really tore at me and I felt like the ultimate failure as a mother. I was finally able to forgive myself after Brad 'reminded' me that we had so little time with her & that we were in total shock. (I know these things, but the combination of grief & guilt equals crazy & irrational.) I remember a conversation with a friend who had a loss a year prior to Bristol about how she was 'okay' last year- the 4th anniversary. I remember thinking, I'll never be like that, look at the mess I am now.

But this year was different.

Last week kicked off a wave of crazy-stressful in our house. Colton had his 4th swallow study followed by 4 straight days of dr visits, ER trips & walk in clinics. In the end, Brody was diagnosed with croup and some type of infection...oh, and a broken clavicle after a late night fall-out-of-bed from a coughing fit. Colton was diagnosed with a sinus infection & reactive airway disease, on top of his other medical issues. My brain has focused on antibiotic schedules, breathing treatments, fevers, snotty noses, and keeping Brody's arm in the sling. Sleeping was/is a rarity and my days are full of tired and fussy kiddos who don't want to share mommy. So an emotional breakdown just wasn't going to happen. I was able to visit her grave this past weekend & put some flowers there, which brought about a sense of peace that I needed.

One of the biggest things I have struggled with is moving "on" in the sense that Bristol (and our pregnancy with her) will be forgotten. Our child loss experience was terrible- and has been a motivating factor in helping other women who experience a loss. I never want someone to go through what we did. Not only did it change me, but it affected our families & friends, changed relationships, and nearly destroyed our marriage. How could something so impactful, be forgotten so easily? Well, I hope it never is. Not just for my own loss, but for yours. Or your friend-neighbor-coworker who has experienced the loss of a child. I pray & hope that their baby will never be forgotten in your world....because I know for the mother, she carries that pain of empty arms in her heart.

If you know me, you know that birthdays are a big deal to me. I tend to go overboard on the boys birthdays. Something deep within me wants me to make them feel loved & extra special on their birthday. It's their day, and I want it to be everything it could possibly be. But how do you celebrate the day your baby was born sleeping? It's not an easy task and nothing that I've done the last few years has felt 'right.'  Today is Bristol's birthday. A day that 4 years ago I didn't think I would survive, or even if I wanted to. A day that brought the worst news I could imagine, yet jump started a "new" me. A day that is filled with mixed emotions.
Am I sad? Yes.
Heartbroken? Yes.
Thankful? Yes.
And yet, when I look back on this journey, I'm still standing. I have survived and moved forward in a way that I never thought possible. Thanks to a loving God, he healed me and has filled me with a joy & motivation that I couldn't do on my own. If it were up to me, I would have stopped breathing on that hospital bed when the dr said, "One more push honey, and this will be over with." If it were up to me, Brad wouldn't have been home to save me the day I hemorrhaged. If it were up to me, she never would have died.

But it isn't up to me. Losing a child (or a loved one) is the ultimate reminder that we are not in control. This is God's plan, not ours. And even when we have trials, we have to be reminded that "all things work for the good of those who love Him."   It rolls off the tongue like icing on a cake, but when you are in that moment, it's incredibly hard to believe that this is part of His plan. I guess that's the root of faith. But I have learned that taking that leap of faith brings incredible blessings, new found peace & understanding, and an unexplainable joy to life. So I encourage you, if you don't have a relationship with Christ...if you have walked away or let trials pull you away, open your heart again. Just as you may long to hold your loved one, He longs to hold you in His arms.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. He saves those whose spirits have been crushed. Psalms 34:18

Today was 'okay' in the best sense of being okay is on a day like today. I was filled with peace instead of grief, but was able to cry & grieve in a way that was different than the last few years. I say this not to make you think, "Finally, she's over it." but as a way to give hope to other mothers. Yes, I had my moment of closed door crying on the floor. But I was able to stand up, wipe my tears away, and actually celebrate. This year we had a birthday party. We made cupcakes, got balloons, and had presents. We sang Happy Birthday and Brody helped blow out the candles. The boys opened prayer books (thanks to their Meemo) and Brad opened his gift....the welcome packet from our sponsor child through World Vision. Each year I try to do something special because I'm not sure what else to do. My mom sponsored a little girl through World Vision so I decided to find out more. The boys and I searched their website and found a little girl who was born December 18, 2009...she was perfect. I talked to the boys about sponsoring this child and we went to the store to buy her a gift. Brody was excited to buy presents for his "sister."

She is beautiful and perfect. In a way, I will get to nurture & care for her, watch her grow, pray for her, and bless her. And my dad signed up to sponsor a child through World Vision too. He chose another little girl with this birth date. How awesome that three little girls & families across the world are being blessed in Bristol's name? How awesome that women & families across the US & Canada are being blessed in Bristol's name through Beats for Bristol & The Bristol Project? How awesome that God has used me to reach out to other women who are hurting?

How blessed am I that God chose me to be her mother?

One of the greatest promises is knowing, that if I live my life right, I will get to spend forever with Bristol. One day I will get to hold her & kiss her. What a glorious day that will be! But until then, happy birthday sweet baby. I love you more than words can say.  

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Thankful Heart

I haven't been able to sleep thinking about what happened yesterday in the Kroger check out line...I need to vent, a soap box of sorts...and since my heart is too word-y for a Facebook post, here goes (it's been a while since I've used this blog as an emotional outlet!)...

It's that time of year when we focus on thankfulness...we celebrate what we are thankful for, the blessings in our life, and we set aside time for family. It's also an emotionally hard time of year for those who have lost loved ones. It's no secret that Nov-Dec are 'tough' for me as I walk the line between joy and sadness. Today is Thanksgiving. Tomorrow is Brody's 3rd birthday. And in a few weeks, we will celebrate Bristol's 4th heavenly birthday. Am I thankful? You bet'cha...but I'm also a little sad.

The more I talk with other women/families who've experienced a loss, the more normal I feel when it comes to the emotional side of me. When I look in my rear view mirror, I often wish that 3rd car seat was there. As I give the boys a goodnight kiss, I wonder what life would be like if Bristol had lived. When I fold laundry, a piece of me wishes there was a pink something to fold. I think it's natural. I am a mother and I love my children. Just because Bristol died doesn't mean I don't love her. And even though blessings have come from her death, doesn't mean I wouldn't change it for the world. I would give anything to hold her in my arms & smother her with kisses. But until that day comes, I will move forward. Notice I said forward, not, I will move on. There is a difference. I don't think anyone ever really moves on after saying goodbye to a baby. We are mothers. We love our children and from the moment we know we are pregnant we start having hopes and dreams for that child. So when our dreams are shattered at the news our baby has died, I don't think we can ever put the pieces back together completely because a piece is missing. We will never be the same- regardless of how well we may present ourselves on the outside.

Through Beats for Bristol, I talk with about 3 families per week who have experienced a loss and are experiencing a subsequent pregnancy. Unless you've been through one, you won't understand the emotional roller coaster another pregnancy is for the family. (That's a whole other topic for a future I'll keep going) What I find is that too often grieving mothers are hurting more during a subsequent pregnancy because they don't know how to answer "those" questions....Is this your first pregnancy? How many children do you have? Oh I bet you are hoping he/she will get to be a big brother/sister.....These seemingly innocent questions are HARD for a mother who has said goodbye to a baby. As women we are emotional protectors & fixers, we don't want others to hurt. So women end up shoving their emotions back down their throats and answering politely to whomever asked this question. Their life goes on, but the mother who just answered walks away broken and hurting. She feels awful, sad, and is hurting. She feels like she is denying the baby she buried, because she didn't want to hurt someone else's feelings. I pray you never have to be in those shoes because it sucks. There is no good way to either smile and answer politely, or answer honestly which usually results in an "I'm sorry" awkward response.

Brad & I were talking about this the other night...about answering "those" questions. He made the comment that it's easier for him (& I think this is true for most men) to just answer that we have 2 little boys because he doesn't want to create an awkward or hard conversation. But that is exactly my point. Why can't we answer honestly? Why can't we answer honestly and be received with grace instead of awkward silence? The simple answer is because babies aren't supposed to die and people don't know how to handle that reality. But what gets me is that people talk about everything else. Scroll through Facebook or listen to the conversations around you in a check out line. You will hear about bowel movements, drunken nights, arguments, parenting problems, medical issues, job crisis, sex lives, relationship drama, hardships, and death. We talk about fighting cancer, childhood diseases, death of beloved pets, but we can't talk about babies dying. We can't go there.

But the reality is that 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in a loss. Chances are you or someone you know has been affected by pregnancy loss. But maybe you don't know because we don't talk about it.

When we lose loved ones to disease, we raise money for awareness. We shave our heads or grow mustaches for a month. We sport pink ribbons to 'remember'. It's almost fashionable to raise awareness and 'save the boobies'. When we lose loved ones, we extend sympathy...we send cards, flowers, & prepare meals. We go out of our way to let people know we are thinking about them and praying for them. We ask them how they are doing. We even send cards to people whose pets die. We aren't afraid to talk about it, keep pictures around, and grieve openly. But if a baby dies, we act like nothing happened. We ignore it like it never happened. And it baffles me.

Grieving mothers aren't socially allowed to grieve their loss. Instead, there is an unspoken expectation to move on. We pretend like it didn't happen for the sake of someone else, all the while hurting on the inside. Don't believe me? Think I'm making something out of nothing? Ask a mother who has buried a baby...really talk to them and see what's in their heart. I bet I'm not far off from the feelings they carry.

So what happened yesterday at Kroger? It's been a busy week preparing for Thanksgiving, Brody's birthday party, and getting some Christmas shopping completed. As I strolled the aisles I started thinking about all the blessings in my life. I am so thankful for my children. I know many women who've walked the road of fertility struggles & not held a baby of their own. But helping women through Beats for Bristol keeps the reality of child loss ever present. I was thinking about when I was going to take flowers up to Bristol's grave and mentally running through my to-do list. So when the cashier saw my pictures of Brody & Colton in my wallet she brought me back to the moment. Her innocent comment of, "You have such beautiful boys. But I bet you are ready for a little girl." caught me off guard and tears filled my eyes. Her questioning eyes pulled at my heart and I managed to say, "We had one, but she died." As I walked away I let the tears stream down. I know she was caught off guard and felt bad. But I did too.

So there's my soap box. I'm tired of feeling like I need to protect someone else. I'm tired of acting like my pregnancy with Bristol never happened. I'm tired of acting like we never had a baby that died. I'm tired of acting like time makes it ok. The reality is, I'm a new person. My heart was forever changed when we learned Bristol died. And while I am ok & have learned to move forward, I haven't moved on. A piece of my heart has died and I'll never get it back. I don't need a hug & I don't need to talk about it everyday, but I do want to raise awareness of help break the help mothers feel ok to acknowledge their dead baby (there I said it, dead baby)...and to help others learn to respond with grace instead of awkward silence.

Today is Thanksgiving. What are you thankful for? There are not enough words to describe the gratitude in my heart. I am thankful for my family, my children, and the love God bestows upon us. I'm thankful that through Jesus I will have the opportunity to hold Bristol in my arms again. I will have to wait until Heaven, but I'm thankful for that promise....I'm thankful that goodbye, didn't have to be goodbye forever.

As we launch into this holiday season, I hope that you will keep in mind the grieving mother. Perhaps you know a friend, co-worker, or neighbor who has experienced the loss of a baby. I pray that you will keep her in your prayers. She may only hang two stockings instead of three. She may have a closet of gifts that will go unopened. She may have anticipated 'baby's first Christmas' that won't happen. She may wear a smile for the sake of someone else. But know that she may be hurting.

She may be thankful for many things, but there is also a part of her that is a little sad.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Happy 3rd Birthday Bristol...
This year we started a new tradition for Bristol's birthday. The past 2 years our family has gotten together for pizza and I would allow myself some alone time...time to look at her pictures, read through cards that were sent, and look at her memory box. I would buy a dozen roses, place them by her picture and light a memorial candle for 24 hours. I gave myself time to reflect on her short life, my pregnancy with her, and how her life changed me. But this year was different. We moved in September so many of those things are boxed away, the pizza place went out of business, and we buried Bristol this past summer. So the question lingered of how to celebrate & remember...

Earlier this week I decided that I would take a dozen roses to her grave and spend some time there. I would have preferred to have some 'alone' time for that trip, but Brad's work schedule wasn't conducive for that. So this morning I told Brody we were going to pick out some flowers and visit Bristol's grave, then he gave me a hug. God bless that little kid...he was especially sweet today (after a rotten day yesterday filled with typical 2 yr old behavior) but I'm going to believe his sister was nudging him to be kind to mommy :) As I was getting things ready to leave Brody positioned himself next to his bookshelf- he likes to sit and look through all his books- but today he found one that I didn't even know was on his shelf..."The One Who Came Before You" was the book the hospital gave us after Brody was born. I had never really looked at it before, and I know Brody hadn't seen it either. But he sat there turning the pages and pointing to the baby angel. Then he asked me to sit down, so I looked at the book with him. I told him that Bristol was the baby angel and we were going to see her grave today. He kept saying 'ristol' and it took every ounce not to break down when looking into his sweet brown eyes.

We got to the store and I told Brody to help  me pick out some flowers for Bristol. He grabbed the first bunch of roses he could reach- which happened to be gorgeous white roses with pink edges. They were perfect. And then we made our way to the cemetery. Both boys fell asleep on the drive so I was able to have some "me" time and allowed myself to shed a few tears before pulling through the cemetery gates. I was actually quite proud of myself. I laid down her roses & talked to God...and talked to Bristol. It was peaceful, perfect, and for the first time in a long time, I felt close to God. I left with a heavy heart about what all we will miss out on with Bristol, but also filled with hope and encouragement. Brody and Colton are true gifts from God and fill my life with such joy, I will forever be grateful for them. And Bristol is my constant reminder to teach the boys to love and seek Jesus and for me to live a life according to His will, so that I can be joined with her on the streets of gold. God is good, all the time, even when we don't understand it. As I sit here and reflect on Bristol's 3rd heavenly birthday, all in all it was a good day.

Saturday, however, was not. Saturday was my breaking point. It seems to be a recurring theme- I have a major meltdown about three days before Bristol's birthday, and this year was no different. Saturday morning I left to run some errands. Coming off an emotional roller coaster from the tragedy in CT on Friday, my emotions were high and tears were a constant on the brim of my eyes. I had to go to Franklin so I decided to stop by Bristols' grave on my way back home- I thought I should take advantage of some alone time. My mom had made a flower arrangement for her grave so I took it with me. And as I stood there looking at her grave in the rain I don't know what happened...I completely fell apart. I think the culmination of emotions from the CT school tragedy, stress about Colton's medical issues, and Bristol's upcoming birthday hit me at once. The tears wouldn't stop and my crying turned to a full out sob session. The kind of gut wrenching crying where you can't stop, it hurts so much you think you'll be physically ill, and its hard to breathe. I managed to make it to my car and tried to pull myself together. I was so sad- and I haven't been that sad in a long time. I started my trek home but the tears didn't stop, I cried the entire hour drive home.

Every song on the radio somehow reminded me of Bristol. I started thinking about my pregnancy with her and her birth...I don't know that I've ever really delved into specifics about our hospital experience when she was born, but there were some awful things that happened. And suddenly I understood my sadness...I never got to kiss Bristol. It's a dagger in my heart just thinking about it. What kind of mother doesn't kiss her child? Especially when saying goodbye? Was Bristol's death a way of punishment? How could God entrust the lives of two precious little boys if I can't even kiss my dead child goodbye? My hurt didn't stop and I cried out to I said, Saturday was not a good day. When I got home Brad asked me what was wrong. And again I collapsed in his arms. I told him I felt like a terrible mother because I never kissed Bristol. What kind of a mother doesn't kiss her own child?! I told him how I felt like a total failure as a mother and that nothing I could do would make it better. Is she in heaven looking down on me and saying, "my mom didn't even kiss me goodbye?" Does she know how much I loved her, yearned for her, and miss her?

Brad just held me, wiped my tears away, and told me what I knew in my heart, but desperately needed to hear. "You are not a terrible mother. You can't judge anything about when Bristol was born. To say we were in shock is an understatement. We didn't even know what was happening. In 24 hours we found out she had died, induced labor, she was born, and we were sent home. I can't hardly remember that day, it's all a blur. We only held her a couple times and didn't even know they were taking her away until it was already done. You are a good mother and yes she knows how much you  love her." All this I knew deep down, but I couldn't bring myself to believe it until I heard him say it out loud.

Perhaps our painful experience is why I feel so driven to help comfort families who experience the loss of a child. And maybe this is why I kiss Brody & Colton hundreds of times a day. Every inch of my heart wants my kids to know they are loved and cherished. And regardless of how frustrating and trying they can (and will be) I will never miss an opportunity to kiss them and tell them I love them. As I stood at Bristol's grave today, I told her I was sorry I didn't get a chance to kiss her hello and goodbye...but I promised her that when I get to heaven, it will be the first thing I do.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year...

 It's been almost a year since I last published a post...and what a year it has been. Brad & I found out last Christmas that we were expecting again. And so began another pregnancy filled with anticipation, anxiety, and excitement. I know that God is ultimately in control, but I have a hard time laying down my fears & anxieties...perhaps knowing all that can happen or go wrong adds to my constant worry. I've been blessed to help many women throughout the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom with the doppler rentals through Beats for Bristol. But that also means I continue to be educated on another heartbreaking incident of infant that I take to heart and pour what I can into helping another grieving family.

Laid to rest... This past year I struggled with what to do with Bristol's remains. We had kept her ashes in a special box in our home, but as Brody got older and more active (ie. into things) I worried that he might get into her remains. And I wasn't sure I could handle that. So I approached Brad with the idea of burying her, something we had previously decided against. But things fell into mother gave us two burial plots (so we could be buried with her when the time came), Brad's friend designed her gravestone for cost, and my dad is the trustee of the cemetery...we were able to bury her, the way we wanted, for almost no $. Truly a blessing. And her gravestone is perfect. 
So on a very hot July 4th morning at 7 + months pregnant, we buried our first born.  

 Such a special moment...Brad telling Brody about his sister before helping him cover her ashes..

I thought I would be "ok" when we buried her. I had countless conversations with the cemetery, our family, the funeral home, and the monument company and never had an emotional breakdown. I think I had my mind set that "this is what we're going to do and everything will be fine" attitude. It's a strange thing to plan a burial for your child...and since Bristol had passed 2 1/2 years ago, I had convinced myself that this was no big deal. But the actual moment of laying her ashes in the ground took my breath away and broke my heart all over again. I didn't want to let go, walk away, or cover what remained of her with dirt. Standing over her grave pregnant, with Brad & Brody by my side was a reminder of what we had lost, what we have, and how little control we really have. Since Bristol was born, the only time she was 'away' from us was when she was taken to the funeral home by the hospital. Since then she had been with us at home, and even secretly traveled places in my suitcase (just in case our house burned down while we were gone). But now I had to leave- I had to walk away and leave her ashes in the ground. My feet felt heavy and if it hadn't been 90 degrees my family might have let me stay. But the combination of heat, emotions, and being pregnant got the best of me. My family walked me to the car to leave...where I passed out and threw up just a few miles away from the cemetery. (I think I gave my father-in-law & mother a good scare.) Looking back, burying her was almost as hard as delivering her...I think because there is a finality at the cemetery and somehow I worry that now that she is 'gone' she will be forgotten.
But I know that isn't true...her earthly legacy lives on through Beats for Bristol, Inc. and The Bristol Project. And most importantly, she is a part of our family and my love for her is always in my heart. As time has passed, the hurt of losing our first child has changed...I wouldn't say that I am "over it" as some people have said, but rather I have learned to love & grieve her while picking up the pieces. As Brody gets older and Colton was born this past August, I think the sting that hurts the most now is knowing what we missed out on with her. Watching Brody grow up (a big 2 year old now!) and the excitement of a new baby, reminds me of the memories we didn't get to make. Brody & Colton bring immense joy to my life, my heart just swells thinking of how much I love them. And I am so blessed to be at home with them- spending every day watching them grow, change, learn, laugh...I can't imagine losing them. My biggest fear is something awful happening to them and having to say goodbye. But this fear also reminds me of my most important teach my children about Jesus, to teach them to love Him so that one day we will all be together for eternity.

 Colton Bradley Sparks, Aug 6th 2012
Big Brother Brody...this kid keeps me busy! But has the BIGGEST heart!
Tis the season of Christmas music...I'm not sure where I was the other day but I heard the song about "It's the most wonderful time of the year" and the first thought that entered my head, was
 NO it's NOT! November & December are emotional months for me, filled with happy and sad memories... November was when I last heard Bristol's heartbeat, but it's also the month Brody was born. December is when we learned Bristol died and she was born, but it's also my favorite holiday and one filled with many happy memories. As I was reflecting on Christmas, and the true meaning of the holiday I was overcome with mixed emotions....let me explain. I know how heartbroken I was when we learned Bristol had died...our dreams were shattered in that moment. And I know how utterly crushed I would be if something happened to my precious little boys...but GOD knew his son was going to die. His heart was shattered when his children didn't believe in Him, so he sent his SON to DIE for US so that we may be with him for eternity. Wow, that's LOVE. I can't imagine looking down on that cross and watching my son die...I can't imagine the hurt he must have felt contradicted with the overwhelming love he had for his children, for us....So as I enter into this season filled with mixed emotions, I am reminded of God's never ending love. Just as I will never stop loving or missing Bristol, God never stops loving us or yearning for us to love him.
 Bristol's 3rd Birthday is just a couple weeks away and I'm not sure how we'll 'celebrate' this year.. I know December 17th and 18th will always be bittersweet, but maybe I will also be reminded that
"it's the most wonderful time of the year"...
One of the greatest joys is watching Brody love on his brother warms my heart and brings tears to my eyes. Brotherly love...these two little guys are heaven sent, earthly reminders of their older sister who waits for us. As we approach her birthday I will be teach my children to love Jesus, to love one another, and to hold hope in the promise of Heaven. One day we will be united for eternity and when that time comes, it will always be the most wonderful time of the year.

Friday, December 16, 2011


From the moment of conception, we are mothers. From the instant pregnancy is confirmed, we make plans and our dreams unfold. Then, in a moment's time, our world shatters. Our stories are all different, but our pain is the same. We are mothers who will forever grieve the loss of our children.

♥  Bristol Sparks born into Heaven on December, 18th 2009  ♥

Two years ago my dreams were shattered, my heart broken, and my life changed. They say that time heals pain, and I wonder if years down the road December 17th & 18th will pass with just a short pause to remember our first child. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about Bristol in some way...and I hope that even in years to come, I never forget. Not because I want to relive that pain, but because I want to remember all the awesome blessings that were born out of her short life.

* I committed my life to Christ and was baptized a few months after Bristol was born. Through her life and death, I gained eternal life by truly believing in my Savior.
* Brad & I raised over $1000 for TinyHeartbeats in honor of her 1st Heavenly birthday. Because of those funds, many women across the U.S. will have peace of mind during their subsequent pregnancy with the use of a fetal doppler.
* Beats for Bristol, Inc. was founded this year and has already touched the lives of dozen of families by raising awareness for prenatal loss and providing free doppler rentals to women who have experienced the loss of a child. We also send pregnancy devotionals to doppler recipients and hope to minister to women in a special way.
* The Bristol Project of The Zoe Foundation, Inc. ( was born this year as well. The Zoe Foundation provides financial assistance for burial/funeral arrangements for families who have experienced the loss of a child. Because of our Indiana Chapter (The Bristol Project) many families will be comforted in a time of need.
* Some people have told me, that my faith throughout this experience has inspired them to seek a closer relationship with Christ. What an awesome blessing- for others to know and love Him- through this storm.

As I've prepared emotionally for Bristol's upcoming birthday, I have been torn by what to do and what, if anything, is appropriate. I have felt so strongly about doing something...and as I've reflected on why, I realized that I'm afraid if we do nothing, then no one will remember our first pregnancy. That her short life/death will be forgotten and therefore meaningless. I'm terrified that this journey, that piece of my heart, and everything that has happened since, will become a distant memory.

Two people- both mother's who have angels waiting in heaven- have told me this week that Bristol's life has touched and impacted many other lives. This simple reminder touched my heart in such a way that I was overcome with peace. I don't have to worry about making sure people remember Bristol, because in her own way, her life is touching people in countless ways that I can't. Bristol's legacy has already begun, and I pray that it continues to impact lives for generations to come, long after I am celebrating her life in Heaven. 

And in God's perfect timing, I've received four doppler requests this week alone! As I was communicating via email with one of the mother's she wrote this in her email:
I am so excited to hear from you! Oh I wish I could hug your neck! I have been glued to your website reading your story. What a great thing you are doing! I also can tell you are a believer and that warms my heart as well. Thank you for praying for me. This is such a blessing to me.
 I cannot EVER repay you for what this means.
Thank you for allowing little Bristol to touch my heart too.
 I cannot wait to meet her one day in heaven.

What an awesome thought...truly touched my heart, gave me chills, and brought tears to my eyes. As believers, we have the presence of God's Spirit to guide us to change, so the legacy we write in others' lives can be godly.

What makes greatness is starting something that lives after you.
- Ralph Sockman

You are not here merely to make a living. You are here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, and with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world. You impoverish yourself if you forget this errand.
- Woodrow Wilson

Our days are numbered. One of the primary goals in our lives should be to prepare for our last day. The legacy we leave is not just in our possessions, but in the quality of our lives. What preparations should we be making now? The greatest waste in all of our earth, which cannot be recycled or reclaimed, is our waste of the time that God has given us each day.”

― Bill Graham

What makes greatness is starting something that lives after you.