“The Body Keeps The Score”

This is an open letter from me to you, and I hope you read every word. What I have to say is important.

We have a marriage like Alec and Kim, or Sean and Madonna- we love each other but we also love to hate each other. We carry on with our tempestuous relationship because we have no other choice. We’re stuck together.

Yes, body, I’m talking to you. Sometimes your heaviness leaves quietly, without me having put forth a declaration that things will be different this time. Other times, the weight of you is a mental and physical sandbag on my waist, pushing me down. You bring tears of anger and frustration to my eyes when you do this. I question why you don’t do this to seemingly everyone else.

I try to tell myself that you don’t define me, that you don’t make me who I am, and that you’re simply a vessel to my mind and heart and my essence, which is what REALLY makes me who I am. When I do this, you are in the back of my head, telling me negative things. I hear the faintest whisper from you, and it pulls me into a place where I detest you. I sometimes find pleasure in punishing you.

Other times you’re loud, and obviously there, all of you, taking up much more room than I want you to. You make me defenseless, and I have abused you. Sometimes I think you deserve it.

Maybe I will get to a place one day where I unconditionally give you the agape love that you deserve. You’ve done many wonderful things for me, but you’ve also disappointed me. This is life- yin and yang.

Since we are together for life, I’m now trying to take care of you. I’m mindful of the anxieties around what size you make me. I’m trying to include you in pictures. I’m trying to show my daughter that I am comfortable with you.

Until we get there, body, know I’m trying. Know some days will be easier than others. Please realize that cycles and habits are hard to break. I will try not to judge you as much as I do now. I will not to starve you one week and then push you physically the following week.

Deep down I do love you, even though most days I don’t like you. But we will never be unraveled, and I promise that for the duration we are intertwined, I’ll appreciate the roots you’ve given me to someday grow into my own graceful tree of acceptance.

The title of my essay is from the title of this book, by Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD

Paying It Backward

Tried to pay it forward today. It didn’t work at first. I was stunned. Through tears, I tried again with someone else. It worked.

Maybe sometimes you need to be persistent with kindness before it’s received. Maybe it’s never received. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying.

At lunch, I saw this sign. A literal sign. Maybe the two men this morning- the one who rejected goodwill in Hank’s name, and the one who heard my ten second story of why I was giving him a gift card- both ended up paying it forward and this means it’s come back to me?

The Blade

I have this occasional but reoccurring thought that my house is on fire. I have two items I need to get to- Hank’s ashes, and his memory box. I try to go back in but either someone won’t let me, or I can’t due to the size of the flames and thickness of the smoke. I lose both.

A few weeks ago I panicked. I needed to see his pictures. I get this urge maybe once a year. The urge is so strong that I will race home from work, tear through the closet, rip the lid off, and just stare. I cry and apologize to him for failing him. I put the pictures back, get myself together, and go back to work.

No one is my office is none the wiser as to my actions over the last hour. I pretend to have that post- productive-lunchtime-errand-running-glow when I walk back in to my office. “Dry cleaners AND Home Goods!” I will sometimes announce this triumphantly.

The last time I tried to see the pictures, I couldn’t find them for about sixty seconds. I couldn’t find them because they were face down, in a sealed sandwich bag. I panicked again. What if they got stuck together and I couldn’t get them apart unless I ripped them? What if they got wet? What if the fire scenario came to fruition?

Most everything that is material in life can be replaced, except your deceased child’s stuff. I have so little of it that it can fit in a shoebox. I have no opportunities to grow this pile of his things. They’re not tangible or material things. They’re as important as a living person.

After I put Alex to bed last night, I had to get to Fedex. I couldn’t sleep until I made copies. Two copies, and one more copy on waterproof paper. I handed the pictures facedown to the woman across the counter and told her what I wanted. She nodded and flipped the pictures over.

Only one person outside of my husband and parents have seen his pictures. Now make that two. By the grace of God, the Fedex woman didn’t miss a beat. I was bracing myself for every question. None came. For this I breathed a sigh of relief that everyone in that store probably heard.

I asked her to trim them up, since she put two pictures on each page. She said I can do it myself, and walked me over to this paper cutter that cleanly slices through probably everything. She helped me get started. I thanked her.

“These pictures are really important to me,” I whispered.

“My pleasure. Glad I found that waterproof paper for you. Let me know if I can help.”

I’m doing great, on this satisfying paper cutter, it’s smooth blade effortlessly moving back and forth. Its like a safe mandolin, or deli meat slicer. I line up the edges and move the blade. It’s calming and satisfying, until I remember the autopsy.

Without going into too much detail, after almost seven years after Hank’s death, I got up the courage to ask for a copy of his autopsy from my doctor’s office a few weeks ago. When I left, I took it out to my car and read it. I got about halfway through.

My heart jumped when I saw the words FINAL AUTOPSY REPORT written across the top, on hospital letterhead.

Hank was not Hank, or Henry. He was “BB Mathay, Anne”. My baby boy. No identity, just a body.

The autopsy was not great. It has some things I never knew (blonde hair! 2.88lbs!). It also had some things I thought I knew and a whole lot I didn’t. It was hard to read how my body had failed him. It was hard to read that summary at the bottom where the medical examiner ruled his cause of death.

I sliced away on the fancy paper cutter as I thought about how the medical examiner looked at him. He looked at him scientifically and objectively, and without emotion. That’s his job, and he’s excellent at what he does. It’s not his fault that he’s labeled my son BB Mathay, Anne. Did he slice a blade cleanly, with precision, like me? Was he methodical and efficient? Did he think that there would be a mother out there, almost seven years later, slicing away at the pictures of this BB Mathay, Anne?

I left and came home. I held it together until I couldn’t. I heaved big sobs on the bedroom floor for a few minutes. I channeled my inner Annette Bening from American Beauty (remember her breakdown that ended almost as quickly as it started?) and moved about my evening. It didn’t stop the tears from my eyes.

We all find out things that we don’t want to know, but we are glad we have the answers to what happened. It doesn’t make those answers easier to swallow- it can make them sit in your throat, rising up and down for a few hours, snarled with sorrow and bile and anger. We are able to eventually push them down and get on with life, but it never goes away. Every time you swallow you feel it.

Not The End But The Beginning

One of the things I’ve been working on in 2019 (well, like to THINK I’m working on) is being nice to myself. I want to treat myself how I treat others, and figure out what is important in life- to not be jealous, to not value material things, to be thankful.

This is very long so thank you for reading any and all of this.


We founded Hank’s Hope officially in 2015. We started before that, though. In 2013, we unofficially formed, and tossed around ideas and thoughts. We had a GoFundMe to raise money for incorporation and took the plunge.


Amazing friends and family members volunteered for board positions. I held a volunteer meeting. I had nothing to actually tell these volunteers what they would be volunteering for, but no one seemed to mind. The support was overwhelming.


In these four years, we’ve done a lot. We moderate a peer to peer pregnancy and infant loss group each month, where women and their families come together to share, laugh, listen, and cry. We commissioned an original piece of artwork that now hangs in the chapel at Nanticoke Hospital, in Seaford. We paid for bereavement education materials for the staff at Bayhealth, in Dover and Milford. We’ve helped to fund projects at A.I. DuPont Hospital and Delaware Hospice.


We have bags that live at almost every hospital in the state- they’re full of comfort items, nice toiletries, and personal items. These bags are given to women who come to the hospital for an emergency delivery of a stillborn- women who don’t have time to go home and grab their hospital bag. Each bag has a handwritten note from a loss mom or dad. We let these women know that they’re superheroes. Maybe one day they will realize they really are.


The thing, though, that I am most proud of, is when we held Delaware’s first and only Wave of Light, on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day (October 15). We had a magical space at the Delaware Center for Horticulture. It was lit with twinkly lights, lanterns, and live music. We paid tribute to our babies at dusk and lit the space with candles. We pushed the wave of light through Delaware so it could continue around the world.


But, I’m tired. REALLY tired. Work, home, kids and activities, travel for my job, maintaining relationships with my friends. I fall into bed every night, spent, knowing I’ll be up in a few hours to give the baby a bottle or to tuck my daughter back in bed after a bad dream. I have help in my husband who pretty much runs our household, and my mom, who is at my house two days a week to watch my youngest. She also helps to run my household, too. I don’t think these two people will ever know how grateful I am for their help. They do it so I can do what I do. They do it for me, for Hank, for our family.


I thought it was time to let go of Hank’s Hope. It was time to focus on something else. Do I become more active in my board role with Pregnancy After Loss Support? The guilt was overwhelming. The fear of giving up Hank’s Hope represented the fear of getting to a point where I was giving up on him, and moving on. No one gives up and moves on from their child. Why did I feel like it was ok to do this?


I ran this by a few board members and close friends. I didn’t want to tell anyone else. I was disappointed in myself to even have these thoughts. Maybe this was my self-care, though. Maybe it was to grieve through something else. I had everyone’s support to make the choice I wanted to make.


Fast forward to last week, when we were notified that Hank’s Hope will be one of six non-profits in Delaware to be recognized by the Lieutenant Governor for outstanding contributions in the health and wellness space.


That email hit me- I wasn’t ready to give up. A refocus was needed to refocus. I needed to figure out what our core mission and services are, and do them really, really well. There is no race to do the most. There is a moderate balance to grieve my son, help others, and be able to breathe at the same time.


We will be making some changes at Hank’s Hope- enhancing some things, partnering with other things, scaling back and doing what we do WELL. I will ask for help (volunteers, I now know where I need your help) where I need it. I will delegate (I did it this morning!). THAT is my self-care. Delegation is not a sign of weakness. Asking for help is not an indication of failure. Side note- if you know how to handle these feelings, let me know.


In the last month, two women we work with have each had another loss. I sobbed for them. God is NOT fair in my eyes. But you know what IS fair? Having Hank’s Hope for these women. This is my purpose. This is what I should be doing every day (sadly, it doesn’t pay the bills- or anything!). I wanted to call out today and run to the hospital and sit with one of these women, who gave birth too soon last night to a perfect but too early baby. I didn’t- but with permission I told our core group of women. One of them stepped up and is organizing something. I asked her to run with it. I delegated.


My mom had the best response for this:

“If you didn’t have big dreams your life would be pretty empty and not too meaningful. You’ve never given up helping friends, even those you’ve not met yet, and God know they’ve never given up helping you. Time is such a precious commodity. It’s like elastic, you can stretch its capacity, reshape it, rework it, and it goes back to its original shape. Much like the management of your time. Reshape, rework, then move on.”

Thank you to all of those who have helped me, with their hands and hearts and ideas and hugs and money. Hank’s Hope will go on, just as loss moms do, every day.

Hope is what we live for.


Self(ish) Self Care

My Real Simple magazine cover screams out from my mailbox today. Take time for you, it says, on a photo of dewy roses or peonies or some other equally beautiful flower.

As women, all we hear about is self care. But, what really does that mean? What is MY self care? A pedicure? Ok, and then I will have chipped nails in three weeks and then have to find the nail polish remover I’ve hidden so my kid doesn’t get into it, take off the color, and then have ugly ass nails the rest of the summer.

Massage? It takes me forever to relax. Sixty minutes is up! So is $70, plus tip.

A friend suggested a girls night in. Sounds fun. But, who is hosting? That woman has to clean, make food (or we all make food), make sure there are face masks and wine glasses for everyone, and then….clean up. Self care is saying “don’t just put your plate in my sink. Rinse it and put it in the dishwasher.” But at the end of the night, we’re all “just leave it there, I’ve got it!”

And, is self care actually selfish? You can’t serve from an empty vessel, blah blah blah. There is a floor that needs to be cleaned. How can I justify a nap?

I’m having a hard time today seeing the bright side. It’s one of those days, I guess. It’s a day where I would encourage someone that I love to practice self care. I have no idea what that means. Is it just something to say?

I’d love to read, and nap, and relax….but that time ends. It always ends, and you’re right back in it. It’s like taking a day off work. It’s great at the time but you come back to a disaster of a desk and realize sometimes it’s just not worth taking that day off.

Maybe one day I will figure out what “take time for you” means, and learn that that time has finite limits and life is still happening. In the meantime, you can find me putting that Real Simple magazine on top of the growing pile of reading material I have. Maybe I’ll get to it someday…..

A Monday, And Children Fair Of Face

Saturday morning, while waiting to read in the Baltimore City Lit Festival, I had an overwhelming desire to see Hank’s picture.

We don’t display his picture at home. I’ve only looked at it a handful of times since 2012, and it hasn’t been viewed in at least eighteen months. It’s hard for me to see him without life.

Saturday, though, I needed to see him. I’m not sure if it was because I was telling his story (even though I’ve been able to do it a thousand times without getting emotional) or because I had been thinking a lot lately about baby loss friends integrating their lost child with their living children. It may have been because my co-worker was due to have her baby any day. Regardless of the reason, I needed to look.

I was damning the WiFi connection in the auditorium. Years ago, my Dad scanned the few pictures we have, and they’re saved to few spots, including a folder in my inbox. I couldn’t get any of the files to open, so I read my essay in the auditorium without viewing his picture.

I wondered on the way home if it would be a good idea to show Elise some pictures of her big brother. Was it time to stop hiding them, and let someone else besides my husband see?

Today is Monday, and as soon as I got to work I realized that I left part of my pump at home- every working and nursing mother’s nightmare. When I got back to the house, I immediately ran upstairs and got out the box where his pictures are housed.

I was hit with the weight that my new baby boy Alex looks like his brother. They have a similar face, long fingers, big feet. They share a nose. Eerily similar, except Alex breathes and is warm and chubby, and Hank has never taken a breath. Brothers, so fair of face on this Monday morning.

I started to cry. It wasn’t fair to have birthed this beautiful boy into a world forever silenced by his absence. I looked at this baby, my son, and told him I was sorry for failing him- I couldn’t get him to live, my body couldn’t sustain him. I was sobbing, and I had only a minute to grab my pump and head back. Good thing I can blame puffy red eyes on allergies.

On the drive back to work, I got a reality check from a friend and a fellow loss mom. She understood the feelings about seeing the pictures and mementos. It’s a fresh heartbreak for some, she said. She was right.

It’s not time for Elise to see those pictures. It’s not time for me to look at them regularly, either. The images in my mind of his love, legacy, and liveliness is what I need to see.


A number obsession continues….

39 days until maternity leave.

43 days and seven hours until I check in to Hotel Christiana Hospital.

172 more blood sugar tests.

1,032 more units of insulin.

8 more biophysical profiles.

2 more holidays.

1 more big mental milestone to pass.

28,473 things to do before baby (not really, but this is a close guess).

1 more hair cut and color. Maybe 1 more pedicure.

Keep ‘Em In, Or Whip ‘Em Out?

I’m writing about boobs and breastfeeding. If you don’t like this topic, don’t read it. I’ll be back soon to write about something different.

I don’t know if it was my postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety when I had Elise, but I never LOVED breastfeeding. Sure, I liked looking down at my daughter, watching her eat. I liked knowing that she was getting the best- because breast is best, right?  I also felt small moments of victory when she gained weight, when we started to get a routine down, when we figured each other out. 
I did not like her latching on and instead of feeling this euphoria, I felt probably every other feeling. Disconnect, anxiety, anger- not at her, but in general. It didn’t help when, in the beginning, I had to wake myself, and then wake her to feed her. My alarm would go off at 2am, I’d wake her and it would take sometimes 45 minutes to feed. I’d put her back to sleep, only to have my alarm go off an hour later. Sometimes I didn’t even fall asleep. I couldn’t take my husband’s snoring. It made me even angrier that he got to sleep away, while my shirt got wet, my head pounded, and my heart raced.

Eventually, though, those early nights gave way into the months that followed. I pumped at work. I pumped at home. I even pumped hands free while driving.  Thank God I didn’t get pulled over, Medela whirring away, plugged into the cigarette adapter.  Elise stopped nursing at maybe 6 or 7 months, and I exclusively pumped for another twelve weeks. 

 I was so worried about having to wean her- I was afraid of the emotional let down that I’d get, like everyone says, how they wish the last time they nursed they knew would be the last. But when she turned from me but would greedily suck down a bottle, I was all too happy to oblige. My emotional sadness never came. I was finally getting my euphoria. She was still getting my milk, though. Breast IS best, right?

At ten months, I was tired of it all. I was sick of exclusively pumping.  Formula was looking awfully appealing. My production had slowed down. I wondered who I was doing this for. I told my husband I wanted to stop. I was prepared to be met with opposition. Instead I got an “Ok, yeah, I mean you did it for ten months. So, that’s cool.” 

We promptly joined Costco and I bought those glorious, glorious cans while putting my own ones back into a real bra for the first time in a year.

I breastfed Elise because I could. I encourage others to do it if they can. I also encourage others to formula feed if they want to. The goal is to get your baby fed. However, if there are guilty feelings moms get for not breastfeeding, well, I have them too.  I’m wrestling with taking my own advice and deep down inside I still feel a tiny bit of stigma attached to all of this.  And, pregnant again, I’ve got a choice.
Sometimes I think that adding water to powder and shaking it up in public is more taboo that whipping out your breast in a restaurant. We try not to judge. But we do end up judging, silently watching and pulling our own child closer to our breast like a badge of honor. It’s those subtle digs that other moms make with babies, either passive aggressively or openly- natural labor, c-sections aren’t really giving birth, if you’re not breastfeeding you’re really just lazy/not trying hard enough/you don’t like your old child enough to give them the best, going back to work not because you have to but because you want to means you can’t be a good nurturer.

The choices we make are not indicative of the love we have for our child.  So why do we (or at least me) feel like society tells us this stuff matters?  As our children grow, those pressures never stop.  We are our own worst critic, with the mom guilt, but we feel it externally, too.
I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I still have that wholesale club membership (because, diapers). I’m waiting for my pump to be approved through insurance. I bought some nursing bras. I’m also going to ask what my company policy is about shipping breast milk home when I travel. And, I’ve calculated the price of formula for a year. I’m overwhelmed by all of it.
Maybe this time around will be different. Now I know about PPD/PPA, D-MER, and I have solid proof that giving my child formula doesn’t make them any better or worse off than any other kid.  Or, maybe I’ll finally take my own advice and do what is best, no matter what the answer is.

*picture in this post is from Pregnant Chicken’s Instagram account, and sums up my feelings until my daughter was about four months old.

This Time Around

Traditionally, October has not been the best month. Both my grandmother and grandfather died in October, along with my son five years ago. Some days it seems like an eternity since his passing, and other times it seems like it was last week.

I told myself I’d never work on his birthday. I don’t work on Elise’s birthday, so why would I work on his? This year is different. I’m working.

One, I need the distraction. Two, my co-workers are supportive. Three, I need normalcy this year. Four, last year I witnessed a horrible car accident on October 16th that crosses my mind every time I travel through that intersection (almost daily).

Another reason, and probably the biggest- I need to watch the time I’m taking off work before our new baby arrives. I need to use my precious vacation time for maternity leave, and then I need to come back to work knowing those days I’ll be home with sick kids are inevitable. With an 8 week leave, I will feel it in my pocketbook and my PTO bank, sadly.

Hoping Hank will realize all of it this time around. Hope he knows we still will have cupcakes and sing, and still light a candle. Hope he is ok with me taking 8 hours and paying it forward to his soon to be born sibling. I hope he gets the hope.

For Sale

As we begin the long, slow, arduous effort that is packing up to sell your house, I’m opening boxes and tubs that I haven’t seen in years.  There is that glass amaryllis build forcer!  And look, over there!  It’s that Christmas wreath I thought I trashed.  

If you know me by now, you probably know the hardest part- these bins in the attic.  I went through the baby bins briefly, just before Elise was born, and took out all of the unisex clothing.  I didn’t touch anything with tags.  Those bins were never opened.

I literally pulled the tape off that wound this week, opening up lids of memories I’ve tucked away.  They’re not his clothes, they never were.  He never wore them.  They were bought for him and he never used them, just like he had a life in my mind that he will never get the chance to live.  

I wanted to take those clothes with us to the new house, not in case of another child (which by choice there won’t be), but because I have so few things that belonged to Henry.  I stopped myself, though, as my husband told me that they weren’t ever his. He didn’t say this in a get-over-it way, but in a gentle way.  He helped me say goodbye to these things that to some seem so insignificant but to me meant so much.

Not sure what I’m doing with his clothes.  I’m thinking of donating them to women who have little boy rainbow babies, or consigning them and tucking the money away for Elise’s piggy bank, or a Hank’s Hope donation.  I am no longer grasping at everything I can but holding tighter to things with more meaning, and that is a big step in my grief process.

Our new home won’t have had a room ready for my baby that never left the hospital.  I’m bittersweet about leaving these walls behind.  This is where I prepped and prepared, cried and screamed, and then finally brought home a tiny baby girl and went through every emotion on the postpartum spectrum.  

I’ve written before about how memories for me are tied to places, and it’s hard for me to leave some things behind.  Funny enough,  I’m ready to leave this house, and I’m ok with taking the memories.  I still can’t do that to the Avalon house, but I can now.  I’m ready to pack and move.