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.

1, 2, 3

I had Elise’s conference this week.  Let me set the scene.  She’s two (almost three).  This is a two year old program.  This is a program that is designed to enhance social skills.  This is to help sharing, engaging play with others, and learning the very basics of being a friend.


I sat down at the table with Elise’s evaluation in front of me.  I couldn’t help it- my eyes immediately scanned down the row of numbers.  On a three scale, with three being Developing Appropriatey, two being Emerging, and one being Needs Growth, I laser focused right in on those twos.  And that one.

She’s two.  She’s learning.  It’s good for her to have room for improvement, right?  It’s not like I was expecting all threes.  I was expecting that one.  But a two?  A few twos?
We walked out of the conference.  My husband turns to me and says “I think that was so spot on.  They really know her!  I’m really impressed!.”  I didn’t say much.  My heart was racing.

In these few days after the conference (which I may remind you again, she is two, this is preschool, these are not the SATs, we do not live in NYC, and she adores school), I have watched those twos.  School is right.

Does Elise have trouble asking for help?  Yep.  Does she sometimes have trouble initiating play with others?  Yes.  Are all of those other twos pretty accurate?  Sure are.

It’s hard for a parent for someone else (even someone who really knows your child) to tell you that your kid isn’t perfect.  I’m imagining parents who work so hard with their children to get them to develop appropriately or even into the emerging category, and the frustration and stress that must come out.

As a parent, we can do everything right and our children will still be a one, two, or three, always.  Aren’t we as adults?  Show me a person with straight threes.  That person doesn’t exist. 

We are working on that one that she got, and working hard.  Those twos will develop, and those threes will get stronger, just in time for a new set of challenges.  If there is no challenge or nothing new to learn, where is the incentive to grow?

I am very appreciative to my preschool for not only knowing my daughter (accurately), but helping an anxious, perfectionist parent see that all threes add up to nothing.  I’m grateful for the unbiased eyes to gently show me that perfect doesn’t exist, and if it did, then life would narrow a bit.  I’m also grateful to my daughter, for ALL of her numbers on paper.  She is her own person, controls her own independent mind, and has a loving spirit.  Those things will always count as being off the charts for me.

What’s On Your Mind?

I was thinking this morning in the shower (as we all do).  I was thinking about the media, and the general coverage of things, and how many news channels there are, and how many different ways there are to get information besides television.
Some people are self professed Facebook creepers.  They never post, they rarely comment.  If they want to comment they will text you their comment.

 

Others are oversharers.  I’ve seen (not kidding) women announcing where they are in their monthly cycle, people posting a positive pregnancy test with urine visible on the stick, women (and men) getting plaster molds of parts of their bodies, and stained laundry.

I share a lot of my life.  A lot.  Part of it is because I am proud of my family, my accomplishments, and myself.  I know that in those moments when I don’t feel so great about myself, it’s ok, too.  It’s all part of who I am.  I am comfortable sharing that.  I’m neither a creeper or a period poster.  I think I fall somewhere in between.

There are things I’ve never shared publicly.  Some personal health issues, a scare when Elise was a few weeks old, and pictures of Hank.  Outside of my parents and husband, only my best friend has seen him.  These are things I keep private.  You won’t find me delving into details on Facebook.

I’ve seen the Broadway musical Cats a few times as a child. According to the story, cats have three names- one everyone knows, one only cats know, and one only they know. Even animals (or at least great playwrights) know it’s important to keep something tucked in your heart.

It’s ok if you want to share whatever it is that you want to share. That’s the beauty of social media, and online news, and how we live in a world of 24/7 coverage of just about everything and everyone.  While you won’t find me doing naked maternity pictures with strategically placed scarves over myself, if that’s you’re thing, then go for it.  I just hope that there is something else that you keep private (and I’m not talking about what’s under the scarf).  

The Hidden Side, Only Visible If We Show It

I admire my friend Jenny in a lot of ways for a lot of reasons.  Mainly, she’s one of the most positive people I know.  She’s not just one of those annoyingly upbeat people who repeats things like “it’ll all be ok!!!” over and over.  She’s talked to me about her own challenges and the steps she’s taken to overcome them, and then finds the silver lining.

Her post on Facebook this morning was a good one.  Amidst all of the resolution setting, mimosa pics, and Mariah Carey memes, she wrote this:
Instead of resolutions I’m doing a series of challenges this year. The first one, first day is about posting something you are proud of. And there is so much in 2016 that I accomplished in a crackpot year. It was a bad year for many but if you’re reading this…. well, like me, you survived! Now it’s time to thrive. Cheers to 2017….. 🍻!!

It got me thinking…. because who doesn’t love a good challenge?
What did I do in 2016 that I’m proud of?
1.  I walked away from a friendship where I wasn’t happy.  2.  I went through the roughest point I’ve had in my marriage.  3.  I got a new position at work that seems custom made for me and my personality. 4.  Hank’s Hope is growing.  5.  My daughter.  6.  I lost close to 50lbs and am so much healthier, physically.  7.  I absorbed world tragedies and tried to do my part to raise awareness, spend time, or make a donation.  8.  I made some great new friendships.  9. I explored new cities on my own.  10. I felt confident for the first time in a very long time.

The last time Jenny and I were together, she suggested we all take a picture of each other.  My friend V and I (and Jenny) had just rolled out out of bed and walked a few miles.  Think no makeup, rough hair, you get the idea.  We had just talked, though, about how we need to accept who we are and celebrate it, instead of waiting for the perfect moment with the perfect picture to show everyone the finished product.  The real shot is often the best one.  

Jenny, can’t wait for your next challenge!

Pregnancy After Loss Support 2016 Essays

In 2016, I stepped back as the Development Director for Pregnancy After Loss Support. I had too much on my plate and knew that PALS would flourish without me. I also cut back my contributions to quarterly instead of monthly. I had a lot to focus on this year, but enjoyed every moment where I still had a part of the piece of growing and expanding PALS. Looking forward to seeing their growth in 2017.

Here are my 2016 pieces.

January – Five Ways to Refocus your Pregnancy After Loss Journey on YOU

March – Separation While Parenting After Loss

October – Making Memories

December – The Beating Heart

A 2017 BHAG

What is your BHAG for 2017?

I’ve been thinking a lot about my goals for 2017. I only recently became a goal-setter this past year, and I can attribute it to a few things. One, having to be organized with Hank’s Hope. I have no choice but to set goals and figure out how to get there. I have a lot of donors and some stickler board members that keep me on top of this! Two, my weight loss. I wanted to be down 65 lbs by the end of 2016. That one didn’t happen. Three, to complete (walk or run) 2016 miles.

Three different things happened with my three goals. With my Hank’s Hope goal, I struggled, but I think I got there. I definitely put down a foundation to continue in 2017.

My weight loss goal came up short. I missed my goal by 10-15 pounds. I’m just adding them to the pounds I want to lose in 2017.

My third goal I crushed in October and stopped counting, mostly because I stopped wearing my Fitbit because I rediscovered how much I love wearing a watch.

Having sort of achieved a goal, missed a goal, and exceeded a goal gives me a lot of thought as I go into a new year. It changes my perspective a bit, only because I know it’s possible to win, lose, and halfway make it- and not all of those are bad things.

I challenged a friend the other day to make some goals. Make some easy ones, make some hard ones. Then, make an impossible one.

One thing I’ve learned from working at my job is the idea of a BHAG. It’s a concept that is not created by my company but adapted and used frequency. A BHAG is a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. It’s a long term goal, an audacious one, and one that you can potentially achieve but wow, will this be a battle and an uphill climb.

The BHAG is an idea from “Built To Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” by James Collins and Jerry Porras. You can go into flow charts, organizational theories, etc. with this. Or, you can keep it simple (my personal favorite). Set it and go for it.

A BHAG is overwhelming but breathe. I can do this. I’m taking this BHAG apart, stripping down all of its pieces, and making them little goals. Hopefully, by the end of the year, all of those little milestones put together will make my BHAG toast.

Or….BHAG(s) for me this year? Hmmmm….

Also, check out this TED Talk clip. It’s only three minutes, you can watch it. It’s an interesting idea about 30 days to change a habit.

Highly Stimulated

I used to read, a lot.  And this isn’t a before kid vs after kid thing.  I used to read a lot because I didn’t grow up with a TV in my bedroom.  Our family computer was in the unfinished basement of our 200 year old home, so it wasn’t high on the entertainment list (except for AOL in high school- different story but a sad one as our time was limited due to the computer hogging up the phone line).

No cell phone, no iPad, a family TV with maybe 80 channels?

Find a book.  Get a magazine.

In January I decided to get away from new media for a bit and go back to basics.  I didn’t subscribe to the newspaper because our local paper has turned into a Gannett rip and read, and I’m not in love with a lot of the writers on staff at The Philadelphia Inquirer.  I did pick up two magazine subscriptions (Real Simple and Shape, don’t judge, I am 35 after all).  I said I wasn’t going to look at my phone in bed.

Come January 2, I was back at it.  Someone would text me.  I’d email them back.  They’d Facebook message me.  Maybe I would gChat them.  At the end of the day our conversation looked like one of those puzzles where you have to put the story together without context.

As for my phone?  Yeah, figured out I could download the Netflix app there, so I’d “head up to bed because I was tired” and watch four episodes of a garbage high school teen angst show that I’d rather not mention (unless you watched it too, then we can talk).

I can’t get enough media, in any form.  At the end of the evening, when everything is packed and prepped and ready for the next day, I sit down and pick up my phone.   I scroll through Instagram, peruse Facebook, and then often hop to Twitter.  Sometimes Pinterest, sometimes Reddit.  

Those magazines were never touched.  I don’t even know if I got Shape or Self, now that I think about it.

As I write this (on my phone, which is where I write almost all my blogs), I’m going to put my phone down.  I’m going to try to read my magazine.  But I know I will pick up my phone to take a picture of a recipe I want to try or a textured wallpaper that is interesting.  I’ll probably check my email five or six times before bed.  Is everyone else like this, or am I over the edge of stimulation?  

I’m going to make it through one article tonight.  But if you’d like to answer the question above, you can tweet, text, FB message, or send me a snap.  I’ll be sure to get back to you, well, ASAP.

Find Your Blue Jay

I was honored to have been invited to speak at Christiana Care’s Loving Arms Parent Support Group annual memorial service this past Sunday. It’s a beautiful remembrance of babies gone too soon. Below is what I wrote and read. Thank you to those who proofread this for me and helped me with the ending.

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The day I got home from the hospital, babyless, I can’t remember what I did. I think I vaccumed. I’m sure I cried. I’m sure I cursed the semi-unknown relatives that were on my couch, just cursed them for being there. I wanted to just have quiet. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to feel the pain of my c-section scar as I focused on jamming the little attachments into the corners, hearing the dust and crumbs run through the vacuum wand.

I do distinctly remember a few things, in very vivid detail. It was raining, hard. My dog was outside, scratching at the back door with the excitement of seeing me again after a few days. I remember someone asking if he could come in, because he’d jump on me, and he’s a big boy. Yes, of course, let him in. I wouldn’t break. I was already broken.

The other thing I remember was seeing a blue jay on my deck. Not unusual for October, I know. But why then? Why that moment?

I found out my son would be stillborn at a doctors visit. I don’t need to go into details- we’ve all been there. We all have our story. But my horrific words from my doctor were told to me on October 15- Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. Why then? Why that moment?

A few days after Hank’s birth, I needed to get out of town. I was sick of my house. I was sick of everything familiar. We went to my parents shore house since they were away for the weekend. We cried. I read Gone Girl in an entire sitting. We went to one of the only places in town that was open in October, and sat inside, overlooking the sea. I’d have a few moments that seemed normal, and then it would all hit me.

A day later, my parents came home early. My husband and I busied ourselves with packing up their photos, important paperwork, sentimental things. See, Hurricane Sandy was about to hit. The bay water was crashing over the bulkhead so hard that when you drove by you needed to turn on your wipers. The ocean was almost up to the dunes. I had a job to do- help my parents, stuff our cars, get back to Wilmington, make sure I had clean sheets for the guest room. A job was what I needed at the time.

As we were driving over the causeway, four cars in a line, hurrying, already pushing through water that was flooding the streets, I thought about what was coming. My parents could lose everything, too, just like my husband and I had a few days prior. Loss comes in many forms.

I gave myself another job to do when we got back to Wilmington. I packed up the nursery. As the rain pounded outside, I jammed things in plastic tubs. I didn’t take my time. I didn’t want help. I didn’t care if Hurricane Sandy came in and washed the entire nursery away.

My parents went home after the storm to a house that, by the grace of God, was still standing. The waterline was high, clearly marked on the side of their house, and someone’s deck from a few blocks over was in their street, and there may have been a random kayak in their yard, but their house was dry. They had power. They didn’t lose anything. They were very lucky. I couldn’t help but think that they were like the parents that got to take a baby home from the hospital.

In the weeks that followed, I busied myself with scouring the internet, trying to figure out what happened to me and my son. I was obsessed with theories about what happened. I decided my degree in advertising suddenly meant I was a doctor, and was sure I knew what the results of the autopsy would be before my doctor even called. I binged on Netflix and hot chocolate, I vacuumed some more. I tried to see friends. They didn’t care if I cried. They didn’t care that I didn’t write thank you notes for gifts from my shower, which was less than 24 hours before learning about what stillbirth even was.

At some point, I decided I was done with Web MD and message boards. I was done with obsessing. I was even done with vacuuming. I decided to attend a Loving Arms meeting, here. My husband came. I know I sobbed to the point where I couldn’t even speak. I never knew what blubbering looked like until then. I probably used an entire box of tissues.

Afterwards, a girl came up to me and hugged me. Her name is Lila. She had a very similar story to mine. She gave me her number, and we realized we lived about a mile from each other. Four years later, we are still very much in touch.

I grieve by DOING. My mind kept going back to the stillbirth statistics. Surely there were more Anne’s and Lila’s. There had to be. I needed to find them. I needed to make a tribe. I grieve with others, openly and unafraid. It was hard to find this tribe, though.

A few months passed. I went back to work. I kept seeing blue jays. I’d always ask myself “why now? Why this moment?”

I put together a March of Dimes fundraising team, and my wonderful friends and family supported our team, Hank’s Hope. My brother suggested “Hope is what we live for” on the back of our shirts. I started to get excited about telling people about Hank, and my story, and why I was open about it. Maybe I could start to find my tribe.

Still couldn’t find them. A friend and my immediate family pushed me to keep moving forward- keep helping, keep seeking. So, I kept talking about Hank. I kept talking about stillbirth awareness. I wasn’t afraid to share. One in four women have had a pregnancy loss. Where were they?

And, in 2015, with some donations from friends, family, and lots of anonymous people out there, I officially founded Hank’s Hope Inc. as a true nonprofit organization. Why? Because hope is what I suddenly was living for. It’s a whole lot better than the alternative. At least you use less tissues.

A week from today will mark four years since I gave birth to my son. Hank’s Hope Inc. is thriving- we provide lots of resources and support for hospitals and bereaved families. We have support groups, we have cry times, we have laugh times. I found my tribe in these women who started to come out of the woodwork. I found these families who were ready to talk about their loss. Some losses were recent. Some were 40 years ago. But we found each other. And we were all hopeful about something.

Why am I here now? Why am I here in this moment?

It’s felt like a lifetime since I sat in this room, shaking, crying, not sure that I could stand up and walk up to the table. Those years were bittersweet for me. I was sad, I was angry, I was depressed, I was hopeful, I was devastated. I still get this way, even now. But I keep that hope with me. I have to.

I visit the memorial tree here at the hospital every so often. When I walk down, I always see a lone, solitary goose. She’s always near that tree (in my mind, she’s a she). I like to think that she’s there to watch over our babies. She and my bluejay must talk- they know I need to see them both.

My advice to you today comes in a few pieces.

Grieve. Only you know how to grieve. Don’t let anyone tell you to get over it, move on, let it go. Don’t let anyone tell you that it wasn’t meant to be, that it is God’s way, or that you’ll go on to have another which will make it all better.

Get help. This whole THING is huge, and you can’t do it alone.

Listen to your own heart. What is your purpose going to be? It doesn’t need to be today, or tomorrow, or ten years from now. But have one, and have it move you forward.

Lastly, have some hope, whatever it means to you. If it’s a special butterfly, a certain colored pebble, or a dandelion growing out of a crack in the middle of winter. Don’t turn so inward that you can’t see the signs the universe has put before you.

Find your blue jay.

Repost from PALS Magazine- Making Memories

I’ve gone from writing monthly to quarterly for PALS Magazine. I was having trouble writing about this topics for a while, but my October piece was easy to write. It was probably three years in the making. I couldn’t accurately express my feelings about this situation until now. It’s not just about pregnancy loss, but about loss, and the beach, and Hurricane Sandy, and family. Reposting it here because I’m proud of it.

Click here to read it.

Also, a few more pictures that I could have included in the piece….

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How I Learned to LOVE the Words (and Tennis, too)

This article appears in The Sunday Morning Star, Wilmington Delaware, dated July 9, 1939.

This article appears in The Sunday Morning Star, Wilmington Delaware, dated July 9, 1939.

I have a thin wooden plaque that was propped up on a shelf in my grandparent’s house, when they were still living. It is very seventies, showing two couples with tennis racquets over their shoulders, one couple on each side of the net. They’re laughing. It says “Do you know why I like tennis so much? Because there’s so much LOVE in it!”

*For those of you who are not aficionados, when someone has a zero score in tennis, it’s never referred to as such but as love. There are theories that say we’ve butchered the French word for the egg (which resembles a zero), but other theories say that love really means love, because the love of the game is what keeps the losing player still fighting.

I love this plaque for several reasons. It’s so stylish in that mod kind of way. It’s also one of the things I wanted when my grandfather passed away- he and I (and my mom) shared a love for the game. Although I was no state champion (multiple times!) like them, I loved to play. A friend told me recently that I needed to get back out on the court- I asked her to find me six more hours in the day!

I also love this plaque, along with the other things of my grandfather’s that I treasure, because they remind me how similar we are. I wish that he was around now, so we could talk, but he’s not. He passed away when I was in high school, when I was an awkward teen, afraid of individuality and jamming myself into conformity.

He did get to see my play tennis, but he didn’t get to see me do another passion we shared- writing.

My grandfather wrote professionally his entire career. In the Army during WWII, and for The News Journal (both morning and evening additions). He was mainly a police reporter and worked nights. In a time before cell phones and emails, he’d go out with patrols, take notes at the scene, gather facts at the precinct, and get interviews. This was a time when journalists took ownership of their stories from beginning to end- not because they don’t want to now, but because lack of current technology dictated it.

When I wrote columns for The News Journal in high school, I know he was proud. When I played tennis, he was proud.

I got to college and stopped writing. My first/last piece in The Towerlight, the paper for Towson University, is probably archived somewhere. As fast as I could move into the dorms, I changed my major from Journalism to undeclared, and stopped playing tennis. I never felt like he was looking down at me, disappointed. I felt like he was just watching me unfold on my own time.

Fast forward many years later, when I started blogging. And writing essays for online magazines. And speaking publicly about how it’s not impossible to pull yourself up out of a tragedy. And picking my racquet back up when I had time.

I’ve had trouble writing for quite some time. I’ve asked my fabulous editor Valerie at Pregnancy After Loss Support if I could back my commitment to quarterly. My blog is covered in dust. Every time I have time and a pen and a paper (which is rare but still frequent enough), I end up making a grocery list, or doodling, or just staring at it.
It occurred to me that my grandfather may have been my first muse, even though he never really read what I wrote. Was he in the background when I graduated after several major switches, finally settling back in the Mass Communications department? Maybe he was silently championing me through those matches in adulthood where I was getting crushed (and not feeling the love in the zero score I had).

On and off the court, with the zeros to lose and the sixes to win, was he there? Was he the one telling me to charge the net, keep writing if nothing was on the paper, keep asking questions to get an answer, giving me his little smile? Was he the one who made me love the word? Was he the one who helped me take my frustrations from the court onto the paper, and then let my thoughts sort themselves out?

I’ve had a few other muses in my life. A college professor who was the recipient of my thoughtful, careful essays and didn’t laugh when I told him my theory that Candy’s Room by Bruce Springsteen was actually a song about drugs. Instead, he told me to prove it to him by writing why. He was young but completely gray, and wore black Chuck Taylors with a safety pin before I even knew what being punk was. He turned me onto The Strokes, and I can’t hear any of their songs (especially New York City Cops) without thinking of him.
Hank, Elise, other people have come in and out and inspired me at certain times in my life. I’m sure there will be more muses to come, more things to write about, more lost tennis games. There’s always something around the bend, right?

Time to wrap this up. I’m going to put on The Strokes. My tennis racquet will sit in the closet, where it’s been for the better part of the year, but I’m back to writing. Time to get some things accomplished. That’s why there is so much LOVE in life…..