It’s been a rough year for all of us. 2020 has brought twists and turns for me and our family almost every few weeks. To say this year has been challenging is an understatement. I am finding myself reminding my own self daily that everyone has their obstacles, their fights and their 2020 dumpster fires, yet it’s been tough to dig myself out of my own hardships. I haven’t been myself lately. Maybe pressures at work and learning to deal with a level a negativity I am just not used to. I have been drowning in my own self pity at times and fighting to gain back my self worth and self acceptance- then yesterday happened. No different than any other Friday, except for the call. The missed call on my locked screen “St Elizabeth’s L&D”. I know what this means and now that it’s happened nearly 200 times the sinking of my heart deep into my stomach never changes. Again, no different than any other one, I send out the dispatch text. It’s the holidays and everyone is busy and even though several have a schedule jammed packed they find a way to make it work, but I have a feeling. Something inside of me saying, this is you, Andrea. So without anymore thought, off I go. Every baby I have photographed has etched a memory in my soul that I will NEVER forget but this was different. This momma was by herself because of the impacts and life circumstances that COVID has created. And let me tell you, she was brave, courageous and a pillar of strength. We shared our experiences, our tears and stories of our babies. I cried. I cried hard. I try to never do that for these moms but I couldn’t hold it in. She loved this angel hard. She was accepting of this horrid fate of her baby and was so strong. I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact she was doing this by herself. How I needed every soul I could get those first few hours after my loss, yet in her moment of heart ache she was asking me about my Olivia. I was in awe of her. And just as she needed me last night, I needed her. God knew I needed her, and I needed to see her strength and her ability to see past pure awfulness and spread love, kindness and love. It was just what my heart needed to know that no matter how crappy of a year, set a circumstances, or work can be at times, there is something far more important and far more uplifting- LOVE and the importance of being surrounded by the ones we love and their support. That is what truly matters in this world. So today, I ask that you first say a prayer for this amazing mother and help to take some of the burdens of life that was just handed to her off her shoulders, but to also lean on the ones you love today and be grateful and appreciative to have them and their love in your life. Wishing all of our families and supporters a comforted holiday season however you may be spending it.
I have often heard people say that grief is universal. It knows no boundaries, no race, no gender or language. This is true. I also learned last week that grief knows no species. That grief truly knows LOVE. We lost our family dog, Nala last week and it was grueling. Our dogs (babies) were our first children. We love(d) them hard. Animals in our home are simply an extension of our family. They live where we live, sleep where we sleep and are loved just as our human family is loved. The grieving process albeit different for Nala than maybe that of our children, hurts the same. Its loss. It finds the inner crevices of our soul and sits there, heavy and hard. It takes our breath away at times and begins a cycle, not a perfect circle cycle, but that crazy scribble of a cycle – emotions that come and go, memories that come and go. In that crazy cycle, I learned that grief also NEVER goes away. Emotions and feelings that had been tucked away for almost five years now suddenly emerged. It was odd. I found myself back in that room, LD1. That damn yellow flower picture on the wall; that feeling of nothing but numb. You think you have moved past the depths of emotions of one loss, just to come to find out that loss is universal. I mean this in several ways. Universal in that we all feel it, see it and hurt from it in the same way, but universal also in the fact that its ALWAYS there. We get busy, we live life and find ways to dampen that grief from day to day, but once that wound is cut back open, its not easy to put right back. I guess at the end of the day, we must realize that losing someone we love (especially a child) no matter when or how we lose them we will always carry that grief with us. And, we must also realize and accept that, that universal grief will always be there tucked away ready to resurface with any subsequent loss. It’s ok. It’s ok to sink back into those dark deep feelings. The quiet and still of complete grief. The numbness of your inside voice quiet, the feeling of the world being still again and the only thought capable of being processed is that vision of the dumb yellow flower picture hanging on the wall.
Be patient and be kind to yourself. We will all travel down this loss road again. Resurfacing emotions will come but the important thing to note, is that we (and you) WILL be ok.
In loving memory of Nala, 2007-2020
In 2007 when my husband and I were struggling to get and stay pregnant we skipped Christmas. At that point it has been over two years of since we started trying to start a family. We recently went through a plethora of tests at our Reproductive Endocrinologist office. It was the start of the small fortune we spent trying to have a family and we also suffered a miscarriage earlier that year after trying various methods of ART (artificial reproductive technology) like clomid/IUI, injectables/IUI. We weren’t in the mood to be social, exchange what felt like meaningless gifts, act fake happy in public only to break down when we returned home. We especially didn’t want to be around babies or kids. It was reminder of our unanswered prayers and what our hearts ached for. So, we told our family we wouldn’t be attending any Christmas gatherings. Some understood more than others. But in our minds, we thought if they truly love us, they will understand and support us. So, we booked a cozy one room cabin in the woods and packed up the two dogs and spent Christmas by ourselves. It was one most memorable Christmas my husband and I have ever had! Even though the guilt of “skipping” Christmas was hard to carry I don’t regret making that decision- even all these years later. One of the best gifts you can give yourself is self-care no matter who or what you are grieving.Change your scenery and get out of the same brain routine if only for one day or night. We did and it was exactly what we needed. Sending love to all the loss moms, dads, brothers, sisters, grandmas, and grandpas this holiday season.
Leslie, Olivia’s Grace VP
I typically do not contribute as a blogger on our site, but this morning I came across a line from a Mitch Albom book, “Finding Chicka”, and it resonated. It reads:
“What we carry defines who we are. And the effort we make is our legacy.”
As loss parents (loss moms) we carry a child so heavy it is unbearable. Yet, we do it invisibly. The outside world doesn’t see our pain, our struggles or the way we battle our internal feelings when we least expect a trigger that surfaces. This morning, I was in a hurry, and saw Olivia’s wreath setting in its spot in our basement waiting to go to her grave site. A piercing pain shot through me as guilt rushed to every nerve in my body. How can I be so late in taking this to her grave site. How did I let life get so busy, I have forgotten to make her holiday special. Instantly my mind went into planning and control mode, and calculating every second of free time I would have after work into this weekend – so that the wreath would find its place. Got it, I have a plan. Did I feel better, nope not one bit. But I have to be at work and I have two toddlers that will need 120% of my attention until bedtime tonight. I’ll find sometime later today to process more of the guilt I thought as I ran out the door. Then a few hours later, I stumble across the quote above. Is it a sign, a coincidence? Who knows. It was enough to help settle my internal war waging against my mounting maternal guilt. I stopped and processed those words…. Again..
“What we carry defines who we are. And the effort we make is our legacy.”
I carry a lot. I carry Olivia daily. I carry being a mom, being a grieving mom at times. I carry being a wife. I carry being a full time working mom in a demanding field with a constant tug of war – work vs. home. I carry Olivia’s legacy. I carry a household. I carry me. I then concluded that my effort in all of it is a legacy I’m proud of. A legacy I would think Olivia is proud of, wreath or no wreath yet on her stone. So in the end. When the grief and guilt and life becomes too much. Remember to stop. Stop and think about what all you do carry, and how amazing those things are. We can let grief define us two ways… Choose the positive. May not always be the easy option, but I can promise you at the end the day choosing the positive will define a legacy for you and your angel to be proud of! Hugs and love to all of you this holiday season. For those parents battling through your first loss holiday season, be patient with yourself and be selfish with your emotions. If you need time to yourself, take the time. If you need space, make the space. Let this be about you, your feelings and your needs!
Much Love – Olivia’s Mommy
In addition to the wonderful church I belong to- Greenford Christian. Who was there in my hospital room after Nathan died praying over me and who was there in the waiting room with me when my newborn was being operated on. Here are some books and music that helped/continue to help me tremendously with my grief.
An anonymous person from my church sent this book to me and I have since passed it on and bought another copy for someone else. I would suggest it to anyone who has had “knees hit the floor” life moments.
Another good read is Through The Eyes of a Lion- Levi Lusko
In addition to my church and books, music is very healing to me. KLove is my go to station for comfort. Here are four songs that I really connect with. I included some lyrics to each song but I would highly recommend listening to each one in its entirety.
Thy Will Be Done- Hillary Scott https://youtu.be/Dp4WC_YZAuw
“I don’t wanna think
I may never understand
That my broken heart is a part of your plan
When I try to pray
All I’ve got is hurt and these four words
Thy will be done”
God Only Knows- For King & Country https://youtu.be/Q5cPQg3oq-o
“God only knows what you’ve been through
God only knows what they say about you
God only knows how it’s killing you
But there’s a kind of love that God only knows”
God’s Not Done with You- Tauren Wells https://youtu.be/cVHrkYBEgFM
“Right now all you see are ashes
Where there was a flame
The truth is that you’re not forgotten
‘Cause Grace knows your name
God’s not done with you
Even with your broken heart and your wounds and your scars
God’s not done with you
Even when you’re lost and it’s hard and you’re falling apart
God’s not done with you
It’s not over, it’s only begun
So don’t hide, don’t run
‘Cause God’s not done with You”
Scars- I Am They https://youtu.be/OqjGT9BSyJA
“’Cause my brokenness brought me to You
And these wounds are a story You’ll use
So I’m thankful for the scars
‘Cause without them I wouldn’t know Your heart
And I know they’ll always tell of who You are
So forever I am thankful for the scars”
Symphony- Switch https://youtu.be/QNhGnUoPZ_0
“And even in the madness, there is peace
Drowning out the voices all around me
Through all of this chaos
You were writing a symphony, a symphony”
There are three labels I feel on my forehead. One is no longer applicable but I still feel it because I lived it for ten years of my life. Infertile. From 2005 to 2015 I endured 3 rounds of clomid/IUI, 6 total rounds of injectables/IUI and 1 round of in vitro fertilization. The second label is Stillborn Mom. That one burns the brightest on my forehead. That one that punches me in the gut at least once every day even 4 years later. The last one is NICU Mom. This label gives me the most post-traumatic stress. The roller coaster of the NICU coupled with a newborn who is given a 50% survival rate will do that to you. The question that remains is why do we put these labels on our forehead everyday just like we do our clothes, shoes and handbag? Why is it so easy to let your labels define you? Infertile. Stillborn. NICU. We are so much more than the burning labels on our foreheads! So easy to say but so hard to believe some days.
On the flip side, in my opinion there can be “silver linings” to these labels. Personally for me one lining is a deeper compassion for other human beings. You see the world differently, through a new lens. After this 12-year season of my life I got a lot better at the practice of “not sweating the small stuff”. Trivial circumstances were just that. No more stressing over normal life crap. I also feel like I can connect with people easier and the shyness that I once felt meeting new people is gone. Another lining is the amplified need and drive to help others. Not even just those who were dealt a similar hand as you- just people in general. Lastly, I am no longer afraid to go into the “ugly” with people. I do not find it difficult to go into uncomfortable situations because that is when people need you the most. When it is uncomfortable, when there is a HUGE elephant in the room, when death and despair are looming in the air.
Maybe you feel labels burning on your forehead too. You may not feel it right away but those labels will eventually turn into linings. I promise.
– Leslie J.
VP of Olivia’s Grace
Triggers happen frequently. Some are intense, some are subtle, some are manageable, others are not. Sometime when I get an intense trigger and traumatic memories and thoughts start flooding my brain I get an urge, a yearning to go to the grave site and dig the dirt. Dig the dirt with my hands, see the dirt under my fingernails until I reach the white box and hold my babies again. I feel like it is a primal, motherly instinct that takes me to this place. I made it to the cemetery one time. I sat there on the ground bawled and cried out in agony. I didn’t start digging because deep down I know what remains in the white box is not want I want to see. It won’t satisfy the yearning. It would probably add more traumatizing images to my brain. I called my Dad for help that night and Lord did I need it. I didn’t call my husband because he was at home with our – at the time – grieving 6-year-old. Like a good Dad he drove right to me and sat on the cold ground and cried right beside me. I thankfully haven’t made it that far again but the urge still happens.
Speaking of cemeteries and grave sites- here’s my expectation when I go to the grave site. A beam of sunlight suddenly and magically appears from the clouds and shines down on the headstone. There is a light breeze and doves are gently circling above me. I get an overwhelming sense of peace in my heart knowing Nathan and Liam are always with me in spirit. I walk away feeling like I had a heavenly conversation with my boys. Here’s what really happens- I.feel.nothing. I go there and decorate for the season, say a short prayer and then drive away. I have felt my boys speak to me in many different ways just never at the cemetery. I used to feel guilty for this- like I wasn’t praying genuinely enough when I was there or didn’t visit often enough. I now know that is a crock of crap. My boys are so proud I am their Mama. They tell me in their own ways – perfectly designed for me.
– Leslie Johnson
Baby showers… They are supposed to be a celebration of new life and the beginning of an exciting new journey. But for someone who has had a stillborn, baby showers can be painstaking torture. I feel bad I feel this way. “It’s not her fault my baby died.” “Shame on me for thinking about myself during her special time.” “What happened to me usually doesn’t happen, so her baby will probably be just fine.”
Exactly 2 weeks and 1 day after my baby shower I was told my baby had no heartbeat at 34 weeks gestation. That was after I lost his twin brother at 18 weeks gestation who remained in my womb until his brother passed 4 months later. I can still picture all the decorations- the wilderness theme, bears, moose, buffalo print. Nathan’s name in painted block letters above the fireplace, the tribute to his brother Liam where everyone put there thumbprint on a tree with the saying “There are two gifts we can give our children. One is roots and the other is wings.” I remember giving a speech and Nathan kicking me during it, I was crying saying how the day was bittersweet because as I was trying to
celebrate one twin while also mourning the other twin. I remember the centerpieces, the moose cake pops, the food, the weather (snow), the gifts, the guests. It was a beautiful, quiet, perfect “somber celebration” if you will. Now, all my baby shower reminds me of is the forthcoming pain, death, that fateful ultrasound “Sorry there is no heartbeat” the screams, the phone calls, the crying, the wanting to die, the hospital room, the clock on the wall with the little black minute marks in between each number, the yellow flower on the picture in the room, and so on and so on. As much as I dislike showers my guilt
usually guilts me into going. I do however imagine what that voicemail would sound like if I was completely honest with the mother to be “Ummm, hi I was just calling to let you know I can’t make it to your baby shower on Sunday. I just reminds me of impending death but I hope you have wonderful time and and I’m sure your baby will be just fine, Ok Bye-e”
The first baby shower I attended after giving birth to a stillborn was extremely rough but it was for a dear friend who I love and I wanted to be there for her. When I walked into this baby shower I instantly felt like a bad luck charm. Because I’m at this shower my friend’s baby might die. Sounds ridiculous right?! Life after stillbirth is full of these ridiculous thoughts! I felt like the acquaintances I knew at the shower were super scared of me. I felt like I could hear them whispering in their heads “Gasp!!! there
she is, the woman who had a stillborn, quick!!! act like nothing ever happened and just smile and make small talk” Ugh. It was uncomfortable to say the least. I didn’t go to another baby shower for a long long time after that one. I hope the cringe of seeing as baby shower invitation goes away one day. With the Grace of God and some time under my belt I can now make it through a baby shower without feeling like there is big “S” on my forehead or having a complete emotional meltdown after. And that is progress.
Published by Olivia’s Grace contributor and Board Vice President, Leslie Johnson.