We moved. Ten or so days ago we moved down the block and around the corner from our little house, but I’m still trying to unpack. We hadn’t planned on moving this year, but we suddenly needed more space. Unpacking with an infant is not the easiest process, who knew?
In September, my father-in-law was diagnosed with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer. The news rumbled through the family. This was the same disease that took my husband’s mother (non-smoker) just 5 years prior. My father-in-law is an Iowa farmer, born and raise and tilling the land on a farm that has been in the family for nearly a century. But we are not in Iowa and neither is my husband’s sister and family. So together we all looked at the best options and decided that he would come live with us and have treatment at the University of Kansas.
The plan works on many levels. KU has a great program, the treatment center is only 10 minutes from us, J doesn’t have to be in a house alone (and I can make sure he eats), and most importantly he and Lochlan are getting some special grandson/grandfather bonding in. They have a special way of making each other smile and I like to think it’s part of the healing plan.
Shortly before he was diagnosed, J had picked up a puppy to keep him company. It became quickly apparent that keeping a pup was not going to be easy so he gifted it to Lochlan. Yes, I feel like I’m going crazy with a 7-month-old puppy and a 6-month-old baby, but they ADORE each other. And most of the time our old boxer really digs the pup. Probably because he lost his life companion last December and as annoying as the bouncing puppy is, the company is comforting.
And the thing about an extra adult, a young dog, and a baby is that they need room to spread out, toss toys around, and get comfortable. It became quickly apparent that our little 1600 square foot home was not going to cut it for long. So, we found a beautiful house.
When I told my father about the new house, he was super excited for us, but he immediately told me that it would feel bittersweet and that’s okay. He said your first home will always hold a special place and you will miss it from time to time; just like he misses “the little blue house.” And he’s right, leaving the house felt sad. We teared up when we got the over asking price offer from the first person who saw the house. We sighed heavy when all our stuff was boxed up and we started patching holes where our pictures had hung. My eyes welled again when I erased our name off the chalkboard painted door in the garage.
We lived a lot of life in that house. We became a true family in that house – we got engaged, married, and pregnant all while living in that house. We brought our son home to that house. When we lost the twins, I sat at the picture window and imagined them in the yard. The yard we put a new fence on shortly after we became pregnant with them. We put in that picture window and spent hours sitting at our fireplace or kitchen table looking out it. We loved that house. And it’s just a structure, we carry our home with us as a family, but it started there.
This new house has a great layout, beautiful windows to stare out of, and two fireplaces to lounge around. We will grow into it, our son will know this as his home, and eventually all of our things will find their place. But the sentimentalist in me had to write a goodbye letter and a blessing to the new owner.
The new owner is a 25-year-old that just returned from living overseas. He grew up in the area and his parents are notable in the Kansas City community. He may find the letter sappy. Dan informed me most 25-year-old guys would shrug it off, but he also said that were he to get one now he’d know it was important. And I told him, as much as the letter is for the young guy, it’s for us too. When we went to drop it off, my typically pulled together husband also got a little emotional leaving the house. Because it was a good little house. Because he put a lot of sweat and dollars into the house. Because we truly lived in that house - ups and downs and lots of life.
So, I’ll share my sappy letter as a tribute to a house well-loved and to put the blessing into the universe for the new owner and for our new house also.
Welcome to your new home! We hope that you love this little house as much as we did. But even more than a house we hope you find it to be a home, a beginning, and a place where life’s big moments happen for you. These walls held some of the most pivotal years of our lives, some of our biggest ups and a couple of our biggest downs.
Off to unpack and make more memories and build a home in this new house. I’m hoping to write more in the new year, but if you haven’t had a chance to yet, you can check out my latest blogs over at Kansas City Mom’s Blog. The once a month deadline helps me keep posting!
People who parent after loss are heroes. Some already had children that they continue to care for and others go onto have children after their loss. Either way, I look at the bravery it takes to put one foot in front of the other, to love with your whole heart even when it is broken, and to be completely vulnerable again.
Children make us vulnerable in ways I couldn’t understand before going through the process of pregnancy … and loss … and pregnancy again. They stretch our human capacity for love to its limits, showing you what it truly means to love someone so much more than yourself. Someone who is their own person and will (hopefully) go on to live their own lives full of adventure and people. Or, as is my case and many others in the perinatal loss community, someone who wholly and completely steals your heart but whose life is out of your hands.
The utter vulnerability of it all can be terrifying. And yet, this is the human experience. Love and community and heartache and repair and repeat, repeat, repeat. Any loss mother I have talked to has told me the same thing, “I would do it again just to be able to love him/her.” I think that speaks to the power of the love over the loss' crippling pain.
Tomorrow I will be 25 weeks along with our son. He’s been kicking more noticeably lately. Swishing around alive, completely alive. We’ve had two growth scans so far to check on his progress and he remains on the big side (97th percentile!), which is a blessing in case he comes early. Each day that passes at this point adds an additional 3% survival rate. I celebrate him daily. I take moments throughout the day to really focus intention on my gratitude and joy about his life.
And now, as we pass more milestones of survival chances, the idea that I will get to parent him, actually parent him, becomes more and more a possible reality.
It’s this reality that has me looking around at all those parenting after loss. At the way they handle the biggest job in the world even when they’ve already lived the biggest fear in the job.
I was speaking with a mother who very recently lost her son midtrimester about how she was coming a long in these first months. Everything is jumbled and messy for her – when to take time to grieve, how to take care of her other daughters, how to move forward or not move forward. The familiarity of her grief is potent to me. But she also said that when her daughter is scared, she reminds her that her brother can help her be brave because she gets to do all the things he didn’t do. He will be there for them. He has not disappeared. He will be a reminder of grace and strength and bravery. Her ability to seamlessly blend this into conversation with her girls impresses me beyond end.
Another dear friend of mine lost a son midtrimester a year before our loss. She now has a second young son. Every time I see him he fills the room with joy. He is immeasurably joyous and adored. He shows the face of a child that comfortably knows his parents love him. And yet, my friend still yearns for her first son. She still wonders daily what it would be like to have them both. Each time she puts an outfit that she had purchased for him on her living son she tells him it is a hand me down from his brother. I love this. I know that one day she will run out of hand me downs, but the conversation will have been started. In a small way, the boys will be allowed to be siblings regardless of the distance between them.
I find these simple acts heroic. In the face of the greatest grief, with courage and humility and love, they continue forward. And not by replacing or forgetting or denying but by integrating and allowing space for their children and still feeling both sides of joy and pain.
I'm still thinking of ways to tell our son about his brother and sister. I’m still working through how to describe his mom’s ability to be completely in love with him and completely yearning for them. I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that he will not live as the youngest of three but an only child or the oldest (possibly). I’m still picking up the broken pieces of my heart so they don’t fall into his lap.
I can’t wait to meet him. Part of me believes that when I do, I’ll know better how to be the parent he needs. When I see his face, I’ll know how to do these things too. Because I will be their mother and his, and he will need different things from me. And I’ll use every bit of me to be the best for the three of them.
This is not the story I imagined for us. But this is our story.
*For those still struggling with infertility or are early in their pregnancy/infant/child loss journey, please know that this post contains information about a new pregnancy and ultrasound pictures.
Today is a very important day for us, a milestone day. Six weeks ago we announced to our Facebook tribe of friends, family and colleagues that we are expecting a son this year. In a few short sentences we tried to express that this little boy was the remaining embryo from the IVF that gave us our twins. The announcement came one day before he reached the same gestation that we lost them … unplanned but significant I suppose.
It’s significant because this little boy is being carried after a loss - a major, life-altering, still aching loss. And while we don’t identify with the term ‘rainbow baby,’ because he was created with the twins before they were gone, it is the current cultural term to describe a pregnancy after loss – a rainbow pregnancy.
I’ve written a few posts to try to describe pregnancy after loss, each one rambling longer than the next, before I realized I don’t know how to describe it just yet. There is a powerful colliding of emotions, a squishing of contradictory feelings that ruminate daily in my heart. I’m sorting it out. Living it now. That’s why I haven’t posted in several months. I’ll save the ramblings to sort through later.
This was what our FB announcement said: "We are cautiously excited to announce that we are expecting a baby boy this June! This little guy is Finnian and Maisie’s triplet, our frozen miracle of science and prayer. We are so hopeful that we get to hold this extra special baby and believe he is already carrying the spunk, spirit, and love of his brother and sister. We will take all the prayers, positive energy, or any way you might lift us up for a safe pregnancy. Come on 2017, we need a win!"
In addition to learning how to navigate the roller coaster of a rainbow pregnancy, we are in the midst of a very complicated high-risk pregnancy. For all the mamas out there who managed through high-risk pregnancies – I salute you. No, that’s not enough - I admire the hell out of you. Because a high-risk pregnancy has it’s own colliding, squished emotions that pull you outside the normal pregnancy experience and force you to quietly fight for the life your body is just supposed to know how to grow.
We have been on careful watch this pregnancy since it still incredibly unclear why our twins were born early. We knew I went into pre-term labor because I contracted and delivered, but we have no idea what exact sequence of events led us there (we have great doctors though and have been working off theories to manage the care of this pregnancy). Our first trimester was riddled with episodes of bleeding and threatened miscarriages due to a hematoma. Our second trimester began with the revelation that I have an irritable uterus that painfully and frequently has spells of pre-labor type contractions. We have been attending weekly doctors appointments and ultrasounds to check that these contractions do not cause my cervix to begin the labor process. Two weeks ago, my cervix did shorten and we wasted no time getting in to surgery and sewing it closed.
So why is today a milestone? A big, important day for us? Because today we have reached medical viability at our hospital. Some hospitals require 1-2 more weeks of gestation, but we picked the one with the most advanced NICU. We picked the one that has the knowledge, equipment and resources to take a baby born 18 weeks before their due date.
Today, if my son is born, they will try to save him. He is considered “viable” to live outside of my uterus. This moment washes over me with immense relief that collides and squishes under the weight of losing our twins so early. When they handed me our daughter, Maisie, she was alive. I stared at her heart pounding, knowing she wanted desperately to take a breath. And I searched the room for anyone to help her and they could not. They could not because she was too early to survive without me. No equipment could help her fragile lungs.
It was this moment that I recounted while I laid on the surgery table for my cervix. Numb from the waist down and exposed to a room of scrub-clad doctors and nurses, I told their story. I let the tears slide down my cheeks and puddle by my face while I begged them to please get me to viability. I tried desperately to impress that this little boy that I am carrying is more important than any other baby because of what we went through with his brother and sister. My medical professionals were fighting for me … but I needed them to know what the battle was for and why. I needed them to know that I am willing to do absolutely anything I can to get him here, and I need their help.
We are here now. 22 weeks. And the reality is, he needs a lot more time. We are still hoping and praying he makes it a lot longer. But we are also realistically preparing for what happens if he comes prematurely. Each week is a new goal. Each week increases his survival chances and decreases his risk of long-term health struggles.
Each day I feel him kick more. Each week I see him on the ultrasound, perfectly formed, happy and heart-thumping. Every time I am filled with immense joy and love for this little boy. Every time I imagine the twins reaching the same moments. It’s messy.
I’m laying on the couch with my feet in the air the majority of the day just to keep him in. Often perusing Facebook to see how my friends are tackling their careers, advocating for political change, nurturing their young families, and advancing their studies. And I put all those things on hold for myself. Because right now, feet in the air, I am fighting the hardest battle I’ve ever fought and he is so worth it. He has always been viable to me.
In eight days we are get married. Married. In EIGHT days. If you can hear the nervous excitement in my words than you are reading this right. I don’t believe that I could have found a better partner for my life, but we are both aware that this is a huge life step. I’ve been thinking a lot about life steps this last month. I’ve also been thinking a lot about those that are not going to be stepping with us … at least not in the traditional sense.
October has been a whirlwind of a month. Just before the crisp air of this month settled in I traveled to Houston to visit some dear friends. I went carrying bridesmaid dresses and spent some time reenergizing. All the feelings of being drained from my internship (which I have since replaced, but that is a story for a different time), those feelings washed away as I sat with my very dear friends and laughed and drank wine and cried and braided hair and laughed some more.
On the Saturday of my visit, my dear friend and sweet cousin accompanied me to R’s gravesite. I hadn’t been since I move from Houston, nearly 8 years ago. I imagine the place often, will close my eyes and pretend to sit next to where her body rests. There was a nervous energy as we drove there – straight there, I remembered it exactly. Sarah brought beautiful silk orchids to place in her vase and Shee brought a bucket and cloths to wash her stone. There was a small toad living in the water of the vase that sits below where her feet rest. He popped his head out and I had to scoot him away just to get the flowers in. He never left though, just hopped two scooches over and waited. It was grounding - between the toad and the mosquitoes chomping on our legs to remind us that we were the living. We are the living. I miss her. I wish she were going to be here next week. But there was laughter and love and support as I scooped up a little dirt from her site to take home.
The next weekend, I boarded a plan with my dad and his girlfriend to attend my Uncle Steve’s memorial service in Olympia. The entire weekend was beautiful: We spent time with my aunts and uncles, who always leave me feeling enriched. We celebrated and learned about my Uncle Steve’s life. We visited my grandparents’ gravesites. We visited Tumwater falls where my Grandma used to take R and me. We drove by the little blue house that we lived in before we moved across the country.
We stood around my grandma and grandpa’s gravesite – my dad and M, my aunt M and uncle M, my uncle G and I all in a circle. I listened as they talked about their parents, the words bounced back and forth over their resting places between their three children, each with a slightly different experience. We discussed my upcoming marriage and the wonderful family I was marrying into. We talked about D’s mom and the legacy she left when she passed two years prior. The moment mimicked that feeling I had at R’s site a week before … I couldn’t quit place it, but it felt right, harmonizing, and comforting.
At my Uncle Steve’s memorial service several friends and family got up to speak.
An old friend of his got up and talked about when they would play music together. He described them turning back to back and beginning to play at the same time – without preplanned music, without discussing which notes to play, and without feeling the pressure of needing to play it right. He said that every time they somehow would be on the same page, they would feel what the other was going to do, and they would create beautiful music. When he asked Steve why that would happen, Steve replied “that’s ensemble.”
Ensemble. That’s it. The coordination of playing a tune together … “All the parts of a thing taken together, so that each part is considered only in relation to the whole.”
When my Aunt M spoke, I could feel my whole heart swelling in pain for her. The loss of a sibling hurts. It hurts in indescribable ways because it carries with it so much of your childhood, your identity, and a lot of the way you understand the world. That irreplaceable feeling of R swept over me. Then I thought about standing at her site with S&S, and earlier at my grandparents, and about the moments with them living, and about the man I was going to marry, and about the friends and family that would be there, and the ensemble kept growing. The musical arrangement of life is awe-some.
When we were little girls, R and I would not have to explain what the other was doing or thinking – not because we did and thought the same things, but because we knew how those fit together, instinctually. Some parts of the ensemble just flow on their own and other parts we practice and rehearse together. Either way, isn’t it worth listening?
I believe in crying. It is the body ‘s natural way of shedding the build up of emotional or physical pain. Medically, it can be understood as a release of stress hormones and toxins from the body. But really, sometimes you just need to let the tears fall so you can let go of what you’ve been holding in or holding on to or left trapped inside. I finally had a good cry on Friday evening. Finally the overcommitted schedule and onslaught of new information that had been flooding my brain since the beginning of classes and practicum settled, and I cried. It was necessary, but it didn’t fully recover the feeling of being drained.
Last year I encountered the world of domestic violence. The first few months were hard as I tried to understand the dynamics of such turbulent relationships. As I tried to reconcile the idea that some people are purposefully harmful to others … it was a difficult thought to swallow. And yet, I learned how to help, how to enter a hospital room in the moment of crisis and shed light on the possibility of hope and change and strength. In fact, I continue to work for the agency part-time and on-call. I took many calls this week, more than I had in one week ever before. And my tear ducts remained on hold.
This year my practicum has taken me to the Child Abuse and Neglect clinic in a children’s hospital. Suffice it to say, the information here is beyond difficult to swallow. There are individuals who both purposefully and accidentally do horrific things to children. There are non-offending parents who must hear the stories from their babies and determine in fear-filled, anger-filled states what to do next. Our role in the clinic is different than I anticipated. We are less support social workers, crisis interventionists, or process helpers. We are fact gathers, collaborators with justice systems, and we help make safety calls. I’m struggling with all of these ideas, but I’m hopeful that this year I will to learn how to work in this environment and stay true to the ways I believe people should be worked with and for, and remain humane. I tried thinking ahead and integrating the horrors I was seeing and reading about this week. My tear ducts remained on hold.
I love the hospital setting. I love being able to collaborate with other helping professions. I love the pace. I love that many people who would never seek out a social worker or counseling will seek out medical care and then we can help them. We sat this week in a hospital wide new employee training on Patient Care Services. Most of the information was fairly general about communication, policies, etc.
One module consisted of two different parents telling their stories of being at the hospital. Each of these parents had a child with a life-threatening disease. The tears stung the backs of my eyes as they talked, but did not fall. I can’t imagine the fear filled days of battling these diseases alongside your child. It dawned on me that I choose to work in violence because it feels like interventions can lead to prevention … but that isn’t always the case in terminal illnesses. One of the mother’s described her daughters plight and the care they received at the hospital, and she said that the care was such “she was able to emerge with her spirit intact.”
I thought about my beautiful Aunt and Cousin who have tirelessly fought her Lupus. And always with a quiet strength that created the illusion that this battle was small in comparison to their love and fight. My Aunt once described her daughter as being full of beauty and grit. I can’t think of a more true description. Ironically, this Aunt writes and teaches about Patient Based Care … she champions for the kind of care that humanizes patients and seeks to comfort, acknowledge, validate, teach, and trust them. I thought about the many spirits that have emerged intact because of her care. I want to be and do this. That is my mission. I wanted to cry for them then, for my beautiful family, but my tear ducts remained on hold.
All of those various components and thoughts were multiplied by the other duties of the week – wedding details and class work and my other wonderful research jobs. It all came to a head on Friday night and I finally cried … What about my own spirit? Will I emerge intact? Because I feel drained. I explained it to my fiancé (who thankfully helped me laugh my way into sleep on Friday night), but I am at a point where I feel like I am putting more energy out into the world than I am receiving back. Not by any fault of the systems I am engaged in but more in how I have overcommitted myself to many emotional tasks … if that makes any sense.
The next morning, I rushed off to a weekend of babysitting. I said yes before I knew how heavy my plate would be at this time. But I keep my commitments. As soon as I got to the house the little angels threw their arms around me and cheered for my presence. It was a small delightful reminder of how much they enjoy and appreciate me. I needed that. Then we rushed off to their gymnastics class. As I sat on the other side of a glass window and watched them tumble and climb and hang and jump, I felt my heart recharging. Occasionally, they looked over and waved. They flashed giant smiles of pride in themselves and happiness that I could see them. My whole mood shifted. I knew then and there that my spirit would be okay. We spent the rest of the day building forts, going to a volleyball game, painting, and generally playing. Today we will build a Lego house, go to the museum, and finish kindergarten homework.
When I go home I will need to concentrate on adequate self-care. I recognize that it is essential to take care of my physical, spiritual and emotional wellbeing to be able to truly give my best to all my commitments. I needed this weekend. My spirit needed to be reminded of the good, the playful, the lighthearted and it is certainly intact.
I’m getting married this year. Actually, I’m getting married in just under 4 months. This is a huge life thing - a “for the living” life thing. This last weekend I had my bachelorette party. Despite the fact that we are in the anniversary season, that this coming Friday marks 11 years since my sister’s murder, and that in all previous years I have attempted to wipe July off my calendar … despite all of these things, I celebrated this upcoming life milestone. But it wasn’t without immense reminders from my support system that life is bigger than loss.
Before I explain what I mean, I want to send thank you to my dad who loaned us his lake house, took my friends on boat rides, and fed us two big meals. Thank you to my mom who organized a revealing of the dream dress she had customized for me. And so many thank you’s to my sister, who worked tirelessly, thoughtfully, and openheartedly to create a weekend of memories. They all did this during the anniversary season. They all put a life celebration together for me, even while the all silently ached for R to be there. It never showed, but I know. Their support lifts me up and reminds me of the amazing survival we have all exhibited. We are here, we are alive, and dammit we are celebrating it.
I am also ever so grateful to all of the friends who came out and especially to those who flew across the states, those who spent hours making gummies, those who brought goodies and played games … you are all so incredibly special to me.
Loss can take and incredibly toll on some of us. It can take years to feel as though you are thriving more than surviving. But I truly believe that the difference between those two comes from the support systems that you allow to be in your life. I do believe it is an allowance for these things – every one who came out to celebrate with me (besides my dear family) came in to my life after I had lost R. I had to make a careful decision to let me heart open to each and every one of them. Because when you are so badly bruised and mangled from the loss of your best friend it is incredibly difficult to want to have any one else in your heart. But without these people, I would not be thriving. Without some of these women, I would not have even considered dating my fiancé. Without them, I wouldn’t have even begun to explore how my greatest loss could help someone. Without them, I would have lost who I was, who I am, and who I have the potential to become.
SW (one of my bridesmaids) asked me about the anniversary season when we were finishing a morning jog before heading to the lake house. She did so gently and in a way to feel out how I was doing. Why this weekend? Well, because the dress fitting was scheduled and the lake house was open. Those are the practical reasons why. But then the words came out of my mouth before I had time to process them … “because this year, despite missing R so much, I decided I am going to look life in the face and embrace it.”
Hi, I'm Tiffany. I believe in the power of stories to connect us to each other. I write about life after loss and all the love, longing, and learning that comes from it. Grief is big, love is bigger. My newest stories are about motherhood (after both infertility and loss). In my experience, love doesn't get bigger than motherhood.
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