Sign this petition!

While there is no way of knowing if better screening could have prevented my daughter Avery’s stillbirth, it will remain a question that will always haunt me.

Unfortunately, the number of stillbirths in the United States continues to grow each year. This has spurred a movement to declare stillbirth a national health crisis, encouraging the government to provide funding to study cord issues, create guidelines for doctors to implement additional screening, and discard the 39 week delivery policy that inadvertently may increase stillbirths.

Please help other families avoid the “what-ifs” by signing the petition to declare stillbirth a national health crisis.

You Get What You Get

IMG_7874“Are you mad you don’t have a girl?”

The question caught me off guard, like the car in your blind spot when you’re changing lanes, the one that lays on the horn and gives you the finger and sends your heart into a series of herky-jerky palpitations that make you wonder if you should dial 911.

I had just finished telling the story of Avery’s stillbirth to a near stranger, a story I’ve told hundreds of times, a story that typically elicits awkward nods and sad smiles and “I’m so sorrys,” not brutally honest questions with the potential for politically incorrect answers.

Am I mad that I don’t have a girl?

A saying danced through my head, words stolen from my son’s kindergarten teacher, words I tell my kids multiple times throughout the day. “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.” It’s true, too. Whether you’re talking about a Happy Meal toy or second place in the spelling bee or horrible diseases or even death – there are so many things that are out of our hands, things we humans wish we could control but are ultimately powerless against.

Am I mad that I don’t have a girl?

I’m sad that seven years ago my daughter died. I’m frustrated that I did everything right but nobody saw it coming. I’m irritated that I had to have three full-term pregnancies to have two children. I’m heartbroken that I have to try to explain to my boys how the sister they never met died, and how that little girl changed so much about our lives. But am I mad that I don’t have a girl?

I think of the parents that only have girls, up to their ears in glitter and bows, twirling through a world of dance recitals and nail polish, and wonder how they see me. I wonder if they feel a little left out of my world, the world of fart noises and monster trucks, the world of bug collections and pretty-eyed mama’s boys whispering, “I love you so much, Mommy,” right before their lids become heavy with sleep.

I’m sure there are a lot of things I’m missing out on in the Land of Pink. I’ll never shop for bras or prom dresses or wedding dresses. I’ll never know that special mother – daughter bond that people always post sappy memes of on Facebook. But am I mad I don’t have a girl?

“No,” I finally answered. “I’m not mad.”

And it’s the truth.

I’ll always have that tiny pang in my heart – perhaps mine is a little bigger than most because once upon a time I had a girl and then all of a sudden I didn’t. But I’m not mad. I adore my boys; I adore my life. It would be useless to be mad about something so out of my control. To hold onto anger like that would only cloud the spectacular road ahead and keep me from truly enjoying the ride.

Even if that ride is in a monster truck riddled with fart noises.

While I was away…

11825805_10206618548678356_2981678389871303118_nEvery summer I venture back to the deep woods of Northern Michigan to remember my roots.  (And to visit my family and be eaten by mosquitos the size of helicopters.) Cell phone service is sketchy there to say the least, so imagine my surprise when I discovered, three days after it was published, I had a little snippet about Avery published in The New York Times!  You can check out my story, as well as the stories of a handful of other brave women who chose to share there experiences with stillbirth, here.

An Early Gift

Avery Birth RecordEvery now and then my book Holding Avery gets entered into a contest – the latest was the Foreword Reviews‘ 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards.  It’s a well-known competition in the literary world, with other winners being the likes of screenwriter Zack Whedon and the infamous Dalai Lama, to name a few.

When I found out I was a finalist a few months ago I was thrilled; I know it’s entirely cliche, but, given the competition, it truly was an honor to be nominated. I knew that winning was a long shot. The awards were given out this past Friday night at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in San Francisco.  I wasn’t there – I was sitting on the couch watching House Hunters International with a very jet-lagged husband who had just returned from a work trip overseas. I was trying to convince him that it was completely practical for us to move to St. Croix when I got the email. The winners had been announced, and I had to blink a few times before I processed that it was Holding Avery that won the Gold in the Grief/Grieving category.   My little book, my little story, my little daughter – the big winner.

It’s exciting being a winner.  It’s incredible to have people talking about Holding Avery, to have people recognizing it not just for the writing but also for broaching an uncomfortable subject that is often ignored.  It’s not The Nobel Prize but it’s enough to make me feel special for a few days, to reaffirm that I made the right choice writing such a personal book in the first place.  Winning is also very timely.

Avery was born on July 2, just three days from today.  (It’s 1:32 p.m. as I type this; she was born at 1:43 p.m.) Surprisingly, July 2 doesn’t really bother me – it’s tomorrow, June 30, that puts the pit in my stomach.  If you’ve read my book you know that June 30 was a pretty boring pregnant day back in 2008.  I took a walk, I ate a sandwich, I went to Target. A few things happened that had me convinced Avery was on her way, and just past midnight my water broke.  Seven years later I still find myself doing a play-by-play of that day, wondering how and why things turned out the way they did.  I said it in my book and I stand by it today – as the years pass, it doesn’t get easier.  It gets different. I already feel the beginnings of that squirm in my stomach, that feeling of sadness and loss blended with the happiness of the beautiful life we’ve built post-Avery.  This year I can add the accolades of my book, Avery’s book, to that cocktail of confusion.

Yes. It’s nice to be a winner. But I’ll never forget that Avery’s loss is what made this all possible in the first place.  Happy Birthday, sweet girl.  This year you won the Gold.

Time flies when you’re having fun…

CheerstoSummer1As a former teacher, I’m always amazed by the end of the school year.  You’re just chugging along, teaching, learning, and BAM!  Just like that it’s over.  In two short weeks I’ll have a kindergarten graduate, and then it’s time for me and my boys to embark on the lazy days of summer. Or the rainy days of summer, as we’ve experienced so far in the Dallas Area! (See ya later, drought!)

I always have a hard time when summer vacation starts.  Right now I have a fabulous writing schedule that I’ve done a great job of sticking to this year. I’ve been working on lots of guest posts for blogs and organizations, and I’m also nearing the end of my first piece of fiction. (I’m biting my nails just thinking about it.) Now, with two little boys in the house all the time, I’ll need to make some adjustments. But as we all know, time files, and before I know it I’ll be taking first day of school pictures of a first grader and a preschooler (who really thinks he should be a kindergartener).  I’m also hoping to have that pesky book finished – but Rome wasn’t built in a day, so I’ll cut myself a little slack.  For now.

If you have time, be sure to stop by the blog Beautiful Mommies and read the latest review of my book Holding Avery!

 

 

A Reminder This Mother’s Day…

IMG_6072I remember the first Mother’s Day after I lost Avery.  It was a strange day filled with sadness and complex emotions. I was also angry, furious at a holiday that seemed to be made for everyone except me. Every TV commercial reminded me of what I’d lost, every grocery store display reminded me of the child I’d held in my arms but couldn’t keep. Avery was stillborn, and I struggled with my new identity as a childless mother.

Prior to being discharged from the hospital after my daughter’s birth/death, my doctor had grabbed hold of me, looked me in the eye, and whispered, “You are a mother.” In that moment, I believed her.  But after being shoved back into the real world, surrounded by a society that doesn’t fully understand stillbirth and people that couldn’t look me in the eye, I wasn’t so sure.  I knew I was a mother, but did anyone else? I had a nursery, a closet full of baby clothes, three strollers, a Baby Bjorn, toys, car seats, pacifiers…I had everything I was supposed to have. But I didn’t have the one thing that truly makes you a parent. I didn’t have a baby.

But I did have a baby.

I had a baby that I nurtured and sang to for nearly nine months. In those fleeting moments, we had thousands of conversations about the past, present, and future.  I knew how her foot tickled my ribs, how her fingers brushed the inside of my belly when she did her daily gymnastics. I knew every single time she had the hiccups. Avery was the first person to ever hear my heartbeat from the inside. How could I not be a mother?

It took me a long time to realize it, but I finally realized that other people didn’t determine my maternal status – it was up to me. I had given birth to a beautiful baby girl, and Mother’s Day was still my holiday. So on that Sunday in 2009 I celebrated my motherhood. I picked up my daughter’s urn and sang her a song.  I shook her ashes, listening to the soft swoosh-swoosh that always reminded me of her heartbeat. I sat with her for an hour, remembering that while her short life brought me incredible grief, it also awarded me immense happiness.

I was a mother.  I was Avery’s mother. And no one could take that away from me.

It’s been seven years since that first Mother’s Day without my daughter.  I’ve since been blessed with two healthy, rambunctious little boys that have made this holiday so much brighter. Yet as this Mother’s Day Weekend approaches, I can’t help but think of all of the other mothers out their struggling.  For some the wounds of stillbirth may still be very fresh; others may have been grasping at an identity for quite some time.  To all of you, please remember that even though your child may not walk this earth, you are still a mother.

And don’t ever let anyone tell you differently.

 

 

Through the Heart

I recently had the pleasure of being the guest blogger for the fabulous organization Through the Heart, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide support to anyone who has experienced a pregnancy loss.  You can read my post here!

#InItToWinIt

winner-1I had a really crappy day today.  Last Friday, on my way home from getting the boys a couple of Happy Meals to celebrate a great week at school, I got rear-ended.  (Thankfully we are all fine – my bumper was the only casualty.) This set off a chain reaction of lengthy phone calls and insurance claims and body shop estimates.  Everything was going smoothly, too smoothly, I suppose, when I dropped my car off yesterday to get fixed. The rental car company was supposed to pick me up an hour later at my house, and I waited. And waited.  And waited.  And made a phone call.  And waited.  And made another phone call…

Long story short, 36 hours later I had to drag my especially spunky children to the rental place along with two car seats, then make a few more phone calls to the insurance company, then try to maneuver these car seats into this rental car that evidently is not designed for car seats, all while my children picked up cigarette butts from the parking lot and practiced their Karate Kid moves on every stranger that walked by.  (Why on earth did I let them watch that movie?)

By the time I got home my head was pounding, my blood pressure was sky high, and I was about to book a one-way ticket to Timbuktu – then I checked my email.  “Congratulations!  You are a 2014 Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards finalist!”  In my state of delirium I’d forgotten that the finalists of this elite competition would be announced today, and it was a welcome, much needed surprise.

My kids are still fighting and my car is still in the shop, but now I’m smiling.  I’m so excited to announce that Holding Avery is a 2014 Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award finalist!

Stay tuned.

 

Be Mine: Six reasons why Valentine’s Day gets better with age

photo 2Ah, love. If I dust off the ancient memories trapped in the corners of my mind I vaguely recall a time when I got excited about Valentine’s Day. High school was by far the most dramatic. Would a mysterious admirer send me a fundraiser carnation? Would the boy I like send roses to the school making me feel super important yet totally awkward at the same time? In college the expectations were a little different. Is the guy I just met at the bar a serial killer? Should I be worried that the teddy bear the dude down the hall gave me has a camera in it?  

Seventeen years ago I started dating the man who is now my husband. He did a really good job those first few years, showering me with flowers and fancy dinners and all the things a courting guy is supposed to do on Valentine’s Day. He even proposed to me on February 14. (Get me some wine with that cheese, am I right?) In his defense, the ring came in early – and he just couldn’t wait to put it on my finger.

But time goes by, you have a few kids, up becomes down and you’re no longer sure what year it is let alone if it’s a holiday. Gifts of jewelry are replaced with new appliances and gourmet meals become chicken nuggets from your kid’s leftover Happy Meal. But that’s okay. Really. There’s something fabulous about the ease at which this once frantic holiday now operates. Here are my top six reasons Valentine’s Day gets better (or at least easier) with age:

1. The Gifts

When it comes to shopping, guys have it easy on Valentine’s Day. Hey, baby. Here are some roses, a heart-shaped box of chocolates, a pretty necklace…Now as a girl, I always had a terrible time buying gifts for my sweetheart. While edible thong underwear for men may seem like the perfect gift at the time, trust me, you’ll regret it later.  When you get older, necessities replace holiday gifts, or at least in our house they do. Last year I bought my husband a Dustbuster. This year? We’re going for a new toaster oven. Romantic? No. Making my life easier? Yes.

 2. The Wardrobe

What will you wear this Valentine’s Day? If you’re anything like me it’s a pair of fleece sweatpants, a sweatshirt three times the age of my eldest son, and a pair of slippers that look like they were knitted by someone’s blind grandmother. Don’t get me wrong, I do wear nice clothes every now and then, but gone are the days of stuffing myself into a mini skirt and heels to go out and order a salad at an expensive restaurant. Who am I kidding – I’d never order a salad. I’d order a 16 oz ribeye and curse myself for not having the foresight to wear something with an elastic waistband. My current look comes with an advantage, too – when I do dress up, I look really good in comparison.

3. The Dinner

One Valentine’s Day long ago we waited two hours for a table at a fancy-pants restaurant that didn’t accept reservations, a restaurant that would have been fairly empty had it been any other night. I was so hungry I nearly ate the leather off the dining chairs, and by the time my dinner met the three drinks swimming in my empty stomach a territorial battle ensued, leaving me with stomach cramps followed by explosive diarrhea. These days if we go for a nice dinner it’s on any day but Valentine’s Day. Pass the pizza and Merlot, please.

 4. The Disappointment

Have you ever been dating a guy, a guy who was quiet about Valentine’s Day, a guy you were sure was planning something spectacular behind your back, only to end up playing Mario Kart and eating cheese sandwiches in his filthy living room? Planning the perfect date is tough on everyone, especially when expectations are high. One year my date took me bowling – I’m a simple girl, so that was just fine – until I ended up getting a foot fungus that took me three years to get rid of. I’m sure it’s not the worst disease a person has picked up on Valentine’s Day, but it was still pretty gross. My expectations these days aren’t exactly lower, but they are different. I mean, unloading the dishwasher before I get to it is quite the romantic surprise.

5. The Magic

Remember those awkward moments that riddled your younger years? The “is he going to kiss me?” or the “Oh, my. Did he really just put his hands there?” moments? Your heart goes boom, the adrenaline courses through your body in anticipation of the unknown… Yeah, they’re gone. Now if I get that feeling I take an aspirin and dial 911. I hate to be brutally honest, but after your husband wakes up to your dragon breath for roughly 6200 mornings and witnesses you push a watermelon from your hoo-hah there’s really not a whole lot of mystery left. Don’t get me wrong – we still have magic. It just happens before midnight and never after eating Mexican food. Our Valentine’s Day foreplay this year will surely involve wrestling over the last slice of pizza.

6. The Lovephoto

Every day is Valentine’s Day for me. And I’m being totally serious about this. I hear I love you so many times each day that it could actually start to lose its luster if I let it. I hear it from my husband, my sons, the pool boy…(Kidding about the last one, honey.) Every day my five-year-old brings me love notes home from school; every night before bed my three-year-old whispers, “I love you so much, Mommy.” I no longer need to be wined and dined and showered with roses and Russell Stover chocolates with mystery fillings to quantify how much I’m loved. I get it from slobbery kisses, shared fruit snacks, extra long hugs, the silent entwining of fingers as we drift off to sleep.  I’ve finally gotten to a point in life where love isn’t in the grand gestures – it’s in the little things, the things that really, truly matter. And that, my friends, is what makes my heart go boom.

cm246thumb-enjoy-the-little-things

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words…

10897108_10205164402165602_3390385594772897571_nMy kids were off from school Monday in honor of Martin Luther King Junior’s birthday. Since I’ve learned that it’s impossible for me to get any work done on school holidays, I’ve come to relish the laziness that comes with them. My husband left for work at 6:45 a.m.; I grabbed my phone and crawled back into bed. I checked my email, perused Facebook, and checked Jane.com to see if there were any worthwhile daily deals.

At 7:15 my oldest son Carter climbed into bed with me; his younger brother Preston wasn’t far behind. We sat in bed and chatted for a while, then the boys asked to do one of their favorite things – look at pictures on my phone.

“Do you have any pictures of me when I was a baby?” Carter asked eagerly. “Like right after I came out of your tummy?”

“I sure do,” I answered, searching my phone. “Here you go. This is right after you were born.”10399737_1201454232453_2331358_n

Carter stared at the picture in awe, trying to recognize himself. “Why are you wearing glasses?” he finally said.

“I want to see!” Preston grabbed the phone from his brother’s hand.

“Do you have any pictures of Preston right after he came out of your tummy?” Carter asked.

“I do.” I took back the phone and scrolled through the album. “This is me and Preston.”

316245_2432770934601_1270626852_nMy youngest gazed over my shoulder and started jumping up and down. “That’s me, Carter! That’s me and Mommy!”

I got up to brush my teeth while the boys were busy analyzing their younger selves.

“Mom?” Carter followed me into the bathroom, sounding much too serious for his five years.

“What, buddy?”

“Do you have any pictures of Avery on your phone? Right after she was born?”

For a second I froze, unsure of where to begin. Avery was my first child. When she died I could have easily hidden her existence from my future children. It would have been simple to sweep her short life under a rug, to only whisper her name when I was certain no one was listening.

But I chose to go the opposite route. I wrote a book about my daughter that anyone with ten dollars can read. Every year at Christmas we hang a stocking for her – she doesn’t get presents, but we collectively fill it with our love. Our house has bursts of pink toys here and there, reminders that a girl almost lived in a home now dominated by boys. Avery’s existence has always been celebrated, and in doing so I’ve inadvertently placed my sons in the middle of something they don’t entirely understand. The older Carter gets, the more questions he asks about his big sister, and I always try to be as truthful as possible yet delicate with the harsh realities of life.

My son looked at me with his huge green eyes – they always remind me of Gizmo from Gremlins. He is so inquisitive, so thirsty for knowledge, so desperate to unlock the secrets of The Universe. My thoughts fell into a tangled mess in my head; there was so much I could say. Why don’t we have pictures of Avery on our phone?

It was almost seven years ago, we didn’t have an iPhone, the last thing on my mind was pictures, we were so sad…

“Mom?” Carter asked.

“Yeah, buddy?”

“Is it because she was dead, and pictures are meant for happy things?” he said.

I smiled at my son, once again amazed by the depth of his reasoning. “That’s exactly it, Carter.”

My five-year-old walked over to the picture of Avery we keep on our dresser. “So this is the only picture you have of her, huh?”

“We have others,” I softly explained. “But you need to be a little older to look at them.”

Our other pictures include my husband and me and radiate grief; I’m not quite ready for Carter to see his parents so haunted.

“Can I say hi to her?” Carter asked, picking up the urn with his sister’s ashes.

“Of course.”

“Hi, Avery,” he sang, tickling the top with his fingers. “Coochie coochie coo!” He gently placed the urn back on the dresser and stretched, his hands finally resting on his stomach. “Man, my belly is hungry. Can we make waffles?”

“It’s a holiday. How about we go get donuts instead?” I offered.

My room erupted into screams of joy over their favorite deep-fried pastry.

“Donuts! I love donuts!” Carter exclaimed.

“Donuts! Donuts! Donuts!” Preston cheered from the bed.

“Come on Preston,” Carter instructed, pulling his brother from the bed. “Let’s go get dressed so we can go get DONUTS!”

I watched my boys bound up the stairs to their rooms, so wise beyond their years, but with so much left to learn about life.