From the Mouths of Babes

23795029_10213891041686136_3606141826897460287_nAccording to an article I read on CNN, adults have a greater chance of dying of natural causes on Christmas or the day after Christmas than any other single day of the year. The older I get, the more I get it. The Holidays have become this crazy non-stop train barreling through the months of October, November, and December like some kind of malevolent Polar Express. And, as much as I try, I am not immune to its force. I keep buying more Christmas lights for the front yard, more magical burlap-wrapped trees made by Chip and JoAnna for the mantel, more cute little signs that say “Have yourself a merry little Christmas” and “Beware: Elves on Duty” for the porch. From decking the halls Griswold style to that damn little Elf on the Shelf that keeps popping up in my Facebook newsfeed, I feel like if I’m not falalalala-ing twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, I’m a failure.

Every day I get an email from the PTA about donating wrapping paper/pies/cookies/candy/my left kidney in order to show the teachers how much we care about them this Holiday Season. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the people who teach my kids.That’s why I’ve spent the last three weeks finding them the perfect handcrafted gifts on Etsy.

That’s right. I’ve become a gift-giving ninja. I searched three continents so my kids can have the most amazing presents that stimulate both their brains and their souls. I finagled something for my husband that will blow his mind and make him marvel at what an awesomely thoughtful wife I am. I bought my dog a cute little Santa hat she refuses to wear and cinnamon Christmas biscuits she hates. Next weekend I planned on creating a Rockwellian Christmas fantasy where we carol through the streets spreading Christmas cheer to Tiny Tim and Ebenezer Scrooge screaming “Falalalala-lalalala!” until my blood pressure spikes at 210/140 and I pass out in my neighbor’s front yard.

Reality check, Heidi: These things aren’t the reason for the season. Yesterday, when I picked my kids up from school, my youngest handed me a piece of paper and said, “I made my Christmas list at school today. I wished for Avery to be alive again so she can celebrate Christmas with us.” My heart literally fell out of my chest and got stuck under the gas pedal.

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I’ve spent the last month focusing on all the materialism Christmas has to offer. I’ve spent my free time obsessing over the things some mysterious capitalistic force tells me I should care about, when all my 6 year-old really wants for Christmas is to spend some time with his dead sister. Let’s just say there were tears involved, and the conversation that ensued provided me with much needed perspective. After explaining to my son that Santa doesn’t have the power to bring back the dead, he asked if he could call Santa’s hotline and leave a voicemail. (It’s 951-262-3062, in case you’re wondering.)

“Hi, Santa. This is Preston. All I want for Christmas is for you to talk to God and see if he can bring my sister back to life like he did Jesus because I’d like to spend some time with her. Thanks.”

Sigh.

Family. Love. Togetherness. Those are the things that really matter this Christmas.

The Niceness Crisis

homeless-1213053_1280The second week of school, I found my khaki-short, polo-shirt-wearing second grader having a nervous breakdown getting dressed.

“I hate my clothes! They’re so stupid!” He stomped around the room like a scorned elephant before collapsing into a crumpled heap of tears on the floor.

It took me a few weeks and a shopping trip for new clothes before he finally opened up to me, but the truth eventually came out. My son was being teased by other kids because of his wardrobe. And I was pissed. The Mama Bear in me instinctively wanted to shake the names of those children from my son, don a ski mask, and sit outside these awful bullies’ homes with a Super Soaker and waterboard the little jerks until they were on their knees begging for mercy.

But I channeled my grown-up self. I gave him a pep talk about how sometimes people say mean things. I told him that the mean things people say aren’t necessarily true. I told him he was handsome and special and destined to do great things no matter what he wears, and that no one can change the awesomeness inside of him.

I don’t think he believed me. And when I look at the world we’re living in today, I don’t really blame him. We have presidential candidates engaging in a campaign of childish name calling reminiscent of a WWE wrestling match. We have mothers tearing down other mothers over bottle or breast. We have fathers getting in fistfights at soccer games. We have PTA presidents getting framed for drug possession by angry parents. Everywhere I look, I see a judgmental, narcissistic, hate-infused shitshow.

So why are we so mean to each other? Are we a society of mean parents raising mean children? Are human beings automatically wired to tear down the people around us? Are some people naturally good and some evil? From Freud to Milgram, psychologists have spent ample time trying to determine the motivations of meanness. There are a lot of different theories – jealousy, low self-esteem, projection – that totally make sense, but I refuse to believe that we can’t do better. I refuse to believe that if we all made a conscious effort to be just a little nicer, it wouldn’t turn into a snowball effect of greatness.

My heart breaks for my son, who suddenly hates second grade because of a handful of 7- year-old fashion critics. My heart breaks for all of the kids that have to go to school every day and withstand ridicule and snide remarks over petty nonsense. I wish I could honestly tell him it will get better when he becomes an adult, but these days, I’m not so sure. So for now, I’ll do my best to empower my children, to give them the skills to cope and prosper in what seems to be an increasingly cruel world. But I’m still scared as hell. Because I have a feeling it’s only going to get worse.

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.

 

 

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.

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It’s a New Year!

breathe-in-peace-breathe-out-loveIt’s January 7th and I still haven’t made any New Years resolutions. In my defense, the last few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind. The kids were out of school and my husband was amazingly off work, so there was a lot of family time going on. Add the fact that my beloved Michigan State Spartans were in Dallas for eight days for The Cotton Bowl, and, as my Facebook friends can attest, I was busy bleeding green and white. (Sorry for the constant pictures, guys. But it was exciting!)10676186_10204969579615160_348258099944658504_n

Now that the dust has settled a bit, I finally have some time to reflect on the upcoming year. Year after year the most common New Years resolutions have to deal with diet and exercise, but I don’t think I want to go there. Sure, I could probably stand to lose a few pounds. I’d no doubt benefit from adding more weight training into my workout routine and fewer chocolate/peanut butter combinations into my diet. But when you consider the statistics, that each year an estimated 45 percent of Americans make at least one resolution in January yet by December only 8 percent are still committed, it seems like those kinds of resolutions tend to set us up for failure.

So I think I want to aim bigger this year, a little bit deeper…

Drum roll, please…

It probably makes me sound a bit like a crazy hippie, but this year I resolve to breathe more peace, radiate more love, and be the best me I can be. I know, I know, it sounds like I’ve been playing the bongos with Matthew McConaughey, but in this insanely busy technology-addicted world we live in, it is SO incredibly easy to lose sight of what matters most.

The philosopher Philip Arnold once wrote, “Love, peace, joy and harmony are the best vitamins in the universe.” So I’m putting my Centrum aside and trying this new vitamin cocktail for 2015. And maybe, just maybe, if I make a conscious effort to let more beautiful things into my life, all of that other stuff will fall into place. (But I’m not giving up chocolate and peanut butter.)

Happy 2015, everyone! Here’s to the best year yet.namaste

 

The Gift of Pictures

photography-love1When a baby dies, it is, in short, terrible. I remember sitting in my hospital bed, waiting to deliver a stillborn Avery, a million thoughts rushing through my tortured brain but none I could actually grab onto and process. The nurse had mentioned taking pictures after her birth, and the same thought kept pounding through my skull:

Why would I want a picture of a dead baby? 

After my deceased daughter was cleaned and dressed, we passed her around like the porcelain doll she was, took deep breaths, and fake smiled for the camera.  They aren’t the most artistic pictures in the world, but six years later I feel so blessed to have them. I’ve heard other bereaved parents say that they don’t have any pictures of their children, and it breaks my heart.

The non-profit organization Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep was founded in 2005 to provide the gift of remembrance photography for parents suffering the loss of a baby.  They train, educate, and mobilize quality photographers to provide beautiful portraits to families who have lost a baby too soon.  They didn’t take my pictures, but I can’t stress the void these amazing photographers fill and the importance of these portraits for grieving families.  Cosmopolitan Magazine recently did a story on this incredible organization and published a few beautiful pictures of these angels.  You can read the article here.

Today

photoToday is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of Days. If you’ve ever lost a loved one – a child, a parent, a relative, a friend – you know that their loss is felt daily. Having a designated day to remember them is kind of like saying you’re not supposed to miss them the other 364 days of the year. At the same time, pregnancy loss is something many Americans don’t like to talk about, and I’m thankful that today brings the heartbreak of losing a child to the forefront.

For me, today is a reminder that while years may pass, I will never, ever, forget my daughter Avery. It’s a reminder that though a horrible thing happened to me, I am not alone. And today is a reminder that when you hear terrible statistics, statistics about death and sickness and hurt, there are real people behind those numbers, real people who need support and love.

Every October 15th I light a candle for Avery.  This morning as I lit the flame I thought not only of what I have lost, but what I have gained. I have so much love in my life, yet I often get stuck in the monotony of the daily grind and forget how lucky I am.

I also found myself thinking of the fragility of life. Our world has always been a scary place, but lately that badness has been creeping a little too close to home. Children the same age as my boys are dying from Enterovirus.  Seventeen miles south of my house people are fighting Ebola, a disease that wasn’t supposed to be possible here. While it’s shocking and horrible and terrifying, it’s also a much-needed reminder.

Life is precious.  Life is fleeting.  Tomorrow is not guaranteed to any of us, so make sure you appreciate today.

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, and I will remember my daughter.  But I will also take some time to cherish the beautiful life I’ve been given, to hug my husband and my boys, to tell my parents that I love them. Today is a gift, and I intend to treat it that way.

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 Please take time tonight to participate in the International Wave of Light. Light a candle from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in your timezone in remembrance of the babies lost too soon.