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.