Senses

I almost cried in the grocery store today. It wouldn’t be the first time, but this time it took me off guard. I wasn’t even thinking of anything sad. I wasn’t imagining if Ginny was with me. I was just shopping, and it hit me. Suddenly my mind was taken back to my living room late February 2019; suddenly my heart churned. Why? I looked around. I realized I was walking past the fresh flowers. Ahhh that explains it. The smell of fresh flowers triggered that feeling. We had 9 fresh flower bouquets around our living room the days following Ginny’s death. The bouquets were given to us from friends and family all over the country who care for us and Ginny. Now the smell of fresh flowers can instantly bring me back to that time. It’s not a bad thing. I like having such emotional reminders; it makes me feel closer to Ginny. 

There are lots of things like that. In the early days, everything reminded me of Ginny and our loss. But now I get reminders throughout the day (like when I see the 9 empty vases on top of our refrigerator). Only a few are powerful enough to bring me to tears or bring me back to moments of pregnancy or early grief. 

When I hear the album Father of the Bride by Vampire Weekend, I am brought back to summer 2019. I remember listening while reading books about grief, driving to volunteer at Family House, or walking to the library to write my blog. I love that album, and it will always remind me of the summer of grief. My heart aches a little every time I hear it.

One of the strongest reminders I’ve had came a couple days after Chet was born. I knew it was coming, still nothing could have prepared me for it. It was when my breastmilk came in, the sharp tingle of milk letting down – the painful pressure of being engorged. When my milk came in after Ginny was born, it was like a bitter slap in the face. I wanted so badly to feed her, but she wasn’t there. Each let down was a cruel reminder that my baby died and that I couldn’t mother her. I worked hard to stop the milk from continuing to come. I took Sudafed. I wore tight bras. I put cabbage leaves in my bra (it’s a thing). I applied cold compresses. Eventually the milk dried up, and then I was sad to feel it go. That felt like the last proof of my motherhood. When Chet was born, I knew I wanted to breastfeed him. I didn’t realize how much the feeling of milk letting down would trigger emotions from when Ginny died. It hurt. It took me right back to that week of brokenness. Thankfully I couldn’t dwell there long because this time I did have a baby to feed. The relief while he nursed was physical and emotional. 

A couple weeks ago Daniel took care of Chet on a Saturday morning and told me to go to my favorite coffee shop to pick up a chai latte for myself. I obliged. It had been since before COVID that I had my favorite chai at my favorite coffee shop. As soon as the taste hit my tongue, I was flooded with memories. On at least 5 different occasions, friends had met me here to talk one-on-one about Ginny. Those sweet friends listened to every minute detail of my sad story. They weren’t afraid to talk about her. They cried with me, sat with me in the mud of mourning, shared their own stories, and made me feel a lot less alone. I’m so grateful for each of them. When I got home, Daniel asked how the chai was, and I replied, “It tastes like grief.” He looked confused and said sorry. I smiled, “No it’s a good thing.”

With so few memories with Ginny, I’m grateful for anything that can bring up the emotions when I was closest to her. I hope these feelings don’t fade. 

Surreal

Delivering Chet in the same hospital that I delivered Ginny was pretty surreal. A year and a half later we were back at the same place doing the same thing but thankfully under different circumstances. There were a few moments that brought back such vivid memories of Ginny’s birth. That made this experience surreal at times. It was like deja vu, but it felt like a dream instead of a nightmare. 

Two of these surreal moments were when I was being escorted in wheelchairs. The first was after I delivered Chet; I was wheeled by my nurse to my postpartum recovery room on the 3rd floor. As I rolled down the hall with Chet bundled in my arms, the memory of rolling down the same hall empty-handed flooded my mind. I remembered being explained that I was going to the 6th floor instead of the 3rd floor so I don’t hear babies crying. I remember being congratulated by well-meaning, uninformed staff as I left the labor and delivery unit. My nurse whispered to me, “I’m getting you out of here. I’m getting you out of here.” I remembered not being pregnant anymore. I remember being so so disappointed. All these memories came back to me crystal clear when I heard staff congratulate me and I replied with a smile and a “thank you”. Wow! I have a baby now. I have a reason to be congratulated this time. I made it! I was proud of myself for one moment. Then I got really sad. I was sad because I missed Ginny, and I should have been holding her down this hall a year and a half ago. I was sad for my old self. I felt sorry for her because she was blindsided, broken hearted, and didn’t even fully know what she was missing. And I also felt sad for every other woman who has to roll down that hall empty-handed. I thought of all that devastation in the same place most people only know joy. That hall can seem so very lonely, but it can also be so joyful. Surreal. 

The second time I was in a wheelchair was when I was being discharged. I remember how painful leaving the hospital was without Ginny. I knew her body was getting an MRI, and we were leaving. I couldn’t believe I was going without her. Waiting for me at home were the daunting tasks of facing the nursery, physically recovering, and figuring out how to fill my days without Ginny. Those moments of rolling down the halls, in the elevator, and through the lobby were torture. I just wanted to get to the car as soon as possible. I remember my escort was stopped by a couple of people asking for directions. I was so frustrated at them. The information desk was 10 feet away! I wanted to yell, “Can’t you see that I  have been through something traumatic and finally got discharged?!! And you are keeping me from getting home right now!! Ahhh!!” Of course I sat quietly clutching my vase of flowers instead of a baby. 

This time was a whole different story. I did have a baby in my arms! As I headed down the hall, I remembered last time. I remembered how painful that was, and I was so happy I have come full circle. Chet had survived, and I was actually taking him home! I never fully believed we would bring him home until that moment. I felt triumphant…until we reached the elevator and I remembered COVID. Oh yeah we are in a pandemic, and I have a tiny, vulnerable newborn in my arms. As we exited the elevator, people in masks rushed by this way and that way. I don’t ever remember seeing the lobby that busy. People would stop or linger staring at me and Chet. “Awww how sweet and cute! Congratulations!” they would say. I just wanted them to step away. Could they be infected?! As I waited for Daniel to pull the car up, I contemplated whether it would be better to cover Chet’s face with a blanket. That didn’t seem like a good idea, but he was so exposed without a mask. I hunched over him and lifted the blanket so he would maybe be more protected at least in one direction. My escort was a feisty older man. He said, “Don’t worry. I got you. There is no way I’m wheeling y’all out of the same door people are coming in.” He proceeded to roll us around the corner and out an emergency exit to avoid the crowds. I couldn’t thank him enough! His thoughtfulness made me feel so much better. 

As traumatic as some of the memories of my hospital stay with Ginny were, I’m glad I delivered Chet at the same place. It felt redemptive. I felt strong. I also felt so so grateful to remember those moments. I’m glad to remember them to not only honor Ginny, but also to recognize what a miracle Chet’s life is. This could’ve gone differently, but instead we were blessed with a beautiful, living baby boy. I was also reminded we could make it through anything and God will be with us… even in a pandemic. 

From: Ginny, To: Chet

When taking down Ginny’s nursery, our family asked us if we wanted to keep things for our future children. What if we have a girl? We have so many cute girl things. I agreed to keep the crib, stroller, pack-n-play, and other large items. We bought those with our whole future family in mind. But those clothes are specifically Ginny’s; those blankets are Ginny’s. If we have other children, we wanted them to have their own things. It was too hard to think of Ginny’s things sitting in storage for who knows how long to be kept for a child that may or may not ever exist. Someone could use these things now. We kept a couple keepsakes and gave the rest away. Ginny wouldn’t be handing down her things to her siblings as she likely would’ve if she lived. 

The donation pile in our garage grew. Week after week, we never had the heart to take it to Goodwill.  A few times I said, “We should just call someone from church and ask them to pick everything up and take care of it.” But we never had the strength to do even that. The donation boxes loomed in the garage. It was an emotional chore we were never ready for. We chose to give the stuff away so that it would be used and wouldn’t sit in storage, and here it was sitting. After months the garage was a place we didn’t even enter. It was a shadow that held a piece of our untapped grief.

A few months into pregnancy with Chet, Daniel decided it was time to tackle the garage. We entered with determination and started filling the trunk of the car with stuff. I saw the nursery decor. I saw the birdhouse sign that once had Ginny’s name but now was blank with a little glue residue. I saw her crib sheets. I saw her clothes and blankets and socks. We continued loading the car. I didn’t change my mind… except for two items…

The first item brought back a vivid memory of early grief. It arrived on our front porch two days after we got home from the hospital after delivering Ginny. It wasn’t a care package. It was the diaper bag that I ordered the week before. It was a last minute item that I ordered when the world was still right. When it showed up, it was a cruel reminder of what we had lost. Well at least we can return it and get our money back. I had ordered the diaper bag from Walmart on a baby sale day. The week after it arrived, Daniel and I decided we would venture to Walmart to return the diaper bag. That was a terrible idea. It was still too early. That shouldn’t have been our first outing without family. 

In early grief, going in public feels sort of like an out of body experience. I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. I felt like no one could see me… or that everyone was staring at me. Everything was fuzzy and felt foreign. We walked into Walmart and were immediately greeted by two friendly greeters. They gave us a sticker for the return item. I’m sure I made an awkward effort at politeness, but I was thinking, “Don’t they find it strange that we are returning a diaper bag? Why would someone return a perfectly good diaper bag if not for the unnatural tragedies of a fallen world?” Now thinking back I know there are plenty of good reasons to return a diaper bag, but that was how my mind worked at the time. 

We stood in line at customer service. When our turn came, the young woman at the counter informed us that since we bought this on the Walmart “Marketplace” we could not return it in store. I snapped at her, “So you’re telling me that I can’t return something I bought on walmart.com at Walmart?!” “That’s correct. You’ll have to go online and print the return label and send it through FedEx or something.” I wanted to scream, “I don’t even want to return this stupid diaper bag!! I want to use this diaper bag, but my baby died!!”  I felt myself turning red and my eyes swelling up. I grabbed the diaper bag and quickly turned around. Tears started streaming down my face as Daniel and I walked as fast as we could out of there. The friendly greeters saw I was crying as I rushed by. One shouted, “Oh no dear! What happened?! I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry!” It wasn’t Walmart’s fault; we weren’t ready for that chore. When we got home, still wrapped in plastic, the diaper bag got tossed on top of the donation pile in the garage.

Months later when we were loading the car full of the donation items, I stopped on the diaper bag. It’s a perfectly good diaper bag that I carefully picked out. It’s still in the plastic. This wasn’t specifically Ginny’s; it never even entered the house before she was gone. I remembered that the lining was blue. I settled for a bag with blue lining because I liked everything else about it. Maybe this blue diaper bag should be Chet’s. Why not? Suddenly this item that brought a painful memory of crying in Walmart transformed into something that held a little hope for the future. We have a diaper bag for our new baby. It was bought for Ginny, but now it’s Chet’s. 

The second item I saved took me by surprise. This item was a soft blue teddy bear. It was actually given to us at the hospital. It was part of the memory box that our wonderful nurse carefully assembled. The memory box means more to me than any other physical item. It is so precious to us. But I didn’t understand the teddy bear. It was very kindly donated by the parents of stillborn twins. This was before I knew that many grieving mothers hold a teddy bear to ease their aching empty arms. To me it was a reminder that there was no reason to have a toy bear in our house. We have no children to play with it. Plus it was blue; it reminded me of a baby boy, not Ginny. I thought it would be better for a little boy to play with it than for it to sit in a box, so I put it in the donation pile.

Months later when I saw that little blue bear in the garage it struck me. That bear reminds me of a baby boy because it belongs to Chet. It is Ginny’s gift to Chet. The rest of the items in the memory box were for Daniel and me, but that bear was for Chet. It felt like when Ginny died, she left behind a gift for her baby brother. A blue teddy bear. 

These two items moved from the garage to the nursery upstairs, awaiting Baby Chet. The remainder of the items were donated and are hopefully being enjoyed by many other families with living baby girls. I wish we wouldn’t have dreaded donating the items or felt guilty for taking so long. It’s important to take all the time you need when grieving and to not feel bad about it. I’m glad we waited to finish that chore. Those months gave us the space to see the items not as sources of pain but as gifts. 

Fantasy

I awaken to her early morning cries. I slowly crawl out of bed, and pick her up. I kiss her forehead and lay her on the changing table. I change her diaper as she squirms. I zip her sleeper back up and scoop her into my arms. We head over to the rocking chair.  I realize how big she’s getting; her body and legs cross over me and her little feet slide through the hole under the armrest.  She plays with my hair as she nurses. I wonder what she’s thinking about…

Is my fantasy realistic? How would I know? 

Is it healthy to fantasize about how things would’ve been? I don’t know that either. But sometimes I do let myself indulge in the sweet “what ifs”. 

Maybe it would be better to fantasize about heaven…

I see her loved and warm in Jesus’s arms. 

I see her being rocked to sleep by my PopPop or Daniel’s Grandma Ginny. 

I see her dancing with an angel. I know she’s playful.

Is she a baby in heaven? Will she grow up? Or is she an ageless being? 

I think she’ll greet me when I die. I imagine recognizing her right away in light and hugging her so hard. 

Is heaven somewhere else? Is heaven here? Can she hear me or see me or feel me? I just want her to know I love her. I pray and ask Jesus to let her know. Maybe she already does. I hope she knows her daddy and me and how much we love and miss her. 

I remember being pregnant with her and talking to her. I told her, “We love you, Ginny! Mommy and Daddy love you so much.” I could barely get the words out through tears. I couldn’t contain my love. I was so happy. I fantasized about holding her and taking care of her then too. I asked Daniel, “Can you believe that in 3 months we will have a one-month old?!” We laughed at each other with wide eyes. 

Sometimes it feels like I’m still pregnant with her, like we are still waiting. I’m still fantasizing. I’m still hoping she feels my love. 

She is getting older in my fantasies though. She’d be 8 months old if she was born on her birthday, and she would be almost 7 months old if she was born on her due date. Would she be sitting up on her own? Would she be eating food; would she like avocados, bananas, mashed potatoes? Would we have taken her for her first road trip to the ocean or the mountains? We’d push a stroller on our walks. She’d be there with us watching OU football and picking out pumpkins. I’d be thinking about what to get her for Christmas and choosing a “baby’s first Christmas” ornament….

Back to reality — How wonderful that she gets to celebrate her first Christmas with Jesus! She probably has a better understanding of the salvation and glory of Christ than we do. That thought does comfort me, but we will still have an empty stocking. 

Will my mind always drift in and out of two realities? – the would’ve been and the actually is. Maybe one day the two will meet when Ginny and I are reunited. 

Symptoms: Postpartum or Grief?

I’ve experienced a lot of symptoms over the past several months. Sometimes it’s confusing whether what I’m feeling is due to having just had a baby or having just lost a baby. I end up playing a quiz game – Is it postpartum or grief? 

Some symptoms are pretty straight forward: milk coming in – postpartum, thoughts of heaven – grief. 

Most of the symptoms are confusing: brain fog/memory loss, physical pain/achiness, crying frequently, hair loss, feeling isolated, fatigue. Those could be symptoms of either or both.  

Then I have those symptoms that feed off of one another. Postpartum instincts make me feel the urge to hold, feed, and check on my baby, which in turn is a cruel reminder my baby is gone. Then my grief symptoms get worse. 

If you’ve had a baby, you probably remember the surveys the doctors give you. These surveys are to check for postpartum depression. You take a little questionnaire about how much you cry and how you are coping throughout pregnancy and then after you give birth. Doctors use the results to determine if you may be experiencing some of the signs of postpartum depression or anxiety. 

I pitifully took the final installment of the survey at my 6-week check-up after my stillbirth. This isn’t looking good, I thought to myself as I was checking boxes. I cry all the time. My doctor looked at my sheet and said she thought what I was feeling was normal grief symptoms. She told me to let her know if I ever feel like I can’t function to do the daily tasks I need to as a part of normal life. That may be a sign of postpartum depression. I’m sure my survey would’ve raised some serious red flags had I had a normal birth, but I didn’t. I was healthy in grief. 

Postpartum depression was one of my biggest worries during pregnancy. I was so afraid it would steal some of the joy of having a newborn. I knew it was pretty common, and I have friends who have experienced it. It’s another dark heavy aspect of motherhood that people don’t like to talk about. It is much more common than we know (in fact, 10% of dads also experience postpartum depression). I have such sympathy to those who are going through that. 

But thankfully I wasn’t.  Even in all my tears and pain and sorrow after losing Ginny, I knew I didn’t have postpartum depression or anxiety. I knew because I knew what it felt like not to feel myself. I had anxiety during the first trimester of pregnancy. I felt like I was about to give a big important presentation to 100 people…all. the. time. I felt so nervous that I had to force myself to eat and I had trouble sleeping. I knew my job was stressful, but I had handled more stressful projects with ease in the past. When friends asked me how I was feeling, I’d say, “Thankfully I don’t have much nausea, but man these pregnancy hormones are kicking my butt. haha!” Then inside I’d be thinking I don’t think I can do this. I’ve never felt this way before. What am I going to do? I would go to the bathroom at work and cry. I was not my normal joyful self, even though I was so happy to be pregnant. Those hormones mess with your brain chemistry, and it is really tough. I’m so glad that that anxiety went away after the first trimester. I felt so much better from then on out in my pregnancy. 

And in my grief, I still felt like myself. I still feel that joy deep in my heart, through all the sadness. I’m so grateful for that because I know stillbirth can be a perfect storm for depression and anxiety. Then you have an even harder quiz: postpartum, grief, or depression. So many overlapping symptoms!

The further I get from Ginny’s birth, the less and less I experience the postpartum and grief symptoms. I’m still grieving and always will be, but the grief symptoms have changed. I don’t break down quite as easily, I’m not as tired all the time, and I’m no longer afraid to be alone. I do still think about Ginny all the time and cry pretty often. 

My postpartum symptoms, for the most part, have all gone away. I lost A LOT of hair between 3 and 6 months postpartum, but that was the last major change. 

This may sound crazy, but I know other Loss Moms have shared the same thing… It is actually comforting to experience postpartum or grief symptoms now, several months out. Every once in a while, my hip with ache like it did before and after birth. I’ll smile to myself and think, Yeah that really did happen. I didn’t dream it. I really am a mom. And when another hard wave of grief hits me, and I’ll feel a little comfort in that pain. I’m reminded that my heart still knows Ginny; I haven’t forgotten. 

I don’t know how long these symptoms will last, but I know there is one that will never go away – my increased LOVE. I love so much more now. I’m not sure if that is due to having a baby or losing a baby, but either way, it is here for good. 

Acts of Remembrance

As I’ve mentioned in several of my previous posts, it is so important to me that Ginny is remembered. Remembering her makes me feel closer to her. It acknowledges her life and impact and makes it more real.

Through this loss, I came to a deeper understanding of the value of remembrance. I can feel the power of a physical and symbolic act of remembrance. To honor someone or something through the act of remembering is spiritual. It connects our bodies to our minds and hearts. It gives significance. 

Daniel and I knew we were changed forever because of Ginny. We wanted a physical symbol to remind us of her, our love, how we were comforted in our sorrow, and all the lessons we’ve learned through suffering. We decided to both get tattoos to honor and remember Ginny. 

I decided to get her name on my wrist. I wanted it to be obvious that the tattoo has a special meaning. I want people ask; I want our future children to ask. So I will always share her story. I was already permanently marked in my heart. Now I am permanently marked on my body. I love it. 

Daniel’s tattoo is more symbolic. On days I think I may want to put my hair up, I wear a hairband around my wrist. During labor, I quickly realized I wouldn’t be able to wear my hairband on my wrist because of the IVs in my hand. Daniel volunteered to wear my hairband around his wrist in the hospital. He used it to put my hair up for me before the epidural. He took care of me. That hairband fell out of my hair and behind my back in the hospital bed during delivery. It was there when we held Ginny’s body and gave it up. When we left the room, Daniel was sure to find that hairband and put it back on his wrist. He has worn it everyday since. It reminds him of Ginny, taking care of me, what we’ve been through, and what we are missing. It has been a physical reminder of the change he experienced. He decided to get a black band tattooed on his wrist to represent that hairband and all its meaning. So beautiful!

There is so much power in a physical symbol of remembrance. Something so small can have so much meaning. It carries the meaning around with it. It pulls on our hearts every time it is seen. 

Again and again in the Bible, we hear God asking people to remember – to remember his love, to remember all the times people cried out for help and God drew near, to remember what we’ve learned. Time and time again people forget. Time and time again, God reminds us. He reminds us, then he tells us to remember. 

Traditions in the Jewish and Christian faiths come from this call to remember. On the night he was betrayed, Jesus was sharing a meal with his disciples as an act of remembrance of the Passover. He broke bread, poured wine, gave thanks, and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me…This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant of my blood.” (Luke 22:19-20) That covenant represents the reconciliation of man and God, the forgiveness of sins, and the defeat of death through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. 

The act of remembering that meal and Jesus’s loving sacrifice is called communion. At our church everyone forms a line and takes a small piece of bread from a loaf and dips it in a cup of “wine”. Sometimes Daniel and I are asked to help serve it. Daniel will hold the loaf and say to each person, “Body of Christ, broken for you.” I hold the cup and say, “Blood of Christ, poured out for you.” I look each person in the eye as we share in this act of remembrance again and again and again until the entire church has taken communion. If you ever get the opportunity to serve communion, I highly suggest it. It is not checking the box of religious ritual. It is a powerful and spiritual experience. Something about that physical act to acknowledge Jesus’s love for each and every one of us is overwhelming. My heart feels so full afterward. It is a symbol that carries so much meaning. 

Sometimes we need that. We need a physical symbolic reminder of what is most important. We get swept up in our lives and forget to remember. These acts or symbols of remembrance make us pause, think, remember, and feel the impact in our hearts. It keeps us grounded and connected to God and to each other. 

“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.” – Deuteronomy 4:9

“Do you have kids?”

I used to think that question was benign. I thought it was a safe question to ask when meeting someone new, like ”Where are you from?”. 

But this question is not safe. If someone asks me this question, there is a 80% chance I will cry in the next 10 minutes. 

The first time I was asked my immediate response was “no”. Luckily it was toward the end of a brief conversation with a stranger. One minute later I was in my car bawling. I felt intense shame. I felt like I denied Ginny’s existence. I called Daniel, and he quickly reassured me that we can answer that question however we want. There is no wrong answer. We may want to answer “no” to strangers who we don’t know or trust and “yes” to those we know we will be building relationships with. It’s okay either way. 

I agreed with him, but I still felt bad for answering “no”. Mostly because that was my automatic response. I didn’t even think about it. It’s not that I forgot about Ginny. It was that I knew it would make us both uncomfortable. I would not even consider sharing something so vulnerable to someone I don’t know. I came to the conclusion that those were not legitimate reasons to answer “no”. I vowed that the next time I would say “yes”. 

The next time was when we were out of town visiting family. We met our family’s pastor at their church. He asked the question. I responded “no”, realized I had broken the vow to myself, and then immediately started crying in front of everyone. I explained we had a stillborn daughter in February so the truth was “yes we do have a daughter in heaven”. He hugged me and assured me that I will soon figure out how to best answer that question. He and his wife prayed for us and shared encouraging words with us. 

I wouldn’t break my vow next time! I would respond “yes” no matter how uncomfortable or awkward.

….Why is it awkward anyway? And why do I care if it is awkward? 

It is awkward because people don’t know how to respond. We aren’t taught how to respond to death and grief, especially when a baby or child dies. People assume it is a taboo subject to bring up, so then they often profusely apologize for even asking the question. But it is okay to talk about. I love talking about Ginny. I don’t like when people feel bad for bringing it up or assume I’m in pain because of it. I’m in pain either way – your mentioning it doesn’t make it hurt more. 

I also think my immediate response is “no” because I don’t want to make people sad. This is a lot of people’s worst nightmare, and they are so sympathetic. I know it is silly for me to worry about whether other people are empathetically sad when we are the ones who are really sad, but something in me (Enneagram 9) hates making people upset….

The next few times I was asked was by fellow volunteers. We would get to know each other while working a volunteer shift together. I finally answered, “Yes I have a daughter, but she was stillborn at the end of February. She’s in heaven.” Most people would respond wonderfully. They would say, “I’m so sorry. How terrible?! I don’t know what to say.” Often they would tear up which would then make me tear up. Some asked follow-up questions that I didn’t mind answering at all. Those are the best conversations. I end up feeling loved, and I feel like I’ve honored Ginny by telling her story. Those shifts would end in hugs and smiles.

Then there were the people who didn’t know the right things to say…”Well you got pregnant once, you can get pregnant again.”  and “This sort of thing happens; don’t worry.” Those are the wrong things to say (bonus pro tip: never offer condolences with the words “at least”). I tried successfully to not be offended by those remarks. At their root, they are trying to make me feel better. They don’t want me in pain, so they try to minimize the pain and loss. But in doing so, they minimize my daughter’s life. Not helpful. Anytime I get a comment like that, I smile and nod and change topics. I don’t dwell on it, and I give them the benefit of the doubt that they meant well. 

Despite the inappropriate responses, I am going to keep answering “yes” for now. It could lead to a deeper connection with someone. Also anytime a story like ours is told, it reduces the stigma just a little bit. By talking about it, it makes it okay to talk about. That makes people feel less alone, spreads awareness, and ultimately spreads a little hope. And that’s good for everyone. 

Triggers

In grief sometimes you feel alright, like you might have made it through the hard stuff. Maybe you will be better from now on. Then it hits… again. Grief comes in waves. Sometimes the waves come for no reason and sometimes they are triggered. 

Triggers can be what you’d expect, like holidays or a due date. Sometimes they can come out of nowhere.

I can see 50 babies stroll by and be fine, and then for some reason the 51st baby makes me break down in tears. I have no idea why.

I think the most random and unexpected trigger I experienced was when I was lying on the couch. My head was resting on my arm. I faintly heard my pulse through my arm and suddenly started weeping. It wasn’t until a few moments later that I realized it was the sound of my heartbeat that made me cry. It was the first time I heard a heart beat since Ginny’s. It was the first time I actually heard a heartbeat after my ears were expecting one on that Monday afternoon. 

Some triggers aren’t bad. They can still make you cry but out of love. Sunflowers are a beautiful trigger for both me and Daniel. Ginny’s nursery and pregnancy announcement had sunflowers. They remind us of her and our love for her. Daniel studies sunflowers, so daily he tends a greenhouse full of them. I know that must be hard for him to be surrounded by triggers, but it is also a sweet reminder of the love we have. 

Some of our friends know this. One couple left a vase of sunflowers on our porch on the 6th-month anniversary of Ginny’s birth. Another sweet friend planted sunflowers in her garden. I’m so grateful that they remember Ginny. 

While sunflowers trigger an outpour of love, other triggers lead to bitterness. The worst is when someone complains even though they are so blessed. It is especially bad when someone complains about being pregnant or about having a newborn. At best I’ll cringe; at worst I’ll have a breakdown. “I’m so over being pregnant.” Don’t you know how lucky you are?! I don’t know what’s worse – your ungratefulness or your ignorance!

I try to keep myself from getting bitter. I try to put myself in other’s shoes. It is really hard to be pregnant, and it is really hard to care for a newborn. It is legitimate to complain. I know these challenges are a part of life, but knowing what it is like to be without, I just want people to be grateful for what they have. It is hard for me to have sympathy. It feels like someone winning the lottery and then complaining about a small paper cut the check gave them. 

If your baby doesn’t breastfeed, you are blessed. If your baby doesn’t sleep at night, you are blessed. If your baby has colic, you are blessed. If your baby survived the NICU, you are blessed. If you got to hold your baby alive, you are blessed. Don’t take anything for granted.

I got to hold my baby’s body, and I will always treasure that memory. I’m so grateful for it because I know not everyone even gets that. 

I want people to rejoice and celebrate their babies! Admit and proclaim your blessings! You won’t jinx it, I promise. I love when my friends post pictures of their families with gratitude. “How did I get this lucky?” “I love my little family!” These posts make some of the bitterness melt away for me. 

This experience has made me more aware of triggers in general. Am I triggering someone going through a hard time? When I posted a happy 34th wedding anniversary message to my parents, I thought of my friend who was recently divorced. Did this post trigger her tears? That thought would’ve never cross my mind before my grief. We shouldn’t stop sharing life in fear of triggering someone, but we can be more aware and considerate. 

I felt so terrible the other day when I was walking along the street after dinner. I was telling Daniel how full I was, “I’m stuffed! I shouldn’t have eaten that dessert.” Then I realized I just walked past a homeless man who was probably hungry. I’m sure he thought, “Don’t you know how lucky you are?! I don’t know what’s worse – your ungratefulness or your ignorance!”

Perspective is everything. We should try to step back for a minute and pay attention to those around us. Are we taking anything for granted? What can we do to help someone replace bitterness with love? 

Labor & Delivery Story

It has been 6 months since I gave birth to our beautiful daughter Virginia “Ginny” Hope Jones. February 26, 2019 was an amazing day. It is a day that I think back in love. It was not at all what I expected. 

February 25 was the day there was no heartbeat, the worst day of my life. It was a nightmare. On that day I thought the worst was yet to come. I couldn’t imagine having to endure labor. But the truth was that finding out the news of Ginny’s death was far more painful than childbirth. Remembering back, childbirth was like a sweet gift in the darkest moment of my life. 

In the days following Ginny’s death and birth, I kept going over the birth story in my head again and again. I think it helped me survive those first days. I thought about it with pride and hope. I played and replayed the day in my head; I was afraid of forgetting it. I finally typed it out, and it was 5 and a half pages long. I won’t share that long version here, but I do want to share my birth story. 

We arrived at the N.C. Women’s Hospital for my 9 am induction appointment. The nurses quickly lead me and Daniel to a labor & delivery room and our mothers to a special waiting room called Jane’s Room. Jane’s Room was created to provide grieving families a place to wait in the L&D unit. It was such a wonderful resource; I can’t imagine our moms in a normal waiting room alongside excited and happy grandparents. 

I can’t say enough positive things about UNC Hospitals. They took such good care of us the entire time. The nurses and doctors were so sympathetic and caring. They explained everything to us multiple times, knowing that in our grief it is hard to concentrate. Each doctor made it a point to say, “This is not your fault.”

When we arrived, I was showing no signs of labor. I was 0 cm dilated. Daniel and I took a birthing class two days earlier. The instructor told us the process for induction. She said they start with a pill which usually does not work. After 4 dosages (12 hours), they will start Pitocin which is usually when labor actually starts. We knew we were there for the long haul and it will probably be over 24 hours before delivery.  

The doctor inserted the first dosage of the pill, and the nurse strapped a contraction monitor on me. Looking up at the screen showing contractions, there was clearly an empty section where the heartbeat would normally display. This was a small reminder that Ginny would not be born alive. Contractions started shortly. They were painless and felt like the Braxton Hicks I had felt over the past several weeks. The morning went by quickly as we talked, cried, and sat. 

A kind chaplain came in, spoke with us, and prayed. He as well as the doctors and nurses softly reminded us of all the decisions we had to make. What kind of tests do we want on Ginny’s body and the placenta? How much time do we want to spend with her body? Do we want pictures? What do we want to do with her body after? These are decisions no one ever wants to make. They shared the options and told us there was no rush. They also emphasized that there were no wrong answers. Everyone is different and there is no correct protocol for these situations. 

Thankfully Daniel and I were in complete agreement. Our mothers supported anything we decided. Ultimately we decided we wanted an MRI of Ginny’s body and genetic testing of the placenta. We wanted to hold Ginny’s body for a short while. We wanted pictures of her but not on our phones. We would have her body cremated. These were hard decisions. Daniel and I both agree that we are not our bodies; Ginny was no longer in her body. She was in heaven. 

At around 2:30pm I still wasn’t in any pain. The doctor checked for progress; I was 3cm dilated! I couldn’t believe I had made progress without any pain. She ordered the Pitocin. 

A few more hours quickly passed (I can’t explain why time went by so quickly. We didn’t get bored or turn on the TV at all). I was just starting to feel cramps during the tightening of the contractions. The pain was like bad period cramps but was bearable. I decided to get an epidural before it got too tough. I got the epidural around 6:50 pm, and the pain subsided. Getting the epidural was uncomfortable but not terrible. 

About an hour later the doctor checked my progress. I was 6 cm dilated. I was pleased with the progress but knew we probably had a long way to go. 

Our wonderful nurse explained what we might expect when Ginny was born. She said she will likely have dark lips and face and her skin may be very delicate. She also explained that she would be putting together a memory box for us. It would have pictures of Ginny, hand and foot molds, a lock of her hair, the gown she will wear, and a few other things. We were so appreciative of her care and consideration.

Soon my right side started hurting very intensely. The nurse told me to lay on my right side so the epidural would move that direction while she ordered more epidural. The pain felt like I was being kicked in the side every 30 seconds or so. Daniel held my hand and was there by my side the entire time. Our moms were there nervously praying. I know they hated to see me in such pain. 

Before we could get any more epidural, I felt a lot of pressure. The nurse called the doctor in and starting getting things ready for delivery. The doctor checked me again. Less than an hour from the last check, and I was already fully dilated and Ginny was in +2 position. Several doctors and nurses buzzed about the room getting ready while my water broke on its own. 

The doctor said I could push if I felt like it or I could let my uterus do all the work. I felt a strong need to push. I pushed a few times, yelling and moaning each time. The yells were not out of pain. During delivery there wasn’t  much pain, but there was such an overwhelming strong urge to push. Daniel was still there holding my hand and encouraging me. Soon Ginny’s body was born.  I felt relieved and proud. After a brief “Great job!” from the doctors and nurses, there was silence. It was 8:47pm, less than 12 hours from when we arrived at the hospital. 

Our nurse wrapped Ginny in the rainbow blanket handmade by Grandma Ginny. We took turns holding her body. She had a cute round face and dark curly hair. I will never forget the moment Daniel was holding Ginny’s body while sitting close to me on the hospital bed. I watched his heart growing and breaking right in front of me. We both wept over her and prayed. We kissed her and loved her and wept. We were a family of three there. Our love made her, and she was so beautiful. 

After a while we knew it was time. We called the nurse back in to take Ginny. We handed over our daughter’s body and said goodbye. It was hard to do, but we knew she was not in her body. She was in the arms of Jesus. The day that I thought would be the worst was actually very healing.

It turns out that mothers only stay in the hospital for a few days after delivery for the sake of the baby. Our nurse asked if we wanted to go home that night. We decided to stay the night and leave in the morning. They moved me up to a non-maternity floor so we wouldn’t hear babies crying. On the way up to the other floor, I got a couple of well-meaning “congratulations!” It was heart wrenching. My nurse whispered to me, “I’m getting you out of here. I’m getting you out of here.”

Daniel and I got a couple hours of sleep before the busy next morning. My nurse came to deliver the memory box at the end of her shift. She went through every item with so much care and sympathy. I will be forever grateful for her kindness and for preparing the priceless memory box for us. I feel like I will always be connected to her somehow. She was who cleaned, dressed, and took pictures of our daughter when we didn’t have the strength. She treated her with such honor and love, and there are no words to describe my appreciation.

The chaplain visited again with more helpful words and prayers. Multiple doctors came to explain what to expect with regards to milk coming in and warning signs for postpartum depression. 

Then I got discharged. Daniel pulled the car around while I waited for my wheelchair escort. It took forever for a polite man to arrive with the wheelchair. He apologized for being late. He said that the computer told him I was in MRI so he went there first and I wasn’t there. I realized it was because Ginny was getting the MRI. I didn’t explain. On the way out to the car, I just imagined her little body in a huge MRI machine, and I was leaving her. I kept reminding myself that she is happy and loved in heaven. God comforted me.

We did not have a traditional memorial service for her. Most of our family is across the country. I consider the time we had with her body in that hospital room as her memorial. It was a beautiful moment, so full of love.

It was definitely due to the amazing amounts of prayer that labor and delivery went so quickly and smoothly. It far exceeded all my expectations and fear of what birth would be like. It was beautiful and epic and an honor. I can see how if the result was a baby, it would easily be the best day of your life. When I look back, it was a positive experience that makes me feel proud and strong. I have so so much love and gratefulness for Daniel through this. He is the most incredible man. Our mothers were also an amazing support; we definitely needed them there. There is no doubt that God was with us that entire day and the days since. 

Thank you to everyone who prayed for us, sent flowers, sent a card, or gave us a gift or care package. Your love and support truly helped and comforted us.

Body Image / Vessel

Body Image

When I was pregnant I used to joke that one of the best parts of pregnancy is not worrying about sucking in my belly in pictures. I could let it all hang out. I could blame all “pooch” on baby bump. No more “burrito” baby or “pizza” baby; I had a BABY baby! I never realized how self-conscious I was about my belly until I didn’t have to worry about hiding it anymore. 

Same as most women, I constantly found flaws with my body ever since middle school, if not earlier. I felt like my thighs were too big, I had cellulite, my legs are too short, my hair is too flat. Do my gums show when I smile? Am I walking with my feet out? It’s all silly, petty, vain. We all do it. We should all stop. 

I never had more body confidence than when I had my big, round belly and larger (albeit weirder) boobs. I know not all pregnant women experience this increase in body confidence during pregnancy, but I am grateful I did. I remember one of the last days of pregnancy when I was at my biggest. I was goofily dancing around rubbing my belly telling Daniel, “I’m really rocking this preggo-bod!” He wisely agreed. 

There is so much beauty in a pregnant woman’s body – growing life. She’s glowing for a reason. It really is beautiful. 

After losing Ginny, I was humbled in several ways, but actually body image was not one. The self-consciousness that I had pre-pregnancy didn’t return. I wasn’t loving my body the way I did while I was pregnant, but I didn’t feel bad about the way I looked. I attribute this to three things:

  1. When you are grieving a loss, you just don’t care about things you used to care about. Petty things don’t seem to matter at all. You only care about what’s important. (RE: Fear and Freedom)
  2. Becoming a parent (which I consider to take place as soon as you find out you’re pregnant) changes you. You lose a bit of shame. Life is no longer all about you so you don’t care as much how you look or how you are perceived. I think this is a good thing. 
  3. I could no longer watch the family vlogs and baby youtube videos I had watched everyday during pregnancy. I found a new non-triggering topic to watch, body-positive fashion videos! I highly recommend Sierra Schultzzie and Carrie Dayton videos. They are all about shopping for mid-sized bodies and loving your body. I chose these videos because they are light-hearted and not family-focused, but their message has actually started to sink in. 

Even without carrying a baby, our bodies are incredible and beautiful. We should not hide our imperfections or feel ashamed of ourselves. We should be proud of our bodies because they are part of who we are and they allow us to do all the things we do. 

Pregnant or not, we should all be kind to ourselves and appreciate our bodies. They aren’t perfect, but they are ours and they are beautiful. For now, I’m rocking my burrito-baby bod unashamedly!

Vessel

I wrote that Body Image post a few weeks ago, and I did not post it. The post is true, but it somehow isn’t the whole story. When I think about my body now, it’s true that I’m not ashamed of how it looks. I don’t really care to have the perfect body. But would I say I’m happy with my body?…no, but not because of the way it looks. 

If I’m honest, I’m mad at my body. My body failed Ginny. I gave my whole body to take care of Ginny, and it still wasn’t enough. It built her and then abandoned her, and it didn’t even let me know. How could it let me survive and her die?

A couple weeks ago in church we sang a song called “New Wine” by Hillsong Worship. I struggled to sing it. The lyrics I faltered on were, “In the crushing, In the pressing, You are making new wine…When I trust You I don’t need to understand, Make me Your vessel, Make me an offering, Make me whatever You want me to be”. 

I gave my whole body to take care of Ginny, and it still wasn’t enough…for what I thought Ginny’s life would be. It was however enough for what Ginny’s life actually is. God had numbered her days (Psalm 139:16). He knew she would only live in the womb for those months, and he knew his purpose for her. My body served her for the days she had. My body was the literal vessel for Ginny’s life on Earth. It was a role that was physically and emotionally painful but full of love. God called me into this role. My body is an offering for the person that I didn’t get to raise. But she is in heaven with no pain or fear or struggle. When I trust, I don’t need to understand.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” – Romans 12:1

In addition to Ginny’s life, I know God is using this experience to bring new wine out of me. I love and empathize more. I’m helping others who are suffering, and I feel God’s presence in a new way. My brokenness and loss is being used for some good. As the other lyrics say, “Where there is new wine, There is new power, There is new freedom, The kingdom is here.”

“And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel as it seemed good to the potter to do.” – Jeremiah 18:4

Make me whatever you want me to be.