I'm writing my first post from outside by Ryan's Garden. I was so happy to complete another special place for him. (Even though one of my plants is doing this weird droopy thing and I'm not quite sure why it's the only one that's so mad at me... but we'll see what happens).
Anyway. Finishing the garden has left me in a pretty weird place. This house was never meant to really be our "Forever Home." It's a great house for us. And it'll be wonderful for many years to come. But there's a criterion or two that we had hoped to find in a house someday that until recently seemed like it might take a while for us to get there.
My younger sister has been looking at properties and that always seems to peak the curiosity of Rich and I. So we started browsing a few listings, only to come across a house that checks every box... and isn't out of financial reach -- which in this market seems too good to be true. So, a pretty serious conversation began about whether or not it was time for us to make "the move."
In my head, every voice was saying: "Yes!" Really, we've been looking for an opportunity like this almost since we moved in to this house 4 years ago.
But something uncertain in my heart had been holding me back. Rich was very excited about the possibilities. Why wasn't I? This was what we had wanted, wasn't it?
It didn't take long for me to realize that my reservations all came from a very sentimental place. If things had been different; if Ryan had gotten to come home, I have no doubts we'd be signing on the dotted line right now. Packing boxes and getting ready for a new chapter in a new home. But I didn't get to bring him home. I have this room in my house that has sat empty since the day we bought it. When we toured the house that day with our agent I had picked it to be the nursery. We lived in this house for 3 years before it had any purpose aside from "empty room waiting to become a nursery." And then it became a nursery. But no baby has slept there. No quiet lullabies have been sung from that room with a baby in my arms.
And I realized I don't think I can go anywhere else until I get those moments. There's something about our time in this house that feels incomplete.
Maybe someday I'll be ready to leave this house behind. But for now, it's my home. And I'm still so hopeful it'll get to be the home we bring a baby to. In our arms. Not just in our hearts.
I'd like to take a minute to point out some of the beautiful things that have happened recently. It seems I see moments of beauty differently now. Sometimes more simply. And sometimes they're so complex they bring tears to my eyes.
There is beauty in celebrating our babies who have died. In the past few days and in the days to come, many babies, friends of Ryan's I call them, have celebrated (or will celebrate) their first birthdays. This is a milestone that scares me a little. A year seems like such a long time to be without Ryan. But I watched in awe as these moms, dads, families, and friends have outwardly and unabashedly celebrated their babies' birthdays. They've shared so openly such an emotionally charged milestone, and they've done it with such grace, love, and beauty that I have spent 2 days (and I see so many more days to come) in utter admiration. One family collected over 250 newborn sleepers and blankets in only one month to donate to the hospital in which her son, Sam, was born still. People from all over the world, myself and Ryan included, sent these baby clothes to help her boy help other families like ours in an incredibly devastating time. Her baby has made an impact on this world, and that is beautiful thing. But not all birthday celebrations have been so extravagant as that. Sometimes, there's so much beauty in the little things. For other birthdays, celebrations have been as simple as dressing up a teddy bear, imagining fantasy birthday parties, blowing bubbles at a resting place, buying flowers in a special colour.... And moms and dads from all around the world take to social media to celebrate one another's babies. It is the most inspiring, beautiful thing.
There is beauty in being honest and real about our stories. I was finally able to share with a new neighbour that this baby I'm growing is not our first child. It came up again in conversation and this time, I was confidently able to say that this would be our second. That in September our son passed away, and we're so hopeful that this time will be different. And as a mom herself, she cried a little with me. And it was okay. It didn't shut down our conversation. But I think it connected us a little bit more. It was a real, and honest, and beautiful thing.
And there is beauty in taking quiet moments for yourself. Tonight was my second prenatal yoga class. And instead of worrying about all of the things that might happen. And all of the other women and their journeys, their stories, I turned my thoughts inward. I went in with an intention for the night and I really got something out of it. I stretched my body, focused on my breathing, and really did connect with both Ryan and baby. It was just what I had hoped, and it, too, was a beautiful thing.
It's important to me to mention that no, not everything has righted itself since last week's emotional rollercoaster breakdowns. Not everything is suddenly perfect. But in taking a moment to focus on what is beautiful and good, I have been able to focus some of my nervous and anxious energy into finding some calm. I'm not positive or certain about all things. But I am positive that there is still some beauty to be found in all of the darkness. And yes, even that is a beautiful thing.
To quickly address my previous post, I spent some time trying to reconcile my wavering fears. And I found so many wonderful affirmations online about embracing fear. About allowing yourself to feel what you need to feel in order to move forward from it or with it.
Here's what I found:
So I am okay. I'm okay with being a little scared. As long as I keep moving forward. Keep loving this little one. Keep taking care of myself. A little (or a lot) or fear isn't going to control this pregnancy or how I feel about it. With any hope, we still have about 21 weeks together, and we'll take those weeks one day at a time.
I have been shovelling lately. Shovelling through heavy loads of anxiety, fear, grief, worry, and self-doubt. Just the worst of the ways you can feel I have been feeling. And been slowly working my way out of it. But the pile on top of me feels heavy today. So I'm taking a break from shovelling. I'm going to sit here. Tell you about it. Soak in it for a second. Go to bed. And wake up to start shovelling again.
About a week ago, I got sick. I've said it before, and I'll say it again now; sickness and grief are enemies. When my body physically slows down, emotions cannot be handled, and they always seem to burst forward. There were a lot of tears as I snuggled into the blankets on the couch. And I wasn't just worried about myself -- my worries began to be about this baby of ours. As my fever climbed, so did my worry. And let me tell you, it's very hard to get medical reassurance from your primary caregivers on a weekend. Even if you are a PAL mom. And especially if you haven't hit the arbitrary 20 weeks gestation mark. But we dealt with it. Mostly on our own. And my fever broke. And I began to feel better. Returned to work. All was fine.
I called my OB. We've been waiting on test results for a persistent infection. We've known about it since about 8 weeks. Though there's no telling how long I've had it. It's been treated twice, with two different medications. Nothing has cleared it. We were hopeful the last round of antibiotics worked, but it hasn't. According to my doctor. Who I had to call to find out the results today. Now, there's something to be said about the fact that she doesn't seem worried about it. In fact, I don't know very much about it at all, because she hasn't said much about it. She's explained in limited detail the "potential risk-factors." But that was mostly in passing. And now she hasn't even prescribed anything new. Just said we'd talk about it at my next appointment on Tuesday. To any "normal" person that sounds like "no big deal." To me, it's alarm bells. I don't know why exactly. But something about it just sets off all of my worry. I know nothing, and yet I worry about everything.
So tonight was my first prenatal yoga class. I thought I was excited for it. And yet, as the day wore on I felt this nagging anxiety creeping up. By the time I was in the car, on my way there, I figured it out. I figured it out as I was rehearsing my "This is actually my second baby" speech. I was willingly walking into a room full of pregnant ladies. Of course questions would be asked. And how do I answer those questions!? Usually I choke. So today I was prepared. And practicing. And then I realized: "I can't tell my story to a room full of hopeful expectant mothers?" Could I? Hell if I know. So my 15 minutes of practice went out the window as I sat in the parking lot and gave myself the "Just get in there and do this for yourself" pep talk.
At this point you can see I'm a mess.
Needless to say, I spoke to no one. No one spoke to me. I went in. I watched these pregnant ladies interact -- many seemingly comfortable with each other -- not many newbies in the group. I did my practice (which admittedly was lovely -- until meditation as always, when I broke down sobbing silently to myself). Then I drove myself home.
And I cried. I cried for worrying about my baby. I cried for missing Ryan and having to do this all again. I cried for crying about this baby at all. Because I know so many people who only want to be in my shoes. And I cried because of those moms at the yoga class. The smiles in their eyes. The 38 week woman whose baby was due "any day." Cried wondering if I still glow like they do when I talk about this baby inside me. The way I did when I talked about Ryan on the way.
I cried because as much as I try to embrace every moment with this little one, I know I'm only ever a phone call away from worry. A yoga class away from self-doubt. A tiny germ away from fear. That even though there is joy in the little things -- there's a lot of the negative too. And my last 6 days have been piled high with it.
This last week has been a reminder of my loss of innocence. And instead of playing strong, today I want to whine, and kick, and complain. And mourn my loss of innocence. Today and this week, I have not felt strong. I have felt pushed down by the weight of my loss. I've succumbed to it for the first time in a while. It sucks.
But this, too, shall pass. I guess.
I became a mother the second I knew I was carrying Ryan. So this is not my first Mother's Day. I consider it my second. Ryan is the boy who made me a mom. Being a mother is about this intense love you discover. I discovered it that first day with Ryan back on January 2nd 2015. It got deeper every day. And when he died, my heart all but burst because my love for him couldn't be contained anymore. So I mother my boy in ways I never expected to mother a child. By opening and closing his blinds every morning. By planting him a garden. Visiting him at the cemetery. Buying him flowers for his "place" in our living room. Writing letters to him.
Now I'm carrying his sibling. We don't know how this story will end, but I love this little one fiercely.
"A mother is not defined by the number of children you see on earth, but by the love she holds in her heart." And my heart is full of the love for my two children. One who lives in my heart, the other who lives in my womb. Who I hope hard will get to come home with us someday.
Today I wish a Happy Mother's Day to anyone with a mother's heart. The women spending the day with her children in her arms. The women spending the day with her children in her heart. And the women struggling and hoping for a child someday.
Find ways to enjoy today. I hope the sun shines on you wherever you are.
Today was the first truly beautiful spring day that I could spend with you at your resting place. And what better day than your 8 month milestone.
So I grabbed a blanket, a book, and here I am, writing another love letter to you. I usually write from your room. But I feel just as close to you here. When the birds sing and the wind picks up, I like to think it's you saying hello. Saying I love you. And I like to think you can hear me saying those things too.
I know you heard me reading. I read to you, (and baby), the book "On the Night You Were Born." Sometimes it feels like it was written specifically from me to you, and then from you to me. When it describes the beauty in the night you were born. And then when it talks about all of the ways nature tries to make us smile. That's you. The morning moon. The lingering ladybugs. The bird at the window.
You, my baby, are one of a kind. No matter what the past 8 months have brought, and no matter what the next 8 have in store, there will never be anyone quite like you in the world.
Love you, always.
Yesterday's prompt was unexpected losses. But with a goal of healing in mind, I knew I couldn't focus yesterday on all of the things I feel I've lost in this journey. There are many things, and sometimes I think on them too frequently. So I skipped it, and focussed on the garden instead because it makes me happy--especially when I'm operating under a bit of a dark cloud lately.
Today's prompt is unexpected gains. Much more positive. Much more healing. And much more of something I need to focus on. Because when I think about it, some of the things I've gained have been pretty special and definitely unexpected.
When Ryan died I felt like I lost a lot of love that should have been in my life. Surrounded by young families, I see too often the pure joyful love little ones have for their parents. You know what I'm talking about. Just take a look at any photo with a sweet little one snuggling mom. Or go to a big gathering and watch the littles hide behind dad's legs for safety. So I thought, without him here, there would be a noticeable absence of love in my life.
Though there is a Ryan shaped hole in my heart that no one can or will ever fill, I can honestly say that I have unexpectedly gained more love than I could have imagined from some of the most unexpected of places.
Just yesterday, I received in the mail a sweet gift from another loss mom, Taylor, and her baby, Bailey. I've met them through Instagram. They sent a baby onesie that says "Hand picked for Earth by my brother Ryan in Heaven." In her note she sent wishes for the new baby, love to Ryan, and thanked me for helping her not feel so alone. Mothers like her and so many others in this online community I have found have some of the biggest hearts I know, and they are undoubtedly the strongest women I have "never" met. I have gained an uncountable number of "sisters-in-loss" and I am so grateful to them for quite actually always being there.
This weekend is not an easy one for us--I've been falling apart slowly all week just knowing it is coming-- but we reach out to each other through the miracle of technology and hold each other up and let each other fall apart, knowing we'll all be there to help put us back together when it's over.
We always joke that we wish we didn't have to know each other. But I sure am glad now that I do. We'd all rather have our babies in our arms or crawling at our feet, but we don't. And instead we gained the love and support of virtual strangers. And it has been a beautiful thing that has truly made all the difference for me.
Love you ladies and all of your sweet babies. And thank YOU for loving me and mine.
I've read a lot of beautiful posts today from other loss mamas about how treasured their pregnancies were (and are still) to them--that time we all had with our babies when it was just us and them.
Me and You, Ryan.
I had always worried that another pregnancy would be a very confusing time for me. That I'd get all mixed up about this baby and you. Because I only ever knew you from inside of me. But it's not that way. You were different. (And your little brother or sister is doing a great job of reminding me of just how different you are -- it's true that no two pregnancies are exactly the same, that's for sure!)
But I did and do treasure our time when it was just me and you.
I had a tough day today, emotionally speaking. In preparing a few things for this new little one I've come across a lot of memories of us. Photos mostly. Photos are all we have, really. And in each one, I don't just see me. I see us. And it brings a smile to my heart and a tear to my eye every time. Because even though it doesn't look like there's a me and you anymore, it will always feel that way to me.
I was given a sweet gift (a memory book) from some coworkers today for me and your little sibling. The note read something like: "When we saw this, we thought of you and Ryan. We are excited to give it to Ryan's little sister or brother."
It made my heart swell that some people still think of us together.
Because as far as I'm concerned, wherever I go, there you will be. Not many moms get that with their children.
Me and you. Forever.
One of the hardest parts of my grieving process has been the struggle that comes with not blaming myself for Ryan's death. To not feel some responsibility for what happened. When you don't have many real answers, you're left to wonder. Constantly wonder: Was I responsible for this? Could I have done something differently?
For a while that answer for me was yes.
I could have listened to my body. I could have taken his changing movements more seriously, instead of just chalking it up to: "He's running out of room." "He must be getting into position." "It's almost my due date, so he must be getting ready."
To even admit those were my thoughts brings up more feelings of: "You could have stopped this." It makes me embarrassed. Guilty. Because what if? What if I had said something to someone?
But the reality is, those things I was saying to myself, I didn't think of myself. They are things that we as a group believe to be true about pregnancy--that babies sometimes "run out of room." We say these things until we know better. And at the time, I didn't know better. I was never told to count kicks. To track if his normal big movements became slower, gentler movements. And for all I know I could have called the hospital with my fears and they may have easily said: "That's normal. He's just running out of room. Just getting ready. I'm sure we'll see you in a few days."
It's taken a lot of work to strip away this guilty feeling. These feelings of blame. But I did. And I found comfort in the fact that as easily as I could have made a difference, maybe I couldn't have either.
But now that I'm pregnant again, those guilty feelings are working their way back to the surface. I have never felt more responsible for anything in my life, than I do for keeping this baby safe. And I know (I know, I really, truly know) that what happened to Ryan wasn't my fault. And I can't imagine how I would have gotten through the last 8 months if it had somehow been my fault. So with this little one I'm doing everything I can to do it "right."
I'm so hyper-aware of every decision I make. Every food I eat. Every time I exert or over-exert myself. Every hour of sleep I get. Every minute spent with a student returning to school after a stint with the flu. When our school was recently renovated I contacted my OB in a bit of a panic because I had spent "too much time" in all of those construction fumes.
And still, everything is fine. Baby is fine.
The bottom line is: I am doing it right. With or without all the worry and anxiety. I'm here, taking care of myself, loving this little life with everything inside of me. Truly doing what I can to stay relaxed and minimize my stresses. (Though admittedly this post sounds like I'm doing nothing but worrying--though that's not true!) And the outcome, at this point, much like the outcome of Ryan's time with me, seems to be out of my hands.
I will do right by this baby like I tried so hard to do right by Ryan. And I won't be taking anything for granted. This month is about healing. I will take those feelings of responsibility I still have sometimes for Ryan, and turn them into something positive. It's my reminder to listen to my body and nobody else. And maybe this time things will be different.
As it turns out, the month of May can be a tough one. It's not just Mother's Day that makes it a bit of a sticky subject for me. There's so much Spring in the air now, that I can't seem to stop the "What ifs" from coming. Mostly, what if he got to stay? How would our lives look with Ryan among us as the winter chill finally melted away. As he began to crawl. Play in the grass. Adventures at the park. There are so many wonderings that come with time moving forward, and it's hard not to spend all my time longing.
So I'm fortunate that there are two reflective prompt thingies circulating social media this month to help moms like me put their longing and their grief into something more productive -- or at least more focused. I find I always manage the grief storms more comfortably when I have something to focus that energy into. (Like Ryan's garden or writing).
Throughout the month, I plan to focus on some combination of both -- each day reflecting on one of the prompts from either: The "#MayWeAllHeal" campaign or Francesca Cox's "31 Days of Creatively Me." (Which can also be found on Instagram with the hashtags: #creativelyme and #facetsofgrief.
Today's Creatively Me prompt was "Facets of Grief." And I thought for a while about the whole "Stages of Grief" thing and where I would be on that list of stages. Denial? Acceptance? Anger? I actually think there are many more than the common 5 stages. And although by "traditional" methods I'd probably be lumped in the "acceptance" category, I hate that word because I don't "accept" his loss. And I will never accept it. Acceptance is about agreeing, consenting, or even receiving something as being enough. None of those explanations fit how I feel about Ryan being torn away from me so quickly and cruelly. But I have been exploring my feelings--even the uncomfortable ones--on a fairly regular basis. And by textbook definitions, exploration would fall under the "Acceptance" stage. So here I am.
So the facet of grief that I've been clinging to lately is a willingness to explore. That's what I do when I write, when I participate in memorial events for Ryan and other babies like him, when I spend hours planning a garden for him. I'm exploring what this new life means. Because, agree or disagree, my vision of myself is a bit adjusted now. I'm exploring what it means to be happy. What it really means to be sad. I'm refusing to shy away from my fears and anxieties in my new pregnancy, and instead of denying that those feelings exist, I'm exploring them in order to help manage them. Anger hasn't been a feeling I've tapped into too much since Ryan died... I've felt disappointment, loneliness, sadness, and longing. But anger, especially about Ryan's death, hasn't yet reared its head too strongly--which, I'll admit, is worrisome. But I know that when it does (if it does?) I'll be ready to explore it too.
The "ugliest" emotion I've felt that I was really reluctant to explore because it feels so dirty on me, is jealousy. I've lived my life avoiding jealousy. It gets you nowhere. And yet, I find now, that's something I feel so frequently I'm slightly embarrassed to admit it. Jealous of new moms. Jealous of families with children. Jealous of pregnant women. This is something I thought would go away once I got pregnant again, but the truth is, it hasn't. And although at first, I shyed away from it and pretended it didn't exist, I was eventually "shown the light" that only once I embrace it, and let it in, will I be able to let it go. But I'm still working on it.
I'm proud of myself for being so open to exploring grief. I was so afraid of it in the beginning. Crying for days about the loss of Ryan's life, but also for the loss of the life I had before he died. The grief of knowing that life would never, could never, be exactly the same as it was before. I didn't want this grief in my life. And I won't say I'm thankful for it. And I won't say I'm happy I have it. But I will say that I'm grateful that I have been open to exploring it. Because only in being open to it, can I work through it. Only in acknowledging it, can I manage it. Only in exploring it, can I learn how to live this new life.