My Birthday

This is my 3rd birthday since Ginny was born. From the beginning I expected Ginny’s due date and birthday to be hard. I even knew mother’s day and father’s day would be tough, but I wasn’t prepared for how hard my birthday would be. Why is my birthday so difficult in grief?

As with everything, it’s not a straightforward answer; there are a lot of complex feelings involved. But I think it mostly involves three things:

  1. Ginny should be here. I should hear her sweet little voice singing me “Happy Birthday”. She should’ve colored me a birthday card. She should be here being excited and jumping around. We should be celebrating as a whole family. My birthday is another reminder that we have a missing family member. 
  2. My birthday has me thinking about my own birth. Why did I survive? Why did I live and Ginny die? Why do I continue to survive? I lived another whole year while she didn’t get to see the world outside my womb. Why? 
  3. This is the 3rd time I’m celebrating my birthday as this new person. This post-loss Aimee is so profoundly different. My birthday is a day I acknowledge that there is no going back to who I was before.  I’d be lying if I’d say I don’t ever miss the old Aimee with her naivety. But I’m never one to choose ignorance over truth, even if the knowledge is painful. The truth is we live in a world where people we love die. It can happen to me and my family or to you and yours. My heart was torn to shreds, but it healed bigger and stronger. I wouldn’t go back if I had the choice. I’m proud of the new Aimee. Happy Birthday to her. 

Now that I know my birthday is a tough day, as it approached I felt like I was tripping in slow motion, knowing I was going to hit the ground but unable to stop myself. Then God showed up and slid a big fluffy pillow right under me to break my fall. That pillow was in the form of a podcast episode…

A few months ago, I was honored to be interviewed by Ashlee Proffitt for the Joyful Mourning podcast. The Joyful Mourning podcast and other Morning resources have given me so much hope and encouragement over the past couple of years. It’s the number one resource I recommend to other loss moms. I was thrilled to be able to share Ginny’s story on the podcast. I didn’t know when my episode would be released, so I was surprised when it came out on my birthday! What a gift! It blessed my heart to know that people would hear Ginny’s name and our story. It somehow felt like she was a bit nearer to us on my birthday. God’s kindness shows up in the details and His perfect timing. 

Parenting After Loss: The 1st Year

Over a year has already passed since we brought Chet home from the hospital. I still look at him in disbelief. I am in awe he is here! He keeps getting cuter and cuter, and I just can’t believe my eyes when I see him. 

One year is a big milestone for a lot of reasons. For loss parents, we are hyper aware that one year marks the end of the possibility of infant death. What a relief! According to the CDC, in the US more than 1 in every 200 people die in their first year of life (not including miscarriage or stillbirth). After having experienced baby loss, those odds seem monstrous. The chances of death greatly decrease for children over 1 year. Our boy is strong and healthy, and I’m so grateful! I wish I could say I have no lingering fears, but that’s not reality. COVID daily reminds us of our human fragility. Anything could happen, but that is also what helps us embrace every moment. 

We do embrace every moment and rarely, if ever, take a minute for granted. Time seems to be racing by, so I try to slow it down by rocking him for one more minute, putting my phone down (when I’m not taking thousands of pictures and videos), and having nightly family dance parties to the song Un Poco Loco from the movie Coco. We have a lot of fun together. My heart stings a tiny bit every dance party. Ginny’s not here. 

As more and more of Chet’s adorable personality comes out, I enjoy imagining the two of them playing together. Chet is so smart and interested in everything. He has a longer attention span than I thought possible for a baby. He spends time trying to figure out how things work and is very determined. But he is also very goofy. He never gets tired of laughing at our funny faces or sounds, and he loves making us laugh. He growls, roughhouses, makes loud noises, and throws things – all things I’m not used to, having been raised with two sisters. He LOVES music. It’s a privilege to learn these details about my son. I got a sense of who Ginny is, but I do mourn not knowing the details. I do know she is playful and goofy and fun. So I know she and Chet would have a blast together. 

Each milestone that Chet hits makes me so grateful to experience this. I’m proud of how far we’ve come, all we’ve been through, and who we are as a family. I’m hopeful for all that’s to come, here on Earth and in heaven. And my heart breaks…

My heart breaks in all the normal ways a mama’s heart breaks as her baby grows up. Recently Chet stopped breastfeeding. One day he just lost all interest in nursing. It was around when I was planning on weaning anyway, so it was actually great timing. Even so, I was on the verge of tears for three straight days afterwards. I know it was hormones, but it was also just realizing that Chet is not a baby anymore. He is growing up and that chapter of our relationship is closed. That time was so so precious. I will be forever grateful, honored, and proud to have been able to nurse him for so long. And for some reason, it made me miss Ginny. I felt like it triggered another wave of grief. Why would Chet’s weaning make me grieve Ginny? I asked a friend. She said that anything that marks the passage of time is hard. I think she’s right. Our family is moving forward, and Ginny is still missing. I think it’s also because now I’m taking the time to think back on this past year – all those sweet moments, cute smiles, precious snuggles – all the babyhood. Now I know what we are missing. Well I know the first year of what we are missing. And my heart breaks. 

Now we’ve started the second year. We are going to keep embracing every moment, making each other laugh, and remembering big sister. I’m excited to learn what else we’re missing! 

Goodbye North Carolina

Our time in North Carolina was the craziest three and a half years of our lives. I had two jobs, two houses, and two pregnancies. A tree branch smashed one of our cars, and the transmission died in our other car. I experienced anxiety for the first time and saw a therapist for the first time. We found a church that felt like “home”, and I was baptized. I made major career changes. We met great friends. Our beautiful baby girl died, and we brought a memory box home. We grieved and grieved and grieved. We got tattoos. We endured pregnancy after loss, and we brought a beautiful baby boy home. We quarantined and worked from home. We were vaccinated and still didn’t go anywhere. Friends died, and grandparents died. Friends were born, and nephews were born. I started a blog for a couple months and kept writing for over two years. We woke up in the night again and again and again. I nursed around the clock, and Daniel bounced. I got shingles, and Chet got chickenpox. We had so much fun; we laughed a lot. Daniel got a fellowship, grew hundreds of sunflowers, and got a professorship. We baked bread, we broke bread, we served bread, and we ate bread. Then we left. 

We buckled our baby boy in the back seat, and carefully placed our memory box in the front seat.  And then we left. It was time. That house was feeling very heavy with grief. It was the house Ginny lived and died in. It was where we spent the excruciating hours between her death and birth. It was where we wept. If we were ever away from home for an extended period of time, grief would hit us in the face when we returned. And once the world started reopening, going to places that used to feel like comforts, now felt like triggers. I know returning to that town one day will feel like a tsunami of emotions. So much happened there. 

But at the same time, we will miss it. We miss our friends so much already. I’m so grateful for them, and for technology that allows us to stay in touch so easily. We miss our church and our coworkers and my volunteers. We miss meeting up with friends in downtown Durham and some of the very yummy restaurants. I’ll miss the places I grieved the most: the hospital, the arboretum, the library, and most benches around UNC’s campus. Those places feel kind of sacred now. Those places are where I encountered God in new, powerful ways. 

A small part of me was terrified to move. Would this mean we are closing the chapter that had Ginny in it? Would we be leaving Ginny behind? Were we “moving on”? Daniel comforted me. “No way! Ginny’s coming with us. She will always be with us,” he said with a smile. Yes, it is time. It is time for a new adventure and the next step.

Auburn feels refreshing. I’m so excited to see what God has for us here! 

Surgery Update

As I shared in my last post, during my pregnancy with Chet we discovered the cause of Ginny’s death. I was born with a septum in my uterus, which divided the upper portion of my uterus in two. The septum interfered with blood flow to Ginny’s placenta causing her to lack the nutrients and oxygen she needed to survive. Despite Chet’s placenta growing onto the septum as well, he grew and was born healthy at 39 weeks. It was truly a miracle! 

Thankfully a uterine septum can be removed with a quick outpatient surgery. The decision to have the surgery was simple. Daniel and I wanted to do everything in our power to prevent what happened to Ginny from happening again. Even though we were not planning to have another baby anytime soon, we wouldn’t be able to rest knowing how risky it would be for me to get pregnant. 

I scheduled my septum resection surgery via hysteroscopy for July 1. My parents came to town to help take care of Chet during surgery and recovery, and Daniel came with me to the hospital. As we arrived, we saw sunflower garden flags outside the gift shop – God always sends reminders of Ginny. It was nerve-wracking to be put under general anesthesia, but overall I felt peace about the surgery. The hospital was well organized, and things moved quickly. Before I knew it, I was waking up in post op trying to reorient myself (which was difficult to do since I left my glasses with Daniel). My very kind nurse helped me. 

One of the doctors came in to inform me about the surgery. The septum was much larger and thicker than they expected, but they were certain they removed it all. As she explained this, I broke into tears. She asked if I was alright, and I replied, “Yes I’m just thinking about my daughter who died.” She understood and was empathetic. Daniel and I went so long without knowing what happened to Ginny, so to get confirmation that what caused it was significant and is now gone was overwhelming in that moment. 

The doctor then informed me that there was one complication during surgery – the last portion of the septum went so deep into my uterus wall that while removing it, they made a small perforation in my uterus. This was a risk they mentioned prior to the surgery. It’s unfortunate, but thankfully the uterus heals very well on its own. The area that was perforated was the least-risky place, and it should not pose any additional risks in future pregnancies. 

My recovery has gone smoothly. I’m so grateful for my parents and Daniel for taking care of me and Chet this week. I couldn’t do this without them. Any discomfort that I have been in during recovery feels so minor compared with the benefits of this surgery. I’m so grateful. 

I still can’t believe we found out what caused Ginny’s death! I can’t believe that it was fixable, and I can’t believe Chet survived in the womb prior to it being fixed! I’m so relieved that it is fixed now. 

This surgery has me asking “why” again. Why was I born with this septum? Why didn’t we find it sooner? Why did Ginny die? Why was Chet spared? I think it’s ok to ask these questions even if we don’t always get answers. Life isn’t easy, but God gives me peace by reminding me that we have hope. Ginny is happy and loved in heaven, and we will be a complete family together one day. 

Thank you for all your prayers! 

An Explanation

When the doctor said the words, “I’m so sorry. I have to give you the worst news.” everything went still. I could not believe what I was hearing; I was in shock. Yet somehow I still mustered the question, “Is there any way to know what happened?” He replied with a response that we would hear several times over the next 6 weeks, “Sometimes these things happen, and we have no way of knowing why. Fifty percent of stillbirths have no explanation.”

Half of all stillbirths have no explanation? How is that possible? With everything we know, how in the world is that possible? 

During labor with Ginny, Daniel and I discussed it. We would have tests done on me, Ginny’s body, and the placenta to try to find what happened. We decided it was not because we needed to know what happened to Ginny (nothing would bring her back), but it was so we could have all the information to help in planning our future family. All the tests came back negative. No cause could be identified. Doctor’s gave us reasons why it wasn’t a cord accident, it wasn’t genetic, it wasn’t anything we did, it wasn’t anything we didn’t do, it wasn’t my thyroid, it wasn’t my antibodies, it wasn’t an infection… The list went on, and everything got crossed out. I was relieved and disappointed at the same time. All they could tell us was that Ginny was small for her gestational age and the placenta was small and unhealthy.

We entered into pregnancy with Chet holding our breath with our eyes wide open. We didn’t know what had happened; it could happen again. But this time we would be closely monitored. If it looked like Chet was showing signs of growth restriction, we could potentially take action. 

Little did I know that all of Chet’s monitoring would actually shed light on what happened to Ginny. At the 11 week ultrasound, the technician identified that I have a septum in my uterus. The maternal fetal medicine doctors described what a separate uterus was. The interior of a normal uterus is shaped like a triangle, and mine is more of a heart. There is a divide at the top half of my uterus. It was something I was born with. Usually this anomaly results in recurring early miscarriages or preterm births. There wasn’t much data on whether it causes late stillbirths like mine. They couldn’t tell how large my septum was since my uterus was stretched during pregnancy. But if my septum was significant, they said it was possible that Ginny’s placenta had reduced blood flow. That aligned with the fact that the placenta was small and unhealthy, resulting in her growth restriction. The doctors explained that Chet’s placenta was growing up onto the septum, but we were already monitoring him. We would have to wait and see if it impacted his growth. 

Thankfully Chet’s growth was never impacted! He was born at a healthy 8lbs 10oz at 39 weeks!

After Chet was born, my doctors referred me to get an ultrasound of my empty uterus to evaluate the septum. I was nervous to get the ultrasound for multiple reasons: 1) ultrasounds are always kind of triggering since we learned Ginny had died in an ultrasound and 2) I so badly wanted an explanation for Ginny’s death. I was afraid that this, like all the other tests, would lead nowhere. I postponed the ultrasound multiple times because of this, using COVID as an excuse. Once I was fully vaccinated, I had no more excuses and anxiously went to my appointment at the hospital. 

God’s grace shows up again and again. He provided comforts for me during my appointment. As I was waiting in the crowded waiting room, I met a husband and wife who were staying at The Family House where I worked. They were there to get a check up after being 2 years cancer free! They told me how helpful Family House was to them and what a special place it is. Hearing that warmed my heart and helped me during the anxious wait. 

When I got called back for the ultrasound, the technician was a sweet young woman. She asked if Chet was my first, so I told her about Ginny. She empathetically listened, and then shared that she had a miscarriage two weeks earlier. We were able to have compassion for each other. We discussed losing a baby, when to decide to try again, and pregnancy after loss. We said we would be praying for each other. She was the exact right person at the exact right time. We both needed each other, so God allowed our paths to cross. 

After the scan, an OB who I’d never met came in. He said that my septum was in fact significant. He said that septums like mine do cause 2nd and 3rd trimester losses. The good news is that it can be removed with a simple outpatient surgery. 

It was the answer I wanted. It gave me such peace. This explains what happened to Ginny, and it is fixable! I knew in my heart that it was my body and not hers that caused her death, but I didn’t have an answer until now. Ginny’s death could’ve been prevented if I had known about my septum, but I had no way of knowing. Some guilt was lifted from my shoulders. It wasn’t something I did, and I couldn’t have known. 

A couple weeks later I met with a surgeon from the fertility clinic. He said my septum is 1/3 to 1/2 of the way down into my uterus and it is very wide at the top. It is more of a wedge. He said I am a great candidate for the surgery. The surgery only takes 30 minutes, and the recovery is only a day or two. When I asked him his thoughts on this causing my stillbirth, he explained that the portions of the placenta attached to the septum would not receive adequate blood flow to keep up with the needs of a growing baby. Then he said, “What I can’t explain is how you had a healthy pregnancy.”

We knew Chet was a miracle. This confirmed it. He is a miracle in so many ways. He beat the physical odds to be born big and healthy even though I have a septum. He brings us so much joy and love as our rainbow. And because of him, we now have answers about Ginny. I’m so grateful for our boy! 

I’m scheduled to have my septum resection in early July. I’m a little nervous but mostly just relieved.  After over 2 years we finally have an answer. It doesn’t bring Ginny back, but it does offer some rest. I am blessed to be part of the small percentage of loss moms who found out what happened and can do something to hopefully prevent it from happening again. 

The Little Things

Especially early on, even the smallest things can derail your whole day in grief. These are the things that make it exponentially harder, but most people wouldn’t even think about them. 

For instance, just picking up your phone can bombard you with triggers. I spent the 8 months pregnant with Ginny googling everything pregnancy and baby. All my ads were geared toward baby items. My Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Youtube were all perfectly curated for the happy new mother. When Ginny died, I couldn’t handle any of it anymore. There was no where to turn. I tossed my phone to my sister Keri, “Can you please take care of this? I don’t know; just click anything and everything unrelated to baby stuff.” She spent a long time on my phone trying to re-curate my feeds. Cooking, knitting, airplanes, decor, anything NOT baby. It worked somewhat, but it would take months to not feel attacked with baby stuff every time I picked up my phone. 

These attacks would even come in the mail. When I was pregnant with Ginny, I bought several relatively expensive nursing bras from Motherhood Maternity. Upon checkout they insisted I sign up for free magazine subscriptions. Little did I know, month after month I would bitterly dump “Parents” and “Family Circle” straight into the recycling bin. I didn’t have the energy to figure out how to unsubscribe. I also ended up wearing those nursing bras without a baby to nurse. I wasn’t going to go spend more money on regular bras, but my body had already changed. Every morning when getting dressed, I put on a reminder that I was a mom without a baby…like I needed reminding. 

The worst was on Ginny’s due date. I got a package in the mail. I thought it was so sweet how someone remembered Ginny’s due date and sent a gift. I opened the box to find samples of baby formula. It was a slap in the face. 

Even taxes hurt more than usual. 2018 we were expecting; 2019 we were not. “Are you sure you don’t have a dependent? Our records show that you might.” No there is no dependent. There are hospital bills, but there is no dependent.

These little details of life can still hit so hard. But it’s also in the small things where I find so much comfort. God uses little things to remind me he doesn’t leave me alone. 

He has used small ways to connect me with other hurting moms. Shortly after Ginny died, we wanted to give away many of her baby girl items. God put it on my heart to reach out to a family from our church we didn’t know well. I knew they had baby girls and thought they could maybe use the items. I emailed the mom. She responded saying that they didn’t need the baby stuff, but they too had a stillbirth a couple years earlier. She was able to comfort me make me feel a lot less alone. That’s the real reason God put it on my heart to reach out. I’ve had several other similar instances where I’ve been connected to other women at just the right time through the Holy Spirit.

Similarly I prayed that God guide my career path after Ginny died. A job opened up where I most enjoyed volunteering at the exact right time. But the job was full-time, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to jump in full-time yet. I applied and interviewed anyway. The manager called me in to tell me that I didn’t get the full-time job, but they were considering creating a part-time position. Would I be interested? God provided exactly what I needed and gave me the small sign I needed to know it was the right move. That job has provided me with so much hope, healing, and purpose. 

There have also been many small reminders surrounding Chet’s birth that show God is in this. The summer after Ginny died, we visited my uncle and aunt. We went to their church, and after the service the pastor and his wife prayed over my womb. They spoke encouraging words over us and said that one day our house would be filled with laughter. One year to the day after that prayer Chet was born. 

While in labor with Chet, a woman walked in asking if I wanted to participate in a study in the event I needed a C-section. She described the study and told us to think about it, and she would be back. She returned after about 20 seconds (clearly not enough time to think it over). She said she saw my chart and that many many years ago she also lost a baby at 35 weeks. She said she also had subsequent babies, so she knows how hard it is. She encouraged me and Daniel when we needed it most during labor with Chet. 

I can go on and on with examples of small ways God has shown up in my grief. Whether it’s a butterfly lingering around me at the arboretum, Ginny’s sunflowers blooming the day Chet came home from the hospital, a text from a friend at the exact right moment, or circumstances falling into place, God has been near in tangible ways. I feel his nearness in my heart, but the fact that he also sends small concrete reminders is such a gift. 

Wilting

Ginny’s 2nd birthday was a sweet time at the beach. I felt good that we honored and celebrated her life. We reflected on how much of an impact she’s had on us. I left feeling blessed. 

Then the next day it hit me. That tsunami of grief I thought I had avoided. Those heavy and dark feelings of fresh grief came back. It felt like a punch in the gut; my heart was being wrung. Two years later and the disbelief returned – How did this happen?! Why did this happen?!!

It hit me during Chet’s nap time. I was working on my computer at the kitchen table next to a bouquet of flowers my family sent the previous week to remember Ginny. I looked up and noticed some of them had started wilting. My heart sank – this means her birthday is over. Then my mind was brought back to the week after Ginny died when all the bouquets loved ones sent started wilting. The sight and smell of turning flowers triggered such a wave of memories and grief. I remembered that when the flowers died, it felt like Ginny was dying all over again. How could time be moving forward? How could we be moving away from holding her instead of moving toward holding her? My heart was breaking yet again. It felt like she was dying all over again two years later. I just miss her. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I want her here. How can we keep moving forward? I just want to hug her. 

Tears started streaming and didn’t stop for a long time. It was actually dawning on me that it has been two years. She should be two. She should be here, but she’s still gone. It still hurts…really bad. 

The pain in my heart somehow makes her feel closer. Maybe two years isn’t as long as it sounds. I try to remind myself that I’m not just getting further from when I held her on Earth, I’m also getting closer to when I’ll hold her in heaven. Each day I’m getting closer to her. It still hurts. 

Happy 2nd Birthday, Ginny!

Dear Ginny,

Two years old?! How is that possible? Two years of missing you, and two years and 8 months of loving you. It feels like I’ve loved you a lifetime already, but it also feels like you just left us. My arms still ache for you, and my heart still breaks everyday missing you. 

I’m grateful we get to celebrate you at the beach today. It feels like you all around us, from the sunflowers greeting us at the door to the bright pink sunset. We are so blessed. But even with all the sweet reminders and God winks, we just want you here with us. We want to hug you and kiss you.

We wish you were here! We wish you were playing with your brother. But just because you are not here doesn’t mean you aren’t a part of our family every single day. You are our first born. You are our big sister. You are ours, and we are yours. And we will be together again. 

Happy Birthday sweet girl! We love you very much! 

Love, Mama

Parenting After Loss – First 6 Months

With nothing to compare it to, I’m not sure what about my parenting is different because of our loss. I can make guesses…most of my guesses have to do with either fear or gratitude. I don’t think I would have as much of either if Ginny hadn’t died. Life’s moments are more precious when you know how fragile it all is. 

It often collides into me when I’m rocking Chet to sleep. I think it’s because: 1) we are in his room that used to be Ginny’s nursery, 2) he looks so very precious sleeping in my arms, 3) I think of sleep as the most vulnerable time because of SIDS, 4) the stillness allows the blessings of the day to catch up to me. I can’t contain my gratitude for him! How did I get so lucky that he is actually here?! I want to kiss his cheek, but I don’t want to wake him. I kiss him anyway. What I wouldn’t give to kiss Ginny one more time! I can’t let the opportunity pass – I never do.

When it’s time to place him in his crib, I deliberately and symbolically place him in God’s hands. I am not the sustainer of life. I again pray Your will be done. As I lullaby, I often sing Chet a worship song called “Abba, I belong to you.” It is such a comforting song, and it is a good reminder for me. Chet does not belong to me; Chet belongs to Abba (God the daddy). I quietly step out of the room peacefully knowing that Chet is in God’s hands no matter what. 

… and then I turn on the monitor. Daniel and I watch that monitor like it’s Sunday night HBO. We analyze his heart rate and oxygen levels. We listen for cries and watch for wiggles. Hounding the monitor is better than leaning over him to check his breathing a million times which would be the alternative. We follow every single safe sleep rule every single time.

That’s the dance of parenting after loss – knowing you are not in control so trustfully handing everything over to God and then anxiously pulling it back inch by inch until you think you’re in control again. Then the thoughts come in: what if I accidentally drop him? kneel on him? scratch him? What if he chokes? What if he gets COVID? What if? What if? What if? ….I deliberately and symbolically place him in God’s hands as I place him asleep in his crib… the dance continues.

It can be exhausting. Parenting in general is exhausting. But I daren’t complain. I feel so guilty if I complain about Chet ever. It is a miracle he is here with us; what right do I have to complain? I was voicing this to my lactation consultant as she was helping me with my severely damaged nipples. She said, “This is really hard. You are doing a great job. It is ok to complain about this. It is ok to cry about this.” Just as I learned that joy and grief coexist, I am learning that you can feel so grateful and at the same time acknowledge the difficulties. It isn’t taking things for granted. (By the way, my nipples healed around week 8 after Chet has his tongue tie fixed – Hallelujah!)

I do feel a bit of anger when I think about how we shouldn’t be figuring things out for the first time now. We should have already been through this before. We should have experience with the newborn stages, the sleep regressions, the diaper rashes. We should be pros at loading the car up for a drive. We should know how to adjust stroller straps. We should have known not to buy those flimsy off-brand milk storage bags. I’m frustrated I didn’t know. It’s in the everyday reminders that we are 2nd time parents with 1st time problems. These inconveniences don’t matter at all; the hard part is that we are reminded that we missed it all the first time around. 

My heart wilts every time I think about her being here. I imagine bringing him home from the hospital and seeing her sweet reaction to meeting her baby brother for the first time. I imagine her making him laugh by being silly. I would need to always keep an eye out that she’s not sneaking him a gold fish or squeezing him too tight. Daniel and I would divide and conquer bedtime. We would have family hugs and family prayers. She’d show him everything. They’d be best friends. I’m sorry she’s not here. 

I’m so happy she was here though. Although he hasn’t gotten to meet her yet, Chet has a sister who loves him. He will always know her as part of our family. We will celebrate her life and look forward to meeting her in heaven. We acknowledge the broken world we live in and how it is still so full of beauty and love. We never take things for granted, especially every day we have with little brother.