Today is marked as International Bereaved Mothers Day and I just don't identify with it. I am a mother. Period. The moment a woman decides they want to be a mom, the day she starts preparing her body to create another, she becomes a mom. When that baby is in her belly, she is a mom. When that baby is born, she is a mom. If that baby dies, she continues to be a mom. We are all different, special, unique mothers, some with our babies in our arms, some with our babies in our hearts and some with our babies in our hopes and dreams.
While I was pregnant with Ruthie Lou and even before either of my children were born, I wanted to be acknowledged on MOTHER'S Day, the day for moms. We are all already so diverse and unique in our journeys to become moms, what type of mothers we are and how we parent, that having an entire day to separate those who are bereaved the takes away from the inclusion that I want to feel on Mother's Day. I want to be acknowledged for all of my children on Mothers Day, I don't want to be made to feel different because one of my children died. It is already isolating enough to be a bereaved parent, I don't want to then also be highlighted for the fact that my child died when what I really want people to remember about Ruthie Lou is that she lived, that I am proud of her, the ultimately SHE made me a mom. She made my dreams come true, and although this is not what u ever would've wished for, I want her story to be one of love, not a sadness.
There was a time when the narrative in my head was that I was the mom whose baby died, I couldn't see beyond that pain. As time has progressed and I have worked and worked and worked my grief, that is no longer the story I live. I don't know anyone whose life has turned out exactly as they imagined it, without loss, without sadness, or grief. There will always be parts of our life that we wish were different, but I don't let that consume me, instead I let it create me. I am a mother, a wife, a teacher, an entrepreneur, a writer, an athlete, a lover of life and in all of those parts of me there are stories that I have lived, good and bad and I choose to learn from all of them.
I am a survivor. I live a full life. I am living the life I always wanted, even with this broken heart forever missing my child. I am living this life to the best of my ability because of my love for her, for my family, for myself.
As a mom whose child died, I already feel on the outside of those who can hug all their babies at night-I don't want a separate day acknowledging my child died, I want her celebrated each and every day because she lived. She is always included in our family every day, please remember include her in your well wishes to me next Sunday, on Mothers Day too.
You've been in my heart
since the moment I knew you'd one day be in my arms.
I knew you were special,
I knew you were meant to be.
I've waited for now,
the moment to know my family is complete
and for my broken heart
to be finally be whole with you in it.
You complete the five of us,
you make us one.
You bring all of what makes you special,
you are our precious third baby child.
As we wait to hold you,
I hold you close.
You live under my heart,
as I wait for you to live in my arms.
Grow, baby grow.
Healthy brain, body and whole.
'm here, nurturing you, nourishing you,
Chris and I met at 21, just young kids when we started our life together. When we met, I worked in the Johnny Garlic restaurants and he managed the docks at Lake Sonoma. As the years progressed, I graduated college and Chris followed his career dreams.
He was a firefighter, and a damn good one too. He was first responder EMT certified, completed the Fire Fighter Academy, worked three seasons for CDF (CalFire) and was loving his job. As time rolled around to start a family, we made the decision that he start Paramedic School so that he had a better chance of being hired in a city station, which would allow shorter shifts and more predictable hours. He wanted to be home for his family. It wasn't easy, years of school, focus and patience without knowing if his dream job would come to fruition, but he did it anyway with faith that it would.
When Ruthie Lou was born, I was full force in my teaching career and Chris had graduated Paramedic School, 2 years of working full time while going to school full time, interning at the hospital and studying for his exams. He had passed the manipulative test and was one test away from being certified, he was so close!! His final test was scheduled for 3 weeks after Ruthie Lous due date...and then she came early. By the time the test date rolled around, we had lived 5 weeks of a parenting nightmare, held Ruthie Lou and loved her as much as we could and she was gone. Just like that.
We had several conversations about him returning to the world of fires and medical calls and each time was ended in stress, fear, discomfort. He had held our daughter in her last minutes of life, she was in his arms for her final breath, how could he go on a medic call that involved a child? How could he live someone else's nightmare after enduring our own? He couldn't. I knew that before he did but he is a proud man, a family man and he had worked so hard for this dream.
Finally, a friend and he had these dream plans, they would talk about it all the time. Send Chris back to school, get a barber certification, cut hair for some time, learn the business, then open up their own shop, a pipe dream really. But every time they talked about it, Chris's shoulders would relax, his brow become unfurled and I would see a twinkle in this eye and a smile on his face that he had lost along with Ruthie Lou.
Finally, near a year after her death he went for it, he abandoned all "plans" of his career path and changed courses altogether. He took a leap of faith. He followed his heart without fear of opinions, without buying into the judgement of others. And he entered into another year (plus) of school, interning and working full time...again! I don't know how he functions with the amount of sleep he gets!
Yesterday, it all came full circle. Chris has been cutting hair for a while now at a barber shop he loves, his smile has returned, his pride through the roof. He LOVES his job. Yesterday was the St Baldricks Foundation fundraiser, an opportunity to raise money for childhood cancer research to show support by shaving your head. Last year, Chris participated by getting his head shaved and he really wanted to shave heads this year. Last night, Chris became the first barber to shave heads while also getting his head shaved for the event! As he said goodbye to me before getting on stage he said, "you know why I do this" and I completely understood. Chris is a man of few words but his actions speak his heart, it's why he does everything. Chris shaved heads and shaved his head for his family and especially for Ruthie Lou. He runs half marathons, he does Tough Mudders, he speaks for George Mark, he supports the Ruthie Lou Foundation, he faces his fears, EVERYTHING that he does is for his family and for our sweet girl.
Our life did not go according to our plan, it didn't go according to anyone's choice plan. So many times we remember the nightmare we have survived, but we are able to remember it with gratitude and love for all that we held in our arms. We love our family and our TWO children, we love each other. We continue to remember that time is precious and even in our most stressful moments we know that it could be worse and time will pass. We spend our time where our heart is called and we push aside unnecessary drama. We work hard, we love hard and we are best friends. We have an amazing son and we live life though Reid's toddler view of the world.
My husband is amazing. He is the best dad. He is a great barber. He is my best friend. And we are not only surviving, we are thriving in this life that we have created, even if we didn't get to make all the plans. I am so proud of him. I am so proud of us. We live this life because she cannot and it's a damn good life.
I just want to crawl under the covers, lift my blanket over my head and "be" with you. I want to remember every moment of your life and relive it with you; finding out we were pregnant, feeling your kicks, going into labor, holding you for the first time, feeling the hope that we would bring you home, even the moments after we knew you would leave us. I want to relive every moment of your life, including your death. I want to be in your space and relish in the moments that will never return. I want to be naive and believe in all that is good and right in the world again.
Post Traumatic Stress is not a disorder, it's the reality of facing a world when your life experience has changed every fiber of your being, of having to assimilate a new reality when all that you have believed and loved is gone. It is very real. You are not here and that isn't natural, it isn't right, but it is truth. This day still feels unreal, it has to be a nightmare but it's not. It's our life. It's part of the beauty that we live every day, its evident in our family, in our life and how we love each other. You are part of that because you were here and are still here in everything that we do.
But on these special days when my heart is being ripped from my chest, in the moments reserved just for you, I need my thoughts, my quiet, my sacred space. To be alone in the only way I know how. To look at your pictures, to watch your videos, to listen to your music. I need to mind myself that yes, I had a beautiful daughter and yes, she is not physically here anymore and yes, I survived and am surviving this unfathomable loss. You are okay, your family is okay, you will be okay.
Instead of planning your birthday party, I have to plan how will I honor you today? What will I spend the day doing? It pains my heart to know I will never send out invitations, buy your decorations, sing happy birthday until you blew out your candles. But you were born on this day and that was the happiest moment of my life. Your perfect gorgeous little chunky body that fit perfectly nestled among mine, that is all I will get.
So instead, I try to understand. I edit your photos. I write love letters to you. I make a slideshow. I release a few more pictures unseen to the world. I eat cupcakes, LOTS of cupcakes. And I imagine that you are near. Please, say that you are near.
And when the hours have passed, when I have processed this trauma and the morning has turned to afternoon, then I am able to celebrate you. I am able to share you and our time and your love with others. Then I can be part of this world again.
So until then, I edit your pictures, I write love letters to you and I wait for your signs...
I am waiting...
I love you, Ruthie Lou.
I am forever blessed you chose us.
I miss you everyday.
I celebrate you always.
Happy third birthday, sweet girl.
October 22-October 28, 2013
Day 22, Words-There are no words. There are too many words. Everything reminds me of her. Nothing reminds me of her.
Day 23, Tattoos/Jewelry-Chris and I both have (several) tattoos in honor of Ruthie Lou, we always want her close to us in the way that being forever inked allows. I also wear at least one piece of jewelry each day that is special just for her. These bracelets however, are so special to my heart. Just simple pieces of rubber, these bracelets were distributed during the time of Ruthie Lou's life and passing when her name was spoke of often, when people's lives were touched and directly impacted because she was born and the fragility of life was so close to home for other families, too. These bracelets were worn by friends, family and even strangers all over the county. They were the doing of the most wonderful woman, who will always hold a special place in our heart. (Thank you endlessly, Michelle) These bracelets still float around and some people still where theirs (or keep it near) and to see my daughter's name on a friend's arm or attached to their key chain means more than I can even express. I love seeing Ruthie Lou's name ANYWHERE. These bracelets are so special.
Day 24, Artwork-While at George Mark, they fostered a tremendous amount of memory making and most of that was through art. It is so wonderful to recall those moments with Ruthie Lou and her dad, the laughter and tears that were present in those memories. Today, we are continually invited to events that allow for creative outlets and ways in which to honor our sweet girl and our family. Shortly after she passed away, we were invited to take part in a tile making day where an artist came and facilitated the creating of a tile that now hangs on the wall at George Mark. It was really healing to sit with Chris to design what we wanted it to look like, symbols we wanted to represent and then draw and paint a piece in honor of Ruthie Lou. Now, that tile hangs with other special children who have shared in the magic at GMCH, it feels so good to have that spot that is just hers, it one of our favorite places to visit.
Ruthie Lou has ignited a passion for creating and art in all forms. It has allowed me to process so much of my grief in ways that words cannot convey. I don't pretend to be amazing but the release that art provides is motivation enough to continue with each new project. Just another gift from Ruthie Lou...
Day 26, #SayItOutLoud-If I could say one thing about my journey with grief is that given the choice, I would do it again. Despite my broken heart, I would do every part of Ruthie Lou again. I would want HER again. If given the choice of Ruthie Lou or a baby I could have kept, I would choose Ruthie Lou because I love her. She is my daughter and I am so proud of her. Of course I would want her to be here more than anything but since that would never be possible, I would still choose her, I always want HER..
Undeniably my story is sad but I am more than just a sad story, I am a survivor and my daughter is my greatest strength. In my heart she is my biggest cheerleader and when confronted with a challenge in life I always tell myself, "if Ruthie Lou could defy all odds to stay as long as she did, I can ____". She gives me the courage to be me, she is the reason to live my best life, she has shown me the definition of pure love and because of her, I can give to her brother what I didn't know before she was born. She has made me a better mama, I can now give Reid the best of me.
So if I could say one thing about this journey besides it being long, tiring, overwhelming and so devastating, is it is still so full of love. I love my daughter more than this world and if given the choice yet knowing the outcome, I would choose her again and again.
You are worth every single tear my sweet girl. I love you Ruthie Lou, with all of my being.
Day 26, Community-I feel most normal in the online "baby loss" community. Before Still Standing magazine was established in May 2012, I would be attached to Google searching for blogs that understood me. Instead of finding comfort and hope, many times I would be angered, feel more isolated or suffer PTSD having to relive the moments surrounding Ruthie Lou's transition from this world. Still Standing offers acceptance, understanding, empathy and most importantly hope and I am honored to have had an article published with them.
No more searching for blogs, my community now gathers in one place.
Day 27, Signs-I look for my sweet girl everywhere. Everything reminds me of her, nothing reminds me of her.
While in my belly, the ladybug told me Ruthie Lou was ok, that she was healthy and safe. I never knew how much that sign would eventually mean to me. It started with my 5th graders on an overnight field trip where a tremendous amount of ladybugs were discovered in their cabin. I told them how they were a symbol of good luck to the farmers that they helped rid pests from their garden and how lucky the were to be receiving this sign. When I returned to my cabin that eve and listened to Ruthie Lou's heartbeat on the Doppler, I saw them inexplicably in my room, too. It was magical, another sign, she was safe in my belly. She was always safe in my belly. I wish I could have kept her safe forever.
The first night home from George Mark a green ladybug greeted me inside my house and for many months, I only saw green ones. I know the green ones are not the same as the "lady beetle" but as the world was receiving visitors from red ladybugs I like to believe that the green ones are special signs just for mama.
Now, I look for the signs that my girl is safe and that there is life after this world. I feel beauty in these signs it helps me believe in the magic of our universe. It may sound crazy to you but if it helps heal my heart and find acceptance in this terrible mystery, than I will keeping searching them out for the rest of my life. I hope to see my sweet girl again. Until then, we only have this..
Day 28, Special Place-The moment that dusk takes over and the sun sets low, as the pink sky welcomes the night, she waits for me there. I can relive every sunset we shared, 11 total. Rocking in that oak chair, the songs I sung her, the stories I shared with her, the lessons we learned from each other, all blessed with sacred tears. Sunset is still our time. She's always waiting there for me, no matter where in the world I may be.
October 8-October 14, 2013
Day 8, Color- That big YELLOW flower will always be imprinted in my heart and will forever be Ruthie Lou's color. It makes sense that "the colour yellow represents happiness and fun. The traditional yellow colour meaning is that of inspiration. The meaning of yellow is also associated with vitality, energy and illumination."
Day 9, Music-Music is life, listening, dancing, singing, I live to a soundtrack of music. I could've chosen 40 songs or 100 different lines for today. I sung so many to Ruthie Lou, so many are HER songs, songs from the radio, many created from my heart. Music brings such comfort. I like to remind myself that although she was OUR baby child, we are not alone in this, even when it feels so much that we are...
Day 10, Beliefs- Recycled from Winter 2011, when I was pregnant with Ruthie Lou, I have reflected on this writing numerous times. Sometimes I wonder why I felt compelled to write it back then...a message? Perhaps. Reading it always reminds me of the good in the world & the fragility of life️
"I believe in a God that is loving.
I believe that our human experience is only one small part in the life of our soul and it does not begin nor end on the day of our birth or death.
I believe that our human life is short. Often times shorter than we could ever imagine. It is my own personal responsibility to live and love in a way that everyday I am spiritually fulfilled and proud of who I am and who I am eternally becoming.
I believe that people make daily choices in their life. From the moment I wake until I lay my head back on my pillow at night, my choices should be well thought out and only made with good intentions.
I believe that we are responsible only for oursleves. I can only control my own actions and reactions to experiences and events in my life.
I believe that all people are beautiful, pure and have good intentions. I make mistakes but am clear to always learn the lesson and try better next time.
I believe that very unfortunate things happen to very good people everyday without reasons known to us. Everyday I have the gift of choice of what I will learn from my experiences and how I will respond to lifes greatest as wells as most unfortunate events.
My God is pure, loving, accepting and warm. There is only love."
Two years later I am more certain than ever, there is only love.
Day 11, Triggers-To be completed...
Day 12, Article-To be completed...
Day 13, Book(s)-To be completed...
Day 14, Family-To be completed...
GRIEF. Noun. A person, place or thing. "Grief is a multi-faceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something to which a bond was formed"
GRIEVING. Verb. An action word. Something that you do. "1 : to cause to suffer : distress <it grieves me to see him this way> 2 : to feel or show grief over <grieving the death of her son> "
If grief is the response to loss and that loss never goes away then in return, the grief is never ending. It does not go away. It does not end. EVER.
But it does change. And continue to change. Thank goodness for the change.
It would be naive of me to think that how I feel today is how I will continue to feel in years come, that how I felt in year one of missing Ruthie Lou even mirrors how I feel this year. Thankfully, grief changes. Now that doesn't mean that I miss her any less or that I am comfortable in any way with living without my daughter but the loss becomes more tolerable, more normal to this life. And it certainly doesn't mean that in a moments notice (or no notice at all) that I can find myself in the fresh, raw emotions of devastation that haunted me for months after saying goodbye to our sweet girl. Those moments still follow me......
I am thankful for this change. I am sad for this change. In moving farther away in time and in emotion, I feel like I have forgotten some of the memories I never wanted to forget. Thank goodness I wrote so much down, I read those words, close my eyes and I can instantly smell Ruthie Lou's sweet baby smell, I can feel her thick coarse hair in my fingers, I can hear the purr of her breath. But I am thankful that my mind has protected my heart enough to live in this world again, to find joy in the sorrow, to see beauty in the pain.
With all that said, the grief is ever present. It never fully goes away. Like the healing of a wound, the scab has come off but we are still left with this scar, the ever present reminder of the life that will never return.
I am participating in the "Capture Your Grief" event once again this year, it is a photographing event, which seems fitting to my loss for words lately. Last year, I was unable to finish the month, it was too raw, too hard to hold others grief along with my own. This year, I have a fresh perspective, a pull at my heart to discover the purpose in this mystery of life, to contribute to the legacy left by my daughter. I am not exactly sure what that is yet but I am following my heart to see where it leads. Ruthie Lou gave me so many gifts, left so many lessons in the shadow of her path and I don't feel like she's done yet. Perhaps she is guiding me through my journey.
Whatever the outcome, whether I finish the month or not, I know that my job in this life is to bring awareness to the world. Awareness of loss, awareness of love, awareness of grief, that it is all perfection. These babies who we love so much, are so important, they are our family, parts of our hearts that can never be replaced or forgotten, they are our greatest loves. No matter if our children are in our arms or in our hearts, they are a part of us. Forever.
I never want them to be forgotten. I never want a mama or a family to feel alone. You are not alone in this grief.
I am a mama of three beautiful babes; two boys I have the honor of raising and my daughter who lived for 33 sacred days.