Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Dear NICU Staff

Dear NICU staff,

Four months ago, you took care of daughter, Isabella Claire, after she was born via emergency C-section on June 9th. You were compassionate and efficient, and gave us confidence that absolutely everything possible was being done. You gave her the care that we could not, and we were able to sleep knowing she was in the best hands.

After she died the following day, we remember your care, gentleness, and kindness during that time. You listened while we struggled to process what was happening, cried with us over the surprise and confusion of the whole thing, and assured us that there was nothing we did wrong or should have done differently. We are so grateful for what you did for us and for what you do every day for other families. We thank God that you cared for our daughter.

It meant a great deal to us that several of you were able to attend her funeral the following week. We never imagined that, within such a short period of time, Isabella’s life could impact so many. It was clear that we were surrounded by a whole community that grieved with us.

These last four months have been challenging in ways we never imagined. The grace and love shown to us through the NICU, other hospital staff, and our family and friends have made it possible for us to remember that there is still a future and we will have joy. We are hanging in there through the hard days. We trust that God will not waste our pain and will use Isabella’s story in some way for good.

Thank you so much for the gift of love and care you gave our daughter and us. We will never forget that, and we are grateful you are a part of our story too. Enclosed are some photos. We hope you enjoy the cookies we baked as a small sign of our appreciation.

With heartfelt thanks,

(We took cookies and this note to the NICU last month.)

Monday, November 13, 2017

How Old is Your Baby?

One of the hardest questions for me to ask another mother is, "How old is your baby?" My eyes are always drawn to babies, especially if they look around Isabella's age. At the end of every day, I could tell you roughly how many babies and strollers I passed.

I'm both drawn by babies and terrified of seeing them. Every time I see an unfamiliar baby, I want to know how old the baby is and I don't want to know if they are Isabella's age. 

In airports, restaurants, coffee shops, etc., I choose my seat based on where the babies are sitting (not in my line of view). Apparently this heightened awareness and avoidance of certain situations is related to the traumatic element of Isabella's death. 

Until I was pregnant, I never cared to ask the age of babies. I certainly did not anticipate it would become a difficult and anxiety producing question to ask. I've gotten up the courage to ask unfamiliar mothers how old their babies are twice. Both times, I had to talk myself into having the guts to approach them with the question. 

The first time was three weeks after Isabella was born and died. My husband and I were at a coffee shop in Washington state. I had seen newborns everywhere. Each time I saw a mother cradling her child or rocking a car seat with her foot, a part of my heart ached with the emptiness of my arms. My husband told me it was not strange to ask moms their child's age, especially since I'm female. 

In this coffee shop, there was a beautiful African American woman with gorgeous twin girls. After surreptitiously watching and avoiding them for almost an hour, my husband encouraged me to talk to her instead of agonizing. 

I finally approached the mother and asked, "How old are your babies?"
She smiled and replied, "They're 10 weeks old."

While gazing at the infant in her arm I said, "Your daughters are beautiful. Most people I know who are having kids this year are having boys."

She looked at me and asked, "Do you have kids?"

Swallow. "I do. My daughter has born three weeks ago."

She gave me a huge smile. "How are you all sleeping?"

My lip began to tremble. "Unfortunately, she also died three weeks ago." 

Her eyes welled up with tears and she asked me if I wanted to hold her daughter. I did. If I was face to face with a woman who had just buried a child, I don't know if I would offer her my newborn to hold. But she did, and it felt so good and so hard to hold this precious girl. She asked if she could pray for me. Shortly after she prayed, my husband and I left. 

The second time was at an airport last week. I had positioned myself so I could not see this newborn boy being held by his mother. As I walked by to refill my water bottle, I worked up the courage to ask her the question. 

With my heart hammering in my chest, I asked, "How old is your son?"

She smiled and said, "He's two months."

Part of me breathed a sigh of relief that he was not five months, as Isabella would have been. "He's a beautiful baby."

We smiled at each other and I walked away. She does not know that I have a daughter. No one on my flight knew that I would/should have been holding an almost five-month baby on my lap. These days I often wonder what invisible scars others carry daily that I cannot see and how that impacts their interactions with me and those around them. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Love You Forever

When I read the story behind the popular book, Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, I was floored.  On his website, he writes:
Love You Forever started as a song. 
“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
as long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.” 
I made that up after my wife and I had two babies born dead. The song was my song to my dead babies. For a long time I had it in my head and I couldn’t even sing it because every time I tried to sing it I cried. It was very strange having a song in my head that I couldn’t sing. 
For a long time it was just a song but one day, while telling stories at a big theatre at the University of Guelph, it occurred to me that I might be able to make a story around the song. 
Out popped Love You Forever, pretty much the way it is in the book.
God willing, we will someday read aloud Love You Forever to our children. When we read it, it will be for our children, both living and dead. As long as we are alive, Isabella will be our baby. A parent's love for their child is forever, even when the child is gone.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Welcome to Club Invisible: New Members Added Daily

When I was pregnant, I was part of the "pregnant club." Walking around Target or the grocery, my eye was always drawn to other pregnant women. Even if I did not make eye contact with them, I was highly aware of the fact that we were all carrying new life within us. Before I even started to show, I remember looking at other pregnant moms and feeling an instant connection. 

I expected to become part of the "new mom's club." I pictured sitting around with other moms, talking about the joys and agonies of parenting a newborn. Walking around a store, I expected to occasionally ask another mother how old her child was and exchange war stories.

Earlier this week I was at Target and saw a mom carrying her child strapped to her chest. She has no idea that we are both part of the "mothers who gave birth within the last six months" club. She has no idea that I am a mother. I looked at her, surreptitiously assessing the age of her baby, while part of my heart was breaking inside.

After Isabella died, my husband and I were in Missoula, Montana at a farmer's market. It seemed like every third family had a young baby or was pregnant. I felt like an outsider, when just a month before, I was an obviously pregnant, soon-to-be mother, expecting to be toting around a newborn daughter soon. Part of me desperately wanted a shirt that read, "I'm a Mom, too."

That day I realized I am part of an invisible club. Club Invisible consists of parents who walk around every day, missing one or more of their children who they have had to bury or say goodbye to long before they expected. 

Looking at us, no one knows we are parents. Our parental status is completely invisible. Even once we have more children, we will always be missing a child here on earth. Our heartbreak is hidden. How many other people are part of Club Invisible, and I never knew it? Who else do I walk by at Target and I have no idea that they, too, had to bury a child?

One of the worst parts about Club Invisible is that no one talks about it. After Isabella died, many people reached out and told me their stories of loss. At my work alone, at least five of us have buried our children. I was aware of zero until I buried Isabella. 

New members are daily added to this club. "Every year, nearly 3 million babies [worldwide] die within the first month of life, most from preventable causes. More than a third of these babies die on their first day of life – making the birth day the riskiest day for newborns and mothers almost everywhere" (Save the Children, page 3). According to this same Save the Children report, "The United States has the highest first-day death rate in the industrialized world. An estimated 11,300 newborn babies die each year in the United States on the day they are born." This means roughly 31 babies a day in the United States die on the day they were born.

There are many reasons that the neonatal death and infant mortality numbers in the United States are high. Some of this is related to whether a death is classified as a miscarriage or stillbirth. Regardless, these numbers are staggering. It represents families all around each of us that are walking around daily without one of their children.

There will never be a way for me to identify everyone who is part of Club Invisible. However, it does not need to be both an invisible and unspeakable club. It exists. Our children exist. And they are missed.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017


Every since we returned to the "new normal" of life after Isabella died, it feels like each day consists of "and." Generally, an experience or day is "good and hard." It may be more shades of "joyous and excruciating," but I've found that my vocabulary has significantly decreased when describing life after the death of our daughter.

Almost every time I talk with my sister and hear about her and life with my infant niece, the conversations are good and hard. Every aspect of me is grateful that her daughter is alive. It is a joy to hear my niece crying in the background and it's hard. I wish I had my daughter too. It's hard to hear her struggling with very little sleep and I'm so glad that her daughter is alive, crying, and in their home rather than the hospital or cemetery, even though they all need more sleep. 

Working in a job I generally enjoy with coworkers I care about is good. And I'm more exhausted this year than any previous year, so each day takes more effort. While pregnant I was primarily physically tired. Grieving takes an enormous amount of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy and is draining.

Reading about Facebook friends and acquaintances who have recently had babies is good. And I almost always unfollow them because seeing photos of babies unexpectedly pop up in my news feed is hard and can throw off my entire day.

Over the weekend I saw that the brother of a friend from college had a son who was stillborn at full term. Knowing the pain that the other couple is experiencing is heartbreaking. I wish that, somehow, no more babies would die after my daughter died. That is not how it works. With everything in me, I would prefer having to unfollow all of my friends on Facebook because they all have beautiful, chubby, healthy babies, than see anyone else suffer the death of their child.

Every day we can see and we search for the beauty in life. The Fall leaves are starting to turn and they are beautiful. The air has the delicious feel of crisp fall and smells like a new season. And watching the leaves changing at the cemetery, knowing that my daughter will never play in autumn leaves anywhere or make leaf houses in the yard, is heart wrenching. 

Perhaps daily life is always an exercise in experiencing two emotions that seem opposites. Loss can bring both of these aspects of the seemingly mundane into more clear focus. While a part of me yearns for a life that only consists of the glorious and uplifting, life is richer when I experience and can name the sorrowful and tragic as well.