Monday, January 28, 2013

When Fear Enters In: Motherhood After Loss

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."

"Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, 'Don’t be afraid; just believe.'"

I thought that after I birthed our sweet rainbow boy safely into the world that the fear would leave.  Because although I thought I was dealing with it well at the time, distance and hindsight have shown me that Baby Boy's pregnancy was a terribly anxious time for me.

I look back and don't recognize the fearful person I'd become.

But then he was born, alive and screaming as so many people had prayed, and I thought it was over -- the sleepless nights, the cold grasping fear.  Because lightning does strike the same place twice (or more) when it comes to babyloss.

I thought the shallow-breathed days would give way and I'd become myself again.  And it was like that, for a little while.

But the fear has been creeping close in again, and I'm hard-pressed to stop it.

Before Eve died, before we knew that we wouldn't get to parent her, I was concerned about SIDS.  What mother isn't?  But I knew that it was something out of my control, something that I'd have to trust God to keep from us, so I was able to breathe [mostly] easy about it.  And besides, it happened so rarely -- statistically, it couldn't possibly happen to us.

But stillbirth is really rare, too, and when that entered our lives it felt like all the other only-happens-to-other-people things pressed in tight.  Namely, SIDS.

I've been meeting new babyloss mothers, and I am not exaggerating when I say that every single one that I've met recently have lost children to SIDS.  I see photos of these beautiful, very-much-alive babies on their Facebook pages or their blogs, and its terrifying, horrifying to know that those very same children are now dead for no known reason.  Just like my baby girl -- dead before birth, and no one could tell us why.

"Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the unexpected, sudden death of a child under age 1 in which an autopsy does not show an explainable cause of death. . . .  Almost all SIDS deaths occur without any warning or symptoms when the infant is thought to be sleeping" (source).

SIDS happens.  It could happen to us, and easily.

So that's where I've been parenting Baby Boy from -- this place of asphyxiation, of will this be the night? fear. 

Because I know what it feels like to hold a baby who won't wake or breathe or cry or smile.  Because I have known it once, I fear it happening again.  There has been so much grace poured out on me, on us, these past fourteen months since Eve died, from God and from others.  It has helped me to sail through the terrible storm of stillbirth, to find a measure of healing falling with the rain.

But if it happened again?

I can't think about it.  And at the same time, I can't stop thinking about it.

How do you battle the anxiety that visits every mother when you have reason and experience that validate those fears?  That tell you that you should be afraid?

I don't want to be an anxious mother.  I had an anxious mother, and while it was sometimes challenging to be an anxious mother's daughter, it was far more terrible to watch her crumble beneath it.

I don't want that for our son.  I don't want that for myself, for my husband. 

I want to be strong in faith.  I want to be able to breathe easy again, to trust that it will be okay even when past experience points to the contrary.  

But even though I'm taking it to God, even though I'm trying to break open the fingers that I've clenched closed around the life of our son, even though I'm begging Him to open my heart to reckless trust . . . I can't feel the grace falling in this storm yet. 

Tell me, parents who have both living and dead children -- how in the world do you do this?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Soul Refreshment

It's been so interesting to me to see how my relationship with art and creativity is developing as a mother with a new(ish) baby.  Before Baby Boy arrived, I would create in fits and starts, held back by fear and perfectionism, with long "breaks" (a.k.a. avoidance) in between creating finished pieces.

But now, I have pretty much no time.  Our sweet boy is a rather high needs baby who resists naps like no other, meaning that I cannot depend on having any time to exercise, shower, create, clean, or any other self-care activities during the day.

And while I love this boy to the point of pain, although he has every ounce of my mama heart that I have to give, the creative side of me is crying out for sustenance.

So I make do with what I have.  I snatch up the precious few moments of his naps and create and create and create.  I explore the iPad's art apps and make art digitally while breastfeeding.  Or I rig up our ring sling, set Baby Boy up on a boob, and create one-handed.

And guess what -- I am creating more now, coming away with more finished pieces and more brave exploratory creations, than I ever did when I had all day to myself.

It's crazy.

But it's needed.

Because I am discovering that making art is like breathing to me.  It nourishes me soul in such a refreshing, unique way.  It flows out of all my loves -- my loved ones, my faith, my love of words.  And (I think) when I can find time to create, I come away a better wife/mother/friend/person.

I need to make art.

And so I do, any way that I can manage.

Here are some of the many [awesomely challenging and different] ways I've been doing that this week . . .

Learning new techniques in Misty Mawn's portrait workshop . . .


charcoal portrait #2

Exploring iOS art apps (these were all made with ArtSet) . . .

 hello, love 




New sketches and remembrance art . . .


Audrina Mae 


New art in the shop . . .

You Shine Bright

A painting made in memory of friends' sweet pup . . .


Not to mention the new banner I made for this blog!  Whew!  Not bad for a couple of weeks.  (Well, except for that last painting -- I made that a month or two ago, but just got around to posting it.)  What can I say -- it refreshes my soul.

What refreshes your soul, my friends?

linking up with:

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Let me tell you a secret.

Sometimes I want to forget that I have a daughter that died.
Today I am writing over at Still Standing Magazine!  

Thursday, January 17, 2013

One Thousand Gifts and Making Friends with Grief

one thousand gifts study 

It's strange to me how easily I forget the ways of grief and all that comes with it.  

I've been living in and with grief for over a year now.  January 20 was Eve's due date last year, and this year will mark fourteen months without her.  

Fourteen months.  You'd think I'd have learned by now.  But somehow grief still manages to surprise me with its unpredictability.

Because really, I thought I was doing okay.  Okay with the grief, and okay with the anxiety that has invaded my life as a result of it.  As my therapist noted, it's hard to trust again when that thing that you never thought could ever happen to you does.

one thousand gifts study
I still find it hard to believe that we had a daughter, and that she died.  Even with the support of my amazing friends and community, even with airing all the pain and hope and questions and anger on this blog, it feels like such an invisible thing, stillbirth.  You're left holding nothing but the pain and (if you're lucky) photos that no one but you wants to look at.

And just when you think you're making headway against the pain, it resurfaces in a whole new way.

Like today.  This morning, the women's Bible study group that I'm a member of embarked on Ann Voskamp's new video study on gratitude, One Thousand Gifts. I was looking forward to it.  Ann writes lyrically and with deep wisdom.  I had no expectation of grief attending the study with me.

I guess it's always with me, isn't it, because Eve's absence always is, too.  And I was in the midst of reading Ann's book by the same name and counting my gratitudes when Eve died, so I guess I should have seen it coming by the association.

one thousand gifts study 

But I didn't.  And as I sat there with Jacob squirming sweetly in my arms, listening to Ann talk about watching her baby sister being run over by a truck as a child, about how Jesus gave thanks for the very thing which broke him, about anxiety and closed fists and how thanksgiving can change everything . . . all the ugliness of grief that I thought was healing so cleanly burst open.

The anger, the asking why, why my daughter out of all the daughters in the world -- all of it was right there, as close as it was in the weeks after she died.  And here I thought I was leaving some of the rawness behind.

The words that filtered around me exposed, excruciatingly, what is still festering within me.  

 And so I sat with it, among friends, choking down the tears.  Because what else can we do, when grief rises yet again?

But I do wonder -- how long?  How long will grief keep blindsiding me?

one thousand gifts study

Because this morning's study?  It wasn't the first time that grief sneaked up on me.  It feels like it's been happening almost daily for the past few weeks.  The memories come flooding in, the tears go pouring down, and every time I am shocked that I'm still crying.

I thought I was better.

So I am forced to realize yet again that there is no "better" for this kind of pain, this kind of loss.  Eve will never not be gone.  I will never not miss her.  It will never not hurt.

In the video, Ann mentioned Jesus giving thanks the night before he died.  Is this what Jesus was getting himself into when he went to the cross?  Does it hurt him still, to have lost what he gave there?  To have felt only the cold back of God at the time when he needed Love most of all?  

How do you give thanks for death?  

I am not grateful that Eve is dead. There is no silver lining to that fact.  Death is wrong, an abomination.  God never meant for it.  We were not made to die. The first man and the first woman chose death, and every one of us since would, too, because we are given to grasping beyond what is up for the taking.



I am grateful for the new friends I now have because of Eve, friends near and far that are precious to me.  I am grateful for the loved ones who came to the hospital and waited with me for her birth, who prayed when I thought there was nothing left to pray for.  I am grateful for the ways I have grown because I have known loss.  I am grateful for the writing of these words.  I am grateful for our son, who would not exist if his sister had not come into the world when she did.  I am grateful to God, for the way He carries me, even when I feel that I've fallen too far too many times.  

And I suppose in a backhanded sort of way I can be grateful for the pain, because it is a mark of love -- of my love for the daughter that I will never know in this life.  I just wish that I could remember what a constant, slippery beast grief is.  I wish it would stop surprising me.  

I think that I must embrace this forever-broken place in me, to make friends with it, instead of expecting its replacement with a healing that will never come. 

But how?  How to you befriend what you wish would pass? 

Ann Voskamp would say that gratitude is the key.  But I've counted my thousand and more gifts, and it still is hard.  Too hard, sometimes.  

It will be interesting, at the very least, to see what else this study will unearth from the raw and hidden depths of my heart . . .

"Sometimes God allows what he hates to accomplish what he loves."

~ Joni Eareckson Tada

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Books for Eve's Birthday: One Last Update

books for Eve's birthday

books for Eve's birthday

books for Eve's birthday

books for Eve's birthday

I had a slight forehead-slapping, what-was-I-thinking moment the other day when I realized -- I never did a final update on Eve's birthday books!  I guess that's sort of a happy thing, because it means that my hands have been full with life with our sweet rainbow boy, but still, I apologize.

As you may remember (it seems so long ago now!), I decided that I wanted to donate copies of the book When Hello Means Goodbye as a way of celebrating the first anniversary of Eve's birthday.  When I put the call out here on the blog, the response -- your response -- blew me away.

The books started to come in from literally around the world, and each one that made it to my doorstep was another vital piece of evidence that my daughter not only died, but also lived (and Lives!).  I feel like it's so easy to believe the lie that our world often seems to say, that a baby who died before birth is not a baby at all, not a person.  But my sweet girl was very much a person, and she had weight in this world, and each new book that arrived felt like confirmation of that.  So thank you -- that was very powerful for me.

All told, we gathered -- brace yourself -- 110 books.  (Did I mention that I was, and am, blown away?)  That's about 95 more books than I ever hoped to expect.  And, even more importantly, that's 110 local families who will be armed with knowledge and forethought needed to make vital, lasting memories as they prepare to meet their child and then immediately say goodbye. 

Thank you, friends.  Thank you.  I cannot fully express what this has meant to me.  What it means to me still.  All I am left with is those two, too-small words -- thank you.  You have blessed me, and you have blessed and helped the 110 mothers and fathers who will all too soon find themselves holding their dead or dying child.

To feel even a little less alone when you are fearfully awaiting your dead child's arrival?  When your womb doubles as a death bed?  When you are cradling your child in your arms for the first and last time?  That gift is beyond words, beyond measure.  

We have given that gift.  You have given it. 

Thank you.  Thank you.  From 110 mothers and fathers and grandparents and siblings and friends -- thank you.

books for Eve's birthday

Monday, January 14, 2013

The View From Here

There is so much running through my head and heart right now, so much that wants to overflow onto the page (er, screen).  But with so little time to write I find myself overwhelmed to wordlessness when I finally do have a moment to spill it all out.

What can I say to you, from right here and now?

I can say that I grow more and more in love with our rainbow son each day, even through frustration over sleepless nights and nap-less days, in love to the point of pain.  I did and did not know that a person could love like this.  It is too big for words. 

I can say that grief sneaks up on me still, and hits me hard.  I don't go looking for it, but it finds me anyway and I crumble.  When I stumble across a beautiful dress that would have been perfect for my now one year old curly haired daughter.  When someone sees the three of us, my husband and son and I, and says that it's our whole family.  When I see something on Pinterest about creating a piece of art for your family, and it wrings my heart out to know our family will forever be incomplete. 

I can say that the tears still come at night.  And during the day.  I wish she was here with us.

I can say that the time I've been able to snatch in five and ten minutes pieces, pieces filled with art-making, having been glorious and rejuvenating.  Whenever a free moment presents itself, I draw or paint or write without even considering.  I am learning just how important creating is to me -- after from my loved ones, and God, it is everything, it seems.

I can say that I still enjoy my new bangs, thank goodness.  That I try to be bold when I can.  

I can say that I am thinking a lot about God, and about what it means to trust Him.  I didn't do a very good job trusting Him during our son's pregnancy, and while at the time I thought that was okay, that it would get better once he was born, it hasn't -- I still want to control our every waking moment with a white knuckle grip, full of anxiety over the "what ifs."  That is no way to live.

I can say that I am terrified that our son will leave this earth before I do.  Terrified beyond the telling of it.  

I can say that I alternately seem to fall deeper into love with the Best Husband Ever and butt heads with him over parenting issues.  I can say that I expected this, and yet didn't.  I can turn so ugly. 

I can say that I am learning about love, and what it means to die to yourself.  The learning curve is steep, and humbling.

I can say that it is sometimes painful to realize how very little my son looks like me, when our daughter looked a lot like me.  And yet I also realize that this is probably also a blessing, because even with the two of them looking so different, my husband and I still sometimes think that it's Eve in our arms and not her brother.

I can say that I want a daughter, a daughter that stays here on earth with her brother, a daughter to dress in turquoise tutus and rainbow tights and baby gowns.  I can say that this scares me, too -- that I'm afraid if we had a daughter I would try to make her fill her sister's shoes.  That I wouldn't have enough love for three children.

I can say that it is difficult and strange and confusing thinking about what might have been, and what is, and what I hope for, and reconciling the three.  

I can say that I am making new art, and turning it loose into the world.  Here is one new thing.  It makes me think of one of my favorite books, Little Women.

I can say that I am also making more of these, and it is powerful, for me and for the parents with aching hearts who receive them.  (Follow along on Instagram, if you like, to see new creations as they develop).

I can say that it is a joy to daily watch my son slowly and yet not-slowly-enough unfurl new petals of growth and growing up.  He is the delight of my heart.  How is he already three and a half months old?

I can say that I wonder if my child should be the delight of my heart, or if he is taking a space that is God's own. 

I can say that I am tired.  That I am here.  That I am thankful.

That is enough.  That is a lot.  So much, in fact.  I am living in beauty and blessing.

13 weeks 

 digital art play

Love Rains Down


good morning, world!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Being Bold for the Babylost: Not Forgotten Angel Baby Drawings

Eve & Lily 

I've been bold this week.  Bold with my art, and with offering my heart.  At least, that's how it feels to me.

Here's what's happening:

Recently, a fellow blogger inspired me.  She* wrote a post describing how she imagined her baby who had died might have looked when she grew up, or might even look right now, in Heaven.  So later, when I sat down with my art journal, a little girl was born onto the page matching the blogger's description -- and next to her, a drawing of my own sweet Eve.

It happened so easily and naturally, and felt so good to my grieving heart to both make and have a drawing of my daughter, that I decided to make a few more, this time of some of my babylost mama friends' little ones gone too soon.

And that felt really good, too, and the drawings turned out so sweet.  So I sent digital copies of the drawings to my friends.  This was the part that felt extra bold to me -- sending out my imaginings of dead children to parents that hadn't asked for them?  It could have gone badly, but my friends seemed to enjoy the drawings (or at least were gracious about it).  

Then I got to thinking -- if I enjoyed having a picture of my daughter as she might have looked, and if my friends enjoyed having the same, wouldn't other babylost parents feel the same?  One of my friends who I sent a drawing to posted on Facebook, "That's my boy!" in association with the drawing.  Her son died before twenty weeks, and she has precious little (if anything) that she can say that in reference to.  It blessed me that I was able to give her something that she could proudly say such a thing about.  Because death does not stop us from loving and being proud of and wanting to show off our children who are not here.

So then came another extra bold step -- I listed customizable drawings of babies gone too soon (called Not Forgotten Angel Baby Drawings) in my Etsy shop.  Because we mamas with babies in Heaven can never have too many memory items.  It is my hope that these drawings can ease other babylost parents' hearts just a bit.  We've got so little to hold on to.

I'm quickly typing this up as our rainbow son is considering whether to nap or to start bawling (he's an avid nap resister . . . stubborn like his mama!), so I'll just leave you with photos of the drawings I've done so far.  It is such an honor and a joy to make this little whimsical sketches.  I hope you enjoy them, and if you'd like one for yourself or a loved one, check out the details here.

Faith, Grace, & Thomas 
Alexander with name 
Seb with name 
Kallee with name 
Caleb with name 
Hope Elna with name
Watch for more new Not Forgotten Angel Baby Drawings on my art Facebook page!  I post them there as I finish them.

*Blame my sleep-deprived mama brain -- I thought that the blogger who wrote that inspirational post was one person, but when I thanked her for said inspiration, she said it wasn't her!  So if you're the blogger who described her angel daughter as blonde with flowers in her hair, let me know -- I'd love to send you a copy of the drawing at the top of this page!  Sorry about the confusion!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

In Which I Do a Scary Thing to My Hair

It took about 30 minutes after writing my last post on saying goodbye to 2012 and welcoming 2013 with the personal focus of "be here now" to realize that that phrase was not complete.

It needed a little bravery, a little boldness.

You see, I wrote that last post while sitting in a hair salon, waiting for a hairdresser to call my name and give me bangs. Bangs. This curly-headed girl wanted bangs, of all things. A gutsy high-maintenance move that, the last time I tried it as a frizzy-mopped middle schooler, made me look like a horse. I'm not exaggerating. And now I have a baby - it's not like I have spare time for anti-equine hair styling.

But when the stylist called my name, I went and watched two pregnancies' worth of hard-grown hair fall into my lap.

And my first thought was -- oh. shit. I left the salon with a forehead itchy from tiny cropped hair leavings, pretty sure I'd just made a humongous mistake and that everyone who'd said not to do such a nothing would now be able to deliver a pointed "I told you so."

But here's the thing. I needed to do this. I needed to try bangs. I've been enjoying the bangs of everyone who wears them, wondering if I had the guts to take such a huge step myself. And I hated how I felt too afraid of making a mistake, of disappointing others, to try.

So you see - I had to let myself try. Regardless of how the bangs turned out. (Although now, thankfully I love them).

Which is why I feel that my 2013 theme of "be here now" is incomplete. It needs a little spicy something to help me beat back some of the fear of Not Fitting In that has kept me from stepping out into my own life for so long.

Was getting my bangs cut scary? Yes - but it was so worth it. It has left me feeling refreshed and alive, and somehow more myself. It makes me feel like more of an artist, that I've made art of my body. And, even better, it makes me want to be bold more. Now I find myself thinking of getting dreadlocks, which felt so scary not very long ago and now seem so right, so fitting for the person I hope to become.

So here it is. The new, I'm-sticking-with-it theme for my 2013 is:

be bold. be here.

Let's do this.

new hair!